“Are we going to sleep?” Leonardus asked. “There doesn’t seem to be too much to do in this town.” He slapped the palm of his hand on Chiqui’s thigh and burst into laughter.
“Cut it out already,” she said crossly.
Martín reached his hand to find his wallet in order to pay the bill but all he felt in his pants pocket was a few wrinkled bills and some coins. He remembered very well having taken it from the shelf of their cabin when Chiqui had gone to look for them that afternoon. Besides, he had paid the man in the market for the eyeglass band; where could he have put it?
Suddenly he felt an intense chill in his temple because his memory hoisted what his consciousness had not picked up at the time and he distinctly heard the crack of an object falling to the ground at the very moment when he took his handkerchief out of his pocket in order to clean his wound, paying attention to nothing but the pain in his leg. That’s where the wallet must have remained. He gestured to Leonardus to let him know that he had left his money aboard the Albatross and in the meantime he tried to remember what was in the wallet that might betray him. There were no documents, but would the credit cards be there, or had he left them aboard together with his passport? Nonetheless, two or three days before they had gone on land in the launch, they had dined in a beach restaurant and he had paid with his card. He didn’t remember the name of the town, Kinik or Kalkan, something like that. It was the evening when Leonardus, tired of the argument between Andrea and Chiqui, had gone to have coffee on the terrace.
“Those feminist debates, those excuses to hide women’s weakness, couldn’t interest me less,” he had said as he got up.
“They’re neither excuses nor feminist debates,” Andrea retorted, somewhat tense, “they’re the truth. I say it and I repeat it, a woman alone has to work twice as much as a man in order to survive, in every sense.”
“Well, all she has to do is find someone,” he said with a smile, almost in the doorway, “and that’s easy.” And, turning around, he added, “I’ll wait for you outside, enjoying some fresh air.”
It was then, when he went to pay at the counter, that Martín had taken the card out of his wallet, he remembered it well, almost grateful for having a pretext for getting away from the table.
“And besides,” Andrea went on, angered by Leonardus’ leaving, as though she were continuing a debate begun many years before, “a woman alone does not exist socially.”
Chiqui looked at her mockingly.
“That may be among people of your age and your world. I’m alone and I exist,” she said.
And Andrea responded with invective hanging in her voice:
“You don’t seem to be all that alone.”
“I’m not alone when I’m on vacation, but I’m still without a husband or a lover or even a boyfriend, if that’s what we’re talking about, and I still exist,” and she left too.
Then Andrea, alone at the table, in order to have the last word, raised her voice more like a threat than like a premonition and said, almost to herself:
“Just wait and see,” and she began to make boats and birds out of the paper napkin.
From the counter, Martín had feared that Andrea would burst out crying as had happened on the afternoon of the dolphins. But soon she got up and went outside to join the others, calmed already.
He had then paid at the counter and had put the card and the receipt in his wallet. Andrea was still too caught up in her paper birds and her own irritation in order to pick it up, as she would sometimes do when she insisted that he would lose it or leave it on the table, as had happened so many times.
“Andrea, do you have my credit card?” he asked her anyway.
“No,” she said, having moved ahead of Chiqui and hung on to Leonardus’ arm. “You used it to pay for dinner a couple of days ago, remember?”
On the table, among the pieces of bread and the half-empty glasses, a matchbox had remained. Martín put it in his pocket and followed the others.
The heat had not let up. They walked slowly towards the Albatross and Andrea stopped and took his hand, but he got free and put his hands on her shoulders from behind and made her walk at his pace, following the other two as if it were a game, so that no one could see his stained pants leg.
When they got to the gangway Leonardus leaped, turned around and extended his hand.
Andrea looked at Martín.
“Go ahead,” she said.
“No,” he said, “you go ahead.”
“Come on, give me your hand. You’re dizzy, remember?” Leonardus said impatiently.
She put out one foot, took the waiting hand and leaped laughing, as though making fun of herself.
“It’s always scary,” she said, dissembling.
But he did not hear her. He let Chiqui go by and from the pier, leaning on an oil drum that hid his leg, he said:
“I’m going to take a walk.”
“Again?” asked Andrea. Come.”
“No,” he said, “I’m going to walk.”
“We’ve already seen what there was to see. Come on, come,” she repeated.
“I don’t feel like going to bed now.”
“We’ll be having a drink on deck,” Leonardus shouted and went belowdecks to get some ice.
“I’ve had enough drinks, now I just want to walk.” He moved away a few steps to be out of range of the street lamp, but he stopped, and only started walking again when she, with uncertainty in her voice, shouted,
“Wait, I’m going with you, give me your hand.”
Paying her no attention, he then turned around and started walking towards the alley that opened almost directly under the wooden balcony, the blinds already drawn and the windows shut. And from the shadows he saw her standing on the gangway with the arc of her white skirt, that the beginning of a step had left suspended for an instant, her left hand grasping the rigging and her right hand extended in a meaningless gesture, and behind the gleam of the lamp in her glasses the dread in her gaze over the emptiness that separated her from the water.
He still heard her voice as she turned to Chiqui, who was watching the scene.
“I know that he’s going to her,” she said in a whisper.
“What her?” Chiqui asked without interest.
“The one in the house with the grapevine.”
“Don’t talk nonsense. He doesn’t even know her.”
“It doesn’t matter. I know it.”
“That’s like being jealous of the dead,” said Chiqui and entered the cabin.
Andrea closed her eyes and without letting go of her hand she slid until she was seated on the ground with her arm still raised, and, like the end point of an arabesque, she dropped her head to her chest and remained still, perhaps trying to convince herself that nothing could happen, that there was no one on this cursed island that he could go to, because they had gotten there by accident. But even so she was to feel a pang of jealousy, true jealousy, the kind that has neither front nor back, jealousy of the intangible, perhaps even of the dead, as Chiqui had just said, of the forgotten, of the unrecoverable, of the shadows, because otherwise, thought Martín, she would have gone into the cabin certain that he would be right back.
