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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Arantxa Iturbe Maiz > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

1995 | Alberdania

ELEVEN ROSES

It is only two years since I came to live in this block, and I was away on a course when the Laura affair occurred. I returned the moment I learnt the news and found a letter in my post box: it was from her.

They lived on the fourth floor. I on the fifth.

I was lucky to meet Laura. I had never spoken to her husband, but had bumped into him on several occasions. He did not know we were neighbours. He does not take much notice of the people around him, as is the custom of most of those who are used to being noticed by everyone else. Being a famous architect is still important in this city. Especially among famous architects.

Laura was different. She was not an architect. She was a writer. They made a wonderful couple, and even if I had not met Laura herself, I would have assumed that they were a couple that had everything one could possibly have in the world.
Like everyone else.

But, I met her by chance.

It is just a way of expressing it, really. I spent three months waiting for the opportunity to present itself. In the end, seeing that it had not presented itself, I was the one who had to seek it out. Wherever there was a book presentation I would turn up looking lost. If there was a signing of copies of the book between half past four and five in a particular bookshop, I would happen to be looking for a recipe book I needed in that very same shop at half past four, hoping for a chance when Laura and I might look each other in the eyes. And as I happened to be there, I would buy her book.

Once Laura was scheduled to give a lecture at a cultural centre, and even though it was perfectly obvious to me that she was surrounded by people, I went up to her, and feigning ignorance, asked whether she was the famous archaeologist who had come from England and what time her lecture was going to be. She started to laugh, and even though I could have sworn that she would have found my face familiar by that time, she said she was not the archaeologist in question and that she conducted her research among papers, and that she had not come from so far away. Then she introduced herself to me for the first time, and I introduced myself, simply saying: "I'm Oskar." I listened to every word of her lecture and left the moment she finished, even though I noticed her peering among the crowd.

But I did not go very far. I waited outside the building to find out where she was going to be taken out to dinner, and once I had got the information, I stood opposite the restaurant for four hours to see when Laura and those guys enjoying themselves beside her would come out. When they made a move to get up from the table, I went out into the rain and entered the restaurant, asking whether I had left my umbrella there the evening before. She recognised me instantly and burst out laughing saying that chance had wanted to bring us together. The rest, naturally, had no idea what was going on and Laura, for the first time, offered to give me a lift home, if I wanted, as her car was parked near the door. Feeling acutely embarrassed, I refused. I even slipped on the floor. Being embarrassed is a good strategy.

A few weeks afterwards when Laura had to give a lecture at the university, I went into the room where she was speaking, my glasses perched on the end of my nose, my hair ruffled, and said as loudly as I could: "I'm sorry, I'd forgotten I had a class now." I would say that the lecture had to be stopped, because it was absolutely impossible to silence the commotion and peels of laughter, despite being in front of Laura, the guest speaker. And she said if I wanted to be forgiven, I would have to treat her to a coffee, while the students whistled and joked.

As we went into the cafť I dropped the whole pile of books and folders I was carrying. Laura bent down in an attempt to stifle her laughter.

-My grandmother used to say that when you dropped something, it meant somebody remembered you -I explained as well as I could.

-If you dropped something in front of our grandfather, he used to tell us "you've lost your wages"! -replied Laura.

Laura just happened to pick up the book she herself had written:

-What a coincidence! -I told her-. Only today a student gave it to me as a gift! She was amazed at so many coincidences. The truth is I did not invent these tricks of coincidence. Someone who had wanted to prove that they did not exist showed them to me. But Laura had not yet learnt this and blindly believed in the coincidences.

Another time -then it was not coincidence that brought us together but a phone call- it was amazing the day she got it into her head that she was going to run me home. I knew it would happen sooner or later, but I was not planning to push my luck. After she had pleaded with me, I relented. She was to drive and I would tell her which way to go.

Take the next left, turn right two streets further on, go straight on, you've got a stop sign here, watch the traffic approaching on your right. and the more I spoke, the quieter Laura became. By the time we reached home she was angry: "What kind of joke is this?" she said. I put on the full-blown expression of an idiot that I had practised so many times, as if asking what was wrong with the block of flats. Besides, I told her, it might not look that good from outside, but I had renovated the inside of my flat and I was sorry she did not like it, but if she cared to come up.

At that moment she again became aware of the power of chance and her anger melted into a delightful peel of laughter, like small children who cannot keep a big secret. "You won't believe it," she said over and over again.

