No Holds Barred

Hello. Dr Rivers’ clinic? Thank you. Yes. Yes, doctor, I would like to be your patient. With your permission, of course. No. It was Doctor Rosenthal who recommended you to me. Yes, she and her husband, I’ve known them for a while. They’re going to spend a year in Florence. In a few days, I think. That’s why she didn’t want to take me on. Besides, it’s not advisable among friends, she said. I’ve worked with him. No, I’m not a poet. I’m a filmmaker. I write screenplays. Well, that’s part of the problem. I don’t want to write anymore, but I don’t know what else to do. Can I? I suppose so. No, nothing I’ve written has been produced, but almost. Someone optioned one of my screenplays. Of course, it’s better than nothing. Maybe with a little more luck. It was an action movie. A sort of film noir, but set in the jungle, in Guatemala. I’m from there. El Petén. It’s a wonderful place. Have you been to the jungle? It’s a singular thing. If you haven’t been you don’t know what I’m talking about. The vegetation, the life, the energy everywhere. Yes, I get excited talking about it. In black and white. Supposedly I was going to direct it, but the investors backed out at the last moment. Yes, safety concerns. By a stroke of bad luck, the producer was there when they lynched a North American woman. A photographer. She was in a little town, taking pictures of some kids. Someone started the rumour that she was kidnapping kids. You know, there have been cases. For illegal adoption agencies, or for specialty brothels, and they say they are even used to supply the organ market. Unthinkable, you said it. But that’s what happened and the project fell through. Money? Well, yes, I mean no, money isn’t really a problem at all. Rich, not what you would call rich, no. My father? My father yes, he was rich. No, he died a long time ago. He was killed. It’s a bit of a complicated story. Around, let’s see, 25 years ago. Me? 30. Yes, my mother remarried. My stepfather? No, they got divorced. I haven’t seen him in a long time. No, I live alone. She’s still in Guatemala. A verbal contract? Go ahead. Sincerity? Of course, doctor. Next week, that’s fine. Thursday at 6. Yes, a pleasure. And thanks for taking me on, ma’am.



A painting by Broto. But of course, in Spanish it suggests something. Like something that sprouts. I sprout. What? No, it’s just that I don’t know what to say. I’m usually not a big talker, you know? My girlfriends have always complained that I make them, or rather, let them talk, and then don’t say anything. They say that I hide, that I’m afraid of commitment, that I don’t like intimacy. I don’t see it that way, but whatever. Now I suppose the tables will be turned. I wonder if language won’t be a hurdle. According to Dr Rosenthal it’s not a problem. Other than my accent. I get sick of hearing myself speak English. If you think so, magnificent. Thank you, very kind, doctor. Nice furniture. That rug looks Moroccan. Really? From the High Atlas. It’s because I spent some time in Fez, years ago. Yes, a charming country, although sometimes it’s hard, you know, Islam. Yes, of course. No. Morocco is full of Jews. Before there were more. A lot of them left for Israel, but they’ve come back lately. It seems they’re discriminated against. Because they have African features, traditions. They eat with their hands and sit on the floor. Absurd, yes. Racism. But I don’t want to get off course. I’m neither Jewish nor Muslim. And I do everything possible to not be too Christian. It’s hard, of course. As an adolescent I was pretty religious. I was interested in mysticism. Very. I even dreamed of being a saint. Can you believe it? Now I’m an aspiring atheist. It’s ironic. Sometimes I think saintliness, as absurd as it sounds, is the only way out. The detachment, the asceticism. Fleeing the world. But maybe it’s impossible to flee, and that’s why I’m here. On the couch? Okay, why not. No, I don’t have anything against it. What nice lighting in this room, doctor. I like soft lighting as well. Did you do the lighting yourself, or was it a professional? You did, excellent work. Really. Oh, that’s a Twombly. One of my favourite artists. Tafraout. It’s beautiful. But it’s funny, you know, Twombly never went there. He told me himself. I know him, not well, but yes, I’ve spoken with him. At an opening. He’s very nice. Yes, everyone knows. He was in Morocco, in the north. He never visited the south. That’s what he told me. No. No. I’m sorry. Free association? Of course, I know what it means, more or less. I’ll try it. No, it’s just that I don’t want you to think I’m a snob, that I’m trying to show off because I know a few artists. No, well, yes, sometimes I feel like a bit of a snob, but I don’t like it. I think real snobs are truly idiots. I know several, and the idea that I might share their affliction irritates me. Okay, I’ll try. Excuse me, but it’s not that easy. Morocco. Let’s see. Hash. Castle. Mohammed. Mediterranean. Faggot. But I’m not homosexual, doctor. Everyone thinks so because I lived there, because I have a few friends who are. The closest was with a transvestite. But I don’t know, he was very feminine. Ah yes, as an adolescent, a boy a year or two younger than me sucked me off. Me to him? No. We had made a bet and he lost. Yes, but I was certain I was going to win. Of course you can think that I cheated him, but that’s the way life is, don’t you think? Later I regretted it, of course, and it never happened again. That boy now has a family. Three kids. A big man. Does karate. Carries a pistol. An authentic macho. In Guatemala. Besides, his wife is very attractive. I don’t think she knows about it. I wasn’t the only one. I think he liked it, but whatever. Yes. I would say I was a happy child. My parents had horses. I spent all day riding. After coming home from school, I would immediately go to the stable. I would saddle a horse myself, any horse, and wouldn’t stop until it got dark. If I misbehaved, the punishment was always not letting me ride. They beat me a little, but the times they did it was always with a riding whip. Once my father and more than once my stepfather. For playing hooky from school. A Jesuit school. Two friends and I escaped one afternoon to go to a brothel. It’s something almost all of us did as adolescents. 13 or 14 years old. But that’s not how I got started. It was a little later. With a neighbour, a very beautiful woman, several years older than I. Divorced. Nothing unusual. In Spanish we even have a saying: Neighbour on top of neighbour. Machista? And cousin shacking up with cousin? I’m sorry, doctor, but for me it was a blessing. No, I never regretted it. On the contrary. I still consider it a huge favour. Maybe I never thanked her enough. But I think she knows she did something good for me. But I’ve already told you I also dreamed of being a saint. I was devout at times. I talked to the virgin, most of all. Then I started to have doubts about our religion, about the dogma, and I went to the chapel at school and — look how stupid — I kneeled in front of the virgin and asked for forgiveness. Forgiveness because I’d stopped believing in her. No, now I don’t believe in any of that, neither in her nor her son nor God. No, at least not in any God in particular. Sometimes I suffer relapses, and without knowing it I start to talk to someone, yes, in quotation marks. I console myself by thinking I was educated that way, I was made that way, and I’ll probably die that way, full of superstitions. But above and beyond all that, sometimes I feel like there’s some kind of benevolent force, or something, I don’t know, a place where everything fits, where everything turns into something good. It’s a big relief, but I don’t think about it very much. In dying? In that sense, I believe the same thing as my Jewish friends, that I will end up good and completely dead. That’s a relief too. Okay, doctor, now I’ve let myself ramble on, haven’t I?



