Fernanda put her phone down. She was sick of Instagram, Facebook, endless stories of satiated over-the-top opinions; if she saw one more #elenão or #foraPT she would silently lose her mind.
It was early on Saturday, one day before the first round of elections. Rodrigo was still asleep. It had been hard to find real silence recently, and now she even placed the coffee cup down delicately so as not to create sound. The abundance of noise had hardened inside her so that she felt heavier, she imagined her blood being a dark, grey colour.
Her fingers had been painted a light green. The beautician presumed she was voting for Bolsonaro. “You are upper class, all of you are voting for him.” Then she kind of smiled and flicked her hand as if she were swatting away a fly. Fernanda had not answered. It was easier to just stay silent, knowing that no matter what was said it wouldn’t make a dent. People believed what they wanted and only listened so they could have their chance to talk. It wouldn’t have mattered if she had told her that she was not upper class, in fact, and that her mother had once been a beautician, that she herself had gone through university on a scholarship. Wouldn’t have made the slightest difference if she had tried to show both sides, tried to show that she was somewhere in the middle and that being in that vast emptiness of in-between was valid, too. She knew what the response would be. If you vote for these Amoedos, these Alkmins, you are really only voting for Bolsonaro. They have no hope. And what about the second round, then you will vote for him?
She didn’t say anything either because she didn’t know what she would do. She looked at her nails, her hands, a part of who she was. She curled her fingers, moved them quickly, touched her thumb to each finger. They followed her command. Yet now they would betray her. There was no way that in weeks to come when she cracked her knuckles she would not feel like they had forsaken her in some acute way.
Rodrigo woke. She had first noticed him in a restaurant close to where she worked. He was at the table across from her with other men. All wearing suits. All speaking too loudly. She noticed the way he pulled the fat from his mouth and dropped it on his plate, licking his finger and thumb before chewing through the rest of the meat. The carefreeness of it. The slapping of his hand on the table as he laughed. The sureness, the unwavering security that she would never have, no matter how much she tried. She knew if they ever spoke she would not show any admiration, never let on she had even noticed him.
She saw him again when waiting in the queue to pay. She tried to leave quickly only to realise she had walked away without her keys. As she made her way back he came towards her.
“Forgot these?” His face was smiling a smile too big for any face. Thick with white teeth and a tongue that moved too quickly. Walking back to her office she thought of him. Wondered what he would look like naked. If there’d be a gentler side to him as they fucked. She imagined fucking him, she couldn’t picture him making love. Couldn’t think of herself saying, I’m sleeping with him. She imagined that sleeping and fucking were two immutable actions for him.
He made his way into the sitting room, now, in his boxers. She had once thought everything about him, beautiful. He fixed himself as he leaned down and kissed her full on the mouth, even though she tried to move her mouth away.
“Have you eaten?”
“No, just had some coffee.”
She knew what he meant was, where is my breakfast?
“There’s cut mango in the fridge. And there should be bread rolls in the freezer.”
“I’ll have cereal.”
Taking a bowl and a spoon had never been so noisy. He sat opposite her and ate with his mouth half open. He swiped through his stories, occasionally stopping to laugh at a funny meme.
“Did you see this?”
He looked up at her without finishing what was in his mouth.
“Your friend, Ana, she’s Petista, I mean, seriously, are these people completely retarded?”
“She has a PhD.”
“In what? Corruption?”
He laughed a little at his own joke and finished his cereal. He got up and went to the sofa, turned on the TV and noise of names far too familiar infected what had been so quiet just moments before. She went to the kitchen. She washed up as he agreed aggressively with the TV. For a moment she thought of running out of the apartment. She could see herself in the morning light.
“Come here and listen to this! Just listen to these spiders spin their web.”
She went to the bedroom asking herself how long he had been thinking up that putdown. Maybe he had heard it at work and decided to claim it as his own. He will say it again at lunch, she thought. She locked the bathroom door and showered for too long
They arrived at his grandmother’s house and everybody was already there, waiting for them. Uncles, aunts, cousins, parents. All of them hugging and kissing and slaps on the backs. Rodrigo looked at her quickly, a glance of irritation, a look that said, see, I told you we’d be late, what were you doing locked in the bathroom, anyway? Fernanda smiled and hugged everyone, agreeing that summer was coming, that it was too stuffy, that there’d be rain. Then they sat to eat and the conversations started. Mostly the men, throwing facts, remembering years gone by, ridiculing, making anecdotes; the women nodded in agreement, sometimes chirping in with something they had read. Fernanda found it hard to remember what silence even was.
“I’m telling you now,’ Rodrigo’s father started up, ‘we’ll become a Venezuela, it’s as simple as that, we won’t survive another 4 years of PT, imagine, Lula will be free, they are all his puppets.”
“I was watching it on the news this morning, all these Petistas, like spiders spinning their webs of lies, and what’s worse is they all believe it, ask Fernanda, all her friends from uni, even the professors, they eat it up.”
