The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira

BOOK: The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira
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The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira


César Aira

Translated by Katherine
Silver

A NEW DIRECTIONS BOOK

I

One day at
dawn, Dr. Aira found himself walking down a tree-lined street in a Buenos
Aires neighborhood. He suffered from a type of somnambulism, and it wasn’t all
that unusual for him to wake up on unknown streets, which he actually knew quite
well because all of them were the same. His life was that of a half-distracted,
half-attentive walker (half absent, half present) who by means of such
alternations created his own continuity, that is to say, his style, or in other
words and to close the circle, his life; and so it would be until his life
reached its end — when he died. As he was approaching fifty, that endpoint,
coming sooner or later, could occur at any moment.

A beautiful Lebanese cedar along the verge of a
pretentious little street lifted its proud rounded crown into the pinkish-gray
air. He stopped to contemplate it, overwhelmed with admiration and affection. He
addressed it
in pectore
with a short speech that combined eulogy,
devotion (a request for protection), and, oddly enough, a few descriptive
features; for he had noticed that after a time, devotion tended to become
somewhat abstract and automatic. In this case, he noticed that the crown of the
tree was both barren and leafy; the sky could be seen through it, yet it had
foliage. Standing on his tiptoes to look more closely at the lower branches (he
was very nearsighted), he saw that the leaves, which were like small,
olive-green feathers, were partially coiled around each other, it was the end of
fall, and the trees were struggling to survive.

“I honestly don’t believe that humanity can continue much
longer on this path. Our species has reached a point of such dominance on the
planet that it no longer has to confront any serious threat, and it seems that
all we can do is continue to live, enjoying what we can without having to risk
anything. And we keep moving forward in that direction, securing what is already
safe. With each advance, or retreat, no matter how gradual, irreversible
thresholds are crossed, and who knows which we have already crossed or are
crossing at this very moment. Thresholds that could make Nature react, if we
understand by Nature, life’s general regulatory mechanism. Maybe this frivolity
we’ve achieved has irritated Her; maybe She cannot allow one species, not even
our own, to be freed from its most basic needs . . . Of course I am
personalizing this quite perversely, reifying and externalizing forces that
exist within us, but it doesn’t matter because I understand myself.”

Such things to say to a tree!

“It’s not that I’m prophesying anything, especially not
catastrophes and plagues, not even subtle ones, no way! If my reasoning is
correct, the corrective mechanisms are at work within our present state of
well-being and as a part of it . . . I just don’t know how.”

He had started walking and was already at some distance
from the tree. Every now and then he would stop again, and with a look of deep
concentration he would stare at some random spot in his surroundings. These were
abrupt stops, which lasted about half a minute and did not occur with any
discernible regularity. He alone knew what they were in response to, and it was
improbable that he would ever tell anybody. They were stops of embarrassment;
they coincided with a memory, which emerged out of the folds of his idle
digressions, of a blunder. It wasn’t as if he enjoyed these memories, on the
contrary; he simply could not prevent them from rising suddenly in his mental
tide. And such an appearance was powerful enough to paralyze his legs, make him
stand still, and he would have to wait for a fresh impetus to start walking
again. Time lifted him out of the shame of the past . . . It had already done
so; it had already carried him into the present. Such blunders were cessations
of time, where everything coagulated. They were mere memories, stored away in
the most impregnable of safe boxes, one no stranger could open.

