The Irresistible Charm of Insanity
Ricardo Kelmer – Novel – Miragem Editorial 2019
Translation: Luciano Espírito Santo
Luca is a musician who likes to have control of everything in his life. He becomes involved with Isadora, a Taoist wanderer who believes he is the reincarnation of her master and lover from the 16th century. He will embark on a strange and adventurous journey that blurs the boundaries of sanity and madness, dream and reality, only to find that he has to figure out his true identity before he deserves the woman he loves.
In this unusual love story that takes place simultaneously in Spain in the 16th century and Brazil in the 21st century, flashes of déjà-vu (the feeling that you have witnessed or experienced a situation previously) are time portals through which we come in contact with past lives.
Blues, sex and double shots of whiskey. Dreams, mystical experiences, and secret societies. Funny and exciting, The Irresistible Charm of Insanity explores the intriguing possibilities of time, space, life and whatever it is that we may call “self.”
> In portuguese – blog
> In spanish – blog (soon)
The light turned green and Luca hit the gas pedal, pushing the Beetle forward on the avenue. Through the rearview mirror, he saw the streets lag behind. Streets, corners and their loves for sale. The warm breath of the night, friendly night that seduced him with colorful neon lights… Luca smiled with excitement. The naked city, the shamelessness in the air, the hot romance… He had to be happy, and it had to be now.
The night dresses you up with smiles
And your breath is the breeze that guides me
All the rush on the street corners
Are store windows of the cornea
Love promises indeed
Rent a pleasure with a broad view to the sea
One more gig at Papalégua. This time on Friday night, because Luca’s voice was still shot on Thursday. And his band mates had strictly forbidden him from coming up with impromptu material during their performances.
After the show, Carlito approached Luca in the dressing room.
“This came in late in the afternoon. Here you are”, he said, handing a piece of paper over to him.
Luca was curious and opened the telegram.
I’m at Uruaú lake. Here’s hoping for a good show. Isadora.
He read the message twice and, for a few seconds, he felt like he was slowly sliding down into a time whirlpool… two months prior… Isadora…
“Who is Isadora?”, Junior asked, peeking at the telegram over Lucas’ shoulder.
“The girl I met in Tibau do Sul.”
“Oh, the one you fucked in a previous life. Luca, The Horn Dog now goes after the mystic types!”
“She’s nuts, but she’s wonderful…”, Luca said, recalling the last night he had spent with Isadora.
“Dude, I know that look.”
“You’re in love with her.”
“No way, it’s just an affair.”
“Be careful, brother. Love is dangerous.”
Luca drank all the whiskey in his glass and announced:
“Guys, I’m on my way to Uruaú. I’ll see you later.”
“Bro, our personal trainer is right there, at that table”, Ranieri warned. “And she’s ordered two bottles of Red Label already. Are you going to pass?”
Luca cast a glance to the table through the semi-closed dressing room door and saw Soninha with her black killer boots… She had become sort of a fitness adviser for the band. Thanks to her contacts, all band members had a free pass to the gym. She liked to say that Navel Blues would cause a better impression on the audience if all the guys had chiseled torsos.
Luca couldn’t make up his mind. He was drunk and tired, maybe he shouldn’t even be driving. On the other hand, he really wanted to see Isadora again. He hated sudden crossroads like that.
“Uruaú is waiting for me”, he answered at last. “Have a shot for me.”
Soon enough, he was on the road aboard his Beetle, darting through the night. “So that little scoundrel is at Uruaú lake”, he thought while listening to Celso Blues Boy, another passion to keep him company on the long road. A strange elation took over his body and soul, which pushed him forward as fast as he could. His thoughts were all set on getting there fast and reuniting with Isadora…
Fifty-five miles later, he arrived at Uruaú, on the east coast of Ceará. He drove carefully on the narrow sand tracks around the lake, looking for a blue tent. But moonlight was dim, the night was dark, and he couldn’t find the tent. He drove some more and still found nothing. He parked the car next to the shore in frustration and walked up to the lake. He dipped his feet in the cold water and splashed some on his face. He was very tired. That had definitely not been a good idea. What was he thinking? How stupid.
Then he saw a particular spot across the lake, where there seemed to be… a bonfire. He rushed back to the car, turned around and raced at full speed on the narrow sand track. Straight ahead, he took a different turn and found himself in the middle of the bushes. But he went ahead and eventually found a clearing and the lake emerged in front of him again, black in the moonless night. He saw the bonfire next to the lake, just a few yards away. The blue tent was also there. He had found Isadora.
They hugged in silence for a long time. He enjoyed the familiar touch of Isadora’s hair on his face again, her breasts rubbing against his chest, the cozy warmth of her body… And he realized that he had forgotten, just simply forgotten how fabulous it was to be in her company.
“I’m so glad you came, Luca.”
“How did you know about the concert?”
“I saw it in the newspaper. I called, asked for the address and sent you the telegram.”
He smiled, spellbound like a lovely little fool. Isadora just had her own particular way of making things sound simpler than what they seemed to be… Life was all suddenly, obviously simple with her, so very obvious…
“I’m getting sleepy”, he said, with a yawn. “Do you have anything to drink?”
“Why don’t you take a bath? The water is nice and warm.”
Luca went inside the tent to change his clothes. Minutes later, he wouldn’t come out, so Isadora went in and found him snoring, body thrown all over the mattress, tennis shoe on one foot and no shoe on the other, the mouth gaping and drooling. She was amused at the sight, tried to move his body into a more comfortable position and whispered into his ear:
Yes, she had just assured herself that Luca was her lover. It had to be him. Nothing else could make sense. He was definitely Enrique, and she had finally found him, four hundred years later.
Since the onset of her dreams, two years earlier, she had been silently fighting the pressure from either side of reality: one side urging that she stop believing the mad nonsense, that past lives could not even be proven; the other side whispering to her ear that she should let that longstanding love guide her and show her the way.
After having that dream about Luca, she chose the whispers. She quit her job at the bank, withdrew her savings and headed to the northeastern coastline. But she had always been haunted by uncertainty. How would she ever find someone in such a vast range of potential meeting places? What if this whole idea had been nothing more than a foolish, ludicrous fantasy? Such quandaries had been tearing her apart. The mere thought of these fearful possibilities sent chills down her spine and cast a huge shadow over her soul… the shadow of madness. Catarina’s madness.
When she saw Luca in Tibau do Sul, she lost all doubt. But at first, when she realized that he couldn’t remember anything, that he didn’t even believe in past lives, she felt lost, frustrated, she didn’t know what to do. But it was too late and she couldn’t simply give up on the pursuit of her true love, the same love she had lost four hundred years before for reasons that she had never been able to comprehend. So she decided to take the next step, have sex with Luca, and that wonderful night in the tent made it all quite clear to her: the perfect synchronism of their bodies, the well-knit blend of tenderness and violence, the extraordinary pleasure… How could sex be so perfect with a stranger? One can only assume the stranger was no stranger…
She decided to go on with her journey along the coast, as if being close to the sea would somehow bring her the lost love back. Maybe Luca just needed more time. Maybe she needed a break, too.
She was right. A full month away from Luca helped her understand him better. And by understanding Luca she came to understand Enrique better, too. The two men were obsessed with having control over life. Both had, in their particular way, an overrated appraisal of their own importance and believed they could reign over all circumstances around them. Such approach to life, however, would rather prevent them from actually living it. They were still different, though: Enrique had surrendered to his love for Catarina, while Luca was afraid to love. In her dream, he had asked her to help him jump into the abyss, but now he seemed to run away from it.
Isadora looked at that man who laid stretched out before her, drunk and snoring. Whatever that abyss would be, that was definitely not the best way to jump.
