From Ischia

 

LALT Translation Editor Denise Kripper moderates a bilingual reading and discussion with Gisela Heffes and Grady C. Wray, author and translator of Ischia, The Mobile Zero of Its Mouth, and Crocodiles at Night, sponsored by LALT and Rice University.
Ischia is a portrait of an unnamed narrator who, along with her friends, wanders through the margins of different cities, especially Buenos Aires, searching for something that they don’t know and that seems unfathomable. An intricate, gutsy, and raw novel, Ischia is populated with outsiders who navigate the vicissitudes of life in Argentina and the world. Ischia, the first-person female narrator, is the youngest in a family of seven brothers and relates her experiences as she waits for a ride to the Argentine international airport. Told through the dizzying would-have-could-have of conditionals, Ischia overlaps the past, present, and future of three young characters defined by a lack of certainty or expectations. These three lives unfold between disenchantment and humor, and the narration transports the reader into a universe of memories, desires, and dreams. The novel advances lyrically through themes both solemn and lighthearted, shaping the contours of imaginary, hilarious, and sometimes surreal experiences.
 
Heffes’ novel is forthcoming from Deep Vellum later this year.

 


 

The city filled with tiny, glimmering lights: It’s late, I said to myself. In summer, it gets dark around eight thirty. But Lara still isn’t here. No call, no sign of life. Why was she late? I wondered what could’ve happened. I tried to convince myself that it was just a stupid setback, the bus didn't come, the subway broke down, a protest blocked the streets and stopped traffic. I was a little afraid. Lara hates people who show up late, and she’s usually the first to arrive. She hates wasting time. What’s more, when we have to travel, she usually takes a couple of hours to pack. Tomás was waiting for us at the airport. The plane was leaving in four hours. I began to imagine things, all sorts of things. My mind was racing a mile a minute, and I couldn't stop thinking that something bad had happened to Lara. I tried to calm down. For some reason we always dream up tragedies, accidents, or someone's sorrow. I’m not worried, I repeated silently. Perhaps she told me something I didn’t hear when she was leaving and I was brushing my teeth. I tried to remember everything we said to each other before we said goodbye. I found no hole in the conversation, no word floating alone in space dropped down to explain all the other things that were happening. My anxiety was growing, and I didn’t have enough fingers or lungs to handle so many cigarettes. I looked at the wall and questioned the gigantic white mass that enveloped the entire room. I looked at the baseboards, at the papers piled behind the door, at the passport, at the lamps, at the wooden chairs. But, neither the wall, nor the baseboards, nor the papers piled behind the door, nor the passport, nor the wooden chairs were in any condition to answer me. I didn’t find a single answer, not one fucking answer in the whole house. I sat on the wooden chair trying to smash the seat with my body, and then I decided to wait until Lara felt like she was good enough to show up. I would wait until I grew tired of waiting. Then I’d grow bored and open some book while far away I’d hear a pretty uncertain rock band as they rehearsed and made all sorts of mistakes. I’d open the fridge, and it would be empty: only three bottles of beer that had been my only concern when I went to the store and a can of Pringles potato chips, Sour Cream & Onion, the ones I like so much. I’d open one of the bottles and pour the beer into my Winnie-the-Pooh mug that one of my brothers brought me from Disney when he went on his honeymoon with that woman who he says is his wife but to me is a big fat zero. I’d take a long drink of beer and lick my lips with a sigh of great satisfaction because the beer would be really cold and I’d be really thirsty. After drinking and drinking for a while, I’d feel happy or strange. I’d begin to sing really loud and dance in the middle of the room because some artificial happiness would overcome me in this sporadic, alcoholic stupor. I’d think about how artificial and ephemeral everything was, definitely, but it wouldn’t matter too much: I’d continue on with my feet in the air and my mind on Mars. When I got the sensation that my feet were screaming at me for a little rest, I’d listen to them with great affection and special care, and I’d lie down on the old unwaxed hardwood floor, with my eyes on the ceiling and my mouth like someone who had died. I’d change the CD because The Beatles would begin to get old, although The White Album is probably one of my favorites, and I’d listen to “Foxy Lady,” “Hey Joe,” and a bit more of that Hendrix Anthology that Lara bought one time in a tiny record shop in the Moreno neighborhood because she didn’t have anything to listen to in her portable disk player, or something like that. After, I’d change to “Ziggy Stardust” and “Space Oddity” and “China Girl” and “Jean Genie.” That would get old, and I’d change Bowie for Velvet Underground. After a while I’d get up off the floor, worried about Lara, who’s like a sister to me and who’d call me desperate from a public phone in Buenos Aires to tell me that the cops had shown up at Tomás’ mother's and if he called I should tell him to come here, that she was already on her way, that she was going to try to get back the stash she left at his house, but that if she couldn’t, she'd come right away. Really, she didn’t tell me all that in that way on the phone: she halfway told me and in code, but I deduced the rest thanks to my experience at deciphering this special coded language that, really, everyone understands today. But worried as I’d be, I’d run circles around the table, I’d walk to the old Siam refrigerator and with my half-trembling hands grab another bottle of really cold beer that I’d immediately open with a plastic bottle opener that had Carlos Gardel’s face on it. I’d serve myself in my inseparable Winnie-the-Pooh mug that one of my brothers brought me from Disney when he went to that strangest of places with that strangest of women who he said was his wife and who, to me, was