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Orientación de los gatos

A short story by Julio Cortázar ("The orientation of cats").  You can read the original here.

Whenever Alana and Osiris look at me I can complain neither of duplicity nor concealment.  They look at me head on, Alana with her bluish light and Osiris with his green rays.  They also look at one another this way, Alana stroking Osiris's black back which his nose and happy mouth reach from his milk bowl, woman and cat intimate on a level that eludes me, a level that my caresses cannot exceed.  It's been a while now since I renounced all control over Osiris – we're good friends at an unbreachable distance; but Alana is my wife and the distance between us is different, something that she doesn't seem to feel but which compromises my happiness whenever she looks at me, whenever she looks at me just like Osiris does and smiles or talks to me without the slightest reservation, every gesture and matter of hers handed over like love itself, as if her eyes comprised her entire body, a complete handover, uninterrupted reciprocity.

It's strange: although I have forsaken complete entry into Osiris's world, my love for Alana cannot accept the simplicity of closure, of always being together, of life without secrets.  Behind those blue eyes lies more; at the bottom of those words, those moans and those silences another kingdom, another Alana lives and breathes.  I've never told her this because I love her too much to dampen our superficial happiness, and besides, so many days, so many years have already passed.  In my way I am still trying to understand, to discover; I observe her without spying; I follow her without mistrust; I love a beautiful, mutilated statue, an unfinished text, a fragment of heaven written into the window of life.

There was a time when music seemed like my path to truth about Alana.  Looking at her I listened to the records of Bártok, Duke Ellington, and Gal Costa, and a gradual transparency took me deeper into her, the music uncloaked her in a different way, made her every time a little more like Alana because Alana could not only be this woman who had always looked at me fully without hiding a thing.  I looked against Alana, beyond Alana, in order to love her better.  And if music initially allowed me to espy other Alanas, the day came when I saw her change even more in front of an engraving by Rembrandt, as if a game of clouds in the sky had suddenly altered the chiaroscuro of a landscape.  I sensed that the painting carried her beyond herself in the eyes of the one observer who could notice the instantaneous metamorphosis never repeated, the view between Alana and Alana.  Involuntary intercessors – Keith Jarrett, Beethoven, and Aníbal Troilo – had helped me approach her, but facing a painting or engraving Alana still removed more of what I believed her to be.  She entered for a moment into an imaginary world so as to depart, without knowing it, from herself, moving from one painting to another, commenting on them then falling silent, a game of cards whereby every new thought merited stealthy and polite consideration.  A bit behind or by raising her arm,  Alana would follow queens and aces, spades and clubs.

What could be done with Osiris?  Give him milk, leave him curled up purring and happy in a black ball.  But Alana I could take to the picture gallery as I had yesterday, have her attend yet again a theater of mirrors and dark rooms, of tense images upon her body before that other image of light jeans and a red blouse which, after squashing a cigarette at the entrance, went from painting to painting, maintaining the exact distance that her look required, turning towards me now and again to comment or compare.  She would never have been able to discover that I was not there because of the paintings, that behind or beside her my way of looking at our surroundings had nothing to do with hers.  She would never realize that her slow and pensive step from painting to painting was changing her to such an extent that I was forced to close my eyes and struggle to keep myself from seizing her in my arms and delivering her to madness, to a mad race in the streets.  Relaxed and carefree in the naturalness of her pleasures and discovery, her highs and delays had been set to a different rhythm than mine, quite alien to the infuriating suppression of my thirst.

Until then everything had been a vague announcement, Alana in music, Alana before Rembrandt; but now my hopes began to become almost unbearable.  Since our arrival Alana had devoted herself to these paintings with the atrocious innocence of a chameleon, passing from one state to another without realizing that a crouching observer was lying in wait, looking in her posture, the inclination of her head, and the movement of her hands or lips for the interior chromatism coating her that would show her to be another, a state in which Alana was always being added to Alana, the cards piling up until the deck was full.  At her side, advancing little by little along the gallery walls, I walked and watched her engage herself in each painting, my eyes multiplying a flashing triangle made of her moving from painting to painting as points bound to me.  All of this was done to get back to her, to catch the change, the different halo which enveloped her one moment only to give way the next moment to a new aura, to a tonality which exposed her to a true and final unveiling.  It was impossible to foresee how long this osmosis would continue, how many new Alanas would ultimately be brought to me in the synthesis of the Alana whom the two of us, gorged on Alanas, would finally extract.  Of course, she would know nothing of this; she would simply light another cigarette and ask me to bring her a drink.  Whereas I would know that my long search had finally come to an end, that henceforth my love encompassed the visible and invisible, and I would accept Alana's clean gaze with no uncertainty of closed doors or forbidden passageways.

I saw her standing for a while and not moving before a lonely boat and an initial mass of black rock.  An imperceptible wave of her hands made her seem like she was swimming in the air, searching for the open sea, a flight towards the horizon.  I could not help finding it strange that another painting, in which a grille of acute dots prohibited access to a line of trees, made her step back as if looking for a certain vantage point.  And all of a sudden she was repulsed, having reached an unacceptable limit.  Birds, sea monsters, windows giving on to silence and letting in a simulacrum of death, every new painting destroyed Alana, depriving her of her previous color, ripping from her the modulations of liberty, of flight, of great open spaces, affirming her denial of night and nothingness, her fear of sunlight, her almost terrible impulse of the phoenix.  I stayed back knowing that I wouldn't be able to tolerate her gaze, her curious surprise when she looked me in the eye and saw bedazzled confirmation.  Because this was also what I was, this was my project Alana, my life Alana, this had been what I wanted and what was contained by a present time of city and parsimony, then now at last Alana, at last Alana and I from now on, from this very moment.  I would have liked to take her naked in my arms, love her in such a way that she would have no doubts and all would be said forever between us.  And from this endless night of love would emerge the first dawn of a new life for us who had known so many dawns already.

We arrived at the final exhibit in the gallery.  I moved closer to the exit, all the while hiding my face and hoping that the air and lights in the street would bring back what Alana knew of me.  I saw her stop before a painting whose view had been blocked by other visitors.  She stayed there for a long time without budging, gazing at the picture of a window and a cat.  One last transformation made her into a statue cleanly separated from all the others, from me who was now approaching indecisively, looking for her lost eyes amidst her form.  I noticed that the cat was identical to Osiris and that it was gazing at something far away which the window wall did not let us see.  Completely unmoving and deep in thought was the cat, yet still not as motionless as Alana.  Somehow I sensed that the triangle had been broken; when Alana turned her head towards me the triangle no longer existed.  She had gone into the picture but had not come back.  From the other, betrayed side she continued looking beyond the window where no one could see what they could see, what only Alana and Osiris could see every time they looked right at me.

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