No 65 - 1976
Paradise for Exiles
He was lying reading on his bed in the late afternoon, the summer sun still warm, the air languid, when he heard voices in some altercation. He went to the window and saw Freda and Kathy arguing with four Peruvians by the side of a dust-coated taxi. He slipped on his rope-soled shoes and ran outside. One of the men had lost a thousand soles during the twenty-hour drive from the Chilean frontier. Stolen while he slept. The two girls were now being accused of the theft. It looked like a frame-up to try and wrest money from them. Freda, large, slow-moving, easy-going with long blonde hair and guitar slung over her shoulders, Steve knew from the previous summer. Kathy, small, dark, with a neat figure, a model for teenage fashions in Los Angeles, had been staying with Freda in Chile. She was recovering, he found out later, from an affair that had turned out badly.
They were hustled off in a police-car to the Comisaria. The atmosphere there was desultory. Dark-skinned black-moustached policemen in green uniforms sat around, indolent yet arrogant, cracking jokes, smiling, flirting with the two gringas. Nothing happened for half-an-hour, yet the station generated a vaguely sinister tension. They felt emmeshed in a tight little labyrinth of redtape. At last the Captain took a few mundane details from the girls, typed up some notes and joked about them travelling alone, facing the dangers of a ‘primitive’ country, the macho world of the desert highway. A few sickly grins, then their luggage was searched. Nothing found. One of the lieutenants borrowed Freda’s guitar. Strumming a few chords and encouraged by the sly quips and smirks of the others, he serenaded them for a quarter of an hour. No one complained. They sat around smiling weakly. Other people, there to file complaints, answer summonses, or make accusations, sat waiting too, sycophantically applauding the lieutenant.
‘When the fuck are they going to let us go?’ Steve said.
‘Heh, gringo, you spik Spanish here, si. I know that word, fok, no es bueno, es mal, cierto? You no like Peruanos?’ Steve ignored the question, but asked when they could leave. ‘Un momento, tiene paciencia,’ the Captain sneered. With the two girls alone, two innocent foreigners, they could have had fun. But Steve spoke Spanish, lived in Lima, was not a tourist. The spanner in their works. Yet they out-manoeuvered him in the end. They told the girls they could leave, so gathering their luggage they all went outside. The policemen were courteous. They hailed a taxi and Steve began to get the bags inside. While he was engaged in this, the Captain came waddling round, a fat man in his fifties, not one to inspire fear or admiration, with a corrupt decadent face.
‘Por favor, senoritas, he olvidado algo. Un momento, por favor, una pregunta mas. Just one more question. This way, please.’ Steve turned to go back with them, but didn’t dare leave the luggage in the waiting taxi. The Captain told him to stay there and get the luggage out of the taxi as they might want to look through it again. The taxi-driver said he couldn’t wait all night. One of the policemen help’d Steve unload it, then disappeared so that he was left with a pile of stuff on the pavement. It would have been fatal to leave it. He had no suspicion anyway.
Some form to sign, some bit of bureaucracy, he supposed, perhaps finger-printing which was standard procedure. The Captain needed to make a gesture, had reports to file. Besides, they were only gone ten minutes.
When they returned, the Captain was jovial, good-humoured, excessively polite. He brought a police-car round, helped Steve with the luggage and chatting amiably drove them back to Steve’s apartment.
‘What did they want?’ Steve asked the girls.
‘Nothing much. Tell you later.’ He was so fooled by their smooth talk that he almost invited the Captain in for a drink.
‘Oh my God!’ Kathy said when they were inside and Steve had fixed a drink.
‘What happened?’ Steve asked.
‘It was nasty. They took us into a little room, that smarmy fat guy and the tall young one who sang those crummy songs, and told us to strip off as they had to search us.’
‘I take it you refused. They’d no right unless there was a police-woman present. Was there one?’
‘You must be joking. Of course not, and we couldn’t refuse, we wanted to get away, we’d been there hours. At first we refused, then they said just to your bra and pants, so that we can be sure you’re not hiding the money. Well, it seemed the best thing to do, the quickest, except poor old Freda wasn’t wearing no goddam bra.’
‘The bastards,’ Steve said. ‘They didn’t do anything I take it.’
‘Of course they did. They felt us up and down, lingering on our tits and asses, as you can imagine, felt between the cheeks and between our legs, then told us we were in the clear and could go.’
‘I’m going to phone your Embassy,’ Steve said. ‘Or get a lawyer. Sue them.’
