#Moving

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Photo: Katherine Dewey Hill
Photo: Katherine Dewey Hill

This story begins with three @ handles and ends with two.
With a single hashtag, repeated insistently like a mantra: #moving.
A flickering light on the computer screen in the dark. And a song.

Ana writes in the mornings. Sometimes also in the afternoons. It has become almost a habit, like brushing her teeth or having her three cups of coffee for breakfast. She likes commenting on a few news articles (usually in the cultural and entertainment sections), posting a few verses of her favorite poems, and linking the video to a good song.

She is moving out of the space she has been sharing with a childhood friend for the past three years. She wants to live alone, move on, see what that feels like. Slowly she’s putting away books in boxes, but not without first labeling them (red for fiction, green for nonfiction).

***

Rodrigo leaves the keys on the kitchen table. Those were Adriana’s instructions and he will follow them to a T. He takes one last look at the apartment, small, tiny, and spotless after hours of cleaning, as he hears the tinkling of the keys, finally breaking free from their chain, as in one last farewell movement.

He smiles.

While he’s waiting for the elevator, whose ship steam-boiler sound he will not (never ever) miss, he takes his cell phone out of his pocket.

Quickly, before the elevator doors open, he writes: Finally #moving on.

 ***

Julia sees the floor getting covered in hair. Tangled locks get stuck on the plastic robe she was put in and she tries not to look up. She doesn’t want to see herself. Not yet. She doesn’t want even the slightest chance of changing her mind.

She asked the hairdresser to cut her hair right below her ears. She, who had always worn it down to her waist. To make her a brunette also, and he couldn’t hide his shocked/surprised face, caressing almost with sorrow her long and radiant blonde curls. And to please hurry up.

(“mirror, mirror” #moving)

***

Ana tries on her clothes before putting them in the suitcase. She doesn’t want to take anything she won’t wear. She thinks of it almost as a bad omen: arriving full of blouses that don’t fit, pants that are too tight, shoes that make her feet hurt. A suitcase full of discomfort.

If her mother were there, she would already be lecturing her. About exercising more, eating more salad and less bread, about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle . . . It was like the beads of a green rosary, like peas. She knew it by heart.

Last, but not least, the cherry on top: It shouldn’t be over for the overweight.

That was the slogan of her salon, where supermodels and TV hosts would go after a pregnancy or an overindulgent vacation. Her mother couldn’t be prouder of her success. Or more ashamed of Ana, the exception to the rule, her barefoot daughter in her shoemaking business.

Her mother had tried everything for years, giving her slimming creams, fluorescent shakes, appetite-suppressant pills (the kind that required a doctor’s prescription and whose boxes came with a warning skull symbol and the not-at-all encouraging label: poison).

The truth is that her wedding dress still fit her mother (and even her school uniform, she was willing to bet), while Ana had had an increasing tendency in her pant size, from six to twelve, no layovers.

When she was little, her mother refused buying her any size larger than the normal (than what “a girl her age should wear”). It didn’t matter how tight her jeans were (she had red marks like painful tattoos around her belly button) or how shrunken her T-shirts seemed, her mother never retreated. She didn’t event allow shorts with elastic bands or oversized sweaters.

That’ll make you realize, she would tell her. This would make you want to change.

Ana sucks her stomach in until she can hardly breathe anymore trying to zip up her favorite skirt. No luck.

She sits on the computer, in her underwear, and types: Mission Extra Large #moving.

***

Rodrigo teaches Spanish to foreigners. They’re usually Americans on a short business trip or young backpackers who have fallen in love (God knows why) with Santiago.

They come in with sleepy faces in the morning, with an ugly crumpled notebook (those American ones that say Composition on the cover), and a pencil they stole from some hotel or hostel. Rodrigo tries speaking to them as clearly and slowly as possible, so they can understand him. So they can take down notes.

