Last Time I Saw Helena

“I won’t put the fucking cigarette out.” Those were the only words I remember hearing from Helena last time I saw her. She seemed very anguished. She had her elbows resting on the table and was hung up about something, as if hurrying would help her put herself back together during that re-encounter that had been scheduled carelessly days earlier, albeit with the usual urgency that once connected us for so many years.

She complained about State Law # 13,541. She had the cigarette between her index and middle finger, a long face, and a screeching voice against a new prohibition.

“I won’t put the fucking cigarette out,” she said, defiantly, on that afternoon that slowly adjusted itself to the new orders of Law # 13,541.

She reinforced her indignation, because she very well knew that, sooner or later, we’d have to address the subject that had caused us to meet that afternoon, in that cafe across from the newspaper headquarters. She had brought Chico along, her new boyfriend.

I had no idea that was the last time I’d ever see her, so I didn’t make an effort to memorize her words, the way she was blowing smoke as she complained, how she’d pull her hair up and knot it in a bun, and the cigarette she had between her index and middle finger, so close to setting a fire.

Little of that afternoon stayed with me, in addition to Chico’s silence and Helena’s angst disguised as repetitive complains and improvised buns―she was always about to let something off her chest. Most likely, she was about to fall apart, just as much as her bun was. Memories of Auntie came and went more strongly and more violently.

I tried to mentally draw her face, but all I managed to put together was a shapeless image as a badge of my failure. At some point, I rushed to the restroom and threw up my breakfast and Helena’s sadness, in a frustrated attempt to forget that it was Auntie who had introduced me to her then piano pupil.

Back at the table, I resumed the complaints about Law # 13,541. For quite some time, we all focused on the controversies that the cigarette represented, even though it had already been put out. I, too, was desperately looking for some other topic to distract us from the real reason why we had come to that cafe. I, too, certainly seemed to be hung up about something last time I saw Helena.

VERA ROSSI was born in Ourinhos City, State of São Paulo, on April 1st, 1976. She is a writer and journalist, has a Master's in Literature and Literary Criticism and a PhD in Communications and Semiotics, both with the Pontifical Campinas University (PUC). 

She has written for the Cronópios Portal, the Portuguese Language Magazine, and Zunái Magazine. She is the author of “Mind the Gap,” published by Editora Patuá and, more recently, Telefone sem fio [Broken Telephone].

To read more on her work, visit her blog Palimpsesto.