‘Come on, Steve, it’s a waste of time. They’d deny it and there were no witnesses.’
‘But even in Peru it’s illegal for a man to search you. Anyway they were just having you on, a bit of fun at your expense.’
‘Yeh, a free strip-show and grope.’
‘Ah forget it,’ Freda said. ‘It left a bit of a bad taste, but that’s all. Just let’s forget it and enjoy our stay here. No point in getting all worked up about it now. Besides, it was funny in a way. It’ll make a funny story later, you bet on that.’
With Steve it still rankled. He’d been conned, outflanked by their cunning. It wasn’t his first brush with the Peruvian police, nor would it be his last. And he swore he’d never be tricked like that again.
That night Robert came round and the following week all the blokes Steve knew started visiting again. The girls were the honey pot that, to mix the metaphor, brought them in like homing pigeons. Kathy was sexy and pretty in a small darkhaired cute manner. Dawson, a Jamaican on contract with the university, came in his black Mustang, and Jack, a six-foot four trombonist with the Lima Symphony Orchestra, came too. They went swimming in the day, and at night ate out, went to the cinema in Miraflores or sat around drinking beer, playing records, gossiping about their plans, hopes, dreams and ambitions. The sun and salt water, the exhilaration of the beach seemed to create that mindless glow of well-being that characterised the Lima summer. There were no worries or anxieties, no domestic chores. They were in the belly of a whale, healthy, blind and obsessed with sex. Steve’s daughter, Ann, was nearly a year old with beautiful reddish curls and blue eyes. Jean, thirty, had never looked so good. Neither had Steve. None of that pasty fat that came from starchy English food and a cold climate. They’d never had things so easy. Life was lived in the present tense. Only the moment counted. It was a paradise after the slums and suburbs of industrial Birmingham. And they were mellowed by it. Steve’s bitterness disappeared. On the surface they were happy. And Steve never looked beneath that surface. Nemesis was unknown, unheard of. A paradise for exiles. Exiles in Peru.
Freda, one of those peripatetic American girls who seemed to abound in Peru, had taken a year off from her Spanish studies to wander round South America, with, of course, periodic cheques from her parents in Santa Monica. She was big and athletic, a good swimmer with broad hips and suntanned thighs, long sunbleached hair, a seraphic smile and a slow indolent languor of movement. She would sit on the floor in their apartment, legs curled beneath her, Navajo Indian style, and sing softly, strumming her guitar all evening, serenely, while the others played chess and were generally more tense and nervy. ‘The Californian Amazon,’ Robert called her. Sometimes Steve thought she was too tolerant. Anyone ‘doing their thing’ was sacrosanct. He never heard a moral criticism from her. It gave her a strange vulnerability to the conmen and neurotic, the mean and Machiavellian.
One night they went to the Golden Gate. Most of the crowd were there. Dawson on the drums, and Jack playing the trumpet. They all flocked round Kathy, which left Steve with Freda. It was a hot night and the band played nostalgic jazz, old Stan Getz and Mulligan numbers, some Brubeck. All derivative but pleasant enough in the intimate darkness of the club. Jim Smith, the negro from Chicago, was on the bass. He always gave the jazz a professional tone. It was sultry and muzzy. Freda and Steve talked about their Cuzco trip the previous summer. Steve told her how he’d wanted to make love to her. That he was turned on. He and Jean had been having some friction. She had been asking him for a divorce. He loved her, he said, but found monogamy difficult. He loved women, he said. He couldn’t help that, could he? In fact he was afraid of them.
It was the beer talking. His liver was still shot from hepatitis and he didn’t drink much. When he did the alcohol seemed to get into his bloodstream immediately. Freda told him about some Brazilian guitarist who had followed her around. She loved him and they had a pure and soulful relationship. Dawson gave Kathy a lift back to the apartment when the session finished, so Steve and Freda walked home through the gnarled olive trees, weird in the moonlight. Jean was still up when they arrived home. They had another drink, then both Jean and Freda went to bed. Steve, feeling wide awake and over-stimulated, went into the kitchen to make himself a coffee.
