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Freeway La Movie by Jorge Enrique Lage Book

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Overview: A novel-in-stories set in mid-twenty-first century dystopian Havana, Freeway narrates the adventure of two misfits wandering the construction site of a colossal freeway-to-be — a mysterious feat of engineering that slices through Havana, designed to connect the US and Cuba. The two embark on a futile journey, overlaid with the elusive filming of a documentary about the freeway construction. Both film quality and interior monologues drift aimlessly, haunted by Cuban history and US pop culture.

Freeway: La Movie is a satirical novel that attempts to reconcile what might be hopelessly irreconcilable: the body and the machine; analog and digital; post-industrial overdevelopment and post-socialist underdevelopment; Cuba and the US; reality and fiction; the plasticity of personal identity and rigid categories such as gender, class, and nationality. Through the clash of utopian promises and dystopian realities, Freeway reveals the unease of contemporary culture from the US to Cuba.

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Freeway La Movie by Jorge Enrique Lage Book

Freeway La Movie by Jorge Enrique Lage Book Read Online Chapter One

Las Breaking News

She doesn’t mean anything to me, yet I will pursue the mystery of her death.

rodolfo walsh


They say the Freeway is going to cut through the city, from top to bottom. What’s left of the city, anyway. During the day, bulldozers sweep through parks, buildings, shopping centers. At night, I wander by the sea, through the debris, the machines, the shipping containers, trying to imagine the magnitude of what’s to come. There’s no doubt the Freeway is going to be monstrous.

That’s the thing about freeways: no matter where they go, the desert begins to grow on either side. Sprawling, spreading like weeds from outer space and consuming all possibilities, el desierto.

Tonight, I ran into him again. I call him “El Autista.” At one point, he was some sort of nerd, a geek, a freak. He seems beyond all that now. I found him in a car graveyard, by an exhibit of classic American-made bodies that have to be more than a century old by now. Sitting silently under a tangle of multicolored cables and wires he spliced together, he reads the latest issue of Wired. I nod and keep going. Someone should really make a documentary about him.

A shipping container. Mysteriously open. I light a match and shine it on the metal door. A bunch of stickers: snack culture. On the outside, on both sides, in even bigger letters, it probably says the same thing: snack culture. Inside there is (there has to be) a corpse.

“Anything else?” asks El Autista.

“Boxes, boxes, boxes.” 

“I mean, are there any other bodies?”

“Just you and me.”

“Other bodies. Other bodies.”

He’s practically begging me for bodies. I ask him:

“Why would there be any other bodies?”

A fleet of helicopters flies across the moon. When they disappear, El Autista turns to me. With a blank stare, he says:

“It’s always the same thing: you, me, and a dead woman.”

Dressed like a queen—more like a puta dressed as a queen—in an evening gown, stilettos, and a Louis Vuitton bag. A high-end pool of blood beneath her. She dressed up to go out with someone. Was it dinner? A red-carpet event? A party? Something went wrong. Hair undone. Perfect makeup. Well over forty, she’s not a young woman but bears the (surgically crafted) features of one. She wears jewels but has no money. There’s no doubt she must have had lots of friends and countless lovers. One could conjure all kinds of sordid stories just by looking at her sprawled across the container floor. She is, of course, Vida Guerra. The cubano-americana model, singer, actress. Even now, her face is unmistakable.

We have to do something. I suggest we look for a phone. We need to find a damn cell phone. Let’s go to Nokia, that small town in Finland, and stay there forever.

But we don’t move. We wonder if one of us should stay behind watching (maybe carefully examining) Vida’s corpse. It starts to drizzle in the middle of our necrophilic discussion. We hadn’t noticed the light rain approaching us.

For an instant, as it brushes up against our noses, we see this:

What first looked like a veil of water turns out to be more like a front of electronic ether. Like a screen filled with static. Like glass that turns everything on the other side into liquid. It passes over us. It doesn’t provoke any sensations, and everything remains as it was before. Yet, everything is now somehow in grayscale and brighter. 

