Jose Donoso


From "Coronation" "The old woman was an absurd immensely precarious link between himself and the emotional facts of life. She was the only link he had. Until she died he would not be forced to face up to the fact of his utter solitude."

"Perhaps madness was the only way to see deep into the truth of things."

"Astir with meaningless bustle from cellar to attic, the house seemed at last to have emerged from the drowsiness that clung to the worm-eaten timbers, the sealed sashes, and the eaves where mice and swallows had found homes in the crevices and crannies."

"In the forlorness of the neighborhood slums, the breeze found endless distractions. It sent stray sounds - the chink of a falling coin or some casual conversation - weaving from block to block to block."

"She could see the stars through the rain-streaked windows, and having lost the power to distinguish between near and far and seeing nothing but sparkling lights all the way up from the showers of spangles on the floor to the gems on her coronation gown, she thought that these were stars too and that she was surrounded by them. Then she supposed that she must already be dead and that she was ascending very gently through the firmament straight to heaven."


From "The Obscene Bird of Night "

"I get down on all fours and start cleaning up the vomit of that daughter of a jailbird who slashed his wife's windpipe in bed one morning, and left Iris to wake and find herself swimming in her mother's blood"

“Why were you following me? Or were you after me? No, you weren't after me. It was just that someone, and the someone had to be you, was upsetting the balance of the emptiness of my nights, in which nothing could touch me - not even memories, not even desire - in which there was no other presence to threaten my vulnerability.”

"The mother lifts up Damiana's skirt and stinking petticoat, pulls down her woolen stockings and her wet drawers... I need warm water . . . no, not hot, I don't want to scald the child . . . but where in heaven's name did this kid learn so much about babies, why she handles herself like she's never done anything else in her life but take care of babies, look at her, she's got over her grieving, because it was grief she was suffering from, Iris is laughing now, happy, look at the way she laughs at the sight of that useless, lifeless, black vagina that's more wrinkled than a dried fig... Almost blind with laughter at the faces Damiana's making, Iris washes the old woman's vagina with great care. It mustn't hurt my precious, she has such a young little pussy, so delicate... open it up, Iris, let's see how old and smelly it is... like an asshole, but open it up real wide, don't you know, Iris, that with baby girls you've to open it up wide in order to wash it inside because otherwise with so much powder and ointment, it gets muckyand an infection can set in... like this, inside, gently, like that, like that... ah, mamma, mamma darling, I want more, it's so delicious, mamma darling, don't wash me with that rough sponge, do it like this with your fingers, mamma, there, right there, right there... my baby girl's darling vagina has to be handled gently, it belongs to my talking doll, and I never had anything but a stick done up in rags when I was little, and she's more fun than the foll they'd promised me, because this is a live doll... she's fondling your pussy with the sponge so you'll quiet down, and talk, and say "goo, mamma, mamma"... your rought hands, my baby's hands, touching my cheeks... I give you two little slaps on your soft buttocks, yes, your buttocks are soft, Damiana, even if the other crones gag laughing because you rock and roll your hips while I keep washing you, washing your vagina with my fingers, my fingers, my soft fingertips, in your vagina, I wash and wash it until you sink your nails into my arms and let out that little scream, and you keep very still now, you're not moving your hips anymore, your eyes close. I plant a kiss on your wrinkled belly."

"All sewed up. Once all his body's orifices were closed up and his arms and legs trapped in the strait jacket of not knowing how to use them, yes, the old women would graft themselves onto the child in place of his limbs and organs and faculties, ripping out his eyes and his voice and robbing him of his hands, rejuvenating their own weary organs in the process and living a life other than the one they'd already lived, ripping out everything in order to renew themselves by means of the theft."

"When Jeronimo finally parted the crib's curtains to look at his long-awaited offspring, he wanted to kill him then and there; the loathsome, gnarled body writhing on its hump, its mouth a gaping bestial hole in which palate and nose bared obscene bones and tissues in an incoherent cluster of reddish traits, was chaos, disorder, a different but worse form of death."

