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Hiraeth (i stab my oar in the water)

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Washington DC, in between shit storms


After his post-schwarma tantrum outside the coffeeshop, it occurs to Steve that in modern New York there are Argentines. Probably a butcher shop somewhere, and a bakery that sells capias and caras sucias at exorbitant prices; the Latin supermarkets must carry Cruz de Malta and, this city being the pinnacle of diversity that it is, there’s a sodero somewhere making the rounds. If he spent any time in crowds, he might overhear someone who talks like his mom did.

It’s terrifying. If the New York he left behind is half-gone, provincial Córdoba may well have been erased altogether. He tries to remember his last name. If he can remember the way his grandmother’s teeth fit together when she smiled, the dexterity of his grandfather's hands, twisted and beautiful as the branch of an ypé, then he should remember their family name. He doesn’t. It’s gone, and his mother’s people might be gone with it.

He moves to DC, starts venturing out in public sometimes. It’s a long string of sometimes, not particularly varied and embarrassingly fraught with anxiety. He circles the Mall on his runs, visits museums, wanders into Panam Grocery, thinks about buying the La Paulina dulce de leche on the shelf, knows it wouldn’t taste right even if it followed his grandmother’s recipe to the letter.

The Widow shows up at his door one day with a bottle of wine and a DVD.

“Housewarming,” she says shortly, setting the movie face down on the hall table and ambling over to the kitchen for wine glasses.

Once they get to know each other better, they’ll fall into a pattern of comfortable banter, but for now she is little more than the badass rusa whose personal boundaries are reinforced with iron. He envies her too much to go anywhere near them. Another glance at the wine reveals that it’s from Mendoza. Great. She remembers his berrinche.

He makes himself look back at her. Her face isn’t expressionless, but he’s not sure how to read what he sees in it.

“Phil told me about these letters that make the rounds in academic circles every now and then.” she says. “Supposedly sent home by soldiers who were stationed near you in France.” She pauses. The pause turns into a full stop. “Anyway, I… Please tell me you have a DVD player.”

He points at the couch, grabbing the DVD and heading over to the entertainment center. Natasha's eyes follow as if she’s proctoring a test. 21st Century Technology 101.

The screen goes bright. A guitar plays something gentle, evocative, while behind the menu the camera cuts from soaring vistas to a handsome dark-haired man and back again. Natasha presses play, fiddling with the remote to select subtitles in Cyrillic. The movie starts. Steve blinks. A man is singing a tango as he folds clothes. An inhaler similar to the one he got when he was young is assembled. A voiceover starts, the accent classic Buenos Aires, and Steve releases the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding - there’s still some distance, something he doesn’t have to identify with.

The camera moves to a hand tracing a line on a map; under the voiceover there’s another voice. It sounds like rosas chinas and red streetlamps and a cuarteto draped in white and sky-blue playing at the plaza in frigid July. Steve has nothing to hide behind.

“He talks like…” He realizes he’s speaking and stops.

Like we did, he doesn't say.

Some indefinable length of time later the credits are rolling and Natasha, who hasn’t looked at him since he slipped the DVD into its slot two hours ago, says quietly, “The second man. He talks like your mother?”

Steve doesn’t answer.

“Phil showed me those letters, once. A lot of scholars thought they were apocryphal, but he wasn’t convinced.”

She’s kind, and she's trying, and he’s been hiding for too long. He clears his throat.

“They’re real.”