When they had started their journey through the
Amazon, it had seemed a good idea to try the new road
that cut through the jungle, linking Brasilia, the capital,
to Belem in the north. But after two days on the road,
what was supposed to have been an adventurous and
mysterious honeymoon had turned into a hot, tiring
ordeal. With dust inside their ears and sweaty clothes
stuck to their bodies, they barely had energy to even
complain about the dirty road that stretched forever.
Always in a straight line. Always empty. Surrounded by
thick, scornful trees that seemed to laugh at their
predicament.

"Do you want another cigarette?" asked Catarina,
reaching into her pocketbook in the back seat. As she
moved, her long black pony tail bumped against her face.

"You are smoking too much," Paulo declared, leaning his
arm once more over the open window of his Volkswagen.

"Got any ideas of more interesting things to do?" she
asked in a grating voice, leaving the cigarettes in her
pocketbook and sitting up straight again.

"You could enjoy the landscape," he laughed
sardonically, looking at her with blue eyes that
contrasted with the deep green of the forest.

"Very funny. I have been enjoying this landscape for the
last two days and I haven't seen one change, let alone
one for the better.” She nodded toward the trees. “And
God knows what's in there."

She was angry at the forest, angry at the hot weather
that made her uncomfortable, sweaty and sticky, and
especially angry at Paulo for finding the situation funny.
She hated his fifteen-year-old Volkswagen which he
insisted on driving as carefully as if it were a new
Porsche. The car's upholstery was old and ripped. The
only luxury of the rinky-dink dashboard was a little old
radio that squawked like a parrot and made her jumpy.
The whole place made her jumpy.

"Do you want to hear some music?" he asked, smiling at
her.

"Okay." She dragged the word out of her mouth. The
white dust that covered her from head to toe choked her
movements and her mind. She felt ten years older than
her twenty-one.

The radio was on now, but instead of music a talk show
was on the air.

"Your husband said he was only going out to buy
cigarettes. Is that right?" the host was asking.

"Yes, but he took his knife with him. I saw him hiding it
on his back, under his shirt," a woman replied in a sad
voice.

"Did you ask him why he was taking his knife?"

"No, my Joao didn't like to answer questions. He would
hit me if I asked them."

"And that was the last time you saw him alive?"

"Yes. One hour later, I was hanging my laundry outside
when my next door neighbor came looking for me. 'Maria,’
she said. 'Joao is dead. He was stabbed in a bar.' I ran
to the bar and saw him on the floor in a puddle of
blood…." Her voice trailed off.

The host’s voice was calm. "How many times was he
stabbed?"

"The police didn't tell me," the woman sobbed. "But he
was all bloody. The person who worked on him worked
hard."

"Was he holding his knife?"

"No, the men in the bar said that he fell into an ambush.
He didn't have time to defend himself."

"How was his face? Did he have any cuts on it?" the host
asked, eager for details.

"His face was fine," the woman recalled, sobbing.

"The killer worked on his stomach and on his chest."

"Did your husband have any enemies?"

"No, he was a good man. He talked too much when he
drank, but he would not look for a fight with anyone. He
wasn't a violent man."

"Didn't you say that he used to hit you?" He refreshed
the woman's memory in a mocking tone.

"Well, but I was his wife," she laughed, a short laugh of
someone not used to laughing.

"So, you think he had the right to hit you?" the host
demanded in an excited voice, glad for having finally
found a controversial subject. "How many times did he
hit you each week?"

Catarina sighed and turned off the radio, leaning heavily
against her seat. "I can't believe it. I just can't believe
it,"

"Hey, I wanted to know how often she got hit," Paulo
protested, smiling. "How often do you think she deserved
to be hit—once a week? Twice a week?"

"Come on, don't be ridiculous. These people live as if
they were in the last century." She tried to cross her legs
in the space in front of her and again realized,
frustrated, that there wasn't room enough. Impatiently,
she moved her bottom to the right side of the seat so
that she could stretch her legs to the left.
The movement reminded her of something. "I want to
pee."

Paulo downshifted and parked on the roadside. Leaving
the Volkswagen, he stretched his arms and yawned
loudly. Suddenly he started to run on the road, making
crisp noises over the dust.

