poetic prose

Image: Jan van der Zee


Three short stories


It had arrived two days ago. She had the enigmatic face of an old baby. In addition to the curls that fell over him from hair that was too voluminous for his head, a black stubble was growing over his forehead and cheeks, which were as grimy as they were dehydrated. She was a little girl, too long to be in a crib, to just lie down; she wasn't walking, I was warned, and her look didn't respond to my care. It seemed to come from someone experienced and disenchanted. When I bent my body over the crib to take her in my arms, she pushed me away with hers, turning her ugly little face to her side with a queasy, or bored expression, seeing no reason for it. That child was depressed, I thought, and she wasn't even a year old. No, she wasn't a year old - in an instant she had her lips pulled apart a little and I could see what looked like some teeth. Then, in a gesture that I myself considered invasive, I opened her mouth a little more and checked almost entire dental arches... Thirty years after that meeting, I still remember with astonishment how much they looked charred, such was the degree of damage. At the time, what I really felt was terror and a strange compassion. I turned around and said to an employee almost leaving the dorm: “But her teeth are all rotten!”. Although in a flash I was convinced that she was much older than I thought, even though she didn't talk and didn't walk, I wasn't sensitive enough to imagine that she could understand what we said. And that was the case, because as soon as I expressed my observation the little girl burst into bitter, very bitter tears. My sentence had shaken her from indifference, from contempt for life and people. The word rotten it must have been too strong for her and made her react, showing how alive and sensitive she was, that she had some image of herself and could even have some vanity. Well, why was I so impolite saying that? Or why did I do it close to her, as if I were referring to a sampling, to an object of research? And I wasn't there to do any research.

Two days later, an employee who followed her case told me that she was five years old and her parents were crack addicts.



I open a magazine in the waiting room and then come across a photo of a neighbor at the top of an article about old age. The angle is oblique and takes much more of the right face; the framing coincides with the frame of the front window of his house, through which he casts a sidelong glance at the street, or at the journalist who comes to visit him. If I didn't recognize it right away, and the facade of the house, I would have the impression that it was a nursing home. In fact, he has very much of an old youth, the smooth skin but the already white hair, that makeup that we see in Julian Assange, who, I now notice, he looks a lot like. He lives four or five houses down from mine, and his doesn't stand out, although it's solidly built, in which you don't see any original desire for embellishment, but only the utilitarian principle of using good materials, so that it doesn't become a problem. much further ahead, dark materials, considered more neutral, which would see it through decades without major renovations. The result had therefore come out aseptic and unattractive, so that almost always I had passed by without paying much attention to it, contrary to what I do when, touched by some charm, the set or even the detail of a side porch, which I've always found promising and cozy, I slow my steps and try to guess the inside, forcing my gaze with all the scopic strength of which it is capable by a door left open, by the little misted light of a window, a narrow path to the garden. Leo's house — because I now know from the report that the old boy is called Leo — had never aroused my curiosity. What I already knew was that I had lost my parents and even though I had lost them one after the other more than 15 years ago, since mine had even gone to each of the funerals, which, of course, was not written there. He has an old cleaning lady, who, by the way, I remember now, shares the days with two other neighbors from the street, so that on one occasion I was almost tempted to arrange for her to come to my house too, but in the end I feared that through her expose my habits to generally gossip people. She still prepares Leo's food for the whole week and is the only person with whom she maintains a more continuous relationship, he emphasizes to the interviewer. If it weren't for her, I'd probably be in a nursing home by now. But you are still so young, she contradicts him. If I were, you wouldn't be here interviewing me about old age and loneliness. See, we were referred to you, someone you know, we contacted you, and you, informed of the matter, offered no resistance. It just postponed our date a lot (saying that, I laugh a little). I got anxious, I always want to receive people, bring some color to my routine, but in fact I end up getting upset and withdrawing. I have to say that when I got here I was quite amazed. But it stayed, didn't it? He didn't try to withdraw by saying, "I'm sorry, there must have been some mistake." Yes, it's true, you weren't exactly what I imagined, but I soon grabbed, let's say, the opportunity to see things from a new angle or even to conceive a new matter from the original matter, which I myself did not expect. I think you'll enrich our project quite a bit — you're a young old man, you know, and I don't just say that by the hair. You mentioned asylum… You say you confuse the date of events a lot. Although you have no doubt about your age, you are in doubt about the date of almost everything that has occurred in the world in the last decade, and yet you have no degenerative disease. Yes, I feel very tired. The many events are responsible for me confusing them so much, I don't know, or television. You don't use internet, social networks? I use it very little because even to make a virtual network of friends you need some concrete friend to start from, and even then it wouldn't be easy. Never had friends? I've only had two in my entire life — one went abroad and the other died young.

