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Singing into the Piano

. . .Firing up the Chevy’s throaty engine, Santiago rolled down the window and beckoned to his polling adviser.

“Carlos, do you know how to make God laugh?”

The young man looked at him impassively and raised an eyebrow.

“Tell Him your plans.”

Santiago edged out into the anarchic, hacking sprawl of Mexico City traffic.

He was still trying to assimilate the news that Luis Arévalo, his childhood friend and until yesterday his campaign manager, had defected to run against him in the approaching election. Arévalo’s perfidy, which Santiago had tried to reconcile with his love of the man, ate away at him. He sorted through what he remembered of their discussions, worrying out their moments of disagreement, trying in hindsight to construct a pattern that might explain the divergence of their hopes for Mexico, their ambitions for themselves. When he had returned from boarding school in England, brushing aside his chance at university in favor of the game that had made him famous, Santiago knew he had done it in part for Luis.

From the start, their friendship had assumed Santiago’s eventual success in the world. It had also assumed that such success would include Luis. And although the life that had been laid out before Santiago at his English boarding school had offered much and promised more, while he never doubted the variety of his abilities or the satisfactions they might afford him from abroad, he had balked at abandoning his childhood theater. So many graces, so much thought, and in the end it had come down to a scratched-out playing field in Chapultepec Park.

The goalie’s role, as long as his team had the ball, was like that of the spectators, only more so. He was the embodiment of audience. The forward, dribbling the ball, faking, passing the ball, and charging upfield to receive it again, was always aware of his counterpart, stationed behind him at the other end of the field. An invisible line connected the two players, like an alternating current. Whenever the forward had possession, everyone but him forgot about the forward might fail to score, and the direction of the current reverse, leading to a series of eventualities that, in the furthest case, would end in a scoring attempt by the other side. Then, from the instant the ball left the shooter’s foot until it was caught, blocked, or let by, the goalie became the only man anyone present saw. The only one alive.

Santiago steered the Chevy into the traffic that swarmed around the glorieta. Accelerating, he savored the rush, then shot back out the other side onto the avenue.