Ana María Moix, Walter, Why Did You Have to Go?

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Translated by Sandra Kingery

Last night I dreamt I went to T. again: the phrase echoes endlessly inside my head and for the last few days, much to my shame, I’ve even come to see it, in writing, at the top of a sheet of blank paper. Last night I dreamt I went to T. again: no, I didn’t dream it; but wouldn’t it be normal, wouldn’t it be typical, for words, phrases, images—deceptive and unrelenting—to sink to the depths of an empty skull that acknowledges their veracity or that, at the very least, accepts their authenticity, without hesitation? Empty: that is, in the end, how my head is. Is? Or was, until recently, until, once again, it opened itself, bewildered, to the siren call of some phrase’s insistent, evocative melodiousness, a phrase that was amusing itself by playing hide and seek, provocatively concealing itself among the unmoving shadows of a serene mind. But this time, the phrase is going to have to play on its own: I won’t chase it, I will not give it the pleasure of humiliating myself by going out looking for it. Last night I dreamt I went to T. again: it’s been going on for days now. One could say it’s a blue bird planning a meticulous, premeditated flight over my mind. My mind: a gray background, or black, but in either case, flat and immobile. No, it will not achieve its wretched goals today. Things are going to be different than they used to be, back in the past when that anonymous voice, preposterous and irresponsible, that smug nomadic bird would flit across my mind in an attempt to drag me on a mournful … Mournful?, more like unrestrained and deadly flight. Flight! Is that what I’m going to call this despicable verbosity now? It was succeeding: the voice was speaking to me, whispering, or emitting vague sounds, muffled moans, but perhaps I was simply mistaking the murmur of the wind, the rain on the windowpanes, or a puff of exhaled air for words. My mind, distracted with other thoughts, desires, bitterness, allowed any phrase, any image to traverse it, quick as a flash. My ideas were so thoroughly transformed, so inspired was I by childish euphoria that I actually believed my ideas were voyaging across time and space in a fact-finding odyssey, heroic and invigorating. No, the spark will not be produced today. The phrase can echo in my mind once or a thousand times, but I will not let my thoughts pursue it, I won’t even allow those thoughts to come into existence nor to race off, swiftly, like some lost entourage in pursuit of Reality, that impudent whore whose only goal is my destruction. She, Reality, wants to force me to speak: mysterious and captivating, a drunken foreigner perched on a bar stool telling stories, she impresses us, constantly mouthing poignant excuses, trying to encourage our understanding and to escape censure. But I know that she, Reality, is untrustworthy and deceptive. She drops hints in my direction, laying traps for me. She wakes me, without warning, whispering a message: Last night I dreamt I went to T. again. The phrase isn’t always the same, but I recognize all of them: I’ve read them, or thought, or heard, even written them. It’s been happening so often in the last few days that I’m afraid that, any time now, I’ll have no choice but to give in. An image. A melody. A face. A mouth, some lips that are smiling, or moving, they’re going to speak, to vomit: words. And she, Reality, is waiting, patient, mocking, expecting me to complete the series, linking words, mixing them, racking my brain or letting my already forgotten, torpid thoughts escape until they form a. . . No, there will be no story. I won’t be the one to write it or even to imagine it. No matter how many traps she lays for me, in spite of all the tawdry presents she might offer, I will not give her the satisfaction of presiding, triumphant, over my most recent surrender. She, Reality, will have to make do on her own. She’s spiteful, that’s her problem. Resentment is the only thing that drives her. She’s like a hysterical lover, red with rage at the disdain of the man who was, until recently, her unresisting boyfriend. Like a melodramatic lover, she’s proud, unable to accept my loss with any dignity. But it’s not that she’s wounded and resisting because of love: she’s lost a member of her harem, that’s all. She’s attempting to win me back. The weapons she makes use of are subtle: in her quest for vengeance, she won’t tell her allies to behead me, none of her men will pepper me with bullets as I cross the street, no treacherous knife will be stabbed into my back when I turn the corner. She hasn’t decided to eliminate me yet. For the time being, she’s planning her revenge: my humiliation, my return to the fold, to life. She demands excuses, insists on explanations: why have I ignored her?, why have I abandoned her?, and for whom?, who could take her place? Some other reality? Not on your life! One reality was enough, I was already fed up. But she believes differently. She suspects, jealously, that I reside in another one, an imaginary reality, and she wants to know what it’s like, because she’s always been afraid of make-believe realities, her most dangerous rivals. She wants me to tell her, to describe this mysterious, imaginary substitute so she can make comparisons and continue reassuring herself, as if observing herself in the mirror of her own truth: I am the most perfect, the most complete, the most powerful and irresistible. There is no new substitute; but she won’t find that out, even if she perseveres with her scheme and forces me to talk. No, this time I won’t give in. Reality doesn’t make any difference to me anymore. Not the real one, or the imaginary ones. My mind has achieved a state of serenity. Immobility. The perennially desired stillness. Silence: the worst insult I could spit in her face, the deadly weapon that she never suspected plunged into the depths of her fetid bowels, the slowest-healing wound in her invisible eternal skin. She withstands the death of her unresisting boyfriends, millions of intimidated worms living within her, wandering blindly through a world of shadows and façades. They die out, and she doesn’t even bid them farewell, like an old lady who, having seen it all before, believes it beneath her dignity to stop and turn her head. But confronted by her deserters’ silence, she’s filled with despair. She doesn’t claim me with shouting, nor does she beg, tearfully, for my return. Her plan is sneakier: dictating to