I grabbed Alberto’s wrist and explained to him the difference between the DeDramafi and a watch: “The orange bar indicates that your body is acting abnormally.” I told him that the DeDramafi helps us deal with the drama queens.
He didn’t believe me, even though his arms looked as if they’d been stung by a jellyfish. “I must have an allergy,” he said as he showed me his arm, laying it on the office’s kitchen counter. Obviously not; the DeDramafi was acting in Intervention Mode. Funny how confused he was. With his eyes open so wide, he resembled the cartoon that he had designed for NightAware, the anti-nightmare medication. The poster with the cartoon was right behind him, and it was almost like a self-portrait. It wasn’t that he came from Mars or something. He had come from South America. But he was a painter, so I guess he didn’t care about DeDramafi countries. Still, I’d never met someone who didn’t have at least some kind of idea about what one of these things does.
During the past couple of days, I’d been hoping that Alberto’s bar would turn from orange to the normal blue so he wouldn’t be in Intervention Mode. I voted against it because I don’t like to put people in Intervention Mode, but I hadn’t checked my DeDramafi since the previous night. And this morning, I found out that most of the people in The Circle voted in favor. I looked at my DeDramafi, and it had the notification: Alberto Santa Cruz is in the orange. It’s not fun at all to be in Intervention Mode. Plus, there’s a lag time and sometimes you don’t even know you’re in it when the symptoms start. When I was on, I couldn’t sleep. I thought I had insomnia, but it was a doctor who told me as he checked my DeDramafi, “Cristina, you’re in Intervention Mode so you know the rules… Until you stop thinking about all this drama…” He paused, as if waiting for me to understand on my own. “Doc, I lost my job.”
“Stop it. I don’t have time for this.” He showed me his DeDramafi and proposed to the Circle to keep me awake and sleepy for intervals of ten minutes. It was like deprivation of sleep. He did it right there in front of me. Well, luckily, through a friend, one of the few willing to be seen with me, I got this job as plot controller for this publicity agency and more importantly, I kept my mouth shut without any complaints, and soon I was sleeping again. No more Intervention Mode for me. But Alberto was in Intervention Mode for sure.
So, here we were at the office that Wednesday after Thanksgiving, Alberto with his hives, making these cute gestures, his lower lip hanging, pink and moist, that along with his thin upper lip made the shape of an inverted heart.
I kept pressing, trying to show him how the DeDramafi worked, but he didn’t pay any attention and went on talking about the strange things that happened to him that day. Of course, I liked to listen to him because his stories were so dramatic. Well, I shouldn’t admit this, but sometimes it feels like that’s the main reason we have the DeDramafi: to prevent people like me from being entertained. Drama is contagious, or, at least, so they say. But I liked it and took a secret guilty pleasure as he expressed his worries by rubbing the palm of his hands against his well-trimmed beard. I imagined his jaw tickling the nape of my neck. Oh boy. When I imagined these things, I had to breathe deeply and make my mind blank to continue with whatever I was doing. Many people madly in love got the Intervention Mode, but it’s love in reins. Nothing wild. This is safe from drama.
Well, he told me first about the birds. He thought the super had finally done something about them.
“I don’t know what they call them ‘supers.’ They’re supers of nothing.”
Even though I liked to hear him, I had to interrupt, “Alberto, the more you talk like this, the more drama you create, and The Circle is going to come up with something else to decrease your drama.”
“My drama?” He stood up, paced back and forth across the kitchen. The receptionist entered then with her empty mug. “She accused me of being theatrical, can you believe that?” he yelled, pointing at me.
The receptionist stayed in the doorway but then stepped back out, fleeing the way she came.
He turned to me, leaned over the table and talked just an inch away from my nose. It was adorable.
“Shame on you,” he said, and I could only think about how he smelled of pine. “Just because I tell you what happens with my life…” He poked my chest with his finger. “You who live in a dull life where nothing ever seems to happen with you. Don’t you have some heart to listen to me, to anyone for just a second?”
He now talked in an exaggerated voice to the ceiling, “In this country, nobody listens to anyone.” His eyes watered, and he looked away to the coffee machine before adding, “The worst is the itchiness, and it’s only here along the arms. Look.” He showed me his arm. “I could die and you would never care. Nobody cares.”
“Alberto, please. That’s why we have this little thing called the DeDramafi, required by law because we are a free drama country. The DeDramafi.” I repeated, pointlessly pronouncing each syllable and emphasizing the word drama in between.
In a jaw-dropping moment, he kept shaking his head and went right back to telling me his trouble-causing stories, about his super, and the woman who cut him in line at the train, the awful taste of his yogurt, and the office elevators that don’t work to his standards.
I placed my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing.
When his hives hadn’t disappeared after a week, he was slightly more curious about what I had been trying to tell him.
“My first DeDramafi was my mother’s gift when I was twelve. Well, like everybody, of course, at twelve, I don’t know why, a coming-of-age thing, I guess. Using it was very easy for me.”
I even told him what my mother said that day: “Never take it off. It sent a signal to your brain. Without it, your brain will be in pause.” It wasn’t death or anything like that but like a blackout. “I’ve never done it,” I explained to him. “But in school some students did it to be free from The Circle and they fainted right there. When they came back, they say it was like being under a shiny light without being able to blink.” Everybody was scared.
It was unclear, despite his nodding, whether any of this was making any impression on him, and I tried to imagine how I had learned to manage my DeDramafi back then. “Compare your orange bar with the people from your Circle.” But Alberto just stared at me. I explained to him that the people in The Circle were all our relatives and coworkers and that we always kept an eye on each member. “It all started with the #FreeDrama movement.” Of course, he confessed that he had never read the manuals when it was slapped to his wrist upon entering the country.
