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By Jadel Andreetto

Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason?
Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.

– Sir John Harington, Epigrams

Open your eyes. Open your fucking eyes.

The eyelids are heavy. They are like a waterfall of stones. They are pebbles, rocks, boulders that weigh on my eye sockets.

I could feel their hands dragging me, their grunts of effort, their sneering, their breath reeking of alcohol. Even they are part of the plan. I couldn’t figure it out immediately. All that talk about the power of treason, about its narrative power, about its ability to transform history into a myth. An unavoidable factor, he told me. A factor from which strength can be obtained, second only to death and to the challenge of the abyss. Here comes the solution. The essential ingredients for building our dream. He said our. Only now I understand his madness. I couldn’t believe he could push himself so far. I dared not to believe it. He has always had a devious look and a shifty smile. I didn’t recognize the signs. I didn’t think they attested to a lurking madness, insidious like that of someone who has decided to sacrifice everything for an ideal.

I’m a fool. I didn’t see the whole picture and now I’m right here, but it’s just my fault, it’s only my fault. I’ve allowed it, I’ve played along. I just didn’t expect an end like this. That poor madman is ready to die, I know, but I couldn’t have foreseen that he would drag me to the end as well. Treason needs two pawns and both are expendable for the chessboard’s glory.

I can’t regain control over my body. They have done a very good job. A jab on the neck. A flash and then darkness. Where did he found these kind killers? Romans, perhaps. What had he promised them? I hear their words as if they were underwater in a boiling ocean. Broken speeches and disconnected phrases.

Suddenly they stop and put me on the ground. I breathe sand. I hear their footsteps walk a few feet away. What are they doing? Open your eyes. Open your fucking eyes.

I have nothing left for him but scorn. Scorn for a friend, my best friend, who betrayed me for glory.

What end did they come up with for me? Will I wake up in an arena full of ravenous beasts? Will they crucify me or will they slit my throat like a dog, here and now?

My ears are ringing. A rancid taste in my mouth. I could catch some scraps of conversation. My killers are talking about money, they talk and laugh. Thirty pieces of silver. A mere pittance. Thirty pieces of silver to rewrite human history… For the treason of treasons. If only I could explain and say that it was just a farce, that we have done it all only to improve our lives. We wanted to play revolution. It shouldn’t

have to end like this. If only we hadn’t set aside our confusion, our doubts. If only his belief hadn’t gnawed away at him until driving him to the Absolute, the Truth, to delirium. I didn’t succeed in stopping him. I played my part until the end, like the simple man I am.

Thirty pieces of silver. I spit on his thirty shitty pieces of silver.

They grab me. My muscles don’t respond, my legs can’t carry me. They stand me up, my back is supported against something hard, maybe wood. Then they lift me up, a gust of wind caresses my shoulder. A little solace.

I hear a jingle jangle, they put something in my tunic. A noose squeezes my neck. Betrayed to betray.

Open your eyes Judas. Open your fucking eyes.

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Jadel Andreetto (Italy, 1974), writer and journalist, lives between Italy and Argentina. He is part of a four-person writing collective known as Kai Zen (http://www.kaizenlab.it/) that has published several novels and short novels, among which are La Strategia dell’Ariete (Mondadori, 2007, the first ever published copyleft novel for Mondadori), and Delta Blues (Verdenero, 2010, a cover of Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness).  He also writes short novels, reportage and essays on his own. “The Chessboard’s Glory” is a ‘bonsai novel’ written in English and is part of a large work in progress titled Cimiteri (Graveyards).

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John Washington

One guy, when he walks, El Chino said, one guy can stray all over the place. One guy can wander, especially in the desert. And I know, I’ve been walking in the desert. But when you got two guys walking, it’s harder for them to stray because they keep each other on a leash a little bit, sort of like a flock. A flock goes straight because there’s so many animals in it, the animals balance each other, all the mistakes get balanced, you know what I mean. Like a straight line. One guy can’t draw a line very good, but a bunch of guys, all drawing together, can draw it straight on. Now these two guys, the guys who were walking, who were keeping each other from wandering, their names were Alvo and Lalo. Alvo was a little older than Lalo, but they were pretty close. They were walking for a long time and kept thinking that they were lost, but you know you can’t be lost unless you know where you’re going first. These guys weren’t walking to el norte, it wasn’t like that. They didn’t know why they were walking. Maybe they were walking north but it wasn’t like that. They were just out there, you know. You know how sometimes you can’t help being out there, can’t help being out in the desert, like when you lift your head up, or you put your head down and it’s in a desert and there’s nobody, and there’s nothing, and you’re there in the middle of that. That’s how it was. And Alvo was older than Lalo, but they weren’t father and son, they were too close in age, about ten years apart, ten or twelve years, an age difference that means they couldn’t be father and son and they probably wouldn’t even be brothers, and they probably aren’t friends either. They wouldn’t be friends. They weren’t, actually, they weren’t friends. Alvo would never call Lalo his friend. Lalo, though, he would call Alvo anything, anything except father because they were too close for that, but it wouldn’t matter. Their age was like their leash that kept them together, that kept them walking straight, walking straight where neither of them would have went by themselves, because by themselves they would have been wandering. But then it got more complicated. Because the imagination is the opposite of a leash. And that’s what these two guys had still, imagination. The imagination is more like a whip than a leash. Or like a gun to your head, you know, because you can’t walk very straight with a gun to your head. Or maybe you can, but only because there is someone holding the gun, but there’s not always someone holding the gun, you know, sometimes there’s just a gun, just floating there, straight against your head. And the imagination will make you wander a little bit, but also make you think you aren’t wandering, you know. It’s dangerous.

And so Alvo and Lalo started talking about where they were going, and one of them said that he thought he heard something about how good the place where they were going was, and the other was like, Yeah, I heard that too. And one of them said, If he knew what he thought he knew, then they were walking toward el norte, and the other said Yeah, that he had heard a lot about that place, and it went on like this, and pretty soon they knew exactly where they were going, you know how that can happen, like a flock, like a flock with imagination. But then Lalo, the younger one, he started falling behind. Every few minutes Alvo had to slow down, or turn around and wait for Lalo to catch up. But Lalo wasn’t that far behind. Not far enough for Alvo to sit down. So Alvo just slowed down for a few minutes and turned around to look back. And this made the talking difficult. They would start talking and then Lalo would start falling behind and they would have to stop talking, while Alvo paused and waited for Lalo to catch up, and it went on like that, their walking setting their conversation, giving it spaces, and you know what that does to the imagination. It makes it worse. And pretty soon they didn’t only know where they were going but they couldn’t wait to get there, you know, because of the imagination, because of the gun. But Lalo kept slowing down, and Alvo had to stop to wait for him, and soon Lalo was limping, and they weren’t smiling at each other anymore, and they didn’t have to talk either because they both knew it all, and they only had to say, And the wages up there, And the women, And the trucks, And the fields, And the buildings, And the women, and that was all they needed to say, just a few words, because their imagination filled in the rest, and so did the gun, it filled it all in for them. So soon Alvo didn’t want to wait anymore, and Lalo kept slowing down, and so Alvo was saying Hurry up if you ever want to get there, and What’s taking you so long, and You ain’t ever gonna get there limping like that. But Lalo’s limp got worse and worse, and you know what a limp does to the imagination, it makes it big, it makes everything else seem better, and you know what that does to the limp, makes it worse, so Lalo kept slowing down. And so finally Alvo said, Okay, you wait here, I’m gonna keep on, thinking he was going to get somewhere, and he kept walking, but then there wasn’t anybody to talk to and you know what that’s like, he still had his imagination but he didn’t have anybody to say it to, and remember when they started out they didn’t even know where they were going and now look at them, two imaginations fighting over the same place, and so Alvo said, It’s all Lalo’s fault, and Lalo was thinking, That fucker Alvo, leaving me stranded out here.

Kwets, Barcelona 2012

El Chino paused for a moment. He looked at me. Something devious in his eye. Or maybe just something right.

You know what people are like out there, El Chino continued, in the desert. They talk about everything. That’s where the best talking happens. In the middle of nowhere. Even when there’s nobody to talk to. Even when it’s only you and your gun that’s still the best place to talk.

But who can really tell what direction they were walking in? It seemed like Alvo was moving fast and Lalo was crawling over the cactus, but who knows if it wasn’t the other way around, and then Alvo was laid flat, Lalo running through the catclaws, and they were together again, on a leash, and they were just looking at each other, not sure who was saying what.

And they kept on. And when they came to a ravine they walked right through the ravine and when they came to a thicket they walked right through the thicket and they kept walking north, siempre, north not for any reason, like before, but because that was the way people walked, and that was how they leashed each other, not straying, just north, all the time now. And one time they even crossed a snake, but it was a dead snake. A big one. It looked like it had been killed with a shovel but there were no shovels out there, there was nothing at all, but the snake’s back was broken, like it had fallen out of the sky, and that’s what they thought, and they looked up, but there was nothing up there either. And so Alvo picked the snake up and said that they should bury it and Lalo shrugged, and they looked at each other, and then Lalo said that maybe they could eat it, and Alvo nodded.

Like a couple vultures, he said, and then he dropped the snake, and it fell, stiffly, and they kept on walking. And then it was day. And it was hot. It was night. It was cold. And it was day. They talked and they crawled and they stood and they walked. That’s all they could do. And the gun and the leash and the flock and the two of them, out there, in the middle of nothing, talking and walking. They had water but they drank it, pouring it into their mouths, wet and warm, and then they sweated and the water went back into the sky, high and hot. And then even the water was gone, and then they were on the ground. They were crawling, Alvo first, then Lalo, Lalo first, then Alvo. They were looking for water. They were looking for north or looking for south, it didn’t matter which one. And then they had to start to imagine harder than before, you know. And so they stood and opened the bottles and raised them over their open mouths, but nothing came out, but they drank, or imagined that they did. And so they started wondering why they were there. And maybe, they thought, maybe they were there because they were escaping something. They were escaping where they had been, escaping the steps that they’d been taking, and they imagined that each step, on the ground, was escaping the last step they had taken, and they felt like they couldn’t escape fast enough from where they had been, from where they were, from where they were going, and that’s why they didn’t turn around, and that’s why they couldn’t stop. Why they kept imagining. The gun, the ground, the fence. Trying to get away from their footprints. Trying to even get away from their own feet.

And there was nothing for them to do then, but talk.

Are we getting close? Lalo asked and Alvo nodded, but the answer wasn’t an answer, it was an echo. Are we getting close? Close to where? Is that the way North? Are we going North? We gonna die out here? We’re gonna die? And so maybe they did die out there, El Chino said, you see what I mean. Maybe Alvo would have lived, but he went back to Lalo. Maybe they both would have lived, but they didn’t. Maybe El Norte goes north at first but then it turns around and you’re back in the south, you know. That’s a story we got. We got el norte in our blood, but our blood is down here in the south. It’s nobody’s fault, but it’s everybody’s fault. There’s a lot of reasons, but there’s no good reason. It’s instinct and it’s imagination. It’s momentum and it’s a big fence. We got that story in our blood. We got each other in our blood sometimes too, which, you know, that’s dangerous.

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“Alvo Lalo” is an excerpt from John Washington‘s novel Dustmarch, which explores the borderlands and migration from southern Mexico to the Punjab to Arizona and much in between. The author was a Fulbright Fellow in Mexico City where he finished Dustmarch and worked on an anthology of fiction about migration, Antología de cuentos migratorios, forthcoming from Sur Plus in Mexico in 2013. He has published on upsidedownworld.orgthesmartset.compulsemedia.org, among others. His novel Cry Out Abba is forthcoming from Aqueous Books.

Andrea G. Labinger 

            Together we ride the elevator to the sixth floor of our apartment building. My mother holds a wicker basket full of clean, wet laundry, and I clutch a paper bag with wooden clothespins. We get off in the hallway, enter a dark stairwell and climb another half-flight, emerging into the sunlight. This is the Bronx, but as far as I’m concerned, it might as well be Paradise. I’m with my mom, and it’s laundry day.

I watch as she chooses a clothesline from the complicated tangle that crosses the roof, and then the ritual begins. She picks up a man’s white cotton shirt from the basket, stretches out the cloth, and carefully pins one shoulder, then the other, to the line. Solemnly, I hand her the clothespins. One, two. She repeats the process, gradually forming an army of hollow shirt-men that flap in the breeze. Next come the pants, all secured by their waistbands. By now we’ve reached the end of the clothesline. It sags a little under the collective weight of its occupants, so I can easily reach it. The socks are my job. One clothespin per sock. I stand back to admire our work. Those empty garments, those disembodied soldiers, belong to us. They salute us silently as we gather up the basket to return home.

But first, I need to admire what we’ve done. I run toward the edge of the roof to get a broader perspective.

“Andy, get back here!” my mother screams. There are no guard rails between this parapet and the street six floors below. Chastened, I return to her side. We retrace our steps: back to the stairwell, the elevator, the apartment.  Later we’ll ascend again to collect the dry garments and iron them.

