The Last Visit
—Oh, my dear daughter, what a miracle it is to see you again!
—It’s not a miracle. I come over every Thursday as we planned.
—We planned to never mention the pact. If you’re going to throw it in my face, I don’t know why you come.
—Excuse me. I really wanted to see you. Better? Or would you prefer that I tell you I really missed you?
—I wouldn’t believe it; we saw each other last Tuesday at your brother’s house. Better just treat this as a normal visit—ask me how my kidneys are doing or some other forced cordiality.
—Those were the types of questions that Matilde, Tato’s girlfriend, would ask, and if I’m not mistaken, you detested her for her hypocrisy.
—You’re right, but in those days, I still believed in the sincerity of visits. Now I’m no longer living in a fool's paradise. I prefer the false protocol of people who visit by arrangement.
—Don’t start so soon with your bitterness. Leave it for when Rodolfo arrives.
—Maybe he won’t even come; he called to tell me that he has a meeting at the bank. It’s a lie, but you know how much he likes to be wanted.
—Thank him for bringing you uncertainty. That way, you can be devastated by the fact that he won’t come, and later, you'll greet him with even more tenderness, as if caught by surprise.
—The only surprise your brother could bring me would be if he arrived sober. Speaking of which, do you want a drink?
—With very little rum, if you’d do me the favor.
—Are you expecting me to serve it for you? Everyone serves their own drink in this house.
—I already know that, mom, but I have to act as a newcomer in order for you to say that line—otherwise, you’d explode!
—I’ve said it so often people began to believe this was a cantina. They would arrive at the house and before coming to greet me, they would pour themselves a drink. But one thing’s for sure, no one had the decency to bring a bottle.
—Because I asked him to when I was sick and tired of his cousins and the friends of his cousins. One day I told him, “Look, Roberto, you’re like family and I love you very much, but if you’re going to come here with your entourage, make sure to bring a little something with you, no?”
—In those days, you had the luxury to do so. If he were to come with his entire family today, I’m certain that you’d greet them with champagne.
—That’s something that you, who has no dignity, would do. Don’t you remember how you acted when Rodolfo found Pablo Espinosa stealing my bracelets and threw him out of the house? You almost passed out from anger. You were screaming about how nobody had the right to interfere with your friends and that Rodolfo was jealous because he didn’t have his own visits and thus retaliated against yours. No, Blanca, I tolerated freeloaders, but you had a weakness even for thieves.
—How did you expect me to act? I got used to seeing the house full of people ever since I was a girl. It’s your fault I never had any privacy.
—Here we go with your childhood traumas! The role of victim suited you well when you were eighteen, but not now at almost forty. At this age, those traumas have already left their mark. And furthermore, it’s too early in the day for you to accuse me of giving you a miserable life—that suits conversation at two in the morning and sounds false when you haven’t even had your first drink. Why don’t you go for one and bring me a tequila while you’re at it? . . . Traumas! Her traumas always appear when she hasn’t had a fuck in a week; as if I didn’t know her . . . And her brother’s the same, only his traumas come out when he does have a fuck. I’m the mother of two idiots . . .
—Don’t you hear the phone ringing?
—God almighty! I’ll pick it up! Hello? . . . With whom do you wish to speak? . . . No, this is the Beltrán household. Hold on! Don’t hang up—your voice sounds familiar. Do you happen to be Emilio Uribe? . . . Well, I swear you have an identical voice to his. What’s your name, if you don’t mind? . . . Part of the Arozamena family from Monterrey, you don’t say? Well, what a small world! My son Rodolfo used to play dominoes with Sergio Arozamena, the architect. He would come to the house on Saturdays until he married a poor devil who kept him subjugated . . . Yes, of course, excuse me, I also have phone calls to make . . . Listen—wait a second. Why don’t you swing by here one of these days and bring Sergio, albeit with his woman? It’s been years since we’ve seen him, and Rodolfo would be so hap . . . Hello? Hello! Asshole.
—Who was it?
—Sergio Arozamena’s cousin. He wanted to come over—I told him sorry, but we don’t receive visitors and he hung up on me, really offended.
—Besides ridiculous, she’s also proud. You promised me that you wouldn’t go hunting for visits on the telephone. One day they’ll all come to visit you—but in the loony-bin.
—I’m sure I’ll find familiar faces there; half of Mexico has paraded through this house! Regardless of where they call from, there always turns out to be some friend in common.
—You’d say an ex-friend, mom.
—For me, they’re something worse: traitors.
—Nobody betrayed us. It was us who harassed everyone with too much hospitality. Rodolfo was right in that regards.
—Your brother has me tired with his theories. One day he’ll understand that there's no cure for humanity.
—Well, tell it to his face because he just arrived.
—Let him knock for a while. He’s sure to believe that we’re anxiously waiting for him, just as we waited for the Iturralde sisters when nobody remembered to visit us. Do you remember how much their tardiness made us suffer?
—You enjoyed it. You were masochistic deep down. Masochistic and arrogant. Your heart of gold needed the visitors’ snubs; they verified that the others didn’t deserve the affection of a woman so sincere, so altruistic, so supportive of her friends. Should I open the door now?
—Wait, make him suffer a little.
—Maybe he’ll get tired of knocking and leave. You know his temper.
—Well, too bad for him. If he doesn’t visit me now, then I won’t visit him on Tuesday.
—Don’t talk about the pact. Later you’ll say that I started it. Shall I open it now?
—Ok, do it, but act naturally. You always hang off of his neck as if you hadn’t seen him in years.
—Brother! Blessed are the eyes that see you!
—Blanca! What a surprise! The family has finally gathered together—this we must celebrate!
—Have you seen who’s come, mom? It’s Rodolfo.
—I thought you stood me up, mom. Why did it take you so long to open the door?
—It’s because the bell has a faulty connection and besides, you had the meeting at the bank, so we weren’t expecting you.
—You know very well that I didn’t have a meeting at the bank and I didn’t think you’d believe it. It was out of courtesy to you, mom. You love unexpected visits, don’t you?
—When they’re real. You’ll never miss visiting this house as long as there’s something to drink. How are you right now, love? Drunk or hungover?
—A bit tipsy. Would you be so kind as to serve me a drink?
—Everyone serves their own drink in this house.
—Stick to the roles, Blanca—don’t steal mom’s favorite line. You’re supposed to ask where the rag is when someone breaks a glass. Oh, how you liked it when someone broke a glass! You even congratulated the performer, as if walking on a sticky floor brought you pleasure.
—At least I had the honesty of admitting that visitations were the most beautiful thing in the world. Unlike you, who pretended to despise them. You waited until the house was full of people and at midnight you would leave your room to listen to the conversations nobody asked you to participate in. You would have wanted to be the life of the parties, but instead, you spoiled them by putting on a sour face, which is very sincere in your case, because you were always a lonely rat.
—I was trying to enforce a little bit of respect for the place. If it weren’t for me, your friends would have shat all over the carpet.
—You were the police of the house, we know that now, and when you had nobody to keep an eye on, you became sadder than either of us.
—Not due to the lack of visits. What made me so sad was that you both were so desperate for them. Pride and dignity were put aside to enable your little theatrical performances every weekend.
—It was your sister who made a fool of herself. I told her a thousand times not to be such a brown-noser, but she never listened.
—Blanca was just going with your flow. But you—you were the sickest of us all! On Friday nights, just before ten, when no one had showed up yet, you seemed as if the world were closing itself off from you. You would begin playing solitary, biting your nails, smoking as if in the waiting room of a psychiatric ward. And though you never said that you agonized because you were too proud to admit your addiction to visitations, you infected us both with the sense of failure, which crawled into our skin like a venomous gas. The doorbell would ring and a rainbow would appear. Blanca would run to put on some disc to simulate that we could have fun by ourselves; you would leave your solitary game half complete to receive whatever parasite—the fat Iglesias for example, who had the grace of a tumor—as if he were the family’s dearest friend. Of course, with such a reception, the fatso felt the right to burn the house down.
—And how did you want me to treat him if he had saved the night? It’s easy for you to criticize us because you never moved a finger to find visitors. You were a parasite to our parasites.
—Sure, but at least I had the sense of the ridiculous, a thing that the both of you lacked. I tried to make you understand that they were using you to drink for free. I warned you endlessly that we were headed toward destruction because of not making distinctions between visitors. Instead of receiving up to eighty or ninety people…
—There were two hundred and ten people at my graduation, don’t underestimate the record.
—Whatever. What I’m saying is that instead of receiving whomever, we ought to have stayed with a group of people more intimate to us.
—We tried it and it couldn’t be done. Just remember what happened with Celia and Alberto and the entire institute. They became such friends of ours that they were no longer visitors. How could they have broken our monotony if they formed part of it? We needed new faces.
—You should make a monument to the unknown imbecile, if you haven’t already in your solitude. You were completely devoted to the recently entered and failed to take care of the regulars. When at last we could trust them, you sent them to the dusty attic of old friendships.
—Don’t even try to tell me now that those close friends were a jewel. When they married, they disappeared.
—Fine, mom, but you were always poking your nose in where it wasn’t needed. You had fun playing matchmaker and only tolerated couples that you had formed. Raul Contreras stopped visiting us because you tried to separate him from his girlfriend.
—Oh, daughter, don’t talk about that which you know nothing of. She prevented him from coming to the house because she thought we wheedled him to get drunk. What the idiot didn’t know was that in the absence of a place where to healthily have fun her little angel would go to whores, a thing that brings me much joy.
—It was about time your inner bitch showed up. Now you'll tell us that you were a kind lady, surrounded by scoundrels. Do you actually think that you did nothing to chase off the people?
—I made the greatest of mistakes: to be generous.
—Bravo, Princess Diana!
—Laugh all you want, but it’s true. Your father, may he rest in peace, would tell me, “If you give love in exchange for companionship, be ready to lose both things.” I’m sick and tired of humanity—just sick and tired!
—I wish that were true, but you never learn. I just caught her coaxing some stranger who dialed the wrong number.
—Again? We’re gonna have to put a telephone in your coffin.
—Everyone takes comfort in what they can. You get drunk, your sister sleeps with taxi drivers and I make friends over the telephone. At least I stay in the game.
—Because you’re shallow. Visits are a comfort to those who can’t stand themselves.
—Don't be a smartass—we made the pact for a reason.
—The pact can go to hell. I’m bored of this mania of going in circles. All for what? To always reach the same conclusion: that we were left without visitors because we loved them too much?
—Not just them. We loved each other more when we had visits. As a little girl, I got used to having two families: one that was happy—the one that showed their face in public, and the other, deflated from lack of spectators. Admit it, mom—you were only kind to me in front of everyone else. And not because you were a hypocrite. You really did care for me, but only under the condition that there were witnesses to your maternal love.
—I preferred you without the mask you would use in public. Alone with your depressions you were unbearable, like all mothers, but when you came on stage, you would exude a grotesque charm. You were too vehement a hostess. You would harass the visitors with your care, smother them with sympathy, and you wouldn’t allow them to leave early because you were terrified of the next day, of the ashtrays crammed with butts, of the dirty and empty theatre of the hangover with its lights off.
—You're making a neurotic out of me. Are you actually suggesting I never loved the visits? No, son, I did love them, as cheesy as it may sound. I had enough affection in me to share it with many people. I couldn’t limit it to the few friends I had. I had to make new ones and add them to the circle…
—You let it grow so big that it burst. At one point, we didn’t even know half of the visitors. The friends of a relative of the boss of someone known to us would come.
—And what did the genealogical tree of each visitor matter? The beauty was in not knowing where they had come from.
—Some had come straight from jail. Remember Chongano, that drunkard who turned out to be cop and who started firing bullets in the kitchen?
—He was just some gatecrasher, one in a million. The majority were decent people.
—Wake up, mom. Blanca’s egging you on. Take advantage of it and tell her that the decent ones ended up being the most ungrateful.
—Ok fine, I tell her that and then what? They came to get drunk just like everyone else. Here, they could do what their loving mothers wouldn’t let them do at home for fear of staining the chairs in the room. In the good days, they would visit us every weekend, but when we started losing popularity, they vanished without a trace. Where are they now, those darlings?
—They were spooked by your aggressions. When they returned after one year of absence, you insulted them as if they had signed a contract to visit us for life. You told Ernesto Cuéllar that his father was a political scumbag.
—And a good thing I did—maybe he was a thief! You, on the other hand, would have received Ernesto with open arms after he abandoned us for six years. You acted like a visit beggar, Blanca. At least I didn’t sell my forgiveness cheaply.
—Too bad nobody could buy it from you! During the past few years our get-togethers seemed like group therapy. Everyone would listen to you vent your rage against those who stopped coming. Sometimes you would say terrible things about people before knowing them.
—I anticipated the ungrateful.
—You wanted full possession of the visitors.
—I wanted reciprocity.
—An inhuman reciprocity. You wanted to govern their lives, to impose your advice as if they were dogmas.
—It’s ok, I’m a monster. It’s my fault they ran away. Do the same and leave me in peace.
—Don’t get upset. What would happen to you if we break the pact after one of your tantrums?
—Let it break. Forced visits are no visits at all.
—Mom’s right, this doesn’t work anymore. When I left the house for good, I thought I would do you all a favor by no longer being the sad family member and by converting myself into a visitor. But routine has made the trick lose its flavor.
