/’\ Ignacio Brandt /’\
Ignacio Brandt first saw heaven in the small crescent of bare thigh between the upper frontier of black nylon stocking and the shimmying boundary of the blessfully snagged woolen skirt climbing slowing up Ms. Devina Sauro's immaculate legs barely visible under the large cold desk at the front of the class. Countless were the times he had stared into that dark expanse where the slatted light crawling in through the windows dared not stumble out of a forgotten sense of propriety and long crumbling dedication to the illumination of the student mind. Now though, the aged and tired sunrays defied the greater urgings of physics to meander their way in a senile path over the young teacher's limbs, which slowly wrestled against one another in instinctual response to the invasion. Ignacio saw it all – the skin, the glow, the stir – and his heart began to smolder.
The young man, not yet twelve, had little use for his body, and less still for the organ of love that supposedly beat inside his round and clammy chest. Ignacio had been born prematurely in an arrival that nearly took his and his mother's life. She often joked that carrying him was a job she “was dying to quit before the summer heat arrived.” His father had similarly been uninterested in the occupation, leaving as soon as Ignacio was able to remember him, with no parting gift besides a German surname that was ill-fitting to the boy's pecan colored face. Where the statuesque Mr. Brandt currently wandered was unknown. Ignacio's mother, reborn as the squat and virginal Miss Solomón, laughed and declared he was most likely “playing the gypsy in Argentina.” Ignacio's heart had always plagued him, keeping him in clean white hospital sheets while his peers built towering skyscrapers among their sofas and beds, fought interstellar criminals in the folds of their lawns, and married one another in solemn porch light ceremonies nestled among the short minutes between dinner and sleep. Now though, his pulse raced in a gallop that began at his overcrowded pupil's table, coursed beyond the rows and rows of hard working young minds, and charged into the polished shine of Ms. Sauro's metallic outpost.
For her part, Ms. Sauro's past was a well protected mystery, with the barest truths wafting through the fortress of rumors that sealed her in. Some of the better read boys claimed she was a former undercover government agent, older than she looked, retiring into the quiet life of a junior high school science teacher just as she had infiltrated the many cults, mob dens, and burglary rings that dotted her short but accomplished career in the service of her nation. Other boys agreed that her last life was rooted in the struggle between law and crime, but on the opposite side of the bout. Her ex-husband, a mafioso without parallel in the arenas of cruelty and ruthless ambition, was in desperate search for the fleeing woman who was in an ingenious disguise as a beautiful but absent minded tutor of chemicals and plants. If you looked closely while she stared silently out the lone unblinded window open on the far end of the bleach white walls you could glimpse the stray hairs exploring behind her left ear that revealed she was secretly a blonde. Closer to understanding, but further from ownership of reality, the girls had unanimously decided she was a fallen nun, having been driven from the simple joys of the convent by the shame and failure of surrendering to the forbidden love of a comely fellow acolyte. All agreed on three points. She was smart. She was fierce. And she rarely stayed in one place for long.
What little truth trickled into Ignacio's mind gathered into a hard stubborn lump that anchored along the stem of his brain and drove his instincts into a deep and gnawing hunger. His short and sheltered life had been shaped irreparably by his appetites. The first to appear was a devouring need for the sound of his mother's voice. In the early days after his birth he had screamed in every pause not filled with the tutting murmurs of her pursed lips. His first steps tottered toward the closed door that barred her room from his. His earliest words were the echos of her half remembered nursery rhymes cooing into his eyes. Nights he trembled alone in the alien percussion of humidifiers, purifiers, and cardiac monitors dreaming of organic tenderness.
Once Mr. Brandt had left Mrs. Brandt to her chrysalis where she would transform into the renewed and jovial Miss Solomon, Ignacio's appetite had shifted to an unforeseeable craving for speed and the brush of wind it would bring across his face. He would sprint down the linoleum floored hall that ran between the darkened kitchen and the cold scented bathroom to create the illusion of an indoor breeze. He leapt through the sedan's door and ran alongside before the heavy auto had screeched to a halt in the broken concrete driveway in order to be caressed by the vehicle’s aura of heated air. Worst to his mother's eyes, Ignacio had dashed up the red velvet aisles of the luxurious chapel and into its rich scented incense that wealthy foreign women preferred during the one occasion she had dared climb up the hill and into a higher class of worship. The aged pastor of the Immaculate Conception had halted his homily on the evils of consumer culture, perfectly crafted to catalyze the potent mixture of bourgeois guilt and entitled perseverance that would wring the most coin from the congregation's fatted wallets, and the priest let forth a braying stutter of obscenities. Both the impediment and the language were hangovers from much earlier days as a war chaplain, and none in attendance doubted the actions of the child, which elicited such anachronistic terrors from the obviously holy man, must be truly depraved. For once Miss Solomon's desire for speed matched her son's as the two fled away past the statue of the Virgin whose mouth hung agape at the audacity of their actions and retreat. As with every sprint, Ignacio’s sacerdotal race left him in a fit of wheezing confusion, uncertain why hist first place finish had failed to lend him a primal sense of triumph and had stolen the wind he hoped to capture through his haste. Ignacio had been installed in his room for the remainder of the Sunday: ignored, contained, unfed.
