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from the May 2016 issue

The Bleeding Hands of Castaways

To my love, the Tramontana wind that shook my life forever.

A book is a bottle flung into the sea.
I want my books
to reach the bleeding hands
of  castaways.

—Samuel Feijóo

I found an old mining asteroid of no interest to anyone, rented it for a few Federation kopeks, and built a bar that matches your eyes, though you’re not here.

I searched through the tangle of collapsing tunnels until I came upon exactly the right space, its acoustics perfect for your voice. I paid zero-atmosphere workers and mining engineers to make that grotto into a perfect cube where I could listen to you. They didn’t charge me as much after I told them about you, played them that old record of you singing Think of me when you’re sad, when you’re crying, think of me when you want to take my life away . . .

. . . piensa en mí cuando sufras,     
cuando llores
también piensa en mí.
Cuando quieras
quitarme la vida
no la quiero para nada
para nada
    me sirve sin ti . . .

I lined the walls, floor, and ceiling in plastic, suede, and synthetic wood. None of the wholesalers would give me a discount on any of it but I spent the money all the same, spent it for you.

 

I’d always tell you that for some strange reason I was destined to be a dream. A wave slowly lapping at a rock without detaching a single grain of sand for any future beach. A light, finite rain that barely dampens the earth, no umbrella required.

But you’re a space man, and you needed to build me a bar on an asteroid. A bar with old beer barrels and the perfect acoustics for my voice. You promised you’d even serve a screwdriver with a real screw at the bottom of the glass. At first I laughed at your wild ideas, watching the way you looked at me with your Tuareg eyes. Then, as you explained about gravity conditioners and old USB victrolas that could be had for a song on the inter-orbital black markets and asteroids abandoned to their fate, I sometimes began to see myself in the place you were dreaming up for me. Sometimes, when I was alone, I’d see myself singing with you under the soft lights that you said would be a perfect match for my eyes, singing I’m gonna switch off the light, and think about you, and let my imagination dream . . .

Voy a apagar la luz
para pensar en ti
y así dejar soñar
a la imaginación.
Ahí donde todo lo puede,
donde no hay imposibles,
¿qué importa vivir de ilusiones
        si así soy feliz . . . ?

In a street bazaar on Alpha-Pisces I bought a set of bulbs that can go from infrared to ultraviolet. I hired an electrician off a luxury cruise ship to set up the lighting that makes your eyes look so beautiful. I conditioned the air to the exact temperature of your skin and filled it with the scent of exotic flowers that you used to wear back on Old Earth.

In a shipwreck adrift in Epsilon Eridani’s Oort cloud, I found a bar countertop made of authentic wood. A military cargo ship smuggled it in for me and that cost a bundle, but the kind of terrestrial drink that you like has to be served up on real wood. Vodka with citric acids and a screw in the bottom of the glass, whisky without soda, rum with cola-nut soft drink. It was difficult to set the artificial gravity to exactly the same pull as back home. The asteroid didn’t have much mass and was so asymmetrical that going three meters in any direction brought you to a different level of gravitational force. Those generators cost me, in money and friendships. I had to place ads for phantom companies in the limitrophe worlds, mortgage the three astroports that brought customers to the bar, and rely on secondhand androids for maintenance.

But in the end I managed to ensure that the gravitational pull within the bar’s twenty cubic meters was precisely the same as the one that stroked your feet when you danced in the meadows of Old Earth, and that kept your hair flowing beautifully downward and not drifting up over your head. Gravity, which checked and rebuked you from the moment you were born, which made you into a small, light, planetary woman who captivated a space man like me. Gravity, which instilled you with a mortal fear of weightlessness, of the open emptiness of interstellar space. Gravity, which separated us, irremediably. If only you knew how I suffer, if only I could tell you, the bitterness inside me, the sad story, that night after night, in sorrow and pain, reaches my soul . . .

      Si tú supieras mi sufrimiento . . .
Si te contara
la inmensa amargura
      que llevo por dentro . . .
La triste historia
que noche tras noche
de dolor y pena
llega a mi alma,
surge a mi memoria
      como una condena . . .

And that’s how time went by, too much time for a man who was always gazing out beyond the line of the horizon, too little time for a woman like me, destined to become a dream, her feet firmly planted on the earth she walks across. You had to go. I didn’t cry for you. Women like me don’t know how to cry. Or maybe we do, but only when there’s no one there to see us, so no one can ever say for sure whether we really did cry or not. Waiting for you, out there on the other side of the universe, were new planets, supernovas, and pulsars with strange names.

Who was I to ask you to stay. Once you’​re gone, the shadows will embrace me. Alone with my pain, I’ll remember the days, the blue waves . . .  

Cuando tú te hayas ido
me envolverán las sombras,
cuando tú te hayas ido
con mi dolor a solas
evocaré el idilio
de las azules olas.
Cuando tú te hayas ido
      me envolverán las sombras . . .

There I was, Man of the Cosmos, the kind of man who cannot abide weather, germs, or gravity. Despite all my best efforts, outer space never appealed to you in the slightest. Supernovas didn’t make your eyes shine any brighter; pulsars didn’t take your breath away. You were a planetary woman, happy to sing her old songs in an old bar on an old planet. I had to leave, to follow the call of my stars, distant suns that filled my eyes with the light of other worlds.

 

You packed your bags the last night we looked at the stars together and I smiled when you told me how they’re born, how they die. And how our bar would have a dead sun all its own so it would always be nighttime there. Our nighttime.

Then I smiled again and you walked away as if we’d be seeing each other tomorrow. Or in ten days.

In a month, at the most. We say good-bye, without knowing it, to small things, just as a tree, in autumn, loses its leaves . . .

Uno se despide insensiblemente
de pequeñas cosas,
lo mismo que un árbol
que en tiempo de otoño
se queda sin hojas.
Al fin la tristeza
es la muerte lenta
de las simples cosas
de esas cosas simples
      que quedan doliendo en el corazón . . .

So I left.  Only to learn—too late!—that the only supernovas that could set my soul on fire were in your eyes, that all the suns of all my worlds didn’t warm me as much as a single word from you. And that now, now that I’m far away, I need you and the pulsar of your heart.

Your precious gravity.

 

The bar became a mirage, the best of mirages. Every night I sang all your favorite songs, songs of lost love, songs of trash-talking swagger. The way you see it, I’​m the bad one, the vampire in your novel, the Great Tyrant . . .

Según tu punto de vista
yo soy la mala,
vampiresa en tu novela
la Gran Tirana.
Cada cual en este mundo
cuenta el cuento a su manera
y lo hace ver de otro modo
     en la mente de caulquiera . . .

I went back whenever I could, to drink our favorite cocktails. That bar was where I kept wait for you, year after year. I only had to close my eyes and I was with you again, far from the daily routine of life with our twin sons—you never knew about them, did you? The bar was a refuge, a warm lair where my memories were safe. It’s been my life raft in old age, old age that is taking hold of me now and making me write you all this, by way of farewell.

 

That’s why my bar—I mean your bar—had no windows, no portholes. Just a cube of bulkhead with a long wooden counter on one side and a USB-victrola—the old-fashioned kind they used to make before the advent of the celestial jukebox, the kind found nowadays only in bars on the remotest outposts. The kind that plays songs in archaic Spanish, sad songs of distant loves, songs that plunge the cosmonauts  from the Tavarish-ring into deep bouts of nostalgia and make tears slide down the faces of the Marines from the system’s orbital base. All the songs you used to sing. In the only place in the universe where the acoustics are perfectly designed for that huskiness in your voice. If you leave me now, you’​ll soon find out, that the days are long and empty without me . . .

 . . . Si ahora tú te vas       
pronto descubrirás
que los días son eternos y vacíos
sin mí.
Y de noche,
y de noche
      por no sentirte solo . . .
Recordarás nuestros días felices,
      recordarás el sabor de mis besos . . .
Y entenderás en un solo momento
      qué significa un año de amor . . .

I looked for your name in the news, but in vain, looked for advertisements for the bar you’d promised and dreamed of and yearned for. All in vain. Your sons were space men, too, but neither one of them ever heard word anywhere in their travels of a place that bore my name, where screwdrivers were served with a real, actual screw in the bottom of the glass. To make me happy, they brought me hundreds of coasters from every corner of the universe, photos of every bar they ever visited within and beyond the galaxy. Swizzle sticks made from a thousand and one materials, everything imaginable. I asked them to tell me about the lighting, the music, the scent of the air, and was glad to know our sons were happy, modern, moving fast . . . And then, when I was alone again, I was sad that your hand hadn’t touched any of the marvelous places they told me about. Then later—you know how fast time goes by around here—the grandchildren arrived. When they were little, I used to hold them and sing them to sleep. It hurts, it hurts to see you gone, to know it’s the end, of all your kisses . . .

. . . duele mucho,      
      duele verte sin regreso . . .
Saber que ha llegado el fin
de todos tus besos,
y que es por mi culpa que estoy
hoy padeciendo mi suerte.
      Duele mucho ser como soy . . .
Duele mucho
      vivir . . .

