Back when Ana Gil could still walk, she avoided it.
“God gives nuts to the toothless,” she said to the people who visited her, and there were still a few. The others reduced their visits until they slid over and out of the frame of her life.
In the month after the accident, unfamiliar people showed up to express their appreciation, ask questions or spy a little. Beside the police officers, church goers and someone from the city hall who praised her officially, a group of untidy, silent guests also walked in. They huddled in the olive-green corner of her otherwise white and black living room. Bruno, her man, sort of, recognized them as colleagues of the boy’s family, artisans from the art fair, who sold straw hats, bamboo panels, and organic soaps, every item a hundred percent natural.
Anna waited, but the boy and his family did not come to see her.
Not long before, on a Saturday, she rode her motorcycle, a Harley Sportster, what else. She was wearing leather and metal although she was only riding to breathe the fresh air along the smaller part of the Lagoa da Conceicao lake in her city, Florianopolis. She was passing the supermarket at the heart of her neighborhood, when the boy, a thin, dark-haired five or six-year-old, crossed the wet road without looking. She braked to a halt. The motorcycle skidded in a perfect circle, and for a moment, while in motion, she thought that nothing bad could happen, not just then when she saved a boy’s life, an unexpected miracle. She even remembered, simultaneously, her planned dinner, spaghetti and wine with a traveler from Bahia she had met that week, but then she hit the road and the wheel broke through her skin to her flesh and bones. Blood washed the road; the pain was cold and shocking. She saw the boy running away as other people ran toward her, and she thought, what a no-good son of a bitch.
It took several men to lift the motorcycle. Someone groaned behind her. She couldn’t believe a simple ride at a reasonable speed turned out more dangerous than much faster rides on highways. More pain kept advancing from the distance. Her thoughts transformed into sounds, releasing the grip of pain for seconds, then cleared again as the boy reappeared at the edge of the circle, gazed at her with wild brown eyes and fled. She passed out.
Two men in white sprayed cool liquid over her head and neck and startled her out of fainting. The face of the waiter from the new Chinese restaurant down that street appeared between theirs as he leaned in and asked if he could call anyone.
“No, no, thanks. I’ll make the calls. But can you take the motorcycle to the restaurant?” she asked. It hurt to speak, although her upper body felt intact.
“No problem. We’ll keep it until you send someone to pick it up,” the waiter said. For some reason, she thought his name was Nicolas Sarkozy. Her fuzzy brain took notes of an ambulance and the smell of fried chicken which might have come from her own body.
She was handled, raised, taken, driven and ordered to avoid all movements, so she lay flat and sticky as a lizard.
Soon, her leather and metal changed to pale blue fabric that was probably named a “gown” by an ironic person, or in the futile hope it would be confused with a luxurious piece of clothing.
Now that she stays in, her black and white kimono, a gift from Bruno from the days of her short pregnancy, stretches over the long metal pins that stick out of her bones like knitting needles.
“I joined clubs for motorcycling, dancing, music, you name it, I’ve been there, so why not a knitting club?” she says to squeeze some laughter out of the visitors, Marisa, a childhood friend, and her husband, and, sitting beside them, two motorcyclists in black, fine young men with whom she slept occasionally. These two seem astonished to find her in such a comfortable house. Finally, Bruno is standing behind them, her Bruno, long-haired and tattooed all over, his eyes like half-peeled pecans.
She tells them how one woman from the diminishing art fair crowd finally asked her whether the police were looking for the boy’s parents.
“His family hasn’t returned to the fair—I don’t know how they sustain themselves,” Bruno says.
His concern irritates her, since she expects the family, at the very least, to bring the boy to see her. But Bruno is one of those who want to save the world, a good-hearted brute who desires to protect the weak, and she loves it. His definition of weakness, however, depends on appearances more than on his rational judgment.
“I told the woman that they wouldn’t have a problem with the police,” she says.
The art fair people kept bringing her flowers that smelled like humid clothes for weeks before they stopped coming by.
She tells the visitors how good it is to take time off from her administrative work, and says she is planning to study French and photography.
“That’s really different from motorcycles and clubbing or free love,” Marisa says in a falsetto that conveys amusement and criticism at the same time.
Bruno sways and glances at Marisa. Ana enjoys the ting of jealousy waking in her, as if it were a tease, a challenge. She wonders if he is able to see that her friend is a beauty at the expense of obvious effort. As a child, she was a little twig with large blue eyes.
Either way, this is one of the last good visits. After a few more, the conversation stops flowing and the jokes become forced. The accident stands between her and her guests like a bully. Only her parents still visit her weekly, and Bruno returns every day although she keeps disappointing him. She wants him and she wants others; even all broken, she is consistent.
Two years earlier, after the miscarriage, a spontaneous bloody business during the sixth month, she distilled her philosophy: if you’re not living fully, you don’t live at all, and if you’re possessive, you’d better get over it.
When he skips one day without letting her know, she realizes that the question of speed: how fast she can get to the bathroom, turn off the oven, answer the door, is at least as important as her politics of love.
He returns a day later, and they kiss as if they didn’t see each other a long time. Then, he arranges his jeans, sits on a pillow with his long legs stretched out, and says he should move in again.
“But we did it for the baby,” she says and pauses with a knot in her throat.
You wouldn’t have to worry about burning down the house or peeing in your pants,” he says with his crooked smile.
