Neither Madame, nor Mademoiselle

Translated from French by Jenessa Abrams

I tell him I prefer girls. I mean that I prefer to have my head between the thighs of a girl rather than a boy, you see? Yes, I see. He smiles and says: Me too.

Maybe he takes it as a challenge. Maybe somehow I do too. We spend the rest of the evening talking philosophy.

It may have started like this.

Or it started when we went to dinner; we realized we’d spent our youth not meeting at the same concerts, the kind of cliché that makes me want to puke. Maybe it was the day he asked me to take a record, any record, whichever one I wanted, and I hesitated between Chopin and Rachmaninoff.

When I brought him a jar of the peach jam I’d spent a whole Sunday afternoon making.

Maybe it started like this: a smile, his eyes on the ground. Me standing in front of the copier, him approaching, sliding his hand along my hip. I find you very beautiful, Miss. That made me laugh.

But all this is greatly ordinary. Well, it’s complicated. Strange even. You think you know yourself, but just like that, it takes only one look. Your body does something, though your head tells you: this isn’t me.

Or simply, it started the day we were introduced. I don’t know. I see him and I tremble.


I bought myself a bonsai.

The girls told me to get a cat because I needed a little warmth, a little affection—their words, not mine. They even took me to the home of an old woman who spends her retirement rescuing strays from the street. It smelled of shit and curdled milk.

There was hair everywhere.

Anyway, I can’t even take care of myself, let alone an animal, you know? And it would really be too lesbian. I like eating pussy, but an actual cat, now that would really be too cliché.

I call him Bob. Bob the Bonsai.

I put him in the kitchen window facing south, with plenty of light. I buy him a small red watering can; it matches the kitchen, I buy small red clippers that match too.

I read on the Internet that talking to plants helps them grow, so I start telling Bob about my day while I cook. I stir my bolognaise sauce, saying how that idiot Emma said something dumb during the meeting.

With him I can be nasty. I can say whatever I want. No filter.
My mother always told me to take up gardening, saying it would relax me, that I could use the fresh air. Now voila, here we are.

I love my Bob. At least he doesn’t tell me I look stressed out.


I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

I know how this works. You tell me what I want to hear, you nod your head, you smile, then I turn my back and bam! The knife will slide right between my spine and shoulder blade where it will cause the most pain. Sorry, nothing personal, that’s just how it goes. I’ve lost too much of myself being a drama queen; anyway, there’s nothing you could say that I haven’t already heard.

You understand, don’t you? This strange feeling that consumes you when you look in the mirror and don’t recognize the person in front of you. This inability to get up in the morning because of last night’s insomnia.

What more can I say? I started cutting myself off from people because I was so ashamed. Because they were right and I was wrong and that—well that may be the most horrible part. The fact that I don’t know myself very well. You could say that I do now, but I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

I don’t want to, and yet, I’m back again; it’s like an obsession, a compulsion. You understand, don’t you? The fact that you can love and despise something at the very same moment? Are happy memories really worth all the agony that comes with them?

She was my motif. Maybe she still can be, just a little longer.

You see, she was everything to me. My star in the sky, if I want to spout poetry, because I was really in the dark; though actually, she was more like my oxygen tank. It sounds so stupid in retrospect, to cling to someone like that, but I was alone, you know, and I’m terribly frightened of the dark.

I don’t want to talk about that either.

She saved me. What more can I say? And when she left, I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I returned to darkness for a long time. The reflection in the mirror became a stranger again, the insomnia returned. The people around me couldn’t understand. Pathetic, they said, unbelievable. The world continued to move forward, but I was paralyzed, unable to move forward and unable to move backward.

So there you have it. You can’t make a person your life jacket. You can’t make a person your home.



I think people are most beautiful when they think no one is watching. Just look at her, she’s radiant. She’s radiant just sitting there on the couch, in front of her computer screen. Her face is transformed. Iridescent.

She furrows her brow; she’s pondering something. She reads an article and bites her fingernails; I don’t have the heart to tell her to stop. Then she smiles, laughs out loud. She swears in Spanish, blows her bangs off her face. And for a moment, her irises emerge, then just as quickly, the wisps of her hair return.

She rests her head in one hand and taps on her keyboard with the other.

Sometimes she looks up and our eyes meet. I lose myself. I feel like making love to her, of taking her between my lips. My heart dances a cumbia in my chest.

I could watch her for hours. Could listen to her laughter—her sighs—her breath. Always. Siempre, as she says. I love that. This is my end, my personal Eden.


When I was little, my parents kept a statue on the mantle in the living room. A naked woman, the full length of her elongated, her arms raised above her head. She was draped with a sheet; I think maybe it was see-through.

I was eight years old and I delicately traced my fingers along her body. I started with her feet and moved up the length of her legs. I paused at her stomach and drew circles around her navel. I traced her hair—her hands—her arms. Her nipples. I took my time.

I touched her and I felt something in my loins tickle.


When she left me, that day at the airport, the only thing she said was: One day you’ll thank me. She said it before taking me in her arms, without kissing me, without giving much thought to anything. She just patted me on the back, first one pat, then another: who’s a good dog, you’re a good dog. If she had punched me in the face, that would’ve been less awful.

She smiled, picked up her suitcase, and left. That was it. I just stood there, watching her pass through security until she disappeared. I wanted to say: don’t be a stranger, okay, call me. But I didn’t. She melted into the crowd and our planes took off in different directions.

Ever since, I do nothing. Days pass me by. They pass me by and I do nothing. It takes more effort than it appears. But this is it, I am here, I must get up. I must put one foot in front of the other. Each morning, I fight the heavy silence that lives inside my apartment.

Each morning, words accumulate, piling up in the back of my throat. They’re caught between two octaves, syncopated deep in my chest.

I feel betrayed each time I reach a half-rest.

I want to say it’s a bit like any other anxiety. I avoid mirrors. I shop. I water the geranium on my terrace. Cigarette butts amass in the ashtray I keep forgetting to empty. I don’t clean; I work for long stretches of time, far too long. I’m deflated. I wheeze. I imagine arguments.

That’s all. I cope. I wait for time to pass. I think there’s nothing to do but wait.

Wait, if not hope.

Room 10

“The doctors don’t know which disease Niza has. Limp-handed, they lay their needles to her numb limbs.”