I sit in the last row. From here, the empty seats fan out like lines of tombstones.The curtain rises on the shadowy dining room of my first home. Some familiar objects: the stone statues and the flattened wolf hide. In the corner sits a table with five chairs; the one at the head wobbles.The wallpaper is stamped with faded rosettes.The spectacle of my childhood begins. Repeatedly changing houses, we are unable to anchor ourselves to any fixed point.The removal van parked along the curb, the mattresses hanging off the roof and my tricycle always at the top of the pyramid.
I sink into the plush sofa. I trace lines into the uphol- stery. I write a secret sentence on the backrest. I change my mind and rub against the grain of the fabric to erase my hieroglyphic. I hear Mum calling me from the street. My footsteps boom across the parquet; the stage trans- forms into an infinite hallway.I cross the bright threshold. Like some ritual of goodbye I take one last walk around the back garden.Wet rags are piled up on the patio tiles from the half-finished clean-up. I wipe the window of the house we’re abandoning.They’ve left my doll Patricia at the foot of the stairs. I stand there staring at her until my mother pulls me to the car with the engine already running. I press my face against the cold back window and cry without anyone noticing.
The windows of all the houses I’ve lived in are super- imposed: a huge picture window looking onto a deserted street, an underground skylight, a wooden sill swollen with damp sea air, rusted iron bars framing a palm-lined avenue, a broken display window that went unrepaired for a whole year. Houses with both my parents, without my mum, with my brother and sister, with some old people I don’t know. First my room on the second floor with Adela and Davor.Then a small apartment with just Dad. A narrow single bed or the wide mattress I share with Mum. Our things in bags, in cardboard boxes, in old luggage tied shut with belts. In my small suitcase I carry a photo of a neighbour who was my best friend. I keep a glass jar of dirt from all the yards I’ve played in.
I hate the house on the palm-lined avenue. That’s where everything started…The house needs fixing up. The walls are being painted, the floors carpeted with newspaper.The doors have been stripped and everything is covered in dust. I walk through the rooms and the newspaper scrapes, crackles. I run into Lorenzo.That’s the name of the workman who wanders the house dressed in overalls. He has black eyes, hairy arms, broad shoulders. As his paintbrush glides over the wall he whistles along to a tune on the radio. He says excuse me every time he walks into a new room. He paints the kitchen, excuse me, he paints the living room, excuse me, now my bedroom, excuse me. He has a sandwich in the kitchen for lunch. He takes a nap in the back yard with his shirt off. In the afternoon he puts a second coat on the walls he painted that morning. I inhale the dizzying scent of paint thinner. The workman lights a cigarette for Mum, then they lock themselves in the dining room for a long time. I picture those eyebrows framing his dark gaze. I don’t have a watch, but I know it’s been too long.Through the door I hear newspaper crinkling.The lock stares at me with its myopic eye. I lean against the window and count twenty- seven cars passing by on the street.
Some time later, I pick up the phone. I hear someone say to Mum I love you and then laugh. It’s the workman. I recognise his raspy voice. Dad is brushing his teeth. I shout, I kick the walls, pull the buttons off my pyjamas. Dad rushes out of the bathroom, foaming with tooth- paste. He asks what’s going on. Mum raises an eyebrow and says just another one of her tantrums. My heart is a drum, beating louder and louder. Bambambam. I’m possessed by a hiccup that reverberates through my chest. The rhythm accelerates. She hands me a glass of sugar water, turns off my bedroom light, closes the door. Now my sobs echo against the pillow.The ember of that shared cigarette glows inside my head.The cyclops of the dining room door stares at me, offering a one-eyed synopsis in the keyhole. The headlights of the cars passing on the street brighten one corner of my room, leaving outlines of their shapes on the wall.A truck has just imprinted its cabin opposite my bed.
Then sounds emerge from backstage.The director of the play announces that this has been a preview, a single scene.A private showing.The curtain rises and the first act begins.
Andrea Jeftanovic is a Chilean writer. Born in Santiago in 1970, she is considered one of the most prominent authors of her country. She is the author of the novels Escenario de Guerra (2000) and Geografía de la lengua (Love in a Foreign Language, 2007), and of two volumes of short stories: No aceptes caramelos de extraños (Don’t Take Candy from Strangers, 2013) and Destinos errantes (2016).
Frances Riddle lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina where she works as a translator, writer, and editor. Her book-length publications include A Simple Story by Leila Guerriero (New Directions, 2017); Bodies of Summer by Martín Felipe Castagnet (Dalkey Archive Press, 2017) and The Life and Deaths of Ethel Jurado (Hispabooks, 2017).
Theatre of War is published by Charco Press and is available for purchase from the publisher and Bookshop.org.