titulo

Palabras Errantes Latin American Literature in Translation

peephole
The Peephole

By Abdón Ubidia. Translated by Alan Williams.

español

The door was tall and dark. The wood was rough. The panels were rectangular, the colour aged artificially. And in the centre, the peephole: a tiny chrome-plated tube with a lens at one end: a tiny wide-angle lens, which took in part of the staircase and both of the neighbouring apartments’ doors. The door opened onto the living room.

I was still in bed. The morning light crept in between the curtains and almost fell on a half-open closet, where it disappeared. Still half asleep, I thought I heard something on the staircase. Was it a growl? No. It wasn’t a growl exactly. I got up, left the bedroom and moved cautiously along the narrow corridor. I arrived at the living room. An odour of damp earth, of something hidden, seemed to be seeping in from beneath the door. My heart was hammering like crazy. Again, I thought I heard the strange growl, or whatever that was. I drew in a deep breath and held it. I had a method for controlling my rapid heartbeat. I would suck in a huge gulp of air and hold it so that my chest expanded, giving my heart more room to calm down. It was like moving a wild animal from a cramped cage to a larger one. Warily, I approached the door and looked through the peephole. As I moved away from the door, I tried to scream. I didn’t make a single sound. Only a gesture, an expression of horror. That Thing – whatever it was on the other side of the door – wanted to get in. Would the door hold out? I retraced my steps, looking for Eva. She was gone. I ran to one of the windows, and tried to open it; I couldn’t. I tried to scream – but I had no voice. I understood that it was a dream. But understanding never changes anything. One is in the dream and the dream is reality. I resorted to all the usual tricks, trying to do what one does in these situations: escape, which is to say wake up. I violently bit my lips; I dug my nails into my flesh. But I didn’t bleed. I didn’t feel pain. All the while, That Thing wanted to open the door, and was by now shaking it furiously. I looked for Eva. She was gone. I screamed her name – but I had no voice. I understood my helplessness. With my back to the corridor wall, I slowly let myself sink down. The corridor was in darkness. I was alone. I don’t know if I cried. Perhaps I did. One of those lucid moments that occur when one is beaten must have told me it was like having returned to childhood. That in a dream, one is as defenceless as a child. That to be in a dream is to be in childhood. In the kingdom of the vague, the hazy, the incomprehensible. And even, at times, of horror. I tried to wake up again; I couldn’t. I must have remembered myself as a child on a distant afternoon, when I found myself alone at home. I must have felt the same terror. And pitifully, just as I had done then, I crawled into a corner as the door creaked and that pungent odour seemed to worsen. What did it look like? What was it? That Thing I saw through the peephole. I couldn’t say for sure. I couldn’t even describe it. But I do remember that it-was-not-like-us. An awful premonition shook me. And Eva? What had happened to her? Perhaps she went to the shops, I told myself, and I ran to the window. Sure enough, two floors below, there she was, bringing up the groceries for breakfast. The same tranquil, calm face as always. The same short steps as always. I tried to open the window; I wasn’t able to. I tried to smash the glass; I couldn’t. I tried to shout, to warn her – but I had no voice. She was two floors below and coming up. Then I remember finding myself – and there is no sense in lying – desperately struggling, in the haze of the nightmare, to open the door to That Thing that wanted to enter; that’s right, now I was trying to open the door, straining at it over and over again, over and over again, as everything began spinning, slowly spinning around me, and the door faded away, and the room faded away, and the light faded into another light, and the contours of the room began to emerge from the semi-darkness, a painting, a television set, the edge of the closet door, the dim patch of light from the window and, by my side, the slow, steady breathing of Eva, who was in a deep and peaceful sleep. I didn’t want to wake her. ‘Let her sleep, let her sleep,’ I told myself as I tried to keep my eyes wide-open in the semi-darkness. And not for fear of returning to that place from where, moments ago, I had been able to escape. That wasn’t the reason. On the contrary, I wanted to remain awake so as to think about the nightmare, to analyse it, to unravel, full of hope, its hidden meaning. Undoubtedly, I had experienced a profound change, deep within myself. I who, as a young child, was once frightened; I who – as a man now – was once afraid and fled; I who, in an attempt to save my life, once lost it forever to remorse and sorrow. Had I now served my sentence? Had I finished paying my debt? Was I finally deep-down starting to become a different person? One thing was certain: in the nightmare, in the eye of the vertiginous vortex of horror, I was able to confront my fear, my great fear from the past. Had I finally changed? Was I finally a different person? Yes, I told myself, I really am a different person. Perhaps it was the years, perhaps it was love. It must have been. It had to be. By my side slept Eva, peacefully, sweetly. Nothing nor nobody threatened her from within her dreams.

