This page contains:
- Animal cruelty/death
- Disregard for personal autonomy
Haja hoje para tanto ontem.
May today suffice unto all these yesterdays.
— Paulo Leminski
Renata’s parents raided our apartment two days after she died. Everything they thought belonged to her—the books, the fancy crockery, the basil pot over the kitchen’s windowsill—was gone when I returned.
To this day, I wonder if she told them what I was capable of. Would she betray me like this? No, not Renata, not my Renata—not the woman I loved. If Renata’s parents took her belongings, it was because they were her parents, and by law, they’d inherit all her effects after she passed away.
Renata’s parents didn’t know about the two of us. That’s why I am sure she didn’t tell them about my power. If she couldn’t bring herself to tell them the most obvious truth about herself, why would she disclose anything else?
Her parents had been clumsy in their raid. They took a lot of my stuff—the basil, some of the books—and left a lot of Renata behind. Even if they had stolen everything from the apartment, though, down to the nails holding the picture frames to the wall, they wouldn’t be able to steal my memories.
But I couldn’t work with just memories. I needed something tangible. I needed something I could touch—something she had touched, once, if I was ever to revive her.
The trick was simple, in theory. To bring someone back, you needed an anchor: something that held the memories of the person you were looking for. I merely conveyed what was already inside me to a conduit that I made with a little green toy gun, the sort that children use to squirt water at one another by the pool. A ridiculous little gewgaw, but it served me well: it broke and directed the light, you could say, of my intentions. It was easier to aim at things, too, rather than just stare at the object until either it broke or I got a nosebleed for my trouble. Besides, I had always wanted one of those toy guns. I never told Renata that.
The one thing I carried from my childhood was this force in me—I lived with it all my life, staring at things and making them move, for a lark, when I needed someone to talk to, or to scare my mother, who believed in ghosts. But it was a useless trick, otherwise, since I couldn’t make people return for good.
The visitations were brief but clear, each approaching me the way they’d looked the moment they’d left their imprint on the object, but at the same time fully conscious of the passing years. The people I revived were, of course, surprised to be called back to the stage, but once they got the hang of it … Well, there were mixed reactions. Some were eager to air their anger and disagreements one more time; others begged to be forgiven or to correct wrongs that had gone unresolved to their graves. One or two asked me to stop the revival: they hadn’t consented to be roused from the grave, and were content with whatever was there on the other side.
Renata always said I should be careful with these experiments. Not only it was unsafe, but also illogical—bordering on blasphemy, even.
And yet she asked me about it all the time. Can you revive dogs? Cats? If you point this gun at a painting in the museum, could you bring the artist back?
I didn’t care for dogs or cats, and I didn’t care for museums—except Renata’s museum, because she loved the place more than she’d ever love me, or her parents, or any other human being.
And, well, I don't blame her. She dreamed of cataloguing special specimens; I dreamed I’d be the first Brazilian to win a Nobel Prize the day I finally discovered how to harness this power within me. Of course it was just a pipe dream, but I allowed myself to dream of impossible things when I was with her. How lovely it is, the freedom to dream, the freedom to use one’s mind in such extravagant scenarios instead of eternally planning how to survive.
And so I dreamed, and she dreamed with me. We were going to waltz in Sweden, my love and I. Just you wait, I told her as I spun her around. I’ll make you and the country proud—I’ll make you proud, first and always, and then the country too, if I have time to spare in the acceptance speech.
Then Renata fainted in the middle of the living room.
We had four months between the diagnosis and the funeral.
And now, what do I have of hers? What holds her memory best?
I had her hairbrush. Hot pink plastic and soft bristles, fit for her thin hair. She dyed it with henna every fortnight, adding lemon juice to the mixture for some arcane reason. No way in hell this hairbrush could be mine; it’d end up tangled in my curls in two seconds.
There’s this image of a lover brushing the hair of the one they adore, plaiting the tresses, helping them get dressed. I never had that. Renata was jealous of her hair—possessive, even, as she said it was the one good thing she owned, her only source of beauty. Meaning my own hair wasn’t good, probably? She never said that, but then again she didn’t need to. Some things are obvious to those in the game: just look at the women presenting the TV shows and on the covers of the gossip magazines. Look who has the money, and then look at their hair.
