“Living with the Cyclopes” is published in The Hart House Review 2013.
Living with the Cyclopes
After three days in a foreign country without her husband, Astrid prepared herself mentally for Sol’s arrival in San Angelo, Texas. She was afraid of what mood he would be in after the border crossing, but on the day when Sol was scheduled to appear, he did not appear. For a week she stayed in the house, afraid to leave, waiting for Sol’s arrival, but still he did not appear. Slowly, she began to believe that she would live her new life in America alone. She wandered around San Angelo, practicing her English. It surprised people how fluent she was. She felt that she was on the verge of friendship with a few people, but that afternoon, as she started daydreaming in English, Sol appeared.
He dismissed Astrid’s surprise as a reaction to his physical condition. He had abrasions over his neck and shoulders. His right eye was bandaged.
“It’s not the first time they beat me to spill my guts, but it’s the first time they got a trophy,” he said in Spanish, pointing at his covered eye socket, laughing to himself. She knew better than to laugh with him. “Where’s the baño?”
She pointed to the shower and picked up his trail of discarded clothes. After the hot water ran out, he slept for a day.
* * *
Oil fizzed a few steps away when he woke up. It was a paradox to him that he could be so hungry and still be so fat. His lovers never complained about his weight, but most of them had been bought or beaten. He preferred the innocent young women, the “disappeared”, who arrived in his bedroom naked and drugged. Sometimes, there were complaints about the “disappeared”, but they always diminished into silence.
He would miss them, the soft brown hues of their skin and the tightness of their bodies, but he had enough memories. He was fantasizing about them when Astrid came out with his food, insisting that he sit at the table. He took one bite and spit it out.
“What is this?”
“They call it ‘bacon and eggs’,” she said.
“I’ve had ‘bacon and eggs’ before.” He pushed the plate across the table. It teetered on the edge before falling to the floor and cracking in two. His circle of influence had been contracting for some time and was now down to one. He got down on his knees and picked up the pieces of the shattered breakfast. “It’s hard to judge with one eye.”
After he returned to his seat, she said, “I can make empanadas.”
* * *
Had she not met Sol, Astrid would have been a doctoral student by now. Maybe she would have studied abroad and never returned. But she had been taken from the university with her torn physics textbook left abandoned under a tree. By the time she was first presented to Sol, she was unconscious, and he raped her mercilessly. She woke up, halfway through it. The panic went to her skin, but she had heard too many stories to fight him. Her essence slipped above her, watching her body get pounded. Like clay.
The next day, she pushed everything out of her mind. He found her charming and beautiful. And so he raped her again, and again, day after day. All the time, she moved her essence outside herself. When he wasn’t with her, she heard him with others, each with the loud violation of their essence and the diminishment onto death. Afterwards, Sol would call the “chemist” to take care of their bodies. She would survive by killing that part of her that dreamed of becoming a scientist. And so she would become Sol’s wife. The wedding made headlines, but she was not in any of them.
* * *
Astrid was hesitant with the empanadas as she placed them on the table in front of Sol. He smiled after one bite and she sat down.
“Mexican women, Mexican food, Mexican sunshine and Mexican drugs—these are the best things in life, and three of four is A-OK.” He was clearly in a good mood.
“This is Texas sunshine,” she replied.
He continued to eat his empanadas with his hands. “It’s not the same?” he asked in between bites.
“You’ll get used to it.”
* * *
Astrid listened to Sol’s complaints over the next few days as he failed to get used to Texas. He couldn’t make out people’s accents, and when he reverted back to Spanish, people thought that he was a migrant worker and judged him. She found humour in this, but she never shared it.
“Where are the plates?” “Why isn’t there any food?” “Are you going to just sit there and get in my way?” “This house is too big.”
“Sol, I’m going to kill you, if you keep complaining.” They both laughed.
The groceries soon ran out. They went to Walmart because it was the only store they recognized. When they walked in, Astrid watched the vastness of the store overwhelm Sol. His steps lingered as he surveyed the retail maze. She eventually found him in the gun section with an arsenal in his shopping cart.
“What do you think of this, Astrid?” He pointed the shotgun at her face and pulled the pump.
She let out a yell and jerked her head out of the gun’s path.
“Don’t worry, ma’am. None of the guns are loaded,” a sales clerk said. She knew then that she would use that shotgun to kill Sol.
Realizing she had the keys to the car, Sol sheepishly followed her to the checkout.
* * *
In bed, the night before after Sol had bought his guns, Astrid asked, “Do you still talk to anyone in the cartel?”
“So they can finish me off?” He motioned his hands around his throat. She didn’t bother to look.
“No more friends in Mexico. But who’d bother with you now, anyway?”
“I had power, drugs.”
“Now you have Texas.”
* * *
In the mornings, Sol would set up targets in the backyard. The noise would often wake Astrid, and she would think of ways to kill him. He didn’t give a shit. He only had one eye, but he would beat the shit out of her, if she tried anything. And he had the gun.
On July 4th, the fireworks went off auspiciously and curiously. Neither expected it. Both jerked at the first blast. In a sudden rush to his arsenal, she picked up his shotgun, in a motion she had mentally rehearsed a thousand times.
“I hate you, Sol.” True to her promise, she had his shotgun pointed at his testicles.
“I hate me too,” he said reverting back to Spanish. “I hate being useless.”
“You’re completely useless.”
“I hate Texas.”
He heard the pump of the shotgun.
“Gracias,” he said. Both eyelids closed, but it never came. When he opened his eye, she wasn’t there. The next day, she still wasn’t there. By the end of the week, Astrid had still failed to re-appear. Between the shotgun and the waiting, Sol eventually chose the shotgun.
Bryan Boodhoo has had work published in Descant, ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature, and a number of other magazines. His short story “The Egg” was nominated for the 2013 Journey Prize by The Prairie Journal. A number of his short plays have been produced in Edmonton, Toronto, Hamilton, and Kitchener.