Woes of the True Policeman, p.4Roberto Bolaño
How Were the Carreras Affected by Amalfitano’s Departure?
At first both of them were busy at their respective jobs, and in a way, especially for Antoni, Amalfitano’s departure was simply a relief, but after a few months, in the middle of an especially boring after-dinner hour, the two of them began to miss him. Gradually they realized that Amalfitano and his crazy stories were like the image of their own lost youth. They saw him as they saw themselves: young, poor, determined, brave, generous, invested in a perhaps ridiculous and feeble way with pride and nobility. By so often associating Amalfitano with defunct images of themselves, they ultimately stopped thinking about him. Only every so often, when a letter came from Rosa, were they reminded of the wandering queer, and then they would laugh, happy all of a sudden, remembering him with fleeting but sincere affection.
How Was Jordi Carrera Affected by the Departure of Rosa Amalfitano?
It was much harder for him than for his parents. Until Rosa left, it was as if Jordi lived at the North Pole. He and his friends and a few people who weren’t his friends and others he didn’t even know but saw in teen magazines, all lived in harmony—if not happily, since happiness was a sham—at the North Pole. They played basketball there, learned English, developed computer skills, bought lumberjack clothes, and assiduously attended movies and concerts. His parents often remarked to each other how inexpressive Jordi was, but this lack of expressiveness was his true self. Rosa’s absence changed everything. From one day to the next, Jordi found himself sailing at full speed over a vast sheet of ice to warmer seas. The North Pole receded in the distance and faded in significance and his ice sheet kept shrinking. He soon began to suffer from insomnia and nightmares.
How Was Padilla Affected by Amalfitano’s Departure?
Hardly at all. Padilla lived in a constant state of amorous self-expression and his feelings were extravagant but didn’t last for more than a day. In his own way, Padilla was a scientist who left no room for God in his laboratory. He agreed with Burroughs that love is nothing but a mixture of sentimentalism and sex and he found it everywhere, which meant that he was unable to mourn a lost love for more than twenty-four hours. Inside, he was strong and he accepted the shifts and fluctuations of the romantic object with a stoicism that, unlikely as it seemed, he shared with his father. Once, the poet Pere Girau asked how in the world, after a person had loved and fucked a Greek god, he could love and fuck people of inferior looks—ugly queers, if you can believe it, and the usual horrible rent boys. Padilla’s answer was that we loved beautiful people for the sake of convenience, that it was like a preference for known quantities, that the inner self was all that mattered, and that he could find beauty even in the shuffle of a donkey. And he wasn’t the only one. For example, he said, take the Apollonian poets of nineteenth-century France who sated themselves with stub-dicked boys from the Maghreb, youths who in no way fit the strict definition of classical beauty. Stub-dicked boys? said the poet Pere Girau incredulously, but I’m Apollonian, too, aren’t I, and I’d like to find someone to love who’s at least as good-looking as the son of a bitch who left me. Girau, said Padilla, I love people and my insides are bursting, and all you love is poetry.
And Finally, How Was the Poet Pere Girau Affected by the Departure of Amalfitano?
Not at all, though occasionally he remembered how much Amalfitano knew about Elizabethan verse, how well acquainted he was with the work of Marcel Schwob, how pleasant and agreeable he was when they talked about contemporary Italian poetry (Girau had translated twenty-five poems by Dino Campana into Catalan), what a good listener he was, and how sharp his opinions usually were. In bed it was a different story, he was a late-blooming queer and he neglected the practical, neglected it badly. Though in the end, thought the poet Pere Girau bitterly, he’s more practical than we are, because he’ll always be a literature professor, which means he’ll be protected financially at least, while we’re plunged into the vulgar and savage fin de siècle.
During the flight each of them realized that the other was afraid, though not very, and each of them understood with a sense of fatalism that all they had was each other: Planet Amalfitano began with Óscar and ended with Rosa and there was nothing in between. Or maybe there was: a succession of countries, a whirl of cities and streets that brightened and darkened arbitrarily in memory, the ghost of Edith Lieberman in Brazil, an imaginary country called Chile that drove Amalfitano mad—although every so often he tried to find out what was going on there—and that Rosa, born in Argentina, couldn’t care less about. If their plane went down in flames over the Atlantic, if their plane exploded, if their plane disappeared in the boundless space of the Amalfitanos, no memory of them would be left in the world, thought Amalfitano sadly. And he thought: we are two gypsies without a tribe, reviled, used, exploited, with no real friends, a clown and his poor defenseless daughter. Which led him to think: if instead of both of us dying in a plane accident only I die, of a heart attack or stomach cancer or in some gay brawl (the possibilities made Amalfitano sweat), what will happen to my angel, my darling, my wonderful, clever girl? and the carpet of clouds he could see if he craned his neck a little (he was in an aisle seat) opened up like the door to a nightmare, like an immaculate wound, Israel, he thought, Israel, let her head to the first Israeli embassy she can find and request citizenship, her mother was Jewish, so it’s her right, let her live in Tel Aviv and study at Tel Aviv University, where she’ll probably run into Skinny Bolzman (how many years has it been since I saw him? twenty?), let her marry an Israeli and live happily ever after, ah, he thought, if only it could be Sweden I would breathe easier, but Israel isn’t bad, Israel is acceptable. And he thought: if neither of us dies but things go badly in Santa Teresa, if I lose my job and can’t find another one, if I can only give private French lessons and we have to live in a seedy boardinghouse, if we start to shrivel up and succumb to our basest instincts in the middle of nowhere with no money to leave and no place to go, if we’re smothered and numbed in a time that moves with endless slowness, without hope or prospects, if I end up like that Spanish widow I met in a café in Colón, the perfect victim, that mental Justine who worried every day that the Panamanians (the black ones, those big, athletic black men) would rape her delectable fifteen-year-old daughter, and she would be helpless, a woman with no husband and no money running a tiny café that made no profit, with no hope of returning to Spain, trapped in a Buñuel film from the ’50s, what will I do then? thought Amalfitano, bewildered, trying to block stray images of Padilla and desolate, schematic New World landscapes in which he was the only cat among packs of hounds, a hoopoe among eagles and peacocks.
