Saturday, December 26, 2009

ZafraLit en español

Attention, hispanoparlantes: stories from ZafraLit are now available for your reading pleasure in the original Spanish at

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Fox Fires" by Abilio Estévez

Abilio Estévez (Havana, 1954) is a playwright, poet, and novelist residing in Barcelona and one of the most prominent authors in Latin America. He is the author of "Los Palacios Distantes" (published in English as "Distant Palaces"; winner of La Vanguardia's "Best Spanish-Language Novel"), "Tuyo es el Reino" ("Thine is the Kingdom"; Cuban Critics Award) and "El Navegante Dormido", among many others, and has been awarded numerous prizes of prestige in France, Spain, Cuba, and the United States.


You can thank the tomb, the stones in the cracks of the tomb, the man who we may have once met. Since that night, since those nights, I believe in a secret relationship between things. Doesn’t life, like a novel, have a recondite structure? Although it can be thrilling, I maintain that discovering this order doesn’t prove easy. Don’t snicker. I know theory isn’t my strength. In any case, how many years have passed? Many, many years, and certainly you couldn’t describe the house. After some well-concealed indecision, you would invoke the image of some “melancholy mansion” that appeared in those novels we read so long ago (thirty, forty years back), gothic novels that thrilled us then, stories of terror that kept us up until dawn. You would say with your seasoned voice of authority and air of presumptuousness that I know so well: “The mere house and the simple landscape features of the domain, the bleak walls, the vacant eye-like windows, the rank sedges, and a few white trunks of decayed trees…” And I’m convinced that you wouldn’t even realize that it was the House of Usher you busied yourself in describing.

Because we lived in a cemetery, yes, but our house owed nothing to Poe or Lovecraft. Ours was a charmed one, really. Brighter, more joyful and harmonious than any I’ve lived in since. Remember it? Do you really remember it? I’ve always suspected that you know less than you know, and that, most of the time, your memories aren’t real memories—only, I don’t believe you capable of such imagination, either. That house. Inside a cemetery. In the shade of a huge old ceiba (three hundred years old, calculated Father, the positivist). It had a high gable roof with supposedly red tiles that the sun and rain had washed to a withered pink, off-white or almost-yellow, and the edges were a black that both contrasted and matched the walls that were whitewashed every year—for the night of the Day of the Dead, what a party. The rigorously white sides opened into multiple enormous, blue windows with lace curtains of soiled chiffon that gave way to an extra porch, jammed with flowerpots, vagrant ferns, gardenias and jasmines, backed by chairs with powerful rockers and columns that weren’t real columns but wood pilasters scaled by ivy and piscuala, with its flowers of ridiculous red with which my sister and I made necklaces. The house. Extraordinarily cheerful, inside a cemetery that was equally so, strange as it may seem. Indeed, it was the house, its liveliness, that convinced Mother (aided by Chana, of course—our personal orisha). But what’s certain is that Mother was never too convinced she wanted to spend her life in a cemetery. It’s so counterproductive, she complained, feigning gloominess, her skin white and sweat-less, her hair well coiffed. And with all the time we’ll have to spend down there out of obligation, she kept grumbling, each time a little more fervently. Aren’t we tempting destiny? And she would close her eyes, her hand raised, sibylline. Father would take off his blackened Yarey hat , let out a burst of laughter. He would sweat, induced by the heat and the cheer that never abandoned him. He sweated scientifically, from an excess of convictions—a positivist.

I suppose you remember Father. You couldn’t forget him, since for a time you were his accomplice. Anyway, he’s impossible to forget. An intense man of an imposing physique. To him, there existed no other mysteries than dreams. To him, fear could be eradicated only by opening one’s eyes and taking “rightful possession of things”. How seductive—he talked about “things”. And he talked about them with the assuredness of someone in possession of a vast empire. A type of arrogance exists in those that think a lot.

“In reality there are no mysteries, only ignorance,” lectured that sweaty and merry king, spontaneous and positivistic (always with a sunny look on his face), to my sister and me every night, “There’s no mystery a good investigation won’t unravel, and if something scares you, girls, look at it close, observe it in detail, and you’ll see how ridiculous and vain the circumstances are that provoke fear.”

His absence of doubt, his insolence, his philosophy. Those things comprised, you could say, his ideology (an ugly word, right?), and maybe similar logic permitted him to work as a gravedigger—a luxury gravedigger, that is, put in charge of washing, making up, and dressing the dead, leaving them full of colorations, dead that pretended to be alive, satisfied with their silences and slaps of blush in cedar coffins. Only with this idea, this sole vanity, was he impassive until the end of his life. He was fortunate, you’re right. He never let himself be altered by what Mother called “the illegible side of life”. Quite the opposite. Over time, he became an assistant in forensics at the Military Hospital, until they named him General Director of Municipal Cemeteries in Marianao, with housing expenses paid by the city council. There are so many houses, Father would declare resolutely in his party voice, house after house whose windows allow access to the seven seas or show mountains or trees or green valleys (he adored that lachrymose movie by John Ford—there’s no man without contradictions), or open to labyrinths of other houses; blind houses too, that see nothing of the earth, of the earth of the Earth, but in our house alone, the windows let us appreciate a landscape of marble, crosses and flowers that, instead of speaking to us of death, speak of life; what else, tell me, can one ask for?

Mother asked for more, like you might have guessed, asked for other things. Mother, as you know, was on the other side, on the opposite bank from Father, settled in a distinct brand of arrogance. You must agree that no two people were more different—maybe that’s what makes a perfect marriage. That mother of mine so weakstrong, so sensitiveharsh, so dependentindependent, so courageousfearful, without sweat, owner of white handkerchiefs, tissues, and Japanese fans, well-coiffed hair (she had been a kindergarten teacher); at first she refused to live where everyone else would be enjoying themselves or suffering (the shade between the two gerunds distressed her greatly) the eternity of their eternal rest. She insisted—to idle, alive, around human ashes seemed to her so excessively high-handed that it would end up being punished. She never said it that way, it didn’t occur to her to be explicit, although I’m sure that she could murmur (and murmur only) that in reality, ignorance didn’t exist, only enigmas, puzzles, no doubt about it, puzzles; there was no appearance, certainly, that a good look wouldn’t manage to unravel into mystery, and that if something scared us (you’ve got to be sensitive, girls), it constituted irrefutable proof that dark forces existed and were sending us messages.

What strange methods of showing pride! You can be sure, however, that in spite of her reservations, her apprehensions, Mother liked the house the first time she saw it. The cemetery captivated her, too, though she wouldn’t and couldn’t admit it. We saw it in her quiet eyes, kinder than usual, in her look of wisdom, gentle wisdom, the look of someone who has reached a peaceful place, knowing many years back she had done battle with herself. And I ask you this: how wouldn’t the cemetery have captivated her? How couldn’t she admire that lovely yard full of casuarinas, avocado trees and jacaranda, fake poplars and rubber trees, crosses and marble angels, whose silence was always accompanied by a breeze that couldn’t be enjoyed anywhere else but Havana? The problem was when she dealt with “the illegible side”. In those cases, Mother never trusted herself completely.

