Liliana Heer


Liliana Heer

Red summer
Taller de Copistas La Letra Muerta
Buenos Aires, 1997
Translated by Moira Fradinger

while the blood and the seagulls vociferate
Efraín Jara

When I turned fourteen my mother proposed that we commit suicide; she did not use that word, it was a simple suggestion void of any pathos.
Humor on the peninsula. Organic presence. A jaw of fixed fondness.

We were near a harbor, it was hot, we were walking arm in arm as people tend to walk in small towns; the shadow from our bodies marked the proximity of noon, its vegetal slowness.

Between that mother and the daughter I then was, everything seemed too close. The opposite of “We have nothing to say”, which drove Mersault to place his mother in an asylum eighty kilometers from Algiers. Later, I went to another city, and then another one and years passed but not my love for that woman.
I do not know if the appeal was in her stories or in her voice. The tone of someone who reaches innumerable worlds without needing to visit them.

She knew the value of parody and at the same time was an expert in the intimate.

Hearth of epitaphs. By a miracle, nothing cynical possessed her. Thanks to a clear naive style, she was devoted to the science which cannot be domesticated. As if she had watched shuddering, until she could see that marriage was deceit, celibacy desolation; to be a woman was a time bomb, to prostitute oneself, absurd, to depend on schedules, obscene.
The imitation of that fugitive modality toward stereotypes and a certain mistrust in everything except the instant, proliferated in secret. I was given the tools to act with calm in unexpected situations. Landscape of hyacinth and sulfur.
Lacking the soap-opera tint into which even the most sacred ideal finally falls.

Let us return to that birthday: between the pier and the water there were few meters of distance. I still perceive the sound of the surf hitting the haunches
of the ships. I think the sun made us postpone the idea. Neither of us mentioned the fear of betrayal, assuming that someone would save only one of us.

May be the sun is the title of the song -whose lyric I hardly remember having written- that one of my boyfriends added to the blues repertory of his band.
We walked along the pier convinced that at any moment we could jump,
not with the goal of killing ourselves -a small detail among immortals-
but to seal a pact, the opposite of birth, the motif that would then be the slogan of my generation: “Live dangerously to the end.”
Blood and love affairs. How could one imagine that such a scene had already been filmed by Jean Vigo in L’Atalante, and yet another would need an ethnic war so that Kusturica could film --beneath the waters of the Danube-- the newlywed woman swimming in her bridal gown and flowered tiara.

Memory as palimpsest. For a long time I thought, that one of the two of us had deviated from the objective that morning, but I never knew whom.
Sometimes I think that jumping was one of the many ideas I used to have, to which my mother listened as a gentle reader, without making comments or reproaches, only moving her head softly and calling me by my pet name.

With three or four phrases of some poets, Nietzsche as a spiritual guide and a fur coat, I went to study in a city a hundred times bigger than the city where I had been born. Creature of flesh.

A few months later, initiated into the times, when there were still no legacies of that nature, drunk with the sky, I felt that I was the daughter of a hippie.

Blessed by an apocryphal freedom, oscillating between the ideological universe of permanent revolution and magic veils of mescaline, my vision of the events was surreal. Useless to add anecdotes: what others believed to be exotic, seemed inevitable to me. When speaking, my tongue clipped events as scissors do, introducing minutiae into the bronchial tree, so that what was said became unsaid, stuffed or bitten, leaving the story in suspense, unfinished like The Thousand and One Nights, but I only claimed to tell one night, in the same way that today I return to the misunderstanding of May be the Sun, faithful to the rhythm, the confusion, the mistakes.

Facing the difficulty of detaching myself from the fog --oneiric, diaphanous, fluent and obstinate logic-- I chose to measure its nature intercalating the cultural slivers. I should have placed myself before the evidence of my raving to convert the paradoxical into the intelligible.

Slowly, like someone with two languages, one raw and the other cooked, the raw at high flame became my fictional flesh. Meager flesh lacking wings. Brine in the syntax. Blake said: “He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.” Words that once turned to the pier, condemns such avoidance. As if there were non-retrospective torments. As if the sleeping desires had the density of a remora, a barnacle, preventing our advance through the night, through the pestilence, to nurture its crusts and to make the mixture of grief and kickshaws vibrate in the bunker.

