Painting courtesy of Pinterest.
You must understand, in Peru during those years, there was only one phone for each house. And the maids answered it. And when a boy asked to speak to a daughter of the family, the maids had orders from the parents to say “Who? She is not here.” The only way to reach a girl was to go where she was.
However, you could not simply go to her house. No. “What are you doing here?” the parents would ask. “There is no party today. Come back next year.” You had to find out where her friends hung out. And you had to pretend you were there by accident. “Imagine that! Running into you by accident. What a pleasant surprise.”
“You need a girlfriend, Tocayo,” I said, looking back at Charly.
“So you can go places with Angelica and me.”
“What about Anna Maria?”
“Angelica is my real girlfriend. Anna Maria is only a diversion for Playa Sur. Even I am not crazy enough to have two girlfriends on the same beach.”
My friend from America, land of Calvinists, probably believed that my strategy was immoral, and secretly wished I would get caught. In flagrante delicto, as they say. Arms and legs entwined, rolling in the sand. Other girlfriend shows up. Screams “Bastardo!” Points the finger at me and turns on her heel. “Who’s that?” first girlfriend asks, untangling herself from Carlos, the Peruvian Don Juan. “But but but but but,” I beg, not letting go of her half-opened blouse until she slaps my hand away and storms off.
He would be wrong, of course. I would not stutter and beg. I would simply release a heavy sigh and fall back on the sand, slayed by my pain. And in time they would both come back to me.
Excerpt from Part II of Tocayos, which I will publish this Winter, a bit behind schedule. Part I is available from Smashwords.
And, as so often happens in Catholic school and horror movies, a figure materialized on the teacher’s platform. No one saw or heard him walk in. A little unsettled, one by one we, the students, we turned in our seats to face the apparition. He was a towering man in a dull black cassock and crisp white priests’ collar. His giant hands clasped a bedraggled Bible against the front of his body. He was completely bald. He was ancient, and his old cassock hung thinly over his broad, bony shoulders, the sleeves not long enough to cover his arms or hide his powerful hands. Though 2 meters of height, he stood straight as a redwood. A priest that tall had to be North American, I thought, but his leathery skin was more olive than pink, and his features were almost indian, his eyes almost black.
He studied us with great concern, and remained silent until the last student had turned around.
“I am Father Bartolome,” he said in a voice that crumbled like old wood. “I am here to teach you social justice.”
Excerpt from Chapter 33, Burguese’s Lower Lip, in Part II of Tocayos, which I’ll publish in 2016. Part I is available from Smashwords.
Photo courtesy of Nice Cool Pics.
I stopped breathing. She was a beauty of such astonishment that my sense of time folded back over itself and I was suddenly unsure whether I was seeing her for the first time or remembering her from the moment of creation when God, as the centerpiece of his plan to make man strive for eternity, gave me a glimpse of the perfection that would remain forever out of my reach.
I had to see more of her. Her dark hair cascaded, thick and loose, to the middle of her shoulders. The face it framed was exquisite. I examined it like a reckless boy, jumping from the lips of a sculpture to the eyebrows of a movie star, skipping beneath the shadow of her hair and tracing the contour of her cheekbones to rest again on her lips, where I paused to breathe many times. I lingered in a state of awe along her elegant jaw line, moving aside her hair with the back of my hand to reveal the earlobes of an angel, pierced with a single pearl. Hidden from the world beneath the curtain of her hair I kissed the length of her neck until the gymnasium swayed. Leaning back, I stared into her eyes. Chocolate brown like her hair, they were priceless gems that defeated space, collapsing the distance of the court between them. Them? Between them? Why not between us? No! She was staring at Charly!
Excerpt from Chapter 10, the Gospel According to Carlos, from Part I of Tocayos. Part I is available from Smashwords. I will publish Part II and a hardcover version of both parts in 2016.
A wave was as opposite of Charly’s nature as it was possible to be. Charly, he chewed metal nuts for breakfast. The he turned on all the chainsaws in the house and screamed with them. Before showering, he pulled all the hair out of his chest, to show the water who was stronger, but by the time he finished showering, it had all grown back. A wave, it is something very different from Charly.
When it is not as big as a hammer, a wave is soft as a caress. A wave is sensuous in shape, in movement, in color, in surface, even in the way it collapses and disappears into the sand. If you surrender to a wave, the forces of the Earth they reveal their mystery to you: they show you the secret place where intersect the weight of your body, your momentum, the wave’s momentum, the angle of its surface, the power of the wave, the name of the force that keeps things on the surface of the water. That place of magic changes every second. You have to listen with your skin.
Charly, he did not know surrender. He did not respond to mystery. I had been around him long enough to realize he had the sensuality of a dog who protects a junkyard. He had the seduction abilities of big, fat nail that you step on with the heel of your foot. I did not and do not understand how a girl as beautiful and sensual as Milagros had any interest in him.
Waves were so much the opposite of Charly that once he tasted them, he developed a hunger that did not stop. The more he consumed the waves, the more he needed them.
Except from Chapter 27, “Standing in Isabel’s Doorway. ”
Photo courtesy of http://iliketowastemytime.com/2013/05/07/daily-wallpaper-wave.
