By James Miller.
“Look, you’re tired and I’m going to tell you everything as if it were a story. It will do you good, it will change your ideas and I’ll tell it to you in the simplest way even though you won’t believe me.” I nod, letting her chatter on. She’s a nervy, pretty little thing, her pale face turned up and open, her brown eyes wide with energy. “In the morning, you see, I’m suspicious, anxious and paranoid. Worms run like fingers through my brain and I recite from memory, forwards and backwards, the text of the invisible fathers. What can be happening to the invisible fathers? What makes them put the few sons they have adopted through such torture? What makes them send their daughters far away?” The question, I assume, is rhetorical. Once again, I’m impressed by her facility with different languages. Her disorder takes many forms, but what really astonishes me are the things she seems to know. I make a note on my pad. She really is a fascinating case. On the table beside us the tape recorder is running, capturing her every inflexion, every shift and drop of her accent. “In the morning the light is too bright and I squint through my eyes at the sun. Oh, these inhuman pains.” She sighs and stares at the light in the ceiling. “I have a recurring dream where I walk dripping wet and dazed with my limbs bent out of shape with shards of rope still hanging from my wrists and ankles and I go walking to the Plaza de Mayo where someone, some loving mother will surely tell me who I really am.”
She shakes her head, sighing again and I wait for her to speak. “At least that’s the idea. But that never happens. Whenever she is about to speak I wake up. I always wake up. Sometimes I think the bed will be damp with the waters of the Río de la Plata and I will find scraps of rope with me, buried like secrets among the sheets. But no… Oh come on, please don’t look at me that way. Please. Todos nosotros sabemos lo que pasa.” Her eyes roll back. “Over cornflakes and tea I squint at my parents. The light is so bright and I look for clues. There should be blood all over the hands of the man who calls himself my father, their should be gristle under his fingernails. But I don’t see anything. With mother it’s even worse. I have grown to resemble her. They say we are so much alike, my friends say it. Oh god. It’s just a dream, I tell myself, a screen, a scream behind the screen, this life of mine. Brittle surfaces so bright I have to look away. Better not to look too hard isn’t it? Lo mejor es continuar como si nada ¿no crees? I go to school, I keep my head down. Of course, even here we’re not safe. The cowards! You heard what they did? They took the students away. And for what? For organising? For daring to speak. They say some of the girls were raped. And this happens here, in this good country?” She shakes her head and curls her lip, making as if to spit. Involuntarily, I flinch. “Mornings are like starched sheets and I remember other things… I remember the nights. Her nights. One’s own life can only be narrated if it does not involve others, if it does not stoop to anecdote. One can retouch it, perhaps? Rewrite it, maybe? What do you think? Sometimes I slip between the words. I fall out of language. ¿Qué piensas? To do what I do I must do it alone and unnarmed. But…” She hangs her head, brown hair falling over her face. I wait for her to sit up again.
“I tell the careers advisor that I want to study at the Universidad de Buenos Aires. She doesn’t listen. She looks at me like I’m mad. I keep saying things I’m not supposed to. I was supposed to say I want to study at the university of Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham… you know, one of those places, dreary and English.” She frowns. “I don’t care what you think or what my parents say. I’m not who you think I am. I’m not really a schoolgirl at Godolphin and Latymer. This isn’t really me. This place we’re in, this isn’t really London. There is an upside down me waiting on the otherside of the world. A city of the dead inhabited only by cats. Come night and the invisible fathers will stalk the streets. Their long limbs creep through the shadows like monstrous spiders. This is what the bright lights stop me from seeing. ¡Madre de Dios! I stick pins in all the photos.”
The subject is a seventeen year old girl with marked schizoid tendencies. Initial diagnosis of a borderline personality disorder is, in my expert opinion, unnable to account for the marked differences in her personality shifts. Each persona has certain clearly defined characteristics. At the same time, the subject’s mania is intercut with moments of apparent self-knowledge, even irony, in which she appear to reflect critically on her competing personalities. The fluctuation seems most extreme between the English and Argentine idenities. An Anglo-Argentine mania, we might call it. I wonder what might happen if I was to ask her about the Falklands, or Las Malvinas as I am sure she would prefer to call them.
“Is he a doctor or some other one? He comes for me in the evenings. The same patient concern in his eyes regardless of the different disguises. I act like I don’t recognise him. Sometimes he comes dressed as a postman pretending to bring a letter with the wrong name. Sometimes he is a man to read the gas meter, a cheap transvestite or a teacher or a social worker or an undercover policeman. Everytime he goes he leaves just a little bit behind, una pieza de memoria, a trace of who he thinks he is or who he might want to be. I hide the disguises under the bed. I never give them back. It might be a fake eyelash or a soft blue scarf. A paperclip and a rubber band. A prescription for pain killers. A pamphlet for the Montoneros. He always comes very late, at three am, the last of the night or the first of the morning. I talk to him and he shuffles in and looks a little guilty, touches his face, fingering his disguises, the beard or the hat, the prothesis stuck to his nose. He wears fake tan and eyeliner, a glittery tiara, stockings and a tutu. ¿Quién se cree que es? ¿El hermano-tranvesito de Jorge Videl? If only we could all be nice English gentlemen! Somewhere about him is a tape recorder and I know he takes home my words, hoards them, pours over them for secret meanings, whispered I love yous or clues to my real secret identity. I imagine stealing his tapes, erasing the old confessions and re-recording new ones on top. I think I could re-record often enough but then again there are still more recordings, recordings that are superimposed, recordings on top of one another. Whatever was once said is soon forgotten. Sometimes he takes my hand and listens with oh such infinite care. Does he think I’m mad? Does he believe a word I say? After he has gone the walls vibrate and the heat presses close. And so I wonder and when I peep through the shutters I realise this is not Barcelona, the city of Gaudi and exile where the streets dream of hunchbacks leeping in glee and laughing legless madmen, the two-headed woman and armless children with hands emerging from their necks. No, doctor, this is not Barcelona and nor is this Buenos Aires. The war is over, he tells me, and I do not need to hide any more. Perhaps there never was a war, the rebel armies in the mountains, the dissident intellectuals sheltering in locked rooms. Perhaps there never were bodies drugged and bound and thrown deep into the great silver river or the invisible fathers gloating, the children stolen and brought up in sticky webs and tissues of lies? ¿Piensas que no te conozco?”
