from Zugzwang

 

Premonition

Narseu Gàver had read about it somewhere. He grabs a kitchen knife, takes a deep breath and, biting his lower lip, excises the little finger of his left hand at the second phalange. The pain, like a volcanic eruption, flashes through his nervous system. He downs a shot of Lagavulin to neutralize the incipient nausea, deposits the finger segment in a tray, and goes to sleep with his hand bandaged. The night slips past amid nightmares. Early in the morning, at first light, he awakes numb. The cold barks hungrily behind every window. Yet the noise coming from the kitchen (juicer, clinking plates and cutlery, bubbling coffee maker) reclaims a new reality for him. The finger segment is no longer in the tray. Upon entering the dining room, he finds another Narseu Gàver eating breakfast, apparently identical (since he read somewhere that all clones suffer from hypogastric alopecia, although he can’t confirm it with his own eyes). Once the ice is broken, the two Narseu Gàvers devote the rest of the day to discussing various situations—professional, sentimental, familial—in which the One without Pubic Hair will replace the One with the Desire to Change his Life. Because in fact Narseu Gàver ducks the catastrophe that would mean a shocking and (in everyone’s eyes) unjustifiable desertion. He just wants to sort out his life and do everything that was put on hold during years of gregarious, anodyne existence: journey to frozen places, take in some agritourism in the antipodes, learn fencing, seduce the diva who stole his heart, write the masterpiece that lies waiting in the drawer of resignation, play jazz in a smoke-filled den. Chance, the right hand of great occasions, permits him to embark on the project of renewal with the fourth of these aims. Spurred by an opera festival, he sets aside two weeks to secure the love of the diva who stole his heart. The siege, indefatigable and tenacious, culminates on the night of her last performance. On the way to the hotel, inside a limousine with smoked-glass windows, Narseu Gàver is aroused by the diva’s lip gloss. He slides a hand inside half-opened pants and caresses a mound of Venus smooth as a cellophane wrapper.

 

Checkmate

The early morning catapults are moving into place on the rooftops. Selesi Masquefa, her feet propped up on a table filled with the remains of a meal and some badly folded newspapers, dozes before the lit TV screen. Her head droops in slow motion, and when it reaches a certain angle of inclination determined by the awkward arrangement of her limbs, it jerks back to a vertical position. Emitting a gasp, she sits up and rubs her eyes with the tips of her fingers, which are spread wide enough apart for the TV images to captivate her like drifting icebergs: a corpulent dude, his back to the screen, is strangling the woman who hosts the program. Selesi Masquefa’s eyes are riveted to the strangler’s nape. Sensing that someone is watching him yet without loosening his grip on his victim’s neck, he turns his head. Their eyes meet. Trembling, she looks for the remote control and switches off the TV. The room is left mostly in darkness. And fear covers everything with dust. In the days that follow, she lives waiting for the news, whether on TV or in the press. She now knows that the host was Febronia Mutxamel and the murderer, according to rumored suspicions, is Irineu Polop, of whom nobody will know anything for a few more weeks, when Selesi Masquefa, standing motionless inside a packed bus, makes eye contact with the person before her and, speechless with surprise, feels the penknife penetrate her femoral artery. But she still doesn’t know who he is.

 

Phantasmagoria

Above the telephone is a photograph of a grilled hake with its stripes clearly visible, accompanied by four croquettes, two slices of tomato, a few lettuce leaves, three asparagus, and a lemon wedge. The steamy scream of the coffee machine phagocytizes the conversations in the bar, clouding the message on the answering machine:

Even if I’m surprising you, you’ve managed to press the sequence of buttons that correspond to the numbers 9, 4, 2, 6, 0, and 7. I’m not here now, or maybe I am here but don’t want to pick up. You can leave a message after the signal: that’s why I bought this gadget. If it’s you, you can ring me at 457690.

I’m in love with Cunegunda Naquera, but I don’t know how to tell her. I’m afraid of how she might take it. Because I hardly have any experience in these things. And I don’t believe the little I have will be very useful, because she’s different.

