Translated from the Portuguese by Francisco Vilhena

 

The mother advances, already headless, looking for her three children. She’s in the yard, head chopped off and the blood that’s flowing out shapes a trail, an itinerary that will become essential if her three children are to have any hope of finding her. The mother wants to find her children, too, but she’s already headless – which renders the task impossible.

The headless mother runs through the yard as several chickens step out of her way; they look up and don’t recognise the shape of that human being.

It’s a large yard and the woman whose head has been chopped off continues to move forward, step by step, as if she were blindfolded. Just like the children’s game – blind man’s buff – but the woman doesn’t have her eyes covered. They chopped her head off with an axe. She moves and calls out for her children (but where does the scream come from?) and suddenly she realises: she is lost. The Headless Woman finds herself in what can only be a Labyrinth, and in this Labyrinth she comes across a great variety of animals: goats, pigs, chickens, a horse – animals. Two pigs copulate, but the Headless Mother can’t see it happening.

 

*

 

The three children step into the Labyrinth and follow the trail left by their mother’s blood.

The mother knows that the blood is the only way she can find her way back later. She is afraid of bleeding too much, but knows that it’d be dangerous to stop, too. Sometimes she raises her right hand, touches what is left of her neck, right there where they chopped the head off, and collects some blood just so she can drop some of it from time to time, to mark the way back. The smell of blood is intense, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get home.

 

*

 

But the children, even as they are calling out for their mother, proceed to clean the blood off the ground. The youngest of the three goes last, he is responsible for making sure there isn’t the slightest trace of their mother’s blood. So embarrassing, says the Oldest Son. So embarrassing! – repeats the middle one.

 

*

 

They call out for their mother, but she can’t hear them. She is headless, can’t hear a thing, at least not at a distance. The strange thing is that, even without a head, she can scream. At the front, she calls out for her children; at the back, her sons hear something and follow the trail of blood.

At some point, the mother’s voice becomes clearer. The three children run. The oldest runs in the front; the youngest in the back. Suddenly, mother and children find each other. The mother is headless. The Oldest Son screams, the middle one cries, the youngest shakes.

The mother, even while headless, tries to calm them. She asks if they have seen her head along the way.

They say they haven’t.

But they want to know what happened.

– How did they chop it off? – asks the oldest one.

– Who chopped it off? – asks the Middle Son.

– Why? – asks the Youngest Son.

The mother replies:

– With an axe.

– It was father.

– He wanted more room in bed.

 

*

 

For a moment, the three children don’t react, but soon enough the Oldest Son screams, the middle one cries, the youngest shakes.

Amid all this, the strongest lightning cracks above the Labyrinth; the light and the noise are thunderous.

Everyone is afraid. They all look up, including the mother, turning the one part of the neck that’s still attached.

The mother asks again:

– Have you seen my head?

– What size is it? – asks the oldest one.

– How much does it weigh? – asks the middle one.

– Are the eyes open? – asks the youngest one.

– About this big – the mother simulates the size with her hands, holding them over her neck.

– Over seven kilograms.

– Yes, the eyes are open.

– If my head ever sees you, it will recognise you. Please, go look for it.

The three sons turn around and run off in search of the missing head. The Oldest Son runs faster, the middle one is a little slower and the youngest is the slowest of them all. The middle one looks behind him, thinks of going back to his mother, but, seeing his younger brother right behind him, he continues to run.

The youngest one looks behind him and thinks of going back to his mother, but, seeing his two older brothers running in front of him, he continues to run. Come on, come on!, says the oldest one, running ahead. Come on, come on, says the youngest one, from behind.

*

 

The three brothers run for three days and three nights. It’s not until the fourth day, while the sun is rising, that they find themselves standing in front of their mother’s head, lying on the ground, in the yard. They introduce themselves to the head:

– I am your Oldest Son.

But the mother’s head doesn’t recognise him.

– I am your Middle Son.

But the mother’s head doesn’t recognise him.

– I am your Youngest Son.

But the mother’s head doesn’t recognise him.

They are not recognised by their mother’s head.

The Oldest Son screams, the middle one cries, the youngest shakes.

After the sadness, they become angry. The oldest insults his mother’s head; the middle one spits at it; the youngest kicks it.

They shake the head and decide to return to the Labyrinth to look for the mother’s headless body, the body that recognised them.

They rush into the Labyrinth at great speed, but soon they slow down.

– This way – says the oldest one.

– No, this way – says the middle one, pointing in a different direction.

– It’s this way – the youngest points to a third route.

It’s impossible to know which is the right way. Out of sheer embarrassment, they had cleaned the blood leading them to their mother, and now they don’t know where to go. There are no trails to follow.

After a long discussion, the three decide to each go their own way.

Whoever finds their Headless Mother will scream, they agreed. The others will follow the scream afterwards – this way we’ll all end up together, they said.

Once it is decided, each of the brothers goes off in a different direction, at great speed, calling out for their mother.

The oldest screams.

The middle one screams.

The youngest screams.

It is the Oldest Son who finds the Headless Mother’s body.

She can only whisper: I have lost a lot of blood.

She is dying.

The Oldest Son tries to scream but nothing comes out. Not a sound. He is mute.

Or he is faking it.

 

Image © Craig Myran

Sorry to Disturb You
After Ann Lauterbach