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Woes of the true policem.., p.20
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       Woes of the True Policeman, p.20

           Roberto Bolaño
 
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  He also talked about his current situation. He had become friends with Adrià, Raguenau’s nephew, though no sex figured into the friendship: it was a kind of monastic love, he said, they held hands and talked about any old thing, sports or politics (Adrià’s boyfriend was an athlete and an active member of the Gay Coordinating Committee of Catalonia), art or literature. Sometimes, when Adrià begged him to, he read bits from The God of Homosexuals, and sometimes they wept together on the balcony, in each other’s arms, watching the sun set over Plaza Molina.

  Raguenau, meanwhile, he had slept with. He gave a step-by-step account of the proceedings. Raguenau’s bedroom, awash in Caribbean blue and ebony, African masks and porcelain dolls (what a combination! thought Amalfitano). The timid nakedness of Raguenau, a touch ashamed, his belly too big, his legs too skinny, his chest hairless and flabby. His own nakedness reflected in a mirror, still acceptable, less muscle mass, maybe, but acceptable, more Greco than Caravaggio. The shyness of Raguenau curled up in his arms, the room dark. Raguenau’s voice saying that this was enough, he didn’t need to do anything else, this was wonderful, perfect, feeling himself being held and then falling asleep. Raguenau’s smile, sensed in the darkness. The phosphorescent red condoms. Raguenau’s trembling upon being penetrated with no need for Vaseline, ointment, saliva, or any other kind of lubricant. Raguenau’s legs: now tensed, now seeking his legs, toes seeking his toes. His penis in Raguenau’s ass and Raguenau’s half-erect penis caught in his left hand and Raguenau moaning, begging him to let go of his cock or at least not to squeeze too hard. His laugh of joy, unexpected, pure, like a flare in the dark room, and Raguenau’s lips issuing a faint protest. The speed of his hips, their thrust unimpaired, his hands caressing Raguenau’s body and at the same time dangling him over the abyss. The baker’s fear. His hands grabbing Raguenau’s body and rescuing it from the abyss. Raguenau’s moans, his panting growing louder and louder, like a man being hacked to pieces. Raguenau’s voice, barely a thread, saying slower, slower. His crippled soul. But don’t misinterpret me, said Padilla. That was what he said: don’t misinterpret me, the way you’ve always done, don’t misinterpret me. Raguenau’s innocent sleep and his own insomnia. His steps echoing through the whole house, from the bathroom to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the living room. Rageunau’s books. The Aldo Ferri armchair and the vaguely Brancusi lamp. The dawn that finds him naked and reading.

  15

  The clinic in Tijuana where Amalfitano took the AIDS test had a window that looked out onto a vacant lot. There, amid the rubble and the trash, under a blazing sun, was a stocky little man with a giant mustache who seemed to be the enterprising type and who was carefully assembling a kind of tent from a collection of sheets of cardboard. He looked like the red-bearded pirate from the Donald Duck cartoons, except that his skin and hair were very dark.

  After Padilla let him know that he had the antibodies, Amalfitano decided to be tested, but in Tijuana rather than Santa Teresa, so there would be no chance of running into some university acquaintance. He told Isabel Aguilar and she decided to drive him there. They set out very early and made their way across a plain where everything was a deep yellow color, even the clouds and the stunted bushes scattered along the highway.

  “At this time of day it’s all like that,” said Isabel, “the color of chicken broth. Then the earth shakes itself awake and the yellow vanishes.”

  They had breakfast in Cananea and then they continued on to Santa Ana, Caborca, Sonoyta, and San Luis, where they exited the state of Sonora and entered Baja California North. Along the way Isabel told him about a Texan who had once been in love with her. He was a kind of art dealer, introduced to her by an art professor. This happened after she had ended her relationship with the mechanic. The dealer looked like a boor in his cowboy boots, string tie, and Stetson, but he knew a fair bit about contemporary American art. The only problem was that she had taken a dislike to him, spooked as she was by her previous relationships.

