Somehow

I, in my school club“It couldn’t be me. I’m not a murderer.”

She took the bus as usual, only now he wouldn’t be at the office to greet her at arrival.

You know, she liked seeing him every day but not lately, when he had turned so hostile, not caring about her wellbeing, and not respecting her right to not breathe his smoke-polluted air.

She noticed something was wrong from the beginning.

It was her dream job. And though it didn’t seem that at the time, in retrospective she could see how fate has favoured her, god knows why (she truly believed god knew). Events had woven so wonderfully that, when she told how she had turned to be the chief editor of the most important fashion magazine in the city, people smiled, thinking she was probably lying and had gotten the job by some kind of family connection. But everything she told was true and had documents to prove it, even if she wasn’t showing them to everyone.

He was the one who got the job by family connection. He and his other friend, and the others that came after them, crowding the small office with useless writers who wouldn’t take their job seriously and often didn’t even show up to work. She had to cope with that behaviour and more, most of the time they mocked her and questioned her lifestyle, quite tranquil, that contrasted with theirs, who lived by night, knew about music trends and had formed a selected and exclusive group, that rejected anyone different.

She resented that, but was also fascinated about them, and longed to be part of their group, goal she somehow achieved with time. “We should be able to watch life from above, that way we wouldn’t have to worry about stupid things,” she thought sometimes. It is a funny thought, I would like that too. In fact, I can see her life from above.

Her mind was powerful and she used it like a toy, which turned it into a dangerous weapon. Unaware of the real consequences of its commands, that for her (and people like her) were no more than wishful thinking, many persons’ fates had changed drastically for worse.

Long before they became best friends she got mad at him: “He was a consented little prick” and his remarks hurt her. “You will catch the most awful disease, a mortal one.” I repeat, if she had known her mind’s power, she wouldn’t have done it, she thought she was just releasing pressure, trying to cope with the mistreat.

 

Paula visited her at her house, but she didn’t go up, just waited for her on the street, avoiding any intimacy. “I have to tell you this now, you need to know, I don’t think he will make it.” She didn’t want to hear it. The moment Paula said it, everything would become reality, by the spell of spoken words which, she now knew, were stronger that silenced ones.

She had sensed a secrecy plot over the last few years. Paula and Peter were friends, they had even lived together but not as a couple (which she found strange and sometimes thought that maybe that was the secret: their love affair). Many times she had noticed they talked behind her back but couldn’t figure out what they had against her, why they couldn’t just tell her.

“He doesn’t have a common flu,” she said, “he’s very ill. By now, you must have realised he’s gay.”

No, I hadn’t really, but Paula wouldn’t believe me. We went for coffee. She told me he had been sick before he started working at the magazine. Before, even, he got divorced.

“Remember the first weeks he didn’t show up to work? He had just gotten the results from the AIDS test. Then, when we had to do the medical checkup, he faked the blood, it was Morgan’s. Chief Paul helped him a lot. Nobody would hire an employee with such an illness, not on those days anyway.”

“So everybody knew except me.”

“No, not everybody, just Paul, Morgan and me.”

They were pretty much everybody to me. Oh my. He would die. Now it’s out there, we  two said it, are thinking powerfully about it… I can’t get it out of my head: He’s fucked.

 

The next day we went to work and had the news: our friend had died. Everyone was shocked; not the ones who knew (they didn’t work with us anymore) but all the staff except Paula and me, who were the ones that remained from the original group.

Now all it was left was to avoid the repetitive questions: How can it be? What have really happened? Why was he so ill? The pact was silently sealed: We wouldn’t say a word. We never did.

“Sometimes you just entered the office and we were talking about analysis he had done, or the medicine he had to buy, or how he was fed up with it all, and we just stopped talking… he didn’t want you to know.”

“But why? Everybody else did.”

“No. I was the only one. Morgan had left to Europe years ago and chief Paul was no longer with as. He thought you wouldn’t… He did it for you.”

Maybe Paula was right, I guess I did know something of the sort was going on but didn’t want to face it. In fact, I remember once we coincide at the medical checkup that we do every three years at work, and he asked the nurse if they did HIV blood test, deliberately in front of me. Then he gave me this weird look. I wanted to believe I didn’t understand, but I surely did. It was his way of telling me and I was too yellow to talk to him about it.

“He had been taking the drug cocktail for years, but in the end he made friends with these people I didn’t like, and cut my off. These girls he then started to be with all the time, followed some kind of chinese tradition on food and medicine, and made him abandon all drugs.”

“You can’t blame his death on them, though. The decision was his.”

“I don’t know, I’m bitter over them anyway.”

If she only knew he’s dead as result of my intervention… It’s crazy, because the story flows in a way it seems everything began before my curse, but that’s how it works: out of time. It goes back all the way to wherever it needs to act upon, in order to modify events for the predetermined future to change. Or that’s the way I discovered it worked, out of experience, out of having condemned too many people in the wake of my childish and careless behaviour. Now I regretted it. Now I was afraid. But it was too late. I had never gotten so far.

They gave us two days of mourning; after all, he was like our family: We’d spent more than ten years together everyday at the office. We even got together on weekends sometimes. I cried like never before, it was my first close touch with death. I missed him.

The first day I woke up and thought of him. I felt guilty for my indifference, for never having told him I loved him, for having not been able of carrying the weight of his illness with him. Then I realised why some people (most) are so sad with death: They know they could have been a better friend, a better son, a better wife. Some (like me) maybe even remember the exact moment in which the curse came out of their mind.

 

“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Thanks, I was so sad and you made me laugh…”

“I don’t think it’s funny. I’m quite dismayed about it, Paula.”

“Honey, if such a thing were possible, I would have killed half my family by now.”

“I don’t know… I guess I feel better now, thanks for listening.”

“Hey: He knew you loved him, and he loved you back. Don’t torture yourself.”

“OK.”

 

Maybe she was right, but I still can’t let go of this funny feeling, through which I can sense everything in this world is upside down, and that we are trained since birth to be blind to the obvious. Because we all have nasty thoughts for mostly everyone at least once in our life, even for ourselves, and the irrefutable truth is one way or another, we all end up dying somehow.

