Winter Will Never End (English version)
Marco Antonio Campos
To Saúl Juárez
Federico got out of the car on Río Mixcoac and Insurgentes. The wind was blowing and it raised thin whirlwinds of dust. His head was spinning. He was nervous, pale. At the end of his rope. Horns, speeding cars, squealing brakes, whistles. He covered his ears. Enough! He saw the traffic cop on José María Rico behind a tree, and thought to himself with a certain amount of indignation that instead of preventing accidents, he was actually looking forward to them. He crossed the wide expressway of José María Rico, and then Insurgentes. He read CINE MANACAR in big red rusty letters. He turned and saw the traffic cop almost behind him; he trembled, surprised. The officer crossed Río Mixcoac towards Plateros Avenue, and Federico breathed a sigh of relief. No, they never laid a finger on him, but it was worse than if they had... He didn’t have any marks on his body, and yet his whole body bore an inward mark. OK, his eyes, hands, chest, legs were all there, but somehow, they seemed attached to another body. At the beginning he, and only he, knew. Everyone thought he had taken that three-week trip to Guadalajara last month to see a brother who was sick and that his disappearance was explainable. (“One single word out of you, fucker, and you’re dead.”) Now everything had changed.
Every day, every hour, every minute he grew more nervous, and he had to make an incredible effort to control himself, because he felt as if they were going to recriminate him, that they would drag him down again into that room of hallucinatory blinding white, and that each and all of them would denounce him as a “Communist dog.” The worst part was that since they had released him, instead of feeling better the delirium had grown, to the point where he withdrew more and more from his relatives, friends, in fact, from everything. There were moments when he reached such depths of self-annihilation that he felt himself on the brink of a cruel pleasure. He would spend the entire day writing, thinking back (for as long as his anxiety would allow him), fearing over and over that they would take him away, back to that violent whiteness, that cell.
He walked into the movie theater and went to sit down around the third row. He waited for the picture to start. He looked up at the wide curtain. White. Suddenly chilled, he lowered his eyes. “I’m going to go crazy! My God, if I don’t get a grip I’m going to go crazy!”
Federico saw the doctor come in impeccably dressed in white, with greying hair and a cardboard tray. The only discordant color was the pale blue of his eyes. Federico marked off the time that he spent there in that five-by-five room, with its white walls, white ceiling, white floor, bed, chair, toilet, the white clothes that they gave him to wear, and the uniform of the doctor who approaching him now, looked him in the eye and said, “Communists are pigs.” Calmly, deliberately. In Federico’s brain the sentence struck, rebounded, rang and reverberated like an echo bouncing off of walls or mountains, returning and bouncing back again until it diminishes and fades away. “Communists are pigs... communists are... are... a-a-a-r-r-r-e-e.” Ever since that very first morning when four men dressed in white apprehended him leaving his house (“Shut up or we’ll kill you!”), put him in the car and put a blindfold over his eyes ―sounds, horns, stops where there were probably traffic lights, the speed, the drowsiness― he sensed that his life would change for ever.
He didn’t know when he woke up (it could have been that same day) but as he did, he felt the dazzling whiteness. He checked himself over (“there aren’t any mirrors”) from the tips of his shoes to his neck: white. A few minutes later an old ashen-haired nurse came in, her complexion livid as dead. She closed the door behind her and spoke like a telegram: “This is the only time I will speak to you. I will come three times a day to bring you meals. If you wish to go to the bathroom these will be the only times you can do so. You will go blindfolded.” The nurse put down the tray of food. She left. After the door shut, Federico could hear the echo of the footsteps she had left in his room. He would have liked to have asked her: “What are they going to do to me?”
It would have been useless.
Imagining the worst, and shaking, Federico lifted the napkin that covered the tray: onion soup, white cheese, white fish. “God, it isn’t possible! They’re going to drive me nuts!” He sat down on the bed and pressed his fingertips into his face. He understood; you didn’t have to be a detective to figure it out one way or another: the lock up was a consequence of the interviews and articles on the torture of political prisoners that had appeared in the newspaper two weeks ago, in which he exposed police chiefs at the highest levels as specialists in torture. Of course, that was it. “Now they want to break me, but they aren’t going to touch a hair on my head.”
They would let him go, sure, but when? No doubt from what the nurse said it wouldn’t be any time soon. I will come three times a day to bring food. Three times a day. He smiled bitterly. “If they wanted to kill me they would’ve already done it.” No, that wouldn’t have been advisable. Surely the newspaper would do a story on his disappearance, there would be a front-page campaign in bold type. Perhaps his captors would make him sign a paper giving out some location or maybe that the other guys had kidnapped him: the morb.
