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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Unai Elorriaga Lopez de Letona > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

2001 Local train to SP | Elkar

"Did you hear that, Lucas, a picture worth 4,000 million. You see, someone was commissioned to paint it in the 16th or 14th century. He had to paint a portrait of the niece of King Charles, Philip or Duncan, didn't he? And the niece of King Charles, Philip or Duncan was as ugly as sin; or rather than ugly, let's say she was not photogenic. And the person commissioned to do the work was not, of course, an ordinary guy: he was a famous artist, even more famous in the 21st century. But he wasn't inspired by the painting, because he had been suffering from Montezuma's revenge for seven days or because one of his sons had been sent to war. And now the Ministry for Culture has bought the painting -for 4,000 million says the TV-, because even a three-year-old knows how important cultural heritage is; that's why he would not let his schoolmates have the abstract cockroaches he makes out of green and yellow plasticine. For this very reason and because they don't pay him 4,000 million."

+ + + + + +

Lucas had not moved far from his bed for a long time. Those were the moments Maria took advantage of to tell Marcos things like this:

-Lucas looks sad. He says he's in pain.

-Where? -asked Marcos.

-He says he doesn't know where, but he's in pain. And he's cold. And it's August. And he says he's in pain, in a lot of pain.


Marcos

It is strange and it's also unusual to fall asleep in front of the television and then wake up to see a guy on the screen wearing a ski mask. That is exactly what happened to me. I went to sleep on the sofa and saw a ski mask when I woke up. I must admit he confuses me bit. I mean that guy Marcos. You know, the Subcommander. I don't know whether I appreciate him, loathe him or love him. On the one hand I can visualise him sitting on a rock among trees and when a spider walks past him I can imagine him crushing it with more force than necessary and with a bit of irritation. And that upsets me. And then I remember that he has the ability to write things like: "In front of any mirror remember that you are not the best of yourself. But you can always save something: a nail, for example."; that is when I calm down. But then I get upset again. The thing is I can all too easily imagine Marcos giving orders. As if it were perfectly normal to give orders. And I still don't know whether I like that guy, whether he drives me mad or whether I have a soft spot for him. But what I would probably really like would be to talk to him. Chat to him for a bit.

I washed Lucas' feet yesterday. They were cold, as cold as a seal. I poured boiling water on them and then tepid water. And I tickled him. You see, laughter makes your feet warm, as does reading the Bible. He perked up a bit in the end: he wanted to wash mine as well.

I read an article today about trepanation. I already knew what trepanation was and I was pleased I knew what the term meant. It is an explosive word: trepanation. Trepanation is making a hole in the skull or in any other bone. In people who are alive. Not with a gun, of course; trepanations are performed by doctors, hundreds of quacks, and the odd private individual. But the main thing is that it is an explosive word. Trepanation.

That stuff about ants is different. I've proved it quite a bit. All you have to do is choose an ant that is walking unawares on any table (between 75 and 90 cm from the floor). Then flick it (with your thumb and with your middle finger, especially) onto the floor. It will most likely survive and scuttle off; more disoriented, of course. An ant is like a bone. Trepanations are performed on bones but not on ants.

Matias. Letters

I have known for a long time that I will not die in the morning, I will die quite a long time after I have had lunch. And I am almost certain that I will be the first among my friends to die. That is why I have written down some instructions for you all, Lucas and my friends, for when I am dead and you are not. So that you know exactly what you have to do when I die.

Steps you must follow when you realise I'm not breathing or that I'm not breathing very much:

1. Check that I am actually dead: you will all come into my bedroom one by one every five minutes and you will check that I am dead. It would be a good idea and a nice one, too, if you, my friends, did not to leave my bedroom once you have come in, because in less than an hour and a half there would be fifteen of us in there, and we would become more and more overwhelmed, but happy to be together and happy that no one had said, I can't go, work, you know.

Two things could happen after this check has been made:

a) That I am not dead: then you will have every right to be angry -but don't overdo it, otherwise my family will get suspicious-, because you have wasted an hour. You will say something stupid in my ear and then go home or go out.

b) If I am really dead: in that case proceed enthusiastically to point 2.

2. If I die, there will most likely be a funeral. You will go to church in your underpants. Please wear different types of underpants so as to provide a touch of colour. It would be advisable to wear a jacket, too. And scarf, if it is winter or if anyone has a sore throat.

When you enter the church you will witness three phenomena: the surprise of my brothers, my father's anger and my maiden aunts' sighs. Don't take any notice of them: smile and listen to the priest.

When the funeral is over you will play a game of football on the beach.

3. You will buy a nice-looking tortoise with green eyes. Every week you will move it to another house and you will make sure you take it in turns and you will feed it spinach and green beans. When you see the tortoise's marks on the carpet, you will curse me systematically. When two or three years have passed, you may sell the tortoise to an acquaintance, if you have not become fond of it by then. And you will call it Eulalia or Ambrosio.


Lucas. Exercises

Many people die on mountains. I commit to memory the names of the people who die on mountains. Stefan Sluka, for example, died on Shisha Pangma. He disappeared. Shisha Pangma is a mountain eight thousand metres high; the smallest of the eight-thousand-metre peaks. But anyhow. There are fourteen eight-thousand-metre mountains. Chamoux, a Frenchman, died on the thirteenth. I mean on his thirteenth, when he still had this and another one. On the Kangchenjunga, on his descent. On that day two important things happened on Kangchenjunga: Chamoux died and Erhard Loretan climbed his fourteenth. And he descended it. Loretan is Swiss and has a beautiful name.

Very few people climb all fourteen. I mean the ones which are eight thousand metres high. Jerzy Kukuczka did. Kukuczka climbed them. Then he died on Lhotse. He must have been in better health than me. I mean Jerzy Kukuczka.

Maybe some do not die, but in the mountains their fingers freeze and turn black, or dark blue, very dark, or dark brown. And many recover, but many others have their fingers amputated: one finger, or two or five. Like Maurice Herzog. He had several fingers amputated on his return from Annapurna. And it's difficult to go back to the mountains like that. And maybe Herzog didn't die, but Maurice did. Or the other way round. Anyhow, Herzog left a note on the summit of Annapurna which said: "In people's lives there will always be other Annapurnas." Or something like that. And I think he is still alive but I'm not absolutely sure, because, although I've seen him in a documentary recently, I wouldn't bank on it. Television documentaries are often old and I get confused.

Then you have Mallory and Irvine. Some say they were the first to climb Everest. Others say they did not arrive. Everest is a very high mountain, one of the highest perhaps. Not long ago they found Mallory's body not far from the summit. K2 is also a pretty high mountain.

You also end up getting a little dizzy at such an altitude. And ideas start to dance inside your head and they start to jump inside your head, and sometimes they even come out of your ears and sometimes through your nose. And they scatter. I mean ideas start to get delirious inside your head and have no control. It is nice to see ideas dancing, but it is dangerous, too, at such an altitude. Messner, for instance. Messner is another climber. He says he was once having a rest eight thousand metres up and he was talking to a little girl sitting beside him. They spoke a lot. Then Messner carried on alone. But he seemed to go on feeling the company and somebody pulled on his rope. From time to time. Maybe it wasn't Messner. All this could have happened to someone else. I do not know. It does not matter. The issue is a little girl at an altitude of eight thousand metres.
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