From The Journey, a novel
translated by Pablo Baler and Matt Losada
Luisa Valenzuela



 

 

 




Introductory excerpt from Battlefields


Some time ago her friend Bolek Greczynski had told her as if by chance, I found your writings in Argentina, but not just the published ones, no, the hidden ones, so much more attractive. Letters…I learnt by heart whole paragraphs from your last article in Anthropology Today, that pretentious magazine, only to arouse your interest in case we met and to be able to tell you the following: It was in Buenos Aires that…

She tried to resist and meant to cut him off with unjustified anger, I don’t even want to hear talk about that city, she said.

I know you much better than anybody could imagine. I want to play fair with you.

It’s already too late. If you hid information from me you already played dirty. Now keep it

I didn’t think you were so sneaky. A woman like you who doesn’t mince words...at least not on paper.

It was a transparent, sunny afternoon. They were in Washington Square with blossoming trees and all; the usual musician had installed his rolling piano under the Arch and insisted in offering the passersby the same, repeated note. Everything in its place, she felt, nothing could hurt her, so finally she let her friend speak without realizing the mesh into which she was getting tangled, while her attention was fixed on the innocent games of the squirrels on the lawn.

In Washington Square, that particular afternoon, she seemed to seek distraction at any cost, to remove herself from Bolek’s words.

A useless attempt. Useless above all when he mentioned the letters. Her own letters. The same ones she had sent a thousand years ago to Facundo, her goddamned secret husband.

Where did you get them? She asked with a start, falling into the trap of recognizing them as her own.

So you don’t deny they’re yours.

What letters are you talking about? What do I know?

Of course you know, my dear. Now I recognize your writing, now I have no doubt, even though you seem so modest. That’s what I most like about you…I searched for you all over, I wanted to get to know you, your stories are good, quite stimulating.

Don’t fuck with me. You’re making it all up.

No, I’m not. And neither are you. In the letters you tell about some experiences worth envying. Who would have thought it knowing you? And well written too, that’s what really excited me, very well written, that’s an interesting woman, I told myself, a daring woman. With me you never behave that way, why don’t you speak to me like that instead of playing hard to get?

Right, letters of mine, bravo, and can we know where you got them, and to whom they were addressed?

I’ll tell you: to whom they are addressed, I couldn’t figure that out, the envelopes are torn and –-listen to this—the heading cut off each letter. You tell me. Still, I enjoyed the confessional tone, they couldn’t be any more lewd, from someone who at a distance wants to blind someone with murderous rage and jealousy, or who wants to provoke him. A-rouse him.

Where did you get them? I ask you.

From your own apartment in Buenos Aires, beautiful, across from the plaza of the Congreso de la Nación Argentina, to be exact.

Her sight became clouded, there, in that other park so different and distant, sitting on a bench previously charitable now turned into something of a scaffold, coerced by an incomprehensible force to listen to Bolek. Nothing less than her dear friend Bolek Greczynski, son of a bitch, incisive and brilliant and inquisitive Bolek, who slow and insidious and unaware of what he was unleashing started rubbing salt as one would say in a certain wound at that point almost forgotten.


Battlefields I

She spent days trying to get in touch with Bolek by phone. She had no idea how she gave her master class at the Anthropological Association with such galloping anguish. On automatic pilot, of course.

Friday at noon she opted for a decisive step. She called the Tel Aviv company and rented a car in order to pick him up at Creedmoor, that grand psychiatric institution. She arrived in one hour; that is, a bit before one, caught Bolek outside his sancta santorum, or better said, his lunatic lunaticorum, and I’ll have him give me some explanations that cannot be given over the phone. He leaves me insulting messages; he is about to get into a plane without even telling me and to top it all off he doesn’t return my calls. It’s too much. No one plays with me.

Going by car would cost almost the same reasonable price as going to Kennedy, she had calculated, and she was not wrong. Now she is at home hurrying to get ready. She intends to send the car away at the door of Creedmoor as one who burns her own bridges. She can’t find the map with the directions, in desperation overturns a pile of papers on the kitchen counter, as an answer to her desperation the blessed map appears and she can finally set sail.

