(original title: Casa de verano)
tr: Graham Thomson
I'll lean the ladder on the roof and send death the
wrong way, Tom says.
While we're sleeping the world is born all over again
like newly mown grass. When we wake the smell of moss pervades the coldest room in the
The moon that comes through the window has my
mothers face, Moni says.
But the crumbs that fall on top of the sheets keep her
from sleeping and she says: Better this way. Sleep always speaks to me of deaths.
In the garden of the summer house there was a tree
with four paired branches. We used to call it the hanged mans tree. A tree with a
legend not so sad as ours.
When we laugh we look for Toms tickles. Bastard!
grandfather says. Criminal! he keeps shouting, by the path to the church, when the priest
cant hear him. Then grandfather crosses himself with his right hand, the same hand
that sins and wipes away the sins.
Tomorrow well climb the hanged mans tree,
Moni says, and see what happens. She hopes the tree will be like an aeroplane that will
take us away to the other world. And I say to her: What world, if there isnt any
Moni is a sceptic. She has blue hands and broken
But instead of scraping our legs on the bark of the
tree, we decide to go to the cemetery and look at the sea from the cradle of the dead. To
wait for the moon, Moni says.
Once again grandfathers chauffeur was taking us
to Barcelona in the car to visit my mother. Grandmother was shaking the bottle of cologne
over our heads, cropped like the grass, again and again. At least you will smell nice, she
said very quietly. Then the car twisted along the coast road and stopped in front of a
grey building next to the police headquarters.
Over the door there are letters in gold that we
Tom and I read: Juvenile Court. But we still
dont understand what they are doing together, these words, so opposed.
The childrens warder wears a dark blue jacket
and her shoulders are covered with a white powder that falls from her hair. Snow kills
people, Moni says. For several years the dandruffy woman from the Juvenile Court is the
spy who snoops on our private and secret visits.
My mother is waiting for us, sitting on a chair.
My mother is like Rita Hayworth, Tom says.
No, Moni says.
But she really does look like the stars in the films.
In the office of the Juvenile Court we kiss my mother
and sit on the three chairs placed at an equal distance from her legs. Not too near and
not too far. The warden-spy never allows the embrace from my mother to be like the eternal
cloud that falls over you and blinds your sins. These hugs do not figure in the legal
document, she said. But my mothers smile wasnt prohibited by the judge of the
Juvenile Court and for one hour each month my mother smiled like the white moon of the
The dead know more than us, I said.
You shouldnt say these things or theyll
think youre mad.
Tom wants to protect us from my grandfathers
anger. Because here there are two dictators at the same time. The little family dictator
and the other, big dictator, far away and invisible. The invisible one lives in the centre
of the state and can only be seen in the cinema. Before the film they show us the images
of the general dictator as he walks around his summer estate or his winter estate. He
walks like our grandfather, with his shotgun on his shoulder, trampling the shrubs in the
woods of the summer house.
Moni and Toms house is made of films of
actresses who suffer and upset themselves trying to be like my mother.
Ive never seen a prettier woman, Tom says.
Moni and I nod our heads in agreement.
It is forbidden to speak about my mother in our
grandfathers house. At night we exchange invisible pictures. This is my father, we
say. And our hands are empty. We only swap thoughts.
Grandmother has two furrows of dried tears on her
face. Grandmother talks to herself. She is a mute grandmother.
Grandfather says: If you find this house unbearable,
go and tidy the pantry. And grandmother obeys and tidies again and again all of the
cupboards of the summer house.
In winter we have no house either, because they send
Moni and me to the French nuns boarding school and Tom to the boarding school of the
Brothers of Christian Doctrine.
The holidays are like having no pudding as a
punishment. When the awaited moment comes there is nothing for you on the table.
Moni is always trembling, winter and summer.
Monis shivers make grandfather nervous. You will always be an unfortunate, he says
to me, who instead of trembling get the words muddled up when I speak, as if I were just
out of an orphanage, grandfather says.
Grandfather goes to mass and communion every day. We
go to church with him when nothing in the world holds us up or goes wrong to prevent us.