No, you haven’t gotten a wrong number. You’ve reached 457690, but my hands are wet. If you leave a message, maybe I’ll call you when they dry. If it’s you, you’ll find me at 139852.

I got to know her at the police station the day they confused me with the exhibitionist in the porter’s lodge—through some error. I was waiting for my lawyer when I saw her enter in her antiquated clothes, her face livid. From what I could make out, they had found her leaving a mausoleum in the old cemetery.

This is 139852. I’m in the bath and can’t answer even if I wanted. If it’s you, try 693821.

Her eyes exerted a magnetic pull on objects, or so I felt when she laid to rest my uneasiness for a few moments. Her replies to the officer who questioned her—of which I heard only snippets—evoked the perplexed disbelief that usually greets inexplicable facts.

Yes, this is 693821, but I’m eating by the fire. If it’s you, you can try 915003.

I wound up learning very little about her. As I left the police station, I saw her sitting on a plastic bench in a murky corridor. Our eyes again met with dazzling tenacity. The commotion of voices muffles the clank of the slot machine. Cigarette smoke smears the counter tops. Finding the phone number wasn’t easy, but now that I’ve decided, I don’t want to let it go. Despite the fear, something inside is pushing me.

I knew you were the only one who would get this far. I’ll wait for you at the mausoleum with the heraldic angel, the one with eyes of lapis lazuli, section D in the old cemetery.

 

Subrogation

Ever since exiting the metro, Asel·lia Florejacs has been walking behind an indefinable woman who lacks any peculiarity that might support a thesis on her physiognomy or character. The patched pavements sip water from the puddles, and the woman takes advantage of the shelter beneath the balconies to protect herself from the rain. On arriving at the row house where Asel·lia lives, the woman stops, searches for the key in her bag, and opens the door. Without hesitation, with the confidence of somebody moving over familiar ground. The lights in the house are switched on, and Estaci Ador’s car sits at the entrance to the garage. Asel·lia, dripping in the rain, doesn’t know what to think. The water mixes with her tears, darkening the color of her clothes. In the coming days, under the surveillance of a hurt but expectant Asel·lia, the woman takes her place at work, eats lunch with her colleagues, visits her parents twice a week, shops at the stores in the neighborhood, and goes out with Estaci every weekend, possessed of a naturalness inappropriate to her status as an intruder. Nobody, moreover, seems aware of anything, even the obvious differences in size and appearance. As the weeks pass, having overcome the initial feeling of usurpation, of being separated from what belongs to her by some unknown woman, Asel·lia begins to see the attractive side of the situation: she can change her city, her partner, her friends, her job and start over without any explanation, free of obstacles. One day, while getting off a bus in a new city, on her way to a new house where she lives with a new man, an indefinable woman walks behind her. When she reaches her house and turns around, her key in the lock, the woman who has been following her stops with a grimace of opposition and backs away down the street as the rain starts to fall.

 

Imposture

Everything began with the copy of the Mannerist Jacopo Tibaldi’s Capitulation of Bernardino Manetti (1537) commissioned by a Japanese magnate. When executing the faces in the painting, which he would always leave till the end, Eumeli Saus grew disillusioned with the impoverished creativity of his work as a copyist and substituted a self-portrait for the face of one of the numerous soldiers surrounding the defeated hero. Despite the fact that he had incorporated a pair of tortoise shell glasses and shaved off an ostentatious beard, no one at the museum took note. When uncovering the easel to hand over the job, Saus found that his face had been crossed out with incisions made by a pointed object. Dumbstruck with fear, he took a while to notice the fresh blood that reddened the blade of Bernardino Manetti’s sword.

