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Granny's House

Written by Saren Camargo

Edited by Iana A.

Translated by Natalle Moura

Copyedited by Júlia Serrano

The noises of the woods made an old part of her mind buzz with dis­tress. That was not her place. She wished to run back over the wall she had jumped and for­get about it.

Not that there was any­where to go back to.

She bit her lip as she tried to breathe slowly to keep her mind calm.

The white rammed earth[1] house looked like a ghost in the dark, and she could have sworn fire­flies fol­lowed her steps like an es­cort un­til her feet found the dirt path that led to the door.

She looked over her shoulder. The glare from the spot­lights at the elec­tri­city dis­tri­bu­tion sta­tion was still vis­ible bey­ond the wall. It was as if the city ended there, a well-marked bor­der be­fore the un­known.

She felt se­cur­ity wrap her shoulders when she con­tin­ued walk­ing. That cer­tainty that she didn't want to go back, that there was noth­ing in the city for her any­more. She was tired of un­der­em­ploy­ment and crooked eyes, of the way they des­pised her know­ledge and ex­pec­ted her to sub­mit to the ex­pect­a­tions of that gray world. It was al­most a phys­ical pain hav­ing to get out of bed in her small flat — while smelling the stag­nant smell and hear­ing the noises of the over­pass out­side, near her win­dow — and know­ing that there was a life bey­ond the wall, where you could feel the threads of real­ity to get the things you wanted. A place where the sym­bols her grand­mother had taught her as a child, chalked across the floor, would have a much more vi­brant power, where no one would ques­tion the real­ity of her body; there was so much to live and do bey­ond the wall.

As she had heard her de­ceased granny tell her, she pushed open the raw wooden door, the groan of the hinges em­bed­ded into the wood re­vealed the small house full of dark­ness, lit only by the em­bers of the wood stove. She took a deep breath and crossed the space to the door that opened onto the back­yard. She re­membered the houses she used to visit as a child, her grand­mother used to take her by the hand as she went to say pray­ers and bless­ings; the re­fresh­ing air of the rammed earth left the heat out­side along with her fears. She re­membered every de­tail her grand­mother in­sisted she mem­or­ize about what to do if she found that little house bey­ond the wall. She drank wa­ter from the clay jug near the door to calm her­self, the fresh­ness and clayey taste sharpened her mind, the elec­tric sen­sa­tion of her blood roused in her veins and ex­pelled the gray life that had crept into her thin body dur­ing her time in the city. She drank as she went out into the dirt-paved yard, where cof­fee beans were still dry­ing, the un­known herbs planted be­hind the tangled bam­boo fence[2]. She grabbed a bucket and went to draw wa­ter from the well. She kept listen­ing care­fully to make sure the owner of the house was still far away. It was vi­tal she did everything her grand­mother had in­struc­ted her to do be­fore the old lady re­turned be­cause the wo­man could sense someone’s in­tent from afar and could take a life with little more than a ges­ture.

Just as her grand­mother had taught her when she was a little girl, she star­ted the fire by adding wood to the stove care­fully as to not smother the em­bers. The dark didn't flee from the fire­light, like a fab­ric that only got a little more trans­lu­cent, but still covered everything.

She filled a kettle with wa­ter from the well, found a pot, and went snoop­ing around un­til she had everything she needed. Corn­meal, milk, molasses. She could feel the tiny eyes of everything that watched her in every crack and every shadow, with in­tel­li­gence that little things like that shouldn't have.

The smell of corn por­ridge spread as the wooden spoon made a rhythmic sound in the bot­tom of the iron pot; fluffy and fra­grant, food and memory.

She served a small bowl for the little house spir­its who watched her. It was as if the house sud­denly wel­comed her.

“Don’t go burn­ing your mouth, okay?” As she spoke, she didn’t dare to look at what they were.

Her hand trembled as she lit a candle on the stove and went to find the cur­tain that sep­ar­ated the bed­room from the rest of the house.

In­side, she struggled to fi­nally find an oil lamp. That one did dis­sip­ate the dark­ness, it re­vealed the simple bed, the mat, the bed­side table, book­cases, pots, and bottles. She tried not to no­tice how the lamp's body was shaped like a white skull.

