Just by watching the initial 5 minutes of Taipei Suicide Story, I got immediately unnerved and had to reach a search engine to look for information. There was a question in my mind that needed an answer right away…
Are Suicide Hotels a real thing?
Turn out they don’t, but the sole idea of them being so completely changed my perspective on life. I think this is one of those what if… that better showcases the current state of human affairs. And I have to be honest here, I think that they shouldn’t be real for the most part, at least not in such an open way. I think killing oneself is a grave mistake, especially given the plasticity of the brain and our capacity to reinvent ourselves over and over again. Does society fail to provide meaning to us? Of course, but at the same time we are part of society I think, we are agents of meaning.
So, what do any of these ideas have to do with Taipei Suicide Story? Well, a lot actually! But let me explain. This short film (at 40 + minutes this is hardly short but anyways) by writer/editor/director KEFF, his second film so far, presents us with a setting in which suicide hotels are a real thing. Many people go to these places and they are allowed to stay only one night, by the end of which they can decide either to kill themselves or walk away. Following the protagonist of the story, a receptionist in this hotel, we get into a procedural mood all over the place. Workers go about the rooms of the hotel “cleaning” the place, which means taking out the bodies. Our protagonist doesn’t seem too interested in any of this and this proves to be his downfall. Just at the beginning, he has a chance to “see the truth”, when a repented customer comes to him to deliver the keys to his room, having decided to “give life another chance”. You can guess how the protagonist responds to this; he doesn’t care.
I’m tempted to imagine what could have been about that customer after leaving the hotel…
But anyway, the protagonist has another chance at empathy when a coworker tells him that one of the customers has been staying in the hotel for over a week now. Pissed off at the bureaucratic problem this situation poses, he goes to take charge of it all. It is then that his life changes 180° after meeting the woman living in the room. Her situation is simple, she wanted to kill herself but then decided against it, but still, she doesn’t want to live either. So, her only choice is to remain in the hotel. Not knowing exactly what to do, the protagonist gives her one last night to decide, either she kills herself or walks away.
From here on, the two characters get to meet and spend a significant amount of time together, initially because the protagonist feels guilty because of his inconsiderate way of acting, which quickly becomes interested in the woman, who doesn’t say much about her life and is more curious about this man who lives as if there was nothing bad going on. Yet the protagonist’s answers offer little comfort to someone lost of meaning, as he talks about the positive aspects of being a nobody, a regular whatever guy with a whatever life. The woman clings silently to some melancholic feelings as she chooses her last meal and they part ways with some sense of hope, as they both seem to connect on a sentimental level.
Yet every hope dissipates when the woman unexpectedly asks for a razor blade, asking the protagonist to deliver it himself into the room. And it’s here that the protagonist ultimately fails, as he’s given a new chance to change the destiny of this woman, yet some inexplicable fear of commitment, or perhaps his own failure to grasp a valuable meaning to life, impedes him from making a choice that could have saved both of them.
The offering of a helping hand. You can guess how the movie ends, nothing too hard to understand. I absolutely encourage you to watch Taipei Suicide Story and admire the simplicity of its presentation, the nakedness of its truth, and the masterfully created plot that keeps you hoping for something maybe you could not deliver yourself. In a sense, I think no one can walk away from this movie unchanged.
The modern cut glass door closes unexpectedly, hinges pushing forever forward towards the chiaroscuro street and the humidity of the sprinkling on the light green grass, on the blackened asphalt, on the unscathed puddles. And the barely occupied spaces of the sidewalk hide laughter, hide indecipherable plans for Thomas, a man of fine features and slender body, perhaps too slender and perhaps too relaxed given the situation. Truth is, for some time now, Thomas has been feeling that his life stops every time he stays in one place for a long time. He feels his feet burying in the ground, deep roots taking him from below. This sensation provokes a slight impulse forward, towards the new, the different, towards the pizzeria, where the pizza he hopes to enjoy on tonight’s date awaits…
The date… with his former girlfriend.
Cut to black:
– Wait wait wait… you said he was running away to the new, the different, but it turns out he’s getting together with his former girlfriend.
– Steps my friend, these are steps he has to take, even though his life is moving into the future, paradoxically that future is shaped like his past. Perhaps because it is the barrier he has to cross before he gets to what is really different.
– Don’t cloud me with your metaphysical logic. Okay then, I’ll play along, but I’ll be watching.
The living room of Thomas’ apartment.
Thomas wakes up next to the sunrise in the window, for the third day in a row he has fallen asleep on the living room couch. He gets up as quickly as he can and goes to the bathroom, brushes his teeth, eyes closing, but he slaps himself a few times to wake up completely.
Then, he rushes out the apartment door and into the hallway, where a group of people wait for the elevator to arrive.
Among these people is Gloria.
Thomas stops dead in his tracks on the ceramic tiles in the hallway, thanks to the specially designed rubber in his sneakers, guaranteed to produce controlled braking on any surface (patent pendant).
Escape options are limited, the most certain possibility of escaping unnoticed is to make a fleeting dash for the emergency door and descend to the first floor using the fire escape stairs. But the window of opportunity narrows with each passing second and a decision has to be made.
– To the ladder!
Thomas shouts without having thought about the possibility, very close indeed, that Gloria might hear him. Luckily he makes it across the threshold of the emergency door before she notices.
Ten or eleven jumps later, he makes it to the first floor of the apartment building, he happens to live on the third floor.
– I don’t think what I do is heroic.
– Whatever you say, sir. Have a nice day.
The concierge greets Thomas and bids him farewell at the exit door, but not before reminding him of something important.
– Sir, the common expenses.
– Yes indeed, the expenses. Very important.
– Sir… sir?
– Very important, thank you for reminding me.
Thomas waves goodbye, walks out the glass door to the street and finds himself facing the sidewalk and the walls tinged with light blue, other colors still waiting for the sun to come.
Perfect time to jog to the end of the street and back to the apartments’ entrance. Thomas has been running every morning for a year and four months now, every step he takes is a mantra that propels him forward, toward the future he longs for.
Insert: a photo of a happy family by the Christmas tree.
This image is the main reason Thomas feels that his life is a failure, he doesn’t have a family, but he wants a family, and he wants it more than anything else in the world. So… Why did he avoid Gloria in the hallway?
Thomas’s love nest.
Thomas on top of Gloria, to Gloria’s side, underneath Gloria, they are both naked and sucking each other’s bodies in search of pleasure. Then they rest lying on the bed. Gloria feels like talking.
– We should live together.
The chiaroscuro street.
Thomas, running alone down the light blue-tinted street after having escaped from Gloria in the apartment hallway, receives a phone call but does not answer, he is even annoyed because the incoming call interrupts the music he’s been listening to, which is a fundamental piece of this whole “I want and I act to get it” narrative driving him.
As he reaches the end of the street, Thomas turns on his right knee, the one that still hurts so much after landing with his whole body on a large round stone on the beach.
Insert: Thomas lands on the round stone on the beach.
Thomas takes the devastating image out of his mind and continues to move forward. This time around, the street goes upwards. The phone rings again, and Thomas prefers to answer.
– Hello? (kinda annoyed tone)
– Thomas? Hello, how are you?
– Excuse me, who is this?
– Paula? You don’t remember my voice anymore.
(Of course he does)
– Paula… Paula! Hi! How are you, long time no hear.
( He has been preparing for this occasion).
– I’m fine, you?
– I’m great, I just love living, you know.
(Strange answer, also, he doesn’t like living so much).
– How nice to hear you are so happy.
– Yeah, I’m so happy.
– Listen, I’m calling you because I’m in town for a few days.
– Are you? Great, if you want we can get together, and do something.
– What a nice idea, we do have a lot to talk about.
– We do! I’m free in the evening, 8… 8:30 is a good time.
– 8 is fine. Will you send me your address?
– Yes, don’t worry. I’ll send it now.
– Great, see you soon.
Thomas hangs up the phone and resumes jogging with a smile that defies gravity and fatigue.
He walks quickly, forgetting the steep path at first, remembering it back near the entrance of the apartment, where he meets Gloria, and he’s out of breath.
At this point, she has barely reached the first floor after waiting for her turn at the elevator for several minutes.
Cut to: (minutes earlier)
The hallway and the long wait.
Gloria waits in front of the elevator and next to a group of people. The light on the ceiling flickers constantly, generating almost imperceptible spaces of darkness that feed the general “why the fuck do I have to get out of bed” kinda feeling in the air.
An exasperating buzzing sound from the busted light makes the wait increasingly unpleasant.
The elevator opens and is already practically full, people inside making the supreme effort to squeeze into the limited space to allow Mrs. Nicole and her two children access to the elevator.
– They are very late for school. Thank you very much.
Mrs. Nicole utters a couple of incoherent sentences before the door closes, Gloria wonders if the lady was talking to herself or to the rest.
She also wonders about the competitive advantages of having children, the operation reports positive results in favor of singleness.
A quick glance at the rest of the people and the epiphany strikes her though… she will be the last to enter the elevator.
List of the other people in order of entry to the elevator:
– An elderly woman with no apparent direction.
– A rival woman very similar in appearance to Gloria, but with bigger cleavage.
– A guy in a suit with the face of a rapist (she’s not gonna enter with him).
Outside the apartment and the unexpected encounter.
The gloom in Gloria’s mind has not abated after the long wait in front of the elevator door.
The accidental, though completely avoidable, encounter with Thomas leads her to experience contradictory emotions. On the one hand, she recognizes a bond with the individual, a special affection that she would like to protect. On the other hand, Gloria preferred to wait in the elevator and not go down the stairs exactly because she saw Thomas avoiding her in the hallway.
Yes, she did…
– Hello, Thomas.
– Gloria, good morning. How are you doing this momorning?
– Sorry, morning. This morning.
– I’m fine, I’m actually running a little late, talk later?
– Yes, later.
– I think I’ll be back by 8 pm.
– Oh, you mean like today. Later today.
