Authors: Iosi Havilio
Now the ghost speaks, she says things, incongruous things, sometimes she complains, other times she laughs, it’s a forced laugh, wasted on alcohol. There’s something different in the timbre of the voice, but it’s her, as if in flesh and blood. I try to ignore her, to convince myself that it’s just my imagination, a demented, perverse game, that my subconscious is subjecting me to tests to keep me on my toes, and yet it’s so convincing, so real, that I don’t want to even think about stretching out my arm: what if I touch her?
I wonder whether it wouldn’t be a good idea to talk to someone about it, but with whom, it’s madness, just think of Jaime’s expression if I told him.
On Saturday morning, Jaime goes to Luján to buy a new scythe. The other one is no good anymore, he says, I can’t even sharpen it. I go with him. He parks the truck in the centre of town, in front of the basilica. We agree to meet back here in an hour, at half twelve. If you want, we can grab something to eat afterwards. In the doorway of the church, there are two or three stalls brimming with effigies of the Virgin Mary. There are wooden virgins half a metre tall, hard plastic ones, wax versions with a wick at the top, plug-in virgins with long cables and bulbs inside, paper virgins, and lots of predictive virgins, like toy barometers, that change colour depending on the weather. Blue: good. Violet: changeable. Pink: rainy. Most of the virgins, except for one or two that must be broken, are violet and yet the sky is overcast with clouds that are closer to black than grey and look ready to burst at any moment. Without my asking, as I study one of the statuettes to try to discover its secret and its fault, the stallholder explains that the little virgins, as she calls them, also work inside. Great.
It’s almost twelve, I head towards the truck. First, I drop into a vet’s surgery and ask for a bottle of ketamine. They look at me strangely and ask for a prescription. I show a credential, which I have with me by chance.
Later, Eloísa confesses what I already knew. She tells me that she slept with little Martín, that she did it because she felt sorry for him. She wants to know if I’m annoyed.
‘It’s very strange, I know that it makes no sense, but it’s starting to worry me more than it should, and I need to tell someone about it …’ I say to Yasky as we walk around the polo field; I choose my words carefully so that he doesn’t think I’m crazy. I break off, I pause, I’m not entirely sure about telling him, there’s still time to backtrack and invent something else. But no, I tell him all at once, to take the weight off my shoulders and exorcise the ghost.
‘For a while now I’ve been having a kind of vision, very tangible and real … Aída, my friend, the girl from the bridge, appears to me every now and then, anywhere, and she speaks, she talks to me …’ I finish speaking and cover my mouth to stop myself laughing.
Yasky leaves without saying anything to placate me. I feel lost.
The Romanians’ ranch was burnt down. I find out from Boca. The police scour the surrounding area but there’s no one left. They’re used to fleeing, they’re gypsies in spirit. I wonder what will become of Loti, whether we’ll see him again. I hope not.
We spend the whole night taking ket, like two madwomen. Talking ceaselessly, without listening to each other, coming and going to the bathroom. Hard like two hard mares. We drink half a demijohn of wine. Without touching each other, or kissing; in another world.
When we began to run out of air, Eloísa opened the door of the storeroom slightly and the morning hit us in the face, just the same as every other morning, except that, for the first time, it was spinning like a giant, straying top. We went outside for a walk. We crossed the sleeping village, as far as the train tracks. Elo said that she didn’t feel well. My heart’s beating too fast, she said. Her breathing was agitated. Her forehead was covered in droplets of sweat. I touched her back. You’re soaking wet. What are we going to do? It’s, like, nine and I’ve got to call home, I say. And her: Stop fucking about. You’re going mad, that house is murder. Eloísa started walking in no particular direction with her heart leaping out of her body. I stayed where I was, weak and sleepless. I remained like that for some time, my mind blank, until the truck appeared and filled my eyes with dust. The door opened and Jaime waited patiently until I decided to climb in. The entire way home without talking or looking at each other, the radio on. I shut myself in the bedroom and slept until ten at night.
Now we’re in the kitchen and the situation is confused, the furniture has changed places. Yasky speaks, explaining the facts. I settle down behind him, in the rearguard, I don’t want to take charge. Jaime listens seriously, his fingers intertwined, pressing his thumbs together. One of his cigarettes hangs from his mouth, he expels smoke through his nose, with a defeated look on his face. He’s not surprised by what he hears, he’s annoyed. In spite of him, the talk is of ghosts and supernatural matters. Yasky says he has the solution, he proposes a session.
