Saturday, June 25, 2016

La vela de la luciérnaga

Mi cura repentina lo atribuyen los médicos a un tratamiento nuevo y radical. Que fue radical, puedo asegurarselo. Basta con levantarme el pelo de mi frente para mostrarles las cicatrices. A veces lamento de que la cirugía no me quito ni la vida ni el entendimiento ni la memoria de los eventos que me llevó a este fin. Quizás así no sería yo responsable para la carnicería que van a perpetuar con el excusa de los resultados alumbrantes de mi caso.

La verdad es que nunca era necesario entrar por la fuerza en mi cabeza. Siempre estaba abierta. Las voces, las luces, los colores, las ondas de energía que radian de los seres vivos, incluso las más pequeñas. Me penetraban como a todos, una red delicada de la vida misma pasándose por los cuerpos para animarles y hasta que los cuerpos se convierte en los muertos, consumidos por la vida. Desde mis primeras memorias de la vida, yo veía las pequeñas huellas de la vida, particularmente en el momento antes de la muerte. Los huecos negros de insectos muertos suspendidos en las telarañas o caídos de sus impactos contra el vidrio para morir en el alféizar. Por horas, miraba a las moscas y las abejas frustradas, batiéndose contra una ventana medio abierta sin pensar nunca en pasar por debajo. Sólo al último instante, cuando la vida pulsaba como una cerilla en el momento de encender, aprendí a guiarlas con mis manos juntados a la salida. Quemando, pero vivos, las moscas y las abejas salían al aire libre, y yo me sentaba de nuevo cerca de la ventana con un libro de texto cerrado y casi olvidado en mi regazo.

Mi error fue admitir mi juego a un niño del apartamento al otro lado del pasillo. Él también le gustaba mirar a los insectos, pero los capturaba en receptáculos de vidrio como los frascos de mermelada. Un día, me trajo un frasco de vidrio verde en donde se podía ver las luces parpadeando de unas luciérnagas. Una brillaba tanto que, sin pensar en que no fue la luz de su abdomen sino de su cuerpo entero, indiqué el bicho moribundo al niño del lado. “¿Ves cómo brilla?” le pregunté, pero el niño me miraba con un remordimiento tan sencillo y inocente.

“Esa la aplasté un poco. Siempre dan luz cuando se las aplasta.”

Pensando que él entendía, confesó todo lo que sabía sobre el fluir de la vida de mis experimentos con las moscas y las abejas. Me escuchó, atento, fascinado, hasta que la luciérnaga desafortunada se murió. Una luz pálida y verde continuó donde la mancha de sus fluidos se había escapado, pero el cuerpo se oscureció como una cerilla consumida. Su madre llegó a nuestro piso y lo arrastró a la cama, diciéndole a él que era un niño malo por no estar en cama a una hora tan tarde, pero nunca me miró de los ojos ni me habló.

El niño me había visitado unas veces más, pero lo hicimos un secreto, reuniendo el sótano del edificio para hablar de cómo fluye la vida por los cuerpos de los insectos, los ratones, y los vecinos.  Nadie me vino a regañar de nuevo. Y sola, pero no tan sola, me cuidaba, como lo había hecho por años, hasta la llegada de la policía.

“¡Fue ella!” gritó la madre del niño de los frascos de insectos. “La loca. Ella lo ha matado.”

“¿Quién se murió?” les pregunte a los investigadores, pero nunca me respondieron. Solo en la sala de juicios me dijeron la verdad triste.


Fascinada con la esperanza inútil de ver con sus propios ojos las luces que yo le describió, el niño entraba la cocina durante la noche y aplastaba sus luciérnagas capturadas, luego las moscas y las hormigas que rodeaban las frutas, dejándolas morir donde cayeron. Incapaz de ver ningún cambio, aún con sus ojos ajustados a la oscuridad y unas docenas de insectos vivos y muertos, el niño se fue en búsqueda de algo más grande. La próxima mañana, la madre lo encontró dormido con media docena de ratones en su mochila. A todos los ratones, en un momento de furia la madre les dio la muerte y al niño le negó su desayuno. Pienso que fue ella la quien me dejó la mochila lleno de pequeños huecos oscuros en las ondas de la vida. La nota encima dijo una palabra, maldita, pero su intención fue clara.

