ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 06

Ten centimeters above the ground

Author | Autor: Flávio Cafiero

Translated by Elídia Novaes

(…) the thing is the whale can stand up to ninety minutes without

coming to the surface for oxygen. It doesn’t challenge

life, that’s not it, toying with boundaries is a genuinely human

pleasure (I always think of you when I drive past the

Tropic of Capricorn), even if the whale, according to a recent study (there are always

recent studies to add to the confusion), even if the whale has a very high

level of consciousness, nothing quite like the pig, according to the research, nothing

quite like the dolphin, no, the whale bears a level of consciousness (don’t ask

me to define consciousness, it’s a concept that has not lasted more than a few

weeks), the whale has a very good level of consciousness if compared, let’s say, to

the duck, the shark, the kangaroo, or even if compared to you. Just joking, of

course, you look silly, but you know you are sure to die. And the end may be pretty

as an iceberg, that fine light spreading through the ice crystals, that blue not quite

blue, a diffuse glow and a whale in apnea bumping its head (yes, a whale does have

a head, the limb is separated enough to be a head), the whale smashing the crown

of its head against the butt of a beautiful ice block, truly beautiful to look at, and

then it’s the blood seeping through the crystals, have you seen it yet? A whale in

apnea can become very disoriented. It’s summer, after all, and summer is the season

of death, although our imagination may turn facts upside down. Who thinks of

icebergs in the summer? In the summer, pedestrians leave home more often, they

risk being run over by automobiles, slip on their coccyx on air-conditioned shopping

mall hallways, have their heads hit by a piano, this looks like a joke, and, just

like the whale, they get jammed against their own icebergs. It is in the summer that

daring teenagers drown in streams and tanned ladies quietly amass melanomas

under the skin, and couples dart through a shop window full speed, with motorcycle,

purse, cell phone, engagement ring in the box and all, soon after that innocent

warm-up at home, chilled white wine, kisses, moves, and then they must run to be

in time for the table reservation in the outdoor area, and it’s over. It’s in the summer

that old men dehydrate in the park, little children nap forgotten in the back seat,

whole families are surprised in their sleep and carried away by the flood, clawed to

their pillows, and even rats die suffocated among underground pipes (and a rat,

you probably know, cannot stand as long as a whale). In the summer, cemeteries

get crammed (the page of obituaries is crowded, have you noticed that?), friends

need to come back earlier from the beach because the cocky one has decided to

show off in the pool. Summer sucks and not to mention the heat, humidity, late

afternoon rain, and not to mention you complaining about the fan, and that a year

has passed and no air conditioner, and that I drink all the water from the bottle, and

that I leave the windows open and everything gets wet. Recent studies show, it’s

full proof, the analyses leave no room, no chance for doubts: summer is dangerous,

beautiful and fun as it may be. But living without the damn danger, the littlest one,

eating that exotic vegetable, opening that employees-only door, climbing that

rust-rotten ladder, who lives without it, who? I agree, threats may hide in less obvious

settings, in fluffy stuff, white stuff, clean stuff, even invisible stuff, think of the

water we drink, the air we breathe, and of trained and certified things, such as bus

drivers. Have you noticed how absurd it’s to put your life in the hands of a bus

driver, have you ever pictured that underpaid stranger, fucked up, tired, sleepy,

starving, and you hanging in there? So don`t be afraid, the universe is prone to

tragedy, all of it, all of it, don`t worry, you will endure, we have been through a lot,

your mother is gone, your father is history, you have no siblings, your friends speak

ill of you, I am all that is left (it’s you and I until death do us part), and there is also

this house, so coveted by the neighbors, garden, laundry, baby`s room, empty,

attic as cozy as those in the movies and, of course, the swimming pool, gigantic

pool, humongous pool. Fuck, such freezing water, I told you not to save and get a

decent water heater, we never contemplate winter or these off-season cold fronts,

we don`t think of death and of how comforting a warm departure must be. Death

may be slow, sluggish, lurking. Think of death being extracted from a mine, being

processed and cast, marketed in plates, and recast, and shaped into parts, and

assembled, and then bought in retail, and loaded, and cocked, and then shot close

range to the temple. Very slowly (and not to mention the millennia until the appearance

of iron), very slowly, the task of the grim reaper has been planned since

forever. Death can be conceived, born, and raised, and nourished, fattened and

sacrificed, and chopped up, packaged, frozen and finally spiced, marinated, forgotten

out of the refrigerator and that’s it. But the damned one can also be dreamed,

planned, designed, carved, tiled and filled with water up to the blue line. Gigantic

swimming pool. Humongous pool. I like to tell of how my sister died, because there

is nothing so beautiful (I know you think I am repetitive, always using the same

stories), and let’s see if there is time for me to tell it one more time, hold on tight.

A perfect day, table set and crispy bread, mountain air, twenty one Celsius, and my

sister with her boyfriend going downhill in the brand new car (extracted, cast, marketed

in plates, assembled, advertised, bought in installments), my sister in the

passenger seat screaming: fuck, how many yellow butterflies! Stereo in full blast

(very slow: insight, composition, rehearsal, demo, record deal, innovative arrangement,

mp3), and the voice at the top of her lungs, you’ve gone to the finest school,

all right, Miss Lonely, overdone accent, tangled pronunciation, but okay. Insects

suffer during the dry season (do insects hibernate?), and when rain comes, they

burst as if the world were to end (bugs know things, it is some form of consciousness),

and in the blink millions of yellow wings invade the bucolic back roads, lots

of little butterflies crash against the windshield, not fucking fair, they barely arrived

and are already squashed, and the big guy flooring it, and doom there, lurking,

camouflaged as joy and as butterflies. And the boyfriend opens the window, puts

his head out and screams of happiness and lust, he underlines the moment for

everyone to hear, and people twisting their necks to see the big car gone, look at

that, listen, some madman has just sped screaming, and my sister does the same,

opens the window wide, sings out loud, how does it feel, how does it feel, and

opens her eyes to see death approach, feeling the wind inflate her eyelids, flutter

her face, smooth her hair, and a large beetle comes flying hidden among the frail

butterflies, a beetle happy from so much summer and water, piercing the gelatin in

my sister’s right brown eye, a protein arrow straight on the target. Stupid, isn’t it?

Mating, eggs, hatching, pupa, wings, buzzing (a rare species, state the recent studies),

I do not even know if this is how beetles are born, and then death. Bureaucratic

sex, medical care, fertilization, shopping abroad, since everything is more affordable

there, c-section, breastfeeding, school, and the first love in college, and then

death. Sister and beetle, death on both sides. It’s the summer, I said so. Now think

of the kid swallowing the bear diaper pin because the mother was smoking outside

(the damned one is also in fluffy stuff, remember?). There is no time, all right, very

well, we can stand much less than ninety minutes, far less than the whales. You’re

close to the brink, you’ll see death firsthand, soaked and smelling of chlorine, but

it’s not for me to decide, I’m a chickenshit, I fear the police, I’m too claustrophobic

for a prison cell. Are your eyes open or shut? Oh, how beautiful to see you gasp

and inhale all the air you can. Recent studies say borderline experiences do not

always shape a personality or cause trauma, things do not always unwind, but I

have my hopes, my own pillows, fuck the recent studies. OK, that’s it. Anyway,

there should already be a beautiful cancer sprouting around in your chest, slowly,

cell one, cell two, bloodstream, right lung, left lung, and I’ll manage to wait. It’s almost

over, yes, yes, yes, now come, you may rise. Take a deep breath. Now do tell

me, c’mon. Tell me what it is like.

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