The_Large_Glass_Cover_PhotoCuriously, the protagonists of the last book that I have published, feel satisfied with the work. I think that they come across quite poorly, but they don’t seem to notice that they are the characters. I think that they perhaps possess an infinite ingenuity or that they don’t usually read books as one should. I arrive at the house where they live and its owner receives me, flanked by the two dogs she owns. They are gigantic hairless specimens. Their backs resemble a mantle of glossy leather. I was ignorant of that woman’s fondness for that type of specimen. When I point it out she is surprised. She adds that, somehow, I had been the driving force behind that interest. It does not cease to be true. It had been more than fifteen years since I had dedicated myself to the promotion of raising dogs of this breed. I have spoken more than once about its benefits. Apart from their intelligence and extreme loyalty, they don’t typically carry pests or balls of fuzz that float in the air. They are quite hygienic pets. At seeing clearly the dogs that accompany the woman, I believe I recognize the larger one. It’s Lato, the animal that a very close friend’s father bought at my insistence five years earlier. It is quite a ferocious beast. It is calm only with whomever is his owner at the moment. With everyone else it is a true beast. Perhaps that is the reason that it has lived in several houses. On a certain occasion, my friend’s father had to flee the country in an inopportune departure. At determining that it would be impossible to leave the dog with anyone else, they took it to an animal park, where it escaped from its cage that very night. It then spent more than a week traversing the city from one side to the other, until it could find his original house. No one knows how it managed to orient himself, but despite the great achievement the dog was not welcomed back. The father had already departed and his son, my friend, now alone in the family house, thought that the solu­tion might be to take it to a veterinarian so that they could inject it with some type of poison.


When I learned of the incident I sought an audience with certain high society women. One of them accepted the dog temporarily. At first the woman had to tolerate a few bites, but the dog quickly seemed to comprehend that being faithful to this new owner was the only way to survive. In its new house, except with its brand-new owner, it started to demonstrate extreme fury. It bit every person it met and wanted, what’s more, constantly to copulate with its recently acquired owner. After a few months it had to be taken home by some of the house’s servants. Faced with the impossibility of tolerating it, the animal was taken to a rural area. There it paid for its faults since, for a reason perhaps related to the food that it began to receive, it began little by little to lose its teeth. Nonetheless, following a series of comings and goings—for economic reasons the rural family had to move to the capital—the dog happened to become the pet of the spouses that I have supposedly portrayed in my last published book.


I recognized the animal fully because it attacked me as soon as it saw me. I remembered, immediately, the matter of the teeth and I held its muzzle, immobilizing its bite. Once the dog calmed down I could continue with my visit. The woman of the house made me come up to the second floor, where her husband was lying on a bed. The woman entered the room first. I stayed at the doorway. From there I saw that the man recognized me and praised not just my last book but my literary career in general. At a certain pause, the wife took the book from the nightstand and asked me how much I charged. I answered her in the way that someone who practices prostitution would and we both laughed. Later, making a gesture entirely in disagreement with the class of per­son she was, she removed several bills from her cleavage and gave them to me. First she voiced the reservation of not being sure if she had paid me before, when I had launched the book. I did not know if those spouses had been present that night, but I did remember that one of her nieces took a copy, tasked with delivering it to them in the following days.


Once I received the money, the husband suggested that the character in the novel shared his same profession. Then he changed the subject. He talked about the dogs, which had remained on the first floor, since the stairs had a small gate to stop them from coming up. At that moment I told them that on a certain opportunity I had found a specimen of the strange breed’s missing link. I added that that gene was still latent, able to sponta­neously appear in a generation at the least expected moment. I made that discovery during one of my sev­eral trips to the agricultural zones on the coast, here I always ask if they do or don’t keep hairless dogs. A villager told me that the fishermen typically owned the smartest specimens. The villager also told me about a phenomenal dog that had been born two years prior. An old woman who dedicated herself to weaving baskets carried it between her hands. He told me, additionally, that it wasn’t the first one to be born in the region. What happened was that the villagers immediately killed the specimens that appeared with those characteristics. The pup had a great hunchback. It lacked a neck and showed great difficulty in moving its head from one side to the other. A particular chronicler of the Indi­ans, Clavijero, mentions a similar specimen called the Izcuintepozoli.


