by HECTOR LEGRANDE
Five years ago I inherited a house. 2010 was a very good year. Let me describe the house for you.
I lived there with my sister Jeanie. It was her house, too, but because I paid the taxes on it, I got the master bedroom on the second floor. Jeanie and her boyfriend Enzo lived in the downstairs bedroom. When we had friends over, they stayed on the porch if it wasn’t too hot or too cold. If the weather wasn’t amenable, they slept on the floor.
My sister didn’t really care for Enzo’s friends, but I didn’t mind them too much. Most of them he met at work, and they would stay for a bit if they lost their jobs, or if their girlfriends threw them out.
I met one of these friends in the early morning. I was drinking coffee, and he was on the railing of the porch, which I regarded as unsafe.
“Get down from there,” I said, and he hopped to the floor so quickly that it took me a second to see he was afraid.
“No, it’s all right,” I said. I brought him to where the porch met the rock underneath the house. “An inspector came by here. He said we had to replace that railing. We didn’t do it.” He nodded. “What’s your name?”
“Victor,” he said. I made him coffee, the kind I never drink that Enzo likes. They call it mate here.
I didn’t see Victor for some time after that. But I was telling you about the house.
At the top of the house was a little room. It was too small to sleep in, or really, to do anything in. It was Victor who eventually would tell me what it was for.
There was a fisherman who used to come by the house all the time when we first moved in. He would offer us fish and I would decline, because they looked rather unsavory sitting there in his cooler. He stopped coming by when I never accepted any of his gifts. The night I’m about to tell you about, he did come by. He offered me three fish, and because I felt so bad about not being friendly when we first moved in, I took them, which made him smile.
That night my sister got into a fight with Enzo. He had this dog, Enzo did, and he never walked him. The dog’s head looked like a scrunched up bear cub, and he called it Honey because of that. Jeanie always walked Honey and I don’t think she even liked to either, but the difference was that she knew Honey needed a walk.
Enzo was therefore persona non grata in Jeanie’s bedroom, so he tried to sleep in a bunch of places. It was too hot to sleep outside, and he refused to sleep on the floor. Because it was something his ancestors did, it was something he could not do. So he crammed himself into that small room.
There is no word in English for what they call the room in Enzo’s country. The phrase that is most frequently substituted for it in English is ‘open cell’.
I should mention that Enzo had a job with the government. The department he worked was the geological survey, but he was not a specialist in that field himself. He was the guide they used when they went out to measure a place, because he was handy with all kinds of tools and things. I hated to admit it, but when I was out with Enzo I felt a lot safer than when I was with Jeanie just the two of us, or alone.
Victor had been fired from the department, Enzo had told me in the weeks that followed his first visit. Enzo told me that he did not know why Victor had been let go, but I thought I had a fairly good idea. I didn’t say anything.
In the morning Jeanie went up to get Enzo in the open cell. He wasn’t there.
This is not one of those stories. (Or maybe it is.) He was outside in the yard, and he was playing with Honey. They played fetch: although the dog wasn’t good at bringing it back, he could certainly go get it. He said he’d slept like an angel and he couldn’t believe it. Enzo always had a back problem from when he fell off the side of a cliff in his teens. Now he said he barely felt it.
Things were good between my sister and Enzo after that. I was glad they had each other, because otherwise I would been spending most of my time with her. She is a fine person, but she does not like doing the things that I do.
There were a few decent clubs in Enzo’s country. Most of them served cheap swill and if you complained about it, they’d show you the door. Others were a bit nicer, and wouldn’t take advantage of tourists by watering down every drink: they only did it every third cocktail or so.
I was out at the best of these places one night. It was called The Turtle, because it was underground. I was about to go home when I saw Victor sitting up on the bar, kissing the blackest man I had ever seen. Part of me didn’t want to interrupt, and I worried I would scare him worse than the first time I saw him.
Instead of walking up to him, I sent Victor a drink. The black man was the one who drank it, and he came right over to me and introduced himself. That was Markel, and I still see him sometimes – he’s the manager of a tequila distillery.
Victor came over, and he told Markel where I lived and how we knew each other. Markel seemed to relax a bit, and I suggested we all go back to my house. They both agreed, but by the time we left Markel had found an ex-boyfriend, or an ex had found Markel, and they were arguing. Victor said it might last a lot time, so we left.
It was late when we got to the house, and I noticed Honey was outside, worrying some of the plantings I had put in that spring. I let him back in the house and I checked on my sister, who was fast asleep by herself. We didn’t wake her up, but went to the open cell to see if Enzo was there.
I should tell you it’s quite the climb up to that cell. It must be twenty feet at least above the second floor, and if you keep going there’s a little bell at the top of the ladder. I asked Victor what it was for, and he said that was so you didn’t have to scream your lungs out to get someone’s attention. You could hear the bell in the whole house.
Victor was so fast. He climbed up to the top before I had even made it a few steps.. Do you know what we found up there?
Nothing and no one.
In this country, there were a lot of hiding places. The open cell wasn’t one of them. There are places that seem like hiding places, but they are not. They are just specific places where it is actually easier to look for missing things and to find them, and to alert others to what you have found.
Victor showed me to the basement after that. It was dark and bit creepy. The house was built on a massive rock. Where the rock met cement, Victor pressed a depression to reveal a small cavity within the stone. I said I wouldn’t want to stay there, and Victor agreed. “No one would want to.”
We looked for food in the fridge, but whatever was in there, Jeanie and Enzo had eaten. I found two of the fish left, wrapped in foil, so Victor cooked them on the grill. They tasted incredible, and after I had eaten mine I wanted another.
Victor had an odd face on after he ate his. He asked me where I had gotten this late dinner, and when I explained, his face paled. He ran to the bathroom and so did I, leaning against the door, wondering what was wrong.
We went to the open cell after that, and made love.
I thought I knew what it was like to hide, from my neighbors and from myself, but Victor knew even better. No one could know that he was gay, he said, not even Enzo. He would leave in the early morning, and if he ran into him he would not say I had invited him.
As it happened, when I saw Jeanie the next evening she told me that Enzo had moved out. They were still together, but he did not feel right about staying here rent-free anymore, and had gone to crash with one of his colleagues until he found a place of his own. I told her that he didn’t bother me, but why didn’t he take his dog with him? She made a face and went to her room.
A few days later I showed her the hiding place that Victor had discovered in the rock. She was not as surprised as I expected her to be. While we were looking at the cramped spot, Honey crawled in there and started to cry. I said that Victor had showed me. Did Enzo ever introduce them?
You have probably already figured out what she said. She told me Enzo had no friend or colleague by that name.
I only saw Victor one more time. It was so hot in the house that I was up in the middle of the night, drinking mate. (By that time, I had grown to tolerate the substance fairly well.) Thinking I could catch a fresh breeze in the open cell, I started the climb. But before I could get to the top, I heard a bell.
Hector Legrande is contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in New Jersey. This is his first appearance in these pages.
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