This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
). Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews. Dance Card 1. My mother read Neruda to us in Quilpué, Cauquenes, and Los Ángeles. 2. A single book: Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair), Editorial Losada, Buenos Aires, 1961. On the title page, a drawing of Neruda and a note explaining that this edition commemorated the printing of the millionth copy. Had a million copies of Veinte poemas already been printed in 1961? Or did the note refer to all of Neruda’s published works? The first, I fear, although both possibilities are disturbing, and unimaginable now. 3. My mother’s name is written on the second page of the book: María Victoria Ávalos Flores. A somewhat hasty examination of the handwriting leads me to the improbable conclusion that someone else wrote her name there. It is not my father’s handwriting, nor that of anyone I know. Whose is it then? After closely scrutinizing the signature blurred by the years, I am obliged to admit, albeit skeptically, that it is my mother’s. 4. In 1961 and 1962, my mother was not as old as I am now; she hadn’t turned 35, and was working in a hospital. She was young and full of life. 5. This copy of Veinte poemas, my copy, has traveled a long way. From town to town in southern Chile, from house to house in Mexico City, and then to three cities in Spain. 6. The book didn’t always belong to me, of course. First it was my mother’s. She gave it to my sister, and when my sister left Girona and went to Mexico, she passed it on to me. Of the books my sister left me, my favorites were the science fiction and the complete works (up to that point) of Manuel Puig, which I had given her, and re-read after she went away. 7. By that stage I didn't like Neruda anymore. Especially not Veinte poemas de amor! 8. In 1968, my family moved to Mexico City. Two years later, in 1970, I met Alejandro Jodorowski, who, for me, was the Archetype of the Artist. I waited for him outside a theater (he was directing a production of Zarathustra, with Isela Vargas) and said I wanted him to teach me how to make films. I then became a frequent visitor at his house. I don’t think I was a good student. Jodorowski asked me how much I spent a week on cigarettes. Quite a bit, I said (I've always smoked like a chimney). He told me to stop smoking and spend the money on Zen meditation classes with Ejo Takata. All right, I said. I went along for a few days, but during the third session I decided it wasn't for me. 9. I parted company with Ejo Takata in the middle of a Zen meditation session. When I tried to slip away he came at me brandishing a wooden stick, the one he used on the students who asked to be hit. What he would do was hold out the stick; the students would say yes or no, and if the response was affirmative, he'd let them have a couple of whacks, and the sound would echo in the dim room hazy with incense. 10. On this occasion, however, he didn't ask me first. His attack was precipitate and stentorian. I was sitting next to a girl, near the door, and Ejo was at the back of the room. I thought he had his eyes shut and wouldn't hear me leaving. But the bastard heard and threw himself at me shouting the Zen equivalent of banzai. 11. My father was a heavyweight amateur boxing champion. His unchallenged reign was restricted to southern Chile. I never liked boxing, but had been taught since I was a kid; there was always a pair of boxing gloves in the house, whether in Chile or in Mexico. 12. When Master Ejo Takata threw himself at me shouting, he probably didn't mean to do me any harm, or expect me to defend myself automatically. Normally when he whacked his followers with that stick it was to dissipate their
nervous tension. But I wasn't suffering from nervous tension; I just wanted to get out of there once and for all. 13. If you're being attacked, you defend yourself; it's only natural, especially when you're seventeen, especially in Mexico City. Ejo Takata was Nerudian in his ingenuity. 14. Jorodowski was to thank for Ejo Takata's presence in Mexico, so he said. At one stage Takata used to go looking for drug addicts in the jungles of Oaxaca, mostly North Americans who hadn't been able to find their way back from a hallucinogenic trip. 15. My experience with Takata, however, didn't make me give up smoking. 16. One of the things I liked about Jodorowski was the way, whenever he talked about Chilean intellectuals (usually in critical terms), he would include me among them. That was a big boost to my confidence, although naturally I had no intention whatsoever of resembling the said intellectuals. 17. One afternoon, I can't remember how, we got on the topic of Chilean poetry. He said the greatest Chilean poet was Nicanor Parra. He recited one of Nicanor's poems straight-away, and another, and then one more. Jodorowski recited well but I wasn't impressed by the poems. At that stage I was a highly sensitive young man, as well as being ridiculous and full of myself, and I declared that Chile's finest poet was, without any doubt, Pablo Neruda. All the rest, I added, are midgets. The discussion must have lasted about half an hour. Jodorowski brandished arguments from Gurdjieff, Krishnamurti, and Madame Blavatski, went on to talk about Kiekegaard and Wittgenstein, then Topor, Arrabal, and himself. I remember him saying that Nicanor, on his way somewhere, had stayed at his house. In this statement I glimpsed a childlike pride which since then I have noticed again and again in the majority of writers. 18. In one of his books Bataille says that tears are the ultimate form of communication. I started crying, not in a normal, ordinary way, but wildly, in spurts, more or less like Alice in Wonderland, shedding gallons of tears. 19. As I left Jodorowski’s house I realized I would never return, and that hurt as much as what he had said, and I went on crying in the street. More dimly, I also realized that never again would I have a master as charming as that gentleman thief and consummate con man. 20. But what dismayed me most of all was my poorly argued, rather pathetic defense (a defense it was, nevertheless) of Pablo Neruda, when all I had read of his were the Veinte poemas de amor (which by that stage struck me as unintentionally funny) and Crepusculario (Twilight), including the poem “Farewell,” to which I remain unshakably faithful, though even then I saw it as the ultimate schmaltz. 21. In 1971 I read Vallejo, Huidobro, Martín Adán, Borges, Oquendo de Amat, Pablo de Rokha, Gilberto Owen, López Velarde, Oliverio Girondo. I even read Nicanor Parra. I even read Pablo Neruda! 22. The Mexican poets I was hanging out and swapping books with at the time belonged for the most part to one of two camps: the Nerudians or the Vallejians. I was, unquestionably, Parrian in my isolation. 23. But the fathers must be killed; poets are born orphans. 24. In 1973 I went back to Chile: a long journey over land and sea, repeatedly delayed by hospitality. I met with revolutionaries of various stripes. The whirlwind of fire that would soon engulf Central America could already be glimpsed in the eyes of my friends, who spoke of death as if they were talking about a film. 25. I reached Chile in August 1973. I wanted to help build socialism. The first book of poems I bought was Parra’s Obra Gruesa (Construction Work). The second was Artefactos (Artifacts), also by Parra. 26. I had less than a month in which to enjoy building socialism. At the time, of course, I didn’t know that. I was Parrian in my ingenuity. 27. I went to a conference and saw various Chilean poets; it was awful. 28. On the eleventh of September I turned up at the only functioning party cell in the suburb where I was living and volunteered. The man in charge was a communist factory worker, chubby and perplexed, but willing to fight. His wife seemed to be more courageous than he was. We all piled into their little wooden-floored dining room. While the man in charge was speaking, I examined the books on the sideboard. There weren’t many, mostly
cowboy novels like the ones my father used to read. 29. For me, the eleventh of September was a comic as well as a bloody spectacle. 30. I kept watch in an empty street. I forgot my password. My comrades were fifteen years old, retired, or out of work. 31. When Neruda died, I was already in Mulchén, with my uncles, aunts, and cousins. In November, while traveling from Los Ángeles to Concepción, I was arrested during a road check and taken prisoner. I was the only one they took from the bus. I thought they were going to kill me there and then. From the cell I could hear the officer in charge of the patrol, a fresh-faced policeman who looked like an asshole (an asshole wriggling around in a sack of flour) and talking with his superiors in Concepción. He was saying he had captured a Mexican terrorist. Then he took it back and said: A foreign terrorist. He mentioned my accent, the dollars I was carrying, the brand of my shirt and trousers. 32. My great-grandparents, the Flores and the Grañas, vainly attempted to tame the wilds of Araucanía (when they couldn’t even tame themselves), so they were probably Nerudian in their excess. My grandfather, Roberto Alvos Martí, was a colonel, stationed at various forts in the south until his mysteriously early retirement, which leads me to suspect that he was Nerudian in his sympathy for the blue and white. My paternal grandparents came from Galicia and Catalonia, gave their lives to the province of Bío-Bío and were Nerudian in their landscape and patient labor. 33. I was imprisoned in Concepción for a few days and then released. They didn’t torture me, as I had feared; they didn’t even rob me. But they didn’t give me anything to eat either, or any kind of covering for the night, so I had to rely on the goodwill of the other prisoners, who shared their food with me. In the small hours I could hear them torturing others; I couldn’t sleep and there was nothing to read except a magazine in English that someone had left behind. The only interesting article in it was about a house that had once belonged to Dylan Thomas. 34. I got out of that hole thanks to a pair of detectives who had been at high school with me in Los Ángeles, and to my friend Fernando Fernández, who was twenty-one, just a year older than me, but possessed of a composure comparable to that of the idealized Englishman on whom Chileans were desperately and vainly trying to model themselves. 35. In January 1974 I left Chile. I have never been back. 36. Were the Chileans of my generation courageous? Yes, they were. 37. In Mexico I hear the story of a young woman from the MIR who had been tortured by having live rats put into her vagina. This woman managed to get out of the country and went to Mexico City. There she lived, but each day she grew sadder, until one day the sadness killed her. That’s what I heard. I didn’t know her personally. 38. The story isn’t exceptional. We are told of peasant woman in Guatemala being subjected to unspeakable humiliations. The amazing thing about the story is its ubiquity. In Paris I heard of a Chilean woman who had been tortured in the same way before emigrating to France. She too had been a member of the MIR; she was the same age as the woman in Mexico and, like her, had died of sadness. 39. Some time later, I was told of a Chilean woman in Stockholm: she was young, a member or ex-member of the MIR; in November 1973 she had been tortured, using rats, and she had died, to the astonishment of the doctors who were treating her, of sadness, morbus melancholicus. 40. Is it possible to die of sadness? Yes, it is. It is possible (though painful) to die of hunger. It is even possible to die of spleen. 41. Was this anonymous Chilean, repeatedly subject to torture and death, a single woman, or three different women who happened to share the same political affiliation and the same kind of beauty? According to a friend, it was one woman, who, as in Vallejo’s poem “Masa,” multiplied in death without in any way surviving. (Actually, in Vallejo’s poem, it is not the dead man who multiplies but the supplicants begging him not to die). 42. Once upon a time there was a Belgian poet called Sophie Podolski. She was born in 1953 and committed suicide in 1974. She published only one book, called Le pays où tout est permis (The Country Where Everything Is
During a period of my life. I think of poets who died under torture. or overdosed. but three days—the shorter stay seemed to indicate that my depression was easing. But Stalin didn’t show. 51. but one should still make an attempt?) 53. I used to see Adolf Hitler in the corridor of my house. 62. torn apart. this is the strangest part. 280 facsimile pages). Germain Nouveau (1852-1920). If Neruda had been addicted to cocaine or heroin. so I heard. made noises (Hitler had been as quiet as a block of drifting ice). The children of the Spanish lion. the mathematical scions of Neruda and the cruel progeny of Huidobro. Everything is possible. And Octavio Paz. who hadn’t betrayed anyone. I think of Roberto Lira. if he had .” I said I liked Rodrigo Lira. said Rubén Darío. 61. And Sholokhov. On the third and final night. who died of AIDS. I was once asked who were my favorite young Chilean poets. When I grow up I want to be Nerudian in my synergy. all those who believed in a Latin American paradise and died in a Latin American hell. the comic followers of Mistral and the humble disciples of De Rokha. Did he like Barbusse? Everything seems to suggest that he did. José Martí. without even looking at me when he passed the open door of my bedroom. Hitler disappeared. 58. forgotten. his hands reached out as his lungs absorbed the air (the air of that cold European corridor) with relish. 59. 52. I think of them this week as the veterans of the International Brigades that visit Spain: little old men climbing down from the buses. All that effort to hide and beautify at thing with a disfigured face. The pained gestures and beggarlike manner of the first night changed progressively. 43. and 350 or so have come back to Spain. Neruda. The children of Walt Whitman. younger than any of us) because he’s dead. the Trojan destiny of their mingled bones terrifying the survivors. thankfully behind me now. So little generosity. 56. who wrote love poems. the heirs to Parra’s bones and to Lihn’s eyes. smiled at me (as if to say that communication is impossible. if he had been killed by a piece of rubble during the siege of Madrid in 1936. Montfaucon Research Center. Not for two weeks. 1970. It was Neruda who next took up residence in my corridor. and died. And Alerti. I think of Beltrán Morales. 45.000 of them. a friend of Rimbaud’s. A confession: I cannot read Neruda’s memoirs without feeling seriously ill. 46. Odd companions for a voyage through Purgatory. so that in the end the ghost seemed to have reconstituted himself as a grave and dignified courtier poet. like Hitler. and I was expecting him to be replaced by Stalin. He went by the name of Humilis (in 1910 he published Les poèms d’Humilis) and slept on church porches. at the bottom of the sea. in mass graves. After two weeks. 44. expressed his impotence with gestures and finally. he complained. At first I thought it was the devil (who else could it have been?) and feared I had gone irreversibly mad. 50. 54. brandishing their fists. Questions to ponder before going to sleep: Why didn’t Neruda like Kafka? Why didn’t Neruda like Rilke? Why didn’t Neruda like De Rokha? 60. he tried to speak but could not. 49. as he was going past my door. before disappearing with the first light of dawn.Allowed. 57. I think of our useless pointy heads and the abominable death of Isaac Babel. 55. 47. But he also liked Éluard. so little sense of humor. There were 40. a born optimist. however. 48. show the Left a way out of the pit of shame and futility. spent the last years of his life as a vagabond and beggar. The mutual betrayal of the two elder brothers accidentally implicated the younger one. calling out to them. I think of their works. although it is more likely that he died in silence. and Violeta Parra. Dance partners for the new Chilean poetry. he stopped and looked at me (Hitler had never done that) and. perhaps. which may. What a mass of contradictions. murmuring incomprehensible words. I think of Reinaldo Arenas. Maybe they didn’t say “young” but “contemporary. I think of Mario Santiago. although he can’t really be called contemporary anymore (though he is young. All Hitler did was walk up and down the corridor. Some time ago I met three Argentinian brothers who later gave their lives for revolutionary causes in different Latin American countries. Every poet ought to know that.