She tells the driver Take the Triborough to LaGuardia airport and follow Grand Central Parkway to Union Turnpike, exit 22. The second exit, not the first one, eh? since it’s chaotic around here and if you get distracted for a second you get lost forever.

Parallel lines do intersect, that is true, and the most dramatic part of it is that once they intersect they start irremissibly moving away from each other, and suddenly you take a street right next to another one and a bit further on you find yourself miles away from your destination.

The driver is an unflappable guy. He’s only interested in exact directions. Maybe he thinks his passenger is going to the mental hospital to check herself in by her own will and he’d rather take no chances. His silence protects him, like the thick bullet-proof Plexiglas taxi drivers have on the back of their seats, with a tiny slot for the cash. It’s true that if she had to check herself in—none of us is exempted from having a breakdown—she would fight with her last speck of reason to not be committed by someone else. She would sign her own sentence; she knows the mechanics of it because one time she attended the drama of some old, poor parents who could not free their own daughter from a certain psychiatric institution for the simple reason that they had signed her in themselves. All this is very complex and it’s not to the point, except to define the strange laws governing the confinement of the insane, the pseudo-insane and the mentally disturbed in this part of the planet.

Suddenly, the memory of an afternoon in Bellevue Hospital springs to her mind. A friend of hers, one of those who flip out every so often, just a bit, but they flip nonetheless --they go bananas as they say here, they are off the wall—had to go to the emergency room at Bellevue to ask for an anxiolytic, and being in the Florence Nightingale state she was in, she propose to accompany her friend. She now understands that she had gone out of sheer morbid curiosity, no Florence Nightingale at all, just to check out what one of those institutions looked like from the inside. And what she saw, in a few hours of waiting, was heartrending and was funny.

The second exit, 22, she repeats to the immutable driver.  

If only the patients at Creedmoor had a second exit too, she thinks. Those at Bellevue. Her mental screen shows the image of the beautiful Ethiopian they saw there. Ethiopian, she decided with her friend, since how else could they explain those sharp features on a face so black it seemed almost blue. At the emergency room in Bellevue, two male nurses that looked more like thugs brought him rolling in on a straight-chair, for lack of a better name for that artifact to which the poor, beautiful Ethiopian had been fastened, and he looked, undisturbed, like the driver who today offers her his back. But the pseudo Ethiopian drives nothing, although, who can tell. The nurses remained for a while in the bleak waiting room, watching him. He muttered something only a bit more audible than a sigh and the nurses agreed to untie his arms. He then produced a small comb from the pocket of his pajama and started to smooth his hair. Very solemn, unhurried. To the point that the nurses, seeing him so calm, exchanged a greeting with the armed policeman who watched over the waiting room and left for other duties. Later on, the incredibly black man put the comb back in the pocket, produced from another central pocket his enormous, extremely dark appendage and started jerking it in the same unhurried way he had done with his hair. It didn’t take long for the commotion to start. Some madwoman shrieked more sharply than usual, the armed guard forced the unflustered Ethiopian to put away his intimate parts and fastened him back to the wheelchair. Only to untie him again, after a while, thanks to his good, almost autistic behavior.

Turn right at the light, she tells the white driver. And left at the next light. The first turn to the right is the entrance to Creedmoor.

The Ethiopian then reiterated the routine. Comb, limb. In the same order, the latter being much bigger and showier and maybe –although it wasn’t reflected in his eyes—more pleasurable. The guard pounced but the Ethiopian, with stony, ancestral dominion, a pure breed, took his comb, let it fall and with a slight gesture forced the guard to kneel close to his feet in order to pick it up, thus managing to put himself, for a brief moment, well above his unfortunate circumstances.

The first turn to the right.

And there they are in front of Creedmoor, a whole walled town. At the entry she asks for Jack Seymour, Bolek’s psychiatrist friend, Seymour gives the OK over the intercom, the gatekeeper points the way: half a mile to the stop sign, right, under the highway, then keep going for about a quarter mile. Behind the chapel and across from the athletics field you’ll find the building you’re looking for. Bolek is finishing his lunch; they’ll let him know you’re coming.

To dissipate in part the rage that drove her here she focuses on fantasizing that maybe, with luck, the beautiful crazy Ethiopian was assigned to Creedmoor and right now at the workshops of the Living Museum he is drawing without respite beautiful self-portraits that lofty society ladies will buy at a good price to liven up, at least in their minds, their nights of conjugal boredom.


