Corner of the Dead

Corner of the Dead

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    Corner of the Dead
    Book Description:

    This powerful novel depicts the reign of violence perpetrated in Peru in the 1980s by the Shining Path guerrillas, a Maoistbased organization, and the subsequent authoritarian counterattack by the Peruvian government. It explores these horrific events through the eyes of a young American photojournalist and humanitarian worker, Lisette, who bears witness to the genocide of the Peruvian Indians in whose village she has chosen to live. “I use the camera to block my view,” says Lisette. This is the start of her double vision—trying to forget and trying to recall—and her struggle to come to terms with the human capacity for cruelty. But the grim reality in Peru is so overpowering that she carries it with her back to New York and through the rest of her life. Having abandoned a lover along with the fight, she desperately tries to find meaning beyond that of mere survival.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-123-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[x])
  2. Part I
    • CHAPTER 1
      (pp. 3-5)

      THERE ARE PLACES in the Andes where we are afraid of dust. Of what might be borne in the dust. We crossed the border and two men in camouflage stepped out from a shack with a corrugated roof, machine guns strapped like mail bags across their chests. They stopped each car and told the passengers to get out.

      An Indian boy with a hose attached to a plastic tank worn on his back like a knapsack—it’s called abomba—sprayed the inside of the car, then the outside, focusing on the tires. He wore no shoes, no gloves, no...

    • CHAPTER 2
      (pp. 6-10)

      I AM STARING at the toast on my plate. The lightly browned texture reminds me of freckles. I carve a mouth by cutting a section from the middle, curve the empty space upwards to make a smile. After slicing two eyes I say out loud, Lulu is who you are, Lulu. Now I cannot eat her. The woman beside me moves away, taking her coffee, napkin and silverware.

      That was yesterday. I was on my way to work but never got there. It started after I dropped my daughter at school. I felt I was falling, that I could not...

    • CHAPTER 3
      (pp. 11-14)

      SILENCE is reserved for churches.

      It should not apply to cities.

      Nor steal the voices of children and their animals.

      Outside the hotel window the streets of Ayacucho were frozen like those in a travel poster. I strained for the sound of an Indian harp. All I heard were gunshots. I tried to convince myself it was the sound of a muffler backfiring.

      Rolff was the first person to introduce himself. I waited for the rest of his name. He only said Rolff. He was a doctor from Germany. As the weeks went on Rolff’s expression never changed.

      Francisco sat...

    • CHAPTER 4
      (pp. 15-15)

      THERE WERE three more villages that day.

      Then a month of villages.

      Rolff made lists.

      Arye wrote down phone numbers and passed them to Marta.

      Marta spent the evenings making calls.

      I used the camera to block my view.

      We drove by blackened fields, past animals with rigid legs facing upwards. In the distance clothing smoldered in the ditches. There were abandoned houses, singed landscapes, the threat of human remains or no people at all. And in the ground, gaping holes that could have held entire bodies.

      Blood, I learned, leaves a film of scum across dust.

      The groan of...

    • CHAPTER 5
      (pp. 16-22)

      The wind and the dust, I learned, had been condemned to carry ashes.

      I wanted to say we had been to one village or another; that we had looked but had found nothing. This, Arye would not allow.

      In our first week Arye bought each of us a shovel. When he sensed something more than what could be seen, he had us dig. If there was a place with freshly dug soil or mounds of packed earth he made us keep going. Sometimes he followed a handwritten map. Even without the map he was usually right.

      On the third day...

  3. Part II
    • CHAPTER 1
      (pp. 25-31)

      LIMA. Is this you?

      Still gray.

      I ask Karl if he sees gray or is it that I am still seeing what I remember from when I was here three years ago with Arye, even though I am here again and am no longer working off memory.

      It is gray, he says, and the buildings are soot-covered. Even the beautiful colonial ones that encircle thePlaza de Armas.

      There has been little upkeep, mostly bullets and tanks and soldiers. No one has been planting flowers.