Mama taught me the secrets of laundry: how to bleach the whites, how to use a quaint product she called “bluing,” dissolving one cube in warm water – just the right amount to get the task done, but not so much as to tint the fabric – and adding it to the final rinse.  How to wash the colors in cold water so they won’t bleed.  And the trickiest part of all: ironing. Done right, ironing is the universal panacea for all woes. It eliminates wrinkles, hides imperfections, wrests order from chaos.

Today we are ironing. I hand the clothes to Mama and she runs the sizzling steam iron across the cloth. Sometimes she spits on her finger and flicks it against the flat bottom surface of the iron to see if it’s hot enough. I’m not allowed to do that. It’s too dangerous.

“Mama, what’s suicide?”

“Where’d you hear that word?”

“You said it to Grandma. You said Mrs. Skolnik tried to do suicide.”

Commit. To commit suicide. You shouldn’t eavesdrop.”

“But what does it mean?”

“Nothing. You stay away from that woman, do you hear me?”

“I like Mrs. Skolnik. She showed me how to put on mascara. She said you have to be careful not to cry because then it makes black marks on your face, and you look like a raccoon.”

“I don’t want you talking to her.”

“Why? She’s nice. She said I could help her hang her laundry on the roof if you’ll let me.”

“You’re not to go near her, understand?  Not ever. Besides, no one can go up to the roof anymore. The landlord posted a Keep Off sign.”

“But what about the laundry?”

“We’ll hang it over the shower rod or lay it on the radiator.”

***

            In our new apartment house, the laundry facilities are in the basement.  We still have to travel by elevator, only now we descend. The building is modern: there’s a row of shiny white washing machines and another of matching dryers, all coin-operated. There’s also a futuristic-looking device called an extractor that squeezes out excess water from the clothing so you can save money on the drying cycle. It rocks violently from side to side as it accomplishes this task, like a drunken robot. This is the Golden Age of Polyester, so the dryers don’t get much of a workout, anyway. Everything is permanent press. I don’t like the rubbery feel of polyester, but the idea of permanence is reassuring. Mama shows me how to retrieve the items quickly after the briefest spin in the dryer and fold them along the unrelenting creases in the polyester. Mission accomplished. I wish it took a little longer. I miss the cotton soldiers, fluttering in the breeze.

***

            We have a new baby. She generates mountains of laundry, it seems, all of it Lilliputian. Tiny sleepers, shirts, bibs, minuscule socks. They need washing every day, sometimes twice a day. Who knew? My parents have flown up to New England to help out.

“What do you need for us to do?”

“The baby’s out of clean clothes. Would you mind  . . .?”

“Sure, I’ll take it downstairs for you, and Daddy can pick it up later. You rest.”

Bliss.  I sleep endlessly, awakened only by my parents’ laughter.

“What’s going on?” I rub my eyes.

“You won’t believe this – look what Daddy did! He brought up the wrong laundry. Do these look like baby clothes to you? I can’t understand how you could have picked up someone else’s load, honey. It’s really not that complicated.”

“I’ve never done this stuff before. What the hell do I know about laundry?”

Kwets, Barcelona 2012

***

            I know about laundry. I am a veritable laundry maven. What I’ve learned about washing and drying over the years could fill several volumes. I’m the family washerwoman, and I actually enjoy it. Mostly, I like washing for you.

Three times a week, maybe four, I troop over to your little room at the nursing home and insinuate myself into the cramped bathroom,  inching around the mechanical hoist, sometimes a wheelchair,  in order to reach the green nylon bag where your soiled garments await.  I take them home with me in a huge mesh shopping bag from Mexico. If only you’d open your eyes for a moment, I know you’d love the colors. When I arrive home, I dump the contents out on the floor and sort through the clothing for inspection.  I squirt Shout on the gravy stain on the left sleeve of your red sweater, where the pureed turkey missed its mark. Then I rub the bodice of your pink shirt to try to remove some unidentifiable red blob. Jello, maybe? Yes, I think it’s Jello.  I sniff a scarf in the hope of catching an ancient whiff of Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door, to see if it still smells of you. Into the machine it goes along with everything else, spinning and spinning in a dance of removal and renewal.

Then I iron the garments that need ironing, the ones I chose for you after you were no longer able to shop for yourself.  It’s easy to tell the difference between my selections for you and the old ones, those items you chose with your still-capable hands. Yours are polyester.

Everything is folded neatly and stacked back in the Mexican mesh bag, to be returned to your room and hung in your half of the closet.  You’re not aware of this rite, but it holds elements of the sacred. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to religion. Laundryism:  my creed. Why do our garments outlast our skins? These empty vessels hang quietly now, as hollow as the body that houses your fading spirit.

Who will do my laundry when my turn comes? Will it be done by hired hands, or will that duty fall to my own child?  What will she think as she scrubs the stains from a blouse or hangs a pair of elastic-waist pants in a closet?  Or will there still be an accessible roof somewhere, awash in sunlight, and a white shirt with long sleeves to flap in the wind in a brief, rebellious flight?

For now, though, I’ll just watch you sleep as I put away your laundry. This yellow crocheted shrug, for example, has never known the dryer’s blast. Too much heat might shrink it. I’ve blocked it carefully, just as you taught me, and laid it on the back of a chair to dry, letting time and patience do their work. It’s made of sturdy fabric: plain and practical. It will endure.

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Andrea G. Labinger  specializes in translating Latin American prose fiction.  Among the many authors she has translated are Sabina Berman, Carlos Cerda, Mempo Giardinelli, Ana María Shua, Alicia Steimberg, and Luisa Valenzuela.  Call Me Magdalena, Labinger’s translation of Steimberg’s Cuando digo Magdalena (University of Nebraska Press, 2001) received Honorable Mention in the PEN International-California competition. The Rainforest, her translation of Steimberg’s La selva, and Casablanca and OtherStories, an anthology of Edgar Brau’s short stories, translated in collaboration with Donald and Joanne Yates, were both finalists in the PEN-USA competition for 2007. The Island of Eternal Love, her translation of Cuban novelist Daína Chaviano’s La isla de los amores infinitos, was published by Riverhead/Penguin in 2008.  More recently Labinger has published The Confidantes, a translation of Angelina Muñiz-Huberman’s Las confidentes (Gaon Books, 2009) , Death as a Side Effect, a translation of Ana María Shua’s La muerte como efecto secundario (University of Nebraska Press, 2010), and Ángela Pradelli’s Friends of Mine (Latin American Literary Review Press, 2012). Forthcoming titles include Shua’s The Weight of Temptation (University of Nebraska Press) and Liliana Heker’s The End of the Story(Biblioasis). Please visit Andrea’s website at:  http://www.trans-latino-trans-lation.com

Rio de la Plata (Photo credit: Melissa Lunden)

by Inés Fernández Moreno

translated by Andrea G. Labinger                                                

By the sea she still feels young. She doesn’t exactly run, but rather trots briskly, at a pace she’ll be able to maintain without too much effort, covering the entire beach to its northernmost tip, where the rocks begin and it becomes more and more deserted, wilder, and unpopulated:  no people, no umbrellas, no scent of suntan lotion.  She walks, eyes half-closed, trying to preserve that dreaminess brought on by the sea without losing sight of the surf as it hypnotically breaks against the shore – the initial fury of the wave, its fall, the gentle residue of foam – that perfect, inexhaustible spectacle. In spite of everything, or maybe precisely because of the sea, its vastness, her thoughts turn to the fragility of life, to her fifty years and her fear of old age. That past winter she had studiously observed old women, considering possible models, as if senescence were a garment she would soon change into. Because it’s a comfort, she thinks, it might be a comfort to find women who have finally rounded that final curve with elegance and joy, without overdoing their makeup, hair color, or clothing, women who have found their own style, a sign that they’ve remained on good terms with life. Women who still have interests, loves, imagination.  On a daily basis she’s confirmed – in the streets, on the subway, in the plaza or at the movies, standing in line at the bank – that as one advances toward old age, the most common trait is inertness, as well as an unyielding melancholy, a certain expression, eyes dully fixed on the ground, like an anticipation of death.

But every so often, like a rare gem, an old woman appears who pleases her (she’s elated whenever she discovers one of them, imagining for a moment that she can choose). She remembers one she saw walking along Calle Florida, dressed in a dark raincoat, whose bold eyes scrutinized her with the same curiosity with which she stared back, though certainly for different reasons. From the vantage point of that woman’s apparent seventy years, she had thought at the time, her own fifty would seem enviably youthful. She also remembers that Doris Lessing character in Good Neighbors: the languid bubble baths she took, the time she devoted to choosing her silk shirts, her exquisite clothing.

That’s where she finds herself right now. A still-young woman, her senses keenly attuned to the smell of iodine, the fine salt-water mist on her face, the contact of the sand as it yields, crunching softly beneath her feet.

But fifty is also an age when threats lurk. Her dear friend Inés, struggling with cancer. Laura’s sister, with her convulsions. The routine tests, increasingly frequent, increasingly cruel. The horrific specifics of what the damn body is capable of. What were a few wrinkles compared to that?

Then there would be a moment of sense, of awareness. (Death’s practicality, extinguishing all pretensions of beauty, inflicting health concerns, comfortable shoes, loose clothing). A moment of relief when one might finally give up that monotonous, fruitless war against wrinkles or flabbiness, when, one might stand back and look upon youth’s burning desire to please men, to please oneself, with tender indifference. To face the mirror and accept the daily disappointment of no longer seeing that familiar, beloved image, the perplexity and rage of discovering that we’ve been robbed of what had always been our own. (And it was that – that betrayal – which filled women with resentment, the secret source of their malevolence or bitterness). Suppose, then, that the moment had arrived, that she was already mired in old age:  Which old woman would be acceptable to her? Which one would she choose? In the distance she saw someone exercising on the beach. She imagined that the still-blurry image was destined specifically for her. Although she couldn’t distinguish her clearly, she was able to follow the rhythmic sequence of a pair of arms stretching skyward and then reaching forward and down, touching the sand; she thought she could discern a black two-piece swimsuit, and on the woman’s head, a kerchief or a bathing cap. As she drew nearer, she could see that the bathing cap was actually a head of very short, white hair that contrasted with her bronzed complexion. She stopped short. Hadn’t she been looking for an old woman to help her come to terms with life? There she was. The sea had brought her in, like those unexpected objects deposited on the shore by the tide.  How old was her mermaid? Seventy-five? Seventy-eight? Could she possibly be eighty? In any case, she was very old, but she was tall and erect.

She lay down on the sand, about fifty feet away, so that she could watch her more closely. Now the woman was twisting from the waist, swinging her arms from side to side. Yes, it was true, the body, if slender, more and more resembles the corpse it will one day become. The skin, loosened from the bones. And yet, beneath that dry, flaccid skin, the muscles can still retain some elasticity. That’s how she imagined herself: old, but flexible. But most impressive of all was the woman’s determination to exercise alone by the sea, totally unconcerned with what others might think of that aged body. Being her own center. She smiled. And the old woman, with each twist to her right, also revealed a smiling face with pale eyes and an angularity that contained no rancor or melancholy. What could her name be? She imagined something foreign-sounding, an actress’s name like Marlene or Yvonne.

At last Marlene or Yvonne declared the exercise session over, took two or three deep breaths, and bounded into the sea. None of those pitiful, tentative dips that old people take in water up to their knees, no splashing herself with pathetic little handfuls of water on her shoulders, abjuring the joyful play of the waves. No, her elderly foreigner (yes, she’s definitely a foreigner; she must have come to Argentina as a very young girl), frolicked in the sea, tossing about almost like a child. She watched her move, churning foam with her hands, like blades against the water, dipping her head beneath one wave and then another, running forward to mount the waves just as they reached their apex, and then, from behind the break, body-surfing, her face extended toward the sun. Watching the woman was soothing, a balm that drove away her dark thoughts. If only she could negotiate the danger zone between fifty and sixty, she might become an old woman like Marlene. Was it possible to choose? To make a secret pact before that sea and that sky? Her heart leaped. Why did the idea of becoming someone else terrify her so? It meant taking a risk, of course. But what about those shadowy old men and women she had been observing all year long? A cavalcade of horrors. This woman, on the other hand  . . . there was vitality and joy in her. More than that. She must have been beautiful once, with a resilient kind of beauty, capable of retaining a touch of grace till the very end.  Well then, why hesitate? She might not get another chance. She would take her, as one takes a spouse. She would accept any kind of death in exchange for this version of old age. Elated, she watched Marlene emerge from the sea and pause at the water’s edge to arrange her hair in a manner that seemed unique: it might have been her long, elegant hands, that special way she had of lifting them above her head and then forward, first displaying the back and then the palms, and of raising her head at the same time, as in a ceremony, offering her entire body to the sun.  Just like that, she said very quietly, addressing the old woman or perhaps announcing it to the world in general, to its indifference or its cruelty: That’s how I will be. She looked at her with pride, like something she’d just acquired. And with an owner’s unembarrassed eye, she allowed herself to stare at certain details a little more shamelessly. She observed Marlene’s two-piece swimsuit, plastered to her body by the water.  Something was wrong with the ensemble. The consistency of the fabric, its bagginess, the too-high bottoms, or maybe those overly narrow straps . . . Could it be a slightly old-fashioned two-piece swimsuit? Or was it actually underwear? The idea disturbed her. No matter how similar the garments might have been, even if it was just a social convention, who would ever think of going to the beach in a bra and panties? Unaware of her observer’s distress, Marlene headed away from the shore toward the rocks. There was a moment of uncertainty. The sky was no longer such a perfect blue, and a few gusts of wind chilled the air. She discovered a tiny golden spider on her leg. It was as minuscule as a grain of sand, and it determinedly climbed up her thigh, a colossal effort for its size and strength. She thought that if it were ten times larger she would feel terror, rather than that naïve admiration of its minuteness. She picked it up with one finger and deposited it on the sand. Then she rose quickly and began walking in the same direction as Marlene.  Like her Chosen One, she took the sandy path that led to the next beach, avoiding the rocks. She continued following her at a discreet distance, so that she could see her appear and disappear intermittently. Now that she had found her, she was reluctant to let too much space come between them.  Not because she needed more evidence. After all, if Marlene wanted to go swimming in a bra and panties, so what? A swell of pride drove away her initial alarm. How could it possibly matter to Marlene? For a moment she felt undeserving of her; she imagined herself still a little too stupid and slow-witted to understand the independence and humor that might have influenced Marlene’s decision to dress for the beach any way she wanted. And if at that very moment Marlene were to peel off her swimsuit – or whatever it was – behind the rocks and wade naked into the sea, so much the better. She would stand on the highest rock and give her a round of applause.

