Masters and Slaves

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Masters and Slaves by Pedro Juan Gutierrez    

Everything was going wrong for me. Things had been going wrong for a long time, and there was no sign of a lull in the storm. The storm was inside me. I was directionless, adrift, sailing as fast as I could toward nowhere at all. And there’s nothing worse.


Sometimes I’d be in a good mood for a few days and I could hide my rage. On one of those days, I had a nice conversation with Margarita, a skinny, wiry little black woman with big breasts. She lived downstairs, on the second floor. Ever since I first saw her, I liked her, but you can’t go around seducing every single woman you happen to like.


I asked her out for a beer on the Malecón, then up to the roof for a little rum, until finally she flopped down on the bed in my room. We fucked frantically. It was great, and we were at it all night. Afterward, though, everything was the same. Nothing had changed. I was just as disillusioned and full of rage as before. Especially on days when there was a full moon. I don’t know why the full moon makes me so angry. It throws me completely off kilter and I turn into a rabid dog. I’ve tried to fight the idea, but it always proves true. It’s not so crazy. So in the end all I can do is come to terms with it and stop struggling in vain.


It was Margarita who bore the brunt of my rage. Our sex life was amazing. But I couldn’t stand her. I was broke, eating badly or even worse than that, and seriously considering trying to get a job as a street sweeper. The first day would be the worst, then I’d get used to it and say to hell with it. At least I’d be guaranteed a little bit of money each month.


She was always praising me. There I’d be, a wreck, and she’d tell me, “You’re an incredible man, you’re all I need, I love you.” I couldn’t stand that ridiculousness. It was too much for me, but still, I couldn’t do without her. She trapped me with the color of her skin, the smell of her armpits and her sex, with the feel of her hair and the taste of her breasts. I liked her, but she was constantly saying silly things, and she had a sign taped to her door that read: “Caution. Children running wild.”


Sometimes I thought it was all a farce. She was always smiling, with a look on her face that said, “I make you feel good, and you pay the bills.” The mercenary spirit of the age, goddamn it. She didn’t have a job. She had lost her last one three years ago, and she was the kind of helpless person who little by little lets herself starve to death and has no idea what to do about it. The only money we had was what I was able to earn, fighting for it tooth and claw.


A salsa band had a hit song out back then:

Get yourself a lover to pay the rent

He’ll make you feel fine

He’ll keep you in the money

Make sure he’s over thirty, make sure he’s under fifty

Get yourself a lover to pay the rent.


It had already happened to me before, with another beautiful black woman. She was a college professor, very elegant, very refined. It was a long, drawn-out romance. We had secretly wanted each other for years, but we were never together in the right place at the right time.


Until she spent a few years on her own, completely alone the entire time. Then we finally connected, and it was the real thing. I was having a fantastic time, because her lust for me turned her into one of the biggest sinners in the history of mankind. The minute she felt my prick grazing the lips of her cunt, she’d lose control. All her intellectual baggage would go out the window, and she’d become a triple-X wild woman, Mrs. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde. All without a drop of rum or one puff on a joint, nothing. She didn’t need anything. It was an a cappella performance. She’d talk and talk, and in the throes of one orgasm after another, she’d talk some more. She was a mulatta on fire. And all of that paraphernalia tumed me on. I can’t pretend now that I was a saint and say her twisted ideas disgusted me. No, no. The truth is, it all made me extremely horny.


“I want to be your slave, darling; you can tie me up and whip me. Here’s a rope and here’s a leather belt. I want you to beat me and make me fuck four men at once, right in front of you. I’ll be a whore; oh, take me. Look at my ass, see how firm it is. It’s all yours, all yours. And I’m going to be a dyke for you too. Find me a pretty little white girl, and I’ll make her go crazy for you, you’ll see. I want to be your slave, baby. Hit me. Whip me, darling. Bite me and leave a mark. Put your finger up my ass.”


