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


[Continued from yesterday]

Swimming pools? Idiotic fifteen-year-old sweethearts? Games of ping pong? I was simply trying to say that I’ve always believed that the ancient custom of basing our existence on constant challenges, a characteristic so peculiar to the pathetic human condition, is a catastrophe. No, not because I resent the fact that I lose so regularly. Because there were times, a few to tell the truth, and I’m not saying this to boast, when I didn’t even try to win. I remember, in a city whose name isn’t worth mentioning, inhabited by people in whom mediocrity and cowardice bordered on. . . Damn it, there it is again, that verbal diarrhea: no, no, no, no more stories that no one cares about, not even me. As I was saying, oh, yeah, challenges, games: I don’t accept them anymore. That’s the only way one can remain on the sidelines, in silence. That’s why today won’t be the day when I yield to the phrases that a voice is whispering inside me, trying to force my surrender. I will not follow the voice’s lead and she’ll end up clearing out, with no further ado, taking with her the uneasiness, the fear that jeopardizes my sense of emptiness. On the other hand, why such fear? Can a phrase actually compel me to do anything? In the past it could, an image, a melody or certain words would bring to mind a thousand stupid universes, false, unrealistic, constructed on the basis of a vague and inexplicable sensation: I was absurdly certain that the provoked impulses would turn out to be useful, that people are shaken, from time to time, by waves of magical energy that convince them to carry out respectable, beneficial deeds. And I acted, that is to say, I talked, chattering away incessantly. Oh, the day of the great discovery, when one remembers having dreamt about being a god, Mercury, and then realizes he’s only managed to turn himself into a chattering parrot. That’s the day when one might even succeed at deciphering his own destiny: shutting up. But I’m not afraid of anything now. Nothing at all. No sensation imposed by some strange voice can awaken other sensations in me, because nothing can be awoken in me anymore. Has a phrase been echoing endlessly in the depths of my empty skull for the last few days? Have I even come to see it, in writing, at the top of a sheet of blank paper? Fine, so what? Last night I dreamt I went to T. again: I know why it comes to mind. I read it, years ago, and the author, with those very words, began a long tale. The phrase is evocative. But I won’t evoke anything. Someone, hidden inside me, is repeating it, softly, trying to entice me to continue. Someone—as well as all the forgotten, rejected, distant things—wanting to take revenge. Be careful. If I lose control. . . What nonsense! What could such an insipid phrase unleash in me? Last night I dreamt I went to T. again. Enveloped in darkness, and surrounded by verduco bushes, the house exuded the forbidding air of an abandoned mansion. The darkness of the night disguised the shape of the building that could barely be seen, surrounded as it was by thick foliage; there was, however, a halo of familiarity that emanated from the walls upon which untended ivy was creeping. This feeling, like an irresistible invitation, was affecting the state of mind of the man who had only recently arrived on the scene, forcing him to approach the tall iron gate, whose slow creak, when pushed, didn’t break or conceal the all-encompassing silence out of which, you might say, the mansion arose: the silence was, instead, accentuated. And the man thought that he had never, until that instant, experienced the cold trembling that can shake one’s soul. A soul that, although apparently indifferent, is susceptible to becoming unexpectedly trapped within the tension of establishing contact with a silence that, like this one, seems to possess its own personal reality, independent of the creatures who, enveloped within it, claim to know it. He found the silence in that spot so palpable that, upon feeling the wind on his face, he thought: it’s the silence that freezes like that, piercing one’s flesh. Perhaps that’s why he stopped, his hand still resting on the bars of the gate. It had rained, it had most certainly rained because the iron he was touching was wet and his feet were splashing along the gravel driveway. With his fingertips, he traced the pattern in the rusty metal: the lyre, flanked by sketchy plant shapes. A peal of youthful laughter: very nearby, behind him, clear and strong at first, then lost in the night. But he didn’t turn. It’s Lea who laughs like that, upon seeing or remembering the house. And he hears her, her voice, clearly. He moves his hand from the rusty lyre to his inside coat pocket. Yes, there they are, the letters. He hasn’t lost them, forgotten them anywhere. He’s obsessed by the possibility that he might, some day, touch his pocket, through the outside of his coat, and not feel the shape of the letters under his fingers. He needs to reassure himself constantly that they’re still with him. No, he hasn’t lost them in over seven years. He keeps them, still tied with the pink ribbon, the way the nun in the hospital handed them to him, that morning, long ago now, when he went to visit Julia and they told him. . . Seven years searching for Lea to deliver them. Lea’s laughter, crazy and brutal, simultaneously joyful and harsh, was biting. And Julia’s dark eyes, avid, wild, a profound tomb in search of victims, or a gravestone that would close them forever. He sees them, the two of them. He’s not sure why he came back to this abandoned site. He didn’t want to. He didn’t avoid it either. He didn’t even think about it. It wasn’t his decision. It’s been a long time since he made any decisions. A detour from his route. Nothing more. And now he finds himself in front of the house, like any traveler who might appear after losing his way. But the surprise and uneasiness sketched on this mock traveler’s face are more precise than anything that would be expressed by someone who, in passing, was simply gazing at the high wall encompassing the property. This man knows: behind the uneven surface of the wall decorated with tiny tiles, white, blue and pink, there’s a rectangular garden surrounding the house. Rather than the main gate, he made use of one of the two smaller ones alongside it. The central one has been rendered completely unserviceable, not only because of the undergrowth, tall and anarchical, but also because of the wire fencing attached to the outside of it. Because of that, and because of the terrible state of the drive that, swamped with rocks and mud, begins at the gate and continues all the way up to the steps leading to the doorway, he understands that it’s been a long time since any car passed through the main gate. And when he gets to the house and sees the wire netting on the porch, attached to the columns that used to be pink, he’ll come to realize that nobody’s crossed that threshold for several years either. Although perhaps not as many years as it’s been for him. No, last night I didn’t dream I went to T. again. But him, yes, probably, he’ll have dreamt it, some day now. He’s the type of man to whom this kind of thing happens, frequently. That’s why he’s here now. He’s gone in, he’s passed through the gate; but he hasn’t made the decision to cross the garden and approach the house. He hesitates, inhaling the humid air, impregnated with the scent of the verduco bushes and the magnolias. The mimosa bush must be in bloom by now, it would always come to life at the beginning of spring, back then, more than twenty years ago. And now? It’s impossible to be sure, standing at the gate surrounded by so much darkness. He could go to the arbor and approach the house from there. Or else, go around the perimeter of the garden. He hesitates. Like always. He’s the type of man who’s always hesitating, who gives off the feeling that, deep down, his indecisiveness doesn’t stem from being equally inclined toward every possibility, but from not really caring about any of them. Should he change his mind, retrace his steps? No, that’s not right either. Going back makes him just as tense as continuing onward. He remains, standing, immobile, beneath the magnolia; he’s waiting: something might happen: for instance, he could hear a voice. Or dawn might break. The first rays of sunlight will find him where he is right now and illuminate the house. The house: in the light of day it’ll appear white, more cadaverous than at night. Until the rays of sunlight rise above it. […] To be continued tomorrow

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