Their accents were always terrifying. Like thick black thread stitches on the surface of every sentence. Such was their obsession with describing everything—everything—with a single word: “interesting” A book is “interesting,” a girl is “interesting,” weekends are “interesting,” pigeons are “interesting.” They always looked bored in class, but they would still swear it was “interesting.”

Such was their obsession with describing everything—everything—with a single word: “interesting” A book is “interesting,” a girl is “interesting,” weekends are “interesting,” pigeons are “interesting.”

Doesn’t matter, just a detail.

(An interesting detail).

***

Julia had her heart broken. “Broken” is a euphemism. Julia had her heart destroyed in half a million pieces; she had an atomic bomb detonated in her chest that hasn’t gone off full blown just yet.

On the white tiled floor, one by one, her locks of hair are falling.

Julia looks at her shoes.

The terrorist (her word) who had done that to her, the criminal (again, her word) was already married and expecting his first son. At first, her friends had stood by her side, always there to comfort her, to take her out of the home, invite her to the movies, give her advice. But then time went by, a month, then two.

A year went by.

And now everyone was fed up.

Julia looks up and has a hard time recognizing herself. Her eyes are still heavy, swollen from all the crying, her lips impassible. Her long Rapunzel hair has become a short, somewhat defiant bob, sharp around her face.

She likes it.

Julia takes a picture of her new image in the mirror. She posts it on Twitter under the usual hashtag.

She pays the hairdresser. She leaves a generous tip.

(She doesn’t smile. Can’t remember how to.)

***

Ana takes a break from her packing frenzy. She waters the plants in her balcony. She will leave them with her friend. No point in taking them. She doesn’t think they’ll last long though. Raquel is always traveling, and even when she’s home, she’s not the plant-watering type. 

***

She reads the news in three different newspapers, “likes” a few pictures: two babies (from former high-school classmates), one honeymoon pic from her best friend. She posts a link to an animated short film.

She takes a look at the book boxes piling up next to her bed. She wants to write: My whole world fits in ten boxes. She types #, then M, and there it is, effortless: #moving.

She takes a look at the book boxes piling up next to her bed. She wants to write: My whole world fits in ten boxes. She types #, then M, and there it is, effortless: #moving.

She clicks on it, out of curiosity, and sees other messages under the same hashtag.

***

A girl looking seriously at her reflection.

(Not knowing exactly why, she clicks on the heart, she likes it.)

Then she moves about her account: sad songs, lots of them, for weeks and weeks.

Posts like: there are so many of us walking around with broken hearts.

Or also: Saw him today. He was with her. Will have to catch the movie some other time.

Ana didn’t know anything about the owner of those words. But she was moved, she kept reading, as if hypnotized.

A few months back on her timeline, she found a few messages for a certain @persephone. Actually, it was only one message, repeated several times; one single question: why?

(@persephone never replied.)

***

Rodrigo takes the box with Adriana’s few belongings to her building. Her new building. The super gives him an unwelcoming look. Who’s it from (he asks). She’ll know (Rodrigo replies).

He walks away slowly. It’s as if he could suddenly breathe again. He just let go of a very important part of his past; he has also just quit his job. Tomorrow, he’ll move away; he’ll go backpacking through that same country he’s been putting off since he was seventeen.

His boss didn’t seem surprised by his decision.

She did ask him if he was okay. If everything was “in order”; those were her exact words.

Truthfully, Rodrigo didn’t know. Nothing felt in order. Actually, everything seemed to be in the disorder he needed, a disorder that made him feel comfortable. Calm.

He hasn’t been able to get a song out of his head for a while: “You Are a Tourist,” by Death Cab for Cutie. If someone was filming this episode of his life, that would be the chosen song for the soundtrack.

A strangely encouraging song.

And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born

Then it’s time to go.

(Rodrigo looks up the video on YouTube. He posts it on Twitter.)

And define your destination

There’s so many different places to call home.

***

Rodrigo walks slowly, with his headphones on. Seems like everything is going to be all right.

Julia is looking for a red pair of shoes. It’s the final touch of her transformation. It’s winter, and in Santiago all the stores are filled with boots and warm shoes. Nothing like what she’s looking for.

