(Urgent to have a break between us. We’ll be right back after the break, as the movies during the dictatorship used to announce before kidnapping the steamy scenes that never came back. A long break and then we’ll see, I thought in the midst of uneasiness. A time without seeing each other and without talking on the phone so you can think. I was the one who decided on the break, wagering that the interruption would work like an evil love potion. That’s what I thought, but who knows what you were thinking when you unhappily accepted that pact of silence. We were thinking separately but simultaneously. We thought differently but at times the same. And your friends were also thinking for you. That it was necessary to resolve that long-distance mess, ethical dilemma, the emotional blackmail the blind woman was subjecting you to. They all said it their own way. Carmen correcting tests with one hand while with the other she stirred and tasted her ají de gallina, while her mouth complained about the villainous father of her son. Osvaldo planning a marriage celebration that we wouldn’t be attending. Gaetán training for his next ballet without concentrating on the steps but laughing, nervous, shouting in front of the mirror. Julián in his house smoked another cigarette slowly and gossiped through the keyboard with Carmen, who took a while to respond and copy Osvaldo, who would tell Gaetán, the groom. Laura answered her emails preparing her summer classes, exhausted or maybe bored. Mariana was putting on lipstick, attending to her eyelashes coiling like spiders, and smiled, then pursed her mouth, making faces at herself, evaluating the right face before the mirror, the correct way to think about this matter. Piously? Perfidiously? And she talked to the mirror about your bad luck. Of your bad eye. Of your becoming my seeing eye dog. That’s what they said to each other but most of all Arcadio, who dared to say it to you without making a scene in the cafe on the corner. No flailing or gesticulating, not even mussing his hair since he had just shaved it off; biting into a waffle cookie as thin as a host and dropping a pinch of sugar into his espresso and a drop of cream or maybe skim milk, pausing briefly, dazzled by the shine of his own skull. She, he said, with a calculated and dramatic pause, she isn’t your girlfriend, she’s blackmail. And he took another sip of his coffee with milk. Hearing that unhinged you, transformed you into another Ignacio, and that one’s eardrums pounded, his gums withdrew, his tongue dried out. He sat for a moment petrified with the cigarette hanging from his lips, attacked by a sudden pain in the pit of his stomach. That Ignacio paid his part of the bill and took off, livid but most of all dizzy, secreting acid, overcome with disgust. His brain recoiled like a live oyster drenched in lemon juice. But in his way, that pitiless way, that cold and offensive way, that son-of-a-bitch way of Arcadio’s, there was something of the truth in what he said, something that I had also seen in all my blindness. He’s right, I told you after hearing you kick the door and then hearing you unscrew the lid from the antacid tablets. He’s right, I repeated, consciously sowing resentment toward your people. They all think it but they don’t say it to you, or didn’t you notice the way they talk to you lately, or what they say to you when they call you, how I don’t exist in their conversations? And I went on struggling to separate my socks from the wool stockings designed to endure Chile’s raw winter. Arcadio hasn’t said anything you didn’t already know, I added then, to accompany your severe silence, without for an instant stopping my folding of long- and short-sleeved shirts and my jacket. All black, literally black but also black like the hate I professed for all of them, especially Arcadio. That friend of yours, I insisted in all frankness, feeling you were filling up with gasses, that you almost weren’t breathing, that Arcadio has hit the bull’s eye. And then, kicking my half-empty suitcase you said, violent, the bull’s eye, or that bastard’s mother’s ass, me cago en Dios.)
Time was speeding up. A shower. A brushing of teeth. A drying of the face. Full suitcases that exhale on closing. A Dominican taxi ordered by telephone and the subsequent arrival of the car that couldn’t have been yellow. The driver, who spoke a Carribbean Spanish, barely said a word to us, turned up the radio and muzzled us with a merengue that could have been bachata. My head had already set off on its own trip and only the shell of my body remained neglected in the backseat. We were starting to put mental miles and silence between us, although we were still tied with an invisible and elastic cord. I could barely make out that scene through the fog, but what I saw in that moment in horror, in terror, with true consternation, was that I was about to lose everything Ignacio gave me. I would no longer have his arms to guide me, his legs to direct me, his voice to warn me. I wouldn’t have his sight to make up for the absence of my own. I would be left even more blind. I realised I had been clinging to Ignacio like ivy, wrapping him up and entangling him in my tentacles, suctioning him like a leech stubbornly stuck on its victim. That imminent flight was like a knife slicing between us as the taxi approached the airport, and my adrenaline started to flow. The cut was happening, it was turning into a deep wound, and the taxi left us in the terminal and Ignacio paid and took charge of my suitcase. It was happening or it had happened, the laceration, in the security line as we moved forward in slow motion. Then, a fast forward. Ignacio took care of my passport check, he showed them my university student visa, the corresponding I-20, he asked them to give me an aisle seat, although in other times I would have chosen a window so I could watch the clouds during takeoff, and then he gave my luggage to the workers at the conveyor belt, took my hand and announced that the wheelchair had arrived. What wheelchair? I started to laugh, but, don’t laugh, Ignacio told me, I’m serious about the chair. A chair? Wheel-chair? Why did you ask for a chair? I have two legs! Ignacio put his arms around me while I fought him with flapping elbows, but he surrounded me energetically and soon he was a straightjacket, a jacket that smelled of ashtrays and old, acidic sweat, a jacket that in addition to squeezing me until I creaked, covered me in kisses, my temple, my nose, my ear; the straightjacket talked into my ear in a barely audible voice, and convinced me that it was better for an airport employee to take me through immigration and accompany me to the gate. That way I wouldn’t have to hold anyone’s hand. Wheelchair, I grumbled, swallowing saliva and brushing a lock of hair roughly away from my face. Lina, panted my straightjacket again, cutting off or squeezing my name, Lini, everything will be all right, I promise, don’t cry, por favor, that makes me feel like shit. In the blink of an eye you’ll have crossed the mountains and you’ll be in Chile, Ignacio went on, as if that were any consolation. I’ll be there in a few days, he finished, finally loosening his arms. And then I nodded and sat down and plugged some excessive sunglasses onto my face, and the chair started sliding backwards, and his voice gradually dissolved in the crowd while I finally sobbed freely.
Lina Meruane is one of the most prominent female voices in Chilean contemporary narrative. A novelist, essayist, and cultural journalist, she is the author of a host of short stories appeared in various anthologies and magazines in Spanish, English, German and French. She has also published a collection of short stories, Las Infantas (Chile 1998, Argentina 2010), as well as three novels, Póstuma (Chile 2000, Portugal 2001), Cercada (Chile 2000) and Fruta Podrida (Chile & México 2007). The latter won the Best Unpublished Novel Prize awarded by Chile´s National Council of the Culture and the Arts in 2006. She is the winner of the Anna Seghers Prize, awarded to her by the Akademie der Künste, in Berlin, Germany, 2011. Meruane received the prestigious Mexican Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Prize in 2012 with the publication of her most recent novel, Sangre en el ojo (Seeing Red). Meruane is a cultural journalist, columnist and stringer for written media, and currently serves as editor of Brutas Editoras, an independent publishing house located in New York City. Holder of a Ph.D. in Latin American Literature from New York University, Meruane currently teaches World and Latin American Literature and Creative Writing at NYU.
Megan McDowell is a literary translator of many modern and contemporary South American authors, including Alejandro Zambra, Arturo Fontaine, Carlos Busqued, Álvaro Bisama, and Juan Emar. Her translations have been published in The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, Words Without Borders, Mandorla, and Vice, among others. She lives in Santiago, Chile and New York.
Seeing Red is available from Deep Vellum February 23rd.