Silence

Gonçalo M. Tavares's latest novel, Jerusalem, is forthcoming from Dalkey Archive Press.

www.dalkeyarchive.com

Inside, with the mental patients

Gada is speaking. He is fifteen years old.

I go in and out of here. They open me like a door and they close me. I was operated on for eleven years. Seventeen times. They made me a door for eleven years. They opened me and closed me. They opened me and closed me. They also made a door out of my head.

And Gada, just fifteen years old, has a scar on his head.


I don't have a shadow, says Heinrich.

It's hot. Heinrich, under the shade of a tree, is smoking a cigarette and he spits forcefully so that none of it falls within the shade. I'm having a contest with my spit, he says. To see if the spit goes further than the tree's shadow.

He walks away from the tree and enters the sunlight to recover his shadow. You see, he points. I'm not dead.

He looks down at his feet and spits at his right foot.

Madame, I need water, Heinrich says. But there's no Madame around.


She has a fever and wants to break through the glass.

I can't feel my hand, Mylia says. If I break the glass with my hand, I'll be able to feel my hand.

Witold says: if you can't feel your soul, break that glass with your soul. He laughs. Souls shouldn't break glass. Hands are used to it.

I can't feel my hand, Mylia says.

He counts all of her fingers.

See, you have your whole hand.

My hand is missing, Mylia says.

Two men grab her. Mylia opens and closes her right hand dozens of times.


I'm going to sweep the hotel, Marksara says.

The hotel is dirty, it has crumbs and men. And has cigarette butts.

I'm going to sweep the hotel. It's full of men, Marksara says. And of cigarette butts.

The men smoke a lot.

I'm always sweeping, Marksara says.


They locked me up here so my mother wouldn't see me die.

Johana says she understands. A mother shouldn't see her daughter die.

Johana is cutting the fingers off a glove so that she can mend them later with wool thread.

And save the fingers, she says, laughing.

She doesn't have scissors. She tears the fingers off the gloves by grabbing them tight, then pulling them with her teeth.

My mother has strong teeth, Johana says.

They locked me up here so she wouldn't see my teeth. My mother locked me up here.


Marko watches television all day long. From the moment he wakes up until he goes to sleep. No one can pull him away.

Anything could happen, he says.


He has a hat. He says that the hat creates hysteria in his mind. But he doesn't want to throw it away.

It makes hysteria in my mind, he says about the hat.

The hat isn't heavy, he says, holding it out. Whoever puts the hat on doesn't fall over.

No one takes the hat. He puts it back on his head.

It was my father who gave it to me when I turned fifteen.

It's small.

The man lowers his head and begins to cry.


She has a number 53 on her sweater and is eating a pastry.

I'm Martha.

And she's very thin.

Martha says: I'm very thin.

She points at the number 53 on her sweater.

I was happy three times. When my mother let me play in the garden. Then my mother brought me here. I thought it was a game.

Below her collarbones, you can see the bones of her thin legs.

My mother said my clothes didn't have a body.


He has various maps in his bag. Maps of the world, of Europe, of Asia.

Stieglitz says: now we are here.

Every time he stops, he takes the maps out of his bag and looks at them. Then he uses the pointer to signal the place where he is.

We are here.

He never says: I am here. He always says: we are here.

Every day, he repeats the same pattern. The borders of countries are no longer visible on the map due to the pointer's marks.

When he sees someone new, Stieglitz goes up to him and whispers: Could you give me some maps?

When someone says he doesn't have any, Stieglitz gets violent.

Then he is silent. He looks at the person and smiles.


Zero per cent doesn't exist, says Uberbein who was a mathematician.

His hair fell out because he went to a prostitute. He remained hairless until summer. That's what they told me.

But zero per cent doesn't exist, he repeats.

Uberbein puts his hand in his pocket and brings it out full of salt.

If zero per cent existed, this wouldn't be here.

He nearly starts to cry. He pulls himself together.

My hair fell out because I went to see a prostitute. I was a professor of mathematics, Uberbein says. My hair is going to fall out until summer.


Wisliz has a scar on his head.

My head was operated, Wisliz says.

They took my intelligence.

They say I'm stupid, that I don't understand.

I'm tired, I can't concentrate.

I need to sleep a lot, says Wisliz.


Ernst. The others mock the way Ernst runs.

My name is Ernst. Ernst Spengler.

I like it here.


Translated by Anna Kushner.

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