 

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I am a graphic designer and earn a living working in an aviation magazine. The rest of the time I mostly read, write and draw.

Connect with Me Online:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/silvialauraaltamirano
My blog: http://thebooksofsilvia.wordpress.com

The Circular Ruins

Jorge Luis Borges sitting, holding his cane, black and white photo“No one saw him disembark in the unanimous night, no one saw the bamboo canoe sink into the sacred mud, but in a few days there was no one who did not know that the taciturn man came from the South and that his home had been one of those numberless villages upstream in the deeply cleft side of the mountain, where the Zend language has not been contaminated by Greek and where leprosy is infrequent. What is certain is that the grey man kissed the mud, climbed up the bank with pushing aside (probably, without feeling) the blades which were lacerating his flesh, and crawled, nauseated and bloodstained, up to the circular enclosure crowned with a stone tiger or horse, which sometimes was the color of flame and now was that of ashes. This circle was a temple which had been devoured by ancient fires, profaned by the miasmal jungle, and whose god no longer received the homage of men. The stranger stretched himself out beneath the pedestal. He was awakened by the sun high overhead. He was not astonished to find that his wounds had healed; he closed his pallid eyes and slept, not through weakness of flesh but through determination of will. He knew that this temple was the place required for his invincible intent; he knew that the incessant trees had not succeeded in strangling the ruins of another propitious temple downstream which had once belonged to gods now burned and dead; he knew that his immediate obligation was to dream. Toward midnight he was awakened by the inconsolable shriek of a bird. Tracks of bare feet, some figs and a jug warned him that the men of the region had been spying respectfully on his sleep, soliciting his protection or afraid of his magic. He felt a chill of fear, and sought out a sepulchral niche in the dilapidated wall where he concealed himself among unfamiliar leaves.

The purpose which guided him was not impossible, though supernatural. He wanted to dream a man; he wanted to dream him in minute entirety and impose him on reality. This magic project had exhausted the entire expanse of his mind; if someone had asked him his name or to relate some event of his former life, he would not have been able to give an answer. This uninhabited, ruined temple suited him, for it is contained a minimum of visible world; the proximity of the workmen also suited him, for they took it upon themselves to provide for his frugal needs. The rice and fruit they brought him were nourishment enough for his body, which was consecrated to the sole task of sleeping and dreaming.

At first, his dreams were chaotic; then in a short while they became dialectic in nature. The stranger dreamed that he was in the center of a circular amphitheater which was more or less the burnt temple; clouds of taciturn students filled the tiers of seats; the faces of the farthest ones hung at a distance of many centuries and as high as the stars, but their features were completely precise. The man lectured his pupils on anatomy, cosmography, and magic: the faces listened anxiously and tried to answer understandingly, as if they guessed the importance of that examination which would redeem one of them from his condition of empty illusion and interpolate him into the real world. Asleep or awake, the man thought over the answers of his phantoms, did not allow himself to be deceived by imposters, and in certain perplexities he sensed a growing intelligence. He was seeking a soul worthy of participating in the universe.

After nine or ten nights he understood with a certain bitterness that he could expect nothing from those pupils who accepted his doctrine passively, but that he could expect something from those who occasionally dared to oppose him. The former group, although worthy of love and affection, could not ascend to the level of individuals; the latter pre-existed to a slightly greater degree. One afternoon (now afternoons were also given over to sleep, now he was only awake for a couple hours at daybreak) he dismissed the vast illusory student body for good and kept only one pupil. He was a taciturn, sallow boy, at times intractable, and whose sharp features resembled of those of his dreamer. The brusque elimination of his fellow students did not disconcert him for long; after a few private lessons, his progress was enough to astound the teacher. Nevertheless, a catastrophe took place. One day, the man emerged from his sleep as if from a viscous desert, looked at the useless afternoon light which he immediately confused with the dawn, and understood that he had not dreamed. All that night and all day long, the intolerable lucidity of insomnia fell upon him. He tried exploring the forest, to lose his strength; among the hemlock he barely succeeded in experiencing several short snatchs of sleep, veined with fleeting, rudimentary visions that were useless. He tried to assemble the student body but scarcely had he articulated a few brief words of exhortation when it became deformed and was then erased. In his almost perpetual vigil, tears of anger burned his old eyes.

He understood that modeling the incoherent and vertiginous matter of which dreams are composed was the most difficult task that a man could undertake, even though he should penetrate all the enigmas of a superior and inferior order; much more difficult than weaving a rope out of sand or coining the faceless wind. He swore he would forget the enormous hallucination which had thrown him off at first, and he sought another method of work. Before putting it into execution, he spent a month recovering his strength, which had been squandered by his delirium. He abandoned all premeditation of dreaming and almost immediately succeeded in sleeping a reasonable part of each day. The few times that he had dreams during this period, he paid no attention to them. Before resuming his task, he waited until the moon’s disk was perfect. Then, in the afternoon, he purified himself in the waters of the river, worshiped the planetary gods, pronounced the prescribed syllables of a mighty name, and went to sleep. He dreamed almost immediately, with his heart throbbing.

He dreamed that it was warm, secret, about the size of a clenched fist, and of a garnet color within the penumbra of a human body as yet without face or sex; during fourteen lucid nights he dreampt of it with meticulous love. Every night he perceived it more clearly. He did not touch it; he only permitted himself to witness it, to observe it, and occasionally to rectify it with a glance. He perceived it and lived it from all angles and distances. On the fourteenth night he lightly touched the pulmonary artery with his index finger, then the whole heart, outside and inside. He was satisfied with the examination. He deliberately did not dream for a night; he took up the heart again, invoked the name of a planet, and undertook the vision of another of the principle organs. Within a year he had come to the skeleton and the eyelids. The innumerable hair was perhaps the most difficult task. He dreamed an entire man–a young man, but who did not sit up or talk, who was unable to open his eyes. Night after night, the man dreamt him asleep.

