Bogleech.com's 2017 Horror Write-off:
Submitted by Nelke
All cities are built upon older, forgotten ones. They die, and like everything that dies they rot, but their ruins form a substrate for what is to come. Layers of construction piling upon ancient stone, wood, steel and concrete, always changing, always unchanged.
Wednesdays are stew days. A good cocido takes a whole morning. First, I take out the chickpeas that have been soaking overnight, and I boil them with carrots, celery and a bay leaf in a pressure cooker (the most modern object in the kitchen, except for the yellowing, last year calendar, and some fridge magnets I got as a gift with a carton of milk). Then, I put them in the big pot with a broken handle and chipped red enamel, cover them with water, and add a piece of salted pork fat, pork spine, blood sausage and paprika. I do not particularly like the spine (I find the task of carving the meat out of the vertebrae most tiring), but it is the cheapest meat. Besides, the butcher always knows what I buy, and he always has my order ready when I arrive there and I do not have the heart to correct him. When I am feeling adventurous I add an onion, but then father complains the taste is not the same.
It is essential to dedicate time to each and every one of the stages so the flavors develop and the meat releases all the flavor and gelatin in the broth and it becomes so tender you can cut it with the side of the spoon. The result is a humble miracle of kitchen alchemy: a complex, almost overwhelming dish, a relic from the time our ancestors kept pigs and herded sheep on the yellow plateau that surrounds the stone walls of the city.
At home we always serve cocido the traditional way: first the broth, then the chickpeas, buttery and yellow, and last the steaming plate of meats. These meals last forever, father sucking all the bones and extracting the marrow into his toothless mouth and using his tongue to remove every particle of edible matter. In the winters we eat until the shadows lengthen and the sky fades to a darker shade of gray. These days I have to switch on the lights and the small radiator under the round table, and I hide my hands in the sleeves so they do not get cold. Then I serve coffee and I allow myself the only pastry in the week.
My friend Alba told me once I should hate my father, but she never understood. My father never was, and never tried to be, anything but a man of his time. When Mom died he stepped up and raised me the way he was taught about men and women. He was, after a fashion, permissive, or he saw himself as that. He indulged me in my desire to learn to drive and to go to the vocational school two streets from our place to learn Administration. Or maybe he saw it as a way for me to meet a man with a decent earning potential, un hombre de posibles, as he said.
I rebelled. Oh I did of course, always within boundaries invisible but as strict and imposing as the stone walls of the city. I rented a studio close to home, a modern and well-lit attic, with a small balcony where I used to have breakfast. I worked part-time and made some friends. I even visited the capital occasionally, only a three-hour drive, to meet a girlfriend I had, until she left me for a younger woman who lived in the capital like her and was an artist and everything I never was. Then, almost simultaneously, I had my child and dad had a stroke, so I had to move back home with him.
I was terrified of Dad. Now he plays and laughs with the incomprehensible cartoons and videos of the tablet I got him, and he can only utter short, disconnected sentences. He seems happier than he used to be. He is, for sure, happier than I am. I wonder if he is still there somewhere, behind his dull eyes and muttered sentences. I wonder if he is disappointed in me, if in the fog of his thoughts the word spinster comes to life from time to time.
My hair is almost gray under the carefully applied black dye, and I feel the cold of the evenings in my knees and my chest. I walk the cobbled streets, wearing broad shoes for my swollen feet. Old person's feet. The doctor says I have depression and anxiety, and gives me prescriptions for my refills and recommends me to do light exercise. I tell him I walk along the river every day at sunset, and that it helps a lot. He laughs and tells me I am still young, that I have a lot to live for. He is from the South, from a city where the sun shines every season and the sea is warm and shimmering and the air carries the smell of orange flowers.