Battlefields II

Bolek almost doesn’t let her get out of the car. He scolds her. He suspects she has not come with good intentions, in such a hurry and without warning. It’s not a good day, he tells her, we are oriented towards space, we are not painting but making big sculptures, there’s no room for guests, I can’t get distracted not even for a second, we want to create something like a spatial drama, we have hardly any time left, he tells her.

A spatial and even special drama I will perform right here for you if you don’t let me in, she replies without delay, what’s up with you avoiding me day after day? You told my whole life to Ava…telltale, gossipmonger, and here I had thought you were discreet.

Anger becomes you. You look very beautiful when you’re angry.

Right, add insult to injury.

Isn’t that what you are supposed to tell women when they get furious? Rage becomes you. My straight friends always say that in similar cases.

You’re a rat.

Here come my people, I’m going to have to get back to work, we’ll talk later.

When? If you’re leaving tomorrow without telling me

Oh, that’s it! It’s jealousy. How unworthy of you, beautiful. You flatter me, I have to admit.

That is how he allows her in, and her anger dissolves even more than expected when, arriving at the second floor, she discovers the great progress made in several halls.

Have a look around, Bolek tells her, check out whatever you want, be careful around the ground floor, we haven’t cleaned it all yet and you might even see some rats, I don’t know, even worse, contagious, unimaginable things, and I don’t mean the physiologic type of contamination, no, we’ve made sure to disinfect everything; here it’s the other type, you understand better than anyone, go ahead, I’ll leave you on your own, I can’t take care of, I have to, but go ahead, snoop around, I’ll tell you later, the project we have for the ground floor is fantastic, although it will be for later on, if we get the funding, with luck I’ll find a minute to talk, if not it’ll have to be some other time, today my people are more agitated than usual, I think they can tell I’m leaving, they don’t like it at all, I didn’t even hint at it, but that’s how they are.

All this he was, is, will be telling her bit by bit, while she follows him from one room named Battlefield to the next room or battlefield, and he arranges his work tools and gets everything going and organizes as much as possible the disturbed and often dazzling work of his disciples. To avoid them understanding he sometimes talks to her in Spanish with his rigid, ludicrously Argentinized accent, goes back to English because English seems to calm them down, slurs in Polish and neither the interns nor she understand a word and everybody gets anxious at the same time, she tries to weave an understandable discourse out of what Bolek is telling her shred by shred, she would like to ask but she can’t, he doesn’t allow her, he’s somewhere else, like a great conductor harmonizing his musicians. The artists.

Later, later, later; she hears the promise in Bolek’s voice even if he doesn’t articulate it. Later he will give her the key to go and play. Now, he only allows an ocular inspection of the territory.

Feeling vanquished she directs her steps toward the stairs that will lead her to the ground floor, to the dungeons. The oubliettes like in a medieval castle. Bolek takes pity on her and screams in Spanish, far enough for her not to hear him well: Our secret is ours, I only told Ava that you lack no imagination, and indeed you don’t, you should know that.


Downstairs there are doors she dares not to open. Other doors she kicks, furious, screaming “Imagination my ass!” doors ajar and she doesn’t want to touch the handle. Inside she sees piled up pieces of wood, rather than old junk or salvaged stuff it is rubble she finds behind each of the closed doors, lit by an insignificant and dim light coming from some bulb hanging from the ceiling or from the daylight itself hardly managing to sneak in through the immensely filthy glass, of barred, repulsive windows. One door after another, one room after another, she opens those she can, those she dares to, and there is nothing in those rooms that could suggest to her an idea. She walks and walks and walks; space seems immense, she does not know if she is getting further away from the stairs that would return her to that form of reason that are the insane, up there, smoking or sculpting in order to produce some sense, believe it or not, while she, down here in the nonsense of this poking around in tattered rooms as if she were looking for something. She moves around in a constant present, she thinks, and thinks that she will tell Bolek, if ever she recovers her trust in him. It is as if time instead of running through her dragged her along, she would like to tell Bolek, some day, supposing that someday will ever arrive. I feel anchored in time like those satellites orbiting earth at the exact speed of its rotation, so that they always fly over the same spot, she will explain to him. My spot is not in space, it’s in time, always in the present like so many Native American tribes who since they don’t have verb tenses find themselves limited to the present. Limited? Maybe there’s merit to it, the present, being always in the here and now, not to escape like so many times she has escaped; and now she opens one more door, now, and another, now, and another one –now— and all of them scarcely allow her to glance into the same uncertain, so unstimulating shadows. Now, now.

