Title in Spanish: Confabulaciones
Translated by
Manuel Corleto and Dixie Weeks

© 2004: Manuel Corleto

No part of this book may be reproduced
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without the written permission of the autor.

Manuel Corleto

THE MAN IS seated in the aisle. Out of the corner of his eye he watches the woman, in her early thirties, close to him. Her ill-treated and untidy hands get his attention. They do not really belong to her general appearance. Her fingers move in a drumming rhythm that in a way seems to be difficult and intricate and in another soft and unhurried. The back of her palms are abundantly sweating, and she has to dry them out on her lap, with a movement that matches the same rhythm of the imaginary music she seems to hear.
    She looks through the window out to a point where the man thinks could be the motor of the right wing or maybe the cars with bags being loaded in the entrails of this big airplane.
    “Afraid of flying, miss?” asks the man, trying to sound the most casual as possible.
    She does not respond.
   “You are quite right. Birds are meant to fly and also some of the extinct dinosaurs.”
   She nods lightly, without taking away her attention to what’s happening outside. In that very moment the plane starts and she, instinctively, takes his hand.
   “I’m so sorry” she says, drawing back her hand.
   “No problem,” he answers, barely outlining a smile. “At the beginning I always had to have some drinks before getting aboard.”
   The plane moves slowly, first backwards and then forward in search of the runway. The flight attendant indicates to him to put his seat in a vertical position and fasten his belt.
   “But afterwards I found the perfect way to get myself entertained,”  he says.
   “Excuse me?” she exclaims.
   “I was telling you that I didn’t get rid of my nerves until I found the perfect formula.”
   The captain’s voice welcomes them through the speakers and the video projection on the digital screens along the cabin is instructing everybody how to take care in case of  an emergency.
   “And what is it?” she asks finally.
   “You have to think about some other things,” he says. “Have you read Giovanni Boccaccio’s `Decameron’?”
   “No. I haven’t.”
   “If I remember correctly it happens in the Middle Age,” he says, “in an Italian city while it’s hit by the Plague. A group of seven teenage boys and girls are together in a villa near the town and they know that it is not convenient to go out and get infected. So they decide to kill time by telling stories until danger is over and they can go outside without any danger.”
   “Or like in `A thousand and one nights’, “ she complies, “where Shahrazad tells the vizier the different tales `til dawn, to postpone for one more day her announced death.”
   “Exactly,” he says.” What do you think if we do the same? I tell you one and you the next and so on until we reach our destination.”
   The plane runs down the runway and vigorously raises its nose to start flying. She can’t avoid a tremor and strongly closes her eyes.
   “The moth and the flame,” says the man mixing his voice with the sound of the airplane motors:
   The moth stroke vigorously her wings.
   Seemingly trying to reach the sky, right into the sun, but her strength wasn’t enough for such a thing.
   Then, one night, she discovered a flame and felt that the light completely fullfilled her; and flew in circles near the flame to feel its heat.
   Away from the flame, in the dark, no one could notice her presence.
   On the other hand, close to it, she felt seduced when her body shone for everyone to see. She was fascinated by the heat touching her wings and the indescribable well-being.
   One night she got closer to the flame to see how it felt.
   Others had given her warnings, talking to her about the dangers of fire; but the moth was closer to the flame than the day before.
   So the next night she flew directly into the flame.
   From that day on some say you can see the moth wandering in the libraries, digging into books, almost blind.
   Trying to read about Dedalus, the wing-maker, about the flight of  Icarus.
   And some other myths.

   Both of them are silent for a while. The surrounding sounds appear at a very distant level. She looks through the window at the raising sun.
      “It’s my turn,” she says thoughtfully. “The bull and its strength.”
   He owns a constellation and a zodiacal sign.
   Cecil B. de Mille showed him to us in a bare hand fight against ‘Ursus’ in the Imperial Roman arena, if I recall well; and to this day the sand is still bleeding.
   He is Taurus and its strength.
   Someone made up that he is fully in love with the Moon, and that thanks to its male attributes he can make the dead araise from the grave.
   Literally; well, no, it is in a figure of speech.
   Because man has done the same with all other animals throughout history.
   With their juices, powders, scents; in their absurd search for eternal youth.
   The immortal vigor, in sake of the nuptial and the blessed concupiscency.
   To recuperate what you have lost with the years what is fully spent.
   What is fully expended, what is simply gone or taken away as when you put the yoke on the ox’s neck.
   Men, for many reasons and excuses, try to ignore completely the saying:
   “What Nature does not give, Salamanca University does not give you either.”

