It was happening. Right then, happening. They’d been warning me for a long time, and yet. I was paralyzed, my sweaty hands clutching at the air, while the people in the living room went on talking, roaring with laughter—even their whispers were exaggerated, while I. And someone shouted louder than the rest, turn the music down, don’t make so much noise or the neighbors’ll call the cops at midnight. I focused in on that thundering voice that never seemed to tire of repeating that even on Saturdays the neighbors went to bed early. Those gringos weren’t night owls like us, party people to the core. Good protestant folks who would indeed protest if we kept them from their sleep. On the other side of the walls, above our bodies and under our feet, too, these gringos—so used to greeting dawn with their socks on and shoes already tied—were restless. Gringos who sat down in their impeccable underwear and ironed faces to eat their breakfasts of cereal with cold milk. But none of us were worried about those sleepless gringos, their heads buried under pillows, their throats stuffed with pills that would bring no relief as long as we kept trampling their rest. If the people in the living room went on trampling, that is, not me. I was still in the bedroom, kneeling, my arm stretched out toward the floor. In that instant, precisely, in that half-light, in that commotion, I found myself thinking about the neighbors’ oppressive sleeplessness, imagining them as they turned out the lights after stuffing earplugs in their ears, how they’d push them in so hard the silicone would burst. I thought I would much rather have been the one with broken earplugs, the one with eardrums pierced by shards. I would rather have been the old woman resolutely placing the mask over her eyelids, only to yank it off again and switch on the light. I wished for that while my still-suspended hand encountered nothing. There was only the alcoholic laughter coming through the walls and spattering me with saliva. Only Manuela’s strident voice yelling over the noise for the umpteenth time, Come on, guys, keep it down a little. No, please don’t, I said to myself, keep talking, keep shouting, howl, growl if you must. Die laughing. That’s what I said to myself, my body seized up though only a few seconds had passed. I’d only just come into the master bedroom, just leaned over to search for my purse and the syringe. I had to give myself an injection at twelve o’clock sharp but now I wouldn’t make it, because the pile of precariously balanced coats let my purse slide to the floor, because instead of stopping conscientiously, as I should have, I bent over and reached to pick it up. And then a firecracker went off in my head. But no, it was no fire I was seeing, it was blood spilling out inside my eye. The most shockingly beautiful blood I have ever seen. The most outrageous. The most terrifying. The blood gushed, but only I could see it. With absolute clarity I watched as it thickened, I saw the pressure rise, I watched as I got dizzy, I saw my stomach turn, saw that I was starting to retch, and even so. I didn’t straighten up or move an inch, didn’t even try to breathe while I watched the show. Because that was the last thing I would see, that night, through that eye: a deep, black blood.
There would be no more admonitions impossible to follow. Stop smoking, first of all, and then don’t hold your breath, don’t cough, do not for any reason pick up heavy packages, boxes, suitcases. Never ever lean over, or dive headfirst into water. The carnal throes of passion were forbidden, because even an ardent kiss could cause my veins to burst. They were brittle, those veins that sprouted from my retina and coiled and snaked through the transparent humor of my eye. To observe the growth of that winding vine of capillaries and conduits, to keep watch day by day over its millimetric expansion. That was the only thing that could be done: keep watch over the sinuous movement of the venous web advancing toward the center of my eye. That was all and it was a lot, the optician declared, just that, that’s it, he would repeat, averting his eyes and looking at my clinical history that had grown into a mountain of papers, a thousand-page manuscript stuffed into a manila folder. Knitting his graying eyebrows, Lekz wrote the precise biography of my retinas, their uncertain prognosis. Then he cleared his throat and subjected me to the details of new research protocols. At one point he dropped the phrase transplants in experimental stages. Only I didn’t qualify for any experiments: I was either too young, or my veins too thick, or the procedure too risky. We had to wait until the results were published in specialized journals, and for the government to approve new drugs. Time also stretched out like arbitrary veins, and the eye doctor went on talking nonstop, ignoring my impatience. And what if there’s a hemorrhage, doctor, I was saying, clenching his protocols between my teeth. But it didn’t bear thinking about, he said; better not to think at all, he said, better to just keep an eye on it and take some notes that would be impossible to decipher later on. But soon he would raise his eyes from his illegible calligraphy to concede that if it happened, if it came to pass, if in fact the event occurred, then we would have to see. Then you’ll see, I muttered, holed up in my hate: I hope you can catch a glimpse of something then, once I no longer can. And now it had happened. I no longer saw anything but blood in one eye. How long before the other one broke? This was finally the blind alley, the dark passage where only anonymous, besieged cries could be heard. But no, maybe not, I thought, getting hold of myself, sitting down on the coats in that bedroom of Manuela’s, folding my toes inward while my shoes swung like corpses. No, I told myself, because with my eyes already broken I would dance again, jump again, kick doors open with no risk of bleeding out; I could jump off the balcony, bury the blade of an open pair of scissors between my eyebrows. Become the master of the alley, or find the way out. That’s what I thought without thinking, fleetingly. I started to ransack the drawers in search of a forgotten pack of cigarettes and a lighter. I was going to burn my fingernails lighting the cigarette, fill myself with tobacco before returning to that doctor’s office and saying to him, the smoke now risen to my head, tell me what you see now, doctor, tell me, coldly, urgently, strangled by resentment, as if his gloved hands had wrenched my sick eye out by its roots: tell me now, tell me whatever you want, because now he couldn’t tell me anything. It was Saturday night or more like Sunday, and there was no way to get in touch with the doctor. And in any case, what could he say that I didn’t already know: liters of rage were clouding my vision?
