The Eclipse

By ANNA LIDIA VEGA SEROVA

Translated by JENNIFER SHYUE

 

Translator’s Note

Anna Lidia Vega Serova’s stories make my mouth quirk and make me wince, usually not simultaneously. The pitiless sweep of her narrators’ gazes spares no one, not even the characters they’re latched fastest to. When my own eyes are fixed on the task of translating her words, of scooting puzzle pieces around until they snap satisfyingly into place, I forget how unblinking that narratorial gaze is, how its effect sometimes abuts brutality, and sometimes tips straight in. I remember when I watch other people react to my translations, after it is too late to offer content warnings or make excuses for unlikable women. (What can I say? I like unlikable women—or, more accurately: I admire them.) Vega Serova’s stories brim with them, which is one reason I am drawn to them.

There are no small inciting incidents in Vega Serova’s stories, including this one. Big triggers, all—how else, when everyone is always departing? (Once, the author told me, “My stories get read a lot in Puerto Rico. They also know what it’s like for everyone to always be leaving.”) Departures are an undercurrent of contemporary Cuban life, Vega Serova’s materia prima. See: her story “Harpooned Woman,” translated by Lawrence Schimel; her story “Mercy,” translated by Jacqueline Loss; her story “Our Daily Day,” translated by David Lisenby; her story “Musemine,” translated by me. Departures from borrowed homes, heterosexuality, life, soaplessness, Cuba.

In this story, we open with the leavings of a life disassembled: a termitey cupboard, a ferrous pan, a single suitcase. We go out with a bang. In between: an eclipse (sun and moon tattoos briefly join, then part; a moon is shattered) and a goodbye tour of Havana. As is true of many stories in Estirpe de papel, the collection from which “The Eclipse” is drawn, the protagonist laughs at herself so as not to cry. I have been reviewing the translations I’ve done of Vega Serova’s stories, most of them unpublished, and this is one current that I find striking: the porous borders in these stories between laughter, terror, and grief. It is possible to finish (reading, translating) feeling both weighed down and buoyed. The only unambiguous element all the stories share is that someone will take their leave, that they will end. 

 

El eclipse

Ya se habían llevado casi todo. Quedaba el teléfono, la cama (el colchón lo recogía por la mañana el chofer como pago por sus servicios), el aparador que nadie quiso porque esta lleno de comején, el afiche de Habanos que había perdido los colores, algunos libros estropeados, un sartén herrumbroso y la maleta en la esquina de la sala. 

Fumaba. Miraba el teléfono aunque no esperaba llamada de nadie. Tampoco tenía a quien llamar. Todo estaba dicho. 

Sin embargo descolgó y comenzó a discar.

Del otro lado contestó una voz dulce y cansada.

“Hola —le hubiera gustado decirle— soy yo. Mañana na me voy y estoy sola. Quiero verte. Necesito verte. Si me pides que me quede, me quedo. Por ti soy capaz de cualquier cosa…” Pero no dijo ni una palabra. 

Colgaron y se quedó un rato oyendo el eco entrecortado. Encendió otro cigarro. Hubiera sido mejor salir a caminar. Fumaba y miraba el humo. Las figuras efímeras en el aire. 

Tenía dinero. Bastante. Podía regalarle a alguien una noche inolvidable. Invitarlo al mejor restaurante de la ciudad o al bar más elegante o a una discoteca cara. Sacó la agenda de la cartera y repaso por milésima vez los números y nombres. Se había despedido poco a poco de todos. Había regalado los libros, cuadros, adornos, ropas y discos. Vendió los equipos y los muebles, saqueando su propio hogar. Era molesto volver a ver a cualquiera. No sabría de qué hablar. Y también sentía algo próximo a la vergüenza. 

El padre la había insultado esa mañana. Le dijo que traicionaba toda su confianza, sus sueños, lo que pudo haber sido y no fue. Que renegaba de ella. “Utilizas a la gente. Te aprovechas de todos y los abandonas cuando ya no te sirven. Eres una mierda.” Tiró al piso su juego de llaves de aquella casa y se fue. Ella estuvo unos segundos inmóvil, luego corrió tras él para explicarle, pero ya había arrancado el motor del carro. “Papá”—dijo con la boca, sin sonido. De alguna forma presentía que tenía razón. Su razón. 

