Yesterday I read an article chronicling the demise of Faris, a Spanish man of Moroccan origin who joined ISIS in 2013, at the beginning of the war. He brought his wife and two children with him to Syria through Turkey and in six months was killed in battle. His third child was born a few months later and his wife and family remain in judicial limbo even today. From her cramped apartment in Madrid, Faris’ mother petitions to have her three grandchildren repatriated. She’s even willing to take care of the two youngest children her daughter-in-law had later with a second ISIS fighter.
Normally, an article like this would end by asking questions: why did Faris leave home? Why did he feel isolated, rejected, angered by the West, what went wrong in his high school in Madrid, at his job as an electrician?
Faris, however, had another life, an earlier, happier one. At seventeen he fell in love with a track star at his high school. She was, like him, born in Madrid to Moroccan parents. Dalila. Blonde with green eyes and a tremendous laugh. Theirs was a deep, life-changing kind of love. They married young and eventually saved up for a three-bedroom apartment, close to their parents’, but in a newer, greener development. In 2009, Dalila was the first, and possibly the only, Spanish citizen to contract H1N1, the once infamous and now long forgotten swine flu. She was seven months pregnant when she was hospitalized with a nasty cough and a persistent fever, terrible headaches and back pain. The hospital performed a Cesarean just a few hours before she died. The baby, Jonathan, lived fifteen more days before dying when a nurse mistakenly gave him medication intravenously instead of through the nose. Faris was never the same.
Never have I read such a succinct, sane explanation for a man joining an unjust, suicidal cause. He was happy. Then that was stripped away from him.
Apparently Faris filed suit against the Spanish healthcare system, but nothing came of it. It was a long, drawn-out process and although the nurse from the neonatal care unit was found to be negligent, she was never punished in any way and Faris never received any sort of compensation.
Our supervisor, Leonard, always insists on understanding the political and legal framework of each asylum case but also on detecting and focusing on the specifics. There is nothing wrong with making it emotional and personal he tells us, because at this point we can only actually help people by appealing to donations from the public. The judges have little to no ability to maneuver now that the administration has changed so many laws.
“Tug at the heartstrings,” he says.
I grew up in the city of Oaxaca, solidly middle-class. My parents, both university professors, were killed in a car crash when I was fifteen and my sister Roberta was twenty. Roberta married a few years later and I lived with her and her family—her husband Nico, and their two daughters. Their one-story house was circular and had a huge bathroom in the middle, with a sloped tile floor and shower heads on all four walls but no ceiling. When Nico installed that shower, it seemed to me the absolute height of happiness and luxury. All the water flowed into a drain in the exact middle of the house. Sometimes birds flew in as you washed in the morning. If it rained while you were in the shower it didn’t matter Nico said, you were going to get wet anyway.
When I was in university, I came home at lunch time and jumped rope with my nieces in the front courtyard, a terracotta patio lined with waxy plants. They were obsessed with the Double Dutch. We were orphans, but we were ok, Roberta and me. My sister even had enough money to have a housekeeper who chopped up papaya to put in our Frosted Flakes every weekday morning. Loreta also made huge, rich lunches so I ate heavy black bean soup and strips of roast chicken after jumping rope every day. But I was skinny then, a tiny slippery thing.
After lunch I slept for several hours while the girls did their homework. I always slept deeply, dreamlessly because I woke up at five am and was at the swimming pool by six most mornings. As a kid I had been a competitive swimmer, but by the age of twenty I trained just an hour in the morning and helped coach a youth club.
Who swam in Oaxaca? Lots of local kids like us, the children of doctors, teachers, civil servants, and the pale skinned, raven-haired son of an American couple who lived not far from my sister and Nico. His name was Oliver and he was beautiful, too pretty for a boy with long fingers and toes and luscious eyelashes. His eyes, like mine, were light green and that is how we met one day at the market.
