Cristina Peri Rossi; Meg Berkobien, translator.
The indecisive know that any decision is partially wrong, not by the sense of the thing, but rather by the mere act of choosing. In any case, the act of leaving the house or remaining there is quite irrelevant; the man who chooses to open the door, crossing the threshold and joining the anonymous crowd that swarms the city, is no less mistaken than the other: the closer of doors who decides to settle himself into an armchair and not leave home. One decision or another, apparently conflicting, agree in one regard: they intervene in reality, triggering a series of unforeseeable actions and determining others in an uncontrollable process where but one responsibility is excessive, yet in its absence, cowardice.
Like the woman who had to cross the river to meet her lover and perished in the undertaking.
The story of this woman illustrates better than any other to what extent every decision is wrong, that a yes or no spoken in an apparently inoffensive way brings immeasurable consequences to pass. Sometimes we can assess the consequences of those that remain nearby; those far off are imperceptible yet no less important, like successive waves that form beyond our gaze.
The house stood on the border of the river. The river was green, dyed by unruly vegetation.
The water provokes dreams. They are dim, the dreams provoked by the water. They flow from some far-off place, wrapped in the undergrowth, woven in lianas, in muddy residues (memories of who we were in another lost time, unsummonable); they are sketches in the fog, the echoes of battered branches like bones, dislocated, broken. In the dark night of desire, the water confers an illusory form to those vague wishes, to those unsatisfied anxieties. Woman, river, and dream voyage together in the green seabed of water, in the flowing hair of mixed lianas, in the vapor of fragile waking.
The woman had a lover. The willows fell with delicate weightlessness, sweeping the coast and evaporating the undergrowth.
The lover resided on the other side of the river in an identical house, yet inhabited by him. At night, he turned on the light to await her. In the middle of the nocturnal river’s rumblings, gasping in the darkness, the house’s light—at the other side of the shore—survived as a levitating beacon, a meteor suspended, a ship that promised travel. With his light he called her, a promise of yearning realized, of desires slowly satisfied.
Many years ago, so many years back, a wooden bridge linked both shores. In those bygone days, the bridge, while uniting the two strips of shore, hindered the growth of profound dreams. The path to the other shore unraveled the desires, withered them. The bridge had been swept away by the current long ago; so long ago that the house did not exist, not the woman and her jealous husband, not the house on the other shore. Yet as an inaccessible shore existed, an imperative craving remained: an urgent yearning, a woman desiring, and a lover who awaits.
The absence of the bridge was replaced by a vessel whose boatman, as sinister as that of Acheron, would lie in wait on the coast, willing to charge so highly for the travelers’ dreams.
At night, the water fell from the sky, staining itself green in the tree groves. The woman looked out from the window at the river that grew and at the house on the other side, its light floating in the infinitude like an arc.
“I will come,” she had promised her urgent lover. Night, storm, ship, boatman had made her remember the promise.
Her husband did not consent. He had been leaning from the doorway, jealous, while observing the distant beacon, hating the desire that set fires in the evening light, the longing that could drive a boat in darkness. And he closed his pocketbook: without a bridge, without money, the desire would be one without means, without driftwood, without a house at which to arrive. A drowned yearning among the lianas of resentment. Not far off the boat ruminated in its solitude as a craft without a victim, of a trip yet to begin. It shook the water gently and the boatman, focusing, looked to the house where the man and wife fought, listening to the pulse of the waters like a heart in its death throes.
She flees her husband and puts a foot into the boat; the other house’s light calls her with urgency from far off. She quivers in the night populated by rumors and humidity like the forewings of fire, responding from her ardent depths and with a desire that fills her mouth with water. She lies to the boatman, promising him a payment that she won’t be able to give. In the impulse, the rising impulse of desire, entrusted to the gods, she offers no other means of payment: perhaps the boatman is more pious than he seems and allows debt born from passion.
The voyage is uncomfortable and gloomy. In the night’s tempestuous solitude she listens to indecipherable rumors, branches that crack, the rapping of stones against the shore. The boatman stares at her and in his cold eyes she knows another sort of passion is hidden, so implacable, like the yearning that now leads her from the guarded shore into the open air of the river. Blindly she understands that both passions do not take pity on one another, that the terrible sentence will be carried out at the end of the journey, when the other shore ceases to be a feverish dream and is cut—sharp—by the boat’s edge. But she does not attempt to turn around or to deceive the boatman with some other set of promises: only mercy can save her, what neither her husband nor her lover can feel; piety which she does not possess. (Renouncing her promise so that desire can grow by night like a perverse tumor. As the distant light would excite her with its trembling, drumming.)
When the boatman’s implacable hands close around her neck (she sees reeds growing from the other side and is surprised that they aren’t taller, she sees the mud along the shore and is surprised that is has the same color, she listens to the water’s murmur as it moves among the grasses, trunks, stones and it’s the same as well) she knows, in every way, that any other choice would have been wrong.
For the indecisive, there is always a river to cross, an urgent lover, a jealous husband and a murderous boatman. The catastrophe happens no matter the decision one makes, independent of the alternative choice. Only the absence of desire would be able to guarantee—until a certain point, and not always—irresponsibility.
The indecisive refuse to choose between even the most venial things. They won’t order from the menu (they prefer the set menu); they allow others to select the salad and dessert, never confessing desire. When they wish to hear some type of music, they question their neighbors about whether they prefer jazz or opera. If alone, they toss a coin into the air.
The indecisive are recognized by their extraordinary kindness. They leave it to others to choose the movie, the color of their clothes, and the voyage’s destination. You cannot question them about the city, the beach, or the country: they experience every choice as loss, knowing that everything leads eventually to death.
Printed with permission of the author.