Talc: A Powder Room Drama

By Abel González Melo

Translated by Yael Prizant

Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall 2014)

Talc is part of Abel González Melo’s reinvention of the theatrical trilogy. Like the unified tragedies performed at the Dionysian Festivals in ancient Athens, the three plays that form González Melo’s Winterscapes have closely related subjects. The characters all encounter a series of fortuitous circumstances, they learn, they realize, they suffer, they die. Along with Chamaco: Boy at the Vanishing Point and Nevada, Talc depicts the Cuban underworld and its secondary economy. Yet González Melo doesn’t suggest a sequence in which to produce the three texts – the characters do not reappear from play to play, nor does the plot continue from one piece to the next. Instead, González Melo offers three episodic, stand-alone pieces that work individually as well as together to portray the daily challenges of life on the fringes.

Talc is a brutal play, seen from the perspective of a voyeur watching the struggles, the pain, and the shock waves that occur during one Havana winter. An uncharacteristically chilly winter and the severity of the conditions in the city play key roles in this fable. The narrative paradoxically occurs in a crumbling cinema, in the shadow of Cuba’s iconic Capital building, which becomes a nerve center for prostitution and drug trafficking. The play is based in realistic elements, like strong sexual content and explicit verbal and physical violence, yet also relies on González Melo’s poetic language and narrative artistry.  His characters are undoubtedly selfish and callous, but each one offers something we almost recognize, or likely ignore, in ourselves.

ABEL GONZÁLEZ MELO (Havana, 1980) is one of the most important contemporary Cuban playwrights. With a degree in Theatre Studies from the University of the Arts in Cuba, González Melo has also studied at the Royal Court Theatre in London (where he did an international residency) the Maxim Gorky Theater in Berlin, Complutense University in Madrid, and Panorama Sur in Buenos Aires.

His body of work includes 15 plays: Epopeya (2014), Mecánica (2013), Cádiz en mi corazón (2013), Sistema (2012), Talco (2009-10), Ataraxia (2008), Manía (2008), Por gusto (2006), Nevada (2005-08), Adentro (2005), El hábito y la virtud (2005), Chamaco (2004), Vendré mañana a despedirte (2004), Ubú sin cuernos (2002) y La gansa de plata (1998).

González Melo’s plays have been translated into dozens of languages, published in several countries, and staged by theatre companies such as Repertorio Español (New York), Aguijón Theater (Chicago), Akuara Teatro y La Má Teodora (Miami), Semaver Kumpanya (Istanbul), Albanta Teatro (Cádiz), Argos Teatro (Havana), Origami Teatro (Havana), Rita Montaner (Havana), Teatro El Portaz (Matanzas) y Teatro Icarón (Matanzas).

González Melo’s work has garnered many honors and accolades, including the Prize for Playwriting from the Spanish Embassy in Cuba, First Prize for Theatrical Pieces from the Goethe Institute, the Villanueva Awards for Theatre Criticism and Literary Criticism, and the Alejo Carpentier Award.

He has also published three books of stories, three collections of theatrical essays, and one book of poetry.  Since 2000, he has been the Literary Editor of Tablas-Alarcos, a serial specializing in scenic arts.  As a writer, he has also produced two films: Chamaco (2010) and La partida (2012).  In 2014, he founded the Company of Impertinents and directed Kassandra, by Sergio Blanco, at the National Theatre of Cuba.

At the moment, González Melo lives in Spain, where he is Director of Theatre Courses at the University of Carlos III in Madrid and Professor of Playwriting at the University of King Juan Carlos.

YAEL PRIZANT (Brooklyn, 1973) is a dramaturg and translator.  She has three degrees in theatre, including an M.F.A. in Dramaturgy from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a Ph.D. in Theatre from the University of California, Los Angeles.  Her research has centered on Cuban theatre since 2002.

Prizant’s recent book, Cuba Inside Out: Revolution and Contemporary Theatre, was published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2013.  In collaboration with photographer Christopher Stackowicz, she created two art gallery exhibitions based on her texts about Cuba: The Currency of Cuba at the Jewish Federation of the St. Joseph Valley and Cuba Inside/Out at Langlab South Bend.   She also published nearly a dozen online articles for the Havana Times while covering the 2011 International Theatre Festival in Havana and contributed an essay about Cuban-American theatre to Performance, Exile and America (Palgrave International Performance Series, October 2009.)

Prizant also works as an adapter and production dramaturg.  She spent many years working on productions with several leading Los Angeles theatre companies, including The Grace Players, Company of Angels, and The Actors’ Gang.  While working as an Assistant Professor at the University of Notre Dame, she adapted and produced two plays for TheatreLanglab in South Bend, Indiana.  The process of creating one of those productions, based on Stanislav Stratiev’s The Suede Jacket, was made into a short documentary by Kevin DeCloedt (The Jacket: A 24 Hour Theatre Project.)  In 2012, she and a creative team founded Ultreia, Inc., a not-for-profit organization dedicated to cultivating the arts and education in the Michiana area.

Recently commissioned by Ohio Northern University, Prizant is translating González Melo’s Nevada for production in January 2015.  She is also translating part of a contemporary Uruguayan novel and teaching academic writing from her home in Bologna, Italy.  She’d like to dedicate this publication to Virginia Scott.

 

TALC: A powder room drama

Cuban-German First Prize for Theatre Pieces, 2009

(Goethe Institute, Maxim Gorki Theater Berlin, Casa Editorial Tablas-Alarcos)

Villanueva Critics Prize for Cuban Theatre, 2010

The final script for this play was created after its staging in Cuba by Argos Teatro, under the direction of Carlos Celdrán, with actors Waldo Franco, Yuliet Cruz, Alexander Díaz, José Luis Hidalgo and Totó the dog, on Friday, September 3, 2010 at the Sala Argos Teatro in Havana, Cuba. This staging garnered the Villanueva Critics Prize for Cuban Theatre as the Best Show of 2010, also Caricato Prizes from the Association of Scenic Artists of UNEAC for Direction (Celdrán), Acting (Cruz), Acting (Hidalgo), as well as two other Acting nominations (Franco y Díaz).

The world premiere of Talco was by La Má Teodora in the United States (in collaboration with Arca Images and the Cuban Theater Digital Archive of the University of Miami).  The production was directed by Alberto Sarraín, with actors Juan David Ferrer, Oneysis Valido, Ariel Texidó, Norberto Correa and Miki the dog, on Friday, April 16, 2010 at the Teatro Abanico in Miami. El Nuevo Herald considered it the most important staging of a Hispanic play in Miami that year, and Ferrer was awarded Best Actor, Valido was awarded Best Actress and Eduardo Arrocha was awarded Best Lighting Designer.

 

Powder Room Elements

  1. Haircut
  2. Old Spice
  3. Cosmetics
  4. That powder box without a puff
  5. Smeared makeup
  6. So much rouge and so much mascara
  7. An eyelash in the eye
  8. Two peas in a pod
  9. Eau de toilette
  10. Lips and lipstick
  11. Blushing Desperately

 Powdered people

  1. Máshenka the Rough
  2. Álvaro the Pansy
  3. Javi the Russki
  4. Zuleidy the Guanty
  5. Miki, a dog

All the action occurs in El Mégano Cinema, right next to the Capitol Building of Havana, on four planes that co-exist on stage: the front sidewalk, the lobby, the dark auditorium, and the bathroom.

The first six scenes, Februrary 14, 2009, at mid-afternoon. The following four, a year earlier, at midnight.  The last scene, 2009 again.

 

I

Haircut

On the background of the set, for a few seconds one can read: “Havana, 2009”.

With super tight shorts and sandals at the point of breaking, Máshenka waits in the lobby for someone to enter the cinema. While she listens to her iPod, she obsessively fixes her hair, an intense platinum blonde, with a chopstick, although it’s not as long as she wants, it continually angers her because it is beyond repair and some piece always falls down in front, which she detests.

 Álvaro passes on the sidewalk with a little dog. He sticks his head in.

ÁLVARO: What are they showing today?

MÁSHENKA: (Takes off her headphones.) Are you blind, boy, don’t you see the poster? It’s stuck to the marquee, under where it says El Mégano Cinema.

ÁLVARO: What poster?

MÁSHENKA: Don’t play dumb with me when you come here every day.

ÁLVARO: Me?

MÁSHENKA: Yeah, you. (With contempt.) With that dog…

ÁLVARO: I think you’ve mistaken me.

MÁSHENKA: Everyone thinks I’ve mistaken them. And I have an eye for these things…

ÁLVARO: Are you gonna tell me what’s playing?

MÁSHENKA: Are you really interested in the movie or are you gonna go in there so that you can…?

ÁLVARO: So I can what?

MÁSHENKA: Say, to sleep, like most people.

ÁLVARO: No. I wanna see if someone will jerk me off in there, sound good to you?

MÁSHENKA: Ay, how crude, boy…

ÁLVARO: I go by on the sidewalk, I ask you because you work here and you go busting my balls, insinuating I-don’t-know-what. I have a house, I don’t need to sleep here, or do whatever other thing crossed your mind. I should complain to your boss. Trash!

MÁSHENKA: Then complain, complain…

ÁLVARO: It’s because of people like you that we’re the way we are.

MÁSHENKA: How are we? We can’t be worse off than we are. Complain, complain!

ÁLVARO: No, because they’ll kick you out.