Then, knowing that nobody would be following him, he got into the street and accelerated his pace. Gradually his eyes adapted to the darkness. Every so often a lamp attached to the wall gave off a yellow light, so weak that its shine hardly reached the ground. He saw an open window and another bulb hanging from the ceiling and he barely made out the hue of the wall inside. He continued walking in an alley that was so narrow that stretching out his arms he could touch the houses on both sides. In order to bypass the pier he would go around the village through its upper part, rounding the bay, and would look for the path until he found the place and recover his wallet, which had to be on the ground next to the dog. But he had to go carefully so as not to run into the men who were looking for it. Maybe someone was following him. He stopped for a moment and listened. Silence. He advanced anew but came to an open space, had to turn around and found himself among uninhabited houses with fallen ceilings and empty windows, where the leaves of a tree that he didn’t get to see were moving, perhaps swayed by the running of rats or the weight of the owlets hiding in the foliage. He kept on walking and he knew that he was passing behind the old market by the odor of fish that the centuries had impregnated in the wooden arcade and that was still suspended in the nighttime mist, and when it seemed to him that, when looking at the bay, the pier and the Albatross were already at his left, he went down towards the shore, and, staying close to the houses, followed the direction of the lighthouse. He went up and down countless alleys that he had not noticed before, but he could not find the house with the grapevine. But it was not that house that he was now looking for, nor the girl in the hat, an unreality replaced by the irrational fear of being found out. But even so he was not getting to the place. He went back to the mosque square and tried to reconstruct the route he had taken that afternoon with the old woman. He took the slope and began to climb the steps. Behind him, some steps repeated his like an echo. He stopped but the world stopped with him, there was no sound other than the faraway sea lapping against the shore, and he kept on searching. When he came to a hill it seemed to him that he recognized the place where the one-eyed man had found him, and he shuddered again on remembering the laughter. He then went down, sure of finding the lamp that had given him light, and once there he went down the stony path almost gropingly. He got used to the darkness of the walls and he found the grating behind which the old woman had disappeared. He recognized the very place where he had fought with the dog and lit a match, but there was nothing on the ground. He went up and down the slope, using up the remaining matches until his fingertips burned, but did not find the wallet. Someone had gone by before him and taken everything away, and furthermore had smoothed the ground, because there was no print and it seemed as virginal as the desert sand after a storm. And, as though he had found hidden witnesses of his own terror, he felt himself watched and menaced, and suddenly, after having looked over the empty ground for the last time, he started running up the hill and didn’t stop until he got to the top of the promontory. He was still panting when, not ceasing to scrutinize the night noises, he sat on a stone and leaned his head on a ruined wall. The air in that place was slightly more perceptible but he could not dissipate the anxiety that had bothered him since dusk, whose origin he had attributed to the suffocating heat and the fight with the dog, now increased by the fear of being found out. The sea, now calm, had to be quite far down. He couldn’t see it, but in the distance he heard the rhythmic and gentle crashing of water against rock.
A falling star scraped the sky until it was extinguished where the horizon had to be. It’s true that stars fall in summer, he thought indifferently, but he followed its trace and then of another and yet another. The whole atmosphere brightened slightly, and the lines of the horizon on the sea and the even darker outline of the coast appeared to his left, until he was surrounded by the diffuse light of the magical brightness of the night. Behind the hill there appeared a slice of moon without any glow or spread. Somewhere the rusty bells rang again, and every so often inklings of voices fading in the distance sprang out in the air. Little by little, in the glow of that lonely night under a sky that seemed to be sheltering only him, time took on a rhythm that was different from the one shown by clocks, even different from the slowness it acquires in a sea voyage. And he remembered once more the girl beside the mosque but not her face, which he could not pinpoint, hidden as it was behind the web of oblivion – which nonetheless sheltered and clamped the confusion in which he had been plunged by the dog and its disappearance and the conclusive proof of his crime – but rather, so as to escape from the terror in which he found himself, the unquenchable desire of restarting the story from the moment when he had lost her, as if the time that had passed since then had been an overlong interlude that wanted to end and remain hidden and immovable in a buried corner of his life. It was his story that had remained unfinished, not the girl’s.
Perhaps that was the moment when he succumbed; for when did he succumb and to whom? Or to what? How does one know the exact moment? Where is the threshold, the infinitesimal threshold that changes things inevitably? The point at which a caress, by dint of repetition, doesn’t produce pleasure but pain. The moment when a nail holding up a picture that’s too heavy for it falls out, and its load with it. Does it yield gradually and silently, or does it hold it up until the end with the same tenacity and collapse suddenly when it understands that it can’t hold up the weight any longer? Perhaps one’s conscience – which is lazy and tardy – understands, when the signal appears and the calamity happens, that what is inexorable had happened long before it became apparent, in the same way as when love dies we know, if we want to know, that it had died a long time before.
Andrea had returned to New York four or five months after her unexpected June visit, when the trees were beginning to lose their leaves, carpeting the sidewalks. She had come to stay, she said from the first moment, standing in the doorway, almost not daring to come in. He had remained true to his promise of continuing to wait for her and for her memory, perhaps because in some vague fashion, which he would not have dared define or recognize, he finally understood that all he could wait for were unforeseen appearances, and he had found comfortable refuge in melancholy. Or perhaps it was just that things always come at the wrong time.
This was why, as he was preparing to go out to dinner at the New Orleans on that October evening, leaving on a hallway light to provide a warmer welcome after dinner, the white shirt he had just ironed still lukewarm on his chest (in the afternoon he had arranged the apartment, changed the sheets and towels, and left a bar of perfumed soap in the bathroom – still in its wrapper, as he had seen done in hotels and in Andrea’s house – and a bottle of white wine in the refrigerator, and red roses in a vase on the table), when he heard the doorbell he went to open the door, convinced that it was Osiris who, with the excuse of bringing his mail, wanted to chat for a while, and what he found in the doorway was a static, almost motionless Andrea, her face darkened by outsize bags under her eyes, and in a somewhat bent-over position; he thought that he was hallucinating, and in his anxiety was about to close the door.
“I’ve come to stay,” she said in a hoarse voice, barely able to stifle a sob.
This was not how he had imagined it, but he took her in his arms as if she had become a little girl and he, curiously, her protector; he let her in, cleared the entry bench and sat down beside her. She seemed so defeated that he did not dare ask her what had happened and what those tears were due to, perhaps because he too had cried. So many times he had wished that this moment would come, and on so many occasions he had told himself that it didn’t make sense to be apart, that he couldn’t understand why her presence overwhelmed his so much and gave him such uneasiness. Or perhaps his intelligence, fearful that the dreamt-of fulfillment didn’t exist, upon finding it within reach pretended it wasn’t there and withdrew, or else from a sheer instinct of survival it refused to follow him because it knew that the fulfillment of a hope so firm and remote always brings about disillusion and disappointment, which in turn invalidate the enthusiasm necessary in order to stay the course and reach the hoped-for goal, and rather than lose that source of energy indispensable for going on living, it prepared his spirit for failure.
Katas would be waiting. He would have to go down and cancel the dinner under some pretext, or perhaps tell her the truth. He had spoken to her of Andrea many times, making her even more mythical, perhaps with the hidden intention that she remain in the limbo of the past, the way one talks of the dead, dehumanized by absence and turned by time into brittle and meek characters with no bite or passion, whom we disguise with their own virtues and cover with our melancholy and indulgence.
