domingo, 19 de marzo de 2017

"Sister Zero"
FROM NOTEBOOK #3
PART I


Tati, this is the only interesting thing that came of the six months I spent working as a temp in Marianne's firm.

It was a horrible, lonely job, though I was physically close to others for the entire time. I was squeezed into a hallway lined with outdated computers and sentenced to draft inane e-mails alongside nine other interns. I was one of two girls in this group. The other girl was strange, not in an attractive way, she just came off as mentally unbalanced. For some reason she was really obsessed with traveling to Israel. Whatever.

Most of my fellow interns took this job seriously and answered directly to a number of important men. It was amazing how their tone would shift between gross, sexual jokes and shameless dick-sucking. At the end of the hall there was a telephone from the eighties so that anyone who wanted something from us--usually a whim--could tell us. Twice a day I would take the elevator down to the courtyard and smoke a cigarette, vacantly staring. Usually when I returned, someone would be considerate enough to tell me that the boss had called for me.

I didn't even try to be friendly in Marianne's firm; I wasn't going to last there and I knew it, and so did they. Many thought I was a lesbian, because I showed no interest in the boys. One of them was more sensitive and, let's say, "trying to be alternative," and I think he wanted to establish a friendship. But every moment spent there was hell, Tati. I wasn't in the mood to be nice to anyone.

At 1:00 p.m. sharp I was gone. We had an hour-and-a-half lunch break. The building is located in the financial district, in fact just two blocks away from Central Finance. Most of the other interns would take this time to get sushi or haircuts in the nearby Swissotel. I was spending three-fourths of my meager salary on gas to get to work in the first place, and the other fourth on video games. I ate in the Mall.

When I talk about the Mall I talk about the Mall back in 1998. Two years later that Mall was demolished, and replaced with the one we know now. The old Mall was a curiosity. Despite the great location, it never really worked out, I think because of some issue in the lease contracts for stores. Most of them closed down. In the end you had a four-story labyrinth where the vast majority of stores was shuttered. Open locales were not inspiring: old toy shops, geriatic wear, a pharmacy, "The World of Towels." Like B. would say, you could smell the money being laundered through them.

But that's not all. The Mall was a place worth exploring. The ground floor had two basements under it, and the deeper you went, the more eerie it became. Electric stairways remained frozen, lights flickered or didn't work at all, and the décor retrated further back into the past. The bottom floor contained nothing but a mural that looked like it was painted in the sixties (with images of Bengal tigers and multi-racial hand-holding), and an exit to the park that passes by an ATM. This was where I met the Sisters, and I felt so lucky.

Tati, can you imagine meeting two nuns in the bottom floor of an abandoned mall? And on top of that, they were standing under a fluorescent light. I felt like I was in a video game, I had just come to a new town, and these two characters were going to tell me where to go next. It's obvious that I felt lost and desperate in those days. I sat eating a slippery microwave-cooked lunch, alone, mostly in the dark. To me this was a blessing, even though I've never been religiously-inclined.

I would come to know the Sisters as Tomasa (the plump, husky, black one) and Giovanna (the tall, bird-like, white one). They were the kind of pair you would see on a newspaper comic strip, with such exaggerated features and contrasting personalities. We made smalltalk almost immediately; they looked as relieved to find me as I was to find them.

The conversation was stilted at first, but they were happy to talk. I told them that I worked nearby and they told me that they sold truffles. I think it's typical for convents to bake and sell goods, as I remember Mom would buy chocolates from a group of nuns when I was a kid. They went around the neighborhood offering boxes and took a moment to rest from the heat in the Mall. My comments and replies were very banal. "I couldn't imagine walking around in the heat like that." But somehow the conversation was always refreshing. They did most of the work; I just sat there nodding.

(Tati, the truffles they sold were delicious. I'm sorry I never brought you any, but you might still forgive me if you keep reading.)

This went on for several days, on and off, over a couple weeks. On days when I didn't run into the Sisters I usually ended up eating lunch alone. A couple times I went to Stephany's apartment. She was living alone at that point, her parents were abroad. But we were never really that close, so I mostly smoked cigarettes on her balcony until it was time to go. I remember being so jealous that she was living alone, in an apartment, in the nicest part of town. Six years later I found myself in the same situation and I was miserable! This sounds like a stupid "ironic" thing that a stupid girl would post on Facebook.