The voices she heard in the distance startled her from her reverie.

It was Marlene. Her voice! She’d probably run into some acquaintance or friend – a woman like her would have so many – and most likely she was chatting with them. From where she stood, only isolated words or syllables reached her, distorted by the wind. “Hey,” “nooo,” “when?”, “lovely,” “Juan”, or maybe “gone.”

She decided to stop stalking and walk right past Marlene and her friends and be done with it. After all the most important connection between the two of them had already been established. Then she advanced, her eyes on the path so as to avoid the protruding rocks, like the tips of icebergs beneath the sand. After walking a few more yards, she sees her. She’s sitting with her right shoulder resting against a rock. Her long hands gesticulate as she speaks, exclaims, asks and answers spiritedly, as in any normal conversation. Only it’s not a normal conversation, because there’s no one with her. An imaginary conversational partner who must be responding with very few words, just enough for her, Marlene, to become offended and launch a long diatribe that changes from a hissing, threatening tone to a falsetto, culminating in a brief, hard burst of laughter. She walks by without raising her eyes from the ground, although she hears a whistle; surely it’s not directed at her, but rather at Marlene’s imaginary interlocutor, with whom she seems to become more and more irritated, because now she’s shouting at him harshly, and she picks up her pace, it’s not easy with so many stones on the path, but she no longer cares if she gets injured, she’s so desperate to reach the next beach where she’ll be able to trot briskly, almost running, so that old age, already treading on her heels, won’t catch up with her so soon. And so that the solemn pacts she’s made by the sea will dissolve, like foam on dampened sand.

Inés Fernández Moreno, the daughter and granddaughter of renowned poets César and Baldomero Fernández Moreno, respectively, was born in Buenos Aires in 1947.  She graduated from the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras of the Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires and completed graduate work in Semiotics at the Sorbonne.  Since 2002 she has worked as Creative Director in an Argentine advertising agency.  She currently resides in Buenos Aires, where she organizes and directs literary workshops.

Fernández Moreno has contributed to notable periodicals such as Clarín, La Nación, and Revista Ñ. Among her published titles are the short story collections La vida en la cornisa  (Emecé 1993), Un amor de agua (Alfaguara 1997),  Hombres como médanos (Alfaguara 2003), and Marmara (Alfaguara 2009). Her novels include La última vez que maté a mi madre (Editorial Perfil 1999) and La profesora de español (Alfaguara 2005).  The English translation of her short story “Carne de exportación” (“Argentine Beef,” trans. Andrea G. Labinger) was published in in The Argentina Independent.

She is the winner of many literary awards, including the Primer Premio Municipal de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires for La vida en la cornisa and La última vez que maté a mi madre, as well as the Premio Max Aub and the Premio Hucha de Oro in Spain for her short stories. Inés Fernández Moreno’s work has been translated into several languages and appears in numerous anthologies.

Andrea G. Labinger  specializes in translating Latin American prose fiction.  Among the many authors she has translated are Sabina Berman, Carlos Cerda, Mempo Giardinelli, Ana María Shua, Alicia Steimberg, and Luisa Valenzuela.  Call Me Magdalena, Labinger’s translation of Steimberg’s Cuando digo Magdalena (University of Nebraska Press, 2001) received Honorable Mention in the PEN International-California competition. The Rainforest, her translation of Steimberg’s La selva, and Casablanca and Other Stories, an anthology of Edgar Brau’s short stories, translated in collaboration with Donald and Joanne Yates, were both finalists in the PEN-USA competition for 2007. The Island of Eternal Love, her translation of Cuban novelist Daína Chaviano’s La isla de los amores infinitos, was published by Riverhead/Penguin in 2008.  More recently Labinger has published The Confidantes, a translation of Angelina Muñiz-Huberman’s Las confidentes (Gaon Books, 2009) , Death as a Side Effect, a translation of Ana María Shua’s La muerte como efecto secundario (University of Nebraska Press, 2010), and Ángela Pradelli’s Friends of Mine (Latin American Literary Review Press, 2012). Forthcoming titles include Shua’s The Weight of Temptation (University of Nebraska Press) and Liliana Heker’s The End of the Story (Biblioasis). Please visit Andrea’s website at:  http://www.trans-latino-trans-lation.com

Noelia Díaz

This is not a job anyone ever thinks about doing. A fireman is on the top of the list for little boys, even a garbage collector is ahead of what I do. I suppose big, loud trucks, are the common denominator for young lads, although I myself never cared much for the noise and the lights. I guess I must have been well suited for what I do from an early age, since I always preferred lonely endeavors. Looking at the ants busily gathering food, laying under the sun with the grass under my body, still slightly damp, while I tried to decipher and separate the sounds of life into individual particles.  A cicada, the water sprinkler next door, the tires of bikes against the pavement racing up the street, the hissing of the pressure cooker in the kitchen mingle with the voice of the news reporter. I tried to stop the flow of things, to concentrate on the small parts. The notion that the minute could be swept away, unnoticed, bothered me terribly. Attention to detail I suppose it is called, although less optimistic views might label it eccentric tendencies from a young age. Anyhow, my parents were terribly disappointed by my choice, and permanent employment did not appease their uneasiness.

But honey, how are we supposed to explain when people ask? Is it something we did? Maybe you should have attended summer camp, like the other kids your age. I shouldn’t have listened to your father, telling me to leave you alone if that’s what suited you. Now look where we are, oh dear…

It pained me to know my mother felt this way, but there was no point in trying to explain her, so I just went along with my business, knowing myself, on this matter at least, to be right. Let me get this out of the way, so no further misunderstandings can arise, I DO like my job. Well, maybe like is not the right verb for this, enjoy maybe? No, that does not seem right either…let’s say I am proud of the service I perform and I take pleasure, no, no, not pleasure…, amazing how difficult it becomes to deal with language sometimes. So, again, I am proud of the service I perform and I take comfort in knowing I do it well, and with care. Care. That’s it, care.  I think of myself as the last person providing care for those who are no longer with us, that’s right, I am a mortician. Surprised? I understand, most people are, so I don’t talk about it much. It suits me, not to talk about it, since I am a quiet and private person. I lie when strangers ask on a train what I do for living: “I sell life insurance.” or “I am a counselor.” I figure if I told the truth it might make for a weird ride, with whoever is sitting next to me imagining I’m some sort of creep, which I am not, I can assure you. The fact is, most people don’t think about their deaths, preferring to believe, on an unconscious level at least, that mortality is something that happens to others, like rape, robbery, or the misfortune of having a child that is very sick. Death is just one of those things that gets magnified on the news, the more casualties the more air time, but bluntly ignored, swept under the carpet really, for the everyday dealings.  Anyhow, on this particular Thursday nothing seemed out of the ordinary, one job ahead to perform so far, the first of the week and nothing else lined up.  Lined up? I keep struggling with the verbs here, they all seem disrespectful, but how is one to express routine in my business? Even business sounds crude and unfeeling, when so much sorrow engulfs what I do. Oh well, one does get a bit numb to the pain of others, not immune, of course not, but encountering it as often as I have (I have been doing this for 30 years now) helps you understand the process of grief a bit better.  This much I know, a year from now, most of the people I see, stricken with this apparently unbearable void and pain, will feel better; not great maybe, but better. I keep losing track of my thoughts here, just wandering away from my tale, let me see if I can regain some control.

Mural in La Boca, Argentina (Photo credit: Melissa Lunden)

A Thursday in May, rainy and grey, it could have been April, but the seasons in the last few years have gone a little off and it is hard to figure out what time of the year we are in unless you listen to the radio, or check the date in the newspaper. I arrived early, as it is my habit, to the funeral parlor, since I prefer to take my time with my job, not to feel rushed and pressure to finish with my tasks. I changed into my work uniform, a clean and sanitized garment, easy to move around in, similar to a doctor’s gown. I made sure that everything I needed was ready, since once I start I don’t like having to stop.  It usually takes a few hours to get a body embalmed, longer if the death is due to a trauma, or if the deceased has passed away without being noticed and decomposition has set in. It does happen, more than one would imagine, for someone to die in their apartment and a few days to go by without anybody noticing their absence. I live alone myself, not having ever married, and since I no longer have parents, and never had siblings, I ponder who will find me when the time comes.  I have led a quiet, private existence, and don’t have many friends or acquaintances, so I make a point of always having the same routine. I have breakfasted at the same diner for the last twenty years, and when my work hours allow it (which, it goes without saying, can be a bit erratic), I attempt to shop, visit the library, and perform my menial tasks in an orderly fashion.  I anticipate that once I die I will be missed, however briefly, by those I greeted every morning, rain or shine.  Well, I would have never considered that putting my thoughts into a coherent manner would prove this difficult, but here I am again, rambling on about nothing.

I washed my hands carefully and gazed through the window, to the forlorn parking lot, almost empty, until tomorrow, when the funeral was scheduled. I pulled the body out of the refrigerator into the middle of the room, under the bright fluorescent lights, and carefully removed the sheet. I know the dead cannot be awakened, but even after all these years I remove that sheet gently, as if they were only sleeping. My heart stopped for a fraction of a second, my throat tightened, and I could barely breathe.  I had to rest my hands on the gurney to steady myself. I felt dizzy and a bit nauseated.  I reached towards the tag in the wrist, and there it was, clearly printed: Clara Wells. 1947. Stroke.  A death to be wished for all of us, brief, barely painless, and discreet, like Clara had been. Her auburn hair was now grey, shortly cropped, and her lovely skin marked by the ridges of age. Here she laid, right under my gaze, for the last time, the love of my life.  I mentioned I never married, and that I have indeed led a lonely life, but I loved once, furiously, with a passion I did not know I could harbor, the woman under this sheet.

I was in my last year of school, residing in a small college town in upstate New York. I had already conducted some work within my field and was getting ready to seek permanent employment. I wanted to relocate from where I had grown up, in part to avoid some shame to my parents, who could not comprehend my choice of career, in part to see something else. I have not had many impulses in my life to pursue the unknown, to wander into uncertainty, but choosing a new town to live in was one of them, Clara was the other. Clara arrived at our library in my last semester, having recently relocated in our town, due to her husband’s job. She was small and shy. It seemed fitting she should work among books and silence, undisturbed as she went about filing things, walking through the aisles pushing her cart while she restocked the shelves, the lightest scent trailing behind her, a mixture of soap and a soft cologne. Her hair reached down her back, full and luscious, secure in a pony tail. I used to run my fingers through it, when we lay together in bed, resting after having made love. I could stroke it for hours, the softness and weight of it always surprised me. She let me do it, and would sometimes fall asleep, briefly, since we never had much time, in one of the cheap motel rooms we rented. It has been so many years now, my youth gone, our youth gone, and yet, as I think of those hours,  I can still feel the texture of the coarse sheets under me, the slow, circling fan above us, and the exact shape of her breasts under my hands.

I rearranged her head, setting a block under it, which would allow me later to apply the make-up more easily. I uncovered her fully, and I could not help but to look at her aged body. I have wished many times, in my lonely life, that I had been granted the opportunity to spend my days with Clara. To see her wake up in the morning, to anticipate her wishes and observe her when her mind fluttered away from mine. I still don’t know why she chose me, why among the many boys wandering around her library she picked me to be her lover. She was shy, and yet, it seemed that a hunger she could not fill rested quietly, but unrelenting, under her skin. I must have been a clumsy lover, in retrospect, her being the first woman I had ever been with, but it did not seem to bother her. As I flexed and massaged her arms, trying to ease their stiffness before I dressed her, I noticed that among the jewelry I had removed there wasn’t a wedding ring. I wondered if her husband had found out about us, or if there were others that replaced me, had I been a unique act of infidelity in her existence, or one among many that followed her into dismal motel rooms with soiled carpets and dripping faucets?