He looked at the clock; there was still time. But what would he tell her? In any case he had to go, he knew it, so that the sooner he went the better. But he was bewildered: a decision taken a long time ago had set in motion a process that he himself, its author, couldn’t stop now even for the time necessary to check if he was willing to ratify it. He held Andrea’s head in his arms and remained still; he would have been unable to free himself of it and he could do nothing but rock her and caress her hair and nape, so as to wait, to wait for the solution to come by itself because he was unable to concentrate, nor capable of finding the decision or the will, or, simply, because there is no sin more original than sloth.
Katas’ two knocks, which he knew so well, sounded on the door. But even then he didn’t move. They sounded again once, perhaps twice more. And he would have been able to perceive the uncertainty in the footsteps as they were becoming lost in the hallway and to hear the creaking of the old elevator as it went down, if he had not submerged his head in the curly hair that he held between his arms, blocking Andrea’s attempt to get up, and if he had not found a last refuge in the vehemence of his kisses on her head, neck and ears. But, wrapped up as he was, he let himself be surrounded by the smell and the contact that stopped being mere reminiscences and finally took on their proper measure: only then did he recognize himself in a time that once more had lost its rhythm and its cadence. And when the bells of the Russian Orthodox church rang nine – or was it ten? – and he got up to open the bottle of white wine, he vaguely remembered the date and his decision to go down to the 14th floor for a moment and the double knock on the door, but he was already almost unaware of what was happening, concentrating more on his own bewilderment than on Andrea’s prolonged stillness and silence, or the unjustified snub he had inflicted on the woman for whom he had chilled that wine.
He didn’t go to see Katas until three days later. He had not called her or seen her and, not knowing yet what to tell her or how, the few times that he had gone out for bread and newspapers and cigarettes he had feared meeting her in the elevator. He was grateful to her for not calling him but at the same time he felt hurt. Perhaps she had done it in his absence and Andrea had hidden it from him. He couldn’t find out because he didn’t dare ask, either.
He went down to the 14th floor at a time when she was usually at home, he stopped at every stair in order to search for the words he would say and remained standing in front of the door, undecided. Finally he knocked.
The door opened shortly and a tall, corpulent man in a T-shirt appeared, sweating and holding a hammer in his hand. Behind him the apartment was empty. In his confusion he thought he might be on the wrong floor, but when he saw the number 14 over the elevator door he asked about her.
“She’s gone. I live here now,” said the man and closed the door.
Borne by a sudden and violent panic attack he went down to the ground floor and asked Osiris, who was sitting behind the desk reading the paper.
“Where is Katas?”
“She went away. She finished her studies.”
“She wasn’t supposed to leave until Christmas. She still had more than two months left.”
“Well, she left yesterday. I thought you knew.”
“Did she leave an address?”
“No, she didn’t say anything. She was carrying a lot of packages.”
He went back to the library at different hours, asked at the University and at the hospital, went to the gym and walked around the streets of the neighborhood looking for her, until he convinced himself that she had disappeared forever, though, incapable of acknowledging it, he stuck to the conviction that he could rely on chance to see her again, and to calm himself he kept in his soul the indecisive premonition that he would meet her some day, somewhere. Sometimes, in the subway or on the street, he would turn his startled look at the back of the pony-tailed girl who had left the train or turned the corner. But he stopped suffering over it, perhaps because he was so involved with Andrea; everything that was happening to him was so new, and he worked so hard and so long that he hardly had any time left.
He felt driven like a madman to build for them life together in which, after the first surprise, there seemed to be no other clouds than his recurrent doubts. At times, when Andrea had already fallen asleep at his side, he remained with his eyes fixed on the ceiling, thinking about her. The fact that she renounced her profession, her husband, her children and her city for him filled him with pride, but at the same time it overwhelmed him, and it was so unexpected, and the displacement of interests was so disproportionate, that he couldn’t help thinking that Carlos, though he might indeed have been the model of the civilized man that Andrea had always described him as, had discovered her trip to New York in June and grown tired of so much infidelity. And, in the loneliness inflicted by suspicion, he imagined what might have happened. He knew the setting: the living room of the house with the sea in the background. It was evening and the last light of sunset accentuated the interior half-shadows. Andrea came in with the suitcase in her hand and carefully closed the door so that it would not knock. Carlos was snoozing in an armchair with the newspaper in his lap. She was sliding furtively toward the stairway leading up to the bedrooms. Carlos was vaguely awakening due to the noise of the door and getting up. No, not in a rage; he had never seen him angry. He was not that type of man. He was getting up, his mouth twisted in a bitter and somewhat cynical rictus... No, it would not be like that, either. Perhaps what wasn’t working was the setting, because it was June when Andrea had come to see him in New York, and they didn’t go to Cadaqués until July at the earliest. It must have been in their Barcelona home. She was coming in from the airport. It was eight in the morning. Getting in on tiptoe would work equally well. Was the husband having breakfast? No, it was too early. He would still be in bed, or better yet in the bathroom, so that she would be able to leave her suitcase in the hallway, change, or shut herself up in her room under the pretext of a terrible headache. But what was making him suppose that Andrea had come into the house surreptitiously? In all likelihood Carlos would have gone to pick her up. What would have happened then? What would have caused the breakup?
The night of her arrival Andrea, her head still hidden in his lap, had told him in very few words that it had been she who, in the wake of the June visit and unable to face her own duplicity any longer, had found herself forced to choose. But she gave no details beyond the legal dispositions that her husband as a lawyer had arranged in his way – she did hint at that – and the agreement they had reached about the boys, who would live with him.
During the entire time – almost two years – that they were together in New York, and ever after, even now, during the long hours of sailing without knowing what to do, he had kept on changing the settings and the dialogues, and he had elaborated them far more than any of the scripts he had been writing before her arrival, but not even after all these years had he achieved a firm and convincing version that might be as “official” as Andrea’s. And when his doubt grew he didn’t need to shut his eyes in order to witness a stormy scene where the husband was waiting for her at home, pacing about the room like a caged lion, distressed by a bout of infidelity so prolonged that, rather than one of so many flings, it implied a betrayal; because, as she was repeating throughout the interminable night, it was she who had broken the pact that they established between them, and he was therefore resolved to take reprisals. Then Andrea, defeated, her job in his company lost, not wanting to be alone – as she had said so many times – and incapable of facing a society that had known her as a winner, could find no solution other than going to New York to join him. Because in truth, he would say to himself as he was hammering on his own pain, what could a shiftless boy with no future and no money, ten years her junior and with nothing but his devotion to offer her, mean to her? How could she have willingly chosen him?
