He stares at her, the weight of a thousand workers on his conscience.
Image by Erin Perfect.
Revolution is once more at hand, notices César, as he carries his tray of drinks toward the beach; a wellspring of tetas casting off the shackles of their oppression. As usual, the agitator is a young woman, blonde of course, breasts perky as dogs’ noses catching a scent, who has decided to sunbathe topless—and within minutes, this one simple act of sedition has prompted several more around her, furtive glances becoming furtive unhookings becoming full-blown sheddings of bikini tops. By the time César has emptied his tray, half the women on the beach are lying with their chests exposed.
This happens once or twice a year, probably, and each time César wonders why. Is it jealousy? Are the copycats daring their husbands—for they always have husbands—to lust beyond the single bosom permitted them by matrimony? Hoping, perhaps, to rekindle some lost conjugal ardor? Or do they simply assume new license here, witnessing the moment’s provocateur, to indulge some longstanding curiosity? To shake free of their bourgeois American norms and bare everything, far from their co-workers and families and any possibility of rebuke?
As he’s mused on this in the past, César has sometimes been accused of ogling, mostly by the same husbands—their own, over-tanned torsos like turkeys fresh from the oven—who can’t help leering around the beach themselves. But César isn’t interested, whether in pert young tits or the old ones spread out like fried eggs. The objectification of women’s bodies, he reminds himself, is the new crutch of the ruling class, these commodified breasts and asses and legs mere pornographic opiates, forestalling protest. And after all these years of waiting, he owes it to himself not to lose focus.
Hard not to stare a little, though, at the show this firebrand is putting on, slathering sunscreen in slow, undulating motions, her back arched and lips slightly parted, the bottle clutched high between her thighs. Moving from cabana to cabana, César hears the whispers of scandalized reproach. Does she not realize she’s in public? Who’s she trying to impress? Or else, among the terracotta bachelor party armies, drunk already at 11 a.m. even on the resort’s watered-down draft beer: Why can’t all women be like that? Welcome to marriage, buddy. This is what you’re missing out on.
César leaves her for as long as he can, hoping that in the meantime some meathead capitalist boyfriend will appear having visited the bar himself. When half an hour later she is still alone and he has no choice but to approach, he fixates on her giant, Lolita sunglasses, determined not to let his gaze wander. “A drink, señorita? Daiquiri? Piña colada?”
She sighs heavily. Without turning her head she asks for a Pacifico.
“And something else? You will have a companion?”
“No.” Now she looks up at him. “I won’t.”
“Bueno,” he replies, and scuttles away.
By the afternoon, the whole resort is talking about her. Not content with lying topless at her cabana, as her predecessors mostly have, she has paraded down the beach, has emerged from the ocean tossing water from her hair, has massaged the salt from her haunches in the open shower by the pool. When César didn’t refill her drink fast enough, she approached the bar herself, those engines of insurgence glistening with sweat. And there’s more, too: after lunch, loading up his tray at the bar, César overhears one man tell another that he’d stood behind her during check in, where she’d told the front desk that no, her husband wouldn’t be joining her after all. Who would let her get away? the second man laughs. And: if she’s lonely, I’ll help! By the time César leaves for the day the place is practically orgiastic, not a covered breast in sight and the men all but screeching in their troupes. Meanwhile, their leader just keeps on poaching in the sun, draped over her lounger and oblivious, apparently, to everything.
Jimena is knotting the ties on her apron when she hears the front door. She checks the alarm clock by the bed. 3:30; he’s early. This, she knows, can mean one of two things: either the beach was quiet and César was cut—unlikely, she thinks, at the height of the season—or else he asked Luis to fake his punch-out and snuck home to spend some time with her. (Jimena works as a night maid at the same resort, undoing the day’s debauchery while the guests are at dinner, so she and César would hardly see each other if one of them didn’t cheat on their timekeeping occasionally.) Except they hadn’t planned to overlap today, so as his keys clatter against the entry table and he lets out a long, loud yawn, she looks to the cracked bedroom door, apron strings still hovering mid-knot, and wonders what might have happened.