He took Jean a cup, but she was already asleep. He kissed her on the mouth and she stirred drowsily, blonde hair over the pillow. He whispered: ‘I love you, baby.’ She smiled. He caressed her breasts and she murmured:’ I’m tired, Steve, I must go to sleep.’ He went out again, wondering about marriage. At one time they made love every night. Now it was two or three times a week. He was constantly feeling vaguely restless, especially in the summer, lazing on beaches, storing up that ultra-violet energy, sun and sea. He always wanted to make out. That vision of ultimate cunt. In the head. Yet he needed to work more, to write, to work. He was happy, but this sexuality had to be resolved. Jean enjoyed making love, and seemed contented. Sex didn’t preoccupy her. It obsessed Steve. Perhaps he was neurotic in some way. Why should one need this perpetual variety? He didn’t know. He didn’t understand it.
He heard Kathy come in. She wandered through to the kitchen and stood behind him while he made her a coffee.
‘Others in bed?’
‘Did you enjoy yourself? Was it Dawson who brought you home?’
‘Yeah, he’s nice but doesn’t do anything for me. None of them do.’ Steve laughed.
‘Did you lay Freda?’
‘No, of course not. What do you think I am?’
‘You’re a bastard,’ she said. ‘But a nice one.’ Steve turned round and smiled. ‘Heh, that’s not fair,’ he said. Kath put her hands over his arms, leant forward and kissed him on the mouth.
‘You’re a bastard, but you turn me on,’ she said smiling. Steve smiled faintly and held her to him, his hands round her arse which was perfect in the tight white jeans she was wearing. She certainly was a lovely bird, small-featured, liquid eyes, but tough enough beneath that. None of Freda’s gentleness, or vulnerability. Yet this was the last thing he had expected. He’d taken little notice of her and realised that that was probably the reason. She was accustomed to being the centre of attention, to being chased. His indifference had probably intrigued her. She kissed him again and by this time he had a hard-on which she pressed against with her belly.
‘I bet you’ve been longing to do this ever since I came,’ she said. Narcissist, he thought. But understood it. Knew something about it himself. She was after his own heart.
‘You’re beautiful,’ he said. ‘But I’ve been more involved with Freda. I like her.’
‘You probably like them all,’ she said. ‘You fucked with her sister, didn’t you?’
‘How did you know?’
‘I just guessed. Well, it wasn’t difficult, you being you. But Freda’s different. She’s only nineteen and innocent.’
‘I don’t know. But innocent, so don’t hurt her.’
‘Of course not.’
‘Come on, kiss me,’ she said, then put her hand against his prick, rubbing it through his jeans.
‘Mm,’ she said. ‘You’re just sexy.’ Steve thought there was an element of mockery in her remarks, but was getting excited non-the-less, hands under her T-shirt, the silky feel of her belly.
‘No,’ she said suddenly. ‘This is impossible, what with Freda and Jean in the other rooms, besides I’m not going to add another notch to your belt. I’m off to bed now. To sleep.’ She kissed him once more and ducked out as Steve tried to grab at her. He heard her chuckling as she skipped off to the bathroom.
The following night they went to Dawson’s apartment on the twelfth floor of a luxury block. They had been drinking and listening to records when Robert suggested going for a midnight swim. Steve who had been swimming all afternoon wasn’t keen.
‘It’d be groovy,’ Dawson kept saying. ‘Yeah, groovy.’
They piled into his black Mustang and cruised off to the nearest beach. It was a beautiful night, the cliffs loomed dark towards the point, but they could see the lights of Callao twinkling on the far side of the wide bay, and the bars along the malecon were almost vibrating with juke-box rock. They strolled along the soft sand, the surf white, phosphorescent with microscopic life, a few yards away. In the afternoon the beach had been packed with sensuous sunburnt bodies. Now it was deserted. Steve was in front with Freda; Jack, Dawson and Robert were walking with Kathy. They got to the shelter of the cliffs and sprawled out on the sand. The night was cooler than they’d anticipated.
‘OK, then’ Freda said. ‘Who’s coming for a swim?’ Dawson and Jack began to chicken out, saying it was too cold. Kathy hadn’t intended swimming anyway. Freda and Steve stripped off and ran down to the sea, plunging in. They swam out to the Coca Cola raft, a hundred yards off-shore, then back again. The water was warm, strange in the darkness, unable to see whether there were porpoise in the bay, unable to penetrate the blackness.
When they came ashore, they were cheered feebly by the others.
‘It’s not done you much good,’ Robert said, laughing and pointing at Steve’s genitals which had retracted. While Freda and Steve rubbed down and dressed, the others cracked jokes. Steve felt very cold, but as they were walking back along the sand, Freda rubbing his bottom to get him warm again, Kath came up and put her arm round his waist.
