Authors: Nuria Solano
Inma hung up and immediately it came a long, fateful cry, like a child who knows it has been abandoned. She called Hugo without thinking. She heard the phone was picked up, but no one replyed.
"Hello? Hugo? I'm Inma. Do you hear me?"
There was some street background noise. She recognized Hugo's voice, kind of far, but he didn't seem to talk to her. Suddenly the call ended. Somebody must have hung up on her. Inma dialed again a little embarrassed. This time she got the voicemail answering, but she hung up before the beep. Exhausted, she lay on the couch.
Opening her eyes, she was unable at first to discern what day it was, or what had happened. The dresser clock marked ten past six. Remembering the morning events was heart wrenching. Then she also recalled that she had an appointment with the allergist at seven. At last they were going to tell her what it was. He washed her face and rushed, without worrying about her sweatpants or messy hair.
"It's a very peculiar allergy", said the doctor. "Although it is incorrect to call it allergy."
"But do you know what it is? It's been a month already that I barely can sleep and I always have my nose stuffy.
“To tell you the truth, you don't look very well, but don't worry. The diagnosis is clear: what gives you your status is the proximity of reptiles.”
Inma left the doctor's office as a sleepwalker, stumbling upon pedestrians. Upon arriving home she realized that she was carrying a plastic bag with a green cross. He had bought the drugs, but didn't remember standing in a pharmacy, or handing over the prescriptions, or paying...
Looking out the window she stared at the little garden, that was now completely covered by the buildings shadows. There were marks and signs everywhere. They must be from the police. Turning her head he saw light in the porter's lodge. She decided to come down and offer Ado any help she'd need.
"They found out what happened, but still I can't believe it", Ado said, surrounded by grieving relatives. Inma was received with great affection.
"He has been bitten by a snake. It is very strange, but it should have got into the luggage somehow when we returned from Venezuela. The police found it this afternoon in the garden. A very rare species that this is impossible to get here. It was very tiny. Thinner than my finger. But one of the most poisonous."
Inma spent some time there, until the family left. Ado also left with her mother. She couldn't stay alone at home that night. Inma felt the same. What if there were more reptiles around? The iguana was also still out there loose. Although after pondering, she realized it was not likely at all to show up again. The animal had apparently walked easily through the brick wall, but always down. When Inma lost sight, it had reached the height of the first floor. And although it was quite a coincidence that two exotic reptiles appeared suddenly, Inma tried to believe it was that, a coincidence. She tried to believe it with all her might. Should she leave, at least for that night? There was no one in Barcelona to ask for accommodation. She could ask Sibi, but that was just like staying at home. She wanted to get away. Maybe to a hotel. Was she pulling things out of proportion? He called one that was three blocks away.
"Sorry, we have no rooms available."
That was the response she got, also, in four other hotels. She kept a moment sitting on her bed. Twilight brought a heat truce, and the swifts, in disarray, announced with their cries the night break. Inma felt better, she hardly was now sneezing or having a runny nose. The drug seemed to be working. She felt also more awake, more fully. This was her home. She couldn't, after only a month, abandon it with fear. If she did it she could never feel comfortable there. She would stay.
Despite having skipped lunch, she had dinner with little appetite. She took the second pills dose surmising another sleepless night. A four-hour nap and the events of the day, would not help. At one o'clock, bored of watching TV, she went to bed. It was strange, despite being uneasy, the stress of the day had caused an overwhelming tiredness. She turned lamely, and within minutes she was asleep.
She thought she had heard the slight drag of a chair. Or was this strange silence what had awakened her? The monotonous hum of the fan was gone. She was drenched in sweat even more. A vague half-ligh was coming through the windows, blurring the outlines in dark smudges. She turned on the night-light, but the room kept dark. She reached the ceiling light switch. Nothing. There was absolute silence. She wondered if the power had gone only from her flat or from the whole building, or even the neighborhood. She went to the hall, where the main switch was. She stopped abruptly. Despite the darkness, she thought he saw a whitish spot on the floor, on the threshold of the livingroom. She looked at her feet, she saw nothing, but she was barefoot. Her eyes searched for the spot again, but now it was gone. She walked slowly. Suddenly a soft and cold touch on her ankle, sliding. She only could manage a short scream. She ran. Her legs were tangled with something. She could not react even to use her hands: she felt the hit of the ground on her face. A sound ... like a hiss. The cold touch began to spread up her legs, waist, chest, and began to squeeze. Now her profuse sweat got even into her eyes. She was gasping hard and bleeding from the nose. She couldn't tell if she was paralyzed with fear, or that pressure really was immobilizing her. Then it began a pain in her skull. An oppression as if trying to put on a very small sweater trough her head. She had a spasm of panic, a trembling rattle that, with the profuse sweating made her slip slightly from that pressure. She forced this movement desperately. She slipped. A little more. Suddenly she broke free and rushed to leave. She opened the front door. On the landing of the staircase there was no light, but there was something else. In the dark, a slender and familiar figure (but different this time), stood between her and the staircase. There were animal on the floor that crawled or slithered. Inma turned and entered back to her house. She heard Sibi's voice in a whisper. "You have to be kind with the prey." She tried to close the door, but there was some reptile obstructing. "Let my little babies smell the prey for a while, to desire it". Looking around she managed to locate the huge albino python in a corner of the room. "Wait patiently for the right moment. When you have no longer any defense. When you are confused, and alone." She ran to her bedroom and closed the door but it didn't lock. With trembling hands she reached for the cellphone. She was not alone at all. At least Hugo was still her friend. He was the only person who was in Barcelona. The only one who could help her. At the fourth ring she heard the sound of Hugo picking it up. Inma hurried up, although she realized that her words were almost a nonsense.
"You have to come right now Hugo. I can't take it anymore. I choked ... The neighbor is here ...
"Don't you get it, bitch?”, she heard from a woman's voice. "Leave him alone! He left you long ago, but you played dumb. He's with me now, bith. Don't you ever call back."
The phone slipped from her hands and fell on the floor. The door opened slowly. They were coming in crawling. She backed up to the balcony. Sibi, by the threshold, was a black silhouette, but two small glares pointed her cold and clear eyes. Inma relized how stupid she had been. On her desperation, she didn't think about making an emergency call. The phone was already surrounded by snakes. The python, which had already tasted her sweat and blood, was coming back to get her. Inma peered into the garden. Four floors were too high. Then, without thinking, she passed over the railing and grabbed the fir branch that reached her balcony. It began to creak under her weight. First one hand, then the other. She dropped her feet and swung further. Her palms were hurting but she continued plaintively. At times she could get one leg hooked also at the branch, but soon it would loosen. She managed to look back for a moment. The python was already perched on the branch and glided toward her with devilish easiness. Inma quickly, ignoring the pain of her injuried hands and her exhaustion, moved faster this time. Blood and sweat made her slip. She barely had time to fell vertigo in her stomach. Then an impact, suddenly damped. Her body was covered with scratches, but she was over a hedge, and surely she had descended enough before falling down. Sibi was still on the balcony, but quickly turned away. She was going to get her. The snake had barely reached the floor. Inma ran. Limping, she reached the doorway and then hit the streets. There was no one, not even a car passing by. As fast as she could, she stumbled up the next corner. A taxi was passing. Inma threw herself on the street. The tires squealed to be just a few inches from her. She heard the angry voice of the driver. To Inma it sounded like a chorus of angels.
Romantic comedies carried the day, fortune tellers filled their offices, internet chats overflowed with unbearable loneliness, and on weekends, bars and clubs, flooding in alcohol, perpetuated miseries of singleness again. We have been nurtured to love, programmed to feel fulfilled only if we have a special one, driven to a search filled with dissatisfaction and failed attempts. We believe in love. We have no choice. And we look away from lovelessness, that still slaps us with impunity. But nothing prepared us for what happened. It was something totally unexpected. Unimaginable. When it was published in the most prestigious science journals, and then jumped to the news, we were so shocked that at first we refused to believe it, but curiosity got even to the most skeptical. In front of the television, we heard a thousand times from all channels the statements that Dr. Herbert P. Morehouse made exclusively for CNN. That man, who might look like an expert on anything but love, with cold confidence and incomprehensible graphics behind him, said categorically that he had found a reliable scientific technique to find the perfect match for each of us.
