So Far, She's Fine
Carmen Lukovic Gasteozoro returned from the dead at 8:25 last Thursday morning, riding in the back seat of a Santiago taxicab. The driver let Carmen off at the corner of the Alameda and Vicuña Mackenna and sped away without a word. He didn't even ask for the fare. Carmen used a public telephone in the Baquedano Metro station to call her mother and father, to tell them that she was back and that she was fine. Carmen's father said oh, God, don't move, he'd be there like a shot.
Carmen imagined her father waddling out of the house and thrusting himself into the family's brand-new Peugeot station wagon, forest-green in colour because that was what Carmen's mother had said she preferred. As he drove, Señor Lukovic would be perspiring heavily, mopping his brow with a great white handkerchief, his chins nearly touching the wheel. He was unreliable with a car at the best of times and a threat to all on the road when he grew flustered. Carmen also thought about her mother, who would be hurrying upstairs even now, in a frenzy, to wash her hair. Later, trembling with excitement, she would greet Carmen from the landing, with her head wrapped in a towel. Carmen's mother never did anything important without first washing her hair.
To pass the time while waiting for her father, Carmen went outside and crossed the street. She balanced herself on a wrought-iron bench in the Parque Forestal, by the banks of the Mapocho River. The late-winter sunshine spilled over the wall of the Andes to the east, still snow-covered. The shade trees in the park were budding and now shifted to and fro in the cool morning breeze. Nearby, a pair of teenagers wrestled — a boy and a girl, both in blue jeans, bulky sweaters, and plaid scarves. They took turns throwing each other to the grass, where they rolled over and over, nuzzled their cheeks together, rubbed their noses back and forth, licked each other's ears. They laughed, got up, and did it all again. The traffic barked and grunted past along the Alameda.
Carmen clasped her hands in her lap, crossed her long legs at the ankles, shifted her feet a little to the side, and watched the day expand. Aside from a rather nasty bruise on her left thigh and a cigarette burn on the inside of her right breast, she bore no physical traces of her ordeal, or none that she could detect. What she felt was a certain numbness, a slight tingly sensation all over her body, rather like a ringing in the ears after a very loud explosion. She felt almost as though she were floating through the air. That was all.
And that was what everyone remarked on. "She seems — fine," the people whispered to each other. They were neighbours, relations, friends of the family who dropped by the house that morning after hearing the news that Carmen had returned from the dead. They gathered in the dining room.
"How are you, Carmen?" asked one of her aunts, who'd just arrived.
Everyone froze. Idiotic question.
But Carmen simply tossed back her hair and smiled. "Famished", she replied.
That was obvious. They all watched as the girl put away three slices of chocolate pie and two large glasses of apple cider. Carmen didn't say another word. She just drank and ate and occasionally looked up with an apologetic sort of grin. The she picked the crumbs from the plate with her fingers. Señora Lukovic stood behind her daughter, gently massaging her shoulders.
When the older woman eased her grip, started to remove her hands in order to clear the dishes, Carmen reached up and pulled her mother's arm back. "Please don't stop," she whispered.
It was a powerful moment. The onlookers in the dinning room exchanged glances, nodded at each other. This was such an occasion. Just think — returned from the dead. It started with your name going down on a secret list, with a late-night ride in an unmarked car. When people went missing, as Carmen had done, they never came back. Once you lost sight of them, they were gone.
But here was Carmen — a tall athletic girl of eighteen, splashed with freckles, and crowned by a great tangle of dark hair streaked with coppery highlights. She played centre on the women's field hockey team at the Universidad Católica and often, when she strode along a crowded street or hurried through the rooms of the family home, she looked as though she were stick-handling through a maze of opponents, her eyes fixed like twin beacons on the opposing goal. But then she would burst out laughing, over anything. She was just a girl of eighteen, straightforward, good-hearted, taking the world as it came.
The had a press conference at eleven o'clock, right in the living room . . .