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Автор João Gilberto Noll

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João Gilberto Noll

Quiet Creature on the Corner

Quiet Creature on the Corner

A dark broth running from my hands beneath the faucet: I’d lost my job, and was saying so long to all that stubborn grease.

A dark broth running, there went three months, and I’d gotten into the habit of killing time by rambling through the center of town, a slight malaise if I saw myself in the mirror of a public bathroom, nothing a nineteen-year-old guy couldn’t shake by sticking with it a little longer.

Sometimes, right up until I sidled into one of the job lines, I’d pull out any old piece of paper from my pocket along with a pen, and if someone saw me I’d put on a stern air, like I was taking note, not of some verses that sprang to mind, but of a reminder of some urgent obligation.

Through the center of Porto Alegre, without much variation, I’d stroll a bit through Rua da Praia, have a coffee in the Galeria Chaves, hit the newspaper stand in the Praça da Alfândega, leafing, leafing, all the way up to Riachuelo, pop into a used bookstore, spend some more time leafing, poetry, too flat broke to buy even used books, money down near zero — and oftentimes, like now, I’d go sit in the public library up the street from the used bookstore, taking in the lives of poets, every one of them stranger than the last — there was one who was never looking to get laid, had never fucked anybody, died like that, chaste, and another who secretly collected his own fingernail clippings, he’d stick the clippings in a small jar and make a sort of relic of them, struck by some feeling he never knew how to decipher.

That afternoon it didn’t take long for the same old hunger to hit me, so I went about getting up, leaving, gawking at the various people that were reading hunched over dark, coarse tables, the majority of them the same old regulars, and I got to imagining they were all unemployed like me, or that they collected a pension for some sort of hidden disability — I didn’t see anything abnormal about them, seated there, reading, quiet, they didn’t look handicapped, they weren’t missing any obvious parts.

When I got to the door of the public library, soot was falling, and nobody could really say where it came from — in certain places so thick that you couldn’t see the other side of the street. Some people went out anyway and got covered in soot, others ran, others were coming into the doorway of the library to take shelter. I took my wallet from my pocket and opened it, still had some cash, went out — the rain of soot was stopping — and went down Borges, took Rua da Praia to Vigário José Inácio, went into Carlos Gomes cinema, sat down to see a porno: the woman stopped the car with the top down and started rubbing her hand on her pussy, drawing a rowdy crowd of men around her, a Japanese tourist filming everything, and the woman like she didn’t see a thing, eyes closed, cumming over and over, pussy slathered, pink.

It was almost late afternoon when I left the theater, and I went slowly, so slowly that I suddenly found myself stopped in Acelino de Carvalho alley, a chilly backstreet too narrow for direct sunlight, pedestrian-only, constantly reeking of piss, a couple barbershops on one side, three or four side-exit doors from the Vitória cinema on the other, hearing voices inside speaking English. Right then I remembered: I’m going home, and I walked resolutely in the direction of the bus terminal.

It was a Monday afternoon when I first broke into the apartment in Glória, where I’ve since lived with my mother. I went in alone, carrying just a box of tools, a box I used to carry, I’m not sure why, in tricky situations like that one. It was a halted construction project: a door here and there, some windows, bathrooms almost finished, kitchens less so. Every day new squatters discreetly turned up — my mother and I, in certain pauses, would look at each other, wondering, yet we decided to keep up the ruse by hanging things on the wall, pushing the broken china cabinet closer to the window. Ever since the eviction at that half-crooked house on the edge of the pavement right there in Glória, ever since then we’d been catching each other in locked stares, with a sort of stupor.

The bus that took me home passed along a ridge of cemeteries — I was surrounded by cemeteries on both sides, on this melancholy hill as they called it on the radio — every day from up there I saw the valley on the other side, the Glória neighborhood, full of low rooftops and the ugly church with towers that looked a little bit pink at that time of day.

I recalled my mother’s face, waiting for me in the small apartment: just one room, brick walls exposed, bare lightbulb, and that woman who just seemed to wait for me — ever since my father took off, she was there without much to do except wait for me, waiting as she watched a black and white TV that didn’t get all the channels.

Down below, the building had a big lobby full of columns, it was already dark when I arrived, and like every late afternoon, there they were, propped against the columns: a gang of kids, almost all of them out of work like me, a little pale under the weak lighting. I was in the habit of stopping to listen, throwing in my two cents if I could: a rumor that the military police might come in formation and throw us all out of our apartments by force, that it could happen at any moment — there was laughter from those who didn’t want to keep talking about it, and then it was my turn to hold the slobbery joint. Two or three of them concealing syringes slunk off behind the building, where there were unformed blocks from a building whose construction was paralyzed almost right from the get-go, which we all called the ruins.

I opened the sagging door to the apartment and there was my mother, like always, waiting for me — only this time she was crying, saying she was leaving the next day, she couldn’t live like this anymore, that I was young, but she was going to live with her sister somewhere on the outskirts of São Borja.

We sat down, leaned on the table. My mother remarked that the milk was thick. Indeed, there were rings of fat down the sides of the glass.

Someone knocked on the door, and I went to open it, already knowing who it was: the eldest son of the neighbor lady, a crazy kid who had this obsession with coming to ask me for a nail, and for the hundredth time I said I didn’t have any more, but like always he needed to nail something — this time it was for nailing a beam, yes, nailing a beam in the ceiling above his mattress — he was almost shouting, and banging, banging, banging, until he bled. I looked up because that was the direction he was pointing so vehemently, I looked and saw the split ceilings in the hallway: I just need to borrow one nail, the kid was repeating, loan me one nail, that’s all — the kid was gagging, and as usual he suddenly fell silent and returned to the apartment where he lived, with such a distressed expression that it seemed he’d just experienced a defeat that no other child was even capable of imagining.

While my mother was watching her soaps, seated on the shredded sofa, I went downstairs to see if anything was new, and I went down the stairs thinking of her: it really was a good idea for her to go to São Borja, because there was every reason to believe that everything was headed for collapse here in Porto Alegre, and then I wouldn’t know what to do with her.

All around the building downstairs it was nearly a jungle, damp, parts of it always flooded, frogs croaking ceaselessly. There wasn’t anyone there.

I leaned an arm against a column, stared down at the floor, my busted sneaker. I could take advantage of the silence to write a poem, pull a piece of paper and pen from my pocket: images of undulating things pursuing me, perhaps a thin stem, very thin, adrift on the breeze. That was when I heard someone singing, a high-pitched voice. I looked around — undulating things, the thin stem, very thin, adrift on the breeze would have to wait for another time. I went looking for the person who was singing — it had to be nearby, it wasn’t coming from upstairs in any of the apartments — my steps drifting, looking in all the corners, the voice quite high, I went toward the ruins behind the building, where the voice seemed to be coming from, ah, it was the girl that lived on the top floor, Mariana if I’m not mistaken, seated on a chunk of ruin, younger than me, singing a romantic ballad by a singer who was hideous but provoked hysteric screams from girls in auditoriums on TV — hey, I said to her, you all alone out here?

The girl kept singing a while longer, then suddenly stopped and said, with the sky the way it was tonight, so full of stars, with the moon so high, it was likely the Druidesses would be descending in droves. This girl was like that, always talking about Druidesses and other strange beings — she said she never went to school, that she went every day to her hideout on the top of a hill, and stayed there singing all morning long.

When she started up with the thing about Druidesses my first reaction was to think of how sleepy I was, that I’d go to bed, or maybe get back to that poem.

But a second later, when she began to sing once more, I saw that, no, it wouldn’t be so bad to hang out a while longer, it wasn’t cold, so I stayed, wandering through the ruins, and she started singing a song that wasn’t half bad. The night was clear and the ruins were yellowed by the moon.

Suddenly I realized I was so close to the singing girl that I could almost feel her breath — I didn’t say a ...