domingo, 21 de marzo de 2021

 

“A Grandma Story”


FROM NOTEBOOK #3

PART 1/2


This happened just last year, though it also relates to things that happened when I was seven, maybe eight years old.


There’s a church called Our Lady of Temperance downtown, near the Ochre Towers housing complex. It’s not particularly outstanding, although I think it’s been around for at least fifty years. The façade is nice enough, but it’s clearly fallen into disrepair. I think there were intentions to declare it as “cultural heritage,” but the funding never materialized. The steps are dirty and frequented by the homeless. There’s a little gated garden to the side which houses an altar of the Virgin, and, if you’re lucky, a few napping stray cats. My grandma went to Mass there, without fail, for the last couple decades of her life.


Personally I’m sure I’ve been inside the church at least once or twice, as a child, but I don’t actually remember much. Looking up images online (there aren’t many), nothing about it seems particularly notable. It’s roomy and solemn enough, and there are some nice paintings of Bible scenes in between the stained-glass windows. I’ve been looking at pictures in an attempt to recall any memories of the church I may have, but it hasn’t worked so far. I guess I could just go there, but I think I’m going to need some time before I feel up to the task.


Anyway, back in October or so last year I was an intern for a friend’s dad’s textile company, doing some of the data entry and number-crunching, nothing special. In fact, it was mind-numbingly boring most of the time. Two saving graces, though: I didn’t have to dress formal, and I was unsupervised nearly all day. So naturally there was a lot of time wasted clicking around on the computer, idly chatting with friends. I was crammed into a little storage room, with boxes of dusty files and moth-eaten binders piled up to the ceiling behind me, and the glow of an old PC in front of me. Yellowed papers--ancient receipts, notarized letters, and heaps of stapled photocopies--were also stacked in front of me, neatly framing by claustrophobic “work station.” A monobloc chair and a company coffee mug were provided. To my right, a dusty window looked out over the industrial park where headquarters were located. My only company were the other administrative employees, all in their forties or older. So it was definitely a little grim. (This was also why I borrowed B.’s old Gameboy for a couple months, by the way.)


At the time I was so bored that I’d even refresh news pages throughout the day, since at least they were something to read. (The company’s IT person wasn’t sophisticated enough to block access to any sites, but I was too self-conscious to search for web games or porn on a work computer.) In those weeks, LPP* had inaugurated a “Citizen News” service, which produced online stories based on text-message reports submitted by citizens about the goings-on around town. It was a mess, obviously. Most people used it to complain about neighbors flaunting curbside parking regulations, or failing to pick up their dogs’ poop, or “loitering” in public parks (always a tinge of racism to those complaints), etc. I think it was retired just a few months later. Whatever came through those channels was either inconsequential or impossible to verify.


In my days of idle newswatching from the depths of that lonesome internship (I did last  eight months there), I stumbled into a Citizen News report that immediately caught my attention, because it came from Our Lady of Temperance. I hadn’t thought about the church in years by then, but it was etched into my mind as synonymous with my grandma, and my childhood. The contents were alarming. I can’t remember the exact wording of the headline, but it was something like: “Mysterious Stranger Terrifies Churchgoers at Morning Service.” Clicking through to the report revealed that it was tagged as a “developing story.” There were precious few details; the body was about as long as the headline. It went something like “multiple reports have surfaced of a mysterious figure in black whose presence has alarmed churchgoers at Our Lady of Temperance morning service.” This was happening as I sat in that chair, some ten kilometers away from me, on an October morning.


I thought about calling grandma to make sure she was alright--she was always present at morning Mass--before I remembered that, like most people her age, she didn’t have, or know how to use, a cell phone. I thought about calling my mom to alert her of the situation, but that felt like a step too far. Did I really want to worry her over what could very easily be a hoax, or a silly misunderstanding? What could a “mysterious figure in black” be doing in a Church, anyway? That hardly sounded like a robbery or a hostage situation. (Who robs a church?) In fact, it almost sounded like what you guys enjoy calling “Weird Shit,” and that wasn’t lost on me at the time. So I didn’t do anything for the moment. I sat on the edge of my seat and refreshed the page obsessively, having completely forgotten my obligations.


