CHAPTER 44 – Possible Reasons for the Sadness of Teresa’s Thought, by Filipa Leal

©Matilde Martins, “cavalos (de) guerra”, 2020, lápis de cor s/ papel, 21 x 29,5 cm

Translated by Sally Bolton

Edited by Sarah Jacobs

“The books had been shut up and sealed off for decades because I feared they’d spread the infection. A while ago, I decided to free them, one by one. My grandfather only read printed books.” 

The exhausted protagonist smiled in fear and relief at the memory of her birthday. Then she began:

Ladies and gentlemen of the scientific community,

I am speaking to you today of your past, which is my present, and which is my grandfather’s future. My grandfather died because he wanted to help a neighbour who had passed out on his doorstep, riddled with the virus. I never got to know him, but my mother’s stories mean I remember him as if I did. My grandfather still recognised the taste of a beef tomato, my grandfather, you must understand, still recognised the cow from where the beef came. A real cow, free to roam the sunny fields. My grandfather knew what it was not to be afraid of the sun. My grandfather knew packed beaches, with no sections taped off. My grandfather grew up in the sea, with his friends around him, crowded around, unhurriedly enjoying themselves for no reason other than because they could. My grandfather belonged to the time when you would only wash your hands after using the bathroom, or before meals where freshly picked fruit would be eaten with bare hands. My grandfather could recognise a fruit by its smell. My grandfather died many years ago. It’s been many years since we’ve actually smelt something. After all, even fear is liquid. Fear is white and it smells like bleach and ethanol.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am speaking to you of a future which my grandfather never knew but for which he asked me to find some sort of solution. This was the reason I became a scientist. So that, my dear colleagues, I could try to save your grandparents. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded. If we’ve succeeded. The great human problem is our aversion to group work. I succeed, you succeed, but on your own. We still haven’t reached a hypothesis that goes from singular to plural. We still don’t believe that we can succeed. Narcissism is not just a characteristic befitting of artists. These viruses were the great challenge of the egocentric. When the whole world falls ill at the same time, one lamentation isn’t greater than another, nor is one person more in need of compassion than another. My neighbour’s pandemic is no less significant than mine. My neighbour’s panic is no less than mine. Those people who once made such a meal of every universal loss to get some attention; those for whom the death of an eighty-something-year-old artist in another continent called for mourning and suffering; those who used everyone else’s pain to pity themselves; those people must now feel they’ve lost their tongue. To all of those people, today I say: it could have been your grandfather.

You have to understand. When I could glean no more answers from science, I turned to the works of the great philosophers. They also contradict each other. I inherited, courtesy of my grandfather, a very strange library. Very strange. It’s a secret which I’ll share with you. The books had been shut up and sealed off for decades because I feared they’d spread the infection. A while ago, I decided to free them, one by one. My grandfather only read printed books. He would underline sections, fold over corners of pages. I discovered several authors who referred to masks, but different types to those we use. One such author was George Steiner who had a title which interested me: “Ten (Possible) Reasons for the Sadness of Thought” and which maintained that “the mask is worn underneath the skin.” Is this the definitive solution? Afterwards I found in a 1966 magazine (beautiful cover with two classic cars) an interview with one Saul Bellow in which he quoted this Jewish proverb: “A fool can throw a stone into the water which ten wise men cannot recover.”

Ladies and gentlemen, scientists of the future, if you’re watching this video, then our world is not over. Perhaps you still have a chance to recover the stone.

Teresa stood up, turned off her phone camera, and immediately posted the video online. Glancing at the pale carrots, the only ones that had been left at the market, which sat drooping on the kitchen countertop alongside a jumbled pile of handwritten letters, she took hold of the knife.

Read the original chapter in Portuguese

Filipa Leal (Porto, 1979) published her first book, lua-polaroid, in 2003, followed by nine works of poetry. Her work has been available in Spain since 2010. She graduated in journalism from Westminster University, London, and completed an MA in Portuguese and Brazilian Studies at the Faculdade de Letras do Porto. She has worked in radio, print media and television. Her screenplay for JOGO DE DAMAS, directed by Patrícia Sequeira, was awarded the Golden Aphrodite Prize for best script at the Cyprus Cinema Festival (2016) and the prize for best script at the International Monthly Film Festival of Copenhagen (2017). She is the author and scriptwriter of the television series MULHERES ASSIM (RTP1, 2016-2017) and of the children’s musical A VOLTA AO MUNDO EM 60 MINUTOS (Elenco productions, 2014). Currently, she contributes to the weekly TV programme NADA SERÁ COMO DANTE on RTP2, and has just released her first play: O Quadrado de F. (não, March 2020).

©Alfredo Cunha

Sally Bolton grew up in East Yorkshire and went on to study Spanish and Portuguese at Merton College, Oxford, graduating in 2017. She has collaborated on translation projects with Margaret Jull Costa, including the Take Six collection of short stories by Portuguese Women Writers. Sally continues to further her interest in languages, and has recently started learning Arabic.

Listen to this chapter on Facebook read by Ben Slack

(video production by Gabriela Ruivo)

Listen to this chapter read by Ben Slack

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