It was because of this that, days before moving to the cemetery, she made Chana accompany her. I’m talking about the old black woman. Our family’s orisha, the old black woman from the old house on Angel Street, Number 9 (the shores of the river, the Quibú, the foul one). Behind the back of Father, the positivist, Mother counted on Chana for everything. She didn’t take the smallest step without consulting her. Remember Chana? She’s there now, in a tomb of sober granite bought by Mother, but back then there wasn’t an old woman bigger or fatter or blacker in the whole suburb of Zamora, so black she could have just arrived from the Gulf of Guinea. You couldn’t understand her when she spoke of mundane things. Referring to life’s regularities, she employed a garbled Spanish, of clumsy words, pronounced halfway or not at all, words for which she searched hopelessly with ancient, lonesome little eyes of bilious white and huge, careworn hands that she raised toward the heavens. But I remember that when she spoke of “the illegible side” (though, you understand, she didn’t use that phrase), her Spanish acquired a stunning clarity. Clean, bright words, almost pretty, syntactically precise. And I remember her hoarse, old-black-woman’s voice, how it acquired a tone of warmth, intimacy, radiance—even more so when it broke into the songs of the Calabar coast. Chana went around the still-empty house. She smoked tobacco, spreading thick smoke from corner to corner. Every now and then, she stopped, concentrating. She listened, affirmed, denied, smiled, grew angry and puzzled. She made gestures to frighten away invisible figures. Puta, out, puta mala, get out of here! In those moments Mother passed her a gourd filled with aguardiente. Tremulous, so old she could barely stand, she raised the gourd, drank a sip; no, she didn’t drink, really she held a few seconds of drink on her lips, then spat it out with frightening vigor. She shuddered. What little hair she had stood on end, stiffened with the combs of a curling iron. She threw a coconut to the floor with a force that we never imagined possible from her, breaking it. She gathered the pieces, closing eyes that already seemed shut, doing her best to hear. We listened to her whisper, weighing what she heard. Then she took a handful of basil, poppies and white flowers, soaked with cologne, cascarilla pollen that rose like smoke, and went about pounding the walls rhythmic, rhythmic, tac-tac-tac, while she sang indecipherable Calabar songs. Later, much later, she went to the ceiba, dragging her feet, trailing the smoke of tobacco and cascarilla behind her, and there she stayed, caressing the trunk as if it were a human body. Between herself and the tree she seemed to have established a secret bond that she needed. A bond that none of us had the capacity of believing. Unknown, mysterious. Until the sun began to lose itself between rain clouds of red, black-red, velocísimas, way out near faraway Santa Fe.

You smile. I don’t know if I know you well. Or if I know you too well. I’m sure, though, that you’re smiling. I foresee the habitual smile of authority, and behind the smile, the inevitable question—what good was Chana’s ebbó if the dead won’t let your mother sleep?

My sister and I weren’t scared. Or would it be better to say that, yes, we were scared, only the fear wasn’t the fear everyone knows as such, but rather a fright that gave us an immense satisfaction, a fright that startled us, how else can I explain it? For some reason that we never understood, some graves moved us more than others. I don’t mean that some were lovelier than others. I’m not talking about whether the marble shined or not, how expressive or dramatic the statues, or the epitaphs’ smaller or greater charges of passion, sometimes so unabashedly impassioned as to be comical. I’m talking about something that never had to do with architecture, sculpture, or poetry, much less piety, compassion, nostalgia or laughter. I’m talking about something secret, that participated in no physical, affective, or religious order and left my sister and me moved without knowing why. There was, for example, a small, nameless mausoleum without an epitaph by which we couldn’t stop without feeling the urge to cry. Don’t ask for reasons: it was only a small, nameless mausoleum. In the always-open common grave toward the end of the cemetery, where Father and his assistants piled the bones of those without families, there were skulls that provoked our mercy and our ire, our laughter and our circumspection, just like people do, just like people of flesh and bone, I mean. Touching a femur sometimes brought us an imperturbable peace. Other skulls made us sob all afternoon; to caress the yellowing bones seemed to put us in contact with tragedies and melodramas.

There among pantheons and monuments we spent our days and part of the night. There we played. There we studied. There we gradually learned to live. There I fell in love or became enamored (call it what you want) like we only know how during adolescence.

Toward the end of the third street, under the flamboyán, lay the grave of Héctor Aquiles Galiano, born in Havana in 1904 and deceased in the same city in 1925. It was a tomb of polished cement, with an alleged work of embellishment that poorly imitated the pomp of marble, that the passage of time had chipped in various places and in whose fissures grew the highest, greenest ferns in the cemetery. In a medallion inlaid in an iron cross, protected by massive concave crystals, sat the photo of Héctor Aquiles, almost a daguerreotype. He was the most handsome boy in the world. In all the time I’ve lived since then (and this will come as a revelation to you) I’ve done nothing but search for him. To find him has been a goal of mine. To find that handsome man who disappeared from the world so many years before I was born, and in such a terrible way.

I’ve never seen another Héctor like that Héctor, like you. We’ll discuss that now.

There’s never enough time, you know, for such manias. At least, that’s what Mother, the kindergarten teacher, always said, drinking a small cup of strong coffee in a rocking chair on the porch.

I suppose it’s still there, anyway, Héctor’s photograph from 1924: he has dark, wavy hair; skin sepia from the photo, it’s clear he’s white, very white; slanted, dark eyes, voluptuous ones that look at the camera with an air of seduction; his nose is big, of course, and powerful, an invader’s nose, a nose of gold coin—of Héctor and Aquiles; his lips, also large, match his adventurer’s jaw, and they smile with timid hauteur and something of fear. I don’t deny it: it distressed me to think that “he might know”. In that moment, I loved him in the way one loves oneself, how one has always loved oneself, like a man, like a son. I arrive later with a bouquet of wild flowers, those that suit a dead man so alive, so handsome and warrior-like. In the icebox in the kitchen, where Mother places the cups of water that pacify the thirst of the fallen, his cup is the cleanest, the biggest. In the afternoons, when my sister’s gone (they’ve made her take piano classes—why are they reviving the moth-eaten church organ, so she might be a teacher too?), I kiss the photo, I kiss it over and over, and I lie down on top of the grave to await a message—I never know if it will produce something, least of all in a form that I understand. I talk to you however I can. What does it cost me?

I tell him about my short life, my projects, I beg him to Appear, man-son, in my nights, in my dreams; if there’s been other incubuses, why not you? I’ve had many dreams with incubuses and to them I owe the small and vast experience of my romances, I know you don’t want to be an incubus, no way, I know. And the only dream where he appears, he doesn’t appear. Let me explain.

I bathe, perfume my body with Colonia 1800, comb my hair, prepare myself, knowing I’m going to his meeting place, where he awaits me, naked, under the flamboyán. But the dream never moves beyond this ritual of preliminaries. Quickly, I say, there’s no time to lose, it’s going to evaporate, that’s what dreams do! and sure enough, there it ends. I don’t meet with Héctor. I meet the mirror, a mirror bigger and more adorned than any I’ve seen. In it my own body, my adolescent skinniness, my unruly hair, my open eyes, my sweat-soaked nightgown. I’m not going to his meeting place, nor he to mine. He’s not an incubus but a being of waiting.