I thought, candidly, that she would leave the town with me once I graduated, or join me later, when I had secured a job for both of us. I did not mind the prospect of not having children; in fact, I preferred the idea of having a life, of having her, only to myself.  I rarely thought about her husband, or the life she led with him, away from our motel room. She would touch my forehead, and then follow the profile of my face, slowly with her fingers and whisper: Don’t worry about him. It’s just us here and now. No one else. And I believed her. I guess she had been married a few years, but she did not like to talk about it. She did tell me right away not to worry about contraceptives, since she could not have children, and for the slightest moment her gaze wondered towards the window and did not meet mine. I held her and told her it was ok, that I would not mind a thing like that, but she pulled away and turned her back to me.

Let me shower quickly, she said, the ride here was hot and I need to refresh myself.

The last time I saw her it was inside her car, the day after I had graduated. My parents had offered to come and pick me up, but I told them I would rather take the train on my own. We sat quietly, her smoking, inside her sedan, and I wanted so badly to cry I had to focus on the separate leaves of the trees near me to stop the mounting pressure I thought would choke me inside of my chest.  She had not been feeling well the last couple of days, a bit dizzy and tired.

It must be the heat, I am used to cold weather.

To my plans for the future she only nodded and gave me a remote smile, but I was too eager to notice the aloofness of it.  I told her I would send her a letter once I was settled at my new address and then she could join me there. I did. I never got a reply, and when I found the courage to phone the library I was told Miss Clara Wells had left the job shortly after my departure. Her husband had once again been transferred, the new, chatty librarian informed me. May I ask whose calling though?

I looked at her, so different from then, and wondered how the years that we had spent apart had been filled. Here she laid, a complete stranger, and yet so dear to my heart. Of all the things I have ever imagined, it never once crossed my mind that I would be, indeed, the last person to hold her, to carefully seal her lips and apply the lightest color to them. I might have misspoken when I said she was the love of my life, since after all we only spent four months together, and in reality just a handful of hours in those various motels, and twice, outdoors, in a secluded area in the public park a couple of miles from the school. My love, passion, or whatever you want to call it might not have been more than the sexual awakening of an inexperienced boy with a woman a few years his senior, and yet, it has been hard to think of those times without the softest ache when I have recollected them, on undisturbed evenings in my one bedroom flat. I suppose part of it is how contained both in time and space our relationship was. It was not polluted by everyday affairs, no dirty dishes to clean in the sink, no small resentments about petty stuff, neither did boredom had a chance to dilute our passion, my passion, the time being so precious. So here I was, a few hours gone by, ready to switch again into my suit and perform the rest of the ceremony. I was curious to see who would come to her funeral, what kind of friends she kept, who would mourn her and miss her presence in the days to come.

The room had been set up with a single garland of flowers, simple, not too ostentatious, from one of our regular suppliers. My business partner usually handled that end of things, being better suited for conversation and helping people make the right decision under the circumstances. Bereavement leaves families adrift, unprepared to take care of the material things one must attend to, in spite of the pain. Oh, and there are so many things to consider, to establish and make choices about, when most of us would want to crawl into bed and hide under the sheets. It is good though, to have this ritual, and it has given meaning to my life to know that what I do is so crucial, and yet often so invisible, to so many over the years.  I have often wondered about how we celebrate births, the doctors always receiving Christmas cards from the families they meet in delivering babies, and no one ever even considers writing the undertaker, the mortician, me, a single brief note acknowledging our contact. I am not resentful , don’t get me wrong, who wants to remember me? After all I am the last person to touch their loved ones, a stranger intruding in one of the most difficult times in their lives. The intimacy of my job is both unavoidable and disturbing to many, so is not surprising, just curious you know, how the idea of touching, of being touched, even when we are no longer ourselves, is filled with so much anxiety and shame. Over the years I have felt myself slowly disappear, becoming  barely a presence, and I think that’s what has made me successful, the ability to cease to exist for those few hours when people mourn.

About twenty people or so turned up, a quiet affair, some coworkers (apparently she remained a librarian), a handful of friends, how or when she met them I could not gather, and her son, a tall, unremarkable man, that had inherited her auburn hair. He disclosed how his father had died a few years earlier, in a car accident.

Probably for the best, since it would have been so devastating for him to be the last to go. She managed, even though she missed him, but women are stronger and can find their way back to life more easily.

By four the affair was finished, and after briefly arranging the time for the burial the day after, everyone departed.  I slowly made sure everything was in order before leaving, but somehow I could not manage to return home. The thought of Clara there, alone, on her last night on this earth unsettled me, who would have thought I could be bothered by this? So I sat for a few more hours in the room where the light was fading, in a golden hue, the clouds having been dispersed and the rain now gone. I suppose we all struggle with the meaning of our existence at one time or another, wondering if we have done enough in our brief time here, if the bonds we created were significant or merely loose threads without a pattern. I guess at times one also reconsiders how the role we played, who we thought we were to ourselves, and to somebody else comes unhinged. All my life I have focused on the details, the minute is my place of solace, where I find comfort and belonging. I am not interested in the completed puzzle, but in how each piece has a precise match, a unique suitable place within its community, unalterable, and fixed. So as I closed the casket, ready now to finally leave Clara to herself, I did it without resentment, but also without unbearable grief. I had come to understand why I had been chosen among the many, and the knowledge was both disappointing and liberating. As I walked to the bus, enjoying the freshness in the air, the mingled noises of the city, and the events of my day, I looked forward to returning home, to my quiet, undisturbed life. I might not have been the love her life, but, and of this I have no doubt, she remembered me, everyday, in all the hours and years we spent apart. This unexpected gift, so randomly accorded, filled me with something close to happiness, and I was able to lose Clara, a second time, now permanently, without regret or sorrow.

Noelia Diaz grew up in Madrid but has lived in New York for the last 17 years. She is currently working towards her PhD in Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center of CUNY. Her areas of concentration are contemporary Irish and Argentine theater. At the moment she is teaching Latino/a theater in the U.S. in the Communications & Theatre Arts Department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

By Clara Sereni

Translated from Italian by Giulia Po and Monica Hanna

The velvet suit fits her well. Out of place, if it wasn’t for the jacket with the frogs and the Chinese-style collar: the only possible concession to her usual style, but not out of sync with what is expected from the mother of the bride. The purse with the embroidery and the silver handle is Aunt Clotilde’s, some of its threads torn by a century of history, and so much the worse for those who wouldn’t understand the preciousness of memory.  The expensive shoes that Diletta inspected carefully don’t look like her.

She couldn’t choose: she couldn’t, otherwise the conflict with her daughter would have been irremediable.

She applies her makeup with more care than usual, but not differently: almost invisible powder, some blush on her cheeks, eyeliner around the eyes; no chance of tears, since for her uneasiness seems more likely than emotion at this wedding.

Long gone are the days of their complicity and friendship, when Diletta used to call her by name and not just mom, when they played and sang nursery rhymes and poetry together; in the pictures strewn throughout the house they wear the same flower skirt hand sewn of the same fabric, made with love and to save money,  images that don’t go past her daughter’s adolescent years. Never afterward did they take part in a protest, attend a discussion, or go to a movie or a book presentation together. Diletta studied cello at the conservatory, her mother’s accordion was left in the closet, the music in the house entrusted to recorded tapes.

In the passing time, Diletta often had a frowning and teasing face, and her mother’s friends moved her to jealousy and irritation. She mocked their feminism, and it was very clear that she didn’t want to have anything to do with it in her own life. With the men that came to the house she was pretentious and charming, with her mother she was bitter first, and scornful after they had disappeared into the horizon.

Nadia thought that her daughter needed to cut the umbilical cord, she let her go and forced herself to wait for her to grow, hoping to find her again sooner or later next to her, an adult and a companion. Similar.

Today’s wedding gives the coup de grâce to her hopes: Diletta will get married in a very expensive white dress, a renowned makeup artist will do her make-up, the bridesmaids will carry the train of her dress, in that frame of trivial appearance that her mother has always opposed.

She would like to blame it all on the man Diletta is about to marry, but she knows that she can’t say that to herself: that man, rich, handsome, with a nice car and nice clothes, politically apathetic and sufficiently ignorant, is an integral part of the choices Diletta has made. From the Bible readings to the clothes to the baptism required to get married in church to the wedding registry filled with crystal and silverware. Step after step, until she became unrecognizable to her mother’s eyes.

The good thing – one needs to search for all the good on a day like this – is that the expensive shoes are high quality, comfortable although overly shiny; Nadia puts them on, and nothing can keep her home anymore, no turning back.

In the church full of flowers, the air feels stuffy: the perfume of the profusion of lilies is too strong, and the heat is up too high. Nonetheless she hugs the groom’s parents with a little bit of forced emotion: he is wearing a comical tuxedo, she is glowing with jewelry and fabric. Between the fringes and the drapes, she looks like a lamp. Nadia allows herself a little smile and a slight sense of superiority.

But when Diletta enters, with the halo of light at her back, and the music begins, holding arms with her best friend, she is beautiful. Moving. The groom’s mother dries a tear with a silk handkerchief gently removed from her rhinestone-encrusted clutch.

Moving? It looks like a movie, and this is what prevents Nadia from being moved. She would like to smile at her daughter, though, but Diletta never looks at her, maybe because she is too careful not to stumble in the many folds of her dress.

The ceremony starts, almost everybody makes the sign of the cross. Nadia’s hands remain still, crossed on her lap.

The service seems endless.

Flashbulbs go off and Nadia grows stiffer and stiffer. Stranger. Far away, because she would like to be miles and miles away from there.

The conclusion of the mass takes her by surprise, when the priest invites to exchange the sign of peace: many people around her take her hand, they shake it, and surprisingly those gestures warm her up, giving her vigor back. But then the ceremony continues, and it is so long that Nadia gets lost in contemplating the clothes, the faces, the church decorations disrespecting the severe architecture of the building. She stands up and sits down every time the others do, and now feels the cold from the marble floor.

It is still cold outside, while the rice falls plentifully on Diletta’s opulent dress, on her bare cleavage. She should have a small sweater, a shawl, Nadia thinks, and she feels an old sense of protection in her gut, just like when taking care of her daughter was a duty and a possibility.  Someone gives her a handful of rice and Nadia throws it, without conviction, with the awkwardness of a gesture that does not belong to her, and some grains fall into her shoes, irritating.

Diletta has given her precise instructions: she will go with the in-laws, in the car that will be waiting outside the church.

Black, very long: Nadia thinks it looks like a catafalque, or maybe this is part of the movie too; in any case the comfortable seats are a relief to the terrible tiredness that she is feeling.

The groom’s parents sitting next to her appear lively and excited. They can’t stop talking, congratulating themselves on the money spent, commenting on the results. For a moment Nadia envies their ability to get enthusiastic about little things, then some bitter words between wife and husband remind her that all that glitters is not gold.

The silent car moves through a large swath of the city. Nadia doesn’t know where they are going; Diletta wanted it to be a surprise, or maybe she didn’t tell her to avoid any criticism that she might have expressed.

The car keeps moving, leaving the suburbs behind as well: now they are on a highway. Nadia rolls the blue-tinted window down and gets caught in the smell of the countryside, of hay.

“Excuse me, dear, can you close the window? My hairdresser, you know…” says the daughter’s mother in-law, touching her complicated hairstyle fixed in a wall of hairspray. “Should I ask the driver to turn on the air conditioning?”

Nadia shakes her head slightly and, conciliatory, closes the window rapidly; never mind, this day will end too, she thinks, and then I will go back to my cold and my hot, to the smell and the flavors of my life.

The car has taken a white street, a lot of dust around and the daughter’s in-law gets upset, protests: “I told you, this fucking street needed to be sprayed down! The cars will all get dirty, how nice for the pictures!”

Her husband tries to calm her down, he covers one of her hands with his. “If it makes them happy, everybody will be happy” he says, while his wife peevishly displays her hand full of rings.

Nadia is afraid that she is going to see a castle, but when the car turns there is a country farmhouse: restored, with no frills, some old tires hanging from the trees for the kids to play on, an old red tractor that some guests have climbed, a long table outside already full of food and drinks.

The tablecloth is white, with no lace or embroidery. In a corner plastic glasses and plates that cause the mother in-law’s eyes to widen. She only calms down when her husband, taking advantage of a sudden breeze, wraps a fur stole around her shoulders.

Nadia greets the people she knows and others she has never seen before or doesn’t remember: words, jokes, the smell of the hay and wood, something is less hostile to her now. The bruschetta crunches joyfully between her teeth and the oil is very good. The red wine that someone poured with generosity in her plastic glass goes well with it.

The bride and groom are not there yet, probably busy with a complicated change of clothes. Nadia doesn’t want to think about the next dress that her daughter will wear, she is content with the omelets and the unexpected rustic cakes of the menu. She feels at ease, the young faces around her seem so normal, so similar to others she has loved.

A noise from the street, the married couple is arriving: all the guests gather to welcome them. Nadia is not in the first row, and fears what will come.

He gets out first, agile: he has replaced his pants with a pair of jeans, and the bold combination receives a loud applause.  Holding the door open, he bends to give his hand to Diletta, and helps her get out.

The applause mingles with whistles: Diletta is wearing a flower skirt and an Indian blouse, her curly hair moves freely on her neck and shoulders.

