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In The Wink of an Eye

by

Kelly Cherry


 

THE PLACE: Earth

THE TIME: It's later than you think






WAKING







When the sun woke Miguel, Rosita was still asleep in his arms. Her dark cloud of hair, wild and wavy, falling across his face, screened the full force of the sun from his eyes. He could look straight up, past the knotted sides of the hammock, past planted fruit trees, past tree turkeys and parrots, past the dense, dark green trees of the jungle, straight into a sweet, blue sky, the eye of God.





WAKING II






There were mango trees, guavas, Brazil nuts: an orchard on the edge of the selva or montana, a lowland tropical forest. You could smell rotten guavas.

Bodies began to stretch, mouths to yawn, heads to bob. The camp was coming alive.






THE LIFE OF A REVOLUTIONARY IN THE
GREEN HELL OF BOLIVIA





Rosita stirred. Miguel yawned, and a lock of her hair slipped into his mouth. He pulled it out, half-annoyed, half-liking the taste of that mysterious penumbra.

He thought of her hair as a shadow around the ring of light her loving face made.

Her full breasts slid, cool as shaded stone, across his chest. Her back was latticed by light filtering through tree boughs festooned with ferns, mosses, and orchids. Her legs, under the sleeping bag draped like a quilt over the lower half of the hammock, were warm against his, pressing heavily in her gravity-stricken sleep. She was wearing nothing but underpants—Fruit of the Loom jockey shorts. She always borrowed his jockey shorts. Miguel sighed at the thought of the slit in the shorts, and of the slit below that one.

Miguel shifted under her weight, and Rosita opened her eyes. In a few minutes, Miguel knew, she would begin her morning chatter. Rosita's mouth, so red-lipped and gay, was like a transistor radio, portable and nonstop. He seldom actually listened to what she had to say, but her platter-patter, as Ramon, who had been to America and knew all about Dick Clark, called it, functioned as white noise, blocking out surrounding distractions. Miguel liked it; it let him concentrate on whatever task was at hand.

At the moment, he was concentrating on the bankroll he and Ramon had liberated from the Euro-Bolivian Real Estate and Livestock Company in Santa Cruz.

_____

They had sent the money out of the country to be laundered. Now they were waiting for nice, clean money, fresh-smelling as new-washed diapers… .

To buy Bolivia with. To buy back Bolivia.

Bolivia.

Where men died within seven years of entering the tin mines. Where the workers ate soup made from ashes. Where anyone could go for a walk and never return, except dead.

Where the mountains were so tall they kissed the heavens. Where the land took dizzying leaps and jumps and dives, and came to a sudden standstill, like a stopped heart, in the little-known lowlands of the Green Hell. Where alligators were like live shoes, walking, their eyes flashing like gold buckles.

Where a two-legged "alligator" could go for a walk and return as the President, with a platoon of alligator-guards expert in torture, and an alligator to head the censor bureau.

Against the two-legged alligators, there was only one recourse: La Revolucion.


A true revolutionary
Che said—
is moved by a deep feeling of love.


This was certainly true of Miguel, lover par excellence. And as with any true revolutionary, his love was not limited to the nearby, nor dependent on delineating the one from the many, or the parts, as it were, from the whole. He loved everyone and everything (excluding fascists, police, and two-legged alligators) . His love was all-encompassing. The world, the world, the earth and its people in their manifold particularities! from llamas to mimosas to brunettes in jockey shorts.

He was often so overcome by the natural beauty of the world that he would have embraced it in its entirety if he could and only reluctantly settled for Rosita, or any other woman who happened to be in his bed. Women, to him, were the world in fine, their faces mirroring the moods of the sky, their breasts like the snowy sun-tipped peaks of the Andes, the smooth altiplano of abdomen and pelvis sloping down toward the forested basin of the Amazon, its semitropical valleys, the long flowing parallel rivers of their legs salty in summer and in winter as tingly to the tongue as the waters of Lake Titicaca.

Thinking of Rosita's breasts, he thought of Illampu and Illimani, the two majestic peaks overlooking La Paz.

