Historias Cortas y Medianas, Ficción de Cosecha Propia Homegrown Short and Medium-Sized Fictional Stories

Dead Mother’s Whispers

The Sombrero Galaxy. Photo: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).

I died about twenty years ago, but I haven’t been conscious of that fact until now. Why, I don’t know. I’ll rephrase that. I wasn’t conscious of being dead because you’re not supposed to be conscious when you’re dead; especially after twenty years. What I don’t know is why suddenly I’ve regained consciousness. I could think of a couple of reasons, in light of what I’ve discovered in the last days -supposing they were days and not hours or months. We can always think of reasons why, if we set our minds to it. It’s difficult to set your mind, though, when you’re dead. It feels as if you had put too much water into the jelly mix. And then, again, it’s difficult to know what you’re feeling. 

Let’s try again: I’m a woman, or I was. A mother, I was. I don’t remember how I died or what I died of, but I remember I died at that age when you wonder whether to stop saying ‘I’m getting old’ and start saying ‘I’m old’. In any case, it could be considered that I died, as people say, ‘before my time.’ However, people can also say ‘her time was up’ or ‘her time came’, regardless of your age when you die. If humans are confusing in life, you can’t blame them for sounding confusing in death. 

I don’t remember that much about my life, but I remember I had a daughter. I should say I have a daughter, because even after death your children are always your children and you never forget that. At least, I hope I’m not forgetting any other children I might have. What a horrible thing that would be, even if they have no way of knowing whether their dead mother has forgotten them or not. From their point of view, it feels like she has forgotten because she’s fallen off the face of the Earth. I know how it feels because my parents died when I was in my late twenties. I learned since then the true meaning of being alone and left to your own devices, even though I had been away from home and earning my keep for a decade by the time they had their absurd car accident.

What am I saying? I did forget about my daughter for twenty years for God’s sakes! It’s only now that I begin to remember her. Talking of God. I have to confess that I was an agnostic when I was alive and my condition hasn’t improved in death. Given that I’m not completely dead, I can confirm my belief in life that there is a part of you that exists without the aid of the organic body. But, as for the concept monotheistic believers uphold that God created Man according to His own image, well, so far I haven’t seen anything resembling anything in this… place.

Never mind all the questions about God. They don’t seem to be relevant here. I just hope I don’t bump into Santa Claus in a nightdress one of these eternal days. I don’t think I could cope with patriarchal society being ratified. I’d probably ask to be transferred to hell; if there is one. 

I said I haven’t seen any living beings here, but I’m having trouble seeing and finding out exactly what ‘here’ is. I’m in a nebulous otherworld of enigmatic sensations and ambiguous ideas. As if you were in a permanent state of being about to fall blissfully asleep, images come and go; they flow like cotton-like clouds in a Parrish blue sky, and you let them go on in their journey, unhindered. You don’t have a body, but you drift, too, as if you had one and it floated down in a river of warm water, twitching occasionally when brushing against an imaginary pebble or swaying around a theoretical bend. You let your hypothetical self by taken by the fictional current. You don’t see a stream or trees, but can hear them. You can’t smell them, though. You see only light and shadows. 

Sometimes you hear fragments of music. Classical, pop, jazz, like a radio changing stations. I recognise some of the pieces. They don’t last long. You don’t mind that. You don’t mind anything. It’s like being in love without the sickness. You might think it is a fool’s paradise, but there’s no doubt about it in my soul: This is heaven.

A couple of days ago I started seeing the world of the living from above, as if I were perched on a cloud or were a cloud myself. I saw fragments now quite sharp. They fade in and shortly after they fade out, the way images do sometimes in films. Black and white or colour. It varies. 

The natural world is still magnificent. As it happened when I was alive, its impervious beauty enraptures me every time like the first time. On the other hand, the living creatures, the human ones in particular, look small from above, puny, their struggling pathetic, their worries insignificant. I feel like laughing when I see them. Not at them. No. I want to go down to them and spread the news: none of that matters. But then, it’s easy for me to say: I’m dead. 

I didn’t feel that way when I was alive. When I was in the world of the living, I recall most things were of terrible importance to me. For the life of me, now I can’t understand why. But if I were to go down as a human being again and insisted on saying to those having a hard time that nothing really matters, they would look at me as if I were mad, I’m sure. 

It’s a matter of perspective, I realise. Nevertheless, I wish the living had a little bit of the view from where I’m standing. It tickles me. I’m dying to talk to the soul next to me about it. But there are no souls next to me. I’m alone. And yet I don’t feel alone. You can’t feel alone when you’re not a separate entity, but an indivisible part of an infinite and eternal whole. It tickles me that people down there don’t seem to know this, don’t believe it. Even those who know it or believe it, on the whole, don’t feel it. That’s it: if they felt it, they would be able to see my view.

I have to help my daughter with this or something to do with it. I think that must be the reason for my regaining consciousness of… myself. How prosaic, how inefficient, how typical of life and living creatures. But it has to be, hasn’t it? If you come back after twenty years, it must have something to do with your family or your friends, mustn’t it? Or they would have woken up somebody else’s individual consciousness. 

They. What do I mean by THEY? Please, don’t tell me that there is someone in charge here, a government in Heaven! No, no, there can’t be. It’s just me and my tired old notions regurgitated from my past life on Earth and its country-states and recalcitrant nationalities. I can’t help laughing. I hope you don’t mind. Now I’m quite glad I’m dead.

Anyway, I’m sure it was some remnant of my individuality that decided to come back and not an imposition from God or any other type of governmental body. How confusing it is to be part of everything at the same time as being an individual. Nevertheless, there has to be freedom in heaven if it is to be heaven. Right?

I saw my daughter yesterday morning. At least I think it was yesterday, but I’m sure it was the morning because she was getting out of bed and she never slept during the day, unless she was very ill. She didn’t look ill. Tired, yes, but not ill. I didn’t expect to see her and, after the initial shock, a current of euphoria ran through me, turning me less unsubstantial. As if the feeling could somehow access some vestige of my molecules and submit them to a centripetal force that had the power to amalgamate them. 

My beloved daughter has aged, naturally, after twenty years. She’s lost her puppy fat and her features are sharper, harder. Her hair is streaked with premature white. The corners of her mouth are turned down. Her eyes look sadder. But they still have the dreamy patina they had when I knew her. She preserves that from childhood. She lost her chiming laughter when she was eleven, but she hasn’t lost the gleam in her eyes at forty. That is good news.

She faded out of sight after a few seconds and along with it my slight materiality. I’ve seen her again today, though, and this time she lasted longer. She has a partner. I haven’t seen him, but I sensed him around her and I could hear his voice. He sounded stern but kind. I couldn’t see or hear any children. That is a shame. I wanted her to be a mother. I thought she would have wanted to be a mother at some point. I wonder what’s happened. Maybe they can’t have children. There’s still time. My mother had me when she was forty-two.

It’s coming back to me that nasty feeling: frustration. I don’t need it, but it is frustrating for me now that I’ve seen my daughter, not being able to be with her, talk to her. She definitely seems to need help with something. Of course, all living creatures need help with something. But how can I stick around when I’m in a cloud most of the time? When I am a cloud myself? If I were a ghost to my daughter, perhaps I could make my presence felt. I myself never felt any otherworldly presence when I was alive and I suspect my daughter has inherited my disability in that area. She has clearly inherited others, like a bad sense of balance and a weak digestion. She’s also inherited good traits, naturally, like beauty, intelligence, modesty.

I’ll think of her all the time; see if that improves my control of the situation. One of the first things I should do is remember her name, because, hard as I’m trying, it doesn’t come to mind.


My daughter and I didn’t part in good terms. At least, that is the feeling I’ve got. It might be guilt, about leaving her, about not being a good enough mother. No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to be a good enough parent. And yet, I couldn’t have been a terrible one, or I wouldn’t be in Heaven, I suppose. 

In any case, perhaps something did happen in the last days of our being together – or not being together – and we didn’t part in good terms. I can’t tell. And this not being able to tell is further discombobulating me. I recall this is how I often felt in life: the more I craved for harmony and clarity, the more conflict and arguments there were in my life. It was like being in a nightmare from which now I have wakened. I don’t want to fall back into it.

Her name might be Constance. I think I heard her partner calling her Constance. Never mind the name. Perhaps they do have children. At least one. I feel a human presence in the house that doesn’t belong to either my daughter or her partner, but I can’t determine what or who it is. At the moment, there isn’t a strong sense of happiness in the household. Perhaps that presence is a teenager. That would explain it. I remember the horrible time my daughter and I lived through when she was a teenager. So many times we wanted to strangle each other. So many times I said to her I was throwing her out of the house. So many times she said to me she was leaving for good. 

I didn’t throw her out in the end and when she finally left because she had to live her life, we didn’t see each other for a long time. I can’t tell how long. What I can tell you is that she came back and we lived happily under the same roof for a while. I recall watching silly tv shows together before me having to go back to the office in the late afternoon, and watching sublime black and white films together in the evening while having dinner. We talked about the films afterwards, but I don’t recall us talking about our lives. We shared the same black flag politics – yes, I’m proud to say, that’s another trait she inherited from me -, but we didn’t talk about important things or much about anything else for that matter. She didn’t want to; that wasn’t the kind of thing my daughter did with her mum. Perhaps it is like that with all children and their mums. 

This is provided I’m remembering things correctly. Most of your past, you forget, even in life. When your loved ones die and you eventually brave reading again the letters you wrote to them from a far away place and they kept amorously in a tattered blue folder for twenty years, you can’t believe you were that person and did all those things once. You wonder how much more you have been and how many more things you have done that you didn’t write down.

I don’t know. I seemed to have left the world with a virtually empty bag of knowledge. I just hope I don’t have to go back and relearn it all. I don’t think I could cope with going through The Teen Age again, either mine or my child’s. I wouldn’t drag myself through that hell again if they killed me again. Indeed, like the concentric circles in Dante’s Inferno, each teen year in my life was heavier and cloudier than the next, culminating in my eighteenth year on Earth, when I left home, school and lost myself for years. Perhaps, in some respects, I lost myself irreparably. It’s difficult to tell; as I said, the state of affairs is not less confusing when your dead than when you were alive. And when you were alive I think life felt like a collection of fairytales all brewed together in the witch’s cauldron. The happy ending all broken up in little bits, floating around cruelly among the big chunks of misfortune and hardwork in the slippery soup of time. 

In any case, if they offered me to be born again and live another life, I’d say, on one condition: no adolescence. If they tell me that is not possible then I’ll tell them to stick their life where the sun don’t shine. 

There I go again: they-they-they. What is wrong with me?

‘Look at the sky today, mama!’

That’s my daughter’s voice!

‘Isn’t it beautiful? I know you would like it.’

She’s talking to me! The words are muffled, as if she were in another room with the door closed. She’s walking along the dirt track in the woods and she’s talking to me as if I were there. Which I am, because, right now, there is here. But, does she know? Or is she just wishful-thinking I’m there? She stops to contemplate the tawny cows gracing in the bright green field behind the dry stone wall. I think my daughter sent me a postcard just like that during the year she was living in Switzerland. No, it was me that lived in Switzerland and sent the postcard to her.

‘Constance?’ I call -now I remember her name is Constance, like the lake. ‘Can you hear me?’

She doesn’t answer. She’s smiling but she looks troubled.

I call again softly. If she can hear me I don’t want to spook her. ‘My dearest, what’s the trouble. It’s not love, is it?’ 

The question was rhetorical, because her look carried a different misery. It wasn’t the melancholy that can give the lovelorn the bearing of a heart-wrenched poet; it was the soulless, unattractive dejection that comes with financial problems. It could also have to do with the things one ends up doing in a desperate effort to mitigate the said problem. Things that have nothing to do with poetry, or music or love. None of the things that make life worth living and humankind worth saving. Too much of those things you do for money can kill you just as surely as having no money, except you don’t die. You can live like that for many years, as a smiling undead, an organic machine. 

‘I know all about it, my dearest,’ I whispered. ‘Try not to worry.’ Easier said than done, I knew. But I couldn’t help saying it. ‘I worried, and fretted, cried and failed to sleep… None of that helped. Look, I’ve turned into these beautiful flowers all over the green grass, just for you to…’ I stopped myself before I said rejoice. Why would I want to sound like a Christmas song, dancing and throwing streamers? How was that going to make things better for my daughter? No wonder she can’t hear me: I don’t seem to have anything to offer but platitude. So much for ‘only say the word, and I shall be healed.’ But I’m no Jesus, no divine physician, no bread of angels to offer or turn into. I’m just an ordinary disembodied spirit with no apparent special powers.

‘I wish I could ask you things,’ my daughter was saying. ‘About how you managed… what would you do if you were me…. It’s funny, in all the time since you died, I never wanted to talk to you. I wanted to see you, go to a cafe together, but not talk. Now I wish I could talk to you. I’d so much want you to be with me. It’s selfish, I know. Wishing you were alive just because I suddenly need you.’

Tears ran down her face. She wiped them off and resumed her walk into town. She stopped talking to me or to the sky and she faded away.


It’s the winter. The world is covered in snow. I can still see the deep green of the conifer trees and the hollies tearing holes here and there through the pure white blanket. A pure black bird alights in the middle of the pure white garden, the grass dormant underneath. I am the black bird. I take flight into my daughter’s house through the closed window. It doesn’t break. I perch myself on Constance’s shoulder, but she doesn’t move. She can’t feel me. She’s talking to the unknown presence with words I don’t understand. New technology perhaps. I’m tired of being an ignored ghost. It is me who is not worthy of entering her house. I won’t talk. But if she can’t feel me either, if I can’t even be here for her, what is the point of my being here at all?

Black Bird, Si Griffiths, Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve been thinking about when my parents died. They didn’t ‘fall off the face of the Earth.’ The truth is I felt them everywhere, as if their substance had permeated everything around me. After a while, I stopped feeling it, or perhaps I got used to it. Maybe that’s why Constance ignores me: I am everywhere, like God. I’m part of God now. I am God. Why do I feel so powerless then? Why can’t I affect my daughter’s life? Why can’t I give her the hand she needs?

‘How’s your flu?’ her husband asks. He’s just coming out of another room.

‘The flu is doing great,’ Constance answers while she’s peeling a fruit. ‘But I feel like crap.’

I feel myself being pulled away. While I ascend vertiginously back into the empyrean, the way is pervaded with a strong scent of tangerine. Is it possible that after twenty years of being in heaven I’ve gone to purgatory? Did they make a mistake with me? Wasn’t I as good as they thought I was? Of course I wasn’t. And now I’m so unhappy. I don’t want to go back to being completely unconscious, but perhaps consciously unconscious. I want to be high again. Have I lost that?


A house. Today Constance was making a house with an empty biscuit cardboard box. She was making the pitched roof with the flaps that closed the box at the top, but they were not long enough and she had to look around for more cardboard. It was a surprise present for somebody’s child. Not hers; she definitely has no children. I sat on a chair and looked on while she did this. That’s all I can do. Since I can’t be here for my daughter, I’ll be here with her. Even though she doesn’t know.

Once the shape of the house was built, Constance started glueing bits of gift wrap all over it. When she finished, it looked like a magical object… It dawned on me: 

Many years ago, when she was little I had done the same thing for her. Door, windows, curtains, roof-tiles, chimney, exactly the same: a humble biscuit box turned into a little doll’s house. 

Constance had been ill in bed with one of the childhood diseases. She had been off school for a few days. She was beginning to feel better and I was beginning to worry about her missing important classes. I wanted her to do some homework. But first I gave her the biscuit box house I had just made for her. You should have seen her face, as if I had just presented her with something out of a fairytale. She couldn’t believe I had done it myself. Just for her. A few months earlier, I had made her first communion dress myself, but that was normal: any mum can make a white dress with a chantilly lace bodice and a tutu skirt all the way to the floor. This dolls’ house, on the other hand, was something that not all mums could, or would, make.

I told her she could play with her new toy for a while, but then she had to do some homework. I gave her a couple of school workbooks. She put them down on top of the bedside cupboard and, propped up against the wooden bedhead with three white pillows behind her back, started playing with the house. Her brown eyes wide with wonder and pride. 

