The Domain of the Others

During the tremulous course of the dream, he heard the phone ring. The phone sounded sharp, with a painful insistence, as if it were alive, like a captured animal, but conscious. He tried to sit up–to do more was impossible–as the paralysis of his semi-vigilance made his limbs stiff. In the distance, he could see the distorted size of the furniture, the nebulous representation of the dream. When he finally woke up, everything was quiet, submerged in an abysmal tranquility, almost physical.

As always, he woke up at the same time. The liquid cone of the shower seemed to rid him of the lingering ghosts in the night, ungraspable wings of bats that somehow persevered, diagonally, in the sudden clarity of the day. While he was eating breakfast, he remembered the distant ringing of the telephone, the dream, the paralysis, and the scattered arrangement of the furniture in his fitful sleep; surprised, with a piece of bread in his hand and a napkin still hanging from his waist, he approached the telephone, sensed it was vibrating, lying in wait, and imagined that it was the palpable evidence of something that summarily watched and imprisoned the entire city.

He finished eating breakfast while listening to the third news bulletin on the radio. To him, everything acquired an unfamiliar, ominous slant. The constraints of dawn tended to poison the atmosphere, provided a sense of warning to the voice on the radio; but there was another undesired element: that simultaneity between his state of desire and that which the radio announcer alluded to when broadcasting dispatches of national events. He still had time to visualize, that is, to confirm the early news reports on television before nine o’clock in the morning.

The thousands of incidents at the office ended up erasing from his mind the troubling phone call which had marked the dawn of that day. He reviewed the minutes and the many projects under contract, made several phone calls, and ate lunch with Beatriz in the restaurant in the shopping mall on the corner, at which time she showed him several handkerchiefs she had bought; he didn’t like the color or the design, which looked like enormous flaming butterflies or peering cat’s eyes.

In the afternoon he went to the party headquarters. Everything was normal, very normal, and still he sensed that something was wrong, and he could smell the bad odor of treachery in the air. He felt that he wasn’t the only one who guessed that something, still an embryo, or perhaps about to take on human form, barely concealed, was poisoning the atmosphere, threatening to absurdly rescind that which had been achieved so carefully: this peace, this balance, this truce in a reality, like that of this country, increasingly more difficult, more fragile.

That night in the bar he spoke to Beatriz about his misgivings. She listened attentively, but, as always, she didn’t place much importance on what he was saying. She was accustomed to absorbing what he said with indifference, allowing him to speak while looking at him with her mouth half-open, as if his words were sinking into the sweet opening between her lips; more than anything, she was on alert for other strange subject matters–for example, the effect of her dress, which she had bought at a friend’s boutique that afternoon–or expecting an impending kiss.

When he arrived at his empty apartment, he relished the taste of his usual cocktails. He watched the newscasts on the different channels, switching from one to another because they were all being broadcast at practically the same time. He listened to the eleven o’clock and twelve o’clock news bulletins on the radio. The night progressed through the midst of truncated profiles, agonizing shadows, the perception of someone being whipped repeatedly somewhere, and a mixture of soft moans and sinister mutterings. Later that night he fell into a deep sleep, descending into a completely black stillness.

At dawn he heard the sound again. The telephone was ringing far away in the dark, formless distance. He tried to move, but he couldn’t. Finally, he made a monumental effort, and suddenly opened his mouth. He woke up sweating, silence enveloping the room; the telephone, located in a corner, was waiting quietly, silent, vigilant. He was unable to sleep for the rest of the night, attached, like a crust of skin, to the coldness or moisture of the bed sheets. The recurring, although imaginary, telephone call in the middle of the night, heard in the depths of his slumber, acquired an unprecedented density; the intrusion of other people’s terror into his tranquil life. He knew what those phone calls could mean, at that hour, if they were real. But he could be calm, because everything was normal, very normal; the terror, the real terror was on the other side of the walls, submerged in the dark bowels of the night, beyond the windows.

The next day was the same as the others, at least superficially: minutes, contracts, lunch at work, the settlement of negotiations with colleagues at the firm. The newspapers, nevertheless, were hatching dark premonitions. He, too, closely scrutinizing the fine print at the bottom of the new contracts and attentive to the highs and lows of the stock market, was finding concealed alterations: subtle evidence of something embryonic, something unforeseen and that, nevertheless, monstrous as it must be, existed. Everything seemed to become infected with anxiety or alarm.

The day was darkened by shadows, as if debased by the parallel route of another secret journey; an imperceptible day, but nonetheless, progressing, programmed in hidden levels. He detected its arrival almost on his skin, and sensed the force of another reality in waiting: the people, elusive; the colleagues, engrossed; the city in the distance, diverse; there were symptoms everywhere suggesting that what was hateful, unacceptable, the disgrace that one always wanted to avoid, was nearby, immediate, recognizable in a secret language or perverse designation, its face or presence already seen among many other masks.

Incapable of confronting his fears alone, he talked about them in a loud voice at the party headquarters. He also exchanged views with Gómez, a member of the executive committee. Gómez looked at him inquisitively, assuring him there was nothing to worry about: the party was continuing to collaborate with the government and helping to put down the subversives. So, everything was normal: death, the attacks at dawn, the disappeared, the unintelligible information regarding supposed tortures of those who didn’t want to support the democratic program of the party, the ones who were always mistaken, and the present-day enemies, of course. He couldn’t relieve his uneasiness. Someone, somewhere, was becoming greedy, breaking every agreement, trampling on every promise, and concentrating as much power as possible on themselves, someone merciless, unknown, without a face.

