‘Cohiba’ by Lucía Puenzo


From Granta:

His hand brushes against mine in the darkness. His skin is hot and rough. Short hair, curls combed flat with some amateur pomade that shines even in the penumbra of the movie theatre. His smell insinuates itself over the rest. He looks at me out of the corner of his eye. I look back. Everything he has is new: the white shirt, the watch, the open backpack with a few books on Afro-Cuban art. He is a young professor or a student about to graduate. Thirty years old, no more. I move my hand from the armrest and hide it between my legs. On-screen, the actor speaks directly to the camera, challenging the Empire: junk food is to blame for the world’s obesity. He introduces us to his vegan girlfriend and the doctors who are going to accompany his body as it falls over the precipice, stuffed with trash for an entire month. The man lets his hand fall on to my leg in a smooth move that nobody else sees. It takes but a second – a caress – for everything else to disappear . . . the people, the movie. He is all that exists now, his slow, deliberate breathing. I lie in wait, hunching closer to the woman on my right. I could ask him to let me go by, tell him that I have to go to the bathroom and wait in the lobby. But I don’t do anything. The woman scoots over a bit so that my arm stops touching hers. All three of us stare ahead in silence. On-screen the American body begins to decompose. Swollen, flaccid, lacking all desire, it vomits in the car park of a McDonald’s and the cinema bursts into laughter. The man on my left laughs along and leans his leg into mine. This time I stay put. He realizes it’s become a battle of wills (he likes that). He settles his backpack down on his left leg so the stranger sitting on his other side can’t watch him. His hand moves over to his pants, he unbuttons them and pulls down the zipper. Without turning my head, I can see him take it out. He strokes it with his right hand, holding on to the backpack with his left. Up and down, faster and faster. He laughs when everyone else laughs (up, down) without taking his eyes off the screen (up, down). A German man lounges in the row just in front of us, oblivious to the fact that he is aiming at his neck (up, down) his breathing gets deeper, falters, nobody notices (up, down) his hand goes crazy, his breathing envelops both of us (I will not . . .) he finishes himself off with the applause, eyes fixed on the screen, spattering the back of the German’s seat, the tips of his blond hair, painting the wood in spasms, signing it with a last drop of semen.

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