Incapaz de entender cómo se conectan esos ocurrencias, permitía que viniera el niño. Un día, confesé al niño que me preocupaba el salud del señor muy amable del cuarto piso para darle al niño un respeto más grave hacia el proceso de la muerte. Pensé que el señor iba a morir muy pronto, provocando una tragedia en el edificio y la desesperación de su mujer, pero el niño lo siguió por días, buscando el momento de la muerte. En vez de brillar más fuerte, la luz inquietante se fue del hombre con la compañía agradable de un niño, aunque me dijo una vez que el chico parecía un poco raro, y el niño empezó a dudar la precisión de mis presentimientos.

Por eso, cuando le dije al niñito que tenía mala color un día y que algo chispeabaen su pecho, no corrió a su mamá de inmediato para que ella lo lleve a un médico. Solo sabía, antes de ser acusado de su muerte, que él no me buscaba más. Esperaba que estuviera bien, pero no quería traicionar su confianza y hablarle a su madre de que él me visitaba contra sus órdenes. Así, cuando llegó la policía, tardé solo un momento antes de reconocer la acusación de la madre, pero no podía creerlo hasta oír la verdad precisa. No quería llorar por el niño sin saber con certeza que la vida le había consumido.
Después de mi testimonio, en que les dijo que el corazón del niño había sido frágil por unas semanas, fui remitido a una institución. Después de años intentando convencerme de falsedades sobre mi caso, me operaban en una cirugía experimental. Aprendí mantener el silencio cuando los médicos lo celebraban tanto. Mi comportamiento tan cauteloso me ganó la libertad. No sabía, hasta mi liberación, los últimos datos del caso.

La madre le había sorprendido al niño en su habitación con un ratón medio diseccionado debajo de su escritorio. Nunca sabía que le molestaba tanto los límites de su percepción que le revelé mientras intentaba mostrarle la sencillez de la transición entre la vida y la muerte. La belleza de quemar en un instante con un torrente de la vida antes de que el fuego deje tan solo la materia inerte del cadáver.
Ni sus gritos ni el niño llegaron a mi puerta, aunque el niño intentó buscar mi protección. Su madre le agarró la camisa para impedirle y el niño se cayó en el cuchillo que había usado como el cirujano usa el bisturí. El cuchillo sólo le daño a sus costillas, pero el choque le paró el corazón. La autopsia reveló un agujero entre dos atrios del corazón que se agrandó de repente, posiblemente por latir tan fuerte en su pánico, posiblemente por la sacudida de la caída. Me encerraron en la institución con la prueba de mis comentarios dementes y la acusación de que yo había instigado esas investigaciones tan perturbadoras.

Si alguien creía que yo no sabía lo que hacía, no lo sé. Según el registro del juicio, nadie me defendió. Al fin, mi abogado rogaba por la merced del tribunal a base de mi locura.
He pasado horas dentro de la celda del sanatorio esperando mi castigo y lo he recibido. Quedé aterrorizada de confesar que echo de menos tanto la síntoma de que me curaron. No obstante, siento ya que la luz de la vida debiera arder tanto en mi cuerpo ahora que no debo más evitar mi último deber. No le confío a usted el secreto de la ceguera del niño para aliviar mi culpa ni para que se vuelva loco con el querer ver el fluir de la vida.

Le mostraría a usted y a todos sus lectores mis cicatrices para que nadie más sufriera la invasión que me dejó tan ciego como ese pobre niño.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Man Who Laughed

There once was a land that had been overcome by a great sadness and had no laughter.  The laughter had all been stolen, quietly gathered up by greedy men who wanted to keep it for themselves.  They packed the laughter away in boxes and though there was a trickle of laughter here and there, most people in the land had never known what it was to be full of laughter and enjoyment.  Many had never seen laughter at all and all they could do was cry great tears.  Their neighborhoods became awash in their tears, their soil and their sewers no longer able to take so many tears and so those places were often flooded, salt tears up to ankle deep over all the streets of village and town.

