Midday Lunches or Petit Déjeuner du Midi
ESTEBAN before the End
SENORITA CLARA on the Threshold
THE GUARDIAN in the Beginning
In an infinite space.
Big, narrow fish tanks surround the actors. A salmon in each of them.
ESTEBAN: I've already starred in my own work. No space left, except for my moving lips and the down that sprouts on them.
I need a camera. A gigantic screen on which to see them. I'd like to turn on the television and not find the same characters every day, every year, the ones who seem to be eternal, not eternally young, but yes, eternal. There they were when I played with colored blocks. There they were laughing, applauding, when they banged on the door and carried off my grandmother. There they were when the president no longer wore a uniform and there they are today, while the world plays on grass courts.
I already know it. I'll go first and you will follow me there, aging with the television lines, smiling so much, electronic buffoons. What a pity royalty hasn't met you.
But I'm human, and while I maintain my condemned condition I'll construct my revenge.
Don't worry, I won't show up at your houses, I'll leave your children alone, I'll just feed off your souls . . .
I want to turn on a television and see my lips.
THE GUARDIAN: Esteban, turn down the delirium, the patients are sleeping.
ESTEBAN: How many days are left . . . to see the gallows and feel the weight of the chains . . . ?
THE GUARDIAN: Write in silence, the mayor promised to publish it, later . . . he's even thought of a title . . . "Diary of a Condemned Man."
ESTEBAN: I love the mayor, I love his management, I love his imagination. I should have gone into the guards. I was young when the dictatorship happened and at that time you couldn't be a detective or a carabinero, even less a guard, at the most a rock star, but I don't sing . . . The period in which one can choose is too brief, I want to be a guard or be part of a piece of theatre, one of those in which the roles change as it goes along and you end up in here with me guarding you.
THE GUARDIAN: Yesterday I was a priest and slapped your cheek for your confirmation; today I'm a guard. You know what, calm yourself for a little while.
ESTEBAN: We're in this fiction in which nobody knows what role to play, fulfill, desire, schizophrenia.
THE GUARDIAN: Look, we know perfectly well who we are, it's just too complicated to say it.
ESTEBAN: Why doesn't everyone talk like this all the time, instead of repeating themselves so much? You've got to squeeze the lemon . . . This way we won't get anywhere . . . We have to do something . . . Yes, we can't just wait around any longer. They don't know what to invent anymore . . . There's no governability . . . We're going from bad to worse, what do you say? . . . They're all a bunch of scoundrels . . . They have their interests, yes, sir . . . You see them coming . . . You know what they're into . . . We're all guilty in one form or another . . .
THE GUARDIAN: I brought you an electric toy, the time will pass faster.
ESTEBAN: Or more slowly, you know how it is with time.
THE GUARDIAN: Give me an opportunity and I'll take advantage of it . . .
ESTEBAN: He's not going to publish me; the mayor likes poetry and the novel's called Gabriela Mistral, Lesbian of Montegrande.
THE GUARDIAN: Change the name and the people and they'll publish it . . .
ESTEBAN: Never, because despite my swollen fingers, despite my lungs full of worms, despite this story so reiterated, despite seeming like I'm from another century or from one that no longer is, I am loyal to something even though I've been a traitor to so many things. What's left is a clean corner, clear, as the burnished parquet in the middle of an oily bodega, and this is my loyalty to my novel. Gabriela Mistral Denigrated in Montegrande.
THE GUARDIAN: You'll see three glitters across the bars tonight, that's the first sign . . . Then you'll feel a siren . . .
ESTEBAN: It was today, there was a reason you looked at me like an angel, I've said good-bye so often . . . I thought that one day they'd arrive with the mayor smiling and pretending to take me to an interrogation, with the psychologist, something simple. So I'd warn them about the fourth premonition, giving them another secret for another day of breath, as if I'm the guardian of the secrets of Fátima. They say the Pope turned as white as his robes when he heard them . . .
