The Hangover

The Hangover

A short story by Pablo Saborío

 

 

 

It takes days to cure oneself of a bad hangover. Especially when you were drinking to annihilate your self. By the second day of recovery you venture to the outside crossing by crowds of strange humans, all dealing with their petty crimes against humanity. Some are sweet-voiced, others are confined to a wheelchair, further down the same street there’s someone eating out of a china-box within a photo booth. Then you sit next to a frisky little bunch in the metro, they’re sipping their beers patiently, almost indifferently, while I experience a resurgence in my desire to drink again, which I had considered dead, at least for the next two weeks. But no! They sip, yes sip and not gulp, their beer, degrading a liquid so awkwardly powerful and intense that it is capable of mounting you on heights hardly reachable by healthy means. They sip and get out on the next stop; I in the meanwhile savagely thirsty and guilty; will I obey the exhortations of this struggling body or should I return, intoxicated, to a realm of divine recklessness?

By midnight I am gulping down my fourth wine, talking, or more accurately, listening to a 50-some Swedish painter, he discusses art, mafia and Ikea. He runs a gallery, his gallery with his naïve art, and sells 80 Euro bottles of Italian wine. He treats me first to red, then white, then red wine again. But I am bored, he speaks in muffled English, he is clumsy and I still feel sick from the alcohol.

I leave the Swede and turn to dark over-crowded streets, the hours careen by me and the beers in my hand evaporate in my mouth. The punks’ dogs stare at me, but I am no threat; not to them at least. In limbo, between melancholy and ecstasy, I buy a bottle of Jägermeister, then stare up, the half-naked moon, two stars as bright as the reflection of the sun on a watery eye.

What happened then is gone, obsolete, erased from the face of the earth. I awake like a victim of an overnight Holocaust: dehydrated, poorly fed, muscles aching, dazed, tired, sick. I don’t attempt to recall the events of the night, too painful to think. I crawl to the bathroom, shirtless, with one sock, my genitals soaked in their own piss. I drink and drink water but the nausea is too deep to be quenched, so the water tawny by a mixture of gastric acids flings out as fast as it was coming in.  I dare look into the mirror and to my feigned surprise there is dried vomit on my hair. I begin to fill the bathtub with boiling water, remove my worn-out sock and sink into the swelling water. Sinking was like a freefall, falling endlessly, disintegrating, as if losing limb after limb, organ after organ, bone after bone,  until I am nothing more than a feeble heart thumping, aching, despairing — this wretched hangover, is all I am thinking of. It will be my prison, my womb of pain, for hours that seem like ongoing déjà-vu’s, but the pain, discomfort and depression are bearable only till nighttime, when a mountain of sleep comes over you but you can’t sleep out of anxiety, out of the fear that you will never wake up again. Right then you promise yourself you will never drink again, a vain promise of course, only because the venom is still in the body but without its transports and sedations; consciousness and the body are momentarily one, in the struggle to heal. Next day, or two or three, past the agony of hangovers, the venom will have a different name and will seduce consciousness to intimate with it, while the body is left alone again to filter and cleanse the body during the recurring hours the mind, enraptured, feels free and invincible, drained no longer by a venom but instead invigorated by an elixir.  

After the long half-awake sinking, throwing up seems like the only immediate relief. So I puke right in the tub, too weak to step out and dry a shaking body. With my feet I release the sock that served as a water plug. I climb over the white surface to reach for a towel, then without a moment to react I keep falling, this time to the ground. My ribs break the fall, a pain that only shyly overshadows the general evil of the hangover.

Food seems like a good idea. Even when appetite is alien to me, I swallow a banana without chewing much of it. I stare outside the window, more windows, more lives each with their subtle discomforts and agonies. I don’t feel jealous or even eager of a healthy lifestyle, the apparent serenity of dull hours seems a terror more strangely inacceptable than my current curse. Movies, dates, books and uninterrupted sleep represent louder hells than the buzzing of an irremediable headache.  