‘There are methods,’ says Yasky. ‘Fairly effective methods, if you both agree, I can raise a request and ask for authorisation, or perhaps we don’t need to, we could always organise a session between us, a conclave, in secret, right now.’
In addition to Yasky, there are two other men, one blond with earphones, the operator, and a tall, skinny guy, the witness, who will remain standing and silent throughout the session, lighting a fresh cigarette with the butt of the previous one.
We congregate around a strange device, like a portable mixing desk. Jaime, Yasky, Eloísa, the operator, the witness and me, in that order, in a clockwise direction. When did Eloísa appear? And what is she doing sitting on my knee? I have no answer to that. She seems happy, eager to find out what might happen. The operator presses a button, turns some knobs, the machine starts up. I’m well aware that we are in the presence of a ghost-catcher, the kind you used to get in the old days. Now, except for the witness, we’re all wearing earphones like the operator’s, although not quite so sophisticated. Jaime becomes tangled in the cables, he struggles to manoeuvre the equipment and Eloísa laughs in his face. She’s stoned, it shows in her eyes, she must have smoked a joint on the way over. Now that I look closely, her blouse is undone, her tits on show, but nobody notices, it doesn’t attract anyone’s attention. The girl has no limits. The operator puts on some thin gloves, very fine and surgical-looking. Eloísa wants to touch all the buttons, I have to hold down her hands, she behaves just like a child, the operator looks at us furiously. But deep down he likes her, he’s charmed by her.
We spend the whole night waiting for some kind of sign, a gesture, but since nothing happens, or else the machine isn’t working, Boca, who all this time has been guarding the kitchen door with his gun in his hands, ‘shooting ducks’, as I thought I heard him say at one point, gets impatient and joins the witness who is setting out glasses to begin an old-style séance. Eloísa has fallen asleep under the table, curled up at my feet. Yasky tries to encourage us, Jaime has lost patience and every so often bangs the useless machine gently but nervously. The operator is confused, he feels small, he recognises his failure.
But the wait is justified. When we had already abandoned hope and were playing at making the glasses move around the tabletop, a sudden, painful, ultrasonic hum revives everyone’s enthusiasm.
The spectre would manifest itself. The time had come. But something new happened, something unsatisfactory that put an end to everything. The device gave off some sparks, exploded and then plunged us into darkness.
I spend my nights awake, reconstructing, with a bit of book-work and a lot of guesswork, the history of Open Door. I prefer to sleep during the day. In the daytime I don’t dream. At night I do and the dreams, my recent dreams anyway, are too disturbing. I bought myself a cheap whisky that keeps me awake. Sometimes I wonder why I’m so interested in this particular story, when there are so many others; because it’s close, because it’s unlikely, because it’s beginning to belong to me, because I have time on my hands, could it be because of Jaime, who I want to see less and less, or Eloísa, who I want to see more and more and who is driving me to distraction.
Very early, in secret, I submerge the tip in the piss-filled plastic container and leave it twice as long as the instructions suggest, to avoid any mistakes. It’s the first pregnancy test I’ve done in my life. I never thought I’d actually be able to do it. They say that there are many reasons for periods being late: hormonal changes, mood swings, stress, traumatic situations, false pregnancies. There are women who go up to six months without menstruating for no obvious reason, on nature’s whim, just because. Then out of the blue, it returns and they have normal periods again.
Late, but just how late? I’d lost track, but it was etched on my mind that the last one had arrived the day after that first night with Eloísa. I remembered it well because when I woke up that midday with Jaime’s axe cracking a few metres from the window, I went to the bathroom to pee and the blood stains in my knickers filled me with sadness. Right then, it made no sense. My legs were still trembling, my head was still swimming from too many joints and so much crazy sex, deep sounds echoed in my ears and an exquisite tingling picked at the inside of my body. I could only think about when we would see each other again, that same night if possible. And in that instant, like a child betrayed by her own body, I thought that the blood had ruined everything.
That must have been the start of April, the first weekend of the month, the fourth or fifth, a few days after I started taking my unsuccessful trips to the morgue. And if a few weeks ago, when the idea began to spin round my head, it had seemed absurd, impossible, utter madness, later I convinced myself that yes, it was possible, I wasn’t careful and although Jaime took precautions, they’re never enough. The possibility tortured me: it struck me dumb for a couple of days. It even stopped me wanting to see Eloísa, as if I’d deceived her. But no, it made no sense. How many times had I fucked without taking care and nothing had happened? It was all in my mind, and if my period hadn’t arrived it was because I was changing, my body was speaking for me, I wasn’t made to have children. And to stop me worrying over all these stupid speculations, the best idea was to confirm that it wasn’t true. I’m not pregnant and that’s the end of it.
