For dinner Alma wore a modest dress with a high neckline. She hid her shoulders under a silk scarf and she had pulled her hair back and into a bun. Alvarez guided her to the head of the table, pulled her chair out and with his hand on her shoulder gently eased her into the seat. She sat between us and Alvarez and I sat across from each other. Alvarez put his elbows on the table and propped his chin on his clasped hands. He wore an insipid almost reptilian smile.
I made it a point not to look at Alma and I decided to passively control the conversation. “So, tell me about the coffee drying. Will having electric power change your methods?”
He raised his eyebrows in surprise, “No, not really.” Alvarez then went on in great detail on the different steps taken to harvest, husk, select, dry and bag the coffee beans. He talked through most of the meal and I think he was disappointed at the lack of interaction between me and Alma. I kept my attention on him and encouraged him with feigned interest.
Alma pressed her knee against mine, I pressed back. Our little bit of play helped take away some of the tedium of Hector’s lecture on coffee processing. Alvarez suddenly seemed old. The candle light brought out the lines in his face. I noticed his teeth were stained from coffee and age. His eyes weren’t as deep and penetrating as when I first arrived.
Lupita brought the trey with our coffee and fruit. Alvarez patted the girl’s hip, put his arm around her waist pulled her close, and placed his palm just below the sash on the front of Lupita’s dress and absently moved his thumb up and down. The poor thing flinched while she served us. He gave Alma a cool, inviting glance, I expected he did so to get her reaction.
Alma returned his glance, acknowledged his actions and gave a curious nod. She looked over to me. “Emilio, did I leave my book of poetry in your room? The Neruda?”
I was a little shocked Alma could be so bold. I had hoped to make it through dinner without any allusion to our relationship.
I had to clear my throat, “I’ll look.”
“When you find it, bring it back and put it on my wife’s dressing chest. I‘m sure you know the way from your room to my wife’s and my bedroom,” said Hector. Again, he wore that cold, reptilian smile.
“If you’ll excuse me, I would like to finish my coffee out on the veranda.” I stood, subtly shook my head at both of them, and bowed.
“I’ll join you,” said Alma.
As she stood, Alvarez abandoned the embrace he had on Lupita’s waist and took Alma by the wrist, and held her in her seat.
“No you won’t. We have things to discuss.” He looked over at me, “You were on your way, yes Emilio?”
I hesitated for just a second but continued to the kitchen and out into the evening. I sat in the swinging bench and sipped at my coffee. I was glad the chorus of insect and frogs muffled Hector’s and Alma’s heated exchange. What could I do? Neither she nor I were in a position to raise up against Alvarez. The more I thought about it, we were both under his control, life and death control. Alma and I would have to wait for the right opportunity to escape.
In a few minutes Alma and Lupita came out together.
“Lupita, go hide yourself, stay with the People for a few days.”
“Sì, Patrònita.” She kissed Alma’s cheek and headed down the path to the rear gate.
Alma sat down next to me. She took my hand and leaned her head on my shoulder. “Quiera mia, he is such a monster.”
“Yes he is. Why did you provoke him? It is a difficult and strange enough situation as it is.”
“Is it so difficult and strange to love me?”
“That’s not what I mean. Alma, he has complete power over us. How do either of us know what he will do next?”
“He is as strong as we let him be. In many ways he is like a boy, true a little boy with a pistol, but not so strong as you think.”
“What were you arguing about?”
Alma gave an ironic chuckle, “He told me to hurry up and get pregnant. I said it takes as long as it takes.” Alma moved her body so she could crook her leg over mine. She leaned in close and kissed my lips.
“He’s not a very patient man, and I’ve seen his temper.”
“But he is a man of his word.” Alma continued with a bit of mockery, “Once he gives his word, he never breaks it, for him that would be a sign of weakness. But then, he is as good as his word no matter if it destroys him…and let’s hope it does just that.”
She kissed my cheek and nibbled on my earlobe. Though I thoroughly enjoyed her play, at the moment I found it inappropriate. I squirmed and pulled my face away from hers. “Alma, please, this is serious.”
“Yes, very…” Alma pulled me back to her. She ran her tongue over my lips. I couldn’t resist the invitation, so I kissed her. When she returned my kiss everything fell away. The cosmos consisted of just her and me. We kissed and caressed and fondled one another under the milky light of the waning moon. Ruled by passion and the frantic impatience of lovers, Alma pulled her skirt away and straddled me. We made love on the swinging bench. The support chains moaned and rattled to the point Hector must have heard. He came out on the balcony and with crossed arms watched us. I had to look away to stay in the moment with Alma. When I looked back he was gone.