In April 2014, Tibsay Rodríguez Torres’ short story Blood, translated below, beat 124 other entries to win the Premio del Cuento de la Policlínica Metropoliana. The judges praised her blend of literary and youth language, and the bold, brave narrative. If you’d like to read more from Tibisay, click here to download her short story collection Un hielo en mi boca for free.
Blood* by Tibisay Rodríguez Torres
“Do you want to go up to San Antonio?”
“To have a drink”.
You picked me up at the exit to the University.
“And what did they talk about today?”
“Oh, have you read him then?”
“No, but I know that he’s complicated”.
We looked for your friend, the funny one*, we could sense him behind us.
“How you doing, girl? You bring a friend along?”
“Too bad, too bad, I want to get to know them all, y’know”.
We started the journey, we suffered the motorway.
“Can you put some music on?”
“Of course, what do you want to hear?”
“Anything but reggaeton”
“Do you like Kraftwerk?”
“If there’s no other option…”
Infernal queuing, Kraftwerk, and my overwhelming need to pee seasoned the ride. I had lived similar scenes before. I remembered one in particular. My tendency to narrate painful situations obliged me to tell you about that analogous incident from a few years earlier:
Someone from the Faculty had invited me to the cinema and then for a few beers. We went to los chinos, the damned Caracas routine that I never got used to but pretended to enjoy. He spoke to me all night about some poetry jams that they did in Bello Monte, in which people were encouraged to read their poems in public. How boring, I thought. I thought but I didn’t say, because I already knew how these comments of mine end.
I tried to get interested, I laughed at his bad jokes and I feigned amazement at his analysis of the books that he said he read. I looked at him nicely, I smiled even when he told me that his professors were “the greatest” and that Gabriela Pérez – an extremely young lecturer who I had baptised with the oxymoron irreverent flatterer– was one of the most erudite scholars of Russian literature in the country. He ordered two more. I understood that I didn’t need to smile at him, he had his plans from the beginning and the game was in my hands but I wasn’t sure. I thought he was cute, yes, but his literary optimism and arrogance put me off him. That and his manner of exhibiting himself: the “Join me for a smoke” as a euphemism for wanting to touch me up, for example. I decided that no, this guy wasn’t going to work out tonight, despite my dry spell. I mentioned the Metro and the fight to say goodbye began. The “Don’t worry, I’ll call a taxi”. No, it’s better if I go now. The “Have another drink and go later”.
The Metro closed. The chinos closed. We ended up wandering around at midnight and had to walk forever to reach the avenue. We crossed that moribund plaza, we stayed there for a while, stopped on a bench. That’s when the damned need to pee appeared. “Look for a bush”. I can’t. “Don’t be embarrassed because of me”. It’s not because of you, there are strange people looking at us. I didn’t feel fear, just discomfort. I NEED TO PEE. I had to move. “I know a place, babe”. We had to turn around to change direction, but the circumstances of desolation and darkness didn’t improve at all, they even got worse. We had to cross a bridge almost running, between rubbish, vomit, and crackheads strewn across the floor. I could barely slide my legs because of my incontinence. We arrived. “You see? That’s all it took, beautiful. We should have come here from the start, you can go to the toilet, no problem”.
A budget hotel. I peed. I saw his naked chest and imagined what it would be like to perforate a thorax.
Comparisons are loathsome, or so they say. Differences on the other hand… But instead of telling you this story, which shot through my memory while we looked for somewhere I could expel my anxiety, I asked:
“Is there still a long way to go?”
“Couldn’t we make a stop? It’s just that I really need to go to the toilet”.
“Yes, I’ll stop at the next gas station, don’t worry”.
My friends would say that you behaved like a gentleman.
“Ready, here’s the station”.
“Oh! It’s closed”.
“Let’s ask at the pharmacy, they’ll surely have a toilet there”.
“Excuse me, ma’am, could we use the bathroom?”
“We don’t let people use the bathroom”.
“But it’s an emergency!”
“You’ll forgive me but the last time we let someone use the bathroom they left it in an absolute state”.
“We’re not those people. Look, you know that…”
“I was going to let you use it… but not now!”
We asked another employee, after you advised me to let you talk first.
“Excuse me, sir, would it be possible for the lady to please use your bathroom? She’s not feeling well”.
I looked out of the window, without paying much attention to the conversation that you tried to start while you drove. We arrived at that moment when, having drunk a few cans, a connection is made beyond words, the spark set off by the involuntary grazing of skin, a fleeting movement to change the speed of the car that makes you touch me. The hand on the knee that is barely felt, but yes, I felt it.