      There are more beggar children than I remember, Indians from as far away as the...

    • CHAPTER 2
      (pp. 32-34)

      AT SUNSET we gather in Enrique’s courtyard. His house is the best in the village although only half-finished. In the two years we live here, the holes where windows should have been are never filled.

      The radio is set to the only station. It carries a soap opera from Venezuela. The soap opera, the money from the United States, Karlos and I, who just walked into their village and stayed, and who in time left, one without the other—are only a few of the many things that do not make sense.

      Tomorrow we will go to the hot springs,...

    • CHAPTER 3
      (pp. 35-37)

      IT WRAPS ITSELF around me. Exhaustion and dread and I am shaking.

      We fell asleep earlier than usual last night. It was the cold. I’m not sure who woke first or if we woke at the same time but it was to a chorus of all the dogs in the village barking, followed by a screeching sound, the kind I have heard only pigs make. We stayed in bed on our backs and did not move. Holding each other’s hand, we stared at the ceiling, not seeing anything, that’s how dark it was, we just listened. Morning came.

      The water...

    • CHAPTER 4
      (pp. 38-42)

      THE NEXT MORNING we eat our bread and butter. I was afraid to go for milk. Usually I buy it from the woman across the way and boil it for fifteen minutes. I get up from the table to go outside to wash the dishes when Karl tells me to sit.

      I’m going to leave this morning, he says. One of us has to. I need to see what is happening in the villages above, and if it is the same as what is happening here I need to gather proof. You don’t need to come. I know you had...

    • CHAPTER 5
      (pp. 43-44)

      I WALK FASTER toward thecuyera. The light is on in the bedroom. I run up the path, calling to Karl. I don’t want him to be frightened by the noise outside the window.

      He’s listening to the radio. He looks like a sick pale child with tear-stained cheeks. When I sit down I realize how tense I’ve been, how my body aches from being so alert, my head too. I mailed everything. I’ll pour wine. Then I’ll make omelets. Water first. I felt as if someone was following me, that something was going to happen that would keep me...

    • CHAPTER 6
      (pp. 45-47)

      BUSES AND CARS are ambushed. Men in camouflage block the roads. There are raids in the mountains, people are rushing to escape although it isn’t clear where. They are not aligned with anyone. They want only to survive.

      Senderostrengthens its hold.

      The military tries to bury what it has done.

      The military orSendero?

      Some days we hear it is one, then the other.

      Enrique brings an egg, apologizes because he only has one. He too hasn’t left the village. We have run out of propane but I don’t tell him because I don’t want him to give us...

    • CHAPTER 7
      (pp. 48-51)


      The meat woman asks why only one.

      Karlos is away.

      She invites me to stay with her in the apartment above the store, just until he gets back. She calls me by the name he sometimes uses,Manchita, the one who is stained. But he says it lovingly when he comes to me in bed. He wouldn’t have said it in front of her. It must be what comes to mind when she sees my face. She doesn’t catch herself as I would expect if she were aware of having said something wrong.

      This stain,...

    • CHAPTER 8
      (pp. 52-52)


      Coffee cups rattle on the table, shaken by the force of military jets flying back and forth across the same path of sky. Coffee runs down the sides of the cups.

      Dark puddles pool on the glass table.

      A light seeps out from under the bathroom door. I am in my father’s house. School is about to begin. I know I have to get dressed or my father will be angry with me. But the coffee keeps spilling and liquid is running along the floor. I want to finish dressing but first I have to wipe...

    • CHAPTER 9
      (pp. 53-58)

      THE FIRST Catholic church in this country is at the entrance to the next town over. Its ceiling is made of reeds from the river. A mural on the inside wall tells the story of the conquest. Inside it I am safe even though the door is open to the wind. Behind a pane of glass are dried flowers from long ago and many small caskets stacked on top of each other. An evangelical minister and his community are building a new church here, three times the size of the old one, with stained glass windows and a steeple that...

