(First Prize in the Prose Category, Cecilia Lamont Literary Contest, 1999)

                                                           Love to hide, love to invent            by Verónica Dahl

                                                                                              To my mother, who inspired half this story;
                                                                                              to Alejandro, and to the memory of Jorge


Buenos Aires, 1971

I'm seventeen.

A prudishness campaign has descended upon the population because the Head of the Police Force has discovered his wife's infidelity and is taking
it out on all of us, abusing his authority. Hourly-rate hotels for couples are raided, bearded or long-haired youngsters are shaved by force, mini-skirts are banned, perplexed foreigners get arrested for wearing shorts.

I've spent the afternoon bonding amorously with my boyfriend Jorge in the Lezama park - a luscious, almost tropical oasis with the luxury of multiple levels in a part of the city which is ootherwise a flat jungle of concrete. Life is sweet and absolute. We are one not just with each other but with universal bliss itself. We float rather than walk, propelled by the lightness of youthful feeling, totally identified with the emerging first blossoms of spring around us, the sun bathing us in its warmth and colour. Even the usual traffic cacophony seems like a romantic

Jorge accompanies me home. At the door of the apartment building we exchange a last kiss - a friendly one, on the cheek - and one last long, adoring look, his hand still on my waist as if reluctant to part.

A police car stops by. One of the officers yells:

"What a shame! Can't you see those children crossing the street?"

I get angry at the insinuation that our sacred, pure love can be considered a bad example to anyone, and retort:

"What's wrong with them? They look perfectly well behaved to me!"

There is an exchange of looks and perhaps phrases which we cannot hear, and the policemen that yelled opens the car door.

"I was objecting to your behavior," he roars.

Big-mouthed me cannot help but reply:

"What's wrong with it? Have you never loved anyone?"

Jorge hushes me with a look between warning and pleading, and goes toward the car. He apologizes to the officers and assures them it will not happen again. We get a lecture on morality, but the car finally leaves. We have just escaped being jailed, and have learnt that love needs to be dissimulated.

Rosario, 1979

I'm the newest hire of the university's philosophy department, and have joined a public demonstration in the streets protesting the killing of two students by the police, during a student riot which could have been dispersed bloodlessly.

I spot a student of mine among us. His muscular, imposing build contrasts with his sweet, almost shy nature. He persists in respectfully calling me "Madam", although I am barely older than he, and I encourage my students to use my first name.

The fading sun stretches the last long shadows on the pavement. We have been silently carrying our signs and black ribbons for about fifteen minutes, when a barricade of policemen bars our way. The demonstration occupies three blocks when the first gas bombs explode. We stampede into the lateral streets. Paint spray catches the unlucky ones, and I'm running blindly where the human current takes me. We keep running, strangely detailed in the slow motion of shock, the smoke and screaming almost a part of us.

A lot later, without knowing how, I find myself in a narrow, solitary street. My shy student is running by me. We stop to catch our breath, instinctively glad of each other's company. The rhythm of our running still hammers through our bodies, promoting a perception of ourselves as pure movement - entities devoid of thought. The crowd is far behind. We notice some incriminating paint on the front of our shirts - just a touch, but enough to give us away.

A police siren ululates paralysingly near, and in its approaching crescendo, the car's headlights turn the corner toward us. For a fraction of a second, our eyes exchange a despair which we feel more than see in our ephemeral refuge of darkness. Then, with sudden inspiration, my student murmurs, "Please excuse me, Madam," as he takes me in his arms, and we fake an ardent, oblivious kiss.

The police car slows down for a short, eternal-seeming moment. We feel each other's heart galloping as if in the height of passion.

Then they are gone. Gradually we stop shaking, disentangle, and after turning our shirts inside out, walk hand in hand toward a friendship and platonic love that will last for decades.

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