  “Once,” said Isabel, “he came to my house and invited me to a Larry Rivers show in San Antonio. I just stood there looking at him and I thought: this guy wants to sleep with me and he can’t figure out how to say so. I don’t know why I said yes. I had no intention of sleeping with him, or at least I didn’t plan to make it easy for him, and the idea of a car trip to San Antonio wasn’t tempting, either, but suddenly something made me want to go, I felt like seeing the Larry Rivers and even the hours on the road seemed appealing, the meals along the way, the motel where we planned to stay in San Antonio, the excruciatingly monotonous scenery, the weariness of travel. So I packed some clothes, a volume of Nietzsche, and my toothbrush and off we went. Before we crossed the border I realized that the Texan had no interest in getting me into bed. What he wanted was someone to talk to (strangely enough, he had taken a liking to me). Basically, I realized that he was a pretty lonely guy and sometimes that got to him. The trip was very nice, not much to report, luckily things were clear from the start. When we got to San Antonio we checked into a motel on the edge of town, into separate rooms, ate fairly well at a Chinese restaurant, and then we went to the show. Well, it turns out that this was the opening and the press was there, a couple of TV cameras, lights, drinks, local celebrities, and—in a corner, surrounded by people—Larry Rivers himself. I didn’t recognize him, but the Texan said: that’s Larry over there, let’s go say hi. So we went up to him and shook hands. It’s an honor, Mr. Rivers, said the Texan, I do believe you’re a genius. And then he introduced me: Miss Isabel Aguilar, professor of philosophy at the University of Santa Teresa. Larry Rivers looked him up and down, from the Stetson to the boots, and at first he didn’t say anything but then he asked where Santa Teresa was, Texas or California? and I shook his hand, not saying a word, a little bit shy, and I said Mexico, the state of Sonora. Larry Rivers looked at me and said wonderful, Sonora, wonderful. And that was it, we said goodbye very politely and we moved on to the other end of the gallery, the Texan wanted to talk about the paintings, I was thirsty but I wanted to talk about the paintings, too, we spent a while drinking wine and eating caviar and smoked salmon canapés, and drinking wine, the two of us growing more enthusiastic about the show by the minute, and suddenly, in the blink of an eye, I found myself alone, sitting at a table full of empty glasses and sweating like a mare after a wild gallop. I don’t have heart trouble, but suddenly I was afraid I’d have a heart attack, a stroke, whatever. I made my way to the restroom as best I could, and spent a while splashing off my face. It was a strange experience, the cold water never came into contact with my skin, the layer of sweat was so thick—even solid, you might say—that it blocked it. My chest burned as if someone had stuck a red-hot bar between my breasts. For a moment I was sure that someone had put some drug in my drink, but what drug? I don’t know. I can’t remember how much time I spent in the restroom. When I came out there were hardly any people in the gallery. A very beautiful woman, a Scandinavian blonde, maybe thirty-eight, was standing next to Larry Rivers and talking nonstop. I was amazed that Larry Rivers and a few of his friends were still there. The Scandinavian woman dominated the conversation, talking and gesticulating, but the strangest thing of all was that she seemed to be reciting something, a long poem that she illustrated with her hands, hands that were surely soft and elegant. Larry Rivers watched her carefully, his eyes half-closed, as if he were seeing the blond woman’s story, a story about tiny people in constant motion. Jesus, I thought, that’s nice. I would have loved to join them, but my shyness—or sense of propriety, I guess—prevented me. The Texan was nowhere to be found. Before I left, the Larry Rivers group smiled at me. On my way out, I bought the catalogue and took a taxi back to the motel. I went to the Texan’s room, but he wasn’t there. The next day, at the reception desk, I was told that he had left the previous night, and that before he left he had paid for everything, including my room and my breakfast that morning at the motel restaurant. I thought about eating all there was to eat, even eggs and ham, whi
ch I hate, but all I could get down was the coffee. What had caused the Texan to leave so rudely? I never found out. Luckily I had my credit cards with me. At two that afternoon I got on a plane to Hermosillo and from there I took a taxi to Santa Teresa.

  16

  Padilla’s next letter talked about a girl he had met at the hospital and it went off on a long and rather sinister tangent. I promised to tell you how, when I was in the hospital, I settled my dispute with my roommates, he said. Those upstanding young men, rudderless sons of the proletariat (also called lumpen proletariat, thought Amalfitano, who deep down was still a Marxist), treated me the way the Arabs treated the Jews in 1948, so I decided to act, make a show of force, sow fear.

  One night, he said, I waited until the whole ward was in the arms of Morpheus and then I got up. Moving stealthily (like a ballerina on the moon, said Padilla) and dragging his IV pole, he headed to the nearest bed (where the most threatening—also the most handsome—boy lay), closed the curtains, and began to strangle him. With one hand he covered his mouth, and with the other, which held the catheter, he throttled him until he gasped for air. When the sleeper woke and opened his eyes and tried to get away, it was futile. Padilla had him at his mercy and he tortured him a little more, then made him swear that the fun was over. The other two woke up and through the curtain they could see the shadow of Padilla on top of their friend. They probably thought I was raping him, said Padilla, but they were so scared that nobody said a word. In any case, the next day the mocking, contemptuous glances had been replaced by looks of fear.

  The girl he met was the sister of the guy he had tried to strangle. One afternoon she brought him a present. A huge, juicy-looking yellow pear speckled with brown. The girl sat down next to his bed and asked why he had hurt her brother. The three junkies, remembered Padilla, were smoking in a corner, by the window, while the girl talked to him. Padilla’s answer was: to clear the air. So even the terminally ill aren’t allowed to fuck with you? asked the girl. Actually, I love it when they fuck with me, said Padilla, and then he asked her where she’d learned a technical term like that. The girl raised her eyebrows. Terminally ill, said Padilla. The girl laughed and said at the hospital, of course.

  They became friends.

  Two weeks after he was discharged he ran into her at a bar near the Urquinaona metro station. Her name was Elisa and she sold heroin in small quantities. She said that her oldest brother was dead and her other brother, the one in the next bed, didn’t have long to live. Padilla tried to cheer her up, citing statistics, survival rates, the introduction of new drugs, but he soon realized it was useless.

  Her name was Elisa and her turf was Nou Barris, where she lived, though she bought the drugs in El Raval. Padilla went with her a few times. The dealer’s name was Kemal and he was black. In other circumstances Padilla would have tried to screw him, but sex wasn’t something he cared much about just then. He was more interested in listening and watching. Listening and watching: new sensations that might not offer much comfort but that did slow his despair and make it more deliberate, allowing him to take a more objective view of something that at the same time he realized could not be viewed objectively. Elisa was eighteen and lived with her parents. She had a boyfriend, also an addict, and once a month she saw a married man who helped her out financially.

  The letter ended with a description of the girl. Of average height; very thin; too-big tits; olive skin; big almond-shaped eyes fringed with long, dreamy lashes; almost nonexistent lips; a pleasant voice, though trained or grown accustomed to shouting and cursing; well-proportioned hands with long, elegant fingers; fingernails nevertheless chewed and crooked, badly crooked; eyebrows darker than her hair; smooth, strong, flat belly. On the subject of her belly: once, he said, he brought her home to sleep. They shared his bed. Aren’t you afraid that in the middle of the night I’ll fuck you and infect you? No, said Elisa. Which led Padilla to the conclusion, logical after all, that she was HIV positive too. For a while, before they fell asleep, they made out. Unenthusiastically, or in what you might call a friendly way, explained Padilla. The next morning they had breakfast with his father. My father, said Padilla, tried to not show how surprised and happy he was, but he couldn’t help himself.

  On the subject of his health he had only vague things to say. His lungs were weak, but why they were so weak he didn’t explain. He ate well, his appetite was good.

  Amalfitano wrote back instantly. He told him about his day trip to Tijuana to be tested, he urged him to speak frankly about his illness (I want to know exactly what kind of shape you’re in, I need to know, Joan), he beseeched him to work without pause on his novel, to the extent possible. He didn’t tell him that he had already received his test results and that they were negative. He didn’t tell him that he had been dreaming of leaving everything and flying to Barcelona to take care of him.

