When I was small, smaller than I am today, I had a friend I chatted with all the time. He didn’t know what I was; I don’t think he even knew how old I was. I think he thought I was twice his age. Eventually, he said he wanted to meet, but I couldn’t accept. Over time, he stopped talking to me: There are people who need to see, who need to touch, not just their lovers but also their friends, their world. Anyway: I appreciate your agreeing to chat via this medium. Should we start, or do you want to wait? I need you to let me know so I won’t make a fool of myself: My face is enough.
We can start whenever you want. What’s important is that you feel comfortable talking. We can cut whatever we need to.
Do you accept one-line interviews? Don’t pay any attention to me, I'm nervous. It’s dark where I’m typing; I’m hypersensitive to light, but I still need it. To this day I don’t know how to speak out loud; I can only type; I even communicated online when I was small. But I guess that's part of what people want to know. I guess it's time to start the interview for real, no?
Okay, here comes the first question: To whom do you owe the circumstances in which you were born?
I am what I am thanks to my mother. I don’t know whether to be grateful or not, but without a doubt I owe it to her. Would I have been a normal baby? There’s where the road splits: those who think that our identity is based on a womb prior to our birth and those who think that we are only the result of our experience on earth. If the first option is true, then I suffered unnecessarily, and the world is an absurd place. If the second option were true, I would have been a normal person, and that terrifies me even more. I feel comfortable as the exception, although somehow, we’re all exceptions to something. Someone told me not too long ago about a sign that said: “I hope something strange happens.” It would be strange if something normal happened.
It’s significant that you’ve not mentioned the doctor.
People need to understand something. The doctor was, above all, a gentleman. I remember one occasion in particular, when I was still in my mother's womb. The doctor was the one who prepared me for what was going to happen, who told me that there was another world that was the normal one. Have you heard people say it’s important for parents to talk to the belly? Well, it works. I have no memory of a time where someone didn’t talk to me, and he always talked to me, in fact, more than my mother. Thanks to his innovations I was allowed to live, and in a dignified way. That’s no small thing. Today the doctor is in jail, and I’m at the mercy of my circumstance. The worst part is I never knew who turned him in.
They say the doctor was a baby broker who kidnapped you while you were inside your mother. Is it true that you’re the beneficiary of his will?
Those are two different things, which are maliciously conflated. Yes, I’m his beneficiary. So what? My biological father died in a highway accident during the first months of pregnancy; I suppose that's what led my mother to make the decision to keep me. Face with that loss and my mother’s decision, the doctor took me into his care. It’s true that he experimented, but the results are obvious. He saved me from drowning in my mother's womb: No other pregnancy has ever gone beyond the forty-first week. Absent a blood relationship he was better than a father. He even scheduled a cesarean during the last weeks, but my mother postponed it. What happened, happened. Had she accepted, if she had not postponed it out of selfishness, she’d still be alive today.
Is it possible that your mother may have had a psychotic break when she made that decision?
If she did have a breakdown, it’s because she had no other alternative. It's like a car’s gearbox: some have first and second, others have a fourth and fifth. Faced with the same stimulus, or the same amount of energy, one motor burns out, and the other doesn’t. My mother's motor burned out when she decided not to give birth to me, but her willpower kept her going.
Have you ever driven a car?
No, never. I’m more of a dwarf than a dwarf, littler than a little person. I’d have to pilot a human robot to even reach the pedals. I’d love to pilot a robot
How old are you?
Eight years and one month since the day I was born.
How long did your gestation period last?
I had a gestation period of five years and ten months.
How long have you been alive in all?
Twelve years and eleven months. And you? How old are you?
And how many months?
Let me see. Thirty-nine years and seven months.
So if you had a normal gestation, you’re forty years and six months old.
I’ve already reached forty? I should have bought myself a convertible.
You've been here for a long time: Having a birthday means completing a year. When women turn thirty, they suffer unnecessarily; they’ve arrived at thirty when they turn twenty-nine, that is, when they completed twenty-nine. Birthdays are always ridiculous. We should keep track from the day we were conceived; everything else is a lie. Don’t we have experiences inside our mother's womb? Aren’t we already a growing ball of flesh and nerves? What value is there in leaving the placenta? The medieval practice of managing to survive another year. Without being born, I had more of a right to celebrate a revolution around the sun than you. Of course, while I was in there, I didn’t know or care how many revolutions I’d made around the sun.
Your stance of life from conception seems very similar to that of many religious sects. Does that mean you're against abortion?
Religion never knew what to do with me, and I never knew what to do with religion. Abortion? Sure, but call it euthanasia. They are liquidating a living being, just like someone who eats hamburgers should understand that they’re grinding up a cow to do it. I’m totally in favor of euthanasia. I’d have to be really stupid to oppose euthanasia: perhaps I’ll need it in a few years. It's insane that we don’t allow for ourselves what we give to our dogs. Please, consider me a dog.
Did it hurt to be born?