* * *
Luca opened one eye, then the other, the old strategy he used to minimize the pain. It was hot, so it was probably very late. He recognized the inside of Isadora’s blue tent. But she wasn’t next to him. He felt a twinge of fear… The same fear he had felt while looking for her on the last day in Tibau do Sul.
He got out of the tent and saw her nearby, sitting under the shade of a guava tree, reading the I Ching.
“Welcome to daytime, Luca of the Neon Light.”
“What happened yesterday?”, he asked with a yawn.
“You fell asleep.”
“Did I sleep before or after we…”
“Long before”, she laughed.
“It was better that way, I guess. You were in terrible shape. And you drove all the way here! If I had known you were going to do that, I wouldn’t have sent the telegram.”
“Do you suppose anyone would sell sunglasses around here?”, he asked, shielding his eyes from the unbearable brightness.
“Relax. You can borrow mine.”
“Isadora, you are the perfect woman.”
At the restaurant, he ordered a beer to cure his hangover. Isadora told him about the beaches she had visited before she found him.
“I almost got arrested in Canoa Quebrada, you know?”
“Because there was an aviary on the camping ground and I can’t stand the sight of birds in cages.”
“What did you do?”
“I set them free, of course.”
“I can’t believe it.”
“The camping ground owner suspected me and called the police, but she couldn’t prove it.”
“Wow, you’re definitely a menace to peace and order.”
That included his own peace and order and he was very close to actually saying that.
“What about life in Fortaleza, how is it going?” she asked.
“All under control.”
“Do you perform tonight?”
“Sweet. You can stay until tomorrow.”
“Uh, I can’t. I have an important meeting tonight.”
“What a shame.”
“Business”, he added. “You know, the band is getting more professional.”
He smiled and drank beer. What he’d just said wasn’t entirely true. The band was indeed becoming more professional, but his meeting had nothing to do with work. He was going to meet a fan. Alone.
It was getting dark when they left the restaurant and went for a walk around the lake, to sink their bare feet on the sand and enjoy the sunset breeze.
“What about that note you left to me, Isadora? What is this abyss I am supposed to jump into?”
“I don’t know. You should know, not me.”
“Of course not. It was your dream.”
“But the abyss is yours”, she said, laughing.
They were embracing and walking on the sand while waves washed their feet and left seashells in their wake.
“Are you happy with your life, Luca?”
“It could be better under certain aspects.”
“Do you trust life?”
He hesitated to answer. He kicked a pebble on the sand.
“You can’t trust life a hundred percent, Isadora, and you know that.”
“Because life is treacherous. We have to be alert, or we may get stabbed in the back.”
Isadora shook her head in disapproval. How could someone be so uptight?
“Surrender control, Luca. You’re living in delusion.”
“The real delusion is to think that life will sort itself out. It’s advisable to keep it in check.”
“No, it isn’t! When you control life, you stifle it.”
She freed herself from his arms to pick up a shell.
“I know that the idea of trusting life sounds crazy, but come on, give it try it. I’ll help you.”
She brushed the sand off the seashell and gave it to him. He brought it close to his ear.
“Can you hear it? It’s the sound of the abyss. It will whisper the path to you if we lose each other again.”
“Again?”, he asked, putting the shell in his pocket.
“Yes, like four centuries ago.”
“Isadora, you know I don’t believe in reincarnation”, he said, trying not to be rude. “I believe in what is real, in things that I can see.”
“It doesn’t matter. You are Enrique, my true love.”
“But how can you be so sure?”
“I know. I just know.”
“Alright, let’s suppose I am who you think I am. Why can’t I remember it?”
“I don’t know.”
“If I used to be Enrique, then I evolved in the wrong direction. He was a wizard, a big shot…
“Maybe you’re wasting your power by trying to control everything. When life is controlled, it becomes stagnant. There’s not even space left for love, do you know that?”
“Did you and Enrique really love each other?”
“Why didn’t he go back to you? I mean, to Catarina?”
“I don’t know. I can’t remember that. Enrique had many enemies, he might have been caught.”
“Well, if I have been Enrique, I might be able to know what happened to him.”
“If you really must know, you will.”
“You have too much faith in destiny, Isadora!” He couldn’t accept that. “You talk like everything is sealed by destiny.”
“Nothing is sealed. We have to do everything.”
“Do everything? Isn’t that contradictory to your Taoist principle of never forcing situations?”
“Yes, it is.”
“So we have to do everything, only without forcing situations.”
He took a deep breath and gave up the argument. How could anyone live with such absurd logic?
* * *
Luca woke up and found himself inside the blue tent. This time, however, Isadora was sleeping beside him. His meeting with the fan had been canceled. He simply could not resist staying with Isadora. He snuggled closer to her and recalled the previous night: Isadora’s silky and generous body, her tender embrace, how she told him to come inside her like an order he could not dispute… Sex with her was always intense, somewhat mysterious and sacred. She looked so beautiful in her sleep… He caressed her hair and imagined he was her guardian knight. What would it be like if they were married?
He stopped caressing right away, scared by his own thoughts. Married? What was he thinking? What had gotten into him to have such insane idea?
He felt his heart was beating fast and felt the warning red light flash inside him. His instincts seemed to tell him that he was in great danger. And he was indeed. The name of the danger was love. Love was not a part of his plans. Love meant losing control over himself, he knew that, and that was just what he didn’t need. The wise thing to do was to keep a safe distance.
But she was so beautiful, so special… She was definitely different from any other woman he had met in his life. And she was the best lay he’d ever had. When they were together, life was a much more exciting, more mysterious experience… It was such a shame that she lived too far away.
What if they lived in the same city, he wondered, what would it be like? Would he give up all the other women for her?
He sat down, bothered by the way his thoughts were going. He was single. How could he forget that? He was single and he was happy that way, free from the troubles that always came along with love. Besides, Isadora was too crazy. He would be better off in the current state of things: Isadora could go on her trips and he would just stay in Fortaleza, in the safety of his own private world.
He got up carefully to avoid waking her up and got out of the tent. The sun was high on the horizon, but it was a cloudy day. He walked to a shed that rented kayaks and chose one. Some nice paddling on the lake would be good for him.
He adjusted himself aboard the kayak, pushed it away from the shore with the paddle and glided smoothly on the water. He couldn’t help noticing the unusual circumstance: it was Sunday, six o’clock in the morning, and he was sitting in a kayak, paddling on such an immense and extremely quiet lake. It felt strange. Dawn was like a whole new world to him.
The kayak advanced towards the middle of the lake, while the light of a new day crept up slowly over the water. Suddenly, Luca felt that all that silence was a manifestation of the lake, and it was so big… so dignified… and it was letting the noisy little creature that he was disturb the peace of its surface.
He stopped paddling. The kayak still glided a little further. Silence then manifested itself completely, with all its impressiveness. He felt unworthy of the surroundings, as if he were tainting them, and began to regret the idea of going there. He wasn’t as pure as that silence. He didn’t have as much dignity.
He suddenly realized how tiny he was in the midst of that landscape. A sudden flash lit up his mind and made him immediately understand that he was meaningless, absolutely meaningless. He realized that the lake was perfectly aware of his presence, of course, it was impossible for it not to notice him on its surface. The lake had been there for centuries and nothing would upset it. Proud and magnificent, it gave room for life to thrive in its depths and insignificant beings such as himself to glide across its water.
He was afraid to die. Yes, he would die right there on the spot if the lake decided he should, there was no doubt about it. There was nothing he could do and nobody would hear him shout for help. He would sink and die.
He hung his head down, felt lonely like he’d never felt before, and cried. He cried out of terror and complete submission while waiting for the moment when the lake would finally stretch its tentacles from deep under and drag him to the bottom and everything would be over.
