Inside a luxury housing complex, two misfit teenagers sneak around and get drunk. Franco, lonely, overweight, and addicted to porn, obsessively fantasizes about seducing his neighbor—an attractive married woman and mother—while Polo dreams about quitting his awful job as the gated community’s gardener and fleeing his overbearing mother and their narco-controlled village. Faced with the impossibility of getting what they think they deserve, Franco and Polo hatch a mindless and macabre scheme.
Written in a thrilling torrent of prose by one of our most exciting new writers, Paradais explores the explosive fragility of Mexican society—fractured by issues of race, class, and violence—and how the myths, desires, and hardships of teenagers can tear life apart at the seams.
Paradais is available now from New Directions.
That’s how it all began, he’d tell them. A few days later, when they got plastered again with the money fatboy lifted from his grandparents and passed on to Polo so he could buy booze, cigarettes and those revolting cheesy snacks covered in orange powder, Franco’s delicacy. It quickly became a routine: the impatient wait after lunch, the search for the cash in the flowerbeds, the local store packed with workers having a quick cold drink before heading back to Boca or to their own communities; the nerve-racking walk through the abandoned plot and its crumbling mansion, meeting each other at sundown on the dock, the boozing and smoking, Franco Andrade yapping on, Polo sniggering to himself, the palliative stupor from the drink, of which there was never as much as Polo would’ve wanted, scarcely enough to dull the mind, to take the edge off. That’s why he drank so fast, almost racing against Franco until the booze was all gone, the cigarettes too, and with them their only means of keeping the hungry mosquitoes at bay, until the lights in Progreso on the other side of the river would start to go out, at which point Polo would be sufficiently wasted to head back into the almost pitch darkness of the undergrowth and past the rustling pile, pushing his bike by the handlebar and singing under his breath, voy a llenarte toda, toda, any old tune he might’ve heard on Cenobio’s radio, lentamente y poco a poco, no matter how cheesy or dumb, con mis besos, anything to distract him from the Bloody Countess who built that solitary palace in the estuary’s mangrove swamps and whose gruesome silhouette—according to the gossips in Progreso, his mother included of course—would still frighten the wits out of the reckless fools who dared hang around those parts, until finally Polo would emerge onto the deserted track, mount his bike, and coast down the hill until he reached the highway shoulder, sweating copiously from the stifling heat and the effort to keep the handlebar steady so he didn’t go crashing headfirst into one of the few cars still driving around at that time of night. No matter how much or how quickly he drank down on the dock, it was never enough to knock him out, to send the whole world packing, to switch off completely, be free, and all too quickly the precious trance he’d worked so hard to achieve would dissolve into a throbbing headache that grew more intense each time Polo remembered that in a matter of hours he’d be back cycling along the very same road, ready to begin a new day in poxy Paradais. That’s why whenever he crossed the bridge over the river he would stop for a few minutes to watch the brackish waters snake their way between the lawns, the luxury villas on one side, and on the other the tiny islands populated by willows and shaggy palm trees, barely visible against the salmon pink canvas of the port, all lit up in the night sky, there in the distance, and he would get to thinking about the boat that he and his grandfather should’ve built together when there was still time, a humble skiff, nothing special, with a pair of powerful oars, or maybe just a simple bargepole to haul their way up the sludgy riverbed until they reached the middle of the estuary teeming with bobo mullet on their way down from the mountains and sea bass heading inland to spawn near the river’s mouth. Or that’s what his grandfather would always say, before he went and croaked. If he had that boat, Polo thought, he wouldn’t have to do those exhausting round trips on his bike back and forth from Paradais to Progreso; or better still, if his grandfather had kept his promise of teaching him how to build a boat, if he’d taken seriously all their dreaming as they fished together on the bridge, Polo would never even have to go back to that fucking place or put up with the shit-packer Urquiza and his constant putdowns: he could earn his living fishing in his boat, or taking tourists out on the lagoon, or just head upriver with no destination, no plans or responsibilities, row his way to one of the towns along the river and its tributaries any time he needed something, and leave again just as freely, with no one to stop him; he wouldn’t have to make ridiculous pledges of abstinence or put up with humiliating and totally unreasonable takedowns, he wouldn’t have to sleep on the living room floor or be forced to wake at the crack of dawn to his mother’s shitty alarm clock jingle, or spend the whole day watering the same fucking lawn, which he’d be back mowing days later; or pedal uphill sandwiched between the luxury urban developments’ sky-high walls, all crowned with barbed wire and razor wire, swerving