I don’t want to dramatize it: isn’t that dream the key to all this? It makes you understand, you know? The next morning I describe my frustrations over and over, sprawled on the tomb, same as always. No one, nothing, no response. The obsession of silence. Death and silence, the dead reticent. Silence, silence, and the voices Mother hears—or says she hears. The flamboyán reddens the ground and casts damp shadows, provokes other, less notable nostalgias. Nothing else. So I take advantage and I talk to him about the voices, the voices that Mother hears at night, at dawn. Yes, to Héctor I talked about the voices, I asked him for advice; after all, he was still there, out there, distant, and he should know something, I say.

In that you’re right: Chana’s ebbó had no effect on the voices, in spite of the fact that each Monday we saw her appear (religiously, no other way to put it) with her dark eyes (open, closed, but always dark), her bag of herbs and fruits that she offered to the orishas of the ceiba (and from which Father secretly ate). Mother knew nothing of my desperate romance, which didn’t keep her from talking to the voices every now and then, with weariness or cheerfulness or nostalgia, according to how she felt. They harass me, she exclaimed, they don’t let me live. Meanwhile, from the sidelines, owner of his own kingdom of certainties, Father the positivist dealt with burials, preparing the chapel, planting the flowers, cutting others, pruning trees, planting trees, painting the trunks of the palms, setting up platbands, whitewashing walls, setting rat traps, burning heaps of dead rats and dry leaves, cleaning the dirty marble to make it shine, the marble on which birds shit again and again with that bird-like indifference. He also put up mausoleums and opened up new niches, but he knew nothing of voices, much less such distant ones. Maybe he pretended not to know about them. If he would have gotten the message, he would have felt obligated to mock it, and sometimes he preferred to turn his head, breathe heavily, sing in a low voice, and ignore it. Father wasn’t like other men, you know. At times he could be so subtle that he made you want to understand him, even accompany him on his expert incursions through the pantheons.

Back to the voices. Not even my sister or me heard them. Never. We didn’t hear the voices. We did, however, know Mother heard them. In those shadows that followed meals, when Father lay down on the floor on a coarse blanket, accompanied by a small candle-shaped lamp (the electric lantern dripped false wax), and a book by José Ingenieros, Mother resembled an old-fashioned actress who brought her hands to her head and wandered about the house, directionless, and approached (dramatically) the windows whose dirty chiffon (like in a bad autobiography) flapped in the wind that blew like no other place in Havana. Mother would go mad, fall to the floor, caught up in the midst of her acting. Later, we glimpsed the errant light, a bit more itinerant and intense than that of the fireflies and glowworms, between the graves, between the branches of the rubber tree.

They weren’t fox fires (that privilege was never granted us) but one of many porch lamps. Mother with one of the porch lamps. Mother and her shadow between funeral urns, under the pupil-less eyes of the virgins, searching for words, epitaphs, shadows, possible apparitions that would make her understand, find the secret of the voices, of the messages. I’m not aware of whether she had imagined by herself that the voices contained messages or if Chana had to do with the supposition. We would never know. Chana and Mother must have formed two faces of the same woman. The next morning, my sister and I retraced those paths over and over, not knowing what we were searching for, because we were sure, at least, that the echoes didn’t hang from crosses and trees like the clothes of survivors.

Until one day. Listen closely. One morning we discovered the cracks. No, no, pardon me, we didn’t discover the cracks, we discovered the mysterious relationship between the cracks and the voices, which isn’t the same thing. My sister. Yes, her, she paused at the grave of Héctor Aquiles’ and kneeled, the tomb cracked, decomposing, inundated with weeds and split down the center. At first I didn’t comprehend the intended fervor of that act, then I thought she had discovered my secret and meant to tease me.

“Don’t be an idiot,” she said, irritated, “I’m trying to listen.” She stuck her ear to the crack, and when she straightened up, I saw in her eyes a smile of intelligence. “Well clearly, dear, we’ve got to cover everything up, in those bones one world sneaks into the other. We’ve got to look for stones.”

Although the morning was dark and the river carried the odor of slime, it didn’t rain. We brought the stones from the other side, from that field that my father kept in reserve for when the cemetery needed to grow (cemeteries also need to grow but they don’t let them; covetous, you know) and where there were royal palms, wild daisies, and hills of red earth covered with pumpkin plants that by mistake the scavenger birds pecked at insistently. We collected the stones in the empty sacks of cement stored in the equipment room. We snuck back with the stones and went around covering the cracks one by one, the effort long, time-consuming, painstaking, meticulous. Upon finishing, we were surprised by the monumental silence that had possessed the cemetery, the house, the world. Silence that covered everything, included our cries for help. Voiceless conversations at the dinner table, in afternoon by the front porch chairs. Fruitless movements, quiet, fruitless. One couldn’t hear clocks, slams, dirges, bells chiming, hammers hitting, downpours. No steps. The coldness of night no longer broke the boiling tiles of the roofs after fourteen hours of sun. Windows opened and closed. No trills—the tomeguínes stayed motionless on the branches. Branches didn’t stir, like they used to say. Branches without tomeguínes, without breezes. Because we had discovered the strange relationship between things. The silence provoked constancy. Constancy provoked darkness. Darkness turned off colors and tastes. Suffice to say, we lived long and dark and anodyne days and long and dark and anodyne nights. Trapped in a prison. Father paced from one side to another, having been proved wrong in an important argument. Clearly, he didn’t understand. Mother didn’t, either. We saw her lose herself in the house, a little less actress-like, truly dejected, stealthy, looking at herself furtively in the mirrors, touching her neck with unfamiliarity, tying around her neck the silk handkerchiefs from her time as a teacher. From Chana’s tattered throat escaped no songs from the Calabar. Her hands, they were hands that seemed to ask, what is this? I couldn’t tolerate it, believe me, and I only waited two nights. If you know me like you say, you know that I lack patience. Impatience is one of my most inconvenient virtues. Two nights. I ran to Héctor’s tomb and started pulling away the stones that blinded the cracks. Mother always said that she had heard a scream and saw a light. I’m not prepared to deny it nor affirm it—don’t blame me. In any case, I can assure you that that night I didn’t return home.

Since that night, since those nights, I believe in the secret relationship between things, in an order. Just as in novels. I walked for hours and hours, until weariness set in. You can thank a tomb, then, the stones in the cracks of the tomb of a handsome dead man, who we may have once met.

- Translation by David Iaconangelo and Isabel Perera.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Anathema to the City" by Johan Moya Ramis

Johan Ramis Moya began writing in 1999, sparked by romantic disillusionment and the death of his father. He received his first literary grant in 2006 for a book of stories titled "Post-History", and that same year won a spot in the short story collection "Internacional Dinosaurio" with "The News." The following year, "National Theater" was also published. In 2008 Johan was a finalist for the Gaceta de Cuba Short Story Prize, one of the island's most prestigious literary prizes, with the story "Anathema of the City". He now studies theology, works in the National Library as the donation coordinator, and is a fan of many English-language writers, including Hemingway, Carver, Bukowski, Pound, and Nabokov, among others.