peephole

Image by Russ Thompson, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

LA MIRILLA

La puerta era alta y oscura. La madera tosca. Los paneles rectangulares, el color envejecido artificialmente. Y en el centro, la mirilla: un diminuto tubo cromado con un lente al fondo: un diminuto gran angular que abarcaba parte de la escalera y las dos puertas de los departamentos vecinos. Esa puerta se abría a la sala.

Yo estaba aún acostado. La luz de la mañana se colaba por entre las cortinas e iba a proyectarse contra el closet entreabierto. Allí se perdía. Todavía ganado por el sueño creí oír algo por el lado de la escalera. ¿Fue un gruñido? No. No fue exactamente un gruñido. Me levanté. Salí. Me deslicé por el estrecho pasillo. Llegué a la sala. Un olor a tierra húmeda, a cosa guardada, parecía meterse por debajo de la puerta. El corazón se me agitó como enloquecido. Nuevamente creí escuchar el gruñido extraño o lo que fuera aquello. Aspiré profundamente y contuve la respiración. Yo tenía un método para controlar mis taquicardias. Aspiraba una enorme bocanada de aire y contenía la respiración de manera que en el tórax expandido el corazón tuviera más sitio para calmarse. Como pasar a una fiera de una jaula estrecha a una mayor. Cautelosamente llegué a la puerta y vi por la mirilla. Quise gritar al tiempo que me apartaba de la mirilla. Ni un solo sonido salió de mí. Solamente fue el gesto, el ademán del horror. Eso. Aquello que estaba del otro lado de la puerta intentaba entrar. ¿Resistiría la puerta? Volví sobre mis pasos. Busqué a Eva. No estaba. Corrí hacia una de las ventanas. Intenté abrirla. No pude. Quise gritar. No tenía voz. Comprendí que era un sueño. Pero el comprender nunca cambia las cosas. Uno está dentro del sueño y el sueño es su realidad. Recurrí a las argucias de siempre. Hacer lo que se hace en esos casos: huir, quiero decir: despertarme. Me mordí furiosamente los labios, hinqué las uñas en mi carne. No sangré. No sentí dolor. Entre tanto Eso quería abrir la puerta. Y ahora la sacudía con furia. Busqué a Eva. No estaba. La llamé a gritos. Y no tenía voz. Comprendí mi desamparo. Lentamente me dejé caer. Tenía la pared del pasillo a mis espaldas. El pasillo estaba en sombras. Estaba solo. No sé si lloré. Quizá. Una de esas nítidas iluminaciones que nos dejan las derrotas me habrá dicho que era como haber retornado a la infancia. Que uno está en un sueño tan indefenso como en la infancia. Que estar dentro de un sueño es estar en la infancia. En el reino de lo vago, de lo blando, lo incomprensible. Del horror, a veces. Intenté despertarme nuevamente. No lo conseguí. Debí recordar al niño que fui en una lejana tarde, cuando me descubrí solo en casa. Debí sentir el mismo pavor. Penosamente, como en aquella vez, me arrastré hacia un rincón mientras la puerta crujía y ese olor pungente parecía crecer. ¿Cómo era eso? ¿Qué era eso? ¿Eso que vi a través de la mirilla? A ciencia cierta no lo sé. No pudiera describirlo. Pero recuerdo que no‑era‑como‑nosotros. Un atroz presentimiento me sacudió. ¿Y Eva? ¿Qué había pasado con ella? Tal vez fue a la tienda, me dije. Corrí hacia la ventana. En efecto, dos pisos más abajo ella venía con las compras para el desayuno. El mismo rostro tranquilo, calmo de