To Bolek she will say, I will say, now, now, to not leave, to stay with me, that without him I lose the north, that is to say the calendar, that he should give me back the hands of my stopped watch, that the letters and the imagination, that I can’t take it anymore, that that that that is an ugly word indeed, one is always trying to avoid it when writing one’s papers but not when writing those letters one does not write anymore but has written once and for all and should now remain a thing of the past, those letters, but there is no past.

At the center of all those rooms, real dives of a desolate and vast and dilapidated Unmemory Palace –she recognizes—there stands what once were the kitchens of the refectory, with gigantic pans and enormous ovens, and she imagines those who must have eaten in seclusion –although this may have not been the use given to the rooms—those patients who suffered or demanded solitary confinement only during meal times because the digestion of food had become the only private and intimate thing they could have access to.

The Unmemory Palace. They are only conjectures.

She abounds in conjectures to avoid opening more doors. 

And it’s there, decentered in the very center of the enormous confines, where old Joe finds her, Bolek’s Joe, the Joe that was looking for her. He carries along the suitcase given to her by the other Joe, the young one. She then gave it to Bolek, and Bolek to his own Joe. Today he seems connected, this Joe. He walks towards her with sparing parsimony to let her know the master is waiting. And hauling the dead weight of the useless suitcase –at least for those who, like her, only think of practical uses such as a trip— old Joe leads her to the upper floor, the lit one, doesn’t even stop to put down his suitcase before arriving to the room known as Battlefield 4: The Church. There he points out, with pride, the work he just created: the passports that used to be in the suitcase found in the street, now hang from a rope, fastened with wooden pins, like clothes drying in the sun, and there is also a placard hanging that reads: I am all men, and every passport carries the same photo of old Joe.

Joe is everywhere, she is nowhere.

Bolek confirms he is going on a trip with Vivian. He goes, leaving her alone with her doors ajar and her ghosts.

I need a break, he explains without realizing that he leaves her broken.

To the Bahamas, you two are going? She whispers, shocked, disappointed in more than one sense. Well, he replies, the symposium is just an excuse, we need a vacation with Vivian, we are working ourselves to death, from there we’ll go further south, you’ll see, my dear, you’ll hear from me.

They will go for ten, fifteen days, if he can manage it, if he doesn’t miss his people too much and his Joe in particular who’s parading around with the suitcase found by the other Joe, suitcase filled with the waste of the world, perfect container of a work of art created by him and only by him captured in its essence. I am here, inside, says Joe and Bolek understands perfectly. He who is leaving on a trip with no baggage while his Joe is staying behind, dragging towards nowhere the weight of somebody else’s suitcase. Joe is my other, says Bolek, in front of the other who seems to assimilate the idea through a crack in the words, in the very corner of his bodhisattva’s smile. He is my alter ego, like a symbiotic relationship, Bolek admits.

She, in turn, tries to open a crack through which to discern, even if just a bit, that fraternity of souls condensed in a suitcase containing a secret.

Bolek leaves for some days and crazy Joe will carry all by himself the weight of the suitcase emptied of its former contents, more mysterious now than ever, nodal point where many converge, even her and her own Joe. Coordinates of desire.

The letters!

It came to her like a blow on the back of the neck: the sealed suitcase of cardboard fake leather, of a disgusting coagulated blood color, this stiff object of contempt tied up with sisal of frayed whiskers, now holds her letters. Bolek had left them in the keeping of old Joe. Of his alter ego, his being in madness, he who looks at him from the other side of the reflection. They could not be –those letters—in the hands of a more zealous guardian. Joe sleeps embracing the suitcase and would rather piss his pants than leave it outside the restroom.

She thinks: only the absolute inside could hold my letters, evidence of infamy.