Connie was a wilful girl. Just as I was. Were we not to be, as grown women we could get trodden upon and worn down like cheap carpets. Some hours later, I went to visit her in her childhood bedroom. The workbooks had an air of desolation about them, as if not only the student hadn’t opened them, but hadn’t even bothered to throw a glance in their direction, poor things. Poor me, too, her conscious mother. My girl looked at me with a cheeky smile; she still had the decorated box in her hands, she had put little things inside to turn it into a home. I screamed at her in a rage. She tried to explain. I snatched the cardboard house off her and tore it to pieces.

Now, many years later, Constance is making the same house. But if she’s making it for a child, she’s not going to bother about useless homework and she’s not going to tear the house down. She will make her own mistakes and she won’t be forgiven for them either. It just occurs to me that perhaps she is trying to fix things by doing them again. Perhaps she is trying to forgive me. I’ve forgiven her completely for all she’s done, including her stealing money from me that she never knew I knew she had stolen. But then it is easier for parents to forgive their children than it is for children to forgive their parents.


I’ve got a bad feeling about this one. Constance has been going through her papers, looking for my death certificate. My death certificate! What the hell does she want that for? If she wants an autopsy, it’s a little late. If she wants to know what I died of, I could tell her, if I could, since I remember now: I died of leukaemia and despair at the state of the world. But I’m not dead! Not completely! I’ve noticed in the last couple of days that materialisation is taking a hold on me.

I don’t feel half as dead or absent anymore. Heaven and Earth are not nebulous places any longer, the shapes are sharpening and the colours saturating. I don’t know what it means and I’m not sure I like it, but that’s how it is. So my death certificate can’t be relevant to anybody because it doesn’t apply anymore. That contract was been declared void by me. It is my body and soul and, mark my words, I’ll be the judge of that. 

My daughter can’t understand why she can’t find the damn paper, but when she looks in her files, I move it to a cupboard, and when she looks in the cupboard, I move it to a drawer. I’m very good at that sort of thing now; it’s like magic, which I was always good at. Let me find out first what she wants the paper for and then I’ll decide if she can find it or not. I hope I can hear the conversation that will tell me what I need to know. I can’t choose what I hear, and I still can’t make myself heard or felt, no matter how loud I shout or hard I push. I feel present and alone now in Heaven, happiness folding up on itself, the completeness of the universe receding into its infiniteness. Oh, well, I hope this transition is not as painful as my death.


This morning in Heaven, I heard a voice next to me. It electrified me. I had never heard a voice in Heaven before. 

‘I knew I would see you again one day,’ the voice said. It was as clear as a bell. I turned cautiously, as in a horror movie. I thought I was going to fall down to Earth when I saw it was my ex-husband, Constance’s father. He was standing tall, as he was tall, in a rippling background of dark green water.

‘What are you doing here?’ I blurted out. I couldn’t speak his name. The anger and grief I had suffered for years due to his abandonment of us, daughter and wife, flared up for a brief moment, like a will-o’-the-wisp. What can anyone expect, nearly forty years after having been expelled from the fool’s paradise of romantic love. Oh, how I believed. I believed so blindly. The dark green water rippled some more.

He chuckled.

‘I wasn’t such a bad person,’ he complained. ‘But I have to admit, I’m a bit surprise to find myself here. I’m not sure I deserve heaven straight away.’

I thought of saying ‘I’m not sure either’ but I couldn’t be too snug about the subject; I wasn’t sure I deserved it myself. 

‘I didn’t know you had died,’ I said instead. 

‘It was coming for some time. I kept wanting to sound the horn but I wasn’t brave enough.’

I looked at him. He must have been in his late seventies, but he look about 40, the age he was when we separated. His face took me back: handsome, sensual, weak in places. I looked away. I thought I heard anger again, coming from around the corners of my mind, screeching: How could you do this to me and our daughter!

‘What are you doing here?’ I repeated. ‘Next to me, I mean.’

‘I have no idea. I have no control over this. I’m new to it,’ he said in that arrogant foreign tone of his. I wanted to say, ‘Yeah, tell me about it’.

‘I’m sorry you died so young. I called when you were in hospital but…’ He said this in a softer tone with a kinder accent. I had loved this man to the point of disintegration. I shook my head in disbelief. I wasn’t in the slightest interested in anything he had to say. Still, I was puzzled by his presence. I wanted to know the meaning of it. Something occurred to me.

‘Do you know why Constance might be looking for official papers?’

‘What? Constance, our daughter?’

I nearly said ‘no, my daughter, since I had to raise her without you,’ but I checked myself. 

‘No, the neighbour’s daughter!’ I said instead. ‘Yes, of course, our daughter!’

He thought about this. As it had happened to me after regaining consciousness, he was confused about what was going on. He hadn’t been asleep in heaven for twenty years, like me, and yet he had been away from Constance’s life for nearly 40. All this provided I was getting the times right.

‘She was looking for death certificates yesterday,’ I said. It occurred to me that it could have been the day before that, or an hour ago, but I didn’t say anything. It didn’t matter because it was still happening.

He nodded. ‘It has to do with my will.’

Yes, I thought, I remember: everything had to do with your will.

‘You know,’ he looked at me, his eyes dark and sad. ‘My last will… and testament.’

Right, I thought, a tenuous light flickering inside me. Again, like a will-o’-the-wisp, but this time not fading so fast.

‘What’s in your will?’

‘Not much,’ he admitted. ‘And she has to share it with her… half-brother. It’s the law,’ he explained.

I felt good for a moment. The fact that he was sharing whatever little assets he had left behind with our daughter, after a lifetime of not given her anything, could do something towards redeeming him. Then I realise what ‘It’s the law’ meant. It wasn’t necessarily his will to give our Constance half of what he had; it was the law, whether he liked it or not. The little warmth he had kindled inside me, he snuffed out already. Deja vu all over again, as they say. Still, money is money, and money was what Constance and her partner needed right now. Provided I was getting the picture right. 


‘Constance,’ I call softly. She’s lying awake in her bed at night. She’s alone. Her partner is in another bed, sick with the same flu she has just overcome. Or perhaps they had a row, I’m not sure. She’s terrified about tomorrow – about the future. She hates the future. She doesn’t remember much of the past and the present is a short dark night.

‘Constance, my dear,’ I whisper. ‘I’m here. Things are going to be all right. Do you remember things are always in the last place you look? Well, that’s where I’ve put my death certificate!’

But she doesn’t want to know. She’s tired of all the million little things she knows, most of them been forced to learn throughout this life as well as past lives. A lot of them inaccurate, misleading. None of them she invented or thought of. They now seem irrelevant, a ridiculous burden she will soon enough be rid of, whether she wants it or not. The truth is, she doesn’t want to be this limited being anymore. I know how she feels. I want to go back to not being a little thing. But I fear it’s too late. I’ve gone too far down into Earth and into human life, I have been sucked back in. Oddly enough, I’m too interested. It’s beginning to dawn on me that what my daughter and her partner are seeking is not money but a child.

It is possible all this awakening has to do with me living again. I didn’t believe in reincarnation when I was alive and yet I had always said that were I to come back after death, I wanted it to be as a bird. A black bird or a coal tit. Then I would be heard for sure. But would I be understood?

No, I’m clearly not going to come back as a bird. I’m coming back to be near my daughter, and perched in a tree in her garden is not near enough. I’m coming back to listen to her and be listened to by her; chick-a-dee-dee-deeing all day long, as lovely as it is, wouldn’t do the trick. I want to be close to Constance, not fly away every time she comes near me.


The universal soul took a chip out of itself and that chip was me. Now I’m coming back as a round egg -ovule is the scientific name. It’s like being in Heaven again, but with a detectable current of electromagnetism, as well as something else to which I can’t give a scientific name. Is ‘life’ a scientific name? Is it ‘soul’? Condensed life and soul in an organic capsule. I’m bursting at the seams, expanding and expanding, like the Big Bang in its beginnings. But I am in a confined space and, as happy and as comfortable as I am in here, I know I will have to come out and forget who I am and how I was. I wonder if my daughter will recognize me.

I feel the current of Constance’s warm hand on her belly coming through to me. She bursts out laughing. Her jubilation makes me grow some more inside her.

When you wake up in the middle of the long winter night a revelation might unexpectedly come to you. You repeat it to yourself frantically to ensure you will remember it in the morning. You mustn’t forget something so important, so paramount to your existence. You fall asleep again and when you wake up in the morning, try as you may, you can’t remember.

I will forget. I will think I am living for the first time and learning everything for the first time. And thus humanity keeps making the same mistakes over and over again, in a cruel relentless loop. We don’t learn from history because we don’t take it seriously. We think it’s just a story inaccurately written by an anonymous hand at a no particular time about people other than us. In the beginning, we ate from the tree of knowledge. Then we regretted it, and in an effort to return to paradise we insist in remaining stupid.

Spermatozoon and ovum. Mark Garlick, Science Photo Library.

Vivi, 24 July 2022

© Viviana Guinarte

Él y sus mascotas

Petu, 2022

No hay en el mundo mayor entrega y una muestra más grande de amor absoluto que la de mi perra por su dueño. Ella le eligió a él, no a mí. Muestra su pasión más ciega y lo hace con todas las células de su cuerpo. A cada momento, todos los minutos del día nos enseña lo que es la devoción pura, la adoración extrema con todo su ser. Yo admiro esa disposición con recelo porque no soy el objeto central de esa apasionada relación; estoy ahí, la presencio y acepto a regañadientes; la comento, a veces me río cuando llega al paroxismo, pero he claudicado. Soy la segundona.

No es que no me quiera, me mira con ternura, me aprecia y cuando alguien menciona algo de salir a la calle sé que cuenta conmigo, se dirige a mí suplicante pero no salta por la correa, no baja atropellada, de dos en dos, los escalones de la terraza para de un vuelo plantarse delante de la verja del jardín jadeando a la espera de que su paseador, enganche la correa al collar, abra la puerta y salga con ella. Conmigo es algo más tibia, conmigo esos aspavientos no los hace.

Fuimos a buscarla en cuanto nos dijeron que se podía separar de su madre a un pequeño pueblo de Segovia y desde entonces, pegada al olor de una camiseta vieja de “su padre” se empapó de su olor y se convirtió en parte de él para siempre. Sociable hasta la médula y zampona por demás, podría decirse que esas son las dos cualidades más sobresalientes, las que más la identifican por encima del resto.

Es, al menos para mí, una preciosa mezcla de labrador con cualquier otra raza; negra, de tamaño mediano, rápida, nerviosa y muy musculada. Cuando se cruzan con ella dos objetos de atención prometedores nunca sabe por cual decidirse y redobla su ímpetu como si con ello pudiera alcanzarlos a los dos a la vez de un solo golpe. Adora el agua, embarrarse y correr libre por el campo todo lo que dan sus patas como si quisiera atravesar de una vez los confines del bosque. Su carácter no deja indiferente a nadie y generalmente va por ahí haciendo amigos.

Suspira fuerte cuando no está de acuerdo con algo y al dormir ronca y sueña aparatosamente con peleas o persecuciones dramáticas estremeciéndose y temblando durante las mismas. Tiene a mi lado su hueco en el sofá, debidamente protegido, pero no es raro que se suba encima de mí para admirar mucho más de cerca y con arrobo al objeto de su devoción continua, su líder. Creemos que es una perra consentida y feliz, dramática y celosa, demandante y afectuosa. Sé que son muchos y muy humanos los rasgos que enumero de su temperamento, quizá los haría suficientes para la interpretación pero no exagero nada al describirla. Supongo que todos los dueños de mascotas del mundo creen que las suyas están dotadas de gran personalidad y dotes extraordinarios.

Una noche recibí la llamada de su dueño que volvía del trabajo. Fue una conversación algo atropellada por la urgencia de la situación. Ya habíamos hablado sobre aquel tema, supongo que para iniciarme con cuidado y pacientemente acerca de otra nueva adquisición. Sutilmente conducida hacia la trampa la pregunta no pudo ser más directa: ¿puedo llevar a casa el gatito que me encontré en la calle? Recibida así la noticia, a plomo, creo que se hizo un silencio largo al otro lado del teléfono, lo suficientemente largo como para que me preguntaran ¿sigues ahí? Calibrando la respuesta y confrontándola con lo que se me venía encima solo acerté a responder: pero cariño, ¿tú no odiabas los gatos? No sé si con la edad se han atemperado las filias y las fobias de mi querido compañero pero esta vez no contestó a mi pregunta, supongo que calibrando, también él, la respuesta. 

Como pude confirmar después se trataba de un pequeñín que, separado de su madre por motivos desconocidos, acabó haciendo noche guarecido bajo unos tablones de madera en la misma calle en la que trabajaba su “próximo dueño”. La verdad es que seguramente no habría tenido muchas posibilidades de supervivencia a pocos metros de la carretera principal. Totalmente acorralada y cogida por sorpresa expresé algo en alto, yo me oí decirlo. Di mi consentimiento a la entrada del gatito en el zoológico familiar. Esa misma noche, por eso corría prisa, se estrenó en casa el nuevo miembro. Asustado e inquieto después de algo menos de media hora de viaje, y como supe después inspeccionando nerviosamente el coche durante el trayecto, pudimos al fin acomodarle entre nosotros en la cama como un paquetito y agotado por la novedad de la experiencia pudimos descansar por fin los tres.

La que no había dado su aprobación, ni había sido invitada a votación alguna, fue nuestra perra. Y nos lo hizo saber; nerviosa y también profundamente contrariada por la nueva adquisición se mostró mohína y terca en un principio porque tenía que acostumbrarse pacientemente a no ser nunca más el único sujeto de atenciones y mimos de la casa. Juguetón e infantil el gatín no pareció percibir las hostilidades de su “prima” sino que la tomó como una obligada compañera de juegos, chinchándola a cada momento y debilitando poco a poco las reticencias iniciales de la antigua reina de la casa. Totalmente destronada fue acostumbrándose a la nueva situación moderando su carácter hasta que estos dos insólitos compañeros a la fuerza se hayan convertido al fin en los mejores amigos, superados totalmente sus primeros desencuentros.

Petu, 2022

Tengo que decir que aunque el pequeñín nunca dejó de ser un incordio para ella siempre fue desde el principio el primero que corría al encuentro de la gran jefa para jugar. Ella se ha hecho rogar y, displicente, le dirigía algún que otro bufido de reprimenda para que el intruso tomase la distancia oportuna y de paso darse ella la debida importancia. El mini-tigre aún en periodo de perfeccionar su fiero rugido a lo más que llegaba es a propinar inofensivos zarpazos que no parecían molestar demasiado a su cada vez más paciente y resignada compañera de juegos. Tengo que decir que para quien no resultaban inocentes del todo esos arañazos era para el dueño de ambos que desde entonces sufre en sus carnes numerosos desgarros, pues decididamente el pequeño agresor ha comprendido que a superior contrincante debía emplearse con mayor rigor y contundencia, sin miramientos. Así que desde el principio no ha escatimado esfuerzos en sus continuas ofensivas lanzadas contra su rescatador y usa como debe sus poderosas herramientas. 

Las agresiones del pequeñín y las duras respuestas de su dueño a veces alcanzan una magnitud que me obligan a disolver el juego, cosa que parece afectar mucho a los dos. Alguna vez después de poner paz entre ellos, la fiera salta sobre su amo sin preaviso cogiéndole totalmente despistado para después salir huyendo en previsión de nuevas represalias. La verdad es que es un espectáculo verles a ambos, medirse de rival a rival con estas muestras de dominio por el entorno, una lucha por el liderazgo entre los varones de la casa. Las dos féminas hace tiempo claudicamos de esa absurda contienda. Nos contentamos con hacer lo que queremos sin que ellos lo noten demasiado. Distraídos en la importancia de quien ha de ser nombrado campeón-líder-dirigente, una reacción muy masculina de siempre, nosotras aprovechamos para llevar las riendas de la casa con discreción. Dejamos en sus manos los aspectos más importantes como ganar, tener razón y llevarse el gato al agua… No, esa no ha sido una gran comparación, ha sido una desafortunada expresión, mi pobre gatito.

