BARBARIA installment 2
BARBARIA, CHAPTER TWO
After his brother’s departure, Jorge was too agitated to sleep, so spent two hours at the secretary with his English translation of Nietzsche, reading by electric light. As so often happened with his reading, he encountered himself, and in this case his twin brother as well, on the page. The Teutonic aphorisms of Beyond Good and Evil seemed to Jorge an abstraction of his tortured relationship with Raphael.
Since an afternoon under a brilliant sky when Raphael had been raped at the age of six on the bank of the Vera Cruz River, as Jorge watched in horror from his hiding place in the bushes, the boys had come to inhabit opposite worlds. Raphael had rapidly evolved into a warrior of rage. Arrigo, the roasted stallion, was an early victim of that rage, but not the main target. Jorge had always felt himself to be the true object of his brother’s fury, as the only living witness to the boy’s humiliation. What kind of a six-year-old brother, after all, would remain safely concealed and silent, at a time like that? The kind to be tied in a horse stall, and set afire. The assault had never been discussed between them, nor revealed by either child, nor by their thirteen-year-old companion, Theresa, who was also raped.
Jorge muttered to himself while reading, and took notes:
Good and Evil.
Raphael’s morality …
spawned in his heart by the sex organs of his violators …
they annihilated his will … tore it away with his trousers and his child’s sense of power …
since that moment R. defines good and evil by what he needs …
his need to redeem what was lost … personal power … dignity? There is none without power …
and me … what am I? A vessel of shame …
Jorge’s morality ….
Spawned in his heart by the sex organs of his brother’s violators
Nietzsche ….. philosopher of reality … nobility is victory … the way things are …. Hobbesian world … wolves …
more like slinking dogs, snarling over scraps from the dust bin …..
Josiah Royce.. California idealist … the way things could be, should be, might be, if ….
* * *
While Jorge struggled to interpret his world with the help of German philosophy, Lazaro lay naked upon his bed, up two flights, in the arms of a stranger; a stranger much younger than himself, who had already climaxed once, and was eager to go again.
Lazaro had been prolonging foreplay, postponing ecstasy in the manner of a seasoned veteran of debauch, with diminished powers of recovery. But this other fellow had a solid hold with his right hand on Lazaro’s penis, and a muscular lock around his waist with the left arm. Foreplay had apparently come to an end.
The youth was a kindly sort, sprawled on the bed, entangled in the duvet when they had finished, listening to the old man go on about his brother on the second floor, next wing, who was apparently queer also, but reluctant to face the fact.
“A lot of Mariannes in the priesthood, all right. Thought of it myself, for a time,” the fellow said, wanting to contribute. He was an immigrant from Naples, with thick lashes and large teeth, who laughed easily.
“I don’t know much detail,” said Lazaro, “But there was a hint of something in his letters. He was very fond of a certain priest, and mentioned the fellow’s ‘slender and delicate fingers’, as I recall, and something about the man’s soulful eyes and lips. It was the bit about the lips that convinced me.”
“Ah, yes, the lips. If a man talks about another man’s lips, he’s a fairy for certain. You can be sure of it!” exclaimed the Neapolitan.
“Jorge’s mother was a ravishing beauty,” Lazaro went on, “half African, half Indian. A stunning beauty, you know?”
“Oh yes, I know. Like me, of course. Am I not also a stunning beauty, eh?” He released a burst of laughter.
Lazaro moved to a window seat, crossed his legs and, still naked, began to smoke his pipe. Its bowl of embers bloomed in the dark, just enough to illuminate his smile. “I was sixteen when our father brought home his bride, and her mother, from the village of Santa Rita. I was jealous of her, that bride,” Lazaro said, eliciting another jovial outburst from his lover. “Oh, I know. How can a maricon be jealous over a woman, eh?” Lazaro continued, “ Well, I was just a kid, remember. She frightened me, really. And my sisters. We were afraid … with that beauty in the house, our father might cease to notice us.”
“Yes, we ‘stunning beauties’ have such an effect on people. Everybody is always so jealous of us.”
Lazaro grabbed a pillow from the floor and threw it at the youth, and asked, “So what do you think? Shall I ask him about it?” Lazaro said.
“About what? His beautiful mother?”
“No. I mean, should I ask my baby brother if he’s queer?”
The man sat upright on the bed and nearly shouted, “Of course not! No, you cannot talk about something like that with your young brother. Never can you talk about this with your family. No.”
* * *
Jorge’s head was nodding above his book. He poured water in the bedside basin and wiped his face with a cold cloth. He wanted to look over his notes once more, before retiring. He had made a heading and underlined it:
Is it wise to keep this secret for years?
Just R’s secret or mine as well?
These new thinkers…Germans … psychological analysis … open it up!!!
The SUBCONSCIOUS MIND … needs to be opened up … YES OR NO ???
Time to talk to R? … about that day?
That horrible day … unspeakable day … unspoken day …
ask Lazaro? Tell Lazaro what happened?