Even from afar, Nadia can see the silk and the designer clogs that she is wearing. Yet she is surprised by the ensemble, drawing a big question mark over a day that she thought she already had figured out.

Diletta cuts short with the compliments and the hugs, declaring that she is very hungry.

The tasting becomes eating, with big tureens that come one after the other from the kitchen, raised as trophies by girls whose cheeks have been reddened by the stoves and the pride.  The main courses arrive, hand made noodles and grilled meat, organic salads: the right quantity, the right number, avoiding any excess. The bread is warm from the oven, big loaves that the groom cuts near his chest, with an old gesture. And his tux jacket is dusted with flour.

The groom‘s parents get nervous, embarrassed. They can’t find their space, the mother frowns and her face becomes stranger and spiteful. Nadia instead has found her rhythm, her pace.

Slowly, the physical distance between Diletta and her mother shortens: some exchanges of glances, even a little smile. Nadia feels good, soothed by the food and the atmosphere, and she likes her daughter’s sparkling eyes, her soft gestures, her cheeks reddened by a calm, intense excitement. Sometimes the bride and the groom touch each other, they hug, out of love rather than to show off.

When the cake comes – a big multicolor fruit tart – the couple cuts it together, under the eyes of all the guests, the first slice is immediately laid on a plate. Diletta grabs a fork from the table, then pushes her way through the small crowd, towards her mother.

Nadia blushes, and not because everyone’s stares inevitably converge on her. The unexpected gift, the attention, give her courage: her shy fingers gently touch her daughter’s cheeks, and she doesn’t withdraw as always, quite the opposite, she lingers, she feels her warmth on her hand.

But then she leaves, everybody calling her. There are laughing toasts, loving toasts, teasing toasts. It seems that they are never going to end, when a group of musicians appears from the back of the farmhouse: a guitar, an accordion, and a tambourine. Popular music whose roots nobody seems to remember anymore.

Nadia claps her hand in time with the others, sings choruses, hazards countermelodies she thought she had forgotten. Her voice and Diletta’s meet, intertwine with competence.

The musicians vary from Tuscan octave rhymes to southern saltarellos, from working songs to the sweetest and angriest lullabies. Every now and then someone makes a request, and Nadia is surprised by the groom’s knowledge of songs she had never thought he would know: like the serenade he alone sings for Diletta, including “Lèvati bela, traite a l’inferiada,” which Nadia sang to her little daughter to get her to sleep.

When Diletta takes the tambourine in her hands, and ask the accordionist to play “Waltz for Siglinda,”  Nadia’s heart skips a beat: for her that is the waltz of ’68, with the romanticism and the hopes of those years, only a few know it, but for her it is the meaning of her life, tugged and wounded but still with a music inside that cannot be erased.

The musician shakes his head, he does not know it: he offers his instrument around for whoever wants to play in his place.

Then Diletta points to her mother, who unexpectedly feels a sort of emptiness within herself: scared by her rusty fingers and by contact with her daughter that is too big, too sudden.

The accordion passes from hand to hand. Nadia places her arms, and instinctively manages to face chords and try sonorities. And the fingers move on the keyboard by themselves: no matter that the arthritis makes them sore, and how many years have passed without practicing, the melody unravels from her vehement memory, as if something had held it for too long. The few hesitations seem to be enclosed within the sense of a past hard to metabolize because still present.

Everybody dances, carried away, and Diletta moves in time with the tambourine, in semicircles, which take her closer to her mother: standing, one in front of the other, their gestures in unison, with similar looks, in their eyes and in their hands, in a memory that can be shared.

_________________________________________________________________

This translation is published with permission of the author and RCS Libri in Italy, which published “Valzer per Siglinda” (the  story in the original Italian) in Clara Sereni’s collection entitled Il lupo mercante.

Clara Sereni lives in Perugia, Italy.  She is an award-winning writer and translator, and a columnist forL’Unità and Il Manifesto. She is the author of many novels and short stories, and the editor of several books concerned with issues such as disability and mental illness. She is very active in the social arena, and is the President of “La città del Sole,” an organization in Umbria that welcomes families with disabilities. She also served as Deputy Mayor of the city of Perugia from 1995 to 1997. “Waltz for Siglinda” is one of the short stories from her latest book Il lupo mercante.

Giulia Po earned a Ph.D in Comparative Literature with a specialization in Italian Literature from The Graduate Center of The City University of New York.  She works as an Italian lecturer and lives in Boston. She has a monographic study of Clara Sereni’s work, which is forthcoming from the Franco Cesati publishing house in Italy.

Monica Hanna is co-editor of Global Graffiti.  She has published translations as well as critical work on contemporary literature in English, Spanish, and Italian.  She holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from The Graduate Center of The City University of New York and teaches literature in Annapolis.

Harry Gamboa Jr.

one

“I can’t see anything. I didn’t expect to go blind so suddenly but I can’t say that I miss seeing anyone or anything. I’ve already seen it all. I’ve always assumed that being blind would fill my mind with absolute blackness but that has been as false as my hopes of witnessing a miracle. Everything is red. Maybe it’s blood that filled my eyeballs after the retinas detached themselves. All I know is that I feel like running so that I might bump into things or wander helplessly into dangerous situations. I need a way to be killed quickly so that I won’t have to be pitied or assaulted by people who view me as an unwanted obstruction to their view of a more perfect world. They’ll never see me begging nor scratching at the surface in an attempt to discern the subtle nuances of our failing society. Fuck everyone who has 20/20 hindsight. I don’t trust anyone with foresight. Give me a cigarette or I’ll vomit all over the place,” said Dinno as he reached out into the empty void as the filter tip of a lit menthol cigarette was placed between his fingers.

“You’re not blind but you are sick. Maybe you’re trying to avoid the inevitable. I’d kill you but I wouldn’t want a lethal injection as compensation for the effort. I’m more of an electric chair type of girl,” whispered Nilia while she carefully poured a few drops of a white milky substance from a small brown glass bottle into the froth of the hot cappuccino.

“I love your scent of natural sexuality but hate your sense of moral certitude. I can sniff out the slightest vapor of feminine intrigue. If I say I’m blind, I’m utterly sightless. You can’t judge me. You’ve got no right to tell me that I can see. I’m not sick. It’s all due to an unfortunate accident. I was born human,” said Dinno into a thick cloud of swirling smoke.

“My sexual drive has been neutralized by violent men with ridiculous dicks and passionless pacifists who were pussies. Abstinence is righteous and sterility is sublime. Animalistic fucking is for idiots. It’s all about sexually transmitted diseases and ugly flesh. No thanks. I’d rather have my cocktail of honey, vanilla extract, and heroin. I put a few drops on your cigarette as a way to improve your point of view,” said Nilia with her eyes shut tightly as she sipped the caffeine and opiate drink.

“Now we are both blind,” mused Dinno.

“All afterimages must die! I can’t imagine what I ever saw in you,” Nilia swooned as the narcotic took effect.

"Ersilia," drawing by Colleen Corradi Brannigan

two

Dinno has retired himself from the L.A. art scene where he once created havoc at every opportunity during a twenty-five year period encompassing the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s. His most important paintings were burned by his first wife in 1983 and a vast volume of writings, drawings, and photographs were destroyed by water damage in the rains of 2005. In early 2006, he donated a cardboard box containing a small stack of notes (sheets of paper containing incomprehensible squiggly lines), several obsolete video cameras, a damaged first generation G3 Powerbook (unsuitable for USB/Firewire connection), and a bullet-riddled 1970 Chicano Moratorium poster that had been autographed by Cannibal (of The Headhunters), Oscar Zeta Acosta, and Frank Zappa, to the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. The authenticity of the signatures are not in question but the ownership of the poster is being contested by various artists, activists, dogmatists, former band members, and a dubious Hollywood producer who specializes in making movies that debunk the spirit of urban Chicano history by glorifying himself through characters that would never survive a few hours in the real world of East L.A. The box has been placed in a sealed room until all institutional concerns have been resolved. The remaining few items that could provide a hint of Dinno’s former prodigious creative force has been reduced to handfuls of ephemeral junk that are stuffed into his coat pockets with other scraps having been formed into odd folded shapes as a way to provide momentary comfort between his swollen feet and the holes in his worn shoes. Dinno now begins each day reciting the Rosary in memory of his abandoned Catholicism. During a recent impromptu prayer vigil, Dinno’s favorite pair of Dior sunglasses mysteriously vanished, triggering his current bout of hysterical blindness.

three

Nilia’s professional demeanor and astute knowledge of contemporary art is impressive. Her command of the English language would befit those of the highest educational achievements. However, her academic career ended in the 6th grade when she was expelled for stabbing her middle school principal in the neck with a sharpened pencil after being told that she would have to submit to a strip search for “candy.” Up until that point, her childhood had been filled with nothing­ness in the claustrophobic farming town of Norvine. Swift prejudgments by the State of Califor­nia compelled Nilia to waste the rest of her adolescence by undergoing several years of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse at the hands of brutal authorities and psychotic inmates. In 1990, at eighteen years of age, Nilia was released from the Mojave Springs Detention Facility. She walked out of custody onto the dusty desert highway carrying a paperback copy of Andre Gide’s autobiography, Si le grain ne meurt (If It Die), and a street map of Los Angeles where she was intent on making a name for herself. Within a few days of her release, she was dancing in the milieu of drugs and alcohol at various nightclubs in Beverly Hills and Inglewood. The intensely colorful burning flame that is tattooed on her forehead along with excessive makeup and false eyelashes, made Nilia strikingly alluring to both sexes. Her turquoise eyes nearly hypnotized everyone who had the pleasure of peering into them. A middle aged man calling himself Claude du Crème and claiming to be a corporate chemist, offered to drive her from The LAX Bar on Century Boulevard to his mansion in the hills. She stepped into the black classic Jaguar and was driven at high speeds to the edge of a cliff that juts out from the elevated northern tip of the Palos Verdes peninsula. Upon parking the car at an incline against a rock, Claude produced a small vial of the synthetic inhalant known as “smudge,” a chemical compound spray with the scent of burnt flesh that is purported to cause selective memory loss and a heightened sense of euphoria when sniffed in proper concentrations. The 60’s Led Zeppelin song “Dazed and Confused” played loudly on the customized speakers as the chemist buried his face into a small brown paper bag and inhaled deeply. His eyes rolled back into his head as he became limp and listless. His surprisingly blue face fell onto Nilia’s lap. His breathing had stopped. Nilia nearly experienced a fatal contact high from the lethal acrid fumes. She crawled out of the car to the rocky precipice from where she took in the breathtaking panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean. She felt it was too deep and too vast. She told herself that she would never look at the sea again nor allow herself to be placed into such a precarious state of danger. The sound of crashing waves, rock music, and her own cries of terror lingered in her mind during the next few months as she stumbled into a relatively normal rou­tine of working at minimum wage jobs and living in an unfurnished studio apartment in the High­land Park district of Los Angeles. The thought of drowning, swimming among scaly creatures, and being swept along violent currents sometimes entered her consciousness, causing an immediate response to ingest various colored pills that would calm her nerves and leave her craving for dark bitter chocolates. In 2004, Nilia emerged from a decade-long detour of reading classic literature and financial news to become a sought-after figure in the underground and mainstream art arena.

four

Dinno has been carrying a memorandum in his coat pocket for many years. He wrote the words during a frenzied creative period and has forgotten the contents that were never mailed to the intended recipient. The information was typed using a 70’s IBM Selectric typewriter (an anti­quated noisy writing machine) that had been equipped with a Geneva font ball. He folded the typed cotton paper into an origami-like representation of a handgun, then slipped it into a faded pink envelop that was sealed using rubber cement, duct tape, and numerous staples. The envelope has four 3¢ stamps affixed to the upper right corner and carries the statement, DO NOT BEND OR GENUFLECT, at the lower left corner.

 

DATE:                   October 23, 1987

 

FROM:    Mr. Dinno

P.O. Box 11151

Los Angeles, CA 90001-1151

 

TO:           The Editor

Art in Aztlán

1968 Eagle Street

East L.A., CA 90022

RE:            Invoice

This memorandum constitutes a bill for photographic services rendered in connection with the published essay, The Death of Fundamental Beauty in Barrio Calligraphy and Body Art. Although, the photographs that were taken did not appear in the magazine, work was performed in the photographing of images related to the triple-homicide of tattoo artists Mok, Wont, and Zuberb (not your typical cholo monikers). I am demanding the return of all photographs, proofs, and negatives. The remuneration is required to pay for film, processing, and meals.

The true value of services equals several thousand dollars.