“All my work will explode inside my body, each fragment of my anatomy will acquire a life of its own, outside mine, Humberto won’t exist, only these monsters, the despot who imprisoned me at La Rinconada to force me to invent him, Ines’s honey complexion, Brigida’s death, Iris Mateluna’s hysterical pregnancy, the saintly girl who was never beatified, Humberto Penaloza’s father pointing out Don Jeronimo dressed up to go to the Jockey Club, and your benign, kind hand, Mother Benita, that does not and will not let go of mine, and your attention fixed on these words of a mute, and your rosaries, the Casa’s La Rinconada as it once was, as it is now, as it was afterwards, the escape, the crime, all of it alive in my brain, Peta Ponce’s prism refracting and confusing everything and creating simultaneous and contradictory planes, everything without ever reaching paper, because I always hear voices and laughter enveloping and tying me up.”

"They’re monstrifying me. I’ve lost my form, I have no definite contours, I’m in flux, changing, as if I were seen through moving water, I’m no longer me, I’m this vague twilight of consciousness that’s peopled by white figures that come and stick needles into my veins…how many red corpuscles…he has almost none left. Let me out, I don’t want to die of suffocation within these adobe walls with their peeling crust, you’re only damp spots on mud wall, all of you, let me out of here!…If I could only cross the imperceptible line that separates the half-light from the darkness. I’m on the brink. But no, they won’t let me cross into the darkness where there’s no anguish, they want to hold me on this side, in the half-light, where things have no outline and barely shift about."

"It's the terrifying bridal gown you've been preparing from the beginning of time, embroidered and studded with rhinestones, its train trails along the ?oor magnifcently, the white veil's stirred by your breath, yoy never take o? your bridal gown day or night in case the right moment comes, as you wait for me to wake up so you can hook me then, your hair swept up into buns and curls a'nd platinum braids, the mask in which your watchful eyes speckled with gold dust and the tiara of glittering gems holding up the white tulle of your purity are all prepared for the fnal ceremony."

"...that's why I lift your bridal gown to rape you, that's what you want, Emperatriz, don't deny it, don't try to stop me from getting up, with your fake struggle, don't pretend to weep and wail as you try to pull away my hands that get at your horrifying freckly bosom of an old dwarf and my fngers that look for your sex organ to excite it, although it's always slippery and excited, don't go away, don't go, don't leave me alone, don't run off screaming because I try to rape you, don't run, tripping over the train of your bridal gown, don't desert me in this basement without a way out, pipettes and tubes bubbling, intubations of serum and transfusions beside many other tube lines I can't fgure out holding me down, I want to escape, yes, I have to get away so that they won't stifle me to death, to open the window and breathe some air that's not close, but the window's not a window, now I see through the whole trick, it's the blowup of a window they've pasted on the adobe to simulate light and space so that I'll want to open it, to touch its glass that's not cool, because it's not glass but very thin paper stretched over the clay, a photograph, a fake, there's no window, there's no door, no exit, no place to get out to, I scratch, rip, tear away strips of the photograph that fakes an exterior that's never existed anywhere, I pull it off in strips, I tear pieces from the picture of the window in the hope that there's a real opening, my nails hurt, I rip, scratch, nothing, there's nothing, not even light in this room as small as a tomb, I peel off the entire picture, there's nothing, adobe wall, mud wall papered with old newspapers, with hair-raising news that doesn't matter anymore-Flood in the Yangtze-Kiang, Earthquake in Skopje, Famine in Northeastern Brazil-this jigsaw puzzle of horrors, layer after layer of news that isn't news anymore."

"The only soluton she saw was the possibility of selling her useless body to Dr. Azla because you were going to fall into his hands. The surgeon took the old woman's body apart, put her organs aside in special containers, placed them in chambers designed by him to supply the necessar oxygen and pump blood, serum and water, he cut the organs with very delicate scalpels so that the incisions wouldn't show later on, he stored everything in aseptic cellars lined with porcelain tiles, wthout life, without death, but full of waiting, ready for the occasion when the organs would be used. It was there, in Switzerland, that Peta, cut up into sections, waited for you, and you, unaware of it - or perhaps you knew you were traveling across the centuries to make the synthesis of the family traditon of the girl-saint and the folk tale of the girl-witch a realty - went there because you had to go, to the clinic where Dr. Azula and Emperatriz were keeping the old woman's organs reserved for you, to transfor you into her, into this filthy beggar with her gray bun, broken fngernails, corns and bunions, warty hands, tremulous head, and she's slowly absorbing and eliminating what remains of the incomplete Ines who went to Europe with dyed hair, a camel's hair overcoat, and alligator accessories."

