Trichophagia

[Leer cuento en español]

There is nothing like the luxurious sensation of cat fur on her taste buds. With Isis, it can get quite complicated to harvest those hairy delicacies, but Nut acquiesces to more shenanigans, and so Abril yanks her fur out and turns it into haute cuisine and enjoys its touch and spits it out and swallows it, and it dances and dances through her mouth.

Abril pursues the cats on all fours down the hall. Nut and Isis finally give in. They never learn. Or they do learn, but they forget, or it’s worth it, or they actually enjoy it, or they don’t care, and they are ensnared once more by that modern fur trapper. Nut, more maternal, usually sleeps with Abril, despite the peril of baldness, although there are times when she gets fed up and gives a gentle warning bite or even leaves her side. Isis avoids her more, but Abril still plucks the occasional trophy from her, because the tickles of that fur, its toothsomeness magnified by the thrill of the hunt, are an explosion of flavor.

But cats are not always so easily hooked. When the chase proves fruitless, she settles for other furs: hippopotamus hair tastes like green somersaults, bear locks have a bright pink aftertaste, monkey mane has tones of violet sweetness. But, in the end, the ones she rips from the book clump up in her mouth, and she struggles to swallow them, so she sets out once more after the cats.

For some reason, Isis is more amenable to petting on the balcony, where she likes to relax in the bright Madrid sun. Abril follows her, sneaky, and then lingers there for a long time, regardless of the success of her culinary mission. Since the rides in her carriage stopped, she has adored this space: it is here that the breeze blows, the wind chimes rustle, the colors shine, that clapping and dancing live. And at eight in the evening, it is usually she who initiates the nightly applause for hospital workers.

The people who live in the neighboring apartments play the same songs over and over, over and over again, every afternoon, and Abril enjoys their familiarity and dances to them and claps enthusiastically when they finish. The lady who always called her «little cutie» when they met in the halls is the one who launches the daily festivities with We Will be Together Again, by Lucía Gil, which is a bit sappy, but well, the melodrama goes over Abril’s head, and she never turns her nose up at a chance to applaud, clap, clap. Then comes, by tradition, the turn of that neighbor in his sixties — the one who scratched her with his mustache every time he saw her in the lobby— he plays I Will Survive, and by then Abril is already high and moves like one possessed and sings loudly and to her own tune and claps throughout the song and the sum of the clap, clap, clap reaches the end with tiny enormous enthusiasm. The hubbub concludes every night with the melody of the couple across the street —the one with the rectangular red, yellow, red cloth proudly fluttering from their small window— who insist on playing a song that reminds her a bit of a lullaby but is much more difficult to follow for Abril, who always gets confused and applauds after that part where her parents sing “and King Juan Carlos washes it with soap,” clap, clap, because it seems like the melody ends, but then it starts up again. It always continues. Clap. So much the better, that just means there is more applause. Clap. Clap. Clap.

When daylight savings begins, the neighbors across the street can see the little girl much better at that hour, and they blow her kisses and call out greetings. Abril is very good with grannies, so she returns their greetings with self-confidence, but she still doesn’t know how to blow kisses, so she unwittingly leaves them unsatisfied. Who knows: maybe she’ll learn soon and hurl little bits of happiness back at the women in the form of floating kisses.

Abril is happy bathed by the spring breeze. It doesn’t matter if she is in her bedroom playing with her reflection, or if she is hanging on to her mother while she does her housework: at the mere sound of the word «balcony,» Abril abandons everything and her hands start with the clap, clap, clap, as if pulled by irresistible force. She knows that she must clap her hands, and she complies. Just as she does when she goes out on the balcony, even if it’s not the right time for applauding first responders. By force of Pavlovian habit, the balcony has become infused with that gesture of joy: she spends time in the morning blowing soap bubbles with her mother and clap, clap; she stands in the sun with her father as he reads her a story and clap, clap, clap; she is dazzled by the windchimes and claps her hands and laughs every time the little bells ring, clap, while she bites the clothespins; she follows Isis to the terrace, and the cat lowers her guard, and Abril first claps her hands and then goes rip and yum in the blink of an eye. And at eight o’clock the clapping extravaganza begins, something she would miss dearly if the routine ever changed.

Abril already knows how to say “mama” (quite well-enunciated) and “Ithith” (with a lot of drooling accompanying the lisp), calling those whom she must stubbornly chase to feed herself. She often goes out with them to eat on the terrace —and not only dairy and fur— now that spring is in a good mood, clap, clap; and she gets mash all over her face trying to use the spoon and feels great happiness every time the sun hits her and she never tires of applauding.

Afternoons in the park and at the pool fade into the mist of oblivion, and she no longer remembers how quickly she used to get tired, or that she went to bed much earlier; and she has gotten used to seeing her grandparents via video call and pointing at them and smiling at them to indicate that she recognizes them, and then continuing trying to eat Nut and Isis’s fur. Normality for Abril does not mean going out into the street (street? what street?), but taking naps, eating fur and yet more fur, clinging to furniture, laughing out loud at peak-a-boo, breastfeeding, frolicking in her playpen, and listening to the neighbors’ music.

Abril’s first April is born and dies with the reality of the balcony —the awning with painted oak and eucalyptus leaves, the pink chairs, the dried-up cacti, the windchimes— as her only contact with the outside world. New truths and habits and teachings dance incessantly in her memory. One month is ten percent of the little girl’s existence, so the balcony is no little oasis of open air, but a whole universe.

{Translated by Adam Lischinsky}

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas

Love in the Time of Coronavirus