In the Beginning
I can’t contain it any longer.
It’s as if something had split within me. As if these past few days there had been a dam inside me that was now about to break under the impact of some dark force. I can feel a dense and hot mass, rising from my stomach, heading towards my mouth, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
It started yesterday. Aída took me out to dinner for my birthday. I was in a bad mood; I felt especially old that night. I went to the bathroom, and while I was looking at my almost half-century reflected in the mirror I felt the ball climbing up my esophagus. I bent over the toilet to throw up, but couldn’t. I stuck my fingers down my throat, but it only resulted in dry heaves. Then I heard a cruel laugh rising from inside me.
Suddenly, the nausea subsided, but when I looked at myself in the mirror a voice said that the moment had arrived to start my true life—and even though I was petrified with fear, I smiled.
I rented an apartment a few blocks from my office. I didn’t want to; it was him, that guy inside who talks to me and controls the burning ball. He moved my legs onto the street and rang the doorbell of a run-down building with a sign that read “For Rent.”
The landlord didn’t sign a contract with me, but neither did he ask for any ID. My closest neighbors live two floors below me. Again, I feel that ball ascending my throat. “Tomorrow,” he says.
I left the office at six pm sharp without saying goodbye to anyone and climbed the apartment stairs at full speed. I felt like a pregnant dog frantically looking for a dark place to have her litter of pups.
At first, I wasn’t sure how to do it. I tried pressing on my stomach. I squeezed my uvula with my fingers. Again, I heard his cruel laugh. Then I felt the ball race toward my mouth and I spit: it was a tiny bone.
I looked it up on an anatomy website: the bone is from the pinky finger.
I want to ask for help, to resist, to tell Aída what’s happening, but he stops me. Yesterday, when I came home, I took her by the arm and locked us in the bathroom together. I couldn’t utter a word because he wouldn’t let me. I fell to my knees and started to cry. Worried, Aída looked at me and shouted, “Alberto, what’s wrong?! Get up, you’re scaring me!” Afterward, I could only tell her that I loved her very much and ask her to hold me.
I already coughed up enough bones to form both hands. These days have been horrible. Every time it happens I’m more fearful and less in control of my body.
He made me arrange one of the rooms to accommodate what’s coming. I washed the floor and walls with bleach and covered them with plastic. I installed air conditioning. I bought a surgical table where I arranged the bones, just as he ordered.
Why is this happening to me? Me, who always avoided dangers, problems, conflicts…
Not even when Aída cheated on me did I make a fuss. I simply waited for her to get bored with the other man and come home whenever she was ready.
I’ll do the same with this man. I’ll go along with his demands in the hope that he lets go as soon as possible.
I can’t write anything about what’s happening to me. He anticipates my actions. Yesterday I tried writing a note to ask for help. I barely touched the pen when I heard him warn me in between snickers, “You want to play dirty? Alright. Let’s play.” Then I felt something enormous climbing up my throat. I couldn’t hold it down and vomited it up right then and there, in our bed, while I heard Aída singing in the shower. It was one of the forearm bones. I wrapped it in a towel, stuck it in my briefcase, and wrote to Aída that I would be back late from the office and that over the weekend I would keep working on the jigsaw puzzle with the girls.
I bought a large plastic container to put the bones in. I cover it with cotton and clean gauze. As of now I’ve coughed up the bony parts of the foot and the vertebrae from the spinal column.
I’m losing weight. I’m not hungry. I avoid mirrors. I just want this to be over as soon as possible so that he leaves me alone.
Yesterday’s episode was atrocious. I vomited the veins, arteries, and nerves. It was the worst I’d felt in my life. They came one after the other, exhausting. I fought my disgust and placed them on the table. Today, I found them perfectly arranged, together with the bones and muscles.
I begged him to finish already, to stop dragging it out, to get out whatever was left all at once. I told him that I can’t anymore. I only managed to infuriate him.
Aída hounds me with her questions. I avoid her anger. I go to bed exhausted and fall into a deep sleep, despite how many times she nudges me.
Today is Saturday, and even though I would like to make up for being away, to help Aída around the house and to play with the girls, as soon as it turned six, he dragged me to the apartment and made me vomit the kidneys, stomach, and large intestine.
I’m able to completely dislocate my jaw and cavernously expand my throat. I found out today at noon. I felt that what was coming up was gigantic. I couldn’t breathe. I fell to the floor and stuck my hand down my throat. Without knowing how, I managed to dilate it enough to reach my arm in up to the elbow and pull out whatever was cutting off my air. My jaw stretched a little bit more, and I pulled out a femur. The left one.
