ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 06



Through the fog


Author | Autor: Christiane Tassis


Translated by Ana Fletcher

Cloudy water. A body floating in the current. It’s far away; you can hardly tell

it’s a body. It emerges, sinks under, nailed to the wall. Then it disappears

completely. I focus on the rocks along the banks of the river. The moss

forms maps of white and green countries on the hard skin of the rock.

Aerial view. The mountains, from above, look like decaying teeth. Open cast mines.

Close up, I see steps carved into the abyss. Giant trucks and diggers extracting

black loads, composing a landscape from science fiction. There’s a certain beauty

to it. Mining speeds up time, the photographs preserve it, in sequences of before

and after. Piles of waste, a damn made of spoil, the fragments of mica shining in

the red earth. This series is called ‘Radiating tumours’.

In the next ones along, human textures: the watery eye of a child, scars, a beggar’s

hand, a rubber tapper’s finger.

I was standing in front of these when the photographer appeared behind me.

Making me jump. “What a coincidence”, he said. “You’re just the person I’ve been

meaning to talk to.”

I couldn’t get out of meeting up the next day.

When I arrived at the restaurant, Henrique was already there waiting for me. I

smiled, offering my hands and the left side of my face, while past joys climbed up

my crow’s feet, returning to my eyes.

“So you chose to relive the old days”, I said, referring to the place.

Henrique lowered his head, showing an expanse of grey roots.

“Only if you help me count these white hairs.”

I try to look relaxed.

“I only remember your black side.”

I’m surprised to see a glass of orange juice in front of him.

“Why don’t we have some wine?”

Henrique fractionally loses his composure.

“I can’t.”

Quietly but firmly, his voice sure:

“I’m sorry to bring you here. But I need to tell you something. I’ve got a tumour.”

I stroked the back of my neck. It was fine, the skin at the back of my neck,

fine like it had always been. One of the few parts of my body that hadn’t changed.

“Close to the hippocampus. The memory region”, he said.

I had a tumour once too, when I was a child. Nestled in my right shoulder. I

asked the doctor what a tumour was and he explained that it was a little lump the

size of a kidney bean. But it was benign.

No one can imagine the joy I felt when I heard I had a benign tumour. I believed

that, if it was benign, it could only be there for my own good. A lump, a little

button that I could press whenever I was in trouble. And every time something

went right, a good grade at school, a win at swimming or in a capture-the-flag

tournament, I knew: it was the benign tumour glowing.

One day, the tumour just disappeared. “It’s been absorbed”, they said. I cried. I

demanded an explanation. I wanted my tumour back. I’d grown used to it, it made

me feel special.

“I don’t know how it will be”, says Henrique, bringing me back to his tumour.

“I don’t know how I will be.”

I looked at him, not knowing what to say. He wasn’t the same man. It was

strange. I didn’t know who he was anymore, or why I had liked him so much.

“It might be that I lose my memory. In the best of cases”, he says.

Mercifully the waiter turns up. Vieira hasn’t changed. The same smile and the

same menu. I lower my eyes, looking at the starters, the mains, the drinks, the desserts.

I could stay like this for hours.

I order.

“Get me out of here.”

Nobody hears me. My inner voice is weak. Henrique decides what we’re going

to eat and the waiter retires. I remember when Vieira would turn up towards the

end of the evening with his sweets. “There’s enough bitterness in beer and in life”,

he used to say, putting up the chairs and an end to our evenings, while we begged

for one last drink. For a second I see him make the same movement, slowly pushing

the dessert trolley around the dining room. But the dining room isn’t empty

and he isn’t pushing his dessert trolley. Could Vieira think we’re still the same couple,

that we’ve been together all these years, that we’ll refuse to leave?

When I last looked at the clock it was eight thirty. It feels like it’s been eight

thirty for as long as we’ve been here. Has the clock stopped, or is time actually

not passing? Henrique finishes. Henrique doesn’t finish. Henrique says something

about the weather.

“It’s very dry today”, he said, and I agreed. I tried to find things to say that would

speed up the time while we waited for our food, but dead time ruled between us. I

fix my eyes on the clock on the wall and keep them there, in between pieces of dead

time that don’t even start to smell, because they’re purely mechanical.

When Vieira put the raw meat on the table in front of us, I wasn’t hungry any

more. Goodbye raw meat, I let Henrique continue to feed off you. While I listen to

the increasingly loud assault of the knife against the raw meat, I separate out my

capers, acidic and ancient, preserved in vinegar. I barely look at our food; the walls

of the restaurant are covered in mirrors, I prefer to place each little kernel in my

mouth and watch myself frowning at their acidity in the mirrors. In the reflecting

object to my left, I see myself gathering capers from Henrique’s plate and eating,

smiling. In the one to my right, I see Henrique pouring me a beer. Up ahead, we

toast. In the mirror down the end, we separate. I’m saying something or other,

but I’m keeping my eyes on the mirrors until they are all I can see, until I see that

mirrors also have the capacity to remember: were I to peel them back I would find

layers of these scenes, moving images where he and I lean in towards each other

and separate again, endlessly.

“But you look very well.”

I was going to say something else when the words escaped my control and

hit Henrique right in the face, like a lost sparrow. He smiled and cast his eyes to

the floor. I did the same with mine. And it was there, on the restaurant’s old floorboards,

that our eyes met and I could make out what it was we now were: just two

embarrassed people.

Over coffee he finally brought up what he’d come for.