Sometimes he was so convinced by the version that his own imagination had concocted, and he was so carried away by mistrust, that he would sink into a prolonged and deep silence, grow distant from her, and let her suffer as though destiny had assigned him the task of dispensing justice.
That is why, a few weeks after Andrea had arrived in New York, he disappeared, leaving a simple message on the kitchen table to keep her from calling the police. He was gone for three days, which he spent holed up in a highway motel in New Jersey near the Hudson with an actress that he had met at a film shooting a few months before, making love to her brutally and insistently as if in that way he could ease his spitefulness.
When he got back he found the bedroom locked. The apartment was tiny, and he could hear her breathing behind the door over the background sounds of brakes, horns and sirens. He shook the doorknob, not trying to break in but to let her know that he was back.
“Andrea,” he said softly through cupped hands into the crack of the doorway, “Andrea, open.”
But there was no response other than the creaking of a mattress spring. She must have turned around, he thought. He looked through the keyhole; the neon sign running down the corner of the building gave out intermittent bursts of color over a segment of the wall, the legs of the bed and the floor. Her head was in the shadow but he managed to see how she put her arm under the pillow and covered her shoulder with the sheet, as she always did, even when she couldn’t stand the heat from the radiator, because she said that she needed the weight in order to sleep.
“Andrea,” he repeated, “open, please, open.” He knocked on the door. “Open, I beg you, I’ll tell you everything. Let me tell you.”
The spring creaked once again.
“Andrea,” he repeated yet again, almost in a whisper, but when he was convinced that it was useless to keep on knocking and saw himself flattened against the door reciting an entreaty that had become a refrain, he let himself fall on the rickety sofa that the two of them had picked up on the street a few days after her arrival, when only the tears of her near-sighted eyes perturbed the present that now seemed to him irrecoverable, and he remained attentive to the undecipherable sound of the air, concentrated in the room, in the sheets that he knew so well, and in the woman who lay between them and whom he had never loved so much.
Nothing broke the density of that silence that made the metallic street noise seem far away, and, overcome by fatigue and by pain and by the emptiness that transcended the measure of his desire, his eyelids closed and he succumbed to the restless sleep of one who doesn’t want to sleep but is defeated by a nodding-off sleepiness, until, almost at dawn, a brief sigh – or perhaps a held-back sob – passed through the door. Only then did he surrender to a full sleep, lulled by the comforting rocking of someone else’s pain.
Though the next day she threatened to go away, the reconciliation that followed was so splendid that it became a benchmark, a model of behavior to which he would resort, eager not so much to banish remorse and achieve forgiveness for the infidelities he threw himself into whenever the phantom of doubt – which was never to leave him in peace – appeared yet again, as to regain his security and receive once again the confirmation of his love, which on those occasions exceeded the abundance of their first times and even went beyond the spectacular visions of paradise that he had made up in the chimeras of his longing. To the extent that many times he wondered if he did it truly from the pressure of his uncertainty or rather to spur, with the suffering provoked by betrayal, the subsequent reconquest and closeness, which only increased his vehemence when she would convince him once more that she had given up everything in order to share his miserable life.
Then, excited by being together again, they would go out into the street and blow the budget that they had so conscientiously planned so that their money would last until the end of the month. Andrea’s coming had not improved the situation, and the more he worked at any job he could find – and for weeks on end he would come home only to sleep, to fall exhausted at her side only to get up again at dawn – her savings soon came to an end, keeping only the untouchable sum of money that she would need to be able to spend the children’s vacations with them.
He would have liked to ask her why her husband hadn’t given her any money, nor her parents, but he didn’t dare, and he seemed to understand what had happened when she, with no additional comment, reminded him one day that she came from a country where a woman’s adultery was still punished with three years in prison, and a man’s with three months.
“Where did you get that?” Martín asked.
“That’s how it was when I left. The laws of the dictatorship are still in force, and even though they say that all that will change with the new divorce law, it won’t affect me. After all, the children aren’t mine.”
And by the indifference of her voice when she spoke about them, which she never modified or toned down, and in which she never let show a hint of complaint, nostalgia or confidence, he seemed to understand that things had not in fact gone the way she claimed. But there was no point in inquiring directly or indirectly; he never found out any more about what she confided to him, between sobs, on the night of her arrival.
The same thing happened with her job, which she hardly ever mentioned, taking it for granted that it would have been impossible for her to stay with a company that largely belonged to Carlos. She had come with a series of letters of recommendation to high-level persons in the newspaper business, whom she sought out looking for work, though without success. A journalist, she said, can’t do much in a country with a different language, and after several weeks of fruitless visits she gave up the effort. At first she used her time to paint the walls and the cabinets, then she went walking in the city, even going to a lecture series organized by a feminist group in the neighborhood, but she ended up wasting away at home. She quickly attained that state of mind of apathy and boredom, in which one does not have enough mettle to discover the great temptations and succumb to them, nor the will to resist the little ones. So she would doze, on the bed or on the sofa, claiming ills for the purpose of self-justification, and she would alternate between periods when she would do nothing but eat peanuts and others when she would go on a harsh diet in order to lose the kilos she had gained. And for days on end she would not even get up except to go down to the mailbox when the mail was being delivered, and as she would not find the letter she was waiting for she would go back to bed, with disappointment written on her face, and in a foul mood that she had no one to vent on besides Martín.
“Your life is wasting away in sleep, Andrea,” he would say to her when sometimes he would come home in mid-morning – to change his clothes or to look for something he had forgotten – and he would find her still between the sheets, though in the course of the five minutes that he snuggled beside her he couldn’t help thinking that, in a way, she had not much else to do besides wait for him, as had happened to him that winter in Barcelona. And, not wanting to pester her or to add even more pain to her captivity or her exile, he trusted that one day it would all pass, as had happened to him, and when the crisis was at its most acute, unsatisfied with this Andrea that he sometimes could barely recognize, he consoled himself by dreaming about her, not as she was now, arriving defeated and bare, but about the one who was his, who would one day recover her courage and humor, whom he had left behind in Barcelona; and, carried away by the inertia of his fantasy, he would sometimes end up so confused that he would have been unable to say which one of the two fed the other. Seeing her faraway and sad, and knowing that as much as he would ask she would remain silent, he left the desire to insist until later, until the night, convinced that once she got sleepy she would listen to him and respond.
“What good is it for me to be in New York if we don’t have enough money to go anywhere?” she would say in self-justification whenever he reminded her how beautiful the city was in spite of everything. “I can’t even go out for a walk,” she complained, “it’s snowing all day.”
