I am sitting on a white-painted metal bench while Rosana stands against the dividing wall between the backyards. “And Nicolau, what does he do?” If we’d been anything more than voices in the dark, she might have noticed how uncomfortable I looked. “He . . . I mean . . . We don’t talk much . . .” But Rosana isn’t interested, and she isn’t listening. “C’mon, let’s head in,” she says. I take the opportunity to steer her monologue in another direction. “Have you spoken with Isinha lately?” We sit. She at the head of the table, and me in the same seat as before. Rosana’s hands are neat and thin, with long fingers and red nail polish. She’s always been enormously proud of them, ever since a teacher in primary school sang their praises—the hands of a pianist, she’d said—and is always finding ways to show them off in conversation, flaunting them to relatives, neighbors, acquaintances, and strangers, The hands of a pianist . . . “No . . . Isinha’s difficult, you know. She’s never been able to stomach how well we’ve done! The woman’s green with envy. But it’s not my fault she married a drunk!” I think of Tamires’s impersonation— she’d used almost the exact same phrasing—and for a second I can’t help laughing. “What about João Lúcio?” “I never really got on with Jôjo. We haven’t spoken in years. Did you know he’s filthy rich?” She catches her breath, asks, “Anyway, what are you doing here, Oséias? You’d never even seen this house, had you?” “No . . . It’s beautiful. Well done! I had the address from the time I sent you the paperwork and power of attorney so you could sort out the mess with the inheritance. Remember?” “Will you be staying long?” “No, don’t worry. A day or two and I’ll be out of your hair.” “Oséias, why’d you turn up like this, without warning?” Rosana is like Dad: she’d pretend to let go of something, creating a diversion that allowed her to close in on her opponent. “I don’t know, Rosana.” “What do you mean you don’t know?” She gets up and paces around the kitchen, performing her frustration. “Don’t even try to fool me!
Twenty years and you’re nowhere to be found. I only ever hear about you when Isinha calls. Now, all of a sudden . . . What do you want?” “I don’t want anything from you, Rosana. Calm down.” “Are you broke?” she asks. “No, Rosana, I’m not broke.” “Well, then, I don’t get it . . .” “Can you imagine if Mom heard you talking like this? You sound like you’re about to turn me out. What would she think?” “That you’re being cynical, Oséias. That’s what she’d think! Now quit beating around the bush: What do you want?” “You may not believe it, Rosana, but I honestly don’t know . . . Maybe all I want is some peace and quiet . . .” “Peace and quiet?! Here? Hahahahaha. You’re putting me on—” “No, it’s true! You don’t have to believe me if you don’t want to, but it’s the truth.” “Gone and become a Buddhist, have you? Do you want to make peace with Ricardo too?” she asks, sarcastically. “Of course not! I’ll never—” “Careful, that’s my husband you’re talking about!” She plants herself in front of me, finger wagging. “Rosana, now you’re the one being cynical. Ricardo’s no saint. You know it, I know it, Tamires knows it—” “Don’t you dare bring up my daughter!” she yells, slamming her open hand on the oilcloth. “You’re right,” I retreat. “What do you want, Oséias? Aside from causing everyone distress?” she presses, beside herself. We hear the metal gate open. “It’s Tamires. I don’t want her to see us arguing. I’m going to shower, collect myself, sleep. I have to go to work early.
Think about what I asked. Sleep on it. I’ll expect an answer from you tomorrow!” “Goodnight, Rosana!” She strides down the hall in a fury, without saying goodbye. I hear the sound of the car being locked, the whir of the metal gate closing. Tamires steps into the kitchen. “Hey, Uncle Oséias!
Have you had dinner yet?” she asks, pleasantly surprised. “I had a bite earlier.” “Oh, you won’t join me then? I don’t often eat at night, but I fancied a nibble . . .” She’s no good at pretending. Feeling sorry for her, I decide to tag along, “All right then.” She smiles and says, “Gimme a minute.” She sets her purse on the table and disappears into the house with her cell phone. It can’t be easy being Rosana’s daughter. My sister needs to feel that she is adored, courted, and praised. I don’t think she’s cheating on Ricardo.
Cheating requires dedication, and Rosana is impatient, her faithfulness shaped by an enormous moral inertia, though at the same time she needs constant reminding that she is pretty, smart, and interesting. She needs to be able to measure herself against other women, including her own daughter, and to come out on top, infinitely superior.