“My brave little Marxist,” she will coo, knowing that her own, modest attempts at domestic revolution will as usual come to nothing, and softening in spite of it.
Rarely a week has gone by, in César’s years at the resort, when some drunk or imperious tourist hasn’t sent him home in a rage one afternoon—and ever since Jimena was let go from the supermarket and started there herself, she has been less and less sure why he puts up with it. Having seen firsthand the morons they have working in Entertainment, and even on the front desk, it seems clear he could get promoted in a second; his English is certainly good enough, and he has a charming way about him when he wants to. But whenever she brings it up, he replies that the job is only a stopgap, a means to earn money for the move, and that besides, promotions are just an employers’ trick to harness the ego, piling on responsibility without commensurate award, when what he really should be doing is showing solidarity with his fellow workers. And although he admits, when she occasionally presses the issue, that his fellow workers would likely drop him in a second if their positions were reversed, well, so what? Two wrongs don’t make a right. The best revolutionaries ought lead by example.
“My brave little Marxist,” she will coo, knowing that her own, modest attempts at domestic revolution will as usual come to nothing, and softening in spite of it. One of the few books César owns is a biography of Chavez, the farmworkers’ unionist, and their shared first name is not lost on him; he dreams of being this century’s Chavez, of finding a new underclass he can rally against American oppression, and until he makes it to the US, he is determined to use his time in Cancún as valuable practice. A dress-rehearsal for the real struggle.
Still frozen on the spot now, she calls out his name. Yes, he says. He’s home. Then the bathroom door shuts and the toilet seat clunks up, and at last, she finishes tying her apron.
César has been waiting to join his family in America since he was twenty-two, when his parents took his younger brother and left without him, promising to send for César as soon as they could. They had no choice, he says. They wanted to emigrate legally, to be able to vote and pay taxes and go to hospital without fear of deportation. And while he may well scoff these days at such a bourgeois ideal of “normal life,” Jimena knows he will never fault them for embracing it—because imagining them as mindless slaves to the prevailing ideology is less painful than admitting them any agency. At least this way, he need never wonder why they left him behind, why instead—after they waited years to find a US sponsor for his father, only to be told upon approval that César had “aged out,” passing twenty-one and some arbitrary line of independence—they simply accepted it, shuttling him into another years-long wait of his own, no longer their son but only an “unmarried, adult relative.”
Jimena had been going with him for a few months back then, and she still remembers how black his mood the day he dropped them off at the airport, how he’d come home afterwards, his expression absent tears but clearly built for them, and surveyed the boxes he’d moved into her living room. How he’d stared at all his belongings for a moment, as if unsure what he’d come in for, and then dropped to his knees and started railing on the couch, sobbing and kicking and beating and yelling until he was too exhausted to do anything but sit there.
To their credit, his parents visited often, and still do, flashing their green cards around like they’ve won the lottery, bringing bagloads of American clothes and food and gifts, and showing off pictures of their improbably large foreclosure house in the Houston suburbs, another casualty of the bizarre American love affair with debt. Yet increasingly all that only makes César more miserable. It’s like watching a telenovela of his family, he tells Jimena, all of them grotesque stereotypes of themselves, every day buying into—literally—the same Yankee imperialist capitalism against which César inveighs so regularly. Even his younger brother is not immune, twenty-two himself now and living in San Francisco, a photographer’s assistant to his (cough) boyfriend—a peculiar aging out all his own.
Down the hall, the toilet flushes, and Jimena turns to face the bedroom door.
Now closing in on thirty, César is well past the halfway mark on the waiting list. Another two or three years—fewer, if he’s lucky—and his green card will finally materialize. Jimena worries, though, that reuniting with his family after all this time will only be a painful victory, driving deeper the wedge forced between them by the border. Yes, he’s still counting down, still idling in this job he hates and saving money for the move, but she gets the sense its purely out of habit now, a holdover from those first few months without them. Soon enough he’d found the party and his whole worldview seemed to change, and now she can’t imagine him being happy in the life his parents expect of him, forced to abandon the politics they hate and railroaded into some safe career he doesn’t really want. Simply living in America is no longer sufficiently aspirational.