It felt like an eternity had passed when it seemed that the deafening silence was pulling back its might. He opened one eye with his hands still covering his face, then another eye. Everything was still the same, the lake was quiet and the kayak was floating on the water. Still frightened, he grabbed the paddle very slowly and plunged it in the water. And the lake moved, as if it were about to wake up.
He paddled cautiously and kept paddling until he reached the shore. When the kayak was finally crawling on sand with a harsh rumble, it felt like he was snapping out of a dream. He stepped on dry land still slightly stunned. His heart was in his mouth. Tiny waves washed hard on his feet. That was the lake telling him again: you are nothing, you are nothing…
“I know”, he said softly.
He really did. There was no need to repeat it.
* * *
“Ever since we met, Isadora, strange things have been happening. In Tibau do Sul, I almost drowned. Now, the lake wanted to swallow me. What the hell is going on?”
Isadora looked into Luca’s eyes and recognized the fear of someone who had just opened the door to their own inner mysteries. The same door that her strange dreams had once opened to herself.
“Maybe the abyss is approaching.”
“Stop talking about that, Isadora. I don’t like it, and I mean it.”
“I don’t believe in this abyss, I’ve told you.”
“But you keep talking about it in your performances.”
“Me? Are you nuts?”
“It was the first song you sang to me in Tibau do Sul, don’t you remember?”
The abyss gave me vertigo… And my angst is still here, too…
“I remember. But let’s change the subject.”
He was tense. Those things made him feel like a puppet in the hands of something beyond his comprehension. He had no control. Isadora also caused that feeling somehow. He couldn’t stand to be away from her, but he also knew that her mere presence was enough to make him lose the power of his own convictions. And that was very frightening.
After breakfast, they went to the beach and had plenty of fun riding around in a buggy. Then they went to a small hut where they enjoyed some delicious caipirinhas and fried shrimp. They came back to the tent slightly drunk and looking forward to sleeping, but soon it was clear that the night before had not been enough to make up for all the time they had been separated, so they spent their nightfall on more passionate sex.
At night, they bid farewell beside the Beetle and Luca was anguished. He would go back to Fortaleza and Isadora would continue exploring the beaches of Ceará. The possibility of never seeing her again pierced through his heart like a dagger, and the pain resonated through his entire being. He quickly grabbed a piece of paper, wrote down his telephone number and address, and handed it to her.
“Would you like to spend the weekend with me in Fortaleza? My bed is roomy.”
“Luca of the Neon Light, are you inviting me to experience your own world?”
“Yes. We have a really nice gig on Friday. On Saturday, there is a great party we can’t miss.”
“Your fans won’t be happy to see you with me.”
“But I will.”
Luca hesitated for a second. The warning red light… What was he doing? He was almost asking her to be his girlfriend! For a few seconds, he had lost control of his own words and actions.
“I don’t know, Luca… Maybe I had better keep big cities out of this trip.”
Yes, maybe inviting her wasn’t such a good idea, he thought. He didn’t know what he wanted.
In the car, seconds before getting out of her sight around a bend on the road, he saw her in the rearview mirror and waved good-bye. He saw it when she did the same, and it felt like she was repeating a very old gesture, which she might have made a very long time ago, a sad good-bye that wrenched his heart. When was the last time they had bid farewell like that?
“The owner of this place works out in my gym”, Soninha explained. “And you, Luca, you’re the only one who hasn’t been showing up to work out, do you hear me?”
“I’ll start on Monday, I promise.”
The whole gang was very excited on that Friday night. The Karvalhedo Club was packed and their band was opening for Baseado em Blues, the main attraction. It was the best fee the band had ever been offered.
Bluz Neon got on stage at eleven o’clock and the green spotlight shone on Luca, who was standing ahead of the other band members. He took a swig of whiskey, greeted the crowd, blabbered something about abysses and kicked off the show. The set list was well rehearsed and the audience danced cheerfully. After singing The Navel Blues, when the stage could hardly contain all the girls who climbed on it to expose their navels, they exited the stage under a shower of applause. Even in the dressing room, they could still hear the persistent requests for an encore. They returned to stage, stood on their places and played again.
Luca was the last one to return, now dressed up in a dark robe with a hood, like a medieval monk. He walked slowly, stood at the center of the stage, spread out his arms so his body looked like a cross and stared at the faceless crowd. The spotlights then seemed to flash upon his eyes and he felt a mild vertigo, the familiar feeling of slipping into a dream, reality fading away… A chill ran up his spine and his vision got blurred. Dry ice fog was engulfing his body when he grasped at the microphone stand to avoid falling down and took deep breaths, waiting for the dizziness to go away, and the band kept playing on their own. He finished the performance reciting the last part of the lyrics:
So many stations
I hear bells on the corners
And I smile to the girls
In their cleavages of damnation
I get it wrong, I get lost in the world
I am the train that goes
To my very own salvation
After the show, a bottle of whiskey was going around from hand to hand in the dressing room, in celebration of the successful performance. Luca apologized for feeling sick, but Junior reassured him that nobody had noticed it, and that’s the advantage of being the great performing singer that he was: he could even die on stage and it would still seem to be part of the act.
The door opened and Soninha came in. She was wearing a black leather miniskirt and her black boots. She smiled to Luca and he immediately knew what she had in mind. He was no stranger to that stare of a hunter from the underworld.
“You are not going to trade me for a lake this time, are you?”, Soninha asked, getting closer to him suggestively.
Luca remembered Isadora and felt like he was on a crossroad again. Damn decisions… Isadora should have accepted his invitation to spend the weekend with him.
“No”, answered Luca, hugging and kissing Soninha. “Tonight there is no lake, babe.”
They all sat at a table to enjoy the main attraction, celebrating the band’s new phase and the major success they had ahead of themselves. Soninha ordered another bottle of whiskey, then another. Before the end of the show, she stood up and pulled Luca by the arm. He didn’t want to leave yet, but she insisted.
“Come on, Big Tiger. You’ve had enough already.”
“Take it easy, boss, let’s finish this bottle first. Where is your glass?”
“Look at your friend, Junior. He gets too drunk, then he can’t deliver…”
“Come on, Soninha, who goes home at three o’clock? If you want to go, go. I’ll stay here, hanging out with my struggle mates.”
“I’m your personal trainer, Luca. I am supposed to look after you.”
“My personal trainer, not my babysitter. Do you understand the difference?”
Soninha tried another approach. She sat next to Luca and slipped her hand under the table, caressing him between his legs. He put her hand away, though. A girl came along and asked to take a picture next to him. Luca got up, hugged the girl and posed for the picture. The girl showed her appreciation by kissing him on the lips and walked away ecstatic. Soninha couldn’t restrain herself:
“What is going to happen when these fans of yours learn the truth, Luca?”
“That the Bluz Neon singer likes whiskey more than he likes women.”
Luca stared at her very seriously.
“Poor Soninha… It’s a shame your money can’t buy you class”, he said coldly. He sat down again and turned his eyes back to the show, while Junior and Ranieri held their laughter in.”
“Oh, it’s class that you want. Is this classy enough?”
She stretched out her arm swiftly and poured a full glass of whiskey on Lucas’ chest, soaking his shirt and dropping ice cubes everywhere.
“And you’re fired! Get yourself another band!”, she added, standing up and opening her way among the tables.
“Cool down, man…”, Junior said, restraining Luca. He couldn’t believe what had just happened. “I’ll chase her, you stay here, watching the show.”
Luca pulled out an ice cube from his soaked shirt and put it in his mouth.
“You know what… I’m sick and tired of this rock star lifestyle. I think I’ll go to Paris and think things over.”
“Take it easy, Luca, she’ll change her mind by tomorrow.”
“Where is the cute chick with the camera, have you seen her?”
