They were drunk when he proposed it. That they go to a church in some little town and ask a priest to marry them on the spot, then return to Guan Zhou and keep drinking like nothing had happened. She thought it was the funniest idea in the world.
Wait, she said, almost passed out across her arm. I’ll finish this beer first.
The flies buzzed around the empty bottles piled up on the table. They’d missed their classes at university that day. They hadn’t gone in the day before either. They were celebrating. He had just gotten back from a month-long bus trip around the country with Uzi and Sergio, his childhood friends. He told her about what had happened to him: he ran out of money right at the end of the trip and had to sell his belongings—a sleeping-bag, a backpack, a Victorinox knife—to pay for his return ticket. He had no choice but to sleep in the aisle of the bus, shivering with cold, without any kind of jacket. He’d asked a chola if he could cover himself with her underskirts. The woman had refused, offended.
She laughed hard at his stories. The jukebox played “I Pray for You”: they’d put enough coins in the machine to ensure that it would play only their favorite songs all afternoon. He rested his hand on her leg, as if by accident. They’d both been unfaithful and somehow knew it, but at that moment it didn’t matter. There’d be time to correct mistakes later.
After flipping a coin, they decided to take the La Guardia highway. They’d never driven that road on their own before. They stopped to buy more beers on the way; he paid for them. They fought over control of the radio.
Let me drive, he protested, or we’re going to crash.
They saw a man standing on the side of the highway and stopped to pick him up.
You’re crazy, she said, annoyed.
Today it’s you; tomorrow it’s me. The law of the highway.
Idiot. I don’t feel like playing good Samaritan.
He leaned over to kiss her. When he did, he passed a hand over her head and pulled her hair. She bit him.
Where are you going? the man asked through the car window. His clothes were stained with oil, as if he’d been working under a car.
To get married, she said, taking a sip from her can of beer.
The man stared at them.
Get in, he ordered. We’ll give you a ride.
The man was a taxi driver. His car had broken down, and he asked them to take him to a gas station. They offered him a can, and he sat in silence for the twenty minutes that followed. Before he got out of the car he tried to pay them, but they wouldn’t let him.
Pray for us, she shouted, waving her hand out the window, as the man became a spot in the distance.
Moron, he laughed. You don’t even believe in God.
They passed several towns. Crosses with plastic crowns bloomed on the sides of the highway. The light became orangey; afternoon was turning into evening. She passed him another beer. They’d never stayed the night together after making love. She always gathered her things quickly and went back to her mother’s house at first light, zigzagging down the road with the dawn breeze in her face, turning up the music on the car radio all the way to keep from succumbing to fatigue and drunkenness. She hadn’t wanted to get used to waking up next to him. The future is not ours, she thought.
Son of a bitch, he shouted suddenly, trying to dodge the dog that had just run into the middle of the highway. The tires of the old Ford Fiesta skidded, and her forehead bounced off the window. The car stopped on the highway, like an insect stranded in the sun. She rubbed her head; it didn’t seem like anything serious, just a scare. He frowned at the beer that had spilled on the seats.
You hit it, she said accusingly.
I have no idea, he answered, dizzy from the car’s maneuvers.
I heard it. You hit it. You killed it.
A muffled howl came from the rear of the Ford Fiesta.
The dog, she squealed, nervous.
I’m not going to get out and check, he said, and he reversed the car back into the right lane. The car jolted slightly as they passed over the animal.
Ohhh, she shouted, and covered her ears with her hands.
It’s better for him. His suffering is over.
How terrible, she said.
He shook the beer off his clothes and turned up the volume on the radio. She sat frozen in her seat, her hair messed up from the car’s sudden deceleration.
That was close, he said and opened another can of beer. People die in accidents like that.
She didn’t respond. He only realized there was something wrong when, a few kilometers down the road, he turned to talk to her and saw that she was crying.
Now what? he said, slamming on the brakes.
This isn’t going to work. I want to get out.
What did I do?
Leave me alone.
He got out of the car and leaned against the door. He lit a cigarette. He didn’t know where they were. The highway stretched on forever. He felt exhausted and bored.
Get out, he said.
She dried her tears with the back of her hand.
We’re not going to get married any more? she asked.
Some other day, he answered, containing his irritation.
Analía got out of the car with a slam of the door and began to follow the asphalt into the sunset. Diego started the car and turned back toward the city. She had a long walk ahead of her. She turned and threw the can of beer after him. She missed. Luckily she had her Discman in her pocket; this time she didn’t know how long it would take her to get home.