As I put out the cigarette and straightened up, I saw a thread of blood run across my other eye. A fine thread that immediately started to dissolve. Soon it would be nothing but a dark spot, but it was enough to turn the air around me murky. I opened the door and stopped to look at what remained of the night: just a pasty light coming from what must be the living room, shadows moving to the rhythm of a murderous music. Drums. Rock chords. Discordant voices. There would be appetizers languishing on the table, and potato chips, a dozen beers. The ashtrays must still be only half-full, I thought, without actually seeing them. The party stayed its course and no one had any intention of stopping it. If only the wide-awake gringos would start banging on the walls with their broomsticks, I thought. If only the cops would come and make us turn off the music, put away all that old Argentine rock, pick up the trays with stony faces. If only they would make us put our shoes on, toss back the last dregs in the bottles, tell the last tired joke, hurry through the goodbyes and see-you-laters. But the early morning still stretched out ahead of us. Of me. Of Ignacio, who was still indiscernible in the fog. Ignacio would understand the situation without my needing to say get me out of here, take me home. I was sure his panting exhaustion would come to my rescue, his finger poking my cheek. Why so serious?, he said, suddenly beside me. Hearing his voice shattered my composure, dashed it to the floor as he added: Why the long face? And how was I to know what kind of face I had, when I’d misplaced my lips and my mole, when even my earlobes had gotten lost. All I had left were a couple of blind eyes. And I heard myself saying, Ignacio, chirping Ignacio like a bird, Ignacio, I’m bleeding, this is the blood and it’s so dark, so awfully thick. But no. That wasn’t what I said, but rather, Ignacio, I think I’m bleeding again, why don’t we go. Go? he said (you said it, Ignacio, that’s what you said even though now you deny it, and then you fell silent). And I heard him ask if it was a lot of blood, maybe assuming it was like so many other times, just a bloody particle that quickly dissolved in my humors. Not so much, no, I lied, but let’s go. Let’s go now. But no. Let’s wait until the party winds down, till the conversation dies of its own accord. Let’s not be the ones to kill it, as if it weren’t already dead. We’d leave in a little while, and what’s an hour more or half an hour less when there’s no longer anything ahead. I could drink another glass of wine and anesthetize myself, another glass of wine and get drunk. (Yes, pour me another glass, I whispered, while you filled it up with blood.) And I drank to the health of my parents, who were snoring miles away from the disaster, to the health of my friends’ uproar, to the health of the neighbors who hadn’t complained about the noise, the health of the medics who never came to my rescue, to the motherfucking health of health.
Lina Meruane (author) is one of the most prominent female voices in Chilean contemporary narrative. A novelist, essayist, and cultural journalist, she has published a collection of short stories, Las Infantas, as well as three novels, Póstuma, Cercada and Fruta Podrida. Meruane currently serves as editor of Brutas Editoras, an independent publishing house in New York City. Holder of a Ph.D. in Latin American Literature from New York University, she teaches World and Latin American Literature and Creative Writing at NYU.
Megan McDowell (translator) is a literary translator of many modern and contemporary South American authors, including Alejandro Zambra, Arturo Fontaine, Carlos Busqued, Álvaro Bisama, and Juan Emar. Her translations have been published in The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, Words Without Borders, Mandorla, and Vice, among others. She lives in Santiago, Chile and New York.