She had a collection of porn magazines, and she liked to make herself come by looking at the blond, green-eyed girls. I had a fantastic time, and I never tried too hard to understand. It’s impossible to understand everything. Life isn’t long enough to enjoy and understand all at the same time. You have to decide which is most important. In the end, I left her. Not because of all her crazy games but because it became clear to me she was giving me the evil eye, and she would do me harm. When my little slave saw I liked her tricks, and they worked, she started asking for things: clothes, shoes, expensive meals, perfume. Her greed was unleashed. At the time, I could give her what she wanted, but one day she sat staring at me. We were sitting across from each other, and when she opened her mouth, she said a terrible thing, “Pedrito, you have so many clothes, you won’t live long enough to wear them all.”


Heaven forbid! I had a lot of clothes then, and I dressed well, but I wanted to live a long life too. No doubt about it, that black bitch was giving me the evil eye. I never went back to her house again.


Another time, things happened the other way around. It was with a Spanish woman, a Catalan. She thought of herself as the all-powerful mistress. I was a cockroach waiting to be crushed. In bed, we were equals, but when we got dressed, she called the shots. I almost killed her. But I stopped myself. I turned my back on her and left. It’s always the same: I leave, and the women stay behind.


I don’t want to talk about that yet because I’m not ready to tell my audience, scalpel in hand, “Pay close attention and cover your noses. I’m going to shred some guts. A caveat: shit will come out, and it will stink. In case nobody’s told you, shit stinks.”


No, I can’t do it yet. I’ve got my scalpel ready, but I still can’t bring myself to slice deep and get to the bottom of all the shit.


That’s how miserable life is. If you’ve got character, then you’re rigid and contemptuous. Strict regimens and discipline turn you into an implacable kind of person. Only the weak are submissive parasites. And they need the strong. They’ll sacrifice everything for the chance of a crumb. They give up their pride. I know it sounds bad when you say it out loud, but the truth is, some people are leaders and others are followers. I can’t obey anyone, not even myself. And it costs me. It really costs me.


Then you’re filled with fury and rage, and you’ve got to decompress. We all know how: alcohol, sex, drugs. Well, maybe some people gorge themselves on chocolate or binge, I don’t know. In my neighborhood, it’s lots of sex and some alcohol and marijuana. There are a few mystics, too, and they’re the ones who really know how to live. But that’s another story. Forget the mystics and the believers. There aren’t many of those, in any case. They don’t count.


Margarita withstood my rages for a long time. She learned how to ignore them. She could get by on very little. She just wanted to be loved. That’s what she always asked from me. Everybody in the neighborhood was after her; they all wanted to subjugate her to the phallus. This neighborhood is full of blacks and mulattos and whites with little to do and nothing to occupy their minds. There’s a kind of meshing of gears: if they get her to try the phallus and she likes it, she falls in the trap. It’s simple and primitive, but it works.


It’s nothing new. The woman who inherited Vargas Vila’s money would smile and say, “Seduce them, corrupt them, get them hooked. They’re weak.” I never believed it, but she kept repeating it until one day, she told me Vargas Vila had hated women. “He was a misogynist,” she told me.


“A faggot?” I asked.


“I don’t know about that. But he was a misogynist.”


Anyway, there was Margarita, everybody after her. And there I was, wild and out of my head with rage, but at least I didn’t have the slightest interest in seducing or corrupting her. She could do what she wanted with her life, so long as she left me alone.


Sometimes I’d even buy her gladiolas and white jasmine and give them to her at night. And all I asked was that she accept them silently and keep her mouth shut. But the bitch would always sniff at them dreamily and close her eyes and thank me and tell me how wonderful I was and how much she loved me. And that would infuriate me. Why couldn’t she just take her flowers and shut up?


And why can’t I control my arrogance? Why do I let it swell up and shame me? Nothing can reach me when that happens. It destroys me.


Then I realized it’s when I’m near a slave that my rage flares up. I’m transformed into a proud, cruel master, an angry master. So I have to stay away from slaves, leave them alone. The contagion is terrible.

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming Dirty Havana Trilogy: A Novel in Stories by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

©2000 Pedro Juan Gutierrez and