His mother, about to pass out from the intense heat and the smell of meat, sent Oliver in to buy the beef her husband wanted. I was buying all the supplies Loreta needed to prepare our Easter lunch. We ended up in the same line and it was the butcher who asked if we were related, if Irene had a secret gringo cousin visiting.
“No, no,” I laughed it off.
Oliver seemed confused and frightened.
“You two have the same eyes,” the butcher told him.
Oliver readjusted the meat wrapped carefully in paper and turned to look at me.
“We do,” he said. Then he left to look for his mother.
It was nearly two, too late in the day to be out shopping, so as I walked home loaded down with canvas bags full of pork and citrus fruits, corn tortillas, onions, fresh cheese and a whole chicken, I was practically alone in the streets. At the cathedral, as I turned away from the zocolo and towards our neighborhood, I realized I had been following Oliver and his mother the whole time, and that I was about pass them. It seemed impolite not to stop. I lowered one of bags to the ground and asked if perhaps aside from being long lost twins we were also neighbors.
Angela, the mother, was physically frail, but bubbly and friendly. She spoke fluent Spanish with only a slight hint of a foreign accent. Everyone thought she was American like Blake, but she was in fact born in Venezuela. She and Blake met while studying poetry at Johns Hopkins University, but I found that out much later. That day, Holy Thursday, I just got invited round for tea at the Morrisons’, which, after dropping off the shopping, is exactly where I went.
Angela and Blake had rented a large, until recently abandoned house, on our same street, Calle Mariano Matamoros. The house was sprawling, but not well equipped and modern the way my sister’s place was. Blake used one of the rooms as a studio, Angela said, and I remember thinking that he must have been a painter or a sculptor. The room was huge and cool and messy, filled with spectacular objects: sheets of flagstone, broken bicycles, whale bones, palm branches from a recent storm. Another smaller room was the office: simple, neater, with two desktop computers and a bookshelf lined with dictionaries and books of poetry in French, Spanish, and English.
“He’s teaching, English poetry, at the University this semester” Oliver offered.
He seemed nervous about his mother giving me a tour.
“We’re poets,” Angela told me as she poured tea. The smell of chamomile tea still makes me nauseous, reminds me of that first gentle afternoon.
I explained to Angela that I studied translation and interpretation at the University and coached swimming in the mornings at a beautiful outdoor pool in Miraflores.
“It’s walking distance,” I told her. “If one morning you’d like to go.”
“I don’t swim,” Angela told me. “But Oliver does. In Baltimore he trained with a very good team.”
And so, just after Easter, our team, the Osos Polares, got a star. Oliver, at age thirteen, could beat even the seven- and eighteen-year-old Mexican kids. He did the butterfly like a lean, lithe sea creature. Some of the mothers filmed his races and posted the videos on Facebook. By September the butcher at the market referred to Oliver as el nadador. Clearly, we were headed for glory. We weren’t a competitive club, but we were tight-knit, and everyone was proud to have Oliver among us.
I liked to get to the pool early and swim laps just as the sun was coming up on mild winter mornings. Perhaps the two things I miss most about Mexico are Nico’s shower and our pool, just four-lanes wide. Much more beautiful than any facility I’ve ever encountered since.
For Christmas that year we decorated the pool with papier mâché birds that we strung up to warn of the approaching wall. Most pools have plastic flags across the lanes, but we had our brightly colored birds. In January, long after the holiday, as we did the backstroke, reaching, hoping for the wall, we glided under effigies of bright pink flamingos. A slice of bright blue morning sky flashed just before our fingers touched the wall.
I was patient with the kids, but it didn’t take a lot of effort. Even adolescents are kind if they’re swimmers. It’s a sport that attracts shy, hard-working people. We are willing to wake up early, love solitary repetition, are competitive mostly with ourselves.
Some of the older boys could have bullied Oliver but they didn’t. For two reasons, I guess, first of all, they were decent kids and secondly because despite being girlishly pretty and the son of strange gringo intellectuals, Oliver was the fastest of us all. When he would beat me in 200-meter breaststroke, I would see the gentle grin slide across his face just as he surfaced. Once, one morning, after racing, I hugged him. Reaching over the lane rope, I was exhausted, elated.
