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Published by OnPointRadio
From Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner. Copyright 2011 by Ben Lerner. Excerpted by permission of Coffee House Press.
From Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner. Copyright 2011 by Ben Lerner. Excerpted by permission of Coffee House Press.

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Published by: OnPointRadio on Mar 27, 2012
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“You smoked without us, Adán,” Rufina exclaimed. She must have asked Isabel
my name.
“I can make more,” I said. “I can roll another,” I corrected.
“So you’re a poet, Adán,” she ignored me. I just smiled. She repeated my name as
if it were a one-word joke at my expense.
“He just read at a gallery in Salamanca,” Isabel said to spite me.
“Salamanca—elegant!” It was clear Rufina was going to ask me what kind of poetry I wrote. “What kind of poetry do you write?”
“What kinds of poetry are there?” I was pleased
with this response and made amental note to use it from then on.
“Bad and worse,” Rufina said with mock derision. Isabel laughed a little. Maybe it 
relaxed them further to be allied against me, to taunt the new boyfriend after clearingthe air of the old.
“I, too, dislike it,” I said in English.
“You must come from money,” Rufina said, ignoring me again. Then she said
something idiomatic involving hands and clouds, which I assumed was a colorful way of 
saying the same thing. “Do you have to work at all?”
wasn’t sure how to respond to this. I had encountered this association of poetry
and money before in Spain, compounded, in my case, by the assumption that allAmericans, I mean Americans abroad, were rich; compared to Isabel and Rufina, myfamily probably
was. I had no clear sense of Isabel’s class position, let alone Rufina’s; I
knew Isabel had graduated from college, had long worked at the language school, andnow had a nice enough apartment, but she also had two roommates. I paid for almost allof our meals and drinks, but thought very little of it, even though it was a significant portion of my total funds, because euros always seemed fake to me. I had no idea, forinstance, if the house we were in was of significant value, if land near Toledo wasworth
less or in high demand, if Rufina’s manner of dress or address indicated the
working or middle or some other class, or if those were the relevant terms for Spain.
“I won’t have to work for several months, it’s true,” I said in a way that implied I
would th
en have to work in a coal mine. “Unless you think writing is work.”
“What will you do when you go back to the United States?” Rufina asked. Perhaps
the most important unspoken rule that Isabel and I had developed in our short relationship, our most important kind of silence, was never to refer to the time after my
fellowship. I looked at Isabel. It had been a while since I’d thought what I would,
 in fact, do upon my return.
“I don’t know
that I will go back,” I lied. Isabel remained quiet, but there was a
change in the intensity of her silence. I lit a cigarette to distance myself from thisstatement.
“And your parents will send you money,” Rufina laughed, and then saidsomething that involved the word “Bohemian.” “What,” she said, “do they do?”
 I knew that no matter what I said my parents did, Rufina was going to find it hilarious, so I decided to tell the truth, although I knew it would be particularly funny:
“They’re both psychologists.” I heard Isabel shift uncomfortably.
 As expected, this cracked Rufina up. I assumed the flourish of talk that followed
was about the preposterous image of a Bohemian poet supported by his psychologist parents. Isabel said something about not being too hard on me, but I smiled to indicate I
was fine with being teased. “Isabel’s friends from the language school are
always rich,” Rufina explained to me. “Friends” clearly meant “boyfriends.”
“What is your profession?” I asked, sounding intensely foreign.
“I lost my job,” she said, flatly. I blinked. “Maybe I’ll start writing poetry. Maybe,”she said, leaning forward and placing her hands on my thighs, “you’ll marry me and wecan live off your family.” I thought I saw Isabel wince when Rufina touched me.
“O.K.,” I said.
“Do you think your parents would like me?” Rufina asked, sti
cking out her chest 
in a performance of her voluptuousness I didn’t quite understand, but enjoyed taking in.
“I think my mom and dad would like you,” I said.
“I can cook and clean,” she said, sarcastically, crossing and uncrossing her legs.