Do we have to come back to Neruda as we do to the Cross. In any case. at least in our opinion—that is. Angela Caputo. quite reasonably. for example. the opinion of his faithful readers. though never in a mannered way. Our imaginary home. it could be objected. they are not unusual among lovers of anything. he really is! 63. waiting to devour his children? 64. But the action of that sinister and eminently sardonic character Time has prompted a reconsideration of Rousselot’s apparent simplicity. for a few minutes. we all outlast the object of our adoration. could have predicted such an atrocious death.” is Ugolino lurking. perhaps as a result of excessive familiarity with the object of desire. Keen readers of mid-twentieth-century Argentine literature. at least. it would have been quite a different story. stage-managed down to the finest . In the end. that the others were destined for their own hells. with their charged and ambivalently childlike atmosphere. 66. with punctured lungs and eyes full of tears? 67. killed herself in an unimaginable manner: no one who had read her poems. Or. By which I mean more complicated than we had imagined. Without the slightest remorse! Innocently! Simply because he’s hungry and doesn’t want to die! 65. or lunfardo. the home we share. when a story required it (as was often the case). will no doubt remember that Rousselot was a skilled narrator and an abundant inventor of plots. At this point. there is an alternative explanation: perhaps he was simply another victim of chance. 68. his will go on soaring over an imaginary domain called Chilean Literature. Rousselot loved literature as much as any Argentine writer of his generation. a sound stylist in literary Spanish. Álvaro Rousselot’s Journey by Roberto Bolaño November 26.been Lorca’s lover and committed suicide after Lorca was killed. He didn’t have children. from the peers who shared his moments of joy and his suffering. 69. In the basement of edifice known as “The Works of Pablo Neruda. In fact. but not averse to the use of Buenos Aires slang. What I mean to say is that he was not especially different from the others. which is to say that he loved literature in a reasonably disillusioned manner. Such cases are not unusual among lovers of literature like Rousselot. By then all poets will live in artistic communities called jails or asylums. who do exist. deep down. yet nothing even remotely similar happened to any of them. on bleeding knees. 2007 Although it may not warrant an eminent place in the annals of literary mystery. but the people loved him. their own singularities. Perhaps he was complicated. When our names no longer mean a thing. perhaps because passion runs its course more swiftly than other human emotions. or of the preceding and following generations. like many of his compatriots. the curious case of Álvaro Rousselot is worthy of attention. If Neruda had been the mystery that. albeit not in great numbers. his will go on shining.
it becomes apparent that most of the characters are dead. “The Archives of Peru Street. except for one. Of the friends who were alerted and went to see the film. “The Archives of Peru Street” had already been kicking around the city’s bookshops for almost a year. he returned home. As the days went by. Rousselot published his first book. and Rousselot had married María Eugenia Carrasco. had lunch with his wife. victim in turn of an unidentified killer. Rousselot’s life was orderly: he got up at six in the morning and wrote or tried to write until eight. At two in the afternoon. a young woman who moved in the capital’s literary circles. and he had recently taken a job with the law firm of Zimmerman & Gurruchaga. perhaps because. In 1950. whose texts were hermetic and whose life was cut short by the military regime in the seventies. the book relates numerous confessions about past lives and fleeting moments of happiness. in the final analysis. but. Rousselot had already published a second novel. He spent most mornings in court or going through files. “Solitude” became “Nights on the Pampas” in the land of Victor Hugo. as she now was. it also relates numerous acts of violence. at the latest. where Mrs. It would be impossible to capture Rousselot’s feeling of stunned amazement in the dark. On . while the other was perhaps excessively enthusiastic. it was well received. half were in favor of suing the production company. although it is perhaps the least successful of Rousselot’s works. yet they do not eclipse the case of Rousselot. one of whom reviewed it warmly. stood near or on the edge of something he knew almost nothing about. at which time he interrupted his commerce with the muses. he considered himself a victim of plagiarism. and for anyone who had read “Solitude” it was clearly a clever adaptation of Rousselot’s book.” Still. other explanations occurred to him. he had a drink with some other lawyers. The book was not much of a success in Buenos Aires. where it made little impact.” a detective story. This second novel was not what one might have expected from the author of “Solitude. Halfway through the novel. and rushed off to the office. while María Eugenia listened to the radio. At the end of 1957. When Morini’s film came out in Buenos Aires. a film titled “Lost Voices” was released. Rousselot. when he had passed the age of fifty and lost interest in literature (and in the world in general). under the rather laconic title “Solitude. after which Rousselot would read. with a plot that revolved around the appearance of three bodies in three different places in Buenos Aires: the first two victims had been killed by the third. his writing. but the identity of that single living character is never revealed. Then it vanished into the limbo of dusty shelves and overloaded tables in secondhand bookstores. except on two critics. and then went back to the office for the afternoon. but he kept coming back to the idea that his work had been plagiarized. had his dinner ready. while the others were inclined to argue. With only thirty pages left to go. Morini’s film began and ended altogether differently. at the age of thirty. By that time. Or Sánchez Brady. His story can be recounted simply. a novel about daily life in a remote Patagonian penitentiary. more or less resignedly.detail for maximum terrifying effect. thanks to some friends. Rousselot had the pleasure of seeing a well-respected publisher bring out a French edition in 1954. of the enigma that imperceptibly enveloped his life. where he arrived at around ten to nine. and by eight. it is a simple story. took a shower. half-empty Buenos Aires cinema where he first saw the Frenchman’s film. however. selling less than a thousand copies. that these things happen—think of Brahms.” Naturally. it was directed by a Frenchman named Guy Morini. it is suddenly obvious that they are all dead. Paradoxical deaths and destinies. At seven. Naturally. but its stem or middle section corresponded exactly to the novel. the sense that his work. he was back home.
“Life of a Newlywed. Morini’s new film. Seven months after his vacation in Punta del Este. to the dismay of those who had expected a stronger and more decisive attitude on his part. as the title suggests. “The Shape of the Day. He waited. not legally. resisting the temptation to rush to the cinema like a man possessed. obviously. and was embraced by the reading public. In other respects. rather. beyond his circle of associates. he recounted a man’s first months of married life. Something inside him. His best friend at the law firm. After “The Archives of Peru Street. and went out at night. and began to harden or change him. his life as a writer and as a man had already changed as much as he could reasonably have hoped. his wife. without his wife.” he published a slim volume of stories. or appeal to the honor and integrity of the artist. and his sister-in-law to a vacation in Punta del Este. in a modest way. his third novel. Rousselot simply opted not to act—at least. discovers that he is physically attracted to her in a way that he wasn’t before). Rousselot decided. The book was. After his initial surprise and indignation. or simply— and herein lay the charm of this method—delicately filmed scenes from the lives of the minor characters). but above all to fill the gap left by his ignorance of France’s most celebrated novelist. or prepare him for future surprises. When Morini’s third film came to Buenos Aires. he treated himself. And yet. From one day to the next. he wrote a bit more. before “Life of a Newlywed” had even come out in French. to do nothing. that is. which he spent surreptitiously reading “In Search of Lost Time.Saturdays and Sundays. Having thought it over carefully. and then. Rousselot was intensely annoyed. the man comes to realize that he has made a terrible mistake: not only is the woman he thought he knew a stranger. he strove to redeem that lie. and how. With the windfall earnings. His case against Morini was the talk of the Argentine literary world for a week or so. He took it in stride. which could perhaps. compressing Rousselot’s plot into the central part of the film. Rousselot’s name soared from comfortable semi-obscurity to provisional stardom. And yet the guy loves her (or. meant to be humorous. although everyone presumed that he would take swift legal action. who was not particularly interested in literature. without too great a risk of error. or more: his books were well reviewed and widely read—they even supplemented his income—and his family life was suddenly enriched by the news that María Eugenia was going to be a mother. He would have been better off reading the Cabalists. or dead ends. Rousselot stayed home for a week.” in which. she is also a kind of monster who threatens even his physical safety.” a book he had always pretended to have read. to see his literary friends. He did not protest.” opened in Buenos Aires. so he holds on for as long as he can before fleeing. This time. While María Eugenia and her sister lolled about on the beach. almost immediately. while the beginning and the end served as commentaries on the main story (or ways into and out of it. to the surprise of Rousselot and his publisher: it had to be reprinted after three months. revised and considerably extended in much the same way that “Lost Voices” had been. advised him to sue Morini for copyright infringement. trapped him in a limbo of apparent passivity. be called the writer’s spirit. It was exactly like “Life of a Newlywed” but better. He also instructed his friends not to tell . Rousselot decided not to do anything. Few could really understand his reaction. as the days go by. and within a year more than fifteen thousand copies had been sold. The release of “Lost Voices” brought him a notoriety that extended.
