ambiguous loss

bfa sculpture thesis exhibition
isabel percy west gallery / cca oakland
april 7-12, 2014

"Ambiguous Loss / Full Mourning Dress, #1"
500 bricks harvested from U.S. demolition sites

Recorded phone call between mother and
daughter (1:24), copper, leather, wood, burlap

Postcard (front and back)

"Confusion of the Tongues / Full Mourning Dress, #2"
Chronological list of Pakistanis killed by U.S. drone strikes
(2004-2014) printed on cotton, wood, burlap

"These Streets Weren't Paved For Us"

* image quality is wonky via internet tubes


the brutalization of the body in life and death / full mourning dress in 2014

who is collateral damage? who is acceptable loss? who is exempt from death? who decides?

how does one grapple with the value of life if all of our cues for what a ‘life’ means become obsolete? if eating, breathing, walking, talking, and sex are remedied by technologies that declare such living activities as inconveniences, where does that leave the rest of us? how do we reconcile with our bodies in a world that designates the body as a barrier? how does this mindset manifest on the individual, relational, and architectural scales? science fiction often positions itself in a place of shrewd suspicion, drawing attention not only to the psychological consequences of innovation, but to bodily alienation as a whole.

one of the early appearances of this question in science fiction can be found in mary shelley’s frankenstein, the now-classic tale of victor frankenstein and his creation of a monster composited entirely from reanimated dead tissue. victor is written not as an evil scientist but as a human being with obsessive dedication to his work. his past traumas in dealing with the deaths of his loved ones seem to propel a genuine – albeit naive and cowardly – drive to rebuild life that has been lost. congruently, frankenstein’s monster is not a ‘monster’ in the blockbuster sense but a maturing and sensitive being with a guilty conscience and full spectrum of human emotion. (of course, for everyone the monster encounters, his grotesque appearance trumps any innate gentleness that he might possess, much to his dismay.)

shelley’s portrayal of victor is a telling one: a subtext in the novel hints that the desire to play god is not exclusively psychopathic behavior. victor’s actions could be deemed tragically misguided at best; however, he is driven by loss, not by malice, and this distinction is important. depicting the monster’s creator with such complexity serves to examine his fundamental inability to grapple with death. the monster is, in some sense, an externalization of victor’s self-destructive grieving process. the fact that he is unable to face what he has created practically eats him alive. this is not to mention that the monster himself is a character teeming with complexities: ashamed and disgusted by his own existence, he desperately craves companionship and love but is doomed by his frightful appearance and status as a fabricated being. victor’s initial quest to reanimate dead tissue – a quest for immortality, and what would now be tagged ‘artificial intelligence’ – are barricades to a kind of inveterate mourning process. victor mourns and re-mourns the death of his loved ones with every monster debacle, and the monster mourns his own non-existence. coming to grips with grief is something that neither frankenstein nor his monster are ever able to do. both die in agony.

it should be noted that frankenstein was written in 1816, during the global aftermath of the eruption of mount tambora in indonesia. a worldwide volcanic winter followed the colossal eruption, and due to the limited communications of the era, millions were left for months with no information as to the reason for the sudden gloom. the “year without a summer” was a time of widespread crop failure, famine, food riots, and biting cold temperatures. shelley, just 18 years old, was residing in landlocked switzerland at the time, where famine and violence were so severe that the swiss government declared a state of national emergency. these were the conditions under which frankenstein was conceived: a time when light was scarce, temperatures were freezing, plant life was wilting, and death was widespread.

art historians have conjectured that a number of j.m.w. turner's
landscapes were influenced by the smoggy aftermath of the eruption
the year without a summer is a plain historical instance of a ubiquitous societal shift that led artists, writers, scientists, and countless other cultural contributors to face powerful questions about the value of life. frankenstein is often cited as one of the first science fiction novels, and it is no coincidence that such penetrative thinking about what it means to possess a body and spirit emerged during a time when both were being so fiercely tested on a day-to-day basis. however, the brutalization of everyday life is not a phenomenon specific to any one time. rather, it has manifested in different forms over the span of human history.

much has been written on the sensory confusion of the 21st century digital age; the exponential growth of the mechanized in the everyday has provided bountiful fodder for modern science fiction authors and cultural critics to feed from. frustratingly, popular dialogues that could potentially tackle real questions around bodily estrangement often fall back on a binary: either the technology helps or it harms. these lateral debates skirt over the much larger philosophical issue of the orientation (or disorientation) of the body within a world market that increasingly denies the spiritual need for human contact, whether it be with oneself, one another, or the built environment as a whole.