Con todo, de entre las cosas a las que no voy a ceder más es a la entrada de cualquier otro ser en mi casa. Tengo la seguridad absoluta, y así lo he expresado varias veces con una vehemencia que no deja lugar a dudas: no voy a acoger a nadie más, ya sea guacamayo, galápago o tucán. Ya somos muchos en casa, somos quizá demasiados la perra, el gato, el inglés y yo.

Petu, 2022

Petu, 24 julio 2022

La autopista y el cielo

(c) John Rose 2021

Dedicado a B y a Julio Cortázar

Sentía el sol calentándole la izquierda de la cabeza. Pronto le calentaría toda la cabeza desde arriba, mucho más fuerte de lo que estaba haciendo ahora. Levantó la mirada de la carretera con la fila de coches parados delante del suyo y la dirigió hacia el cielo azul empalidecido por la inmensa luz que lo iluminaba todo. El sol, menuda estrella. Bajo la vista a los coches brillando bajo su luz y le parecieron naves espaciales iluminadas por dentro. Menos mal, pensó ella, que el resto de las estrellas estaban mucho más lejos, si no estarían fritos; literalmente. Qué tontería, no estarían fritos ni no fritos, no habría vida en el planeta, punto. 

Suspiró y sacudió la cabeza en desprecio y cierto cansancio hacia sus propios pensamientos; perdía la paciencia consigo misma cuando pretendía saber más de lo que sabía. ¿Qué sabía ella de lo que hacía la vida posible o no? Lo que había leído en algún fascículo, lo que le habían dicho en el cole cuando era pequeña, algún documental que había visto. Conocimientos limitados recibidos de científicos que en la próxima generación dirían algo distinto, quizás incluso diametralmente opuesto. 

“Sólo sé que no sé nada”, dijo en voz alta.

“¿Quién dijo eso?” preguntó su chico, sentado en el coche a su derecha.

“No lo sé”, contestó ella. Bostezó larga y ruidosamente. “Alguien que sabía mucho”. Abrió la puerta del coche.

“¿A dónde vas?”, dijo el joven.

“A estirar las piernas”, contestó ella saliendo del coche.

“¿Y si se mueve la caravana?”

“¡Qué se va a mover!” protestó la chica. Puso su mano derecha sobre la frente a modo de visera y escudriñó el horizonte más allá del comienzo de la caravana de coches en la autopista. “Esto no se va a mover en mucho tiempo”.

Subió los brazos por encima de su cabeza y se estiró todo lo que pudo. En ese momento, la puerta del coche a la izquierda del suyo se abrió y salió de él un hombre de mediana edad con un perro pequeño en sus brazos. El perrito era blanco y negro de pelo corto, y por un momento la chica creyó que era una vaca en miniatura; una vaca bonsai con un arnés rojo y negro.

El hombre enganchó una correa metálica al arnés del perro y lo depositó cuidadosamente en el asfalto de la carretera entre los dos coches.

“En mi vida he visto un atasco de esta magnitud”, dijo el hombre mirando al perro, como si estuviese hablando con él, aunque la chica supo que se estaba dirigiendo a ella.

“Ya”, dijo ella educadamente. No había salido de su coche para hablar del atasco o de otras inutilidades, para eso ya tenía a su novio en el coche. Había salido a moverse un poco y a respirar algo de aire, aunque estuviese saturado de dióxido de carbono.

Miró al perrito en el suelo. Madre mía, pensó, y me quejo de no poder ver más allá del horizonte. Este pobre, por mucho que mire para arriba, ve mucho menos.

Se dio cuenta de que nunca se le había ocurrido que los perros y otros animales pequeños tenían un campo de visión muy limitado. Se preguntó si lo sabían y sintió lástima de lo poco que las pobres criaturas veían del mundo. Siguió observando al perro, que sobre sus cuatro patitas miraba tranquilo en la dirección contraria al atasco, como también perdido en sus pensamientos. La chica suspiró, aliviada de que el dueño no hubiese insistido en forzar una conversación. Estudió la belleza de las líneas del perro, la sombra que proyectaba en el suelo, que reflejaba fielmente la pureza de sus líneas. Era una buena foto, pero su móvil estaba dentro del coche y le dio pereza sacarlo. Además, para cuando metiese la cabeza por la ventanilla y le pidiese a su novio que le pasase su bolso y él le preguntase que para qué, y ella le respondiese que qué le importaba, y él hubiese accedido a regañadientes a pasarle el bolso donde tenía el móvil, la foto ya no estaría allí. De hecho, mientras pensaba esto, ya había cambiado y la sombra se había encogido y convertido en una bola informe.

De repente el perro tensó todo su cuerpecito y salió disparado en dirección contraria al sentido de los coches. Pilló desprevenido a su dueño, que soltó la correa sin resistencia.

“¡Jesús!” gritó el hombre, pero no hizo gesto de ir detrás del animal. “¡Jesúúúúúúúús!”

Jesús había corrido como una exhalación y desaparecido entre las tres largas filas paralelas de coches. La chica, consternada, abrió la boca para decir algo, pero la expresión del dueño del perro la detuvo. El hombre parecía haberse olvidado completamente de su mascota y miraba al cielo en la dirección contraria con una expresión que parecía una mezcla de sorpresa y gran preocupación.

La chica siguió la mirada del hombre con la suya y vio en el cielo algo que parecía un descomunal globo metálico.

“¿Qué es eso?” preguntó el señor sin quitar la vista del extraño objeto flotante.

“No sé”, dijo la chica entrecerrando los ojos para tratar de verlo mejor. Parecía hecho de un metal que resplandecía dorado a la luz del sol de la mañana. ¿Un globo hecho de oro?

“¿Un globo de esos, er, aerostáticos?” aventuró, dándose cuenta inmediatamente de que, en realidad, no sabía lo que quería decir aerostático. ¿Quieto en el aire?

“Estratosférico”, oyó decir a su chico del otro lado. Había salido del coche y miraba también con la boca abierta al extraño objeto esférico suspendido en el inmenso azul del cielo. 

“Estratosférico”, repitió la chica.

“Sí”, explicó él. “Que está en la estratosfera”.

“Ah,” asintió el dueño de Jesús el perro. “Eso debe ser; uno de esos que miden el clima y esas cosas”. La chica volvió su cabeza para mirarle con curiosidad: otro iluso que, como ella, creía saber algo. Luego giró la cabeza para mirar al globo de nuevo. Se sintió más estúpida que nunca.

“¿Y qué hace que no está en la estratosfera?” quiso saber. Ya de perdidos al río. Pero nadie le respondió. Más gente empezó a salir de los coches atascados en la autopista para elevar sus vistas hacia el objeto. Un objeto volante no identificado, pensó la chica, al menos no identificado por ella y los que estaban a su alrededor. 

“A lo mejor es una nave extraterrestre”, dijo en alto, soltando una risita. Y dirigiéndose a su novio: “Creo que es un fenómeno paranormal”.

“Tú sí que eres un fenómeno paranormal” dijo él.

“Y tú eres un fantasma” le espetó ella dolida. 

Fantasmas, nunca había visto ninguno de los de verdad. Una vez creyó sentir uno. Otra vez, una mañana, se despertó sobresaltada y vio la sombra de tres personas, tres hombres parecían, de pie junto a su cama. Sombras que se esfumaron en cuanto abrió los ojos de par en par. Una vez se fue a la otra punta del universo durante unos segundos. ¡Como le gustaría volver allí! Sintió más paz y alegría en esos segundos que en toda una vida de 22 años en este teatro operístico.

“Que campo de visión más limitado tienen desde ahí abajo”, dijo Oxomo desde la nave. “Pobrecitos los humanos”.

“Bueno”, dijo Durga. “Para eso estamos nosotros aquí para ampliar esa visión”.

“Esperamos que nos lo agradezcan”.


“Por su bien”.

“Por su bien”.

Se echaron las dos a reír. Durga se puso la mano derecha en la frente y sacudió la cabeza en gesto de cómica desesperación. 

Oxomo observó esto.

“Debemos tener cuidado de no parecer orgullosos. Ya sabes que los humanos tienen tendencia a sentirse devaluados”.

“¿Tendencia?” preguntó Durga y soltó una risotada. “That’s the understatement of the year, my friend”.

María entró en la sala de operaciones.

“¿Qué es tan gracioso?” quiso saber. 

Oxomo y Durga se miraron.

“Your son,” dijo Durga. “Huyendo de nosotras”.

Oxomo sonrió sardónicamente.

“Tiene demasiado apego a este mundo material”, observó María, sonriendo también, compasivamente.

“Sí”, concurrió Oxomo. “Esta vez le va a costar más que la última, que ya es decir”.

“No creo,” dijo María observando el mundo allí abajo.

“Con lo cara que está la gasolina y aún insisten en utilizar esos obsoletos vehículos”, dijo Durga, sacudiendo de nuevo su cabeza y abriendo mucho los ojos en gesto de absoluta estupefacción.

Oxomo y María no respondieron. Durga se unió a ellas en su observación silenciosa de la Tierra. 

“Hay que reconocer que nos han ayudado a crear un mundo de abrumadora belleza” susurró sobrecogida.

“Sí,” asistió María, “Allah tiene razón: el corazón creativo de los seres humanos es su salvación”.

“Amen” dijeron las otras, disponiéndose a sentarse a los mandos de la nave para hacer lo que habían venido a hacer. Su paciencia era infinita, pero, sencillamente, era hora de cambiar las cosas.

“¿Esperamos a Atenea?” preguntó Oxomo.

“No” dijo Durga. “Déjale que duerma, que la noche fue extenuante para ella”. “Yo puedo accionar su mando por ella esta vez”.

“Vale”, convinieron Oxomo y María al unísono.

Sin más dilación ni palabrería, Oxomo apretó el botón de la CONFIANZA, María el de IMAN, y Durga los dos últimos, primero ANUGRAHA y, finalmente, AGAPE.

Vivi, 26 junio 2022

© Viviana Guinarte, 2022

Con una capita de polvo marrón

Petu, 2022

Hoy hemos amanecido raro, el cielo aparecía marrón, el campo tenía una densa lámina de polvo. Mis árboles favoritos, mis lugares perfectos eran todos una deslucida imagen de color sepia. Dicen que es polvo del Sáhara pero parece una foto antigua, una estampa trasnochada en la que todo sale viejo y con apariencia borrosa. En las fotos me gusta, en la naturaleza no.

Mi paisaje, el de todos, debe ser nítido; el cielo debe lucir su mejor azul, el campo bien verde en invierno, un verde jugoso y húmedo; de color amarillo, el de la paja, cuando hace calor, blanco solo cuando nieva y poco más. Nada de desteñidos ni paletas de tonos raros. No quiero otras representaciones extrañas y menos si son desvaídas.

Además de triste esta mañana el paisaje estaba más silencioso, era como una negativa a asimilar este cambio que parece que no solo me disgustaba a mí. Parece que ese disgusto se había extendido a otros, más o menos protagonistas de nuestro querido entorno. No lo recibí como esa tranquilidad tan agradable que se produce después de una intensa nevada en la que los sonidos se amortiguan y la calma y el reposo se adueñan de toda la naturaleza y también de uno mismo; esto no era igual, esto no era sino una afonía en la que todo se queda mudo por desconfianza, para mostrar su desaprobación y sospecha.

Hoy permanecer asomada a la ventana requería un plus de atrevimiento para afrontar esta distorsión, a mi juicio grave. No me encontraba con ánimos después de ver el panorama que me rodeaba. Para mí quedarme mirando y preguntándome qué era esto supuso un himno a la osadía. Por eso hoy no me recreé mucho mirando al exterior, hoy no necesitaba una gran excusa para dedicarme a otras cosas enseguida. Y quise cambiar de tema, entretenerme en otros quehaceres y evadirme, pero no podía. Seguía terca con lo mismo y no podía separarme de la imagen plana, marrón y triste que me perseguía desde la ventana.

El ánimo también amaneció turbio como si desde ese insólito cielo nos empujaran hacia abajo, como si hubiéramos ganado todos algo de peso, perdido talla, o las dos cosas a la vez. De momento no sé cómo hacerle frente a nada de esto y me estrujo la cabeza para desintoxicarme de polvo y de pesadumbre emocional. Pero algo tengo que hacer para sacudirme ambos. Porque hay un no sé qué de bolero en todo el ambiente desde entonces. 

Petu, 2022

Tristeza y melancolía que me traslada, con cierto remordimiento, a imaginar como avanzaba la vida antes; y contemplo el que tuvo que ser un transcurrir lento y esforzado de nuestros ancestros como contrapartida a este devenir apresurado y superficial, que se pega a nuestros días como otra piel encima de la nuestra, mientras corre desaforado intentando dejarnos atrás continuamente. Pero aunque en sus fotos nos muestre una realidad coloreada de  marrón, apagada y tenue, los vivos colores desprovistos de contaminación del entorno de nuestros abuelos no eran así de desvaídos, solo lo son sus fotos.

Tengo la intención de cambiar de planteamientos y fijar los términos en los que voy a indagar para no despistarme con estas nuevas señales del paisaje que ya veo que no me van a echar una mano. El caso es que el resultado no compensa de momento, las ideas van y vienen en desordenado batiburrillo; como el polvo que cambia de sitio cuando lo limpias en casa; el aire enrarecido lo vuelve todo más espeso y no se te ocurra añadir agua ahora porque podrías vértelas con el dichoso barro. 

Así las cosas tenemos que hacer doble esfuerzo para aclarar conceptos, y yo aprovecho para hacerme las mismas preguntas de siempre pero de una manera mucho más intuitiva. Las respuestas, que tendrán mucho que ver con las que voy a necesitar ahora, serán idóneas para esa limpieza general. Mientras sigo enredada en mis pensamientos intento pillar desprevenida esa desafortunada imagen que me devuelve la ventana, y de vez en cuando me asomo rápida para ver si ese color tan incómodo se ha disipado un poco. 

La idea de dejarme llevar por la tristeza del día no me gusta mucho y me apena pensar más en ello, así que lo primero que me planteo es subir un poco los ánimos, “des-aplastarme”. Bailar no puedo, por prescripción médica, pero poner música y cantar… ¿quién me lo impide? Voy a tener una mañana de derrotar ese polvo extraño y lo haré a conciencia pero sin el plumero. Ahora lo que menos me apetece tomar es un batido de cacao, bastante tengo hoy con la arenisca de chocolate; hoy creo que va a ser un gran vaso de horchata, a ver si con ella desbloqueo este sopor, blanqueo un poco el paisaje y me libro por unas horas del desencanto.

Petu, 26 junio 2022

Vivi, 2022

Por San Juan.

La noche más corta, también puede ser la más oscura.

En una noche oscura,

con ansias, en amores inflamada,

¡oh dichosa ventura!,

salí sin ser notada

estando ya mi casa sosegada.


A oscuras y segura,

por la secreta escala, disfrazada,

¡oh dichosa ventura!,

a oscuras y en celada,

estando ya mi casa sosegada.


En la noche dichosa,

en secreto, que nadie me veía,

ni yo miraba cosa,

sin otra luz y guía

sino la que en el corazón ardía.


Aquésta me guiaba

más cierto que la luz de mediodía,

adonde me esperaba

quien yo bien me sabía,

en parte donde nadie parecía.


¡Oh noche que guiaste!

¡oh noche amable más que el alborada!

¡oh noche que juntaste

Amado con amada,

amada en el Amado transformada!


En mi pecho florido,

que entero para él solo se guardaba,

allí quedó dormido,

y yo le regalaba,

y el ventalle de cedros aire daba.


El aire de la almena,

cuando yo sus cabellos esparcía,

con su mano serena

en mi cuello hería

y todos mis sentidos suspendía.


Quedéme y olvidéme,

el rostro recliné sobre el Amado,

cesó todo y dejéme,

dejando mi cuidado

entre las azucenas olvidado.

La Noche Oscura del Alma

San Juan de la Cruz

Un par de llaves

Un par de llaves, Petu, 2022

A veces recuperamos una situación del pasado, pensamos en ella y nos damos cuenta de lo absurda que es. La hemos creado nosotros y no queremos decírnoslo para no añadir a nuestra lista más cosas con las que avergonzarnos. Así en la memoria queda a salvo el recuerdo y nuestro orgullo dañado también. Ahora intento, mientras escribo, no dejarme nada por embarazoso que fuera para mí. Y esto es lo que he rescatado del pasado.