One Sunday at noon we were going up the steps of the
pergola. Grandmother was still mute, but Tom was carrying the electric train in his arms
that my mother had given him for his birthday. The electric train was Toms second
dream. First and foremost there was the dream of my mother, and immediately after that the
electric train. He didnt want anything else. As he climbed the steps of the pergola,
Tom was almost smiling and grandmother was almost speaking and Moni and I hadnt yet
started to tremble with fear. The sea could still be seen from the house like a far-off
silver mirror when, all of a sudden, grandfather appeared on the steps of the pergola. My
God! I thought. But why say God if he never came to save us?
All grandfather said was: Give me that! Because in
grandfathers hands the electric train had ceased to have a name and an owner. And
Tom had to put the train down on the ground. Better on the ground than in
grandfathers hands, Tom thought. But, my God, why? Grandfathers boot came down
several times one after the other, crushing my mothers electric train. It destroyed
Each stamp on the train is a stamp on my mothers
face, I thought.
Tom says there is only one explanation for my
grandfathers hatred of my mother. Grandfather desires her, Tom says, talking the way
a real flesh and blood father ought to do.
Moni doesnt want to believe it. She says: I
wouldnt care if I died. And when she feels like it she holds her breath and plays
dead. My technique for getting out of going to mass with grandfather is to stick a finger
down my throat and vomit up my dinner before I go to bed.
When hes in a good mood, grandfather stands us
in Indian file. One hand on Toms head and the other hand on our two heads. He says:
Stupid Tom ought to have your head and you two ought to have stupid Toms head.
Everything is the wrong way round in this house.
Grandmothers footsteps disappeared into the
kitchen. She banged into the doors as she escaped from the possible threat of grandfather.
Grandmother sang soundlessly to herself.
A sparrow flew this morning
come to my hands, sparrow
I will feed you with my lips
come up here to me
And then grandmother fell silent. We were always
afraid. Grandmother was more afraid than us because she had endured grandfathers
kicks and blows for more years.
Where are the pruning shears? the little dictator
I dont know, a mute, apprehensive grandmother
Grandmother forgets things. Grandfathers blows
have torn away part of her brain and now she has a short memory. A memory thats like
a music box. It opens and closes.
What do you mean, you dont know? the domestic
Grandmother no longer replies. She has closed up
inside and clouds come into her eyes like a little sparrow. Then grandfather punches her.
First he hits her in the face, then on her back and on her chest. And then, when his hand
is sore from hitting grandmother so much, the kicks start.
My father should come here and save grandmother.
He doesnt live in Spain any more, Tom says.
Grandfather ate my father up. Now hes a bon
vivant. That is what they call him in Paris. Unsavable.
Then the gardener appears with grandfathers
bloody pruning shears in his hand.
We should all start to cry, but however much we
scratch the wound, the tears dont come any more. Grandfathers blows hurt less
and less. They are blessed and sanctified blows like the tellings-off in church.
The priest upbraids us from the pulpit. Fools and
sinners! he says.
Voices come to us from outside. Your mother has a
lover, a lover whos a woman dressed like a man, say the voices that come from
Barcelona. Whats a lover? Moni asks. She thinks the voices are mistaken. The voices
speak like you, she tells me. Muddling up words.
I have a cupboard in my head. While grandmother is
moving things around in the pantry I change the place of the memory drawer.
Because of the voices we decide to run away. The first
time, Tom and I go. Its really easy, Tom says. We go down to the road, and then we
walk along the beach, following the railway line until we come to Barcelona.
We have two objectives. One, Tom says: to go into a
cinema and look for my mother in the films. Two, I say: to look for my mothers
Now we have two mothers, I say to Tom, nudging him as
a friend and partner.
By Mongat, when the broken moon starts to come up
behind the road, two men catch up with us. Behind them comes grandfathers sorrowful
Well escape another time, Tom says.
My mothers photograph is still hidden among my
folded clothes. Every day I think up a new hiding place for it. Its creased and torn
at the edges, but its the only memento of her we have. We now know the meaning of
the word republican, legal age, dictator and juvenile court.
