S H O R T S T O R Y
THE BOY WHO BREATHED WATER
b y a l i c i t a r o d r i g u e z ~ p i t k i n, c o l o r a d o
ROGELIO STUMBLED into Arco Iris willingly. He let the man lead him through the cluster of buildings, aware only of the rhythms around him: the thudding of his shoes on the concrete walks, the ringing of his heartbeat between his ears, the clinking open and shut of the maze of gates. His vision was blurry out of the water, so he saw little as he followed the man. His gills ached from his desire to breathe water; the air wrapped around his slats like ice, hardening his flaps, cracking and fraying their edges. Rogelio grabbed onto his gills, held them to his body with such intense pressure that his knuckles whitened to match the pallor of his face. He heard nothing now save his own wheezing as he tried to inhale the shrill, cold air. He did not notice when he entered one of the buildings. He did not see the others. He stopped when he ceased to hear the man’s steps, then listened to instructions. When the man left him, Rogelio felt around until he discovered the narrow bed. He crawled into it and shoved his face into the lumpy mattress, rubbing his sides to try to warm his gills.
When he awoke, the man was gone, replaced with a dozen or so shirtless boys who stood around his bed looking down at him. Rogelio blinked hard, trying to adjust his vision. His eyes slowly focused and he stared at the boys. They all had gills. Some had small gills that stayed close to the body, barely noticeable when closed. Others had gills that spanned the entire rib cage. There were gills that were long and soft, flabby; and gills that were short and tight like spikes. One boy had gills covered in flaky green scales and another had gills where his nipples should have been. Rogelio could look no longer. He bowed his head, shading his eyes with one hand. But, instead of comfort, he found his own gills and began to cry. When the tears reached his lips, he licked them and found solace in their saltiness. He remembered swimming in Playa Luna, saw the underwater weeds swaying in the current and the great big groupers eyeing him from behind coral beds. The memory calmed him, washed away the shirtless boys and delivered him once again to slumber.
The next morning, the man who had led him through came back. Saying nothing, he stood in front of Rogelio’s bed, motionless, until the weight of his stare woke Rogelio. The man gestured at a tin pail he held in his right arm. Rogelio heard crying and moaning in the hallway. As he tried to make out individual words, the man shoved the pail into Rogelio’s chest and waited for Rogelio to grab hold of it. There was salt water inside the pail. Rogelio smelled it. Immediately, he wished to be submerged and he doubted why he had acquiesced to come there. But, worse than this, a few drops sloshed out of the pail and onto his gills. Rogelio tried to slurp the water in silently, but did not succeed. As the man left the room, he turned to look at Rogelio, shot his eyes at the pail, then at Rogelio, and finally at the hallway. This was the type of instruction favored at Arco Iris.
In the hallway, Rogelio found the basis of those moans. All of the shirtless boys crouched on their hands and knees, scrubbing the smooth marble floor with the seawater from their pails. Rogelio picked a spot and followed, using the brush inside his pail to scrub in grand, circular gestures like the rest. Rogelio noticed that the silent man whom he had followed just the day before now stood at the end of the long hallway, dressed in a dark, plain suit. He stood perfectly rigid, his weight distributed evenly on both feet. He was the watchman. He stared from one boy to the other, concentrating his glare on their gills. When a boy would drink from his gills, he would take out a leather whip with a thin edge and strike at the offender. Almost every time he got the point of the whip to snap inside the boy’s gills. Rogelio kept scrubbing.
The smell of the salt water seemed to travel directly from his nostrils to his gills, so that his gills flapped at an incredible speed, almost as fast as his heartbeat, which increased with every snap of the watchman’s wrist. Rogelio was careful not to splash the water, so as to avoid the temptation of drinking it up. The boys were not allowed to leave their post until their buckets were quite empty. Every now and again, Rogelio looked inside his pail. At one moment, the water level seemed to be less than halfway. He breathed a sigh a relief, then felt the eyes of the watchman and set to scrubbing more energetically. When he next looked inside his pail, it was full. And like this, his first day passed. Slowly, one shirtless boy after another managed to empty his bucket, until Rogelio was the only one left. Without being aware of it, he had been moaning and crying to himself for hours, so that his eyes felt like spiny sea urchins poking at his sockets. Every time the water level went down, it went up again. Rogelio was sick with the smell of it.