Politics? Of course I don’t mind talking about politics. Although I know absolutely nothing about North American domestic policy. My friends from here believe there is little difference between the two parties and I believe them. According to them, the Pentagon is in charge here, and the Pentagon in turn caters to the super rich. As far as international relations, now that interests me more. Don’t be offended, but I think North American foreign policy is disgusting. They have committed, continue to commit, and will continue to commit atrocities as long as they can. I know because of Guatemala. They, you guys, have financed, planned, and supervised the notorious massacres of Indians, of students, of leftist activists, in the last 30 years. Not only have they — you? — provided the arms, you have founded the schools where the dictators, special agents, assassins and torturers have been trained to commit these atrocities. Of course I don’t mean that everyone shares the blame equally. The media keeps you misinformed, it’s true, but it’s also true there are very few people here who are really interested in what’s happening there. But in the end, I live here and I don’t hate North Americans and I suppose I’m a bit of an accomplice. Of course I get worked up. I feel, as I already told you, powerless. Guilty. Hypocritical. See you Thursday, doctor.



My sister called me this morning. Yes, I have just the one. It’s enough. She’s coming to visit. She’s going to stay with me. We get along well. We’ve always gotten along well. But. I don’t know. I got upset with her. I didn’t tell her, of course. But it bothered me a lot that she would call me like that, all of the sudden, to tell me she’s coming the next day. And if I had plans? She doesn’t care. She only thinks about herself. That’s her biggest defect, if you ask me. At any rate, I’m happy she’s coming, but I got upset. Perhaps too upset, although I got over it quickly. No, I don’t have plans for tomorrow. It’s Friday. It’s not necessary to make plans. You go out, right? Go for drinks, to the movies, to dinner. I don’t like to make plans. Well, an unspoken plan, yes. Ah, doctor, I just remembered. I must have been 15 or 16 years old. With a friend a few years older than I, or more precisely, with my brother-in-law, my sister’s husband, we planned a kidnapping.  Now it seems unbelievable to me, mostly because during that time, as I told you, I dreamed of saintliness and read a lot about mysticism. There was a girl who lived close to my house. A very rich family. Jewish in origin. What? Of course I’m not an anti-Semite. I admire them enormously. They invented our religion, right? As Borges said, Christianity is the most successful of the Jewish superstitions. And later they themselves annihilated it. A great achievement! Freud, Wittgenstein, why go on. At any rate, this family had coffee plantations, banks, who knows what else. The girl wasn’t exactly beautiful, but I thought she was attractive. We planned it all, down to the last detail. I fantasised about it. Stockholm syndrome included. In the end, my brother-in-law got scared and backed out. We had already bought the gear, masks, gloves. We had handguns, sleeping pills. We considered renting a house on a deserted road, and even bought a van we were going to commit the crime with. I think I would have done it had my partner not gotten cold feet. Fortunately he did. The funny part, well, not funny, interesting, is that they kidnapped my mother a few years later. Yes, and I couldn’t help but to feel a little guilty. Karma, I said to myself. Thank God everything turned out well. My stepfather paid, and they let her go, and happy ending. At any rate, it was no joke. But the symmetry is still interesting, don’t you think? It was that neighbour, the one I first had sex with, who introduced me to Eastern thought. Buddhism, Lao Tse, the I Ching, and all that. To drugs as well. No, I don’t regret that either. I was, of course, madly in love with her. You know what, doctor? Your voice reminds me of hers. No, you don’t look like her. Just the same deep, gravelly voice. You told me to tell you everything. My sister? Three years older, or four. I always forget. Yes, I’ve had quite a bit of admiration for her since I was little. She’s an activist. Feminism and the environment. Yes, she’s active in politics, but not party politics. Perhaps. Of course it’s a risky activity, especially in a country like Guatemala. Yes, they’ve signed a peace agreement, but there are no guarantees. I don’t know if you’ve followed the news, but a little while ago Newsweek and CNN were talking about an assassination there. They killed a bishop, a monsignor, who had overseen a very important report about the final years of the war. It’s called ‘Recovering Historical Memory’, or something like that. It’s the testimonies of thousands of victims, and also many military officers, paramilitary fighters, assassins and executioners. A very valuable document, extraordinary. The conclusion was that the army is responsible for 80 per cent of the killings committed in the areas of conflict over the last 20 years. The document was published and presented to the public in the cathedral itself in Guatemala City. A real event. But two days later, a Sunday evening, the bishop was brutally assassinated. He was coming back from his sister’s house, it seems, and when he was entering his home, in the parish of San Sebastian, a few blocks from the cathedral, someone attacked him, beat him to death with a rock or brick. They completely destroyed his skull and face. They don’t know who, of course not. The government said it was surely street crime, but no one took that seriously. Characteristically, the Guatemalan police started their investigation with extreme ineptness. Not only did they wash the blood up just a few hours after the crime and fail to isolate the area to get prints, but they let the only witnesses go, a group of beggars that used to sleep at the door of the parish, and now no one can find them. Two or three days later a few agents from the FBI arrived in Guatemala to collaborate in the investigation. To date they haven’t found anything out. Rumour has it they only came to cover the tracks the Guatemalan agents may have left intact, with the risk that a private investigator contracted by MINUGUA or by the church or some other non-governmental organisation find them. Of course everyone suspected that some high-profile figure could have been behind it, someone whom the North Americans needed to protect. What’s not at all clear is the motive of the crime itself, when the document already existed. Many people think it was a kind of warning, so no one would go believing things had changed in Guatemala, like saying: We’re still here and we still run things. It’s possible. And yet I think there must be a more, shall we say, immediate motive. It worries me, naturally. Of course. My sister and a group of women published several articles denouncing the assassination. At first they limited themselves to writing that something like this couldn’t be tolerated at this stage, and they demanded justice and all that. Later they started to say it was necessary, urgent, to abolish the army, that it had been proved to be a criminal institution, that without a doubt the military had something to do with the killing, directly or indirectly. And later, and this perhaps was a little dumb, they started to mention names. Under the premise that a crime of this magnitude could have only been planned by someone powerful, they set out to name the people who had a reputation for being violent and corrupt. The list is long, but not that long. They published around twenty names. Two or three ex-presidents, several colonels, a few big landowners, a manufacturer or two, bankers, and drug traffickers. A fearsome line-up, the country’s living and more or less hidden forces, that everyone knows are capable of anything but that no one had signalled as possible suspects in this killing, and truthfully the probability that one of these men was mixed up in the issue was large. That’s why I’m worried, doctor. Of course they could kill her for something like this. At least. Her or someone close to her. You know, doctor, there’s something in you that reminds me of my sister. There haven’t been a lack of threats. Yes. No. Telephone calls. That why she’s coming, without a doubt. That’s why, beyond being surprised, I can’t really get mad.