But Angela was my main obsession. I wanted to be as feminine and feline as she seemed. My only remarkable feature were my green eyes, but they made me odd, amphibian, not especially pretty. My body was compact, waistless. My straight Indian hair was cut in a practical bob, with dense bangs straight across my forehead. Many people at school thought I was a lesbian.
“Those swimmer’s shoulders,” my sister said. “And those shorts you wear.”
Roberta had been small like me once, but now she was sturdy and square, with a chest but no waist. She didn’t seem to care. Nico bought her nice gold jewelry, expensive shoes, and she knew just how to apply makeup to make her eyes stand out. Roberta didn’t dwell on change, physical or emotional. She got on with things.
“Stop going to that pool every morning,” she said. “Go out at night. Dance. Have fun.”
Once I did, with a guy from university named Pablo. He was skinny, terribly unathletic, but seemed serious and kind. We both read lots of novels, Latin Americans and French writers, and we liked an American author born in Kansas City who had spoken at our faculty. Over dinner Pablo talked about leaving Oaxaca, moving to Mexico City. His brother was a journalist there.
We drank too many beers at a club and Pablo promised to take me to Mexico the next weekend, that we would drive in his car. That night he fucked me in my single bed, just one wall away from Nico’s magical shower. I don’t remember feeling anything, just worrying that my sister would hear.
The next morning, I went to the pool even though it was Saturday. I wanted, needed, to tire myself out. Oliver was there too. We swam side by side for an hour and a half, hardly stopping, never saying a word.
Angela came to pick him up. I remember being in the pool, pulling my cap off, seeing her walk toward us in a pale blue linen dress and wanting to know what it felt like to be her: beautiful and well-read and so confident. To wear a dress like that and keep it so perfectly pressed.
“Irene, cariño,” she said. “Blake is waiting in the car. Otherwise I would chat.”
They were heading to Puerto Escondido for a few days. It was February, the
perfect time to go. I had known Angela and Oliver for close to a year. Some mornings Oliver and I walked to the pool together. We were always silent, sleepy, taking in the cool morning air.
I had never seen Blake but imagined him to be tall, lean and perfectly tanned, behind the wheel of a BMW.
“Ciao, Irene,” Oliver whispered, always quiet, almost dainty on land.
He had pulled on shorts and a t-shirt over his swimming suit, his raven hair still dripping wet.
“They sound awful,” Pablo said as I described the Morrisons to him several mornings later on his brother’s futon in Mexico.
It was late in the morning. We were still naked, talking now, finally, after the rush of the car ride and the first few nights of alcohol and clubs and sex, about our normal, daily lives. I told Pablo about swim team and he told me about his family: his father owned hotels, his brother was a radical, his mother an ob-gyn.
I was in the shower when Pablo called out, “Should we be getting back today?”
I preferred the car ride to the pressure of the nights out and all the nakedness. Our first night there, when he pulled off my jeans and flipped me facedown, Pablo had said I had a tight little ass. Later, I stared at it in the bathroom mirror, not sure it was even mine.
When Pablo dropped me off, Roberta and Nico were waiting in the kitchen, sitting side by side, bent over the table. My brother-in-law, always jovial, was distraught.
I braced myself for the argument that wasn’t even worth having. I didn’t like Pablo enough to fight for him or for my right to go to Mexico for the weekend. Maybe Roberta had realized who he is brother was, maybe she’d heard us in bed, but something, something had happened.
“Irene,” my sister started. And I thought it was one of her girls.
“Something happened at your pool,” Nico said.
What had happened doesn’t make any sense even to this day. It had happened Saturday, the day before I got back from Mexico City. The Morrisons had been in Puerto Escondido until Friday and Oliver was itching to get back to his training.
