Claudia Salazar

THOSE WAVES

Translated by Gabriel T. Saxton-Ruiz

The rawness of the world was peaceful.The murder was deep.

And death was not what one had imagined.

Clarice Lispector

 


He finally wakes up, tries to open his eyelids, but they feel like two lemon peels, coarse. He stretches his arm out to his waist and then, with some trepidation, underneath it. There is nothing there. A vast steppe. Shit, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. He waves his right hand over the emptiness, scratches and rubs the white sheet. Shit, he thinks. Shit, he says. They cut off the one they shouldn’t have. There is only the bed linen where there should’ve been a leg. His leg. He struggles with the stiffness of the two lemon peels—those eyes just don’t want to open—and all of a sudden his daughter appears. Yes, Papá, she tells him, yes, they cut off the wrong one. Those lemons are going to turn to lemonade. He wants to cry, but stops himself; he shouldn’t do it. Shit, the wrong one.

He dives in again, shakes off the water from his head and calls to you. Come here, my little girl, let’s go to the sea. You are so small and tremble at the thought of getting in that cold water with those waves that leave a white foam and sweep away everything in their path. Those massive waves can swallow you whole. We’d better not, Papi, maybe later. You get the feeling you won’t be able to escape this time. Only up to the edge of the shore so you can dip your feet in, he says, let’s go. There he is standing while smiling at you; it was thanks to that smile that you dropped the red pail and yellow shovel in the sand…

How could they have been so stupid? My God, how could they have been so incompetent? He composes himself and bites his lip; he can’t look her directly in the eyes like that, so diminished, broken, incomplete. He is lying on the hospital bed with her by his side, staring at him from above. A nurse arrives at last. They talk, argue, and the nurse tries to feign shame. The doctor is coming soon, she says and then leaves. Let’s wait, my little girl. She remains calm, clutches his hand and tells him that she’ll take care of this, they’ll pay for their mistake. They’ll pay, this is not over. The nearest bed is empty—that public hospital blue mattress which has endured so many bodies, moods, secretions. How many have they really cured? she thinks while caressing her father’s face and wrapping her hands around his; they are bony and slightly bruised due to the IV drips.

He takes you by the hand and you feel the scorching sand which makes you jump up and down. The sand burns, Papi! He picks you up in his arms; your body looks like a green bean. Up you go, grasshopper! You arrive at the water’s edge after a short trek and feel the chilly water. You smile and he splashes seawater on your face. He lifts you up to the sky. An enormous jump. Again, again, you say to him. Papi could do this a thousand times without getting the least bit tired…

The doctors arrive, talk, it was not a mistake, we need to amputate the other leg right away, the diseased one; or rather, the other one as well, because really, both of them were infected. But doctor, we came here for the sick leg and not for you to cut off the healthy one. Sir, Miss, please understand, both legs were in bad shape, your father has diabetes and because of the signs of the one leg, sooner or later, we’d have to remove the other leg, you know that diabetes… One word after another, and they continue to string together reasons, explanations and complications. Something about the good one, the bad one, and that both were diseased. We are practically doing you a favor.

This time you’re the first one to run toward the ocean as soon as you arrive at the beach. Jumping in the waves is all you want to do. Papi comes from behind and scoops you up like a seaplane and he lets you fall down as if you had made the jump yourself. The other kids are playing in the sand, digging boring wells or constructing deformed castles. They don’t know what they’re missing. Maybe their dads are a bunch of weaklings and that’s why they don’t dare get in the water. Nobody is as strong as my Papá. And now you prefer to jump over the foam that touches the shore even though sometimes shell pieces and sand crabs hurt your feet…

The gangrene on his right heel has turned purple, almost black, and is motionless, patiently waiting for the moment to reach its end. They need to operate on it that very night. No way, she says, he is too weak. We can’t wait much longer, there are risks. It will have to be today, the leg is not doing well. Of course, that’s why we brought him here. One of them fills out a few forms, new medication is prescribed, lists and more lists. There are no apologies, just a decision. Rest up, Papá, tomorrow they’re going to operate on you.

The sun. Everything is bright. My father’s shadow blocks the rays from hitting me directly on the face. Up again, jump! And he picks me up by the arms, up, up and dunk! The water gets in your eyes and they sting, but you don’t care. In the distance you see a fishing boat, over where the waves appear to come from. On the beach, Mamá rests and reads a magazine. I hope she doesn’t get bored and realize that it’s almost lunchtime…

When he opens up his eyes again, he is but a half. A mere half. He doesn’t want to say anything and avoids his daughter’s gaze. They both remain silent. How can one say anything without it sounding shameful or sorrowful? The doctors arrive and announce that the procedure was a success. He looks at them and finally opens his mouth: It was the only option you had! Animals! he yells. He squeezes the sheets with his fists, Animals! You abuse me because you think I look old, this is not over. Don’t get upset, sir. Unperturbed, the main doctor—it is impossible for the patient to get up and hit him—reiterates the success of the operation and that they expect a quick recovery even though the results of some of the tests deserve a special consideration, but we will discuss this later on. They leave.