Of course, she also has her own, selfish reasons to be ambivalent about his leaving, because when he goes he won’t be able to take Jimena with him, not at first, even if they marry. If they marry, in fact, thanks to the relevant, knotty plank of the law, he’ll no longer be eligible to go himself, either—which is the only reason, he insists, that they still haven’t done it after all these years. She can appreciate the logic. But she also knows that all those legal options involve more years of waiting for her, and is there any point in joining him in America if they’re both close to forty and have lived less time together than apart?
At last, he enters the bedroom, and quickly the reason for his surprise return home becomes clear: without saying anything, he’s in front of her, kissing her neck, his fingers returning hers to the knot behind her back and then to the zipper on her dress. As she tells him welcome home, shaking loose of the starched heap at her feet, he is already picking her up and carrying her to the bed and rolling off her underwear, and soon they’re making that confused, lonely love of which she has lately grown so wary.
She drives to work afterwards wishing she’d rinsed off in the shower, but once she arrives and sees her assignment for the day she’s glad she didn’t bother; it’s the 300-wing tonight, the couples’ suites, so she’ll probably want another shower later anyway. She’s found chocolate-covered sheets there before, and blood stained-ones, sheets with dildos tangled up and forgotten in the folds, greasy room service plates around the bed like landmines and half-full piña colada glasses everywhere, sticky-rimmed or knocked over or with cockroaches marooned at the bottom of the bulb. And just when she’s wrestled one room back into some kind of order, she’ll step next door and the fight will begin again.
Thankfully, her first two suites today are relatively straightforward; the worst she finds is a slimy cake of semen and pubic hair caught in a shower drain. The third, however, is a classic disaster, and by the time she leaves, after nearly an hour of scrubbing and changing sofa covers, she’s cursing under her breath and glancing at her watch. When she stops outside the fourth door she’s annoyed to find no sign on the handle requesting or declining service, so she knocks a little too aggressively, tapping her foot as she waits for a reply.
“Pase,” says a female voice inside, and Jimena rolls her eyes, waving her keycard and preparing for a faltering, pidgin discussion about the weather. Instead she finds a leggy blonde wearing nothing but string-tied bikini bottoms, which she’s edging down with her thumbs as she angles her hip toward the room’s full-length mirror. Jimena raises her hand to block the sight. “Sorry,” she says, in English. She takes a step back. “I will come back later.”
“Can you see a tan line?” the woman asks in Spanish, her accent quite passable even as she slurs her words. “I was trying to move this around but there’s only so much you can do, you know?” On the vanity beside her is a crowd of empty bottles, one knocked over and the rest gathered round it, as if for a funeral.
Jimena takes another step back. “I will put the do not disturb sign on your door. You can remove when you go for dinner.”
“No, no,” says the woman, still staring at herself in the mirror, speaking English now as if she had been all along. “Work around me. I’m about to get in the shower anyway.” Without warning she pulls the ties on her bikini bottoms and they fall to the floor, and then she sways past Jimena and into the bathroom, a haze of sunscreen and aloe and sweat and liquor, as if nobody else were there. Jimena wavers, annoyed at the woman’s presumptuousness and loath to let her have her way—but as the pipes creak and the shower starts, she looks at her watch again, and decides she might as well get to work. She won’t have time to come back later anyway.
Easing the closet door shut behind her, she squints into the safe, not yet touching a thing.
The bed absorbs most of her frustration, the sheets furiously snapped flat and all but punched beneath the edges of the mattress. No stains or sex toys in this bed—it’s eerily clean and neat, in fact—but on the floor by the couch she still finds the requisite room service, barely touched, and by the balcony hot tub another spinney of bottles, this one beside a sundress in a crumpled heap. She deposits the trash and dishes in a snug by the door, for collection later, then shakes out the sundress and takes it to the room’s small walk-in closet in search of a hanger. When she switches on the light, she realizes that the safe there is wide open.
