Mauro Javier Cárdenas: “Aphasia”

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Author, Mauro Javier Cárdenas. Photo by Victoria Smith.

Mauro Javier Cárdenas discusses reimagining narrative possibilities with his new book, “Aphasia,” and its syntax centered around the performative impulses of his sentences. Its long sentences maneuver between places, time, and characters, and Cárdenas says he wants to explore fresh forms that can replace obstacles in outmoded structures; he says novelistic conventions no longer work for him, and conventional narratives do not represent the world he feels himself experiencing. He is a writer of originality who makes the English language sound like music.

Excerpt from “Aphasia” by Mauro Javier Cárdenas.


Once again his daughters and his former wife packed their lives and left him to summer in Czechia with Babicka and Deda, and unlike the previous seven summers, Antonio wasn’t anxious for them to leave already so he could sleep with former girlfriends or new girlfriends or whomever he happened to meet at bookstores or nightclubs or on the internet, on the contrary, he was anxious that they were leaving him because on the one hand he didn’t want to be without them (Ada, his eight-year-old, was becoming an ace on the soccer field, and Eva, his five-year-old, was already tinkering with the upright piano he’d abandoned years ago), and on the other hand he’d resigned himself to a so-called stable family life in Los Angeles alongside his former wife due to his daughters, so he didn’t want to be alone and risk chancing upon any more women like Dora (philosophy major, S3) or Silvina (science fiction writer, S7) who might remind him of the other lives he could have lived if he’d left his former wife when he was planning to, three weeks before conceiving Ada and three months before he was asked by her parents to marry her, and although one never really knows why one does what one does — at least I like to believe I don’t always know, Antonio writes, so as to feel less programmed by the catastrophes of my childhood — it is likely that his desire to avoid chancing upon any more women like Dora or Silvina who might rattle the family arrangement that was allowing his daughters to bloom beautifully was what led him, on summer #8, to join a website called Your Sugar Arrangements for $69.99 a month.

* * *

An internet executive overdoses on heroin and his companion doesn’t phone the paramedics but
instead leaves him to die on his yacht, the internet reports, a companion with a history of not phoning the paramedics in similar circumstances and whom the internet executive met through a website called Your Sugar Arrangements, which is how Antonio first heard of Your Sugar Arrangements: what in the world is this website, Antonio remembers thinking, and since he doesn’t inject himself with heroin and can’t isolate himself dangerously inside a yacht — I have no interest in yachts, Antonio writes, or people who frequent yachts — on one of his first evenings alone on summer #8, as he was waiting for a stool at Salt Air, he angled his phone so no one could see him browsing a site called Your Sugar Arrangements (YSA), typing Arturo Ventanas as his username and joining this website out of curiosity, he told himself, not expecting to become a Sugar Daddy (SD) to any Sugar Baby (SB), as advertised on the website, nor expecting to become another successful male looking to fuel mutually beneficial, no-strings-attached (NSA) relationships with beautiful young women, as also advertised on the website, although financially he’d done okay enough to maybe belong to the Practical designation in the SB allowance section called Expectation / Budget ($1,000 to $3,000 monthly), as opposed to the High (more than $10,000 monthly), although he selected Negotiable (openly negotiable to any amount) because in the past he’d experienced bouts of nihilist spending (mostly on clothes from Saint Laurent) so he didn’t want to rule out the possibility of throwing away his database analyst salary on these new types of arrangements.

