The next day when I got to school I realized Ben was right. The professor in my first class didn’t show up. Some people were blaming it on his being a notorious drunk but after the laughing died down I know everyone else felt what I was feeling. Trini met me at home later that afternoon. We walked along the beach for a while until the hot sun made us sleepy. I haven’t seen Adrian, she said, finally breaking the silence.
I nodded and told her maybe he had just been working over-time at his father’s restaurant. She was convinced it was something else. Do you think he’s seeing someone else, she asked me. Lots of guys our age aren’t serious about settling down and only seeing one person at a time. But I know Adrian and I know the way he looks at Trini…like she’s made of glass. It has to be something else, I told her.
I asked her how her mother was. Trini let out a deep sigh and said she hadn’t even gotten up to throw out her stepfather’s abandoned beer bottles and she wouldn’t let Trini touch them. I could tell Trini felt guilty. I reminded her what it was like before, when he was still alive, when he would beat the shit out of Trini and her mother just for breathing. I know talking about those nights when Trini ran to our front door, her mouth full of blood as she woke my father, upsets her but I’m more afraid that if I don’t remind her of the past, that her guilt will turn to blame and she’ll place that blame on me. I’m afraid she’ll hate me. I’m afraid she’ll hate me for convincing her to take away the only thing her mother ever loved, even if he was a monster.
Trini felt a little better about Adrian this morning. She believed me when I said she was just overreacting but I think I was wrong. I saw him walking across campus, flanked by two other young guys. They were all wearing gold armbands. Ben came to meet me for lunch. Do you know what that’s about, I asked him pointing at Adrian. He noticed the armbands. Adrian must have joined the rebels, he said. Rebels, like the Montoneros, I thought. They’re pressuring University students, Ben said, and they’re just young and stupid enough to go along with it. What are they getting them to do, I said. Ben clasped his hands together and rested his elbows on his knees.
We were both squinting at the three figures as they disappeared on the other side of the campus. Ben finally spoke. They think they can make a stand against the junta, he said, after the military gets Isabel out of the pink house, when everything is chaotic, they think they’ll be able to put up a good enough fight to put the Peronists back in power. Who is doing this, I whispered. They’re called the People’s Army, he said. If they’re rebels why would they want to call attention to it with matching armbands, I asked. I don’t know, Ben said.
I looked at Ben and his calm began to scare me. I reached for him and he took my hand. How do you know this, I asked him. My editor thinks something is about to happen, he said, he’s got me chronicling every piece of information, every event, everything—he wants everything written down before the military takes power because then it will be too late. Too late, I said. If there’s going to be a war the military isn’t going to let both sides have a voice and since we’re one of the only papers written in English we have to prepare to be one of the only papers out there reporting what’s really going on, he said.
Ben talked for a long time about the war, a war he was certain was going to happen, and sooner rather than later. We’ve been through this before, I reminded him. He nodded, but the fact that the military had taken power before didn’t seem to change the way he felt. It was as if he had had some premonition of what was to come and by the look on his face I knew it wasn’t good. A fire truck sped by. It was all the way across campus heading into a wealthy residential area and after lunch I convinced Ben to drive us through the neighborhood where the fire truck had been.
As we got closer we could see that there was a line of police cars, two fire trucks, and an ambulance. There was also a large group of people standing across the street just watching. A young girl clutched an infant to her chest, her small arms barely able to carry the weight, as a police officer draped a blanket around them both. What was left of the house finally came into view. The space inside was black but some of the charred furniture was still in its natural place. It reminded me of looking into a dollhouse the way the walls had been pulled apart. The only thing missing was the tiny plastic family.
Do you know whose house that was, Ben said. I stared at the little girl but I didn’t recognize her. I shook my head. Ben said the house belonged to General Calvo. I’d seen General Calvo on TV. He was a large man, heavy-set, and he walked with a slight limp. But the limp only added to his intimidation because it was the result of multiple gunshot wounds to the hip. He’d survived, miraculously, and he immediately started exploiting his luck by saying God had made him immortal.
Ben maneuvered the car around the barricades and crowd of people—many parts of the house still steaming as we drove by it. Then on the left side of the front door were the letters ERP painted in black. Shit, Ben said. What is it, I asked, what’s ERP? Ben took a deep breath and shook his head, El Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo, he said, the people’s army.
Trini was short for Trinidad and Trinidad Eloisa Muñoz Suarez was Liliana’s mother’s best friend. Liliana never knew about her, she had never heard anyone say anything about her mother having a best friend. She might have met her at her mother’s funeral, if there had been one, if there had been a body to bury at all. Reading her mother’s journal was still uncomfortable; every page turned sent Liliana’s heart fluttering with anticipation, but after combing through article after article about the war at the mill, she was consumed by questions that she wondered if her mother’s personal testimony would answer.
But so far all reading her mother’s journal had done was to perpetuate more. She knew she could never ask her father, not about her mother or even about the war. Her grandparents, the only other people who would have been able to give her some kind of insight into who her mother was were both gone, the dilapidated house and vineyard they had left behind empty of even their ghosts.