She hesitates; listens. The shower is still running.
Easing the closet door shut behind her, she squints into the safe, not yet touching a thing. There is a wad of dollars, and a cell phone, and a small, orange bottle of prescription pills, around which is wrapped one of the bright plastic telephone-cord key ring bracelets that Jimena uses herself. There is a passport, which Jimena picks up and opens, overcome by curiosity, greeted by the woman’s formerly plumper face and date of birth—only a few months off Jimena’s own. And beneath all that is a single sheet of paper, printed with some official seal. It’s a marriage license, she realizes, sliding it out, dated just a week before, the name from the passport typed on one side and a man’s on the other. But there are no signatures against either, no stamps or validations. The space for the officiant’s details is blank.
Jimena scans further down the page, taking in the woman’s address and place of birth, her father’s name, her mother’s. And here she stops, because seeing the parents’ names feels more transgressive, somehow, than anything else she’s done so far. Carefully she replaces the page in the safe, rearranging the objects on top to appear undisturbed, and then emerges from the closet looking once more, anxiously, at her watch. She’s fallen even further behind on her rounds now and yet she seems unable to move, stuck there staring at the bed, and the minibar, and the gauze curtain reaching for the sky through the open patio door. When at last she hurries out, it’s only because she hears the shower shut off and a faint sob in the lull, and is afraid of what else she might discover if she stays a second more.
The next morning César leaves the house earlier than usual and heads for the library, parking in its mostly empty lot and standing patiently outside its still-locked doors. By the time the weary janitor lets him in a small queue has formed, who all follow him toward the two sluggish computers in the reading room—where he sits down at his lucky one (the left, naturally) and loads up the State Department’s website. Today is the first of the month, when the new visa bulletin is published, and he’s heard a rumor at work that movement is expected in the family tables for Mexico. He’s not really expecting his number to be current yet, but a few months closer: that would be nice.
Yet as usual, when he scrolls up to the relevant table, having first scrolled past it in haste, there’s no change. Not even a few days. He sighs and kills the browser, staring at the lewd desktop picture some unruly teenager has set—a woman naked but for the American flag—until another man behind him clears his throat. After that César wanders into the stacks, taking a meandering route through Gastronomy and Telematic Engineering and Tourism, as if he doesn’t know he’ll eventually end up in Political Science, pulling Marx and Engels from the shelf and reading their incendiary lullabies.
He found the party quickly, once his parents left, or rather the party found him—in this very library in fact, as he stormed out after another dispiriting check-up on the visa bulletin. Not watching where he was going, he’d barreled straight into a stocky man with a linen blazer and a black, terrycloth beard, who was carrying a stack of pamphlets that promptly went flying. César apologized and squatted down to help gather them up, and when they were done the man winked and told César to keep a copy for himself. LA REVOLUCION DEPENDE DE TI, the cover read, giant red caps above a man in coveralls, Mexican flag billowing behind him. César smiled uncomfortably, remembering how often growing up he’d listened to his parents ridicule the communists. “Thank you,” he said. I don’t need one.”
The bearded man let out an enormous laugh, a revolution itself in the library’s tranquil foyer. “Nobody thinks they need Marx, comrade. That’s the problem! Come, walk with me—or are you rushing home to disappoint someone else with the visa bulletin too? Yes, yes. Spend enough time here and you start to work things out.” Before César could process what was happening they were in front of the Marx shelves, and the man was pressing César’s fingers around a primer. “Read it,” he said, scribbling an address on the back of a pamphlet and placing that on top of the book. “And this. We meet the first Monday of every month. My name’s Raul.”
César had been dubious—Jimena too, judging from her pointed silence when she spotted the book by their bed—but he tore through the whole thing in a single weekend, and after his first meeting there was no going back. Never mind that most of the other attendees looked old enough to have read the Manifesto in its first edition; César was exhilarated just to feel part of something again, sitting there in Raul’s living room in Porto Juarez, as if the gap left by his family’s departure was finally beginning to close. Not that there was anything wrong with the new apartment he and Jimena had taken together, shedding her old roommates, and if he wasn’t absolutely sure he loved her at the time then he’d certainly grown to now. But his relationship with her seemed never quite familial, somehow, their love undeniable but their companionship stilted, beneath the weight of each one’s expectations.
