She disliked him ever since he stood her up at the last minute with a group project during their first year of college. “I’m sick,” he said on the phone in a neutral tone that didn’t demand sympathy, and she offered to take responsibility for the paper. That night, while she was returning home in her mother’s car—the paper done and carefully copied on a flash drive—, she saw him walking down a business street with some goth chic, his hands in his pockets and his gaze fixed on some point in the distance. The girl looked like a vampire on stilts and moved her hands frantically as she talked; he, on the other hand, confined himself to nodding, his head at a slight angle, moving toward the darkness of the street.
The scene took her by surprise. She remained paralyzed in the middle of traffic, too stunned to decide if she should keep going or call out to the guy through the car window. Later, as she ate with her mother, the same image returned to her over and over, his attentive expression and the girl dressed in black, like a magpie or a widow. She felt nauseous.
“You’re acting strange,” her mother said, scrutinizing her over a plate of ravioli. “You’ve done something.”
“I’m just tired.”
“Is it a man?” insisted her mother, and the girl shook her head and turned red. Her mother was accustomed to looking at the girl’s car mileage every day to make sure that she hadn’t gone somewhere else at the times she was supposed to be at school.
“The Enemy comes disguised as an angel,” her mother persisted, “but his real face is terrible. Don’t ever forget that you wear his mark on your forehead. He knows your name and hears your call.”
Her mother made the sign of the cross, and the girl choked on a ravioli. She hiccupped.
“Show me your hands,” her mother ordered.
“Momma!” she protested nervously, but her mother insisted. The girl reluctantly put out her freckled hands, with chewed nails, on the checkered tablecloth. Her mother inspected them, and, with an abrupt gesture, she brought them to her nose.
“Enough!” the girl yelled, breaking away, and ran to her room. She bolted the door and threw herself face down on the bed, where her dolls—gifts from her mother that she didn’t dare throw them in the trash—were watching her with their implacable glass eyes. The weight of the boy’s betrayal still overwhelmed her. When the professor explained days earlier that the papers would be done in groups, she immediately moved closer to him: she had chosen him. It was the first time in her life that she had taken initiative. As she thought about what she had risked by lying to her mother in order to be able to meet with him, about how understanding her mother had been about her fictitious illness, about the amount of time she had taken to do the part of paper he was responsible for, about the goth chic’s gaudy makeup, something churned inside her as if she were standing in front of a viper. The world, suddenly, was a hostile place. She wanted to graduate with honors so that she could apply for a doctorate abroad and move forever away from her mother’s constant surveillance, from the Eye that saw everything. The boy’s lie was a personal affront, an attack against the future she had designed for herself, against the idea of happiness and the world, and suddenly she felt powerless and betrayed and on the verge of tears.
She ran to the bathroom, put her foot on the toilet and lifted her skirt. She took a razor, and, without taking a single breath, she made a cut across her thigh, where some old scares were fading. Later, she slapped herself three, four, five times, in quick succession, until the bathroom mirror returned the image of her burning cheeks. Next, she placed her hair behind her ears, cleaned the blood from her thigh with a piece of toilet paper which she threw into the toilet and returned to bed, where she read The Amazing Secret of the Souls in Purgatory, by Maria Simma, until she fell asleep.
The next day, she arrived at school with the paper printed. She had erased the boy’s name. She anticipated his reaction when he found out the consequences of his lie: the final paper was crucial to passing the class. She imagined him confused at being found out, stuttering excuses only to finally accept the evidence of his deceit. She would let him beg a little before write his name once again on the coversheet as a last magnanimous gesture, to teach him that she knew how to forgive. Only then the order of things would be reestablished. However, the boy never came to class, and she turned in the group work without his name and never found out anything else about him and intended to not get close to anyone ever again.
By then, her mother had begun to sniff the girl’s underwear behind her back, and she would insist on leaving her at the gate of the college and on coming by to look for her every day, despite the fact that it was a useless precaution. “My mother has a point,” the girl thought. “I wear the mark that separates me from the others like a flame. There wasn’t a way to erase the mark, of hiding it.” So, she blindly insisted on getting perfect grades, until the professor called her one day into her office and informed her that she would not give her the maximum grade even though she had completed all of the assignments.
“You, young lady, what you have to do is learn to disobey,” she said, looking at her with impatience. “Or put another way, learn to think for yourself, because that’s not the same as memorizing.”
The girl—who loved and feared the professor—turned violently red, squeezed her backpack against her chest and said nothing.
“You confuse intelligence with memory,” repeated the professor.
The girl did not lift her eyes. An imperceptible tremble crossed her lips. The afternoon light made the suspended particles in the air shimmer.