Rousselot decided to stop annoying people with his letters and suspend his investigations until at last he got a chance to visit Paris. having kissed his baby son and entrusted him to the nanny’s care. It was as if Morini had distanced himself from Rousselot or. the only one who was truly capable of responding to his work. and his triumph was consummated by the Municipal Literary Award. he stepped out. his longest yet (206 pages). it must eventually come to an end. When Rousselot asked his publishers in Paris if Morini might have had access to the manuscript of “Life of a Newlywed” before its publication. Rousselot was even preoccupied by the thought that he had lost his best reader. Morini had already made his fourth and fifth films. be called the choral. he thought he would not go to see the film. and Rousselot was relieved to discover that neither bore the slightest resemblance to anything he had ever written. the reader for whom he had really been writing.” By then. with its elements of fantasy and crime fiction. he published his next novel. arm in arm with his wife. but he agreed. Morini’s film was called “The Vanished Woman. Rousselot’s greatest success. The other had seen only the film that resembled the book he had not translated (or read. upbeat and gratuitous narratives.” in which he departed from the style that had characterized his work so far. at a stretch. from a different publisher. or polyphonic. by a naturalism that elegantly avoided the clichés of the naturalist novel. the book that brought all the others back into print. who distrust our Municipal Literary Awards on principle. to judge from his letter). María Eugenia said she thought it was bad and boring. and one night. Álvaro Rousselot kept his opinion to himself. he was invited to a literary festival in Frankfurt.him the plot.” and had nothing in common with any of Rousselot’s works. had neglected the relationship. French fashions in Latin-American fiction had shifted to warmer climes than Buenos Aires. Everyone knows that the bright rising stars in the literature of any nation are like flowers that bloom and fade in a day. A few months later. without doubt. presented at a ceremony in the course of which he was described as one of the five brightest stars among the nation’s younger writers. Rousselot got to know two old Buenos Aires writers whom he . The Argentine delegation was sizable. as if he were going off to war and might never return. They replied indifferently that many people had access to a manuscript at various stages prior to printing. and went to the cinema. and by the stories themselves: minimalist and resolute. At first. resignedly. One of them had never seen any of Morini’s films. As they left the cinema. He tried to get in touch with his translators. and the trip was pleasant. which captured the indomitable Argentine spirit. “The Juggler’s Family” was. It was a form that didn’t come naturally to him. But after a week it was too much for him. they weren’t even surprised. a conventional but engaging French detective story and a turkey about a supposedly amusing family vacation in Saint-Tropez. When the novel came out in Paris. Both films were released in Argentina. novel. and whether that day is brief and succinct or extends over ten or twenty years. but the book was redeemed by the decency and simplicity of its characters. and experimented with what could. A year later. The French. For a few days. titled “The Juggler’s Family. were slow to translate and publish “The Juggler’s Family. After relief came sadness. and replied to his letters with polite and evasive phrases. under pressure from creditors and swept up in the whirlwind of the movie business. but they were busy with other books and other authors. Feeling embarrassed. But that is another story. and seemed forced. or with either of Morini’s previous films.
One of the old writers noticed and told him not to worry. although he pointed out that they had published two of his books. and who insisted on speaking Spanish. Rousselot hastened to point out that he was not intending to take any kind of legal action against Morini. because it had just dawned on him how absurd it was to think that any of his translators would be able to lead him to Morini. He tried to help them in any way he could. in spite of the weather. and whose role at the company Rousselot never managed to ascertain. walking from one wall to the other. that the sales of his books had been very poor. who called him obsequious and servile. but no one picked up.” the publisher said. the publisher lit a cigarette and paced up and down the office for a long time in silence. Nevertheless. the publisher stopped in front of a glass-fronted bookcase full of manuscripts and asked Rousselot if it was his first time in Paris. for which he was reproached by a writer of his own generation. of going to Paris and confronting the mystery waiting for him there. while the others would return to Buenos Aires or take short vacations somewhere in Europe. so to speak. “It’s all about money here. changing the topic completely. The publisher burst into uproarious laughter. they would see each other again soon. “Parisians are cannibals.” he said. a distance of barely three yards. “ever since Camus. as soon as he had settled into a little hotel in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. When the day of departure came and Rousselot went to the airport to see off the members of the delegation who were returning to Argentina.considered his masters. The first thing he did. “Nights on the Pampas” and “Life of a Newlywed. The slightly artificial atmosphere of happiness was. becoming increasingly nervous. He knew that when the festival was over he would go on to Paris. The stay in Frankfurt was enjoyable. and the publisher. was to call the translator of “Solitude” (“Nights on the Pampas”). his eyes filled with tears. had never read) and made a halfhearted attempt to obtain the address of the translator they had employed. But Rousselot couldn’t understand what anyone was saying to him. Finally. When he had finished. Rousselot admitted that it was.” Finally. a guy who must have been about fifty. although it was soon clear that his grasp of the language was tenuous. since he didn’t seem to have anything better to do that morning). offering to render the sorts of little services one might expect from a secretary or a valet rather than a colleague. largely Rousselot’s own creation.” Rousselot looked at him.” Rousselot was at a loss for words. above all.” This second publishing house was significantly smaller. Rousselot waited. from A to Z. Rousselot then visited the publishers of “The Juggler’s Family” (which Morini. He didn’t know whether the publisher meant that idealism had died with Camus. it seemed. and when he went to the publishers’ offices they had no idea where the translator might be. and Rousselot spent all his time with the pair of old writers. in an absurdly serious tone. hoping that he would be able to put him in touch with the translators of “Nights on the Pampas” and “Life of a Newlywed. encouraged by the publisher’s warm welcome (and his readiness to listen. they had no idea who Rousselot was. he only wanted to meet him and perhaps ask him how he came up with the plots of the two films in which he had a particular interest. placed the visitor and. The phone rang at his apartment. and money was . But Rousselot was happy and paid no attention. Rather taken aback. and seemed to be run by just two people: a woman who received Rousselot. immediately proceeded to inform him. unsuccessfully. and the door of his house in Buenos Aires would always be open. bewildered. who he guessed was a secretary. Rousselot decided to tell him the whole story. in fact. He was on the brink of tears because he was afraid of being left on his own. To tell the truth. a young guy who greeted him with a smile and a hug. When asked why he wanted to speak with the translator of “The Juggler’s Family. and afraid.
this embarrassed him.” Rousselot said quietly. he discovered a woman beside him. he was short. he ate in a restaurant in the Latin Quarter and visited a couple of secondhand bookshops. It had been a while since Rousselot had read any of his work. Riquelme explained several sections of his book in detail. “I’m not interested in money. When Riquelme finally appeared. and that she liked watching movies. Rousselot told his friend what he had told his French publisher that morning. powerless to resist. happy to know that his hotel would be there at the end of the night. broad face with a ruddy complexion. that she had just turned twenty-eight. “and look where it’s got me. less blond. perhaps for lunch or dinner. they started talking about movies. He hadn’t seen Riquelme for years. They visited various bars and clubs. The night was rich in confessions and revelations. At two in the afternoon. He had blond hair and a round. or that Camus had established the law of supply and demand among artists and intellectuals. so Rousselot discovered that she didn’t have a pimp. in Simone’s opinion. On waking. At some point during the night. because a pimp was always the worst kind of deal. he felt so good that during the meal. and go out dancing with Simone. He went to the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. from his hotel. and before long they got onto Morini. and eat. and while waiting for him in the lobby of the hotel he tried to remember what he looked like. It would probably be true to say that Rousselot had never felt so good in his life. The woman’s name was Simone. he called an Argentine writer he had known back in Buenos Aires who lived in Paris now. Surprisingly for Rousselot. They weren’t exactly friends. They had breakfast together in a café near the hotel. they returned to the hotel and didn’t reëmerge until dinnertime. and wander aimlessly through the streets of the Left Bank. He spent the rest of the day sightseeing. He had passed the eight-hundredpage mark and hoped to finish it in less than three years. Although Rousselot prudently refrained from asking about the plot. Simone was not at all surprised by the . but then he surrendered to the situation. Riquelme would be right there—the night was on him. his hotel room and the word “hotel. That night. but Riquelme wouldn’t hear of it. “Nor am I. and she was a prostitute. and asked him where he was calling from. Rousselot told him the name of his hotel and mentioned that he was just going to bed. my poor friend. He drank a lot. Rousselot realized that both he and Riquelme were behaving like adolescents. Rousselot hardly recognized him: he seemed taller. In fact.” the publisher said. and Riquelme told Rousselot that he was writing the great Argentine novel of the twentieth century. shortly before they ordered dessert. Rousselot was overwhelmed. and he was wearing glasses. The Argentine writer was called Riquelme and he was happy to hear from Rousselot. Simone liked to talk. His first films were very good. but Rousselot appreciated the writer’s work and had been instrumental in getting a number of his pieces published in a Buenos Aires magazine.” They parted with the understanding that Rousselot would call the publisher and arrange to have dinner one night. But he was not even to think of getting into his pajamas.now the prime concern. Rousselot could have kissed her then and there.” which in that instant seemed a miraculous (that is to say evanescent) incarnation of risk and freedom. he explained the reason for his trip to Paris. Rousselot wanted to arrange to meet up some time during the week. Since he wasn’t interested in the world of Parisian pimps and Simone’s age didn’t seem a fruitful topic of conversation. At first. She liked French cinema. He wanted to write.
That night. he slept in Simone’s bed.” Simone said. Before going into the building. “A little boy. In the taxi. or freely adapted two of his novels to make his two best films. As they waited for ice creams on a café terrace on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. and even wished her visitor an effusive good night. she asked him if he was married. Things like that happen in life. What now? Rousselot thought. Finally. but perhaps that was only because he was asleep. if he liked. he held out a bunch of uncounted bills. and fell asleep. and then he remembered that he hadn’t paid her. then reappeared after a while and summoned him with a gesture. point blank. violently at times. then they went rowing on a lake. with a tenderness engendered by the mental image of his offspring. Simone asked him if he knew them. neither of them said anything. who produced a glass and filled it with that appalling liquid. who then took her leave of Mme.” she said. was her laconic response. and finally they visited a supermarket. or at least like the images of such cities that Soviet directors used to offer for public consumption every now and then in their films.” Rousselot said. In the dimly lit living room. Shamefaced.” Rousselot said. And he added. “He’s lovely. and Simone invited him to come in.” she said. The building didn’t have an elevator. By the time they reached the fourth floor. “And do you have children?” Simone asked. went to a park. least of all people he had always admired. although Rousselot noted that there was already something thoroughly manly about his childish features. Then. and made love for hours. an old woman was drinking a whitish-colored liqueur. The novelist spared no expense: they had breakfast in the center of Paris.” Then Simone asked him to keep her company on the way home. Rousselot was thinking that the day had been eventful enough and that it was time to leave when Simone said he could spend the night with her. calling him sir. it seemed a perfectly reasonable idea. So they made love in Simone’s room. either. it contained a bed in which a child was sleeping. rather too long. Rousselot sat down next to the old woman. The answer was implicit in the question. He had blond hair. and resembled his mother. He said no.revelation that he was a writer or that Morini had plagiarized or copied his work. and even stranger things. Simone was paying the old woman. “Then go and ask them for an autograph. but he was a passionate reader of their books. They took taxis everywhere. but at the last minute Rousselot decided that he didn’t have the right to annoy anyone. so to speak. they covered each other’s mouths to stop their moans from waking the child. Rousselot recognized a pair of famous writers. The little boy’s name was Marc. In response to a sign from Simone. “My son. the natural thing to do. Rousselot was out of breath. while Simone vanished through one of the doors. the taxi pulled up in front of a four-story building. And so he was. Simone. “But you can’t sleep in my bed. Rousselot wondered whether he should. He spent the next day en famille. He admired them from a distance. Rousselot found him to be very bright (as well as able to speak better French than he did). “He looks just like me. she didn’t want her son to wake up and see her in bed with a stranger. The room was small. At first. and then Rousselot went out into the living room. and had lunch in a restaurant on the Rue de Verneuil that he had been told about in Buenos Aires. both looked out their windows at the unpredictable spills of bright and dark which make the City of Light seem like a medieval Russian city. he got out of the taxi without worrying about how he would get back to his hotel (there didn’t seem to be many taxis in that neighborhood). as if loving each other . When Rousselot went back to the living room. and with a resigned gesture Rousselot showed her the gold ring that was constricting his ring finger at that moment as never before. lay down on the couch. where Simone bought all the ingredients for a proper French meal. which Simone put into her handbag without counting them.
