Susana Medina


Translation by Rosie Marteau

Desire comes in little clusters and I need to uphold an interplanetary relationship with the whole universe for my own wellbeing: Barbie, Poppy, Eva, Marga, Ella. Ella: I observe her from my hangover-space. Ella Lynch is Ella Lynch: yesterday she made a mountain of her canvasses in the garden, set them alight and it all grew to a huge bonfire. She’d got it into her head that she wanted to destroy her work. Create something of sublime beauty. Escape the spirit of the times. And so she did it: red fire, blue flames, yellow release and black smoke rose against the sky.

Now she’s put on her white boiler suit and she’s cleaning the house. She’s cleaning room by room. Meticulously. And she’s chucking out all of the objects, clothes and furniture that seem heavy to her. All out. Anything that isn’t light of substance: out. Every colour except white: out. When she closes her eyes she can visualise the space of her dreams: she’ll throw her past out of the window, she’ll clean the house until germs are an impossibility and she’ll paint it white to wipe out the tracks of evil spirits. She’ll paint everything hyperbrilliant white, a white that dazzles iridescently. Hyperbrilliant white walls, the wooden floor hyperbrilliant white, the furniture hyperbrilliant white, white sheets. Iridescent white. And from this day forward she’ll dress only in white. She’ll turn her sandcastle which is a museum into a tangible hallucination. This space will be a magic blank slate. A magic O. The impossibility of starting again from scratch is one of the great misfortunes of mankind. It may well be impossible to start from scratch, but Ella will create a virtual scratch: a space that generates moments where time dissolves and gives way to plenitude. This space is born in part of the snow-drenched landscape of a dream: she’s in St Petersburg or Leningrad or Stalingrad. It’s November and everything’s white, while she dreams of being white on the inside, people queue for vanilla ice cream in deep midwinter. The buildings are palest pink, pale blue, pale yellow. She wants to inhabit this fairy tale because the sheer verticality of her body and her heavy, dark-hued clothes contrast in a kind of aggression with the now horizontal purity of the snow. She wants to see herself in the snow. To be freshly fallen snow. Light: the vastness of snow is the vastness of the emptiness that detoxifies like a silent truth, a desert or a star-speckled night. Everything is white and pure and she wants to recreate this levity.

I know that this lightness is one that excludes me: her sadness has created a distance between us, her obsession with her work has distanced us, her yearning to die has distanced us. I rest my hand on her shoulder and say: a perfect love can never be defeated by sadness. But then it occurs to me that I don’t believe in perfection. She answers me: love? perfect? defeat? I go on: to escape the labyrinth you have to learn to love life. She replies: loving life means more than just giving in to instant gratification. And it has to be loved with all its underlying darkness. I argue: if you were to determine the next step you’re taking in your work, you’d ignore my dalliances like you always have. She reveals: I already have. I’m going to build The Space of the Tangible Hallucination, adding: theoretically I adore your polygamy but in practice I detest it: some things die alone of their own accord, others have to be killed, you have to leave 108 Pandora Road, I’m giving you two weeks to get out. Everything died with Ophelia’s death, you’ll forget me just as everything gets forgotten.

Now she dances and twirls and spins: she’s torn Ophelia’s photo into shreds and she dances and she spins.

I didn’t know what to say: born under the sign of Leo, I’m the king of the jungle that ends up becoming captivated by its prey, Ella’s more than prey, but I can’t go contra naturam because my nature is intimately bound up with the diversity of womankind. I love the variety of ears in its baroque diversity: the wide array of heads, and the insides of those heads, each one unique and irreplaceable, the range of hands, fingers, rings, palms, lines, nails, the unexpectedly abundant shapes of their feet, the surprise of finding a tongue that’s oval-shaped, pointed or rounded, the nuanced timbres of their voices, the orgasmic tastes of saliva, the variety of hair, its feel, the splendid spectrum of eye colour, all those eyes, buttocks, thighs, knees, their plurality, I LOVE THE WORLD I shout vox clamantis in deserto. I thought Ella would be different, I thought Ella would accept me for my pantheism, that she wouldn’t be like the rest: loving life means more than just giving in to instant gratification! Her whale of a depression degenerates into a new kind of moralising: now I observe my adorable creature and I detest her: I suddenly detest her determination, I detest that facade of wisdom that leads to superiority, I detest the way she combs her long red hair with her head leant to one side, her blue-tinged skin, her grey eyes, the way she holds her tea cup. I detest her sudden lows that obliterate everything and how she applies hyperbrilliant white paint to the wooden floor. I detest her skill and everything I loved about her before, I now detest. I detest her self-styled integrity, and her ability to bewitch, her creation of unnecessary enigmas. I detest her achievements and the condescending coldness of the way she looks at me like I’m a burden from her past, when I’m the city’s most androgynous sexy dykette, oh so seductive with my pronounced jawline and my hair swept severely back, I detest her. The telephone rings while I detest her. It’s Barbie. Barbie. Barbie!: a sigh that makes my voice rise from deep within me, perhaps my own pelvis. Barbie wants to see me urgently at eight o’clock at Nirvana, don’t be late: Barbie dominatrix. I adore her.