The afternoon sways back and forth like a drunken ship. I am lying down, face up, thoughtless at times and then thoughtful at others. No regrets, no abomination. Just a wait, a slow healing which seems never to come. Hollow thoughts, flashes of memories

was I robbed? The money I have left is astoundingly low, couldn’t have possibly spent that much. Was I robbed? The twinkling raptures of a foregone night, the heights and hymns of eternity, but now, my soul empty and debacle all within me. Had I been robbed in sleep, had I been punished for entering worlds not accessible to animal Man?   

The thought that a Sprite can appease my rolling nausea conjured strength in me to go outside. Big mistake. Day one of a hangover, stay home, keep low. Crossing the street, lights too sharp for eyes so weak, cars and people, children and dogs. Sundays are for those that think the whole world was made for them, they are careless hand-in-hand, while creatures like us are hidden away recovering from our rebellions. A stream of panic overcomes me, what if they hurt me, what if they attack me in my weak state. I stumble as I walk and families pull their children close. I vomit at the entrance of the small shop, but the old man is not visibly offended. He must be one of us or used to be in youth. I pay for the Sprite and tip him for the mess. I run, as fast as I can, home, sweet cave of mine.   

It is normal to feel this way, I keep repeating myself. It is normal and it will go away. The torture comes in waves, both physically and mentally. The best you can do is crumble up in fetus position and wait.  

The dread of night arrives. I could have been sleeping all this time but I refused. I wait till midnight, one, two, the eyelids are heavy from the denial of their function. There is only one last thing I must do. I must take a long crap, eject the putrid contents of my bowels. The trip to the bathroom lasts long as I was nearly defeated by sleep. Short and heavy steps, deep breaths, very slow and laborious heart beats. I squat, the intestines twist and turn and a blob of nondescript matter is sunk.  

Lighter and victorious I can return to bed. The thin sheet serves as a mother, embracing her wretched child. Thoughts are cloudy, random images are appearing, yes, sleep is finally here and tomorrow this will have become a nightmare and no more. The beauty of time! Sinking and disappearing, nearly at the entrance of the first dream, I gasp violently for air and sit up. The first attempt to sleep is never easy. Before actually falling asleep, three or four times this was repeated. Gasping for air as I was drowning in sleep that felt like a cold lake. I could have died, I think, I could have never returned.  

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

La candela

 