She keeps walking.

If she could choose, Julia would live forever in one single memory. The first birthday she spent with Andrés. The apartment was full of people, and Andrés had looked for her among everyone, and gave her the look. The knowing look.

Closing his eyes. One, two, three times.

(And the world was good again, complete. Nothing to fear.)

Other birthdays followed with or without looks, more or less happy. Some rather miserable, too. But Julia seemed to have left a small anchor on that day, that night. And she wouldn’t budge.

It was that memory which was playing nonstop in her head every morning, under the shower; the dream that chased her every night, the idea getting tangled in her thoughts at every slipup.

Julia tries on a pair of shoes. It’s not the right color, and the heel is too high. Uncomfortable.

In her head, from a warm shadowy corner, Andrés is closing his eyes again, only for her.

Three times.

***

Ana is taking, one by one, the things to her car. There’s no one there to help her. Raquel had to fly to São Paulo for the weekend; her mother works until seven (and, actually, she had no intention of calling her).

She doesn’t have many friends who could help her.

Before closing the apartment door for the last time and packing her computer, she checks social media. In a series of hurried chat messages she tells her sister, who lives in the US, about her move; she sends an e-mail with a pending document to her boss (she had taken the day off, but why even bother), and she reads a few tweets: the news of a new Tim Burton film, an article about a new shoe boutique on a women’s blog, and a link to a song under the hashtag #moving. It was from a guy this time.

She listens to it. She likes it. RT.

She shuts down her laptop. She closes the door and walks to the car.

***

Rodrigo walks slowly down the metro station stairs. He’s carrying a big backpack with some clothes and a couple of books. Headphones still on.

The station is crowded at that time. Office workers with tired faces, living dead hardly living, students carrying books and folders.

Once in the carriage, he has a hard time finding an empty seat. A kid reluctantly gives up his after his mother tells him: why don’t you let the gentleman sit?

(The gentleman. Those two words would have startled him a few days ago, but today they sound good, perfectly good.)

The metro starts.

***

Julia pays in cash. Her bills are crumpled and dirty, and she feels like apologizing. She’s wearing the new shoes and puts the old boots in the bag.

Out in the street, she gives her heels a click.

They used to watch The Wizard of Oz with Andrés every Sunday, religiously. It was their waking-up movie, every Sunday in bed, when time seemed to get lost, and breakfast could easily be confused with lunch, or even dinner, if they were not careful.

Julia feels prepared. Ready.

She checks her phone: no new messages. No missed calls either. She checks Twitter. Someone has liked her picture in the salon. She checks her profile: graphic designer (her illustrations are very nice), no picture of her. The last thing she has posted is a song that was previously posted by some guy.

She clicks on the link.

She starts listening.

She takes a deep breath and walks to the station.

***

Ana has finished putting her books on the shelf. She has already made the bed. She has cleaned the kitchen and vacuumed the living room, too.

She sits on the computer eating a cookie.

Rodrigo is leafing through a tourist guide of the south of Chile.

Julia stops next to the platform.

She clicks, one more time, her shoes together. She repeats, among all the murmuring, “There’s no place like home,” but no one sees her, no one hears her.

The train stops suddenly. Rodrigo’s book falls on the lap of another passenger.

***

It’s been a long day. Ana lays on her sofa.

(She closes her eyes.)

On her laptop, several tweets are announcing delays in the Santiago metro. 

Translation from the Spanish
By Denise Kripper

Chilean writer María José Navia (b. 1982) is the author of the novel SANT and the short-story collection Instrucciones para ser feliz. She is currently an assistant professor of Latin American literature at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She writes literary reviews on her blog, www.ticketdecambio.wordpress.com, and you can also find her on Twitter: @mjnavia.

Denise Kripper is a literary translator from Buenos Aires. She holds a PhD in literature and cultural studies from Georgetown University and is now an assistant professor of Latin American literature and translation at Lake Forest College.

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