Translation Tuesday: “Beyond the Point” by Caio Fernando Abreu

Distinct and powerful short fiction from Brazil, translated by Elisa Wouk Almino

It rained, rained, rained and I went on inside the rain to meet him, without an umbrella or anything, I always lost them all at the bars, I only carried a bottle of cheap cognac pressed against the chest, it seems insincere said this way, but it was how I went through the rain, a bottle of cognac in hand and a bundle of wet cigarettes in my pocket. There was one point when I could have taken a taxi, but it wasn’t very far, and if I took a taxi I wouldn’t be able to buy cigarettes or cognac, and I thought firmly that it would be better to arrive wet from the rain, because that way we would drink the cognac, it was cold, not that cold, it was more the humidity entering through the fabric of clothes, through the thin, worn soles of shoes, and we’d smoke drink without limits, there’d be music, always those hoarse voices, that moaning sax and his eye set upon me, warm shower distending my muscles. But it still rained, my eyes stinging from the cold, my nose began to run, I would clean it with the backs of my hands and the liquid from my nose would harden instantly over the hairs, I’d tuck my reddened hands into the depths of my pockets and I would keep going, keep going and jumping the puddles of water with frozen legs. So frozen were my legs and arms and face that I thought of opening the bottle to take a sip, but I didn’t want to arrive at his house half-drunk, with bad breath, I didn’t want him thinking I had been drinking, and I had, every day a good pretext, and I also went on thinking that he’d think I had no money, arriving by foot in all that rain, and I had none, my stomach hurting with hunger, and I didn’t want him thinking I had been walking like an insomniac, and I had, purple bags under my eyes, I would have to be careful with my lower lip when smiling, if I smiled, and I almost certainly would, when I met him, so that he wouldn’t see the broken tooth and think I had been slacking, not seeing a dentist, and I had, and everything I was doing and being I didn’t want him to see or know, but after thinking this it brought me grief because I went on realizing realizing, inside the rain, that maybe I didn’t want him to know that I was me, and I was. Something confusing started to happen inside my head, this idea of I not wanting him to know that I was me, drenched in all that rain that fell, fell, fell and I had the urge to return to some place dry and warm, if there was such a place, and I didn’t remember any, or to stop forever right there on that gray corner that I attempted to cross without being able to, the cars throwing water and mud at me as they passed, but I couldn’t, or I could but shouldn’t, or I could but didn’t want to or no longer knew how one stops or goes back, I had to continue going to meet him, who would open the door for me, the moaning sax in the background and who knows a fireplace, pine nuts, warm wine with cloves and cinnamon, those winter things, and even more, I needed to avert my desire to go back or stay in place, for there is a point, I discovered, in which you lose control of your own legs, it’s not really like that, a torturous discovery that the cold and the rain wouldn’t let me chew properly, I merely began to know that there is a point, and I, divided, wanting to see what was after the point and also the pleasure of him waiting for me warm and ready.

A car passed by closer and wet me entirely, a river would have run off my clothes had I been able to wring them, so I decided in my head that after opening the door he would say anything like but how wet you are, without any amazement, because he was expecting me, he was calling me, I only kept going because he was calling me, I dared myself, I was going beyond that point of staying in place, now along the path of trees without leaves and the obstructed street that I saw again in that strange way of already having been there without having been, I was hesitating but kept going, in the middle of the city like an invisible string leaving his head all the way to mine, whoever saw me wet like this didn’t see our secret, they only saw a wet guy with no raincoat or umbrella, just a cheap bottle of cognac pressed against the chest. It was to me that he was calling, throughout the middle of the city, pulling the string all the way from my head to his, through the rain, it was for me that he would open his door, getting very close now, so close that a hot flash rose to my face, as if I had drank all the cognac, I would exchange my wet clothes for drier ones and would slowly take my hands between his, caressing them slowly to warm them, scaring away the purple of cold skin, it was starting to get dark, it was still early, but it was getting dark early, earlier than usual, and it wasn’t even winter, he would set up a large bed with many blankets, and it was then that I slipped and fell and everything so all of a sudden, to protect the bottle I pressed it harder against the chest and it hit against a rock, and besides the water from the rain and the mud from the cars my clothes now were also drenched in cognac, like a drunkard, stinking, and so we wouldn’t drink, I tried to smile, with caution, my bottom lip almost motionless, hiding my chipped tooth, and I thought of the mud that he would tenderly clean, because it was to me that he was calling, because it was me who he was choosing, because it was for me and only for me that he would open his door.

It rained constantly and it took me a while to be able to lift myself from that puddle of mud, I would return to the point, in which an effort so great was necessary, an effort so great was needed, an effort so terrible was needed that I had to smile more by myself and invent a little more, heating up my secret, and I took a few more steps, but how does one do it? I asked myself, how does one do this thing of placing one foot after the other, balancing the head over the shoulders, keeping the back’s spine erect, I was unlearning it all, it was hardly anything, I was merely sustained by that invisible string connected to my head, now so close that if I wanted to I could imagine something like an electronic buzz leaving his head until it arrived at mine, but how does one do it? I was forever relearning and inventing, forever in his direction, to arrive in one piece, the pieces of me all mixed up that he’d adjust in no hurry, like one who plays with a puzzle to form what castle, what forest, what vermin or god, I did not know, but I kept going through the rain because this was my only direction, my only destiny: to knock on that dark door where I knocked on now. I knocked, and knocked once more, and knocked again, and continued knocking without caring that the people on the street would stop to look, I wanted to call him, but I had forgotten his name, that is if I ever knew it, that is if he ever had one, perhaps I had a fever, everything became very confusing, mixed up ideas, shivers, rainwater and mud and cognac beating and it never stopped raining, but I no longer kept going through the rain, through the middle of the city, I was just stopped at that door for what had been a long time, after the point, so dark now that I wouldn’t ever be able to find my way back, nor to try something else, another action, another gesture other than to continue knocking, knocking, knocking, knocking, knocking, knocking, knocking, knocking, knocking, knocking, knocking, knocking, knocking, on the same door that never opens.

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Caio Fernando Abreu (1948-1996) was a Brazilian writer, playwright, and journalist. His writing deals with sex, death, and solitude, and is economical and personal in style. He was openly gay during the dictatorship and much of his work addresses homosexual life. In 1968 he was persecuted by the Department for Political and Social Order of the military regime and lived voluntarily in exile in Europe until 1974. He died in Porto Alegre, Brazil, of AIDS. 

Elisa Wouk Almino is a freelance writer and translator from Portuguese. She is a graduate student in NYU’s Cultural Reporting and Criticism program and book reviews editor for Words Without Borders. 

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Image from the 1929 silent film Regenby Joris Ivens.

  • José Neto

    Obrigado pela tradução Elisa! Queria muito mostrar Caio F. Abreu para uma amiga, e pesquisei no Google se havia algum livro dele traduzido para o inglês, e acabei por encontrar o seu texto! Qual o texto original? De qual livro?