A movie. A docudrama. It was filmed in the plaza of a town on the Altiplano, maybe Chajul. A close-up of an armed man, with a horse-like face. Behind there is a group of people, a solitary tree. The scene recalls Goya’s black paintings. On the ground, at the feet of the man, a fat, very ugly woman appears. She’s pregnant. The man hits her in the head with the butt of his rifle, and then says to someone offscreen: Now you hit her. This person, who remains invisible, obeys. He hits the woman in the back with a pickaxe. And then everyone starts to club her. Dark, yes. In that report by the church there are worse stories. It was common practice to obligate people to participate in lynchings. It took root. There are still lynchings in remote areas, almost every day. There’s a lot of hate, and poverty, doctor. Of course it’s horrible. No, I guess not. What do you mean why? It’s because I feel a bit guilty. I’ve already told you that. Maybe my sister’s arrival made me remember. Because she’s done something, or tried to do something, and meanwhile I just came here. I turned my back on all this. It’s a reason, don’t you think? Nightmares? A while ago, yes. When I first got here. Ten years ago. An uncle, I haven’t talked to you about him, died in a fire. Some peasant farmers from Quiché had occupied the Spanish embassy as a protest against the army for a series of massacres. By a stroke of bad luck, my uncle was there that day. The army didn’t negotiate. They entered by force and killed everyone there. Only the ambassador was able to escape. A few days after arriving here, I had this nightmare. I didn’t have much money. I was living alone in a loft, a great place, and I wasn’t getting enough to eat. Well, I dreamed all I had to eat was… I’m ashamed to say it. Alright, it was my uncle’s penis, charred, burned, like a sausage. I tried it, and I woke up immediately, feeling horribly nauseous. Yes. Disgust and fear, but like an abstract fear in the face of that inexplicable, incomprehensible dream, doctor. I don’t think I’d ever talked to anyone about that. I don’t know if I feel better. It was a long time ago. I don’t think I would have told Dr Rosenthal about it. Okay fine, let’s not talk about her. Again, I’m sorry. What else can I talk to you about? No, nothing’s wrong. It’s just that my mind is blank. Rejected? Maybe. No, it’s over. But I don’t know what else to say to you. Yes, I’ve felt something similar at other times, of course. The other night I had a dream. I had forgotten about it. I dreamt I had sexual relations with a lizard. Yes, okay. It was feminine, without a doubt. I don’t know why, but I was a prisoner. The strange thing is that the prison was a twin-engined airplane. The lizard, I knew, was extremely poisonous, and at first I was very scared of her. She bit my finger, but without wounding me, just to immobilise me. I was lying on a bunk, ready to sleep. She wrapped her tail, which had all of a sudden grown very long, around my genitals. It gave me a lot pleasure. A kind of telepathy was established between us. A sensation of well-being. Then I was on a prairie, everything was green. Grass green. My sister? No. She slept in the living room, on the sofa bed. As I said to you the other day, she’s received threats. No. She separated from him a while ago. She didn’t remarry, but she lived with another man for several years. Now she lives alone. She has two daughters, 15 and 16. She left them with their father, who is a biologist. In Belize. They aren’t at risk there. Here? Yes, she knows a few people. Exiles. She thinks it was the army. To get revenge. Me? I don’t know. It’s possible. But I don’t think it was a gesture from the establishment. From a group, or from one person, why not? There is, for example, a general who became president by way of coup during the roughest years. He would like to be president again. Unbelievable as it seems, he’s still rather popular, at least in the capital. The massacres occurred in the provinces, in more remote places. The elections are decided in the capital. The peasant farmers don’t vote, or not very much. At any rate, the famous report makes this man look pretty bad. He seems like a good candidate for a suspect to me. As a hypothesis, that’s it. There’s another, already retired, who was known for being very bloodthirsty. They nicknamed him The Wolf. They say while he was in power he became interested in Mayan art. Jade in particular. And it’s said he possesses one of the world’s most notable private collections. He also took over a lot of land, and his name appears in the report several times. No one has tied him to the assassination of the bishop, but I don’t see why not. Of course, an assumption. It’s strange, a few years ago he converted to Hinduism. He’s a disciple of Sri Baba, no less. A witty journalist wrote that it was an anachronism, that his guru should have been Ali Baba. No, I swear, doctor. He goes to India every year. He spends several months there. He founded the first Sri Baba ashram in Guatemala, and he’s his spiritual representative. You don’t believe me? I can swear on it. Ah, I’m glad you believe me. Gives you something to think about, right? About Sri Baba. I guess as a spiritual guide he’s obligated to accept everyone. At any rate, I wonder if he knows this general’s story, The Wolf. Those who remember him still call him that. The former guerrillas? That would be absurd. But whatever, politics, as you know, are not my strong suit, doctor. But things seem pretty clear. Well, clear is not the word, you’re right. Me? What can I do? Those screenplays I’ve worked on attempt to show the public these things, the situation in my country. But no one is interested in producing those kinds of movies. They don’t have happy endings. On the other hand, I think they have a bit of suspense, and I think because of that they could draw someone in. But no. Too depressing, they tell me, too sombre.