Something in her then turns into a spider. Black. Retracts its eight legs ready to pounce on its prey, and the unexpected happens. An almost inaudible noise alerts Bolek. It’s not the danger of the spider’s leap that he didn’t register, it’s something else, far away steps advancing along the corridor that ends in this battlefield on which they themselves.

It’s six already, Bolek says, alarmed. Fast, fast, he tells her pushing her, fast, inside this room, they’re coming for them and they can’t see you.

And the spider complies, with her tail between her legs ‘cause she gets her zoology mixed up and loses her warrior identity.

Oh gods! That is how she suddenly finds herself incrusted in the attic of all attics, surrounded by the most unimaginable of  detritus, an accumulation of filth, broken chairs and pieces of wooden drawers and rags of all colors and sorts that Bolek and Vivian and the rest have been collecting throughout the very generous, disgusting streets of New York, gathering material for future sculptures or installations, while she, living statue in hiding, is getting the creeps because a rat could jump out at any moment.

She leaves a crack open to let in some light and hears the cries of admiration. So much progress, somebody says, congratulations, says somebody else, and blah blah and she realizes there are several people visiting the premises, not just the nurses, and understands that she finds herself between a rock and a hard place, between the rats and the psychiatrists, each worse than the other. In any case, she stays stuck to her thread of light filtering through the almost closed door. An umbilical cord to reality, but Bolek passes by and carelessly pushes the door closed and she remains trapped, with her eyes desperately shut to deny the fact that the surrounding darkness far exceeds the curtain of her own eyelids.

Hours pass, years, decades. The longest minutes of her life pass by and everything behind her is mouths made to eat her in a single and desperate bite. 

The air thickens with Bolek Greczynski’s laugh. The laugh of the enemy Grr. When he finally opens the door of her solitary confinement, she comes out in a rage but doesn’t attack him because. A bit of civility remains despite the fright. Instead she spits out everything she’s thinking, she gives him a piece of her mind as they say around here. A large and dirty piece. He looks at her, smiling.

Shall we fill out the admission form to the hospital? He asks hopefully.

It’s night already in this northern world where darkness falls disgustingly early. To admit her would simplify things for this son of a bitch, she understands. I am now a stowaway inside the closed city where delirium reigns, she tells herself.

Son of a bitch, she utters. 

Well… actresses have always been called bitches, he replies with that laugh that tickles his palate, they’ve always been called that, but don’t you believe it, my mother was an actress but also a housewife, as honest as they come. It was the most boring part, if you only knew.

She can’t help but soften up. Bolek is a mischievous child, she understands. She understands also the strong feelings they have for each other. If they are going to play, she decides, let’s play it to the very last consequences.

And now what? she asks

We have to figure out how I’m going to get you out of this building. Clandestinely, of course.

And get me out of this huge, damned institution.

We really can’t do much about that. Today I’m allowed to stay overnight, you’ll have to stay and sleep with me in the same bed, under the same sheets. One single person.


Walpurgisnacht

As always with masks, one winds up unmasked in all of one’s mediocrity and cowardice. She did have the chance to escape the Living Museum as just another work of art, in living flesh, and opted instead for the simulacrum of the comfortable; or better said, of that which is safe, on the safe and protected shore of things. No risk-taking, no betting it all in the hope to find out that when you come out on the other side --if ever-- you are richer and more splendid than before.

Bolek presented her two opposed options: a straight-jacket or a nurse’s gown. To fight off the cold these long, long sleeves, he said, should come in handy; and in his hands the straight-jacket was an incitement to take the leap.

With the nurse’s gown there’s no possible leap. She chose the latter.

Deeply disappointed, Bolek sighed,

I thought you liked disguises. 

And she, in perfect synch, replied,

Precisely.

In the so-well-structured world of the asylum, nobody could even conceive that an almost normal human being would decide to confine herself there even if it’s only for a single night. Which is why they were able to gracefully move forward up to the dormitories where Bolek had been assigned a room. It was meal time for the inhabitants of that spectral city, specters themselves as well, now stretched out on the bed, talking softly. 

What kind of night awaits us? she asks having accepted the confinement as a destiny beyond discussion.