As with so much about his life, he soon discovered that Marx and Engels had foreseen this too, his occasional, alien feeling on coming home to her. Romantic love isn’t natural in the least, wrote Engels, at least not the way most people conceive of it; we seek lifelong companions not out of any spiritual connection but because the hegemon requires it, co-opting fugitive desire in the service of capital, reducing to a template emotion’s messy sprawl. And what better economic engine! In goes infatuation, out comes Marriage, and while the workers toil, smitten, someone reaps a profit.
Marx and Engels both married anyway, of course, fully cognizant of the institution’s flaws—and so will César one day, he’s sure, in that same, enlightened frame of mind. Indeed, for years he’s assumed he’ll marry Jimena, a decision that seems so unremarkable now he can’t remember a time it was still waiting to be made. His continued resistance to the rite itself, he’s always said, is only down to those onerous immigration rules. He loves Jimena, and he does want to spend his life with her, but they’re doing that already anyway; a few arbitrary words and a piece of paper won’t change anything, except to sabotage their best chance of getting to America. Though as he thumbs through Das Kapital today, eyes glazing over, thinking back to the blonde woman on the beach, he wonders—not for the first time—whether his pending green card is only a convenient excuse, whether he’s hesitating over marriage not out of any practical concern but because he too has been successfully indoctrinated with the consumerist lust for variety, and because he still wonders, on some level, if he could find someone better.
When he arrives on the beach, she’s in the same spot as yesterday, an even tinier thong brief broadcasting her buttocks to the world and her breasts once again unfettered—and once again, too, the whole beach is following her example. Even those women who have so far worn nothing more immodest than a t-shirt have today dug out their bikinis, most likely packed at their husbands’ request and with no intent of donning them (or doffing them, now) in public. Meanwhile, those with only expansive one-pieces in the suitcase have taken to awkwardly pulling down the straps, rolling the material to their midsections where it bunches up like a second layer of fat. And for what? Still the firebrand in their midst draws everyone’s attention. For nearly an hour around lunch, she sits up to read a magazine, legs crossed yogi-style, and positioned thus the smaller thong stretched taut leaves almost nothing to the imagination. One guest actually complains about it to César, who is sweating over what to do when finally, to his relief, she lies back down.
When he drops it off a few minutes later, she stares at him—or so he thinks, though behind those giant sunglasses it’s impossible to tell—and asks whether the resort has a rule against sunbathing nude.
The staff are gossiping now, too, and not just about the exhibitionist binge-drinking on the beach; according to Luis, her behavior elsewhere has been no better, wobbling back to her room still topless in the afternoon, defying people to look elsewhere, then appearing for dinner and breakfast in nearly non-existent sundresses—Luis is convinced one of them was a negligee—and ordering expensive surcharge dishes, hiccuping, before leaving them mostly untouched. And of course, there’s her Romance Suite, where she’s already cleared out the mini bar despite its being amply stocked for two. (Luis’s friend in security swears he saw her leaving one of the resort’s bars the previous evening with a bachelor party guest-of-honor in tow, his entourage hooting after them, so it’s possible she didn’t drink everything herself. César isn’t sure which would be worse.)
Today she takes lunch at the pizza stand by the bar, then returns to her lounger and motions to César with an empty bottle, for what must be her seventh or eighth Pacifico of the day. When he drops it off a few minutes later, she stares at him—or so he thinks, though behind those giant sunglasses it’s impossible to tell—and asks whether the resort has a rule against sunbathing nude.
He pauses. “No.”
“So how come all these old crones keep giving me such dirty looks?” She moves her hand to her chest as if to cover it, but when she draws it away again she does so slowly, fingertips lingering and César’s heartbeat speeding up. “Am I repulsive to look at or something?”