The first update to the story came approximately fifteen minutes later. An addendum to the body text: “Witnesses report that the figure has not engaged with or threatened churchgoers, and is simply walking about the building interiors. Service has not been interrupted.” (I’m heavily paraphrasing here, recalling from memory.) So at this point I fell back on my seat and relaxed a bit. This didn’t seem like much of anything, after all. At best, this was some old lady dressed in black who had rattled the most easily-rattled group of people in the world (churchgoing old people) with her presence. Maybe she was wearing a veil or something. I can see how that would be creepy. Some twenty minutes later, the webpage updated with a picture.


It was grainy, low-quality, badly-lit and what-have-you, but arguably that only made it more disturbing. Someone with a camera phone had managed to snap a picture of the mysterious stranger in the church. It was no old lady, that’s for sure. I distinctly remember feeling something in the pit of my stomach when the image loaded. It was a raggedy, tall, slender figure; almost certainly male, though impossible to be sure. It was completely covered in black fabric. Not like a ghostly sheet; it seemed to have been wrapped, from head to toe, in black, gauze-like rags. It was hard to discern the exact nature of the material from the picture. Wispy little frills trailed behind its feet. It has been caught in motion, prowling with an awkward gait across the halls that surrounded the pews. Its arms ended in tendrils of rags which could not be discerned as hands. The clothing didn’t seem functional, much less deliberate. It looked like someone who’d escaped from a hospital burn ward, or a grave.


I’m sorry, I keep saying “it” even though I now know that “it” was a “he.” At any rate, I could see why the stranger had caused such alarm. His face was completely invisible; I imagined that holes had been punched into the fabric for breathing and sight, but it was impossible to discern from the image provided. Its posture suggested a hunchback; it was impossible to determine height without something else in the image for comparison, but I would venture to guess he was taller than most.


I didn’t really know what to do at this point. The unreality of the situation washed over me like a cold sweat. Was anyone in danger? Was my grandma there? Was there any real motive for alarm? I continued to refresh the news page for the next fifteen minutes, but there were no updates. I wasn’t the only one who was bored at work, though. One or two user comments were appearing beneath the article. Nothing really notable: jokes about ghosts or predictions about the biblical apocalypse, etc. At the very least you couldn’t say it wasn’t attention-grabbing.


With nothing else to do, and no intention to get back to work, I texted a friend for her opinion. (You don’t know her; her identity’s not important to this story.) I told her to check the Citizen Report for the weirdest developing story. She rolled her eyes at me and chastised me for having nothing better to do. But then the texts started rolling in. Three different friends--F. among them, you can ask him--were following this story online. (Do you people have a sixth sense for “Weird Shit” that I haven’t developed yet?) Apparently we were all very bored, and very interested. I started exchanging opinions over the phone until the news site updated again.


* This is a local news broadcast network (the initials have been changed for anonymity).

domingo, 14 de marzo de 2021

 

Our Writers


A PERSONAL ADDENDUM


One of the reasons why this blog spent so many years on hiatus was because I couldn't make heads or tails of the "Books of Sand," the notebooks my brother and his friends left behind, as I soon realized they were: a) not in chronological order, and: b) written by several authors who didn't usually sign their work. This made the assembly of a timeline uniquely challenging. I could have simply continued to translate and transcribe stories as I found them in the notebooks, but I feared that if I wanted to make sense of my brother's legacy, I'd have to take a more active role. So I tried tracking down the other contributors to the Books of Sand. And that's the other reason why this took so long to update.


In a later addendum I'll try and explain the circumstances I’ve been through over the intervening years; it’s been nearly a decade since I began posting these stories online, and I’m incapable of expressing my gratitude to anyone and everyone who’s still interested in this yarn. For now, and after having untangled most of the knots in this story, I’d like to clarify who the writers of the Books of Sand were (to the best of my knowledge).


From now on, I'll go back to adding my personal observations to the end of every text posted here. I will also make an educated guess, based on writing style and cross-referencing, as to who the author of each posted text is.


Our writers were and are:


B., my late older brother. Though he appears in almost all the Books of Sand stories, he only wrote some of them. He does seem to have been the unofficial “record-keeper” of the project, since he was in possession of the notebooks, and seems to have taken it upon himself to write down some of these stories, even when he wasn’t the author. He did, however, write “Xochipilli,” “Monica,” “Origin: Multiple Births,” and “Dog Killer,” and the “Interview with J.” was also conducted by him.


T. (also called Tati), a female friend of my brother. She’s one of the most prolific writers. She went to school and university with my brother, but later dropped out and moved to New York. She wrote “A Memory,” “Miranda Cassette Exchange,” “Origin: Crawl Space,” and “Faith Healing.”