* * *
When Isadora arrived, it was eleven o’clock and Karvalhedo Club was already packed, but she couldn’t find a reasonably good spot to see the show that was just starting.
She ended up accepting Luca’s invitation to spend the weekend in Fortaleza when she acknowledged that, in order to know and understand him better, she would need to experience his own world somehow. She knew that Luca’s world was an endless party, a kaleidoscope globe that could easily lead her astray for sure, but it could be a good opportunity to exercise her Taoist intuition, her ability to get in sync with the subtle movements of life. And it could be an excellent opportunity for her to better understand herself by exploring her own mysteries, venturing into the possibilities of her being. Exploring… venturing… Those things involved risks. They always did, she knew that. But she was willing to take risks. For her, for Luca, for love. Why not?
It was eleven o’clock when Bluz Neon showed up on Karvalhedo’s stage. When Isadora saw Luca, she felt a strange emotion. She was proud of him. There was the man she loved in the middle of the stage, holding a glass, testing the microphone. Under the green spotlight, he drank, greeted the crowd and said:
“Insanity is an irresistible abyss. And has hazelnut eyes.”
“What does that mean?”, asked a girl next to her. Isadora smiled and answered:
“That means he loves me.”
The show started and she immediately gave herself away to the rhythm of rock and blues. The songs were well rehearsed and the crowd was ecstatic. She enjoyed every aspect of it, especially Luca: he was a little clumsy, but was a good singer, had a good presence on stage and knew how to entice the audience.
It happened at the end, when the band came back for the encore. Isadora saw when Luca was dressed up as a medieval monk, shielded his eyes from the spotlights and peered into the crowd as if looking for someone. She wondered if he was looking for her. Then the band kept playing and he went back to the microphone, bobbing his head slowly to the rhythm of the music… That was the exact moment. The world around her began to fade away slowly and she could no longer hear the music. She was alone, the crowd had disappeared. A second later, the dry ice smoke turned into mist and the stage was replaced by… the deck of a ship. And the ship was rocking gently… It was floating right in front of her… floating… floating…
It was a foggy morning in Barcelona and the wind was blowing from the aft. The sails were unfurled in front of her and he stood underneath them, on the deck, staring at her. She was wearing a dress under a shawl and her hair was shaken by the wind. She felt oppressed and her mouth was dry… The same mouth he had kissed just moments earlier. Why did they have to go separate ways again? Why would they have to wait any longer? Why?
He waved aboard the ship with one hand and held the rail with the other. She saw his gesture and suddenly remembered that he had made that exact same gesture some time in the past, a very distant past, the same hand waving good-bye, the same heartbreaking gesture. When was the last time they had bid farewell like that?
The ship sailed away from the port and she had the urge to run and shout, begging that he take her with him, that he not leave her there alone. But she held it back. Yes, he had assured her that everything would be alright, he would be back to her soon, yes, then they would escape to Brazil and live their love freely, no longer lying and hiding. Yes. But she couldn’t accept that. Why wait? Why wouldn’t he quit the Company and stay with her now?
For a second, she foresaw the possibility of losing him forever, and a dreadful anguish slashed her soul, like lightning tearing through the sky. A teardrop ran down her face and reached her mouth. The same mouth he had kissed just minutes earlier…
He made her experiment magic and initiated her in the mysteries. She had followed him in wonderful worlds through their dreams. He had taught her to be brave and stand up to her challenges… Now, all that was left inside her was a huge and painful feeling of emptiness. Life just didn’t make any sense without him. She wondered if she really should love with him like that… so insanely.
The ship went away. The sight of him standing on the deck, beautiful and sad in the mist, got stuck in her mind. Where were those winds really taking him? What about herself, how many oceans of uncertainties would she have to cross because of that love? How many hazards, how many farewells? How many lives, mi corazón, how many lives?
Then the ship was gone. So was the harbor with its well aligned stones and busy workers. The winds went away, the mist became dry ice fog again and Isadora recovered her senses in time to see Luca finish his performance, on a stage that was still rocking…
She was overwhelmed. The last encounter, the farewell… She had remembered it at last!
She could still smell the sea when she exited the ballroom quickly and went out to the gardens. The night was cool and a little piece of the moon was still hanging in the sky. She gazed at the stars, chills ran through her body and, for the first time, the thought occurred to her very clearly: he had run away. She had no doubt about it. Enrique ran away. Everything made sense now.
She had gone to Fortaleza to get acquainted with Luca’s world and found the truth about Enrique right there, in the nightclub. An obvious truth that neither she nor Catarina had ever acknowledged.
* * *
The desert stretched out all around him like an undulated bed sheet made of sand. How long had he been walking? Days? Years? His legs were getting weak and his vision was getting blurred, impotent against the tyranny of the daylight. The blazing sun was charring his skin… And he had such a headache that was just about to blow up his brain into smithereens… But worst of all was the thirst. Unbelievable thirst that was shredding his throat ruthlessly. If only he could have a sip of water, just a sip, a small sip so he could die quenched and happy. Somewhere in the desert, a phone was ringing, ringing… Somewhere among those endless dunes, some goddamn phone wouldn’t stop ringing, ringing…
His body laid on the sand sheet, one arm stretching out of the bed.
But it wasn’t the phone that was ringing, it was the intercom in the kitchen… Shit, he would have to crawl all the way there, all across the endless desert.
It was the doorman, “Good morning, Mr. Luca”, announcing a girl named Isadora who wanted to talk to him, should she be allowed to come in?
Luca asked him to wait a minute and took a bottle of water from the fridge. A ghastly hangover was drying his heart out. He looked at the watch: two o’clock in the afternoon. He called out Soninha’s name. He called out her name again. She didn’t answer. Maybe she had left already? I open my eyes, where are you?… The sun rose and I didn’t notice it…
He walked slowly, afraid that his brain might crumble apart. He looked for her in the bedroom and in the bathroom. No sign of Soninha whatsoever. Then he remembered she had slept there, indeed, but two nights before. What a mess. He was losing track of time.
He picked up the intercom and told the doorman to let the girl in. Right after that, he picked up some of his underwear that was hanging on the TV set and put some music on, because Isadora deserved a neater place. He left the front door opened and went to the bathroom to the sound of rattling in his cranium. In the cracked mirror, the horrendous monster from the desert stared back at him, with ruffled hair and bloodshot eyes. He turned the water on and the cold shower made his body shiver. In the living room, the Blues Etílicos band was playing O Sol Também Me Levanta.
“Luca of the Neon Light?”
“Come in!” he yelled under the shower.
Isadora walked in and shut the door behind her. She placed her backpack on the couch, noticed the guitar dumped in a corner, the picture of B.B. King on the wall, a picture of Janis Joplin and pictures taken at Bluz Neon concerts. She walked to the window and appraised the view from the eighth floor, the solitude squeezed among concrete walls, the buildings muffling dreams of growth…
“Hi!” She remembered it was the second time she woke him up. He didn’t seem to be in very good shape, but she liked to see him like that, beginning a new day. “I hope I’m not disturbing anything important…”
“Not at all. I’m alone.”
“You look cute wearing just a towel.”
“I’m glad you accepted my invitation. How long are you staying?”
“I’m leaving for Lagoinha tomorrow in the afternoon. I’ve bought the ticket.”
“Geez, that’s nothing… You should have come yesterday.”
“Actually, I arrived yesterday. I slept in a hotel.”
“Hotel? And why didn’t you go to our show?”
“Were you there? At Karvalhedo?”
“I loved the band. And you’re great, you surprised me.”
“Why didn’t you talk to me afterwards?” he asked. And he immediately regretted saying that, because of Soninha. Surely, Isadora had seen him with her.
“I thought I had better not.”
Now what? Should he ask her the reason?