There’s an explanation for the bloodstained axe and corpse. You want to hear it. If not, what did you bring me here for? You shouldn’t worry about me being sincere, as I won’t omit anything. To your question if I’m the owner of the axe. My answer is yes, I am. Before I begin I want you to know that my status as a suspect doesn’t bother me, since in the end it’s a universal constant to which we’re all subjected. But don’t be confused, I’m not a criminal in the strict sense of the word. A criminal is blinded by a fixed idea until he carries it out, and that’s not my case. By the way, can you tell me what time it is….? Thanks.

I can start by saying that the origin of the axe was the city, you know. The city is a labyrinth where a man loses himself. Since I was a boy I walked through it and always felt a certain panic or suspicion of panic. No one can foretell what will occur upon turning a corner. Haven’t you ever walked down a deserted or packed street at whatever hour? It’s a disquieting sensation. I remember the afternoon when I bumped into that one individual. I was nine years old, coming home from school earlier than usual. I came by him on a narrow and empty street. I passed by his side and left him behind. Then I heard his steps stop for an instant only to hear them start up again. I crossed the street and he did the same. He started to follow me. I didn’t dare look back. The sound of his steps at my back weighed on my chest. When I sensed that he was almost touching my shoulder I took off running. You know what my persecutor did then? Laughed, I still remember his guffaw and the terrible voice that yelled one word: “Coward!” He repeated it again and again, until my escape put him out of earshot. I wanted to find a policeman but couldn’t track one down. I walked home disconcerted. Arriving there, I vomited and lost consciousness. Was I really a coward? That day I understood that in the city everything is foreseen and adjusted; the occasional barbarity doesn’t manage to disturb its harmony.

On the other hand was the contradiction of the news. Since I was a boy the newscast marked life in our home, time paused at home when the music announcing it was heard. It was the signal for us to march into the living room, listen and watch. It exasperated me then. On the news it was said that in the city everything was well. That it was a beautiful place. The television cameras always displayed people with wide smiles. All of them optimistic, evidently euphoric. I argued about that with my family, but at home it was prohibited to talk during the newscast, much less contradict the ideology of the city. For them the city was beautiful in all ways and capacities, although as I grew up I realized that my family’s opinions were only a pose. In their heart of hearts they hated the city, but at the same time they feared it and would not come out against it, and in the midst of that fear they swung toward dark doctrines and lies.
Don’t get impatient, if I relate everything to you it’s so you have a complete perspective on the issue of the bloodstained axe in my backpack that interests you so much.

It was at age fifteen that I began to consider the axe. Where did the idea come from? Well, from literature, you know. Literature and music kept me safe from the city. Although I knew that it was a false peace. Because I had the suspicion that someday the city’s dead zone would end up swallowing me to make me pay for my rebellion, and the proof of this is that I’m here. Anyway, I was saying that it was literature, a Russian novel, don’t ask me which, I don’t really retain names. My memory only picks up scenes, melodies, sounds and intensities. In that novel a young man decides to go against the oppression of the city, be above its permanent state, rise above the rules that consume him. You can’t imagine how that moved me when I read it, although I recall that at the end my hero lost his flavor upon seeing him regretful of his sublime work at the feet of a prostitute. Many say that it was love or remorse that brought my disillusioned idol to that state. But it was the city, it is the city, that eats its denizens alive without them even realizing it. You don’t think it’s like this? Look, I’ll illustrate it for you.

In pre-university I met a girl, her name is one of the few my memory has retained. A philosopher said that beyond brute existence, we owe the numerous forces that give the world physiognomy to misfortune, and it’s true. Thanks to an incurable memory I never forgot that name. Jane, her name was Jane. I nicknamed her Baby Jane, like that song from the ‘80’s. Although she never knew that I called her as such. She was a pretty girl. I remember the day that I left a poem in her place in class. She looked at the sheet like I was some kind of weird bug and let out a dumb laugh. That was her most cordial way of making fun of what had nothing to do with her. One day I asked her out and she accepted. While we walked in silence, I wanted to say profound, definitive things to her. But the sound of a car horn interrupted my train of thought. It was a modern car, metallic red. A young, handsome guy stuck his head out the car window and called to her tenderly by a name that I didn’t recognize. She turned around. Her face was illuminated. I understood that I had been a second hand alternative. She excused herself with feigned amiability and got in the car. Upon their exit, the wheel passed through a puddle and splashed me. They laughed. I looked around me and felt that the whole city was talking about me: the streets, the buildings, the houses, the people, the people…everything acquired a haughty shade of bullshit. Ah! the city…

You might think that this story is irrelevant, an exaggeration of a romantic disillusionment. If everything had concluded there, I would agree with you, but no. There was more.

Afterward I started to walk with no fixed direction, my steps labored, without a single understanding, just slight short-circuits of reflections, trying to divorce mind from body, while my head wandered in the midst of balancing probabilities. Like, for example, enumerating the times that I could have changed the course of my life and put myself on a path toward big material acquisitions, including a metallic red car. How many opportunities did I have? Many. Not in keeping with the moral of the city, but I had them and refused them. My decision had been something else: the arts, the construction of stories, bad nights, literary gatherings, fleeting romances, going to the movies like a madman and living other people’s stories. But at that instant, my choice was hurting, and that wasn’t the worst of it. The city is a confusion that hides its own chaos in a dirty game, and we are its fundamental pieces. But I still didn’t understand when in my wandering I came upon the metallic red car in the parking lot of one of those fancy restaurants. Yes, the city can become a Russian roulette, the irony of destiny made circumstance. It was already night. Upon seeing it I suspected that I was trapped in an alley without an exit, an image that is almost always the premeditated justification for acts of unfortunate boldness.

The park was dimly lit. The façade of the restaurant was made of stained glass that let you observe the interior from the street. I saw them. She was smiling and lifting a cup to her lips and the guy with the car watched her, convinced that everything was well. He leaned toward her and kissed her, kissed those lips that still drove me mad. I was there for a while, observing them. Then they got up to leave. Instinctively I retreated to a dark street, without questioning the contempt that had begun to ferment in my chest.

They left in the direction of the parking lot. I thought then of the axe. I thirsted for the axe. The idea of it became necessary, but it was only an idea, my backpack was empty. You can never tell what a man is willing to give up for the courage to trample every moral convention. In my head there was a voice, a voice without a body, the voice of the city that geometrized its labyrinth to envelop me in its nets. But first I should demonstrate my involvement in the sudden apotheosis.

