Yellow Jaguar

It wasn’t just any yellow. Definitely not mustard yellow, and not the ubiquitous bright yellow of taxis and road signs. It didn’t really resemble gold either—that would have been crass. Not ochre. Or canary yellow; the comparison to the domesticated species made it sound folksy and not in the good way. I might have described it in terms of the palette Van Gogh used to paint his sunflowers, but the reference to florals made it sound too feminine. Cotswold yellow, the salesman said, and I nodded as though I knew what that was, even though it didn’t really matter if I did or not. Later I learned that the term comes from the limestone that’s used in buildings in the Cotswold villages in England, which is formed from fossilized sea urchins—and, when eroded by the sun and rain, the facades take on a honeyed hue, though few can agree on what type of honey, since the effect varies in intensity between the north and south of the region. But none of this came up at that moment, and, it turned out, it wasn’t really important enough for me to have looked it up later. I was elated; it was satisfying to have chosen, as a gift to myself for turning fifty-five, something different from the sensible shades like pearl, sand, glacier, and antelope that crowded the luxury car dealership.

Besides me there was only one other customer. He was perusing the models, slowly weaving through them, inspecting the opalescent and sober machines, circling back to the ones most appropriate for his age and social status. Who was this guy? Even though we were peers I had the feeling I was a lot different from him. I was experiencing color as a sensation, and the yellow was calling to my vivaciousness—a vitality that I clearly had and the other guy did not.

“Yellow? As long as it’s not a lemon,” Myriam had joked. My always practical wife. That’s why I hadn’t asked her to come with me to the dealership. I was certain she would make fun of me, reduce my choice to the prototypical state of mid-life crisis.

While the salesman filled out the sales paperwork in the office in the back, I traced my fingers over the dashboard. I gripped the steering wheel and the serotonin fired off in my brain. The interior had the scent of air conditioning and leather. The gentle tremor of the automatic windows going up and down soothed me. It’s this easy to separate yourself from the rest of the world, I thought, antsy to hear Glenn Gould interpreting Bach, perfectly equalized by the highly advanced sound system. But like everything exquisite, the gentle refinement of my private capsule concealed a brute force: testosterone fusing at high temperatures and the violent eruption of millions of molecules of gas. No wonder it provoked a deep, physiological reaction in me.

The very second I drove it out of the dealership, I saw two yellow cars. Of course they weren’t the same shade and they weren’t Jaguars, but the fact that I’d noticed them now reminded me of an article I read years ago about fatherhood, a topic that has nothing at all to do with luxury cars, though it does have to do with the way we see the world. It said that men don’t notice babies until they become a father. Then, they run into them everywhere and wonder where they’d been all along. It’s true, I thought, we’re blind to the things that aren’t relevant to us. All I do is buy a yellow car and then they’re everywhere.

In the weeks that followed, it seemed as though the volume had been dialed up on just one band of the spectrum of visible light, granting me a heightened sensitivity to and appreciation for aesthetic details. Punches of yellow bowed me over everywhere: the lines on the highway, the traffic signs, the blinking lights and umbrellas over café patios. I became fixated on the amber typography on the signs in storefronts and the saffron neckties of CEOs crossing the Ponce de León. I also realized that there were certain moments in the day that were more yellow than others. Breakfast, for example: eggs over easy, bread with butter, pineapple juice, a banana or a pomelo.

In fact, it was one particular morning after one of these breakfasts and as I drove to my office on the Milla de Oro that I saw it. It threw me through a loop at first, but then I thought of the salesman and all of his big talk. The guy had sworn to me that my make and model was the only one on the island, only the vehicle in the lane next to mine disproved this. There it was, waiting for the light to change: a yellow Jaguar F-Type—specifically, Cotswold yellow—my identical twin. And in that instant, the existence of that other specimen struck me as ironic. My life, if you wrote it all down, would not inspire a thriller, I’ll admit that. Actually, and I accept this as almost a positive thing—there’s a Chinese curse that says May you live an interesting life— but in the end it started to bother me every time I heard someone, almost always a woman and often times my woman, say that all men are the same. Don’t I deserve, even if just a little, to be different? Of course, a yellow luxury car will never be the magic amulet that transforms someone, but it’s a symbol, and symbols help. Anyway, stopped at a red light on Ponce de León, I cursed mass production.

The light changed and the other Jaguar vanished, peeling out into the traffic. If not for the fact that I was expected at the office, I would have headed straight to the dealership. I would have accused the salesman of being a liar. Instead, I focused on my work. I ate lunch, downhearted, in the second-floor cafeteria, and feeling somewhat indisposed, I asked my assistant to cancel my last meeting that afternoon. I was going home early.

The Jaguar was waiting for me in my parking spot. As I got closer to it the thought occurred to me that it wasn’t mine. This made no sense: it was in my designated space, it unlocked with my key, the seat was at the perfect distance for my legs. It was impossible that it could be the other, the twin, but I pondered the fantasy nonetheless.

“What if we go somewhere different?” Myriam proposed on Thursday.