It was true. It was a long winter, so cold in New York that when she went outside her tears froze behind her glasses. But she went on the same way when spring came. In the summer she went away for a month to spend the boys’ vacation with them. She came back tanned and happy, but her joy barely lasted a few weeks, and for all his efforts to make her talk to him he did not manage to get even one confidence out of her, and, fearful that by his insistence he would add to her suffering, he kept his mouth shut.
They had already been together for over a year when one day, on coming home, he found her crying. Her hair was wet and stuck to her forehead, and without having fully dressed she reeled from the wall to the armchair. Stumbling, she fell over him, and as she hung to his neck he got an acrid whiff of drink.
“I have vertigo,” she said, trying to straighten up and unable to stifle her sobs and hiccups.
“You don’t have vertigo; you’re drunk.”
In was the first in an infinite series of times, and though in time her vertigo became chronic and occurred even when she was sober, he could no longer doubt that one was a result of the other, and when she would grab a railing and make that gesture of shutting her eyes so as not to see the abyss at her feet, he took it as an affront, his sight and his mind clouded over, and once more his resentment surged, because he could not understand how she could have left all she had in order to come to New York and then turn into an alcoholic. And once again the mechanism – that he was unwilling and unwilling to stop – would go into action: he would leave the house, slamming the door, and call her from a public phone to tell her that he would not be home for dinner, that he needed some air. And when he would return at dawn, having done nothing to expunge the foreign odor coming from his hands and his body, she would look at him and see in his hesitancy only the warmth of the bed he had just left. And that vision blinded her. Emboldened, first with circumlocutions and then directly, she would summon him to tell the truth, like a prosecutor who is sure of the guilt of the accused, so ferociously – more because of his concealment and stubborn denial than the infidelity itself, she would repeat time and again as she gradually became inflamed – that she only managed to turn his silence into a tombstone.
“Say it, say it already: you don’t like me any more. You only like those nitwits, those scrawny little girls.”
How could he say it to her if it wasn’t true? And even it had been, how could he say anything, he who had never spoken too much, who even in order to say I love you during the sunny afternoons of the first summer beside the sea, when he was sure that the world began and ended in her, he could do nothing other than look at her and listen to her and squeeze the hand that she had dropped and that played with the pebbles on the ground?
“You never say anything,” she chided him then with a sweetness that did not hide any reproach. And she would curl up next to him and he would let himself be surrounded by a mist of tenderness and complicity that fulfilled all the dreams and hopes that he had accumulated since he had the use of reason.
Those sweet eyes had become inquisitors hunting for some guilt that would make her right. And her songlike laughter had became a cascade of reproaches and rancor. Where had all of that remained? When had she taken the turn and why? What had been favorable had become contrary, what had been gifts had become threats. Would marriage or a life together be a devil’s laboratory, a hellish alchemy? Or a two-sided game that required mastery and patience for each one to take his turn? Because, when she would calm down and he would see her drowning in disappointment and pain, when in her eyes there would no longer be anger but only bewilderment, the fortress of silence behind which he had steeled himself would crumble, and he would then confess and seduce her again – the more excited the more offended she was, the more persistent the farther she was from surrendering again.
At the two-year mark the telegram arrived, and then the contract; they decided to return to Spain. From that moment on she changed again, and for the rest of the time that they stayed in New York she showed the same vitality as when he first met her. She did nothing but go from one project to another and concoct stories and plans for the life they would start in Barcelona, as persons, she would say laughing, as who we are. She was no longer in New York; she had gone away and was no longer walking about this city but another, the one she had her mind set on, the point where she had placed her future and the exact geographic place where she had set her hopes.
He, on the other hand, tried to impart to each one of his steps and his glances the intensity that would best conserve its remembrance, and order it and name it so that he could store it in his memory and use it whenever he wanted. But he did not achieve his goal. He walked the streets and the avenues enveloped in the nostalgia that he was to feel when he left them, but he managed only to tinge them with so much melancholy that, petrified underneath it, they faded away the way a memory fades as it is supplanted by the next one, with the taste and smell of those years lost forever, perhaps in order to remind him that the half-trodden path that he was forsaking by his departure would be forever forbidden to him.
“This isn’t what I want to do,” he had told her when she triumphantly lifted a letter from Leonardus with the complete project and the contract that, if accepted, would oblige them to return.
“And what do you want to do?” she asked, halfway between stupefied and offended.
“Six TV serials in five years! I hardly know the medium, I haven’t read the scripts, I’ve never directed a superproduction. I want to do other things!”
“What things?” she asked, incredulous. “Since I’ve been here you haven’t done anything,” she chided him with the pitying cruelty to which parents – for whom the only thing that matters about their children is the future – resort when they want to convince them that the path they have chosen leads nowhere. And for the first time he realized that the ten years’ difference between them placed her in another generation, in another worldview in which there was no room for utopias.
“First read the contract, you don’t even know yet what he’s proposing to you,” she insisted, as his mother might have done.
He read the contract and the letter, and though he understood that Leonardus – or one of his companies – would never have offered him those exceptional conditions if it hadn’t been for Andrea, he agreed. True, he did it for her sake, because he knew how painful it was for her to be away from her city and how hard these two years in New York had become for her, and perhaps he was also led by an irrational feeling of indebtedness that would sometimes become unbearable. And if that weren’t enough, it was true that since her arrival he had done nothing that would now give him an argument against the return. His jobs before her coming, everything he had left hanging, belonged largely to a chimerical future that had evaporated the way a youthful dream fades. But above all he gave in because he knew in advance that it was useless to resist: the combined elements, events and characters mark patterns of behavior in lovers and assign to each one a well-defined role in the relationship, and though those circumstances vary in time and may even become diametrically opposite, in reality the function carried out and the place occupied by each one are fixed. Martín went on asking almost no questions and she, though with no power to decide, was the one who in the final instance took the decisions.
And nonetheless those six serials that he directed in the first years of his stay in Barcelona had put him at the top of the profession, at least of a certain profession, and had made him rich and famous. The serials were made into movies, and the movies into miniseries, and all were translated into dozens of languages and were sold in all the video clubs in the most dubious countries. His presence was demanded at televised colloquia, at festivals and at lectures. And at the premiere of each serial the production company would organize a publicity display attended by all the media, as well as lecture series that in many cases were sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, of such scope and with so much resonance that, without having put an iota of his creativity or imagination into the works he directed, he found himself at the summit of fame in the city and in the country as a whole, surrounded at all times by people whom he did not know but who, as he knew well, huddled in his shadow while it was there. He was aware that the prestige he had gained was not due to the work he had done but by the success he had achieved, and that this success had nothing to do with quality. He knew it well: success plus money provokes adulation and applause, and prestige as well, though the prestige that comes only from quality brings only silence.