Anyway, back to the story. With each of these encounters I grew closer to the Sisters, and I discovered more about them. They were from St. Francis, which was really obvious when I think about it. St. Francis is the convent located next to St. Francis' church. And St. Francis' church is right in front of the Mall. Not many people know that there is also a convent there; it's a very low-profile building, it looks kind of like the administrative offices of the church. Both Sisters looked about middle-aged; Tomasa possibly older. Tomasa was loud and loved to guffaw; she was jovial and gossipy. Giovanna was more proper. It seemed like sometimes her partner's behavior irked her, but it was never apparent.

Giovanna also talked a lot about punishment. She was very much from the old school of nunship, I think. Being married to Jesus was not just devotion and silence, it was also active suffering. And it was clear that she didn't think of me or anyone else as pure. She would sometimes go on tangents about blood and epiphanies. Usually Tomasa and I glossed over them and changed the subject. But she was always courteous and smiling. I regarded her more like a kooky aunt than a person to be feared. They always seemed like ultimately likable women.

jueves, 27 de octubre de 2016

"He's Not Setting Out to Hurt People"
FROM NOTEBOOK #4
PART III

This story takes place at a vague point between Monica and Xochipilli. Surely you are familiar with those terms by now. B. must have told you everything about his childhood.

In those times summers were longer and we were all in grade school. You and I, now that I think about it, were not even friends; you orbited around B. and I orbited around A., and when those two became best friends, that was how we met. So I guess it makes sense that I wouldn't have known of this until now.

B.'s parents were not financially stable, and there were a couple times when they almost had to pull him out of school. His Dad was a journalist and I think his Mom had to go back to teaching a few times to make ends meet. For a few months they had a plastic table in the kitchen. B. never had video game consoles or BMX bicycles. He sold weed to afford records. (Remember the Coat of Many Pockets?) He shared a room with his little brother right up until he moved out of the house. Really, if he hadn't lucked out with that job offer straight out of university, things surely would have been difficult for me.

When I was a kid I didn't notice these things, or at least I didn't really let myself think about them, but with time I began to feel guilt over the stark differences of our economic situations. But this isn't about me, anyway.

B.'s Dad was a member of the Clan from the start. I understand that the Clan didn't really take off locally until the mid-eighties, when there was an influx of important people who joined. I understand it was mostly an expat thing until then. Apparently B.'s family is one of those formerly aristocratic clans that lost nearly everything in the sixties, except for their high-class contacts. We always knew that B.'s surname sounded important anyway, so it's no surprise. I suppose that is why his Dad was invited; back then it was very exclusive.

jueves, 13 de octubre de 2016

"He's Not Setting Out to Hurt People"
FROM NOTEBOOK #4
PART II

Back then I knew that I needed help, and you did as well. We had both become so empty that people didn't recognize us anymore. My dad never showed concern, but your parents did. Back when we were in school I would often have dinner at your house and we would have lively conversations about the war on the news. But in those later, pathetic years, your parents only rang me up to try and find out what was wrong with you. They weren't aware that by then we almost weren't speaking. But standing on the yard of my house on a sunlight morning, curling the phone cord around my hand, talking to your mom about when we were kids, was a blessing anyway, even though she sounded so sad.

I don't know what happened to us. All our forward momentum evaporated the second our graduation ceremony ended. Once you told me that it had been the night at the hotel that did it, that it had been too much for us. And maybe it contributed, but I think it goes beyond that. We had so much going for us and so many people cheering us on back in school. I was going to be a painter and a writer and a sculptor, you were going to be an athlete and a dancer and a chemist. And I don't even understand where the next seven years went. Apparently they slipped past me while I was sitting on the lawn chair outside, throwing cigarette butts into the empty pool. I remember specific events of nights out drinking, parties we regretted going to, people we dated, excursions, lazy afternoons with the group, but on a macro level, I have no idea of what I was doing. I was too crushed to consider it.

I'm sorry for meandering. It was back in this winter when I was useless and B. had more or less become my caregiver, that we shared all our deeper anxieties about the future. As was the case for everyone in our group, we were secretly unsure of everything; our talents, interests, decisions, priorities, affections. Later on it became apparent that every one of us regretted whatever we had studied in university, but at that time it was just B. and I, commiserating.

We would talk about a lot of things on the hood of his car on those afternoons, and we would talk about Weird Shit as well. The term seemed so childish at that point, something we had come up with as teenagers and kept going far past its sell-by date. We talked about Monica and Sister Zero, about all the record stores. It was our way of disarming the strangeness of their existence and distancing them from our lives. If you will recall, nothing out of the ordinary had happened to us for the better part of a year. It had become apparent, at least to me, that things didn't simply happen to us; we sought them out for entertainment, and the moment we stopped being interested, they disintegrated from life and memory. All that remained were specters of shared childhood dreams. They no longer seemed even real. And we talked them all away, explained them rationally in dozens of different ways. Whenever our individual versions of the same story differed, we took it as proof that the whole thing was a fabrication.