    • CHAPTER 10
      (pp. 59-60)

      HE ISN’T BACK.

      It has been more than two days and two nights. And that was all he said it would be, two days and two nights.

      In the afternoon I do laundry with the women. They laugh at me and it is true I don’t know how to do the wash without washing myself. After changing my shirt for the second time, I put on Karl’s rain poncho. It’s inefficient and wasteful but I have trouble keeping the water from sloshing over me, wavelike. A head-to-toe sort of drowning.

      Without warning three men arrive. Enrique wants me to go...

    • CHAPTER 11
      (pp. 61-61)

      MY NIGHTMARES could be from fever. How high my temperature is I’m not sure. I can’t get up for the thermometer. I’m shivering with cold and my throat is burning.

      Did the men bring disease? Is anyone else feeling this way? Is this the beginning of an epidemic and when will Karl be home? He would know where I left the thermometer....

    • CHAPTER 12
      (pp. 62-66)

      I AM FALLING, but, cannot land.

      I’m not desperate for aspirin but I am dreaming of water, of many glasses of cold water with perfectly formed ice cubes. I reach for one and begin drinking. Bringing the sweating glass to my forehead, I lean into it, allowing it to cool my burning skin.

      I need more and more water. I extend my hand because someone is offering another glass. But the hand darts away. I wait for it to return. Then there is no one handing me anything.

      There is a glass off to the side. Even though I can’t...

    • CHAPTER 13
      (pp. 67-67)

      I’LL BE BETTER tomorrow and by tomorrow Karl will be back. What day is it? Is it day already?

      Blanca wants to know how to make tea.

      I hear her looking for the matches to light the propane stove.

      When she brings the tea to me with some bread I can’t eat. It hurts to swallow even the clear liquid.

      Where are your dry clothes?

      I point to the red box.

      Hold my neck. She pulls me up and helps me into something dry and clean.

      I say in English, be my daughter....

    • CHAPTER 14
      (pp. 68-69)

      KARL ASKS if I know what day it is.

      I’ve been sick since you left.


      How do you know?

      A mountain climber from Wyoming.

      Can’t be true, no one lives in Wyoming.

      There were snowstorms both days.

      We finish our chicken and quinoa.

      He takes the flashlight and his knapsack, let’s go to the hammock to finish the wine.

      It’s too late.

      It’s a beautiful night, perfectly clear. We’ll only go as far as the stone marker. I’ll bring a blanket for us to sit on.

      No. It’s not safe.

      It’s our backyard.

      It’s too far.

      Lisette, they don’t...

    • CHAPTER 15
      (pp. 70-74)

      KARL AND I see them as they wind down the mountain behind our house. They go to Enrique’s, knowing who he is and where he lives. We think they have listened to Enrique when they do not stay.

      Men gather in front of Enrique’s house. The women have gone to the fields with their wool and young children. Most are not working but are talking.

      When dusk comes I have the feeling the sun may not rise tomorrow. This is before I learn Enrique is missing.

      Senderois encamped in thepuna. It is estimated they are somewhere between twenty...

  4. Part III
    • CHAPTER 1
      (pp. 77-78)

      LIMA. What has happened to you?

      There are no lights as far as we can see. Passengers from other buses are asleep on the steps. We hear reports of looting in the city center. There is no choice but to spend the night with them outside the terminal.

      We share two secrets:

      One man is dead.

      Not one of us did anything.

      The sun rises. There are no street vendors, no women in the outdoor market. Shop windows are broken and cars have been firebombed.

      A taxi takes us to the center of the city. The driver says, there has...

    • CHAPTER 2
      (pp. 79-80)

      EL CUARTEL GEMERAL DEL EJÉRCITOis a modern building that looks as if it is built on sticks, surrounded by gray haze. There are no windows. I ask Karl if the Pentagon has windows. We are standing on the pitted gravel in front of El Cuartel, facing each other. This place could be the moon for all the craters and stones and dust. Dust falls and settles on our shoulders. The street is perfectly still but for the moving silt.

