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Torture

By James Thompson

Vieira awoke again in the dark, sure it was time to revive that woman. He sat up in bed and saw the rain beating on the glass window of his apartment, and came to his senses. Grounded, suddenly, he knew where he was.

He lay back into the pillows, considered what would be the loss, really, if he were to find the courage to knock himself off. His daughter would incur the cost of a funeral. There would be sorrow. But, meanwhile, the grandkids would scramble about the cemetery, bored with the pace of the service, playing war or tag, just as he had done when his grandmother had passed and adults stood about on sparse dry grass talking of her greatness. Such is the nature of things. One has no identity, and there is no memory beyond that which touches us now.

It rained on. Rainwater moved lazily down the surface of his bedroom window. Funny, he thought, how the water comes together as though it were always one, with such enormous unconcern, broad calm sheets of it made up of angry, drumming, individual droplets. Blackie growled at the thunder and jumped up on the bed.

***

Vieira walked on the sidewalk fronting the beach with his daughter. He watched people, feeling no need to talk. A man sold the tiniest orange shrimp on spits of flakey wood. Another approached them with team bandannas: Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo, even Corinthians. Blackie paraded alongside atop springy paws, turning his head, growling as joggers passed in the other direction. A jogger bounced along with a transistor radio Velcroed to his bicep.

His daughter smiled exactly her mother’s smile, and said, “Let’s stop for a beer,” and Vieira overflowed with love and wonderment at the continuity of things. “Yes,” he said. “Let’s stop for a beer somewhere,” and he drank a cold beer with his daughter at the edge of the broad strip of Copacabana Beach while the waves rolled in, each one roaring its existence as it was extinguished.

“My term paper this semester is on the dictatorship,” Vieira`s daughter said, looking upon him. “You know, military rule.”

He drank beer.

“So what was it like?”

“It’s better now,” said Vieira, calling the waiter to bring more pasteis.

***

“What is your real name, lieutenant? You are a lieutenant, you know?” the colonel had asked him as he got off the bus blinking and stepped onto the rusty dust talcum of Goias soil. Alfredo Vieira, he had said, and the colonel responded, “Now you are Marcos. That is your only name, and will be until you leave.” The sun baked him. A mestizo gardener hacked at a hedge with a machete, forcing the bushes into squares.

“Yes, sir,” Marcos had said, seeing only the name Paulo written with permanent ink onto the colonel’s uniform.

The following night a patrol brought in a dozen or so colonizers from a grouping of tarpaulin-roofed thatch huts along the BR-153. It was raining.

They beat one man with a stripped palm frond. He was tied to a bed and his back seemed to split but not bleed. Marcos was called to revive him. With shaky hands, he injected the patient with adrenalin. The man awoke and Marcos was sent out of the room. “You will be just fine,” Marcos said to him as he left.

“Yes, I am fine,” the patient said. “Can you give me a glass of water?”

“No,” said Marcos. “I cannot.”

Later that night, a woman had to be brought back for questions. It was dark and Marcos’s feet got grabbed in the red mud so that each footstep made a sucking sound as he stepped. A sergeant by the name of Adailton said, “This is one of the colonizers, pure PC do B, a sympathizer.”

“Yes?”

“Don’t worry, boy. We are not going to hurt her. But they dress as civilians, don’t they?” The sergeant blinked in the rain.

Marcos almost lost a boot in the mud. He turned back to get his foot back into it.

“We will teach this one a lesson and then send her home. She’s an old woman, for the love of God.”

Marcos looked at the sergeant, a brownish man with African hair and a look of keen determination. “Yes,” he said to the sergeant. “Teach her a lesson.” They marched on, Marcos determined to not lose a boot.

***

Vieira looked at his daughter, really looked at her. She was the color of burned cinnamon and wearing sunglasses so that her dark eyes could not be seen, but he knew those eyes. They were her mother’s eyes and had not the slightest thing to do with him. He sat back. The dog begged for something dropped from their molded plastic table. “You are not, apparently, whom you seem,” Vieira said to his daughter at the end of the joke. “It seems you are not whom you seem, the Portuguese guy said.”

Vieira’s daughter laughed aloud. “Daddy, you are an encyclopedia of jokes,” she said, and he did not know whether that was an insult or a compliment. He drank of his beer in its nearly-collapsing plastic cup and nodded. “I have a lot to say,” he said.

“Then tell me.” She sat back, every bit a woman, impetuous, grand in the way only women can be with their bodies.

“Things are not like they were then,” he said.

***

The old woman was buried to her neck in the mud, with part of one shoulder showing. She was sleeping with her head on the wet earth. Marcos separated from the sergeant and lowered himself to her. “Hello?” he said, “Hello?”

“What?” the woman said lackadaisically, lifting her head from the mud. There was something comic about it, he thought, in spite of himself; this head arising from the mud, the response as if he had called her from her bed. It was still raining.

“You must be interrogated,” he said.

“Yes, of course,” she responded. “I must be interrogated. But in the mud?”

“I am sorry. I am just a nurse. A doctor’s assistant, rather.”

The sergeant stood nearby, a dark silhouette in the rain.

“It will be over soon, madam,” said Marcos. “Just tell them everything and you will go home.” He thought of his own mother and her short gray hair. He held his canteen to this woman’s lips.

“Don’t do that,” said the sergeant from the darkness. “Your job is to revive, not to comfort.”

“She will give you all the information you wish to know,” said Marcos, “if she revives with a little water. Won’t you, dearest?”

“I will tell them anything,” said the woman buried to her neck in the mud.

“See?”

***

Vieira stared ahead, caught himself doing so. “What?” he said to his daughter. “I am sorry dearest. I was lost in thought.”

“Nothing, Daddy.” His daughter was replacing her lipstick. But for what? For that man she sank to marry?