En cierta ocasión un amigo que nos había hecho una visita había tenido un despiste: se había dejado olvidado algo que necesitaba. No vivíamos en la misma ciudad pero aprovechando que yo iba a ver a mi padre enfermo a Madrid, que era donde ambos residían, quedamos allí el siguiente fin de semana. Le pedí que se acercara a casa de mis padres y fijamos una hora que nos viniese bien a los dos. La cosa era de lo más simple, nos saludábamos, le devolvía lo suyo y el se volvía a su casa y yo a echar un ojo por aquí, que era para lo que había venido: la cuidadora de mi padre se tomaba el día libre y vine a hacerle compañía aquella tarde. No revestía la menor complicación; fácil, fácil.

Entre dos despistados redomados se creó un extraño campo de fuerza, se liberó una energía que se apoderó de la situación y el absurdo estaba servido.

Unas llaves que tenía que devolver, las mías que no cogí y la torpeza de cerrar la puerta; un acto reflejo que se realiza sin pensar y se sigue con la conversación porque no se repara en ello enseguida. Como habíamos decidido hablar en el descansillo de la escalera para  evitar que mi  padre se quedara solo, seguimos con la conversación sabiendo que iba a ser rápida pues cada uno volvería a lo suyo de antes. La cosa se alarga unos minutos nada más, él se mete en el ascensor y yo me doy la vuelta para volver a entrar, con unas  llaves que  no  tenía, a una puerta cerrada. No claro, no llevo el móvil. De pronto te haces cargo de lo que ha pasado y te entran sudores fríos en el otoño más cálido. No entras en pánico pero te aceleras para buscar una solución. ¿Cómo das a una palanquita y retrocedes en el tiempo, agarras las llaves y el móvil y ya está? Ya has perdido esa opción. 

Un rato tocando el timbre no resolvió nada. Mi padre, muy duro de oído y en la otra punta de la casa no daba señales, ninguna respuesta. Cambié la secuencia de timbrazos por si era más audible para él. Nada. A cada timbrazo el silencio por respuesta.

Fui barajando otras posibilidades. Los vecinos. Era un poco vergonzoso, reconocer mi torpeza a mí misma era facilísimo, llevaba toda una vida haciéndolo, al resto me fastidiaba algo más. ¿Había otras opciones? ¡No podía quedarme toda la tarde sentada en las escaleras como un adolescente al que sus padres han castigado por haber llegado tarde a casa! 

Armada de valor y avergonzada llamé al timbre de la puerta de al lado. Muy amables salieron a ayudarme y me preguntaron qué era lo que necesitaba. Les conté como pude lo que me pasaba y estuvimos un rato aporreando la puerta a la vez que tocábamos salvajemente el timbre. Nada. Fue como querer obtener respuestas de una piedra. Lo peor es que, con su amabilidad, se habían visto involucrados en el absurdo y ya éramos tres. Me invitaron a pasar, me ofrecieron algo para beber y hablamos de cambiar de táctica. 

-Podríamos llamar por teléfono, dijeron ellos muy acertadamente. 

Mi padre se sentaba al lado y a veces el tabique hacía de caja de resonancia. Nos pareció la mejor opción. Eso y abrir la ventana y gritar cerca de él eran las dos últimas posibilidades que barajábamos. Por fin la estrategia del teléfono funcionó y mi padre cogió el auricular. Muy extrañado me comentó: 

-¡Pues no he oído nada! 

-Anda, ábreme la puerta, le dije.

Agradecí a mis colaboradores ocasionales su amabilidad y sus desvelos y me metí en casa de nuevo. 

En aquella época, con el progreso de su enfermedad, debió atravesar con gran dificultad nuestro largo pasillo que se encontraba justo al otro lado de donde generalmente se sentaba. Evitábamos que hiciera todo esto sin vigilancia para estar cerca de él por si tropezaba. Tampoco queríamos dejarle solo durante las horas libres de la cuidadora; pero claro, entre unas cosas y otras, el pobre llevaba solo alrededor de tres cuartos de hora. Un rato más haciéndole compañía y coincidí con la cuidadora a la que pude contarle lo que había pasado. Me despedí de los dos y volví a coger el tren que me llevaría de vuelta a casa.

Todo el viaje tuve la sensación de que mi ofrecimiento no había servido para nada. Sí, pensé, devolví unas llaves a su dueño, sin embargo, la razón de ser de bajar a Madrid era cuidar de un enfermo, que había permanecido sin vigilancia un tiempo en el que podría haberse caído o haberle pasado algo grave. A veces se tuercen las cosas aunque vayas con la mejor intención. 

Hoy, volviendo a recordar el episodio, siento una oleada de afecto, al pensar todo lo que vino después, que hizo de su enfermedad un proceso largo y penoso, sobre todo para él, pero también  para todos nosotros. Me trae a la memoria esos vecinos, al lado de los que viví muchos años y que me ayudaron tanto en aquella ocasión, y sobre todo le recuerdo a él que ya, al igual que mi padre, no se encuentra entre nosotros. Mi recuerdo va por ellos. 

Petu, 6 de junio 2022

Tom Better Boy


My name is Better Boy, Tom Better Boy. You might not want to know this, but I’m a tomato. After this admission you could very well decide not to carry on reading. There’s a lot of prejudice and xenophobia among species; hell, there’s even a lot of that among different tomato varieties within the tomato kind. For a while, I thought of lying to you, pretending that I’m one of those gigantic creatures that water us, feed us and, generally speaking, take care of us, as well as decide our entire life for us from the moment we are born; even before. 

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you are, in fact, one of them. As it happens, I did ask one of you to write my story down. I had to, since I can’t read or write, not because I didn’t go to school – my parents gave me a good education – but because tomatoes simply don’t do those things. In fact, nobody else does but giants. However, as has probably become clear to you by now -if you’re still reading- we tomatoes do think, in our own way, and can communicate, in our own way. Hopefully, it will become clear, if you keep reading, why a tomato would go to the trouble of telling a story. This is not only my story, mind; it’s the story of all my fellow tomatoes, Better Boys or not, and it’s an important one, because it affects the present and the future, not only of the tomato kind, but of all living creatures on this planet. Giants included. 

The tomato civilisation, if you can call it that, originates in America. My family, the Better Boys, is a very large one. We have relatives all over the world. We come from another ancestral tribe called Big Boy, founded by the prophet Teddy Jones. That powerful ancestry confers us a lot of something called Hybrid Vigour and that fact inevitably makes us feel very important. Many members of my family call themselves the chosen ones, because we’ve heard the giants -the animal species that takes care of us- say time and time again that we are the ‘choice tomato’. It takes one easy step from that to believing you are superior to everybody else. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many in my tribe climbing that step down, as if hypnotised, into the realms of mystical idiocy. 

The truth is, on the whole, my family is snobbish at best; at worse, outright racist. Something I don’t identify with myself. My parents imprinted a different trait on me and educated me to understand that just because you turn out redder or rounder, or your name is Better, it doesn’t mean that you’re actually better; we’re all tomatoes with different qualities. Mind you, we are nowhere near as stiff-necked as those nouveau riche, the Kumatos. Listening to them anybody would think the sun shines out of their stigma. Just because they end up being a few shades darker than us and have thicker skin. Don’t they know? We’re all hybrids!

It has to be said that this fetishisation of difference emanates from the giants. I didn’t understand it until very recently, because until very recently I, like most, couldn’t see their overall master plan, but it’s an essential part of that plan. By concentrating on our differences, we separate and mistrust each other, and if we separate and mistrust each other, we don’t help each other, we don’t work together, and, if needs be, we won’t fight together. And, let me tell you, needs will be. Unless we want to be dead tomatoes, or worse, robot tomatoes. 

Don’t get me wrong, I do think differences should be respected, even cherished, as lovingly as only cherry tomatoes know how. But I think it’s terribly important, a matter of life and death really, that we don’t forget we are more similar than we are different. I don’t want to go on about this, but sectarianism amongst tomatoes is a serious subject that we need to address, especially in light of what’s looming. 

I’ll conclude my introduction by letting you know about my best friend. Under the same plastic roof as my family, lives another less extended one called Raf. A couple of months back I made friends with a tomato from that family, a guy named Fabio. I say ‘guy’, even though, as you probably know, we tomatoes are both boy and girl in one, because this Fabio, for some reason, has always been a little bit on the male side, like me. Anyway, we were very young and small when we met, but despite looking like cherry tomatoes, everybody around us kept saying we were both going to be tasty when we grew up. In case you don’t know, the Rafs are considered high class. And yet Fabio Raf is not a pretender. He’s a real guy who, like me, understands that unless we see past our respectable yet little differences and work together we are doomed. 


One day in June, after evening watering, I heard two giants talking with a representative of Angelito Chem, also known as ‘the comical company.’ The giants had been agitated all day, because the drip irrigation wasn’t working properly. By the evening they were forced to give us what we call a shower. We love showers, but unless the drop-by-drop watering system doesn’t work, we don’t get proper showers, because they waste water and nutrients. Getting water little by little through our family plant roots is much more ecological, better for the planet. It’s a good idea, but frankly I don’t mind that occasionally it doesn’t work because I can have a wonderfully cooling shower in this awfully hot hothouse I live in. So, you see, I’m not a saint; I can be individualistic; selfish, too.

These two giants were talking in loud voices, which is not their normal way of expressing themselves. They hardly talk to each other, but when they do, they normally mumble in a bored tone, or whisper as if they don’t want us to know whatever it is they’re talking about. The giants today were too excited to keep their voices down. They completely forgot we were there. 

They were talking about Angelito Chem and some new technology the company had come up with. At the word ‘technology’, pearls of water started coming out of my lustrous green skin, spoiling the heavenly coolness the shower had graced me with. That word brought back the early stages in my life, about a month ago, when the giants, dressed up like spacemen, had brought a ‘new technological product’ from Angelito Chem. This product, a liquid with the name of Squaredown, was sprayed all around me and my family, as well as around the Rafs and all the other tomatoes I hear about but cannot see in this seemingly interminable plastic house. That Squaredown thing turned out to be a serial weed killer that didn’t just go after weeds but everything that lives and breathes, and made a lot of my fellow tomatoes ill, despite the giants having turned off all the fans to avoid the stuff drifting everywhere. Luckily, I’m a strong guy and I resisted, but others weren’t so lucky and they ended up pushing up daisies with the daisies. The poor souls weren’t even fit for tomato puree. 

That is what technology can do to you. I’m not saying it’s all bad, but it can be, because, shockingly – and frighteningly – the masters are not always masterful. Bearing that in mind, when that morning I heard them blab breathlessly about some even more ‘new technology’, I got more than a little bit frightened. New means it hasn’t been tested for long and I know from the knowledge my parents – bless their souls – have passed onto me that we tomatoes are often the guinea pigs of the edible vegetable kingdom. More than that, what the giants were saying was frightening, even if it had been well tested all over the world, especially if it had been well tested all over the world. Because this new technology involves sterilising us. I’m sure you know what sterilisation means: interfering with your reproductive system so that you can’t have babies.

Life is short. The life of a tomato is very short. But it all makes sense if you can leave your seed behind in the knowledge that it’s going to grow one day into beautiful flowers that will turn out glorious tomatoes. Tomatoes that will carry the genetic traits, the knowledge, the soul of thousands of years.

The Angelito Chem rep was explaining to the giants that the new technology will cause our seeds to commit suicide. But I know that can’t be true. Giants might commit suicide, but tomatoes don’t. We love our brief lives too much to kill ourselves. Sure enough, the giant went on to reveal that my fellow tomatoes are going to be genetically modified in a lab so that they will be coded for immolation whether they want it or not. So what the masters, be those giants or Angelito Chem’s reps, call suicide, I call murder.

I got so agitated and angry about what I was hearing that, had I been older and more mature, I would have ripped my skin open from the internal pressure. Unfortunately, my emotions prevented me from hearing the rest of the conversation, which wound up shortly afterwards. The last phrase I heard from the rep was: ‘We’ll explain this in detail over dinner and drinks on Friday at the Golden Egg. Our treat, of course, as usual.’

This was terrible news. I was well aware of how powerful the comical company was. They were the small bunch of giants who told the rest of the big bunch of giants what to do. I know: it should be the other way around, shouldn’t it? But, no, Angelito Chem are the real masters with the master plan. 

When I calmed down and the giants and the rep were gone for the night, I talked to Fabio next to me. It turned out he had heard everything and was on the verge of crying. 

‘What are we going to do?’ I asked, more to myself than to him. The rest of the tomatoes around us were already asleep. They seem to doze most of the day; I can’t blame them, there’s not that much to do or see here. But now we should all be waking up and thinking of something to do.

‘What can we do?’ Fabio asked me. The poor soul looked terrified out of his mind. ‘I wanted to have lots of kids. It’s always been my dream. I’ve heard they’re going to take us Rafs to a supermarket in the West where bumblebees still exist that pollinize us in the open. You see, Angelito Chem doesn’t have a market there yet and their chemicals haven’t driven the bumblebees away. I was looking forward to that. I hate the fact that I come from an onanistic flower in an incestuous hotbed. It’s so artificial, so oppressive. If it weren’t for my friendship with you, this plastic house would be a lonely cage. I thought I could give my children a better life!

‘We’ll think of something,’ I said to trembling Fabio, who, like me a moment earlier, looked as if he were going to have a stem attack and turn to sauce on the spot. I was trying to calm him down for his sake, but also for mine. I didn’t want to get infused with his tension now that I had managed to relax a notch. However, the truth was I didn’t have a single idea about what to do next. I felt so powerless attached to my family plant, like a dependant child, so impotent. Yes, impotent is what my next generation is going to be if we don’t remove this imminent danger, I thought. But how can we, puny tomatoes, change anything when we don’t even have hands or feet?

It was that question that gave me the answer.


About three weeks later, one early morning, the giants did the harvesting in our plastic world. That is, they came in good numbers to pluck us off the tall plants that had been our homes since we were born from their big yellow flowers. I was surprised to be picked so early; in the last few days I had started feeling myself turning pink in certain areas, but I was mostly still green! I started asking around in a panic. One of my relatives explained what was going on: we were destined for grocery stores and supermarkets, not processing plants to be turned into puree. This meant we had to last longer, hence being harvested so young. Lasting longer sounded good to me. I cooled off and let myself be amorously embraced by the gigantic hand; not that I could have done anything to stop any of it. The plucking didn’t hurt, probably because I relaxed. 

I was excited to finally move and go out in the open. It turned out the Better Boys were going to exactly the same place as the Rafs. I was disappointed that I wasn’t going for exportation abroad – I’d always wanted to travel abroad – but I was happy to be journeying along with Fabio. It would be a real advantage if we ended up next to each other in the shop too, because we could unite our strength in our idea, instead of having to carry it out separately. We were going to need all the help we could get. 

The giant labourers carefully loaded us into black plastic boxes with lots of holes in them. Each box held 20kg of tomatoes. Naturally, Fabio and I were placed in different boxes, since we came from different families, but luck would have it they placed our boxes next to each other and we could talk. Our respective relatives didn’t say anything about this interracial exchange. They had long given up trying to destroy our friendship.

We waited for a while outside under the shade of a large porch. I was lucky enough to be in one of the boxes at the top along with my immediate family. The air outside was deliciously cool and fragrant, something I had never experienced before. My skin rippled with pleasure and hopeful trepidation. A golden light was softly glowing from behind the distant hills in the horizon. I had never had such a magnificent view. In fact, I had never had a view at all before. The Earth was beautiful and the light of the sun that had given me life and sustenance felt in my skin like the most loving of caresses, warm and fresh at the same time, perfumed and odourless at the same time. Before, I had only experienced the substitute that filtered through the tight plastic containing our claustrophobic world. The warmth had been sticky, the scents noxious.

The world was big now and the possibilities of existence infinite, even though I knew that, for me, it would only last two more days, if that. The refrigerator truck came a couple of hours later and the labourers swiftly and carefully loaded us into its large thickly-walled box. Back into a cage, this one with no light, and no windows, not even plastic ones. At least it was cool, pleasantly humid and airy. Twelve degrees celsius, 85% humidity, we heard the truck driver say to the farmer. Where the air was coming from nobody found out, another mystery of life. But it was good to know that we weren’t going to dry up and suffocate on the way to the shops. We wouldn’t have been any good to anybody, shrunken and dead, not even for cheap ketchup, we would just be thrown in the waste.

