Sunday, February 7, 2010

"The Old Man and the Barbie" by Edmundo Desnoes

Edmundo Desnoes is the author of Memorias del subdesarrollo, a novel that defines and reveals the plight of the individual during the first ten years of the Cuban Revolution. He is coauthor of the film script based on the novel. Memories of Underdevelopment was chosen by critics and viewers in Noticine as “la mejor película iberoamericana de la historia”. The old man and Barbie is a fragment of Memorias del desarrollo, the wanderings of the original character now living in exile. Desnoes rejects the sound and the fury of most Latin American literature and seeks a more subjective and interior narrative.


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Once back on the road I felt alive, full of the emptiness I was devouring on the highway. Forging on without a destination felt delicious; I was cutting through the morning air and the fresh aroma of the dawn rushed over me. I barely pressed the accelerator. The breeze swept the soft down hairs of my arm, draped outside the window. I wasn’t anywhere. Behind me lay the slope of scattered hills, and behind the horizon, beyond the trees, the unstable, restless sea, and my life unraveling down the highway. The asphalt was a sculpture, infinite and flat. Barbara was naked and staring at the road, following the cars and trucks with her eyes. I had left all her miniature hypocritical clothes back in the room. Nothing on the unmade bed, drops of water weeping on the bathroom mirror and wet towels piled on the floor.

Qué te parece, what do you think about heading straight to… the west?”

My little pet was seated above the glove compartment, her legs stretched out until they touched the windshield glass; the oblique sun of the morning highlighted her round, too perfect breasts, supported by two half moons of shadow. Her flesh of sheer vinyl reflected the light like Greek marble and the oils of so many nudes of the Renaissance. She was the Venus of a vast continent that I wanted to know and possess. A sleek and slippery surface.

“Maybe you’d rather we go to the Deep South?”

My overworked Toyota simply flowed, glided like a dark bird of prey. Purest ecstasy, without goals or memories or destination.

Sabes una cosa? You are enormously lucky, little one, you don’t live preoccupied, confounded by words. Ideas are always limited instruments, brutal objects compared to the porous silence. Ideas deflect you from the road, work on your nerves. Feelings shouldn’t overwhelm you, they ought to flow like the landscape. That’s why you will live forever; stones, marble lasts so long because it doesn’t wear out from thinking. You live in silence, but you are not preoccupied.” I was talking shit like anyone might say to a companion. Her silence compelled me to envelop her in words. They were lies I could believe. The sun approached its zenith, not only lending form and weight to her breasts, but hinting at two nipples of light.

Beethoven. The ninth symphony ran riot through my veins. The clamor occupied and pierced the air, so universal I couldn’t hear the siren of the police car pulling up in the adjacent lane, demanding my attention. The speedometer vacillated between eighty and ninety miles an hour. It pounced upon my eyes like a shadow. All I could think to do was remove my companion from her lookout and seat her by my side before reducing my speed and stopping at the side of the road. The patrol car parked behind us. I was still bewildered, my eyes lost when I glimpsed at myself in the rear view mirror.

Do you know how fast you were flying?”

No, officer, but I do now.” I hadn’t paid any attention to my speed until the patrolman caught me flying two inches above the asphalt. I leaned forward to hide the immobile naked body at my side and by the way extract my wallet and present him with my driver’s license and registration. From the corner of my eye I inspected her, naked and indifferent at my side. All of a sudden the auto grew in size, became enormous, only the diminutive doll was of my same reduced stature. Her smallness was my insignificance. Everything else throbbed out of proportion, heavy, completely adult and enormous. Only my companion existed in my reduced dimension; she alone breathed and quivered at my side. Again I bent toward the steering wheel hoping the patrolman would not discover I was traveling with someone, I was sure he noticed how I shrank before his eyes.

I saw myself judged and condemned before the eyes of authority; a ridiculous and dirty old man, traveling more than eighty miles an hour accompanied by an innocent child, unclothed, inert, naked at my side. Though to violate a vinyl doll did not figure in the laws, I had committed a crime. He would laugh at me now, torment the wizened ancient fool before arresting him.