He never said so to Andrea, but he had the impression that no one was really needed for those productions that were planned to the last millimeter, because he, the director, had so little freedom of movement that he might just as well have let the first assistant do it, following the script – in whose writing he also had no hand – to the letter, while he would go out for coffee or to the movies. And though at first he was tortured by not doing what he would have wanted to do, after a short time he could no longer remember – or didn’t want to – just what it was that he had wanted to do, and he let himself be carried away by the aureola of his triumph; and, lulled by the song of those around him and by the general fervor and applause, he managed to stop thinking about it. Perhaps what happens with one’s work is the same as with the wrinkles that deepen and proliferate at the same rhythm as the increase in diopters. Nonetheless, in his innermost self he had not abandoned his dreams, that sometime way of falling asleep while imagining that he had managed to work tirelessly, as in the days of his first short, on a film of his own – whose screenplay was completely finished in his mind and one of these days he would write it out – with no guidelines or demands, nor cardboard characters that he didn’t understand or absurd dialogues that jerked the public’s tears, a dream that he had been transforming over the years, not in order to couple it to reality as we always do but, on the contrary, by setting the bar ever higher, almost inaccessible, as if to let himself know that it was best to dream because what he had wanted had been lost in the nooks and mists of impotence.
“In order to do what you want you must first have enough money,” Andrea had told him. “It’s the only way of not having to bow to the demands of others and of being able to choose what you want.”
Only now did he understand the fallacy of this assertion, which had made him, pressured by her, accept a new four-year contract when the first one ran out, and now be about to sign the third. Or perhaps it would be better to acknowledge that he had not been able to resist the million-dollar contract and the success that followed. Or – who knows? – perhaps he had given up because at last he had convinced himself that he lacked the gift and the talent, and that in reality the passion he had carried forward from childhood had been only a desperate try, the dark desire of escaping his destiny – the destiny of an ant.
But even so, now, seated on a rock at the top of the promontory over the estuary of the harbor of that bewitched island – as he was to repeat many times before everything that happened on it was forced into oblivion – and, perhaps by the connected effect of a series of absurd facts and remembrances that had begun with the appearance of the girl in the hat on that very, now so distant, morning, he wondered about the meaning of that endless trail of conformism, ease and boredom in which he was immersed, and of the six-year contract that he was about to sign and that would bring him to the age of thirty-eight, almost to his forties, at the threshold of the divide after which the way is marked and has no return.
There is a moment in creation when the original objective can go astray; it is only an instant of confusion but it sometimes suffices in order to change the meaning and to change the path that had been begun many years before. If the creator wants to maintain that objective or if its force is greater than that of the easy way that is offered, hE will go on and continue the endless search. Otherwise, if he is confused and sticks to the pretext that justifies his giving in to that temptation, then it is possible that he will triumph, but in this triumph he will have found his ceiling and whatever he does after that moment will be but a mere repetition of the work that put him at the crossroads or that he had in his hands when he succumbed.
And this was what had happened to him. He could precisely locate the moment after which he had done nothing but spin like a screw with its thread stripped. Perhaps that was why those years in Barcelona – seven? how many? – that remained vaguely in his memory, like dreams, with no connection among the various images that make them up, had hardly left a trace in his mind. And yet during that time enough things had happened to define a complete biography – from his marriage to his father’s death – but now they were mere sparks of memory with hardly any content, swarming like feathers and almost imperceptibly moving away from his consciousness, finally disappearing, blended into the amalgam of all that had once been, like a drop in the immense sea of nonexistence.
From the time they moved into the spacious apartment, which Andrea’s father had given them on their return, in the upper part of the city, they lived, traveled and worked with Leonardus. Everything else was dinners that she gave for her old friends or for the new acquaintances whom she made a point of inviting, perhaps in order to recover the place that she had so brilliantly and nonchalantly occupied before. She seemed to want to show that she was in fact still the same, and perhaps for that reason the new house in the city was almost a replica of the one that Martín had known, perhaps a little more ostentatious, or more cautious, more simple, more condensed, the way a playwright’s directions appear on stage: the clock on the mantelpiece, the arrangement of the armchairs and sofas, the furniture beside the window in an accidental-looking disorder, the sober combination of colors meant to give the same impression of carefree elegance, the placement of the fashionable sculptor’s work on a table among several other objects so as to strip it of its sheen of novelty and show her familiarity with an avant-garde art that had stopped shocking a long time before.
She would have two drinks before people came, while getting herself ready, perhaps so as not to notice the large bags under her eyes – which her makeup could not conceal – or the way her skin was beginning to crack, because she had lost so much weight that she would end up looking like her mother; and she kept drinking so as to recapture the distant familiarity with which she had treated everybody when she was a part of that society, which, though it had become scattered and moved by other habits, eventually accepted her back. From her return she had thrown herself into that unstoppable social life and paid almost no attention to the half-time job that she had begun at a local paper. She seemed to have lost interest in her profession, because she never talked about it, and after a few months, under the pretext of having to manage Martín’s business – he being so careless about these matters – and wanting to accompany him on his travels, and because she also needed time to visit her sons (who were now living in Madrid, where Carlos held a high position in the new democratic government), she left the paper and dedicated all her energy to him. Her life revolved only around his filmings and his movements, in daily contact with Leonardus (and with the obsession to organize that unstoppable whirlwind of appointments and dinners that she wouldn’t give up, despite the protests of Martín, who was more than satisfied with the production company’s publicity activities; the gradual deterioration of her health and her state of mind; and her visits with the psychiatrist in order to find the hidden reason for the vertigo which really, at its worst moments, hardly allowed her to go down the stairs.
Martín felt curious to know what verdict had been bestowed by those people on Andrea’s flight and her reincorporation into civic life with that boy from Sigüenza, who had come to replace the brilliant husband of yesteryear, and he would have liked to know if they really wondered – as he did – if his striking success and his reputation as a young genius were enough for him to play a part for which he did not have the attributes or the character or the knowledge or the age or the background. But how was he to know that? It is a fact that we die without ever knowing what others think of us, nor managing ever to decipher correctly how they have interpreted the actions of our existence, nor suspecting which is our official image – a plot and a web that they all weave until the fixed personality – with which we walk and live and carry on without even knowing what it consists of – is formed. In truth they were all – and for years there was no one else – as foreign to him as he was to them and, being unable to do anything else, incapable of communicating with anyone or of establishing a social relationship – superficial and frivolous though it might be – for which he had not been born and was not willing to make any more effort than contributing his passive attendance, he moved through the drawing rooms behind the footsteps of Andrea, who was then bestowing the best of herself, happy to show that – against all predictions – the replacement had been worthwhile and to exhibit radiantly the prestigious place to which Martín had raised her a few months after their arrival.
