Monday, July 20, 2009

"Joy Eslava" by Carlos Pintado

Carlos Pintado is a poet, narrator and essayist. He has published the books "El diablo en el Cuerpo" (2005), "Los bosques de Mortefontaine" (Bluebird editions, 2007), "Habitación a oscuras" (Vitruvio, Madrid, 2007), the book of stories and essays "La Seducción del Minotauro" (Islas Canarias, 2000), and a volume of his poetry entitled "Los Nombres de la Noche" (Bluebird editions, USA, 2008), among others. His poetry has been published in literary journals from various countries and inspired music composed by Pamela Marshall and performed by a quintet in the South Beach Music Ensemble. He is the editor-in-chief of the literary magazine La Zorra y El Cuervo and currently resides in Miami.


My "place of clear water,"
the first hill in the world
where springs washed into
the shiny grass
and darkened cobbles
in the bed of the lane.

- Seamus Heaney

“This story didn’t take place, or it’s yet to take place, which is the same thing.”

His words echoed, reverberating in his head with the distant and imprecise sound of those things one hears in dreams. Later he would look for something without knowing what he was looking for. The room would be a desert: a waste basket with paper, some books scattered on the floor and an oval mirror, covered with gray splotches that don’t allow an exact image. The typewriter suggested that something had been left unfinished. The noise of a dripping faucet blurred the music that came from somewhere. The man blinked several times. He was sweating. He went to the faucet and turned it off abruptly.

Clannad’s music dominated the room again.

He asked himself what he had gone to Joy Eslava that night to do, and, while he was waiting for an answer, he remembered that word: Anahorish, which returned him to a poem by Heaney and to the nights he imagined to a Dublin tavern.

This is where I enter the story.

The story that was going to take place began with my going to Joy Eslava; I am trying to explain to him something about this causal conjunction, but he doesn’t understand, he doesn’t want to understand. He has a stubbornness characteristic of the Irish. I tried to explain, philosophize, remind him that there was a word in a poem by Heaney that I could never translate. I say Anahorish and I surmise that he doesn’t know how to translate it either. He merely smiled, and I couldn’t take it any longer. Want to dance, he says. It wasn’t a question. I didn’t want to dance, but I couldn’t say no; his hands (or perhaps it was just one hand) gripped mine. I looked for confirmation in the contact, but I didn’t find it: the obligatory semi-darkness made it impossible to see; lights exploded on the walls, glowing brightly in the vain darkness of the bar; his fingers, persistent, were intertwined with mine. Years later, I would write a story that would have nothing to do with this one, how a character remembers another: “You touched me with your shadowlike fingers.” I said something like that to him, but you could barely hear it. I couldn’t recall it now with any precision. His words took me back to that moment.

Clannad ceded the space to the Cranberries. The circular-roof theater would support the night. I turned my head to look at something on the second floor and he used the opportunity to kiss my neck. I was going to ask him something, but I didn’t say anything. I preferred to leave and invent the story of what could have happened; both of us at Joy Eslava, dancing, drunk; I would be the tourist passing through Madrid and he barely a shadow of a dream, an invention of mine, although he would certainly deny it. He doesn’t want the destiny that I create for him; he says that he does exist, that he isn’t a shadow of anyone. He would grab me by the shoulders and I would have to remember – in another story that I plan to write – that some really did hold me by the shoulders at that place. He would try in vain to remind me how we exchanged coats. “So you’ll have something to remember me by,” he said, handing me that fur coat that reminded me of a dead bear. At that moment I think it’s better to close my eyes; to think about that word I could never translate and that he doesn’t understand. The only thing that doesn’t exist is that word, he would cry out.

If I had paid attention to him, maybe I would have written this story better. I would write: the smell of his cigarette reminded me of the smell of other herbs. And I would admit, later, that I liked seeing him smoke amid the colorful crowd of that place. Dublin Smoke, I thought. And, as if he were reading my mind, he asked me if I knew Ireland. We stared at each other. The smoke was a blue cloud before my eyes; I inhaled it; the tobacco’s perfume was different. Dublin Smoke, I would write years later, in another story that would have nothing to do with this one. I explain to him – I try to explain to him – that someday I will write this story, but he doesn’t pay attention. Then we play the same game of inventing ourselves with words spoken in the dark, in that sea of kisses and elbows and loud music.