"What are you doing? Are you crazy?" Catarina stared at
him from outside the car, wrinkling her brow.

Paulo ran back toward her but passed the car, continuing
in the other direction.

"I am getting some exercise," he shouted. "Huuuuuuu...."
He ran back screaming like an Indian.

She just stared blankly at him. She didn't understand
him. He was twenty-two years old and getting a master’s
degree in biology. He usually was a very reserved and
practical man, but sometimes he behaved like a child.
She smiled, thinking maybe that was why she liked him.

Walking to the shoulder of the road, she lowered her
jeans, crouched and made a small river in the dirt.
Afterwards, she cleaned herself up with a Kleenex and
walked back to the car to get a bottle of water to wash
her hands.

Back in the car, they drove again through the silent,
motionless forest.

"I wonder where the birds and monkeys are that we see
in all the advertisements about tourism in the Amazon
forest," Catarina thought aloud.

"They have no business on this road,” answered Paulo,
turning on the radio. “They are smart enough to stay
inside the forest, believe me."

This time the radio was playing an animated country
song that cheered their spirits. For a while they just
listened to it, smoking silently.

"It is almost noon," Paulo announced suddenly, taking a
look at his watch. "Time to rain."

Sure enough the sky quickly grew cloudy and thick drops
of rain started to wash the car. He turned on the wipers
and drove slowly, but soon the rain became so strong
that he had to pull over onto the shoulder of the road.
They were used to this now. It rained every day almost
at the same time. The first two days they parked the car
and made love. The rain formed a thick curtain protecting
them from the outside world. Today they didn't care for
that protection and left the car to make love outside,
standing naked in the rain.

Then, as quickly as it had started, the rain stopped.
They dried themselves in dusty towels, put on their
clothes and continued on their journey, feeling much
better as they drove in a straight line through trees as
tall as giants. After they followed the monotonous line
for a while longer, the road started to change. It bent to
the right, then to the left, and again to the right. It
narrowed and crossed a bridge, under which they could
see a noisy, clear stream. Right after the bridge was a
detour sign and they had to take an even narrower road,
not knowing where it would lead them. There was no one
around to ask, nothing but an old pickup truck abandoned
beside the river.

It was right after another bend that they saw the dog.
However, it was too late. Paulo had already run over it.

"Shit!" he complained, banging his fist on the steering
wheel. "I didn't see it coming. Where did that damn dog
come from?" He looked through the rear mirror and saw
the brownish dog lying flat on the road.

Catarina looked backwards and bit her lip. "Should we go
back and check on him?"

"What for? Do you think that there is a veterinarian in
this corner of the world?"

"I am sorry." She put her hand on his thigh. "These
things happen."

"I know," he sighed.

They drove silently for ten minutes more on the road that
curved to the right and to the left all the time, getting
narrower and narrower. The branches of the trees were
nearly entangled with the ones at the opposite side,
forming a crown over their heads. The road was dark and
menacing now. Paulo was sullen. Catarina just stared
outside the window, seeing trees speed past her.

After another turn to the right, Paulo ran over another
dog. This time he could see an animal jumping from the
forest to the road, but when his foot reached the brake it
was already too late. He stopped the car after a few
meters, placed his arms around the steering wheel and
leaned his head over it.

"Hey, it wasn't your fault." Catarina slid her fingers in his
hair. "These animals are not used to cars. That is it. Do
you think they belong to someone? There aren't any
houses by the road."

"I don't know and I don't care." He raised his head and
got out. He leaned against the car, one foot crossed over
the other, and stared pensively at the brown animal lying
immobile in the road.

She stood beside him, her hands jammed in her jeans.
"He looks exactly like the first one."

"Maybe they are cousins, siblings, or best friends."

"Come on, don't let these dogs put you in the doldrums."
She hugged him, pressing her body against his.

He absentmindedly hugged her back. "I guess this road
is getting on my nerves."

"I will drive now," she said, kissing him behind the ear.
"Let's go."

Back in the car she felt her spirits rise now that she was
in charge of the situation. She turned her head to the
side sometimes only to observe her new husband’s
gloomy face. He was sitting in the tight seat with his
legs open, one arm over his thigh, the other over the
window. The blond hair of his chest could be seen inside
his unbuttoned white short-sleeved shirt.