– Sure… Later today, can you?
– Yeah obviously… I mean no, I can’t today.
– Oh, are you gonna be busy?
– Yeah, busy. I have to go out… and come back. Out and back.
– Ah, a short thing.
– Not that short, I think. I’m not sure how long it’s going to take me, but I’ll be back, don’t worry.
– Okay, that was weird. I guess I’ll talk to you another day.
– Yeah, of course.
– Well, see you then.
Gloria says goodbye to Thomas without kissing him and heads to the curb, where her Uber ride awaits to take her to work.
Before getting into the vehicle, Gloria wonders if Thomas noticed her saying goodbye without kissing him.
Also, the end of the flashback.
The initial sunset part II.
Thomas arrives at the pizzeria in search of the pizzas he has ordered to celebrate with Paula, the woman who abandoned him a year and four months ago, the woman who left a hole of hopelessness in the center of Thomas’ compulsive dream of starting a family.
The toppings on both pizzas are Paula’s favorites, Thomas remembers them completely, as he still remembers countless details about her.
– I’m here to pick up some pizzas.
– In whose name.
– In the name of love, my friend.
The cashier stares at Thomas, his gaze intrigued.
– You… you’re a romantic.
– I think so, my friend.
– That’ll be 13.95.
– How do you know what order I’m getting?
– Pizza with ham, extra cheese, and pineapple? Only a person looking to impress someone else chooses pineapple, dude.
– Only an extreme rhetorician chooses dualistic arguments. Dude.
– Touché. Here are your pizzas sir, enjoy your evening.
– Thank you very much.
Thomas receives the pizzas with honest kindness and walks towards the pizzeria exit, the journey is interrupted by a phone call, it’s Paula.
He leaves the pizza boxes on one of the restaurant tables and answers.
– Paula, hi.
– Hi Thomas, hey, I’m outside your apartment, I’ve just arrived.
Thomas’s gaze crosses witheringly through the interior space of the pizzeria and stops nimbly at the clock on the counter, it’s 7: 50 pm.
– You’re early.
– Yes, is that a problem?
– “She’s early, she wants to see me, she misses me, she needs me! Do I have any condoms? I think I have some left in the medicine box, at least one strip.”
– No. No problem. Wait for me there, I’m at the pizzeria.
– I’ll wait for you then.
Thomas cuts the call, takes the pizzas, and walks again towards the exit, but stops (again) when he sees Gloria arriving at the entrance of the apartment with another person, a man.
From the type of clothes this man is wearing, a leaden jacket with a typical white shirt, and those shoes polished to a boiling point, Thomas deduces that this man is a fucking bastard.
– What are those, solar panels?
– Excuse me, sir?
The cashier enters the conversation.
– Nothing, I was talking to myself.
– Of course sir, why would you be talking to me.
The cashier leaves the conversation.
Thomas looks through the small windows at the top of the door, those little windows that allow him to see the street outside.
He stares at the apartment’s entrance. First, he sees Paula standing near the edge of the sidewalk. Then he sees Gloria next to the unknown guy, saying goodbye to the Uber driver who has brought them back to the love nest Thomas thought he was the only guest there and now it seems he has to share it with someone else.
Gloria and the stranger enter the building, clearing the way for Thomas to decide to come out of hiding, but unable to stop the pizza boxes from crashing against the door with the little windows that close thanks to those hinges that are used to close to push people forward.
With a determined movement with his arm, Thomas manages to control the boxes without losing the momentum that leads him to cross the street next to the passage of one of those cars that always pass by unexpectedly and whose movement produces a light breeze that moves the hair of both of them, Thomas and Paula, as they meet again.
A flickering flash unleashes forgotten emotions when the eyes of both meet, like an eclipse that unleashes parallel universes, mystical universes of an unreal nature where affection is the law and where the concrete reality is completely shattered.
– Hi, wow, you look good. Paula doesn’t hesitate to flirt with him.
– You too, hey, have you been working out? Thomas responds as freely as the situation allows.
– You noticed, yes, I have a routine that has worked wonders for me.
– I’m not going to deny the results. A mischievous smile from Thomas, more and more determined.
– So, what about you? Do you do weights?
Paula gently strokes the upper side of Thomas’s left arm.
– No, no. Not that kind of exercise.
– What do you do, basketball? Tennis?
– No, no. I do… Hey, I’m glad you came.
– Yeah, I was in a meeting with some clients but I finished earlier than I thought, so I came, I figured you’d be here by now.
(Clients? the word resonates in Thomas’s mind like a thorn against his skull)
– You’re guessing right. But come on in, come on in.
Thomas invites Paula inside the apartment, in passing he uses his super fast gaze to take a mental picture of Paula’s body, those exercises have really done wonders for her figure.
The beauty in front of his eyes leads him to look up to the sky in an unconscious movement, towards the row of balconies that extends to the roof of the building, he stops next to the third-floor balcony and finds Gloria looking down at him with an expression of disbelief.
Again that flash is triggered that invokes those emotional worlds that take over the spaces of all things and tinge them with colors and shapes that make sense only when you understand that Gloria and Thomas have actually just seen each other naked (metaphorically) for the first time since they met.
A shy response, a wagging salute on the fingers of his right hand is all that Thomas manages to conjure up in a supreme attempt to escape the blow of the judge’s gavel. Gloria finds herself in a similar situation, she prefers to let out a nervous smile and retreat into the interior of her apartment.
Tension mounts in the third-floor hallway.
The elevator doors open, and Thomas looks out before stepping into the hallway with that flickering light and that buzzing sound almost imperceptible to outsiders, but absolutely present and devastating to the locals.
He does so to make sure the place is clear. Paula is surprised by the “different” behavior of her companion but dismisses the matter.
They both walk down the hallway and every step they take echoes on the ceramic floor. Thomas remembers the properties of the rubber of his sneakers once again and Gloria bursts out laughing just as Paula crosses the threshold of her apartment door, which is on the way to Thomas’s.
Gloria’s presence prickled in the hallway and urging Thomas to move forward faster, this time without hinges to push him through. Seconds later, Paula and Thomas stop by the last door in the hallway. Inside, the lair of the man struggling to remain calm in the face of unfolding events.
– We have arrived.
The door opens, Paula goes inside, and a pale sigh echoes through the walls of the corridor. Thomas enters and closes the door slowly. The hallway is silent.
The moment of truth in Thomas’s apartment.
Thomas enters the apartment and leaves the keys on the table, on top of the pizza boxes. Paula sits on the couch in front of the TV screen, where she finds a new planter on the edge of the table, topped with a beautiful bunch of lavender flowers.
– Yummy, I love lavender.
– Yes, they smell so nice.
– What’s that?
– I didn’t realize you were a flower man.
– Oh, I guess there’s a lot you don’t know about me yet.
(What she really doesn’t know is that it’s Gloria who has placed the planter topped with lavender on the edge of the table, after diagnosing Thomas’s apartment as the lair of a deeply depressed person).
Thomas takes a couple of beers out of the fridge, hands one to Paula, and sits down across from her.
– So Paula, tell me, how have you been? What have you been up to?
Thomas swallows a long sip of beer before receiving the answer, perhaps it’s the architecture of her silhouette, the golden earrings, the golden curls, the seasonal clothes, or the combination of all of these items that leads to the foreboding conclusion.
– Well what have I done, so many things. As you know, I took that scholarship last year and I was studying abroad.
– I think I remember that.
Thomas takes another long sip of beer.
– It went well, I ended up finding a job in an international firm. Oh, you can’t imagine how many places I’ve seen. And the people, the best experience.
Thomas’ first beer is finished almost instantly.
– No kidding, that’s good, that’s great news. Quite a success.
– Yeah, taking that scholarship was the best thing I could have done in my life.
– Wow… that doesn’t hurt at all.
– Doesn’t it?
– Right, are you hungry?
Thomas opens the first pizza box, and the irresistible scent of melted cheese over tomato sauce overtakes the apartment…
– No thanks. I don’t eat dairy products.
… And it’s exorcised out of the place almost instantly.
– But relax, you can eat it if you want.
Thomas doesn’t take a bite of the pizza, preferring to close the box in silent defeat. Paula notices the movement but prefers to continue the conversation.
– And you, how have you been? Tell me, what’s been going on in your life during this time.
– Well, I’m… I’m in my projects, you know, doing my own thing, moving forward.
– Oh, what are you doing?
– It’s complicated stuff, work stuff. I don’t want to bore you with the details.
– No, don’t worry about it.
– But tell me, Paula, why did you call me?
Paula smiles when she hears Thomas’ question and takes a sip of beer before continuing.
– I don’t know, I wanted to see you. I was with my parents, friends, and acquaintances, but I thought, what is Thomas doing? So I came.
– Well, I’m glad you thought that.
– Yes, you can’t imagine the trouble my boyfriend gave me, he got jealous, can you believe it?
– Your boyfriend?
– Yeah, you’re gonna love him. I told him wonderful things about you, obviously.
– That’s great. I’m so glad.
Thomas does his best to endure the pain, the stab wound in the center of his heart makes it hard to breathe, as imaginary blood spills all over the walls of the apartment.
A keen eye tracks the position of the phone next to the pizza boxes, maybe there is still time to call an ambulance.
– I’ll be right back.
Thomas dismisses the initial panic and moves swiftly down the hallway and into the kitchen without wasting time to turn on the light, straight to the refrigerator, where he grabs another beer to drink almost half of it in one sip.
Stopped in the middle of darkness, partially illuminated by the line of light escaping from inside the fridge, Thomas makes a great effort to keep up appearances.
A hyper-massive black hole activates at the center of his thinking, threatening to absorb all the light in the universe. The spell fades when Paula receives a phone call.
Hi honey, yes I’m here. Everything is fine.
With Paula out of the “environmental consciousness”, Thomas takes the opportunity to cross the room, goes to the balcony, and indicates to Paula that he “will be outside” with a hand gesture. She gives a thumbs up, accepts the proposition, and continues the phone conversation.