Make yourself comfortable, take off some of those clothes, says Bolek. But she’d rather stay the way she is, with the gown just in case, as if imposture weren’t the worst of faults.

They won’t think I’m a relative of an inmate, here to help him escape won’t they?

No worry, in this country nobody wants the mad at home; they’d more likely think you’re trying to smuggle someone in.

This better not be one of your traps.

Who knows, but admit that you came here on your own; you stuck your head in the noose.

Officially, Bolek has decided to spend the night at Creedmoor to get things going early in the morning, to leave instructions and set a schedule that would allow him to enjoy without worry his ten or fifteen days of vacations. Deep down, however, he has made this rather taxing decision because he knows his people will be more restless than usual, sensing as they sense his departure, and he does not want to abandon them, he needs to be with them until the last minute and offer them a sense of belonging. That he belongs to them. She is just an intruder.

Won’t your crazies say they saw me this evening with you?

Not at all.  Nobody can keep the secrets of people they love as well as they can. Or understand when something is a secret.

I already figured you gave Joe my letters so he’d haul them around in that stupid suitcase!

What?

You heard me!

Don’t scream.

My letters!

Don’t scream they’ll know we’re here.

Stop toying with me

And you stop being paranoid, my dear, I already told you, don’t make me fill out the admission form to solve the problem of having you hidden here.

You’re threatening me.

Calm down, beautiful. Where’s your happiness, your confidence?

Mad Joe has my letters; you gave them to your Joe inside the suitcase.

Wouldn’t be a bad idea but no, he doesn’t have them, I assure you.

And Bolek proceeds to explain to her, as one would to a kid, to an insane person (one must admit she does have her aptitudes) that never in his whole rather wicked life would it have occurred to him to give Joe the letters, however alter ego he might be. On top of that, the letters do not belong to her anymore, as much as she doesn’t like it, the letters-objects according to all laws of intellectual property have been transferred to his possession since even though he is not the official addressee, there is no evidence at all of the official addressee, etcetera, and they belong to him by rights, for having found them, for having rescued them from the collapse. The content, on the other hand, is yours, he clarifies, and you should be mindful of this circumstance that honors and enlightens you. The content, that is to say the text is yours and you should reappropriate it, return it to your bloodstream, reabsorb it, reincorporate it, because all unlived and at one time imagined stories are also an essential part of your story.

She defends herself. Mine, no. The text, letter by letter and word by word, belongs to whoever received those letters by mail. It was a present, right? I sent it to that person and to that person they belong, whether he wants them or not. I have nothing to do anymore with anything that is said in them.

Au contraire, beautiful, the laws of intellectual property, I insist, tell a different story: the text will forever belong to that person who wrote it. Accept it.

So what about the given word? Is the given word a mere nominal act?

Of nomination, clarifies Bolek; of verbal nomination. You may give it orally, but in writing you can’t give it anymore, unless of course you have signed an agreement among the parties, which I doubt. In any case, what’s important is not the bureaucracy, but the life itself that continues to flow in you from those stories.

And she, tired of stories relegated to oblivion, relinquished, for the first time in so many years, with the ensuing relief and implicit dread, breaks into crying inconsolably in the arms of a man.

It took him by surprise, that’s why Bolek was able to protect her. She, surprised as well, felt neither ashamed nor ridiculous. She cried and cries and cries, continues crying cuddled against Bolek’s chest that muffles the sobs. We needed so much water, she whispers when she manages to get her voice back although she knows he will not get the historical reference. So much water, she attempts to clarify between hiccups, but the fire won’t go out, it burns me from the inside, get me a drink.

You’ve got to be nuts, this is a psychiatric institution; the last thing I need is to get caught in here with booze.

You must have something. I know you.

Just some lines, I don’t think that’s what you need. No, definitely not.

My stomach is empty, my heart is empty, my soul I’m not sure whether I have it or if it left, flying away from me.

Noble task, says Bolek, who not even in his worst nightmares had ever come up with such a moralistic phrase; noble task, he repeats blatantly knowing her his hostage, noble task, to put us back in the shoes of those who we once were, of those who we didn’t know how to be or simply couldn’t be, particularly of those who, like you, wanted but couldn’t, wanted without even clearly understanding that wanting that would eventually turn into a nebula where desire becomes rubbery, sticky, and adopts the most unthought of and unthinkable shapes. I could now make love to you, trapped as we are and without possibility of escape I could perform in the flesh each and every one of your perverted epistolary daydreams, but I really love you and that would mean running away, going back to square one, it would not allow you to backtrack to where with each one of the episodes in the letters you abandoned pieces of the one you could have been or would have wanted to be and never dared.

She would like to see her face while listening to all this as if she were out of focus, but here there are no mirrors.

I don’t remember, she tells him.

Let me refresh your memory.

Hold me, don’t let me go.

I love you, remember; I will hold you support you all along the way but remember, at every step, it’s your way. You want to recover your soul –and mind you, I never speak of soul, not for nothing was I brought up under Marxism— and I will prop you up and tell you that yours is a noble purpose, and I’ll give you the directions you need to not get lost.

The touchstones.

The touchstones are actually your own stories that have lived in you until today, because everything we renounce, every road we chose, this way yes and the rejected ones as well, they’re all always present in our eternal present and continue to develop in us as if we had actually traveled them. If you have really and truly wallowed around with that playboy dos coqueiros or with that aboriginal in the midst of the Australian desert as your most explicit letters describe, that I don’t care, they are here with us anyway as is the unrestrained sailor from your June 1982 letter, I think, or the torturer

Not that one!

He as well and the rest of them and what do you want me to do, where should I stick my hand?


This is an ill-fated night, it must be admitted, and there are so many nooks and crannies where a man could stick his hand but not this man. He penetrates too deep, sticks in more than just his hand and how. 

The name Facundo does not escape from her lips. Her lips are sealed and so are many other parts of her being, sealed. Only now she starts to realize that all that remains unsaid becomes our prison. Or rather she perceives it without realizing, in a flash that leads her to stretch out her hand and lay it on Bolek’s cheek. She pulls it back immediately: one should never touch the site of knowledge, that which for a brief interlude becomes sacred to us. Bolek keeps on talking and she believes and understands him (I am also that which I chose not to be, my denials inhabit me).

In that barest of places, this monastic cell, there is only a basic bed, almost a cot, a chair, a tiny table and on the table a plastic bottle of water and a cup. They share the cup and have almost emptied the bottle. The night will be long, they ration the water. Captivity is only for her but he seems open to sharing it, although she senses that at some point he will leave her to go to his people and shield their dreams. She dreads staying alone in this place; she needs to keep him here at any cost. She knows how to do it. The system is ancient and comes endorsed by reliable sources as well as from her own experience. She will leave no gaps of silence, she will tell story after story until he falls asleep. Not from the letters, the first story, something that came to her by association with this half-light that smothers the noises:

I used to be friends with a couple, pataphysicians, she tells Bolek, real pataphysicians, old school, those you don’t see around anymore because instead of talk it was a constant performance. Once they went to the zoo at closing time and they hid in the restrooms, they wanted to be locked inside to see how caged animals sleep at night, if at all. The restrooms smelled like a cage of wild beasts, only less so. There they stayed until midnight, when they decided to face the danger and walk around, always in the shadows, ‘cause I don’t know if you’ve been to the Buenos Aires Zoo but it’s right near the center of the city and you can see in from the street. They went deeper and deeper into the maze and perceived in the middle of the night an ominous silence that they themselves broke like someone who breaks dry branches by stepping on them, but didn’t break it with noise but with their mere presence, with their disgusting or maybe sickly-sweet or appetizing smell of human beings, and suddenly a lion would roar, and there was unrest inside the monkey’s cage, and the antelopes would break into a mini-stampede toward a corner of their enclosure, not to mention when they approached the huge cage of the condors, and the condors, birds of prey after all, smelled them and made such a ruckus that the guards came and threw them in jail.

They put them in jail?

Yeah. My friends said the highlight of the experience was knowing in their own flesh what it feels like to be inside a cage, themselves transformed into animals. Luckily that happened during the lighter times of Cámpora, a few years later they wouldn’t have gotten off so easy, had they gotten off at all, had they even survived.

