Installation with Garbage

By Anna Lidia Vega Serova
Translated by Mary G. Berg

At first he asked her about her life and things in general, but then, lost in his own thoughts, he didn’t listen to what she said.

She was dying of curiosity. He didn’t seem anything like the others around there: he was long-haired, a drug addict, and possibly crazy. Or better said, a part of her was totally honest, while at the same time one little corner was blocked off. That’s why he probably thought she was crazy, a bit of a tramp, and possibly even a drug addict.

Soon after that they talked about drugs and agreed to go in together on a hundred pesos of grass as soon as they got paid next, and smoke it in some park or down at the port.

Every little while he’d straighten up, flex his hands, shake his fist at her; in other words: he was nervous.

She knew what was going on with him, but she didn’t want him to realize it, although she was pleased that he was feeling that way. In reality, it was happening to her, too, but a little differently. Despite everything, the two of them got along well.

All at once they decided not to wait for their paychecks before going to the park or the port. They could go without the grass. They’d said the words that mattered, and the two of them were dying to know how it would work out.

With all the tension, she hurt her finger and it bled. “What does your blood taste like?” He took her hand and licked the wound. Inside her, something tore loose and was unbearable. He took his knife and cut his own finger and offered it to her. The finger was dirty, but she licked it carefully; there was something both pleasant and heartrending about all this. He lapped his tongue over his own finger. “It tastes of your mouth,” he said and spread a drop of blood along it. The idea of licking it again made her feel sick, so she put her wounded finger on top of his. He leapt in surprise, spun around, then grabbed her ferociously and kissed her mouth.

Whatever was tearing loose inside increased beyond belief, left no space to breathe, speak or look at each other. Nor could they keep kissing, because they were getting too worked up. Through all this, they kept talking. He tried to convince her that he didn’t believe in love but he couldn’t live without sex, and she murmured something like that, too.

Finally they went down toward the port. They went silently now, as though they were embarrassed and set apart by that. She remembered the day she saw him, by chance, with his shirt off: his chest all hairy and a bite on his back. That was when, for the first time, she felt move within her whatever was bursting out now. Suddenly she felt like doing something crazy: like turning around and going home. But he was already pointing out a heap of garbage and scrap metal. “Look good to you?” She nodded, she could care less, she only wanted it to be over with.

They walked over iron scraps and he gestured to a place that had appealed to him for some reason. “Here.”

She sat down. He lay down. She lay down. He didn’t move. She sat up and talked, and lay down again still talking. “I want to live here,” she said. “We can build our house. Look: we’re surrounded by garbage, and above it, the clouds are floating, and up there in the clouds, just above us, a patch of sky is shining.” She put her last energy into keeping her words flowing. Finally she asked desperately, “Why don’t you kiss me?” But he was already leaning over to kiss her.

They embraced, stripped to the waist. He saying, “Wait, let me get my pants off,” and she answering, “Take them off, hurry up,” and hugging him tighter. They fell into the void. She gripped him tightly and he said, “Slowly now, slowly …”

A while later, the patch of sky that shone just above them clouded over, but they stayed put; he, gazing at the sky in anger and impotence; she crucified amidst the scrap metal, gazing at him. All around them, garbage.

Anna Lidia Vega Serova, born in Leningrad in 1968, is a painter and writer who lives in Havana. She has published novels, short story collections, poetry and children’s stories, and she has won many important literary prizes and competitions. Her books of short stories include Bad Painting (1998 and 2013), Catálogo de mascotas [Catalog of Mascots] (1999), Limpiando ventanas y espejos [Cleaning Windows and Mirrors] (2001), Imperio doméstico [Domestic Empire] (2005), Legión de sombras miserables [Legion of Miserable Shadows] (2005), El día de cada día [Every Day’s Day] (2006). Mirada de reojo [A Quick Glance] (2010), and Estirpe de papel [Paper Lineage] (2013), and her stories have been included in many anthologies. She has also published novels: Noche de Ronda [Nightly Rounds] (2002), Ánima fatua [Fatuous Spirit] (2007 and 2011). Her collections of poetry include Retazos de las hormigas para los malos tiempos [Ants’ Hoardings for Hard Times] (2004), and Eslabones de un tiempo muerto [Links to a Dead Time] (2006 and 2013). She is a member of the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC) and her books have received many awards and literary distinctions in Cuba and in other countries.

Mary G. Berg has taught Latin American literature at the University of Colorado Boulder, UCLA, Caltech, and Harvard. She is now a Resident Scholar at the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center, and teaches translation at Harvard Extension. Her translations include three anthologies of recent Cuban fiction (Open Your Eyes and Soar, Cuba on the Edge, New Cuban Fiction), and poetry by Antonio Machado, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Clara Ronderos, and Carlota Caulfield. Her latest translations include Olga Orozco, A Talisman in the Darkness with Melanie Nicholson (2012), and Laidi Fernández de Juan, Bésame mucho and Other Stories (2013).