Stories of a Tiny Life: Time slots full of cross-references or mirrors in which to look at oneself, inside or as a footnote.
In your pyjamas
It’s a birch table. It’s a lot bigger than the table I usually write on. It could be a living room table. A living room table in a Norwegian house, next to a fiord. It’s a huge and beautiful table. Maybe it was its beauty and its dimensions what first prevented me from concentrating on my novel. Because the rest was as it always was: the same blue pyjama bottoms, the same promotional T-shirt, the same slip-on trainers. It’s absurd: I still believe that systematic clothing or routine repetition is the motor of my writing.
The house is just as it looked on the photographs. It’s also huge and beautiful. Now I’m on the other side of the patio, in a room that is an office. The church bells are ringing. It’s eight in the morning. The window is open. Cold puffs of dampness come in through it. I recognise the same smell I used to smell at the camping site, at sunrise, with my dad, many years ago, as soon as we emerged from our caravan.
Being here, now, in front of this table, was a hasty decision. I needed to escape from the noise, the city, from WhatsApp, from Andrea and from the inexplicable rush. Run away from them all and focus on me and my novel. So one day I woke up, switched on the computer and started to type. I found the island first. Then, the house and the village. I enlarged the photographs and read other people’s opinions. I stood up, looked for my wallet inside the pocket of my coat and took out the credit card. A few seconds later, I received a message on my mobile with the bank’s charge. I had a strange feeling of vertigo and blamed myself for letting myself get carried away by anxiety. Soon after, I remembered Corralejo, by José Bocanegra, and felt a little bit better. I imagined myself on an island, writing, surfing, reading, wandering, drinking in bars and driving a Jeep. Except for the surfing, the rest I could replicate.
In May 1986 my dad bought a caravan. In the following years, that caravan became our summer residence. He and me alone, toe-to-toe, visited more than fourteen countries. The dynamics of those trips were simple: we would get to a city or village, look for a camping site, set everything up and then my dad would show me a list of the places and monuments we should visit. The following days we gorged on stones, characters and stories we would never remember. Once we had seen it all, my dad pointed towards another spot on the map. We broke camp and pulled the caravan to a new destination. This went on for more than a month, during eleven summers.
My dad finds socialising quite difficult. He has a tendency to disappear all of a sudden and hide any sign of affection. I think those summers were his trying to do things well with his only son. However, our relationship was always distant. We never laughed, or became emotional, we didn’t even argue. He ordered and I obeyed. Years later I read for the first time a written description of the inexplicable atmosphere we shared. It was on the novel Players. On it, DeLillo presents two characters that seem to have everything to be happy, but are surrounded by a persistent tedium and a contained sense of desperation. Those were my dad and me. I swore I would never grow to be like him.
An imaginary herd
I’ve been in this village for twenty days. Twenty days of complete disconnection. No one knows where I am exactly, not even Andrea. I haven’t answered her messages or calls. In all this time I’ve only talked to Miguel and to Willy. Miguel lives next door. Willy is his dog. They have an amazing synchronicity with each other. Sometimes I look at them and imagine they’re surrounded by a herd of sheep. Many nights we have dinner together in the patio. He talks about the island a lot. He says this is much more than a touristic destination for the masses. I agree with him. I talk to him about books. Yesterday I told him that I was a writer and I had just finished my novel. And that I was going back to the mainland.
In 1919, in a letter to her friend Lady Robert Cecil, Virginia Wolf insisted: “describe your childhood and your writing will open to infinite possibilities.” In the last part of the novel I have written these days, the main character describes a trip in a van with his father. It’s the end of a story that finishes with an unexpected reencounter between them, after having been distanced for years.
I’ve just finished editing the last pages. I switch off the computer. A dry heat has eaten up the dampness I felt a moment ago. Despite it being autumn, it smells like summer. I go up to the rooftop. Before me, I see and infinite flat field. On the background I sense the silhouette of the Tramontana mountains. The sky is very high and blue. I remember the oath I made when I was a child. I’m not being true to it. If I look inside myself, all thay I see is him, next to the caravan, with no one around, and a long face. Ethan, one of the characters in Players, says, “If you feel the need to believe that you’re about to experience a wonderful change, what you have to do is saying it out loud. Saying it with the right words is like seeing the possibility arising. What the change is all about is not so important.”
I get the mobile phone out of the pocket of my pyjama bottoms and send a message to Andrea. I tell her that I’m sorry, that I miss her, that I need to see her, that today we will be together. Then I look for my dad’s number. “I’m in a village called Pina. In the middle of Majorca. It’s beautiful. We could come here in the spring. Together. One month. Without the caravan. I would like that very much. I’ve been missing you all my life.” I close my eyes, fill my lungs with air and press: “send”.