It is futile to explain to him, he did not grow up under the weight of the city, so I do not tell him about the things that keep me awake at night. He does not know how the decoration of my bedroom has not changed since I was five and Mom died, the same curtains, same picture of a shepherd on the wall, same crucifix with a dead Christ and cracks in the ceiling that already have a name. I cannot tell him about the long nights in which dreams and reality melt, thick and black, and the face of my father becomes the burning-eye stranger and the single cry my child let out when she was born becomes all of a sudden one with a song, a choir that rises and becomes the noise from the construction site next to our place, and I wake up with a sharp pain in my chest.
I have nobody to tell this, so I tell myself over and over. Above all, I do not tell any stranger that I live next to Gut Alley.
My neighbor Mercedes is eighty-nine, but she still walks up and down the stairwell every day with her shopping cart. Twice a week, after washing and dressing father and leaving him in the day care center next corner, I help her with her housework. She pays me in crumpled five euro bills. I do not like to accept her pittance, but we need money at home. She treats me with a kind of unctuous sympathy: another unmarried woman, I can see in her eyes.
Her conversation is a patchwork of memories, indignant opinions about the state of the nation, and pieces of the juiciest gossip she has heard from her friends. Living in Gut Alley has conferred her some kind of celebrity status in the queue of the butcher shop. She loves narrating the weekly findings to her friends in a voice that suddenly becomes loud and clear: I think these stories are keeping her alive.
We both live in a red brick, four-story building, one of the thousands built in the Sixties to house the newcomers from the rural exodus. What makes it interesting is the location: we live in the border of town, almost just by the wall. The main door opens to an empty lot, separated by an alley where, since I can remember, every Tuesday dumps a cartload of animal guts.
Nobody knows who does it or why. It got some attention in the Eighties, when the country was swept by an obsession by the paranormal. Journalists came several times to record the individual or individuals doing it, but they never got anything except from some grey figures, always far away from the cameras. They also interviewed the neighbors: my father appeared in a news segment once. I still have the interview in a VHS tape in which he appears, red-faced, blaming the hippies and the junkies for the "Satanists" sacrifices.
The police arrested and fined random youngsters, but the truth is that they did not care that much. Gut Alley has become part of the background noise in the city, a morbid curiosity without consequences except the neighborhood complaints about the smell every summer.
I see the pile when I leave my house on Wednesdays, if I dare to look: a soft mound of intestines, brains, kidneys, stomachs and ribcages. Sometimes there is a goat or a pig's head, blindly staring at the lot with eyes black with flies.
I used to be scared of the guts in my street. My classmates would tease me and call me Niñatripas, Gut Girl. They would tell me spurious tales about the time the street cleaners found a flayed baby in the pile of guts, propped up like a small baby Jesus in an altar. However, I think people's fears are misguided: it is not the alley, but the lot we should be afraid of. It has been empty since I have memory, except for a construction site that most of the years looks deserted. In the Nineties, when heroin came to town, there were corpses sometimes. Now not even junkies go there.
Thursdays and Fridays I like to indulge in coffee and toast at the bar in my corner. It is a tiny place, decorated in the desperately ugly style of mid-nineties, with an aluminum counter and yellowed Bakelite chairs and tables. But the coffee is good, and it is always warm, and there is always some conversation in there.
The waitress, Talita, works there every day from six in the morning to four in the afternoon. Sometimes until much later, mija. She wears her hair wrapped in a tight bun, and golden hoop earrings that, along with her heavy make-up, make her look like an Egyptian idol. I once told her that, in a poor attempt of picking her up, and she had a good laugh at my cheesiness. She came from Mexico seven years ago, and since then she has been working here, cleaning beer glasses and displaying slices of potato omelet and chorizo and fried pig snout behind the glass expositor. Sometimes she cooks lunch, always spicy, lively dishes with names such as mole, or tinga.
We have developed a friendship based on mutual solitude. She started to chat me up last year, and told me about her past as a journalist in Ciudad Juárez. She told me about the maquiladoras and the drug cartels and the epidemic of murdered women. In oblique stories she let me understand that her work was not welcome by some authorities of the city, and she had to run to DF, but she was followed there. I had to gather all my savings and moved to Spain. I am keeping a low profile here. I wanted to know more, but, when I asked about the details, she turned away and ostensibly cleaned the counter.
