We were two handsome princes. Rulers of all the lands that we could see from the high window, the watchtower that permitted us to separate allies from enemies. Covered wagons guided by loyal subjects provided the provisions for the besieged castle. Bandits positioned behind the trees waited for an opportune moment to strike. Camouflaged spies pretended to fish in the small river that irrigated our kingdom. Meanwhile, various women washed amidst the murmur of the waters and a flock of sheep grazed, indifferent to the plot being devised around them.
Now the river has disappeared. Still, this is the same room where he showed me to hold the thermometer to the light bulb to fake a fever, which would make it possible to stay in the clinic one extra day. His last day. Because he didn’t have to invent fevers or pains. He was so bad off he died the next morning.
They dressed him in his Sunday clothes and laid him out in the chapel. We filtered past the body that, according to rumors, had been stretched out. It was true: in death he grew two inches. The pink color had also disappeared from his cheeks. A rosary and his hands highlighted his paleness against the Prussian blue jacket of his uniform.
The following day the family arrived. They came from very far, from the other side of the country. As I had been the only witness to his death, the director steered me to the salon where his parents waited.
“He fell asleep after we went up to see the river,” was all that I could tell them. But they wanted to know more.
“Did he talk about me? Did he mention my name?” asked his mother.
“Did he complain?” questioned his father.
“No, after we went up to see the river he lay down, said good night to me and fell asleep,” I responded.
The worst part was having to leave him alone for the night in the chapel. Because he told me that what scared him the most was being left alone. That’s why he showed me how to hold the thermometer to the light bulb.
And now, what have I come to? What am I doing 40 years later in this room that is no longer what it was, just a warehouse full of boxes and junk? There is nothing to indicate that Paulino died between these four walls. By now, nobody remembers what happened here. I myself sometimes forget that the boy existed. Even the river has disappeared.
- Translated by Charles Iaconangelo