“The steps”
(Narrative allegory of the pictorial work Los pasos, Andrés Del Collado, 2010).
Arturo Ceballos Alarcón
Translated by María Ritter
foto_arturo_ceballos.jpg

Arturo Ceballos Alarcón was born in Mexico City on December 15, 1976. He has a law degree. He lives in the city of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, since 2015.

In 2010, he won the National Short Story Award José Agustín, with the short story La miseria de los locos. In 2011, he published a book of short stories under the same title: La miseria de los locos, edited by CONECULTA (State Council for Culture and the Arts of Chiapas). He has collaborated as a columnist for the Chiapas weekly "Mirada Sur", and has written children's scripts for the television program "Viva la Pelota". At the beginning of 2012, together with the civil association "Vientos Culturales", he obtained the FONCA (Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes) grant, by participating as a scriptwriter in the collective project "Cuentos para chicos y chiapanecas, Serie de Televisión". He has published the novels Infrarouge número siete (2014), and Oldemburgo (2015), both published by Amazon, the short novel Espantapájaros (Public Pervert 2015) and La noche en cautiverio (Ed. Porrúa 2020). During 2015 he served as a tutor in the Stimulus Program for Artistic Creation and Development (PECDA) in the category of Young Creators, discipline: Literature. Some of his stories have been included in national and international anthologies.

Whoever saw her would say that she is relaxed, that the sea breeze has shaped her shores, and that her legs, firm and distant to where the sun falls, are the envy of all the docks; that with her eyes closed, she listens to the warm cooing that lulls the seawall to sleep, and that she enjoys the weight of her hair, falling freely to one side of the wall on which her body is stretched. Whoever saw her would say that she is a dream in process of catching fire, a mountain range in a larval state, that with feet like hers it is worth any detour. Whoever saw her... 

However, behind her eyelids, behind that fragile curtain that separates the world from her intimacy, she slowly descends towards her cloister, towards the maternal landscape, timeless, where she keeps the amulets and riddles that root her to her childhood, always irretrievable, to the first moment of her essence, always absolute. She is young and although she is not yet thirty, she is tired of repeating herself. It is not a weariness that can be satiated, nor one that dissipates as soon as the night passes; it is a deeper weariness, dawn-proof, a bottomless abyss that splits her in two and has stripped her of any act of imagination. She is exhausted, she feels that her life has been nothing but a chronicle of meaningless repetitions. For a paint- like her, repetition is a poison that kills with the swaying of her breath and the cadence of her traces. Her footprints.

One night before, as she was lying on the bed, with the pillow between her legs, her feet bare, and her gaze stretched out on the infinite reflection of the window, she told me that she wanted to dispose of her footprints.

─Of your shoes, you mean.

─No. Of my footprints. I don't want to weigh on this earth anymore. I don't want to hurt it any longer with this body that moves like a pendulum, subjected to time and customs; with this head so indoctrinated that keeps thinking that creativity is only a way to solve the anomalies of the world. There must be something else. 

Outside it was a warm night, of insects in spring, and a sticky darkness that clung to the folds of the sheets. I know she would have enjoyed being naked, but that image was not for me, only the straying of her gaze and the faint tone of her voice that wandered like a drifting ship. On the floor of the room, her shoes were scattered, each tied to the end of a rope. She had taken them out of the trunk to throw them wherever, one so far from the other, without matching the shape, nor the color, nor the distances traveled with them. She noticed the way I looked at the mess on the floor: a red heeled shoe, a black boot, a tennis shoe, a rubber slipper, a bootie, a sandal, an espadrille. 

─Are my steps bothering you?

It wasn't that. I knew she used to court extinction by blurring any boundary that distanced her from the random, from the chaotic, to scatter fragments and surrender to them as to an accumulation of beauty. I wanted to pick up a slipper, but I could barely lift it. It seemed that inside it had the stones of all the paths, the dust of all the roads she had walked with it. I never imagined that the distances traveled, her distances, weighed so much. She looked so light; more than walking she seemed to glide her steps without the curse of haste, spreading a perfume of slowness that excited all the flowers. 

─Have you seen how much they weigh? Andrés says that footsteps have the vocation of an anvil. I guess it's true. Every time I go less and less far, every time my dreams are narrower; and my imagination, more and more earthly. Do you think I can continue living without resentment?

I had no words to contradict her; to try would have been a vulgar act. It wasn't a cry for help that came out of her mouth; it was a revelation, an invitation to dive into the paths of her legs, into the cartography of her steps culminating in an oasis, into the soles of her feet. 

─And the ropes, what are they for?

─The ropes... Such things you ask. How long has it been since you've imagined?

─ Imagined what?

─Things, fantasies, characters, images, whatever. How long has it been since you've overflowed?

─...

─I see, -she had a piece of string on the bed, she took it from one end and looked at it as if it hadn't been long enough. It’s for attaching them to a rock or a ring, something to hold them. When you empty shoes of footprints, they fill up with ideas and fantasies, so many that they even fly. Don't ask me to explain how it happens; it just happens.

─They fly?

─The problem is not that the shoes fly and flock to the clouds. The important thing is that they remain to be seen suspended, with every intention of soaring, and reminding us that our steps are thirsty to take us anywhere, that they can make us travel like trees and satiate our imagination with all the drawings that can fit in the world.

She settled on the bed with perfect abandonment, striving to keep the soles of her feet in my sight. 

─I'm tired of my footprints, always the same, the same weight of the same me, weariness disguised as distance; and the looks of men following me from one side to the other. Heavier still. I am only a tradition of steps, and nothing more.

She wasn't talking to me; rather it was a monologue, and I was barely little more than a piece of furniture. 

─If you want to, stay a while longer, but I don't want to see you here when it starts to lighten. If I see you at dawn, I will start hating you. I don't want anyone to follow me. It's not worth it.

That was the last thing she said. She lay there, absorbed, like a mermaid trying to remember how many sunrises has she seen in her life. Then she waved me goodbye and closed her eyes. She didn't even wet her lips.

Los pasos

"Los Pasos" (“The Steps”), Andrés Del Collado,

Oil on canvas, 80 x 110 cm, 2010. Photo by Nawwa Gallery.

This morning, she was found lying on the wall of the boardwalk. She was wearing red lycra shorts and a blue shirt. Her left arm resting under her chest, her face pointing towards the street, and her feet slightly dirty. This is how the newspapers described her. They mentioned that she seemed to be inside a canvas as if she were a painting. It was true, that's how I saw her too. In the foreground, she, her body; behind, her shoes suspended in the air, tied to a rope that held them to the bottom of the sea, and beyond, in a diffuse plane, a horizon of foam, rocks, sea and clouds, far away as far as creativity could reach. They thought that would be enough to know who she was. But it is not true, they did not know her as I did. She must have composed her face, the one from the night before had been a worried face, more than worried, solemn. Instead, this morning, she had a casual expression, with a calm will to sustain the distance that separates her from those who observe her. It was enough for me to approach her feet, the origin of her footprints, the source of her steps, for my eyes to learn how to see. There was no gravity in them, they were so light, so weightless, that I could imagine everything. Finally, I understood. She had emptied her shoes and her feet, but not only of footprints, also of that which has been regulated, of the normative, the univocal, of objective significance, of that which weighs by the mere act of being understood and explained. She did not speak of weariness, but of reality and its unyielding hardness, how easy it is to remain still and wait for boredom to arrive, systematically, by decree; of the stultifying effect of existence without events. She knew what reality hides, what lies behind the violent, indifferent or taciturn screen we settle into as soon as we open our eyes. She once told me, while holding in front of her the frame of a mirror with roots sprouting from underneath, that steps are not a process that should be subjected to the ground.

─Steps are dust in the air, which we only see when they materialize in footprints. 

She was not only an inert woman, lying on a wall; she was a woman who had discovered that the one who aspires to creativity must be willing to let go of control, the weight of our reasoning that makes us march like soldiers on the monotony of our footsteps. Another day she told me, the same day she took to hanging sachets of water inside a wooden frame, that our footsteps are the only thing that distinguish us from a hyperrealist painting, from a statue. 