Federico approached the table where the tray had been left. He had liked the soup and the cheese, the fish turned his stomach. But now even the soup and the cheese repelled him, and to top it off, they frightened him. In spite of everything, he ate. “I should just make believe that this is a normal day, like any other.”
“Leonardo? I have to talk to you. It’s urgent. Let’s get together at the Café de las Américas. At eight.”
Federico had made a date with his friend Leonardo a week after they released him.
“I needed to get this off my chest, forget for a moment those three weeks in Hell.”
Federico did not stop fidgeting in his chair, his hands trembled, he swallowed, spoke with difficulty, and felt as if bugs were making a nest in his stomach. His nerves were chewed raw by the profound anxiety. He talked to Leonardo for a whole hour.
“How is it possible that the newspaper didn’t start a publicity campaign about you?”
“They didn’t know about it. The newspaper got a call on the same day as I was kidnapped, and some guy that had a voice that sounded like mine or that was imitating me, said that my brother had had an accident in Guadalajara. A very serious one. The same person called a week and a half later from Guadalajara saying that he was sorry but that my brother was in a coma.”
“And who was it?”
“I don’t know exactly, maybe the police. If it had been the other guys they would have killed me and they wouldn’t have put on such a refined and cruel piece of theater.”
Lenardo noticed that there was barely a shadow left of the Federico he had known in high school.
Federico grabbed his hair, his face, his neck, he pressed his fingers to his temples, he rubbed his forehead, he clenched his fists. “You sons of a bitch, leave me alone! Leave me alone you sons of a bitch! Leave me alone.” It was white everywhere, above, below, to the left, to the right. Absolutely white. “I can’t take it anymore! I can’t take it any moooore!” He paced like a caged lion and, clenching his teeth and his fists, he started to throw punches, to kick the wall, until he hurt his fingers and toes badly. “Sons of a bitch, sons of a bitch they’re going to drive me crazy!” He didn’t know how long he had been walking until, worn out, he sat back down on the bed. He closed his eyes. White. White. “Oh my God, forgive me for what I’ve done, but don’t punish me for something that I haven’t done!” In the most acute moments of horror there would suddenly appear the image of Julia: her delicately featured face, her long black hair, her sea-colored eyes, her firm and shapely thighs. He did not understand why. He had loved other women, if not more beautiful then al least with more kindred tastes. Perhaps had even loved them more. But something, deep, subterranean, had left the imprint of Julia so that six years later it could come back with cruel intensity. Uselessly. Uselessly because Julia had left him for one of his best friends. “Why the hell did she do that to me? Why did she humiliate me like that?” But the cries didn’t find any echoes within those walls were neither punches nor kicks left anything but white marks. He recalled mornings at the university: waiting for her after classes, loving her, wanting her. But above all there was one burning merciless image of that morning in Acapulco, on the beach, in front of the hotel: Julia walking into the sea, the sun falling on her hair and shoulders, her waist covered with drops turned blue and gold by the sea and the sun. He approached and when he took her in his arms, he heard the sentence that drained his blood: “I’m sleeping with Roberto; I don’t think that you’ll want to see me again after this.”
Roberto said he was sorry, “... really, crony, she was the one that hopped into my bed. I told her that we were friends, but she insisted that you didn’t turn her anymore.” There is not doubt that that is what happened. Just the same it was something that Roberto pursued indirectly or covertly, juggling allusions, indifference, sympathy. The old game, in short.
“You don’t have to be a trained observer,” he pointed out to Bazin, to prove his point. “Maybe he can fool others but I’ve know every word and step of Roberto’s since we were teenagers.” The friendship ended. He never again exchanged a word with him other than the necessary social pleasantries. Nevertheless, everything turned out just as he had foreseen, and even more: a few months later Roberto left Julia and went around complaining sourly to all of his friends that she was sick, trivial. “She’s a woman who thinks only about sunbathing, or going to parties, or to the beauty parlor.” True, but there lay much of her charm: the way that she built that palace of superficiality that made her different and more fascinating than the other women who concerned themselves more or less with the same things. A world of splendid trivialities, of empty delights, of small pleasures that would cause irritation or even revulsion to anyone with the least bit of sensitivity. Women whom he had ardently pursued over the years, and whose banality he had put up with because of their beauty and refinement. “You have a tremendous capacity for disappointment,” his friend would tell him.
Julia’s mistake with Roberto had been one single thing, but a catastrophic one: to have fallen deeply in love. So that afterwards she denigrated him to their friends and their respective families. She resorted to the petty vandalism of wrecking his car; she shut herself up for a month and a half in her room, not even coming down to eat. Federico, besides enjoying the situation (and he did in a certain way), ended up feeling profoundly sorry for Julia.