A., a close male friend of my brother. He appears in many stories, but doesn’t seem to have personally written a single one. This matches his personality. He went to school and university with my brother, and the two remained friends until his passing. Though he didn’t write it, “Origin: To Remember” is about him. I also interviewed him in “Short Exchange with A. at the Harbor.”


F., a friend of my brother’s group. He and my brother and seem to have grown close in university. He’s also one of the more prolific writers in the notebooks. He seems to have disappeared overseas after dropping out of university. He wrote “Record Store,” “The Children of District 11,” and “He’s Not Setting Out to Hurt People.” “A Letter from F. Loosely Attached to Notebook #4” is also from him, obviously. He also seems to have conducted the interview with X that became “Yuga Park under Watch.”


These four seem to have written, narrated, or participated in the brunt of the Books of Sand. But there were several “guest writers” as well, of varying relevance.


N. became a friend of my brother’s group in high school. He seems to have remained friends with them until his death in the Nantes marketplace fire, in 2006. He wrote “Mom & Pop,” “People Who Kill Animals and Other Things,” and the “List of N.,” which is part of the “Lists of Our Lost Friends” entry.


E., a female friend of T. who went to the same school as my brother’s group. They seem to have remained friends until she relocated to Europe. Her father was apparently in trouble with the “Clan of Adoration.” She wrote the “List of E.,” which is part of the “Lists of Our Lost Friends” entry.


K., a female friend of my brother’s group who apparently got into some trouble at school. She seems to be the only writer apart from A. (and my brother) who remained in the city after graduating from university. She wrote and signed “Warning, Goodbye,” which suggests that she didn’t author any other entry in the notebooks. (Or if she did, she didn’t sign them.)


D., a female friend of T. who occasionally orbited around my brother’s group. She doesn’t seem to have been actively involved with the notebooks. However, it seems that she was the narrator of “Sister Zero,” which was later written down in the notebooks by T. She moved to the UK after graduating from university.


J. was a friend of T. who participated in her story “A Memory.” He doesn’t seem to have been actively involved in the notebooks, or even aware of their existence. However, he was interviewed by my brother for “Interview with J.,” so he technically counts.


X is not a pseudonym I’m using to protect his identity; he is literally written down as “X” in the notebooks. His real name, assuming he had one, is never used. It’s revealed that he died under mysterious circumstances in “Faith Healing,” something that the entire group was aware of. He was interviewed in “Yuga Park under Watch,” wrote the “List of X” (from “Lists of Our Lost Friends”), and drew the picture referenced in “Faith Healing” (which I eventually found).


Finally, “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” seems to have been transcribed from a recording. It’s the only entry where almost every single writer seems to have participated.


From now on and until conclusion, new entries will be posted every weekend.

miércoles, 3 de marzo de 2021

 

Addendum to “Sister Zero”


FROM NOTEBOOK #3


The following text was printed on a page which was attached to the handwritten story of “Sister Zero.” Light googling has confirmed that this is a text named “Rotten Sun,” written by French intellectual Georges Bataille--not by my brother or his friends.


The text attached to the pages of the notebook comes from an official Spanish translation of Bataille’s essays. Instead of translating it myself, I’ve opted to copy-paste an official English translation of the same text. On the printed page, certain words and phrases have been underlined; this has been maintained here.


The sun, from the human point of view (in other words, as it is confused with the notion of noon) is the most elevated conception. It is also the most abstract object, since it is impossible to look at it fixedly at that time of day. If we describe the notion of the sun in the mind of one whose weak eyes compel him to emasculate it, that sun must be said to have the poetic meaning of mathematical serenity and spiritual elevation. If on the other hand, one obstinately focuses on it, a certain madness is implied, and the notion changes because it is no longer production that appears in light, but refuse or combustion, adequately expressed by the horror emanating from a brilliant arc lamp. In practice the scrutinized sun can be identified with a mental ejaculation, foam on the lips, and an epileptic crisis. In the same way that the preceding sun (the one not looked at) is perfectly beautiful, the one that is scrutinized can be considered horribly ugly. In mythology, the scrutinized sun is identified with a man who slays a bull (Mithra), with a vulture that eats the liver (Prometheus); in other words, with the man who looks along with the slain bull or the eaten liver. The Mithraic cult of the sun led to a very widespread religious practice: people stripped in a kind of pit that was covered with a wooden scaffold, on which the priest slashed the throat of a bull; thus they were suddenly doused with hot blood, to the accompaniment of the bull’s boisterous struggle and bellowing--a simple way of reaping the moral benefits of the blinding sun. Of course the bull himself is also an image of the sun, but only with his throat slit. The same goes for the cock, whose horrible and particularly solar cry always approximates the screams of a slaughter. One might add that the sun has also been mythologically expressed by a man slashing his own throat, as well as by an anthropomorphic being deprived of a head. All this leads one to say that the summit of elevation is in practice confused with a sudden fall of unheard-of violence. The myth of Icarus is particularly expressive from this point of view: it clearly splits the sun in two--the one that was shining at the moment of Icarus’s elevation, and the one that melted the wax, causing failure and a screaming fall when Icarus got too close.

