I admit it: I once killed a journalist.
I’ve tried to forget it, to keep quiet, to pretend, but it doesn’t make sense to continue deceiving myself. No one can escape their memories.
The recollection of that unlucky wretch follows me, by day and by night. And when I say that it pursues me, I mean exactly that: when I open my eyes at dawn, frightened by some presence that I don’t recognize as real, I find that fool by my side, watching me with those bulging eyes, devising nightmarish questions for me. I can’t take it anymore. Perhaps the place I’ve chosen for this confession might prove surprising to some. Those who have at one time or another accused me of foolishness, of being a trivial and frivolous person, will feel justified at last. I believe that none of that really matters much now; the stories exist, independent of what we contribute to them. And the places—like the events—choose you, so that you can better fill them with meaning.
Anyway, I don’t want to beat around the bush. In my defense, I should say that we aren’t dealing with one of those hardened journalists, someone who is always found searching for the right word or sniffing around where the things that actually interest us happen. No. This reporter belonged to an expendable class of cultural journalists, one of those specialists dealing in rehashed press notes, in the distortion of statements and in the savage copying of previous articles, fished from the Internet and always penned by someone more brilliant. Moreover, he wasn’t technically a headline journalist. Merely an intern, he was one of those recent arrivals to the Culture section from the womb of the School of Information Sciences—Ha! Sciences?; Ha! Information?—who still confuse horoscopes with art criticism. And what’s worse: not because they are inexperienced, but rather because they will never, in their fucking lives, have the mental capacity to tell one thing from the other.
What’s more, he belonged to that subclass of interviewers who never record a conversation, taking notes instead. They usually seat themselves across from you brandishing a square notebook and a plastic pen, firing off questions like someone hurling stones into a well and spending the rest of the time scribbling at full speed in their notepad, frowning and without looking you in the eyes even once. Sometimes they implore:
“Could you speak a bit slower, please?”
When that happens, I make an effort to express myself as quickly as possible. It has been proven that the amount of your words that they are able to retain on the fly while you make an effort to propose a rational argument really makes no difference. It doesn’t matter what you say, because they will interpret it as they please, and what’s worse, they will shape your speech like they would their own. Then, the next day, all the readers leafing through the newspaper will be thinking to themselves what an idiot you are, and how, if she hardly knows how to conjugate and that the secrets of the agreement between subject and verb remain unknown to her, could she have the nerve to publish a book?
Aficionados of morbid details, you will be asking yourselves what method I used. Needless to say, I had never done it before, so I had to think about it beforehand, although that lasted all of three-hundredths of a second. I could have smashed the glass ashtray that rested on the table between us against his head, I could have slit his throat with the glass that he was drinking tonic out of. Save for those weapons, I had nothing else at hand, and so I opted for the old standby, which always provides good results: I grabbed hold of him by the neck and I twisted until he exhaled his last breath. It happened just like that, without further ado, as I took advantage of his confusion (what journalist could foresee that his interviewee would behave that way?) and his smallish stature (he couldn’t have weighed more than 155 pounds or stood more than five feet four inches).
Strictly speaking, I should admit that it wasn’t as easy as I had believed it would be. He kicked his legs up, writhed in pain, tried to scratch me with his chewed fingernails, tried to defend himself by throwing the tape recorder at me (the one he had not connected so that he wouldn’t waste his precious time having to listen to the recording), he launched one of his moccasins in the air, and even tried to attack me with the plastic pen, but none of that mattered much. I squeezed and squeezed and squeezed, until I saw an intense flush come over his cheeks and I realized that his tongue had started to droop, flaccid, between his jaws. Then I threw him down. He fell with a muffled plop against the soft rug. I looked to my left and right; I was alone in that corner of the café. I put down five euros for the drinks and left the place, adjusting my woolen scarf around my neck.
It’s fine, I agree—I was somewhat brusque. It had everything to do with blind rage. I proceeded with the same vehemence with which I find myself now hammering down on this keyboard, in an effort to expel this out-of-sorts confession that has burned in my memory all this time. I can’t understand how I could have waited so long, and without going crazy at that. Eight and a half years. That much time has passed since I abandoned the intern’s sickly cadaver on the blood-colored rug in the Gran Hotel España in Oviedo, and I left to walk the streets, to recapture the city that had always seemed beautiful and that all the nonsense about the book tour had forced me to forget.
It’s paradoxical, but I know virtually nothing about the life of that unfortunate man, except that I ended it. Months after that evening when the rain fell over Oviedo, I learned that he had a girlfriend, which then turned out to be two (exclusive loves don’t exist). His editor thought him an idiot, which helped ease my conscience at the time (“One less idiot in the world,” I thought, “they should give me an award for this, and not for writing novels”); he maintained an unnaturally close relationship with his father (his mother had died when he was just a boy).
His name was the only thing that was clear to me from the start, although I won’t say it here—not out of respect (that would be ridiculous, at this point) but rather out of decency. We’ll call him M.M. (and beg pardon of all of you who, I know, hate characters known only by their initials; I hope that in this case you can understand there’s no other option). Thanks to the fact that I knew his name from the very beginning, I could carry out the necessary inquiries in order to know how much I had verified (one of his two girlfriends had a blog where she liked to explain all her trivial observations, the majority of which also concerned him as well).