She displays her growing arm muscles and the veins splitting like a palm tree around her wounds, a humorous display of strength. “I don’t need saving.”
“Can we live together without limiting our freedom?” she asks. Hardly. He’s like a child holding onto a candy. She almost smiles at the thought because she definitely isn’t sweet.
“You’re so stubborn it kills you,” he says. Someone else might have said, “it kills me,” but he is unique.
Into his pecan eyes she looks, missing him, his body, sex. But he withdraws when she grabs his hand.
“At least I saved one boy,” she says. Does Bruno fault her for losing their own? Does he blame it on her drinking during her pregnancy, as she does?
“Let me know if you need me,” he says. The door closes behind him with a bang.
She can’t tell whether it’s rainy or sunny when she wakes-up in the darkened room. A sliver of sorrow hurts her deep beneath her ribs. It’s the idea of losing Bruno and also the boy, the one she saved, yes, that one.
She is content when her father arrives. He looks tired from the four-hour drive from the village he and her mother retired to. Several years ago they left Florianopolis, the place in which they had constructed a whole life, as if country life was all they ever really wanted. She wonders if she’ll understand it when she reaches their current age.
“Mom sends you a kiss,” he says. “Next time she’ll be strong enough to come.”
“Is she unwell?” she asks nervously.
“No, just the usual. After sixty if you’re not in pain it means you’re dead,” he jokes.
He brews coffee and makes grilled-cheese sandwiches, and as he bends over to place the food on her side of the table, she kisses his wrinkled, warm cheek, noticing the effect of the years. He still looks as strong as a tree trunk, however.
“It takes me ten minutes to get up and reach the window only to check on the weather,” she complains. She still feels like a little girl beside him, but she is already smiling at her own whining.
He raises one thick eyebrow, which means that she shocked him. She has always possessed inner radar for his gestures and facial expressions, a skill of an only child.
“I’m used to moving around quickly, and habits die hard, you know,” she says.
He laughs quietly as if any noise might hurt her. “You’re a strong woman but this new change has been brutal. Let’s see what we can do about the weather.”
She forces a smile, touching a metal pin. “I’ll be totally fine in a year.”
“You need a wheelchair, that’s all.”
“You want me to announce I’m crippled,” she returns rudely. “Damn, I’m sorry,” she says.
“I rented a wheelchair. We can go to the art fair to get blue dolphins, but if you want to stay in…”
“No, no. Of course not. Blue dolphins?”
“They become pink when it’s going to rain and turn blue when it’s dry or sunny because they’re made of something sensitive to humidity. I’ve known the granddaughter of the original manufacturer for years.”
She agrees, hoping that the boy and his family have returned to the art fair. She needs to sense the stuff the boy is made of, find the preciousness over which she’s almost killed herself. Do his parents feel blessed now that they escaped the experience of losing a child? They surely can’t be thinking only about her pressing charges against them, can they?
“Off we go,” her father says. “You know, Aninha, the art of weather dolphins will die with this woman. Nobody else knows the technique or is interested to learn, so we‘d better get going.” He laughs again, louder.
“People vanish,” she says.
“Not always, my girl.” He helps her get into a red leather skirt, and she buttons it over the needles. As he brings the wheelchair from the car, the day becomes rather festive.
Parked safely with the wheelchair at the edge of the crowded fair, waiting for her father to park the car, she notices Bruno playing the marimbu in a capoeira dance circle. His curled toes and thumping fingers are so knowledgeable she finds it hard to believe his wisdom ends there. She absorbs his reassuring presence, that offbeat essence of his, longing for the warmth of that lithe body in the loose white clothes and for his ingenuity. In truth, a variety of partners is only theoretical, right now, but disability is not a good enough reason for monogamy. And what is? She shrugs in the back of her mind, then thinks, maybe children. Responsibility makes people reconsider their values, right? But instead of encouraging her to get pregnant again he said she didn’t have to. He must think she’s utterly selfish, but she did save a boy!
Her father approaches and turns the wheelchair left and right, so they’d look for the dolphin woman. The sky weighs down on the square, heavy with grey clouds.
“Here she is behind that stall with the red sign. I’ll come back in a minute,” he says, adjusting the wheelchair into its former position.
Bruno leaves the capoeira circle, handing the musical instrument to someone else. She turns her gaze to the steps across the fair because something familiar disturbs the horizon. Of course, she knew it! The boy is descending the steps to the road, surrounded by three adults, looking backwards at her.
“Hey!” she cries out.
He says something to the grownups and hurries away as if she would chase after him.
He doesn’t trust her to be merciful a second time. But she will be. To her distress, Bruno appears in his old jeep in front of them, as if he’s going to give them a ride. For heaven’s sake—all she wants is to hold a boy, the boy, in her arms, and then release him. Does Bruno think otherwise?
She tries to ride the wheelchair toward them, but has to unlatch something and she doesn’t know what.
“What’s going on?” her father asks, handing her two pink dolphins the size of her thumbs glued to a stone. “See? It was blue in the morning, she said, but now it’s going to rain so it’s pink.”
She feels the hard material of the dolphins with her fingertips, finds the bodies malleable, clasps and rubs them against her shirt to heat the air around them.
“What are you doing?” her father asks with interest.
She looks up over the dolphins and discovers that the jeep and the family are out of sight. Bruno is gone as well, and it feels definite.
“Wait,” she says.
If the dolphins went back to blue, she would be ready to reverse time.