During our brief visits to my mother I manage to steal
her perfume. Me, her look, Tom says. Me, her skin, Moni says, trembling like a partridge
or a rabbit.
When grandfather was loading the cartridges in the
barrels of his hunting shotgun, we stayed in our places. We werent afraid now. Moni
said: Some day hell use us for a target, for sure. Some day hell aim at us,
Tom insisted. To grandfather, we were Antoni, Isabel and Montserrat. In that order. The
rest of the house called us by our real names.
When will grandfather die? we ask ourselves every
summer. But dictators take their time in dying, or thats how it seems, because the
days and nights are longer when they lie in wait, hidden, with their black hunting
shotguns. And the cold is an icier cold. It eats your bones and you walk hunched up like
grandmother. Instead of one, grandmother makes us put on three woollen jumpers, just in
case. And the bed socks she knitted to keep our feet warm. Its always better to be
safe than sorry. You can die of a cold.
In fear we were like fish in water. Grandfather tied
Moni and me to the chair in the kitchen as if we were thieves surprised in the middle of a
robbery. Grandfather pulled our arms and with the cord from the kitchen drawer tied our
wrists to the chair. You keep out of this, he said to a mute grandmother. This punishment
could go on for several hours. We werent allowed to go to the toilet and we had to
do everything on the seat of the chair. Like animals. Grandfather says that. Like pigs in
From the window Tom sent us invisible pictures. Soon
well be able to escape. Soon grandfather will die. I promise you.
Toms promises were postcards that came from a
sweet and delicate country.
At the summer house we had no friends. A dictator
grandfather makes the family an island. With a grandfather like that, the only thing you
can do is hide from your friends. Any friend we might have had would have become quarry, a
target in grandfathers sights. Because we were afraid, we kept away from any
possible friends in the neighbourhood. They looked at us with wary, distrustful faces. The
bravest, the boy from the water-mill, was daring enough to climb the hanged mans
tree, and from up there he threw stones at us as if we were geese or sewer rats.
Tom dropped the book he was reading and shot towards
the tree. One stone hit him on the temple, the other on the oldest darn on his old
trousers. Even so, Tom got hold of the foot of the possible summer-house friend and made
him fall to the ground. There they threw themselves into a fight worthy of
grandfathers best fights. The boy from the water-mill ran away crying, jumped the
barbed wire fence and kept on running along the path in the old riverbed. We knew that
something would happen. Once things start, worse things follow. Thats life,
Since the war everything has been in vain, the mute
A little later, the father of the possible friend came
to complain to grandfather. Your grandson hit my son, he tells him, whispering in his good
ear. Then we knew that something terrible was going to happen once lunch was over and the
neighbour from the water-mill had his ear to the slope of the old riverbed. Grandfather
put down his fork with the last piece of meat still speared on the prongs. He got up from
the table and, with the napkin still hanging from the buttons of his shirt, took off his
leather belt. Come here, he said. And Tom went to where grandfather called him. Hell
kill him, the mute grandmother said. Moni was shaking and I swallowed all of the words of
lunch. Im going to be sick, I said. But I endured the scene of the almost murder.
Grandfather slashed his belt into Tom. He struck blow after blow after blow. But Tom
didnt cry. Toms resistance enraged grandfather all the more, his face flushed
as red as two devils combined.
The dictator dies, I said in vain for my words to come
The souls were resting in the cemeteries and none of
them were capable of moving a bit and coming here to save us. My words moved to and fro in
the tick-tock of the dining room clock. Slow and scared.
Grandfather beat Tom until his arm, sore from so many
blows, ended up clutching the hand of sin.
A little while later grandfather was saying the
rosary, intoning sonorous Ave Marias in the chapel of the summer house. Grandmother, Moni
and I composed the second voice and responded in resignation to grandfathers
religious lashing. The mute grandmother imitated our voices. She wanted to save us from
grandfather, the poor thing, but by then her memory was already a green lagoon without
light or depth.
Our best house was the three chairs set out in the
office of the Juvenile Court. Until one fine day we finally met my mothers lover.
