By Lilly Gray
Victor waits inside the pocket until the man in the white suit and his family have stopped screaming, stroking the small white-gold dog with too-big feet. The dog is calm; it tries to fit Victor’s thumb into his small, hot mouth. When Victor was younger, he had a little mutt named Pepita whose tail was crooked like a question mark and who would eat an entire block of white cheese if anyone left it on the table long enough.
Before they left for the capital, Victor had walked Pepita over to an empty house, pushed her inside the drab little foyer, and slammed the screen door before she could bite him and scoot out of his arms. She had whined and barked in the raw way of animals that know something terrible is about to happen, yowling even before he was off the porch. But that was a long time ago.
Victor steps out of the pocket.
“Anytime, any corner, any emergency,” he recites smoothly. “For any irreplaceable item in your life, including those closest to your heart.”
At this point, if they have a dog (and nine times out of ten, they have a dog) Victor bends down and deposits it gently onto the floor, where it will run happily over to the family and an unfortunate four times out of ten, pee on the carpet. The white-gold dog only nuzzles the eldest daughter’s ankle, and she scoops him up immediately.
“You can’t predict a home invasion. But you can protect yourself, your family, and your little dog too. You can’t hurt what you can’t see.”
There’s more, about how with one payment you can secure your priceless treasures forever, but by this time the smart clients have already taken out their wallets or sent their housekeepers to fetch them, and Victor can fade back into himself, protected by a confident, reassuring smile.
Outside of the house Victor walks to the nearest main road and gets into the second cab that slows for him, window sliding evenly down and into an invitation. After the roundabout in the center of downtown, he gets out and hails another, which he takes to a cafe. Then he walks five blocks to the office. Victor stops briefly to whistle at another dog, a little black pug with a pink sticky-out tongue. The owner yanks the dog away in suspicion, and hurries down the road.
The office is above a successful auto repair shop that specializes in motorcycles and mopeds. The noise is constant and carries through the paper-thin flooring to the reception area of the DaSilva Brothers Rental Company, where the only other member of Victor ’s business is sitting at the desk shirtless, playing solitaire and eating something pungent and greasy. He is in the middle of wiping one hand on a piece of loose-leaf paper when Victor walks in.
“My man,” he chirps. “How many did you sell today, huh?”
Davi lost his spot on a local semi-professional football team when his left foot was crushed by one of the music trucks during a particularly lively micareta. Victor met him at a convenience store. Davi had been trying to simultaneously steal pre-paid cell phone cards and get a telephone number from the clerk. Neither of these gambits had worked out for him, but Victor had been impressed by his sheer, dumb nerve.
“Fifty,” Victor says. He walks over to the dresser in the corner of the office, the only other piece of real furniture besides Davi’s desk, and peels off his wig. He carefully molds it over one of the busts that Davi got from the beauty college behind his mother’s house. It’s got a widow’s peak. Davi says it suits him.
“Yesss,” Davi says, pumping the fist holding his food. “Big money by the beach, huh?”
People usually buy in bulk. Victor will wait until the children have been ushered out of the room before turning to the father and intoning that it’s better to be safe than sorry, and at a discount they can make sure every room in the house is secure. There have been cases, he’ll say, a little reluctantly, where thrift has left a family in a terrible situation. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, as it were. It only takes one bare spot to make a tragedy, he’ll say.
“It’s a different world, now,” he’ll say, and they’ll get enough for the spare bedroom, the garage, the laundry room.
On a free-standing rack next to the dresser are six plain jumpsuits, each in muted earth tones. Victor selects a beige one and shakes it out before easing it over his legs.
“You have the next installation ready?”
“Workin on it.” Davi rolls his office chair over to the two cardboard boxes in the corner, sucking his fingers clean.
“You hungry? There’s a beef one left,” he calls over his shoulder, loading pockets into one of two insulated sport duffels.
“No, thank you,” Victor says.
The pockets look a lot like the buzzers that restaurants used to give out to customers when they waited for a table. They’re clunky, black plastic squares with a row of clear dashes that look like they should light up, but don’t. As Davi had said, Disappointing with a capital D.
