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spanish original | biographypicture by M.G Smout


by Andrés Ibáñez

translation by Graham Thomson

THE FAMILY HAD GONE out into the garden and were contemplating the reddish reflections of the clouds on the water. Martin was silent. Toop, the orphan, went across to the landing stage, took off her dress and stood there naked staring at the black water, not knowing what to do.

      There was only one light on in the house, the one in the drawing room window, through which Luisa could be seen, standing with her arms akimbo, and Augusto, her husband, with his hands open in the air and his liver-coloured lips also half open, inaudible words coming out of his mouth.

      Rosaura complained that she had goose-flesh. The old lady who had come in the Tilbury had fallen asleep in the rocking chair with a neglected plate on her lap, on which there was a slice of cherry pie; and one of Avelina's swans, which had come slowly waddling across the lawn, started pecking at the red jelly until the plate tipped over and rolled away over the grass. Uncle Samuel was at the water's edge, smoking his pipe and gazing at the clouds. From one of the highest branches of the lime tree there hung a man, a deranged Dutchman who had committed suicide a couple of days before.

      Nobody said anything. Toop had left her dress carefully folded on top of one of the thick posts sunk down into the water, had walked to the edge of the landing stage and stopped there with arms on hips, contemplating the twilight.

      Martin had walked away, round the back of the house, and came back a few minutes later with a white woollen shawl. He put it round Rosaura's shoulders, and she, not having heard him come towards her, stifled a scream.

      With that cry the silence and the infinite sadness of the hour became all the more evident. The family often used to go out to watch the twilight falling over the waters of the lake, and nobody would speak, and they would all look at the red and pink clouds and the reflections of the clouds in the water of the lake, and this was before, long before, Ramona had arrived at the house with her ghost stories which frightened the children, long before the children were old enough to be frightened by stories of ghosts who came from another world in a great chest, together with a wall clock, a trousseau of table linen and a virginity to be guarded, which no one would ever enjoy. And then the frankly unreal illumination of the scene would give way to deeper reflections and one remembered the sound of the grand piano in the drawing room, when Luisa was young and still played, when Toop had not yet come to the family and Martin, who was just a little boy, used to hide underneath the piano to listen to his mother play, and cried endlessly when he heard the long, sad melodies that flowed from the copper strings softly struck by dozens of felt-covered hammers, and felt at the same time a kind of strange pleasure in being concealed down there crying. It was there he had the first erection he could remember, when he was no more than six or seven, in there under the piano listening to his mother playing Storms of Life four-handed with her sister Patricia. And on many occasions after that, when Patricia visited the family, Martin would ask his mother and her to play that piece by Schubert, and hide beneath the piano, so that he could give himself up to the pleasure of crying without anyone seeing him. And he wept, as he explained to Ramona, for the world, for his mother, because she was going to die, and because he, too, was going to die, and because all the beautiful and sweet and living and tender things were also going to die, the roses and the oak trees and all, all of the swallows in the world, and you too one day; and Ramona looked at him with horrified eyes and thought that all of the stories of ghosts that she had brought in her chest from the other side of the sea were not as terrifying as the things that occurred to that boy of seven. And she let him touch her breasts, because she liked to feel his little cold fingers on her flesh, and because there was nobody else who could touch her, although one day Martin's father had blushed on seeing her in the bathtub, and because a child of seven is innocent.

      The family as it was then was nothing like the one that had occupied the house when Martin was a boy. Martin had married a woman ten years older than himself, he had gone into business, he had had a daughter, and then his wife had left him for a man even younger than him, an army officer who beat her and obliged her to contemplate his infidelities with other women. Then the three of them, the soldier, Martin's ex-wife and his daughter, had died in a car crash. The horror of all of these stories, the detailed horror of all of these lives, was something so difficult to comprehend, so difficult to believe, so far removed from what the normal, tender life of human beings ought to be, the life his parents had taught him, that he had learned in religion classes, and later from poetry and books, that Martin felt as if none of these things was really his life, but some strange diversion, an error, a kind of mistake it would be possible to sort out simply by talking to the right person for a few minutes. But what did he read in poems when he read words like "terror" or "fright"?