They were small, ridiculous, and perfectly private
disgraces — a moment of awkwardness, a faux pas, which had affected nobody but
himself; they had made strong impressions on him, clots of meaning that blocked
the flow of events. For some reason, they were irreducible. They resisted
translation, such as a transfer to the present. Whenever they appeared, they
paralyzed him in the middle of his somnambulistic activities, which is what
would bring them out of their labyrinthine lair of the past. The more he walked,
the greater the chance that he would catch one, against his will. This turned
his endless strolls into trajectories through the bifurcated maze of his
youthful past. Perhaps, after all, there was some kind of regularity that drew a
pattern through space-time, these cessations creating an empty distance . . .
But he would never be able to find a solution to his strange theorem if he
couldn’t explain why his steps stopped whenever a memory of this kind made its
appearance; standing still and staring at one spot could be explained as an
attempt to dissemble, perhaps pretend that this spot interested him so much that
he had no choice but to stop. But the cessation in itself, the relationship
between the blunder and paralysis, remained obscure, as long as he did not
resort to psychological interpretations. Perhaps the key could be found in the
very nature of those embarrassing moments, in their essence or common
denominator. If that were the case, what was happening was a repetition
compulsion in its most purely formal aspect.

Digging deeper into the issue, of course, was the fact
that these blunders had occurred. They happen to everybody. They are the
inevitable result of sociability, and the only solution is to forget. Truly, the
only one, because time doesn’t go backwards, so they cannot be fixed or erased.
And because he could not depend on forgetting (he had the memory of an
elephant), he had taken recourse in solitude, in almost complete isolation from
his fellows, in this way guaranteeing at least the minimization of the effects
of his incurable awkwardness, his bewilderment. And his somnambulism, which
existed on a different level of his consciousness and his intentionality, should
move in the same direction, like an a posteriori redemption, if in fact a
somnambulist acted with the elegance of perfect efficiency.

To be honest with himself, he had to admit that
blunders were not the only issue; the common denominator actually was spread
along a rather sinuous path, which turned out to be not so easy to follow. Or
perhaps one had to broaden the definition of a blunder: it could also include
small infamies, acts of stinginess, accounting errors, cowardice; in other
words, anything that feeds retrospective and private shame. And it was not as if
he blamed himself (though during those stops a voice inside would shout: “What
an idiot! What an idiot!”), for he had admitted they were inevitable at the
moment they had occurred. At least he took comfort in their insignificance, for
they had never been crimes, nor had there ever been any victims other than his
own self-esteem.

In any case, he had promised himself they would never
happen again. To achieve this he didn’t need to do anything but remain alert and
avoid precipitous behavior, always acting within the rules of honor and a proper
upbringing. In his practice as a miracle healer, a blunder could have dire
consequences.

In a novel, blunders are set up with great
deliberation, with ingenuity and care, which is quite paradoxical, for it turns
out to be more natural and spontaneous to write a scene in which everybody
behaves properly. Dr. Aira equated every act that was morally, intellectually,
or socially wrong with an act of violence, one that left a scar on the eminently
smooth skin of his ideal behavior. He was one of those men who could not
conceive of violence. Although he knew this to be absurd, he could not help
imagining that were he to find himself in a robbers’ cave, for example, among
the most brutal of criminals, he would be able to avoid violence if he behaved
reasonably, talking and listening to others’ opinions and expressing his own.
Even if the situation was ripe for violence, even if the robbers had caught him
spying . . . But how could they have caught him if he himself had not planned
his intrusion? And he had sworn he’d never again get himself into an awkward
situation like that. It’s true that he could have entered that hypothetical cave
by mistake, thinking it was empty and unoccupied; that’s where paying attention
came into play — that he should always be awake, never blink. Which was easier
said than done, though to achieve it, he had a practice, an ascesis, which he
had made his life plan. Even so, a miraculous incident could occur in which he
suddenly opened his eyes and found himself in a cave full of stolen goods, and
before he had time to react a gang of suspicious-looking subjects entered . . .
Of course, he was smack in the middle of the realm of the imaginary, of remote
possibilities. Once he was there with them, what would prevent him from
establishing a civilized conversation with the robbers, getting them to
understand what had happened, the teleporting, the somnambulism . . . ? But in
that case the robbers would also be part of the fiction, the theory, and his
persuasive success would have no demonstrative value. Real reality was comprised
of blood and blows and shouts and the slamming of doors. In the long run, the
glaze of courtesy got scratched, if not from the causal line of facts then from
another, inevitably, from the line that emerged out of the bifurcation of
time.