But this was brotherly love as well, and in the faces of his small hand of followers, the troops of liberation, in the pride with which they carried out the most mundane chores of the guerrilla fighter—bandaging bleeding feet and stewing cat meat, scrubbing rags of clothes on stones with green berries for soap, pulling a grateful passing peasant's rotten teeth—in these men, and women, Miguel saw the revival of the vision of Simon Bolivar the Liberator, a dream-to-come-true of one united Latin American republic.

"Huy-yui-yui!" Miguel said. "What do you think you're doing?"

Rosita had turned south under the sleeping bag, and her words were muffled, but what she was doing made their meaning clear. "Eggs for breakfast," she said.

Huevos means "eggs." It also means "balls."

She was completely turned around now, and Miguel could read the Fruit of the Loom tag on the back of the jockey shorts.

"There's no time for this," he said. "Not today."

"We’ll make time. Yum-yum," she said. "I'm hungry. Besides, scientific studies show that south of the border there is no sense of time. What can be done today can be done manana."

"Mierda," Miguel said, and upset the hammock so that she landed with a thud on her backside.

She glared at him, rubbing her rear. Then she brought her left hand up, slamming her right index finger between the forefinger and thumb to say "fuck you" in sign language, rose with as much dignity as was available to her under the circumstances, and marched off to get dressed.

_____

Miguel was twenty-nine, dark, tall, solid, with brown eyes and a black mustache. The wall of his stomach was hard as brick, and when he was drunk, he liked to invite people to test their fists against it. He wore a red bandana around his neck, using it to wipe his face in the stifling heat of a May midday. He had grown up in the city, or, more precisely, in the alleys of the city, learning to survive with guerrilla tactics long before he became a guerrilla. He'd been a gamin, a chino de la calle, a child of the street, beggar, hustler of gringos, and financial finagler—all before the age of puberty. La Paz was a jungle all right; it made him long for real jungle, peaceful by comparison. He became a leader of a camada, a gang. He grew up; he became a rebel against repression. He loved the life he led. (Wine, women, and song; fellowship; oh yes, and the great outdoors.) He was part Indian. He had no education, no schooling beyond the first grade; he learned from the conversation of friends like Ramon, who'd been to college in distant places. Miguel always listened offhandedly, blowing cigarillo smoke in Ramon's scholarly face, as if Marx and Lenin and Fanon were familiar names, as if history and philosophy were subjects he'd long ago mastered and surpassed. But he listened. He was always smart enough to listen.

_____

He was fond of the color blue; it made him think of heaven. And of baths, because he'd never had too many when he was a child, living on his own and filching scraps from the market or begging leftovers from diners at sidewalk cafes. He was fond of Rosita.

Fond of, but not in love with. He valued her femininity, the contrast she made to the rough texture of his daily regimen. In addition to which, she was a first-rate fighter in the field—and he valued that even more. But he pulled firmly against her desire, her dangerous desire, to settle down, to marry and have children and give in to that part of the self that would favor itself over the needs of others.

The needs of Bolivia.

No, Rosita was adorable and lively and tempting, but Miguel did not find her essential to his existence. She did not hold his attention the way he sometimes wished a woman would, like a sun around whom the planet of his being might orbit endlessly, in love with light itself. She did not occupy the major part of his mind, which was too capacious, too broad to be fully occupied by her idea of domesticity.

What did? What did engage the whole of his intelligence? Underneath the extensive circuitry of his brain and its limitless connections to the wide world, it must be clear, was a Miguel who was afraid to think too deeply. Afraid, because long thoughts would lead him inevitably to the lost world of his childhood, to his orphaned and lonely child-self, and that way lay madness: better the greater madness of building an altogether new world, a world not yet lost because not yet won.






THE TWINKLE IN GOD'S EYE







And yet, not even in Bolivia is everything grim, not when God, saddened by what he sees, decides to take matters—or, rather, matter—in hand, and turn it inside out.





A GOURD OF MATÉ






Flowers and fruit scattered their perfume recklessly into the air. It was winter, but by noon Miguel would have to strip to his waist to stay cool. He would wear his cartridge belt over his bare chest then. Sweat would collect on his forehead under the rim of his beret. He would wipe his face with the red bandana. His mustache would gleam as if it had been carved from ebony.