and no one was surprised to see him appear out of nowhere. “Where are you from?” the bum asked. Riquelme told him that a friend of his. The next day. whatever—for example. a bum came up and asked him for some change. “What a coincidence. and called Riquelme. Now all they had to do was set up a meeting (at which Riquelme and the Spanish journalist wanted to be present) on some pretext. “Buenos Aires. as if there were something more to be said but neither of them dared say it. as Rousselot was taking photographs more or less at random on the banks of the Seine. he had found happiness and even some wisdom now and then. They talked for a long time. Rousselot realized that the bum had started using the familiar form of address. the Frenchman had given it to him without a second thought. When the photo session was over. Then Riquelme and the Spanish journalist had called Morini’s number without getting their hopes up. Then he said a rather hurried goodbye. which he hadn’t done when they were speaking in French. and for a while they walked along together in silence. as if he knew that. Rousselot felt a deep sadness overwhelming him. seemed to have changed. The bum began to hum a tango. The first was to say he had found out how to reach Morini. a Frenchman. and music critic. a Spanish journalist. “What do you mean. theatre. too. The bum agreed. such as pretending to sleep on a bench. Rousselot offered him a bill if he would consent to be photographed. which Rousselot accepted without quibbling. the tone of his voice. At reception. and in other poses. where he’d been living for more than fifteen years.” Rousselot said. in Spanish. The French journalist had been a friend of Morini’s and still had his telephone number. brushed his teeth (a horrifying experience). come the end of the day.” When Rousselot turned around. His suitcase had not been put out on the street. the bum suggested a pose.” Rousselot was not at all surprised by this revelation. “Nothing. “I’m Argentine. Even his voice. He showered. a girl. The writer took eight photos in all: the bum on his knees with his arms stretched out to the sides. thoughtfully watching the river flow by. When the Spaniard had asked for the number. put on clean clothes. “The surprise ending comes when the bogus journalist reveals his true identity to the plagiarist. On the third such occasion. then told him that in Europe.” Rousselot replied. as he had feared. there were two messages from Riquelme. The second was to ask if Rousselot was still interested in meeting him. trying to adopt the same tone as his compatriot. stopping every now and then to allow the Argentine writer to move off to an appropriate distance and take a photo. That night. a surprise ending?” Rousselot shouted. he returned to his hotel before the child woke up. and then the pair of them stood there together. or smiling and waving his hand. shaved. knew another journalist. . and were amazed when the woman who answered told them that they had indeed reached the director’s residence. an interview for an Argentine newspaper. he would have to look into an abyss. like a ghost. and as he was climbing the stairs from the quai to the street he heard the bum’s voice telling him that death was the only sure thing: “My name is Enzo Cherubini and I’m telling you that death is the only sure thing there is. who was a freelance movie. Argentina.” Riquelme replied.” the bum said. The bum noticed and asked him what he was worried about. Rousselot gave him two bills and all the coins in his pocket. the bum was walking off in the opposite direction. with a surprise ending.were the only thing they knew how to do.
After feeling annoyed for a while. The hotel had four stories and was not without a certain charm. much more dense. A woman—the one who had previously spoken to Riquelme. from Argentina to Mexico. he had a fever and began vomiting. People are only interested in themselves. then called Simone. The owner. He talked for a while with the old woman who looked after the child. For half an hour. and believed that Spanish cinema was far better than French cinema. From Caen. Rousselot thanked her. He said he was an Argentine journalist who wanted to interview Morini for a well-known magazine with a big circulation. The train stopped in Rouen. but it was closed for the winter. “No idea. come to think of it. and a number. That night. No one was home. The trip to Normandy was long enough for him to go back over what he had done since arriving in Paris. Other Argentines. very badly. Morini had left that morning to spend a few days with his parents. Sadly. an opinion shared by Riquelme. until eventually he began to feel tired and headed for the port. Rousselot asked him about the village where Morini’s parents lived: did he know where it was? “Who’s Morini?” Riquelme asked.” Riquelme said. When he returned to his hotel at four in the morning. Rousselot had to remind him and explain part of the story again. he was told that he’d be very lucky to find a hotel open in Le Hamel. then gave him the name of a village in Normandy. He thought of asking one of the hotel staff. He woke shortly before midday with the feeling that he had lived in Paris for many years. and called Morini. . A hoarse voice answered. An absolute zero lit up in his mind. he realized that he didn’t even know what day it was. they dined in a little restaurant with a charcoal grill in the Rue Racine. Reluctant to go out. he came to the realization that Paris had transformed his friend into a force of nature that would brook no opposition. he took a taxi to Le Hamel. but felt embarrassed. but his excuses were futile. where they were joined by the Spanish journalist. But he didn’t even leave the station. then hung up. however singular.He called Simone that night. since he had to fly home in a couple of days. and of Riquelme and his odd journalist friend. who liked to imitate the Buenos Aires accent. a street. or that before his hurried departure the director had lied to her. Rousselot walked around in the vicinity. in the end. widely read all over Latin America. At ten. but she wasn’t home. Rousselot told himself that it was better that way. and Rousselot himself in other circumstances. Rousselot’s first thought was that she was lying. The woman listened politely. The meal went on much longer than anticipated. and Rousselot began to feel ill. he waited twenty minutes for the train to Caen. more interested in rummaging through their own failures than in anyone else’s story. Rousselot said he felt feverish and nauseated. He didn’t have to insist. he supposed— answered and told him that M. Then he packed his suitcases and went to the train station. and hung up. he concluded gravely. would have set off at once to explore the town. in fact. He was surprised to find that the address he had been given in Paris corresponded to a hotel. he alleged. Riquelme came visiting. was that he had limited time. He went through the pockets of his jacket looking for the cell phone that he had managed to extract from Riquelme. Paco Morral. who personified the grace of French women. both of whom were. a cadaverously pale guy with red hair. was not so unusual—normal. wondering if the woman who lived with Morini had sent him on a wild goose chase. then delicately disappeared forever. if Riquelme had lost interest in the whole business. In a bar. he asked for the address of Morini’s parents. thinking of Simone. The only problem. which. Humbly. Suddenly. like bloodhounds on Flaubert’s trail. He called Riquelme.
“I am Álvaro Rousselot. the name of someone or something that Rousselot couldn’t recognize. while on the opposite wall a collection of portraits of famous clients (or so he supposed) observed them from a zone taken over by mist. he thought.” The old woman disappeared. The next morning at breakfast. or to a sort of degeneration that Rousselot thought of as Parisian. and wood. Le Hamel was three or four kilometres from Arromanches. at least. he saw a lean. anyone else would have been calling the Argentine Embassy.” he said. a pile made of brick. To make things worse. that night he didn’t dream of Proust but of Buenos Aires. were the Spanish journalist and Riquelme. or even literary. Rousselot saw an oil painting of the beaches of Le Hamel. in the end it took him more than twice that time to reach Le Hamel. Rousselot thought. although for him the word “literary” retained all its original lustre. stone. it was. Rousselot thanked him and went looking for a taxi. and borrowing some money to pay the hotel bill. a tongue-twister. Rousselot was stunned to discover that he had no money left. he decided to walk. They sat down in the lobby. the author of ‘Nights on the Pampas.’ ” . He booked himself into the best hotel he could find in Arromanches. and hung up without saying goodbye. on Riquelme. But his spirits remained as low as could be. He observed Morini’s hotel from the beach. or a password they were trying to keep secret. the face of a degenerate. He kept checking his pulse and touching his forehead to see if he had a fever. all armed with tickets to Paris. although it was gnawing at their insides. on taxis (they’ve been ripping me off the whole time!). he told himself that on D Day the Allied soldiers had landed on these beaches. how much he had spent on meals. he started adding things up. instead of gritting his teeth and making the phone call. circling around that hotel would have been as good as admitting to idiocy. “My parents have been working as caretakers of this hotel for more than thirty years. unless he wanted to sleep in one of the auberges that stayed open all year round. where so many lives had been lost. or cinematic. For anyone else. he concluded gallantly. with large bags under the eyes. he judged. all cursing or shouting a name. The only people who could have done that. perhaps. and although he had thought it might take half an hour. “Madame won’t be home until after four. Anyone else would have given up by now. Rousselot rang the hotel’s doorbell and was not surprised to hear the voice of an old woman who. inventing a credible lie. Tonight I will dream of Proust. “the author of ‘Solitude’—I mean. But. To raise his spirits. Then he called Simone and talked to the old lady who looked after her child. remembering how much money he had brought with him to Europe. Morini invited him in. She has an orgy tonight. leaning out of one of the windows on the second floor. how much he’d had left when he arrived in Paris. he thought. On the way. or some of it. he thought. “A what?” Rousselot asked. When the door finally opened. on Simone (quite a lot. rather swarthy face. My God. melancholically). where thousands of Riquelmes had taken up residence in the Argentine branch of PEN.suggested he go to Arromanches. In his situation. with bathers in Belle Époque costumes. where the armchairs were protected from dust by enormous sheets embroidered with the hotel’s monogram. On one wall. and it was vaguely familiar. And the idea didn’t seem absurd in those surroundings. asked him what he wanted and was not surprised by his reply: “I need to see your son. The woman repeated the sentence. He shivered.” he said. and Rousselot waited by the door for what seemed like an eternity. which creaked in the gusting wind.” the woman said. and wondering whether he could have been robbed at some point without realizing it.
they both stood there looking at one garden. to which he responded by using the word chérie. by Chris Andrews.) Read more http://www. futile. “Guy. The first thing Simone said was that she didn’t want a pimp. Then he stood up and started calling Morini. through dark latticework. and asked her for a loan. explained the situation. Rousselot walked over and patted him on the back. and even ridiculous. seemed reprehensible. and disappeared down a corridor. or perhaps the previous years. as soon as she could borrow a car from one of her friends. Back in Arromanches.newyorker. senseless. she’d come and get him. Rousselot felt that he really was an Argentine writer.” he called. which had never seemed so tender. executed a reprehensible gesture. he thought as he walked along the seashore. which belonged to a private house and was visible. but then they both started laughing and Simone told him not to do anything. but then. he did what any reasonable person would have done as soon as he discovered that his money had run out. Then Rousselot wrote the address of his hotel in Paris and the address of the hotel where he was currently staying on a piece of paper and slipped it into the director’s trouser pocket. something he had begun to doubt over the previous days. but then he leaped to his feet. let out a cry of terror. but also because he was unsure about the possibility of an Argentine literature. For the rest of the day. just stay put in the hotel.” Rousselot found Morini in an attic where the hotel’s cleaning equipment was piled. from the Spanish. For a while. His reaction was to remain seated. in part. Such a spectacular response was the last thing Rousselot had been expecting. and that he was planning to repay it with thirty-per-cent interest. as he was walking back to Arromanches. He called Simone. She also called him chéri a few times. rather hesitantly. He felt as if he had committed a reprehensible act.com/fiction/features/2007/11/26/071126fi_fiction_bolano? printable=true#ixzz1Iv1Ao3mc Sensini Roberto Bolaño . then the other. Guy. light a cigarette (the ash fell steadily onto the carpet). He had opened the window and seemed to be hypnotized by the garden that surrounded the building. and a café in Paris that served the best croissants he had ever tasted. I should kill myself. “Guy. everything he had done in Paris. to which Rousselot replied that he was asking for a loan. and by the neighboring garden.It took a few seconds for Morini to react. Morini seemed smaller and more fragile than before. every gesture and action. and in a few hours. Guy. partly because he was unsure of himself. and think moodily of Simone and her son. ♦ (Translated.
I was living on the outskirts of Girona. somehow distant from my surroundings. starting at seven in the evening. on the bare plains. and essays. When the winners were announced I was working as a vendor in a handicrafts market where absolutely no one was selling anything hand-crafted. and I had just lost my job as a night watchman in a Barcelona campsite. sent off three copies of the best one I had (not that I had many). Sábato. the narrator's son went on dying. set in a world where vast geographical spaces could suddenly shrink to the dimensions of a coffin. so I cursed the judges and told myself. open to writers in Spanish. but not for want of brilliance or talent: followers of Roberto Arlt. and sixth. its eminent sons. It was a claustrophobic story. a bureaucrat in the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata at the end of the eighteenth century. I discovered that it had to be about Alcoy. and Mújica Laínez. but I felt it would be demeaning to send what I did best into the ring with the lions (or hyenas). but when they sent me the conditions. I had practically no friends and all I did was write and go for long walks. liberally peppered with typographical errors. born in the twenties. journalists. who disappeared in one of the special camps set up by Videla and his henchmen during the dictatorship. . just after getting up. which the Alcoy Council paid with scrupulous promptitude. Entitled Ugarte. but gradually the novel had made its way. I won fourth prize and 10. Ugarte had recruited a small group of devoted readers. that much was clear. out there in the countryside. and although I spent very little. my savings dwindled as autumn drew on. a job that had exacerbated my tendency not to sleep at night. or went to the country because his son had died in the city—it was hard to tell—in any case.000 pesetas. I had read one of his novels and some of his stories in Latin American magazines. who had won third prize with a story in which the narrator went away to the countryside where his son had died. The novel was the kind of book that circulates by word of mouth. Some (mainly Spanish) critics had dismissed it as Kafka in the colonies. fifth. of being there and not there. its environs. and I couldn't face it. after Cortazar. Well. stories. scattered around Latin America and Spain. So I decided to enter for the story prize. There were three categories: for poems. First I thought about going in for the poetry prize. with a feeling like jet lag: an odd sensation of fragility. and with Spanish publishers who had since gone to the wall. Perhaps that was what prompted me to enter the Alcoy National Literature Competition. whatever their nationality or place of residence. and it was better than the winning story and the one that came second. Then I thought about the essay.translation by Chris Andrews The way in which my friendship with Sensini developed was somewhat unusual. and by the time I came across Sensini's name in the Alcoy anthology. in a dilapidated house that my sister and brother-in-law had left me when they moved to Mexico. it was about a series of moments in the life of Juan de Ugarte. its history. its future prospects. and sat down to wait. It was a generation (although perhaps I am using the word too loosely) that hadn't come to much. Naturally my story was better than the winner's. at any rate) was Haroldo Conti. most of whom knew each other. Shortly afterwards I received the anthology. He had published other books. of course. Bioy Casares. either as friends or as gratuitously bitter enemies. with the winning story and those of the six finalists. as well as those that came fourth. the Argentine writer. what can you expect? But the real surprise was coming across the name Luis Antonio Sensini. in Argentina. back then. a generation whose best known representative (to me. I was living on what I had saved during the summer. I don't know what moved me to ask the Alcoy Council for Sensini's address. very much in Sensini's manner. and he belonged to that intermediate generation of Argentine writers. At the time I was twenty-something and poorer than a church mouse.