This human tendency to distinguish two suns owes its particular importance in this case to the fact that the psychological movements described are not ones that have been diverted, nor their urges attenuated, by secondary elements. But this also indicates that it would be ridiculous a priori to try to determine the precise equivalent of such movements in an activity as complex as painting. It is an elevation--without excess--of the spirit. In contemporary painting, however, the search for that which most ruptures the highest elevation, and for a blinding brilliance, has a share in the elaboration or decomposition of forms, though strictly speaking this is only noticeable in the paintings of Picasso.

martes, 2 de marzo de 2021


“Sister Zero”


FROM NOTEBOOK #3


PART IV (END)


It wasn’t so much that Tomasa and Giovana’s questions were prodding or intrusive, but rather that I didn’t know how much I was supposed to divulge. The balmy afternoon and the little garden tea set were working their magic on me, but I was still sharply aware of how bizarre the situation was. And, I have to admit, part of me was also embarrassed. What would my coworkers think if they knew what I was doing with my Friday? It’s funny how I'd spent the last few months convincing myself I was above them, and had no interest in their opinions, but now they were coming back to haunt me. I wasn’t--I’m not--like B. I can’t spend my life having little “urban adventures” with aging barkeeps, lonesome street-sweepers, and cryptic record collectors. I do have a reputation to uphold.


I allowed myself to listen to the nuns’ chatter instead, remaining at the margins of their conversation, but maintaining a friendly disposition. Tomasa was once again reminiscing about her childhood in a northern fishing village, where summers were endless and people lived in a state of what F. would probably call “honest poverty.” Tomasa’s way of telling stories was lyrical, prone to tangents which seemed to delight even her. It seemed like she never knew where exactly her anecdotes would take her, and the result was always as much of a surprise for the narrator as it was for the audience. Giovana listened with feigned interest, a kind of strained, political smile which locked her sharp features in place.


Tomasa’s aimless reminiscing reached its natural conclusion and a pleasant silence fell upon the three of us. It had probably been forty-five or so minutes since we began talking. She was wary of monopolizing the conversation, even though Giovana had made no attempt to interrupt, and I was wholly someplace else. Her narration was almost therapeutic. But Giovana’s manners were stronger and she turned to me with an open gesture. She wanted to know about my day, my job and career. My world was a bit mysterious to them; I suppose they imagined I was rubbing shoulders with “titans of finance,” and closing million-dollar deals on a daily basis. Important people in high-rise buildings overlooking the skyline. To them, whose sensory life had been reduced to the convent and whatever existed in a two-mile radius around it, there must have been some frisson to it. If only they knew how dire things really were.


I didn’t want to talk about my life, and I wouldn’t have known how to do so if prompted. I tried changing the subject back to them. I thought perhaps we had now grown close enough for me to feel warranted in asking more personal questions. After a bit of generic fluff about what it was like to work in an “important” law firm (I don’t think they were aware that a temp does nothing but data entry and espressos), I tried asking Giovana what drove her to becoming a nun. To this she screwed up her face for just a second (I did see it), but then it resettled into a polite, tense smile. She looked above me, presumably at the sun setting behind the wall, and seemed genuinely lost in thought. Tomasa was looking at her--I noticed from the corner of her eye--with a certain anticipation.