Rosita was making maté', a tea brewed from Paraguayan holly leaves. It had a dark, thunderous taste, and Bolivians drank it as if it were the source of life, but it was only tea, a strong tea sipped through a wooden tube from a hollow gourd.

The coca-chewers carried slow death in their mouths. They made an all-day quid by inserting some lime, then a coca leaf or two, and the lime released the alkaloid. With the lump in their cheek and the vacant look in their eyes, they were like zombies. Miguel allowed no zombies in his camp.

"Tiene coca, no tiene hambre," the coca-chewers said. "With coca, one has no hunger." The coca let them work long hours without eating. But Miguel said, "Zombies are what the fascist alligator feeds on!" He said it again and again, until his point was made. The coca-chewers were usually highlanders, anyway.

While Rosita worked next to the fire, Miguel rolled up the hammock. It gave off a ripe odor that was by now integral to the loose-woven material itself, an odor achieved from countless nights of sleeping on the march. It had not been necessary, as of course it always was during the rainy season, to use the sheet of waterproof plastic. In the rainy season, this sheet was tied to the hammock's corners and raised by a line through its center, to make an off-ground "tent" that shed water. But this morning was crisp and dry.

Miguel packed his knapsack, having first removed from it his plate, knife, spoon, and cup, pulled on his shoes, and strapped his ammunition belt in two diagonals across his chest. He was wearing fatigues.

As he stood on the grassy hillside, waiting for his tea to be served to him by a beautiful woman, Miguel felt an excitement rising in his body, an excitement that had little to do with Rosita and much more to do with the view now slowly, seductively revealing itself to his early-morning gaze.

Zaz! he thought, or, as Ramón would say, Right on! It was the expanse, the wide scope, the way the cinematic blue sky crashed into the bush-pocked sierra in the west. (Those were the first foothills of the Andes announcing themselves.) He knew this world well: to the south, farming communities producing fruit, grain, and cattle; farther south, desert and salt lakes, the saline as white in the sun as snow or cocaine; to the north, the Mato Grosso. Eastward to Brazil, the thick forests were one long, green rug, thinning out near the border. The geographical quadrants of Bolivia were like a quartet, each with its own timbre (not to say, timber) and ecological range. And this ensemble was now tuned for the awaited opening note.

Which Miguel would sound.

For the music of the day was La Revolución.

Landlocked Bolivia, dependent on Chile for the use of a single railroad to the Pacific coast though two hundred miles of that coast had once been Bolivia's—dependent on Chile though Chile had stolen the coastal desert of Antofagasta—and dependent on Stroessner's Paraguay for a single river port, this encircled Bolivia was everybody's target. It was a buffer for the relations between its five neighbors, contiguous neighbors, and their gain was Bolivia's loss, for over the years, each of them had encroached upon the circle, shrinking its circumference, chipping away at little Bolivia mercilessly. Meanwhile the imperialists from Norteamerica went straight to the center: cheap tin.

(And silver and cheap labor and cocaine by the kilo.)

Ramón the intellectual had given Miguel the caudillo a new word: irredentismo. It referred to the policy of incorporating territories that, though they had come to "belong" to another country, were related by history or ethnicity to one original unit- in this case, Bolivia. Miguel envisioned a Bolivia remade, a bionic Bolivia, its amputated appendages, Chile's Antofagasta, Brazil's Acre, and Paraguay's Chaco, politically if not surgically resewn to a liberated governmental body.

Bolivia itself was located dead center—live center—of the whole of South America. Well, almost.

In this semifact, Miguel read an omen of success.

He saw Bolivia as the hub of a wheel whose spokes were Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, and Peru.

He saw Bolivia as a pure jewel surrounded by mere semiprecious stones.

Bolivia must have its own free port on the Pacific Ocean!

Rosita came over to him with the pot of hot water and poured it into his drinking gourd until the gourd was nearly full; the leaves would steep. She kissed him on the neck, turning to go. He caught her by the hand. Naturally, she took this as permission to talk, and began to say her litany: Last night had been wonderful, would he care for a banana, tonight she must wash her hair, did he know that she sometimes missed her poor old mother. Her words pelted Miguel's mind like a quick warm shower, faintly arousing. Until he realized she was saying, in that way women have of sending messages, appearing to be submissive while in fact making demands, that "mañana is time enough for decisions… . Why disturb the present, which is so beautiful and complete in itself?" She couldn't meet his eyes, looked at the ground as if the most interesting thing in the world was the way her toes could grip grass. "After all," she said, "I must be a real dummy. To be so jodida." Jodido: miserable; all fucked up.