MÁSHENKA: And do I care if they kick me out? You think I make my living like this?  Go ahead, complain, complain!

ÁLVARO: Hey, I’m not gonna complain! Don’t insist anymore.

MÁSHENKA: Uff… This heat gets everyone in Havana in a bad mood…

ÁLVARO: I’m just asking that you treat me right.

MÁSHENKA: Ay, okey, okey, this guy… what a pain you are… treat you right.

ÁLVARO: As if you didn’t have to.

MÁSHENKA: Who has to? Who’s obligated? Go, hang up the dog’s leash for a minute and help me fix my hair decently, I look like a hurricane hit me, ‘cause I can’t see here in the back… Come ‘ere.

ÁLVARO: I’m not gonna fix your hairdo.

MÁSHENKA: (Intent on starting her hair.) This style kills me, I can’t pull it up or put it in a clip, or use chopsticks. (Annoyed.) Ay, fuck!

ÁLVARO: Alright, I’ll help you.

Ties the doggy’s leash to a hook on the wall and approaches her.

MÁSHENKA: Lemme sit so you’re more comfortable. Go there, behind me.

She sits on a bench and he, behind her, contemplates her wig.

MÁSHENKA: On with it, boy, don’t be bashful.

ÁLVARO: No, no, I’m not bashful.

MÁSHENKA: Take this chopstick in one hand, and with the other make a bun with all my hair… (Gestures a lot with her fingers.) What can hold all my hair, you get it? Do you know what a bun looks like?

ÁLVARO: (Taking the chopstick that she gave him.) Yeah, and a croissant, too.

MÁSHENKA: Ay, how cute. Go on, do it quick but carefully, don’t pull so hard that it hurts me.

ÁLVARO: (Intently.)  But is this really your hair?

MÁSHENKA: Of course, it’s my natural hair, what da you think? So I like strange colors, but it’s my hair!

ÁLVARO: Ah.

The doggy hits the wall with his tail, impatiently.

MÁSHENKA: And that cocky little dog?

ÁLVARO: I thought you didn’t like dogs.

MÁSHENKA: (While he tries to style her hair.) Yeah, yeah I like them. Not when they start to bark, if they bark I hate them! Those fucking dogs hidden behind a fence that bark at you when you come around the corner: jaujau, jaujau, jaujau… How rude! But if they’re little calm ones, yeah, like in paintings, of queens with feathers on their heads… or in their crowns?  Who seem all dolled up, with hunting dogs at their sides. Do you know what I’m talking about? Those dogs, even if they’re sad, they’re prettier than yours, truthfully, because they have floppy ears, like velvet, and of course, they have more class, more stature, like the “Saint Bernard”. Yours, on the other hand, doesn’t seem like a saint… neither do you.

ÁLVARO: And you?

MÁSHENKA: The closest I come to sainthood is the altar to Santa Barbara in my house. Other than that, nothing.

Silence.

MÁSHENKA: Ah, the movie starts at five, or at six. It’s a Kien Lasky movie.

ÁLVARO: Who?

MÁSHENKA: (Repeats slowly, so that he’ll understand.) Ki-en-las-ky. A Russki. The movie’s called A Short Film About Killing.

ÁLVARO: Ah, but it’s not Russian, it’s Polish. Kieslowski, that’s his last name. His first name’s Kristoff.

MÁSHENKA: Alright, I saw the little letters and they looked like Russian to me. Russian like me, whose name is Máshenka.

ÁLVARO: Máshenka?

MÁSHENKA: Máshenka the Rough. (Provocative.) Like a scratch.

ÁLVARO: Ready.

MÁSHENKA: (Touches her hairdo.) Great! Now I’ll wait… I have to be here at four fifteen, how early, no? It’s ‘cause I clean the auditorium before, well, I say I clean it, you know, I’m not gonna pick up all the condoms and mop up the gunk that’s over there because I’d never finish. I sweep the stuff that shows and then I wait for Javi.

ÁLVARO: Is Javi coming?

MÁSHENKA: You know him?

ÁLVARO: More or less.

MÁSHENKA: There was a reason your face rang a bell. You don’t look like the kinda friend Javi has. You’re very refined.

ÁLVARO: You never know.

MÁSHENKA: I always wait for him, except today. He got here before me. He’s up there, in the projection room. Finishing a report.

ÁLVARO: Can I wash my hands?

MÁSHENKA: Hey, I don’t have dandruff.

ÁLVARO: It’s not that.

MÁSHENKA: Or lice.

ÁLVARO: (Smiles.) It’s a compulsion.

MÁSHENKA: There’s been no water in the theatre since last year, so wash your hands at your house.

ÁLVARO: Alright.

MÁSHENKA: Should I call Javi for you?

ÁLVARO: No, no. (Gets the dog and makes to go.)

MÁSHENKA: Should I give him a message?

ÁLVARO: (Thinks a second.) That the Pansy was here.

MÁSHENKA: The Pansy?

ÁLVARO: Tell him that. And that I’ll be back later.

Álvaro goes with his doggy. Máshenka leans on the door and watches him go until she loses sight of him.

 

II

Old Spice

The bathroom, on the floor above, is partially divided and has very high windows. Zuleidy is crouched down in front of Javi and sucks his dick. With his hands Javi strongly presses her head, guiding her by her pigtails, while he moves and whispers.

JAVI: Like that, bitch, take it all in…

ZULEIDY: (Choking.) Gug, gug…

JAVI: Open up, come on, like that, deep throat it, like that, cunt, like that… (The gestures are more intense each time.)

ZULEIDY: (Detaches herself a second.) Fuck, Russki, you’re so rough, so hard isn’t gonna make it come.

JAVI: Come on, mami, you’ll see that yeah, sure it’ll come out, it always comes out…

ZULEIDY: I said no, Russki…

JAVI: You’ll see how you get into it on your own. (Returns to grabbing her by the pigtails and sticks his dick into her mouth as far as he can. He takes her and moves quickly.)

ZULEIDY: Ag, ag, ag, ag, ag…

JAVI: Yeah, mami, I’m almost there, go on…

ZULEIDY: Gug, gug, ag, ag, ag…

JAVI: Ay, fuck, I’m coming, take it. (With his right hand, he slaps her and with his left hand, he continues to push her head. He writhes in pleasure.) Take it, bitch, fuck, swallow it, cunt… ah, ah!… Ah… Ay, fuck, ah, ah!…

Suddenly Zuleidy, choking, throws herself back, wretches and vomits between the floor and the toilet. Javi ejaculates leaning against the wall. 

JAVI: (Wiping himself off with his underpants.) So hot, fuck…

ZULEIDY: (With her head resting against the toilet.) I don’t see it, Russki… (Looks at the floor.) Didn’t it come out?

JAVI: Why didn’t it come out?

ZULEIDY: It didn’t come out, Russki, I swallowed it.

JAVI: (Buttons his pants.) What?

ZULEIDY: (Tries to get up.) I’m wiped out, man…

JAVI: Then use your finger, go on. Shove it in.

ZULEIDY: (Staggers, twiddles her thumbs.) Later, Russki, it’ll be better in a bit, let me stretch out a little back there, I’m dead tired.

JAVI: No stretching out. Go on, shove your finger in, it should’ve come out already. Let’s see.

He comes closer. Zuleidy puts up little resistance. Javi takes her hand, raises her index finger and makes her put it in her mouth as far as possible. She wretches but doesn’t throw up. 

ZULEIDY: Ay…

JAVI: Open up, I’ll try it with two fingers. Fuck, bitch, what a stench you made with all that puking.

With obvious disgust Javi takes two fingers on her left hand, the index and the middle, and makes her put them down her throat.

JAVI: Don’t take them out until you hit the throat come on. (He pushes her hand.)

ZULEIDY: Ag, ag… (Wretches.) Ag, ag, ag…

Turns and vomits on the floor. Javi sifts through the vomit and wipes his filthy hands on his jeans.

ZULEIDY: (On all fours, weakly.) Did it come out?

JAVI: (Walks around the vomit and looks.) Nothing fucking came out.

ZULEIDY: (Delirious.) It’s probably in the chunks. You’re sure you’re not confusing it with the puke…? No matter what, it’ll shine.

JAVI: This crappy puke is also shiny, and what’s worse, it’s so dark in here…

ZULEIDY: Let me lie down a little now, I’m gonna pass out, Russki…

JAVI: Tell me how it went.

ZULEIDY: I already told you, a silvery capsule.

JAVI: Silvery as always?

ZULEIDY: As always. I think it was smaller, but silvery…

JAVI: Smaller how?

ZULEIDY: I don’t know, it’s the impression that I got… It was the same as always, I’m sure it was the same.

JAVI: (Takes her by the hair.) Why did you say it was smaller?

ZULEIDY: (The delirium makes her stronger.) When I put it in my mouth and had to swallow, or did he put it in?

JAVI: He put it in? Didn’t you swallow it on your own? You didn’t open it, you didn’t check it when he went into the bathroom?

ZULEIDY: Yes, I did it like I always do, I don’t know…

JAVI: (He pulls her hair.) And you swallowed it?

ZULEIDY: (In pain.) Ay, Russki…

JAVI: You’re lying to me, whore.

ZULEIDY: I’m not, Russki, I told you what happened… I put it under my tongue when he came into the bathroom, but he walked out immediately, he suspected something, no, no, he didn’t suspect… he came out because he had to go, yeah, that, he came out and started to kiss me.