nothing but a big fat zero. Then I’d pour that piss-colored liquid into the enormous belly of Winnie-the-Pooh, and I’d notice that the alcohol, in some way, had an effect on me. As I noticed it, I’d go over to the CD player and change the disk because I was fed up with Santana, and I’d play Miles Davis’ CD or, at best, B. B. King’s: The CD I gave to Lucio, another one of my brothers, for his birthday, and who I knew ahead of time was not going to like it. I bought that CD for myself in an indirect way because this dear brother of mine ran out of time to exchange it, and he ended up giving it to me. Bah, really he said he’d loan it to me, but what’s the difference? For quite some time I’d decided not to return anything that anyone lent me, to steal and not pay for any ticket, book, or pair of panties unless it was essential. Anyway, Lara was taking care of that. But now she wasn’t coming and I’d think that after pressing the little square button on the CD player, where in the center you could read the little letters “play,” I would go to that square attached to the wall that some people would use as a bookshelf but Lara and I used as a dresser, paper catcher, cupboard, chest-of-drawers, knick-knack cabinet and wine rack, and I’d look for, among that inhospitable heap of objects, an enormous cardboard box where I kept all the pictures. So, little by little, while Miles Davis tuned the sounds that grabbed on to the night, I’d slowly lift the lid of the cardboard box, and I’d be afraid all over again. I would feel that my heart was paralyzed because ever since I was little, nothing had scared me more than memories. So, I’d close my eyes and fill my mug with beer. I’d look very seriously at the little eyes of Winnie-the-Pooh, and I’d gulp it all down to boost my courage. But before that, I’d worry a little more about Lara, and also about Tomás. I’d make sure the front door, the only one of course, was closed tightly, and I’d look out the window to the street, just in case there was a patrol car or some suspicious vehicle or some cop camouflaged as a volunteer fireman. Certain that everything was under control, I’d go back to the box, but not without first taking another swig of my beer. I’d be ready to sit down, once again, on the wood floor, when I’d notice that my belly had swollen up so much that it would keep me from sitting down. I’d decide to go to the bathroom because if I did anything else my bladder would burst into a thousand pieces. I’d get to the bathroom door and clumsily turn on the light, since the alcohol would suddenly show me that it could have some kind of effect on me, but I would laugh. After finding the light switch, I’d hurt my elbow on the doorlatch, because I wouldn’t be paying much attention, and I’d bump up against it. After rubbing my elbow a little and laughing, I’d think, like my cousin Gonzalo, that hitting my elbow would bring good luck. Then I’d forget, since my bladder would push me to the toilet. First, I’d raise the toilet seat, because if I didn’t it would be a filthy mess, and once the seat was steady and leaning against the wall, I’d sit on the edge of the toilet and take a piss. I’d take a piss so long that soon it would scare me. It would scare me to think that maybe this piss might never end and I’d remain condemned to live forever in this little two by two bathroom that smelled like a sewer. Tomás, Lara, and I still had not agreed on when the plumber and the workers could come and everyone together would start ripping things apart and unclogging the pipes that for five months would have filled up with hair and toilet paper. While my piss kept on coming, I’d regret not having a magazine at my fingertips. I’d want with all my soul to have a cooking magazine handy. So that, while my piss continued, I’d make the best of it and learn how to cook a delicious dish of, for example, Valencian style seafood with rice to entertain all my friends. Nevertheless, in the middle of that clamorous piss, the telephone would ring. Then, something like desperation would grip me, since the piss would still not have stopped and on the other end of the telephone it could be Lara, or Tomás, or the cops. I’d think that the police never call you before they arrive, nor do they knock twice on any door. Then I’d know for sure it had to do with Lara. I’d hurry to get rid of the rest of the piss that I’d suppose still floated inside me, and I’d quickly stretch my long arm, very quickly, to grab a piece of toilet paper with my right hand. I’d notice, not without a certain amount of amazement, that there was no more toilet paper; then I’d look around for any miserable roll I could find, while the phone kept on ringing and the piss didn't end. When I found it, my clumsiness would once again trip over itself proving my inability to undo the very end of the paper from the rest of the roll. I’d pull it out in the midst of an attack of exasperated irritation, without ceasing to insult the ringing telephone that would begin to hammer on the back of my head. Once I had dried the cavity that some call “cunt” with the piece of toilet paper, although it still dripped slightly and continued to wet the wood floor with the never-ending and yellow piss like the beer, I’d throw myself towards the telephone that would still be shaking on top of a little three-legged Japanese table. When I got there, the telephone would stop ringing, but even so, and with everything that was happening, I’d lift up the receiver to note that on the other end they had already hung up.

Translated by Grady C. Wray

Languages

Megan McDowell in LALT No. 21
Number 21

In our twenty-first issue, we shine a spotlight on translation with a cover feature dedicated to Megan McDowell, the translator of many of Latin America’s best-known contemporary writers. Other features include a dossier of literary voices from Bolivia and a full set of fiction, poetry, essays, and interviews, plus exclusive translation previews and writing by Indigenous poets of the Wayuu, Shuar, and Quechua peoples.

Cover photo: Sebastián Escalona

Table of Contents

Editor's Note

Featured Translator: Megan McDowell

Dossier: Bolivian Literature

Brazilian Literature

Fiction

Poetry

Essays

Interviews

From World Literature Today

Indigenous Literature

Translation Previews and New Releases

Nota Bene