In so many words: Giovana lived in a small southern town. Dry, quiet, and mostly populated by the elderly. Her mother was a teacher, while her father occupied a certain position in the regional government. It was understood that Giovana’s family had a certain local caché, which commanded respect for their forebears. (She didn’t say that, though; I intuited it). And her hometown was notable for one thing only: a beautiful, colonial cathedral which had become a regional tourist attraction, where she had attended Mass since early childhood. All social functions of the town were, as is common, tied in some way to the parish. It was where carnivals, funerals, fundraisers, baptisms, and weddings were organized. Elegant traditional construction, lacquered pews, a robust silver goblet for communion. Stained-glass windows dating back to the viceroyalty. This was the most excited I ever saw Giovana, as she entered a kind of trance state where she seemed to access a perfect reconstruction of the cathedral which existed in her mind. She described fussy details with remarkable ease: the wainscoting, the minor characters of the oil paintings in the priest’s quarters, the number of candles usually lit on the devotional altar. And Tomasa listened on in similar rapture, not looking directly at Giovana but rather at me, as if Giovana herself were too much to bear in this precise moment.


Needless to say, the cathedral had a profound impact on Giovana as a child and adolescent; it seemed to have been etched into her mind, every stone block and artisanal flourish, forever. And she spoke of it with such obsessive adoration that at a certain point I almost felt obliged to interrupt; not because I wasn’t enjoying this, but because I was beginning to wonder if she would get to the point of the story before sundown. Giovana eventually caught on to this, and her face settled into her usual expression, as if she were slowly--but surely--coming down from her ecstasy. Then she fixed her eyes on mine and simply said this: that cathedral burned down one day, when she was still young. It burned down completely to the ground, and while there were no casualties--thank God--the loss was immense for the town. Things were never the same, and Giovana had to leave.


“And I became a nun because I wanted to rebuild that cathedral in my heart,” Giovana said plainly. Tomasa looked, honestly, like this was the first time she heard this story in its entirety.


Tati, roughly ten years ago, remember we’d all go to Salvage Beach during the summer? It was really popular, you could rent out a place for cheap, we’d spend the summer months getting tanned to a crisp without a care in the world and so on. It was roughly two hours away from town down the main highway. Anyway, I’m asking because, do you remember ever seeing a burned-down husk of a church in the distance? Because I clearly remember it. It’s been stuck to my head since I saw it, probably at age ten or so. The sun was setting and I looked at this broken skeleton of a building against the sky, which was on fire. There were people moving about, but for the most part it seemed abandoned. I suppose it could've been a building in construction, but for some reason I always knew it was a church, and that it burned down. Do you remember that? Am I going crazy?


The next time I ran into Tomasa and Giovana, they were standing in exactly the same place as always, at the bottom level of the abandoned mall, on a sunbeam. This had never struck me as weird until that moment: why were they willingly placing themselves under the sun, in the heat of summer? In those clothes? I remember the reason why it seemed so strange to me then was because they hadn’t seen me approaching, and, as I walked towards them to say hi, I noticed that they were both staring upwards, directly at the sun’s rays, as if trying to discern something in it from the depths of that condemned building.


My relationship with the nuns reached its natural conclusion in the days afterwards. We still regarded each other warmly, but my days at the firm were coming to an end, and I had no reason to ever approach the mall again. I had to find work elsewhere and get my grades up, and so on. But I did visit them once more, totally out of the blue, months after this entire ordeal. I remember I had stopped at a nearby convenience store for cigarettes--I don’t remember why I was in that part of town, it was the weekend--and I caught the convent out of the corner of my eye. And I thought, I should see them, once more. I felt a pang of guilt for the way in which our rapport completely vanished after that summer, even if it was inevitable for it to do so. It was just my luck that, at that precise moment, Tomasa was running the front desk. They were selling chocolate truffles, as always.


To be honest, Tati, she didn’t seem thrilled to see me. There was a dire change in her behavior, or maybe just in her openness towards me. First of all, her mouth froze into what seemed like it was going to be a scream for help when I walked through the door. She quickly regained composure and adopted a polite coldness which was not unlike the way Giovana treated everyone. I tried making chipper small talk with her, but she didn’t bite. She talked fast and low, like our meeting was in some way illicit, like she couldn’t wait to be done with this and never see me again.


To this day I don’t really understand. Were they reprimanded for letting me into the building on that day? For shirking their duties? Did they feel silly for revealing so much of themselves to a stranger? Did they feel resentful and abandoned? I guess those are all possibilities. I guess nuns are mysterious creatures after all.


