Boredom leads to breakups, she says after a brief silence.
This is the real reason she’s invited us—to tell us about her last year. We haven’t seen her since the flames laid ruin to her apartment.
When boredom takes over, the only thing left is to leave, break up with your partner, or find someone to have an affair with, like I did, she tells us, searching for an ashtray among the dirty dishes, the plates, the empty bottles.
I don’t know if it was an accident, or if he started the fire on purpose, I’ll never know, she tells us, lighting a cigarette, pulling up her hair, and fixing her gaze on me, the only one, according to her—according to Teresa—who still talks to Felipe, which is to say, the only one who still talks to her ex-partner, the man who allegedly set all her things, and her home, on fire.
His excuse, Felipe’s explanation, is lacking: he fell asleep with some candles lit, because a fuse had blown earlier that afternoon. Even I, and I’m supposed to be on his side, don’t believe it. But this—the fact that I don’t believe Felipe, the fact that I’m convinced he set Teresa’s whole life on fire on purpose—isn’t something I think about saying out loud, even less since I don’t know what’s become of him. You can betray people, but not their ghosts.
The afternoon before the night of the fire, Teresa told Felipe she was having an affair, that she’d been sleeping with someone else for several months now, in fact, and that she had no intentions of leaving this someone else, that this someone else didn’t need to stick it up her ass to get an erection, that this someone else was more interested in what she did, in her work on Morelos Mountain, where, as it happened, she’d be returning that very night in the company of this someone else—a man whose parents had baptized Mario.
I’ll never know, because deep down, I don’t think I want to know, she tells us, pausing to take a drag on her cigarette. Which is the same—not knowing—as knowing without wanting to accept it, she tells us a little later, picking up the story and pressing the cigarette into the chipped notch of the ashtray. What I do know, she tells us, smiling to herself, is that the fire transformed boredom into courage. And just as rage burns like fire, I set out to destroy him, to fuck Felipe over for good. So my fling with Mario turned into a relationship, but more out of aggression than desire, she tells us.
The last time I saw Felipe—I think, as Teresa recounts how it was that she and Mario, to her surprise and his, became a couple; as she explains how it was, then, that her rage transformed into their courage, and how that courage decanted into the elixir of their love—was at his parents’ house. He greeted me under the old lemon tree in the garden, a barren and battered tree, surrounded by a sea of cigarette butts and ash, scrawny like a malnourished animal, sad like an uprooted plant, silent like a creature broken and obsessed with itself—like a culprit.
All things that are solid, in the end, can be recovered, Teresa says after another silence that washes over her mind, and mine. That was what Mario helped me understand: what cannot be recovered is that which vanishes but remains, here, inside of you. This apartment, for example, is better than my last one, I like it more, I’ve never felt so at home, she tells us, pulling her face into another wild smile. On the other hand, I can’t stand that Remigio is gone. Or not so much that he’s gone—what I can’t stand is not knowing whether he suffocated, or was burned alive, or if the firefighters drowned him, or if he managed to escape but was so scared that he ran too far away and couldn’t find his way back, she tells us.
Remigio was Teresa and Felipe’s cat, a tabby cat, old and friendly. The pet they adopted right after they moved in together. I’m certain that he—Remigio—died in the fire; I’m certain, in fact, that this is what Felipe wanted—to burn their pet alive—and not what Mario, if I understand what Teresa is saying, would have wanted: for the cat to vanish and never be seen again, for a state of uncertainty to persist forever, transforming little by little into emptiness—an emptiness that grows colder and colder, an emptiness around which all feelings cease to grow. Felipe’s objective, then, was thwarted. There were no remains, the charcoal could not express itself. Teresa and Mario, for their part, immediately found another cat, a cat whose story, in fact, Teresa is just now starting to tell us.
The night I returned to Morelos Mountain, after dealing with the insurance and making it clear to Felipe that we were over, Mario was with me, she tells us. He asked me not to travel alone and offered to go with me, saying he could return the next day, since his work keeps him from spending more than two days away from his lab, she tells us. In fact, that’s why he couldn’t come tonight for dinner, because one of the animals, I think it was a capuchin monkey, though I’m not sure, fell ill this afternoon, she tells us. The tube in its leg got infected, or the hole in its skull, or something, I don’t know, but something infected the poor animal and that’s why Mario had to stay, in case he had to put him down, she tells us.
Mario, Teresa’s partner, who I’ve met only a couple of times, is a neurologist and neurosurgeon. He works with animals, he trepans them, he installs nodules connected to one or several machines and he studies desire and loss, if I understand it right, because it’s also possible I haven’t understood it right and he does something else. But the part about trepanning heads, I know he trepans them, I’m sure of that. As sure as I am that Felipe, the last time I saw him, told me that ashes can speak—that if one writes with charcoal, it is not one’s voice that must be read by those who view the text.
