Every morning Brian is in the habit of washing his arsehole with balsam, the way Eugenio used to like it. The upstairs bathroom is also shared, but it’s kept clean enough, because of the big window and because he’s included in a rota that the girls on that floor had inherited from other girls. He lathers his legs, the hair’s growing back, and he asks himself how something so obvious—that if you love someone you never stop loving them, dead or alive—is mentioned neither by the people giving advice nor by those taking it. When you’ve loved someone, you’ll always love them. That’s all there is to it. He closes his eyes to rinse himself off. You can survive with that, with or without your loved ones. You don’t replace them, you add to them. He dries himself, some parts better shaven than others, and the towel keeps Eugenio at the forefront of his mind: once, Eugenio, wrapped in a towel, said he made people see what they didn’t know they didn’t want to see. Brian then demanded an explanation and Eugenio spoke at length while he got dressed about how he’d manage to provoke people who swore they were as liberal as can be.
Brian could spend a long time sitting with his eyes fixed on the back of Eugenio’s knees, while he stood cooking. They were always the beginning of something and Eugenio let him look—with one foot he could stroke his calf as though itching it, or straighten out his shorts with one hand without taking the other off the frying pan or plate or whatever it was. He would whistle or sing slowly, and Brian heard the tune as though it was coming directly from those knees, bending every now and again, hinting at the thighs beyond, which he wouldn’t see until later. But Brian would always touch them through Eugenio’s shorts without even getting up from the sofa they had in the kitchen. With just his nails or his fingertips, he’d trace the edges of his boxer shorts until he was told to stop. But that didn’t always happen, and sometimes the tap would be left running or the water would evaporate on the hob. When they’d finished fucking, Brian would become quite the chatterbox, and Eugenio would half listen from the kitchen, in his dressing gown. They never got dressed afterwards, even though it might be noon. And so Brian would recount from the bed how when he was younger he wrote down all his first kisses in a diary, believing he would be able to record them for the rest of his life, which Eugenio thought was cute, or how, no matter whether they were men or women, he had always liked the bad ones. Brian remembered the ones who would wait up the whole night without asking where you’d been, who would bring you chocolates, marzipan, remember everything you told them and ask how such-and-such a thing had gone last week, last month. If you weren’t a morning person they’d slide into your bed to wake you up, or, if they were sleeping with you, would wait until you woke up before leaving. There was one, he was so good to him, so optimistic, smiling all the time, but Brian wasn’t in love with him. It took him a long time to figure out whether he was only with him because he was a good guy—if he hadn’t looked after me so well I would have left him like a shot, he confessed to Eugenio, and Eugenio agreed—or, worse, whether he didn’t fall in love with him precisely because he was such a good guy. The reason he wanted him—I wouldn’t have let myself be the first to invite him for an ice cream or to dance, I don’t even remember how I met him, but I hadn’t liked him beforehand, that’s for sure—the reason he wanted him was perhaps the same reason he didn’t love him, the reason it started was the same reason it ended. I was suffocated, d’you get me, by wanting to love him, but it wasn’t his fault, not even when I was a little brat and secretly went out with the neighbour, remember Elder?
“Yes! A waste of space that guy, but I don’t understand why you still go for the bad ones now,” Eugenio asked him once, less distracted than usual.
“I dunno, because I’m one of the good ones, I guess, right?”
“All you are is loco—and mind, because they beat locos round here.”
Eugenio’s response to other questions varied between treating him like a submissive, pretending to lash him with a whip, and saying “locos aren’t in season or I’d be eating you with lemon like choros or any other kind of seafood,” when he wouldn’t lay off his ridiculous attempt to distinguish between good and bad people, as if life was a soap opera.
Eugenio would also tell him what was on his mind, though he wouldn’t wait until after they’d fucked to do so, at any moment he might come out and say that he had a choice between living with someone who teased him and someone who satisfied him. When Brian asked whether he teased or satisfied him, Eugenio didn’t answer, but snuggled up to him until he forgot what they had been talking about, just like when he brought up being short of money, or whether he’d been out whoring when Brian was at work, or when Eugenio used to disappear for a couple of days and come back without any explanation, sometimes with bruises hidden underneath his make up. But he couldn’t hide them from Brian’s eyes, his eyes that seemed made for those knees. They tessellated.
Translated from the Spanish by Ellen Jones
Enrique Winter (Santiago, Chile, 1982) is author of Atar las naves (winner of Víctor Jara Arts Festival), Rascacielos (available in English as Skyscrapers), Guía de despacho (winner of the National Young Poet Competition), Lengua de señas (Pablo de Rokha Poetry Prize; available in English as Sign Tongue: Goodmorning Menagerie Chapbook-in-Translation Prize) and co-author of the LP Agua en polvo, collected in several anthologies and languages. He is also author of the novel Las bolsas de basura and translator of books by Charles Bernstein and Philip Larkin. Winter holds an MFA in Creative Writing at NYU and directs the Creative Writing diploma at PUCV. He used to be an editor and an attorney.
Ellen Jones has a B.A. in English literature and Spanish, and an M.St. in English Language from the University of Oxford. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate and teaching associate at Queen Mary University of London, researching English-Spanish bilingualism in contemporary fiction. She translates from Spanish into English, and edits the criticism section of Asymptote.
Photo of Enrique Winter by Timo Berger.
Read more from Chile:
- Enrique Winter’s poem, “Sculpture”
- Raul Zurita’s poetry from The Country of Ice
- Alejandro Zambra’s short story, “The Cyclops