But the greedy men never saw this.  They only went to places where laughter was full and abundant and never knew of the streets flooded with tears.  Eventually the greedy men got greedier and each started to collect laughter from the others, until finally all the laughter in the world was in the possession of a very rich man.  The rich man had a son and then he died, leaving his young son with all the laughter in the world.  Now the son was very young and immature, and he laughed all day and all night.  He laughed and laughed.  One day he realized no one laughed with him.  That all around him were somber and sad people.  The boy did not understand the sadness, or that he had all the laughter in the world, kept up in a box in the attic.  He knew there was the box.  He knew the laughter had been taken and that he had inherited all the laughter from his father, but despite this knowledge he still did not understand why he was the only one who laughed.  He felt he was better than others because he was laughing and they were always in tears.  That if they would try harder, they would be able to laugh like him, even though he had all the laughter and they had none.

One day the man finally grew tired of all the weeping and decided he wanted to have someone laugh with him.  He summoned his valet to attend him and ordered the valet to laugh.  The valet hesitantly tried to smile, to summon the movements to his face.  But he had never smiled before and he felt no reason to smile in his heart and so his smile seemed wrong.  The laughing man grew angry that his valet could not even smile, much less laugh, and ordered that they cut off his nose.

Then the laughing man summoned his cook and ordered him to laugh.  Now the cook had seen what had happened to the valet and determined he would do better.  He wanted to keep his nose.  He smiled believably (he had been practicing just in case this should occur) and tried to chuckle.  He drew his belly in and out as he had seen the laughing man do when he laughed.  But the poor cook did not understand laughter, nor did he have a reason to laugh, and so all that came out was a huffing sound that was nothing like laughter.  The laughing man grew angry, but the cook pleaded prettily and so the laughing man decided to give the cook one more chance.  The cook tried and this time he got it right, belting out a "Ha ha ha ha," for everyone to hear.  The laughing man was happy at this, and was just about to praise his cook for his strength and fortitude and goodness when the sadness became too much for the cook and he stopped laughing and fell to weeping, dropping his tears into the onion soup.  This angered the man even more and he ordered his servants to chop off the cook's hands.

He called in his wife and she was very good at faking her smile and her laugh, so much so that the man believed she could laugh too.  He called in his children, and having learned from the man's wife (because his current wife was not their mother) and from their own mothers, they could pretend to laugh as well.  They had grown up practicing, trying on their laughs as other children play dress up in their parents' clothes.

The other rich men could also laugh, or at least seem to, some having some small vestiges of laughter left in their banks and others remembering what it was to laugh and could therefore creditably seem to laugh.  And if they and the children and his wife all quickly left at times to cry by themselves, the man did not notice it because he noticed nothing that was not himself.

That he believed there were others who could laugh only strengthened his belief that those who could not laugh were simply weak and if they only tried more, the land would have all the laughter they could ever want or need.  He forgot that he had all the laughter stored up in his box or that he had gathered none of this laughter himself.  He only saw that he could laugh and others could not and felt those others were pathetic losers.

Many in the land agreed with him, even though they also cried.  They dried their tears and thought he was a great man.  A man who could bring all the laughter back into the world.  They followed him and listened to him and in their cheering for him forgot that they were sad and that they still could not laugh.  They mistook cheering for laughter and their hatred of those who would not cheer as a sign they were better, like the man.  They forgot that the man had never known sadness and that he'd had no part in his own laughter.  They considered him a self-made man.

And so the people of the land, those who considered the man great and those who knew he was not, argued vehemently and the man just laughed and laughed and laughed.  He staged parties and shows where he spoke of laughter, of bringing back the laughter, and laughing for everyone to see.  And some people cheered while back in the flooded neighborhoods and villages others cried, ignored by the man and those who cheered.