the trickle-down effects of this shift cannot be overstated: the billions that still struggle with poverty and violence today are publicly shamed and privately exploited by those with an interest in keeping the cogs turning. this is to say that the effects of the ‘digital age’ are not felt exclusively by those with access to the latest technologies, but by the massive web of bodies involved in the conception, production, consumption, and perpetuation of technological worship. mechanized distancing of humans from their bodies implicitly devalues the body as a spiritual unit. this creates space for the justification of the mass exploitation of bodies that must occur for that technology to be in the hands of the elite in the first place.

an extreme instance of this phenomenon can be seen in the field of cryonics: the low-temperature suspension of the body in liquid nitrogen with the hopes that sometime in the future, medicine will advance to the point that reanimation of dead flesh will become possible. it sounds ridiculous, and according to the vast majority of scientific community, it is. however, cryonics has a steady band of support. arizona-based company alcor life extension foundation is the leading developer and advocate of cryonics technology: as of february 28, 2014 there are 121 ‘patients’ (dubbed ‘cryonicists’) currently in cryptopreservation and 973 members in total. of the 121 patients at alcor, 79 are undergoing neuropreservation, in which only the head is preserved. it is believed among neuropatients that by the time resuscitation is possible, medicine will have advanced enough that rebuilding the rest of the body will be not only viable, but preferable.

“until cryonics do us part,” a 2010 article in the new york times, investigated the world of cryonics and its ramifications on the loved ones of cryonicists. spousal disagreement is so common in the cryonics community that it has a name (‘hostile-wife phenomenon’) as well as an online support group (cryonet). robert ettinger, cited as the father of cryonics and author of its formative text the prospect of immortality, ennobled cryonics as “the struggle for survival. drive a used car if the cost of a new one interferes. divorce your wife if she will not cooperate.” in the times article, interviews with cryonicists and their spouses reveal a fundamental disparity in their views on death.

the air of hurt confusion stems, in part, from the intuition among believers that cryonics is a harmless attempt at preserving data, little different from stowing a box of photos. of the nonreligious white males who predominate in the ranks of cryonicists, many are software engineers, a calling that puts great faith in the primacy of information. “if you have a hard drive on a computer with a lot of information that is important to you, you save it,” says j.s., a 39-year-old cryonicist and software engineer who lives in oregon and who will not allow his full name to be used out of fear that his wife would divorce him. “you wouldn’t just throw it into a fire. it’s clear to me that memories are stored as molecular arrangements. i’m just trying to preserve the memories.”

the disposability of the body in lieu of the mind is a philosophical question dating back to platonic times and beyond – and a favorite topic of science fiction depicting the possibilities of cloning and cyborg culture – but the field of cryonics touches on this issue in a definitively transhumanist manner. distress on part of cryonicists’ loved ones is largely rooted in the belief that cryptopreservation stunts the grieving process. humans are actually equipped to deal with death, however painful. the tragic irony of frankenstein is that the reanimation of dead tissue proves so traumatic both for victor and his monster that death becomes their only solace.

though it is still far-fetched to seriously consider the possibility of frankensteinian monsters roaming among us in the future, a movement like cryonics unearths all kinds of vital questions about the role of the body in a culture of globalized tech worship. after all, considering the scope of modern medicine and vilification from the larger scientific community, patients of cryonics must have enormous faith in this technology in which they have invested their ‘immortal’ lives. clearly cryonicists represent a minute sector of elitist society, for they have the resources to take their ambitions to ludicrous extremes. however, a company like alcor is in many ways a symptom of a larger societal shift: one at war with the physical limitations of the body. if hands and lungs and feet are mere obstructions to achieving some greater ideal, what is the value of all that we touch, breathe, and walk upon?



what remains of a lookout room in the elaborate winchester family mansion,
bearing damage from the 1901 san francisco earthquake.

