“Verrà la notte
e avrà i tuoi occhi”
(Night will come and will have your eyes)
Contrary to the distant and decisive attitude that he had promised himself that he would maintain and had adopted since the previous night and all through the day, and perhaps moved by a fear or a premonition that had not abandoned him since Andrea had shown up on deck dressed and made up, or perhaps even earlier, when she had pronounced those enigmatic words in the Blue Cave, he put his head through the hatchway. The Albatross, with almost no rolling, was making headway in the night over the slight undulation of the waters on the high sea. The stillness was complete; distant stars, dimmed by the faint light trembling at the top of the mainmast, did nothing but increase the immensity of their distance. The continuous vibration of the engine absorbed the sound of the waves and the beating of the air on the rigging, and the monotony of its rhythm drew a straight line in the endless darkness of the sea. Martín knew where Andrea was but had to squint in order to find her in the bow, wrapped up in herself, her legs covered with a shawl. She might well have seen him, because she had been in the same position and in the same place since before dinner and her eyesight would have adapted to the gradual darkening and eventually to the diminished light of the night, but she neither looked up nor moved. Her head was down, and when the light crossed her face in a sudden rocking, he saw on her cheek a trickle of tears that were shiny but dry, like the trail left behind by snails.
“Andrea, come to bed. It’s late,” he said in a whisper.
He was sure that she had heard him, but just in case his words had been drowned out by the engine, he repeated, louder, “Andrea, come on.”
More than wishing that she would come to the cabin, Martín wanted to oblige her to leave that attitude, to say some word or other if only to cancel and deny those other words that, in the silence, had increased and distorted the threat that the echo had pressed against the moist and viscous walls of that Wagnerian stage set. A space of outsize proportions and almost as phantasmagoric as the one that Pepone had described to them with pompous adjectives and eloquent gesticulations once he had finished telling the story of the woman in rags. The Blue Cave, he said, is a bewitched place that still holds mysteries yet to be uncovered and fragments of history yet to be researched. “It is said,” and he would bend down, lowering his voice as he slowed down so that his words would be heard better, “it is said that because of some strange phenomenon that no scientist has yet been able to explain, the water contained in the cave has the highest known salt concentration: no birds or fish live there, no crustaceans nest in its sandbanks, no snails or oysters or limpets hang on to its rocks. The water is viscous and dark, leaving the air still with coldness, a coldness that’s compact and doesn’t penetrate, but stays on the surface of the skin like a bandage and changes the roaring of the sea outside into a dull echo of a giant seashell, into a velvety, enveloping sound, which encloses the space even more emphatically than the very rocks that make it up. The vault and the smooth walls, sweaty and oozing, of an intense and dark blue, made iridescent by the beam of light that is concentrated on the monumental horizontal ridge of the entrance, were prisons where the Turks took their prisoners to die. They would leave them on the slippery platforms of the cave with shackles on their feet, and when, after two or three weeks during which they had closed off the way out with their ships, they sailed back to the coast, only silence and quiet were left inside. It is said,” and he slowed down even more as he lowered his voice, as if to reveal a secret that had been hidden for years, “that they are still there, intact, on the bottom of the waters, with no living being ever having come close enough to gnaw at their faces or bodies or to tear at their clothes; and if, on a stormy night, lighting falls on the east at the very moment when a wave recedes with the same force as when it hits and leaves the entrance clear, there happens a moment of such clear transparency that it reaches the deepest cracks, and if a fisherman lost in the storm happens to see this miracle, he will see an army of men and women swaying underwater, held down by the weight of their shackles, with their hair and arms floating with the current, and their eyes still open with the shock of their last moment.”
“That’s enough!” Chiqui, who had joined the others to hear the story, had shrieked. Andrea, on the other hand, had not seemed upset, and when, a little later, Pepone, taking advantage of the low tide, had slipped the launch into the cave with a stroke of an oar, Martín had felt for the first time that disquiet, which he then confused with a new onset of the same fear of returning to harbor and being found out, but even so he had not taken his eyes off her. Andrea had looked at the iridescent blue with extreme coldness, unperturbed and unsurprised, and had smiled ironically at Chiqui’s shouts before she dived into the water, shouts that echoed on the blue, moist and ghostly vaults, as Pepone had said. And while the others played with the light and the voices and moved around with the help of the oars and the boat hook, looking in vain for the transparency of the water that was to reveal to them the secret of its dark cavities, she, in a moment of confusion, had placed herself at his back. He did not remember exactly the words she whispered but he knew her well enough to know that, though not explicitly, she had come to tell him, and not because she believed it but because she wanted it so and had decided that it would be so, that our fate is sealed and that by an interconnected series of inevitable mistakes we make our own destiny until we gradually attain the certainty that there is no salvation or redemption, not even rectification. And he would have been unable to find the boundary between where advice ended where the threat began, as she added: “And I’ll see to it that it will be so.”
She had not said another word, neither in the cave nor on Pepone’s launch on the way back to port. She had boarded the Albatross – this time helped by Tom, who was finishing the cleanup of the footsteps and the black grease spots left by the mechanics – and shut herself up in the cabin. A little over half an hour later she had shown up on deck with her sandals in her hand, wearing a white dress that she had not put on during the entire voyage and a necklace of large amber beads that Martín had never seen, her hair not pulled back, wavy and bulky, with neither a kerchief nor a hat, held back only by the blue elastic band of the glasses that, with her made-up eyes behind the lenses, gave her look an expression that was more innocent but more self-assured, like the ratification of the unappealable sentence that she had left suspended in the Blue Cave.