But through these many years, hidden in the vault where the box of laughter was stored, a family of cockroaches had made a nest.  Many think that cockroaches are vile insects that only eat rotting food, but in truth they are wily creatures, able to eat anything, and they began to eat the box.  It is unknown if the cockroach family knew what it was doing, but through the years they ate the box and ate the box until one day the family was eating and they broke through, letting the laughter out.

The laughter rushed like the wind, spurred on by gusts from the north and breezes from the east.  By cold fronts and hot fronts from the west and storms from the south.  All the directions came together to spread the laughter to the people again, and the people began to laugh.  They started to tell funny stories.  The children giggled at burps and farts again.  Comedians took to the stage again.  The floods stopped and the streets dried clean and gleaming.

Everyone laughed except for the man, who had no idea what had happened to him.  He had never made his own laughter and without the vast stores of the laughter of others, he could not create his own.  He stopped laughing and began to cry.  It was a strange sensation for him and he wondered at these droplets of water streaming from his eyes.  He went to doctors and he spoke to experts, but no one could stop his tears.  With laughter in the world, all his followers had left him, no longer needing to cheer at him in order to forget their sadness.  He found himself alone and he had no understanding or ability to change this since he had never done anything ever but laugh.

He cried and he cried and his tears fell until he lost all moisture and dried up into a husk.  Still he thought other people loved him.  That they cared.  That they worried for him.  He staged another party for himself and invited the people who had cheered him before.  It was to be a great party, with 80 kinds of wine and food from all over the world.  It had rare flowers for ornaments and a glittering floor made of silver and gold dust.  There were to be dancers and singers and entertainers.  It was the grandest party the world had ever seen.

On the day of the party the man felt better.  He dried his tears and waited in expectation for the guests to come.  He waited for minutes before he began to get impatient.  By an hour he was angry.  By two hours he was in a towering rage.  No one came.  It seemed they had all forgotten him.  With this his tears grew larger and came faster and all his moisture evaporated into the ground until there was nothing left of him but dust.  The wind blew and the man crumbled away, taken by the four directions to be scattered in pieces about the earth and it was as if he had never been born.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Snowdancers