And no, nothing is ever the way you think, there's no way to prepare . . . I also saw you arrive with a cup of coffee, a cigarette, you smiling and both of us knowing that sleep would come after one sip, so we avoided saying good-bye . . . But no, it's going to be like in the movies, they'll march me down the corridors listening to the noise of the bowls on the bars. . . I'll hear the good-bye shouts, the brave ones. . . And the chaplain. . . murmuring in my ear, reminding me that I'm going to meet my maker all alone. Why hold on? Between eternal heaven and cement walls there's no place to lose yourself.
Let me be all of the condemned.
The Death of Socrates
THE GUARDIAN: You want to die for logic and atoms . . . take the hemlock.
ESTEBAN: I, Socrates, accept without rancor this sentence that you, free men, have applied. My Athens, white with wisdom, can no longer contain within its breast the lucidity of one of its citizens. I can hint at and palpate your envy, but how not to know it, if the moment I raised my voice in the agora of Ios I felt, in your frightened looks, the first sips of this poison.
Athens, your columns will continue to support the palaces of power, justice and science, but your marble will end up in splinters.
You're not giving me anything more than a ticket to other realms; my body's atoms will look for the material that will accept them. Remember that we are nothing more than reflections of our minds.
I am only Socrates because you have seen me.
I will be a name later on because you will speak of me.
The idea is what makes us, the gods send us their ideas and we construct them.
How sad they must be to have such poor masons.
Let her touch my mantle, so she stops her lament.
WOMAN: I want to go with you since it will be centuries before you exist.
ESTEBAN: Show us your tears since they are testament to our alliance between man and woman, so no one else sees them, not my daughters, or these scared adolescents.
EPHEBE: Who is more afraid, that one on the edge of darkness or me on the edge of light? That one with wrinkled skin or me with crystalline skin? You have cloaks to cover you; we have skirts that let you see our strong legs. Come on, Socrates, who gives more . . . Ask him, there he is, Falvio the Italian who you bathed so many times, who you seduced in a logic class. Who enjoyed it more? You or him? They say that he accepted the first time out of curiosity, the second out of boredom, and the third only for coins . . .
WOMAN: Be quiet, respect death, respect the silence . . . that will begin to invade us . . . Let me see myself reflected in these moving pupils for the last time. Let me feel his tepid hand, these soft hairs where I rested my flesh on cold nights, let me feel his breath . . .
Socrates takes the hemlock.
SEÑORITA CLARA, carrying a rag and a bucket, picks up the jar of hemlock.
SRA CLARA: Forgive the intrusion, but the coffee spilled, I came to clean, but today it seems to me that sweeping is erasing. Understand me? . . . like this is his mess and tomorrow you'll no longer be here, but the same bits of dust will . . . There are times one's labor is uncomfortable, as I've been telling you. Move over there, I'm going to mop . . . I'm not going to be the one telling you where to move. I realize it's a delicate moment and you want to go wherever you want . . . Now someone arrives and butts in . . . I was going to bring you a present for the time we spend together. But look how silly I am; what use would it be if you can't take it away.
THE GUARDIAN: It's all right, Clarita, no one's going to withhold your pay if you don't clean.
SRA CLARA: Excuse me, what I'm referring to has nothing to do with money . . . As good-looking a man as you are, as if you had to suffer a disgrace to end up attractive, you'll have noticed that those who were ugly, when they left for the pavilion, looked so beautiful. My doing, I became fond of them . . . Here we are with the little madness.
THE GUARDIAN: I don't know, I can't begin to explain it, but he read my lips. It's been nine years . . .
SRA CLARA: No need to leave him alone, I'll take care of him for a little while. Go on, go clear your head.
ESTEBAN: Clara, clean up this stain.
SRA CLARA: I was going to do it, Don Esteban, but I didn't want to bother you during your moments of privacy . . .
ESTEBAN: I feel like instructing you . . . Transferring everything they made me learn to you, so it will serve someone . . . I was always a socialist, I feel like sharing, egalitarian impulses. Wouldn't you have liked to ride an elephant through the jungles of Ceylon?