"I have to eliminate you. My imagination is your slave just as Ines's body was your slave, you need my imagination in order to exist, Ines and I being your servants, Ines and I being heraldic beasts invented to support the symmetry of your heroic proportions, one of us on either side of you. I've eliminated her. You're starting to topple. Now I'll eliminate myself and make you come crashing down and break into a thousand fragments they'll load on Mudito's cart, and Mudito will haul them away to his court, where time and wnd and the rain and the weeds will rot and erase you. I have many blank pages waiting for me to write your ending, I have lots of time to invent the most abject ending for you".

"Humberto had no talent for simplicity. He felt the need to twist noral things around, a kind of compulsion to take revenge and destroy, and he complicated and deformed his original project so much that it's as if he'd lost himself forever in the labyrinth he invented as he went along that was filled with darkness and terrors more real than himself and his other characters, always nebulous, fluctuating, never real human beings, always disguises, actors, dissolving greasepaint"

"...another group prepares the washtub they'll put me in to give me a bath; they have a fire going in an oil drum over which to heat my water, they've been tearing up baseboards and throwing them into the fire, and chunks of flooring and door jambs and the presbytery's turnedwood railing and the small gilt chair, and they go on saying that this place is never going to be demolished although they themselves have already started its destruction, they're wiping out all traces of this chapel where they worship me with the primitive liturgy of looking after me and cleaning and feeding and dressing me in Boy's clothes, his entre baby wardrobe, because I turned the keys over to them, they opened Ines's cell and her trunk and they've brought everything, they dress me up pretty and pamper me as I always dreamed of being pampered."

"It's as if, at twilight, a slow wave of filth and supplications invaded the neighborhood, begging voices, tiny footsteps that follow but could very well be giving chase, fetid breaths saying thanks, the knotty hand that snatches the coin and hides it in a tattered skirt, eyes that flash for a second and are extinguished."

"The liturgy of changing me, washing me, wrapping me in diapers, drawers, swaddling me tight before a nonexistent altar, before the remains of forgotten hybrid deities whose plaster crumbles with the humidity; an arm falls off, a dragon's tail too, they shatter on the floor"

"They put me inside the sack. The four of them kneel around me and sew up the sack. I can't see. I'm blind. And others come over with another sack and put me in it too and sew me up again, droning prayers I can barely hear, so that I'll perform the miracle when I will it, but let it be soon, very soon, because Ernestina Lopez is dying there in the corner, she's ill, she's crying because she says she doesn't want to die; they sew, they tie more sacks over my head and other women approach and I feel another wrapping of darkness coming up around me, another layer of silence that mufes the voices I can barely make out, being deaf, blind, dumb, a small sexless package, all sewed up and tied with strips of cloth and strings, sacks and more sacks, I can scarcely breathe through the weave of successive layers of jute, it's nice and warm in here, there's no need to move around, I don't need anything, this package is me and only me, reduced, not dependent on anything or anyone, hearing them address their supplications to me, prostrate, imploring me because they know that I'm powerful now that I'm fnally going to perform the miracle."

"My body's shrunken because they sewed me up so tight. I know this is the only form of existence - the smarting of my scrapped skin, the aphyxiating lint, the pain in my wracked body - because if there were some other form of existence there'd also have to b a past and a future, and I don't remember the past and I know nothing abut the future, hidden as I am here in the blissful repose of oblivion, because I've forgotten everything and everything's forgotten me. The only thing that can be said about me is that I'm the companion of solitude. I watch over it to keep anything from disturbing the sack that protects me more effectively than the adobe of these walls. Yes, I remember the walls. But I recall nothing else, and the future will extend only to the moment when they collapse. There's little time for all this to end, as it must; a cloud of dust will rise when the hungry jaws of the power shovels disturb the centuries-old repose of the adobe that makes up my world, and afterward the violence of the stone hammers and the steam rollers will force the blindness of the earth, that thought it could take the form of walls and labyrinths, to yield and will thus return it to its natural state of level ground made up, like all ground, of stones and fragments of wood and leaves and branches that will eventualy rot or dry up, of lumps of eath, of occasional pieces of painted plaster, an eye, a dragon's jaw, rags, papers that wil gradually disintegrate, sacks where there may be someone screaming, no, save me, I don't want to die, I'm afraid, I'm so weak, still, unable to move, without sex, without anything, razed, but I won't scream, because there are no other forms of existence, I'm safe here inside this bundle I've never come out of, owner of this hole that lodges me perfectly because it owns me."


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