“Don’t you want to know why?”
“I think I already know the answer, Isadora.”
“Well, let me tell you something. This thing I have with Soninha, it’s not serious.”
“Who is Soninha?”
“Our personal trainer, she was sitting next to me at the table. She and I…”
“I didn’t see it. I left right after the end of the performance.”
He wanted to bury his head in the ground. Shit! He’d just confessed, spontaneously, that he was having an affair with the band’s personal trainer.
“Do you have any water?”, she asked. “It’s pretty hot in here.”
He went to the kitchen and brought a glass of water for her. They sat down on the couch, silently. “Damn shit”, he thought, regretfully. He felt guilty. But he didn’t have to feel that way, he had no commitment with Isadora. Yes, that was true, he had no commitment, but he felt terrible all the same, as if he had cheated on her. But there was no cheating, of course, because she wasn’t his girlfriend. On the other hand…
He suddenly noticed that his thoughts were flipping back and forth between guilt and innocence. He was divided. That sucked. Isadora had that effect on him, he became neurotic around her. No, not her, of course, he was the one who kept bringing ghosts into that relationship. He was the one who was jumping to conclusions and tripping himself up.
“Luca, what did you feel after that last act?”
“I don’t remember much of that part.”
“Really? But you seemed quite absorbed.”
“I was pretty wasted.”
“I didn’t talk to you after the show because something happened while I was watching you sing.”
She told him everything. She told about the harbor, the ship, Enrique waving on the deck, that he was leaving and she felt that she was losing him forever. At the same time she spoke, she almost could experience the feelings she had had the night before.
“I remembered that other life again, Luca.”
He sighed. Not that dull story again.
“And it wasn’t a dream this time. I was awake in the middle of a crowd. And it happened through you, through your energy.”
“Actually, I had had a couple of energy drinks.”
“I’m serious, Luca. It was a powerful vision, the most powerful of all I have recalled so far.”
“I guess that warrants a raise in our fee: watch Bluz Neon and get in touch with your past lives!”
He saw she was about to cry and regretted the silly jokes.
“I hadn’t recalled that part of Catarina’s life yet. You were on the ship deck, waving to me. The plan was that you would return to take me with you. But you never came back…”
“You’ve already told me that, Isadora. What is new?”
“Then I went out to the garden and thought about Catarina, about how strong she had to be to deal with all that loneliness and the terrible premonition that she would never see the love of her life again… I felt that same pain again, Luca, everything all over again. It was brief, but while it lasted… it seemed it would last forever. And I can’t help thinking that it could have been so different, all that pain and suffering could have been avoided… If only we had stayed together.”
“But it wasn’t possible. Something unexpected changed the plans, didn’t it?” he asked, trying to be as kind as he could. And he noticed how ridiculous he sounded to himself: he was talking about it as if it were a fact.
“There wasn’t anything unexpected. I figured that out yesterday.”
“What happened then?”
“You ran away.”
“I ran away?”
“Yes, you did.”
“I mean, he did?”
“But… why? Wasn’t he in love with you? I mean, with Catarina?”
She didn’t answer. She just stared back at him with the same question.
“Alright, Isadora, Enrique ran away. He was a scoundrel. But forget that story, it belongs in the past.”
“Do you like me, Luca?”
“Of course I do. But why do you ask?”
“Just a little or a lot?”
“Maybe more than I should.”
“What do you mean?”
“You make me second-guess myself on things I’m usually sure of.”
“So don’t be so sure and join me.”
“Let’s travel somewhere.”
“Yes. You can come back later.”
“That would be great, but I can’t afford it.”
“I have enough money for both of us.”
“OK then. But I can’t take a leave of absence until the end of the year.”
“No, it has to be now. Come on.”
“I can’t leave my business behind like that, Isadora!”, he said, almost shouting. “Sorry. You drive me nuts sometimes.”
“What is this business you can’t leave behind?”
“My job, the band, everything.”
Luca stared at her, intently. She seemed to be serious. But no, she couldn’t be serious.
“Because I get my security from those things. Do you understand, or would you like me to draw it for you?”
“I gave everything up four centuries ago. And I just did it again. For us.”
“Here we go again… If it weren’t for those crazy dreams of yours, we would get long just fine.”
“If it weren’t for my crazy dreams, we wouldn’t have reunited.”
Luca was annoyed and shook his head. He couldn’t have a decent conversation with her when she was talking about past lives. He stood up and walked up to the window to take a breath and calm down. If he glanced over his shoulder, he would see that Isadora was crying silently. But he didn’t. Neither did he see it when she wiped her face dry, sighed heavily and grudgingly conceded to a realization that she had been trying to avert, for she had faith in never having to make such a heart wrenching decision. He saw none of it.
“Are you hungry?”, he asked, turning away from the window.
“Let’s have lunch. It’s almost three o’clock. I’ll take you to a place I love. And tonight we’ll have an erotic party. What do you think?”
“Hmmm, that sounds good.”
“Welcome to Luca’s fabulous world”, he said, with a chivalrous gesture holding an imaginary hat.
The restaurant was the Colher de Pau, where Luca used to dine on credit. Pereira was his favorite waiter. Pereira had this country-style simplicity and bluntness towards life and ingenious appraisal of just about any possible topic, especially in relation to the women Luca used to bring. He would be the one to tell whether a new romance would go anywhere. Pereira, the oracle.
Luca and Isadora soon arrived at the restaurant. They chose a table and Luca introduced his friendly waiter:
“This is Pereira, my long-time advisor. This is Isadora.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, young lady”, said the waiter, pouring the beer.
“Mr. Pereira, do you believe in past lives?”, Isadora asked, to Luca’s overwhelming surprise.
“Well, I don’t know much about that kind of stuff, really. Why do you ask?”
“Because this young lad and I lived together four hundred years ago and now he has the nerve to tell me that he doesn’t remember me.”
Luca laughed, he couldn’t believe she was saying that.
“If the young lady used be as pretty as you are now, he definitely should be ashamed.”
“Do you think he’s a lost cause?”
“I wouldn’t say that, young lady. I don’t remember the last time I saw him look at a woman the way he’s looking at you, I can tell you that.”
“So do you think I shouldn’t lose my hope?”
“About Luca remembering who you used to be?”
“Well, that’s a tough one. This young man forgets what he had to drink half an hour ago.”
“Is that true, Luca?”
“I only forget when I don’t have money to pay the check”, Luca answered with a smile.
After ordering the meal, Isadora went to the restroom and Luca seized the opportunity to inquiry the waiter:
“So what do you think, Pereira?”
“I think your bachelor days are over, young fellow.”
“I’m serious, Pereira.”
“Well, if you must know, this one has got you hooked like a fish.”
Luca topped his glass off with beer, drank it all and ordered another bottle. On the speakers, Lily Alcalay sang Mar e Sol. “This one has got you hooked…” He wasn’t sure whether he liked hearing that. Maybe that was exactly what he did not want to hear.
After lunch, Luca and Isadora went back to the apartment. They didn’t have much time since they would be going out again soon, but the idea of sharing a shower before leaving was simply irresistible. They propped up against the bathroom wall and surrendered once again to their uncontrollable urge by the sound of running water and the frantic rhythm of their hungry bodies doused in passion, water, spark and harmony.
Surely that was not enough to satiate them, but they had other things to do, so they exited the building again in very little time. They went to Junior Rível’s place, picked him up, and headed to Cabaré Soçaite, a party held every year in a charming downtown mansion. The whole party was an ode to sensuality and eroticism, old cabaret style. Red lights, see-through curtains, and music to match. People were dressed up in provocative fashion based on their own fetishes and fantasies and were allowed to climb on stage to perform their own theatrics, some of them with a comic twist.