In the Gnostic cosmosgonies, demiurges fashion a red Adam who cannot stand; as a clumsy, crude and elemental as this Adam of dust was the Adam of dreams forged by the wizard’s nights. One afternoon, the man almost destroyed his entire work, but then changed his mind. (It would have been better had he destroyed it.) When he had exhausted all supplications to the deities of earth, he threw himself at the feet of the effigy which was perhaps a tiger or perhaps a colt and implored its unknown help. That evening, at twilight, he dreamt of the statue. He dreamt it was alive, tremulous: it was not an atrocious bastard of a tiger and a colt, but at the same time these two firey creatures and also a bull, a rose, and a storm. This multiple god revealed to him that his earthly name was Fire, and that in this circular temple (and in others like it) people had once made sacrifices to him and worshiped him, and that he would magically animate the dreamed phantom, in such a way that all creatures, except Fire itself and the dreamer, would believe to be a man of flesh and blood. He commanded that once this man had been instructed in all the rites, he should be sent to the other ruined temple whose pyramids were still standing downstream, so that some voice would glorify him in that deserted edifice. In the dream of the man that dreamed, the dreamed one awoke.

The wizard carried out the orders he had been given. He devoted a certain length of time (which finally proved to be two years) to instructing him in the mysteries of the universe and the cult of fire. Secretly, he was pained at the idea of being separated from him. On the pretext of pedagogical necessity, each day he increased the number of hours dedicated to dreaming. He also remade the right shoulder, which was somewhat defective. At times, he was disturbed by the impression that all this had already happened . . . In general, his days were happy; when he closed his eyes, he thought: Now I will be with my son. Or, more rarely: The son I have engendered is waiting for me and will not exist if I do not go to him.

Gradually, he began accustoming him to reality. Once he ordered him to place a flag on a faraway peak. The next day the flag was fluttering on the peak. He tried other analogous experiments, each time more audacious. With a certain bitterness, he understood that his son was ready to be born–and perhaps impatient. That night he kissed him for the first time and sent him off to the other temple whose remains were turning white downstream, across many miles of inextricable jungle and marshes. Before doing this (and so that his son should never know that he was a phantom, so that he should think himself a man like any other) he destroyed in him all memory of his years of apprenticeship.

His victory and peace became blurred with boredom. In the twilight times of dusk and dawn, he would prostrate himself before the stone figure, perhaps imagining his unreal son carrying out identical rites in other circular ruins downstream; at night he no longer dreamed, or dreamed as any man does. His perceptions of the sounds and forms of the universe became somewhat pallid: his absent son was being nourished by these diminution of his soul. The purpose of his life had been fulfilled; the man remained in a kind of ecstasy. After a certain time, which some chronicles prefer to compute in years and others in decades, two oarsmen awoke him at midnight; he could not see their faces, but they spoke to him of a charmed man in a temple of the North, capable of walking on fire without burning himself. The wizard suddenly remembered the words of the god. He remembered that of all the creatures that people the earth, Fire was the only one who knew his son to be a phantom. This memory, which at first calmed him, ended by tormenting him. He feared lest his son should meditate on this abnormal privilege and by some means find out he was a mere simulacrum. Not to be a man, to be a projection of another man’s dreams–what an incomparable humiliation, what madness! Any father is interested in the sons he has procreated (or permitted) out of the mere confusion of happiness; it was natural that the wizard should fear for the future of that son whom he had thought out entrail by entrail, feature by feature, in a thousand and one secret nights.

His misgivings ended abruptly, but not without certain forewarnings. First (after a long drought) a remote cloud, as light as a bird, appeared on a hill; then, toward the South, the sky took on the rose color of leopard’s gums; then came clouds of smoke which rusted the metal of the nights; afterwards came the panic-stricken flight of wild animals. For what had happened many centuries before was repeating itself. The ruins of the sanctuary of the god of Fire was destroyed by fire. In a dawn without birds, the wizard saw the concentric fire licking the walls. For a moment, he thought of taking refuge in the water, but then he understood that death was coming to crown his old age and absolve him from his labors. He walked toward the sheets of flame. They did not bite his flesh, they caressed him and flooded him without heat or combustion. With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he understood that he also was an illusion, that someone else was dreaming him.

Sounds

I, in a cabin in Bariloche.“I hear everything.” The phrase dripped from my mouth and hung swinging at the front of my throat; she continued inquiring.

“No… I am thinking too much… let it lie,” I said.

That odd sensation of darkness inhabiting came back (the coldness was the same), I paused while the sidewalk belt led me to the subway and appeared later in my house.

I wonder if I will be able to open the door once the key is in my hand. The key to my house, my homey house, the one that registers all; the one that quiets, listens and quiets.

Daily life starts with a cold day, mechanical  tasks and bets on the future: That unbreakable and dull circle; in its center lies the moment, the now, which is infinite.

The kid plays. While she plays, knows. While, silences; while, lives. While, dies. The voices that plan her dead life resound in her ears. They don’t get to the brain, they go directly to the soul, the homey house that registers all.

“Talk to me about you and your ear.”

“…I don’t know.”

“You were speaking of how you cannot avoid everyone’s opinion, that you get hooked on what others say. Then you said ‘I hear everything.’ Talk to me about you and your ear.”

“It occurs to me a girl who hears, listens even though no one is aware of it. Not even herself: The ear is like an antenna.”

I just live, the setting is very convincing. I go to the market, take the bus, prepare the kid’s clothes. We’ve got to get up early tomorrow. I watch TV and see only fiction: The latest robbery, the homeless. All mixed up with the latest fashion, gossiping, the miraculous diet. Buy! Buy! Don’t be a moron, even if you mortgage your life. You need this new appliance. It will save you time; time you may destine to work and be able to buy all the stuff that will save more of your time and make you feel extremely comfortable so you don’t hold the least uneasiness.

We need you not to hold the least uneasiness. We will die if you wake up.

I open my eyes. The unintelligible murmur again while waking. Coffee, bath, out. I’m already in the world. Things to do: Dream, make dreams come true, not to die. The world draws itself when I pass. I’m afraid to turn around and find nothing, practically I don’t look back anymore. I’m asleep.

Winter crawls erasing the hours. The same movie and I in it, gesticulating, doing pantomime, let’s see if the force of the movement is able to break the circle; so stupid. I’m the door, the hole in the screen through which I get out and see myself. That doesn’t require any effort, just knowing I’m the door and the one passing through it. But they won’t let me get there, they distract me, offer me stuff, talk to me all the time. They are like glued on the inside.