One Wednesday we had skipped our last classes of the afternoon and headed straight for the bodega to drink, and we were probably four bottles deep when our conversation began to extend beyond its natural point, the point where we would normally head home. We had started early and were going on late, the streetlights were already on, and the place was empty except for us. Having no more customers, Omar had headed to the backroom to watch TV with his girlfriend. We were sitting at the white plastic table right at the entrance with a stray cat for company. The soda cooler was buzzing in the background, and that was it. It was perfect.

I knew that something was going to happen because B. had gone silent in a way that was unusual for him. Considering that B. is a man with a severely limited expressive range, you learn to read even the most minor facial cues for indications. And I could read the doubt that comes with struggling to spit something out, something that you have already decided that you will say, but is so deeply buried and unthinkable that physically formulating the worlds feels like trying to remember a language you haven't spoken in decades. It took him a while, but he did it.

miércoles, 12 de octubre de 2016


"He's Not Setting Out to Hurt People"
FROM NOTEBOOK #4
PART I
T.,

Sometimes I would rise at 3:00 a.m. and slowly pour myself a long glass of water, feeling the absence of others in every room of the house, savoring the creaks of the stairwell, breathing the dust, and I would see my face reflected on the panes of the kitchen drawers as I poured myself the glass, and I would ask to the silence, Who are you?

Sometimes I would be driving home from campus in the beat-up, discount Volvo and there would be a long-counting red streetlight where I wanted there to be none, and in those one hundred and twenty-or-so seconds sitting in traffic I would go over the events of the day, the minutiae and the banal commentary, and I would find myself gripping the steering wheel as if I were afraid it's made of gas and my hands were going to pass straight through it, like an illusion, and I would concentrate on this, on feeling an object occupy physical space, as a manner of reassurance. Years later I would realize that a rather deep and sharp dent on the northeastern side of the wheel was the place where I always dug in with the nail of my thumb in these times.

Sometimes I would finally feel consumed, as if the world could no longer gnaw at anything because there wasn't anything left, and in these times especially smoking gave me headaches and all my limbs felt sore, and I would sleep for ten or twelve hours at a time, starting in the early afternoon and rising, completely disoriented, at around midnight, only to undress and turn off the record player and go back to bed.

This was the worst winter of my life and B. knew it well. Whenever I had the energy we would drive aimlessly through the neighborhoods around campus and stop for cigarettes and beers, walking around in the magic hour, when sunlight is distilled and rushes between buildings, through clotheslines, permeating cars and apartments.

That was a relatively light time for B., whose taste in music had softened. He was listening to the Cocteau Twins and Mazzy Star, appropriate for our five-to-seven drives around the district. He was coasting on easy courses and going to concerts and seeing new people while I was completely withdrawn. The most active thing we did together was drive or play cards. I barely had the energy for conversation, which meant that few people could tolerate me aside from B. That was shortly after my fight with A. and my distancing from E., so we weren't going out much as a group. I remember B. tried to rope you into our excursions, but you were too busy pretending to be interested in your career.

You were too busy pretending to be interested in your career.

martes, 25 de septiembre de 2012

Short Exchange with A. at the Harbor


The man referred to as A. in the notebooks is now thirty-one years old. I couldn't find much from investigating him. He went to the same primary and secondary school as my brother, but was expelled in 1997 and graduated in 1999 from a different institution. He passed the entrance exam for a local university and studied Industrial Engineering. Apparently he won three Regional Vale Tudo Championships in a row, on 1998, 1999 and 2000. Currently he works as a supervisor in the cargo company owned by his father. He has not married.

It wasn't hard to find A. at the harbor in the summer morning. He looks very much like he did as a teenager, but his hair is much shorter, and he has that tiredness that comes with adulthood. A black mark that appears to be part of a large tattoo peeks out from under the collar of his shirt.

I introduced myself as B.'s younger brother and he almost immediately recognized me after that. There was some effusive hugging and exclamations and asking me about my family and my studies. Then there was a lull as A. recalled my brother and momentarily stared off into the sea, from where a heavy mist was rolling in. I said that I wanted to ask him some questions for a family project that I was putting together for Art class. It seemed like a flimsy excuse as I said it but A. seemed to buy it.