—You should have actually stuck to your word and not expected anything in return. That's what took the sincerity out of the game. I noticed that mom preferred you as a visitor and so I also left the house to not be at a disadvantage.
—With a little bit of good faith, we could have lived happily, but with envious women like you, it’s impossible. Mom complained that I would visit you more than her and when I started to visit her two times a week, you felt like a nobody. The fact that we had fallen into the pact in the first place is due to your nonsense.
—And for your mania of bureaucratizing everything! I was happy thinking that my children visited me because they wanted to, but when you placed that fucking rule of making it three times a week so that we could visit each other equitably, the spontaneity went to hell. Now I have neither children nor visitors.
—Because you do nothing on your end. Just imagine casually meeting after a year of not seeing each other.
—I can't. We’re the Holy Trinity: one true solitude in three distinct persons. When I’m with you two I feel like a freak. I hear you both speak, and I hear my own voice. You even hinder my suffering.
—I feel the same way, mom, and as I’m not a masochist, I’m going to leave now. It pains me to tell you that I have a real visitor tomorrow.
—Ramón Celis. I ran into him in the metro and he told me that he really wanted to have a drink with me.
—With you? But Ramón is my soul brother. He asked for me, didn’t he? Admit it: You wanted to steal my visitor!
—Excuse me, the two of you, but I love Ramón as if I had given birth to him. He has to visit me first. If you dare receive him, Rodolfo, I will never speak another word to you again.
—That's your problem. Stay with Blanca and visit each other until you die.
—Don’t leave, let’s make an agreement: Have Ramón over, but later bring him to my house.
—I’m not willing to share the only visitor I’ve had in years.
—Not even for 500 pesos? I can write you a check right now.
—I offer double, and in cash, but that he stays with me until dawn.
—Save your money, mom. You’re going to need it to pay for a psychiatrist. Ramón’s visit is not for sale.
—So get out, but I warn you of one thing: Don’t come begging for forgiveness when you’re dying of cirrhosis.
—And don’t call me when you’re dying of boredom. Goodbye, bitter ladies!
—Ok, so your brother ended up being a traitor.
—You don’t think he made up Ramón’s visit, do you?
—Could be. I’ve had imaginary visits for some time now. You know what? They entertain me more than you do.
—You should’ve told me that before. Do you think I visit you because I want to? No, mom. I visit you out of compassion.
—Well, save it. I don’t want your pity any longer.
—Oh, no? Well then, goodbye. When you need some help, please let me know. I’d like to have the pleasure of denying it to you.
—Thanks a lot, but for now the only request I have is for you to get the fuck out of here.
—Mind you that I’m leaving because you kicked me out. See you never!
—Go already. What are you doing there standing? . . . Are you crying? Please, daughter, have the good grace of leaving without being melodramatic.
—I’m not crying for you. It made me sad to see the “welcome” matt.
—Well, leave it where it is and close the door. Compassion . . . Let them go to hell with their compassion. What do those assholes think—that I can’t visit myself?
Translated by Hanna Niklewicz
Enrique Serna began his career as a writer for popular Mexican soap operas (telenovelas) in the 1990s. He moved on to publish several novels, among them El miedo a los animales, El seductor de la patria (Mazatlán Prize), Ángeles del abismo (Colima Prize), and La sangre erguida (Antonin Artaud Prize); as well as collections of short stories such as Amores de segunda mano (where “The Last Visit” is found). Gabriel García Márquez called Serna one of Mexico’s best short-story writers. Additionally, the author has published three books of essays and writes a monthly article for the literary magazine, Letras libres.
In 2008, Hanna Niklewicz packed her bags and bid adieu to the United States, where she was born and raised. The ten years plus she has spent in Guadalajara, Mexico have proven fulfilling and productive; she has written a collection of short stories, translated several short works of fiction from various Mexican writers (among them, Ignacio Mondaca), and in 2016, undertook a graduate degree in Translation & Interpretation at the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara. She also realized that her family’s East European (Polish) heritage prepared her well for embracing the Mexican culture (she sees compelling parallels between the two).
In our thirteenth issue, we feature two innovative, hard-to-define figures of Latin American letters: from the present, Mexican writer Mario Bellatin, and from the past, Chilean writer Juan Emar. Together with these authors, we highlight Latin American theatre for the first time with a script by Ramón Griffero, Nahuatl-language poetry by Martín Tonalmeyotl, plus interviews, book reviews, exclusive previews, and more from writers including Rosario Castellanos, César Aira, and Salgado Maranhão.