Upon seeing her Leonardus, who was sitting on the aft bench while clinking the ice in his glass, smiled one could still see the pink tones that at summer’s end become fixed in the horizon in late afternoon and delay the twilight, and by that light the white of her dress acquired phosphorescent tones over the matte quality of the dusk and, with the calm of a slow-flying bird, left the glass on the table, carefully removed Chiqui’s head from his knees, stood up, approached Andrea who had stopped at the top of the stairway and without taking her hand or grasping her by the arms or shoulders he gave her a superficial, though long and pressing, kiss on the lips. She let him do it and if she shut her eyes, thought Martín as he watched the scene without understanding it, it was not so much to concentrate on what was happening but precisely to remain outside it.
Then, not looking at anyone, her eyelids still half-closed, she passed by his side with a partially recovered nimbleness, picked up a linen shawl that she had forgotten on the bench, and, as though it had been an obstacle overcome on the road she was proposing to travel, she disappeared towards the bow and did not move from there. She accepted the whisky that Tom had brought her then, and another after dinner, but she responded only with a vague gesture of refusal to the invitation to go to Giorgios’ to have something before setting sail – it will be a long night, they had told her, we’ll be sailing until dawn – and did not lift her head when, with darkness already set in, the engine was started and Tom went to the bow to weigh anchor, not even to look at how the scant lights of the pier – which, even before they had left the estuary of the harbor and began to make headway towards Antalya, had crumbled as they dissolved their own reflection in a mist of shimmering light – were growing distant.
Until dinnertime Martín had not realized that the negative attitude shown by Andrea, who after the Blue Cave seemed to live for herself alone and to be in another world, bothered him as much as the urge to get away from that setting, where any person could be an accuser, any shadow could be a menace. Leonardus and Chiqui had not asked her what was happening, as if it were quite normal for her not to eat or talk, not even to respond when asked, nor had Leonardus, at dinnertime, given any explanation of his strange behavior of that afternoon. When Giorgios, the café owner, had joined them in order to tell them once more about the pursuit of the old woman a rare event in this place that is lost at the end of the world, he said Martín, fearful as he was, did not attend to Chiqui or converse with her because he wanted nothing more than that dinner would end as soon as possible so that they could sail once and for all. But even so, from his place under the mulberry trees of the terrace, he kept his eyes fixed on the white spot that was the prow of the Albatross, a sight he would not have let go of for anything in the world.
At last they decided to set sail. Seated on deck, the three of them watched as Tom was beginning the maneuvering and the men on shore were loosening the moorings. The couple had come out once again to the balcony. They had turned on a light inside the house and now, backlit, they looked like shadow pantomimes of themselves by the humble twenty- or thirty-watt lightbulb, and as the stern left the pier, Leonardus, standing, laughingly raised his glass to their health. They did not seem to notice, nor did they change the direction of their gaze; motionless, they followed the course of the Albatross, strangers to the destruction to which the distance was slowly submitting them. They vanished amid the darkness and Tom, who was to be at the helm and to be relieved by Leonardus at three in the morning, put on his headphones, went to the refrigerator for his first Coke, got back behind the wheel and set the prow to the open sea. Chiqui, her face bored and claiming to be sleepy, stood up and pulled Leonardus with her with one hand. But before entering the cabin she turned towards Martín, who had followed them, and said:
“Don’t forget to get your wife down from the deck, sweetheart.”
“I won’t,” he replied without showing his reluctance, but he did not go. He closed the door behind him and remained standing with the lights out, not knowing what to do. His impatience for setting sail had taken away his sleepiness and left his mouth dry. He couldn’t sleep and didn’t feel like reading, and though they were on the high seas and out of danger, this fact had not eased th strange anxiety that gripped him and kept him alert. After a short while, from the other side of the partition the voice of Callas began to be heard, and above the notes of “Poveri fiori” the laughter and the knocking that had drained Andrea’s patience for so many nights. And, on checking the time and realizing that it was already ten o’clock, as if this had been the pretext he had been waiting for, he got into the hatchway in order to call her.
He repeated her name for a third time before he lifted himself with his hand and jumped on deck. The floor was damp and he had to hold on so as not to slip. But the stuffiness had barely let up; the Albatross was dragging the heat like a dead weight, like an incandescent spider web in which it was caught and from which it could not get out even on the high seas.
Andrea’s face was leaning on her shoulder and her hand still held the empty glass. Martín had to repress a show of tenderness but he knew that at that moment he had to be cautious because everything he might say or do would have to be accounted for, just as he was sure that one way or another he would have to pay for those three calls from the hatchway and even for his silent presence there, now, if only for that brief hesitation in the struggle that they had been settling since the previous night. He would say nothing, aware that so many hours of contention and meditation needed only a spark in order to blow up, and he didn’t want in any way to get lost in arguments that would only weaken the determination he had taken, and that, until he would be able to separate from her, the only thing he needed in order to prevail was silence. And since she likewise would not get out of her reserve, he would try to get her to go back to the cabin with him.
But not even five minutes had gone by, nor had any word passed between them, when Andrea, giving up the aloofness that had been her armor since before settling down on deck, had launched her monologue of recriminations and accusations with such surprising energy that Martín – without responding even once to those Won’t you say anything?, Have you no heart?, Won’t you even bother to respond? or Don’t you even know what to say? with which she would every so often interrupt her extended harangue in order to give momentum to her crescendo of grievances – was on the verge of turning around and abandoning her there, to the night, to her somber premonitions and to the unleashing of her insults, and leaving her alone under the dark and distant sky, with no interlocutor, no audience, no victim. But he didn’t move from the deck, perhaps because somehow he was hoping that the threat and the danger that he had noticed in the air would be diluted in the endless chain of litanies which – he knew it well – were dictated to her by the resentment over not being to change to her liking a decision that his silence confirmed minute by minute. No, it isn’t that, he said to himself after a while, it’s fear, it’s fear that’s making me stand here imperturbably, fear of what she might do, fear of what she could be plotting, fear of appearing to her as a coward, a simpleton, a hick. A ferocious fear of that woman, who nonetheless had managed to convince him that the relationship that joined them was basically of a free nature, even more, it was in itself the example of the choice of one’s destiny which, by some magical chance, they had in common. Or perhaps it might be he who had himself clothed that fear with the trappings of the magic and the fascination of those first months that were to determine the rest of his life; fear disguised as devotion, submission and even love, fear of acknowledging that he had been incapable of maintaining the passion on which he had meant to build his life forever, the same fear as on that night in New York, when she came to offer him her whole life as he had begged her so many times that of confessing to her that the Greek girl was waiting for him in her apartment on the 14th floor; fear of telling her that he no longer remembered if he loved her as he had then; fear of telling her to her face that it had been she who had sent him far away, fear of unveiling the mystery of her sudden and absolute renunciation, fear of being nobody without her, fear of mediocrity, of failure, of loneliness, fear of everything, fear of fear itself, and fear, as he had thought on that already distant afternoon on that black-pebble beach, of being, after all is said and done, just a kid.