    “Something to drink?” asks the flight attendant.
    “Orange juice, please,” answers the man.
    “Plain water,” answers the woman.
    “Must be more than half an hour since we took off,” he thinks, swallowing his drink . “The old cat and the tender mouse,” says aloud.
   The old cat was licking his lips at the thought of the delicious surprises the evening would bring.
   He wasn’t picky with the food, he never had been.
   Neither with the drink, not at all.
   With age his taste for tenderness grew acute; how to say it properly?
    For instance, when he was a kitten, he put into his teeth whatever his momma cat served him. From breast milk to ‘chick’ breasts.
   When he was a young cat, with a great deal of energy and ease, he sunk his teeth into whatever was in front of  him, no matter the culinary details.
   But old, without teeth and with loose fangs, he could not get into a mature rat with the same skill.
   That’s why the old cat’s mouth was watering in anticipation at the thought of the delicate dish.
    The procuress, his wife, the old madam, was giving him tender meat for his appetite, succulent banquet of the gods.

    In the digital screens there is Willie Nelson with his characteristic red headscarf, singing and playing the guitar. The man tries to guess, reading Willie’s lips, the song’s name. Being a great fan of him he couldn’t miss the words “blue skies”.
    There is a little turbulence and the shaking airplane drags her back to reality. She’s flying, even though she detests do it. But she had to. And the sign of ‘fasten belts’ reminds her of the real risk of it. Even though the statistics point out to there are more deaths in car accidents than while flying in a commercial airplane.
      “The bird and its reflection,” she begins, trying to push away all bad thoughts and to concentrate in her fable.
    Everyday at the same time, the bird landed at the pond’s edge.
   It was a mechanical gesture, long rehearsed, shaking his wings and stretching his neck to reach the water.
   Anyone could say that he was thirsty, but he was not thirsty at all.
   He used to dedicate a few minutes contemplating his image reflected in the polished surface of the water.
   Afterwards, satisfied, he introduced his beak, drinking with an oscillated movement going back and forth.
   He was having lots of fun with the distorted image dragged by the waves.
   Then, fully satisfied with the operation, he started to fly again.
   One day while in the sky he noticed what seemed to be a little spot of water, he landed at the edge, repeating the everlasting routine.
   When the drinking moment had arrived, his beak struck against a very hard surface, hurting it badly.
   In his misfortune he never knew about the seven years of bad luck for the beauty who had broke the mirror.
   But now knows how much he hates to look at his reflection in the water of his ugly, deformed beak

     “I don’t know if twenty-eight is a good age for dying,” thinks the man. “It’s worth living, anyway,” shaking his head.
    “What?” she asks.
   “Nothing,” he lies.” I was thinking aloud. How are you?”
   “Good. It’s your turn.”
    “Yes. I haven’t forgotten,” he answers and moves his head as if trying to catch an idea from the air. “The spider and her male.”
   The long-legged spider weaves with her web in a long nightgown.
   She’s making it neatly enough because this evening she’ll be married and wants to be beautiful and sensuous for her spider.
   The male spider, a little bit mad and a poet, anxiously raves at the the possession of this dark object of his desire.
   Dreams to be her lord and master (‘for better and worse’).
   Dreams to be the founder of a family (‘grow and multiply’).
   Dreams of growing old with her (‘til death do us part’)
   Meanwhile the weaver weaves her nightgown so it is perfect for the wedding night.
   When she turns, her nightgown will wave weightlessly with the sound of music.
   She will make the nightgown drop gracefully at the foot of the nuptial bed when the copulation hour arrives.
    It makes the enchantment of the moment and the spider repeat once again the same old creation story.
   The next morning, even before the sun rises, the black widow weaves her web a long shroud, neatly because winter is close and she doesn’t want to starve.
   She faithfully enshroud the male spider’s remains round and round.
   The baby spiders grow in her womb; food will not be scarce for them.