“I thought this watch was a kind of visa instead of a stamp on the passport.” He rotated his wrist, observing the DeDramafi’s leathered strap, square screen and alarm buckle with the note: DON'T REMOVE. BRAIN FUNCTIONS WILL CEASE.
Of course, it’s like an admission ticket to the USA these days. You can’t get in without one. A large part of the #FreeDrama movement had been built around stopping foreign dramas in particular from being brought into the country.
I bowed a little, so he could have a better view of my breasts and slowly sat next to him. Those black eyes, slightly slanted, always burned into my nipples. I brushed up against his biceps just once as I tried to explain to him the Intervention Mode. But I guess I was too brief because he went on telling me about his ex and the same story of how he came to the USA. It was a full soap opera, similar to the Mexican ones that were abolished twenty years ago because of the way they put people in distress. His novela went on and on and I knew that the Intervention Mode wasn’t working.
“How could a person change their mind just like that?” Alberto said with a glimmer in his eyes. At that moment, another employee was pouring the remains of some tea in the sink. When he heard Alberto’s prattling, he rolled his eyes and slid his pinky across his DeDramafi screen before leaving the room.
Outwardly, I rolled my eyes as an indication that I understood the other employee, but I didn’t want Alberto punished and turned into another mute moron without any story to tell. When the guy left, I carefully checked my DeDramafi. I clicked the report icon and all the members of The Circle had normal blue bars. The report looked like a flag with blue stripes across almost all the same numbers, except Alberto’s. His was an orange blinking bar. He was in the hypersensitive mark.
The receptionist who had come for coffee laughed when she saw Alberto’s rash but when she heard him speaking, she crumpled the paper cup instead and covered her ears with her hands.
Okay, in the office we all know Alberto’s story by heart. Anyhow, Alberto had traveled all the way from Colombia to marry his girlfriend and kept repeating, clasping his chest, “I even denied being Catholic. You know I was afraid that they wouldn’t allow me to get in this country.”
The immigration officer had said, “Good, because otherwise we’ll send you to the immigration judge.”
Catholics can get some sort of waiver, so they don’t have to carry the DeDramafi. And let me tell you those Catholics are real drama queens. Well, Japanese are even worse. They want somebody to say ‘sorry’ all the time for everything. All religions promote drama, Pentecostals get even crazy, talking in tongues, a translation of hysteria from heaven, it seems to me. That’s why they all live in the ghetto, fighting all the time for things like taking someone else’s seat, forgetting to attend your mother’s funeral, or slamming the door. Nobody hires them, nobody wants to work with them. I don’t know how they survive. Anyway, let the DeDramafi deal with it without blaming anyone. We’re in a DeDramafi country where we can say anything without fear that anyone could be offended. Of course some do, but we put them in intervention mode, that’s all.
But Alberto was a drama queen. Oh boy, he went on telling me about coming to meet his fiancé, the way he carried his luggage and knocked on the door, his dreams of the wedding while riding the cab from the airport, the places where he wanted to paint her again. Oh, yes, he was a painter in Colombia. He went on and on with that bullshit. Then he found her with another man.
Okay, I thought. That’s what we have the DeDramafi for. You didn’t need to involve more people in this problem and if you started doing it, The Circle would vote for an Intervention Mode. No dramas. But Alberto went on,
“She kicked me like a dog.”
“So, what? That’s her right,” I said but he was so immersed in his drama that continued talking.
Alberto spent three days locked in a hotel room, crying for his girlfriend. This is difficult to believe, but it made sense because he didn’t have a Circle; otherwise he would have been in the Intervention Mode at once. Three days of crying. Three. What a waste of time. There used to be a time when people didn’t go to work from having a broken heart. They took antidepressants, saw a psychiatrist, and some of them took their own lives. Ridiculous. How much money did that cost? Something that was very simple to solve. We voted in The Circle to put the person in Intervention Mode and the person would start thinking about something different than his problem.
After the break up, Alberto got a job at the office as an illustrator. He had been here for six months now and, of course, I was curious about Alberto Santacruz, the newest member of my Circle. We were new to him too, his very first Circle. He didn’t know anyone to form a Circle, except his girlfriend but a Circle of two never works.
The first time I saw him, he entered the kitchen talking very fast. He shook hands with each one of us. It was nine in the morning, so the kitchen was quite crowded with at least six of us, from illustrations, editing and public relations, who clocked more or less at the same time. He said that it was the most wonderful day of his life.
“Because it’s today,” he kept saying with his hands up.
It was then when he stepped back and bumped into fat Pearl from Public Relations who was entering the room. He turned around and looked at her as if he were sizing the spare tire around her stomach. He rolled his eyes and said,
“I’m so sorry, but next time be more careful when you’re coming in.”
“Not a problem, but keep cool. No need to overreact.”
“Overreact?” he said loudly and went on accusing her as if she had brushed his butt on purpose.
As Pearl staggered away, somewhat shaken, Alberto and I looked each other in the eye. I drank my coffee and went to my cubicle where I checked my DeDramafi. Of course, Alberto Santcruz’s bar was beyond five, the orange bar was blinking with his name.
Days later, in the elevator, he was talking to someone, I think the young intern from the commercial department. He was telling her that he had some birds in his apartment window. He had asked the management office to chase the birds away. He took the day off to wait for the super.
He drew his breath and released just before going on, “He never showed up. I called the office and you know what they said? ‘Okay.’ Not even sorry.” His face was red; his eyes were bulging. He looked like an angry frog.
