CHAPTER 25 – The Cat’s Out of the Bag, by Licínia Quitério

©Rui Sanches, Et in Arcadia II www./

Translated by Bruna Dantas Lobato

Edited by Kim Olson

“Maybe the story had changed, maybe someone had already managed to alter it, to introduce a new chapter, an unforeseen kindness, a misstep that broke the monotony of despair.”

That was the first time that Reboredo, the esteemed cyborg, burst into laughter like that. The laughter came out of his mouth with a slight metallic sound, like nails scratching a chalkboard or a chair scraping the floor.

Alberto noted the ups and downs of Reboredo’s loose voice in a graph in his head, tracing the rising, flattening, and sinking cadence, which likely announced the lack of control in that orgy of sounds seemingly coming from a devastating body capable of threatening, ravaging, and unsettling anything.

In the midst of this elaborate scene, Alberto’s mind was suddenly flooded by a memory, by a kind of purple cloud that passed by in his head, or perhaps in his chest. Who knows where his mind went – to a childhood yard, his father’s wake, or the day when the end of the war was announced. That part didn’t interest him. He’d never been one for philosophical ramblings. He found them to be wasteful, the solitary pleasure of the depressed. But he felt differently about poetry, and was stupidly drawn to those mundane phrases that sometimes appeared in catchy songs, with an incantatory beat.

Cacilda, that sly woman, even told him once, without looking at him, feigning indifference: “Hmmm, underneath that tough-guy facade, there is a real poet.” He didn’t like that one bit. Dumb Cacilda had hit him hard, right where it hurt. It could only have been worse if she’d said he was a poet in love. Women act like witches then later complain about the burning. He felt uncomfortable for having thought such a vile thing, so good thing he didn’t say it out loud.

“That’s nonsense.”

That’s all he managed to say, embarrassed. Then he left, before the conversation soured.

That damn cloud was passing by, and passing by, a parade of incoherent shapes, opaque at first, then in subtle waves, in shudders that produced cracks and tears, showing scenes of a film from another time – crude, dark, sordid. The laughter went on, like a soundtrack coming from other spheres, other hells. Alberto couldn’t look away. He knew the plot, knew by heart the sounds of sudden old age, the strained sound that came out of older throats, the smell of dead cats in endless decomposition. Alberto was eager to see the end of the film, not because he’d forgotten it, but because a hope was growing in him. Maybe the story had changed, maybe someone had already managed to alter it, to introduce a new chapter, an unforeseen kindness, a misstep that broke the monotony of despair.

The laughter went on, now resembling an echo, bouncing off the walls at a precise angle, on and on, or so claims the very math of how sound travels.

Finally, Reboredo concluded his untimely concert and said: “Tomorrow I will try crying to see if I can become a real man.”

There was laughter again, but now from Cacilda, followed by some of her characteristic meanness:

“You may be the first one ever.”

Alberto’s prolonged silence and stillness puzzled everyone around him.

“What’s going on with you?”

“Have you seen a ghost?”

“Are you doing all right, Alberto?”

Alberto seemed to awaken from the warmth of a nap, his eyes wandering around the room, stretching his fingers from his tightly clenched fists. He stammered:

“It said ‘to be continued’ instead of ‘the end.’”

They didn’t even ask any questions. The guy was acting very strangely.

They also didn’t ask any questions when they saw a cat come in through the window. It walked lightly on its paws, dragging its bottom. They said, in the smallest of voices:

“God, give us strength…”

Read the original chapter in Portuguese

Licínia Quitério (1940) is the author of a number of poetry collections, among Da Memória dos Sentidos, 2005; Os Sítios, 2012 and Travessia, 2019. She also contributed to poetry anthologies Cintilações da Sombra 2 e 3, coordinated by Victor Oliveira Mateus and Clepsydra, coordinated by Gisela Ramos Rosa. She also wrote Disco Rígido (short stories, 2013, volume II, 2015), Os Olhos de Aura (novella, 2017) and A Metade de um Homem (novella, 2018). She translated O Vizinho Invisível, by Francisco José Faraldo, from Spanish.

Bruna Dantas Lobato’s writing and translations from the Portuguese have appeared in The Kenyon ReviewHarvard ReviewLos Angeles Review of BooksA Public Space, and elsewhere, and have been recognized with fellowships from Yaddo, A Public Space, New York University, and the University of Iowa. Her translation of Caio Fernando Abreu’s story collection Moldy Strawberries received a 2019 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant and is forthcoming from Archipelago Books in 2021.

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