In the late afternoon his eyes began to blur as if a school of tiger sharks had agitated the silt on the bottom of the sea, and his extremities started to tingle. His hearing was attacked by a shrill chiming and yet the bucket bulged now so full that it continuously overflowed, rippling over, threatening to drown his gills. He heard the crackle of the watchman’s whip, felt its cold leather tip snake into his gills, worming its way between the second and third of his five slats, and he fell forward onto his pail, knocking it over. And just before he gave way to unconsciousness, Rogelio noticed that when he had spilled his bucket, nothing had emerged.
Arco Iris aimed to rehabilitate the fishmen of the country. It was said that pregnant women whose husbands had drowned at sea produced these hybrid infants. These boys and men needed to be convinced of life on earth; their bodies were not equipped to survive for long periods of time in the ocean. Whatever desires drew them to water, perhaps the futile search for the long-devoured bones of their fathers or the fluid tranquility of the pointillistic underworld, could not override their poorly designed bodies. Without fins, they could not evade predators. Without peripheral vision, they could not see danger. They were born without sonar. They were born without scales. In their guilt for their failure at sea battle, the navy established a secret camp for the purposes of saving the next generation of these war boys. Tucked amidst a serpentine rain forest, Arco Iris was difficult to find. Cats that lived there for years, once gone, could never find their way back.
The longer Rogelio was at Arco Iris, the shorter his hallway scrubbings became. He was admitted into the cooking crew, so that every day he was partly responsible for lunch and dinner, both prepared with healthy doses of sea salt. Nowhere was there escape from their reasons for being there. In the evenings, the watchman had them tape their gills and go swimming in the large, saltwater pool that dominated the cluster of buildings. Every so often, someone would remove the thick black tape and use his gills. They were punished by having their gills sewn shut.
In the kitchen, all steel and white, the cooking crew often discussed the old days, the days before Arco Iris. Mostly, this went on in secret, as the watchman forbade these stories. “Glorification,” his eyes said.
“I was born underwater,” Rogelio’s best friend Carlos liked to recount. “So, I was using my gills before any of you. My mother’s santero had convinced her that delivery would be painless in the water. Yemaya would watch over me, would guide me out from the womb peacefully. And it was peaceful.” Carlos would stare off into the horizon for a moment, breathing slowly, before he continued. “I came from the warm fluid of the embryonic sac to the hot water of the shallows of Varadero Beach. It was liquid onto liquid. I remember it.”
Here he would be interrupted by the hoots and laughs of the rest of the cooking crew. Albertico in particular would mock Carlos, mimicking his excitement and his dramatic stares into the past. He would hold his right hand up to his forehead as if he were looking out to sea, reciting in sing-song: “I remember it like it was yesterday, easing out of my mother’s vagina, no, swimming. I swam towards the light, examining my gills the entire way to break the surface, although I did not break it. I waited and breathed like the fish around me, the beautiful parrot fish of rainbow colors—the most innocent of all fish, strictly vegetarian, and I took my cue from them, and never had a piece of meat in my entire life.” With this, Albertico’s monologue would be cut short by his laughter, as well as those of the rest of the cooking crew, for Albertico always ended with a double entendre. Carlos was a virgin.
At night, when Rogelio lay in his bed dreaming of sleep, he would recall the stories that Carlos had told, or those of Albertico, and his own stories would rise to the surface of his mind like bubbles. He tried to close his eyes and suppress the memories, but it was useless, like trying to shove the doll back into the jack-in-the-box and shutting the lid. One image that returned over and over was of the day he discovered that he had gills.
“I don’t want him to have so many baths.”
“He’s going to find out someday.”
“Mercedes, only a few inches.”
Whispers, hushed orders, tempered screams. But often in the confusion of the voices, something materialized that felt concrete. This night, he remembered well. At first, he let the memory play before him, intoxicate him, lure him as if it were something unfolding, unknown, new. But soon the characters belonged to him, so that he no longer watched the scene but took part in it. In fact, it was like watching a movie he’d already seen. He knew the ending.
Mercedes was giving him a bath. As usual, his mother had ordered her to fill the tub only a few inches. Like this, the warm water only covered him up to his waist. To wet his upper body, Mercedes poured bath water over him from a large metallic jug. Rogelio noticed a slurping sound like he made when sucking the last drops of sugar cane juice through a straw. When Mercedes poured a lot of water over him, he heard a gurgling sound not unlike the sound of pebbles sinking slowly into pond water. And, when Mercedes was particularly devoted to the task or searching for spots where he was more than usually caked with dirt, he would hear an intermittent buzz as the water flowed down his body; it sounded like the filter in their green-glowing aquarium.