When I finished the story, the husband was already asleep. He was face up with my novel on his chest. The woman had listened to me attentively. Something in her gaze made me suspect that she was worried. The book I had just published began with a similar scene. In the text, while the husband sleeps, his wife wrings her hands in anguish. I stood up—before talking about the Izcuintepozoli I had taken a seat on a small sofa that was in the bedroom—and bade farewell. At descending and opening the little gate to the stairs, the toothless dog tried to attack me. I felt the touch of his gums on my wrist. The wife came down behind me. She accompanied me to the door. The dog continued trying to bite me. The woman continued accusing me. This was no high society woman, as anyone could tell. She was a woman belonging to the Muslim religion. That is why, in the first chapter of the book, I refer to the incongru­ence that those spouses showed by having hairless dogs instead of Salukis, the only canines accepted by Islam. Before closing the door she called me a prostitute; she didn’t understand why else I would have sold, to Playboy magazine no less, a mystical dream that I had had about the sheikha of the religious community that we belonged to. I was saved, she said, because her husband was ill. That was the reason why I encounter him lying down. She was sure that under those conditions he had been incapable of understanding the reproach, which appeared in the published book, for not having salukis in their home. While she talked she tried to pacify the hairless dog. I never found out if she truly accomplished it. Nonetheless, while I was leaving that home, I began to feel a certain embarrassment because, in effect, I had sold, for a high price too, that mystical dream to Playboy magazine.


The text had as its title “The Sheikha’s Illness,” and it is about a few strange visits: first one that I take to the hospital where they treat the incurable illness I suffer from—for which I am considered a sort of martyr for Sufism and am exempt from, among other things, real­izing the proper fasting of Ramadan, and another that I take together with our community’s sheikha to the house of the plumber charged with fixing the pipes of the mosque where the faithful typically come together several times per week. It seems to me that both visits are important. As much the one to the hospital, where they maintain—in a somewhat artificial manner—my life according to a strict regimen of pills, as the one we make to the house of a plumber for a mosque that strangely doesn’t have an appropriate place to perform ritual ablutions. I don’t know why I wound up selling the dream to the magazine. Perhaps I did it motivated by the same reasons why in my last published book I portrayed the owners of the hairless dogs in such a pedes­trian manner. In no case do the characters come across well. On one hand because the relationship between the owner of the house and the animal leaves much to desire, and even more so the role that the husband plays in that relationship; and on the other for associating my beloved sheikha with a magazine of that nature. I hope that, like the husband of the woman with the dog, my sheikha does not realize that she is a person similarly portrayed.


The sheikha’s illness begins when I appear very upset because I have been treated poorly at the hospital where they attend to me. They have cancelled all the appoint­ments I had scheduled, with the labs, with the high prestige doctors, and even a massage session that I managed to get in the rehabilitation area. Almost always those places for physical rehabilitation, are located in the basement of the hospitals. I know it well because since I was small I have frequently visited them. Since I was born my parents insisted on it in an almost obses­sive manner, because I used a prosthesis that replaced my missing right arm. They managed to inculcate in me the need to use it, but they didn’t take into account that that type of equipment requires an expensive and fre­quent maintenance. For that reason, for not anticipating that demand and perhaps also because of the lack of economic resources that have always characterized my family, the equipment I have used over the course of my life have always been in worse than calamitous condition. The pieces were imported, super expensive, they seldom had replacement parts. So it was always necessary to make a number of modifications, generally made by traveling cobblers, who did their work the best they could, with which we managed for me to always wear, with the greatest of pride, some useless and unserviceable parody of a prosthesis, which over time didn’t do anything but convert me into a type of cripple with half of his chest and right shoulder almost dead. My parents’ obsessions were of such magnitude that more than forty years had to pass until, in the middle of a sort of initiating visit to India, I threw my last prosthesis into the sea. I did so two days after the occurrence of the tsunami that devastated part of that country’s coast.


Mario_Bellatin_Author_PhotoMARIO BELLATIN is a Mexican Sufi who studied theology in Peru and film in Cuba. His dozens of novellas have won all of Mexico’s major writing prizes. His novel The Uruguayan Book of the Dead, forthcoming from Phoneme Media, won the 2015 José María Arugedas Prize, Cuba’s most important prize for fiction. He was a guest curator of Documenta 13.




Adapted from The Large Glass, by Mario Bellatin, Copyright © 2016 by Mario Bellatin. With the permission of the publisher, Phoneme Media.

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