Absorbed in the hyperbrilliant white paint she doesn’t answer when I say goodbye: her tactical silence won’t get to me, I hate her fragility, her fragility is unbearably solid, I say: I’m going to move to a friend’s flat who’s leaving for Kathmandu next week. She says: you should be over the moon, without me around you’ll be able to abandon yourself to polymorphous desire.

Post mortem? Condemned to a wandering destiny, my dandy’s night-time shadow lengthens my dizzying height, it’s a long way back home from Soho made only longer by the abundance of that Japanese beer with the hyperbolic alcohol content consumed in Atlantis, giving me the painful impression that I’ll never get back, that I’ll die trying to cross the Sinai. Whether to live with this hairy dragon, a parasite besmirching my pure soul which is a mystical infinity laid bare, or to confront him with an oblique gaze from some angle that reflects him back to defeat him with a strike to the flanks? The Martian scrawlings haven’t lost all their brilliance and in this life, to find a way out of the labyrinth you’ve got to learn to love life. Taxi! The breeze from the car window sobers me up a bit, but also brings back her insults as if they were pursuing me through the molecules of the air in the opposite direction: Marga has bid me farewell with a ‘you’re a dick.’

She’s a bore anyway, that Marga, all socks and silvery sandals, always banging on about the need for a catastrophe that will alter the current political impasse, hardly an erotic topic, I should have stayed with Barbie, she’s always going on about her boyfriend, her boyfriend, her boyfriend, why then does she invoke me at all hours with porno whispers over the telephone? A boring, puritanical vegetarian who doesn’t know herself, since she won’t recognise her transparent ardour for life, but I shouldn’t have said that I wasn’t into necrophilia when faced with her passivity in the toilet cubicle at Atlantis, because she hasn’t really got a sense of humour and post mortem isn’t quite the right definition and now, the pleasure of crossing out her number from my address book.

I delete it furiously, while yearning for a monastic life, I’ll pass by Poppy Sensuality’s place. Change of heading and heave-ho: take the second on the left: the taxi driver’s sickly eyes show assent in the rear-view mirror with terminally ailing obedience. The lights are on and the silhouette of a naked bulb eclipses the window. The sadistic doorbell violates the silence of the night. Poppy half-opens the door with a towel rolled-up on her head like a turban and a bathrobe: her wet eyelashes give a gesture of confusion, I hope my visit isn’t inopportune I say to her as I kiss her warm cheek and glance at my watch: it’s already three in the morning.

Wouldn’t have done any harm to check it earlier, eh?

Better late than never, time is money.

Your aura’s damaged.

Still in the doorway, I hand her a bottle of tequila as I make out a stark naked shadow flitting hurriedly across the corridor. Who could that be? My leg makes a military advance and I enter only half-aware of my intrusion, leaving Poppy to one side. The lighted candles cast expressionist shadows all around that point me towards the moving shadow in the corridor.

The shadow turns out to be Barbie. Embarrassment is always red: in the living room, also wearing a towel on her head, Barbie waves hello. Her red face. Poppy’s red face. My red face. Embarrassment is red because it causes traitorous blood to burst in the head. Our eyes cross in the strained air, but don’t meet: nitrogen devours the oxygen in a few seconds of silence that become stretched out into centuries. Poppy breaks the silence. She introduces us. Barbie: she’s been invited to go to Hollywood. Elle: Playboy collaborator: vodka, or tequila? We’ve already met. Barbie is Ella’s sister. Ella? Yeah, it’s true. Poppy doesn’t know anything about Ella. Poppy pours the vodka into small glasses. Our eyes keep resting cogito interruptus on innocuous positions in space. I move all the way round the room in great, long strides. Red, violet, red. While I repeat to myself, incredulous, I am, above all, a true gentleman, I escape to the bathroom to compose myself again, the scheming slags: the edges of the bath are covered in candles creating beauty through an act of self-consumption. A gentleman-knight who’ll battle in the presence of the dragon, for I could join in with the candles setting off a medieval inferno that would strike the adulteresses down in an instant. But now Poppy has put harp music on and I’m softened by the beauty of the candles. The redness evaporates. The flames of the candles and the notes of the harp transform what could be an explosion into meditative stillness. We’ll smoke, we’ll drink and we’ll talk about Poppy’s pilgrimage to Kathmandu and finally I’ll end up sinking into the chattering half-sleep of the couch: ‘welcome to Cuntville: we’re delighted to inform you that the monsters that we planted in your frontal lobe to devour your irresistible magnetism are well into their incubation phase and we’re chorusing eureka: your beloved cute little pussycats have already begun to reject you, since the process of your musk’s decomposition has quickened its pace, all you give out now is the smell of death, and the obstacles along with the random elements that we devised to impede your progress will soon  have you spinning in an ill-fated circuit that will sap you of energy which in turn will drown you in the most crushing tepidness. Your adorable creature Ella Lynch will leave. She’ll leave for Kathmandu. Kathmandu? With Poppy? Do they know each other? Maybe, maybe, who knows. We deactivated the electromagnetic waves from the radio that were sending her mad and administered her with a complete series of delirious dreams in their place, whereby an oracle that reactivated her serotonin recited: “you’ll only take off without Elle”, “Elle is draining you”, “to escape from the labyrinth you’ll have to get rid of Elle”. It’s clear that we hate you. But our duty is first and foremost to determine the true strength of your biceps: do you remember when you were little and they would ask you: “are you a boy or a girl?” and you answered “do you wanna arm wrestle?” you always beat everyone in your street at arm wrestling because your young muscles were rock hard and you wouldn’t accept this body that felt like a mistake? Good. Your mission consisted of flying through the enemy’s heartland, surviving the violent attack of devastating defensive firepower, and rescuing Ella Lynch. It goes without saying that you’ve failed most ostentatiously. You’ve got to learn, Elle. If you follow our instructions you’ll emerge as a war veteran: you’ll be covered in scars but you’ll be a more interesting person for it. Ella Lynch has passed the test. But you’ve still got a long way to go, mi amigo …’