000 pesetas respectively. as he intended to do himself. collections of postcards. What a strange letter. and although. Walsh was my other favourite in that generation). Needless to say. At one of the stalls I found a book of stories by Sensini and bought it. and the fact that I had been his fellow runner-up in a provincial literary competition—an association that I found at once flattering and profoundly depressing—encouraged me to make contact with him. and were soon overtaken by Manuel Puig and Osvaldo Soriano. Around that time the book dealers came to Girona to set up their stalls in the square where the cinemas are. leafed through Ugarte. I read his letter over and over. I read their work piecemeal. although he had just read mine and thought it well done. Walsh's stories (along with Sensini. something new. 'Pen to paper now. when there's not a bookshop or a distributor left who's willing to take it on—and for the following week I lived and breathed Sensini. but to persevere with the competitions. the competition (I made fun of the winner). so he assured me.teachers and translators. In years gone by. which led them one by one to the abyss. and the protagonists were the fabled horsemen of the pampas. books printed during the Second World War. To my surprise. The Alcoy Council sent me his address without delay—he lived in Madrid—and one night. probably the best writing in Spanish of the twentieth century. their concise. that is to say armed and generally unfortunate individuals. he said that the Alcoy Council had sent him the anthology too but that. unlike me. It was as good as new—in fact it was new. or the second-hand bookshops of Mexico City: pirated anthologies of Buenos Aires writing. I had a soft spot for those writers. I received a reply barely a week later. displaying their mostly unsaleable stock: remaindered books published by firms that had recently gone bankrupt. depending on your point of view. I had read Abelardo Castillo's plays and the stories of Daniel Moyano and Rodolfo Walsh (who was killed under the dictatorship. my house on the outskirts of Girona. in a sense they foreshadowed what was to come. like Conti). I remember reading a few chapters of Ugarte. as if the pair of us were on our marks for a race that. He had tracked these down. imploring me to notify him as soon as I heard of one. one in Plasencia and the other in Ecija. either loners or men endowed with a peculiar . In exchange he sent me the conditions of entry for two short-story competitions. no shirking!' he wrote. Although the themes and situations varied. He began by thanking me for my letter. and life in general. I wrote him a long letter. one of those titles that publishers sell off to the book dealers when no one else can move it. or Cuban magazines. in their own sad and sceptical way. as well as being hard and meaningless. They were part of that tradition.000 and 30. my favourite was Sensini. intelligent texts were a constant source of complicit delight. and he urged me to persevere. which rambled from Ugarte and the stories of his that I had read in magazines to myself. after dinner or a light meal or just a snack. the settings were usually rural. I remember thinking. of course. would have no end. romantic fiction and wild west novels. whatever I could find in Argentine. in a passing reference. and Sensini finished his letter on a curiously enthusiastic note. as I thought at first. He went on to ask me which competitions were 'looming on the horizon'. life in Spain. to pay my respects and tell him how much his work meant to me. I turned to the stories. not. in Madrid newspapers or magazines whose mere existence was a crime or a miracle. 'a first-rate story'. There was still time for me to enter both competitions. and when I wanted a little action. the political situation in Chile and in Argentina (both dictatorships were still firmly in place). with prizes of 25. he admitted that it wasn't so much a lack of time as a lack of 'fortitude'). Mexican. they didn't have the stature of Borges or Cortázar. to persevere with my writing. he hadn't found time to look at the winning story or those of the other finalists (later on. he said (I kept the letter). as I later discovered.
000 pesetas per head (as he put it) for the ten finalists: no prize for dreaming. . jobs. who presumably exercised their touching faith on these ephemeral anthologies (or not). about the erudition of the 'good people' in question. I spent hours looking through back copies of newspapers in search of announcements. as a guinea pig is used to test the effects of a new vaccine. and they were still open. he changed the title to 'The Gauchos'. As soon as I had posted off the copies of my story (under the pseudonym Aloysius Acker). one of which was sponsored by the National Railway Company. so I wrote him a letter. recto and verso. I received a reply by return of post. but there were some exceptions. On one sheet. I wrote back saying I didn't have enough stories for all six competitions. no one realised that 'The Gauchos' and 'No Regrets' were the same story with different titles. however. three competitions that were due to be judged around the same time. although he suggested I take the precaution of changing a story's title if I was entering it for. and somehow ended up going on about the tango and labyrinths. it was called 'The Other Pampa'. For the first competition. whom he was bound to have known. as I always do with Argentines (it's something Chileans are prone to). I have never been able to tell). Sensini's letter was short. but I did for the Ecija one. along with advertisements for scholarships. for the third. but most of my letter was about other things (in fact I got rather carried away): travel. it won the second and the fourth. In my search I discovered a magazine put out by the Catalonian government. he set out a kind of general strategy for the pursuit of provincial literary prizes. Walsh. written with neurosurgical precision. a story I didn't know. He referred to the sponsors—local councils and savings banks—as 'those good people with their touching faith in literature' and 'those disinterested and dutiful readers'. He entertained no illusions.notion of sociability. I asked him about Gelman. of course. He answered some of my questions. gave him a summary of my life story. and postgraduate courses. I speak from experience. and included photocopies of the details for three more short-story competitions. mostly for Catalans writing in Catalan. He cited the example of his story 'At Dawn'. Some papers put them in a column next to the society news. Whereas Ugarte was a cold book. they came after the crime reports and before the sports section. those precious supplements to the writer's modest income. 'No Regrets'. in others. I soon found three for which Sensini and I were eligible. for the second. exchanges. He told me I should compete for as many prizes as possible. that way at least I'd be able to comply with Sensini's request. I didn't manage to submit an entry for the Plasencia competition. you have to be in it to win it. They were never in the book pages. he wrote. As before. the most serious paper had them wedged between the weather and the obituaries. So I decided to look for more competitions. . which. and for the last. with the biggest prize. say. Over the next few days. 'At Dawn' was entered as 'At Dawn'. mainly about the book of stories I had recently bought. at least as far as writing and competitions were concerned. single-spaced. which he had used to test his method. when I went down to Girona. and with the money from the prizes he was able to pay a month and a half's rent (in Madrid the rents had gone through the roof). The letter began with a blessing on the prizes (whether in earnest or in jest. Sensini's reply was prompt and extensive. Of these four competitions. published announcements of literary competitions. the collection of stories was all warmth: brave and aimless characters adrift in landscapes that seemed to be gradually drawing away from the reader (and sometimes taking the reader with them). I realised that sitting around waiting for the results could only make things worse. Of course. Francisco Urondo . lost love. Conti. although there was always the risk that one of the judges might have read the story in another competition (in Spain the . with a tidy sum for the winner and 50.
peculiar occupation of judging literary prizes was obstinately monopolised by a clique of minor poets and novelists. he was thirty-five and had worked as a journalist. as well as former laureates). then I felt ashamed. Of course I never mentioned this to Sensini. without success. his prose became heavy and monotonous. 'when the wife and the girl are asleep'. from his first marriage. his flat had two bedrooms. as if he were trying to exorcise his ghosts by describing the bureaucratic labyrinth. he cheered up. renamed 'Two Swords' for Ecija and 'The Deepest Cut' for Don Benito. but more alive. he would be otherwise occupied. I also wondered about the boy's name and somehow came to the conclusion that it must have been an unconscious homage to Gregor Samsa. the danger was minimal. at night. insatiably curious. but different. He had a son. but the way things were. He earned his living doing some kind of work for a publisher (I think he edited translations) and by sending his stories out to do battle in the provinces. and he was a heavy smoker. I told him I was twenty-eight. he wrote. with a story originally called 'The Sabre'. the competitions were helping him to get by. since he was five years old. Miranda. or maybe in a post-script. kid? I remember I replied immediately. Sensini's letters grew longer. I did enter for the competitions he and I had recently discovered. As well as a cash sum. he once told me. and kind. She looks like Gregorio. who was to say that 'The Gauchos' and 'No Regrets' were not two different stories whose singularity resided precisely in their respective titles? Similar. but I imagined a five-year-old boy and Sensini typing in a newspaper office: even then it was already too late. Towards the end of the letter he said that of course. a kitchen and a bathroom. Sensini wrote in the dining room. The little world of letters is terrible as well as ridiculous. living and writing in Buenos Aires. but when I read it for the second or third time I realised it was his way of asking me: How old are you. The district where he lived in Madrid was run down. since they generally didn't read the entries or only skimmed through them. At the end. It didn't take me long to realise that he . At first this struck me as very sad. At first I was surprised to discover that his place was smaller than mine. That morning I felt not exactly happy again. It seemed unfair. he won a ticket that entitled him to travel free on Spanish trains for a year. we do in Chile) and. Furthermore. When he got on to this subject. for the time being. very similar even. Every now and then he received a royalty cheque for one of his many books. just a kid. I haven't lived with Gregorio. but I feel as if I were twenty-five. Sometimes Sensini would tell me about the enquiries he was making through human rights organisations and the European Union in an attempt to determine Gregorio's whereabouts. three years older than him. He didn't elaborate. Miranda was young and ready to take on the world. in a perfect world. Sensini pulled off another double in Don Benito and in Ecija. pretty too. he had to earn a crust somehow (I'm not sure they say that in Argentina. And he added that even if one's story did come before the same judge twice. Gradually. or that was what he wanted to believe. Although I didn't follow Sensini's advice and become a full-time prize-hunter. for example. he wrote. but most of the publishers were chronically forgetful or had gone broke. It's like a lesson in Spanish geography. When he got on to the subject of Miranda. as if an infusion of energy were reanimating my sense of humour and my memory. The only book that went on selling well was Ugarte. The son's name was Gregorio. a dining room-cum-living room. he wrote. which had been published by a firm in Barcelona. who was seventeen years old. Little by little I learnt more about him. And in the competition sponsored by the Railways he was one of the finalists. he declared: I'm getting on for sixty. He lived in a flat in Madrid with his wife and his daughter. except that (obviously) she's a girl and she has been spared what my son had to go through. who had gone to ground somewhere in Latin America.
