This story was a runner-up of the 2018 Fall Writing Contest sponsored by Short Fiction Break.
I’m not an unprincipled man. But he just kept wearing me down. Like he was dismantling a monument, brick by brick.
I was in the Dominican Republic doing work for my dissertation. This was in 2003 when the peso plummeted like a rock, but I loved struggling, lively Santo Domingo. I was working with gay male prostitutes – bugarrones as they were called – interviewing and following thirty of them. They came from nothing, and paying them for research didn’t trouble me.
Anyway, one of the bugarrones stood out to me. His name was Marcos. At first I thought he was just an interesting guy. And you couldn’t help but notice his physique, as ripped as the sinews of a stallion. He lifted his shirt one day and showed me. I told him I couldn’t be intimate with anyone in my project or it would taint the research. He sighed and said my Spanish sounded like a native.
Then he took me to the Malecón to see the ocean. Came to an interview with a crucifix for me, which he said he had blessed at the oldest cathedral in the Americas.
Finally, he showed up at my apartment in Bello Campo, and we fucked, standing up. I liked his indio straight black hair, his mocha, hairless skin, his breath which smelled like basil. I said we cannot tell anyone, or the other bugarrones will think I’ve become your client. For the next month or so, we had sex almost every day, even in the blackouts when it was sweltering.
As time went on I watched him. Things seemed to fix themselves under his fine hands. When he cooked he was very precise with his measurements, and nothing ever burned or boiled over. When he made love to me, he was silent, and his hands were reverent and shaping, like he was cupping water.
Those same hands once beat the shit out of another bugarrón right in front of me – the guy had been guilty of propositioning me – and when I finally looked up, my head in my hands, Marcos’ expression was deadpan, the only evidence of a fight being heavier breathing.
He had a friend, a fellow bugarrón named Rafa, the only man he seemed to have anything like a friendship with. Rafa began hanging out with us, and I went along with it because I realized I didn’t know what might piss Marcos off. But light-skinned Rafa, with his goatee and narrow face, was an unknown entity to me. Finally I complained to Marcos.
“Your Spanish sounds like it’s racing a train,” he said. “No te preocupes. You worry too much.”
“Yes, I worry. He’s beginning to notice things.”
And Rafa had noticed. A few days later he came up to me at the club when Marcos went to the bathroom.
“Is there any room for me?” He leered.
And I knew. “You think I’m his client—”
“I know everything,” he interrupted. “Just let me in on a little of it, and everything will stay quiet.”
He walked away, and the club’s bachata music enflamed my ears. I couldn’t get my hands to stop trembling so I put them in my pockets when Marcos returned. I said nothing until we got back to my apartment. “Your research will be perfect,” he said, and we made love until 2 AM.
The next night when we arrived at the club, Rafa was drinking with a German client. Marcos signaled to Rafa that he should leave with us. I mouthed no to Marcos, but he stuffed some money into the client’s hand and said to send Rafa in a separate taxi, handing him a note with the address. I asked Marcos what the hell he was doing. “We’re fine, mi amor,” he said.
We got into our taxi, which he directed not to my apartment, but out to Cristo Rey, a neighborhood that, as a researcher, would have interested me in daylight, but that didn’t host anyone who looked like me at night. “Relájate,” Marcos said. “Just relax.”
We entered a padlocked room, which had a ceiling fan, a lamp without a shade, and a full-sized bed without a headboard. “I’m not doing anything on that,” I said, and he laughed. He kissed me until my heart rate steadied. But Rafa arrived in fifteen minutes, letting in the outside noise, and I felt dread. He kissed my neck; I looked at Marcos who winked his consent, so I went along with it. We began undressing each other. Marcos kissed me while Rafa unbuttoned my shirt from behind. He disengaged to pull his own shirt off.
And then Marcos reached under the mattress, pulled out a gun and shot him.
It’s interesting what you notice when someone gets shot right beside you. How fast a body actually collapses, and how your eyes lose a second in finding it. The burn marks and abraded skin around the bloody wound on the temple. The faint ammonia smell. The lunar brightness and entrenched shadowing of the face in the harsh light of the bare lamp bulb. With my ears ringing, I looked up at Marcos and whispered, “God, you’re a monster.”
He was already putting his shirt on. “You want your research not to be messed up, right?”
“There were so many other ways we could have played this!” It was all catching up to me, and adrenaline seared my veins.
“We are cheap here,” he said.
“Jesus!” I was out of breath and flying through the buttons on my shirt. “The police are gonna catch you, you know that, right?”
“They never have before,” he said.
I must have stopped, because he yelled, “Muévete, coño, get moving!” He threw me his baseball cap and told me to put it down low over my eyes, and we ran out into the street, chickens scrabbling in our wake.
He grabbed the first taxi he saw, and we raced to my apartment. I held my breath to keep from vomiting. On Avenida Charles de Gaulle, he told the taxi driver to stop, and he jumped out of the car and threw the gun as far as he could, over a wall and into a field full of trash. There was a sanitation strike, and on the wall was written, ¡no tire basura coño! Don’t fucking throw trash. That should be funny, I thought. When we got to my place, I was shaking badly. Marcos tried to kiss me, but I coughed in his mouth and couldn’t touch him again.
For the next month, I didn’t shave or comb my hair. My feet seemed far from my body, and I tripped a lot. One of my research participants said, “You look like mierda, papi.” I did my work, but the interview questions seemed foreign to me. My Spanish might as well have come out of a can.
My supervisor noticed, and she told me to go back to the States. But Marcos came to my apartment a few days before I was to leave, and he kissed me and begged me not to go. I trembled, but I put my hands in his. And even though I was shaking off and on through the night, we made love, twice.
“Why?” I finally asked.
“Because I love you, querido,” he said, as though I had missed clues.
I shaved and resumed my research. Gradually my appetite returned, and the adrenaline surges subsided (though not the dreams). We had sex like we’d just met.
But then another bugarrón was killed. He had come on to me in front of Marcos, and when I heard that he’d been shot, I knew.
“Honestly, Marcos, I just can’t anymore,” I said, my voice wavering. “I’m going home.”
“Of course,” he said. “Just be careful. I may love you, but la policía loves you more.”
I could only breathe. After that, I became very careful about even looking at other men.
One night I sat in my dark apartment going back and forth between cursing myself, and making plans to leave. I said to myself that I didn’t know where else to go in a country not my own. I’m sure that was true. But with him, it was the difference between whether to leave and remember, or stay and forget. When he got home and put his arms around my waist, I forgot everything except being led into the silent power of his lovemaking.
In a few months I’d be back in the States, practically escorted there by family, worn down to nothing but reflexes and memories of him. But that’s another story.
That night in my apartment, lying beside him in bed, I asked, “Who am I, that I know what you’ve done?”
He looked surprised.
“Love wants,” he said. “It can scare the shit out of you, how it eats anything in its way, but love wants.”
He pulled me toward him, and I gave in. What choice did I have?