“Skyscrapers”, by Alejandro Zambra | the new yorker

“So we understand each other?”

I hadn’t heard what he said, or I had only heard the presumed music of his voice.

“I wasn’t listening,” I said.

“What?”

“I got distracted.”

He left with a few more words, badly feigning a remnant of patience. I started yelling at him; I don’t know what I shouted, but he just stared at me, like a politician or a dead man.

“Let’s not exaggerate,” he interrupted me. “You exaggerate, you always do that. You left, it’s done. In the United States, children leave home much earlier. You would be considered a latecomer there. And I’m happy, because now I have another room in the house. I’m going to put a big TV in there so I can stay up until five in the morning watching movies.

I arrived late for Schuster’s class again. I didn’t want to go, but I thought maybe I’d run into you. You were not there. Hardly anyone was, as the class was taught by the TA, who didn’t smoke a single cigarette during the entire session. It was a different course and really really good, full of ideas that seemed new. I remember that we read fragments of “The Cardboard House”, by Martín Adán, and a poem by Luis Omar Cáceres, the first lines of which immediately stuck in my memory, as if I had known them forever: “ Now that the road is dead / and our convertible reflection licks its ghost / with a bewildered tongue. . .”

Cartoon by Zachary Kanin

Maybe I walked a few blocks to the beat of that poem, skipping Methodology again and heading straight for Plaza Ñuñoa. I wanted to talk to Miguel, but when I got to Mad Toy, I realized what I really wanted was to talk to you. I asked Miguel if you had been to the bookstore, and he said no. I gave him a brief summary of my news; he listened to me attentively, then said to me: “It will be fine”

He asked for details, lots of details. He asked me if I needed anything, money, anything else.

“What I need is work,” I told him.

“Well, I can’t give you a job,” he said. “I hardly have any myself. We are going to close, it’s almost final.

“When?”

“In a few months, if we’re lucky. We’re going to try to hold out until Christmas, but it’s going to be hard.

“Damn, that’s awful.”

“So we can’t hire you.”

“Yes of course.”

The fantasy of working at the Mad Toy had been a magical solution for me, but at the time I was not thinking about my impending poverty. Instead, I was saddened by the thought of this empty place, surely overrun by a coffee shop or a stupid hair salon. On a shelf I found “Defense of the Idol”, the only book that Luis Omar Cáceres had ever published, and I read each poem several times. Every now and then Miguel would say something and I would answer him, and sometimes it was like the friendly, intermittent dialogue between two strangers sitting together by chance in a doctor’s waiting room or at a wake. But when I was about to leave, he handed me a sheet of paper on which he had written down the phone numbers of ten people who might be able to give me some job: as a Latin teacher, gofer , house babysitter, assistant to a deputy editor.

“I’m going to let my hair grow out in solidarity with you,” he told me as we hugged goodbye.

I bought some dobladitas and four slices of cheese and walked towards my new home thinking of the empty bookstore, but also imagining another version of myself, walking down an unfamiliar New York avenue with short hair and a dazed expression . I imagined myself as a sapling, a freshly pruned sapling that wants to stretch out and reach for the rays of the sun so it can still grow. That’s what I was thinking when I noticed you were there, almost on my heels, with your dog.

“We’ve been following you for several blocks. chasing after you.”

I didn’t believe you, but then I got the feeling that, yeah, you’ve been close to me for a while.

“How come?”

“I wanted you to meet Flush.”

Flush was a small black pooch with very moist eyes, a little pudding, who moved pompously, seemingly aloof from the world. At first she seemed to be limping, but then I thought it was more that she was embellishing her steps with timid little jumps. You told me about “Flush”, the book by Virginia Woolf that gave your dog its name, and you gave me a copy of “The Subterraneans”, a short story by Jack Kerouac that I had never heard of. speak and which I read shortly after, and reread again every two or three years, eager to experience, once again, the hot earthquake of this ending, one of the best I have ever read.

We reached my building and sat down on the steps. I made cheese sandwiches and the dog ate one too. Everything had changed dramatically in just a week, and I tried to explain everything to you. But to do that, I had to tell you the whole story of my life, which was not overflowing with events, although maybe at that time I thought it was. I told you everything, or almost. I talked for about two hours, and it was almost dark when I ran out of words and waited for yours, which didn’t come.

“Let’s go inside. It’s a little cold,” is all you said.

The owner of the house was with tourists—Canadians, I believe—who were going to rent the other rooms; she and her daughters slept in the living room, in sleeping bags. She offered us wine, but we went to my room instead. You lay nonchalantly on the mattress, as if you lived there. Flush lay down at your feet and gnawed on her leash for you to take it off. I tried to straighten the room a bit; I hadn’t had time to find a shelf for the books, and they were still in trash bags, along with my clothes.

Light from a distant streetlamp shone dimly through the window. I watched you speak, barely moving your lips. You were talking about your dead mother and the films she and your father used to watch and which you now watch with him – “Gabriela loved this role”, interjected your father, with an enthusiasm that was both moving and painful. for you. And then you talked about insomnia and the medications you were taking for your insomnia and a novel about insomnia that you wanted to write. And about the time you got food poisoning from shellfish in Pelluhue. And about your favorite songs, trees and birds, and a weird theory on how to make the perfect salad. And four or five people you hated – high school friends, I think, and an ex-boyfriend. I remember thinking these people didn’t deserve your or anyone else’s hate, but I didn’t say so. I also remember feeling a sudden, intense happiness that you don’t hate me. At some point, out of nowhere, you burst into tears and I tried to console you.

“It’s just that your dad drives me so crazy,” you said.

“Is that why you’re crying?” Because of my father? I asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t cry about it, I’m not sad,” you said. “I never cry for anything in particular. I just used to cry. I’m for the tears.

“Me too.”

“I lie. I cry because I pose, all the time. I’m not like that.

“I like how you look. Even though I don’t know how you look. And I pose, too, all the time. With you and everyone.

“Yeah.”

Then came a long, important and pleasant silence. Like someone memorizing a shopping list, I thought back to the details of our conversation so I didn’t forget anything.

“Do you think your father will ever read the letter?” you asked me then.

I had just spoken to you about the letter, and yet I had the impression that this part of the conversation was definitely outdated; it was hard for me to get back to that headspace. I also felt like meeting my father was far in the past, but I tried to answer honestly: I thought he had already read the letter but lied and said no.

“Yeah, he read it, I’m sure,” you said.

Flush was lying down and snoring. You went to the bathroom, and when you came back, you collapsed on the bed again. Ten seconds later, as if you had just remembered something urgent, you got up, turned on the light and began to pull my books out of the bags one by one. Almost without looking at them, you stacked them like towers.

“This is your New York”, you told me then. “Look, these are the buildings of Manhattan, the skyscrapers.”

We piled the books into wobbly, sloppy replicas of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and the Twin Towers, which were still standing at the time. We hadn’t kissed yet, hadn’t slept together yet, and we didn’t know anything for sure about the future. Maybe I had a hunch or a fantasy that we would spend a long time together, several years, maybe our whole lives. But little did I know that those years would be fun and intense and bitter, and would be followed by decades of knowing nothing about each other, until the time when it seemed possible, conceivable, to tell a story. … any story, this story – and erase you from it. That night, you were completely indelible. And no thought of the future really mattered to us as we used my books like bricks to imitate those vast, imposing, cold, distant, absurd, beautiful buildings. ♦

(Translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell.)

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