The father comes in. His face silver with worry. A military man with years of service. He loves his daughter, of course he does. Loves her very much. Where has this come from? The worry is making his wife ill, he says, rubbing his moustache. “No sé de dondé saca esas ideas ¡Es monstruoso!” I nod. There are always many levels of truth. I promise to do all we can. He seems absurdly grateful. Nothing of this can get out. We have to keep moving forward, despite the necessary force and all the subsequent repercussions. I try to explain that with each repression there is always a corresponding trauma. Sometimes these things emerge in surprising ways. I try to keep my explanations simple. We all have to watch what we say. He’s a military man, after all.
“Do I exist? Exist, that is, in the same intense way as those who weave and unweave the plot of the story? But this no longer matters to us does it? Not the plot or her trying to put us inside the plot. She tried to swallow us up. Mi hermana. Ellos la secuestraron. ¡Bastardos! And so I must give up the study of a character who is not even sincere, not to mention whole… before she was duly measured, the voice, this girl who is both in and not in my head, measured and tabulated and vivisected, recorded, classified, printed… but it wouldn’t help would it sigñor? Because you can never deduce a law that fits her. She is not the rule. She is the exception who destroys it. She will bring all of this down. All of it.” She is agitated now, the face creasing and uncreasing, her hands anxiously roving up and down her arms. “And yet each morning here I am. See? Look at me, neither short nor tall, neither fat nor thin, neither violent nor blind nor stupid nor lazy nor ugly but of somewhat unsound mind. Yes! That is what I am despite having given a different description of myself elsewhere, despite wanting to acquire more consistency and trying to define my limits in time and space. It’s not easy to know who one is, if one is. Este y aquello.”
“Where is your sister now?” I ask.
“ She is here and here and here, in the regions of my body and the invisible spaces. She is in the incomplete memories. They will come in the night. Something terrible will happen that night because of its fearful truth. Night is a quick-silvered box, night is another country. I am not seeking definition but complete explanations and only she can talk to me without even mentioning its name. She knows everything and I have no reason to lose her again. She permits me to see and to see her. I know she’s hiding somewhere but she isn’t trying too hard to hide. In the mirror she lurks in the corner of my eye, squinting in the bright light of morning.”
“Where is your sister now?” I interrupt, asking her once again, for the thirteenth time. Her answer is always different. She has populated the whole world with this phantom sister of hers. Of course, this time she does not answer at all.
“Come morning it’s all the same again. I look at them, suspicious over toast and tea. Who are they? What have they done with her? What have they done with me? I hate this world, all smiles and shallow surfaces. Who will save us? Not Christ the redeemer, arms outsretched to hug us all? Not him. What of the other Gods? Quetzalcoatl, lord of the morning star? Could he save us? What of Maria Sabina and the palace set with jewels.” She stands on her chair, shouting now. “Flesh of the Gods and the mountains sacred? Does it even exist? Does it rest in the valley or on high? In the cunt or the mountain? I’m in the jungle, I’m the central eye of the jungle, black with oil-like intensity, with the panthers and the rotting plants. Those around me know nothing of who I am. Enough! You sicken me.”
I call for the orderlies and they drag her from the room.
-Bueno, doctor, ¿qué te parece?
-Ella habla muy bien Inglés.
-Parece tener una gran cantidad de conocimientos locales. Londres – las escuelas, las costumbres de allí, es notable ¿Y ella nunca ha estado allí?
-¡Nunca! Entonces, ¿qué te parece?
-Para todos nosotros, creo que es mucho mejor que ella no sepa nada de lo que realmente ha sucedido.
-Estoy de acuerdo. Hasta su medicación. Yo recomiendo la terapia con el Dr. Schwarzman en Villa Freud. Es un medico prestigioso. Nada de esa basura de Lacanian.
-Dr. Schwarzman. Sí …
-Échale un ojo. Nada de esto debe salir de aquí.
-Con el tiempo se olvidará. Siempre lo hacen …
Author’s note: This story was originally published in the ‘Duende’ issue of Antique Children. The story is a response to and a remix of elements drawn from ‘He Who Searches’ by the Argentine writer Luisa Valenzuela, an experimental novel exploring the impact of the junta. In 2009 I lived in Buenos Aires for sixth months and was fascinated to discover that the children of left wing dissidents ‘disappeared’ by the junta during the Dirty War were often then adopted and brought up by members of the military, a secretive policy that left deep scars on the nation’s psyche. Buenos Aires is also known for its large number of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Miller is the author of Lost Boys (Little, Brown 2008) and Sunshine State (Little, Brown 2010) as well as numerous short stories. He lives in London and is currently senior lecturer in Creative Writing and English literature at Kingston University. He tweets at @jmlostboys
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, December 9th, 2013.