Era precisamente esa actitud que me revolvía las entrañas más que la hipocresía de los políticos y las fechorías de la Iglesia. Percibía a lo largo de la avenida peatonal un gran desfile del más despreciable carácter, me sentía aterrorizado al percatarme de tal brutal condición y descubrir que no era ningún sueño pero la más concreta realidad. Bueno, tal vez exagero al llevar todo adjetivo a un valor superlativo. Quizá lo que descubrí en las aceras del siglo veintiuno no es lo más despreciable y brutal, pero más bien se trata de un resentimiento inconsciente que me mueve a calumniar un mundo que me ha tratado injustamente y en el que no he podido sobreponer mi voluntad. Pero tales consideraciones se las dejaremos a los intérpretes psicoanalistas y sigo convencido que me he percatado de una verdad ignorada—algo que verdaderamente me revuelve el estómago.Es momento de entrar en detalles. Iba caminando por la avenida central, hace dieciocho días para ser exactos, distraído por los vaivenes de la gente metropolitana; un pasatiempo que nunca ha de cansarme. Mirar esa multitud de extraños extraviados, vociferando contra los autobuses que se saltan el alto, hombres silbando a las mujeres, madres comprando  el juguete de moda que venden los ambulantes, amigos hablando entre sí con sonrisas, hombres seduciendo a mujeres que rechazan otro halago falso, mujeres que mueven su pompis con el paso de cada tacón, los niños abstraídos con el vuelo de palomas, todos esos personajes innumerables que uno se puede topar en las calles, mientras cada uno de ellos sigue como a un dictado escolar los comandos de su rutina.  Ese día no estuve por la ciudad con el fin único de captar todas imágenes efímeras de la vida cotidiana de las masas, sino que tenía la necesidad de recoger unos zapatos de vestir que estaba enmendando el señor Gutiérrez, propietario de una anticuada y pequeña zapatería, no de las que venden zapatos pero donde arreglan los mismos. Cuando llegué a su pequeño local había una pequeña fila, el señor Gutiérrez estaba atendiendo a una señora encorvada de sesenta años, de un pelo atigrado con manchas blancas y negras, impresión que solo pude explicar como efecto de reiteradas teñidas de pelo hechas en casa, y probablemente sin un espejo. Después de la pequeña señora se encontraba un regordete de considerable altura con un bigote negro y tieso que le cubría el labio superior. Su camisa tenía varios huecos y no le llegaba a cubrir toda su espalda. Sobre los jeans se asomaba una hendedura perpendicular al borde de esos apretados pantalones, lo que me hizo lamentar que su camisa fuera tan corta y expusiera tan sutilmente su peluda naturaleza. La cuestión es que estaba esperando en fila mientras mis ojos exploraban lo cotidiano cuando paran dos jovenzuelos recién salidos del colegio y se quedan platicando por la puerta del local. Sin intención ni esfuerzo su conversación fue registrada por mis oídos y lo que expresaron me llegó a trastornar. Los jóvenes conversaban sobre su futura educación, las razones por las que hay que optar por carreras lucrativas y prósperas, los futuros bienes materiales que tendrían, la cantidad de hijos que engendraría cada uno y la edad que esperarían morir. No puedo fundamentar mi enojo e irracional desasosiego que experimenté en esos momentos. Los dos continuaban en su conversación, optimistas, pragmáticos, centrados, como si tuvieran ochenta y cinco años y conocieran más allá de toda duda la trayectoria del mundo. Era ajena esa actitud a mis treinta y cinco años, no podía concebir como cualquier persona honesta puede desde sus deseos actuales y pasajeros programar todo el esquema de su vida. El señor Gutiérrez me despertó de mis sombrías meditaciones con un retumbante ‘eeyyy’, del que reaccioné con ingenua mirada y me acerqué al mostrador para retirar mis zapatos negros con una boleta blanca que sostenía en mi mano.Salí del local taciturno, un poco molesto e inquieto. Tal vez no he sido suficientemente explícito en mi narración y deben estar preguntándose porque un episodio ordinario como el anterior me haya llegado a afectar tanto. Es posible que pocas cosas ocupen más de mi pensamiento que la soledad y la muerte. No quiero aquí asustar a nadie ni exponerme como una de esas desamparadas almas que navegan entre depresión y depresión a raíz de su pesimismo y cinismo. Mi metodología con estos temas es sumamente sana y productiva, no trato de extraer argumentos para asediar esta ya agitada vida, sino encuentro en esos inauditos temas las fuentes de inexplicables revelaciones y extáticas emociones. La soledad no me ha parecido nunca tan insoportable, siempre la considero como la oportunidad para estar en contacto directo con aquello que somos, un tacto silencioso con este coloso mundo. La muerte es simplemente la advertencia que nos obliga a despertar de nuestra cómoda burbuja de quehaceres y distracciones, se trata de una sombra, un trazo oscuro entre este mundo de luz y colores, es lo que permite ver la silueta de todo lo que está vivo. Resulta fundamental para mí redescubrir ese contacto primordial con el mundo más que esquematizar la vida en abstracciones ilusorias.Así es que caminé por lo que pudieron ser dos o tres horas y en cada rostro metropolitano notaba esa inagotable sed por hacer cosas, construir, producir, reproducir, generar y gastar. No veía a nadie contemplando las nubes que rayaban el cielo encorvado, no había rastro de algún ser apasionado por el movimiento de las hojas en un árbol, o el sonido de la lluvia sobre los techos de zinc, o el vuelo fortuito de una mosca, o la suavidad de la tierra mojada. Todos estaban ocupados haciendo algo y si acaso solo los locos y los niños se detenían por segundos a apreciar un mundo extraño y encantador. ¿Dónde está ese asombro que experimentamos cuando pequeños?Y ya sé lo que muchos dirían. Déjate de vainas, póngase serio y olvide todas esas preocupaciones fútiles e innecesarias. La vida está aquí para vivirla, no para cuestionarla y explicarla. No entiendo muy claramente porque este mundo moderno a veces me revuelve el estómago y me hace nauseabundo. Solamente sé que yo no quemo candelas solo para quemarlas, yo las prendo para poder ver en la oscuridad. Y si esta vida es una candela, no vengo aquí a gastarla, más bien la enciendo para apreciar mejor lo que ella misma revela, es una oportunidad para explorar lo que ha estado por eternidades en la oscuridad y ahora se hace visible con nuestra presencia.

