Authors: Lorenzo Silva
Hispabooks Publishing, S. L.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing by the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Copyright © 1997, 2010 by Lorenzo Silva
Originally published in Spain as
La flaqueza del bolchevique
by Destino, 1997
First published in English by Hispabooks, 2013
English translation copyright © by Nick Caistor and Isabelle Kaufeler
Design and Photography © simonpates - www.patesy.com
A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 978-84-940948-2-8 (trade paperback)
ISBN 978-84-940948-3-5 (ebook)
Legal Deposit: M-22800-2013
Digital setting: Newcomlab, S. L. L
To my grandfathers Lorenzo and Manuel
Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made.
Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.
Proverbs of Hell
This book, which first saw the light of day in February 1997, was written during the spring and summer of 1995. Therefore, depending on how you look at it, I am writing this note thirteen or fifteen years later. A long time for a novel, under normal conditions; long enough not to expect a new edition.
The fact that this new edition exists is due to the sustained support of its publishers (who, as far as I can remember, have not let a single year go by since its publication without reprinting it) and, above all, thanks to the goodwill of very diverse and generous readers for whom these lines are intended as an expression of my gratitude. Firstly, no small thanks are due to the members of the reading panel and jury of the Premio Nadal 1997, for which I was a finalist. A special mention to Rosa Regàs, Pere Gimferrer, Jorge Semprún, Andreu Teixidor and Antoni Vilanova, and also to Elena Lauroba and Eduardo Gonzalo.
I should also mention those other special readers, members of the team who adapted the novel for the film version directed by Manuel Martín Cuenca and produced by José Antonio Romero. I would also like to thank all the teachers who recommended the book to their students, both at secondary school and university, to my initial surprise and even alarm, given the nature of the story, which some might consider scandalous. I was also afraid the story might evoke too much of a sense of loss to interest those who, still in the first flush of youth, were too young to have experienced something similar. I extend my thanks to those young people for interpreting my characters in a different way, and for making them their own in accordance with their own codes of understanding that I could never have imagined.
But there were many others. In particular, I want to thank the readers who are well acquainted with the world to which the protagonist belongs and which he describes here and there in the book, because they have lived there too. That world where, in another time, investment bankers like our protagonist were the chosen ones: clever and influential young men, marking the course of history with their tricks and bright ideas until it left them behind and plunged them into a state of bewilderment that still overwhelms them (and which is shared by the rest of us, as victims of the collapse of their house of cards). The world of the company where, as described in certain passages of the novel, the workers were divided into different castes, subject to blatant inequalities that time has not corrected, but reinforced. So much so that the book is used by some professors of Labor Law as a reference point to explain the current system of labor relations in Spain. That the book remains relevant in this respect, and to such a degree, is something the author can only regret.
As for the rest, I am naturally delighted. I’m pleased that, in spite of the crude nature of his narrative, which is retained in this new edition apart from the odd correction, this poor Bolshevik has found and continues to find companions on his journey. Not only in his original language, but also in others as dear to the author as Russian, French or Czech. This makes it possible for his grueling and ill-timed love story (in the end what is left to us, if not love?) to survive beyond the moment of adversity in which it arose and had to be hurriedly set down. Perhaps his prayers have been heard after all. We mortals can ask no more of the gods.
El Prat de Llobregat
16 December 2009
It was Monday and, like every Monday, my soul felt like a dead weight down there, just below my nut sack. One afternoon I imagined my soul as a third ball hanging there, about as much use to me as the other two. Ever since, when it’s Monday and my soul feels like a dead weight, when it’s any other day and my soul feels like a dead weight, even when I don’t know what day it is and my soul feels like a dead weight, I feel this bulk and this heaviness down below, bulging against the stretch fabric of my underpants.
