Excerpt of Delirium by Laura Restrepo
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EVER SINCE MY WIFE has been acting so strange, Ive dedicated myself to helping her, but Ive only managed to irritate her with my futile selfless efforts. For example, yesterday, late at night, Agustina got angry because I wanted to take a cloth and dry the rug that shed soaked, obsessed with the idea that it smelled strange, and the thing is, it disturbs me to see all the pots of water she sets around the apartment, shes taken to performing baptisms, or ablutions, or who knows what kind of rituals invoking gods invented by her, washing everything and scouring it with excessive zeal, my unfathomable Agustina, any spot on the tablecloth or grime on a windowpane torments her, dust on the moldings makes her miserable, and the muddy footprints she claims my shoes leave make her furious; even her own hands seem disgusting to her though she scrubs them incessantly, her beautiful pale hands red and chafed now because she gives them no respite, and she gives me no respite, and she gives herself no respite.
As Agustina performs her mad ceremonies she gives orders to Aunt Sofi, who has volunteered her services as willing acolyte, and the two rush about with containers of water as if this is how theyll exorcise anxiety, or regain lost control, and I can find no part to play in this story, nor do I know how to curb the mystical mania thats invading the house in the form of cups of water that appear in rows along the baseboards, or on the window ledges. I open a door suddenly and upset a plate of water that Agustinas hidden behind it, or Im unable to go upstairs because shes set pots of water on each step. How can I go up the stairs, Aunt Sofi, when Agustinas blocked them? Stay down here for now, Aguilar, be patient and don't move those pots because you know what a fuss shell make. And where will we eat, Agustina darling, now that youve covered the table with plates of water? Shes put them on the chairs, on the balcony, and around the bed, the river of her madness leaving its traces even on the bookshelves and in the cupboards; wherever she goes, quiet eyes of water open up, gazing into nothing or the unknown, and rather than being upset I feel the anguish of not knowing what bubbles are bursting inside her, what poisonous fish are swimming the channels of her brain, and all I can think to do is wait until shes off guard, and empty cups and plates and buckets and return them to their place in the kitchen, and then I ask you why you look at me with hatred, Agustina my love, it must be because you dont remember me, but sometimes you do, sometimes she seems to recognize me, vaguely, as if through a fog, and her eyes offer reconciliation for an instant, but only for an instant before I immediately lose her and the same terrible hurt invades me.
Strange comedy, or tragedy for three voices, Agustina with her ablutions, Aunt Sofi who plays along with her, and I, Aguilar, an observer asking myself when reason fled, that thing we call reason; an invisible force, but when its missing, life isnt life and whats human is no longer human. What would we do without you, Aunt Sofi? At first I stayed home twentyfour hours a day watching Agustina and hoping that at any minute she would return to her senses, but as the days went by I began to suspect that the crisis wouldnt come to an end overnight and I knew Id have to pluck up the courage to face daily life again. Maybe the hardest part is accepting the stretch of middle ground between sanity and madness and learning to straddle it; by the third or fourth day of delirium the money I had on me ran out and ordinary demands arose again, if I didnt go out to collect the money I was owed and do my weekly deliveries there wouldnt be anything to buy food with or pay the bills, but there was no way for me to hire a nurse to stay with Agustina while I was gone and make sure she didnt escape or do something hopelessly crazy, and it was then that the woman who said her name was Aunt Sofi rang the doorbell.
Excerpted from Delirium by Laura Restrepo Copyright © 2007 by Laura Restrepo. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.