ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 01

The Eternal Son

Author | Autor: Cristovão Tezza

Translated by Alison Entrekin


The most brutal morning of his life started with interrupted sleep — the relatives were arriving. He was visibly happy: a rather groggy happiness due to his lack of sleep, plus the shots of whisky, the intensity of the event, the series of little oddities in that official space that wasn’t his.
Once again he wasn’t at home, and now there was an alienation in everything, as if it were he, rather than his wife, who’d pushed the child out of his very guts. The inevitable, good feeling started to give way to an invisible anguish that seemed to breathe with him. Perhaps he, like some women in the shock of childbirth, didn’t want the child he had; but the idea was just a shadow. After all, he was just an unemployed man, and now he had a child. Period. It was no longer just an idea, nor the mere desire to please that his poem, the ridiculous ’Son of Spring,’ represented — it was an absence of everything. But the relatives were full of cheer, all babbling over one another. The tension of waking up in a daze was fading by the minute.
  What does he look like? I don’t know; he’s all crumpled. He said what people always say about newborns to get a laugh, and it worked. He’s a big, bouncing baby boy. He made it up. It was what they wanted to hear. Yes, everything’s fine. Everyone needs to see him, but I think there are visiting hours. He’ll be here soon — a little bundle of sighs. His wife was placid in the hospital bed — yes, yes, everything’s fine. There was a laundry list of advice all at once. Everyone had something crucial to say about a newborn, especially to idiot dads like himself. I took a course for dads, he warned, clowning with them. But it was true. He’d spent an afternoon in a large circle of big-bellied women — his wife included, of course — with two or three other devoted future fathers, keenly listening to a basic lecture from a kindly doctor, and the only thing he could remember from it all was a single piece of advice: it was wise to stay on good terms with one’s mother-in-law because parents sometimes needed a break from their kids, to get out for dinner from time to time, to try to recapture a little of the feel of how things used to be that was never coming back. 
  And the families talked and made suggestions (teas, herbs, remedies, infusions, what to do with milk). He needs a smack to make him cry out loud as soon as he’s born, someone said, and someone else said no, the world’s changed, and smacking a baby is stupid (though they didn’t use this word). Aren’t they going to bring him? What time was he born? What did the doctor say? What about you — what did you do? What happened? Why didn’t you say anything beforehand? Why didn’t you call anyone? What if something had gone wrong? Has he got a name yet? Yes: Felipe. The relatives were in high spirits, but he was suddenly tired, and felt a pang of his old, insoluble anxiety creeping back. He wanted to go home once and for all and rebuild a good routine, because he’d soon have books to write. I’d ike to delve into Essay on Passion again, he thought. Anything to get out of here, out of this small makeshift world. Yes, and have a beer, of course! Now, that’s a good idea — and he almost glanced about for some company so he could really talk about this day, organise this day, think about it, literarily, as a rebirth. Look, my life has a new meaning now, he’d say, weighing his words. I need to discipline myself so I can establish a new routine and survive in peace with my dream. A child is like — and he smiled, alone, the idiot, amidst the relatives — like a certificate of authenticity, he’d venture; and he floated off again in a Rousseauian dream of communion with nature, which had never really been his own but which he’d absorbed like a mantra and was afraid to let go of — without that one last link, what was left? Everywhere else, other people had authority, not him. The only free territory is that of literature, he might have theorised, had he managed to think about it. Yes, he needed to call his old guru, to somehow get his blessing. Many years later, a student would tell him, in writing, why he wasn’t given to intimacy. ’You give others the impression you’re always on the defensive.’ Primal feelings tumbled over one another — he still didn’t understand a thing, but life was good. He still didn’t know that here began a different marriage with his wife because of the simple fact that they had had a child together. He didn’t know anything yet.
  Suddenly the door opened and two doctors, the paediatrician and the obstetrician, came in, and one of them was holding a bundle. They were surprisingly serious, absurdly serious, heavy, for such a happy moment. They looked like generals. There were about ten people in the room, and his wife was awake. It was an abrupt entry, violent even. With quick, decisive steps, they each went to one side of the bed, where they stood, erect. His wife watched as her child was deposited before her like an offering, but no one smiled. They came like high priests. In times past, one of them would have brought down his dagger in one fell swoop to spill the creature’s guts and tear out the future. Five seconds of silence. Everyone froze — a sudden, electric, brutal, paralysing tension pierced their souls — while one of the doctors unwrapped the baby on the bed. These were the stages of a ritual that was created instantaneously, with its own gestures and rules, which were immediately respected. Everyone waited. 