Dropped like a pin on a map, that moment served as the point of reference to the rest of the boy's steady journey from child to present adolescence. Each leg of the trip was matched by a clockwork increase in Ignacio's capacity for consumption. The driving sensation of his life, to which he had never previously put a name, dropped into his gut where its ratcheted growth never slowed and never waivered from its pursuit of food. To hold this looming maul, Ignacio's belly was forced to expand, ballooning outward like a painful blister. He was a fleshy bomb whose explosion was caught in an eerie slow motion spanning the course of the years of a child's life most vulnerable to misdirection. Yet even as Ignacio shoved whole pies down his gullet and stashed wedges of creamy cheeses into his straining cheeks, he was filled by an equally swelling belief in his eventual relief. Perhaps, he had wondered in a precocious minute of clarity, every step on his gluttonous path drew him closer to a destination where his latest appetite would metamorphose into a new incarnation. One whose terrible brute force would be matched with an equally compelling gentle enlightenment to guide its way. That vain hope served as a dim but unyielding Polaris that urged Ignacio onward through his epoch of eating. It shined promisingly in his searching mind until joined by that ancient sunlight stumbling to its finish on Ms. Sauro's softened skin.
His gaze sat there, catching its breath in wheezes of dulled miscomprehension, exhausted by the racing rush it had taken to arrive on such a momentous location. Unwittingly, Ignacio's mouth, grown strong and expansive in its years of steady labor, hung open as the arms of an aged Samson having flung forth the pillars of the Philistines. Temples of understanding crashed upon him. Here, in this small sliver of lit paradise was the Lord's greatest creation, far beyond the wandering planets hanging in the evening sky, and farther still in glory than the meager appetites that had driven him to arrive at his current port of imagination. The young man's thoughts began to burst behind his furrowed brow, each firework wrought into twisted shapes – luminescent lines that traced innovated imaginations on how human bodies could combine in curls of heavenly bliss. Detonation by detonation, Ignacio's eyes were pulsed wider, apertures strained beyond anatomical borders, while still remaining fixated on the single perfect picture which served as the primer for all the painting bursts of color. He stared too long.
It was decided in the short discussion that took place between them in sharp whispers behind the sea-green door to the classroom that Ignacio's actions, though beyond the edges of etiquette, were not so far removed from the charted course of an educator wiser than her years might profess. For a trespass that were both rude and unexpected, Ignacio faced a certain disciplinary voyage to the offices of the principals and their staff. Instead, the crime of the lesser nature was supposed and sentencing proceeded in a wash of hushed questions and answers. Waves of guilt and excitement flushed Ignacio's chest of any hope of maintaining the semblance of calm masculinity that his father had silently conveyed was of highest value in his remarkably brief career as paternal avatar. The student would remain after the class ended. Both to serve as a punishment for his clear disregard for the privacy of a woman's reclining pose, and as an opportunity to further enlighten the adolescent male in his perceived position in the civilized world. Igancio was oblivious to the potential edge Ms. Sauro was hoping to hone in his cherry-hot mind. He simply wished for his plunge into the heated waters of desire she had poured into his head to boil indefinitely. It was such that the machinations of each were set on a path to grind against one another.
Children shuffled out of Ms. Sauro’s classroom as honey from the jar, tarrying with buzzing questions which covered the only real, and unspoken, inquiry: were they her favorite? It was an occupational aspiration shared unanimously even by those students rarely in her presence. Daily visitations were scheduled by Dehlia, a substitute that merited no surname among her colleagues, who would bring her special needs pupils on a winding detour through the southern wing of the labyrinthine school so that they could pause and stare through the ocean colored door’s tiny window at the shimmering example of wisdom which determinedly sailed through teaching primitive chemical lessons. With uncharacteristic calm, Dehlia’s pilgrims would pay their respects with nodded heads before slowly flowing away, blessed by the saintly visage they had beheld. So too, at the end of every day, would their privileged fellows trickle out of her temple, contemplating the strange scientific portents that had piped out of Ms. Sauro’s mind. Though the oracle’s words were surely prophetic, who would dare try to decipher the blurring tumble of letters, symbols, and diagrams she drew with all the passion of a modern dancer reaching her transcendent climax.
