A car drives down the roads.
The wind runs through the slits in the car, faintly howling.
And then we arrived.
Summarizing it like this, you’d believe this was a short, fast, non-stop trip.
I think I’d better try to, subjectively, sum up how that trip went.
I wake up. I stretch. I make the bed. I have some coffee. I eat bread. I shower. Water. I leave. Cold. I brush my teeth. I change clothes. Shirt. Pants. Shoe. I get my keys. I look at the apartment. I leave home. I lock the door. I walk down the hall. I walk down the stairs. I see my car. I open the car. I get in the car. I sit on the driver’s seat. I fasten my seatbelt. I start the car. I release the parking brake. I shift to the first gear. I leave the garage. Second gear. Turn signal to get on the road. Speed. Third gear. Steering wheel to the left. Steering wheel to the right. Turn signal. Speed. Red light. Brake. First gear. Next corner. Peter and Jessica are waiting for me. They were told yesterday of the trip. It’s Saturday. Both greet me. No gladness. Sadness. My direction. They came back together. They hug each other in the back seat. They don’t fight like they used to do. Affection. I feel isolated. Apparently they had not told to each other what had happened. But all worked out. As planned. First gear. Speed. Green light. Second gear. Street on the left. Avenue. Two miles straight. I brake abruptly. A car breaks down in front of me. I see Lucy ten yards ahead. She doesn’t notice us. The broken down car turns on its emergency flashers. It’s broken too. It flashes the right light, then the left. I keep looking. Left. Right. Right. Left. Suddenly, the two blink at once. Left-right. Right-left. The traffic light above them flashes, too. It flashes red and green at the same time. Then it turns off. One of two yellow lights comes on. Fast. Yellow. Yellow. Yellow. Yellow. Yellow. Noise. When I notice it, Lucy opens the door. She says nothing. Doesn’t look at me. Silence. I feel even more isolated in the car. First gear. Speed. Headlights. Turn lights. Brakes. Accelerator. Silence. We are out of São Paulo. Countryside. The old continent. Higher speed. Fifth gear. Wind. Howl. Hands on the steering wheel. Rearview mirror. Emptiness. I look forward. All are quiet. One hour. Two hours. Three hours. A stomach rumbles. Four hours. Two stomachs rumble. Fourth gear. Third. Second. Parking brake. We stop at a roadside restaurant. We eat in silence and we split. I pay and go wait in the car. Silence. A child looks at a showcase with toys. Looks to left and right. Looks to the right and left. When she reaches for a toy, her father pulls her inside the store. No choice. Everybody comes back, walking over the parking lot sand and dirt. They kick their feet before getting in. Close the door. All inside. First gear. Speed. Mountains. Hills. Fences. Livestock. Bulls. Cows. Horses. Dogs. Birds. More cows. Cow manure. Horse on the road. Wagons. Horse manure. And more mountains. Hills. Fences. Animals. Bulls. Cows. Horses. Dogs. Birds. More cows. Cow manure. Horse on the road. Wagons. Trucks. Black smoke. And more mountains. Crops. Woods. Forests. Dust. Then, cobblestone roads. Cobblestone. Up. Down. Down. Up. More fucking hills downtown. Uphill. Downhill. Uphill. Stones. Sand. Animals. Poverty. Silence.
We arrived in the countryside of Minas Gerais state.
I’m behind the wheel, Lucy’s in the passenger seat and Peter and Jessica are in the back seat. Jessica with her head on Peter’s shoulder. Between me and Lucy, just distance. You can see she only thinks about the bartender. Pregnant. I enter the city that I no longer remember the name, nor its streets. I was here once. It was one of the places in the Countryside where I had lived. So much silence and smell of “animal shit” like they called it, here. I increased my vocabulary a lot, here, in my childhood. All profanity is either sexual or holy, and here they say “shit”. It took me a few years to realize that this wasn’t a third category.
More roads and silence.
I follow some signs to get to the place I’m looking for.
