Tell me your English is just as fine as mine, Catalina, and I will know you finally for a forked-tongue liar.
You tell me, Catalina, it's raining outside when I can see for myself out the window those are long rays of sunshine dripping down on us and not the yellow raindrops you say they are. Get out of bed and feel for yourself, you say, Catalina, and you will feel for yourself they are wet. You know I'm very sick, Catalina, and if I move I might finally fall apart. My insides are not so held together as they once were, and my outsides these days have more holes than those I was born with. You once said that life was a pistola and a bala, but it feels more like buckshot to me. Enough to bleed, but not enough to finish the job.
The bed smells like a fresh grave. Catalina washes the linens in the river against the jagged rocks, her skirt hiked up to her hips and her shirt soaked translucent. She whaps the sheets against the rocks and then wrings them out with her indestructible wrists, like in the old days when death was god's fault and not the cigarettes'. They're still not dry when she puts them back on the bed, but they smell so good from the open air that I don't care. There's never a time anyway when something on me isn't wet.
Here you are, old man, Catalina says, and hands me a bowl of chicken consommé. I sip it slowly, like I used to when the glass was full of bourbon instead. As Catalina rubs my feet I beg her, just this once, to dump out this tasteless broth and fill the glass instead with dark, sweet bourbon.
I'm a dying man, Catalina, I say.
She shakes her head and her shoulders shake with it. You're not dying all over my clean sheets, she says.
I know she has it hidden somewhere in the house. I hear her pull the cork when she thinks I'm sleeping. I hear her talking in whispers to the soldiers on patrol. The way she beckons them to the door with a whistle and the way she invites them to join her because it's a sin to drink alone. The sucking sound of her trying to quiet their kisses. The heavy drop of unlaced boots on the floor.
We'll see, old man, Catalina says.
Does it mean, Catalina, we'll see if I live until the end of the week?
I used to hope that I was getting better, but then I found that my hope had holes in it, too. Holes appeared everywhere. Holes in the sheets. Holes in the roof, letting in the rain and the family of swallows. They swoop over me and low to the bed. Catalina goes after them with a broom.
Catalina, I say, they have as much right to be as I do. Come lay down with me and we'll listen together. The bed sighs heavy when she rolls next to me. We are very quiet, and then the swallows swoop down and over our chests. The sounds of their wings flutter. Catalina's bosom is big enough and her shirt low enough for the swallows to nest there. It is a place where a bird or a man can call home and feel good about dying there.
It's getting close, Catalina, I can feel it.
You've said that for ten years, she says. Ten long years.
I don't like it when you're with the soldiers, I tell her.
Yes, Catalina says.
I know you are lonely, I tell her. Soon, I feel it, you will be lonely again no more.
Where do you feel it, old man?
In my legs this time. In the pits of my shoulders. The back of my teeth.
She reaches over with her warm hand and strokes me with her long fingers. Perhaps it is time for bourbon, she says. She leans over and kisses me.
I know by the touch of her tongue, it's a kiss goodbye. I want to taste bourbon when I go, I tell her. I want it on my lips and I don't care what god says to me about it.
She helps me out of my pajamas. I'm no longer cold, and the pillows have lost their softness. I can smell the heat as Catalina unclothes.
Quiet now, old man, Catalina says. Save your strength for the kicking and screaming. There is always kicking and screaming.
Catalina pads to the other room in her bare feet and I watch after her bare ass. The snake inside me stirs. When she returns, she has the uncorked bottle and two glasses, already golden and clinking with ice cubes. I feel good enough to weep, and I do, because I'm dying and I don't care anymore if I leave this world weeping as long as I'm covered in Catalina. I used to believe that a man should face death brave, stoic and standing, but that was before Catalina, before I discovered that a woman like her can turn an old man like me back into a baby.
I reach for her breasts and she eases herself on top of me. My bones and the bedposts sigh together. It is wet and warm like when she tells me it's raining and she's right to say it the way the sun drips its streaks across us. The world is right when Catalina says, Feel that, old man, even the sun weeps for you.
I don't care what god will say when he smells liquor on my breath and Catalina on my skin. He was a man once too, and must understand how it is for a man like me to die. Catalina moans and the swallows chirp. I have one more scream inside me, with enough edges to tear down this world's hollow walls. I close my eyes and Catalina says, Rest now, old man. Rest.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, Aaron Hellem. All rights reserved.