She bit her lip while search­ing, dis­tressed with the brief time she still had, un­til she found the broom. She swept, re­moved the cob­webs, dus­ted off pil­lows, and fluffed the straw of the mat­tress.

It took longer than she would have liked to find the cof­fee-mak­ing things, the an­guish of not fin­ish­ing in time kept get­ting stronger in her chest.

She sat on a three-legged stool near the stove as the wa­ter boiled. The se­quined small case rest­ing on her lap while she coun­ted the pills to see how many days she had be­fore she had to ask the lady of the house for help with her hor­mones — she knew she would have an­swers be­cause the lady un­der­stood the things of all wo­men.

She had just poured the hot wa­ter and herbs for the foot­bath into the basin when she heard a noise out­side. Through the open door, she saw emerge from the corner of the bam­boo fence a white, white-haired cow­boy, dressed also in white, on a pale horse, who crossed the yard and walked fur­ther away. Her heart sped up, that feel­ing that she had seen some­thing that was a secret of what lay be­hind the com­mon world. The sun rose, the house filled with the dim light of that first hour of the day.

A minute later and the door opened.

The young lady jumped to the side of the door with her head down, and offered to pick up the heavy bag the old wo­man was car­ry­ing.

“Bença[3], god­mother.”

The old wo­man squin­ted her eyes as she watched the young per­son stand­ing there. The denim shorts were made of cropped pants, the tank top was too big for the thin body, the long legs were marked with scratches and bruises. The shaved short hair, the ears pierced but with no ear­rings, the clumsy, rough face of someone who has barely grown up and has seen so much.

“My bless­ing, I think.”

The young wo­man smiled.

“This god­daugh­ter of yours wanted to be use­ful, god­mother. You must be tired.”

She led the old wo­man full of dis­trust to the table, poured a bowl of por­ridge, brought her a mug of cof­fee. She was about to of­fer to wash her feet when the lady clicked her tongue, her ser­i­ous voice is­sued or­ders.

“Take the bis­cuit tin from the shelf and some cheese.”

Her heart poun­ded with an­ti­cip­a­tion as she car­ried the things to the table. The yel­low­ish por­ridge seemed to make the sun brighter as the old wo­man ate, and the fra­grant cof­fee seemed to bring the shad­ows into her as she drank. Each bite of the but­ter bis­cuit seemed to bring closer the day's noises.

The lady took a knife from her belt and cut a slice of cheese for her­self and an­other for the young wo­man.

“So, my god­daugh­ter wants to learn my craft.”

She took the offered slice of white cheese, which melted in her mouth, and knew she wouldn't be able to lie even once to the old wo­man be­cause the lie would melt the same way. She nod­ded, un­sure. The old wo­man pulled the lady’s hand sud­denly, looked at her palm lines with an un­read­able ex­pres­sion, and she knew that every secret of her past or fu­ture was known.

“Hmm. That'll have to do.”

The young lady smiled. The old wo­man looked in a stern way, then slapped her hand on her thigh.

“We'll get you a dress and a scarf for your hair. There's a lot of work for you here in ex­change for your edu­ca­tion, but nobody's go­ing to say that granny doesn't take care of her daugh­ters.”

The old wo­man stood up, pushed the cof­fee mug to­wards the young wo­man. She drank in a gulp, rose to fol­low her god­mother and knew that, for the rest of her days, she would re­mem­ber that morn­ing as the one that star­ted her des­tiny.

As they crossed the cur­tain, in the back­yard, a red cow­boy, with red hair, also dressed in red, on a red horse, gal­loped crack­ing his whip, and out­side it was already noon.


[1] Taipa, in Por­tuguese. They are tra­di­tional dwell­ings made of white­washed mud, com­mon in Por­tugal and Brazil.

[2] Cerca de taquara, in Por­tuguese.

[3] An old cath­olic tra­di­tion of ask­ing the re­spec­ted eld­ers for their bless­ing. It’s a con­densed ver­sion of “may you bless me?” in which the elder an­swers “(my) bless­ings (to) you”. It is quite com­mon in some re­gions of Brazil.

Saren Camargo

Saren writes and cre­ates visual mish­mash. He is an art teacher and a cul­tural agit­ator for a liv­ing—in every mean­ing. Raised by the Paulista ABC, he lives in São Paulo with his part­ners. He is queer and trans.


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