El Autista and I look at each other. 

El Autista tells me he knows where he can find a stretcher. 

I think to myself: That hospital dumpster only exists in his mind.

We place the dead cubano-americana on the metal stretcher and wheel it to the area’s watchtower.

The watchman comes out and shines his flashlight at us:

“Stop! Who are you?”

We don’t respond. Theory of reflexive silence. 

But seriously, who are we?

“How did you get in here?”

“We were always in here,” El Autista says.

“What do you have there?” The watchman comes closer and inspects the stretcher. “People come here to steal construction materials, but instead you …”

“Sir, do you recognize who this is?” I ask. “Look closely.”

He squints. He’s fat, pathetic, about ten battered years older than Vida and—at the very least—seems to need a pair of glasses.

“This is a fine cougar,” he acknowledges. “You can tell she’s a spicy devil. I have a heart condition because of hot little numbers like this.”

“You can find a list of transplants in heart magazines,” El Autista tells him for no particular reason. “One must read everything.”

The watchman looks at El Autista carefully.

“I’m on a transplant list, you know.”

“Then what are you doing here?” I ask.

“I’m waiting for them to finish the Freeway. They pay shit, but at least they pay. I was a colonel in las Fuerzas Armadas, you know, and look where I’ve ended up: in a watchtower watching TV all night.” El Coronel looks at the corpse. He snaps his fingers. “I know! She’s the lady from the news.”

We go inside the watchtower. El Noticiero Nacional is on a portable black-and-white TV, and there she is. Live and alive. Vida Guerra is the main female anchor. With a killer neckline, she reports on a tidal wave in Asia. Then she appears as the main male anchor. Vida Guerra with a thick mustache, her hair hidden under a wig, her breasts compressed under a suit and tie. She’s also the weatherwoman in another outfit: different fitted pants, but the same voice. She runs her hands over the map of the Island, revealing (provoking) high temperatures. Following this, Vida Guerra is the handsome young sports reporter who chats with the gray-haired baseball analyst, who is also her. And then, Vida Guerra with the culture report: chubby-cheeked, a homely smile, a plain shirt. Finally, Vida Guerra reporting on Vida Guerra, the correspondent who reports from all over the world. Go ahead, Vida. Thank you very much.

“This has to mean something,” El Coronel says, as his eyes widen and his skin turns pale. He has seen a clear sign revealed in the superimposed images of the body we just found. Without a doubt, all this has to do with him; it all points in that direction. He was waiting for her, and she finally found him. The fatal hour has come. (But something else occurs to me.)

“Maybe it’s not what you think,” I suggest. “Sir, without trying to invalidate your conjecture, and with the utmost respect, I think it may be just the opposite: This may be your opportunity to get a new heart.”

Puzzled, El Coronel blinks.

“Her heart? Take her heart?”

“Right now, before it gets cold. If what you say is true, you have nothing to lose. On the contrary, if everything goes well …”

“But how could I possibly live with a woman’s heart?!”

“If a woman can, Coronel, you can, too.”

He stands in silence. Pensively, he brings his hand to his chest and taps it.

El Autista and I look at each other.

El Autista tells me he knows where he can find a stretcher.

I think:

He wouldn’t dare. I’m sure of it. Yet, without hesitation, El Coronel lies down on the metal stretcher next to Vida. He closes his eyes and appears determined, more than determined: anesthetized. 

“Scalpel,” I prompt El Autista.

I stare at the donor and try to concentrate.

I tear the fabric of her dress. She’s not wearing a bra, of course.

I move her left breast out of the way. If I cut the wrong spot, a stream of silicone may squirt out. Maybe I’ll find a stray bullet. A wad of dollars. Anything could happen.

I make the incision. I open the flesh. I go in. I pull the ribs away from the plastic. I push everything aside that isn’t important right now.

The heart comes into view. I cut the tubing and cables attached to it. I stick my dirty hands into her chest, which is still warm and only getting warmer …

It burns.