The word had come apart from her speech and floated in the air, conjuring the cloud of obsessions that, like a swarm of flies, would not leave his mind in peace. “Wretch!” Andrea repeated and roughly moved the blanket off her knees, uncovering her bare, restless and trembling legs and feet; she then slid over the deck until she stopped at a pulley. Martín took a step in order to pick up the blanket and she, thinking that he had decided to leave, stood up shakily, frightened by the idea of now staying alone with her rancor, grabbed him forcefully by his shirt sleeve and, in a tone that would been a shout if her voice had not come out so hoarse, wasted and somber from the humidity, or perhaps deliberately forced so as to underline the non-deferrable quality that she wanted to give to her command, said to him: “No, you won’t go now, now you’ll hear everything that I have to tell you.” There was fire and hatred in her blue gaze, and there was even more brilliance in her pupils than under the sun, more steel in the intensity that in the lenses of her glasses caught and multiplied the twinkles of the light on the mast, only to throw them back into the black night, like signals of extraterrestrial beings, signals of emergency, of danger, of attack.
“So much success and so much pride, and you’d never have come to anything if it hadn’t been for me. Or did you ever believe that you had achieved it all by yourself?” She did not stop but took a breath in order to tgo on. “It was to me, not to you, that Leonardus sent the contract. Did you notice that? No, you never notice anything, you always live convinced that everything is owed to you. You think you’re the king of the world, adored for your merits, for your successes. Wretch!” she repeated. “Wretch!”
Wrapped in the white tremor of her dress, she had moved away from the bow railing and leaned on the lifeline, lifting her head toward Martín, who, holding on to the stay with one hand, tried to keep his stunned body calm. Where had she pulled that word from? Where did that woman hide such a determination to hurt him, which, like the amber necklace, he had never seen?
“I’m not moved by the desire to annihilate you,” she said in response to his astonishment, “but I want you to know that you won’t be able to do anything without me, because if I’ve managed to make you into a rich and famous man I can just as well get you to be ostracized, so that your name, your face and your work will disappear into an abyss as deep as though time had passed over you.”
“Let’s go to sleep,” he said, as one talks to someone who is momentarily out of his mind from pain, and he repeated, this time in a flat tone of voice so as not to irritate her even more, “Let’s go to sleep.”
But her voice rose over the drilling of the engine:
“Don’t you believe me? Do you think I’m lying? It isn’t that easy to make it big, no one does it in such a short time. Don’t you forget it: you owe it to me.”
“Maybe I owe it to Leonardus,” Martín acknowledged.
“To me,” she insisted. “It’s because of me that Leonardus offered to get you back to Spain. Because of me, not because of your gifts as a filmmaker, or that ridiculous short that was your whole résumé. Because of me, only me,” she repeated, though by now she could barely speak because some tears were struggling to gush out, tears that, with a strange grimace of her upper lip, she managed to hold back in her pupils, where they remained suspended like a prism increasing the thickness of her lenses and making her momentarily short-sighted.
Nevertheless, standing in the bow she seemed to have forgotten her dizziness and regained the composure and stability with which she had moved aboard the Manuela. She was not leaning now, her feet were firmly planted on the moist deck, and with a reflex motion recovered from a lost memory she made her body sway with rhythm and counter-rhythm of the Albatross; her head held high and her haughty bearing showed the roundness of her insult like a huge figurehead that had come apart from the prow of a mythical sailing ship.
“He did it because of me, because only under that condition did I agree to go to New York when Carlos filed for separation...”
At that moment, the very moment when she began her sentence, what he had always known became manifest. He didn’t need to hear exact account of the things that happened and that made her end up with him, nor did he now need to know the details. He finally saw the husband take on his role, which had nothing to do with the one that he, and she as well, had assigned to him, she in order to round out the grandness and truth of her passion, he in order to let himself get carried away by her once more. And not because her words might tell him anything, since they told him nothing just as they had told him nothing that first time when he heard her talking as she was seated at the table in her beach house, but because the song of her voice, soured by hostility, like the singsong of the old woman on his walk, had strangely become more explicit than the words and contributed by itself the exact solution to the old suspicions and conjectures; hidden and compressed inside themselves, they were now becoming revealed through rancor the way Chinese paper balls expand in contact with water and only there acquire their full shape and their true dimension. And he then seemed to understand that her endless weeping had not been weeping from sadness or of one who can’t struggle against a passion that forces him to take decisions that necessarily must hurt another loved being, nor of being torn apart by having to decide between two equally possessive loves, nor of one who is consumed by longing for children left along the way, but the weeping of a loser, the weeping of someone who miscalculated and fell into his own net or trap, of one who would never again find rest or comfort because he knows that there is no turning back from a mistake, the weeping that Adam must have shed when expelled from paradise.
