Saturday, September 20, 2008

Barking In The Night

I am sitting in my grandma’s living room, in the middle of the night. There is silence all around me. Not the dangerous silence of solitude and hidden eyes but the gentle silence of locked doors, cutting wire and tall walls. This silence is only interrupted by the familiar recurring sounds of the lonely kitchen at night: a dripping faucet, a fridge turning off and on. I lean back on the sofa, writing and reading, reading and writing, listening for slight changes in the atmosphere, the sound of a night guard blowing on a long falling whistle, of a car passing by, a truck shivering as it slides down the slanted streets to the south of our corner. Then there is silence again.
And in the midst of this great silence, I hear screams or dogs howling, a lot of them, or people screaming like dogs, a lot of them, or dogs that have intruded into the silence of the night because people have intruded into their own silence and now they bark and howl and I see red and yellow and it is all fire and heat and dread, an explosion of intense activity somewhere nearby that comes from nowhere and bathes my fragile silence in the pulsing rhythms of flames. They are the colors of the imaginary hell I was taught to fear and I learned to love and the dogs extend downwards to become one single thing that is not dog because it is human, and there are sweaty legs drenched in fire that curl around torsos drenched in blood and the snarls of the dogs drip with thick smelly saliva that mixes with the sweat and the blood to form a pool that forms a nest for the many headed creature. It has come alive here in the middle of the night. I reach out for a reason but there can be no explanation. Somewhere out there, something has happened, someone has fallen, someone has jumped, someone is running, someone is dead and the dogs howl and bark and welcome another piece of flesh into their fold and all other dogs come to join in the celebration, dogs from blocks away that howl in response and bark with ferocious glee. The creature is alive and growing and it feeds on the silence.
Earlier I thought of walking alone in the middle of the night, of gliding quietly down the sharply inclined streets of my childhood while the houses were dark and the people slept. But I now think that out in the night of San Salvador there is only room for guards with shotguns and thieves and if I have no gun and I am walking outside, I must be a thief, the lowest of the thieves because I don’t know what I’m doing, and there is no other option, no other possible explanation, no recourse to art or perception or exploration. If I walk unarmed in the streets of San Salvador I must be a thief and the creature that roams the streets with many faces stands ready to swallow me and make me one with it.
Soon the howls die down, the barks get softer and softer, some dogs are stubborn and keep on barking long after the main wave is over, but even they grow tired and like a dark gentle cloud, the silence returns and the dripping faucet becomes once again the tender drummer of my thoughts.
When the night is most quiet and the armed guards are staring silently down the deserted dirty sidewalks, broken by grass and time and neglect, then there may again be room for the fiery explosion of dogs that howl, hoping that someone out there might hear them and come to feed them. For now they rest and I will never know what invoked this sharp fanged angel out of the silence.

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