Issue #49

Winter 2014

Mental Misadjustment

by Amélie Olaiz
(translated by Toshiya Kamei)

I could have woken up fifteen years older, as a man instead of a woman, or with someone else's face, like Juliette Binoche's, at least, but no, what was happening to me looked like nothing I had seen in the movies. My situation was troubling: the walls of my home had become like milk jelly. I found out about it, waiting for hot water for a shower, when I leaned against the wall to check my cell phone agenda. Of course I stepped back and fell down on the jelly-like substance. Nothing broke or collapsed. The wall just adjusted to my body, receiving it while failing to support it. At first, as I always do, I thought I was dreaming; I checked the clock and it was seven forty-five in the morning. I had no time for fantastic nightmares, so I turned on the faucet and got into the stream of water. Bracing myself for the temperature change, I tried to touch the tiled wall in front of me. Nothing. My hand and my whole arm went through the wall. I had a feeling that the neighbor in the apartment next to mine had noticed it. I rubbed my eyes, but nothing changed. Then I began to worry seriously. I dried myself haphazardly without finishing my shower and ran around the house in a towel, touching all the walls. Living on the fifth floor of a twenty-storied building meant living under a concrete pile that jelly could hardly support. It was much worse than I thought. None of the walls was solid, all of them soft enough for me to manipulate by just putting a finger in them. Then I looked up at the ceiling. I climbed up on a dining-room chair and then on the table to reach it. Soft, jelly-like, malleable when touched. When I jumped off the chair, something completely unexpected happened: I sank to apartment 402. I even caused my neighbor's chandelier to sway, but luckily I didn't break it. The worst thing is, as young girls we were taught to throw our hands out to break our fall. God knows where my towel ended up. I got dressed as fast as I could, grabbed my cell phone and some money, and ran out of my apartment.

In the corridor I found the fat woman in apartment 503, about to go inside, coming back from the gym. I yelled at her, telling her not to go in because the building was falling down. She looked at me as if I were an asylum escapee and opened her door. She hadn't been very sociable nor did she have a good personality, so I didn't worry about her much: it was her choice. Of course, I didn't take the elevator; it was too much risk. On the stairs I found the neighbor on the second floor leaving his home. I grabbed him by the arm and dragged him along without any explanation. The caretaker was sweeping the hall. I screamed, telling her to leave the building because it was falling down. The three of us stood in the middle of the street looking at the building that remained intact, not shaking, nothing falling down, everything normal.

"What's the matter?" said my neighbor with whom I was on good terms. "Have you lost your mind?"

"I swear the walls are melting. Look," I said, touching the wall next to the entrance gate.

My hand sank into the wall, making a hollow. I shot a triumphant glance at them with my eyebrows raised. The caretaker clicked her tongue to show her disapproval and went back to cleaning.

"Look, Ileana. You need to have a cup of coffee and take it easy. Even though dreams seem real, they are not..." said my neighbor, hugging me as he led me toward the building.

His words were so convincing that I went back to my apartment, completely sure that I had gone down to the hallway in a sleepwalking state. I didn't even touch a wall again until I arrived at work and saw a coworker leaning against a wall dividing the file cabinets. I screamed again until all eyes were on me. My boss and coworkers looked at me as if I were a madwoman. As a measure of survival, I shut myself in my cubicle to remember what the hell I ate the previous night. I summed up everything I could, trying to be as thorough as possible. There was nothing unusual. I left work early, went to the gym, took a bath, and lay down to watch TV in my blue pajamas. I had spoken to my father before eating cereal with milk and fruit for dinner. The cereal... That was it! I had opened a new box and it tasted funny, like jelly, as gelatinous as the walls... This time I ran out of the study, not even worrying about avoiding anything. With so much determination and force, I passed through walls and windows.

Before visiting my psychiatrist, I saw a boy kicking a ball against the wall in the street. I stopped in my tracks.

"Did you see how the wall sank?" I asked, taking him by the shoulders.

"So what?"

"Do you see how it sinks? Do you realize that?"

"Of course. That's normal."

I hugged him and lifted him up in the air.

"Come with me."

I picked up the ball and took the boy by the hand. I was sure that the caretaker and my boss had already reported me to authorities. The boy was my safe conduct to avoid being sent back to the mental hospital.

As I barged into the clinic, my doctor and his patient jumped up like springs.

"Kick the ball against the wall," I told the boy. "See how it makes a dent?" I cried, pointing to the wall.

The boy shrugged while looking at the grown-ups. The patient glanced at the psychiatrist, worried. Determined to prove my belief, I threw myself at the wall to run through it; then two men handcuffed me and brought me here.

I have tried to go through these white walls many times. The psychiatrist says I will never succeed because they're not real walls, not jelly-like ones. They're concrete walls, solid and impregnable, which hold the mind captive, as they hold mine.

Author and Translator Bios

coffee grinder

Amélie Olaiz was born in León and lives in Mexico City. She is the author of Piedras de Luna (2005), Aquí está tu cielo (2007), and La vida oculta en la caja de nogal (2013). Her work has been anthologized in Prohibido fumar (2008), Antología mínima del orgasmo (2009), and Three Messages and a Warning (2012). English translations of her fiction have appeared in Meat for Tea, Phantom Drift, and Slab, among others.

Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His translations include Liliana Blum's The Curse of Eve and Other Stories (2008), Naoko Awa's The Fox's Window and Other Stories (2010), Espido Freire's Irlanda (2011), and Selfa Chew's Silent Herons (2012). His translation of Omegar Martínez's "I Don't Need a Title" appeared in Issue 45 of The Cafe Irreal.