We sat down at one of the many tiny seaside cafés; A. loosened his tie and crossed his arms, leaning back against the chair. A strident group of seagulls were feasting on a discarded fish only  a few feet from us. I remembered that he had been a man of few words in his teens, but the years seemed to have mellowed him out.

The interview was very informative right up until the end.

You knew my brother for most of his life, right?

Yes... we became friends in the first or second grade, and we remained friends through high school and university. We couldn't see each other as often after graduation, but sometimes we managed.

I know this is kind of awkward, but, what do you think made you and my brother so close?

We... We had the same sense of humor, I guess... We were part of a bigger group, which was better.

What bigger group?

Well, you probably remember us visiting your brother as a big group when you were a boy. We were always hanging out with T., F., E...

I remember all of those people.

T. and F. also went to university with us. The four of us would get together sometimes after graduating. We all studied different things, of course, so we graduated at different times.

Do you know anything about T. and F. as of late?

I know that T. is in New York City. After she dropped out of Law, her parents sent her to a design institution abroad, and I think she was immediately hired by a New York design firm after graduation.

I don't know much about F... In 2006 he headed off to Honduras to live there and do social work for a while. I would get monthly letters from him, real letters, in the mail. Then he went to Africa to take some photographs for a magazine, or so I heard from his father. I actually had a business meeting with his father a week ago. He owns half the place, after all.

What about E.?

E. actually moved to Europe on the last year of secondary school... Nobody heard much from her again. I think T. got a couple emails from her and that was it.

E. was the girl that F. had a crush on for a while, right?

[Laughter] Yes... I can't believe you remember that.

I'm trying to remember another person who used to hang out with you... I think his name started with an N?

Oh... Yes, that was N. He was sort of friends with us over the last two years of secondary school, but I didn't see much of him because by then I'd been expelled.

Uh... Why did you get expelled again?

[Laughter] Fighting.

So... What's N. doing these days? Do you know?

[Clears throat] He died, in 2006. In the Nantes marketplace fire.

I see... Was there anyone else in your group?

That was most of it... D. was around sometimes, you probably remember her, with the red hair. I don't think you got to meet K...

I think I did.

Really? K. was a very odd person... She didn't go out that much. I think that was the whole group...

Wait, was K. the girl who almost blew up the school's boiler room? They still talked about that when I was in secondary.

[Laughter] Yes, that was her. I'm pretty sure it was a miscalculation on her part.

What are they doing?

Nothing much... D. went back to live with her family in the U.K. after she finished school, and K. sort of dropped off the radar... I think she might still live here, though.

I also remember another guy, though... He was kind of... Crazy-looking, I guess. I can't remember his name...

Who? [Long pause] What are you really here for?

I wanted to confirm memories I have of my brother and his friends... I've been having some dreams about it lately, sort of half-remembered childhood moments.

[Pause] I think your brother was friends with a guy from school who got into trouble many times... I think he passed away at some point.

Do you remember his name?

Not really.

So... what did you do, as a group, usually?

Well, the usual teenage things...

Any record stores?

[Pause] Not record stores, I don't think so. Why do you ask?

No reason. Well, I guess that's all... [click]

[end of interview]

I don't have very much to say. A. became visibly defensive and clammed up towards the end of the interview. I wonder if he knew that I had found the notebooks.

Maybe the whole thing really was fiction, and A. was simply embarrassed that I'd found their collaborative creative writing project or something...

Or otherwise he didn't want to reveal the identity of X to me, for some reason.

Other than possibly K., it seems that A. is the only member of the group who is still alive and living in this city. Contacting anyone else will be more difficult.

December 15, 2011

domingo, 23 de septiembre de 2012

Excerpt from Notebook 4: "Faith Healing, Part Three"


I think that I've been dealing with depression for a long time now.

Have you ever taken a long bus ride without a destination? Any city with a public transport system is perfect for that. Empty bus seats at night are the most heartbreaking thing. It had become a bit of a hobby for me to simply sit there and watch neighborhood blocks, projects, skyscrapers go by.

It's becoming progressively easier for me to enter a state of complete disconnect from the world and its troubles. I have a perfect understanding of my pressing responsibilities, upcoming assignments, family expectations and so on. But I survey them with a grey clot in my mind. It's like I'm in a fog. Lately this winter I've been waking up early in the morning to sit on the wet grass outside my room and watch the still world.

I went to F.'s house in this state of mind.

The house is beautiful in its decay. It's so out of the beaten path, along a deserted street with abandoned lots, running down the steepest hill of District 5. The black iron gate at the entrance has ivy wrapped around it, it looks like a European haunted manor. The guard acknowledged my presence quietly and I pushed the gate open.

