CHAPTER 19 – The Taste of Madness, by Cristina Carvalho

©Manuel João Vieira, Paisagem Patafísica www.mjvieira.com/site


Translated by Nuala Motel-Casey

Edited by Sarah Jacobs

“Tiny dandelion seeds embed themselves into cliffside cracks. From these seeds hope will grow, that is, tiny yellow flowers which will only be visible when dawn is over, in the explosion of morning.” 

(An interlude in the unfolding of this story. Memories, visions. What I see after a million years have passed.)

I no longer exist. No one exists.

Time flew by. At the time in which I’m writing these lines, the only thing I can do is observe myself. I consider the person I was, everything I felt, the floods of tears I shed in desperation when I failed in my life’s experiments.

The cave was an interesting place inhabited by strange creatures: living organisms which are still moving, albeit in a different setting. Either they crawl around sadly or they flap about, ecstatic at their little inventions and discoveries, emitting sounds which no longer make any sense. Objects, particles, small machines, frustrations and joys confined and fitted to a specific time in the History of Humankind, ever scornful of other beings, who apparently possessed another, not-so-interesting form of intelligence. So we said. We judged them with fatal arrogance.

And yet, despite the amount of time that has passed between now and the person I was, the sun still shines, undarkened by strange stains, and the north wind still blows, continuing to spread seeds and making dandelions take to the air with every possible grace. Tiny dandelion seeds embed themselves into cliffside cracks. From these seeds hope will grow, that is, tiny yellow flowers which will only be visible when dawn is over, in the explosion of morning. The north wind of this earth will pepper the fields with such seeds. And they will take flight once again in what I’d call a never-ending circle.

There will be food for all.

If what I’m writing seems to throw this story off its natural course, it is precisely because today I see that my life has never followed a predictable path. Intervals exist. I, Teresa, was one of those people, but it could have been Rick or Cacilda or Maria. The truth is, while we were there keeping things turning, we were different. Today, we are all the same.

Secluded away for good, I, Teresa of the Cave, get drunk. I drink a glass of red wine, the good stuff. And I drink another five glasses to chase the first. It’s not much! Only six glasses of wine that restore me to lucidity and the certainty of another future. Wine? After all those experiments carried out in the cave, as far as I know, all these wise people with their knowledgeable hands still haven’t been able to – or had the chance to – dance in the streets. They’re all very serious. They don’t trust each other, they shoot each other sidelong glances like big birds of prey do when they pick out voles for their feasts. One of them, because he doesn’t like being called Rick; another, because she thinks she’s oh so very important, and those other creatures, those tiny human stains, are there laughing, jeering, fearing, fleeing. Or else, wishing for a different life and disappearing for thousands of years, like me.

So I dance.

We are ghosts.

I went out around dawn, heading for the river. Now my mind was busying itself with other sounds, very different from the ones which afflicted me earlier: computer keyboards, the tangling of wires, chatter near and far, all these noises from so very long ago …

I carry on.

I lay down on a bench on the quayside and I warmed myself as best I could. And still the tone of my grandfather’s voice fastened to my ever-growing being. I thought I was in the most beautiful place in town, or at least somewhere safe from the anxiety the cave produced in me. Was it even a town?

It’s hard to fall asleep. Now I notice two people watching me from a short distance. They are two shadows, who might they be? Professor Rick? Professor Cacilda?

Dizziness, vomiting, my arms raised, my hands clasping my head, the belated shadows of those people following me further back, the day dawning in a red gleam deep in the distance, the clouds, the spreading cold, the boats dancing, the bridge escaping, the river swelling, my head falling and, finally, the taste of madness, a great madness in the air that turns into a scream. I want to wake up but I can’t. My eyes won’t open. I scream. So did the fish underwater, the seabirds and all the birds on the land. 

Is this me, this frail figure?

I felt the cold air. I feel the cold on my lips, my ears, my eyelashes. A veil of mist drifts out to sea, far out there and it was a fleeting breeze of peace and many wishes. Peace. An impossible subject in my head. Wishes, sure, plenty of them. Peace, I don’t know, I’ve never known what that is. Maybe if I pretend …

But this was just an interval.

Everything else exists. The cave exists. I wish for another million years, I wish for much more time. This time never existed.

The story, that goes on as always.


Read the original chapter in Portuguese


Listen to this chapter read by Ben Slack


Cristina Carvalho was born in Lisbon in 1949. She has published several books, some of which have been included on the Plano Nacional de Leitura (National Reading Plan). Her novel O Olhar e a Alma, romance de Modligliani (Planeta) was awarded the Prémio SPA/RTP for best work of fiction in 2016. Her books have been translated into English, French and Italian. She has been writing since 1989.

©José Lorvão

Nuala Motel-Casey grew up between France and Ireland and now lives in Norwich where she earned her Masters in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia. She has lived and worked in Italy and Brazil and translates from French, Italian and Portuguese.


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