“You know? I always wanted to be a dandy: extravagant, rich, stylish”, you tell me.
“Ah, really? Well I always wanted to be a cocosette”, I said spitefully.
We arrived at the apartment and at the date. You smoked a few cigarettes in the car park observing the mountain, the woods, rallying for the climb up eleven floors!
“Mate! I didn’t know it’d be like this! Eleven floors?!” you tell your friend, the funny one.
“Yes, the thing is, the light went out…”
“No, mate, it’s better if we stay down here”.
“Fuck, but Luis is waiting for us upstairs”.
“Haha, tell him to come down”.
“That one isn’t going to come… let’s hang out here a while”
An electric fault covered the city and the building in delicious darkness. We climbed the stairs with the scarce light provided by our mobile phones. Either way there would be a party.
“Go on, go on, turn it on there… that’s it, light”
“Marico, I can’t do any more… I swear… Ah, I’m sweating!”
“We’re only at the third floor”.
“Oh, mate, you need to climb up the Waraira at least twice in your life”.
I meekly attended the social ritual. Anyway there were only five boys, and me, the only woman, I went about unnoticed opposite the leader of the group: the owner of the house and his travel anecdotes, the reigning theme for the night. Europe this, Europe that. I kept quiet and smiled, and took the hand that you offered me every now and then.
The apartment lit with candles was the centre of the complicity and laughter of your most intimate friends who accompanied you that night. The narration was impeccable, stories of journeys and returning, and why-I-had-to-return. Throwing your passport into the Mediterranean, now that’s poetic, I said (to you). At the same time, I separated myself from the laughs, I looked for the balcony. I lifted my gaze for the second time that night to the mountain, the mist, and the chaos on the motorway due to the absence of light. I got sucked in, as I so often do; anxious, breathing uneasily. Like that, absent, mine was to feel the cold from the balcony. That’s what I was doing, that and listening to the mix of sounds from nature and from the street, thinking about why I said this or that, and if only everything between us – everything that we call “ours” – had started another way: when your hands around my waist and a kiss on my neck suddenly roused me.
“What are you thinking about?”
“About how I need to stop being such a slut”. I laughed, we laughed.
“What are you doing here?”
“Nothing, looking. It’s chaotic outside, you know, with no light. It’s a beautiful night”.
“Don’t you like my friends? I’m sorry, they’re just like that”.
“You don’t have to apologise for your friends, or for anything, I’m fine, honestly”.
I looked at you fixedly for a while, stare**, I think the gringos say. I smiled, thought about the possibilities.
Neither of us knew the signs. You were at the door to my house at the agreed time, you’d printed a map from Google Maps, we studied it, we got lost. A surrounded clinic: bordered on one side by the biggest University in the country, on the other, by the immense mountain that seemed to follow us from the first moment. We arrived late.
At the reception they gave us a little laminated number. We didn’t care what the doctor’s name was, we didn’t know anyone. Waiting list, queue. I got out my book of pathologies to cope with the wait. I went to the toilet some ten times, my hands remained impregnated forever with the smell of antiseptic soap. I itemised every wall, every poster that insinuated the ideology of that place, one of them caught my attention because it was corroded, I thought it was, the first phrase had been rubbed out and all you could read was “….is an option”.
I heard my name through a loudspeaker and I went into that consulting room alone. You waited outside, in the car, listening to Kraftwerk, or that’s what I imagined you listening to. When I came out, I got in the car, and after two seconds I tried to talk about Foucault, educate you in the matter, but you wouldn’t stop interrogating me. I didn’t say anything, I stopped talking about Foucault and I replied by asking about that funny friend of yours. You finally gave in: “That Foucault has some treatises about violence, right?”
One day I returned to San Antonio Street, this time I went by foot and sober. Not needing to pee, I yearned to find a toilet like an insomniac desires the sleep of the night. My hands… I didn’t want to see them.
The cars passed at a speed that was difficult to calculate and the wilderness hurt my ankles, although my pain was another, an indescribable one. I came across that pharmacy with neon lights that seemed so familiar to me. I thought about you, even though forgetting had already begun to stick its claws in ferociously, I remembered your friends and the party without light.
My pale skin seemed occupied by a thought: although I never told you, dear Scott, I always thought that when you put on that leather jacket you really did look like a dandy. I went in anxious and unaware of how I looked.
“I’m bleeding, can I use the bathroom?” I said, or I thought.
This time the receptionist did not let me enter.
* In English in the original
** The author notes that there is no one word equivalent of ‘stare’ in Spanish, which is why she is drawn to the simplicity of the English word.