I haven’t always been someone with his soul between his balls. For years I didn’t even use four letter words, and for many years I even used a varied and refined vocabulary. Now I’ve decided you don’t need more than five hundred or so words to get through life and that four letter words are the most appropriate. It’s not that I’ve never got beyond this point, but that this is where I’ve ended up. Lots of losers get stuck where I am right now very early on in their lives and stay here forever. I’ve arrived here via a number of other places along the way, some of which smelled much better, although it never lasted long. It might seem as though I’d have been better off if, right from the start, I’d been one of those losers who’ve never noticed what happens around them or who have never been anywhere that smelled better. I couldn’t agree more. If I’d been a loser all my life I would be satisfied now, rather than remembering that it was a Monday that day, and that my soul felt like a dead weight inside my underpants.
The Monday I am remembering began with the same shit as every Monday. There were five dickheads on the radio talking about what another five dickheads had said, so that the next day another five dickheads (some of them the same as the previous day) could talk about what these five dickheads had said and so on to infinity, a mishmash of teams of five dickheads. As my tolerance for bullshit has diminished over the years, I put a tape in the car cassette player and it turned out to be one I’d made years ago of that old fart Bach. Although I’d erased them all, recording better music over them, sometimes fragments of his infuriating cantatas (they’re all about the same thing, and all sound the same) sneak in. I fast forwarded the tape a bit and found “Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest. I left it on, not because I like those Judas dudes—in fact, I think they are a bunch of louts who’ve never had a single original thought in their life—but because they make a hell of a noise and that stops me thinking. Most of all, I was trying to escape from what was weighing so heavily on my soul, which was the same thing as always: it was Monday (fucking Monday), it was early (fucking early), I was in the car (fucking car), stuck in a traffic jam (fucking traffic jam), undecided as to whether to place my tie under or over the seatbelt (fucking seatbelt, fucking tie); I was on my way to work, where, in exchange for wasting my days they give me money to buy food and pay my rent and my car and my tie and my radio and the CDs I use to make tapes of Judas Priest (fucking work, fucking days, fucking money, fucking food, fucking apartment, etc.). And then, as usual, a cop holding up traffic at the Plaza de Cibeles so that the cars coming down Calle de Alcalá could get through and to hell with those of us coming up Paseo del Prado (fucking cop).
It’s easy for me to remember what I was thinking of, because I do it often and I know it by heart. The stuff about the traffic cop too, because he does the exact same thing every morning. As for Bach and Judas Priest—and here is where it all starts—I remember them clearly because just as I found “Breaking the Law”, the car in front of me braked sharply and, distracted by the music, I slammed it at thirteen miles an hour, which is nothing in terms of covering the ten miles I drive every morning, but more than enough to crash one car into another.
At that moment all hell broke loose, and hell it was, in the following order: this Chanel-clad bitch gets out of the car in front, comes over and starts calling me son of a bitch, bastard, and countless other things not at all in keeping with her classy outfit; the prick of a traffic cop’s eyes almost fall out of his head, and without bothering to take the whistle out of his mouth he comes over to the scene of the accident, eager to join the fun and games; the drivers behind us who start blasting their horns to see if they can drive me crazy once and for all; the seatbelt refuses to obey me as I jerk it in an attempt to unbuckle it because I must be pulling a bit harder than the manufacturer considers appropriate; the boys in the Judas Priest band who seem set on trashing their drums, their bass and all their guitars.
By the time I finally managed to free myself from the seatbelt and get out of the car, the Chanel-clad bitch and the cop had clearly become close allies.
“First things first: move the car out of here. Can’t you see you’re blocking traffic?” the cop spat at me as soon as I stuck my head out the window.
“It would help if she moved hers first,” I answered, like a complete idiot. “I’m stuck up her rear end.”
“Did you hear the son of a bitch?” the woman raged. “Why don’t you go and stick your damn car up your fucking mother’s ass?”
“Sure, great idea. But if you don’t move your car, I can’t move mine either, and the officer here won’t be able to get the traffic moving, which is what he wants to do.”
“Ma’am,” the cop added, “if you cooperate with me I’m sure we can solve this very quickly.”
The woman moved her car and I moved mine, while the cop redirected the motherfuckers who drove past us, laughing at the crash. I looked for the car registration papers, the insurance documents and a ballpoint and found everything except the ballpoint. I didn’t much like the idea of asking the woman or the cop for a pen, but the funny thing about user-friendly, European accident forms is that they are printed on carbonless paper and you know just where you can stick your Mont Blanc Meiserstück when your have to fill one in. Resigned to my fate, I got out to face what was coming. The woman was still insulting me and when she saw me she barked:
“So, you idiot, did you manage to con someone into insuring you?”
“If the officer weren’t here you wouldn’t call me an idiot.”
“Why? What would you do if the officer weren’t here?”
I’d kick you in the cunt until my leg got tired, I thought, but I said, “I’d probably drive off and leave you howling at the moon.”
“Don’t be stupid. As if they wouldn’t track you down.”
“Of course they would. But you’re not hurt. I wouldn’t go to jail. I’d give the police my insurance details and save myself the pleasure of this conversation.”
At that point the cop came back over to where we were standing. He opened proceedings with a stupid question: “Ok people, what happened?”
“I was driving along, minding my own business. I braked because the lights changed and then he comes and crashes into me from behind.”
“I didn’t do it for fun,” I joked. “I was distracted by the music. If I’d seen her I wouldn’t have crashed into her from behind.”
“Officer, I demand you stop this moron laughing. This is hardly a laughing matter.”
“Listen, you two, cool it. Both of you, calm down.”
“I’ve calmed down now, sir.”
“I should hope so, it was his fault.”
“But of course it was my fault. Why don’t we fill in the forms first and then you can summon the firing squad?”
“Driver’s license and vehicle registration papers.”
I gave the documents to the cop. He was clearly disappointed not to be able to fine me for leaving them at home or forgetting to renew my license, which was the most he would have been able to do as a result of his brilliant check. Meanwhile Judas continued blasting from my car.
“Can’t you turn that damn music off?”
“Lady, I have treated you with respect. And I haven’t bitched about the music you listen to.”
“You could at least have rolled up the window.”
“The window is jammed. This is as far as it goes. I’ll try and make sure my car is in good condition next time.”
“This guy’s a real son of a bitch, plus he’s getting a kick out of this.”
“Officer, I can see that you’re busy, but do I have to put up with this lady hurling insults at me all the time?”
“I said cool it, you two. Show me your proof of insurance and fill out the forms, please.”
The cop gave me back my papers disgruntled at not being able to throw the book at me. Addressing the woman, he said, “I’ll need to see your driver’s license too.”
Since sometimes I just don’t know when to keep my mouth shut, I asked: “Aren’t you going to ask her for her car papers too?”
“She hasn’t broken the law, sir.”
“And me, what have I done?”
“You ran a red light.”
“If that’s so, what makes you think that because I ran a red light I don’t have my driver’s license with me? It seems more likely to be the opposite to me. If I’m planning to crash into a car driven by a hysterical woman in front of an officer while running a red light, I’d be better off having all my papers in order. Most likely she’s the one who doesn’t have her papers in order. She didn’t know I was going to crash into her.”
“Hysterical woman. Holy fucking shit.”
“Don’t make things more difficult,” said the cop.
“What I don’t understand is why you insist on harassing innocent people. If we were on a vacant lot and you were on your own and I had four buddies with me carrying baseball bats, you wouldn’t ask me for anything.”
“Don’t kick up a fuss, come on.”
“Don’t pay any attention to him, officer. He must have had some sort of fit,” remarked the woman, suddenly calm.
At that point I stopped to look at her. She was about thirty-five, bottle blonde, scrawny, with a sun-bed tan. She was wearing a pair of sunglasses three or four times the size of her face, and her shirt buttons were undone far enough for the pale fabric to contrast with her baked skin and for men to see her boobs. And, presumably so that she could get angry when that happened, she wore a gold crucifix nestling in her cleavage. She also wore lots of rings and bracelets and her nails looked like they’d never scratched one of those greasy crusts resistant even to the best detergent for ceramic cooktops.
“What are you’re staring at?” she barked again.