slim adolescent girl with straight hair and very large breasts. when it came. as if saying something to her. and Miranda was facing the photographer with a serious expression that I found both moving and disturbing. Finally I chose one at random. very bad poem. with sharp features. put it in an envelope with a postcard. He wrote back: No. It was a while before I received a reply. I thought I looked ugly and skinny and scruffy-haired. before he disappeared. Miranda it's me. at the age of twenty-two. a story in itself) did freelance work for publishers and gave English. which showed an old man and a middle-aged woman next to a tall. But I didn't like the way the photos came out. A week later I received a photo. The daughter was busy with her studies and would soon be going to university. so I decided to go to the photo booth in the station. which at the time was the only photo booth in the whole of Girona. she's going to study medicine. Sensini had asked me to send a photograph of myself I didn't have a recent one. He didn't say anything about his literary projects. although she had occasionally been obliged to take on cleaning jobs. imitating a comic-strip gaucho who was famous in South America at the beginning of the seventies. It was Gregorio Sensini. In one of my letters I asked Sensini whether Miranda wanted to be a writer too. and they liked the postcard of Girona cathedral. In return they offered to put me up whenever I wanted to go to Madrid. your father's friend and correspondent. very thin lips. as they imagined me. I misunderstood. I would sit there staring at them or take them to the bedroom and look at them until I fell asleep. but he had an air of experience that made him seem older. she turned around and ran off in search of her brother. but after much hesitation and soulsearching I decided not to. there'd be no more letters from Sensini. and who could blame him? So I didn't send it. if I sent her that poem. but the genteel poverty of a middle-class family fallen on hard times. the middle-aged woman was looking at her daughter. when I could say to her. I thought. I must be going mad. The old man was smiling happily. but fit and well. in fact. and he was gazing at the camera (it was a studio photo) with a confident and perhaps slightly impatient air. and sent it to him. He was strongly built and probably tall. I thought he meant he was running out of competitions to enter. shining at the end of a dim corridor in which the shadowy masses of Latin America's terror were shifting imperceptibly. Sensini also sent me a photocopy of another photo. and when. in the poem. no doubt taken in the Retiro. So I kept putting off sending any of them and went back to spend more money at the photo booth. which they hoped to see for themselves in the near future. full of voices and faces that seemed different at first. In one of his letters Sensini said he was worried that he might have run his race. Nor did he mention the competitions. thank God. It was clear that they were hoping to stay at my place when they came. . French. In the meantime I remember I wrote a very long. and it isn't clean either.was living in poverty: not destitution. His wife (her name was Carmela Zadjman. Only after putting the letter in the post did I realise that what I really wanted was to see what Miranda looked like. a bit on the skinny side maybe. Gregorio Samsa. but all belonging to Miranda Sensini. showing a young man more or less my age. Sensini and Carmela's verdict on my photo was positive: they thought I looked nice. quite a bit younger than me. and Hebrew lessons. was long and friendly. I finally realised this and could put it into words. For a while I applied myself to the search for new literary prizes. At first I thought of sending Miranda my poem. It's a modest flat. The photo and the photocopy lived on my desk for a long time. The reply. wrote Sensini. as soon as they had sorted out a few financial and household problems. One night I wrote and asked for a photo of his family. in search of Gregorio Samsa's eyes. prominent cheekbones and a broad forehead.
but Miranda will stay.I wrote back to say they must come to Girona. It was . he and Carmela were most welcome to stay at my house. among the small pile of letters that had been slipped under the door. but a month later it was returned to me marked 'not known at this address'. looking back. I found one from Sensini dated August 7. in the middle of September. Gradually I came to accept that Sensini had gone back to Argentina for good and that. as a kind of reminder. I didn't want to reply in writing. All I could find in the shops were old copies of Ugarte and the collection of stories published in Barcelona by a company that had recently gone into receivership. having convinced myself (quite unreasonably) that they might turn up at any moment. and dusting. I tried to tell myself that life in Buenos Aires must be hectic. is returning with me. When I got to the end I had the feeling that someone in his family wasn't well. mopping. and if he did I didn't know his number. all he said was that on a certain day. but I don't think he had a telephone. talked about the happy days we could spend together. although on my rare visits to Barcelona I would sometimes spend whole afternoons in second-hand bookshops looking for his other books. In a long reply. I would have liked to ring him. thanking me for my invitation. I wrote to him immediately. My letter was brief. but I can't remember talking to anyone who knew him around that time. the Costa Brava. or if he did. and ventured to point out that they still didn't know for sure that the body was Gregorio's. I said that maybe that when the season was over I would visit him. In Madrid that summer there were numerous lectures. Or maybe I didn't read it. And it was the only way he would be able to find out for sure what had happened to Gregorio. with the return of democracy he would be safe now. The rest. although in the middle he returned to the theme of prizes (I think he had won one again) and encouraged me not to give up. it wasn't mentioned in the newspaper I was reading. So I gave up and let the days go by and gradually forgot about Sensini. Olot. at a certain time. our correspondence had come to an end. I wrote to him again at the Madrid address. this one was rather confused. of course. an explosion of activity. but received no reply. sweeping. Sensini said that for the moment they couldn't leave Madrid. That was all. I even spent several days cleaning. He had written to say goodbye. Two or three months later Sensini wrote to tell me that one of the bodies in a recently discovered mass grave was probably Gregorio's. hardly time to breathe or blink. I said I was sorry. Since they had one free pass they would only have to buy two tickets. was a muddle. as I said. Carmela. or so it seems to me now. One or two years later I discovered that he had died. For the first time. almost as if a message were being sent to Sensini (and to me). and Catalonia. unless he wrote to me again. to keep on trying. He was going back to Argentina. the ones I knew by their titles but was destined never to read. When I got back to Girona. I waited a long time for a letter from him. was full of wonderful things to see and do. I stressed. so there was no point staying away any longer. he said. etc. He also said something about the writer's trade or profession. Summer came and I took a job working in a hotel on the coast. maybe someone told me. of course. courses and all sorts of cultural activities. Unlike any of the preceding letters. and I had the impression that his words were meant partly for me and partly for himself. There was no outpouring of grief. but Sensini didn't participate in any of them. I mentioned Barcelona. The letter. never came. a group of forensic pathologists and members of human rights organisations had opened a mass grave containing the bodies of more than fifty young people. so I probably did read the obituary somewhere. I don't know which one. at the only address I had. I think I read it in a newspaper. with Miranda. At the end of August I sent him a card. His letter was restrained. hoping that the letter would be sent on to Miranda.
I said. after that they planned to cross the Adriatic to Greece. Soon I heard someone on the stairs. I said. Some time later. I replied. When I opened the door there was a woman with long hair. After dinner. He was already sick when he left Madrid. choose the name Gregorio? Because of Kafka. He was the only one who hadn't accepted it. They slept in my house that night. there was a knock at the door of my house. but I didn't ask why they had come to my house so late). I think there was also a mention of Ugarte at the end. I don't know why. Yes. then went downstairs. He went back to look for him. He wanted to go back to his job at the university. to sleep. but it didn't come as a surprise. Have you known her for long? he asked. It was Miranda. Since they didn't have much money they were hitch-hiking. In the first week he started taking steps to locate Gregorio. I mean when we arrived. But he was well known and loved in Argentina. against the advice of various Argentine doctors. I don't know why. and the cities they were planning to visit in Italy. so he had to make do with translating for a couple of publishing houses. she said. Then Miranda told me the story of Sensini's last months in Buenos Aires. I knew only a few people in Girona and none of them would have turned up like that unless something out of the ordinary had happened. and sometimes he seemed to be . she said to me with a smile. You're crying. but realised it would be hard. When I looked at her she turned away. so I gave them a while to get settled. I know. Carmela and Miranda. wearing a big black overcoat. Why did your father. I was watching TV. Then we talked about her father and her brother. No. I prepared one of the rooms for them and said they could go to bed whenever they wanted. said Miranda. I made them something to eat. He helped me prepare the meal while Miranda looked around the house. got a teaching position and towards the end they lived exclusively on her earnings. said Miranda. if not impossible. I said. of course. At first we talked about their trip. watching the black and white images on the television screen. Sensini never got over Gregorio's death. however. it wasn't going to happen. put on the television with the volume down low. It was Miranda Sensini. she said. Until a moment ago. as I remember it: the Argentinean writer Luis Antonio Sensini. who lived for several years in exile in Spain. Stories? No. although we all knew he was dead. He knew he didn't have long to live. Same as here. No. I'm Miranda Sensini. poems. who never billed him and had even arranged hospital treatment on the National Health a couple of times. It must have been about midnight. I thought about going to bed myself. For a long time we sat there drinking in silence. I thought so. said Miranda. I said. I got a bottle of cognac from the kitchen and offered her a drink. but I was awake. when the photo of Sensini. she said. she said. Carmela. They were on their way to Italy. I asked her how things had gone in Argentina. Tell me something. Next to her was a tall young man with long blond hair and an aquiline nose. she said. Were you writing? she asked. but what with the bureaucracy and the inevitable jealousies and bitterness. had died in Buenos Aires.brief. Ah. and invited them in. Gregor Samsa? Of course. She sat down beside me and asked for a cigarette. Carmela too? I asked. about Girona (they had been in the city all day. and sat there thinking about Sensini. although she had changed a good deal in the years since her father had sent me the photo. Returning to Buenos Aires was a painful and happy experience. and the photocopied image of Gregorio were packed away with my other memories in a cardboard box that I still haven't committed to the flames for reasons I prefer not to expand upon here. It gave me a shock all the same. although he had lived in Madrid since he was a child. Same as here. but it seemed logical that Sensini would go back to Buenos Aires to die. I'd only seen her in a photo. same as in Madrid. same as everywhere. The young man was called Sebastian Cohen and he had been born in Argentina too. According to Miranda. I said. Each week Sensini wrote to Miranda. She couldn't get to sleep either.
I can't remember now. writing every day. and that from now on. I just passed on some information. but the real bounty hunter was your father. she said with an absent look. as if he wanted to use up the last of his strength and get it over with. How many prizes did he win all told? I asked her. then my own.impatient. He always read them to Mum and me. And Cortázar wrote about him. I said. Suddenly I realised that we were at peace. he was a professional. I said. Of course! You were the one he used to enter the competitions with. to say how much he liked one of his stories? No. whatever else was happening. I said. My friend Montero. Then his health deteriorated and he had to go into hospital. I must have annoyed him so much. I filled her glass. I asked her if he'd found any literary competitions to enter in Buenos Aires. Miranda poured me out some more cognac and said there was a year when her father used to talk about me quite a lot. And you? So far just the one. They were really funny. suddenly serious. A bit of a holiday in the north to start off. and even my voice sounded different. my mother even gave you guys a name. imperceptibly. A name? Which guys? Dad and you. Then it struck me: the reason she had my address was simply that she had all her father's addresses. She called you the gunslingers or the bounty hunters. I said. something like that. she said. You have a good view. Did you know that Borges once wrote to him in Madrid. Jesus! said Miranda. then you can get down to work in Gómez Palacio and forget all your . I said. he was a very good writer. that's the way he was. said Miranda. she said. without much conviction. he met you through a competition. Twenty-two. things would begin to change. Annoyed him? You're joking. I hope they were funny. there was nothing conclusive. so they kept being postponed. I noticed she was looking at me differently. First. Miranda was leaning on the balustrade. or the buccaneers. Gómez Palacio by Roberto Bolaño August 8. I must be over thirty then. I had to tour the other writing workshops the Arts Council had established throughout the region. then got up and went out on to the terrace as if I had said something to offend her. I said. with its hideous name. I said. I was twenty-three years old and I knew that my days in Mexico were numbered. but he couldn't find her either. Yes. He didn't even write after that. About fifteen. that for some mysterious reason the two of us had reached a state of peace. That's me. and she had only just realised who I was. to warm up. and the government didn't have the money or didn't really want the tests done. A short-listed place in the Alcoy competition. and Mújica Laínez too. I didn't know. picked up the bottle of cognac and followed her. I asked her how old she was. looking at the lights of Girona. Miranda looked at me and smiled. I see. Some of the pathologists thought his bones might have been in the pile exhumed from the mass grave. Yes. but they would of course have to do a DNA test. Well. had found me a stint teaching a writing workshop in that town. Montero said. said Miranda. I let a few seconds go by. who worked for the Arts Council. Sensini also went searching for a girl who had probably been Greg's girlfriend when he was in hiding. As for Gregorio. I said. I said. 2005 I went to Gómez Palacio during one of the worst periods of my life. that's how I got to know your father. It had always been very important to him. said Miranda. and we stood there for a while looking at the moonlit city. As if the world really was shifting. he loved your letters.
