ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2015
issue/numero: # 07



The Time to Die


Author | Autor: Simone Campos


Translated by Lisa Shaw

Toronto, 2014


She went in, walked up to the table and sat down. She pulled off her

beanie hat: her hair was flat against the nape of her neck and sticking

out at the sides. The person in Tim Hortons on Queen Street that grey

Wednesday was called Mark. Mark Lin.

“Sorry I’m late.”

She had seen Mark on other occasions. His face was oriental, perpetually curious,

freckled. This time the conversation was slow to get off the ground. He still

had not commented on her hair. Maybe he did not like it.

“I suppose you’ve noticed my hair”, she said sarcastically.

“You look like a totally different person. Who are you?”, he laughed.

“Well, what do you think of her?”

“I like her, a lot”.

And he fell silent. Izabel did too.

“You look like a goth.” He decided to be honest.

“I was a goth once.”

Mark pretended to inspect her.

“Where are the satanic tattoos?”

“I never wanted any. Or any piercings. I used to wear bracelets, black clothes.

The most I ever did – she showed him a mark on her shin — was scratch myself

where I’d been bitten by a mosquito. It left a hole and then this mark.”

“A kind of tropical self-harming.”

“That’s it”, she smiled.

“Why did you used to do that?”

“Oh. Classic self-harming. I felt powerless. I used to bite my nails as well.” She

showed him her long fingernails painted in a checked pattern. “Today no one would

ever know, would they? But, funnily enough, you’ve had a tattoo done recently.” His

arm was wrapped in cling film. “And a piercing. At the age of twenty-nine. Explain

yourself, Mark.”

“It’s fashionable.”

“Does that attract female goths?”

“Sometimes.”

“Poser.”

He felt a bit offended, but did not say anything. Izabel giggled and grabbed

hold of his hand, which was much hotter than hers.

“The noise of you having sex woke me up”, said Greg, with bags under his eyes.

Izabel grinned.

“Sorry, Greg.”

Greg was eating cereal and reading something on his mobile phone. He put it

down and looked at her, as she was making coffee.

“I didn’t even see him leave. Was he good-looking?”

“Yes, he’s hot.”

Izabel remembered a few things about the previous night. She pursed her lips

and took a deep breath.

“It was really loud, wasn’t it?”

Her roommate gripped his spoon tightly while giving her a dirty look. Izabel

stood side on to him, watching the coffee drip through the filter. He fiddled with

the tabletop with his free hand:

“You can tell me more! Stop being mean!”

Izabel laughed and sat opposite him with her coffee cup, looking at him, complicit.

“I used that thing we bought that day.”

“What? The toy? Did you fuck him?”

Izabel shrugged her shoulders slowly:

“How should I know! I felt an opening…”

“Oh my God!”, Greg said. “It’s just as well that they don’t let you into MaleHunt.”

“It’s your loss”, Izabel said, rolling her eyes. “He told me that no one had ever

done that to him before.”

Greg stared at her.

“There’s money in that, you know.”

“Absolutely. Some people just don’t know how to earn money.”

“I’m being serious. People will pay good money for that. Especially as you’re hot.”

“Thanks.”

“Your nom de guerre could be Pegging Sue.”

“Pff.” She rolled her eyes again. “No way.”

“Please. It’s a compliment.”

“You don’t understand. It’s not that the floodgates are now open and I’m gonna

go around doing that to everyone. It’s more that I got close to this guy, and I

liked him, but at the same time I was a little bit annoyed by him. He irritated me,

you know? He was always calling me, wanting to meet up, to know what I was up

to. He was like a dog, always there, following at my heels. So…” Izabel took a breath,

“You see? That’s it.”

Greg was about half the size of Izabel, but she was sitting down. When he

hugged her and planted a kiss on her new fringe, she felt very small indeed.

“You’re beautiful”, he said. “I have to go. I’ll speak to you later.”

