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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Aitziber Etxeberria Garro > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

Silent Weeping |

Outside it is raining, silent rain, like the weeping of someone who is alone. If the housewife above had not emerged to hang out the washing, I would not even have noticed.

-­Manolo! "Por qué no has recogido la ropa, si ves que está lloviendo? 1 (Manolo, why haven't you taken the washing in? Can't you see it's raining?) -the wife is furious and her adrenalin has brought all her bad temper to the surface.

- "De qué cojones me estás hablando? (What the hell are you talking about?) -the man's response isn't much sweeter.

He leaves the kitchen, gives the door a good slam and goes to the living room to watch TV. After exchanging three or four loud swearwords with his daughter, he picks up the remote control and changes channel to see the football match, a friendly between Spain and Estonia. It gives him an opportunity to shout without having to see anyone's angry face. The daughter goes to her room and plays rave music on her radio-cassette player as loudly as possible, so as to punish her father with the noise.

I live alone on the floor below, and my silence has turned me into their unexpected spy. I don't mean that I spend all day listening out for everything, but whenever I am at home, I would have to be deaf not to hear everything that goes on above, because we seem to live between paper-thin walls. Those thick, stone walls of the farmhouses belong to another world.

I know what time they get up, who goes to the lavatory first, who spends the most time relieving him or herself, who does what work at home or what each one's favourite TV series or programme is.

The fact is I live alone and spend quite a lot of time at home. I come home after work and as I work shifts, I have alternate mornings and afternoons off. When I'm not working, I spend most of my time at home. Before, when I was going out with Naiara, I hardly spent any time at home, because I was always dying to meet up with her somewhere, but that time is over now, it's all over for me. Now I take a walk very occasionally or sometimes go into the countryside, but I have to admit that I'm a townie and love the city, with its cars and smoke. I have never liked that cheap bucolic aspect of the country. To be alone I don't have to climb to the top of some mountain, all I need to do is stay at home and put on one of those stupid New Age tapes.

-­Virginia, baja esa puta música! (Virginia, turn down that bloody music!) -shouts mother as she puts away the clothes and angrily addresses her daughter. But the daughter is deeply hurt by this second assault on her privacy.

-­Vete a la mierda! (Go to hell!) -I hear quickening steps and she turns the music up even louder.

That is the last straw for her mother. She storms into her daughter's room, switches off the radio and reads her daughter the riot act, responding to her act of rudeness with an even worse one. Mother wants to instil respect, but her daughter tells her that respect has to be won. Then mother slaps Virginia's face while father shouts "goal!!!!!".

Nothing is heard in Virginia's room; even though she is crying, her rage has made her internalise her tears. Mother goes straight to her room, as usual, because she doesn't feel like listening to her husband's shouts.

Her husband has dragged the coffee table in front of the sofa under his feet and has turned up the volume of the TV set, so that it is quite clear who rules at home.

That's it for tonight. The match is over and Manolo will be hitting the hay to enjoy a well-earned rest and, as if in payment for his dinner, he will be treating Margarita, his wife, to his loudest snores.

She will probably turn to face the other way to remember when as a child in her little home town in Estremadura how nice it was to eat the ham and sausages when the pig had been killed, and she will be thinking she did not have the problems she has now and it will occur to her how happy she was then and she will be crying, silently, like the rain, the weeping of those who are alone.

(1) All the phrases in italics are in Spanish in the original.

If I were Mozart

I do the housework while Manolo is watching the match. I leave the washing that has already dried in a basket behind the sofa in the sitting room, so that anyone who comes to the flat unexpectedly will not see it. Anyhow, I would be very surprised if that were to happen. The time when my friends would drop by for a drink or to do something is long over. I must admit I haven't done much to keep up with them, either. Before I started going out with Naiara I got on with them very well, but during the three years I was going out with her, I did not bother about them. At the beginning, if only out of a sense of duty, I would go to the dinners they organised now and then, but gradually I used to turn up less and less, and in the end lost all contact with them. Naiara, on the other hand, must be much happier with her new boyfriend than with me and I don't think she will show up around here.

I take the basket to the kitchen and turn it upside down on the table. First of all I sort out the clothes underneath and fold the pants. Then I give the vests a good stretch and fold them as well. As the rest of the clothes need to be ironed, I fold them and take them to one of the half-empty rooms and put them on the ironing table.

Now that the match is over Manolo has turned off the TV and gone to bed. There is almost complete silence now. Almost, because in the flat next door Josune is listening to music, as she does every night.

Josune is as young and pretty as she is cruel. She admires herself, that is obvious, and likes other people insofar as she can use them for her own pleasure. I am sure she has not even noticed an ordinary guy like myself.

If she knew that I was familiar with every single inch of her body, I am sure she would report me, not for intruding on her privacy, but for enjoying it without seeking her permission.

I turn off the light in the ironing room and go to the bathroom. My bathroom and Josune's are back to back and I know she will be in the bath now, stretched out with the water right up to her chin, with two slices of cucumber on her eyes, a green face pack on her face and listening to Mozart.

I know all this, because I've seen it. Before she came to live in this block of flats, the previous owners had had the bathroom altered, they had a false wall built inside the bathroom so that they could have plants, which they loved so much, just behind the bath tub, to be precise. I found out all about this the day I rented the flat. About six months ago. Naiara and I bought a flat and began to live together, but unfortunately things went wrong between us. So when we broke up, we sold the flat and I decided to rent one.

The owner of the flat is a chatterbox and gave me all the information she had about my new neighbours, while she asked me masses of questions. I did not tell her much about myself, because I don't like talking to people I don't know about my problems, not even to people I know. I think she was a bit put out when she left, thinking I was one of those unsociable types, but that doesn't bother me at all. I moved in and a few days later realised that one of the tiles on the wall in my bathroom was half loose. I decided to have it repaired as soon as possible, but the days passed, and I did not get round to it.

One day when I went to the bathroom I realised there was someone in the adjoining bathroom and, driven by curiosity, put my eye up against the wall and peered through the crack. What I saw almost took my breath away. My neighbour was an attractive woman and she was naked and planning to get into the bath. I know it is not the right thing to do, but I decided to delay the repair work, so that I could once again enjoy the tingle I had felt then, and that is how my initial good intention was forgotten. I know I've become a loathsome spy, but loneliness has driven me to do such things on occasions.

She has no idea how I adore her nakedness! Because when I see her like that, I feel as powerful and she does.

Josune always performs the same ritual after going into the bathroom and switching the light on. She stands in front of the mirror and carefully examines her whole face.

She always starts with her forehead, which is followed by her eyebrows, eyelids, eyelashes and nose and finally her cheeks, lips, chin and neck. After making sure that there is nothing to mar her beauty, she washes her face and gives it a short, slow, loving massage with some sweet-smelling oil.

Only when she's done with her face does she turn on the tap, and while the bath is runing and the bathroom is filling with steam, she goes somewhere else. To her bedroom, I think, because when she comes back she is clad only in a bathrobe, and because the piped music in her flat has been switched on.

I eagerly await that moment, because my desire increases as the bath fills, and when she goes into the bathroom wearing only a bathrobe, my heart begins to beat wildly.

Before she gets into the bath, she ties up her long hair into a kind of a bun, puts on a face pack, adds some special bath salts to the bath water and puts the dish of cucumber slices on a small chair, so that she can reach it once she is in the bath. Finally she takes off her bathrobe and hangs it on a hook on the chair.

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