HERMANO, THE ELDEST, is not only an inquisitive youth but a competent chauffeur. It is he who is charged with driving me and the Designer back from the birthday party at the Karolen chateau, where we celebrated the 18th birthday of the owner’s youngest daughter. It was the first party any of us had been to since the quarantine began two months ago. She had arrived on a small skiff over the lake, its white triangular sail propelled forward by only the most fickle of winds. At the terrace on the back, I greeted her and she leaped into my arms and her fleshy and cold face was peppered with affectionate friendly kisses. She looked wonderful and her gold hair was stuck about her red cheeks like straw. “You look like you should be in a soup commercial,” I told her. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she gave me a look and then made straight for the champagne, because now she is of age here, now she can drink. We drank some champagne and then we drank some wine. I became — it was alleged — slightly purjus or drunk, and Hermano, the eldest of a prominent local merchant’s six children, offered to give me and my friend a ride. The Designer is my friend now, you see. There was a time when I was mad for her everything. It reminded me of a dog I used to have that would see a squirrel beyond the balcony window and rush into the glass, barking its head off. No matter how many times he smashed head first into the glass, he still went bananas when he saw that squirrel outside. That’s how it used to be for me and the elegant Designer in her black dress, but now we merely sip wine and coffee around the table and swap stories. We have become fast friends, or even deep friends, and all premonitions of something further have come to naught. Beside her sits another woman though, the woman who dislodged her from my heart. She is a guest here as well, a friend of the birthday girl. We merely look in each other’s eyes a bit tonight, and maybe there is some conversation but not quite. I am afraid to look at her, to tell you the truth, I’m afraid to look at the one I called the Tigress, because if I look too long at this local poetess, someone else might notice the way I look at her. And if I speak to this girl, one on one, someone might notice the way I speak to her. All I can dream of then is perhaps kissing her hand on the way out the door, as part of some generic politeness, some rote formality. I want nothing more from her than an opportunity to acknowledge my affection. When she sips her coffee beside the Designer, I want to remember and savor this most eternal moment, when one planet aligned beside the other, when the two who have made it inside me like no others are so casually arranged by the hand of fate. Nobody knows any of this, not even the university student Hermano, who is still convinced I am in love with the waitress at the hotel restaurant, the one I was writing a novel about. He mentions this several times, but I’ve forgotten about the waitress and the novel entirely. All I can do is notice ever so slightly the young woman with the golden hair, the writer of secret poems that she sometimes shares so charitably with me. She is giving off some kind of poetic steam tonight, but it’s not hot to the skin or ears. There are just sticky clouds of the lovely stuff all around me. I dare not call it love, because everyone has a theory on what love is, but I will admit this invisible sticky stuff of hers, her aura maybe, is one of the things I love, one of the things I love the most in the world. And before we leave, I do take her by the hand. I have hugged and kissed everyone, and I wish I could make this mean the most, but I don’t know how to do it. The power has gone out at the chateau and everything is lit by candles. When I approach her, she merely holds out her hand to me, as if she already knows, and I take it. I say something to her, some words, but these are all meaningless to me. All I wanted was the hand. All I wanted was the soft connection. The past few weeks have been so rough edged and up and down. Yet this feels smooth and clean. This is an airy feeling, one that blows across the top of my deepest waters. After Hermano drops off the Designer, he steers me home. He asks me if I am in love with the Designer, I tell him no. I tell him instead that I love most those who inspire me to write. “You mean you don’t want someone who will hold you, make you food, tell you she loves you?” “No, not at all, Hermano. I don’t need any of that. Sometimes I need just the opposite, in fact. All I want is a muse who inspires me. Because when I write, then I feel love. Even if it hurts. This is what I love. When you write well, even pain feels good.” “That’s rather fucked up,” says Hermano. “Täiega fucked up, I must say. Most people don’t think that way about love.” “I don’t care,” I tell him. “I do. That’s just my experience of the thing.” Hermano drops me off at home and I get into my bed and pull a big warm blanket over me, a fluffy, down-feathered thing. Before I doze off, I let her love thing I’ve been musing about take me. Too often I fight it, but tonight I give in. Then I put on “Canto de Iemanjá” by Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes from their landmark 1966 album, Os Afros- sambas. I love this song and its haunting female chorus, that sinewy, phantom guitar. Powell later became a born-again Christian and dismissed the album as “the devil’s music.” With the energy of it in me, I must disagree. Tonight, it’s the perfect match for the whole experience. Tonight, it sounds heavenly.