Izabel liked to drink her coffee slowly. She thought things over. The question is

not what but how. She wondered if secretly she had found it fun to be sufficiently

annoyed with someone to assault him. Or had she always wanted to assault someone

and see how things turned out afterwards?

She suspected that it was neither one thing nor the other. A little bit of annoy-

ance, for sure. She wanted to kind of use sex to show him her annoyance. It was a

kind of test — not for him but for her. To see if you really like me even knowing that

I think that of you. Even when I did that to you in response to your devotion. Maybe

that’s what it was all about.

She felt a bit ashamed to admit it, but she had found it pleasurable. She had

not had an orgasm but she had experienced pleasure.

She looked into the bottom of her coffee cup and wished she knew how to

predict the future. But there were not even any coffee grounds in the cup.

She sensed that if she carried on daydreaming she would be late again. She

went to unplug her mobile phone from its charger. She spotted a new text message,

which had arrived in the early hours of the morning. She read it.


Darling, your grandfather has just passed away. Call me. Mum.


PART I


Tuesday, 30 December


The illuminated rectangles moved from side to side as the vehicles climbed the

BR-040 road with its many twists and turns. It had gone dark at 21:00 and

the scorching summer heat had remained back in the distance, on the red line of

the horizon. Its silhouette could still be seen through the window in the darkness

of the bus.

Izabel had got one of the last available seats, next to the toilet. Now and again

she looked up from her book and tried to blur the image of the rectangles of light

to imagine that she was in a space ship, a futuristic airplane, or anything more exciting

than what awaited her.

It will soon be November. Friends that I meet up with all ask me the same

question: where are you going to spend the summer? Going to spend the months

of December, January, February and March, what Europeans refer to as the winter

months, in the mountains is taken as read, or is at least an long-standing tradition

that the emperor Pedro II of Brazil introduced into Rio de Janeiro society. In the

Brazilian summer he used to transfer his residence to Petrópolis. The royal court

accompanied him and the rest of society followed; all the embassies, delegations

and ministries transferred their activities to that cooler garden-city near to the Brazilian

capital that today, thanks to the motor car, is a kind of suburb of Rio.

Izabel went back to the beginning of her book: the date of publication was

1941. That was already true in 1941. Brazil, land of the future.

The road opened up to a cobalt sky. At any moment now the white construction

that had replaced the old bus station, at least for those coming from Rio, would

come into view. There it was, and then Izabel caught sight of the queue of taxis, also

white, which charged per destination and not based on distance. The taxi from the

bus station to Araras was always exorbitant. She normally preferred to continue her

journey by bus. But on this occasion she had luggage and she was tired.

It was only when she went into the bus station that she noticed how thick the

mist was. White flurries were invading the inside of the terminal. The cold was too.

White cold.

Izabel put a jacket on and bought a savoury fritter. She ate it slowly, paid to

use the toilets and went to the taxi rank, on the other side of the bus station.

“Hello. How much do you charge to go to Araras?”

“Which part of Araras?”

“Ten kilometres in. The Bernardo Coutinho Road.”

By this she was making it clear that it was not an unpaved road. It is paved. It

is not going to dirty your taxi or damage the suspension.”

“A hundred reais”, he said.

“No way. That’s very expensive.”

“That’s the price. Band two, on the taximeter... That’s what it comes to.”

“Can you do it for ninety?”

“I’m sorry. It’s a hundred.”

Izabel looked around. It was late. The three free taxi drivers were all following

the conversation.

“Ninety five”, she suggested.

The taxi driver looked at her closely, at her shapeless holdall, and agreed.

“I’ll do it for ninety five.”


The light went out.

Izabel was pleased with herself at having foreseen this. Pleased and irritated.

She walked along in the dark towards the candles that were already in the candelabra,

and lit them with her cigarette lighter. The rain was heavy and incessant. The

electricity company employees would be waiting for it to ease off before trying to

fix the problem.

It was already raining hard when Izabel was dropped off next to the bottom

gate of the farm. There was the ‘BEWARE OF THE DOG’ sign, still resolutely telling

a lie. On the other side of the wall, the hedge, and behind that, the slope with two

cement tracks for car tyres that extended as far as the eye could see. She tackled

the slope by holding out her mobile phone in front of her, her umbrella tucked

under her neck, until she reached the camouflaged switch, only to discover that

someone had either stolen the bulbs or that the wiring was faulty.

Up there she had taken shelter in the house. It was a state-of-the-art country

cottage, with a well-equipped kitchen, two bathrooms, three bedrooms, a TV

room, and wine cellar, and surrounded by a much larger plot of land than was necessary

for someone who did not grow anything and lived alone.

Izabel took her jacket off and used her lighter to light her last-but-one cigarette.

The countryside is now just another place that is tedious when the lights go

out. With one difference: the lights go out more often.

The countryside. This was not normal countryside. It was not a place with lots

of large farms dutifully producing foodstuffs. There was nothing to harvest here. It

was where you went to spend the holidays, or the weekend.

At the top of the hill, two numbers higher, there was the owner of a bank. A

little further back, some two kilometres away, was the former pop singer, now a

recluse, who could always be seen naked through the gaps in the hedge. More than

one illegal gambling boss had a house there. There were also several actors, who

got fed up with the place and sold their houses to other actors, which meant that

Izabel could never say with certainty which famous people were her neighbours.

In addition to these owners, there were the caretakers, and their large families,

who lived nearby. They attended the many local evangelical churches.

So what am I doing here?

The farm was her own, or rather it belonged to her family. Her grandfather

bought it by saving hard towards the end of the dictatorship. Soon afterward the

price had shot up. Then again. And again. It had never stopped going up. In the 90s

Araras had become an area of upmarket restaurants, a sophisticated weekend destination,

a hangout for celebrities taking a quick holiday from the TV studios in Rio.

This was the story that people told her. She had been born in 1991, and it had

always been like this in her lifetime.

When she became a teenager she virtually stopped going there. She preferred

the beach. Actually during the time when Ivan was on the scene she still

went there, to have sex in the bushes. But that was years ago, and without her own

car or the inclination to drag herself up there, she had then gone travelling. Then

her grandfather died.

Then my grandfather died.

She stubbed out her cigarette in the dark wood ashtray, very 1970s.

Of pulmonary emphysema.

She got up and stood in front of the glass wall consisting entirely of windows.

She was sure that it had an architectural name – “winter garden”? Designed to

allow people to enjoy the natural environment without feeling the cold. The only

problem was that, in the pitch black, you could not see anything outside. That is

not entirely true: you could see the threads of water, overflowing from the gutters

and boring holes into the earth in the vases under the eaves. And, through

each clearing in the trees, the mountain in the distance, where waterfalls cascaded

down. But nothing else.

She went into the smallest of the bedrooms and opened the wardrobe. At the

back were the orange flip-flops that had been hers since she was twelve years old.

The iron bed that she sat on to put them on had been her mother’s until she married.

She thought that these things would smell of her grandfather. But she could

only smell mustiness.

She left the room carrying her trainers and went into the main bedroom. She

left them near the door and put her bag on top of the dressing table. She then

opened her bag and took out smaller ones, which she arranged alongside it. From

one of them she took out a toothbrush, and she went into the bathroom to pinch

some toothpaste.

The toothpaste was a bit dried up, but it was there. This was an odd but accommodating

hotel.

The bed was made. And it was musty. She got undressed and into bed. She

checked her mobile – it was relatively early, one in the morning. She took a while

to drop off to sleep due to the intermittent barking coming from to the west of the

house. It was the first time she had heard so much barking and so close by: that

was not a stray dog – one of the neighbours must have been breeding dogs.


Wednesday, 31 December

She walked across the flagstones that separated the house from the swimming

pool, stepping carefully over the tall grass. The hedges were overgrown, the

forest was taking over the flowerbeds. More than six months without her grandfather.

Almost a year without being cared for. The house had been entrusted to the

occasional inspection of a female neighbour, but it seemed like she had not even

set foot there.

When the light began to disturb her and it was not a working day, Izabel normally

just turned over and went back to sleep. Today she did not. She had woken

up with a start, put chlorine in the pool, turned the pump on. Then she had gulped

down a coffee — not strained, as there were no filters. And now she was surveying

her surroundings.

The pool was overflowing, topped up by the rain. It was green. Lake-green.

The edging stones were rough and curved upwards, holding in the water above

ground level. The damp deck was shining sadly without the PVC sun-loungers.

Around the edge there were hibiscus in flower, the magnolia tree, the assorted

pine trees and the never-ending row of flamingo flowers. It was obvious that the

farm had at one time belonged to a woman. It had belonged to a man for thirty

years, and even if he did not replace the flowers that died, he zealously fertilised

and pruned those that survived.

The flat area where today the swimming pool was located was previously

used by the neighbourhood for football matches, with the blessing of the former

lady owner. It had been difficult to get the locals to forgo this habit, as well as that

of using the farm as a shortcut between the upper and lower roads. But her grandfather’s

monumental unfriendliness eventually prevailed. That and the fawn-coloured

Doberman that he acquired.

The dry part of the lawn had to be watered during the winter, and it obviously

had not been. There were also ants’ nests in the lawn, and Izabel discovered when

walking around barefoot that some areas were full of a kind of weed with spines

that got stuck into the foot of unwitting bathers. You could only get them out with

poison. But the holes in the lawn were more worrying. Later, when she could, she

would bring some new pieces of turf and replace the bald parts.

Her grandfather used to sigh: If only you could do the same with hair.

The magnolia tree at the far end had become definitively lighter and thinner

with age. The moss-coloured swing that hung in its shade had been a present for

Izabel. She thought for a while about having a go on it, but then remembered that

the seat had not accommodated her hips since she was about twelve years old.

On the opposite side of the pool, there was a pitanga tree shading the floor

of a caretaker’s house that lay in ruins. In contrast the tree was still very green

and flourishing.

The old satellite aerial was still sticking out of the slope. All rusted up. Trees

had been cut down because of it. So that it could communicate with the satellite.

Today they had the portable set-top aerial and its half a dozen free channels. Later

they would have to get someone to take that away.

She went past the dog’s grave, a circle of earth marked out with round pebbles.

Káli was her name. She had died about four years ago; her grandfather was

adamant that he did not want another one (male or female). He stayed in that

enormous farm on his own.

Izabel went down the internal road with her chin up and noticed that only one

of the lampposts had a bulb in it. And that one was not working. Incredible.

She reached the lower entrance and then went all the way back up again towards

the vegetable garden. She was eager to start working on it. It had become a

mass of tangled vegetation with a few banana trees around the edge.

Behind the vegetable garden there was a loquat tree that was refusing to produce

any more fruit. There was the mango tree. The vine that had never produced

grapes. A row of lime trees whose fruit they would use to make caipirinha cocktails

when they had guests. There was also the rock where she had drunk her first beer,

smoked her first cigarettes and refused her second kiss, offered by Thales Nesser,

a chubby boy with glasses from her old school who also had a house in Araras and

who, although he barely spoke to her in the playground, kept turning up at the farm,

with the effusive approval of Izabel’s mother. Sometimes he came across Izabel on

her own, on other occasions accompanied by some friend or other that he would

always try to kiss, sometimes successfully. Izabel herself he never managed to.

After she had finished her inspection she went back to the house and opened

the doors of all the wardrobes. She would take out all the clothes as soon as she

could and would hang them out to get rid of the musty smell. There’s time, she

thought. First she would take care of the non-essentials.





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