ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 04

One Two

Author | Autor: Eliane Brum

Translated by Alison Entrekin


My arm’s laughter. Blood oozing through my arm’s mouth. How many
times have I cut myself?
And my mother’s voice on the other side of the door. Laura. I slash another
mouth. My blood sprinkles on the bedroom floor together with her voice.
Laura. My mother has always been like this. She always knows what I’m doing.
I start writing this book while my mother tries to break down the door with her
old-woman’s nails. Because it’s too much reality for reality. I need a chance. I want a
chance. So does she.
When I write the first word there is still blood on the teeth of my arm’s mouth.
All of my arm’s mouths. After the first word I don’t cut myself anymore. Now I am
fiction. I can exist as fiction.
This is the story. And this is what happened. At least for me.


I think these metaphors of yours are rubbish! Her boss yells at her, outraged by the
metaphor resting on the sheet of paper. She looks at him with eyes wide with hurt.
She notices that he has a blue tail. Blue and phosphorescent. And it isn’t a metaphor.
It really is a tail, reptilian. Slimy and slippery. There, three adjectives in a row for the
boss’s lack of substantive. At the very second in which revulsion rises in her throat
she hears the siren. Insistent. They’ve discovered the boss is a blue lizard. She feels
pleasure in the form of sweet vomit. The siren gets louder and louder. She wakes up.
On the bedside table inherited from the grandmother she never met, the
phone rings. What time is it? Light is coming through the holes in the Persian
blinds of the bedroom. The lock says 8.43 in the morning. She answers. The voice
on the other end is a woman’s. Who is it? She hates it when people call asking her
to identify herself. The cheek. Who do you want to speak to? she says. The voice,
or the voice’s breathing, huffs and puffs. Is that Maria Lúcia’s daughter? That’s not
the credential she usually uses to introduce herself. But it’s her. You need to come
to your mother’s flat now. Who is this crazy woman waking her up with orders
over the phone? I’m sorry, could you repeat that? Your mother isn’t well, we can’t
open the door. Who’s speaking? It’s Alzira, from the spiritualist centre. Are you in
my mother’s flat? I came here because Maria Lúcia hasn’t shown up for a long time
and we got worried, but I can’t get in. Your mother won’t open the door. She can’t.
The condominium manager has called fire and rescue, but if you have the key it’ll
be quicker. And we think you should be here anyway. You’re her only daughter. Her
mind still insists on retaining the blue image of her lizard boss, but reality shakes
her with a greater insanity. She can understand a boss with a tail, but not that
phone call. I’m on my way, she says. And she lets the phone slide from her hands.
It dangles there like a hanged man. A woman. She’d like to hang Alzira-from-thespiritualist-
centre, perturbing her with her unavoidable reality. Why can’t it be the
opposite? Her lizard boss real and her mother locked in her flat a nightmare from
which she can always be woken up by light coming through the holes in the Persian
blinds? Damn life, damn mother, damn woman-from-the-spiritualist-centre. Damn
people who meddle in other people’s lives. What’s this Alzira doing at her mother’s
door anyway? And how did she get her phone number? Where’s the damn dratted
key to her mother’s flat? She’s had the key stashed away for so long without ever
having needed it because she always rings the doorbell to get into her mother’s
flat. She doesn’t want any surprises when she goes in there. She still remembers
her mother handing her the key to have in the event of an emergency or if she
needed to spend a few days there. And her telling her mother that she doesn’t
want the key, she doesn’t want any key that takes her inside her mother. And finally,
indifferently stuffing the key in her pocket, ignoring her mother’s made up hurt,
and then tossing it in some deep corner, where? She tips out the contents of the
bedside table drawer on the bed. Condoms, probably past their use-by date, a red
lipstick, really red, but broken, so that’s where that silver earring she thought she’d
lost got to, a ticket to a play that made an impression on her, a man on the parapet
of a bridge, a woman, a soggy chocolate bonbon, rubbish rubbish rubbish. The key
is nowhere to be seen. She wants to tell busy-body-Alzira-from-the-spiritualistcentre
that she doesn’t have a key, to figure out for herself the problem of the door
that her mother doesn’t want to or can’t open, that she has to be somewhere, that
she needs to work and take care of herself instead of worrying about the crazy
ideas of that mother who insists on hanging around when she doesn’t want her
anymore, that mother who pretends it’s not too late for them. But that drattedbusy-
body-Alzira-from-the-spiritualist-centre didn’t leave her phone number, and
she refused the telephone operator’s caller ID service because she thinks it’s an
outrage that they want to charge her for something that should be free.
She doesn’t shower. She pulls on last night’s clothes smelling of cigarettes and
applies lip-coloured lipstick without brushing her teeth. She catches a taxi on the
corner and gives the driver her mother’s address. Now that the blue-tailed boss
is only the memory of another life, she feels a tightening in her intestine, which
is anger toward her mother and apprehension for her mother. That mother who
insists on continuing to exist as a reality for her. Even more alive because she hates
and loves that mother with the same intensity, although she only tries to hate her.
What is her mother up to now? What’s all this about not opening the door? If she’s
playing the victim she won’t stop by to see her even at Christmas. She wants to hurt
her mother with her nails until she sees her bleed, she wants to break a nail on her
mother’s bone. Then she feels remorse, the dratted remorse that always comes like
an uncomfortable feeling in her stomach. Her gastritis has a name, surname and was
once called womb.
The driver has forgotten to turn on the taximeter. The old trick. She throws a
20-real note at him and doesn’t wait for the change. It’s close, after all, her mother’s
place. Too close, too far. She gets a fright. What’s all that commotion out front
there? The filming of a sensationalist TV program? Fire and rescue, military police,
an ambulance. Where’s the helicopter? If her mother isn’t dead she is going to kill her
for exposing her like that, she who slinks through the corners of her tiny world, of her
tiny organized world that she has managed to build in spite of her mother. The old
doorman is already waiting at the gate, worried. They’re all there, they’re going to
break down the door. She takes the stairs to the sixth floor, running. Her heart gets
out of tune from exhaustion, from the effort and the feelings she doesn’t want. She
needs to start back at the gym if she wants to keep taking the stairs after 40. There’s
a crowd in the entry hall that her mother shares with a neighbour. What’s going on,
she asks. Everyone looks at her. I’m her daughter. And she doesn’t like the confession
or the witness-for-the-prosecution stares. What do they know about her, after all,
deceived by that smooth-as-arsenic old lady?
When was the last time you saw her?
What kind of question is that? I think I spoke to my mother on the phone three
or four weeks ago, maybe more. You think? They don’t pay her any more attention
after a look of mutual understanding. She hates looks of mutual understanding. Now
she is the ungrateful daughter. They’ve already judged her and found her guilty, and
now they ignore her. Maria Lúcia, yells the one who must be the now accusing-busybody-
Alzira-from-the-spiritualist-centre, with her mouth almost glued to the door.
She hears the panting on the other side almost like a silence. And the voice that can’t
be her mother’s, that she doesn’t recognise as her mother’s, but is. Laura, is that
you? Dratted mother, exposing her like that, revealing her to all those dratted people
who don’t know how much trouble that mother has caused her. And the noise of the
door giving way under the strength of the biceps and triceps of the young fireman
who would never consider shagging her because he’s disgusted by her because
she’s a bitch for not wanting to know how her mother is for she doesn’t even know
how long. How can he know that she isn’t a bitch at all, that she doesn’t want to be
a daughter and that that mother doesn’t want to be a mother and why does she
care what the clichéd fireman thinks anyway? Why is it that all firemen are clichés of
firemen? Are they already clichés before they become firemen or do they become
clichés in order to become firemen? The noise is an explosion now, and she feels her
bones stick to the peeling grey wall, the mould cramming itself through her nostrils
and embracing her lungs with claws she knows she can’t escape.
The door is open. She is slow to understand that the door is open. Where is
her mother? She can’t see. Something brushes her right shin almost imperceptibly.
Her mother. The mound of flesh on the ground is her mother. When the recognition
reaches her brain like one of those bullets that splinter into millions of shards on
impact, she screams. And for an instant she is at the bottom of the pool screaming in
the silence as the water fills her lungs and takes her somewhere without suffering. And
her mother pulling her to the surface by her hair because she will never let her leave.
The pain stinging in her lungs now and the salt of her tears mixing with the chlorine
streaming from her eyes. And she is there again, at the surface, breathing in spasms
in the most complete silence because words have always been so insufficient for her
pain that she doesn’t even bother looking for them. This time, however, it is her voice
that screams at the sight of the mound of flesh at her feet. The scream trapped there
is finally released. And she thinks that the scream will never end, that the scream is
forever, a scream for all of life and beyond life. Because now she has arrived at horror
in its entirety. And screams are things that don’t become words, words that cannot be
said. There is no escaping her mother’s flesh. The womb is forever.