I woke up with a fire burning in my chest. I had tried to translate Heaney before falling asleep. I woke up thinking about that translation. I whispered Anahorish as if I weren’t alone in the room and someone, from the shadows of sleep, could hear me.

I waited a few minutes, but nothing happened. I owe this story to my ignorance of that word. I got up with the certainty of going somewhere. I thought about that place that recalled a “Slavic joy.” I didn’t know if I should go or stay. Somewhere on my neck I still had the mark, still moist, of a kiss.

Upon entering, I would see him dancing. Exactly like this: smiling without looking at anyone, with his cap tilted down covering his eyes. I don’t know if I should approach him. The paleness of his skin surprises me, as if it hadn’t seen the sun in years. Minutes later we were dancing. It fascinates me when the light of the lamps envelopes him. His body seems fragile against the light and almost losing itself in the darkness. I walk up slowly. How do I explain to him that just a few hours ago I dreamt of him? Will he think I’m crazy? That notion frightens me. I don’t want to scare him. Maybe the dream has continued until now, until this moment we are finally in: him dancing slowly, smiling like a little boy; me here, a statue, observing the unreality of the whole situation. Is it possible that I’m still dreaming? I wonder, until Dolores O’Riordan’s voice calms me.

We’re in Joy Eslava. This story is true. It’s happening, I tell myself. The singer’s voice mumbles in your head, zombie, zombie… And I think again that it’s all been a dream. It’s November: Joy Eslava is packed with beautiful people, tourists, and Madrid natives who, to escape from the cold, come to places like this. The people move to the rhythm of an unattainable trance. I know that I’m in a strange dance and it makes me uncomfortable. I go to the bar and order a drink to get rid of my shyness. I would have preferred to smoke. It’s been years since I haven’t put a cigarette to my lips. I hear and the violence causes silence, who are we mistaken? and everything spins without a fixed center, without gravity, full of shadows that trade kisses and embraces. I think about the boy from the dream, which little by little loses a place in my memory; the dream turns everything unreal, like that poem by Heaney that speaks of a serene place, surrounded by warm waters, in which to lay down and talk. I repeat the word, as if to remember a spell – at this point I don’t know if I’m repeating it because of a spell or an act of schizophrenia – and just then a couple sits beside me; I see them holding hands; she looks at me and says hello; he makes the same gesture; she stops looking at me and whispers something to him; the guy’s gaze lingered; I looked down; his hands intertwined with hers, persistent. Say Anahorish amid the throbbing pulse of music. After that I lose the notion of everything. There is a very brief thread between reality and dreams, I thought just as the girl rid herself of the guy and went to dance alone. My eyes and the guy’s eyes found each other in the sea of shadows and blurred contours. He wanted to dance and I would say yes, of course. His hands – or perhaps it was just one hand – gripped my hands. I recalled the brush or the image of a brush. My skin on edge because of his touch. I looked at his face: he was smiling. In another story, and attempting to describe it, I would write down: “I will be able to forget everything about him except his smile, soft, sensual, like a girl. Later I would realize that his skin, or rather the whiteness of his skin, is as memorable.

It was here that he smiled for the last time and we kissed.

When she returned, he and I were dancing. Her hands – much smoother than his – embraced me from behind. I felt her tongue thrust into the nape of my neck, playful. Right now I confuse the two stories; years ago I painted a wood full of paths that intersect beneath the English mist. That image returns to my memory at that moment. I think that tomorrow they will both be but a shadow. I, regretfully, will be on the other side of that shadow. I will recall his words: “tomorrow you’ll think that all of this was a dream”. That’s when I noticed that the girl was no longer there. Surprised, I think I saw her running off somewhere. I tried to yell something to her, but I realized that it was useless; the music grew louder as if we were deaf. He and I kept dancing with our shirts open, stuck together; luminous drops oozed on his chest. We smiled and I thought I could die looking at that smile.

Night dropped us there like castaways. Air was becoming less air. I didn’t stop hugging him as I looked for her face amid the hundred faces that looked at us. I realize here that this isn’t his story or mine, rather hers. Tomorrow she’ll be the one who writes this story: he and I in Joy Eslava, dancing and kissing. “Don’t worry,” he would calm me, and his words would ricochet as if in a tunnel, on top of the music. “She’ll know how to finish this story the best way she sees fit.”

