The other evening, at a small dinner, one of the guests said: “This morning I was texting with a woman from Brazil.” I cannot remember any context for the remark, which was delivered as if from a vacuum as far as I can recall, so much so that everyone stopped talking, held their forks in abeyance, and metaphorically raised their eyebrows.
Struck by the anomalous nature of this remark, and the subsequent unwillingness of the speaker to provide further detail (leaving unfinished what promised to be an interesting story), perhaps as the speaker was annoyed by the tone of the reception her opening sentence received, I asked each person to write and to circulate to all a short story starting with the line “This morning I was texting with a woman from Brazil.”
Now that many days have passed without receiving a single reply, even though my challenge at the time evinced general laughter which I took to be assent, I felt compelled to ask the speaker if she was now willing, in a more amenable atmosphere, to tell me the story that she had started. Politely, she demurred, the moment had passed she said, it would be uninteresting and furthermore perhaps on reflection embarrassing; she hung up the phone as quickly as politeness allowed.
I had occasion shortly thereafter to stop by the speaker’s house to drop off some books and saw, on the narrow table in her front hall, atop the day’s newspaper and under a small pile of keys and a few dollar bills, her cell phone. With no intention of permanent theft, I scooped the phone into my jacket pocket, and upon driving around the corner I pulled over and found out that I lacked the password to enter the device and scan the memory. No matter what I tried, no success: her address, her nick-name, the names of her husband and daughter and dog, a variant on her phone number. Later that night I gently dropped the phone into the mail box slot on the post at the end of her driveway.
A few days later I called the counsel general of Brazil and inquired as to whether he had a count or estimation of the number of Brazilian women living in greater Boston. At first the counsel, a well-known business lawyer in a white-shoe Federal Street law firm, thought my call was some type of prank, but I convinced him of the seriousness, if not the logic, of my inquiry. He then pointed out that it was absolutely impossible to know the answer and, in any event, even if there were an official record, undoubtedly there would be no accounting for what he smugly assured me were almost uncountable illegal immigrants who busied themselves by cleaning the offices and laboratories throughout the region.
I hung up feeling crestfallen, and the thought that the Brazilian woman in question might not even be in Boston at all, nor in New England, nor even the United States, was no comfort. I imagined her a bond trader in Singapore, a prostitute in Amsterdam, even one of 88 million women in Brazil itself.
Searching the speaker on-line yielded no insight. I perused Facebook, Linked-In, the surprisingly robust 13,000 items which Google produced against my entry of her name (including many for an artist in Taos with whom she shared her name exactly). No clues about any connection with Brazil or a woman from Brazil, not even in the older items relating to the speaker’s decade-old and now abandoned career as a real estate broker. Her history just lay there in perpetual plain view, but without any entries that might help me.
I could not write a short story, as I had challenged the group to do. It would only be an invented story, after all, untrue to the real-life story which the speaker still withheld, a falsehood which might crowd out the reality to ill effect, squashing forever the import of the true story that was sitting just out of reach, crying to be revealed.
There was a young woman from Brazil
Who was seeking an ultimate thrill.
She went back to Rio
And partied con brio.
That woman is partying still.
I could muster doggerel, it seemed, but it did not satisfy my needs.
Under moonlight dripping with Portuguese lilt
My mind went astray as do all who seek.
Atlantic waters lapping my shores
Gurgled the words “Brazilia Brazil….”
Serious poetry could not fill my needs either, and my effort reminded me that I was a failure as a writer, even when attempting mere sardonic imitation.
I finally capitulated. I invited myself to the speaker’s house, claiming some topic I needed to discuss in person, nothing earth-shattering mind you but best dealt with in person, and could her husband, now returned from extensive business travel, perhaps be present? No sense causing any platform to support unintended ripples….
They are friends, they accommodated my request with good humor and no sense of the sinister. We exchanged pleasantries, and opened and sipped the excellent bottle of Amarone I had brought as a peace offering and hoped-for lubricant for discourse. I then confessed my purpose, admitting in false self-deprecation that this quest struck even me as somewhat absurd. But would not the speaker now complete the story that she had started at dinner that night, the one that began “this morning I was texting a woman in Brazil”?
The pause after my request at some point became a tangible silence which I at first attributed to their being stunned by the ridiculousness of my inquiry. I almost expected laughter to break out, or an invitation to leave and take the remaining half-bottle of wine with me as they were both tired from their days and thank you very much for dropping by.
But then I noticed that the husband was glowering at the speaker, whose eyes were downcast, refusing contact with either her husband or with myself. And after this uncomfortable interlude, the husband said softly, “I did not know that you were still in touch….”
The speaker then looked up, ignoring me, and said with a hint of iron in her tone and more than a glint of defiance in her eyes, “I saw no reason to tell you, actually. After all, what were you going to do about it, one way or another?”
The silence resumed and could not have lasted as long as it feels in memory, with each of looking silently at one or another piece of furniture.
“You had best leave, Steve— if you don’t mind.” The husband had arisen, and had extended his hand to me.
“Yes, yes, of course,” I replied, placing my glass on the side table and standing up, no doubt too abruptly. I did not have anything to say. I awkwardly gave his hand one cursory pump, to which neither of us exerted any pressure, as if robust physical contact would somehow acknowledge a meeting which was unpleasant but not easily erased. I walked to the hall and put my hand on the door knob, looked back into the room, and saw them sitting silently, looking away from each other.
I opened the door gently, stepped delicately out on the stair landing, and glanced back one last time.
“I’m sorry,” I said over my shoulder– perhaps too quietly to be heard? Easing the door shut, I walked out into the night.