Most homes that Victor visits have a slick, silvery interface behind the front door that is touchscreen, voice activated, heat-sensitive. The old-fashioned pockets are a hard sell, definitely analog material, but Victor cushions and distracts with his own appearance. A suit and briefcase modeled after the businessmen he’d watched smoking at elegant restaurants after the lunch rush. An attitude furnished from the same material. Victor thought of it like going over his body with one of those super-sticky lint rollers they had at dry-cleaners, or wiping down a dirty counter with a wet cloth. You had to be emotionally sparkling, shiny, vacuum-packed. One whiff of neediness and people wouldn’t buy shit.
Davi turns on the radio and hums. He chooses his own jumpsuit, catching the hem on his bum foot when he jams his legs inside.
The music fades out and the news comes on, more reports of protesting that turned into a riot outside of the stadium downtown, building and renovation fluctuating in spurts: glass put in then smashed, walls erected and then reduced to parts pried apart and sold elsewhere. The new walls will cut through a wide stretch of slums in preparation for the Sport Internationale, the reporter says. No solution is forthcoming.
“Forever, united,” Davi sing-songs the theme of their national team and changes the channel.
“I was listening to that,” Victor says.
Davi groans and turns up the volume on some tinny rap.
“I’ve been listening to it all day,” he says. “The same thing, over and over, when we all know how it’s gonna end. Everything bulldozed and families going somewhere, yeah yeah it’s horrible, yeah yeah what a crisis but as soon as they’re out of sight it’s like it won’t even matter anymore.”
“Heartless,” Victor says.
“Like you care,” Davi says, cuffing his sleeves. “Suddenly some kind of humanitarian over here, huh? Don’t pretend you won’t buy tickets, either. I can just see it. Box seats. Quarter finals and beyond.”
He adjusts the zipper to be just below the collar of his suit, then reconsiders. He carefully slides it down another three inches to reveal the top line of his undershirt and a thin crucifix.
“Ready when you are, big man,” he says.
“Hi, we’re here from Deblasco Security and Home Alertness,” Davi says when the door swings open. “You had an installation scheduled for today at 4?”
The woman who answered the door is scowling. Her hair is in the same carefully smoothed bob that Victor nee Emerson remembers from the sales pitch two days ago. She had confided in him that some of the workers coming into the neighborhood had been looking around on their way to the rash of new construction sites adjacent to the stadium.
“Considering. Staring. Picking out the top windows of a house and muttering to each other,” she had said. She had bought a gun, a little pistol from the pawn shop downtown, but she admitted that she didn’t quite have the guts to take it out of her glove compartment yet. Now she looks like she could chew through steel.
“I want my money back,” she says, and behind her there is a low, gravelly noise.
“Wow, do you have a dog?” Davi asks brightly.
“A refund?” Victor asks, subtly elbowing his way in front of Davi, swinging a full bag to the side. “Under what circumstances?”
“I don’t know who you are. I can’t find anything about your business ah-nee-where, and I’m not going to let some strangers into my house to set up cheap little death traps.”
“Do you want another product demonstration?” Victor asks. He already has eased a pocket out of the bag and offers it up, but the woman recoils like she’s smelling bad meat.
“No, thank you,” the woman says. “I don’t want that anywhere near me.”
She could have gone private. Victor looks for the tell-tale signs– the white sensors over the doorway, the retina scan by the doorbell.
“I don’t understand. We rarely do returns and–look, how about we talk this over,” Victor begins, stepping towards the door, but the the dog rockets forward, snarling and jerking the woman like a doll.
“Christ!” Davi swears, catching Victor as he stumbles back.
“It’s a fucking scam,” she says. “Get off my property.”
Once they are safely away from the house and the woman and the dog, Victor rounds on Davi and hisses,
“What the fuck was that?”
“I don’t know! You sell, I install. Your rules, man,” Davi says, waving his hands.
“Have you said anything to your family?” Victor begins.
“No man, and like, what would I even say? ‘Hey guys, check out this bullshit party trick I’m fleecing?’”
Victor looks hard at Davi.
“Oh my god, I didn’t say that. Come on! It’s probably just somebody trying to peddle their own shit and they’re trying to cut down on the competition.”