After the dialogue, the pages were illustrated with photos of rooms in the house, and in the description of one of them it was said: “The patina of solitude covers all the furniture”. I believe that the kitsch trinkets you see on some must not have been chosen by Leo. There was an image of the back of the property that I was never interested in knowing, but it revealed something unexpected to me, because the hose so high that I always saw it from my backyard, now I know it came from his backyard. The living room is dark and could smell of church incense, as I imagined with almost disgust, and in it takes up a lot of space an L-shaped sofa, still in the style of the 70s, in dark green velvet, where he sits. The reporter, also responsible for the photos, is sensitive, I soon saw that, and in that essay on loneliness she had calculated well the light by which she would reveal how things had lost their own pace to adopt that of Leo, who still kept a childhood iron, caught in operation by the camera while he looked at it with a somewhat distant air, perhaps due to the memories and even fantasies that the toy, bought certainly in a time of plenty in his family, as it was seen that it was an international and coveted model, still triggered. I made a strange but sudden association, which gives it more value, between it and the artistic contraptions that Ludwig, the king of Bavaria and famous solitaire, had built from time to time. Four or five houses to the right of mine, coming from Rua Demissionários, lives a middle-class Ludwig, who also happens to be spit on and Assange spit out, forgotten in that environment elusive of light, but almost vibrating when, at any time of day , the magnificent miniature locomotive is set in motion.

It was in a dream I had a few days ago that I read the article mentioned, and what I thought about it I also thought about in that dream. 



            (to Elaine Armenian, im)

Ah, it was painted like a ripe banana, said my father in a voice already weakened by the disease, but in a tone that could be discerned as extremely affectionate and not one of weakness, although it was as if adopted to imitate someone saying that. I soon understood that he was imitating himself, himself in a remote era.

He could no longer walk a few days before his death, and I had asked him, as if he didn't know anything, about his childhood sweetheart, a cousin named Vivi, who lived in a big house on Rua São Vicente de Paula, close to a family boarding house. where he, his brother and his parents had gone to stay for a while after moving from Santos. I already knew about Vivi, how my father would leave school and run to her house, stopping by the trunk of a tree on the other side of the sidewalk and picking chips with his fingernails until she appeared at the window. I also knew that she had red hair and freckles — but he had never mentioned her before, had he made the comparison he is now, had never used the image of the spotted banana. He didn't like it when it reached that point, which I don't like either; but then it occurred to me how much every time in his life that he had seen the skin of the fruit in such a state he had not thought of that Vivi, who in my imagination was a tiny body and a rusty face, on which I didn't put any features, even though I enveloped him with red hair, long and thick.

Maybe that way, weaker, it was like more easily pulled by the gravitational force of his childhood, from which he never left his feet very far, in fact, always dreaming that through some door his mother would come in carrying a tray of pumpkin cashews, creamy inside and with a thin, glazed shell on the outside, as he always added, as he seemed to be giving us instructions for a recipe that, due to the most extreme inattention, that which develops in the face of a very repeated phenomenon, we were never able to make, which fills me with remorse, one more, because I should have overcome repetition and boredom and recognize there one of the few most legitimate and delicate requests that have ever been made to me and I believe also to my mother. But, because of this disarrangement of mental layers that was now happening in my father, I heard for the first time that analogy, so immediate and so old, offered to me as an overturned site offers the handle of an ancient vase. In fact, it wasn't a question of imitation, as I said at the beginning of what is the memory of a memory, but it was his own older being, which thus suddenly spoke again - the illness, perhaps because it was malignant and hasty, curiously enough. it also seemed to follow that protocol of last-ditch generosity bestowed in some places on those condemned to death, and then gave that chance to the infantile perception that had been imprisoned there for years.


*Priscila Figueiredo is a professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Matthew (poems) (well i saw you).

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