Doctor? Yeah, I know it’s Saturday, excuse me for calling. Ah, I’m glad. Bad, doctor, very bad. It’s my sister. She’s disappeared. I don’t know what to think. She didn’t come home to sleep last night. What? Yes. No, I’m not at home. I’m calling you from my mobile phone, my cell. Really? I’m pretty close, yes. I’m coming over. Thank you, doctor.


Yes, I barely slept. Thank you, yes, today I prefer the couch. Ah, as always, I feel much better being here. It’s not just the light, doctor. You don’t know what I’ve been through. I don’t know what to do. I just called home again. She hasn’t arrived. I’m going crazy, doctor. All kinds of things, of course. The police? No, not yet. It’s possible she’s simply out partying. It wouldn’t be the first time. If that’s the case, I’m going to strangle her. She could have told me, right? We agreed to meet at home to go out to eat. She left me a note saying she would be a little late. I waited until 10, and then thought, to hell with it, and went out to eat by myself. I was very angry, of course. I intended to throw her out of the apartment when she appeared, for being inconsiderate. Not only does she allow herself to visit, practically without telling me, but now she treats me like trash. Well no. The thing is, maybe thinking about revenge, after I ate I decided to go out for drinks. I had every intention of picking someone up, for some relief. Yes, I’ve had my promiscuous phases. But it had been a while since I’d had a casual encounter. I went to a dive bar I know. It rarely fails. A hairstylist. Very pretty. From the bar we went to CBGB, to the basement where, as you know, they play salsa. She didn’t know how to dance very well, but she had rhythm. We had a great time, although every once in a while I remembered my sister. At any rate, one might think that with AIDS and hepatitis B people would keep it under control. Not a chance. She moved very quickly, this girl. Young, yes, 23. She took me to her house, and in spite of my concern for my sister and all that, it went well. We agreed to see each other again, but I don’t know. As beautiful as she was, she wasn’t what one would call smart. A little boring. Very affectionate, I’ll give her that. We’ll see if I call her. She doesn’t have my number, anyway. As they say, if you’re not chaste, be cautious. A Jesuit. Gracian. Funny, right? Gore Vidal? Maybe, but the priest said it before him. The seventeenth century. I got home at dawn and not a sign of my sister. I panicked, doctor. I got in bed, trying to calm myself, and got the sweats. I imagined the worst. That they had sent thugs after her. Insane. I even doubted you. That you could have been an informant. Of course not. Yes, please. No cream, a spoonful, thank you. The hospitals? No, I haven’t called them either. Good idea. Antonia. And the same last name as mine. Thanks. Nothing? That’s a good sign. Of course. No, let’s see, I’m going to call home again. Antonia! Where the hell were you? What. In Queens? Why didn’t you call me? Great, very smart. Of course I’m not in the phone book. Enough, enough. I was going crazy, do you understand that? I’m headed home. Of course I want to smack you. Stay there, okay? What do you think of that, doctor? I could kill her.



Hello? Ah, doctor. Yes, everything’s fine. No, no. Just a second, please, I’m going to change phones. Hello. Yes, now I can hear you better. No, she’s sleeping it off. A huge hangover. Yes, partying, with her friends. Compatriots, and others from El Salvador. They ended up in Queens and when it occurred to her to call me she had lost the scrap of paper where she had written down my number. She has a terrible memory, at least for numbers. And I’m not in the phone book. I haven’t been for a while. I’ve gotten paranoid since I started writing screenplays. I speak badly of a lot of people. I didn’t want to make it too easy on them if they wanted to find me. A lot of people. No, I haven’t gotten into it with the North Americans. But even Ron, you know, Dr Rosenthal’s husband, who I’ve collaborated with, was a little scared. No. My sister’s friends? I don’t know them very well. One is a forensic archaeologist. He worked on the report that was headed by that priest they assassinated. He got scared, of course, and came here. The others? Another one is Salvadoran, a radio commentator. There’s another, Cuban, who is a musician. Nueva trova. Some protesting, yes. I don’t know. Of course it’s possible they’re all involved in politics. North American politics? I don’t think so, but I can ask. What do you mean how do I feel about that? Everyone should do what they believe they have to do. I support my sister in that sense. I’ve already told you that. Yes I know it’s dangerous, but it’s a valid reason to exist. Fear? We’re used to fear. Normal, maybe not. Addicts? Of course I don’t like to be afraid. But there are things… I don’t know. It’s what Dr Rosenthal said to me one day, and I didn’t like it. That I was bloodthirsty. Bloodthirsty. She was referring to a scene in the screenplay I wrote with Ron. It was the death of the main character. She’s killed by a former-soldier and a special agent, a mercenary. They go to throw the body to the bottom of a river. To avoid it floating back up in a couple days, they have to open up her belly and take her guts out. They fill her abdomen with scuba diving weights. It’s more or less the normal practice in these cases. I wanted to show that accurately. Maybe it wasn’t necessary to show it as a close-up, but the assassins make the observation that this kind of dirty work, which before the peace agreement they used to farm out to subordinates and now they’re doing themselves, could be a motive for a change in lifestyle, more than a change in their creed or ideology. Sadism? You’re the expert, doctor. Angry? No, but you know, I don’t like talking on the phone very much. Yes, excuse me. See you Monday, doctor.