Four guys appeared. As they passed scarcely meters away from the site where I had hidden without announcing my presence, I saw their profiles. They went at top speed in the direction of the park. Armed. They surrounded the couple just as they entered the car. It all happened quickly. Struggle, white arms, a breathless cry drowned out. The car pulled away with the four inside. He and she were left lying on the ground. He didn’t move, but she…she still did. Her hands trembled, her mouth opened and tried to articulate a scream that never made it beyond a brief moan. I looked in the interior of the restaurant. No one had noticed. The neighborhood was silent, aristocratic, for those who live behind closed doors. Ah! the ideology of the city. I felt defeated by the thought of undertaking any effort at getting help. I retreated down that same street. Already distant from that place, I felt calmer and more miserable. My conscience, you say? A conscience is the contemplating of the going and coming of what can’t be resolved. Besides, the spirit of the city had closed itself over my throat. You understand? It was afterward that I started to go around with the axe in my backpack. I don’t know if I did it out of fear or bravery, you never know if you need to be real coward to annihilate someone or if you’re brave if you’re above all moral convention. Two feelings rocked within me, one: that I could be the white man of hostile happenings in any situation, hour or place, and the other: by just touching lightly upon the idea of the axe I felt like a valiant braggart that could embrace the threat and flee toward danger. The only conclusion possible was that my fight wasn’t against flesh and blood but against the city authorities.

At age twenty I began living alone. My new apartment had the essentials: a sofa, an armchair, a table, a table chair, a bed, everything else set aside for my books and music, and in a spot on the wall, a shelf appropriate for only the axe. I wanted to eschew the television but I couldn’t, all because of the damn habit of listening to the newscasts. It was a kind of irresistible addiction. But I think I’ve managed to subvert its effect, I’ve really done it. I pay less attention to what they say than what they don’t say. I learned to read and interpret between the lines of what the anchors announce. You’d be surprised if I told you what I often ended up with. Don’t rush, we’re just getting where you want to go. Can you tell me the time, please? Pardon me for insisting, but it’s important. You’ll see.

It was on a rainy day that I met the girl. For the past week the city was gray with so much rain it resembled London, except for the suffocating heat. These are days where people feel the city’s oppressive weight and remain trapped in the ambiguous shape of its architecture. Long ago it was said the city was walled in, but the walls are still there. No one sees them, but people suffer them. Days where women examine the blade of knives and observe the neck or testicles of their husbands. Where the idea of tripping the impertinent elderly down stairs is born. Without suspecting it, everyone becomes trapped in the net that justifies the crime.

Night had almost fallen when I bumped into the girl. It was a chance encounter, or at least I considered it as such then. It caught my attention that we were the only ones walking in the rain as if it didn’t exist. She came from the opposite direction. We had drawn close to one another when a stray dog emerged from a doorway to bark at her and attempted to bite her. The girl, with speed and strength unusual for someone of her constitution, raised the dog by the scruff of its neck and threw it against the closest wall. The animal emitted a choked whine, then convulsed for a few seconds and stopped moving. The girl calmly contemplated the product of her work then directed a distrustful gaze toward me, but I said nothing. I passed by her side without looking and went on my way. I hadn’t gone two blocks when I realized that someone was coming up at a short distance behind me. I gripped the handle of the axe in my backpack and glanced back with discretion. It was the girl. I couldn’t help but be surprised but neither could I be sure that she was tailing me. I took a detour and went into a bar. I occupied a table facing the entrance and waited. The girl paused in the place’s doorway, looked inside. She entered and positioned herself in front of the table that I occupied. We regarded one another for a few moments, each of us studying the other. She was pretty. She wore a short flower-print dress. She had curly black hair that fell freely upon her shoulders, thick eyebrows and indescribable eyes, neither hope nor fear in them, only a bestial enthusiasm, like someone who has found something they have long awaited without hope.
“Can I sit down?” she asked.
I assented with a gesture of my hand. Never before had anything similar happened to me. I didn’t consider myself the type capable of attracting the attention of a woman in such a direct way. On the other hand, it was my pride against effusion. No emotion. The girl took a seat in front of me, her gestures free of annoyance or hesitation.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hi,” I said.
“You tense up when you’re closely followed,” she said.
I looked at her and she smiled. It was an inexpressive smile, a line that her face could alter on command.
“You know why I busted up that dog?” she said without further delay.
I shrugged my shoulders.
“If you want to say why, it’s okay by me,” I answered.
“But would you like to hear it?” she said.
“What difference does it make if I listen or not? You killed a dog, that’s it.”
“You know why what you think interests me?” she said.
“I don’t have the faintest idea.”
“I’ve seen you before, from far away,” she said.
“You don’t say.”
“Yes, you used to pass in front of my school, wandering, always with that axe and your books on your back.
“I didn’t know you all had ever noticed me.”
“Now you see, you’re not as ghostly as you’d like, right?”
“Right,” I said. Her presence had already started to unsettle me. Suddenly I wanted to get rid of her. Although I felt curious. She was something special, of that there was no doubt.
“And so,” she said in a whisper, “Are you interested in knowing why I killed the animal?”
“It’s all the same to me,” I said.
“Ah, indifference,” she said. “I suppose you’re one of those that thinks a man should only listen to himself, forge words for his own silence and be consistent with his conscience. Am I wrong?”
“Acceptable, your point of view.”
“But in the end we can’t help but succumb to the impatience of dialogue, prostitute the individuality of the soul by speaking with others. What a pathetic necessity!”
I recall how her words impacted me.
She smiled and brushed back a lock of hair that fell before her eyes. The gesture caused a capsize in my chest. I sensed it was time to go.
She leaned forward slowly with the least regard for her shirt’s neckline, shortening the distance that separated us and in a very low voice said: “I know your secret.”
My face must have managed a pretty unpleasant sneer, since the girl withdrew. She wasn’t frightened, there was satisfaction in the back of her eyes. Above all at seeing that my hand had gone slowly, instinctively, toward my backpack.
In that moment I thought…or rather, I tried to think where I would go with all this. The girl was there, imperturbable.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “It’s safe with me.”
I got up, ready to march out. Then she took my hand firmly.
“I killed the dog to get your attention,” she said. There was a certain supplication in her words.

I should have gone. I suspected that the girl was full of indifference toward everything. She was weary. And weariness can end up being the ruin of time and life. Then the unexpected happened. She stood up and drew her body to mine like only a woman knows how and kissed me. Tell me, is there such a thing as a life that isn’t pervaded with acted-out mistakes? Is there such a thing as a clear, transparent life, without embarrassing roots, without made-up motives, without myths springing from desires? No, and neither is mine exempt. I recall how I suffered from the same weakening as all men when they’re encircled by the flesh of a woman. We went to my home and spent the night there.

What happened then? Well, the following morning I thought to rid myself of her, see her no more, but she invited me to “walk around the city”. The expression on her lips sounded romantic, but I knew the weight behind her words. To walk through the city arm in arm with her meant being aware of the trick of existing in the other and led away by it. Once again the city closed in around me, and soon it would consume me in its entrails.