Javi lets go of her for a moment and steadies his gaze.

JAVI: He already knows.

ZULEIDY: No, no.

JAVI: Yeah he knows.

ZULEIDY: No, Russki, I did it really good, I’ve been doing this for months, he didn’t realize… I swear to you that he didn’t suspect anything.

JAVI: You fucked up the deal, didn’t you, whore? Isn’t that it? (He forces her to sit up and shakes her.) Tell me, bitch!

ZULEIDY: Not again, Russki, please, not today…

JAVI: (Squeezing her even more.) Of course. You put it under your little tongue and he sucked away on you. You put off swallowing the silver capsule and the guy knew. (At her ear.) And he didn’t say anything? He didn’t whisper something while he was fucking you? He didn’t hint at anything? Ah, because he’s an imbecile! The little whore did as good as usual, but the capsule never got here.

ZULEIDY: It wasn’t like that…

JAVI: Now you’re gonna have to shit it out.

ZULEIDY: What?

JAVI: If it doesn’t come out going up, it will come out going down, no?

ZULEIDY: Ay, Russki, I’m gonna pass out.

JAVI: And you’re gonna like it. (Throws her onto the toilet.)

Zuleidy pants. Javi squats at her side. 

JAVI: And then you’re gonna let it go, no? It’s gonna come out in your shit, right?

Zuleidy cries.

JAVI: I’m gonna find you a laxative. (He sits up.)

Zuleidy keeps crying.

JAVI: Shut your mouth, people are gonna start coming into the theatre and they’re gonna hear you. (Makes to go.)

ZULEIDY: Russki…

JAVI: What?

ZULEIDY: Nothing, nothing… (Sobs.)

JAVI: Shut the fuck up! (He kicks her twice.)

Starts to go out. Looks at his watch.

JAVI: And that shithead’s about to get here. Chst.

Goes and closes the door to the bathroom. Zuleidy remains strewn on the floor.

 

III

Cosmetics

Javi enters the lobby. Máshenka listens to her iPod: she has headphones on and her legs outstretched and crossed on an old flowerpot that holds a withered palm.

MÁSHENKA: You done already?

JAVI: That bitch is gonna make me crazy. (Sighs.)

MÁSHENKA: What’s up?

JAVI: (Takes out a cigarette.) Got a light?

Máshenka takes off her headphones, takes out a box of matches and lights one.

JAVI: She didn’t spit anything up.

MÁSHENKA: No?

JAVI: And they’re gonna be here at five.

MÁSHENKA: A guy just came called the Pansy, was that him?

JAVI: He was here already?

MÁSHENKA: Yeah.

JAVI: Why didn’t you call me?

MÁSHENKA: He didn’t want me to.  He needed to wash his hands, I dunno, he went home.

Silence.

JAVI: Did he say anything?

MÁSHENKA: That he’d be back.

JAVI: (Goes to the phone and dials a number.) Mónica? (He pushes the button for the hearing impaired so that he can hear better.) Is this Mónica?

MÁSHENKA: (Low.) I can get to the pharmacy in a minute if you want.

JAVI: (Makes a negative gesture to Máshenka. Talks on the phone.) Mónica? How’s it goin’, doll?

Máshenka puts her headphones on again, approaches the door, goes out to the sidewalk.

JAVI: See if you have something for you-know-what. That, that… Citrogal no, of course. Some kinda laxative? Ah, yeah, that, laxagar or… bisacodil… Nothing, right?

MÁSHENKA: (To hear it, enters again, whispers.) Ask her for an expectorant, it’s the same.

JAVI: Hey, and a little syrup that upsets the stomach?… No, she’s not sick, but she has to… you understand me.

MÁSHENKA: She also needs to drink enough water, if you don’t make her drink water…

JAVI: (To Máshenka.) Ssss… (In the phone.) Good, make me something and bring it to me when you can. I’m not gonna be here but leave it with the witch who watches the door…

Javi winks at Máshenka, who rolls her eyes.

JAVI: (Into the phone.) Okey, doll, kiss kiss. Yeah, yeah, she’ll give you the dough. Don’t worry. Alright. (Hangs up.)

MÁSHENKA: Gimme the dough now, ‘cause you’ll forget and Mónica’ll come and bitch ‘cause I can’t pay her.

JAVI: Ay, give it to her, girly, and I’ll give it back to you later.

MÁSHENKA: No, Russki, I don’t have a penny.

JAVI: Got any talc left?

MÁSHENKA: (Sighs. Apathetic.) If you’re gonna get high, at least I should close the door, no?

JAVI: Don’t close it, come here, we’ll do it behind the counter.

MÁSHENKA: What’s up, Russki, if you want, we’ll do it with the door closed, I’m not up for what happened last time, with the cops, scared shitless, pretending that I powdered myself with talc after taking a bath, so I wouldn’t have to deal with the voodoo around the corner from the Capitolio, and then later that night, with blisters all over me from the coke.

JAVI: (Strong, demands that she close her mouth.) Ssss.

MÁSHENKA: Sprinkling it like it was talcum powder so they wouldn’t think I was up to something.

JAVI: (Insistent.) Ssss.

MÁSHENKA: It’s true.

JAVI: Ok, girly, it’s alright, close the door and put out the sign.

Máshenka peeks out to the street, sees that no one’s coming, closes the glass doors, turns a poster around, usually hanging from a hook, where it can be read from outside, writes with chalk: “Closed for fumegashun, sorry for the inconveenense”. Through the opaque glass doors, we continue to see what’s happening inside.

JAVI: You haven’t answered if there’s any more talc.

MÁSHENKA: There’s no talc, but there’s chalk. Patepuerco’s son stole it from his teacher and brought it to me, I had to give him a lollipop for it. There’s no white chalk anywhere.

JAVI: (Disgusted.) Fuck, but chalk isn’t the same for mixing.

MÁSHENKA: I know it’s not the same, Russki, don’t yell at me.

JAVI: It’s your fault, because whenever that whore shows up, everything always turns to shit.

MÁSHENKA: You’re wrong, babe, it’s your fault, you made her think this business was easy and that things fall from the sky. If you wouldn’ta returned her call, she wouldn’t…

JAVI: (Interrupts her, so that he doesn’t have to hear her.) Ok, ok, ok… (From below the counter he takes out a wooden box where he has various accessories: knife, bowl, roller…) Give me the chalk, come on.

MÁSHENKA: Let’s go inside, Russki, the glass is filthy but you can see right through it, okey?

JAVI: Alright, let’s go.

Telephone rings.

MÁSHENKA: (Picks it up and speaks.) Yes?… Yes, this is El Mégano Cinema, can I help… No, I’m the usherette, Javi’s not here… He’s not here, sir! Me? Máshenka. But why do you need that? Alright, it’s fine… the Rough… Yes, all together, the-Rough, Máshenka the Rough, that’s my last name. No… Yes, Javi is the manager but at the moment, I repeat, he’s not here… Ah, ah… (Changes tone, is more friendly.) Fuck, he’s on his way here, sir. (Listens, covers the mouthpiece and says quietly to Javi.) From the provincial bureau. (Returns to the mouthpiece.) Yes, of course… No, they’re fumigating because the place is fulla mosquitos… And we can’t let the public in like this… I guess… around six, yeah, for sure, when the show starts, they started at five but were still going at six… Javi will be here then for sure. (Coughs, falsely.) I coughed my way in just to talk to you… Alright, yeah, goodbye. (Hangs up.)

JAVI: What did they want?

MÁSHENKA: To talk with you about I-don’t-know-what complaint.

JAVI: A complaint?

MÁSHENKA: From Public Health.

JAVI: Alright, get the chalk.

Javi enters the dark auditorium with his wooden box and turns on a light bulb that glows weakly. Máshenka takes the box of chalk from her bag and approaches Javi. The lobby goes dark.

JAVI: (Takes the chalk and throws two pieces in the bowl.) It’s been a while since I made this, and the truth is I hate it… After the clients start to bail, to say that it isn’t a quality product… I only sell quality stuff, Máshenka.

MÁSHENKA: I know that, but when you can’t, you can’t.

JAVI: Peddling dust is not my strong suit.

MÁSHENKA: You only mix what you have to and you don’t overdo it…

JAVI: (Extends the mortar.) Go ahead, crush!

Máshenka begins to crush the chalk.

JAVI: (Opens a small paper envelope and flattens, on the sheet of glass, the white powder.) I always throw in a little, you know, a little yes, in order to stretch the product… But not much… You can only push it to a point, or else they don’t buy from you anymore and go to another source.

MÁSHENKA: (Without stopping the grinding.) You have your loyal clients, they’re not gonna take a chance and go someplace else.  It’s safe here.

JAVI: (With a little roller, he spreads, on the glass, the powder, that he’s going to turn into a fine layer.) Until one day.

MÁSHENKA: Yeah, until one day. Like everything else, Russki.

JAVI: Done already?

MÁSHENKA: Done, throw it in?

JAVI: Wait, wait, before we mix it… (With a long knife he separates a little line of the pile of dust and lets it fall on the piece of cardboard. He arranges it into two lines.) Want some?

MÁSHENKA: No.

JAVI: It’s really good stuff.

MÁSHENKA: I know, but not today. I’ll eat chalk later and I’ll feel good.

JAVI: Eating chalk is disgusting.

MÁSHENKA: I got used to it when I was little.

JAVI: It’s not the same as doing a line. (He puts his nose to the glass and snorts, first in one nostril, then the other.) Uf… (Raises his hands to his face.) Ay, fuck…

MÁSHENKA: (Watches him with a deep frown.) How ya doin’?

ZULEIDY: (Heard from the bathroom, weakly, supplicant.) Russki… Russki…

JAVI: (Stretches out his hands, enjoying the effect.) Ufff…

MÁSHENKA: (About Zuleidy.) And what’re you gonna do with her?

JAVI: (Rubs his nose.) Let’s see, we’re gonna mix it.

Máshenka dumps the white powder from the bowl onto the glass. With the knife Javi starts to roll it slowly, giving it a great deal of attention.

ZULEIDY: (From the bathroom.) Russki… Russki…

JAVI: (Ignoring the voice.) The humidity kills everything.

MÁSHENKA: Why do you say that?

JAVI: The chalk powder is already starting to clump.

ZULEIDY: (Insistent.) Russki…

JAVI: (Crushing the powder with enthusiasm.) Luckily the edge of the knife is sharp.

MÁSHENKA: Don’t go overboard, it’s good enough like that.

JAVI: It needs a little more.

MÁSHENKA: I don’t know why you did a line before doing that.

JAVI: (In his delirium.) So I could do it better.

MÁSHENKA: (Smiles.) You gotta project the movie in a little bit and you’re gonna be a zombie.

JAVI: There’s still time.

ZULEIDY: (Again.) Russki…

MÁSHENKA: I don’t want to push, but…

JAVI: (Indicates to Máshenka with the knife and speaks to her. Slowly and strongly.) Go see her and tell her I don’t want her to call me again.

A knock on the door of the cinema.

MÁSHENKA: And now what?

JAVI: Wait.

MÁSHENKA: It’ll be better if we open up. Is there a lot left?

JAVI: No. Give me ten capsules.

Máshenka checks in the wooden box and takes out various dual-colored plastic capsules. Separates one into two halves.

JAVI: Hold it, don’t move it.

With the point of the knife, Javi takes a bit of powder and slides into a capsule. A more insistent knock on the door.

JAVI: I’m gonna beat the crap…

MÁSHENKA: Hold on a minute, I’m gonna check it out.

JAVI: No, you stay here.

Fills a capsule. Máshenka closes it and puts it separately on the floor. They do the same thing with the second capsule. There’s another knock at the door. 

JAVI: Go tell them that we’ll open up in a second, go, so they don’t bug me anymore.

MÁSHENKA: That’s what I was saying a minute ago.

She goes. Javi continues in his labor alone. Even if it’s more difficult, he fills a third capsule. Máshenka returns.

JAVI: (Without looking at her, concentrating on what he’s doing.) Who was it?

MÁSHENKA: The woman from the pharmacy.

JAVI: Did she give you the syrup?

MÁSHENKA: Yeah, she said this’ll make her throw up or take a good crap. And she also gave me plastic to make tablets and aluminum foil. (Puts everything on the floor and goes back to holding the capsule that Javi is filling.) You ask for that?

JAVI: No, but she assumed. You paid her?

MÁSHENKA: I paid her.

JAVI: With what?

Máshenka is silent.

ZULEIDY: (From the bathroom.) Russki…

JAVI: (Focused on what he’s doing, serene.) But we’re not gonna take time making the capsules into tablets and the packets with foil, right?

MÁSHENKA: No, and besides, the iron doesn’t work.

JAVI: There isn’t a way to seal the foil without an iron?

MÁSHENKA: It’ll fuck it up, it’s better to put the capsules in loose. Like that. It’s the same to them.

JAVI: If it weren’t for the cops in the street… They always want tablets because of the cops, so they can pretend it’s medicine if they say anything.

MÁSHENKA: That’s natural… How many are left to fill?

JAVI: Four.

They work.

JAVI: Years ago we were the best, Máshenka, we used to do it in two seconds.

MÁSHENKA: Yep. Before.

JAVI: You were rougher. Now you’re more mature. (Laughs.)

MÁSHENKA: And you don’t seem Russian at all, but you kept the nickname.

JAVI: Since the round-up. Even if Márquez, the ex-lieutenant, was also getting a blowjob inside.

MÁSHENKA: And Riqui, the sector chief, asked me for a chance to go in the bathroom with Cholo’s retard son.

JAVI: And one time, he did a pair of lines with me.

MÁSHENKA: And when I came up with: Russki, Russki, don’t keep jerking off, Máshenka’s always watching from above.

JAVI: (Laughs more.) It’s true… it’s not like before.

MÁSHENKA: That’s the last capsule, no?

JAVI: The last.

A knock at the door of the cinema.

JAVI: I’ll go. (Gathers all the capsules in a little bag and stashes it in his pocket.)

Máshenka collects the scraps and puts them in the wooden box.

JAVI: (Closes the box and picks it up. About Zuleidy.) Stay in the bathroom with her and make her take a few sips of syrup. She’s gotta puke it up.

MÁSHENKA: Lemme know when you’re done.

Javi goes out.

  

IV

That powder box without a puff

The auditorium goes dark and the lobby is illuminated. Javi hurriedly stashes the box under the counter and goes to the door.

JAVI: (Opens it.) Pansy?

ÁLVARO: Yep.

JAVI: Come in, come in.

Álvaro enters and Javi closes the door behind him.

JAVI: And the dog?

ÁLVARO: I left him at home.

JAVI: It’d be better if you’d brought him. He helps hide it.

ÁLVARO: Nah, it’s a joke, I have him here.

Álvaro puts his backpack on the floor, opens it and out comes the doggy with his collar.

JAVI: (Smiles.) Ah, yeah.

ÁLVARO: He takes care of me. (Attaches his leash to a hook on the counter.)

JAVI: Yeah.

ÁLVARO: Alright, so then?

JAVI: I’ll show you the material.

ÁLVARO: Okey. Right here?

JAVI: Yeah. Right. You have the money?

ÁLVARO: ‘Course.

Javi takes an envelope of capsules from his pocket, puts two in his hand.

ÁLVARO: And the packets?

JAVI: No… we’re not putting them in packets.

ÁLVARO: Ah, then nothing.

JAVI: El Bola didn’t send you?

ÁLVARO: Sure, El Bola.

JAVI: And he didn’t tell you we’re good to go?

They look at each other.

JAVI: I’ve known El Bola since we were kids.

ÁLVARO: What happens… Look, there are stories of people who rip people off and I… getting into… fine, I won’t put anything in my nose.

JAVI: (With a capsule between his fingers.) It’s pure coke. I guarantee it.

ÁLVARO: And how can I trust you? How do I know you didn’t put Artane in it?

JAVI: It would have been cheaper to add aspirin. People from all over Havana come here, brother… I’m not gonna fuck myself over by lying to you.

ÁLVARO: Can I smell it?

They go back to looking fixedly at each other.

JAVI: Of course. (Takes out another little envelope with powder in it and offers it to him.)

ÁLVARO: Not that. The stuff in the capsules.

JAVI: It’s the same.

ÁLVARO: Exactly.

Javi opens a capsule and brings it to Álvaro’s nose, where he smells it. The doggy cries.

JAVI: (About the doggy.) He seems very fond of you.

ÁLVARO: Can you cut up a line?

Javi looks at him, unsettled.

ÁLVARO: To see. Just to see. I’ve never done it.

JAVI: (Making a joke, smiles.) And how come you’re into it all of a sudden?

ÁLVARO: …

JAVI: Because you’re feelin’ it, right? (Takes out a laminated ID card from his wallet.)

ÁLVARO: I have cancer.

Javi freezes.

ÁLVARO: Of the throat.

Javi swallows hard.

ÁLVARO: But don’t worry, I’m not gonna kill myself. I wanna get through it alright, nothing more. And El Bola said that this is the best.

JAVI: (After a pause.) Yeah. You’ll get through it fine.

ÁLVARO: You’ll do a line?

JAVI: ‘Course. (Goes to put powder from the envelope on top of the ID card.)

ÁLVARO: Not from there. From what’s in the capsules.

JAVI: Those are the ones I made up for you, like El Bola told me to. There are ten, and they’re ready for you to take.

ÁLVARO: I don’t care, I’ll pay for them.

JAVI: If that’s how you want it…

ÁLVARO: I’ll pay first. (He gets up, opens the back pocket of his pants and takes out some bills.) Count it.

Javi takes it and counts it.

ÁLVARO: Why do they call you Russki?

JAVI: (Without looking at him.) Because it rhymed with brewski?

ÁLVARO: A brewski made from pansies?

JAVI: (Gazes up, seriously.) They call me Russki because I was born in Kazakhstan.

ÁLVARO: But that’s not Russia.

JAVI: (Continues telling him.) People here don’t know shit.

ÁLVARO: They’re close.

JAVI: Who is?

ÁLVARO: Russia and Kazakhstan.

JAVI: Like we are now.

ÁLVARO: Whaddya mean. We’re far apart.

JAVI: And why do they call you Pansy?

Álvaro returns to the view of his dog.

JAVI: Because you’re a faggot, I guess.

ÁLVARO: No. Because I used to smell good.

Silence.

JAVI: The dough’s all here.

ÁLVARO: Now lemme see how you do it.

JAVI: I can also swallow a capsule. Works the same.

ÁLVARO: Better if you snort it.

Very slowly, Javi opens the capsule and pours out the powder in a straight line.

JAVI: You’re right. I like to snort… See? It’s simple.

ÁLVARO: You’re a pro.

JAVI: A very fine line, as flat as you can get it. Two lines, always two. So they go in as a pair. If not, it bites.

ÁLVARO: Nah, it won’t bite.

JAVI: You’re not asthmatic.

ÁLVARO: Yeah I am.

JAVI: Then try to inhale really fast.

Javi closes his left nostril and in the right does a line. Does the same with the other. Closes his eyes. They don’t speak. Álvaro watches him with pleasure.

JAVI: (He presses his face with the palm of one hand. Speaks quietly.) At first there’s a bad moment that’s…

ÁLVARO: How’s it bad?

JAVI: Actually… it’s really good.

ÁLVARO: Like what?

JAVI: I don’t know… Like when you’re about to come, and you rush it and your balls hurt a little… but you still enjoy it, you come and you love it…

ÁLVARO: It’s like that?

JAVI: (Sits up, slowly staggers.) Yeah. (Looks at him.) It’s great.

ÁLVARO: (Smiles.) It made you red.

JAVI: My eyes?

ÁLVARO: No, it made your face red.

JAVI: Look, brother… It’s like foreplay, it’s thankless… You have to do it when…

ÁLVARO: When I can’t take the pain anymore.

JAVI: (Sits next to him.) No. I was gonna say when you’re with your girlfriend.

ÁLVARO: I don’t have a girlfriend.

JAVI: Or boyfriend.

The doggy cries.

JAVI: Don’t we know each other?

ÁLVARO: From El Bola’s place?

JAVI: I don’t know, from somewhere…

ÁLVARO: I gotta go. Gimme the capsules?

JAVI: You gonna put ‘em in your backpack?

ÁLVARO: No, I don’t want to leave them out in the open. (Indicates the dog.)

JAVI: What?

Álvaro gets up and unties the doggy. Brings him in his arms to the bench.

ÁLVARO: Gimme ‘em and I’ll make him swallow them.

JAVI: What?

ÁLVARO: Like this. Let’s see, gimme the first one.

JAVI: No, no, it’s… Look, something could happen to the dog, you’re gonna lose the coke… If they open in his stomach, so many of them… There’s too many grams. Half would be enough to kill a person.

ÁLVARO: Miki’s a champ…

JAVI: At least… I don’t know…

ÁLVARO: Your job was to sell ‘em to me, no?

Javi doesn’t know how to respond.

ÁLVARO: You already sold ‘em. Now let me do what I want with ‘em.

JAVI: I’ve got condoms. We could wrap the capsules.

ÁLVARO: I’m running late. Help me hold his mouth. I always give him vitamins, he’s used to it.  He’s my prize possession.  He’ll let us.

The doggy barks. Álvaro caresses him. The doggy wags his tail, happy.

ÁLVARO: Come on. He won’t bite you.

JAVI: I’m not afraid of him.

ÁLVARO: (Holds down the animal’s body with his legs.) Open his mouth.

Javi does it. Álvaro introduces the capsules, one by one, in the doggy’s throat. Until he gets to four. Puts down the animal, who feels free and begins to run around the lobby.

JAVI: You’re missing five.

ÁLVARO: They’re for me. (Swallows one.)

JAVI: (Holds down his hands.) What’re you doin’?

ÁLVARO: Lemme do it. If not the police can find them on me, and that’s worse. (He swallows the second one.)

Javi lets him go.

ÁLVARO: Your friend told me that there’s no water, right? (He swallows the third.)

Javi shakes his head no.

ÁLVARO: Good, nothing else to do then. (He swallows the fourth.)

JAVI: You’re crazy.

ÁLVARO: (He swallows the fifth, it slows a little, but finally goes down. Sighs.) The end.

The doggy barks. Álvaro approaches him, pets him, takes him in his arms.

ÁLVARO: I gotta piss. Can I use the bathroom a second?

JAVI: Sure.

Javi approaches the entrance to the dark auditorium.

 

V

Smeared makeup

In the bathroom, Máshenka seated on the empty tank, next to Zuleidy, who is lying on the floor.

MÁSHENKA: (Smokes and talks, without looking at her.) You deserve everything that’s happening to you, because you’re a slut. Acting naive, like you don’t know anything, into everything and wanting to be the smartest, the hottest, the best blowjob and the one who does it most. Trying to compete with me, who’s tougher than the island of Cuba. You think that a pair of tits and a shake of the hips are enough to keep a man at your side, like this, getting down, eating out of your hand, and you don’t realize that it’s just the beginning of the shit… And of your downfall. And what man cares about a stupid chick who’s just his cum bucket? And that guy, even less! You can’t conquer him with just hips and ass! Don’t you see that he’s got one on every corner? Haven’t you been in the street with him and he’s kissed another slut in front of you? Or did you forget when he made you fuck a woman? And you do it all the time… A few months ago, yeah, when you were still a little angel, a little girly whose pussy he could play with. Not anymore… I don’t know why you came back from Guantánamo after everything that happened the last time, the punches, the scar on your thigh… (With disgust, she raises her hands to her face.) Even if he called you, you didn’t have to come back. Didn’t I warn you? I warned you, right? Then deal with it. Deal with being trapped in this hovel, with this stench, wanting to die, with that filthy hair, doing whatever the fuck he asks you, throwing you to foreign drug dealers in those hotels where you’re the queen and waiting for, look… (With her thumb, makes a gesture of slicing her throat.) For them to kill you. But here? No. You’re not queen here, don’t kid yourself. I’m here, ground to dust but still fighting! And you don’t have anything to do. He doesn’t fuck me anymore, no, he doesn’t fuck me anymore. But he respects me. And in this city, right now, that’s a luxury.

ZULEIDY: (Moans.) Dad…

MÁSHENKA: Don’t ever say that again and drink this syrup, go ahead, see if you finally get those goddamned capsules out and make the Russki happy… (She raises the bottle to her lips, intent that she drinks.)

ZULEIDY: (Sipping a little.) Dad…

MÁSHENKA: Don’t call me dad, fuck! It’s been years since I was your dad! (Leaves the bottle and grabs her by the throat.) You know I hate it, you know I hate it! Don’t you know that, eh, don’t you know it?

ZULEIDY: I want to… puke… but it doesn’t come out…

MÁSHENKA: And don’t you go and puke on me. You’re gross enough already. Let’s see, let me wash your face… (Takes a ripped piece of the mop and wipes her face.) Not that we can make you clean…

ZULEIDY: Dad…

MÁSHENKA: (Accentuating the syllables, grabs her, shakes her.) Why do you insist on calling me dad? I’m a woman! I’m not your dad! I was, listen good… I was! I was your mom… Now you’re just a common whore. Did you hear me?

ZULEIDY: (She writhes, her mouth upward, inadvertently laughs, speaks with difficulty, sarcastically.) Ahhh… No, no… That’s what you want… Huge tits! A little hole in front… and a little hole in back… But you have a cock!

MÁSHENKA: Shut up!

ZULEIDY: (Weak.) And you’d like… you would like… to be a whore like me!

MÁSHENKA: (Covers her ears.) Ssss…

ZULEIDY: (Tries to stand up.) And to get fucked by a man… Not now… never! The Russki never fucked you… And he fucked me! (Sings, in her delirium.) I might fuck him for free but he did everything with me…

MÁSHENKA: (Grabs her by the throat.) You dirty pig!

ZULEIDY: (Continues singing.) Máshenka the rough, who the priest won’t fuck enough…

MÁSHENKA: (Hits her against the wall.) Shut up, shut up!

ZULEIDY: (Sings louder.) You wish you had a cunt but instead your cock’s in front…

MÁSHENKA: (Covers her mouth.) Enough!

Zuleidy bites her, pulls her wig.

MÁSHENKA: (In pain, from the pulling.) Ay!

Zuleidy pulls off the blonde wig, which falls in the vomit. Máshenka gives her a huge smack that throws her to the floor.

ZULEIDY: (Sings, without any strength.) The Russki is a pimp but with you, he just goes limp.

MÁSHENKA: (Kicks her.) Enough, enough! Shut up already!

Zuleidy wretches, moans, can’t form words. Máshenka steps on her belly and tramples on it over and over again. Takes the drenched wig and beats Zuleidy with it.

MÁSHENKA: (With anger, jumping on her, kicking her, hitting her.) Enough, enough, enough! Fuck, enough!

From outside, Javi’s voice is heard.

JAVI: (Yells.) Can a guy use the bathroom?

Máshenka doesn’t move. Zuleidy sobs and moves on the floor.

JAVI: (Yells again.) Can somebody come in?

MÁSHENKA: (Reactions, yells.) Wait a second, I’m just finishing cleaning up!

Máshenka drags Zuleidy inside one of the toilet stalls.

MÁSHENKA: Be calm, you hear me? (Wiggles her chin.) You hear me?

ZULEIDY: Hmmm….

MÁSHENKA: Don’t act like an idiot, you can hear me fine. Don’t open your mouth until that guy goes.

ZULEIDY: Hmmm….

MÁSHENKA: Deep down I pity you.

Zuleidy spits in her face. Máshenka, furious, closes the door of the stall from outside. Takes the wig and the bottle of syrup.

