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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life

Serials

Muchedumbre
by Mauricio Montiel Figueiras

(continued from Cyber Corpse #8)

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Crowd
translated by Jen Hofer

(continued from Cyber Corpse #8)

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Sinopsis de la parte 4

Abel, que trabaja hasta tarde en la oficina, se ha quedado dormido con la cabeza apoyada en su escritorio; despierta para enfrentarse primero con la visión de un rostro en la ventana -un rostro de un recorte de periódico, el rostro de uno de los manifestantes asesinados en una demostración de hace siete años, una mujer que Abel llama María y cuya muerte conmemora año con año frente a una tumba que ha decidido que represente la de ella- y luego, al cabo de cabecear una vez más, con una voz ronca que dice su nombre. Abel sigue la voz hasta el elevador prohibido y sube al penúltimo piso del edificio, donde descubre a su colega más viejo atado a una silla, golpeado y sangrante, bañado por la luz de una vela que parpadea. Abel oye que alguien llama al elevador y se oculta tras un archivero; para su asombro se trata de su jefe, el señor Kane, que continúa torturando a su colega, golpeándolo con una porra e interrogándolo brutalmente en un intento por averiguar quiénes organizaron y participaron en la reciente huelga. Abel sale de su escondite, golpea al señor Kane y huye en el elevador, pero no antes de que el señor Kane lo vea y piense que ese intruso es demasiado familiar...


Parte 5


Al otro día, fingiendo un timbre nasal, Abel se reporta enfermo a la empresa desde el teléfono de la esquina. La secretaria que toma la llamada recibe su explicación en medio de un silencio salpicado de crujidos y voces que irrumpen en la línea y luego desaparecen; al fondo, muy al fondo, se escucha una pieza de Kurt Weill. Cuando Abel acaba de justificarse, la secretaria le recuerda con tono mecánico que el día le será descontado de la nómina y que deberá hablar con el señor Kane -que aún no ha llegado, algo en verdad inaudito- en el transcurso de la mañana. Antes de colgar, impelido por la imagen de un rostro hecho jirones, Abel pregunta por su colega más viejo. La respuesta, igualmente mecánica, tarda en atravesar el abismo de chasquidos y ráfagas musicales: nadie sabe nada de él, no se ha reportado, su tarjeta está intacta en el casillero, quizá también pescó una de esas gripes propias del empleado holgazán. Abel da las gracias y cuelga con un estornudo; la bata, el pijama y la ropa interior de algodón le son insuficientes dentro de la cabina convertida en témpano geométrico. Por varios minutos observa la calle: hay algo extraño en la multitud, algo ominoso además del luto impuesto por el alcalde en honor al policía muerto en el mitin de la plaza. Algo similar a una exigencia en las miradas que parecen dirigirse a él -sólo a él-, algo que se agita como una mancha contra un telón de periódicos y nieve, terca nieve que no ceja en su empeño de cubrir la ciudad.
     El resto de la mañana se concentra en las manos de Abel que no paran de tiritar mientras sintonizan diversas emisoras en la radio que, arrumbada en un rincón de la sala, arroja un fulgor de cráneo antiguo. En busca de una voz que explique la opresión que se ha instalado aun en el apartamento, en espera de una señal que elimine el temblor que ni tres tazas de té y dos frazadas han podido controlar, los dedos mueven el dial como si fuera el picaporte de una puerta hacia lo desconocido, la entrada al orbe secreto de la muchedumbre. Todos los noticieros que brotan de la bocina, envueltos en trozos de canciones que hacen pensar en los harapos de un limosnero, niegan la muerte de civiles durante la manifestación de la plaza, aplauden el heroísmo de los agentes involucrados, se preguntan por la identidad y el paradero del líder de ese "ridículo motín analfabeto" -en la memoria brilla una barba pequeña y puntiaguda, un índice extendido como para sentenciar la culpabilidad de la distancia-, subrayan que la quietud que se respira en las calles es posible gracias no sólo al duelo decretado por las autoridades sino también, y muy especialmente, al despliegue de elementos policiacos que han renunciado al calor de oficinas y delegaciones para vigilar que la ley se cumpla aun bajo la nieve que no nos deja en paz.