That night, Beatriz didn’t come for their usual appointment at the bar. He had a dark, uneasy feeling, like resentment. Without realizing it, he thought about the word betrayal, but not because of Beatriz; in her case, he told himself, it was merely desertion, perhaps a tactical withdrawal. She telephoned, saying she was unavailable, and alluded to probably going on vacation in the next few days. Beatriz had nothing to do with his situation, but to the extent that everyone, in turn, in an inaccessible manner, was involved, she was also. The word betrayal, in the way he had invoked it, implied a more general feeling, a direct reference, but it wasn’t enough to set the limits of why, the final thoughtless reason the word returned, reiterated, incisive.

On his way back home, he passed by the office to pick up some mail. He found a note from his secretary saying that someone from the Department of the Interior had tried unsuccessfully to contact him. He felt tense driving home and didn’t take the usual streets. He always understood that there was a reality or a system superimposed on those in the city who were in transit, a multitude of signs placed at the margin of all perception, because they signaled, with each step, at the farthest crossroads, the possible and certain occurrence of death; an exact replica of another uninhabited city, but yes, in movement, changeable, reverberating with howls, with searching headlights projecting from the automobiles. This time, as never before, he had a more real, pressing awareness of the secret formation of transit–one more among the many the metropolis seemed to pit against him–and the unexplained, varied configurations of the city, the boundless re-compositions of its chaos.

Later, in his apartment, he prepared himself a double whiskey. He ate without feeling hungry and watched the nighttime newscasts closely. He lay down on the bed with the afternoon newspaper, ready to once again tolerate the perverse repetition of insomnia. It was one of those oppressive nights that pretends to devour everything, even dreams, in its empty silence. When he finally fell asleep, his sleep was tortuous, accelerated, an almost sad abnormality that physically hurt him. What he dreamed was devastingly clear: he was looking at himself lying on the floor of an attic; the street, on which tanks were crossing, was sharply defined; small squads of soldiers were knocking down doors; and, although gun shots weren’t heard, he imagined them discharging in the night when he saw the flashes. Somewhere, someone was being beaten, elusive shadows were fleeing along the rooftops, and a siren was blaring in the distance, its noise enveloping the entire city like a general clamor, an anguished call. He was seeing it all so clearly that he sensed his dream was transcending itself and adversely affecting, perverse as it was, reality. He dreamed that someone was climbing up the stairs; lying up there in the attic he had the exaggerated feeling that someone was breaking down the door with blows from a rifle butt.

Now, he’s been awakened by the abrupt phone call. At night, the telephone rings and from inside the apartment he can hear the scream of terror that is always lingering on the other side of the walls. The man stands up and thinks that upon picking up the ringing, or relentlessly howling, telephone receiver, he’ll receive a cold, deadly bite, poisonous. The man slowly moves forward in halting, spasmodic twists, in a space outside of time, where he knows, understands, that now the phone call is for him, only for him, and also the horror, the fear, the brutal assault that pierces the siege of wind and shatters the fragile windows.

Bios

Francisco Proaño Arandi

Francisco Proaño Arandi was born in Cuenca, Ecuador, in 1944. In 1982, he was awarded Segunda Mencion in the Plural Concurso Internacional de Cuentos in Mexico for his story “Oposición a la Magia,” and in 1984, the Jose Mejia Lequerica Premio Nacional del Municipio de Quito for his novel Antiguas Caras en el Espejo. He is the author of the additional novels Del Otro Lado de las Cosas (1993), and La Razón y El Presagio (2003); the short fiction collections Historias de Disecadores (1972), Oposición a la Magia (1986), La Doblez (1986), and Historias del País Fingido (2003); the poetry collection Poesías (1961); and the anthologies Cuentos: Antología (1995) and Perfil Inacabado (2004). His short fiction has appeared in anthologies in Ecuador, Germany, Cuba, Colombia, Spain, and Portugal. He has served as a diplomat representing the Embassy of Ecuador in Colombia (1972-1973), the former U.S.S.R. (1973-1977), Cuba (1980-1984), Yugoslavia (1990-1992), Nicaragua (1995-1997), Costa Rica (1997-2000), El Salvador (2004-2006), and Argentina (2006-present).

Harry Morales

Harry Morales is a Spanish literary translator whose translations include the work of the late Mario Benedetti, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Eugenio María de Hostos, Emir Rodríguez Monegal, Juan Rulfo, Alberto Ruy-Sánchez, Ilan Stavans, and Francisco Proaño Arandi, among many other distinguished Latin American writers. His work has been widely published in numerous anthologies, and has appeared in various journals, including Pequod, Quarterly West, Chicago Review, TriQuarterly, The Literary Review, AGNI, The Kenyon Review, Mid-American Review, ACM: Another Chicago Magazine, Mānoa, BOMB, WORLDVIEW, Puerto del Sol, The Iowa Review, Michigan Review, World Literature Today, and Hayden's Ferry Review, among others. His English translation of two verse collections by Mario Benedetti, Sólo Mientras Tanto: Poemas: 1948-1950 (Only in the Meantime: Poems: 1948-1950) and Poemas de la Oficina: 1953-1956 (Office Poems: 1953-1956), and a volume of stories, El Resto Es Selva y Otros Cuentos (The Rest is Jungle and Other Stories), are published by Host Publications.

Copyright (c) Francisco Proaño Arandi, 1986. English translation copyright (c) Harry Morales, 2002.