Ecuadorian writer Gabriela Ponce’s English language debut features an unnamed woman wrestling with the consequences of a failed marriage and an all consuming affair. Told in a stream of consciousness style that Book Culture describes as “like putting Viriginia Woolf and Ottessa Moshfegh in a blender,” Blood Red is a raw, visceral exploration of female bodily autonomy, power, and vulnerability.
The poet walks next to me, and I feel like everything is safe and also like everything can change in such radical ways that the body can’t understand. I imagine there’s no pregnancy, I tell myself I’m here walking with this man and then I start to enjoy the heat and the strange complicity that exists between us. The sky is clear, I mention how pleasant the river feels, I say water always calms me (I don’t know why I tell this lie), and he tells me a story in which his brother saves him from drowning, and that leads us to a conversation about the future and about destiny and about death and about what he calls the little bright spots in life, and that phrase makes us laugh. We also talk about friendship and in that moment I feel a strange communion with the night and with this man. We hold hands, and I tell him that his poems are good, and I also tell him he looks just like the telenovela heartthrob, and we laugh a lot again. He suggests we go to a karaoke bar, I say OK, great, let’s go do karaoke, one song and I’m leaving. His friends are at the karaoke bar drinking, I get up the nerve to sing, I think one song and I’m leaving. I obviously choose a Daniela Romo song and sing it imagining I have her hair that goes all the way down to my waist. While the party continues, I grab my things, slip out, and start walking alone, now almost midnight, scared, but also with a strange ease, looking at the huge cockroaches and feeling an enormous tenderness for their bodies. There was a time when I was obsessed with killing cockroaches, they’d invaded our kitchen, and I’d turn on the light at midnight and work on killing them in as many ways as possible, I felt like I hated them, like I needed them and we were waging a war as much intimate as amorous: one day one, I don’t know how, got inside the microwave buttons and stayed there for years; anxiously looking at it, I understood it was the end. It had gotten there by running away from me, it had dug into the buttons and won. From that day on I didn’t kill any more cockroaches. And now, as I walk through downtown Guayaquil, thousands crawl back out, scuttling fearfully, and offer a strange protection and remembrance: how far-off childhood is, how painful. I walk with increasing urgency only to find out that my sister hasn’t come back to her apartment and that the pain I started feeling in my abdomen in the taxi has increased. I think maybe it’s a miscarriage, and the idea calms me, spontaneous is always better. What an idiotic thought, I immediately tell myself. I feel a pain in my abdomen that extends to my hips and legs, so I go into the restaurant on the ground floor of the building where my sister lives, but they say they’re about to close. I don’t know what to do. I walk to the corner, where there’s a large clinic, a green building with multiple entrances. I go in through emergencies, tell the nurse I don’t have anywhere to go, that I’m waiting for my sister, but she isn’t answering her phone, I tell her my hips hurt and I’m pregnant and she says OK, stay. Then I sit down and watch the injured people coming to the emergency room, waiting for the miscarriage to happen or my sister to appear. A woman arrives with her foot shredded by a glass that fell as she got out of the shower. The woman screams, and I think about the man I recently ran over. The image of the man flying through the air comes back to me, I imagine he’s an acrobat, that he leaps and does flips in the air and then stands up and keeps walking. It occurs to me that it’s possible he broke his collarbone and is now recovering alone in a room like the ones I visited the night of the accident, in the south of Quito. Then I think maybe he died and has been reincarnated in this baby, and that thought makes me laugh so much the receptionist hushes me with an icy look. What most surprises me about the emergency room is actually that woman who could be a doctor or a nurse or just a receptionist but certainly is the boss, there’s no doubt about it. I remember that sometimes my husband called me boss lady or referred to me as Superwoman, then I laugh again, and she again looks at me suspiciously. When someone arrives, for example the woman with the cut-up foot, she asks for details that seem unnecessary to me. Her questions derive from matters that have nothing to do with the medical chart, then she arbitrarily decides how many people can accompany the injured person and how long they’ll have to wait, and she does it all while scrubbing her hands or scrubbing her fingers or twisting her braid around her finger. And people respond to every question with no problem, they tolerate the pain and answer. I amuse myself for a while by watching that woman, her fingers, the tiles, and by reflecting on the shower accident and the car accident in particular, which makes me think about time, about moments, and I sense a connection between the word moment and the image of the cut-up foot on the woman waiting for the doctor who in that moment discovers she’s being watched, a strange connection between the word and image. While I’m caught in that thought, my sister calls and apologizes and tells me that she’ll come see me soon. When she arrives, she tells me an unrealistic story about that night, and once in her apartment, she tells me she’ll massage my body and undresses me and starts with my hips and I give in to her touch. I also adore this woman, though I don’t know her very well, and then I think about how love has nothing to do with knowing someone, or with time, but it also isn’t arbitrary, it has secret modes of selection, of association, of generation. I fall asleep at dawn, amid images that already occupy the time of dreams and that are teeth emerging from tiny gums, and that are teeth in the gums of a cockroach or a rat and that are also the teeth of a child. My baby will have teeth, I say out loud, and my sister laughs and lies down next to me, and I sleep peacefully, pressed against her body.
Excerpted from Blood Red by Gabriela Ponce, translated by Sarah Booker. Excerpted with the permission of Restless Books. © Gabriela Ponce, 2020. English translation © Sarah Booker, 2022.