But there was this woman, this Trini who’s every emotion Liliana’s mother had chronicled as if she knew she would be as permanent a fixture in her life as the ink was to the soft cream pages of her journal. But as Liliana’s mind wandered to the edge of the vineyard, to the steep hill that forked onto the main road, searching for a mailbox, a blushed face in a window, any remnant of her mother’s best friend she couldn’t help but see him—Trini’s stepfather, lying still on his back in the middle of that road, and realize that the bind between them, the one that kept their secrets from unraveling, hadn’t been forged in friendship but in blood.
Liliana looked out the window of her bedroom. Trini used to run here in the middle of the night when her stepfather was in one of his rages. If she ran here that meant her house must be nearby. To the left of the property all Liliana could see was the endless stretch of beach and to the right a cluster of trees that grew along the slope leading to the road.
A moment later her shoes were on and slipping over the soft white pebbles where the driveway forked into north and west. Diego had turned west to get to el Molino. Liliana remembered passing a few houses before they reached the outskirts of the city so she decided to head in that direction. The road was quiet and solitary. Liliana closed her eyes and let the wind softly push her forward as she concentrated on the sound of her feet shuffling along the dirt road. The first house she saw was a perfect square. Chipping paint around the windows hinted that the walls had once been yellow but now the golden front door was just framed by exposed wood that had turned grey from too much rain.
Liliana knocked twice and waited but nobody came. Out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw a curtain move in the window but when she looked it was just the wind tossing the fabric in the air. She knocked again and waited. Still nothing. Liliana began to realize that the house, sitting so exposed next to the road, might have been abandoned sometime during the war, the family hoping to continue somewhere less vulnerable to raids.
The next house over looked like an above ground bomb shelter. The entire thing was made of concrete and a cement walkway led to the almost invisible front door. Up close Liliana could finally see where silver hinges separated the door from the wall and she tried knocking but her fists against the cement were mute. She walked around to the side of the house and saw a window. She thought for a moment and then knocked on the glass. Nothing. But she waited and then knocked again.
The window was thrust open and the face of an old woman peered between the curtains.
“What do you want?” she said.
“Is there a Trinidad here? She might go by Trini…” Liliana fumbled.
“The Suarez girl. No.”
The old woman slammed the window shut. Liliana cupped her hands around her face and looked through the glass. The woman was scowling at her from just behind the curtain. Liliana scowled back at the woman and knocked again. The window flew open, catching Liliana’s right cheek.
“What the hell is wrong with you girl?”
Liliana rubbed the side of her face as the woman began to curse.
“If you knew her can you just tell me where she lives?”
“Lives,” the old woman mumbled. “She used to live there but she ran off and joined the war with that Monroe boy and the rest of those hippies.”
“Monroe, what was his first name? Do you remember?”
“I think you’ve disturbed me enough for one day. Get the hell away from my house,” she yelled.
The window slammed shut and Liliana decided not to knock again. The woman had pointed to the house across the lot with the gold door but she already knew that it was empty so Liliana trudged across the yard and back to the road. Looking at the house again Liliana wondered if it was just the rain that made the house seem so abandoned. The graying boards looked more like the corroded slate of a headstone. But there was something else, something dark and it seemed to be rising from just beneath her feet. This was it, she thought, this is where they carried him. Her eyes found the ditch, shallow now from the rain and lack of tenants but she could see where the grass began to curl along the slope and she imagined her mother crouched there, watching.
The rest of the way back to the vineyard Liliana imagined Trini taking silent calculated steps beside her—using the trees for cover until she could break through one of the rows of vines and reach the front door of her best friend’s house. What happened to you, Liliana thought.
When she’d reached the trees lining the vineyard, suddenly a soft echo reached Liliana’s ear—the sound of a steel string being plucked, the resonating note fanning out in all directions. Liliana leaned against a tree and scanned the shady grove. The trees adorned with long slender leaves, the size of Liliana’s hands, flooded the space like an endless hall of mirrors—the same image reflected everywhere and although the forest of trees was small, the beach just on the other side was completely obscured from view.
The music began softly, just a few notes escaping at a time, until the wind carried a complete melody to Liliana’s ears. She followed it, sometimes being misled by a few stray notes that were ricocheting off the trees as the smell of the damp soil began to give way to the sweet sulfur spray of the sea. The horizon finally began to cut through the tree line, revealing a small overhang that jutted out from the dunes and over the beach.
Liliana saw Diego’s work hat floating just on the other side of a large rock, dark red like the rest of the terrain and slightly overgrown by grass. She took a step forward, the tip of her shoe striking a loose stone and sending it tumbling over the edge. Diego’s shoulder grew tense at the sound, his eyes darting in her direction. But when he saw that it was her, he relaxed a little, shoulders falling slightly as he inhaled. As she walked over to him she saw the guitar in his lap, the face of it faded and worn thin by the constant brush of his hand.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I was walking home and I heard you playing.”
