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Feebleminded

WHISKY WITH MOTHER as the electric blue fades into the small hours and now, a long way from home, my hands are covered in excrement. I didn’t know my own smell, the layer of smell that forms on the body as the hours without water go by. My tongue gets distracted by eating grass. Sucking on an animal’s hard udders, sucking on the fur, the teeth all dolled up, or imagining the death of your parents. It’s all the same. From the moment he entered my head, this saltwater hell. Zealous hammering on my veins. The trouble with my brain is I can’t hold it back, it rolls on and on through the spiky undergrowth like a bulldozer. Where am I. I don’t recognise these big houses. I’ve never rounded this bend in the road. Degenerate desire. Damaging desire. Demented desire. I don’t know how to get back. My mother will be blind drunk, sprawled on the sloping grass, her feet carved up by the blades. The clouds are tree trunks at this time of night. My hangover’s fierce and I collapse any old how to masturbate, my hair electrified, my skin hot, my eyelids stiff. My hand works away then falls still as an insect, so that nothing is enough. Me and him in a convertible. Me and him on a muddy road. Bodies shouldn’t have breasts after a certain age; when my breasts turn to thick heavy flesh I’ll have them removed. Women should stop opening their sex, too. I look for a word to replace the word. I look for a word that shows my devotion. The word that marks the spot, the distance, the exact centre of my delirium. We should be like tiny snakes till the end, and be buried that way, in long holes like gutters. I get up feeling anxious, my head thick with blood. I walk round the house and open the windows. The wind sweeps over the insect corpses trapped in the mosquito net. He keeps jars back there full of rusty water and all kinds of fossils. He looks like he’s never slept, always needing a wash, a new haircut, a piss-free pair of trousers. And after all, what is that scant pleasure we get from our fingers when we’re young. What is that scant golden liquid dripping, diluting, if afterwards, later on, when at last I find her holding the thick-bottomed glass, knocking the ice cube around and asking the waiter for the same again, my mum and I are sitting at the garden table with a pot of thin broth and two spoons. What is that leftover desire, that sunken desire, while we eat our soup and the steam hits us in the face and nothing, nothing is left.

 

NO MORE WHISKY EVER AGAIN, I say. No more whisky ever again, she says. Ever again, huh. And we make crosses with our fingers and toast ourselves with water and throw the empty bottles in the incinerator. What did I say. I want to say there’s a halo of death in the air. No. That death is all too present between my mother’s mouth and mine, and in the bottom of the sunken glass. And the hours can’t fix that. Starting a new day, like unplugging the refrigeration unit and plugging it in again once the storm’s died down and the power’s back on, and the rush to gobble up the food before it rots. But the maggot-infested cheese and the meat in its own entrails make us nauseous. Or mending, a whole week spent with a needle and thread, mending the holes in the mosquito nets on the window frames and painting the flower urns green. Or setting wire traps to stop the owls shitting everywhere, or firing shots at their nests. The bright yellow jelly of the yolk between your pinkies. Or buying a turtle and forgetting to feed it and clean out its water. Wake up, mum, before the day’s over, stop dropping your head on the scissors. She’s trimmed the ends and the fringe, like every time she gets drunk. Let’s go for a walk down the muddy path. Her body hunts for liquid in her organs, in the tissue around her brain. She scrubs herself with lilac-scented soap and I watch her in the oval mirror, knowing that this pot of painkillers and coffee isn’t the only way night can fall.

 

ON THE ROAD, WE DEWATER. First onto the velour seat, then onto the steering wheel. Mother onto her blue blouse with small white buttons, me onto my long legs. Covered in my own waste, I know my outfit looks amazing and it feels good. We strip in the lay-by, our shorts tangling in our high-heels. Our bras on the back seat, our guts on the tarmac, we drive off with open windows and our hair tied up. We stink as we cross the white lines, no headscarves, no lip gloss, but we’re laughing for the first time in years. We never used to do that, it’s not our style to drive at a hundred miles an hour and laugh. To want to live and laugh again. We run inside, two teenagers, and our skin is sticky when we finally shower.

 

THE PHONE, MUM. THAT’S ENOUGH NOW. We’ve fallen back down, back to tidying the cupboards and sweeping, the sizzling eggs laughing at us in the pan. Where is it. How do you want them? Don’t make me look at you again. You’re not getting it back, I won’t give in. I look at the hanging baskets we put up with all that effort. I look at the tiles stuck side by side. I look at the walls and the foundations, the pieces of bread. Give it to me, now. Why do you want to leave again, we’re moving on together and no thanks to old Mr Knife, the two of us alone in the old dodderers’ midst. We’re doing it and the day turns beautiful just like that. How about a picnic? I’ll let you go on the swing. Give it to me before I overcook the eggs and you’re crying yet again in front of your clean cold plate. I should fry that pissing telephone. Give it to me right now. I should stick it in the oven. Fine, as you wish, but on your head be it, and she flounces out the kitchen, her hands sopping wet. She enters the darkness of the corridor and returns to the light of the living room, which is dark now, in spite of everything, and she throws it straight at me.

 

I GO OUTSIDE JUMPING FOR JOY. He’s sent me a message and it’s a shower of sparks like an ejaculation bringing me back to life. It creeps up through my body like an illness. I call him. I can hear him. He’s coming. I wait at the motorway intersection, under the bridge with its far-right posters and junkies’ graffiti. What is there to understand beyond this suffocation. My head is a huge flashing lamp, and now and then engines drive by at full speed. A lorry carrying a dozen carcasses of old cars. The road to the boneyard. It’s been days since I last saw him. And as I occupy the anteroom, I’m a flipped-over beetle with fleeting pulsions pushing me into the white. Rapid pulsions pushing me into the pure. To look through a crack and only see the tree branches. The air is sweating. Horses, grass, dung, air, all covered by a single sheet. All covered by compulsion. He appears, I get in the car, we walk through the doors of a motel. There’s nothing in between, no landscape, no motion, no space time following on one from the other until we reach the room. Just a cut, a jump. I stay standing up and my veins dilate. He unzips my trousers. I hear them fall. He turns me round, pulls down my underwear and his hand enters me like an object. The destructive force of sex smashes my mother’s blond mane out of view, my mother with her back to me, facing me, running towards me on the shore, scrubbing the salt off the lining of my swimsuit in the middle of a sandstorm. The times I’d board the happy train with its silly music while she’d go for her aperitif and I’d wave down at her, my head floating in the colours. The times I’d look for her in groups of other ladies, when I’d grasp a stranger’s hand. I suffer from that monomania, how much higher can it go. And yet it does, it creeps up. While the room exists, it has the clarity of an axe.

 

AFTERWARDS, IF I WASN’T DELIRIOUS, he said he had to stop coming here so often. He wanted to say something but he couldn’t, though he said it clearly enough when we went under the bridge and the echo sent it back to him. Something about his situation, the context, being responsible. That we’ll still see each other, that it would be crazy not to, that I’m not in his brain so I can’t understand, that I should try being in his brain just for a second, that he won’t be able to drive all the way here so often. That he’s risking everything. That he’ll text me about when we can next meet. I listened with the reverent astonishment of a feebleminded woman getting things muddled, lost in the countless details that engulf her, a plague of microbes on the esplanade. I mistake the swishing of the animals for the plants, sunburnt lizards scuttling into the drainpipes. By the end everything was vague, inexact, blurred. What had he just told me? We were still bound together. My mouth an elongated snout. Where were those words coming from? Why had he chosen them and not others? What language should we use when we name things? How does anyone manage to speak at all? What had he said. I’d forgotten already. It was the thick liquid of his saliva mingling, disintegrating in his mouth. That transition of a mouth into divinity. Like an incurable genetic condition, he finished his speech and we kissed. And kissing was a steady advance, knife raised high.

 

 

***

 

This is an excerpt from a forthcoming novel by Ariana Harwicz, Feebleminded (Charco Press), which will be published in May 2019.


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

(b. Buenos Aires, 1977) is one of the most radical figures in contemporary Argentinian literature, compared to Nathalie Sarraute and Virginia Woolf. Her prose is characterised by its violence, eroticism, irony and direct criticism of the clichés surrounding the notions of the family and conventional relationships. Harwicz studied screenwriting and drama in Argentina, and earned a first degree in Performing Arts from the University of Paris VII as well as a Master’s degree in comparative literature from the Sorbonne. She has taught screenwriting and written two plays, which have been staged in Buenos Aires. Feebleminded (published by Charco Press in May 2019) is her second novel and the second instalment of an ‘involuntary’ trilogy, preceded by Die, My Love (Charco Press, 2017) and followed by Precoz [Precocious, 2015]. Her fourth novel is Degenerado [Degenerate], which comes out in Spanish in January 2019.

Originally from Buenos Aires and now based in Edinburgh, Carolina Orloff is an experienced translator and researcher in Latin American literature, who has published extensively on the writer Julio Cortázar as well as on literature, cinema, politics and translation theory. In 2016, after obtaining her PhD and working in the academic sector for several years, Carolina co-founded Charco Press where she acts as publishing director and main editor. She is also the co-translator of Ariana Harwicz’s Die, My Love, one of Charco’s inaugural titles, longlisted for the Man Booker International 2018 and shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize.


Annie McDermott translates fiction and poetry from Spanish and Portuguese, and is currently working on novels by the Uruguayan writer Mario Levrero for And Other Stories and Coffee House Press.  Her translations of poems by Sergio Loo appeared in Alba Londres 06: Contemporary Mexican Poetry and The White Review.

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