Screw them, I whispered as I placed the hairbrush on the ground. I pointed the gun at it, I whispered a prayer—why on Earth I don’t know; I’d never needed God’s help with this—and …
Nothing. The hairbrush now a mess of scorched plastic, with not a single wisp of Renata’s lovely face to show for it. I didn’t cry. It was merely an accident; I should have paid more attention to what I was doing.
If you decided to turn your power against the Bendegó meteorite, Renata asked me, what do you think would spring from it?
Damned if I know, love, I answered her. The answer isn’t worth the nosebleeds I’d get in the process.
She insisted on the subject for quite a while, though. The Bendegó was the biggest meteorite ever found in this makeshift country of ours, and the pride and joy of the museum Renata worked at. Think about it, she once pressed, showing me the pictures on her phone: think of how this immense piece of rock fell from the heavens centuries ago; think about the way it was brought from the northeast here to Rio de Janeiro of a thousand wonders—in a time before trucks or forklifts. Imagine how it touched the lives of everyone who encountered it, laid hands on it. If you used your powers over it, who would come back?
Why do you want to know that? I asked.
You never know, she replied. You could resurrect an army with your ray gun. You could cause quite a stir.
They'd lock me in the nearest loony bin and throw away the key, I told her. I don't look like you—I'm easy to be disappeared. That struck a chord with her, as I knew it would, and she never asked me about my powers again.
I don't have the Bendegó meteorite. But I have her pillow.
It was old, but she liked it. When she was at the hospital, she insisted that she would sleep better if she had it. The doctors mentioned something about contamination and regulations, and she died without her pillow. I understand the doctors’ reasons—she was just another patient—but I hate them just the same: she had lost her hair, ten kilos, and the zest in her voice. Couldn’t they leave her the pillow?
People would never have had any mercy to spare for me, but Renata was the sort of person to whom mercy was issued and exceptions were made. She only needed to bat those eyelashes. I think she had been surprised to be told “no” for once.
I should be glad, though: if she had had the pillow, I wouldn’t be able to use it now. In my mind, I can see her asleep in our bed, her hair in rollers, one hand under the pillow and the other between her legs. I can see her changing the pillowcase, making plans to buy new bedsheets with her Christmas bonus …
She wanted sheets with flowers and primary colours, everything as bright as she had been. I hated the idea—I like my bedsheets white, the way I like my hair short, the most obviously sensible choice—but I indulged Renata as much as I could. There was always something else to do with the rest of the money when it came by: always something to repair, something urgent to pay. She could have her flowery sheets.
When I pointed the gun at her pillow, the image was as clear as the wall in front of me: Renata wearing her favourite pyjamas, tossing the pillow away as she stood up … Oh, to see her again, to hold her again just so …
The smell of the burnt polyester stuffing made me cough; the spare room was covered in cinders—and no Renata. I opened the window, let the night air in, and did my best not to cry. It was such a cloudy night, even without all the buildings clogging the view. Renata hated this window, I remembered. She longed to see hills, not the maids in other apartments, making dinner for their bosses.
Yes, dear, I said to myself as if she were here. Yes, dear, I know. I know. I don’t like it either. My mother was one of those maids, you see.
I’d never told Renata that last part, though. Why didn’t I tell her that? I even knew that when I managed to revive her, I wouldn’t tell her that—I’d only have her for a moment, so why waste it on the past?
But the memory lingered in the awful air, mixing with happier ones. I closed the window and cursed the world outside. I needed something less gentle than a pillow, perhaps.
Her handwriting in the frontispiece of the book that she had given me for my last birthday. “For my dearest genius,” she wrote. Fountain-pen ink bled into the paper and stained the next two pages, leaving a smudge over the name of the bloke who had written an introduction to the collected poems of Mayakovsky.