That morning, another topic must have attracted our attention because we left the harbor to go in search of my gift and a record by Kurt Weill. Having always loved felines, even if it were summer, I chose without hesitation. I did not want fragments. I had to see the piece with which they would make my coat.
--Felis Pardalis-- the furrier said, taking an ocelot out of a white bag.

The fur jacket, reaching the waist, covered just the chest and the back. He promised to give me the paws and the tail. For What?
--You never know-- I heard my mother say. I designed a vest. --the sleeves knitted in wool-- so that this animal could be attached to my life as the mucous is attached to the hymen. Cords where the mouth lies.

The furrier began to admonish me about my eccentric taste. Soon you will regret it! and after his stubborn insistence in measuring the armhole, in the end he agreed to sell me a mannequin.

When two weeks later I went to the furrier’s, she could not come with me because she was in the waiting room of a specialist in undiagnosable illnesses. That type of doctor whose expertise relies on the patient’s openness. Too many words and uncertain schedules. Perhaps she did not know, and neither did I, but we both should have suspected that this man was mesmerizing her with his conjectures. I think my liking of psychoanalysis comes from that guru, a mixture of an archaeologist and a detective of the soul.

With scarce spatial experience I wandered past seven o’clock in the evening.
I carried the jacket in a box and the half-body unwrapped, so that when I entered a cinema I needed two seats.

Fixed camera. Fading of the melodrama. Pure optical situation. Time image. Vast exterior shots. Empty, sparse, neutral spaces. A montage of simple cuts.
Toward the middle of the film, I could not resist the temptation to dress the mannequin. Charcoal to the fire. Eyes of magnetized stone. One point is worth more than the human shape, confessed Kandinsky. Enlightened enchantment?
Who dares contradict the legend of the pink dolphins? Kind solitude, nurse of phantoms, laugh, fly without hurry.

A Japanese movie was being shown in which a man was despised by his children.
Our father who art not in heaven! The children saw their father as fearful and obsequious, faking good manners when he ran into his boss at the train station.
The children lacked notions of power. They were direct, well meaning, reasonable.
They did not understand how one adult could metamorphosize into another

--We are obliged to go to school.
Why do you bow your head down before Iwasaki?
--Because he is the manager of my company.
--You only have to become a manager.
--Iwasaki pays me.
--Do not accept it, pay him and have him work.

Thanks to a touching tolerance, after several outrages, the harmony of the family was restored. Samsara, roulette of the malaise for the sake of well-being.

The harbor, the furrier’s, the cinema and the waiting room --to which I returned with fear because the film had lasted much longer than expected-- were one hour away from the town in which we lived. When I arrived at the doctor’s office, he was still seeing patients. The glass door was opened onto the garden, giving an illusion of freshness. Lateness is acquitted. A shy schoolgirl lifting her arm. I tried to imagine the studio but I could not. Any representation is a clot. It is better not to think.
Inconclusive poem.

Let us see, let us see, some distraction. The reversible myth of grace. Here are some magazines . . . The majority of the articles stressed the grief of the president. Masses, statues, homages. Christmas without Evita, sadness in those who travel to Chapadmalal, Bariloche, Río Tercero, caravans of orphans, national mourning.

--These magazines are two years old. Do you not have any new ones?--I asked the secretary. Just then she told me that my mother had left.

It was late at night, embracing the mannequin, and with the enormous box unwrapped, I began to walk toward the furrier’s knowing that it would surely be closed. Color evolves in darkness. I tried to reject the ideas that invaded me one by one. I had a dialogue with those missiles, I deactivated them. To each attack I responded with a defense until they multiplied and I decided to stop fighting.
Agitation, sweat under the armpits of a sleepless child. The warm hour of the thaw has arrived. I do not want him to touch me again.

He did it as though he were measuring. The centimeter as an excuse. Eyes above eyes. As serious as a judge. Loose phrases. I, like a grape on his lips, tasting sweet.

--These schoolgirls believe they are so important. Your mother is much more beautiful than you.
--I know that.
--And you, who taught you to lie?
--Do not pamper the child, Madame.
--Today . . .
--So, today is your birthday?
Change of tactic. Job description: tactile teacher. Pleasure at hand.

I crossed the street in case the furrier was at the entrance of his shop.
Scarlet whisper. I should have prayed for him to be standing there, but instead
I am crossing the street. Science of the equilibrium of forces. Would he have the same attraction with wet armholes? He said something when he gave me the
mannequin. He had it in a closet near the cold storage room. He wanted me to follow him. Old men always play the same game. My experience is vast in that field: there is no other fatherhood than the illegal.
--Would you like to be my doll?
No answer.