We all burst out in laughter.
After all these stories, all this drama, it was a week before The Circle put him in Intervention Mode. We had a lunch party on Thanksgiving Day. He was saying some very weird stuff like,
“Instead of celebrating Thanksgiving we should have an Apology Day for the mass killings of the Native Americans.”
Nobody said anything. There was this long silence after that and some people were already checking their DeDramafies to see that all the bars were normal. Of course, that made everybody uncomfortable, but he didn’t understand that this was impolite that it was inappropriate to talk about racism, war, massacres, and things of this nature. People can get argumentative.
I took a bite of my pumpkin pie, and someone asked him how he came to this country. Of course, most people expected to hear about the description of the plane, the delicious crackers the airline gave him, the sanitizing smell of the airport. The normal stuff. Big mistake. He started to tell the story about his ‘ex.’
“She promised to wait for me. But the worst was that she didn’t say, ‘I’m sorry I made you come all the way from Colombia.’”
Pearl, the whale of Public Relations yelled from the corner of the table, “Dear, that wouldn’t solve anything.”
When I came back to my desk, I checked my DeDramafi, and I got the message. Pearl was proposing Alberto Santacruz for Intervention. A real bitch. She wrote the same thing they write in those cases,
“Even if it’s just one person suffering in a company, the whole company delays. We are one and the energy has to be channelized to improve production.” Blah, blah, blah. You know it isn’t fun to be in Intervention. You wake up and you don’t know what happened to you. You only get a message in your inbox twenty-four hours after it has started. The idea is that you keep wondering what has happened to you. A call for introspection. But twenty-four hours is a long time. So, I didn’t want to vote for it, but I saw his orange bar. Mine was at one, his was, like, at twelve. Something horrible. I immediately voted, ‘No.’ It took them almost a week to collect the four hundred votes required for Intervention.
In the scheme of things, this was a long time. I have seen cases less serious than Alberto’s where people had voted faster. A month ago, for example, a clerk refused to eat cake at one of the company celebrations because she didn’t want to get fat. Of course, the Whale called immediately to put her in Intervention Mode. They desensitized her tongue. Maybe we overdid it. No taste for a whole week to stop somebody from making others feel overweight. Still, reactions can be especially swift when there’s food involved.
But with Alberto everybody was delayed voting. It wasn’t that we didn’t care. I guess everybody was enjoying the holidays and that’s the advantage of being in DeDramafi countries: no need for trials, investigations, scapegoating, accusations, and no money spent on guilty verdicts since at the end of the day we are all guilty of something, aren’t we?
So, as I said before, it was this Wednesday after Thanksgiving that I came to the office during the break, and he was in the kitchen ignoring his cup of coffee and watching the red marks across his arms as if they were maps. This is where the story began.
I had to explain to him about the orange bar, and I showed him my screen that indicated that he was in Intervention Mode. I repeated that he couldn’t remove it because he would turn into a ‘mummy.’ “No brain functions. The only way to safely remove it is if you go out of the country, to Mexico or something.”
I told him how people in The Circle voted for him to have a rash on his arms. I know I wasn’t supposed to show him my DeDramafi, but I was sad for him.
I squeezed his shoulder. “You’re so dramatic about…everything.” I bit my lower lip. “Specially about your girlfriend—your ex-girlfriend—so people decided to vote–”
“All of this because I told you what that bitch did to me.” He turned around and yelled, “Nobody has fallen in love and that’s why they’re envious.” He laughed. “It cannot be true. You got me.”
“It’s true.” I nodded, looking him in the eye.
“So, a bunch of people decided that I had this itchiness?”
“Not me, but more than four hundred people in The Circle.”
He let his arms drop, exhaled soundly and leaned heavily against his chair. “You’re kidding.”
“Look.” I showed him my DeDramafi. I clicked on the inbox and read him the message of what Pearl had suggested,
‘Hives like an allergy. It always works and is not life threatening.”
I scrolled down to the number of votes from The Circle: 562.
“How do you know if it works?” he asked me with an air of smugness. “I still like who I am and don’t plan on changing.”
“We don’t. We just guess. In the past, therapists have given electrical shocks to cause positive thoughts. It may not work at all. But it’s like training a dog not to poop on the carpet. What do you do? Rub its nose in its own shit. So, we try to teach a lesson and change one of those physical manifestations or give you one extra like those hives. The rest is to wait and see if you change or not and otherwise keep at it.
He asked me questions about the science and technology of the device, but I didn’t have any idea. “It’s a signal to your brain. It’s like a psychosomatic message or something. The only thing I know is that it works differently in each body. Once they turned me into an insomniac for a couple days until I stopped complaining.” I put a coin in the snack machine slot and grabbed a package of butter cookies. “Please friends,” I talked to my DeDramafi playfully, as if the people from The Circle would listen to me, and I went on, “Never suppress the smell of cookies for me. Never. Pleeeeeease.” I looked at him and said, “The Circle can do anything: create a shortness of breath, wheezing, permanent nausea. They can vote for anything really.”
“They make you sick?”
“Not sick, sick. Those are just hives. Sometimes it works so well because we found the real reason of the problem. Menstruation out of schedule associated with anger. Other times, not so much. But in those cases your mind would be busy thinking about what happens to your body more than your ex.” He tried to interrupt me, but I didn’t allow him. “It’s like what happens when you are hungry. You don’t have time to think about other things in life, if your boss yells at you, if your neighbor plants a tree too close to your garden, if a pedestrian crosses the street on a red light. You are hungry.”
“That’s absurd. Everything has drama. We need drama. We create conflict. Besides when I’m hungry I think more about her.”