As for what I did after the murder, I wouldn’t know how to put it into words. I’ve already said that I took to walking the streets skirting the cathedral, quite happy and much calmer than I had been in weeks, since the book tour had begun. I entered la librería Cervantes to browse the shelves when I happened upon my friend Concha Quirós. Straightaway I thought that she might notice something strange in my appearance, a tell-tale trembling or pallor, I don’t know, the type of thing that in detective novels always represents the definitive clue to solving the case. To my surprise, nothing special happened. We had a conversation about the marvelous bookstore and about my desire to quit traveling and return home, where I would be able to continue writing at my own leisure, with a certain calmness that I had needed to learn to hide away from predators. Concha agreed with me.
“Believe me, I pity all of you,” she said. “So many cities and so many different people, with you all having to explain the same thing again and again…it’s like a divine punishment.”
How correct Concha Quirós always was, I thought. And how beautiful the name of this woman; Concha, Quirós. Two words that are a pleasure to pronounce. Like pul-pa, like tán-talo, like plantí-grado.
She was the only good thing that happened to me that evening. When she gave her statement to the police, Concha Quirós said that she hadn’t noticed anything strange about me. I never knew if she did it to protect me or because I had really managed to deceive her. I’d like to take advantage of this occasion to thank her for it, as I couldn’t do in person like I would have wished.
That Asturian dawn, in room 307 of the Gran Hotel Regente, I had my first contact with the ghost of the dimwit who I had killed. Behold an infallible axiom: if someone was an idiot in life, he will continue to be one after death. That pitiful individual was condemned, by my hand, to being a scruffy intern and pea-brain for all eternity. Similarly, I had to put up with his vengeful spirit and to resist his nudges during the rest of my human existence.
It started with something simple: he sat himself down on the bed, at my side, and asked the same question all night. It was the question that had made me decide to throw myself at his neck, after vacillating some. It’s understandable that, as he had died with that question lodged between his lips, it became something that he couldn’t leave on Earth as he departed for the afterlife. He had carried it with him and repeated it with the persistence of a horsefly. He had done it one thousand four hundred eleven other times. Do I know this for some concrete reason? Of course—I have counted them. I had to entertain myself somehow, while that dead dimwit stared at me, and bombarded me with a curiosity never to be satiated again.
It would be four in the morning when he shifted gears and let out the sentence that he wouldn’t stop repeating until dawn:
“What do you think about Women’s writing? What do you think about Women’s writing? What do you think about Women’s writing? What do you think about Women’s writing? What do you think about Women’s writing? What do you think about Women’s writing?”
What a sadistic punishment.
From then on, my life turned into hell on earth. Not because I found my bones in prison, after a rather short police investigation and an extensive trial that brought my defense lawyer to the brink of depression (although only after negotiating a drastically reduced sentence on the grounds of temporary insanity, and, among other things, contrition). No, no, just the opposite, my imprisonment is a pleasure: I have finally found a convincing excuse to say “no” to all of my obligations and I have stopped judging panels, attending literary roundtables, talks in secondary schools, and literary festivities organized in praise of others, all of which had robbed me of my free time in the past. In the Wad-Ras prison, moreover, I feel understood and well-treated; I teach literary workshops to a dozen enthusiastic students and I have more time than ever to write. Moreover, I receive company, enjoying the odd conjugal visit, with permission to leave on the weekend (this privilege, only for the past two months).
The problem is something else. The problem is that it doesn’t matter what happens during the day, which people I meet, which places I set foot in for the first—or last—time. The small or large banalities that season the day-to-day life of the only living woman author imprisoned for homicide don’t matter much, because at night I keep bumping into the intern’s vengeful and stubborn spirit. Keep in mind that I killed him eight and a half years ago. Which brings the count to three thousand one hundred and two nights that I’ve spent in his less-than-desirable company. One can understand that I haven’t been able to rest, to forget, to recover. Let alone find a partner. Starting a family is an unthinkable undertaking for me.
I had a husband when all of this happened—as some might remember—but he left me a while after I was sentenced, unable to understand nor able to ask questions. Since I only enjoy two nights a week outside these walls, it’s not easy to find someone willing to converse night after night with the idiot, who inexplicably has the habit of firing off questions at my lovers as well. This has happened, at least, with the few men who have shared my bed so far. I feel sorry for one in particular, who got up to take a piss in the middle of the night and returned asking me why there was a strange gentleman with rings under his eyes in the middle of the corridor, who just finished asking him his opinion about the outlook of contemporary Spanish fiction. By morning the ghost was no longer in the corridor, though the lover wasn’t in my bed either.
I think you can see that there’s very little time left between now and my descent into madness. And, as those who have had contact with ghostly presences know, the beings of the afterlife have infinite patience. It’s because clocks don’t matter much there where they live. The case is that they can permit themselves a calendar-proof tenacity. They always go out with their own. Perseverance eventually conquers all—as long as it’s taken to the necessary extreme—they seem to want to teach us.
Well, anyway. Here I am, a shell of my former self. Award-winning novelist and madwoman. Wherever I am—be it my dear cell in Wad-Ras prison, hotel, home, camping, or a friend’s house—I will always share my bed with the journalist from La Nueva España who never stopped interviewing me. What’s more, he’s always doing so at four or five in the morning, when I have finally managed to get to sleep and forget his presence, when I am immersed in a happy dream where I have a husband, three children, and a house with a dog, rug, and dryer, in that moment the sadistic man shakes me with his lifeless hands, grabbing me by the shoulders mercilessly, forcing me to face my sleeplessness with his bulging eyes and the spit that he has been spitting out for three thousand one hundred two nights, only missing one, with the urgency of a drowned man and his incurable stupidity, so much so that I killed him for it:
“You’re Ángela Vallvey, right? Would you mind spelling your last name for me?”