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 the door.

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 him.





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 former.



Blind distrust 

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 complete darkness.

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 lit up.

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 back.

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 thing.

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 argue.

I don’t know her. And I think it’s better that way.



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 me.

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.



The door 

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 door.

            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 people.

            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 dressing room.

            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 accuracy.

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 spasmodic movements.

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 wait.

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 wild mushroom.

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 incident.

            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’ feet.

            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.


Preventative execution


"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.




The stranger


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 back.




Novel mechanics


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 unanticipated reading.

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 planes.

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 again.




Victory and defeats


“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of a continent, a part of the main.”

John Donne


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 shore.

            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 it.




Tales revisited

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.

Bob Dylan

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 resolution.


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 know?”


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



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