Fiction by Nina Fosati & Art by Shelli Weiler
by Nina Fosati
“Let me be your cebador,” I say to the narrow man relaxing in the shade across from me. His long fingers with their polished nails are good at diversion. He signals his agreement.
It is mid-September, almost my birthday. I doubt he remembers. We sit on wooden deck chairs steeping in what might be the last perfect day of the year. The temperature is on the warm edge of crisp, the hummingbirds have fled and soon the black-eyed juncos will return.
The yard, verdant and secluded, lies before us. After more than thirty years of hiding, it is the last of many shelters. Soon I will leave, but not yet.
I plug in the electric kettle and turn my attention to making the tea. Carefully filling the stainless steel cup with yerba, I place my palm over the top. Shaking the maté so it lies at a precise angle masks my nervousness. I gently blow at the dust that clings to my hand, casting motes into the air.
“You’ve been practicing.” He removes his wool fedora, rests it on the seat next to him.
“Waiting for your reappearance.” I pour cold water from a small thermos into the cup. The yerba resists, quivers above the surface then accepts the moisture rising from underneath. It forms a small crater as it sinks. “What is it you want to know?”
If you want to catch someone unawares, be direct. The side of his mouth rises in a quick jerk. He nods, acknowledging the hit. “Margaret. Where is she?”
My turn. A shard of sorrow cuffs me. I search for a word that fits — missing, vanished. “Gone,” is the best I can do.
While he lived in Argentina, people wondered how he survived the Dirty War. There were rumors. Nine years of people taken in the middle of the night—los desaparecidos. Claims of victims kidnapped, tortured, murdered. Naked bodies washed up on remote beaches, disposed of in unmarked graves. People disappeared. Their families pretended not to notice. After all, who could they tell? To speak was to risk everything. They knew and yet they didn’t.
In payment for his services, we were given to him as children. Identical twins, Margaret and Magdelena. Our duplication was useful in his misdirections. We watched and learned. Found we had a gift, too.
The first bubbles appear in the kettle. I pour the near boiling water into the cup. Hot and cold mix and, if done right, the maté is the proper temperature for drinking. I sip the liquid through the bombilla, the mesh bulb on its end keeps the tea leaves out of the straw.
I refill the cup and give it to the lanky illusionist. There’s froth on top and a bit of dry yerba. He appraises the concoction, breathes in the herbal aroma; pours a teaspoon of sugar on top.
“We Argentines and our sweet tooth,” he shrugs, then drains the cup, returns it.
I remember my lessons. “Be quick. Share. Don’t wipe the bombilla. Don’t stir the yerba.” Pour, drink, pour, drink. We pass the cup back and forth until lavado. The maté is spent. All the flavor has gone.
The old escape artist says, “The young these days have no flair, no aptitude. A poorly executed trick is enough. They think they know and yet they don’t.”
His body slumps forward. The cup falls from his hand. A pair of goldfinch leap away, startled by the bombilla’s clatter as it skitters across the deck. I stand, place my fingers on his neck and probe for a pulse. “It’s not so different with the old either,” I say. I carefully remove the felted sponges from my cheeks. Toss them in his lap. They’ve absorbed the few sips of maté required for the deception. The fedora catches my eye. I place it on my head. Check the tilt in the window reflection.
The next time, I will be harder to find.
Nina Fosati loves portraiture and historic clothing. Beguiled, she regularly holds forth on her favorites @NinaFosati. Recent work has appeared in Ellipsis Zine, the Disabled Voices Anthology, Persephone’s Daughters, and the Cabinet of Heed.
Shelli Weiler is an artist from New York with a BA in Studio Art from Wesleyan University. Her work primarily revolves around the production of fantasy and its failure, using portraiture to document performance in a non documentarian way. Her work has been included in exhibitions at Aperture Foundation, Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, and Tbilisi Photography & Multimedia Museum. She has participated in various festivals such as Landskrona Foto, Fotofestiwal Lodz, and Fotofestival Lenzburg, where she received the Gewinner Jury Award. Her work has been published in print and online magazines such as Vogue Italia, Musée Magazine, Der Greif, and Bird in Flight. Shelli is currently based in Brooklyn, surrounded by purple heart plants and desert rose succulents. She is five feet tall.