On Saturdays the pool was open to the public, but there wasn’t official swim practice. Still, hardly anyone but swim team kids swam early Saturday mornings, so it was just Oliver, Hernán—the head coach—, and two other local kids swimming laps when Oliver sank to the bottom of one of the middle lanes. At first, although it would have been completely out of character for him, Hernán thought Oliver was playing a game. He saw him all the way at the bottom, facedown, slender toes dangling, and he waved.
Hernán was shit-faced drunk, tears running down his face, when he told me, “I waved. I fucking waved.”
Then, of course, he dove down and grabbed Oliver, surprised by how heavy he was, by how difficult it was to get him to the surface. Oliver wasn’t breathing. Hernán yelled for the other boys to call an ambulance. For a while, one of them, Samuel, kept swimming. His rhythmic, slicing freestyle. Focused on his form, sealed off by his bathing cap and goggles, he had no idea something was wrong. But Mateo called an ambulance and then tried to do CPR on Oliver. Mateo, stout and strong, tried to breathe air back into Oliver’s young lungs but only succeeded in cracking two of his delicate ribs.
Oliver was dead when the paramedics loaded him into the ambulance, but they kept working on him at the hospital. Hernán, barefoot and wrapped in a towel, stood just outside the room and saw how they tried three or four more times with the defibrillator.
Angela held Hernán close to her and then pounded his chest with her tiny white fists. Blake, whom no one had ever seen before, didn’t make a sound.
“I never heard his voice,” Hernán said. “He’s an odd-looking bird and his face was all crinkled up, distorted.”
A few days later, I went to the pool. There was yellow police tape intertwined and tangled up with the papier maché birds. Stupidly, I imagined that I would be able to swim laps, that that would be the best way to honor Oliver.
When I got home, dry as a bone, Roberta said “Of course, it’s closed off. Irene, it’s still a crime scene.”
Why it was a crime scene I couldn’t really ask anyone. Hernán had enough going on, with the guilt and questions. Plus, he had a wife and kids and had cried in front of me. The swim-team kids, were, just that, children. Nico was too upset and I assumed Angela was back in the US by then, reunited with her family, preparing the funeral.
But the Morrisons, even after they could repatriate the body, once it was deemed that Oliver had died of natural causes, stayed in Mexico.
“Oliver was happy here,” Angela said to me when I finally passed by the house, two weeks after Oliver had died, way too late. I arrived with a bouquet of dahlias and a basket full of lemony magdalenas, which we dipped in the chamomile tea. Angela was exquisite: pale as ever with watery blue eyes. Her hair, that I’d always seen blow-dried and straightened, was in a thick messy braid.
“We felt at home here,” she said. She was wearing the same blue linen dress she had on the last time I saw Oliver alive. “In great part thanks to you. You showed Oliver that beautiful pool, the team.”
I had read in the paper that Oliver had died of a heart attack. Even though at first it was thought he might have hit his head on the bottom of the pool, the autopsy confirmed that he had died of heart failure, perhaps due to some sort of genetic malformation.
We were sitting, heads down, holding hands on low little stools when Blake walked in. I had never met him before and he was, despite the circumstances, all charm.
Just as Hernán had said, he was strange looking, tall and too thin for a grown man. As if he had never filled out. His skin was just as pale as Oliver’s and his hair was a mass of wild salt and pepper curls. He wore a dark suit in a city where no one even wore long-sleeves or a tie. His movements were overly animated: all hands and gumby-like arms and flashes of crinkly eyes.
“Irene,” he took both my hands in his. “I have heard so many wonderful things about you! A siren of sorts! Oliver was so glad to have beaten you at the breaststroke.”
I saw him again days later coming out of the cathedral. He wore the dark blue suit pants and a perfectly pressed white shirt, but no jacket this time. I was in my Osos Polares polo and the khaki shorts Roberta wanted burned.
“Irene,” he said. “I wanted to thank you. You’ve been a friend to my wife and of course, of course to Oliver.”
He spoke in English now. No one had until that point. Perhaps dealing with such emotion in Spanish felt theatrical to him.
“Are you heading home?” he asked.
