Literatura en México

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Cinco Décadas de Cuento Mexicano. Antología. Perea, Pitman, Taylor, Tedeschi, Valenzuela

The Tale of the Obsesssive (English version)

Francisco Segovia
Foto: cnipl. INBA

Francisco Segovia

In Romania the remedy against vampires is ¿to scatter grains of millet on the body so that before leaving (the grave) they will have to count each one of them¿. The charm against the witch-vampires of Sardinia consists in leaving a dead cat or dog lying across the door of the house. Before entering, witches will spend hours counting each hair on the animal¿s body... They can then be trapped at sunrise.

Anthony Masters, A Natural History of the Vampire

I shouldn¿t say this, but perhaps it will lead to a better understanding of what I am about to relate: I am a lexicographer, an amateur in the world of books, and passionate about characters (not so much those in literature, but actual words and letters themselves). I love to track a word in the dust of a thousand others, searching for clues with absolute determination until finally I lose my way. I am possessed by an obsessive rage for the absolute which can lose men in the dusty shadows of the indefinable.

From my ancestors ―dukes, counts, commoners― I inherited the never-ending habit of counting every last hair on the body of every cat I find at the entrance to a house. I have devoted myself to discovering something useful in this vicious, selfish enthusiasm; and I have managed to transform my ancestors¿ fascination into a philanthropic office: that of lexicography. Nevertheless, I have disturbed the neutrality of the ancient order: none of my predecessors even realized the significance of the word destiny. I, on the other hand, have learned to read its meaning in the most insignificant things, and now my mind and heart are completely possessed by their endless impertinence.

Theologists, learned men, teachers, butchers, street sweepers and others of our day agree on one thing: there are no longer any oracles. Although I am already a rather unusual creature ―given the occupation and interests I have inherited and I repeat from an ancient family― I am increasingly of the opposite view. I say that the thunderous voice of the universe can still be heard in the streets of the big cities, and that oracles have not ceased to speak; the infinite still speaks with an untied tongue, and does so now more freely than ever before. And for holding this opinion I have earned myself the alienation of my fellow men ―if not complete incomprehension and sheer suspicion. I will briefly relate how this has come to pass.

Some years ago I had a girlfriend; she was very beautiful, with the rosiest cheeks. She was the first whose much-desired neck I learned to respect, despite having to endure instead a chaste, faithful diet of hens. But such a loyal and freely offered heart was not enough; she could not understand the patient labor of my abstinence, or suppress the urgency of her first reproach. Inertia, with its eagerness for eternity, did the rest insatiably. So as not to answer her hot blood¿s desire with blood, I concentrated my mind on inner silence and darkness. In that mist of humility I found my girlfriend more pure, even abstract, and less provocative in the deliberate sparkling of flesh, but much more full of heat and life. So my security and my external girlfriend¿s lay down there at the bottom of my bloodless heart. But outwardly, in the crowded world of the living, I seemed timid and timorous. Either way, I began to hate that pretend person, hated myself in the daylight world were I heard my girlfriend say, ¿What¿s happened to you? You used to be a very self-assured man...¿

I drive to forget. Since in my case alcohol and drugs are risky, and may even lead to fatal consequences, I¿ve learned to forget about any offences by submerging myself in that ambiguous activity ―a mixture of concentration and mechanical reflex― which is driving a car. Now you may say this is ¿escapism¿ and that it¿s nothing to be proud of. Agreed. But I¿ve seen hens suffer less when confronted with death if they¿ve been given a little Cognac to drink beforehand. The same happens with Christmas turkeys: their little escapism actually makes them more savory than all the tough abnegation of the realists. I recognize that this culinary argument in favor of a moral position is more convenient for the diners than for the dish ―that¿s why I¿m making it, and not the chicken― but any sensible person would agree that it is not equally convenient for the escapists and for the realists.

The evening my girlfriend cruelly accused me of insecurity, I was driving the car where we were travelling, so I could bury my head and pretend I hadn¿t heard her. I stared at the number plate of the car in front. It was from Puebla, or from Oaxaca, and had the following letters: IPT (I pity). Suddenly I heard my voice outside me saying, ¿I pity. I pity you, my love¿.

I don¿t know if she heard this warning, but when we arrived at my house and I shut the door behind us, my ears were still buzzing. I threw myself onto her. I remember she howled, screamed, wept, tossed her lovely neck. She fainted.

But did anything like this really happen to her? No: rather, it all happened to me; the fury was satiated in my body, in my body and not in hers. Nothing changed in the natural world.

I must add that I didn¿t love her so as to absorb her into my family. She didn¿t drink my blood, nor did she receive the vampire¿s baptism. My passion didn¿t have that ritual strictness which could have admitted her into my life and into my customs. Instead I initiated her into something much greater and more secret: into that indifference I cannot know, and into which I cannot initiate myself, because it rejects me.

When I had satisfied the ancestral greed of my elders, I kissed her cold lips and left. I got into the car and drove into the city without thinking where I was heading. But the dark enthusiasm of the flesh had not been satisfied; and once more I heard my voice outside myself saying, ¿All¿s well, my love, be just as you wish: now you know that world which is forever closed to me. Take from me that which I cannot receive from you. All¿s well, my love: dry.¿ And I remembered her lying cold on the bed as I read a new number plate: DRY.

I stopped the car while I endured the barbaric echo of that terrible word. I lifted up my eyes in supplication: ¿Gods of the Ancients, is this destiny? And before my eyes I saw TCS (Thesius), REA (Rhea) and the fearles EKT (Hecate). ¿Can it be true? Can it be true?¿

To calm myself, I sank down into some sparse bushes in a park and stayed there away from the voices for several hours. Much later that night I emerged from my hiding place, prepared to confront the uproar. A hundred thousand demons were screaming in a confusion of voices. Nevertheless, I began to make out ―among lost messages, accusations, insults and crude advice― that they were mocking me: AGE (grow old), SIN (sin!), EKT PSS ONU (Hecate piss on you), YDR DRY (why dear, dry!), BST (beast). Reading the zero of a number plate as the letter ¿o¿, O BEY was... Obey.

The uproar wasn¿t useless though. I practiced and perfected my reading until I understood that the first letters the oracle sent me (IPT) were not to be read as my own words, but as hers, so now she was echoing my voice: ¿I pity... I pity you my love.¿

Towards dawn I was able to invoke my dead girlfriend. Since I wanted to avoid other voices interfering in our intimacy, I chose a sad, lonely, street to await her reply. My powers were fading with the night¿s darkness, and the approaching daylight sickened me. A car drew up besides me, and the driver asked for a light. I gave it to him hastily, hoping to see the miraculous number plate: it was an extraordinary message made up of an unusual combination of letters, including the abhorred cross on which my lovers had crucified me; it read IXU ―I cross you; I bless you with the sign of the cross.

As he drove off, the driver could see how I fainted. He gathered me and took me home. Since then I haven¿t ventured out. I¿ve dedicated myself to a recondite lexicography and returned to the pious diet of hens. 

Since then I read everything, but in fear and in trembling.

Translated by Nick Drake
Fuente: From the book Conferencia de vampirosStorm. New Writing from Mexico. London, Storm, 1992.



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