This time the dog appeared after a bridge. He was
running across the road from one side of the forest to
the other. She pressed hard on the brakes and threw the
car to the left but hit the dog on its back end. It fell
down but immediately stood up, jumping on three legs
and whining. Trembling, she turned the car off.

"To kill a dog, or to leave a dog handicapped? That's the
big question," Paulo joked, his laugh echoing strangely in
the car.

She turned to him red-faced, her eyes wide open. "Don't
you have any feelings for these poor animals?"

"How can I have feelings for suicidal dogs?"

"They are just ignorant." She turned the engine on and
felt her blood igniting inside her veins.

He gazed at her, watching her lips pressed tightly
together. "Let's forget these poor dogs and think about
what we will do once we reach Belem," he proposed,
putting his arm over her shoulder and feeling the soft
jersey of her yellow shirt against his rough palm.

"Okay," she agreed, eager to erase the animals from her
mind.

But they didn't have time to discuss their plans, for they
soon arrived at a village made of ten or twelve wooden
huts with missing boards, in front of which barefoot
children played with brownish dogs eerily similar to the
ones they had hit. The children were dressed only in
shorts. Their naked chests and faces, as well as their
hair, were the same color as the dogs. Beside the
houses, barefoot women in ragged skirts and loose
blouses that showed the shapes of their tired breasts
falling almost down to their waists were setting clothes
out to dry in the sun. Close to them, naked babies
played inside metal basins, spilling and drinking the
warm soapy water. There were no flowers or trees
coloring the place. A thick white coat of dirt covered the
whole village, which seemed to be inhabited only by
women and children.

In front of the huts was a shabby, beige gas station
which looked abandoned. Catarina drove to the only
pump and stopped. "I guess this place went out of
business," she said. Behind the pump sat a small house
where she could see a bar.

The women started shouting to one other and it seemed
as if the people in the village had just noticed them.
They stood beside the car and waited. Soon, a short
teenaged boy left one of the huts and walked slowly
toward the pump, stepping silently with bare feet on the
unpaved road.

"Bom dia." He greeted Paulo in a small voice, ignoring
Catarina. "Fill it up?"

They walked to the bar behind the pump. The small, dark
room smelled of spoiled bananas and flies buzzed all
around. On the worn out tile floor a few brown dogs
napped. The boy served them some cokes from a small,
old refrigerator that didn't have power enough to cool
anything.

Catarina looked around, hoping to find cookies, but saw
only mangoes, guavas, papayas, bananas and passion
fruits. She bought some mangoes that the boy gave her
unwrapped. He still didn't dare to look at her and
handled her money as carefully as if it were a wasp.
While she finished her coke, she noted his ragged, blue
shirt and black shorts, his round, soporific face with big
eyelashes shadowing brown eyes.

After she was done, Paulo took the driver's seat again
and they left the village behind, covered by a blanket of
dirt. The women and children, who seemed to blend so
well with the land, stopped for a minute to watch them
go.

"Those people live almost like animals," Catarina said
after a while, lighting a cigarette and exhaling the smoke
out the window. "They don't ask for more. That's the only
way of life they know. They are stuck in the middle of
the forest. They don't have TV, VCR. They can't go to the
movies...."

Paulo turned to her, serious. "Do you think we are
happier than they?”

"Well, I don't know." She moved in her seat uneasily,
again exhaling out the window.

                    *******

When they reached the next bridge they decided to stop
and eat the mangoes. They took a narrow path among
dry, brown bushes that led to a stream. Walking over
small white pebbles, they found a pretty spot where the
pebbles formed a beach. They sat and looked around.
From where they were they couldn't see where the
meandering stream began. It seemed to begin in the
middle of the forest, running lazily and happily for a
while, then disappearing again a few meters below them.
At its narrowest it was only about two meters wide.

"
Uau. What a place!" Catarina exclaimed, feeling happier
than ever that day. "I think I am going to swim. How
about you?"

He had rested his head on the pebbled beach, stretched
out his legs and closed his eyes. "Yap, that's a good
idea,” he replied. “You go ahead. I want to rest a little
bit before diving in."

