Night Matters by Ney Yepez

Night Matters by Ney Yepez

Night Matters

By Ney Yépez Cortés/Translation by Lorraine Caputo

Lucía went out on the terrace of her house to smoke a cigarette. The children were sleeping and her husband was late in arriving. The early night, deep blue, covered everything. Peace, finally peace, after a hectic day. “A hard day’s dusk,” she thought with humor, while that Beatles song insistently played in her head.

As she lit the cigarette, she smiled. She very slowly leaned on the ledge of the terrace and her eyes wandered over the façades of the houses across the street. Almost in a straight line from where she stood, at a slightly lower angle, there was a large window on the third floor of a house painted a disagreeable tone of faded yellow. Through the glass, a room could be partially seen, shadowy, illuminated in the center by a dim yellowish light that seemed to come from the floor. Silhouettes slowly moved around light.

Lucía took a long drag on the cigarette and fixed her gaze. She narrowed her eyes and leaned her head forward, trying to better see the intriguing scene across the way. Suddenly a silhouette cut across the light in the middle of the window. Lucía felt she was being watched. The figure remained motionless for a few seconds, then moved quickly to one side and pulled the curtains.

It was as if the curtain had fallen on a surrealistic theater piece. However, the sensation of being observed persisted. She flicked her cigarette far away and hurriedly entered the kitchen. She felt safe inside the house. Outside, being watched from the dimness of the intriguing room across the way gave her an uneasy sense of vulnerability. But inside, in her warm home, she quickly forgot the strange scene.

The next morning, as she rushed to drop her daughter off at school, she shot a glance toward the yellow house.

It was another dusk after long hours of being a teacher and mother. As always, when she got home, she was exhausted and just wanted to sleep. After putting the girl and the baby to bed, Lucía stood at her living room window and looked out at the house across the street. It looked so harmless, so normal.

After cold scrutiny, she noticed something she had not noticed the night before. The mysterious room that intrigued her had a quadrangular hole, about a square meter large, on the roof. However, the base did not appear to be broken, but rather looked like a square skylight from which the translucent dome had been removed.

Lucía remembered she had noticed that dome, dark green, some Sunday morning in which she was hanging the laundry on the clothesline on the terrace. But now it was simply gone.

Her memory took her four years back, when she and husband Ferdinand were about to rent that apartment that now intrigued her. Just before signing the contract with the homeowners, they opted for the apartment across the street, which – by coincidence – was also for rent. When they saw the interior of the place where they now lived, it seemed bigger and more beautiful. Their first choice was forgotten.

In part, they changed their minds when they saw the owners of the yellow house. They were a young couple dressed entirely in black. Possibly they were in mourning for a recently deceased relative. Both had a sallow face and hard features. They weren’t more than thirty-five. He was tall and cadaverous, with long, lustrous hair parted down the middle, a long nose, childlike smile, and a bright, somewhat strange gaze. She was thin and petite, with long, black hair and did not wear make-up. They looked very much alike, so much so that neither Lucía nor Fernando ever knew if they were husband and wife or siblings. The latter seemed closer to reality.

The low flight of some night bird brought Lucía back to the present. There she was, staring absentmindedly at the façade in front and the young stars twinkled eternally. Lucía remembered her chores and rushed to get her girl’s backpack ready and prepare the baby’s bottles.

In the middle of her chores, she thought. “What would have happened if we had decided to rent the yellow house department?” Some part of her intuition told her that everything would have been different. She felt that the place where she lived determined the experiences that shaped their current destiny. Possibly Fernando would not have that tedious night job that kept him out of the house from four in the afternoon until one or two in the morning. And she probably would not be a high school language teacher. And perhaps the baby might not have been born and her daughter would be going to another school.

Yes, everything would definitely be different. “It’s good that we chose this apartment!” she thought relieved. Lucía liked her present life, despite absences and sacrifices. In her youth, she had been drawn to the mysteries of life, the subtlest side of existence, spirituality, the intangible, the magical. During her school years, she had secretly read dozens of books on occultism, witchcraft, tarot and palmistry. Her taste for this kind of reading became faded over time, and since she got married to her self-sacrificing systems technologist, she turned to her more practical side, which allowed her, according to her reasoning, to be less dreamy, to have a family, relative economic prosperity and emotional stability.

However, in spite of everything, her life was not without wonder, of small, inexplicable events. From time to time she could sense a call before the phone began ringing or dream of events that occurred a few days later. She would enter states of sadness hours before the announcement of a loved one’s death. Ever since childhood, this had happened to her from childhood. By a bit force, she had become accustomed to what she jokingly called “the magic of common life and wild.”

Later that night, after putting the baby to sleep, she too surrendered to exhaustion. She woke up with pain in her neck because of the poor position in which she fell asleep. She put the child in the bassinet and went to the bathroom. When she returned to bed, she knew that sleep had fled, at least for the moment. She took one of her cigarettes from the drawer, put on a coat, and went out into the patio.

It was near midnight, and she could not help but notice there was again a mysterious movement in that room in the house across the street. On this occasion, she decided to take a more detailed look at the scene. Almost without thinking, impelled by a reckless curiosity that adults condemned so strongly when they were children, she climbed up to the ledge of the terrace with extreme care. From that height, she was able to see the floor of the room.

