Yes, you had to be considerate: the others too are human beings!
—The Assistant by Robert Walser
Omar is organising my bachelor party. Who in the world thought up this stupidity? But there is no getting out of it. Of course I won‘t do a thing, I promised Carola. Carola simply laughs and her friends have already thrown hers, with all the idiocy that goes with it. The plastic penis and the panties, those are still around somewhere, but they no longer evoke any laughter. And that game, ‘Pin the Dick on the Donkey‘. The photos haven‘t been revealed yet, but who needs to see anything like that in pictures, it‘s the most infantile thing ever. Omar says he‘s already prepared the group, that he has arranged for two ‘girls‘, as if I didn‘t know that he‘s a John and that, if he tries, he is capable of denying even a sip of water to the hooker sitting beside him.
And the wedding next week. The place is beautiful, but what a horrible situation yesterday when I went to the club to see if they could accommodate a wheelchair, for Aunt Ignacia. In the doorway of the club, suspended from the archway, a dead dog, a German shepherd. The dog dangling with its tongue hanging out and below a man looking upward; another man walking with a ladder, leaning the ladder against the wall. The dog could have been a person, because it was hanging by its neck. I looked up and, passing under the dog, I walked toward the office. The manager was talking on the phone when I entered his office. He hung up quickly and, pursing his lips, he said:
‘Yes. It‘s not the first time, in any case.‘
‘The first in this part of the city, in any case, but don‘t worry.‘
The party at that pub, and its owner, what a vulgar singer he is! Omar says that this is precisely what makes it funny, that it is seedy. We‘ll see, maybe it will be entertaining. But now I have completely lost my appetite for food. It‘s really unpleasant to think about those poor dogs, and even cats, that have been appearing, hung from archways, in various parts of the city. And Uncle Ernesto, on the one hand it‘s for the best that he cannot attend the wedding. He was really sorry to not be able to go and that‘s why he has invited me to lunch. As if I cared! He has to leave for Texas as soon as possible, I think maybe even later today. He is appreciative and with good reason. If it weren‘t for those new medications that he has to buy in the United States he wouldn‘t be alive; even he recognises that his ‘expiration date‘, as he says, has passed. At least he still has energy and a sense of humor. That is already saying something for someone who contracted Aids, and not exactly from a transfusion.
I meet Uncle Ernesto for lunch. I recognise that it scares me to dip my pita bread in the hummus we‘re sharing. I attempt to flatten the triangles of dough along the edge of the saucer. Truthfully I am not that hungry, almost not at all and I do it just to show that I don‘t care and to let him see that I can have a good time with him; to let him know that a terminally ill person can be good company at lunch, especially if he is my father‘s brother. I ask him about Texas, about the medications; he asks me about the bachelor party with a malicious grin.
‘It‘s not fun for me, but my buddies have thrown it together. It‘s stupid, but there are things you have to do.‘
Not even I believe that explanation, but what worries me now is that the waiter is looking at us, looking at me, from the counter at the bar. He is smiling and whispering something in the bartender‘s ear. The bartender looks over at our table and he smiles, too. Who do those poor devils think they are; if I wanted, I could have them sacked this very minute. I look at them, too, and they avoid my glance; my uncle slathers more pita bread with hummus. I wonder why the hell he has to wear that orange scarf with blue stripes around his neck. Isn‘t it enough that he‘s in his last days, with one foot in the grave, as they say? Who knows if he‘s still (I don‘t want to think about the word cruising, but…) trying to attract attention. From my pocket I take out the velvety turquoise box that contains Carola‘s ring. I want to show it to my uncle, he will appreciate it. But you don‘t need to be very sensitive, you don‘t have to have a well-developed sense of good taste to appreciate something sublime, or for your eyes to stare for more than a couple of seconds at an emerald. My uncle looks at the ring as if it were an insect: admiration and disgust, one eye for each. He looks it over quickly from the box, without taking it out, and, contrary to what I had imagined, he says:
‘You do well in the buffet.‘
We say goodbye at the exit. My uncle hugs me and wishes me luck, then I realise that we didn‘t really discuss anything and that I am the one who should be wishing him luck. My uncle walks toward the station and I head to my car. I remember Carola mentioning that today in the Baquedano Metro Station they discovered, hung from a bridge, a dog and a cat. She told me this smiling nervously, but I was worried thinking about my poor bride who has to take the Metro every day. It‘s not really a dangerous place, not at all, and her office is on the Providencia side, but I admit that the emerald makes me a little bit afraid. Maybe they are exaggerations.
At the parking lot‘s exit there is a small arch from which one could hang a dog, an animal, perfectly. I stop the car and look up, I am thinking that it would be too much if something were hanging here and, exactly, my imagination gets carried away, since nothing is there. Besides, now that I think about it, it makes sense: the animals are hung up either very early in the morning or very late at night, but impossible to hang an animal at this hour, at lunchtime, or at six in the evening, when all the cars crowd into insufferable traffic jams.
Who could take Omar seriously when he insists on swallowing caffeine pills just when we are going out? In reality, I would prefer that he get high on a little coke, like before, at least he would act more discreet, but he says he‘s quit that, that it‘s almost a year since he‘s consumed anything illegal. But it‘s probably because he nearly died of fright when they caught his dealer with his address book and all the phone numbers. And, of course, his lawyer friend always present. The jerk swears that the pills in the lab are as expensive as cocaine, but today only caffeine and a few gin and tonics are all he will get. I can‘t even imagine myself discussing legal and illegal substances with him, that would be totally distasteful and a waste of energy. After all, he has organised this out of pure affection; I don‘t know how he managed to locate Ricardo. But if he thinks that I am going to go with some of those sluts, he can go fuck himself.