      We need to go inside, Karl says.

      What good will that do?

      We need something from them, a formal request,...

    • CHAPTER 3
      (pp. 81-81)

      WAVES POUND against the rocky shoreline. A Peruvian Alcatraz.

      Each time I hear them crash ashore, I jump.

      Even when we are deep inside the prison and under, I hear the waves breaking through.

      I cannot keep up. Karl asks the soldier if he can bring me outside. It is agreed I can have a break and then after a few minutes of fresh air we will go back and finish.

      The sunlight brings on a blindness I have known only with migraines. I look to where Karl’s voice is coming from and I interrupt him, I can’t keep this...

    • CHAPTER 4
      (pp. 82-82)

      ONE MORE.

      Karl insists. It takes a few days to travel to Puno. If he weren’t pushing me, I would have given up already.

      At nearly thirteen thousand feet my teeth chatter.

      A guard leads us through. We could be walking the same corridor the whole five hours, around and around. And in all the faces we do not find Enrique....

    • CHAPTER 5
      (pp. 83-86)

      WE HAVE NO NEWS, Karl tells Amparo. But we will keep looking. It’s possible he’s nearby, that he hasn’t been taken to prison. He could be withSendero. Maybe he is playing along and one day he will walk away and come home.

      You didn’t find anyone who saw him? Amparo asks.

      No. But they wouldn’t let us speak to the prisoners, not unless we saw someone we knew or someone we could identify. Karl touches her shoulder and says, something will change. It can’t go on this way forever.

      Amparo motions for us to follow her behind the stone...

  5. Part IV
    • CHAPTER 1
      (pp. 89-90)

      AN ENVELOPE arrives addressed to me. Inside are photographs Karl took of ice and snow. Now I know I left the note I wrote that morning.

      The bicycle I buy on Third Avenue is midnight blue. The same color as the one I left leaning against thecuyera wall.

      When the sky turns black, the way it does in a summer squall, I am standing at the fence that encircles the reservoir in Central Park. I do not look for shelter. Instead I slide my fingers between the gaps in the wire mesh. Their fingers were smaller than mine, attached...

    • CHAPTER 2
      (pp. 91-91)

      I HAVE NO USE for this lovely felt hat the women in my village gave me. Blanca selected the embroidered ribbons in orange, purple and blue because they matched the ones that wrapped around the brim of her nearly identical hat.

      The hat is stuffed somewhere in this duffel, the one I haven’t unpacked. I go piece by piece, taking out what I need. I haven’t moved it from the hallway where it has been since the first night I got to New York, months ago.

      I do a wash of clothing and sheets every now and then. Here things...

    • CHAPTER 3
      (pp. 92-92)

      IT IS THE END of the day check-in before they let me go home. The doctors know it is important that I am on time. I worry when someone is late. Late might mean gone. It is why I never make anyone wait.

      Or else they are testing me to see if I lose my temper. It is because of what I said today about the hat. I might have given them reason to revoke my privileges of coming and going....

    • CHAPTER 4
      (pp. 93-94)

      KARL WROTE TO ME for many years after I left. His envelopes were blue. I remember some of his letters by heart. To remember by heart is to remember by feel. This is the worst way to remember.

      I saved this one. I received it the day after I married Richard.


      I will be going to Lake Titicaca in a week, remember on the hammock we spoke of this. Maybe you will join me. I am only joking. The garden is doing well. You would be very pleased with the tomatoes although no one here likes tomatoes. They prefer...

    • CHAPTER 5
      (pp. 95-97)

      I TELL THE DOCTOR about our last vacation. The way caravans of families surround us. I use my hands and draw a wide circle indicating the beach. Everyone knows, somehow, the acceptable distance for parking their four-wheel drive vehicles so as not to infringe on the next family’s compound. It would be easy to mistake someone’s husband for one’s own. Our coolers, chairs and fancy umbrellas with German gears are all alike. We turn the sand plastic-colored.

