In the photo, Guilherme was naked to the waist, arms crossed, swagger smile, slicked down, black hair, and blue tattoos on well-muscled biceps, delts and pecs. A silver scorpion pendant hung from his neck…”
by joseph giordano
Peter shoved his hands into his pockets to hide the tremors. Maybe, he thought, the trembling was due to brain damage. He bit his cheek to stop the tears. He followed the girl into a blue pastel, sun drenched living room. She directed him to a white, wicker chair, and she sat opposite. His gaze was distant. She reached forward and touched his knee. He jumped.
“Mr. Jensen, my sister will be down in a few minutes. Can I get you something to drink?”
There was an ice pitcher on a cocktail table. “Maybe some water.”
She poured and handed him the glass. His shakes tinkled the ice. He took a sip and said, “I’m sorry. Tell me your name again.”
“Eliana. Call me Eli.”
She flashed a pure white smile. Eli’s long brown hair was combed back behind her ears. Her orange sundress came to her thighs, and her legs were long and tan. Eli’s blue eyes skewered Peter, and he couldn’t hold her gaze. She was sixteen.
“Eli, I’ll remember.”
She said, “You look tired.” Her Brazilian accent had a samba lilt.
Peter’s eyes darted. “Sorry, the flight…”
She raised her eyebrows.
He shook his head. “No, I haven’t been myself lately.”
“Something happened to you in New York?”
“I was mugged. Stupid me. Jogging in Central Park, listening to my iPod, not alert. A black guy cracked my skull with something metal. The dude who rifled my pockets had hairy knuckles and smelled like garbage. His odor is still in my nostrils.” Peter’s face crinkled and he sniffed. “I was in the hospital for a month. Bad dreams afterwards. It’s winter in New York. I needed someplace warm.”
“Que penna – what a shame. I’m so sorry.”
“There’s a lot of crime in Rio, you need to be careful on the street. But at least we also have plenty of sun.”
“Once your sister helps me get settled, the beach and the sea air will be good therapy.”
“How do you know Luiza?”
“Oh, no, sorry, I never actually met your sister. My mother knows her. She’s a professor at Columbia and was Luiza’s PhD thesis advisor.”
“So you spoke to Luiza by phone?”
“No, my mother did. Luiza agreed to help get me settled in Rio.”
“This is your first time in Brazil?”
“My first time out of the States.”
“I see.” Eli stood, walked to a picture window and looked out.
Through the glass Peter could see the front garden and the stone walk where the taxi dropped him. The flat, gray-slate path was lined with violet, red and yellow flowers nestled in dense green.
She said, “You took a cab straight from Galeão when you landed?”
“Your sister knew I was coming today.”
“Of course.” Eli turned and retook her seat.
“But, you know nothing about Luiza’s boyfriend, Guilherme?”
“That’s his picture on the table. Looks like a shrine, doesn’t it?”
In the photo, Guilherme was naked to the waist, arms crossed, swagger smile, slicked down, black hair, and blue tattoos on well-muscled biceps, delts and pecs. A silver scorpion pendant hung from his neck. Red flowers were scattered around the tortoise shell frame.
“Tough looking dude.”
“He’s in prison.”
“Oh.” Peter sat back in his chair.
“Guilherme grew up in the favela. He stole, and ran drugs before he was thirteen. Last year Guilherme sliced the throat of a guy he thought was hitting on Luiza. The judge gave him a life sentence.”
“Wow. I wouldn’t have expected a college professor to fall for such a violent guy.”
Eli shrugged her shoulders. “I suppose he seemed dangerous, mysterious.”
“Did the man attack him?”
“No, quite the opposite. He was a casual acquaintance of Luiza’s from the university. Luiza and the man were just talking. But Guilherme was crazy jealous. He wouldn’t permit her even to speak with men. It was terrible. Luiza witnessed the entire thing. You would think a murder would convince her that Guilherme was poison. But unfortunately the incident made her obsession with him worse.” Eli looked away from Peter. “I shouldn’t say this, but I’m glad he’s in prison. He made me nervous anytime he was around, and I was certain it was only a matter of time before he’d get violent with Luiza.”
“She keeps his picture out in the open. Incredible.”
“Oh, it’s worse than that. She hallucinates that he’s coming home. She refuses to accept that he’ll never get paroled. I wish that she’d meet someone else, but she maintains this sick vigil and doesn’t go out.”
Eli leaned forward and touched Peter’s knee again. He didn’t flinch. “That’s why I’m glad you’re here. Luiza needs a friend.”
“Well, I understand trauma. She may not have control of her emotions. It’s not easy to put aside a bad experience.”
“Perhaps you’re right. But when I saw you at our door today, something said to me that you might be able to take her out of herself. It was foolish, I know. But I hoped.”
“The psychiatrist told me a relationship would help with my recovery. But…” Peter shook his head.
They heard Luiza’s footfalls on the stairs, and she breezed into the room. Luiza’s brown eyes sparkled, almost too bright. Her dark hair was severely pulled back, and she wore a red, collared blouse and dangling silver earrings.
“Peter, I’m Luiza. I’m so happy you’re here.”
She strode toward Peter. He rose and put out his hand, but she grabbed his shoulders and greeted him Brazilian style, a kiss on each check. Peter reddened. Luiza held his arm in both of hers. Her face was close to his. Her scent was jasmine.
Peter swallowed. He said, “It was kind of you to agree to help me.”
“Oh, it’s nothing.” She turned her face to Eli. “You’ve met my sister. She’s very entertaining, don’t you think?”
Peter’s face furrowed. He stammered. “Y-yes, she’s very charming.”
Luiza held onto him. “This is going to be such a great day.”
“Yes, my Guilherme is coming home. He’s been away.”
Peter looked at Eli. “Oh?”
Eli gave a slight shrug of her shoulders.
Luiza said. “Yes, you’ll love him. Eli, get Peter a drink. Have you ever had a caipirinha?”
Outside the window a dog barked, and three heads turned. A young man walked up the slate path with a leashed Rottweiler that looked like it ate kittens.
Peter’s eyes went to Guilherme’s photograph, then again to the man outside, and his mouth dropped open. Guilherme stopped and pointed at Luiza still clinging to Peter’s arm. Peter looked at Eli. Her eyes were wide, and her mouth gaped. Her palms grasped the sides of her head, and she mimed, “Oh my God.”
Peter shook off Luiza’s grip and bolted toward the back of the house. He found a back door, flung it open and ran.
Luisa took a step and called out. “Peter, what’s the matter?”
By this time Guilherme had entered the house. He’d left the Rottweiler tied outside. He said, “Who was that?”
Luiza said, “My God, how strange. That’s Peter, the son of my mentor at Columbia. I don’t know why he took off.” She turned to Eli. “Do you know why he ran away?”
“Well, he told me he was attacked by dogs in Central Park. Perhaps it was the Rottweiler that unnerved him. That beast is ugly.”
Guilherme said, “Hey, be nice. Quasimodo can hear you.”
Luiza said, “Guilherme, I’m responsible for Peter. You need to get him to come back. This is his first day in Brazil.”
Guilherme said, “If he runs into a favela they’ll pick him clean and lick their fingers afterward.” He gave Luiza a kiss. “It’s nice to be home. The traffic in São Paulo was murder.”
“Tell me about it later.
As Guilherme went out the door, Eli shouted after him. “He’s a jogger. You’ll need to run fast to catch him.”
(photos: keith moul)