As soon as he tried to find the source of the sounds, they were gone. Mercedes poured the water, he heard the sound and checked the drain; the stopper seemed tightly fitted. When she poured again, he pinched his nose and covered his mouth—it was not some involuntary action on his part like when he sometimes drooled in his slumber. Confused and aggravated, he exhaled. At that moment, Mercedes slapped a jug-full of water onto his head. The pressure of the water was such that it pushed his head forward onto his chest. And there, beneath his ribs, was the answer to his riddle. However, he was still too young to understand what his gills could do.
It occurred to Rogelio for the first time that it was not until so much later that he had used his gills, but he absolutely refused to allow that memory to rise up. Instead, he concentrated on Carlos’ story, picturing the newborn baby swimming, pumping air through his gills like a bird drying its wings. But superimposed over that was the sadness of birds, the desperation of their flapping. And to replace the image of the struggling bird, he allowed his own memory to return.
When he had turned 13, he had started having dreams, although they were more powerful than mere dreams and they happened even during waking hours. In his ears there was a constant washing of waves, a rhythmic dirge that accompanied him everywhere. Sometimes, he found himself humming aloud, mimicking the song that the ocean played. Everywhere he looked, he saw images of water. When he looked at his mother, he saw only the liquid coat of her eyes. At dinner, it was as if he could focus only on the condensation dripping down his glass. He saw the beads of sweat on his father’s forehead and the entire ocean contained in the water pitcher. And wherever he went, the sounds of those images attacked him. He heard the faucet dripping, acute and echoing; the dog’s incessant lapping at his water bowl; the deafening splash of waterfalls as his mother poured herself a glass of water.
One evening at the dinner table, his family’s voices were drowned out by all the water noises. He noticed their mouths moving, but could only hear drips and gurgles and falling water.
“Can’t you hear it?” He stood up suddenly, covering his ears. His mother’s fork dropped to the floor. Without hesitation, the dog lumbered over and began to lick it. Rogelio heard only the canine’s tongue slurping at the utensil.
“You don’t hear that?” he yelled. He covered his ears again, but now heard waves crashing on the shore.
Rogelio left his family in their poised silence and walked out of the house quietly, letting his feet carry him away, carry him towards his destination, carry him to the shore, to Playa Luna. There was no thought to his actions. Before he knew it, he had removed all of his clothes. And he dove in.
He was so angry that he did not want to get out of the water. While he thought of everything that waited for him outside the water, the drowning sounds and his family agog, he did not realize that he had remained submerged for over five minutes. His fright removed him from the awareness that he was using his gills for the very first time.
Under the clear, turquoise water of Playa Luna, he stared down at himself, watching his gills rise and fall, flapping silently in the water, taking in and releasing oxygen. As he stared at himself, he realized that he was different. Certainly, he knew of no other person with this ability. He wondered why his parents had never told him of his special gift.
Everything changed underwater. All was quiet. As he swam around, his body lost all of its weight. He found that he could lay motionless at the bottom of the sea, watching the sky through the water. The sun was a blurry spot of diffused gold, the fruit trees in the distance an impressionistic green. Everything seemed made up of colored dots. His heartbeat slowed dramatically; a calm like none he had ever experienced poured over him, as if God cradled him, smoothing his hair and body with big, jelly-like hands.
When the bell clanged in the morning, it woke him up, but that was the only evidence that he had slept at all.
After a year at Arco Iris, Rogelio bathed unsupervised and was allowed outside the complex to work. He worked at Gilbert’s Bakery, making the bread. He, who had never worked a day in his life, concentrated on his job, knowing it was his only chance for survival. He had to pretend to be like everyone else, so he tried to imitate not only their actions—the way their hands worked the flour into dough—but also their mannerisms—arching eyebrows when a difficult customer approached or sighing sadly when the bread burned.
Once he completed a second year at Arco Iris, they let him out. He moved into a small house a few blocks from the bakery. In this way, he could always smell the peculiar aroma of yeast as he slept, an odor meant to replace the brine of the sea and remind him of more earthly desires.
At work he met Estrella. She was hired as a pastry chef even though she had little experience. There was something about the way she cooked that made her delicacies irresistible. Anybody who had worked at Gilbert’s for any length of time could no longer stomach sweets. But once she started working there, all the employees would pilfer the pastries. Every day Gilbert would find fingerprints in the buttercream cakes that she had iced, or little bites in the custard-filled pies that she had baked. He had even seen Gilbert hidden in a dark corner of the walk-in refrigerator, shoving coconut cake into his mouth, the corners of his lips sticky from the lingering evidence. And Gilbert never ate sweets.