“You could hear me from the road?” he asked.
“Shit.” He stood up and slung his guitar across his back.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I play here so nobody will hear me,” he said.
“Why don’t you want anyone to hear you?”
“Not anyone, my dad. He can’t hear me. He can’t know I play out here, ok?”
Liliana stepped back and nodded again, surprised by the intensity in Diego’s voice. He suddenly started to leave, walking to the edge of the tree line before stopping and turning back again.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean to snap like that. You just kind of snuck up on me.”
He smiled and Liliana could feel the corner of her lips turning up in reply.
“Was there something else you needed?” he asked.
Liliana wondered why he was always asking her if she needed something. She wondered if it was because, technically, he was employed by her family now, or if it was something else, if he was just being polite, or he felt bad for her because she was an expat, like Jo had called her, and apparently didn’t have a clue about what sort of a place she’d managed to escape from, let alone return to. She just shook her head.
“I’ll walk you back to the house,” he said.
But as they cut through the edge of the tree line, the road coming into view again, Liliana suddenly remembered what the old woman had said about Trini being a hippy and running away with someone named Monroe during the war, and she stopped.
“Wait,” Liliana said, “there is something.”
Diego didn’t know anyone named Adrian Monroe. He didn’t know a Trinidad Eloisa Muñoz Suarez either. But if Adrian Monroe had been a member of the ERP, he knew of a place where they may have heard of him. He looked at Liliana, strands of her dark brown hair passing over her face, a deep fragility lingering behind her eyes. She had no idea what she was really going to find, but it wasn’t Adrian Monroe, not the Adrian Monroe she’d read about in her mother’s journal anyway—Diego was certain of that.
The war changed more than just politics, or even people’s lives—it changed people’s souls. And especially those that fought in the war. Diego had seen some of them, what was left of them—rebel fighters, junta soldiers, they were all the same now. They had seen so much death that it had been branded into their DNA. Argentina became their purgatory and they wandered around the city streets like ghosts, hidden beneath the guise of a drunk or a street bum; hearing, seeing, feeling nothing. Most of them were drug addicts now or alcoholics, most of them homeless. But regardless of their war crimes or what their vice was these days, Diego knew finding one of them would be as easy as walking into a bar.
“Maybe your dad may have known him?” Liliana asked.
Diego could feel her eyes staring intently at his face, trying to coax a yes from somewhere inside him. He knew his father wouldn’t be any help but he didn’t want to tell her no.
“I could ask him,” he finally said.
Liliana smiled, resolved to waiting for him on the porch steps. Diego’s father was sitting by an open window drinking a cup of coffee that he had no doubt spiked with a cheap brand of liquor. He turned to Diego as he came inside.
“That girl waiting for you?” he asked.
Diego gazed at Liliana through the screen door. She was sitting on the top step with her legs stretched out, hand shielding her eyes as she stared down at the beach.
“Yeah, she wanted me to ask you something,” Diego said without moving his gaze.
“Me,” Diego’s father took a deep gulp of his coffee, “what’s that?”
“She’s wondering if you know somebody named Monroe, his first name might be Adrian, or his girlfriend Trinidad. That’s who she’s really looking for. Trini…Suarez.”
“Trini, I remember that name. She was friends with the girl’s mother, I think. She was kidnapped, or ran away. It was during the war so there’s no telling what really happened to her.”
“Liliana said she ran way. Maybe with this guy Adrian Monroe. He was in the ERP.”
“If he was in the ERP then tell that girl she’s lookin’ for a ghost.”
Liliana now had her feet propped on the steps and she was leaning against one of the faded columns holding up the porch. Diego walked towards her shaking his head.
“He didn’t know them?” she said.
“He knew Trini. He said she was a friend of your mom’s but she was either kidnapped or ran away. That’s all he knew.”
Liliana bit her lip and pulled her knees to her chest.
Small wrinkles started to form over her brow and she was staring at the road.
“Well what now?” she said.
Diego wiped his brow and pulled the damp hair out of his face. He shook his head again. She wasn’t going to let this go.
“What do you mean?” he said trying to sound uninterested, for her sake.
“I mean who can we ask now? Where should we look?”
“We…well, will you help me?”
Her words were like shackles but shackles he for some reason had no desire to take off. And though he knew where her curiosity would probably lead them—somewhere dark, somewhere he hadn’t dared visit in more than two years, he could sense in the firm inflection of her voice that she wasn’t going to give it up. But if she was going to venture back there, to a time and place where her mother was killed, where so many were killed, he didn’t want her to go alone.
Her eyes seemed to swell in the anticipation and he could see his reflection in them, his eyes too narrow, his lips too tight. He relaxed for a moment, letting out a sigh of defeat.
“Can I ask you why you’re looking for them?” he said.
“Adrian and Trini,” she said as she pulled her hair out of her face, “they knew my mother. I’m just trying to know her too.”
Diego felt the space between them shrink, though he hadn’t moved an inch.
“Tomorrow?” he said. “We could meet around six.”