Bourbon Penn 29

52 Hertz

by Jana Bianchi

That’s it, then: another cold night of lukewarm sex. Opa, that mandala right there, is mine. He says, Can I take it back? I nod and the guy excuses himself before scooping his dull, skewed tattoo that, at some skewed point of our dull night, ended up in my ankle.

He excuses himself again and says he’s going to take a shower. He stands up, stretches, and lets out a long sigh, ending with an oof that probably means he thinks there’s something to be said, but is not quite sure what. At the bathroom door, he asks if I want to join him; his effort to make the question sound more than rhetorical is commendable, but I take pity of us both and say no, thanks, just take your time. I pull the white blanket to my chin and stare at the messy nightstand.

Well, what were you expecting? asks the pin-up in my shoulder blade. I snort and arrange myself between the pillows to muffle the lecture I know she’s eager to give me. I mentally review the decisions I took in life to end up with an oblique and sly tattoo who says truths I don’t want to hear, even though I know she’s right.

Oh, and she’s so damn right. I can’t say I was expecting anything better. I left the bar certain the night was over, but the guy pulled me into a warm embrace promptly justified by the cold gust of wind and said, hey, what if we watch a nice movie at my place, huh? I’m still wondering exactly why I accepted it, but I suppose it has something to do with the watercolor gecko that slipped from his hand and sneaked up my jacket sleeve, or maybe with the fact that pretending I was going to someone else’s place to watch a nice movie sounded immediately more interesting than going back alone to my own empty, chilly flat.

My old-style counselor stops muttering against the linens when the guy leaves the bathroom, already in his black boxers. Steam fills the room with the smell of fresh soap, one of those with a French name and extra-fancy-something claim in the package. Hey, look, I found these little ones in me, he says, kind of proud of himself, and points to the four stray letters nestled in his palm. In an automatic gesture, I touch his hand and watch as the N slips down my arm to rejoin one of my several noes, one A runs off with its tail between its legs to rebuild mom’s signature, the D scurries away to complete the word across a banner and the other A circles an already complete book quote, apparently lost. I give it a flick—wake up, girl. It finally notices it’s the only cursive letter among several caps and wobbles in a funny way toward the Latin words where it belongs. Then, the guy smiles and kisses my forehead. He looks pleased now: smelling like pine disinfectant, meticulously cleaned off from every trace of our night.

I take a quick shower, sleep in a series of restless snoozes until dawn, and dress before waking him. He yawns and proposes we have breakfast at the padoca nearby, but I know better and decline.

Although it’s late June, the pin-up sings old Carnaval songs during the whole subway ride, and I know it’s just to annoy me as much as she can. It makes the whale in my forearm feel free to vocalize her deep 52 hertz message at the top of its inky lungs, which makes the mermaids uneasy and the Dalí in my calf even more whimsical than usual.

As soon as I get home, I take a long, warm bath with my own fragrant soap. I check my flowers and foliage and notice they’re all withered and faded, as if they were abandoned in my skin for weeks without seeing a single beam of sunlight. I’ll sunbathe tomorrow, I decide, but I unfortunately say it aloud and São Paulo is such a joykiller: minutes later, thunders announce she has other plans, and the weekend starts to finish rocked by a thunderstorm.

It keeps pouring nonstop until Monday, and I soon realize the city is still in a pretty bad mood: My bus breaks, a stray dog decides to walk along the subway rails, my pass fails, and I end up arriving at work totally soaked and more than one hour late. I change to a dry sweatshirt I keep at my desk and hurry to join a meeting. Did I lose much? I murmur to the dimly lighted room, balancing my coffee on top of my laptop. No, it has just begun, somebody whispers back. When my eyes adjust to the darkness, I notice it’s a man I’ve never seen. I frown as the scuba diver at his left forearm closes his index and thumb in an “OK” that seems too enthusiastic to me.

Along the meeting, I discover he’s the new finance guy. At some point, my attention is drawn to the pi digits circling the pulse of the hand he uses to explore the spreadsheets projected at the wall. He moves the cursor with the small red rubber at the center of the keyboard, which as far as I know is used either by skilled hackers or by people who have no idea of how to use a computer.

I spend the whole week bothered by a persistent allergy in the question mark at the back of my hand. It starts itching when I enter the elevator and find finance guy talking very seriously about cinema with his friends, and I’m not sure if he’s showing off or not (Don’t be stupid, whispers the pin-up, Of course he’s not.). On Wednesday, the rash gets worse when I overhear the name of the cats whose pictures he’s showing to the secretary at the cafeteria: I roll my eyes at Amstel and Budweiser, but he named the black one after dark, sweet Caracu beer—it’s not only cute, but also follows the A, B, C, the pin-up points out, and I need to agree. The next day, at lunchtime, we happen to seat at the same table, with the IT girls. While he spends the whole meal talking about how he feels better since he went veg, I speculate if he really worries about animal welfare or if he’s just the kind of guy who always need to have a hot topic to brag himself about. I give the hash a good scratch.

I’m still not sure what I think about him until I go fetch a report at the printer and find a scene of pure mayhem. It seems finance guy messed up with the configurations, and now the machine is spitting pages after pages with a single widow line of a spreadsheet. You know, humanity has reached the moon, but we didn’t learn yet how to tame a printer, he laughs at himself, reaching to push the cancel button. It’s then my exposed whale sees the scuba diver, and both start to blow streams of excited air bubbles. Me and finance guy just stare as the inky spheres mix up at the half-printed pages, run off between our fingers and spread to take up the entire carpeted floor, which ends up painted with a new bubbly pattern. Oops, I react first, and cover the whale with my sleeve. Our mistake, adds the pin-up, and on our way to my desk we try to understand what the scuba diver was trying to say with his thumb pointing down, down, down, down. It didn’t seem a dislike sign at all.

Friday flies by, and I almost forget about our happy hour night to celebrate the half-year results. I decide to go home first, but traffic is so heavy I change my mind halfway through and manage to arrive only one hour late. When I enter the pizzeria, a new place that tries to look like a very traditional one, I see there’s only one vacant seat—right next to the guy who made my whale go crazy. Hi there, he says. I sit, order a pineapple mint juice, and notice my colleagues are small talking about something I’ve no interest on catching up on. Neither does finance guy, it seems, as he turns back to me and says, wow, it’s so hot in here. I just smirk, surprised he’s already playing the it’s-so-hot/cold-in-here card. I consider saying I forgot something in the car and fleeing, but then he takes his flannel off and I see the jaguar for the first time.

It stretches, languid, spreading its paws beyond the black T-shirt sleeve. Jaguar and man yawn in unison, both exhaling the same boredom I feel, and I find myself thinking well, maybe we can get along, after all.

Hey, the secretary draws his attention, What about the new kitten? The jaguar roars and hides, and the group of people at our corner of the table, formed only by the conjunction of all our delays, engages in a half-drunk discussion about the best name to match Amstel, Budweiser, and Caracu. I delight on how finance guy grins when they propose Skol, Heineken, Stella, and Brahma, but only nods and says good idea, dude, I’ll think about it.

I sip my juice; it’s actually really hot in here. What about Duvel? I suggest, and he turns to look at me. I feel myself blush. Delirium, maybe? Out of the corner of my eye, I see the jaguar sneaking out of his sleeve again, ears up and tongue out, promptly sniffing the air. It seems ready to hunt, and we pretend we don’t see my queen bee going to buzz around the new territory of his skin when I place my hand on his. Maybe, if you like Simpsons, it could be Duff, I add, and I’m pretty sure he can hear the pin-up giggling at my shoulder blade.

Frankly, maybe we can get along, she teases an hour later, while I unbutton his flannel still in the elevator. One of the buttons comes loose, bounces on the beautiful marble floor, and falls through the gap. Through the mirror, right before we leave the elevator amid kisses, I see the big cat raising hackles and whipping its tail, purring so loud our bodies vibrate at the same pace. Be welcome, I pant at the door, taking off my sneakers, and it’s clear by the spark in his eyes he definitely intends to come well.

When he pulls the shirt over my head, a rattlesnake unrolls from his ankle and shoots to climb in the tree that spreads its roots through my leg. Fruits fall from it as I startle, and some of them end up in his skin while others land in mine. All fruits ripen, rot and give origin to tiny sprouts more quickly than I’ve ever seen before. The snake hides in the treetop, now shaken by a trade wind, and its rattle marks our clumsy steps while I push him into the living room. The couch slams against the wall, and I remember how I once dared to worry about what the neighbors could think about me—so, so long ago, years before I brought other voices to inhabit me.

When I kneel before him, the open-winged owl that sustains an eternal pounce across my chest decides to let its guard down, flying to perch on the shoulder of the samurai at the guy’s ribcage. I brace for some spirituous comment from the pin-up, but she’s curiously silent. I understand it all when I look over my shoulder and see she’s too busy winking her painted eyes, making new roses sprout in her hair while she flirts with his Jesus, who walks over tinted waters murmuring feeble amens.

When finance guy kisses the back of my neck, hugging me from behind, the jaguar denies its predator nature and starts to play with my lucky cat, which doesn’t need to wave its paw as we move back and forth. My mermaids mutiny and start fiddling with some knives they find on him, throwing them around at the cadence of our breathing. The diver and the whale delight themselves with the novelty of being able to share confessions at the same frequency, understanding each other as if they were long-term friends, and it doesn’t take much until our colorful carps start swimming together along the stream of black ink that springs from him and pours into me.

Floating in a universe starred by a combination of our written words, an astronaut I hadn’t noticed so far takes her helmet off and shakes her hair in the vacuum, blowing cosmic kisses to my Frida and my Dalí. The painter twists his moustache and the melted clocks at his background make their trick—after a stretched and surreal night, things slowly begin to go back to its place.

The pin-up is still snoring softly when we wake up, past lunch time. I brew some strong coffee and prepare a tapioca crepe while he kisses my neck again. Is it too late to prove it? He asks and kneels to lick the ice cream cone melting at my calf. When he’s done, he places his cold lips on mine and points to his former blackwork bird that now soars above the clouds on my hips.

Do you know what people say, right? One swallow doesn’t make a summer, he whispers in my ear, and shoos a couple other birds from the flock in his shoulder. They tweet and frolic in me while he kisses me once more and puts his flannel on, folding the sleeves with one hand.

I accompany him to the door, and I see a green head poking out beyond the plaid collar when he turns back. The dinosaur who lived in my thigh was one of my preferred tattoos, but I feel a carefree satisfaction when the Jurassic eye winks to me, saying goodbye.

It suits you, I say, you can keep it if you want. I see the guy and the scuba diver smiling a twin coy smile before the elevator door closes with a beep. I go back inside and look at the mirror. Although I didn’t sunbathe as I’d been planning, it seems some of my plants are thriving again.

Jana Bianchi is a Brazilian writer, translator (from English and Spanish to Portuguese) and editor. Besides her novella Lobo de rua (2016), her fiction has appeared, in Portuguese, in several Brazilian collections and magazines. In English, her work has been published or is forthcoming at F&SF, Clarkesworld, Fireside and Strange Horizons, among others. She also attended Clarion West in 2021. Jana lives in the countryside of São Paulo with family, mafagafos, dogs and her many animated tattoos.