Echoing footfalls left Ignacio and Ms. Sauro at opposing corners of the suddenly expansive square of the room. First his gaze, then hers, traced unchecked circles around the walls, tentatively judging distances, and making quick probes towards the other, never locking but continuously gliding beyond one another in eventless passes that belied the powerful determination that ruled them both. Ignacio was now a man, he whispered to himself, as his father had been, and as his sons would be as well. There from all the forbearing Brandts extending back into history came a pulsing certainty of masculine identity unbroken in a heavy cord which tied Ignacio to countless generations of men anchored by their progenitor Adam. Or perhaps the young man now thought, by God himself. This hunger, which promised to melt the fat of his childhood into the stalwart muscled form of his maturity, would be the last. With it came an unwavering certainty of mind, a new description of his life which accounted for every detail as mere predecessors to his current mission. How fitting he had ached without comfort, raced without goal, and consumed without restraint. How fitting he had dwelled in unattended weakness for so long. Such was the story of every hero. Now was the time for him to abandon his childish ways. Now had arrived his journey’s start, where all the narrow passages of pain would collapse away to reveal a landscape of hope. And centered on that open plain, as the sun rises on the distant pampas of Argentinian wilds, shone Ignacio’s beacon, doubly reflected in the dual dark irises of the perfect bride.
Her question had gone unanswered during Ignacio’s long contemplation of his potency and her fecundity, so she repeated it again.
“Have you considered what you did?”
Ignacio’s skull floated uneasily on his neck as he bobbed between honesty and a long life of certain regret. The gentle waves of his head gave Ms. Sauro the illusion that he had not understood the depth of her question. With a tired breeze of a sigh, she asked again.
“Do you know why it was wrong for you to stare at my body that way?”
“Devina, it cannot be wrong for a man to stare at the woman he loves.”
His voice held briefly in the room, celebrating its own bravery, before slowly marching through the door in a triumphant parade and out of Ignacio’s life forever.
The long whispering sigh slipped over Ms. Sauro’s lower lip a second time as she eased back in her seat, increasing the already stretched distance between them. Her planned lesson was filed away in her mind, left to be used for a different occasion. Instead, her eyes drifted to Ignacio’s, appraising the crop that was growing in his brain, and whose cultivation it was her job to ensure. None of her students had guessed that their teacher’s firm gaze had been honed early in her life as she stared at her own small dark calloused hands when she washed them of dirt and the stains of fresh coffee cherries picked from the fields. It had been sharpened further still over endless books, chalkboards, and graduated cylinders in laboratories so far from the home she was raised in that the cold fluorescent-lit black tables and metal stools might as well have hung in orbit, falling forever in the freedom of space. Little stars shone out of the dark tunnels of her vision, and they burned as sparks struck from steel. Each flash hammered out against the dull heat pouring from his hungry stare that sat on her like the weight of an anvil. She rested and let their locked glares do their heavy work.
In time, Ms. Sauro’s heart was pried open, and she spoke.
“I have met many men, Nacho, but good students are so very rare.”
Her use of his playground name wrapped over his entire being, dragging him down to drown in the ocean of shame, and rejection filled the cavern of his immense bulk. Ignacio’s breath grew shallow and ragged as his lips flopped thoughtlessly open and closed. He was a fish on dry land.
“You’re free. Go on home.”
A hundred paces outside the border of the school, Ignacio’s mouth had turned a brilliant blue that shone purple in the setting light of the sun. Fading beams of ruddy light brushed his face in a sympathetic caress before snuggling up to half-seen phantoms of his possible futures. As Ignacio’s face darkened into the color of a prune he saw his first real boss, an ape of a man he would meet during an alumni gathering after his college graduation. Another step, and a pair of stumbling ghosts sprung up from the grass: a young couple he would match together and later toast at their wedding. Further still and a choir of voices sifted through the air; sounds of friends, colleagues and lovers that would inhabit his world for decades to come. The last rays of light fell from the sky and pierced the translucent spirits of a life well led. They lined a shimmering path that appeared to run aside, then away from the hard asphalt road Ignacio’s feet stumbled along. He sank down beside a smooth bump of grass pouring over the concrete curb, allowing his round belly to rest its uncomfortable heat against the cool ground. Before his heart beat the final time, Ignacio stared at the spectral highway but did not allow himself to second guess his choice. With a grotesque thump, his pulse finally quit its hated job.
No one would audibly make the connection between her and the disastrous health problems of an overweight child, but when Ms. Sauro chose to move on at semester’s end, there was a nodding of heads and a steady exchange of knowing glances. She squeezed the entirety of her scholarly possessions in the back of a weathered convertible and drove off from the school’s parking lot. Her choice to depart a day early put the rising sun in her face as she sped away, leaving a long shadow of inhuman mystery where a real woman once stood.
...and in the swell of earth next to the road where a boy had fallen was erected a small wooden cross crowned with a wreath of marigolds. The floral weight would, over fewer seasons than any could predict, misshape the memorial into a mound which resembled nothing so much as the charred remains of a campfire bearing no heat except in the memories of rustic pyres it recalled in those who glanced upon it. During the steady march of school children battling their urges for freedom as they trod to the trenches of education, some young fool would delay another by stopping at the site and relating the story as it was told. The second would hang on every word before sighing at the obvious romance, turning back toward the school's nearing silhouette and slogging on to class and lunch and passion and all the other destinies which awaited them.
/’\ Ignacio Brandt /’\