H. Pueyo.jpg

I Will Make You Remember Me

H. Pueyo

CONTENT WARNING: MENTION OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE

Cacau appeared late in the afternoon, when Sebastián Minami was about to close the office he rented every month. The two had exchanged some emails during the past week, and he only knew a few things about her: she was a Brazilian immigrant in desperate need of a private eye, and didn’t want to say what she needed until she met him in person. Not that it mattered. He was about to take a well-deserved break from work, there was no need to know any further information. She could—and should—find somebody else to help her.

“Do you know Mr. Minami?”

Sebastián looked at both sides, pretending to find an imaginary secretary in his disorganized cubicle before adjusting his round rimmed glasses.

“That would be me.”

“Oh,” she murmured, still touching the frosted glass of the door with her fingers. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”

“It doesn’t matter. You wouldn’t be the first to ask.” Sebastián began to tidy his desk. He regretted not using Callari, his father’s surname, to avoid this kind of situation, since every time he used his mother’s name he heard all types of uncomfortable comments, and they all began with I never would have guessed . . . “I’m sorry to say I have bad news for you, miss . . .  Romero, right? I know why you’re here, but I’m about to go on vacation, and can’t help with your case.”

“You don’t know why I’m here.” 

Correct—he didn’t. What he did know was that his head was about to explode, beginning from behind his left eye, and all he could do to ease the pain was covering the sensitive area with one hand while the other searched for the blister pack in the pocket of his tweed sport coat.

“Try me, then.”

“I need someone to investigate my past,” said Cacau, firmer than before. “I don’t remember anything.”

Sebastián swallowed a pink pill without water.

“I’m afraid repressed memories are out of my jurisdiction, miss,” he said, closing his laptop to put it inside his satchel. “Why don’t you decode? There’s a clinic in this building, if you’re interested. Fourth floor, room 43.”

“For the same reason you haven’t done it.” Cacau pointed at the blue box hidden behind a pile of books that said Dolofrix Forte, codeine phosphate and paracetamol. “I don’t want any lunatic who studied three months of neuroengineering messing with my head. Why do you need those pills?”

“Fair enough,” said Sebastián, walking toward the door. He was much taller than her, and had to bend to maintain eye contact. “You have one dinner to convince me to accept your case. But you pay.”

 

 

* * *

There was a restaurant he enjoyed at the corner of the street of his office, cheap and calm, with the same old waiters and the same old clients, in a familiar porteño fashion. Sebastián liked their food and the comfort of his routine, but he avoided taking women there for two reasons: the patronage was mostly masculine, and it was not an adequate scenario for a date. But this was a business meeting, and she was the one trying to impress him, not the contrary.

Cacau glanced at the men with the corner of her narrow black eyes—the cook, the waiters, the other clients talking to each other and laughing out loud. Finally, she decided for a table near the window, away from everybody else.

“I’m listening,” said Sebastián. The waiter brought their drinks and a basket of bread. “You already have in your favor that it’s not an extramarital case.”

“It started when I moved from Porto Alegre two years ago.” Cacau played with the bottle of grapefruit soda bubbling in front of her, thin white scars visible in the pale yellow of her fingers and wrist. “The problem lies in the fact that I don’t remember the first six months of my time here. Whenever I try, my mind goes blank.”

“Do you remember why you decided to come to Buenos Aires?”

“I don’t remember anything, Mr. Minami.”

“College, maybe?”

“I didn’t even finish high school.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-three,” answered Cacau. He was surprised to see she was not as young as he had imagined, but it was still too young to find her attractive. Ten less than me.

“Work?”

“I work at home.”

“Which field?”

“Art.”

“Family?”

She pressed her lips together. “My parents are dead.”

Sebastián narrowed his hazel eyes behind the glasses. The waiter appeared with two milanesas: a regular steak for him and a vegetarian one for her, both with salad, lemon, and French fries. He had to admit to himself that her problem fascinated him; he guessed the gap in her memory was caused by a traumatic event, but he didn’t know if that alone could erase six months of a person’s life.

