Overwhelmed by the weight of oblivion, she plunged one leg into the bathtub full of warm water, flowers and leaves that chased away the pain living inside her . . . fortunately, the herbal bath relieved her aching body and the sores spreading across her skin.
Still standing there with one leg navigating the tiny ocean she had designed at the end of the bedroom, she caught a glimpse of the world lying in wait outside her window. Her other leg hung suspended in the surrounding cold; a part of her body stood removed from the healing aroma. Part of her lived in this country like a mutilated mannequin, a dismembered body, interconnected shards of flesh and bones dangling from bloody strands of coagulated muscle fibers, trembling, gangrenous, lumps of decaying tissue, blood that had been drying for weeks, a dead rat forgotten beneath a bookcase, open wounds gushing blood. She had returned just like that, mortally injured, and yet the other part of her was overcome with a strange feeling that she couldn’t quite comprehend and pushed her to continue living. That was how she returned, barely a shadow in a dress.
The sensation of being crushed persisted and her open wounds festered, trying always to take over the part of her body that remained temporarily protected, the part of her attempting to resist the pain that threatened to destroy her flesh and her soul. She pulled out her healthy half, and for a moment, managed to submerge her bloody side in the tub, horrified by the bleeding pus drowning the rosemary leaves and crumbled roses. There were so many marks; her body was one long wound. She walked out of the bathroom, slipped into the bed and covered herself from head to toe with the sheets. She slept deeply for four days, her black hair flowing over the edge of the pain-ridden bed, immersed in nightmares, the bodily fluids of a dying body, of a life in the balance.
She woke up with her legs drenched in blood and a stabbing pain in her stomach. The infection had spread to her entire body, she thought; and then she stood up quickly only to confirm it had been her liberating menstrual period that was cleansing her blood and wounds.
After stepping out onto the streets, she didn’t understand why they were so empty and why there was a thick odor of gunpowder, sweet, sour, as if two hundred cattle had just been slaughtered at the same time. The lingering December and January rains formed a mildewed crust on the sidewalks and on the curbs of the cobblestone streets. The sludge, blood, and pus made her slip, while the bullet casings jangled as she walked by them. A terrified passerby behind frightened eyes bumped into her without realizing it, and she grasped there was a war. She hastily ran the final stretch to take refuge in her home and lit a stick of sandalwood and resin incense in order to appease the evil spirits. She needed to construct a hiding place within herself so that her rotting parts wouldn’t overtake the healthy ones.
The walking corpse that bumped into her on the corner, the empty bullet shells, the stench of putrid blood that filled the air, and the barricades in the square convinced her she had been right: war had moved into her backyard. From a simple spot on the hem of her dress from last May, it had spread across the different regions of her skin. The enemy, allied with rumors and judgments, had come to betray and sew up her desires.
She leaned out of the window. A few oxen pulled a cart of dead men with mostly dark skins, leaving in its wake various streams of blood and other fluids from the corpses. One of the dead men had his eyes open, the surprise of death drawn on the apple of his eye. He was a white man with light-colored eyes and a chest full of holes through which shreds of flesh escaped. She slammed the window shut. They were too close; they surrounded her. She tried to get some air, repeating to herself that she wouldn’t die in this war, at least not yet. A trumpet announced the curfew, the troop’s march drowned out her moans and she felt trapped. A hand that smelled of gunpowder ran down her spine, kissed her and later, breaking away, vomited back the tremendous worries that years ago she had confessed. Now, after transforming them into monstrous enemies, she hurls them away—another of the tactics devised for war. She had read all of the manuals on conventional warfare, but this war involved trying unprecedented strategies, new techniques.
And like that, she walked through the hallways almost breaking down the walls in an attempt to close all of the doors of her house to prevent herself from escaping, but she couldn’t understand how the doors and windows were opening by themselves . . . determined not to flee, she ripped her dresses, tore her hair, scratched her face so that she would stay. She pounded her chest, she threw herself against the walls to not feel so much pain and so that the empty streets that made her suffer would cease calling to her . . . the windows weren’t enough to quell her desires to escape.
Her wounds wouldn’t heal. Worse still, they spread, expanded, decayed, as if foretelling the invasion of worms on her skin. Her ears—ears that had heard so many things—were the first to decompose, deep tubular roots like filaments absorbing insults that took the place of words of love . . . pieces of her ego clung to her clothes, she was disoriented in her room, her soon-to-be grave. All of her was disintegrated, confused, disassociated, with an empty womb, with all of the children that had been pulled out of her. She grasped hold of the pieces of emptiness with her nails, with a handful of old laughter in her pockets and the remnants of tenderness on the buttons of her blouse: it was then that she remembered the origin of the war and the bloodshed; she had been accused of high treason . . . but she had only dared to desire. Never did she imagine such a punishment for that.
Her memory would save her: returning to the origin of the war to reverse it, perhaps that was the way out she’d hoped for. Reinforcements from abroad would never come, she no longer needed to vanquish an enemy; orphaned by her homeland and army, it was a battle she needed to win by herself . . . and soon.
The civil war had ended six years ago, the dead had been buried, the generals now relaxed as they enriched themselves; there were no longer any fatalities caused by bullets . . . Banquets and parties were thrown while in the neighborhoods starving people keeled over . . . and her body was covered in hematomas that became increasingly harder to hide . . . they were killing her . . .
In the midst of a war she was losing, she never found out what gave her the strength to survive, to open doors and windows, to forget the blood, to ignore the screams, the bursts of gunfire, the fear, the daily insults. She never found out how she managed to claw her way out from the horrible abyss in which she would sink frequently to escape the prying eyes, nor how she was able to wake up after awful nights and gather the few flowers left in the city in her room and drift around naked among them. Those were days full of nightmares and deep sadness that preceded the beautiful words on her lips. The people that surrounded her were aware that after she suffered, her heart would unleash a delightful expression; she, too, could tell that she wasn’t going to die, she knew that day and the following ones, filled with hours of agony, that a single word would wipe away all of her anguish and that of her neighbors.
But the evil blanketed her room and she agonized without remedy. She could no longer imagine anything; the few words that she could pronounce were inaudible. She was anxious to speak to the others. She was expending her final energy. Everybody had fallen asleep while waiting up all night for her to say something. She stopped trying, closed her mouth and eyes, and scratching her memory, discovered the face and body of the last man who desired her. The first tickling sensation in her stomach—her own desire, her skin’s reactions, her body and senses taking on a life of their own . . . suddenly her closet opened, her hats and dresses came flying out, her bed covered with butterflies, the color returned to her cheeks, her belongings came alive just like her gaze. Everything needed to be restored, the house filled with music, the flower vases with water, the mailboxes with letters, the bookcases with volumes on love and justice . . . The curfew had come to an end.
© Rocio Tábora. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2016 by Gabriel Saxton-Ruiz. All rights reserved.