Photo courtesy of Panoramio
As we rounded the last house on the street, the blue waters of Playa Norte finally revealed themselves to me. I stopped, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. The morning breeze, thick with the ocean’s moisture, gently caressed my face like a mother’s hand. Seagulls squawked overhead, and the warm, bitter aroma of guano that pervades the Peruvian coast drifted into my nostrils. I opened my eyes and took a long, loving look around. There was the small park with the tiny lawn, the half-buried white stones, the cluster of nicely painted houses. There were the black cliffs above my house and the thatched patio that jutted out over the rocks. There was the royal blue Pacific, sparkling through the mist, undulating with swells slowly making their way toward shore, tumbling over themselves into sparkling white foam, and rushing in a hush onto the sand. During the last month of school I had dreamed of this moment at least once per class period. This humble but lovely creation of God had been responsible for a full grade point off my average. And now it was responsible for letting me forget all about politics.
Excerpt from Part 2 of Tocayos, which I hope to publish in the Spring of 2016. Part 1 is published here.
The first time Carlos invited me to his beach house in Punta Hermosa, we immediately went body surfing. The water off the coast of Peru is surprisingly cold, so when we got out of the water, we warmed up under the afternoon sun on the porch. The beach season hadn’t started yet, so we had the porch to ourselves. He loved to spin yarns about Pico Alto. Those conversations inspired the description in Tocayos.
Here it is, in the voice of the narrator, Carlos:
It is a terrible wave, Pico Alto. Sullen from its long slumber, it rises heavily into a deep blue wall four stories high, eager to punish the mortal who has dared to awaken it. It takes a special man in an unusual state of mind to paddle his board into the path of Pico Alto. As the wave rises beneath him, he must thrust his arms into the water and paddle down the catapulting mass with the frenzy of a madman so he can reach the crest with enough speed to hop onto his fluttering board before the wind rips it out of his hands. As he slaps his bare feet onto the board he is suspended in a wind-blown burst of sea spray for a heart-stopping moment of weightlessness. Then he drops into the concave abyss yawning open beneath him.
If you are a big-wave surfer, you dream of this moment. You can imagine what you will do, but until you put yourself in that place and time, you cannot know what you will do. You might drop fast enough to slip under the collapsing tonnage, and with a menace of unbelievable proportions rising behind you, find the courage to dig the rail of the board and carve a stream of starlight into immortality. O, to share heaven with the gods! To roar back up the shoulder of the wave and burst into the sight of your friends with your arms straight in the air and your shorts stiff with bravado! To know, as the board skids across the water and slows, as you drop to your chest and paddle slowly back into the lineup, that you are a Great One.
Or perhaps not. It can be something as tiny as a drop of sea spray in your eye. Or a hurried waxing that allows your foot to slip on the wet board. Maybe you cannot quite find your balance. Or your nerve. The top of Pico Alto is a bad place to lose your nerve. The gods watch with disinterest as you fall that great distance with your board twisting and turning around you like a leaf in a whirlwind. When you slap into the surface of the water forty feet below, they turn away as the brute force of the wave crushes your twig of a body, thrusting you down, ten meters beneath your next breath, pinning you in a swirling, lung-bursting tumble for thirty seconds before it lets you crawl to the surface for a single gasp of foam-filled air. Only one. Because while taking that breath your panicked brain realizes that you are now in Poseidon’s Anvil, where you will experience the singular terror of turning to face the next wave unfurling four stories above you.
The picture of Pico Alto, above, is from National Geographic.
You can download Tocayos for $4.99 here. (You can read the first 20% for free.) I’ll have a print version available from Tattered Cover Press soon.
In the novel Tocayos, Carlos describes meeting Charly in class:
I continued to move down the aisle, banging my metal lunch pail and my old leather book bag against the desks and shoulders of my fellow students. Some moved over, some shoved me into my fellow students on the other side of the aisle. It was pleasant mayhem until I saw Charly the American. He was sitting in the last seat next to the window, his desk tipped on its back legs in exactly the same way that I liked to tip my desk. Not only this, but contrary to not only school rules but school custom, he had discarded our school jacket, he had loosened our school tie, and he had rolled up the sleeves of our school uniform’s light blue shirt. His head was lodged into the corner, looking out at the gardens. He turned it slowly and rested his eyes on me.
I met the real Carlos in basketball practice. Shortly after we both made the team, I found out he took the bus to get home, and had to walk a half mile home from the bus stop. At the time, I lived a block away from school. I wanted an excuse to drive the car, so I told him I’d give him a ride if he would claim it was too late to take the bus.
We owned a 1967 baby blue Chrysler 440 Coronet similar to the one in the picture above, and a white Rambler station wagon. Showing up at dinnertime with Carlos in tow put my Mom on the spot. She had to either interrupt dinner preparations to drive him home, or let me drive him. She gave me the keys to the Rambler. I didn’t have a license, but in those days, you first learned to drive, then you got your license.
That’s how I learned to drive, and how I became friends with the Carlos on which the narrator in the story is based.
Tocayos is available for $4.99 from Smashwords. You can read the first 20% for free.