First love

Lucía Puenzo is an Argentinian writer and director. Her film adaptation of her novel El niño pez (The Fish Boy) has been shown at the Tribeca, Berlin and Edinburgh film festivals.

thefishchild.com

Show me what I cannot have

It could have been worse, believe me. It took them a day to make up their minds. Prodan. Saumerio. Violeta. I imagined myself going out into the world as Violeta and I peed my pants hiding in corners. Let's see if you get me: I'm black, macho and bad.

Lala never cries but her chin trembled a bit the day she saw me in the cage. She had eyes for no one else. Although the bitch of a vet told her that the one next to me had a better snout, she wanted me. She didn't stop talking to me until we got home (she always treated me like an adult). And that day we sealed our pact: I was a present for Sasha, her mother, but I belong to her. I peed on her a bit, so she'd know I understood. And she did.

When we got home, Sasha grabbed me from Lala's arms.

"Saumerio!" she cried.

I made a panoramic sweep of my new home from the air. I opened my mouth and barked for the first time, which was ridiculous I know, but life began to be good. The first thing I saw was the Paraguayan girl Guayi doing a cleansing with a stick of incense.

"Say hello to him!" Sasha cried out.

Guayi smiled with her white teeth with no decays. Pep raised his head up from the armchair.

"If you call him Saumerio he's going to turn out a little fairy dog. Call him Prodan."

And he disappeared behind a copy of The Diary of Che. Pep, with his tiny name, wants to change the world. His friends call him that because it's hard for him to get through the day without a hit of pepa (LSD). The last one I saw was Brontë. He lowered his newspaper, took a toothpick out of his mouth and said:

"Name him Violeta and teach him to jump."

The fat man's weird. I don't have to give any explanations after a statement like that. He's important, publishes books and people come by to interview him. But when he's among family all he does is say dumb jokes. Even if out in the world they think he's a genius. He has no talent. Even when he throws me a stick he's the one who most has something up his sleeve.

As far as the world was concerned, the Brontës were just one more family in San Isidro. Lala and Pep went to a private college, one that was Scottish. They came home at five o'clock and locked themselves in their bedrooms until dinnertime. Sasha had left economics for esoteric matters. She wore tunics, cured trees by sprinkling them with Bach's Flowers and was convinced I liked Animal Planet. The fat man only left his study for the interviews. Those were the only nights the Brontës, when they looked at the camera, seemed to look at us and talk to us.

Daytime was shitty. That's why I spent it sleeping, to prepare myself. Because nighttime in the Brontë house was a party. At midnight Pep would put me in the car with him. He would brake at the corner of the fanciest dive in San Isidro and would spend the night driving around, always with a client on board, selling marijuana. He would say the same thing to everyone, that it was Super Skunk, imported directly from Holland... that he had planted it in the garden he kept on the roof of his house... And it was true, except that Pep and his friends smoked the weed he grew in his garden. What he sold he bought in Los Chinos, the slum behind the Coastal Train.

At exactly two am, Guayi would cross the house in shadows and open the door for Guida, the security guard. I would wait for them in the bedroom, under the bed. And I would not come out until Guida closed the door and put out the light.

How I miss that darkness filled with whispering in Guaraní. She always asked him for the same thing, which was to call her Miss Lala... and she made him say it over and over again. She seemed the stronger of the two, Guayi, but she was the only one to cry.

The last night she saw Guida was Lala's birthday. Just like every year, Lala didn't want a party (she had no friends). She blew the candles out and shut herself up in her room with a piece of cake. She waited until the house was quiet before going downstairs to look for Guayi. She was going to tell her that she loved her. And she didn't care if everyone knew it. But before knocking on the door, she heard Guayi's moans mixed with Guida's voice. He kept repeating the same thing: "Miss Lala." I smelled her on the other side of the door. And I barked until Guayi got up from the bed and opened the door... and froze when she saw Lala in the shadows.

"Tell him to get out," Lala told her, "tell him to get out right now."

Guayi went back in the room and reappeared a minute later with Guida, each one wearing their uniform. Guida began to say Miss, but Lala stuck in his throat and he walked on by without looking at her.

"Do you love him?" Lala asked her when Guayi sat down next to her.

"No..."

"Don't see him again. Not him and not anyone else," Lala said, and raised her arm to caress her. But something made her stop scared in mid-air and her arm suddenly dropped and she caressed me.

"I want you to be my girlfriend."

"Tell me in GuaranĂ­."

"I don't know how you say it..."

"Ro jai ju... roy potá ye yicara," Guayi said and it sounded like she was singing.

Lala had to say it a couple of times before Guayi, laughing, covered her mouth with a kiss. They stayed there, kissing each other on the kitchen floor, until dawn. Guayi never opened the door again for Guida. He died a few weeks later trying to stop some kids who were holding up an old man. People said that one of the kids shot him in the stomach. And that Guida got him before he checked out. I know the kid he killed. I had seen him with Lala a couple of weeks before, down by the river. If there is anything I never forget it's the people who throw me a stick to fetch. And the kid did it for about an hour while he talked to Lala. Before we left, she gave him a pair of little chains that belonged to Sasha and he gave me the stick.

But who cares about Guida? What matters is that something happened to them after that night. They spent so much time caressing each other's skin, their mouths twitching with the memory of the last kiss, their eyes filled with secrets... Pep Brontë and his friends – the ones they had in common – couldn't stop watching them. I spent my time on the living-room cushions. I bit them, I fucked them in twos and threes... But it was no use. Something was up and we were all wondering what it was. It was the same with Brontë: before, he would jack off with the photograph of his wife. His imagination was not even big enough for that. Now, from the window of his study, he watched how Guayi washed down the patio, how she waxed the floors... and how she would lie down on the freshly cut lawn with her hair undone to catch half an hour of sun before Lala got home from school.

Continues in the print edition. Order now.

Translated by David William Foster.

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