“Stain” by Camila Fabbri, translated by Elisa Taber.

To get to the north office, I take the bus with the red banner. The one with the yellow sign doesn’t reach my destination, it reaches “hasta ahí nomás” (close by) as Charly García prays: “Si te ponés la camiseta, deberías saber por qué. Todos van hasta ahí nomás, ahí nomás.” (If you wear the t-shirt, you should know why. Everyone is going close by, close by.) On those 168 commutes, over an hour long, I take the time to read or listen to music. Those are the two activities I usually prefer. I take it in the morning; after Cabildo and Juramento, the vehicle is almost empty for the remainder. I feel like I’m somewhere in my apartment, I can glue my nose to the book or even mark beats between bars with my fingers. People, including me, always travel absently. They wear their face masks like scarfs and squint to align what they think happened that morning or in yesterday’s last conversation with someone deeply hated or loved. Once in the office, I turn on the monitor. Greet P., my co-worker who usually drinks mate, tea, or another infusion. She has dense, long hair and sometimes gets keratin shocks. P. greets me with a fist bump, I ask her how she is, and she answers, very well. No one is ready for a different answer. Sometimes we talk about her grandson, about the things he says as he grows, and I smile at her because I find everything a growing person does stimulating and endearing. I turn on the monitor and there it is: an immense, black stain growing bluntly in the center of the screen. I ask P. for an update on my computer repair request, and she answers, none, still sucking on that infinite mate. Then I sit down to work, I start opening emails and get used to the stain being there. My small mishaps veil the discomfort, keep it from invading the visual landscape. Coworkers from other offices arrive and ask how I trick myself into getting so used to the black stain in my monitor. I don’t have an answer. I obviously generated invisible mechanisms, so it won’t cause me too much harm. Something about my answer doesn’t convince them. It’ll obviously cause problems in the long run.

J. leaves me a voice message. She chokes up. She’s a beloved friend. The thing with J. is that she’s not fully individualized; she believes things happen to her, through no fault of her own, because the world is nuts. But J. is wrong and, in any case, needs help growing. Anguish breaks her words apart and listening to her becomes a game played with wit. That boy she made out with in public has become unrecognizable. Every time something that crossed her lips made him uncomfortable, he’d get angry, and that annoyance would grow like a bulldozer or one of those huge, heavy trees missing from big cities. The boy cared about her but could detest her too, the feelings were so close it was hard to distinguish them. I call J. and she answers between sobs. She cries on the phone and repeats that she doesn’t know what to do, like when there’s no going back but kids keep asking for magic, efficient solutions from the adult world: that fake kingdom of rescue. I’m sorry they put J. in a labyrinth when she was only a few years old and she still hasn’t found the exit sign. I manage to string together some nuggets of advice while I stare at the black stain on the municipal monitor. J. listens attentively, I know because she doesn’t object. I tell her about the flaw in my screen, about the equally visible and hopeless stain. For a moment, J. stops crying because she manages to pay attention to something else. I suggest that she’s suffering less. That suffering, for example, can be a choice. That something happens often in the adult world: we learn to live with a black stain in the center of our field of vision. It isn’t better or worse, but it happens, like getting to the next level in a videogame. We’re there, putting in the hours, with a broken screen that still works. We no longer ask for help. We no longer ask why.