During our walk we entered a church. It was empty. We took a seat on a bench near the altar. She raised her eyes to the crucified Christ that hung near the roof.
“Do you believe in God?” she asked.
“No,” I told her.
She turned her eyes to me. “There was a period in my life in which I was a devout follower. But now, no…now, no,” she said.
“What happened?”
“I found the devil more attractive.”
I couldn’t help but smile. She did too.
“Then,” she went on, “I ended up feeling disdain and pity for both of them.”
“That’s something I’ve never heard before.”
“Have you ever wondered why God is so colorless, so stupidly picturesque? Why he lacks interest, vigor and relevance and seems to us so little like that which is hanging up there?” she said and gestured toward the suffering crucifixee.
“No, that question has never occurred to me.”
“The answer is very simple. God is no more than the product of our own fears in midst of our searching, a crutch for our inconsolable souls. And all because we’re sick with hope.”
“Very poetic on your part,” I said. “And the Devil?”
“The Devil’s case is different. He’s the garbage man of our existence. We’ve assigned him evil and perseverance, two of our dominant attributes, we’ve used up our time making him as real as possible; our efforts have been consumed in shaping his image—ridiculous, intelligent, ironic, and above all, miserable. Man recognizes too much of himself in him to feel love and devotion. I think that of those existing, the devil must be the most unhappy of all creatures.”
“Interesting, your point of view,” I answered.
“Really?” she said and leaned her head on my shoulder.
“Yeah, really.”
“You know what the most terrible part is?” she said.
“That I’ve never been able to stop believing.”
“In God or the Devil?”
“In either of them,” she said. Then she went silent and lay her head on my chest.
An old woman entered the temple, shot us a look of reproof, then occupied the bench on the opposite side, produced a rosary and began to pray, every once in a while looking at us. I raised my eyes in the Christ’s direction. His eyes reflected a statuesque agony, the blood that descended from the crown of thorns seemed coagulated in time. Crucified Christ, taken down from the Calvary, spread and displayed for everyone like a circus monkey. And all that to save man from his misery. Yes, I believe that since Adam, all of man’s efforts have been to modify the existential misery of individual men. And the evolution of that idea is realized in the spirit of the city. The girl lifted her head from my chest and looked me in the eyes.
“What do you think about me?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “I can’t think anything.”
She shifted her gaze. I think that she was waiting to hear something that I didn’t say.
“And you from me?” I asked.
“I think that you’re a lonely person and I sense that you’re very proud of it, but it’s a false pride. A solitary man isn’t someone who abandons all contact with men, but someone who suffers in the midst of them.”
“Interesting theory about me.”
We stayed silent again for a bit and afterwards left the church. We walked slowly, without saying anything. She was anchored to my arm and I didn’t dare to look her in the eyes. There was a moment in which she stopped and blocked my path with her body.
“You know what I appreciate most about life.”
I shook my head.
“Yes, death. Doesn’t it seem attractive?
“Sometimes I think of it, but I’ve never worried about defining it. It simply inhabits us.”
“It’s more than that,” she said. “Death is exact, it never fails, it’s deprived of all fallacy, it lacks the hypocritical mysteries that sustain life. That’s why life inspires more fear than death. You can hasten your death, but not postpone it. It’s what separates two worlds. Simply something fascinating.”
There was a strange light in her eyes when she finished talking. She watched me in anticipation of some kind of comment, but I said nothing.

Thus the day passed, upon nightfall I realized that I didn’t want to separate myself from her. Ah, yearning for another! The most truthful cunning of the city. The girl knew it and traced her intentions toward me. We spent that night together, then another and another. The days passed. During them I lived indescribable experiences, I think to have brushed up against happiness, purity; I forgot my backpack, forgot the city. But even vivid emotions repeated over and over wear themselves out in their own excesses.

Can you tell me what time it is again? Thanks. Don’t get irritated, we’re getting now to the end of it all.
One morning we woke up in each other’s arms, as was our habit. She stuck out her lips and kissed me slowly for a long time. Then she drew her mouth back a scant few centimeters from mine and said: “I need your help.”
“My help with what?” Her words aroused a shudder that traveled through my entire body.
“Help me die,” she said.
I moved her body apart from mine. I don’t think it was an excess of sentimentalism. But I admit that I couldn’t help but feel a certain sensation of emotional catastrophe at her request.
“Can I ask you why you want to die?”
“Because life is out of style, it’s outdated, like the moon, tuberculosis or romanticism. It’s nothing more than an illness, a misfortune. Help me die.”
“I’m sorry. I’m no murderer.”
“I know. You’re an executioner. That’s why you carry in your backpack what will make me free.”
I jumped up off the bed and started to get dressed.
“You’re wrong. I’m nothing, I’m not trying to be anything. You’ve gotten the wrong idea of me.”
“And the axe?! What do you carry it around with you for? For intimidation?! Being that way, you’re nothing more than a coward!”
That word again. I felt a demon dissolving in my veins at a slow boil. Again the spirit of the city appeared and took me by the neck.
“That was all you wanted from me?” I said. “Everything that happened between us was just to get here?”
“No, you moron!” she screamed, “It was out of pity, because of your hyena sadness. Because your depressing presence in this city makes the brothels and churches break out into whispers. Your errant Viking pose moved me. That was all, but now it’s over.”
“Get out,” I said.
She finished dressing. Then at the door she yelled: “Asshole!”
And she went off crying.

I have no words to describe the state in which all of that left me. To involve ourselves emotionally with others is to sin against the peace that solitude offers us. Before the girl I was alone, but I didn’t feel lonely. Now she had left me and it was terrible. I felt like I was going to begin to live like a point on a circumference. Time didn’t matter, or how fast or slow it made its rounds, if it advanced or went backwards, either way I was always going to end up at the same place from which I had departed. Someone said that all beings have their place in nature, man is the only one that continues being a wandering creature, lost in life, unheard-of in creation. I agree. I assumed my previous routine, but it was different, I was marked by something inexplicable. I walked the streets full of fury. I sharpened the axe every morning and kept it close. The weight of the city was overwhelming; I felt that its invisible walls and its gnawed architecture murmured things behind my back. The rumors of the streets climbed to my window and shook my body. I listened to the newscasts and the premonition that something was going to happen was latent.

Yesterday night, I was wandering as I always do. At the intersection of a narrow and dimly lit street, like the one at that park, I realized immediately that someone was following me. I quickened my step, but the person kept at my back. That oppression began in my chest. Then a hand clutched at my shoulder as a disguised voice said: “Coward.” There remained nothing else left to do. After so many years the moment had arrived. I gripped the axe and spun around. It was a clean blow, to the front. The crunch of broken bone still rings in my head. The person collapsed, there were no convulsions nor spasms. The sickly light of a street lamp revealed the face of my persecutor. It was her, the girl. I cried, I cried although it might not be any use saying it. I stuck the bloodstained axe in my backpack and went. The rest, you already know.

What time is it?...It’s eight pm! Ah, listen, listen! You don’t hear it? It’s the music of the newscast. Isn’t it beautiful? Let’s go watch television and listen to the news, I guarantee you that you’ll find the origin and banality of all crime there, in the quiet of the city.

- Translated by David Iaconangelo.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"Half a Minute of Occidental Silence" by Lia Villares

Lia Villares is a narrator, cinephile, guitarist, and author of the blog habanémica: "rhizomatic, multi-faceted, and nocturnal, a cyberspacial hermit". She was born in Havana, where she "lives and resists, still".


Taba: Astragalus (heel bone). Side of the taba opposite to the chuca. The game consists of throwing into the air a goat’s heel bone. The player wins if the side that falls facing upwards is the one called carne (meat), and loses when it’s the side called culo (ass); there is no winner if it falls on the taba or the chuca.

Got ink? A little.

The day stealthily approaches, like a leper.

Miller says that God hasn’t died. There’s osmosis left somewhere. Still. Some articulation.