“My mom is a
known feminist,” I said, a statement that sounded as stupid as
it was. Rufina laughed, Isabel asked what time it was, implying we should leave, but was
ignored. I could see her staring at Rufina, mutely telling her to shut up; I didn’t 
understand the
extremity of her concern. “You’d like my mom,” I said to get further
away from the feminist thing, “but she’s not so rich.” I smiled again, in part to calmIsabel. “Neither she nor my father ever give me money,” I lied. Now Isabel was looking
at me strangely. I had just finished saying maybe Rufina could meet my parents if and
when they visited Spain, when I remembered I’d told Isabel that my mom was dead.
 There were several ways I could have recovered from this mistake; I could havelooked melancholy and later claimed that I simply refused to share such a loss with
Rufina, or, if I’d kept my cool, I could have maintained to Isabel that she hadmisunderstood my terrible Spanish in the first place, that I’d never said or meant to say
 that my mom had passed away. But I could feel my face, which was burning, fully
confess to Isabel that I had lied to her. I’d told Isabel the lie during one of our first 
nights together when, still guilty from having recently told it to Teresa, I had felt compelled to repeat it, m
aybe to deepen my guilt into a kind of penance; surely I’d been
 drunk. Instead of amplifying my guilt, however, repetition mitigated it. While she hadresponded tenderly, Isabel never asked me about my family, and I never returned to it;
at first I’d been
aware of needing to avoid talking about my mother, as I still was withTeresa, but with Isabel I avoided talking about almost everything, save for my crypticaesthetic pronouncements.
Leaving the Atocha Station
by Ben Lerner. Copyright 2011 by Ben Lerner. Excerpted by permission of Coffee House Press.
The next morning we had breakfast at the same café and I said to Isabel that themore I thought about it the more eager I was to get back as I had to work with someonenamed Teresa on a pamphlet of my poetry that was to be published. I said this as if Iwere nervous about saying anything regarding Teresa in front of Isabel, nervous I might 
hurt her feelings.
“We can take the train tonight,” Isabel said, and because she didn’t seem jealous I
was furious.
“Let’s just go back now,” I said, which was ridiculous.
“Now? You haven’t seen the Alhambra,” she said.
“I’ve seen it before,” I lied. Now she looked jealous. I was elated.
“With whom?” she asked, and it was clear she was only pretending not to care.
“Teresa,” I said, and then pretended I wished I hadn’t. “And her brother.”
“When?” she asked.
“Around Christmas,” I said. I had the sense that Isabel wanted to be my onlyguide, that while she didn’t care who I slept with, she didn’t want another woman
showing me the architectural wonders of Spain.
“But you said you wanted to see Granada—that’s why we came,” she said,
remembering our conversation in bed.
“I did want to see it again,” I said. “And I’ll come back again.”
“Fine,” she said, angry. I wondered if I
would be the only American in historywho visited Granada without seeing the Alhambra.After breakfast we took a cab to the train station, bought our tickets, and had
around an hour and a half to kill before the Talgo left. It wasn’t until we actually boug
ht our tickets that I realized the last thing I wanted to do was to go back. We found a café
and ordered more coffee and the caffeine along with Isabel’s jealousy inspired me tosay, “Look, when we get back to Madrid, let’s just stay one night. I can get m
y work doneand we can pack for a longer trip. Then we can take another train to Galicia or Lisbon or
 Isabel smiled at me, having gone at an alarming rate from anger to something
more like pity. “I can’t,” she said. “I have to work.”
“Take vacation,” I said.
“I can’t,” she repeated softly, as if I’d asked her to marry me.
“Don’t you have work too?” There was gentle derision in the question. For the
first time, I took a joke about poetry personally.
“Is your work more important?” I asked, as
if her work were guarding paintings.
“No,” she said simply. I was crushed by how easily she ignored my implication.
 We spent the rest of our downtime at the café, then boarded the train, andpassed the next five hours reading, napping, smoking, but almost never speaking. Imissed my parents terribly. By day the Spanish countryside looked a lot like Kansas.
Leaving the Atocha Station
by Ben Lerner. Copyright 2011 by Ben Lerner. Excerpted by permission of Coffee House Press.
When I got back from Granada I began to spiral, not out of control, but downward,nevertheless, in a helix of small pitch. I had not realized how much I was invested in theidea that Isabel and Teresa were invested in me, and now that it seemed neither had theinclination even to feign serious investment, I felt not only rejected, but as though many

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