To Share a Destiny
by Germán Amatto
Two weeks after abandoning his wife, he rented a single room in a boarding house in San Telmo. He had left their loft taking only the clothes on his back, and that dirty room with one cot and one wardrobe was all he could afford. He wasn’t displeased with it. He saw the austerity of that room as the measure that would define his new life; he considered it the ideal refuge from which to forge his own destiny.
He bargained over the price of the room and closed the deal. Once alone, he inspected the room. The bitter winter air filtered through the cracks in the walls, the bathroom stank; the dilapidated cot promised to roll him onto the floor at any time during the night. But he appreciated his luck as soon as he opened the old wardrobe: an overcoat was hanging between the rotted wooden walls, just waiting for him
The coat was gray, a good fit. It seemed to be brand name, though there were no labels to indicate that. The garment was obviously worn out. There was an old stain under the left breast pocket; a dark trace that spiraled in a serpentine manner, eating into the right sleeve.
But worse than that was the small perforation that traveled from the lapel, to the front panel, and to the back of the coat. He wondered about its last owner and the shady circumstances under which he had last worn that coat. He suspected the story woven through the worn-out fabric was about a sordid voyage, and its final destination was, without a doubt, that perforation with the burned edges.
He gazed at the coat, pondered about it, and finally decided to try it on. It fit its new owner as snugly as if it had been made to order.
(A dirty bar; interior)
Through the window, his gaze followed the dry leaves swirling all the way up Defensa Street. Later he turned his eyes toward his table, to the hot cup of coffee and to the classified pages before him.
He had looked for work every day that week, and nothing, nothing, nothing had turned up. He beat the pavement from sunrise to sunset and all he got for it was fatigue. More and more, his expectation of building a new future was becoming a fantasy of failure with every classified add he crossed out.
He sipped from his coffee cup, put it down, crunched the classified pages in his fist, and tossed them away. The crumbled pages fell on the chair across from him and there they stayed, bunched up and useless just like him. Damn! Even the folds on the pages he’d just tossed resembled those on his coat...
He made a fist and punched the table. It was a dry punch born of his anguish; it numbed his hand as it hit and shook the table
Things on the tabletop clinked. The cup of coffee fell. A smoking thread of liquid spread across the formica top and dripped onto the left side of the overcoat.
He showed no reaction. He simply stared as the new stain met the old one and shaped itself to fit its circumference, exactly
On the street, dead leaves and crumpled paper blindly followed the direction of the wind.
(An expensive restaurant; interior)
He accepted his wife’s invitation to dinner because he was sick of eating rice and because he wanted to gloat, seeing whatever signs of pain their separation had engraved on her youthful face. But he was also driven by the twisty visceral feeling he still got every time he thought about her.
SHE (looks splendid. The sweater she wore was immaculate, not even a wrinkle on it; so different from that overcoat he’d been wearing for a month.): “I loved you, you know? I’ve always loved you.”
That was a good beginning. A very good beginning. Perhaps... reconciliation could be possible.
SHE: “I believed our union was strong — deep. I don’t know. I believed that perhaps we shared the same destiny. You don’t know how difficult it is for me to tell you this...”
He wouldn’t make it difficult for her. If she simply took responsibility for her actions and apologized, he would go back to their loft in Palermo, Hollywood, on his own terms, and all would be forgotten.
SHE: “You don’t know how difficult it is for me to ask you for a divorce.”
That was not in the script. Absolutely, not.
SHE (reaching for a sugar packet): “Yes. I know it is a difficult step to take, but Juanma said...”
HE (biting into each letter): “Juanma.”
SHE: “He’s one of my lawyers. Juanma said...”
HE: “Isn’t Juanma a fag’s name?”
SHE (looking baffled): “He is my lawyer. And what he says is...”
HE: “I don’t give a damn for what anyone who goes by the name Juanma may have to say. Isn’t he the guy I saw you leaving that fleabag hotel with?”
SHE (crunching the sugar packet): “Look, I’ll make it short. We can end this on a good note, or we can fight it out in court. Your choice.”
HE (observing the features he knew as well as his own; wanting to tell her that he still needed her, terribly... that he was ready to forget everything in exchange for whatever sign of repentance she was willing to give him): “What a shrewd bitch you are.”
The slap still burned on his face when she turned to look at him from the exit door. Her gaze sizzled with hate.
Her stare seemed to follow him all the way back to the hotel He asked himself if that hatred could be real, or could it simply be a way to conceal opposite feelings. Some broads are like that: they get excited but don’t want to put out; they turn aggressive.
The fact is, it doesn’t matter, he said to himself while walking down the corridor towards the patio. Love or hate. Past their limit, they are the same thing: a hot flame consuming your brains. And perhaps she had crossed that line. Perhaps she had gone far enough to distort the past and blame him for all her frustrations, building up spite, becoming capable of...
Capable of what? That poor devil couldn’t even kill a fly. He walked across the patio numbed by the cold air. He walked inside the room, but didn’t take off his coat. It was colder inside the room than it was outside, and he hadn’t been able to buy a space heater. He needed to warm up the room a little, get a hot drink. He turned on the hot plate.
There was a crackling sound. The flame leaped toward him. Fire spiraled up the coat sleeve like a serpent.
