Behold Things Beautiful
By Cora Siré
After twelve years in exile, living and teaching in the safety of Montreal, Alma Alvarez has been persuaded to return to Luscano by her old friend Flaco, who has invited her to give a lecture at his university on the tragic Uruguayan poet Delmira Agustini, a writer with a cult-like ... Read more
After twelve years in exile, living and teaching in the safety of Montreal, Alma Alvarez has been persuaded to return to Luscano by her old friend Flaco, who has invited her to give a lecture at his university on the tragic Uruguayan poet Delmira Agustini, a writer with a cult-like following known for her erotic poetry and film noir demise.
Having been arrested herself after the publication of a poem which offended the military regime, Alma knows how influential and dangerous poetry can be. But her mother is dying, and her return to Luscano feels inevitable. She soon discovers that life in Luscano is still rife with secrecy and duplicity. And Flaco turns out to have a hidden agenda as well. As Alma attempts to readapt to a country that, despite its seductive charms, may not have broke free of its brutal past, she catches sight of the man whose actions prompted her exile and begins to follow him in secret.
The imaginary country of Luscano, an amalgam of Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, is vibrantly brought to life with a nod to the region’s literary tradition of magic realism.
Cora Siré lives in Montréal where she writes fiction, essays and poetry. She is the author of Signs of Subversive Innocents (Signature Editions, 2014). Her work has been published by magazines such as the Literary Review of Canada, Descant, Maisonneuve and Arc Poetry and has appeared in numerous anthologies including Salut King Kong - New English Writing from Quebec edited by Elise Moser (Véhicule Press, 2014).
Vertigo overcame Alma as she looked down at the sea and the jet's reflection, a black swallow winging across the Atlantic. Flaco's grandmother once told her you could predict Luscano's weather by the flight of the golondrinas. If they were flying high, the forecast was good, but beware when the swallows skimmed low.
The androgynous voice on the intercom reminded passengers that Luscano was the first stop, five minutes only, and then it was on to Montevideo. Alma closed her laptop and gathered her belongings. At this point, her brain zinging from the strong Brazilian coffee she had consumed during the stopover in Sao Paulo, Alma wondered who would stop her if she went on to Montevideo. But after the jet touched down smoothly and taxied to the terminal, Alma made for the door along with two couples, retirees perhaps, dressed in sensible khaki and sturdy sandals. The other passengers, mainly Brazilians, remained seated. Lucky them, she thought.
After the staircase was rolled to the side of the jet, the attendant opened the door and the passengers in front of her made their way down the stairs. Alma stepped out and grasped the railing, steadying herself against the pull of her briefcase and bag. She had an immediate sense of being observed. She scanned the two-storey bunker, stucco still peeling off the concrete, the same tattered blue-red flags whipping westward. There. On the airport roof was a man with binoculars, brazenly surveying the passengers descending from the plane. She couldn't tell from this distance if he was wearing a uniform.
Alma hurried to catch up to the blur of khaki ahead of her, walked with the couples across the tarmac and entered the low-ceilinged hall. A conveyer belt curved in and out of openings in the concrete and soon her luggage appeared. She managed to heave the suitcases, weighted with books, onto a cart, which she pushed towards the booth for customs and immigration. A uniformed PFL officer studied her Canadian passport. She scanned his face against memory. An ex-militar might have found work in the Policia Federal de Luscano and he was the right age. He stamped the passport, slid it across the counter along with a card she'd have to submit when leaving the country. It was valid until July 6th, 2004, precisely one year, and more than enough time. "Welcome back," he said.