You smoke too much, I told her in October, two months ago. Like every day, she was working with an eye on the door and the other on the few clients sitting by the tables, always hoping to escape for five minutes for a rushed smoke by the door, from which she always came smelling like cigarettes and cold. She shrugged, and the glasses in her hand clinked. She was wet from the drizzle outside.
"Don't pester me, girl." She scoffed "I need my vices".
"You are right, sorry".
"Don't be". She smiled, and served me a coffee I did not ask for. "I am jumpy today".
"Yeah." She replied, curtly, as she cleaned the hot plate behind the counter. "It's the air in this city. It doesn't do me well."
I sipped the scalding coffee. The metallic counter gave me a blurry reflection, distorted by years of scratches.
"Do you need an Ibuprofen?" I asked, opening my purse and spilling a plethora of pills.
"Holy shit, you got a pharmacy in there!" she laughed. "But yes, give me an Ibuprofen." She took a blister and popped the pill without water. "You got a lot of Benzos in there."
I shrugged. "That's how it is."
"I tell you, you have to get out more. I know you have your father to take care of, but maybe you should get away for a weekend. To the capital maybe."
"No thanks." I snarled. "Not for me. Bad memories."
"This is getting depressing, right?" She laughed, flashing her white teeth. "Sorry for starting. But I mea n it. This city is bringing me down. I am saving for a couple more months and then leaving."
"Oh." I tried to keep my face neutral. "You leaving so soon?"
"You bet!" she saw my carefully contained expression. "But don't be sad, I will come to visit. Or you can visit me wherever I go."
"Where do you plan to go?"
"I don't know. Anywhere I can find a job. To the coast. Or the mountains. Somewhere where the wind sweeps away the cobwebs."
"It's a good idea." I conceded.
She started arranging coffee plates and sugar bags on the counter. She stopped, frowning, and started to speak very slowly.
"There is something else, yo u know?"
"What do you mean?" I asked, alarmed.
"It's just..." she started making a gesture with her hand, but let her arm fall. "I am not superstitious. I am not a coward either, you cannot imagine the shit I have seen when I was a reporter. But there is something very wrong with this city."
"What do you mean?"
She made another long pause, and kept on arranging the coffee plates, her lips pursed.
"You know, I am not a journalist anymore. I am done with it. But when I first arrived here, I still had the itch. I thought I could still write sometimes, set up a blog about the city. It's always the same with me; whenever I move somewhere new, it's like getting a new lover. I want to know everything, discover every detail and explore every corner."
She stood taller for a moment, eyes bright. I contained a pinch of jealousy. I wished I was passionate about something.
"Nobody read it. I mean nobody. My blog posts would get zero visits, you know how hard is that? It's like my blog was not indexed. I checked some times, looked for keywords, and I would always appeared on the front page of any search engine."
I shrugged. I did not have a clue what she was talking about. She continued.
"The topics were not that weird, or at least I believe that. I commented news, trivia, oddities of the city. I used to go to the archive in the public library." She continued. "Mostly to check old newspapers. You can get a pretty good picture the small articles, the ones crammed in the middle pages, full of advertisements and fluff. They tell the stories everybody overlooks: when a business changes hands, when some neighbors have a spat, or when a building gets torn down to make room for something else."
I took another sip of my coffee. It was the longest conversation I had in months, and I was enjoying it, but I did not know how to handle it.
"Damn. You must have been good." I said finally.
"You have no idea, mija, you have no idea. But the thing is, things do not add up. It is mostly in the negatives, the gaps, you know? Sometimes, in the things that are not said, you still see a pattern." She stopped, and stared through the glass pane of the window. "I know I must sound like a nutcase."
She looked around: the other client had already left, we were alone in the bar. Then she leaned to me, conspiratorially.
"You know this fucking street round the corner, Callejón de las Tripas? Do you know how was it called originally? Calle del Martirio. Martyrdom Street. The name is still in the street registry, but they removed the plaques."
I winced. My name is Martirio.
"So what?" I asked.
"So you know about the weird shit that goes down there every week, right? I looked for mentions of it in the local newspapers and there aren't any. Nada. Zilch."
It was my time to frown.
"Yes. I looked for mentions of the phenomenon, and I found some old articles from the nineties, and a couple of mentions in paranormal blogs, but locally nothing. And there are no concrete data: I get that this has been going on for at least forty years, but how much longer? And why does nobody talk about it?"
"I dunno." I said. "I guess I never thought about that." I remembered my father: whenever he talked about the guts, he was always indignant, but his anger was old, weary. Same as all the other neighbors.
"You never wondered? I mean, someone dumps a load of guts down your street every week and you never wonder who the fuck is behind it? Is it a sect? Is it a cross-generational prank? What the hell?" She was falling back in her old accent. "You wanna know the worst?" Nod. "I have been asking the customers about the guts, and nobody seems to care! They shrug, or they turn to look at the phone! At the beginning I thought I was in a candid camera!"
She looked at me with exhausted, red-rimmed eyes. I felt a thousand ants running down my back. I cleared my throat.
"I don't know, it's not so important, not like a murder or something."
"Oh for fucks sake." She turned away from me, and I could not see her expression. "I'm sorry. I guess I am depressed or something. Not sleeping well."
"It's nothing." I said weakly.
She signed the cross over her chest. She used to talk mockingly about religion, but she still was wearing the mannerisms of a strict Catholic education.
"So what do you think it is? Is it something sinister, or is it a prank?" I asked. I could see the edge of a bitter smile hanging from her lips.
I shrugged. "Dunno, maybe just bored." I admitted.
"You should go to the archives yourself sometimes. Check a little bit of the late Eighties, the drug times, and look for mentions of the street or the lot or anything close. You will see some interesting stuff."
"You are spooking me out." I swallowed the rest of the coffee. It tasted burnt and cold.
"Yeah, sorry. I am aware how it sounds, but it is just... exasperating. I work here the whole day, and I go home at night and I have nothing else to do besides checking old events, chronicles nobody cares about. I have to get out more."
"That makes two of us, then." I said, and surprised myself laughing.
I looked around. The bar seemed a little darker, a little colder all of a sudden. I was about to ask a question when a middle-aged couple came through the door, startling me.
"I better be going."
"You are right. It's two euros." I paid her with two coins, sweaty with my hands, and I left.
She was right about me having too much free time. That weekend, I left my father for a couple of hours, and walked the 10-minute path to the library. I had not been there since childhood, when I had no real friends and I went there every day after the afternoon lessons.
The library was almost as I remembered, high glass windows filtering the evening light, dark wood furniture. Only the decade-old computer monitors on the tables looked any different.
I listened to her and started checking old chronicles. I remembered some of the stuff, I used to read it as a child, every Sunday, to practice my spelling. Sensationalistic news, drug panics, spousal murders. Juicy gossip, no different from the conversation of my neighbor Mercedes.
I was not sure what Talita wanted me to search. I combed through articles, as the night arrived and the electric lights switched on, buzzing, looking for mentions of Gut Alley, but I found none. Some cases, however, stood up. I wrote them down, to re-read them later.
The lot had been empty since the Seventies. There was supposed to be a mall, but the project was halted when the developer was involved in a drug trafficking case. Since then, the lot had changed hands twice, and once they laid the foundations for a residential building, but they found the remains of an old cemetery. After some digging, they decided it had no historical value, but the money had run out.
