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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Patxi Iturregi Escondrillas > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

Quality of live |

Vince felt unwell on the way back from the beach: panting, sweating and half dizzy. He suddenly remembered the shellfish paella he had eaten three hours before and thereafter could not banish the smell of garlic and the colour of saffron from his mind as he cursed them over and over again. It seemed to him that he was in the middle of a gastronomic nightmare. But when his vision became blurred he stopped on the side of the road and let his wife drive. Sheila and their three-year-old son seemed to be all right, they did not try the rice that was on the set menu and the custard apple milk shakes had not done them any harm.

When he got home Vince was no better: he was suffering spasms of some kind in his stomach and an hour later had lost the movement of his arms and legs. Sheila was extremely worried and called an ambulance.

Luckily, the worst was over by eight o'clock in the evening. According to Dr. Encina, Vince had responded well to the anti-biotoxin treatment and would soon be better. He would, however, have to spend three days in the intensive care unit. It seems his heart rate needed to be monitored.

Sheila calmed down a little after hearing this news from the hospital. She bathed the child, brought in the white washing that had been hung out to dry, and opened a bottle of cold beer. As she was sipping from the Molson Ice bottle she remembered about the insurance. If she was not mistaken, the policy they had taken out clearly covered such an event. And after checking that the premium for the last quarter had been paid, she picked up the phone and called the 24-hour service. No problem, she was told.

While she was preparing dinner, a van pulled up in front of the garden. Shortly afterwards a tall, absentminded-looking boy got out. Harry was his name. A true professional: while Sheila was upstairs, Harry gave the child his dinner, made him put on his pyjamas and got him off to sleep immediately with a beautiful rendering of the story, The Wizard's Star-Spangled Hat.

Wearing a thin dressing gown Sheila nervously descended the spiral staircase into the living room. She wondered how many pleasant surprises that tender stepfather sent by the agency had hidden away. She would have every chance to find out until the patient, Vince, came home in three days' time.


The consumer protection office told him that his condition was to all appearances serious and advised him to get a good lawyer as soon as possible, too, and not to worry about the cost. Sean could not believe it. It just wasn't possible. How would the law accept the injustice the supplier wanted to commit against him? There would be a solution. There had to be one.

However, the lawyer his friends recommended did not raise his hopes very high, he had seem similar ugly cases in the past and, to tell the truth, there was nothing that could be done and it seemed to him that the case could not be defended. Anyhow, he would lodge the usual official complaint, so that his professional conscience, apart from anything else, would be clear.

Barely a month later the notification that Sean had been dreading arrived in a cold computer message and reminded him of the clauses that had been agreed upon and advised him of the termination of the contract forthwith. When he read it, he felt even more vulnerable, and brimming with anger, felt like doing something mad. Was that why he paid his annual taxes? Was that why he risked his life for the sake of freedom? It wasn't fair.

But like most of the immigrants of Irish origin Sean was stubborn, he did not want to give in, not without a fight, at least, and this is what occurred to him: if they did not find him at home, perhaps they would not be able to do what they wanted so easily. So when the appointed day arrived, he got up early and left the neighbourhood, without saying a word to anyone.

As it was the first time in his life that he had ever escaped that way, he realised at once that he lacked the practice. He did not know where to go. He wandered around until midday along the misty streets in the lower part of the city, and afterwards, as he began to feel tired, headed for the port and sat down in a small, cheap pub. There he ordered his favourite menu: fried soft shell crabs and a bottle of white wine. As he was in no hurry whatsoever, he really savoured the food in his mouth.

By the time he left, the morning mist had made way for the warm spring sunshine. And thanks to the courage the wine had given him, he undid the buttons on his jacket and decided to go to the lighthouse on the cape, to remember the journeys of his youth. But his happiness did not last long. As he was going up the winding path covered by the sand, his eyes began to flicker, he legs failed him and in the end he went out irreversibly, just like a household appliance when it is disconnected. The arm of the company was a long one and Sean had underestimated it.


Two o'clock in the morning. You become aware of the child crying as if in a dream. You remove your husband's hairy claw from your lap, rub your eyes and take a good look at everything around you. No, it is not your imagination, but real crying, your three-month old son yelling his heart out. Poor thing! You get up slowly and make your way in the darkness of the room towards the yelling, with your arms stretched out in front of you, slowly and carefully, as you count the small steps you make on the rug: one, two, three, fourà Shit! According to your calculations there should still be another two steps to get to the cot, yet you bumped into the wooden wheel.

You pick up the baby, gently caress him, rock him and feed him. But to no avail. It is impossible to quieten him down. His little body continually curls up, stretches out and tenses. He must have a tummy ache or a sore bottom. You are exasperated. You rock him again, calm him down and let him go to sleep.

Now what have you done? When you shake your numb arms you knock something onto the floor and deduce from the noise that it is the lamp on top of the chest of drawers, that pretty brass one Aunt Laura gave you with the figure of a girl goose seller. Sometimes you half jokingly call it "La vendeuse de canards". You are surprised, because you thought the chest of drawers was much further away, at least two metres from the cot.

Oh well, back to sleep, you command yourself, and off you go slowly reading the flowery relief of the wallpaper with the tips of your fingers like a blind person. Ouch! You did not expect that. You bumped into the circular moulding on the ceiling and your hair gets covered in plaster. But apart from the knock on your head, you have a sensation of deep anguish.

Now there is no doubt at all in your mind: it has been happening every night since you had the baby, the flat contracts every night. You suspected it before, but now you are sure, absolutely sure. This change of scale happens gradually, without any earthquake, almost imperceptibly, like the most significant changes in life. And you find it very easy to imagine yourself covered with powdered plaster, unable to breathe and caught between burst concrete walls. You are terrified of this two-dimensional folded world, terrified of being crushed to death.

Somehow or other you pick up a blanket off the floor and curl up on the chair next to you, trembling, waiting for it to get light.

That is how your husband will find you a few hours later, half naked with your eyes closed. Like that Turkish woman, like that poor woman you saw on the news.


I began to feel unwell the moment I opened the obituary page in the newspaper. I sat down on a chair on the patio and put on my reading glasses, so as to be able to see it better. The blurry photo showed a man, fatter than the one I used to love so much, and more ordinary, nearly bald, weary and weak before his time. Those large, sad eyes were nevertheless his and the address said Florida, Daytona Beach, in fact, the town where he had chosen to live when he was so young.

Having left, he did not return to the island afterwards, not even for the wedding of his only sister. He did however make quite a lot of money in the catering and frozen meat trade and once, about twenty years ago or so, he sent us a fat check to offset the damage caused by the hurricane. The truth is we did not thank him enough for everything he did for us.

I brushed away my tears and read the names of the family members he had left behind: Wife: Altagracia Fernandez Luna (Altita); children: Virginia (Gina) and Aurelio (Yeyo). The latter is an aeronautical engineer and we share the same name.

I would love to meet the three of them, but I have never plucked up the courage. I did not know how my friend would have received me if I had turned up without any warning.

2011 Euskal Idazleen Elkartea
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