Saramagoan fragment

Posted: January 7, 2015 in The others

Sometimes I think that death is just the beginning of a great sadness. I don’t intend to imply that my death will be a sad occurrence to the ones who will notice it (make no mistake, I desire nothing else than to be forgotten, to pass away unnoticed), they will make their own mind about it and I won’t be able to sway them one way or another. Sure, life is sad sometimes, but unlike happiness, sadness is rarely sustainable and one finds little justification or approval in cultivating it. That is, if one is looking for justification or approval, which almost invariably one is.

The statement above might seem conflicted, but I assure you life is full of contradiction, as many a street corner philosopher will hurry to confirm with a smirk. That has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that you might have met me on a street corner, smirking while I shove confirmation in defenseless ears. But the statement, conflicted as it is, is provable. All the dead people I met seemed sad. A sadness that was both enviable and absolute, undiluted by hope and the seemingly limitless time the living have to turn the sadness around.

Take last week, for instance. I met the sad seventeen year old boy with cerebral palsy who had died in my intensive care unit two months before. He was striding with the overconfidence that sad dead people often parade through the alleys of Ladywell park, almost as if he wanted to reinforce the strange stereotype of a ghost haunting the place of his last torments in life. He was, I assure you, completely unaware of the vicinity of the place that served to both end and liberate him. I know this because he did not recognize me and behaved as if I was just another ghost in the park.

The dead, when they come for a visit, are always grave, no pun intended. I interpret this as sadness but there may be other feelings underneath, or simply no feeling, and therefore gravitas springs forth instead, freedom from feelings does not make one happy or sad or any other way or maybe there is a feeling that takes root when all feeling is gone, like a resistant species of mold colonising a Petri dish after all other molds died off under the assault of antifungals.

Take Mr Aldea, for instance. He strode in at irregular intervals to meet my grandfather, at night of course, and they always retreated somewhere out of sight and talked, I presumed, since I could not see them. I was always playing around the sunlit yard in front of the house, even if he was always coming at night, and it was always summer, regardless of the time of year. I would hear the squeak of the spring in the metal gate’s knob and then, a couple of seconds later, the clang of the gate closing. The thuja trees grew thick back then, as they do now in the place where all this comes together, and one had to walk carefully between their branches and avoid getting stuck forever in their web together with the sparrow nests and the caterpillars.

After negotiating the boundary of the thujas his steps would ring closer and closer until he turned the corner and entered the driveway leading to the yard proper. I could see him then, tall, slightly stooped, with a head full of white hair (no, dead people do not look young, they look exactly as I remember them from when they were alive), taking slow, deliberate steps with a thoughtful expression, on could equally call it grave and I have previously done so, and now as then the pun is not intended, these are just vagaries of speech, coincidences, the license words give away without, perhaps, intending to.

He was wearing boots, in the middle of summer this may strike you as odd but it made sense to me since he was coming from far away, how far I could not tell and he did not tell either and the few words he spared me were never an account of distances walked. But it feels like the world of the living and the world of the dead must be separated by some species of metaphysical distance, which one can, metaphysically or otherwise, walk and the walk requires sturdy footwear so the boots did not seem out of place. Sometimes they were Wellington boots, streaked with mud, but I could not tell if the mud was of this world or the next, as I said earlier it was always a sunny summer day when he came so maybe it was raining on the other side, or maybe there was a bust water pipe up the street on ours and the sidewalks were muddy.

He walked slightly bent over, his head turned down, nothing out of character, he had been a geologist in life and that is what geologists do, isn’t it, watch the ground, sometimes they bend and pick up a stone, wipe it clean, take it to a lab and do tests on it, I am making this all up now since I have no idea what the daily routine of geologists is, what I am trying to convey is the simple fact that I expected him to have this posture and he never disappointed me. He looked up from underneath his fringe, smiled at me and nodded when I said good afternoon Mr Aldea but seldom spoke. My grandfather always came out of the house at this point and they would shake hands and walk into the house together, for a glass of something, wine or some fruity alcohol my grandfather made from whatever fresh fruit was available in the garden and the white alcohol he distilled himself, also from fruit, this fruit fermented in a plastic barrel at the bottom of the garage. They moved inside in silence, my grandfather first, leading the other man, there was a sense that it was all important, pre-arranged, this was to be a serious grown up discussion I was not to be part of, which suited me just fine since the day was warm and sunny and summer is a time to be outside in the sun, and not around old men talking at the kitchen table in the shadows.