Well, yes doctor, I got a little upset, no sense in denying it. I don’t suppose anyone likes to be called sadistic. At least to me it seemed like an insult, especially coming from you. I didn’t hang up on you, doctor. I apologise, if necessary. A symptom? I hope not. It’s not the image I had of myself. Quiet? I’m not angry, I swear. Maybe just a little sad. All of a sudden I just got kind of tired. Defeated, yes. It could be the weather. The overcast sky. Sometimes I like it, don’t get me wrong. Yes. I get on the couch, right. Yes, like always. I love this corner of your office. If you could sit in that chair it would be even better. I like to see you when I’m talking to you. Yes. I already feel a bit better. My mother? What. No, she isn’t like my sister. Total opposites. Just one thing, now that I think about it. My mother, for example, is extremely organised, in her way of being, her routine, her things. Her house was always spotless, impeccable. My sister is chaotic. My mother is pretty religious, Catholic. My sister is irreverent, not an atheist, but a pagan. She believes or acts like she believes in Mother Earth and things like that. Having said that, they’re both very strong women. And brave. In that sense they’re similar. I’ve never known them to give in to intimidation. Oh, yeah. You mean my neighbour. No, not at all. Of course, she has a strong personality as well. Rebellious. But it’s different. She has a serious defect that neither my mother nor my sister have. She’s incredibly vain. She had plastic surgery, at 50. Her nose. Her nose was a little hooked, but it worked well for her. She made it into a ski jump. She says she likes how it turned out. Since then I’ve hardly seen her. I think she ruined her face. What? Cruel? Maybe I am cruel. Is being cruel an illness as well? And can it be cured? My father? I was 5 years old. Yes, a little. You hadn’t asked me. To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s a memory of what happened, or if it’s what I’ve heard my mother and sister tell. Two men entered the house one morning, very early. It was a two-storey house, modern, with a lot of plants and big windows. I slept alone on the second floor in a room next to my sister’s, and our parents’ room was at the far end of the hall. Below was the living room. I guess the gunshots woke me up and I went out to look. I saw my mother running down the stairs, half naked, putting on her robe. She was yelling like crazy. Then I saw my father, lying on the floor of the living room, the front of his pyjama top bloody. It’s possible that I really saw it. My mother threw herself on top of him, hugged him. I think he was already dead. My mother looked up, saw me. She yelled at my sister, who was next to me watching the scene over the railing: Take the boy! Don’t let him see! My sister dragged me to my room and locked me in. No, I don’t remember anything else. Guilt? Why would I have felt guilty? Yeah, of course. But I never saw it that way. Explain that to me, please. Okay. Uh huh. Wonderful. You really think that deep down his death made me happy. Because of the way I told it to you? Oedipal, I see. Or rather, according to you, if they hadn’t assassinated my father when I was little, I probably would have been homosexual, right? Right? Great, that’s a relief. I understand. At any rate, I’m glad it’s not like that. Ah! That’s why I feel guilty. Okay. Of course: It could have been worse. My sister? Why would I place the blame on my sister? Wow, how complicated. No, it’s interesting. So I’m ‘in love’ with my sister. I find it funny, that very North American gesture of making quotation marks with your fingers like you just did. So I am or was in love, in quotation marks, first with my mother and then with my sister. An improvement, right? And I feel guilty towards my sister because I ruined, as you say, her marriage by conspiring with her husband, my brother-in-law. That was the true objective of that plan, not the kidnapping itself, which we never thought we’d carry out. Very interesting, doctor. Great. And all that the work of the subconscious. My relationship with power? Okay, with authority. Alright, doctor, but if power, political power, in this case the authorities in Guatemala, is a representation of the Father with a capital F, then of course the father must be killed! Yes, I myself have said it to you, I think more than once: I feel like a bit of an accomplice. Ah, I’ve left the role of parent-killer to my sister. I understand. No, just a bit forced. Reasoning like that, I would put you on the side of power. Rivers. River’s. Del Rio. That’s the name of one of the generals I spoke to you about. Carried out the coup. An extremist, a nutcase. Too easy. For a book, right? Let’s leave it at that. Naturally I’m going to mull it over. Of course I don’t want to stop therapy, doctor. With you, by God. No, seriously. Yes. See you day after tomorrow, doctor.