He reached for a dish towel and lashed his arm with it. He was desperate. The flame intensified, and slithered toward his shoulder. He tried to pull his coat off. The material stuck to his body, he couldn’t unbutton the coat. He felt his neck burning. He wanted to scream, but all he could manage was to heave a mouthful of warm air.
He ran to the sink and opened the faucet; the fire hissed under the water wrapping his arm in vapor and smoke.
He looked at his hand, it throbbed with pain; blisters were beginning to appear.
He didn’t wear that coat, again. But he didn’t want to discard it, either. He hung it back inside the wardrobe, on the same hanger and in the same place where he had found it.
He began to dream. Every night, he was shaken by horrific visions he later couldn’t remember.
He’d wake and lift himself up, gasping for air. He’d listen carefully. All he could hear from the street were sounds of automobile tires rolling on the pavement, some dogs barking in the distance. That was all. Yet he was left with the dark certainty that on the edge of his dream he heard a rough and ominous sound of cloth brushing against wood.
(The multiple trails in Lezama park. A blanket of dry leaves covers the ground. Stormy clouds darken the afternoon.)
They met again on an empty Monday.
She walked next to him with her hands inside her coat pockets, she seemed to be meditating
HE (kicking dry leaves): “What do you want to talk about?”
SHE: “What happened to your hand?”
HE: “What in the hell do you want to talk about?”
SHE: “There’s no need for us to split up like this. I too, at first thought to kill you with indifference. But later... (Smiling), later I changed my mind. Why should I live like this, full of rancor if we can end things differently?”
Something was different about her, an open attitude, vulnerability; it made him wonder. He still carried in his wallet the note in which she asked him, implored for a new encounter to be able to finally bury their differences. He couldn’t deny her that. He owed it to her “for all the years we had together.”
It sounded promising.
HE: “Fine. I’m here.”
They walked as they used to back when they were together. He spoke of memories, fears and failures. She agreed in silence, understanding. The rest of it played out as if in the movies: it started to rain, they ran to take refuge under an awning, he stepped in closer to her, and saw in her features a mirror image of himself, of his own bitterness.
HE (reaching for her hands): “What do you think? Let’s go to a bar.”
SHE (abandoning her hands to his): “No. Too many people. We still need to talk; I don’t want anyone listening.”
(Interior; his room)
They talked, cried, laughed, time passed, day turned to night.
He turned on the night light. Its amber tinge spread to cover the unmade cot, and the wardrobe. She stood by the door, already wearing her coat; the expression on her face indicated she was trying to make a decision.
Outside, the storm blasted.
SHE: “What are you thinking about?”
HE: (gets close to her and caresses her cheek) “I’m thinking it’s such a pity we should have to split up. I feel there’s a lot that brings us together. We have so much in common.”
SHE (stepping back, away from him): “Yes, including our temper.” (She checks the time.) “Perhaps that’s the problem. Well, I’m glad we had a chance to talk.”
HE: (lights a cigarette, points to the bed) “If this is what you call talking, what would you consider screwing?”
SHE: “I’ve had a good time, but I have to go.”
HE: “It’s still early. Why don’t we go get dinner?
SHE: “I would like that, but I have to go somewhere else.”
HE (Gazing at his burning cigarette. He’s losing her, but doesn’t know how to keep her.): “It’s raining buckets. You could at least wait until it lets up.”
SHE: “I can’t. It’s already nine-thirty...”
HE (not even thinking): “...Well, I’m sure the fag Juanma is waiting for you. Bitch.”
She pressed her lips tightly, turned, and opened the door. A gust of wind knocked down the night light; they were left in the dark. She took a few steps toward the patio. Hesitated, and then turned toward him.
SHE (enraged): “And to think that I had doubts until now.”
She plunged a hand into her coat pocket, then began to retrieve it slowly.
He dropped his cigarette. He drew back until he felt his back pressed against the wardrobe’s frigid surface.
The woman’s expression blurred in the semidarkness. A chilling silence. It was then that he heard a faint sound coming from behind him. A soft friction, almost imperceptible, but constant.
SHE (retrieving her tight fist from her coat pocket): “Here’s what’s yours.” She opened her hand. Something small fell out from it and jingled as it tumbled across the floor toward him.
SHE: “This is the last time we see each other. I don’t want to know you any more.”
The wedding ring seemed a very pale circle against the dark floorboard. It resembled another circle: the hole with the burned edges traversing the overcoat.
The noise coming from inside the wardrobe was no longer a whisper. It was an urgent and pressing call.
She was leaving.
HE: “Wait. Don’t go like that. You can’t go like that.”
She stopped, confused.
HE (opening the wardrobe door): “You can’t go like that, not with this rain. You’ll ruin your clothes.” (He takes down the overcoat.) “Take this. It’s been ruined, but it can still be useful.”
The overcoat must have shrunk; it fit her perfectly. Though it was no longer her. He looked at that woman; it seemed as if her features fluctuated. Yes, it was a subtle change: every wrinkle around her eyes, every fold in the corner of her lips corresponded with each wrinkle and fold on the overcoat.
For a split second he saw an expression of hate and contempt on that face. He understood that the barter had been accepted. He didn’t escort her out.
He stepped out to the patio. He waited motionless under the rain. A dirty puddle of water around his feet bounced the image of his face back to him. He closed his eyes. A shot was heard in the distance.