Betray R. again? Couldn’t stop them …
did I betray him? … because I didn’t come out to get fucked as well?
Thought they were killing him …
would kill me as well …unspeakable … unspoken … fear.
Theresa died … finally …
There was a telephone in the hall outside Jorge’s room. He left his secretary and went to call the hotel desk, to ask about the schedule of Masses at the nearest Catholic church.
“Yes, thank you. First Mass at 6AM. Will you awaken me, then, at five? Thank you.”
The next morning, in a light spring rain, it was still dark when Jorge climbed into a cab and was carried a mile to a towering cathedral of adobe brick. As he had hoped, Jorge found the Sunday morning confessional fully operative, and even at 5:30 in the morning, he was obliged to queue up. He shivered in his raincoat, but not from the cold. This would be the first time he had ever attempted to describe the rape to another person, or even to himself. For most of his life he had lived with the images in his memory, but he had never transcribed the actual event into words. He hoped the priest would not insist upon graphic detail.
In the darkness of the curtained cubicle, Jorge was barely able to make out the confessor’s silhouette behind the grating. The accent was European. French, he thought. An older man, probably in his fifty’s or sixty’s. Jorge recited an obligatory list of transgressions since his last confession, and when the Frenchman asked if there were anything else, Jorge requested some advice.
“Of course, my son, what is it?”
“Years ago, Father, I saw a terrible thing happen to an innocent child.”
“Go on, son.”
“It was a despicable thing, Father, committed by two soldiers against a small boy, six years of age.” Jorge’s whisper was strong, but hesitant. His heart was pounding in his ears, so that he could barely hear his own voice.
“Did you know the boy?”
“Yes, Father, he was … he is … my brother.”
“What was your age at the time, Son?”
“I was also six. We are twins.”
“This thing that you saw the soldiers do to your brother; was it … ah … a sex thing?”
“Yes, Father, it was sexual.” Jorge was on the verge of weeping, but his voice remained strong and he didn’t sob. His nose began to run, however, and he perspired.
“Hmm … sex-u-al, yes. It happened to your twin brother, you say. And you saw … er … everything?”
Jorge paused to wipe his face with a handkerchief, and the priest repeated his question.
“Yes. Everything,” Jorge said.
“What did you do, my son? Did you, er, cry for help? Were there adults about?”
“Just Theresa,” Jorge said.
“Ah,” the priest responded, “And who was this, ah, this Therese?”
“Theresa. She was older. Thirteen. The soldiers raped her as well. They had knives and guns.”
“Ah, that is very sad. Very sad, indeed. Did they, er, hurt you also?”
“No. They didn’t see me. I was hiding.”
“Ah. And later, ah, did you report these men to the proper authorities? Did your parents report them to the police?”
“No, Father. None of us … talked about it. We never told anyone.”
“I see, I see. And this Theresa. That’s a Spanish name, no? She’s a Mexican?”
“She was Mexican, yes. She’s passed away, now. Years ago. She died of pneumonia.”
“How long has it been? How many years?”
“Since Theresa died?”
“No, no. I mean, since the … raping … happened.”
“Almost sixteen years, Father.”
“You said you wanted advice. What advice do you seek?”
“I … I have an older brother. I’m trying to decide if I should tell him what happened. That’s one thing. Also, my twin knows that I saw the attack, but we have never spoken of it. I’m wondering if I ought to talk to him about it now, after all this time.”
The priest remained silent for a few moments, collecting his thoughts, breathing laboriously. Then he spoke, “Under no circumstances, my child, should you say anything to anyone after so much time has passed. My advice to you, as your intermediary before God, is to maintain your silence.”
The priest took a moment to gather his thoughts, then continued,
“In truth, several mortal sins may have been committed, and not just by the soldiers. Perhaps this Mexican girl, Theresa, did something to tantalize or provoke the soldiers, you see? Maybe even your brother, himself, may have done so. You know how children are. And you; perhaps you ought to have interfered in some way to protect … my son, are you there? Eh?”
The priest could hear the sound of the supplicant exiting the confessional. When he was quite sure that the man had indeed departed, he muttered absolution in absentia, making the sign of the cross over the empty space behind the grate, where Jorge had been kneeling.
* * *
The next day, in a light, mid-morning rain, Lazaro and Jorge took a taxi to the train station for the three-hour trip to Vallejo. Most of the expanse of flat land to the southwest of Sacramento was used for growing barley and wheat, and during the first hour of travel they traversed monotonous miles of post-harvest stubble. Before reaching the railroad pass through the coastal hills on the valley’s western edge, however, they entered Vaca Valley, a region of fruit and nut orchards, alfalfa, and hillside vineyards.
“There’s your future home, if you’re so inclined,” said Lazaro, pointing to the northwest acreage. He wiped the steam from their compartment window, and Jorge peered into the distance.
“And what will I do out there among the trees, Hermano? Pick some white man’s apricots?”
“I thought you liked apricots,” said Lazaro.