I found it hard to get to sleep at night. Meanwhile.problems. Before going to bed. her poetry. Then Torreón and Saltillo. Then she would lean back in her chair and talk about her life in that northern town. next to a highway leading nowhere. which had been published by a small local press subsidized by the Arts Council. they’re bloodshot. Then we’d get back into her car and head off to the main office of the Arts Council. Aguascalientes. where I met my future students. There we breakfasted on orange juice and Mexican-style eggs. it made me shudder. a reddish bump on the blue-and-yellow horizon. who didn’t understand the poet’s calling or the suffering it entailed. I thought. Maybe I was just a nervous wreck. It’s because I don’t sleep much. On my last full day. and her husband. I knew that I wouldn’t stick to running a writing workshop in some godforsaken town in northern Mexico. looking at the desert stretching off into the dark. That afternoon. but having drunk so much water I soon had to get up again to urinate. Sometimes I forgot my fears and stayed at the window. I would make sure the door and the windows of my room were securely and tightly shut. to use a rather hyperbolic expression. She used to pick me up herself every morning. while we were having breakfast. I would check the door and the windows again to see that they were properly shut. a two-story building whose only redeeming feature was an unpaved yard with three trees and an abandoned. The director. and changed the subject. I had nightmares. middle-aged woman with bulging eyes. and the only solution was to drink water. It was an automatic. I arrived in Gómez Palacio and visited the Arts Council offices. And so on until dawn. Yes. I left Mexico City one morning on a bus packed to capacity and began my tour. León—though probably not in that order. I hardly noticed the yard. garden. all paid for (I presume) with Arts Council vouchers—not cash. though it seemed perfectly accurate at the time. A . as she was taking me back to the motel. took me to my lodgings: a seedy motel on the edge of town. and her feet barely reached the pedals. followed by several cups of coffee. I went to Durango as well. a plump. I went to San Luis Potosí. I said. I don’t know how to drive. she asked if I would like to drive for a bit. Then I went back to bed and closed my eyes. None of this makes any sense. And since I was up I would check all the locks and then stand listening to the distant sounds of the desert (the muffled hum of cars heading north or south) and looking out of the window at the night. the first thing we did was stop at a roadside restaurant that was visible in the distance from the motel. thinking about the disaster that was my life. which she drove perhaps too boldly. two or three hours at most. I knew that under no circumstances would I settle down in Gómez Palacio. I was continually getting up and going to the bathroom to refill my glass. though generally speaking she wasn’t a bad driver. Guanajuato. when I could finally get some unbroken sleep. music. or literature. wearing a large print dress featuring almost all of the state’s native flowers. Maybe I was confusing sense with necessity. I chain-smoked Bali cigarettes and looked out the window at the highway. Invariably. the director asked about my eyes. she said. I said. I can’t remember which town came first or how long I spent in each. I don’t know why I accepted. Finally. who were studying painting. The first time I was there. but deep down I knew that it did make sense and that was what I found unbearably sad. My throat always felt dry. In spite of the heat. or unfinished. in any case. She had an enormous sky-blue car. She burst out laughing and pulled onto the shoulder. The second time. I couldn’t stop shivering. Since I was up. swarming with zombie-like adolescents.
La Regalada cookies. but she lives in Ciudad Juárez. the director said. When she had said her piece. We’ve known each other since we were fifteen. The girl was short and thin and her clothes were garish. I said.” The truck had Monterrey license plates and the driver stared at us with a curiosity that struck me as excessive. With a bit of luck. meaning it as a compliment. You’ve been there. I said. But when the motel was behind us she started talking about her poetry. I drove along the gray strip of highway connecting Gómez Palacio and the motel. she turned on the cassette player and put in a tape: a woman singing rancheras. You could tell from the way they dressed that two of them were very poor. one way or another. And we drink coffee and eat cookies. he was working in a soap factory. On the horizon I could see the highway disappearing into the hills. yet somehow it gave me a glimpse of the factory worker’s life. I looked over at the director: she was smiling—she didn’t mind if I drove a bit farther. What color is the desert at night? A stupid question. her work. not as it was then but as it had been when he was fifteen. I replied. actually. she said. I didn’t stop. Another boy was a waiter in an Italian restaurant. The director opened her door and got out. both of us had stared at the highway in silence. they probably had. at the writing workshop in Gómez Palacio. haven’t you? Yes. By chance. . She’s from Durango. I obeyed. That’s nice. Every now and then. I saw his friends and wondered how they could possibly survive. and the girl was neither studying nor working. I might have managed to marry one of them. with a smile that barely hid his pride and determination. I said. I’m her friend. but opted for simplicity. the other two were in college. yet somehow I felt it held the key to my future. Days before. the director said. I usually take cookies with me. As an answer. The director wasn’t present. I imagined a dark. I stay at her house—her mother’s house. one of us goes to the kitchen to make coffee. What about you? I started writing because poetry sets me free. cool house and a garden full of plants. For a while. And what were the writing workshops like? Worse than the ones here. Until then. at the motel. The prettier one also seemed to be the more conventional.white refrigerated truck went past. She’s from Durango. I could have said anything. Ah. The boy who asked the question should have been studying at a university. She got into the passenger seat and ordered me to go. She’s a close friend of mine. and her insensitive husband. I don’t know. she said. none of us said anything. I imagined a long. What? I said. it was too vague and declamatory to be convincing. I replied. the director said. I’ve been to Durango. or perhaps not so much my future as my capacity for suffering. although she didn’t seem to take it that way. under a sky that looked like a rockslide. Night was beginning to approach from the east. Get in the driver’s seat. She’s my best friend. There were five students in the workshop: four boys and a girl. I managed to read what was written on the side in large blue letters: “the widow padilla’s meat. The two of us sleep in her room and spend hours talking and listening to records. instead. he said. Yet. complicated engagement. and I’m never going to stop. And how long do you think you’ll go on writing? the boy who worked in the soap factory asked again. One afternoon. when she’s going back home to see her mother. Sometimes. I had asked myself. The singer had a sad voice that was always a couple of notes ahead of the orchestra. she said. a boy asked me why I wrote poetry and how long I thought I would go on doing it. she calls me up and I reorganize my schedule so I can go to Durango and spend a few days with her. I had noticed a pair of pretty girls among the painting students in the yard. When I reached the motel. or maybe twelve. I considered the possibility of taking a job in Gómez Palacio and staying there for the rest of my life. the biggest and probably the only soap factory in the state. keeping my eyes on the road. her favorite. I saw him running or walking through the outskirts of Gómez Palacio. sir.
Hello. The highway was no longer a straight line. unstoppable tears. It’s my husband. as if she were talking to herself. like us. dignified. neither of us said anything. who is it? Then he hears someone hang up at . she hangs up. I had to keep my eyes on the road. just for something to say. the director said with her eyes fixed on the stationary car. and the driver saw or heard me. she called from Ciudad Madero. I was immediately embarrassed to have had such a thought. she said. In the rearview mirror I could see an enormous wall rising beyond the town. She just calls. he was facing forward. Through the windshield I could see the man’s silhouette. intense shade of yellow that I have never seen anywhere else. The kids said goodbye and off they went. I stretched my legs. when I think about the driver all I can see is my own image frozen in his rearview mirror: my hair is still long. Another time she called from Reinosa. but his mere presence strained the space that we were now. but it might well have been eternity. where everyone was happy except her. Slow down. oversize glasses. My first thought was: They’re policemen. the skinny girl with one of the boys and the other three on their own. and without waiting for a response she leaned over and did it herself. but it was no longer day. Turn the headlights on. Sometimes she needs to talk. when she’s touring in towns she doesn’t know. I said. A car whizzed past. Once. I said I didn’t know. But I couldn’t confirm this impression. If my husband answers. In any case. as the singer reached the final notes of her song. the director was waiting with two guys who turned out to be civil servants employed by the state of Durango. like most things in this story. Cautiously. she repeated. toward the line of the highway beginning to wind its way through the hills. For a while. But it’s unlikely. What a sad song. I imagined the director’s husband with the telephone in his hand. she said. as if I had forgotten to say something to one of them. I had the impression that the director was crying. here to arrest me. I walked around to the director’s side of the car. I heard her say in a barely audible voice. It’s a man. She’s my best friend. I told him where to go with a gesture. The car pulled up several metres in front of us. When we came out of the classroom. That was all. He picks up the telephone. The lyrics were about a remote village in the north of Mexico. Turn on the headlights. honking its horn. I didn’t know what. sharing. From the door I saw them disappear at both ends of that street in Gómez Palacio. I stopped the car by the side of the road and got out. I followed them down the hallway with its peeling walls. her voice stronger now. Her eyes were bulging more than ever. she said after a while. As if the light (though it seemed to me not so much light as pure color) were charged with something. as if she had a fever. She rolled down her window and asked me what had happened. I’m thin. and slid across into the driver’s seat. says. It took me a while to realize it was the night. I got into the seat she had left. The driver didn’t get out or back up or honk the horn again. The singer on the cassette began to warble another song. Sometimes my friend calls me up. I kept driving. The director said. The director took out a handkerchief and blew her nose. Maybe it wasn’t just a gesture. wearing a denim jacket and a pair of awful. The only one who had any talent was the girl. It wasn’t yet completely dark.Then we read some poems. Maybe I yelled. Go fuck yourself. the director said. That’s nice. But by then I wasn’t sure of anything. Silent. Not especially. The land all around us and the hills into which the highway stretched were a deep. in some sense. I said. Then she flipped the cassette over and turned up the volume. It was hot and moist. She’d been singing all night at the Oil Workers Union building and she called me at four in the morning.
huge sheets of plastic spread on the ground—but that. Then the director started the car. and drank some water straight from the tap. Did you see? the director asked. Not unless he’s changed his license plates. I wanted you to see this. It was already night. So it might have been? I said. the director said. At first. she said proudly. The car looked like his. and drove back to the motel. she held out her hand and said goodbye. there must have been a bend in the highway. Which seemed a reasonable answer to me. I asked the director if she wanted me to get out and say something to the driver of the other car. the eyes of the small mammals native to the inhospitable environs of Gómez Palacio. but we were beyond exasperation. Now we’re coming to a very special place. the director said. Are you sure it was your husband? I asked as we sped off again toward the hills. At which point I understood that the whole thing had been a joke. Then I went to the window. Then we’d better go now. solitary light that must have been produced by something near that curve in the road—a sign. I replied. There’s no need. alive and aware for a fraction of a second in the middle of the desert. lights. The director pointed toward something—a stretch of highway that must have been about five kilometres away. I don’t think it was. took off my jacket. I looked: I saw the headlights of cars. she said. I shut my eyes. the sparkling lights of that restaurant or town. Her car was still in the parking lot. I know you’ll forgive my eccentricities. Before we got to my room. I couldn’t see anything. which comes to the same thing in the end. in the state of Durango. appeared to be a dream or a miracle. pulled out slowly. only darkness. This is one of my favorite things. too. Then I looked again in the direction she had indicated. and passed the car. the director said. I was to leave for Mexico City the next day. From the way the beams of light were swivelling. too. Some cars passed and the beams of their headlights carved the space in two. almost by reflex. I looked out the window as we went by. No. He’ll stay there until we go. set free. the director said.the other end and he hangs up. no doubt. moving like the sea but with all the fragility of earth. and started laughing. we both read poetry. a green. as do. but the driver turned his back to us and I couldn’t see his face. Then we came out of the hills and into the desert: a plain swept by the headlights of cars heading north or back toward Gómez Palacio. I said. Yes. maybe more. though later it occurred to me that maybe all she was doing was closing her eyes and listening to her friend from Durango. And then I saw some green shapes in the desert. turned it around. I opened the door and was hit in the face by a gust of . The director seemed to be lost in thought. I was grateful she hadn’t said we were both poets. seconds after the car or truck had passed that spot. if it really was her husband. And then I saw how the light. she said. although it was really no more than a patch of ground big enough for trucks to park on. Those were her words: very special. I started laughing. the roof of an abandoned shed. although in fact it was crazy. she said. When I got to my room. to us. but it probably wasn’t him. She pulled over and stopped in a sort of rest area. turned back on itself and hung in the air. I asked what her husband was going to do. After all. Then she turned on the ignition. drinking that song down to the very last drop. almost choking with laughter. prodigious. She even wiped the inside of the windshield with a cloth so I could see better. Their progress was exasperatingly slow. Lights were sparkling in the distance: a town or a restaurant. When we got back to the motel. the director got out of the car and walked with me part of the way. maybe less. a green light that seemed to breathe. I switched on the light. The director looked at me: her bulging eyes gleamed. a marine light. We didn’t get out.