Even though the long truck journey meant going back to a confined life, we knew it wouldn’t last long. Nothing lasts long for a tomato. The humming and reverberating of the truck were reassuring too: it meant it was moving. And it was moving fast. Even if we were in the dark, the fact that we were going somewhere was encouraging and kept our spirits up. That is how trusting tomatoes are. Stupid? No doubt.

The orderly habits of the skilful labourers in the farm ensured that Fabio’s box and mine were again next to each other in the truck. We didn’t talk much during our moving, though. The polyphony of the huge wheels on the smooth road together with that of the powerful engine, even though quite loud, acted on us like a lullaby and we dozed off for most of the time. Only with the sporadic bump on the road, we jumped a bit in our boxes and were wakened for a while. Falling asleep for the umpteenth time, I had a dream; the roof of the truck was carefully lifted, as if by a powerful but genial wind. I was awash in the light and warmth of the sun, the roof was now the great blue sky, which I had only seen in dreams and now I was seeing in this dream. 

I felt myself being lifted by the same friendly wind that had got rid of the heavy metal roof. I saw my fellow tomatoes around me being lifted into the air too. We gently soared into the sky, left the truck far below, which kept running along the road, unaware of having lost its cargo. It looked like a tiny toy truck the child of one of the giants had played with a couple of times in the plastic house. The black boxes were nowhere to be seen; perhaps they had gone with the roof to the place where boxes and roofs go when they don’t have work to do.

I was not afraid: not a single one of all of my fully oxygenated cells felt fear, and that realisation filled me with juice almost to the point of bursting. I thought, in fact, that being out in the sun, exposed to the elements, which even though natural, are chemical too, would cause me to wrinkle and lose my youthful looks. The truth was my plant had sucked up all the sun for me that I had needed to grow all I could grow. My plant with its green leaves had been the one with the chloroplasts and, hence, the power to carry out the photosynthesis thing. I was now as big as I would ever be and from, that point on, it was all downhill. For a free tomato, the sun is a recreational drug: gratifying but harmful.

Still, because this was a dream, I did OK. I lost my greenness, turned bright red and plump and stayed there; I didn’t ooze, shrivel and die. I lived, as I never lived before, because I was more alive than I had ever been before. The joyful wind made us dance as we kept soaring into the stratosphere. I didn’t know where it was taking us, but any design was better than landing on a supermarket shelf awaiting eternal darkness, knowing that when I was eaten, my seeds would be discarded with the inorganic rubbish, because they would yield nothing after me.

Gently we came to a halt. The electrical smell was overpowering but not unpleasant. I knew what that was: the ozone layer the giants often talked about in the plastic house, the layer that was breaking down and letting too much sunlight through, endangering all life forms on Earth. Was this the design? Dance across an ozone hole and turn instantaneously into a sun-dried tomato?

I still wasn’t scared. We had stopped dancing and we simply lulled, suspended in the pellucid blue space, like round red stars. Suddenly we turned pitch black and I knew: we were the ozone holes in the ozone layer. I felt the sun searing through me; it wasn’t friendly fire. The atmosphere cracked open all together. Without the restrain of the atmosphere, the sun turned into an omnivorous predator. I witnessed with horror how it devoured all living beings in all the kingdoms: animals, plants, fungi and protists. Only the inert rocky crust remained. I remember hoping there were a couple of protozoa and a few non-GMO seeds, as well as some nice mould, somewhere, hidden under some stone, waiting for the atmosphere to heal, and start the cycle of love, life and death again. I woke up shivering, 12ºC was too cold for me after all. But the truck doors were open now (the atmosphere cracking in my dream) and the warmer open air rushed in.


‘Don’t bust my pectins!’ a tomato with a girl’s voice was saying to another. 

The boxes had been taken out of the truck via a conveyer belt into a high roofed metal house, which one of the giant workers had called a ‘where house.’  Well, it didn’t sound very reassuring if they didn’t know where we were.

I heard Fabio Raf giggling in the next box. 

‘Are you OK Fabio?’ I asked. I felt disoriented and still unhinged by my dream, which had turned into a nightmare. However, I was reassured by the fact that I was still green. The moment I turned deep red, my life on this Earth would be nearly over and I had something to do before I went into somebody’s salad.

‘Hey, Tom!’ he said cheerfully. ‘Not bad, and you? Quite a journey, eh? Do you hear that girl over there? She’s got a funny accent. I wonder where she comes from’.

‘I don’t believe a word of it,’ this tomato, slightly smaller than me, was saying in a very loud voice. She did talk in a different way, different to what I was used to hearing. It was quite attractive. ‘Why would they want to kill our seeds? It doesn’t make any sense? Who would benefit from that?’

‘The comical company?’ I shouted, my seeds pounding inside me.

‘The what?’

‘Angelito Chem,’ I clarified. ‘The comical company.’

‘Chemical,’ I heard Fabio whisper next to me.


‘Chemical,’ he repeated, still in a whisper. ‘Chemical not comical.’

The tomatoes around us started laughing out loud. ‘Oh, yeah,’ said the girl with the foreign accent. ‘You are comical.’

‘Shame Angelito Chem isn’t,’ Fabio stated.

I was grateful to Fabio for his support, but in my mind I had shrunk to the size of a tiny cherry tomato, one of those the giants pop into their huge mouths and gulp without chewing.

‘What is it that you can’t believe?’

‘The idea that Angelito Chem wants to terminate us. What’s in it for them? They sell all these… comical chemicals to the farmers who plant the seeds they saved from the previous crop. If they don’t have crops to fumigate, they won’t need the chemicals.’

‘Yes, that’s true,’ I granted. This round little tomato had a lot of juice, even if she hadn’t grasped the masters’ master plan. ‘But Angelito Chem will provide the farmers with the seeds, because they will be in charge of creating the seeds that will grow.’

‘Don’t bust my pectins!’ the girl protested again. Perhaps it was an expression autochthonous to the place she was coming from, or a product of an individualistic tomato. ‘That’s got to be a conspiracy theory!’

‘Another conspiracy theory that will be put into practice,’ said Fabio calmly but audibly. ‘The plan is real…’

‘Yes,’ another Raf agreed. ‘A lot of us don’t see the reality, as if we were inside Plato’s cave!’ 

‘Who’s Plato?’ another one wanted to know.

‘A Greek giant,’ somebody explained.

‘What’s a Greek?’

‘Oh, it’s too complicated: A giant that loves tomatoes.’

A kerfuffle of tomato voices ensued. Some thought like the girl: it was all pulp. Some were with Fabio and me. The same old story; tomatoes divided over a decisive issue at a crucial moment. Unless we were together on this, we would never achieve anything. Our side had to convince the other of the truth before it was too late. But that’s easier said than done.

‘So you think Angelito Chem is going to just collect all the seeds in the world and turn them into their seeds, which the farmers will have to buy off them,’ said the girl, whom I’d heard somebody call Rocy. She had already turned fully red. She looked hot and tasty. 

‘Come on, they don’t have the power to do that! Who’s in charge, the farmers or the chemical company?

‘The chemical company!’ a few of us shouted in unison.

‘They are the real masters,’ I added quickly. ‘With a master plan.’

Before Rocy could reply to that, another small tomato of her kind said something in a little voice, which I could still hear over the murmur of the hundred conversations going on among the thousands of tomatoes in the where house:

‘They’ve already changed us into hybrids and…’

A big noise stopped her and everybody else from talking. The noise was coming from a long line of extractor fans along the top of the walls in this artificially lit metal house. I knew about extractor fans; we had them in the plastic house to bring air in from outside and extract the excess of CO2

‘The ethylene,’ said a tomato, one of my kind. ‘Prepare to blush.’

I had missed that lesson in school.

‘They are gassing us so that we turn red,’ the same tomato explained.

‘Yeah,’ snorted another tomato, a Raf this time. ‘Prepare to go to sleep first.’

I thought of Rocy and the other little red tomato.

‘What happens if you’re already red?’ I asked.

I could tell the Better Boy didn’t want to answer, but in the end he said:

‘You go redder.’

‘Yeah,’ the Raf snorted again. ‘You go too far down the red road, and we all know what that means.’ 

Yes, I thought, we all know: you go bad and die. I worried for the little red ones.


I woke up in a supermarket. I knew it was a supermarket because the giants had talked about them in the hothouse. It had high ceilings with tube-lights running along them. There were stacks of shelves along the corridor where I was. My shelf was at some distance from the floor, but not too high. I looked for Fabio and the girls, as well as other familiar faces, even though I knew it was unlikely they would be in the same supermarket as me, let alone nearby, but, miracle of miracles, Fabio was there once again, for the last time, in the box next to me, to the right.

I was still woozy from the ethylene and the accelerated changes that had taken place in my body, which felt like somebody else’s. Yet Fabio’s presence filled me with indescribable euphoria, as if, like in my dream-nightmare, I was floating in the air and not trapped in this box to be sold by a giant, and bought and consumed by another. Being consumed by an animal was the way of nature, the way of the Gods. And it was fine if that’s what it was, but not if it was going to be the way of Angelito Chem, the Chemical Company. They were not the Gods, even if they liked playing their role. I had to stop thinking though, haranguing myself. That was as fruitless as the ‘suicide’ seeds. I had to start haranguing others.

Fabio and I looked at each other across the boxes and the other tomatoes around us. We had talked about it a few times. We knew what we wanted to do. We were redder than we would ever be. Bursting with juice, we wouldn’t go without a fight, even if by impositions of our phenotype it had to be a kickless and screamless fight.

The first customer I saw came from the left. It was a he-giant, quite old judging by the wrinkles on his skin. He picked up a huge beef tomato from a few boxes away from me, then put it back in the box. I heard the tomato sigh a deep sigh; I couldn’t tell whether it was relief or regret. 

The giant resumed his stroll along the aisle and, when he was near enough, I started talking to him. I’d never done this before; I’d never talked directly to a giant. We all took for granted they wouldn’t understand us or even hear us, as we… well, we don’t really ‘speak’ in the strict sense of the term. Yet, the strict truth was, I had never tried it before. In the hothouse we’d been careful not to address the giants, but also not to talk among ourselves when they were near. We resented them for keeping us imprisoned under plastic and for constantly spraying us with foul-smelling, suffocating liquids. They called them ‘pesky sides’ and they often talked about how good they were, but the fact was the labourers always looked like astronauts when they came to ‘apply’ them all over our plastic habitat. Don’t ask me how a tomato knows what an astronaut looks like, because I don’t know how I know; it must be one of those collective subconscious memories.

Anyway, just like that, I started talking to this giant, telling him about our plight. The tomatoes around me, which up until that moment had been completely still, as if they were dead, started vibrating, as if somebody were about to pick them up or tread on them. The giant guy looked at the round red things in my box. For a moment, I could have sworn he looked straight at me, but then he carried on, walking a bit faster than before, along the aisle past the tomato area. 

Two younger giants appeared from the left, a he and a she. They were funny those two, from the go: their hair was long and straggly, they wore baggy clothes; perhaps they were farmers. They seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere and yet they were standing still in front of the tomato shelves. With a sudden infusion of energy I started speaking again, explaining one more time:

‘I don’t know whether you know this, but Angelito Chem, the co… chemical company is planning on changing our seeds so that…’

‘I don’t know whether you know this!’ the she-giant interrupted, her voice boomed over mine. ‘But something terrible is happening.’ She very obviously wasn’t talking to me, but to other giants who, at first, I couldn’t see because they must have been somewhere else in the shop. How funny, I thought, that she’d just repeated what I’d said. Could it be that she had heard me and she was ‘translating’ to the other giants? But how could she know that what I was about to say had any interest or relevance to her? I stopped myself from blabbing to myself and carried on talking to her:

‘The company is going to create seeds that grow only one crop and then die…’

‘Angelito Chem, the chemical company!’ the she-giant’s voice thundered again to her audience. ‘is creating seeds that don’t prolong life after their first yield!’

I couldn’t believe it, she could hear me and understand me! What’s more: she believed me!

‘I can’t believe it!’ I heard Fabio saying. 

He hadn’t said anything so far because our plan was for me to give an introduction and then, when I was tired – it is exhausting to try to communicate with beings who are not equipped to listen to you – he would carry on.

‘I can’t believe it!’ other tomatoes echoed him. We were all shocked out of our skins. And just when I thought I couldn’t be more shocked, she went and picked me up. Out of all the tomatoes in all the boxes she picked me!

She embraced me firmly but gently in her warm colossal hand. I felt her powerful vibration running through me like a pleasurable current. I was sure she was feeling mine. My seeds trembling with emotion, I continued explaining:

‘Our lives will be extinct beyond our lives, we won’t have offspring that will carry on with our history.’

‘This tomato is a hybrid,’ she said in her passionate but steady voice. ‘It’s already some way towards this terminator technology.’

‘Terminator’, I thought. Had I heard that expression before?

‘We have been improved in the last decades,’ I said out loud. ‘Isn’t that enough?’

‘When are these people going to stop!’ she carried on. ‘Doesn’t introducing artificial traits to make tomatoes last longer bring enough profits to the chemical company? Isn’t transgenic bad enough? When we don’t even know what effect it is having on our health, and, particularly, that of our children?’

I realised she was adding her own bits to my speech, and that was fine by me. It was good that she knew already about the consequences this technology would have over her fellow giants. But then I realised she knew a lot more about me than I did, too. I didn’t know that being a transgenic hybrid was a bad thing. I wanted to ask her something.

‘So, even now my seeds are already bad and will create defective children?’

The he-giant next to her answered, again, addressing the other giants in the shop, who, by now, were beginning to gather around the two of them. 

‘If you plant the seeds from that tomato in your garden,’ he pointed at me. ‘You wouldn’t get the same tomato but a defective one.’

My seeds froze. So, it was true, we didn’t have to wait for the next generation, the nightmare had already started. I still couldn’t quite believe it: my parents were hybrids and I was a perfect tomato. Perhaps the problem was in that other word ‘transgenic.’ I was about to start crying my juice out through the pores of my skin. I couldn’t speak, I was so upset. Fabio relieved me.

‘We have to find a way to stop Angelito Chem from carrying out their evil plan,’ he said to the baggy-clothed giants.

The he-giant reached out and picked Fabio from his box.

‘We don’t agree with their plan. We have to get together and stand in the way of the chemical company and their unethical technology,’ the giant declared to his fellow giants. ‘We have to fight for the preservation of life, the lives of farmers and their families, our lives.’

‘Millions of people around the world,’ the she-giant contributed, ‘live off saving the seeds from the previous crop. They’re not able to do that now: they have to buy the expensive seeds off the agrochemical company each year if they want to have food. There’ve already been countless suicides of farmers in poorer countries.’

Another thing I didn’t know. I realised something else: everything, all of us, were more connected than I had thought. In fact, we were all completely connected. Perhaps that’s why these giants were understanding us tomatoes against all odds. Other tomatoes had started talking, among themselves and to the giants. That was good, they were waking up. What a shame, though, that they had needed others to start things up for them. If only we were all more awake, then perhaps the Angelito Chems of the Earth wouldn’t gather so much power.

‘We sacrifice our lives to you,’ I managed to say. ‘Only with the understanding that you are going to lie our seed to rest in the ground so that they can grow and live again.’

‘Tomatoes,’ the she-giant said, ‘potatoes, peppers, pumpkins… they give us life because they have life in them. And it’s a life that doesn’t belong to a company: it belongs to the fruits of the Earth and to us!’

The tomatoes in the boxes were all echoing the same message. Perhaps the potatoes and the rest in the shop were doing the same. I couldn’t tell. My seeds were ringing.

‘Excuse me!’ I heard a different giant say. ‘You can’t make a racket like this in here. If you want to shout your message go to the street or to the town square…!’

‘But they are right,’ another giant said. ‘And what better place to start than in a supermarket where you sell…’

‘I sell! I’m only an employee here…!’