    “What do you do for a living?” she asks, staring at him.
   “You don’t want to know,” he eludes the answer. “What about you, what do you do?”
   “I’m learning to fly.”
   “What do you mean?”
   “To be a pilot.”
    “You’re kidding me,” he laughs.
      “I’m serious,” she points. “The cockroach and the Third Millenium,” she adds quickly.
      The cockroach knew the new century had arrived.
   Of course, you don’t have to be a cockroach to know that.
   Nevertheless her memory was helpful to her.
   A kind of genetic and prehistoric memory made her recognize all of the dangers of the world and permitted her, for example, first, to prepare rightly against the lethal results of the everyday most powerful poisons.
   Secondly, she walked with very aware antennae in the event of some boobie-traps.
   Thirdly, she did not let the ‘house kitty’ mess around with her.
   And fourth, she stays away from temptations and walks around the kitchen when she’s fully protected by the shadows of the night.
   The cockroach knew the new century had arrived.
   And as a family tradition among her species, she swallowed twelve grapes, one with every bell of the dining-room clock.
   A noisy belch indicated she swallowed the last one easily.
   Happy and confident she prepared her entrance with the right foot.
   If she was capable of making it this far, “why not..?”
    In that state of joy she was trampled on in the promised Genesis of the New Millenium.

    “Learning to fly?” asks the man.
    “Yes, you have to face your fears and defeat them. There is no other cure. And you know it,” the woman answers.
    “Yes, but there is your fate, too,” said the man with conviction. “The fly and her taste,” he announces.
   You know, by tradition and knowledge, what flies like the most.
   I believed too that it was what you had thought, but the fly’s taste has changed.
   It’s not something to worry about, it happens to everybody, it occurs even in the best families; if not, say so.
   To make it sound good we say the taste refines, it changes with the ages.
   The taste becomes more demanding and it dries out with the years and the needs.
   For that and nineteen-ninety-nine other reasons.
   What we never say, nevertheless, is that even dressed in silk a monkey remains a monkey.
   A fly responds to her nature, like everybody does.
   And in spite of any intent we make to excuse her taste, we will run into the primary root of the insect that was created, like anybody, to fulfill a mission on Earth.
   Even if we try to conceal it under imported fragrances, we have to agree that the fly hasn’t changed her taste but rather her gesture.
   And everybody does what everybody has to do. Enjoy.

   In the digital screens there is still Willie Nelson who attracts again the man’s attention. Even though he tries hard, he is unable to read Willie’s lips this time. “I’m a Mathematics teacher,” he says, after a short silence.
   “What? you don’t look like it,” she smiles.
   “It’s what I am appearances can fool you,” he laughs.
   “Yes,” she replies. “The pig and the worm.”
   The pig and the worm lived together.
   It seems impossible for such a union, but the pig had heard that worms become butterflies.
   And the pig, who is not a fool, decided to take care of the worm waiting for that happy moment.
   According to him, to bring to life a beautiful animal, for stopping the drag and reaching the flight.
   But time passed by and the worm was still a worm.
   The pig softly scratched the worm’s back to stimulate the wings growing.
   The pig gently rubbed the worm’s head to stimulate the antennae growing.
   But the worm continued like a worm and the pig like a pig.
   One day the worm stared at the pig and said to him: “You’re a pig!”
   And the pig who knew exactly what he was, answered: “You’re not a butterfly.”
   The worm, making a little stop in his activity, looked at another fellow worm and the many around him, and talked with the mouth full: “This guy makes me puke!”
   And in the company of his fellow worms he went to look for another pig, fat and very tasty too.