I carried on playing but time seemed to pass so quickly and their meetings always ended abruptly almost as soon as they started. Mr Aldea left by unknown means, I just knew he had gone, no shuffling steps on the driveway, no squeak of the gate’s knob or bang when it was finally closed, no words from my grandfather, how about that Aldea fellow, i was not yet wise enough to give opinions on such things anyway. My grandmother was never around in these memories, maybe she was at the market, she did all the shopping and she still does, now that my grandfather has passed away as well, no change there, this is not a new task for her to take on, others are but I will not go through all of them now.

I remember the day Mr Aldea died, my grandfather had taken me out for a ride in his old car, it was the end of spring, a cloudy day, and when we reached home my grandmother came to open the gate so we could get into the yard without stepping out of the car. She came around the car before we had gone in, stopped by my grandfather’s side, his window was rolled down, and she said, in a hushed voice, Aldea died. My grandfather just looked down and nodded, then looked up, squinting, his hands useless on the wheel, kneading the worn out black plastic cover. This took only a second or so and then he nodded again and drove the car over the threshold, in silence. We drove down slowly past the thujas, the front entrance of the house, the long wall facing North East which only had a small round window which was never open, and reached the inner courtyard. I got out and ran into the house to wash my hands, it was lunch time and I could smell the food already. I don’t know what my grandfather did. He may or may not have stayed in the car a while longer, but knowing him he probably put the car in the garage, got out and went to wash his hands since it was lunchtime and he could smell the food already.

I could find out precisely the date he died, either from his headstone or from my grandmothers’ notes about the deaths on our street, she had kept them ever since they started living there, although she was not indiscriminate about recording death and said she only put in the people who were, in some way or another, close, such as relatives and friends, but at that time pretty much everyone living on that street was a relative or friend, things have changed nowadays and recording the death of friends does not take more space than recording the death of your household appliances, people live without people now, here as everywhere.

Mr Aldea fell on his own sword, as the saying goes, that is to say he died of his own hand, both expressions inaccurate and hopeless, he did not have a sword to fall on and even if he did that would have been unnecessary and messy and only fit for soldiers who refuse to surrender and instead make fools of themselves. Neither did he die of injuries caused by his own hand, not directly, it was not his hand that strangled him but the noose he hung, using said hand, in his garage, so his hand’s guilt is on par with his other hand’s, or the rope’s, or the guilt attributable to the garage beam. But such is the way of words, you say he died of his own hand and everyone knows instantly his hand must have been guided by his mind and thus the death was not accidental, but one need not look for murderers, the police officer only shows up to notice the death, as confirmed by the doctor, and write his report showing there was no foul play, as murder is lovingly called in movies.

The doctor as well, after placing his well-trained fingers on the wrist of the presumed deceased and his stethoscope on his chest, perhaps under the very eyes, teary or not, of those left behind, will then count to sixty while listening and feeling intently for what the medical profession calls signs of life, that is a pulse or some regular sounds resounding in the cavity that may at one point have contained a soul, which nobody could ever prove. That life can be reduced to so little, an invisible movement in the wrist or the soft beat of a drum, should come as no surprise these days when everything is reduced to its essential components.