A Modern Hero

A modern hero

We can watch him quietly chewing his dinner. His gaze is imperturbable and his thoughts invariably these:
 
The nothingness that exists in all forms, and the nothingness that is yet to be born.
 
The modern hero awaits (and this waiting period is interminable) for a fatal threat. This threat is anticipated throughout the cycles of the clock. It is always approaching, never disappearing.
 
What can he do?
 
Nothing. Resisting the menace of existence is a futile and wearisome illusion. He will initially find himself in hypertension, guarded against an invisible enemy. Since there is no defence against his opponent, rebellion would represent a defeating madness. Acceptance must be learned and practiced. However, salvation is not achieved solely by the acceptance of one’s own precarious situation. He has no escape, he must sacrifice a distracted and unexamined life in order to become bearer of a strange suffering.  He will be the hated antagonist of any unfounded human optimism.
 
For what?
 
To cure himself of a malady that is not only his own but also a dormant illness that all conscious beings carry within.
 
What relieves him? 
 
From the perspective of the world he has secluded himself in an abstract and spurious discourse; from the perspective of his own condition he has renounced his faith in a world of form and substance, he has lost trust in the socially approved states of consciousness. He lives in a mythological world, albeit, his myth has not yet been written nor can it be.  He is dispersed in a flux of perception that not necessarily implies an objective external world. His experience cannot be communicated, it does not have the logical structure of a normal human situation.
 
 Is there a light at the end of his tunnel? 
 
From the standpoint of the all-too-human, suicide may appear as the last desperate, but effective, act of liberation, but this won’t be his course. He has selected an ambitious journey: The transmutation of consciousness. An intuition convinces him that the reality we live in is only one of many possible creations; and in the sober creation of less restricted states of consciousness he will achieve his ultimate objective: inner peace.

Scavenger of the Rare

 

Be careful, o’ solitary wanderer
Of what the night might do to you
-Forgotten proverb

 

(a short fictional narrative)

Under the asphalt of the night when the city streets have become a monotonous geometry of angles and straight lines, where a few strangers roam free in silence and private thought, it was then when the Scavenger of the Rare was struck by an indisputably bitter truth, a truth so bizarre and easily forgotten that none seem to notice it. As all mortal days have it, today was simply a cascade of neglected events (meaning that little or no attention had been paid to the events of another perishing day), the Weight of Time had unstoppably dissolved every single phenomenon of the decaying present into an ambiguous mist of past: the world is burning, slipping away and nobody cares! But to return to this already desultory narrative, the Scavenger of the Rare having spent the whole day seeking among the Fragments of the Impermanent for signs and symbols of a meaningful and trustworthy existence, but had by some unfortunate circumstance stumbled upon quite the opposite evidence. The truth he discovered, perhaps re-discovered for it is easily forgotten, was that…

A brief parenthesis is here peremptorily required. The “truth” that will soon be expounded is by no means easily understood. Millennia of ineffective thinking have putrefied the meaning of the word truth and therefore some elucidation on this matter is necessary. Even though in this day and age faith in the possibility of truth has nearly disappeared, there still remains the concept of truth as a statement made in language that accurately reflects the state of affairs it refers to. A more ambiguous definition is virtually impossible, but a general sense can be rescued from that definition. In other words, Truth is equated to words rightfully employed. But my long conversations with the Scavenger of the Rare and our long (frightfully long) speculations into the nature of truth have convinced me that mankind has been deceived for far too long in this matter and a serious revision is needed in the world of epistemology. However, the Scavenger of the Rare nor myself are at all interested in clarifying human existence, instead I believe we prefer to obscure it. But for the purpose of this short narrative I’ll have to explain the background of the words here employed so as to convey a wider context of meaning.