Sunk deep in the cushions of the sofa. She said that was fine. When he came home in the evening. Not that the opportunity had never presented itself but he had lost all interest . she ate nothing and drank nothing and never went to the toilet. She'd still be glaring at the late news when he dropped off to sleep.newyorker. Komura could not be sure the sound of his voice was even getting through to her. The way she was standing. she wouldn't answer when Komura spoke to her. She wouldn't shake her head or nod. she had no friends or relatives who could have been hurt in Kobe. In his presence. wealthy independent businessmen.com/archive/2005/08/08/050808fi_fiction_bolano#ixzz1Iv1oD GMg UFO IN KUSHIRO by HARUKI MURAKAMI Five straight days she spent in front of the television. Aside from an occasional flick of the remote control to change the channel. She took me to the bus station and told me that if I ever wanted to come back I would be very welcome at the workshop. A little farther off. she might have been talking to the air or reciting. at least. he'd fix himself a snack with whatever he found in the refrigerator and eat alone. A stone wall of silence surrounded her. Then she said. and head off to work. best to think things over. Komura was a salesman at one of the oldest hi-fi-equipment specialty stores in Tokyo's Akihabara "Electronics Town. Most of his clients were doctors. from the Spanish. or playing statues. Komura would make his own toast and coffee. like a little girl. the director came to fetch me. she hardly moved a muscle. is her standing there. severed rail lines and expressways. the sixth day. by Chris Andrews. At dawn. and Japan was overflowing with money. I bent down and hugged her. Komura's wife came from way up north in Yamagata and. his wife had disappeared. staring at crumbled banks and hospitals. as far as he knew. The last thing I remember. at twenty-six. whole blocks of stores in flames. He had been doing this for eight years and had a decent income right from the start. When he came home from work that Sunday. with her arms slightly raised. The car was empty. beside the highway. He was good with people. He hadn't slept with any woman but his wife during the five years of their marriage. The most expensive items were the first to sell out. Komura was tall and slim and a stylish dresser. he found that his desire for sexual adventures simply and mysteriously vanished. I didn’t sleep well. looking at the bus. and rich provincials. But after getting married. and when I looked again she was gone." He handled top-of-the-line stuff and earned a sizeable commission whenever he made a sale.) Read more http://www. vaguely. The seat I had been given was on the other side of the bus. or perhaps at her watch.desert air. People's wallets were bursting with ten thousand-yen bills. her mouth clamped shut. Yet she stayed rooted in front of the television from morning to night. and everyone was dying to spend them. I said I would have to think about it. I saw the director. A hug. In his bachelor days he had dated a lot of women. who looked as if she were contemplating a river or the landscape of another planet. She never said a word. The economy was healthy. so I didn’t see her leave. ♦ (Translated. Then I had to sit down so the other passengers could get past. real-estate prices were rising. Komura gave up trying to break through.
Komura always felt his tension dissipate when he and his wife were together under one roof. though he did not quite understand why. his sex life was warm.in fleeting affairs and one-night stands. She sounded somewhat apologetic. Just get rid of all the stuff I'm leaving behind. He no longer had to worry about death or venereal disease or the vastness of the universe. but I know it won't change anything. Alongside him with his clean. and February was a slow time of the year. so he let Komura go without a fuss. He just waited for her to come back. Or. she had written. and she always did. The problem is that you never give me anything. you have nothing inside you that you can give me. classic good looks. undisturbed by the strange dreams that had troubled him in the past. He slept well with her. There are lots of women who will fall in love with you. why she no longer wanted to live with him. He was sure of that. her umbrella. then went on to explain. and she had a dull. it was the only time he could truly relax. The only things still in the house that could be called "her stuff" were the bike she used for shopping and a few books. And it wasn't just physical: there was nothing attractive about her personality either. her shoes. then go to bed and make love. Komura's friends and colleagues were puzzled by his marriage. His erections were hard. Her parents operated a successful inn. She missed her parents and her two elder sisters. Komura told himself. talk with her for a while on the sofa. but finally said nothing. But the letter his wife left for him when she vanished five days after the earthquake was different: I am never coming back. It's not entirely your fault. She was probably right. He seemed on the verge of saying something to Komura. Komura answered that he might not be able to send them "right away. though. she wrote. on the other hand. She also told him that they would be sending him the necessary forms soon and that he should put his seal on them and send them back right away. have a relaxed meal with his wife. Komura had come home from work to find his wife gone and a note on the kitchen table telling him that she was visiting her parents for a while. The next day. to put it more precisely. His mother-in-law answered the phone and told him that his wife didn't want to talk to him. even stolid appearance. In fact. Several times. "You can think it over all you want. He much preferred to come home early. But please don't call me. she hadn't left much of anything behind. Still." This was an important matter. and he wanted time to think it over. disliked Tokyo's crowds and longed for Yamagata. in a good mood. which kept them financially comfortable. her hair dryer: all were gone. Shortly after he had sent the papers back with his seal stamped on them. You are good and kind and handsome. His boss had a general idea of what had been happening. She rarely spoke and always wore a sullen expression. he tried calling his wife's parents in Yamagata. He never objected. but living with you is like living with a chunk of air. after a week or ten days. She must have packed them in boxes and shipped them out after he left for work that morning. things would never be the same. This was everything he wanted. simply but clearly. Her clothes. Komura asked for a week's paid leave. The Beatles and Bill Evans CDs that Komura had been collecting since his bachelor days had also vanished. She was short with thick arms. Her father was crazy about his youngest daughter and happily paid her round-trip fares." his mother-in-law said. His wife. his wife could not have seemed more ordinary. her coffee mug. No matter how much he thought or waited. and she would go home to see them whenever she felt the need. .
shaping a four-inch cube with his hands." Komura said. a colleague of Komura's. "I hear you're taking time off. but he got along well enough with the easygoing Komura.Sasaki. And it weighs practically nothing. "What should I do?" Sasaki was a bachelor. Sasaki peered at Komura as if looking for some kind of clue. All I'm asking is that you take it along the way you'd take anything else. She lives up there. The only reason I'm not mailing it is I just don't feel like mailing it. "Have you ever been to Hokkaido?" he asked. "Strictly personal. and I'm hoping you'll take it there for me. I could cover your hotel in Kushiro. Wiping his glasses with his handkerchief. if possible. Sasaki nodded. "Nothing heavy. and I'd be glad to pay for a round-trip ticket. I just don't want it to get knocked around. He had a delicate build and short hair. gold-rimmed glasses. and there are no 'hazardous materials." . "To tell you the truth." "Would you like to go?" "Why do you ask?" Sasaki narrowed his eyes and cleared his throat. but I haven't got time to fly all the way to Hokkaido. why not make a nice trip out of it?" "Not a bad idea.' There's no need to worry about it. and he wore round. "Never." "A small package?" "Like this. which is why I can't mail it." "Something to do with work?" Sasaki shook his head. Are you planning to do something?" "I don't know. You'd be doing me a big favor. "So who do I give the package to?" "My sister. I'd like you to deliver it by hand. I really ought to do it myself." Komura said. but cold or hot it was all the same to him. My younger sister." Hokkaido in February would be freezing cold. came over to him at lunch and said." "Is it something important?" His closed lips curling slightly. Komura knew. They're not going to stop you when they X-ray it at the airport. "Not at all. I promise I'm not going to get you in trouble. "It's nothing fragile. A lot of people thought he talked too much and had a rather arrogant air. three years younger than Komura. too. "What the hell as long as you're taking the time off. I've got a small package I'd like to send to Kushiro." he said." Sasaki said.
One was fair-skinned and maybe five feet six. Komura waited a moment before answering. monotonous echos." "I did. "No. The plane was far more crowded than he had expected. He hadn't thought about how to spend his week off. This is my friend Shimao. then went back to the paper. the airport's not very big. And she'll be arranging a room for you. She divorced me." Komura said. wrapped in manila paper. only smaller. with short hair. Why had she followed the TV earthquake reports with such intensity. Mechanically he ran his eyes over the earthquake reports." Shimao said. As Sasaki had said. he had no reason for not wanting to go to Hokkaido. Why were all these people going from Tokyo to Kushiro in the middle of winter? he wondered. she didn't die. And when he woke. Her companion was more like five feet one and would have been quite pretty if her nose hadn't been so small. he thought about his wife again. The flight would leave two days later. Broad strips of transparent tape went all around the package over the paper. Her ears were exposed. When he grew tired of this. The morning paper was full of earthquake reports. At work the next day. Komura held it in his hands and studied it a few seconds. But as far as I know she's alive and well. and there were two moles on her right earlobe which were emphasized by the earrings she wore. "I'm Keiko Sasaki. He read it from beginning to end on the plane." "I just talked to my brother the day before yesterday." "Nice to meet you. it was made of wood. it weighed practically nothing. The only thing he could give any serious thought to was his wife as she retreated ever farther into the distance. Don't worry. without eating or sleeping? What could she have seen in them? Two young women wearing overcoats of similar design and color approached Komura at the airport. I'm sure he said quite clearly that you'd lost your wife. He gave it a little shake but he couldn't feel or hear anything moving inside." Sasaki said." . "My sister will pick you up at the airport. and countless people had lost their homes. Sasaki handed Komura a box like the ones used for human ashes. "All you have to do is stand outside the gate with the package in your hands where she can see it. wrapped in a thick undershirt. Many areas were still without water or electricity. "My brother tells me your wife recently passed away. Both women looked to be in their mid-twenties. Besides. Each article reported some new tragedy. stopped now and then to think about his wife." the taller woman said. Judging from the feel. and making plans now would have been too much trouble. They took Komura to a caf in the airport." Komura left home with the box in his suitcase. "My brother told me how helpful you've been to him. The number of dead was rising. but to Komura the details seemed oddly lacking in depth. he closed his eyes and napped. from morning to night." Keiko Sasaki said with a respectful expression. "Hi. in the afternoon. The area from her nose to her full upper lip was oddly extended in a way that made Komura think of shorthaired ungulates.Komura decided to accept Sasaki's offer. Her long hair fell straight to her shoulders. Sasaki called the airline then and there. All sounds reached him as far-off. reserving a ticket to Kushiro.
A brief silence fell over the three of them. How did they know who I was? Keiko Sasaki stretched her hands across the table. "Feel free. The upper half of her body was still. I guess I did mishear it. she's gone. It's a long way to come. He could tell from her expression and her subtle body language. I know. it doesn't feel as if I've come all that far. I was very rude." Komura said. Komura put a small amount of sugar in his coffee and gave it a gentle stir before taking a sip. The thought struck him then: I was supposed to be holding this when I got off the plane. Either way. smooth. while everything from the hips down made large. "Please forgive me. and slipped the box into her oversize shoulder bag. After testing its weight." Shimao said nothing while Komura and Keiko spoke. That's how they were going to recognize me. mechanical movements. "I have to make a call." Komura said." she said. "Anyway. He unzipped his suitcase and pulled the box out of the folds of the thick ski undershirt he had wrapped it in. I couldn't possibly have misheard something so important." She gave him an injured look. with no taste to speak of. He had the strange impression that he was witnessing some moment from the past. What the hell am I doing here? he wondered. "Have you been to Hokkaido before?" Shimao asked. The liquid was thin." "Because you flew." "Don't worry about it." he said. "Do you mind if I excuse myself for a moment?" "Not at all. let me give you the important package I brought. "sitting here like this. I can't imagine how else to explain the mistake. she did as Komura had done and gave it a few shakes by her ear. Komura studied the way she walked." Keiko Sasaki said. She drew in a deep breath and chewed her lower lip. Those planes are too damn fast." Keiko slung the bag over her shoulder and walked off toward a distant phone booth. more sign than substance. "Well." . but she smiled and kept her eyes on Komura. "Funny. apparently satisfied now." Komura nodded. her expressionless eyes fixed on the package. Komura shook his head. Your mind can't keep up with your body."That's odd. shoved with random suddenness into the present. then turned to survey his surroundings. "Yeah. She seemed to like him. She flashed him a smile as if to signal that everything was fine.
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