Stillness is the key. I pretend to be asleep to see if they quiet. I pretend to be asleep… sleep… sleep… dream. I am little here and she takes care of me, embraces me, loves me, feeds me. I want to be now forever. Not saying mama mama mama papa me mine mine you no white black you and me we. I forget.

They run from one place to another searching for something outside of them. They obey, always. Blind. Dead. Shut. The key. The ear. The ear is always open. They listen. They are me; me, dreaming about them. I fruitlessly try to turn the sound off, the unbearable audition that sneaks in and drives us insane. Sleep to wake and shut them up, stop fearing them. To know they are not.

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I am a graphic designer and earn a living working in an aviation magazine. The rest of the time I mostly read, write and draw.

Connect with Me Online:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/silvialauraaltamirano
My blog: http://thebooksofsilvia.wordpress.com

The Other

Jorge Luis Borges sitting in a chair in her house with a walking stick in his hand.The incident occurred in February, 1969, in Cambridge, north of Boston. I didn’t write about it then because my foremost objective at the time was to put it out of my mind, so as not to go insane. Now, in 1972, it strikes me that if I do write about what happened, people will read it as a story and in time I, too, may be able to see it as one. I know that it was almost horrific while it lasted—and it grew worse yet through the sleepless nights that followed. That does not mean that anyone else will be stirred by my telling of it.

It was about ten o’clock in the morning. I was sitting comfortably on a bench beside the Charles River. Some five hundred yards to my right there was a tall building whose name I never learned. Large chunks of ice were floating down the gray current. Inevitably, the river made me think of time … Heraclitus’ ancient image. I had slept well; the class I’d given the previous evening had, I think, managed to interest my students. There was not a soul in sight.

Suddenly, I had the sense (which psychologists tell us is associated with states of fatigue) that I had lived this moment before. Someone had sat down on the other end of my bench. I’d have preferred to be alone, but I didn’t want to get up immediately for fear of seeming rude. The other man had started whistling. At that moment there occurred the first of the many shocks that morning was to bring me. What the man was whistling—or trying to whistle (I have never been able to carry a tune)—was the popular Argentine milonga La tapera, by Elias Regules. The tune carried me back to a patio that no longer exists and to the memory of Alvaro Melián Lafinur, who died so many years ago. Then there came the words. They were the words of the décima that begins the song. The voice was not Alvaro’s but it tried to imitate Alvaro’s. I recognized it with horror.

I turned to the man and spoke.

“Are you Uruguayan or Argentine?”

“Argentine, but I’ve been living in Geneva since ’14,” came the reply.

There was a long silence. Then I asked a second question.

“At number seventeen Malagnou, across the street from the Russian Orthodox Church?”

He nodded.

“In that case” I resolutely said to him, “your name is Jorge Luis Borges. I too am Jorge Luis Borges. We are in 1969, in the city of Cambridge.”

“No,” he answered in my own, slightly distant, voice, “I am here in Geneva, on a bench, a few steps from the Rhône.”

Then, after a moment, he went on:

“It is odd that we look so much alike, but you are much older than I, and you have gray hair.”

“I can prove to you that I speak the truth,” I answered. “I’ll tell you things that a stranger couldn’t know. In our house there’s a silver mate cup with a base of serpents that our great-grandfather brought from Peru. There’s also a silver washbasin that was hung from the saddle. In the wardrobe closet in your room, there are two rows of books: the three volumes of Lane’s
translation of the Thousand and One Nights—which Lane called The Arabian Nights Entertainment—with steel engravings and
notes in fine print between the chapters, Quicherat’s Latin dictionary, Tacitus’ Germania in Latin and in Gordon’s English version, a Quixote in the Gamier edition, a copy of Rivera Indarte’s Tablas de sangre signed by the author, Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, a biography of Amiel, and, hidden behind the others, a paperbound volume detailing the sexual customs of the Balkans. Nor have I forgotten a certain afternoon in a second-floor apartment on the Plaza Dubourg.”

“Dufour,” he corrected me.

“All right, Dufour,” I said. “Is that enough for you?”

“No,” he replied. “Those ‘proofs’ of yours prove nothing. If I’m dreaming you, it’s only natural that you would know what I know. That long-winded catalog of yours is perfectly unavailing.”

His objection was a fair one.

“If this morning and this encounter are dreams,” I replied, “then each of us does have to think that he alone is the dreamer. Perhaps our dream will end, perhaps it won’t. Meanwhile, our clear obligation is to accept the dream, as we have accepted the universe and our having been brought into it and the fact that we see with our eyes and that we breathe.”

“But what if the dream should last?” he asked anxiously.

In order to calm him—and calm myself, as well—I feigned a self-assurance I was far from truly feeling.

“My dream,” I told him, “has already lasted for seventy years. And besides—when one wakes up, the person one meets is always
oneself. That is what’s happening to us now, except that we are two. Wouldn’t you like to know something about my past, which is now the future that awaits you?”

He nodded wordlessly. I went on, a bit hesitatingly:

“Mother is well, living happily in her house in Buenos Aires, on the corner of Charcas and Maipú, but Father died some thirty years ago. It was his heart. He had had a stroke—that was what finally killed him. When he laid his left hand over his right, it was like a child’s hand resting atop a giant’s. He died impatient for death, but without a word of complaint. Our
grandmother had died in the same house. Several days before the end, she called us all in and told us, ‘I am an old, old woman, dying very slowly. I won’t have anyone making a fuss over such a common, ordinary thing as that.’ Norah, your sister, is married and has two children. By the way—at home, how is everyone?”

“Fine. Father still always making his jokes against religion. Last night he said Jesus was like the gauchos, who’ll never commit themselves, which is why He spoke in parables.”

He thought for a moment, and then asked: “What about you?”

“I’m not sure exactly how many books you’ll write, but I know there are too many. You’ll write poetry that will give you a pleasure that others will not fully share, and stories of a fantastic turn. You will be a teacher—like your father, and like so many others of our blood.”

I was glad he didn’t ask me about the success or failure of the books. I then changed my tack.

