Cecilia was the first person to go visit you when everything calmed down. You were still in intensive care. It was my second visit. I said you wouldn’t be waking up anytime soon, more to try and get rid of her than because I actually knew.
“Tell him I stopped by?”
Now I’ve told you. She was carrying a box of Ferrero Rocher, but she took them with her again when she left. Cecília’s breath smelled of mint gum, but (just then) it was mixed up with the smell of hospital. She handed me some crossword puzzles – intermediate level.
“To give you something to do here.”
As soon as I finished the crosswords, I stopped going to the hospital. I didn’t have anything else to think about. There you were, stuffed full of tubes, and Manu texting non-stop: where was I? Why wasn’t I with her? Back when you were in intensive care at least I could help you breathe. After they changed the machines, all I could do was ask myself if you really were breathing.
I stopped going.
Cecília left a mobile number to call her on if I needed to. She said she’s different these days. I don’t reckon I’ll need it – she’s your Facebook friend anyway.
But I think I actually lost the bit of paper a while back. Sorry mate.
Are you gonna read this?
The other day I saw some coffee that had gone mouldy. It was right at the beginning of the month. I wished I could have taken a photo of it and called you. You’d have liked it, I think. I didn’t even know liquid coffee could go mouldy. It smelled of wall. My mum laughed. My dad probably hasn’t even noticed the difference yet. Manu freaked out. She called me a pig and before I even knew what was happening her eyes had gone all shiny. She asked whether I was careless with the coffee at the service station too.
“Manu,” I said, “I’m paid to look after the things at the service station.”
She cried some more, the tears rolling down her face. Must have been PMS. Who knows though – I don’t even want to think it is that, coz she’s been so moody lately that she must actually enjoy being on her period. But she cried, she said I was acting weird, that I needed a shrink, that I wasn’t the same person anymore. All because of the mouldy coffee. Seriously though, that’s not just PMS.
Other than that, no news.
Now I’m wondering about your hair, your nails, your blood… whether they go mouldy.
It’s been a while since I went to see you in hospital. Quite a long time. Let’s keep in touch.
“You’re all free from the torture. Until next year.”
That’s what Barbosa said after handing out the exam results. So it’s official: I passed both courses this semester. And, even better, I haven’t run out of cash. I think next term I’ll get a paid internship and get out of the shitty 24-hour shop. Mate, if I get an internship, I’ll even sign up for more classes at uni. Can you imagine though, with my student grant covering 75% as well.
But I can’t be thinking about that right now. I don’t want to think about it. Lately I’ve been daydreaming like crazy. I should stop. The holidays have started, and I want to get out of this place. Go live in Porto Alegre. Maybe even further away. Living in São Leopoldo would be cooler, you know? They have this German vibe going on. All we’ve got are the trains. You get why I hate this place. Or you used to. You’d bitch about the Trensurb with me. About sitting on the train from 6 till 7:30 am. About the days in winter when everyone keeps the windows closed and passes their germs around. About the people who don’t get off till the end of the line at Mercado but are crammed up against the doors all the way from Unisinos.
Then there’s the fact it’s rained on the seventh of September these past couple of years. It definitely did last year, and maybe the year before. The point is, every seventh of September trains get cancelled and delayed. It might be a holiday, but there’s no way to escape, no parties to go to… A proper day off and there I am, stuck at home. The barbeque gets called off, and my mum grumbles about nobody turning up. Then Leo’s dad ends up giving us a lift, swearing the whole time, and we play SNES at Leo’s until someone comes to pick us up. That’s right. I think that’s why we hate the city and why you and me ended up becoming so close. Have you heard from Leo recently?
We both hate Canoas. Maybe coz of all the stuff we’ve shared.
I think it’s because the city’s slogan is Fly Canoas, without a comma. Yeah, I know, I know, it’s because of the aeroplane, symbol of the city – “the importance of aeronautics to the city’s development” – the aeroplane capital.
I think it must also have something to do with the fact that Dona Zilá would always have a go at me for never using commas before names, and there’s that fucking aeroplane in the town square. Fly Canoas. That sentence makes no sense on any level, you know? Canoes don’t fly.
Canoes don’t fly, for fuck’s sake.
Mate, you know what I mean, don’t you?
I think that’s why I hate this city so much.
Maybe it’s because of the way you were treated at the hospital here. You almost died. OK, OK, fine: you went into a coma. But that’s not really any better if you ask me. Then they transferred you to a hospital in Porto Alegre for the surgery, as if that was going to bring you back. Everything’s better in Porto Alegre. They even lied to you about that, because Porto Alegre didn’t change a fucking thing.
That’s right. I think that’s why I hate this city so much. That and picturing a canoe with little wings. I’m tired of this place.
(Did you hear if Leo ended up going to jail? I heard something about coke, but I’m not sure.)
We were tired of this place. I’m going to visit you when I’m done at the service station. It will be, like, the third time, maybe.
Manu was taking her pill, and I saw some other tablets in her purse. Besides the ibuprofen I mean. I asked her, jokingly, what those other ones were and what they were for. She blushed and looked away.
“It’s to help calm things down.”
When did she start taking them? She said it had been a little while. The more I asked about them, the more awkwardly she stood with her arms crossed and her eyes lowered as she talked.
“A psychiatrist gave me the prescription.” She was shrinking into herself. I asked what it was called, she said she couldn’t remember.
And was it an antidepressant? Was she feeling sad, crazy? She hugged me.
“It’s a sedative.” She tightened her grip. “We’re going to be happy again.”
“But I am happy,” I said.
She put her arms around my neck, said it was hard for her too, said it was all going to be OK. That the hard part would pass. We would be happy again, she repeated… we were going to be happy again.
She asked me not to tell anyone else, but I needed to tell you. But I bet Cecília knows too.
I’d been at the service station for half an hour. The security guard who works until six was still there, eating a sandwich, saying how he was happy that he’d be covering someone’s shift over New Year’s, happy to be paid to work then.
“I don’t know, man,” I said. “Earning twice as much to not see your family at Christmas… I’m not sure.”
He snorted: 5 reais rather than 2.50? He went back to his sandwich, and I decided not to argue. I wanted to see Manu standing against a backdrop of fireworks, like in one of those cool photos. I wanted to ask her if she’s feeling better, if she’s happy, if the pills are working for her. I never get a day off. At least I earn money for potential hazards – the hazard of working in a place where a drunk can wander in and spew up at any moment. That and the cash machine. A hazard. It means I earn around 800 reais, rather than 500. Which is enough to get by on, to buy stuff and go out every now and again. It’s even enough to pay for uni.
D’you remember all the times you’d go off to some barbeque and I’d be stuck in this air-conditioned box? I’d like to spend one of these special dates with Manu. What’s the point of having a day off on a Wednesday?
I tried negotiating – talking to someone to see if they’d be up for it, but not on Christmas, and not on New Year’s either.
Anyway, at least for now I can relax a little during the break from uni. What should I buy Manu for Christmas?
Steve Jobs died a while back. When you wake up, that will be news for you. It must have been cancer. He’d had cancer for ages, hadn’t he? I should make a list of the things that happen, for when you wake up.
D’you remember when Amy Winehouse died? Manu had to stop herself from crying.
“Death is such a sad thing, guys.”
“Dying is funny shit.”
A bit before that Osama had been killed, too, and that’s when we started reading up on those conspiracy theories about how Osama was immortal. I thought about them sometimes. I thought about how all the pieces fitted together perfectly.
Now, I think about you dying. And I don’t know if it’s sad. It’s not like Manu is wrong. It is sad. Your funeral would be hilarious though. Do you think Cecília would go? I hope so, so she could hand over the Ferrero Rocher she owes you. In fact, you got a card from her in the post (your mum brought it here to show my mum):
Dear Gabriel and family,
Get well soon.
Just that. A “get well soon”… very motivational. I can picture her at the funeral, throwing a flower onto the coffin: get to heaven safely, OK? Or something equally motivational.
I’d look at your body lying there and I’d think “Fuck me, I’m about to bury you.” We had a bet, remember?
I was hugging my skateboard. We stank of sweat, we really stank. Rafa was grinding a rail. He was good – he was older but he used to act like a kid brother (he still does). He got into the federal university. He’s nearly graduated but he still looks up to you loads. Yeah, he could have been a pro skater if he’d wanted to (and if your mum hadn’t gone ballistic at the idea), that’s how many local competitions he used to win. But he looks up to you.
You were watching your brother. I’d failed at my twelfth kickflip in a row (I was counting). I was looking at my wrist, which I’d whacked against a step as I fell. It hurt.
“We’re going to crack open our skulls and die one of these days,” I said.
“Bummer,” you said.
“You haven’t done anything important yet,” I said. “To write on your tombstone, you know?”
“An epitaph,” you said. I never forgot the word. “Yeah, like: Henrique, thirteen-and-a-half, never managed a kickflip.”
“I’ll think of your epitaph,” I said. “And you think of mine.”
We laughed. A few days later, I found out I’d broken my wrist.
Epitaph is a nice word. I used it in my uni entrance exam and everything (I failed the exam).
Fuck. I don’t know your epitaph. And you never told me what to write on mine. I’d leave it blank.
Maybe not. Maybe I’d have a big picture of a canoe with little wings – something like that. Yeah, that would be cool.
Translated from the Portuguese by Ana Fletcher, from Luzes de emergencia se acenderao automaticamente.
Luisa Geisler was born in Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul, in 1991. In 2010 she was awarded the Prêmio Sesc de Literatura for her debut short-story collection Contos de mentira (‘Tales of Deceit’), and won again the following year in the novel category with Quiçá (‘Perhaps’). In 2012 she was chosen by Granta for their Best of Young Brazilian Novelists issue, the youngest author included in the collection. Luzes de emergencia se acenderao automaticamente (‘The Emergency Lights Will Turn On Automatically’), her second novel, is published by Alfaguara.
Author portrait © Andressa Andrade
Ana Fletcher is a translator and editor based in Rio de Janeiro. She translates from Portuguese and Spanish, and her work has been published in Granta and Machado de Assis magazines.