I did ask her about Giovana, and she said she was just beyond the heavy doors, wiping the halls which led to the nuns’ quarters. I guess I was way out of bounds here, but at the time I didn’t give it a second thought: I had every intention of saying hello, and so I walked past Tomasa and swung and heavy door open, peering into the tiled halls which led beyond the front desk and into a bowels of the convent, where visitors were not allowed. I didn’t even intend to walk in! I just wanted to see her, and wave, and that would be that. And maybe I would’ve bought some chocolates as a sign of goodwill.


Anyway, there wasn’t anyone wiping the floors, though I did see a bucket of water set down, as if someone had abandoned this work part way through. Was Giovana avoiding me? Had she been listening to our conversation? I couldn’t find out because Tomasa immediately seized me by the arm with intention to cause pain, and I was bewildered, stepping back instantly and letting the door swing back on its hinges, almost hitting me in the face. I was being reprimanded at mach speed by Tomasa, who was saying something about how it was strictly prohibited for visitors to look into the private quarters, and that Giovana was busy anyway, and then something about nuns’ vows, and so on. I was so rattled that I didn’t listen. I allowed her to lead me back towards the entrance, hand firmly on my forearm like an exasperated schoolteacher with a petulant child, and with that we said our goodbyes. I was in a daze. I felt so violently rejected that I didn’t dare protest or inquire.


And that was my story with the nuns. I know you’ve never been there, Tati, and I don’t recommend visiting. After the other things I’ve learned from your friends, it’s clear that something’s going on there. Also, I did a little amateur web-searching and I can’t find the church that burned down? I imagine there would be at least a few news stories about it, but nothing matches the timeframe and location described. But I do remember seeing something like that on drives home from the beach, do you? Is it possible Giovana was embellishing the story, and this was some dinky chapel in the middle of nowhere? Or am I connecting dots that don’t exist?


jueves, 25 de febrero de 2021

It's done.

 After roughly a decade of reading, transcribing, searching, running, wondering, fearing and mourning, the mystery has been revealed. I think.

If anyone is still reading this: I don't know what to tell you. No apology or explanation will suffice; only the entries themselves will do. Please watch this space over the coming weeks.

lunes, 12 de octubre de 2020

A Letter from F.

Loosely attached to Notebook #4


 B.,

I know it's been like five years. And I know it's inexcusable for me to not have been in touch since. I reached out to E. and K. sometimes. I've heard through them that you're all doing fine. I know that A. has settled into the life he was always meant to live, and everyone else was scattered to the winds. I think that's how it was always meant to be. We couldn't have stayed in the city. To me, at least, it was always a disappointment. The people who seemed so fascinating in our university years eventually settled for a sixth-floor apartment and an ad agency job, didn't they. Everyone got off on the last stop, with no warning. It's too small a town to live freely in. Those who didn't settle had flaws so deep that they were prevented from catching even the last train to normalcy; or, they stayed behind out of a misguided sense of pride, resigned to a dark and bitter life. You'll notice that the former are always pining for a partner to forgive all their shortcomings, while the latter are always looking to leave.

As for me, I wouldn't say I've been happier since I left town, but I would say I've felt imbued with a greater sense of purpose. Even if I'm not sure what that purpose is. Maybe it's just been all the traveling that's kept me busy. Colonial little islands on the Caribbean, sun-baked towns in North Africa, a season in Manchester as well. I leap at the first employment opportunity that comes with a plane ticket attached. You should see my resume; you couldn't make heads or tails of it. But something always comes up eventually. I'm not naive enough to think that this has nothing to do with the influence of my father; always there, even when it's not. But I'm done carrying that cross. Instead I'm teaching, learning, shooting, editing, sleeping on friends' couches and middle-of-nowhere motels. I hope you get to experience this at some point, too.

I never understood why you chose to stay behind, of all people. I know you don't like to talk about money, but I'm sure you would've been able to leave if you wanted to. I understand A.; he's like a fish in water over there. Why would he leave? I'll always be fond of him, but he's not like us in that sense. You, though, had the most reasons and the best credentials. But you always brushed aside all inquiries, and I think most of the group assumed that you were having family issues, or something of the sort. But I have to be honest with you: I knew it wasn't that. Ever since you told me about your father, the Clan, and the rest, it was easy to put it all together.

