Miguel sits alone with one drink too many
in a café with zinc-topped tables,
empty except for two men in top hats in the corner
watching a woman alone seated at the banquette,
and she too is staring, like a madwoman from the asylum.
Next to her sits a straw hat with a blue-eyed peacock feather.
He cannot remember why he married his wife.
He had thought he knew everything about Inès,
she seemed easy to love, like a dog or a baby.
He leaves and starts to walk aimlessly—
he likes to walk alone, under cover of darkness
when such moments come upon him
and he does not know his life.
This night is warm and humid,
the streets dark and empty.
He passes through a neighborhood of small
businesses, stationary stores and pharmacies,
all closed behind metal gates. The streetlights buzz
faintly and stretch fingers of light into the darkness.
Miguel moves from light to shadow
to light again, lulled by the sound of his own footfalls.
He doesn't see the woman until he is almost
upon her. She stands under a streetlight
at an intersection with her back to the street,
looking at him openly, as if she had been waiting
for him and him alone. She is dressed
in a high-collared, green-and-white striped dress,
and a hat with a dyed-red ostrich feather.
A jet-beaded shawl draped loosely over her arms
even though it is far too warm for such a garment.
An ivory brooch is fastened at her throat
engraved with the image of a woman and a swan.
Miguel stops and looks frankly at her.
The lamp makes her skin seem greenish,
her painted mouth black. He extends his arm
and she takes it, and says, My name is Leda,
in a strange, throaty accent that wallows
in the vowels. Her room is windowless,
the walls papered in a blue flowered pattern
that was once pretty, but now only drab.
The bed is pushed against the far wall in the corner
and the only other piece of furniture is a round
wooden table with a lamp on it. Hands in pockets,
Miguel stands with his back against the door.
A mirror across the room reflects him back to himself.
Leda pulls back the white lace counterpane
on the bed and begins to undress,
her back toward him. She is skinny
and he can see the knobs of her vertebrae
and her skin is the colour of milk
from which all the cream has been skimmed,
and she is inked from neck to ankle
with a lattice-work of names—
the names of all her lovers—she is
a map of love, and so dense a life is written
into her skin that her flesh is only a suggestion.
Once Miguel had watched a sailor being tattooed.
He was drunk, barely conscious
as an old Japanese man bent over him, scoring
his back with ivory needles and a small mallet.
Blood and indigo mixed as a dragon
began to snake across his skin.
Miguel attended this painful birth for hours.
When he was finished, the old man
rose up and spat on the ground.
Miguel too will become a name on her skin.
She is not how he imagined sin would look.