The way I’m getting to the place I’m looking for, is an attraction by itself.
Peter and Jessica make signs from the back seat.
Lucy stares at the glove compartment.
The car enters an inner town of an already small country town and I park by a large old house. Portuguese colonial style contaminates the bricks and cement around virtually all of the state. Big windows, even bigger doors and just two colors of paint for the whole house. This house in which we find ourselves is on top of a hill, one of the many viewpoints of the city. There is also a stone block nearby, with holes for hands where the slaves once were punished, and the highest part of the mountain is surrounded by a wall built by them.
Here, there is only the past; mnemonic contamination.
I set the parking brake.
I turn the car off.
I take off my seat belt.
I open the door.
I’m getting ready to leave, but Lucy’s arm suddenly grabs me.
I get back in.
– No, Lucy, I want to get in with no emotions. Please let me.
In order to face so many voices, I need silence.
Even by the second layer of my skin I can feel Lucy’s pale hand trembling. Such a touch was like her first word to me. Only her hand could speak. The echo of her blood drumming. And, on second thought, I didn’t know if I said anything or if we spoke through our look. But from what I see she doesn’t start anything precisely for not being able to control what would come next. Finally, I get out of the car stepping into an atmosphere I haven’t visited for more than a decade, and get ready to enter the house with a sign that I have not seen for even further years:
I cross the great rusty gate’s invisible barrier.
It seems no one has been in or out for a long time.
I look at the structure of such a century-old building with attention. The paint somehow resists time just as well as its bricks do, leaving inside everything that shouldn’t come out, and outside everything that shouldn’t come in. Sealed windows and no living being to show its existence anywhere around.
I enter the house through a tall, heavy wooden door. I visually investigate how large and alien to my memory that place was. I’m looking for the counter. There’s an old woman behind it. Grey hair. I pause for a moment in the hall and once again check the place to memorize it for good, like at the beginning of a labyrinth. It is all covered in light, white tiles with mostly blue details. Where some of them should be, there’s just their mortar. Regardless, the place sends a feeling of peace, but also exaggerated and lifeless cleanliness. The smell denotes the use of chemicals. The environment is very similar to my workplace, the morgue. But I don’t feel at home. On the contrary, perhaps this is one of the places which is farther from it. For the right-handed death strikes here with its left hand. Weak, but constant blows.
The elder lady silently stares at me with great surprise, as if no one—alive—should be around.
– Good morning, I’m looking for a woman named Marta. She’s my mother.
The old lady freezes for a moment either processing the information or analyzing me, too. Maybe checking to see if I was really there. She wakes up with a shock, looks me in the eye, and hesitantly touches my shoulder. Feeling the contact she gets a little surprised, but relieved. She begins to search in a few boxes for a file until she finds a thin one, albeit rather clumsily. Placing the file in front of her, she blows it and a dust of years had almost fossilized it.
– Here! Phew. Marta... I finally hear her voice. It didn’t seem it had been uttered for some time. – She hasn’t had a visit since... – A strange happiness takes the old woman along with an exclamation. – her date of entry? She scowls at me.
– Things of life... – I shrug, indifferent. – It’s a long story.
– Don’t you tell me, son. These things kept these people in here. Can you believe it? – she paused perhaps believing I’d answer. But I don’t. Then she suddenly screams. – Ana! – A young and attractive lady shows up. – This girl is going to show you the way.
Outside, Peter is by the side of the car with Jessica, smoking. One is boringly looking at his boots, while the other just kicks pebbles on the floor. Lucy is still in the car, in the heat, staring at the glove compartment. They don’t talk to each other, just anxiously awaiting the return of the fourth passenger and his answer, the truth that he would find inside, in such distance, in the insane asylum. But in the meantime, a common thought crossed their minds:
– Isn’t he taking a little too long?
I leave a room where only the slits in wooden windows let light in, buttoning the shirt in spite of the heat. I also check the fly. You never know. From inside the room comes a voice.