(A puff of scented smoke.)

I remove Vida Guerra’s heart.

“That’s gross,” El Autista says behind me.

I hold Vida Guerra’s heart as if it were the most fragile thing in the world. It’s moist. It’s small and feminine. It’s an erotic toy. Battery-powered, it vibrates in my hands. Or maybe my hands are vibrating, my nerves charging the heart with electricity.

All of a sudden, the heart beats. Only one beat. A strong beat.

I turn to El Autista.

“Did you see that?”


I watch the heart for a few seconds. It doesn’t beat again. I squeeze it a bit. Nothing. I ask El Autista to hold it. I grab the scalpel.

“Don’t drop it. Give it to me when I ask for it.”

“Why would I want to keep it? She doesn’t mean anything to me.”

“Right.” I approach the other body. He’s already taken off his uniform shirt. His saggy, sunken chest has a few scattered hairs that look like writhing worms. I feel a heart, mine, beating hard. I look at El Autista. I look at the heart—that woman’s part in his hand. I look at the chest that has yet to be cut open. I pick up the scalpel. I let it fall. 

I step back.

“I’m sorry, Coronel.”

He gets up. He starts to button up his shirt.

“I knew you wouldn’t dare,” he says.

Or would I?:

Without hesitation, El Coronel lies on the metal stretcher next to Vida. He closes his eyes and appears determined, more than determined: anesthetized.

“Scalpel,” I prompt El Autista.

1. I open her chest. I take out her heart.

2. I open his chest. I take out his heart.

I throw heart #2 in the trash. I place heart #1 inside him.

I close his chest while El Autista closes hers, murmuring:

“She doesn’t mean anything to me, yet here I am, filling this hole with Freeway construction sand. She doesn’t mean anything to me, yet here I am, sewing her ragged body with wire.” 

I ask him to be quiet because, at the end of the day, he’s the only one who understands what he’s trying to say. This is one of the reasons I call him “El Autista.”

The military operation concludes at last.

“All set, Coronel.”

He gets up. He starts buttoning up his shirt.

“Now let’s bury that bitch,” he says.

We no longer have to call the police: he’s the police now. He tells us about the other bodies buried here. There’s this place he knows about where people go (the guys who don’t pay shit, the ones who actually pay) to get rid of bodies in the middle of the night. Vagrants. Hookers. Onlookers. Bodies they toss from helicopters. And desperate fugitives who bury themselves, digging with their nails. Bodies nobody will ever find, El Coronel assures us. All of this will soon be buried under tons of asphalt as far as the eye can see. All of it.

The three of us walk in silence as we steer Vida’s stretcher through paths of rocky terrain. We walk between trucks with huge tires. We edge around massive deposits of water and cement. Then the view broadens and reveals what is far beyond: the images of some satellite, the future maps of Google. I think about the infinite lanes of traffic that begin on the nearby continent, the infinity of bright lights, the horror of concrete, already crashing through the tropical waters, that will soon cut through this strip of deserted land to continue its way south, back to the sea.

El Coronel looks through the bushes and underneath boards. A pick and shovel appear in the moonlight. That’s what we needed to cover up the transplant. The real and definitive proof of the transplant.

El Coronel shows me his chest. The scar is a red, swollen furrow with barbed wire stitched across it, ready to burst. 

“This shoddy mess isn’t proof enough?”

“No,” I tell him. I know I’m right.

“Cállate. Let’s dig this pit.”

We dig. El Coronel digs with passion, with pride, with abandon, with brutality. He unleashes an energy that is out of this world.

We stop at an acceptable depth. El Coronel carries Vida Guerra and lays her down at the edge of the pit. 

“Does anybody want to say a few words?”

I shrug my shoulders. I don’t even know who she is. It’s best to come up with a theory. Or to contradict one. But I don’t say anything.