     Hacia el mediodía, sin embargo, Abel se topa con una estación que irrumpe en una esquina del cuadrante como si surgiera del éter. La voz del locutor, segada por golpes de estática, denota un trastorno y un cansancio extremos: el trastorno de quien se sabe condenado de antemano por lo que debe decir, el cansancio del insomne que al fondo de la noche tomó una última y desesperada decisión. Las estadísticas no oficiales, dice -susurra- el locutor, son elocuentes: treinta y tres manifestantes muertos en la plaza, incluidas varias mujeres y hasta un niño de cinco años, y sesenta y seis detenidos, repito, sesenta y seis detenidos y no cuarenta y tres como ayer anunciaban las noticias. Treinta y tres cuerpos que, según los rumores, han sido trasladados a una fosa común en las afueras de la ciudad; veintitrés manifestantes desaparecidos en el conteo oficial y repartidos seguramente en cuartos de interrogatorio. Familiares de algunas de las víctimas han llamado a esta emisora pidiendo información sobre los cadáveres, solicitando al público algo que Abel no alcanza a captar porque la frase queda inconclusa, un andrajo que pende en la sima radiofónica mientras el locutor tose y parece a punto de ahogarse y se oyen ruidos como de forcejeo -quizá una silla que cae, una porra que se estampa en una quijada y después derriba el micrófono- y la estación sale del aire y es sustituida por un borbotón de estática, un hueco que llenarán los tristes acordes de un piano, las gotas de una pieza de Weill integrándose a las aguas del silencio de donde se alzará el estribillo de una marca de whisky.
     La tarde llega con un estremecimiento de nubes que se untan a los ventanales más altos de la ciudad como un óleo furtivo. Luego de aplacar el hambre con un consomé y de intentar comunicarse inútilmente con el señor Kane -la junta a la que fue convocado con urgencia, responde la secretaria, se ha prolongado más de la cuenta-, Abel se mete a la ducha. Entre el vapor que diluye los contornos del baño, mientras soporta el castañeteo de la tubería, se ve de nuevo en la cabina telefónica de la esquina, marcando el número de la empresa en ese témpano ajeno al tráfago luctuoso de la multitud, aguardando la voz del señor Kane no tanto para justificarse como para murmurar ya sé quién eres, ya sé a qué dedicas tus ratos libres, ya sé que es muy fácil ser el verdugo ocasional, denme una porra y moveré el mundo. Se ve de nuevo mordiéndose los labios al oír las palabras mecánicas de la secretaria, haciendo un esfuerzo para que su furia -la furia de sabrá Dios cuántos años frente a una libreta de contabilidad- no pase de ser un vaho frenético que se estrella contra los cristales de la cabina, una áspera toalla que frota la piel hasta enrojecerla. Mientras se rasura ante el espejo, cuidando que el pulso no lo traicione, Abel concluye con un escalofrío que su rostro ya no le pertenece: los ojos exhaustos, la frente amplia, la nariz torcida, aun los vellos rubios que la navaja suprime, son parte sustancial de la muchedumbre. Son, por sí mismos, la muchedumbre: un cónclave de rasgos indiferenciados, un refugio de entidades anónimas.
     La sensación lo acompaña mientras se viste con el tácito uniforme de la empresa y afila el lápiz que va a dar al bolsillo interior del saco y bebe un sorbo de agua -el último que beberé de este vaso, piensa con nostalgia- y sale del departamento sin mirar atrás, imaginando el reacomodo de los átomos en los objetos que tardarán en acostumbrarse a su ausencia. A bordo del taxi que lo recoge, observa el gentío del atardecer y distingue su rostro ante las vitrinas, en cada ventanilla de autobús. ¿Qué pensará la multitud, se dice, al verse viajando agrupada en un solo taxi? El coche acelera y la urbe se vuelve un pálido tapiz surcado de estambres morenos.