Corpses appeared regularly, that I remembered. The Eighties was a prime time for that, with the heroin crises. Also, at least five women had abandoned their dead babies, or fetuses, in there. I winced at that. Had it really been that many? There were some teenager suicides as well, that I vaguely remembered.
"So, did you find something interesting?" Talita asked me the following week, after I asked for a croissant. She sounded casual, but I could see her sidelong glance.
"Mhh, yeah, I guess." I stretched on the bar stool. My back hurt. I told her about my findings. "Was it that what you mean? The babies? That was creepy."
"Yeah. I mean, it's not so bad. Once you scratch the underbelly of any city, you always find the creepy shit. Sad shit. Desperate, derelict people acting crazy and becoming news, you know? And an empty lot is a good place for bad things to happen."
"You are probably right."
"However, it was startling to see that numbers. Five babies abandoned in a five-year period. The junkies. It could be a coincidence, but the numbers do not match with a city this small and with a low poverty rate. The teenage suicides are outliers as well. I checked the case, and besides the two that appeared in the lot, another two took their life the same week. They were all friends."
"As I am telling you! In any other city, it would have made headlines. Here, it was buried next to the inauguration of an Ethnological Museum. I tracked down the reporter, some Patricia Baez, and called her. She told me some details."
"Such as what?" She was making a dramatic pause. Despite myself, I could feel my heart pounding on my chest.
"There were some details that were not published at the police's requests. She said that they refused to say why. The four of them were fifteen, and they went to the same class. Good kids, the four of them, two boys and two girls. And then, without explanation, the four of them off themselves. Two of them cut their own throats in a deserted lot, one of them hangs himself."
I shuddered and looked away. She continued.
"The last of them ran away a Friday evening and was found the following Monday by the train tracks. Her body was still warm, and there was no apparent cause of death. And the weirdest thing?" She made a dramatic pause. I held my breath.
"Next to her there was a goat's head she seemed to have been trying to bury."
"What the fuck?" I usually avoid cursing, but I could not contain myself.
"Yes. Still, it is not the only case. That were the times of the Ouija panics, and some teenagers took their lives. Spooky, maybe newsworthy, but still not scandalous. And then I looked into the babies."
"Oh, no, please." I said, as I felt the blood draining from my face. "Please." She ignored me.
"I found it interesting too. Abandoned babies are common as well, especially during drug crisis, but why would all of them be abandoned next to the gut pile street? Also, do you know that all of them were born dead? That's why there were no convictions."
"What do you mean?"
"All the babies had abnormalities. Deformities. Not outside, inside. I checked the health data of the city to see if there was some agent causing that spike, but nothing else stood up. Miscarriage rates. Cancer. Muggings. Violent crime. All the other rates are normal. Except sometimes, babies full of tumors turn up."
I grabbed the counter. Talita turned to me, and she looked worried. "Sorry! Sorry! Did I bother you?"
I swallowed back bile.
"No. But I do not like to talk about this, Talita. This is sick stuff, you know? Not good for my head."
"You are right, you are right. I'm sorry."
"So some idiot prankster dumps guts. And some kids killed themselves in a period when everybody was paranoid. So what? Sometimes, things just happen." Talita opened her mouth to speak, but I made a dismissive gesture. I took out two coins. "I am going home for today, OK? I am not feeling well."
She nodded, and looked at me.
"Ok, take care of yourself . But please, if you are upset, I'm sorry OK?" She said as I left.
I spent the rest of the week with my father as company. I think he saw I was upset, because he kept pushing away the tablet and trying to talk to me. He had never shown that empathy before the stroke. I visited the doctor again, and asked for more sleep medications, but he refused, and prescribed more exercise.
I was utterly alone. I even entertained Mercedes' conversation. She tells me the news every day. The fags and the Arabs and the Catalonians are out to destroy this nation, she told me, and I swallowed bile and smile.
I missed Alba. She was my only real friend when she passed, twelve years ago. I met her at work, before I was declared unfit for labor.