I was actually en route to the pool. Hernán had decided that we would resume practice and had asked me to meet him up there that afternoon. I couldn’t say that though, so I locked into step with Blake and we headed toward Calle Mariano Matamoros.
I asked after Angela and he told me she was refusing to leave, that for some incomprehensible reason she wanted to stay in Oaxaca, stay on at the house even after Blake’s term ended in May.
“It’s absurd,” Blake said.
We were almost to my sister’s house. Blake had begun to perspire, not profusely, but a bit at the temples. With a large white hand, he pushed his hair off his forehead. It was in the extremities that Oliver had most resembled his father.
“Do you think Angela wants some books to read?” I asked, imagining inviting Blake inside and selecting a few books off my bedroom floor.
“Oh, no, she can’t read now. She’s bereft.”
I held that word and how he said it, bereft, with me for days.
Despite everything, Blake let Elena swim. She’s actually very good, a determined, forceful little thing with string bean legs and a proudly protruding potbelly. It looks adorable in her navy-blue swimsuit, all that confidence. In the US it’s normal this obsession with sports and extracurriculars. So it isn’t strange that my oldest daughter spends one evening a week strapped into a hockey helmet, gliding along the ice and all the other evenings in the steamy sensory deprivation of an indoor pool, surrounded by the piercing sound of whistles and the deep bellows of air horns, of the coaches shouting, “Read-y GO!”
Last week after her Saturday swim meet, we went out to lunch with several other families. All the food was terrible—greasy, stuffed with melting cheese. Elena loved it. She devoured her sandwich, handed me her tiny cup of coleslaw, and announced that she was going to play pinball. Martina stayed with me, ignoring her food. She is shy and has green eyes. Her mother’s eyes, people always say. No one here knows they are the same rare shade as her half-brother’s.
All the other swim-team parents are older than me, but much younger than Blake, fortyish. Boring, stable, professional. There is a Scottish guy named Andy with a gummy smile and two shy sons. He asked as are plates were being cleared, “So, how did you two meet?”
Our careful pause.
“Internet. Like everybody, I guess,” Blake said.
He was always quick on his feet like that. A very good liar, which made me uneasy at the beginning. But not uneasy enough to avoid him. It was easy to see him again and again because Angela liked having me as a visitor. She stayed in bed most days. She couldn’t read or listen to music.
“Listening to someone sing makes me feel like my skin is peeling off,” she said.
But I could read to her. Mostly poetry in Spanish. Blake only interrupted once in a while to ask if we wanted something to eat, his English and his eagerness like a disturbing light in our darkened cocoon.
Andy didn’t let it drop. In the parking lot, as I strapped Martina in, he leaned against his own car and asked, “How did you end up here?”
I was about to say for school when I felt Blake kiss the top of my head. “She flew north for me. Flight patterns of exotic birds.”
After his son died, Blake stopped teaching any classes. He didn’t write in his studio or enter his office anymore. In theory, that spring he was trying to get Angela to leave. His mother came. A delicate Irish woman who stayed indoors, terrified of the pollution, the begging children, but mostly of the sun. Like so many foreigners she complained of the sore throat and the dizziness, the weird mix of altitude sickness and a bad reaction to all the diesel in the air.
One afternoon, she made gin and tonics for Angela and me on their patio.
“Nice to have something sour, it’s all sweet cakes and Coca-Cola down here,” she said.
After a week, unable to convince Angela to fly back to Baltimore or even to leave the house, Frances Morrison packed up Oliver’s room. Blake stayed with Angela, so Nico and I drove his mother to the airport with two suitcases filled with a thirteen-year-old boy’s clothes and swimming ribbons and science textbooks. I wondered what Frances was going to do with them.
On the way back into the city, Nico told me he and Roberta were taking the girls on a holiday when school ended.
“Come,” he said.
But of course, I did not. I stayed in the cool, stucco house. Swam in the mornings. By then both the yellow tape and the bright pink birds were gone. We just had the traditional triangular flags, in blue and white. Loreta left breakfast out for me and I feasted after swimming: the bowl of Frosted Flakes in cold milk, eggs, tortilla, the sliced papaya. All I had to do was make my own coffee and study for my exams.