Miguel knew that the "decisions" Rosita was talking about came in two genders, boy and girl.

How could he even think of having children? He was father already to a dozen grown men, men with hair on their faces— barbudos, "bearded ones." Father to their future!

All around him, his men were getting dressed, cleaning their weapons, drinking coffee from tin cans or maté' from brown-stained gourds, moving over the hill. It was at moments like this, early in the morning, his wakeful mind anticipating action, the air still alive with the possibility of surprise, the mysteries of the day as yet unopened, that Miguel felt the power of his own charisma most keenly. He was one crazy joker, a caudillo, all right, one crazy son of a gun. He smiled to himself as he sipped his maté', and Rosita, thinking he was laughing at her, flounced off, tossing her beautiful hair back over her shoulders. But Miguel was smiling because he had remembered the big "bucks," as the gringos said, due back across the border any day now. With those laundered bank notes in his knapsack, cleanliness would be next to godliness.





THOUGH THE READER, NOT TO MENTION THE WRITER, IS
SUBJECT TO HUMAN LIMITATION AND THEREFORE
MAY NOT HAVE STOPPED TO FORETHINK THIS, GOD'S EYE,
BEING ALL-SEEING, IS SIMULTANEOUSLY OBSERVING
(IN FACT, GLARING BALEFULLY UPON) THE BIG
APPLE, WHERE WE CAN NOW FIND MIGUEL'S MATCH,
WHOM, THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE,
MIGUEL HAS YET TO MEET






"Cleanliness is next to godliness." Mo-ther, Jane thought, throwing the missive from her maternal parent into the trash can. The trash can was overflowing with litter. So was the room.

She lit a cigar, puffing furiously.

The "ness" in "godliness" had fallen off toward the bottom of the page. A sign that her mother the secret tippler had reached the bottom of the sherry bottle.

Her mother would never understand. Here she was, struggling to survive as a free-lance metal sculptor in an illegal loft in a warehouse on the Bowery in New York City, and her mother, foolish woman, was preaching to her. Preaching! When to her mother, God was Harveys Bristol Cream. Jesus was Dry Sack. The Holy Ghost was the Almadden you drank when you didn't want your husband to know how high your liquor bill was running. Not that that made any real difference. Jane's father was a banker.

But Jane was broke. She was broke, but she had just been fined by the Internal Revenue Service for sixteen stupid dollars. How was this possible? How was this even possible?? How, in the name of Harveys Bristol Cream, Dry Sack, and Almaden, was this even thinkable??? Glancing at her mother's letter in the wastebasket, she yanked out a sheet of her own stationery, a ruled legal tablet from the local grocery mart, which somehow had the idea that the winos on the street might be literary types. Hunched in deep and indignant concentration over her workbench, Jane began her letter to the IRS. Her cigar had gone out.





BUY BOLIVIA!
BE A PIONEER!






Two weeks later, Miguel and Ramón were seated across the desk from the general manager of the Euro-Bolivian Real Estate and Livestock Co. Two company officers stood nearby.

Looking at the company officers, Miguel was thinking that the only livestock this company owned were jackasses.

Okay. Now, the Euro-Bolivian Real Estate and Livestock Co., which had bought, with less-than-legal money, its concession from the Bolivian government, worked like this: Interested parties, attracted by the slick advertising, could write to mailing addresses in Monaco or Rotterdam, offering to buy acreage from the Estado de Santa Cruz, the State of Santa Cruz being, of course, a subdivision within Bolivia. This acreage was being sold in variously sized plots on down payment and monthly installments, sight unseen, though up to a year was allowed for inspection. No one, however, ever actually came to inspect. That was important. The company could—and did—bank on that.

Pioneering, the company called it in their ads. Be a pioneer. Amuse yourself by "creating a survival/recreational farm." The company made it sound like the buyer would be investing in a combination hunting lodge, sexual hideaway, and fallout shelter.