‘Yes, we’re all only employees!’ said the he-giant with the straggly hair and the baggy clothes. ‘And that’s how the company accumulates power and rakes profit, because we are only employees and the company is our boss. It’s time… hey, hey! Don’t grab me!’

‘If you don’t leave the premises I’ll call the police!’

Suddenly they were all, giants and vegetables, communicating at the same time, which, as we know, is not very good for communication. Predictably -although I couldn’t tell you exactly how I was able to predict it – a magnificent fracas ensued. Voices were raised and tomatoes were lifted. The customers waved the tomatoes in the employees’ faces and the employees waved empty hands in the customers’ faces. 

The giants are not so giant, I thought. They’re as pathetic as we tomatoes are. And yet I felt hopeful, confident that we were going to get somewhere. I felt my seeds vibrate with merriment. Customers and tomatoes had woken up and were fighting back. Tomatoes started flying. The customers were picking them up and throwing them high up and across the space in the supermarket. Still on my throne that was the she-giant’s hand, I looked down at the boxes, concerned for my fellow tomatoes, and I swear I saw a lot of them lifting into the air without any giant hand picking them up. Perhaps it was a hallucination; I was very hot and turning soft inside this girl’s hand. 

The tomatoes in the air shot across the shop and then back, as if they were remote-controlled missiles, and began immolating against people, walls, tube-lights, pumpkins…

The pandemonium reached terrific proportions. I remember wondering how it was all going to end up. Abruptly, the din around me ceased to deafen me and turned into a loud beautiful, if atonal, symphony.

I looked up at the she-giant holding me protectively in her hand and she looked down at me. Her eyes resembled the sky in my dream. I could tell she wasn’t going to throw me across the air, or down on the floor… She wasn’t going to waste me.

‘I swear to God.’ I could hear her perfectly above the clamorous music around me. She said this to me. ‘I’m going to make you right. I’ll try and try, again and again. Until I get it right. Until you come out right again.’ Huge diaphanous tears were coming out of her eyes and rolling down her cheeks like tidal waves.

‘If it’s the last thing I do.’

Oh good, I said to her, my seeds beaming brightly. 

As it should be: the end of this story is the beginning of another story.

Vivi, June 6th 2022

©Viviana Guinarte

Confusiones, despistes y malentendidos

He tenido varios cuñados en mi vida pero ninguno con una vis cómica tan pronunciada como éste al que me refiero. Provisto de gran sentido del humor y férreo perseguidor de chanzas, o quizá también perseguido tenazmente por ellas, se caracteriza como nadie por ser el rey de la guasa y el equívoco. Hemos pasado grandes ratos oyendo de sus labios, y a veces también descritos por mi hermana, episodios que difícilmente tienen igual, que no pueden compararse con nada. Eso es algo propio de uno, intrínseco a tu ser, se tiene o no se tiene. Escuchándole contar estas historias a menudo se produce un chasquido, como un disparo, que te provoca la risa sin esfuerzo, desde lo más profundo, y ya no puedes parar porque has construido desde esa narración una imagen que te persigue; y ahora lo que te acorrala es algo visual y no puedes resarcirte. La carcajada, cuando no la incredulidad están servidas desde ese momento. A mí me sobrevienen en cascada y una vez que se desencadenan se extienden sin freno.

Hace algunos años y bromeando con el hecho de que iba muy a menudo a verles, mi cuñado se quejaba con un sonoro: ¡otra vez aquí! ¡se me ha hecho muy corto desde la última visita! o alguna cosa por el estilo. Ya acostumbrada de sobra como el resto de la familia a esas expresiones espontáneas las recibimos con guasa y algún comentario irónico, cambiando a otros temas enseguida. En una ocasión la broma coincidió en que yo estaba esperando a que me abrieran el portal y él en su casa pegado al telefonillo. Hola, soy yo; ábreme, por favor. Después de un interminable e indisimulado ¿quién es? sobrevino un ¡ah, eres tú!. Pues no te abro. ¿Cómo te voy a abrir?, que no. No quiero, valiente pesada. ¡Por supuesto que no te abro!. Yo me reía pero no les debía parecer broma a unos vecinos que ya se habían acercado mientras tenía lugar la disparatada conversación y lo estaban oyendo todo desde la entrada al portal. El tono pretendidamente enfadado y serio de mi cuñado no sé si fue percibido por sus vecinos porque tuve que decir algo azorada que estaba bromeando para que me abrieran; algo contrariados porque no me conocían de nada, accedieron a abrirme con la consiguiente explicación por mi parte de que se trataba de una burla muy antigua. 

Afortunadamente este hecho coincidió con que mi cuñado se ablandó por fin y abrió también desde arriba. Agradeciendo el gesto de los amables vecinos y roja de vergüenza entré detrás de ellos excusándome por el  contratiempo. Arriba ya pude contarle a mi cuñado que su broma acababa de traspasar las fronteras familiares porque había sido seguida de cerca por unos vecinos que habían oído todo lo que con respecto a mí había tenido a bien soltar por la boca y no estaba completamente segura de que hubieran percibido su ironía. 

Otro despiste que me pareció muy visual, y me mantuvo mucho tiempo con una sonrisa dibujada en la cara siempre que lo recordaba, fue el que me contó en cierta ocasión una amiga. Ella siempre salía con la hora pegada para coger el tren que la llevaba a la universidad. El trayecto lo hacía siempre andando o corriendo, según fuera mejor o peor de tiempo. Cronometrado no llevaba más de ocho minutos, yendo rápido pero sin correr. Se había vestido a la carrera según  me contaba y, ya en la calle, un transeúnte le para y le dice: joven, se le han caído las medias. A no ser que lleves unas en el bolso, generalmente las que tienes puestas no suelen caerse. Menos las de mi amiga. Una ristra de medias, de esas que llamamos pantis, de más de metro y medio iba haciendo su camino imperturbable detrás de ella. 

No sé cómo dio las gracias al señor, y si le salió la voz debido a la vergüenza que me dijo que pasó, lo que sí sé es que tuvo que enrollar durante al menos un minuto ese inacabable reguero de espuma y atarlo o fijarlo a su pierna para seguir corriendo en dirección a la estación para no perderlas nuevamente por el camino. Me explicó que al ponerse el pantalón y cambiarse de medias, las de el día anterior debieron quedarse enredadas y fueron saliendo cómodamente mientras ella andaba. Esto, junto a que no te cierres bien el pantalón cuando sales del servicio o te dejes la falda atascada con la ropa interior, y vayas tan tranquila dando el espectáculo, son los problemas más embarazosos que puedo imaginar con este tipo de percances, aunque éste es bastante más divertido que los dos anteriores.

Y a vueltas de nuevo con la ropa interior y con mi cuñado también recuerdo otro percance que oí entre risas y que me contaba él cuando era aún reciente. Los fines de semana iba a correr al club mientras dejaba a mis sobrinos dando alguna clase para que ellos también tuvieran una hora de ejercicio al aire libre. Las mañanas de domingo suelen ser muy difíciles para activar a los niños aunque sea para realizar actividades que han sido pactadas con ellos de antemano. Llegan al sitio con prisas, corriendo, obligados por el horario y a menudo enfadados. La mitad de los disparates y despistes vienen como resultado de una desafortunada interacción entre esos grandes conocidos; y mientras van saliendo niños, bolsas y bultos varios, algunas cosas que deben quedar dentro salen díscolas y otras que se necesitan no aparecen o se olvidan, e incluso se pierden.

Pues algo así debió pasar en aquella circunstancia pues, como de la nada, debió colarse un calzoncillo que acabó, como si ese fuera su lugar natural, como si siempre hubiera vivido allí, en el estrecho hueco que había entre el coche y la acera. Rápido como un resorte y nervioso por tan incómoda visión, creyendo que venía de su bolsa abierta y medio caída después de la salida en tropel de los niños, devolvió al coche con un gesto implacable a la vez que disimulado tan comprometida prenda para seguir con el resto de sus actividades. Al relatarnos después los pormenores de tan incómoda situación aseguraba con la mirada alucinada del que no cree lo que ha pasado ¡que no eran suyos!, ¡que no sabe cómo habían llegado ahí!, parece ser que luego encontró los suyos convenientemente preparados al fondo de la bolsa con el resto de utensilios para la ducha y tampoco acierta a comprender cómo los confundió con los de fuera y por qué extraña casualidad se había producido el equívoco. Incrédulo se preguntaba si estaban allí de antes y otro junto con él, confundidos ambos en el espacio-tiempo de lo irreal, hubieran intercambiado moléculas y objetos incoherentes en un baile imposible con ese curioso resultado. Sorprendido y asustado  por el propio fluir de sus pensamientos y de nuestras risas convinimos en pasar a otro tema aunque la expresión divertida de nuestras caras aún tardó un buen rato en olvidarse.

Petu, 6 de junio 2022

¡Esa pierna!

Recuerdo los últimos días de trabajo como algo muy doloroso tanto en el nivel físico como en el nivel emocional. Sin ayuda de mi profesión no concebía ninguna esperanza dentro del futuro más material en el que nos solemos mover todos por imperativo legal y sin embargo sabía que mi única opción era dejarlo por mi bien, por mi salud. Una de las razones que esgrimía: me dolía horriblemente la pierna y necesitaba creer que no faltaba nada para ir a casa o reunirme con mis amigas después del trabajo y celebrar algo, ¿pero qué? No sé si la situación admitía celebraciones. En plena disyuntiva del “por donde tiro” no veía en las actuales circunstancias nada que fuera más allá de mi seguridad, y que se diera de por vida; era todo por lo que había luchado, había dado lo mejor de mí, mis mejores años y miles de horas sin apenas obtener nada a cambio. Espera: sí, ahora que recuerdo. Dinero… que había invertido en una casa en la que no viviría y tenía alquilada para pagar una hipoteca que no se acababa nunca. 

Mi pierna me decía que me dolía ponerme en marcha pero yo contestaba que era más cómodo haber luchado ya por el puesto que tenía y que ahora tocaba apoltronarse. No “meneallo” para que no se descolocara nada. Pues el hecho es que el dolor me avisaba de dos cosas, la primera es que permanecer ahora en el mismo sitio de siempre me producía grandes molestias y que acudir en la dirección en la que tenía por costumbre avanzar también se me hacía insoportable. Mi pierna y yo íbamos por libre y de momento no nos poníamos de acuerdo. Teníamos intereses distintos: yo la tranquilidad, la monotonía de un trabajo siempre igual que no me planteaba ningún reto profesional desde hacía mucho tiempo, y tampoco me ofrecía ninguna inspiración. Ella, la dichosa pierna, me decía a gritos (de dolor) que debía ponerme en marcha hacia otro sitio, cambiar mis objetivos, al menos elegir uno por el que recuperar la ilusión, uno en el que interviniesen sueños aún no realizados, nuevas emociones. La vida, eso que nos despierta, nos agita pero también nos desconcierta como nada. Urdir planes no es nada fácil en esta situación, pero quedarse sin hacer nada era muy desgarrador también (además de por el sufrimiento no iba con gusto a trabajar,…pero ¿quién en su sano juicio lo hace?).

Creo que era buena en mi trabajo, hubo un tiempo en el que me gustó ejercer, incluso hubo un tiempo largo en el que disfruté. Me sentía indispensable, porque lo era, porque era la única que defendía este tenderete y al estar sola el puesto abarcaba ya más de lo que mis fuerzas, mi pierna y yo misma podíamos sostener: ayudante, auxiliar, ordenanza, clientes, teléfono, recados, correos, documentos, supervisión, gestión, control de las diferentes oficinas, comprobación de datos, cantidades. Sí, debía de ser buena, muy buena pues ni me cambiaban por otra, (bueno, hubo veces que puntualmente me cambiaron por dos) ni me ofrecían una ayuda más sostenida en el tiempo, algo más que unos mesecitos para ir tirando.

En un primer momento no sabía que podía abarcar tanto, pero se fueron acumulando tareas y años y yo tiraba de ellos junto con el carro. ¿no me dolerá por eso la pierna? ¡Quién sabe! Mis despistes siempre han tenido la etiqueta de colosales pero, salvo alguno que otro puntual, generalmente los dejaba dentro de la esfera personal porque en ella no me veía obligada a poner tanta atención. Era más caótica la persona que la trabajadora. Y desde luego tenía puestas más certezas e ilusiones en ésta que en aquella. Las dudas me las planteaba y las debatía ya en mi casa, en el sofá o con la almohada. Contra todo pronóstico, llevaba una pila de años intentando mejorar mis condiciones laborales aunque también me trabajé mucho en esos años mi estado emocional.

 El psicólogo del colegio, en cierta ocasión, me puso en una nota aparte que estaba dotada de un rico mundo interior, cosa que hizo reír mucho a mi padre, que siempre esperó entre divertido e incrédulo a que esa riqueza se expresara pronto, que saliera algún día a la luz. No sé si esa coletilla profesional le funcionó como muleta al psicólogo pero siempre que pensaba en ello me alivió saber que, al menos, pudiera haber algo interesante en las profundidades de mi cerebro, solo tendría que indagar, me dije resuelta. Y me puse a ello. No sé si por eso mismo desde pequeña fui proclive al ensimismamiento porque me gustaba estar sola y darle caña a las ensoñaciones. Ahora digo que me voy a meditar; antes me quitaba de en medio y me entregaba con pasión a “mis cosas”. Mi madre siempre me contó que fui una niña que se entretenía sola durante horas, con juguetes o sin ellos. No daba mucha guerra. En algún momento estábamos rondando por ahí cinco hermanos con edades muy similares haciéndonos fuertes por toda la casa. Hay que entender la importancia que ese detalle tuvo que tener para mi madre y para el resto de la familia aunque solo fuera durante la fuerte presión demográfica que vivimos en esa época.

 Algún tiempo después de la niñez yo hacía mis pinitos en cuanto a plantearme interrogantes, entraba en lo que a mí me parecía lo más recóndito de la mente e iba en busca de respuestas, ponía en cuestión mis dudas y quería creer que algunas las dejaba atrás mediante este procedimiento. De eso se trata en parte el hecho de madurar… en resolver, hacer lo mismo que haces pero intentar hacerlo mejor, con criterio. Cuestionarte todo sin entrar en un soliloquio paranoide; más bien consiste en hacerte preguntas con el objetivo de obtener respuestas. Avanzar y sorprenderte siempre con los resultados de lo que un día fuiste capaz de hacer, ponerte cara a cara con tu mejor logro y eso no se consigue mas que intentándolo de nuevo. 

 A medida que van pasando los años dejas de hacer cosas por impulso. Claro que si una es miedosa lo sigue siendo siempre, pero yo hice cosas que hoy me parecen impensables: como dejar un trabajo porque sí. Hoy casi es un alarde, tal y como está todo. A otra edad y por mucho menos habría dejado este puesto al que hoy me aferro con uñas y dientes sin echar cuentas de que puede ser el inconsciente el que me impida ir a trabajar “regalándome” un dolor tan grande. ¡Cosas más extrañas se han visto! y de momento debo entregarme a estos pensamientos por si se me quita el dolor, por si no va a más y debo decidirme por hacer algo; lo mismo o algo muy diferente. Y es que madurar está muy bien pero solo si no te impone una fuerte inmovilidad, una gran coraza o un intenso dolor. Solo si te deja ser de alguna manera más libre y no sientes que caes por un precipicio solo por tener que tomar una importante decisión. Por otro lado está la irreflexión que, aunque no es de por sí un signo de madurez, puede que te ponga en órbita hacia sitios que te beneficiarán mucho tanto como persona como profesional. Quizá porque no lo has pensado demasiado; quizá porque, al verte impelido en algunos casos hacia lo desconocido, podrías aceptar de buen grado una propuesta imprudente o en cierto modo irracional. Y a todo eso no digo yo que no esté bien, pero es que de pensarlo un poco no iría, no me la jugaría y no me liaría la manta a la cabeza. ¡Qué hacer! Si un impedimento físico dificulta el normal desempeño de mi trabajo habitual, ¿tengo que cambiar de actividad? Pregunto porque el tema laboral está que arde… Seguimos interpretando ese dolor de pierna que me dice que lo que estoy haciendo ya no es mi camino, que me duele cuando voy a donde-no-quiero-ir. 