“Stop it. I know it’s so effective that all women in The Circle have their menstruation synchronized. If someone is out of schedule, it sets the drama alerts.” I took a bite of my cookie. “These are so good.” I swallowed. “Enjoy life. If you continue with the drama… The DeDramafi always measures sweat alterations, heart beat increases, and body temperature changes. If they continue to be abnormal The Circle is going to alter a body sensation. Maybe nausea when you smell cookies.” That was a really bad joke because I love my cookies, ‘specially after lunch. “Just kidding anything but the cookies, for me.”
But after all, I was right. The Circle was already voting for another sensation alteration.
“Look.” I showed him my DeDramafi again. I wasn’t supposed to show him at all, but someone had proposed a new suppression.
“Eliminate the taste of coffee.” Pearl as always came up with the most unique punishments.
I love this one. It’s different; don’t you see? Not the regular itchiness. I voted in favor of the suppression. It makes perfect sense since he was drinking black coffee almost every break.
It seemed fair to mention, “I don’t know what is going to happen exactly to you but you are going to find that coffee tastes like water.”
He lifted his strong chin with that cleft and laughed.
Well, I let him go. He didn’t have any idea how the DeDramafi worked, but I understood ‘cause he came from a country without DeDramafies. I returned to my cubicle, wondering what it would be like to live in a country without DeDramafies. Should we say sorry all the time? Still, if nobody tells them to stop the drama how the hell can they stop it?
I was reviewing the text of a commercial, making sure that it couldn’t be considered an apology for crime, violence, or anything that can perturb people, when I found Alberto’s eyes fixed on me with a frown that formed a Chinese-like symbol on his brick-like forehead.
“What have you done?” he yelled, showing his mug with black coffee.
He sat looking vacantly.
“So, where’s my right to privacy?”
“Privacy? You were the one who was talking about your girlfriend all day.”
“But I had the right to decide–”
I had to explain everything again while he gulped coffee as if trying to get out of a bad dream. I told him about The Circle and how everything was more efficient without dramas, apologies, tantrums, how we got the DeDramafi for our twelfth birthday because we’re a world free of brats, how it all started with one of those Freud-type guys who said that drama queens feel guilty and want to be punished, how we formed a Circle of friends and coworkers who know how to punish the person in question, causing a physical sensation. “Please never remove it. You can turn into a vegetable without it. Temporarily. But you don’t want that.”
He was in shock, but I went on, “We don’t even have lawsuits.” Well, that’s not entirely true, but most of us don’t need to blame anyone–except Catholics. Muslims too, now that I think it over. That’s why we don’t have any Muslims here. They have to ask for forgiveness any time they kill an animal. I think other religions practice similar things but I don’t know much about it except that they live in those ghettos.
Alberto kept asking why it had to happen at twelve.
“I dunno,” I said, thinking on another butter cookie. The truth was that I never read a book that analyzed the problems of self-esteem, but I was glad to live in a country where our girls don’t need to have tarantulas for eyelashes, wear practically nothing and make duckfaces instead of speaking up. I didn’t know for sure that that’s how the girls were in Colombia or Mexico, Non-Dedramafi countries, so I tried to be diplomatic.
“I guess before twelve, little children don’t take offense very seriously… They change moods very quickly.” Children are the real dramatic ones though; that’s why parents had to entertain them all the time, acting like clowns.
Alberto left my cubicle with his hands on his head, showing the hair of his knuckles that I always wanted to yank.
I don’t remember what the suppression was that worked out for him. Maybe it was the coffee, but, in any case, everything was working well. I was amazed. I checked my DeDramafi every day and no person in The Circle had rated out of normal. No drama. It was quite sad because at the end of the day I liked to think about what Alberto was dealing with. I thought that maybe in Non-DeDramafi countries people charge money for their disgraces. Some people like me enjoy listening to drama queens no matter what. Anyway, everything was normally boring.
But one day, I saw him in the kitchen again. We were alone because I had to work late and I was eating a chocolate chip cookie even though I wanted a butter cookie but resigned myself to it because I wanted my DeDramafi to issue a normal report, free of drama.
I sat next to Alberto and saw how his hands were shaking. He started rocking in his seat and he was muttering over and over, “I killed somebody.”
I checked my DeDramafi, and he had an orange bar that looked like it was about to explode. Oh boy! I sat next to him because I wanted to hear another story. I wanted to have the opportunity to massage those shoulder blades that form perfect triangles. But I held his hand on my lap. Then, he told me how he met this old dude in a coffee shop. He tried to include him in his DeDramafi’s Circle of friends, but the screen rejected it even though all the information was correct.
“You can’t just put anyone in your Circle. The Circle is your coworkers and relatives, people who know you,” I said.
Rocking in his chair, he went on telling me how they, he and the old man, met in a bar near Union Square. “It was like I was talking to my father.” This was quite important because Alberto told me that he grew up without a father. They ended up pretty drunk. Alberto insisted on giving the old man a ride to his house. And, of course, Alberto smashed his car against the wall. It was an instant death.
He stopped rocking. “And nothing happened.”
“What do you mean?”
“The police came. My insurance attorney showed up with a bunch of papers I signed right there while the police were taking some pictures. Blood was still seeping out from the passenger seat.”
“Wow,” I said in solidarity.
“I wasn’t arrested or anything. I was completely drunk, and the police yelled ‘go home,’ while I was telling them that I was sorry.”