On the way to the venue, Luca and Junior, already familiar with the party, recounted the hilarious events of previous years. Isadora kept listening, curious and excited about the opportunity to get acquainted with another aspect of Luca’s world. And she was very impressed with what she saw as soon as she stepped in:
“Wow! Women really embrace the spirit around here!” she told Junior while watching a group of girls dressed as femme fatale prostitutes.
“Those are the well-behaved types. Others wear nothing but a nightgown.”
Luca set his eyes discreetly on one of the waitresses who worked at the party, a cute blonde dressed as a college student. And regretted not being single that night.
“Geez, I must look like a virgin in these clothes”, Isadora remarked, disappointed at the blouse and skirt she was wearing. She turned to the waitress who was taking their orders: “Would you have another college girl outfit like yours to spare by any chance?”
“Sorry, no. But you look beautiful. You just need a little adjustment in your garment.”
“Come here, let’s spice that up.”
The waitress positioned Isadora so they faced each other, and opened two buttons of her blouse, exposing more of the skin on her breasts.
“There you go!” The waitress smiled while appraising the outcome of her intervention and whispered into Isadora’s ear: “Such a beautiful pair of breasts should not be hidden. Especially here, at Cabaré Soçaite.”
Isadora laughed at the young woman for her spontaneity. She really liked her.
“You’re right, thank you. But where is my tab?”
“Oh, right. Please, follow me so we can get it”, the waitress said, pulling Isadora by the hand and taking her to the counter.
Junior tapped Luca on the shoulder:
“Hey, pal, news flash: Soninha has quit the band.”
“No, it’s not. We were the only blues band in the planet with our own personal trainer.”
“I hope she doesn’t show up here. I accidentally told Isadora that we were an item.”
“I think you’re really into this girl, man.”
“You’re right. I’m screwed. Passionately screwed.”
“We could write a blues song about it.”
“So many women around and I had to choose one who lives two thousand miles away.”
“That’s good. You won’t get sick of her.”
“I guess. But I would miss her too much.”
“Why don’t you invite her to live here?”
“It’s not going to work. She’s too crazy.”
“Then what the hell do you want?”
Luca hesitated for a while:
“I don’t know.”
“Excuse me, Junior Rível”, Isadora said, approaching them and stretching her arm to Luca. “I’m going to kidnap your friend to dance this bolero with me.”
“And I’m going to confess with that nice nun over there. I’ve brought all my sins with me tonight.”
“Come on”, she said, pulling Luca by the hand.
They pressed their bodies together on the dance floor and danced holding hands, cheek to cheek.
“This is our farewell night, Luca. Let’s make the most of it.”
“No, it’s not. You can come to Fortaleza any time you want.”
“You know it is.”
“Or maybe I can meet you on one of these beaches…”
“We’ve been over that. Let’s not ruin the evening.”
“Yes, but…” But what, he thought. That was really all there was to it. Isadora was right and he knew it. They had nothing ahead of themselves but a major love affair that was sure to run its course soon, and he had better accept it already. “Alright. Let’s not ruin the evening.”
“I want your world tonight, you hear me? And all the craziness that comes with it.”
“You are definitely nuts.”
“And I don’t care what happens, we’ll be together. Deal?”
“Deal”, he replied, laughing at her dictatorial tone.
She smiled and kissed him, squeezing him tight. Then she pressed her lips against his ear and sang along the song with a whisper: Lo que valen son tus brazos cuando de noche me abrazan…
When the bolero was over, Luca went to the bathroom. On his way back, he pretended to bump by accident into the waitress in a college outfit.
“That’s OK”, she answered, balancing the glasses on the tray.
“What is your name?”
“Bebel, the naughty college student, at your service…”
“Wow… Don’t talk like that. I’m a married man tonight.”
“That’s a shame…”
They stared and smiled at each other for a while, so close that their bodies were actually touching, and the rush of people moving around them was like a whirlpool. Luca could still hear the echoes of the woman saying “That’s a shame…” She just kept smiling. It took a lot of effort, but he finally put himself together.
“My name is Luca, nice to meet you.”
“I know. I’ve seen you perform with Bluz Neon at Papalégua.”
“I loved it! You’re awesome, Luca.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Actually, you are both awesome.”
“You and your girlfriend. She is quite charming.”
“Oh. Actually, I don’t know if we’re a real couple yet.”
“If you’re not, you should be.”
Luca smiled. First Pereira, now Bebel. Did everybody want to get him married?
“Now you’re really embarrassed”, she joked, pinching his cheek. “Sorry about that…”
“I accept your apology if you bring me two shots of whiskey”, he said, handing her his tab.
“Two very well served shots of whiskey, to reinforce my apologies, OK?”
She took the order and left. Luca just kept staring at her, looking like an idiot and laughing at what had just happened. He turned around, went after Isadora and found her nearby. She was appreciating erotic poems displayed on a large LCD screen.
“Luca, have you seen these poems on the big screen? They’re beautiful!”
“I know about one that is the most beautiful of all.”
“Wait, it might be the next one.”
A few seconds later, the next poem began to take shape on the screen. First the title: Saliva Poems. Then, the author: Luca.
“Wow, is it yours? That’s so cool!”
Isadora looked at the screen again and read: “For Isadora.” Then each verse of the poem was displayed:
I lay down saliva poems
Like sketches on your skin
The deepest meaning of my verse
Speaks the language of your motions
In grammatical convulsions
Depraved poems on your flesh of sin
Razor-sharp poems, ruthless on your body
The figure of speech of desire
Speaks the tongue of my kiss
There is no translation for this
“I don’t know what to say…”, she mumbled, overcome with emotion while still looking at the screen.
He grabbed her by the waist and kissed her. Their bodies formed a unity for a while, with the image of the poem shining on the screen like a movie scene backdrop.
“Two whiskeys for the most interesting couple in the party”, said Bebel as soon as the couple stopped kissing.
“Geez!”, Luca exclaimed while picking up the glasses from the tray. “How long have you been there?”
“I would wait as long as I had to. It was so romantic…”
“Then let this be a toast to you, Bebel, the most beautiful college student in this party”, said Isadora, raising her glass and quickly realizing how absolutely honest she had just been. Yes, she had to admit that she had liked the girl right from the beginning, even more than she thought she possibly could.
“Thank you”, Bebel answered. “Now, if you excuse me, I have to go to the restroom.”
The waitress walked away and Isadora thought about how she had never felt sexually attracted to a woman before. Could that be happening now? And if it were, what was she supposed to do? Well, Bebel was beautiful, delicate, and also seemed to be into her. Actually, she seemed to like both her and Luca. And they were in an erotic party. On top of it all, she was willing to get a taste of Luca’s world, with all of the insanity that came with it, wasn’t she? So… why not?
“I’m going with you”, Isadora said suddenly. Then she surprised Luca by drinking all the whiskey and handing the empty glass to him.
Luca leaned back against the counter and watched the two women walk towards the restroom. The big screen was showing scenes from past editions of the party and he was entertained by it for a while. But then he looked impatiently at his watch. What could be taking he so long? Fifteen minutes later, she was back with another two shots of whiskey.
“You know what, I like the characters that inhabit your world. Bebel is such a sweet girl.”
“What the hell were you doing all that time in the restroom?” Luca asked, grabbing one of the glasses.
“It wasn’t that long.”
“Yes, it was.”
“What do two gorgeous such as Bebel and myself do in a restroom, Luca?”
“That’s what I’m asking.”
“Pissing, gossip and lipstick”, she answered, laughing and thinking about the kiss she had just exchanged with Bebel in the restroom, repeated with greater intensity before they came out, which caused her to touch up the lipstick again.
Luca smiled awkwardly. Isadora started dancing in front of him, with great excitement. He noticed her breasts exposed by the half-opened blouse.
