American Abductions

Mauro Javier Cárdenas

May 6, 2024 
The following is from Mauro Javier Cárdenas's American Abductions. Cárdenas grew up in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and graduated with a degree in Economics from Stanford University. He's the author of Aphasia (FSG, 2020) and The Revolutionaries Try Again (Coffee House Press, 2016). In 2016 he received a Joseph Henry Jackson Award and in 2017 the Hay Festival included him in Bogota 39, a selection of the best young Latin American novelists.

I said to myself I think you’re scared of the algorithms, Auxilio, Auxilio wrote, if you call this Antonio individual from your device, I think I thought, which is registered under my name, and you reach him on his device, which is probably registered under his name, you will awaken the American algorithms, but why have you come to imagine the algorithms as mechanical spiders, Auxilio, I said, please give me a minute to consider your question, I said, Auxilio will call Antonio, I think I imagined, the designated algorithm will crawl out of its slot and establish a linkage between Auxilio and Antonio, verify prior linkages between Auxilio and Antonio, monitor our linkage and wonder (I know wonder isn’t the right word for what these algorithms do but an agglomeration of if statements does, eventually, equate to wonder, I think, and so perhaps I could write that the designated agglomerative algorithmic spider would monitor us and wonder) why our calls only lasted seconds, because I had imagined calling you and hanging up, Antonio, calling you and not speaking, calling you and transmitting the sound of the sea, which is the sound of sleep, and I know that sounds ridiculous, Auxilio, I said, you’re too old for these telephonic hoaxes, for this prolonged mania of not speaking, even though I do speak, Antonio, just not to anyone alive here in Lisbon, and I know that admitting that I rarely speak might elicit pity from others, as if speaking was a brave feat, a magnificent signifier of sanity, poor Auxilio muted by misfortune, no, I didn’t go mute, Antonio, I was always inclined toward not speaking, even when I was a child, I think I remember, I wrote a note to my parents saying I will not speak for a week as penance for my sins, which was odd because we were not religious, so I’ve wondered if perhaps that penance was a trial run to see what it would be like to not speak, speak up, my teachers would say, speak up, the slogans would say, and if the voice detection algorithms of the American surveillance agencies would have been more advanced back then I think more Latin Americans would have gone mute, more slogans would have been retired sooner, don’t speak up or you will awaken the algorithms, can you imagine, as I have imagined, our voices stored inside the enormous data centers of the American surveillance agencies in Utah, Antonio, like neutrons inside nuclear facilities whispering to each other where is this centrifugal ride taking us, my voice (in data storage) reading to Aura, my four year old daughter, when insects sleep they are wakened only by poetic forces, what are poetic forces, Mama, Aura’s voice (in data storage) says, can you imagine, as I have imagined, parachuting yourself to the data centers in the deserts of Utah, as if part of an adventure tour, and asking the receptionist for all of Aura Restrepo’s recordings in stock, yes, I have imagined not only obtaining the recordings but creating a channel online with her recordings plus a recording of myself saying if you have heard this voice please contact me, if this is your voice please contact me, Aura, and of course I know Aura’s voice has probably changed by now, but what if it hasn’t, no, I know it has, Auxilio, our Aura turns twenty four this year her voice changed long ago, while you were imagining the adventure data tours of the future (because it isn’t hard to imagine that one day, if humans still exist, someone will offer tours of the data centers of the surveillance agencies of the United States, although perhaps the lizards of Utah have already started organizing these tours for themselves sign up now and crawl through millions of human voices without worrying about any of these voices shouting look, mama, a dinosaur, as Aura once did upon encountering a lizard at Marine Park in Venice, California, her voice unchanged), her voice changed, and you might be wondering, as I would wonder if I were you, what about your own repository of photos and videos of Aura, Auxilio, ay Antonio, I would have said, still inside the device I lost during my deportation eighteen years ago, still swimming with the stingrays in the Pacific Ocean, and as I considered your potential questions about Aura and my own deportation, I remembered watching your daughter’s video of the American abductors apprehending you, Antonio, and I thought what happened to you wasn’t that different from what happened to me: the abductors captured you as you were driving your daughters to their elementary school, the abductors captured me as I was driving to pick up my daughter at her preschool, and so I thought perhaps you wouldn’t want to know the external particulars of my deportation, of how I was captured and transported and caged and the rest of the brutal operation, because that would be too familiar to you, and so I thought what I should attempt to describe for you is how my mind changed after they abducted my daughter and I was deported, and I remember I imagined being part of a collective mind, the mind of all of us who have been deported and whose family members have been abducted, a mind like a sea struck by a meteor, a sea that ceases to be blue or green as it overtakes the continents, the fish turning into