The point was that in his country if this happens, you go to jail and you ask for forgiveness, you need to cry and put on a whole show. How lucky we don’t have anything like that. The insurance comes and pays everything. Well, he came from a Non-DeDramafi country. Can you imagine being blamed because you spilled a cup of coffee on someone’s arm? Here the insurance pays. That’s all.
Another employee came to the kitchen. Someone I’d seen in public relations. He put a coin in the snack machine and selected a bag of potato chips. The machine made this wuppa-wuppa sound like a helicopter and the bag got stuck. He punched the machine and shook it but realized what he had done; he looked at his DeDramafi and sighed. It seemed that his anger was so brief that the DeDramafi hadn’t picked up the signal.
Alberto checked around to see if anyone was watching him. “I don’t want someone to tell on me so that I end up in Intervention.”
This made me laugh, and I told him, “It doesn’t matter. They know that something is not right because of the report based on your blood pressure, heartbeat, sweat and so on. Hiding would never work at all.”
Again, he didn’t listen to me and wept. I almost couldn’t make any sense of what he was saying. Somehow, I understood after he blew his nose that it was because he was Catholic, and instead of going home and taking the day off, having a nice dinner as any sane person would have done, he decided to go to the funeral home. He entered, and even though he saw the closed casket, he demanded that it be opened. What? To see the smashed face of the old man? Of course, nobody listened to him. He lurked around, waiting for the widow. When they brought her in, he described her as “A tiny old lady. She looked like a doll being propped by men that seemed like giants by comparison.”
Alberto wanted to approach her and apologize, but the security personnel removed him. He was fool enough to even sign the guest book as ‘the guilty killer.’ What the hell, I thought, but didn’t say a word.
“I only wanted to hug her and say, ‘I’m sorry I killed your husband.’” He pouted his lips—so cute that I wanted to bite them. He kept repeating, “Why did they do that to me? Why?”
I took a deep breath. “They removed you because it is essential to not inflame the conflict. That’s why we have DeDramafi to deal with that stuff.” I wanted to say that we don’t need divas anymore and people asking for forgiveness.
“If I could hold her hand, look in her eyes, and tell her…”
“Stop it. Her husband is dead and you’re not going to bring him back to life—”
“I’m talking—you would only bring her more suffering.”
“I need to apologize to her. It’s the Christian thing. It’s the only way to get relief and forgiveness.” He wept. “An apology,” and he literary howled like a dog.
I shook my head and rested my forehead on my hand, imagining that the orange bar was going to pop up like a Jack-in-the-Box.
I gave him some sparkling water which he spat out in the kitchen sink, saying that I was going to give him something to make him mute without feelings—my mistake, entirely mine. The only good thing was that he washed his head and somehow cooled off.
I explained to him that if he offered an apology—well that was a mess up. “It’s like pushing a fallen person into quicksand. It creates more drama.” An apology is the most tragic of all dramas because it recreates the tragedy. In Argentina, they have the Remembrance Day for some killings that happened down there. Here we never think about that. The massacres, the slavery, the wars, and even offensive words are part of the past. We always look to the future. What do the Argentinians gain in making all of society feel guilty? Who knows?
Of course, we’re considerate of minorities. I heard that Catholics are allowed to offer some kind of mass to get forgiveness or something. That’s pretty rare. I think what Catholics do is blame each other. It would have been easier if he had said that he was Catholic to immigration when he entered. He wouldn’t need a Circle. But how the hell would he find a job? As far as I know, there are no jobs for outsiders. How the hell does a Catholic survive if they keep looking for the guilty one all the time? Nobody could ever work with them.
Alberto wept and told everyone in the office that he wanted to apologize, even though he had promised me that he wouldn’t. His bar turned so orange that it even heated up my DeDramafi. So, the problem was discussed as a message in the DeDramafi. People in The Circle said all sorts of things about Catholics’ need to be forgiven.
* He’s sick
* The orange bar has reached fifteen. We need to act quickly
It went on and on. Some people suggested an arrhythmia, but others were worried that in the past some had actually had a real heart attack. I wrote that I didn’t want another rash, and I’d vote for anything that was creative. “Think outside the box.”
We hadn’t decided on the Intervention for Alberto when he arrive at my apartment. It was a rainy night, and he was soaking wet. I made him come inside and offered him one of my light blouses that he put on after drying his chest. Then, he explained to me what he wanted to do.
“I had to apologize to that lady, the widow.”
I crossed my arms. “You don’t understand. We’re in a DeDramafi government. We don’t do that. They’re going to put you in Intervention Mode. And even if you apologize, the lady is not going to get it. People in her Circle are going to block everything that would stir drama.”
“So, what’s this DeDramafi for?” He yanked at his DeDramafi’s buckle to rip it away.
I held his hand and told him that we couldn’t do that. “You’re going to get forced into a coma. It’s really horrible.” I struggled to keep him from ripping it off.
Somehow, he calmed down and between sobs managed to say, “I won’t be able to return ever to my country with this weight of guilty. I cannot look anyone in their eyes.” At this point, there were more sobs. “I hope they put me in jail. I killed someone. That’s the normal thing to do.”
“We don’t have jails any longer,” I said, seriously concerned. “We have one single punishment for the most hideous crimes and for those drama queens...” I wanted to say “drama queens like you,” but instead I explained to him that they could suppress every function and put you into a coma-like state, without any feeling, completely blocked. “The same would happen if you had ripped off your DeDramafi.”
He looked at me, wide-eyed, and pleaded, “I need your help.”
I guess he turned me on, so I went on with the plan he proposed: We break into her apartment. You hold her, and I issue an apology.”
