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The Short Form

“The Baghdad Clock”

Cristina Fernández Cubas


I don’t know if the strange unease that would soon take hold of the house came all at once, as I remember it now, or if maybe that’s the unavoidable distortion of memory. But what’s for sure is that Olvido, some time before the shadow of fatality loomed over us, began to behave like a distrustful feline with her ears always pricked up, her hands twitching, attentive to every breeze, the slightest murmur, the creaking of doors, the passing of the goods train, the fast train, the express, the quotidian trembling of pans on the shelves. But now it wasn’t the spirits who asked for prayers, nor sinning friars condemned to suffer on Earth for long years. Life in the kitchen had become filled with a tense and stifling silence. It was no use insisting. The hamlets, lost in the mountains, had become distant and inaccessible, and our attempts, when we came home from school, to get new stories out of her were left as unanswered questions, floating in the air, dancing about, dissipating along with smoke and sighs. Olvido seemed shut up inside herself, and although she pretended to work hard at scrubbing the pans, polishing the wardrobes and cupboards and bleaching the grout between the mosaic tiles, I knew she was crossing the dining room, cautiously going up the first few stairs, stopping at the landing and observing. I imagined her observing, with the courage granted her by being not entirely present, in front of the brass pendulum but still safe in her world of kettles and frying pans, a place where the beating of the clock didn’t reach and where she could easily smother the sound of the inevitable melody.

But she hardly spoke. Only that now distant morning, when my father, crossing seas and deserts, explained the situation in Baghdad to the little ones, Olvido had dared to murmur: “Too far away.” And then, turning her back on the object of our admiration, she had gone down the hall shaking her head angrily, holding a conversation with herself.

“They’re probably not even Christians,” she said then.

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