titulo

Palabras Errantes Latin American Literature in Translation

Palabras Errantes
The Creature from 1985

By Karen Chacek. Translated by Slava Faybysh.

en español

Mama hated being woken up at night. And it wasn’t because she had to wake up early to go to work. It’s just that if you woke her up, she could never get back to sleep—that scared her as much as it scared me, or maybe even more.

I figured it out the night the creature attacked me. It’s lived with us ever since the earthquake. Or at least, it was during that month that I first noticed it. We weren’t allowed to mention it, though—Papa forbade me to talk about the earthquake…. And the thing is, ever since that morning when the earth shook the building as if it were alive, and the kitchen tiles came flying off, and the walls got all cracked, Mama began to sleep in sweatpants, clutching the plastic bag in which she kept our passports.

The night of the attack, I had spent almost an hour standing in front of their bed. It was stiflingly hot in the room. Mama and Papa were snoring loudly and their bad breath made the walls sweat yellow drops. I watched them, angrily and with a bit of envy—I wish I’d been able to sleep like that!

The few minutes it took me to gather up the courage to take a step forward seemed endless. Mama suddenly opened her eyes and I noticed right away how relieved she was that it was me standing in front of her and not….

“Ma, I can’t sleep.”

She looked at me for a long time without saying a word. Finally, she got up, dragged me to the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face. Then, grabbing me by the hand, she took me to my room and laid me down to sleep.

Mama walked resolutely towards the light switch by the door.

“Ma, the creature only appears when the light is off.” My voice cracked like it was made of ice. Mama hesitated for a second, and then, with a flick of her finger, she turned the switch off.

I saw the look of terror on her face when she left us in the half-light. She was staring at the edge of the window where the creature always stopped to look at me. Then she lowered her eyelids and looked at me with closed eyes so she could lie, “you see? There’s nothing here. Nothing at all.”

She left the room, leaving me at the mercy of the creature, which had just become invisible because of her. Now it could attack me at will. And it did.

Twenty seven years later, I’m the only one left in the apartment. Nights when I can’t sleep, I sneak into neighboring apartments and watch the children sleeping there. The creature doesn’t enter their bedrooms when I’m there. And if they get startled when they see me, I say to them in a low voice, “There’s nothing here. Nothing at all.”

LA CRIATURA DEL 85

Mamá odiaba que la despertara en las noches. Y no era porque tuviera que levantarse temprano para ir a trabajar; tenía que ver con que después de que la despertaba ella no se podía volver a dormir: hacerlo le daba tanto o más miedo que a mí.

Aquello lo comprendí la noche que la criatura me atacó. Vivía con nosotros desde el mes del terremoto. Yo, al menos, empecé a verla a partir de entonces. Pero a nadie podía decírselo: Papá me tenía prohibido hablar del terremoto… Y es que después de esa mañana en que la tierra viva sacudió el edificio y los azulejos de la cocina salieron volando y las paredes de casa se llenaron de grietas, Mamá empezó a dormir en ropa deportiva, abrazada a la bolsa de plástico en la que guardaba los pasaportes.

La noche del ataque, yo había pasado casi una hora parada frente a su cama. Hacía un calor pegajoso en el cuarto. Mamá y Papá roncaban ruidosos y su aliento corrosivo hacía que las paredes sudaran gotas amarillas. Yo los miraba con rabia y un algo de envidia, ¡Deseaba tanto poder dormir como ellos!

Tardé minutos que parecían inacabables en hacerme de valor y animarme a dar un paso adelante. Mamá abrió los ojos de golpe y noté de inmediato lo mucho que le alivió ver que era yo quién estaba frente a ella y no…

—Má, no puedo dormir.

Ella me miró largo rato sin decir palabra. Luego se levantó de la cama y me llevó a rastras al baño. Ahí me mojó la cara con agua helada. Después me agarró de la mano, me condujo a mi cuarto y me acostó en la cama.

Mamá caminó decidida hasta el interruptor de la entrada.

—Má, la criatura sólo aparece con la luz apagada.

La voz se me quebró como si fuera un palillo de hielo. Mamá dudó un instante y a un golpe de dedo bajó la clavija.

Yo la vi, vi su cara de espanto al dejarnos en la penumbra: se quedó viendo fijo hacia un costado de la ventana, ahí donde la criatura siempre se detenía a observarme. Luego dejó caer los párpados y me miró con los ojos cerrados para poder mentirme:

—¿Ves? Aquí no hay nada. ¡Nada!

Se marchó del cuarto y me dejó a merced de la criatura, que gracias a mamá esa noche acababa de hacerse del talento de la invisibilidad. Ahora podía atacarme a placer. Lo hizo.

Veintisiete años después, sólo yo vivo en el departamento. Las noches en que no consigo dormir, me escabullo a los departamentos vecinos y velo el sueño de los niños que habitan el edificio. Cuando yo estoy la criatura no entra a sus recámaras. Y si ellos abren los ojos y se sobresaltan al verme, les repito en voz baja: “Aquí no hay nada. ¡Nada!”

* Karen Chacek in an inhabitant of parallel universes and story-worlds. She has published short stories, travel and children’s books and has won all the literary prizes she has never entered. A freelancer by vocation, she earns her living doing what she loves the most: creating stories. She loves long walks in public parks, cloudy skies, insects, cats, flowers and underground passages.

* Slava Faybysh is a freelance translator and editor based in NYC. He studied Russian and Spanish at Oberlin College and is currently pursuing a Certificate in Spanish Translation from Hunter College. He also draws silly pictures sometimes.

 

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