“I might be interested, Ms. Romero, but . . .”

“Wait,” Cacau interrupted him, glaring at the table of blue-collar workers eating and making jokes on the other side of the restaurant. “Are they taking pictures?”

“Pictures?”

Sebastián turned around. The men were eating pizza and taking pictures of their meeting, but there was nothing extraordinary about it: only laughter, conversation and a good amount of beer.

“I think so.”

“I have to go,” mumbled Cacau, getting to her feet. She threw several pesos in front of him, and ran toward the entrance door.

“Miss . . .” Sebastián tried to say, but his eyes were focused on the table. It was too much money, and she had eaten only half of her food. He hurried to pay the bill, and ran outside to find her.

Cacau was sitting on the pavement, a ghost under the soft light of the lampposts. Her dark eyes were lost on the cars that came and went and on the swift pace of passersby, but seemed unable to compute what she saw, making her look like a statue instead of a person.

Sebastián took a pack of cigarettes from his coat and placed one between his lips before sitting by her side.

“Do you smoke?”

Cacau didn’t answer. Her hands were holding the lower part of her red t-shirt, twisting, twisting. The smoke of his cigarette danced with the wind, reminding Sebastián that it was too cold to be outside at this time of the year.

“What was that about?” Sebastián put the money between her arms, and it fell on the washed out jeans of her overalls.

“I don’t like pictures,” said Cacau, her voice devoid of any feeling. She turned to him, looking at his shoes. “Detective?”

“Sebastián.”

“Would you mind taking me home?”

A strange request, but Sebastián didn’t question it. He called a cab and repeated the address murmured by her, and they were left in front of a nice old building in Caballito. Thinking that would be all, he began to walk toward the nearest subway station, but Cacau grabbed his sleeve and pointed at the door with her chin.

“Wanna come in?”

The rest happened too quickly. Cacau guided him to the elevator and kissed him, Sebastián pulled aside the straps of her overalls and lifted her shirt, pressing her body against the mirror of the elevator. She smiled, unbuckling his pants, not at all like the flinching girl he found in the street.

“This is considerably unethical, Ms. Romero,” said Sebastián, lifting her by the tight. It wasn’t the first time he had done something like this, and he was afraid it wouldn’t be the last.

“Maybe I like unethical,” replied Cacau. “Do you?”

 

 

* * *

Sun crept through the windows of the living room, forcing Sebastián to open his eyes. Pink melted into strokes of orange and white, telling him it was early morning and reminding him of where he was. He had slept in Cacau’s bed until the middle of the night, but a particularly strong headache woke him up, and he spent forty minutes walking through the living room until he was able to take a nap on the couch.

Her apartment was bright and colorful, with shelves full of books, knitted pillows, plastic blue and green glasses scattered on a round wooden table, and several illustrations hanging on the walls. The paintings were all of women: naked, delicate, dismembered, their ethereal expressions embellished by viscera, bloodless and soft, peaceful corpses unaware of their own fatalities.

“You almost gave me a heart attack,” said a small voice behind his back. Her pixie black hair was disheveled, and Cacau wore only his shirt and a pair of black panties. “I forgot we fucked last night.”

“I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“I don’t usually allow guys I sleep with stay in my house, that’s why.” Cacau made a sign for him to follow her to a narrow kitchen. She poured a glass of orange juice for him, and drank the rest from the bottle. “Sorry for yesterday, by the way. I don’t know what happened to me.”

“It was definitely an uncommon beginning for an investigation.” Sebastián smiled and rubbed his eyes. The soreness had traveled to his shoulders, causing waves of pain that went from his neck to his lower back. “We can start whenever you want.”

“Want facturas before we start?” Cacau offered a brown paper bag full of buttery pastries: milk buns, cream puffs, little cannons filled with dulce de leche, and a couple of crescent-shaped medialunas.

Sebastián chose one dripping with sugar and took a bite.

“Are you running away from the subject, miss?”

“If you saw me naked, you can call me Cacau. What do you need?”

“First, I’d like to see what you have here. Bills, tickets, journals, anything that helps me reconstruct your life from two years ago.”

“Sure, but I’m a bit of a hoarder.” Cacau walked to her bedroom and Sebastián followed, taking with him the juice and the facturas. “Things can be hard to find.”

Her bedroom was just like the rest of the house, with adorned walls and gleeful sheets, Christmas lights hanging over the headboard, tons of notebooks, and art supplies. There were unpacked boxes inside the wardrobe, clothes of all kinds, stuffed animals hidden in a drawer, plastic dolls, and countless objects that seemed to have no point besides random collection.

“Those are the things I brought from Brazil.” Cacau pointed at three cardboard boxes. “I never opened them because it’s just paper and I didn’t know where to put it.”

Sebastián tied his brown hair in a low ponytail, and both of them sat cross-legged on the floor.

“When did you realize that your memories were missing?”

“A couple of months ago, taking a bath.” Cacau licked her fingers after eating another pastry. “I was washing my hair and lost consciousness for a couple of minutes. When I woke up, I started to think about it until I realized I couldn’t remember what I did during the first months here.”

“You passed out in the shower?” Sebastián raised his arched eyebrows.

“It’s nothing serious. I never got hurt.”

“Go on.”

“This paper says I rented this apartment half a year after the trip.” Cacau stretched her small body to open another drawer, and gave him the papers: contracts, rent, passport, even the bus ticket of her trip. “The problem is that I don’t know what I did or where I stayed before that.”

Sebastián skimmed the papers, and stopped when he found a three by four picture of Cacau with a shaved head before turning his attention to the notebooks, the only photograph he would find in her entire house. The other boxes had nothing particularly personal, consisting mostly of sketchbooks with the same disturbing images he saw in the living room, and some notebooks that had never been unpacked.

“Are you sure you never decoded?” asked Sebastián. Cacau looked into his eyes for an instant before focusing on a dot on the floor. “Passing out is a common side effect, especially in illegal clinics. It’s also common for ex-addicts: you might feel a strong revulsion, or even pass out if in contact with the source of addiction.”

“I think I would know if I had.” Cacau frowned. “Doesn’t everyone?”

“There’s also the money factor. You don’t seem like you would be able to afford it.” Sebastián grabbed another cream puff. “Not memory removal, at least.”

“You know a lot about decoding. Why?”

“I almost did it once.”

“For the cluster headaches?”

“How did you know?”

“Gut instinct. Besides, I had those for years. Spent a great deal of my teens in hospitals.” Cacau smiled, proud of her deduction. “Your eye drops, your voice changes, and you’re constantly covering your eye with your hand,” she added, pretending to remove her own eyeball. “I did that too.”

“You’d be a good investigator, but you’re not entirely right,” answered Sebastián. “Ever heard of the Ezeiza killer?”

Her pitch black eyes sparkled when he said the name.

“The one who raped and killed six women? The bodies were found near the airport. I followed the case,” said Cacau, too excited for someone who had just “followed” the story. “He got caught after kidnapping a cop.”

“Me.”

You?

“Not the killer, of course.” Sebastián grinned. “The cop.”

“You’re a cop?”

“Not anymore, as you can see. No. I was fired after that.”

Cacau crawled to his side, looking at Sebastián intently.

“Because you were kidnapped? That’s unfair.”

“Of course not,” Sebastián replied, and his temples began to throb. “I was fired because I was addicted to morphine and refused to decode, not because of that incident.”

“Oh.”

“I tell you this because you’re not very orthodox yourself.” Sebastián shook a piece of paper with another violent illustration. “Obsessing over serial killers and all.”

“Your headaches started after that?”

“Why, did yours start after something?”

“I don’t know,” said Cacau. “I don’t remember when they started.”

“Well, I do. It’s somewhat pathetic, in retrospective.” Sebastián closed his eyes, still feeling drowsy. Sometimes, even when he was happy and productive, there was an imaginary hand burying itself into his left eye, trying to pull whatever was inside him out, just like Cacau had described. Then, it was gone, as fast as it had begun. “The doctor said the stress likely caused the cluster headaches and the fibromyalgia, and that both could at least have been mitigated by decoding.”