Our second mother gave us grandmothers forgotten
kisses. She was a woman dressed like a man. Or a man with a womans body. A wonderful
woman, Tom said.
Now we have a father and a mother, Moni says. My
second mother wears a tie and has her hair slicked back like a tango singer. She is very
pretty and generous.
On this point we were all in agreement. When we
argued, it was only about the commas. Really, we were united like full stops or little
At the summer house the pines have grown and the
glow-worms have disappeared. The hair lotion has been left on the edge of the bath like a
sad memento of our little everyday suicides.
I managed to save myself at the last moment. It was
when Tom came up behind me suddenly and untied the cord I had hanging round my neck. The
same cord with which grandfather tied us to the chair in the kitchen for an immensity of
time. A cord like a long indefinite vomit.
I tell Moni that living or dying are the same thing.
The best thing is to wait for grandfather to die. And then well see.
Well leave the country, Tom says. The dictators
Before the summer ended, grandfather had a visit from
the abbot of the Monastery. He came to the house with a secretary who walked behind him
and a gold ring weighing down his right hand. Kiss the ring, grandfather ordered us. And
the abbot stretched out his arm.
After the meal, grandfather locked himself up in his
office with the abbot. The secretary stayed in the pergola in the garden with the mute
The abbot and grandfather spread out papers on the
desk and counted numbers. They drank a glass of Cointreau and smoked Havana cigars.
Everything for this little country, grandfather said. So be it, the abbot chimed in. The
dictators had separate businesses. In a way, the churches were separate, too. My parents
were separated. Grandfathers rosary was a rosary of Catalan beads and Latin
The abbot said goodbye to grandmother and said: Until
next year. And so it was. He always kept his word.
Before saying goodbye to him, grandfather made us sing
a song to the black Virgin. It was a very well-known song in all of the country round
here. Tom let the song stay in his throat like a bitter indecent syrup. Later he
regurgitated it in the hanged mans tree, next to the mute grandmother.
About the monastery, grandfather had already prepared
us. His will was clearer than the blue sky of the summer house. Dont think you will
inherit a single peseta of mine. I am leaving it all to the monastery, he said. And even
Moni, the sceptic, believed grandfather.
Before the war, grandmother said, the lemon tree gave
more lemons. If you listened to grandmother, it seemed that before the war the world had
been different. According to Tom, who watched too many films about the war, people walked
more quickly then and the trams went as fast as trains and the trains flew like
aeroplanes. The war had put lead shot in grandfathers waist.
Grandmother was waiting for us to go back to school to
die in peace. When grandmother died, nobody came to get us. We didnt go to the
funeral. They sent a note to the boarding school and the French nuns gave us a double
helping of pudding that day. Two apples instead of one.
Grandmother didnt die a natural death. The way
she died was the familys worst-kept secret. Tom found it out at the start of the
Grandmother killed herself, he said.
Grandfathers beatings finished her. No one ever asked grandmother which house she
wanted to live in. No one asked her questions. Until next year, the abbot said. And she
obeyed. But this time she said: The children have grown like the dry grass. Now I can go.
One night, while grandfather was sleeping, grandmother
locked the kitchen door from the inside, put cloths in the gaps of doors and windows and
turned on the gas. Sitting on one of the chairs, with her head resting on the table, by
the fruit bowl. That is how grandmother died. With her sacrificed head on the kitchen
table, by the pruning shears.
So we grew, blessing grandmothers escape and
walking against death. The moment when we would leave grandfathers summer house
forever was getting nearer all the time. Moni still had a blue face, but behind
grandfathers back she made grandmothers kitchen garden her own. Her aubergine
and tomato conserves drew her towards an early marriage. Meanwhile, I preferred the idea
of marrying my own thoughts. In the summer house there were four books. I read the same
book again and again and afterwards I would recite it from memory to the hanged mans
tree or to Monis aubergines. Our dreams were of flight and marriage because then, in
that closed country, the one had to be accompanied by the other.