And then again this being with oneself.

These silences.

This harassed being.

I lie down. The action is repeated ad infinitum.

Gottfried Benn, twice at most: feminine dark brown (dirty) staggers on the masculine dark brown (dirty).

Hold me, you, I fall. I am so tired at the nape.

So that you know, it’s also animal days that I live. I am another water hour.

In the evenings my eyelid un-rests like wood and sky.

Having tea, eating rice… my time comes dressed as the baker who was up all night on a double shift.

Not a tactile organ. Are you a happy person, are you sad… are you a sad person, are you happy?

Like wisps of dust or scattered ashes, ideas leave no trace of a path.

Passing torrent, salt desert storm. I use petals to make myself an igloo at the ancient hour, glare that blinds me not any less.

Contemporary sterile drowsiness, I award myself half a minute of occidental silence.

Nothing to do, nothing to see, in my headphones Charly is what is going on.

(Only the silence watches over the silence)

Someone approaches me and slowly tells me to be reasonable, because my ears are small and I shall tell them a sensible word.

I am not your labyrinth, bitch!, I yell thrashing my arms so that she leaves me alone.

Impertinent fly.

The couch suspends me into nothingness for a fraction of time, frozen on the floury apron. Someone makes the shot and it’s four years old me sitting on a sepia tricycle. Smiling at a sepia emptiness. In front of a trolleybus. The ways to Santiago. Narrow streets. Two ridiculous scooters hide my ears.

The extinction of double perception.

It’s Beckett’s Film: Expel the animals, block the mirror, cover the furniture, tear off the illustration, rip the pictures.

Is being to be perceived, is existing to allow being perceived?

I allow the swinging to rock me, immobilize me once again, twice at most, let the swinging go and come and go. Back. Forth. Back

Let it not sto-sto-stop. Stumblingly

I thrash my arms again, more ideas.

What appalls me is the perception of me through myself.


Disarticulated Bayamo boulevard, marbled granite sun.

Ultraviolent sun. In spite of cold and fictional Bayamo, Bayamo for the bayamese, run.

I randomly compile samples, and when fatigue grows strong, I stop.

I lie down, I allow myself half a minute of occidental silence.

My epidermis being so sensible, I sleep through national celebration days as a preventive measure against deep scalp irritations.

I sleep as much as necessary, lengthily. Any productive effort is rejected.

Later on, I take out the camera and convince the photophobics to the sepia of their ancestral retardation, in the end I tell them a sensible word. After all, their souls’ preservation is as insignificant as their faces, degraded in silver and jelly.

I soften my hands, hydrate my body with Water from the Earth, registered trademark.

I lick my hands and ruffle my hair; I lick my cat’s legs, overhanging out of the fruit bowl, and ruffle his bluish back.

We breakfast on a piece of crap children’s dominical television show of thundering music.

The deterioration and screeching of a city –I write on the door of my balcony with red chalk– match the deterioration and screeching of its inhabitants.

It’s impossible to prevent –I keep on writing– the blood-curling outside from rubbing against the inside.

Someone approaches and tells me that I have a pessimistic tendency towards the negative. I smile back in silence.

Be reasonable, Ariadna; she asks me what the fuck I want to do, seriously.

I shouldn’t go about like that with my generational disorientation, with my weariness and lethargic sleepiness, my sterility and proneness to meditation, to contemplation and masturbation.

(Having tea, eating rice)

Dragging the hours of gambled days, Lezama was clear when he said that in La Habana we used to wager the years and gain on their loss.

Enough, I am not your labyrinth, get lost in the days, get erased out of history, my smiling silence means that I don’t want to do anything, absolutely seriously.

I am what is going on. I lie down.

I want to play until each of my bones is exhausted, until I dislocate my soul the fuck out. Anything rather than think about where I am, still, breathing dust instead of air. Anything, but not this morning sickness, this thin disgust of burnt coffee and tar through my lungs. Inside and out, the screeching. Inside and out. The screeching. Dot and dust.

To reach the absurd in the middle of the death and routine which are reserved to a dismantled city, it is necessary to cancel out all sensibility: sensibility is hope.

I turn the volume of my radio down, I stand up with the firm conviction of my reduced hands.

Juan Piñera walks in front of me. It’s his usual Vedadian night walk. I rush to give him one of my personalized little cards with a phrase by his uncle Virgilio: I hold nothing; nothing holds me up. Our great sorrow is not having any sorrows. He crooks a smile and nods.

(Sempre avanti, avanti).

And I await that in return he reveals some mystery or fascinating secret hidden in his impenetrable gaze, that of a master wizard, alchemist of unsuspected musics.

But no, insomniac nocturnal ghostly marauder just like me, he merely looks at me with his disturbing style of penetrating, dark and tired eyes and I feel stupid with my two braids beneath my hat, which covers my small ears and helps keep away the musical noise-sounds from the Street.

He only says that I take care of myself, one’s got to be careful when wandering, and bids goodbye recommending this or that urban bus route to get to the outskirts where I’m headed for at these total and complete off hours.

I stick my tongue out at him and run again much further away than I want to until I lose consciousness.

Havanemic state, so mad, weekly spell.

Confront. Traffic light and delay, I chew degree after degree.

In his baker disguise, time insists on chasing me.


(I hum meaninglessly, accelerating the rhythm: I-have-a-cake-a-cake-with-meringue-and-I-fear-that-someone-puts-his-finger-in-I-am-a-friend-of-the-baker’s-who-gives-me-flour-who-gives-me-eggs… and I can’t sto-stop).

It stealthily approaches, like a leper.

Is there osmosis left, anywhere? Miller’s voice slows down.

Any articulation?

I am suspended into nothingness for one last moment.


Must expel the animals, block the mirror, cover the furniture, tear off the illustration, rip the pictures.

The echo of my voice gets distorted.

My body abandoned to the excess of the atomic accident, to the accident of atomic excess, to the atomic excess of the accident...

I am allowed to award myself yet half a minute.


- Translated by Julio Leon Banfi. Photo by author.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Our Lady of the Ophidians" by Daina Chaviano

Daína Chaviano was born in Havana (Cuba), where she published several science fiction and fantasy books, becoming the most renowned and best-selling author in those genres in Cuban literature.

In May 1991 Chaviano established residence in US. Since leaving the island, she has distinguished herself with a series of novels incorporating historical and more contemporary matters as well as mythological and fantastic elements, like the series of novels "The Occult Side of Havana". Her most recent book, La isla de los amores infinitos ("The Island of Eternal Love"), has been published in 25 languages, becoming the most widely translated Cuban novel of all time.

Daína Chaviano has received numerous international awards and recognitions: Anna Seghers Award (Berlin Academy of Arts, 1990); Azorín Prize for Best Novel (Spain, 1998); Goliardos International Award for Fantasy (Mexico, 2003); Guest of Honor at the 25th International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts (Fort Lauderdale, 2004); and Gold Medal for Best Book in Spanish Language (Florida Book Awards, 2006). Her website is


The first day she felt a delightful tickling throughout her body; she stretched beneath the sheets and smiled.