  17

  Padilla’s next letter was written on the back of a reproduction of a Larry Rivers painting: Portrait of Miss Oregon II, 1973, acrylic on canvas, 66 x 108 inches, private collection, and for a moment Amalfitano was unable to read, astonished, asking himself whether in a previous letter he had told Padilla about the trip to Tijuana and Isabel’s story of her trip to San Antonio to visit the Larry Rivers show. The answer was no, Padilla didn’t even know Isabel existed, so the apparition of Larry Rivers had to be pure coincidence. Coincidence or a trick of fate (Amalfitano remembered a time when he believed that nothing happened by chance, everything happened for some reason, but when was that time? he couldn’t remember, all he could remember was that at some point this was what he believed), something that must hold some meaning, some larger truth, a sign of the terrible state of grace in which Padilla found himself, an emergency exit overlooked until now, or a message intended specifically for Amalfitano, a message perhaps signaling that he should have faith, that things that seemed to have come to a halt were still in motion, things that seemed like ruined statues were mending themselves and recovering.

  He read gratefully. Padilla talked about a Rauschenberg show (but if it was a Rauschenberg show why had he sent a Larry Rivers postcard?) at a gallery in the heart of Barcelona, about the hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, about young poets whom he, Padilla, hadn’t seen for ages, about a long walk to Plaza Cataluña and then down the Ramblas to the port, and then the streets became a labyrinth and Padilla and his poet friends (renegades who wrote indiscriminately in Spanish and Catalan and who were all homosexuals and who had no love for critics in either Spanish or Catalan) vanished with open eyes into a secret night, an iron night, said Padilla.

  Then, by way of a postcript or curious side note, on a half sheet of paper and in tiny handwriting, Padilla talked about a trip to Girona to visit the parents of one of the poets, and about the nearly empty train that transported them through the “Catalan countryside,” and about a North African who was reading a book backwards, prompting the poet from Girona, polite but exceedingly nosy, to ask whether it was the Koran, and the North African’s answer was yes, the sura of mercy or compassion or charity (Padilla couldn’t remember which), which led the poet from Girona to ask whether the mercy (or compassion or charity) preached there applied to Christians, too, and again the North African’s answer was yes, certainly, of course, absolutely, all human beings, and he spoke with such warmth that the poet from Girona was emboldened to ask whether it also applied to atheists and homosexuals, and this time the North African answered frankly that he didn’t know, he supposed so, since atheists and faggots were human beings, weren’t they? but that in all sincerity he didn’t know the answer, maybe yes, maybe no. And then the North African asked the poet from Girona what he believed. And the poet from Girona, preemptively offended, tacitly humiliated, answered haughtily that he believed in what he could see from the windows of the train: woods, gardens, houses, roads, cars, bicycles, tractors—progress, in short. To which the North African replied that progress wasn’t really so important. Which made the poet from Girona exclaim that if
it weren’t for progress neither he nor the North African would be having this comfortable chat in a half-empty train. To which the North African replied that reality was an illusion and that at this very moment they might just as well be talking in a Bedouin tent in the desert. Which, after it made him smile, made the poet from Girona say that they might be talking in the desert or they might be fucking. To which the North African replied that if the poet from Girona were a woman, he would definitely take her to his harem, but since the poet from Girona seemed to be only a faggot dog and he was only a poor immigrant, that possibility or illusion was barred. Which made the poet from Girona say that in that case the sura of mercy meant less than a bicycle, and that he should watch what he said since the tip of a bike seat had been known to give more than a few people a poke in the ass. To which the North African replied that this would be in the poet’s world, not his own, where martyrs always walked with their faces held high. Which made the poet from Girona say that all the Moors he had known were either rent boys or thieves. To which the North African replied that he couldn’t be responsible for the kinds of friends a faggot pig might have. Which made the poet from Girona say: go ahead, call me a faggot and a pig, but I bet you won’t let me blow you right here. To which the North African replied that the flesh was weak and that he might as well get used to torture. Which made the poet from Girona say: unzip your pants and let me suck you off, darling. To which the North African replied that he’d sooner die. Which made the Girona poet ask: will I be saved? will I be saved too? To which the Maghrebi replied that he didn’t know, he honestly didn’t know.

 
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