CHAPTER 46 – A tribute to the Cave, by Luísa Costa Gomes

©Cabrita, sem título. 2020

Translated by Christine Fernandes

Edited by Margaret Jull Costa

“I have my collection of building kits and so I make things: viruses, ships in bottles, boats and planets. I have no problem filling my time.  I rarely feel the need for conversation.” 

That was a long time ago. Even then everything had become very old and tired. Walking down the street, you’d hear nothing but platitudes: everything’s going to be fine, humanity this and humanity that, but of course, everything’s going to be fine, it’s just a matter of surviving. Even if we die, everything will be fine. Sure, there’s fear and all that. But, good grief, surely fear is evidence of emotional intelligence! Sorry, don’t write that down, why don’t we start again at the beginning? I worked in the lab, and rarely saw the sun. It’s the kind of work that doesn’t stop for Sunday, because if it wasn’t a virus, it would be something else, there was always something nasty doing the rounds and keeping us all occupied. I rarely saw daylight, I rarely saw the dark, I rarely saw people. We spoke very little and always in short sentences. Anything more than that was deemed mere verbiage.  Nobody had time for long sentences, short-and-sweet reigned supreme! The women became very intelligent, very demanding, very fanciful, God, they gave me such a hard time! In the end, I just got fed up… no, don’t write that down, forget it, it might sound bad… And as for the outlandish, Brazilianised idea of dancing in the street and singing together, p-lease, since when did we sing together and dance in the street, downing jugs of red wine, except in the days when people still went to hoedowns?  And hugs? I don’t remember kisses and hugs after turning fifty! People in labs don’t kiss and hug, let alone have it away on benches full of dangerous chemicals! You can fantasise all you want, but safety and protection above all and over all – lab coats, hairnets, eyeglasses, masks, visors! Naturally, I worked day and night, like everyone else back then, the ones who had work. No, that’s not at all what I meant, what I meant is that we were full of enthusiasm, we had a mission, you see?  But don’t write that down either! Shall we start again? Oh, you think we should leave it in? Look, I’m perfectly fine here. I don’t lack for anything. You want to hear the story again? But it all happened such a long time ago! So, the pandemic came, the first wave followed by the second wave of the first wave, and so on and so forth and it never stopped. It was relentless. Death by drip-feed. Then along came Cacilda with her joke of a machine, which was about on the same level as injecting bleach or soaking up UV rays … Don’t you remember? We even tested out those therapies and they worked, with mixed results, as usual. By the time we’d moved into the Cave, we realised there would be no cure, no palliative treatment, no vaccine.  Everyone dealt with the terror as best they could, as described elsewhere. For some the panacea was Freedom, for others Hope, for others Sex, Love, love with sex, sex without love and every possible variation on that enigma… But, by then, I was already sixty-five years old, you understand, and was classified as elderly. They found me a little corner at the entrance to the Cave, with lots of light and good air-conditioning and I settled in well. The Teresas in the thirty-to-forty group took control. The Reboredos were left in the marginal world of the ageless. That’s where they drew the line – the over-sixty-fives and the under-sixty-fives.  Whenever there was any discussion in the Cave, that was the instant collective response: “Have you suddenly turned sixty-five or something?” In the early days, everything went swimmingly, then, about six months in, there was a general uprising among the “seniors”, many of whom were exterminated for their own good and so as not to contaminate the younger ones with their “age”. I was no longer Professor Ricardo, but ex-Professor, ex-Ricardo, Ricardo Senior. The first three years were the hardest.  All analogies with prisons and incarceration also wore pretty thin in the end. There was a silence, a pause, a blank that lasted for years. There were endless debates about whether everything would go back to being as it was before, if it ever did go back. What can I say? I don’t think I even know how to open the door from the inside anymore. I have my collection of lovers, and sometimes I take the most annoying one out of the wardrobe and allow myself the luxury of submitting to her diatribes. I put on Brahms, very loudly, so as not to hear her. That’s what Art’s for, isn’t it? That’s the “humanity” everyone’s always on about. I have my collection of building kits and so I make things: viruses, ships in bottles, boats and planets. I have no problem filling my time.  I rarely feel the need for conversation. If I do want to speak, I say a few words out loud first to check that my larynx is still working. And sometimes if an urge to communicate does come upon me, I summon a woman writer and tell her again the story of how I surrendered to the viruses and settled down in the comfort of the cave.


Read the original chapter in Portuguese

Luísa Costa Gomes (Lisbon, 1954) graduated in philosophy and was a school teacher until 2010. She is a storyteller, playwright, dramaturge, screenwriter, chronicler and translator. She taught a post-graduate degree in creative writing at the Universidade Lusófona in the 1990s, and has given numerous short story writing, scriptwriting and literary translation workshops. She has also given theatre and short fiction workshops as part of an Art of Writing post-graduate course at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Since 2010, she has done what likes and, occasionally, tops this off with things that she doesn’t.

Christine Fernandes has worked as a journalist and as a book editor for a higher education institute.  An MA graduate in Area Studies from the University of London, she studied the politics of Portugal, particularly of the First Republic.  She has a Diploma in Portuguese Studies from the University of Lisbon.

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