     *

A la entrada del cementerio, como prólogo de la ceremonia que celebra desde hace siete años, Abel compra un ramo de flores -las más blancas, insiste- a la anciana que lo mira siempre con una mezcla de ternura y conmiseración. Sus ojos son el último reducto de la juventud: cierto brillo inquieto en las pupilas, cierto relámpago que ahuyenta la sombra de las pestañas, delatan a la muchacha que en algún instante se extravió en el laberinto de las várices y las arrugas. Obedeciendo un insólito impulso, Abel extiende una mano y acaricia la mejilla de la anciana. La reacción lo toma por sorpresa: el relámpago juvenil se esfuma y es sustituido por una nubosidad que crece con rapidez, oscureciendo el semblante de la florista que se levanta de su banco y empieza a farfullar en un idioma desdentado. Abel retrocede, alejándose de la andanada verbal que sube de volumen hasta ser una retahíla de insultos que lo escolta al cruzar el umbral del cementerio y perderse en una avenida donde la voz de la anciana se confunde con el rumor del aire entre los árboles desnudos, con el graznido de algún pájaro invisible.
     Bajo la nieve, los ángeles que custodian criptas y mausoleos parecen más lúgubres, de bordes más definidos, como si estuvieran a punto de echar a volar. La poca gente que vaga entre la blancura -algunas mujeres, hombres solitarios, un niño de la mano de su padre, todos vestidos de negro riguroso- permanece ajena a esa sensación de aleteo inminente, absorta en sus parcelas de aflicción donde no hay cabida para los copos que caen con una levedad de plumas celestiales. Abel alza la vista y capta una vibración en lo más alto de un eucalipto, algo semejante a un enorme batir de alas; imagina el rostro de un serafín, una máscara de mármol dominada por los ojos azules de la florista, antes de que un par de cuervos abandone su escondite. Piensa en el desconocido que cada año, al igual que él, cumple con un protocolo funerario que incluye tres rosas y una botella de coñac; piensa en los contadores de la empresa, inclinados sobre sus escritorios con una fatiga de aves miopes; piensa en el señor F., en el pico del señor F. hundido en su libreta como en un platón de alpiste matemático. Luego se cala el sombrero, empuña el ramo de flores y sigue los pasos de su rito personal: errar por senderos cada vez más desolados sin prisa, dejándose llevar por la cadencia de la caminata; detenerse ante las lápidas que atraigan su mirada en busca de inscripciones memorables; estudiar los rasgos de los dolientes hincados o sentados junto a las tumbas que también los acogerán en espera de la traición lacrimosa, del húmedo vislumbre que revele los mecanismos del recuerdo; atrapar con la lengua un copo de nieve y paladear el sabor del frío; interrumpir de cuando en cuando la marcha para gozar el silencio y asumirse como una hebra más en la mortaja de la quietud.
     "María, fiel esposa de Saúl, madre amantisima de Pablo." Sin saber por qué, Abel se siente ofendido por la errata en el epitafio de María. A diferencia de la primera vez en que se le antojó un buen augurio, la falta de acento en la palabra "amantísima" le parece ahora imperdonable, un descuido casi obsceno que nadie en siete años se ha dignado enmendar. ¿En qué habría estado pensando el hombre que cinceló esas líneas -apenas tres líneas- al toparse con la única esdrújula? ¿Habría consultado el papel donde naufragaba la letra de Saúl; habría existido, para no ir más lejos, ese pedazo de papel? ¿Qué habría opinado Saúl al descubrir el error; lo habría visto siquiera? ¿Y Pablo? ¿Qué edad tendría Pablo? ¿Usaría zapatos de charol, corbata de pajarita, o simplemente un uniforme escolar? ¿Con qué frecuencia visitaría a su madre sepultada bajo una ortografía dudosa? Mientras arranca los abrojos de la tumba, buscando un espacio para depositar su ofrenda floral, Abel recuerda el cuarto aniversario de la muerte de María, al hombre en silla de ruedas que podría ser Saúl o el señor F. y que era empujado por un sobrino. Recuerda el bigote ralo del paralítico, los sollozos que al principio se rehusaban a surgir como si el acento ausente de la lápida le obstruyera la laringe. Recuerda las preguntas del sobrino -¿de qué accidente hablaba?-, su propia negativa a responder y su posterior huida, justo cuando un golpe de viento helado le arrebata el sombrero y lo obliga a incorporarse.
     El sombrero rueda y se detiene al borde de una tumba abierta. Abel lo levanta pero antes de apartarse algo -una breve conmoción, un temblor de raíces- hace que su mirada se despeñe al fondo del abismo, a la penumbra donde brilla una masa informe. Una masa que despacio cobra contornos, dimensiones, hasta volverse una pila de huesos, una pirámide ósea coronada por varias calaveras en cuyas cuencas hierven sombras, larvas de impaciente sombra. Fosa común, piensa Abel, ignorando que la frase deja sus labios, y recuerda el siseo de una estación al salir del aire radiofónico. Y entonces revienta la voz a sus espaldas.
     -¿Abel? ¿Qué haces aquí?
     Primero llega el escalofrío: una corriente de hielo que envuelve al corazón como una promesa de infarto para luego llenar el resto del organismo con un goteo pertinaz. Después viene el hormigueo en la nuca, la sensación un tanto cómica de que el espinazo se ha convertido en perchero para estalactitas. Primero es la certeza de la petrificación total, la idea de un hombre que se integrará al ritmo de las estatuas y al que los sepultureros aprenderán a cuidar del polvo y las deyecciones de las aves. Después viene el espasmo muscular que hace que el cuerpo gire, el parpadeo con el que los ojos enfocan la tumba de María. Junto a la lápida -hasta ahora es posible notarlo- hay un florero del que sobresalen unos tallos. Junto al florero, el ramillete recién depositado destella como un manojo de cuchillos. Junto al ramo, de pie sobre la tumba, hay una silueta enfundada en ropas que parecen hechas de papel periódico, una silueta a todas luces femenina. Una mujer que no debe rebasar los treinta y dos, treinta y tres años. Una mujer de larga cabellera, cuyo rostro remite a un vestido fabricado con retazos cambiantes. Retazos de revistas. Retazos de facciones perdidas en el dédalo de la ciudad. Retazos de imaginación.
     -¿Qué haces aquí? -exige de nuevo la voz-. Vete. Aquí no sirves de nada.
     Los labios de la mujer permanecen sellados. Labios como de tierra, como de añejo pergamino. Tus labios, María. Por fin tus labios.
     Pero pronto esos labios no son más que dos hojas arrastradas por una brisa súbita, y, al cabo de una serie de rabiosos pestañeos, Abel debe aceptar que la mujer ha desaparecido.
     Queda el ramo de flores blancas sobre la blanca tumba, el florero con sus tallos. Queda flotando en el aire, como un acento ausente, un hilo de voz:
     -...de nada, aquí no sirves de nada...
     Queda allá en la distancia, entre los árboles lampiños, la intuición de una cabellera revuelta por la nieve a la que se agrega una segunda figura, un rostro cubierto de cifras azules. Queda la certidumbre de que esas figuras comienzan a reproducirse hasta poblar el cementerio de sombras hechas de periódicos. Queda correr, marcharse del silencio que preludia el desplome de la noche, advertir al atravesar la verja de pesado hierro que la florista ha cerrado su puesto y retirado su banco, sus várices, sus arrugas.
     Queda, sobre la acera, una rosa que nadie reclamará y que será la única luz cuando la oscuridad lo devore todo como un hocico insospechado.

