. . . at seven o’clock in the evening, the light begins to fade and anguish begins. The light marks the frontier of something new, a border more dangerous than that of noon. This is the time of day when it becomes clear who is happy with life, and who can’t settle into it. At hotels and restaurants the waiters’ shift changes. For photographers it’s the magic hour when one can capture the most beautiful glow. Rohmer watched the green ray appear. Tanizaki set about penning his treatise in praise of shadow. This is the time it feels impossible to contain one’s secrets. This light is like a Sunday on the verge of being Monday, but not quite there yet. When I was a child I woke up at this time once and didn’t know whether it was night or day. This gave me so much anguish I refused to open my eyes until it was properly dark and the in-between space had gone, as if I could keep the world suspended like that and danger in the hovering state between water and shore, rather than here with me. My mother wouldn’t tell me the hour and just laughed, and I thought that if I’d been able I’d never have left her stomach and would instead have remained at bay between life and non-life, refusing to confront the terrors I knew must exist, out there. The light seems to make all things possible, the all-permitting light. It’s the feeling of dream in which nothing that happens really happens or is permanent, a time of transition. At this hour babies are forced to sleep; at this hour parents tell sinister stories to children, then somehow hope they will sink into untroubled rest. In hospitals mothers are giving birth. Babies are being born at this time, while elsewhere people are dying. The elderly organise their night tables (pills for morning, a final chocolate) and go to bed early of their own volition. Even for the young, it’s the hour of melancholy or anxiety. It’s the hour to resent the ex who is enjoying life, if you have children or are bored. It’s the time for envy, if you’re lonely and can’t go out. It’s the hour prisoners are called to be told whether they’ll be executed the next day. This light is encapsulated in the figure of the old man on his lawn, smoking, watering, finishing a last angry cigarette. Anguish appears in physical symptoms. Allergies are aggravated, those who need it take ravotril. This is the precise time to take a muscle relaxant. All pains are sharpened: if a tooth hurts, at this time it really starts to hurt. The glycaemic levels of the body go down and make you want a drink. Your body’s filthy from a full day on the bus and metro, at work, at the shops, visiting friends. At this time the difference between where you work and where you live is marked. People come back from their jobs. If they drive, they listen to radio, eyes fixed ahead of them. If they walk they move like horses, in a stampede, impatient to arrive. It’s the time to eat. It’s the time to go to their real lives, listen to radio, examine their conscience, feel release. It’s the time to take deep breaths. Of course not everyone wants to arrive. There are bosses who stay at the office long after day’s end, not wanting to go home. Baudelaire spoke of the horror of the domicile, for at home we are horrified of our significant others, no matter how beloved they are. We open our computers, enter our private intimacies, the routines we use to connect with ourselves. It’s the hour of terror, the ‘peak’ hour for bourgeois couples when parents have to get the children washed, help with homework, prepare clothes and lunches. You know about the ‘peak’, don’t you? A familiar concept from the few marriages that still exist. At this time the supermarkets are full, the pharmacies too. On public transport people enjoy their last flirtations. It’s the time to postpone arrival. Queues of people form at the market and fast food stalls to buy a snack. They’re alone with their routine of work, apartment, solitary time. They tend to buy two beers, a pack of peanuts and a capri. Less lonely types go jogging or walk their dogs. People who take the dog out usually have a stable job. All those who enjoy flaunting their spiritual peace appear. Less light, less heat. When the light goes down, the guard goes up. This is the time you turn the key in the lock. Fear and paranoia find justifications. But so does love. This is the time young couples don’t turn on the overhead lights, letting the room grow darker and darker while pretending they don’t notice. This is the time lovers meet. The civic centre begins to fill with people holding hands and kissing. At the parks they’re even less inhibited. At this time liquor stores open, whores come out, the night gets started. At this time in the civic centre one’s inner citizen dies. The state dies too, except for the cops. At this time you feel like evading the law. In the cities and lakeside towns of this part of the world it’s the time for sopaipillas, anticucho, completos, handrolls, other street foods. It’s the time for writing workshops. It’s the time for Ubers and taxis to depart for clubs across the city. The millionaire sips a glass of fine whisky and gives the dice a firm roll across the green baize. Guests who have just attended a marriage arrive at the reception hall in full dress, ready for the fun part of the wedding. In Greek mythology and the ancient Christian context light is associated with fame, appearing, showing: showing off. Days and hours were ordered by light, and those who showed themselves at night were judged. Everything comes to light, and God knows everything. This is the hour when the real ceases to be so real, and the floating world becomes transparent. Light goes down and the sounds grow muffled or sharpen, depending on one’s sensibility. The senses alter. In Russian novels this is the hour to fight a duel or go out for a hunt. There is a difference between urban light, suburban light, and the light of the fields and countryside. At this time nature can be seen with a certain clarity. This is an hour that can calm us down, the time in spring when flowers can best be admired and smelled. The leaves of plants release their fragrance in the early morning and at the verge of night. Water flows through the roots, nourishing life. This is the time when the smog looks lovely as it hangs low, becoming a flaming pink and orange painting. The mosquitoes come out, and the moths. You remember you didn’t buy Raid. Cats, mice and cockroaches scurry about in their most active hour of the day. As I write, the sun is already setting over the sea. For a long time the light hangs, suspended, then all at once it vanishes into the relief of darkness . . .
Written on the basis of collaborative ideas from the writing workshop of Matías Rivas in Santiago de Chile.
Jessica Sequeira is a writer and translator. She has published the novel A Furious Oyster, the collection of stories Rhombus and Oval and the collection of essays Other Paradises: Poetic Approaches to Thinking in a Technological Age. She has also translated more than fifteen books by Latin American authors into English, including an anthology of contemporary short stories from Chile.