One of them sits next to me; she explains that she is Patty. With her fingers she pulls her hair back, uncovering an enormous hoop, an orange ring, and, looking across the table, she says:
‘She is Wendy, but she isn‘t called that.‘
Patty looks at the ceiling and I see that she has a large Adam‘s apple for a woman. I smell her intense perfume, I recognise it: Poison. It‘s the same as the secretary at the office. For a fraction of a second I imagine that she could be a transvestite, one of Omar‘s stupid pranks, but no, quickly I realise that no way, she couldn‘t be that.
Omar proposes a toast, he gets to his feet, ceremonious, he sings a short song and then he makes each of us get to our feet and all the glasses clink. He makes sure that all the glasses make contact and then he asks who wants another shot. He looks at each one and says that everybody will have to say some words for me. Wendy and Patty look at each other. Patty says:
‘What are we going to say if we don‘t know him?‘
Laughter is heard all around the table and Omar says:
‘You are the most creative ones in the group. Besides, don‘t tell me you don‘t know him, you‘ve been grabbing his package since we got here.‘
More laughter in the group. I don‘t intend to get pissed off at this insanity, not now. Ricardo proposes a toast, he is telling a story from years ago, a story I don‘t remember. I hear him as if I were far away, in fact I am. Patty strokes my thigh; I feel her bracelets jangling on my pants. Suddenly Ricardo says something that leaves me quiet, distant and alert like a blinded rabbit facing a yellow flashlight. Patty squeezes my thigh, she turns her head and looks at me, her neck is stunning; looking at her profile makes me think of her thyroid gland, makes me wonder how it twists inside. That thyroid gland. Loneliness is starting to expand in everybody, in each of us. Anger is starting to build.
Omar approaches my seat with Wendy, he bends over at my side, leaning on the chair. Wendy leans over, too, but without bending her knees. Omar says that he is going to the bathroom, he wants to throw up those shrimp and Wendy wants to accompany him, she wants to watch him throw up. In a loud voice Omar says:
‘That‘s sick. Don‘t be so sordid.‘
Then, more calmly, he explains that he doesn‘t really want to vomit because the pill could even burn his throat. Even though he is dying from stomach pain he is not going to waste the pill. Looking at the ceiling he says that maybe another gin and tonic will push through those shrimp that naturally had a lot of garlic. Patty laughs a little and, like knocking at the door, with her knuckles she strikes me two times on my knee. Then she raises both hands to her cleavage and adjusts her bra from underneath. No, she isn‘t adjusting it, she is taking it off. Omar and Wendy return to their places on the other side of the table.
What a bunch of idiots. Yet I have noticed that everybody, at some point, has looked up, at the ceiling fans, at the sticks of bamboo that hang from the windows, or at the mobiles with miniature boats that are also bouncing artlessly. Ricardo is the worst of this bunch, he always was. Now he is talking about a trip to India. The esoteric one is besotted with Wendy‘s silicone. Those nipples, by God! Ricardo with his tattoo of a lynx, or a puma. Poor moron, displaying a tiger, which feline, a puma, I‘ve no idea, I don‘t look at it, but the poor guy lifts the sleeve of his T-shirt so that Wendy can see it. Patty has been looking at me, she says:
‘I understand, you are nervous. Personally, the only thing I‘m interested in is stealing something. Stealing something to make this bullshit worthwhile. I‘d better go to the bathroom.‘
Omar comes closer to me once again, he asks me how I‘m doing and if I like Patty. I explain to him that we‘d better go, that at least we should leave this place. Ricardo has proposed that we go to that gay disco, maybe it will be amusing, something different. Besides it‘s close by, says Omar as he gestures to me indicating that he‘s going to pay the tab so that we can go. At that moment Ricardo approaches and, quickly, he says to me:
‘Hey, if we‘re going to go that disco, keep an eye on Omar, remember that time that he beat up those guys who were kissing in the entrance? ‘
In order not to see the feline on his arm, I look at the ceiling and I tell him:
‘But that was like ten years ago.‘
Forcing me to see the lynx, Ricardo says:
‘I don‘t know, I‘m just reminding you about that. It seems strange to me that he would want to go there.‘
We go out to the street. The air is exquisite, it‘s just what I needed. I notice that Patty is taking my arm, but it‘s all good, I‘m not the least bit drunk. Patty says to me:
‘I behaved really well and I didn‘t steal a thing. Not because I‘m virtuous, but at that sleazy bar there was nothing that was worth the trouble.‘
I laugh. We are walking. We walk two blocks and I feel great. Ricardo is hand in hand with Wendy, the lynx moves forward on his arm. I wonder where Omar is, apparently he is coming behind us, he must have stayed at the bar asking for some discount, or who knows what he‘s doing. Suddenly I feel Patty‘s arm squeezing me, I look at her thyroid, her Adam‘s apple has hidden completely inside her neck; I see the hoop, too, the orange ring speckled in blue that is swinging from her ear. Now all of us have remained motionless, we are all looking up, toward the metal structure of the bridge.
–translated from the Spanish by Claire Hirsch