ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 05

The city with a thousand teeth

Author | Autor: Maria José Silveira

Translated by Alison Entrekin

... splintered glass on the street, silvery filaments on the asphalt, the
city is already dark but Filó keeps walking up to cars at traffic lights,
choosing who to approach by the faces she sees through the windows,
she has been there all afternoon and is already tired but her mother
isn’t, her mother doesn’t get so tired, and they have to meet their quota, better to
meet their quota today, if they do they might not need to come tomorrow, and
then the day will be lazier. Come to think of it, though, she actually thinks she likes
it more when she comes into the city to spend the day here on the corner among
the cars, but today she is about to get her period and is having strong stomach
cramps, and so she’d prefer to stay in the bedroom, lying on the bed belly-down,
her stomach pressed against the pillow, on days like this her mother lets her, and she
comes and strokes her hair and brings her food in bed, she loves her mother and
does everything she says, life is much better like that, when she obeys. She and her
mother came alone to São Paulo and they live alone, and this is how it has always
been, and it is her mother who protects her and tells her what to do and she does it,
and then everything is better because her mother is affectionate and says, My little
mischief-maker, my SaciPererê, she is black and thin and really likes red clothes, like
the mythical character, and the two of them eat whatever there is to eat and sleep
in peace. Her mother says that everything is better when she obeys, and it is, like
the first time she was alone with a man. Her mother told her that she should like
it, that it would be better if she liked it, and she did. She told herself in a low voice
that it would be better if she liked it, the old guy snoring without sleeping on top
of her, that maybe he was a bear, a furry bear, and was playing at tickling her and
giving her slobbery little kisses and that other thing, and it hurt and blood came
out, but it didn’t hurt any worse than it did every time she got her period, or when
she’s really hungry or really wants the chocolate ice cream they have at the bakery,
which her mother always gives her afterwards. It’s something her mother taught her
a long time ago, that when she has to do something that, even if she doesn’t want
to, even if she thinks it’s bad, really bad, she’s going to have to do anyway, then it’s
better to like it once and for all because that way it’s just a bit better. That’s why she
does everything her mother tells her to and finds a way to do it thinking it’s good.
And what she most liked about the old guy, what amused her was the part where
she stuck the condom on his dick, cause her mother taught her not to do anything
with a man without sticking a condom on his dick, so she won’t get sick, and it’s her
mother who tells them that without a condom they can’t have either of them, not
her or her daughter, and some of them get angry and say I’m the one who should
be afraid of catching something here not you, and then her mother replies, Exactly.
And then, on the days when there’s a man for her mother or for her, they eat better
afterwards and they often laugh their heads off too because the mother says, Yer
right, Filó, the old guy really was like a furry bear, a bear with glasses, and then Filó
says, A bear with a dick!, and the mother says, That one the other day was a real
donkey!, and they laugh and laugh until their bellies hurt, and Filó asks: Mum, do real
bears have dicks?, and her mother and aunt, the aunt who is the owner of the little
room they live in, fall about laughing again. The only thing she doesn’t like is when
her mother drinks cachaça because then she snores and gets smelly and she often
throws up and Filó is the one who has to clean it up. When the aunt drinks too it’s
the same thing, and she has to clean it up too, which is why she thinks that that is
one thing she’s never going to like doing: drinking cachaça. She knows two boys
who drink, but her mother has already told her not to go anywhere near it, not even
to try it because she knows it’s bad, can’t she see? and that the day she has a drink,
her mother’s going to give her a right flogging. Her mother gets even angrier when
someone comes and tries to sell them crack or glue or oxi. She says that that was
what killed her father and the day she messes with those things, she’ll stop being
her daughter. She says their life is the way it is, with the good things that sometimes
come along, and the mother drinking cachaça when her head gets really heavy, and
her daughter eating sweets, but both are clean, and shagging only with condoms on
men’s dicks, and that as long as it stays like that it’s fine.


