Mauro Javier Cardenas
The Revolutionaries Try Again
PART ONE. ANTONIO & LEOPOLDO
I / LEOPOLDO CALLS ANTONIO
Everyone’s saying that lightning struck the phone on Palm Sunday, Don Leopoldo. The one public phone at the Calderón that didn’t filch your coins. At least not all of them. That soon after hordes were pilgrimaging to it and lining up to dial their departed. That the single witness of the fateful strike, who’s the custodian at the Calderón — you know that park? The one by that gas station caught watering its diesel and dumping burnt Pennzoil in the Salado, imagine that, as if that river needed any more muck, a bit more and the stench won’t let us breathe, hopefully you don’t live by the Salado like I do, luckily León’s in charge and he’ll send someone to rinse it soon. That’s why I voted for your boss, Don Leopoldo, you know I’ve always voted for León. So the custodian hears thunder and sees lightning and he’s spooked. Brimming with liquor Patito, too. Apparently he’s known as a drunk and a troubadour. Little Jaramillo they call him over in El Guasmo. Apparently he serenaded his second wife at the Calderón and still shoulders his guitar to serenade the domestics that stroll by on Sundays. Cuando tú / te hayas ido / me envolverán / you know that pasillo by Julio Jaramillo?
An answer will only encourage Pascacio but no answer will not discourage him. Not that Leopoldo minds listening to him. Or that Pascacio doesn’t already know that Leopoldo doesn’t mind listening to him.
That’s the one, Don Leopoldo. My Grandpa Lucho used to Pancho it for us while he fried his famous yapingachos. God keep him. He’ll never forget what you did for him. So while the rain’s pouring, Little Jaramillo’s running for cover with his guitar tucked inside his shirt, but of course its head is still protruding out of his shirt and scratching his beard with its pegheads, though my sister’s neighbor says he was running because he had seen strange shadows after him, shadows seeking retribution for his insatiable womanizing, though my sister says her neighbor’s a prude old cow who’s probably inventing this part, on the rest everyone agrees. That’s the neighbor I’ve been telling you about, Don Leopoldo. The one who thinks her jars have a different spirit than her cans. Everyone says that at night she Ouijas tin spirits with spoons. That her cabinets are like marimbas from ultratumba. Strange shadows or no shadows, Little Jaramillo’s running for cover and then he hears the loudest thunder he’s ever heard in his life. Under the ceibo by that public phone he squats and hopes lightning won’t strike him. If you ask him about it he’ll show you the mud on his sailor pants. He’ll even walk you to that shriveled ceibo and make you crouch. From right here, he’ll tell you in that Polo Baquerizo squawk of his, you know how those people talk, Don Leopoldo, from right here I saw a flash of lightning with twigs on it, ñaño. It was like a hand descending from the sky to hoist the roof off that phone. And the torched telephone still works. I know because after the storm’s over the first thing I did was call Conchita to tell her of how the lightning nabbed the phone instead of me. The phone’s ringing and ringing because Conchita’s big on sleep, and when she finally picks up I’m reckoning the phone’s dialing on no coins so I’m like Conchita, I’m calling you for free, finally we netted us a real miracle, and before she can rooster me for waking her I’m hanging up and dialing my brother up in El Paso and the long distance call goes through and I’m jumping and screaming Jorgito you wouldn’t believe what just happened.
Phone’s still broken?
You’re not going to report it, Don Leopoldo?
Of course not, Pascacio. No.
Still busted. I’m heading there again tomorrow to call my cousin Jacinta up in Jacksonville and my sister, you’ve met my little sister? She’s calling our Aunt Rosalia up in Jersey. Both had to flee after the last Paquetazo. You probably have a call or two to make too, eh?
Leopoldo does. And yet admitting it would reveal that his family is also vulnerable to the periodic catchups between downturns and shocks. Therapies of shock everyone calls Los Paquetazos. Thanks for the tip, Leopoldo says, finalizing their exchange as they reach León’s office with the rolltop oak desk they’ve been pushing along the hallway. The one desk remaining on the third floor. Or on any of the five floors. A relic from the times when El Loco and his cohorts emptied the municipal palace of everything but the doorknobs, the wallpaper, the one rolltop oak desk that was too heavy to haul.