Recuerdo que hace unos años me pasó poco más o menos algo así pero con un súper esguince. Un tobillo que alcanzó las dimensiones de una pierna y negro como tizón que me hizo permanecer un mes largo de baja, una baja feliz porque me mantenía en casa leyendo, escribiendo, pensando en mis cosas. Aunque dolía mucho, era preferible esto a ir a trabajar. Si no me conociera bien diría que en aquel momento de mi vida quería desentenderme de mis responsabilidades, pero por muy difíciles que se pusieran las cosas yo no podía escapar entonces a ellas. Ese era el quid de la cuestión: el sentido del deber me obligaba una y otra vez a vérmelas con el dolor por aquello que no me llenaba, una circunstancia triste cuando sientes que aún tienes mucho que dar. Mucho, mucho… y ganas, aún las tienes todas. Hoy me encuentro todo el rato como pez fuera del agua, que lo he dado todo, que no me vincula ya nada a mi antigua profesión y que no mantengo ni de lejos esa ilusión cuando hago frente, soluciono y resuelvo cualquier reto laboral de envergadura.

Por ahora, como aún no me ha sobrevenido ninguna epifanía, cero información que me alumbre y tampoco he recibido por correo ninguna idea feliz, seguiré indagando y seguiré informando también en la medida de lo posible.

Petu, 6 de junio 2022

Sugar, ah, honey-honey

‘Look Fay,’ little Anna called to me. ‘That girl over there.’ As her grown sister, I felt it only right to remind her that it was rude to point at people.

‘But she’s so thin!,’ she explained, as if that in itself authorised you to forgo your manners. 

My eyes searched for the thin person ahead of us in the queue inching towards the string of cash registers. The city’s Fnac was swarming with people that Saturday morning. Next time we would come any other morning in the week, from Monday to Friday, I kept reminding myself all throughout our journey inside the four-storey megastore. I find shops oppressive; shops full of people, claustrophobic; the advent of on-line shopping has been a godsend for me. Still, my ten-year-old sister wanted the going-shopping adventure, and the leisurely pace of the customers, encouraged by the store’s policy of laissez faire, made it just about possible to bear even for me. The fact that we found what we were looking for was a pleasant surprise, too. At least, the pain had not been suffered in vain.

I spotted the ‘she’ my sister was talking about six people ahead of us: A woman in her early twenties, just like me. She wore a black summer dress that tried unsuccessfully to cling to her body, and hair a la garçon, as black and as limp as her dress. She was indeed very thing, skeletally thin and the skin on her bare arms and legs made me think of a mortuary sheet removed from a casket that had been in a tomb for at least a century.

I bent down towards my sister. ‘She’s anorexic,’ I whispered.

‘Anorexic,’ Anna considered. ‘I thought she might be.’

I ignored this remark, as Anna often wants to make herself appear knowledgable about things of which she knows nothing. Instead, I signalled my sister to keep her voice down and explained:

‘She hardly eats because in her mind she’s never thin enough.’

‘But she is very thin!’

‘I know, I know,’ I waved her hand down. It was her style, inherited from our father: my sister was speaking too loudly. 

‘But she doesn’t see it,’ I explained further.

‘I’ve heard of it on Youtube,’ she nodded. ‘It’s a mental illness.’

‘That’s right.’ 

Youtube, I thought, mental illness. Kids these days.

We both looked towards the girl. I was shocked to see that she too was looking in our direction, with the exorbitant eyes of a starving woman wearing mascara. I looked away more frightened than embarrassed.

‘Don’t stare, Anna, it’s not polite.’

‘I’m not staring,’ Anna protested, ‘she’s staring.’ 

I looked again and the thin girl averted her eyes. A young man standing next to her turned his head towards my sister and me, and immediately put his arm around the woman’s boney shoulder, proprietorially, protectively. The boyfriend or husband. It occurred to me that the couple’s grave demeanour didn’t denote criticism or embarrassment, but acknowledgment that a serious problem existed, that they didn’t see Anna’s stare or mine as morbid interest but concern, which it was; a concern they shared. Perhaps, I speculated, the man had come recently into the thin woman’s life to help her. I considered myself fortunate for not having the same problem; how much better it was to be ten kilos above zero than ten kilos below. Unhappy as I was with my weight, I sincerely believed it was better than that other extreme eating disorder.

I didn’t look at them again, it wouldn’t have been fair on them. Anna lost interest too once she stumbled upon the enormous choice of squishies by the tills. Our turn to pay eventually came, we forked out our bank notes and went away, back home, to enjoy our new movie, CD and squishy. 

Some days later I was given a red dress by one of my mom’s younger friends. Red is my favourite colour, especially the deep red this dress had: the colour of poppies in the shade, only redder for being more extensive and uninterrupted by patterns of stigmas, stamens, sepals or pedicels. In short, only the petals, hundreds of them, sewn together with thousands of invisible stitches, like the ones our mother sews in the clothes she makes for fun.

I tried it on. I didn’t want to look at myself in the mirror. But I had to. I had to see how the dress looked on me in order to decide whether to keep it to myself or pass it on to somebody else. It couldn’t look good, but it had to look reasonable. I braved it and looked at the mirror head on, with both my eyes, tears already welling behind them. Ok; it wasn’t too bad, given my seize. It was reasonable. I turned around slowly, carefully. I puffed: that big belly of mine; that was the main problem. My ass was big too, and my breasts, but for some reason I don’t mind those as much. I puffed again, this time sucking my belly in: it was still big, but almost normal. Still, the dress was flattering for a big woman. I sighed with a feeling that would have liked to be contentment and wiped a couple of tears off my face. I took the dress off, careful not to glance at the mirror again while doing it, in case I caught myself in a less flattering position. 

My thoughts and emotions about my body are fluctuating and conflicting. I love it because it is mine, because it is a big part of me — no pun intended — and I can’t help loving it; much like I love my sister and I imagine one day I will love my children. But I also love it for the fact that it works, bar my weak digestive system, like the most magnificent machine, and it keeps me alive and mostly well every day. Moreover, I consider I have a pretty face, not film-star pretty, but pretty enough, with beautiful skin and hair. I make sure that every now and then I thank the gods and goddesses for all of that. And if all of that weren’t enough, my corpulence is fairly harmonious, bar my big belly, my fleshiness firm; only a little bit of the abhorred cellulite in me. In fact, some of my friends my age, who are much thinner than me, have more cellulite. That makes me happy, I’m ashamed to admit.

Yes, I have a lot to be thankful for and I feel stupid, vain, superficial, selfish, narcissistic and all the synonyms for still agonising over something as unimportant as my weight. It’s like complaining about not being able to afford to eat out, when millions of people in the world can’t afford to eat every day. All I have to do is to be in solidarity with those millions and stop eating. But that is a confused thing to say, because, given the chance, all those wretched people would rather be fat, I’m sure. The best thing would be for me to share my surplus of food with them. Then I wouldn’t be fat and they wouldn’t be starving. How I could go about doing that, I don’t know, though. Anyway, it’s just an idea; nothing I consider seriously. The food companies and food outlets throw tons of food away every day; they could solve the problem in a heartbeat if the set their minds to it. But, do they have a heart? And are their minds set in anything else other than making a profit? Nevertheless, I sometimes feel I contribute to the problem for being, in my own way, as greedy as a multinational. Only when it comes to food, mind. Not like my friends, who change their wardrobe every season and can never have enough lipstick, shoes and necklaces. 

I often wonder what it is that makes me overeat. I like food, yes; nothing wrong with that, it’s only natural. Some good for you, some bad. But I know that I don’t eat only for my enjoyment. I use food as a drug. More specifically carbohydrates, the things that turn into sugar once they get absorbed into your body. Actually, those in themselves are not the bigger problem either; the unhealthy carbohydrates are the ones that come with real sugar dumped into their recipe. Cupfuls and more cupfuls of the white stuff added to the mix. I consume those carbs the same way a heroin addict consumes heroin and a cocaine addict consumes cocaine. The same way some people drink alcohol, which by the way also turns into sugar, I eat things that turn into sugar laced with sugar. If it sounds crazy is because it is. And yet, there’s nothing I can do about it. My name is Fay and I’m a sugarholic.

It took me a very, very long time to admit to my problem. I used to be a sugar addict denier, but now I know that those man-made edible crystals, white, golden or brown, solid or liquified, whatever their source, are my ruin. As I said before, I’m not talking about bread and rice, which I just find difficult to digest but are supposed to be healthy —although that is also currently under debate— I’m talking about the heavy duty ones that not only turn to sugar themselves but have sugar added to them during their confection: cakes, biscuits, cookies, ice creams, ice lollies, gummy liquorice, gummy bears, gummy berries, gummy eggs, gummy everything, and, last but in any way least, CHOCOLATE. Whoever came up with the idea of adding sugar to cocoa was of the same demon species that thought of making heroin out of opium and crack out of cocaine.

I’m tempted to say I don’t need my fix every day, but it would be a blatant lie. I do eat my drug everyday. I might hold the craving by the leash in the mornings, when it’s not so strong, but by the afternoons it begins to trot, and in the evenings it is running and jumping, dragging me after it.

It has often entered my mind the question, if I love my body so much why do I abuse it? But my mind is part of my body, and my mind has a mind of its own.

* * *

On Friday evenings I go out with my friends to the beach and then to the club; some Fridays, the other way around, when we decide to end the party on the beach. I like the night. In the night there is little light. Because we can’t see each other in our real form we relax and achieve an intimacy that is unthinkable during the unforgiving daylight. In the night we show ourselves in a good light. I can make others believe it, too. I’m not the kind of girl who would make love with anybody, but occasionally I can also make myself believe that I’m in love. Then my heavy roundness is infused with a potent sensuality that engulfs both the incognisant male victim and me. Yes, in the night I can believe that I am an alluring odalisque. Sometimes I feel sorry for my victims, usually drugged, because they don’t know what they are getting themselves into until it’s too late, and yet early, too early in the morning to be strong enough to come to terms with reality. 

I just realised that I should have added Turkish delight to the list of my favourite sweets; one of my most favourite, but not easy to find. Crystallised fruit, that’s another one; I know a very good shop that sells it in town, if you’re interested; expensive though, good crystallised fruit is; there’s no point in having cheap crystallised fruit, it’s as bad as cheap chocolate.

But I digress. After the swirl in the sand, which I have to confess doesn’t end up in Turkish delight often enough, I wipe the sand off me and disappear before dawn, before the male victim sees the light. After those nights I don’t need chocolate or jam for breakfast. Perhaps if I had a good husband one day, I would grow thin and healthy.

Saturday evenings are a different kettle of sweet. That’s when mum and dad go out and I come to my childhood home to look after Anna. We sit together and watch movies, mainly horror movies – her favourite. Before we sit down we supply ourselves with anti-terror weapons: marshmallows, pieces of chocolate cake and drinking chocolate for hydration; nuts, also, for strength of mind (my mum says raw nuts prevent you from going nuts.) It is important to understand that cake and cookies (that is, the combination of flour, sugar, fat and salt), as well as a substitute for love, constitute an antidote against the stress and distress of life, and bad movies. I’m not the only cake addict I know. 

There are other reasons to make cake, cookies and their variants your drug of choice:

  1. They are legal.
  2. Easier to get than love. Indeed, they are readily available everywhere. What’s more, sugar is added to lots of foods you might not even think they had it, and don’t even need it.
  3. They are cheap. Cheaper, in fact, than any other food; cheaper than fruit, vegetables, eggs, nuts, cheese, fish or meat. What is that about?

Yes, sugar is dirt cheap. It’s hard to believe that a whole packet of chocolate buns can be cheaper than two apples, but it’s true. And even when you believe it because you see it day after day in the blessed supermarket, it’s hard to understand how or why we’ve come to this. Especially when the sweet invention used to be so expensive that only rich people could afford it, and indeed its producers and traders made fortunes selling it, not less fabulous had they been able to turn its crystals into diamonds. 

A long time ago sugar was considered a ‘fine spice’ and a luxury commodity in the same way some spices used to be a luxury commodity: Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, black pepper… Imagine: just like those spices, the ‘sweet salt’ used to be considered a medicine —Sugar, a medicine! Imagine: all the black people that were enslaved to live until death manufacturing that delicious, demonic creation; all the soldiers that fought wars and died on the other side of the planet protecting and expanding its commerce in the name of the King, the Queen, the Company… What if they had been told that a couple of hundred years later sugar and spice, and all things nice —except for opium and its derivates— could be purchased by everybody and anybody for tuppence in hundreds of uninspired warehouse-type shops called ‘super-markets’? Would they have believed it? Would it have made any difference to them? Probably not. Mad world we live in, always has been. And I’m afraid it’s probably not going to get any less mad.

* * *

My youngest cousin, my mother’s youngest sister’s son, came over to my place one day. He’s two-years-old, thin as a pencil, smart as a whip, scrumptious as an upside-down carrot cupcake with cream cheese frosting. Joe is his name. I keep him company occasionally when my aunt, who works from home, needs to do this or that, or go to this place or that place on her own, and her husband, who also works from home, coincidentally needs to do this or that or go to this or that place in the same day and time of day. Sometimes I also babysit Joe when they want to go out together in the evening. I’m still without a full-time job after college and my aunt pays me, so it’s all good. All the better for the fact that my little cousin loves me and I adore him.

He’s a very active little guy and can’t stand still for long, as it is often the case with kids his age, so we run and jump around until he uses up enough of his energy to sit down for a while and I’m exhausted. We then do sedentary things like paper cutting or folding (one of the funniest things on Earth: watching a two-year-old doing origami). We’re also allowed to watch some telly. So, yesterday, after successfully making a paper cup and drinking water from it until it turned to mush, we sat down and turned the tv on to watch reruns of his favourite program: Balamory. He prefers it to new programs and, I have to confess, I enjoy watching it in his sweet company. ‘What’s the story Balamory,’ he recites in his ragged tongue when he sees the coloured houses coming up on the screen.

That day, after one episode, the tv channel went to commercials. The last one after the next program advertised the coming Fashion Show in Paris with models hurriedly sashaying along a catwalk. Do I need to inform the reader of the fact that they were all skinny? I looked over at two-year-old Joe; his light green eyes seemed hypnotised by the screen, and while I marvelled for the millionth time at his godlike beauty, I wondered semi-consciously what the boy thought of those girls. No sooner the commercial ended and the next Balamory episode was starting, I found out.

‘Cushion Fay when ar de peetee guls aggen, you sink?,’ he said, the green in his eyes, still fixed on the television screen, rippling like soft waves in a pool, his freckled cheeks shining, gently flushed. It least I think that’s what he said; I was so shocked by the revelation that I’m not sure my recollection is accurate. His speech is very developed for his age and it is a feature of his to say things, in his own way, like ‘When are we going to eat, you think?’ So it is possible that he ended his question in that manner. I’m also sure it had the intonation of a question. But more than anything, there is no doubt in my mind that he used the expression ‘pretty girls.’ I wanted to ask him where he had got that from, the expression I mean, but I have already said, I was in shock. Was it just an expression he had heard somewhere in relation to women on the television? I had never heard him using it before. Did he really think they were pretty?

I didn’t want to admit it, but yes, of course, two-year-old Joe thought those girls were beautiful. To me they looked like crack addicts in expensive nighties and tons of make-up. But that was me, obviously, since a two-year-old had very quickly come to the conclusion that they were indeed pretty. How on Earth had he acquired that misshapen concept of female beauty? ‘That’s the wrong canon Joe!’ I wanted to tell him, ‘That’s the canon imposed by society! And it’s completely unrealistic! And it hurts women all over the world!’… But you couldn’t say that to a two-year-old. Well, you could, but he would look at you as if you were mad. And, indeed you would be mad, because, How is society going to impose a canon of any kind on a two-year-old? 

Venus of Willendorf

So who else could have taught him to feast his eyes on fashion models? It hadn’t been me, that’s for sure. Let’s see: Both his parents, mother and father, male and female, were staunch feminists, and the rest of the family weren’t far off the mark. He didn’t go to a kindergarten, he didn’t have a nanny but me. He wasn’t allowed to see any programs or movies that weren’t adequate to his tender age. Of course, his parents weren’t fundamentalists in any fashion, so Joe did have contact with other families and played with other kids. It must have been another family, I said to myself. But I felt sick with the certainty that Joe had his own opinion about what a pretty girl looked like and it had nothing to do society’s beauty canons but his own internal canon that came, where from? His DNA? The collective subconscious? God knows where; yes, He must know. 

