Pablo Gutiérrez

Translated from the Spanish by Anna Kushner


As cadets, we rubbed Coca-Cola on our soles so we wouldn’t crack open our heads while playing outside. The dew soaked the concrete and we glided on the court like an aeroplane when it rains, our hands hidden in our fists, the pavement greasy beneath Saturday’s frost, and just at the mouth of the airport, eleven pale giants fastened to the seats like packages, the pilot narrows his eyes so that the nose meets the blue lines, the wind, the rain, all of the gods’ lightning illuminating our enormous jaws. On those winter courts, how we broadsided those boys from the Salesian school, there go the boys having taken communion – we used to say – there go the boys parading their embroidered crests, no one breathes until the aeroplane rushes on the runway and the pilot releases the brakes. A pitch-dark night: the sky falls in pieces over Treviso, it always rains in Treviso, what does it matter if from here to the hotel and from the hotel to the field we’re watched by the guard dog, oh, how we bit as cadets, how we rushed at anyone, and one Saturday they came to see me from La Caja and they shook my hand like a gentleman, they said, aren’t your parents home? Damn, you can really hit it, how would you like to try spending some time with us? La Caja! With Izquierdo and Lafuente and that tower of curls who was shooting at just fifteen years old, a trunk with elephant ankles who moved slooooowly like a mimic, but when he got it down court, oh, La Caja. My folks said fine, but only if you go on with school, and there was Mom, crying as if I were going off to Antarctica, don’t cry, Mommy, I’ll come home every weekend, all those hours on the bus that brings back the San Fernando recruits, heads shaved and bone-thin as lepers, sad and gloomy-faced with their backpacks hanging at their shoulders, their noses covered in pimples. Two breakfasts, meat at lunchtime, fish for supper, piles of vegetables on tin trays: we also made up an army, an army of gigantean kids with sharpened hands, prominent Adam’s apples and the shadow of a moustache. We followed orders, we had leaders, punishments and uniforms, La Caja’s uniform is so pretty, with gold borders, a name and number on the back, it was the first time I saw my name printed on a shirt, like an idiot I stared at it like someone who stares at the picture of his girlfriend, I would have slept in it if my room-mate hadn’t laughed, serious as a monk and stretched-out and dry, he spent his time reading and he could throw well but didn’t run much, and there you had to run like a deer, run and bust a gut during training so during games you could fly like Son Goku when he took his weights off, we hit any one of them with a hell of a lot of blows, it would be great if you could still play that way now, if it were that easy to glide right past your rivals like an aeroplane on the runway, jump that way, hit that way, laugh and always win that way, but everything now is fight and surround and bite down on your protector so they don’t break your teeth, like here in Treviso when they ripped one of my molars out during the first charge, minute one and boom, down to the floor like a sparring, of course I wasn’t even twenty years old then and I would be shaking as I came on to that court that had the appearance of a gym and the fans shake you from the minute you step on the sporting ring and Perotti the winger ripped my tooth out with a full contact blow of his elbow, I went running to the clinic so they could sew up the hole because I wouldn’t stop haemorrhaging and there was a monsoon-like rain falling, imagine, a guy as big as a castle all covered in blood asking for a doctor, the nurse nearly fell right over at the sight of me, how the Italians shake you in Treviso or Bologna, each point is an Olympic battle, they grab on to your neck like Medusas, I don’t have the heart or the patience any more but there’s nothing else I know how to do, after what happened at the Forum, who would trust me, I thought I would end up training kids for a modest salary, I don’t want a Nordic house on the peak of some mountain or yachts or cars that I can’t park but after what happened at the Forum who would dare put me in a locker room with kids if all I’m good for is being moody and putting on weight, although I’ve also been quite refined and elegant and have kept some of that, like when we were up against Baskonia, down by two, and Otis had gotten the whistle in the fifth and in the last play, they set a trap for the skinny guy and I threw that rock that I thought would end up outside the pavilion but goddamn, it went in like Larry Bird hit them, the stands went wild, in Giants, they did a retrospective on me, I appeared in all the television news programmes, well, if this isn’t going to be my day – I thought – but then what happened at the Forum came, and because of that I understand quite clearly that before the year is up, they’re going to kick me out, if it would at least stop raining, if only I could take off this tracksuit and button up a real coat and escape from this hotel without telling anyone, just looking left and right in case the guard dog is making his rounds as if we were juniors, if only I could rip off this ridiculous smock that’s hurled down on you from a fifth floor when you’re over thirty years old, I’m fed up with being a walking adman for AGR Insurance and Univision Optics, if only I could slip away from this remote hotel dropped down on a traffic circle with decorated roundabouts and carpet-covered hallways and brass banisters, a forlorn, tiny receptionist who looks at me with round eyes from deep inside her cardboard uniform as if I were a sulphuric giant banging the counter asking for the Yellow Pages, the classifieds from the newspaper, for a taxi to take me to the city: to walk wildly, feeling splendid and lazy, sit down at a cafe and invite a blonde girl to join me, ask for a cream puff, wolf it down in one bite, make a call like in the last century from a telephone booth, talk to Luisa about the weather in Treviso, ask her if the little one is asleep already, no, not yet, she’s cheating me in Parcheesi, tell her to get on the line, you’re-so-far-away-I-have-a-burn-mark-on-my-­finger-I’ve-already-got-two-up-on-her, if I could, I would care very little about what happened at the Forum, but it’s raining like in the Great Flood and I’ve become a prisoner of this room watched over by the guard dog, inside this walking adman costume, sharing a room with this little acrobat boy who thinks he is Vince Carter and who has been playing video games for two hours already, imprisoned as if I were at camp training a pony and riding zip-lines while Mom and Dad go off to Paris for a week to see if they can kiss each other there like they don’t here, and even though I could escape and strip and get into that taxi, I would still be moving this mountain-like body crowned with the face of a chased aboriginal. On that peak, my forehead like a movie screen would stand out like the lamp of a lighthouse: the little blonde would squeeze her knees together like a girl who is peeing herself, there wouldn’t be any cream puffs left at the pastry shop, in this century, there’s no finding a telephone booth with anything more than an amputated cable hanging like a terrible extremity.

