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There was a time when I used to tell him stories. Now I use meditations, breathing techniques, and silly incentives; but still, I always make him sleep (with the help of those sleeping pills that he’s been taking for years). I remember clearly that the first story I invented for him, I called «Solosin». It was about a police dog, a beautiful German Shepherd who lost his master in a terrible accident and was left alone, without anyone —solo y sin nadie— so his name, «Solosin», was like a sad prophecy. I also used to tell him stories about enigmatic animals: wise dragons, evil serpents, and winged unicorns. Is it my fault, then, that he's taken it into his head to become a writer?
—Why are all your stories so sad, Mom? —was the first question he asked me, and I guess it was the one that I never knew how to answer.
—I don’t know —I said. And I promised myself that I’d imagine stories with happy endings on the nights that followed. But it was a doomed project, because I always let myself be conquered by brutality and the violence of misfortune.

Now, he’s about to turn thirty. But he still lives here, asking me not to turn out the light, behaving like an enormous child or an old man worn out by vice. I beg him to finish his thesis, to graduate, so that people can call him an engineer; I beg him to forget, once and for all, about his frustrated ambitions and this obsession with being a writer that’s killing him. It’s killing us!

Actually, what’s killing him is the alcohol: every day, my son resembles his Dad more and more. In fact my brother, who’s the psychiatrist in the family, tells me he’s well on his way to surpassing his Dad.

I can’t let him be worse than his Dad. I could allow anything, except that.

I’ve taken advantage of the fact that he has a cold: I crushed twenty Xanax pills and mixed them with his cough syrup.
—This is too bitter —he told me just a moment ago, and then he reclined, turning his back to me. I have a hunch that he suspects something, because normally he looks at me and talks to me; he takes my wrinkled hands and tells me about his old, familiar anxieties, and I tell him that life is hard, that he should go to «the group» (as we euphemistically call Alcoholics Anonymous) and get over this accursed sickness. He never listens to me... he’s so much like his Dad.
—Why are you turning away from me?
—Because I can’t take anymore.
—You still have your mother to take care of you, don’t forget.
—I’d like someone to put me to sleep, a sleep therapy, I don’t know... to get out of this prison.
—I’ve already taken care of that —I tell him, without thinking.
—What are you talking about, Mom?
—Nothing, don’t pay any attention to me —I excuse myself—. Do you still remember that story about the dog «Solosin»?
—Of course I remember it; sometimes I think I am that dog.
—What idiotic things you say!
—No, I think you’re right: I’ve been thinking that the best way to save myself would be to go back to my thesis. I’m not interested in being an engineer, you know that better than anyone, but I want to get a job. I want to get out of the house and forget everything, everything, Mom!, starting with my Dad.
—The thesis!
—Yes, the thesis, Mom. That horrid thesis, isn’t that what you want? I know that you aren’t going to be able to die happy if I don’t graduate. I’ve lost so much time trying to write a novel that never came together... reading books that fall from my hands... I have to put a stop to it. I want to change.
—You could even go and find Fiorella —I add, to complete our little fantasy—. I think that if she saw you working she’d come back to you; you know how much that girl loves you, because she still loves you! She’s been a gift from heaven.
—Fiorella —he sighs, becoming drowsy—. You don’t know how much I miss Fiorella.
—You want me to call her?
—No, Mom, it’s eleven at night. Let her sleep, don’t ask her to come back; I’m tired of you doing that. You have to understand: she’s never going to come back. In the end, I’m not right for her, nor she for me. I’m a loner, I don’t have anyone, only you... and you’re no one.

He falls silent.
—What a strong cough syrup! —he exclaims suddenly—. It’s knocked me out, I don’t think I’ll even take my Xanax...
—Yes, the cough medicine’s enough.

He plumps the pillow loosely, crosses himself, and goes to sleep. A cold sweat trickles down my spine. There's still time to call the hospital, or at least to call a taxi and bring him to the emergency room. All is not yet lost; the important thing is to act quickly and without hesitation.

From the other bedroom come the snores of my husband, who is peacefully sleeping off his most recent bender. Struck by the absurdity that envelops me, I wish that I had given the medicine to my husband. I think a thousand things in silence, suspended in a perverse limbo, until the bark of a dog in the street brings me back to reality.

Something, I have to do something as soon as possible! I bend to kiss him on the cheek and turn out the light on the bedside table. In the dark, I feel that death is approaching bit by bit, as if from a medicine dropper. I close my eyes so I won’t see memories emerging from their hiding places. I promise myself that I’ll fix the ending, and I begin:
—Once upon a time there was a beautiful dog named «Solosin»...

Orlando Mazeyra Guillén, Perú © 2009

Click here to see this story in Spanish [AQUI]

Comment on this story by Michael Cunningham:

Dear Orlando,

These are beautiful, moving stories. You're clearly a real writer. I particularly admire their lyrical economy —you know what to tell, what to imply, and what to consign to the realm of mystery.
You also clearly know how to bring a story to a satisfying, open-ended conclusion. Any story —any good one— is about the end of one episode and the beginning of another, the latter of which exists beyond the printed page. The ending of "Solosin" is particularly heartbreaking. I admire, very much, the way you thread the story of the dog through the larger tale, subtly but palpably, and then land on that note when you leave these people. This is the kind of story-telling instinct that's usually either present in a writer or not —it's not the sort of thing that's easy to teach.
If I felt your work needed to be stronger or clearer or any such, believe me, I'd tell you. I'd rather simply offer encouragement. Do send me more. You have a gift.


Michael Cunningham

Translation by Christine Neulieb © 2014

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