The domineering blue bulk of his uniform expanded as I pressed the steering wheel to keep from trembling. The patrolman leaned into the window, looked at me from on high and his eyes surveyed the interior of the vehicle. The ecstasy of speed had evaporated, and I had collapsed, disappeared into a pothole.

My bladder had joined in the fun and, I couldn’t help it, I had to urinate.

That’s a great idea,” the patrolman told me with a smile while inclining his head toward the portable woman. You’ve got it buddy. The next time I go on vacation I’m not taking my wife.”

She knows everything but says nothing.” I was on the verge of spilling everything, especially now that the officer had looked sympathetically on my decision to travel with a doll of few words and subtle comprehension.

She’s a real beauty” and he returned my documents. You shouldn’t endanger her life by speeding. It’s a precious cargo you’ve got there.” He handed me my fine and left. The patrolman didn’t need to worry: although I might die in an accident my woman would survive. Yes, Barbara was a precious cargo.

I grabbed and unscrewed a bottle of Snapple that had been rolling around the floor beneath my feet; I opened my shorts and managed to place my gland inside the neck of the bottle and began to urinate.

No me mires, you shouldn’t look at me while…” My little pet had turned her head to the left, and was causing difficulties for my penis. “Did you hear what he said? He admired your beauty, and he told me when he takes his next vacation he would leave his wife at home, an obese woman, I’m sure.”

Now I headed down the highway at only forty miles an hour; my left hand held the steering wheel and with the other I grasped the bottle growing lukewarm with my interminable piss.

“I think we will have to buy you a miniskirt and silk blouse… Es culpa mía. You can’t keep traveling naked.

We have slipped into Mobile, Alabama. We have been rolling and rolling on for a week… maybe ten days. The expressways, I believe it and repeat it, seem like a grandiose sculpture, flat and dull, supine, black, marked by interminable white and yellow stripes. By day we devour the asphalt, we slide along the surface of the continent toward the waters of the Caribbean, and by night we sink into the mineshaft of our room. And always the same room in different motels. Perhaps the position of the lamps changes and the colors of the pictures behind the bed. Tonight we chose to stop at another Holiday Inn but we decided today to buttress ourselves in a suite with a turbulent Jacuzzi.

The abundance of accommodations and the excess of always identical products and the persistent plastic textures and the bright, incandescent lights—everything creates a rapacious void around us. We don’t go anywhere. Everything wheels and changes before our eyes beneath the sun or hides in the porous night, but everything, nonetheless, ends up being the same. Floating above clouds of asphalt. I don’t know where I am, but we are together.

The South is different. There are more dogs running loose without a leash. A trail of abandoned beer bottles lies along the edge of the road, amid the grass and the empty bags, cast off consumer products alongside our monotonous progress.

Two days ago in Charleston, while getting out of the car my love slipped out of her seat and fell on the bare pavement. We had just shut off the motor in the parking lot, in front of a monstrous WalMart when a Labrador snatched the extension of my flesh and ran off carrying my companion between its teeth. She had no power to convince the magnificent hound, she couldn’t force it to let go of its delicate prisoner. The huge dog shook its head from side to side as I implored it, begged it to drop Barbara’s terrorized body, but the Dominican sank its white teeth into her miniature flesh. He started running every time I got near him.

Finally a child hurriedly approached, calling the animal, followed by a young couple, and the Labrador, recognizing the trio, let go of the doll and began licking the hand of its master.

You dirty old man!” exclaimed the wife and took the girl’s hand before shaking her head and moving away muttering.

The dog could have killed her,” I protested with an aggressive and terrifying smile.

The husband turned his head to reproach the libidinous old man with a gesture. It’s your fault!” It was my fault because it was my narration.

The teeth went into her hips, look, they left a mark…” and I rubbed the hip of my companion with my thumb, feeling the imprint of the dog’s teeth on her slobbery flesh.

Buy yourself another one, old timer.”

How dare he suggest I buy another doll! This is the one I have and want and even love. Lovers are not interchangeable; not everything, my friend, can be bought and sold.