  There was the beginning of a speech, almost religious, which he, reeling, couldn’t grasp except in fragments of the paediatrician’s voice. ’... 
  ’... certain characteristics ... important signs ... look. See the eyes, the fold of skin in the inside corner of the eyelid, the slant ... the little finger curved inwards ... the back of the cranium is flatter ... muscular hypotonia ... the lower-set ears and ...’
  He immediately remembered his friend’s Master’s thesis in genetics. He’d proofread it two months earlier, and the characteristics of trisomy 21 (known as Down syndrome, or, more crudely, back in the 1980s, ’mongolism’), the subject of the thesis, were still fresh in his mind. He and his friend had discussed several aspects of the thesis and curiosities of the study (one that suddenly sprang to mind was the first question an Arabic family had asked when told of the problem: ’Will he be able to have children?’ Which seemed funny, like another cartoon). Thus, in a split second, in the biggest delirium of his life — the only one, strictly speaking, that he didn’t have the time, and wouldn’t have for the rest of his life, to domesticate in a literary representation — he learned the power of the expression ‘forever’: the idea that some things really were irremediable, and the absolute, but obvious feeling that there was no turning back time, which was something he’d always refused to accept. Once, everything could be started over, but not now; everything could be redone, but not this; everything could go back to nothing and be remade, but now everything had a granite-like, insurmountable solidity. The last frontier, that of innocence, had been crossed. His stubbornly prolonged childhood ended here. Feeling faint to his very core, reeling backwards, not hearing another word of the doctors’ stupid babble, he remembered the thesis that he’d read line by line, painstakingly correcting syntactical and stylistic details here and there, amused by the curiosities that described, with the cold, exact power of science, his child’s essence. Which was this word: ‘mongoloid.’
  He refused to advance on the timeline, struggling to stay in the second before the revelation, like a cow bucking in the narrow aisle of the slaughterhouse. He refused to look at the bed, where everyone else had trained their gaze in brute silence, gaping at the unexpected curse. This is worse than anything else, he realised. Not even death has this power to destroy me. Death calls for seven days of grieving, and then life goes on. But not now. This will never end. He took two, three steps backwards until he bumped into the red sofa and looked out the window, to the other side, upwards, in a bovine refusal to see and hear. It wasn’t tears of sorrow that were building up, but something mixed with a furious kind of hatred. He was unable to fully turn against his wife, which was perhaps his first impulse and first alibi (he still refused to look at her). Something, some shred of civility, curbed his urge to be violent, and at the same time he felt a deep certainty, which was both revenge and an escape valve (the truly scientific certainty, he remembered, as if raising an irrefutable trump card to show the world: I know, I’ve read about it, I don’t need your stories), that the only correlation that could be established about the causes of mongolism, the only proven variable, was the mother’s age and hereditary predisposition. Also, immersed in the same suffering with no exit, gazing at the blue sky on the other side of the window, he remembered how some years earlier they had sought genetic counselling about the possibility of their children inheriting (if the gene was dominant or recessive) his wife’s retinal degeneration — a serious, but bearable visual limitation that had stabilised when she was a child. Denial. He refused to look at the bed, at his son, at his wife, at the relatives, at the doctors — he felt terribly ashamed of his son, and was certain he’d feel the vertigo of hell every minute of his life from then on. No one was prepared for their first child, he tried to think, defensively, much less a child like this: something he simply couldn’t transform into a son.
  When he finally turned to look at the bed, there was no one left in the room — just himself, his wife, and the child in her arms. He couldn’t bring himself to look at his son. Yes, his soul was still bucking, looking for a solution, since he couldn’t turn the clock back five minutes. But no one was condemned to be what they were, he realised, as if he had seen the philosopher’s stone: I don’t need this child, he thought, and it was as if the idea put him on his feet again, albeit stumbling step by step into darkness. I don’t need this wife either, he almost added, in a mental dialogue without a listener. As always, he was alone.

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