“I wasn’t even aware that we had competition,” Victor says.
“It’s kind of flattering,” Davi says. “We’re hot right now. People want what we’ve got.”
“It means somebody knows about us.”
“Nah,” Davi says. “You’re too careful.”
“Yes, I am,” Victor says, but Davi snaps his fingers and dumps his bag on the ground. He pulls out a pocket, holding it up to the sun.
“What are you doing?” Victor asks. “Think the batteries ran out? Get a grip.”
“Ok, Mr. Asshole, but you heard her. Maybe they are malfunctioning. Maybe they’re like, getting old or something. Like leaking uranium or whatever the fuck is inside, nuggets of platinum or radio crystals or whatever. I mean, to tell you the truth, I dropped the box last week and I didn’t think it was a big deal.”
“They don’t break,” Victor says. “Do you get that? They’re not some fucking–look, have you been talking to somebody?”
“No, Victor, I have not. You might not know this, but I have a little common sense. Just a little. I come to the office, I clean, I carry shit around for you and pick up the newspaper. I would love to talk to somebody, but I can’t.”
Last week it was the houses tucked behind the historic section of town. The week before had been the apartments right by the river. Patch after patch of upper class living, cleanly sheared off from the rest of the city with icing-white walls. So which neighborhood had soured on them?
Victor tuned back to Davi like clearing the static on a radio and cut him off.
“…maybe it’s because of your accent, you know how people are about everyone who came over from Buenos Aires after the–”
“I’m from Sao Paulo,” Victor says, “Now get out of here. We’ve hung around long enough.”
“Whatever. Just trying to help.”
“Yeah, okay, sure,” Victor says.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You know what I mean.”
“And what is that?”
“Well, let me put it this way,” Victor says, yanking Davi’s bag from his shoulder. “You’re the installation guy for a reason.”
“Wow, gee, thanks partner,” Davi says. “You are the fucking worst.”
It’s easy for him to make a dramatic exit because, as a safety precaution, they don’t take the same way home. Once he’s out of sight, Victor squats at the edge of the street and carefully prods the button on the top of the pocket with a toothpick he fishes from his pocket, feeling down the sides of it for the gummy seal he had inserted after several rounds of modifications. It’s intact. He snaps the toothpick in half and hauls the bag onto his shoulder.
Victor walks all the way around the property, side stepping through narrow alleys to look into the milky glass over the window mounted air conditioning units. He walks down the block and up a ways, tracking the house in the corner of his eye until he finds a good, clear spot on the road where it winds around above the house. From here he can peep through the healthy green magnolia trees and their big rubbery leaves, the clear and calm inground pool a white oyster shell path away from the back sliding doors and the wood stained patio. There aren’t any of the usual signs of another company. There’s nobody. They must be somewhere, because the woman has a big family. A husband, and two little daughters and son with soft looking brown hair. A grandmother who is still wheeled to the table every night.
A family of six could get swallowed up in a house, maybe. Victor imagines what a family of six in a big house would be doing right now, this very second, how still the air would be in the long pause before dinner, how cool, with only the flap of a turning book–magazine, a magazine page, and the far muffled patterns of toy trucks going over the rug. Kids are quiet, though, they could be out in the yard, safe behind the tall iron fence shrugging back the tilting magnolia trees. A nanny outside, sitting on the stoop in a grey dress and white apron, just in the shade, just out of sight. Everyone where they should be, for now. He waits, just in case.
It gets dark fast this far out from the city. It takes him a minute to remember where the closest connecting street is. Victor walks to the corner and haltingly doubles back twice before the buckled-over signpost down the way gains familiarity. The bags are heavy, getting heavier, and when he wipes away the sweat trickling down his forehead, it feels like blood.
The couple in the turquoise house with the pink detailing and expensive antique knocker are the first people to answer the door when Victor goes out for sales the next day. She is a graphic designer for a company that handles a prominent soda, and he is an architect. They have been married for a year. They used to live in city in the south that was famous for biofueled public transportation.
Victor so far has identified one painting and one chair that come from collections he took note of in the quarterly interior and art magazines he reads at the library.