He tried to sound as casual as possible, but his throat dried and the pain got worse. I don’t care, he told himself like a mantra. I don’t care anymore, I can talk about it. But, unlike Cacau, he did remember the source of his stress, and his face, his eyes, his sweat, the ceiling of the shipping container, the six hours inside of it, and every bit of his body that hurt, and kept hurting without any reason after so long.

“Why didn’t you decode, then? Money?”

“No, my department was willing to cover everything. It was a scandal, you see.” His long fingers touched the leather cover of a notebook. “The downside was that they would have the right to access all my memories regarding the case, which I found distasteful.”

“But . . ”

Miss Cacau,” he interrupted her, tired of talking about himself, and lifted three rolls of untouched wrapping papers. “You’re not a bit of a hoarder. You are one.” 

Cacau opened her mouth to reply, but a piece of paper fell on his lap, from the inside of one of the rolls. Sebastián held it in front of his face: the note had been folded many times and had signs of the years, but the writing was still legible, and it clearly belonged to her. There, written many times as if Cacau was trying to remember something important, were seven usernames: mariadagraca01, mariadagraca02, mariadagraca03 . . .

“Who is Maria da Graça?”

 

 

* * *

“I need a favor, Javi,” Sebastián started, holding his last cigarette while looking at the screen of his phone. The man on the other side of the line grunted.

“Again? That’s all you ask nowadays: favors, favors, favors! What am I, your business associate?”

“As you know, I don’t have many friends,” he chuckled, trying to find his lighter. “Come on. Write it down.”

“Tell me.”

“I need any information you might find about a Brazilian immigrant called Cacau Romero da Silva.”

“Who?” His old workmate was the only person he still talked to besides his clients, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to help Sebastián with private investigations. 

“My new client.”

“Is Cacau a male or a female name?”

“It means ‘cocoa’ in Portuguese,” replied Sebastián. “Not sure about the gender.” 

“It’s a girl, right? You only ask me to help when you fuck the client, you promiscuous slut.”

“It’s important, I swear.”

“Yeah, sure.” Javier sighed, sounding disproportionately tired. “Is that all?”

“Another thing,” Sebastián said, smoke covering his own face. “I also need any information you can find on someone called Maria da Graça.”

 

 

* * *

“I need a favor, Javi,” Sebastián started, holding his last cigarette while looking at the screen of his phone. The man on the other side of the line grunted.

“Again? That’s all you ask nowadays: favors, favors, favors! What am I, your business associate?”

“As you know, I don’t have many friends,” he chuckled, trying to find his lighter. “Come on. Write it down.”

“Tell me.”

“I need any information you might find about a Brazilian immigrant called Cacau Romero da Silva.”

“Who?” His old workmate was the only person he still talked to besides his clients, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to help Sebastián with private investigations. 

“My new client.”

“Is Cacau a male or a female name?”

“It means ‘cocoa’ in Portuguese,” replied Sebastián. “Not sure about the gender.” 

“It’s a girl, right? You only ask me to help when you fuck the client, you promiscuous slut.”

“It’s important, I swear.”

“Yeah, sure.” Javier sighed, sounding disproportionately tired. “Is that all?”

“Another thing,” Sebastián said, smoke covering his own face. “I also need any information you can find on someone called Maria da Graça.”

 

 

* * *

Sebastián and Cacau were lying on the floor of her living room, staring at the ceiling. Both of them were shirtless, and the private eye was trying to find any relevant clue about her on his phone.

“Are you sure you don’t know any Maria?”

“I already told you.” Cacau rolled eyes, stretching. Rows of scars covered her arms, hands, thighs, and some were scattered between her legs. “That’s a really common name. It could be anyone. Why are you obsessed with it?”

“Gut instinct. I feel like that paper is important. Maybe she was an enemy?” He suggested, his left palm covering his eyebrow and epicanthic fold. “An ex? A friend who posted a picture you didn’t like on social media? You still didn’t tell me why you hate pictures.”

“I just don’t like them.” Cacau rolled over his chest, taking the phone from his hand. “Can’t we do that later?”

“I thought you wanted to discover what happened to your memories as soon as possible.” Sebastián tried to ignore her breasts touching his stomach, and pulled the phone back.

“I’m thinking about giving up,” she said out of nowhere, her hand toying with the zipper of his pants. “Maybe I’m wrong and my memory just sucks.”

“Are you dismissing me?”

“If you’re fucking me just because I’m paying you, then yes, of course I am.” Cacau laid on her back again. “If you want to keep doing it, no.”

“Cacau,” Sebastián tried to argue. “I’m confident I can . . .”

“You know what? I invented it.” Cacau offered an almost perfect replica of a smile. “Sorry. I guess I was bored.”

She was lying. Sebastián could see it in her round face, in her low voice, in her blank eyes. She was not only lying—it pained her to do so.

“I don’t believe it.”

“I lie, Sebastián,” Cacau insisted, shaking him by the arm as if he was denying the obvious. “That’s what I do. Everybody knows.”

“Who’s everybody?”

Her lower lip began to tremble. Perhaps they were, indeed, in the realm of repressed memories, because he felt like he was touching something, a feeling so raw and intimate she was unable to completely hide within herself. Cacau covered her chest with her hands, despite the fact that he was not looking or even thinking of touching her.

“You don’t understand.” Cacau looked even more fragile, twisting her body to hide herself from him. “I’m going to pay you for the time you lost in this nonsense, but this investigation is over. I’m not someone like you, who went through something serious; my memory is just horrible, I shouldn’t have bothered you with this . . .”

“I want to continue more than ever.”

“There’s nothing, there’s really nothing, nothing, nothing!” Cacau shook her head repeatedly, getting more aggressive as she continued. The fingers that covered her light skin turned into claws, grasping meat and forming red lines in her breasts to rip them apart. “I’m sorry I made you believe in me—I’m stupid, stupid, stupid, I always fuck up like this! I invent problems to complain about them, it’s nothing, Sebastián, it’s nothing!”

It was nothing, he remembered himself saying after leaving the container. It was nothing. You’re overreacting for nothing.

“You gave me enough proof to believe that’s not true.”

Cacau stopped talking, glaring at one of the shelves with wide eyes. Then, she began to laugh.

“Which proof? Gut instinct’s no proof, that’s the problem! You don’t even have a proof I even forgot a thing!”

You’re the proof!” It was his time to shake her, holding her shoulders. “There is a reason you forgot, but the proof is written all over your body, in your reactions, your scars, the ones you did and the ones you clearly didn’t. I knew in the moment you ran from that restaurant that . . . !”

“Stop, stop, stop! Stop allowing me to be a spoiled brat, stop touching me, stop, stop . . . !” Cacau squirmed out of his arms, running toward the kitchen, but Sebastián caught her again.

“Cacau, listen to me.” Sebastián held her by the head, forcing her to look at his face. When he did, he realized there was something under her hair, a volume that should not exist.

Cacau had no chance to answer. The second he touched the protuberance in her scalp, her eyes went white, and she passed out.

 

 

* * *

His phone vibrated, and Sebastián stared at the screen. The only reason he accepted it was because it had Javi’s face attached under the contact name, and he needed more than ever to believe there was a clue to be followed in Cacau’s case.

“You found something?”

“Good night to you too, asshole,” answered Javier.

Sebastián crossed legs, sitting at the side of Cacau’s bed while she slept.

“Yes or no?”

“I’m emailing you the info I got on the Romero girl, but it’s not much. Just basic data, and some tracks on what she did here. Nothing illegal.”

“Did she decode?”

“Eh?” Javier sounded confused. Sebastián took a deep breath before continuing:

“Neurodecoding. Did she?”

“Not that I know.”

