‘The “I Ching” and the Man of Papers’ by Guillermo Martínez
The man awakens with a start. His back feels numb. He had fallen asleep in the chair, and it takes him a moment to remember where he is, but it’s the second night, and the room with its row of beds and little heads hooked up to catheters is beginning to look familiar. There’s a dense odor of disinfectant and cologne, and from above comes the discreet hum of the blades of a fan. He has a cramp in one of his legs, and when he rubs his eyes he feels the roughness of his day-old beard on the palm of his hand. He tries to remember the nightmare that startled him awake, but the last traces escape his grasp and he thinks maybe it’s better that way. He stands and leans over the first bed in the darkness. Nothing has changed. The sheet drapes the small, thin body up to the neck; a tangle of blonde hair clings to the sweaty face, and the head remains still, at the same, slightly forced, angle, as though cruelly tugged upward by the tube emerging from the nose. Someone has replaced the IV bag during the night, as well as the damp cloth on her forehead. He, who had fallen asleep to the piercing cries of the little girl in the third bed and then, still half-asleep, had heard the loud, asthmatic snores of the boy on the respirator, like a swimmer about to go under, now wondered about the body’s different strategies against death, and whether his daughter’s deep torpor, that impenetrable stillness, was a kind of self-contained resistance or the sign of final surrender.
There’s a sound of footsteps in the corridor, and he looks at the clock: it’s his wife, coming to take over for him. The door opens and the wedge of light briefly allows him to see the other beds. The third one, the other little girl’s bed, is empty now. Falling asleep is dangerous, he thinks: during the night there are silent disappearances, unforeseeable substitutions. He feels his wife’s hand on his shoulder and the swift brush of her lips against his cheek. They stand there like two strangers, unmoving, gazing at an equally unmoving, strange spectacle.