Rogelio knew she was different from the first time he met her. As she waited to talk to Gilbert, he could not keep his eyes off her. She sat on the bakery porch wearing a long, white dress. He looked at her chocolate eyes and tanned skin. Her light brown hair, streaked with gold from the sun, reached her shoulders and curled at the edges in soft waves. He noticed how she aired herself continually with a black accordion fan. And still, she glistened with sweat. Her dress stuck close to her breasts; Rogelio could see even the outline of her nipples. Her lips seemed swollen from the heat, red and sunburned.
Occasionally, she glanced up and caught him staring at her. He turned away each time she returned his glance. He liked the way she looked up at him without coyness, the way she stared back at him, unashamed. But he could not figure out if she was interested in him. She seemed to look at him clinically, moving from his forehead to his eyes to his mouth and chin and then body. It was a feverish look, as if life was happening to her without her quite being able to grasp it. Her cheeks had colored furiously, but he was unsure if it was his stare that had caused it, or her own heat.
When she had walked past him with Gilbert, he had felt a wave of hot air, the same stifling and enveloping heat that circled him when he opened one of the large ovens to remove the loaves. Gilbert had hired her on the spot. He had an instinct, he later explained. Rogelio tried to engage her in conversation, but she just said “Nice to meet you,” and hurried away. Even her eyes seemed to sweat; they were so liquid.
Rogelio had become a striking man. At 22, he reached six feet tall; his chest and shoulders were wide and strong, his waist slim, his legs long, lean, and muscular. His hair was a thick, wavy black, soft and shiny as a wet seal. All the girls and women that came into Gilbert’s were attracted to him, but he could think only of Estrella. The first day she came to work, he had caught her crying while her hands split open eggs. A tear hung above the mixing bowl and he could not resist wiping it away. She stared at him, saying nothing. He walked away quickly, bringing his wet fingertip to his mouth. Her tear was like sea salt.
For days, he could not stop looking at her as he worked. His obsession had ruined the bread for an entire week. The first day, his hands kneaded the dough with too much vigor, making the bread tough and heavy. Another day he completely forgot to add the yeast, and the loaves became flat. Gilbert had scolded him. “This isn’t the Roman Catholic Church, Rogelio. People want bread, not communion hosts. It’s offensive. I’m having flashbacks of ruler-wielding nuns. You have to get a hold of yourself.”
When Friday rolled around and the entire city had suffered from Rogelio’s inability to concentrate, Gilbert finally took action.
“Rogelio, men cannot live on bread alone. You’ve heard the saying, no?”
“Yes.” His face flushed; he already knew where the conversation was headed.
“No need for embarrassment. The problem is, of course, that men don’t want to live without good bread. You understand?”
“On behalf of the illustrious town of Camagüey, I ask you to take control of the situation.”
Gilbert was always being overly dramatic. Rogelio smiled and nodded.
But Gilbert wouldn’t drop the subject. “I mean for you to ask her out.” He paused to lick his lips. “Or you’re fired.”
Rogelio’s smile fell into a frown. He was suddenly unsure that Gilbert was joking.
“Don’t get so serious, my friend. It’s a perfectly reasonable ultimatum.” Gilbert turned Rogelio around and pushed him in Estrella’s direction. “Go with God,” he whispered.
“Excuse me,” he began.
Estrella looked up from her mixing, balancing the whisk in the air. “Yes?”
“I was just thinking,” he tried, and then stopped, unable to take his eyes off her long, thin hands.
“Congratulations,” she replied, but immediately gave him a wide smile, encouraging him to continue.
“I thought that perhaps you’d like…” but he trailed off. One of the older women had walked by and rolled her eyes at him exaggeratedly. The color returned to his cheeks.
“Yes. The answer is yes.” She nodded, emphasizing the point.
“If you’re asking me out, the answer is yes.”
Gilbert walked by and slapped Rogelio on the back, mumbling something about the perfection of next week’s rolls.
“Why don’t you come by my house at around seven tonight?” She wrote down the address and shoved the paper into his hand.
