I remember that the bitter smell of semolina cookies baking slowly was just the few bad times I had in that house.
I was born at the German Clinic in Santiago de Chile at 11:30 in the morning after nine months that my 27-year-old mother had stopped taking the pill. That day she neatly packed her suitcase and went to the Clinic early with my dad, who had to wait nervously in the waiting room, because in those days they wouldn’t allow people in the delivery room. I was born with a pear face, and I could hardly compete with the sunny face of my sister, a year and a half older than me. After few days at the clinic, my mother returned to the house they rented with my father in a middle class neighborhood near Bilbao and Vespucio avenues. They lived there for a year with my three older siblings.
Our street was quiet and we witnessed the construction of the sewer system when I was 9 or 10 years old, so I imagine that before every house had a poop well. Our house, from what I remember, had a medium-sized living room, with veil curtains that I burned when I was six years old by putting (under the influence of alcohol that I had taken from the remains of drinks left by the adults, thinking that they were soda), the volatile veils on a gas stove. That same day, I pulled down my pants in the garden and peed.
The kitchen was long and narrow and ended in a room for the maid. At the beginning, two teen age girls took care of us. They also cook and clean. That room, over time, became the bedroom of my two older brothers.
To the left of the living room there was a corridor that led to the other rooms. The first was a small one where my younger brother slept and whose window was in a corner at a rather high level and where, according to my brother, a black dog jumped at night.
Next, there was my parents’ bathroom. Very small, with reduced space for a half bath, the toilet and sink. Further down was the larger bathroom with a tub and it was shared by the five of us siblings. We even had to share the two towels that were there. I have the memory of always drying myself with some wet towels and the smell of greasy hair mixed with the smell of anti-dandruff shampoo that my older brother used.
At the end of the corridor was the room of my two brothers,, with two iron beds that were tucked one under the other. The one underneath had legs that rose up at night. I remember having inherited those beds and feeling the sudden noise of the iron legs collapsing and falling to the floor. The metal mesh bed base served countless times for one of my brother to hang below its cross hangers to hide from my father when he took off his belt. I remember how the air was cut by this evil and improvised weapon and how my brother arched his back crying every time my dad tried to touch his body. That room, once my brothers were sent to the maid’s room, we called it the pink room for the first color of its walls, the TV or game room. I remember having been ill with tonsillitis and having starred in the most passionate games of foosball as well as having peed in my sleep on a chair, while the five of us, together with our caregiver, waited to witness the landing of the moon on television.
At the end of the corridor, the house expanded to the left where my parents’ room was on the right and in front the one of the little girls, our room, where for a long time was a changing table in front of the window, from where we went up to jump out into the garden through the window. My parents’ room was sacred. You only had to enter by knocking first on the door. More than once I forgot this command and once I found my father with half his pajamas, who, when he got up in a rage, fell to the ground. What I saw filled me with shame and amazement.
It was also the sanctuary of the sick who had the privilege of lying in our parents wide bed, with clean sheets throughout the day, and only at midnight to transfer to the boring and cold bed of their own. In the middle was a wrought iron lamp that had at least 5 bulbs. I remember when I was 9 years old I got hepatitis A, and my parents’ room became practically mine for a month. One day while my brother was changing one of the burned out bulbs, due to bad electrical connections at the time, a short circuit was set up. I remember the force of the blow, the smell of burning and my brother swaying almost inert, by the hair, almost electrocuted.
The pink room and my parents room overlooked a red-tiled terrace, the edges of which were so sharp that a cousin once hit his forehead and they had to take him to the hospital where he got several stitches. I also attended a lot of birthday parties carefully prepared by my parents. Furthermore, I remember on birthday party similar to a kermesse with games like the ones in a fair. It made us famous among our classmates and cousins.
In that patio we had two swings and two walnut trees that they supplied us with walnuts from time to time. There I collected worms, petals, mud, flies, and roly poly bugs that we stuffed in a bottle with my younger brother to play magic potions and poisons. Several dogs, ducks, and 20 rabbits also passed through there, although not all at the same time.
I remember that the bitter smell of semolina cookies baking slowly was just the few bad times I had in that house. And today, every time I enter a house and perceive the smell, I want to throw up.