He gives her a blank grin, head turning from side-to-side as if worried he’s about to be knocked over. “Ah… No sé.”
“Solo quería relajarme,” she says: I just wanted to let my hair down. And then, still in Spanish, she asks where she can go to have fun that night.
“We have a nightclub,” César replies, beckoning behind her to where the resort’s musty dancehall occupies an outbuilding. It’s the recommendation he’s supposed to give to all the guests, though he’d struggle to justify it. Most of their clientele are older, here precisely to avoid the infamous spring break hotspots of Cancún proper—and that’s where the younger guests and bachelor parties all want to go at night anyway, so the dancehall here rarely has much atmosphere. The main attraction this month is a Michael Jackson impersonator who lip-syncs in whiteface to the back catalog. (The rights are cheaper.)
The woman laughs. “I tried that dump yesterday. Where can I go in town? Where would you go?” Her hand is still on her breast.
César tries to imagine this woman in the old bars he went to in his teens, long before Luis convinced him to take the job at the resort, long before he met Jimena, back when his future in America was still assured. He wonders what would have happened if someone like her had turned up in one of them, drunk as she is now; remembers the time he fingered a girl in the alley out back, her tank top pulled down like the one-pieces all around him, how simple it seemed to make such ridiculous, snap decisions back then. He’s getting an uncomfortable, pre-erection tingle, so he clears his throat and points toward the main building. “Ask the concierge,” he says. “No sé.”
“Ugh,” she says, lifting her hand at last, waving him away as if he weren’t already trying to leave. “You’re useless.” As he starts toward the next cabana he thinks he hears her say something else, but when he looks back, those giant sunglasses still reveal nothing.
The next day, Monday, César and Jimena are both off work, one of the scheduling miracles that comes around only once or twice a month. It begins about the same as usual: Jimena sleeps soundly, having arrived home late the night before, and wakes around nine to find the sun warming her feet and the bed empty beside her. She gets up and shakes on a robe, following the smell of coffee and hot griddle to where César is sitting at their cracked kitchen table, an old piece of patio furniture that bows inward when leaned on too heavily. His tattered, highlighted copy of the Chavez biography is open in front of him.
Most days, at this point, she would walk behind his chair and lean over to hug him, chin perched on his shoulder, her strategically loose robe soon falling open and the two of them stumbling back to bed. Today, though, she goes straight to the percolator and pours herself a cup of coffee from the stained carafe. When she got to work last night she heard from one of the day maids that César had been spotted on the beach talking to the gringa everyone’s so obsessed with. Jimena doesn’t actually believe he would cheat on her, especially not with a guest—and she retains a niggling sympathy for the woman, too, whose secrets she has kept despite several opportunities to pass on the salacious contents of the safe—but she hates that instead, Cesar has made them the victims of the resort’s perennial rumor mill. (It was already bad enough hearing the constant stories about why they’ve “really” failed to marry.) Plus she couldn’t help but wonder, suddenly, whether it was the American woman who’d prompted his surprise visit home the other day, if he’d been inflamed not by the thought of Jimena but of his playmate on the beach. So she says little as she fetches breakfast today: Good morning. How did you sleep? Bueno. When she sits down he glances at her robe’s opening and she pulls it shut, taking a small pleasure in denying him. Let him settle for staring at her, too.
He takes the hint, closing his book with a sigh and asking when she wants to leave. With so few shared days off, they always have a backlog of errands to work through, and today that includes a visit to Jimena’s parents’, where César has promised to repair a crooked shutter, as well as a trip to the supermarket and a much-delayed appointment to renew the tenencia on the car. And while normally, after that, they would have dinner together, just the two of them, even if a simple plate of rice and beans on the couch, when she asks him what he wants to eat tonight he flushes and says apologetically that he’s got dinner with Raul on the calendar, planned long before he and Jimena knew their shifts. He offers to cancel, painful in his insincerity, and she huffs—feeling herself do it, the exaggerated body language, knowing she should be the bigger person but not quite able to follow through—and says no, it’s fine, they can go.