     *


Quizá Abel nunca logre comprender por qué no lo sorprende el espectáculo que lo recibe al abrir la puerta del departamento y accionar el interruptor.
     Quizá desde que se encontraba junto a la tumba de María o incluso antes, desde que telefoneaba a la compañía, una fracción de su inconsciente esperaba el caos que la bombilla de la sala alumbra con desinterés.
     Quizá en una difusa pantalla mental se haya visto deambular por la vivienda vandalizada, levantando ropa rota a navajazos, evitando los trozos de cristal y vajilla que siembran el piso y los tapetes desgarrados, lamentándose al enfrentar su reflejo hecho añicos en el espejo del baño, recogiendo aquí la pata de una mesa y allá el relleno de un sofá, apilando los recortes que sobrevivieron a la violación de sus álbumes en un haz que va a parar a un rincón del dormitorio, sentándose al pie de la cama destripada con la mirada atenta a la menor agitación que pueda producir una silla que termine de derrumbarse, la caída de un papel desde lo alto del armario.
     Quizá por una esquina de la misma pantalla y con la misma violencia hayan desfilado las imágenes que ahora lo asaltan: tres hombres de rasgos ocultos por el ala de sus sombreros que destruyen todo lo que se cruza en su camino, tres pares de manos enguantadas que intentan arrancar a las cosas una confesión, algún dato comprometedor, mientras el señor Kane observa desde el umbral limpiándose con un pañuelo el sudor de la frente, llevándose de vez en vez los dedos a la nuca para palpar una gasa manchada de sangre seca, peinando sin quemarse el incendio que le corona el cráneo.
     Quizá, como en la libreta de contabilidad de un aciago demiurgo, ya hayan sido consignados sus siguientes movimientos: hurgar entre las ruinas del armario hasta dar con los billetes que acostumbra guardar para casos de emergencia; abandonar el apartamento cuidando de apagar las luces; echar como siempre doble cerrojo a la puerta ignorando las quejas del vecino, la voz del viudo con el que no volverá a toparse en el vestíbulo al regresar de la oficina y que exige una explicación del alboroto armado por cuatro hombres de traje, se lo juro; bajar lentamente las escaleras y salir del edificio sin que nadie más repare en él para perderse con paso de fantasma entre los gruesos copos de la noche.
     Quizá, sólo quizá, el letrero del hotel que interrumpe su caminata como una hemorragia de neón ya haya relampagueado en un sueño donde él empujaba las mismas puertas giratorias, firmaba el registro con el mismo nombre -A. Kane-, subía al mismo ascensor de reja, avanzaba por el mismo pasillo iluminado por bulbos macilentos y se hundía en la penumbra de la misma habitación con una fatiga ancestral, con la certeza de que en la sima lo estaría aguardando una cabellera peinada por la nieve y la muchedumbre.

     *


La diferencia es que ahora, en lugar de sucumbir a una especie de paulatino desprendimiento, en lugar de irse desgajando conforme recorre el foso del inconsciente, abre los ojos para descubrirse dentro de un onírico edificio que podría albergar oficinas similares a las de la empresa, una mole de concreto que imagina erguida en medio de la urbe con la contundencia de un silencio vertical. Está de pie frente a una ventana, viendo cómo los copos se organizan en hebras de una blanca melena que cubre la tarde. En una mano sostiene un lápiz con la punta ensangrentada y en la otra una página correspondiente al 31 de diciembre, arrancada al parecer de la agenda que la empresa obsequia a sus trabajadores cada fin de año y que permanece virgen -salvo por la consabida anotación de "Informe mensual"- hasta el fin de año siguiente. Por más que lo piensa no puede justificar la presencia de esos dos objetos; los mira, los palpa, los huele, se le antojan mágicos, de algún modo importantes, y por ello no los suelta: alguien debe habérselos encargado. Alguien -quizá la dueña de la voz que mana como un incierto venero del sueño. No los dejes, murmura la voz, son tu fortaleza: escritura y tiempo. La escritura -la verdadera, la única escritura- se ha practicado con sangre desde su origen y continuará practicándose así por los siglos de los siglos: el lápiz es tu quijada. El tiempo está aquí, ha llegado la hora, tu 31 de diciembre: borrón y cuenta nueva. Apártate de la ventana, demanda la voz, deslízate por el corredor sumido en la oscuridad. Toca las puertas y escucha cómo tras ellas palpita un orbe cancelado. Atiende al ascensor que zumba en el esófago del sueño, baja las escaleras y sal a la ciudad vacía, al erial vespertino: se ha disuelto la multitud. Que el aire frío te muerda los pulmones, que la soledad te envuelva con su manto. Que los cuervos apostados en cables y cornisas te remitan a un paraje del fin del mundo, a contadores con el pico hundido en las cifras de la tarde; que los ángeles de piedra que adornan varios edificios custodien este cementerio de la turba. Que cuando mires hacia arriba el cielo no te aplaste con su peso gris: voltea. Páginas, están nevando páginas, hojas arrancadas a miles de agendas y fechadas todas el 31 de diciembre; en cada una un lápiz ha garabateado "Informe final". Mira tu propia página: las mismas dos palabras escritas con sangre. Siguen nevando hojas, trozos de tiempo; que te rocen como plumas de aves al caer. ¿Recuerdas el ritual planeado en secreto hace unos años, la única explosión de rebeldía dentro de la empresa? ¿El último día de labores y los contadores dirigiéndose ordenadamente a las ventanas para deshojar sus agendas sobre la ciudad? ¿Las sanciones, los sueldos mutilados? ¿La calle convertida en un triunfo de papel? Ríndete al espectáculo de la tarde sembrada de páginas y comprende de una vez que la bitácora de la muchedumbre se escribe con sangre, que en toda cabellera se trenza la filigrana del tiempo. No busques más la quijada perdida porque ya cuelga de tu mano; ríndete a su firmeza.
     Y ahora, susurra la voz, despierta. Aquí no sirves de nada.
     Rinde, por Dios, tu informe final.