With regret he found that the garment did not require any alteration.
--Good bye, good bye.
He could not hold me.
--What a shame, I forgot to give you the remnants!
--I do not want them.

The neon sign was lit. The shops and the stores in the neighborhood had closed. No movement. Few people. Big cities have stricter customs, you walk along sidewalks or the coast.

Suddenly I experienced a special pleasure. I had the feeling that my life until then had been an endless string of mostly expected events, a stiff ribbon, where time was anchored. That night carrying the only objects that I wanted to have, I had broken the circuit. I knew the dimensions of myself, as loose as ever but now free of the deceit of company.

Some day I am going to travel far, very far. A lyric moment suddenly crushed by the harassment of my body. Garnet hibiscus flower. Malaise of survival.
If I had run away from boarding school they would be looking for me. My photograph on the walls. To plan an escape is an adventure; to lose one’s way is stupid. Do not forget tyranny. Did the missiles return so soon? Something changed, now I attack. She will be worried as well. Suspense. Carols of temptations. Kaleidoscope. The curiosity of love. How will her fear feel?

I returned alone on the final bus of the night. At last I reached the station, where I should have gone when the secretary told me that my mother was no longer there. Mountains of obligations? No, a flake, a snowflake. Vain and unavoidable vanity. Longing to grow up. Wisdom of dependence. Snow on the bars of your cage: Felis Pardalis. The time to depart will come. Tragic light. The birds began to celebrate the grief. Only in the absence of blood ties, facing a time out of time, the engine that feeds and poisons will bite its pulleys until captivity is shredded.

The station was full of young soldiers tanned by the rigor of the sun. Alert expression, absurd to the core.

The station was full of young soldiers who would later be characters. Anatomy of destiny, steel and honey, subtle transitions.

A story for each character: Juan Cruz digging a grave and dying with the passing luck that is called voluptuousness.

Thirsty and unkempt. Exhausted, clumsy and confused. Without any erotic experience or gendered cunning. Given the charm of a face that looked one in the eyes, but not for a moment the victim of kinship nor the vices of social class, I reached the ticket box and waited. Someone understood that I was lost, someone paid for my ticket. An act without strategy: to sleep. Not on the lips of a poet but on the chest of a soldier who had crab lice in his eyebrows. I swear that the contact of genitalia with genitalia is another puritan invention. It is the angels who contaminate.

My savior woke me a little before arriving. He lived near the road with his peasant family. He took the mannequin down and put it on the seat. Chivalry is not improvised. A useful warning.
--Stay awake.

Years later the soldier became Leopold: the son of a farmer and an idiot. Leopold will use the coat as a pretext for the recounting of a duel. Dressed in white pistols, godfathers. Two grave faces at twelve meters away. It matters little that lovers enter a kind of future.

I crossed the square deciding not to give explanations. The belfry was mute.
I had the need to hide, not to lie. My eyes on the floor. Silence. Still they were
taller, stronger. At first glance I could see their owners’ rights. They had power. They shouted their impotence. I never saw them so close: fools, weaklings, strangers. The honor of Hutteldorf. The list of punishments filled me with tenderness. A minimal respect for the impotence due to the loss of kingdom. They ask and respond: fearful, absolutely fragile. They ask and respond, they do not listen, they believe all that they hear has been devised to make them suffer.

She had tried to avoid it, she walked along the streets looking for me. She went to the station, to the furrier’s, to hell. She could not believe it: she was alone, threatened. Instead of waiting she preferred to fill out a report. She spoke with my father, she said I had run away. Sad cunning. In a similar situation I would not have done the same. I received that which she did not dare ask of me, disloyalty: she wanted my excuses, my lies. What is the argument that justifies an accusation?
You do not kill a man like a wolf. It would have been easy to accuse the furrier. To repeat the hunt: German-Jew-race-degeneration.

With this thought my hand remembered the gesture of crumpling the movie program. I did not want to prove anything. Elemental verbs. The image of The Children of Tokyo came to my mind. In those times I had not yet learned to grasp the great effects of small acts.

Text published in Women and Power in Argentine Literature by Gwendolyn Díaz, University of Texas Press, 2007.

Google Books: Women and Power in Argentine Literature