 

Polyphony

Trifó Llubí and Serapia Das were doing quite well on top of the duvet. You couldn’t say that it was warming them, but their bodies didn’t seem to need more protection than their mutual heat. Trifó had had an erection since the beginning of dinner, when Serapia Das bent to pick up a fallen napkin and her nipples winked at him from her décolletage. He had lingered over salade niçoise, pork terrine, and some crostata napoletana so as to be able to enjoy the new space. And he was afforded the delight of novelty, but also the anxiety of someone who is afraid of being discovered. It was the first time that he had deceived Cleta Buger, who was working her shift that evening as she had done for one out of every three. Everything followed the usual sequence until, in mid-penetration, at that moment when you begin to sense the uniqueness of what is about to come, the phone rang, three times before the machine answered. “This is Cleta and Trifó’s answering machine. If you leave your message after the signal, we’ll call you as soon as we can. Beeeeeeeeeeep.” The initial silence began to fill with rhythmic moans (a four-voice polyphony that included the voices of Serapia and Trifó) and the obscene pleas of a voice that, despite Serapia’s spasmodic movements, immobilized Trifó. It was Cleta’s voice, and it started in the last stages of orgasmic intensity when the nails climb up the arched back. While Serapia got dressed, exasperated, her sex still swollen, Trifó’s tears and cold sweat dripped like dew down the leaves and exotic petals of the duvet.

 

Stratagem

The corpse was left half leaning against the peeling wall. He did nothing to defend himself. And his eyes look at you with a hint of gratitude. The blood, glistening like a beetle, is smeared over the dirty pavement. In recent months, like an unpredictable curse, the man who now lies with his body half leaning against the peeling wall, his right leg and neck unnaturally bent, had turned your life into a catalogue of every imaginable loss. With ruthless precision, he took everything away from you, but you still don’t know why. The pistol grip is wet with sweat. Your legs are shaking. Your mouth is dry. You’ve got to make your getaway, but you want to find an explanation. With the suspicion that the dead awaken, you ransack his pockets, and inside his raincoat you find an envelope addressed to you. It contains a carefully folded sheet of paper:

Thanks for your help. Somebody had to do it. I never had the courage to take aim at myself and pull the trigger.

The shriek of the siren breaks what little silence remains intact after the echo of your shots.

 

Transference

Onelia Grus was a woman of proverbial inaccessibility. Everybody in operatic circles, more or less, felt that they had been entrusted with some anecdote related to her harsh, enigmatic behavior, which had been pigeonholed among phenomena difficult to categorize. Without allowing himself to be influenced by the diva’s well-known sentimental claustrophobia, notwithstanding the rumors about the fateful consequences of her sporadic amatory incursions, Evodi Berauni had converted Grus into the epicenter of his erotic fantasies. His seduction strategy, prepared with the meticulousness of a space docking, repeatedly ran into the most absolute indifference, which took the material form of a domestic service that could not be bribed. On an afternoon like any other, however, without any prior indication, Grus received Evodi and presented herself to him, forgoing any preamble, with impatient, mindless lust. That same night, on his way home, the disagreeable sensation of having been used was mixed with a physical malaise, unfamiliar and nebulous, which in a few days gave way to the appearance of various metabolic and hormonal alterations: swelling of the mammary glands, eruption of a pustule in the perineum growing into a vaginal shape, and germination of a uterus in the abdominal cavity.

Contributor

Eduard Màrquez, translated from the Catalan by Lawrence Venuti

Eduard Màrquez lives in Barcelona. He published two books of poetry in Spanish before writing Zugzwang (1995), his first work in Catalan and the source of the fiction that appears above. He has continued writing in Catalan, publishing another collection of short fiction, twelve children’s books, and four novels. His 2006 novel, La Decisió de Brandes (Brandes’s Decision), won three Catalan prizes, the Premi Octavi Pelissi, the Premi de la Critica, and the Premi Qwerty. His work has been translated into German, Italian, Spanish, and Turkish. This publication in The Brooklyn Rail is his first appearance in English.

Lawrence Venuti translates from Italian, French, and Catalan. His translations include I.U. Tarchetti’s Gothic romance, Fosca, Antonia Pozzi’s Breath: Poems and Letters, the anthology, Italy: A Traveler’s Literary Companion, Massimo Carlotto’s crime novel, The Goodbye Kiss, and Ernest Farrés’s Edward Hopper: Poems, which won the Robert Fagles Translation Prize. His writing about translation has appeared in such periodicals as Asymptote, the Times Literary Supplement, Words without Borders, and World Literature Today. He is the author, most recently, of Translation Changes Everything: Theory and Practice.

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