me, words, phrases, expecting my customary reaction: the awakening of other words within me. However, my naïveté, my ignorance, my innocent selfserving credulity were destroyed by her immeasurable capacity for deception. Arguments, breakups: they’re not uncommon in any type of relationship. In the past, I would turn my back on her, determined not to see her, not to have anything further to do with her. Could it be that she was, as she believed and tried to convince me, irreplaceable? No, of course not. After the separation, she behaved the same way she’s behaving now: she would introduce phrases into my mind, fragments of songs, a suggestive word read in some book or overheard in a café, back when we, both of us, still believed that the feelings evoked by that kind of (false) communication might help us learn to understand each other some day. And my mind, bursting with thoughts, information and dreams, clung to those subtle lies in order to commit itself, untiring, to the construction of imaginary worlds with which to replace her, improve upon her. I crushed her with my wordiness, overwhelmed her with my arguments, confronted her with my grief and reproaches, tormented her by strolling right in front of her with the very image of her replacement. She suffered, she fought, showing me, in her own sweet defense, a thousand sides of herself that I had never taken the time to consider. And our struggle was great and noble and pure, because it was hand to hand and to the death. No, I don’t miss the battlefield. I’ve finally settled into silence and her childish ambush won’t defeat me. It was an absurd fight, or perhaps the fighting itself was what was absurd: the rules, identical to the ones teenagers employ the first time they fall in love: a game of ping pong in which every stroke of the paddle, beneath the crushing midday sun, determines the possibility, if not of life itself, then of survival, survival despite not having any desire to beat the ridiculous opponent who imposed the challenge and who is striking the ball with every ounce of fervor and passion that a fifteen year old possesses, without realizing that winning means defeating the one you love, unaware that, after a triumph in the game, how many of us are still capable of loving the other person, loving a loser? The windblown hair, the sweaty face, the bloodshot eyes, staring down at the soda, nearly impossible to polish off in a single gulp, without stopping for air, because of the exhaustion that sets in after losing the first point. The loser’s shame in facing the desired opponent, the uncomfortable sympathy or joy of the spectators. He didn’t want to play the game, to compete, competitions like this always getting in the way, like preambles to the first furtive contacts, contacts of love, of knowledge, of action. He didn’t want to accept the challenge. And he didn’t win the point. Neither the point nor the game that everyone was observing so attentively. Superiority or inferiority from this time forward: that’s what was put on the line: and the admiration or scorn of one’s opponent. That explains why he was almost on the verge of tears, he didn’t want to, he didn’t want to compete, just to establish, to establish, no, not a business, a relationship, that’s it, to establish a relationship, a relationship, not commerce, not an exchange, just understanding, and love, without knowledge, while both hands squeeze the ping pong paddle and his legs, heavy as lead now, weighted down, the muscles tight, will he be able to jump, to run? It’s not pride. It’s fear. Opponents who consistently lose are quickly replaced, they don’t offer any incentive for good playing. Why win? He’s only playing to satisfy her competitive urges. She acts, she exists, leaping from challenge to challenge. If the day were to arrive when she found herself going to sleep without having presented anyone with the need to make a crucial decision, the next day she would be without strength, without the motivation to get out of bed, what’s the point of life, if not for that? He’s heard her say it, a few times. That’s why he accepts the match, the only type of relationship that can be established between the two of them: he accepts it because of that, and so he can see her hair tousled by the wind, and the agile movements of her body as she leaps to return the ball, the energy in her arm as she strikes it, the quick, smooth movement of her hand as she wipes the sweat from her forehead; so he can hear the happy, wild laughter, bursting from that taut throat as she calls out yet another point. And her voice, uneven, panting with fatigue, at the other side of the table, shouting advice so he won’t end up losing by such an outrageous amount. No, don’t win! How can he forego the chance of observing the glowing transformation she experiences when she wins? But he knows it: he’ll be replaced soon if he doesn’t win at least once; if there’s too much of a disparity between his likelihood of success and hers, because she likes winning, but more than winning, she enjoys the game, the match, the precise second in which, their strength evenly-balanced, she’s on the verge of making the final shot: an amazing shot, a shot that should continue on for an entire lifetime, maintaining the intense emotion, the danger, the unknown, the type of decisive shot that’s only possible between great players. That’s why he has to do his utmost now, avoid letting her tire of winning so easily, prevent her from resting her defiant gaze on some other possible opponent, a new challenge, any one of those spectators watching the match in the sun, in this patio, which is so tiny, even though the people now filling it with their unwitting laughter believe it to be enormous: years will go by before they return one day and, upon seeing it anew, they’ll discover how small it always was, and how dirty, in spite of the protests of the members, how can we stop the kids from tossing their candy wrappers, their empty bottles of sunscreen on the grass?: that kind of trash would always show up next to some multicolor towel or a math book, forgotten, already given up for lost, on the grass, not far from the pool, next to the bush where the teenage owner had disappeared to gaze at a forbidden photo or to whisper vague, provocative words, during a brief conversation, out of the view of. . . Oh, that’s what I was afraid of. Utter nonsense: as soon as I lose control, I forget my admirable determination to remain silent and I sink into an avalanche of words. […] To be continued tomorrow