Hello? Doctor, yes, it’s me. Bad, very bad. That’s why I’m calling. If you have a second, yes, I’d like to talk. You aren’t going to believe it. A catastrophe. And don’t go thinking I’m crazy. Yes, play by play. You know, yesterday when I left your office, I was headed home thinking about what you said, mulling it over, and it seemed to me that you were right. I was kicking myself for not being bright enough to recognise it immediately, and for having been irritated. After all, if you are what you are, there’s no other remedy but to recognise it, even if it seems horrible, and try to change. You’ve made me see it like that. But let me continue. You’ll see what happened. So I get home as calm as can be, wanting to have a long talk with my sister. The beginnings of, as Dr Rosenthal would say, an oceanic feeling. But there was none of that. Turns out I find her home, but with someone. The Salvadoran kid, the one who works in radio. He’s around my age. They were sitting on the sofa bed, holding hands. It made me furious… I thought: Control yourself, man, this is an attack of jealousy. I saw red. But I kept my mouth shut. I would have liked to have thrown them out of the house. But El Guanaco stood up. That’s what we call Salvadorans in Guatemala. That’s his nickname. Cheers, brother, he said. I controlled myself. We shook hands and sat down. I noticed with surprise that we looked a little alike. Strange, yes. Meanwhile, I couldn’t stop thinking about you, about what you said, doctor. That I was in love with my sister. She was pale, scared. I asked what was going on, and El Guanaco said that they had a problem, that if not he wouldn’t be there. That he didn’t like to meddle, that he had only allowed himself to enter my home with my sister in my absence because he had to take care of her. Why, I asked him. They have threatened the entire group, he said. Group? I said. Yes. They had formed a group. Nonviolent resistance. They were demanding investigations into several crimes committed very recently, linked to the assassination of the bishop I told you about. Other assassinations. Who was threatening them? They weren’t sure. They had implicated so many people that it was difficult to know who felt concerned. Telephone calls. And apparently someone was following my sister. He was Guatemalan, El Guanaco explained to me. Oriental guy. From the east of Guatemala. They are known for being violent. Almost all of the bodyguards for the rich are from there. Jutiapa or Zacapa. El Guanaco assured me he’d seen him loitering around. Unmistakeable, he said, even without the uniform. The typical dark blue suit, the little tie, the black shoes and light-coloured socks. Short hair and little Mexican moustache. You can pick them out of any crowd, he said. One might think they wouldn’t stick out so much here, but no. I was also in danger for a while, he said. I should be careful. They were going to protect my sister, and I shouldn’t worry. They were well organised. Tomorrow we’re taking her to Chicago, he assured me. They had help there. Chicago is full of Central Americans. It wouldn’t be so easy to track them down there. But here in New York they didn’t have enough people yet. At any rate, he said, there was no reason to be alarmed. He was leaving, El Guanaco said. We should take a good look before opening the door for anyone. We should screen phone calls on the answering machine. He said goodbye, kissing my sister on the lips. But by that time the story about me being in love with my sister seemed very far away and it didn’t bother me. He would come pick her up very early in the morning. My sister and I stayed there talking. But we didn’t do anything except repeat how it seemed unbelievable that even here something like this could happen, that it all seemed unreal. My sister was scared, but she was determined to go to Chicago and fight. That’s the word she used, fight. Against these Neanderthals threatening us. I asked her if it weren’t a little naive to think like that at this stage, that she wasn’t prepared for something like this, but her answer was silence. She was determined and there was no discussion. I told her that maybe she was right. That maybe I should do something too. Of course, she said, you could do something. I told her that writing a screenplay about it would be useless. You won’t know until you try, she replied. It made me think. You never know with these things. It’s all a question of taking advantage of the right moment. So anyway, I had started to fantasise about writing this screenplay when there was someone at the door. You think I’m going crazy? No. No? No. I’ll go on then. What? Ah, I understand. No, really. Calm? No, of course I’m not calm, but don’t worry. Thank you, doctor. Yes, it was tomorrow at 5. Of course I’d rather go today. No, don’t worry. I’m grateful to you. I’ll be there. In a couple hours, then.