One need only take a bus at a different stop and at a different time for the face of the city in which we live to change, and now, from this unexpected angle, he barely recognized his environment, nor the strange figure who had presided over it. So much so that he wondered, horrified, how he could have lived for years with someone in whose eyes he had been incapable of determining the transparency of the deception, nor the spontaneity of the caution or the guile or the premeditation, not ever daring to cross the threshold of uncertainty.
“Are you surprised?” Andrea was saying with defiance in her voice and in her bearing, much firmer, even much more erect, perhaps to make up for the slip she had made in her speech, and she went on, emphasizing it even more: “He was the one who wanted the separation, of course,” and she now said it knowingly. “He was the one who, when I came back from my first trip to New York, accused with me of desertion and adultery. Not me – why in the world would I? – he was the one who got the evidence and got a hold of the documents that proved my guilt. And he won the case. In those days men had an easy time of it in the courts. And now too,” she added to herself. “And not because he cared about my adultery but because he wanted to go off with another woman.” Her tone had lost all trace of aggressiveness, and she said in a whisper: “He fell in love with one of those girls who suck men’s brains.” And at that point she finally dropped her head and her body lost its firmness, defeated by the wrong that even now, after so many years, was still lacerating her wounded heart, but she went on: “He brought witnesses of all of our meetings. Desertion, that’s what he accused me of, bad behavior, adultery. It was all very easy for him, he was a lawyer, and we were still under the laws of the Church and the dictatorship. Besides, he had already made arrangements with the political forces that were preparing to take over. Look at what this liberal man that you and I know turned out to be. What could I do?” and she added, as though Martín were no longer her opponent: “Everybody took his side, everybody, even my own parents who to this day haven’t forgiven me.”
A gentle breeze had risen and a certain cooling intention could be felt in the air. The Albatross purred and moved quietly ahead over the dark waters and in Leonardus’s cabin the diva’s limpid song repeated her lament over and over.
Andrea covered her mouth with one hand as though she wanted to contain a sob or hide her face, and she made the glass that she held in her other hand bump into the stanchion.
Martín spoke only in order to break the silence, to take the edge off her words and to make them both forget so much humiliation, because in reality he wanted to have said nothing.
“Maybe what bothered Carlos, or your family, since they were friends and had common interests, was that when they believed that it was all over between us you went to see me in New York.”
Andrea removed the hand from her face and looked at him with disdain: “Nobody felt offended by that,” she almost shouted. “I don’t even know if they found out.” And she added arrogantly: “What they never forgave was that I went with Leonardus.”
A metallic jab, more penetrating than his anxieties before his high-school exams in Sigüenza, more painful than the emptiness over his father’s death when he understood that he would never give him the words of recognition and support that he had been hoping for since childhood, more than his tears on the plane bound for New York, even more than when his second script was not accepted in the competition, not even receiving an honorable mention, and they could not even return the original to him because it had been lost and they had no record of it, more than when Andrea told him that she would never have children again. He then realized the nature of love is so volatile, so little definable that it is subject to all kinds of confusions; everything is disguised as love, envy, self-love, pride, the craving for success, jealousy, sex, work, convenience and history, and love itself is confused with itself, as if it leaked out or slipped out and changed so that no one could ever hold it or handle it, as if its very essence were in transformation and everything could be love and at the same time everything could be not love. But it was a feeling for a mere moment, a sudden flash, and almost exactly at the time he felt it he whispered:
He let go of the stay and started on his way back to the cabin, this time not through the hatchway but by the starboard handrail. She threw herself back, frightened; she raised the hand that was still holding the glass, and, more to defend herself from a reaction that she believed to have guessed than to add violence to her harassment, and in any case driven, without knowing it, by the inertia of the vehemence that had led her to it, she threw it blindly at Martín. He, perhaps drawn by the angle of the glass tearing through the air, or perhaps in order to see her one last time before submerging himself in the torment of disappointment and hate, turned his head backwards with a short twist of his neck, which was truncated by the jolt of the glass against He was not fazed by the impact nor by the destiny of the object, which, once its first momentum was lost, rebounded from the hatchway beam, rolled over the deck and was submerged in the murmur and the darkness of the night. He moved his hand to his forehead to ease the blow and completed the walk he had begun, longer than expected so as not to bump into the chock. But he did not have time to look at his wife. Had he done so he would have seen the panic in her eyes, panic perhaps due to understanding that she had overstepped the boundary beyond which no return was possible like the cornered criminal who has indiscriminately fired all his ammunition, convinced that he would never run out, and observes with horror that he hasn’t a single bullet left and realizes too late that this last burst of fire has done nothing but change the nature of things, overstepping the threshold of what he might have yet been able to control and going well beyond what he might have been able to change, and, defeated, realizes that his time is up and there is no more hope in the same way that a string that been overtightened by a trice breaks in two, or that after a certain repetition a caress becomes torment, or the way love that goes beyond its limit becomes hate, resentment and pain. And he also would have witnessed how at that moment her waist bumped into the lifeline by the force of the backlash and her feet were losing their footing or sliding forward because of the dampness of the deck, and as she stretched out her arms trying to hang on to a stay or a shroud, they became lost in the emptiness having no more use than that of displacing the body’s poise and being in the end added to the weight of the head. Or perhaps what was lost was not so much the concatenation of forces and effects of her movements as the dread in her eyes when she turned around in search of something to hold on to and found the emptiness that the dark abyss of her vertigo had taken on, and its irresistible and unappealable call. And when, at last, he took his hand off his eyebrow and finished the turning of his neck in Andrea’s direction, she was no longer there.
Not even when, much later, he was able to think again about what had happened did that moment awaken any feeling other than that of resentment over the offense, so brutally and intentionally inflicted that it could not, nor would ever, supplant the brief shudder of the Albatross as she freed herself of the body of the woman whom he had loved so much, a meaningless denouement for an outraged conscience that was concentrated on itself, closed to the outside. An absurdity.