(Vida’s Life: from La Habana to New Jersey, to the puffy eyes of the show, to the speed of classic cars that never stop, and back to La Habana once again and forever and …)

El Autista, as if he didn’t want anybody else to hear, says:

“And nobody will ever know where to find you, Vida Google.”

“Guerra,” I correct him in vain.

El Coronel raises his hand:

“I do have a few words. What I have to say is the following,” he says as he undoes his belt, opens his fly, and drops his pants and torn underwear. He lifts Vida’s dress, rips off her lace panties and throws them into the pit. “Even though she’s dead, this bitch is going to know what it’s like to be with a macho cubano.”

El Coronel strokes himself, trying to get an erection.

“I don’t think this is the time,” I tell him. El Autista taps my shoulder and hands me a magazine. It’s the Playboy issue with Vida on the cover and centerfold. I really don’t know where he finds these things.

“You’ll see. You’ll see …” Kneeling uncomfortably between Vida’s open legs, El Coronel gropes her sutured chest. He sucks her bloody nipples. He fingers her while shaking his penis. He stretches it out. He grips it …

He can’t get it up.

I leaf through the Playboy.

The reports, the interviews, the fiction …

I think about all the places where these sticky pages might have been read (and how they might have been read, and how many hands …). Offices. Garages. Basements. Farmlands lost amid a remote highway. Watchtowers along a path of ruins. This magazine has been traveling for a while, from hand to hand, a long way to El Autista, to me. It’s an old issue, an issue from several years ago.

“Let’s go, Coronel,” I look up and watch him. The moment came and went.

“No, no … yes, I can … now …” He continues to masturbate without technique, without pause, without ever achieving a decent erection. “She’s going to know I can have her just like anybody else,” and with his hands shaking, he presses his wet glans to her dead labia, trying to find a way in. “I have her heart, but I’m still … I’m still me … right?” He looks at me, he looks at us. “Right?”

El Coronel breathes with difficulty. He suddenly stops fondling his crotch and starts pounding his chest. His face, covered in sweat, is frozen in a grimace. A cry of pain gets lodged in his throat. It’s only a matter of seconds before he falls over the Playmate like a dead animal.

I approach him. I check his neck for a pulse.

“A heart attack or something,” I conclude.

We push both bodies into the pit. We hear a distant sound approaching, approaching, approaching nearer and nearer.

Preceded by a noise of interference, the static returns and reaches us again. The great screen comes over us, passes through, and continues on its way, altering our contrast and brightness. On mute. I feel like running.

“I think you should go watch tv,” El Autista suggests.

I run to the watchtower. El Noticiero Nacional hasn’t ended, and there is no sign it ever will. El Coronel talks to the camera. El Coronel wears discreet but effective makeup: powder and eyelashes. His coiffed hair covers his shoulders, real breasts, and fake earrings. El Coronel is talking about an upcoming documentary, a superproduction: “a marvel of island engineering.” I turn it up. With a perfect smile, El Coronel announces he’s on the line with reporter Vida Guerra, who is now in …

I step back. I trip over a chair. I leave.

“Go ahead, Vida.”

I see her. Holding a microphone, she approaches me. There are no cameras. Or maybe there are so many cameras I can no longer see them. I also can’t tell where all the light is coming from. On the screen, to my left and suspended in the air near my arm, I see the logo of El Noticiero next to illuminated letters that spell “LIVE.”

She walks, dragging her high heels, one crooked and the other missing. Her dress and arms are covered in lumps of dirt. Her eyes are two beads of opaque glass. She carries roaches and flies in her hair. Her body is covered with holes through which these insects go in and out.

Of course, I already know what she’s going to ask me:

“Do you have anything to say regarding the construction of the Freeway?”

Vida Guerra brings the microphone to my face. I notice her bony hands. Her broken fingernails with chipped polish continue to grow. Her perfume becomes stronger.

“No, nothing,” I respond. But I could have just as easily said anything else. Breaking news. Nobody’s going to understand what I’m trying to say, anyway.

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