this way and that on the gravelly roadside, blinded by the lights of the cars that seemed to rush headlong in his direction. Maybe the one good thing about returning so late to that house—besides sparing himself his mother’s earfuls and Zorayda’s slutty glances—was that the highway was all but deserted at that hour so he could cycle along it without having to wait for the evening traffic to calm down, and by the same token use the momentum he picked up to veer into the side road that opened up in the undergrowth, the shortcut that would lead him straight to his house, avoiding Progreso entirely, a dirt track which, at that time of night, was more like a living, breathing pit of darkness, a tunnel that echoed with deathly screeches and the croaks of cicadas and enormous toads hiding in the grass, a track that Polo would turn into without a second thought, without braking at all, befuddled by his thirst and pounding head, squinting from the sweat and insects in his face, pedaling furiously and with drunken abandon and placing all his trust in his muscle memory, which seemed to remember the places where the track grew narrow or gnarled with tree roots after all those years spent cycling back and forth twice a day through that tunnel of vines and ferns and boggy leaf mold that stank like a fresh grave: first as a young boy, to attend the school on the other side of the river, and then, when he was a bit older, to take the bus to Boca. And now he was back riding the same route day in day out to get him to and from Paradais, and had been ever since his mother dragged him to the offices of the Gulf Real Estate Company to print his full name on the contract that annoying idiot Urquiza put in front of him; a contract stating that from that day on, Leopoldo García Chaparro would be employed as the gardener of the urban development Paradise. Paradais, Urquiza corrected Polo the second time he tried to say that gringo shit. It’s pronounced Pa-ra-dais, not Pa-ra-dee-sey. Listen, repeat after me: Paradais. And the newest employee had wanted to reply: Paradais my ass, you loose fucking faggot, but he didn’t dare say anything with his mother right there beside him, pressuring him to get on and sign it, berating him with her beady yellow eyes, the watchful eyes of a hungry grackle. Just sign it, she told her son on noticing him leaf through the contract. Sign first, then read it, stop wasting this gentleman’s time. And Polo had no choice but to sign that horse shit, despite the strongest suspicion that he’d just sold his soul to the devil, a feeling that grew when he saw how happy his mother was to witness his transformation into the minion of that bunch of self-important cunts, because it was about time Polo pulled his finger out, stopped scratching his balls, he’d never done a decent day’s work in his life, hadn’t taken home a single peso since the almighty clusterfuck—there was no other word for what he’d gone and done—he’d made of school, flunking all six subjects in the first semester, and all for absences, for throwing her efforts down the drain, the countless sacrifices his mother had made over the years to provide that lazy shit with the opportunities she never had. So now it was his turn to pull his sleeves up, now he could work his ass off for the family and stop being such an irresponsible bum. They didn’t have a pot to piss in, and with his cousin Zorayda’s little slipup, in a few months they’d be more squeezed than ever, assuming the whole town didn’t go to shit before then. It was just as well that Señor Hernández the engineer had given Polo his “big break,” the chance to work in one of his residential developments, because Progreso was turning into a den of crooks and Polo ran a very real risk of turning out like his cousin Milton, the shameless little crook who’d led him astray. Where exactly was the pleasure in drinking himself silly? Why didn’t he take a page out of his grandfather’s book? His poor grandfather who’d worked like a dog his whole life to build a future for himself, to provide for them, with no help from anyone, just blood, sweat and tears, toiling from dusk till dawn, never taking a break or making up pathetic excuses, never moaning or pretending to be sick so he didn’t have to get up, you waste of space, who do you think you are, Polo? Who the hell do you think you are? That was the kind of grief Polo woke up to each day, before the sun had even appeared at the window, just as the neighbor’s rooster was clearing its throat to compete with his mother’s phone alarm. Polo would grumble and toss and turn on the floor, on the sweat-soaked petate mat, his mouth dry, his eyes glued together with sleep and his temples throbbing with the headache that now never went away, no matter how many AlkaSeltzers he drank. He would aim to get up and out as early as he could—Lord knows he tried to avoid his mother’s sermons—but she always got there first, when he was still on the floor battling his exhaustion, and she would launch straight in: wasn’t he ashamed, crawling home in the middle of the night and creeping in to his own house like a thief, and all for a bender! Don’t lie to me, you little creep, don’t you dare lie to your mother! I can smell the stench of booze on you from here, you useless drunk! It’s only Wednesday and you’re already out getting plastered, just look at your face. Seriously, who do you think you are, Leopoldo? Who the hell do you think you are, you little shit?