A month after they were settled in Santa Teresa one of the secretaries from the rector’s office gave Amalfitano a letter from Padilla that was addressed to the university. In the letter Padilla talked about the weather in Barcelona, about how much he was drinking, about his new lover—another one—a twenty-eight-year-old SEAT auto worker, married with three children. He said that he had left the university (it wasn’t the same without you) and that at last he had work, he was a proofreader at a publishing house, a friend got him the job, it was a little boring but secure and the pay wasn’t bad, though a few lines later he said that in fact the pay was bad but he could get by. He also said that he had left the studio and that the painter who was sometimes there, the one with the gold cigarette case full of little hash cigarettes, had recently killed himself in New York. Life, according to Padilla, despite the crushing boredom of proofreading novels faker than a three-thousand-peseta note, continued to be strange and full of mysterious offerings. Finally, he reported that he had begun to write his first novel. About the plot, however, he divulged nothing.
Amalfitano answered the letter that same night, in his room, lying on his unmade bed, as his daughter devoured another video in the living room. In broad strokes he described his life in Santa Teresa, his work, how receptive his students w
Padilla’s response was quick to arrive. It was concise and monothematic. My novel, he said, will be like an emission of stroboscopic light, with lots of characters (though rudimentary or sketched arbitrarily and at random) and lots of violence and lots of wolf moons and dog moons and lots of erect and well-greased cocks, lots of hard cocks and lots of howling.
Amalfitano’s response, on university letterhead and written between classes on the electric typewriter in his cubicle, tried to be judicious. Too many characters could turn any novel into a collection of stories. Hard cocks, with glorious exceptions, were hardly ever literary. Howls were literary, but the place for them, their natural medium, was generally poetry, not prose. That way lies danger, he warned, and a few lines later he insisted on hearing the circumstances surrounding the painter’s suicide. Otherwise, he assured Padilla once again that he missed him and wished him the best. About his new life in Santa Teresa he said practically nothing.
The next news he had from Padilla was a postcard of the port of Barcelona. This is where we saw each other for the last time, he said. The last time ever, I think sometimes. And he disclosed the title of his novel: The God of Homosexuals.
Amalfitano returned the ball. On a postcard of Santa Teresa depicting the statue of General Sepúlveda, hero of the Revolution, he allowed that the title struck him as the right choice. It was a sad title, certainly, but the right choice. And who was this god of homosexuals? Not the goddess of love or the god of beauty, but some other god—which one? As to whether they would see each other again, he left that in the hands of the god of travelers.
Padilla’s response was swift and lengthy: the leather-wearing painter had had seemingly no reason to kill himself. He was in New York for a solo show of his work at the prestigious Gina Randall Gallery, you’ve probably never heard of her, but she’s known to the cognoscenti as one of the most powerful art dealers in Babylon. So, ruling out any financial or artistic motives (in that order, insisted Padilla), what remained were sentimental or carnal ones, but the painter was famous for his indifference to a nice pair of hips and to spoken or unspoken romantic sentiments, which meant that this possibility also had to be discarded. And if the explanation wasn’t money, art, or romance, what else could drive a man to suicide? Clearly: boredom or illness, the culprit must have been one or the other, you choose. Regarding the identity of the god of homosexuals, Padilla was categorical: he’s the god of beggars, the god who sleeps on the ground, in subway entrances, the god of insomniacs, the god of those who have always lost. Here he talked (confusedly) about Belisarius and Narses, two Byzantine generals, the former young and beautiful, the latter old and a eunuch, but both of them perfectly suited to the Emperor’s military needs, and he talked about the wages of Byzantium. He’s a helpless god, ugly and resplendent, a god who loves but whose love is terrible and always, but always, turns against him.
The wages of Chile, remembered Amalfitano, and he also thought: fuck, he’s describing the god of poets, the god of the poor, the god of the Comte de Lautréamont and Rimbaud.