‘You don’t mind if I join you’, she said. ‘They faze me, those guys.’
They walked back to the car, Steve with an arm round each girl. He sat between them in the backseat. They made a show of caressing him as Dawson drove back through the ill-lit midnight suburbs. The three men in front got quite irritated listening to the chuckles from the back.
‘Heh, Steve, you’re a married man, for god’s sake.’
‘He’s just goddam greedy,’ one of them said.
‘Living with three of them, it’s not bloody fair.’
Steve was not listening to their quips, but enjoying the situation. Then Dawson turned up the car radio. A comedy, Steve thought. Life was just a big comedy. Though perhaps really he had a tragic view of things. Someone had asked him at a party not long before, whether he had a comic or tragic vision of life. Portentous midnight philosophising. The question had seemed absurd. And yet you certainly did pay for everything in the end. But he didn’t care that night. Enjoy the moment, pay later.
One afternoon they went to the Museum of National History in Pueblo Libre. It was full of Incaic mummies, gold and silver plate, pots from Nazca with vividly-painted fish and cats round their sides, uniforms worn by San Martin and Bolivar, paintings, weapons and documents. Freda and Jean strolled round absorbed, but Kathy took surreptitious pleasure in rubbing her little bottom into Steve’s groin, when no one was watching, or touching him up till he had a hard-on. Fun but frustrating. When they went downstairs to the special room full of erotic pottery, she became even bolder, applying light pressure to his balls as they gazed at the ceramics; pumas copulating, plump benign Indians being sucked off by passive girls a thousand years ago and ossified in clay, their monstrous members large as thighs, and those curiously static humble girls crouched on all fours being penetrated from behind. Sensual, with a sense of humour, fashioned before those Spanish priests with whips and fire had changed it all, creating shame and guilt.
‘You wait, I’ll give you a blow job, Steve, that you won’t forget in a hurry,’ Kath whispered as they watched. He laughed. ‘Wait, wait and see,’ she added.
One hot afternoon Steve needing some solitude took his notebook and some volumes of poetry onto the roof to read and sunbathe. He stretched out on a towel in the corner. On the far side an Indian maid was hanging out some washing, reaching up to fasten the pegs, her white uniform taut against the globes of her hips, and rising high above her thighs, brown and plump. Suddenly he had an urge to go up behind her and run his hands between her legs. Velvet, smooth. Oh fuck the fantasies, he muttered. This goddam crucifixion! But no, that was his guilt asserting itself. He remembered some brothel near Callao, the girls framed in their stable doors, available meat, the men wandering round, waiting, Everyone was the same. Intense curiosity, perpetual desire. And, he, Steve, was an amateur compared to some. Pop stars, film stars, the very wealthy. But back to the poems. English, celebrating domestic love and perfect marriage. By David Coldstream. A dull lot, sexually. At least from the poems they were. Perhaps they were mature, and he was out of step. Still adolescent, still making hay from his hang ups. Ah, but it was hot on the roof, his body tanning in the sun, desire turning to languor, to drowsy sleep.
He was woken up by Kathy. She was sitting beside him in her bikini, smiling.
‘Wondered where you’d got to.’
‘I’ve been up here, sunbathing.’
‘Oh yeah,’ she said, putting her hand on his chest, nipping his nipples. He touched her thigh, creamy, soft. She smiled, face pert, impish. Then she ran her hand down his belly, straight inside his briefs, gently massaging him till he was hard.
‘Doesn’t take long to excite you,’ she said. ‘I like to feel it throbbing in my hand. Nice balls too. Feel heavy, tight, soft. Sweet little prick. Mm, I’m going to give you that blow job I promised.’
And she did, leaning over him. He watched her pretty little head working, mouth sucking, lips flicking, bobbing up and down, and the come sharp and located, happening at a distance, coming with a series of vibrations and jerks. She looked up, smiled, murmured, swallowed.
‘You’re dishy,’ she said.
