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Confessions

Confessions

Аннотация

    Drawing comparisons with Shadow of the Wind, The Name of the Rose and The Reader, and an instant bestseller in more than 20 languages, Confessions is an astonishing story of one man s life, interwoven with a narrative that stretches across centuries to create an addictive and unforgettable literary symphony. I confess. At 60 and with a diagnosis of early Alzheimer s, Adrià Ardèvol re-examines his life before his memory is systematically deleted. He recalls a loveless childhood where the family antique business and his father s study become the centre of his world; where a treasured Storioni violin retains the shadows of a crime committed many years earlier. His mother, a cold, distant and pragmatic woman leaves him to his solitary games, full of unwanted questions. An accident ends the life of his enigmatic father, filling Adrià s world with guilt, secrets and deeply troubling mysteries that take him years to uncover and driving him deep into the past where atrocities are methodically exposed and examined. Gliding effortlessly between centuries, and at the same time providing a powerful narrative that is at once shocking, compelling, mysterious, tragic, humorous and gloriously readable, Confessions reaches a crescendo that is not only unexpected but provides one of the most startling denouements in contemporary literature. Confessions is a consummate masterpiece in any language, with an ending that will not just leave you thinking, but quite possibly change the way you think forever.


Jaume Cabré Confessions

    To Margarida

I A CAPITE …

    I will be nothing.
Carles Camps Mundó

1

    It wasn’t until last night, walking along the wet streets of Vallcarca, that I finally comprehended that being born into my family had been an unforgivable mistake. Suddenly I understood that I had always been alone, never able to count on parents or a God I could entrust to search for solutions though, as I grew up, I got in the habit of delegating the weight of thought and the responsibility for my actions into vague beliefs and very wide readings. Yesterday, Tuesday night, caught in the downpour on my way home from Dalmau’s house, I came to the conclusion that this burden was mine alone. And that my successes and my mistakes were my responsibility and only mine. It had taken me sixty years to see it. I hope you can understand me, understand that I feel abandoned, alone and absolutely bereft without you. Despite the distance that separates us, you are an example for me. Despite my panic, I refuse to cling to driftwood in order to stay afloat. Despite some insinuations, I remain without beliefs, without priests, without consensual codes that smooth out my road to who knows where. I feel old, and the hooded figure with the scythe calls me to follow him. I see that he has moved his black bishop and gestures politely for me to continue the game. He knows I have very few pawns left. Still, it is not tomorrow yet and I look for a piece to move. I am alone before this page, my last chance.
    Don’t trust me blindly. Memoirs written for a single reader are prone to falsehoods and I know that I’ll tend to land on my feet, like cats do; but I’ll make an effort not to invent much. It was all like this and worse. I know that I should have talked to you about this long ago; but it’s difficult and right now I don’t know where to begin.
    It all started, really, more than five hundred years ago, when a tormented man decided to request entry into the monastery of Sant Pere del Burgal. If he hadn’t, or if Father Prior Josep de Sant Bartomeu had held firm in his refusal, I wouldn’t be explaining all this now. But I can’t go back that far. I’ll begin later on. Much later on.
    ‘Your father … Look, Son. Father …’
    No, no; I don’t want to start there either. It’s better to start with the study where I am writing now, in front of your impressive self-portrait. The study is my world, my life, my universe, where almost everything has a place, except love. I wasn’t usually allowed in here when I ran through the flat in shorts or with my hands covered in chilblains during autumns and winters. I had to sneak in. I knew every nook and corner, and for a few years I had a secret fortress behind the sofa, which I had to dismantle after each incursion so Little Lola wouldn’t discover it when she passed the floorcloth back there. But every time I entered lawfully I had to behave like a guest, with my hands behind my back as Father showed me the latest manuscript he’d found in a rundown shop in Berlin, look at this, and be careful with those hands, I don’t want to have to scold you. Adrià leaned over the manuscript, very curious.
    ‘It’s in German, right?’ — his hand reaching out as if by reflex.
    ‘Psst! Watch those fingers! You’re always touching everything …’ He smacked his hand. ‘What were you saying?’
    ‘It’s in German, right?’— rubbing his smarting hand.
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘I want to learn German.’
    Fèlix Ardèvol looked proudly at his son and told him you can start studying it very soon, my boy.
    In fact, it wasn’t a manuscript but a packet of brownish folios: on the first page, in an overly ornate hand, it read Der begrabene Leuchter. Eine Legende.
    ‘Who is Stefan Zweig?’
    Father — a magnifying glass in his hand, distracted by a correction in the margin of the first paragraph — instead of answering a writer, my son, just said well, some guy who killed himself in Brazil ten or twelve years ago. For a long time the only thing I knew about Stefan Zweig was that he was a guy who killed himself in Brazil ten or twelve, or thirteen, fourteen or fifteen years ago, until I was able to read the manuscript and learn a little about who he was.
    And then the visit ended and Adrià left the study with the recommendation that he keep quiet: you could never run or shout or chat inside the house because if Father wasn’t studying a manuscript under a magnifying glass, he was reviewing the inventory of medieval maps or thinking about where to acquire new objects that would make his fingers tremble. The only thing I was allowed to do that made noise, in my room, was studying the violin. But I couldn’t spend the entire day practising arpeggio exercise number XXIII in O livro dos exercícios da velocidade. That exercise made me hate Trullols so much, but it didn’t make me hate the violin. No, I didn’t hate Trullols. But she could be very annoying, especially when she insisted on exercise XXIII.
    ‘I’m just saying we could change it up a bit.’
    ‘Here,’ and she would tap the score with the heel of the bow, ‘you will find all the difficulties summed up on one page. It is a simply genius exercise.’
    ‘But I …’
    ‘For Friday I want number XXIII perfect. Even bar 27.’
    Sometimes Trullols was thick like that. But, overall, she was an acceptable woman. And sometimes, more than acceptable.
    Bernat thought the same. I hadn’t yet met Bernat when I did O livro dos exercícios da velocidade. But we shared the same opinion about Trullols. She must have been a great teacher even though she doesn’t appear in the history books, as far as I know. I think I need to focus because I’m jumbling everything up. Yes, there are surely things you know, especially when they’re about you. But there are snippets of the soul that I don’t believe you do know because it’s impossible to know a person completely, no matter what.
    Even though it was more spectacular, I didn’t like the shop as much as the study at home. Perhaps because those very few times when I went in there, I always felt I was being watched. The shop had one advantage, which was that I could gaze upon Cecília, who was gorgeous; I was deeply in love with her. She was a woman with galactic blonde hair, always well-coiffed, and with full lips of furious red. And she was always busy with her catalogues and her price lists, and writing labels, and helping the few customers that came in, with a smile that revealed her perfect teeth.
    ‘Do you have musical instruments?’
    The man hadn’t even removed his hat. Standing in front of Cecília, he glanced around: lights, candelabra, cherry-wood chairs with very fine inlay work, canapés en confident from the early nineteenth century, vases of every size and period … He didn’t even see me.
    ‘Not many, but if you’ll follow me …’
    The not many instruments at the shop were a couple of violins and a viola that didn’t sound very good but had gut strings that were miraculously unbroken. And a dented tuba, two magnificent flugelhorns and a trumpet, which the valley’s governor had sounded desperately to warn the people in the other valleys that the Paneveggio forest was burning. Those in Pardàc asked for help from Siròr, San Martino and even from Welschnofen, which had suffered its own flames not long before, and from Moena and Soraga, where they had perhaps already noticed the alarming odour of that disaster in the Year of Our Lord 1690, when the earth was round for almost everyone and — if unknown ailments, godless savages and beasts of sea and land, ice storms or excessive rains didn’t impede it — the boats that vanished to the west returned from the east, with their sailors more gaunt and haggard, their gazes lost out on the horizon and bad dreams gripping their nights. The summer of that Year of Our Lord 1690, every inhabitant of Pardàc, Moena, Siròr, and San Martino except the prostrate, ran to look with sleepy eyes at the disaster that was destroying their lives, some more than others. That dreadful fire they watched helplessly had already consumed loads of good wood. When the fire was put out with the help of some timely rains, Jachiam, the fourth and cleverest son of Mureda of Pardàc, travelled carefully through the devastated forest to search for serviceable logs in corners the flames hadn’t reached. Halfway down to the Ós ravine, he squatted to move his bowels beneath a young fir tree that was now coal. But what he saw took away all desire to relieve himself: resinous wood wrapped in a rag that gave off the scent of camphor and some other strange substance. He very carefully unravelled the rags that hadn’t been completely burned in the hellish fire that had demolished his future. What he discovered made him feel faint: the dirty green rag that hid the resinous kindling, with hems of an even dirtier yellow cord, was a piece of the doublet usually worn by Bulchanij Brocia, the fattest man in Moena. When he found two more piles of cloth, those ones well burned, he understood that Bulchanij — that monster — had followed through on his threat to ruin the Mureda family and, with them, the entire village of Pardàc.
    ‘Bulchanij.’
    ‘I don’t speak to dogs.’
    ‘Bulchanij.’
    The sombre tone of voice made him turn reluctantly. Bulchanij of Moena had a prominent belly that, had he lived longer and eaten enough, would have been a very good spot to rest his arms.
    ‘What the hell do you want?’
    ‘Where’s your doublet?’
    ‘What the hell business is that of yours?’
    ‘Why aren’t you wearing it? Show it to me.’
    ‘Piss off. What do you think, just because you’re down on your luck everybody from Moena has to do what you say? Eh?’ He pointed to him with hatred in his eyes. ‘I’m not going to show it to you. Now get lost, you’re blocking the damn sun.’
    Jachiam, the fourth Mureda boy, with cold rage, unsheathed the bark-stripping knife he always carried in his belt. He rammed it into the belly of Bulchanij Brocia, the fattest man in Moena, as if he were the trunk of a maple tree. Bulchanij opened his mouth and his eyes widened as big as oranges, surprised less by the pain than by the fact that a piece of shit from Pardàc dared to touch him. When Jachiam Mureda pulled out his knife, which made a disgusting bloop gloop and was red with blood, Bulchanij collapsed into a chair as if deflating from the wound.
    Jachiam looked up and down the deserted road. Naively, he set off running towards Pardàc. When he had passed the last house in Moena, he realised that the hunchbacked woman from the mill, who was loaded down with wet clothes and looked at him mouth agape, might have seen everything. Instead of lashing out at her gaze, he just increased his pace. Even though he was the best at finding tonewoods, even though he was not yet twenty, his life had just abruptly changed course.
    His family reacted well, because they quickly sent people to San Martino and Siròr, to explain with evidence that Bulchanij was an arsonist who had burned the forest down maliciously, but the people of Moena thought that there was no need to come to any arrangement with the law and they prepared, without any arbitrators, to hunt down villainous Jachiam Mureda.
    ‘Son,’ said old man Mureda, his gaze even sadder than usual. ‘You must flee.’ And he held out a bag with half of the gold he’d saved over thirty years of working the Paneveggio wood. And none of Jachiam’s siblings said a word about that decision. And, somewhat ceremoniously, he said even though you are the best tree tracker and the best at locating tonewood, Jachiam, my dear son, the fourth of this ill-fated house, your life is worth more than the best maple trunk we could ever sell. And this way you will save yourself from the ruin that surely awaits us, because Bulchanij of Moena has left us without wood.
    ‘Father, I …’
    ‘Run, flee, be quick about it, go through Welschnofen, because they will surely be looking for you in Siròr. We will spread the word that you are hiding in Siròr or Tonadich. It’s too dangerous for you to stay in the valleys. You’ll have to make a very, very long trip, far from Pardàc. Run, Son, and may God keep you and protect you.’
    ‘But Father, I don’t want to leave. I want to work in the forest.’
    ‘They’ve burned it down. What could you work with, Son?’
    ‘I don’t know; but if I leave the valleys I’ll die!’
    ‘If you don’t run away this very night, I’ll kill you myself. Do you understand me now?’
    ‘Father …’
    ‘No one from Moena will lay a hand on any son of mine.’
    And Jachiam of the Muredas from Pardàc said goodbye to his father and kissed each of his siblings one by one: Agno, Jenn, Max and their wives. Hermes, Josef, Theodor and Micurà. Ilse, Eria and their husbands; and then, Katharina, Matilde, Gretchen and Bettina. They had all gathered to say goodbye to him in silence, and when he was already at the door, little Bettina said Jachiam, and he turned and saw how the girl held out her hand, and from it hung the medallion of Saint Maria dai Ciüf of Pardàc, the medallion that Mum had entrusted her with on her deathbed. Jachiam, in silence, looked at his brothers and sisters, and fixed his gaze on his father, who made a wordless gesture with his head. Then he went over to little Bettina and took the medallion and said Bettina, my sweet little one, I will wear this treasure until the day I die; and he didn’t know how true what he was saying would be. And Bettina touched both of her hands to his cheeks, refusing to cry. Jachiam left the house with his eyes flooded; he murmured a brief prayer at his mother’s grave and disappeared into the night, towards the endless snow, to change his life, change his history and his memories.
    ‘Is that all you have?’
    ‘This is an antiques shop,’ responded Cecília with that stern attitude that made men feel ashamed. And with a hint of sarcasm, ‘Why don’t you try a luthier?’
    I liked Cecília when she got mad. She was even prettier. Prettier than Mother even. Than Mother in that period.
    From where I was I could see Mr Berenguer’s office. I heard Cecília escorting the disappointed customer, who still wore his hat, to the door. As I heard the little bell ring and Cecília wish him well, Mr Berenguer looked up and winked at me.
    ‘Adrià.’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘When are they coming to pick you up?’ he said, raising his voice.
    I shrugged. I never knew exactly when I had to be one place or the other. My parents didn’t want me home alone so they brought me to the shop whenever they were both out. Which was fine for me because I entertained myself looking at the most unimaginable objects, things that had already lived and now rested patiently waiting for a second or third or fourth opportunity. And I imagined their lives in different homes and it was very amusing.
    Little Lola always ended up coming for me, rushing because she had to make dinner and hadn’t even started. That was why I shrugged when Mr Berenguer asked me when they were picking me up.
    ‘Come,’ he told me, lifting up a blank piece of paper. ‘Sit at the Tudor desk and draw for a bit.’
    I’ve never liked drawing because I don’t know how; I haven’t a clue. That’s why I’ve always admired your skill, which I find miraculous. Mr Berenguer told me to draw for a bit because it bothered him to see me there doing nothing, which wasn’t true, because I spent the time thinking. But you can’t say no to Mr Berenguer. Seated there at the Tudor desk, I did whatever I could to keep him quiet. I pulled Black Eagle out of my pocket and tried to draw him. Poor Black Eagle, if he could see himself on that paper … That was before Black Eagle had had a chance to meet Sheriff Carson, because I’d acquired him that very morning in a swap with Ramon Coll for a Weiss harmonica. If my father finds out, he’ll kill me.
    Mr Berenguer was very special; when he smiled he scared me a little and he treated Cecília like an inept maid, something I’ve never forgiven him for. But he was the one who knew the most about Father, my great mystery.

2

    The Santa Maria reached Ostia on the foggy early morning of Thursday, September 2nd. His voyage from Barcelona was worse than any of the trips Aeneas took in search of his destiny and eternal glory. Neptune did not smile on him aboard the Santa Maria and he spent much of the journey feeding the fish. By the time he arrived, his skin colour had changed from the healthy tan typical of a peasant from the Plain of Vic to pale as a mystical apparition.
    That seminarian had such excellent qualifications — he was studious, pious and polished, learned despite his age — that Monsignor Josep Torras i Bages had personally decided that he would be squandering his God-given gift of bountiful natural intelligence in Vic. They had a precious flower on their hands and it would wither in the humble vegetable patch that was Vic’s seminary; it needed a lush garden in which to thrive.
    ‘I don’t want to go to Rome, Monsignor. I want to devote myself to study bec
    ‘That’s precisely why I’m sending you to Rome, dear boy. I know our seminary well enough to know that an intelligence like yours is wasting its time here.’
    ‘But, Monsignor …’
    ‘God has great designs for you. Your instructors have been insisting,’ he said, shaking the document in his hands a bit theatrically.
    Born at Can Ges in the village of Tona, into the bosom of an exemplary family, son of Andreu and Rosalia, at six years old he already possessed the academic preparation and the accordant resolve to commence his ecclesiastical studies, beginning with the first course in Latinity under the direction of Pater Jacint Garrigós. His academic progress was so noteworthy and immediate that when he began to study Rhetoric, he had to lecture on the celebrated ‘Oratio Latina’. The Monsignor knows from personal experience, since we have had the immense pleasure of having you as a student in this seminary, that this is one of the first literary acts with which the instructors honour their most distinguished and proven student orators. But that distinction exceeded his eleven years and, above all, his still slight frame. While the audience could hear the solemn rhetorician Fèlix Ardèvol lecturing conscientiously in the language of Virgil, a not small stool was required to allow the tiny and circumspect speaker to be seen by the spectators who included his thrilled parents and brother. Thus Fèlix Ardèvol y Guiteres set off on the path of great academic triumphs in Mathematics, Philosophy, Theology, reaching the height of illustrious students of this seminary such as the distinguished fathers Jaume Balmes y Urpià, Antoni Maria Claret y Clarà, Jacint Verdaguer y Santaló, Jaume Collell y Bancells, Professor Andreu Duran and Your Grace, who honours us as bishop of our beloved diocese.
    May our virtue of gratitude extend to our predecessors as well. The Lord Our God calls on us to do so: ‘Laudemos viors gloriosos et parentes nostros in generatione sua’ (Eccles. 44:1) It is for this reason that we are convinced we are correct in enthusiastically requesting that seminary student Fèlix Ardèvol y Guiteres continue his Theology studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
    ‘You have no choice, my child.’
    Fèlix Ardèvol didn’t dare to say that he hated boats, he who had been born on terra firma and had always lived far from the sea. Since he hadn’t known how to face up to the bishop, he’d had to undertake that arduous voyage. In a corner of the Ostia port, beside some half-rotted boxes infested with huge rats, he vomited up his impotence and almost all his memories of the past. For a few seconds, he breathed heavily as he stood up again, wiped his mouth with a handkerchief, briskly smoothed the cassock he’d worn on the trip and looked towards his splendid future. Despite the circumstances, like Aeneas, he had arrived in Rome.
    ‘This is the best room in the residency.’
    Surprised, Fèlix Ardèvol turned. In the doorway a short, somewhat plump student, who was sweating like a pig inside a Dominican habit, smiled kindly.
    ‘Félix Morlin, from Liège,’ said the stranger, taking a step into the cell.
    ‘Fèlix Ardèvol. From Vic.’
    ‘Oh! A namesake!’ he shouted, laughing as he extended a hand.
    They were fast friends. Morlin told him that he’d been given the most coveted room in the residence hall and asked him what his inside connection was. Ardèvol had to confess that he had none; that at reception, the fat, bald concierge had looked at his papers and said Ardevole? cinquantaquattro, and he’d given him the key without even looking him in the eye. Morlin didn’t believe him, but he laughed heartily.
    Exactly a week later, before the school year began, Morlin introduced him to eight or ten students he knew in the second year; he advised him not to waste his time befriending students outside of the Gregorian or the Istituto Biblico; he showed him how to slip out unnoticed by the guard, urging him to have lay clothes prepared in case they had to stroll incognito. He was the guide for the new first-year students, showing them the unique buildings along the shortest route from the residence hall to the Pontifical Gregorian University. His Italian was tinged with a French accent but totally understandable. And he gave them a speech about the importance of knowing how to keep your distance from the Jesuits at the Gregorian, because, if you weren’t careful, they would turn your brain on its ear. Just like that, plof!
    The day before classes began, all the new and old students, who came from a thousand different places, gathered in the huge auditorium of the Palazzo Gabrielli-Borromeo at the Gregorian’s headquarters, and the Pater Decanus of the Pontifical Gregorian University of the Collegio Romano, Daniele D’Angelo, S.J., in perfect Latin, urged us to be aware of our great luck, of the great privilege you have to be able to study in any of the faculties of the Pontifical Gregorian University, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Here we have had the honour of welcoming illustrious students, and among them there have been a few holy fathers, the last of which was our sorely missed Pope Leo XIII. We will demand nothing more of you than effort, effort and effort. You come here to study, study, study and learn from the best specialists in Theology, Canonical Law, Spirituality, Church History, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
    ‘Pater D’Angelo is called D’Angelodangelodangelo,’ Morlin whispered in his ear, as if he were communicating worrisome news.
    And when you have finished your studies, you will scatter all over the world, you will return to your countries, to your seminaries, to the institutes of your orders; those who are not yet will be ordained priests and will bear the fruit of what you were taught here. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera and then fifteen minutes more of practical advice, perhaps not as practical as Morlin’s, but necessary for everyday life. Fèlix Ardèvol thought that it could have been worse; sometimes the Orationes Latinae in Vic were more boring than that pragmatic instruction manual he was reciting for them.
    The first months of the school year, until after Christmas, passed without incident. Fèlix Ardèvol particularly admired the brilliance of Pater Faluba, a half-Slovak, half-Hungarian Jesuit with infinite knowledge of the Bible, and the mental rigour of Pater Pierre Blanc, who was very haughty and taught the revelation and its transmission to the Church, and who, despite also having been born in Liège, had failed Morlin on the final exam in which his friend wrote about the approximations to Marian theology. Since he sat next to him in three subjects, he began to make friends with Drago Gradnik, a red-faced Slovenian giant who had come from the Ljubljana seminary and had a wide, powerful bull’s neck that looked as if it was about to burst out of his clerical collar. They talked little, although his Latin was fluent. But both were shy and tried to channel their energies in getting through the numerous doors their studies opened for them. While Morlin complained and widened his circle of contacts and friends, Ardèvol locked himself up in cinquantaquattro, the best cell in the residence hall, and he discovered new worlds in the paleographic study of papyri and other biblical documents that Pater Faluba brought them, written in Demotic, Coptic, Greek or Aramaic. He taught them the art of loving objects. A destroyed manuscript, he would repeat, is of no use to science. If it must be restored, it must be restored no matter the cost. And the role of the restorer is as important as the role of the scientist who will interpret it. And he didn’t say etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, because he always knew what he was talking about.
    ‘Balderdash,’ declared Morlin when he mentioned it to him. ‘Those people are happy with just a magnifying glass in their hand and some tattered, mouldy papers on the table.’
    ‘Me too.’
    ‘What good are dead languages?’ he now said in his pompous Latin.
    ‘Pater Faluba told us that men don’t inhabit a country; we inhabit a language. And that by rescuing ancient languages …’
    ‘Sciocchezze. Stupiditates. The only dead language that’s truly alive is Latin.’
    They were on Via di Sant’Ignazio. Ardèvol was protected by his cassock, and Morlin by his habit. For the first time, Ardèvol looked at his friend strangely. He stopped and asked him, perplexed, what he believed in. Morlin stopped as well and told him that he had become a Dominican friar because he had a deep yearning to help others and serve the church. And that nothing would dissuade him from his path; but that you had to serve the church in a practical way, not by studying rotting papers, but by influencing people who influence the life of … He stopped and then added: etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, and the two friends both burst out laughing. Just then, Carolina passed them by for the first time, but neither noticed her. And when I reached the house with Little Lola, I had to study the violin while she prepared supper and the rest of the flat grew dark. I didn’t like that at all because some villain could always come out from behind some door and that was why I carried Black Eagle in my pocket, since at home, as Father had decided years ago, there were no medallions, scapulars, engravings or missals, and Adrià Ardèvol, poor boy, had need of invisible help. And one day, instead of studying the violin, I stayed in the dining room, fascinated, watching how the sun fled to the west, along Trespui, in the painting above the dining room sideboard, lighting up the Santa Maria de Gerri abbot with magical colour. Always the same light, which drew me in and made me think of impossible stories, and I didn’t hear the door to the street open and I didn’t hear anything until my father’s deep voice frightened me out of my skin.
    ‘What are you doing here, wasting time? Don’t you have homework? Don’t you have violin? Don’t you have anything? Eh?’
    And Adrià went to his room, with his heart still going boom-boom. He didn’t envy children with parents who kissed them because he didn’t think such a thing existed.
    ‘Carson: let me introduce you to Black Eagle. Of the brave tribe of the Arapaho.’
    ‘Hello.’
    ‘How.’
    Black Eagle gave Sheriff Carson a kiss, like the one Father hadn’t given him, and Adrià put both of them, with their horses, on the bedside table so they could get to know each other.
    ‘You seem down.’
    ‘After three years of studying theology,’ Ardèvol said, pensively, ‘I still have yet to work out what really interests you. The doctrine of grace?’
    ‘You haven’t answered my question,’ insisted Morlin.
    ‘It wasn’t a question. The credibility of the Christian revelation?’
    Morlin didn’t answer and Fèlix Ardèvol insisted, ‘Why do you study at the Gregorian if theology doesn’t …’
    They were both far from the stream of students making the trip back from the university to the residence hall. In two years of Christology and Soteriology, Metaphysics I, Metaphysics II and Divine Revelation, and diatribes from the most demanding professors, especially Levinski in Divine Revelation, who thought that Fèlix Ardèvol wasn’t progressing in that discipline according to expectations, Rome hadn’t changed much. Despite the war that had thrown Europe into upheaval, the city wasn’t an open wound; it had just got a bit poorer. Meanwhile, the students at the Pontifical University continued their studies, oblivious to the conflict and its dramas. Almost all of them. And growing in wisdom and virtue. Almost all of them.
    ‘And you?’
    ‘Theodicy and original sin no longer interest me. I don’t want more justifications. It’s hard for me to think that God allows evil.’
    ‘I’ve been suspecting it for months.’
    ‘You too?’
    ‘No: I suspected that you’re getting yourself in a muddle. Observe the world, like I do. I have a lot of fun in the Canonical Law Faculty. Legal relationships between the church and civil society; Church Sanctions; Temporal Goods of the church; Divine gift of the Institutes of consecrated life; the canonical Consuetudine …’
    ‘What are you saying?’
    ‘Speculative studies are a waste of time; the ones based on rules are a welcome rest.’
    ‘No, no!’ exclaimed Ardèvol. ‘I like Aramaic; I love looking at manuscripts and understanding the morphological differences between Bohtan Neo-Aramaic and Jewish Barzani Neo-Aramaic. Or the reason behind Koy Sanja Surat and Mlahso.’
    ‘You know what? I don’t know what you’re talking about. Do we study at the same university? In the same faculty? Are we both in Rome? Are we?’
    ‘It doesn’t matter. As long as I don’t have to have Pater Levinski as a professor, I want to learn everything there is to know about Chaldean, Babylonian, Samaritan …’
    ‘What good will all that do you?’
    ‘What good will it do you to know the difference between ratified, consummated, legitimate, putative, valid and nullified marriage?’
    They both started to laugh in the middle of Via del Seminario. A woman dressed in dark clothes looked up, a bit frightened to see those young chaplains making a commotion and violating the most basic rules of modesty.
    ‘Why are you down, Ardevole? Now it is a question.’
    ‘What interests you, in your heart of hearts?’
    ‘Everything.’
    ‘And theology?’
    ‘That’s part of everything,’ answered Morlin, lifting his arms as if he were preparing to bless the facade of the Biblioteca Casanatense and the twenty-odd people who, unawares, were passing in front of it. Then he set off walking and Fèlix Ardèvol had trouble keeping up.
    ‘Look at the European war,’ continued Morlin, pointing energetically towards Africa. And in a softer voice, as if he worried there were spies around, ‘Italy has to remain neutral because the Triple Alliance is only a defensive pact,’ said Italy.
    ‘The allies are going to win the war,’ the Entente Cordiale responded.
    ‘I am not moved by interests beyond being true to my word,’ proclaimed Italy, with dignity.
    ‘We promise you the unredeemed regions of Trentino, Istria and Dalmatia.’
    ‘I repeat,’ insisted Italy with more dignity and rolling its eyes, ‘Italy’s honourable position is that of neutrality.’
    ‘All right: if you join today, not tomorrow, OK? If you join today, you will have the whole unredeemed package: South Tyrol, Trentino, Julian Venice, Istria, Fiume, Nice, Corsica, Malta and Dalmatia.’
    ‘Where do I sign?’ answered Italy. And with shining eyes, ‘Long live the Entente! Death to the Central European empires! And that’s it, Fèlix, that’s politics. On both sides.’
    ‘And the great ideals?’
    Now Félix Morlin stopped and looked up at the sky, preparing to emit a memorable phrase.
    ‘International politics are not the great international ideals: they are the great international interests. And Italy understood it well: once you have got on the side of the good guys, who are us, launch the offensive in Trentino to destroy that divine blessing of forests, counter-attack, the battle of Caporetto with three hundred thousand dead, Piave, breaking the front in Vittorio Veneto, then the Padua armistice and the creation of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenians — which is an invention that won’t last more than a couple of months even if they call it Yugoslavia. And I predict that the unredeemed regions are the carrot that the allies will snatch away, leaving Italy frustrated. Since everyone is going to keep fighting, the war won’t be entirely over. And just wait for the real enemy, who hasn’t even woken up yet.’
    ‘Who is it?’
    ‘Bolshevik communism. If not now, in a few years.’
    ‘How did you learn all that?’
    ‘Reading the newspaper, listening to the right people. It’s the art of effective contacts. And if you knew the sad role of the Vatican in these affairs …’
    ‘And when do you study the spiritual effect of the sacraments on the soul or the doctrine of grace?’
    ‘What I do is studying, too, dear Fèlix. It’s preparing myself to serve the church well. The church needs theologians, politicians and even an enlightened few like you who look at the world through a magnifying glass. Why are you down?’
    They walked in silence for a while, their heads bowed, each with his own thoughts. Suddenly, Morlin stopped short and said nooo!
    ‘What?’
    ‘I know what your problem is. I know why you’re down.’
    ‘Oh, really?’
    ‘You’re in love.’
    Fèlix Ardèvol i Guiteres, fourth-year student at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, winner of the special prize for his brilliant performance over the first two academic years, opened his mouth to protest, but then closed it again. He was seeing himself on the Monday after Easter, at the end of the Holy Week holidays — with nothing to do after preparing his dissertation on Vico, the verum et factum reciprocanture seu convertuntur and the impossibility of understanding everything, unlike Félix Morlin, the anti-Vico, who seemed to understand all of society’s strange movements — when he crossed the Piazza di Pietra and saw her for the third time. Luminous. The pigeons, about thirty of them, created an obstacle between them. He approached her, and she, carrying a small package in her hand, smiled at him just as the world turned brighter, cleaner, purer and more generous. And he reasoned logically: beauty, so much beauty, cannot be the work of the devil. Beauty is divine, and so must be her angelic smile. And he remembered the second time he had seen her, when Carolina was helping her father unload the cart in front of the store. How could that sweet back be made to carry rough wooden boxes cruelly filled with apples? It was intolerable to him, and he rushed to her aid. They unloaded three boxes between the two of them, in silence, with the ironic complicity of the mule, who chewed on hay from his muzzle. Fèlix stared at the infinite landscape of her eyes, not wanting to lower his gaze towards her incipient cleavage, and Saverio Amato’s entire store was silent because no one knew what to do when a father dell’università, un prete, a priest, a seminarian rolls up his holy cassock’s sleeves and acts as a porter and observes their daughter with such a dark gaze. Three boxes of apples, a blessing from God in times of war; three delicious moments beside such beauty and then glancing around, realising that he was inside Signor Amato’s store and saying buona sera and leaving without daring to look at her again. And her mother came out and put two red apples in his hand, whether he wanted them or not, which made him blush because it crossed his mind that they could be Carolina’s lovely breasts. Or thinking of the first time he saw her, Carolina, Carolina, Carolina, the most beautiful name in the world, when she was still a nameless girl, who walked in front of him and just then twisted an ankle, and let out a shriek of pain, poor baby, and almost fell to the ground. He was with Drago Gradnik who, in the two years since he’d entered the Theology Faculty, had grown a few inches taller and six or seven butchers’ pounds heavier and, for the last three days, lived only for Saint Anselm’s ontological argument, as if there were nothing else in the world that proved God’s existence, for example the beauty of that sweet, sweet creature. Drago Gradnik was unable to realise how terribly painful that twisted ankle must be, and Fèlix Ardèvol took the leg of the lovely Adalaisa, Beatrice, Laura, delicately by the ankle, to help her to rest on the ground, and as he touched her little leg, an electric current more intense than the voltaic arcs at the World’s Fair ran down his spine and while he asked her if it hurt, signorina, he would have liked to pounce on her and have his way with her, and that was the first time in his life that he’d felt such an urgent, painful, implacable and terrifying sexual desire. Meanwhile, Drago Gradnik was looking the other way, thinking about Saint Anselm and other more rational ways to prove God’s existence.
    ‘Ti fa male?’
    ‘Grazie, grazie mille, padre …’ said the sweet voice with the infinite eyes.
    ‘If God has given us intelligence, I take that to mean that faith can be accompanied by reasoning. Don’t you agree, Ardevole?’
    ‘Come ti chiami (my precious nymph)?’
    ‘Carolina, Father. Thank you.’
    Carolina, what a lovely name; of course you have a beautiful name, my love.
    ‘Ti fa ancora male, Carolina (sheer, absolute beauty)?’ he repeated, distressed.
    ‘Reason. Faith through reason. Is that heretical? Is it, Ardevole?’
    He had had to leave her sitting on a bench, because the nymph, blushing intensely, assured him that her mother would soon come by. While the two students resumed their walk — as Drago Gradnik, in his nasal Latin, ventured that perhaps Saint Bernard isn’t everything in life, that Teilhard de Chardin’s conference seems to invite us to think — he found himself bringing a hand to his face and trying to smell what remained of the scent of the goddess Carolina’s skin.
    ‘Me, in love?’ He looked at Morlin, who was watching him with a smirk.
    ‘You show all the symptoms.’
    ‘What do you know?’
    ‘I’ve been through it.’
    ‘And how did you get over it?’ Ardèvol’s tone is anxious.
    ‘I didn’t get over it. I got under it. Until the love ended and then I got out.’
    ‘Don’t shock me.’
    ‘That’s life. I’m a sinner and I repent.’
    ‘Love is infinite, it never ends. I couldn’t …’
    ‘My God, you’ve got it bad, Fèlix Ardevole!’
    Ardevole didn’t answer. Before him were some thirty pigeons, the Monday after Easter, in the Piazza di Pietra. The urgency of his yearning made him cut through the jungle of pigeons until he reached Carolina, who handed him the little package.
    ‘Il gioiello dell’Africa,’ said the nymph.
    ‘And how do you know that I …’
    ‘You pass by here every day. Every day.’
    In that moment, Matthew twenty-seven fifty-one, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth quaked, the rocks were split, and the graves were opened and the many bodies of saints who had fallen asleep were resurrected.
    Mystery of God and the incarnate Word of God.
    Mystery of the Virgin Mary and Mother of God.
    Mystery of the Christian faith.
    Mystery of the church, human and imperfect; divine and eternal.
    Mystery of the love of a young woman who gives me a little package that I’ve kept on the table inside cinquantaquattro for two days. On the third day I only dared to unwrap the outermost layer of paper. It is a small closed box. My God. I’m on the edge of the abyss.
    He waited until Saturday. Most of the students were in their rooms. A few had gone out for walks or were scattered among the various Roman libraries where they rummaged around, exasperated, for answers on the nature of evil and why God allows it, on the exasperating existence of the devil, on the correct reading of the Holy Scriptures or on the appearance of the neume in Gregorian and Ambrosian chants. Fèlix Ardèvol was alone in cinquantaquattro, no book on the table, nothing out of place because if something drove him nuts it was the infuriating chaotic profusion of objects that were relegated to junk, or objects out of place, or for his gaze to get stuck on things that weren’t well displayed, or … He thought that maybe he was becoming obsessive. I think so; that it began in that period: Father was a man fixated on material order. I think that intellectual incoherence didn’t bother him much. But a book on the table instead of put away on its shelf, or a paper forgotten atop a radiator, it was simply inexcusable and unforgivable. Nothing could ruin the view and he kept us all in line, especially me. I had to tidy up each and every day, all the toys I had played with except for Sheriff Carson and Black Eagle because they secretly slept with me and Father never found out about that.
    He kept cinquantaquattro as clean as a whistle. And Fèlix Ardèvol, standing, looking out the window at the flow of cassocks entering and leaving the residence hall. And a horse and cart passing along the Via del Corso with some unconfessable and infuriating secrets inside its closed cabin. And the child dragging an iron bucket and making a gratuitous, infuriating racket. He was shaking with fear and that was why everything made him indignant. On the table lay an unexpected object, an object that did not yet have its place. The little green box that Carolina had given him with a gioiello dell’Africa inside. His fate. He had sworn to himself that before the bells struck twelve at Santa Maria he would have thrown out the little box or opened it. Or he would have killed himself. One of the three.
    Because one thing is living to study, making a path in the thrilling world of paleography, in the universe of ancient manuscripts, learning languages that no one speaks any longer because centuries ago they were frozen into stale papyri that become their only window onto memory, distinguishing medieval paleography from ancient paleography, being happy that the world was so large that, when I got bored, I could start to investigate Sanskrit and the Asian languages, and if some day I have a child I would want …
    And why am I thinking about having a child? he thought, annoyed; no, he thought indignantly. And he looked at the little box again, alone on the tidy table in cinquantaquattro. Fèlix Ardèvol brushed an imaginary thread off his cassock, ran a finger along the skin chafed by his clerical collar and sat in front of the table. In three minutes they would ring the bells at Santa Maria. He took a deep breath and came to a resolution: for the moment, he wasn’t going to kill himself. He picked up the little box with his hands, very carefully, like a boy carrying a nest he’d stolen from a tree to show his mother the greenish eggs or the helpless baby birds that I will feed, Mother, don’t worry, I’ll give them a lot of ants. Like the thirsty deer, oh, Lord. Somehow or another he knew that the steps he was taking were creating an aura of irreversibility in his soul. Two minutes. With trembling fingers he tried to untie the red ribbon, but each time the knot grew tighter and it wasn’t because Carolina was inept but rather a question of his nerves. He stood up, irritable. One minute and a half. He went over to the wash-hand basin and grabbed his shaving razor. He opened it hurriedly. One minute and fifteen seconds. And he cruelly cut that ribbon, of the loveliest red colour he’d ever seen in his entire long life, because, at twenty-five, he felt old and tired and wished these things wouldn’t happen to him, wished that they would happen to the other Félix, who seemed to be able to handle them without … One minute! His mouth dry, his hands sweating, a drip running down his cheek and it wasn’t a very hot day … Ten seconds left before the bells of Santa Maria in Via Lata strike twelve noon. And while in Versailles a bunch of novices were saying that the war was over and as they signed the armistice, their tongues hanging out from the effort, they set into motion the mechanisms to make a splendid new war possible just a few years later, bloodier and more evil, a war which God should never have allowed, Fèlix Ardèvol i Guiteres opened the little green box. With hesitant gestures, he removed the pink cotton and, as the first bell rang, Angelus Domini nutiavit Mariae, he burst into tears.
    It was relatively simple to leave the residence hall incognito. He had practised it many times with Morlin, Gradnik and two or three other trusted friends, and they’d always got away with it. Dressed in lay clothes, Rome opened many doors; or it opened other, different doors than it did for the cassocks. In normal attire they could enter all the museums that decorum kept them from entering with cassocks on. And they could have coffee in the Piazza Colonna and even further, watching people pass by, and two or three times Morlin took him, beloved disciple, to meet people whom, according to him, he had to meet. And he introduced him as Fèlix Ardevole, a wise man who knew eight languages and for whom manuscripts held no secrets, and the scholars opened up their safes and let him examine the original manuscript of La mandragola, which was lovely, or some trembling papyri related to the Maccabees. But today while Europe was making peace pacts, wise Fèlix Ardevole slipped out of the residence hall, unbeknownst to the hall authorities and, for the first time, without his friends. With a pullover and a hat that hid his clerical air. And he headed straight to Signor Amato’s fruit shop to wait, and the hours passed, he with the little box in his pocket, watching the people circulate blithely and happily because they didn’t have his fever. Including Carolina’s mother, and her little sister. Everyone except his love. The gioiello, a crude medallion with a rudimentary engraving of a Romanesque Virgin beside a huge tree, some sort of fir. And on the back, the word ‘Pardàc’. From Africa? Could it be a Coptic medallion? Why did I say my love when I have no right to … and the fresh air became unbreathable. The bells began to chime, and Fèlix, who had yet to be informed, attributed it to a homage that all of Rome’s churches were making to his furtive, clandestine and sinful love. And people stopped, surprised, perhaps searching for Abelard; but instead of pointing at him they asked themselves why in the world were all the bells in Rome chiming at three in the afternoon, which isn’t a time they’re usually rung, what must be going on? My God: what if the war was over?
    Then Carolina Amato appeared. She had come out of her house with her short hair fluttering, crossed the street and gone directly to where Fèlix, who thought he was perfectly camouflaged, was waiting. And when she stood before him she looked at him with a radiant, but silent, smile. He swallowed hard, squeezed the little box in his pocket, opened his mouth and said nothing.
    ‘Me too,’ she replied. And after many chimes of the bells, ‘Did you like it?’
    ‘I don’t know if I can accept it.’
    ‘It’s mine, the gioiello. My Uncle Sandro gave it to me when I was born. He brought it from Egypt himself. Now it’s yours.’
    ‘What will they say to you, at home?’
    ‘It’s mine and now it’s yours: they won’t say anything. It’s my pledge.’
    And she took his hand. From that moment on, the sky fell to earth and Abelard focused on the touch of Heloise’s skin, which dragged him down an anonymous vicolo, filled with trash but smelling of love’s roses, and into a house that had open doors and no one inside, while the bells chimed and a neighbour lady, from a window, shouted nuntio vobis gaudium magnum, Elisabetta, la guerra è finita! But the two lovers were about to begin an essential battle and couldn’t hear her announcement.