She perks up a little when they get to her parents’, whom César charms as effortlessly as usual, explaining the Hegelian dialectic to her father and wolf-whistling whenever her mother appears to refill their lemonades. (For some reason it’s these tender ministrations to her family that make Jimena most certain about his love for her.) But after they’ve spent an hour at the tenencia office, and bickered over the cost of tomatoes in the supermarket, and Jimena has finally guided him across the lot, to a furniture showroom and a simple wooden dining set to replace their kitchen table, he has lost that brief sheen again. They could pay the whole thing off in three months if they skimped elsewhere, without even touching his savings for America, but she knows he feels guilty having those savings at all, his labor made willfully inert in currency while others starve and struggle around the country—so he overcompensates by never buying anything, enforcing artificial struggle on himself. When they get back to the car, he looks at her across the rusting roof and says more or less what she expected: “It’s a fine table. But we should keep looking to see if we can find a better price.”
She doesn’t reply.
“Though, anyway,” he adds, “do we really need a new table?”
She slams her hand against the top of the car, and it emits a tinny wobble. “César! Yes! You can’t even put a heavy plate on ours!”
“But you might be leaving in a few years anyway, so let’s see if you escape before it’s really your problem?”
He stares at her, the weight of a thousand workers on his conscience, she is sure, except for the two standing right here, glaring at each other in the parking lot. “We should go,” he says, quietly. “We’ll be late for dinner.” After that he says nothing for the whole ride home, or through their brief stop to change clothes and drop off the groceries, and when finally he mumbles an apology, on the road to Porto Juarez, it’s hardly worth the breath that carries it, followed as it is by the request that she please not embarrass him in front of Raul. Raul, Jimena thinks, as she acidly tells César not to worry, whose biggest nod to Marx is his plumpness! And why doesn’t César care about all his mentor’s nice things, she wonders, as Raul’s wife Mariana ushers them into the well-apportioned library, or as they sit down later at the handsome, sturdy wooden dining table?
“Oh yes,” Mariana purrs, when Jimena complains about it afterward, the two women washing dishes while the men continue talking in the living room. “Equality for all, but I’m most important! The guiding principal of Marxists everywhere.”
“I’m just tired of waiting,” says Jimena. “We could have a nice life here if he would just give it a chance.”
“Ah, but mi esposita!” Mariana squats slightly, puffing out her cheeks and dropping her voice to Raul’s baritone. “You are part of the problem, don’t you see? It is your weak desire for a nice life, full of material things, that supports the evil capitalists’ status quo! Why can’t you be happy with social justice, like I am?”
She’s picturing herself, still fishing slime from shower drains while César conquers America and her own visa sits in limbo.
Jimena laughs, politely at first and then, as it takes hold, with her whole body, until she’s leaning half-doubled over against the counter. When she recovers her composure, Mariana is staring, her expression suddenly serious. “He really does love you, though,” she says, nodding. “You must see that. It won’t always be like this.”
Wiping a tear from her eye, Jimena replies that yes, of course, she knows. But then she’s picturing César twenty years from now, in one of Raul’s linen blazers and with a beard of his own, still parroting the same sclerotic bromides; she’s picturing herself, still fishing slime from shower drains while César conquers America and her own visa sits in limbo; she’s picturing both of them, married, unhappy, divorced, all without leaving Cancún, Jimena moving back with her parents while César takes refuge on Luis’s couch. Mariana’s right, César does love Jimena, and she loves him, and they may not be stuck in this life forever—and later, in the car, she will begrudgingly picture them together in America too, victorious, in their own Texas foreclosure maybe, with a pool, the two of them looking on proudly as their kids practice laps—but there’s no guarantee, she realizes, that even the best alternative will be good enough.
Back on the beach the next morning, making his way from drunk to morning drunk, César once more avoids the blonde woman for as long as he possibly can. Even when she tries to catch his eye he studiously unsees her until she gives up and visits the bar herself, swaying back to her cabana with a giant margarita in each hand.