“We’re not really worried about theft,” the architect says, after the demonstration. They offer him tea. He accepts.
“The city has really cleaned up, you know, around here,” the graphic designer says. “And anything we have is replaceable, things aren’t too important.”
“I just don’t understand how it works,” her husband interrupts. “I mean, we would buy them, but. Where does it all go?”
“It’s just temporary physical displacement,” Victor explains, in a soft voice. “It creates a space of removal that, if you wish, you can freely enter or exit.”
“Right,” he says, “But I mean, it doesn’t make sense.”
“We’ve heard…things,” she says, before Victor can present the next comforting phrase that sounds like fact.
“From where?” Victor asks, a little too sharp. The graphic designer leans away and looks politely down, as if his words have fallen under her chair.
“We have a spotless record of customer satisfaction, so if there’s a problem, I would want to attend to it immediately,” he corrects. He smiles.
“You know how word travels in a community,” she says.
“We’ve heard it could be dangerous,” he says.
“Could you tell me a neighborhood?” Victor asks, taking a small leather-bound notepad and pen out of his jacket pocket.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she demurs. “It really is a delicate matter.”
“We need some time to talk it over,” the architect says, and they excuse themselves to the kitchen.
“He wants cash,” Victor hears, a low tone with a sentencing laced inside it. He carefully gathers his briefcase, his notepad, the pocket, and leaves.
On the bus and the one after that, Victor replays their conversation. A kind of autopsy for the sale. He enters their door again and doesn’t let his gaze catch on the early Oiticica in the nook. He looks at the maid as if she were behind mirrored glass. He doesn’t put sugar in his tea. He is removed, calm. He floats over the situation and has a leaflet about investors and strategy prepared–but this is a bad idea, having any pamphlet for interested parties. Once you put pen to paper, you can see the future solidifying in the air in front of you, charmed out of the words and coming to life with each set of eyes.
Davi comes back from his solo installation with all of the pockets still tucked into their carrying cases.
“Something’s going on, man,” he said. “I was like, hi I’m here to install your security system? And this guy was like, yeah sure come on in, could you wait here for a second while I check the whatever, so I wait, and then I realize I’m waiting for a long time, and then I get the creeps, because it’s a big house and it’s got those weird empty modern sculptures and then I get the creeps really, really bad, because it’s so quiet. So I get out and I hustle down the street and sure enough, there’s the cops turning the corner.”
“Did they see you?”
“Fuck, no, I’m not an idiot.”
Victor purses his lips and frowns.
“Look, I know this isn’t exactly, like, legal,” Davi says. Victor realizes he hasn’t thrown himself on his chair, hasn’t struggled out of his disguise like it’s trying to eat him–instead, he is standing next to the desk, shifting his weight from foot to foot and looking unusually serious.
“No shit,” Victor says, taking the entire bag and turning his back on Davi as he heads over to the ratty boxes. He starts re-packing the pockets into their box, counting in his head.
“But like, how illegal are we talking, here,” Davi asks. “Like, community service, or one of the border prisons? Because fraud is one thing, but–”
“Did football pay?”
Victor closes the box lid and turns to Davi.
“How much did you make a year? What was your contract?”
“I dunno, man, maybe — six thousand reais a season. Plus bonuses, for goals and stuff. I played for like, half a year though so–”
“Are you making more now?”
“Yeah, of course. I mean, yeah. A lot more. But–”
“So shut up about it.”
“Okay. Okay,” Davi says. He unzips the top of his jumpsuit and struggles his arms out of the sleeves. “Silent as a church mouse, that’s me. Are you staying late tonight?”
“We have a lot of jobs tomorrow? I mean, maybe we should dump them and split. We only have those two boxes left, anyway. Liquidation sale to a bank or something.”
“A bank,” Victor says, flatly. “Great idea. No.”
“I mean if the cops–”
“We do the one tomorrow and then we’ll take a break. It’ll cool off if we cut back and go to some different neighborhoods.”
“If you’re sure,” Davi says. “I mean, it’s not how I would do it, but you’re the brains, you know, I’m not the businessman. You’re the guy with the big connections. Fingers in all the pies in the techno boom, Swiss bank account and all that.”