in what is now san jose, a short woman stood in the windowed nook of her vacant mansion for thirty-six years. she spied on the workers that clipped, trimmed, hammered, nailed, and plastered her family home. as a widow and heiress to the troubled winchester rifle legacy, she heeded the word of her well-paid boston medium, keeping the ghosts of the “the gun that won the west” at bay with a constant flow of noisy construction. after her death, construction ceased, and what remains is a monument of winchester angst. you can stand where she stood and hunch beneath her tiny showerhead and shuffle up her shallow staircases and get dizzy from her vast maze of little doors to nowhere and unrest is a taste that you can’t rinse with water. these indwelling exchanges between life and living structure are universal phenomena, present in all built constructions from the humble to the extravagant.

on the large scale, said exchanges are typically quelled in the name of capitalist regulation. over time, the principles of western thought wedged a chasm between human and house, between the sensory and the logical. even long before the enlightenment of the 17th century, the seeds of this development were planted by plato, hurdling the obstacles to human happiness with the theory of forms. how can the world appear to be both fixed and in flux? he asked. how can a person find contentment in such a world, when all to which he attaches himself can be taken away? if the non-material (accessed via thought) is x but the material (accessed via the senses) is y, how can both be truth? which is the fundamental reality? is it my reasoned notion of a home, sturdy and unfailing? or is it the warped, drafty house i sit in now, which could burn or collapse or be seized from me at any moment?

inadvertently or not, plato’s divisive antidote to this dilemma demoted sensory experience to the status of almost-truth, something which humans depend on only in moments of intellectual weakness. moving in tandem with the scientific revolution, the enlightenment shifted collective modes of thought towards this platonic notion of truth: a singular nucleus of purely cognitive reason. division led to hierarchy, lifting abstract thought to a realm far above the petty nuances of physicality, material reality a mere echo of the ideal.

nature, historically personified as a nurturing mother with a flighty temper, was god’s “involuntary agent,” as carolyn merchant recalled many years later in her seminal ecofeminist work, the death of nature: “nature operated ‘without capacity or knowledge,’ solely on the basis of ‘her dexterity and skill,’ as the instrument of god’s expression in the mundane world.” the material world, sensory and female, bowed to the masculine, all-encompassing intellectual truth. the collective consciousness of the west was freed from the shackles of the catholic church, but its spring forward into the age of reason subsequently imprisoned the material world in its stead. the west grew away from full reliance on a sensory, ethereal relationship with nature and towards “the crucial period when our cosmos ceased to be viewed as an organism and became instead a machine.”

as nature suffered, so did architecture. coal-gray exhaust pipes of the industrial revolution littered the skylines of the new american city. sacrificed in the name of the gleaming and efficient utopian ideal, nature was conceptualized as capital with little heed paid to its physical limitations. rather than nurtured and cultivated organically, nature was atomized and objectified, thereby justifying its mass exploitation as resource. particularly in the adolescent united states, natural material was shoved clumsily onto conveyer belts and through assembly lines at unprecedented scale and speed. we conceptualized our cities and structures under the same false pretense, catalyzed by the aggressive push for cost-effectiveness-at-all-costs: build it fast, build it cheap, knock it down and build a new one. buildings are now raised at unearthly speed, only to neglected or chastised, then bulldozed twenty years later. the environmental protection agency estimates that in the united states, a total of 170 million tons of debris are produced annually construction and demolition alone.

robert moses and the battery bridge
the sensory impact of such fickle and callous urban development tends to be shunted aside, unmentioned and insignificant in the face of evident functionality. never mind the quantifiable indications that places conceived as such are in fact the epicenters of dysfunction, of illness, of crime. gray ghettos are the scaffolding for the next steroidal act of architectural heroism; theirs are the communities that are erased for the common good, time and time again. in the south bronx 600,000 people were displaced during the aggressive highway expansion of the 1940s spearheaded by robert moses. dotted around the overpass are thousands of shabby dwellings, housing tense communities that feel with most potency the effects of unaccountable, fleeting constructions. activist and south bronx local majora carter asks, “if you are told from your earliest days that nothing good is going to come from your community, that is bad and ugly, how could it not reflect on you?”

constructions assault. constructions nurture. constructions divide, bring together, silence, empower, oppress, liberate. they do everything that humans can do to and with one another. they are wet still lifes, evolving archives of the living systems that erected them, that cared for them, destroyed them, neglected them.