I’ll be honest with you, my voice wasn’t the same anymore. Sometimes it gave out altogether. It pained me to think that if you ever did open up that bar some day, I wouldn’t be able to sing for you there.

 

I built a bar exactly to your measure. The only reason I excavated that rock was to find the perfect place, the place where you would feel perfect. I rented an asteroid in a planetary system where the sun was dead, only so I could keep my promise.

 

By now, I’d rather you didn’t come back. An old lady like me should stay home quietly by her lamp, with no intergalactic adventures to make her pulse accelerate.

 

I wanted to make a bar that would be a perfect match for you. A place built just for you. And I did.

Even though I had to sell my ship to rent this rock in its hyperbolic orbit around a dying sun. Even though the barkeepers’ union exacts a wage I cannot pay. Even though the customers want strippers and crazy far-out music. Even though they want their beer to come from a shiny stainless steel tap, not an old barrel.

Even if I die because I built this bar.

 

They say that many years ago—and who remembers all that now?— desperate castaways used to write messages, put them in bottles, and throw them into the sea. Our smallest grandson is setting off on his last voyage today. He, too, has lived his life as a space man. I still have one last, remote chance. I’ll put this message in a bottle and at some point in his journey he’ll throw it off his ship. Wait for me in heaven, my heart, if you go first. Wait for me and soon I’​ll come, to start all over again . . .

 . . . espérame en el cielo, corazón,      
si es que te vas primero.
Espérame que pronto yo me iré
      para empezar de nuevo . . .
Nuestro amor es tan grande
y tan grande
que nunca termina,
y esta vida es tan corta que no basta
      para nuestro idilio . . .

I know it’s foolish, a silly whim, but it’s his grandmother’s last wish. And he’s a good boy.

And I have nothing to lose, nothing to hope for.

 

Because I’m 183 light-years away from home. Because as soon as the Tcherenkov propulsion system took us out of light speed I learned from the ansible that your grandchildren have all died of old age back there on Old Earth. There was nothing I could do but build this place and sit down at the wooden bar with a glass of rum in front of me, waiting for pirates to show up and raze the whole system or order a round of drinks. Waiting for something to crash into this sliver of rock, or for the dying star at the center of our wobbly orbit to finally explode.

I kept my promise, and I’m waiting only for you, by the hand and grace of whatever mystery it is that governs the universe, for you to be here with me. Until the helium-3 reactors overcharge and explode. Or the cavity we excavated collapses because the androids do such poor work.

While I’m waiting for something to happen, I put another song on the victrola. And I was filled with dreams, and drank to glory, knowing I didn’t belong to myself. For I forgot all the things, that in this world, make our joy short, and our sorrow long . . .

 . . . y me llené de ensueños      
y le brindé la gloria
sabiendo que yo misma no me pertenecía.
Pues me olvidé de todas
las cosas que en el mundo
hacen la dicha corta
      y larga la agonía . . .
Perdóname,
Perdóname, conciencia,
      razón sé que tenías . . .

And maybe someday—who knows?—someone might walk into your bar, an astronaut who makes his living collecting the kind of garbage that ends up floating around in outer space. He’ll have this bottle in his hand and will try to sell it to you. Such a quaint, charming object: a sealed bottle with a mysterious note inside. And it’s only that silly, cockamamie hope that allows me to die in peace. Knowing that you know.

That you will know.

That maybe, someday, in the end, you’ll know . . .

 

Playlist (“Bleeding Hands”):

“Piensa en mí” (1935), by Agustín and Maria Teresa Lara, sung by Natalia Fourcade and Vicentico.

“Voy a apagar la luz” (1960–67), by Armando Manzanero, sung by Luis Miguel.

“Si te contara” (2006), by Ibrahim Ferrer, sung by Willie Colón.

“Cuando tu te hayas ido (Sombras)” (1936), music by Carlos Brito Benavides, lyrics from a poem by Rosario Sansores Pren, sung by Soledad Bravo.

 

 

“Canción de las simples cosas” (1972), music by César Isella, lyrics by Armando Tejada Gomez, sung by Buika.

“La Tirana” (1968), by Tite Curet Alonso, sung by La Lupe. 

“Un año de amor” (1991), by Nino Ferrer, sung by Luz Casal.

“Duele” (1986), by Ruben Blades, sung by Ruben Blades.

“Espérame en el cielo” (1962), by Francisco López Vidal, sung by Silvia Pérez Cruz.

“Perdóname conciencia” (1966), by Giraldo Piloto and Alberto Vera, sung by Moraima Secada.          

 

© Erick J. Mota. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2016 by Esther Allen. All rights reserved.
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