MÁSHENKA: (Yells.) Tell him to come in, Russki!

She goes out of the bathroom and is lost in the darkness of the auditorium.

  

VI

So much rouge and so much mascara

 The bathroom remains tenuously lit from a high window. Álvaro enters.

Álvaro. (Talks to the doggy, which he carries in his arms.) It’s a bit filthy, Miki, but it’s what there is… What’s left to us, anyway… (He puts the doggy on the ground.) Be quiet, I’ll pee right away and we’ll go…

The dog approaches the stall where Zuleidy lies. He wags his tail and whimpers.

ÁLVARO: (Approaches the urinal and takes out his dick.) Stop chasing your tail, you’re gonna get dirty…

ZULEIDY: (From inside, weakly.) Russki…

ÁLVARO: (Turns his head, surprised.) Fuck… (Finishes urinating abruptly and guards his dick.)

ZULEIDY: You here, Russki? I swallowed… I’m sorry, I swallowed it… Or is it that I didn’t put it in my mouth?

ÁLVARO: (Bends down, looks under the door of the stall.) Who’s there?

ZULEIDY: Lemme out, please… Lemme…

The dog whines. Álvaro opens the door and Zuleidy falls on him.

ÁLVARO: What happened to you? I’m gonna call Javi, wait…

ZULEIDY: (Pleading.) No, no, please… Don’t call him.

ÁLVARO: You’re bleeding.

Zuleidy hugs him. A little blood comes from between her legs, enough so that one can tell it’s dripping on the ground, it’ll soon become a puddle. 

ZULEIDY: I… (She lets go, touches her belly.) Here… I lost, I don’t know… I gotta vomit… (Delirious.) He kissed me but he didn’t take it out… I swear to you…

ÁLVARO: What’re you doing?

ZULEIDY: (Puts a finger in her mouth.) Don’t raise your voice, no… If you raise it, he’s gonna come…

ÁLVARO: Who?

ZULEIDY: The father.

ÁLVARO: Your father?

ZULEIDY: (Touches her stomach again, with two hands.) No… The father of my baby… Russki… I have a Russian baby… And a daughter in Guantánamo… (Sings poorly, flatly, invoking the melody of ‘Katyusha’.) Snow, fields, apples and pear trees, they still cover the white river, and Zuleidy looks out the window and seeks love in everything… (Falls to the floor.)

ÁLVARO: (Attempts to hold her in his arms.) You have to tell him, you’re bleeding… He’s right there, outside…

ZULEIDY: No, don’t call him, he doesn’t know… It’s better if he doesn’t come in, he’s not gonna like this.

The dog wags his tail insistently. Starts to lick Zuleidy, who is already on the ground, and then licks the blood.

ÁLVARO: Do I call him?

ZULEIDY: No.

Álvaro squats next to her, observes her quietly.

ZULEIDY: What day is today…?

ÁLVARO: Today?

ZULEIDY: Yes, it was the fourteenth, right? Last night I went to a party for Valentine’s Day.

ÁLVARO: Ah ha…

ZULEIDY: You… are you in love?

ÁLVARO: (Doubtful.) Yes.

ZULEIDY: (Smiling, delirious.) With me?

ÁLVARO: No. With me.

ZULEIDY: (She seems as if she’s going to kiss him. In a hushed tone, almost whispering.) When you were a boy… your mother… didn’t your mother put talcum powder between your balls and your thighs?

ÁLVARO: Talc?

ZULEIDY: Talc, yes, talc… With a powder puff…

ÁLVARO: (He’s too close to her to react in a timely manner. That’s why he’s slow to understand. Speaks timidly, discretely.) Ah… Ah, no, no. Because…talcum powder gave me asthma.

ZULEIDY: Could it be… could that be why…

ÁLVARO: Of course.

ZULEIDY: Well, to write, I… to write on the chalkboard I’d get the chalk and wet it with my tongue… (Smiles softly.) My lip would stick to my gums after and it was a little gross, you know what I’m saying? It would stick because chalk has plaster in it… understand? And the plaster… (Most delirious.) One time I fell and they put a cast on my elbow for the break… Ha, ha… But I took it off by myself, I took it off alone… (Tries to stand up.) I was alone at the party for the clowns, too… The clowns of Circuba didn’t make it out to Guantanamo, but we saw them on television… I saw it… we saw Russian clowns with long noses, even if I didn’t like the ones that came… I loved the woman who swallowed the swords, yeah, her, and the fireeater… Ah, ah… (Collapses to the floor.)

From afar comes the sound of a military chorus that sings ‘Katyusha’ in Russian.

Álvaro goes to touch Zuleidy but reconsiders: he crosses his arms very slowly, as if he felt a chill, sits on the ground and studies her.

The dog stops licking. Runs over to where Álvaro is and climbs up his legs. Then, for the first and last time in his life, he barks.

The lights slowly fade, and with the military chorus now playing loudly in the background, the time and the characters travel back a year.

 

VII

An eyelash in the eye

On the backdrop it reads: “One year earlier.”

Midnight. The door to the cinema is wide open and Máshenka, with her left arm in a cast from shoulder to wrist, douses the floor, immersing the mop once in a while in a rusted metal bucket. Her hair is parted and she has big hoop earrings on. From the tape player on the lobby counter she hears the voice of a female singer.

Javi enters from inside the theatre.

JAVI: Did the telephone ring?

MÁSHENKA: It’s not working, ‘cause of the storms.

JAVI: Was there thunder?

MÁSHENKA: It’s strange, but there was thunder.

JAVI: Then, if something happens, she won’t be able to call.

MÁSHENKA: No.

JAVI: I’m gonna look for her at the terminal.

MÁSHENKA: Stay calm, she’ll come.

Javi goes out to the sidewalk, lights a cigarette and smokes. Máshenka continues cleaning.

MÁSHENKA: One of these days you’re gonna have a heart attack.

JAVI: Very early tomorrow Cholo comes to collect.

MÁSHENKA: And you don’t have enough?

JAVI: I had to pay eighty bucks in kickbacks… for the fucked up cooling motor.

MÁSHENKA: Wasn’t the company gonna pay that?

JAVI: If we wait for the company…

MÁSHENKA: It’ll break again.

JAVI: I also bought these Adidas, I had my eye on ‘em for a while.

MÁSHENKA: You spend everything on that shit.

Javi is silent, sits on the steps.

JAVI: It’s the only thing that makes me happy.

MÁSHENKA: And now you’re up to here in debt.

JAVI: I’ll figure something out.

MÁSHENKA: Tonight you’ll have to parade Zuleidy around the park, to see what she can do.

JAVI: It’s better if you go and bring us something… It’s her first day.

MÁSHENKA: Not that you give a shit about that.

JAVI: Now she’ll get here and we’ll have to explain everything from the start.

MÁSHENKA: She knows more than a thing or two….

JAVI: I hope so, because teaching has never been my strength.

MÁSHENKA: I think you woulda made a good teacher. Little magic classes, with disappearing things…

JAVI: And you’d be a good clown instructor, because you’re so charming. The star of the Russian Circus!

Máshenka grimaces.

JAVI: And if she doesn’t come?

MÁSHENKA: You’ll go out and scrape by, it wouldn’t be the first time.

JAVI: It’s burning, Máshenka… A bunch of old faggots at the Prado… If you go down to El Parque del Curita the cops get you and harass you… And the tourists always like the weirdest games… It wasn’t like this before.

MÁSHENKA: It’s always been like this. And you’ve always done what you pleased. It’s all in what you need, in what excites your head and fills your wallet. Selling your ass is not a sexual problem, it’s your income.

JAVI: I grew up in Batabanó, with crass and trashy people. Those kinda guys have never liked me.

MÁSHENKA: Ay, Javi, go give another dog that bone, we know each other too well, and in Batabanó they fuck plenty and there’s no shortage of faggots… You come to me with that story?  Not you, anybody else, anybody who wants to rest sits down.

Javi looks at her.

MÁSHENKA: Did I say something that wasn’t true?

JAVI: I’m going to the Payret to buy cigarettes. I don’t have enough to get through the night.

He gets lost.

 

VIII

Two peas in a pod

Máshenka lowers the volume of the music.

In high heels, with a shawl that drapes over her shoulders and covers her head, Zuleidy appears on the corner. She carries a suitcase. From the sidewalk, she calls out:

ZULEIDY: Máshenka?

MÁSHENKA: (She turns.) Yes?

Zuleidy smiles at her.

MÁSHENKA: Girl!

Zuleidy comes close to her. Máshenka accepts her embrace.

MÁSHENKA: Come, come in. Be careful, as you can see there’s a puddle because I can’t wring out the mop so good.

ZULEIDY: What happened to your arm, dad?

MÁSHENKA: (Dryly.) Dad?

ZULEIDY: Ay, excuse me. Masha, Máshenka…

MÁSHENKA: We don’t know each other. Don’t forget that. If Javi finds out, he won’t want you to work for him.

ZULEIDY: It won’t happen again.

MÁSHENKA: (Observing her slowly.) And what are you disguised as?

ZULEIDY: It’s the best I had, to wear to Havana.

MÁSHENKA: But you look like Betty Boop… And that wrap? Take it off your head. (Goes to take off the wrap.) It’s for the cold. Who would guess that you were born in Guantánamo?

ZULEIDY: My cousin Yoyita lent it to me, Pacho’s granddaughter, don’t you remember her?