Total amount due: $350.00

 

PS:  I believe that your arts magazine should avoid the pathetic pitfalls of trying to mimic mass media publications. The glossy pictures of quaint mythical barrio lore do a great disservice in hampering the advancement of Chicano artistic and intellectual progress. Save the pablum for those who would rather pretend that all is O.K. We both know what is going on here. Military, tobacco, fast food, credit card, religious, and generic art advertisements have no place in any magazine or organization that incorporates the name of Aztlán. It could be that your dedication to Kapitalism outweighs all ethical concerns. Also, dead artists have a way of redeeming themselves. By the way, muralism, altares, actos, and all things rasquache are dead.

five

Nilia is the executive director of the high profile Nethers + Mixum Gallery which is lo­cated at the Nevernot Arts Complex in Santa Monica (an environment usually overrun by af­fluent Westsiders who peer over the edge of conventional tastes as they parade rare breeds of dogs, expensive automobiles, and fashionable accessories while remaining aloof and aloft in a stratosphere of privilege). The gallery is currently closed for one week while the low profile mul­timillionaire owner is in Paris (along with a random delegation of Los Angeles-based collectors, exhibiting artists, art critics, poets, and institutional representatives) to view the Los Angeles 1955-1985 exhibition at the Centre Pompidou. During the owner’s brief absence, Nilia’s scheduled activities will include all curatorial objectives for an exhibition of concrete slabs stained with blood from random street crimes, the completion of several printing projects involving catalogues, price sheets, and exhibition invitations, as well as the shipping of seven large scale mixed media works to an anonymous middleman in the Middle East. Most of the multitasking will be accomplished via the multiple wireless devices that she carries in her limited edition Prada briefcase. Nilia has obvi­ously outgrown her adolescent stages of outrage, despair, auto-destruction, and aimless rebellion. She is now a fully grown woman who prefers to distance herself from reality on her own terms.

Nilia is in a concurrent dream/hyperconscious state as she sips her cappuccino. Dinno is sitting across from her at their stylized brushed aluminum table on the exterior balcony of the pretentious Brentwood coffee shop. He has been sitting perfectly still with his eyes shut for the past hour. The cigarette has burned down to the filter leaving a gray twirl of ash balancing against gravity in the imperceptible chasm between what is literally “here” and what should be figuratively “there.” Soothing synthesized music plays in the background evoking a distorted and soulless contemporary interpretation of, Nocturnes, by Erik Satie. The warm dry air is typical for the an­nual Santa Ana wind conditions but there is no wind at the moment to carry the voices, music, and noises beyond the small parallel universe that has formed in the minds of Nilia and Dinno.

“Dinno, I will be needing your signature before I can dispense the allocated monies for your services. Here’s the contract, but you won’t have to waste your time reading it because it is written in legalese that can be summed up in lay terms as meaning that you agree to relinquish your rights to ownership of seven works of art, that is, a terrifying pile of torn cardboard, split wood, shattered glass, broken plastic, all stained with your body fluids, some painted with oils and acrylics, and only a few constructed to survive any substantial critical analysis. In other words, you understand that in exchange for eighty $100 bills in cash, that Nethers + Mixum Gallery will be the sole owners of these works without fear of harm from any legal entanglements.,” blurted Nilia with an unexpected clarity of meaning as she passed the single sheet of paper and a sleek Montblanc fountain pen in front of him.

“Where can I buy $8,000.00 worth of guns, drugs, and prostitutes?” murmured Dinno as he took the pen and signed “Dinno” in his characteristically iconic scrawl (that was once denounced by Congress in an effort to eliminate federal support for the arts) across the dotted line.

“It’s only money and now it’s yours,” smiled Nilia as she placed a Tumi black nylon wallet with black leather trim into his right hand.

“I remember the first time you handed me money and how it burned a hole in my hand. This time, the cash feels so cool and crisp as though it has travelled a long distance or has been frozen in someone’s account or has been chilled and counted by fascists. I accept no responsibility for my past creations and only hope that no one will begrudge my inability to look towards the future. Nilia, are my eyes looking into the sun? Please, hold my hand and walk me to the curb so that I can walk to the nearest liquor store,” whispered Dinno as Nilia gently held him in her arms and kissed his scarred cheeks lightly, leaving a faint blur of red lipstick that only she could see.

six

In 2001, the following material was unanimously rejected in its entirety by the highly regarded National Biennial Art Symposium review committee which deemed the prospectus unsuitable for publication, presentation, or further consideration:

Neglect the Desire: Put your Face into (in 2) the Fire

a de facto prospectus

by

Dinno

I wake up in the morning and see my face in the mirror and wonder why it is still

attached to my head. I set the detonators properly and put myself into harm’s way but

nothing happened. Am I so foolish to think that a few explosions will change

anything

at all? Maybe it would be better to swallow poison and keep my secrets, secret!

Or, I could mix colors and words to keep the world entertained while everything

goes to hell. I see the children running and laughing and only wish that I could

relive long lost moments but everyone is dead or nearly forgotten. Maybe I should

take a picture of myself and spit at it until my complexion clears up. The

question of identity is simple but the answer is absurd. Erase everything.

Delete it before you read it. My body is collapsing and all that keeps it animated

are chemicals and an affection for my own ego.

I’ll wake up tomorrow, smear my face with household accelerants and light a match to my nose

(to spite it)

Let me know what I look like in charcoal gray

when I return as the eternal worm, i.e., holier than thou

and prettier than the evil that is spread

by those who believe that they can

create beauty,

achieve joy,

and

be happy

Let’s burn away the desire

Put your face into (in 2) the fire

seven

“I can make it from here. It’s been too much fun,” said Dinno as he glanced at Nilia’s graceful hands and imagined what it would be like if she were holding an obscene sex toy.

“I’ll keep on searching for the few extra pieces that might still be in existence. You would be quite wealthy if you decided to create new works. I’ll bring more money if I find anything. You are still a handsome man and a little bit of attention to the fine details of grooming, fashion, and a willingness to play the game would make you an art star. Young beautiful women (and prob­ably men) would be all over you. If I were still sexually active, I’d give you a blow job right here, but then that would ruin my makeup, our relationship, and my own sense of self-esteem,” Nilia laughed as she waved goodbye.

“The last time I came in my pants was years before you were born. Sex is too heavy a price, no matter how nice the offer might be,” Dinno attempted to smile as he held tightly onto the black wallet.

“I’ve always loved your commitment to angst,” said Nilia, noticing his unattended erec­tion, as she turned away sensually, dressed in a Bebe black cashmere miniskirt and Armani white leather jacket. She walked slowly in Salvatore Ferragamo white high heeled boots towards her new Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet that was parked at the far end of the crowded parking lot.

Dinno looked at Nilia with such an overwhelming sense of momentary lust and hatred that he cried quietly, shedding hot tears that felt as though they were drops of molten wax from a votive candle. He believed that he would never see Nilia again because there was no possibility that she would ever recover any additional works for him to sign away for only a few dollars. Everything that he had ever created within the parameters of the term, “artwork,” had been destroyed, lost, or was already in the possession of collectors, art institutions, universities, and/or governmental domestic security entities. He understood the false pretense of their friendship. He felt that he should have taken a stronger hit of heroin. He knew that his days of being an artist were over.

"Hypatia," etching by Colleen Corradi Brannigan

eight

 

Page 5,877 – 03.01.06

These writings will be burned by the end of the day as they are always turned to dust (especially during Lent). I need to confess to myself/others/you but I can’t (because there is no need to divulge anything when I’m already nearly forgotten). I have made several purchases but not quite ready to put them to full use. They are neatly packed in my suitcase. I’ve shaved off all head and body hair and painted myself in thin rows of concentric black, red, and white stripes/rings. In my present state, I resemble an aging venomous coral snake with grotesque appendages. I haven’t uttered a single word in ten hours. I’m not certain if I’ll sound like a civilized person or some wild deformed reptile when I finally do say something. I’ve spent the entire day taking several hundred digital (8 megapixel) photographs of myself in room 319 of the Hilton Checkers Hotel. Blood is smeared everywhere. I will be drinking only water and eating the few small candies that were already here when I first arrived. I still have more than $5,000.00 in my possession. I’d like to go on a shopping spree but there isn’t any time.

My wish list:

1. Glock 33, .357 magnum semiautomatic pistol

2. Beretta Xtrema2, A391Xtrema KO Camo Max-4 HD 12 gauge shotgun

3. Heckler & Koch USP Compact 45 calibre semiautomatic pistol

4. Hennesy “Paradis Extra” cognac

5. Heckle & Jeckle Cartoon Collection, DVD

6. Virgen de Guadalupe, statuette, by Lladró

7. Aztlán passport

I will spend the rest of the night uploading many of the images onto my web site. The meta names consist of my favorite words: Coral, snake, stripes, nether, venom, blink, vanishing, double talk and half-life. Time to burn away the thought. Must turn to dust. I can’t see. I can’t see.

nine

Dinno has not been seen by anyone in more than twenty days. There has been a tremen­dous outcry of indignation and sincere concern regarding the posting of his photographic images on the Internet that have been called “disturbing,” “neo/hyper-porn,” “emblematic of mass anarchy,” “delusional cross-species affront,” and “psychological lawlessness.” Rumors of his suicide (or murder) have been circulating among the Chicano intelligentsia and art world cognoscenti. Upon initial reports of his disappearance, many of his enemies were among the first to publicly announce that Dinno is “passé” and/or a “cultural terrorist.”

A singularly abhorrent artist (name withheld) who is widely known for his fatuous posturings along with cowardly acts of financial and intellectual property theft (who has oftentimes put other people’s lives at risk in order to raise his own visibility in the arts and who successfully lied about his academic standing, along with fraudulent insider lobbying, in order to secure his tenured position as a professor at a regional University of California campus) claims that Dinno stole his ideas for the performance and photographic project. He publicly stated that he would not be detoured by Dinno’s “poorly executed” appropriation of his “original concept” and that he would invoke university and foundation monies to “properly” shoot the entire sequence of photographs utilizing a professional staff of technicians, designers, and his own ensemble cast (consisting of graduate students, groupies, and wannabes) to produce billboard-sized limited edition photographs. Although these works have not yet been produced, nearly all have been designated for various museum exhibitions and private collections.

There have been several reported sightings of bumper stickers that read, DINNO’S PIX, affixed to upscale German and Italian automobiles that have been seen cruising along the 10 and 405 Freeways, and on Pacific Coast Highway near Zuma Beach.

Dinno’s ex-wives and children have refused to speak to journalists but have issued a joint statement through an impartial representative of the affected families:

 

“Although many of us may love Dinno, we hereby dissociate ourselves from his acts, words, and intentions. Do not impose sanctions against us for what this man does to the world.”

Attested in good faith:

 

Ex-Wife #1, age 54, mother and grandmother of: Son #1, age 37 years, Sons #2 & #3, ages 35 years, Daughter #1, age 31 years, Son #4, age 24 years, Daughter #2, age 22 years, Grandson #1, age 9 years.

 

Ex-Wife #2, age 42; mother and grandmother of: Daughters #3, #4, age 22 years, Daughter #5, age 19 years, Daughter #6, age 17 years; Daughter #7, age 15 years, Granddaughters #1, #2, & #3, age 2

 

Ex-Wife #3, age 40; (no children)

 

Ex-Wife #4, age 29; mother of: Daughter #8, age 11 years, Daughter #9, age 7 years, Daughter #10, age 3 years

 

Ex-Wife #5, age 22, mother of: Son #5, age 4 years, Son #6, age 8 months

{Unidentified children born out of wedlock = 3 sons and 4 daughters}

{Aborted fetuses = 16}

ten

During the past sixteen days, several hundred people have reported seeing a small translucent angel hovering above the intersection of Whittier Boulevard and Lorena Street in the Boyle Heights district of Los Angeles. The angel is said to have illusory holographic three-dimensional qualities and is seemingly devoid of any mass. Numerous traffic accidents have occurred whenever unsuspecting motorists suddenly veer off course to avoid hitting the apparition. Spanish-language media networks have sent reporters to the site but have not yet recorded any high definition digital video footage of the angel. Futile attempts to grasp the angel by hand or capture it with a variety of electromagnetic nets have frustrated the efforts of several atheists and cynics who claim that it is merely a mechanized puppet of The Vatican. Experts in laser and advanced guidance systems technology from the California Institute of Technology and Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been conducting an active search for energy sources at the site. Several MIT scientists fervently deny that the angel’s purported luminance possesses a dynamic range of invisible colors that could actively erode the presence of yellows and blues in the solar system (which could there­by alter the existence of black and white). Fluctuating ambient radiation levels at the site have challenged critical notions related to fusion reactions, black holes, and recent assertions attributed to string theory. The Smithsonian Institution has sent several research fellows to observe inter­cultural crowd behavior. The military is keeping a watchful eye from above utilizing armed airborne predator drones that could be remotely controlled to fire low yield nuclear weapons should it be determined that the angel poses a direct threat to internal security. Unidentified national security agencies have conducted preliminary investigations and have not verified the existence of the angel nor have they acknowledged their own presence at the site. Several undercover police officers and uniformed snipers have shot several high-powered weapons at the angel and were publicly embarrassed by their superiors when they failed to hit the elusive invisible target. Rival gang members, some with extensive criminal backgrounds, have noted the spontaneous erasure of tattoos and the loss of scars upon seeing the angel. Thousands of believers from all over Los Angeles County have descended on the four street corners to pray in silence. The truly faithful followers of the newly formed Cult of the Angel claim to have heard the angel speak in Spanish, Nahuatl, English, Japanese, French, Korean, Mandarin, and Latin. Although the content is strictly forbidden by recent domestic security laws, the angel’s words in any language are clearly stated:

“Cruelty is masked by sorrow. Violence is shrouded in denial. You will not see the truth until everything has been swallowed by the relentless universe. Molecular bonds are easily broken. Our Holy Mother has touched many of you. Go forth blind­ly until you have reached your destiny. Do not see what is before you. Accept your fate. Pick up the gun, the knife, the bomb, and embrace revolution. The void will set you free. All of my love to the many children who have visited, crossed, and perished on this very spot of earth.”