“As for history … There was another war, with virtually the same antagonists. France soon capitulated; England and America battled a German dictator named Hitler—the cyclical Battle of Waterloo. Buenos Aires engendered another Rosas in 1946, much like our kinsman in the first one.* In ’55, the province of Córdoba saved us, as Entre Ríos had before. Things are bad now. Russia is taking over the planet; America, hobbled by the superstition of democracy, can’t make up its mind to be an
empire. Our own country is more provincial with every passing day—more provincial and more self-important, as though it had shut its eyes. I shouldn’t be surprised if the teaching of Latin were replaced by the teaching of Guaraní.”

I realized that he was barely listening. The elemental fear of the impossible yet true had come over him, and he was daunted. I, who have never been a father, felt a wave of love for that poor young man who was dearer to me than a child of my own flesh and blood. I saw that his hands were clutching a book. I asked what he was reading.

“The Possessed—or, as I think would be better, The Devils, by Fyodor Dostoievsky,” he answered, not without vanity.

“It’s a bit hazy to me now. Is it any good?”

The words were hardly out of my mouth when I sensed that the question was blasphemous.

“The great Russian writer,” he affirmed sententiously, “has penetrated more deeply than any other man into the labyrinths of the Slavic soul.”

I took that rhetorical pronouncement as evidence that he had grown calmer.

I asked him what other works by Dostoievsky he had read.

He ticked off two or three, among them The Double.

I asked him whether he could tell the difference between the characters when he read, as one could with Joseph Conrad, and
whether he planned to read on through Dostoievsky’s entire corpus.

“The truth is, I don’t,” he answered with a slight note of surprise.

I asked him what he himself was writing, and he told me he was working on a book of poetry to be called Red Anthems. He’d also thought about calling it Red Rhythms or Red Songs.

“Why not?” I said. “You can cite good authority for it—Rubén Darío’s blue poetry and Verlaine’s gray song.”

Ignoring this, he clarified what he’d meant—his book would be a hymn to the brotherhood of all mankind. The modern poet cannot turn his back on his age.

I thought about this for a while, and then asked if he really felt that he was brother to every living person—every undertaker, for example; every letter carrier, every undersea diver, everybody that lives on the evennumbered side of the street, all the people with laryngitis. (The list could go on.) He said his book would address the great oppressed and outcast masses.

“Your oppressed and outcast masses,” I replied, “are nothing but an abstraction. Only individuals exist—if, in fact, anyone does. Yesterday’s man is not today’s, as some Greek said. We two, here on this bench in Geneva or in Cambridge, are perhaps the proof of that.”

Except in the austere pages of history, memorable events go unaccompanied by memorable phrases. A man about to die tries to
recall a print that he glimpsed in his childhood; soldiers about to go into battle talk about the mud or their sergeant. Our situation was unique and, frankly, we were unprepared. We talked, inevitably, about literature; I fear I said no more than I customarily say to journalists. My alter ego believed in the imagination, in creation—in the discovery of new metaphors; I myself believed in those that correspond to close and widely acknowledged likenesses, those our imagination has already accepted: old age and death, dreams and life, the flow of time and water. I informed the young man of this opinion, which he himself was to express in a book, years later.

But he was barely listening. Then suddenly he spoke.

“If you have been me, how can you explain the fact that you’ve forgotten that you once encountered an elderly gentleman who in 1918 told you that he, too was Borges?”

I hadn’t thought of that difficulty. I answered with conviction.

“Perhaps the incident was so odd that I made an effort to forget it.”

He ventured a timid question.

“How’s your memory?”

I realized that for a mere boy not yet twenty, a man of seventy some-odd years was practically a corpse.

“It’s often much like forgetfulness,” I answered, “but it can still find what it’s sent to find. I’m studying Anglo-Saxon, and I’m not at the foot of the class.”

By this time our conversation had lasted too long to be conversation in a dream. I was struck by a sudden idea.

“I can prove to you this minute,” I said, “that you aren’t dreaming me. Listen to this line of poetry. So far as I can recall, you’ve never heard it before.”

I slowly intoned the famous line: “L’hydre-univers tordant son corpse caillé d’astres.”

I could sense his almost fear-stricken bafflement. He repeated the line softly, savoring each glowing word.

“It’s true,” he stammered, “I could never write a line like that.”

Hugo had brought us together.

I now recall that shortly before this, he had fervently recited that short poem in which Whitman recalls a night shared beside the sea—a night when Whitman had been truly happy.

“If Whitman sang of that night,” I observed, “it’s because he desired it but it never happened. The poem gains in greatness if we sense that it is the expression of a desire, a longing, rather than the narration of an event.”

He stared at me.

“You don’t know him,” he exclaimed. “Whitman is incapable of falsehood.”*

A half century does not pass without leaving its mark. Beneath our conversation, the conversation of two men of miscellaneous readings and diverse tastes, I realized that we would not find common ground. We were too different, yet too alike. We could not deceive one another, and that makes conversation hard.

Each of us was almost a caricature of the other. The situation was too unnatural to last much longer. There was no point in giving advice, no point in arguing, because the young man’s inevitable fate was to be the man that I am now.

Suddenly I recalled a fantasy by Coleridge. A man dreams that he is in paradise, and he is given a flower as proof. When he wakes up, there is the flower.

I hit upon an analogous stratagem.

“Listen,” I said, “do you have any money?”

“Yes,” he replied. “About twenty francs. I invited Simón Jichlinski have dinner with me at the Crocodile tonight.”

“Tell Simón that he’ll practice medicine in Carouge, and that he will do a great deal of good… now, give me one of your coins.”

He took three silver pieces and several smaller coins out of his pocket. He held out one of the silver pieces to me; he didn’t understand.

I handed him one of those ill-advised American bills that are all of the same size though of very different denominations. He examined it avidly.

“Impossible!” he cried. “It’s dated 1964.” (Months later someone told me that banknotes are not dated.)

“This, all this, is a miracle,” he managed to say. “And the miraculous inspires fear. Those who witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus must have been terrified.”

We haven’t changed a bit, I thought. Always referring back to books. He tore the bill to shreds and put the coin back in his pocket.

