CHAPTER 15 – The Other Side of a Kiss, by António Jorge Serafim

©Nuno Nunes-Ferreira, Medo www.nunonunes-ferreira.com


Translated by Tom Gatehouse

Edited by Sarah Jacobs

“I know, Lúcia, how the earth suffers when there isn’t so much as a drop of water to whet its hope. I know how birds won’t fly when they have nothing to drink, how flowers wilt, and how leaves fall from the trees like yellowing pages. I felt like this whenever his mouth was absent from mine.”

Cacilda was indifferent to fear. Locked inside her dementia, her eyes closed to the pale light that seeped through the blinds of the room where Teresa had so kindly put her up, she could barely hear the daily rumble of life beyond her body, her spirit. Perhaps Teresa owed her a debt of gratitude, or perhaps it was out of a deep admiration for the scientific genius now reduced to a comatose shadow of her former self. Or both, thought Teresa, after glancing into the room next to her own, to where she was heading to make the call. It’s true that illness and ageing are meandering paths; both begin at birth and end in forgetting, she concluded uneasily.

Sometimes it was more than just a glance. It was observation, as if she felt a constant need to confirm something she had heard long ago, back when the cave was becoming the last bastion of the future. It was in one of those glass-partitioned offices, on one of her days off, she couldn’t have said when exactly – in a cave there is no difference between night and day, morning and afternoon, past and present – that she had overheard a conversation between Cacilda and Lúcia, her assistant.

“You know what, Lúcia? I hate him for everything he made me feel!”

“Me too!”

“I’d never been kissed like that!”

“Me neither!”

“I felt like I’d been tossed about by a storm!”

“A disaster!”

“My lips were the hostages of his mouth. I know, Lúcia, how the earth suffers when there isn’t so much as a drop of water to whet its hope. I know how birds won’t fly when they have nothing to drink, how flowers wilt, and how leaves fall from the trees like yellowing pages. I felt like this whenever his mouth was absent from mine. But at first, though it might seem contradictory, it was gentle, like a breeze. It set all my hair on end! Then as it got stronger, it went right through me! Finally, it became this overpowering assault which entered me through my mouth and went straight to the core of my heart, melting all its troubles. I could think of nothing beyond that kiss. It turned me inside-out, revealing all the contradictions of my life. I was studying for a degree. I wanted more out of life! To dedicate myself body and soul to science, to research, to discover something for which humanity would recognise me for posterity. But in subjecting my heart to such intense desire, he wouldn’t let me. His only intention was to leave it petrified at the point he had left it, until he returned. Even today, years after ending my relationship with him, I feel that my mouth doesn’t age. You see, Lúcia? My lips, frozen on his kiss, remain fresh. Just seeing him makes me feel as if they might flower, as if that wretch set off chlorophyll in the roof of my mouth. I started to think that his kiss was made of sunlight, and that rays of light shone into me, illuminating every piece of my body, at the first touch of our mouths. I felt like I was on fire, from the tips of my toes to the roots of my hair. No! I had a course to study. Lips, my lips – they don’t own what I dream, what I aspire to be. And no man, least of all that shit Ricardo, was going to tempt me away from the path I had mapped out when I started university. I wasn’t going to throw away my career for a sickness of the heart. I had no choice but to end it…”

Teresa, through the half-open door, peered at Cacilda’s lips. Surprisingly, that woman of nearly ninety years old possessed a mouth frozen at the time in which passion had been the photosynthesis of her heart. Teresa put her right hand to her mouth, circling her top lip with her index finger, then her bottom lip, tracing the shape of a kiss. She was certain that it had been frozen, that day in the cave…


Read the original chapter in Portuguese


Jorge Serafim: story teller. He has performed thousands of storytelling sessions at schools and local theatre festivals, as well as abroad, at festivals in Uruguay, Argentina, Cape Verde, the Canary Islands and Macau. He is the author of several books, including novels, poetry collections and children’s books. As a comedian, he has participated in a range of television programmes and performed comedy shows all across Portugal and its Islands.

Tom Gatehouse is a writer, editor and translator from Spanish and Portuguese to English. He is the editor of Voices of Latin America: Social Movements and the New Activism (Latin America Bureau, 2019) and the translator of Bernardo Kucinski’s novel The Past is an Imperfect Tense (Latin America Bureau, forthcoming in 2020). Other translations have appeared in Take Six: Six Portuguese Women Writers (Dedalus, 2018) and Tales and Trails Lisbon (PRADO/EGEAC, 2017). He is currently based in London.


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Listen to this chapter read by Ben Slack


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