Magela Baudoin: Vertical Dream

(Translated from Spanish by M.J. Fievre)

 

She dreamed that she was fast asleep—just like when she was a child, carried by the flow of her mother’s voice and the stories she told, or her head on her father’s shoulder as he rocked her with his smoker’s wheezing breath. It’d been a relief to close her eyes and sleep a little, despite the excitement and everything she had to learn and remember: those numbers and directions, the weight of her guilt as her freedom unfolded. It couldn’t rightly be said, however, that it’d been difficult to fall asleep on the eve of the big day. She’d spent a long time, half-asleep, looking out the window in her room, the faraway, shaky lights of the city killing her slowly.

¿Duermes? — “Are you asleep?” Her father slightly opened the bedroom door, and a yellow triangle of light filtered though, illuminating the floor. She didn’t answer, although she did hear him. She didn’t want to have to lie: to go, once again, over the flight itinerary, the streets, the buses, the directions to the Scottish regent in charge of those students whose cosmic luck led to the dorms, their future confirmed, set. As the time of departure loomed, it became more and more difficult for her to keep track of the hours. Her father was looking at her, proud, sparing her, for once, the weight of his expectations, as if already reaping all the fruits of some task carried to completion. He was vulnerable and on the verge of tears, and for this reason, she’d closed her eyes, pretending to be asleep, her back to the big window.

Her window was one in an infinite wall of windows, set one atop another, like framed paintings that revealed the secrets of their subjects. In the front and on the sides, at a slightly dramatic distance, stood similar walls and they encouraged voyeurism: everyone liked being watched. The windows, scrupulously cleaned, awaited the nightly pornography; in the daytime, they remained uninhabited, void of people. From them flowed artificial and amber lights that created a utilitarian atmosphere in each of the interior landscapes, which gave the daily minutiae epic proportions: ordinary events became tall tales, some with more art than others (more realism): this depended on the talent and lineage of its performers. Say, a dinner pictured as an epicurean feast, glorified the simple biological function that was swallowing. The fantasies of every life: on display in each window. And they’d taught her to be wary of any kind of exposure, so that she couldn’t imagine herself being looked at. She could barely look at herself in the mirror. Although, sometimes, in secret, she did.

Nothing portrayed in these windows was ugly—nothing inspired abjection or the horror of misery. And this, precisely—the mindlessness, the vainness—attracted her. Nothing about the people was unrefined—even when the composition of the live painting focused on a tragedy—say, a death—because these dark episodes were also an artistic representation of the world, an imitation study conducted with thoroughness and skill to inspire pleasure. Maybe these heroic events were predestined for glory, however small they were? The subjects were important, even in this economy. Few—but beautiful. Few—but significant. Few but never excessive in value: a sunbed horsehide, a couple books on a table, leather-wrapped like fetishes, a green lamp on a desk or one of these new ergonomic gadgets, that produced perfectly aromatic Sumatran coffee without manipulating a single grain.

She thought she understood that everything was judiciously lit to arouse admiration or idolatry, although the compliments were easy, the kisses vain, and the affections insincere. And the warmth of simply being—as one might know—acclimated, numbed, bored… But it was illogical, wasn’t it? That such great time could be spent creating these small windows, when so few people walked by: these moments only lasted a few moments at night, after hours of work during which one had run endlessly so that something memorable could be created after dark. Forget the present, forget the now. People carried around an obsession with the future—a fear. It disturbed them—like a nightmare unfolding—, the idea that they, or their successors, might encounter vulgarity in any of its phases, or worse: misery. For poverty was the quintessence of horror. Therefore, the windows were not only vain ostentation: they also constituted a connection with the yearnings of the world and a defensive barrier against the world they feared.

Her window (all the windows of the house, in fact) was an exception on that wall. A picture window dressed with curtains that were clear, but not transparent. She lived there with her family in a pristine environment, unsoiled, almost sacred. They had little furniture, numerous books—so many stacks of them, that they no longer fit anywhere—and an antique grand piano. Neither she nor her younger brother had ever gone to school; their parents attended to their schooling. Both teachers by trade, they homeschooled their children to shield them from the obscenity of this other world that they rejected for its conceit, its indifference to what they believed to be true. They valued courage, honesty and intelligence. They were “enlightened,” and determined to instill knowledge in their children, so that all doors would open to them. They discussed methods and contents, the evolution of literature and language. Sciences, arts, but also the remedies of the body and soul. The father covered the past, opening dialogues about history; he kept his faith in the classics and in the original languages, establishing the relevance of Latin, in addition to other languages ​​that he deemed indispensable. The mother, on the other hand, celebrated the present and prepared the children for the future; she dedicated herself to science in all its practical applications. Film and music also helped mold the soul of her warriors. The girl played the piano with an innate virtuosity that scared a little. Her brother, the violin. At some point the children had to learn to shield themselves from the mockery of the other children who roamed the outside world, until they were ready to approach the world as vegetarians who naturally avoid eating meat. They acquired, as a defense mechanism, an astute sense of humor they used to avoid criticism.

Parents not only showed them the beauty in the world, they also taught the children about the dire reality of this world so full of shortcomings: a world to which they didn’t belong—although they believed they did—and over which they had chosen a monastic life that had, in the end, brought them all into isolation and turned the children into laboratory specimens that they, the parents, meant to fix, enhance, refine with the chisel of their beliefs.

Sometimes, because of the children’s curiosity (mostly hers), the parents opened the curtains for educational and comparative purposes. Over the years, she’d secretly drawn back these curtains and looked out the windows. She wondered about the realness of both worlds, and of the others that she might not even know about. Increasingly it felt like an encrypted message that no one was interested in deciphering. In a few circumstances, she sought pleasure, gripped by pure desire to feel enjoyment, but always fell back into the familial austerity. She thought about her gifts and whether intelligence and erudition could lead to arrogance and boasting. She wondered if courage and honesty were not also cruel forms of labeling everything so that one could pretend to be better than the rest. She did not know what course to follow on the family map. But she craved for an emergency exit: she wanted to escape, breathe: be brought to life: cut the wires carefully woven over the years: escape from the ancient and venerable university, founded in the fifteenth century in the priory of a cathedral. Completely forget the obsequious precision of mathematics and music; pull out her corset. “Give me the superfluous; for everybody can get the necessary.” She’d repeated this secret war cry ever since an adolescent. In those times, letters completely lost their meaning, as if stirred in her memory, parts of an infinite puzzle.

She felt rage, but also sorrow for her parents. She thought of everything she had been taught, and of the futility of knowledge. Can a creature betray his creator without punishment? Can a piece aspire to be anything but what has been dreamed by the artist? She pondered these questions the night before she left, in the solitude of her room, looking through the glass panels and frames.

She rose from the bed, walked to the window, and peered into the street down below. On the sidewalk, a woman cowered on herself, feet bare on the stone floor. Beside her lay discreetly a stiff human form. She imagined the woman crying of cold because, she imagined, that was what people cried over, whenever they got to some place new: the cold … They didn’t only protect themselves from the wind, but also from the light, which revealed everything with its patina: the landfills, the no-exit streets, the dogs, the corners and windows. The natural inclination when facing the unknown, when facing tomorrow, was fear, and the glorification of the world was, indeed, the reverse of misery. The moonish lighthouse at that time was decadent. The girl also felt cold, as if having a premonition, but did not stop looking out. Fast asleep, or maybe not at all sleeping, she simply looked out the window.

***

Magela Baudoin (1973) is a Bolivian-Venezuelan writer, journalist and university professor who lives in Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia) since 2005. She’s the founder and director of the Creative Writing Program at Universidad Privada de Santa Cruz (UPSA). She is author of a book of interviews titled Mujeres of Costado (Plural 2010), a collection of short stories, La composición de la sal (Plural 2014), and her novel The sound of H won the 2014 National Novel Award (Santillana-Bolivia). As a journalist, she collaborated to various Bolivian newspapers. Her stories and reviews have appeared in several literary anthologies and digital magazines, including Escritores del Mundo (Argentina), Otro Cielo (Argentina),
Suelta (Guatemala) and Círculo de Poesía (Mexico). She’s currently working on a new novel.

MB-color

Magela Baudoin

 

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