As you see, doctor. Pale? Yes, I’m sweating. They’re following me, doctor. I swear it. No, it’s not the guy from yesterday. It’s a different one, but the same kind of person. Let’s see, excuse me, doctor. Can I look out the window? No, I want to see something. Ah, look. There he is. That one, in the navy blue suit, yes, on the sidewalk, across the street. With the dark glasses. Look, he’s going to cross the street now. Of course it’s hard for you to see from here. It’s nine floors up, but I’m sure it’s him. Do you have binoculars? Too bad. His face? No, I didn’t get a good look. But he has a moustache, like his colleague. You don’t believe me, doctor. But you’ll soon see that they’re watching me. I practically ran here. I took two taxis and it wasn’t enough to shake him. He’s not going to move from there. You’ll see. Well, I guess I’m safe here in your office. Thank you, a cup of tea would be nice. On the couch, on the couch. Yes, I’m a little better. I know you think I’m crazy, and it’s possible I am crazy, but this guy is not a product of paranoia, doctor. You’ll see. Let’s see, where were we. Oh yeah, someone was at the door. It was the spy, of course. According to my sister, they had confused me with El Guanaco. We look a little alike, as I told you. Same appearance, same height. So they must have thought my sister was alone. No, we didn’t open the door, of course not. A little while later the phone rang. We let the answering machine pick up, as El Guanaco had advised us, but nothing, they hung up. The second time they called I almost answered. I don’t know how I got it in my head that it might be you. But no one said anything. That happened three of four times. My sister and I had dinner and they rang the doorbell again, the same guy. I was more nervous than my sister. Nothing would happen, she kept saying to me. She was more worried about me than anything else. Because she was going to Chicago the following day and I, on the other hand, would stay here. She asked me why I didn’t go with her. No, I said, no way. She tried to convince me. But what would I do in Chicago? I’ve already told you that I’m not that interested in politics and I detest groups. No, my life is here, doctor. I left Guatemala. Yes, I kind of fled. I’m not going to flee New York. Anyway, at that point, with me feeling a bit heroic for having made my sister worry, and with that calm that comes with resignation, we went to bed. The strange thing is that I had a dream. About you. We were here, in your office, but it was much larger. There were a lot of people. Dr Rosenthal and Ron were here too. It was a party. I was on the couch, which at times was a life-sized bed and at times turned into a bank of sand. Bank, yes, pleasure and money, I hadn’t thought about that! You, although it wasn’t you, congratulated me. I didn’t know why. Then you explained to me the party was to celebrate that a famous producer was making a movie from our screenplay. There was a journalist who insisted on seeing the manuscript. Could I show it to him? The manuscript!, I exclaimed. I got all anxious like a student, you know, like those finals week dreams. And all of the sudden I say: Yes, I have it here, doctor. And I open my raincoat, a black Mackintosh. I’m nude underneath the raincoat, but my skin is all covered with words written in red ink. Autographism? And you know, doctor, I’ve suffered from dermatographism. At any rate, the journalist takes a flash photo of me, and I wake up. And it turns out my sister had come in my room and turned the light on. With her finger over her lips, she approached my bed. She leaned over me to whisper in my ear: He’s in there! That man, he came in through the window! He had come in through the window in a kind of closet that was between the bathroom and the kitchen. She had heard noises, gotten up and gone to the bathroom. Without turning on the light, she leaned out the window. That’s how she saw the man, who was crawling in through the closet window. The thing is that closet is always locked, which meant the guy was locked in. It was a question of closing the window, which had iron bars, from the outside, and done. I was horrified, of course. And also half asleep. Complete confusion. But at a moment like that, you gather your courage. I got dressed — because now that the heat has arrived I sleep naked — and, armed with a hammer, I followed my sister to the bathroom. There was, in fact, noise coming from the closet. The fool must have been realiding he was trapped. Quick!, my sister said. I rushed to get the bathroom window open to stick my head out and he was right there, about to crawl out. I looked at him. He looked at me. He kept crawling out, but was having trouble. Me, paralyzed. What’s going on?, asked my sister, who was behind me and couldn’t see anything. There he is. He’s crawling out. Well don’t let him!, my sister yelled. Don’t be a moron — yes, doctor, that’s what she called me — hit him with the hammer! And automatically I obeyed her. I hit him in the head with the hammer. There was no other place. In the forehead. It sounded really bad. It left like a hole. But he didn’t pass out. He kept trying to get out. He was moaning. I hit him again, this time in the temple, and that knocked him out. I stuck my arm out and gave him a push so he fell back inside and then I closed the bars and shut them good with a couple whacks from the hammer. Well, I said to my sister, we’ve done it. He can’t get out of there. Of course we thought about calling the police, but my sister decided it wasn’t in our best interest. It would only complicate things. The guy was alive. We could hear him moaning. The idea was to ask El Guanaco. Maybe they could get information out of him. Who had hired him and all that. I couldn’t think clearly. It was 3 in the morning and El Guanaco had agreed to come pick my sister up at 4, to catch the plane at 6. So we decided to wait. We didn’t go back to sleep, of course. As absurd as it may sound, I couldn’t think of anything else but coming here and telling you all this, like it all seemed so unreal that only with your help could I make some sense of it. Anyway, that hour went by very slowly. The guy stopped moaning, and I thought he had died. But no. El Guanaco arrived. We told him the story, and he was calm as can be, as if it were the most natural thing. It would be best, he said, to let the police know. To just wait for them to leave and call. To tell them that it was a simple robbery. It was impossible to get information out of a guy like that, El Guanaco said, first off because he probably didn’t know anything. He had been hired by a sub-sub-agent, and at any rate, if he knew anything he’d probably keep it quiet. They know if they talk their entire family will be sentenced to death. This guy’s family must still be in Guatemala. Those mysterious massacres in which two or three armed men assassinate an entire family, with the elderly and the children, the babies and dogs and everything, like the kind you read about all the time in the Latin American newspapers these days, are almost always because of revenge scenarios of this sort, El Guanaco explained to us. He told my sister to get her things, that they had to hurry, and told me to move apartments as soon as possible, because it was likely they would let the spy go pretty soon and it was almost certain this wouldn’t be the end of it. I, of course, called the police, and they arrived almost immediately. The guy was alive, but unconscious. The policemen called an ambulance and left. Well done, man, said one of them on his way out. Yes. I didn’t leave the apartment until I came here. Of course, doctor. Excuse me. Look, he’s still there. That guy. Come look. Of course it’s the same one. But doctor, why don’t you believe me? Look at him. He has a mobile phone. Yes, that one. He’s calling someone. Look! He looked up here. He can’t see us, right? No, because of the tinted glass. It’s strange. I think he kind of looks like El Guanaco. Of course. It couldn’t be. Pure imagination. Yes, enough. My pulse? Doctor, this is the first time you’ve taken it. How is it? That’s not insignificant. You still don’t believe me, do you. Yes, my hands are sweating. But I’m not fooling myself! How can I prove it to you? That man followed me here. He’s already been there for almost an hour. Another patient? I understand. Today? Whatever you say, doctor. No, I don’t have anything to do. I don’t have to go anywhere. In fact, I don’t want to go anywhere. Yes, I suppose my house could be staked out. Ah, they’re knocking already. It must be your patient. Can I stay a while in the waiting room, doctor? I don’t want to leave while that guy is still there. Thank you very much. What? What are these keys for. Your house? Ah, I understand. But I don’t want to put you out. Alright, no, yes, I’m grateful. Infinitely, truly, doctor. I didn’t know you lived here in the building. The 17th floor. Okay. Well, thank God for your friendship with Dr Rosenthal. I suppose that without it you wouldn’t – couldn’t – do something like this, I mean, if it were just any old patient. No? Really? I’m very flattered, doctor. You’re an angel, really. Don’t worry. See you in a few hours. The small key for the elevator and the big key for the apartment. Thanks again. Hungry? Not right now. Agreed. Very nice of you. See you shortly, doctor.