Gigantomachy. Humans against giants. All of those midgets spitting at me from the stands, hanging strips of toilet paper from my ears, urinating on my towel, calling me hair-raising things, the word repeated from their rounded mouths that sounds the same in every language, even syllables and fricatives and different I-don’t-­know-whats always sound like the same thing.

The little one will already be asleep in her small bed, Luisa will have already clothed and tucked in her soft little body with her thin fingers, left on the hallway light, sat down in front of the television set like an Indian, she won’t be able to sleep and will pick up a book from the shelf, she’ll read until day breaks, will make coffee and dress the girl, don’t forget your coat, she’ll have to leave the car double-parked, she’ll get out with her in her arms and will run back because the horns are already honking and later at home she’ll go back to bed and sleep until noon, incorrigible Luisa, you never listen to me, you can’t live on that birdseed, your ankles are becoming bird-like, bird-like hands, your bird-like fingers and eyelids and empty stare like the rabbit-kid from the Forum.

In the mirror over the sink, my face is reflected like a death mask, a wax mould that says who I once was, where my nose and my cheeks were, where my twisted mouth was, how many lines on my forehead. I hear the tap-tap of the mini Vince Carter with his little game; I want at least to look good when I show up on his camera lens tomorrow. They take pictures of me, they hate me and they take my picture, they shake their fists and focus their telephones on me; the same thing happens in Belgrade and in Lyon. They’re happy, they hate me and they’re happy because there’s nothing like the relief of concentrating that electric vector on a single focus, I carry out such a valuable social service that the government should subsidize me for life, I keep them from thinking of banks and bureaucrats, I am the favourite villain, they gather their anger and disgust all week long then spit it out on me, I play my role of public enemy better than a paedophile, better than a coup leader, better than a corrupt politician, the tyrant of an exotic country, you should rot in a jail cell no matter how much you swear it was an accident, a mishap, an incident, a misfortune, a series of movements, the video so oft-repeated, your large, heavy hand like granite falling over the rabbit’s neck, poor, poor, telegenic kid, the frozen scene of your pressed jaw while you shake that single blow, the audience’s silence that allows you to hear the doctor’s steps on the parquet, the towel over the kid twisting and convulsing, your expression, your gaze fixed on the body that is no longer the kid who ran after you on the court and mocked you – old geezer – but just a shadow of him beneath a towel advertising Univision Optics, the game called off, the question, the slowness with which you cross the sporting ring. What does it matter if they say we regret this shameful act, he’s so emotional that he can’t talk about it, a fatal accident, a damned coincidence, how could one even suggest it was on purpose, how could you say file a complaint and get a judge, condolences to the family, he still doesn’t feel capable of talking about it, the razor gliding, the tap-tap of the little Martians, you never listen to me, Luisa-bird, you have to sleep and eat and get some sun, you’re a bat, the girl so white, so thin, but instead of sitting with her in the park, you take refuge in the house and play like kittens or make cathedrals out of plastic blocks, rickets, you even forget about dinner and snacks, children need snacks and to run under the sun, run until they get asthmatic, vitamin D, you never listen to me, at least put on a good face tomorrow, offer up cheeks smoothed with the sacrifice of his saliva, they said it’s better you stay at home, rest for a while, but what home, what while, what hole, no – I lied – I need to keep going to not get stuck on the image of poor-rabbit-kid, so that anxiety and guilt don’t ensnare me, and by contrast, so that the healthy, beneficial routine that cures all evil, the rail, normality, go after you on the court, they said, they’re going to go after you, they said, people only understand that horrible thing, it was you, it’s absurd, how could you – my cheeks polished like a shield.

Ever since then the feet are so quick, the feel of the leather is almost as soft as when I was a cadet, sometimes I think I am still just a child and that I haven’t learned anything from anything, now they make space for me and I sit, agile, liquid, it must be that the faggots don’t dare, I struggle, I jump, it must be that the rabbit-kid was reabsorbed within me, but it’s Treviso and it’s raining like the devil and tomorrow the film is done, tomorrow they’re going to damn me, they’re going to jump at my throat tomorrow, revenge for their compatriot, they said it would be better for you not to come, there will be a row, but they shouldn’t blame me or chase me, and that’s the reason for the poker face and the tap-tap of the video game. There should be a video game of poor kids against me, me executing poor kids with blows to knock a rabbit’s head off in revenge for all the old geezers dragging themselves on the court like Moses Malone, sneakers with wheels for us, retirement with Admiral’s honours for us, a regular life with a wife and regular children who aren’t conspiring against you or telling you you’re inconvenient or ugly, it would be better if the two of us lived alone without you, of course I still love you, it’s something else, something else.

In Treviso. The streets. The taxi. It can’t be that hard to find a pharmacy.

The Hotel Life
After Helena