No, I can’t use this. It’s mine, not hers—the sacrifice would bring my memories forward, not hers, and I’m still very much alive. But seeing the mauve ink and the loops in her handwriting pains me. There’s a specific image I want to revive: Renata sitting at her desk writing and putting her pen to her lips, like a vintage “silence” sign, lost in thought. I want to hold her like this—and I want to tell her how sad I am, how this house looks like a mausoleum without her colours and her belongings, the way my head feels like a mausoleum without her presence.
I found that pen among the bric-a-brac inside one of the kitchen drawers. The nib’s bent; she always said she’d have it fixed, but we never had the time. Who on Earth still uses fountain pens, she always said with a laugh as she scribbled the shopping list. You do, my love. You did. You wrote in mauve ink with funny French names—Poussière de Lune and Larmes de Cassis, moon dust and tears of blackcurrant, whimsical names hiding deep shades of purple and pink. All very poetic, all very you.
Her parents took the inkpots. Bastards. Why didn’t you tell them about me?
I pointed the gun. The prayer came to my lips again without my consent—there are no atheists in a falling plane, Renata once said to me, and that’s what I think about when I squeeze the trigger and the plastic barrel explodes beyond recognition, mauve ink splattering everywhere from ceiling to carpet.
I swear I could hear Renata laughing. I should start crying, shouldn’t I? But I couldn’t, not now that she’s laughing, because that’s the sort of accident that would have made her laugh until tears streamed down her lovely face. So I laughed, too.
Her winter coat. It’s pine green, stuffed with swansdown feathers, a relic from her grandmother who loved Switzerland.
How come her parents didn’t take this coat? Surely they didn’t think it was mine. I have visited cold countries as well, but over here, in my own country, people look at me as if I can barely speak. What I know, they think I only know because I’m imitating someone else. Even my friends think that Renata taught me about Mayakovsky and Leminski, when it was the other way round. She was the museum specialist, though, so of course she was the brains of this operation.
I pointed the gun.
Wouldn’t you know? The coat wasn’t stuffed with feathers, swan or otherwise: only cheap polyester, down to the core. It smelled like death as I turned it to ashes.
Perhaps that was why her parents had left it behind: just a cheap rag, worthless in a country where the sun bleaches everything.
I wondered why Renata had loved it so much. What else had I failed to ask her? What else was left unsaid about our lives?
Renata hated our sofa, but we didn’t have money to buy a new one when we moved in. It lived with us, soaking up her hatred, for years.
It took me a while to haul it out of the apartment and into an open field where no one could see my tricks. When I’d finished lugging it out, I was sweating, my hands raw with the effort. Anger moved me, because ever since the coat I’d been repeating to myself, I need something bigger, I need something bigger. Well, what’s bigger than a sofa?
For a moment, I wondered what would happen when Renata sprang forward, hands at her sides, angry with me because I’d woken her from her slumber. I could see her lying in this sofa, suffering from migraines, crying because her mother had said something about her weight and her father had asked when she would settle down—and wasn’t I lucky not to have this sort of problem?
No, I don’t have these problems, I told the anticipated ghost of her, anger boiling inside me like water for the coffee. How could I? My father was a cloud in trousers, as Mayakovsky would say: known only to God and the police, and my mother … My mother couldn’t find fault in me: I ironed my hair, I kept my voice down, and I always had my papers with me in case the police were bored and decided to pick on me anyway. I’m a model citizen, my dear. I’m the very model of proper, servile behaviour, ain’t I?
Of course you are, Renata’s memory said, sitting up on the sofa: and here I am, crying while there are worse things in the world. Silly me, she says, expecting me to hold her and say she’s not silly, of course she isn’t.
I never asked her to tell me I wasn’t a model citizen. I never asked her to lie to me or to lie for my sake. And I certainly never told her how angry her patronising words made me feel.
I pointed the gun, but part of me gave up altogether before I pulled the trigger, before the light left me in a blast of white heat in my chest and cold shivers down my spine. When the sofa caught fire, I sank to the sooty ground and howled.
I came back home after the disaster with the sofa and turned on the television automatically. I shouldn’t have done it. The news showed a building in flames, bright red and orange flying towards the dark vaults of heaven. Renata’s museum.