– Will you return tomorrow?
I ignore that question and start walking. I’ve already wasted a lot of time. I stare down the hallway and it’s almost infinite. Damn giant colonial houses. Its depth is so great and its tiles so symmetrical that it seems like an illusion. However, I had barely begun and had already got lost. I need to focus. All this is reality. In that door it’s what I’m looking for. There, there’s something I’ve almost forgotten.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen my mother.
I wonder if anything has changed.
I stop at that entrance. I wait for a while before the fateful visit. Ten years. I open the bedroom door. The golden doorknob, rusted by time, is hard to turn. Light from the room blinds me for a moment, even if it’s coming through a small slit. I can see the silhouette of a woman sitting facing the window. I can see the silhouette of a window looking at the woman.
– Mom? – I call her from her back. – Mom! – I call her from her side, taking another step toward her. Two. – Mom... – I call her from the front now, holding her hands. Her face is pale and thin, her hair is almost purple of so much grey, her skin is marked by scars of fossilized expressions on her flesh. So many blemishes on her purple skin. Each tone more funereal than the other. It’s as if death was inviting her little by little into the world beyond. Her gaze is lost into the window and she is slightly drooling. Something sucks her to the distant horizon, hypnotizing her. The outside light illuminates her lifeless face, and her gaze didn’t likewise produce any light whatsoever. From outside to inside, from inside to outside: two lights of death making shadows. Physics, there, lost all its properties.
Nothing had changed.
A memory strikes me: of myself, a child, calling my mother and her ignoring me... in a repetitively infinite process.
– Mother, I have a problem... – She continues to ignore me, but I stand firm. I came a long way. – I know you never paid any attention to me. – I looked away to the window, too. – But I know you protected me when I needed... that day.
The thought of the photo album I painted in black and white on one side and colored on the other suddenly comes to mind. I slowly drown in a distorted form of nostalgia. Blood drops. The taste and scent of iron contaminate me. The smell of alcohol comes next. A punch. Childhood.
I turn my gaze back to my mother’s face. I look on the erosions of her face by some sign. Any sign. So many wrinkles on that surface tired of life, in that labyrinth of traumas. Forgetfulness. I check her grey hair and the color of her once more cared for skin. I wait for an answer. Silence. Downcast look. Look. Shadows. And nothing.
I try again.
– Do you remember, mother, when you came to pick me up by the neighborhood antenna, where I hid from my father? – I looked into her eyes, but no reaction. – I was never sure if you were really looking for me or if I happened to see you coming that way and that, for some reason, had to be related to me. I thought you were going to pick me up to calm dad down, which never happened, but I was already very happy that someone was doing something for me, even if it was all a construct of my mind. We never talked on the way back, and maybe there was really nothing for us to say to each other. What mattered was that we were together. And just that.
I hold her light hands.
– But I think I can tell you something, which I never told anyone. – Something I hid even from Lucy. – The first time I went to that antenna was the day I learned to curse. I was so angry and so mad at you that I changed myself. And all this was because you had denied me dozens of siblings. You had condemned me to loneliness. But coincidentally that same evening when I had metamorphosed into adulthood, as I stepped down from the antenna, I met a man.
Now it’s my look that gets lost.
– As the sunset light cast a scarlet color upon us, there was more of that color coming out of that seating man’s slits, as if there were also a horizon within him. However, it was a completely different sun that was setting. A light of another nature was going down. He had clearly jumped from the antenna. And, ironically, no one heard the transmission and no soul had been transmitted to the beyond, for he was still alive.
Tremors. Blood drained from his body, like a slow source of life. His arm and mouth moved slightly, like other slight tremors. He had his eyes fixed in the twilight, perhaps like my mother, only seeing the world beyond. He babbled. But no word is pronounced in death. One just dies and his body is left to weigh in the world. Yet there he was, still there. Still there, with the horizon staring back at him.
My eyelids open a little wider.
– I saw that his two wrists were wide open. The power of life watering the land, there. I only now remembered a passage from the Genesis: “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” And the verb was just his veins. I held his arms and saw that there were several concentrated scars on them. They were not like mine, which were scattered. Maybe this big man was just running away from his father, too, I thought to myself. Of course, after many years, I understood the whole situation. That stranger had tried suicide several times and “failed,” having survived. But in that last act of despair, he committed two suicides. One for the body to go towards death, another for the soul that still insisted on life. However, the death of the soul is one that is constantly carried, it’s to die instantly and at every moment, it’s replacing living by eternal dying. It was then that I looked around and saw the murder weapon, a knife.
My right leg starts to get slight spasms.
– I picked it up off the ground and felt its coldness. I saw that figure shimmering his last remnants of life. He moved lightly but uncontrollably. He babbled more. Yet, even in that horrible situation my shock wasn’t greater than the hatred I still felt for the bad news, or the discovery of all the damage you caused me for so long. I remember that someone passed by the place. I thought it was you, but I was never sure and never asked. While the person circled the place and my anger lit again, I crept toward the man to see the twilight of his life. In that miserable situation, I made sure night fell.
Even now I can hardly tell the story.
I begin to laugh, dully.
– “Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” – I breathe in and breathe out. I look again at that inert face. – No, actually it was an adult man but his look, that look, was the same of all my brothers walking away from my house, the door causing the collapse of the visual bridge that we were silently building. There, that dying man well represented all of my brothers. He had built the same relationship that my whole fraternity had done. A unique, strong, brief recognition like a memory, to just to distance itself, to become a mirage and disappear. My anger together with my frustration for finally finding that absurd symbol of brotherhood, the end of my eternal solitude, ended up finding him half-dead and with me as responsible for taking him to heaven, temporarily destroying the feelings I was experiencing and entering into adulthood. I stabbed him right there.
Unconsciously, my hands repeated the movements.
– “Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground”... maybe. But I like to think I’d done him a favor after so many failed attempts. I had never lived with a brother. When I finally meet him (or someone that could closely symbolize him), I can at least do him a favor; be a good big brother; to be present just when he needed my help; to kill him.
Curiously, there was a Bible by his side. And it couldn’t have been just a coincidence—it was fate. To accomplish such mission and to have such a double encounter with my fate could only have been by design. So, from that day I came back several times to that place. I read to “my brother” every day. I wouldn’t have him feel the loneliness I had, and somehow I didn’t feel it like I used to. Truth is, he no longer moved, he was like one of my old dolls—but one day he had moved. One day he was alive. This was invaluable. And, even after he died, he was my brother.
I now look at my own hands.
– My brother... who led me to Christ.
I close my hands.
I remember holding the words of God with my hands still watered by the sacrifice.
– But one day I found crows and rats on his body. I don’t know why, but I didn’t think they were feeding on my brother. For some reason I thought that they were exploiting him with curiosity. So, after coming close and chasing them away, I took a made-up scalpel and, like the animals, I opened him to finally find out what was inside us that made us utter the magic words, hatred and pain. There, I had begun my career as a coroner, in the self-taught necromancy.
A strange feeling took me over while I lost my concentration, as if I was falling into a deep sleep. It was exasperation with paradoxically unexplained excitement. The core of a labyrinth. However, I’m soon drawn to lucidity and watchfulness. I believe the hand I used in my action moved, trembled, pulsed. I stare at it for a few minutes waiting for repetition, another movement, a sign of life, anything. Nothing again.
I look again at my mother’s still face.
Somehow I remember my mission and why I came here. Then, I focus, even if everything points to no response from my mother.
– Mother, I actually came here for another reason. I wanted to hear your opinion on a subject. I was about to marry Lucy again. I think you remember the photos of our wedding that I sent you. But the point is, I... I... I ruined everything. – I look away, though she just looks at the window. – And now another woman is pregnant with my son.
I stare straight at the floor, at the damned dirty tiles, and try to see some response, like on coffee grounds. The geometric shapes don’t dilute to form any unity. Nothing is formed. And more and more I set myself on some superstition or witchcraft, whatever spiritual sign it was, as in the games I played as a child.
– I’m going to be a father, mother. – I look hopeful to my mother. She continues to stare at the garden... outside. To the beyond. She doesn’t move, she hardly breathes. It’s hard to tell if she’s still there. My mother one day was somewhere inside that head.
Inside the Insane asylum, this Stultifera Navis, my mother can only look outward. It’s like she’s mentally on a bridge between the two points. It’s as if she had risen to such a point and neither had the courage to move on or the cowardice to retreat.
– But I don’t know if I should get married or become a father... if I stay with the love of my life or with the son I couldn’t have with Lucy. I don’t know what my responsibility is. – I look her deep in the eyes again. Miles in. – What do you think, mother? What’s the right thing to do? What’s my best alternative?
But she keeps looking out the window. The bridge. One step before the eternal one. I stare at her again. I move the stool I’m sitting on to be right in front of her. I stand there in front of her eyes, interrupting her bridge. I stare into the depths of her eyes. Eyes I hadn’t seen in many, many years. Centuries separate us. Ages. Her yellow eyes don’t even move their corneas with me in front of them. It’s as if they were going through me, as if I were invisible.
– Who do I want to fool? I won’t get anything here.
I get up.
I walk out, but I stop, holding the doorknob. I feel the golden metal and notice that it’s smooth, unlike the outside one. I grip it angrily. The part struggles inside the wood. And its spin shows its internal rigidity, its rusting, its non-apparent death. When I’m about to pull the door, I tremble. Hesitation.
– By the way... – I turn my head back just slightly as if avoiding turning into a pillar of salt. All so that my mother could hear me one last time. There is no other exchange of glances. – daddy died.
I head down the Insane Asylum hall. Slowly. Step by step. Then a guffaw is heard by me and any soul there. My mother’s laughter. Satisfaction. Joy. Malice. Revenge. The hallway suddenly becomes infinite again. Her awakening is as if Lot’s wife, after witnessing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and turning into a pillar of salt after looking back, had screamed her madness, accumulated and asleep for millennia. However, I can’t understand my mother’s reaction. I thought she would be sad or remain in her silence, but she laughed at her husband... at my father. And I get angry, inexplicably angry. Perhaps by breaking the monopoly of such hatred, it’s as if she laughed at myself as well. And since I identify with my father, I’m angry at myself. I’m contaminated. I’m flanked by anger. I’m infected by the cries of madness of her silence. I take lost and unconscious steps. Suddenly, the nurse I met before grabs me by the wrist, while the laughter distorts the whole environment. It seems that such mocking chuckles had been expected for over ten years. A vow of silence, just until this last moment. The good news, the evangelion. An echo from the beyond. The nurse again pulls me back from insanity’s straight labyrinth. I try to get away from her, who’s serious in her intentions, while I am still stunned by my mother’s voice and all its psychic effect on me.
– Are you back, handsome? Is it tomorrow yet?
– No! – And I take her hand off me, trying to pull away.
I see a patient bracelet on the wrist of the alleged nurse.
– You’re one of the crazy ones.
This knocks me down towards one of the walls. I crawl down the corridor that stretches even further and pulls me like quicksand. I gropingly try to find my way out. Reasoning seems to elude me. The path stretches. The door is just a horizon. The exit eclipses.
I’m running out of breath... out of strength... out of reason.
– Dante? Dante? Let’s go!
I’m suddenly standing at the door of the Insane Asylum, staring into nothingness.
I don’t know how I got there.
I cross the big gate with the sign: Insane asylum. Lucy takes my hand, I feel her heat, her touch, but I suddenly lift her wrist as if awakening from a dream... an illusion. Slightly and slowly, I bring her arm to my eyes.
Lucy’s wrist has no wristband.
Laughter from inside the big house.
– Let’s get out of this shit! I already got my answer.