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bio | spanish original

Against the door
Margarita Saona


Translated from the Spanish by  Graham Thomson



Suddenly you see it, but you immediately pull back, instinctively, so as to stop seeing it, or so it won’t see you, I don’t know. But since it can’t be, it can’t be that you’re seeing it, you stick your head out again and, yes, you can see it’s still there. Against the light, its shape silhouetted against the door, beyond the living room, at the end of the corridor. It’s there. And it’s watching you. Or it isn’t watching you, because it has no eyes, or if it has, you can’t see them, but you are watching it. From the patio with its red tiles which, when you cross the threshold of the living room, change into a black and white chessboard, you stick your head out again and again just to see if it’s still there, that you haven’t imagined it. You think that maybe if you look lower down or higher up or a little to the left it will disappear, like a hologram, although you still don’t know about holograms, you think it might disappear the way that spiders' webs or motes of dust disappear if you shift from the one position that reveals them. But it doesn’t disappear. It wasn’t an illusion. The bug, the cuco, is still there, against the door, and it looks nothing like Godzilla or King Kong or any other known monster. Just a heap of living stones, red and black, piled up like a mountain silhouetted against the little light that the stained glass of the door lets through. No arms, no legs, no eyes, no face, only red and black stones, like a living mountain against the door. You look away again. You want to go back to the little green plastic soldiers that don’t face one another on the red tiles, that are lined up in ranks and battalions, in an endless game in which the war never comes, tiny little soldiers against that shape silhouetted against the door. You want to go back to your game, but you can’t. The bug, the cuco, is there.

          It’s there, against the door, and you know that it’s no use calling mummy, because mummy isn’t there, she went out this time without taking you, although you would have liked her to take you, to sit down and have a pastry and a Coca-Cola in the Granja Azul milk bar on Avenida Larco while she gave her orders to the butcher, and wait for her to finish the shopping licking the icing sugar that sticks to your lips, and not be watching the cuco silhouetted against the door, perhaps watching you… But this time she didn’t take you, and there’s no point in calling, because your brother and sisters aren’t there either, not Javier, not Marta, not Pelusa, because they’re big and at school, and Daddy, of course, is working, and Anita is busy in the kitchen and if you call out she’ll answer you with a shout from there, so there’s no point in calling, but above all there’s no point in calling because you know the cuco is there only and exclusively for you to see. You look again and, yes, it’s there and something inside you trembles, but it isn’t fear, or yes, that emotion that passes through you. And you know it isn’t a game, that this time it isn’t one of those games you make up for daddy and mummy to be amused that you’re such an imaginative girl, when you say you can see mermaids every time you drive across the Miraflores bridge, for them to carry on the game and count those non-existent mermaids with you from the bridge which thanks to you is now the bridge of the little mermaids in that game that your brother and sisters in the back seat join in on or tolerate, too, depending on the mood of the day, because you’re their little sister and you can say that you see mermaids, even though you know there are no mermaids and that neither daddy nor mummy nor your brother and sisters can see them, because you can’t see them either, you only play at seeing them, sitting between daddy and mummy who are playing too. But this time it’s different. You’re not between daddy and mummy, the cuco is there and it isn’t a game.

          A jingle of keys makes you blink and in the light that comes in through the opening door the image of the cuco vanishes. Mummy!

You like to wake up in the morning and get into mummy’s bed. You like to watch daddy giving her a goodbye kiss and then you curl up at her side, mummy smells of vanilla and bread, of things that are soft and warm, and Anita brings mummy’s breakfast, and she gives you a piece of her toast that tastes like no other toast, and mummy’s smell mingles with the smell of the coffee and the grapefruit, which is nice but bitter. But at night it’s different, go to sleep little girl, go to sleep now, if you don’t go to sleep the cuco… but no, it isn’t the cuco that scares you, the cuco won’t come, you know it’s there, quite still against the wall, waiting for you to see it watching you quite still against the wall. No, it isn’t the cuco that you’re afraid of. It’s the voices you hear but don’t understand, voices that come with the chink of light under the door of the darkened room for you to go to sleep, because if you don’t go to sleep… Voices, daddy’s voice, mummy’s voice, but something hard and rough makes them sound not like their voices, and you want and you don’t want to go to sleep, and if you don’t go to sleep, and you hide your face against the wall, as if not looking would mean not hearing, too, because if you don’t go to sleep…

          Siesta time. The door of daddy and mummy’s room is closed and you’ve got that enormous boredom growing inside you. They tell you not to make a row, to go and play in the back patio. Javier and Marta are reading, stretched out on top of their beds, and Pelusa says she’ll play with you, but you always come out the worse in games with Pelusa, so you decide to do what you’re told and go and play in the back patio, although the smell of the passion fruit makes the heat of the summer afternoon even denser and the red and black caterpillars threaten to fall off the creeper and squash themselves, splat. Anita notices your boredom and perhaps out of compassion and perhaps so you won’t start to annoy her, gives you a piece of tomato. ‘Go on, give this to Coco, she must be hungry’, and happy with your important task you go to the back patio to look for Coco, although it isn’t easy, her shell merges with the earth, under the geraniums, but you find her, luckily not too near the passion fruit, and the tortoise comes in her slow way to the red and juicy half moon you hold out to her. Coco, cuco, no, the cuco hasn’t got Coco’s face, because it hasn’t got a face, and Coco has a funny face, with that mouth like a bird’s beak, that fat tongue, those little sleepy-looking eyes. She seems happy, Coco, eating the tomato, and as she bites it it seems nicer and nicer to you, redder, juicier. Coco chews slowly and all at once you want to be Coco eating the tomato, you want to bite that red and juicy tomato, and although no one has told you not to eat Coco’s tomato you know that daddy would be horrified, that you have to wash your hands twice with soap after playing with animals, it would never occur to them that you would suddenly want to eat that tomato bitten by Coco, Coco biting and chewing as if there was nothing else in the world, and you feel a tickling inside you, like the tickling you feel when you see the cuco, no, Coco, looking at you, quite still against the door, and daddy, and the microbes and the bacteria, ‘because my daddy is a doctor… and he’s my doctor, too’, like in that stupid advertisement on television that tries to sell some product with authority, and not only the microbes and the bacteria, but are you really going to take Coco’s food, now she’s biting again as if savouring it, but only a little piece, it’s a very big piece for such a little tortoise, and you aren’t going to eat it all, a nibble for you and a nibble for her, and then another one for you, and then another one for her, and no tomato ever tasted like this one, the same as no toast tastes like mummy’s toast, one more little nibble, like a bit of cool sun in your mouth…

