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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Joxean Agirre Odriozola > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

2003 | Elkar

Moved by my courtesy, kindness or whatever, she took me to her place. We did not kiss even once on the way. She was still shivering. We exchanged few words. I had one arm around Monika's shoulders to stop the jacket slipping down and leaving her shoulders bare. She continued to clutch the folder to her bosom.

As we approached the front door of her block, she produced a key and we went into the hall. She pressed the lift button and once again looked at me, as if she was seeing someone else. I thought that I might have been looking at Monika just as Frisch used to look at women, in a mixture of surprise and wisdom, youth linked to maturity. As we waited for the lift to come down (lifts are always on the top floor at night) she pressed herself against me.

During the years we lived together afterwards, Monika used to revive the memories of that night continually, but her version did not coincide with mine. I remember her cold nose as she squeezed herself against me in the lift, and the slight trembling inside her resembled that of a frightened animal. I remember there were no kisses later either, she went through the door towards the bedroom ahead of me and said in a very quiet voice, "Start getting undressed, I'll be right back." I also remember that I started to obey her order, I was obedient without being obsequious. I neither insinuated nor said anything. Naked, with my body half covered on the bed I waited for her for ages or for what seemed a long time at least, so much so that I began to wonder whether I might have misunderstood her order, because she had given it in such a quiet voice, when Monika appeared just as I was thinking that I might have to get dressed again. "I'm coming," she said as she came through the door. She was naked and therefore not wearing her high-heels, but it seemed to me that she continued to move like a tightrope walker. I remember the whiteness of her body and that paleness made her even more naked. She had just showered and the penetrating smell of soap filled the room. I closed my eyes and embraced her. Her body was exactly like I had imagined it to be on numerous occasions. Yet the tip of her nose and her buttocks remained cold, the hot shower notwithstanding. When I let go of her and looked at her from time to time, it seemed to me that her body had assumed a milky consistency and it made one want to eat her with a spoon or without one. With the pleasure that couples experience when they recall their first night, we, too, refreshed the details of that first night during the four years we spent together, and there was never any consensus. As Monika reminded me time and time again, I apparently said nothing, promised nothing, said nothing but she could see the passion in my eyes. We met on the cafť terrace and as we surveyed each other at close quarters I apparently made a gesture, a gesture of approval after quickly glancing at her body. I have always denied this, because I have never been in the habit of looking straight at women, at least not in such a brazen way, and the last thing I was in the habit of doing was making gestures of approval. It seems I told her that I had no idea why I found her so attractive, and that made her even more so; inasmuch as we find all mysteries attractive, I apparently went on to say, I had no idea what was more attractive, she herself or the mystery surrounding her. Rubbing her bare arms in the chilly night, Monika apparently followed me, and I went on speaking about attractions and uttering phrases that were becoming more and more confused to the point that I was being incoherent. She must have told me it was chilly as she rubbed her arms once again; at that point I took my jacket off and put it round her as if I was wrapping up something valuable, roughly but at the same time affectionately, and I squeezed her as if she was something tremendously precious to me, the way we do when we are afraid of losing or breaking something. I seemed to be in no doubt and did not even ask. It was as if things had been decided in advance as I headed in the direction of her house; on the way Monika repeated over and again that I was being courteous, kind and tender towards her, above all tender, and the expression on her face indicated she was remembering something distant, though I never actually managed to recall what we did on the way. She never brought up what happened in bed, nor, it seems, the impression my muscles made on her; nor whether she had been singed at all by my fiery passion. When we reached the front door, she apparently gave me the keys, because her hands were shaking, not just from the cold, but because of her fear or shock, and as I hugged her in the lift, it seems she decided to put her whole being in my hands, as she had never done with any other man before, nor was ever likely to do so in the future.

Some years later the situation was totally different because it was my hands that shook; I was entering the house like a burglar after I had made sure that Monika was not at home (Could acting in broad daylight be a mitigating factor?). I had told the police chief I would be back within an hour and also that I would mostly likely return with one of the writer's pieces of work; I did not tell him where I was going however, and he appeared to be somewhat concerned and might well have had me followed, even though he had enough work searching the writer's house. The key opened the front door of the block without any problem and I hardly recognised myself in the mirror in the lift as a laid-back type whose hair had begun to go grey, because my heart was pounding and my pulse was racing. Forbidden steps frighten us but attract us as the same time, criminals know that and so did I, and when I pressed the button for the third floor I don't know how many times I looked in the mirror to see a human being whom the years had not yet ravaged, firm and robust, but with the signs that presaged destruction. I had gone up in that very same lift countless times, mostly with Monika, when we used to go back to her house three days a week; at the start couples establish rules on an equal basis and want to share everything: you come to my place, I'll go to yours, we'll take it in turns at the weekends. I wanted to get to know everything Monika touched, not just her bed, even though her bed was practically the only piece of furniture in the house, because she loved to sleep. Everything else was temporary in that house, she hardly ever used the kitchen. The bed was the only real thing there, the rest could be mere decoration, just to create the impression that we were in a house. Perhaps that was why she took me straight to her bedroom the first night and told me to start getting undressed. Perhaps that house had been conceived only for making love and sleeping. For a while we did nothing else. And it was not possible to do anything else, either, for there was nowhere to talk, no comfortable sofa to relax on. Relegated to a corner of the living room the silent television resembled a piece of antique furniture. I never saw it switched on. Monika had an armchair and there she used to read her things about Max Frisch while I sat on a hard chair in front of the computer until I got backache, at which point I would have to change my position by going and lying down on the bed and Monika would take advantage of these moments to curl up by my side to caress me and utter sweet nothings in my ear. I let her carry on and carried on reading one of Barthes' books while she licked one of my buttons with her tongue or played with the hair on my chest. Occasionally she would leave Frisch's book on the armchair and pounce on me and, with no advance warning whatsoever, would start to bite my ear or my neck, saying "you are just like him". I was always aware of the shadow of the Swiss writer between us during the days I spent at Monika's house, but shadows constitute little by way of obstacles when love is fresh. I said earlier on that Monika was young and a little crazy in some ways. Those days when she would curl up next to me and start licking one of the buttons on my trousers affectionately, just being next to me was not always enough to satisfy her. Suddenly her breathing would start to accelerate, as if she were being strangled and then I would leave Barthes on the floor and would have to make love to her, very often without being in the mood for it at all, but making love with Monika without really feeling like it was also very pleasant thing.

Things began to go wrong, however, and I am not in a position to say exactly why. Her coldness coincided with the start of her second novel. Perhaps she had started to get fed up with Frisch or had got tired of me, because she abandoned his books for a time and for a long time I saw her with Pessoa, which was a sign that all was not well between us. I told her it was dangerous to read Pessoa while the rain poured down on the other side of the window and that turned out to be the case, because for a time she went around infected by a soggy sadness, accompanied by a deep mournfulness or saudade. Without saying a word to me she would put on her red raincoat and go out for a walk in the rain. I recalled the days when I used to walk around in the rain and look up at Monika's window not long after I had fallen in love with her, and I thought she had fallen in love with someone. She would return home and, without uttering a word, start writing something on the computer. Then I would have to sit in her armchair and carry on reading Barthes, silently but ill at ease, without uttering a syllable, listening out for her sighs, even though I was aware that Semiology was of no use whatsoever for reading the signs on a girl's face.
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