At Northern Baltimore Aquatics Club there is a boy named Ahmed. Physically, he is nothing like Oliver. Ahmed, nearly sixteen, is sturdy, dark and strong. He has broad shoulders, a build and a grin like a bear. All vibrato and camaraderie. None of Oliver’s timidness, nothing feline or feminine about him at all. Yet, he too, is the fastest, with times much better than almost anyone else in the state.
There are winter evenings, when it’s dark by five and I see him heading out to the car with his father, when I am not sure that I can stay here. When all the tethering of our home and the girls begins to come undone. When the past comes back and moves through my stomach, throat, up into my mouth. I stay in the car, waiting for my daughters to emerge from the pool, weighed down by their backpacks, smelling of chlorine.
Our children were each screened for Oliver’s heart condition. He had a hole in his heart Blake and his mother always tell people. Both the girls are fine, checked out at birth and again at age three. A catherization will be performed when they are twelve. To make sure. It’s the only thing Frances is ever nice to me about, as if that’s the one thing that anyone could blame on the Morrisons of Galway.
Frances doesn’t like me. Maybe because I’m part Mexican or a whore or an imbecile, but I suspect it’s the foolishness, the imbecile part.
Angela teaches at a college in upstate New York. I found out at a Christmas party when I was three months with Martina. Bored out of my mind because I couldn’t drink. Blake was dealing with faculty, beaming, doing impressions of some colleague I didn’t know.
“Now, Irene, what do you do?” asked a Frenchman named Sebastian. He was a political philosopher and once, when I had a few drinks in me, we had discussed Hannah Arendt’s complicated attitude toward Marx.
“I work in immigration law, but I was trained as a translator.”
Sebastian, whom I suspected of being very smart and possible a psychopath, said to me, “Oh so you must know the first wife, a wonderful translator of poetry.”
“Yes,” is all I said.
“I think she might be coming later,” Sebastian said.
I wanted very much to stab him with a little toothpick.
Angela did come a little later. Blake had known and we fought about that in the car on the way home.
Oliver would have been twenty years old that Christmas, the same age I was when I met him and his family. Angela shook my hand, which seemed a hostile, brilliantly strategic gesture. She was even thinner than she had been in Mexico. Her hair was short, dyed a platinum blonde and her fingernails were painted the color of eggplant.
As always, near her, I felt dowdy and plain. I was terribly aware of the heaviness of my breasts, that first sure sign of pregnancy. Determined to be decent, I got Angela a glass of wine and shook hands with her companion, a man closer to my age than to hers.
When I asked how she liked teaching at the college upstate, she said, “It’s lovely. The only difficulty is that the house is along a busy road. So it’s the country but trucks roar by.”
She was looking over my head, about to hug Blake hello. That’s all I got, the image of the house on a dangerous country road.
Some people said it wasn’t my fault: so few marriages could survive the death of a child. I hated the people that said that, thought them idiots, ignorant of everything, of love and desire and true betrayal. I preferred the people like my sister who called me a whore and an imbecile.
It turned out that Blake didn’t drive a BMW, but rather a powder blue Toyota Corolla. It was an old, rattling car with cracked upholstery and no FM radio but the air-conditioning worked and it had just enough power to get us up the hill, to the mirador.
Angela had gone to Miami to stay with her parents. Instead of them coming down, Angela went to them. Blake was packing up the house. He would be gone in a week.
“You drive really fast,” I said to Blake.
“I used to,” he said. “I do like to drive fast. Like really fast. That’s one of the reasons I wanted children, to tether me. To make sure I didn’t just drive off the side of the road.”
We parked at the lookout. There was nobody else around in the heat. The wind was too strong, dust was getting in our eyes. But we leaned over the stone wall anyway, looked down at the city and the miniature cars, stopping and starting at each intersection in perfect patterns. You could see the cathedral, the zocalo, even spot our pool in Miraflores from there, but I didn’t say a word.