          You have never told anyone about the cuco, just like you’ve never told anyone about Coco and that secret she shares with you. Would Coco be upset because you ate a bit of her tomato? You have never told anyone about the cuco, because they would think you were just playing, like with the little mermaids, and it isn’t a game, although it is, too, when you sit on the cold red tiles, with that tickling inside even before you look, and you look and there it is, against the door, you stick your head out, you hide, you stick your head out again and that sweet fear goes through you, silence, cold on your legs, and that tickling every time you make sure that it’s there. You like to sit down and play on those red tiles, you like to feel the cold on your legs, wearing those shorts that used to be Javier’s, because sometimes you would like to be Javier, because, of course, nobody tells him that girls don’t climb trees, that they don’t play football, that they should play house and be the mummy, they would say other things to him, certainly, but you don’t know what things, and sometimes you think it would be more fun to be like Javier, in fact everybody says you look so like him, and you like to think what Javier would do if he saw the cuco, against the wall, watching him. But at other times, too, you would like to be like Marta, because she walks so nicely, moving her hips, and because she puts on perfume in such a funny way, little touches with her fingers behind her ears, and under her arms, her elbows, her knees, it makes you laugh to watch her repeat that ritual every morning, and if she saw the cuco she would surely speak to it like an old friend, or she would let it be, leave it in peace, quite still there against the door. Like Pelusa, no. She tells you that you don’t like her and when you draw dogs she tells you they really look like wolves, how nice your wolves are, she says to you, but you don’t understand why Pelusa sees wolves if you drew dogs, and as well she always reminds you of the favours she’s done you. What would Pelusa do if she saw the cuco? Maybe she would shout or tell it off, and she would certainly tell someone it was there. You stick your head out, it’s still there, it scares you to see it and you feel so, so good…

          You wake up with heavy eyes, emerging from a dream you can’t remember. It’s hot and the blankets seem thicker than they were last night. Your brother and sisters aren’t there, but of course it’s late and they must be in school. You don’t know how you didn’t hear them go, you’re always the first to wake up. There is a great silence in the house. You run to daddy and mummy’s room. The door is closed. Mummy! Mummy! There’s no reply. Only the closed door. Mummy! Anita comes running up the stairs, tells you in a whisper that mummy has a headache, tells you to let her rest, to go downstairs with her and have breakfast, but you don’t want to. Anita looks at you pityingly, she takes your hand, she gently forces you to follow her down the stairs, you pass through the living room and you know that it won’t be there, because Anita’s there, against the door you see suitcases, the suitcases that daddy and mummy always say they bought in Brazil, before you were born, and you like that story they tell, that they told you, when they told you that you were made in Brazil, but no one tells that story any more, made in Brazil, like those suitcases that are against the door, because it isn’t there any more, you can’t see it any more, and it isn’t because Anita’s there, it’s because there are only suitcases against the door. Anita takes you into the kitchen, but as soon as she turns away to open the fridge you run out to the patio, you look out from those red tiles that are already warm from the sun, and you can’t see anything, only suitcases, and you don’t feel a tickling going through you, but a knot that beats and grows and fills up all of you, and you run upstairs, because the cuco isn’t there and in its place there are suitcases, and you try the door of mummy’s room, but it’s locked, and in silence, so as not disturb her, you sit down and cry against the door.


© 1999 Margarita Saona                                     
Translated from the Spanish by Graham Thomson
This story may not be archived or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.
Author bio:

Margarita SaonaMargarita Saona was born in Lima, Peru in 1965. She received her Licenciatura in Hispanic linguistics and literature at the Universidad Catolica before moving to New York where she lived for seven years while studying at Columbia University and earning a PhD in Latin American Literature. Since 1998 she has lived in Chicago where she teaches Latin American Literature at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

The author may be contacted at: saona@uic.edu

Two other of her stories (in Spanish) have been published on the Net:

Ciberayllu www.andes.missouri.edu/andes/literatura/

Contratiempo www.contratiempo.com/frames/Narrativa/narrativa.html

navigation:                                       barcelona review #14   mid-august to mid-october 1999
-Fiction The Waffle Code - Steve Aylett
William the Killer - Kristin Kenway
Perfect - Marcy Dermansky
Against the Door - Margarita Saona
-Poetry Special Round-table Discussion with Six Catalan Poets
Interview: Dolors Miquel
Poems in English:
Antoni Clapés | Enric Casassas
Visual Poetry:
Xavier Canals

Ernesto Mestre

-Quiz Vladimir Nabokov
-Regular Features Book Reviews
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