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Fall 2011

Table Talk

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Roberto Bolaño

Now you’re slipping toward the plan. You arrive at the river. There you light a cigarette. At the end of the road, on the corner, there’s a telephone booth and that’s the only light at the end of the road. You call Barcelona. The stranger picks up the phone. She says she won’t go. After a few seconds, during which you say “okay,” and she echoes, “okay,” you ask why. She says that Sunday she’s going to Alella and you say you’ll call her next time you’re in Barcelona. You hang up, and a cold air enters the booth, out of nowhere, when you think the following: “it’s like an autobiography.” Now you’re slipping through the winding streets. Gerona can be so bright at night, you think, just two sweepers chatting outside a closed bar and at the end of the road the lights of a car disappearing. I shouldn’t drink, you think, I shouldn’t sleep, I shouldn’t do anything that might disturb my focus. Now you’re stopped near the river, on the bridge built by Eiffel, hidden in the iron framework. You touch your face. On the other bridge, the bridge called de los labios, you hear footsteps, but when you look for the person there’s no one there, just the rustle of someone descending the stairs. You think: “therefore the stranger was like this and that and, therefore, the only unstable one is me, therefore I’ve had a magnificent dream.” The dream to which you’re referring just crossed in front of you, in the subtle instant when you were acknowledging a truce—and so became transparent briefly, like the Lawyer of Glass—and it consisted of the apparition, on the other end of the bridge, of a crowd of eunuchs, merchants, professors, housewives, naked and holding their testicles and sliced-off vaginas in the palms of their hands. What a strange dream, you say. No doubt you want to cheer yourself up.


REALITY. I’d returned to Gerona, alone, after three months of work. I had no chance of getting another job and I didn’t really want to anyway. The house, in my absence, had filled with cobwebs and things seemed to be covered by a green film. I felt empty, no desire to write and, when I tried, unable to sit still for more than an hour in front of a blank sheet of paper. The first few days I didn’t even bathe and soon enough I got used to the spiders. My activities were reduced to going down to the post office, where on rare occasion I found a letter from my sister, from Mexico, and going to the store to buy scraps of meat for the dog.

REALITY. In a way I couldn’t explain, the house seemed touched by something it didn’t have when I left. Things seemed clearer, for example, my armchair seemed clear, shining, and the kitchen, though full of dust stuck in scabs of grease, gave the impression of whiteness, as if you could see through it. (See what? Nothing: more whiteness.) In the same way, things were more distinguishable. The kitchen was the kitchen and the table just the table. Some day I’ll try to explain it, but then, two days after returning, if I set my hands or elbows on the table I experienced a sharp pain, as if I were biting something beyond repair.

(Translated from the Spanish by Laura Healy)

Roberto Bolaño, author of 2666, Distant Star, By Night in Chile, and other books, died in 2003. This Table Talk has been excerpted from "Prose in Autumn in Gerona" in Tres, translated by Laura Healy and published by New Directions in September of 2011.

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