“Yep,” Victor says, loading the pockets back in the box. “That’s me.”
Davi lives with his three sisters, parents, uncle, and grandmother in a house that Victor pointedly ignored all description of but is easy enough to imagine when he is alone in his own, blank apartment. He is folding and stacking his suit and the spare set of clothes hanging in his almost-empty closet. Davi shared a room with his youngest sister until they were about twelve or thirteen, Victor thinks, and now the house has sprouted and bulged another room or an annex or a screen in order to accommodate the new adults. Davi paid for it, good material in a color not quite the same, maybe moving them all somewhere fresh and with enough open spots for them to fill perfectly, popping into new and perfect spaces like eggs in a carton. Davi lays over the edge of the couch while his sister talks on the phone, uncle and friends are in chairs at the kitchen table, watching dinner being made. Victor takes the rag from under the sink and wets it.
He starts from the vacated bedroom and follows the same pattern as always: first the headboard and the windowsills, wiping the flimsy plastic venetian blinds and the curtain rod. Then the empty desktop and the light switch. The house is noisy. Davi’s mother breezes in with her purse at her hip and the delivery boy behind her, holding a crate of something and waiting patiently near the cupboard as there’s a scramble for the nearest wallet. They ask where he’s from, if he’s going to school, what he thinks about the national chances against foreign teams. Victor goes over the door handle twice and then burns the rag in the sink, using his sleeve to wash the ashes down the drain. The smoke is thick and foul.
Victor arrives early at the shop. He leaves his backpack under the stairs, behind a stack of hubcaps. The repair shop is barely humming, workers scattered into the back office, nobody on the street. There is an open bottle of coke left on a stool near a graying moped and a line of glittering wrenches laid out and visible to anyone with a passing interest.
The radio is on in the office, and Victor tries to figure out how he is going to clear out all the pockets without raising suspicion. Maybe he can send Davi to the corner store, which he loves, to run some errand that will take ages with Davi stopping and chatting to everyone he doesn’t know. It is a more hands-on deception than he was counting on, so Victor dallies in the stairwell, distracting himself from thinking about what Davi’s face might look like when he returns with two sodas to find himself abandoned. Victor thinks instead about being beaten to death in prison, and feels the remorse drain from him like a quickly unclogged sink.
He opens the door and finds three strange men surrounding a lumping bruise that looks a lot like Davi used to.
“I’m sorry,” Davi says, with effort, and Victor has enough time to register that before the man in red mesh shorts hits him across the face with a wrench.
“Fuck,” Victor spits. He staggers to the side and almost over the suitcase that they’ve pulled from the floor, judging by the splinters and catty-corner boards propped against the desk.
The suitcase is open and, inexplicably, half-filled with pumpkin candy squares, bright red-orange against the dusty black skin of the pockets.
“What are these?” red shorts asks.
“Home security devices,” Victor answers, and one of the more enthusiastic men kicks him in the knee, twice.
“You fucked up, selling to us,” one of them says, just as Davi says:
“I’m really sorry, Victor.”
A man in steel-rimmed sunglasses (who had been examining one of the pockets from their botched installation) is in mid-step when he presses the button on the top of the pocket. He disappears, as does the desk behind him. The remaining men start to shout. Davi is dragged by his shoulder over to the area and red shorts has his hand in Victor’s hair, screaming, what is that, what is that.
Then sunglasses reappears, gun drawn and shaking, but mostly pleased with himself.
“Holy fuck,” he says, and red shorts fishes out another pocket from under the candies in the suitcase on the floor. He brandishes it at Victor.
“You sold these?”
“No,” Victor says, just as Davi says “Yes.”
“Jesus Christ,” Victor says, taking in the half-empty suitcase and the candy. Then there’s a hand at the back of his neck, pushing him roughly to the floor.
“How do you turn this on,” red shorts asks.
“Push the button,” sunglasses says, and Victor feels his heart catch hard in his throat.
“Don’t press the button,” he screams, and everyone freezes for a second.
“What is going on,” Davi says, wetly. The extra man presses his gun to Davi’s forehead.
“He’s an idiot, so you tell us or we’ll kill him,” red shorts says. “Why not?”
“There are two kinds,” Victor says. “The ones in the suitcase are old. They’re like a prototype. They’ll–if you use them, they’ll kill you.”
“And these?” red shorts points to the pocket that sunglasses drops onto the table, looking queasy.
“I changed them. They’re the same but I changed them so they can turn on and off.”
“He sold some to us two weeks ago,” the other man says. He obviously means Davi, who is looking from the box to the bag to the box like he can’t seem to make the connection stick. “And then we try and set up some like, computer billionaire with them, and next thing you know his entire house is fucking razed. Opened up a gas line.”
“I didn’t know,” Davi says, “Victor, fuck, why didn’t you tell me, oh fuck.”
“I used them in my fucking house,” red shorts yells. “Just one of them! My cousin lost his fucking arm and now I don’t have a maid! It looks like I changed my mind about demolishing my house halfway through. The whole left side–” he gestures with his gun– “poof. Nothing.”
Davi probably thought Victor would be furious, but he’d lay low, play on his phone on his mom’s couch and duck out if Victor actually came looking, angry and with an empty bill to collect. Hedging his bets and putting his money squarely on what Victor had always discouraged: the idea that Victor was his friend. Victor would calm down and in enough time, in the right circumstances, Then Davi would show up, a little sheepish, and offer some compensation and say something like, man, at least you got some candy out of it, right?
But what did Davi expect, Victor thinks, from any of this.
“Are there more?” the man in red shorts asks.
“No,” Victor says. “But I’m the only one who can fix them, I’m the only one–”
One of the others is already shaking his head.
“Let’s just–,” he starts, to the men.
When they shoot Davi, Victor has enough time to register that something has happened but not enough to look away, or make any motion that he would be able to remember later as the point when it happened, when, definitively, he died. They shoot three times. They are not very good with their guns, and they are in a hurry.
“Face the wall,” one of them says. The man in the sunglasses is packing up the suitcase, keeping the candies that didn’t get shaken out. It will be hard to carry the boxes and the old suitcase, with its half-broken handle. But there are three of them, so Victor assumes they’ll manage somehow. Downstairs there’s some noise, but whether it’s the mechanics fighting or something more promising, Victor can’t hear.
Victor ends up facing the desk, scooting unceremoniously over the pumpkin bars. In this way, he doesn’t see the new people arrive, just hears and feels the percussive force of rapid shooting, and the sound of three bodies collapsing, folding up and falling in their own ways.
“Get them, all of them,” a woman’s voice says. Two men in blue plastic windbreakers and disposable gloves appear, half-bent and shuffling around the edge of Victor’s view. They scoop up the pockets and put them into black bags. One of them nudges the body of the man in the red shorts, weaseling the tip of his shoe under the dead man’s rib cage to roll his body and check underneath him.
Victor stays with his head down, throbbing in his nose and face keeping him weighted towards the floor. There’s a sense of being finished, at the edge of a barometric change, as the men clear out, murmuring at the doorway. There’s a pause. The voice says,
“Yes, him too.”
When Victor had first been given the pockets, they were in a grimy camera bag, ten of them all packed together with no space to spare. They weren’t the first choice of the technician.
“It’s a crude design, but we’re going to try it out,” he had said. Not to Victor, who was outside with the transport running and a nasty headache, but to the commanding officer who had come out of the office and told Suarez they were supposed to put these at the edge of the villas and report back.
“Just like, put them there?” Suarez had said on the drive over. He ripped open the case and picked up a pocket. “Fuck, are we out of money or what. What is this bullshit? What do you think?”
“No idea,” Victor had said, turning the wheel and honking at the mopeds and bicycles crawling along in front of them. Suarez fired out the window into the air and the people in front of them scattered in slow motion, clawing at each other and pushing once they saw the emblem on the front of the truck. A boy jostled a stand advertising melons and when they hit the ground, the fear vanished as everyone nearby scrambled to grab a piece of fruit for themselves. An old woman crowded over one with her skirt, collapsing on top of it, screaming.
“Fuckin’ animals,” Suarez said.
Victor grunted and kept his gaze distant, brushing the tops of their heads.
They crossed the railroad tracks and wound away from the overpass where most of the slum flourished, in the shells of deteriorating houses, knitted together with smaller sheds of plywood and plastic sheeting. It had grown larger in the past few years as the General had begun the raids, displacing families and demolishing leftist businesses. The people who had come from the countryside to escape their dusty fields had found nothing.
“So we put it down here,” Suarez said. “Right over here. Turn left.”
“It’s faster this way,” Victor said, and turned them right first, past a well lined with hunched figures and children running over the spine of a broken-down car. Suarez followed them through his sunglasses and looked at Victor.
“Do you ever think about what you’d do if somebody recognized you?”
“It’s probably for the best, to stay away. Little sister or father can have a brother or a son that disappeared instead. You could be a hero, one of the guys they dragged out of the theatre in back in ‘21.”
Victor stayed silent and turned the wheel again, circling the water tower by the tracks and coming to a stop where Suarez had pointed before.
“Nobody wants a visit from us, anyway,” Suarez said, almost to himself. He slapped his cap against his thigh and then fitted it back over his head. “Right. Let’s do this and get out of here.”
Each pocket was placed along the film of dirt and rubble that separated the strung together homes from the coal-laden freights that moved north and the passenger trains that bloomed with red and black graffiti overnight. Victor took the right hand side of the truck and placed four pockets about thirty feet apart, nudging them so one side with a row of lights faced the smoky, jangling murmur of over a thousand people living so close together. He crouched and pressed a button on the top, which made no noise and just stuck slowly like there was honey dripping into the machinery. From the corner of his eye he could see Suarez wiping his forehead and lighting a cigarette at the end of his section. Victor pressed the button on the last pocket and righted himself, wiped his hands on his pants and walked briskly back to the truck.
Victor started the truck and Suarez swung into the passenger seat. Before he could finish a satisfying drag, Victor slammed on the brakes and his head whipped forward against the rattling handlebar on the dash. Suarez coughed, slapping his lap for the cigarette with one hand while he held his bleeding nose with the other.
“What the fuck–” he started, and then took a proper look out the front window.
All of the slum had disappeared. In the distance they could see the legs of the freeway, unhindered save for some cardboard and siding that was shorn off in a clean arc just a few feet away from where it had been affixed to the cement. The space rang silent, a door shutting over a distant conversation and cutting it in half.
“So that’s it,” Suarez said. Victor realized that there wasn’t exactly nothing, there was a layer of debris about an inch off the ground that ended in an even flatness. Bricks cut lengthwise, plastic shreds, the rubber sole of what could have been a shoe.
Victor turned off the truck and took a few shaky steps over to the nearest pocket.
“What are you doing?” Suarez asked.
There was a seam along the side. The button was stuck, no matter how many times he pressed it. The plastic was cold. It looked like any other piece of trash.
“Hey,” Suarez yelled, when he picked up the rock. “Stop. Put that down.”
Victor heard him clamber out of the jeep and knew he had his pistol drawn.
“I’m not kidding,” he said, just as the case cracked open. Suarez swore and Victor braced himself without thinking, prepared for something huge and hot and terrible. But there was no wave of heat or the dumb force of an explosion. When Victor opened his eyes, the pocket was crushed but the blank space and multiplying emptiness remained.
They know who Victor is. He is shown a picture of a young stranger with frightened eyes, holding a gun, posed before the white steps of another country’s capital. He says yes.
Victor is thinking about Pepita again, about her moaning and wailing as he walked away from the deserted house, to his family in their uncle’s truck and an uncertain future built around strangers. About the quality of that noise, the painful marrow of it, the almost tangible pitch and keen. This, then, would be what he had saved, secreted away and invisible. Beneath him he can feel the truck slowing and hear gravel spitting as it turns off the paved road to go somewhere more private. He would like to have something else there, waiting for the chance to be visible and loved at a moment of safety, but that’s all there is: an animal sound of loss.
About the Author: Lilly Gray is a writer and editor living in a prefecture famous for fish roe.
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