By Geoffrey Fox
Anna’s gaze roved over the tightly clustered
zinc roofs glinting in the sunlight like fish scales on the beach or,
Ted thought, pieces of armor left scattered on a battlefield. A bolero
blared from the jukebox in a cantina across the way, where three or
four dim figures lurked in the shadows, away from the overbright,
overhot, unmusical squalor of the slum at eleven in the morning. Ted
jumped down to the pavement and turned to help her down, but she
hesitated at the exit door, peering through the yellow dust raised by
“It’s huge!” she said, then
leapt. She landed on the bolero’s downbeat, her skirt bouncing
and her compact, muscled body quivering on impact.
“There’s so much you could do here!”
He grinned and blushed. The little gully where
Anna was stationed, on the other side of Caracas, seemed like a toy
compared to the massive sprawl of this barrio, Los Bosques. He watched
her dark eyes sparkle as they scanned the jumble of lopsided new brick
buildings, some already rising two stories above the highway, each with
a store or workshop or little restaurant on the ground floor, the signs
of the enormous, untutored, chaotic entrepreneurial energy of the
As the battered blue bus lumbered off, leaving a
cloud of carbon monoxide and dust, Ted shyly touched her elbow and led
her to the road that descended into the heart of the barrio. Only the
first fifty meters or so had been paved, and where the concrete ended
and the wide dust track began, an even steeper footpath led off to the
“It’s down there,” he said to Anna, pointing down the footpath.
One of the putas was standing in her doorway in
her slip, stretching and pulling a pick through her stiff hair, a naked
little brown boy was examining something in the trickle of sewage
alongside the road, a radio somewhere was giving out short, crisp news
bulletins, probably a million things were going on in the twenty or
thirty thousand lives of the barrio, but as far as anybody could see
all was quiet.
“’S bigger than you guys’s in
Sucre,” he said. “You’ll see. An’ we had to
make some steps real wide, almost like landings, and some real narrow,
because of the terrain, you’ll see.”
“Uh huh. What were you doing in Sucre?”
“Wanted to see you,” he said, as they
picked their way down the dirt trail, passing the back yards of the
little houses terraced into the hillside. “Just picked the wrong
time, I guess.”
He stopped and raised his arm, gesturing over the
new cement stairway that descended sharply before them, down the rugged
“’Tsa brook down there. Little creek.
Folks go down, women mostly, do their laundry, you know. An’ some
of them bring their drinking and cooking water up from there.”
“Quite a job!” she said.
He didn’t know whether she meant hauling the
water, which the women had to do, or building the stairway, so he took
it as the latter.
“Why’d you want to see me?”
Her smile was patient, inviting. He let his upper
body sway closer to hers, as though their chests were magnetized, then
he turned his head away. He could feel himself blushing. She laughed,
“I see,” she said.
“Well, let’s try them out!”
She jumped up and landed on the first step, then
began running, almost skipping down, and he bounded giddily after her
like a goat.
“The men,” she shouted over her
shoulder, “they wouldn’t let me work on ours.” Leap
bounce leap. “They were scandalized” – leap --
“when they saw me in jeans” – bounce -- “and
with a bucket. I had to” -- bounce -- “go help with
the” – leap -- “food detail.”
“And you let them,” boom he landed on a step just behind her, “stop you?”
She reached the bottom with a little leap, and he landed right next to her.
“It was don Amador,” she explained,
panting. ”He’s like an Old World gentleman, very polite but
very firm about what ladies can do. I have uncles like that. And I
didn’t want to get him too upset.”
She smiled, indulgent of Old World gentlemen too
old to change their ways. Her eyes were such a lovely dark brown, Ted
wanted to plunge in and go swimming in them.
“Very nice,” she said, scanning the
curving, steeply rising, uneven slaps of gray concrete she’d just
“Yeah, a lot of work, too.”
She laughed and turned. “Uh huh. What’s down there?”
“Those houses? See? Made of mud? Thatched
roof? And there through the trees, you see one of wood? People who want
to be left alone, mostly, but some of ’em helped on the
“And beyond that?”
“Donno,” he panted. “Thisizezfarzybin.”
She stood looking upstream for a moment. Then she took a deep breath.
“Smells so clean here!”
“Yeah, where they do their laundry.”
“I didn’t mean that, not like soap, clean like country. You can smell the plants.”