Tamires returns to the kitchen, grabs the keys to the Honda Fit, unlocks the car, opens the door, and squeezes in. I sit in the passenger seat. She turns on the engine. The metal gate clicks open and she reverses. “There’s nothing to eat at home. Mom’s always on some diet, and she makes everyone do it with her,” she remarks, pitching the car toward the center. “Dad’s got the right idea. He has dinner every night before coming home.” “Where are we headed?” I ask. “Cachorrão do Leo. You know it? It’s super trashy!” She laughs. Lightning no longer flickers in the dimly starred sky. A full moon steals through sparse clouds. Tamires drives in silence for just over five minutes, then parks. We climb out of the car, still silent. Tamires’s body strains under its weight, and her legs lumber. From a bar in the distance comes the hubbub of voices and the din of sertanejo music. Cachorrão do Leo is a trailer parked under a spray of oiti trees and six tables arranged on the sidewalk. Four of the tables are taken, two of them by cooing young couples, another by three blathering teenagers, and another, at a remove, by a man sitting alone. We set up next to the teenagers, and the server soon comes over to take our order, hard-plastic sheet menu in hand. Without looking, Tamires orders a burger with everything, “The works.” The server smiles—he knows her—and runs through it all, “Lots of cheese, lots of bacon, mayo on the side.” “That’s right! And a Coca-Cola Zero.” Though I’m hungry, my stomach is sensitive to everything. In the end, I order a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich and a regular Coke. Tamires stares at the individual sitting alone behind me, and finally excuses herself, “He’s a friend, I’m going to say hi.” I turn around to get a better look: roughly forty, black clothes, hair falling down his shoulders, tattooed arms. The air is thick with the smell of grilled meat, which attracts a gentle and wary black-and-white stray dog. The teens’ chatter is riddled with slang I can just barely make sense of. Tamires scuffs back. “Uncle Oséias, so . . . what’s your son’s name again?” “Nicolau.” “That’s right, Nicolau. I remember him being super cute . . . Grandma Stella was always showing us photos of him, black hair, big blue eyes . . .” “Yeah, our little Pole . . . Not a drop of Moretto in him. He takes after his Mom.” “What does he do?” I blush, take a deep breath. I can’t hide my unease. A train whistles somewhere nearby, startling us. The train treks across the city, its dozens of freight cars once laden with iron ore now carrying bauxite. “Train’s still running, then?” I ask. Tamires says, “Two or three times a day.” “The worst part is that none of the wealth stays here,” I sociologize. “Just muddied rivers and hollowed hills,” she adds. The ground shakes and the wheels squeal, drowning out our words. As a kid, on my way home from school, I used to sprinkle gravel just to see it turn to dust. Once, I put down a coin instead, and it vanished like a soap bubble. The server carries back a tray with the cans of soda, glasses filled with ice, a napkin dispenser, straws, and bottles of ketchup and mustard.
Tamires cracks open the Coca-Cola Zero, tips it into a glass and takes a sip. Little by little, the dun-dun-dun dun-dun-dun dun-dun-dun of the train fades into the distance. “Are you still in touch with your cousins?” I ask. She thinks for a second, then says, “I don’t know if you’re aware, but Deliane, Aunt Isinha’s girl, has joined an evangelical church.” “I know . . . Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. She’s already got two kids, hasn’t she?” “Yeah, though I haven’t met them. I see Diego sometimes. He works with cars, buying and selling them, that sort of thing. He’s just a bit lost, you know.” The server brings over the sandwiches. Tamires snaps up the burger, slops it with mustard, ketchup, and mayo, and takes an enormous bite. I open the can of Coke, tip some in the glass, take a sip, and bite into the ham-and-cheese sandwich, chewing slowly to convince my stomach to keep it down. “Daniel’s in college, taking evening classes,” she says. After a short pause, I ask, “What about João Lúcio’s kids?” “Ah, those girls!” She chases the burger with a glug of soda and wipes her mouth and fingers on a napkin. “Can’t say I know them. We saw each other a couple of times at Grandma’s, when we were really young. I wouldn’t recognize them if I saw them now.” One of the young couples leaves. Tamires takes another large bite of the burger. Mouth full, she says, “I feel sorry for Mom . . .” I wait, saying nothing. “She’s a miserable person . . .” Tamires chews anxiously. She takes a sip of Coke, wipes her mouth, sips again. “Have you seen her Facebook page? She posts a new photo every day. She’s always posing, trying to look sexy. All so her friends will say things like, You look so pretty! Oh my God, you don’t age! What a hottie! And emojis posted by machos who think they’re heartthrobs . . . Deep down, she’s terrified of getting old. She needs it, the constant fawning. She says she’s got a thousand-something friends. Hahahahaha! Poor thing . . . I feel sorry for her. And she’s totally obsessed with having a perfect body. She works out every night! And she’s had God knows how much work done. Dad even says, half-joking, I married one woman, but I’m living with another . . .” Tamires takes another spiteful bite of her cheeseburger. We sit in silence. I finish my ham-and-cheese sandwich and polish off my already tepid Coke. I wipe my mouth and hands, collect the dirty napkins, and set them on my plate. “We’re like three rogue planets living under the same roof. Now and then our paths cross and we’ll be on the verge of destruction. But even though we resent each other, we also depend on one another to survive. Magnetic forces . . . Orbits . . .” She takes another sip of soda and has the last bite of cheeseburger. “What about your dad?” I ask. She chews more slowly now, relishing the final morsel as though clinging to a fleeting pleasure. “He lets me do my thing,” she says. She wipes her lips and fingers. On her plate is a mountain of napkins soiled yellow, red, and white. “He minds his business, I mind mine. We put up with each other, and that’s enough.” She takes a final sip of Coke. “He knows I don’t approve of his choices . . . There’s no going back though, is there? Once you lose respect for someone . . .” Tamires calls the server over and asks for the check. He wonders if we’ve enjoyed our meal. The man in black is gone. Only the young couple’s cooing and the teenagers’ animated shrieking remain. The clouds in the sky have also faded away.
