Stories of a Tiny Life: Time slots full of cross-references or mirrors in which to look at oneself, inside or as a footnote.
The building has six floors and three doors on each floor. Sometimes I stop to read the names of my neighbours on the letterboxes. Still, I’ve never been able to match those names with their faces. I’ve been living in this flat for eight years and I still don’t know who is who or what floor each of them lives on. Or behind what door, for that matter.
In the morning, first thing, I use the lift to go downstairs. There is a neighbour inside. A blond girl. She lives alone. In one of the floors above mine. She says Good Morning. I stutter: hello, good morning. I look down to the floor and we both remain silent. Fifteen seconds go by, the lift stops and we both get out into the street. She does so in front of me. By the front door, a group of workers are drilling the pavement. They all turn their heads and have no qualms about looking at the girl.
Sometimes, the creation of a story takes me to different dead-end streets. On her first novel, Papeles falsos, Mexican author Valeria Luiselli compares urban construction works with the opening of “the crack of an idea, the fissure of a new word”. I spend the whole morning walking through the park, looking, writing things down, looking for a string from which to pull, a concrete perception to help me in my way to writing. I don’t find it until I get back to the entrance hall to my building, exactly by the open pavement. The workers’ tolls are lying on the floor. Lifeless. They talk in groups of two. They seem to be waiting for something: a foreman, a lorry to pick up the rubble, an excavator. Al of a sudden, three employees from the municipal undertaker’s get out of the building carrying a coffin. Their presence puts the scene on pause: the workers move away, the people walking by stop, the cars slow down. The shirts of the three employees are identical. The three have a white and golden logo sewn on the front. I ask myself how someone could have managed to embroider with such precision so small a drawing. I imagine a giant sewing machine connected to a computer via USB.
I watch the coffin getting out of the door and how the three employees load it on to a hearse parked at the other side of the block. I don’t dare asking whom it is they are transporting. I first think about how they might have managed to take it downstairs. About how strong they must be and about the dull sounds a corpse makes when hitting wood. Then I start with my assumptions.
Apart from a new social order, Huxley proposes in Brave New World a sudden death at sixty in order to get rid of old age and, above all, a life inside a decrepit and worn out body. I remember that in my building there are three old ladies. Two are lesbians, a couple. A friend told me that they were the first lesbians in the city to move in together, during the seventies, and that for years everyone looked at them in astonishment, disgust or fear. The two ladies look very similar. Both have short white hair and tiny glasses hanging around their necks. If the person who died is one of them, the other one is going to die of sorrow, I think. Dying of sorrow, letting yourself die due to your total identification with the other, abandon yourself to the abyss because the person you see when you look in the mirror is missing. Because they are one. They are only one woman. Yes, if the dead is one of them, it’ll soon be both. The other old lady living in my building is on a wheelchair. She can’t keep her head up properly. She doesn’t talk, only mumbles. A girl from Bolivia pushes the wheelchair. I don’t know if this woman had a husband or not. Or whether she has any children or grandchildren. Seeing her makes me worry about my own life. This is the end. I’m sure this will be my end. Huxley’s proposal has always felt very attractive to me: living with 100% of your faculties intact until reaching a point of no return. The future awaiting us is heart breaking.
When I get home I realise my assumptions aren’t correct. The deceased doesn’t need to be an old lady. It could be a man and it could be a younger person. The building is quite big. And there are lots of neighbours. That’s what I think. And then, I abandon any further thoughts on the subject and immerse myself in my writing. As I do every afternoon.
In Fridays at Enrico´s, by Don Carpenter, one of the characters, called Stan Winger, uses his time in prison to develop an unstoppable narrative ability. It’s there, in the middle of nowhere, where his imagination takes off until he manages to generate complete stories and when he really becomes a writer. Somehow, I’m trying to do the same. I’m trying to create a claustrophobic world so that I can see my novels grow. It’s the only way I’ve come up with to achieve it. Some days, many, I firmly think that this building is a prison, that the park nearby is its yard, and that my cell is on the fourth floor, on the door to the right.
The announcement appearedthis morning. It was a photocopy and it was stuck to the main door with cello tape. My assumptions were right. The dead person is a woman, an elderly lady. She was seventy-four. On the black and white photograph I’ve managed to identify the smiling face of one of the two lesbians. I leave the entrance very quickly. I had an appointment with my editor at 10:30 and it’s already 10:32. I read the name of the dead woman and start running down the road.
I spend the rest of the day deciding whether to attend the funeral this afternoon or not. Whether to attending mass or not, whether to present or not my condolences to the remaining lesbian. I’m the neighbour from the fourth floor, I’m very sorry. I do none of such things. I stay at home feeling guilty instead.
It’s nighttime outside. I choose a white shirt and a black jacket. I’m meeting a girl in half an hour. I’ve never seen her face to face. I’ve only seen three of her profile pictures. We’ve chatted twice. Her eyes are small. That detail is what made me dare asking her for a date. My father says that people with small eyes are endearing, and I like endearing people.
I use the stairs to go down. I don’t want to meet my blond neighbour. I’d be embarrassed if she saw me so elegantly dressed. I don’t want to see the widow either. I wouldn’t dare looking at her. While I walk down the stairs, some devices placed on the ceiling detect my presence and make the lights go on as I pass by, illuminating the way in front of me. Everything is automatized, I say to myself, all my movements as an alive man are predictable. Eva. The girl I have a date with is called Eva.