And yet she had been there a second before, there, almost within arm’s reach, standing barefoot in the bow, pathetic in the useless triumph of her proclamation. There he had seen her for the last time and there he still saw her now, her corporeality lost, transparent like a spirit, intangible like a dream. There she was swaying to the rhythm of the boat when she had said “It’s Leonardus, it’s always been Leonardus, since I’ve had the use of reason, the rest of you haven’t even existed, I only love Leonardus.” Yes, this is what she had said, and then, suddenly shaken by her own words, or by the useless “You fool!” she had thrown the object at him and then had fallen or had jumped – could it have been like that? – giving shape to the threat that had been in the air from the time she had spoken in the Blue Cave. And, paralyzed, not yet by fear but by the spite and resentment that at last were not only showing up but combining with other, previous ones that he had never acknowledged up to then and taking shape and scope as the tide laps the sand on the beach ever farther, he was not aware that her scream had been cut off. He could not even isolate the impact of the body falling into the water from the beating of the sea against the sides of the boat, nor hear the whirlwind swept by the swell that the Albatross raised as she moved.
The return to reality through the door of fear, which is maintained only in petty details, came later. He noticed then that there was no one at the helm and the ship was advancing in obedience to a previously given command, while he made out the fleeting image of the lad with the headphones, clumsily insinuating the rhythms of distant islands. The light in the cabin deck, the Coca-Cola. He lifted his head above the hatchway door. The voice of Callas was still sounding amid stifled laughter, and they were still playing and laughing, strangers to the brutality that had picked him as protagonist and her as victim. No one had heard anything. No investigation, he thought, anticipating events even before having taken a decision that once again time would have to take for him, would ever determine what had happened. There will be no witnesses, he thought with a steely lucidity in his mind, no one will be able to accuse me of what I didn’t do.
A silent flock of seagulls flew away almost at sea level, as though someone had thrown garbage overboard, like tiny white spots suspended over the water, like fleeting lights in the chill of the night.
But fear dislocates and invalidates every intention, every plan, every strategy, and never becomes the accomplice of the one whom it grips. Martín let himself fall on deck with so much excitement in his body that it was duplicated in the shaking of his knees and countered the rhythm of his heart, and in the stifling sensation in his face emerging from the opaque heat that enveloped him. His temples ached and he touched his eyebrows: he felt the viscous touch and, as his hand neared his eyes, he saw the dark moisture of a drop style='mso-bidi-font-style: normal'>She could have died, he thought. Died? She is going to die. I have a minute to call for help. I have to do it. Now, right now. If I don’t do it I’ll be a murderer. Now. But he didn’t move. He remained waiting for a split within him that would spur him to shout. A dull thud rose over the beginning of Poveri fiori, which was repeating for the n-th time: the refrigerator door as it shut. Then the thuds on the steps of the stairway.
If I don’t shout right now I’ll become a murderer, he had said a moment ago. Tom was sitting down again behind the wheel but he did not call him. She’s gone, he thought as he realized that that part of him was refusing to call for help, she’s gone, without any noise, without anyone finding out, gone the way a puff of smoke is gone.
Sweat was dripping down his forehead and his body felt icy in contrast with the boiling blood that was hammering in his temples, his wrists, his legs, until it became a compulsive shudder that kept him from sitting up. He grabbed the mast with one hand, and with the other wiped the sweat that was dripping down his face, mixed with the humidity, unable to stop the trembling that made his teeth chatter. He sought the hatchway with his feet because he was blinded I’m blind and she’s dead, he thought and gropingly put down his legs and let himself fall onto the bunk. The clash of his body against the mattress frightened him and he then heard the crash of her body against the sea, which he had not heard, and her truncated shout.
He tried to cover up with the sheet but it burned on his skin like wool in the sun. He took the half-empty bottle of whisky from the self and took a long swig, then another and yet another until he drained it. In the confusion of his image-less thought, mysterious shadows, heard or remembered words were spluttering and pushing like lava from a volcano sliding down a mountainside. Something in his memory, something that his will had covered up for years, was struggling to get out: vague indications, pretexts for strange absences, trips with the children never sufficiently cleared up, silences about them, the apartment she had received from the parents that she never saw again... For whom had she suffered, for me or for him? To whom had that woman been faithful, whom had she trusted? She had lied to each and every one, including herself, busy only with accommodating events to the personality she had created, with manipulating them so as to construct with them a tale that she was the first to believe. Whether what she had said was true was now of the least importance. For the first time he realized how real intentions can be, as much as or more than the facts that they are meant to cover or invent. Because it can’t be true, he reflected, she said it only to hurt me. But the suspicion gave him no comfort; it only increased the resentment and hatred toward that being that was sliding and blending around his mind, and of whom all that was left now were her stammering between tears and the metallic shine of her blue gaze.
He stood up and went into the bathroom. He turned on the light; he barely recognized the white, sweaty, marble-like face that looked at him from the mirror. Renunciation, he concluded a second before he vomited in a single stream all the alcohol he had just swallowed mixed with the remains of his dinner, doesn’t work as proof of love, all it does is sap the very vitality, strength and energy, and the very identity of whoever believes that by renouncing he has raised himself to the category of a higher being and made the other his debtor for such elevated grace for the rest of his life. His face was now flushed. You idiot! he yelled at the Martín he had facing him: She didn’t even give anything up, not willingly and certainly not for you!