I want you to know that you're not bound to that city forever. I worry about you because you seem to think otherwise. The underground galleries, the secret bars, the abandoned housing complexes and anonymous hallways. It doesn't have to be your life. Please, if you need help just tell me. I was so ambivalent about reaching out for years, and today I regret it. I should have sent this letter long ago, but now it's in your hands. Don't let it consume you. You can still do it differently.

Call me,

F.

domingo, 1 de marzo de 2020


"Sister Zero"
FROM NOTEBOOK #3
PART III

The first time I entered St. Francis, I was in a daze. The convent was unsurprisingly spare, but welcoming. There was a bit of an improvised gift shop where chocolate truffles slowly melted on the shelves, and an equally haphazard “front desk”. Past a heavy door, which swung on its hinges instead of locking, were the living quarters, and the rest of the building.

It took a lot of convincing for me to allow Tomasa and Giovanna to bring me there, as the proposal seemed ridiculous and embarrassing to me. They had asked a number of times in the past and every time I had politely turned them down with reasonable excuses. As a lapsed Catholic, I had my reservations about the clergy and their constant attempts at conversion. My friends, who had gone to religious schools where nuns and priests governed, had few good things to say about them; about their rigid vigilance, their glowering menace. I could never have considered the nuns my “friends” because our lives and backgrounds were so dramatically different, that I knew our relationship would never develop beyond the very specific circumstances that lead us to meet in that summer. I mentally categorized them as part of a group of kooky acquaintances, which I was secretly kind of proud of having, but would be embarrassed to reveal to others.

But it was Friday, and we were allowed to leave the office early. I could have darted straight home, made plans for the beach, but instead I absentmindedly wandered into the old mall again, telling myself I was going to check out this thing or another. It was hard for me to admit that I wanted to see them, the two people with whom I had built a genuine rapport over the last couple months. I told myself those weren’t my intentions, but it was blindingly obvious.

And conveniently enough, there they were, fanning themselves with the lids of open chocolate boxes, readjusting their coarse and boxy habits, which I could only imagine wearing in such heat. We immediately struck up a conversation with a rehearsed kind of joviality that was so pleasant to me at the time. Tati, if there’s something to be said about nuns it’s that they know how to make people feel welcome without ever overdoing it. This little space felt so refreshing when compared to the air-conditioned nightmare of the firm. We got to talking as usual and, without realizing, I mentioned that I was free for the afternoon. The nuns were delighted, and insisted that I come with them to the convent for tea. At this point I was feeling the kind of weird, warm tingles that sometimes slide down your back when you go to the hairdresser, or when a soft-spoken receptionist tends to your needs. That kind of hypnotic warmth that I associate with, I guess, service and comfort. And it almost made me want to cry. I said yes.

Whether the nuns’ intentions were purely altruistic or whether there was a conversion motive, I don’t know. Maybe they saw potential in me to be like them. Who even becomes a nun in this day and age? I have to assume they’re low on numbers. But I didn’t care about any of this at the time. As soon as I accepted, Tomasa and Giovanna burst into a thrilled chit-chat and beamed with what seemed like genuine joy, as they probably hadn’t entertained a guest in a while. They seemed to be amused by how the sisters would react to their guest, and began to work out the logistics of the operation. I don’t know much about convents, but I’m sure nuns aren’t allowed to simply bring in people off the street. At the same time, it didn’t seem like they were doing this in secret.


It’s not surprising that there was no air conditioning at St. Francis, or any similar amenities. Despite the background hum of comings and goings, errands and small talk, beyond the storefront was a place of monastic contemplation. I think the heat started to get to me at that point. I began to feel childlike, impressionable, far too easy to guide. Tomasa and Giovanna lead me through a back door that opened into a wonderful little corner of the convent’s inner patio, a sunlit place with little more than an iron-legged marble table and a few, thin chairs. The arrangement looked like it had stood there, unperturbed, for a thousand years. It sat in the middle of a walled little corner of the patio that was separated from the main square by a tight hallway, as if built in secret. The side and back walls were covered in greenery that was soothing to just look at. In a moment I became aware that his was, without a doubt, Tomasa and Giovanna’s secret corner, a place where they came to find some privacy, to tend to the plants, to drink tea and eat cake and gossip about the other sisters. I feel weirdly humbled to have been let in. I heard the moving-around of furniture behind me and then the door closed, and immediately I began to hear baby wrens, chirping in the distance. I no longer felt like I was in the city. And I began to relax, to let go in ways I hadn’t allowed myself to do for months.