      Not noticing is vacation. Richard not noticing has always troubled me. Because of Perú I can never not notice. During the year I...

    • CHAPTER 6
      (pp. 98-101)

      AT THE NEXT SESSION the doctor asks how the steak was.

      I stare at her neatly crossed legs.

      She doesn’t really want to know.

      She picks a piece of lint from her woolen jacket.

      It’s her way of checking facts. I want to say, I’m the lawyer. Instead I say, fine, thank you.

      There was no steak. We didn’t get hungry until midnight and that’s when we ate. We wanted popcorn so I brought it into bed with us.

      Steak and French fries. Homemade, I say.

      I should have stopped with the French fries. The more detailed, the more a...

    • CHAPTER 7
      (pp. 102-103)

      RICHARD HANDS ME a wrapped box. Anniversary day. This will be our last. We don’t yet know this.

      I have nothing for him. Inside his box is a wallet. I keep looking at it, hoping in the looking it will turn into something else. Or I will be able to make it disappear.

      I open my eyes and it is still there.

      Richard, too.

      Is he saying, you are spent. Him too. Or could he be saying he owns me, he bought me when I said I do. When he said it too.

      Sixteen years equals three wallets. This year’s...

    • CHAPTER 8
      (pp. 104-107)


      It hasn’t rained for a very long time. Even if it had, only the penthouse would leak and we don’t live on the top floor. The lintel could be rotted though. That would be a way to get rain. But to date our lintels have never leaked even with directed wind.

      Ben and Phoebe are still sleeping. Outside the bedroom window, if I crane my neck to see, the grass is wheat-colored, so dry it crunches.

      Richard is in the kitchen. Where he always is on a Sunday. I make the trek of thirteen steps...

    • CHAPTER 9
      (pp. 108-109)

      NO, I’D RATHER NOT, I say.

      Why is that?

      It’s just a place.

      The doctor tries to get me to look her in the eye.

      The rhododendron bushes. The missing. I’m always seeing what’s missing. Lucana …

      I’m looking at the trees. Wondering why the leaves have to die each winter. I say, marca, then machetes.


      I don’t have to answer.

      In Luca …, she says, I’m sorry I didn’t catch the name of the place.

      There wasn’t anything left, I say quickly.

      She looks at me.

      It was after. I’m impatient. We came after. I don’t think anyone...

    • CHAPTER 10
      (pp. 110-112)

      FROM OUR BEDROOM window I could see the Andes, and closer still, our outdoor spigot. Once the water came out the color of rust.

      When the clouds lifted, after six months of rain, it looked as if the summit could be reached in an afternoon. On the full moon the old woman in charge of spirits stood before its snowcapped face howling to the men buried in an avalanche of prehistoricice. We were told never to interrupt her, not until she had finished reciting every last name.

      Karl’s brother came at the end of the rainy season. I have photographs...

    • CHAPTER 11
      (pp. 113-114)

      PHOEBE CAME into my bed, sunk her head into my abdomen, the bones of her skull pressed against my spine. Once she lived inside me. The beating of my heart is more familiar to her than it is to me. I cannot bundle her small and return her and even if I could she would refuse....

  6. Part V
    • CHAPTER 1
      (pp. 117-117)

      I SCRAPE MY PALMS against the bottom of the pool. I focus on the moving shapes and shadows, they are like continents on the map I am charting in my mind of a place I have never been. When I arrive I will be given a different name. I will not be born ugly and this time, mother will not refuse me.

      From the pool to the shower to the car. Each strand of hair is encased in ice. It would take just one of these iced daggers to pierce that major artery in my neck.

      I am falling for...

    • CHAPTER 2
      (pp. 118-119)

      THE PHONE RINGS. This hardly ever happens. I’m awake and then asleep until the next ring. It stops. I could go on this way not feeling thirst or hunger. Today, however, Phoebe is relying on me to get her up. Ben no longer does.