After Pascacio picks up his bucket and mop, after he wishes Leopoldo a good night, after the metallic sound of his oscillating bucket fades down the stairs, Leopoldo checks his watch for scratches, though in the dark this isn’t easy to do, the only working light is down the hall, from the lamppost out the window, which he approaches with an industrious trudge and inflated chest, ridiculing himself for the servile diligence he adopts when León’s around, hearing the mottled collision of bugs outside, fireflies and moths and mayflies, those leeches of light, smashing themselves against the incandescence. Pascacio’s trying to rack up favors by helping him. Don Leopoldo, at the registry they’re asking my sister for a bribe she can’t afford. Don Leopoldo, at the social security they’ve pocketed my grandfather’s pension. With one call Leopoldo can fix these. He’s León Martín Cordero’s chief of staff. He has that kind of pull. And yet his pull is at odds with the digital watch he’s been sporting since high school, a gift from when his godfather scored his father a minor post in the prefecture, a clunker with shortlegged blip buttons and a rubber strap, sure, but an advanced machine back then, before his father fled in the wake of an embezzlement scandal. No new scratches from pushing the rolltop. Good.
Though he’s exhausted he will not wait for the bus at the stop nearby, even though at this late hour Pascacio’s the only coworker who might spot him there, but instead he will navigate through Pedro Carbo, Chimborazo, Boyacá, and at the crossing between Sucre and Rumichaca he will catch and ride a different bus along Víctor Manuel Rendón, Junín, Urdaneta, past that gas station that used to dump burnt Pennzoil in the Salado River, past La Atarazana and La Garzota and up the slope on Alcívar, where the bus driver will downshift abruptly and the bus will rattle like a can in a long trail of cans dragged across the asphalt of this canned city by the
(tonight Leopoldo’s dinner will consist of canned chili beans)
and along Alcívar the people already crammed inside the bus will be forced to stomach another round of house painters, domestics, fruit peddlers, hop in, people, lots of room in the back, and at least one of them will fake a panic attack to snatch a decent seat, a panic attack that will further dispirit everyone because those who disbelieve its authenticity will jostle with those who are trying to make room for the poor old woman who’s having the panic attack, and their sweat will not drip on the tin ridged floor but will be absorbed by thousands of pores that will regurgitate the smell of their daylong labors, which will not disgust Leopoldo because this time he shall will these people into a nonexistence that will not deject him then but later, when he will be reminded yet again of how uncharitable he can be toward those less fortunate than he is.
Leopoldo forestalls his bus ride by Tupa & Mera. On the window display silvered arrows point at televisions. On one of them a farmer guides his tractor with a remote control. On another the interim president, a protégé of León, praises the recent coup and announces another Paquetazo. On another the arrival of a helicopter promises yet another triumphant return of El Loco, who has already run for president twice. On another the young and the rich are behaving badly again, this time in Salinas Beach (isn’t that Torbay, his classmate from San Javier?). From the shuttered entrance of Tupa & Mera the watchman steps out onto the sidewalk and tries his most pugnacious glare on Leopoldo.
He does not answer Leopoldo’s greeting. Perhaps it’s too dark for the watchman to notice his tailored suit pants, his embroidered silk tie, his gold cufflinks with the San Javier logo?
Salvador’s not on duty tonight?
The watchman shakes his head.
Tell him Leopoldo Hurtado said hello. I work over at the mayor’s office, by the way. Tupa Mera’s a friend. Not sure if you’ve met him. He’s the owner of this and five other electronics stores across Guayaquil.
Leopoldo hands him his business card. The watchman holds it up with both hands, angling it, trying to lamp it with the TV screens. Now you can see?
I’m so sorry, Economista Hurtado. I’m so new at this job I didn’t even. .
You’re for El Loco.
Never, Economista Hurtado. Always for León I. .
On the bus Leopoldo does not yet think of calling his grandmother from the busted phone at the Calderón. He does think of her though. Not as she is now, he wouldn’t know how she is now, three weeks after fleeing to Pensacola because of the last Paquetazo, but as she remains in his memory, on her farm in the outskirts of Manabí, where he’s still ten years old and she’s teaching him how to drive her green J ...