I thought, if we did this, I could manage my emotions, calm down quickly and get away without Intervention Mode. If we could act cool, cold-blooded, there would be no report. Besides, I also thought that if we did that, maybe Alberto would calm down and prevent himself from getting into Intervention Mode—well, maybe all of that wasn’t true either. Simply put, I wanted to be near him. Love is a roller coaster of emotions, and I couldn’t hold it back any longer. I was worried, though, that this was bad for me too, that this would affect my DeDramafi report. Well, the problem wasn’t that I was in love. The problem with love is not the love itself but the story of love. ‘Cristina, don’t think he’s going to kiss me, don’t think he is going to pull me against his body, don’t think he is going to marry me. Simply, don’t think,’ I repeated to myself, sure that this would keep my report straight and low.
I drove him there. Entering the apartment building wasn’t difficult at all. It was a Saturday—which was good because most people rest from checking their DeDramafies. We got into the building behind visitors who were carrying some gifts with red ribbons. I guess the guard thought that we were going to the same party. We got to the eleventh floor and knocked on her door, but nobody opened. That was the idea: knock, wait, push the door forward after she opened it. But nobody opened the door. We needed to break in. I was afraid for any alarm that would go off or neighbors who might see us. But that wasn’t the big problem. It was how we were going to open the door. Alberto took out a fucking pencil.
“Are you kidding me? It’s going to break. Don’t you have a credit card or something?
We ended up using a laminated photo of his ex-girlfriend. As soon as I slid it in, he started yelling. “Break it! Rip it off! Right in the middle of her nose!”
“Hush,” I kept repeating, afraid that one of the neighbors was going to come out.
Well, indeed, we broke the card, leaving a web-like pattern across his girlfriend’s face. He snatched the photograph from me. “Ugly witch.” Then, he started weeping.
A neighbor next door peeked through his door. I really didn’t know what he was thinking, maybe he thought that we were from the old lady’s Circle or something, because he looked at us from head to toe and without any greeting and with a hoarse voice said, “She’s downstairs in the laundry room.”
When we went down the hall for the elevator, we heard the speakers announcing that “two individuals, a man and a woman, trespassed into the building, and they have been wandering around the eleventh floor.”
We looked at each other and ran, taking the fire escape all the way to the basement where we expected the laundry room to be. We got downstairs, and there she was folding some man’s pants over a chair. At first, I thought she was a little child, no taller than a table, until I saw her disheveled white hair.
Alberto knelt on the floor so that his face reached the same height of the old lady. I kept an eye on the entrance as he began explaining, “It’s about your husband.” His eyes watered, and I talked through my teeth. “Hurry up. Go to the point.”
“My husband? Went for a walk to Union Square. Since he retired, he does that every day.” She laughed and shook her head. “I bought him these pants, but I didn’t realize that he had gained weight.” She chuckled. “We’re on a special diet right now, but some people warned us that the lack of food might make us emotional—”
“Just leave her alone,” I yelled at him, realizing that she was in ‘denial mode.’ I explained to him that she was processing the seven stages of grief without even realizing what it was she was grieving. “That’s very popular with people that suffer a loss.” I wasn’t part of her Circle, but I guessed they had made her feel cozy, low blood pressure, slow heartbeat, prone to sleepiness. Circles usually like the denial, and they keep the member there for quite a bit. Anger was another thing though.
I overheard some voices coming in. “Hurry up, let’s go.” It was then that he grabbed her, put her inside a laundry bag and ran towards the exit. I barely had time to say, “What are you doing? Are you crazy?”
Nobody stopped him, even though some people turned around to see him while he was running down the street and the woman inside was convulsing and kicking.
When I got in the car, the little thing with her hunched back was hidden below the rear seats, in the space for the passengers to put their feet. She yelled, “My husband is going to call the police.”
I was about to tell him to get out of my car, but I was floored when he pulled out a gun. It was something small, with a barrel, a metal muzzle like a single dark eye. The truth was that he looked like a cowboy with that gun, even though I think he wasn’t holding it properly. The little lady was probably somewhat right when she yelled at him, “My husband is going to teach you how to fire that thing.”
First, I drove aimlessly as the old lady yelled, and Alberto fumbled through my glove compartment with one hand, holding the gun with the other. He found a roll of duct tape, and as soon I had to stop for the traffic light, he lifted his leg and squeezed himself into the back seat. I overheard a struggle until the little lady appeared in the rearview mirror with a piece of duct tape covering her mouth.
“Let’s go to Mexico,” Alberto said.
“Mexico?” I almost swerved the car, but he waved his hands emphatically, telling me that once we got there, we could remove the DeDramafi, and she would be able to listen to him.
He was bouncing that gun as if it were a dancing bird, ready to mate. “You told me once that if we go to Mexico, we can remove it.” He froze for a moment and spoke as if he were reading the Declaration of Independence, “No more denial or anything. Just free. All of us free.”
I wanted to say “No,” “Impossible,” “I have to work next week” but was also aware that I was probably already in trouble: Abetting in a kidnapping. My insurance would be able to pay for all the damage caused, but my premium was going to go up. But I softened slightly when he caressed my arm with the muzzle of his gun, insisting that the plan wouldn’t be so bad.
“Well, what the hell. I have full insurance coverage.” I shrugged and pressed the gas.
On the highway, two children waved at the old lady from a sedan in the lane next to us. The lady started frantically knocking on the window. Alberto was dozing off and I had to wake him up to make her move away. The children waved their hands and shook their mother in the front seat, but she ignored them. Thank God. They were underage and without DeDramafies, so their parents probably thought that the children were making drama just for the sake of it.