“Okay. What about Maria da Graça?”

“This is where things get tricky,” Javier said. “It’s a very common name in Brazil, apparently. There’s a celebrity with the same name, and a district in Rio de Janeiro.”

“I’m aware.”

But I know some guys from the Brazilian border, and I’m trying to contact them. So keep tuned, and check your inbox.”  

“Thank you.” Sebastián ended the call and looked at her again.

After Cacau lost consciousness, he dressed her, took her to bed, and checked the back of her head. There, below the thick strands, were three rough scars with wire ports, typical of clandestine decoding.

“Hey,” Cacau murmured, yawning. She had brown circles underneath her eyes and her lips were dry.

“You passed out.”

“I know.”

“Cacau . . . ”

“Decoding scars,” she interrupted him, predicting his next words. “She has them.”

“What?”

Me. I have them.”

“Yes,” Sebastián agreed, stroking her hair. Cacau placed her hand over his, trying to find the ports as well.

“That’s why I pass out. It’s the security system.”

“Well, you wanted a concrete proof—now you have it.”

 

 

* * *

It was the sixth clinic he entered and left without any progress. With it went his hopes of not driving or taking the subway, as one of the clinics was located inside his building, and the others were near his house. His entire body hurt now, from the neck and back to the wrists and knees. Sebastián chewed on a pill, allowing its bitter taste to contaminate his gum.

“Have you seen this woman?” Again and again he asked, showing a picture of Cacau with a shaved head, ready to complete the procedure. Only in the eighth clinic did he have a positive response, this time from the secretary.

“I saw that one, I did,” said the woman with a lazy voice. “In college.”

Sebastián frowned. “Can you please tell me more?”

“Strange girl. A bit of an accent.” She took the picture from his hand, and traced Cacau’s face with a fingertip. “Maria something, I think.”

“Maria?” Sebastián echoed, trying to keep a straight face. The list of names returned to his head. “Yes, Maria. Did you study together?”

“Oh no, I was just the librarian,” the secretary continued. “She studied that neuro stuff. Always after the decoding books. Day after day. Asked me an awful lot of questions when she found out I worked here part time. Then she quit and I never saw her again.”

“Can you help me with something?”

It took her a small fee to accept, but with it he was able to access the library database with the woman’s card, and found not only the fake personal data of Cacau (Maria da Graça da Silva, 24 years old, Neural Engineering), but all the books she rented (The Brain as Software, The Brain as Hardware, Decoding: A Step Towards Transhumanism . . . ).

Sebastián shoved the books inside his bag, and took them to her apartment. Here’s the lunatic who studied three months of neuroengineering, he wanted to say. Instead, he began to talk as soon as he crossed the door: 

“I found Maria da Graça.” Sebastián showed one of the covers. “It’s you.”

What?”

“This is the name you used during the months you don’t remember, probably to decode yourself,” Sebastián continued, talking with the characteristic local accent that made everyone sound like they were singing. “I’m still not sure what the usernames mean, but I think now we can safely assume you erased your own memory. The question is: why?”

“Sebastián.” Cacau was still standing in front of the door, holding one of the books against her chest. “I’m not a scientist.”

“My guess is that you were studying this for a while. Remember what you told me when we met? You don’t want someone messing with your head. So you did it yourself.”

“Is that even safe?”

“You tell me.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“This is it, Cacau!” His usual calm voice turned frantic. “This is the answer you were searching for! You erased your own memories, but to retrieve them . . . ”

Cacau leaned against the wall, like her body could no longer hold her weight.

“I have to decode again.”

Sebastián’s expression softened when he saw her face, so sad, so lost, and he smiled.

“I can be there with you, if you want me to.”

 

 

* * *

Cacau closed her eyes, sitting on a dental chair to wait for the procedure. The room was tiny and clean, at least compared to the filthy corridor they had to go through to reach the clinic, with cables serpentining through the floor like black snakes. Sebastián sat by her side on a stool, watching as the doctor connected two thick wires to the back of her head. Once, he had almost been in her place, but now he didn’t know what to expect.