MÁSHENKA: (Turns to look at her. Whispers.) Do you want me to make you disappear, to turn you into ashes? Do you want to go backward, to never see this place again, not the Capitol, not the Payret, not the big hotels? Is that what you want? (She pretends to lament.) You haven’t seen anything yet, poor thing… (Knowingly, she closes in.) And if you put your foot in your mouth again, you’ll never see them.

Máshenka closes the door to the cinema. They talk inside.

ZULEIDY: (Blabbering.) I swear not to, Máshenka.

MÁSHENKA: We can be two peas in a pod, do you know what that means? Inseparable, accomplices. Or on the other hand, I can hate you with all my heart.

ZULEIDY: Ok, ok… We’ll be friends.

MÁSHENKA: I didn’t say friends. I was talking about closeness, not intimacy.

ZULEIDY: As you wish… (Smiles.) Thank you for trusting me.

MÁSHENKA: I haven’t trusted you. Javi needed a young girl like you and someone mentioned Zuleidy. A neighbor talked to me, the one who works in the pharmacy, Mónica, told me that you’d be good for this, that you’ll bear anything… I don’t know you, I couldn’t have found you any other way. Okey?

ZULEIDY: Clear.

MÁSHENKA: I’d like to be a good person. A mature woman who can make space for a young girl.

ZULEIDY: I don’t want to take anything away from you.

MÁSHENKA: I won’t let you do that. (Takes out a bottle of rum from under the counter.) Javi left it for me to open and share with you. He’ll take you to do something nice at daybreak. But at least we’ll celebrate like this, together. (She opens the bottle and pours a little bit on the floor.) For the saints, as usual. It’s not pure, but it’s what there is. (She serves her in a plastic cup.)

ZULEIDY: I don’t drink alcohol, it makes me sick.

MÁSHENKA: Come on, drink it, to warm up and so that you won’t care.

ZULEIDY: What?

MÁSHENKA: About everything that comes. It doesn’t stop. It’s a machine.

Drinks directly from the bottle. Zuleidy raises the glass to her lips.

MÁSHENKA: Let me look at you.  Stand up.

Zuleidy does it.

MÁSHENKA: Turn around.

Zuleidy turns around.

MÁSHENKA: Yep. You’ve got style. You’re a little shorter than Gloria, but you’ll do.

ZULEIDY: Who’s Gloria?

MÁSHENKA: The girl before you.

ZULEIDY: (After a silence.) And what happened to her?

MÁSHENKA: She left.

ZULEIDY: Where’d she go?

MÁSHENKA: (Annoyed by the insistence.) She left.

She approaches the closed crystal door.

ZULEIDY: But I’m not gonna leave.

She approaches her. Touches her shoulders, her back, almost embraces her. They look at the street. Máshenka sighs.

MÁSHENKA: You’ll wanna leave. (She moves away.)

ZULEIDY: I don’t believe it. I’m into Havana…

MÁSHENKA: At night it’s different and mysterious. During the day nobody can match it… I haven’t asked you how your trip was…

ZULEIDY: The train stopped all the time. In Las Tunas four pigs got into my car and filled it with a smell that…

MÁSHENKA: You’ll adapt to the smells here.

Silence.

MÁSHENKA: I’ll show you the place where you’re gonna sleep. For a few days, until we find something better. Follow me.

Zuleidy grabs her suitcase and follows Máshenka to the bathroom, a bit cleaner than before, even if terribly lit.

MÁSHENKA: (Pointing to a hidden shelf, on top of the stalls.) There’s space for your things up there. When you get ready to lie down, bring down that raft and toss it over here.

ZULEIDY: And the people?

MÁSHENKA: The people piss in the afternoon, in the evening, when the theatre is open and there’s a showing. At this hour you’re never gonna be here. You’ll enjoy sleeping during the day, when no one’ll hassle you.

ZULEIDY: I don’t sleep during the day.

MÁSHENKA: You’ll get used to that too. Today I cleaned the toilets with chlorine, tomorrow will be your turn. And the next day. And the day after that…

ZULEIDY: That doesn’t bother me.

MÁSHENKA: It’s a roof, there are those who have nothing.

ZULEIDY: Better than in Guantánamo.

MÁSHENKA: You’ll always eat outside, with the clients. Don’t even bring a cookie in here, okey? I can’t deal with the cockroaches. Or the rats.

ZULEIDY: There are rats?

MÁSHENKA: Javi.

Zuleidy laughs.

MÁSHENKA: And me.

Zuleidy is silent.

MÁSHENKA: The others won’t trouble you.

ZULEIDY: Nothing scares me.

MÁSHENKA: One last thing. Don’t get me wrong.

ZULEIDY: About what?

MÁSHENKA: About what’s gonna be. You don’t have an address in Havana, you’re illegal here. (Emphatically.) You’re on loan. The police can throw you in a truck and send you back to Oriente. You know that, right?

ZULEIDY: I know that.

MÁSHENKA: Watch it. Don’t force me to turn you in. (Notices the iPod, that hangs from Zuleidy’s neck.) I’ve been wondering what this is for a while.

ZULEIDY: An “aipod.” For listening to music. A client gave it to me.

MÁSHENKA: (Takes it all the way out.) Air-por? Like airport? (She looks at it.) It’s not a good idea for you to have it, somebody could mug you. I’ll keep it. (Puts it in her pocket.)

She hears the sound of the door to the cinema opening.

MÁSHENKA: Must be Javi. Get comfortable.

She goes out. Zuleidy has remained quiet. Observes the roof of the bathroom. She’s going to open her suitcase but stops. She sits on top of it. 

 

IX

Eau de toilette

In the half-light of the lobby one can see Máshenka and Javi exchange a few words. Soon Máshenka disappears and Javi goes into the bathroom.

JAVI: How are you?

ZULEIDY: So what?

JAVI: What what? (Undoing his fly and approaching the urinal.) I’m gonna piss. I won’t bother you, right?

ZULEIDY: No, no, go ahead.

JAVI: (While peeing.) How’s Havana been treating you?

ZULEIDY: Like this, see, I’m already listening to you pee.

JAVI: Sorry. It’s not what gentlemen do, right?

ZULEIDY: You call yourself Javi, no need to introduce yourself.

JAVI: (Laughs. Closes his fly. Goes toward her.) Oh yeah, don’t call me Javi, but Russki… And they call you Guanty, for being a Guantanamera.

ZULEIDY: I hate that song.

JAVI: But it’s a good nickname… Mónica gave it to you.

ZULEIDY: Yep.

JAVI: How do ya know each other?

ZULEIDY: Known her since I was a little girl.

JAVI: Since you were a girl, how?

ZULEIDY: (Stands up.) I also hate the police. (Above him.) And the questioning. You didn’t check everything out before you brought me?

JAVI: I always try to leave something unknown, to surprise me.

ZULEIDY: In front of that faggot-made-up-like-an-entrance that’s in the lobby, it’s better if I pass as a good girl. Not with you. I know guys like you really well. If I have to deal with fucking you, perfect. My role at night and at dawn and whatever, I’ll kick ass at. But drop the questions.

JAVI: Aren’t you a little pushy?

ZULEIDY: A fair amount.

JAVI: Lose that tone if you don’t want me to welcome you with a smack. Whaddaya think? That we brought you here as a tourist?

ZULEIDY: In Guantánamo I met all kindsa people. Nothing new is gonna happen to me with you.

JAVI: If you were that good you wouldn’t be in this shitty country. Some Spaniard would’ve invited you out. Or some Italian.

ZULEIDY: I’m tired. I spent 22 hours on the train.

JAVI: I didn’t push you. I suggested it, but I didn’t force you. I’m gonna pay you, one day more, one day less, but you’re always gonna earn. You’re not doing me a favor.

ZULEIDY: You like me.

JAVI: That doesn’t matter. Here you need smarts and speed. Not emotion.

Takes out a cigarette. Gives her one. They smoke.

ZULEIDY: (Looking upward.) That roof is gonna cave in any minute. Look at that beam.

JAVI: It been years since it chipped by the corner, it can bear everything.

ZULEIDY: Nope. It’s the support beam, it’s gonna split down the middle.

JAVI: And what are you, a fortune teller?

ZULEIDY: Architect.

JAVI: You playing?

Zuleidy shakes her head no. Javi watches her.

ZULEIDY: If you don’t watch out, I’ll take out a tape measure and strangle you.

JAVI: Like in that Hitchcock movie?

ZULEIDY: Thrillers aren’t my favorites.

JAVI: I’ve seen everything here.

They smoke.

JAVI: If you behavior yourself and things go well I’ll take you outta this place.

ZULEIDY: Go well how?

JAVI: Maybe it won’t work. Not because of you, but because of luck. There are people that have a lotta drive but little aura.  Do you believe in auras?

ZULEIDY: Yeah. In bad auras.

He looks at her intently. They smile.

JAVI: You see that one can be pleasant?

ZULEIDY: One can.

JAVI: Tomorrow I’ll give you a tour of the neighborhood. So you know the area, we’ll go to Mirtica the pick up, Cholo’s son…  There are strategic points.

ZULEIDY: If you want we can go out now. I’m tired but I can stand a little.

JAVI: Now? (Laughs.) Now there’s work.

ZULEIDY: You’ll go out in the street again?

JAVI: No. He’ll come here.

ZULEIDY: Who?