He cleaned the bathroom carefully, taking his time with the little spots that the vomit had left on the floor, and he stopped wiping it over and over with a rag he had found under the washbasin only when he noticed that the noise of the water pump was increasing and he was afraid of alerting the others. He then rinsed his face and hands and looked at himself again. The mirror gave him back a dark-skinned face with a two-day beard not matching either his shaving of that afternoon or that smooth, beardless skin that had so drawn Andrea’s attention with big dark eyes fixed on his with a questioning air: what are you looking at? what are you looking at, jerk? You haven’t figured out anything, you’ve never suspected anything, you’re an idiot. For years you’ve been an idiot of a dummy. He fell silent, clouded by those eyes, almost hypnotized, and remained that way as he had so many times at the zenith of the reconciliations stopped in Andrea’s vague gaze in order to liquefy love in her and to get lost in the static expression of her pupils until all meaning was gone from the face and the dark, moist hair over the forehead, and in the prolonged immobility thought stopped for a moment and the face merged with the content-less shadows that were gnawing at his mind. Only a moment of relief.
Who knew the truth? Maybe everybody in the world, maybe I’m just a clown who is applauded so that in his vanity he doesn’t figure out what’s happening and keeps playing, unknowingly, the role that has been assigned to him. We’ll never know what we are to others, he repeated again, we’ll die without knowing our official image, the woof and warp that they all weave until they form the personality that we walk with and live with and carry without really understanding what it’s made of. He went back to the cabin and let himself fall on the bunk. He reached out with his hand and stretched it on the sheet. A wide bed, as extensive as a tableland that from now on he could go over endlessly without obstacles, looking for hidden pitfalls and anthills, and he let himself be enveloped by the strange placidity that was spreading through his body, as if vomiting had freed him forever from some old dead weight. He would no longer awaken with the sensation of another’s breathing beside him, a body submerged in its own abyss, leaving him only the carcass; he would no longer hear those noises of an absent life, opaque, attempts at snoring like the puffing of a sleeping animal, without understanding what was inside it. Nor would he have to sail. He hated sailing, he hated people, he hated his work, he hated himself playing at being important, acting and hoarding as if it were true that we build for eternity.
He did not hear the beating of the waves against the hull of the Albatross, nor did he hear reproduced the scream that he had not heard or the crash that because of a beating of the sea would never burden his memory. But his sense of smell betrayed him, because, as he restlessly turned over, the smell of the pillow implanted once more the presence he thought was gone. And then he wept, the way a widow weeps disconsolately over the man who had mistreated her, for death transforms the body of the absent one, and without witnesses to contradict or correct it, fixes forever in the survivor’s memory a story that will redeem both of them, and the death of the beloved then becomes a death that is more death than any other death, while in reality it is merely same death as everybody’s and everything’s, only at different moments. But he put aside the image that was being repeated in the abstraction of a time without rhythm or hands in order to leave his mind blank. Nonetheless he was capable of seeing how she had come out of the water after the fall. At first she must have thought that the Albatross had stopped and somebody had dived into the water in order to save her, and she almost must have let herself die in an attempt to aggravate the situation in order to make his guilt heavier and more obvious, when she must have realized how vain the attempt was when calm set in again and the engine of the Albatross, devoured by darkness, moved away and vanished in the distance, a shadow among shadows following a course that she could not make out because the lenses of her glasses were wet and her eyes were stinging. She must have understood then that he was going to let her die. And she probably screamed with all her strength while she moved her arms, her body enveloped in stupor and powerlessness. Perhaps it took her as long to understand it as it took her to accommodate to the darkness. Every so often a stray beating sound that was carried by the wind or that might slither through the hidden currents of the sea to her legs and sharpen her senses among her sobs and shouts so she might better know in which direction to call for help. Until she finally stopped hearing it.
She then remained at the mercy of the empty spaces of the world that existed by themselves, without witnesses, endless steppes by moonlight or in the dark, mountain rivers that rushed down the cliffs in the silence of solitude, open magnitudes of ocean before sunrises and sunsets, nights and days since the beginning of time without a human eye to give account of them, just like that piece of sea that had taken her in until time would devour her skin and her memory. Since we have to die, we are already dead. Perhaps at that moment she would see, coming over the horizon, the quarter-moon as it had surprised him the previous night, and the atmosphere would take on a tenuous light and the lines of the deep-blue horizon would appear. Oh God! Who knows the insides of our own selves? We are nuclei that contain potentially all the possibilities of development, the whole range of behaviors and reactions, all the gifts of nature as well as all of her imperfections and monstrosities. Eternity will be what awaits me before I die. The dawn; will the dawn ever come? or when will death come? My strength will fail me and I will drink water and drown. Thought is succeeded by the dread of absolute solitude enveloped and imprisoned in the black water, viscous as in the Blue Cave and the endless vault above it, distant but precise, with the deep sound of the sea’s movement reproducing her own slow and overlapping howls, layers and layers of murmurs, explosions of tiny waves that die in themselves as they incorporate into the global movement their own roar dissolved in the other, dull, distant and close at once, like the one of a gigantic seashell. And the abyss beneath the water, deeper than that of empty space, deeper yet and more impenetrable, dark, compact, full of life, sighted and sentient beings that fight and swarm, move or rest. Whole universes under her bare feet, their soles white against the opaqueness and the uniformity of the color of life they will see them and they will run to bite them as they bite and eat one another in order to survive, or will they wait for their flesh to have the quality of death and pounce on it only when the end comes? She will be afraid and dizzy without needing to lean over the abyss. She will vomit as I did and she will drink water. Her lips will turn purple, as will her arms and legs; white will be her soles and palms and nails, like her face and her transparent teeth. And the cramps will come before thought. What fraction of one’s life is remembered before dying? She will remember nothing because she won’t accept that she’s dying, she won’t want to die. She won’t know that the last moment has come when she misses the sax of that guy on the little terrace in New York, just as when she arrived in New