The koala in my closet
by Ginés S. Cutillas
The koala in my closet
A koala lives in my closet. I know it sounds strange, but one night,
at five in the morning, a noise woke me up. When I opened my eyes, I
couldn’t believe what I saw. A koala was zig-zagging towards my
closet. He opened it, curled up among the folded clothes and closed
At first I thought I was dreaming, but after getting up to check, I
realized that the koala had been living in my closet for who knows
how long. He was sleeping so peacefully that I felt bad waking him
up. So I closed the door and went back to bed thinking about what I
would say to him the next day. But when morning came, I still hadn’t
thought of what to say (what do you say to a koala living in your
closet?) and so the days passed. I never said a word to him. One
night, when he was late getting home, I was worried and didn’t turn
off the lights until he showed up while I pretended to be asleep. If
he comes home really drunk sometimes I even help him in, sure that
he won’t remember the next day.
He knows that I know he exists, but we’ve reached a non-verbal (and
non-written) agreement to ignore each other.
I’m writing this while eating at the table. He’s sitting in front of
me, chewing leaves, right in front of the TV. I pretend not to see
The writer decided to kill his character at the end of page
seventy-three. The latter, in disagreement, not only reappeared on
page seventy-four, but also in the three following novels. Tired of
each other, they finally agreed to a truce with the suicide of the
I’m on a humble soccer team that practices at night. So humble that
we've spent the past few months playing with half the field in
On more than one occasion we’ve seen them fix the spotlights, but
then something else always inevitably breaks down, covering that
stretch of field in shadows.
We had no choice but to get used to practicing on the side that was
The problem was that missed balls often ended up on the dark side
and someone had to go to look for them beyond the line traced by the
light. We never saw those balls again: they simply disappeared, as
if the blackness had swallowed them up.
That’s how we lost practically all the replacement balls – the
easiest to steal – so we asked the club to buy more balls so we
could at least finish our practices, and then convinced the
equipment manager to collect all the balls that went over the line
to the other side and bring them back every morning.
One night, we quickly ran out of balls. Since none of us were that
naïve, we decided to call it a day and, downcast, we started to walk
off the field when suddenly something unexpected happened: someone
threw us a ball back from the other side. Confused, one of the guys
kicked it back into the darkness. A few seconds later, the ball came
It didn't take us long to organize scrimmages with our invisible
teammates. We threw them red and blue jerseys so they could divide
themselves up, just like on our side, and we made two teams.
We just pass the ball from here to the other side, where we know
they're following our plays, and wait, straining our ears, for the
ball to appear again so we can follow their plays.
When we hear them yell goal, the defense on this side celebrates,
lifting up their shirts and running around doing the airplane. We're
convinced that the forwards on the other side are doing the same
Sometimes, intoxicated with excitement, we feel like crossing the
line and celebrating with everyone together, but we don't trust
them: why don't they do it?
A domestic story
Discovering the plants was strange but
pleasant when all is said and done. I always thought my bachelor’s
studio could use a bit of a feminine touch.
It was less pleasant when I found used
tampons in the garbage can in the bathroom. Not because it was an
odd place to find them – I wouldn’t want to offend anyone with my
words – but because I lived alone and, as far as I knew, without a
stable partner or any other kind of partner for that matter.
It was rather disturbing when the wall
color changed from one day to the next, but I quickly got used to
it. It gave the apartment a certain feeling of warmth.
Soon, the furniture changed positions.
That bothered me. Nevertheless, I had to admit that the new layout
seemed to make sense. A new shower curtain followed, a rug in the
living room, blinds on the windows, new dishes, but also long hairs
in the shower, piles of panties in the drawers and makeup scattered
all over the house.
By the time I started wondering what to
do with the intruder, the romantic dinners began. I got home from
the office and all I had to do was sit down and enjoy the music, the
candles and the exquisite dishes I had no idea that my precarious
kitchen was even capable of producing.
In gratitude, I started leaving sweet
notes on the refrigerator and roses on the pillows, which later
appeared in vases.
I work. She takes care of me. I’m sure
we're the envy of all our neighbors: they’ve never even heard us
I don’t know her. And I think it’s better
Death upside down
As soon as I got here, what most
impressed me when I started walking upside down on the ceiling was
seeing grandpa move around in his wheelchair, upside down. Maybe
even more than seeing my parents or my little brother, since they
had always moved as if it were the most natural thing in the world
for their feet to know which steps to take.
Sometimes I think they can see me, or at
least sense me – grandpa, for example, won’t stop looking up
surreptitiously – but they won’t admit it, maybe to make it easier
on the little one. Still, sometimes, I try to touch them.
It’s fascinating to see my brother
growing up from above. Not a night goes by that I don’t go to his
room to say goodnight while he lies in bed. I lie right in front of
him, with my back against the ceiling, and imagine he’s looking at
He’s been lying there for a few days,
very sick. Last night, they had to make an emergency call to the
doctor, and this morning I woke up to his childish smile playing
right next to me.
At night he still insists on kissing
grandpa. The only thing I can think to do is lift him up to help him
reach grandpa’s cheek.
It’s not that different from the others. True, the others are wooden
and this one is metal. It’s also true that it has two panels
(instead of one) that open in the middle to let you in and out. But
aside from those two small differences, that’s all it is: just a
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in the
numbers above it. A scale from zero to nine just above the upper
door frame, where the digits light up in sequential order but don’t
always reach nine, although they do always go back to zero.
I couldn’t resist the temptation to peek inside and was
surprised to find a cubicle, two square meters, with mirrors all
over. I figured that when you closed the door, one of the other
three walls would open up giving access to…
I decided to sit down here, in the hotel foyer, to study
it carefully and write down everything going in and coming out in
order to try to deduce some rules.
At 7:45 p.m., a couple formed by a relatively young man
and woman go in; he’s thirty-something and she’s twenty-something.
The numbers successively light up to five and then the countdown
goes back down to zero. When the door opens, the couple has aged at
least thirty years. He now looks about seventy and she looks about
sixty. Corollary number 1: when level five intensity is applied to a
sample young couple in the small room behind the double doors, they
age by approximately three decades. I also observed that they were
now dressed differently. Maybe it’s just a dressing room that ages
At 7:52 p.m., a kid around the age of thirteen goes in.
The scale goes up to three and stays there for a while. The door
doesn’t open again until another teenager, maybe 15, arrives.
Mysteriously, the thirteen-year-old boy isn’t there anymore. The
second adolescent is swallowed by the fourth mirror, and level four
intensity is applied. The door opens again. Again, there isn’t
anyone there. Corollary number 2: it makes people under the age of
sixteen disappear if they are alone. That explains the sign
prohibiting children unaccompanied by an adult from using the
At 8:05 p.m., an eighty-year-old couple goes in.
According to my calculations and applying Corollary number 1, which
would age them thirty years, I doubt they’d come out alive.
Intensity eight. Twenty minutes later – 8:25 p.m. – I confirm that
my suspicions were correct: they don’t come back out. Instead, two
very smiley twenty-something-year-old girls go in and level six
intensity is applied – what determines the force that is applied?
The result is two unsmiling kids with dark skin. Corollary number 3:
mood is another variable, which, combined with intensity, produces
changes in sex, race and mood. Age remains unaffected.
Nothing else happens until 8:48 p.m. This time the door
closes by itself without anyone inside and level four intensity is
applied. When it descends back to zero, the two young teenagers come
back out dressed in athletic clothes. Rectification of corollary
number 2: it does not make people under the age of sixteen
disappear, it just retains them. Corollary number 4: more time is
needed to put on athletic clothes.
I’m starting to get hungry with so many new discoveries.
I reach the conclusion that there are infinite combinations of
variables and that it would take me years to chart my findings.
Before going to dinner, I decide to try the dressing room myself to
complete my investigation. I take advantage of the open door to step
inside. I observe myself in the mirrors. I still look the same. I
wait a minute for the door to close and for one of the other walls
to open, maybe to some clothes lined up on hangers. Nothing happens.
I wait a little while longer. I move. Nothing. I decide to jump. At
the third jump, the door closes. Corollary number 5: to start up the
dressing room, you have to jump three times.
I see that the scale is also displayed inside, up above
the door frame. Intensity eight. I continue to stare at myself in
the mirrors. I don’t see any new wrinkles, or exhaustion, and my
clothes haven’t changed.