Revelation by starlight.
The icy air and the echoes of the streets in the incipient night greet Thomas on the balcony, a new sip of beer and a controlled sigh do not deliver the calm that the movement was intended to grant.
Nor does the night seem to have endowed the stars with the loving light of hope that guided so many chosen ones and prophets in other eras.
The click of the lighter in Gloria’s hand leads Thomas to turn towards his neighbor’s balcony, where she is enjoying a puff of a cigarette.
– Thomas – She says.
– Gloria, I didn’t know you were…
– Me neither, I thought you were going out?
– Yeah, right, well, not really.
– She’s cute, is she your ex?
– Yes, how did you know.
– I didn’t.
The horn of a car honks across the nearby horizon, and a shorter one follows suit. Gloria takes another puff from her cigarette. Thomas follows.
– I saw you arriving with a friend, a male friend?
– We’re just friends, I don’t like him or anything.
– He looks nice, co-worker?
Gloria nods and puts the cigarette out in the ashtray, leaves it on the edge of the balcony, next to the lighter and gets up from the chair, prepares to enter the apartment.
– Do you want to watch a movie later?
– Yeah, sounds good. I’ve got pizza, do you want some?
– Okay, I’ll wait for you.
The window opens and Gloria disappears into the long white curtains. Thomas smiles and sighs long. He stays on the balcony for a while longer, still a bit after Paula finishes talking on the phone.
Wow, Casablanca, the classic of classics and I finally got to see it, after all those times I came across it on TV and immediately switched to another channel, after all those times I heard other people say it was a unique jewel in the world’s filmography, after all those times I threw up when I heard words like “romance”, “passion” and “impossible love” to describe the plot of this 1942 film, directed by Michael Curtiz and starring the charismatic Humphrey Bogard as Rick Blaine and Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund. After watching it, I can say without fear of being wrong, that yes… this movie is really special, both for its story and its characters, but it is also interesting because of the space in which the events take place and how this space echoes with all the other elements of the story. I’m referring to the political and social context, the geographical point where the story takes place (from the city of Casablanca to Rick’s bar and everything in between), all elements masterfully orchestrated to produce a powerful story about how external circumstances tend to shape our decisions and how our emotions tend to prolong conflicts, up to the point where we decide to take charge of the situation and manage to change destiny.
But wait… what’s Casablanca about? Well it’s about this guy, Rick Blaine, who owns Rick’s bar, a place where a bunch of refugees (mostly) try to escape Europe in the middle of WWII. In Rick’s bar they find one of the only places to have a nice time in the midst of the chaos of war. The thing is that Rick starts the movie with a selfish attitude, he only thinks about saving himself and does not interfere in other people’s affairs, not even in favor of friends or acquaintances. Now, this attitude also serves him to maintain a close relationship with Captain Louis Renault, who is in charge of Casablanca and also makes him pass under the radar of Major Strasser and the troop of Nazis who have come to Casablanca in search of Victor Laszlo, an activist against Nazism and active voice of the European resistance against the Germans. It is here that Rick and Victor’s paths cross, though not because of the war, but because Victor Laszlo’s wife is Ilsa Lund, Rick’s old girlfriend who has jilted him in France on the day of the Nazi occupation, the day Rick begins his journey to Casablanca. At the beginning of the film, Rick gets hold of some stolen passports that will allow anyone to use them to escape from Casablanca. Victor and Ilsa’s goal is to escape Casablanca before they are killed by the Nazis, do you see where the whole thing is going?
Before we go any further, let’s talk a little about the character of Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart. As I said earlier, Rick begins the story with a selfish stance on the whole war thing and other people’s problems. Even when an acquaintance is captured by the Nazis, Rick merely says that he doesn’t stick his neck out for nobody. Rick also doesn’t usually drink with other people and doesn’t accept anyone’s invitation if he can help it. But the situation changes radically when Ilsa and Laszlo arrive in Casablanca. From this moment on, Rick cannot help but show a different side of his personality, one that is more empathetic, but also more passionate, to the surprise of his acquaintances and to Ilsa’s pain, since Rick does not delay in letting her know the damage she has caused him by abandoning him in Paris. Now, what happened in Paris? The thing is that Ilsa was dating Rick when the Nazis came to destroy everything. Rick had a plan to escape with Ilsa and his eternal companion, the pianist Sam Wilson. But everything goes to hell when Ilsa doesn’t show up at the train station, instead she sends a letter tersely explaining the situation (basically that they won’t see each other again). It is from this moment that Rick decides to send everyone to hell and focus on living a meaningless life, sheltered in his bar from the calamities of the world.
But the arrival of Ilsa and Victor Laszlo brings other unforeseen consequences in Rick’s life. One of them is found in perhaps the most dramatic scene of the film. I refer to the scene where the Nazis have taken over the bar and are singing the German anthem, but are interrupted by Laszlo and the brass band, when Rick instructs them to follow Laszlo’s order to play the Marseillaise. It is here that the change begins in Rick, who no longer appears as an outsider to the political conflict, but takes matters into his own hands. After the Nazis decide to close the bar and ban the festivities, Rick learns the truth about Ilsa’s disappearance. It turns out that she was already married to Victor before she met Rick, but when Victor leaves to face the war and after a long time in which Ilsa has no news about his whereabouts, she makes the decision to continue her life with Rick, just then, she receives news about Victor, who is alive.
Is destiny nothing but a cruel machine of anticipated tears?
Well, I prefer not to tell you the end of the story so as not to ruin the experience, although being honest, I think that when you see the ending you will realize that you have seen it before in countless parodies and homages, because that final scene and its dialogues are already part of the DNA of American cinema. That’s Casablanca, a movie about a guy who doesn’t want to get involved in war because of heartache, living in a neutral place (not being a villain or anyone’s ally) until someone else comes along to remind him that there are things in life worth fighting for and that sometimes being neutral can do more harm than trying to take a more concrete stand.
Victor notices the spider’s web swaying gently in the space between the rearview mirror and the body of the car. It is the eighth time in a month that he has encountered the same surprise, but it is the first time that Lucia notices it. An unimportant detail for her, who passes her hand without hesitation and removes the spider’s web at once.
– Don’t tell me, there’s a spider living in the car.
– Yes, there is. I think so at least.
– You think so?
– Yes, I think so. I remember one day I was driving back to the apartment when I saw a spider walking along the edge of the window. I slowed down to help it, so it wouldn’t fall out. It went through a gap in the door and I never saw it again, then these spider webs started appearing.
– You have to fill the inside of the car with insecticide and that’s it, it’s over.
Victor smiles without saying another word and gets into the car, Lucia does the same. The car leaves.
– Where did you say we were going? she asks.
– I didn’t say where we were going.
Victor keeps his gaze on the horizon that stretches vast and imperishable in front of his eyes. A couple walks down the left side of the street. Victor looks at them and sighs, he wonders if all couples are like Lucia and him, deep down he hopes this is not the case.
– Well, so, are you going to tell me or do I have to guess? Lucía continues.
– You know, spiders are not insects.
– You know that, right?
– Okay, spiders are not insects. Where are we going?
– You would think that an insecticide is designed to kill insects, but no… it’s just poison. It’s for killing and nothing else.
– Victor, I hate it when you do that, are you going to answer the question?
– No, I’m not.
The red light of the traffic light forces Victor to stop at an uncomfortable point in the conversation, experience indicates that refusing to answer a question can involve more time spent in circular conversations. Before Lucia can get another word in edgewise, he hurries to turn on the radio.
“Breaking news; the search for little Pedro, who disappeared almost a month ago in the outskirts of the city, will end tonight, when police officers conclude their efforts to find him.”
“The young boy’s mother wasted no time in giving statements about the disappointment caused by this decision.”
– “He is my son, I need to find him, do you understand me? I can’t continue my life if I don’t know what happened to him”.
– Dude, can I clean your windshield?
A homeless man approaches Victor’s window, waving his hands at the windshield marked by a series of dust and dirt smudges. The truth is that it’s been days since Victor has washed the car, made the bed, and a thousand other tasks that are still pending in his mind.
– Okay my friend, thank you.
– Don’t say yes, Victor, don’t you know? He’s going to spend the money on alcohol and drugs.
Lucia intervenes in the conversation with her classic angry tone that makes Victor’s stomach boil. The homeless man also listens to Lucia’s words, although he prefers not to react, perhaps because the promise of a few coins is enough to silence the voice of his pride.
– He is like you then. Victor responds after the initial seconds of discomfort.
– What did you say?
Victor bursts out laughing and the homeless man follows soon after. Thirty seconds remain until the light changes at the traffic light, enough time to make a new friend. The homeless man’s arm passes swiftly across the surface of the windshield, in a short time the glass returns to immaculate transparency.
– It is impeccable, here and thanks for the help.
Victor hands the coins to the homeless man.
– Thank you sir and God bless you.
– “God bless me…”
The phrase echoes in Victor’s mind as the green light returns to the traffic light. The car leaves once again, the sun’s rays escape from the side of a building and go to rest on the tops of the leafy trees that stand over the concrete walls of the metropolitan park, Victor smiles.
– Are you still laughing? Are you okay with ridiculing me in front of strangers?
Victor does not answer, he is not sure of his answer, the first thing that comes to his mind is to answer that yes, it is okay to ridicule Lucia in front of strangers. But at the same time, he realizes about the anger that slowly takes over his conscience, he prefers to keep silent. The light in the skies is lost between two large bodies of gray clouds, the day is tinged with pale blues and greens, with staggered grays. Victor steps on the accelerator as if trying to escape the growing melancholy that surpasses even rage, which at least demands some kind of affective bonding, that he felt before and that now is diluted among imaginary tears.
– Lucia listen, I’m not sure about this, but I think all the sentences you’ve said since we left the apartment have been questions.
– What does that have to do with it?
– I’m not sure.
– Can you slow down?
– Yes, but I don’t want to.