“It’s the Irish farmers that give me gas,” Jorge grinned, “not to mention Irish lawyers. Why didn’t you take your mother’s name? Sven? At least I’m accustomed to Norwegians in the family.”
“My clients can’t pronounce it,” Lazaro laughed. “Listen, how about the cattle business? Or sheep? Your brothers-in-law are both excellent caballeros.”
“Tell me about my sisters, Lazaro, and about this town of Vallejo. Is that where I am to live?”
Lazaro explained that he and their two sisters, brothers-in-law, nephews and nieces all lived in Vallejo, where Lazaro had his law office. But the sisters wanted to buy some farmland in nearby Vacaville, and live together on a rancho. They had found something suitable, and were hoping to convince Jorge to join them in their enterprise.
“Thanks for the warning,” said Jorge, smiling. “You certainly look the part of a man of means, Brother. And I appreciate all you’ve done for me.”
Lazaro waved off the gratitude. “I’ve been fortunate, that’s all. A lucky capitalist, and the capital came from Father. When our land was seized in Mexico, I was able to liquidate sufficient assets to bring our sisters and their families here. Father had invested in a California manufacturing company years ago, and had provided me with a position on the board of directors. I was able to represent the firm legally, and soon started my own law practice.”
“As Lazarus O’Brien?”
“That’s right. Even a white man is excluded from doing most business in this state, if he’s Mexican, especially among the farmers. But many of the biggest names in mining and banking are Irish Catholic, so I adjusted the spelling a bit, and went after some choice agriculture accounts in the western valley. There was almost no competition at the time. So…”
“So we’re rich?” Jorge said. “You’re shameless, my brother.” He smiled to indicate he was joking, but Lazaro maintained a grave expression.
“No, not entirely,” Lazaro said, nearly mumbling. “But I have found it necessary to keep shame at arm’s length. How about you, little brother? Do you struggle with shame?”
Jorge looked puzzled. “I wasn’t criticizing you. I don’t care what your name is. I was just joking.”
“It’s just that you mentioned shame, Jorge, which happens to be a favorite topic of mine for philosophical discussion,” Lazaro said without smiling. “What do the philosophers say about shame?”
Jorge didn’t answer. He looked away.
“ Mi Hermanito ?”
“Wh..What do you…?”
“If I asked you to tell me about Rome, Jorge,” Lazaro said, “…about why you left the seminary…could you tell me the truth? The entire truth?” The men were sitting in a private, first class compartment that encompassed the width of the train. The cushioned chairs were bolted to the floor. Jorge stood up and walked to the windows on the opposite side of the car. The sun was trying to break through the clouds to the south, with little success. He watched a herd of deer, browsing in an oak grove. After a minute or two, he turned to face Lazaro.
“You mean the gossip? You’ve heard it all the way out here from Rome? And you believe it?”
“No, I’ve heard no gossip from Rome. Not a word,” Lazaro said. He rose, also, placed his hands behind his back, and began to pace the floor with the unsteady rhythm of the train, which was slowly climbing a long, straight incline, and to speak as though he were presenting a legal case to a jury.
“But let us suppose that I had heard some gossip, “Lazaro went on, “ Yes, some gossip of the worst kind; accusations of scandal; of licentious behavior on the part of my dearest brother. Can we suppose it?”
“You can suppose anything you want. Let’s change the subject of conversation, shall we? I’m weary of this topic.” Jorge sat again on a window bench.
Lazaro ignored the request, and continued to pace. “Then let us suppose that a certain world renowned American University had refused admission to my brother, based upon this gossip. If all of those suppositions were true, Jorge, do you think I would be ashamed of my brother?”
“Josiah Royce told you that I’ve been refused at Harvard because of what happened in Rome?”
Lazaro stopped pacing and stood beside the bed. The younger man’s chin fell to his chest. His shoulders slumped. “That was three years ago, Rome,” he said, “There was nothing official. I was assured there would be no record of the accusations in my file. They were even going to let me stay if I wanted. It was my decision to leave. It doesn’t make sense.” Jorge began to shake his head, repeating that it made no sense.
“Jorge, The Professor didn’t mention Rome or scandal or gossip.”
Jorge looked up. “What, then? What are you telling me?”
Lazaro sat down on the bench beside Jorge and leaned against him. “I was just guessing, Jorge. About your problems in Rome.”
“Guessing? How … ?”
“You’ve been living in London for several years, Jorge. Surely you know of Oscar Wilde? ‘The love that dares not say its name?’ Do you know what I am talking about?”
Jorge looked away and said nothing.
“I have decided to make a confession to you, my brother. I am a man who loves men, Jorge,” Lazaro said, “I have guessed that you are the same, that’s all I’m telling you.”
After a full minute of silence, Jorge spoke, “I have more important things on my mind, Lazaro, than my bodily needs. I have decided to keep my attention focused upon things which I deem much more important. I don’t want to discuss the other, and would appreciate it if we could just drop the entire subject.”
Lazaro put his arm around the young man’s shoulders and kissed him on the cheek. “As you wish, Little Brother.”