─Lay still and you will awaken on a canvas of eighty-one by one hundred and ten; and you will notice that the tingling that the brushes leave on the skin is perpetual, unbearable. I have already told this to Andrés, but he doesn't believe me.

Those who see her as a dream in the process of catching fire are not mistaken. She is already a dream ready to burn if by that she manages to walk between rows, between lines, between note and note, inside the motivation that paints a color one way and not another, inside the dry space between the rain. Behind her eyelids, in the intimacy of her cloister, she transforms the light, the matter and the stories that circulate in her, to dislocate reality and emerge from it with mandalas in her eyes and a baobab on each leg. She is a woman who has sacrificed herself, surrendering to stillness to save the spirit of her steps: her imagination, wherever they want to take her. She is a woman who has passed to the other side of the canvas, to the plane where madness and utopia coexist, where bullets may as well be paper flowers; and the pesosigns, pinwheels that go round and round to scare away the fog that hides our dreams. From her side of the canvas, she feels the gaze of a group of people without genuine joy, of a bitter residue of fantasy beings, of a group of ghosts cowering in a decadent and lukewarm world; immersed in a destructive, panoptic and virtual gravity, where leisure has lost its subversive character, its artistic intensity, to be confused with a screen saver.

On this side of the canvas, people, with reddened eyes, observe her; they have the charisma of a funeral. They would like to approach and touch it, but not with desire, but rather to caress it with nostalgia, and why not, with an excess of fear. Horrified to see how a painting incites them to remember and to commit the best follies of their lives.

Inspiration: Inspiration is defined as "the stimulus that animates the creative work in art or science".[1]A Stimulus that could come from anywhere, in any place and under diverse circumstances, entangled in such a way that does not allow us to know what inspires whom or vice versa. Thus, we could find nature or emotions as inspirational sources of the different facets of art or art inspiring art, because undoubtedly sensitiveness is interconnected, recognized and moves among accomplices promoting creation. To offer an example, how many different types of art have been inspired and continue to be inspired by Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy? 

In my case, if you were to ask me, how does a painting, a photograph, a sculpture, etc. inspire me to write? The rapid answer would be: by discovering, through detailed observation of the work, the story that lies behind it, and thus perceive it as the fundamental particle of a theme, of a larger narrative, and this is because I find no better way to understand us as humanity than through stories. But if you ask me again how a painting, a photograph or a sculpture makes me imagine a world that I will later capture in letters, I would think more carefully and I would say that it is through the empathy between the artwork and me -me as a particular spectator, with all the subjectivity that can fit in it-, empathy to understand the drama that it transmits. In my case, appreciating an image -to speak generically- gives rise to a link that goes beyond the instant that image exposes at first sight; a link that induces me to think (imagine) in the moments before and after the scene I am observing; what were the knots that gave rise to the image that the artist decided to capture in his work, and where they are headed. A kind of uchronia with many licenses, since I do not know the true motivations of the artist. Definitely, I consider that an image that awakens in me the motivation to bind it with words, is an image that has managed to satisfy the concerns and perversions of my subconscious, and, why not, generate other concerns and other different perversions, which would be the same as saying that the work has seduced me. The paintings, photographs, or sculptures that motivate me to write, are those that, paraphrasing Edgar Quinet (1803-1875), in his text on Petrarca, contain in themselves the substance of a poem, those that, in an instant, and from my own receptive instant as a spectator, enclose immortality. It is a paradoxical situation that an artwork that is inherently spatial, induces reasonings of temporality. This unfolding of dimensions and possibilities, which also occurs almost instinctively, is astonishing to me. And in the end, it is likely that, despite the literary effort, the image remains unfathomable, and then the words, as in most cases in which astonishment arises, remain insufficient.

[1] REAL ACADEMIA ESPAÑOLA: Diccionario de la lengua española, 23ª ed., [version 23.4 on-line]. <https://dle.rae.es> [february 26, 2021].