lizards and the lizards into birds with gills, a sea that is no longer the sea but a carnival of destruction and a cemetery and a neighborhood where I might run into you, Antonio, and I said to myself you’ve just had a vision, Auxilio, don’t be daft focus on how your mind changed, I said, okay, I said, I’ll talk about my insomnia, I said, I didn’t have insomnia before my deportation but I did after, an insomnia that persisted for so long that everything in my life became a potential enemy: if I eat this sugar cookie, I would say to myself, if I exercise too much, if I read about the war between the winged lizards and the mechanical spiders too late at night, I might not be able to sleep, which was ridiculous because I wasn’t able to sleep anyway, but perhaps our minds have been codified to invent causes if no causes can be located, just as our minds have been codified to avoid memories of meteors, of tsunamis, of bands of Pale Americans persecuting Latin Americans, which is probably why I have avoided telling you about the one crucial difference between our deportations, tell him, Auxilio, I said, he wants to know, after the abductors captured you, Antonio, your daughters were able to stay with their mother, whereas after the abductors captured me my daughter was not able to stay with anyone she knew: can you imagine, as I have imagined, how Aura remembers that moment, the moment the American abductors or the accomplices of the American abductors, towering over her, asked her where she lived, who was her mother, where was her mother, did she have family she could stayed with, and Aura saying, as I had asked her to say if I didn’t pick her up from school or if men wearing fake police vests tried to detain her, my name is Aura Restrepo, I am an American citizen, my mother’s name is Auxilio Restrepo and my aunt’s name is Maria Restrepo and her phone number is 415-672-6524, and sometimes when my device rings I still think I will hear Aura saying I forgot the number, Mom, I’m sorry I’m so late but I’ll be home for dinner, because Aura must have forgotten my sister’s phone number, Antonio, we practiced her saying Maria’s phone number, one skinny piggy between the 4 and the 5, the 6 and the 7 were married twice, that sort of thing, and just in case I had written the number on the labels of her dresses except the numbers must have faded from the dress she was wearing, or she forgot the phone number was on the labels, I don’t know, Antonio, can you imagine, as I have imagined, how Aura remembers that moment, if she can still remember that moment, the moment she forgot one number out of ten, two out of ten, because of one number I lost my mother, Aura probably says to herself, but perhaps once she arrived at the detention center the American abductors injected tranquilizers into her mind and her memories of me vanished, and perhaps the American abductors transported her to a foster home and she was adopted by well meaning Pale Americans, I don’t know, Antonio, I told my abductors that my daughter was at Buen Dia Family Preschool, told them the address, asked them if I could call my sister so she could pick up Aura, and I have become convinced, even though I know it’s irrational, that the American abductors and I spoke a different language, not as in Spanish vs. English but as in two different species unable to make their undertandings intersect, because I said what I said to them and they replied with nothing, as if they were bored of listening to the nonsense speech of Martians, and I could see myself becoming more agitated, shouting at them and tearing my handcuffed wrists and slamming my head against the back of their heads, don’t, Auxilio, I said to myself, they will incapacitate you with horse tranquilizer and you will never find Aura, and sometimes I wonder if my insomnia is the outcome of me containing my agitation in the back of the abductors’ car, as if I had a double, the Auxilio that did slam her head against them, and the other Auxilio, the one that didn’t, can’t sleep because she’s trying to find the Auxilio that did, tell him about Aura’s photographs, Auxilio, I said to myself, my sister did send me three photos of Aura before her own device was taken away when the American abductors captured her and her files were wiped out from the cloud per the executive order to delete all files created on American soil by Latin American deportees, which as you know the technology companies complied with due to it’s the law, and I did post Aura’s photos online and asked if anyone had seen her please contact me, and I did receive a message saying I’ve seen your daughter, Auxilio, and I did reply immediately and a woman named Jenny Kwan did call me, no, I said to myself, why would you want this Antonio individual to relive what happened to you it’s too terrible for anyone to have to relive it, he wants to know, I said, he will forgive your handwriting and help you locate Aura, I am so sorry about your daughter, Jenny Kwan said, talking at length, as if buying herself time, I thought later, are you Latino, she said, yes, I said, that’s what I thought, she said, and I heard a sound like a wave of white noise, Antonio, I heard a distant commotion, as if thousands of Americans were in the background manning an enormous intercom, we now have your coordinates, you scum, Jenny Kwan said, we’re coming for you, but I have already been deported, I said, I have already been banished from your accursed country, but she wasn’t there anymore, Antonio, she had already hung up.


From American Abductions by Mauro Javier Cárdenas. Used with permission of the publisher, Dalkey Archive Press. Copyright © 2024 by Mauro Javier Cárdenas.

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