“That is what I had to tell you,” said the professor.
The girl murmured an apology and ran to close herself up in one of the college’s bathrooms. The walls were covered in layers of graffiti: Whore who’s reading this long live the cock Yeni sees visions FEMEN long live MAS free, beautiful, and crazy women I’M GOING TO KILL YOU WORTHLESS SLUT. Her heart beat wildly. She bent over the broken lid of the toilet and pushed her fingers toward the back of her throat. The food from lunch came out effortlessly, transformed into a yellowish porridge. She used her fingers until she spit up a bitter liquid that burned her throat, but the relief was late to arrive. In the toilet, rising amidst the bubble of vomit, she saw the Eye appear. It was missing an eyelid; however, the girl recognized in its dark blue iris the look—mocking? menacing?—of her mother. The Eye—was it possible?,—smiled. She pulled the chain. A jet of water carried away the Eye and the remainder of the yellowish mass. Before leaving the bathroom, the girl looked over her shoulder various times to assure herself that the Eye hadn’t reappeared, floating up through the plumbing.
Since that day, all of her senses sharpened. She had hoped that this would happen, because something was clearly about to happen: it must have been important to have awakened the Eye. The Eye—as she had understood it—was the sign. For that reason, she didn’t suffer or cut her thighs when the professor gave her a mediocre grade on her final paper—with a single commentary: “Think!”—she didn’t even get upset when she learned that her mother had become more and more obsessed with embroidering the nightgown that she wanted to wear when she died. Her mother, she was convinced, was also waiting.
There were only a few days left before Christmas when she ran into the boy on a street downtown. As she walked, looking at the artificial snow on the store windows, they bumped into each other. He greeted her as if they hadn’t stopped seeing each other all those months. During that time, she noticed that his face had lost its childlike roundness. It was a handsome face, sharp and distant. The face of someone who’s not quite an adult, but who never had been a child. She crossed her hand instinctively over her purse. He said he was going to the movies, and she wasn’t surprised when he invited her to go with him. She thought of her mother, waiting for her at home, staring off and on, each time more briefly, at the kitchen clock while she embroidered a nightgown at delirious speed, but her steps were already following the boy’s. During the walk, they said little. She asked timidly why he had left college. He answered that college was boring and that he had a rock band now. She didn’t have much to add; luckily, he was walking with his ears covered by his iPod’s headphones. At the ticket booth, they each paid their own entrance. It was the afternoon show, and a couple of children were amusing themselves by throwing popcorn into the air a few rows in front of them. As soon as they turned off the lights, bloody letters announced the name of the movie, and his fingers closed around her thigh. “You are the one that comes and takes, she thought, and a spasm raced down her back with the intensity of lightning. On the screen an enormous green monster slithered out of a sinister jungle. She shuddered. The Eye had just emerged from between the trees’ foliage and it was floating towards her; it stopped a few centimeters from her seat, shining accusingly in the darkness. She was able to scare it away by closing her eyes. You wear the mark of your origin on your forehead, her mother’s voice muttered in her ear. But the boy’s tongue was tickling her earlobes. Little lamb on the hill, she prayed, run as fast as you can, your life isn’t even beginning, nor has it even begun. The boy sucked her fingers, one by one, while his own fingers searched for her mouth, and on the screen a woman howled, crushed beneath a mechanical harvester that advanced wildly. The woman’s intestines burst out of her sides. The girl let out a sigh and blindly bit the tips of the fingers that were rummaging in her mouth. Then Yahweh rained on Sodom and on Gomorrah sulfur and fire, her mother’s voice shrieked infuriated, and the theater seats rose a few centimeters above the ground. The children in the row in front of them screamed with glee. The boy opened his fly, and holding the girl by the neck, forced her head onto his penis. The girl began to suck, smothered by his hairs; he held her by the back of her neck and hair without the slightest care, and then she was touched by grace like a beam of light that flooded over her. She understood that she had been brought into the world for this moment, and that everything that had happened until then was nothing more than preparation for this meeting, for this moment of revelation that overpowered her, before which she had surrendered completely, as if before the river’s current beneath the midday sun. It was the boy who had chosen her. The boy had waited since the beginning of time for the moment that, through her, the motors of great destruction would begin. The boy was the Enemy about whom her mother had always spoken, she thought, amazed, and her own vocation—now she knew—had been to open the gates of the void. How great her fate, to bring about the beginning of the end times!
“Are you okay?” the boy mumbled, somewhat annoyed, as he zipped his pants, her head still resting between his legs, unable to speak. The Eye had disappeared, and the girl had begun to feel in her bones the crackle of the first balls of fire as they hurled toward Earth.
It had begun.
Translated by Auston Stiefer