There was a misty drizzle visible in the lights from the bar. I saw the woman in the distance, approaching slowly below a hat with a wide brim and an orange cape that billowed around her like the sail of a ship bound in flames for Valhalla. She was tall, as tall as Helena, and moved with the ease of the wind.
I wasn't aware that I had come to a halt and was staring at her. She stopped to rearrange her cape, studying me through the gap between her hat and shoulder. We didn't speak. There was no need. She took my arm and led me through the twisting lanes that narrowed as we proceeded into the dark night.
"We shall drink anïs," she said in a voice that was deep and mocking. Her face at that moment, studying me in the ivory haze of the street lamps, contained the mean, inanimate look of a costume mask. She wasn't young. My age, I thought.
"Of course," I replied.
She smiled, seemed less severe. We walked on. The night was subdued. It was the in between time neither late nor early. We were in a place I did not know, a diaspora of architectural survivors as odd as the giant statues of Easter Island. Drug dealers sold hash and heroin in small amounts. The prostitutes were old and gaudy, arms too big for sleeves, cheap as a meal. We passed them, filling doorways, satin dresses stretched like seal skin over swells of slipping flesh. Someone called: "You'd be better off over here, dear."
A man in a floor-length coat hissed. "Coke? Smack?" He was brisk and furtive, a rodent devoured by the shadows.
We stopped at a wooden door. Through a slit, dark eyes were staring out. They peered at me before moving to my companion. When I looked away, I noticed a name carved in the stone lintel: The Wise Monkey. Below, was the single word Members.
A bolt was pulled.
The musician played on, the room swaying just faintly from side to side, as if it were the deck of a ship. I finished the glass in front of me and poured a third. Or was it a fourth? I am confused by numbers and dates. I forget when Cristian was born and when he died. It was over quickly. He had a stomach ache, a headache, a high fever that hollowed his eyes and slashed deep lines on his seraphim face. The doctor remarked fatuously that he had been brave.
I looked down at him, tiny below the white bed cover. I would willingly have changed places. Death is the affair of the living, the ones left behind. Memories hang about me like unfinished business. Time measures the universe by beginnings and endings. The middle is a vacuum where a voice calls in sleepless hours between creased damp sheets, the morning light pressing against the dawn. I hear the voice when others speak and what they say becomes trite and incomprehensible, a single sound that repeats like an echo:
It is the name of destiny. I say this little word and I'm sober. There are tears in my eyes. They are a comfort. We should have shed more tears. A river of tears. Enough tears to float the basket of our suffering so that it sailed away on the mournful tide and disappeared.
Now that he's gone the theme, the plot, the very design has unravelled. Our sole function is to continue the line, like the birds, the rats, the zebras. Like the spider that is only one twentieth the size of its blind female and must avoid her poisonous embrace, even while mating. This undertaking, far from creating apathy, inspires a Trojan subterfuge: he brings the gift of a dead fly to her web and, as she greedily wraps it in silk, he nips in for a hasty poke. That little spider wants sons and is willing to risk his life to get them. Babies will eat their own dead mothers to survive and have more babies that will succumb like Cristian to unknown diseases.
"The air killed him," said Oscar, the playwright, whose plays on pollution were never performed. He had joined the Evergreen Alliance after they cut down the trees, then left for Paris with Zoë, continuing the fight in exile without heeding Trotsky's counsel that all revolution starts from within.
All I know is that my baby's lungs stopped pumping and I carried the box we buried him in on an autumn day below black clouds and it weighed no more than a briefcase. Helena stood at my side, a portrait by Francis Bacon. Her immobile features made me think of an obscure talisman carved from the seas of wax in an ancient cathedral; her eyes the agonized blue of a costly German car: subtle, unaligned eyes that correct the tilt of the world by the permanent tilt of her head. Even in our wedding photographs Helena was looking at me sideways as if she suspected my seed would betray in Cristian a pulmonary weakness.
She fled to her cello. She sat in the bay beside the tall windows, the amber glow of her hair lighting her narrow face as she bowed the strings with the fierce energy of a drowning swimmer, the deep, rounded, tormented notes reverberating about her in one sheet of turbulent sound. Ah but to have recorded those days of unpredictable euphony! The instrument had become a part of her and as I watched they were as lovers at the height of a terrible passion. The tone was emotional, yet delicate and sonorous, a domed empty space she coloured with contrasting shades, foreboding during the opening theme of Brahms's E minor Sonata, and we were standing side by side before a tiny grave; impassioned by Beethoven's Opus 69, and I want to take her in my arms and search for the light that has died in her marble eyes. In the last movement of Dvorak, there is a flash of gaiety, as even in depression there are moments of respite, but she is distant once more for the slow, wistful nucleus of the Lalo.