translated, from the Spanish, by Ayden LeRoux
Like an therld sailor, he scans the horizon with his binoculars. He doesn’t look at the blue horizon line though; his eyes follow the serpentine sketch of the road that crosses through the hills that lay in front of his house. The red Volkswagen weaves by.
Although his binoculars are the strongest from the market, he cannot discern who drives the car. He only sees the car, but that doesn’t matter. He knows that in seconds he won’t be able to see the car anymore; it will disappear from his field of vision until another day, or perhaps forever. Two more curves and the tunnel will have swallowed the car. One more curve before the succession of tunnels that cross the hills of the coast, a curve that meant a saved life, carved out by men who were “lucky” to be spared by war, but then forced to dig the tunnels nearly with their nails. That tunnel had nothing special to differentiate it from the rest of the 20 tunnels that he knew so well. Each minute, each second, a car crossed the road and disappeared below the earth. The strange thing would be not seeing a car on that road that was so well travelled. But the expectation was there, waiting for the red Volkswagen to slowly come closer, until being devoured by the tunnel.
This morning the red Volkswagen arrives fifteen minutes late, but travelling at the same speed as always. If all went the same, it would slow down a little bit before entering the tunnel and then disappear. It seemed strange that the Volkswagen didn’t accelerate even though it was fifteen minutes late. If the car didn’t try to hurry, without a doubt it would arrive late to wherever it wanted to go.
From the first moment that the binoculars focused on the vehicle, it was clear that the car was driven by a woman, or he desired it to be that way. Frankly, it was a pleasant surprise that the Volkswagen came back a second day, and even more delightful that it came back on the third day…at first he examined every last detail of the car, trying to convince himself that it really was the same one. Once he became convinced, that car became his motive to set the alarm clock at the same time each night before going to sleep, like he had a destination to return to each morning, like that red Volkswagen.
It was all ritual. He got up an hour before, showered, shaved and got dressed as if he had a date with someone he wanted to impress. After breakfast, when he had drained the last of the coffee from his cup, he noted the excitement of the moment, the uncertainty it gave his life. He unsheathed the binoculars. Slowly and carefully he cleaned the lenses, hung them around his neck and went out onto the terrace. He sat in one of the wicker chairs with his elbows on the table and focused on the road. And so he waited.
Some days when the red Volkswagen appeared, the morning sun motivated him to get out of bed as it blinded him, hitting the windshield. The car swallowed the road until it arrived at the tunnel and when it disappeared beneath the hillside Spanish Firs, he was left with only the day and its slow hours.
He walked on the beach to the town. He walked slowly because he knew even if he hurried to the newsstand it would be too early for it to be open. Two kilometers going there slowly, two others returning much more quickly. If he spent too much time away from the house he would have an anxiety attack. Four kilometers alone, in silence.
He turns the key in the lock of the door twice and returns to his home, he pauses a few seconds in front of the calendar that hangs in one of the corners of the entrance. On the calendar, a man speaks with another in a small café. The other man quietly lights a pipe, on the table lays a crystal glass on a little plate and a book without a title. It’s the 20s. The images of period cars are painted across a revolving door, bearing witness to a time that is no more, a reminder of the car he sees each morning. At the bottom of the calendar beneath the photo, it reads “November 1992”.
He will leaf through the newspaper, review the names in the obituaries and at mid-morning, when sounds of the screams of children who play at the beach and the music of cars that stop at the plaza swell up with the sea to his balcony, then he will close the window and he will wish with all of his strength for the end of the day and this damn month. On top of the television, a calendar much smaller than the one in the entrance of his house indicated with red letters that the other lied, that its time had already passed and should be thrown out. “August, 2003”.
He will look for another box and entertain the hours that remain until evening by reviewing papers, scavenging in that past including the “November” of the old calendar. He will do anything to stay awake. Before, he was spying on the people at the beach with his binoculars, observing their gestures, their behaviors, inventing their lives, imagining that maybe one day he too would have a day like them and someone would observe him from a hidden corner and fabricate his life. They might even look at him with envy, with desire. But now he couldn’t even think of another use for the binoculars that was not in the morning finding his red Volkswagen winding rapidly to the tunnel.
At 11 PM on the dot he went to bed and before shutting off the light, he set up the alarm to go off at 7:05. Another day had passed, now he was left only with falling asleep and waiting for morning.
The pale face of a middle-aged woman came close to his face. She had long black hair that fell on her shoulders. Her eyes were slanted and she had a great smile. She held his cheeks with both hands and lowered her face until her lips could kiss him. He pressed his lips to keep the warm sweet flavor of her mouth. When his head reacts and lucidity returns to him, he becomes conscious that this was impossible because he is alone and it is night and that he was sleeping. Even before he presses the light switch, he senses someone else has gotten up, the mattress rising as it becomes freed from the weight of another. A thousandth, a second until he turns on the light and confirms that everything has been a happy dream—though his lips still seem to have the essence of a distinct flavor, different from all other flavors.