The novel is moving along, said Padilla in the postcript, but the proofreading work was killing him. Too many hours comparing originals and proofs, soon he would probably need glasses. This last bit of news saddened Amalfitano. The only glasses that suited Padilla’s face were sunglasses, and then only because of the unsettling effect produced when Padilla removed them with a flourish at once provocative and endearing.
In response, he listed all the reasons why Padilla should persist at all costs with The God of Homosexuals. When you finish, he suggested with false casualness, you can come visit us. They say that the north of Mexico is delightful. This letter received no response. For a while Padilla remained silent.
Soon after this, Amalfitano began to feel watched. There were other times in his life when he’d had the same feeling: that of the prey in the woods who scents the hunter. But it was so long ago that he’d forgotten the instructions and advice received in his youth, the proper way to behave in a situation like the one that now, rather than presenting itself, was gradually creeping up on him.
II. AMALFITANO and PADILLA
Padilla said tell me, tell me about the dangers you’ve seen, and Amalfitano thought of an adolescent on horseback, himself, achingly beautiful, and then he thought of a black blanket, the blanket he wrapped around himself early in the morning at the detention camp, first he thought of its color, then its smell, and finally its texture, how nice it felt to cover his face with it and let his nose, his lips, his forehead, his bruised cheekbones, come into contact with the rough cloth. It was an electric blanket, he remembered happily, but there was nowhere to plug it in. And Padilla said my love, let my lips be like your black blanket, let me kiss those eyes that have seen so much. And Amalfitano felt happy to be with Padilla. He said: Joan, Joan, Joan, here I am at last emerging from the tunnel, all that time wasted, all those days lost, and he also thought: if only I’d met you sooner, but he didn’t say it, or rather he communicated it telepathically, so that Padilla couldn’t say you idiot, sooner? when? in a time outside of time, thought Amalfitano as Padilla kissed him softly on the back, in an ideal time, when to be awake was to dream, in a country where men love men, isn’t that the title of a novel? asked Padilla, yes, said Amalfitano, but I can’t think of the name of the author. And then, as if he were riding the night in successive waves, he returned to the black electric blanket, with its little tail and its stains, and over the shouting, shouting that announced an impending hurricane, Padilla’s voice rose like the captain of a sinking ship. This will end badly, thought Amalfitano, end badly, end badly, as Padilla’s cock sank smoothly into his old ass.
Then, as always, came the madness. Padilla introduced him to a fat, blue-eyed adolescent, the poet Pere Girau, a wonderful kid, said Padilla, you have to hear him read, he’s got a voice as rich and deep as Auden’s. And Amalfitano listened to Pere Girau read his poems and then they went out for a drive, out for drinks at the Killer Trucker and the Brothers Poyatos, and the three of them ended up in Padilla’s studio and in Padilla’s bed, and Amalfitano, consumed by doubt, thought that this wasn’t what he wanted, even though later he really did want it. But still, he would have liked a different kind of bond, spending evenings with Padilla discussing literature, for example, making time for intimacy and friendship.
And after the poet Pere Girau there were two others, classmates of Padilla, and Amalfitano’s surprise upon meeting them and discovering the purpose of their meeting was huge. This was no longer a matter of attending dramatic readings. He was ashamed, he blushed, he tried to be casual and cold but failed. And Padilla seemed to enjoy his distress, seemed to change and grow, become suddenly old and cynical (he had always been foulmouthed), while Amalfitano grew progressively younger, more dazed, shyer. An adolescent in a foreign land. Don’t worry, Óscar, they understand, they’ve been doing this since long before I popped your cherry, they like you, they say they’ve never had such a good-looking professor, they say it’s incredible, considering how old you are, they wonder what you’d like to do tonight, said Padilla, laughing, thoroughly pleased with himself, master of his actions and his emotions, before the disease, before his encounter with the god of homosexuals.
Tell me, tell me the dangerous things you’ve done in your life, said Padilla. The
Amalfitano thought, too, about the last time he made love with Padilla. Days before he left for Mexico, Padilla called. Trembling all over, Amalfitano agreed to what he imagined would be their last date. An hour later a taxi dropped him off at the port and Padilla, with his black jacket buttoned up to the neck, strode toward him.
He really should stop smiling, thought Amalfitano as he gazed fixedly, spellbound, at Padilla’s face, finding it haggard, paler, almost translucent, as if lately the sun never shone on it. Then, when he felt Padilla’s lips on his cheek, brushing the corner of his own lips, he experienced a feeling for his former student that—the few times he stopped to think about it—disturbed him. A mixture of desire, paternal affection, and sadness, as if Padilla were the embodiment of an impossible trinity: lover, son, and ideal reflection of Amalfitano himself. He felt sorry for Padilla, for Padilla and his father, for the deaths in his life and his lost loves, which cast him in a lonely light: there, on that sad backdrop, Padilla was too young and too fragile and there was nothing Amalfitano could do about it. And while at the same time he knew with certainty—and most of the time this perplexed him—that there existed an invulnerable Padilla, arrogant as a Mediterranean god and strong as a Cuban boxer, the pity lingered, the sense of loss and impotence.
Woes of the True Policeman by Roberto Bolaño / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes