For No Apparent Reason
Instalación de Doris Salcedo en la Bienal de Estambul en 2003.
Every day I wake up and tell myself that I should be grateful to live in a country like this. That I should be grateful to have two legs and a broad-tipped fountain pen, the kind that’s hard to find. There’s no reason to be afraid, I’m healthy and have full use of my faculties and I’m intelligent. Confidence kills, my mother used to say. I don’t know why I remember this.
When I wake up, I also wonder, If I have a job, then why am I not happy? If I can pay the utilities, the taxes, the kids’ school fees, I can consider myself content. In other countries there are first class, second class, and third class citizens, but not here. Here it’s just us. And the piqueteros. That’s sad, I say to myself, to have to go out and block the streets for a piece of bread. Starting today I’m going to be more careful to not call Koreans Chinese and not call the Paraguayan woman who works in my in-laws’ house Namby, and I’m not going to complain if traffic gets held up again. Protesting for a piece of bread, I tell myself. I look up at the shadowy ceiling. I know that where there’s a will there’s a way. I try to smile but I can’t. I know I’m going to cry. I tell myself that there’s no death or unhappiness in my life for me to feel like this, for heaven’s sakes, it isn’t even Sunday with its melancholy and flavor of things ending, but rather a normal weekday, with its routines and rituals: school, office, dinner, the news, but it all feels the same to me. The days begin and end like life begins and ends. I can see the end is coming. I see it starting to appear in my friends’ farsightedness, in their bellies that are growing round. Well, at least I have friends, and that’s a good thing. I try to smile again, at least I’m trying; no one can say that I don’t try hard. I tell myself that it’s March and that Easter’s coming, so that I can start back after the long summer break with the right attitude, but how many more Easters do I have left, I wonder, and I try to not think about that. March is like still being on vacation, everything is yet to be seen, yet to begin, but I realize right away that in March the lilies start to die and the ash leaves wither, just like the creepers. You can see that slight difference in the garden: it doesn’t sparkle, or have any tender sprouts, it will keep getting drier, I know, until only a skeleton of gray branches remains. I remember how happy I was last spring. How sad the fall is. I was born in the fall and maybe for that reason my spirits are low, because it’s one year later and soon I’ll be in menopause and my sex life will have ended. To never again run my tongue along some young neck. There will be eyeglasses, the daily deaths of friends, brothers, sisters, and classmates. I tell myself that these are not ideas to begin the day with, all these thoughts will have dissipated with the first beer of the afternoon, and I feel the pain in my ovaries, I didn’t pee last night, I suppose, because I feel that pain and the urge to go to the bathroom, it’s hard for me to get out of bed, I probably drank too much, I’m not up to that sort of tomfoolery any more. As my father used to say: my bones are creaking. I think about how I used to make fun of that phrase: creaking bones, it was impossible to imagine. There was a time when I was young and beautiful and had a flat belly, a time when I laughed in the morning. Every Napoleon has his Waterloo, and I don’t dare look at myself in the mirror without first brushing my hair a bit. I look towards the door, the dark void of the hallway, the laundry room light’s on, something’s wrong, I say to myself, I can’t believe it: I never used to forget to take the clothes out of the washing machine, now they’re going to smell like something rotten after being bunched up like that, and I think about the damp clothing of the patients in geriatric hospitals, the smell of being old, of pee and decomposing cells, the smell that I’ll have in a few years, the kind that not even a shower, a hot bath, or perfume from Escada or Molineaux can get rid of. If I begin to lose my memory I’m done for, I tell myself, because after that, old age and then the end, and I’m looking for the scented rinse for the laundry and I know that there won’t be any left, I still know some things, I perk up and try to smile but I just saw myself by accident reflected in the round mirror over the sink, my withered skin, I probably drank too much, for sure, better go get the rinse before fixing breakfast for the kids. I didn’t want to start the day this way, hurrying off to the Chinese, I mean Korean, woman’s place, and I walk and enjoy the fresh air, but right away I think that this is ending, the summer air, the strong sunlight, the ice cold beer, I see some leaves blowing in the gutter and I think that the end is near, very near. I try to chat with the Chinese woman but she doesn’t care that I forgot to take out the clothes last night, doesn’t care that I’m losing my memory, that summer, life itself, are ending, two niney, she says, and I know she’s charging me a peso more than the supermarket but I grab the scented rinse and return home so that she doesn’t see the tears running down my face. I see my hunched back in my neighbor’s large window, my stomach hurts like it used to always do on the first day of class, holding on to my mom’s hand as we walked to school, forty years ago, a nothing that is no more, my mother is no longer alive and her hands do not exist; they were warm and smelled of bleach, and they used to bring me a plate of criollito crackers and Adler cheese while I watched Captain Piluso on TV. I look at mine and think that some day not too far off my children might need them, their smell or their warmth. I pour the scented liquid in the drawer, a new rinse, clean fresh clothing for going out and about in life, for facing the world head on, for saying I accept and approve of myself, I like being a woman. I go out into the garden and breathe deeply, the sky is reddish with some clouds, the city is asleep, in a few hours I’ll look out from this terrace and gaze at the stars, night will have fallen and it will be time to go to bed, and I’ll wake up once again. I hear the crunch of the dry leaves that have already fallen, the wind is carrying them towards the corner where the turtles sleep, the sound doesn’t bother them, it seems, they live a long time and survive on lettuce and cucumbers, the simplicity of people, the Chinese woman in her shop as she robs peso after peso, the piqueteros burning tires in the streets, for a salary or wages in order to eat, how easy life is when there’s only that or not even that and you have to go out and ask for it, bread for my children, shelter, a coin, I tell myself I’m going to write today, I’m going to tell what I’ve seen, I’m going to stop time in a story, and I know that afterwards I’m not going to write anything, that the day will go by in routines and the usual hustle and bustle, that I’ll sit down at night to watch the news, that everything will have happened, just as life happens. As I do every night, I’ll carry my youngest to bed and I’ll recite the same old poem that delights him so: the stars in the sky, the thorns in the field, and the Republic of Argentina deep in my heart. A can of sardines deep in my heart, he will say and he’ll laugh like crazy, like I did forty years ago when I heard those lines. And I’m going to turn out the light so he can’t see me, I’m going to go brush my teeth, quick, before he notices, before anyone can see me acting so weird, like an idiot, my eyes tearing up for no apparent reason.
Translated by Victoria Pehl Smith.
Victoria P. Smith tiene un Ph.D. en Literatura Hispánica, por la Universidad de California, Berkeley, 1984. Entre otras traducciones de Alejandra Laurencich se destacan “The Doors to Heaven,” y “The Dinosaurs Have Not Died”. También ha reseñado artículos, y participado en lecturas y conferencias, además de ser galardonada con diferentes becas. Actualmente se desempaña como Senior lecturer en la Brown University.