It was around that time that she began speaking in the first person plural. She would state an opinion as if she were expressing, in the name of both of them, that of her young and famous companion, so shy and withdrawn that he would never have dared to do it by himself, as yet another proof of the understanding that the myth of their love story was to foster.
Martín, meanwhile, looked for her among the people as he had looked for her during that first year of secret loving in that same city – which was then but a promise – convinced as he was that the complicity that he would find would be enough to counter her recurrent suspicions and the violent scenes that would precede their reconciliations and her tears and her vertigo of obscure origin, and upon discovering, among an amalgam of laughter and voices and hairdos with a knifelike shine, the gaze of her blue eyes filtering tenderness or intention through the lenses of her large eyeglasses, he would feel imprisoned by the same indestructible bond, stronger than all the ones exhibited in that drawing room and in that city, as tyrannical as the most imperious passion which it nonetheless fed, and all he wanted was that the clock’s hands would hurry up and turn so that everybody would go home and leave the drawing room deserted, and the two of them would return to the stronghold of their intimacy, where desire was still as awake and pressing as in the hatchway of the Manuela.
No one loves as we would like to be loved; therein, perhaps, lies the fruitless search.
But now those fantasies and the successes he had attained meant nothing. Nothing, against this house where the nascent moon, as thin as a line drawing and so pale that it did not illuminate the dial of his watch, gravitated as it rose above the horizon; or the unseen earth, extinguished and mute; or the dull noise of the sea, turning about itself for lack of air, by the weight of a temperature that had become solidified over the metallic swaying of its barely insinuated waves. No, not only the moon, the earth, the sea, which he had ignored for years, replacing them by words that referred to them. Not only they; he himself, his work, the woman he had left behind – held back by her cowardice – on the boat, the money he had to make, those strange beings who would be sleeping in the cabin, his own mother forgotten in his faraway hometown.
A noise startled him. There were voices somewhere well below where he was. He got up, worried, and carefully followed the slope. If I fall here, he thought, no one will ever find me here, and he looked at the precipice by his feet where, two hundred meters beneath him, the sound of the surf became angrier as it crashed into the rocks. He continued downward. Every so often he stopped in order to listen and at the crossings he waited and paid heed not to come across those who might be looking for the dog in some corner. He turned left and, once again moved by the urgent need to find his wallet, walked in a direction opposite the one he had taken an hour before, passed by the dark and silent grapevine and, stumbling down the pebbly path, he arrived at the mosque square. The water of the bay was still motionless and the heat was even more stifling; he almost suffocated. He walked past the ruin-lined shoreline until he got to the first little houses and entered an alley, trying once again to reconstruct the old woman’s steps. But, there being so few streets behind the seafront, he could not get oriented and walked around them pressed by his worry, not knowing what to do. The air weighed down like a slab; a cat mewled almost beside his head; he shuddered and kept walking. He stopped after a while because it seemed to him that someone was following him, but all he heard was a smothered snore coming from the black hole of an open window almost at ground level and sliding over the stony walls of the house. After another while, led by the same obsession, he stopped again, and this time the footsteps on the paving stones continued resounding. He then became still, leaning against a wall, not daring to wipe his moist forehead lest he was found out, nor knowing how to quiet the beats of his heart. A bird, frightened perhaps by them or by the footsteps – now growing distant – flew out from a corbel, and in the silence of the night the flutter of its wings multiplied as though a flock of ducks had taken flight. All he wanted was to get back to the boat. He took a few steps, almost on tiptoe, and leaned against the corner of a ruined house whose edges had been eaten away and cracked by time, and he waited timidly, not daring to run towards the pier, which he neither saw nor knew how to get to. The footsteps on the pavement were no longer to be heard; the stifling night was crossed every so often by sporadic noises – the barking of a dog or the sound of breathing from behind a window, or other, indefinable ones of unknown origin, impossible to locate or decipher, crackling in the stuff that makes up the night: creaks in the framing, timber in the lofts, doors in the bedrooms.
He set out walking again. He thought he recognized a street from which it would be easy to find a way out, but he found himself again in the alley where the snoring kept up its pace towards dawn, and as much as he tried to get away he always ended up in it. The fourth or fifth time, when his forehead was already dripping with sweat and anxiety, he thought he saw a light at the end of an alley that he had not discovered yet. A window frame creaked and a flash of light, the representative of some other unknown light, swept over the space. He stopped nonetheless, as if the anticipation of a sound that would soon follow vibrated around him, and all at once a roar of laughter burst out behind him. He turned around and there was the man, barely a few meters away, coming out of the darkness like an apparition, with a flashlight in his hand. In a flash the thought crossed his mnd that this was who had picked up the wallet and was coming to offer it to him for money, and without another thought he pulled a ten-dollar bill from his pocket and showed it to him, showing him with signs that he was offering him an exchange. The man stopped laughing and seemed to have understood. He stretched out his hand to pick up the bill and put it in the bag hanging from his shoulder. Martín saw him rummaging inside it while holding on firmly to the flashlight, but he only closed the bag and started laughing again, this time with even more gusto, raising his congested face to the sky. Someone hissed from a darkened window, warning him to be quiet, and Martín waited for him to stop laughing and return his wallet. But the man raised his flashlight, blinding him for a few seconds, then turned it off, leaving him doubly in the dark, and began running. Martín set off up the hill in pursuit. He could not see him now in the darkness but he heard the trot a few steps ahead of him, and when he got to a steeper path the sound of the stones let him know that he was still behind him. They had come out to an open space and the star-studded sky shone in its fullness, but all he saw was the shadow that preceded him, which suddenly stopped, hardly giving him any time. Martín was about to jump on him, but at that moment the flashlight went on under a tortured face, and there appeared, inflamed by the bias of the light, the features of the one-eyed man who launched a roar – aaaahhhh! – into the night, raised his hand to make visible the knife he blandished over his head, and gestured that it was his turn to begin the chase. Martín turned around and haltingly ran down the hill to the area of silent streets, obsessed only by the need to get back to the pier and jump aboard. Behind him the steps and the roaring with which the man accompanied his pursuit seemed to him to be getting ever closer. But until he found the way out he kept running over the alleys and coming back to the same place in order to fool his pursuer and leave him in a corner, when, more from exhaustion than from knowing if he was still being followed, he stopped in an entranceway and wrapped himself around it, stifling his breathing. Nothing was to be heard. The street had become somewhat wider and formed a little square, enclosed by a half-ruined wall of a church that housed, at mid-height, the image of a white madonna. Rubble and ruins that no one had cleared had merged in time so as to form a monument of hollows, protuberances and shadows that trembled in the gentle flicker of the flame in the niche.