So then why was it that Julia now returned with such savage intensity when he was pushed to his limit? When in fact her memory could not compare with the purity of Lorena, or the deep sorrow of the long years that followed the break-up with Claudia? What was it then? The only plausible explanation was that he had never fallen in love with any woman in such a sudden yet deeply involved way. Neither had any one of them ever given him such an unexpected and brutal blow. He had never taken out of his heart anyone else with such swiftness and rage. An image came to him, that photograph: Julia in the park with the olive-green coat, her hair loose, her eyes sea-green. Behind her, the trees and the houses. “She was the woman who most resembled desire.”
The doctor entered at that moment and Federico rushed at him, but the doctor, dodging with agility, caught his hands, and then almost effortlessly sat him down in a chair. Federico felt as if he had lost his last ounce of strength. As if in a dream (the door had remained open) he heard the announcer far away but clearly talking about the Pope leaving the airport on his way to the Cathedral. “It must be the television.” For a few moments he remained still, enlightened, smiling. The doctor, noticing this, went quickly to the door, closed it and came back again, and said to him, marking each word: “Communists-are-pigs.” Federico, bone-tired, was barely able to murmur: “I’m not a communist, you son of a bitch!” He cleared his mind, and then like a jab: “COMMUNISTS ARE PIGS.” He wanted to repeat that he wasn’t one but the doctor had gone, leaving him with the silence, the whiteness, and between them Julia, the trees, and the sky.
Federico looked at the photograph. It was almost the same image that he had in the white room. He had forgotten some minor details, or had failed to notice them closely: the green scarf over the neck, a cord that would have been a cross. After a week of doubting he decided to telephone...
“Federico, What a miracle! Where have you been? It’s about time I heard from you.”
“Let’s get together.”
He felt as if his brain were splitting in two. It was as if he were living between the two parts, or maybe trying to live with both inside the same person. “Winter will never end,” he said to himself.
Federico Elizondo remembered that noon when, with his eyes blindfolded, they dropped him off at the university. “You’ve had fair warning, you bastard!” He stopped across from the gas station next to the newsstand. The Pope was leaving. He took off walking along Insurgentes, on the side of the street along where Tomboy, Sanborn’s, Vip’s, Lynnis were. Where the houses from the turn of the century sat, appearing to have aged more out of neglect than from the passing of time. He passed the modern buildings that served as public offices, and stopped on the corner of Felipe Villanueva street.
He saw the crowds gathering.
“Why are there so many people, sir?”
“Don’t you know?... The Pope is leaving today.”
“We would have been practically neighbors,” he thought to himself, smiling. He kept going along Tecoyotitla and he stopped at the intersection of Barranca del Muerto and Insurgentes. It was packed: people three and four deep, on stairs, perched in trees, on cars and trucks, peering out from the windows of the buildings, and houses, the sun blazing. “A church united will never fall!” “You can feel it, you can fell it, John Paul is here!”... The style of the chanted mottoes of the Left on the lips of five-day Catholics.
He focused in on the crowd: the young woman who had wormed her way with agility up to the second row; the townswoman with a child on her shoulders who didn’t stop praying; the old crone two steps away who told everyone in front, in back and to both sides of her, “The Holy Father is so kind! Did you notice how he tried to speak Spanish? And when they sang his song how he clapped along!” The clouds in the sky, the sports outfit of the girl, the apron on the maid.
He looked at the clock: five till two. “John Paul the Second, everybody loves you!” People climbed up in the trees, up walls, posts, on the hoods of cars, and the old woman pointed out that an event like this had never happened in Mexico, and that after having seen the Pope, even though it was only briefly and from afar, she could now die in peace.
A clamor arose, then silence, the whispering: “Here he comes! Here he comes!” ―the silence, the Pope standing in the open car with his eyes half closed against the strong sun, looking everywhere and nowhere, blessing everyone and no one, two, three, five seconds; and the crowd, satisfied with the visual dazzle, scattered towards La Florida, Guadalupe Inn, and San José Insurgentes.
“How are you doing these days, Julia? I knew that you were working as a model.”
“I quit; there was too much corruption. Not that it scares me, but it’s just too bothersome. Every fat bald man wants to sleep with you.”
“But, you’ve been doing well all these years, right?”
“Boy, absolutely the best. You have no idea how much I’ve traveled. It’s been terrific. I’ve been to Europe four times, and to South America three times.”
“How strange that you haven’t gotten married.”
“What for? You have to have some fun first. Could you see me washing dishes at twenty? What a bore. Maybe in another two or three years. How is everyone?”
“Well. Fairly well overall. Bazin has directed his first film; Leonardo is living with a Swedish woman and just published a book on medicine; Xavier got married a couple of months ago to his German teacher and he’s going to Frankfurt for two years on a grant; Alberto is in politics.”
“And Roberto?” she asked with a bit of painful curiosity.
“I’ve seen him a bit, very little, but I understand that he’s a manager in one of his father’s factories.”
“Oh. (She took a cigarette out of the pack. Lit it.) And are you keeping up your old ideas?”
“I think so, but I don’t think that you’d be interested in that,” he responded a bit nervously.
“It bores me. They’re all the same, the Left, the Right. The worst, really, are people like Echeverría. It affected everyone the same, specially the middle class. The poor are accustomed to it in any case. Look: everything now is about double or triple. How much does a trip to Paris cost now? You don’t even want to think about it. He was the only one to blame. Why did he have to fight with the businessmen? Who is it that has the money?”
“Oh, well...” murmured Federico. Looking up he gazed into Julia’s eyes and he imagined her naked, sadly knowing that she was out of reach by now.
“Yes, Bazin, Julia is that kind of woman who over the years prepares herself, without the slightest remorse, to be keenly unfaithful. She’s fine for men like Leonardo or Roberto. I need women who are less combative, less wordly, that can exercise some self-control, because otherwise the mental torment begins. No, there’s no common ground now. To her I’m nothing but a journalist that will reach a certain salary, have a certain car, a certain house. The main problem with her, with women like her, is not so much the physical attraction or lack of ‘worldliness’; it’s something else: you’re never good enough. But the most painful part, believe me, is to have been a mere shadow in the memory of a woman who was so important, and to realize that someone else, who was your friend, who didn’t even love her, should be a more intense memory, an open wound. That’s what really fills me with resentment and jealousy.”
Federico took off on the green light, crossed Barranca del Muerto and headed towards Manuel M. Ponce. He couldn’t stand the film, he had walked out. He was blocked, as if a single idea had taken over his brain, and implacably sprouted filthy claws, made him think only about that white jail, about the clever and violent crisis that disturbed him so profoundly. “It’s like I’m living outside of life.”
Federico crossed Felipe Villanueva and he remembered the Pope. He looked into the rearview mirror and wondered for a moment if that was a white car following him. He jumped as if he had hit a live wire. He tried to push the white to a corner of his mind, and looked into the mirror once again to check that the color had nothing to do with him. Terrified, he saw two white cars. He started to shake, to feel a dry cold, a fierce anxiety. He thought that it had been an idiotic move, that no, he should not have published those interviews and articles on torture all over again. But he wouldn’t, couldn’t turn them down. For a whole day two of the men that had been tortured (“couldn’t they realize that I was the same, or worse?”) pressed him, pleading that he was the only one capable of doing it, that no one else (reporters, columnists) wanted to touch that story. “Look, Mr. Elizondo, if you don’t do it, they’re going to systematically continue with the torturing: they have battered, castrated, raped, killed. Nearly everyone is involved in this mess. Do it, not for the Left, nor for us, but to demonstrate a basic minimum of freedom and honesty.”
He couldn’t turn it down. He knew that he would feel worse if he didn’t do it, with his conscience bothering him relentlessly. His best adversary, the one who deserved his respect the most, had always been himself. “I don’t think that I’ve done anyone any more harm than I’ve done to myself.”
At the traffic circle by the church he looked into the rearview mirror again, and there were three white cars. He pulled into the building, then quickly, almost desperately, went up the stairs to his apartment. He bolted both locks. Trembling, he remained by the door for long seconds. He tried to see if he could hear anything: footsteps, sounds, doorbell... all he heard was the blood pounding in his brain, the quick beat of his heart. His stomach was churning, and he felt like throwing up, in spite of not having eaten. “Bile.” At the end of his strength, feeling all the sorrow of the world falling on him, he walked cautiously towards the window. He had an irresistible urge to cry. He drew the curtain back a few centimeters and looked down at the traffic circle. He froze. There was a white car on each of the four corners. He saw two men get out of the car that was in front of the church, and cross the intersection. He figured that they must be at the door downstairs. He waited for the doorbell to ring. He thought he heard the doorbell to ring. He still stayed for a few seconds looking at the traffic circle, then he drew the curtain, and went to lie down on the black settee that was almost in front of the window, lowered his eyelids and all he could see through his tears was a distant memory from childhood, when he was playing soccer and his father would hand him an orange to slake his thirst.*
Translated by Charles D. Brown
* * *
BOOKS BY MARCO ANTONIO CAMPOS (CNL-INBA)
Reading (Poesía en Voz Alta. La Otra Revista) (YouTube)
Los resplandores del relámpago (Essays. Google Books)
* * *
|Fuente: * From the book No pasará el invierno. México, Joaquín Mortiz, 1985. Serie del Volador.|