So there was passion in what they did, Bolek accepts; I like your story, and mind you that at the beginning I didn’t like at all you blatantly associating this meritorious institution with a zoo, I understood the thing about the smell of the beasts, there is also the smell of fear that exacerbates the beasts, I have often smelled here that smell of fear, it’s very sweet, pungent, disgusting and appealing, a matter of adrenaline, it seems, I wouldn’t like to smell that smell of fear on you, it’s the most dangerous thing there is, have you ever smelled it?

I think so.

Then forget it. It’s a tragic trap.

To forget by decree, is that an order? On the one hand you want me to remember everything, to relive the past, the dismissed incidents invented in the past, you want me to relive them step by step as if they were still part of my life, and on the other hand you want me to set myself apart from all fear. Is that what you’re asking me? To forget the smell of fear?

That stink doesn’t let you relive in peace.

Live in peace.

Same thing.

(Don’t get bored, don’t go, I’ll give you more, I don’t want to feel the fear of this confinement, the crazies must be howling under the impatient night, getting desperate far from their art castle, with their master about to leave. I don’t want you to go to them, not now nor). Without interruption she starts telling of having been in the remotest places on earth, all by herself, among people others could call savages although as is always the case that would be a coarse disqualification, and she was never afraid with animal fear, uncontrollable, abject, reeking. As for the other fear, yes, of course, she felt it so many times, in Mount Hagen for instance sleeping inside a hut woven like a basket, with the bolts of the doors locked, yes, but the only solid thing there was the door itself because as far as the walls were concerned, they could have been hacked through with a machete, like paper, while a few kilometers away there were tribal wars going on, the newspapers said curfew, anyone carrying arms, that is to say axes, spears, knives, machetes, would be taken prisoner, but fights were still going on and she asked herself how did the few white people who so mistreated the natives manage to avoid being slaughtered. Not to mention the spirits of the Sepik, beating under the masks that surrounded her, but then again, those fears are part of her game, she actually likes them, they stimulate her. And then there are the other ones.

Is there love somewhere? asks Bolek

Love? What is that? I love my work. I think.

Perverse anthropologist. Come, get comfortable, this bed will not even allow for a different form of intimacy but here we are, trapped in the hut, it’s your fault and stay quiet, I will

I remember, she links. I remember Roger in Paris, this you don’t know, I haven’t written about this in any letter because it touched me deeply, without fabrications, and since we liked each other, we sought each other out. Roger was married but was the least married man on earth, a painter, and also played the sax divinely, among other things, and since in Paris, however surprising it may seem, secret encounters are less institutionalized than in my country, the hotel rooms were all disgusting, at least those he would find or could pay for, and he ended up renting a room with bathroom in a blind guy’s apartment, a blind guy, just imagine, only with the condition that he not bring women. Roger set up his studio there, filled the whole thing with the smell of turpentine, the blind guy would go to sleep early, the apartment was one of those really old and huge places but still, when after dinner and the movies or whatever it was we did, we snuck up there, even so we had to take all the precautions, and more than once we ran into the blind guy in the dark, vast corridor, and Roger would talk to him as if nothing was going on and I would be hiding behind him trying not to breath. I avoided using perfume during those dates, everything smelled of paint, and now come to think of it, that might be why I’m so attracted to the art of painting, because Roger as a painter was no big deal but then there was that bonus

You loved him?

What’s up with you tonight, poking around in such messy areas, what do you mean?

Not  to worry. I’m talking about love. Me, for example, I have placed my love among these beings isolated from everyday cruelty, they are all aristocrats of the mind, challenging friends who make you feel like an apprentice of life. They support me in my fight against the so-called real world and especially against the mercenary world of art, the galleries, dealers, museums and assorted disgraces.

And, as a closure to his brief manifesto, Bolek suddenly stands up, offers an elegant bow and heads off to survey his loved ones, urging her to lock the door and to not betray at all her presence. It’s my reputation, you know, what’s an out gay like me doing with a woman at night? 

He leaves laughing between his teeth and she remains grinding her own until the need to take a leak sets her in motion. She decides to make good use of the empty plastic bottle, first opening it wider with  her nail file. Then, climbing up on the chair, she empties the bottle out the window and thanks the rain that will erase the traces, and thanks the very first lights of dawn that will finally free her from confinement in the house of the lunatics.



 

 

 

 









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