NOW IS THE SILENCE AFTER THE KILLING. The burnt maize. The damp acrid smell of ash. The advancing scent of predawn. Behind the wall something’s listening. Waiting. A finger on a switch. Eyelid. Iris. Optic nerve. Los ojos de los muertos. Nothing moves & then everything does. It’s cold. The cold & the fear. Lung-shudder. Eye-shudder. Silence buzzing. Silence pared to nerve. Reflex. Like a precipice risen inside the body. Inside the stalled mechanism. La noche y la muerte. WE’RE GOING TO KILL YOU, they warned, like some interminable re-enactment. He made his hand into a gun & pointed. A finger. A switch. La noche de la muerte. For reasons best known to themselves, the authorities haven’t yet completed their investigation. Boil the tripe separately in half a gallon of water till tender. As the shooting died down we heard a voice cry out: TRAICIONADOS! Add the juice of two limes. You say to yourself that you’re drifting. Motionless. Motionless & drifting. Away from & towards the same point simultaneously. It’s only an impression. Cilantro. A teaspoon of salt & a pinch of pepper. Where were the guards who were supposed to be stationed outside the walls? The newspapers cited the testimony of unnamed witnesses. He couldn’t see a thing. It was the wetness that made him think he was bleeding, that it was his blood & not someone else’s. All you could think of was washing your hands. Leave the tripe to cool to room temperature. Remove from the water & cut into small pieces. There’s nothing to it. Your thoughts were an idiot’s thoughts after all. A grackle’s laugh in the undergrowth. Zanate laughing. In a pot heat the oil, add the onions & garlic. A match flares somewhere in the distance. You realise you’re still standing. Barely. La muerte de la noche rondando por la muerte. Night’s death spinning through death. Combine. In some unlocatable future present past. First the tripe, then the remaining water. Shot reverse-shot. Somewhere in the dark they were dismembering the dead, compromising the evidence. Allow to stew slowly over a low heat. Alone, finger-on-switch. Solo entre la noche y la muerte. Between night & death. Death & night. Waiting. What for? All the bright ideas to stack up into a dead end? Too long is never long enough. Other shapes. Vague silhouettes. Insect noises. Bird noises. God like a raving old man stumbling through the weeds. The first drink tastes like bile, the second like nothing at all. They could’ve smelled the fear off him a mile away. It was a miracle to’ve made it this far. To’ve remained undetected. To’ve fallen back behind the starting point. Imagine yourself naked in a cinema, the object of the screen’s avid attention. Good. Empty your mind, idiot. The barest outline. Not even, or not yet. An image of something unseen. Watching. Some unseeable thing. What’s it doing there, not-there? At 3:15 A.M. they made their first strike. Their actions showed a coordinated modus operando. I was fast asleep, having taken a pill after a hard day. Awakened by gunfire, but feeling very hazy, I first imagined that a national holiday was being celebrated with fireworks outside our walls. Like a dreary political reverie. But the explosions were too close, right here within the room, next to me & overhead. The odour of gunpowder became more acrid, more penetrating. X looked like he was fighting an imaginary attacker. Then he dropped to the floor & began rolling around, shouting NO! NO! He slipped one hand down between his legs. YOU HOLD A GUN LIKE THIS, they told him, feeling the butt of it. Crosshatched rubber exciting his palm. Finger curled around the stiff trigger. Clearly, what we’d always expected was now happening: we were under attack. It was a way not to sin. Hands tied to neck. Mouth-smeared. El ojo no se hace mundo. Journalists began to show up & by dawn an impromptu news conference was taking shape in the middle of the road. An eye within the darkness of the eye. After the shooting ended, kneeling over a ditch emptying my guts into the grass. My shoes were full of piss. I squeezed my lips together, so tight it felt like my teeth would split the skin. I didn’t notice my name being called, everything was black, then someone lit a cigarette. The first one to find him smashed a torch into his face, he looked like he only had one eye. It betrayed a certain artistry. La Vida Americana! Peering into the non-light of the retina at its least dilation. Of a light seen before any thing