We arrived at the hacienda just ahead of the rain. It was mid-afternoon. Hèctor and I went to the kitchen and ate. We sat at the same little round table that Alma and I sat at.
“So, you say Alma and you get along quite well.”
I hadn’t given much thought to what Alvarez had asked earlier, something about, if Alma liked me and if I liked her. “I suppose we do.”
At the moment, the mention of Alma’s name brought up the dream, or vision, or whatever it was, and I had a sense of urgency to talk with her. “Why do you ask?”
“You remember I said I did two cowardly things, the one was avoiding Alma which is all but imposable. Aguila…I don’t know how or why, but the heart wants with it wants. I still love Julia. I will always love her, so in her honor I opened myself to the possibilities.
“Things became clear. It was natural that Alma should fall in love with me. Alma came to me for one reason, and she stayed on for her own. I could only guess Alma had some kind of feeling for me, most likely out of pity, at first.”
“She doesn’t seem the type to do anything out of pity.” I don’t know why I said that. Alma had said she felt bad for Hèctor when she first saw how miserable he was. Alvarez gave me a quizzical look. “I mean she seems very direct with her feelings,” I added. Maybe I was trying to make the situation better for him, or for her, or for all of us. After all, no one likes to be pitied.
“As I said earlier, the longer she stayed on, the more I was attracted to her. We are both men, you understand, what man wouldn’t want a young and beautiful wife?”
“Yes sir, Alma is very pretty.” A vision of her blond hair and the way the sun and shadows played on her naked body when we were lying next to each other on the flat rock at the pool, flooded my mind.
“It is a shame that beauty must go to waste. Don’t you think?” Again he oozed with that overly familiar intimacy. I was half-expecting him to put his arm around my shoulder.
“I don’t see how a man could not want her. Even you, I suspect. I know I certainly felt that way, especially after my experience with her in the rain storm and after.”
“What are you saying, Hèctor?” I became quite uncomfortable, to the point I wanted to get up and leave.
“I’m saying this; Alma is a woman with needs. I am a man who, not for the lack of trying, hasn’t produced an heir. Let’s just say, I spoiled my chances by trying too hard.” Hèctor shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m truly sorry that you two haven’t been able to…to have a child.”
“Yes, both of us are frustrated.”
I leaned away from Hèctor, sat back in my seat and crossed my arms.
“You see, that is our problem.” He looked at me with raised eyebrows and drummed his fingers on the table top. “Can you think of any way to help solve our problem?”
I did not like that inclusive, ‘our.’ So I didn’t offer the obvious solution.
The situation was impossible. I didn’t know how I felt about Alma, or how I wanted to feel about her. Hèctor was right; Alma was a maddeningly attractive woman, and any man worth his manhood would want to make love to her. From the moment I met her we were bound together by the secrets we kept from Hèctor. I had seen her naked, for God’s sake. We shared our love of poetry. She had come to me in a vision. I hadn’t even been at El Paradiso for a week and already their lives coiled around me to the point of suffocation. “Hèctor, why don’t you just send her on her way?”
Hèctor sat up straight. “In a sense, she is bought and paid for. That’s neither here nor there. If you must know, ask Leòn.”
“Yes, Leòn,” he said flatly. After an awkward silence Hèctor resumed his narrative. “As Cervantes said, “Love and war are all one . . . It is lawful to use sleights and stratagems to . . . attain the wished end.”
“I see you are a lover of Don Quixote.” I couldn’t hide my surprise.
“Emilio, I am no rustico. I have educated myself. I have read every book in our library, though some may seem antique to you, they have their value. Everything and everyone has its value.”
“What does this have to do with Alma and you?”
“Let us just say, I dishonored myself when I with-held certain correspondence from her. And in doing so, I ensured she would find it in our mutual benefit and stay, if she would marry me.”
Our conversation ended when we both looked up as Alma entered the kitchen. She was barefoot, wearing her revealing nightgown and loosely tied housecoat. She yawned and stretched. Her hair was mussed. She went to the stove and placed the tea kettle on the fire. Alma stood by the worktable, prepared her cup and waited for the water to boil.
“Did you just get up?” Alvarez asked amiably.
Alma answered with an incredulous glance.
“You sleep as if you had been out all night,” again he spoke playfully.
“How do you know I wasn’t?”
“Because, good wife, I did not sleep well and was awake most of the night. You were right there, by my side.”
Alma looked at me with something of a sly look. “So, it seems,” she looked over to Alvarez and shrugged her shoulders.
Hèctor cleared his throat and stood. He nodded at both of us. “I will leave you two to discuss your poetry…and whatever else…” Alvarez gave me an expectant look and an encouraging nod. “Right, Emilio?”
I was silent.
“Whatever else?” repeated Alma with a curious smile. She looked first at Hèctor and then to me, “Well, whatever else… certainly has possibilities.”
Hèctor stopped at the kitchen door and turned back to Alma. “Have you seen Lupita? If you do, tell her I’ll be waiting in the library.”
This made Alma smile, “Oh yes, dear husband, I will let her know.” She stifled a smug chuckle and looked up from her tea to me. As soon as Alvarez closed the library door Alma hissed, “Pig.”
I didn’t feel it was my place, but I had to ask, “Alma, what happened between you two? You told me how much you were attracted to him.”
“I was. After I got over the shock and accepted the fact I was Señora Alvarez and my career as a college professor was not to be, I decided, why not make the most of it? After all, this place is beautiful. Hèctor had always been kind to me. After we married, when it came to making love, Hèctor was more than ardent. Our love making turned into something else. Nothing deviant, or repulsive, but it was constant.”
“What do you mean?”
“Emilio, two and three times a day; he seemed possessed, not particularly with me, or even the act. At first I liked the attention; he made me feel so alive, so sensual.”
“Two or three times a day?” That was excessive even for a younger man.
“When my time of the month came, he would have nothing to do with me. Not even talk to me. He would sulk, he would go out on the plateau for a week, come back and after a few, of what he thought were loving and romantic gestures, he would force himself on me with his damned rutting. I hate his touch. I had no one to talk to about his habits. Julia never mentioned this obsession in her letters. And, I believe she would have. She kept nothing from me.”
“Hèctor said he needs an heir,” I said. Even with her sleepy eyes and mussed hair, Alma captivated me in a way that went beyond any kind of logic. Whatever that magnetism was, it was primal. I wasn’t sure if she even knew the effect she had on me.
“That’s the real reason he married me, to breed.” She sipped her tea.
I looked her straight in the eyes, “Alma, why haven’t you left?”
Alma shook her head softly “I can’t,” she whispered. She left the work table and came over and sat next to me and took my hand. “I try to and it’s as if I am being torn in two. I feel weak, I get dizzy, I can’t eat. The only place I want to be is down into the selva.”
My first reaction was to pull away, but I didn’t, I couldn’t. I liked that she held my hand. I immediately saw a flash from the night before. “I had a dream last night. It felt so real. You were in the dream, too.”
“Yes, I was.” She licked her lips and put her other hand on top of mine.
“How can that be?” My heart beat faster. I could swear her eyes burned golden, if just for a flickering second.
“Do you remember what I said, in our dream?”
Somehow I wasn’t surprised at the idea that she would know about the dream. “Yes, something like, ‘We are the same, but we are not, we are here together, you and I, but we are not.’ What does that mean?”
“Do you remember where we were?”
“Down below, in the selva; at the pool you took me to, yesterday.”
“Were we? You heard what Hèctor said, I was in bed, by his side. I was and… I wasn’t.”
I didn’t quite understand.
“Emilio, where were you last night?”
“On the porch swing, on the veranda,” I said with conviction, “that’s also where I woke up.”
“Emilio,” she squeezed my hand a little tighter and spoke in a way a mother might to her child, “we met in a different place, a place where our spirits live separately from ourselves…”
“In the selva?”
“No, in that other world, where we are our dreams, we are whatever we want to be.”
All the while she spoke, the afternoon sun and shadows illuminated her delicate features from a palate of shifting luminescent tans and pinks and smoky grays. Her words were like underwater music. I found it maddening just sitting next to her.
“We are whatever we want to be, “I repeated softly.
Alma let go of my hands and abruptly stood. She went to the window and stared out for a few long seconds, and then turned back toward me. “I can imagine the …’whatever else’…Hèctor was hinting at.” She rolled her shoulders in such an enticing way I had to clear my throat before I could speak.
“You can?” My heart raced. The moment to decide was before me.
Alma took my hand. I stood up. She led me out of the kitchen, through the great room and up the stairs. She opened my door and we entered. The sun lay close to the horizon casting its soft pastel colors into the room.
“I said Hèctor is a simple man. But he has a unique philosophy when it comes to his things. He is practical and pragmatic and understands that everything has its use and its value.”
“He certainly values El Paradiso.” My heart was still pounding, partly from fear of what Alvarez might do if he had a change of heart and decided to come find us and partly from being so close to her. Alma closed the door softly. With a deft movement she untied the sash on her robe as she turned back to me.
“And he is smart enough to husband his resources wisely.” She gave a little chuckle, “I like the irony of that word ‘husband,’ especially in this context. I am a resource, Emilio, and so are you. Shall we?”