“Let’s get in the backseat,” Blake said.
Each of us carefully lifted a door handle and climbed in. I sat up straight just behind the passenger’s seat; Blake slumped in, all hunched shoulders and gathered knees, on the drivers’ side.
What he did next was strange as fuck.
He leaned over and stuck his index finger in my mouth, slid his finger all around my upper gums, back behind the molars, and then he kissed me, slipping his finger out only after several seconds.
As soon as I got home, I got right in the shower and then looked up the word “tethered” in my Oxford dictionary. I loved how Blake said it. How he needed to be tethered, tied to someone or something, chained down.
In that hot car I had become completely untethered myself, knocked out of my normal orbit. We had stayed in the backseat, making out, for close to an hour. Windows up the whole time, until suddenly, feeling sick, we each scooted over to our own door, as far away from the other as possible, pressed our forehead against the glass, and then, finally, rolled the windows down.
In the shower, in the pool, at night trying to get to sleep, I was constantly aware of a want, like a deep, primal contraction, some muscle between my spine and my belly button throbbing. I ached at how much I wanted to be Blake’s wife. To be that close to such an odd bird: to his vocabulary and the perfect, crisp pronunciation, but also the way he knew about everything. His brain, back then, seemed vast and infinite. He told me wonderful, fantastical stories about shipwrecks and childbirth. He imitated people’s voices and recited lines from Yeats and Cesar Vallejo. Told me about Dostoevsky’s gambling habit and then explained the military and civilian uses of drones.
One day we drove up to and then beyond the mirador, out into the country. Past my grandmother’s old house and to a friend of Blake’s from the university. An old man named Diego whose wife gave us Coca-Cola and rock-hard ice-cream sandwiches. In the car, if there was a lull, a moment of sadness or too much silence, Blake always filled up the space. Jammed information in. Stuffed the space between my ears. He told me the life story of San Juan de la Cruz or talked about Héctor Viel Temperley’s best book The Swimmer, a forgotten masterpiece. With Diego, Blake talked about local corruption scandals and the Mexican elections. He was manic, couldn’t stop talking, jumping from one subject to another. Diego, his wife, me, we all just listened, mesmerized, uneasy, mortified.
Blake was forty-three then, but, it was hard for me to understand his age, or anyone’s age. The whole situation felt anachronic. As if my life had stopped too. Sometimes when we were fucking, which was always, that last savage week, in the car, because despite each of us having our very own empty house on the Calle Mariano Matamoros, we wouldn’t have done that in either of those places, to any of those people. But we did it all anyway. And sometimes right when I could feel the primal contraction inside me, I looked straight at him and his face changed from Blake, to young boy, the young boy I had known, sprinting along the pool surface, to an old, anciently old man, weathered, wrinkle-browed, dried up, peeling at the forehead and papery around the eyes, close to dead. Despite whatever was contracting, no matter all my blood pumping, my whole body working, Blake sometimes shrank away from me.
Excerpted from the novella On the Flight Patterns of Some Exotic Birds
The year is 2021. Irene, born in Oaxaca, Mexico, lives in Zagreb with her husband and two daughters. The story of how she came to live in this city is a strange, complicated one told in crystalline fragments. Irene’s is a story about love and betrayal, about youth, about hours spent training in bright blue swimming pools, about the ways we react to grief, and how those reactions coincide and multiply over time and distance.
Madeline Beach Carey is the author of the story collection Les filles dels altres, which was published in Catalan in 2017. Her essays and stories have appeared in El Món d’Ahir, de/rail, Alameda, and most recently, on the bilingual site The Sultan’s Seal مدونة ختم السلطان. Carey has been the recipient of awards, grants, and fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Edward Albee Foundation, Faber Residency, Hawthornden Castle, Greywood Arts, and Ventspils House. She has taught translation and fiction workshops in the Cedar Crest Pan-European MFA.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, she has lived in Barcelona since 2000.