She could not help from shuddering – not so much because of her precarious position on the ledge, but rather because of the scene she saw in the yellow house. As she suspected, the light came from candles placed on the floor of the room. They were thick yellow candles, about ten centimeters high, which bathed the room with tremulous luminescence. The candles were arranged in a certain way, which coincided with a geometrical figure drawn on the floor that Lucía could not clearly distinguish at that distance.

Around the candles, several people sitting on cushions formed a circle. They all seemed to wear dark, flowing clothes, but because of the distance and the poor lighting, she could not tell. She could barely make out a woman sitting at the head of that circle, who seemed to hold a cup or some such vessel over her head. The woman seemed to sing as she kept her gaze fixed on a spot on the ceiling. Of her face, Lucía could only make out the chin, since her head was thrown back, as if to raise her song through the window to the sky left by the open skylight.

Suddenly the room was dark and Lucy emerged from that state of stupor created by the rare ceremony she had witnessed. She immediately noticed that she was dangerously leaning forward, her feet on the edge of the ledge. For a few seconds she felt dizzy, but she managed to control herself and jumped back, landing on tiptoe on the terrace.

She smiled as she thought that even now, in her thirties, she could still behave like a child. “Curiosity killed the cat,” she thought as she entered the kitchen. “However, the cat died knowing,” she joked to herself, feeling a slight shudder. She went back to bed, switched off the light and slept. She dreamed of goblets floating in the void and yellow candles.

During breakfast, Fernando listened with little interest to Lucía’s account of the night events she saw in the house in front. After some jokes and conjectures, the mystery remained intact. Her husband suggested with laughter that she should look for the binoculars kept in a closet, dress in black and stand somewhere on the terrace to better spy on the neighbors across the way.

Although the suggestion was made ironically, to ridicule a bit what he called “paranoias,” to Lucía the idea did not seem at all bad. Sometimes she was surprised at the extremes she could reach when her curiosity overpowered her. She decided tonight she would know what was happening in the yellow house.

The black, warm robes somewhat protected her from the strong, gusty wind that that midnight blew across the terrace. Hours before, in the depths of a box full of socks, she finally found the case of the fine binoculars that a foreign friend, sometime months ago, had forgotten at the house before going on a trip.

Crouched behind the ledge, with the binoculars in one hand and a half-smoked cigarette in the other, she watched very quietly, waiting for the intriguing ceremony to be performed again that night.

It was almost dawn and the front window remained unchanged. There hadn’t been even the slightest flash of light inside the room. Lucía was about to give up, bored and numb, when the candles were lit one by one. The shadows danced mutely in the room.

With her heart racing with excitement, Lucía threw down her cigarette and climbed up to the ledge of the terrace to see better. She brought the binoculars to her eyes and focused clearly on the drawing engraved with red lines on the room’s floor. It was a five-pointed star within a circle. In each vortex of the star was one of the candles, and inside the point were drawn strange white symbols.

She also could see the participants of the rite. They all looked young and seemed to be dressed in Druid-styled robes. Finally she could observe the woman who led the ceremony. She was at the head of the circle, facing the window. Lucía could not immediately make out her features because she had a golden cup in front of her face. She wore a long black robe with white trim and her head was crowned with what looked like a tiara of flowers.

The woman lifted the chalice and Lucía could see her face. She began to tremble like a leaf, her breath ragged with emotion. Before the binoculars fell from her hands and smashed to the ground, three floors below, she saw clearly her own face in the woman who officiated that extravagant ritual.

Amidst her confusion and terror, for a few seconds, she wondered if her life would have really been so different if she had lived in that apartment in the house across the street. Or maybe there would not be such a difference, for she and the priestess were the same person.

Then, against her will, in the intimacy of her conscience, her fate under the sign of witchcraft was confirmed immediately, forcefully, undeniably. Magic had been with her all the time, in all those little everyday miracles that had accompanied her since she was a child. From some hidden place of her soul, she raised the courage to check that newly acquired certainty. With her mind blank, smiling, with complete confidence, defying death, she stepped into the void. Her clothes waved over the roof for a moment, like a floating black banner.

Translation by Lorraine Caputo

Lorraine Caputo is a documentary poet, translator and travel writer whose literary works appear in English and Spanish in over 100 journals in Canada, the US, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia; 11 chapbooks of poetry – including Caribbean Nights (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014) and Notes from the Patagonia (dancing girl press, 2017); and 18 anthologies. In March 2011, the Canadian Parliament Poet Laureate chose her verse as poem of the month. Caputo also has done more than 200 literary readings from Alaska to Patagonia, and is a prize-winning slam poet. Caputo was assistant editor and translator for the online arts journal, Australian Latino Review. She has translated the poetry of Cristina Rodríguez Cabral (Uruguay), Diana Vallejo (Honduras), Ana Bergareche (Spain-Mexico), Dolores Herrera (Galápagos), among other writers. You can follow Lorraine on her Facebook page, and on her blog,

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