The rain arrived as expected. Knowing it would didn’t make the storm any more welcome. Quite the opposite in fact. Still, the inevitable must be accepted to some degree. Besides, with so much to do indoors, Belinha doubted she would’ve even made it outside today. She wanted to wander the park, but the house needed to be made ready. For what, she couldn’t say. Saying made it too real.
Perched in a windowsill, she watched the streets empty as pedestrians fled the downpour. A street vendor pulled canvas flaps down, covering her cart, then opened an umbrella. She stood waiting for the rain to stop. If the sun came back, she would be there waiting to shout, “Olhá a bolinha!”
The woman reminded Belinha of her mother – determined individuals refusing to flinch in the face of bad news. Unlike her mother’s beauty, that trait, unfortunately, couldn’t be inherited. Belinha liked to think she did her best. How exactly a person is supposed to react to life – everyone knows without any real proof. And though she used to have her own certitude, it seemed lately paixões diagonais induced uncertainty. She used to flow; roots now chained and choked her.
Sighing, she mashed out a half-smoked cigarette. An edge still smoldered in the ashtray sending a smoke ribbon skyward; recalling nights in the café listening to fado musicians. They sang of sadness she only wanted to know voyeuristically. Now, those foggily recollected lyrics hit close to home – “Com que voz chorarei?”
Belinha drifted downstairs. A maid approached the bottom of the steps. On a silver tray the young girl carried a glass mug, a gift from Belinha’s husband, Lúcio. He sent her a set from Brazil, where he worked overseeing the start of a rubber plantation.
He wrote to her often from the heart of the Amazon. Telling her about Manaus changing before his eyes. Electric lights in the savage jungle. His letters filled with tales of rubber baron extravagance. One buys a magnificent yacht somehow inspiring another to purchase a tame lion as a pet. Another waters a horse with champagne. The money flowed, and Lúcio insisted it would carry them to a better tomorrow. Yet, Belinha didn’t see it that way.
Shooing the maid away, Belinha gave orders to ready the house. Lúcio returned today. His last letter said he would be back to take her to Manaus. She didn’t want to go to South America – paixões diagonais.
Overseeing the servants, Belinha remembered sipping coffee in the café with her friends. That constellation of lost stars guiding to a joyful middle of nowhere; memories of evenings on balconies finding peace in liquor induced silences, when each knew they were at risk of speaking the truth, so no one spoke – dare not confess a longing, a dream, an intention; ask for a kiss, she used to pray, staring at Afonso. They joked about the bourgeois. They felt so certain then – it would never be them. Yet she spun around, dancing alone in the café, while the guitarist played a sad song that somehow made her happy. Belinha bumped into a man, spilling wine on his shirt. He looked at her; she smiled; they laughed – “It’s only a shirt,” he said – and everything changed.
No longer the young woman peddling flowers. She would never have to go home, feet burning sore from wandering the city all day for a few réis. She’d never worry about money again. Yet, she couldn’t remember really caring before.
Evicted more than once, she slept in the park. The shape of clouds inspiring her dreams. Sometimes she visited friends who were marginally better off. They let her stay a few days until chance offered a new home. It felt like freedom to Belinha.
Her mother called it aimless, a childish existence. However, that old woman died in the street. A sunny afternoon, handing over a dozen red roses, her heart stopped. Belinha never wanted that to be her, working all the way to death. There must’ve been a better way.
And then oh! there it seemed to be. Lúcio’s smoldering eyes. His tongue dripping honey. He promised her the world. She only wanted a balcony to sit on at night, watch the stars, and echo poetry. They seemed so much the same until they married. That’s when everything changed.
He told her she needed to stop going to cafés, especially those full of people he called seedy – she called friends. He informed Belinha she belonged to a better class of people now. She disagreed. He insisted. She… lacked the steely resolve of her mother.
So, now, instead of wandering the park in the rain, she stood in a room of their gigantic home. The palace of a future rubber baron. It felt like a mausoleum sometimes – buried alive, dying slowly therein; she stood beside a table arranging flowers. The maid behind her assisted. The two made small talk neither would ever remember. A touch of her past in this moment, Belinha looked at the arrangement; she felt like her mother.
It wasn’t nostalgia that hit her. Rather, the blandness of the bouquet. An overwhelming saudade washed over her.
She lost her breath. Catching the edge of the table, she couldn’t breathe.
“So little colour,” she gasped.
The maid grabbed her, expecting her to faint. Belinha pushed the girl away. Clutching at her collar, she ripped open her striped blouse.
Staggering towards the front door she shouted, “Let me out!”
The sadness of something missing chased her. The ghost waiting to bite saw the chance to sink its teeth into her. But she wouldn’t let it. Instead she flew out into the storm. The downpour drenched her in seconds. Yet she no longer felt herself drowning.
“Belinha?” Lúcio, under an umbrella, addressed her in confusion. Waterlogged porters stood behind him carrying his luggage. She looked at him. Her eyes burning coals, she smiled.
She said, “I’m going for a walk.”
Then she vanished into the rain.
J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history, and wandering the city at odd hours. In order to deal with the more corrosive aspects of everyday life he writes the blog www.honestyisnotcontagious.com and makes music in the band Beerfinger. His Twitter babble can be found @JackBlankHSH.
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