Excerpt from Red Tales Cuentos Rojos by Susana Medina, Bilingual edition (Spanish-English). Translated by Rosie Marteau with author (Araña Editorial - December, 2012)
The Ironic Grey Hair
Lula’s fascinated by giving in to the flow of her unconscious. The unconscious knows nothing about time. Not a thing. It works to a different time, one that’s personal, intimate. She’s aware of all that. Her unconscious leaves things behind for her on the shore: plastic bottles, condoms, jelly fish, algae, minute particles. Sometimes she examines them, surprised, and other times she ignores them, as she likes to ignore so many things around her, especially lately, although lately isn’t really ‘lately’, but rather a phase that’s been going on indefinitely for quite some time now. Her world these days is made of printed matter and mental scraps that come and go and come and go and sometimes she wonders if she’ll ever extract herself from all this paperwork and these ink-scribblings and all these visitations from her unconscious, which now brings up vindictive images from her recent romantic misadventures, polluting her with a viscous sensation that she’s never experienced before. It didn’t used to be like this, but that was then and everything flows and even flowing leads you to the stagnation where things move slowly round and back to return to the very same place.
She thinks about all this while sitting in the kitchen and staring at the sink piled high with dirty dishes. She’s barefoot, it’s four in the afternoon and she’s still in her nightdress, a perfect white rectangle with green stripes and long sleeves that Moroccan men wear as pyjamas. Lula looks at the great stack of dirty plates as she thinks about how she used to like having movie-style flings, but movie-style flings are a thing of the past and lately it’s been as though her life is stuck in front of a traffic light that’s permanently on orange and in those moments she could just ... aaaarrggghhh ... tear her dark, wavy, unruly hair out because she hates washing up, because she hasn’t been touched by anybody for six months, because in a few days she’ll have to hand in a new chapter of her comparative thesis on Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton and just thinking about the title, that’s nothing more and nothing less than ‘Love, melancholy and abjection’, makes her let out a small groan with a large dose of sarcasm distilled in its brevity and also because her friend Ada, who’s an A-grade loca with a certificate to prove it, keeps claiming that tonight she’ll miss a film of unforgettable three-dimensional stimuli: tonight is the annual latex ball. It’s happening at the Hammersmith Palais. And it’s been sold out for two weeks now. Housewives, slaves, gimps, voyeurs and victims of the latest craze have all made a date at the show where they’ll offer up their gathered bodies. Even her neighbours, who’d rather die of thirst than be outdone and who boast about only going to clubs when they’re in California, will don red latex corsets tonight, thigh-high boots and this time a special accessory that will turn them into one of the climaxes of this great mise-en scène.
As Lula hoovers, she tells herself the annual latex ball is something she couldn’t give a fig, a pickle or a sausage about, and that today’s minor insanities are mere symptoms of a wider syndrome triggered by a bout of bad luck that’s manifested itself lately like a void, an eternal whirlpool of nothingness. It’s as if the void was saying to her: ‘Nothing happening, nothing at all, nada, rien, niente, nichts’. Then she remembers the balaclava that the ladies from next door had just shown her. A balaclava, which instead of being the gimp-mask type, usually indicating the presence of some conservative or neo-liberal politician, is a rather unusual accessory. Transparent latex, it goes on like a bank robber’s stocking and its surface is puckered with a motif of teats that mimic nipples.
Remnants of the conversation keep echoing round her head:
‘We designed it ourselves, to attract the baby-vampires and infantile fetishists,’ says one.
‘If they’re into convulsive beauty, I’m sure they’ll be buzzing round you like flies,’ says Lula.
‘And some fetish magnate might even offer us an exorbitant sum for the design,’ the other one says.
‘We’ve just bought a house down in Ronda,’ adds the first.
‘Plenty of curves in Ronda,’ says Lula.
Then they tell her there’ll also be people there dressed in unusual period clothing, erotic rococo costumes, caricatured Marie Antoinettes in pornographic dresses and Cardinal Richelieus showing their backsides.