Cerró la agenda y volvió a marcar el número. Esta vez reunió todas sus fuerzas para poder decir “hola” cuando le contestó la voz. 

—¿Dime?

—Me gustaría verte… 

—Estoy muy ocupada. Llámame mañana. 

—Mañana me voy…
—Entonces llámame cuando regreses. 

—No regreso… 

—Disculpa, tengo a alguien aquí… 

—¡No cuelgues! Si quieres llamaré más tarde para vernos, podemos salir a donde quieras y conversar, necesito hablar contigo, decirte…

—Estoy con mi novia, ¿puedes entenderlo?

—Disculpa, es que pensé… 

—¡Chao! ¡Que tengas suerte! —colgó. 

Volvió a encender un cigarro. La vida se le iba en humo. ¿Como es que uno llega a perderlo todo hasta perderse uno mismo? Era muy tarde. No había ninguna fuerza en el mundo capaz de revertir las cosas, ningún mecanismo de salvación, ninguna persona cercana. 

Decidió bajar a comprar un par de cervezas en el bar de la esquina para emborracharse a solas. Era muy raro eso de pasar la noche antes de partir fumando y mirando un teléfono que no le conectaba con nada. Vio una cucaracha cruzar velozmente la habitación y recogió los pies con asco. Asco, eso era lo que sentía. Asco y futilidad.

De regreso, cuando abría la puerta escuchó el timbre. Se le aflojaron las piernas, pensó que sería la otra, que se arrepintió de la frialdad con que la había tratado, que estaba dispuesta a acompañarla esa, su última noche en la Habana, que visitarían los lugares marcados por los recuerdos, rememorando los momentos más intensos de los años de relación, que de pronto todo volvería a ser como antes y no habría necesidad de escapar a ninguna parte, huyendo del dolor y vacío…

—¿Hola?

—Hola, soy Andrea, no sé si te acuerdas de mi…

Desilusión y sorpresa. Andrea, una españolita agraciada que conoció un par de noches atrás en la Fiat y a la que jamás volvió a recordar.

—Sí, claro… ¿Cómo andas?

—Ahora que hablo contigo, divina. En realidad, te llamo para invitarte a salir. Si no tienes planes, claro…

—¿Dónde nos vemos?

Pensó que después de todo era una tipa afortunada.

Se retocó el maquillaje y el peinado, acabó la cerveza, abrió la otra, encendió un cigarro. Experimentaba un alegre cosquilleo en el abdomen. Miró una vez más las paredes desnudas y salió a rescatar la noche.

Cuando llegó al Malecón se encaramó en el muro para que las olas le salpicaran los pies. Se le antojaba que el mar se despedía de ella y le daba la bendición. “Te voy a extrañar”—le dijo. Sabía muy poco sobre el país al que se iba. Sabía que no tenía costa. Le pasó por la cabeza dejarse caer sobre los arrecifes para que las olas la lamieran completa. Visualizó su muerte. De alguna forma su partida también era un suicidio, pensó. Y un asesinato. Se agachó para tocar con las manos la ola que se avecinaba. Se llevó los dedos a la boca. “Sabes a mar —le había dicho la otra hacía una eternidad— ¿sabes amar?” No quería pensar en ella. Pero se pensaba sola. Estaba ahí, en algún lugar profundo, como un dolor de muelas. Intentó concentrarse en Andrea, pero comprendió que no la recordaba. Se le escapaba su imagen, sólo sabía que era joven y bonita y que tenía un sol tatuado en el hombro. Aquella noche en la Fiat se mostraron los tatuajes: el sol y la luna. La una para la otra, bromearon. Sonaba estúpido. 