The company neglected to mention that such a creation cost in addition approximately two hundred dollars per acre just to clear away the jungle, and even that was without figuring in inflation.

"Think of us," Miguel said, in Spanish, of course, "as pioneers." He bared his teeth. His mustache took on a sinister aspect.

Miguel and Ramón had just offered to buy the entire State of Santa Cruz, or at least as much of it as the Euro-Bolivian Real Estate and Livestock Co. laid claim to.

Precisely how such a claim could have been laid was not to be examined too closely. To open up an investigation would lead, as all investigations in Bolivia did, straight to the Bolivian government. Which was never too stable. In the more than one hundred fifty years since its independence, Bolivia had experienced, by a number of different counts, somewhere between one hundred sixty and one hundred eighty-nine coups, or slightly more than one a year. No doubt the current Bolivian government, eager to remain in power as long as possible and knowing how short that was likely to be, would not want it known among the natives and locals that they were selling, and selling out, the State of Santa Cruz, even if it was by the proxy company of the Euro-Bolivian Real Estate and Livestock Co., and even if it was to foreigners who never showed up. It might be difficult to explain that these foreigners all had a tendency to wear long robes, drive Cadillacs, read Arabic, and call themselves sheiks.

What, anyway, would an investigation by the Bolivian government uncover? That Miguel and Ramón had heisted an enormous bankroll from the Euro-Bolivian Real Estate and Livestock Co.? But where had the Euro-Bolivian Real Estate and Livestock Co. got their bankroll in the first place? Could the Euro-Bolivian Real Estate and Livestock Co. publicly complain to the Bolivian government? No. The Bolivian government, in its infinite wisdom, would deny that they had ever granted any such concession to the company in the first place. What country, they would ask, with official innocence, would parcel itself out, piece by piece, to Saudi Arabia?

(Besides England.)

Clearly, that would be mad. And clearly, the Euro-Bolivian Real Estate and Livestock Co. was up a creek, if not the Amazon, and without a paddle. Snap, snap went the alligator jaws.

So. Miguel and Ramón were simply Bolivians buying back Bolivia for Bolivia. That the money with which they were buying it was a stolen bankroll which had previously been a kickback, and before that, a collection of payoffs garnered by the preceding government which the current government, ousting its predecessor, had had to label illegal and therefore ought to have returned to the people's treasury but had not, was merely a typical Bolivian business transac-tion.

For Miguel was a revolutionary with a very revolution-ary attitude: He was going to beat these capitalists at their own game.

The man behind the desk had the look of a piranha whose dinner had just been snatched out of reach. He had a broad-bellied body that appeared to be screwed at a strategic point into the swivel chair behind the desk. With every sentence he spoke, he seemed to wind himself farther down into the wood seat.

One of the men standing to the side filled a glass with water, dropped an Alka-Seltzer tablet into it, waited for the fizz, and handed it to his boss.

"You won't get away with this," the general manager growled. He wore a pink pin-striped shirt with a navy blue suit. "We'll find you. Bastards! Go to the moon, and we'll find you."

Miguel laughed. It would be easier to find him on the moon than in the Green Hell of the vast selva.

When they heard him laugh, the duo of thugs advanced toward Miguel. His black mustache instantly seemed to turn even blacker, as if it might ignite; he looked like a man who could wear a mustache of fire. He bared his fangs again. It was a look he had often practiced in the little mirror he carried in his sack, and he knew it was effective. The general manager held up his hand, and the two thugs came to a halt.

The general manager tugged at a nonexistent goatee; it was a signal to his sidekicks to stay piocha, cool.

Miguel smiled again, more carefully this time.

The way Miguel looked at it, the Euro-Bolivian Real Estate and Livestock Co. should be glad to have its money back and the Green Hell off its hands.

The Green Hell was that part of the State of Santa Cruz that the clients of the Euro-Bolivian Real Estate and Live-stock Co. would have discovered they were buying, if any of them had ever come to inspect.

It was hell.

And green.

It was primeval earth, the world before society, the place where Rousseau's Noble Savage was too smart to stick around for long, the Garden of Eden before God set Adam in it as caretaker, to prune the trees and tend the animals.