Those sixty seconds are not always necessary, it is immediately obvious the person is dead, the relatives have called the priest and the funeral home already and usually they are not even doctors but they can tell, without the benefit of those long, dry years spent on university benches or around dissection tables, their loved one is gone. The doctor is there only for the convenience of the state who has grown suspicious of its citizens faking their disappearances to escape the tax system. The law defies reason, as laws do, and until the doctor comes to assess the situation the state insists that your husband is alive, maybe deep asleep, maybe sulking like a child and refusing to cooperate, maybe in a state of rebellion against the state itself, impossible to say until someone versed in these dissimulation techniques can put their fingers on the truth and count for sixty seconds or less, nobody is timing the timer, the doctor is at least at liberty to take liberties in interpreting time while being true to the essential truth which is that life has fled the body and nobody can ask where it has gone since the question is irrelevant and there are more important things to do.

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Nostalgia

Posted: June 9, 2014 in Sentimental diaries...

NostalgiaAs summer moves into a seat that has been hastily vacated by an insecure spring , I surrender to nostalgia, eagerly at first, as one does to a long awaited mistress, then with remorse, and finally with fear, ravaged by  the realisation of the true nature of nostalgia. It is the longing for things long gone, unrecoverable, dead husks of dubious provenance, feelings felt by others, places walked by others, equally dead, equally unrecoverable, burried under my own nails, between the folds of flesh assaulting my eyes, in the roots of the hairs growing against my will on my upper arm.
The despair sets in. And with it, hopefully, a deeper understanding, one that justifies carrying on in the face of obvious defeat. I remember the days and nights when the world was still unknown and it must be, I tell myself, it must be this, the mystery, that I despair about, the missing dimension of a world with too much light shining in its dirtiest corners, a constant persistence of transparency.
I am reminded of Makine’s Testament Francais, the boy hearing a train passing by the house in the summer and imagining it embarking on an exotic journey to far away places. The same boy, years later, learning the train only moves a few miles to a storage building nearby. Knowledge, certainty, dispelling the endless possibilities, painfully focusing reality in place and painting it dull.
One of my friends was unceremoniously dumped by text message recently. I felt the need to commiserate and struggled to pull out my own stories of abandonment. Aged and dusty, covered in the mildew and cobwebs of resentment, they suddenly appeared diminished and impotent, and I almost felt ashamed. I exaggerated, of course, hypnotised by the smell of old wounds. The scars are now too small to see but you can feel them with your fingers if you know where to rub.
This has become my newest anxiety, the loss of pain. I am, of course, still embarked on the mission of erasing my most cherished memories, but my efforts suffer the usual transitional dip. The changing of the seasons is fresh water on the dried roots of melancholy and the memories haunt me like vengeful ghouls these days. At least there is comfort in repetition. My life nears the circular shape that will spin it into oblivion.

Posted: April 18, 2014 in Reality IS fiction

nothingTo justify what I consider the only challenge I have left that has any meaning, i have decided to throw myself at a routine involving the repetitive abuse of plastic. Some not entirely wholesome and God-fearing thoughts were instantly evoked by the words I chose to describe typing, but in the end this is just one way to prove a point, which is that words are the raw stuff of chaos and their use and abuse is a fun way to beat said chaos into some semblance of submission.
I don’t think I have anything particularly note-worthy to communicate to anyone outside the confines of the room I am in, just the same random, tasteless observations that fill half of my bookshelves (the other half is filled by page after page of pure genius), but then again not everyone who has kicked a football around has been famous for doing so. There are degrees and variations between Pele and the toddler bouncing around the park outside just now (I am using poetic license, there is no toddler out there JUST NOW but there were and will be toddlers chasing balls in the park). I consider myself fortunate for realising that kicking a football was never going to put me in the company of the likes of Pele. It just isn’t something I will ever be any good at and I do not enjoy it enough to try.
Writing, however, I chose to stay close to, and stay blind to my lack of skill and lustre, since I just happen to enjoy it, though the extent of my practice is pitiable. There are greater passions in life and the modern hedonist is besieged from all sides by batallions of sensation and ready made excitement. I can’t help submitting to the whims that permeate my culture.
Having started on this course (yet again), I am then faced with its problems, such as ballancing the laptop on my lap, worrying about ventillation (it feels rather hot against my thigh and it is rumored this is detrimental to a certain count, but this thought just leads to disastruous divagation so I quickly abandon it), and the sudden jabs of feeling useless and pompous in my impersonation of a writer.
A short break follows, during which I worry about my efforst being lost to posterity and I download and install Dropbox, a technology to safeguard against the failings of technology. The irony is not lost on me yet it provokes no stiring or similar internal movement, not even a smile.
Thus satisfied, with a faint sense of immortality (whatever I write now will outlast me, my possible, yet increasingly improbable offspring – the laptop’s belly burns hot in my lap – and the last crumbling shreds of post-nuclear humanity). Much like all the Facebook postings of one third of the human race. The xenoarcheologists of a future alien race have their work cut out for them, let’s see them apply their engines to the task of sifting through the dross, looking for the masterpieces of our primitive culture. Poor odds, since even quantum computers have no imagination.