From some place a stone came loose and tumbled down, coming to rest at his feet. Martín got even closer to the doorway and remained still, searching in the silence for a sign that would tell him where the danger came from. His soaked-through shirt burned on his skin and the rarefied air of this enclosed space, loaded with dense odors of undefinable substances, that might as just well have come from the acrid smell of milk as from a pile of fruit and vegetable peels that had begun to rot, hardly let him breathe. He leaned his head on the door and closed his eyes, not stopping his panting. He suddenly heard the sound of hurried steps approaching, but before he had decided which way to run away the hinges of the door squeaked and he barely had the time to realize that a hand was taking him by the arm and pulling him into the house. The hinges squeaked again and the dull thud was followed by darkness and the coolness of a thick-walled interior. Not knowing why, he felt safe. He let himself be led by the hand that was holding on to him until the other hand opened a door and they entered a room. The switch clicked and on the ceiling a wan lightbulb went on. The woman was almost as tall as he and had a disproportionate forehead and big dark eyes. By all indications she had just risen from bed because she had thrown over her shoulders a flowered scarf that barely covered her black petticoat. She was unkempt and looked at him without smiling. He didn’t even feel any curiosity when she began to speak, and since he didn’t understand what she was saying he remained silent. Nor did he react when he felt the contact of the sweaty hand that slid over the skin of his neck, and when, mumbling incomprehensible words she pulled him toward the window, he let her do it. He did look out, however, no longer in fear but in order to know if the one-eyed man was still running around, but the air was marked only by the snoring and the restless movements of the same invisible sleepers behind the open windows. She took him by the hand and led him to the still-warm bed.
Before he lay his head in the persistent hollow of the large white pillow, he took a bill from his pocket, placed on the night stand, and with gestures indicated to her that he wanted to sleep. But she either did not understand or did not seem to pay him any mind; she twisted her lips with indifference, took the bill, put it in a drawer and lay down beside him without turning off the ceiling light.
Of that night and of the time he stayed in that house, he was to remember little more than the pitiless metallic groaning of the mattress springs and the woman’s large eyes, which remained fixed on his until, exhausted, he shut them. He must have nodded off to sleep because when he opened them again he could hardly recognize the setting. He moved the woman lying beside him away and got up. She sat up on the bed and began to gesticulate, and he, seeing her open and shut her mouth, though he knew that she was talking, even yelling, did not hear her voice, as if he were present in that place with only a part of his senses while another part had left the house in order to find the way out. She had tufts of black hair stuck to her forehead, and the slip that fit tightly around her armpits showed a body that seemed to combine the halves of two different persons. With some tenderness he thought, I’ve never seen such a strange creature. He left a few more dollars on the table and the woman’s expression softened: she kept talking but no longer had those long, deep lines that had previously run across her face. With both hands she pulled her slip, which hardly moved, downward and the hair on her forehead backward, she picked up the scarf from the floor and covered herself with it, thus fixing up her image, which nonetheless did not take on any meaning. He went to the door but she stopped him and showed him the way to the front door through the dark hallway. He heard the hinges squeak again and went out into the street, which did not lighten the weight and the heat that was stuck to his skin.
This time he had no trouble finding the pier, following the narrow alley to his left that the woman had pointed out to him. The heat had not abated and he thought that when he got to the sea he would feel an air current but the water was still thick, viscous and black like oil and so still that the Albatross seemed to be split in two and reproduced in a shadow equal to itself. The lights of Giorgios’ café must have been turned off hours before, and there was only a lightbulb hanging from a wire in front of the tobacco stand on the other side of the square.
Under the scant light of the mainmast he noticed Andrea huddled and wrapped up in herself, shielding her knees with a look of someone who feels cold – unthinkable in that sticky, stifling heat – embracing them as though she had wanted to span her whole body. Curled up like that she still looked like a scared and confused little girl who dare not move knowing the punishment that awaits her. And for the first time in his life he overcame the impulse to run towards her, as he had so many other times, armed with the outrage of his pointless betrayal which would restart – or perhaps only continue – that endless cycle that fed on itself.
Confused when he finally realized the narrow scope to which his longing for home had been reduced, as evident – for the first time – as that that first glimpse of light rising timidly over the horizon would soon merge with the dawn, he sat down on the ground of the pier at a certain distance from the Albatross, his legs dangling over the water. Tears struggled vainly to flow from some hidden and dark place inside him and only a moist veil settled on his pupils, not falling or sliding but blinding them. He had wanted to cry for himself and for her, for their transformation, for their complicity turned concatenation, for the hell of longing for what he had stopped being, or for the past happiness that one way or another always manages to fade away and disappear.
He still did not fully understand what had happened, what strange path he had traced that night nor where it would lead him, but, distressed by the clairvoyance with which that conviction was showing itself to him, urging him with an inescapable insistence that he didn’t know where it came from, he began to see in an instant the course of pitfalls and obstacles that he would have to face. And suddenly he was invaded by an infinite languor that left his soul empty and hungry for some rest and some peace that, he understood, he was not to find for a long time.
The cock crowed out of tune in the stifling air, the first light showed up on the horizon, the crackling of an engine moved away a yet invisible boat, the suffocation trembled in the air like the waves on a lake when a stone is cast upon it, and the paper moon hid behind the rock.
He got up and wearily made his way to the Albatross, unafraid of footsteps or shouts or creaks or laughter. Tom had pulled in the gangway, so that he pulled in the stern rope and as he let it go he made a long leap onto the deck. The boat rocked and Andrea raised her head. As he passed beside her he briefly tousled her curly hair, neither looking at her nor wanting to see that this gesture, so inoffensive, had tinged her eyes with the shine of humiliation and spite. Without stopping he headed to the stairway, went belowdecks, opened the refrigerator, drank some water and silently entered the cabin, closing the door noiselessly.
He took off his shirt and shoes and plopped on the bed in the dark. He did not notice the stifling heat in the cabin and closed his weary eyes, aching from the tears that could not flow. And in the violet darkness of his eyelids there appeared the great stain of her white dress wrapped around the defeated figure, the head crowned by long curls, fine and stubborn, whose volume had been multiplied by the sticky humidity of a night spent in the open, and the deep reproach of her gaze.
Blue, like the blue of the sea at nightfall, like the blue hour of dusk or the superimposed shadows of the backdrops of Cappadocia facing the sun; blue like the breeze that falls upon the land when the sea wind comes in over the horizon; blue like rest, like fountains, like fresh sheets, blue like the light of dawn, like sails in the wind, like the blue eyes of the girl in full bloom. And yet.