Aída is threatening to get a divorce. She demanded that I explain why I was coming home late and why I didn’t want to make love to her anymore. I told her it was because of work, but she didn’t believe me. She’s convinced that I have a mistress. I threw myself at her feet and begged her not to leave me, but she made me sleep on the couch.
Yesterday I went into some sort of trance. First, I felt nausea and lay down on my side on the floor. My heart started beating very slowly, and my breathing became just as sparse. Little by little I was coughing up the rib cage: sprawled on the floor, like a boa constrictor regurgitating an entire deer.
Today I vomited the heart. The circulatory system is complete. The bones, organs, and majority of the muscles are on the surgical table. They belong to him, to this ruthless man who manipulates me, who uses me as his builder.
What’s he going to do with me once he’s complete? When I ask him, he never answers, but I imagine that he smiles.
Aída kicked me out of the house.
I can’t work or even think clearly anymore. He has me under his control. I took some vacation time at work. I’m locked in this run-down apartment, with his half-formed body in the next room.
What’s going to happen to me when he wakes up? Who is this man? Where does he come from?
I spit up his head. The brain was inside; I know because of how violently it fell into the container. Hours later, his facial muscles and eyes came out.
No. This can’t be true.
I was right. I knew it when I saw his eyes, and my fears were confirmed when I coughed up the skin. It came in huge swaths covered in hair and moles. I saw how the swaths stuck to the muscles and layers of fat, how the eyelids covered the eyes, how the nails dragged themselves into place on each finger. The lines between one piece of skin and the other dissolved almost instantly.
Now he’s complete and there’s no doubt: he, this motionless man on the surgical table, is me.
I don’t hear him anymore. He no longer controls or talks to me. Now he’s just a cadaver I’m responsible for.
He still hasn’t woken up. And what if he never does? What am I going to do with this dead body that looks identical to me?
Aída sent me a text message. If I come back immediately she’ll forgive me.
He’s lost his power over me. I shout that I’m going to kill him, but he doesn’t answer. I punch him in the face and he doesn’t do anything to stop me.
I text Aída, relieved. I tell her that I hadn’t been myself in these last few days, but that it was over now, that I would be home in a few hours.
I go out into the street. I need to destroy him, I can’t leave him here like that. I need to see his body turned back into jumbled pieces.
I go into a store that sells cookware. I buy the biggest knife I can find and a meat tenderizer.
I bash his nose in with the tenderizer. He doesn’t bleed. The cartilage doesn’t break. I try it again with more force. Nothing. I take the knife and try to drive it into his neck. The flesh doesn’t yield. I feel nauseated. My vision goes blurry. Suddenly, his chest inflates to take in air. He starts to breathe steadily. He opens his eyes. He looks at me and smiles.
I touch my face. It’s covered in blood. I fall to the floor. I feel the blood gush out of my severed jugular.
He stands up slowly. I try to move, to say something, but I can’t. He leans towards me, picks me up, puts me on the surgical table, takes off my clothes and shoes, and puts on everything except for the bloodied t-shirt. He takes a clean shirt from my suitcase and buttons it. He stores my wallet and keys in his pants. My phone plays Aída’s ringtone. He answers and, after a few seconds, tells her “Yeah, I’m on my way, beautiful. Listen, make me some enchiladas and send the girls to the neighbor’s.” He picks up the suitcase, looks at me one last time and says, “Goodbye, Alberto.”
Translated by Caragh Barry
Translation produced in workshop with Suzanne Jill Levine.
Úrsula Fuentesberain (Celaya, Mexico, 1982) is an author and independent journalist. Fuentesberain is the author of the short story collection Esa membrana finísima (Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro, 2014). Her work has been published in eleven narrative anthologies, the most recent of which are El tótem de la rana (BUAP, Puebla, 2018), Motivos de sobra para inquietarse (Libros Pimienta, Ciudad de México, 2017), and Tiempos irredentos (Nagari, Miami, 2017). She has twice been a recipient of the Young Creators Scholarship from the National Fund for Culture and Arts (Mexico). Fuentesberain has also worked as a journalist for more than thirteen years, and her work has appeared in digital and print media in Mexico, the United States, Colombia, and Peru. Fuentesberain currently teaches graduate courses at the Universidad Iberoamericana.
Caragh Barry (Syracuse, NY, 1991) is a translator. Barry is a Teaching Assistant and PhD student in Hispanic Literature and Translation Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Previously, she worked as an editorial assistant for Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas in New York.
The seventh issue of Latin American Literature Today highlights indigenous voices with dossiers dedicated to three Wayuu writers from Colombia and Zapotec poetry and prose. We also pay homage to renowned Venezuelan poet Eugenio Montejo with a special dossier, as well as returning to the strange worlds of Latin American science fiction and opening a new space for Brazilian literature in Portuguese and English.