He was, locals agreed, the quintessential Kaverinagar retiree. In his wool-silk trousers, navy-blue sweater, and plaid scarf wrapped tight about the ears, C. K. Rajgopal, former Air India pilot, cut a lithe figure as he strode down Eighth Main. On his feet he wore the ergonomic shoes his son had brought him from America. Designed for trekking—or for Indian sidewalks, his son had said—the shoes had, for the past weeks, felt heavy, like stones tied to his ankles. But this morning, strangely, it was no longer so. Perhaps his leg muscles had needed time to adjust to their new load, perhaps he was rejuvenated by the winter air—whatever the reason, as he made his way to Wodeyar Lake, past the provisions store and the barbershop, still shuttered at this early hour, past the temple and the sugarcane juice stall, Mr. Rajgopal experienced a lightness, as if the ground were falling away from him and he were floating, gliding, over the pavement stones and under the gulmohars, through clouds of golden dust churned by the municipal workers’ brooms.
My thirteen-year-old sister, Mara, wakes me to tell me that she is dead.
She believes this.
I’m twelve, the younger one, though the age difference has never really mattered between us. In the dimness of our bedroom, she’s pressed close to me, her skin warm and a bit sweaty. Just beyond our window–invisible to me now in the dark–the ocean thrashes. I hear and taste it; it makes everything here salty, even the indoors.
They came at four o’clock in the morning and I was too sleepy to get out of the way in time. They trampled on the big trash bin and planted their heavy boots on the mass of bodies. My hand was crushed under someone’s boot, along with Emad’s arm. I gasped silently. Then someone started lifting my leg, which was stuck under Youssef’s stomach, and then my body too. I clung on to Youssef’s clothes, but the hand lifting me was much too strong for me. I suddenly found my head swinging through the air. I stiffened my neck to try to control it, but it was no use. I couldn’t make out where the voice giving orders was coming from but it was definitely from above.
For our first date, Alex bikes all the way to Brooklyn Heights from the Upper West Side. Before we met, he told me how excited he was, how nervous. “I’ve never been on an online date before,” he confessed. “I don’t use apps.”
I made Negronis in jam jars and put them, with an ice pack, in my tote. I arrive terrified at the promenade. When I see the skyline, framed by haze and blue river water, I cry out. It’s the end of May, and for almost three months, I’ve been alone in my apartment. My loneliness propels me to risk contamination. I don’t tell friends or family. But they live with partners, kids. They have no right to judge.
Alex lives alone, too. We make jokes that aren’t jokes about going crazy; I even talked about crying. Hahaha really?, he wrote, then asked me out.
For two minutes, I let myself lean against a brick building and hyperventilate. He told me which bench to find him on, but I would have known him anyway when I see very long legs sticking out and a moppy brown head bent over a book.
In common with the other tales in his Libro del tedio (The Book of Tedium), José Ardila performs in “The House” a kind of alchemy with his autobiography, taking inspiration in childhood events and feelings, but stripping them of their specificity to conjure an alternative reality in which the contours of the particular give way at once to the schematic clarity of myth and to the uncanniness of dream.
The story carries what seem to me unmistakeable echoes of One Hundred Years of Solitude both in the inexorable descent of its narrative arc and the subtle magical realism that inflects it, and reminders (the flood, the chaotic fecundity of the vegetation, the demotic rough and tumble of family relations and of course the gallows humour) of its Colombian setting. And yet, shorn of clear markers of time and place and (largely) of names, both the eponymous house and the anxieties of its unnamed narrator become universal.
Saturday night I’m at the kitchen window listening to my neighbors fight. Theirs is the only light on, pungent and pouring out onto the fire escape, illuminating a coffee can. I’ve counted five cigarette butts so far.
“I can’t keep doing this, bro,” the girl shouts. Glass shatters thick against a wall in their apartment. “I can’t keep doing and doing this.”
The kettle screeches and out goes the mug in my hand and the spoiled red wine all over the windowsill and all over me. Who knows why I’ve set water to boil. A jilted habit of steeping tea to sleep when I had patience with myself. A phantom limb.
There’s a sprint of shouts, one voice trampling another, and then a long, feral cry. My cat when I was a kid yowled like that when she pawed at a mouse trap. We freed her and she crawled into my mother’s dresser where she stayed for weeks and weeks, burrowing into her fear. The world became a mouse trap.
Lara Solórzano’s poetry is a contestation, a reprieve from fear. Her work exhibits a precise aesthetic and a fundamental grounding in urgency. Historical memory characterizes every figure and spirit in the verses that name societal constraints faced by women. Along with that naming of violences—and ultimately more important than it—the poems ring with an unequivocal rejection of them. It honors me to offer these translations from the collection El bestiario de las falenas.
You once read, in a psychology journal you found in a dentist’s waiting room, that two people who have loved each other since age five or younger will instinctively believe that they are blood siblings. When, at seventeen, you began to dress like Solomon—to take his sweatshirts home, to wear circular wire-frame glasses identical to his except in their prescription—you despised yourself for it. Although you have no biological relation to Solomon, this mimicry red-flagged incest in a visceral way. You had been neighbors since you floated in utero. All your lives, you lived next door to each other in your little town near Anchorage. Together, you raised bugs and frogs in air-holed mason jars in Solomon’s bedroom and memorized riddles and Grimm’s fairytales to tell each other on tedious fishing trips with your parents. In middle school, you alternated first and second place medals at science fairs in cold gray gymnasiums across Alaska.
One night, out walking, unable to sleep, and more fatigued than usual by his endlessly unfolding apprenticeship, the eighteen-hour days, the bugs that puncture his skin every night, the lack of money for real milk or for visiting his favorite sister, Andrew saw a man in the street who was raising a gun and pointing it at what?
A young mastiff, thin and weary-looking, staggering for a place to sleep.
With about 15 kilometers to go before Gyumri, we start having car trouble. Moments earlier, the taxi driver was passing other cars like a madman passing for sane. Now the tiny, rusted Opel is making a humming and stalling noise whenever he adjusts the gear. Each time, he tosses up his right hand in a “What can I do?” gesture.