Translated by Andrea Reisenauer
Something had changed. I noticed it in my feet as I walked over to the chair barefoot, feeling the rough plants. I sat down and gazed at them: they were gray. You had never allowed even the thinnest layer of dust to accumulate on my furniture, my decorations, or on the hardwood floor. Threat and violence. Then I felt a shudder. Something had changed in you, something had shattered the suspended state in which you had grown used to living. Surely it was a small rebellion, an outburst that somehow marked a beginning. You had decided to ignore the impositions that I had forced upon you in exchange for a plate of food and a warm bed. Cook, clean, shop, do the laundry. No touching my books, no questioning, no reading. Ask permission to leave, speak, think. Remain silent when I address you. Always in silence. Kneel down, throw yourself onto the bed, let yourself be touched; invade, break yourself, put yourself back together as many times as I wanted. Worship me. And that’s how you worshipped me. You convinced yourself that I was the best there was for you because you didn’t have anyone else and your need was greater than your pride, right? It was always like that; I have no doubt. You were an outcast, and I made you useful.
The day I found you, I carried a photograph of my mother when she was young. Her eyes watched me from that old image, an image that served as a reference. I had to find her among those dark faces, those emaciated bodies, those filthy feet. And then I saw you, smoking in despair. You were probably hungry; the stomach acids probably burned inside of you, seeking something to devour. When you saw me pull the car over next to you, you smiled with the same pained expression she had in that photo, that photo I wrinkled in my hands with contempt. Then I saw your sunken cheeks, your long legs, her endless legs that I hung from so she wouldn’t leave. Don’t go, please don’t go, please. Not with him. Don’t trade me. Don’t make me cry. But I cried, and she tore apart my skin with a rope every time she came back with that man and I would spit on his shoes. Later I would laugh hysterically because deep down, very deep down, a hate was growing inside of me that would never, ever burn out, that would incubate for years until it no longer made sense. Because she left one night and never returned. That’s why I burst into laughter when I saw you. I had found her in you, in your sharp face, in your protruding ribs and your fingers that nervously held a cigarette.
I got out of the car. You were smoke and filth. I grabbed you by the wrist and promised you more than I could deliver so you would come with me. And in that restaurant—that restaurant where you stuffed yourself with food so much it made me gag—you accepted. You accepted to never return to that smoke-and-urine filled alley in exchange for a bed of your own, and that I had the right to do with you what I could never do with her. What did I ever do wrong, you asked through a mouthful of blood and blackened eyes. She did it to me, too. Better off an orphan, better off an orphan, better off an orphan, I would repeat without you being able to understand, staring at that wrinkled photograph that looked so much like you. Then I would strike your mouth to silence you and laugh hysterically when I saw the blood on my fingers, that blood that united us in an unbreakable bond.
But now I know that you’re up to something. Your claws wait for the right moment to dig into my neck. I admire you so much. Why me? you asked. Because I knew that, some day, you were going do to just what I couldn’t. Because the same rotten hatred was in your eyes, the pent-up hatred that ends up infecting it all. My mother left when she realized that my hatred was steaming through my pores and contaminating the air. But now, I remain, and I fear you. Every blow, every wound, every invasion, every plate washed, every button sewn, every sleepless night spent in fear that you wouldn’t see the sunrise is marked on my skin. Better off an orphan, you’ll say and I’ll smile. So I wait for you. I wait for you just as I love you and I admire you. I wait for you while smoking and with dirty bare feet, just as I found you.
Translation of “Dust” Copyright Jennifer Thorndike. By arrangement with the author.Translation copyright 2015 by Andrea Reisenauer.All rights reserved.
Jennifer Thorndike (Lima, 1983) is a Peruvian writer based in Philadelphia. She is the author of three works of fiction Cromosoma Z (a short story collection, 2007), (ella) (novel, 2012) and Antifaces (ebook, 2015). Her stories have also been featured in numerous anthologies including Disidentes I (2011), Voces -30 (2014) and Casa de locos (2015). Apart from finishing up her doctoral studies at the University of Pennsylvania, she currently directs La Linterna Booktube, an online video portal dedicated to book reviews.