Hello. You worked late today, huh? Me? Great. Here, as you can see. Writing a bit. I took the liberty of using this notebook. Yes, it’s true, I’ve written quite a bit for a couple of hours. How many? Five. Twenty sheets is not a small amount, no. I’m afraid not, doctor. It’s in Spanish. I always write in Spanish. It’s a monologue. No, it’s the first time I’ve experimented with this form. Everyone has done it, of course. In my case, it’s because of a friend’s influence. A Salvadoran writer, perhaps you know him. Castellanos Moya. You don’t know him. Well, surely one day. It’s set in New York. If someone translates it someday, of course. But don’t hold your breath, doctor. Have dinner? Yes, thank you very much. Here? No, of course I don’t have a problem with that. The guy following me? No, you can’t see him from here. This window faces the other side. Yes, please. As you wish. No, no, I was already finishing, just have to put a period at the end. There. What? You really think so? Yes, after all that was my complaint, that I didn’t want to write. And look at this. Graphorrhea, yes. You’re in charge, doctor. Okay, what’s the deal? And as always, whatever you say. Agreed, I won’t call you doctor. Cook? Sometimes. Of course I know how to chop garlic. Just tell me where it is. While you shower, of course. What a head of garlic. Two cloves, no, I don’t think it’s too much. As thin as possible, very good. What’s the meat? Venison? Where’d you get it? Ah, Vermont. Your boyfriend hunts, doctor? Sorry, it’s habit. I see, for sport. Will he come for dinner? No? What do you mean he excused himself? So he excuses himself a lot. I don’t understand. Okay, of course. That’s the way Wall Street is. Especially now with the deal with the euro, I imagine. And so you live alone in this big apartment? Yes, shower and I’ll take care of this. No, go ahead, doctor. Oops… sorry.



Baked or grilled? Alright. Red wine, yes? From La Rioja, I love it. Yes, better I open it now, let it breathe a little. Deer is abundant around there, it’s true. Overpopulation. Almost a plague. You’re right, not exactly a feat. But it must be exciting, killing one. Cowardly? Perhaps. Anyway, I’m not drawn to hunting. Of course I’m worried. But they aren’t really looking for me. They’ll wear out soon. I suppose they’ll watch my apartment for a couple days. I don’t think they’re that patient. We’ll see. But of course I have to take care of myself. You don’t know, even though I’ve already told you, how much I appreciate this gesture. Delicious venison. Tender. Yes. You don’t like that part? The jaw? I understand. I think I’ll pass too. Yes, we finished the bottle. Raspberries, very tasty. Yes, of course. With a few drops of wine and a pinch of sugar. Why not. Let’s see, I’ll open it. A postcard? And how are they? I’m jealous, really. Florence is beautiful. A bit artificial for my taste. So many students. But whatever, not bad for a year. Ah, yes. I’d prefer going to Venice. But Naples above all. I dream of spending time there. One of these days I’ll go, doc… woman, I want, cough, cough. Sorry, I choked. If I took you? Of course! When? Ah, you’re kidding me. Why Naples? They say it’s a very happy place. A lot of music. Of course I like music. Practically all of it. Dancing? Sometimes. Now? If you want. Tango? That’s a bit complicated. Whatever you say. I’ll give it a try. I didn’t know you spoke Spanish. Why didn’t you tell me before? What do you mean it’s better this way? Oh. Informally? Very well. Le, te creo. Le, te. Lete, . The river. Oblivion. We will all drink from it. It won’t be easy for me to get used to not being your patient. Let’s start with a bolero. I haven’t danced tango for years. We can get warmed up. Where did you learn? Very good. No, perfectly. Let’s see. Yes, it’s Los Panchos. Extremely romantic. No, don’t be sorry, I didn’t even feel it. The other side? As you wish. Alright, let’s rest a little. Cognac? Why not. That song? Te quiero dijiste, by Xiomara Alfaro. You know all of them. Yes, it’s hot. A little. Can I give you a kiss? Ummm. What did you say? Make me melt. Exactly the right expression, if there ever was one. Oceanic feeling. A better one? Libidinal haemorrhage! Unbeatable. It’s the doctor in you. Did I say something wrong? No? You don’t want to dance anymore? What’s wrong? Of course not. No. I hope it’s like that. That this is the first time. No, we don’t have to keep dancing. Yes, leave the music on, it’s better. No, I’m done, thanks. Maybe a little water.



Where are you? Where’s your room? I can’t see anything. Ouch. I ran into a door. Turn the light on, please. I can’t see anything. In bed? Ah, you had me scared. I thought you were mad. But if you’re naked. Not completely. What soft skin. I can take it off? Okay. Yes, you undress me. Ummm. What a delicious tongue. Yes. Wherever you want. No holds barred. You like it? It’s all yours. Like an idol? You think? What a beautiful way to worship. No, it was moan of pleasure. Let’s see. I want to see something. They’re perfect. You’re a goddess. Do whatever you want. Tell me what you want me to do. Yes. Let’s see those feet. Even those taste good. Let’s see, now over here. Ummm. Better still. Libidinal haemorrhage indeed. Crying? Ah, that. It could be that it’s happy. Honey? A bit salty for honey. But whatever you say. You want it? Yes, I’m more than ready. Like that? Move over a little, we’re going to fall. You think? More? What was that? Water? A squirt of water. What have you done. Me? Incredible. Can I continue? Ahh. What pleasure. Enough. Oof. I’m dead, yes. It’s scary, don’t you think, so much happiness.


is the author of more than twenty novels and collections of short fiction. He received Guatemala’s National Literature Award in 2004 for his book The Pelcari Project, and his novel The African Shore was a finalist for the 2013 Best Translated Book Award. His work has been translated into numerous languages, including English, Japanese, French, German, and Italian.

BRIAN HAGENBUCH recently relocated to Seattle after spending a decade in Argentina, where he worked for Reuters, Time Out and wrote for theatre and film.