A place of aboriginal sin.

It lay beyond the city. Beyond the cultivated fields of peanuts and corn, beyond the Mennonite homesteads, the windbreaks of felled trees and the orchards of planted trees meant to be picked, the mangos and guavas and cherimoyas. Beyond any kind of civilization.

It was a place no one ever went to, unless one was a convict or an exile. In which case one was merely trading one terror for another. The Green Hell was paradise for malarial parasites, strange viruses. It was green, but it was home for la fiebre amarilla, the yellow fever. Even with the boom in the sixties and seventies, when many of the highland Indians were finally persuaded to make the move down to the State of Santa Cruz, the Green Hell remained untouched. Unused. Avoided. Pushed back inch by inch, perhaps, but so slowly a century could go by and the Green Hell would still be green and would still be hell.

Who better, then, to tame the Green Hell than a guerrilla fighter, who is ever bold and hopeful, cunning, stoical, and inventive?

Miguel had calculated the odds and found them to be on the side of the people's progress, as long as one new fact was grasped: the agrarian revolutionary must become the technological revolutionary.

Miguel glanced slyly at Ramón. Ramón was younger than he was, almost a kid brother, but he was a man of book learning, and Miguel respected that. He was proud that he had Ramón ,graduate of an institute of higher education, to back up his thesis.

While the papers were being drawn up, Miguel let his eyes wander to the window. It was a large plate-glass rec-tangle with gold lettering spelling out "The Euro-Bolivian Real Estate and Livestock Co." in a long arc, the letters, from Miguel's view, reversed.

He had a broken view of a paved side street. It was part of the highway that led from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Donkey-drawn carts mingled with automobiles and vans. Engineers in Burpee Hybrid Seed caps mingled with Indian women in bowler hats and unmarried Mennonite girls in white organdy Kapps. The road was layered with dust, the sky gray with clouds rolling in all the way from the Atlantic. A cartload of clay pots, bound for the open market, the mercado central, rattled past. Out of range of the window, to the right, Miguel knew, was the large government operated oil refinery.

"Surface rights only," the general manager said, signing with a pen that leaked.

With great flair, Miguel unwrapped the red bandana from his neck, leaned over, and blotted the ink. The general manager scowled.

"Surface rights only," Miguel said, nodding, knowing that a little matter like the legality of dulling for oil in a certain location would be seen for the tiny technicality it was, when backed up by pistols, single-shot rifles, clip-fed semiautomatic Garands or M-1s and fully automatic M-16s, a couple of Belgian FAL automatic rifles, a bazooka, tele-explosive mine devices, and a sixteen-caliber sawed-off shot-gun mounted on a tripod constructed by its own butt in conjunction with a pair of legs and fitted with a projecting stick for launching Molotov cocktails.

Besides, the government would be grateful if anything could be done with the Green Hell. They'd try to take it over, of course, but by then it would be too late.

The three officers of the Euro-Bolivian Real Estate and Livestock Co., a sweaty-browed trinity, were dabbing at their foreheads with white linen handkerchiefs. The transac-tion was complete. Papers were shuffled.

The general manager unscrewed himself from his chair and came around to the front of his desk.

Miguel rose from his chair and stretched. He felt sleepy and relaxed, as if he had just made love.

"It was wise of you," Miguel said, "to cut your losses."

"I repeat. We will find you."

"Sí, Sí," Miguel said, laughing. "But, hombre, what will you do with us when you do?" And he bared his dogteeth again, at the same time extracting a large knife from inside his shirt and running his thumb along the blade.

He reached out his hand and the manager cringed, but instantly the knife was in his other hand, and he was shaking the manager's hand, while the manager blinked in surprise.

"Hasta Ia vista," Miguel said, pumping the manager's hand up and down.

_____

Miguel and Ramón were back out on the street, walking swiftly through the crowd, dancing away from each other as a woman with a wicker basket atop her head passed between them and closing the gap again without saying a word. Sud-denly they turned to each other and grinned. Miguel grinned and Ramón grinned, and each grin got bigger and bigger, until they couldn't stand it anymore and started slapping each other on the back and trading fake punches.


 

END OF SAMPLE



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