Maybe you would like to sell me your wife,” I muttered convinced he hadn’t heard the offer.

Mommy, the Barbie had no clothes, I have an old dress…”

That’s all right, honey,” and the wife shook her head without stopping; I could read her spiteful silhouette and hear her recriminate the perverted, sexual deviant with the defiled nude in his hands. You should be ashamed of yourself!”

Upon returning to the sterile room of the motel, I carefully inspected the curves and extremities of the woman’s body that stared at me now with her enormous eyes. Two small tracks of canine teeth marked her thighs. And her fantasy ring had disappeared, leaving a hollow between her fingers. Yet still she smiled.

Mi vida, any other woman, under the same circumstances, would be bleeding and complaining…” Her disheveled hair hid part of her face and the golden tangles, still wet with saliva, adhered to her cheeks, her shoulders and enveloped her long neck.

I feel like an imbecile, I admit I am a cretin. So what? I had to accept what happened; I stroked her violated body, recalling my passion for consumed flesh. I recognize the beauty of wrinkles, the wounds of time. Angela. Dorothy. Even the ruin of my own body.

The outspread legs of dead animals, trampled and plastered in the middle of the road turn my stomach whenever I try to avoid them as we drive somewhere. A groundhog yesterday seemed asleep on the double yellow line that divided the road. We drove across a wooded landscape. I imagined that from the vegetation a polished surface shiny from the asphalt would seem to be a peaceful spot to the eyes of a groundhog. The deer, the rabbits and chickens do not see the danger, can’t recognize that automobiles and trucks are predatory enemies. Every day we run across the carcasses of innocent victims, livers, spilled intestines, crushed ribs and blood upon the asphalt. Some corpses are already rugs, pounded sheets, beaten and leathery flesh.

I lift my eyes—we are in another room, another motel—a fresh breeze enters from the window. It is night outside; from the highway the hiss of cars and trucks consorts with us. While I write she remains seated along the edge of the screen, her extended legs concealing various icons at the base of my laptop. We have just bathed together, enjoyed the pleasures of the Jacuzzi. I helped her wash her hair and used the hair drier next to the marble washbasin making her hair luminous and styled. After drying her little body, I stroked her meticulously and my fingers squeaked on her shimmering skin; I finished by spreading an almond lotion across her arms and over her breasts, all down her tattooed back and about her bulky buttocks. Her genitals are a scarcely distinct hump. I spill out and over; I forget everything.

I’m not fooling myself. I know the fragile line between reality and fiction, and I couldn’t care less. Where in the hell is a real woman? Reality? The throbbing bodies of the past that welcomed me between their unenthusiastic arms and the plastic flesh today between my fingers are one and the same thing. My little doll with her eyes always open is as real, as concrete, as alive and true as the women of my past. As full of reality as Juliet, as my aunt Julia. And as empty, as much a part of the nada as I am here.

That the dog bit her naked body was my fault. I had the miniskirt and silk blouse… I didn’t want to dress her, I resisted, but her nakedness began to wear on me. I am in the promised land. A flowery dress, some pointed shoes, with heels that distance her from the ground, and brassieres and black lace panties—so as to reinvent her. I prefer covering her with words: Mientras por competir con tu cabello, oro bruñido el sol relumbra en vano; mientras con menosprecio en medio el llano mire tu blance frente el lirio bello; mientras a cada labio siguen más ojos que al clavel temprano; y mientras triunfa con desdén Lozano del luciente crystal tu gentil cuello; goza cuello, cabello, labio y frente*…Dressed in Spanish is she more my own?

For many days I tried to live in my creation and outside of the world.


- Translated by Al Schaller. Photos--"the author between death and Barbie's thigh"--by Felicia Rosshandler.


* While competing with your tresses the sun shines in vain on burnished gold; while scornfully in the middle of the plain your white brow beholds the lily's hue; while to both your lips, more eyes are drawn than to the first carnations; and while your lovely throat with lush disdain conquors the shimmering glass, Delight throat, locks, lips, and brow…from “Soneto” by Luis de Gongora.


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