It was a pretty dark time. I was thirty-six then, and I had been dumped by my girlfriend, the only partner I ever had, because of my unwillingness to leave my house. I would go out with my colleagues every day after work for an afternoon beer, and that beer quickly became a gin tonic by ten. A couple of my colleagues were the same, and together we slipped downwards into near-alcoholism. My friend Alba, who worked at the reception, was my only good influence: she would reprehend me every morning I came to work with a headache and dark circles under my eyes. She covered for my absences. She would go out with me and refuse to order a third or fourth round.
She was straight but, in a way, we developed something beyond friendship and not enough to be romantic. She was some years older than most people at my workplace, almost sixty, but she had no desire to retire. The reason became patent the day she brought her husband to the afterwork beers and he did not look at her or speak to her once. He just kept drinking, silent, until he fell asleep on the chair. I hate him, she told us as she called a taxi for him, but I have no one else.
We thought her marital unhappiness was the main reason why she kept losing weight, why she sometimes locked herself in the bathroom to cry. Only when she showed up to work one day with a shaved head under a stylish handkerchief we realized. Even then, she refused to talk about it. My life at home is already bad, with you guys I want to be happy.
During her rounds of chemo, other colleagues and I would go to her house and sit by her bed, while her husband watched TV in the living room. She faded away very fast. Seven months after she appeared with her head shaved, she was barely more than a skeleton, but she tried to keep a sense of humor. They might have taken my colon, but they will never take my smile, she would say, between coughs. It had spread to her lungs.
At the end it was only me. In the hospital, she would tell me about her childhood, her good days before she got married and life started beating her into submission, but she grew more and more incoherent. It's my fault, she told me one day.
Bullshit, I answered, and clasped her hand. But it is. She lifted her head, eyes suddenly awake and alert. I thought a child would help us, would fix the marriage. I was warned. But still I tried and that's what I got.
What do you mean by that? I asked, but she had closed her eyes, and a nurse came to tell me that the visiting hour was over. Next time I saw her, she was in a coffin.
"I asked Mercedes which one was your flat. I'm sorry. I did not mean to spook you out." She said, before I had the time to open my mouth. Wordlessly, I invited her in.
She sat down in my living room's couch, looking around at the outdated decoration, the heavy curtains, the shelves full of encyclopedias and books nobody had ever opened. My father appeared on the corridor, startling her, but he left, shuffling towards the bedroom.
She looked a bit thinner, and very nervous.
"It's OK. I know you did not mean to." I said finally.
"I know I know." She replied, and there was a hint of panic in her voice.
"I got upset, that's all. But it's not your fault. My best friend died of cancer."
"Oh... oh." She opened the mouth again, and she shook her head. I shrugged.
"I did not know about that."
"Don't worry, I don't tell many people."
"It's just... I thought you thought I was crazy, or morbid. That's not true. I am just alone, you know? I might spend too much time worrying about old stuff."
"No, no. You might be right." She stared back at me. She was clasping her hands on her lap, but I could see they were shaking. I continued. "I felt that too. This city is weird. Some stuff happens and it should not happen. It just does not make any sense. We get people dying, and cemeteries that are dug out and buried again, and a pile of guts that appears every week. I just do not know how everything is connected. It's like scattered puzzle pieces, without a real meaning."
She nodded, and breathed deeply. Then she spoke, very softly, very fast.
"In my childhood... we had a murder case in my school. A man mixed ground glass and flour, and baked sweets with it. He distributed them at the door of a school in my district. Three kids died, ten went to the hospital. When they arrested him, he was smiling." She looked at me, to see if I was following. "It... it reminds me of that. Something pure and luminous as the core of a sun, as deadly as clear slivers of broken glass hiding in a piece of bread. An evil innocent of meaning."
She was crying now, silent tears down her cheeks. I gave her a crumpled paper handkerchief from my pocket. She breathed deeply again.
"I saw something yesterday evening. Something white and swollen was following me."
I said nothing.