Words. They are close to being the most elusive phenomena of human existence. Words don’t have a meaning in themselves, I recall the Scavenger once saying. We impart meaning on them by constantly associating them with our perceptions. After long years of repeating words after the same objects of perception we arrive at a stable vocabulary. But when we have a novelty in our perceptions, a never-before experienced feeling or intuition, we are unable to communicate this new experience in terms of an old (and therefore inadequate) language. The truth of the experience precedes the statement of the truth. This is how Scavenger’s experience should be read, we’re reading into his state of mind rather than a statement of his mind.

So to continue… He discovered in himself a truth that made him shudder and nearly vomit in that dismal revelation. The street light was red and he waited rather impatiently for it to change its color so he could cross the street and examine an abandoned shoe on the other side (he had a peculiar pleasure in spending time with the most trivial of human objects). Two cars glided in front of him as he remained magnetized with the sight of that footwear, pondering perhaps the history of its wretched condition. But as the time came closer when the red light would fade out and in its stead a green caricature of a man would magically appear, an uncomfortable sensation sprung at the kernel of his being. In the complexity of an instant: red-light, impatient-waiting, shoe-on-the-other-side, cars-passing-by, breeze-on-the-face, twinkling-bright-stars, quiet-thinking-strangers, parallel-streets, right-angled-corners; in that jumble of sensations that occupy the minutest millisecond, a volcanic revelation took place that challenged his sturdiest notions of human reality. Oh! I wish I would have the ability to fully recall my friend’s eloquent recounting of this episode. Here I can only rescue a few scraps from the tenebrous archives of my memory.

The Scavenger of the Rare approximately said, “It was as if the entire planet had split into two and I was suspended between the two halves, lingering in a dumbfounded state, relentlessly asking myself if I were not dreaming or altogether dead! I conceived it clearly, nay, FELT it lucidly how mistaken we all are. Slowly I recovered my senses to find myself still standing at the edge of the sidewalk. The city, if city I could call it, had transformed itself into an enormous chessboard and every individual walking in their quiet monologue I saw as hollow puppets following invisible commands that the authority of routine had imparted upon them. I understood to the very marrow of my bones how gullible we all are, how we’ve demolished all potential in the human realm by reducing our lives to this civil existence, believing too firmly that we ought to live for this type of civilization, as if human life could only strive in the conditions we now find it. The question of why we find most of us walking on sidewalks, going to work every Monday and talking to ourselves endlessly is most naturally answered by our submission to the authority of tradition, an authority whose power comes from our believing in it. If we didn’t believe in it, it would cease to have control over us.”

The Scavenger uttered such words in terrific excitement. I remember his wild eyes soaring from one end of the room to the other as he practically relived the earlier portion of that significant evening. Before his sudden departure, he added,

“I had to come here and tell you all this for fear that I might forget it tomorrow and return to the sidewalks and crosswalks. I might wake tomorrow and return to the same systematical squandering of time, through barren alleys and among neglected benches under clouded skies. But since the revelation, I feel these, also, to be utterly meaningless activities even if they remain outside the stock of normality. No matter what activity I choose for my life I will make it a tradition and inevitably become a slave to it. I would care less if a lightning struck me dead right now. Yet in discovering this so-called truth there is one reason that still makes me laugh in despair and it is this: how little is solved with the discovery of our mental slavery.”

In haste he disappeared from my sight and left me in a prolonged state of silent bafflement. It has been a few weeks since I last saw my friend, the Scavenger of the Rare, yet I’ve kept a rigorous watch on the weather conditions of our locality and fortunately there have been no electrical storms since his disappearance.