She took all her clothes off and put them in a neat pile
beside him. He briefly opened his eyes and smiled. Then
she walked naked into the stream, laughing and shouting
as the refreshing water cooled her whole body.

"Hey!” She gestured to where the stream disappeared in
the middle of the forest. “I am going to see if the water
is deeper over there."

"Go ahead," he murmured, eyes still closed.

She swam to the forest and right after the bend found a
swimming hole. After swimming for a while she sat on
the pebbled border, letting the water drip all over her
body. A smile appeared on her face and she leaned her
head backwards, sighing deeply.

Suddenly, she had the feeling that the forest had
changed. Birds had been singing before but had become
mute. The tree branches were still. The sun had
disappeared behind a cloud. The whole place was in
suspense, waiting silently and respectfully.

Before she had time to identify the danger in the air, she
felt powerful arms grabbing her from behind, a rough
hand pressing her mouth shut and a strong smell of
alcohol invading her nostrils. She tried to turn her face
away, but was immobilized by the hand on her mouth.
She was thrown violently onto the pebbles. With her free
hand, she punched and scratched the checkered shirt
that now forced itself against her breasts, but the brute
in the shirt didn't seem to mind her resistance. He
pressed his hand even harder on her mouth, also
covering her nose so that she could hardly breathe. With
his other hand, he unzipped his pants while he sat on
her legs.

Barely breathing, she stared at him, at his cowboy hat
thrown over a brownish face as impassive as a cow. He
had the same dull features as the inhabitants of the
village she had despised.

He entered her abruptly and started to push inside her
with rhythmic movements that brought only loathing and
pain. Nauseated, she was on the verge of throwing up
even with his hand over her mouth, but before she could
do this, he ejaculated silently, closing his eyes and
opening his mouth in an idiot's expression. A thin line of
saliva dripped from his mouth onto her hair.

Only when he was done did he look down for an instant
at her face. Then, pulling up his zipper, he got off her
body and disappeared into the forest as stealthily as he
had come. The forest seemed to welcome him back as it
would have done with a wild animal that returns to its
refuge after having found its deserving prey.
Immediately, birds started singing again and leaves
swung happily on the trees. The sun appeared from
behind the clouds, filling the swimming hole with an
exquisite light which went unnoticed.

Catarina sat down and vomited with her head cupped in
her hands. She couldn't stand the sour smell of her
mouth or the putrid smell of the man's sperm between
her legs. Jumping suddenly to her feet, she dove into the
pool, washing herself again and again, trying in vain to
get rid of all vestiges of what had happened to her just
moments ago. Desperately, she scrubbed herself
uninterruptedly, feeling her body and soul stained forever.

Finally, she gave up washing and left the swimming hole,
went around the bend and walked in a muddled way in
the stream toward the spot where Paulo was. Although
she felt a strong desire to scream very loudly and very
angrily—to break the forest apart with her cry—the urge
became a knot in her throat.

Her legs weighed tons now. Nevertheless, she tried to
walk faster, forgetful that she could swim, afraid of the
small fish in the stream, afraid of looking back at the
forest that now seemed inhabited by all sorts of
treacherous beasts.

Gasping, she reached the place where Paulo lay and
frantically ran out of the water to meet him, still unable
to call his name. She stopped just before him, fell to her
knees and let a savage, endless cry pierce the immobile,
watchful forest. His stomach had been stabbed several
times, his eyes were wide open, and from his mouth a
thick trail of blood ran to the ground like a river of lost
life. In his right hand he still held a ripe mango, yellow
and appetizing.













Bernadete Piassa has been living in the U.S. for the past 24 years. In Brazil
she won many
writing awards, including one for her article, “Abortion: The
More Frequent Questions,” published in Nova, the Brazilian edition of
Cosmopolitan. In the U. S. she won first prize in the Townsend Press Writing
Contest for her essay, “A Love Affair with Books,” published in Keys to Better
College Reading by Townsend Press Books and reprinted internationally. Her
essay, “Half a Pound of Ham,” was published in the book, Basic Writing Skills
with Reading by Townsend Press. Latino Stuff Review published her short
story, “Cheese.” She is currently at work on a novel set in Brazil. She edits the
Portuguese version of
Agonia.net, an international site of culture and literature.
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