“I’m ready.” Cacau took a deep breath, and he touched her shoulder, flattening the striped shirt she was wearing.

“It’ll be quick, since she has the ports already,” said the doctor, eyes focused on the screen. “Since her head’s prepared, there’s no need for surgery. Which is good for you, it makes it cheaper.”

“Is that all?” Sebastián asked, concerned. The screen didn’t show any image, unlike what he imagined, and just looked like an antique computer with black screen and green numbers, files and letters. “Her mind?”

The doctor chuckled.

“In a way, yeah. Are you sure about the date of the deleted files?”

“Memories,” corrected Sebastián. “But yes.”

“There’s nothing here.” The doctor typed quickly on a keyboard that covered a large portion of the desk. “She really went full way. Let me try something else.”

Sebastián watched in silence, and a long list of names popped in the screen: 

mariadagraca01.dec 

mariadagraca02.dec

mariadagraca03.dec

mariadagraca04.dec

mariadagraca05.dec

mariadagraca06.dec

mariadagraca07.dec

“There!” He pointed at the names, his heart racing. “Those are the files we’re searching for.”

“I’ll restore them, then.”

Cacau squeezed Sebastián’s hand, small fingers wrapped around his. The first file began to load on the screen, and her body convulsed, chest and limbs quivering like she was receiving an electric shock.

“NO!” yelled Cacau. Her cheeks lost color, and cold sweat formed in her forehead. “No, no, stop this, please, no, no, no!”

She tried to reach the wires behind her head, but both men jumped to stop her.

“Don’t let her!” the doctor warned, trying to stop her with one hand. “If she plugs off now, she might have permanent brain damage, and I don’t want to get arrested.”

Sebastián crouched to hug Cacau with his thin arms. “Cacau,” he whispered, face against her face. “You need to calm down.”

“If he doesn’t stop right now, I will pull the wires.”

“You chose to do this, remember?”

“I know what the name means. Maria—” She touched her own head, fingers curled around short strands of black hair. “I know I said I wanted this . . . And I do, I still do, but not like this, not here, not all at the same time . . . ”

Sebastián looked at the doctor. “I don’t think she can handle it.”

“The file might be corrupted if I stop now. I can’t take responsibility.”

But Cacau was lost in thought, far from himself and the clinic, far from Buenos Aires, in a private place no one could reach her. Sebastián nodded, and the other man canceled the restoration process, unplugging the wires from her head after turning off the computer. They stayed silent on the subway train, and only talked again in the elevator of her building:

“I don’t want to do this ever again.” Her hand touched the lower part of his shirt, trembling. “It’s not the right way.”

“Want to talk about it?” 

“No.” Cacau pulled him closer, rubbing her face against his chest and using one of her free hands to open the button of his pants. “I don’t want to talk anymore.” 

 

 

* * *

Someone knocked on the door. Sebastián would rather stay in bed, but he forced his sore limbs to move and checked the spyhole. The person on the other side of the door was not the one he wished to see, but Javier, whistling distractedly and looking at the wall. He unlocked the door, wearing the same clothes as the day before and smelling like cigarettes and beer.

“What do you want?”

“I should quit being your friend,” complained Javier, slapping his face with two stapled files. “You’re talking like I’m not doing you a favor.”

“Sorry. I’m not feeling great.”

He really wasn’t. Cacau stopped contacting after the last time they had sex, and didn’t answer any of his subsequent messages. Usually, he wouldn’t have cared—he spent years telling himself that he would choose casual sex over commitment any day, but ending what they had, whatever it was, left a bitter taste in his mouth.

“This might make you happier,” said Javier, but he stopped to make a strange expression. “Or not. It’s not the most exciting read.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Maria da Graça, of course!” Javier sat on a chair, and offered a cigarette. “I found her.”

Found her?” Javier blinked several times, as if he wasn’t speaking proper Spanish. “What do you mean?”

“Listen. I’m not working for her anymore. She dumped me.”

“Maria?”