   “I’m not feeling well,” says the man.
   “Sorry if I…,” the woman starts to apologize.
   “Not at all,” he replies.
    “Maybe it’s because your recipe is not working on you,” she says.
    “No, it’s because the plane was shaking when it went through some turbulence,” he says.
   “It’s the worse part of it,” she says. “It’s as if you’re in the middle of an earthquake,” she adds with an almost imperceptible tremor in her hands.
   “Yes, and no one wants to be in the eye of the hurricane,” he says.
   “No one,” she replies. “Do you mind if I take your turn?” she asks, and continues without giving him the time for an answer: “The queen and the drone.”
   In every honeycomb there is a queen, and a party of drones I tell you.
   The queen is the one who commands in her reign.
   The drone is the one who lives in function of the one who commands in the reign.
   To be crystal clear, and we are sure we are.
   Well, in a way, given the circumstances, if the queen wants to sleep, nobody makes any noises.
   If the queen wants to eat, everybody pays attention.
   Is not an easy job for one or an other, let’s be fair.
   It seems like yes, but no.
   If the queen wants to languish, the drone takes care of everything: The species continuity, the miracle of life.
   The act itself is meaningless, it seems to me.
   The queen is in heat, That’s all.
   And the drone, plucking the daisy asks the queen the eternal question: “Do you love me or love me not?”
   As if it really matters.

   “Are you awake?” the woman asks.
   The man opens one eye first and then the other and answers: “Yes, I was just wondering if this was the last day of my existence, what I would like to say to life.”
   “An odd thought,” she says.
   “We’re dying since the very first moment of conception,” he says.
   “It sounds as if we start living at the very moment of our death.”
   “If it is so, a new life could be better than this one.”
   “Anything can be better than this life,” she replies.
    “Yes, I agree,” he says and adds: “The cricket and the sea.”
   The waves wetted, with a rhythm printed by million of rehearsals over her, the warm sand.
   The crab holes bubble up in the shiny surface of the beach.
   And, to a prudent distance, the cricket scratches his violin chords with eyes wide open thru the horizon: Day or night, winter or summer.
   They say an ancestor came hidden in the hold of a pirate ship or a conquistadore’s caravel.
   The cricket jumped to shore in the dawn of civilization.
   But that’s it, there is not a chronicle, a history or any records.
   Maybe only the genetic memory as the experts say.
   The truth is that the costume, tradition or command, is passing from father to son, from grandfathers to grandchild, and so on.
   And every so often, I don’t really know when, a cricket vanishes just like that without a trace.
   Those who always say “I saw it,” say they saw everything.
   That he climbed on a coconut shell.
   That he let the current take him to a place where everything begins, or where it ends, such is the case.

   “Do you mind if I continue? asks the man.
   “No. It’s fair. Go ahead,” says the woman.
   “The bitch and her but(tock)s,” he announces.
   We’re going to miss the details of pedigree because this is a bitch like many in the neighborhood.
   She moves her tail if she likes it (or because she’s nervous).
   She growls if something bothers her (or pleases her too much).
   She bites if there is an argument (or if she needs to eat, of course).
   She makes many turns like most, for laying down and taking the everlasting nap.
   Anyone would say, with reason, it is a dog’s life.
   “I’m so tired of having the leash since I was a puppy,” she says.
   “I’m fed up with dog activities,” she says.
   “I want to have fun and see the world,” she says.
   And after the saying she goes and does.
   “A liberated bitch,” barks one full of admiration.
   “A street bitch,” slobbers another.
   “A bitch without prejudices,” celebrates a choir of the block idlers.
   “What’s the racket?” asks an old mangey, one-eyed, scarred dog balancing loose fangs. “She’s just a bitch!”
   And he leaves limping, roaring with laughter.

   The morning is breaking through the horizon. The sky seems bluer from the heights. In the digital screens there is still the Willie Nelson Special. For the man it is quite easy to read the singer lips “flying to close to the ground.” He smiles and wets his lips with the tip of his tongue.
   “Are you thirsty? she asks.
   “Not really,” he answers. “What are you afraid of?” adds the man, glancing at her.
   “I’m not afraid of death,” she says thoughtfully. “It’s the sensation... How to say it? In a dream you can fly without wings and fuselage. You can feel the wind on your face and you’re floating. But in a plane you can’t see nor feel. You’re like a grain of lead inside a bullet”.
   “I see,” he says, “that’s why you are learning to fly. You want to have control.”
   “More or less,” answers the woman and adds:  “The chicken hawk.”
   You can notice him in the distance because of his wide circular evolutions:
   Sometimes higher, sometimes lower.
   The chicken hawk is always lean even though he’s eating as many chicks as he can from the bedlam.
   With his eyes wide open, like his close cousin the eagle, he scans the extension in search of his prey.
   There is no passion, there is no sin, there is no fun.
   Just instinct in this eternal kill and get killed.
   And in this exchange of adrenalin and proteins where the hunter is eventually the hunted, it’s good to know someone is watching over us up there, even sometimes from here.
   It is a command to maintain the vital balance of the species.
   Because the saying is well known by everybody: “Hawk or not, the hen will always eat the eggs.”
   And I add: “The chicken hawk awk-awk-awk.”
   “The chicken hawk bock-bock-bock.”