When the door opens, I let out a scream. The dead
eighty-year-olds appear in front of me with the same clothes they
were wearing before. The foyer has disappeared. Behind them there is
a long hall with an infinite number of doors on both sides. Is this
heaven? I wonder. “Going down?” they ask. To which I respond
affirmatively with tears in my eyes while sobbing that I’m not ready
yet. They come in. Our eyes do not part throughout the process of
reincarnation. The intensity goes back down to zero. As soon as the
door opens, the foyer appears before me once again. I throw myself
down to kiss the floor. Thank God, I’m still alive.
A question of reflections
Defeating him wasn’t going to be an easy task. So after gathering
huge quantities of coffee and provisions in the room, I put my most
comfortable armchair in front of the mirror.
Before sitting down, I tested his reflections. The image recreated
all my improvised faces and strange choreography with extreme
The first night I had to leave to go to the bathroom, but first I
readjusted the mirror so I could see him from there. He seemed to
look away with a strange sense of embarrassment. Nevertheless, two
days later he was still undefeated, repeating all my gestures and
I was convinced that I would be victorious. I was depending on the
advantage that the food on my side was real. All I had to do was
Four days passed before I detected a momentary delay in his
movements. Excited, I moved the chair away and got closer to the
mirror. Two red eyeballs glaring over an unkempt beard. I took two
steps backwards and began to simultaneously raise and lower my arms.
Faster and faster. The reflection tried to keep up with me, but his
coordination was lacking to the point where, occasionally, he would
even rest his arms on his knees for a moment to study my movements.
Clearly I could have changed it up at that point, but I wanted the
victory to be devastating, for him to be the one to surrender. With
my remaining food and renewed spirit, I figured that one more night
couldn’t be that hard. But I was wrong, and I fell asleep at dawn
for a few seconds. When I awoke with a start, I quickly looked for
the figure of the man in the mirror. He wasn’t there.
I moved closer to the cold surface and as I touched it, it rippled
like water in a pond. I turned around and discovered the man
sleeping peacefully on my bed.
I didn’t take my eyes off him as I stepped across to the other side.
A small problem
I stopped using a watch the day my left hand disappeared. It took me
a while to get used to the idea of losing it, but I figured my right
hand would be enough for day-to-day tasks.
The disappearance of my knees was more complicated, since although
my feet were still there, they had no connection to the rest of my
body, so I had to leave them in the shoe closet. The most logical
place I could find.
The day I woke up without any hips, I thought about going to the
doctor. He couldn’t find any explanation for what was happening to
me. He prescribed painkillers and rest. But that didn’t work.
After my hips, my left arm followed, then my torso, my back, and my
shoulders. Which caused my right arm to fall off, which still led to
a hand. All by itself, the hand crawled to the shoe closet and crept
inside, I guess it didn’t want to feel lonely.
And there I was, with my head and neck stuck to the floor like a
The last thing I was able to think, before disappearing completely,
was: “Maybe she’s forgetting about me.”
The desperation of letters
I was watching television when I heard a loud crash behind me, just
in the library. I got up, surprised, and went to check on what it
was. An inconsistent mass of paper was dying at the foot of the
bookshelf. I took it in my hands and, dismembering its parts, I
could tell that it was a book – Crime and Punishment, to be
exact. I couldn’t find a logical explanation for such a strange
The next night, in front of the television, the same
disturbing noise. Ironically, this time it was Ana Karenina
who had become a heap of deformed paper lying at her colleagues’
A few nights later I realized what was happening: the
books were committing suicide. At first it was the classics. The
more classic, the more probable it would crash to the floor.
Afterwards, the philosophy books started, one day Plato died and the
next day Socrates. They were later followed by contemporary authors
such as Hemingway, Dos Passos, Nabokov…
My library was disappearing in leaps and bounds. There
were nights of mass suicides and, no matter how much I tried, I
couldn’t find a common characteristic among the kamikaze books that
would help me figure out which one was going to be next. One night I
decided not to turn on the television so I could watch the books
closely. That night none of them committed suicide.
or the art of seeing things
Where the man saw an old abandoned wooden bridge, the boy saw a
bridge made of feathers with a crossing herd of purple elephants, a
cluster of trees tiptoeing on their roots, a few dancing koalas, a
court of juggling elves, and the same man coming from the opposite
direction, wearing dark glasses, trying to avoid them all with the
help of his cane.
The balance of the world
The only kid I was sure of was the redhead. I hadn’t seen the other
two in my entire life.
After thinking for a while, I came to the conclusion that, amid the
confusion of the crowd leaving the supermarket, they must have been
switched on me. I took care of them for three years, trusting that
others would do the same with my children. Until the day at the
amusement park when – surrounded by so many kids – they switched out
the redhead and the older of the two strangers with a girl and a
mulatto. I raised them for almost 10 years, but one day, on their
way back from college, they were transformed: the girl had become a
teenage boy who spoke British English and the one who had been with
me the longest had turned into a boy with glasses who was seemingly
autistic. Nonetheless, thinking that this was life, I agreed to
support them until they finished their studies.
The day the Brit got married, his godparents – who were
supposed to be his pseudobrothers – were replaced with twin girls.
Not all that bad-looking, to tell you the truth.
Now, on my death bed, every time the bedroom door opens and three
strange teenagers walk in, I hope they’ll be my children, the real
ones, the first ones, so I can say goodbye to them and this world I
no longer understand.
"We know your
secret. If you don't kill Rubén Ramos, we'll make it public.” That
was all the note said. Being the most powerful man in the country
means you sometimes get anonymous messages like this. No matter how
much I think about it I can't figure out who could have written the
note. I don't even know any Rubén. Why would they want him dead?
Just in case, I ordered his arrest and execution. I didn't have any
choice, imagine the scandal if my secret became public. On the other
hand, I don’t really know what secret they were talking about.
After working in the city where I’d been sent for my job, I went
back to the hotel. They gave me key 502 at the front desk and I went
up to the fifth floor, looking for my room. When I opened the door,
I was surprised to see the light on and hear noise inside. I poked
my head in and there was a couple, he was getting dressed and she
was watching television lying on the bed. I apologized thinking I
had made a mistake, although I thought it was odd that the key could
open the door. I figured it wasn’t a big deal considering that such
a large hotel could easily have repeated keys.
I walked down the long, lonely hallway again looking for my room,
just to end up in front of the same door. I hesitated for a moment
and then put the key in the lock. This time there was an obese,
naked man lying on the bed with a young woman on top of him. I
apologized again and closed the door. I attributed my blunder to
exhaustion from the last few weeks of work. But how was it possible
for this key to open every door?
Again, I looked for my room and ended up in the same place. I opened
without looking and found a mother playing with her small child on
the bed and the father talking on the phone. I slammed the door
shut, this time without apologizing. Something crossed my mind, but
I had to open the door again to check. So I did and this time there
was a melancholy businessman eating a sandwich. My theory was
correct: every time I opened the door it was a different room.
So far I’ve opened 105 rooms and all of them have been
different. I’m so tired. I hope they don’t go up to 502.
Last night someone rang my doorbell at three o’clock in the morning.
I hoped it was her.
Just in case, I didn’t open the door.
I woke up next to a stranger. Although what's really amazing is that
every time I blink a different woman appears.
Now all I think about is keeping my eyes open the day she comes
The alarm sounded when the book cover was opened. The characters
took their places while the prologue author entertained the reader,
who didn’t take long to turn the page to the first chapter. The hero
of the story appeared there, still readjusting his costume for the
Once again, he recited his part from memory without taking his eye
off the edge of the page, not trusting that the next character would
be ready to make their entrance on cue.
But everything went smoothly. The villain appeared as soon as the
next page was turned, to make his interests known, always
antagonistic to the recently abandoned scenario composed of two open
Considering the length and intricacy of his discourse, the other
actors breathed a sigh of relief as they realized they had enough
time to get dressed, go over their parts and even smoke a cigarette
or two to calm their nerves.
By the time the rogue was about to leave the scene, the author had
already lined up all the other actors in order, and threw them out
one-by-one onto the stage as if pushing skydivers out of a plane.
One after the other, they performed the story that ended, once
again, in the death of a ruffian at the hands of a hero.
With the book cover barely even closed and the cast
already congratulating themselves on the novel’s eleventh show, the
prologue author sounded the alarm. Someone had opened the book
Victory and defeats
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of a
continent, a part of the main.”