Dr. Morehouse, an authority on quantum physics and molecular biology, who had achieved great prestige some years back, with some surprising findings based on the uncertainty principle, claimed that humans possess a latency emitted by our brains, and projected very subtle by our cells. In a laboratory at Cornell University, with a strange and immense device, like one of those MRI machines, but on steroids, Dr. Morehouse had managed to capture such latency in several spectroscopic images, that was shaped as an aura around the subject tested. This aura, different for each person, identified a number of features more similar to an astral chart than to a scientific analysis. Dr. Morehouse said that people with complementary auras were compatible at 97.3%.
The day after the statements the headlines didn't talk about anything else, and satiric cartoons in the newspapers were crazy funny. Everyone had an opinion about it, but beyond that, there was a big concern about what the discovery was going to sink a business that moved billions worldwide: the business of love. What movie would tell now about a random encounter that becomes a romance, if a machine was able to save the anguish and suffering of frustrated expectations? What pythoness would unfold her client's fears about a future partner, when Dr. Morehouse's theory tells us to abandon any fear about the other person because we'll understand it's mind almost as if we'd read it? Fortune-tellers had a dark future, but they deserved it for not having foreseen what hit them.
On the contrary to what it seemed at first, Dr. Morehouse theories were confirmed by the scientific community, and ratified the following year with a brand new Nobel prize. Those who claimed that it was all a farce had to be silent. However people felt some nostalgia, because although they got the desired love, they also got it at the cost of losing the romance.
Dr. Morehouse said it had to be that way. Nobody is forced to examine his aura and include it in the huge database, where it was collated with others to find their ideal partner. But who could resist? In fact, even the most stable couples tried it, and when most of them learned about their incompatibility, they broke up to find harmony in his complementary aura.
Those who were enrolled in matrimonial agencies, moved their applications to the long waiting lists to perform an aura analysis in private clinics.
Health insurances flatly refused to pay the expense of a aura analysis, what it deems a medical expense, even though sociological studies affirmed that a country of people in love and visibly happier, would lower the risk of many other diseases that come from stress, anxiety and depression.
But it wasn't that simple. There were people who could not locate an additional aura easily, and sometimes, to find a mate, had to go to Germany, Canada or anywhere in the database that had located the proper aura, although that added some romanticism over the meeting. But usually, in cities like Madrid or Barcelona, it was possible to find someone compatible, because usually there were several auras harmonizable per person. Thus, many even could choose among several candidates or candidates, as appropriate.
The meetings were very strange and exciting. Special places were arranged, so when a person was about to finally meet the ONE, would feel at ease. Several psychologists would prepe them talking first about what the other person was like, next a photograph of the other was showed, and then they were invited to speak and hear each other voices through an audio device. When at last the two were face to face, the air seemed to release sparks. The surprises were constant, the theory of love put together people who would never have looked to each other on the street. Dr. Morehouse said that that happened, because we usually make an image of the person we would like to have on our side, but that image does not usually concur with what we really need, that's why until then so many couples had failed. Dr. Morehouse said also that often the first stages of cohabitation among compatible people were not always to be idyllic, but rather the contrary. Sometimes the socioeconomic and cultural differences were huge, and they had to adapt. If a person had more than a complementary aura, the database would decided by choosing the closest one to the applicant in the social scale. But when faced with problems, couples seemed to fight for their relationship in a way that has never been seen before, despite the drawbacks and differences arising everywhere. A few fell apart, but it was a bitter situation that occurred in isolated cases, and with any luck, they tried again in another compatible person's aura.