Global stories, local voices

By Vivian Lofiego

Lire en français (FR) | Leer en español (ES) - versión original

A mysterious woman intrigues. It is said she once belonged to those mortals who created the ancient verbs and alphabets.

On some nights we can see, through the window of the main room, the lady in a red cloak, floating above the trees, solitary and ethereal. Have we gone into a deep sleep, dreaming of her or is she really there standing in the distance?

The wind blows effortlessly, rocking her gently as her cloak floats like a cloud. Her red velvet cloak wraps her silhouette. Under her hood must be a very beautiful face. We do not utter a word, afraid to breathe and thus break this image. We weren’t supposed to stare at the rather strange objects she bore on her face: a charm, a heart-snatcher and a thermometer to measure her illusory fever. She also carries thin-bladed knives that could easily cut deep into the thickness of her tender ivory skin.

Not a word is said, we hold our breath for fear of breaking this vision. We remain there, captivated by the fantasy of her winged step.

Her figure of great beauty goes by like a row of flamingos in a salt desert. They say there once were deserts of gold sand, of white sand and of rocks. Birds would go there to bathe and, imitating dancers, they would stretch out their thin legs between the thick granite blocks of the white saltpeter. Gathered there, they would reveal in some baroque dances everything they had seen in the places which they had flown over. 

We fall asleep at dawn, but do we really sleep? We have stopped coming up with ideas, thinking and growing, or maybe it is that we are growing at a slow, very slow pace. Long gone are the carefree days when we ran around in the garden of Mars.

We do not own mirrors, which seem to be instruments that reflect those who look into them. As for us, we reflect one another. When the lady in the red cloak appears, we linger on the objects she wears — objects from another era. They overlap and merge, becoming one under the illusion of the eye. Illusions are false perceptions when one doesn’t know what it means to "look". 

These are types of thoughts that we have difficulty conceiving. I believe we don’t think but see series of actions unfold which send us stimuli. Reality slips, it moves but doesn't settle anywhere. It seems that in the time of the lady in the red cloak, everything was very different. Sensation existed, human experience went through complex and elaborate networks. Human beings suffered when they felt pain, and smiled in reaction to the satisfaction they felt when they experienced pleasure. There is an ancient verb in the language of mortals: “to love”. It was obviously a complex system of sensations, where pleasure, pain, joy and sadness intertwined, making the beings dependent on one another. What is called a “romantic feeling” was a very peculiar event that depended on the chemistry between two beings. Whether a kind of spark or electric current arose between them when they met and looked into each other’s eyes, determined if their feelings would be mutual. Apparently, it was a universal notion shared by all cultures , which went through different fashions and revered idols — individuals who were immortalized because they changed the course of history.

Once lived a certain Mozart, a Bach, and another named Wagner. His Tristan and Isolde was often spoken about ; the tragic story, to use their terminology, of two great lovers who suffered from being forbidden to "love" each other.

Then, there are the writings of this doctor named Lacan. Preceded by a neurologist called Freud — the founder of psychoanalysis —, Lacan defined love as a referential to an object, namely an object A, the cause of "desire".

The lady in red was one of these mortals who experienced that ancient verb with a capital L.

The same way they got to know "love", they also got to know its opposite, "hatred". But we are forbidden anything that refers to it. 

Our houses are very spacious and have very large windows. Our gardens are blue and vegetation is very delicate and rare. Most of the decorative scenery consists of rocks. Our furniture too is made out of rocks. Those who rule our planet, however, own relics from old mortals, furniture carved in colored wood, rugs from ancient civilizations and paintings — huge sunflowers or rather odd portraits of women cradling a child with a melancholy smile on their faces. Some of them show naked white bodies, others depict objects that I couldn’t name as we aren’t able to recognize them. 

Only a few people know that we can see the lady in red. It is said that when human beings disappeared from the planet, one of them remained captive in Dr Assimovich’s laboratory. He wanted to preserve this peculiar specimen of individuals, predominantly melancholic, irascible, messy, and who destroyed their own habitat throughout millennials. The word "war" comes up in various books. Conversely, the term "peace" appears very few times. However we found a book that combines both, called War and Peace. So could this be possible ?

Assimovich wanted to extract the lady in the red cloak’ soul – an invisible substance that was part of these beings, together with the body and the psyche. Terrified, the lady fled to this planet, looking for her lover: she wanted to believe he was still alive and had planned she would stay with him. It seems that planets have moved a lot over time; having lost her lover forever, she wandered for a long time before dematerializing. She was programmed for perpetual movement and no one could stop her in her pilgrimage towards these grey and sad landscapes, devoid of everything depicted in the paintings. The pieces of land they used to call "nature", had become sterile, arid and devoid of life. They hooted behind the lady, who simply walked, ethereal and emotionless, wrapped in her red velvet cloak and carrying her objects which had eventually turned her into a fantastical being.

If we can see her, it is because we have learned about the life of the former inhabitants of our planet. Sometimes she softly tilts her head wrapped in the hood of her cloak, towards us, as if to say hi. In her own way, she communicates with us. 

We were able to study their languages and their diversity. Composed of incomprehensible signs for the most part, we consider them as alphabets, of which there are hundreds. Despite there being hardly any similarities between them, their meanings are identical. For instance, "life" was the name they used for existence, "death" was the end of that existence, "food" was what they ate in order to exist, and "water" was the liquid that became so rare that various natures dried up. They also possessed a whole range of terms — such as "love", "hatred", "compassion", "pity", "empathy", "pain" — we took a long time to identify. We learned that they came from older sources, from some "philosophers", "teachers" or "disciples".

When the wind blows very strong, our lady flies above the house and her cloak gets tangled up as she observes us through her heart-snatcher. She must have lived here a long time ago.

She is all that remains of the past civilization, the others didn’t survive. We’ve understood that the word "love", the object A, had eventually vanished from their lives and that anxiety had overwhelmed them to the point that their planet had been destroyed, taking with it their alphabets, colors, tastes … And the list goes on. She, however, had survived.

We decided to let her stay with us, and not mention her to anyone else. One day maybe, we’ll know the details of her story. One day maybe, she’ll stop moving and become one of those flowers that once decorated gardens, preferably one of those rare species named "psyche", "butterfly" or "mariposa".

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About the author

Vivian Lofiego
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Vivian Lofiego is a Franco-Argentinian writer and translator. She lives in Buenos Aires. Latest publications: Le Sang des papillons. Ed. JCLattès (novel). La Vie secrète. Os de seiche (poetry). Denis Salas' Albert Camus : la juste révolte. Ed. Jusbaires (translation).

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