Another hint of anger escapes unconsciously and leads Victor to press the accelerator harder, even before he looks ahead, towards the next traffic light that is already yellow. The space left is not enough to stop, Victor continues the race and passes the next intersection accompanied by the incipient red light, together with the trumpeting of the horn of other vehicles.
– I want to go back to the house Victor, I don’t want to be here anymore.
– You are always here.
– Do you want to tell me something?
The sound of the police beacon interrupts the conversation, the flashing reddish beam pierces the interior of Victor’s vehicle, who prefers to stop at the side of the street before trying any alternative escape.
– What I really want is to escape the conversation.
Victor looks back in the rearview mirror, expecting to see the policeman, but in reality he stares at the traces of the spider’s web in the space between the mirror and the body of the car. He wonders about the spider, will it be sad after losing its precious web? The policeman also arrives at his side.
– Good afternoon, sir. Your driver’s license, please.
Victor takes the wallet and checks inside for the driver’s license. In the process he tries not to fix his attention on the mocking face that Lucia is surely making. He doesn’t succeed.
– God has blessed me…
– I beg your pardon? The policeman replies.
– Yes? Ah, no nothing. I was talking to myself. Here’s the license.
– Do you know how fast you were going?
– What are you asking me for? I guess you know. You’d better tell me how fast I was going.
– But I want to know if you know how fast you were going.
– I see, you’re not sure. Well look, I think I was going right at 60 miles per hour. Now, I recently saw a sign that said the maximum speed was infact 60 miles per hour. So I guess we’re good, right?
– The policeman takes a step back and scratches his head, it takes him a while to process the information, when he’s done he returns to the window.
– I guess so, all ok with the license. Have a nice day, sir.
The policeman returns the license to Victor and walks back to the police car, leaving the scene shortly after. Victor breathes a sigh of relief, turns the key to start the engine and prepares to resume driving.
– I don’t understand, what happened? – Lucia asks with an air of annoyance.
– Nothing, nothing happened.
– But you went through the intersection with a red light, you committed an infraction.
– Strange, I don’t feel like I committed anything.
The next song on the radio ends and the urgent news announcement returns.
“Breaking news, a stunning turnaround in the case of little Peter, as we had commented earlier, the police were about to call off the search for the boy, but now it has been confirmed that little Peter has been found by talent scouts in Hollywood, he has signed a million dollar contract to star in a new movie franchise. We have his shocking statements.”
– “Hello everyone, I’m fine. I’m here to fulfill my dream. To all of you who are looking for me I say, forget me, because we’re not going to see each other again.”
– What a nasty little boy. And so many people had been worried about him.
Lucia grumbles in front of the radio and then changes the dial, stops at another station.
“And God said to Moses; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” ….
– What is that? Victor asks.
– That is the bible, dumbass. You’ve never heard it before?
– No, it’s not that, it’s something else. It’s something that’s talking about what happens.
– What are you talking about?
– It knows what is going to happen.
– Cut it out Victor! I’ve had enough of you. You wouldn’t tell me where we’re going, you’re laughing at me and now you’re talking weird. What the fuck is wrong with you?
Victor is paralyzed, he keeps his eyes on the street but prefers not to make any false moves, he assumes that his life depends on it.
– Are you going to answer me?
– The spider… Victor answers almost without moving his lips.
– What spider?
– The spider is in my head…
The spider walks hurriedly over Victor’s head, moving from one side to the other without deciding which way to go, planted in the infinite center of a circle. Unexpectedly, the spider takes the lower path and now advances on Victor’s neck, who instinctively moves to protect his life, letting go of the steering wheel and losing control of the car. A new intersection is coming up and this time Victor does not even manage to see it, nor does he manage to press the brake pedal before receiving the impact on the right side. The car spins three or four times in the air before stopping in the middle of the street, Victor opens his eyes and finds the asphalt next to the window, the car is lying on its left side.
– Lucia… Lucia, are you okay? I’m sorry, I didn’t see…
Lucia is not inside the car. The sunlight shines through the gaps in the thick clouds and partially illuminates the long and little-traveled street, some people approach from a distance and murmur words that cannot be understood. Victor looks at the window frame of the windshield, the spider walks along the edge and goes back through the gap into the interior.
This is the review of Hannah and her sisters, the only Woody Allen movie I have seen complete, well that doesn’t mean the others are bad. Hannah and her sisters caught my attention when I read the synopsis on imdb, where it more or less says that the movie is about Hannah and her sisters and how they all keep changing partners until they find the perfect match for each other. That’s what it says in the synopsis, but the film actually portrays a very human phenomenon and I feel very difficult to portray, which is the loss of the dominant position within the family (which happens to Hannah towards the end) and how the rest of the people adapt to this new context following the logic of their own idiosyncrasies. To show this interesting change in the family dynamics, the director/screenwriter takes a lot of chapters to advance the plot in a very particular way (I guess for those who love Woody Allen’s films it shouldn’t be that particular, but for an initiated it is!) jumping between characters over and over again, but let’s be honest, not always with a cohesive logical structure, although honestly, what does it matter! In some parts it seems that the movie doesn’t have a defined theme, especially the parts that correspond to the character Woody Allen plays (the hypochondriac) compared to the rest of the movie, don’t seem to have a thematic relation until almost the end of the story. None of this detracts from the entertainment and interest of the story, which concludes with this change in the hierarchical structure of the family.
But… what is the movie about? Well, it’s mostly about Hannah’s sisters, who start the story without having reached the fullness of their lives (without having formed a stable family), unlike Hannah, who welcomes them happily at home with her husband and daughters. At this point in the film, Hannah has the upper hand with her sisters and stands as the benevolent and concerned queen, ready to help but also to remind them of all the problems that keep the family in the way it is currently configured. After the opening scene, where they come together to celebrate Thanksgiving, we spend part of the film watching Hannah’s husband get involved in a love affair with Lee (the sister played by Barbara Hershey), who is living with an older painter (who was also her teacher). At the same time, Holly (the sister played by Dianne Wiest) struggles to find work as a theater actress with her friend April, who ends up beating her in the castings… and in love too! So it goes with poor Holly, who in one revealing scene realizes that, although she has some acting chops, she can’t compete with her friend’s talent and panache.
So let’s say that the film is about Hannah having a settled life (or so she thinks), while her sisters struggle to build a meaningful life following their desires (obvious because the film is also based on the story of an extended family with enough resources). While Holly takes a path that leads her to abandon her dreams of becoming an actress, to later make the decision to try her hand as a writer, Lee leaves the painter to maintain a clandestine relationship with Hannah’s husband. While this happens, we are also involved in the story of Mickey (Woody Allen), who suffers from hypochondria and even fantasizes about being diagnosed with terminal cancer, a situation that leads him to lose the meaning of life and seek solace in different religions. It is worth mentioning that Mickey is Hannah’s first husband and that their relationship was ruined after Mickey discovers that he is infertile. So, while Mickey, who is a television writer, debates with the gods about the fate of life, Holly and Lee wander again and again in the search for emotional stability.
And how does the story end? Well, in the end everyone is happy except Hannah and her husband Elliot, who pay for the success of Hannah’s sisters via worsening their own relational situation. Partly because the first script Holly writes relates to Hannah’s life, with things about her that are personal and that she resents being known (although we could also interpret that she is really upset that her sister is achieving success and this makes her uncomfortable). The other problem that the couple faces in the end is Elliot’s infidelity with Lee, something that is never explicitly talked about in the film, but that constantly appears in the sense of guilt that surrounds both characters, although Lee decides to put an end to the affair and return to study at the university, where she falls in love again with a professor (some people don’t change). But hey, in the end it feels like the movie is about Holly and Mickey, at least they manage to make some change and be happy together (not counting that catastrophic first date). I have the impression that Hannah appears more as the pillar that unifies the stories than as a leading character, so sometimes I think if the movie shouldn’t have been called “Holly and her sisters”, but well, that’s up to the creators I guess. As far as movies about love relationships go, I’d say this film is definitely one of the best I’ve seen, especially because of the clarity in the development of the characters and the conversations between them, the situations they have to face! Things that seem so mundane at a quick glance but are so important in each person’s life story that seeing them portrayed on screen is very interesting. I’m referring to moments like the declaration of an infidelity, a date that goes wrong, the search for a sperm donor or others that we encounter throughout the hour and forty-six minutes that the film lasts.
The characters and the situations they face.
Mickey’s religious journey.
The end of the story.
On a few occasions I feel that the device of the character having a monologue in the middle of an action doesn’t come across well constructed (not on all occasions but definitely on some).
Alfonso stops by the door of the quick-stop, he stops because of the reflection in the glass of the door. His long, white, gray hair, and his long, singeing beard.
Who am I?
A question with no answer. The golden, cracked skin, dry lips, characteristics that do not correspond to any glimmer of unity inside the observer.
The sentence reminds him of something he cannot remember, a faceless nostalgia and a breeze of anguish. He enters the store without answering the question and walks through the aisles full of candy, full of sweet jellybean vapors, and vibrant colors that fill him with wistfulness. Walking down the aisle at the end, Alfonso finds himself facing the row of refrigerators, he stares at a bottle of mineral water for some time, the shape of the bottle reminds him of something he cannot realize, a diffuse memory that leads him to open the door and take the bottle in his hands. The cold escaping from the refrigerator’s interior relaxes him, and it leads him to take a deep breath. The woman at the cash register has been looking at him for a while and takes this opportunity to make her move. Alfonso expected this but he downplays the issue, preferring to open the bottle and take a big sip of water.
Hey, what are you doing!
Alfonso stops, the woman approaches him, and brings a red blanket, one that she had kept for the cold, she uses it to cover the body of the old naked man she has found in the corridor of the refrigerators. Alfonso thanks her, but she has not finished, she asks him to pay for the water before consuming it. Alfonso listens carefully and then puts his hands in his pockets, but he has no pants. The woman gets angry and asks him to leave the store, to take the water away but not to continue to mess the floor with sand, points to Alfonso’s dirty feet, feet with which he has painted a trail of sand everywhere he has stepped. Alfonso walks towards the exit, and passes by the woman’s side, she backs up when she sees the depth of his eyes, where she finds the glow of the stars. Alfonso is happy to see her, he remembers her from before, and although he doesn’t know when, he bids her farewell with reverence.
As he walks through the door of the quick-stop, Alfonso sees the next object that catches his eye, an empty gas can, next to the gas pump hose. With eyes full of tears, a smile on his face, and arms raised to the sky in an attempt to embrace the sun, Alfonso celebrates the discovery. He doesn’t know why, he doesn’t remember, but that canister fills his heart with joy, an intense joy that drives him to run to the pump to get it and insert the nozzle of the pump inside of it. Alfonso presses the trigger and the gasoline pours inside. And just then, the bathroom door at the side of the quick-stop hits the frame, announcing the arrival of a man on the scene. It’s a burly guy wearing a trucker’s cap on his head.
Hey! Hey, you! Are you going to pay for that?
Surprised by the statement, but even more surprised to see the face of the person who is questioning him, Alfonso kicks on the floor with joy. He thanks the heavens for Pedro, who continues to approach Alfonso and fails to understand anything of what is happening.
Did I miss anything? You’re going to pay, right?
Alfonso panics, he grabs the canister with both hands and runs out of the place, releasing the nozzle, which continues to expel gasoline and spills it on the floor. Alfonso hugs the canister tightly as he runs away from the station and into the road and the desert. Pedro runs in pursuit but stops at the pump to stop the gasoline from pouring onto the ground uncontrollably. This gives enough time for Alfonso to reach a considerable distance, insurmountable assumes Pedro, in the midst of the embracing heat of noon, so he desists to go in pursuit of that naked old man with a canister.
Alfonso keeps running non-stop, he doesn’t give himself time to look back for even one moment. He doesn’t run because he is being chased, he runs because he knows he still has time, although he doesn’t remember what for. And he runs until his legs ask for a break, until the sun lies down on the horizon once again. It is then that his guts rumble.
This is the joy of life.
When was the last time he ate? Blind confidence leads him to go into the dunes of the desert and to wait in silence. And then, between the lines described in the sand, a circular movement, like a whip drawing outlines on the ground, revealing the movement of a snake emerging from the depths. Alfonso observes it and without even thinking about it, he throws himself towards it, hunger drives him, instinct drives him, and love for the imperishable time drives him to pursue it a long way, leaving the canister behind.
Because, what will become of the can without someone to carry it?
Alfonso manages to find the snake, grabs it by the tail, and strongly whips it against the ground until life escapes from it. When the killing is over, He says goodbye to the snake, thanks the universe for providing it, takes off his red cloak, and places it on the ground, to deposit the snake’s body there. A furtive look at the canister, arranged on the side of the road, reveals that the object in question is not in its position; a young man has taken it and is carrying it. Alfonso covers the cloth in the sand and gets up as fast as his old body can move, he hurries to hunt down the intruder, catches him, and throws himself at him, managing to knock him down without much difficulty. The canister returns to his hands and Alfonso stays looking at this young man for a while.
The young man spends the afternoon begging Alfonso to lend him the gasoline, he needs it to rescue a woman stranded in the middle of the desert. Words that unleash a series of diffuse, unconnected, but strangely familiar memories in Alfonso. One specific word echoes in his memory.
Alfonso remembers meeting someone with that name, a powerful feeling brings him back to the desert sands but also to the deceitfulness of its surroundings. He prefers not to say anything, he is not sure of these memories, of the story that they link, and for sure that saying things without being sure is a bad idea, he thinks to himself.
Night falls on Alfonso and on the young man, a fire is lit in the dark, and the flames dance to the rhythm of the night winds. Millions of years still unprocessed in his mind, Alfonso does not manage to stay long in the present and with the young man. Even so, he makes the greatest effort to pay attention to the words he speaks, an interrogation about matters whose answer he does not possess. Questions about origins, about destinies, but Alfonso does not manage to position himself in the arrow of time, he prefers not to say more, loses interest in the conversation, and soon falls into a deep sleep.
The space is occupied, how to enter?
Among the veils of dreams, a car appears in the middle of the road, a woman opens up whole, her skin falls on the passenger seat, a flower emerges, a thorny rose, the stems grow and the thorns occupy the cabin of the vehicle.
Alfonso opens his eyes in fear, the young man takes the canister, tries to snatch it from his hands, and forces him to stand up and fight, but why fight?
Better to let go.
Alfonso reflects as he lets go of the canister, his body now moves thanks to the strength of the young man, the thrust pushes him towards the flames with the canister following him. The touch of the fire and the explosion, as intense as sunlight, envelops him in flames. Alfonso bears the pain in silence, lets himself be burned, and embraces the flames like old friends who come to guide him, angels who come down from the sky to illuminate the path. The fire is extinguished after a while, Alfonso’s body stiff, his eyes lost in the blink of the stars that receive him once more and beyond, beyond the most extensive and darkest depth, he knows that everything will start again.
The first rays of the sun timidly illuminate the contour of the desert and tickle Alfonso’s charred fingers. He agonizes, it is difficult for him to breathe, every breath burns him inside, every exhalation as if it were nails in his chest. He remains still, almost does not feel anything, does not feel the movement of the sand around him, does not feel those beings that return to the surface hungry, in search of food, and that find him lying down, helpless. There will be two, then three, and soon more than twenty snakes sliding through the sand toward the burnt body. The feast begins. Teeth like fine needles tearing the flesh until they are satiated. The snakes finish eating the flesh and return to the sand. Later, a couple of vultures circles the sky over the charred body, taking their time before descending. A peck and another piece of meat get separated from the bone. The vultures devour every muscle with surgical precision, including the eyes and guts. Then, they return to the skies and get lost on the horizon. After a while, a family of beetles makes its way through the sand, reaches the immobile body, and take their share. The days pass and only bones remain.
And Alfonso? Where is he? Alfonso is in the snakes that roam the desert, he is in the vultures that sail the skies, and he is in the beetles that bury themselves in the earth. But Alfonso wants to free himself, the desire to return to that place that he hardly remembers anymore, that place that keeps calling him, persists like the light of the stars. With great effort he manages to free himself from the flesh that imprisons him, helped by the fact that it almost disintegrates in the stomach of the beings that fed on him. One last effort and his soul separates entirely from the material, then he falls, falls as he has fallen before, as the stars collapse and separate in spite of all efforts to endure. But Alfonso does not want to be part of the history of the universe; his desire is to return to his memories, to retain them. And every time the galaxies collapse and everything begins again, he returns, countless times and under a thousand forms. In the beginning, it is difficult for him, he can only be a geometrical figure, he is a triangle embedded in a grain of sand, he is a cube, traveling in a beam of light, between the reflections of the dunes and the sun. A car passes by the road, thundering music throws waves through the air, changing the nature of all things, even of himself and now Alfonso is part of a song, a specific strophe “stay with her”, “stay with her” is repeated like a mantra throughout the song and someone listens, but the sound waves last as long as a blink of an eye and that is not enough for Alfonso. Again at the end of the universe and back again. This time as a drop of rain that falls in spring at the beginning of his life and then is taken, encapsulated in a bottle of water. The same drop that slips gracefully through a woman’s lips and manages to calm her nervousness in a tense situation, Alfonso remembers the happiness, but he wants more, he is not satisfied. This time he is a fly that is born on the putrid flesh of a corpse, as soon as his eyes meet the rays of the sun, his adventure through the air begins. He flaps his wings in search of an aroma that he can barely perceive, which is only an illusion at the beginning, but which, with each movement, grows in intensity. After having lost half of his life on the journey, the fly finds the origin of the aroma that drives him forward. The turbulence of the wind prevents him from advancing, it moves him in all directions. But the fly does not let himself be intimidated; he has been a man, has taken a life, has been robbed of his life, and has traveled this existence countless times, the wind is not a rival, it is himself in another age. This is how he lets himself go and soon finds himself in the cabin of a car, amazed by the man and the woman who now talk and laugh inside. He approaches the man and, with all his strength, shouts at him not to waste time, that destiny can be cruel in the same way that men are or have been. But the man does not listen; the fly flies through the air once more and goes around both looking for some solution. He does not find it; tired he stops at the mouth of the bottle, where he recognizes himself in the form of a drop of rain. Distraction prevents him from seeing the woman’s hand until it is too late, life is lost again. Again the end of the universe and the man returns as an animal, a fox that ventures into the desert dunes, that hunts snakes and faces vultures, that fights to stay alive long enough. Until a thundering sound changes the nature of things, “stay with me” is repeated and the fox knows that the time has come. One look is enough to change the life of the man who until then was walking the dark spaces of his own consciousness and then the epiphany, be an idea. The universe collapses and begins again, this time Alfonso is born from the vision of man, a set of synapses, of electrochemical impulses that form the powerful image of the majestic fox in the middle of the desert sands, a sticky idea that later translates into words that travel through the air and enter her ears.
I’ll take care of it, don’t worry.
Amelia settles into the seat and closes her eyes, she falls into a deep sleep. It is a calm dream, like the belly of a whale, warm and protective. Through the thick mist of her restful consciousness appears the image of a man walking along the road. It is Alfonso returning with the can of gasoline in his hands. Amelia watches him from the window and smiles, their eyes meet and they recognize each other as if only minutes had passed since they last saw each other.
Maybe it was just a minute.
Alfonso arrives at the car and tells Amelia that he has found the can lying on the side of the road, which has been nothing short of a miracle. She stretches to get rid of her laziness and gets out to stretch her legs for a while. Alfonso fills the car pond with fuel, stares at Amelia, and can’t help but smile.
Something has ended.
Alfonso keeps his smile as he returns to the car.
Shall we go? Amelia asks cheerfully.
Alfonso nods, he turns the key in the ignition, and the engine starts. The car advances towards the horizon and beyond, there, where the desert ends.
Hanging out from the strange men, the trip through the desert takes about eight hours, enough time for Alfonso to get lost countless times in recurring thoughts, memories of days gone by when existence seemed superfluous, and unnecessary to him. It is just now that, taken by fear, he hopes to continue living despite, or better said, above all the dangers that for sure await him at the end of this new journey through the desert.
The journey ends abruptly as Alfonso falls heavy on the ground again and his eyes are unblinded, night falling on top of him. There are flames in torches that intermittently illuminate the space between him and Pedro, who’s on the other side of the circle, drawn with white stones, which separates the both of them from the exalted crowd looking anxiously at them by the sides of the improvised quadrilateral. Women, old people, and even children await the beginning of the festivities raising their voices to the stars, and energetic songs are heard throughout, in the same indecipherable language as the one the men spoke early on. One of those men walks among the crowd as they open the way for him to gloriously pass. He carries along two long bones, human femurs, Alfonso horrifyingly supposes. Truth is that having witnessed the dismemberment of Pedro’s brother before was enough of a hint. The man buries a bone in the sand, near Alfonso, and another near Pedro. Then, he approaches the center of the circle and introduces himself to the rest of the people. He bows and addresses Alfonso and Pedro in perfect English, he points out clear and simple rules for the festival to succeed. Both Alfonso and Pedro are to fight with the bones as weapons, only one can survive and the battle will not end until either of them falls to his demise.
Tell me, what do you desire?
A question echoes in Alfonso’s mind, words that the wind does not bring with it and that no person has pronounced.
Do you want to see?
The voice returns, and a tingling leads Alfonso to raise his gaze above Pedro, further back from the people who are shouting effusively. There, barely visible in the darkness, an extremely thin woman, her long black hair covering her sex and breasts, her arms as thin as branches, her ribs marked, buried. She sits on a structure that Alfonso is unable to decipher. Her feline eyes are fixed on his.
Tell me, what do you want? Give me the life of that man and you will have it.
Alfonso can only think of Amelia and the car in the middle of the road. Whether the hours they spent together actually happened or were all an illusion, it is all he can wish for.
That even the life of a burning man is not enough to pay for this riddle to end.
The woman smiles and a warm breeze lifts the ashes from the torches to the stars. Time rewinds, the sun rides back from the slept horizon back to life and forth across the sky, the stars regain the intensity lost in movement and the days return to the car and the woman sleeping inside.
Life is the choice to move, to move is to stay, to remain.
Standing outside the car, Alfonso prepares to leave in search of help, Amelia sleeps inside. He wants to turn around, get back in the car and see her once more. He stretches out his arms and almost manages to touch the window, but almost is an eternal space that stands between him and the car.
What do you say?
The voice brings him back to the dark night, to the burning torches, to the ecstatic shouts of the spectators, and to Pedro, who comes toward him with the long bone in hand, raging in fury he throws himself against Alfonso. Savage, and liberated, Pedro has surely been offered a similar bargain. Alfonso leaves his thoughts aside and jumps to the side to avoid the first attack.
Wait! We don’t have to do this.
Useless, Pedro does not listen to Alfonso’s words, takes the bone with strength, and attacks for a second time, Alfonso does not manage to avoid completely the blow, ends up receiving it in the left arm, and falls flat on the floor.
Breathing heavily, the pain in his arm prevents him from moving or thinking clearly, he has lost sight of Pedro, and his eyes rest for a few seconds on the woman, who is still looking at him.
Take what you wish.
The voice sentences, the sands rise, the music drowns, the sun embraces, Amelia sleeps, the fly dies, his feet hurt, and the old man burns. Alfonso receives the next blow directly in the stomach, flies through the air, and falls into the sand for the second time, blood spilled in the sand this time. Pedro balances the bone in his hands, feels victorious, apologizes, and remembers his brother, there is a way to bring him back to life, this is not personal.
Take it, now!
The voice returns and a war cry emerges from within, from the entrails of Alfonso, like an intense howl that fuses with the moon and the stars. The roar leads him to get up with new strength, and forgetting about the pain, he leaves all scattered thoughts behind as he delivers himself to the battlefield. A hasty turn leads him to evade another attack and to stand in front of the long bone left for him on the ground. A fourth blow from the right, the bone in his hand and Alfonso manages to block Pedro’s attack, although the force of the impact sends him back to the ground. A supreme effort, propelled by furious breathing, leads Alfonso to stick his eyes to his opponent’s movements. He feels light and prepared, jumps up, grabs the bone, and launches his attack before Pedro can react. The first attack doesn’t have enough energy to hurt, after all, Pedro’s body is more robust than Alfonso’s. However, the clash of forces has an unexpected consequence; now Pedro feels that he has won the battle. This leads him to ram Alfonso with the full weight of his body, confident, throwing him back to the ground, one step forward and Pedro raises the bone in the air with the intention of hitting Alfonso directly in the head to end the fight. The bone falls hard into the sand, however, Alfonso manages to move quickly to kick Pedro’s right knee hard, making him fall to the ground. Pedro rolls around on the floor and is in pain. An agile jump leads Alfonso to get up once more, in front of him, the wounded prey waits. Pedro crawls onto the ground and backs away without letting go of the bone still firm in his hands. Alfonso notices this, he knows that Pedro has not given up, and he is probably more dangerous now than before.
What am I doing? Are we really dueling each other to death?
Hesitation leads Alfonso to stop, he’s confused, and observes the expectant public, all ecstatic in the candor of battle and the promise of blood to be fulfilled. Enough time for Pedro to swing the bone in his hands with force and succeed in throwing it into the air, impacting Alfonso in the middle of the face. Blood gushes profusely from the wound, and Alfonso falls to the floor with a lost gaze, hitting the ground he loses consciousness. When he wakes up, Pedro is almost completely up. Blood that flows from Alfonso’s forehead goes into his eye sockets, clouding his vision, the taste of rust in his mouth makes him feel that he has also broken a lip, or perhaps he is swallowing the same blood that prevents him from seeing. Pedro takes advantage of the moment to pick up the bone again. He staggers but manages to do so, hobbling over to Alfonso, squeezing the bone in his hand, and breathing a sigh of relief.
I’m sorry kid, I owe it to my brother.
Exhale… the air escapes from Alfonso’s chest and gets lost in the cold of the night, an agonizing moment. The spectators now shout in excitement, expectant of the outcome, the climax is approaching. Alfonso prepares to die, he doesn’t feel defeated or lost, just tired. He wonders about the causes of this tragedy, he does not know, and yet, once again, his hands seem to almost touch the fogged-up window, to wake up Amelia.
I would have liked to get to know her, I guess.
The last wish.
Why do you want to see her? – the voice returns.
I don’t know… I just know that I want to see her.
Alfonso responds without even trying to hide the confusion that has accompanied him all his life.
You know what you have to do – the voice ends.
Hope, Alfonso’s eyes open wide, his muscles tense, and new strength leads him to turn quickly, to avoid the death blow that Pedro throws at him. The bone hits the ground and draws a crater in the sand. Alfonso stands up nimbly and his arms swing hard, an almost reflex movement at a speed that surprises the crowd, surprises the stars themselves and destiny awakes as the bone almost burns the air and a low whistle is heard, fast and fleeting.
Pedro’s teeth fly through the air and blood accompanies them on their journey into the void.
The bone in Alfonso’s hands shatters, it breaks in two when it impacts the skull of his adversary. One blow is enough to knock him down, Alfonso releases it and his body loses all strength, almost falls to the ground again, but manages to stay on his feet. Lying in the sand, Pedro’s body shakes reflexively for minutes before coming to a complete stop, the battle is over.
The spectators retire quietly, a few words are heard as they leave the circle of stones. Alfonso stands in the middle of it, his chest swells strongly with each breath, his eyes completely dilated do not lose any movement around him, it takes a while for him to return to a more normal state. The withdrawal of the people reveals the rectangular object, on which, sitting on top, sits the woman with long black hair. The object is a mirror as clear as crystal water. By the angle at which it is placed, it reflects the brightness of the stars, now visible as the light of the torches fades. As he approaches, Alfonso manages to see his bloody face reflected on the surface of the mirror and he is amazed at the clarity by which he can see himself. The woman smiles and then directs others to bring the body of the newly deceased closer to her. Two men take what’s left of Pedro and drag him close to a basket placed just below the mirror. The dark-haired woman gives some instructions, and the men place Pedro’s head in the basket, and the rest of the body in the sand. One of the men takes a bone, and approaches the mirror, the woman screams and the bone falls hard, crushing Pedro’s skull. Again and again, the blows rumble on the ground, Alfonso stares silently, the situation shakes him, but he feels he no longer has the strength to respond in any way to this increasing trauma.
I can only hope for some oblivion at this point.
Blood and pieces of skull are scattered on the surface of the mirror. The woman comes down from the frame and spreads the blood with her hands until she completely covers the surface of the crystal. Then, she raises her arms to the sky and takes something, an invisible cloth that joins her to the stars. She uses it to cover Alfonso, circulating around him, whispering words that cannot be heard. The woman returns to one side of the mirror and puts the other end of the cloth near the bloody surface, something grabs it from the other side, tighten it and Alfonso’s body is propelled forward, into the blood, into the darkness, and the light of the stars reflected in the mirror. Alfonso tries to back up but his feet slip into the sand.
Now you can see, can you?