the aggressive itemization of “the natural” into commodified units – in tandem with a fetishization for regulation – results in a conception of architecture that belittles the significance, or denies the existence, of the human-building relationship. in part, this mindset justified righteous colonization and its modern cousin, gentrification. the perversely heroic ideas of “urban renewal” so pervasive in architecture today deem the displacement of communities to be acceptable loss, or deny it altogether. these ideas nobly eject communities from their hearth, then try to resell them a bastardization their material memories. they deny the visceral despair of gentrified communities, creating places “not worth caring about,” as articulated by suburban critic james howard kunstler.

gentrified architecture is fleeting in nature to maximize capital gains. it is designed to be demolished. it is the domestic form of planned obsolescence, and such mercurial urban development has a tragic sensory impact. to be ripped from spaces into which we pour our histories, or to be shunted into spaces that aren’t built to house the soul – both can spin a person off-balance, creating a kind of ambiguous loss in place of hearth. perhaps this is what plato was trying to address when he conceived his theory of forms, for what drives its principles is a dissatisfaction with the unreliability of the material world. but rather than perpetuate a matter-spirit division that, as we have seen, inevitably leads to hierarchy, attuning ourselves to the intuitive exchanges we have with our constructions can lay a moral framework for urban development. if our built environment is in fact at the crux of human embodiment, what responsibilities do we have to sustain, nurture, and care for this habitat, as we do our kin? and what of the darker side of human exchange, seen so blatantly in the ubiquitous exploits of gentrification?



the conception of anthropolis:
a brick-sized hand and a man-sized hole



23 APRIL 2005

CLIP_1          CLIP_2          CLIP_3          FULL

a curtain of thick gray smoke, swelling from the wreckage; locals standing by, faces inscrutable, masked anonymous by ash and soot; two soldiers donning dusty camouflage, charcoal-black machine guns strapped to their shoulders; a pool of sludgy debris; a father clutching his daughter, back against the wreckage, her head pressed hard to his chest; the son trailing behind, eyes blackened with the palls of savage truth; a young man sporting a jersey, number five, zidane, rushing toward the scene with resolute calm; it is another game, a sharp, deliberate one-two-three-four-five, no during and no between, only action and replay, action, replay.

he lives in game-sized increments of forty-five and ninety minutes. there is sound, the sound of noise, but he can decide for himself what he wants to hear. he can hear the sound of a child shifting around on his seat. he can hear somebody whisper in the ear of the person next to them. he can hear the yells, jeers, the serenade of the crowd, the ticking of a watch, the static of a sweater, the patter of hurried footsteps, the rumbling of a few peckish stomachs and the sighs of those gorged and satisfied.

with a furrowed brow he weaves through the dance of the game, scanning the scene with grim resolve. collisions with neighboring bodies ignite the embers of sound overhead; he remains utterly impassive. he trots on. the surrounding players leap and crumple with the peaks and valleys of noise, but in the face of unbridled emotion, of tragedy and triumph, he does nothing. then out of thin air, he detonates: a turn, a glance, a sharp change in course, a scuffle of fists and yells. a pair of hands pulls him from the wreckage. the referee flashes red. it is over.


there are papers about the man but he sprang into being just as he is. gray with callouses, his hands creak audibly with every twitch. his favorite pot lies crooked on the warped stovetop, its surface rough with knots that cling to droplets of creamy broth. the side held aloft grows thicker and redder as the agitated stew sloshes stubbornly back to equilibrium. he tends the steaming stew, warming the folds of his face against the kindling pot, the vapor blurring his eyes.

much of the house is warped like the stove, dimples dotting the floorboards and the walls swelling with rain and residue. where logs join logs they splinter, and through the cracks peek other men whose boots meet the ground with a noisy crunch. within, the spine of the place has slackened and curved with age. the man must duck beneath mossy rafters to crawl under the covers of his brass-frame bunk. the musty shelter muffles his breath. his sleep is deepest blue and dreamless.

the flame is doused black, the bubbling stew ladled into four copper bowls, equal parts. as they are set on the counter they resound with a thunk, thunkthunk thunk, but the air is thick and the sounds die at once. as the man drinks atop the hearth, cast with ashen brick and frothing yellow, his soiled hands trace the lines of ancient mortar, staining the cracks with dusky red broth.


