Cielo Rojo Summer 2009
They keep coming, to my studio, the panaderia warehouse off of East that smells of flour and sugar crusted on baking racks, the warehouse so hot in the summer that the paint seems to dry before the brush touches the canvas, and my hand sticks to the paper, drops of sweat muddying the charcoal, the same warehouse that floods in the winter, so that even in these unbearably hot days I don’t dare romanticize the cold lest I forget the nights of wading through puddles and the two pairs of pants and socks, and the paint, the paint that never seemed to dry. They keep coming, to my studio in the panaderia warehouse off of East, rapping on the metal curtains as if they can see my illuminated corner, as if they know that there is a painter in the warehouse, already writing his solitary story. They keep coming, rapping on the metal curtain until I open the door, expecting it just to be the sounds of night never heard during the day, like the creak of a swiveling vent. But there they are, more shadows than men, like the one on that first night who stood there in the moonless darkness and said to me without preliminaries, Cuanto me cobras? How much will you charge? Charge you for what? I said. And he responded, I keep dreaming that I am going towards a blue sky but when I awake it’s always red, the sky is red, don’t you understand? And after a pause he said again, Cuanto me cobras? And I told him that he must be mistaken. I just use the warehouse, I said. Who is it that sent you And he shook his head as if I were the one mistaken and said, Don’t you see, I keep expecting the sky to be blue, but it’s always red, and before I could tell him again that I didn’t understand, he continued, insisting on being heard, on being understood. I came here years ago, he said. I came here with dreams. I came here believing the stories I’d heard, that one day I would be my own boss, have my own business, my own house, that I would be able to tell my children, see mijos, my hand drawing an invisible line in the air, this is what I was then, this is what I am now. How much will you charge me? And I said again, I don’t understand. Charge you for what? What is it that you want? And he shook his head in agitation, It’s just that every time I walk outside I expect the sky to be blue, but it’s always red, don’t you see? And without waiting for me to say no, he began again. I hurt my back, he said. I can’t work. I can’t work. What is a man who can’t work? I’m not a man anymore. I used to have dreams, that’s when I was a man. But now, mi mujer. Mi mujer. My wife. My woman. Don’t you see? My wife. My wife, and he kept on saying mi mujer mi mujer over and over again as if it were the only way to explain. He looked down at the ground and then just as quickly looked up, and said, I can’t even shit, Ni cagar! And he laughed, a hysterical laugh, not meant to emerge. So now you see, he said. Now you see. How much will you charge? And this time it was my turn to laugh unexpectedly, Señor, I don’t understand what you’re asking of me. Listen, he said. Listen. I used to think I was heading toward a blue sky, and that it just happened to be red. But now I know, now I know there is no blue sky that I’m heading toward. The sky is always red. El cielo es rojo. I know that now. I am forty three years old. And I’ve never been anything in my life. And Now I know for sure that I never will be. How much will you charge? And this time, my impatience tempered, but not my confusion, I said, please, charge you for what? And this time he said, Para expresar que me siento, to express what I feel, right here, and pointed to the middle of chest just above his abdomen. Here, he said again. Here.
And the others followed. Nights later I again heard the rapping on the metal curtain. And I opened the door and there he was, and nights later, there she was, in the same motionless darkness, ready to ask me the same question. How much will you charge? And providing the same answer to my confusion. Don’t you see, I keep expecting the sky to be blue, but it’s always red. And they tell me of the same heartbreaks and betrayals, they tell me of the same dreams never realized, and they tell me of the same regrets. Only the details change, names, locations. It’s like the old song, one of them said, giving me finally some semblance of context, the song that goes, voy caminando, I go walking, y no se que hacer, and I don’t know what to do , ni el cielo me contesta, and the sky does not answer me. Mientras estoy dormiendo, while I am sleeping, I dream that the two of us together are heading toward a blue sky, but when I wake the sky is red, and you are gone. And he, he held up his hand to his heart and said, here. Just as one pointed to her temple and another to his jaw, another to her upper abdomen and another just below his stomach. Here, they say. This is where I feel it. Cuanto me cobras para expresar que me siento aqui? Here.