I envy the plasticity of animals, who exit their mothers’ bellies whole. Human babies are relatively underdeveloped compared to other animals: almost blind, with virtually no mobility so they are able to pass through the cervix. As you well know, I didn’t come out through a uterus. I caused my mother to burst, and I fell to the ground. I’m not going to celebrate the anniversary of having killed my mother; nor do I think I was born that day. Being born is overrated: too much light, too cold.
What do you remember about that time in the womb?
I mostly remember sensations. Except for certain colors, I’m practically blind; the computer translates your words into sounds. I’d like to emphasize that this experience which is so unusual for you has always been normal for me. Until relatively recently, I had spent more time inside than outside. It's not a big change: the slightest cold could kill me, so I stay in that other kind of inside that is my heated room.
And your birth?
I’m important because babies erase the memory of their birth. As far as I know, I’m the only person who has a memory of being born, although like every early memory it grows more blurred every day. I’ll soon lose that memory, and then I’ll just be a freak. Maybe one day science will allow us to remember everything from the moment of conception. Why not? I find it hard to believe in so much waste. How would our relationship with our parents change if we could remember how they treated us when we were so small, all the sacrifices they made. It would do me good also: I could better remember everything the doctor did for me. In this aspect, I’m as normal and as defective as the rest.
Even so, you're smarter than most.
The maturation of my frontal lobes continued inside the womb, just like any other person; it’s a coin toss. Anyway, it’s assumed that I’m smart: the goddess Athena was born fully grown from the head of Zeus. And fully armored. And I have trouble holding a fork. I’m also a virgin, why deny it? Oh, you got quiet.
There are solutions…
How much are you willing to ask? Actually, your question is: when does it become salacious and should I stop asking? But as it turns out I’m an enthusiast of the Truth, a hooligan for Truth at all costs. Perhaps you’re hesitating to ask me what I ask myself every day when I get up.
We can delete this question from the final version, if you want.
I probably won’t live long, like everyone; I should probably express myself now. The truth is, almost all of my muscles are atrophied. I’m writing all of this with a single finger. It’s enough to type thousands of words, but in bed a single finger isn’t very much. Sometimes I think about it, especially when my doctors, the new ones, recommend that I put my affairs in order and say goodbye to my loved ones, something fortunately that happens every six months. Can a prostitute sleep with a minor without breaking the law? Unless that prostitute is also a minor. I refuse this aberration; I’m all I need.
Did you communicate with your mom?
Every once in a while, I sit in the dark and listen to the recordings of her conversations with the doctor. I jump every time I hear things like “I feel complete, I wish this would last forever” or “I fulfill myself as a woman gestating.” I wonder if there were previous cases like mine and the technology simply didn’t allow it.
Did she wonder about your will?
Let's suppose she did: She knows that not being born causes an immense harm to her fetus, not necessarily physically but psychologically, but still she can’t make up her mind to give birth. She perceives that it hurts the baby not to be born on-time, but she knows she needs it inside. She thought about it, dismissed it, without guilt. Because my mother was intelligent and had the ego resources necessary to face reality, to work, and everything that goes with that, then I lean more toward perversion. What defines perversion is “I know about that, but no matter.” Only an extraordinarily perverse mother would want to continue her pregnancy forever. And yet… my greatest sadness in life isn’t having been born deformed, or having been away from the outside world for so long. Those are circumstances. My greatest sadness is that I never met her. I was her heart, her inner life, but I never knew her. I lived inside her without ever touching her.
I read recently that according to the laws of physics we can’t really touch anything. The atoms are made of a positive nucleus and a cloud of negative electrons. When two surfaces with the same charge get too close, the electrons repel each other and never touch each other. The greater the force, the more they move away. There’s always a distance between the atoms, and therefore there’s always a distance between the objects.
There you have it: Science is always a consolation for failures. If you don’t mind, perhaps we could continue this another day: My favorite nurse has arrived, and it's time to cut this bonsai’s nails.
Translated by George Henson
Martín Felipe Castagnet was born in La Plata, Argentina in 1986. He holds a PhD in Literature from the National University of La Plata and is currently Associate Editor of The Buenos Aires Review. His debut novel, Bodies of Summer, was translated into English and French. He has been studying Japanese for ten years.
George Henson is a literary translator and a 2021-2023 Tulsa Artist Fellow. His translations include Cervantes Prize laureate Sergio Pitol’s Trilogy of Memory and Mephisto’s Waltz, The Heart of the Artichoke by fellow Cervantes recipient Elena Poniatowska, and Luis Jorge Boone’s Cannibal Nights. His translations have appeared variously in The Paris Review, The Literary Review, BOMB, The Guardian, Asymptote, among others. In addition, he is a contributing editor for World Literature Today and the translation editor-at-large for its sister publication Latin American Literature Today.
LALT No. 6 goes from the gripping true stories of literary journalism to the strange worlds of fantastic short stories and graphic literature. We highlight chronicles by Colombian journalist Alberto Salcedo Ramos, speculative fiction in a dossier curated by Mexican writer Alberto Chimal, and Yucatec Maya poetry and prose in our ongoing Indigenous Literature series.