Nine elementary school children have been detained by the authorities for repeating the angel’s words in class. Los Angeles Unified School District officials have issued student expul­sion notices to the parents. Foreign language press outlets have reported that special detention pens, similar to Vietnam War era “tiger cages,” are being established in Guantanamo Bay for the possibility of accepting underage “domestic visitors.” More than two hundred middle school and one hundred high school students have received truancy notices and fines of up to $230.00 per student for attending street “angel prayers.” The mayor of Los Angeles has urged all students to return to class so that they may excel in their studies and become model citizens. English-lan­guage news reporters and television crews have been noticeably absent from activities surrounding the angel’s purported appearance and the growing list of recognizable followers. Several award-winning movie actors, deceased (Klaus Kinski, Gilbert Roland, Ida Lupino, and Ava Gardner) and living (Isabella Rossellini, Isabelle Huppert, and Forest Whittaker), have been rumored to be present among the nameless faces in the crowd. The geopolitical importance of the “blessed” gathering of believers has been conclusively analyzed by an eclectic team of highly placed “thinkers” and has prompted decisive action by a disavowed governmental agency that serves under the auspices of the classified Rapid Anti-Terrorist Squad (RATS) laws.

On the morning of Wednesday, April 5, 2006, the solution to the “angel” question was put into effect:

8:00 a.m.               Secure perimeter (encompassing Whittier Boulevard and Lorena Street) bordered by the 60 Freeway (North), Euclid Street (West), Esperanza Street (East), and 5 Freeway (South).

 

10:00 a.m.            Initial attack via subsonic weapons causing immediate disequilibrium, paralysis, blindness, internal bleeding, and heart stoppage in 90% of all humans, mammals, and birds within targeted area.

 

11:30 a.m.            Automatic arms fire by designated elite squad brings human death toll to 100%.

 

12:30 p.m.            Demolition, construction, road building, tunnel digging, painting, and urban special effects crews work in tandem to destroy all structures within the perimeter, perform mass burial, lay several thousand square feet of lawn strips, asphalt, and concrete; placement of prefabricated buildings and playground equipment; pave streets, paint murals and graffiti, installation of surveillance cameras.

 

3:00 p.m.               Release squirrels and pigeons into affected area.

 

4:30 p.m.               Disband perimeter control to allow general public use.

 

5:00 p.m.               Civic dedication of the new, “Angel Park.”

 

6:00 p.m.               1st Annual “Festival del Parque” celebration.

 

8:00 p.m.               Park closed.

eleven

Dinno had been marching with more than a million people in downtown Los Angeles on behalf of immigrant rights. The marchers had been instructed by Spanish-language radio personalities to wear white as a symbol of peace but Dinno was the only person in the massive crowd wearing all black. He stepped out of line for a few moments to slip inside Clifton’s Cafeteria at 7th and Broadway streets to have a slice of chocolate cake and a cup of ultra-caffeinated coffee. He was sitting comfortably at has favorite table on the third tier of the main dining area when he was approached by a young man who looked somewhat familiar yet completely out of place.

“Professor Dinno, I saw you get off the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus at Washington Boulevard. I was surprised that you would participate in a mass movement,” said the former student who never identified himself because he believed that Dinno actually remembered his name.

“Good to see you beyond the reach of study and tests. It’s been a few semesters since I’ve assigned any homework. You must try the German chocolate cake, an old recipe that was formulated by a madman who worked on The Manhattan Project. It seems like I chose the right day to go out and get a little sunshine,” smiled Dinno as he tasted the sweet chocolate frosting.

The former student was now wearing headphones and had turned on the professional portable audio recording equipment. With the Sennheiser microphone pointed at Dinno, he looked socially awkward and not fully equipped to carry out a deliberately effective interview. Dinno had seen this deceptively adolescent behavior before but knew that he was in the presence of a brilliant young man who would one day (probably after this particular recording) impress his peers and members of his chosen profession. Before the former student could say another word, Dinno presented him with a 99¢ keychain bearing the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe.

“Here, she’ll allow you to get through the day free of harm,” said Dinno as the caffeine seemed to take hold of his nervous system.

“Thanks, Professor Dinno. I could use the help. I’m working on a documentary video related to the current threat of anti-immigrant sentiment and the rising sense of empowerment among immigrants. I’m using three HD cameras but all of the camera operators are out on the streets and we’ll meet later at the end of the march. I’m conducting audio interviews and recording ambient sound. It would be a great honor to have your position on the current situation,” said the former student as he pressed the “record” button.

“I am completely opposed to the war. I am in favor of eliminating all restrictions on im­migration and believe in open borders. There should be a global moratorium on unrestricted capitalism, elitist communism, heartless terrorism, and mindless fascism. Schools should teach children to become experts in critical analysis, economic forecasting, abstract reasoning, and creative problem solving. Monies that are spent on the space program, weapons, and right wing propaganda should be implemented to fund universal health coverage, the arts, and to protect the environment. Democracy is an outmoded and corrupt model of falsifying the meaning of the constitution. The death penalty should be reserved for those who violate the public trust. The use of torture should be abolished. Freedom, as we now know it, should be redefined to include social responsibility. All people have the right of privacy and should repudiate all forms of intrusive sur­veillance. We must neutralize all nuclear weapons and apologize to humanity for producing illness and death that has been caused by our insane policies that poison the earth with deadly radioactive elements. All current nationally elected, corporate, religious, and military leaders should be deposed and reeducated to become domestic workers, manual laborers, and despised underlings who can be easily abused by the masses,” said Dinno as he finished eating the chocolate cake.

“There have been rumors that you are dead, hospitalized, in prison, or that you have been given luxurious refuge in Malibu by your collectors. Your career as an academic was brought down by allegations that you impregnated several students and faculty members. Your art career came to a sudden end when you publicly denounced the creation of physical art objects. Your recent Internet project provoked such a backlash that a coalition of disparate groups has hired Russian computer hackers to delete most of the content from your web site and substitute your images with pictures of dollar bills. Do you feel that your support for immigrant rights actually has a negative effect on the outcome of those rights? Your erratic nihilistic ethos has added another layer of cultural pollution that has threatened the integrity of the common good. Are you an illegal alien?,” the former student said in a tone that revealed a desire for upward social mobility.

“I live a lifestyle of absentia. All four of my grandparents, and both of my parents were born in México and they all immigrated to the United States in the early 20th Century. I called myself Chicano the day I was shot by police during a riot in East L.A. when I was nineteen years old. I was called an artist the night I taped my eyes shut and swam across the tar pits. Names are of no use to me now. Concrete thinking and action has its limitations. Now, back to the streets,” said Dinno as he quickly exited the building and was instantly absorbed by the stream of exuberant marchers.

twelve

Voice message #1

“Dinno, I want you to call me immediately. No one uses a pager anymore. Your outgoing message sounds like it was recorded inside of a dumpster. I know that you’re still alive and well in L.A. More than a million people protesting in the streets and you find a way to have your photograph appear on the front page of several newspapers throughout the U.S., Mexico, Europe, and even Iceland. Maybe you’re trying to impress Shakira or Björk but they’ll never be interested in an artist who wastes his talent, who disappears, who doesn’t care about being rich, and who doesn’t participate in instant communication. Call me, I have good news in seven figures. Silent partners, wealthy foreigners, investors, buyers, and a few trust fund kids. Oh, don’t ask me how I pulled off this deal. I’m great but you are the key. Call me. I’ll do anything except have your baby. Call!”

Voice message #2

“Dinno, it’s me, Nilia, your most favorite and ultimately ravishing (although you’ll never fuck me) art person. Don’t ignore my calls. I need you and you need me. I’ve attracted old and new money. We need to close this deal. Want to stuff your pockets with cash? You need to pay off all child support payments going back to the 70s. You could buy a new Aston Martin or Bentley and live the life of a success­ful artist. You’ve got to talk to me before it all goes to someone else.”

 

Voice message #3

“I’m going to kill myself. Maybe this isn’t your number.”

 

Voice message #4

“Dinno, the project involves you going to the Middle East and Asia to create a few works for several major hotels, embassies, and private residencies. You’ll also be required to produce a performance piece within the Arctic Circle. You’ll be featured in all of the major art publications and society pages. Your Coral Snake project was a hit among the richest of the rich. You’ll be provided with a driver, an executive assis­tant, and four star hotel accommodations. Everything should take less than a year to complete. At the start of each month, I’ll personally deliver twelve equally large cash payments in euros, yen, dinars, dollars, pounds, and rupees. You must call, I have detectives looking for you. Don’t make me hurt you in order to get your life back into shape. Let’s have coffee. I’ll sweeten it up for you. Ciao.”

 

Voice message #5

“Dinno, the gun is pointed at my head. The deadline is tonight. Motherfucker!”

thirteen

Dinno was carrying the inexpensive brown plastic suitcase that he had purchased at a thrift store and felt that it would be a fitting piece of luggage for his short trip. The suitcase was probably more than fifty years old with a streamlined design that was elegantly modern and futuristically functional. Dinno was dressed in a combination of fine vintage clothing, a new Valentino shirt, and accessories that included a handmade pair of gold cuff links that carried elaborately engraved question marks. His hair was cut close and dyed a reddish brown. His thin brown mustache was drawn in with a tinted eyebrow pencil. The oval shaped tortoiseshell rimmed glasses added a nostalgic semblance of mystery to his overall appearance. His physical presentation to any bystander on the streets would be that of a gentleman from a bygone era (in sepia tones). Dinno was ready to revitalize the world with his singular act of violent absurdity. The full impact of his in­tended actions could be discussed and analyzed at a later time by journalists, art historians, social psychologists, and others who are eminently qualified to deconstruct any myth.

Dinno had already agreed to all of Nilia’s business and art production deadline conditions during a conversation from a filthy biohazardous public pay phone near the Olvera Street tourist area. During his three-minute impassioned monologue, he renounced all antisocial attitudes and behaviors; told Nilia that he was looking forward to living in the desert and that he was ecstatic about possibly seeing the aurora borealis; promised not to cause any trouble and to complete all assignments promptly; stated that regardless of country or religion, that all local laws and customs would be strictly observed; declared his newly found dedication to abstinence and mentioned that his perpetual lust for her was finally extinguished; and insisted that he was in an rarified creative mood that would propel him across the globe as a fully functioning artist and living genius. Dinno told her that she would see him within the hour so that he could sign the multiple contracts, swear unconditional loyalty to several international non-disclosure agreements, look over the itinerary, and pick up the initial payment of more than seventy thousand dollars. He even hinted that he’d go on an extravagant shopping spree to buy all of his adult, teen, and young children gifts with a special gesture of giving diamond rings to each of his ex-wives. Nilia nearly wept with joy at the anticipation of cashing in on the biggest venture of her life. The conversation ended abruptly when Dinno failed to put additional coins into the pay phone as was demanded by the digitized voice of the non-existent human representative of the telecommunications corporation.

fourteen

Everything appeared to be operating normally at the Chinatown Metro Gold Line Station on Monday, April 17, 2006 at 3:15 p.m. while many people were waiting for their respec­tive light rail trains to take them to Pasadena or in the opposite direction to the nearby landmark Union Station train depot. According to several witnesses, a man dressed in various shades of brown and carrying a suitcase approached the tracks slowly. The man opened up the suitcase and pulled out a porcelain statuette of the Virgen de Gudalupe and a small unglazed ceramic bowl that was decorated with an Aztec skull motif that he placed onto the platform. He poured a thick yellow flammable paste into the bowl, then ignited the substance with a disposable cigarette lighter causing bright red, orange, and blue flames to fan at the idol’s feet. He put his black wallet (containing a substantial amount of cash along with pictures of many children and women) next to the fire to form an improvised altar. As the train speedily approached the station, he removed his spectacles, straightened his Versace tie, and used a Monger 9” black titanium assault knife to effortlessly cut out his two eyes. He placed the severed unseeing balls into the burning gel before jumping onto the tracks in time for the train to roll over his lifeless body.

The official response to the surge of 911 emergency calls was delayed by excessive traf­fic congestion but was overcompensated in magnitude by ordering helmeted riot police and fire rescue personnel to be on guard for further fatalities. Most of the individuals who were present during the deadly incident had already departed aboard trains using the alternate track. Investiga­tors on the scene found the smashed fragments of the bowl and statuette (the wallet was stolen by person or persons unknown and thereby was not included in the police report). A teenaged boy who was wearing designer tortoiseshell rimmed glasses was detained briefly by Metro S.W.A.T. then released when it was assessed that he would not be shot nor charged with committing any crime. The coroner’s recovery team collected several plastic bags full of unidentified freshly ground human flesh and washed away the unrecognizable splatters with powerful sprays of water from industrial-strength hoses. The remains were listed as “John Doe #567” and arrived at the overly crowded coroner’s storage facility that was jammed packed with numerous corpses resulting from the many homicides, suicides, traffic accidents, deaths by natural causes and unexplained illnesses that had taken place within the boundaries of Los Angeles County earlier that day. Whenever cadavers categorized as “John Doe” and “Jane Doe” outnumber freezer capacity, they are cremated immediately. The ashes are placed in generic urns and set on a shelf in the gloomy basement of the Los Angeles County Crematorium at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights which is situated near the construction site for the projected eastern extension of the Metro Gold Line. The “shelf life” of the ashes extends to seven years during which time financially responsible immediate kin should be able to identify and lay claim to the remains, otherwise, on Day 2,494, the ashes will be sprinkled as a nitrogen-rich fertilizer for the perpetual rose garden that provides a lively organic red coloration around a frighteningly dull concrete gray building.