I saw her talking to the bartender from the distance: her body looked like an arch; seconds later she was finishing a blue drink, very blue. Beneath the cone of light her face filtered a certain likeness to the guy’s who was now embracing me. Her silhouette was imprecise in the glass of the bar, deformed. Traces of diffuse light gripped her reflection in the glass. I feared that the image would go beyond a dream. I sense that she looked at us with envy. “Don’t pay attention to her. You and I are where she can’t go,” I heard, “that’s why she’s dreaming us.” I ask, She’s dreaming us? without understanding very much. The desperation of not knowing what would happen when she left overwhelmed me. “She dreams us or invents us?” I ask again, but he didn’t know how to respond or preferred not to. Finally he mutters: “Only she knows that. We’re from this side of things.” He made a gesture with his hands that I didn’t understand. I danced, not for the pleasure of dancing, but because of the distance that dancing provides when there is little to say. I wanted to organize my thoughts. His last words left me with a strange sensation: “if she stops dreaming us, we’ll stop existing.” As I looked up I saw his smile again. I told him my dream, the book of poetry by Heaney and that word that resounded in my dream like the echo of cymbals that I will never be able to translate. “It’s an unbearable litany,” I told him, while he tried to explain to me that in dreams things are an untireless repetition; then he spoke about an eternity in dreams that I didn’t understand. “This story didn’t take place, or it’s yet to take place, which is the same thing,” he said upon seeing my face shadowed by doubt. I closed my eyes. I recalled those words. A wild, drunk crowd rushed toward me from everywhere. The memory of arriving in Madrid was just another ruse. I tried to resist being the one who was dreamed, but I lacked the innate desperation that some possess in the face of such unusual situations. It was then that one of the doors of the bar opened and induced me to escape. I took a few steps, but his hand gripped mine. “Don’t be crazy, no one escapes from a dream; if she dreams you here, it’s because you are supposed to be here.” I listen and close my eyes. Her face comes to my mind. When I open my eyes the three of us are dancing. I don’t know how it happened. Her hands were moving across my chest like a snake, she thrust her tongue at the nape of my neck. I rested my hand on his nude torso and I pushed him away from me; when I turned around she was looking at me; I wanted her to be surprised. “Why did you push him away?” she asked. Her voice sounded like metal. I shrugged my shoulders. “It was an instinct,” I said then tried to grab her by the waist. We danced, our bodies touching, the music almost inaudible. The air was more smoke than air: a thick fog – the result of so many lit cigarettes – floated above dozens of bodies. We danced as if we weren’t touching the floor. I asked her what her name was, but she didn’t answer; “I want to see you again,” I asked, and she smiled. I felt the weight of silence. Out of the corner of my eye I could see how the mirror duplicated us. My hand caressed the skin of her back as if it sensed that she was about to escape.

“I’m not going to escape; I’m a prisoner of the dream too,” she answered. We stared at each other until he came back and grabbed my shoulder. I felt his teeth playfully nibbling my earlobes. She looked as us; she laughed for no reason. She said, “I am her reflection in your world; she can’t come this far, that’s why she invented me…” I tried to respond, but she continued: “…and he invents you”; I told her to shut up and as if she weren’t listening to me, she concluded: “and she invents him. The three of us are the matter of her dreams. Nothing of this will remain tomorrow.” I tried to say that it didn’t wasn’t true, but decided to leave.

I started walking through the crowd. I imagined that the bar door opened and closed constantly. I walked toward it. When I pushed it, I was in the room in the hostel. There was still the muffled sound of the other place. I close the door and look at the book of Seamus Heaney that’s in my hands. I think that I’ve gone to sleep reading the poems. I repeat Anahorish reluctantly, trying to remember that I have imagined a story in which someone imagines the meaning of the word. I’ll write that story tomorrow, I tell myself and fall down on the sofa. To my right there is a basket full of papers, an oval-shaped mirror full of grey clouds. The sound of water comes from the kitchen. I can barely hear Clannad’s song. I think: “This story didn’t take place, or it’s yet to take place, which is the same thing.”

I get up and go turn off the faucet.

Madrid, December 2, 1998.

- Translated by George Henson. Picture by Eduardo Peiro (flickr).

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