The second day, while she was in the bath, she noticed a stinging between her thighs. Scratching it very gently, with lathered hands, she saw that part of her skin had come loose in small plates like transparent scales. She let the water take them away, swept up in the foam, and kept rubbing herself a while longer under the shower.

The third day she got up at daybreak for a drink of water. When she passed in front of the dining room mirror, she stopped. There was something different on her face. She touched her cheeks, her forehead, the outline of her mouth; but she found nothing. She scanned each piece of furniture reflected in the glass, and only then did she know: she saw it plain as day. She looked at herself again, frowning. Her pupils had altered like those of a cat, and they were big and long and snakishly narrow.


The house changed too.

The first month, the creeper plant started to grow up the edge of the wall. Flowers bloomed that perfumed the air on the other side of the grille…At first it seemed that a sudden fertility had been born with the arrival of summer, but she realized her error when she noticed that nothing had modified in the appearance of neighboring rosebushes.

The second month, the holm oak initiated a swift trip toward the clouds and its branches embraced the mansion to protect it from the sun. Four glasses on the terrace fell to the ground mysteriously; and the crash was the cry of something dying.

The third month, the few passersby that strolled through the neighborhood could scarcely distinguish what was hidden behind that jungle sprung up right in the heart of the city.


She saw him immediately. He was tall and, undoubtedly, concealed an unusual vigor. He wore faded blue jeans, white tennis shoes and a sweater tossed over his shoulders.

He saw her when she approached with that defenseless air of someone lost. Her expression struck him as familiar and wild at the same time. She didn’t have an exceptional face, but he liked her eyes. While he told her the address, he glanced covertly at her legs, and he imagined how they would look coiled around his own, helping the movement of his body.

Of course, she adored the beach and sure, he loved to swim; and this summer had been such a good time. They said goodbye with the promise of the following Tuesday. Early in the morning. If it didn’t rain.


That afternoon, passing below the branches of the holm oak, she became aware of the unusual silence. From afar the distant clamor of vehicles traveling on the avenues could be heard. No, it wasn’t that…The birds. The evening melodies of their songs were missing. She could hear the light music of a canary, the trill of a kingbird, the fluid aria of a mockingbird…from more than half a block away.

The birds had fled from the area, as if they had smelled some danger.


The beach was rock and liquid and silence. They greeted each other with smiles. They spoke in a low voice so as not to frighten the breeze. They murmured some pleasures, some experiences, some jokes…But aren’t we going bathing? They threw themselves into the water. The sun still floated near the horizon; the sea was still cold. But blood ran arduous beneath living skin. And the union of two lukewarms always produces heat.

First was the laugh. Then the rubbing of a hand—or maybe a leg, how would one know?—beneath the water. The contact like a caress; the caress like an embrace; the embrace like an agony. And she remembered the moment of birth: a creature that floats in watery nirvana, soothing as an orgasm. Semen enters in the shadow and it becomes a fetus; the fetus is birthed and becomes a child. It’s not possible to invert the process; so that something leaves, one should enter first. Penetrate, before leaving. Leave, after having entered. An undulating form strikes the water like a snake. She clenches her eyelids. Her muscles tense: back, legs, arms; she scarcely feels them.

A cry of terror brings her back to reality. The man drags her towards the shore, without averting his gaze from the tranquil surface of the sea.


She opens the garden gate and her laughter fills the afternoon, switching off the end of the story that he’s telling. A sea snake?, she teases while she looks for the key in her purse. Was it the Loch Ness monster? He couldn’t tell if it was a sea or fresh water one, but he saw it perfectly: it was moving beneath the water.

They close the front door.

If he would have been on dry land, fine; but he couldn’t fight in the water, it wasn’t his element. Yes, she interrupts, it must have been poor little Nessie. The scientists had gotten her so bored with those photography machines, dropped into her peaceful lake, that she decided to go on vacation in the Caribbean

She realizes that he’s giving her a look, really serious, and she caresses him a little. Tired? No, just a little hot; a shower would do him good.


She hears the water fall in the distance, immersed in the vapor that the pots give off. She covers the food and leans out into the patio. For some reason, that story about the snake makes her remember the absence of birds. Why had they left? She recalls the flight of the sparrows over the wet grass: their little bodies full, palpitating, delightful…Why had they fled?

She leans against the wall. The skin on her back has stung her ever since last month, when the shedding started. She slides against it with the length of her spine, scratching herself with pleasure. And her pupils diminish until they become two ophidian slots.


She serves the meat (according to her, overcooked), the vegetable stew (over-salted), the rice (too bland). He comments enthusiastically on its flavor, which she accepts out of courtesy. He finds himself so hungry that he only notices the woman’s intact plate when he finishes. You aren’t hungry? She observes the man’s profile. His thin nose, a little long, reminds her of the silhouette of a bird. I’ll eat later, she says. And her forked tongue slips between her gums.


The white sheet is a plain waiting to be conquered. They observe each other, standing, at each side of the bed. Their eyes follow the slow movements of the other’s as they undo buttons, lower zippers, take off socks, reveal nakedness…

She contemplates what now comes to life: she can’t stop thinking of a dangerous animal, too primitive to survive the emotions of the world, but clever enough to shut itself away and dream a long dream until its nature cheers it up again. “It’s mine,” she thinks. She knows it’s at her mercy. She raises her gaze, searching for the eyes that don’t yet see hers, save for a certain vulnerable zone that always stays hidden beneath a mink epidermis. She lets it appreciate, dazzle. Then she advances, and enjoys her elastic and sinuous step. She knows that he won’t stop admiring it. She moves toward her prey, which breathes roughly, and discovers that love is similar to fright. She stops in front of him. Eyes locked on eyes. A hand surrounds her neck, and she feels an impulse to crawl between the man’s legs. Crawl and climb, climb up to his member; take it in her mouth, wolf it down.

The man’s hand descends slowly, averts obstacles, palpates. She’s moist as a reptile and her flesh swells with pleasure. Now it’s the woman who approaches to touch, but she stops just before grazing him. Only her fingers rush down, brushing the lukewarm fur.

His pupils grow like those of a nocturnal bird; hers diminish to the point of extinguishing.

The bodies roll across the plain. It’s the game of testing another’s resistance; the desire that is about to explode, but no. It’s so sweet, the pleasure of containing oneself.

She opens her eyes halfway, and contemplates the aquiline face that observes her almost with anguish, almost with ferocity. She knows that they have reached a border where fear and love confuse themselves with one another. She feels the mutation coming; she won’t be able to avoid it. Her vertebrae stretch prodigiously, her legs trap the man’s body…then she notices the change in her victim: the softness of hair like a quilt, the suctioning mouth like a bird of prey’s beak, his attitude of a winged creature at the verge of flight…

You’re not going to escape, she whispers, I’m a snake. He smiles, charmed by the joke: And me, I’m a snake-eating bird. In an instant, her legs release their pressure. What’s that? He leans toward her breasts. A bird that annihilates snakes. She laughs heartily and drives her venomous fangs into his neck. “I love to devour,” she thinks. Then she feels the pain: two talons grip her arms, while something pecks her breasts.

The woman closes her eyes and lets herself be wolfed down.

- Translated by David Iaconangelo.