We watched another episode of Balamory. I glanced from time to time at his sweet profile and caressed his lovely ginger hair. He didn’t mention the ‘peetee guls’ again. I didn’t tell his parents. I mulled over it for days. I still do. It occurred to me, for example, that what had made the girls pretty in his eyes were the dresses, the hair, the make-up… That had the girls been rounder he still would have considered them pretty. So much for you ‘don’t need make-up and high heels to look pretty,’ I thought of that. Oh, là là, one way or another, quelle catastrophe!

* * *

A week later, the following Friday, I met someone. I young man my age, a boy, one could call him, the same way people call me a girl. I was wearing my new second-hand red dress. I was in the club by the beach. I had been dancing and drinking with my friends. I went to the restrooms and then decided I needed some fresh air. I stood right outside the club’s entrance looking at the sea, black as tar in the dark, not daring to wander any further on my own. 

He was coming from the right, leaving the promenade to go into the club. He was alone. As he walked in my direction he studied me with a soft smile.

‘Wow,’ he whispered, ‘that’s some dress.’

‘Thank you,’ I said smiling back. He was dark like the night sea. I remember thinking he had come from it, all the more so because he seemed to carry with him some of the mist that was coming off the sea after the long hot summer day. Befittingly, a disco version of ‘Smoke gets in you eyes’ was coming from the club. It sounded far away behind the glass doors that kept the cool conditioned air inside the club. One of my favourite songs, I thought, although I would’ve chosen the The Platters’ version for the occasion. Dark hair, dark skin, dark eyes, he had. A kind face, too. To me, breathtakingly handsome, although my friends wouldn’t agree with me. He stood in front of me and took to studying my face. His interest in me wasn’t offensive, like sometimes other boys’, who looked at you as if they were inspecting a thing they were thinking of buying. 

‘I don’t know,’ he doubted. ‘Too much red I think.’

‘What a nice way of calling me fat,’ I retorted, brightening my smile.

He opened his eyes and lost his smile. Shaking his head he proclaimed:

‘Oh, no, no, no, I didn’t mean that! And you’re not fat! You’re not fat at all!’

I laughed out loud at his consternation; it seemed so genuine. He was exactly my height, which meant we could look straight into each others eyes, and embrace and kiss without straining. His frame was light, but not too light to feel like a child in my arms. He was so perfect, so gorgeous, I felt dizzy and I could have collapsed in a red heap hadn’t it been for the 1.5 gallons of blood rushing through my body like a freight train. I was galvanized by an extraordinary force I hadn’t felt before. I didn’t know whether this force originated in my own cells or was coming from him, or from the universe. It didn’t matter to me. 

However, the miracle of miracles that took place that night, wasn’t that I had found him, it wasn’t that I had fallen in love, just like that, like in the songs: it was that I could see he was feeling the same. For me. How ever was that possible! But there it was, the way he looked and smiled at me, how he followed me and talked to me all night, as if he couldn’t bear to not be with me, knowing me. Yes of course it occurred to me, him loving me was too good to be true, but I was determined to let the smoke get in my eyes. Tarik was his name. It still is since he’s not dead, God forbid. 

The next weeks I couldn’t see anymore that I lived in an ugly world where States’ wars and poverty kill innocent men, women and children every day, where industry implacably destroys plants, animals and humble people’s habitats, making you feel so impotent and sad that you wonder whether there’s any point in being on this planet. I couldn’t see it because the thick smoke surrounded me night and day, the smoke of the clouds in Paradise that Tarik and I inhabited. The state of the world wasn’t relevant anymore because it wasn’t there anymore. I didn’t feel other people’s pain. And I was anaesthetised against my own. Love is the drug, the song goes. It certainly acted as a painkiller. It was all supremely selfish but I didn’t feel at all ashamed. I, like so many people, had some time or other believed that love could be the answer to the world’s troubles. But how can that be when love is narcissistic? It makes you feel good, but to what extent does it infect or affect other people? Jesus and Gandhi were probably talking about a different kind of love than the one I felt for Tarik.

The Song of Songs says: ‘Your love is sweeter than wine, the smell of your perfume is more fragrant than spices.’ Yes, I got all the songs then. Love, I said, was the drug for me. Not sugar anymore. Tarik’s kisses were sweeter than wine, than chocolate fudge, than gummy bears, and had a sweeter effect on me than anything I had tried before.

* * *

After a week of being with Tarik I began to concern myself again with my appearance. For a whole week, it hadn’t occurred to me once that I was too fat or not attractive enough for Tarik. I find it difficult to believe now but it’s true: I was able to see myself through Tarik’s eyes. My parents had always told me I am beautiful, but I believed only Tarik. One day though, I saw him talking to a young woman outside the restaurant where he worked, somebody I didn’t know, a peetee gul, and that changed things. I felt a deep stab in the chest that made me gasp for air. I secretly made the decision there and then to lose weight. Even though Tarik wasn’t complaining, I felt compelled to make myself look better for him. I wasn’t going to let the fat surrounding my body get in the way of our love.

I stopped having sugar altogether. As I said, it wasn’t the drug for me anymore, so I was already skipping some of my carbohydrate snacks without even having to think about it. But after ‘the decision’ I cancelled any kind of sugar or carb intake completely. I even started inspecting labels to look for the undemocratically added sugar in preserves; not just fruit preserves, but vegetable preserves, tinned meat, tinned fish, sauces… Anything and everything. Take a magnifying glass to your local supermarket and weep. Sugar is used as a flavour enhancer and a preservative, enhancing and preserving the obesity and the hyperglycaemia of the population. Another crime perpetrated by the food industry against the people under the protection of the law. Some of the prepared foods take the cake, like corn: GMO and preserved with sugar. Perfectly evil.

I don’t have Tarik’s love anymore. I was blind but now I see. Again. It was all a mirage. When he left and I started seeing reality again whether I wanted or not, I thought I would go back to sweet food with a vengeance. That’s why psychologists say you eat candy in the first place: to fill the hollowness inside you, as a substitute for love, for sex. But nothing is sweet enough anymore. Everything tastes like cardboard. Coffee tastes like liquid cardboard.

We argued about food, Tarik and I, if you can believe it. That’s what did it. He didn’t want me to go on a diet. ‘This is you and I like you the way you are,’ he would shout angrily. ‘You are not fat, you’re perfect to me.’ My girl friends disagreed with him. They explained to me that he said these things because he was a Muslim and he wanted to control me, he wanted to keep me all to himself, not being appreciated by anybody else. Of course, they added, when he has you looking like an eyesore he’ll leave you for somebody else that doesn’t look like an eyesore. My dear friends: always looking after my own interests.

The truth is my friends had never liked Tarik. At first I thought they had concerns regarding his religion and its moral code, and the effects those could have on me and my life. I also suspected them of racism. I never voiced any of my concerns. The truth is I didn’t care what they thought and didn’t want to care, didn’t want their negative outlook to taint my love. Also, some of their criticisms clearly didn’t match my circumstances with Tarik: he never raised any objections regarding my clothes or my make-up. Not that there could be anything to declare, since my clothes are attractive but modest, a constraint imposed by my size —I could never be one of those overweight girls that go about in cut-out shorts and a tank top. 

It is true that I hardly saw my friends after meeting Tarik; one of the reasons they didn’t like him and one of the causes of their concern. But that wasn’t Tarik’s doing. He never stopped me from going out with my friends, male or female. There was no need for it: It was me, I didn’t want to be with anybody else but him. Of course, that is what happens when you are in love as I was, when you can’t get the person out of your mind all day; wherever you are, whatever you are doing, whoever you are talking with, in your mind is always that person; there isn’t room in your mind for anybody else, and hardly anything else, unless it’s got to do with him and the things you’re going to talk about and do with him. 

At night, when I wasn’t with him, I dreamt of him. It was like an illness. I felt ill in fact, in the most delightful way. Yes, yes, as if under the influence of a powerful recreational drug. I wonder if heroin makes you feel that way. And when you withdraw it from your diet, perhaps you feel like I felt when Tarik was late for our date; I couldn’t understand it or accept it and I immediately would think that something terrible had happened to him, that he had been run over by a car or a metro, or had been stabbed in an alley for his wallet. I would cry and roll on the floor in terror, until he finally knocked on the door and I jumped to my feet, smoothed my dress and my hair, wiped my tears and smiled; forgetting just as immediately that a second earlier I wanted to die.

My state of mind was crazy and I did suspect at times that the whole thing was unreal, but my faith kept me riding the moon while seemingly awake. We both did. We talked about how the feeling would eventually subside —please, let it subside— then we could get married and have kids. This would send us into a paroxysm of laughter. Yet, deep down, we meant it. Tarik particularly would grow very serious at times, look at me melancholically and say ‘how I wish we had been together for a long time and I didn’t want you so much, and I knew you very well.’ I disliked the ‘didn’t want you so much’ bit, but I knew what he meant. And yet, after all that, we are not together anymore, and probably never will be. I wish I could disintegrate into the atmosphere and be me no more. Hideous me.

As I said, I went on a diet, a very strict diet. No carbs, no fats. I just wanted Tarik to able to lift me, perhaps even carry me in his arms. Just for two or three yards, like he did with his fourteen-year-old sister one day in the pool. How effortlessly he picked her up in her modest swim suit, transported her to the edge of the pool as if she were a sack of wafers and dumped her in it. No extra work of his lungs or muscles. How he laughed at that, and how she screamed with pleasure. I daydreamed he carried me and dumped me on the bed. 

I hardly lost any weight with my diet. I didn’t know why. My mum warned me I would end up anaemic if I didn’t eat enough, how important healthy food was, how, if I wasn’t eating carbs I must it fats, healthy fats, like nuts (mum and her nuts). ‘Never mind the calories,’ she said, ‘You should go to the doctor and have a blood test done; see if you have some metabolic disorder, hormonal imbalance…’ 

Mothers: always blaming the gods, the world, or themselves for their children’s problems. The problem was me, my mind; not my body, but me-me. My mind couldn’t change so that I could stop this craving for food. How could I end up anaemic if I didn’t stop eating? And you can’t stop eating carbohydrates unless you stop eating all together because, just like with sugar in supermarkets, in more or less quantities, carbs are present in all the foods! 

There were brief moments when I have believed I could have it all back, that not all was lost, that the companionship, the complicity, the embrace, the fullness and the ecstasy, which had slipped sneakily out of my life would be coming back into it, that it was all just around the corner, walking towards me, almost within my grasp. Brief moments. Seconds. Then my mind and my body would rush back to the world, to the dreadful mediocrity of a ordinary life, the life without passion, without creation.

* * *

‘Shoo-shoo-shoo, shoo-shoo-shoo,’ sings the song in the bar’s radio, ‘shoo-shoo, shoo-shoo, shoo-shoo Sugar Town.’ Yes, where is my sugar, where is my de luxe chocolate cake? Why did he have to go? I think while a sip my bitter black coffee. I don’t care for any other drug but love. For me, no white sand disappearing into the black pond; even though it doesn’t alter its blackness, as if it weren’t there at all! Maybe like sugar, I diluted in Tarik only to provide sweetness. And when the sweetness went, Tarik went bitter. What am I saying? I’m going bananas. No, bananas are too sweet. Fruit in general is too sweet. Forbidden or legal: Off limits, fruit. Except for blueberries and strawberries, which they can go and fuck themselves because they have been poisoned with pesticides (in an updated version of Snow White, the evil step-mother could use those instead of an apple), and organic is so expensive… Pineapples, which I used to love, are GMO… It’s better to do away with fruit altogether. I stir my coffee needlessly; there is nothing to stir in. I stirred up the love when it wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready.

‘Fay?’ I heard behind me. I swivelled round at the sound of that sweet voice. There he was: my love, my de luxe chocolate cake.

‘Tarik! There you are!’ the barman shouted, giving voice to my thoughts. ‘I thought you’d forgotten it’s Tuesday.’

Tarik took his black eyes off me for a moment to look at the barman.

‘Hi Andy,’ he greeted. ‘No, I didn’t forget.’

‘Go to the kitchen. Is there just you to pick up the food today? Because there’s quite a lot from the weekend. It’s frozen, of course. Almost as frozen as business lately.’ 

‘Right,’ Tarik said sighing with impatience. He wanted to get back to me. I couldn’t get my eyes of him. I was as frozen as business lately. I managed to part my lips to say ‘hello.’ But chatty Andy got in there first, again.

‘Where are you taking it?’

‘Down to the church and the mosque, half and half, as always Andy,’ Tarik proclaimed, in his proclaiming manner. Then eagerly turned to me. Andy moved down the counter and disappeared into the kitchen.

‘Hi,’ I finally said and tried to smile. I almost added ‘What’s the story in Balamory?’ but I held my madness firmly by the reins. How are you?’

‘Ok,’ he said. He looked me up and down, down and up. He didn’t like what he saw. 

‘How are you?’ he asked reluctantly.

‘Good,’ I lied. ‘Good.’ I nodded my head for emphasis and that made me feel dizzy. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wanted to hug him, go on my knees, hold his legs and ask for forgiveness, for him to come back. If only I knew it would work. But I knew it wouldn’t, so I remained perched on the edge of my stool, like an oversized pigeon.

‘You don’t look good,’ he said.

That hit a raw nerve.

‘What is it to you!’ I shouted. ‘It’s not like you care. You left me…’

He opened his eyes and mouth widely, like that first time we met.

‘I didn’t leave you!’ he shouted back. ‘You left me! Remember?’

‘Yeah, right!’

‘Yes, right, yes, right! You accused me of not caring for you! Of not accepting you they way you are!’

‘The way I want to be! The way I want to be!’ I screamed at him. It was an important distinction. But he ignored this.

‘And now you accuse me of leaving you and not caring for you? When you are the one that left me, the one that only cared about her looks! I accepted you the way you were! You are the one who doesn’t accept yourself the way you are!’

His chest heaved with indignation, his handsome face inches away from mine. I froze again. Even though he had never been violent with me or anybody else, the intensity of his anger used to frighten me. I thought there would come a day when he hit me, but that day never came. Perhaps today?

‘Look at you!’ he seethed. ‘You were beautiful…!’

‘No I wasn’t!’ I screamed. ‘And don’t pretend that you didn’t care about my looks! You all do!’

He grabbed me by the shoulders and swung me around to face the counter. I writhed with rage, trying to free myself from his grip, but Tarik was much stronger than he appeared to be. Appearances are deceptive, I reminded myself in the middle of the conflagration.

‘Look at yourself!’ he demanded.

The mirror at the back of the counter run along the wall, as it often does in bars, mirroring the bottles, glasses, vases, plastic flowers and toys sitting on the shelves screwed onto the glass mirror. From one fragment of the mirror, behind a bunch of plastic red roses, a girl looked at me. I knew that girl. I was sure. I had met her before. And not that long ago. That’s right at the Fnac. Suddenly it felt like a lifetime ago. I was with my sister and she pointed at her rudely because she was… What was the word? Anorexic. And there she was, in the bar, looking at me and Tarik. Other people reflected on the mirror were looking at us too; all this shouting had called their attention. I wanted to turn around to see what table the girl was sitting at and tell her to stop looking at me, that it was rude. But Tarik wasn’t easing his grip. I used to be stronger. 

Then the scene turned surreal. Well… It was already surreal, but turned surrealer. People in the bar kept staring as if we were aliens from out of space, my head was swimming and I saw Tarik pinning the anorexic girl down. It wasn’t me. I had been hallucinating lately —my mum said it was the lack of nuts. But right now Tarik’s touch was doing the trick; the touch I had missed so much. After another couple of seconds the veil in my mind was drawn, the mirage in the reflection came into focus and was correctly interpreted. My blood ran cold as the emaciated girl in the mirror opened her eyes and mouth wide in horror. Mum and Tarik had been right all along: Fay, you don’t like yourself; Fay, you don’t know yourself. 

Myself is the girl in the mirror.

Vivi, May 29th 2022

©Viviana Guinarte

Ligeia, Harry Clarke, 1919