He swayed close to her again. She looked at him,
smiling, her eyes half closed like she was almost laughing at him,
waiting, but he hesitated. The muscles around his eyes tensed and his
breath became shallower and his head swayed, the life demon pushing at
him to lunge at those lips and seize her totally with his arms, his
mouth and his body, while the demon of inertia just as powerfully
grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him back. And while he was in
mid twitch his quarry suddenly stiffened and raised her head, looking
at something over his shoulder that he knew wasn’t either of his
”Someone there,” she said.
He turned and saw Lucha, a perky, pretty mulatto
teenager from up the hill. He’d seen her around, but never talked
“Bueno’ día’,” she said, frowning but her lips were smiling, almost laughing.
“Buenos días,” his muttered back, nodding. She was carrying neither bucket nor laundry.
“Bueno’ día’, señora,” she said to Anna.
“Señora” made her sound like
she was a million years old, Ted thought. Probably on purpose. He
figured Anna was maybe twenty-six or possibly even twenty-seven, but
that was okay, he liked older women. Lucha couldn’t have been
more than seventeen.
¿verda’?” said the girl, in her barrio accent and
with a playful catch in her voice.
“Muy bonito,” Anna replied.
“Me llamo Lucha,” the girl said,
extending her hand with exaggerated formality and even a little
curtsey. Anna laughed and grasped the brown hand in her slightly
smaller white one.
“Anna,” said Anna. “Mucho gusto.”
“Yo vengo a veces nada más para oler las plantas, ¿tú sabes?”
“The smell is very good,” is what came
out of Anna, in stiff phrase-book Spanish. The girl frowned, then
repeated the statement approvingly.
“¿Ella e’ americana?” she asked Ted.
“Why?” answered Anna.
“No, porque usté no e’ catira como él.”
Anna looked at Ted. “Catira?”
“Oh. No, soy, uh, greco, grego, gri-YE-goamericana.”
Lucha frowned, considering, then said,
“Ajá. Ej lo que yo pensé.” Just as I thought.
Now how could she have had such a thought as that? thought Ted.
“Greek-American” must be a pretty exotic concept for a
black teenager in a Venezuelan slum, like “Martian” or
“Pleistocene.” Then she smiled with another curtsey. He
watched as she sauntered off toward one of the mud and wattle houses,
her hips and buttocks switching saucily through the thin cotton dress.
He wondered if she really knew somebody in one of those houses, or had
just chosen that direction to show off her backside. Bumpetybump,
“I like her,” Anna said, when they had got back up near the road. “She’s full of spunk.”
Without thinking where he was going, and just
rattling on without knowing what he was saying, he found he’d led
her up the hill to his own little house, “La Cueva.”
Then, just inside the door, he put his hand on her
bare shoulder and, not quite sure what he was doing or why, one of the
demons took control of his arms and made him turn her forcefully into
his own chest and press his mouth against hers. He must have caught her
off guard, because he could taste a warm, sour belch rising to her
mouth. She first tried to pull away, but then her lips returned some of
his pressure before she broke the contact and whispered, “Ow!
You’re squeezing too hard,” and he relaxed his tense
fingers and felt her hands on his back, pulling him toward her still
closer, and he moved his hand up and down the back of her sleeveless
dress, up and down the furrow of the spine, tripping over the bra strap
until he took a wiggle of her back as an invitation and reached through
the wide armhole of her dress and, fumbling, managed to release the bra
and work his hand back around to the front and cup her breast, feeling
the large nipple tense as he tried to force his tongue between her
“It would have been nicer down by the
creek,” she said in low, throaty tones. “I thought you
wanted to kiss me there.”
He didn’t answer because his mouth was busy
on the base of her neck. He had released her breast and now with one
hand held her to him and with the other caressed the firm roundness
where her belly tapered into her groin. She pulled him toward the bed
and down onto it, next to her, and began opening his shirt.
“Uh, wait, I got rubbers. I brought some from the States.”
“No. Don’t use those. I have something. You can help me, if you want.”
She reached for the shoulder bag she’d flung
onto the floor and pulled out a plastic case with a diaphragm and a
tube of jelly.
“But first you’ll have to take off my clothes.”
He felt as though all his blood had rushed to his
ears and to the bishop, which all were throbbing as he pushed the
sandals off her feet and worked the dress up. He saw her underarm
stubble and sniffed its strong, perversely attractive rancid odor, as
he pulled the dress over her head and threw it into the chair that
already held his shirt. He reached for the loose bra to pull it over
her shoulders and finally released her large, full breasts with the
tawny nipples he had only dreamed about before.