all around us always

all around us always is a book conceived & assembled by the very special larisa minerva, emily tareila, rosalie wild, and denali schmidt. local artpersons contributed writing, drawings, photographs, crafts, etc as part of a larger conversation regarding the blurred lines between art & life practices. in light of denali's sudden passing, last night's book launch became a time to honor his life, and the book itself a token of appreciation for him and for one another. though i am / we are still heavy with grief, completing this book and sharing it with the community has been a truly healing process.

i contributed some thoughts about the brick library.
it will be available shortly through colpa press for $14

we really love how it turned out, and hope you enjoy <3


for denali

let us take a moment to acknowledge the passing of sweet denali.
he was a dear friend and mentor, a great cook, a thoughtful artist,
a talented mountaineer, always curious, always kind,
a real treasure of a human being.

thank you for everything dearest denali,
you are sorely missed.

denali and his father marty died in an avalanche, attempting to summit K2.
they were likely sleeping at base camp when the avalanche hit.


two stories

i put together a short video of the brick press in action while we were up in chico a couple weeks ago. 110 degrees is too hot to be allowed, but this particular venture really highlighted the rhythm of the process in a way that hasn't happened before, so despite the heat it was very pleasant. and in case you haven't noticed yet, the press looks like a puppy on skis when open. woof woof bricks

on an unrelated note, below is a short story by gabriel garcia marquez.
on the off-chance that you haven't read it, do:

a very old man with enormous wings

on the third day of rain they had killed so many crabs inside the house that pelayo had to cross his drenched courtyard and throw them into the sea, because the newborn child had a temperature all night and they thought it was due to the stench. the world had been sad since tuesday. sea and sky were a single ash-gray thing and the sands of the beach, which on march nights glimmered like powdered light, had become a stew of mud and rotten shellfish. the light was so weak at noon that when pelayo was coming back to the house after throwing away the crabs, it was hard for him to see what it was that was moving and groaning in the rear of the courtyard. he had to go very close to see that it was an old man, a very old man, lying face down in the mud, who, in spite of his tremendous efforts, couldn't get up, impeded by his enormous wings.

frightened by that nightmare, pelayo ran to get elisenda, his wife, who was putting compresses on the sick child, and he took her to the rear of the courtyard. they both looked at the fallen body with a mute stupor. he was dressed like a ragpicker. there were only a few faded hairs left on his bald skull and very few teeth in his mouth, and his pitiful condition of a drenched great-grandfather took away and sense of grandeur he might have had. his huge buzzard wings, dirty and half-plucked were forever entangled in the mud. they looked at him so long and so closely that pelayo and elisenda very soon overcame their surprise and in the end found him familiar. then they dared speak to him, and he answered in an incomprehensible dialect with a strong sailor's voice. that was how they skipped over the inconvenience of the wings and quite intelligently concluded that he was a lonely castaway from some foreign ship wrecked by the storm. and yet, they called in a neighbor woman who knew everything about life and death to see him, and all she needed was one look to show them their mistake.

"he's an angel," she told them. "he must have been coming for the child, but the poor fellow is so old that the rain knocked him down."

on the following day everyone knew that a flesh-and-blood angel was held captive in pelayo's house. against the judgment of the wise neighbor woman, for whom angels in those times were the fugitive survivors of a spiritual conspiracy, they did not have the heart to club him to death. pelayo watched over him all afternoon from the kitchen, armed with his bailiff's club, and before going to bed he dragged him out of the mud and locked him up with the hens in the wire chicken coop. in the middle of the night, when the rain stopped, pelayo and elisenda were still killing crabs. a short time afterward the child woke up without a fever and with a desire to eat. then they felt magnanimous and decided to put the angel on a raft with fresh water and provisions for three days and leave him to his fate on the high seas. but when they went out into the courtyard with the first light of dawn, they found the whole neighborhood in front of the chicken coop having fun with the angel, without the slightest reverence, tossing him things to eat through the openings in the wire as if weren't a supernatural creature but a circus animal.