      The house was just as it was when Martin lived in it. His mother had been picking white gladioli on the edge of the marsh and had arranged them in a large vase which she had then placed on the window sill, and through the beautiful, spiritual forms of the flowers he saw his father with his fists clenched in the air shouting until his lips turned purple, and his mother listening with a sceptical expression, not saying a word. Then his father began to cough, and couldn't speak any more, and then he went out into the garden, waving away the insects with impatient movements of his hands, started walking alongside the rushes by the water's edge, and after a few minutes he was humming some tune, perhaps even the melody of Storms of Life which his wife used to play on the piano when Patricia came to visit them, and all at once he seemed perfectly calm, indifferent, almost happy. Although Martin did not know it, that recollection of the Schubert piece was in fact (his father did not know it either) a kind of personal revenge, because once, several years earlier, his father had made love to his sister-in-law in an attic in a far-off city, and that distant adventure had left him with a romantic and perhaps triumphant memory, even though the next morning they had both decided, in a most civilised manner, that it had never happened; but for him it had happened, because for the first and last time in his life he had really known what sex was, the possession of a body, love for a woman. Over the years Martin's father had tried to talk to him about all these things, had talked to him of love, of time, of the family, but when he said "love", "time" and "family" he really meant other things, and Martin, who had always found it difficult to pay attention to his father's long speeches, had understood nothing. Between the man and the boy a gulf had opened up that had swallowed the words. It was as if the experience acquired by the old man had been lost for ever, but perhaps he would have managed to leap that gulf that separated them if he had used the right words, if instead of "love" he had said "it once happened to me", if instead of "time" he had said "don't wait".

      (How could I once have thought, Martin said to himself, contemplating his wife and his daughter, that nothing happened in my life? There is no need to call on cruelty, because cruelty will come without being called. Life is blood. How little time blood takes - the beautiful and luminous red blood, once it is removed from its source - to turn brown, then black, black for ever. All black things were once red. What is night but ancient blood?)

      Rosaura has gone right to the edge of the landing stage. She is concerned about Toop, because it is cold and her summer dress is too light, because she is only nine years old, because she seems so small against the ashy immensity of the lake, because she could fall into the water, because there might be submarine currents or man-eating snakes concealed in the mud, but Martin has not the slightest fear, because he knows that Toop is invulnerable and that nothing, absolutely nothing can happen to her. Rosaura is unable to have children, and so they decided to adopt Toop, and today is the day they have chosen to tell Toop that they are not her real parents, and Martin wanted to do it in this place, the place of his childhood, and now Toop has heard that they are not her parents and has walked away to the edge of the landing stage, fragile and slender like a little angel, her orangey dress moving in the same direction as the rushes bend.

      Avelina's swans used to invade the grounds, and then it was like a fairy tale: they would chase them to the edge of the lake, and sometimes they made them fly and they opened their wings and circled like great white spirits around the lime tree where the body of the hanged Dutchman now hung, on whose head a magpie has perched and is looking attentively to left and right. Patricia picked up a broken-off willow branch from the shore and chased the swan across the grass, and the swan went cackling and spreading its wings wide and seemed almost as tall as her, it almost seemed as if they could have danced together or acted out a love scene on a sofa. The old lady who had come in the Tilbury had been born in England, had married a local landowner and had had the house built sometime around 1900. She had lived until 1970, and nobody knew exactly how old she was when she died. She was the one who had bought the grand piano which had later been inherited by Martin's grandmother and mother, beneath which he had known for the first time the anguish of death and the delight of sexuality. And the shocking banality of those reflections, my God, when he had tried to put them into writing. There was a poem by D. H. Lawrence that had expressed all of that, as he used to say, "to the end of the world". Everything, the nostalgia, the murmur of the past years, the music of possible lives, the snare of missed opportunities, everything — except his strange ecstatic erections listening to Schubert's Storms of Life.

      The family contemplated the dusk, but this was not the original family, the one that had been born and lived and died in the house. Nobody knew the old lady's name, nor that of her Dutch lover, who had a glass eye and had one day climbed the tallest lime tree in the garden, the one that powerfully sank its roots in the rocky patch that separated the garden from the land that belonged to Avelina, the goose breeder. He had climbed up there with a rope and had hanged himself from one of the highest branches. And now he was there, still hanging, and he had a magpie perched on his shoulder, like when they discovered him; and when it heard the cries the magpie flew away, and as they said (although this is probably one of the legends of the lake people) the Dutchman's body was one-eyed because the magpie had plucked out the glass eye and carried it off to its nest, on one of the islands in the bay, enamoured by its mysterious opalescent shine.

