"And how's it going?"
"He's good, but I swear if pre-adolescence lasts much longer I'm sending him back to you, postage paid." Ruth smiled. He remembered the shape of her smile and that sudden light in her eyes. Her tone changed. "Héctor? Hey, have you heard about your thing?"
"I have to see Savall at ten."
"OK, let me know how it goes afterward."
"We could have lunch together?" Héctor had lowered his voice. She took a little longer than necessary to answer.
"Sorry, I already have plans." For a moment he thought the battery had run out completely, although finally the voice continued. "But we'll talk later. We could have a coffee . . ."
Then it did. Before he could respond, the phone had become a lump of dead metal. He looked at it with hatred. Then his eyes went toward his bare feet. And with a jump, as if the brief chat had given him the necessary impulse, he rose and walked once again toward that accusatory wardrobe full of empty hangers.
Héctor lived in a three-story building, on the third floor. Nothing special, one of many such buildings in Poblenou, close to the metro station and a couple of blocks from the other rambla that didn't appear in tourist guidebooks. The only notable features of his flat were the rent, which hadn't risen when the area took on the airs of a privileged place near the beach, and a flat roof, which, for all practical purposes, had become his private terrace. The second floor was vacant, awaiting a tenant who never arrived, and the landlady lived on the first floor, a woman of almost seventy who hadn't the least interest in climbing two flights of stairs. He and Ruth had fixed up the old roof, covering part of it and installing various potted plants, now withered, as well as a table and chairs for eating outside on summer nights. He'd hardly gone back up there since Ruth left.
The door of the first-floor apartment opened just as he was passing and Carmen, the owner of the building, came out to greet him.
"Héctor." She was smiling. As always, he told himself that when he was old he wanted to be like this good woman. Even better, to have one like her by his side. He stopped and gave her a kiss on the cheek, a little awkwardly. Affectionate gestures had never been his strong point. "Yesterday I heard noises upstairs, but I thought you'd be tired. Want a coffee? I've just made some."
"Are you spoiling me?"
"Nonsense," she replied decidedly. "Men must go out well fed. Come to the kitchen."
Héctor followed her obediently. The house smelled of freshly made coffee. ."
"I missed your coffee, Carmen."
She observed him with a frown as he helped himself to a generous cup of coffee, then added a drop of milk.
"Well fed and well shaved," the woman added pointedly. "Don't be hard on me, Carmen, I've only just arrived," he pleaded.
"Don't you play the victim. How are you?" She looked at him affectionately. "How did it go in your native land? Ah, smoke a cigarette, I know you want one."
"You're the best, Carmen." He took out a packet of cigarettes and lit one. "I don't understand how you haven't been snared by some granddad made of money."
"Because I don't like granddads! When I turned sixty-five, I looked around and said to myself, Carmen, enough's enough close up shop. Spend your time watching films at home . . . By the way, the ones you lent me are over there. I've watched them all," she said proudly.
Héctor's film collection would have turned more than one cinephile green with envy: from Hollywood classicsCarmen's favoritesto the latest releases. All placed on wall-to-wall shelves, with no apparent order. One of his greatest pleasures on sleepless nights was to pull out a few and lie down on the sofa to watch them.
Excerpted from The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill. Copyright © 2013 by Antonio Hill. Excerpted by permission of Crown. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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