Talking to Ourselves
This piece was submitted by Andrés Neuman as part of the 2014 PEN World Voices Online Anthology.
Andrés Neuman’s events: A Literary Safari and Resonances: Contemporary Writers on the Classics
When someone you slept with dies, you begin to doubt their body and yours. The once touched body withdraws from the hypothesis of a reencounter, it becomes unverifiable, may not have existed. Your own body loses substance. Your muscles fill with vapor, they don’t know what it was they were clutching. When someone with whom you have slept dies, you never sleep in the same way again. Your body doesn’t let itself go when it is in bed, your arms and legs open as though clinging to the rim of a well, trying not to fall in. It insists on waking up earlier, on making sure at least it possesses itself. When someone with whom you have slept dies, the caresses you gave their skin change direction, they go from relived presence to posthumous experience. There is a hint of salvation and a hint of violation about imagining that skin now. A posteriori necrophilia. The beauty that was once with us remains stuck to us. As does its fear. Its hurt.
Enjoy life, do you hear?, it’s hard work enjoying life, and have patience, not too much, and look after yourself as if you knew you won’t always be young, even though you won’t know it and that’s okay, and have plenty of sex, son, do it for your sake and mine and even your mother’s, lots of sex, and if you have children, have them late, and go to the beach in winter, in winter it’s better, you’ll see, my head hurts yet I feel good, it’s hard to explain, and go traveling on your own once in a while, and try not to fall in love all the time, and care about your looks, do you hear me?, men who don’t care about their looks are afraid of being queer, and if you are queer, be a man, in short, advice isn’t much use, if you disagree with it you don’t listen, and if you already agree you don’t need it, never trust advice, son, travel agents advise you to go places they’ve never been, you’ll love me more when you’re old, I thought of my father the moment we got down from the truck, our true love for our parents is posthumous, forgive me for that, I’m already proud of the things you’re going to do, I love the way you count the time on your fingers when you set the alarm clock, or do you think I don’t see?, you do it secretly, under the covers, so I won’t know you have difficulty working it out, I’m going to ask you a favor, whatever happens, whatever age you are, don’t stop counting the time on your fingers, promise me, octopus.
The girl in the reception asks us not to open the blinds in the room because they’re stuck. Besides, she winks, with this wind it’s best you don’t even try. After she winks, her top eyelashes come off and get tangled in her bottom eyelashes. I want to tell her but I’m too shy. Dad whispers in my ear: Gorilla from Manila, there’s good news and bad. The good news is they have Internet. The bad news is it isn’t working.
In the bar I gobble down two cheeseburgers. A plate of french fries with tons of hot sauce. And a scoop of ice cream covered in syrup. Dad only eats half his. He says he wants to lose some more weight. He takes an aspirin with a glass of water. Before he got the virus he used to eat loads. And he loved going to restaurants. What? I laugh, my mouth full of ice cream, so you didn’t like your big fat belly? What about you, skinny chops? he teases, are you sure you don’t need another hamburger? I don’t know what time it is. I don’t feel like going to bed yet. Traveling is tiring but it wakes me up.
Dad leaves the table. He goes over to the bar. He pays. He is looking at me. Very hard. I think that as soon as I finish my ice cream we’re going to have to go up to the room. Oof. Dad is coming back. He walks up to me. He lifts my head in his hands. And he suggests we stay and have a drink. A drink! Dad and me! In a bar! After dark! I can’t believe it. It’s totally awesome. I get up. I wipe the syrup off my mouth with my sleeve. I stand up very straight. And we walk together to the bar. Dad orders a whisky. I order a Fanta. With lots and lots of ice.
This piece is excerpted fromAndrés Neuman’s novel Talking to Ourselves. The english translation by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.