 
Continuará...
Synopsis of Part 4
     
Abel is working late at his office and has dozed off with his head on his desk; he awakens first to the vision of a face at the window - a face from a newspaper clipping, one of the protesters murdered at a demonstration seven years ago, a woman he calls Mary, whose death he commemorates every year at a grave he has decided will represent hers - and then, after dozing off once more, to the raspy voice of someone calling his name. He follows the voice into the forbidden elevator and climbs to the penultimate floor of the building, where he discovers his eldest colleague, tied to a chair, beaten and bleeding by the light of a flickering candle. He hears someone call the elevator and hides behind a filing cabinet; to his amazement, it is his boss, Mr. Kane, who arrives and begins torturing his colleague further, beating him with a club and interrogating him brutally in an attempt to find out who organized the recent strike, who attended it, and who showed interest in it. Abel leaps from his hiding place, knocks Mr. Kane down, and escapes into the elevator, but not before Mr. Kane sees him and realizes he recognizes that intruder from somewhere...
     


Part 5

Hours later, in the midst of his insomnia, Abel turns on the bedside lamp and sits up with the covers around him.
     He thinks he has perceived the sound of blows coming from the next apartment, a sound that makes him think of a club sinking deep into someone's flesh. He pricks up his ears: as a matter of fact, there it is again, that pounding, one two, one two, a syncopated anguish that speeds up the rhythm of his heart. After emptying, in a single gulp, the glass of water he always keeps on the night table, he starts to perform rapid mental operations - additions, subtractions, square roots - until his breathing normalizes. He recalls his neighbor then, an elderly man he runs into every day in the lobby when he comes home from work. He recalls his neighbor complaining about the dampness that infests his apartment, cursing the plague of cockroaches that he has not been able to eradicate, not even with insecticides and which - I swear, Mr. Abel, I swear it - seems to be the legacy his wife left him when she died seven years ago. Abel imagines him in the long night of old age, his slipper raised high, hunting down the bugs that slip between the furniture and the curtains and hide in the dresser that holds a few of his dead wife's belongings. He imagines him sitting in an armchair as dawn breaks, crying as he caresses a dusty dress and searches out the vermin.
     Abel pushes the covers aside and gets out of bed. In the kitchenette, as the glass fills under the tap, he notices his breath rising in vaporous clouds that hang in the atmosphere before they dissolve; he discovers that he's shivering, that the cold enveloping him is, more than anything, internal, an iciness that cinches his heart with the ferocity of a fist. He goes back to the bedroom, pulls a blanket over his shoulders, and turns to the wobbly chest of drawers that sits across from the bed like a rickety idol. He opens a drawer and extracts one of his many albums of newspaper clippings, that secret that he hides with a zeal befitting a voyeur more than a collector. Still shivering, he sits at the foot of his bed and begins to turn the pages of the album. He vaguely notices that the pounding in the neighboring apartment has finally stopped.
     The crowd casts its spell over him instantaneously, as it does each time he reads over his clippings: a kind of dizziness that spreads to stain everything around it, an ink smell that hurls him towards a new, sepia-bordered reality. Some nights he thought he recognized himself in one of the hundreds of tiny faces that populate streets, bridges, plazas, stadiums. He thought he saw himself shouting at a rally, raising a poster over a sea of heads, protesting before a row of impassive shields, receiving the impact of a club. He thought he perceived the silhouette of his arms reaching out a window in support of a protest in Iran, the flashing of his glasses in the commotion caused by a tsunami in Australia, the rush of his legs during a stampede of American racists, the uneasiness of his gaze in a line of striking workers in front of an early twentieth-century factory, his coattails in the photograph of the unknown man who, each year - as punctually as a crow - leaves three roses and a bottle of cognac on a famous writer's grave. He thought he heard, as he does now, a clamor that begins to rise up from the depths of the clippings, a roar that slowly reduces itself to a pair of implacable syllables: A-bel, A-bel, A-bel. It is this clangor that has him dazed by the time he reaches the page consecrated to Mary's portrait, to Mary's corpse like an eternal demand on the yellowish snow of oblivion, to Mary's blood become a second mane. It is this mixture of voices that accompanies him as he descends laboriously into a dream in which he is Mr. Kane, an executioner using a pencil to flagellate a shadow which is first Mary and then Mr. F. and then Abel himself and then nothing, the empty space occupied only by the breathing of the crowd.
     