II DE PUERITIA

    A good warrior can’t go around falling in love with every squaw he comes across, even if they make themselves up with war paint.
Black Eagle

3

    Don’t look at me like that. I know I make things up: but I’m still telling the truth. For example, my oldest memory in my childhood room, in History and Geography, is trying to make a house under the bed. It wasn’t uncomfortable and it was truly fun because I saw the feet of people coming in and saying Adrià, Son, where are you or Adrià, snacktime. Where’d he go? I know, it was incredible fun. Yes, I was always bored like that, because my house wasn’t designed for children and my family wasn’t a family designed for children. My mother had no say and my father lived only for his buying and his selling, and the jealousy ate away at me when I saw him caress an engraving or a fine porcelain decanter. And Mother … well, Mother had always seemed to me like a woman on guard, alert, her eyes darting here and there; even though Little Lola was looking out for her. Now I realise that my father made her feel like a stranger at home. It was his house and he let her live there. When Father died, she was able to breathe and her expression was no longer uneasy, even though she avoided looking at me. And she changed. I wonder why. I also wonder why my parents married. I don’t think they ever loved each other. There was never love at home. I was a mere circumstantial consequence of their lives.
    It’s strange: there are so many things I want to explain to you and yet I keep getting distracted and wasting time with reflections that would make Freud drool. Perhaps it’s because my relationship with my father is to blame for everything. Perhaps because it was my fault he died.
    One day, when I was a bit older, when I’d already secretly taken over the space between the back of the sofa and the wall in my father’s study and turned it into a mansion for my cowboys and Indians, Father came in followed by a familiar voice that I still found somewhere between pleasant and blood-curdling. It was the first time I’d heard Mr Berenguer outside of the shop and he sounded different: and ever since then I didn’t like his voice inside the shop or out of it. I remained stock still and put Sheriff Carson down on the floor. Black Eagle’s brown horse, normally so silent, fell and made a small noise that startled me but the enemy didn’t notice, and Father said I don’t have to give you any explanations.
    ‘I think you do.’
    Mr Berenguer sat on the sofa, which moved a bit closer to the wall, and, heroically, I told myself better squashed than discovered. I heard Mr Berenguer tapping and my father’s icy voice saying no smoking in this house. Then Mr Berenguer said that he demanded an explanation.
    ‘You work for me.’ My father’s voice was sarcastic. ‘Or am I wrong?’
    ‘I got ten engravings, I got the people who sold them at a loss not to complain too much. I got the ten engravings across three borders and got them appraised myself and now you tell me that you’ve sold them without even consulting me. One of them was a Rembrandt, you know that?’
    ‘We buy and sell; that’s how we earn our living in this fucking life.’
    That was the first time I’d heard the word fucking and I liked it; Father said it with two fs: ffucking life, I guess because he was angry. I knew that Mr Berenguer was smiling; I already knew how to decipher silences and was sure that Mr Berenguer was smiling.
    ‘Oh, hello, Mr Berenguer.’ It was Mother’s voice. ‘Fèlix, have you seen the boy?’
    ‘No.’
    Crisis was imminent. How could I get out from behind the sofa and disappear into some other part of the flat, pretending I hadn’t heard a thing? I talked it over with Sheriff Carson and Black Eagle, but they were no help. Meanwhile, the men were in silence, surely waiting for my mother to leave the study and close the door.
    ‘Goodbye.’
    ‘Goodbye, madam.’ Returning to the bitter tone of their discussion, ‘I feel I’ve been cheated. I deserve a special commission.’ Silence. ‘I demand it.’
    I couldn’t care less about the commission. To stay calm, I translated the conversation into French in my head; so I must have been seven years old. Sometimes I did that to keep myself from worrying; when I was anxious I couldn’t control my fidgeting and, in the silence of the study, if I moved around they would have heard me. Moi, j’exige ma commission. C’est mon droit. Vous travaillez pour moi, monsieur Berenguer. Oui, bien sûr, mais j’ai de la dignité, moi!
    In the background, Mother, shouting Adrià, boy! Little Lola, have you seen him? Dieu sait où est mon petit Hadrien!
    I don’t remember too well, but I believe Mr Berenguer left even angrier than he’d arrived and that Father got rid of him with a through thick and thin, monsieur Berenguer, which I didn’t know how to translate. How I wish Mother had even once called me mon petit Hadrien!
    So I was able leave my hidey hole. The time it took my father to walk his visitor to the door was enough for me to erase my tracks. I had acquired great skill for camouflage and near ubiquity, in that life of a partisan I led at home.
    ‘Here!’ Mother had appeared on the balcony where I was watching the cars whose lights had just started to flick on, because life in that period, as I remember it, was endless dusk. ‘Didn’t you hear me?’
    ‘What?’ With the sheriff and the brown horse in one hand, I pretended I’d had my head in the clouds.
    ‘You need to try on your school smock. How is it possible that you didn’t hear me calling you?’
    ‘Smock?’
    ‘Mrs Angeleta let down the sleeves.’ And with an authoritative gesture, ‘Come on!’
    In the sewing room, Mrs Angeleta, with a pin between her lips, looked at the hang of the new sleeves with a professional air.
    ‘You grow too fast, lad.’
    Mother had gone to say goodbye to Mr Berenguer and Little Lola went into the ironing room to look for clean shirts while I put on the smock without sleeves, as I had done so many other times throughout my childhood.
    ‘And you wear out the elbows too fast,’ hammered home Mrs Angeleta, who was already a thousand years old, give or take.
    The door to the flat closed. Father’s footsteps headed off towards his study and Mrs Angeleta shook her snow-covered head.
    ‘You have a lot of visitors lately.’
    Little Lola was silent and acted as if she hadn’t heard. Mrs Angeleta, as she pinned the sleeve to the smock, went on anyway.
    ‘Sometimes I hear shouts.’
    Little Lola grabbed the shirts and said nothing. Mrs Angeleta continued to prod. ‘Lord knows what you talk about …’
    ‘About ffucking life,’ I said without thinking.
    Little Lola’s shirts fell to the floor, Mrs Angeleta pricked my arm and Black Eagle turned and surveyed the parched horizon with his eyes almost closed. He noticed the cloud of dust before anyone else. Even before Swift Rabbit.
    ‘Three riders are approaching,’ he said. No one made any comment. That cave-like room offered some respite from the harsh summer heat; but no one, no squaw, no child, no one had the energy to care about visitors or their intentions. Black Eagle made an imperceptible motion with his eyes. Three warriors started to walk towards their horses. He followed them closely while keeping one eye on the dust cloud. They were coming straight to the cave, without the slightest subterfuge. Like a bird distracting a predator and diverting it away from its nest with various techniques, he and his three men shifted to the west to distract the visitors. The two groups met close to the five holm oaks; the visitors were three white men, one with very blond hair and the other two with dark skin. One of them, the one with the theatrical moustache, nimbly got down from his saddle with his hands away from his body and smiled.
    ‘You are Black Eagle,’ he declared, keeping his hands away from his body in a sign of submission.
    The great Arapaho chief of the Lands to the South of Yellow Fish’s Shore of the Washita gave an imperceptible nod from up on his horse, without moving a hair, and then he asked whom he had the honour of receiving, and the man with the black moustache smiled again, made a jocular half bow and said I’m Sheriff Carson, from Rockland, a two-day ride from your lands.
    ‘I know where you established your town, Rockland,’ the legendary chief responded curtly. ‘In Pawnee territory.’ And he spat on the ground to show his contempt.
    ‘These are my deputies,’ — not entirely sure who the gob of spit was directed at. ‘We are looking for a criminal on the lam.’ And he, in turn, spat and found it wasn’t half bad.
    ‘What has he done to be treated as a criminal?’ The Arapaho chief.
    ‘Do you know him? Have you seen him?’
    ‘I asked you what he did to be treated as a criminal.’
    ‘He killed a mare.’
    ‘And dishonoured two women,’ added the blond.
    ‘Yes, of course, that too,’ accepted Sheriff Carson.
    ‘And why are you looking for him here?’
    ‘He’s an Arapaho.’
    ‘My people extend several days toward the west, toward the east and toward the cold and the heat. Why have you come to this spot?’
    ‘You know who he is. We want you to deliver him to justice.’
    ‘You are mistaken, Sheriff Carson. Your murderer is not an Arapaho.’
    ‘Oh, no? And how do you know that?’
    ‘An Arapaho would never kill a mare.’
    Then the light turned on and Little Lola waved him off with one hand, ordering him out of the larder. In front of Adrià, Mother, with war paint on her face, without looking at him, without spitting on the ground, said Lola, have him wash his mouth out well. With soap and water. And if necessary, add a few drops of bleach.
    Black Eagle withstood the torture bravely, without a single groan. When Little Lola had finished, as he dried himself with a towel, he looked her in the eyes and said Little Lola, do you know what dishonouring a woman means exactly?
    When I was seven or eight years old I made some decisions about my life. One was very wise: leaving my education in my mother’s hands. But it seems that things didn’t go that way. And I found out because, that night, I wanted to know how my father would react to my slip and so I set up my espionage device in the dining room. It wasn’t particularly complicated because my room shared a partition wall with the dining room. Officially, I had gone to sleep early, so my father, when he came home, wouldn’t find me awake. It was the best way to save myself the sermon that would have been filled with pitfalls because if I told him, in self-defence, that the whole ffucking life thing was something I’d heard him say, then the topic of the conversation would have shifted from you’ve got a very dirty mouth that I’ll now scrub with Lagarto soap to how the fuck do you know I said that about ffucking life, you bald-faced liar? Huh? Huh? Were you spying on me? And there was no way I was going to reveal my espionage cards, because over time, without even really trying, I was the only one in the house who controlled every corner, every conversation, the arguments and the inexplicable weeping, like that week Little Lola spent crying. When she emerged from her room, she had very skilfully hidden her pain, which much have been immense. It was years before I knew why she was crying, but at the time I learned that there was pain that could last a week and life scared me a little bit.
    So I was able to listen in on the conversation between my parents by putting my ear to the bottom of a glass placed against the partition wall. Since Father’s voice was weary, Mother summed up the matter by saying that I was very trying. Father didn’t want to know the details and said it’s already been decided.
    ‘What’s been decided?’ Mother’s frightened voice.
    ‘I’ve enrolled him at the Jesuit school on Casp Street.’
    ‘But, Fèlix … If …’
    That day I learned that Father was the only one in charge. And I mentally made note that I had to look up what Jesuits were in the Britannica. Father held Mother’s gaze in silence and she made up her mind to press on, ‘Why the Jesuits? You aren’t a believer and …’
    ‘Quality education. We have to be efficient; we only have one child and we can’t make a cock-up of it.’
    Let’s see: yes, they only had one child. Or no; but that wasn’t the point anyway. So Father brought up the idea of the languages, which I’ll admit I liked.
    ‘What did you say?’
    ‘Ten languages.’
    ‘Our son isn’t a monster.’
    ‘But he can learn them.’
    ‘And why ten?’
    ‘Because Pater Levinski at the Gregorian knew nine. Our son has to do him one better.’
    ‘Why?’
    ‘Because he called me inept in front of the other students. Inept because my Aramaic was not progressing after an entire year with Faluba.’
    ‘Don’t make jokes: we are talking about our son’s education.’
    ‘I’m not joking: I am talking about my son’s education.’
    I know that it bothered my mother a lot that my father referred to me as his son in front of her. But Mother was thinking of other things because she started to say that she didn’t want to turn me into a monster; and, with a skill I didn’t know she had in her, she said do you hear me? I don’t want my son to end up being a carnival monster who has to do Pater Luwowski one better.
    ‘Levinski.’
    ‘Levinski the monster.’
    ‘A great theologian and Biblicist. A monster of erudition.’
    ‘No: we have to discuss it calmly.’
    I didn’t understand that. That was exactly what they were doing: discussing my future calmly. And I was pleased because ffucking life hadn’t come up at all.
    ‘Catalan, Spanish, French, German, Italian, English, Latin, Greek, Aramaic, and Russian.’
    ‘What are you listing?’
    ‘The ten languages he has to know. He already knows the first three.’
    ‘No, he just makes up the French.’
    ‘But he does a pretty good job, he makes himself understood. My son can do anything he sets out to. And he has a particular talent for languages. He will learn ten.’
    ‘He also needs time to play.’
    ‘He’s already big. But when it’s time to go to university he has to know them.’ And with a weary sigh, ‘We’ll talk about it some other time, OK?’
    ‘He’s seven years old, for the love of God!’
    ‘I’m not demanding he learn Aramaic right now.’ He drummed his fingers on the table with a conclusive gesture, ‘He’ll start with German.’
    I liked that too, because I could almost figure out the Britannica on my own with a dictionary by my side, no problem: but German, on the other hand, I found pretty opaque. I was very excited about the world of declinations, the world of languages that change their word endings according to their function in the sentence. I didn’t exactly put it that way, but almost: I was very pedantic.
    ‘No, Fèlix. We can’t make that mistake.’
    I heard the small sound of someone spitting curtly.
    ‘Yes?’
    ‘What is Aramaic?’ asked Sheriff Carson in a deep voice.
    ‘I don’t really know: we’ll have to research it.’
    I was a strange kid; I can admit that. I see myself now remembering how I listened to what would be my future, clinging to Sheriff Carson and the brave Arapaho chief and trying not to give myself away, and I think I wasn’t strange, I was very strange.
    ‘It isn’t a mistake. The first day of school a teacher I’ve already got my eye on will come to teach him German.’
    ‘No.’
    ‘His name is Romeu and he’s a very bright lad.’
    That irked me. A teacher at home? My house was my house and I was the one who knew everything about what happened inside it: I didn’t want awkward witnesses. No, I didn’t like that Romeu chap, poking his nose around my house, saying oh, how lovely, a personal library at seven years old and that kind of crap grownups say when they come to the house. No way.
    ‘And he will study three majors.’
    ‘What?’
    ‘Law and History.’ Silence. ‘And a third, which he can choose. But definitely Law, which is most useful for manoeuvring in this dog-eat-dog world.’
    Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. My foot began to move of its own accord, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. I hated law. You don’t know how much I hated it. Without knowing exactly what it was, I hated it to death.
    ‘Je n’en doute pas,’ disait ma mère. ‘Mais est-ce qu’il est un bon pédagogue, le tel Gomeu?’
    ‘Bien sûr, j’ai reçu des informations confidentielles qui montrent qu’il est un individu parfaitement capable en langue allemagne. Allemande? Tedesque? Et en la pédagogie de cette langue. Je crois que …’
    I was already starting to calm down. My foot stopped moving in that out of control way and I heard Mother get up and say what about the violin? Will he have to give it up?
    ‘No. But it will be secondary.’
    ‘I don’t agree.’
    ‘Good night, dear,’ said Father as he opened the newspaper and paged through it because that was what he always did at that time of the day.
    So I was changing schools. What a drag. And how scary. Luckily Sheriff Carson and Black Eagle would go with me. The violin will be secondary? And why Aramaic so much later? That night it took me a while to get off to sleep.
    I’m sure I’m mixing things up. I don’t know if I was seven or eight or nine years old. But I had a gift for languages and my parents had realised that and wanted to make the most of it. I had started French because I spent a summer in Perpignan at Aunt Aurora’s house and there, as soon as they got a little flustered, they’d switch from their guttural Catalan to French; and that’s why when I speak French I add the hint of a Midi accent I’ve maintained my whole life with some pride. I don’t remember how old I was. German came later; English I don’t really recall. Later, I think. It’s not that I wanted to learn them. It was that they learned me.
    Now that I’m thinking about it in order to tell you, I see my childhood as one long and very boring Sunday afternoon, wandering aimlessly, looking for a way to slip off into the study, thinking that it would be more fun if I had a sibling, thinking that the point would come when reading was boring because I was already up to my eyeballs in Enid Blyton, thinking that the next day I had school, and that was worse. Not because I was afraid of school or the teachers and parents, but because of the children. It was the children at school that frightened me, because they looked at me like I was some kind of a freak.
    ‘Little Lola.’
    ‘What?’
    ‘What can I do?’
    Little Lola stopped drying her hands or applying lipstick and looked at me.
    ‘Can I go with you?’ Adrià, with a hopeful look.
    ‘No, no, you’d be bored!’
    ‘I’m bored here.’
    ‘Turn on the radio.’
    ‘It’s a yawn.’
    Then Little Lola grabbed her coat and left the room that always smelled of Little Lola and, in a whisper, so no one would hear it, she told me to ask Mother to take me to the cinema. And louder she said goodbye, see you later; she opened the door to the street, winked at me and left; yeah, she could have fun on Sunday afternoons, who knows how, but I was left condemned to wander the flat like a lost soul.
    ‘Mother.’
    ‘What.’
    ‘No, nothing.’
    Mother looked up from her magazine, finished the last sip of her coffee, and glanced at me over it.
    ‘Tell me, Son.’
    I was afraid to ask her to take me to the cinema. Very afraid and I still don’t know why. My parents were too serious.
    ‘I’m bored.’
    ‘Read. If you’d like, we can study French.’
    ‘Let’s go to Tibidabo.’
    ‘Oh, you should have said that this morning.’
    We never went there, to Tibidabo, not any morning nor any Sunday afternoon. I had to go there in my imagination, when my friends told me what Tibidabo was like, that it was filled with mechanical devices, mysterious automatons and lookout points and dodgem cars and … I didn’t know what exactly. But it was a place where parents took their children. My parents didn’t take me to the zoo or to stroll along the breakwater. They were too staid. And they didn’t love me. I think. Deep down I still wonder why they had me.
    ‘Well, I want to go to Tibidabo!’
    ‘What is all this shouting?’ complained Father from his study. ‘Don’t make me punish you!’
    ‘I don’t want to study my French!’
    ‘I said don’t make me punish you!’
    Black Eagle thought that it was all very unfair and he let me and Sheriff Carson know how he felt. And to keep from getting utterly bored, and especially to keep from getting punished, well, I started in on my arpeggio exercises on the violin, which had the advantage of being difficult and so it was hard to get them to come out sounding good. I was terrible at the violin until I met Bernat. I abandoned the exercise halfway through.
    ‘Father, can I touch the Storioni?’
    Father lifted his head. He was, as always, looking through the magnifying lamp at some very odd piece of paper.
    ‘No,’ he said. And pointing at something on top of the table, ‘Look how beautiful.’
    It was a very old manuscript with a brief text in an alphabet I didn’t recognise.’
    ‘What is it?’
    ‘A fragment of the gospel of Mark.’
    ‘But what language is it in?’
    ‘Aramaic.’
    Did you hear that, Black Eagle? Aramaic! Aramaic is a very ancient language, a language of papyrus and parchment scrolls.
    ‘Can I learn it?’
    ‘When the time is right.’ He said it with satisfaction; that was very clear because, since I generally did things well, he could brag of having a clever son. Wanting to take advantage of his satisfaction, ‘Can I play the Storioni?’
    Fèlix Ardèvol looked at him in silence. He moved aside the magnifying lamp. Adrià tapped a foot on the floor. ‘Just once. Come on, Father …’
    Father’s expression when he is angry is scary. Adrià held it for just a few seconds. He had to lower his eyes.
    ‘Don’t you understand the word no? Niet, nein, no, ez, non, ei, nem. Sound familiar?’
    ‘Ei and nem?’
    ‘Finnish and Hungarian.’
    When Adrià left the study, he turned and angrily proffered a terrible threat.
    ‘Well, then I won’t study Aramaic.’
    ‘You will do what I tell you to do,’ warned Father with the coldness and calmness of one who knows that yes, he will always do what he says. And he returns to his manuscript, to his Aramaic, to his magnifying glass.
    That day Adrià decided to lead a double life. He already had secret hiding places, but he decided to expand his clandestine world. He proposed a grand goal for himself: working out the combination of the safe and, when Father wasn’t at home, studying with the Storioni: no one would notice. And putting it back in its case and into the safe in time to erase all trace of the crime. He went to study his arpeggios so no one would realise and he didn’t say anything to either the Sheriff or the Arapaho chief, who were napping on the bedside table.

4

    I always remembered Father as an old man. Mother, on the other hand, was just Mother. It’s a shame she didn’t love me. All that Adrià knew was that Grandfather Adrià raised her like men used to do when they became widowers very young and with a baby in their arms, looking from side to side to see if someone will offer them a manual for fitting the child into their life. Grandmother Vicenta died very young, when Mother was six. She had a vague recollection of her; I merely had the memory of the only two photos ever taken of her: her wedding shot, in the Caria Studio, in which they were both very young and attractive, but too dolled up for the occasion; and another of Grandmother with Mother in her arms and a broken smile, as if she knew she wouldn’t see her First Communion, wondering why is it my lot to die so young and be just a sepia photo for my grandson, who it seems is a child prodigy but whom I will never meet. Mother grew up alone. No one ever took her to Tibidabo and perhaps that’s why it never occurred to her that I was dying to know what the animated automatons were like, the ones that I’d heard moved magically and looked like people once you put a coin into them.
    Mother grew up alone. In the 20s, when they killed on the streets, Barcelona was sepia coloured and the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera tinted the eyes of Barcelonians with the colour of bitterness. So when Grandfather Adrià understood that his daughter was growing up and he’d have to explain things to her that he didn’t know, since they had nothing to do with paleography, he got Lola’s daughter to come and live at the house. Lola was Grandmother Vicenta’s trusted woman, who still took care of the house, from eight in the morning to eight in the evening, as if her mistress hadn’t died. Lola’s daughter, who was two and half years older than Mother, was also named Lola. They called the mother Big Lola. The poor woman died before seeing the republic established. On her deathbed she passed the baton to her daughter. She said take care of Carme as if she were your own life, and Little Lola never left Mother’s side. Until she left the house. In my family, Lolas appeared and disappeared when there was a death.
    With hope of a republic and the king’s exile, with the proclamation of the Catalan Republic and the push and pull with the central government, Barcelona shifted from sepia to grey and people went along the street with their hands in their pockets if it were cold, but greeting each other, offering a cigarette and smiling at each other if necessary, because there was hope; they didn’t know exactly what they were hoping for, but there was hope. Fèlix Ardèvol, disregarding both the sepia and the grey, came and went making trips with his valuable merchandise and with a single goal: increasing his wealth of objects, which gave meaning to his thirst for, more than collecting, harvesting. He didn’t care whether the atmosphere was sepia or grey. He only had eyes for that which helped him accumulate his objects. He focused on Doctor Adrià Bosch, an eminent paleographer at the University of Barcelona who, according to his reputation, was a wise man who knew how to date things exactly and without hesitation. It was an advantageous relationship for them both and Fèlix Ardèvol became a frequent visitor to Doctor Bosch’s office at the university, to the extent that some of the assistant professors began to look askance at him. Fèlix Ardèvol liked meeting with Doctor Bosch at his house more than at the university. Just because setting foot in that building made him uncomfortable. He could run into some former classmate from the Gregorian; there were also two philosophy professors, two canons, who had been with him at the seminary in Vic and who could be surprised to see him visiting the eminent palaeographer so assiduously and could good-naturedly ask him what do you do, Ardèvol? Or is it true you gave it all up for a woman? Is it true that you abandoned a brilliant future of Sanskrit and theology, all to chase a skirt? Is it true? There was so much talk about it! If you only knew what they said about you, Ardèvol! What ever happened to her, that famous little Italian woman?
    When Fèlix Ardèvol told Doctor Bosch I want to talk to you about your daughter, she’d been noticing Mr Fèlix Ardèvol for six years, every time Grandfather Adrià received him at home; she was usually the one to open the door. Shortly before the civil war broke out, when she had turned seventeen, she began to realise that she liked that way Mr Ardèvol had of removing his hat when he greeted her. And he always said how are you, beautiful. She liked that a lot. How are you, beautiful. To the point that she noticed the colour of Mr Ardèvol’s eyes. An intense brown. And his English lavender, which gave off a scent that she fell in love with.
    But there was a setback: three years of war; Barcelona was no longer sepia nor grey, but the colour of fire, of anxiety, of hunger, of bombardments and of death. Fèlix Ardèvol stayed away for entire weeks, with silent trips, and the university managed to stay open with the threat hovering over classroom ceilings. And when the calm returned, the heavy calm, most of the senior professors who hadn’t escaped into exile were purged by Franco and the university began to speak Spanish and to display ignorance without hang-ups. But there were still islands, like the palaeography department, which was considered insignificant by the victors. And Mr Fèlix Ardèvol resumed his visits, now with more objects in his hands. Between the two of them they classified and dated them and certified their authenticity, and Fèlix sold merchandise all over the world. They shared the profits, so welcome in that period of such hardship. And the professors who had survived the brutal Francoist purges kept looking askance at that dealer who went around the department as if he were a senior professor. Around the department and around Doctor Bosch’s house.
    During the war, Carme Bosch hadn’t seen him much. But as soon as it ended, Mr Ardèvol visited her father again and the two men locked themselves up in the study and she went on with her things and said Little Lola, I don’t want to go out to buy sandals now, and Little Lola knew that it was because Mr Ardèvol was in the house, talking to the master about old papers; and, hiding a smile, she said as you wish, Carme. Then her father, almost without consulting her about it, enrolled her in the recently re-established Librarians’ School and the three years she spent there, in fact right by their house because they lived on Àngels Street, were the happiest of her life. There she met fellow students with whom she vowed to stay in touch even if their lives changed, they married and etcetera, and whom she never saw again, not even Pepita Masriera. And she started working at the university library, pushing carts of books, trying, without much luck, to adopt Mrs Canyameres’ severe mien, and missing some of her schoolmates, especially Pepita Masriera. Two or three times she ran into Mr Ardèvol who, apparently coincidentally, was going to that library more often than ever and he would say to her how are you, beautiful,
    ‘Intense brown isn’t a colour.’
    Little Lola looked at Carme ironically, waiting for an answer.
    ‘OK. Nice brown. Like dark honey, like eucalyptus honey.’
    ‘He’s your father’s age.’
    ‘Come on! He’s seven and a half years younger.’
    ‘All right, I won’t say another word.’
    Mr Ardèvol, despite the purges, still looked distrustingly at both the new and old professors. They would no longer pester him about his love life, probably because they were unaware of it, but they would surely say you’re skating on thin ice, my friend. What Fèlix Ardèvol wanted to avoid was having to give a lot of explanations to someone who looked at you with polite sarcasm and made clear with his silence that he hadn’t asked you for any explanation. Until one day he said that’s it: I’m not cut out to suffer and he went to the police headquarters on Via Laietana and said Professor Montells, palaeography.
    ‘What’s that you say?’
    ‘Professor Montells, palaeography.’
    ‘Montells, Palaeography,’ the superintendent wrote down slowly. And his first name?
    ‘Eloi. And his second last name …’
    ‘Eloi Montells Palaeography, I’ve already got his full name.’
    The office of Superintendent Plasencia was dirty olive greenish, with a rusty file cabinet and portraits of Franco and José Antonio on the flaking wall. Through the dirty windowpane he could see the traffic on the Via Laietana. But Mr Fèlix Ardèvol was all business. He was writing down the full name of Doctor Eloi Montells, whose second last name was Ciurana, assistant to the head of Palaeography, also educated at the Gregorian in another period, who gave Fèlix cutting looks every time he visited Doctor Bosch about his matters, which it was imperative Montells didn’t stick his nose into.
    ‘And how would you define him?’
    ‘Pro-Catalan. Communist.’
    The superintendent whistled and said my, my … and how could he have escaped our notice?
    Mr Ardèvol didn’t say anything because the question was rhetorical and it wasn’t prudent to answer that he’d escaped their notice out of pure police inefficiency.
    ‘This is the second professor you’ve denounced. It’s odd.’ He tapped the desk with a pencil, as if he wanted to send a message in Morse code. ‘Because you aren’t a professor, are you? Why do you do it?’
    To clean up the landscape. To be able to move about without inquisitive looks.
    ‘Out of patriotism. Long live Franco.’
    There were more. There were three or four. And they were all pro-Catalan and communist. In vain, they all claimed unconditional support for the regime and exclaimed me, a communist? The longlivefrancos they offered up to the superintendent did them no good, because grist was needed for the mill that was the Model Prison, where they sent those untouchables who hadn’t chosen to accept the Generalísimo’s generous offers and stubbornly persisted in the error of their ways. Such convenient accusations cleared out the department, while Doctor Bosch had no clue and continued to provide information to that clever man who seemed to admire him so much.
    For a little while after the professors were arrested, just in case, Fèlix Ardèvol stayed away from Doctor Bosch’s university office, instead showing up at his house, much to Carme Bosch’s delight.
    ‘How are you, beautiful?’
    The girl, who was prettier by the day, always answered with a smile and lowered her gaze. Her eyes had become one of Fèlix Ardèvol’s most fascinating mysteries, which he was determined to get to the bottom of as soon as possible. Almost as fascinating as a handwritten manuscript by Goethe without an owner.
    ‘Today I’ve brought you more work, and better paid,’ he said when he entered Professor Bosch’s study. And Grandfather Adrià prepared to offer his expert opinion and certify its authenticity, charge his fee and never ask but Fèlix, listen, where in God’s name do you get all this stuff. And how do you manage to … Eh?
    As he watched him pull out papers, Grandfather Adrià took a moment to clean his pince-nez eyeglasses. His task didn’t begin until he had the manuscript on the table.
    ‘Gothic chancery script,’ said Doctor Bosch putting on his spectacles and looking greedily at the manuscript that Fèlix had placed on the table. He picked it up and looked it over carefully from every angle over a long while.
    ‘It is incomplete,’ he said, breaking the silence that was lasting too long.
    ‘Is it from the fourteenth century?’
    ‘Yes. I see that you are learning.’
    By that period, Fèlix Ardèvol had already set up a network through much of Europe that searched for any paper or papyrus, loose or bundled parchments in the often disorganised and dusty shelves of archives, libraries, cultural institutes, town halls and parishes. Young Mr Berenguer, a true ferreter, spent his days visiting these spots and making a first evaluation, which he explained over the faulty phone lines of the period. Depending on the decision, he paid the owners as little as possible for the treasure, when he was unable to just make off with it, and he brought it to Ardèvol, who did the expert’s report along with Doctor Bosch. Everyone came out a winner, including the posterity of the manuscripts. But it was best if everyone was kept in the dark. Everyone. Over ten years he had found a lot of junk. A lot. But every once in a while he happened upon a real gem, like a copy of the 1876 edition of L’après-midi d’un faune with illustrations by Manet, inside of which there were manuscripts by Mallarmé himself, surely the last things he had written. They’d been sleeping in the attic of a wretched municipal library in Valvins. Or three complete parchments in good shape from the corpus of the chancery of John II, miraculously rescued from an inheritance lot in an auction in Göteborg. Every year he’d get his hands on three or four gems. And Ardèvol worked day and night for those gems. Gradually, in the solitude of the huge flat he had let in the Eixample district, the idea took shape of him setting up an antiquarian’s shop where everything that wasn’t a true gem would end up. That decision led to another: accepting inheritance lots with other things beside manuscripts. Vases, bongos, chippendale furniture, umbrella stands, weapons … anything that was made a long time ago and wasn’t useful in the slightest. That was how the first musical instrument entered his home.
    The years passed; Mr Ardèvol, my father, would visit Professor Bosch, my grandfather whom I knew as a small child. And Carme, my mother, turned twenty-two and one day Mr Fèlix Ardèvol said to his colleague I want to talk to you about your daughter.
    ‘What’s wrong with her?’ Doctor Bosch, a bit frightened, taking off his pince-nez and looking at his friend.
    ‘I want to marry her. If you have no objections.’
    Doctor Bosch got up and went out into the dark hall, flustered, brandishing his pince-nez. A few steps behind, Ardèvol watched him attentively. After some minutes of nervous pacing he turned and looked at Ardèvol, without realising that he had intense brown eyes.
    ‘How old are you?’
    ‘Forty-four.’
    ‘And Carme must be eighteen or nineteen, at most.’
    ‘Twenty-two and a half. Your daughter is over twenty-two.’
    ‘Are you sure?’
    Silence. Doctor Bosch put on his glasses as if he were about to examine his daughter’s age. He looked at Ardèvol, opened his mouth, took off his glasses and, with a hazy look, said to himself, filled with admiration, as if before a Ptolemaic papyrus, Carme’s twenty-two years old …
    ‘She turned twenty-two months ago.’
    At that moment the door to the flat opened and Carme came in, accompanied by Little Lola. She looked at the two silent men, planted in the middle of the hall. Little Lola disappeared with the shopping basket and Carme looked at them again as she took off her coat.
    ‘Is something wrong?’ she asked.

5

    For a long time, despite his aloof nature, I was fascinated by my father and wanted to make him happy. Above all, I wanted him to admire me. Brusque, yes; irascible, that too; and he hardly loved me at all. But I admired him. Surely that’s why I find it so hard to talk about him. So as not to justify him. So as not to condemn him.
    One of the only times, if not the only, that my father admitted that I was right he said very good, I think you’re right. I hold on to that memory like a treasure in a little chest. Because in general it was us, the others, who were always wrong. I understand why Mother watched life pass by from the balcony. But I was little and wanted to always be where the action was. And when Father gave me impossible objectives, at first I had no problem with it. Even though the main ones weren’t achieved. I didn’t study Law; I only had one major but, on the other hand, I’ve spent my entire life studying. I didn’t collect ten or twelve languages so as to break Pater Levinski’s record: I learned them relatively easily and because it appealed to me. And even though I still have outstanding debts with Father, I haven’t sought to make him proud wherever he may be, which is nowhere because I inherited his scepticism about eternal life. Mother’s plans, always relegated to a second plane, didn’t turn out either. Well, that’s not exactly true. I didn’t find out until later that Mother had plans for me, because she kept them hidden from Father.
    So I was an only child, carefully observed by parents eager for signs of intelligence. I could sum up my childhood thusly: the bar was set high. The bar was set high in everything, even for eating with my mouth closed and keeping my elbows off the table and not interrupting the adults’ conversation, except when I exploded because there were days when I couldn’t take it any more and not even Carson and Black Eagle could calm me down. That was why I liked to take advantage of the occasions when Little Lola had to run an errand in the Gothic Quarter; I’d go along and wait for her in the shop, my eyes wide as saucers.
    As I grew up, I became more and more attracted to the shop: because it filled me with a kind of apprehensive awe. At home we just called it the shop, even though, more than a shop, it was an entire world where you could dispense with life beyond its walls. The shop’s door stood on Palla Street, in front of the ruinous facade of a church ignored as much by the bishopric as by town hall. When you opened it, a little bell rang, which I can still hear tinkling, letting Cecília or Mr Berenguer know. The rest, from that point on, was a feast for the eyes and nose. Not for the touch, because Adrià was strictly forbidden to touch anything, you’re always touching everything, don’t you dare touch a thing. And not a thing means not a thing, boy, do you understand that, Adrià? And since not a thing was not a thing, I wandered along the narrow aisles, with my hands in my pockets, looking at a worm-eaten polychrome angel, beside a golden washbasin that had been Marie Antoinette’s. And a gong from the Ming dynasty that was worth a fortune, which Adrià wanted to sound before he died.
    ‘What’s that for?’
    Mr Berenguer looked at the Japanese dagger, then back at me and he smiled, ‘It’s a Bushi kaiken dagger.’
    Adrià was left with his mouth hanging open. Mr Berenguer looked towards where Cecília was polishing bronze goblets, leaned towards the boy, giving him a whiff of his dubious breath, and said in a whisper, ‘A short knife Japanese women warriors use to kill themselves.’ He looked him up and down to see if he could make out a reaction. Since the boy seemed unfazed, the man finished more curtly. ‘Edo period, seventeenth century.’
    Obviously Adrià had been impressed, but at eight years old — which is what he must have been at the time — he already knew how to mask his emotions, just as Mother did when Father locked himself in the study and looked at his manuscripts with a magnifying glass and no one could make any noise in the house because Father was reading in his study and god only knows what time he’d emerge for dinner.
    ‘No. Until he shows signs of life don’t put the vegetables on the stove.’
    And Little Lola would head towards the kitchen, grumbling I’d show that guy what for, the whole house at the mercy of his loupe. And, if Adrià were near that guy, I would hear him reading:
    A un vassalh aragones. / Be sabetz lo vassalh qui es, / El a nom. N’Amfos de Barbastre. / Ar arujatz, senher, cal desastre / Li avenc per sa gilozia.
    ‘What is it?’
    ‘La reprensió dels gelosos. A short novel.’
    ‘Is it Old Catalan?’
    ‘No. Occitan.’
    ‘They sound similar.’
    ‘Very much so.’
    ‘What does gelós mean?’
    ‘It was written by Ramon Vidal de Besalú. Thirteenth century.’
    ‘Wow, that’s old. What does gelós mean?’
    ‘Folio 132 of the Provençal songbook from Karlsruhe. There is another one in the National Library of Paris. This is mine. It’s yours.’
    Adrià understood that as an invitation and extended his hand. Father smacked my hand back and it really, really hurt. He didn’t even bother to say you’re always touching everything. He went over the lines with his loupe and said life brings me such joy, these days.
    A Japanese dagger for female suicide, summed up Adrià. And he continued his journey to the ceramic pots. He left the engravings and manuscripts for last, because they inspired such reverence in him.
    ‘Let’s see when you’ll start helping us, we’ve a lot of work.’
    Adrià looked about the deserted shop and smiled politely at Cecília. ‘When Father lets me,’ he said.
    She was going to say something, but she thought better of it and just stood with her mouth open for a few moments. Then her eyes gleamed and she said, come on, give me a kiss.
    And I had to kiss her because it wasn’t the time or the place to make a scene. The year before I had been deeply in love with her, but now the kissing stuff was starting to irk me. Even thought I was still very young, I had already begun the phase of serious kiss aversion, as if I were twelve or thirteen; I had always been precocious in the non-essential subjects. I must have been eight or nine then, and that anti-kissing fever lasted until … well, you already know until when. Or perhaps you don’t know yet. By the way, what did that bit about ‘I’ve remade my life’ that you said to the encyclopaedia salesman mean?
    For a few moments Adrià and Cecília watched the people who passed on the street without even glancing at the window display.
    ‘There’s always work,’ said Cecília, who had read my thoughts. ‘Tomorrow we are emptying a flat with a library: it’s going to be pandemonium.’
    She went back to her bronze. The scent of the Netol metal cleaner had gone to Adrià’s head and he decided to get some distance. Why did they commit suicide, those Japanese women, he thought.
    Now it seems that I was only there a few times, poking around the shop. Poking around is a figure of speech. I mostly felt bad about not being able to touch anything in the corner with musical instruments. Once, when I was older, I tried a violin, but when I glanced back I hit upon Mr Berenguer’s silent gaze and I swear I was frightened. I never tried that again. I remember, over time, besides the flugelhorns, tubas and trumpets, at least a dozen violins, six cellos, two violas and three spinets, plus the Ming dynasty gong, an Ethiopian drum and some sort of immense, immobile snake that didn’t give off any sound, which I later found out was called a serpent. I’m sure they must have sold and bought some, because the instruments would change but I remember that being the usual amount in the shop. And for a while some violinists from the Liceu would come in to make deals — usually unsuccessfully — to acquire some of those instruments. Father didn’t want musicians, who are always short on cash, as clients; I want collectors: those who want the object so badly that if they can’t buy it, they steal it; those are my clients.
    ‘Why?’
    ‘Because they pay the price I tell them and they leave contented. And some day they return, with their tongues hanging out, because they want more.’
    Father knew a lot.
    ‘Musicians want an instrument to play it. When they have it, they use it. The collector doesn’t own it to play it: he might have ten instruments and just run his hand over them. Or his eyes. And he’s happy. The collector doesn’t play a note: he takes note.’
    Father was very intelligent.
    ‘A musician collector? That would be a windfall; but I don’t know any.’
    And then, in confidence, Adrià told Father that Herr Romeu was more boring than a Sunday afternoon and he looked at me in that way where his eyes went right through me and which, at sixty years old, still makes me anxious.
    ‘What did you say?’
    ‘That Herr Romeu …’
    ‘No: more boring than what?’
    ‘I don’t know.’
    ‘Yes you do.’
    ‘Than a Sunday afternoon.’
    ‘Very good.’
    Father was always right. His silence made it seem as if he were putting my words into his pocket, for his collection. Once they were tucked away carefully, he returned to the conversation.
    ‘Why is he boring?’
    ‘All day long he makes me study declinations and endings that I already know by heart and makes me say this cheese is very good; where did you buy it? Or I live in Hannover and my name is Kurt. And where do you live? Do you like Berlin?’
    ‘And what would you like to be able to say?’
    ‘I don’t know. I want to read some amusing story. I want to read Karl May in German.’
    ‘Very well: I think you’re right.’
    I repeat: very well: I think you’re right. And I’ll take it even further: that was the only time in my life where he said I was right. If I were a fetishist, I would have framed the sentence, along with the time and date of its occurrence. And I would have made a black and white photo of it.
    The next day I didn’t have class because Herr Romeu had been fired. Adrià felt very important, as if people’s fates were in his hands. It was a glorious Tuesday. That time I was glad that Father took a hard line with everyone. I must have been nine or ten, but I had a very highly developed sense of dignity. Or, better put, sense of mortification. Especially now that I look back, Adrià Ardèvol realised that not even when he was little had he ever been a little boy. He was caught up in every possible precociousness, the way others catch colds and infections. I even feel sorry for him. And that without knowing the details that I can now cobble together, such as that Father — after having opened the shop under very precarious circumstances, with Cecília who was learning to do her hair up very prettily — he received a visit from a customer who said he wanted to talk to him about some matter and Father had him enter the office and the stranger told him Mr Ardèvol, I haven’t come here to buy anything, and Father looked him in the eye and grew alarmed.
    ‘And would you mind telling me why you did come?’
    ‘To tell you that your life is in danger.’
    ‘Is that so?’ A smile from Father. A slightly peeved smile.
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘Would you mind telling me why?’
    ‘For example, because Doctor Montells has been released from prison.’
    ‘I don’t know what you are talking about.’
    ‘And he has told us things.’
    ‘And who are ‘us’?’
    ‘Let’s just say that we are very angry with you because you denounced him as pro-Catalan and communist.’
    ‘Me?’
    ‘You.’
    ‘I’m no grass. Anything else I can help you with?’ he said, getting up.
    The visitor did not rise from his chair. He made himself even more comfortable, rolling a cigarette with unusual skill. And then he lit it.
    ‘No one smokes here.’
    ‘I do.’ He pointed to the hand with the cigarette. ‘And we know that you denounced three other people. They all send greetings, from prison or from their homes. From now on, be very careful with corners: they are dangerous.’
    He put out the cigarette on the wooden tabletop as if it were a vast ashtray, exhaled the smoke into Mr Ardèvol’s face, got up and left the office. Fèlix Ardèvol watched a part of the tabletop sizzle without doing anything to impede it. As if it were his penitence.
    That evening, at home, perhaps to rid himself of those bad feelings, Father had me come into his study and to reward me, to reward me especially for making demands on my teachers, that’s what my son has to do, he showed me a folded piece of parchment, written on both sides, which was the founding charter of the Sant Pere del Burgal monastery, and he said look, Son (I wished he’d added, after the look, Son, a ‘in whom I have placed all my hopes’, now that we’d established a close alliance), this document was written more than a thousand years ago and now we are holding it in our hands … Hey, hey, hold your horses, I’ll hold it. Isn’t it lovely? It’s from when the monastery was founded.’
    ‘Where is it?’
    ‘In Pallars. You know the Urgell in the dining room?’
    ‘That monastery is Santa Maria de Gerri.’
    ‘Yes, yes. Burgal is even further up. Some twenty kilometres more towards the cold.’ About the parchment: ‘Sant Pere del Burgal’s founding charter. The Abbot Deligat asked Count Ramon de Tolosa for a precept of immunity for that monastery, which was tiny but survived for hundreds of years. It thrills me to think that I hold so much history in my hands.’
    And I listened to what my father was telling me and it wasn’t very hard at all for me to imagine that he was thinking the day was too luminous, too springlike to be Christmas. They had just buried the Right Reverend Father Prior Dom Josep de Sant Bartomeu in the modest, scant cemetery at Sant Pere where the life that burst forth in springtime from beneath the tender, damp grass into a thousand colourful buds was now held hostage by the ice. They had just buried the father prior and with him all possibility of the monastery keeping its doors open. Sant Pere del Burgal, before, when it still snowed abundantly, was an isolated, independent abbey; since the remote times of Abbot Deligat, it had undergone various transformations including moments of prosperity, with some thirty monks contemplating the magnificent panorama created each day by the waters of the Noguera River, with the Poses forest in the background, praising the Lord and giving thanks for his works and cursing the Devil for the cold that devastated their bodies and made the entire community’s souls shrink. Sant Pere del Burgal had also gone through moments of hardship, without wheat for the mill, with barely six or seven old, sick monks to do the same tasks a monk always does from when he joins the monastery until he is transferred to its cemetery, as they’d done that day with the father prior. But now there was only one survivor whose memory went back that far.
    There was a brief, feeble prayer for the dead, a rushed and dismayed benediction over the humble box. Then the improvised officiant, Brother Julià de Sau, gave the signal to the five peasants from Escaló who’d climbed up to help the monastery with that mournful event. There were no signs yet of the brothers who were to come from the Santa Maria de Gerri abbey to confirm the monastery’s closing. They would arrive too late, as they always did when they were needed.
    Brother Julià de Sau entered the small monastery of Sant Pere. He went into the church. With tears in his eyes, he used the hammer and chisel to make a hole in the stone of the high altar and pull out the tiny wooden lipsanotheca that held the saints’ relics. He was overcome with dread because for the first time in his life he was alone. Alone. No other brothers. His footsteps echoed in the narrow corridor. He glanced at the tiny refectory. One of the benches was up against the wall, and had damaged the dirty plaster. He didn’t bother to move it. A tear fell from his eye and he headed towards his cell. From there he contemplated the beloved landscape he knew like the back of his hand, tree by tree. Above his cot, the Sacred Chest that held the monastery’s founding charter and that now would also hold the lipsanotheca containing the relics of unknown saints that had been with them for centuries of daily prayers and masses. And the community’s chalice and paten. And the only two keys in Sant Pere del Burgal: one to the small church and one to the monastic area. So many years of canticles to the Lord reduced to a sturdy savin wood box that would become, from that moment on, the only testimony to the history of a closed monastery. On one end of his straw mattress lay the handkerchief to make a bundle with two pieces of clothing, some sort of rudimentary scarf and the book of hours. And the little bag with the fir cones and maple seed pods that reminded him of the other, old life he didn’t miss much, when he was called Friar Miquel and he taught in the Dominican order; when, at the palace of His Excellency, the wife of the Wall-eyed Man of Salt stopped him near the kitchens and said here, Friar Miquel, pine and fir cones and maple seeds.
    ‘And what would I want them for?’
    ‘I have nothing more to offer you.’
    ‘And why would you need to offer me anything?’ said Friar Miquel impatiently.
    The woman lowered her head and said in an almost inaudible whisper, His Excellency raped me and wants to kill me so my husband doesn’t find out, because then he would kill me.
    Stunned, Friar Miquel had to go into the hallway and sit down on the boxwood bench.
    ‘What do you say?’ asked the woman, who had followed him and stood before him.
    The woman didn’t add anything more because she’d already said it all.
    ‘I don’t believe you, you despicable liar. What you want is …’
    ‘When I’ve hung myself from a rotten beam will you believe me then?’ Now she looked at him with frightening eyes.
    ‘But child …’
    ‘I want you to hear my confession because I am going to kill myself.’
    ‘I’m not a priest.’
    ‘But you can … I have no choice but to die. And since it’s not my fault I think that God will forgive me. Isn’t that right, Friar Miquel?’
    ‘Suicide is a sin. Run away from here. Far away!’
    ‘Where can I go, a woman alone?’
    Friar Miquel would have liked to be far away, where the world ends, despite the dangers lurking at the wild limits of the universe.
    In his cell at Sant Pere del Burgal, Brother Julià looked at his outstretched hand that held the seeds he’d been given by that desperate woman whom he hadn’t known how to console. The next day they found her hanging from a rotten beam in the large hayloft. She swung by the rosary of the fifteen mysteries that hung around the waist of His Excellency’s habit, which had been lost two days earlier. By order of His Excellency, the suicide victim was denied burial on sacred ground and the Wall-eyed Man of Salt was expelled from the palace for having allowed his wife to commit an act that cried out to heaven. It was the Wall-eyed Man of Salt himself who’d found her that morning, and he’d tried to break the rosary in the absurd hope that she was still breathing. When Friar Miquel found out, he cried bitterly and prayed, despite his superior’s orders, for the salvation of that desperate woman’s soul. He swore before God that he would never lose those seed pods and pine cones that reminded him of his cowardly silence. He looked at them again, twenty years later, in his open hand, now that life had thrown him a curve and he would become a monk at Santa Maria de Gerri. He put the seeds in the pocket of his Benedictine habit. He looked out the window. Perhaps they were already quite close, but he could no longer make out movements in the distance. He tied the handkerchief into an awkward bundle. That night no monk would sleep at the monastery of Burgal.
    Holding tight to the Sacred Chest, he went into each and every one of the cells, Friar Marcel’s, Friar Martí’s, Friar Adrià’s, Father Ramon’s, Father Basili’s, Father Josep de Sant Bartomeu’s, and his humble cell, at the end of the narrow corridor, the cell that was closest to the tiny cloister and closest to the monastery’s door, which he had been entrusted, if that’s the word, to watch over since his arrival. Then he approached the reservoir, the modest chapterhouse, the kitchen and once again the refectory where the bench was still eating away at the wall’s plaster. Then he went out into the cloister and he couldn’t keep his grief from welling up, a burst of deep sobbing, because he didn’t know how to accept that as the will of God. To calm himself down, to bid farewell forever to so many years of Benedictine life, he went into the monastic chapel. He got down on his knees before the altar, clinging to the Sacred Chest. For the last time in his life he looked at the paintings in the apse. The prophets and the archangels. Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Saint John and the other apostles and the Mother of God showing her devotion, along with the archangels, to severe Christ Pantocrator. And he felt guilty, guilty of the extinction of the little monastery of Sant Pere del Burgal. And with his free hand he beat on his chest and said confiteor, Domine. Confiteor, mea culpa. He put the Sacred Chest down on the floor and he knelt until he could kiss the ground that so many generations of monks had walked upon in their praise of the Almighty God who observed him impassively.
    He stood, picked up the Sacred Chest again, looked at the holy paintings one last time and walked backwards to the door. Once he was outside the small church, he closed the two door leaves with a brisk motion, gave the key its final turn in the lock and placed it inside the Sacred Chest. Those beloved paintings wouldn’t be seen again by human eyes until Jachiam of Pardàc opened the church up, almost three hundred years later, by simply pushing on a rotten worm-eaten door leaf with his flat hand.
    And then Brother Julià de Sau thought of the day that his feet — eager and weary, still filled with fear — had reached the door of Sant Pere and he’d knocked with a closed fist. Fifteen monks then lived intra muros monasterii. My God, Glorious Lord, how he missed those days — despite not having any right to feel nostalgia for a time he hadn’t experienced — when there was a job for each monk and a monk for each job. When he knocked on that door begging for admission, it had been years since he had left security behind and entered deep into the realm of fear, which is every fugitive’s constant companion. And even more so when he suspects that he might be making a mistake, because Jesus speaks to us of love and kindness and I didn’t fulfil his commandment. But he did, yes, because Father Nicolau Eimeric, the Inquisitor General, was his superior and it was all carried out in God’s name and for the good of the Church and the true faith, and I couldn’t, I couldn’t because Jesus was so far from me; and who are you, Friar Miquel, silly lay friar, to ask where Jesus is? Our Lord God lies in blind, unconditional obedience. God is with me, Friar Miquel. And he who is not with me is against me. Look me in the eyes when I speak to you! He who is not with me is against me. And Friar Miquel chose to flee, he preferred uncertainty and perhaps hell to salvation with a bad conscience. And that was why he fled, taking off his Dominican habit and entering the kingdom of fear, and he travelled to the Holy Land searching for forgiveness for all his sins as if forgiveness were possible in this world or the next. If they had been sins. Dressed as a pilgrim he had seen much misfortune, he had dragged himself along compelled by regret, he had made promises that were difficult to keep, but he wasn’t at peace because if you disobey the voice of salvation your soul will never find rest.
    ‘Can’t you keep your hands still?’
    ‘But Father … I just want to touch the parchment. You said that it was mine, too.’
    ‘With this finger. And carefully.’
    Adrià brought a timid hand forward, with one finger extended, and touched the parchment. He felt as if he was already inside the monastery.
    ‘OK, that’s enough, you’ll dirty it.’
    ‘A little bit more, Father.’
    ‘Don’t you know what that’s enough means?’ shouted Father.
    And I pulled away my hand as if the parchment had shocked me, and that was why, when the former friar returned from his journey in the Holy Land with his soul wizened, his body gaunt and his face tanned, his gaze hard as a diamond, he still felt the fires of hell inside him. He didn’t dare go near his parents’ house, if they were even still alive; he wandered the roads dressed as a pilgrim, begging for alms and spending them at inns on the most poisonous drinks they had on hand, as if he was in a hurry to disappear and not have to remember his memories. He also relapsed into sins of the flesh, obsessively, in a search for the oblivion and redemption that penitence hadn’t afforded him. He was a true soul in purgatory. Then the kindly smile of Brother Julià de Carcassona, caretaker of the Benedictine abbey of La Grassa where he had asked for hospitage to spend a freezing winter’s night, suddenly and unexpectedly illuminated his path. The night’s rest became ten days of prayer at the abbey church, on his knees beside the wall furthest from the community’s seats of honour. It was at Santa Maria de la Grassa where he first heard of Burgal, a cenobium so far from everything that they said that the rain reached it so weary that it barely dampened your skin. He held on to Brother Julià’s smile, which may have sprung from happiness, like a deep secret treasure, and he set off on the road to the Santa Maria de Gerri abbey, as the monks at La Grassa had advised him to do. He brought with him a pouch filled with donated food and the secret, happy smile, and he headed towards the mountains that are snow-capped all year round, towards the world of perpetual silence where, perhaps, with a bit of luck, he could seek redemption. He went through valleys, over hills and waded, with his destroyed sandals, through the icy water of the rivers that had just been born of the snow. When he reached the Santa Maria de Gerri abbey, they confirmed that the priory of Sant Pere del Burgal was so secluded and remote that no one knew for sure if thoughts reached there in one piece. And what the father prior there decides with you, they assured him, will be approved by the father abbot here.
    So, after a journey that lasted weeks, aged despite not having reached forty, he knocked hard on the door to the monastery of Sant Pere. It was a cold, dark dusk and the monks had finished evensong and were preparing for supper, if a bowl of hot water can be called supper. They took him in and asked him what he wanted. He begged for entrance into their tiny community; he didn’t explain his pain to them, instead he spoke of his desire to serve the Holy Mother Church with a modest, anonymous job, as a lay brother, on the lowest rung, just attentive to the gaze of God Our Lord. Father Josep de Sant Bartomeu, who was already the prior, looked into his eyes and sensed the secret in his soul. Thirty days and thirty nights they had him at the door to the monastery, in a precarious shack. But what he was asking for was the shelter entailed in the habit, the refuge of living according to the holy Benedictine law that transforms people and bestows inner peace on those who practise it. Twenty-nine times he begged them to let him be just another monk and twenty-nine times the father prior, looking into his eyes, refused. Until that one rainy, happy Friday that was the thirtieth time he begged for entrance.
    ‘Don’t touch it, goddamn it, you’re always touching everything!’
    The alliance with Father was shaky if not already cracked.
    ‘But I was just …’
    ‘No ifs, ands or buts. You want a smack? Eh? You want a smack?’
    That Friday had been long ago. He entered the monastery of Burgal as a postulant and after three freezing winters he took his vows as a lay brother. He chose the name Julià in memory of a smile that had changed his life. He learned to calm his soul, to tranquilise his spirit and to love life. Despite the fact that often the Duke of Cardona’s or Count Hug Roger’s men passed through the valley and destroyed that which did not belong to them, there in the monastery at the mountain’s peak, he was closer to God and his peace than to them. Tenaciously, he initiated himself in the path to the shores of wisdom. He didn’t find happiness, but he attained complete serenity, which gradually brought him balance, and he learned to smile, in his way. More than one of the brothers came to think that humble Brother Julià was climbing the path to sainthood.
    The high sun struggled uselessly to provide warmth. The brothers from Santa Maria de Gerri hadn’t yet arrived; they must have stopped for the night at Soler. Despite the timid sun, it was bitterly cold at Burgal. The peasants from Escaló had arrived hours earlier with sad eyes and asked for no pay. He closed the door with the big key that for years he had kept close to him as the brother caretaker and that he would now have to hand over to the Abbot. Non sum dignus, he repeated, clutching the key that summed up the half millennium of uninterrupted monastic life at Burgal. He remained outside, alone, sitting beneath the walnut tree, with the Sacred Chest in his hands, waiting for the brothers from Gerri. Non sum dignus. And what if they want to spend the night at the monastery? Since Saint Benedict’s rule specifically orders that no monk should live alone in any monastery, when the father prior felt himself growing weaker, he had sent word to the Abbot of Gerri so they could make arrangements. For eighteen months he and the father prior were the only monks at Burgal. The father said mass and he listened devoutly, they both attended hourly prayers, but they no longer sang them because the cheeping of the sparrows drowned out their worn, flat voices. The day before, mid-afternoon, after two days of high fevers, when the venerable father prior had died, he was left alone in life again. Non sum dignus.
    Someone approached along the steep path from Escaló, since the one from Estaron was impassable in wintertime. Finally. He got up, dusted off his habit and walked a few steps down the path, gripping the Sacred Chest. He stopped: perhaps he should open the doors for them as a sign of hospitality? Beyond the instructions of the father prior on his deathbed, he didn’t know how one closes up a cenobium with so many years of history. The brothers from Gerri climbed slowly, with a weary air. Three monks. He turned, with tears in his eyes, to say goodbye to the monastery and started down the path to save the brothers from climbing the final stretch of the steep slope. Twenty-one years at Burgal, filled with memories, died with that gesture. Farewell, Sant Pere, farewell, ravines with the murmur of cold water. Farewell icy mountains that have brought me serenity. Farewell, cloistered brothers and centuries of chants and prayers.
    ‘Brothers, may peace be with you on this day of the birth of Our Lord.’
    ‘May the Lord’s peace be with you as well.’
    ‘We’ve already buried him.’
    One of the brothers pulled back his hood. A noble forehead, surely of a professed father — perhaps the ecclesiastical administrator or the novice master — gave him a smile similar to the one the other Brother Julià had given him long ago. He didn’t wear a habit beneath his cape but a knight’s coat of mail. He was accompanied by Friar Mateu and Friar Maur from Gerri.
    ‘Who is the dead man?’ asked the knight.
    ‘The father prior. The deceased is the father prior. Didn’t they tell you that? …’
    ‘What is his name? What was his name?’
    ‘Josep de Sant Bartomeu.’
    ‘Praise the Lord. So you are Friar Miquel de Susqueda.’
    ‘Brother Julià is my name. I’m Brother Julià.’
    ‘Friar Miquel. The Dominican heretic.’
    ‘Supper is on the table.’
    Little Lola had poked her head into the study. Father responded with a silent, peevish gesture as he continued to read aloud the articles of the founding charter, which were incomprehensible on the first reading. As if in response to Little Lola’s demand, ‘Now you read the rest.’
    ‘But the writing is so strange …’
    ‘Read,’ said Father, impatient and disappointed at having such a wishy-washy son. And Adrià began to read, in good mediaeval Latin, the words of Abbot Deligat, without completely understanding them and still dreaming about the other story.
    ‘Well … The name Friar Miquel belongs to my other life. And the Order of Saint Dominic is very far from my thoughts. I’m a new man, different.’ He looked into his eyes, as the father prior had done. ‘What do you want, brother?’
    The man with the noble forehead fell to the ground on his knees and gave thanks to God with a brief, silent prayer. When he crossed himself devoutly, the three monks followed suit respectfully. The man stood up.
    ‘It has taken me years to find you. A Holy Inquisitor ordered your execution for heresy.’
    ‘You are making a mistake.’
    ‘Gentlemen, brothers,’ said one of the monks accompanying him, possibly Friar Mateu, very alarmed. ‘We came to collect the key to Burgal and the monastery’s Sacred Chest and to escort Friar Julià to Gerri.’
    Friar Julià, suddenly remembering it, handed him the Sacred Chest he was still clinging to.
    ‘It won’t be necessary to escort him,’ the man with the noble forehead said curtly. And then, addressing Brother Julià, ‘I’m not making a mistake: it is imperative that you know who has condemned you.’
    ‘My name is Julià de Sau and, as you can see, I am a Benedictine monk.’
    ‘Friar Nicolau Eimeric condemns you. He ordered me to tell you his name.’
    ‘You are confused.’
    ‘He has been dead for some time, Friar Nicolau. But I am still alive and can finally rest my ravaged soul. In God’s name.’
    Before the horrified eyes of the two monks from Gerri, the last monk of Burgal, a new, different man, who had achieved spiritual serenity over years of effort, saw the dagger’s glimmer just before it was sunk into his chest in the increasingly uncertain clarity of the weak sun on that winter’s day. He had to swallow the old grudge in a single gulp. And, following the holy order, the noble knight, with the same dagger, cut off his tongue and put it inside an ivory box which was immediately dyed red. And in a strong, decisive voice, as he cleaned the iron blade with dried walnut leaves, he addressed the two frightened monks:
    ‘This man has no right to sacred ground.’
    He looked around him. Coldly. He pointed to the plot beyond the cloister.
    ‘There. And without a cross. It is the Lord’s will.’
    Seeing that the two monks remained immobile, frozen with fear, the man with the noble forehead stood in front of them, practically stepping on Friar Julià’s inert body, and shouted contemptuously, ‘Bury this carrion!’
    And Father, after reading Abbot Deligat’s signature, folded it up carefully and said touching a vellum like this makes you imagine the period. Don’t you think?
    The inevitable consequence was me touching the parchment, now with five anxious fingers. Father’s hard smack to the back of my neck was painful and very humiliating. As I struggled not to release a single tear, Father, indifferent, put the loupe aside and stored the manuscript in the safe.
    ‘Come on, supper time,’ he said, instead of sealing a pact with a son who knew how to read mediaeval Latin. Before reaching the dining room I had already had to wipe away two furtive tears.

6

    Being born into that family had indeed been an unforgivable mistake. And the worst had yet to happen.
    ‘Well, I liked Herr Romeu.’
    Thinking that I was asleep, they were speaking a bit too loudly.
    ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’
    ‘Obviously. I’m useless. And a drudge!’
    ‘I’m the one who makes sacrifices for Adrià!’
    ‘And what do I do?’ Mother’s sarcastic, hurt voice, and then, lowering her tone, ‘And don’t shout.’
    ‘You’re the one shouting!’
    ‘Don’t I make sacrifices for the boy? Huh?’
    Thick, solid silence. Father’s brain cells scrambling to think.
    ‘Of course, you do too.’
    ‘Well, thanks for admitting it.’
    ‘But that doesn’t mean that you’re right.’
    I picked up Sheriff Carson because I sensed that I’d need some psychological support. I even called Black Eagle over just in case. And, without the slightest rustle, I opened the door to my room just a sliver. It wasn’t the moment to make a dangerous excursion to the kitchen for a glass. Now I could hear them much better. Black Eagle congratulated me on the idea. Sheriff Carson was silent and chewed on what I thought was gum but turned out to be tobacco.
    ‘Fine, he’ll study violin, fine.’
    ‘You make it sound like you’re doing me a huge favour.’
    ‘What are you talking about?’
    ‘Fine, he’ll study violin, fine.’ I’ll admit that my mother’s imitation of Father was quite an exaggeration. But I liked it.
    ‘Well, if you’re going to act like that, forget the violin and have him devote his time to serious things.’
    ‘If you take away the boy’s violin, you’ll hear it from me.’
    ‘Don’t threaten me.’
    ‘Don’t you, either.’
    Silence. Carson spat on the floor and I made a mute gesture to scold him.
    ‘The boy has to study real things.’
    ‘And what are real things?’
    ‘Latin, Greek, history, German and French. To start with.’
    ‘The boy is only eleven years old, Fèlix!’
    Eleven years old. I think that earlier I said eight or nine; time slips away from me in these pages too. Luckily Mother was keeping track. Do you know what happens? I don’t have the time or the desire to correct all this; I write hurriedly, like when I was young, when everything I wrote I wrote hurriedly. But my urgency now is very different. Which doesn’t mean I write quickly. And Mother repeated: ‘The boy is eleven years old and already studies French at school.’
    ‘“J’ai perdu la plume dans le jardin de ma tante” isn’t French.’
    ‘What is it? Hebrew?’
    ‘He has to be able to read Racine.’
    ‘My God.’
    ‘God doesn’t exist. And he could be much better at Latin. I mean, he’s studying with the Jesuits!’
    That affected me more directly. Neither Black Eagle nor Sheriff Carson said a peep. They had never gone to the Jesuit school on Casp Street. I didn’t know if it was bad or good. But, according to Father, they weren’t teaching me Latin well. He was right: we were working on the second declension and it was a total bore, because the other children didn’t even understand the concept behind the genitive and the dative.
    ‘Oh, now you want to pull him out of there?’
    ‘What do you think about the French Lyceum?’
    ‘No: the boy will stay at Casp. Fèlix, he’s just a child! We can’t be moving him from place to place as if he were your brother’s livestock.’
    ‘OK, forget I mentioned it. We always end up doing what you say,’ lied Father.
    ‘And sport?’
    ‘None of that. They have plenty of playground breaks at the Jesuits’, don’t they?’
    ‘And music.’
    ‘Fine, fine. But the priorities come first. Adrià will be a great scholar and that’s that. And I will find a substitute for Casals.’
    Who was the substitute for Herr Romeu and in five pathetic classes had also got bogged down in vague explanations of German’s elaborately complex syntax and couldn’t find his way out.
    ‘That’s not necessary. Let him have a break.’
    Two days later, in his study, with Mother sitting on the sofa I’d established my espionage base behind, Father had me come over and stand by his chair and explained my future in detail and listen well, because I’m not going to repeat this: that I was a clever lad, who had to take advantage of my intellectual ability, that if the Einsteins at school don’t realise what I’m capable of, he would have to go in personally and explain it to them.
    ‘I’m surprised that you weren’t more insufferable,’ you told me one day.
    ‘Why? Because they told me I was intelligent? I already knew I was. Like when you’re tall, or fat, or have dark hair. I never really cared much one way or the other. Like the masses and the religious sermons I had to sit through patiently, though they did affect Bernat. And then Father pulled a rabbit out of his hat: And now your real private German lessons with a real teacher will start. None of these Romeus, Casals and the like.’
    ‘But I …’
    ‘And French tutoring.’
    ‘But, Father, I want …’
    ‘You don’t want anything. And I’m warning you,’ he pointed at me as if with a pistol, ‘you will learn Aramaic.’
    I looked at Mother, searching for some sort of support, but she had her gaze lowered, as if she were very interested in the floor tiles. I had to defend myself all on my own and I shouted, ‘I don’t want to learn Aramaic!’ Which was a lie. But I was looking at an avalanche of homework.
    ‘Of course you do,’ — in a low, cold, implacable voice.
    ‘No.’
    ‘Don’t talk back to me.’
    ‘I don’t want to learn Aramaic. Or anything else!’
    Father brought a hand to his forehead and, as if he had an awful migraine, he said, looking at the desk, in a very quiet voice, look at the sacrifices I’m making so that you can be the most brilliant student Barcelona has ever seen and this is how you thank me? Exaggerated shouting. ‘With an “I don’t want to learn Aramaic”?’ And now shrieking, ‘Eh?’
    ‘I want to learn …’
    Silence. Mother looked up, hopeful. Carson, in my pocket, stirred curiously. I didn’t know what I wanted to learn. I knew that I didn’t want them to fill my head with too much too early, weigh it down. There were a few anxious seconds of reflection: in the end, I had to improvise:
    ‘… Well, I want to be a doctor.’
    Silence. Confused looks between my parents.
    ‘A doctor?’
    For a few seconds Father visualised my future as a doctor. Mother did too, I think. I, who got dizzy just thinking about blood, thought I had blown it. Father, after a moment of indecision, brought his chair closer to the desk, preparing to return to his reading. ‘No: you won’t be a doctor and you won’t be a monk. You will be a great humanist and that’s that.’
    ‘Father.’
    ‘Come on, Son, I’ve got work to do. Go and make some noise with your violin.’
    And Mother looking at the floor, still interested in the colourful tiles. Traitor.
    Lawyer, doctor, architect, chemist, civil engineer, optical engineer, pharmacist, lawyer, manufacturer, textile engineer and banker were the foreseeable professions according to all the other parents of all the other children.
    ‘You said lawyer more than once.’
    ‘It’s the only major that you can do with humanities. But children are more likely to think of studying to be a coal-merchant, painter, carpenter, lamplighter, bricklayer, aviator, shepherd, footballer, night watchman, mountain climber, gardener, train guard, parachute jumper, tram driver, fireman and the Pope in Rome.’
    ‘But no father has ever said, Son, when you grow up you will be a humanist.’
    ‘Never. I come from a very odd house. Yours was a bit like that too.’
    ‘Well, yeah …’ you said to me, like someone confessing an unforgivable defect who didn’t want to go into detail.
    The days passed and Mother said nothing, as if she were crouched, waiting for her turn. Which is to say I started German lessons again, but with a third tutor, Herr Oliveres, a young man who worked at the Jesuits’ school but needed some extra money. I recognised Herr Oliveres right away, even though he taught the older children, because he always signed up, I suppose for the bit of money it brought, to watch over those in detention for tardiness on Thursday afternoons, and he spent the time reading. And he had a solid method of language instruction.
    ‘Eins.’
    ‘Ains.’
    ‘Zwei.’
    ‘Sbai.’
    ‘Drei.’
    ‘Drai.’
    ‘Vier.’
    ‘Fia.’
    ‘Fünf.’
    ‘Funf.’
    ‘Nein: fünf.’
    ‘Finf.’
    ‘Nein: füüüünf.’
    ‘Füüüünf.’
    ‘Sehr gut!’
    I put the time I’d wasted with Herr Romeu and Herr Casals behind me and I soon got the gist of German. I was fascinated by two things: that the vocabulary wasn’t Latinate, which was completely new for me and, above all, that it had declensions, like Latin. Herr Oliveres was amazed and couldn’t quite believe it. Soon I asked him for syntax homework and the man was flabbergasted, but I’ve always been interested in approaching languages through their intrinsic hard core. You can always ask for the time of day with a few gestures. And yes, I was enjoying learning another language.
    ‘How are the German classes going?’ Father asked me impatiently after the first lesson of the Oliveres period.
    ‘Aaaalso, eigentlich gut,’ I said, feigning disinterest. Out of the corner of my eye, not quite able to see him, I could tell that my father was smiling and I felt very proud of myself because I think that even though I never admitted it, at that age I lived to impress my father.
    ‘Something you rarely achieved.’
    ‘I didn’t have time.’
    Herr Oliveres turned out to be a cultured, timid man who spoke in a soft voice, who was always badly shaven, who wrote poems in secret and who smoked smelly tobacco but he was able to explain the language from the inside out. And he started me on the schwache Verben in the second lesson. And in the fifth he showed me, very cautiously, like someone sharing a dirty photo, one of Hölderlin’s Hymnen. And Father wanted Herr Oliveres to give me a French test to see if I needed tutoring, and after the exam Monsieur Oliveres told Father I didn’t need French tutoring because I was doing fine with what they taught me at school, and then, there was that hour in between … How is your English, Mr Oliveres?
    Yes, being born into that family was a mistake for many different reasons. What pained me about Father was that he only knew me as his son. He still hadn’t realised that I was a child. And my mother, looking down at the tiles, without acknowledging the contest Father and I were disputing. Or so I believed. Luckily I had Carson and Black Eagle. Those two almost always backed me up.

7

    It was mid afternoon; Trullols was with a group of students who never seemed to finish and I was waiting. A boy, taller than me and with a bit of moustache fuzz and a few hairs on his legs, sat down beside me. Well, he was a lot taller than me. He held the violin as if he were hugging it and stared straight ahead, so as to not look at me, and Adrià said hello to him.
    ‘Hello,’ answered Bernat, without looking at him.
    ‘You’re with Trullols?’
    ‘Uh-huh.’
    ‘First year?’
    ‘Third.’
    ‘Me too. We’ll be together. Can I see your violin?’
    In that period, thanks to Father, I liked the object almost more than the music that came out of it. But Bernat looked at me suspiciously. For a few moments I thought he must have a Guarnerius and didn’t want to show it to me. But since I opened my case and presented a very dark red student violin that produced a very conventional sound, he did the same with his. I imitated Mr Berenguer’s demeanour: ‘French, turn of the century.’ And looking into his eyes, ‘One of those dedicated to Madame d’Angoulême.’
    ‘How do you know?’ asked Bernat, impressed, perplexed, mouth agape.
    From that day on Bernat admired me. For the stupidest possible reason: it’s not hard at all to remember objects and know how to assess and classify them. You only have to have a father who’s obsessed with such things. How do you know, eh?
    ‘The varnish, the shape, the general air …’
    ‘Violins are all the same.’
    ‘Certainly not. Every violin has a story behind it. There’s not only the luthier who created it, but every violinist who has played it. This violin isn’t yours.’
    ‘Of course it is!’
    ‘No. It’s the other way around. You’ll see.’
    My father had told me that, one day, with the Storioni in his hands. He offered it to me somewhat regretfully and said, without really knowing what he was saying, be very careful, because this object is unique. The Storioni in my hands felt as if it were alive. I thought I could feel a soft, inner pulse. And Father, his eyes gleaming, said imagine, this violin has been through experiences we know nothing about, it has been played in halls and homes that we will never see, and it has lived all the joys and pains of the violinists who have played it. The conversations it has heard, the music it’s expressed … I am sure it could tell us many tender stories, he finally said, with an extraordinary dose of cynicism that at the time I was unable to capture.
    ‘Let me play it, Father.’
    ‘No. Not until you’ve finished your eighth year of violin study. Then it will be yours. Do you hear me? Yours.’
    I swear that the Storioni, upon hearing those words, throbbed more intensely for a moment. I couldn’t tell if it was out of joy or grief.
    ‘Look, it’s … how can I put it; look at it, it’s a living thing. It even has a proper name, like you and I.’
    Adrià looked at his father with a somewhat distant stance, as if calculating whether he was pulling his leg or not.
    ‘A proper name?’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘And what’s it called?’
    ‘Vial.’
    ‘What does Vial mean?’
    ‘What does Adrià mean?’
    ‘Well … Hadrianus is the surname of a Roman family that came from Hadria, near the Adriatic.’
    ‘That’s not what I meant, for god’s sake.’
    ‘You asked me what my nam ‘Yes, yes, yes … Well, the violin is just named Vial and that’s it.’
    ‘Why is it named Vial?’
    ‘Do you know what I’ve learned, Son?’
    Adrià looked at him with disappointment because he was avoiding the question, he didn’t know the answer or he didn’t want to admit it. He was human and he tried to cover it up.
    ‘What have you learned?’
    ‘That this violin doesn’t belong to me, but rather I belong to it. I am one of many who have owned it. Throughout its life, this Storioni has had various players at its service. And today it is mine, but I can only look at it. Which is why I wanted you to learn to play the violin, so you can continue the long chain in the life of this instrument. That is the only reason you must study the violin. That’s the only reason, Adrià. You don’t need to like music.’
    My father — such elegance — twisting the story and making it look as if it had been his idea I study violin and not Mother’s. What elegance my father had as he arranged others’ fates. But I was trembling with emotion at that point despite having understood his instructions, which ended with that blood-curdling you don’t need to like music.
    ‘What year was it made?’ I asked.
    Father had me look through the right f-hole. Laurentius Storioni Cremonensis me fecit 1764.
    ‘Let me hold it.’
    ‘No. You think about all the history this violin has. But no touching.’
    Jachiam Mureda let the two carts and the men follow him towards La Grassa, led by Blond of Cazilhac. He hid in a corner to relieve himself. A few moments of calm. Beyond the wooden carts that slowly headed off was the silhouette of the monastery and the wall destroyed by lightning. He had taken refuge in Carcassona three summers ago, fleeing the hatred of those in Moena, and fate was about to change the course of his life. He had got used to the sweet language of the Occitans. He had grown accustomed to not eating cheese every day; but what was hardest for him was not being surrounded by forests and not having mountains nearby; there were some, but always so far, far away that they didn’t seem real. As he defecated he suddenly understood that it wasn’t that he missed the landscape of Pardàc, but that he missed his father, Mureda of Pardàc, and all the Muredas: Agno, Jenn, Max, Hermes, Josef, Theodor, Micurà, Ilse, Erica, Katharina, Matilde, Gretchen and little Bettina who gave me the medallion of Saint Maria dai Ciüf, the patron saint of Pardàc’s woodcutters, so I would never feel alone. And he began to cry with longing for his people and as he shat he took the medallion off his neck and looked at it: a proud Virgin Mary facing forward, holding a tiny baby and with a lush pine tree in the background that reminded him of the pine beside the Travignolo stream, in his Pardàc.
    Repairing the wall had been complicated because first they’d had to knock down a good bit that was shaky. And in a few days he had built a magnificent scaffolding with his wood. The monastery’s carpenter, Brother Gabriel, praised him for it. Brother Gabriel was a man with hands large as feet when it came to hacking and chopping, and thin as lips when it came time to gauge the wood’s quality. They hit it off right away. The friar, a natural talker, wondered how he knew so much about the inner life of wood since he was just a carpenter, and Jachiam, finally free of his fear of vengeance, for the first time since he had run away said I’m not a carpenter, Brother Gabriel. I cut wood, I listen to wood. My trade is making the wood sing, choosing the trees and the parts of the trunk that will later be used by master luthiers to make a good instrument, such as a viola or a violin.
    ‘And what are you doing working for a foreman, child of God?’
    ‘Nothing. It’s complicated.’
    ‘You ran away from something.’
    ‘Well, I don’t know.’
    ‘It’s not my place to say this, but be careful you aren’t running away from yourself.’
    ‘No. I don’t think so. Why?’
    ‘Because those who run away from themselves find that the shadow of their enemy is always on their heels and they can’t stop running, until finally they explode.’
    ‘Is your father a violinist?’ Bernat asked me.
    ‘No.’
    ‘Well, I … But the violin is mine,’ he added.
    ‘I’m not saying it’s not yours. I’m saying that you are the violin’s.’
    ‘You say strange things.’
    They were silent. They heard Trullols raising her voice to quiet a student who was zealously playing out of tune.
    ‘How awful,’ said Bernat.
    ‘Yes.’ Silence. ‘What’s your name?’
    ‘Bernat Plensa. And you?’
    ‘Adrià Ardèvol.’
    ‘Are you a fan of Barça or Espanyol?’
    ‘Barça. You?’
    ‘Me too.’
    ‘Do you collect any trading cards?’
    ‘Of cars.’
    ‘Wow. Do you have the Ferrari triple?’
    ‘No. Nobody does.’
    ‘You mean it doesn’t exist?’
    ‘That’s what my father says.’
    ‘Oh, boy, wow.’ Desolate. ‘Really?’
    Both boys were silent thinking about Fangio’s Ferrari, which was composed of three cards that might not exist. That gave them a gnawing feeling in their stomachs. And the two men, also in silence, watched as the wall in La Grassa rose up straight thanks to the solid scaffolding Jachiam had built. After quite some time:
    ‘And what wood do you use to make those instruments?’
    ‘I don’t make them, I never did. I offered the best wood. Always the best. The masters in Cremona came to me for it and they trusted that my father and I would have it prepared for them. We sold them wood chopped during the January full moon if they didn’t want it to have resin and in midsummer if they wanted a more bold, melodious wood. My father taught me how to find the wood that sang best, from among hundreds of trees. Yes; my father taught me, and his father — who worked for the Amatis — taught him.’
    ‘I don’t know who they are.’
    Then Jachiam of Pardàc told him about his parents and his siblings and his wooded landscape in the Tyrolean Alps. And about Pardàc, whom those further south call Predazzo. And he felt relieved, as if he had confessed to the lay brother. But he didn’t feel guilty of any death, because Bulchanij of Moena was a murdering swine who’d burned down the future out of envy and he would carve open his belly ten thousand times if he had the chance. Jachiam the unrepentant.
    ‘What are you thinking about, Jachiam? I can see the hatred in your face.’
    ‘Nothing, I’m sad. Memories. My brothers and sisters.’
    ‘You spoke of many brothers and sisters.’
    ‘Yes. First we were eight boys and when they’d given up hope of having a girl, they got six.’
    ‘And how many are living?’
    ‘All of them.’
    ‘It’s a miracle.’
    ‘Depends on how you look at it. Theodor is lame, Hermes can’t think straight but he’s got a big heart and Bettina, the littlest, my dear sweet Bettina, is blind.’
    ‘Your poor mother.’
    ‘She’s dead. She died giving birth to a boy who died too.’
    Brother Gabriel was silent, perhaps in the memory of that martyr. Then, to lighten up the conversation, ‘You haven’t told me what wood you used for the instruments. Which one is it?’
    ‘The fine instruments created by the master luthiers of Cremona are made with a combination of woods.’
    ‘You don’t want to tell me.’
    ‘No.’
    ‘It doesn’t matter: I’ll work it out.’
    ‘How?’
    Brother Gabriel winked and went back to the monastery, taking advantage of the fact that the bricklayers and their mates, knackered after a day of sorting through stones and bringing them up with the pulley, had come down from the scaffolding to wait for nightfall, for the little food they had and for rest, preferably without many dreams.
    ‘Someday I’ll bring the Storioni to class.’
    ‘Poor you. If you do, you’ll find out what a good hard cuff is.’
    ‘So what do we have it for?’
    Father left the violin on the table and looked at me with his hands on his hips.
    ‘What do we have it for, what do we have it for …’ he mimicked me.
    ‘Yes.’ Now I was peeved. ‘What do we have it for if it’s always in its case inside the safe and we can’t even look at it?’
    ‘I have it to have it. Do you understand?’
    ‘No.’
    ‘Ebony, a fir we don’t have around here and maple.’
    ‘Who told you?’ asked Jachiam of Pardàc, impressed.
    Brother Gabriel brought him to the monastery’s sacristy. In one corner, protected by a sheath, there was a viola da gamba made of light wood.
    ‘What’s it doing here?’
    ‘Resting.’
    ‘In a monastery?’
    Brother Gabriel made a vague gesture that said he wasn’t in the mood to go into more details.
    ‘But how did you work it out?’
    ‘By smelling the wood.’
    ‘Impossible. It’s very dry and the varnish covers up the scent.’
    That day, safe in the sacristy, Jachiam Mureda learned to distinguish woods by their odour and he thought what a shame, what a shame, not being able to share what he’d learned with his family, starting with his father, who was apt to die of sadness if he were to hear that anything had happened to him. And Agno, too, Jenn and Max who haven’t lived at home for years now, Hermes the dim-witted, Josef, Theodor the lame, Micurà, Ilse and Erica, who are already married, Katharina, Matilde, Gretchen and little Bettina, my little blind one who gave me Mum’s medallion, which is the bit of Pardàc that I always carry with me.
    It wasn’t until six weeks later, when they began to take down the scaffolding, that Brother Gabriel said that he knew something I think you’ll find very interesting.
    ‘What’s that?’
    He led him far away from the men who were dismantling the scaffolding and he whispered in his ear that he knew of an old, abandoned monastery, in the middle of nowhere, with a forest of fir trees beside it; that red fir that you like.
    ‘A forest?’
    ‘A fir grove. About twenty firs and a majestic maple tree. And the wood doesn’t belong to anyone. No one has even touched it in five years.’
    ‘Why doesn’t it belong to anyone?’
    ‘It’s beside an abandoned monastery.’ In a whisper: ‘La Grassa and Santa Maria de Gerri won’t miss a couple of trees.’
    ‘Why are you telling me this?’
    ‘Don’t you want to go back with your family?’
    ‘Of course. I want to go back to my father, who I hope is still alive. And I want to see Agno again, and Jenn and Max who no longer live at home, and Hermes the dim-witted …’
    ‘Yes, yes, yes, I know. And Josef and all the others, yes. And with a load of wood that will be of help to you all.’
    Jachiam of Pardàc didn’t return to Carcassona. From La Grassa, accompanied by Blond of Cazilhac with a couple of men and five mules laden with cart wheels and a bag filled with all his wages since his flight, he headed up through Ariège and the Salau pass, towards a dream.
    They arrived at Sant Pere del Burgal seven or eight days later, at the end of the summer, along the Escaló trail, which, in the cold times of the great-grandparents of the great-grandparents of the great-great-grandparents, the envoy of death had travelled. On the peak was the monastery, whose walls showed signs of neglect. When he walked around the building he was shocked to find what he believed to be the equal of the finest part of the Paneveggio woods, before the fire. It was an awe-inspiring grove of ten or fifteen immense fir trees and in the centre, like a queen, rose a maple with a suitably large trunk. As his men rested after the wearisome trip, Jachiam blessed the memory of Brother Gabriel of La Grassa. He walked through the trees and touched them, and he made the wood sing like his father had taught him and he sniffed it like Brother Gabriel had. And he felt happy. Then, while his men were napping, he walked through the abandoned rooms until he reached the church’s locked door. He pushed it with the palm of his hand and the rotten, worm-eaten wood of the door crumbled. Inside it was so dark that he just glanced in distractedly before going to take a nap himself.
    They set up camp inside the walls of the isolated monastery, beneath a mouldy, half-rotten ceiling, and they bought provisions from the people of Escaló and Estaron, who didn’t understand what those men were after in the ruins of Burgal. They devoted an entire moon to building sturdy carts for transport, further down near the river where the road was more level. Jachiam hugged all the living trunks after cutting off the lower branches. He tapped them with a flat hand and brought his ear close to listen carefully, to the sceptical silence and surprise of his men. By the time they had the carts built, Jachiam of Pardàc had decided which fir he would chop down along with the maple. He was convinced that it was a wood that had grown with exceptional regularity; despite years away from the trade, he knew that it would sing. And Jachiam spent many hours looking at the mysterious paintings in the apse of the little church, which must have contained stories that were new to him. Prophets and archangels, Saint Peter, the patron of the monastery, and Saint Paul, Saint John and the other apostles beside the Mother of God, praising the severe Pantocrator along with the archangels. And he felt no remorse.
    And then they began to saw down the chosen fir. Yes: it was a tree with regular growth, marked by a cold that must be intense and, above all, constant. A tree with the same density in each growth despite the years. My God, what wood. And with the tree felled — again observed sceptically by the men helping him — he felt and he smelt, then tapped along the trunk until he found the good parts. He marked two areas in chalk, one twelve feet long and the other ten. Those spots were where the wood sang best. And he had them sawed knowing that it wasn’t the new January moon, which is when many say the wood for a good violin should be chosen. The Muredas had realised that, unless the woodworms had got to it, a bit of resin would revive wood that had to travel a long way.
    ‘I think you’re pulling my leg,’ said Bernat.
    ‘Whatever you say.’
    They were silent. But the out-of-tune student was so out of tune that it was worse when they were quiet. After quite some time, Adrià said, ‘Whatever. But it’s more fun to think that the violin is the one in charge, because it’s alive.’
    After a few days of rest, they began with the maple. It was immense, perhaps two centuries old. And its leaves were already yellowing in preparation for the first snowfall, which it would no longer be around for. He knew that the part closest to the stump was the best and they sawed close to ground level despite the complaints of his men, who found it laborious and didn’t see the point. He had to promise them two more days of rest before setting off. They cut close to the ground. So close to the ground that Blond of Cazilhac, drawn by something, used his pick to make a hole down towards the roots.
    ‘Come here, you have to see this,’ he said, interrupting his daily visit to the magical paintings in the apse.
    The men had almost completely uprooted the tree. Among the roots, there were bones, a skull and some human hairs with tatters of dark cloth ruined by the dampness.
    ‘Who buries someone beneath a tree?’ exclaimed one of the men.
    ‘This is very old.’
    ‘They didn’t bury him beneath the tree,’ said Blond of Cazilhac.
    ‘They didn’t?’ Jachiam looked at him, puzzled.
    ‘Don’t you see? The tree comes out of the man, if it is a man. He nourished the tree with his blood and his flesh.’
    Yes. It was as if the tree had been born from the skeleton’s womb. And Adrià brought his face closer to his father’s, so he would see him, so he would answer him.
    ‘Father, I just want to see how it sounds. Let me play four scales. Just a tiny bit. Come on, Father! …’
    ‘No. And no means no. Full stop,’ said Fèlix Ardèvol, eluding his son’s gaze.
    And do you know what I think? That this study, which is my world, is like a violin that, over the course of its life, has accommodated many different people: my father, me …, you because you are here in your self-portrait, and who knows who else because the future is impossible to comprehend. So no; no means no, Adrià.
    ‘Don’t you know that no means yes?’ Bernat would tell me, angrily, many years later.
    ‘You see?’ Father changed his tone. He had him turn the violin over and show him the back of the instrument. He pointed to a spot without touching it. ‘This thin line … who made it? How? Is it a blow? Was it done on purpose? When? Where?’
    He took the instrument from me delicately and said to himself, as if in dreams, with this I’m happy. That’s why I like … He gestured with his head around the study, at all the miracles contained therein. And he carefully placed Vial into its case, and that into the dungeon of the safe.
    Just then Trullols’s classroom door opened. Bernat said, in a low voice the teacher couldn’t hear, ‘What claptrap: I don’t belong to the violin. It’s mine: my father bought it for me at Casa Parramon’s. For a hundred and seventy-five pesetas.’
    And he closed the case. I found it very unfriendly. So young and already mystery made him uncomfortable. There was no way he could be my friend. Ruled out. Kaputt. Then it turned out he also went to Casp, a year ahead of me. And his name was Bernat Plensa i Punsoda. I may have said that already. And he was so uptight, as if they’d bathed him in a vat of hair spray and forgot to rinse him off. And I had to admit, after sixteen minutes, that that unfriendly boy who refused to accept mystery, who would never be my friend, and who was named Bernat Plensa i Punsoda, had something about him that made a violin bought for one hundred and seventy-five pesetas at Casa Parramon sound with a delicacy I had never been able to achieve. And Trullols looked at him with satisfaction and I thought what a piece of shit my violin was. That was when I swore that I would make him shut up forever, him, the violin dedicated to Madame d’Angoulême and the hair spray he’d bathed in; and I think that it would have been much better for everyone if I’d never had that thought. For the moment, all I did was let it gradually ripen. It’s hard to believe that the most unthinkable tragedies can be born of the most innocent things.

~ ~ ~

    Bernat, halfway up the stairs, felt his pocket and pulled out the vibrating mobile phone. Tecla. He hesitated for a few seconds, not sure whether to answer or not. He moved aside to let a hurrying neighbour get past him. He stood there like an idiot looking at the lit-up screen, as if he could see Tecla in it, cursing his name, and that gave him a guilty pleasure. He put the mobile back into his pocket and after a moment he could feel that it had stopped vibrating. Tecla must have been negotiating the last loose end with the voice mail operator. Maybe she was saying, and we each get the house in Llançà for six months a year. And the operator, who do you think you are, you’ve never set foot in there and when you have it was with that peeved face you are so fond of pulling just to make poor Bernat’s life difficult! Who do you think you are? Bravo for the Orange operator, thought Bernat. He caught his breath at the landing on the main floor and, once he had, he rang the bell.
    ‘Rrrrrrrrrrinnnnnng.’
    It took so long for him to hear any reaction from inside the flat that he had time to think about Tecla, about Llorenç and about the very unpleasant conversation they’d had the night before. The murmur of dragging footsteps, the sudden clamour of the lock and the door began to move. Adrià, looking at him over narrow reading glasses, finished opening the door and turned on the light in the hallway. Its gleam reflected off his bald head.
    ‘The bulb in the landing blew again,’ he said in greeting.
    Bernat hugged him and Adrià didn’t hug him back. He took off his eyeglasses and said thank you for coming, as he waved him in.
    ‘How are you?’
    ‘Terrible. And you?’
    ‘Terrible.’
    ‘Would you like a drink?’
    ‘No. Yes. I don’t drink any more.’
    ‘We don’t drink any more, we don’t fuck any more, we don’t overeat any more, we don’t go to the cinema any more, we don’t ever like a book any more, now every woman is too young, we can’t get it up any more, we don’t believe those who say they’ll save the country any more.’
    ‘Quite a list.’
    ‘How’s Tecla doing?’
    He had him enter the study. Bernat looked around with open admiration, as he did every time he went in there. For a few seconds his gaze stopped on the self-portrait, but he refrained from any comment.
    ‘What did you ask me?’ he said.
    ‘How’s Tecla?’
    ‘Very well. Fabulous.’
    ‘I’m glad to hear it.’
    ‘Adrià.’
    ‘What.’
    ‘Come on, don’t make fun.’
    ‘Why?’
    ‘Because I told you two days ago that we’re separating, that we’re at each other’s throats …’
    ‘Oh, Christ …’
    ‘Don’t you remember?’
    ‘No. I’m very absorbed and …’
    ‘You’re an absent-minded scholar.’
    Adrià grew quiet and, to break the silence, Bernat said we’re separating; at our age, and we’re separating.
    ‘I’m so sorry. But you’re doing the right thing.’
    ‘To tell you the truth, I couldn’t care less. I’m tired of everything.’
    When he sat down, Bernat tapped his knees and, in a falsely cheery tone, said come on, what was all the rush and urgency about?
    Adrià stared at him for a very long minute. Bernat held his gaze until he realised that, even though he was looking at him, Adrià was far, far away.
    ‘What’s wrong?’ He paused. The other man was in the clouds. ‘Adrià?’ A hint of panic. ‘What’s going on with you?’
    Adrià swallowed hard and looked, somewhat anxiously, towards his friend. Then he looked away. ‘I’m ill.’
    ‘Oh.’
    Silence. Your whole life, our whole lives, thought Bernat, passing before your eyes when a loved one tells you they are ill. And Adrià was only half there. Bernat tried to forget for a few moments about Tecla, that bitch who was ruining his day, his week and his month, that shrew, and he said but what do you mean? What do you have?
    ‘An expiration date.’
    Silence. More long seconds of silence.
    ‘But what is going on, for Christ’s sake, are you dying, is it serious, is there anything I can do, I don’t know, explain yourself, will you?’
    If he hadn’t been separated from Tecla, he never would have had that reaction. And Bernat was infinitely sorry for what he’d said but, on the other hand, from what he could see, it hadn’t had much of an effect on Adrià because his response was a smile.
    ‘Yes, there is something you can do for me. A favour.’
    ‘Of course. But how are you? What do you have?’
    ‘It’s hard for me to explain. They have to put me in assisted living or something like that.’
    ‘Shit, but you’re fine. Look at you, all hale and hearty.’
    ‘You have to do me a favour.’
    He got up and disappeared into the flat. What patience I need lately, thought Bernat. First Tecla, and now Adrià, with his endless mysteries and his hypochondria.
    Adrià came back with his hypochondria and a mystery in the shape of a large bundle of papers. He put it down on the little table, in front of Bernat.
    ‘You need to make sure this doesn’t get lost.’
    ‘Let’s see, let’s see … How long have you been ill?’
    ‘A while.’
    ‘I didn’t know anything about this.’
    ‘I didn’t know you and Tecla were separating either, even though I’ve suggested it to you more than once. And I always wanted to think that you’d worked it out. Can I continue?’
    Men who are soulmates know how to fight and make up, and they know not to tell each other everything, just in case the other could lend a helping hand. Adrià had told him that thirty-five years ago and Bernat remembered it perfectly. And he cursed life, which gives us so many deaths.
    ‘Forgive me, but I’m … Of course you can continue.’
    ‘A few months ago they diagnosed me with a degenerative brain process. And now it seems it’s speeding up.’
    ‘Shit.’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘You could have told me.’
    ‘Would you have cured me?’
    ‘I’m your friend.’
    ‘That’s why I called you.’
    ‘Can you live alone?’
    ‘Little Lola comes every day.’
    ‘Caterina.’
    ‘Yeah, that’s right. And she stays until quite late. She leaves my supper prepared.’
    Adrià pointed to the stack of papers and said you aren’t just my friend, you’re also a writer.
    ‘A failed writer,’ was Bernat’s curt reply.
    ‘According to you.’
    ‘Yes, and you’ve certainly always been quick to remind me of it.’
    ‘I’ve always criticised you, you know that, but I never said you failed.’
    ‘But you’ve thought it.’
    ‘You don’t know what I have, inside here,’ said Adrià, suddenly irritated, tapping his forehead with both hands.
    ‘I haven’t published in years.’
    ‘But you haven’t stopped writing. Isn’t that right?’
    Silence. Adrià insisted, ‘Not long ago, in public, you said you were writing a novel. Yes or no?’
    ‘Another failure. I’ve abandoned it.’ He breathed deeply and said, ‘Come on, what is it you want?’
    Adrià grabbed the pile of papers and examined them for a little while, as if it were the first time he had seen them. He looked at Bernat and passed the bundle to him. Now he got a good look at it: it was a thick pile of pages, written on both sides.
    ‘Only this side is good.’
    ‘In green ink?’
    ‘Uh huh.’
    ‘And the other one?’ He read the first page: ‘The Problem of Evil.’
    ‘Nothing. Nonsense. It’s worthless,’ said Adrià, uncomfortably.
    Bernat looked through the pages in green, a bit disorientated, trying to get used to his friend’s difficult handwriting.
    ‘What is it?’ he said finally, lifting his head.
    ‘I don’t know. My life. My life and other lies.’
    ‘And since when … I didn’t know this side of you.’
    ‘I know. No one knows it.’
    ‘Do you want me to tell you what I think of it?’
    ‘No. Well, if you want to, sure. But … what I’m asking, begging, is that you type it into the computer.’
    ‘You still haven’t tried out the one I gave you.’
    Adrià made a vague gesture in his defence: ‘But I did classes with Llorenç.’
    ‘That were of no help at all.’ He looked at the bundle of pages. ‘The part written in green doesn’t have a title that I can see.’
    ‘I don’t know what to call it. Maybe you could help me with that.’
    ‘Are you pleased with it?’ asked Bernat, picking up the pile.
    ‘It’s not about whether I’m pleased with it or not. Besides, it’s the first time that …’
    ‘This is a surprise.’
    ‘It was a surprise for me too; but I had to do it.’
    Adrià leaned back in the armchair. Bernat continued leafing through the pile for a little while and then he placed it all on the small table.
    ‘Tell me how you are. Can I do anything to …’
    ‘No, thank you.’
    ‘But how are you?’
    ‘Right now, fine. But the process can’t be stopped. In a few months …’
    Adrià, hesitating over whether he should speak or not, looked forward, towards the wall where there was a photo of the two friends with rucksacks on their backs, hair on their heads and no spare tires: in Bebenhausen, when they were young and still knew how to smile at the camera. And above it, in a place of honour, as if it were an altar, was the self-portrait. Then he spoke in a soft voice, ‘In a few months I might not even be able to recognise you.’
    ‘No.’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘Shit.’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘And how will you get along?’
    ‘I’ll tell you later, don’t worry.’
    ‘OK.’ Bernat tapped the bundle of paper with a finger: ‘And don’t you worry about this. I hope I’ll be able to understand your handwriting. Do you know what you want to do with it?’
    Adrià rambled on for a while, almost without glancing at him. Bernat thought he looked like a penitent confessing. When he stopped speaking they were silent for some time, while the sky grew dark. Perhaps thinking about their lives, which hadn’t been tranquil. And thinking about the things they hadn’t said; and the insults and fights of the past; and the periods they’d gone without seeing each other. And thinking why does life always end with an unwanted death. And Bernat thinking I will do whatever you ask. And Adrià not knowing what he was thinking. And Bernat’s phone started vibrating in his pocket and, at that moment, he found the sound irreverent.
    ‘What is that?’
    ‘Nothing, my mobile phone. We humans use the computer a good friend gives us. And we have mobile phones.’
    ‘Fuck, then answer. Telephones are for answering.’
    ‘No, it’s probably Tecla. Let her wait.’
    And they grew silent again, waiting for the vibration to stop, but it went on and on, becoming some sort of awkward guest in that silent conversation, and Bernat thought it has to be Tecla, what a nag. But finally the vibration died out. And their thoughts gradually returned, implanting themselves in the silence between the two men.

