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The Egotist
Guillermo Román

One of the seagulls stayed motionless on the sand waiting for the company of the others that were fluttering over the seashore. I never fancied birds -- birds always gave me a strange feeling of disgust, but there I was, observing the curious white body with gray folded wings that kept still before the vast Atlantic. The sound of the breaking waves was soft; you could compare the noise to a slow and weak swish. As the waves wobbled back, the thin film of water that remained on the surface produced a flashing reflection of the seagull. When I finally turned to return to the hotel, I saw him walking in my direction, oblivious to my presence. I could have stopped him, but I was afraid to interrupt.


His name was Sal. I met him at The Bar, on 4th Street and 2nd Avenue in New York. I spent that night with him. And the next day. I was immediately attracted to this other Puerto Rican who, like me, had recently moved to New York from San Juan. We even made a date to go to an Art’s Exhibition at the Guggenheim in Soho. He arrived very late and didn’t like the show, a Contemporary Japanese Art compendium. He said it was trivial. He then talked about his paintings and murals, which I never had the opportunity to see.


Sal vanished after a week.


I had not seen Sal until that afternoon at the beach. I was thinking about this when he put his hand on my shoulder as he approached the bar to ask for a drink. I moved aside so that he could speak to the bartender. And when the bottle of beer was served on the counter, I said hello, casually, as to not raise confrontation. I was almost sure his graze had been premeditated, but his empty face proved differently. I then called him by his name. "Sal," I said. "It’s me. øTe acuerdas?" Finally, it came to mind. "Your voice," he said. "Your voice is unmistakable, I remember now. Yes, it’s you."


Yes, it was me. I was surprised by the fact that he remembered my last name. We remained facing each other and this is how we began to talk about the past. He was troubled when we met, his mother had been ill — "Lung cancer," he said. "She died shortly after my return. I live and work here now." He repeated several times that I must have hated him because he had disappeared, but my answer was always the same, I didn’t hate anyone, it was impossible to hate him. He had struck me as a very unusual person, and I have to admit that I spent some time trying to explain his sudden absence. But then, I almost didn’t want to think anymore.


His language was unconstrained, it was easy to understand what he was feeling, what he wanted. "I want to kiss you, and spend the night with you," he said. His dark eyes resembled the eyes of lost people, strong, impenetrable, remote. And in those eyes, there was something missing, as if he were longing for something undefined and obscure, not yet revealed to him. "You don’t know how much I regret not calling you. I was intimidated by your discipline." All this he said, in those words, and I listened with the same generosity as before. It did not signify whether he felt sorry for not calling me or not, or whether I missed him or not, but rather that he wanted me to believe he still felt something for me. He should have known that he didn’t need excuses, I never liked seeing people explaining themselves. One word was enough for me to get the picture, and in one word, too, I usually made my point. I should have told him. Three years passed since I met him. In any case, what relevance could our conversation have?


I was impressed by his low and peremptory voice. It was like before, and it was like that then, in my room at the Atlantic Beach Hotel. His deep voice led to destruction, to a form of grief; he made me feel vulnerable.

"Cover my eyes," he said. "Make sure it’s tight."

"Yes," I said. As I blindfolded him with a black handkerchief, I could smell his perspiration.

"Why did you stay?"

"The big city, I suppose."

"You don’t have to go back to New York." His voice quivered. "Why don’t you stay?"

"I don’t know how to live here anymore."

"Is San Juan too small for you all of the sudden? What, then?"


He was lying on the bed, and I felt anxious, I wished to act upon an uncontrollable desire to afflict his body. I wanted to hit the young bronze body and leave marks of pain, hit that body with the same agony and sadness I had suffered years ago, since he disappeared. I opened his shirt, my fingers moving slowly. I remembered the old sound of a blow on his chest, the first time it almost hurt him too much. Then the other sound, the sound of a whip, hitting his skin. But the red and purplish marks weren’t there anymore; not a print was on his soft skin. I continued opening the shirt. I remembered other marks, other blows, hard, their sounds so hollow. Further down, I saw the opening of his trousers. I pulled them down. His sex was swollen, so hot with blood, so fragile. On top of that skin where I had placed my hands before, in a long strong blow, hitting so hard until he begged for mercy, I saw the first drops of moisture. I embraced his body with affection. I wouldn’t know how to explain. I kissed his lips and wished I could stay there, quietly on top, listening to the lazy sounds of my lover’s slumber.

"I want you to hit me as hard as you can," he commanded.

"Yes," and in my voice I tasted envy.


I heard the first words as the light was beginning to seep through the curtains. "We would make a great pair." Then, he asked me to stay, to spend the rest of the day with him.


You could see a few families in the restaurant on Avenida Ashford, some tourists, maybe nothing. "You kiss like a lover," he said. He was right. I could not resist his face entranced during our lovemaking. His face belonged exclusively to me, and then in our sleep, the feeling of his convalescent hand inside mine. But I didn’t say anything. Words would have shaded the moment and I was afraid I would begin to expect something from him, perhaps too soon. What must be, must be. I looked at the waiters walking busily to satisfy the customers.


"You know you don’t have to go back," he said at last. "You could stay with me."


It was hot that afternoon, so hot you could see the steam with a mixture of saltpeter and dust rising above the streets. We walked together for a while in complete silence, time passing inactively, until we reached his car. Then he sat quietly on the front seat, while from the outside, I admired his profile, sensible and pensive. I remembered the solitary bird I had seen the previous afternoon at the beach. And there I was, Sal’s figure vanishing again, unrecognizable as he drove off, like when I saw the bird flying away to join the others.



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