The Course of Happiness
The room in disarray, two used condoms strewn on the floor. The sun, which entered through the wide open window, aggravated her headache. She tasted bitterness in her mouth and heard the shower running. She quickly ran to the bathroom and came across a masculine silhouette behind the box. The still unknown person opened the door—the body nude and wet—and said, “Good morning. Or maybe I should say good afternoon. It’s already after three o’clock.” Right after that he bared his teeth in a smile. She wanted to ask, “Who are you?” but thought it might be too offensive; finally, she thought, if this man was in her house, it was because she herself had brought him there. So she asked him, “What exactly is your name?”
The boy responded, in a disgusted manner, that his name was André, and asked right after that: what was her name? I believe he was on a bender last night too, she thought. “My brother is about to show up,” she told the boy, who at that moment was rolling a towel around himself like a belt. She always used that lie when she wanted to get rid of the previous night’s depressing prey. Yet she didn’t consider herself alone in the world because she believed in God (the sole one who remains when everyone else has gone away, even the ones she didn’t want, anyway). Her parents had been dead for ten years and her only sister was lost in some corner of Brazil. Every man was her prey because, since she had been abandoned by her husband, she brought them to her bed after a night out hunting. Her prey was this cycle of self-destruction; she chose clothing that she considered sexy, she put on her makeup carefully, she selected accessories, she spritzed on perfume, and she drove her car to the Pelourinho or Barra or the Fish Market or bars on the shore in search of a man to alleviate, at least until sunrise, the weight of her loneliness.
On one of those nights, lacking available men, she managed to come home with a lesbian (a “sandal-wearer,” she thought at the time, referring to the delicate fashion and the young woman’s beauty), but she couldn’t manage to entirely give herself to the experience. She liked feeling her breasts burning in a man’s warm mouth. And what this one said to her! A short guy, close to her ear: obscene words. Only with men did she experience the fleeting happiness that is the orgasm. Every orgasm is a fugitive happiness that materializes in the release of sexual fluids that flow out into emptiness. “You need to go,” she repeated to no one. She had spent so much time in her daydreaming that she didn’t see the boy disappear into the elevator well, leaving her house and soul empty. Emptiness into which happiness itself disappeared.
Love Without Words, Silent Movie
To be read to the accompaniment of “Weeping in the Countryside,” with Lobão.
I’ve thought enough before writing you this letter. I know that you will be shocked, but I needed to alleviate your conscience. The cause of our separation is me, it’s my desire. I don’t know how to begin the topic, but it’s better to be direct: I have betrayed you every evening, in my sessions at the porn theater. I always say I am not going, but when I look up, I’m in front of the theater. Desire always defeats reason. In no time I am submerged in that darkness, in the middle of those young, brown guys—shadows that rise and fall, frequently exchanging seats and leaning against walls. As we’re being captured in the prison of voluptuousness by our hunger for bodies, we throw ourselves onto each other without any criteria or words. We act as if we’re in a mute siege, based only on gestures and looks. To us, the only important thing is the touch, the mouth, the sex. We circulate like roaches and rats in the dark, seeking sustenance amid the filth and mildew. Rats and cockroaches that, at the least ray of light, scatter back to their holes. I would very much like to write without metaphors, but the naked words, closer to reality, assault me. Or better, I fear that person I was and what I am capable of doing; I abhor my baseness. Returning to the topic at hand, after we convert our bodies into a swamp of sweat, saliva, someone else’s semen, after we shatter in orgasms, we feel nauseated by each other and ourselves. The soul is empty, as if it were a woman soon after birth, except the fruit of that childbirth isn’t a child, but an energy that burns and is inexhaustible. Defeated by desire, punished by remorse, we leave, looking all around us, heading directly for the shower, in the hope of washing ourselves clean all the way down to the spirit. But, although one might consider us to be defiling ourselves in these relationships, I also recognize that we are all looking for love. A love without words that comes to fill that eternal white space of our hearts, that lacuna ready to be occupied. Although we travel by torturous roads, we want to be happy. It’s only that, or rather, that’s all it is. I’m stopping by there only to grab my bags. I don’t ask that you forgive me, but that you understand me. Thank you, Lúcio.
Astonished, Clarice didn’t know whom to turn to for support. She soaked the page in tears. The day seemed to pity her. She walked from one side of the room to the other, without any direction. She screamed, twisted herself in knots. And she cried and cried and cried. It wasn’t possible! At what point had she failed? She was furious! She grew silent again, went upstairs, and searched the nightstand. The pistol was there. She placed it in her purse and went to the garage. Her eyes looked like mines bubbling with pools of hatred. She headed down Avenida Contorno in the direction of Comércio. The waters of the Bay of All Saints were a drop compared to her weeping. She stopped the car on the other side of the street, directly in front of the bank where Lúcio worked. Five minutes later, he came out, accompanied by colleagues. From inside the car, Clarice pointed the pistol in his direction. Her hand trembled. She observed her husband for several seconds, his weariness and his unhappy smile. And she turned the gun on herself.
Don’t Manipulate My Fear
The sun flooded the majority of spaces in Salvador’s center with light and heat. It was midday and the few people who were outside their homes or workplaces were waiting for the bus beneath the shade of the trees, to such an extent that Pedro walked the entire Rua Padre Feijó without encountering a living soul. Near the top of the road at the Hospital das Clínicas, he came across a somewhat dirty and badly dressed man holding a syringe. “Pass me some dough, otherwise you’re going to die,” the man said.
Pedro smiled, half nervously, and tried to keep on his way. But the guy, now more menacing, advanced in his direction, forcing him to recoil. “This syringe has AIDS. If you don’t pass me the dough, I’ll stab you,” he threatened. Paralyzed by a sudden panic, Pedro in seconds dredged up all his prejudices concerning that disease. Years back, for a long period, Pedro thought he had AIDS and started manifesting some of the symptoms of the disease, but, soon thereafter, discovered that he was a victim of his fears’ phantasms.
There are few people, it seems, who aren’t at some point assailed by the fear of having AIDS. Few are those who don’t suffer insomniac nights because they only committed a minor mistake while having sex. And all of this craziness is the fruit of the reactionary and unsympathetic discourse of the State and its technocrats, who, instead of convincing people to use condoms, preventing themselves from getting HIV and not giving it to their fellow human beings, disseminate fear, identifying only supposed groups and risky behavior, making AIDS a more lethal disease than in fact it is.
As any person who was terrified by the possibility of being infected by the virus would do, if he encountered it before him, Pedro blanched. He said that he didn’t have any money, but he could give up his watch and tennis shoes. The man accepted the proposal. Pedro took off his tennis shoes and his watch in less than half a minute and handed them to the individual. With the objects in hand, the guy began to laugh and called Pedro a sucker. “AIDS . . . How is it that the sucker believed that?” he said, turning his back to Pedro and playing with the syringe in his hand before dropping it. Gripped now by a hate without measure and feeling himself profoundly humiliated, Pedro, in an abrupt gesture, seized the syringe from the ground and drilled it, with all his might, into the man’s neck.
From Aflitos (Salvador: Fundação Casa Jorge de Amado, 2001). By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2018 by John Keene. All rights reserved.