     *

     
The next day, faking a stuffed nose, Abel calls in sick from the phone booth on the corner. The company secretary who takes the call listens to his explanation through a silence peppered with crackling noises and voices that break into the line and then disappear; in the background, far in the background, a Kurt Weill piece can be heard. When Abel's excuses come to an end, the secretary reminds him in a mechanical tone that the day will be discounted from his salary and that he should speak with Mr. Kane - who has not arrived yet, something truly unheard of - sometime during the morning. Before he hangs up, spurred on by the image of a face ripped to shreds, Abel asks after his eldest colleague. The answer, equally mechanical, takes a moment to cross the abyss filled with static and short bursts of music: no one knows anything about him, he has not reported for work, his timecard is intact in its slot, perhaps he, too, caught one of those flus so common among lazy employees. Abel thanks her and hangs up with a sneeze; his robe, pyjamas and cotton underclothes are no match for the phone booth, which has become a geometric igloo. He watches the street: there is something strange in the crowd, something ominous in addition to the mourning imposed by the mayor in honor of the policeman who died in the demonstration at the plaza. Something like a demand in the gazes that seem to be directed at him - only at him - something beginning to stir, like a stain against a curtain of newspapers and snow, the obstinate snow that does not loosen its hold over the city.
     The rest of the morning is summed up in the movement of Abel's hands, shivering ceaselessly as he flips through a series of different stations on his radio which, stowed away in a corner of the living room, gives off the bright sheen of an antique skull. Searching for a voice that might explain the oppression that has settled over everything, including his apartment, hoping for a signal that might get rid of the tremor that even three cups of tea and two blankets haven't been able to control, his fingers move the dial as if it were the latch on a door into the unknown, an entrance into the secret world of the crowd. All the news reports emanating from the speaker, enveloped in fragments of songs that make him think of a beggar's rags, deny any civilian deaths from the demonstration at the plaza, applaud the heroism of the agents involved, wonder as to the identity and whereabouts of the leader of that "ridiculous illiterate uprising" - a small, pointy beard flashes in his memory, an index finger extended as if to declare the distance guilty - and underline that the tranquillity reigning in the streets is possible thanks not only to the official day of mourning decreed by the authorities but also, and very especially, to the deployment of police units that have left the warmth of their offices and precincts behind in order to make sure that the law is obeyed even beneath the snow that will not leave us alone.
     Towards midday, however, Abel comes across a station that erupts from a far corner of the dial as if it were arising from out of the ether. The voice of the announcer, sputtering with gusts of static, transmits both extreme agitation and extreme weariness: the agitation of someone who knows he is condemned for what he must say before he even begins, the weariness of an insomniac who has made one final, desperate decision in the depths of the night. The unofficial statistics, the announcer says - whispers - are eloquent: thirty-three protesters dead in the plaza, including a number of women and even a five-year-old child, and sixty-six arrests, I repeat, sixty-six arrests and not forty-three as the news reports announced yesteray. Thirty-three bodies, which, according to the rumors, have been taken to a common grave on the outskirts of the city; twenty-three protesters who have disappeared from the official records and have surely been doled out to various interrogation rooms. Family members of some of the victims have called this station seeking information about the bodies, asking the listeners to do something that Abel doesn't quite catch because the sentence is left unfinished, a tattered thread that dangles in the radiophonic chasm while the announcer coughs and seems to be about to suffocate and noises of a struggle can be heard - perhaps a chair falling over, a club imprinting itself on a jawbone and then the microphone is knocked over - and the station goes off the air, substituted by a torrent of static, a gap which will be filled by sad piano chords, the droplets of a Weill piece flowing into the waters of the silence out of which the jingle of a brand of whiskey will surface.
     Afternoon comes with a shuddering of clouds that smear across the city's highest windows like furtive oil paints. After appeasing his hunger with a bowl of soup and attempting uselessly to reach Mr. Kane - the emergency meeting he was called to attend, reports the secretary, has lasted longer than planned - Abel gets in the shower. Within the steam that dissolves the contours of his bathroom, while he waits through the clacking castanets of the pipes for the water to heat up, he sees himself once again in the phone booth on the corner, dialing the number of his company inside that igloo, so distanced from the mournful traffic of the multitude, awaiting Mr. Kane's voice not so much to explain himself as to murmur I know who you are now, I know what you do in your free time, I know it's very easy to be the incidental executioner, just give me a club and I'll change the world. He sees himself once again biting his lips when he hears the secretary's mechanical words, making an effort to control his fury - the fury of God knows how many years in front of an accounting book - so that it won't become a steaming frenzy exploding against the glass of the booth, a rough towel rubbing against his skin until it's red. As he shaves at the mirror, taking care to steady his traitorous wrist, Abel concludes with a shiver that his face no longer belongs to him: the exhausted eyes, the wide forehead, the twisted nose, even the blonde hairs the razor erases, are substantially part of the crowd. They are, in and of themselves, the crowd: a conclave of undifferentiated features, the refuge of anonymous entities.
     This sensation follows him as he dresses in the tacit company uniform and sharpens the pencil he'll put in the inside pocket of his suit jacket and drinks a sip of water - the last sip I'll drink out of this glass, he thinks nostalgically - and leaves his apartment without looking back, imagining the atoms repositioning themselves within objects that will take a while to adjust to his absence. From the taxi he hails, he observes the late afternoon mob and glimpses his face in storefronts and bus windows. What would the crowd think, he says to himself, to see itself assembled as a group, riding in a single taxi? The car picks up speed and the city becimes a pale tapestry, shot through with dark strands.
     
     *
     

At the entrance to the cemetery, as a prologue to the ceremony he's been celebrating for the past seven years, Abel buys a bouquet of flowers - the whitest you have, he insists - from the old woman who always looks at him with a mixture of tenderness and commiseration. Her eyes are the only outpost of youth left in her: a certain restless shine to her pupils, a certain lightning flash that chases the shadow of her lashes away, belie the young woman who at some point went astray in a labyrinth of varicose veins and wrinkles. Obeying an odd impulse, Abel reaches out a hand and caresses the old woman's cheek. The flower-seller's reaction takes him by surprise: the youthful ray of lightning vanishes, substituted by a rapidly-growing cloudiness which darkens her face as she gets up from her bench and begins to jabber in some toothless tongue. Abel retreats, backing away from the verbal barrage which increases in volume until it becomes a string of insults that escorts him as he crosses into the cemetery and disappears down a lane where the old woman's voice mingles with the rustling of the air in the naked trees, with the cawing of some invisible bird.
     Under the snow, the angels watching over crypts and mausoleums seem gloomier, their edges more defined, as if they were about to lift into flight. The few people meandering through the whiteness - a couple of women, some solitary men, a boy holding his father's hand, all wearing severe black clothes - seem outside that sensation of imminent wing-flapping, absorbed in their own plots of misery with no room for the flakes falling as lightly as celestial pencil-shavings. Abel looks up and sees a vibration at the highest point of a eucalyptus, something like an enormous beating of wings; he imagines the face of a seraph, a marble mask dominated by the flower-seller's blue eyes, before a pair of crows abandons its hideout. He thinks of the unknown man who, like himself, fulfills a funerary protocol each year, involving three roses and a bottle of cognac; he thinks of the accountants at his company, leaning down over their desks like fatigued, myopic birds; he thinks of Mr. F., of Mr. F.'s beak buried in his notebook as if it were a large dish of mathematical birdseed. Then he jams his hat on his head, clutches the bouquet of flowers and follows the steps of his own personal ritual: to wander unhurriedly down ever more desolate paths, letting himself get lost in the cadence of his stroll; to pause in front of the gravestones that attract his gaze, searching for memorable inscriptions; to study the features of the mourners kneeling or sitting next to welcoming graves which have been waiting expectantly for any sign of tears, that damp glimmer that reveals the mechanisms of memory; to trap a snowflake on his tongue and savor the taste of the cold; to interrupt his trek from time to time to enjoy the silence and become just one more strand in the shroud of repose.
     "Mary, faithful wife of Saul, lovng mother of Paul." Abel doesn't know why he feels offended by the error in Mary's epitaph. Unlike the first time he came, when it seemed like a good omen, the missing i in the word "loving" now seems unforgivable to him, a nearly obscene slip that no one has deigned to correct over the past seven years. What could the man who chiseled those lines - just three lines - have been thinking when he came upon the single "ing" ending? Wouldn't he have consulted the paper with Saul's faltering handwriting; wouldn't that scrap of paper, to get to the point, have existed? What could Saul have thought when he discovered the error; would he even have seen it? And Paul? How old would Paul be? Would he wear patent leather shoes, a bow tie, or just a school uniform? How often would he visit his mother, buried beneath a dubious orthography? As he pulls thistles away from the grave in search of a space to deposit his floral offering, Abel recalls the fourth anniversary of Mary's death, the man in the wheelchair who might be Saul or Mr. F. and who was being pushed by a nephew. He recalls the paralytic's sparse mustache, his sobs that at first refused to surface, as if the stone's absent i were obstructing his larynx. He recalls the nephew's questions - what accident was he talking about?- his own refusal to respond and his subsequent escape, just as a gust of icy wind seizes his hat and forces him to his feet.
     The hat rolls away and stops at the edge of an open grave. Abel picks it up, but before he walks away, something - a slight commotion, a trembling of roots - makes him cast his gaze into the depths of the chasm, into the gloom where a formless mass glints. A mass that slowly acquires contours, dimensions, until it becomes a pile of bones, a bony pyramid crowned by a few skulls in whose sockets shadows seethe, impatient larvae of shadow. Common grave, Abel thinks, not even realizing the phrase has left his lips, and he remembers the hiss of a station as it goes off the air. And at that moment the voice explodes behind him.
     "Abel? What are you doing here?"
     First comes the chill: an icy current that envelops his chest like the promise of a heart attack, only to fill the rest of his organism with a persistent dripping. Then comes the tingling sensation at the back of his neck, the slightly comical feeling that his spine has become a hat rack for stalactites. First is the certainty of total petrification, the image of a man merging with the rhythm of the statues, the gravediggers learning to protect him from the dust and the bird droppings. Then comes the muscle spasm that makes his body turn, the blinking that focuses his eyes on Mary's grave. Next to the gravestone - only now is it possible to make it out - there is a vase with a few stalks sticking out of it. Next to the vase, the recently deposited bouquet sparkles like a handful of knives. Next to it, standing on the grave, there is a silhouette, clearly a feminine silhouette, sheathed in clothes that seem to be made of newspaper. A woman who couldn't be more than thirty-two, thirty-three years old. A woman with long hair, whose face recalls a dress made of changeable remnants. Remnants of magazines. Remnants of features lost in the labyrinth of the city. Remnants of imagination.
     "What are you doing here?" the voice demands again. "Go away. There's no use for you here."
     The woman's lips are sealed shut. Lips that seem made of earth, of aged parchment. Your lips, Mary. Your lips at last.
     But soon those lips are nothing more than two leaves swept by a sudden breeze and, after blinking violently, Abel must accept that the woman has disappeared.
     The bunch of white flowers, and the vase with its stalks, remain on the white grave. And floating in the air, like an absent i, the thread of a voice:
     "˛no use, there's no use for you here˛"
     It remains there in the distance, among the hairless trees, the intuition of a mass of tresses disturbed by the snow, to which a second figure is added, a face covered in blue numerals. The certainty remains, that these figures are beginning to reproduce until they populate the cemetery with shadows made of newspapers. What remains now is to run, to walk away from the silence that is the prelude to nightfall, to notice as he crosses through the heavy iron gate that the flower-seller has closed her stand and put away her bench, her varicose veins, her wrinkles.
     On the sidewalk, a rose remains, which no one will claim and which will be the only light when the darkness devours everything like an unexpected muzzle.
     
     *

     
Perhaps Abel will never manage to understand why he is not surprised by the spectacle which greets him when he opens the door of his apartment and turns on the light.
     Perhaps ever since he found himself next to Mary's grave, or even before that, since he phoned his company, a fraction of his unconscious was waiting for the chaos indifferently illuminated by the bulb in his living room.
     Perhaps on some diffuse mental screen he has seen himself ambling through the vandalized dwelling, picking up razor-slashed clothes, avoiding the pieces of glass and dishes that litter the floor and the shredded rugs, sighing as he faces his reflection smashed to bits in the bathroom mirror, picking up the leg of a table here, a bit of sofa stuffing there, stacking the clippings that survived the violation of his albums into a sheaf that he'll set in a corner of the bedroom, sitting down on the foot of the disemboweled bed with his gaze fixed on the least movement that might be caused by a chair as it finishes collapsing, a piece of paper falling from the top of the dresser.
     Perhaps the images that assault him now have paraded through a corner of the same screen before, with the same violence: three men with their features hidden by their hatbrims who destroy everything they find in their path, three pairs of gloved hands that attempt to rip a confession from his things, some compromising tidbit, while Mr. Kane watches them from the doorway, wiping the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief, from time to time lifting his hand to the back of his neck to pat a bandage stained with dried blood, combing his fingers through his hair without burning himself on the fire that crowns his skull.
     Perhaps, as in the accounting book of an ominous Demiurge, Abel's next movements have already been plotted: to rummage around in the ruins of his drawers until he finds the money he keeps there in case of emergency; to abandon the apartment, taking care to turn off the lights; to double bolt the door as he always does, ignoring his neighbor's complaints, the voice of the widower he'll never run into again as he's coming home from the office, demanding an explanation for the uproar caused by four men in suits, I swear to you, Mr. Abel; to go down the stairs slowly and leave the building without anyone noticing him, only to disappear with a ghostly step among the night's thick flakes.
     Perhaps, only perhaps, the hotel sign that interrupts his progress like a neon wound has already flashed in a dream where he was pushing the same revolving doors, signing the registry with the same name - A. Kane - going up in the same ironwork elevator, walking down the same hallway illuminated by wan bulbs and submerging himself in the gloom of the same room with an ancestral exhaustion, with the certainty that waiting for him in that chasm would be a mass of tresses combed through by the snow and the crowd.
     
     *

     
The difference is that now, instead of surrendering to a sort of gradual coming loose, instead of slowly ripping apart as he begins to enter the pit of his unconscious, he opens his eyes to discover that he's inside a dream building that might house offices similar to the ones in his company's building, a concrete mass that he imagines in the middle of the city, standing erect with the severity of a vertical silence. He's at a window, watching how the flakes organize themselves into strands which form a white mane covering the afternoon. In one hand he holds a pencil with its point bloodied and in the other a page which corresponds to December 31st, ripped out, or so it seems, from one of the datebooks the company gives its workers every New Year's and which remain virginal - other than the customary notations of "Monthly Report" - until the end of the following year. No matter how hard he thinks about it, he cannot explain the presence of those two objects; he looks at them, he feels them, he smells them, they seem magical to him, important in some way, and for that reason he doesn't let go of them: someone must have entrusted him with them. Someone - perhaps the owner of the voice that flows forth like an uncertain dream spring. Don't put them down, the voice murmurs, they're your strength: writing and time. Writing - the true, the only writing - has been practiced with blood since its origins and it will continue being practiced that way century after century: the pencil is your jawbone. The time is here, the moment has arrived, your December 31st: blank slate, all accounts at zero. Walk away from the window, the voice demands, slip down the corridor sunken in darkness. Knock on the doors and listen to the cancelled world that throbs behind them. Wait for the elevator buzzing in the esophagus of your dream, go down the stairs and out into the empty city, to the uncultivated space of the evening: the multitude has dispersed. May the cold air bite into your lungs, may solitude wrap its mantle around you. May the crows at their posts on wires and cornices remind you of the end of the world, of accountants with their beaks buried in the afternoon's figures; may the stone angels that adorn so many buildings watch over this, the cemetery of the masses. When you look up, may the sky not crush you with its grey weight: turn your head. Pages, it's snowing pages, sheets ripped from thousands of calendars, all dated December 31st; on each one a pencil has scrawled "Final Report." Look at your own page: the same two words written in blood. It's still snowing pages, bits of time; may they rub against you like birdfeathers as they fall. Do you remember the ritual you planned in secret a few years ago, the only outbreak of rebellion within the company? The last day of work and the accountants turning towards the windows in an orderly fashion to rip the pages from their calendars and fling them over the city? The sanctions, the mutilated salaries? The street turned into a triumph of paper? Surrender yourself to the spectacle of the afternoon sown with pages and understand once and for all that the binnacle of the crowd is written with blood, that the filigree of time is braided into all tresses. Search no longer for your lost jawbone because it's hanging from your hand right now; surrender yourself to its firmness.
     And now, the voice whispers, wake up. There's no use for you here.
     Surrender, by God, your final report.
     
To be continued˛

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