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Toti O'Brien


BABEL continued

     I made love for the first time at our vacation house, a small villa surrounded by orchards. Since my birthday comes in mid summer, that’s where we celebrate it. Quite a short ride from town… no one minds. For my quinceanera we frolicked until dark, dancing obviously, and we were allowed beer… Isidora was nine—she was put to bed with much fuss. Mother had to employ some persuasion and that kept her busy, long enough for me to disappear in the orchards with my boyfriend. 

     We lay in one of those squares dug under the trees… maybe it was round, a circle, wide enough for two bodies—a small lake, usually water filled. Not then… it was dry, the soil crumbly, but we saw grass and thought it would be soft. While he scrambled on top I felt stinging under my butt and tights. Our mattress was a spread of nettles. I started giggling—I don’t think he noticed. Since we never switched places, he felt nothing. I mean he wasn’t stung. But I was.


     I have better understood father’s worries. There’s some background I didn’t know about.

    A grand aunt, on mom’s side, had seizures. Long ago. She was quite messed up but they kept her home—in the country house, yes, the same one. She liked to sneak out, wander among trees... she did nothing bad, nothing dangerous. But it wasn’t safe, for little by little she had lost her mind. Namely seizure by seizure, or so they believed. So the doctors said.

     The more she lost her mind the more she liked escaping. It was as if a mischievous spirit, a small devil had got hold of her. She ran, trying to reach the property limits, where she stopped dead at the barbed fence. There she lifted her fists—a kid ready for a tantrum. She did not scream, though. She sang bits and snips of opera songs (that is what the radio played at the time). She smiled at the barbed wire as if it were a full house. She bowed at distant ovations, among chuckles of crickets and frogs.

     Dad was reminiscing about it, over dinner. Cousin was invited. He sat on the other side of the table. The other side of me, I mean, next to sister. Dad went on to deliver the last piece of candy: the time when grandaunt left in her gown, in the middle of night. I can picture those yards of lace glittering against the greenery, at moonlight… 

     She met someone with whom she had intercourse, as they learned when they finally rescued her. Not because she said it—they weren’t so sure she understood, father commented. He does not think the guy was identified. They must have opted for discretion. They found her outside, half asleep, with an angelical smile. Then she sang all day—father was embellishing, I guess. 

     Anyway she had passed through the window, for the door of her bedroom—the one leading to the corridor—had been carefully locked. The other one opened into her parent’s room and she didn’t go by, they swore, while the door to the balcony was wide open. And her knees, both of them, were scraped, swollen, bruised. But she sang all day. 

     I had never known aunt had seizures. I had never known of this aunt. Grandpa’s elder sister, she had died before I was born. So I couldn’t remember her, but I did recall something else. 




     I remembered (just a fragment, but it blew my mind because of its sharpness, and how fast it disappeared again. I tried to fish it back, but in vain. I had to be contented with the flash striking me for an instant, then try to reconstruct it—repeating its content as you list the bits and pieces of dreams, before they vanish)…

     I remembered being small, in the country house, and being picked up by a tall person who wasn’t grandpa, though grandpa was there. Someone lifted me who looked infinite to me—head as far as the leaves topping the veranda—a green roof as remote as paradise. 

     The tall person was laughing. I recall being excited by that laugh: loud, explosive, a cascade of scattered glass. I remember that laugh like a sunbeam, and myself (when I went up in those arms) as if being sucked by the sun, sent out into space. 

     Such exhilaration came back… I could sense it… Then I pictured the dress I was wearing, dotted yellow and brown. I recalled how I loved it, how I wanted to wear it, how I felt when I did—a flower. I remembered, but later, grandpa saying: “yellow becomes brunettes.” He was smiling.

     Now to the person’s face: teeth flashing while some words are said, that of course I have forgotten. An idea of purple lips, almost violet. Blue eyes, vaguely scaring. And the bright orange fire of the hair. 

     I know it was cousin. Sure as rock—it must have occurred just before he left. He had to be in his twenties or younger. And I must have been two. I think I remember an odor, sharp and musky. Maybe he had been smoking cigars with grandfather, who always did. 