   “So you are not really worried about falling down or crashing into a mountain,” says the man as to continue the conversation where it left off before.
   “Of course I do, like everybody,” answers the woman with a wide smile. “But it’s more like a primitive feeling, if you know what I mean.”
   “Yes,” he says. “I do.”
   “But your recipe is good, isn’t it? I’m having enough fun,” she says.
   “I’m glad. The hummingbird and the flowers,” he says.
   The fly-bird was flying from flower to flower.
   They opened her chalices for him to introduce his long beak and drink their sweet honey.
   The flowers and the hummingbird were getting along well.
   He loved them all the same, and they loved him so very much.
   It seemed as if nothing in the world was capable of breaking that total harmony.
   Even though one day the whispering started:
   “Daisy languish…”
   “Madonna lily is going dizzy…”
   “Violet fades…”
   “Sunflower is losing its petals…”
   “Rose doesn’t want to smell…”
   “Tulip loses strength…”
   “Carnation is drying up…”
   “Hydrangea is changing colors…”
   “Camellia does not bloom…”
   “Orchid is dying…”
   The owl, who was watching without losing any detail, pointed at the peacock asking him to get closer.
   “Not even the most beautiful and tempting flowers,” said the owl, “can make nature turn its ways.
   The hummingbird will be drinking the honey from one flower to another, but it’s only with his female hummingbird mate that he will have his own descendants.”

   “I insist: you don’t look like a Mathematics teacher,” says the woman.
   “And you don’t look like someone who has to have control to die,” replies the man.
   “If I had a choice I would rather prefer to see the mountain in front of me.”
   “Mathematics are everything in life,” he says. “It’s a way to keep nature’s law and order.”
“I agree,” says the woman and takes a breath before adding: “The ant, the hormigo tree and the concrete.”
It seems impossible to show the relationship between the ant, the hormigo tree and the concrete in a fable.
   One is an ‘Hymenopterous’ insect, a great worker.
   The other provides the sonorous wood for the making of this percussion instrument, the’ marimba’.
   And the last one (mixture of little stones and morter of lime and sand), is used in the construction of buildings, bridges and highways.
   So then where is the link?
   The ant likes to walk tireless over the wide tree trunk and the strong branches of the ‘Platymiscium dormophandrum’ in search of leaves and grains for his pantry.
   But having to work for food and living isn’t all; no, the ant has a secret vice:
   During working hours, she wastes time listening to the harmonious sounds of the branches touching one another at the expense of the winds.
   Or she listens to the stimulating waves and tremors, provoking tiny, paused and, rhythmic sounds of the weight of a bird or a little mammal.
   That’s what the elements and harmony in nature are about.
   Until one day, the hormigo forest was timbered for constructing a highway.
   Since then, the ant only listens to the roar of the motors, and has to be very careful to not get smashed by a truck.

   “I’m going to reunite with some fellow teachers,” says the man. “There is a Mathematics Convention. You are invited too if you want to join us.”
   “I have nothing to do with it,” she says, smiling at last. “I’m meeting with my brothers and sisters. A family reunion sort of.”
   “That’s great,” he says.
   “Yes,” agrees the woman. “But don’t forget it’s your turn.”
“I won’t,” says the man, adding: “The quetzal bird and its names.”
   One of the jungle habitants spread the news, but the quetzal bird didn’t give a damn about it.
   So life in the jungle continued as always.
   But there wasn’t a single day without someone getting close to him making remarks.
   “Quetzalhuman…,” says one.
   “Green lightning…,” says the other.
   “Indian bird…,”says another.
   “Blow of light and chlorophyll…,”says one more; and so on.
   He was overwhelmed by names and nicknames, sayings and stories, tales and fables.
   He was disgraced, in everybody’s mouth, picked on by all.
   It was more than his scarlet chest could stand, so he sent delegations to the four cardinal points.
   Inside and outside the mainland.
   Good will and better- judgment ambassadors came back, one by one, with the same old story.
   “It can’t be done…,” says one.
   “It’s right this way…,” says the other.
   “Nothing can be changed…,” says another.
   And from then on, the quetzal bird isn’t seen much, because he doesn’t want to be mistaken for the vulture in the heights.

