As usual, you compared our asado with your barbecue, while my aunt Lucía tried once again to decode your complicated Spanish and your explanations about the 4th of July in Delaware and how your uncle Johnny would never use wooden matches to light the charcoal fire but a golden lighter he was particularly proud of because it had belonged to Ike, or so he said. The matches, those two hundred and twenty two matches in a red box with three little yellow ducks printed on it had become an issue. We were at my aunt’s house in the country, not too far from Buenos Aires City, and just another couple of guests at a regular Sunday asado, a few months after you retired.

          As usual, you drank too much wine and became simpatico and talkative. Everyone listened to you, eager to hear more about your American childhood, but you chose to persist with your question: “Why the three little ducks?” My uncle would smile at you, the gringo who decades ago had taken his favorite niece as a wife, and he would start making fun of you who refused to see that the number two looks like a duck but who never forgot that the word duck means penniless in our slang. You hated that brand, in which you saw the mark of Argentina’s frivolity as opposed to the American responsible sense of life. “Why two hundred and twenty two matches? Why not a plain two hundred? And who wants to be poor? Three times a duck?” You repeated your remarks several times until no one laughed. “
Tres patitos, the best matches in the world," boasted uncle Vicente following the old time favorite game with you, which consisted of posing as prouder of our country than you were of yours. You knew he was lying about his pride, but that he honestly felt sorry for you, an expat who couldn’t accept that three little ducks meant two hundred and twenty two kilometers or matches, a foreigner who wouldn’t laugh at our jokes, an American who still spoke about miles and lighters from long time ago. You would look at me then, as if lost, and start speaking in English about the meat spread on the grill, slowly burning amidst the wood smoke, suddenly inspired by the roguish flames that jumped from time to time to caress the remainders of a lovely cow. You would smooch at me, gently curving your lips, and I didn’t need any words to understand the images in your mind, clearly drawn by the fire, just for me.

           Later, while eating the ribs, you would recover your Spanish and argue about the cuts, the bones, the size of the ribs in America and the height of the grass in Argentina, cowboys and gauchos, Texas and la Pampa, with a final dissertation about Bud and Quilmes, in which you favored Quilmes to please uncle Vicente but also because you believed it. Then, while we ate sweets, you charmed all of us with the story of a party in New York, with red, white and blue confetti falling from the sky, with your comments about a new Starbucks opened right around the corner from our house, with incredible tall mocha lattes like in America, and we remained sitting there, “al fresco” (an expression you had never stopped using even if we laughed at you every time,) rocked by the rhythm of your speech and swooning in the tart smell of ashes until sunset enveloped us with its scarf of humid darkness.

           Back home, you were still speaking about matches, and a few weeks later, you were gone.

Diana Ferraro is an Argentine author with three novels, two novellas, and three short story collections published in Spanish as well as seven books of essays.  For a decade, she spent many months out of the year in Richmond, Virginia, what led her to complete her first short story collection in English, "The Map of Solitude," fifteen stories about the emotional relationships between Americans and Latin Americans.

This story is a free association on the three prompts suggested at The Flash Factory 200th Celebration. I linked two hundred to a very popular Argentine matchbox, matches to fire, fire to the barbecue in the first prompt's picture, barbecue to asado and, with this spark of a bicultural theme, an American-Argentine couple was born. She addresses him to recall one special day she has treasured as a gem. The five mandatory words from the second prompt and her melancholy mood were a match made in heaven; I included them in her speech. The mix and the length belong to the open prompt where the story finally found its home.




Copyright 2009