That night, they said almost nothing. At the restaurant, they tried to have dinner, but neither one could eat. She just sat there, hot and uncomfortable, staring into his eyes and biting her lip. He could do nothing but touch her hands across the table and feel her legs beneath it, kneading her calves within his palms. They made their way to Rogelio’s house slowly, walking through the streets of Camagüey hand in hand, her palm burning within his. When the front door thudded shut and Rogelio clicked the lock into place, it signaled the beginning of their romance. In his bed, Estrella ran her hands down Rogelio’s body, starting at his neck, but before she reached his waist, he stopped her. He grabbed her hands in his own and brought them over to his mouth to pepper them with kisses. He was looking at her face, but his eyes wavered for a moment, flashing down. Too quickly afterwards, he pulled the sheets up over their heads as if he wanted to play with her in secret. Using tactics such as these, he was able to keep Estrella from feeling his gills.
When he was able to stop looking at her, he fell asleep. Maybe it was because it was the first time he had ever spent the night with somebody he cared about, or just because it was the first time he had ever shared his bed, but he did not sleep well. During the night, a recurring dream kept him from peaceful slumber. His ears were constantly awash with the sound of breaking waves. He stood at the shore on a black, moonless night. In one version, he was able to ignore the hissing of the ocean by covering his ears, and he ran away from the beach. But his footsteps would not move him fast enough and his feet seemed to sink into the sand too deeply. In another variation, he rushed into the water without restraint, jumping and falling into its crests. There was a flash of him swimming with fishes, a smile on his face and a soothing slow beating of his heart. But he would not let his subconscious self enjoy it. Every time the dream took that turn, he forced himself to wake up.
Estrella never returned home. She tried to leave at various points throughout that night, and later the next morning, but Rogelio could not let her go. A few times, he would agree and release her, only to have her refuse to leave the comfort of his hold. Even though he found her beautiful from the start, his longing for her grew with every passing day. Once he knew the sugary taste of her tongue and the honey-like stickiness of her sweat, he could not imagine life without her. He now understood why it was that nobody in town could resist her pastries. They were such a small piece of her, a sliver of what it was he had. He especially liked the way she looked when she got dressed up to go out: the way she painted her lips red and darkened her eyes with pencil, the way her legs looked in heels, and the way her breasts snuck out of plunging necklines. When she dressed like this, he could not wait to have her in his arms. He snuck her into restaurant bathrooms to lift her skirt and devour her in between dinner courses.
He was always careful to pay more attention to her than she paid to him. Determined to keep his gills secret, he found so many ways to conceal them, even to pretend to himself that they were not the reason for his inopportune and awkward affections. So he found her incredibly alluring when he had just woken. The veil of his dreams still upon him, he could not resist waking her up slowly, kissing her neck and sucking her nipples until she finally opened her eyes. She loved to sleep, so she fought him from within her half-awake state, perhaps wanting to linger in a particular fantasy. But this made him even more excited and determined. While she moaned and swatted him away, eyes closed, he slid down to her thighs, licking the insides slowly until he reached her sex. He switched back and forth from all of the places he knew she could not resist being touched at: the inside of her elbow, the back of her knee, the sides of her neck, the area just around her nipples, her fingers and toes, and the elusive button that was her clitoris. Estrella, with eyes closed, would moan and cry, lifting her hips and arching her back, while rubbing her eyes, preparing to open them and pounce.
But he could not let himself go when he made love to her. His gills had a life of their own and if he relaxed enough, if he was enraptured enough, his gills flapped like little butterflies, beating out rhythms made up of little moans.
He felt incomplete, unfinished. Each day, his work would be interrupted by images of Estrella. Either she would be in his proximity and he would glance over every so often to watch her fingers shape the fine pastries or her hands squeeze the icing tube; or she would be out of his sight, in which case he would picture something she had done the evening before—the way she pulled her hair behind her ears, for example.
He worked feverishly each day. As soon as all of his loaves were shaped and in the oven, he could go home. She was never too far behind. Her delicacies practically invented themselves. Gilbert found in their hurriedness continual material for his taunting.
As they grabbed their belongings and threw off their aprons, he would yell. “I was thinking we should increase the order of coffee toast and sugar cookies for tomorrow.” Rogelio and Estrella would sigh deeply and begin to walk back towards their work. As soon as they had reached their places, he would say, “You two are so gullible. Go, go home.” And he would wave them away.
Rogelio and Estrella could hear him laughing for a full block.
On their one-year anniversary, Estrella had a special dress made. It was a deep red silk that crisscrossed in the front, forming a V at her breasts. There had been so many times that she had felt Rogelio tensing up, keeping himself from her. She wanted him to release himself, to give everything to her. That night, just as he always did to her, she refused to undress. She played with him as he always had with her, moving this way and that, squirming from his touch, repeatedly concentrating on pleasuring him so as not to yield control.
He could not contain himself any longer. She breathed fiery breaths onto his neck, shoving her face into his flesh until he felt her lips against him move and vibrate and tremble with every moan. The sounds around him disappeared. He heard nothing but her rhythmic gasping. He felt nothing but her warmth—the warmth of her mouth on his neck, then nestled against his armpit; the cool of the silk and the heat of her sex beneath it, her thighs washing his legs in sweet pulses. But it was not enough. He forgot his secret. He wanted to be weighed down by her. He wanted to grab her and hold her against him mercilessly. He wanted to own her, to be her, to have her. He looked down at her and fumbled with her dress. In one swift gesture, she pulled it over her head, naked underneath. He relaxed his hands, which held him above her, and lowered himself onto her slowly, letting his full weight fall on her. Reaching his arms underneath her back, he wrapped them around her waist and pushed himself into her, onto her.
Her mouth was so close to his ear. She whispered to him, stopping herself whenever she needed to steal some air or cry out. He heard nothing save her words in his ear. Her words danced around him. He felt her words press against his body, pulse around his fingertips and toes. He crammed his eyes shut and felt only her words fluttering about him like hummingbird wings, faster and faster and faster until their speed kept him from breathing. He held his breath and felt a flash of light wash over him, even in the blackness of his closed lids. When he opened his eyes, she looked in awe. Her mouth, with its swollen lips, was half open, but she was quiet. Her eyes pleaded, begged him for explanation. He did not move from on top of her, but suddenly felt his gills flapping against her flesh, trying to drink her in, slurping at her beads of sweat.
He rolled off of her and onto his back. He covered his face with his hands; he knew he couldn’t bear to see her disgust. The gills slowly quieted, eased their movement. Estrella watched as they subsided, but she couldn’t keep from comforting them, from comforting him. She slid on top of Rogelio and rested her head on his chest. With her hands, she creeped down towards his gills, shushing him when he tried to stop her from touching them. She pet his gills with her palms, always going in the same motion, from top to bottom, smoothing them. Whatever attempts Rogelio made to remove her hands were feeble. She kept rubbing him down until his breathing slowed, his heartbeat slowed. She herself became affected by his relaxed state and soon they were both asleep, his gills having shut down and closed tightly against his body.
That night, a dream haunted him. It was very much like the one he had had the first night Estrella had slept with him, except that in this one she waited for him on the sand. He looked back to see her crying, waving frantically for him to come back. When he looked forward, he saw only the open sea, singing its slippery melody. There were two variations to this dream. In one, he walked towards the ocean, hearing Estrella’s sobs the entire time. But at the last moment, he would turn and run to her, crying. In another, she yelled just the same, but he could hardly hear her. The waves crashing onto the shore drowned out her pleas. He walked in calmly and slowly, and then submerged himself completely, remaining with the fish, letting the soft seaweed caress his body and the bubbling surf stroke his heart.
The next day, she couldn’t keep her hands off his gills. The discovery had made her delirious and feverish. At the bakery, she pushed him into corners all day, lifting his shirt to finger his slats, leaning her head back in ecstasy. In the large refrigerator that held the party cakes, she shoved his fingers into her sex as she inserted her fingers into his little gills—perfectly size to receive a finger each. On her knees, she licked them as she groped for his member, inserting the tip of her tongue into each crevice. The hum of the refrigerator sounded like the crashing waves of Playa Luna. Her eyes staring at him were like pools of water on a dark and rainy afternoon. She lapped at him; her tongue the sea; her saliva salty. But it was a busy day. The shush of the pressurized door let them know someone was coming. He pretended to be helping her carry one of the heavier wedding cakes, but it had been Gilbert who had walked in and he knew better.
When they got back home, he could not take his hands off her; it was as if he were trying to memorize her body. He made her lie down nude while he traced her calves with his hands, cupped her hips, caressed her breasts. He kissed and licked her everywhere; he did not stop until he had covered every piece of her skin. Only then did he thrust himself inside her, being careful not to close his eyes when he came. Estrella did not know what had overcome Rogelio that night. She slept so deeply after his languishing affections that she did not realize when he got up. He never left their bed without waking her up to say goodbye. But when she turned to kiss his neck, as she did each morning, only his crumpled pillow remained. His side of the bed was damp, and there were puddles leading out of their bedroom. Instantly, tears rose up in her eyes. Her hands began to tremble and she started to sweat. Gripping onto his wet pillow, she sobbed, flooding their room in salty tears and leaving the neighborhood dogs to howl.
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