The place to which she’d devoted her whole life, cataloguing the Indigenous archives—the maps, the recordings of lost languages, all the artifacts from the original owners of the land. Her life had been short, and oh, she had been so frivolous at times, but her work was supposed to have lasted forever.
And now it was up in flames.
The act of arson was what we call uma tragédia anunciada: a foretold tragedy. This is a country meant to self-destruct, after all; nobody invested in the museum, and nobody thought it wise to improve the security of the archives. Everything is meant to die here. But this synchronicity only comes to my mind much, much later. At that particular moment, all I could think was that the world had killed Renata one more time.
Don’t ask me how I got in there. I don’t know how I convinced them; I don’t remember if they believed me at all. The thing is, I did, two days after the fire—after the crews had all retreated and before better hands had arrived to pick through the wreckage. It was easy to hide among the photojournalists and the TV crews, and this is what I did.
In a fleeting opportune moment while security was elsewhere on their rounds, and the photographers had turned their backs, I saw it—still intact and still majestic despite the devastation all around: the Bendegó meteorite.
This piece of celestial stone had once stood in the open, imperious against the weather and the government alike. It landed back in 1784, inside a lake named Bendegó somewhere in the northeast. I could hear Renata’s voice reciting its most important historical specs: how the last of Brazil’s emperors, a scientifically inclined soul, had decided to bring the meteorite to the National Museum. How it had to be dragged through the bushes of the backwoods, then placed in a train, and then carried in a steamer the rest of the way, to be displayed as a curiosity surrounded by dinosaur bones, indigenous feather headpieces, the oldest fossils in the country, and all the other archaeological wonders the emperor brought back from his travels.
And look at it now, I said as if Renata was standing next to me amid the destruction. There’s your Bendegó meteorite, my love. Singed forever, the roof caved in, the walls destroyed, the smell of burnt concrete and charcoal everywhere. There’s your favourite thing in the world, my dear, as dead as you are.
But the Bendegó meteorite had survived.
I wasn’t even thinking when I pointed the gun at it. And then …
Then I started to laugh, and the laughter turned into tears, and then into a hysterical fit. Silly me, thinking I could conjure Renata from such a monolith. I could bring a thousand souls back, a hundred thousand souls, a universe of souls, but the one I wanted to see was gone forever, like all the other precious specimens on exhibit in the museum.
I pointed the gun at my chest and pulled the trigger.
The jolt wasn’t as harsh as I had imagined it, at first. Yes, it stung, and it left a huge bruise, but it didn’t kill me. If anything, it felt like I was growing roots into the charred ground, and my ears rang, and my nose twitched, and my eyes watered.
Whatever exists after the end … it smells of basil, and henna with lemon juice.
It weighs like the bloody Bendegó meteorite, all five tons of it, bearing right down upon the skull.
As the air turned to fire and then ash inside my chest, as my soul or my conscience mingled with the carbon dioxide, I could feel Renata’s hands reaching out for me, enveloped in a thousand memories—the kisses, the late-night conversations, the fights, the hopelessness of the goodbye.
Revive me—revive me, and then we’ll make up for these loveless times through countless starry midnights. But I’d never told Renata that this was my favourite poem, though, had I? The way I never told her about my mother who was afraid of ghosts, or how much I envied the toy guns I couldn’t buy when I was a child. For all that she’d kept from her parents, what vital sum of myself had I also held back from her?
I turned back and faced it: the glittering void, the multitudes around her, the museum as it was before, in all its faded glory, the way Renata would have remembered it if she had been revived.
The way she would want me to remember her. In her favourite place, surrounded by her artifacts, happy to be living both in the present and the past.
I kissed her goodbye.
Revive me, I repeated, as I sat down, hoping for and dreading the moment when security would come around again to find me among the debris and ask my intentions. What would I tell them? I came here because the woman I loved sent me. Because she would have wanted me to be a living museum, not a mausoleum: something that protects memory but also allows it to evolve; she’d want me to leave the ghosts to their slumber, and turn this gun of my grieving heart, instead, upon all our yesterdays still to come.