That night, in Morelos, in the mountains, just before dawn, we awoke to the meowing—the screeching, really—of a kitten, she tells us. I was the first to get up, of course, the first to walk through the house and go outside, where the full moon illuminated everything in leaden blue, she tells us, pausing again, lighting another cigarette, and cursing the lack of beer. I can go to the Oxxo for more, I suggest, but the looks I get from my partner and from Teresa keep me seated.
Soon, Mario caught up with me, she tells us. We were barefoot, and even though the area is swarming with snakes and scorpions, we decided to follow the yowling, she tells us, emptying the dregs of several empty bottles into her glass, trying to make even just one more drink. Seriously, I can go for more beer, I say, but collide again with the glares of my companions. I have to go to the bathroom, I say, getting up before they can stop me.
I’m listening, so go on, I say from the bathroom, leaving the door open. So Teresa continues: We found him about 100 meters from the house, under a mesquite tree, in a pile of rocks, she tells us. He must have been only a month old, maybe a month and a half, and he was terrified, he wouldn’t stop yowling, even when I picked him up and held him against my chest, she tells us as I pull the chain and turn toward the sink. Back at the house, we gave him something to eat and drink, she tells us as I wash my hands.
Then we laid him down in bed with us, between us, really, she says as I dry my hands and then notice, on the glass shelf protruding from the mirror, several different lumps of coal. It’s a strange collection, a series of carbonized figures, really. The next day, after discussing what to do, and before he left to go back to the city, back to his laboratory, really, Mario and I decided we would keep the cat. We named him Felipe, for obvious reasons, she tells us, but I’m only half listening. Suddenly, I’ve just realized that the carbonized figures were bones.
We couldn’t have known then that he would grow how he did, that he would grow and grow and grow, that he would be what he is now, she tells us as I come out of the bathroom. From behind the door opposite the one I’ve just closed, I hear a noise, a sound of tearing or scraping—a solid moan that creeps into my intestines, that dances inside my body. Look, she tells us, lifting her legs onto the table and revealing her ankles, that animal gave me all of these marks, it turns into a beast at night, it turns into a wild and savage force, she tells us, smiling and expecting us to smile with her. Whether you want me to or not, I’m going for more beer, I blurt out, searching the table for my keys and ignoring their stares.
I don’t care that I’m going out alone, leaving my girlfriend there; fear, in the end, also leads to breakups. Terror takes over, and the only thing left is to leave, I tell myself, searching for my jacket. It’s in the bedroom, I put your things in our room, on the bed, Teresa tells me, continuing the story as if nothing has happened, laughing almost maniacally: one day he’s a totally normal cat, a cuddly little kitten even, but when the sun goes down, he transforms into a beast. So before night falls, we lock him in, or Mario and I have to lock ourselves in, because if we don’t, he attacks us, she tells us.
My jacket is on the bed, on top of my girlfriend’s things. I pick it up and put it on, looking out, through the window, at the stone path that communicates like an ancestral language between the buildings of the housing complex where we are. I want to be out there, I want to leave at once and be out there and never come back, I tell myself, turning around and looking down the hallway, where I hear the noise again, the tearing that to me now sounds more like something dragging than something scraping.
Mario says that calling someone would just make things worse, that the supposed experts, they would just euthanize him, she tells us when I come back to the living room and give my rushed goodbyes, without looking at anyone, and without being able to rid my mind of the latest thought that consumes it: someone or something is dragging something—it’s like someone, or something, is leaving its mark. He says that if, in the end, we can’t adapt to living with each other, it would be better if he just dealt with him at the lab, she tells us.
People think that they suffer, that the trepanned animals suffer the whole time, but we give them a life they wouldn’t have out on the street, we feed them, we let them roam free most of the day, we only study them every now and then, and mostly when they’re sleeping, she tells us that Mario tells her, as I leave the apartment.
On the stairs I speed up my escape—as much, at least, as my heartbeats speed up in my chest. Break up with your partner or find someone to have an affair with, I say to myself as I leap, three steps at a time, down the stairs, not knowing why I’m saying that or why I’m panicking.
On the stone path, calm returns to my body and I stop myself; I’m stopped, actually, by a premonition—no, by the certainty—that I’m being watched.
When I look up, in the window of the room that forced me to flee, I see Felipe, a metallic glint shimmering from his skull.
He’s scratching, with a piece of charcoal, on the window pane. Refusing to read what he writes, I pick up my pace again and make my escape.
In any case, his is not the voice I would have to read—if I were to stay, if I were to view the text.