Ready. I leave it a few seconds longer, my eyes following Jaime’s presence as he gets lost on the way to the stable. It would be good for him to have another horse, not that he could replace the other Jaime, but at least what remains of the stable would stop being uninhabited and the heavy air that’s starting to fill it with demons would be dispelled. Here I go: I take courage and pull the stick out of the container, which spills slightly over the toilet lid because my steady hand betrays me.
I make a note:
When Open Door was established in 1898, the lunatic population numbered 25; in 1912 it was 154; by 1925 it had reached 234 and they were no longer lunatics, they were internees, the mentally ill. In 2000 there are 1,964. An average of 65 new internees enter the institution every year.
This can’t be right, I must be hallucinating. But no. I wake in the middle of the night between two deeply sleeping bodies, one face up, the other face down, Jaime on the right, Eloísa on the left. All three in the same bed. All three naked. The half-light makes me doubtful, but touch confirms what sight refuses to believe. My eyes cloud over: I don’t know how we came to this.
Jaime had come home drunk, drunker than anyone I’ve ever seen, his mouth hanging open, fillings on show, upper teeth clashing against the lower. Dribbling all over himself. I remember that part perfectly.
He came in acting the way horses do when a lorry passes them on the road: randy. I’m hungry, he struggled to say as he kicked in the air to shake off his boots. I want to eat. I heated up some chicken soup left over from the night before. Jaime appeared from the bedroom, stooped and puffing, with an unfamiliar erection. And what happened next was so typical and so absurd that it didn’t even hurt me. Jaime spat out the soup and right there, on the cold marble work-top, he mounted me, as a stallion would mount a mare, from behind, until he couldn’t go on.
Then he left, he disappeared, and in a while Eloísa arrived, also pretty out of it. I told her that I didn’t feel well and she massaged me and I her, and we must have fallen asleep without realising it.
I have no idea exactly when Jaime came in or how he managed to lie down without realising that Eloísa was in the bed. Or else he saw her and was still so drunk he didn’t care.
I have to do something quickly, right now, but I only come up with bad ideas. What if I try to sleep again and let whatever happens happen. I glance to either side and I still can’t understand it. Jaime snorts loudly, sprawled across the bed, disrobed and disorderly. Who will wake next, it could be Eloísa and she’ll go without anyone noticing. But if Jaime opens his eyes first there’s no going back, it will be irreversible.
The first thing I do is to pinch Eloísa hesitantly on one arm, very gently. I persist, a bit harder, but she doesn’t react. When I finally manage to wake her, I quickly cover her mouth with my hand and explain the situation with gestures. Disconcerted and desperate to burst out laughing, Eloísa puffs her cheeks out, the colour rises to her face, and she does her best to contain her cackles until she can’t help but release a little gasp, which she thankfully manages to stifle before it reaches Jaime’s ears. She doesn’t look good, she’s pale, drugged. What I must look like, I don’t want to know. Very slowly, measuring each movement by the millimetre, we raise ourselves until we manage to get out of bed. Eloísa goes first, on tiptoe, and I follow, resting one finger on her back to guide myself in the darkness. We reach the door, Eloísa opens it slightly, only as much as she needs to and slinks out like a cat.
Before leaving the room, I look round to set my mind at rest and confirm that the nightmare is over, but Jaime’s eyes, wide open, make me wobble and I lose balance. I hang onto the doorframe and expect the worst. It takes Jaime a moment to speak.
‘Are you all right?’ he asks and I don’t know whether he’s making fun of me, testing me or whether he genuinely didn’t notice anything. Words fail me.
‘Are you all right?’ Jaime repeats and I laugh nervously, almost giving the game away.
‘I’m thirsty,’ I do my best to say and he turns over to continue sleeping, face down now.
It’s true, I’m dying of thirst, I feel like someone has slit my throat.
Later that same day, Eloísa looks at me with different eyes, she suspects, or she knows. We sit next to the bare fig tree and smoke a small joint in silence. She seems serious, grown up, with dark circles under her eyes, very different. It’s not the same Eloísa from a few months ago, not a shred of innocence is left in her face, and yet I want her so much. I can only think about kissing her, about her going down on me as soon as possible.
‘I think I’m pregnant,’ I say quickly, to relieve myself of the burden.