JAVI: Are you interrogating me now?

ZULEIDY: Who’s coming?

JAVI: I can’t tell you his name. Or how he walks. Or the color of his skin. I don’t know who he is. Máshenka’ll bring him. Whatever guy she meets in the park, an idiot with money looking for pleasure, for distraction. Things are bad and we’ll take what we can get.

ZULEIDY: I’ll have to take a bath, at least.

JAVI: Behind the raft there’s a drawer, and inside it there’s a bottle of perfume. Don’t bathe. Bathe yourself in a hotel, when you get the chance. The water’s never on around here.

ZULEIDY: Ok.

JAVI: There’s no water but there are hotels close by, cash, touristy, full of gringos… When the movies end, that’s when life starts in this theatre. Otherwise we’d be dead.

ZULEIDY: …

JAVI: You get it?

ZULEIDY: (After looking at him in silence for a few seconds.) I get it.

JAVI: I’m gonna get ready downstairs, in the theatre. He’ll arrive, we’ll get it over with quickly. In an hour you can lie down and sleep if you want to. But for now, as you know, you’ll do everything he asks you to. I’ll keep an eye out so that he doesn’t go too far.

ZULEIDY: Yeah.

JAVI: I’ll let you know. (Does a half turn and goes to leave. He stops.) Then you’re an architect…

ZULEIDY: But my house in Guantánamo is still falling down. And mama takes care of my three year-old girl there. I need to send them money.

JAVI: I didn’t know you had kids.

ZULEIDY: I won’t have another one. One is enough.

JAVI: There’s one last detail… Don’t call Máshenka faggot again. We can kill each other here, but not with unnecessary insults. She is the soul of El Mégano. And I love her like she was my mom. You copy? It’ll be better if you earn her respect.

ZULEIDY: Why does she have a cast?

JAVI: Don’t mess with things that don’t concern you.

ZULEIDY: Me, no, but they’ll concern you.

JAVI: It’s a white lie. It’s cut underneath. She puts it on sometimes to get pity.

Javi goes out. The bathroom slowly goes dark.

 

X

Lips and lipstick

Dressed in a black suit and dark glasses, his hair gelled, Álvaro approaches the sidewalk to the door of the theatre. He looks around suspiciously but doesn’t dare knock. Máshenka, who has followed a few steps behind him, fervently gestures that he make up his mind. In the end Álvaro knocks twice on the glass. Máshenka makes another sign and the young man knocks again. She vanishes.

Javi opens the door.

JAVI: Oh-la…

ÁLVARO: (Smiles.) Hello?

JAVI: Espanich?

ÁLVARO: No, Cuban. From Luyanó.

JAVI: Fuck, man, come in…

Álvaro comes into the lobby. Javi looks in both directions in the street and soon closes the door. Turns on a light bulb.

ÁLVARO: Turn it off, please…

Javi turns it off. They speak in the half-light.

ÁLVARO: It’s better like that.

JAVI: What’s up, what’s goin’ on?

ÁLVARO: I prefer it dark.

JAVI: No one’s gonna see here.

ÁLVARO: Yeah, you.

JAVI: Who cares. Only you’re gonna see the chick who’s waiting for you and me. But we forget all faces, we have that down. The only condition is that you pay me here first. You’ll be with her soon. I guarantee she’s the best.

ÁLVARO: I want the special.

JAVI: The special. They’re twenty bucks more, each one. The powder is really expensive and we gotta watch our backs, with the cops, you know…

ÁLVARO: I have the money.

JAVI: Okey.

ÁLVARO: What’re they like?

JAVI: Little half-inch bars. They come like lipstick. Powder bound with solid Vaseline, orange-reddish, to disguise it.

ÁLVARO: How come?

JAVI: Because it’s easier to stick it in like that.

ÁLVARO: Yeah?

JAVI: You’re gonna draw circles around her asshole with it, very slowly, and shove it in. The coke will feel delicious. If you lick it, uf… (Makes a gesture of added pleasure.) Pay close attention and when its halfway in, hold it three seconds and then pull it out. And then stick your dick in, you copy?

ÁLVARO: All except one thing.

JAVI: What?

ÁLVARO: I want you.

JAVI: The chick and me.

ÁLVARO: No, no. You.

Silence.

JAVI: Can you take off your glasses so I can try… to see you a little?

Álvaro takes them off.

JAVI: Sure I shouldn’t call her?

ÁLVARO: I’m sure.

JAVI: Just like that… Me, all alone, that’s what you want?

ÁLVARO: And the lipstick.

JAVI: You won’t need it with me.

ÁLVARO: Of course… of course I’ll need it.

JAVI: But… It’s not fun. With a chick it’s cool even if…

ÁLVARO: Chicks distract me. Men, we get right to it. You have the lipsticks?

JAVI: Got ‘em.

ÁLVARO: (Takes two bills from his pocket.) Gimme three.

JAVI: (Checks the bills and stashes them. Goes to the counter, ducks, opens the box and takes out three lipsticks.) One, two, three. Wrapped in cellophane, in case you happen to give them as gifts.

ÁLVARO: This is for me. (Opens it, looks at it, puts it away.) This, for you. (Javi puts it away. Álvaro looks at the third, and in the end, puts it in his pocket, too.)

JAVI: And that one?

ÁLVARO: What do you care.

JAVI: Don’t treat me like shit, brother. I’m making an exception for you. Tough guys aren’t my thing.

ÁLVARO: I paid you. Don’t think you’re doing me a favor.

Javi shuts up.

ÁLVARO: Let’s get on with it, man?

JAVI: I’m gonna put some music on. Just in case you squeal.

ÁLVARO: Put it on. In any case, you’re gonna squeal, you.

They look at each other intensely. Javi goes to the tape player and turns it on.

Over the music, Álvaro turns around to Javi and begins to kiss him on the back. He’s brutal with him, throws him against the wall. Javi dodges and Álvaro begins to penetrate him. They rub together in a corner of the lobby. Javi’s moans are confused with the singer’s voice. 

The lights fade out.

  

XI

Blushing desperately

 The backdrop reads: “2009, one more time”. A return to the action of the afternoon of February 14, where we left off. Máshenka and Javi, as they were then, in the lobby.

MÁSHENKA: Why did you let the Pansy into the bathroom? You couldn’t say it was under construction?

JAVI: (Wasted by the drug.) He’s crazy…

MÁSHENKA: Crazy or not crazy. I’m the crazy one for always doing what you want. How about that little tramp who bit me on the hand…

JAVI: No one normal swallows five capsules, one after the other.

MÁSHENKA: Chst. He’s from the hood. I know his face from I-don’t-know-where… And now that mangy dog is gonna fill the theatre with fleas.

JAVI: Did you bolt the stall door?

MÁSHENKA: Ay, enough already, Russki! I’m tired of this shit and you giving me orders all the time… Of course I bolted it!

JAVI: And she didn’t spit it up?

MÁSHENKA: We gotta leave her a bit to see if she feels better.

One hears the weak voice of Zuleidy who sings the melody of “Katyusha” from the bathroom.

MÁSHENKA: Who’s singing that?

JAVI: I don’t hear anything.

The voice is no longer heard.

MÁSHENKA: I don’t know what I’m hearing already.

From the ceiling, a bit of dust falls on Javi, who looks up at it.

JAVI: And this dust?

MÁSHENKA: It’s nothing new…

Silence.

JAVI: What’s left of this old theatre is crumbling.

MÁSHENKA: I’ve spent my whole life listening to this.

Another silence. Javi, nauseous, slumps down in a corner.

MÁSHENKA: (Pushes him with her foot.) Hey, get up from there, Russki, you have to open up… I’m not up for another inspection where they’ll catch us and fine us. I’ve had it with this Kien Lasky movie! Especially that shot of the cat, it’s so gross that it gives me goose bumps…

JAVI: (He rubs his face.) Do we have to open?

MÁSHENKA: I hate it when you get like that. You don’t have any limits. (She continues going at him with her foot, so that he’ll get up.) You don’t put an end to things.

JAVI: I’m gonna sleep a little, shut up…

MÁSHENKA: The same thing happened to you with that one… (Signaling the bathroom.) You don’t know when to stop… How come you had to bring her here again?… Now everything’s worse. She’s gonna get knocked up. I know that someday she’s gonna have your son, she wants to tie you down with a son… Of course, she’ll have it if you don’t mangle her first.

JAVI: Don’t talk more shit, about a son or no son.

MÁSHENKA: You’re gonna knock her up over my dead body. (Losing her way in the darkness of the interior of the lobby.) Zuleidy! Zuleidy!

One begins to hear a military chorus singing “Katyusha”, and each time it’s clearer. One hears Miki barking.

Máshenka returns, very slowly, with her hands covered in blood. She throws herself against the wall. She slides down it until she lands on the floor, with Javi. 

JAVI: (Mumbles.) Is there a parade?

MÁSHENKA: (Overwhelmed. Slowly.) Who came up with this song for Valentine’s Day?

The light fades until it disappears.

In the bathroom, the central beam gives way and the cinema comes down. The “Katyusha” reaches its paroxysm. Sound distortion that gives way to a deafening, prolonged roar: a catastrophe that consumes all.

In the end, only silence and darkness.

 

 

 

One thought on “Talc: A Powder Room Drama

  1. Pingback: Editor’s Note 5.2 | The Mercurian

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