“The problem isn’t just the educated, it’s the uneducated,” now his uncle, a lawyer, “it’s the poor who can’t see further than their plates, they can only see one thing and that’s bolsa família, as long as they’re getting their monthly payments, they’ll vote for PT!”
The conversation continued like this over servings of pasta in a fresh tomato sauce. She tried to stay silent, nodded in a way that didn’t provoke response, smiled in a way that avoided questions.
“You’re so quiet Fe,’ Rodrigo’s mother leaned across the table, ‘everything ok?”
“I’m fine, just a little tired.”
“She just doesn’t like listening to so much sense,” Rodrigo laughed and waited for the others to do so, too, “she’s anti-Bolsonaro!”
“Remember you’re voting for a leader, Fernanda,” his uncle, again, looking at her with conviction, “not a father.”
Then there was a quietness that came from the earth and rushed through each of them and a wonderful moment of silence before somebody said something and the conversation started again.
She thought of her father, Pedro. His absence was still so large. She carried it with her; it weighed heavy on her organs. She found it hard, almost daily, to decide what to do without his guidance. For weeks after he passed away she would pick up her phone to text him. Every party she left, she would call him and it would go to voicemail and she’d think it strange, and then she’d remember his non-existence, there as she waited for a cab on the side of an empty street and her body would become somebody else’s. Sometimes she hoped she’d get robbed, that they’d point a gun right at her face so she could check to see if her body still belonged to her.
Her mother said that it happened just before midnight. One second he was breathing and the next he was not. It was as quick and easy as that, death. Silent and unforgiving. So subtle that her mother had thought it was a joke. Now, at the table, Fernanda breathed heavily and didn’t cry. It was a small victory. Being able to not cry was an ability she had mastered only recently.
Rodrigo’s eyes met hers and he smiled a little, an apology perhaps, or a way of telling her that his uncle didn’t mean any harm. It was not just loss that she felt but a frustration of what to do with all that love. Her love did not die with him but was there, inside of her, momentous and moving, and needed a release. Then there was Rodrigo and he needed so much love, all the time, and she had it in abundance. It oozed from her. There was a need to love a man, now that the only man she had ever loved had vanished so cuttingly.
The conversation continued over dessert. When they were leaving, Rodrigo’s mother hugged her tightly and whispered in her ear, I won’t be voting for him either and then she squeezed Fernanda’s shoulder with a face of earnest. It was an act of kindness that irritated her. They drove home and she looked out the window at the streets that passed her, the favelas hidden by high rises. She opened the window at the traffic lights and gave a beggar 5 reais.
“You know he’s only going to use that money for drugs, you think you’re helping him but you’re not.”
“If I were a beggar I would use the money to buy drugs, too.”
He scoffed and drove a little faster.
That night she lay thinking of the day ahead and of her dad, trying to construct the perfect phrase that he would use. How he’d pause before using a word he had no need to pause for. Know your own mind, he’d say. She pictured him in his armchair, lifting his head up from a book to look her in the eye as he said it. She tried to remember his smell. The lines that had gathered by his eyes.
She could feel that familiar, aggressive pain returning in her chest. Soon she was crying and tried to silence her tears, to mute her breathing. She did not want to be heard.
“You’re not still pissed about lunch, are you?”
She did not answer and he rolled back over.
She woke up on Sunday before Rodrigo. Without eating breakfast she left the apartment, with only a note for Rodrigo that said gone to vote. Her hands had already deceived her. The left one that held the paper steady, the right one that curled some unknown future in neat handwriting. The voting station was already bustling. It had hardly opened and there were already crowds of people in green and yellow, smaller crowds in red; some wore t-shirts with the slogan elenão. The voting itself was quick. Like jumping from the cliffs into the sea, the wait beforehand taut, the falling momentary. She had cast her vote and was back home before Rodrigo woke up.
The first round went as predicted. She didn’t watch the news that night. No Instagram or Facebook. Told Rodrigo she wasn’t feeling well and went to her mother’s apartment. She noticed the lack of life there. The walls seemed thinner, the chipped paint larger, and for the first time she noticed what Rodrigo must have noticed when he visited, an air of poverty. The blankets on the bed were shabby. The frames of the pictures, all wooden, all old. The thick television. The plain white fridge.
It had always just been home to her. Now that she was a junior lawyer, now that she probably earned more than her mother and father together had earned, she saw things a little differently. Or maybe because without him it was no longer a home. Memories of him leaning on the counter came and went, of him sitting at the table finishing a crossword. They almost had a taste. She went to her room to unearth something in the drawers, in boxes under the bed but didn’t have the energy.