“The thing about Marx,” Raul had told him the night before, a reassuring hand on César’s shoulder as the women laughed in the kitchen, “is that he was as bad as the rest of them. He dressed his daughters in fancy clothes, and kept up lines of credit everywhere, and as soon as he could afford it he bought a big house in the suburbs and moved his whole family out there. The man was relentlessly bourgeois. Dio, he even sent his kids to private piano lessons.”
César squirmed in his seat. “They were different times.”
“Por sopuesto! They were better times, for intellectuals like us. But the point is, Marxism isn’t a lifestyle—it’s an ideal. No matter how deeply you believe in it, you’re still going to want things sometimes, just as the man himself did. That doesn’t mean you can’t still strive for communism and equality. It doesn’t even mean you shouldn’t allow yourself a few comforts, occasionally.” He leaned closer. “Marx had an illegitimate son, did you know? They leave it out of a lot of the biographies. Knocked up the housekeeper, let Engels take the blame. Not his finest hour. But look how much he still gave the world! Look how much he taught us.” He gave César’s shoulder one last squeeze and then removed his hand, leaning back in his chair. “You know, I sometimes wonder if Marx would have written anything, knowing what we do now about biology and desire. But it’s like I said: his ideal is the important part. His philosophy. The trying to do better, the knowing when you’ve compromised.” He winked. “So buy your wife a damn table already.”
Looking up from where his gaze had dropped to the edge of Raul’s rug, César mumbled that Jimena wasn’t his wife, not yet—the only thing he knew for sure that Raul had gotten wrong.
Raul laughed. “All the more reason to spoil her!”
And before César could say anything more, the women had reappeared, and they’d all played cards a while, and finally he and Jimena had started home, in silence again but this time not so much acrimonious as thoughtful, a lurking sense of relief threatening to emerge. At home he apologized to her properly, or thought he did, though when later his fingers pitter-pattered toward her nightgown’s hem she turned away, so instead he lay awake—replaying his conversation with the woman on the beach and wondering how far he could have gone with her; replaying his conversation with Raul and wondering if a slip like that would have been forgivable; replaying his conversation with himself in the library and wondering whether all his uncomfortable lust this week said anything, really, about his conscience or dedication to the cause or Jimena or anything else. By the time his alarm went off, the streaks of light on the wall looked unfamiliar, though he couldn’t remember resting, and in another blink he was carrying a tray of drinks across the sand again, his eyelids dry and heavy.
When he finally reaches the blonde woman’s cabana, the two margarita glasses are already empty, crooked in the sand beside her. “Buenas dias,” he says, fixating on his tiny, twin reflections in her sunglasses.
She doesn’t respond.
“Another margarita? Pacifico?” He smiles, but still she says nothing.
He allows himself to look downward—just to check she’s still breathing, he tells himself, though when she is, shallowly, his eyes linger anyway, taking in at last that exquisite, dissident bosom. As he kneels to collect the empty glasses, he imagines laying her down in one of the resort’s giant beds, kissing the parabens from her nipples as he eases into her, her arched back a cloth draped over his arm. He wonders how much good he would have to do, in Raul’s calculus, to cancel out that indiscretion—wonders what his final tally would be, for that matter, if instead he did all the good on its own, or if he did none, if he left Jimena behind and forgot about her or if he married her now, regulations be damned, and figured out some other plan to get to America. Because in a week the blonde woman will be gone, he knows, the beach back to normal, the bikini base and superstructure reasserting their iron rule while he keeps on delivering drinks. He’s wasted so much time interpreting the world already, he thinks, shaking the woman gently now, asking more loudly if she’s okay, a few other guests turning their heads and drawing arms across chests, as if twigging to some cruel practical joke. But the point, after all, is to change it.
Andrew Ladd’s debut novel, What Ends, won the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ 2012 Prize in the Novel and was a finalist for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award. His short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and has appeared (or is forthcoming) in the Kenyon Review, Cimarron Review, Apalachee Review, CICADA, and Epiphany, among others. He grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland, and has since lived in Boston, Montreal, and New York; currently he lives in London with his wife and son.