Desde lejos vio a la muchacha haciéndole señas junto al primer león de Prado. Su león, otro regalo que le había hecho la innombrable, junto con la luna, el mar, el segundo banco a la derecha del parque Fe del Valle, una carpa roja y amarilla en el Jardín Japonés, el hotel Los Frailes, el lobby de Ambos Mundos a la hora en que tocan el violín y el piano, TV Café, la voz de Adriana Varela, la figura de La Dama del Velo en el Museo Napoleónico, el olor a hierba buena y mil elementos mas. La ciudad estaba minada por la otra.
Andrea le sonreía. Notó que era muy linda, luminosa y abierta. Por un instante quiso alejarse de ahí corriendo. Sabía que podía hacerle daño. La locura es contagiosa. La desdicha corrompe.

—Si un viernes de luna llena te montas en ese león y le dices “quiero volar”, le crecerán alas y te llevará, te llevará… 

No le importaba revelarle los secretos a una desconocida. Era como traicionar la traición, restarle importancia.

—Eres fantástica —dijo Andrea.

Caminaron un rato. La española contaba su vida. Parecía una vida calma, estable y aburrida. Tenía una novia peruana en Madrid y un amor platónico y eterno en Barcelona. Un magnífico trabajo con buen sueldo, una familia grande y unida, excelentes amigos, bonita casa. Viajaba mucho en busca de aventuras, de movimiento. Eso no lo dijo, pero se adivinaba.

Se sentaron en una esquina a beber cerveza.

—Háblame de ti.

“Yo no existo” —hubiera podido decirle y sería la más pura de las verdades.

—Soy poeta —dijo.

—¿Es eso una profesión?

—No sé… Es una forma de ser.

Otra vez hablaba con palabras de la otra.

—¿Me recitarías algún poema?

—Más tarde —prometió.

Le habló de la Habana. La Habana es un poema, dijo. Mírala, parece tuya. Siéntela, huélela, saborea sus curvas, sus voluptuosos contornos, sus estrechas callejas, su ritmo cadencioso, su olor a sexo y sudor. La Habana es una puta exhibicionista, una enferma, una loca. Sabía que estaba en nota, hablando mierda. Pero no podía contenerse. Era preferible eso a echarse a llorar.

Miraba los ojos maravillados, maravillosos. Pensó que podría amar a una mujer con esos ojos. Se lo dijo. También le dijo que sólo tenían una noche. Quiso ser sincera. Le contó lo de la maleta hecha y el pasaje de avión. Pero no pudo explicarle los motivos. No los tenía muy claros. Simplemente sabía que debía hacerlo para sobrevivir.

—A muchos cubanos les pasa, por una razón u otra…

—He conocido a cubanos en Madrid. Les cuesta adaptarse. Siguen reuniéndose con cubanos, escuchando música cubana, cocinando comida cubana, tomando ron cubano y fumando tabaco cubano…

—Pero son pocos los que vuelven.

—Y tú, ¿piensas que volverás algún día?

—Aun estoy aquí.

Miró alrededor. Había mucha gente, todos bebiendo, hablando muy alto, riendo. Un trío iba de mesa en mesa ofreciendo bolerones lacrimógenos. Sintió que todos estaban a años-luz, incluyendo a la mujer que tenía enfrente, la mujer de los ojos abismales.

—Estoy aquí —repitió como para convencerse, tomó la mano de Andrea y jugó con sus dedos.

—Quieres que busquemos otro sitio?

—Si, algo mas calmo…

La guio en la oscuridad sosteniéndola de la mano, o, mas bien sujetándose. Estaba bastante mareada. La llevó a un bar mas próximo a su barrio. Sabía que acabarían en su casa, pero le temía un poco a ese momento.

Andrea propuso un brindis por ellas. Nada en este mundo es casual, dijo. Nuestro encuentro tiene un significado, aunque aun no lo conozcamos. Supo que la española también estaba en nota. A nadie sobrio se le ocurre hablar de las oscuras leyes del destino. No la contradijo, aunque le pareció una tontería. Bebió en silencio.

—¿Y el poema? Me prometiste un poema.

—Más tarde…

—Entonces cántame una canción.

Otra vez el maldito fantasma. Era aquella la que le cantaba canciones, sentada en el muro frente al mar, con la mirada perdida a lo lejos. Le cantaba antes de dormir, y cuando estaba deprimida le cantaba y le acariciaba el pelo, y cuando le fallaban las fuerzas le cantaba muy bajito y la abrazaba. Le contaba su amor con canciones y también su dolor y sus dudas y después su desamor. No conocía una sola canción que no le hubiera cantado, no había ni una que no la recordara.