The needles of the watch mark 8:05. A few rays of light are cast through the slats of the shutters. In a jump he rises to the balcony and on his way knocks aside the aspidistra with the magazine rack and the stool he usually uses as a footrest. Without changing speed or direction, he extends his left arm and, from the kitchen counter, pulls the leather strap of the binoculars. He feels pain in his legs with each stride, but he knows that it is impossible to stop to look at the damage he caused—in the room and in his own body. As he opens the glass doors of the balcony, the fresh breeze of the morning hits his chest forcefully and he realizes that he is not dressed. It is too early and the contrast between the heat of the bed and the cold of the outdoors is very strong. Today there is no ritual, there is no dust cloth to clean the lenses. He jams the binoculars to his face and, hardly having focused the binoculars, crazily scans the road. His heart beats strongly against his chest, a lump in his throat chokes him and the cold and the damp of the sea scrapes his bones. But there it is, worth the trouble, able to arrive on time to see how the hill engulfs the back of his red Volkswagen.
Today the world is in reverse. This morning he doesn’t feel like making French Toast or pancakes. He doesn’t feel like getting dressed in his usual fashion to impress the driver if he has already gone out to the balcony half-naked. Now he only was left with going in to town and picking up the paper. He picked the aspidistra up from the floor and caressed the leaves carefully removing the soil that had fallen on them. He asked himself if it was possible that the plant would even live. Later he drank his coffee quickly, dressed himself in a careless manner and began the walk to the town.
He walks near the shore. He walks erect and it seems the sea itself doesn’t want to get his white shoes wet. It would seem that the waves were dodging his feet and not the other way around. He looks at the stones on the shore and from time to time he stops to pick one up. One thought occupies his mind today: almost not arriving on time to see the red Volkswagen.
On his way home he removes his jacket—the sun is already high and it is getting hotter. Each day there are more people in the town. It is afternoon and he has the feeling that he will not hurry on the two kilometers on his way back again. At the altitude of the path and with the morning the motorcycles passing noisily and families are settling their lives in a patch of sand for the day, it all would have provoked an attack of anxiety in him. But in that moment, his head was occupied with coming up with a way to not stay sleeping at 7:05 in the morning.
The old calendar is the first to receive him as always when he enters the house. And he, already from the elevator, anticipates the image of the drawing. One time, upon putting the key in the lock, he had the sensation that when he opened the door there would only be a hole where the calendar had been before. At times it was such a real feeling, so strong, that it frightened him and he entered the hall almost without lifting his gaze from the ground because he was scared that it would have actually happened.
He prepares his strategy for the night. He heats a large cup of coffee and browses the bookshelves looking for something to read. He has everything very calculated. He will listen to the radio until two when one of the night programs that interests him finishes. Meanwhile, so that sleep doesn’t win him over, he will organize the three remaining boxes. He doesn’t know why he never finishes looking through them. After he will start the book of his choosing, he will drink more coffee and wait for the light of day to prepare a succulent breakfast and be ready for the arrival of his car. Red was always his favorite color. That will be, starting today, his new routine, his new schedule. After, when the car has gone, he will lie down and sleep while the people bear the heat of August in the dirty waters. He rubs his hands, smiles and sits in front of his desk, willing to fulfill his new schedule.
“Petrushka”! He knew that “Petrushka” was the piece playing on the radio. The sound had occupied the space in his house so many times that he stopped hating Stravinski. He wanted to think that the piece was not playing as a coincidence, that somewhere they were specially dedicating it to him. He turned up the volume on the radio and closed his eyes and the friendly face that had snatched sleep from him the night before returned to mind.
There was no reading that night, there was no more radio, nor was there more coffee. He didn’t need anything to keep himself awake. After ten years he finally got through the last three boxes that were left and when he finished with the last, the day was already dawning. He had complied with the schedule.
While he showered he felt a strange restlessness, a pressure in his chest, an inner nervousness and worry that could be ascribed to the coffee at breakfast or maybe to the fact that he hadn’t slept all night…he was prepared. In front of the mirror he said to himself, “Sharp as a button” and he didn’t like his deep voice, mature, echoing in that room.
In the room, a disaster of empty boxes scattered between the furniture received him at exactly the right time. He was well dressed, had eaten breakfast and even put on cologne. He stood still in the middle of the room, ready to take his binoculars and go out into the cold morning, he threw a last look at the boxes devoid of ten years of doubts, of silence and fear, and he realized the origin of his strange restlessness. All the boxes were already empty.
Above the last roof, in the last line of white houses, farther than the neon signs of the gas station, behind the last curve and just before the tunnel, at 8:05 AM on the dot, the flashing yellow light of ambulances entered the lenses of the binoculars.
Ayden LeRoux is an artist, critic, educator, and the author of Isolation & Amazement (Samsara Press, 2012) and Odyssey Works (Princeton Architectural Press, 2016). LeRoux’ photography, performance, video, and installations have been presented in solo exhibitions at IDIO Gallery, Flux Factory, and the Institute for American Art (IFAA), as well as in group shows at chashama and the International Photography Festival, among others. She is a contributor to Glasstire, and her work has been published by or is forthcoming from Electric Literature, Cosmonauts Avenue, Public Books, edibleManhattan, and Works & Conversations, among others. She is an MFA candidate in Cross-Genre Writing at UCSD.