Traducido al inglés por Calla Smith
“The world not exist without meetings”
from Fernando, A Real Dog, by Hugo Ditaranto
Editorial Lumiere, Buenos Aires, 1997.
Chavez was a particular person; he always seemed surprised with his big eyes and useless lashes. His mouth a fissure in his face. He was tall and a little hunched, more than ever the day that he came to warn me.
"Fede, be careful. There are devils that come out of the little bathroom in the back."
"Yes, there at the back, and sometimes they jump over the patrician wall and come into your house.
A confused feeling griped me. The heat was intense and the truth is that that afternoon I didn't think that my neighbor would call.
“Relax, Chavez, they must be gone by now."
"Yes, I know,” he said, not very convinced. "The problem is that lately they make a lot more noise, especially the smallest ones, with the long tail."
"The ones with the long tail?'
"Yes, and they knock against the headboard of my bed. They open the bags of cement and spread it over the kitchen, and on top of all that they eat the matches, the pests!"
"And that’s not all!" He interrupted me. "They laugh all the time, and their laugh rings in your ears….."
I didn't say anything. The old man was telling me about devils while I reproached the banality of my existence!
He started to take care of the house next to mine about two months ago, and the few times we stumbled apron each other, when he rang the doorbell to ask for a little sugar or a few dollars, I had never seen him so excited.
I don't remember what my arguments were to calm him down, but in a little bit he was better.
After that, the night passed without anything strange happening, just a reminder to close the windows, and a brief check of the patrician wall at midnight, which, Chavez told me, the devils could jump over.
I remember that I stood there for a second, with the strap of the blinds in my hand, trying to see between the cracks, beyond the trees and the plants and stonework.
Later, I went to sleep.
The next day, as though a rope pulled at my neck, I spent several hours pecking through the wall that separated the houses.
I wanted to spy on my neighbor.
My eyes scanned the garden of the house and the small improvised bathroom in the back, made of wood and paneling with no door that you could see, and the toilet, like a stain on the floor, the hole that the devils came out off.
I looked uncountable times to see the old man, but Chavez never appeared.
Bored, I returned to the inner part of my house while I asked myself why my neighbor, a man from the country, Corrientes, Chavez had told me, had left.
Whatever the reason, Chavez was alone, and it must be difficult to work as a house-keeper in that house.
At night it was haunted. The darkness seemed to escape from the holes in the future windows and take over the screws and the sticks.
Inside, there was an unfinished stairway; further along, a door to nothing. Only one light blazed, alone, ephemeral, languid, the light of the candle in Chavez's room.
Around that time I heard that the old man didn't have a good reputation, he liked wine too much…and that he was homeless.
These mutterings didn't surprise me because they were partially true.
All the same, they didn't bother me, in the following months, Chavez and I talked a lot.
Over the wall, or in the sidewalk in front of the two houses, we would greet each other with a vague camaraderie and exchange a few words. In one of these meetings, he told me of his aversion to time.
"Well, it's the same for everyone,” I told him.
"Perhaps it’s a question of…" "No, no,” he interrupted me. "On top of that, you are an hour earlier than me."
He had an ability to harmonize my short days. There, sitting in the shade on a plastic chair that he brought from inside the house, his eyes full of surprise, he continued talking. "What did you say?,” I must have asked.
"Listen to me. Do I have to tell you everything twice?"
I remember that the people passed by and looked at him with distrust, and then at me with the same feeling.
"Don't get angry, Chavez, the thing is that it's hard to understand and…"
"That's why I want to explain it to you. Last night I set back the clocks; it was a decision that I owed myself; I set back the one that I have next to my bed and in the kitchen, that the old woman gave me.”
"But…it's as though you want to costume time!"
"Listen, I could live in the same time that you do, but I don't want to."
That summer afternoon I thought about Chavez's words. His hands waved in the air, drawing pirates and accompanying the conviction of his tone.