When investigators reviewed the train station surveillance videotape, there was no visual or audio evidence that any suicide had taken place. It was assumed that there must have been a glitch with either the surveillance cameras or aging software. None of the witnesses had taken any photographs and many found it difficult to believe that they had seen such a horrifyingly graphic human tragedy on such a beautiful sunny day. Several highly trained police officers filed for sick leave after claiming to have been exposed to the revolting sight along with the accom­panying stench that comes from the forced ejection of internal organs, bone marrow, and feces. The veteran train operator was unmoved by any emotions and gladly took the opportunity to book a flight for a 4-day vacation to Cancún during the mandatory time off after encountering his third “jumper” in two years. Rumors immediately spread throughout Chinatown that the dead man was walking the streets and would seek vengeance by pushing their children and elders in front of speeding trains. The teenager who stole the glasses recognized Dinno as the acclaimed artist even when his eyes were no longer in their sockets. He originally intended to keep the glasses as souvenirs but decided that it would be more profitable to sell them online. When the police let him go, he immediately uploaded his observations of the event onto his increasingly popular blog:

 

sEvEnTeEnApRiLtWoThOuSaNdAnDsIx, It WaS lIkE aRt, StAb, BuRn, No tImE tO pRaY, lItErAlLy GrInD tO a HaLt, DoLlArS iN mY pOcKeT, gAfAs To SeE yOu BeTteR ‘cAuSe WhAt TrUlY cAnNoT bE, hAtE mE mOrE bEcAuSe I lAuGhEd ToO lOuD, lOuDeR wHeN i CoUnTeD iT aLl, TiMe To PaRtY, tO cElEbRaTe ThE aRtIsT, tHaNkS dInNo, FoR gIvInG mE wHaT i DiDn’T hAvE. bEt YoU wErE fUcKiNg TiReD oF fUcKiNg OlD mAn, GaVe It Up, BuT iN fRoNt Of ThE rEsT oF uS? aIn’T nO pSyChO gOiNg To ToUcH yOu WiTh A tEn FoOt PoLe, EsE. i’Ll SpRaYpAiNt YoUr PiX oN tHe NeArEsT wAlL, gUtS aNd AlL. nEvEr ThOuGhT yOu As An AfTeRtHoUgHt BuT lA vIrGeN wOuLd NeVeR aPpRoVe tHe SeLf-An­NiHiLaTiOn, ThE sElF-cOnFlAgRaTiOn, YoU aRe ThE rEaSoN wE aLl DeSeRvE tO sUfFeR, mOnEy WiLl DrOwN oUt ThE nOiSe In My HeAd. RaToVaTo.

fifteen

Daughter #1 and Son #1 arrived at the front office of the crematorium to present a handful of required documents to a soot-covered man who explained that his duties as clerk were complicated by recent fiscal cutbacks and ongoing bureaucratic mismanagement. The clerk looked over the bundled birth certificates of Dinno’s children, family photographs, art exhibition brochures, and newspaper clippings before stating that they would be given an hour-long opportunity to search through Necropolis East, a locked storage area at the rear of the building, to possibly find their father’s ashes. The clerk typed on the keyboard of a nearby computer to access the several hundred entries made during the past week and printed out a hard copy of a list of urns that would be examined. The clerk handed them a “hall pass” and silently led them down the morose corridor as they passed an extraordinary number of No Smoking signs. They entered a dimly lit room with a low ceiling and many shelves on the lengthy walls. Each shelf held an impressive row of urns. Each urn carried a label listing its identification number as well as its date of entry and termination (fertilization) date. The room and its contents resembled Dinno’s notorious 1984 Blowout instal­lation of copper and zinc tubes filled with gunpowder at the now-defunct Museum of Automatic Reflex in Riverside, California.

After an exhaustive 60-minute review by the siblings and a follow-up 2-minute review of electronic records, there was nothing that could directly connect Dinno to any of the several thousand unclaimed urns. The two surviving children had been given the task of disposing the ashes according to their father’s stated wishes (based on a brief handwritten note on a napkin that Dinno had left behind on the bed during one of his infrequent visits to Ex-Wife #4, requesting that any remains, regardless of condition and totality, be tossed into the Los Angeles River from the 6th Street Bridge that serves as the border to East Los Angeles) and were extremely disappointed when they were hurriedly escorted out by an armed security guard who was eating a cold slice of pepperoni pizza. They were told that they would receive written notification that the deceased could not be located because there was no traceable evidence that Dinno was actually dead. The widely disseminated rumor that Dinno had committed suicide at the light rail station and the notion that Dinno had been cremated courtesy of the Los Angeles County was based on several hundred email messages, web pages, blogs, text messages, streaming video, and other forms of technologically enhanced gossip.

sixteen

Nilia was stunned when she received an anonymous voice message that announced Dinno’s demise. The complex investment project that she had been hoping would become an ongoing lucrative source of fluid cash was deflected into a doomed downward spiral by what she regarded to be a successful conceptual hoax. She felt that she would be able find out the truth about Dinno’s survival status. During the week following his purported death, Nilia drove endlessly through every street and alley of the affluent neighborhoods, hillside communities, barrios, ghettos, and gated communities of the Los Angeles basin. Confident in her belief that she would find Dinno, she constantly cruised the several hundred miles of interconnecting freeways that serve as clogged arteries for the desperately ill megapolis. At one point during her search, she was nearly killed when several bullets struck the windshield of her car as she drove along the 118 Freeway. The shooter was a man in his 30’s who was driving an older model pickup truck while high on methamphetamine. Nilia caught a glimpse of his contorted blistered face as he drove off at nearly 100 mph. For an instant she had feared for her own life but soon regained her composure and once again worried about what it would take to resurrect Dinno into the world of the living.

seventeen

The newborn’s cry was unmistakably healthy and strong. Dinno’s sense of déjà vu at the sight of the baby girl (who carries an uncanny resemblance to his own baby pictures) was an affirmation of life and his ability to procreate beyond his means. The young mother was visibly exhausted after a painful thirty-hour labor that had transpired without any serious complications. She would love, care, protect, and raise her child to become an active participant in the world, intuitively knowing that the biological father (not simply a disengaged sperm donor, but a man whose creative spirit was often shared among his progeny via a dynamic set of “creativity genes”) would not be in constant attendance for daily family activities but would instead, provide his own form of love from afar and offer an intricate legacy of artistic presence. Mother (soon-to-be Wife #6) and Daughter #11, would be welcomed into the inner circle of ex-wives, siblings, nephews, and nieces as full members of Dinno’s extended family.

Dinno noticed that the sweet child was fully cognizant of her own existence as he kissed her on the forehead. The beautiful and courageous mother was smiling deliriously as he kissed her cheek and stroked her indigenous-dominant mestiza long straight black hair. They were both looking forward to meeting again in Las Vegas next month for the fifteen-minute wedding ceremony at Lady Luck Chapel where they would exchange their marriage vows, kiss, and then spend a fun-loving weekend together in a nearby off-the-strip motel room (Daughter #11 would be cared for by Ex-Wife #5 during their brief honeymoon). He walked away discreetly from the delivery room and moved away from the hospital quiet zone where he could laugh, sing, and pray aloud as he headed towards the familiar skyline of downtown Los Angeles. Wearing a black leather jacket, blue denim pants, and steel-toed boots, he blended easily into his natural habitat of the busy city streets. Within the next few hours, Dinno would remind everyone (and be reminded) that life is cheap and that death can be cheated by anyone who flirts with dangerous ideas.

eighteen

The attacks came without warning. Six Predator drones fired many dozen rockets that destroyed buildings, freeway bridges, entire Los Angeles neighborhoods, and numerous popu­lar gathering places. Nearly 54,000 people were killed in a single day as a result of the multiple explosions. More than twice that number would surely die of leukemia and other forms of cancer from being exposed to the depleted uranium that was delivered by the sophisticated warheads. It wasn’t the first time that an American city had been targeted in recent months, nor was the violence equal to the ever increasing effects of natural disasters such as floods, fires, earthquakes, and viral plagues. The attacks were in accordance with new executive security measures and although such internal warfare violated the Declaration of Human Rights, there was no possibility of any international complaint or countermeasure. Most people in the United States were unaffected and the flow of money between consumers and corporations actually increased to reflect the broad approval of eliminating dissent, subjugating undesirables, and providing the opportunity to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure through publicly funded emergency redevelopment.

One rocket specifically targeted a small house near Echo Park Lake that was widely recognized as Dinno’s last known place of residence. Several bodies were pulled from the rubble and identified in postmortem reports as young males, possibly day laborers, who had found the unoccupied place to be a suitable location to hide from increased anti-immigration enforcement sweeps. The location was sealed off with a chain link fence bearing a placard: U.S. Property.

nineteen

Nilia was smoking an unfiltered cigarette as she waited impatiently and excitedly for Dinno to arrive at the rear entrance of the FM radio station. The Lasting Aghast Show would begin its live broadcast shortly and Dinno would be the featured guest during the opening minutes. Nilia was intent on interviewing him in a manner that would generate witticisms, brilliant observations, and a public mea culpa (a necessary step for the rehabilitation of his career and possibly to save his life from further attacks). Dinno walked off the street looking very much like a stylish grand­father in his simple (yet elegant) Hugo Boss blue three-button suit, with white v-neck tee shirt, and white shoes. Nilia withheld her desire to slap his face as she kissed his lips and led him by the hand into the recording booth in time to put on headphones, adjust the microphones, test the volume levels, and watch the digital timer count down to zero followed by the 15-second musical introduction. The green light switched on signaling that they were now on the air.

“Welcome everyone. Our guest, Dinno, has agreed to explain the circumstances that have surrounded his confusing vanishing act. I’m happy to announce that his solo exhibition of new mixed media works will be presented next month at Nethers + Mixum Gallery. His autobiography, Dinno!, will be published in several languages to accompany the Coral Snake World Tour of his photographs and lectures. Now, Dinno, we’ve all been wondering, where has the man, the artist, the enigmatic icon been?,” asked Nilia in a farcically commercialized voice.

“Hello, Nilia, happy to be here. There is always an answer to any riddle. Mass hypno­sis and mass hysteria are the dual protagonists to my enduring absence. I was here all along,” giggled Dinno as he looked at the loosened top red button of Nilia’s blouse.

“It was rumored, reported, documented, that you were seen jumping to your death in front of a speeding train,” Nilia slapped Dinno’s wrist.

“This collective dream makes for great wish fulfillment but I’m dreadfully afraid of trains because they remind me of snakes, and snakes represent venom, and it is a toxic sense of superiority that has entered the bloodstream of our supposed leaders. It could be that a wrecked train travels on a fixed track that leads to perdition. No, I didn’t jump,” said Dinno.

“Many people are blaming you for the strangely popular sightings of indefinable angels. Quasi-religious events are taking place throughout the country (with catastrophic consequences). Are you a member of the Cult of the Angel? Could it be that you are using advanced digital image projectors to manipulate the belief systems of an infinitely malleable public?,” Nilia noticed that Dinno was slowly squeezing the trigger of a semiautomatic pistol (Glock 33, .357 magnum) that he was now holding in his hand.

“We are in the midst of the 21st Century Dark Age. Wars are fought for despicable rulers. Ignorance is valued over knowledge. Human life is worthless in the eyes of the powerful. The rest of us are better off blind. In other words, Nilia, love doesn’t conquer all,” Dinno smiled slyly.

Nilia was taken aback when she suddenly saw a small angel dancing frenetically above Dinno’s head. The angel plunged its sharp ephemeral claws into Dinno’s unseeing eyes and repeatedly pierced his genitals with a golden spear. Dinno vomited a pool of fiery blood, unable to speak, he fell to the floor as he shot several rounds that struck the angel’s misty face. Nilia screamed in terror as the angel scraped her shoulder with its silky wing. An infinite expanse of heavenly blue waves filled Nilia’s mind as the angel licked her ears and breasts lustfully with its forked tongue. A nearly airless voice whispered into the microphone for all to hear clearly:

… Go forth blindly until you have reached your destiny. Do not see what is before you. Accept your fate. Pick up the gun, the knife, the bomb, and embrace revolution. The void will set you free…

©2006, Harry Gamboa Jr.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Harry Gamboa Jr. is an artist and author. He co-founded Asco (Spanish for “nausea”; 1972-1987), the East L.A. conceptual-performance art group. He is a member of the faculty at California Institute of the Arts, Program in Photography and Media. His website is www.harrygamboajr.com.