I had wanted to throw the coin he gave me in the river. The arc of the silver coin disappearing into the silver river would have lent my story a vivid image, but fate would not have it.

I replied that the supernatural, if it happens twice, is no longer terrifying; I suggested that we meet again the next day, on that same bench that existed in two times and two places.

He immediately agreed, then said, without looking at his watch, that it was getting late, he had to be going. Both of us were lying, and each of us knew that the other one was lying. I told him that someone was coming to fetch me.

“Fetch you?” he queried.

“Yes. When you reach my age, you’ll have almost totally lost your eyesight. You’ll be able to see the color yellow, and light and shadow. But don’t worry. Gradual blindness is not tragic. It’s like the slowly growing darkness of a summer evening.”

We parted without having touched one another. The next day, I did not go to the bench. The other man probably didn’t, either.

I have thought a great deal about this encounter, which I’ve never told anyone about. I believe I have discovered the key to it. The encounter was real, but the other man spoke to me in a dream, which was why he could forget me; I spoke to him while I was awake, and so I am still tormented by the memory.

The other man dreamed me, but did not dream me rigorously—he dreamed, I now realize, the impossible date on that dollar bill.

Happily Dying

“Would you like me to see if I have milk?” I asked. He thought it was my fault, that I should have remembered, that I should have foreseen everything. But I knew I shouldn’t, that it was the responsibility of both us, and didn’t let his attitude affect me. We’ve been traveling for a while and I really couldn’t understand how we missed something so basic. The girl, a newborn, hadn’t woken once since we started this strange succession of tours (from bus, to subway, to train… aimlessly) but we felt that she would at any moment.

We were passing through a town and, though it was late, some shops were open. So I proposed deserting: “Let’s stay here and see if we can get the bottles.”

Until then, his presence was dormant. I can’t say we didn’t know she was there, but it was just before the necessity that her form emerged and only the strength of her action that centered her on the story: Orev lifted the child who had just opened her eyes and put her on her nipple. The girl sucked right away and the milk dripped from the corner of her mouth.

And I, who the night before blamed her for so many things trying to justify my non-desire to see her, my lack of interest, my pain for the distance, for having grown up and no longer being together, for the husbands that interposed and didn’t let us remain girls, play in our room upon waking, do houses with chairs and blankets, and drink milk before going to school.

I get up calmed, lighter. Niloc drinks mate at the computer and I, with my smile of having slept well kiss him and, without thinking, accept a mate before my rejuvelac.

It’s Saturday. The week is already a defeated monster, every day was sailed efficiently, every minute, squeezed. Words spoken and unspoken fulfilled their destiny. Now I know that nothing matters, that being is letting oneself be without question. That living is also dying; that each day is a lifetime, that every night proposes a journey through the universe.

I have no fear, sometimes I did, but not today. I left home knowing that I wouldn’t return, maybe I didn’t think about it, but the decision was taken. I look for a way to mitigate desire, to retrace will, but it takes over my whole body this impulse to walk, to run, to flee. Niloc will be a memory or, perhaps, a dream.

My teeth hurt but I say nothing, I don’t want him to repeat what he always says, that I have to make an appointment, take care of myself and not so much of others. I stand it. Yesterday I heard the news and, frankly, I don’t want to put up with him. One, two, three… only three days left, it’s unbelievable, so soon.

If I could say no, I would. Travelling with a newborn seems crazy. But he insisted and, though I don’t like to admit it, his reasons seem pretty reasonable. I also need to get away, forget about everything, disappear. I wonder how long I will have to endure this pressure of living in the past. Forgetting and not knowing who I was, only that could save me now. My belly explodes. Anytime my girl will come and I will leave and no one can accuse me of anything.

Tomo is occupied preparing our trip: Taking the car to the mechanic, doing the technical verification, fixing the spare tire. For my part, I can’t do more than lists (I can barely walk, not even think about shopping) and call mom or Orev to entrust them the purchases.They show good will, but somewhat disagree with this occurrence of Tomo, to which I adhered. They fear, for me, for the little girl; they leave Tomo out of the love, of their concern; they believe him to be the source of all their problems (theirs, my brothers’ and dad’s).

When I met him they seemed to accept him immediately, but soon Tomo illogical outbursts put him in an uncomfortable position. Actually, the illogical was the way my family lived (former family better, even if they don’t know it yet) and the expectation that they had that others joined mildly to their stupidity and the derogatory way they treated everyone, but especially their offspring and the people they related to. Worst of all was how they incentivized competition, disloyalty and lack of love between siblings.

Now I’m expecting a daughter and everything I lived turns against me, weakens and confuses me. I think of the girl I will raise and I have no referents, rather, I wish I didn’t. Tomo isn’t in a better place. His mother, a poor, uneducated woman, died young, though she never raised him, or maybe yes, for a time, but it would have been better if she hadn’t.

The excruciating pain began after one day.

When leaving the hospital, there, standing in the doorway, facing the street, my girl in my arms, I felt helpless. An urge to return under the protection of the nurses made me regress, look back, not have the strength to move the foot that would make me take the step. I got out. Outside I would be the only one responsible for this tiny being.

Tomo came walking, he’d left the car around the corner in a parking lot.

Samantha slept. Despite my efforts, I couldn’t put the nipple in my baby’s mouth, so nurses had been giving her the bottle. Unfortunately, they waited too long before bringing her to me after her birth; the useless labor and subsequent cesarean had left me awfully debilitated. The girl came when I was very stressed out: the night before, a panic attack struck me in the middle of the night. I figure all that didn’t let ​​breast milk flow as it should, I would confirm this later when my breasts were checked by the obstetrician: “You don’t have a drop of colostrum”, she had said in surprise, “stop worrying, just give her the bottle”.

We walked slowly, covering her so she didn’t feel cold, looking at the sucking reflex in her mouth, overwhelmed with so much responsibility. Tomorrow we were leaving, maybe it was too soon.

“I want to rest,” I begged.

“We’re getting there… Has the baby been sleeping for long?”

“Samantha,” I wanted him to call her by name, baby seemed very cold.

“Samantha.”

“For three hours,” I replied.

