Cameo on death and language



Jesusa was dying, and with her the mysticism of her family. Herrera had left her a widow five years earlier. During those last two days of fading life, trapped in his own body by the embolism, he had from time to time, while awaiting the next injection of serum, scribbled indistinctly on a scrap of paper and when he breathed his last, Jesusa freed the sheet from his lifeless hand and put it away in a small chest… In the months that followed, she would sometimes shut herself away in the dining-room, smooth the keepsake out over the white lace that covered the solitary table and attempt to decipher the message, until her eyes wept from exhaustion. Her children had told her time and again that there were no words to decipher, nor letters, or thoughts. The blue ink marks were made by the involuntary movements of the dying man’s hand, his needle-punctured arm, his fading, dying muscles; not the dictates of reason. The pen-strokes did not respect the lines of the page; they rose, twisted, straightened into a line that ran from margin to margin, and fell, again, in a zigzag. Little circles and other shapeless characters of different sizes completed Don Herrera’s piece; it resembled more a work of non-representational art than a posthumous missive… Jesusa was dying but she had exacted from her children a promise to bring her the piece of paper at the very end, conscious of the terrible and inevitable illness that now drew on her own death. Her daughter, the younger of the two, attempted to evade the ghoulish promise but her brother would not break the word their mother had wrung from them. They opened the little chest, folded out the paper and held it in front of  Jesusa’s absent eyes. She had supposed that only at that moment would she be able to understand Don Herrera’s note, composed in the incomprehensible language of death. They called to her and her eyes flickered back to life for a moment, just long enough to run them over the dead man’s vague script, its symbolism forgotten over the course of five million years of evolution… Jesusa smiled, it was all so clear, so infinitely full now of sense and meaning. She felt as though she had always known, time out of mind, this coded language of pictograms, but that the knowledge had eluded her in life… She whispered a few laboured words to her elder son and was gone, still wondering.


It was late when sister and brother entered their parents’ house, home now to nobody. They argued in a whisper, not to reveal their mysterious and unlikely mission. They went straight to Jesusa’s bedroom, and to the metal bed where Don Herrera had made her a woman and mother… They removed the pommels from the headboard and shined the torch down into the wide, innocent bronze pipes… The girl had thought it madness to agree to the ravings of two dying parents but, fortunately, her brother had determined to find out the truth for himself…


September 2002.


Gentileza de Miriam Chepsi.