Though the hubbub from the bar has died down, there is still the jangle of sertanejo music. The server approaches us and hands me a piece of paper with numbers scribbled on it. But Tamires grabs it and says, “My invitation, my treat.” An astute observation; she must have noticed that morning how destitute I am. Tamires’s hand carefully feels around her purse, and after a few moments her fingers clasp a designer leather wallet and pull out a credit card. “Shall we?” The server hands her the receipt with a grateful “Thank you! Goodnight!” We get up. He collects the plates covered in used napkins, the empty cans, the ketchup and mustard bottles, and the unused straws. We stroll down the footpath below the dense foliage of oiti trees obscuring the streetlights. Tamires unlocks the car with a click and squeezes through the door. I sit in the passenger seat. She connects her cell phone to the stereo, and Neil Young begins to sing “Like a Hurricane.” How odd, I think, and say, “Your Mom used to listen to this sort of music!” Tamires smiles and points out, “I’m an old soul, Uncle Oséias. Old-school . . . Or maybe just plain old.” She grabs a packet of rolling papers and a baggie. “Mind if I smoke?” “Weed?” I ask, both surprised and alarmed. “Weed!” she says, tickled by my incredulity. “Huh, so you smoke?” “It helps,” she explains. “Manages my anxiety, relaxes me.” “I don’t mind . . . Can I open the window?” “Of course,” she says. Tamires carefully sprinkles weed on the paper, rolls and seals it with saliva, twists one end, pulls out a matchbox from the glove compartment, lights the joint, takes a long drag, and holds her breath. The funk hits my nostrils, and I try to hide the ensuing waves of nausea. “Lighters kill the essence of the weed,” she philosophizes as she blows the rest of the smoke out the half-open window. “When are you gonna visit me at the store, Uncle Oséias? Or do you think it’s undignified to work in retail too?” “Who am I to say whether anything’s undignified?” “Dad doesn’t think it’s dignified to run a deli.” “He of all people,” I remark and regret it the moment the words leave my mouth. “Yeah, he of all people . . .” she echoes. “You know how he makes a living, don’t you?” I don’t, though everyone in Cataguases has a theory. “Of course you do, Uncle Oséias. Though I appreciate your not saying anything.” For a moment I consider insisting that I don’t, but there’s no point. She takes another drag. “I need some time away, in a spa.” She confesses this meditatively, staring up at the ceiling of the car. “Aren’t you scared the cops will see you?” I ask. “C’mon. Do you really think anyone’s got the guts to mess with the daughter of Ricardo Alves, aka True-Blue Ricardo?” Her sardonic retort conceals a hint of immodesty. Tamires wets her index finger and thumb with the tip of her tongue, puts out the ember, stashes the joint in the matchbox, and tucks it in the glove compartment. She turns on the engine and drives in silence while Robert Plant sings “Stairway to Heaven.” I wipe my glasses with the edge of my shirt. Five minutes later she stops diagonally on the street and opens the metal gate with the remote. I ask her if Ricardo parks his car in there, wanting to know if my brother-in-law is home. Tamires says, “Dad hasn’t been driving since he got sick.” “Sick with what?” I ask, trying not to sound sadistic. “A load of stuff. Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, angina . . . A load of stuff.” She locks the car with a click. “Dad’s got a Ranger, but Jiló keeps it after he drops him off.” “Jiló?! He’s still alive?” “Very much alive, and at Dad’s beck and call twenty-four hours a day.” She shoves open the kitchen door. “All right. Thanks for the company, Uncle Oséias. Goodnight!” “Night, Tamires.” “I’ll see you at the shop tomorrow!” “You bet,” I say, entering the guest room. I switch on the lamp. Outside, the towel I hung to dry on the clothesline lolls motionless. Though I need the bathroom, I don’t want to bump into Ricardo. I remove my glasses, put them on the nightstand. I take off my shirt and pants, hang them on the coatrack. I slip off my shoes and socks, nudge them under the bed. I switch off the lamp. I lie on the mattress in only my underwear. Moonlight spills through the window, bathing the laminate wood floor. My body aches . . . I’m exhausted . . . Jiló . . . Strange guy… A contemporary of Dr. Normando… Ricardo inherited him from his dad . . . Driver . . . Security guard . . . He does it all . . . They say he’s burdened by death . . . Where there’s smoke there’s Jiló, people used to say, with dread . . . Smoke . . . deliane’s evangelical marcim fonseca’s mayor sizim dad forbade isinha joão lúcio jôjo rosana calls him jôjo to this day rodeiro family plot monkeys eating popcorn nicolau nicolau nico lau lau nico big blue eyes wonder if dona eva’s still alive i’ve had so much rotten luck evil eye what is evil eye feast your eyes on gale of the wind there’s no wind still air hot i’ve got to pee lígia the ground the coffin what have you come here for window open rose-app