siempre. Los mismos pasos menudos de siempre. Quise abrir la ventana. No pude hacerlo. Quise romper el vidrio. No lo conseguí. Quise gritarle, advertirle y no tenía voz. Dos pisos más abajo ella venía. Entonces recuerdo ―y no tiene objeto mentir― que me encontré forcejeando locamente, en la blandura de la pesadilla, para abrir la puerta a Eso que quería entrar; lo digo bien, ahora para abrir la puerta, forcejeando una y otra vez, una y otra vez, en tanto que todo empezaba a dar vueltas, lentas vueltas en torno a mí, y la puerta se iba diluyendo, y la sala se iba diluyendo, y la luz se iba diluyendo en otra luz, y los objetos, los perfiles del dormitorio empezaban a emerger en la penumbra, el cuadro allí, el televisor allá, el borde de la puerta del closet allá, la mancha difusa de la ventana allá y, a mi lado, la respiración pausada, tranquila de Eva que dormía un sueño profundo y manso. No quise despertarla. «Dejarla dormir, dejarla dormir», me dije mientras trataba de permanecer con los ojos muy abiertos en la penumbra. Y no era por el temor de volver al sitio de donde, un instante atrás, había podido salir. No era por eso. Todo lo contrario. Quería estar despierto para pensar en lo mismo. Para recapitular la pesadilla. Para desentrañar, esperanzado, su sentido oculto. Decididamente, algo había cambiado en lo profundo, en lo íntimo mío. Yo que una vez, muy niño aún, temí. Yo que una vez ―hombre ya― tuve miedo y hui. Yo que una vez, por salvar mi vida, la perdí para siempre entre el remordimiento y la pesadumbre ¿había cumplido ya mi condena?, ¿había acabado de pagar mi deuda? ¿Empezaba en lo profundo a ser otro al fin? Una cosa era cierta: en la pesadilla en el vórtice más vertiginoso del horror, pude enfrentar mi miedo, mi gran miedo de esa vez. ¿Había cambiado al fin? ¿Era otro al fin? Sí, me dije, en verdad soy otro. Tal vez los años, tal vez el amor. Debía ser así. Tenía que ser así. A mi lado, Eva dormía tranquila, dulcemente. En sus sueños nada ni nadie la amenazaban desde adentro.

© Abdón Ubidia

Translation © Alan Williams, 2016

Abdón Ubidia (Quito, 1944) is a writer and editor. He has published the short-story collections: *Bajo el mismo extraño cielo* (Bogotá, 1979), *Divertinventos* (México, 1989), *El palacio de los espejos* (Quito, 1996), *La escala humana* (Quito, 2009) and *Tiempo* (Quito, 2015); the novels: *Ciudad de invierno* (Quito, 1979), *Sueño de Lobos* (Quito, 1986), *La Madriguera* (Quito, 2004), which was a finalist for the Rómulo Gallegos prize; and the essay collections: *Referentes* (Quito, 2000), *Celebración de los libros* (Quito, 2006) and *La aventura amorosa y sus personajes* (Quito, 2011). His work has been translated into English, French, German, Italian, Russian and Greek. In 2012 he was awarded the Eugenio Espejo National Prize by the Ecuadorean President’s Office for his contribution to literature.

Alan Williams’ interest in all things Latin American grew from his time living and working in Argentina and Bolivia. On returning to London, he embarked on a degree in Latin American Studies, and started working with the Latin American Disabled People’s Project. He spends his free time reading and translating.

Share Button

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *