Variations of the Forest

No one can serve two masters

Emerge, hate first myself and then the mechanical sound of the alarm clock. Be grateful, bury my face in the pillow, put first one foot and then another on the cold floor. Turn on the water heater, run naked to the shower, piss, touch my nipples, sing gringo songs from the radio that have the word God in them, turn off the hot water first so as to freeze, for an instant, my hairy hide. Plug in the electric razor, splash my face with cologne, dry each of my toes and suck my palm because it tastes like soap. Open a window, feel the nakedness of my back against the air coming in from the street, stretch socks over my calves, dress in yellow overalls, draw my damp hair back, pause and close my eyes. Eat oatmeal with milk. Murmur a name, press the elevator button, wave to the crying doorman, hear honking horns, take the colectivo, plead, want, fake, pay, slam the car door as hard as possible, go into the gas station, greet or not greet, put the marker on zero, squeeze the trigger of the nozzle, fill the tank, fill the tank, fill the tank, perspire, guess the color of the next vehicle, touch the crotch of the calendar model and feel that it is paper. Three o’clock, take off my hat, wash each finger of my hand, find the scissors and take them with me, put the tip of my index finger in my left eye, feel I have something and that something comes to life. Say goodbye with a curse for my coworkers, spit for the last time on the floor of the gas station, enter the park, into the forest, continue toward the oak, the clearing on the left, leaves of the oriental banana and the aroma of jasmines, lower the zipper of my overalls, undress myself and lie down naked under the bush—I don’t know the plant’s name—until the dimú come. The dimú walk on my abdomen, they build a palace and a village, sometimes just a colony, they converse amongst themselves, they found a lineage and defy it, some of them leave traces of pollen on my thighs, a fine grey and yellow powder.

Today there was a variation. All at once I had to open my eyes, disturbed by human footsteps. Amid the occasional drops of rain that fell, shining on every leaf, the dimú told me they heard a girl’s feet echo through the forest. A girl entertaining herself spitting on bushes and cutting branches. Relax they said and covered my body with four hundred leaves. Stay relaxed, listen: the girl was walking nervously and suddenly a man appeared. I don’t know if they were hiccups or moans or sighs, or who was doing what, although at a certain point the girl gave up and laid down on the grass, with her hands open and her arms crossed over her chest. Then the man sat down next to her and asked her to stay still. The dimú came to my ears, in this way I was able to listen to the end of the conversation between the girl and the man just before she tried to run and I noticed the flash of the scissors in his hand:

“I was lost in the forest in the center of a really ugly city, surrounded by dimú, right? I was being pulled away and you came to save me?”

She doesn’t manage to scream. I don’t scream either.

When it gets dark I am cold, the dimú are hidden. So I get up, stretch, comb my hair, put on the overalls and shoes, I whistle a melody I heard in the gas station, I leave the forest, the park, I am grateful, I take the colectivo back, I greet the yawning doorman, go to the elevator, press the button, feel the cold of the key between my fingers, I enter, lie down, watch a telenovela, eat bread with margarine. Again I am grateful, I put on my pajamas, brush my teeth, wash my feet, thoroughly rinse the scissors, put my nose in the stream of the bidet, talk on the telephone, wash the dishes, close the red curtain in my room, turn out the light, program the television because I know that in half an hour I’ll be asleep.

By Carlos Labbé
translated, from the Spanish, by William Vanderhyden

Will Vanderhyden is a translator of Spanish and Latin American fiction. He is currently enrolled in the MALTS (Masters of Arts in Literary Translation) Program at the University of Rochester.

The Chilean writer Carlos Labbé is the author of three novels (Libro de Plumas, Navidad y Matanza, and Locuela), as well as a collection of short stories (Caracteres Blancos). He has also co-written two screenplays, published a hypertext novel, and recorded several albums of pop music.