Percival, Percília, Perci

It’s so beautiful, it’s so beautiful, it’s so beautiful!!
Resignification of sex, true female identity, human dignity!
I cried several times as I read the application. I sobbed. Dr. Dalila had to take me into a
little side room in her office suite and tell me to have a seat and calm down. That was
when I met the Asian girl. Dr. Lila asked her to stay with me until I was able to leave
without embarrassing myself by sobbing as I walked out. She brought me a glass
of water and sat all delicate on the armchair in front of me. Slender, with almondshaped
eyes. A lotus, isn’t that what they call that flower of the Orient? She said,
Everything’s going to be fine, you’ll see, dona Percília. It might take a while, but Dr.
Lila is certain she can get you what you’re entitled to. And she spoke very sincerely,
You must have suffered a lot, and she took my hand. I sobbed even harder. By this
time my handkerchief was sopping wet. I know I have this weakness for drama, it’s
my artistic nature, there’s nothing I can do but accept it. It’s part of my fate. And that
was when I suddenly felt compelled to tell that delicate little lotus what I hadn’t had
the courage to tell Dr. Lila. The blackest parts of my life, the ones that make me cringe
with shame. Dr. Lila steers clear of this tough side of things, the dark side, the evil side.
It isn’t part of her world, and she is right not to want the details. She knows this side
exists, she isn’t blind, and does everything she can to fight it, but she doesn’t want to
get too close. She’s right. It’s her right. But while I didn’t tell Dr. Lila any of the darker
things in my story, I was feeling so fragile that day that I offloaded them to that cherry
blossom sitting in front of me, holding my hand. I told her about the day the boys at
school made me take a pee near them and laughed at that little worm sticking out
of me, that growth. I’ve never been able to pee in front of anyone since. I didn’t go at
school, and on so many occasions went the whole day without urinating out of sheer
terror at the thought of using a public toilet. And I told her about that tragic day in
my adolescence when I tried to make a cut just underneath that thing to stuff it inside
in a fit of desperation that almost cost me my life! It’s curious, but what I remember
isn’t the physical pain, as if I hadn’t felt that kind of pain as I made the cut in myself
with the sharp meat knife from the kitchen. All I can remember is the other pain, the
pain of my tremendous anguish, of my momentary madness. When I arrived home
beside myself, after the millionth humiliation, the boys chasing me, pulling down my
pants and making me take off the knickers I’d stolen from the clothesline of a house
some distance from ours, which were too big for me (I was the scourge of knickers
on clotheslines, I can laugh about it now but not back then), me running from the
boys, and the exposure, the screeches, the laughter, the vile jokes. I spent two days in
hospital and, as if that and the enormous psychological pain weren’t enough, when I
got home my dad almost killed me with his belt. I almost ended up back in hospital,
though, come to think of it, in a way, good things came of it, because that was the day
I decided I was either going to have to seek out a different kind of life or speed up my
death. My dad suffered so much because of me, I understand it now, I really do, but
back then I couldn’t understand anything, not my suffering or his. If my mother hadn’t
died so young, maybe she would have supported me, I don’t know, I like to think so,
but my memory of her is so vague, so fogged over, so distant. If I ever start speaking
to my father again, the thing I’d most like to ask him is how he met her. How did they
fall in love, or didn’t they ever fall in love? I don’t know. He might have fallen in love and
she might not have. Or she did and he didn’t. The funniest things use to happen in the
past! But if there’s one thing that I remember about my mother it’s that she used to
laugh a lot and sing. Her songs, the lullabies from when I was a baby. She also used to
daub me with red annatto a lot. She would paint herself and me, the two of us with
our faces painted red waiting for Dad to come home from the shop. I don’t remember
what he used to say when he got home, I don’t know if he liked it or not. The only thing
I remember about him is being beaten and cursed. I don’t even know if he’s a nice,
honest guy, how am I supposed to know? I really don’t know. Eliseu likes him and lives
with him to this day, which I don’t get, a grown man like my brother still living with his
dad, but they get along well, so I guess he must have his good side. I’m not sure but I
think I saw him cry the night we came home after my mother’s funeral. The poor thing
died so young of tuberculosis, for heaven’s sake, no one dies of tuberculosis anymore,
but she did, and left Eliseu just a baby. My baby. I was such a young lass looking after
him as if he were my brother-son. There are some things that only life, as we live it, can
make us understand. I taught him to call me Mummy, without my dad knowing, and
he did, the little darling, Mummy, Mummy! I was happy for that little while, really happy.
In spite of everything I had to do.
When I still lived at home, I came up with a method of squeezing my penis so
hard you could barely notice it was there. It was really small, so it wasn’t difficult.
Many years later, when I saw Edson Celulari in a play, that gorgeous man playing
Caligula, I imagined that he must have had a method similar to mine. There was
a moment in the play when Celulari practically became a statue without a penis,
pulling his own back with the same effect as when I did it, except that his must have
been much bigger, and I went into raptures over how he was able to do it! I will never,
ever, forget that image. He made everything seem possible! I’ve always loved plays,
shows, the world of fantasy and dreams, and I saw that play so many times that I lost
count. I spent all of my wages on it, my first real job, I was such a young lass when
I left home, that is, I was kicked out but I was going to leave anyway, I couldn’t live
there anymore, with that brutish Italian father. And that was when I started to think
that there had to be a way to get that thing off me. Around about the time when I
began to hear about the surgery.


Sometimes, Arturito would come just to sit on the terrace, staring at the garden,
Emília would make some tea, a mammee-apple pie, and he would pick at the
pie a little and let the tea go cold.
On other occasions, he would change the atmosphere of the house. He would
arrive laughing, hugging me, falling into the pool naked: “Come on, get in here with
me, my lovely! A grandma and grandson naked in the swimming pool is brilliant,
come on! I promise I won’t look if you don’t want me to, but come in here, come on,
dona Memê dos Santos Said Aziz, Ms. Trim and Terrific! You’ll look gorgeous skinny
dipping in this blue water.”
And she would laugh like a child at his happiness. If she wasn’t so modest and was
bold enough to swim naked, not naked because it’s vulgar, she’d never do it naked, but
nude, she’d swim in the nude. Her white skin in the blue water. Nude. But there were
too many staff in the house. It was about time she fired half of them. The advantage of
living alone was not needing a legion of employees in the house, and then she could
swim in the nude, such a wonderful idea of her grandson’s. At least at night, in her own
swimming pool, would Oswaldo agree? She’d tell him it was a desire of hers, a new
desire, and he’d definitely say yes. Oswaldo did everything for her.
Emengarda wasn’t young, but she was more alive than a lot of people.
The problem would be the nudity that she now had down below. The clearing
left by the deforestation precisely in the place where the natural forest used to be
thick and black. Medicine hadn’t advanced as much as it should have and she had
never heard of pubic hair implants, a shame. Maybe in the Swiss clinics?
Ah decrepitude.

Our men are getting old! Our men are heading towards death.

This phrase often came to mind ever since Oswaldo had had the unfortunate
idea to take her to see the play that Nei was directing, some time ago now, and he
had insisted so much that she had gone. Only to regret it. She was too classical for
contemporary innovations in set design, and it was an amateur theatre to boot, she
hated amateur theatre, amateur theatre should be outlawed, amateurs shouldn’t exist,
dilettantes, she hated dilettantes in any field, in any area, dilettantes only had the
right to exist if restricted to their hobbies. That’s what hobbies were for. But was Nei
really an amateur? An over-the-top production like that, so baroque, must have cost
a fortune. And for one performance only! She shouldn’t have gone, but she had, and
her soul had been stricken by the catastrophic phrase. Repeated goodness-knowshow-
many-times by the girl who came and went from the stage now like a lament, a
grievance, now like a cry of pain, now like a shout of revolt. An insane repetition that
had worked its way into her venerable but delicate head and wouldn’t leave.
She told Oswaldo never to invite her to another play of the sort. Not even one
by Nei.

JONERVAL and the Church of Divine Permission

The brunette with the silver hoop earrings, hanging from her very lovely ears,

stood there listening to me preach. In the end, she came over and made her


“Divine synchronicity,” she said. “Me reading the article and my sister meeting

you in the square.”

I thought the lass knew a bit too much, was too self-assured, but she convinced

me with her slick formulations – I don’t think it was hard – and I agreed to go into

business with her. What did I have to lose? I really thought it was God who had sent

that illuminated being of great beauty to confirm my path.

She proposed a three-way partnership. I would lead prayers and preach, she

would run the business and come up with ideas for sermons, and her sister would

handle the money, if money started flowing in, and it would have to flow in and

be well looked-after, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to continue. She wanted the

church to grow, to reach the greatest number of people possible in all of the other

states, throughout Brazil. She was adamant about that. Our church’s message must

reach the whole of Brazil, she said. She was already saying “our”. “Our church”. An

ambitious lass and quite sure of her calculations. But I thought it was fair. Everything

that God allows to happen is fair. I’m just not sure about the money flowing in, or

about my preaching reaching as many people as she wants it to, but if it is God’s

will, it will.

And the clever cookie does everything magnificently well, and after a somewhat

complicated implantation period, to get everything the way she wanted it, our

church is truly flourishing. Rubi rented a room in the district where she lives – she

says she doesn’t want to catch a lot of buses, much less taxis, that the only taxi she’d

like to catch doesn’t circulate in those parts anymore, and she said it in a way that
made me want to be the owner of this taxi that she’d take. A shrewd one, she is –
and our room started filling up at meetings. She’s got a nose for business, that one.
Sometimes she tells me that I get too carried away and that I shouldn’t say
difficult things, only things that are easy to understand. But I explain to her that God’s
voice is fancy. The people like it. It’s good to talk difficult, though in moderation. So
that the faithful know that the one speaking through me is God, and that God is God,
and God’s word is complex.
God’s word is concave too, should he so wish.
That’s when I tell her that I was assigned to duty in this life, and that the only
reason was to make me see that the God of All Worlds has chosen me to speak in
his name, to translate his divine intentions and ends and reasoning. Before long,
according to the Lord’s schedule, we will all be established in our bright future. All
this bumping and jolting of the future to come, and the rebuttals will be constant,
and the rejoinders will be our children. Because you never know where death will
come from and the future resides precisely in not knowing, but being, with all of its
simulacra. And God is all of this, and so much more.
Now, what she likes is the part where I say that when I got here I was a thief.
I’ve seen orgies of many executions. That was when I thought up my cosmogony
as such: that we shouldn’t condemn any act because everything that happens has
been allowed by God because if God didn’t allow it, nothing would happen. That is
what I thought and, from my point of view, I thought I was right. And God proved
it, enlightening me. Because it was a time in which I drank every day, I drank until
I keeled over, I had no home, I slept wherever I fell, in the city streets, not in the
countryside. And could it be that I like to remember that time? No. But I keep my
cool. The volcanoes, the earthquakes, the tidal waves, the Apocalypse, the frenzies,
if they have happened, they will happen again. This comes from our rational thinking
that it is the market that knows, the market of the id, of the inner self, the primal cell,
the organic territory. Everything is already written in the big hardback book with the
erect spine of God. We are just the tiny writing that he places wherever he wants. He
is the one in charge, my friends! He is the one who allows things to happen!
That’s the part she likes the most: knowing that it is God who allows.

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