York she missed the noises of her apartment in Barcelona, of her house in Cadaqués, the echoes of the children’s voices; will she miss now what her life should have been, nostalgia for a future that she is not to live, or nostalgia for what is lost, for passing friends, as surprises pass and memories vanish only to be replaced by more recent or older ones? Or will there now appear, like a final accusation, the frightened face, fuzzy in the rain, of the man with his arms raised in a sign of surrender, of pleading, of despair on the threshold of aggression, drenched to the bone, while she, from the cushioned comfort of the car’s inside, drove around avoiding him, forgetting him, and went on her way, staring at the rain on the road and hearing the clinking on the roof in order to escape the vision of that face begging for help and to forget it with such conviction that she refused to talk about it then or ever, nor did she probably remember it again until now, at the last moment, when, they say, the deepest-buried feelings of remorse show up. And then she will simply die, swallowed by the sea, eaten by the fish. She will die and it will be as if she had never lived. What will be left of the woman that she claimed to be and that she perhaps became at some moment? Of that girl who ran from the police at the university? Of the woman who with a firm step walked into gathering places full of people? Of the cheating, the alcoholic, the loving Andrea of the depths of the bed? There she is in the center of the universe in the dark, submerged on the lowest rung on the ladder of indignity, victim of hate or spite or perhaps of cowardice and revenge, almost killed, murdered. There will be people who may die at the same moment as she, of hunger, of a shot, of cold, who all agonize at the same time and yet cannot escape being alone. What difference will it make in a hundred years how she died, even in fifty, what difference will it make whether she died now or after a hundred and twenty years or ten years before, whether she died a natural death or was murdered willingly or unwillingly on a September night? And what does it matter now whether she went to New York with him? What did she make up so that no one would know what had happened, in order to rationalize the situation? Only passion could redeem her. He was that passion, he was the justification of her bumbling. She had gone to him and not to another because she had already gone halfway, to him, whose youth and easy temper would let her boss him at will. Had it been Leonardus’s idea that in this way she had the perfect solution of which she had spoken so many times? What did Leonardus do during those two years? What was he waiting for? I didn’t go with him because he didn’t want it. “The situation has changed for you, he said, not for me. I’m no good for being always with a woman, with one woman, I would only miss all the others, choosing is giving up.” Leonardus couldn’t offer me what I wanted, he didn’t know how, he wasn’t capable. It took two years, two long years, but he called me again. Leonardus with them in the theatre. Leonardus on the trips, Leonardus the inseparable friend, the protective old uncle to whom one tells one’s youthful sufferings beyond relief, for which he always has at least some advice and the resources of money. Leonardus calling him from the Ritz where he lived in order to arrange a game of billiards with him at the Velodrome while Andrea gave one party or dinner after another. Leonardus, who always delegated requests or complaints about work to his strange and submissive underlings. Leonardus, so much older, so important, never seen as a rival, only as a friend of the mother and a partner of the father. A friend? Why then did Andrea, from then on, never see her mother or her father again? And those trips, when she would disappear for a few days and never let him join her: I don’t want to burden you with my children, you hardly know them.
Nor could he even attribute her constant, increasing and irrational attacks of jealousy to love. What strange artifices are a person’s defenses built with! The river of hate makes its way into his thought: dead. And without recognizing himself in that morass of meanness, dead, she’s dead, he repeated. Failures strip us of our own history, they take away the vain efforts, the useless hours of insomnia, the hopes that lit so many wakeful nights.
Exhausted but lucid, he looked at his watch, convinced that it was almost dawn, and like someone who falls asleep and wakes up an hour later fully awake only to find out that there is still a whole night ahead of him, he realized, horrified, that barely an hour had passed and understood that his agony was only beginning.
And, as though he could thereby speed up the catastrophe so that the waiting would stop torturing him, he sat on the bunk, lit a cigarette and remained in the dark, attentive to the outside noises that would lay his new status bare.
He heard steps on deck above his cabin. It must be the changing of the guard, Tom’s turn must be over and Leonardus, who was to replace him, was making the rounds before taking over the helm. Faster steps. He heard them go down the stairs of the cabin deck, they must be passing the refrigerators, now they must be in front of his door. Now.
A violent knock thundered in the cabin.
“Andrea! Martín! Martín! Is Andrea with you?”
“No,” he replied in a flat tone of voice because he didn’t know what attitude to take, nor had he prepared any strategy.
“Is Andrea there? I’m asking you. Answer, dammit. Open the door!”
He got up unsteadily and opened.
As he was facing him with a torn piece of white cloth in one hand and a sandal in the other, Leonardus’ eyes were still sleepy, swollen with fury and terror, and his huge body was trembling. Behind him Tom, with the headphones dangling on his neck, stared at him. Martín said nothing.
Leonardus grabbed him by his bare shoulders.
“Where is Andrea?” he screeched. “Where is she?”
Martín looked back at him.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Imbecile! She fell into the water and you don’t know! Imbecile, you’re a real imbecile!” And he shook him with such anger that his head hit a frame. Martín rubbed the place where he had been hit with his hand, but did not move. Tom had disappeared and suddenly the ship veered around; Leonardus, who noticed it, was about to leave when he suddenly turned and their gazes met again. Neither one turned his away, both of them being aware of the other’s impotence to discover anything more than a mere conjecture. Finally Leonardus, urged on by the engine which was now gathering speed, making the timbers creak, the boxes on the shelves tumble, the glasses and the dishes clatter, pushed him onto the bed.
“Imbecile,” he screeched, “you don’t know anything.” And he left.
Martín sat up and remained seated on the bed, countering the increasing roll of the Albatross with the movement of his body. If I had been standing without holding on to something I would have fallen, he thought, attentive only to the counter-rhythm and to the precise inverted simultaneity of the ship’s rolling.
After a short while Leonardus returned:
“Did you go up on deck with her?”
“What time was it?”
“I don’t know, when we went to bed.” He remembered well that it was ten o’clock, but a dim feeling of defensiveness kept him from saying it.
“And when you went back down, she stayed on deck?”
“How did you get into the cabin? I didn’t hear the door.”
“The way I had come out, through the hatchway.”
“Was there still music in my cabin?”
“What time was it? I have to know.”
“It was after half an hour, maybe an hour.”