Alfonso closes his eyes, and lightning strikes the frame of the mirror, while Alfonso gets cut by the glass passing through with his whole body into the void and the stars break and, from the opening, an intense light receives him, so strong and warm that the outline of his body disappears, vanishes. And for billions of years there is only calm, infinite stillness, full of undecipherable happiness, nourished by a complete existence. However, with the passage of time a memory emerges, like a stain on the surface of all creation, an opening through which energies escape and sprout, altering the consistency of the luminous surface, the intensity recedes and an explosion leads the whole to separate through the empty space that covers it. Alfonso becomes himself again, he recognizes himself as a finite person, as legs, as arms, as his hands that try to hold on to the light that escapes like sand between his fingers. Entire galaxies struggle to stay together, but the repulsion is much too strong, tears are lost in the movement, farewells that last for eons, like raindrops drawing the wake of birth, preparing to move forward, they go deeper, more into the depths. Suns burn and give life to an infinite amount of planets, and they pass by Alfonso’s side, light up with force, and turn without stopping, until losing everything, until disappearing and, with them, thousands of lives are lost once more. Until the whole horizon of events bids farewell to the whole light and embraces a dark mantle. The void is the only thing left and Alfonso keeps himself, remembers himself, and clings to his memories, to the remains of him, and coldness freezes his lungs, his breath stops, and a new calm begins. Millions of years pass again.
– When will it end?
The voice returns to Alfonso’s frozen mind, wakes him up and his heart beats once more.
Time, previously stopped, now goes backwards, light and blinking, shy on the horizon line, it gains strength and the shine returns, suns burn strongly and galaxies meet again. Alfonso is dragged once more to the center of the whole truth, to the uncontainable, undeniable, imperishable light that embraces him and drives him down, the falling lasts as long as the space between the stars. Alfonso lets himself go, lets out a cry from the entrails to leave aside the nervousness, the excitement, to be reborn. And when the light collapses, his eyes can barely stand the morning glow, but he adapts quickly, looking at the sign in front of him, it’s the name of a gas station and the fuel price list. A sense of familiarity seizes him as the wind moves the sand scattered on the concrete, reminding him that he has already been in this place, but. has he been here?
The impression awakens Alfonso, what was that? A dream? The place he’s in right now is unfamiliar to him. The shelves with candy, the flickering light in the damp sky, and the vibrant sound of the refrigerators on the side. The smell of gasoline in the air gives him a more or less convincing clue as to where he is and who has rescued him during the night. The bell rings with the opening of the door and a woman enters the store. Alfonso gets up to sit on the old red sofa, with some bites in the corners that reveal the boards that shape it. The woman introduces herself as Paloma and informs him that thanks to the big explosion in the middle of the night they were able to find him.
You’ve been lucky.
Exalted, Alfonso asks about the old man, Paloma says she didn’t see anyone else, that the place was very dark and repeats that he was lucky they even found him in the middle of nowhere. Hearing about an old man, she remembers meeting an old stranger some time ago, perhaps it was the same person. But Alfonso is not satisfied with this answer, he insists on the old man, explains that he may be seriously injured and that they need to go and look for him immediately. A second voice interrupts him.
How long do you think it’s been since we found you?
It is a man with a grey beard and a trucker’s hat, who presents himself as Pedro, a strong man with features that suggest having been beaten by the passage of time. Alfonso has no way of answering the question correctly, he wants to say “a few hours” but the heaviness in his head tells him otherwise.
You have been sleeping for a whole week.
Pedro replies and Alfonso gets up completely from the sofa.
What happened to Amelia?
An unanswered question, the woman approaches and tries to reassure him, explaining that no one else was found in the desert, which is a very vast place, and sometimes people simply disappear. Confused, Alfonso cannot believe the words he just heard. How is it possible that they have not been able to find their car?
This desert is special.
Pedro answers once again, in that cryptic way that already starts to irritate Alfonso.
The sands rise up and sometimes they form figures that seem real, but after a while, the wind blows them away and they don’t exist anymore.
Words that confuse Alfonso even more.
Are you saying that I hallucinated everything? That Amelia doesn’t exist? And the old man?
Pedro has no answers as he doesn’t respond to that one. The ground and the sky revolve around Alfonso, confusion, and dizziness lead him to run toward the exit door. The sound of the small bell on the door resonates and merges with the arches that find him outside the quick stop, the little he has in his stomach is expelled through his mouth and ends up spilled on the floor, where the sand twirls in the wind and forms circular shapes. Alfonso stares at the movement, and in his mind, the idea of illusions begins to gain strength over less plausible scenarios. At least it takes away his responsibility for the lives of two individuals.
But, is he really considering that it was all an illusion?
Pedro walks out the door and approaches Alfonso, offering him a napkin to wipe his mouth. Alfonso receives the napkin and wipes himself without getting up.
You’ll be fine, I assure you.
I’ll be fine? We are talking about the lives of two people.
Alfonso responds without hiding his irritation.
Two people who may be an illusion.
Pedro comes back to the charge with his theory of illusions in the sand.
I understand you, believe me. Something similar happened to me, I also lost a person.
Alfonso wakes up half-relieved that someone else shares the odyssey. Amelia’s face remains in his memory, impossible to believe that it was all just a dream.
But don’t worry, there is still something we can do.
What do you mean?
Well, I saved your life and you can now help me with something that will benefit us both.
Alfonso still can’t believe they couldn’t find Amelia, what about her car? What happened to it? Pedro indicates that details have never helped anyone change the reality of things, but that Alfonso does not need to despair, as there is still hope. It is about the inhabitants of the desert, it is a tribe of strange individuals who share a special connection with the creative principles of the sands. They know about the desert and its illusions, and they can help both.
Pedro goes on to explain the sad story about the disappearance of his younger brother, also “swallowed up or imagined” by the desert. Has he hallucinated him? He doesn’t know, as time goes by he can’t even remember if he really had a brother all his life. But what he keeps in his heart is the memory and affection for him, and that is what drives him to keep looking. Alfonso listens to Pedro’s words with disbelief, reality now seems so much different to him than it was when he decided to make a trip to the desert. Laws of reality seem to have shifted towards the ridiculous.
What do you say? Are you with me?
Pedro asks once more and Alfonso accepts the offering, not even sure what the offering is about, both of them face the end of the gas station territory, the beginning of the interminable sands.
Early the next day, Alfonso and Pedro go back into the desert, for a while they walk in silence by the side of the road, but then take the path into the deep desert, leaving all traces of civilization behind, until they find themselves completely surrounded by golden mounds that reflect intense sun rays, indistinguishable from each other. The walk carries on and Alfonso gets invaded once again by that mindfulness feeling that reminds him of the moment he decided to walk away from the car, from Amelia, the starting point of his current odyssey. And then he realizes something else, somehow he has this feeling about Amelia, that no matter how illusory it all seems he will return to her and she will still be alive.
No matter what.
Heavy steps in the sand, the tiredness reaches him faster this time around. Pedro walks away in a hurry, sure of himself, of the path. For Alfonso, things are not so easy.
Hey, wait for me!
And then it happens, first, a light wind blow raises a soft breeze and moves the surface of the desert, then it grows as a breath that becomes more and more agitated, until raising a wall of sand that moves quickly and wraps Pedro and Alfonso, making impossible to distinguish heaven from earth.
Is it all sand?
Alfonso tries to follow in Pedro’s footsteps, but the wall of sand that stands between them barely allows him to distinguish him from everything else.
Alfonso, let’s keep going! Pedro yells.
Forward? Where to? Alfonso doesn’t know, it all seems the same to him at this point, either up or down or left or right. Thunder rumbles on the ground around them, it rumbles from either side of the desert. Alfonso manages to get close to Pedro, he shouts to him, and asks about the origin of the thunder, does it matter? Pedro turns and smiles.
We are close!
Close to what? A new roar is now revealed as a high-pitched scream and, a little further on, a figure stands on the highest dune on the nearby horizon, almost indistinguishable among so much sand. As they approach, battling the increasing winds, both can see that it is a naked man with his arms raised and his face angry, his words, incomprehensible to Alfonso, yet he seems to be cursing the desert. The sands follow the movements of his yelling; to the left, to the right, the cries of this man provoke the wrath of the winds. Pedro indicates to Alfonso that the guy standing on the dune is his younger brother and that it is time to capture him, to stop him before the desert prevents them from doing so. Alfonso follows Pedro to the dune, but the brother sees them approaching and runs away, shouting louder and raising new storms that make it impossible to follow his trail. Pedro shouts his brother’s name over and over again.
Alfonso orientates himself by following the sound of Gustavo’s yelling, his eyes can no longer see anything but sand fluttering aggressively between the columns of wind that push him in all directions. Then, a sharp sound and an aggressive blow pass furiously through Alfonso’s left side, grazing his bare ear. A fast line that forms a tube between the sands, an opening that points the way of the object embedded with violence, into the center of Gustavo’s back.
It’s an arrow.
Gustavo falls dead in the middle of the desert storm. Pedro reaches his brother’s body a few seconds later, but it’s too late. He takes him in his arms and sobs, trying, without success, to separate him from the arrow that has taken his life. Alfonso turns around trying to track the direction of the arrow, his eyes now set on a group of silhouettes standing about fifty meters away. These people look at him with inexpressive faces and naked bodies, except for the colors they wear on their skin, red some, blue others.
They are the people of the desert.
Pedro points to Alfonso and urges him to urgently kneel in silence. By the expression on his face, Alfonso understands that both of them are in extreme danger. Fear leads him to stutter some incoherent answer. Pedro falls to his knees, and the tears that flow from his eyes get drawn into the sand. Alfonso follows him, trembling, manages to kneel down, and lowers his head. A group of naked men surrounds Alfonso and Pedro, they talk in incomprehensible language. One of them takes Alfonso by the hair and lifts him up to inspect him. Alfonso avoids looking this man in the eyes and manages to count five more of them in a quick glance to the side. The men tie Alfonso and Pedro’s hands and feet, while another one approaches Gustavo’s body and, wielding a knife carved in stone, slices him with great skill into several pieces. The blood flowing from Gustavo’s body stains the crimson-red sands, the men wash their bodies with this blood, and looking up into the sky, they sing until the violence of the wind stops. The path clears, and the sky appears before them again. Alfonso cannot move a muscle at this point, as he assumes with enough reasons that any suspicious movement could end up in his death. The men cover his and Pedro’s eyes with cloth cut from Gustavo’s torn skin, then take them away, dragging the prisoners through the sands.
