©Manuel Justo, Lua Fugidia / Quarto Hesitante (Still) /
Translated by Clifford Landers
Edited by Cecile Berbesi
Teresa filled the glass with wine as she looked back once again upon Maria’s cold and dishevelled corpse. Her mind was generating too much clamour. She couldn’t help thinking that Maria had at last achieved an end to her voluntary slavery. It was also difficult to eliminate the sensation of her cold pulse. A rigidity that refused to leave her still tense fingers, now inseparable from the glass bottle. It occurred to her that she would never again hear the strident voice of that woman. She realized that she had not forgotten Valéria. She imagined how intense Maria’s death agony must have been. The flood of feelings made Teresa uncomfortable. How could she be so selfish, she thought. She preferred to fault herself for not having been at her side when Maria took her last breath. After all, nothing is more dreadful than dying alone. She took a sip of wine and remembered her grandfather and the voice from thirty years earlier in the letter. She imagined the grandfather she had never known, with the neighbour woman dead in his arms. The memory of the letter made Teresa look towards the desk, where there was a second letter, one the professor had given her without Cacilda’s knowledge. The intent was for it to arrive in the proper hands.
At that exact moment, Ricardo entered Teresa’s office holding a magnifying glass and tweezers. He knew a single hair would be enough to remove any doubt.
At the same time, Reboredo was on his bicycle, a Rubik’s cube installed in the taillight.
For several hours, Lúcia had been working alone in the room inside the forbidden zone. She deprogrammed words. Eliminated pasts.
Teresa, Ricardo, Reboredo and Lúcia acted separately, divided by egos, ideas, beliefs, desires and ambitions. The ingenuous reader may judge that the four of them are united by fear. But only an ingenuous writer would consider his readers innocents. So.
Shortly before this story began, a deep darkness prevailed. Before that, only hydrogen atoms floating in the vacuum. Patiently, a certain amount of gas settled more comfortably, creating compositions that resembled globes; inside them, the first nuclear fire latent in the interior of matter. The first stars were born and swept away some of the primordial blackness. At the heart of such sparks, ashes of burnt hydrogen grew heavier. Gas likes to explode, it was already thus. These pyrotechnics continued to generate stars. In their periphery grew smaller drops, too minute to achieve ignition, orphans of light. Dust. In that powder, a speck of iron and rock cooled and heated. Then came movements of lava storms, new gases, more and more water. New molecules, ever more able to resist extinguishment. Larger and larger errors, and finally reproduction. Occupying space and making everything its own. With a bit of patience, hydrogen atoms are capable of grand designs.
His head close to the lamp, his back to the gilded frame, Ricardo examined a hair held in the tweezers. Instants earlier, near Lake Malar, 1,074 square kilometres of water that flow into the Baltic Sea, a man had been born who one day would write: “Paradise should be when all pains cease. But this means then that when we have no more pain, we live in paradise! Without realising it! The fortunate and the unfortunate live in the same world and do not know it!”
The ubiquitous professor was unaware that a few metres to the side, inside the forbidden zone, Lúcia was manipulating the investigation, certain that she could free it from the impasse. She sought the necessary interference to combat the virus in a different way. She hadn’t studied just to end up serving coffee to a horde of vampires. Her moment had come moments after Hypatia was attacked by a group of fanatic followers of Archbishop Cirilo. They ripped off her clothes and cut the flesh from her bones using oyster shells. Her remains were burnt and her works destroyed. The archbishop, of course, was made a saint. Hypatia was born in Alexandria and was the last scientist to work in the library. She distinguished herself in mathematics, philosophy and astronomy. And she was very beautiful. Shortly after her death, the library was destroyed, and we all entered the first pandemic of darkness.
Reboredo pedalled towards the beach in search of traces of the song. His trip coincided almost simultaneously with the moment a man called Herbert George, son of Sarah Neal and Joseph Wells, wrote: “A day will come, one day in the unending succession of days, when beings, beings who are now latent in our thoughts and hidden in our loins, shall stand upon this earth as one stands upon a footstool, and shall laugh and reach out their hands amidst the stars.”
Less than 2,000 kilometres from Reboredo, in the Atlantic Ocean, the Teide volcano was heating up, patiently. Light travelled seven times around the earth in one second.
With dry lips, Teresa drank what was left of the wine directly from the bottle. In the street, the trees danced, slyly. Exhibiting their wholeness.
In the times in which we live, we carry fire in our pocket. Forgetting Prometheus, ingrates. Too fleeting to understand. It was thus that Teresa picked up her lighter to burn the letter. She brought the paper close to the flame and observed it hypnotically. As if she had felt the temperature of that light, she abruptly withdrew her arm. She fanned the letter and blew on it in an attempt to save it from destruction. She decided not to follow Ricardo’s instructions. Neither he nor Cacilda seemed committed to seeking the common good. Both had dark agendas, and Teresa did not wish to go on being dragged into realizing personal objectives. She would not deliver the letter to the proper individual, but she knew that the information from the professor could only be important.
At the same moment, Lúcia was dazzled, Ricardo doubted his humanity, Reboredo wept, and Teresa read the letter:
It is necessary to keep alive the voice of Calfucura. To move ahead, we must continue to ask the right questions. What is above is equal to what is below. Look back and you will see the future.
Ricardo Fonseca Mota (Sintra, 1987) grew up in Tábua and then Coimbra. His first novel, Fredo, was awarded the Prémio Literário Revelação Agustina Bessa-Luís in 2015, longlisted for the Oceanos – Prémio de Literatura em Lingua Portuguesa in 2017, and translated and published in Bulgaria. He represented Portugal at the 17th edition of the European First Novel Festival, in Budapest. As aves não têm céu is his second novel. Other works include a play, called Germana, a begónia (2019), and In descontinuidades, a collection of poetry published under the pseudonym Ricardo Agnes (2008). He has a degree in Psychology from the Universidade de Coimbra and is an author, clinical therapist and cultural promotor.
©Gi da Conceição
Clifford E. Landers has translated from Brazilian Portuguese novels by Rubem Fonseca, Jorge Amado, João Ubaldo Ribeiro, Patrícia Melo, Jô Soares, Chico Buarque, Marcos Rey, Paulo Coelho and José de Alencar, and shorter fiction by Lima Barreto, Rachel de Queiroz, Osman Lins, and Moacyr Scliar. His translation of Pedro Rosa Mendes’s Bay of Tigers: An African Odyssey was published by Harcourt. He received the Mario Ferreira Award in 1999 and a Prose Translation grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for 2004. His Literary Translation: A Practical Guide was published by Multilingual Matters Ltd. in 2001. A professor emeritus at New Jersey City University, he now lives in Naples, Florida.
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