—Mejor cántame tú…

Escuchó su voz mirando siempre los ojos de la mujer que la miraba a los ojos. Había una proximidad incómoda y falsa. Una vez más lamentó estar ahí y una vez más se respondió que era mejor eso a estar sola en la casa que ya no era su casa. Se tomó un largo trago, sonrió.

—Tienes una voz preciosa —dijo. Y sin preliminares, corte directo— vivo a dos cuadras de aquí, ¿qué te parece si te invito?

Para su sorpresa la española aceptó con marcada alegría. Compraron unas cervezas más y avanzaron por el Bulevar. Antes de abrir la puerta le explicó el estado lamentable en que se hallaba su hogar.

—Por suerte aun queda la cama…

—Eso no es importante…

Pero quiso contarle cómo era su casa antes. El nido construido entre dos. Por primera vez mencionó a la otra y se atragantó y aceleró la descripción de dónde iban los cuadros y dónde estaba el equipo de música y dónde vivía Esterlina, la jicotea, y dónde las macetas de helechos. Andrea la interrumpió con un beso. Enseguida le abandonaron las fuerzas, se desmoronó dentro de su boca, se perdió en sus ojos.

Comenzó a desnudarla.

—Me he pasado como media hora eligiendo la ropa interior… para ti…

Apreció la ropa interior por unos instantes. Luego se la quitó también. Se dedicó a besarla toda, a reconocer cada fragmento de aquel cuerpo, hasta abandonarse por completo a sus sentidos. No le quedaba ya ningún pensamiento, ningún recuerdo, nada que la atara al mundo. Era infinito, pero tenía fin. Y cuando este llegó se preguntó qué hacía esa mujer en su cama. No sabía de qué hablarle. Quería que se fuera, pero no se le ocurría como echarla sin herirla. Evitaba mirarla. Era bella, desnuda era mucho mas bella, pero no le hacia sentir nada.

Para llenar el vacío, para no asfixiarse definitivamente, decidió recitarle uno de sus poemas, el primero que recordó.

—Dentro de la luna\ hay otra luna:\ quebrada.\ Tiene las grietas\ que va dejando el pez\ con su lengua larga,\ cicatrices\ que va lamiendo el pez\ con su lengua seca.\ Dentro de la luna\ hay otra luna\ oscura.\ Una mujer de negro\ arrastra al pez por la cola\ y las aletas pesadas\ van marcando\ dos surcos en la arena…

Pero Andrea no quería poemas ya. Se restregaba contra ella como una gata, murmuraba, la acariciaba.

—Es la primera vez que le soy infiel a Isabel. No sé cómo se lo voy a contar.

—No tienes por qué hacerlo…

—Claro que sí… Soy de formación católica, ¿sabes?

No comprendía qué tenía que ver una cosa con otra y las dos juntas con ella. Pero se propuso ser cortés. La escuchó fumando y bebiendo lo que quedaba de cerveza. Hasta acertó a contestarle. Le parecía una muchacha admirable, graciosa y sutil, y le daba mucha pena que las cosas fueran como eran. Tal vez si tuvieran mas tiempo… Pero el tiempo se acababa. Tras las ventanas comenzaba a clarear y la hora de la partida se acercaba con una seguridad aplastante.

—Quiero decirte que para mi fue muy importante que estuvieras conmigo esta noche. No la olvidaré nunca…

—Yo tampoco. Y te aseguro que este no es el final. Lo presiento…

—Pero ahora debes irte.

—Me cuesta… Siempre me ha costado desprenderme de la gente…

Se levantó, empezó a vestirse, mirando de vez en cuando a la mujer en su cama. Andrea no sé movía.

—Te voy a acompañar hasta la esquina, debo comprar cigarros.

Recogió la ropa regada por el piso y se la extendió. Le ayudó a ponérsela. Tenía muchas ganas de estar sola. Estaba asustada. No iba a cambiar de opinión, llegaría hasta el final, aunque deseaba que pasara algo que de pronto la detuviera. Pero no podía ser una española que en un par de días regresaba a su maravillosa vida.