“You really made an effort to show them off…”
“It’s an erotic party, isn’t it?”
“But do you have to go that far?”
“Are you jealous?
“Of course not.”
“Good, because my boobs and I are really loving this party.”
She laughed at her own joke and drank more whiskey. He smiled, though he didn’t really want to.
“How many have you had, Isadora?”
“I’m fine, Luca. Relax.”
“I just asking because I want you to enjoy the party.”
“Good. I’m glad to know you’re not trying to control me.”
“I don’t want to control anybody.”
“I am relaxed.”
She took his hand and laid it on her breast.
“We are together, my love.”
He could feel Isadora’s fast heartbeat. “My love?” Had she just called him “my love?”
“Give me a hug, Luca.”
He hugged her for a long time, cuddling, deeply absorbed in the feeling of having lived that moment before… He closed his eyes and tried to remember when he had experienced that same situation, but all that came to his mind was the idea of spinning, spinning… As if in a circle, spinning, always coming back to the same place… spinning around in a circle, always coming back to the same spot, continuously…
He became frightened, opened his eyes and recovered his full conscience. He felt slightly dizzy, then looked around to make sure he was still in the same place, the Cabaré Soçaite party. She was still cuddled with him in the midst of the crowd, all drinking and dancing. How much time had elapsed? A few seconds? Centuries?
“Come on, let’s dance!”
“I don’t think so.”
“Oh, Luca, come on.”
“Then I’m going to dance with Bebel.”
“She is working, Isadora.”
“It’s just a few minutes, it won’t disrupt her.”
She went dancing and Luca was left wondering what could be possibly going on. He had become upset. Why? Maybe because Isadora was leaving again on the next day and that was bothering him. No, that wasn’t the reason, and he knew it. He had fallen in love, that was the true reason, and he didn’t know how to deal with it. He was even feeling jealous. This passion for Isadora was disturbing his own personal world, it made him feel strange, uncomfortable and insecure.
He scratched the scar on his face, lost in thought. Isadora was experiencing his world, a world of clubs, parties and colorful neon lights. She seemed intent on partaking in his life, the great party of booze, the seduction of lust, the witch-like affairs of nightlife. And she was taking to it in a most straightforward, natural, effortless manner… Was that what being a Taoist was like? She was amazing indeed. How could he not fall in love with her?
He finished his drink and put the glass on the counter. The party was great and Isadora wouldn’t be around anymore on the next day. He definitely had better just relax.
The music stopped and the party producer got up on the stage.
“Good evening! My name is Ricardo Kelmer and I’m the owner of this cabaret. I hope you are all having fun. Now, we are going to start the Muse of the Cabaret contest. Contestants, please, get up on the stage and dance. Let the music play!”
Many women promptly climbed on stage and were being introduced to the crowd while Luca went after Isadora. But he couldn’t find her. He turned around, looked at the contestants and had a shock: Isadora was up there with the other women. He simply could not believe it. No, maybe it was a doppelganger with the same clothes…
No, it was really her. And she was dancing sensually, slithering in sexy movements, a come-hither look on her face, breasts almost popping out of her blouse…
Luca gasped. Isadora was running for the Muse of the Cabaret contest! He would never have imagined that. Neither could he imagine that she… could dance so well! A group of men were shouting, cheering, whistling and calling out her name right next to him, and he felt the jealousy crawl back into his chest again, like a beast lurking in the dark… Holy shit. He was in desperate needed of another drink.
When the music stopped, the crowd voted for the contestants and chose the winner. Isadora… drum roll… came in second place, and her prize was a sex shop voucher and a bottle of imported wine. She happily thanked for the applause and dedicated her award:
“To the love of my lives.”
A minute later, Luca found her by the counter with Bebel.
“Congratulations, Muse of the Cabaret.”
“Luca!” She hugged him, beaming with joy. “Did you hear my special dedication?”
“Of course, I did. I loved it. You were amazing.”
“Look what a few shots of whiskey can do…”
“But you should have told me beforehand, so I would be prepared. There were some guys yelling next to me, ‘Isadora! Isadora!’ That was awful.”
“Oh, how cute you are! My Luca is jealous, how sweet!”
“I’ll get over it, I’ll get over it…”
“I had no intention to go, but Bebel convinced me.”
“It wasn’t fair”, Bebel said. “She deserved first place.”
“I want you to have the voucher for the sex shop, Bebel.”
“But I would like you to come along and drink the wine with us, please.”
“It will be a pleasure. But I can’t leave until the party is over.”
“We could go to Luca’s apartment, it’s near here. What do you think, Luca?”
He almost choked on his drink he was so surprised.
“He agrees, Bebel. Let’s celebrate!”
As soon as Bebel walked away, Isadora grabbed Luca by the waist, hugging him in a provocative way.
“What did you think of her, huh?”
“Think of whom?”
“Yes. She seems to be a nice girl.”
“Geez, Luca, you are amazing!”, she said, laughing. “Why don’t you just admit you liked the girl?”
“So you didn’t?”
He looked straight into her eyes. What did she have in mind asking him that?
“Alright, I liked her. So what?”
“What do you mean?”
He felt her rubbing her hand on his crotch.
“I liked her the same way you did.”
He was surprised to hear that answer. The entire situation had just got completely out of hand…
“Don’t you think you’re going too far with this idea of experiencing my world?”
“Why? Do you think I don’t deserve it?”
“Isadora, why don’t you tell me what you’re plotting?”
“I’m not plotting anything.”
“Are you using Bebel to test me?”
“Of course not.”
“This is all about Soninha, isn’t it?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You haven’t forgiven me for what happened yesterday, have you? I’ve told you that Soninha and I…”
“Calm down, Luca”, she interrupted him. “Stop imagining things. I just invited Bebel over to have some wine with us, because I liked her and so did you.”
Luca didn’t know what to make out of all that. Maybe it hadn’t been a good idea to invite Isadora to experience his world.
“We are together, Luca”, she said again. “Don’t you understand?”
He didn’t answer. He kept thinking and watching Isadora dance in front of him. Yes, of course he understood. Or did he?
* * *
“Did you like the Cabaret, Isadora?” Bebel asked, while Luca held the key and opened the door to his apartment.
“I loved it. If I get to be here the next time it happens, I’ll wear garters and the full costume, you’ll see.”
“And you’ll win the first prize!”
Luca went to the kitchen and came back with glasses and an opened bottle of wine. He poured it and they made a toast:
“To the Muse of the Cabaret!”
Bebel and Isadora looked at the posters and concert banners while Luca put Ellis Mário to play on the stereo. The sax tunes gently set the ambiance.
“More wine, Bebel?”
“No, thanks, Isadora, I don’t drink that much. Actually, I would like to take a shower, I feel filthy. Can I?”
Isadora led Bebel to the bathroom, gave her a towel and warned her about the broken mirror, which could make her look strange. She closed the door and sat on the bed next to Luca.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I’m fine. You are the one who could lighten up a bit. For you, for me…” She smiled and rolled her eyes towards the bathroom. “And for her.”
“Aren’t you jealous?”
“I don’t need to be jealous of you, Luca.”
She walked up to the switch and turned off the bedroom light, leaving it gently lit by the light that came from the living room. She took off her tennis shoes and kneeled down on the bed, facing him.
“Because I’m the woman of your life. I have been for four hundred years.”
“I believe what I can see and touch, Isadora, not those mystical fantasies you…”
She put a finger on his lips, so he would stop talking. Then she unbuttoned her blouse, exposing her naked breasts.
“You’d better believe it.”