I asked again why he set back his clocks, why he fought against the time. But a grimace crossed his face.
I had hurt him.
It wasn't just the devils that bothered him. I was left with a feeling of repentance. I apologized, looking for his eyes, as though trying to make my excuses sincere in the physical world, too. But he only looked at me with sorrow.
We were silent. I don't know how much time passed, and I can't imagine what time it was in his time.
Looking around I told him suddenly how much it bothered me that my aunts gave me underwear and handkerchiefs for Christmas. Chavez smiled. Of course, it was an absurd confession, and while he stood up and turned around, he said that young people where swines and had no pity.
And the night was coming when the chat ended. And I remember that before leaving he had told me, with one hand in his mouth and as though it as a secrete:
"Do you know something, Fede? One hour isn't enough for me."
Many times I thought about Chavez and his words.
Even now, when I see the elderly that life lost, the solid repetition of the perverse cycle gives me chills. That cycle that in the loneliness that we deny all through life becomes irrefutable.
I remember the night that it happened.
I was enjoying my rest, the twisting between my sheets and the light of the moon like a witness between the curtains.
Suddenly: "Get out of there, damn it!"
It was just a shout, a shout like those that can't be described because only the person who shouted them knows about them.
And quickly afterward, invisible dogs materialized in fierce barks.
I joined in. I could feel my chest bulge outwards, blown up by my heart from the inside. I felt my way around the darkness and turned on a light and got up. I got to the door behind my house and looked at the wall separating us. Latter, I looked over, and I saw him.
With the brightness of the night over the ardent, Chavez, bending down behind a mountain screws, fights his battle.
"Now you are going to pay attention, pests!" he vociferated, and, with unforeseen strength, lifted a block of cement and threw it at his enemies.
I didn't know what to do. I was petrified in front of that man and his anger, and I got even more scared. Latter, in an incomprehensible time, Chavez, in his trench, snorted, and clenched his hand.
I called his name. He was suppressed. He looked everywhere with a certain suspicion in his eyes until he saw me and seemed to cheer up. So I climbed the parician wall, jumped, and went to went. I looked at Chavez. I saw his moist eyes. I saw him cry like a child.
"Come on, Chavez, its over,” I said.
That night, I helped his go back to bed. That meant staying
with him so that the devils didn't come back to do their business. I saw how he set back the clocks (during the day he adapted to the time of everyone else.) And he did it every night, so that the darkness wouldn't come.
Then I stayed at his side until he fell asleep. He slept like an angel.
And while I went back to my house I tried not to make any noise, thinking not only about not injuring myself when I jumped over the wall, but also about the shortcuts. I thought about shortcuts that allowed me to get closer and by doing that understand Chavez.
It was a question of poking my nose in. Like a mole. I wouldn't choose the augment of the people or the option of a straightjacket, as many did: I dared the fears. I dared to imagine a possibility where his daemons stopped bothering my new friend.
There was no time to loose. When I woke up the next morning, the first thing I did was run to the back of the house and peep over the wall.
I looked for the house-keeper but I didn't find him.
"Chavez, Chavez!" I called. But nothing. No clocks set back, no hidden matches or nighttime battles.
This time, things would be different, I promised myself. I decided to go out and call the old man from the sidewalk. I rang the doorbell but he didn't answer. I went back later. Probably Chavez was doing something.
During the day I looked over the short wall several times, but the old man never appeared.
And so, I still remember, I climbed to the top and jumped.
I felt strange. Why had I done it? There I was in that home, without permission and because of that, so different. And if Chavez discovered me?
I walked to the inner part and inspected the place. A vertigo that only dreams provoked assaulted me. There were holes everywhere. I thought I was walking on the inside of an enormous piece of cheese. And everything was grey and there was a lot of dirt.
