The Seven Palms of Paradise
“And a continent fits inside of a desire”
Reinaldo Ferreira, in “Soneto”
A portrait of Batman’s mother was hung on the living room wall. Her hair was dark like Paola Negri and she was wearing lipstick. Batman had gotten his sad, dark eyes from his mother.
Batman’s father cut photos of movie actresses out of magazines and hid them in the basement. Batman’s maid found the stash and starting killing them off. Candice Bergen was the first victim.
Batman’s maid was black during the day and she sang voodoo chants. At night, she would transform into Batman’s old maid of an aunt. And sing hymns and old time gospel.
Candice Bergen died hearing a hymn about salvation.
Batman’s father worked for Pfizer Labs. He was thin and brittle and carried around a case with 15 kilos of free samples. He walked all bent over and his back hurt and he would stop during his route and pray for relief. At night, he’d sleep on the floor with his feet up on three pillows. When the pain was really bad, he’d crawl to get around. Batman was nine and wanted to ride his father.
Batman’s apartment was a two bedroom and a bit musty smelling. It was dark. In the afternoon, they needed to turn the lights on. The owner would come to collect when the rent was late and Batman’s father would hide in the closet. He’d come out smelling of mothballs.
Batman had a freckle-faced sister who had a little dog, a Pekingese. The Pekingese would always bark when Batman’s father crawled.
Batman’s father was out from work for 47 days. At night, Batman’s mother would leave the portrait in the living room and go to the room where Batman’s father was lying. She would go barefoot and be the sea breeze blowing on Batman’s dad’s back.
Batman suffered from insomnia and could hear the two of them cooing.
Batman’s father told Batman’s mother that he was earning very little as a salesman. And they did the budget together with a ballpoint pen, doing the figures on Batman’s mother’s legs. She had really beautiful legs, like Betty Grable’s.
Batman’s father talked to Batman’s mother about his bosses at work. He talked about how he had to squeeze against the walls to let them pass in the stairwells. How he had to breathe their garlic or wine-smelling breath in the elevator. He complimented them on their ties and made a point of whistling “God Bless America” whenever they tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to do something.
After midnight, Batman’s father started to worry that he would lose his job. And then he couldn’t sleep. Batman’s mother sang the “Marseillaise” so that he could get to sleep.
One morning, Batman’s maid noticed that the portrait of Batman’s mother had sleepless rings under its eyes. And that night, Batman’s aunt kept watch. When she saw that Batman’s mother was going to come down out of her portrait, the aunt went to Batman’s father’s room and stayed there, crocheting and talking about the 263 pains and illnesses she suffered from.
From the portrait on the wall, Batman’s mother looked on with her teary, dark eyes.
Batman’s father’s hair was straight and combed straight back. His skin was very white and he washed his hands at least twenty times a day with Lever soap.
When the tropical heat got to be too much, Batman’s father would leave the windows open. On Saturday nights, he’d hunt mosquitoes while listening to a Portuguese neighbor sing fado. The Portuguese lived in the boarding house under Batman’s window and worked in the Colombo Department Store. On those nights that he sang, the neighbor dreamed of being a cod back off the coast of Portugal. The owner of the Colombo Department Store was who had come after him with a harpoon and caught him, putting him in the hold and bringing him to Brazil. They arrived at Colombo Department Store during Easter Weekend when cod costs $14 a kilo. In the dream, the boss himself took a carving knife and cut a piece of cod off. He put it up on the scales and wrapped it for a customer that looked like Kim Novak. She cooked it with new potatoes, tomatoes, 200 grams of raisins, and tomato sauce. She put it a in a Pyrex dish and served it as an appetizer.
The dream cod came back to life inside of her.
On Sundays, Batman’s father would have killed all the mosquitoes and would watch the skies, thinking that it was time for the seasonal burning of the fields.
But the Portuguese kept on singing fado.
Batman’s aunt sat there thinking listening to and thinking about Manoel Domingos do Nascimento.
Batman’s father heard the fado and talked to a mouse whose stomach growled when he was hungry. It was a mouse that could see inside people, and Batman’s father called him Errol Flynn. He was from a lake where Batman’s dad used to hunt ducks.
Errol Flynn would only show up on days of real hunger.
One Friday, the glass in windows of Batman’s apartment rattled and some broke and the fragments tinkled out over the floor. They all looked at the portrait of Batman’s mother on the living room wall and she wasn’t there anymore. A bit later, the doorbell sounded and a man came up with a telegram. Batman’s father turned real pale when he read it.
That night, Batman dreamed that he had given herbal tea to his mom to help her sleep.
The next day, a man in a dark suit and black hat showed up. He smelled like candles and had a list of the money that Batman’s father owed. Batman’s father found the list excessive. The man in the dark suit fingered his black hat and stated that Batman’s mother was already owner of part of Heaven. Angels played flutes for her pleasure.
Batman’s father asked if he could pay in twelve payments. The man in the dark suit stopped playing with the black hat and said no. Then Batman’s father went and got the double-barreled shotgun. He pointed it and the man in the dark suit held up his hat to protect himself. A puff of white smoke came out of the gun and then the big noise and the man in the dark suit fell on the sofa. He half-rolled off and from his knees, he wrote the name Magdalena on the wall. In blood. Using the diminutive, Lena. And he repeated it, Lena, Lena, Lena until he died in an ambulance.
Batman’s father went out with the shotgun on his shoulder.
Batman’s aunt looked in the mirror and realized she had a mouth like Rita Hayworth. She put on green eye-shadow and went out to meet her leading man.
Batman’s sister and the Pekingese went with her.
Batman stayed alone in the apartment and decided to fly. He put on his cape and climbed onto the windowsill. He managed to flap his wings in the open air.
They lit four candles around Batman’s body.
A siren went off and Batman’s mother appeared. She had an orchid draped across her eyes and birds in her hair. Her brown feet were bare, and she kneeled near Batman. And she looked at him with her moist, dark eyes. After, she walked away with Batman in her arms. Batman looked like he was sleeping and the orchid kept getting in Batman’s mother’s eyes. She nodded her Paola Negri-head and kept walking.
The birds in Batman’s mother’s hair still thought there was going to be a party. So they sang.