He took Jean out to dinner that night. Kathy was babysitting. They ate grilled chicken and chips with salad. Jean was lovely. Gold hair heavy over her shoulders. They laughed together and Steve told her he loved her. She was natural, spontaneous, no affectations, no artificially worked-up passion, sincere, tolerant. He still wanted her, still loved her. Still that old tenderness. Yet he was human, weak, a betrayer, insensitive, blind. And the following afternoon, despite all resolves, he went for a swim with Kathy and at sunset, a sullen red glow over the steel sea, sitting side by side on the rocks, overlooking the ocean, she slipped her hand inside his red trunks and jerked him off while the fishermen filed past along the path. Afterwards he swam in the darkening and cool sea to the raft, back again, the water balm, washing the sticky sperm and guilt away in the green salty waves, porpoise leaping a hundred yards off, their black dorsal fins rising high above the swell. Drying off back on the beach, he put his arm round Kathy and told her she was lovely. And in the taxi on the way home, the city now dark, warm with summer heat, they chatted about their fantasies. Betrayer, cheap Don Juan!
‘You know,’ she murmured, eyes sexy, glinting with humour. ‘Your bidet in the flat turns me on. I get the jet directly on my clitoris. It’s one of my little kinks. Tell you the truth I like for a guy to piss on my clitoris. Blows my mind.’
Towards the end of summer Kathy flew home on a BRANIF jet and that was the last Steve saw of her. He heard that she got married to a rich writer in California and that they had a beautiful Spanish-style bungalow in Santa Monica. And she drove around, lady of leisure, in a racing-car green, Jaguar sports-car. And despite the erotic incidents he had shared with her, he never did ‘get into he; pants’, to use her own expression. Robert held a huge party to mark the end of summer, then he and Steve, masochists, went off to the jungle. A wrench to bounce for thirty hours in a bus over the dusty mountains and down to the green yet sinister jungle. In a melancholy and ascetic mood they shivered at midnight in a snowstorm at the top of the pass, regretting the beaches, the jazzclub and the girls as the bus, full of coca-chewing Indians off to some bleak mining-town, chugged through the blizzard and the Siberian wastes of the altiplano, telling each other anecdotes of the svelte city. At dawn, zigzagging down into jungle, waterfalls and cascades like cream, like sperm frothing against the green, the sun thawing them out, they felt good.
For a month they left behind the gossip, debts, anxieties, guilts, as well as the milk and honey of the coast. Intrepid explorers they were soon armed with machetes and knives, to penetrate the virgin forest like conquistadores. Their fantasies, and the film they were to live inside for the duration of the trip. Better than pot or acid. They hunted for snakes in the swamps, took canoes down rivers, slept in a bamboo hut, watched palms, soupy yellow river, got lost, tarantulas on swam the lost weight, sweated, lost their coastal tans, bought a rainbow boa, sweated, and, decadent heroes from a Conrad novel, visited the local brothel where the ladies were middle-aged and ugly, and the heroes were jeered as they left the place without sampling its wares. ‘Maricones,’ the locals called. It buzzed in their ears, cycling down a muddy lane, getting caught in a sudden storm. Finally they flew back over those vast mountain ranges in a brief two hours, full of bullshit stories for the city.
On the very last day of the holidays Steve came close to killing himself, climbing in the foothills. They’d gone to a friend’s chicken-farm and in the afternoon visited some nearby Inca ruins. Steve got bored and left the others to explore the hillslope. Near the top he had slipped, siding down a gulley of shale and scree, scrabbling for a hold and realising there was a sheer drop to the bottom. Desperately he had grabbed at the last outcrop of rock, and held. Then had to be rescued. Back down, shaken, he was driven to the ranch where he dove into the swimming-pool to get the dirt out of his abrasions and cuts. Afterwards someone made him nearly faint when they rubbed alcohol into his chest. He sat all evening drinking beer, unable to eradicate the images of the fall. Shock. He held his daughter to him, and made love to Jean that night with something like desperation, trying to forget, but everytime he paused, the vision of the fall returned. The rocks he’d seen gathering momentum and bouncing down the slope, his body doing the same. Stripped to the waist, he’d have been flayed alive, sliding down that scree a thousand feet, even if he hadn’t started bouncing. It was the closest he’d ever come to a violent death. And the fear didn’t leave him for a week. Not a moment passed when he didn’t have a lurch in his belly as he saw himself clinging to that rock, clinging so hard by his finger tips that the friction filed off - burnt off the flesh. Cold fear as he’d climbed onto that narrow slab of rock, cold sweat on his body, trembling as he waited for his rescuers, their slow climb along the ridge to the summit above him. He clung to Jean, needed to touch her constantly. And to hold his daughter. Felt it was sweet to be alive.
- 10th Muse
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- Dream Catcher
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- French Literary Review, The
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- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
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- Modern Poetry in Translation
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- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
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