"It was not a dream. It felt so real. It was not a person but it felt so real."
I looked ahead of me, my eyes fixed on the wall clock.
"I am afraid I am losing my mind, Martirio. Do you think I need a therapist? What should I do?"
For a moment, I almost told her. I almost told her about my child, about my dreams.
"Leave." I said. "Leave before it's too late."
She left after that. I bit my tongue deeply until it bled, to see if I could placate the story coming from my guts.
A decade ago, after Alba died, I went to a bar alone. I drank too much, as I always do when I drink, and I hooked up with a man.
It took place in the bar toilet. He was my first man, and my second sex partner. It did not hurt, as I was fearing, but I remember very little, just his eyes burning into me, and his wet, bitter breath. I thought nothing of it at that time.
Three months later, when I still had not got my period, I realized that something was wrong. Or right. Six months later, I gave birth to my child.
They did not let me see her. They told me something had gone wrong, that it was not even a baby, just a mass of organs. A stinking pile of guts.
They gave me drugs the first days, so I would stop screaming. I remember the nurses' whispers. "It should not have been alive.", one of my caretakers said to the other.
When they released me, I did not have time to grieve before my father got the stroke and I had to move back home.
It's been months since my last conversation with Talita. She does not work at the bar anymore, and, when I asked the new waitress about her hereabouts, she looked at me startled, and told me she had been working there for years, there never was any Mexican woman (and there was something in the way she said Mexican that made me shudder). She did not remember me coming at the bar, she said apologetically, with the thin smile service workers reserve to the crazy and angry.
I went back to the library last week, looking for the old articles that I dug. I was not surprised to see there was nothing there. There was no Patricia Baez either.
Something happened last week.
I was walking home after my walk to the bridge outside of the city, and it was already dark. She was leaning against one of the streetlights on the pathway, a dark silhouette in the yellow island of light. As I walked closer, I could discern that the figure was not standing.
Her skin was a hollow suit, inflated like a balloon, tethered to the streetlamp by its waist. The eyes and the mouth were sewn shut, but I could see her face, her shaved head almost unrecognizable by the air or gas filling it, the familiar upturned nose. I could see the stitches down her throat to her sex, also hairless, also closed. She turned in the wind, arms and legs bobbing rigidly, moved by unseen currents, translucent under the light. The smell hit me again, bitter and old.
I wish I could say I froze or at least that I screamed. I just let out a whimper I think, and started walking faster, and then running home. At some point I fell, scrapin g my knees against the cobblestones.
I heard a laughter then, something guttural and too loud that filled the blackness of the sky and seemed to come from the stars. Despite my fear I tried to stand but I fell again. And for a moment I knew it was there, that the source of everything was standing right behind me. I mustered all my courage to turn around, and I imagined facing it, that nameless old evil, and I could only see myself sitting at my lunch table, watching a mouth sucking toothlessly a vertebra, a tongue purple with age going into a labyrinth of bone. And I did not dare to look, and the moment passed, and there was only me in the footpath, retching, and a worried evening runner who came to see if I was OK.
We are well into spring, but the days to not seem to be becoming longer, or maybe it is just me. The woman from the third floor had a miscarriage, Mercedes told me. I said nothing.
I still take care of my father, but I started looking for ways to make him go into assisted living. With the recent cuts on disability aid, I am not sure I will succeed. This is maybe my deepest regret. I do not hate him anymore.
I dreamed about Talita yesterday. She was down there, with Clara, with so many other dead friends. Their swollen bodies filled the dark, eyes and nostrils sewn shut. Only their mouths were open, a constellation of black circles in blank, featureless faces, singing something I am grateful I cannot remember.
My walks have become longer, more sinuous as I walk every night deeper into the labyrinthine heart of the Old City, where houses are empty shells at night. I know it will eventually get me, and that it is in no rush, but every night, as I go, I pray that the city will have mercy on me and I will be allowed to join the choir.