The Opaque Room
t wasn't easy getting an interview the with the King of Fate, which was the yellow journalist's label for this living outrage, this impudent multiplier of his own fortune. After a greeting notable for its metallic resonance, the butler (whose esteem for his boss revealed itself in a solid-gold smile constructed by an old-school dentist) led me to the opaque room.
"This is the only place where the master can rest. The opacity relaxes him."
Upon entering that foglike space, I perceived the exaggerated masculine odor of Cuban cigars.
"I feel obligated to inform you that the master does not smoke. Moreover, he feels that smokers are vile. Under his direction, a group of scientists has created an ambiance generator whose aroma is indistinguishable from Havana's best."
In the middle of the murkiness, the celebrated millionaire's smile showed how closely he was attached to the butler. His mouth was filled with gleaming gold teeth. Noticing my interest in his smile, he exclaimed, "It's the one exception, the one shine I allow myself. Everything else is opaque." He gestured, inviting me to sit, at which point the butler chose to inform me just how politely his master had had been treating me.
"It's your turn, you can ask questions now." The master was imperious, as if my work would consume all the time in the world.
I took out my pen and notebook and began the interview.
"Tell me, what advice would you have for an impatient youth wanting to become a millionaire?"
I noticed he was pleased by the question and he had no objection to answering.
"Simply that he count, that he dedicate hours and hours to counting." I noticed that as he answered he spread his fingers in an extravagant fashion, as if wanting each to break away, for each to learn to savor the difference between every number. He was opening and closing his fingers as if they were scissors ready to cut something to pieces.
Taking advantage of his good nature, I asked, "Do you have a hobby?"
"Evidently, it's counting. Don't forget that I believe in cohesion, bringing things together. Like all bankers, what I want for myself I want for everybody, the ones you just asked me about." He then grabbed hold of one of my hands, and, pointing to each finger in turn, began counting on them. The butler immediately offered up his fingers for this improvised counting and ended up taking off his shoes and socks to facilitate his boss's operations.
It was then that the photographer, hidden in my shadow, shot a couple of photos.
"This is going to be," I told him, "an excellent interview."
But to tell the truth, it didn't work out. The public thought my piece was a lottery list. Too many numbers arranged according to sympathies and families. The people, a bunch of small-minded gamblers, zealously (and uselessly) scoured my numbers, looking for the jackpot that would turn the daily impossibility of their dreams into reality.
After a while I received a letter that had no return address but reeked of cigar smoke. This is what it said:
"You have wasted my valuable time. Your interview—not what I said, and much less my life—has been a failure. Your stupidity has caused me to brush against something I always steer clear of: failure. It will be remembered. Be certain that I never forget, and I never forgive. From this day forward you are my target. You will soon be my victim."
To that threat was added, with a determined flourish, his signature.
Since then, I've been hunted day and night by terrifying, unprincipled dentists. I have only one defense, one recourse left: to keep my teeth—my imperfect, human teeth—clamped together and flee from the potent, multiplicative shadow of numbers.
was let in on a historic secret. In the dressing room of a provincial circus I saw a woman. Her body was like the ruins of a perfect building, and the cruelty of her lips was like spoken blood. "This is Salome," they told me, "the authentic Salome, the inspiration of the dance, the dream of Wilde, the luminosity of Gustave Moreau. But look at her, just look." Then I noticed something covered up in a corner of the cave. Following my gaze, the woman said: "If you pay me, I'll show you the writer's nightmare, the talking head, the one tossing out insults in Hebrew, the thundering mouth of a crazy sorcerer."
knocking on the door. It was the first time I'd seen her. She was so confident about entering this house that wasn't hers that I let her come in. She seemed familiar with all the house's high points and secrets, and, after making sure the silkworm boxes were in their places, she opened up the balcony. "We shouldn't lose the twilight," she suggested. That was the first time she spoke. Her presence thrilled me: she was too vital for someone like me, someone weary of being resigned to solitude. As night fell she lay down at my side. She was trembling and I was trembling. I soon pulled her close, toward my solitude. An interminable coming and going of people could be heard from the street below. The night was particularly noisy. "Some rutting lion is out tonight," she said with a strange ease. I didn't want to contradict her, so I embraced her more fiercely, not from solitude now, but my need for her. Then she rose and built a bonfire in the middle of the room. She seemed to burn in the reflections of those urban, domestic flames. Later, she covered the bed with a mosquito net, and we loved each other in the center of that mad city, which had been transformed into a savage, impossible continent.
(translated by Steven J. Stewart)
Before his death in 2000, Rafael Pérez Estrada was one of the leading
figures of avant-garde poetry and narrative in Spain. A several-time
finalist for Spain's Premio Nacional de Literatura, Pérez Estrada's work has
been compared to that of Federico García Lorca and Rafael Alberti. His
poetry and fiction have been translated into at least five languages. Three of his
short-shorts, "The Labyrinth," "The Assassin," and "Simians in Dissent," appeared
in Issue #8 of The Cafe Irreal.
Steven J. Stewart lives in Reno, Nevada, with his wife and two children. He works as a Writing Specialist in the English Department at the University of Nevada, Reno and is also the book review editor of the e-journal sidereality. His translations appear in such publications as Crazyhorse, Atlanta Review, Seneca Review, Apalachee Review, Poetry Daily, and Harper's. His book of translations of the selected poems of Spanish poet Rafael Pérez Estrada, Devoured by the Moon, will be published by Hanging Loose Press this March. He is currently working on book-length manuscripts of the work of Spanish poets Angel Crespo and Carlos Edmundo de Ory. His translations of Rafael Pérez Estrada and Carlos Edmundo de Ory have appeared previously in The Cafe Irreal.
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story copyright by author 2004 all rights reserved