* * *

One day you’re at Saint Ignatius Catholic Church marrying someone because she’s expecting your child, one day you’re at the same church listening to Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E-Flat during your lunch hour, one day the young pianist who performed in that Schubert Trio is unbuttoning your jeans at the Pelican Yacht Harbor in Sausalito: her YSA name is Jasmine and she claimed to be a classical pianist who was studying at the Curtis Institute of Music, a claim that, unlike the many other claims on the many other profiles he has been encountering on Your Sugar Arrangements, turned out to be true, and perhaps because she already knew about the excess of falsehoods on Your Sugar Arrangements, she messaged him that she was performing at Saint Ignatius Catholic Church, so there he was in the audience during his lunch hour, two days before he was to meet her in person for the first time, sitting in the pews amidst the Catholic paraphernalia of his youth and at least a hundred retirees who seemed to believe they were entitled to free classical music during their lunch hour and at the same time seemed to be performing the joyousness of being alive, isn’t this incredible, Gertrude, at last we have time to listen to this beautiful music, the nineteenth-century music Antonio used to fumble when he was twenty-one and learning to play the piano, the tempestuous music of Chopin and Rachmaninoff that he later rejected as tonal kitsch, the Schubert Piano Trio No. 2 in E-Flat that he is listening to now as he runs SQL queries at Prudential Investments, remembering that afternoon a few weeks ago at Saint Ignatius Catholic Church, sitting in the pews and feeling like he’d been invited to participate in a public game of foreplay, yes, Arturo, you will watch me rousing the retirees with my pianistic vitality, and you will not talk to me after my performance, not yet, you will just watch me bow to the audience of the elderly, I won’t even know if you’re in the audience, but please don’t imagine you’re at one of those peep shows your hairdresser told you about, the kind where you insert a handful of coins to see me behind a glass pane because we’re in church, for god’s sake, and a decrepit priest just announced the afternoon program, and a beautiful woman in the balcony is about to film me from the wrong angle, yes, Arturo, that’s my mother and she has at least two rich boyfriends right now and she’s about your age, although you will never tell me your real age is thirty-nine, just as you will never tell me that one day you were at Saint Ignatius Catholic Church about to marry someone because she was expecting your child, or that nine years later, when you showed up to see me at Saint Ignatius, you didn’t feel any longing or regret or any of the strong emotions associated with returning to the church where you married someone because she was expecting your child, no, you were simply listening to my rendition of the Schubert Piano Trio No. 2 in E-Flat, enjoying the wonders of being alive just like the one hundred and one retirees around you, isn’t this incredible, Arturo, and that evening you will message me and tell me you were in the audience and praise me and tell me you recognized the cellist I was playing with from a performance of Steve Reich’s Cello Counterpoint at Carnegie Hall, and two days later I will cancel on you minutes before our dinner at Salt Air because I panicked about you knowing my real identity — I didn’t want to mix up my life in YSA with my real life, Arturo, Jasmine messaged him later — and despite your messages reassuring me that you also had an incentive to be discreet — I deleted your voicemails, Jasmine said a few days later, I was scared to listen to them — I didn’t change my mind until later that night, after you sent me a link to your publications, although I had already done a search on you to verify you weren’t a criminal, and three days after Jasmine canceled their first dinner at Salt Air, the game of public foreplay continued in the Bay Area, during dinner at Sushi Ran in Sausalito, where Arturo and Jasmine engaged in a heated conversation about John Cage, Chopin, etc., trying to impress each other without touching each other just yet — I don’t know why I canceled on you or why I later changed my mind, Jasmine messaged him later, I don’t think we make decisions like these logically, I had a gut feeling that something terrible was going to happen during dinner, that’s all, I just didn’t think you could possibly know so much about classical music, everyone in YSA exaggerates themselves 150 percent, everyone is tall and handsome and then they turn out to be bald businessmen or scrawny tech people — I just remembered another reason I originally didn’t want to meet you, Jasmine messaged him later, you told me you were a novelist, so I immediately assumed you’d be one of those cynical emo pretentious types who would tell me how depressing the world was, I don’t know why I remembered that just now as I was practicing my scales — and after dinner at Sushi Ran, Jasmine said let’s stroll to the pier, so they strolled arm in arm to the dark pier and stepped down to the empty Pelican Yacht Harbor, joking that in movies something terrible always happens in these kinds of harbors, and when they reached the end of the harbor she approached him and kissed him, and he unzipped her white jeans and discovered she was not faking her arousal, and she unbuttoned his black jeans and discovered he was not faking his arousal, and he wondered whether the knees of her white jeans would be soiled by the damp floorboards such that later her mother would be able to guess what her nineteen-year-old daughter had been up to, and he looked around at the dark sea and the vacant yachts and thought life is unbelievable and beautiful, there’s even a discarded bench cushion Jasmine can repurpose to lie down, and then it was over and she didn’t ask him for an allowance and he walked her back to her mother’s 1980s BMW and she was gone.

Excerpted from Aphasia © 2020 Mauro Javier Cárdenas. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved.