Translated from the Spanish by Keith Payne.
Almost everything was beautiful
—and that is perfection: the almost everything—
Carlo Gervasoni Vila
If goodness does not come from yourself, it might come from others; if beauty, if evil, does not spring from you, may the beautiful spring from others, from their hands, and from their hands, too, a flair for fury, for hatred, the trace of the serpent in whose core enemies only know how to love one another.
He steps into the car when the whistle sounds and they pull off. We use more muscles on the Metro than in any other place: there are no hands that do not grab on to something, there are no feet that do not fold their toes in the stinking prison of their shoes.
—Hi—he says to a tanned girl who is leaning against the door. What to say about her, except that she is like a book-lined library, an unpaid loan, an expensive phone bill.
—Do we know each other?—she asks.
—I don’t know.
—Hello. Who are you?
Next station: Cuatro Caminos. Change here for lines 2 and 6.
—I don’t know. I live here.
—No. In the Metro—he says.
—What do you mean, you live in the Metro?
—I don’t know… I don’t remember. I’ve always been here.
—You’re scaring me.
Who is God if he is not evil? Who can absolve, if he has not first wounded, if he has not with his own hands throttled the chicken’s neck? How could we crucify someone like that and yet still hang around waiting for him, weaving and unravelling our favourite football team’s shirts.
—I’m good. Don’t be afraid—he says.
A curve. Tension in the back. A man with a briefcase comes up to the two of them and says to the girl: Is he bothering you? He wants to be the hard man. The hero. Every night at home he rapes his wife and doesn’t even realise it.
—No, thank you.
The man with the briefcase moves away, he looks at himself in the glass, watches do not detain him, but he believes they do.
—What is your name?—she asks.
—I’ve forgotten my name. I’ve forgotten everything.
—I don’t know.
—Will you remember me tomorrow?
—But I know everything about you—he says.
—Do you know my name?
—Your name begins with M.
Next station: Río Rosas. The most difficult thing is to understand what connects the sculptor to his sculpture, the writer to his novel, the lover to his kisses. What is it only violence, boldness in a state of repose, in love with the self that wants to split and burst open, sully everything just to be able to say once that things only have meaning because they end, rot and are forgotten.
—How do you know that?
—I don’t know, it’s a gift, I think.
She is afraid, is that true? She is afraid that he can harm her, and afraid of this, she believes she needs him, that through this pain her chest heaves and releases songs and poems, the unfettered passage of emotions that wound, as if in that wound, in its possibility, was human attraction, the irrefutable, the absolute truth.
—Yes, that’s it, it’s a gift. I remember nothing the following day. Nothing of what I have lived through. But, in the meantime, I live, I am aware of everything around me. I know for example that you live in _______, I know that you were born with a mark there—he points to her collarbone—I know that tomorrow I won’t know.
It is a gift.
—But who are you? How do you know these things? Where do you live?—she is afraid, but she is attracted to him. That is why she asks. Uri Geller spent his life bending spoons, nobody can turn away from the impossible: the UFO and rain in a cloudless sky.
—As far as I know, I live here. I remember telling you before—he smiles—my memory isn’t that bad.
—But it doesn’t make any sense. Where do you eat?
—I don’t know, but I’m not too thin—he looks at his body—am I?
If beauty, if evil does not spring from yourself, may it spring from the rest.
If we see nothing, what do the others see? The ones who tell us where to find it, what it’s like, yes, that above all, what it’s like. Although it may hurt, this pain is as necessary as the pleasure that bites its nails.
(Am I alone?)
Next station: Iglesia.
—This is my stop—she says.
—Can I accompany you?
—Where?—she is scared.
—To the stairs at the entrance… I mean, to the exit.
—Why? Don’t you go up to the street?
—I don’t remember ever being there. I live here.
—Stop messing around.
The doors open. The man with the briefcase stays inside. You would think that he lived there, like the rest of them, who were now buried in the tunnel.
The cables vibrate; there are insects, but they don’t make any noise, they hide. Sometimes they jump up and bite. Sometimes the hunter is surprised by its prey and has the audacity to be surprised, to threaten the trees that look at him, but they shut up, because they can’t speak, but if they could, if the trees could speak, they would fill the houses of parliament, and the televisions, and in every gathering there would be a tree having a coffee—if they could move that is.
—Can I accompany you?—he asks.
—Okay—she says. She wants to know more. I did not say that she had a folder. I did not say that she wore a skirt. I did not say that. (And so what? I don’t like descriptions. However, I remember so many benches on The Paseo del Prado, so many seedy cafés in Lavapies, with their little corners and their smells, so many plazas full of excrement, metro lines, student flats. I remember all those places where my characters suffer; all those places I don’t want to describe because perhaps it was me who suffered there, just for them, so that they could exist, and in their suffering was the love that my enemies feel. I hate describing, I hate de-scribing, I hate it. It hurts me. And nobody knows it.)
They climb the steps. There are a thousand pieces of chewing gum stuck to them. What led to their final expulsion, the spitting out from every mouth that kept them while they were still tasty, and then when they no longer pleased? Facing the stairs that led to the street, he stops.
—Now I am afraid—he says, looking up. He can just about make out the sky, the shadow of the buildings. It is night-time. The muffled noise of the traffic.
—What? Aren’t you going to go up?
—I’ve already told you. I don’t remember ever having left.
—… And if I offer to buy you a drink in a bar? Would you go up? With me? Nothing bad is going to happen.
—Yes. A bar.
—All right then—he says, and moves closer to her, takes her by the arm, forcefully, and he looks up, he is not aware that he could be hurting her. Because he is afraid. And she is too. Both of them are afraid.
They go up. She looks at him. It seems that in the world above the most important thing is not to get wrinkles. After that, nothing matters. It is raining and the rain runs down the streets, cars backfire, the rain chokes the sewers down below, ties itself up and wishes it were solid, a baseball bat that smacks.
—How much water there is up here—is the first thing he says, the inaugural word, his genesis.
—It has been raining—she says, and they cross the street. Jumping over the puddles, they go into a bar. It is called Dos Passos. In the past, Ernest Hemingway and Juan Dos Passos had chatted here, had drank here. Now it was a simple café, two televisions and a coffee machine, vague fat men and villains plotting crimes. They envision beautiful things from those crimes, when every beautiful act acquires the ravages of destruction in the mix.
(Am I alone? Is there someone there? Why does the door move on its own? There’s not much battery left in the computer, not much left…)
They sit down, one in front of the other. Their eyes could be aligned, but it’s not worth it. He is taller, stronger, his hand feels the table, this new material. In his eyes: curiosity; the question emerges from his tongue:
—Who invented this?
—This. In the Metro there are none.
—The priests—she says, amused. (For sacrifices, for breakfast?)
Nonsense. There are notes in her folder, no answers, university notes, apparently; but in the universities they don’t pay much attention to the history of tables. The waiter comes over, indifferent, wetting his finger so he can turn the pages of his notebook.
—What do you want to eat?—she asks him.
—I don’t know. Do I want to eat?… Maybe.
—… Okay, we’ll have the combination plate number 1 and two bottles of water, please.
The waiter walks off. The only thing separating them, him and her, is the smoke from a cigarette.
—You’re like something out of a story—she finally says, while she lights a cigarette and draws on it.
—What is a story?
—You don’t know how to read?
—Yes—he says—but I don’t remember reading anything other than posters today.
—Well, well—she laughs, the cigarette falls from her fingers and rolls onto the floor—well, a story is the closest thing to what we are living.
(It’s night. There is a draught moving the door. Maybe I’ve left a window open at the other end of the house. But I want to finish this first. I’ll go and lie down later on. I’ll watch some TV. I’ll sleep. But I won’t snore: it’s the silence when I am absent from myself that makes me doubt my existence.)
The waiter serves the water and places the cutlery on the table. He stares at the glass. She reaches out and pours his water for him. He grabs the knife, looks at it, he realises that it shines brightly if held against the light. He looks surprised. With his other hand he takes up the glass. Perhaps he is impressed by the colourless transparency of the water in the glass. He puts the knife in the glass and tries to cut the water: no resistance. The water is cut but there is no blood. He raises his eyebrows. She laughs, she is no longer afraid, what she feels is tenderness and pity, but at the back of it, she feels ashamed: anyone would think her friend is a fool, an idiot. He puts the knife down, drinks the water, short slurps, he chews it and then makes an affirmative gesture. When he moves his mouth his ears move. It’s just an oddity.
—Don’t you prefer to be up here? There is more here than in the Metro.
—So? Why don’t you stay up here?
—Because tomorrow I won’t remember anything.
—I have more things to be afraid of up here. I think I’ll go back to the Metro, later. Yes, I think I’ll do that.
—But you can’t always live down there!
—Why not?—he asks, drily, hardening his features. It seems that the ability to get angry is a novelty for him, a sudden power that before he had only sensed; but he prefers not to investigate further: he relaxes. But what he doesn’t finish goes against nature and yet—and this is strange—it forms a part of who he is; it is his cancer, his metastasis.
(I have had to stop a moment. I wanted to consult a book to plagiarise a phrase. I don’t think anyone will notice. It will improve the quality of the text. But not enough to appear in the literary texts, in the future. Not enough. I’ve had a glass of water. I don’t know why my hands are shaking. I am only drinking water. The heating is on. The door: yes, I’ve closed it.)
She prefers not to say anything. She lowers her gaze and looks at her skirt: prints, two colours, a stain in one of the folds. She looks at her skirt. Certain that she is still there, that she exists, she relaxes. She looks up again and says:
—I’m going to the bathroom, okay?
—The toilet, I’ll be right back. Will you be okay?
—Do I have to do anything?—he asks.
—No, wait for me.
She gets up. She fixes her skirt and walks off. Some people look at her while she crosses the bar, but not enough that she should gloat or be embarrassed. He also looks at her, he has turned around and is supported by the chair. She goes into the toilet. When she disappears he turns back around again.
(I don’t know why my hands are shaking. If I’ve only drank water. I don’t know why the door is open again. Is there someone there?)
His lips are tense. He stretches them, heat rises up. He starts to laugh. First it is a whistle, like air passing through, later his laugh deepens, it begins in his lungs and emerges volcanically, tossing ash; he can’t stop laughing and he doesn’t want to when he stands up and crosses the bar, also walking towards the toilet.
(If I only drank water, if I’m only drinking water, I don’t know why. But they are shaking. Is it certain that I am alone? Can I be sure of it? Swear it? Through the window, I see a public park, dying and untended. Some guy is sitting on a rock and drinking a beer and looking at my building. Is he looking at me?)
What he wants, he cannot know. He laughs. To pee, perhaps, that is what he could want; or wash his hands. He left the table empty, anyone could sit there thinking it was free. Or the waiter could clear the table, and get it ready for the next customers. When he goes into the bathroom, he sees two doors. Men and Women. He must choose. He must choose.
(Fuck it! Right, one minute, I’ll be right back.)
He chooses the women’s toilet. He’s that ignorant. She is in the bathroom, washing her face and looking at herself in the mirror. Her hands are resting on the sink. She turns, startled. She looks at him.
—What are you doing here?
—Is this the bathroom?
—Yes—she relaxes, he has made a mistake because he is innocent and he doesn’t know that outside public transport things are divided in two, in general. —But this is the women’s toilet.
(Now, yes, I have heard a noise. An unmistakable noise of keys rattling in someone’s pocket. Then silence. There is someone there, it’s undeniable. But when did they come in? For what? To rob me? There is nothing in this house.)
—The men’s toilet is the door on the other side.
—What is it?
If evil does not come from yourself, let it come from others; he approaches, he takes her by the shoulders, he pulls her from the sink and pushes her against the wall. There is a noise of tousled hair, hers, eyes opening as if they were closed before, hers.
(I closed the door, I’m certain. Now it is open. There is someone behind me. Tall and thin.)
He is dishevelled. What are you doing? she groans, but she doesn’t finish saying it. He puts his hand over her mouth. He has her by the shoulders.
(A man has just walked into the room and is standing there looking at me.)
He covers her mouth with one hand and holds her shoulder with the other, he tears at her, dragging, the clothes fall away and reveal her skin, the mark on her collarbone and then he comes close to her face, to her ear and…
(He tells me to stop writing. Who are you? I ask him. I have just told you to stop, he says. But I must finish this, I tell him.)
He moves his face close to her ear and tells her she is an idiot. Idiot, he says, again.
(Idiot, the man says to me, and he comes over to me. He places his hand on my shoulder and looks into the screen. He is reading this. No, no, he says. He moves his head, he is disgusted. When did he come in? I don’t like it, but continue, he tells me.)
How could you believe everything? he says to her. You were the easiest, the easiest, and she struggles in vain. She struggles and tires. Does it still seem like a story? he says to her. And then he acts.
(I don’t describe the scene. Why don’t you continue? he asks me, putting his hand on my shoulder. I was only interested in the lie, I tell him. But I need to know what happens next, he says. Yes, yes, I say, but I was only interested in the lie. Idiot, he tells me, he moves away from me, he moves around the sitting room, muttering something, I hear the door close. He is gone.)
He leaves the Dos Passos. Takes a deep breath. It looks like he likes the rain. He walks close to the kerb. He’s not in a hurry. She won’t leave for a while. He is sure of that. There is a tree. It’s an oriental plane. He unzips and pees against the tree. If trees could talk, they wouldn’t allow this. He does himself up. He walks. He goes to the mouth of the Metro. And goes down.
(I look out the window, I can see outside, it’s so peaceful. He goes into the park. He stops next to a tree. He pees. He continues on his way. If trees could talk, they wouldn’t allow this. Their struggle is silent, vain, fictional: they shut up until they rot. They keep the pain inside, lovers record their scars on the trunks every night; and I hate writing, I detest it. One of these days, one of these guys will come and will kill me. One day. And nobody will know. Because they don’t exist.)