SRA CLARA: No, Don Esteban, I'd die of fright before mounting one. Besides, we all have a purpose, imagine that I didn't exist, who would you be speaking to right now? . . . It's all the same if we share everything but on the other hand, either you're going to say that they never deceived you, or they never made you false promises, and that you didn't prepare for them to be fulfilled and were then disappointed . . . You should have been deceived as well, and the laughter, don't we all smile the same way when someone plays a prank on us? Or some little thing makes us feel good? And the worries, don't we all have worries? Me with my drug addicted son and the other one, the girl. Or they cut off the phone, because I have a phone too. Don't we all know the same news? Why should we talk about illusions? I'll take advantage of this time to tell you one, since you'll take the secret to the tomb . . . I'm sorry, Don Esteban, I didn't mean to be . . . You know, it's just an expression they use.
ESTEBAN: True, I could hear the most devilish, the most delicious, the most criminal secrets . . . I'm the only one who can make them secure. Secrets last until the moment they aren't worth anything any more.
SRA CLARA: Or until everyone knows them.
ESTEBAN: I guarantee that I will no longer exist, although I could ask for a pencil and betray you, tell me . . .
SRA CLARA: Why waste these minutes listening to foolishness, with your permission. (Sits at his side.) Imagine we're sitting on the beach and the boats are passing in the distance . . .
ESTEBAN: The water's icy.
ESTEBAN: I realized today, looking at you, that this corridor is a wagon transporting me to another station. I realized today that nothing has been strange, that I can talk to you without my voice trembling and I can feel my body soaked with cold without my jaw chattering . . . Today, this precise instant when my feet feel the cold cement, when humidity nests in the corners, now I'm isolated. When I no longer have to achieve anything, I realize that all these years, ever since the howl in the clinic, since the first host between my lips, since I knew excited sweat, that it's all been nothing more than preparation for assuming this instant. That what I live today, is no more than a summary of a long preparation. Now I understand the aches so large that I had to palpate. For this I had to enjoy pleasures so fine, so that today Esteban Saint Jean can wait calmly. And look at his past as the sum of steps that have brought him to a place, not the place that his illusions believed in, but the place that life had reserved for him.
SRA CLARA: You're not going to tell me that you're born only so that thirty years later what's happening to you today is what's going to happen . . . Since, it doesn't seem to me, I can't agree that you always take the wrong road. And me, perhaps I came into the world in order to be here today at this moment animating you before . . . Oh, my god, if it's true, I'm frightened. That's what I've come for, to console you . . . You know, it's better to think about the stars, then you'll be one of them.
THE GUARDIAN: The mayor wants to know if he can come see you personally. I'll stay with you. It may seem stupid, but I envy you in a way . . . Susana wants it all to end so that you won't keep talking to her . . . She's surprised because I haven't turned on the TV . . . . She's puzzled because I don't make love to her. It's difficult to start caressing her when you see what's happening here . . . I can't get excited, it doesn't come naturally. She says she understands, that you can't buy a puppy until the old dog dies . . .
Aren't you going to write?
ESTEBAN: It's written already, I just have to make some corrections and finish it. One shouldn't be frightened of deadlines, we always have to get used to time limits . . . Pay the rent at the end of the month . . . Take exams at the end of the semester. Vacation is over February 28. Parties end when dawn breaks, children leave because they grow up . . .
THE GUARDIAN: There's no one outside, nobody knows, just the commandant, the mayor, me, and, well, you.
ESTEBAN: I felt the noise of the helicopter when it landed, I felt the silence when they entered, and I feel the fear that we have now that it's left. We shouldn't be conversing, you've seen it in many films, at the most you should go beat up the sleeping guards, and take me out in a rowboat through the fort's subterranean tunnels. We'd get away amidst the whisper of bullets and at dawn, on the other bank, hiding in rushes while we listen to the shouts of those who are looking for us, we would separate . . . That's the only way we could continue to talk.
THE GUARDIAN: Sure, if I suddenly went off my rocker. If there's suddenly another coup in Santiago and another helicopter arrives with other orders and neither me nor the mayor, nor the commandant is here anymore . . .