It’s this that piques her curiosity. And now, a wave of frustrated curiosity flashes sporadically into her mind. But Lula carries on with the task of removing dust from the furniture, an act comparable to the advances of feminism which are just as ephemeral as the results of dusting, and then she thinks that it’s not true and that if she didn’t have to finish the bloody chapter entitled ‘Love, melancholy and abjection’ she wouldn’t have started dusting at all, nor would she be so desperate to go out tonight and nor would boredom become the most profound substance of her being. She tries not to get wound up about it. Not going to the great ball isn’t a tragedy. While tribes from the four corners of London are adorning themselves with their genital piercings, she’s on the other side of the mirror lost in dark daydreams. She wouldn’t have such a tourist’s curiosity if the tickets weren’t sold out, and if her life weren’t trapped in a current against the tide she wouldn’t avoid doing things that she later desires nor would she do things that she later regrets. Either way, she’s not into latex. The latest fetish in the corpus of erotic variants, one of the few connections that her neurotransmitters make is that dressing up in latex is like sheathing yourself in a condom. The body as a giant member. The body as autonomous genitalia. Docile fashion victims like her neighbours rush to sprinkle themselves with talc so they can get into the obligatory costume. Lula rails against latex as if it were to blame for her restive state. Latex imprisons the body, which they say becomes a prison sooner or later anyway. Latex is a self-willed designer strait-jacket, readymade for those docile bodies that desire rubbery restriction and look like divers from another age and it’s the latest fetish in a playful society where everything is turned into an innocent consumerist game as well as a vacuous symbol of rebellion.
The latest fetish? Lula thinks she should listen to her own restiveness, as if she had to enter the sewers and get through them in order to emerge in a luminous space.
She’s suddenly brought back to this side of the mirror by the shrillness of the phone ringing and when she picks up the hunk of white plastic, which hasn’t rung much lately because most of her friends are nomads who are always on the move and prefer email, the sweet voice with Ada’s unmistakably French accent is diffused through the holes of the receiver, Ada who always calls to offer her some shady work contacts and moan about her apathetic husband, her cross, lovely, always so lovely, Ada: Lulita? Lula?
‘Lulita, ‘ow are fings going, your lurve life?’
‘You love to pull my leg don’t you? Fine, still here, werking werking werking, but fine.’
‘You don’ stop werking, too much werk and no play. I’ve decided I’ve got to play. I can’t go on wiv my ‘usband. I ‘ave to live. He’s been depressed for severn years now, I lurve ‘im but I can’t go on. I’ve been lookin’ after ‘im for years, I’ve ‘ad it up to ‘ere. What are you do-eeng tonight?’
‘Nothing. I’ve got work to do, I’ve got to hand in a chapter in four days’ time. But I can’t even sit down, it’s like I’m allergic to my desk or something.’
‘I’ve got fhree tickets for Le Palais. One is for Lucky. I’d reserved zem for friends ‘oo were going to come from Paree especially for ze ball. They ‘ad to cancel at ze last minute. Zey’re just £35 and I’ve got fhree of zem.’
Lula sort of knows that Ada of the disastrously sexy French accent, period costume fetishist and connoisseur of three-dimensional scenography, will always be there with the right contacts so as not to break with fairy-godmother tradition, dissolving tedium and opening doors for sold-out balls, but even so £35 still seems a bit steep.
‘£35 is a bit of a rip-off, for people who’ve got more money than sense,’ says Lula whilst toying with the air pistol that’s sitting by the phone. ‘Either way, I haven’t got any latex, suddenly everyone’s wearing latex, it doesn’t really do it for me, I’m more into clothes from bygone historical eras,’ she confesses as if she were confessing to an anachronistic disorder.
The image of a Speedo swimming cap and yellow rubber washing-up gloves pops onto her mind’s screen and she muses that they’d go rather well with black patent leather boots and then her imagination becomes a little freer and she finds herself creating a she-villain dress out of black bin liners.
‘Zey told me zat if I couldn’t sell ze tickets I should give zem away, plus you don’t ‘ave to wear latex. Ze invitation says: latex, levver, fetish, evening dress. I’m going to wear a Japanese ‘sat-an’ dress, a sort of modern-day geisha style. My ‘usband doesn’ know I’m going to ze ball, he doesn’ want to know. I’ll be oveur around ten.’
Ada’s going further and further off the rails, she needs to leave her ‘usband, thinks Lula, while in turn she herself needs desperately to leave her inner world, she needs to lose herself in the outside world to dissolve time. She digested the past long ago. It took her years and years and years to do, but she finally digested it. The past is a bewitching man who is her man. Time steals her man from her. The past is a swelling of the brain. It’s a swift, aggressive brain cancer in the brain of a black-eyed bewitching man who happened to be her man. The other pasts exist lightly. They are lightweight pasts. And now all that exists is her obstinate look towards the future.