“And then you heard nothing.”
“Did you fall asleep?”
Leonardus, comforted by having his mind busy counting hours and distances, began to calculate for himself:
“We sailed at nine, we went to bed at ten, let’s suppose that this imbecile came back at eleven. It’s after three. Four hours at nine knots, between thirty-six and forty miles. Our top speed is fifteen knots. Two hours!” He went off, screeching. “Two and a half hours! Tom, it’s two and half hours at full speed!”
Chiqui had come out her cabin and was crying in a corner of the cabin deck like a frightened little girl who doesn’t understand what’s happening. She had covered herself with a sheet and kept repeating Dear God how awful poor Andrea poor Andrea in a monotonous voice.
Leonardus, who had gone up on deck in order to decide with Tom what course to take, came down the stairs once again, turned on the light in the opposite corner of the cabin deck and began fiddling with the radio. Through the antenna came overlapping voices in Turkish and Greek and intermittent noises that drowned them out, then they came on again. He had pinched a finger and his oaths could be heard over the cracked, distant tunings and the broken sentences in unknown languages, until he managed to connect with a station that in turn connected him with the police. “I can’t hear a thing! Shut up! And stop whimpering!” he bellowed at Chiqui. “Problems, that’s all you are, all of you, problems! Shut up, I tell you!”
Frightened, Chiqui went back to her cabin, sobbing, and shut the door.
It did, in fact, take two hours to retrace their course. And for half of that time Martín remained seated on his bed, absorbed in his own movement. The counter-rhythm had become autonomous and did nothing but move his body forward and backward, with a precise, regular, uniform cadence, independent by now of the Albatross’s rolling. The door had remained open and was beating on its own; the hinges creaked for lack of oil and the handle kept bumping into the wooden wall.
“Shut the door or open it or stop it, but make it stop banging!” screeched Leonardus, who was still arguing on the radio, trying to conclude a conversation that endless static had been interrupting. “God damn it!”
The sea must have become choppy now, or the wind must have come in. Suddenly Martín, in the seclusion of that pendular monotony, realized that his hands and feet were ice-cold. But even so he did not stop.
Leonardus had taken out two lanterns from the aft storeroom, which turned out not to work, and, carried away by despair, devoted himself to looking for batteries by emptying drawers onto the floor and crushing the bottoms of lockers. Around three Tom made coffee, hopping from the helm to the kitchen, and then, not stopping his drinking, put on his yellow jacket because it was cold. The sea was now heavier and Martín felt dizzy spells. He then put on a sweater and went out on deck. There were stars in the sky, but the night was so dark that it was hard to tell where the stars ended and where the scant light of the faraway coast began.
When, much later, he would try to reconstruct those hours, only concrete and tangible details would appear, such as the viscous dampness of the deck, Leonardus’s oaths, the bang of the useless lanterns and the rusty batteries against the wall, and that sensation of cold mixed with the aroma of coffee and Chiqui’s whimpering and the sky full of stars and the slice of moon that had risen from the horizon unable to illuminate the darkness, like yesterday’s when the irremediable had not yet happened. He remembered Tom’s face, the forehead cleared by the swelling wind, and Leonardus’s expression each time he realized that all their efforts were in vain and lost hope and dropped onto the bench with his elbows resting on his knees and his face held between his hands, he, the greedy possessor of unknown worlds.
It would be almost half past four when Leonardus said that they were already sailing in the area where, with the aid of the sextant and the compass, he calculated that the fall must have happened, but Tom the way the Bedouin walks the desert, interpreting, without the need of maps or compasses, signs that don’t exist for the traveler, whether stones, or dunes, or the undulating profile of the horizon or the outline of a ravine that is drawn by a stroke of light paid no attention to the commands given him and followed the estimated course without slowing down, and, certain that the moment had not yet come, steered the Albatross unhesitatingly towards its destination.
He was to remember, however, the roar that thundered to the sky when some time later – he could not specify how long – Chiqui, who had silently come up on deck, now dressed and covered, and was likewise surveying the dark water from the stern, approached Leonardus and put her hand on his head.
“Go away! Go away! Leave me alone. And you go on, keep turning around,” he snapped at Tom, who had set the engine to idle, probably coinciding with that explosion of anger. “Go on, at full speed!”
“It’s better to go slow now,” said Tom, raising his voice for the first time in order to make himself heard over the bellowing of the waves. “These are the only lights we have,” he pointed to the ones on the crosshead and the masthead, “and we could run across her without seeing her.”
“We won’t find her, it’s impossible,” said Leonardus then, “it’s impossible.” And he went back downstairs shouting: “Those cretin policemen, the Greeks claiming that we’re in Turkish waters and the Turks that we’re going into Greek waters, won’t even come close.” Meanwhile the radio was sending into the air scratches and meaningless words.
He felt pain in his eyes, forced open for hours in order to penetrate the darkness, to see across the distance with his breath held, and to make out shadows of reflections in order to find a foreign body in them. How many times did they believe, endlessly making wide turns, even their sense of orientation lost, that they saw in the distance a spot that was darker then the changing shadows of one wave on another! How many times did they correct their course, impelled by a hope that would fade like the crests of waves in their troughs, leaving them in emptiness!
The sea had become rough. The Albatross, her speed cut now, was pitching, pushed by a bottom current that was increasing without the sky becoming covered, as though some distant tempest had sent the winds against her and those who were moving hidden in the bottom of the sea were going ahead of them. The moon had reached its highest point. It must have been almost a quarter to five, perhaps five o’clock, but it was still night. The noises of the radio stopped and Leonardus came back on deck, sat down on the bench, gestured and called in a quiet voice that she could not hear: “Chiqui, come, come.” She nonetheless approached and sat down beside him. Leonardus opened his arms and closed them about her, enveloping her in his huge body, rested his head on her hair and burst into sobs.