“I must ask you to cooperate,” the cop insisted.
There are a million cars in this fucking city and I have to go and crash into this bitch, I thought. Maybe that meant something. In any case, it didn’t seem the right moment to rack my brains, so I decided to do as the cop said.
“Do you have a pen?” I asked. “It’s for the carbonless paper” and I pulled the cap off my Mont Blanc to show how useless it was.
The cop lent me a ballpoint and I wrote my address and all the other details you have to fill in on the form. I admitted responsibility for the whole mess and started to draw a diagram of the accident. Then I stopped. Although the drawing was not complicated, it occurred to me she might have seen things differently.
“You do the drawing if you like. I’ve already admitted it was my fault.”
The woman took out a small silver Dupont ballpoint and, somewhat irritated at having to do it herself, wrote down her details and carelessly finished off my diagram. The cop checked the information and copied some of them onto a small printed form he made us both sign. Incidentally, he looked carefully at my license plate before writing the number down. He had already looked at it once when I had given him the car papers. Once he had finished he tore off the two copies of the form and gave us one each.
“Very well. You can go,” he said to the woman.
“You don’t need to tell me twice. Goodbye and good riddance,” the latter directed at me.
“Why can’t I go?”
“I need to issue the fine.”
“Listen, officer. If I’ve done something wrong, God has already punished me enough. Why rub it in by adding a fine on top?”
“It’s my duty. And yours is to drive more carefully.”
The bitch in the Chanel suit had already got into her car, one of those white convertibles that bitches like her always drive, and I had to watch as she adjusted the rearview mirror, checked her hair and fluffed it up, while the fucking cop pissed me off and gleefully earned his damn salary, that, for better or for worse, is all what we losers get, whether it’s because we’ve always been losers or because we’ve ended up being that way.
By the time I climbed back into my car I’d wasted twenty minutes and the early start I’d made so that the traffic jam I would get stuck in wasn’t the usual eight-thirty-Monday-morning damn traffic jam. By now it was eight-thirty and not only was I stuck in the middle of the damn traffic jam but I was going to be late, which would make this Monday even more Mondayish and my soul between my balls weigh twice as much as it had done up till then. That was when I realized that the name and address of the bitch in the Chanel suit were in the folder with my insurance documents. Around me, everyone was honking their horns, taxi drivers were sneaking past me, and the traffic hadn’t moved a damn inch. I opened the folder and read the whore’s name: Sonsoles. And the first half of her surname: López-Díaz. And the second half: García-Navarro. Or, rather, Sonsoles López García, who had deemed it beneath her to be known as López García and who had rescued her grandmothers from oblivion by adding their last names to hers. Or her father had done it, or her father’s father, which would have been even worse. From the address she had written on the form, I worked out that she lived in the area around the church of Los Jerónimos, next to the Prado Museum. When I was a sensitive fool I used to like that neighborhood. It’s quiet at night and during the day the only bother, if any, are the hordes of japs taken by coach to gawp at the paintings.
While I got on with my daily grind, I started thinking. It occurred to me that Sonsoles López García might be a possibility of avoiding a lingering death by boredom. Now, I don’t believe in fate: I think almost everything happens because one insists on making it happen, sometimes thanks to more than a little effort, it’s true, but that doesn’t make one less responsible or less of an idiot. I had crashed into that Sonsoles slut that morning in a really stupid way and certainly without the slightest intention of doing so. Yet something had put her there in front of me, and I had crashed into her. For the time being I had only dented my car, which was a shame, but who knew if I couldn’t get something good out of this episode. And by something good I was thinking of having some fun: not too much, after all, if I’d thought at the time that life could be really fun, I wouldn’t have buried Mozart as well under the blazing guitars of Judas Priest (and Kreator and 77 Fucking Bastards and Blame It On Your Dirty Sister). While my dented car clanked up the Paseo de la Castellana, an evil plan was taking shape in my head. And I laughed to myself, I swear I laughed as if someone had told me the best joke I’d ever heard in my life.