    In the digital screens, over imposed to the image of Willie Nelson singing, there are the final credits in a fast succession of names and words.
    He turns to see the woman. “How do you feel now?” asks the man.
    “Feel good, thanks. More relaxed and, in a way, very happy,” she replies.
    “I’m glad,” he says. “We are about to arrive.”
    “Yes,” she says. “The nocturnal butterfly,” he can hear clearly in spite of the increased motor roars.
   Her colors were opaque and the dots on her wings seemed great scary eyes and crossed bones.
   “Why does everybody try to avoid me?” asked the little one to her mother.
   “They’re superstitious,” she answered, a hairy and fat nocturnal butterfly. “They believe you attract bad omen, pain and death.”
   Few were the times, that they did not have to be quick-witted to elude the blows and fly away for their lives.
   “Why do they want to kill me?” asked the little one.
   “It’s in their condition. They’re fighting against their own demons,” answered the big one.
   “I don’t get it, mother.”
   “Everything in nature depends on opposites. Day and night, black and white, big and small, good and evil,” answered the mother.
   The very first sun ray was menacing  to rip the surrounding shadows.
   “Dark and light,” continued the mother. “Life and death.”
   “You mean it’s our fate being in the wrong side, mother?” asked the little one very confused.
   “I don’t know, dear,” she concluded, pointing at a beautiful Monarch butterfly, skewered with a pin, holding in a frame on the wall.

   “A family reunion? “he asks
   “A Mathematics Convention?” she asks.
    Both of them laugh.
      “The rat and the cheese,” he says.
   It’s been a long time since the rat entertained herself with a piece of cheese.
   Anyone could think she had made the rounded holes on purpose.
   That doesn’t matter to her, because Swiss cheese is made that way, with a bunch of holes.
   We’ll never know if it’s because they have to be very ventilated.
   Or maybe because it’s a way to whisk out-of-sight the weight at the selling time and to gain more money for less cheese that is sold.
   You never know.
   I don’t really care and I hope you don’t either.
   Nor did the rat really seem to care who was swallowing the last bite of Swiss cheese.
   Satisfied, she headed to her burrow.
   “What did you bring to us, mommy?” asked the little rats.
   “The holes, my dear girls, the holes,” answered the old rat, licking her lips with content.

   “Well, it’s done,” he  says.
    “Not quite,” there is one left, she says: “The coati and the golden cage.”
   He liked to wander making much noise, frightening the birds, stealing others food, sleeping all day long.
   The complaints grew in volume and tone, but the coati heard it in one ear and out the other.
   He liked to fight and get into trouble at the slightest provocation.
   He challenged the strongest, and made fun of the wisest.
   He was a careless bully.
   There no was moral, civil or religious authority who could make him behave.
   But one day, a Saturday to be precise, he saw Her in the deep forest.
   And for a moment he thought he’d been struck by lightning.
   Or that he was in the middle of a major earthquake.
   That’s how strong the commotion was surrounding him.
   To make the story short, they got married, lived happily ever after and had many descendants.
   But for the coati it was just a cage with golden bars.
   Where supposedly he had it all.
   But his long lost freedom.

    There is a silence between them. The weather outside is radiant this September morning. She stares through the distance tranquil and confident, knowing everybody has to die sooner or later and that there is nothing to do when the final hour comes for you. He smiles as if saying: “Didn’t I tell you, there is nothing to worry about?”

    On the television news, worldwide, live, everybody could see the commercial airplane ramming into the second twin tower of the World Trade Center, New York City.