Moving Back to Macondo

Posted: April 18, 2014 in Reality IS fiction

macondo-smallGGM is dead. I never met him, never had anything but inklings about his real self, but he was the man that brought me to literature, more than anyone else. I remember reading A Hundred Years of Solitude while taking my exams at the end of high-school and being lost in that world while living, myself, among the vestiges of a forgotten world, ready to plunge into a new one. I did not know it then, but the world I was poised to jump into would never be mine, the way the world I was leaving was.
Macondo briefly turned into the portable motherland, the beachhead of my invasion of the Americas, the perfectly preserved museum of loss. It marked my passage. It marked the end of times and the onset of the age of splendor.
Rumours say he had dementia at the end. He died of old man diseases, not of love, like he, or perhaps just Fernando Ariza, would have wished to. Life finds its way to reduce us all to the sum of our indignities. I expect no less, and the knowledge that such a great man died such a banal death is no comfort. The only way out is, of course, shortening the stick, burning the candle at both ends and losing limbs. But one needs the proper justification for self destruction and that is not always readily available.
Cultivating disaster requires a special talent. After all, there is courage, and there is foolishness, and there is no passion in foolishness. I would rather died demented than a fool.

The Nap of Reason

Posted: January 11, 2014 in Reality IS fiction

NightmareThere is an air of endless repetition in the human interaction across the neighborhood this evening. I went to Tesco to buy some bread and I peaked, as usual, on my way back, through the windows of the corner cafe. The harsh light decomposing strategies, exposing flaws, feeding on insecurity. People rehearsing TV scenes.
On the way back, around the concierge building, I overtake people dragging their feet through the dying light of winter, the painful slowness of a Saturday afternoon and the bloating feeling left over by the greasy brunch they had earlier. It might be just the twilight, but they suddenly look and feel bleached, their colours drained and trailing behind them on the sidewalks, slipping silently into the gutters with the old leaves and the cigarette butts.
After the day expires painfully, its final twitches overcome by the blanket of neon light spilling from the construction sites that surround the neighborhood like gigantic siege engines, the buzz dies down in anticipation of the plastic coated night to come. The cracks fill with darkness and somewhere, under the ground, a faint stir causes an imperceptible tremor in the never withering blades of grass.
A blink later the same grass blades stand straight like hair on the back of an arm. There are crackles at the edge of the park,where the grass meets the metal carcasses of cars, and a smell of ozone in the air. Discrete air currents start to drift up from the corners of the buildings, the empty spaces between the slabs of concrete in the street, and every other space where one thing embraces another. Every joint swells and bulges outward, as if creation were taking a breath of the cold evening air, but surprisingly nothing tears, nothing groans. In the corner of my eye I see Penelope’s shape under the covers stiring, I hear her breathing changing, i feel her heart pumping quicker, pushing her closer to the surface of awareness.
Another blink later and the picture adjusts, the grass loses its charge, the air becomes clammy and odorless, the joints snap back into position, the world is back in its hinges. Penelope is deep asleep again. Crouched on her chest I drink in her breath and lick my lips with my forked tongue.

