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from the December 2014 issue

The Book of Denial

This story is the worst story in the world—it's just terrible.

For those who don't like tragic stories, this book has a happy ending on a page near the end.

I recommend you don't keep reading after it.

*

My mother always told me that there are books that are not for children.

I didn't understand this until yesterday, when I secretly read the book my father is writing.

*

The Book of Denial his book is called . . . but, it wasn't because of the title that I began to read it.

Mama was in bed, Papa had sat down beside her as he does so often now, and I was heading down the hallway when I heard him tell her: "The children need to know."

"The children need to know this story of terror," he whispered, leaning forward as if he were going to kiss her.

*

I suddenly wanted to read his book, because he has barely written anything for almost a year.

Not a single word, although a good part of the third shelf of the library is full of him.

"How could he have so many ideas in his head?" I've often wondered while running my fingers along the spines of the dozens of books he has published.

On all the spines, his name is written with gilt edges and bright colors.

"That's my father," I think in astonishment, and then I stare at his surname which is also my surname.

*

The truth is that I haven't read anything myself in almost a year.

Almost one year during which Papa hasn't written and I haven't read.

*

The only one of us who sometimes reads is Mama.

She leans back in bed, unfolds the letter she keeps in the bureau drawer, and her eyes move slowly across the page falling and rising, falling and rising.

*

 "The children must know about this tale of terror," was what Papa told her.

Perhaps he had forgotten that I had already read many stories like that: of monsters, of the dead, of ghosts, of haunted houses and staircases that went down and down into the center of the earth.

Why would I need to hear a new horror story?

*

I imagine that it happens just like with sweets.

You forget that the taste of sweetness exists until, suddenly, there's a knock on the door and there's a little girl selling cookies.

After listening to my father, I began to want to go into his office to see the book he was writing because I had forgotten that horror stories existed.

*

"Just a glance."

*

My father's office is very dark, very quiet, very serious, it's like an angry face with just one eye, which is his leather chair, and with a single mouth, which is the heavy desk of dark wood. The desk has become covered with dust, because my father doesn't like for anyone to go in there, and up until a few days ago it had also filled up with emptiness, because he had forgotten to place upon that bare tabletop a hardcover notebook like the one I found there last night.

"I'm just going to take a peek," I thought again.

*

How can one see letters without wanting to read them?

How can one look at the sea without wanting to swim in it?

*

I didn't read everything that Papa had written. I didn't even read an entire page.

I approached the desk and randomly opened that notebook with its hard cover and its completely blank pages, unlined and marginless, just the way he likes in order to place his ideas there.

"Without a prison," he says, "free of vertical and horizontal bars, to think whatever is necessary."

The passage was written in his beautiful handwriting that looked as if it were tilted by the wind and seemed to undulate like the waves. A white sea full of wave after wave crossing the page from side to side like a strong ocean current. And there I began to swim, although I had sworn that I wouldn't read it until he gave me permission to do so.

The hand of an adult is the size of a child's face, so the executioners of children use no weapons. They arranged the children facing away from them, and the executioner approached from behind and simply placed his hand over their faces as if covering them with a scarf, as if gently protecting their little mouths and noses from the cold. Then it was enough for him to just press with his hand until he had suffocated them.

I stopped reading as if I were truly suffocating.

*

When I returned to bed, I realized that I no longer liked horror stories.

*

Tick, tock, tick, tock . . .

That's what the clock sounds like when you can't fall asleep.

But sometimes what sounds like that is not the clock but ideas: The Book of Denial, The Book of Denial, The Book of Denial . . .

And they don't let you sleep either.

*

"Why is Papa inventing this story?" was the question that didn't let me sleep for almost the entire night and it was the question that woke me in the morning, too late, so I arrived at school when class had already begun.

*

My teacher's hands.

I couldn't keep my eyes off her hands the whole morning, as if I had never seen them before.

"A pianist's hands," my mother says when she sees hands like that, with long and delicate fingers.

My teacher's hands, in addition, had red nails and immaculate skin, and every time she raised them, I saw her palms, white and smooth.

In my imagination I brought those palms, all morning, to the faces of each and every one of my classmates, just like people who try on clothes in stores to see if they look good on them.

*

When I got home, Mama had already placed three plates on the table, three napkins, three sets of silverware, but I couldn't sit down.

The truth is that during the night I had read more than one page.

 

It has always been easy for mankind to get rid of its children. The necks of children are still fragile, they are like weak paper cones balancing an enormous crystal ball.

As if nature were on our side, the side of the adults.

Squeezing their fragile necks or breaking them like kindling. That's what it sounds like, according to those few who have dared to speak of this: "Like breaking a rotten table."

*

Suddenly, I was afraid to see my father's hands.

*

How could he write something like that?

How could he use his hands to write something like that?

*

I remained at the top of the staircase looking between the banisters.

Throughout lunch, while my mother ate, he remained hunched over, with his body leaning forward, his hands beneath the table.

Then I thought that perhaps he was not able to look at his own hands either.

*

"I need to write it so that others care," my father said.

He was seated on the bed again, my mother was lying down again, and I stood before the half-open door of their bedroom once again.

This time my presence there was not accidental. I had gone there specifically to see them without their seeing me.

My mother was under the blankets and had her eyes closed; Papa had his closed as well.

"Do you think it's easy to do something like this? Do you think one does something like this for pleasure?" he asked her without looking at her, rocking back and forth. "I write so that others care, but also so that it continues to matter to me . . .. I must do it while I still care, darling, I must do it while it matters to me."

*

Afterwards, Papa had gone to the kitchen, the living room, the kitchen, the dining room, the kitchen, the garden, the living room.

In reality, he had not done anything in there. He just stood looking at the furniture, the photographs hung on the wall, the rugs.

The last thing I thought before falling asleep behind the chair where he had sat down is that he was acting just like I did when I had to do my homework for school: busying myself with anything else so as not to do what I had to do.

*

"There is no longer path than the one which leads us to obligation," Mama had once told me, "so let me help you." And she brought me my schoolbooks so I could do my homework.

*

"I am not going to help you," was the first thing I thought this morning on waking, not behind the chair where I had fallen asleep, but instead tucked into my bed, "I promise you, Papa." 

*

El libro de la negación, written by Ricardo Chávez Castañeda, illustrated by Alejandro Magellanes published by Ediciones el Naranjo. © 2014 by Ricardo Chávez Castañeda, text, and Alejandro Magellanes, illustrations.

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