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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Laura Mintegi Lakarra > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

2001 | Txalaparta

Do you want to know what falling in love is? Let me tell you. It's feeling a pressure in your chest, wanting to cry out and not being able to utter a sound, realising nothing can be explained in words; it's as if you spoke in a foreign language no one had used before. Falling in love is being unable to concentrate on anything, trying to conceal the anxiety with feverish activity and when you pause, you stare at a fixed point with a vacant look in your eyes. Falling in love is feeling alive and wanting to die, wanting to live and die at the same time, because you suffer so much, so much so that you would never have thought it possible to suffer like this. Falling in love is realising that a three-line poem can sum up your whole life. Falling in love is melancholy and laughter at the same time, sadness and joy, distress and fulfilment. Falling in love is passion, insecurity, fever, dearth and excess. Being more me than I have ever been and not recognising myself. Love marked a before and an after in my life.

Ane is silent. As if she is scouring her memory for the line which separated the before and the afterwards. It is difficult to find words to bring back the past.

Falling in love -she resumes- is living a borrowed life that does not belong to you, a life you do not know how to handle. How can I explain what love is! The person who has gone through this knows, but what if you haven't been through it.? I can tell you what it is not: it is not peace and quiet, balance, logic or comfort. When you fall in love you want everything, even the impossible, and you want it right away. Rules are cruel tyrants and conventionalities enemies that lie in wait for every move you make. You feel hemmed in by barriers, stupid rules. Love killed me, but thanks to that I became alive again, before dying.

There is a vacant look in his eyes and he does not move a single muscle as he sits up straight with his legs crossed. His body tense as he perches on the end of the armchair. In this scene the only movement is the smoke from his cigarette and the ash about to fall. Esteban Mugarra stops writing. He closes the notebook on his knees revealing the name written on the cover: ANE. Mental patients do not have surnames. But when the notebook is opened, the name Ane Atela-Lasa together with a file reference number can be read on the first page.

Ane remains silent. The tape is reaching the end. Before going on Esteban Mugarra removes the cassette, turns it over, and inserts it into the recorder again before pressing the red button.

- Tell me about when you were alive once.

- That was ages ago. In another life.

- And in another country.

- Yes, in Central America.

- And it all started here in Bilbao, didn't it?

Esteban's knowledge about Ane is scant. Only what her husband told him when he turned up at his consulting room to ask him to take on the case. That and what Ane has told him during the first sessions until now. Not much, so far a puzzle with pieces missing.

As far as he knew, Ane had not been in love until she met Mikel, even though by then she already had a husband, two daughters, a mortgage on a beautiful house and a life that was completely organised.

Six years ago Ane's elder daughter had a fall and had to be taken to accident and emergency. That day Mikel was on duty at the hospital and chance unexpectedly brought them together. From that moment onwards everything in Ane's life turned upside down.

Ane thought love was linear until she met Mikel, that it went in one direction only, and went from more to less, from youth to later years, from the absolute to the relative. It was only afterwards that she discovered that love was a many-sided image and not a linear cycle, which after being born and growing, goes on to wither and die. To the contrary, love is twisted, it has chiaroscuros, is unpredictable, absorbing, mean and generous, exclusive and engulfing. It is full of ridges, contrasting sides, reactions which contradict each other.

If her daughter had not broken her nose and had not had to have stitches, if Mikel had been on a different shift, or if instead of going to Cruces hospital, they had gone to Basurto or Galdakao, it is possible that Ane would never have met Mikel and that her life would not have changed. Or maybe it would have. Who knows. Is it possible to escape one's destiny? Or is there no such thing as destiny?

Ane was in the hospital on that particular day and at that time by chance, and it was pure chance that their paths should cross. It is also true that the relationship would not have developed, had Mikel not taken it any further, if he had not insisted on seeing the little girl's scar again. Something made him decide he wanted to find out more about Ane. Mikel was a plastic surgeon, he was 45 when they met and lived alone. Ane knew nothing about that initially; but she found out gradually as time when by.

Mikel asked them to return a week later to have the little girl's stitches and her nasal septum checked. He wanted to make sure there were no problems. On the second occasion he began to ask questions without seeming to, naturally; whether the little girl had a brother or sister, whether they lived close by, whether Ane had had to take time off work, which neighbourhood they lived in. And anyway, he was about to finish his shift, and they were his last appointment, and he was also going to Ane's neighbourhood. He offered to give them a lift home and that way, he said jokingly, he would be near the little girl, if her nose fell off and had to be sewn back on again.

The three of them laughed their way to the underground car park, but with the excuse that her daughter had not yet had her tea, they stopped to have something on the way and chatted while the little girl had something to eat. Then he dropped them off at home.

Some time later Ane told Esteban Mugarra that she did not notice anything special that day. Mikel asked questions without appearing to and always got an answer. He treated them to things without appearing to do so, as if he were an old friend, he did not seek their consent, but he always got it. Everything took place perfectly naturally.

Two days later as Ane was buying the newspaper at the newsstand in the neighbourhood, she saw Mikel and they arranged to have lunch together the next day at a well-known restaurant. Everything happened in such a natural way that it didn't occur to her to question anything. Some days later they bumped into each other in the street as Ane was making her way home after collecting her daughters from school. This time Mikel went with them to the sweet shop, because he wanted to buy the little girls something. A week later Ane took her daughter to the consulting room and they had a coffee together in the hospital cafť and chatted at length.

Some days later Ane woke up one morning thinking about him. She had not seen him for three days and felt as if she had lost an arm. She realised something had happened and that the relationship was no longer a doctor-patient one. Mikel was no longer just another option, a neutral relationship, something you could take or leave. He had turned into a need, a gap to be filled.

I needed him to live, as much as I needed to breathe. When he was far away I felt a knot in my throat, even my daughters could not fill the gap he had created in me. I suffered dreadfully when he was not there. When I was with him it hurt me to think that we had to part, although the brief moments we spent together were the only thing that relieved the knot in my throat. The feeling of guilt came much later and it was, moreover, a sensation imposed from outside and which had not come from within me. My only wish was to see him, seeing him was all I wanted, all I needed. Apart from him there was nothing that could satisfy me.

Three months later Ane packed her suitcase and left a brief note: "I can't bear it any longer" and left. It is six years, six long years since it happened. Less than two months ago she turned up at Esteban Mugarra's consulting room for the first time. The symptoms clearly pointed to depression, but Esteban needed to know more, he needed to go beyond the visible symptoms right to the bottom. And Ane is gradually providing him with the information he needs.

After six and a half years away she returned home. She opened the door with her key and put the same suitcase she had taken away with her on the floor of the hall. She stood there, straight, mute, with a sad expression on her face and did not know what to say when a thin girl of 13 asked her who she was. Eunate did not recognise her mother. This woman barely resembled the one she had seen in the photos.

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