Hours pass and Alfonso wanders alone with the desert landscape and between thoughts. Lying down outside on the side of the car, he waits for the announced rescue that still does not materialize. The sun is lost in the horizon, and the lighter’s flame burns the tip of the fourth cigarette, Alfonso takes a big puff and exhales the smoke into the wind to stay calm, as Amelia continues to sleep. He looks to both sides of the road and measures the space separating him from civilization, a situation that reassures him. In a few words, Alfonso does not want to return to the everyday life he has built, he feels trapped in it, squeezed to the last drop of novelty that he could find in the same streets he has walked all his life, in the same living spaces, in the same people with whom he has shared his life. Put it this way, it’s not so bad to be stranded in the middle of the road next to this woman he knows nothing about. Night finally falls in the desert and the cold forces Alfonso to return to the interior of the car, where Amelia sleeps still, surely she was tired after walking who knows for how long through the desert. Alfonso settles into his seat and closes his eyes. It takes him a long time to fall asleep, but he succeeds.
The next day, he wakes up with a sore neck, probably because of hanging from the seat for most of the night. He thinks he should have worn a sweatshirt as a pillow, but he didn’t dare to copy Amelia. He prefers to open the door and stretch out outside, letting the annoyance dry out in the sun. The morning wind receives him fresh, enough to not make such a fuss about the fact that the people from the gas station haven’t shown up yet. Alfonso hoped they would show up during the night. Nothing to do and Amelia still sleeping in the co-pilot’s seat…
Will she ever wake up?
At midday, Alfonso has already made more than a few laps around the car, he has walked to the limit of the road and the desert, he has taken the sand in his hands, which has slipped away from his fingers completely, he has remembered the fox that influenced him the day before.
And Amelia continues sleeping in the same position.
Alfonso despairs; at least eighteen hours have passed since she fell asleep. Has something happened to her? He doesn’t know and it takes a long time before he dares to check. It occurs to him to move her from her position to try to wake her up. Perhaps she will be angry, but at least he will know that she is okay. He does so, he moves her from one side to another with delicacy, nothing. Then with strength, back and forth, he says her name, shouts her name.
Fear takes hold of Alfonso. Convinced that something bad is happening, he takes the bottle and pours what is left of the water over Amelia’s face, but she still does not wake up. No more water and his companion unconscious, Alfonso nervously meditates on the situation, which takes an even darker turn when he notices that the phone has lost all of its battery life. Unable to ask for help, all lines of thought lead him to the same conclusion…
the only solution is to venture into the desert in search of help.
After more than a day of waiting, the arrival of external help seems to him to be an illusory idea. To remain waiting could mean not only his own death due to lack of water but also the death of Amelia. A continuously evolving horrifying situation keeps him sited in front of the steering wheel, and it occurs to him to hit the handle to get even with destiny for his present predicament. Already with sore arms, he decides to open the door and walk away.
The desert receives him imposing and eternal.
One step after another, Alfonso walks through the empty road. His mind clings to the previous vision of the tireless gaze of that little fox in the desert dunes, to the misadventures of Amelia, who walked for God knows how many hours through the same desert.
Can he make it too? Can he survive this?
He supposes that there’s no other option than to walk until finding civilization or until fainting from the heat. Yet the situation presents itself as strangely amusing. He feels alive, honest, whole, with a valid mission, with a different objective than the monotonous necessity of simply remaining alive. The sun crosses the horizon with the passing of the hours, the motion tampers the incandescent pale tone that does not give truce to the traveler, light paints now the land with orange tones, then reddish, then shades of purple that make the trip more bearable. At sunset, Alfonso gets out of juice, it’s the tired legs, the feverish forehead, and the dry throat that doesn’t allow him to breathe with the same ease. At the same time, he can’t stop walking, he doesn’t want to, and he assumes that if he stops he won’t move again for a long time, so it’s better to keep going.
The night almost falls completely over him when a new vision appears in his path, this is the third one. It’s kinda a Miracle, there’s a gas can left alone on the side of the road. A mirage? No, it’s really there. Alfonso presses on and walks the stretch to this marvelous vision and finds the gas can, he notices that it is almost completely full of gasoline, enough to give new life to the car, to take Amelia to a hospital even. However, as soon as Alfonso takes the can in his hands, a hidden figure emerges from the shadows of the almost night and throws itself at Alfonso, knocking him down. It’s an old man completely naked, with long filthy gray hair and a pronounced beard of the same color. Alfonso turns and raises from the sands to face this old man, in doing so he notices that the eyes of the stranger shine in pale bright, as intensely as the stars in the sky; this vision amazes him enough to discard any hostile posture. And with those shining eyes, the old man does not stop observing Alfonso, almost without blinking, while picking up the gas can from the sand. Alfonso cleans his clothes fast and goes to the old man at once, seeing he’s about to leave. He tells him about the car stranded in the middle of the desert and the woman he had to leave behind to find a solution. However, after the story is over, the old man does not change his attitude; the gas can belongs to him and he has no intention of sharing it. Alfonso reluctantly accepts and sits down by the side of the road, while the old man ventures a little further into the desert. It really has been a long day walking and the night has fallen on the desert, to continue advancing in these conditions does not seem a good idea.
While Alfonso is lost in thought, the old man gathers some branches and with a bit of gasoline, he prepares to light a fire, his hands descend towards the place where his pockets use to be.
Where are my pants?
The old man realizes he has no pants and no way to make a fire. Alfonso notices this, he approaches and lights the branches with the lighter, an object that causes the old man a lot of curiosity. The flames grow with the wind and the fire takes shape quickly. Alfonso and the old man sit by the fire and stare silently, both with the same lost gaze between the reddish crests and the small incandescent sparks that escape from the fire. Alfonso has not forgotten the gas can, he still has some hope of taking it away from the old man. He surprises himself with these conspirative thoughts, assuming they come from the desperate circumstances in which he finds himself. He decides to inquire about the old man’s motives and asks him what he is doing naked in the desert in the middle of the night. The old man scratches his chin and stays a while thinking, he seems not to remember what he is doing. After a long time, he answers that he is looking for someone he lost a long time ago. Alfonso doesn’t know if the old man is pulling his leg, so he decides to ask for more details, but he says that’s all he knows.
But I do remember I must not let go of this can of gasoline.
Alfonso responds fast to that one, noting that the old man did release the can when he found it at the side of the road. The old man goes off laughing for a long time, a long long time. Irritated, Alfonso prefers to remain silent. Then, the old man gets up and digs a hole in the sand, takes a red robe from underneath, something is wrapped inside. The old man reveals the content hidden, it is a dead snake, which he presents to Alfonso, without hiding the pride of a hunter. Alfonso doesn’t hide his disgust either, getting to watch the old man grabbing the snake by its head, cutting it off with his teeth right there, and impaling it in a stick, which then puts near the flames. The old man covers his body with the red robe and soon after, the snake is cooked. He takes it out of the fire and bites a piece, his face draws a wide smile. Could it be that he has not eaten in days? Alfonso wonders as he receives the piece of snake that the old man offers him. Both eat in silence, Alfonso says nothing, but the taste of the snake has been way less terrible than he expected. It occurs to him to tell a joke.
It seems to lack a bit of salt.
The old man can’t understand that one. Doesn’t he know what salt is? A while later, the flames lose their intensity, the old man’s eyes close and soon he falls asleep. Alfonso settles down on the sand to rest, but he cannot sleep. More time passes, the flames burn agonizingly and Alfonso opens his eyes, in front of him, the can and the old man sleeping, a unique opportunity to get the gasoline and return to Amelia. He rises carefully from the floor and takes furtive, precise steps to avoid excessive noise. He manages to get so close to the old man that he can hear his breathing. Alfonso stretches out to take the can with both hands, almost succeeding.
– But the old man wakes up suddenly.
Frightened, the old man grabs the can with strength, pushing it toward his belly. Alfonso pulls once more but does not manage to take it away from him. The old man gets up and tries to run away, but Alfonso doesn’t let go and, without wanting to, ends up pushing the old man and the gas can toward the agonizing fire.
It was just a matter of seconds for it to burn out.
The can falls first and then the old man, Alfonso cannot react, his intention is to help, but the explosion sends him flying through the air, along with a huge flame that rises in the sky, lighting up the night like the breath of a dragon. The cries of the old man wrapped in flames keep Alfonso at the limit of what he can process as reality in the making. Completely disoriented, he can only stay there by the flames until the cries stop and only the flames remain. Confused, Alfonso tries to stand up a couple of times, but he doesn’t make it, time keeps falling out of his fingers and it doesn’t stop until other hands pick him up from the floor and carry him to the back of a truck, where he is carefully laid. The doors of the truck close, and Alfonso hears the voice of two people talking. These people, fuzzy silhouettes in the darkness of the cabin, ask him questions he can’t understand or answer. Tired, he lets himself go and falls completely asleep.
The vaporous lines of mirages, which meet on the horizon of the road at noon, form Alfonso’s body, which becomes flesh, comes alive, and returns to the car in the middle of the desert. Walking he remembers the weight of noon and a bunch of foxes peep out among the dunes and receive him on his return. The vision fills him with joy, he takes the time to revere each one of the foxes and wishes them a prosperous journey, wherever they must go. Smiling, he approaches the car and Amelia, soon he will see her again. A sudden impulse leads him to run the last stretch, and yet when he arrives he does not find her. Frightened, he looks inside through the window; what he finds there presses his heart and leads him to step back. There she is, but it is not her, not the Amelia he remembers but her body as if it were deflated, like her skin and clothes without muscles or skeleton to hold them, wrinkled and piled up on the seat. The vision is like a fabric that folds back but its tones still remember what she was. And then, from the inside, from the darkness coming through the tear in the middle of the body, a red rose emerges and rises, and the stems filled with thorns that accompany it take over the entire interior space of the car until they break the windows and make Alfonso step back with blood on his hands.