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Paying Dues and Drinking Booze

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January 20, 2005

Her voice was sharp, like ice, like emptiness, her voice left visible traces in the air, accentuated by the perpetual cloud of smoke that defined her, just like it did a thousand years ago when I first saw her skipping through Cortazar’s hopscotches like they were hers and hers alone . . .

____________________________

“So I hear you’re going around saying you sold your soul to the devil.”

Her voice was sharp, like ice, like emptiness, her voice left visible traces in the air, accentuated by the perpetual cloud of smoke that defined her, just like it did a thousand years ago when I first saw her skipping through Cortazar’s hopscotches like they were hers and hers alone, a favorite old haunt or something.

Selling your soul to the devil is impossible. And even if it were actually possible, you know I’d never dare.

“Just stories my friends make up,” I said, to protect myself from the storm, “probably started from some joke I told years ago. Selling your soul to the devil is impossible. And even if it were actually possible, you know I’d never dare.”

“So what have you been doing all this time?”

“Nothing new, paying dues and drinking booze.”

“A trite cacophony,” she pointed out. “Dues, booze.”

“I always kept tabs on you, though” I carried on as if I hadn’t heard her, “I always knew where you were.”

All I had to do was listen to the South American weather report, though I didn’t tell her that; she wouldn’t have believed me. She glanced from my wet shoes to my thighs, then let her gaze linger on my dead man’s face, killed her cigarette in a couple of drags, as usual, lit another and raised the smoldering embers of her eyes.

“So what do you want?”

She was still beautiful, I have to grant that out of fairness, the bridge of her nose was still like porcelain, her clavicles ­ damn it ­ still jutted out like hooks and she still wore the pale, almost livid expression of a princess with no a kingdom that I would have died for in the prehistoric days of this story that comes to a close with such lackluster. I could see the wind in the depths of her eyes and there I knew, as I had always known, that I would have turned every aspect of my life upside down all over again, all of it, from selling my books back at the beginning of time to drinking Four Roses at the Club in my days of splendor. How could I tell her that during my whole stint as a sober drunk there was never one infinitesimal instant in which I stopped needing her exceptional air, let me explain it to you, woman, nor one tiny fleeting second in which I doubted my love, neither redeemed nor requited, for the music I saw floating from your starry soul. How could I confess each domestic detail of the deliria of my oceanic thirst that reached the seven corners of the world?

“So what do you want?” she repeated.

“I had a feeling you were back.”

“I’m just passing through,” she said, lighting another cigarette. “I came to get some things I left behind in the last millennium. Christ, I’m starting to talk like you. I don’t think I’ll be back. Every time I come it’s raining, it’s always been like that, it’s weird.”

“I guess I won’t be seeing you again.”

“You already weren’t going to be seeing me again a long time ago; it’s just by chance you caught me today. You’re just putting off your destiny, which by the way you should have shaken off a long time ago so it wouldn’t ferment, if you get my drift. Actually I’m very surprised that after not having blown into this rainy city in so many years, today of all days you manage to find me. How did you know I’d come?”

Again, how could I fill a chalkboard explaining that there had never been clearer signs of her raining presence, that I had followed the news of her trail of capricious precipitation throughout the reaches of her kingdom? How could I describe to her, to anyone, the formless, far-reaching frontiers of my desert-like thirst, which had dumped me, one day long ago, into the ravaging calamity of her absence?

There was no explanation.

“So what do you want?” she repeated.

From within my jacket I took out a plastic bag containing a bulky pack of 24-bond paper that had been used to wrap up a very fat, worn old notebook whose sheets contained so much messy writing, and hundreds of napkins and little scraps of paper strewn in amongst the yellowing pages, stained by so many spilled drinks it must have looked like a catalog of booze, and a cut-out swatch of shirt with faded letters that claimed that drinking cures constipation of some sort, I can’t even remember anymore, a few newspaper clippings, some faded photographs and a couple of bad sketches of her proud, haughty nose.

“I came to bring you this,” I said, handing her the notebook. “It’s the story of a poor wretch who sold everything, even things that can’t be sold, and all for love, imagine that. And he still ended up a poor wretch.”

She didn’t say a word; maybe because there was nothing left to say, everything had always already been said.

On the roofs of the city, the rain played its final concerto for piano and elephants, one rehearsed so many times before.

Tito Matamala was born in Puerto Montt and has lived in Concepción since 1982. He has published six books, and his stories have appeared in many anthologies. His most recent book, a collection of humorous essays, Nuevo manual del buen bebedor, was published in 2002. In addition to writing fiction, he works as a journalist and teaches at the Universidad de Concepción.

Lisa Dillman teaches at Emory University. Her publications include the book Spain: A Literary Traveler´s Companion, which she co-edited with Peter Bush (Whereabouts Press, 2003); the English translation of Eugenio Cambaceres’ 1881 Argentine novel Pot Pourri: Whistlings of a Vagabond (Oxford University Press, 2003); and translations of short stories by Cuban writers Edmundo Desnoes and Roberto Uría, included in the anthology The Voice of the Turtle (Quartet, 1998). She was a contributor to The Encyclopaedia of Literary Translation (Fitzroy Dearborne).

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