      "Toop, be careful."

      "Yes, mama."

      The family had so often changed its shape, its sound, its meaning, and in spite of everything the same words kept on passing from generation to generation, and the same words kept on without being anything but shadows of the real words. The family sank its roots into the past, it stretched towards the future in the hands of Toop, naked and victorious, a woman still young, a woman already, almost a woman, a woman entering on maturity. Toop, Martin would have liked to tell her (but how, if he had never managed to hear those words?), Toop, don't wait.

      Rosaura and Toop came back from the landing stage. Toop was very serious, and Martin noticed that the girl looked at him in a different way, as if thinking "he isn't my father, he isn't really my father, really he's nobody, really he's just anybody, he's there like anybody at all could be". And then she ran towards him, and he opened his arms. The three of them were there alone in the old abandoned garden, and they could cry in peace, they could sing, shout, cry if they wanted to. And they hugged one another, and Rosaura draped her woollen shawl around Toop and around Martin's shoulders, and the three of them stood there together for a few moments. This was the centre of Martin's life.

      And then… Toop, naked at the far end of the landing stage, dived gracefully and sank into the water, and swam for ten minutes in the icy water. She thought about her father and her mother, her real parents, whom she had spent years trying to find, and about her husband, and about Isabel, her daughter, who was already twenty-two and was a redhead like her, and she thought about her lover, Grigori, a Russian she had met on a plane flying from Chicago to New York on a business trip, and about other lovers she had had, and she thought that life was beautiful, slow, velvety, fleeting, cold; and then she thought that all of those qualities actually belonged to the water, and not to life, and she was on the point of laughing out loud.

      The lime tree was dead. The grandparents had died too. Aunt Patricia had suddenly gone crazy, but she was still a charming old lady. Her father had died the year before, her mother was still alive, but they had quarrelled and didn't speak to one another. Inside the abandoned house there was a grand piano.

      She came out of the water shivering and lay down in the sun to dry. The boards of the landing stage were still warm, and when she stretched out on them her body exhaled a deep sigh of pleasure.

      And all of the ghosts could think, for the space of an instant, or perhaps for the space of long centuries, since ghost time is not the same as ours, that Toop, the girl Toop who had been as delicate and fragile as an angel and was now a woman with broad hips and large white breasts, hadn't waited, and in any case it hadn't helped her much.

      And the swans flew round the hanged Dutchman. And the words came back, the terrible, the sweet words, and they were always the shadows of other things, things it was impossible to say, things it was almost impossible to think. And the parents lied to their children telling them that life would be beautiful, and the children hated their parents. One day Isabel told Toop she was a lesbian and she had a friend and she wanted her to meet her, and Toop told her she didn't want to see her again. And the parents loved their children, and the children forgave their parents.

      And there are also things that only the ghosts know. For instance, that in an abandoned nest at the top of a distant fir-tree a glass eye has impassively contemplated the clouds for five generations.

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©1998 Andrés Ibáñez                                                         spanish original
                                                                English translation by Graham Thomson

"No esperes" ("Don't Wait") was first published in the anthology Páginas amarillas, Lengua de Trapo, 1998This electronic version of "No esperes" is published by The Barcelona Review by arrangement with Ángeles Martín Literaria Agencia and the author.  The author may be contacted through Ángeles Martín am.literaria@libronet.es

This excerpt may not be archived or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.

Andrés Ibáñez was born in Madrid in 1961 and received his B.A. in Spanish from the Universidad Autónoma in Madrid. When he was five years old he wrote a very personal version of Don Quixote de la Mancha, and since then he hasn’t stopped writing. In 1989 he moved to New York where he lived for six years and where, among other things, he began writing drama in English. Two works - Nympho Lake and Ophelia, Tragedy of Repetitions - ran in the OffOff Broadway circuit. He has published a book of poems, El bulevar de Crimen, and a novel, La música del mundo (1995) which won the "Premio Ojo Crítico de Radio Nacional" and for which Ibáñez was proclaimed by critics as "one of the great new writers of his generation." The author may be contacted through his agent, Ángeles Martín  am.literaria@libronet.es

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