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Renan tries to close his eyes to escape the repetition. He’s an old man now, but still can’t control his impulse, his arms threatening his son after the argument. When that happens, he feels aimless. Meanings of an entire life return to his thoughts and he needs to account for them: his father’s funeral, his memories. The man had the habit of beating him when he arrived home after watching the fights in the arena, a kind of love.
It’s not really an attack, but an explosion. Maura notices that her husband is nervous and looses his coordinates, accusing his grown son with rude words. He doesn’t want the boy to get a divorce. “But he’s a made man,” she tries to argue. Her father-in-law is dead now, but the scars remain in her husband’s body, who even to this day keeps the image of the man like a trophy. His wife doesn’t know how long this will last. She thinks that with time Renan will feel relieved.
His father is old now, but shows imbalance. Marco wants his friendship but Renan doesn’t accept his way of being, or his choices. The picture of his grandfather is hanging behind the office’s door, so his father can recall the rules, the marriage, the work, the children and the career. Marco has tried it before. Got married, worked in a bank, and was obedient through the years. The truth, unavoidable, surfaces and his body betrays him with a forbidden desire for men.
In that morning, in an obtuse manner, his father attacks him, saying that his decision to get a divorce is irrational, nostalgic words referring to the old man’s rules, “family, work and society,” all that inflated by his grandfather’s death. After the shouts, Renan appears emptied, as though the discussion no longer concerned him.
In an effort to spend the weekend with his son, Renan loses his temper. Perhaps if he had left soon after the ceremony, the conflict would have been lessened. Each one knows what to do to with their own lives, Renan thinks, regretful of having yelled with his son. Maura spoils the boy, yet that doesn’t justify his late outbursts. Renan considers himself a respected man by the community, and his son’s modernity causes him repugnancy, no connections with anyone.
He doesn’t know exactly what kind of life his son leads, but fears his lack of discipline. Maura protects the boy ever since his adolescence and Renan feels impotent. His father’s death weakens him, perhaps for not being able to possess the same power over his son. In the meantime Maura is in the kitchen preparing dinner and Marco Antônio in the living room fidgeting with his phone. He can’t stay still, still looking like a boy, despite being a mature man now. Renan always had the impression that his son and wife shared a privileged safe space when together in the same ambient. Maura considers it difficult to participate in Renan’s intimacy, and Marco attaches himself to her.
Maura and Marco spend a long time together when her husband is still active in the army, living great part of his time in headquarters, giving orders. At home, he shuts down in front of the television, a man with few words, who likes the privacy of his silent space. With his retirement, his authority changes focus, and reappears in unexpected moments, like when he chats with his son about his personal life and wants to control him. Moments later, as dinner is served, the strangeness of the family dissipates. Maura feels resigned beside her husband and son. She washes the dishes, and tries not to mention the divorce again.
Her motions are slow, and her mind divagates. When she goes to bed, she dreams with a half happy family somewhere in the world, because perfection doesn’t exist. The following day, Bruno appears to visit them. His wife is very catholic and believes that Maura and her are friends. The Church needs donations. Bruno still smokes and drinks, and his wife is concerned, complaining.
It is the only friend her husband still keeps from the army. His wife has her life, and many social events. Maura gets up and begins to walk in circles, a habit of hers. Her husband’s friend, always tense, smokes the same cigarette since adolescence, despite having had a heart attack. The sky is pink, and the end of the afternoon carries traces of lethargy. Marco explains he’s there because of his grandfather’s funeral. The lightness of her son protects him from the bitterness of the environment, people who seem to live other people’s lives.
Bruno wants to show support, feels for Renan’s father death, but is not skillful with words. “It is tough to be a father nowadays,” he says. They wait dinner to be ready and discuss common subjects, their time in the army. Suddenly, they shift to Marco’s life, his marriage. “It didn’t work,” he explains. The other man nods with his head, as though already knowing the truth. The boy is gay, but nobody pronounces the words, despite the modernity of today’s world.
Things just didn’t work out, and desire can’t be translated by words only. The smell of chicken stock cooking in the fire is more real. The rest is destiny. Nobody can erase what the skin feels, just hide it behind ready phrases, Marco evaluates. After dinner, Marco dozes in the living room and wakes up in the middle of the night scared. He dreams with a man called Elis. Is it the name of a woman? He doesn’t know.
Elis is Mexican, and Marco’s father has prejudice against latinos, despite being one of them. What would he do, then, if he discovered his son is gay? Elis’ black hair touches his skin in a dark room, a queen bed. He’s holding Marco’s feet under the blanket and saying “everything will be ok.”
When Renan opens his eyes, the room is dark. He recalls his son in the living room, a habit developed in childhood. When Marco was small, he asked his father to hold his feet under the blanket in the chair, as Renan appeared in the middle of the night to take the kid back to his room. The boy would get so excited with his presence that he usually asked for things he didn’t desire.
“I want a lemonade,” he said one time in a warm night.
Renan went to the kitchen, squeezed two lemons, and brought it back in a cup with water and honey. The image returns to him. What does his son wants from life? He’s oppressive as a father, but deep down he feels love. Marco is a piece of himself, how could he wish him bad? During the day, he wants to impose discipline. Hypnotized by his presence in the house, he feels the stuffiness of the room, summer approaching.
The sounds of a city in the interior are different. When he lived there, Marco was incapable of deciphering the silence. Now he feels his memories arrive scattered, like the ocean sounds. The steps of his grandfather in the stairs, when he came to visit, were a type of threat, his negativity, tiredness and constant suffering a type of model. He had died of a heart attack, almost standing, as though his life had no ending. It was the most difficult love Marco had bear, such toughness, his father’s mirage.
Maura tries to guess what her husband feels when he wakes up in the middle of the night and remains watching his son in the living room. Does old age bring a new type of reflection? They fight but are very much alike, with a reserved manner of loving. She learned how to live amongst men. Her father died very young, and she almost doesn’t recall him. In the following day, in better spirits, she invites her son to go for a walk on the beach. Outside, the sun is hidden.
She walks slowly and takes off her shoes, her feet feeling the cold water. The ocean’s immensity is unbearable because insurmountable. Marco thinks about the breaking of the waves as an exercise of letting go. What returns not always goes forward, like happiness, so illusory. Marco thought that if he divorced his wife, he would be happier, freer. But he can’t find the feeling inside of himself. He has superficial relationships, without place, with unknown men. Still, he prefers the truth.
In his return walk with his mother, he finds his father under the straw barrack on the beach. His blond hair, almost white, is blinding. He smiles when he sees him. It is very windy and stuffy, and Renan avoids exposing his skin to the sun. Men standing besides fishing boats, and strangers walking on the sand, give the place a placid rhythm. It is the first morning since the burial of his father, and that gives him a strange sensation of relief. He is also happy that his son is there.
Renan is retired, and most of his fantasies are overtaken. What is left is the present, his life of father and husband. In this space, this opening, love is possible. Hope is necessary. Marco is very attached to his mother, but it is his father he misses the most. Besides him on the beach, his presence indicates a sense of direction. He wanted to be a father too, one day. Far away, he observes his mother inside the water and wants to dive in. Since doesn’t have a bathing suit he takes off his shirt and sits in the sand, on the shade side.
Her body goes up and down in the waves, and besides her, a person, who he can’t identify. Slowly she exits the water accompanied by a middle age man, in better shape than his father. Unexpectedly, Marco feels alert, as though he wanted to protect her. He waits until they approach. The man has hairy legs and wears a red short.
“Marco?” The man asks. “Your son is like you,” he tells his mother.
His father is not surprised, he knows the man, an old boyfriend of Maura’s. But Marco feels unattended; he had never seen his mother in the company of another man before except his father. He wants an explanation, and feels as authoritarian as his father. But Renan is relaxed, even laughs with the stranger. Maura caresses Marco’s hair, protecting him against the cold, as though he were still a child. Quickly, he moves away from her.
“Aren’t you going to introduce him?” He says, observing the cannon tattooed in the man’s arms.
His father explains that they met in the army, but he was the lucky one who ended up marrying Maura. They all laugh. His mother finds his jealousy funny.
“Why don’t I know you?” Marco questions.
“You were very little when I moved away,” the man explains.
But nobody seems to worry about Marco’s tension, each one content with their stories. Not even his father, once interested in his future, seems to care. He wants to live his retirement in peace and even seem happy with his grandfather’s death.
Maura keeps the wideness of the ocean and the brilliancy of the sun carefully inside. Despite her father-in-law’s death, life continues with docile pauses. The negativity of the man, unforgettable, still resonated in her ears. He abused his words, and liked to torment others with his negative predictions. There, on the beach, she tries to forget the past.
Carlos is an unexpected surprise. Different from her husband, he is in good shape, and still maintains his body like in the army. Her son is jealous, wants to know about everything. He forgets she is a woman, already desired by other men. The stranger dries himself, puts a green shirt on and wraps a towel around his waist, as though he were still a soldier in his prime years, changing his bathing suit to underwear.
“Years of practice in the army,” he justifies, before Maura’s gaze.
“Why the visit?” Marco asks, trying to appear natural.
“Don’t be indelicate,” Maura interrupts.
Carlos doesn’t seem offended, and says he came for Renan’s father burial. She seems truly surprised.
“But you didn’t talk to us,” she still exclaims.
He doesn’t add a word. Renan likes the man, he doesn’t feel jealous. Marco notices that his hair is trimmed close to his skull, as though he still belonged to the army. He doesn’t have a ring in his finger.
“And you, are you married?” Marco asks.
“No, I married the army,” he says, smiling.
Carlos sits besides Marco, on the sand. There is an awkward silence. Maura looks at Marco Antônio, who seems bothered.
“Mom, I think it is better that I go,” Marco Antônio says, impatient, folding the towel.
Renan notices that his son feels discomfort and walks alone to the house. Slowly, Maura, Renan and Carlos follow his steps, each one with their own history, and ghosts.
“How long you and Maura have been married?” Carlos asks, before leaving.
“I don’t know,” Maura replies, lost in the passage of the years. “Twenty?”
On their way back home, they cross narrow streets, the neighbour’s radio filling the silence, keeping each one’s desire a mystery. Maura finds it unproductive to worry about her son, his loneliness or jealousy. He has always been like so, attached to her. Renan prefers to forget his son’s private life, happy in his ignorance. At a certain moment, he tries to hold his wife’s hands but her steps are hastened. During dinner, Marco lets them know that he will be leaving the next day, and his parents agree.
Maura’s hands are cold when Marco says goodbye.
“It is just me and myself now,” her son says, as though already missing her. His eyes are sad, very similar to his dad’s.
After he leaves, Maura begins to clean the kitchen, and the marble shines, illuminated by the phosphorescent light. At that evening, Renan holds
Maura from her back, like they did when they were young. It is hot, and she leans against him, two adolescents, stooped against the sink. Eventually, the son visits. But they don’t argue anymore
Short Fiction published in Fine Flu Journal.