I was worrying about the future: about being able to get a teaching job next year and also about having enough time for writing. Where would the money come from, the nickels and the pennies that grant time and suspend the worries? And I was wondering if I would ever stop feeling as a foreigner, as a novelist from another world who after a decade here has chosen to write fiction in Spanish; wondering too if I´d ever be considered as deserving funding for my writing. Wondering and indeed worrying I was when the phone rang announcing recognition for the work I have been doing here in the last decade and enough money to get on with it. I am enormously grateful for this opportunity that reflects an appreciation to the cultural and linguistic diversity that, to some extent, I hope, my work represents.
From the short story "Ay"
Esas horas en la morgue están sumidas en una modorra, ay, tenía tanto sueño pero no debía desplomarme, yo tenía que regresar a esa sala fría donde estabas reposando y destaparte, tenía que acariciar tu ceja abierta y sangrante, lo único que quería en ese momento de intenso sopor era acariciarte la mano todavía alzada como pancarta hacia la micro que te vio, sin duda tuvo que verte porque alcanzó a frenar. Quería acariciarte esa mano pero había desaparecido. Nos dijeron que todavía la buscaban entre los fierros retorcidos y entre los arbustos, no sabían dónde estaba, quizá alguien, por error, por un terrible error, se la había llevado o la había lanzado al basurero, tu mano, Aitana, la mano del dedo levantado con la que agarrabas la coronta, la mano que había puesto granos amarillos donde faltaban dientes. Supe que no podrías descansar nunca sin esa mano, que debíamos esperar a que apareciera, y tu padre negoció con los forenses para que nos dejaran llevarte a casa mientras tanto. De ese modo yo te lavaría entera, te curaría las heridas, te maquillaría los moretones y tendríamos tiempo para que de a poco me fueras contando todo; te preguntaría, Aitana, no creas que se me olvidó, ¿dolía o no la neurosis?, ¿en qué lugar de la cabeza se ubicaba ese dolor?, y tú imitarías las palabras altaneras del profesor, y yo te pediría, cuéntame cómo es esa vida universitaria que tanto te gusta y que yo nunca tendré, porque ya estoy vieja para eso y nunca tuve plata, sí, tendríamos tiempo mientras tu mano no apareciera, tanto tiempo, esta larga noche no acabará nunca, le decía a tu padre cada mañana, cuando él abría la puerta del galpón y me susurraba, algo inquieto, desde el umbral, que estaba empezando a oler mal, que olería mal por mucho que te lavara, que hedía incluso con las ventanas abiertas de par en par, pero yo no le hacía caso cuando empezaba con que era necesario poner la tapa y martillarla, que ya no hacía suficiente frío, que ya estaba amaneciendo, que pronto se quejarían los vecinos, que regresaría la policía, que darían vueltas los ataúdes hasta encontrar la causa, vamos, vamos, me decía tu padre olvidándose por un momento que yo soy tu madre, que no pueden obligarme a actuar en contra de mi hija, porque ¿y la mano?, le preguntaba yo, ¿se te olvidó que falta la mano?, Aitana necesita su mano para asistir a la universidad y tomar notas en su cuaderno, su mano para parar la micro y regresar por la tarde, la mano con ese dedo levantado de soberbia, ay, ¡la mano!, y tu padre torcía la vista poniendo cara de perro ultrajado, tiraba su martillo al suelo, lo pateaba lejos, y sin despedirse de nosotras salía a la calle dando un portazo. Salía a buscarla.
Those hours in the morgue are clouded in drowsiness, ay, I was so tired but I couldn't give in, I had to get back to the cold room where you were resting and uncover you, I had to caress your cut and bleeding brow, the only thing I wanted in that moment of intense lethargy was to caress your hand still raised like a stop sign towards the bus driver who saw you, yes, he surely saw you because he managed to brake even if it was too late. I wanted to caress that hand but it had disappeared. They told us that they were still looking for it among the twisted metal and in the bushes, they didn't know where it was, maybe someone, by mistake, by a terrible mistake, took it or tossed it in the trash, your hand, the hand with the raised finger, the hand that grabbed the corncob, the hand that had stuck yellow kernels of corn where teeth were missing. I knew you'd never be able to rest without your hand, we had to wait for it to turn up, and your father talked the medical examiners into letting us take you home in the meantime. Ay, Aitana, I washed your entire body, I would take care of your wounds, cover the bruises with makeup and we would have time for you to tell me everything, little by little; I'd ask you, Aitana, don't think I forgot, does it hurt or not?, the neurosis?, where in the head is this pain located?, and you would parrot your professor's arrogant words, and I'd ask you tell me more about this university life you like so much, this life I'll never experience, because I'm too old for it and I never had the money, yes we would have time while your hand didn't turn up, plenty of time; this long night will never end, I'd tell your father every morning when he opened the workshop door and whispered, somewhat uneasily, from the doorway, that it was starting to smell foul, that it would smell bad no matter how much I washed you, that it would stink even with the windows open all the way, but I didn't pay him any mind when he'd start on how it was necessary to place the lid and nail it shut, how it wasn't cold enough anymore, how the sun was coming up, how soon the neighbors would complain, how the police would come, how they'd look around the coffins until they found the cause. Come on, come on, your father would say, forgetting for a moment that I'm your mother, that they can't force me to go against my maternal instinct, because, and what about the hand?, I'd ask, did you forget that the hand is missing? Aitana needs her hand to write in her notebook, her hand to stop the bus and come home in the evening, the hand with that finger full of pride, ay, her hand!, and your father would screw up his face into that of a beaten dog, he'd throw his hammer on the floor, he'd kick it out of the way, and without telling us goodbye he'd go outside, slamming the door. He'd go out to look for it.
Chile born, bred, and educated until moving to New York City, Lina Meruane has spent the past decade writing fiction in Spanish in the U.S. In recent years she has published several short stories in Latin American, Spanish and German collections as well as in American magazines (Two Lines and Bomb´s First Proof); she also wrote here her last novel, Fruta Podrida (Rotten Fruit) (Fondo de Cultura Economica, 2007) with support from the Guggenheim Foundation. Her works published in Chile include a collection of short stories, Las Infantas (Planeta, 1998) and two novels Póstuma (Planeta, 2000) and Cercada (Editorial Cuarto Propio, 2000). A cultural journalist and columnist and a recent PhD in Latin American Literature from New York University, she has taught fiction in the Creative Writing in Spanish MFA at NYU and is currently Visiting Assistant Professor at Wesleyan University.
Photo by Cristian Matta