The next weeks were tense. Every good morning was loaded. Rodrigo was louder than before. She was starting to feel embarrassed when with him in the company of others. It was hard to steer a topic away from the elections. She could feel a certain hue of hate building within him and more and more he directed it towards her. She had long since given up on trying to show the other side of any argument. He didn’t care that Bolsonaro, the likely president, had shouted at a female politician telling her she was too ugly to fuck, that she was a slut.
“That was years ago,” he’d said. And that, in itself, was an acceptable excuse, for him it was excusable.
She arrived home one evening and there were candles on the table and an open bottle of wine. Rodrigo was in the kitchen, sweating at the oven. He came to her, using the tea-towel to wipe his forehead.
“6 months today.”
He turned back to take something from the oven and she remembered that 6 months with Rodrigo meant 9 months without her dad. Something deflated inside her. It was hard to believe she was made of blood and bones.
“Sit down, dinner’s nearly ready.” He laughed, even he found those words leaving his mouth as some kind of silly joke.
Within minutes he was edging the same conversation so she interrupted him.
“I saw João today.”
“Nothing, how was he?”
“Why don’t you like him?”
“I don’t not like him.”
“Seriously, Ro, what is it?”
“Nothing, well, you know how I feel about it.”
“What? About him being gay? Seriously, that’s an issue. Do you agree with Bolsonaro on that too, you know he said if he saw two men kissing in the street he’d beat them up.”
“Well, I wouldn’t beat them up but nobody really wants to see that.”
“Jesus Christ, you’re unbelievable.”
She had gotten up and the chair had fallen, she was putting on her coat and opening the door.
“What?! You’re leaving?! I made you fucking dinner.”
She slammed the door with no idea where she was going. She wanted to walk, just walk out her feelings, but it was late and dark and the streets were not safe. She drove instead towards the south zone and along the river. The moon was fantastic in the sky. The final round was drawing close and deep down she was not sure who she would vote for and it sickened her. The city that she had loved had changed over the years, under the same government it had become menacing, had given shadows a new power. Taxes that her parents had paid, that she was paying, became larger apartments and newer cars for the select few while the roads had larger potholes that were never fixed, while crime rates increased, while murders were becoming common. In a group of friends it was impossible to find somebody who had never been robbed.
Bolsonaro’s face sickened her, the sagged cheeks, the little, twisting mouth. His essence made her feel queasy. His rhetoric, what he put out into the world, was horrific. The fact that it didn’t offend everyone was more horrific still. Would it be safer, though? Would her children grow up protected, free? There is always a group that suffers, throughout history it has been so, would it just be changing the group? The very thought frightened her, that she herself had thought it. Another betrayal. I am losing who I am.
It was the day before the final elections and they had a wedding to go to, one of his old friends from school. She had only met him once.
“Let’s just try and enjoy tonight,” he said and looked at her in the mirror as she put in her contact lenses. She smiled back at him and felt a distinct loneliness.
She finished spraying herself with perfume and went to join him in the sitting room. He had gelled his hair to the side and looked more jovial. He was so handsome. His smile, when he saw her, made him look like the most easy-going guy in the world.
“You’re so gorgeous,” he said and looked her in the eyes and she had to look away. The compliment fell off her without sticking.
The church was hot. The couple came together at the altar and the groom’s eyes were wet with happiness. Fernanda felt removed, like it was a painting with rough, thick brushstrokes. There is something wrong with me, she thought. After the church they drove to the venue, a ridiculously over-the-top social club. The room was decorated in candles and large, aggressive bouquets. There was a table that ran along one of the walls that were full of cupcakes, sweets and petals. The wedding cake had 5 layers. This is the Brazil they want to maintain, she thought.
Rodrigo pushed himself against her, pulling her close. She looked up at him and then up at the roof to see if there were strings connected to her, to see if somebody was moving her body back and forth. When she saw nothing but lights she walked away from him and towards the bathroom. He followed her.
“What’s wrong with you?!” The music was quieter. There was a photo booth where people took stupid photos wearing masks and brightly coloured hats. She walked further away from him and down steps to where there was a large pool lit up by wooden torches, ablaze.
“Talk to me!”
“I’m sorry,” she said, though for what she did not know.
“Come back inside, let’s just enjoy tonight.”
His hand gripped her arm tightly, there was an intensity in the way he didn’t let go. With that force, the sharpness of fingers and thumb, he looked different. Or maybe looked exactly as he was. He resembled who he would vote for. She remembered the video of the female politician, she could feel her disgust, not for the insult to her, but the fact that these insults existed at all. The very fact that they were given life or that they lived disgustingly on the inside, corrupting every action, every vote.
“I’m just tired. Let me go to the toilet quickly and I’ll be back and we can dance. I’ll be happier.”
She smiled and kissed him on the side of his mouth and waited for him to walk back into the rest of the dancing people, champagne glasses in hand. She looked down to the steps at the calmness of the pool, with the torches flaming shadows on the water. The shadows, too, were dancing, a wild reckless flurry of movements.
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