Erection Before a Burial

Daniel Peña

Did you hear the one about Nicolás Maduro? 

That one about that band he saved from Honduran prison? 

Or was it detention? Whatever it was that Nicolás Maduro said it was, that Telesur TV said it was. 

Anyway, I think the band was called Los Guaraguao. They were whisked onto a stage in Caracas (presumably directly from the airport at which they landed) which warranted a breaking news bulletin and the country stopped to watch a band in sweaty black t-shirts placed on a fixed point around which they pivoted for the country to see they were free and they didn’t talk to one another and they had these weird smiles despite (in spite of) those sweaty clothes. Despite the gasoline shortage. Despite the 14 million bolivars it cost to buy a chicken. Despite whatever the infant mortality rate was now that Maduro said it was what Telesur TV said it was. 

Unaccustomed to performing without instruments, Los Guaraguao’s hands moved everywhere: through their hair, over their chests, into their pockets, through their hair again. Old men dancing nervous in front of a Maduro who played the crowd for them, a banner unfurled stage-right that said, “Venezuela is Guaraguao,” and you had to think that Maduro was thinking too, “So, this is what it’s like to be Guaraguao,” when suddenly a guitar appeared and someone started singing, was made to sing, and it felt real for a second. Like maybe it was a real concert and the crowd started cheering—more like roaring, a tuberculosis clap of bloodied lungs—and they really got into it you know, and Maduro just stood there and stared at them in this drapey teal shirt like he couldn’t be moved. 

And then he caught himself, swayed a little bit before giving this really palmy clap that was kind of never on beat because of the way sound travels and the speed at which cameras transmit to television monitors. 

And you could see his mind start to drift. That glassy look in his eye, daydreaming. And you wonder: what does Maduro daydream about? 

You can only imagine in this moment (right here right now) Maduro daydreams about being Guaraguao, but then you wonder if he daydreams within his daydream. Sleeping in that music. Some kind of feedback loop. Like Maduro’s brain standing in one of those tri-faceted mirrors in a department store and facing the outer two mirrors toward each other so that he can’t tell where he starts and where he ends. At which point maybe he’s in his daydream within his daydream within his daydream in which he’s thinking, “I’m going to live for one hundred years.” And within that daydream you imagine he thinks about how many more bands he can save. The plight of Venezuelan bands performing in Honduras being grave, you know. And then maybe at one hundred years old he’s still saving another band. Some other version of Guaraguao, which is a simulacrum of the Guaraguao he can vaguely remember now, in this very moment, and anyway he’s awakened from his daydream by a drone in the sky. This thing carrying a package that gets close, closer. And for that minute where his deepest suspicions are concerned he can see his life clearly. Though it’s not his life, not like you’d think. 

It’s this kind of soothing darkness, a kind of space that feels like a coffin to him, his body banging against the things around him. 

I imagine he slithers his body through the complexities of the space he inhabits until his hand brushes up against a swath of fabric, which he immediately feels out and takes too long to recognize as the shape of a chair in which he immediately sits. 

He feels the sweat from his pores sinking into the dust of the chair, the smell not unpleasant. More like earth than not. A pleasant reprieve from the acidic chemical tang of the air in the hillsides of Caracas which makes everything noisier in his head, like synthetic dust in his brain. 

He closes his eyes in the dark and feels, for the first time in maybe years, his surroundings expand around him. The room is infinite. And even if he were to succumb to thirst or hunger, he feels like if he were trapped in here he might die and be ok with it. He feels for the first time that he belongs somewhere—the single seat in Caracas where nobody is looking for him. The last place he’d ever expect himself to be. Not that this seat is beneath him—it isn’t. In fact, sitting here is the first time he’s realized his constant motion, the perpetual pump of his blood and his heart and his sweat slicking all over his body. Sitting here is the destination he’s been searching for. And then suddenly a light comes on behind him. He turns around, sees an engine block on a table. 

It shines under the direct light of a coiled tube of fluorescent glass suspended from the ceiling. All greased up it looks as if made from pure platinum, the slick of motor oil polishing each of the seven radials in contrast to the grease shop. Red tarred rags hanging black from a blue fifty gallon drum at the entrance, which is a step down from the street level. Sheets of El Nacional strewn pell-mell across the floor, the corners of the newspaper curled from pressure and heat and pan drippings. A crunchy, soggy mess. Darkness in the air, darkness on the ground. A man’s voice sounding out from behind the engine. “Heard you ran into trouble this morning,” it says.