father gonzaga arrived before seven o'clock, alarmed at the strange news. by that time onlookers less frivolous than those at dawn had already arrived and they were making all kinds of conjectures concerning the captive's future. the simplest among them thought that he should be named mayor of the world. others of sterner mind felt that he should be promoted to the rank of five-star general in order to win all wars. some visionaries hoped that he could be put to stud in order to implant the earth a race of winged wise men who could take charge of the universe. but father gonzaga, before becoming a priest, had been a robust woodcutter. standing by the wire, he reviewed his catechism in an instant and asked them to open the door so that he could take a close look at that pitiful man who looked more like a huge decrepit hen among the fascinated chickens. he was lying in the corner drying his open wings in the sunlight among the fruit peels and breakfast leftovers that the early risers had thrown him. alien to the impertinences of the world, he only lifted his antiquarian eyes and murmured something in his dialect when father gonzaga went into the chicken coop and said good morning to him in latin. the parish priest had his first suspicion of an imposter when he saw that he did not understand the language of god or know how to greet his ministers. then he noticed that seen close up he was much too human: he had an unbearable smell of the outdoors, the back side of his wings was strewn with parasites and his main feathers had been mistreated by terrestrial winds, and nothing about him measured up to the proud dignity of angels. the he came out of the chicken coop and in a brief sermon warned the curious against the risks of being ingenuous. he reminded them that the devil had the bad habit of making use of carnival tricks in order to confuse the unwary. he argued that if wings were not the essential element in determining the different between a hawk and an airplane, they were even less so in the recognition of angels. nevertheless, he promised to write a letter to his bishop so that the latter would write his primate so that the latter would write to the supreme pontiff in order to get the final verdict from the highest courts.

his prudence fell on sterile hearts. the news of the captive angel spread with such rapidity that after a few hours the courtyard had the bustle of a marketplace and they had to call in troops with fixed bayonets to disperse the mob that was about to knock the house down. elisenda, her spine all twisted from sweeping up so much marketplace trash, then got the idea of fencing in the yard and charging five cents admission to see the angel.

the curious came from far away. a traveling carnival arrived with a flying acrobat who buzzed over the crowd several times, but no one paid any attention to him because his wings were not those of an angel but, rather, those of a sidereal bat. the most unfortunate invalids on earth came in search of health: a poor woman who since childhood has been counting her heartbeats and had run out of numbers; a portuguese man who couldn't sleep because the noise of the stars disturbed him; a sleepwalker who got up at night to undo the things he had done while awake; and many others with less serious ailments. in the midst of that shipwreck disorder that made the earth tremble, pelayo and elisenda were happy with fatigue, for in less than a week they had crammed their rooms with money and the line of pilgrims waiting their turn to enter still reached beyond the horizon.

the angel was the only one who took no part in his own act. he spent his time trying to get comfortable in his borrowed nest, befuddled by the hellish heat of the oil lamps and sacramental candles that had been placed along the wire. at first they tried to make him eat some mothballs, which, according to the wisdom of the wise neighbor woman, were the food prescribed for angels. but he turned them down, just as he turned down the papal lunches that the pentinents brought him, and they never found out whether it was because he was an angel or because he was an old man that in the end ate nothing but eggplant mush. his only supernatural virtue seemed to be patience. especially during the first days, when the hens pecked at him, searching for the stellar parasites that proliferated in his wings, and the cripples pulled out feathers to touch their defective parts with, and even the most merciful threw stones at him, trying to get him to rise so they could see him standing. the only time they succeeded in arousing him was when they burned his side with an iron for branding steers, for he had been motionless for so many hours that they thought he was dead. he awoke with a start, ranting in his hermetic language and with tears in his eyes, and he flapped his wings a couple of times, which brought on a whirlwind of chicken dung and lunar dust and a gale of panic that did not seem to be of this world. although many thought that his reaction had not been one of rage but of pain, from then on they were careful not to annoy him, because the majority understood that his passivity was not that of a her taking his ease but that of a cataclysm in repose.

father gonzaga held back the crowd's frivolity with formulas of maidservant inspiration while awaiting the arrival of a final judgment on the nature of the captive. but the mail from rome showed no sense of urgency. they spent their time finding out in the prisoner had a navel, if his dialect had any connection with aramaic, how many times he could fit on the head of a pin, or whether he wasn't just a norwegian with wings. those meager letters might have come and gone until the end of time if a providential event had not put and end to the priest's tribulations.