The first of the family to meet the snow dancers was Eli. He had braved the drifting snow to help a mare drop an unseasonable foal. The first lithe form skimmed the edges of his vision. The next soared over his head. As he raised his face, half-blinded by wind blown flakes falling in his eyes, a third, or perhaps the first again, flew an arc toward the glow that marked the full moon’s place in the clouded sky.
Being a stalwart man of stoic stock, Eli walked the rest of the way to the barn, birthed the breech foal, and returned to his home to scrub himself clean of the fluids that slicked the newborn horse. His wife, relieved that he had not been lost in the driving gusts and snow, warmed the bed a pan with coals and bundled him up beneath heavy blankets without hearing a word of the wonder he had just witnessed.
Only after her death, a widower with a weakness for the company of kind young women who could bake wild-berry pies, did Eli ever mention the glimpse of the fairies he had seen on his way to participate in a far more familiar miracle.
Widow Therese, an Acadian woman with a marvelous accent and a gift for any food involving butter, recalled her old friend Eli a generation later when her daughter, only child surely of her lawfully wedded husband, no matter the gossip, came to tell her that the orchards were haunted by “cheeky devils.” Faces appeared between branches, parting the leaves and startling the young woman each time she reached for a particularly fine apple. Each time, also, the apple, untouched, would fall to the earth, striking the hardened ground, making it unfit for the market. And yet, not a one of the extra apples that year showed a bruise when Widow Therese prepared them for cider and sauce. She cut enough for half a dozen pies, baked the pies, and left three of them to cool in the kitchen. The other three she transported, still piping hot, in her grandson’s little red wagon out to the farthest line of crab apples standing sentry against pests and blight around the orchard’s edge. Just beyond the tree line, she set the pies out in a holy triangle and prayed for the Lord to bless the orchard and the offerings for their uninvited visitors.
“Be ye not devils,” she proclaimed in her best imitation of the priests of her youth, “then eat heartily of these apples you plucked from our orchard and leave the rest of the work for our human hands alone.”
Workers on the farm denounced her as mad or worse, though how “worse” they wouldn’t say. Her daughter, wary of her own chances of being condemned to a sanitarium, did not speak up to explain her mother’s actions to the local sheriff. And so, Widow Therese’s offerings were the last glorious pies she would ever make.
Gordon, a young man of few words, would listen to the tale of the spirits each afternoon when his rounds of Spring Lake Sanitarium brought him to the cozy little corner where Widow Therese waited near the window for any sign of her daughter or her son-in-law. To be fair, the tale wasn’t why he joined her at the sill. No matter how chill the drafts around the rest of the institution at that hour, Widow Therese sat in an afternoon glow of amber toned sun. Her white hair would seem to catch fire as the light reddened with sunset’s first blush. Her eyes, too, would gleam as if the sun set in them, not merely reflected off of those cataract hazed corneas. Gordon would stay to the end of the telling, pat her hand, and remind her that dinner would be served shortly. Not once did Widow Therese’s reply vary.
“Oh, I’ll be fine right here. Later, I’ll have my slice of pie.”
When Danica finally brought home from the hospital their twin girls, Gordon began telling the stories of Widow Therese and Old Eli to his precious daughters. Even after Widow Therese passed away, he would see the glow she used to get around sunset and his young girls would beam all the brighter to hear him talk of it. They played at fairies and danced in every snow storm, scaring their mother and sometimes chilling their hands and noses to a bright and painful red. They adored pies, even if they never touched the fruits in any other recipe. Danica, of a household of practical-minded, Midwestern stock, had no problem using the recipe her husband recited from memory, even if real butter crusts were going out of style with the rise of margarine and artificial everything else. Gordon’s gentle hands would help by crimping edges of crusts as he sat with his wife and daughters, telling again their favorite tale, and no one would complain if the juices bubbled out or a too thin edge cracked in the oven’s heat. Every bite tasted as glorious as the sunsets he described.
So it was that Elinor and Jeanie grew up in a modern world of medicine without leaving behind the “kid stuff” of myth and legend. If their parents could still smile with amusement, not indulgence, at the rambling tales of Old Eli and Widow Therese, they could spin tales of their own to their hearts’ content. Jeanie embraced the “flights of fancy” as she called them and went off to the city to study literature at Columbia. Elinor could never be bothered to wipe enough dark earth off of her boots to enter the ivory tower, so she took her share of their parents’ savings for their education and spent it on the best acres of apple orchard around, the same ones Widow Therese had once owned.
By then, the town had expanded until it bumped right up against the farm and threatened any year now to engulf it with cookie cutter houses, but the widow’s family had never been able to sell the land to developers.
Elinor watched the widow’s grandson wipe sweat from his brow after signing the last of the paperwork.
“Not a moment too soon,” his realtor commented.
Elinor didn’t inquire, but rumor had it that the money from the sale would save him from a decade’s worth of back taxes recently unearthed by a diligent IRS auditor.
Elinor’s modest down payment and her family’s good name had secured a 30 year mortgage for the property. For the first three years, she struggled under the costs of the tending and refurbishing and replanting, but each year, with what apples she gathered, she made a half a dozen pies true to Widow Therese’s original recipe. Three for herself and three to set at the farthest corner of the property. And each year, when the snows came, she would dance in whirling leaps from the house to the stable and back before tucking herself into bed with a hot mug of cider. The moment all of the trees were hale enough to flower for her first good harvest, she wiped her own brow and whistled long and low. She sympathized with the grandson. It was a lot of work to run the orchard. But if he’d only known the trick to get the most of it, he’d never have let her make such a paltry offer. The next three years paid off the majority of her loan, and her friends and family never turned down a slice of her pie.

Inspired by Robert Frost’s “After Apple-Picking”