Se abrazaron delante de la puerta.

—¿Prometes escribirme?

—Claro, tan pronto llegue allá…

—Verás que seremos grandes amigas. Te ayudaré en lo que pueda.

—Gracias…

No creía que ese episodio trascendiera. Una tenía un solo tatuado en el brazo, la otra una luna en la pierna. Nada que ver. Le dio un último beso y abrió el cerrojo.

De regreso se tiró en la cama y miró al techo fumando profundamente. Ya había alejado a Andrea de su cabeza. Echó un vistazo al teléfono, titubeó y finalmente descolgó.

Se demoraron mucho en contestarle. Se imaginó cómo dormían aquellas, enroscadas, cómo respiraban cerca, como se despertaban escuchando el fatídico timbre, abrían lentamente los ojos tocándose, hasta que por fin la innombrable levantaba el auricular y, sin dejar de acariciar casi instintivamente los hombros de la otra, insistía en averiguar quién era loco que llamaba a esa hora.

Por supuesto, no le dijo nada. O sí, se lo dijo todo mentalmente. Escuchaba la voz por última vez y le rogaba que no colgara, que la reconociera a través de la línea silenciosa y le dijera palabras claves, contundentes y tiernas. Pero colgó con una amenaza, una maldición, claro que colgó.

Entonces estrelló el teléfono contra el suelo y lanzó un grito prolongado y salvaje. Después se acomodó en la cama y se masturbó con toda la rabia y dolor y asco que la consumían. Sobre todo, asco. Justo cuando se venía tocó a la puerta el chofer para llevarla al aeropuerto.

 

The Eclipse

Almost everything had been taken away. What remained was the phone, the bed (the driver would be picking up the mattress in the morning, as payment for his services), the cupboard nobody wanted because it was full of termites, the faded Habanos poster, a few ruined books, a rusty pan, and the suitcase in the corner of the living room.

She smoked. She stared at the telephone even though she wasn’t expecting any calls. Nor did she have anyone to call. Everything had been said.

Nevertheless she picked up the phone and started dialing.

A soft, tired voice answered on the other end.

“Hi,” she would have liked to say. “It’s me. I’m leaving tomorrow and I’m alone. I want to see you. I need to see you. If you ask me to stay, I’ll stay. For you I could do anything…” But she didn’t say a word.

After the other person hung up, she sat for a bit, listening to the choppy echo. She lit another cigarette—she should’ve gone out walking instead—and smoked, staring into the haze. The ephemeral figures in the air.

She had money. A lot of it. She could give someone an unforgettable night. Take them to the best restaurant in the city or the most elegant bar or an expensive club. She took her phonebook out of her purse and went over the names and numbers for the millionth time. Little by little she had said goodbye to everyone. She had given away books, paintings, decorations, clothing, CDs, sold the sound system and the furniture, pillaged her own home. It would be annoying to see someone. She wouldn’t know what to say. And also she felt something akin to shame.

That morning her father had insulted her. He said she was betraying his trust, all their dreams, everything that could’ve been and wasn’t. That he was renouncing her. “You use people. You take advantage of everyone and drop them when they aren’t useful anymore. You’re a piece of shit.” He threw down his set of keys to the house and left. She stood motionless for a few seconds, then ran after him to explain, but he’d already started the engine of the car. “Papá,” said her lips, soundlessly. She was aware that he was right in some ways. In his way.

She closed the phonebook and dialed the number again. This time she gathered all her strength to say “hello” when the voice answered.

“Yes?” said the voice.

“I’d like to see you…”

“I’m busy. Call me tomorrow.”

“I’m leaving tomorrow…”

“Then call me when you come back.”

“I’m not coming back…”

“Sorry, I have someone over…”

“Don’t hang up! If you want I’ll call later to set something up, we can go wherever you want and just have a conversation, I need to talk to you, tell you…”

“I’m with my girlfriend, get it?”

“I’m sorry, I just thought…”

“Bye! Good luck!” Click.

