From Moldy Strawberries
Coming on May 17, 2022 from Archipelago Books.
For Jane Araújo, a Magra
(To be read to the soundtrack of Angela Ro Ro)
What about Sri Lanka? she asks me, dark and fierce, and I answer, Why not? Undeterred, she continues: At least you could send me postcards from there, so people would think wow, how did he end up in Sri Lanka, what a crazy guy that one, huh, and they’d die of saudade, isn’t that what you care about? A kind of saudade: and you in Sri Lanka, pretending to be Rimbaud, who never actually went that far, so everyone would weep, oh how sweet he was and we never offered him enough to make him stay with us, palm trees and pineapples. Talking incessantly, she fans herself with an Angela Ro Ro record while she smokes incessantly and drinks incessantly her cheap vodka, no ice, no lime. As for me, her voice so hoarse, I’ll stick around and protest, spray paint against the nuclear plants, still hungover, a monk day, a slut day, a Joplin day, a Mother Teresa day, a shit day, while I keep that stupid eight-hour job to pay for that authentic leather chair where your royal highness has parked your precious ass, and this exotic Indian redwood coffee table where I’m resting my feet, bare and tired again, at the end of another week of useless battles, escapist fantasies, weak orgasms, late payments. But we’ve tried everything, I say, and she says, Yes, of cooooooourse, we’ve tried everything, even fucking, because after so many borrowed books, so many films seen together, so many sociopolitical existential blahblah shared points of view, it could only lead to this: the bed. We really tried, but it was a bust. What happened, what in the name of God happened, I kept thinking afterwards as I lit a cigarette with another, and I didn’t want to think about it but I couldn’t get it out of my mind and your limp dick and my nipples which didn’t even get hard, for the first time ever, you told me, and I believed you, for the first time ever, I told you, but I don’t know if you believed me as well. I want to say yes, that I believed her, but she doesn’t stop, so much mental spiritual moral existential attraction and none of it physical, I didn’t want to accept that was all it was: that we were different, oh we were so different, we were better, we were more, we were superior, we were chosen, we were vaguely sacred but in the end my nipples wouldn’t get hard and your dick didn’t go up. Too much culture kills people’s bodies, man, too many films, too many books, too many words, I could only consume you by masturbating, there was the entire Library of Alexandria keeping our bodies apart, I stuck my finger up my pussy night after night saying deeper, sweetheart, burst with me, fuck me, then I’d flip over onto my stomach and cry on my pillow because back then there was still all this guilt disgust shame, but now it’s fine, The Hite Report liberated fucking. Not that it was too little love, quite the opposite, you told me later, it was too much of it, did you really believe that? In that filthy bar where we used to drown our impotence with buckets of idiotic juvenile lyricism, and I said no, dear, it’s just that being the bored-bourgeois-good-intellectuals that we are, your thing is men and my thing is women, we could even make a great couple, like Virginia Woolf and her lover, what was her name again? Vita, right, Vita Sackville-West and her fag husband, now calm down, darling, I have nothing against fags, would you pass me the vodka, what? And do I look like I have money for Wyborowa? No, I don’t have anything against lesbians, I don’t have anything against degenerates in general, I don’t have anything against whatever sounds like: an attempt. I ask for a cigarette and she tosses the pack at my face like she’s throwing a brick, I’ve been getting anxious, my friend, dear old word that one, anxiety, two decades of everyday life but I get, I get, I have something tight here in my chest, a tussle, a thirst, a heaviness, oh don’t start with these stories of we-betray-all-our-ideals, I’ve never had any fucking ideals of any kind, I just wanted to save what’s mine, what an egocentric elitist capitalist thing to do, I just wanted to be happy, dumb, fat, ignorant, and totally happy, man. It could have worked out between us, or not, I don’t even know what that means, but back then we hadn’t figured out yet that you wanted to take it up the ass and I wanted to lick pussy, oh how adorable our books by Marx, then Marcuse, then Reich, then Castañeda, then Laing under the arm, all the foolish colonized dreams in our little idiotic heads, scholarship at the Sorbonne, tea with Simone and Jean-Paul in Paris in the ’50s, then the ’60s in London listening to here comes the sun here comes the sun, little darling, then the ’70s in New York dancing disco at Studio 54, now in the ’80s we’re here, chewing on this nasty thing and unable to swallow or spit it out or even to forget the sour taste in our mouths. I’ve read everything, man, I’ve tried macrobiotics psychoanalysis drugs acupuncture suicide yoga dance swimming jogging astrology roller-skating Marxism Candomblé gay clubs ecology, all that’s left is this knot in my chest, so now what do I do? I’m not copying Pessoa but in each corner of my room there’s an image of Buddha, a picture of Oshun, another of baby Jesus, a poster of Freud, sometimes I light a candle, pray, burn incense, smudge sage, ward off the evil eye with salt in every corner, I’m not asking you for a solution, you’ll get to enjoy the people of Sri Lanka and later will send me a postcard telling me whatever, a night like last night, by the river, there must be some river over there, a murky river, full of dark reeds, but yesterday by the river, without making any plans, suddenly, completely by chance, I saw a guy with olive skin and slanted eyes who was… Huh? Of course there’s some dignity to all of this, the question is where, not in this dark city, not on this poor, putrid planet, inside me? Now, don’t start with self-knowledge-redeemers again, I already know everything about myself, I’ve dropped acid more than fifty times, I’ve done six years of psychoanalysis, I got sick of clinics, remember? You’d bring me Argentine apples and Italian photo comics, Rossana Galli, Franco Andrei, Michela Roc, Sandro Moretti, and I’d look at you full of Mandrax and drool sob I lost my joy, my night fell, they stole my hope, while you, generous and positive, touched my shoulder with your hand and in spite of everything lively saying over and over, react, companheira, react, the precise motivation behind your little privileged head, your creative po-ten-tial, your left-libertarian lucidity, blahblahblah. People turned into corpses decomposing in front of me, my skin was sad and dirty, the nights never ended, no one touched me, but I reacted, got unsick, went back to what they say is normal, and where’s the motivation, where’s the fight, where’s the creative po-ten-tial? Do I kill, not kill, quench my thirst with dykes at Ferro’s Bar, or get drunk alone on a Saturday as I wait for the phone to ring, and it never rings, in this apartment I can only afford with the sweat of the creative po-ten-tial I pull out of my ass, for eight hours each day for that fucked-up multinational. But, I try to say, and she cuts me off, gently, Of course it’s not your fault, love, we fell into the exact same mousetrap, the only difference is that you think you can escape, and I want to wallow in the pain of the metal stuck deep in my dry throat, pass me the cigarette, no, I’m not desperate, not more than I’ve always been, nothing special, baby, I’m not drunk or crazy, I’m lucid as fuck and I confidently know I don’t have a way out, don’t worry too much, dear, after you leave I’ll have a cold shower, some warm milk with eucalyptus honey, ginseng, and Bromazepam, then I’ll lie down, then go to sleep, then I’ll wake up and live for a week on sencha and brown rice, absolutely saintly, absolutely pure, absolutely clean, then I’ll have all the drinks, I’ll snort five grams, crash my car into a wall or call the suicide hotline at four in the morning or pester some fool while whimpering things like I-need-a-reason-to-live-so-much-and-I-know-this-reason-is-only-inside-me-blahblahblah-blahblahblah, until the sun comes up behind the dark buildings, but don’t worry, I won’t take any drastic measures, beyond keeping going, is there anything more self-destructive than persisting without faith? Pat me gently on my head, on my heart, she stops and asks, I had so much love once, I need it so much, so much, man, I haven’t been allowed. I stretch out my arms and she’s suddenly so small pressed against my chest, asking me if she’s really ugly and sort of slutty and too old and totally drunk, I didn’t use to have these lines around my eyes, I didn’t use to have these creases around my mouth, I didn’t use to look like such a tired dyke, and I tell her again that no, that she looks great like that, disheveled and alive, she asks me to put on some music and I choose Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat major, No. 2, I want to leave her like this, sleeping in the dark on this old couch, next to the wilted poppies, absorbed in the distant lullaby from the piano, but she tenses up, violently, asks me to play Angela Ro Ro again, so I flip the record over, my love my great love, we dizzily walk to the bathroom together, where I hold her head over the toilet while she throws up, and without meaning to I throw up too, at the same time, the two of us in an embrace, sour particles over our tongues when our mouths meet, but she flushes the toilet and pushes me toward the living room, toward the door, asking me to go, and kicks me out to the hallway saying, Don’t forget to send me that postcard from Sri Lanka, that murky river, that olive skin, may something very beautiful happen to you, I wish you a lot of faith, in anything, it doesn’t matter what, like that faith we once had, wish me something very beautiful too, anything wonderful, anything that makes me believe in anything again, that makes us believe in everyone again, that takes away this rotten taste of failure from my mouth, of defeat with no grandeur, there’s no way, companheiro, we got lost in the middle of the road and we never had a map, no one gives rides anymore and night is about to fall. The lock turns in the door. I need to lean against the wall so I won’t fall. Behind the wood of the door, mixed with the piano and Angela’s hoarse voice, I can hear her say over and over that everything’s fine, everything is going along fine, just fine, fine. Axé, axé, axé, I repeat until the elevator arrives, axé, axé, axé, odara!
Translated by Bruna Dantas Lobato
Caio Fernando Abreu (1948-1996) was one of the most influential Brazilian writers of the 1970s and ’80s. The author of twenty books, including twelve story collections and two novels, he was awarded major literary prizes, including the prestigious Jabuti Prize for Fiction a total of three times. During the military dictatorship in Brazil, his homoerotic writing was heavily censored. In 1994, while exiled in France, he tested HIV positive. He died two years later in his hometown.
Bruna Dantas Lobato is a Brazilian writer and translator based in St. Louis. Her translation of Caio Fernando Abreu's story collection Moldy Strawberries received a 2019 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant and is forthcoming from Archipelago Books in 2021.
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