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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Mikel Hernandez Abaitua > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

The Last Call |

I am a man of letters. I feel through it, because of it, in rapport with it,
and with it I feel more.
Gustave Flaubert

I have never managed to see myself from the outside. There is no mirror that shows us how we look to others, because there is no mirror that pulls us outside ourselves. Another soul would be needed, another location for sight and thought.
Fernando Pessoa

I. A few pages from the diary of
amateur melodramatist Pedro Mainieri


I know Marta won't like it, but today I accepted an assignment to write another soap for radio. As if I didn't have enough to do translating novels! And she's against it, bitten by jealousy, as ifmy writing were the enemy of our love. I remember what the Argonauts said, navigation is necessary but life isn't. Maybe something like that happens to me, as Bernardo said, sometimes life isn't necessary, but writing is. And I re-call another saying, this one by Rilke, if you had to give up writing and were able to live without it, then you shouldn't write another word. I know one shouldn't write because it's fashionable, but my case is none other than that. I am a "man of letters," as Flaubert said, a clumsy imperfect man of letters, a humble writer of radio soaps, but it's necessary to me. Marta tells me I write more than I need to in order to live, by which she means the less I write the more we could be together. Why are we humans so possessive?

Reality fades away because I forget everything. And I can't bear to see the way my past personalities and experiences are erased, how things I've seen or learned are blotted out, how something I learned at one point leaves me while I'm learning something else: t hat nothing is definite in this frail, unbearable passing cloud of life; something within me reveals itself, I'm not satisfied and, like a child, I keep thinking I can do something about the forgetting. It would be better if memory were an inescapable repository. But it's full of holes. Memory is a strongbox full of holes in a town with no welders, and we are constantly wanting to fill it up, that it may never be completely empty.


Marta told me to marry her. I told her no. I felt an irrational fear in my belly, as if there were an abyss within me, and I've come to the old apartment as an escape.

Yesterday she was knocking at the door, but I didn't want to open it for her. And she will not come to this other house. Have I ever felt more pleasure in love than I have with writing or reading? After close examination, no. Writing is more calming, more peaceful, it doesn't betray you. It doesn't present you with problems. Difficulty, yes, but not problems.

Marta has been calling and calling on the phone, but I haven't answered. It might be someone else, but I don't think so, because only she knows I've moved here, she would figure it out. How long has it been since I've been in this apartment? It belongs to the bank and my parents have been paying almost nothing for it. I don't know why the people at the bank haven't discovered that no one is living here. I re-member we used to come here in the summer just for a change from the city, and then, too, because it doesn't get as hot here.


I've come back to my own house again. I couldn't stand the telephone ringing all day, without a break.


I've looked back over the entries I've written and realize that I haven't talked about anything but Marta and me. Not the work I'm doing or anything else. I need Marta more than I thought. This has happened to me before many times. I think I'm self-sufficient. I look in the mirror and I'm pleased with the company of my reflected image. I look in the mirror and I'm not alone. There are two people in the room.


Yesterday no one called. I'm surprised. I'm fed up with being alone. At this moment I hate writing. Sometimes it seems I'm with Marta too much. I run away, thinking she's stealing my time, but after a few days of writing I'm satiated and it disgusts me. If she doesn't call today, I'll call her tomorrow.
Later. The older I get the faster time passes for me, and I feel dizzy. The days fly by, and that scares me. It seems like time is slipping through my fingers. Then time seems so precious to me that nothing else seems worth the trouble and I always go looking for something basic, something important for which to use this precious time. But there isn't anything.


II. A few moments from the life of Pedro Mainieri

10:00 A.M.

The bed sheets and blankets were soft, so soft, when the phone rang, startling Pedro Mainieri awake. He thought it was Marta. Because of that he felt powerful, satisfied, because he was in charge. She can't live without me, he thought. Being awakened didn't bother him. He took the phone in his left hand. "Yes?"

They were calling from the radio station to see what was happening with the first episodes of the soap.

He felt frustrated because he was sure it would be Marta calling him away from his work. Thinking about Marta, he started breakfast. He took a match, lit the stove, and put the milk on the burner to warm. Then he went to find his robe, a plush blue burnoose. The cold December air penetrated every corner.

He took sliced bread from its wrapper and put it in the toaster, still thinking about Marta. Why hadn't he heard from her? Could she really be tired of calling? She had never wearied of it so quickly before. What if she had tired of him for good? For a moment he thought about which would be better, putting up with Marta every day or putting up with the need for Marta that he was feeling in payment for not wanting to live with her.

5:00 P.M.

"It's fine," said the station director, the script in his hand. "Cigarette?"

"Sure." Pedro Mainieri extended one hand to take the offered American Winston and with the other pulled a lighter from his pocket to give the director a light. It seemed he wanted to talk.

"So, where've you been? They called from your fiancee's house more than once. I'm really sorry."

Pedro Mainieri suddenly stood up, muttered good-bye, and exited abruptly, leaving his Winston in the ashtray. The director was surprised. He's always been a strange sort, he thought, taking a deep drag on his cigarette.

Pedro Mainieri didn't know why he left the director's office so suddenly. He just had to. Why would he say, I'm sorry? He needed to get out of there and call Marta's house. She would surely be home. Although her afternoons were free, she didn't normally go out. For the first time it had turned out badly. He would have to call her in the end. It was always Marta who needed him the most and went looking for him. He felt conquered, beaten. Surely this time I've gone too far, he thought. And for the first time in a long time he was afraid of losing Marta.

In the street he went into the first phone booth he found and started dialing Marta's number: 814205. A thousand unconscious images passed through his mind as he dialed, as if the numbers themselves were trance-inducing. He stared into the distance, through the glass, toward a grove of trees, and with his gaze fixed on the trees he heard a voice on the phone.


"Is Marta there?"

(Silence, confusion.) "Who is this?" (Marta's mother's voice.)

"It's Pedro." (Silence again, a painful nervous silence, and the voice answers uncertainly.)

"But Pedro, where have you been?" (A pause, as if wondering whether to continue speaking.) "Marta is dead, Pedro. We called every-where looking for you." (Another moment of silence.) "We buried her yesterday." (The voice fades.)

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