She lit another cigarette. Her life was going up in smoke. How does a person manage to lose everything, even themselves? It was very late. There was nothing in the world that could reverse things, no procedure for salvation, no friend at hand.

She decided to go down, buy a couple beers from the bar at the corner, and get drunk by herself. It was very strange, spending the night before her departure smoking and looking at a phone that connected her to nothing. She saw a cockroach scuttle across the room and tucked her feet up in disgust. Disgust, that was what she felt. Disgust and a sense of futility.

As she was opening the door on her way back in, she heard ringing. Her legs went weak, she thought maybe it was the other woman, feeling regret for the cold way she’d treated her, maybe she was willing to accompany her during this, her last night in Havana, maybe they’d visit places marked by memories, recalling the most intense moments in the years of their relationship, maybe suddenly everything would be like before and there’d be no need to escape to somewhere else, to flee from the pain and emptiness…

“Hello?”

“Hi, it’s Andrea, I don’t know if you remember me…”

Surprise and disappointment. Andrea, a charming Spanish girl she’d met a couple nights ago at Fiat and hadn’t thought of since.

“Yeah, of course…How’s it going?”

“Now that I’m talking to you, stupendous. I was actually calling to invite you out. If you don’t have plans, of course…”

“Where should we meet?”

At the end of the day, she thought, she was still a lucky girl.

She touched up her makeup and hair, finished the beer, opened the second one, lit a cigarette. In her abdomen was a tingly happiness. She looked at the naked walls one more time before going out to rescue the night.

When she arrived at the malecón, she climbed onto the wall to let the waves splash her feet. She was craving a goodbye from the sea, a blessing. “I’m going to miss you,” she said to it. She knew very little about the country she was going to. She knew it didn’t have a coast. The thought crossed her mind of letting herself fall onto the reef so the waves could lap at all of her. She imagined dying. In some ways her departure was like suicide, she thought. Murder. She bent down to touch her hands to an approaching wave, then raised her fingers to her mouth. “Sabes a mar,” she’d said to the other woman an eternity ago. You taste like sea. “¿Sabes amar?” Do you know how to love? She didn’t want to think about her. But the other woman appeared in her thoughts anyway. She was there, in some deep place, like a toothache. She tried to concentrate on Andrea but realized she couldn’t remember her. Her image escaped her, the only things she knew were that she was young and pretty and had a sun tattooed on her shoulder. That night at Fiat they’d shown each other their tattoos: a sun and a moon. Made for each other, they joked. It sounded dumb.

From afar she saw a girl waving next to the first lion on Prado. Her lion, another gift the unnamable one had given her, along with the moon, the sea, the second bench to the right in Parque Fe del Valle, a red-and-gold carp at the Japanese Garden, Hotel Los Frailes, the lobby of Ambos Mundos when they play violin and piano, TV Café, the voice of Adriana Varela, the Lady with the Veil at the Museo Napoleónico, the smell of mint, and a million other things. The city had been mined by the other woman.

Andrea was smiling at her. She noted that Andrea was very cute, luminous and open. For a second she wanted to run away. She knew she could hurt Andrea. Crazy is contagious. Misfortune corrupts.

“If on a full-moon Friday you get atop that lion and tell it, ‘I want to fly,’ it will grow wings and take you away, away…”

It didn’t matter that she was revealing secrets to a stranger. It was like betraying betrayal, negating its importance.

“You’re fantastic,” said Andrea.

They walked for a bit. Andrea talked about her life. It seemed like a calm life, stable, boring. She had a Peruvian girlfriend in Madrid and an eternal platonic love in Barcelona. And a magnificent job with a good salary, a big close family, great friends, a pretty house. She traveled a lot in search of adventure, of movement. This she didn’t say, but one could guess.

They sat down at a corner for beers.

“Tell me about you.”

“I don’t exist,” she could’ve said, and it would have been the purest of truths.

“I’m a poet,” she said.

“Is that a job?”

“I don’t know…It’s a way of being.”

Once again she was speaking the other woman’s words.

“Will you recite a poem for me?”

“Later,” she promised.