The Almost Never

Posted: September 28, 2013 in Roads

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I still have her last letter. It was not one of many, sadly, she did not write often and even when she wrote this, her only letter, she did not do it willingly. I knew what would be inside the blue envelope. First I thought I would not open it. What would be the purpose of that? And besides, without the letter to put reality in its place, everything, although ridiculously improbable, was convincingly possible.

I still have her last letter. It is an insignificant object, easily lost, and yet after thirty years of running from one closed door to another, it is still there, in the leather satchel at the bottom of my travel bag, covered in bits of tobacco and saturated with the smell of old ink. First I thought I would not open it. I forgot it, conveniently, among the piles of paper in the study, while I roamed deserts and forests on the edge of nothingness, between the smoke and the bottles. I had to sell the house and leave and I left the letter behind as well, in the study, amidst the clutter.

I still have her last letter. I found it again in one of my old books, in a flea market under a bridge. It was waiting for me, three years later, now open. Someone had pried open the envelope with grimy fingers and undoubtedly read what had been mine alone before I had discarded it. Fair enough, I thought. How many hands, I wondered briefly. How many eyes. How many tongues licking dry lips reading a sentence, how many noses wrinkling with the acrid smell of old ink.

Strangely enough the thought did not make me jealous. It did no disturb me, now, so far away from that evening. It made me feel…empty. The way I had felt on a Sunday afternoon in November, as a child, on a cliff at the edge of the sea, under the lament of the seagulls. I picked the envelope and stuffed it in my bag. It was not empty but I did not glance inside to check for her handwriting. The letter could only be inside, pregnant with my judgement, writhing in an endless labour but denied delivery. I would not give in just yet.

I lost my bag, or I forgot it somewhere, or maybe I deliberately abandoned it to the fates and walked away drunk one dust ridden evening. I skirted the abyss. I won small victories and suffered uninteresting defeats. Seven years later I found the letter again in a box with old postcards and broken camera parts under another bridge. I stole it. It was mine by right anyway. I stuffed it in my bag and held on to it. The blue envelope was now grey, the colour faded by sunlight and dampness. It felt brittle to touch and had started to disintegrate at the edges. The letter was still in, still pregnant and every time I held the envelope I heard its soft moans, almost resigned.

I still have her last letter. It waits for me still, and although I will not part with it again, I have not yet reached it. The space between us is as vast as the nothingness within me. And whatever is inside the envelope, it could never fill me.

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The day is sorrow, a sorrow bred of nothing, a smoky, illusive sorrow that feels like failure. Like failing at some unwanted, shameful task, made even more shameful by the failure. The night is no balm, the sorrow follows in, a contemptuous thief, shredding the heavy, dusty curtains, hanging on walls in rusty patches, discoloured by the reflected light coming through the windows.

Outside the sharp air congeals in hard edges around the decaying memories of summer. Empty cans, broken sunglasses, a suitcase handle, huddling together behind a market stall, cornered by dead leaves. A few steps further an aging, corpulent man is kneeling in the dusk, hands behind his back, bullishly trying to spear the police officers around him with his forehead. An audience of solemn, quiet faces monitors the tragedy, painted in the masks of pure feeling, a cacophony of sentiment that breaks loudly upon the passers-by, the ones who care not, or less.

Dirt is the universal plaster, the cement keeping the night together, dissolving into nothing and reforming into puddles beneath street lamps, in shop windows, under the nails of people on the bus. The bridge between reality and desire, between sin and the voices of the prophets. The last taste on God’s tongue. The crust on the edge of the first light switch.

A red shade wonders through the night of the soul like a curse. At salvation’s end, she brings oblivion. I have only her now. All I have is her. I have all of her. She is all mine and she fills me like sour wine, dissolving my unshaped features in an acid embrace that leaves naught but my teeth, rolling on the pavements, endlessly crunching under the boots of many. Clean.