Why can't it be beautiful to go to heaven? Why can't I be reincarnated as a little seal like those on Coquimba Point, tranquil, stretched out on a rock. And if it's all nothing more than this . . . We'll keep talking and make everything stop . . .
Listen, are you going to visit me in my dreams?
ESTEBAN: We can only see things from the end one time.
THE GUARDIAN: What do you mean? Once, when there were reels and the movie ended and began again. You know yourself, if it wasn't for the credits it made no difference if you watched from the middle or from the beginning. It's possible the end's already happened, and we just haven't realized it.
ESTEBAN: It's true that we arrived in the middle of a film and nobody promised us that we were going to stay until the end . . . this top called earth has millions of revolutions left. One appears like an extra in a second, the film goes on, they've already filmed you, there's no reason to go on, your contract's over. I meant you can only see things once as you close your account.
THE GUARDIAN: I don't make up boring speeches like you. I mean, I've got another way of thinking about such things. For example, I should be crying right now, it would be logical for the two of us to be holding hands, consoling each other, as we should. But here I am, as if I was standing in the middle of a bus terminal, waiting for an arrival or a departure, lost. I've even forgotten to cut my nails.
ESTEBAN: This is what it means to see things from the end. Your nails won't grow long any more; you won't have to shower tomorrow.
THE GUARDIAN: Pardon me, this is getting tiresome . . . Better if you read me what you've written, later, when I page through it again, I'll hear your voice.
ESTEBAN: Let's see, which part . . . Navigation . . .
On the Boat
SRA CLARA appears smoking, playing the role of the poetess Gabriela Mistral. ESTEBAN is the ship's officer, he approaches, lights her another cigarette.
OFFICER: The lights of Callao, and what's shining like snow-covered peaks are the crags of the guano islands . . . You smoke a lot.
GABRIELA: From New York to here is an eternity, from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn, from North to South we went through all the seasons and it made me nervous.
OFFICER: The Via Lactea has begun to shine on us and that's the Southern Cross. . . I really had no intention of enumerating what you're seeing, but ever since we set sail I've been watching you . . . I'm being indiscrete. An officer of the Reina del Mar shouldn't bother passengers.
GABRIELA: I've been watching you as well. You're Chilean, from Santiago, a merchant marine. Your accent, while it gives me pleasure to remember it, repulses me from my disturbed depths.
OFFICER: You should write it down. Not you, me . . . Nobody's going to believe me when I tell them these words that you're saying to me . . . The whole steamship knows who you are . . . This has to be one of my most brilliant nights, brilliant isn't the right word . . .
GABRIELA: A dream-like night. Fantasy is one of our most beautiful feelings.
OFFICER: Full of dreams and pride, let me reiterate. I'm so proud that, if it were up to me, I'd never let the lights of Callao get any closer.
GABRIELA: It's humid and hot, the odor of the Pacific penetrates you, on Long Island the ocean's already lost its odor, it's nothing more than a plain of water. Here it's still untamed . . .
OFFICER: I write too: "My God, how can you see the little children's feet blue from the cold and not cover them?" Well, for the most part . . . "Our Father why have you forgotten me? You remembered about fruit in February" . . . You'll feel them digging at your side and that the other's strange. . .
GABRIELA: You're mistaken . . . I'm an old woman, one the doctors haven't given much time in this world. I'm returning to these ports because I promised God I would, to vanquish rancor and pride. Please, no signs of admiration nor even less of adulation, since, even if I accept them from a stranger, I've never consented to hearing them resonate on the lips of a . . .
OFFICER: Chilean, I know. Look, it's just us; tomorrow you'll no longer be you. I've heard on the radio that there are rowboats, barges; schooners rocking in wait in Arica bay, waiting for you, the coast is full. They're painting the Alameda in Santiago. No one's asleep in the entire country waiting for you. And I've got an opportunity. There's a tear slipping down your left cheek, it's going to reach the corner of your mouth, here comes another . . . Please, don't cry.