They talked about Havana. Havana is a poem, she said. Look at it, it’s like it’s yours. Feel it, smell it, taste its curves, its voluptuous contours, its tight alleyways, its lilting rhythm, its smell of sex and sweat. Havana is an exhibitionist whore, a maniac, a crazy woman. She knew she was tipsy, full of shit. But she couldn’t help herself. It was better than bursting into tears.

She looked into Andrea’s dazzled, dazzling eyes. She could love a woman with eyes like that. She told her so. She also told her they had just one night. She wanted to be honest. She told her about the packed suitcase and the plane ticket. But she couldn’t explain her reasons. They weren’t very clear to her. She simply knew she had to do it to survive.

“It’s how it is for a lot of Cubans, for one reason or another…”

“I’ve met Cubans in Madrid. They have a lot of trouble adapting. They still have their gatherings with Cubans, listen to Cuban music, cook Cuban food, drink Cuban rum, and smoke Cuban tobacco…”

“But very few come back.”

“And you, do you think you’ll come back some day?”

“I’m still here.”

She looked around. There were a lot of people, all drinking, talking loudly, laughing. A trio went from table to table offering up weepy boleros. She felt like everything was light years away, including the woman in front of her, the woman with the bottomless eyes.

“I’m here,” she repeated, like she was trying to convince herself. She took Andrea’s hand and played with her fingers.

“Do you want to look for somewhere else to sit?”

“Yeah, somewhere quieter…”

She guided Andrea in the dark, holding her hand, or holding herself up, rather. She was very drunk. She brought them to a bar closer to her neighborhood. She knew they’d end up at her house, but she was a little afraid of that moment.

Andrea suggested a toast to them. Nothing in this world happens by chance, she said. Our encounter is meaningful, even though we may not know it. She knew Andrea was also tipsy. It wouldn’t have occurred to a sober person to talk about the obscure laws of fate. She didn’t contradict her, even though it seemed silly, and instead drank in silence.

“And the poem? You promised me a poem.”

“Later…”

“Then sing me a song.”

Once again the goddamn phantom. The other woman had been the one who sang songs, sitting on the wall in front of the sea, her gaze lost to the distance. The other woman sang to her before bed, and when she was depressed she sang to her and stroked her hair, and when her strength failed her she sang to her quietly and held her. She talked about her love through songs and also her pain and her doubts and then her out-of-love. She didn’t know a single song the other woman hadn’t sung, there wasn’t a single one that wouldn’t bring back memories.

“Why don’t you sing for me…”

She listened to Andrea’s voice, looking steadily into the eyes of that woman who was looking into her eyes. Between them was an uncomfortable false intimacy. Again she regretted being there and again she told herself this was better than being alone in the house that was no longer her house. She took a long drink, smiled.

“You have a beautiful voice,” she said. And without preamble, straight to the point: “I live two blocks from here, how do you feel about coming up?”

To her surprise, Andrea accepted with noticeable delight. They bought a couple more beers and went down El Bulevar. Before opening the door, she explained the sorry state of her home.

“Luckily the bed is still here…”

“It doesn’t matter…”

But she wanted to tell her what her house had been like before. The little nest built by two. For the first time she mentioned the other woman, choked up, and gave a speedy description of where the paintings were supposed to go and the sound system and where Esterlina the turtle had lived and the potted ferns. Andrea interrupted her with a kiss. Soon her strength left her and she collapsed into Andrea’s mouth, lost herself in her eyes.

She started taking Andrea’s clothes off.

“I spent nearly half an hour choosing my underwear…for you…”

She admired Andrea’s underwear for a minute. Then she took it all off. She was focused on kissing her all over, getting to know every fragment of that body, until she was completely surrendered over to her senses. There were no thoughts left, no memories, nothing that bound her to the world. Infinite, but it too would come to an end. And when it had ended, she asked herself what this woman was doing in her bed. She didn’t know what to say to her. She wanted her to leave, but had no idea how to kick her out without hurting her. She avoided looking at her. Andrea was lovely, even more so naked, but made her feel nothing.

To fill the void, to keep from suffocating once and for all, she decided to recite one of her poems for Andrea, the first one she could remember.