“Not the Compostela?”

One of our rituals was to eat dinner at the Compostela every Thursday, a habit we’d adopted at some point in our marriage, almost unconsciously, but eventually it became one of those customs that shapes a couple. Our friends knew that if they wanted to see us that day they only had to pass by the Compostela. We knew the owner and the servers. They made my martini just the way I liked: with a pearl onion and lemon peel, never with olives.

But Myriam was insistent we try some place new and we ended up at a restaurant with quite an attractive ambiance, but a so-so menu.

“The sea bass is a little dry,” I said, looking at my plate with a hint of scorn.

“Oh, relax. It’s not like it’s the last time we’ll go out for dinner.”

Now, after what’s happened, I remember her comment as though it was a sort of omen. That night, of course, I hadn’t suspected that I would come to long for our seemingly trivial exchanges. If there was anything I liked about Myriam it was that she spoke frankly and openly, without drama or losing her sense of humor. It grounded me. Maybe it’s not the most passionate way to express our bond, but it was something that hadn’t changed in the twenty-five years we’d spent together.

“Look to your left. That man over there looks just like you,” she said when we were having our dessert, and she slyly gestured toward a table where another couple was also having their dessert and coffee.

“I don’t know what you see in him that looks like me,” I answered.

“His hair. And something in his profile.”

I looked again but didn’t get it. The man took a long sip of espresso. He had a much larger nose and a weak jawline, nothing at all like my nose or my chin. Maybe there was some similarity in his haircut, but it wasn’t all that noteworthy.

“Well I don’t see the likeness.”

“Fine,” she smiled, getting up from the table. “I’m going to the bathroom. Get the check and let’s go?”

Along with the check, the server brought a glass of brandy, a treat from the chef, which I sipped at while I read emails on my phone. I always make sure I haven’t left any loose ends at work before the next day. I got absorbed in doing this for a while before I realized Myriam was still in the bathroom. Maybe the sea bass hadn’t sat well with her? I waited a while longer, until I started to worry, and called the waiter over:

“Excuse me, is there a girl who could check in the ladies’ room? My wife is in there and I think something might have happened to her.”

The server left and came back to report that there was no one in the bathroom.

“But she was just there,” I insisted.

“What does your wife look like?”

“Thin, average height, dark hair,” the description was extremely generic.

“Was she wearing blue?”

“Yes. A blue dress.”

The server left again. He came back, this time with the valet boy.

“Sir,” the boy said, “that woman just left with a gentleman who looks exactly like you, sir.”

I saw that the table to my left had been vacated. Based on the sudden pang in my chest, I predicted that the night would take a turn for the worst and I asked the valet to bring my car around.

“It’s the yellow Jaguar,” I said.

“Which one?” the boy said, in a bored tone, as if every night he had to ask this same question.

I went straight home, pressed the button to open the automated garage door and, just as I’d dreaded, there it was: a Cotswold yellow convertible Jaguar, neatly parked, its engine already cool. I backed out and kept driving; I didn’t want to go into my own home. Imagining Myriam with that man—something within me accepted it as inevitable, like a peculiar bifurcation of my life up until that moment. Also, I didn’t have the stomach to confront them. It hurt to be replaced, even more so to see how easily.

I crept slowly through the neighborhood. It was late and the houses were dark; their inhabitants had already gone to bed for the evening. The garages were closed, but I didn’t need to see inside them to know what was kept there. Then a light on in one of the houses caught my attention. I parked on the street and got out. I snuck onto the front porch and peered in through the kitchen window, where a young married couple was talking and sharing the last of a bottle of wine. He divided the rest of it between their two glasses, while she chattered on, gesturing enthusiastically. They were new to each other; there was still information to reveal, stories to tell about their lives before they’d met. The woman was barely thirty years old; she was pale and had pronounced cheekbones. She raised the glass to her lips and I imagined her firm body. I longed to press my mouth to hers, a total stranger, and felt cheated as the man who was with her drew closer, planting a deep kiss. Then they turned out the lights and went upstairs.

Not since I was nineteen had I spent the night in a car (the last time had been in one far less comfortable). I woke up with the first rays of light, still parked in front of the house, and I decided to wait.

At eight o’clock, a yellow Jaguar pulled out of their garage. It turned the corner. I held back two more minutes and then knocked on the door, uncertain of what I would do next. My plan, up until that moment the greatest risk I’d ever taken, only went as far as that step. Maybe no one was home. They could have left together, though I doubted it. I started to formulate what I might say. If she opened, I would make up some excuse to talk to her.

She was wrapped in a silk robe, her hair still disheveled and sleep in her eyes. She leaned against the door frame and smiled. She took my hand. I followed her into the bedroom. She took off her robe and got under the covers, leaving the right side of the bed for me.

“What will we do when he gets back?” I asked, embracing her.

“Who?” she dreamily yawned. “Baby, sometimes I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

—Tere Dávila, translation by Rebecca Hanssens-Reed, (from Hayden’s Ferry Review)