Sunday, 19 May 2013

The gabardine

Written by Francisca Castillo Martín
Translated from the book La Gabardina y Otros Cuentos Chinos (The Gabardine and Other Chinese Tales)

In a tight-fitting grey gabardine, he walked a few yards with his face hidden behind the veil of blue smoke from a cigarette. Thus, almost unawares, he arrived at a street where he had never set foot before, or maybe only in his dreams. The mist enveloped people's faces, fading the shadows cast by corners and drawing small rings around the lamp-posts. The street seemed, at that time, a small theatre, almost empty and immaculate by pure age. The man watched everything unmoved, with the kind of disdain of a dandy who has come down in the world. In his eyes of an undefined colour vague memories were reflected, images of that glorious past when he had been a god... and a devil.

He moved into another street and took the second turning on the right. He didn't like waiting and always followed the shortest route through life, no matter where it led. On the way, he accidentally stumbled upon a scrawny dog which, indolent, just managed to wag its tail disapprovingly while the fleas continued inflicting damage on its tense anatomy. The man - more than ever - felt the wish to break into a run, the wish to reach some place with no particular destination and solve life's mystery that made him come to dead ends, to avenues of no return, to squares out of any congruent place.

It was raining. Like in those stories, it was pouring with rain, hopelessly so, finely and sublimely. The man squeezed his body against the light skin of the gabardine and, for the first time in years, he cursed the day he and the garment had met. Ah! Those were the days! He was a Hollywood heart-throb and the gabardine just another of many items of clothing in his wardrobe. At the time, the man spurned that piece of cloth because he had another five hundred like that, two hundred suits, a thousand pairs of shoes and more than one silk shirt smudged by the expensive lipstick from more than one woman. Yes, he now cursed it because he only had that dirty, smelly shred of cloth to remind him what he had been, what he had had, what he has now become. After the repossession of his luxury villa, the court costs incurred when he divorced his last wife, the loss of his works of art - sold cheaply at auction to his humiliation - he was left with only that: a rag. A rag covering half his body but a burden on his whole soul, a fucking, damn, undesirable rag. His only friend.

Yes, it was raining. Like in those stories, unexpectedly, feverishly, softly and gently. The first lights of the nameless city began to shine. The streets began to look similar to each other and each one like itself. A dense, foul-smelling fog enveloped all objects, transforming them into mere volumes which vaguely appeared like geometric shapes. Taking a turning at the end of the third street, and after turning right seven times seven, the man came to an unlit, long, narrow avenue. At that moment, he felt the avenue seemed very much like his life during the last few years: a woman (one of many), the only one he loved and the only one he felt he had lost, doss houses, brawls, alcohol, mental hospitals, occasional abandonment and casual sexual encounters. Coming halfway down the avenue, he felt the burden of the approaching loneliness like the storm about to break over the city. Then, his memories would inevitably get soaked and not even the gabardine could save him from a horrible and premature end. With his face creased from weeping, he prayed a litany before some dead poet's grave whose name was a blur among the undergrowth. The man was just a shadow of his former self, a black and white image of that past that had led him to the abyss, a cheap postcard like the eau de cologne he used to rinse his mouth after a drinking binge at a lousy hostel. It started to rain heavily, with the steady intensity of a squall. The man, prostrate on the ground of the avenue, didn't see the torrent coming like a tidal wave that swallowed everything in its path...

They found the body lying naked, trapped among some planks, between the poet's statue and the filthy asphalt of mud and detritus. At first, his deformed features went unnoticed among the hundreds of bodies piled up in the streets, because at that time he was just another of the victims of that freak typhoon that had devastated the town. Nevertheless, starting his shift, at nightfall, the inspector on duty - a middle-aged man with an aquiline nose and calm expression - recognised him immediately. Feeling an overwhelming grief, moved like a child by the contrite expression of that formerly seductive look, he covered his face with a scrap of grey cloth - it looked like some sort of coat or gabardine's lapel - that the dead man was gripping as if it were the most precious thing in the world.

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