“Inside the moon is / another moon / that’s shattered. / And full of cracks / left by the fish / and its long tongue, / blisters / licked by the fish / and its dry tongue. / Inside the moon is / another moon / that’s darkened. / A woman dressed in black / drags the fish by its tail / and its fat fins / trail behind them / two grooves in the sand…”

But Andrea didn’t want poems anymore. She was rubbing against her like a cat, murmuring, stroking her.

“This is the first time I’m cheating on Isabel. I don’t know how I’m going to tell her.”

“You don’t have to tell her…”

“Of course I do. I had a Catholic upbringing, you know?”

She didn’t understand what one thing had to do with the other, and what the two things had to do with her. But she resolved to be polite. As she smoked and drank what was left of the beer, she listened and even managed to respond. Andrea seemed like an impressive girl, funny, sharp, and it was a pity things were the way they were. Maybe if they’d had more time… But time was running out. Outside the windows it was starting to get light, and her departure approached with a crushing inevitability. She turned her face to Andrea.

“I want you to know, it’s very important to me that you were with me tonight. I’ll never forget it…”

“Me neither. And I assure you this is not the end. I can feel it…”

“But now you should go.”

“It’s hard…I’ve always found it hard to detach myself from people.”

She got up and started getting dressed, looking every once in a while at the woman in her bed. Andrea didn’t move.

“Let me go with you to the corner. I need to get cigarettes.”

She picked up the clothes strewn over the floor and handed them to Andrea, then helped her put them on. She felt an intense need to be alone. She was scared. Not that she was going to change her mind, she’d see things through to the end, even though she wished something would happen suddenly and bring everything to a halt. But it couldn’t be a Spaniard who was returning in a couple days to her wonderful life.

They hugged at the door.

“Promise you’ll write me?”

“Of course, as soon as I get there…”

“You’ll see, we’ll be great friends. I’ll help you with whatever I can.”

“Thank you…”

She didn’t think this episode would amount to much. Andrea had a sun tattoo on her arm, she had a moon on her leg. A coincidence. She gave Andrea one last kiss and slid back the bolt.

When she got back, she threw herself on the bed and stared at the ceiling, smoking deeply. Andrea had already left her mind. She glanced at the phone, hesitated, and finally picked it up.

They took a while to come to the phone. She imagined them sleeping, curled around each other, breathing close together, how they woke up to the ominous ringing, blinking their eyes open as they touched one another, how at last the unnamable one lifted the receiver, still stroking, almost instinctively, the other’s shoulders, and demanded to know what crazy person was calling at this hour.

Of course, she didn’t say anything. Or she did, she said everything in her head. She listened to that voice one last time and pleaded with her not to hang up, to recognize her through the silent line and say the key words, forceful, tender words. But the other end hung up with a threat, a curse, of course she hung up.

So then she smashed the phone against the floor and loosed a long, savage scream. Then she settled into the bed and masturbated with all the rage and pain and disgust that were consuming her. Disgust most of all. The driver taking her to the airport knocked on the door just as she came.

 

Anna Lidia Vega Serova (b. Leningrad, 1968) is a Cuban writer and visual artist. She is a two-time winner of the Premio David, and her work has been translated into English, French, German, Italian, and Japanese. Her books include the novels Bad Painting (Ediciones Unión, 1998) and Ánima fatua (Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2007), the story collections El día de cada día (Ediciones Unión, 2006) and Imperio doméstico (Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2005), and the poetry collections Retazos (de las hormigas) para los malos tiempos (Ediciones Vigía, 2004) and Eslabones de un tiempo muerto (Reina del Mar Editores, 2005). She lives in Havana.

Jennifer Shyue is a translator focusing on contemporary Cuban and Asian-Peruvian writers. Her work has been supported by fellowships and grants from Cornell University’s Institute for Comparative Modernities, Fulbright, Princeton University, and the University of Iowa and has appeared in 91st Meridian, The Offing, Hyperallergic, and elsewhere. Her translation of Julia Wong Kcomt’s Bi-rey-nato is forthcoming from Ugly Duckling Presse’s Señal chapbook series. She can be found at shyue.co.

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