it so happened that during those days, among so many other carnival attractions, there arrived in the town the traveling show of the woman who had been changed into a spider for having disobeyed her parents. the admission to see her was not only less than the admission to see the angel, but people were permitted to ask her all manner of questions about her absurd state and to examine her up and down so that no one would ever doubt the truth of her horror. she was a frightful tarantula the size of a ram and with the head of a sad maiden. what was most heartrending, however, was not her outlandish shape but the sincere affliction with which she recounted the details of her misfortune. while still practically a child she had sneaked out of her parents' house to go to a dance, and while she was coming back through the woods after having danced all night without permission, a fearful thunderclap rent the sky in tow and through the crack came the lightning bolt of brimstone that changed her into a spider. her only nourishment came from the meatballs that charitable souls chose to toss into her mouth. a spectacle like that, full of so much human truth and with such a fearful lesson, was bound to defeat without even trying that of a haughty angel who scarcely deigned to look at mortals. besides, the few miracles attributed to the angel showed a certain mental disorder, like the blind man who didn't recover his sight but grew three new teeth, or the paralytic who didn't get to walk but almost won the lottery, and the leper whose sores sprouted sunflowers. those consolation miracles, which were more like mocking fun, had already ruined the angel's reputation when the woman who had been changed into a spider finally crushed him completely. that was how father gonzaga was cured forever of his insomnia and pelayo's courtyard went back to being as empty as during the time it had rained for three days and crabs walked through the bedrooms.

the owners of the house had no reason to lament. with the money they saved they built a two-story mansion with balconies and gardens and high netting so that crabs wouldn't get in during the winter, and with iron bars on the windows so that angels wouldn't get in. pelayo also set up a rabbit warren close to town and have up his job as a bailiff for good, and elisenda bought some satin pumps with high heels and many dresses of iridescent silk, the kind worn on sunday by the most desirable women in those times. the chicken coop was the only thing that didn't receive any attention. if they washed it down with creolin and burned tears of myrrh inside it every so often, it was not in homage to the angel but to drive away the dungheap stench that still hung everywhere like a ghost and was turning the new house into an old one. at first, when the child learned to walk, they were careful that he not get too close to the chicken coop. but then they began to lose their fears and got used to the smell, and before they child got his second teeth he'd gone inside the chicken coop to play, where the wires were falling apart. the angel was no less standoffish with him than with the other mortals, but he tolerated the most ingenious infamies with the patience of a dog who had no illusions. they both came down with the chicken pox at the same time. the doctor who took care of the child couldn't resist the temptation to listen to the angel's heart, and he found so much whistling in the heart and so many sounds in his kidneys that it seemed impossible for him to be alive. what surprised him most, however, was the logic of his wings. they seemed so natural on that completely human organism that he couldn't understand why other men didn't have them too.

when the child began school it had been some time since the sun and rain had caused the collapse of the chicken coop. the angel went dragging himself about here and there like a stray dying man. they would drive him out of the bedroom with a broom and a moment later find him in the kitchen. he seemed to be in so many places at the same time that they grew to think that he'd be duplicated, that he was reproducing himself all through the house, and the exasperated and unhinged elisenda shouted that it was awful living in that hell full of angels. he could scarcely eat and his antiquarian eyes had also become so foggy that he went about bumping into posts. all he had left were the bare cannulae of his last feathers. pelayo threw a blanket over him and extended him the charity of letting him sleep in the shed, and only then did they notice that he had a temperature at night, and was delirious with the tongue twisters of an old norwegian. that was one of the few times they became alarmed, for they thought he was going to die and not even the wise neighbor woman had been able to tell them what to do with dead angels.

and yet he not only survived his worst winter, but seemed improved with the first sunny days. he remained motionless for several days in the farthest corner of the courtyard, where no one would see him, and at the beginning of december some large, stiff feathers began to grow on his wings, the feathers of a scarecrow, which looked more like another misfortune of decreptitude. but he must have known the reason for those changes, for he was quite careful that no one should notice them, that no one should hear the sea chanteys that he sometimes sang under the stars. one morning elisenda was cutting some bunches of onions for lunch when a wind that seemed to come from the high seas blew into the kitchen. then she went to the window and caught the angel in his first attempts at flight. they were so clumsy that his fingernails opened a furrow in the vegetable patch and he was on the point of knocking the shed down with the ungainly flapping that slipped on the light and couldn't get a grip on the air. but he did manage to gain altitude. elisenda let out a sigh of relief, for herself and for him, when she watched him pass over the last houses, holding himself up in some way with the risky flapping of a senile vulture. she kept watching him even when she was through cutting the onions and she kept on watching until it was no longer possible for her to see him, because then he was no longer an annoyance in her life but an imaginary dot on the horizon of the sea.