He drank down his beer and signed for the waiter six tables away to awaken and bring the bill. “I believe we should go now,” Vieira said. He looked at his wrist as if there were a watch there. “If we don’t go now there will not be enough sunlight left.”

“Yes,” his daughter said. She kissed a napkin rather languorously before rising.

*** 

In the rain, a million weighty single droplets that splashed maddeningly into the eyes and ran under the collar, Marcos sat next to the head and shoulders in the red mud, and tore the plastic from the epinephrine pack with his teeth.

“You’re going to have muddy pants, asshole,” Adailton shouted from across the rain.

Marcos ignored him. He filled the syringe with it, drawing the plunger back despite shaking hands.

“Tell them everything they want to know,” he said to the woman.

“What are you shooting me with?”

“This will help you stay awake,” he said. “It’s my job.”

“Mercy on you,” said the woman.

Marcos looked around him, looked for a light in the rain. “This will all be over soon, woman.”

“Yes,” she said, and turned her head.

“Listen,” said Marcos. “Tell them nothing. They have told me they will not kill you.”

She did not look back at him.

“Madam, please.”

She looked away until he injected the hormone into the back of her neck, unsure of his aim, wanting not to have done it.

“I hope you’ve got another pair of pants, dickweed,” said Adailton as Marcos climbed up from the mud and headed back to his barracks, trying to brush red mud off his pants but only spreading it further.

***

Rio de Janeiro leaves you tired, thought Vieira as he drove, smoking a bent Parliament from a bent package now, blowing the smoke out a cracked window as drivers pushed their Fiats and Volkswagens to the limit of tipping as they cut from lane to lane. He should get out of Rio de Janeiro. And why not? His daughter? She was fine.

He thought of retirement and sipping beers with friends on a Friday afternoon at folding tables put out onto the street, as his father had done, arguing in amiable vigor with friends over the benefits of military rule.

“The generals,” his father said from behind a wreath of smoke, “are idiots. But, well, ha, ha, there is no progress without order, is there?”

Vieira delivered a fresh pack of Parliaments and the change, in mil-reis, to his father, who rested his hand upon Vieira’s head. “Is that not right, son?”

“Yes,” said Vieira, looking at the ancient men hunched over the table, finding pleasure, somehow, in sitting about and talking.

“Good boy. He is going to grow up to be a doctor.”

The men sitting about laughed coughing and leaned back in their chairs on the sidewalk. Vieira walked back to the apartment where his mother sat, not crying, smoking a Parliament and not speaking a word about her black eye, nor allowing anyone else to.

*** 

Blackie barked as German Shepherds do, with the total force of their bodies, jerking forward in the barking, leaving moist trails of nose-print on the back window as he challenged motorcyclists throughout the trip through traffic to Our Lady of Pain Cemetery. He sprang from the car when it stopped and bounded off after some children smoking something atop a grave at the other end of the place.

“Shouldn’t you stop him?” said Vieira’s daughter.

“No. He has never bitten anyone in his life. He just barks and scares you.”

She nodded and he waited for her to ask, What the hell are you doing with such an animal? But she didn’t ask it. A moment passed and she said, “I know you are lonely.”

“Yes,” he said. Cars roared on the Red Line just beyond the cemetery walls.

They stood at the grave belonging to Vieira’s wife, with its black-and-white photo affixed to the granite headstone in the concrete cemetery, and said nothing for the appropriate length of time. Vieira wondered briefly what had happened, why he could no longer remember anything this dead woman had said.

Vieira’s daughter re-arranged the concrete flowerpots and said they ought to go. Vieira said he thought so, too.

***

He placed a machete down the back of his boxers and came out of the barracks—a hut, really—wearing only his boxer shorts. He stepped across the overgrown parade ground out to the edge of the encampment, looking down against the heavy rain. He slipped once but managed to not fall into the mud. A wet private with a carbine stopped him and he identified himself, and worked his way about, lighting a Bic lighter to find the place where the woman was buried to her neck.

“I am here to revive the suspect,” he said and returned the salute.

Vieira sat down in the mud. “This rainy season,” he said but the woman did not raise her head.

He pressed gently upon the head in the mud, feeling the curls, each one so sparse and dry even in the rain, and so distant, one from the other. “Madam,” he said. “ Madam?” He felt a slow pulse in her neck.

“I will kill you, madam,” he said. “If you wish.” Though he had no idea how he might go about murdering someone. He thought of his own mother at the end weighing 90 pounds, coughing up blood into a plastic tray made just for that purpose, asking to rest. “I will send any messages you wish to your family. I am in the army but not of the army, and you can trust me.”

She stirred but said nothing.

“Madam,” he said. “It will mean prison for me, but I can end this for you right now and it will be fast, and I am sorry but I see no other way. Mercy. Mercy on you.”

***

Blackie came back panting and Vieira waited for his daughter to stop talking, and then, using both hands upon chin and forehead, jerked his head to one side so that his vertebrae cracked in sequence down his neck and spine. It was deliciously loud.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” his daughter said.

“No you don’t. You love it when I do that.”

“No. It scared me as a kid and scares me for different reasons now, you old crackly man.”

“I thought you liked it.”

“I don’t.”

They walked back toward the car, Vieira lamenting the crushed plastic beer cups and cigarette wrappers tossed into the overgrown grass about the graves.

“You were in the army,” Vieira’s daughter said as they walked. “Did you ever kill anyone?”

 

James Thompson lives in Brazil and works in public relations with his wife. His short fiction has appeared in Critical Quarterly, and, at university, he earned the Quinn Fellowship for Achievement in the Writing of Fiction. Another of his short stories will appear in November in Awakenings.

 

Photo "Injection Time" courtesy of Adam Ciesielski,Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

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