An enormous dog lying at the entrance to an auto repair
shop stood up when it saw him then bared its teeth. He instantaneously broke out
in a cold sweat. What an incredible lack of consideration on the part of the
owners of these animals, leaving them loose on the sidewalk and responding to
any complaint with the familiar, “He’s friendly, he won’t do anything.” They say
it with total sincerity, and full conviction, but they haven’t stopped to think
that nobody else has any reason to share that conviction, much less so when
facing a black mantle the size of a motorbike hurtling toward them . . .

His first encounter with the world of paranormal medicine
had been through dogs. When he was a child in the town of Coronel Pringles,
Mayor Uthurralt issued an order mercilessly expelling all of them from the city
limits, without exception or appeal. Fear alone (it was the era of the terrible
polio epidemic) guaranteed compliance, this in spite of the usually strong
attachment between pets and their owners. Moreover, the expulsion was temporary,
though it ended up lasting three years, and nobody had to really get rid of
their pets: all they had to do was find a place for them somewhere in the
countryside. In a town that lived off rural activities, everybody had a friend
or relative with a plot of land nearby, and that’s where the dogs were sent. The
problem was that the only veterinarian in Pringles was separated from his
patients, and although he accepted having to travel to treat them (he had no
choice if he wanted to keep working), the process was expensive and bothersome.
And it made it difficult to neuter male puppies when they reached reproductive
age, operations that had become that much more urgent under the present
circumstances. Faced with the truly ghastly alternative of handing them over to
farm hands, who could carry out the brutal procedure only with a branding iron
and without any sterilization, some doled out a lot of money, others shut their
eyes, most hesitated . . . It was an opportunity for a local photographer,
nicknamed the Madman, to start a business of long-distance, painless neutering,
which became all the rage in Pringles during that period. Dr. Aira, at the time
a child of eight, heard of this through rumors that had been grossly distorted
in the echo chamber of his childhood circle. At that time, such subjects were
rarely discussed, especially in a decent middle-class family; his little
friends, all from poor families because he lived in a neighborhood of hovels,
did not suffer from this disadvantage, but their families’ amazing ignorance and
credulity fully compensated for this lack.

The Madman’s method was of exemplary absurdity, for it
consisted of a fairly long series of penicillin shots given to the dogs’ owners,
shots that neutered the animal in absentia. At least that’s what could be
garnered from the stories that were making the rounds. He could never find out
anything more, and perhaps there was nothing more. Nor did he ever learn in any
reliable way if anyone had actually agreed to submit to this strange treatment.
But this information was enough for him to reinvent on his own the possibility
of action from a distance, of discontinuous efficiency, one that created a new
continuum out of heterogeneous elements, and from then on his entire mental
landscape was based on this premise. Soon thereafter the Madman’s method ceased
to be used (if it ever had been in reality), this in the wake of a scandal of
vast proportions. A headless dog was born on a nearby farm, a cocker spaniel
whose body stopped at his neck but who nevertheless survived and even grew to
adulthood.

Inevitably, popular imagination connected one thing to the
other, and the Madman, perhaps also frightened by the effects of his
manipulations, threw in the towel, for the time being. Dr. Aira didn’t know what
ever happened to that dog; at some point it must have died, like any other dog.
Many people in the town went to see it (it hadn’t been sent away). Apparently,
the animal was very lively: hyperactive as well as acephalous. Its nervous
system ended in a bulb on top of its neck, and this protuberance, like a Rosetta
stone, was covered with markings that represented eyes, nose, mouth, and ears,
scribbles it made do with. Under other circumstances the fact that such a
monster was viable would have attracted the attention of scientists all around
the world; it should have been considered a kind of miracle. But country folks
are accustomed to such miracles — paradoxically, they used to be more accustomed
to them, back then when they lived in greater isolation, without radio or
television or magazines; their entire world was the small world they lived in,
and their laws made room for exceptions and extensions, as a totality always
does.

BOOK: The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira
5.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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