Translation by Andrea Reisenauer
Lucía thought that my parents were textile workers, two Peruvian immigrants that professed their love for their homeland. She thought I lived with them in a suburb in southern Connecticut. She never knew the truth. I don’t know my mother and I grew up in a Chicago neighborhood, not on the East Coast. Lucía wasn’t aware that my father left his country at sixteen to enlist in the American army (even though his documents falsely listed that he was nineteen and my father claimed that he didn’t have a country of origin). At some point in our relationship I wanted to tell her this and other even more serious things. But it was too late. There were too many lies already. Every moment with her became a challenge for my memory, because I had to remember everything that had been invented, day by day, hour by hour. And I couldn’t take it anymore.
I never told her, for example, that my father was left with only five friends and one of his legs after the war. Those friends were also Latino ex-servicemen. They would visit our house and spend the time reminiscing. As a boy, I listened to them for hours, enchanted. Their Spanish was different from what I was used to. Around each other, they used nicknames born on the battlefields. My father, for example, was “The Barber.” I thought that at some point during the war he had been entrusted with the job of cutting his friends’ hair. A while later I realized that my conclusions were naïve. The nickname had other origins. But I wasn’t aware of that when I listened to the war stories amongst laughter and the clinking glasses. Because that’s how I remember the reunions: jokes and endless bursts of laughter. But all of it ended at the end of the day. The embraces exchanged by the ex-servicemen were strong during their goodbyes. They left slowly. They started their pickup trucks. My father and I raised our hands from the door. The vehicles drove away. Tapping his prosthetic leg against the floor, my father went to his room. I was with him in that house, but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t feel up to the task. I thought he needed someone other than an 11- or 12-year-old boy by his side. He needed a companion like the one I had years later, when I stumbled into Lucía.
It was all of that and so much more that I wanted to tell her, but I couldn’t. And one night, instead of breaking it off all at once, I decided to buy some more time. I invented an important scientific project that I was involved in, one that the university had invested millions in. I told her that this would involve five months of confinement in the lab, and that we would hardly see each other.
So I stayed between the machines and computers of the lab. The days were passed with colleagues and students. The nights were endless. Sometimes, tired of the atmosphere, I slept in the campus hotel. That was when the nightmare began, a nightmare that reappeared so many times that I can almost recite, line by line, everything my father said in it. Pale, clasping a knife, dressed in military uniform and still with both legs, my father stopped in front of me and spoke:
It’s possible to kill again. It’s always possible. Take the knife, push it firmly into the enemy’s gut. Without hesitation, with all my strength. Feel the knife pierce the hide, sink into the entrails and twist them. If I kill again, that’s how I’ll do it. Because before going to war they taught me to shoot, but I never pulled the trigger on the battlefield. What I did during the war wasn’t important. I was just in charge of sinking my blade into defenseless enemies. When the number of prisoners exceeded the limit, I eliminated the excess. I couldn’t waste ammunition on them. And now, unlike those times, killing again wouldn’t turn me into a war hero, but a newspaper headline. They would send me to prison. At 57 years old, any sentence would seem like a life sentence. I’m not willing to go through that. If I sink my blade into the guts of that woman, it’ll be without leaving a trace.
If that nightmare was unbearable, it was because there existed the possibility that it could one day come true.
There were few times I could sleep in peace. I don’t know if Lucía’s nights were calmer then. The truth is that we didn’t lose contact. During the day, she sent me long emails. I read them and responded in two or three lines, pretending not to have time for more. While I stayed in the lab, Lucía was finishing the first draft of her book. She got excited, saying that her publication would help her become a tenured professor in the Latino Studies program. One of those afternoons she added her conclusions. In that email, Lucía told me that taking an interest in a social science project would help to give me a break from the lab to relax and, more than anything, to reflect and stop dedicating so much time to a capitalist science. Lucía put a little smiling face next to “capitalist.” The message insisted that I read the conclusions with attention to detail.
Since I didn’t have anything important to do, it didn’t take long for me to read the sociological-anthropological-and-I-don’t-know-what-else paper. Lucía always said that her research was multi-disciplinary. The conclusions indicated that the vast majority of those surveyed–all children of Latino immigrants–showed nostalgia for their parents’ homeland (I have no idea how to measure nostalgia), a nostalgia that seemed to be even more significant than that of their parents. I had only been one of those surveyed, but the conclusions seemed very similar to the false answers that I had given her when we met, answers that she had taken as sincere revelations of a young man who longed for his parents’ homeland. This surprised me, I wrote in my email response. She replied that she had slightly manipulated the respondents’ testimonials. She had made it so there answers matched mine. And again she added a little smiling face. I decided not to reply.
Later, I did something that was already becoming a habit in the lab. With Lucía on my mind, I unfolded the state map over my work table. I focused in on the points where we had begun our trips. With my finger, I traced the lines, one by one, very slowly, the lines of all the routes that Lucía and I covered during our first few weeks together. We had gone to many places in search of her other thirty-seven interviewees. I had offered to take her on every one of those forays. That was my way of getting closer to her, of trying something.
The routes were thin red lines on that map. I traced them, and in my mind the wide, deserted highways reconstructed themselves, every detail: the sound of the tires, the sound of the wind when Lucía rolled down her window, the lights of the vehicles that passed us when we slowed down in search of a motel. The places where we woke up together came into my mind, the ones I knew that Lucía would remember forever. Because that was when I really got to know her, or that’s what I want to think. I had lied a lot during our first interview and I continued lying, inevitably, on the trips we took together. She hadn’t been honest during our first meeting, either, but unlike with me, I began discovering her true face shortly after, between the sheets and the highways. Hearing her comments or her unexpected reactions, I came to learn that Lucía avoided socializing with the people she called “American-Americans.” She grumbled over the quantity of fast-food restaurants we saw along the way, made fun of the ignorance that–according to her–filled the inhabitants of this country to the brim, the same country in which she pursued an academic career. She referred to Democrats and Republicans with equal disdain and complained about the humor used in commercials, television series or Hollywood movies. Lucía gave these and a thousand more critiques with a beautiful Puerto Rican accent.
Intense weeks passed like that, with me in charge of the steering wheel and Lucía in charge of the interviews. I traveled with one foot on the accelerator, alternating my gaze between the highway, the traffic signs and the image of Lucía by my side. She, however, travelled with her attention focused on the enormous state map. She rested it on her lap and buried her gaze into it. She only looked up to say something in response to my comments, to make sure that I was following the indicated route or to take a good look at the place I proposed to sleep. Otherwise, she didn’t look forward.
Once, a group of deer crossed in front of us. They appeared out of nowhere and I had to swerve abruptly. As in all of the moments when I’ve been afraid, in that instant, the oldest image I hold in my fleeting memory popped into my mind. I was maybe around two or three years old. It’s my father’s bedroom. Everything appears illuminated. From the crib, I cry with my gaze fixed on his bed. He opens his eyes and looks at me. He looks at me with a kind of anguish, a kind of fear. Then he whips off the blanket that covers his body. He sits on the edge of the mattress. And then it happens: all my attention rests entirely on the defect, on a naked stump. My father’s.
Luckily, Lucía and I were alright and we saved the deer from what would have been an accident. But the incredible part was that after the swerve and the movement it produced, Lucía didn’t seem to have noticed anything. When the danger had passed and I pulled over the car, I nervously turned towards her and Lucía, pulling her eyes slowly away from the map, looked at me to ask, very calmly, if something had happened. I told her about the deer and, upset with her for the first time, said that if she had her eyes on the road and not on the map she could help me avoid those problems. Without responding, she returned to the map. She went back to that enormous piece of paper that I, months later, would unfold in the lab, trying to find something, some clue, some sign, something that would show me the way out.
Translation of “Simulacrum” Copyright Jack Martínez. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2015 by Andrea Reisenauer All rights reserved.
Jack Martínez Arias (La Oroya, Perú, 1983) graduated in 2007 from the University of San Marcos (Lima, Perú) with a B.A. in Latin American Literature. In 2011, he moved to the United States where he wrote his first novel, Bajo la sombra (Under the Shade), published by Animal de Invierno in 2014. He is currently a PhD Candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern University.