Shortly after, Bebel got out of the shower wrapped in a towel. She smiled and stopped to watch for a while. The bedroom was dimly lit, but she could definitely see the two bodies lying on the bed, mouths and hands sliding on them. She dropped the towel and approached the bed completely naked. Isadora opened her eyes, held Luca’s head buried between her legs, stretched her arm out, touched Bebel’s hand and pulled her in, like Bebel had done to her hours earlier, at the party entrance:
* * *
“Good morning, my love”, Isadora said, standing by the kitchen door, greeting Luca lovingly with a hug and a kiss. “Would you like some hot coffee? I just made it.”
“Where is Bebel?”, he asked, yawning.
“She’s left already. She sent you a kiss.”
He sat at the table and poured some coffee. He’d soon be taking Isadora to the bus station and she would resume her trip along the coast. His chest was burning already. He knew he was going to miss her. He thought that she might as well postpone the trip and spend a few more days with him… Maybe a few weeks…
“Have I mentioned how much I love seeing you like this, when you’re waking up?”
“If you ever want to see me, now you know where I live.”
He looked up to watch Isadora’s reaction to his retort, but she just smiled and dipped her bread in the coffee. He would love to hear her say something like ‘I’ll hang around for a while then,’ but he knew it was a done deal.
“Don’t you have a hangover?”
“A little bit. But I’ll take a nap on the bus.”
We watched Isadora sitting in front of him, wearing one of his T-shirts, and felt like he had known her for a long time. But it hadn’t been much more than two months. They had been together in Tibau do Sul for three days, in the Uruaú lake for a weekend, and now in Fortaleza. They had had sex five times only, one with Bebel. That was it. But it felt like more, a lot more than that… And now she was departing from his life. That didn’t make sense. Could he have… fallen in love?
“I played the I Ching for you. Do you want to know what it said?”
“It’s too early for mysteries”, he thought while drinking his coffee. But he agreed.
“The Receptive came up”, she said. She went to the living room and came back with the book. “A solid first line.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“It’s up to you to interpret it. Do you want to read it?”
No. He really didn’t. But he did. Once, twice… Then he gave the book back to her.
“I don’t understand a thing.”
“Sometimes, the message may seem unclear at first. I’ll write it down on your appointment book, OK?”
He poured another cup of coffee.
“So, how do you like my world?”
“I love it.”
“Good. What about the last part?”
“It was wonderful, Luca. But I’d rather be alone with you so you can focus more on me…”
“The threesome thing… huh… Had you ever…”
“No. But I must admit I had always been curious about it.”
“You seemed very comfortable with it…”
“Of course, it was so good!”
It certainly was, he thought. He could have loosened up some more and forgotten what was troubling him: his sudden jealousy, his puzzled feelings, Isadora taking off the next day… But making love to her and Bebel Isadora had been outstanding.
“I’m sure it was nothing new for you…”
“Sort of”, he said, remembering the night he had met the red-haired girl at Papalégua, the bizarre incident with a dead twin sister…
She finished her coffee, wiped her mouth and got ready to say what she had to say. She knew it wouldn’t be easy. But she also knew it was time to make a decision.
“I have something important to tell you, Luca.”
“What is it?”
“Last night, when we arrived at the party, Bebel went after a consumption ticket for me and I tagged along, do you remember?”
“Yes, I do.”
“At that moment, I felt that you two were going to be a couple.”
“You heard it.”
“So you can’t just remember past lives, you can also predict the future?”
“I didn’t quite understand it at first, it was a strange feeling. But then it became clear.”
“I wasn’t alone when I hooked up with her. You were here, too. You were the one who invited her to come over.”
“Yes, I did, because I liked her. And I really wanted to experience your world, your things. But I’m not talking about last night.”
“I mean after I leave. You two will be together.”
“I don’t get it, Isadora.”
“That’s what I felt. I still do.”
“Are you nuts?”
“And do you know what else? Bebel is a really nice girl, Luca. She can help you.”
Luca tapped his fingers on the table. He wasn’t happy about that conversation at all.
“Why do you want me to be with her?”
“I don’t. But you’re going to. What can I do?”
“Isadora, now you’re really going too far with this madness!”, he yelled, pounding hard on the table.
“There’s no need to get mad.”
“I’m not mad.”
He took a deep breath and tried to calm down.
“I’m not going to be with Bebel. I’m going to be with you.”
“But I’m leaving.”
“Then, don’t go.”
“What do you mean?”
“Stay here with me. Move in with me.”
He heard his own words and got surprised. Did he really say that? Did he just ask her to move in with him?
“I would like that. But I can’t.”
“Why not? What keeps you grounded in São Paulo?”
“Then what’s the reason?”
“The reason is that you have to jump into an abyss, remember?”
“Oh, no, not that story again…”
“I struggled against coming to this conclusion, Luca. But it’s clear to me now. If I stay here in Fortaleza, you won’t jump. You will stick to your comfort zone, always surrounded by your safe arrangements and ever more obsessed about keeping everything under control. Just like Enrique did.”
“No, that is not the problem, Isadora. The problem is that you insist on making up these fantasy worlds, dreams, and abysses… You have created a crazy past and put me in it. And now you’ve just invented a future for me and Bebel. Don’t you see how absurdly crazy this whole thing is?
“I’ve never had any doubt about it.”
“Could you please, once in a lifetime, behave like a normal person?”
“I don’t care about being classified as a normal person”, she answered, getting up from the table.
Luca closed his eyes, trying hard to eke out any sense out of his confounded thoughts and conflicted feelings… But there was none to be found. He got up and followed Isadora into the bedroom, all worked up.
“If I don’t want to be with Bebel, I won’t, then this future you predict will simply not happen. Do you understand? Nothing is certain about the future. Only the past cannot be changed.
Only the past cannot be changed… She remembered the farewell in the harbor again.
“Well, you’re spot on about that, Luca. Whatever we have or haven’t done cannot be changed.”
He thought there was a hint of bitterness in those words.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean what I said.”
“OK, then let’s see. It’s your future against mine.”
“I don’t believe you… You’re waging a war of futures.”
“OK, Isadora, you want to break up. I get it.”
She didn’t answer. She just kept crouching, tying her shoelaces.
“But you won’t admit it. You just tell me I’m going to be with Bebel after you leave.”
Again, she didn’t answer.
“That’s really convenient, because I become the bad guy of the story! Very convenient. You’re nuts, but you’re pretty smart.”
“I have to go now, Luca”, she spoke softly. “My bus leaves at four.”
He looked at her firmly, restraining his anger.
“Go. The door is opened.”
He sat down on the bed, grabbed a random magazine nearby and began to read it.
“I did my best, Isadora”, he said, flipping through the pages nervously.
“Look at me…”
“I swear I did my best.”
“Luca, look at me. We don’t need to break up like this, please.”
“I tried. But, you… this madness of yours… it’s taking a toll on me…”
He dropped the magazine and covered his face with trembling hands, trying not to cry. His heart was ready to blow up. The world was going to crumble in a second.
She tried to approach him, but he parried her motion without even looking at her.
“Go away, Isadora, please. Go before I get insane, too.”
She understood and smiled, and picked up her backpack. She knew that they had reached the end of the road, that all possibilities had been exhausted. He was the man of her life, right there, in front of her, yes, but he didn’t have the courage to admit he loved her and take the next step. She was afraid she might be losing him forever, the fear was gruesome, but she knew that she had better not push it. Leaving him now was the toughest decision she had ever had to make, but she had no doubt in her heart that she was doing what absolutely had to be done. Four hundred years prior, she had trusted Enrique, and he had failed her. Now, she knew she couldn’t trust Luca. Her only choice now was to place her trust in life. Life and its strange and ironic wisdom.
“I tried, Isadora, I really tried”, he kept repeating from behind his hands, that covered his face.
She walked silently to the living room, opened the door and left, shrouded in sadness and resignation. She had done her best, too.