from “Tales of the Autumn in Gerona”

A woman—I should say a stranger—who caresses you, jokes with you, is sweet with you and brings you to the edge of the abyss. There, the character cries ah or pales. As though he were within a kaleidoscope and saw the eye that sees him. Colors that order themselves in an alien geometry beyond all that you are prepared to accept as good. So begins the autumn, between the Oñar River and the hill of Las Pedreras.

*

The stranger is sprawled on the bed. Between loveless scenes (flat bodies, sadomasochistic objects, pills and unemployed faces) you arrive at the moment that you name the autumn and discover the stranger.
    In the room, in addition to the reflection that swallows everything, you notice stones, yellow slates, sand, hairs on the pillows, abandoned pajamas. Then everything fades.

*

She jokes with you, she caresses you. A solitary walk through the plaza of cinemas. In the center an allegory in bronze: “The battle against the French.” The private with pistol lifted, it could be said on the verge of shooting the air, is young; his face is contorted to show fatigue, hair disheveled, and she caresses you without saying anything, although the word kaleidoscope slips like saliva from her lips and then the scenes become transparent in something you could call the moan of the pale character or geometry around your naked eye.

*

“This could be hell for me.” The kaleidoscope moves with the serenity and tedium of days. For her, in the end, there was no hell. She simply avoided living here. Simple solutions guide our acts. The teachings of love have only one motto: don’t suffer. That which moves away can be called desert, rock in the shape of a man, the tectonic thinker.
 
*

She says she’s fine. You say you’re fine and think she really must be fine and that you really are fine. Her gaze is dreamy, as though seeing for the first time the scenes she’s always wanted. Later the stale breath arrives, the eyes hollow although she says (while you stay quiet, like in a silent film) that hell can’t be the world she lives in. Cut this piece of shit text! she screams. The kaleidoscope assumes the appearance of solitude. Crac, sounds your heart.

*

From this side of the river all that interests you maintains the same mechanics. Terraces open to receive the most sun possible, girls parking their scooters, screens covered by curtains, the retired sitting on benches. Here the text isn’t conscious of anything but its own life. The shadow you provisionally call author hardly bothers to describe how the stranger arranged everything for her Atlantis moment.

*

Two in the morning and the white screen. My character sits in an armchair, cigarette in one hand and a glass of Cognac in the other. He meticulously recomposes some scenes. Like so, the stranger sleeps with perfect calm. Then she caresses his shoulders. Then she tells him not to accompany her to the station. There you see a sign, the tip of the iceberg. The stranger swears that she wasn’t planning to sleep with him. Friendship—her smile now enters the zone of overstretched—doesn’t presuppose any kind of hell.
    It’s strange, from here it seems like my character is frightening flies with his left hand. He could, certainly, transform his anguish to fear if he were to lift his gaze and see between the rotting beams the eyes of a rat fixed on him.
    Crac, his heart. Patience like a gray ribbon within the kaleidoscope that you turn over and over again.
    And if the character were to speak of happiness? Does happiness begin in his twenty-eight-year-old body?

*

What there is behind when there is something behind: “call the boss and tell him that it has begun to snow." There is not much more to add to the autumn of Gerona.
    A girl showers, her skin reddening under hot water; over her hair, like a turban, an old discolored towel. Suddenly, while painting her lips in front of the mirror, she looks at me (I am behind) and says not to forget to accompany her to the station.
    I replay the same scene now, although there is no one before the mirror.

*

To be near the stranger it’s necessary to stop being the invisible man.  She says, with every action, that the only mystery is the future secret. Can the mouth of the invisible man draw near the mirror?
    Extract me from this text, I will mean to say to her, show me the clear and simple things, the clear and simple cries, fear, death, your Atlantis moment having dinner with family.

*

And so, it’s no wonder, the profusion of posters in the author's room. Circles, cubes, cylinders fragmenting rapidly give us an idea of his face when the light presses in; his lack of money transforms into desperation for love; any gesture of his hands transforms into pity.
    His face, fragmented around him, seems to submit to the eye that reorders it, the ideal kaleidoscope. (That is: desperation for love, pity, etc.)

*

Again, the stranger hangs from the kaleidoscope. I tell her “I am inconstant. A week ago I loved you, in moments of exaltation I even came to think we were a couple from paradise. But already you know that I’m a failure: those couples exist far from here, in Paris, in Berlin, in Barcelona's zona alta. I am inconstant, at times I desire grandeur, at others only its shadow. They are the true couple, the only one, the famous leftist novelist and the dancer before her Atlantis moment. I, in contrast, am a failure, someone who will never be like Giorgio Fox, and you seem to be a common and ordinary woman, who wants to have fun and be happy. I mean: happy here, in Cataluña, and not on an airplane bound for Milan or the nuclear plant on Lampedusa. My inconstancy is faithful to this originary moment, to the fierce resentment of being what I am, the dream in the eye, the bony nakedness of an old consular passport sent from Mexico in ’73, valid until ’82, with permission to reside in Spain for three months, without the right to work. The inconstancy, now you see it, allows fidelity, a singular fidelity, but to the end.”
    The image fades to black.
    A voice offscreen lists hypothetical causes for Zurbarán abandoning Seville. Did he do it because people preferred Murillo? Or because the plague that lashed the city in those years left it without some of his beloved beings and full of debt?

*

It’s no wonder that the author paces naked in the center of his room. The faded posters open like the words he puts together in his head. Then, almost without transition, I will see the author leaning over a flat roof contemplating the landscape; or sitting on the ground, back against a white wall while in the next room they martyr a girl; or standing, in front of a table, left hand over the wood edge, gaze raised towards a point far from the scene. In any case, the author opens, paces naked surrounded by posters that raise, like an operatic cry, his autumn in Gerona.

*

A woman who caresses you, jokes with you, is sweet with you and then never speaks to you again. What are you talking about, the Third War? The stranger loves you and then recognizes the slaughterhouse situation. She kisses you and then tells you that life consists precisely of moving forward, absorbing sustenance and searching for more.
    It’s funny, in the room, in addition to the reflection that swallows everything (and hence the immaculate grave), there are children’s voices, questions that arrive as though from afar. And behind the questions, she would have guessed it, there are nervous laughs, blocks that, before coming undone, release her message as best they can. “Take care.” “Goodbye, take care.”

*

Now you slide into action. You arrive at the river. There you light a cigarette. At the end of the street, on the corner, there's a telephone booth and it's the only light at the end of the street. You call Barcelona. The stranger answers the telephone. She tells you she won't come. After a few seconds, in which you say “well,” and she mimics “well,” you ask why. She tells you she's going to Alella on Sunday and you say that you’ll call when you’re next in Barcelona. You hang up and the cold catches the booth, unexpectedly, while you were thinking: “it’s like an autobiography.” Now you slide through twisting streets, how luminous Gerona can be by night, you think, there’s only two streetcleaners talking outside a closed bar and at the end of the street the lights of a car disappearing. I shouldn’t drink, you think, I shouldn’t sleep, I shouldn’t do anything that might unsettle the fixity. Now you are stopped beside the river, on the bridge built by Eiffel, concealed in the trellis of iron. You touch your face. By the other bridge, the bridge called de los labios, you hear footsteps but when you look for her there is no one, only the murmuring of someone descending the stairs. You think: “and so the stranger was like this, like that; and so I'm the crazy one; and so I've been having a magnificent dream." The dream you're referring to just passed before you, in the subtle instant in which you allowed yourself a reprieve—and therefore you went transparent briefly, like the lawyer Vidriera—, and it consisted of the apparition, at the other end of the bridge, of a population of eunuchs, merchants, professors, housewives, stripped and exposing their castrated testicles and vaginas in the palms of their hands. What a most curious dream, you say to yourself. You're definitely trying to cheer yourself up.

*

THE REALITY. I had returned to Gerona, alone, after three months of work. I had no chance of finding more, nor did I hope to. The house, during my absence, had filled with spiderwebs and things seemed covered by a green film. I felt empty, not wanting to write, and, when I tried to, incapable of sitting more than an hour before a blank page. The first few days I didn’t even bathe and soon I got used to the spiders. My activity was reduced to going down to the post office, where very rarely I found a letter from my sister from Mexico, and to the market to buy scraps of meat for the dog.
    THE REALITY. In some inexplicable way, the house seemed touched by something it didn’t have at the moment of my departure. Things seemed sharper, for example, my chair seemed sharp, brilliant, and the kitchen, although full of dust stuck to scabs of grease, gave an impression of whiteness, as though one could see through it. (See what? Nothing: more whiteness.) In the same way, things were more distinct. The kitchen was the kitchen and the table was only the table. Some day I will try to explain it, but back then, two days after my return, if I put my hands or elbows on the table, I experienced a piercing sorrow, as if I were eating away at something irreparable.

*

THE KALEIDOSCOPE OBSERVED. Passion is geometry. Rhombuses, cylinders, lateral angles. Passion is geometry that falls into the abyss, observed from the depths of the abyss.
    THE STRANGER OBSERVED. Breasts reddened from the hot water. It is six in the morning and the voice of a man offstage says he will accompany her to the train. That's not necessary, she says, her body moving, her back to the camera. With precise gestures she puts her pajamas in the suitcase, closes it, picks up a mirror, looks at herself (there the viewer will get a glimpse of his face: eyes wide open, terrified), opens the suitcase, stows the mirror, closes the suitcase, fade . . .

Original Spanish text of “Prosa del Otoño en Gerona” from Tres, copyright 2000 by Roberto Bolaño, used with permission of The Wylie Agency LLC. Translation copyright 2010 by Erica Mena. All rights reserved.