      The shower drain is off center.

      Phoebe demands a centered part.

      I can’t find it. If I ever do I will draw a line down the middle of her scalp with permanent marker.

      The shower water runs down the pipes, taking with it hair and dead skin. These things run beneath the bathroom floor, along the...

    • CHAPTER 3
      (pp. 120-122)


      Why? The doctor asks.

      I don’t want to be falling apart.

      Are you?

      I decide not to look up. Is there a pill to take to avoid the next stretch? The part where I collapse? If I can sleep I dream of not being able to do what I’m supposed to do.

      My sister is with me in my old apartment. She has a cat and it’s in the way because I need her help. I ask her to put the cat down. She says it will go to an open window and drop...

    • CHAPTER 4
      (pp. 123-127)

      I TELL THE DOCTOR about the house falling apart, that I don’t think I can keep it up much longer. Keep what up?

      The idea of having to go back to work. There’s a kind of lizard in the Amazon with poisonous saliva. If a drop gets on its prey, the poison immobilizes the thing, so even if it is ten times the size of the lizard, the prey is unable to move, giving the lizard time to kill and eat it. Work is that poisonous drop.

      I look away.

      Snow is falling. Snow globes are not real. The cinderblock...

    • CHAPTER 5
      (pp. 128-130)

      WHAT DID YOU BRING? The doctor asks.

      The box is on my lap.

      Photographs of Perú.

      I take a deep breath and open it. This is Arye from the first time I went to Perú. I didn’t think I would go back, not after what I had seen. I caught him in the corner of the frame. The picture is a scorched field.

      This was twenty-five years ago. Here’s a page from my journal.

      Freezing cold. I left my hat in the hotel. We drive for more than three hours then hike another two. A man who identifies himself as...

  7. Part VI
    • CHAPTER 1
      (pp. 133-134)

      THE HUDSON RIVER laps against the landfill of lower Manhattan, stretches to the bedrock of New Jersey. Outlines of tree branches reflect like jagged spears. I have been walking for a long time.

      I come most every day. It is a secret, this walk. I’m in Perú but I am afraid to tell Phoebe and Ben. It is more than thinking of Perú. I allow Perú to enter me. I am being summoned.

      I can look at the photographs now even though there was a time I wanted to burn them. I have had enough burning.

      Last night I went...

    • CHAPTER 2
      (pp. 135-136)

      KARL STAYED in our village for many years after I left. This letter is from five years later. I was married, I think he knew but I’m not sure, maybe not.

      Dear Lisette,

      It is safer now. Something happened yesterday I think you should know. I want to tell you even though I don’t expect you will come back. But what happened last night should bring you some peace that those who have survived may be able to go about their lives less frightened. There is a sense of order returning. Nothing monumental. Perú has learned there is no such...

    • CHAPTER 3
      (pp. 137-139)

      THE TRUTH and Reconciliation Commission was convened.

      Karlos wrote requesting my negatives. I sent everything.

      It is possible Arye was the forensic anthropologist working in our area. And it is possible that Arye touched a bone that belonged to Cholo or Lobo or someone else we once knew.

      Karl has a daughter now, younger than the one we would have had. I know this because he told me face to face.

      I see you.



      You are the last one to pass through immigration and for a few minutes I think maybe you changed your mind. That you did...

    • CHAPTER 4
      (pp. 140-142)

      YOU SEND ME photographs of your Andes. The ones that are outside your bedroom window. These photographs remind me of the mountains we once saw together.

      There was that time we lay in bed. The dog outside did not stop barking. I threw a tomato from the window to make him change his mind. He did not stop. The tomato never reached him. It hit the frame and splattered inside the room.

      Like your face, you said.

      We had knickers made from wool, one pair for you and one pair for me.

      It turned out they were too warm.


    (pp. 143-144)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 145-148)