A few minutes later, I arrived at the room were the house-keeper slept. I knew because, seen from the distance, it was the only one with furniture. A rancid odder hit my nose as soon as I stepped in the door. Everything was thrown around, but when I stopped in the chaos, I realized that it wasn't a one of the funny cases of someone who didn't have orderliness as one of his virtues. I felt, and that is the exact word to use, that there was fear in all of those scattered objects. There was panic in those socks and those papers and the dirty sheets. There was fear on that wardrobe, in that lone mirror on the table without any light.
Suddenly, I heard a sound.
Perhaps it was Chavez, I thought. I was forced to hide myself, but where could I if the house was so empty?
Later, the terror hit me, and I see the devils arrive in he middle of the night and wake Chavez and he, afraid, screams and they laugh and throw everything on the floor and he starts to cry out of despair and, while some of them hand from the windows, a woman I don't know comes and scolds Chavez and he says yes and lowers his head while the devils flee, terrified of the woman with hard gestures.
And suddenly I see the curtains of the room pulled down and I run out and go down the stairs because I know I am not alone in the house. I know it like when you sleep and sense that there is something else, and when I escape I see the black stain on the floor off the bathroom in the back and I don't want to look but I look and I don't want to get closer but I get closer and I am surrounded by all of the flies and I look inside the latrine and I don't want to continue but I do and later I run and run and I scale the wall and jump and not even my house is a refuge because they, too, can jump.
And the night again.
And while I went to bed I knew in that precise instant, in the house without windows or doors, Chavez would be filling the holes with the long boards and hiding the matches and the bags of cement. Chavez, in that very moment, would be running to the clocks to prevent the arrival of the devils.
But they arrived all the same, and if not, why the look of fear on Chavez’s face the next time I saw him ?
He was enduring a different kind of hangover from the one that he got from alcohol.
I told him that we should do something, that perhaps there was a solution to it all, but he didn't understand. He hardly yawned and rubbed his eyes.
So I asked if wanted a few mates.
The house-keeper's face lit up and he said yes, why not.
"If I tell you something, Fede, you won't tell anyone, will you?"
"Of course not, Chavez!"
And while he had started to talk, I discovered those details of the house that I hadn't seen the previous day. For example, the internal bathroom.
Through the hole that the sliding door left half-open, you could visualize the clean tiles and a stylish lavatory. Chavez was serving a mate when I asked about the bathroom, and he told that it was already ready and that there was another one in the first floor.
"So why don't you use one of those bathrooms instead of going all the way to the back of the house?" I asked.
Chavez lowered his head and told me to please not interrupt.
And in the time that I put to the side a bag of concrete and a spatula, he continued with his story.
"I arrived from school and saw my mother with the Bible in her hand- she always had a Bible in her hand-, and I asked her if God was in everything."
"Ahh that was a very good question, Chavez!" I said while I gathered a few things from the kitchen floor. "How old were you?"
"I don't know, ten or twelve."
It was then that I discovered hundreds of matches scattered everywhere, on the table of the kitchen, on the floor, on the empty pieces of furniture in the cupboards, and almost all of them bitten.
Chavez, from some far away place, continued:
"My mother looked at me as though she was angry, and said she would send me to cata, cata, catasism, yes, because God was in heaven and not in everything. After that I asked if he was in the clouds, then”. I continued trying to organize the anarchy of small things. A shudder passed over my body. I decided to talk over the mate, so that I wouldn't think too much.
"And she said yes."
While he talked, Chavez mimicked his mother’s face while she said:
"Yes, little boy, between the clouds… you just turned out to be stupid, that's all."
I saw the eyes of the house-keepers as they became the same ones as from that night, the one of his battle against the devil.
The two of us continued looking as the floor, and the mate started to get cold.
Later, after a little bit, during which the silence passed like the house’s blocks of cement outside, Chavez added:
"That hurt me a lot."
"What did, Chavez?"
"The stupid part, Fede, the stupid part! Listen, I have to tell you…
"Alright, Chavez, don't get upset,” I told him, "Do want a washed-out mate?" But Chavez didn't laugh. And I saw all of the chewed matches and trembled.
I went back to my house to have lunch, after I promised that I would see him again, later.
Was it possible that the owner of the house wouldn't let Chavez use the internal bathroom of the house?
I thought about it, and his story about his mother, while I ate.
And I also thought about that place, full of mystery and more passionate then mine. Because in my house everything was the same, and a chair was a chair and a table a table and the shadows softened and there were no entrances or exits to other worlds, not even a
But the scream of Chavez and his face had been too much.
A few hours layer I returned to the house. He seemed happy, he always was during the day; it was when the light started to fade that his face changed.
"We have to cover the latrine, Chavez!" I said with enthusiasm.
"The what?" He asked. "Fede, you are completely crazy!"
There was no time to loose, and so I looked for the bag of concrete and the spatula and I asked for a stick.
Chavez looked confusedly at me.
"Listen,” I said with conviction, “Now you won't have any more problems the devils, or by chance do they also come out the bathroom from the inside of the house."
Chavez didn't respond.
He submerged himself in silence and lowered his head.
The heat was smothering. I went to the little bathroom in the back and, behind me; Chavez brought the cement and a bucket.
When he arrived he asked me, almost ashamed:
"Fede, where am I going to…?”
"In the bathrooms in the inside, Chavez, where else?"
Our foreheads were soaked with sweat, in the meantime, I prepared the mixture without really knowing how to and Chavez witnessed everything with lost eyes.
I realized that his worry was because at any time he would have to explain the adulation of the bathroom.
When he started I started to cover the tureen with the mixture, I told him that he could give any number of excuses. But Chavez didn't respond.
"The devils are done!" I told him happily when the latrine, a few minutes later, was covered.
But the house-keeper kept looking fixedly at it, and I told myself that he wasn't thinking about the owner of the house or about what he would think about the closing of the hole.
I remember that I threw the stick to a side and stood back. The sun fell on the sheet roof of the bathroom and blinded us with the reflection. We stood there, one in front of the other, looking at each other, soaked and though we had dived into a strange ocean.
How can I explain what happened later?
Even the heat seemed to have given in to my grand solution. Sudden cold days and nights accompanied our talks of those times. Chavez seemed happy when the afternoon came, but he was still lost. He didn’t even look at, as he had before, the sky or the small bathroom in the back.
I was sure that Chavez, or the person he had been, was hiding something from me.
One day, while we were playing cards, he told me that he had found another job. I had noticed more frenzy in his voice when he had won the hand.
“I’m going to look alter a house in Martinez,” he told me.
I remember that that night we stayed up talking until the late hours of the night.
But when he left-I can still see him going with that giraffe’s walk- my solitude began.
My days weren’t short anymore, and once again I went into the room that had been Chavez’s. And I found a forgotten picture on the bedside table of without a lamp where a woman with a Bible in her hand hugged a boy with eyes like eggs and almost afraid. And that woman was the same one that I had seen that night in that same room where frightening images had assaulted me so abruptly, the same images that were assaulting me at that moment, again, and it wasn’t Chavez who was being attacked by the malice of the devils but me. There I was stunned by laughs and cackles and matches everywhere and that must be why I started to run again and run run run run, repeating the perverse cycle that I was fleeing from, and before jumping over the patrician wall I go to the bathroom at the back and I want to stop myself but I can’t and I don’t want to look but I do and I see that the material that I put in the latrine set and liquefied and drained down below leaving the hole open, and the flies hundreds of flies surround me and I scream scream with the same intensity that Chavez screamed that night of battle, and I jump over the wall I jump with the ability of those who escape from desperation but all the same it continues to get dark. That must be why now I am setting back the clocks all over the house, in the bedroom, in the kitchen, right now one by one, right now I don’t want night to come. I don’t want it to come. I don’t. No.