AUTHOR:
Ana María Moix (Barcelona, 1947-2014) hit the Spanish literary scene early and hard. By the time she turned twenty-five, she had published two highly acclaimed novels (Julia and Walter, Why Did You Have to Go?), a collection of short stories, and three poetry collections. She had also been chosen as one of nine poets—she was the only woman—in a generation-defining poetry anthology entitled The Nine Very New Spanish Poets.

In later years, Moix published more sporadically but always to great acclaim: both her short story collection Dangerous Virtues (1985) and Black Waltz (1994)—a fictionalized biography of Sissi (Elizabeth of Bavaria, Empress of Austria and Hungary)—were awarded the Premio Ciudad de Barcelona.

Always passionate about gender issues, Moix wrote a regular column for the feminist magazine Vindicación Feminista during the Spanish transition from dictatorship to democracy. She also published around 30 translations from French or Catalan to Spanish.

TRANSLATOR:
Professor of Spanish at Lycoming College,
Sandra Kingery’s prose translations include Ana María Moix’s Julia and Of My Real Life I Know Nothing, René Vázquez Díaz’s Welcome to Miami, Doctor Leal, and short stories by Julio Cortázar, Liliana Colanzi, Natalia Moret, Claudia Hernández, and Federico Guzmán Rubio among others. Kingery’s poetry translations include Xánath Caraza’s Black Ink, Ocelocíhuatl and Syllables of Wind. In 2010, Kingery was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship.

IMAGE: By MarkCat (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


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