Fiction by Brenda Lozano translated from the Spanish by Alice Whitmore.
There are thirty-three mosquito bites on his legs. He scratches each welt, one by one, before his bath. The largest is on his left heel. He and Lola had planned to visit their friends in the country together, but they broke up the day before New Year’s Eve. He decided instead to go up on his own anyway, the long weekend before work went back, just as he’d planned with Lola, just as they’d planned together. His friend is preparing coffee, and he notices that he has no bites. His other friend comes into the kitchen, she has no bites either. He asks if they have something for the itch, some kind of ointment, mosquito repellent, a spray to kill them all in the night. We don’t have anything like that, his friend says. They’ve lived in the country for years, the mosquitos have grown accustomed to them, he thinks, or they’ve grown accustomed to the mosquitos. In any case, it’s been a while since they bought anything like mosquito repellent or insecticide. I’ve been devoured by mosquitos, he tells his friend, showing her the swollen red marks on his forearms.
At breakfast, Juliana and Manuel tell him about the vegetable patch they’d only just begun planning last time he visited. Lola had been with him: he does some counting, it was around his birthday, four years ago. He remembers now, suddenly he remembers it as if Lola were there with him, as if nothing had happened and Manuel were again sketching out on a napkin his plans for the vegetable patch they were now about to admire. He observes the rosemary, the basil, the coriander, the tomatoes, the lettuce. Robust, fresh, crunchy, like young lovers, he think, still unaware of heartbreak, of that troubled weather of thunder and storms and cold gusts of rain. That word, heartbreak: for them, perhaps, it is like a sphere filled with water and blue oil and a cute little floating ship that when you shake it seems to teeter on the surface with no real danger of sinking. The thought of having to start again is overwhelming, he’s decided not to reckon with it just yet. Real, happy lettuces, he thinks. He crouches down, rubs the basil leaves: their delicious perfume surprises him. The morning sun between the basil leaves is also surprising, and exciting: he takes photos. His friends show him the goat pen that was still under construction last time he visited, with Lola. He is surprised by the passing of time. Lola could be here now, with them in the vegetable patch that had grown from a napkin and the goat pen that was no longer just an empty space marked out in chalk. There are six goats: one old goat with a long dirty red beard and five young beardless ones. He takes photos of the goats, he walks toward them and they walk toward him. The old goat mimics his movements. He moves to the left, now to the right; the goat follows him like a shadow. He asks his friends if this is normal. Juliana crosses her arms, smiling.
The house is covered in vines. The windows are the only openings in the wall of foliage, and beside the door are two large pots of lavender. Juliana shows him that in each pot there are two types of lavender: one grey, one purple. Juliana rubs the flowers to release their perfume. He takes photos of his friend with the sprigs of gray and purple lavender.
Enclosed in the bedroom, he sits at his computer. Every now and then he scratches. He discovers a large welt on his knee, and realizes it’s almost as large as the one on his heel. He removes his shoe and sock to compare them. It’s a double bite, he guesses. Maybe even a triple bite. But can a mosquito even bite you three times in the same place? He can’t write. He leaves the bedroom. Manuel is at his computer. Juliana went out to buy flour, he says. Flour? We’re making fresh pasta for dinner. He closes the front door behind him, heads for the goat pen. He crosses his arms, looks. The goats approach the fence. The beard of the old goat is wet and muddy. He enters the pen. The odor is heavy, it smells to him like the goat’s cheese he buys from the supermarket. He strokes the head of the old goat, and the others come over. He kneels, pats the back of the smallest one. With one hand he takes its little hoof, like the paw of a dog, and shakes it. He moves four steps to the right and the goats follow him. A few steps to the left, they follow him. He scratches his knee. He can’t be sure if the little goats are following the old goat or if they’re following him, but he’s sure the old goat with the wet dirty beard is following him for some reason. He discovers a black mark on the back of the smallest goat, photographs it. The goats seem disoriented, as if they’ve lost their place in some choreography. He’s wondering if he’ll ever be able to live the kind of life his friends live when he feels the wet beard of the old goat against his temple.
In the morning he deletes everything he wrote the night before. He goes to the kitchen to eat breakfast with his friends. He shows them a mosquito bite between the index and ring fingers of his left hand. He describes last night’s battle with the mosquitos. He killed three with an old magazine he found in the bathroom. He couldn’t sleep. Manuel sits beside his friend, examines the bite between his fingers. What’s that smell? It’s the moisturizer Lola gave me for Christmas, he says, just before we broke up. No, his friend says, what’s that smell? It’s orange scented moisturizer, I think. Juliana smiles, cutting the bread onto a heavy plate made of volcanic stone, and tells him it would be a good idea to stop using the orange scented moisturizer. The thing she gave him, Lola’s last gift, seems to turn in on itself, to turn against him. A lot like love, he says, without believing too much in the word, as if it were a prop in a play, an empty thing that suddenly falls from a table on the stage.