We had white faces and transparent skin. We had grown
like dry leaves, with our souls dead in advance. They were the colour of the boarding
school and grandfathers rope. It was strange that not even the summer with its blue
sea steady and still in front of the house managed to give us a personal colour of life.
Isabel is the worst, grandfather says. She will always
be an unfortunate.
Nobody calls me that. I have banned that name from the
sound map of my life. Even on official documents I am Bel. I vomited my name as if it was
a dirty, worn-out word.
If we came home late, grandfather would throw our
clothes out of the window and break our personal possessions. The few personal possessions
we could transport, we who belonged to nobody, far less to grandfather. Even so he managed
to tear up the picture of my mother and three of the four books that were in the summer
house. Our clothes strewn on the dry grass of the garden made us laugh. Theyre like
our decapitated bodies, Tom said.
Our intimacies were exposed naked on the grass. It was
a war with ghosts and scarecrows. An orgy of pants and underskirts. When it was five
minutes after the set time and we insisted on meeting a friend in order to get out of the
house at last, grandfather called two Civil Guards he had contracted to deal with these
nocturnal follies. On the stroke of eleven grandfather presented himself in the bar in the
village with a Civil Guard on his right and another on his left. The people were as mute
as the dead grandmother. The less valiant moved aside to let them pass. One Civil Guard
handcuffed Moni and the other handcuffed me. They took us prisoner to grandfathers
jail. They were obeying orders. From whom? we asked. It doesnt matter, they said,
the one who gives the orders is always our boss.
Dictators have secret illnesses. And thats what
started to happen to grandfather.
In the meantime, Tom left. Unknown to grandfather he
built a raft from tree trunks, ropes and wood and put to sea. He sailed towards the violet
line of the horizon. He didnt want to go north, where they said my father lived, or
south where they were, my mother and my second mother.
Im going to the Indian Ocean, Tom said.
This voyage sounded good. It came wrapped in a more
beautiful package than the escapes we planned, crazy young realists. To get away from
grandfather Tom needed a boat and Moni and I had to find a kind of bridge, a trampoline of
Ill marry you to escape from grandfathers
summer house, I said.
Sometimes the words leap out of my mouth like hungry
fish. They just leap. Words like fans, thats all.
My words go out for a stroll without hurting anyone.
They dont try to get anywhere. Moni buries them in pots of artichoke and acorn
conserve. But in the end, we too were able to escape from grandfather and we achieved it
thanks to a trampoline husband who was at the same time our first friend and enemy.
Death keeps growing inside me, Moni says, but I hardly
manage to notice it. I live life back to front. From the end to the beginning, like an
Happiness is a dictionary of words. Or a senseless
When the flies of pain come to disturb nostalgia, the
best thing is to put a book in front of your eyes. You feel gratified, loaded with
unpredictable gifts. Reading a book, you feel full of things that cant be explained.
The missal was grandfathers only book. A bad
When they called us to go to the summer house for the
last time, grandfather was lying prostrate in his bed, greyer and more solitary than the
hanged mans tree.
Do you want to see him? Tom says.
No, Moni says.
But I manage to push my blue sister up to the dead
grandfather. Moni starts trembling again like a white butterfly.
I think hes still alive, Moni says, a sceptic as
Youll see, hes going to get up any moment.
Then the words awake in my mouth and fall violent and
excessive on grandfathers ears. Its like shouting at the dry tree with the
You see, hes dead, I say.
No, Tom says.
Then Tom takes grandfathers leather belt and
starts lashing the dead mans prostrate body.
Stop! Dont stop! Moni says. Looking sideways at
the scene. Believing and not wanting to believe it.
Grandfather doesnt move. His bones creak,
though. Its like flogging a stone.
Hes dead now, Tom says.
In the garden of the summer house the rose bushes are
dry. Grandmothers fruit trees have been disappearing with the pain of time.
Moni and I count the absence of the trees as if they
were ghosts and apparitions. Here is where the lemon tree was, Moni says.
When we stop talking, life walks more slowly. When we
sleep the world starts to dream with strange stories of the dead.
At last Ive killed death, Tom says.