The water reaches up to your waist, the sea stirring up the sand between your legs. Stand up like this, on your side, keep your legs tight, he says while showing you the Colossus of Rhodes pose. Solid and safe. Papi is very big. You also put your arms on your waist. The tide pulls the water, pebbles and sand under your feet, circling about as if they are letting you float above the shore. Let’s get back…

He is now just a half. How can they just leave me like this, all cut up, my little girl? I’ve been left with only half a body. She asks him to contain himself, and not to insult or yell at the doctors since he depends on them. Let’s avoid getting them mad at you, let’s do everything for you to leave this place as quickly as possible. Calm down, Papá, I know you’re full of anger, but try to contain yourself.

Farther, Papi, take me farther. No more jumping, no more resisting the tide or breaking waves, now you want to get closer to the fishing boat, closer to the pelicans and seagulls who swoop down. Farther, you tell him. Are you sure? And he takes you in his arms. You cling to him and see how the waves lift and then lower the fishermen. They rise once more. Three seagulls grow tired of swooping down and now they allow themselves to get caught up in the swaying. Papi smiles at you and keeps going…

So many weeks in the hospital. Winter has arrived. Recuperation is slow. Days and nights of nurses, check-ups, capsules, tasteless foods, pills, syringes, IVs, tests. First a spasm, then chest and back pains. He eats less and less every day, hardly talks even though she tries to cheer him up by sharing about her day, work, the new boyfriend, he might be the one, they could get married and the grandchildren would come. He’ll be so happy when she has kids to teach how to swim and face the waves.

When you see those waves develop and grow in front of you, you get scared, bury your face in his chest and you sense how they rise and fall like a swing. That is a wave. See, you have nothing to worry about. You won’t drown when you’re with me. You remove your hands from your face and watch how that wave breaks on the shore. Another time. And again. How strange is that foam, no longer white, but rather yellowish. He plunges his head under the water and out again. You wipe the water from his eyes. The sun shines brightly for the two of you from above. In the distance, the people appear smaller and smaller. You are already in the zone for people who know how to swim…

He doesn’t want to talk about anything, he hasn’t even put in his dentures. It is cold on this winter evening. More weeks pass, new tests. Parades of nurses and receptacles full of blood. They give it a name, a diagnosis, a decree: hospital-acquired pneumonia. A gift courtesy of the hospital in exchange for his legs. The gray sky invites one to hide, cry, not think, remain motionless, curl up under the blankets and squash yourself against the mattress. Procedures take weeks and the doctors continue slicing off the healthy and unhealthy parts. The waves in the lungs, the alarm goes off and the nurses come running. Miss, you need to leave the room. Tubes and syringes, a ventilator, the unmistakable sound.

You know that he’ll never let go when you’ve gone so far that it’s best to return. And he smiles with his perfect teeth. His smile is an invitation. No, Papi, there’s still a lot more to go, we’re going to leave everyone behind and keep moving until we reach the fishermen. He keeps hold of you and the two of you continue until you cross the line where the first row of waves emerges. Everything is calmer here. You climb up on his shoulders and behind you, towards the beach, the rising wave extends itself like a blue rug. Nobody has gone this deep, Papi, we are the ones who have made it farthest! You both smile victoriously. Yes, my little girl, no one can beat us, look how close we are to the fishermen. They greet you. Let’s go back to the beach and tell Mamá how far we got…

The machine keeps beeping with that melodious rhythm which wraps and unwraps the breaths of life. The water reaches up to his neck, filling up his lungs. What is that strange smell? They left the door of the room open and his daughter can see him. The room appears to be covered in a thin layer of yellow like the foam of those waves. He feels the air escape, reduced to a mere half and without legs. He wants to breathe, but there is too much water. A death rattle. Papá! That yellowish wave does not return.

Translation of “Those Waves” Copyright Claudia salazar. By arrangement with the author.Translation copyright 2015 by Gabriel Saxton-Ruiz. All rights reserved. 

 

 

Claudia Salazar

Claudia Salazar was born in Lima in 1976. She studied literature at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos and received her Ph.D. in Latin American Literature from NYU. She is the editor of two anthologies: Voces para Lilith (2011), and Escribir en Nueva York. Antología de narradores hispanoamericanos (2014). In 2013, she published her first novel La sangre de la aurora which was awarded the prestigious Premio de las Américas in 2014. Her short fiction has also been published in several anthologies and journals.


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