When a mad man does not come from the sea, he moves towards it. Towards the sea and towards anything that means strength, tides, solitude. Thirty years ago, when we came to live on this island, we were young and he was completely mad – not with love or rage. He was full, bursting with ideas, with an excess of everything. A body inked by the substances young people mark themselves with until they’re disfigured, undone, renewed. Solace is a few hours of euphoria, enlightenment. Nights when I let him talk till I was a zombie. I want to talk, he’d say. And I’d open my eyes, sit up in bed, listen to him carefully: theories on human reproductive behavior, the abhorrence of side walls, and choice memories from a time luminous, rural and familial. He’d say: ‘When I was six years old, my father used to let me drive to town in his car, my brothers too. In town they called it a ghost car because we didn’t even come up to the window.’ I picture a string of unruly children and it terrifies me. To me he is a genius, and like all geniuses, unpredictable.
In his bed, with his fragrance so near, and all of his roaring pain, I knew he could be saved.
He woke up one morning and claimed he’d had an epiphany. We needed to move to a house on an island. Only then would he accept growing old, only then would he accept monogamy and for me to be the choreographer of those harsh, intimate dances. Set the table, make the bed, eat at scheduled times, make mamushkas out of grocery bags, store them, dry them, tidy them, toss them. Only then would he accept this, the pulse of order. ‘We could go to that island and stay there, the two of us, just the two of us.’ I say yes. I am young and you say yes when you are young, you try it out, until you break and begin to say no.
I was very young and I gave myself to anything that was like a placebo, like coasting without brakes or surrendering control.
One night he got up the courage to go out in search of our future. He was gone for days and when he came back to the world of our bed he said he’d paid an armed guy in a green motorboat with a baggie. The man’s name was Vikingo. Vikingo sold him a hut – some planks of wood that would serve as our house and be the island of our planned recovery. A grassroots project for a boy with feral ambitions.
The first few summers we fed all our fantasies, sunny mornings and sleepless nights, a house where we cultivated idleness. Whole days spent doing what you do when you have everything and expect nothing. Cooking, sleeping, thinking, watching the boats go by, lazing in the sun, having sex all over the place, the dogs licking up every scrap. Our youth was a beautiful tattoo, a hit.
These days, he has everything he needs and more: two dogs, a little boat, a fishing rod, rain boots, this house, a vegetable garden, goats, trees and me. The river is ten meters from the house and if you row a few minutes you reach the Paraná, the belly of the knot that surrounds our island. The Delta is like the cup of milk where my abuela used to dunk pieces of bread. But I can’t tell him this because he’ll say it’s a crappy image. He demands better thoughts from me, that I think more, a little more, that’s not the right image, come on, think harder. The Delta is a nervous system. Shit. The Delta is a hero’s pixelated face. Shit. The Delta is a rash. Fucking shit. The Delta is the fingerprint of a giant. Better.
This is how we spent our days, with these invisible games, sheltered by a routine of domestic rituals without which we wouldn’t be able to survive. Filling the tank, sorting the trash, making the food, tending the garden, feeding the animals. Routines without which, he claimed, he couldn’t restrain the beast.
When we arrived at that house he asked me to hold him tight. One night he reached for me in the dark and cried, and I understood what he wanted. He said that reason is a path and madness is the country, the pampa, the endless beyond. That he had come and gone from that path many times, and that it had grown narrow. He didn’t want to come back down, to go into the desert, he was afraid, and I promised to take care of him.
Some women teach others so in the future they may protect their men from themselves, and receive undaunted the rage this awakens. A man, my mother once told me, is a small animal that looks immense.
Ever since we moved here, I’ve called him Capitán. He painted the name on his boat. Capitán. Sometimes he takes control of my words and uses them in a way that makes me long for them and wish he would return them, that I had never given them up. But it’s just the two of us and there aren’t enough books, the dogs don’t count, and if someone were to show up one day and say a word we hadn’t used in a long time, our union might falter. If a woman were to show up, for example, someone the opposite of me in height, shape and texture, nothing would unsettle me more than the moment she opened her mouth and said something. For example, plexus, a beautiful word I am saving for next week.
The bats are the bile of this house, of this island, of our life here. The living metaphor of a ghost of a woman who grew old beside a mad genius. They made their nests between the tiles and the rafters and with the passing years hollowed out the spaces in between the walls that divided the rooms, which is why they flit around in that intravenous space, chittering like rats. They scratch and scratch and flap their wings, they settle down by day and on evenings of heavy storms.
He is docile in the morning after he wakes up, and that’s when I can hope for affection. He kisses my forehead, my eyelids, he brings me back. My legs are now thick and strong, a pair of trunks that keep us from sinking. I grow old like a tree and this is what I understand: that he is leaving me and I am leaving him, that we live in the same house but in different worlds. He does not fear death, and that, on this island, makes us eternal.
We don’t speak to a soul, we don’t see a soul, we don’t know if we are alive or if this is limbo. Who will die first. Sometimes he goes out rowing and if he takes too long I think he won’t come back, that the Paraná has swallowed him up.
His death the swelling river the coming of the golden dorado the plague of mosquitos.
Cover Image detail from Henri Rousseau, ‘The Flamingoes’.