Tomorrow we’d leave early, I just hoped I could get enough sleep. I never contemplated the possibility of not breastfeeding my daughter, so I had nothing prepared: neither a bottle nor formula. Somehow I thought that this situation would improve and, when I saw Sami was about to wake up, I put his face near my nipple and with my hand tried to get it into her mouth, but she let go. Then I’d understand she sucked well, the problem was my breasts, that were empty.

Tomo was the one who took the initiative. Soon he returned with a huge bag full of everything we needed and more; I really don’t know what I’d do without him. He then investigated on the Internet. When the girl began crying, he already had two sterilized bottles of milk at the right temperature. We tested different sizes of teats until we found the one that worked and, after several failed attempts, Samantha was drinking her milk without problems.

Even after having solved all the inconveniences, he kept himself in front of the computer, researching every detail of reflux and belching. Sami and I slept; she, in her bassinet, face up, covered with the blankie only to the chest and under the arms (as we had been instructed at the prenatal course), rested happy. Me too, the pain from the cesarean moved into the background: I felt protected.

I had been wandering for two hours. The night threatened with its silence of death. My coat, wet from the sudden rain, was a burden. If the wind gave way I could perhaps get to some destination. But this fierce fight against its fury weakened me. If only I no longer felt this knife-like pain in my belly, or if my sense of loss had any sustenance, if my mind opened their enclosure to tell me the truth about something—it doesn’t have to be everything. Even a little hint of what I am doing here in the middle of nowhere and I would have a chance.

The howling of a dog. Far from terrorizing me, it brings me the joy of knowing that not everything here is inert. But it is just a sound; the rest, pure cold air hitting on my face. It rains again.

In the impenetrable blackness, the feet feel the change of territory: now I walk on solid ground. It seems I left my flesh behind, my whole being moves on spirit willpower. I look back as I can, just to know if I am dead already, if I am lying on that mud.

I can only keep walking in the dark, not knowing who I was or where I’m going. Waiting for lightning to briefly illuminate the territory.

“Niloc sleeps.”

I wake up. The phrase repeats inside me like an echo. I gather I have not died, but I dare not to open my eyes. I pray that they are closed, that this blackness isn’t my actual reality again.

“Good morning.”

A body next to me and the bed. Now I feel the soft mattress, the warm blanket and the feet that play with mine. I look. I don’t remember a picture of yellow flowers. Beyond the pain I suffered walking in the cold night, the belly hurt that still haunts me, of knowing myself strangely safe, something is missing.

How to explain to him that I don’t remember anything behind this time alongside him. That his name was strangely given to me before waking but I don’t know who he is, how we met or how much I love him.

He rises from bed happy, he seems to be leaving, but turns around and kisses me tenderly.

“I’m bringing you breakfast,” he whispers, “It’s my turn.”

I don’t know if my silence seems strange to him, or if he’s used to the paucity of his wife. He’s back with coffee and croissants.

“Thanks,” I say, “I’m starving.”

My voice surprises me. I start devouring and sipping coffee. The cold and the rain still linger in my body. He gets dressed at the side of the bed and looks at me. Slowly, some memories come back to my mind: My work in publishing and my passion for books are the first to return. My son, who is probably sleeping in the next room. (I should take him to school.) Others are giving gently, moving to another category: the darkness, the amnesia, the damp earth under my bare feet.

“Don’t you get up? You’re going to be late.”

“What day is today?”

“It’s Friday honey, last day, just a little effort…”

His softness makes me sink into this reality, and I definitely forget the night and my journey through its labyrinths. Sitting on the edge of the bed, I stare my bare feet. Fatigue drags me to sleep, but no, I pick my slippers with my toes before going to the bathroom. Once inside, I hear how Niloc awakens Ovat, who refuses to abandon his dream.

“Bye, love, have a nice day.”

I’m left alone with my son that looks at me strangely. I force a smile but it doesn’t work, I finally give up and let myself fall on a chair.

“You’re not my mom,” he says without looking at me while he finishes tying a shoe.

“Yes I am, I’m just having trouble sorting all my memories. Be patient with me, I’m tired, that’s all.”

“I knew my mom was going to leave.”

“Please don’t confuse me more than I already am… Have you never had a very vivid dream, from which it was hard to detach?”

“Take me to school or I’ll be late, we can chat on the way. You’ll have to go to work, will you be able to handle it?

I nodded. We went down the elevator and out to the street. I sought his eyes trying to recognize in him something of my own, but he shunned my look. Strangely, the distance he put between us didn’t hurt me, though my memories of him, from his birth and from different moments of our life together, already weaved an irrefutable story in my mind.

The walked distance was familiar; I knew, too, the streets I had to go through to get to my work. He told me many things about her: How always strange ideas occurred to her, such as there were other places where one could travel with the mind, or that this was not the only reality, that one could live in several at once, and also jump from one to another at will.

He said her mother had talked to him seriously about a trip she was planning, that she loved him and didn’t want to leave him, but that this project was very important to her, that it would take her further in her development. His words were a mixture of understanding, resignation and pride. I felt sorry for Ovat, but I also realized that, in light of this broader perspective that his mother had taught him, all this had no significance.

Arriving to school he gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek.

“I think you’ll be a good mom he said, and ran in.” I continued my way to work, because I had left much to do and didn’t want to be late.

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I am a graphic designer and earn a living working in an aviation magazine. The rest of the time I mostly read, write and draw.

Connect with Me Online:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/silvialauraaltamirano
My blog: http://thebooksofsilvia.wordpress.com

The Bug

I always do this for the drain not to clog. It’s disgusting, but what I’m about to tell you is worst. I had already made my little hairball and I had put it carefully over the sink, when my thoughts unexpectedly became indomitable.

Even if I tried to trick my mind by introducing new subjects through which it could be diverted—the pimple on my face, the reason why I should go to work every day to an awful place, the wall fungus, my wish to be free (really free), my recurrent knee pain—nothing attained to detach this insane unusual idea from the information carrier box.

“Making use of a mixture of mental power (a clean guided thought) and feeling, I can breathe life to my hairball. There is only one substance that, if applied at the moment of alchemy, is able to boycott this procedure: fear.

”In fact, it is fear the one that prevents all kind of miracles human beings are able to do. Beyond anyone’s beliefs, it’s not we fear precisely failure. Having success at an enterprise of this sort would put us in such an unexpected place that, for a moment, we’d be lost. That moment terrify us.

“STOP. This is not true. I’m kind of getting this thoughts from outside myself. It’s crazy. I must stop them. This can’t be true. This isn’t true. I will under no circumstance make this hairball be alive. It would be scary and disgusting, it’d probably grow and attack me. I’d be dead if I do this. I don’t dare to do it even if a can. I wouldn’t be myself anymore if a did.”

It started slowly to move. Obviously I didn’t believe it first but yes, it was walking. The cockroach. I stayed still, so stiff I immobilized it. It stood looking at me for a while and then jumped. I mean, it was still hair. It was my hair with little legs (of hair) walking, with little eyes (of hair) that stared.

I saw myself in you, cockroach, and somehow I knew it. I understood why you had chosen filth. I was on your side, thinking as you, feeling your feelings. I was on my side too, horrified.

It emerged, on another level, out of time, an encompassing thought. It didn’t get to be a thought, it wasn’t a feeling either; it was half way or beyond. I placed myself in there when I saw me being you and me–or the other, for I was on that other side–alternatively.

The night came like any other day.

While I slept, its tiny legs caressed my hair. I was dreaming it was you, who were with me, that the worlds hadn’t separated for us to do our thing. In my sleep, the unreal reality I had lived the day before blended with the real unreality of my time in the mist. She wasn’t the hair roach (converted) anymore, she was a beautiful insect mixture of a butterfly and a sea-horse.

She hid under my pillow and, like me, slept for a while. At some moment our dreams merged and she wasn’t the animated little hairball no more: she was a simple hairball, what she always wanted to be, what she was before my intervention. I too was dreaming of going back to my original state, to my world, where I don’t depend on a body or physical laws.

Then, the reality of everyday life awoke.

I searched everywhere: under the bed, in the living-room, inside the toilet… the noise didn’t give her away. Cruch, cruch, cruch… I wanted to hear somewhere. I stuck my ear to the corners but nothing.

Who knew that I would be worried about the fate of a cockroach. On other days, disgust would have seized me to the point where I would not even have had the power to step on it, the mere thought on the sound of the breaking exoskeleton and the white juice coming out paralyzed me.

Now, however, to imagine that something bad could happen to her made ​​me uneasy. I wanted her with me, caressing me with her tiny antennae as before, sleeping with me under my pillow.

She hardly moved its tiny leg. She had made herself comfortable inside my hair to be in accordance (or warmer). But it didn’t bother me, moreover, I liked it a little because I had forgotten she was a cockroach and I had more remembered that she came from me, from my hair, from my will of creating her. She came from my life because she was in it and she was a part of me because of that. It was me the cockroach… IT WAS ME THE COCKROACH.

I woke up all sweaty. (It was me the cockroach.) In the bathroom mirror I am not able to distinguish her, so blended with my other hairs. Underneath my pillow there was one hair but that wasn’t a forceful proof. (It was me the cockroach.) I make myself a coffee and still feel the dream all over my body. (It was me the cockroach.)

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I am a graphic designer and earn a living working in an aviation magazine. The rest of the time I mostly read, write and draw.

Connect with Me Online:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/silvialauraaltamirano
My blog: http://thebooksofsilvia.wordpress.com

The Continuity of Parks

Julio Cortázar tocando la trompeta.He had begun to read the novel a few days before. He had put it aside because of some urgent business, opened it again on his way back to the estate by train; he allowed himself a slowly growing interest in the plot, in the drawing of characters. That afternoon, after writing a letter to his agent and discussing with the manager of his estate a matter of joint ownership, he returned to the book in the tranquility of his study which looked out upon the park with its oaks. Sprawled in his favorite armchair, with his back to the door, which would otherwise have bothered him as an irritating possibility for intrusions, he let his left hand caress once and again the green velvet upholstery and set to reading the final chapters. Without effort his memory retained the names and images of the protagonists; the illusion took hold of him almost at once. He tasted the almost perverse pleasure of disengaging himself line by line from all that surrounded him, and feeling at the same time that his head was relaxing comfortably against the green velvet of the armchair with its high back, that the cigarettes were still within reach of his hand, that beyond the great windows the afternoon air danced under the oak trees in the park. Word by word, immersed in the sordid dilemma of the hero and heroine, letting himself go toward where the images came together and took on color and movement, he was witness to the final encounter in the mountain cabin. The woman arrived first, apprehensive; now the lover came in, his face cut by the backlash of a branch. Admirably she stanched the blood with her kisses, but he rebuffed her caresses, he had not come to repeat the ceremonies of a secret passion, protected by a world of dry leaves and furtive paths through the forest. The dagger warmed itself against his chest, and underneath pounded liberty, ready to spring. A lustful, yearning dialogue raced down the pages like a rivulet of snakes, and one felt it had all been decided from eternity. Even those caresses which writhed about the lover’s body, as though wishing to keep him there, to dissuade him from it, sketched abominably the figure of that other body it was necessary to destroy. Nothing had been forgotten: alibis, unforeseen hazards, possible mistakes. From this hour on, each instant had its use minutely assigned. The cold-blooded, double re-examination of the details was barely interrupted for a hand to caress a cheek. It was beginning to get dark.

Without looking at each other now, rigidly fixed upon the task which awaited them, they separated at the cabin door. She was to follow the trail that led north. On the path leading in the opposite direction, he turned for a moment to watch her running with her hair let loose. He ran in turn, crouching among the trees and hedges until he could distinguish in the yellowish fog of dusk the avenue of trees leading up to the house. The dogs were not supposed to bark, and they did not bark. The estate manager would not be there at this hour, and he was not. He went up the three porch steps and entered. Through the blood galloping in his ears came the woman’s words: first a blue parlor, then a gallery, then a carpeted stairway. At the top, two doors. No one in the first bedroom, no one in the second. The door of the salon, and then the knife in his hand, the light from the great windows, the high back of an armchair covered in green velvet, the head of the man in the chair reading a novel.

Translation: David Page

Original Spanish version: Continuidad de los parques