I had missed class again. Earlier that week I had already informed my boss that I would be quitting at the end of the month. I was just an intern, anyway. I would eventually be able to find work somewhere. He looked at me sternly and said he was disappointed. I don't think I was very good at my job.

As I walked along the winding garden path of F.'s front door I felt a tingling in my legs and an odd sweetness in the back of my mouth. It was a kind of anxiety.

He opened the door just as I was about to knock. He looked like he hadn't slept.

We talked about inconsequential things for a little while and he played with his hair. But the moment we sat in the old living room, with the dusty record player and the spider-covered bookshelves, he broke down. Just sobbing. I had never seen him like that. I actually didn't know to react for the first few minutes. I just sat across from him and quietly sipped the coffee he had brought me. I looked around nervously to see if his father would show up, or maybe X, but the house seemed to be empty except for us. Eventually I asked him to calm down, but it came out muffled.

He stopped crying eventually and explained to me what had happened earlier that morning. He had woken up to find that X had disappeared. Most of his things were gone with him, but some clothes remained scattered on the floor of the guest room. The bed where he slept had been somehow flipped over and was now leaning against the wall, as if thrown by a powerful wind. F. said that he hadn't heard any strange noises the night before.

Then he lead me to patio in the back. I trailed a few steps behind, trying to process everything. As he swung the kitchen door open a powerful odor hit me. It was decomposition.

In the middle of the patio was Drogo, F.'s dog. A pigeon was trying to pluck out its left eye.

I instinctively stepped out and scared the bird away. I had gotten used to the smell remarkably quickly. Drogo hadn't been dead for a very long time. I surveyed the slender, grey body. There were no visible wounds. I turned back to F., who looked mortified.

He said he had discovered the body earlier this morning. He hadn't the heart to move it. I asked him if anything else was missing. He replied that the egg was gone.

I just stared in disbelief at what he was suggesting.

After the initial shock, we took a walk around the yard and surveyed the gate, the walls, the backdoor. No locks had been broken and there were no signs of forced entry. F.'s father has a guard standing outside his house at all times of night and early morning. It doesn't seem possible that someone would be able to sneak in without anyone noticing.

We wandered for about an hour, looking for an explanation. He mentioned that he hadn't told anyone other than me. He knew he would eventually have to tell the rest of the group, but right now he wanted help with something else. He wanted me to help him cremate Drogo.

The proposal seemed a little morbid, and I shuddered at the thought of touching the body. But F. seemed so distraught that I couldn't possibly say no. I knew that I wouldn't go to my next class; I was already failing half my courses, anyway. So I agreed.

We did our best to do everything respectfully. The body was extremely heavy, so we had to use the rusted wheelbarrow left in a corner of the yard. Eventually we managed to stuff the body in the furnace. F. shut the door with resolve and started the fire.

Had F. lived anywhere closer to urbanization than he did, I'm sure we would have gotten a dozen complaints from the smell and the smoke. It was thick and black, impenetrable; I shielded by eyes and covered my nose but still stared up in the sky, a dull grey color, at the smoke column. F. was silent next to me. It burned and burned for an hour. We didn't say much of anything.

After it was over, F. thanked me and asked if I wanted to stay. I was feeling strange about the whole thing, though. I said I had to go to class and showed myself out. He stood on the patio, where Drogo's body had been, and stared. I shut the gate behind me.

My clothes stunk of smoke. Then it suddenly hit me, that X was missing, that someone had almost certainly broken into F.'s house last night, that F. was probably in danger. I considered calling X's parents until I realized that I didn't have their number and I didn't know where he lived. I considered calling F. and telling him to go to a hotel for at least a week. But the moment I got to my house I felt an overwhelming malaise and collapsed in my bed.

I don't recall any dreams.

I woke up at midnight, having slept twelve hours. The only light in my room came from my celphone. I had about twenty missed messages, from B., F., E., A., and N.

They were all recounting the same thing, of course. X's body had washed up on the shore.

miércoles, 30 de noviembre de 2011

I found it.


After reading "Faith Healing, Part Two," I started to wonder if the picture mentioned could be anywhere. I looked again in the hole under the floorboard in my brother's room, where I originally found the notebooks. It was tucked away in a corner. I found something else, too, that I had missed the first time. I apologize for the bad quality, but it's been clearly crumpled up and folded over many times and I had to wipe a lot of dust out so it would scan properly.

I have been re-reading some entries after looking at this picture.