“I’d like you to write my biography. A reference book, for when I begin to forget

myself. Will you do it?”

Of course not. I’d already forgotten this person. Now I was expected to remember

him again? To remember for him? That would mean cramming yet another

sad memory into my head, one that didn’t even belong to me. His pain had once

been mine – but it hasn’t been for a long time now. I’ve paid dearly for my memory,

years and years of trying to make it my most precious organ. That’s why I would

say “No.” And in a low, shy voice, from the bottom of the abyss, I said:

“Of course.”

Of course. Saying “yes” is also an incurable disease, my tongue’s favourite

word. I hadn’t changed. He seemed to be sure of that, so much so that he’d brought

along his order sheet in his pocket. He knew I wouldn’t be brave enough to refuse.

I agreed, on one condition: we weren’t to meet, during the writing process. If there

were any need for contact, it would be done through writing.

“These are the people I’d like you to talk to”, he told me, unfolding the note.

A list of women’s names and phone numbers. Simone, Camila, Mariana, Lulu, Estela.

“Ex-girlfriends?”

“Ex-stories.”

The note brings me strange discomfort. I need to find something to occupy

my hands, which by this point are at war with each other, fingers against fingers,

cracking. (The short, dry sound caused by the displacement of, or friction against,

a joint in the body.) I tried to appear rational, another animal, perhaps. I made origami

shapes out of the napkins. First a cat. Then a dog. A bird with folded wings.

An animal in danger of extinction, a lone wolf, a golden lion tamarin, a Bengal tiger,

a misshapen beast waiting for the bins to be put out.

I asked to look over his photographs. To talk to his friends and family – or what

was left of it. The basic steps in constructing a biography. He said no. His photographs

were the world’s worst set of memories – according to him, none of them

were worth remembering.

“So, who’d have thought it. All you want to remember is love,” I said, and he

looked at me sadly.


“I want to remember what I lost”, he answered. “Now, every night when I close

my eyes, I see images from some low-rent documentary: atom storms, the outlines

of invisible people, tunnels, unknown planets, strange doorways, white lights invading

a hospital room. All narrated by people ‘who’ve been there and come back’.

I see myself thrown into relief against climactic scenes, decisive episodes, joyful

expressions, days exaggerated by sadness, unbearably happy days. The images

come and go thousands of times, they don’t amount to anything but repeptition, a

cliché. But at least clichés survive forgetfulness.”

A flashback comes to the front of my mind while he talks. I see us together in

a horse-drawn carriage in some touristy city. A moment both embarrassing and

brave, like all romantic scenes seem to me to be.

“Tell me about a different memory, an unforgettable one”, I say, a part of me

hoping he’ll remember the same thing. But, as ever, Henrique misses what I’m trying

to say and only talks about himself.

“One day, on one of the rare occasions I was alone with my father, he took

me to see what he called the ‘Mutant Mountain’, a rocky mountain that reflected

the colours of the sunset, changing colour by the hour. Pink, yellow, blue, red. That

day I had won a Polaroid and I took a series of photographs of the multicoloured

mountain. I became fascinated with the picture of the red mountain. That was

when I decided to become a photographer.”

Henrique had told me this before, and now, as he told me again, he made the

same gestures, had the same intonation, the same smile. I was finally able to see

the old Henrique in the Henrique in front of me.

“For a long time I kept the photo of the red mountain. Like all Polaroids, it

faded over time. The humidity of the days led to stains, so it looked like worms

were eating the rock, until the image dissolved altogether. Only enormous blotches

remained to tell the story.”

I imagined he was about to compare himself to a dissolving Polaroid.

“Now I’m in the Polaroid, dissolving.”

(I was wrong by a preposition. I can never get this man quite right.)

The memory of the Polaroid brought to mind another image: a fax he had

once sent me during one of our fights.


“PATIENT NEEDS HELP. HEART PROBLEM.

ARTERY REQUIRES YOUR BLOOD TYPE

FOR TRANSFUSION. COME QUICK.”


To which I replied:


“DONOR WILL COME WHEN PATIENT UNDEGOES HEAD TRANSPLANT.”


I kept that fax for a long time, but the telegraphed words slowly faded. I could

have photocopied it – the only way of preventing its disappearance – but faxes

were a novelty back then: I didn’t know that thermal paper erased itself over time.


One day, an unthinking friend found the piece of paper in its final throes, yellowing

and illegible on top of the bookshelf. He tore off a strip, filled it with an illegal

substance, rolled it and lit up. The declaration of love turned into toxic fumes,

and burnt down to the very last speech mark.

It had been a long time since I’d thought about that fax, or about Henrique. I’d

worked hard all those years for the past to be erased daily, with the tractor-sponge

that comes with the passing of days. The passing of days and the respective pardons

we grant it; forgiveness also constitutes an attempt to forget. And that is

what I did, forcibly, after we split up. But a story is always a palimpsest, like the

waxed tablet the Greeks used to write on. The wax was scraped clean, ready to

be written on again, but the previous words were still there, in a way. You turn the

page, but you’ve read what you’ve read; it is not always possible to forget. Once

stored away, memories take on a life of their own and can come up to the surface

from one moment to the next, like dolphins, or drowned bodies.

When we said goodbye, things seemed normal, the rules of social conduct

spoke for us: a loose hug, a pleasant smile, a phone call if there were any problems,

an agreement signed, a date decided on, the number of the bank account where

he would transfer the payment for my services, an unsaid word which, sooner or

later, would escape from in between my teeth.





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