A child, exactly that. When it seemed to me as if I was deceiving a small kid, she took me by the hand and led me quickly to the fourth floor and proudly admitted "I live here." I was tempted to say I already knew a lot about her: I had a red folder full of photos of her, I would buy two or three copies of each book she had published so they would be to hand anywhere in my flat. but by that time I was completely trapped and was afraid that if I were to explain all the mysteries behind the coincidences that had taken place, our relationship would end for ever, even before it had started, and we would become no more than neighbours.

That's why I continued to play my part.

Besides, it was getting easier and easier, because there are only thirty-six stairs between one floor and the other, and both Laura and I normally work from home, or rather, worked from home.

I only had to go down thirty-six stairs to speak to her husband. Only thirty-six stairs to find out what the hell had happened. Thirty-six stairs to clarify what had prompted her to kill what had been alive, writing I love you on a scrap of paper and failing to say goodbye.

It took me two months to go down those thirty-six stairs. But it was no use. Her husband, Rikardo, refused to open the door to me.

That is why he did not recognise me the day we came face to face in the cemetery.

It was pouring with rain that day. And it was no coincidence. I chose the day, because it was raining hard. Rikardo, Laura's widower, did not seem to be in a position to notice that it was pissing down. When I appeared, he was sitting on the gravestone looking blankly towards the entrance to the cemetery, drenched. I was on the point of turning back, but I could not, because he asked me a question from the distance.

-Why eleven? -he slowly and sadly put the question. I did not know what he was talking about.

-Why eleven? Why eleven? -he asked the same question again the way maniacs do, quickly mumbling one word after another.

-I'm sorry. I don't know what you're talking about.

He showed me the flowers. Roses. Red ones, which had just been put there. There were eleven.

-Why eleven? -he sobbed.

-I don't know. Do you have any idea?

-If I did, I wouldn't be asking you.

-What does eleven of them signify? -my curiosity had been aroused.

-That there aren't twelve. There are always twelve. Or half a dozen, or just one.

-Well, it doesn't have to be like that, does it?

-She was my wife. Laura. Look, it says so there.

I stood gazing at her grave, unable to wipe that name I loved so much from my brain. I decided to speak before the tears came.

-She was young, wasn't she?

-Yeah.

-What happened?

-She died.

-Yes, of course.

-And someone brings her eleven roses every day. Every single day.

-Someone who loved her, then.

-The lad from the florist's.

He's been instructed to do so. Someone paid for the roses six months in advance: eleven every day. For Laura.

-If it had been twelve, I wouldn't have noticed, you see. -Rikardo was distraught-. I wouldn't have noticed with eleven, either. The caretaker said: "If you'll forgive me for asking, why eleven?" and that's when I realised. Eleven, not twelve.

-And in the florist's don't they know who paid for them?

-No, they don't. "Business is business -Rikardo was trying to imitate the florist's voice-. That's what I've been asked to do, and that's how I send them. Every day. Look, business is business and I don't ask any questions. Especially when customers pay."

-A friend, perhaps.

-I've spoken to everyone. Nobody knows anything.

He was inconsolable.

-If you had known her.

-Come on, let's get out of here. It doesn't look as though the weather's going to clear up.

-Eleven roses.

-A coincidence, perhaps.

He got angry with me.

-It could be a coincidence once, the second time it's never a coincidence.

-It's a coincidence if the coincidence arises more than once. What happens once is no more than just that, something that happens once.

-So coincidences do not exist.

-Or everything is a coincidence. Let's go! You're soaked.

He didn't take any notice of me. All at once he brightened up, as if he had just had a brilliant idea. I noticed something approaching a smile on his lips. It disappeared again immediately.

-You're not here just by chance, are you? -he said seriously.

-No, I'm not -I replied.

-She was wonderful, wasn't she? -We both knew who we were talking about.

-Yes, she was.

-Why eleven?

-I'm not the one who's been sending them.

He did not ask me any more questions. I gave him a hand up from the gravestone and we slowly made our way towards the gate of the cemetery. Rikardo went ahead as I followed behind.

-It would be too much of a coincidence to come face to face with the person who's been sending them, don't you think?

-Yes, it would.

-We made our way home together. He was extremely grateful to me for accompanying him. I did not tell him we were neighbours. It would be too much of a coincidence, if we came face to face with each other on the stairs one day, because apart from anything else, he had begun to resume his old habits and because I knew his daily routine very well. Besides, I am planning to start looking for another flat soon. I cannot go on living here knowing that coincidence is not going to bring me face to face with Laura any more.



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