Cecilia

“i was writing the monster out”

i. WRITE

On Saturday morning, I woke up with a certainty: There is a monster inside of me that spills out through my handwriting. When I started learning Japanese, I thought, for a page or two, that my cryptic handwriting was language-specific. My very first scribbles in Japanese foreshadowed the later revelation that to write in Japanese is still to write, but I chose to ignore the omen in thought (not think about it; not think that it meant) and in sensuality (not tear the paper, a warm reminder of myself, but fold it twice and leave it someplace I’d naturally forget about).

For a couple weeks after that, my scribbles turned out not to be scribbles. The characters, despite being in Japanese, were still detectable by others: This is a character, this is another, this is another, and so on. Their limits were universally clear, defined horizontally by the lines on the notebook and vertically by the characters’ own precision of character, a precision that I struggled to impinge on each of them, from core to extremity: an inhuman precision to constrain what was naturally big (so big as to overflow lines, page, and precision) into the rules of minimalism and respect, as if ugly handwriting was disrespectful not only to the language I was learning, but to learning itself; a precision that was inhuman because the character’s apparent humanity concealed, underneath its (paradoxically) non-cryptic design, the monstrosity that insinuated itself to me on that Saturday morning.

In Portuguese, the word for letter (as in “A,” “B,” “C,” not as in “love letter”) is the same as the word for handwriting, so that while still lying (eyes closed) on my bed, I was hit by a monstrous realization that was not: There is a monster inside of me that spills out through my handwriting, but rather: Tem um monstro em mim escorrendo pela minha letra, letra meaning letter in my mother tongue, so that the overall gist of the sentence (of the thought) was: There is a monster inside of me that spills out through my letter. I translated it quickly from Portuguese into ENGLISH, and handwriting took the place of letra and letter all at once, but letra and letter lingered there, out of place but not out of the monster’s sight, quivering from the fear that the blind beast might smell their meaning and, in this way, guess their intention: I was writing the monster out. The truth they contained in each of their letters was: l, e, t, r, a, and the fact that, originally (although not exclusively) the monster was spilling through my letter, and not handwriting. Both motions, the spilling-through my letter and the spilling-through my handwriting, share me, the creator of the letter and of the handwriting, as the subject of the clause. So there was no doubt, in either translation, that I was the one who contained it, and that its release required me as a passageway. I tried not to delude myself: I was the mediator between the monster and the outside.

But in translation, some things remain unshareable. The thought in Portuguese did not share all of its truth with the thought in ENGLISH. In ENGLISH, the monster shows its face in the act of (hand)writing and goes away, satisfied enough with the disturbance it causes by merely hinting and tinting (and hunting and tainting) a piece of paper. The monster is more demanding in Portuguese: It asks for more, expects more, remembers more. It endures in what’s written. What this truth (the spilling-through my letter) implied was that the monster survives on the outside, it’s already begun its escape. The spilling-though marks the action, whereas letter locates not only the action of the spilling-though, but the state of staying-out. The monster spilled out through my letter, and my letter was still out in the world, in every surface I had ever set my pen to. The monster inside of me survived not just inside of me, but also outside, quiescent, on the verge of bursting forth from any of my letters to anyone who reads them. What I said after translating it from Portuguese to ENGLISH was: I have to put it under control, a resolution that would not have worked, but would have made sense in the translation, since it meant “monster” and “handwriting”, and my overflowing and screechy handwriting was something I could try to tame. But to want to put it under control when it means “monster” and “letter” is not only impossible, but also nonsensical as well, for letter is twofold: the writing of the letter and the letter that is written. And although I could control the writing, I would never control the written.

When I left home, ENGLISH initiated its takeover. At first, it seemed like it would only take control of my body, of my tongue, but it soon revealed its imperialistic intents: All words, spoken or written, were to be subdued. But the monster wouldn’t take it, and so it reacted—at times aggressively, at others, insidiously. The translation I escaped to posed no solution and ended up being another thing that I couldn’t have control over. It hid the original thought, displacing it rather than replacing it, and it brought into life a second reality, one that wanted to exist but hadn’t found the strength or means or will (or whatever it is a thing needs to come into existence in language) to do so in Portuguese. From the spilling-through of my handwriting sprang a second entity that was, from its birth, a being of its own: my hand. By rethinking the terrible thing I had thought in ENGLISH, the language in which it was not meant to be, I interrupted my own (terrible) agency over the act of leaking the monster with that of my hand. The monster was let out through my handwriting, yes I was at fault for bearing the monster, but its escape from my guts was my hand’s fault. What’s sad and scares us is that there is no relief in this transference of guilt. What you did when you thought what you thought, and then re-did when you wrote what you wrote, was bestow, unwillingly and unknowingly, your hand with supernatural powers. The power to be, which grows paler and paler as you let yourself think, and the power to write, the one you possessed so long ago, are now in your hand’s hands, and at your hand’s feet. It is it that is, it is it that writes. It is it that possesses.
ii. FEED

The night before Cecilia had been asked by the monster to lie next to it in bed. There it was, and as she dozed off she found peace in its sweaty, comfortable embrace. It smelled of rotten sheets and dead skin, and she let her head sink aggressively into the folds of its flesh. It had been with her even before that; it had invited her for dinner. Eleven minutes had gone by since Cecilia poured the pasta into the boiling water. She spiked a penne with a fork—not hers, but one she’d found lying there, a flaked off fork with an old-fashioned engraving that tried to look older than it was—and didn’t pay attention to the hot steam condensing on the palm of her hand.  She brought it to her lips, her lips that had always been quite sensitive (not to warmth, but to boil), rolled her tongue precociously around it and swallowed it. Was it the right consistency? Was it the right amount of salt? She didn’t know; she cared. Nonetheless, the monster yearned for its food two minutes before hers was done, so she set herself to nourish it. Mechanically, unreasonably, Cecilia swallowed one burning penne after the other. Is the salt good? Is the consistency acceptable? It tastes like nothing. There’s no salt and it’s pasty in the outside, but hard as shell out. She’d pour some more salt: tastes like nothing, like burning. Like filth: The penne started rotting as soon as it drowned in the depths of Cecilia’s pharynx.