“Everything,” she whispered.
He hooked his fingers into the waistband of her
panties and slowly worked them down, over the hips and the roundness of
her buttocks, down past the dark brown curls at the bottom of the
triangle, over the round thighs, the knees, the stocky rounded calves,
the strong, squarish feet. When he looked up, she opened to him, her
raised knees far apart and her thighs rolling wide, so that the brown
moist folds of her sex seemed to wink at him.
“Cuca,” he whispered,
“that’s what they call it.” He had never before
examined one so closely, had never dared.
“Kiss it,” she said, her arms reaching up to touch and pull his shoulders as he bent forward.
He was afraid to say no, but he was afraid to do
what she commanded, too. It was a mysterious thing, this cuca. Piss
came from it, or from somewhere near it, and blood too, things that
made you want to throw up just thinking about them. And a baby could
come through here. He had come through one like this, long ago, before
time began. Her hands pressed his shoulders toward her. His nose was
now against it, sour smell. His lips now. He willed down his nausea and
his fear and explored it with his lips, then with the point of his
tongue. She shivered. She tasted like, well, like nothing else,
vinegary but not really like vinegar, and the naughty little folds of
flesh ceded and opened to his tongue, and he was doing it, he was doing
what he had read about and imagined, even had dared to imagine doing it
to her, and here she was, and it was very strange but very exciting
because it was so evil to be near it, the very center of life, that
center we dare not touch.
She began squirming, but all the time holding his
head to her, and gradually rotated her body until they were 69, his
chin over her curls so he had to bend his head far over to probe inside
her. He felt her pulling his underwear down over his hips, then felt
her hands on his testes and then on the bishop. He winced when she
nipped the bishop’s head, then pulled and sucked.
“Move your tongue around,” she
ordered, and he did. Her hips were rocking now, the groin rising to
meet him, faster and faster. Her movements came still faster, and she
forgot about the bishop, and he, finding how to stimulate her, moved
his tongue in those places that made her jerk most furiously. Her nails
dug into his buttocks, she stiffened, then she stopped, panting and
sighing. She laughed a weak, happy laugh.
“Now you can put in the diaphragm,” she said.
She showed him how, and he carefully smeared it
with cream, he felt her watching as he folded it, inserted it, gingerly
at first, then tested with his finger to see that the opened rubber
disk was securely nested deep inside. He rotated his body so that his
head, too, was toward the foot of the bed and he pressed against her
and slipped inside. She moved cooperatively and he pumped, sliding like
a trombone, and then, much quicker than he’d wanted, he came in
jerking spasms. She laughed again, very softly, and held him to her,
his ear against her breast. He heard the thumping of her heart.
When he pulled himself away, he didn’t know
how much time later, it was getting to be evening. He pushed his
shoulders and chest back from the lumpy cot, his knees on either side
of her hips, his limp and happy sex trailing over hers, and arched back
to stretch and thought about lighting the lamp and whether he really
wanted to mix these new, exhilarating odors with the stench of
kerosene. His eyes half closed, he listened to his gradually slowing
breaths, and to hers, and – What was that?
The window in the back wall of his little two-room
house, glassless and curtainless, protected by bars cut from soft iron
construction rods that a thief might easily have bent with a crowbar,
faced northwest beyond the edge of the barrio, where there were no
houses. Two heads were silhouetted in its frame, light-rimmed by the
“Muy bonito,” said one. By the voice and the characteristic bobbing of the curly head, Ted recognized Lucha.
Ted felt Anna’s knee brush against his belly as she twisted to see.
“Ay, muchacha,” said the other girl at
the window, dismissively. It was the one he had seen earlier, the puta,
fighting her hair with a pick.
“¡Eso’ americano’ no saben ná!”
And she let out the loudest, cruelest laugh that he had ever heard.
Instinctively Ted tried to cover Anna, to protect
her from this intrusion, but he felt her body rumbling and she began
laughing too, and pushed his chest back. He sprang back, unsure what to
do, and looked up in terror at the window. The whore was laughing
louder than ever at his expression, but Lucha just smiled at him,
beaming. He glanced down at his nakedness, and at Anna’s, and at
the tousled sheets. He knew he was blushing but he looked up again, and
then began to laugh.