     I am sitting on the library sofa when this comes to mind. Why now? Why here? Why did I stop on my way? This is not a confortable place, and in fact a smell lingers that slightly disturbs me. But this one I can easily tell—it is brandy. Thus the liquor reserve has been recently tapped. None of my business.

     I go back to my just found memory. Does he also remember? That moment? The polka dots? Me?


     It is Saturday and he will come. He will sit in front of me, next to sister. We are perfectly neutral in public—I mean around the table. No one knows, and by the way what is there to know? Nothing, no romance, no plans for the future. 

     I will travel to South America as soon as I finish college. I will like it… landscapes, buildings and plants resemble these, here—just bigger. I have been listening to what cousin said, but I already knew. There’s no country in the world that feels extraneous, thanks to the stamp collection.

     We have sex most Sunday afternoons—quite a routine. I suppose it could be defined as crude. Kind of rough. Unadorned, for sure. But week after week, month after month, it became less dull. I have paid attention, of course, to possible consequences—he’s aware. No worries. Soon I’ll graduate, I will leave, and this will come to an end. He knows. I guess he doesn’t mind.




     The last thing in my eye are blue tiles—and white ones, a checkered pattern. Azules. I was lingering on them before I got ready for downstairs, for the family and dinner.

     I’m not sure, now, if my eyes are open or closed—darkness is really thick and my sensations are blurred. But I have come around, I know where I am, no more horses are tramping me. And I’m really, really cold. I don’t know for how long I have been unconscious.


     It has happened again and this time I’ve panicked more. I remember, but I’m still confused— more than all I’m weak. I hope I’ll fall asleep. 

     When I tried to get in, the glass door was closed. I think (not sure: it feels as if centuries have past)… I think I heard rushed steps. Someone running away, and that made me furious. 

     I banged with both palms against the glass panes. I yelled “Open, open!” Then I turned around: lights were on in the kitchen, but the window was closed. I could scream my lungs out, nobody would hear.

     They would know where I was. Soon, if not right away. Of course I could be somewhere else: but soon they’d realize. Obvious, wasn’t it?  No worry, just patience, but rage made me whimper and fret. I felt trapped. The balcony suddenly scared me. How could I trust such a cage? Suspended? The locked door had severed it, cutting the circulation. No blood came from the building to this rotten tooth. 

      No blood got to my extremities, to my head: I felt dizzy. I knew I should calm down, summon patience, but I couldn’t. Again I banged at the door, I started yelling.


     I don’t know when I fainted—maybe then, for that’s where memory stops. I don’t know which way I’ve fallen—maybe towards the door, for there’s shattered glass around me. I don’t feel pain, but itching all over, like nettles. I don’t feel like moving at all.

     If I’ve broken the glass I could stick my hand in, turn the knob. Only I don’t feel like moving. I need to stay put, in the darkness. They will come.

      My head—I must have banged it. It takes a mighty effort to move my arm (not sure which, body parts remain vague). An eternity later, my fingertips have reached my skull.

     My skull? There’s a wound running down the back of my head, like a tear (this cannot be true). There’s a cut, very deep, very large: I brush my fingers against it—they get sticky. I can feel the lips of the cut: lifted, thick, swollen. They remind me of something else but I can’t say what. And between those pulsing edges, at the bottom, something hard—something bone.

     I remove my fingers. My hand, slower than a slug, slides cautiously back, mapping out a geography of broken crystals. Was the moon up tonight? Was it full? Did I see the moon before falling? I saw tiles. French lilies... Does the moon make the broken glass shine? I see darkness.

     My hand also feels dampness: lots of blood around here. I must have banged my head pretty badly. How long have I been out? I’m colder and colder. I know father, mom, maybe cousin and sister will come. Will they? Cousin.

     So the balcony is holding all right: this small ledge, sticking out like the bar of a letter t… 

     I am enmeshed with the rail, like a hieroglyph. 

     So the balcony is holding, and I’m the one who fell. But things happen.


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