That’s not what I dreamed of writing. Books have always been the window through
which I escaped this mother who now, as I write with my blood dripping, lies
in wait for me behind the door. I’ve been like this since I was a child; when I open a
book I am no longer here. It’s not a metaphor for me. Maybe my lizard-tailed boss is
right. I don’t know how to create metaphors because I don’t understand metaphors.
I take everything literally. Like my arms embroidered with scars from all my attempts
to separate myself from my mother’s body. For me there has never been an umbilical
cord that could be cut. Just the pain of being mixed up with my mother’s body,
being my mother’s flesh. This ritual that now drips from me like a failure. One more. I
cut and I cut and I still don’t know I exist. I still don’t have a body. And she’s out there,
afraid I’ll leave, pretending she doesn’t know that I can’t leave. I’ve never been able
to. Because I drag her body around with me; her body that engulfs and swallows me.
But I diverge.
I’ve always been afraid to write. Of the moment of making my blood a symbol
of blood. I was afraid because of the unknown pain which might come, which I could
almost touch as a certainty. Even though I bleed with blood, this ritual I know. It
makes of me the little I have of me. It’s a constitution. I constitute myself through the
cuts in myself. Not words. What will they make of me?
Will words kill me? The question that envelops me like a blanket of fear as my
mother keeps watch over me from behind the door is if there is life after words. Or
life without blood. I’m betting all my chips on it now. I write in the hope that words
may free me from blood. From my mother’s body. But what if there is no me beyond
this mixture of flesh of mother and daughter? I feel myself slide into the black hole
of her body, where I am blind and my knife is poised in the air.
I hear her laboured breathing behind the door. I know she wants me to hear her.
I wonder if she knows that I’m killing her? Not like the other times, but once and for
all? A death beyond death?
But I diverge.
What perturbs me now is less dense. I don’t write as I’d like to. The sentences
that come out of me have no quality. Do they contain at least one truth? If I am
nothing but this tortured body that isn’t even possession, but extension, what do I
have to say that is mine? The words that slither out of me like fat blood worms make
me suspect that there isn’t a subject who speaks, there isn’t a self. So, who speaks?
Whose are the words that make me uncomfortable?
I hear the breathing that scratches at the door. And I fear.
But I continue.

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