“No, Cacau,” grunted Sebastián, trying to find another blister pack in the pockets of his coat. “They’re the same person.”

“Oh, so you already know,” commented Javier. “You’re probably feeling like shit. I mean, I told you so! It’s not a good idea to get involved with clients.”

“I am, in fact, feeling like shit, thank you for noticing.”

“Then don’t read it.” Javier hid the files, covering the front page with his own jacket. “It’s depressing. And graphic. Thank god I don’t work with this kind of case. I’d kill myself.”

Sebastián squinted eyes, and stole the files from his hands. Javi tried to get them back, but Sebastián was taller and willing to behave like a child.

“Seriously, dude. Not the right time.”

“Thank you for your help!” Sebastián used his best telemarketing voice, and guided him to the entrance. “Off you go.”

After locking the door, he sat on the sofa with the papers in hand. He needed to do something: to see, read, to give her the answers she sought and might already have. Part of him—many parts, all of him—was desperate to understand Cacau, and a hint of fear and excitement brewed in his chest when he opened the file.

Unfortunately, no determination in the world prepared him for the nausea he felt after reading the first line. The report described a large police operation eleven years ago, focused on dismantling a child pornography ring in the south of Brazil. They had tracked and arrested seven adults involved in the production and distribution of thousands of videos and pictures of children aged 1 to 11 for two decades.

Sebastián felt his body sinking into the sofa, centimeter by centimeter, strand of hair by strand of hair. “Some of the children interviewed have reported . . .” said one part. “ . . . 3 to 9 in the COPINE scale,” continued the other. This is not the proof I wanted to give her, he thought, and the hole in his chest grew larger. One of the oldest children, whose real name was C. R. S., was referred to as “Maria da Graça” in the distributed material, and had been left to the care of her maternal grandmother after her father was arrested . . .

Sebastián swallowed two pills, and took a large breath. I need to talk to her.

“Cacau,” he typed. “I have some documents that might concern you.”

 

 

* * *

Sebastián stared at the ceiling, lying on the small couch of his office. The pain was not as bad as before, but he had to take breaks during the day to keep working. His new client, Mrs. Mendoza, wanted to know if her husband was cheating on her, just like many other married individuals who knocked on his door. Although he was used to handling this kind of job, he had to change positions, now that his treatment consisted in taking appropriate medication, exercising, and resting instead of abusing opioids, as he would have preferred to.

“We could eat something first,” said Cacau, sitting on his chair and drawing on a notebook. Her hair was still short, but it was longer than before, secured by clips of many colors. “Something sweet.”

“You’re addicted to sugar, Ms. Romero,” answered Sebastián with a subtle smile. “But yes. We could.”

Cacau smiled, focused on the doodle of a faceless maimed woman. At times, he found himself surprised by their current arrangement. One year had passed since the night he gave her the police reports without any expectation of hearing back from her, and a few weeks of uncertainty followed. She read the files alone, and only contacted him again half a month later, asking him to meet her in her apartment.

It’s strange, Cacau told him then, and Sebastián felt back to the moment where he first stepped home after the hours he spent inside the container. It doesn’t feel like it happened to me.

“I’m dying to know if the guy’s cheating on her or not.” Cacau closed the notebook and helped him back to his feet, massaging his arms with arnica cream. “I mean, what an asshole.”

“I think he is,” answered Sebastián. “Most of them are.”

I want to remember, she had said before, and he insisted she would, someday. I want to feel like my memories don’t belong to somebody else.

“Gut instinct?”

“Gut instinct.”

Sebastián smiled and kissed the top of her head. 

“Let’s go, then. I’m starving.”


Originally published in Portuguese by Revista Trasgo.

H. Pueyo is a Brazilian writer of comics and speculative fiction. Her work has been published in English and Portuguese by magazines such as Clarkesworld, Fireside and Strange Horizons, among others. Find her online at hachepueyo.com, and @hachepueyo on Twitter.

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Nat. Brut is a proud winner of a 2020 Whiting Literary Magazine Prize