In the seven years he’d been shipwrecked on that island, he hadn’t
missed one day of sending a message in a bottle for them to come
rescue him from his aquatic prison. He was so sure his prayers would
be answered that he never moved from the beach where he landed that
first night when he was swept in by the sea.
When he ran out of bottles, he had no other choice but to leave the
After traveling for two days, he reached the highest
point in the middle of the island where he could see the entire
perimeter, especially the sparkling shoreline on the other side,
where the current had gathered each and every one of the bottles he
had so believed in.
Return to sender
Even though her name was in the return address, she couldn’t
remember writing that letter.
When she opened it, she confirmed that it was her handwriting and
that it was addressed to her brother. In the letter she told him
everything she had never dared to say to his face. When she finished
reading it, she was filled with a strange sense of relief.
The letter she found the next day had the same return address but a
different destination. This time, it was addressed to her father.
She reproached him for abandoning them when she was such a little
girl, for how poorly he had performed his role… She freed herself
from the burden that had been weighing on her for so many years.
The letter to her father was followed by more: one for her mother,
others for her closest friends, relatives, ex-boyfriends and even a
few old teachers.
They all had the same intentions. They all had the same effect on
her state of mind. The more epistles she received and the better her
arguments, the more she was convinced that her behavior had been
impeccable in each of her relationships.
The last letter she received was addressed to her. She never opened
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin.
The times they are a-changin’
At lunchtime, the seven of them gathered together for a special
meeting and proceeded to vote: that very afternoon, Snow White would
go down to the mine.
Blowin’ in the wind
The two little piggies, still holding the long straws in their
hands, hugged each other in celebration of their conflict
It’s all over now, baby blue
Gretel, hungry, convinced the witch to give her just a little bit.
Just like a woman
In response to the squire’s question of why he didn’t kiss Sleeping
Beauty, the prince, looking down, responded: “You really don’t
You ain’t goin’ nowhere
“But why can’t I go with you to the monster ball?” Belle asked. “You
wouldn’t be ashamed of me… would you?”
Don’t think twice, it’s alright
“If a surgeon can speed things up,” thought the ugly little
duckling, “why wait?”
It hurts me too
Gepetto ran out of fire wood for the cold winter.
Knockin’ on heaven’s door
Exhausted, still panting, they agreed on the following fantasy: now
she would be the wolf and he would be the naive little girl.
Like a rolling stone
At the break of dawn, a tattered Cinderella was still dancing at the
club as if she were possessed.
Baby stop crying
Captain Ahab was unable to make the Little Mermaid understand,
before she died, the concept of “collateral damage.”
Mr. Tambourine Man
The Piper of Hamelin couldn’t find a flute and used a kettledrum
instead. All the elephants left the city.
The man in me
“Look at her, your Honor!” exclaimed Peter, pointing at a sobbing
Wendy. “As if you wouldn’t have done the same? Wouldn’t you have cut
off that repugnant pirate’s hand too?”
Simple twist of fate
The multinational company fired the clumsy milkmaid. The fifth
pitcher would be carried by a tight-rope walker.
I shall be free
“And how much did you say you’re going to pay me?” the grasshopper,
offended, asked the ants.
Translated from Spanish by Heather Elizabeth Higle
Ginés S. Cutillas (Valencia, Spain, 1973)
has published multiple short story collections, including The
library of life ("La biblioteca de la vida"), and other short
stories and flash fiction including: South fiction ("Ficción sur"),
Against the clock II ("A contrarreloj II") and Please be brief 2
("Por favor, sea breve 2"). Mr. Cutillas has received numerous
awards for his work, including the International Flash Fiction Award
"El Dinosaurio" (2007), Fundación Drac Short Story Award (2007), 5th
Annual Flash Fiction Competition (Granada Book Fair, 2006), and the
Compressed Literature Flash Fiction Award (2006).
Heather E. Higle (Stamford, CT, USA, 1979)
has a degree in Spanish and English Literature from the University
of Pennsylvania and a Diploma in Translation from the Chartered
Institute of Linguists. She has been working as a freelance
translator in Madrid, Spain, for nearly a decade and has translated
numerous short stories for award-winning contemporary Spanish
authors, such as Ginés Cutillas and Mercedes Cebrián, who has been
published in various languages and different countries