©Hugo Canoilas, Noite Ocidental www.quadradoazul.pt/en/qa/artist/hugo
Translated by Padma Viswanathan
Edited by Charlotte Hammond Matthews
Before she responded, Teresa looked at the floor as if searching for an answer there. So that’s what the machine did – it tried to find a cure by way of a particle accelerator. And wasn’t that the problem – destruction, the compulsive acceleration of everything, of rain, of heat, of wind, of people?
Teresa thought long and hard, before saying to herself: now they’ll examine us, use us in futurist experiments, desperately probe the human subconscious. The machine is testing us, taking away our caves, going to the furthest depths of our worlds, searching out the best in the worst, slithering like a snake, tempting us with shiny, red apples, to see if we choose the righteous path. A machine for entering into perfect mindfulness, which would lead us toward salvation – that was ultimately what it was for.
“I’m choosing Stop. I’m choosing the return to the cave.”
“So be it,” Professor Cacilda said, sounding bitter and lifeless, unwilling to give up on this experiment whose limits were so unclear.
Back in the cave, Teresa felt herself driven by a courage whose sources she hardly knew. She felt a great desire to go out and talk with the night, so that’s what she did.
She walked the length of the tunnels that led to the outside, and exited on top of the mountain where the cave had been built. Sitting on a rock, she trained her gaze on the depth of depths. She thought of her mother, her father, and her grandparents. She remembered so well her grandmother telling her that she would never be able to forget the sound of the bells tolling for the sick as they died. There were so many dead that the bells would toll whole days at a time, as though they were a symphony being improvised that very moment by some great composer, a work commissioned by the moment itself. She remembered her saying there were so many dead that there weren’t enough coffins for all of them. The dead had to share coffins, regardless of who with, regardless of sex or where they came from or whether they had money. Everyone was equalised, all voyagers bound for the same kingdom.
“Never forget that you’re the child of survivors. If, one day, you don’t know how to find the strength to carry on, remember this. You’re the child of survivors and you will be a survivor.”
These recollections were interrupted by what sounded like a faint cry, low and shrill, like the cry of a child. She looked around and saw a dog nursing several young – three wee, bony puppies, suckling on the exhausted dog’s teats.
Teresa slowly approached the dog, who looked at her with fear in its eyes. She could tell that the dog’s position was one of unconditional surrender, no strength left to fend off a possible attack by this human. Humans attacked in these catastrophic times – it was what they did. Any time they came across an animal, afraid of being infected by the virus, they killed it. The dog’s teats were not filled with milk for her young, but rather blood. Lacking white food for her babies, this mother was feeding them with red milk. There wasn’t much left; she would go under soon. Without her knowing why, these words echoed in Teresa’s head: “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”
Teresa stroked the dog and took it into her lap as a mother would a child. She cried for all the times she hadn’t cried since this catastrophe had begun.
In the meantime, the sun started to rise. She knew she couldn’t stay there much longer, and also knew she couldn’t leave the mother there with its young. Teresa was the hostage of an unknown mind. She felt a force she had never felt before, and a great desire to force herself to look at the sun. Holding the dog and its puppies on her lap, she looked up and declared death to the sun.
Returning to the cave, along the path, on the walls, she saw shadows of people in chains, unable to move, forced to look only at the cave’s back wall, unable to see one another or themselves.
Back at the laboratory, she went to her room and hid the dog and its young under the bed. She smiled as she looked at them and felt herself regressing, as though she once more had four legs, as though she’d lost the power of speech and an opposable thumb. She sensed the presence of a perfect mind.
“What are you doing, Teresa?” asked…
Adélia Carvalho was born in a little village in Portugal. She climbed trees, talked to animals, swam in the stream and played with other children from the neighbourhood. Her best friend was a dog, Brinquedo. As she grew up, she inherited clothes from her five sisters, mended for her by her mother. Each patch was an untold story. When she went to the city to study, she discovered the library. At night, she would read stories to her grandfather, Francisco, who couldn’t read. She grew up with the insecurity of someone who has to discover the paths on their own, but also with the strength of trees, able to stand tall against the wind and the rain. She graduated in Early Childhood Education, and tell and write stories for everyone. She has more than a dozen books published in Portugal and in other countries.
Padma Viswanathan is the author of two novels, The Toss of a Lemon and The Ever After of Ashwin Rao, published in 8 countries and shortlisted for major prizes, and short stories published in such journals as Granta and The Boston Review. She has also written plays, personal essays, cultural journalism, and reviews. Her translation of the Graciliano Ramos novel São Bernardo will be published this month by New York Review Books.
(video production by Gabriela Ruivo)
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