is seen. The almost silent hiss of blood, nerves. Silence under the skin. Under the trees. In the sea of the sky. El mar del cielo en el mar de la noche. Again the shots came from all sides, it was difficult to tell just from where. Splinters of glass flew in every direction. The terrorists were apparently covering their retreat. The scene reminded you of one of X’s films, where a fugitive is being hunted in the dark. He can’t tell if the sounds of pursuit are coming nearer or moving further off. The jungle terrain is almost impossible to traverse. Is it because he lacks passion or has too much of it? X crept up to the broken window & squinted into the vagueness. The assailants had thrown smoke bombs during the attack & now everything was grey. Creeper vines hung from invisible branches. He pushed himself over the rutted sill & crawled as quietly as he could through the undergrowth. The true language of “race” & “blood” is the dog’s bark & the pig’s grunt, he said. Progress was by increments only. No victors, no vanquished. For a long time he lay there as if unconscious. At last an opening came into view. A gate, which led to a clearing. Its rusted hinge. Superstition of thresholds. A dirt path on the far side. The sound of footsteps on the dirt. Dry leaves. Then the shooting resumed, but this time not at such close range as before. It was impossible to know who was shooting at whom. A pair of headlights revealed the dark blue outlines of a shed. The skeleton of a barn. An outhouse. A watertank. And beyond, heavily shadowed fields with maize stubble. The headlights came to a stop. Where the road curved, a roadblock had been set up. Voices. X flinched. His tongue was thick with saliva like a dog’s. Meanwhile, those who’d survived the initial fusillade began to emerge from their hiding places & regroup. In the mind’s eye, a photographic negative. Seen in its opposite light, the iris contracts. It describes its own centre. A face skinned & eyes gouged out. A row of fence posts. An enclosed yard with empty coops. Slowly grey was invading the picture, from above & from all sides. The sky forming itself like exposed film. Rusted machine parts. A dry well. A mound of tree bark. Prickly pear. Across the flood plain mist rises against the tree-line, obscuring it. He was afraid that by now others could hear his breathing, his pulse, his heartbeat. The air, too, had grown warmer. Tactile. Divisible. The ground was steaming. He gulped down the smell of the turned earth, pig shit, rotten mangoes. A pale orange disc surfaced above the wake. Swelled. Turned grey. A grey disc against a grey distance. Already the scene had become nondescript. Antithetical. Proceeding on the basis of contrary assumptions. One day like any other. One killing like any other. The first day. The day after. The last day. And the day after that. What’s born, dies. Hallelujah! Perhaps is even born again. GLORIA EXCELSIS! Sprinkling lime-juice over the sainted forehead. Cilantro. A teaspoon of salt. A pinch of pepper. Anointing with oil, onion, garlic. The departed spirit returns. The meat of the living dead, seared in a skillet. Pray for its sins. Turning from the darkness to the light as the flesh blackens, writhing in a parody of life. Speak, embers! What lies between? From now on the life of the mind will be determined by war. In any case, the silence is deafening. A bellowing silence filled with noise. With the deafening accolades of cicadas. Wings scraping against wings. Of dead leaves & the dry rasping of razor-grass. Of the soil cracking & the air shivering like a pane of thin glass. In the middle of the night they encircled the house, scaled the walls, detonated tear gas & fired randomly through the courtyard windows. The floor was cold. He remembered the feeling of vertigo. An enormous mouth opening. The mist, like steam off boiled tripe, condensing & evaporating. Perhaps, after all, it’s nothing other than the condition of waiting. Of expectation. Step by shorter step. Keeping almost silent vigilance. The lines recede. Vanish. In place of them, the desiccated, bleached-out skeletons of dead trees. Bones protruding at angles from the earth. Fissures. Cracks in the brittle surface of the film. Beneath the already too-visible light.
Louis Armand is the author of The Combinations (2016). He lives in Prague. http://www.louis-armand.com
Image: A child in the light of the fireworks by Carmen de la Torre (Creative Commons)