Mr Valdez could write a sentence as elegant as a swan but his sentences were like the swans served before a Renaissance prince: a swan stuffed with a goose, stuffed with a capon, stuffed with a chicken, stuffed with a poussin, stuffed with a partridge, stuffed with a lark, layer after layer, one inside the other, there to be discovered, looking like a swan. When he read the words of others, when he heard the words of others, he expected those layers to be in their words too. Sometimes they were not. There was nothing layered inside Caterina’s words – not in the words she spoke. Her stories were her stories but when she said: ‘Wouldn’t you rather have sex?’, when she said: ‘I would like to love you, Chano, if that’s all right,’ when she wrote: ‘I write,’ that was all there was. The simple truth. No layers. It was absolutely incomprehensible.
Rejections were part of the learning process, in the tango hall, in the bedroom and in literature. He harboured no grudges.
"Прижмись ко мне,забудь про то,что танцуешь, и представь, что мы с тобой в постели".
Commandante Camillo knew a great deal about asking questions. He knew there were times when it was important not to ask a question unless he already knew the answer. He knew there were times when it was important not to ask a question unless he really, really wanted to know the answer. He knew there were times to ask questions when no answer mattered, when the point was not to ask a question but just to have an excuse to hurt somebody – whatever answer they gave. He knew there were times when any answer would do because all he wanted was that moment of defeat and concession and admission and not the information it contained. But Commandante Camillo also knew that, if he wanted to find something out, then the best questions to ask were the shortest ones.
He put his hand on his yellow notebook and considered opening the cover. He lifted his hand again and reached inside his jacket for a pen, took off the cap, gripped the pen between his teeth just as he had done that morning and opened the notebook. He sat there like that for quite some time, writing nothing.
Not a word.
For a long time.
Mr Valdez was very angry with himself. He knew that his failure to write was nothing more than a failure of will, a moral failure, a deliberate act of laziness and cowardice and stupidity, and it could be overcome by the simple act of writing something. He looked out into the street and he saw a yellow cat, belly down, slinky, hurrying out from the shade of a parked car.
‘The yellow cat crossed the road,’ he wrote. Six words. He examined them. They were not enough. They said nothing. Why did the yellow cat cross the road? Whose cat was it? Where was it going? How could a cat crossing the road become a novel? The whole idea was madness.
Six words of rubbish. He looked again and made a little arrow, upwards, through the line between ‘The’ and ‘yellow’.
Then he added ‘tawny’ and looked again, like an artist stepping back from his canvas. ‘The tawny yellow cat crossed the road.’ It was coming on.
He clamped the pen between his teeth and pondered and then, in a fit of inspiration, he wrote ‘scrawny’.
The scrawny, tawny, yellow cat crossed the road.
He decided on a hyphen. ‘Scrawny-tawny.’ He liked that. Then he hated it. Dismal, pathetic, affected, purple nonsense. Mr Valdez scratched his pen angrily through ‘tawny’.
The scrawny yellow cat crossed the road.
He began to wonder if he had meant to say that, if he might not have scratched out the wrong word. Scrawny. Tawny. Scrawny? Tawny?
Mr Valdez took a sip of coffee. He leaned over his notebook with his head propped on his elbow, fighting down the rage and panic and frustration that were already boiling in his chest. He was close to tears with fury.