I promise that no one will know you're here, the ship will change course and in three more days we'll watch the dawn break in the Orient.
THE GUARDIAN: Dawn in the Orient, what will that be like? A pretty love story, the only problem is that she's an old lady who can't anymore and the officer could be her son. How would it end?
OFFICER: They call it open-ended . . . whatever you imagine.
THE GUARDIAN: I think that if the ship changes course the Captain will catch you, and, when you disembark . . . she'll be received with honors and they'll take you off in chains . . . If the mayor gives the word, just as soon as this has all been resolved, they're going to publish it just the same . . .
ESTEBAN: All that I lacked was a sentence, a trial. Where they would have recorded my defense . . . Writings for schoolchildren to study later on, where my allegations would be transformed into symbols of a dignified humanity . . . A trial with a packed house, cursing and cheering. A trial with a wooden railing where I'd rest one hand while waving the other in the air . . . The deaf gavel banging against the bench . . . While I raise my voice above those who accuse me. A trial like Joan of Arc's, Giordano Bruno's, Eichmann's, Sacco and Vanzetti's, Louis XVI's, or a serial killer's.
But this, kidnapped in the middle of the day, without anyone knowing about my last cry, without knowing the eyes of those who accuse me, where it's all the same whether I die a coward or brave. How can it be that they haven't listened to me for even five minutes? It doesn't matter since they've already fixed the moment for my execution. At least let there be witnesses who can paint the picture of me standing before the firing squad. But I don't know my sentence either, will I be beheaded, poisoned, drugged, and then buried alive? Or disintegrated in some chemically powerful powder?
No one will paint my picture. My death has already happened, from the moment I heard the noise of the helicopter. It'll happen without a photo, without a shout of "Long Live Shitty Chile," or "Army Assassins." This can't happen to me . . . If that's the way it is then I've lost . . . but that's not right, since I feel I've won.
THE GUARDIAN: But they've given you a trial, you just don't remember, I've got it here, recorded, and when you've got the opportunity . . .
ESTEBAN: Yes, that's the way it was, pardon me. I got confused. I got confused about the year, the place, the country, the history . . . Because I want to deceive myself.
The Other Day
SRA CLARA: Good morning, Mario, did you sleep well? And is Susana feeling better?
THE GUARDIAN: Sra Clara, it's not dawn yet, and you cleaned just a few minutes ago . . .
SRA CLARA: Shhh . . . I couldn't sleep and knew that they were going to wake me and he wouldn't be here . . . Besides, we have to make him believe that he slept well and it's already another day . . . Good morning, Don Esteban . . . but look at the mess you've made for me here.
ESTEBAN: When I went in the car, I hoped that it was going to crash and everything would end right there. Then in the airplane I wished we'd crash, so that everything would be the product of an accident, not a mistake or something premeditated . . . But accidents have to be accidental and not when you need them.
THE GUARDIAN: And what about the other passengers? Look at how egotistical you are, perhaps it suits you to end it all there, but the others . . .
ESTEBAN: You're looking at me with rage now; the tender guilty feeling has disappeared . . .
THE GUARDIAN: Nothing guilty about it, thinking that's all. When have you seen me tender? Now that we're on this there's something I can't believe. Tell me, did you really eat them all, or just the ones you tore to pieces? They say you made ankle casseroles.
I've also had to do terrible things while in the service. We shoved them into metal urns, narrow ones, but not lying down, standing up. We heaped them together.
I can't tell you; it was like a murder of crows, with the shouts and the putrid smell. Since they were already maimed we weren't going to take them out, we weren't going to clean them up. So we gave them a potato puree filled with rat poison, waited for them to finish rolling about and then threw them in the square of the silent.
It was an act of duty, but it would never have occurred to us to eat them.
I'm really asking, only out of curiosity, tell us what it tasted like? Like marinated rabbit, or grilled turtle . . . ?
ESTEBAN: We always made soup out of the heads; the sauce goes with the head, a boiler so they loosen up, five minutes in boiling water, sufficient . . . You eat the brains with a spoon; it tastes like something between testicles and sheep's brain.