In an orgy of sensations I’ve fired wildly against the ghost of Cuntville and I’ve woken up as fresh as a daisy: rescue Ella Lynch! Waking up in a strange house gives a sensation of time intensified, but sleeping on a sofa is not without painful repercussions, I can’t find my sunglasses and I’ve got to get my shit from Ella’s house today. Today is the end of the world and it’s when the taxi stops in front of 108 Pandora Road that my fall begins: 108 Pandora Road is in the suburbs, but suddenly it seems as if it were in the outskirts of a suburb at the edge of the universe, as if they’d put it there to lend weight to my delirium, as if it were on an enchanted street created by a spell and Ella was the spectral emanation of an imaginary dimension. The house takes on an incantatory volume in the air, a little bit as if it was floating. I’m overcome by a sensation of unreality: Ella has created a binding spell that I can’t escape. You’ll forget me just as everything gets forgotten in time. Caught in the spell, I head towards the phone box and dial my number: her voice also acquires an incantatory volume in the air.  When she tells me she’s off to Los Angeles with her sister Barbie I say despite myself: I didn’t know you knew Poppy. And: so is it Los Angeles or Kathmandu? She dodges my question with an absurd one in return: white, pink, or black? And with measured intonation she adds: didn’t you know I’d sold The Space of the Tangible Hallucination?

I cross the street regressus ad uterum and go into the house, which is now a sanctuary: the blinding luminosity brings about a floating feeling, the house is completely empty, and all the surfaces are painted a hyperbrilliant white colour that emits points of iridescence. I follow the directive of a sign that states please remove your shoes and socks: in her room a group of reporters from various TV channels are filming her work. They are barefoot. And some of them are sitting cross-legged on the floor, in lotus position. She’s wearing a see-through white dress and there’s a point on the main wall, placed right in the symmetrical centre of the wall, where all the energy in the room is concentrated. As I get closer I notice that the focal point of the energy is a miniature model of the Pink Panther and Ella Lynch is explaining to the cameras that after searching for many months, fate had handed her the key: inside the surprise capsule of a chocolate Kinder egg she found the little model of the Pink Panther and she knew it was laden with great power.

I wander around The Space of the Tangible Hallucination, rapt: o quam tristis et afflicta: all my little official pussycats are leaving, a major toccata and fugue in unison, for other continents. On the iridescent white table in the iridescent white kitchen an old hunk of Serrano ham takes on an ominously strange presence. In the bathroom there’s a photo in faded colours and a blackboard bearing a familiar phrase: CHECKMATE. And in what used to be my study there hangs a black-and-white passport photo with two pins pressed into the eyes: my photo.

I’m left with a dual image of the desertion of my pretty pussycats: the Ella ritualistically pressing two pins into the eyes of my passport photo a few days before my downfall and calling it art, and Ella dressed in white and smiling at me while she declares to the press: the Pink Panther is the meditative focus for the new millennium: whenever you fix your gaze on the Pink Panther, the world becomes abstract and you tune into the alpha state.

* an excerpt.

Translation of “The Space of the Tangible Hallucination.” Copyright Susana Medina. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2012 by Rosie Marteau. All rights reserved.

Susana Medina (Valencia, 1966) susana medinais the author of Red Tales Cuentos rojos (bilingual edition, 2012, co-translated with Rosie Marteau) and Philosophical Toys (Dalkey Archive, 2014) – offspring of which are the praised short films Buñuel’s Philosophical Toys and Leather-bound Stories (co-directed with Derek Ogbourne). Her other books are the poetry and aphorisms collection Souvenirs del Accidente (2004) and Borgesland, A voyage through the infinite, imaginary places, labyrinths, Buenos Aires and other psychogeographies and figments of space (2006). She has been awarded The Max Aub International Short Story Prize and is the recipient of a writing grant from the Arts Council of England, for her novel Spinning Days of Night.  Her writing will be featured in Best European Fiction, 2014, Dalkey Archive. Medina has published a number of essays on literature, art, cinema and photography, curated various well-received international art shows in abandoned spaces

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