We stayed in motels along the way. I always checked in. Alberto put the old lady inside the laundry bag and followed me upstairs. We would have liked to have brought her in walking, with all due respect, but although she always promised to be quiet, and as soon as Alberto yanked the tape away, she yelled like a mad woman. Of course, anyone who would see her would think that it was pretty strange that a person like that wouldn’t be in Intervention Mode.
Sometimes we took naps by the side of the road where the truck drivers stayed. One time in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, the old lady managed to escape. I don’t know how because I put on the child safety lock. I guess she was very careful and slid out by the front window that I’d left open.
When we woke up, we ran to look for the lady. I found a truck driver talking to the little thing who was shorter than the man’s legs. Really, she was a dwarf.
“Call my husband, please. Call the police. They want to take me away from my husband,” she was saying, and I knew she was still in denial… at least somewhat.
“Grandma Olivia,” I yelled from afar as the old lady put her hands in prayer.
“Don’t listen to them,” she begged the driver. “My name is not Olivia.”
“Alzheimer’s,” I muttered to the truck driver who said,
“I guess Alzheimer’s is a big problem for you. Don’t make a fuss of it.” He shook his head and bowed to rub the old lady’s back. She was so small that he looked as if he were petting a dog or something. “You know, the DeDramafi doesn’t pick up the abnormal signals. It’s a failure in the electrical transmission of neurons.”
“Of course, otherwise The Circle would have already put her into Intervention for making complaints to strangers. Hopefully the next upgrade to the DeDramafi will have Alzheimer’s features.”
After that, we kept calling her Olivia because we knew her last name but not her first name, and she was so stubborn that she wouldn’t tell us. She didn’t want to eat or talk to us at all. I even had to hold her mouth open so Alberto could pour soup down her throat. We always ended up wet with soup on our clothes and Alberto, on more than one occasion, held her by the neck, putting his gun on her temple, yelling, “I won’t kill you because I need to apologize to you.”
But she kept doing it. I was hoping that her Circle would do something to prevent all this drama and make our lives easier—well, the kidnapping easier, more humane, if you wish.
I think it was Friday and we were driving across the desert when I realized that ‘Olivia’ was particularly quiet that day. She had nodded like always when Alberto asked her if she promised to be quiet. And when he yanked the tape, she didn’t even flinch even though I always thought it was painful, mostly for her little mustache that turned pinkish, irritated. I could imagine the stinging sensation as if each hair had been simultaneously tweezed. But she tilted her head, smiled and she didn’t even massage her face.
I pointed to three yellow wires that looked like snakes slithering between a fence and a baby cactus. Olivia and I pleaded to Alberto to return to see the snakes, but Alberto refused. I looked at Olivia with a half-smile. Then it hit me. The DeDramafi had been working of course. No drama. The day before we had gone to a diner and Alberto, as always, turned the air conditioner on and put tape on her mouth. She hated the tape. So it was always a fight. She would spit on us and move her head. But that day, she didn’t do anything. No insults, no spitting. Nothing.
“Good girl,” said Alberto. But the real clue that her DeDramafi was working was when he took the tape off. She used to yell like a mad lady: “Bruto, animal.”
Her eyes were vacant as if they were seeing something I couldn’t. It was as if she were high but with this air of sainthood that the Catholics have in their paintings. So, I imagined that her Circle desensitized her skin or something.
Alberto kept saying that once we crossed the border, he was going to rip off the DeDramafi, and we were going to be free. The day that the air conditioner was broken I tried to tell him that the people in The Circle were voting to put him in the Intervention Mode. But guest what? He didn’t want to talk about it.
Of course, the people in The Circle were wondering where he was. I was imagining that they were also asking where I was too. And even though Olivia was behaving, no doubt I had a lot of stress: the kidnapping, the driving, the dusting and Alberto’s yelling. One of the problems is when we turn into drama queens, but we don’t even realize it. And anyhow, I wanted to control myself to keep from entering in Intervention Mode. Breathing exercises always helped calm down the color of bars on the screen. But I needed to see if the Circle had an eye on me.
The problem was that Alberto didn’t allow me to check his DeDramafi. I didn’t want to be in Intervention Mode without knowing. At least, I could be prepared.
So, I snuck into his bed and grabbed his arm as he stretched it out, palm up, against the pillow. I was careful rotating the strap to see the screen when I heard his chuckle. He grabbed me by my waist and brought me inside the bed. He made love to me that night. Really it wasn’t that great—he didn’t come at all. He was jabbing and jabbing inside me and I kept quiet until he sighed, pulled it out and turned gasping.
“Gringa, you don’t know how to make love. Get out of my bed.” Then he pushed me. I fell and smacked the floor, but, fortunately, Olivia was very sound asleep. I walked away when he called me, “Hey, Christy, you know what happened…those belly stretch marks really turned me off.”
I couldn’t believe what he was saying and kept thinking that he thought I was ugly. I went to the bathroom and cried. Let me tell you I had years without crying at all. I looked at my stomach and so on from different angles. ‘Too many butter cookies.’ Then, for a moment, I thought it could be the DeDramafi. They may have taken all sexual sensation from his body. I checked the mailbox and searched through recent voting activity. I couldn’t see what they had done with Alberto. My signal wasn’t working well. Maybe that’s why he was like that with me.
Then I remembered the grimace on his face when he was talking and looking at my body. It was as if I were a rotten apple. ‘So he really saw me like a defective machine, rusted wreck, a useless tool,’ I thought.
The following morning, I checked my DeDramafi, and they had a proposal for fixing Alberto: ‘Increasing his sweat.’ They say that the report showed that he was sweating more than a normal person in The Circle, which I thought was very stupid. We were in the desert. Besides, the air conditioner was broke. Sometimes people in The Circle don’t think. What if he’s running a marathon or something? I tried to tell him about the vote when I saw the huge beads of sweat rolling down his forehead.
“Shut up,” he yelled.
After what he told me last night, I wished I could have voted for his Intervention. I wished he could turn dry as a potato chip. I wouldn’t be intimidated so continued talking. He tried to put his right hand on my mouth and we almost hit a goat. The animal was crossing the road and he had to turn the steering wheel almost 180 degrees and braked.
“Get out of my car,” he yelled at me.
He tossed me a bottle of water and drove away. The sun glared against the sand, and I wished I had grabbed at least a piece of clothing to cover my face. The heat rising from the sand and the gray cement and came down with the glaring sun. The desert. The Arizona desert was a broiler that would certainly fry me like a breaded chicken. I thought that if I melted down—no pun intended, my Circle would do something.
“Shit,” I said as I looked down at my sandals, full of sand. The thing I hated the most: sand on my feet. Well, anything on my feet, cold feet, sweaty feet, dirty feet. Then, I heard the car tires neighing. I turned to look up. Olivia was waving at me, calling me. She held the door open and once I was in, she leaned on my shoulder and smiled.
Once in a while, I checked the DeDramafi but I couldn’t get reception. Well, it went on and off. Olivia’s had full reception. I guess when you are old enough your Circle is bigger. I didn’t think it was the server. But the punishment that The Circle imposed on Alberto was a punishment for all of us. Such sweat! Oh boy, I hadn’t seen anybody in my life sweating like that. Olivia and I pleaded to get out of the car so we could breathe clear air.
Finally, we crossed the border by foot. It was nothing difficult. The US patrol officers looked at us like we were dumb or something when Alberto wrapped Olivia inside the bag. Did I tell you that she was very calm? She didn’t fight or anything. On the contrary, she just got in the laundry bag quite happily and stuck her head out like a puppy. Pure evidence that the DeDramafi cured all evils.
We crossed the Rio Grande. You know how I hated to have something on my feet. The wet water, the slippery rocks, and the occasional dirt. The river wasn’t deep, and I keep asking Alberto if we could drown, but he ignored me, pouring and pouring sweat. Well, we didn’t drown. The water reached the level, at the most, of my knees.
Now, that I’m thinking it over, I don’t know why we couldn’t have just gone through normal immigration. Olivia was all smiles and for sure she wouldn’t have made any fuss. I guess Alberto didn’t want to take any risk that she was going to start screaming right in front of the Mexican Police. For Mexicans, the kidnapping was serious. A crime. Something serious like that. Oh boy.
Well, I was almost on the other side of the river when I started to feel worried. My feet didn’t bother me. Oh God, I wondered whether the Circle had put me in Intervention Mode. I hurried and went past Alberto to reach the other end.
“Bye darling,” said Olivia.
Of course, I couldn’t know if I was in Intervention. I might get a message tomorrow. ‘Your feet are unsensitized. Drop your attitude.’ It was also possible that my feet were numb. I was thirsty, tired, and sore like a beaten dog. I ducked under the shade of the giant transmitter that they use there to keep people happy. It was huge as a tree with the shape of an antenna. I dried my feet, which gave some comfort with hope the transmitter would block Intervention Mode from the Mexican border to here.
Then I looked up and what do you expect to see if you are on the Mexican border? Of course, Mexican flags like the American flags lined all along the other side. Well, not at all. No flags. What I saw were piñatas. Yes, the ones you see in little children’s parties. I managed to count eighty-three but they were all the way along the border, hanging from the few trees, the electrical posts, and the cactuses.
There were six police officers (or Mexican immigration ) looking up at one of the piñatas. One of the police officers shot the piñata. The others ran jumping into each other and laughing.
“What the hell?” I said aloud as Alberto laid Olivia next to me. We were right under a piñata in red, green and white. It was like an eagle or something. Its colors glittered with sun. I drank some water. Olivia was laughing.
Alberto took Olivia’s wrist and ripped off her DeDramafi and tossed it into the water. He asked me to give him mine. But I hid my wrist behind me.
“Whatever,” he said and cut his off with a butter knife.
I’m glad I didn’t give him mine. How was I going to return if I didn’t have a DeDramafi and applying for one, it would be a mess. Anyway, he stood up very solemnly with his hand on his chest. He was no longer sweating. Then he said, Mrs. Kirkiland. I didn’t want to cause the accident. I only wanted to bring your husband home. I shouldn’t have been drunk or anything.”
So she started wailing and he hugged her. He was crying,
“Please forgive me.”
Suddenly, she took out Alberto’s gun from his holster. I waved to the Mexican police, but they were playing with their toys and eating candy.
“You son of a bitch. You killed my husband, kidnapped me and now you want me to forgive you.”
Alberto dropped to his knees asking for mercy. I closed my eyes when I heard the shot. I felt like some stones had fallen on my body. I opened my eyes and I saw Alberto and Olivia surrounded by toys and candy. She was laughing and jumping and hugging Alberto. They both were laughing. She still had the gun with the muzzle up.
Then it hit me. Americans are in DeDramafi country, but Mexicans are in Tequila jurisdiction. I’d heard about it, that it was some kind of child wave transmission. Even though I was under the transmitter, the wave hadn’t caught me. Maybe ‘cause I was still wearing my DeDramafi. I was normal, but Olivia and Alberto were like little children. She laughed. He frowned. She slapped him on the face. He tickled her. She cried. He scratched her. So I got out there, and I came right back across the border to America. Who the hell wants to be a twelve-year-old again?