THE GUARDIAN: But were they all faggots, those you ate, I mean to say, the ones you cooked. Or were there normal people as well? Because if they were strange, well, their fate nothing more, as my sergeant said before we faced the condemned. These bastards could have saved themselves. We gave them the opportunity, but no, they preferred to go for evil . . . and that's on them, you couldn't do anything . . .
But this mania, let's say, it was like an addiction, after the stock was finished . . . There was nothing left to dispense, you understand . . . you filled it again.
ESTEBAN: I never looked for them, they always arrived, they were born to find themselves with me. I didn't take them by force. Sometimes I'd go out to buy the newspaper for breakfast in the morning and there, at the kiosk, a smile and we'd be having coffee, conversing, caressing. I'd give them a sleeping pill and they'd fall asleep in my arms.
THE GUARDIAN: So, poh, whoever. No, I imagined that you corralled them with an electric fence and cut them up alive, and they ran around missing a hand while you, zuaz, attacked again and cut off a leg and that's the way it continued, you understand me. But if they're asleep, they never realize. Then it's the same with the pieces, belly with rice, spiced kidney with purée, grilled rib, chest tapa, a good thigh . . . Looking at it that way, it's really nothing much.
ESTEBAN: It all goes back to a problem in my childhood, they raised me that way, my father would leave and not be back for months. I'd press myself to the window waiting for him, every time he left I'd cry for him to take me with him, I'd run after his car for kilometers, following the tracks in the tar, feeling the way his smell dissipated, believing I'd catch up to him at the next traffic light . . . I'd return home feeling abandoned, without a hand to hit me on the head, without an arm to embrace me. It was simple, if everything is so easy . . . Once they entered my house, I couldn't let them leave, because that would revive this torture from my childhood, and the only way to get them to stay forever was to put them to sleep. I didn't eat them, like they say, I joined them with my body, so they'd never leave, so I'd never have to press myself against the window again.
SRA CLARA: Even I might have done the same if they'd left me like that, from one day to the next. He put some bills on the table and left, I begged him to stay, that if he wanted to continue his adventure I gave him permission, one understands how men are. I begged him on my knees not to leave me in an empty house. It never occurred to me, I should have eaten him.
THE GUARDIAN: Señora Clara, don't you see it's the novel he's writing.
SRA CLARA: Yes, but it felt so real, how can you even think, do you believe I'd be here waiting if it were true . . .
ESTEBAN: I'll change the title, Midday Lunches, or perhaps Passionate Meals would be better . . . The bell rang, they're coming.
SRA CLARA: Who would come at this hour, keep calm, I'm going to brush you. Me, when I get nervous, I like to be brushed . . . (While she brushes him, she puts some hairs in her apron.)
THE GUARDIAN: Sometimes one asks oneself why you do what you do? Like in this case, let's say, I could have you blindfolded, even gag you so you don't bother us with any questions. Susana tells me it's because of what happened to my brother. He was younger, we played ball every afternoon, I'd shoot it far away. I didn't want to go look for it, so I told him to do it. I threatened to hit him, and he had to go, and that's when the truck plastered him. I wanted to kill the driver, but he, lying there all bloody, called me over and said to me . . . "It's your fault, you asshole" and he went.
SRA CLARA: Ay, we're like little birds, flitting from one place to another and then, uff, off to the next world. Listen, you've got a lot of dandruff . . . take some soapbark with lemon . . . Excuse me, Don Esteban, I didn't mean to . . .
ESTEBAN: When you brush me it seems like you're counting my hairs and every brushstroke is a memory that surges, but now that the comb's tangled, the memories have stopped. I dream of what might have been, of everything I didn't become.
SRA CLARA: The same thing happens to everyone, at some point we all want to be something else. Not a movie star, nor a radio announcer, even less a soap opera actor, not to mention a famous singer . . . I'd like to have been something like Evita, but more of the people you understand. Like this woman who fights for her people, for the indigenous. Or like the other little old lady, with her white handkerchief on her head, who began to walk around the plaza asking them to give up her children . . . Every Thursday at the same time for twenty years. Like that, a figure like them. But as time goes by you become insensible . . . Foolishness, keep writing, so that you finish your novel, we're listening.
In the Garden
ESTEBAN: No, Clarita, I won't write anymore . . . The story that's left is the beginning . . . It's her and a garden . . .
SHE in the garden.
SHE: You've got your grandfather's eyes, my nose, and these hands are so small . . . I want to be able to hug you . . . I was tender and spoiled, but well, one day they'll tell you . . . you'll see light and it will be silent and this garden that I planted . . . you'll play with the worms and you'll eat the dirt between the plants . . . that's where you'll find me . . . they'll call to you from every side and you'll want to go to them all. Please, step across the threshold with the signal in the doorway. I haven't said your name but I still don't know what it should be, I don't dare anticipate. It would be a costly mistake and I don't want to pay any more. I'll name everything for you so that when you arrive you'll see . . . if they tell you other sentences, other verbs that my voice has not enunciated, don't learn them and that way they won't exist . . . A last commission, that I hope won't make you mad; choose a planet where I can look at you . . .
SRA CLARA: I feel like . . . and what's next . . .
ESTEBAN: I don't know, it's the beginning.
THE GUARDIAN: When I get home, I'm going to write it . . .
The Final Song
ESTEBAN: Sing me a lullaby, I'll fall asleep and you'll keep singing. With the song in the background, put the pistol to my skull . . . Don't stop, keep singing, something sweet. But don't make me dig my own grave like the others and then oblige me to align myself with its borders. I don't want to feel like I've dug enough, that my body will fit in the earth now. Time will prolong itself, converting every second into twenty-four hours of terror, two seconds into . . . Keep me from this.
They sing—He tries to sleep.
DONA CLARA: Let's see, what should it be, the one about the little chickens?
THE GUARDIAN: Why not a bolero? A love song, it's more appropriate.
DONA CLARA: Which one would you like them to sing you, let's see . . .
THE GUARDIAN: Let's just start; we'll see what comes . . . slowly, yes, so the mayor doesn't hear us.
ESTEBAN: No, it's too false. Besides, you don't have a weapon to do away with me, I'll be left asleep so as to be awoken by the suave voice of someone who will take me not to the gallows, since English traditions aren't known here, nor to the guillotine, since the skill needed to construct that machine, its pillars of oak, the metallic laminate, is very refined. Why talk about the electric chair, or the gas chamber? They're too visible. Besides they'd have to be approved by the public health system. Everything is so illegal that it generates its own law, creating the finest of legalities.
It won't be a lethal injection either, lying on the cot, wrapped in a green petroleum apron. It will be like it's always done around here, by betrayal. Perhaps the priest himself, when I incline my head, he'll stick the dagger in. Or it will be the mayor who tells me, go ahead, and stuns me with a hammer blow. If not that, his favorite game . . . He'll leave me tied up at the bottom of a tank of Texaco petroleum, with cement up to my neck and there they'll wait until it sets. Until the concrete closes up my pores and impedes the movement of my thorax. And if all these agonies seem horrific, terrifying our imagination with the suffering of these great torments, it's not like that. It's more the fear that causes your existence than the reality of your personal experience.
My body will defend me; it will pump up my adrenalin so that I'll be ecstatic. I'll feel like I'm submerged in the lukewarm water of a thermal bath. I'll already be in the next world; my mind will have gone before my body dies. Then, although I'll be lying there, amputated, my eyes cut away, I won't be there. Clara, go to sleep and wait for the dawn and everything that they'll say to you, everything they'll tell you about the suffering . . . It's only what we feel when we don't suffer it. It's a trick, a taboo so that we behave. A taboo so big that we only see it before the end.
THE GUARDIAN: The mayor's coming down, it must be a transfer order.
SRA CLARA: And the salmon, Don Esteban, what should we do with the salmon?
Santiago, August 1998
translated from the Spanish by Adam Versényi
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