8

    ‘But we don’t have a single manuscript!’ exclaimed Bernat, as the two boys stood on the corner of Bruc and València Streets, in front of the conservatory before heading to one of their homes; which one would be decided along the way.
    ‘I know what I’m talking about.’
    ‘And our flat is small, compared to yours.’
    ‘Yeah, but what about that marvellous terrace you guys have, eh?’
    ‘What I want is a brother.’
    ‘Me too.’
    They walked in silence, now returning to Bernat’s house before heading back towards Adrià’s for the second time so they could put off the moment of separation. In silence they pined for the brother they didn’t have and the mystery behind Roig, Rull, Soler and Pàmies having three, five or four or six siblings, while they had none.
    ‘Yeah, but Rull’s house is a huge mess, four in one room, with bunk beds. There’s always shouting.’
    ‘Fine, fine, that’s true. But it’s more fun.’
    ‘I don’t know. There is always some little kid pestering you.’
    ‘Yeah.’
    ‘Or some bigger kid.’
    ‘Well, yeah.’
    What Adrià was also trying to explain was that at Bernat’s house his parents weren’t so, I don’t know, they aren’t on top of you all day long.
    ‘They are. You haven’t practised your violin today, Bernat. And your homework? Don’t you have homework? And look at how you’ve ruined your shoes, what a disaster, you’re such an oaf. Like that, all day long.’
    ‘You should see my house.’
    ‘What.’
    On the third trip between the two houses we came to the conclusion that it was impossible to decide which of the two boys was unhappier. But I knew that when I went over to Bernat’s house, his mother would open the door and smile at me, she’d say hello, Adrià, and she’d tousle my hair a bit. My mother didn’t even say how’d it go, Adrià, because it was always Little Lola who let me in and she’d just pinch my cheek, and the house was silent.
    ‘You see? Your mother sings while she darns socks.’
    ‘So?’
    ‘Mine doesn’t. There’s no singing allowed in my house.’
    ‘Come on.’
    ‘Practically. I’m hapless.’
    ‘Me too. But you get As and A+s.’
    ‘That’s no achievement. The classes are easy.’
    ‘Nonsense.’
    ‘Well: I have trouble with the violin.’
    ‘I’m not talking about violin: I’m talking about school: grammar, geography, physics and chemistry, maths, natural sciences, boring old Latin; that’s what I’m talking about. The violin is easy.’
    I can’t be sure of the dates, but you already know what I mean when I say we were very unhappy. Now as I listen to myself explaining it to you it sounds more like a teenage sadness than a childhood one. But I know I had that conversation with Bernat, walking along the streets that separated his house from mine, oblivious to the harsh traffic on València, Llúria, Bruc, Girona and Mallorca, the heart of the Eixample district, which was my world and, except for travels, has remained my world. I also know that Bernat had an electric train and I didn’t. And he studied violin because he wanted to. And, above all, his parents would say to him Bernat, what do you want to be when you grow up? and he could say I don’t know yet.
    ‘Think about it,’ Mr Plensa would say, seeming like such a good egg.
    ‘Yes, Father.’
    And that was all they said, can you imagine? They would ask him what do you want to be when you grow up and my father one day said to me listen hard because I won’t say it twice and now I’m going to tell you what you are going to be when you grow up. Father had planned my path to the tiniest detail of each curve. And Mother still had yet to put in her two penn’orth and I can’t tell you which was worse. And I’m not complaining to you: I’m just writing. But the rope grew so taut that I didn’t even feel comfortable talking to Bernat about it. Really. Because I hadn’t been able to finish all my German homework for a few classes because Trullols had asked me to practise for an hour and a half if I wanted to get past the first stumbling blocks of the double stop chords, and I hated the double stop chord because when you want to play a single note, you get three, and when you want to do a double stop all you get is one and after a while you just want to smash the violin against the wall, because the fingering is so complicated and you put on a record where people like Iossif Robertovich Heifetz do it so perfectly it makes you dizzy, and I wanted to be Heifetz for three reasons: first, because I was sure his Trulleviĉius didn’t say to him, no Jascha, the third finger has to slide with the hand, you can’t leave it there in the middle of the fingerboard, for the love of God, Jascha Ardèvol! Second, because he always did it well; third, because I was sure he didn’t have a father like mine, and fourth, because he believed that being a child prodigy was a serious illness he’d managed to survive and which I survived because I wasn’t really a child prodigy, no matter what my father said.
    ‘How.’
    ‘What, Black Eagle.’
    ‘You said three.’
    ‘Three what?’
    ‘Three reasons you wanted to be Jascha Heifetz.’
    Sometimes I get mixed up. And now, as I write this, each day I get more and more mixed up. I don’t know if I’ll make it to the end.
    What was clear, in my murky childhood, was my father’s immense pedagogical ability. One day, when Little Lola wanted to stick up for me, he said but what the hell are you saying! German, violin and because of that he can’t do English? Is that it? What is he, a total milksop? And you, who are you to say … And why am I even talking about this with you?
    Little Lola flew out of the study in a rage. It had all started when Father announced that I had to save Mondays for English classes with Mr Prats, a young man who really knew his stuff, and I was left with my mouth hanging open, because I didn’t know what to say, because I knew that I would love studying English but I didn’t want Father to … And I looked at Mother as I finished my boiled veg in silence and Little Lola took the empty plate to the kitchen. But Mother didn’t say a peep; she left me alone and then I said that I needed time for the violin because the double stops …
    ‘Excuses. The double stops … Look at how any normal violinist plays and don’t tell me you can’t be a normal violinist.’
    ‘I need more time.’
    ‘You’ll make the time, you’re young. Or quit the violin, what do you want me to say.’
    The next day there was a discussion between Mother and Little Lola that I couldn’t follow because I had no spy base in the laundry room. And then, a few days later, Little Lola confronted Father. That was when she flew out of the study in a rage. But she was the only one in the house who could stand up to him without fear of too much repercussion. And, starting on the Monday before Christmas holidays, I could no longer wile away my time with Bernat, on the streets.
    ‘One.’
    ‘Wan.’
    ‘Two.’
    ‘Tu.’
    ‘Three.’
    ‘Thrii.’
    ‘Four.’
    ‘Foa.’
    ‘Four.’
    ‘Fuoa …’
    ‘Fffoouur.’
    ‘Fffoooa.’
    ‘It’s all right!’
    I was fascinated by English pronunciation, which was never what I expected from looking at the written words. And I was amazed by its morphological simplicity. And its subtle lexical relationship to German. And Mr Prats was extremely timid, to the extent that he didn’t even look me in the eye when he had me read the first text, which I won’t name in deference to good taste. Just to give you an idea, the plot was about whether my pencil was on top of or under the table, and the unexpected plot twist consisted of discovering that it was in my pocket.
    ‘How are your English classes going?’ my father asked me, impatiently, ten minutes after the first English class, at supper time.
    ‘All right,’ I said, adopting a disinterested pose. And it drove me crazy because, deep down, in spite of Father, I was already dying to know how you said one, two, three, four in Aramaic.
    ‘Can I have two?’ asked Bernat, always asking for more.
    ‘Of course.’
    Little Lola gave him two squares of chocolate; she hesitated for half a second and then gave me a second one, too. For the first time in my ffucking life, I didn’t have to swipe it.
    ‘And don’t get any on the floor.’
    The two boys went towards the bedroom and on the way Bernat said tell me, what is it, eh?
    ‘A big secret.’
    Once in the bedroom, I opened up my album of racing car collectors’ cards to the centre page and, without looking at the album, watched his face. He opened his eyes wide as saucers.
    ‘No!’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘So, it exists.’
    ‘Yes.’
    It was the triple of Fangio at the wheel of the Ferrari. You heard me right, my beloved: the Fangio triple.
    ‘Let me touch it.’
    ‘Carefully, OK?’
    But that’s how Bernat was: when he liked something, he had to touch it. Like me. He was always that way. He still is. Like me. Adrià watched his friend’s envy with satisfaction, as Bernat placed his fingertips on the Fangio triple and the fastest red Ferrari of all time, except for the future.
    ‘We’d agreed it didn’t exist … How did you get it?’
    ‘Contacts.’
    That’s how I was when I was little. I think I was trying to imitate Father. Or perhaps Mr Berenguer. In this case, the contacts were a very profitable Sunday morning at the second-hand stalls of the Sant Antoni market. You can find everything there; even quirks of fate; from Josephine Baker’s underwear to a volume of poems dedicated to Jeroni Zanné by Josep Maria López-Picó. And the Fangio triple collectors’ card that no other kid in Barcelona had, according to the rumours. When Father took me there, he always tried to keep me busy so he could exchange mysteries with a couple of men who always had a cigarette hanging from their lips, their hands in their pockets and a restless gaze. And he jotted down secrets in a little notebook that he then made vanish into a pocket.
    After a heavy sigh, they closed the album. The two boys had to wait patiently, hidden away in the bedroom. They had to talk about something, and Bernat wanted to ask him about that thing he hadn’t been able to get out of his head, but he knew he shouldn’t because his parents had told him it’s better if you don’t go into that, Bernat. Still he ended up asking, ‘Why don’t you go to mass?’
    ‘I have permission.’
    ‘From who? From God?’
    ‘No: from Father Anglada.’
    ‘Wow. But why don’t you go?’
    ‘I’m not Christian.’
    ‘Wow! …’ Confused silence. ‘Can you be not Christian?’
    ‘I suppose so. I’m not.’
    ‘But what are you? Buddhist? Japanese? Communist? What?’
    ‘I’m nothing.’
    ‘Can you be nothing?’
    I never knew how to answer that question when I was asked it as a child, because the wording troubled me. Can you be nothing? I will be nothing. Will I be like the zero that isn’t a natural number nor a whole number nor a rational number nor a real number nor a complex number, but the neutral element in the addition of whole numbers? Not even that, I’m afraid: when I am no longer, I will no longer be necessary, if I am now.
    ‘How. Now you’ve lost me.’
    ‘Don’t bother.’
    ‘No, if it were up to me …’
    ‘Then keep quiet, Black Eagle.’
    ‘I believe in the Great Spirit of Manitou who covers the plains with bison, sends us rain and snow and moves the sun that warms us and makes it disappear so we can sleep, who blows the wind, guides the river along its bed, points the eagle’s eye towards its prey and gives the warrior the courage to die for his people.’
    ‘Hello? Where are you, Adrià?’
    Adrià blinked and said here, with you, talking about God.
    ‘Sometimes you’re not here.’
    ‘Me?’
    ‘My parents say it’s because you are wise.’
    ‘Bollocks. I wish …’
    ‘Don’t even start.’
    ‘They love you.’
    ‘And yours don’t?’
    ‘No: they measure me. They calculate my IQ, they talk about sending me to a special school in Switzerland, they discuss making me do three school years in one.’
    ‘Wow, how cool!’ He looked at him out of the corner of his eye. ‘No?’
    ‘No. They argue over me, but they don’t love me.’
    ‘Bah. I don’t think kisses …’
    When Mother said Little Lola, go and get the aprons from Rosita’s house, I knew that it was our time. Like two thieves, like the Lord when he comes for us, we went into the forbidden house. In strict silence, we slipped into Father’s study, listening for the rustle from the back room where Mother and Mrs Angeleta were mending clothes. It took us a few minutes to get used to the darkness and heavy atmosphere in the study.
    ‘I smell something strange,’ said Bernat.
    ‘Shhhh!’ I whispered, somewhat melodramatically, because my main goal was impressing Bernat, now that we had become friends. And I told him that it wasn’t a smell, it was the weight of the history the objects in the collection were laden with; he didn’t understand me; I’m sure I wasn’t entirely convinced that what I’d said was true, either.
    When our eyes had grown used to the dark, the first thing Adrià did was look smugly at Bernat’s amazed face. Bernat no longer smelled anything but instead felt the weight of the history the objects around him were laden with. Two tables, one covered with manuscripts and with a very strange lamp that was also … What is that? Oh, a loupe. Wow … and a ton of old books. At the back, a bookshelf filled with even older books; to the left a stretch of wall filled with tiny pictures.
    ‘Are they valuable?’
    ‘And how!’
    ‘And how what?’
    ‘A sketch by Vayreda,’ Adrià proudly pointed at a small unfinished picture.
    ‘Ah.’
    ‘Do you know who Vayreda is?’
    ‘No. Is it worth a lot?’
    ‘A fortune. And this is an engraving by Rembrandt. It’s not unique, because otherwise …’
    ‘Aha.’
    ‘Do you know who Rembrandt is?’
    ‘No.’
    ‘And this tiny one …’
    ‘It’s very lovely.’
    ‘Yes. It is the most valuable one.’
    Bernat moved closer to the pale yellow gardenias by Abraham Mignon, as if he wanted to smell them. Well, as if he wanted to smell their price tag.
    ‘How much is it worth?’
    ‘Thousands of pesetas.’
    ‘No!’ A few moments of meditation. ‘How many thousands?’
    ‘I don’t know: but a lot.’
    Better to leave it vague. It was a good start and now I just had to finish it off. So I turned him towards the glass cabinet and suddenly he reacted and said blimey, what’s that?
    ‘A Bushi Kaiken dagger,’ said Adrià proudly.
    Bernat opened the cabinet door, I nervously watched the door to the study; he grabbed the Bushi Kaiken dagger, like the one in the shop. He examined it very curiously and went over to the balcony to see it better, pulling it out of its sheath.
    ‘Careful,’ I said in a mysterious voice, since I didn’t think he was sufficiently impressed.
    ‘What does a booshikiken dagger mean?’
    ‘The dagger that Japanese women warriors use to kill themselves.’ In a soft voice, ‘The instrument of their suicide.’
    ‘And why do they have to kill themselves?’ — without surprise, without shock, the stupid boy.
    ‘Well …’ Using my imagination, I came up with this comment: ‘If things don’t go well for them; if they lose.’ And to top it off: ‘Edo Period, seventeenth century.’
    ‘Wow.’
    He looked at it closely, perhaps imagining the suicide of a Japanese Booshi warrior. Adrià grabbed the dagger, covered it with its sheath and, with exaggerated care in each movement, placed it back in the cabinet of precious objects. He closed it without making any noise. He had already decided he was going to really leave his friend flabbergasted. I had been hesitating up until then, but I saw Bernat making an effort not to get too carried away in the excitement and I lost all prudence. I put my hands to my lips, demanding absolute silence. Then I put on the yellowish light in the corner and I turned the safe’s combination: six, one, five, four, two, eight. Father never locked it with the key. Just with the combination. I opened the secret chamber of the treasures of Tutankhamun. Some old bundles of papers, two small closed boxes, a lot of documents in envelopes, three wads of notes in one corner and, on the lower shelf, a violin case with a dubious stain on the top. I pulled it out very carefully. I opened the case and our Storioni appeared, resplendent. More resplendent than ever before. I brought it over to the light and I put the f-hole under his nose.
    ‘Read that,’ I ordered.
    ‘Laurentius Storioni Cremonensis me fecit.’ He looked up, astounded. ‘What does that mean?’
    ‘Finish reading it,’ I scolded, with the patience of a saint.
    Bernat turned towards the violin’s sound hole and looked inside it again. The belly had to be at the right angle to read one, seven, six, four.
    ‘Seventeen sixty-four,’ Adrià had to say.
    ‘Ohh … Let me touch it a little bit. Let me hear how it sounds.’
    ‘Sure, and my father will send us to the galleys. You can only put one finger on it.’
    ‘Why?’
    ‘It’s the most valuable object in this house, OK?’
    ‘More than the yellow flowers by what’s his name?’
    ‘Much more. Much, much more.’
    Bernat touched it with one finger, just to be on the safe side; but I wasn’t careful enough and he plucked the D; it sounded sweet, velvety.
    ‘It’s a bit low.’
    ‘Do you have perfect pitch?’
    ‘What?’
    ‘How do you know it’s a bit low?’
    ‘Because the D has to be a teensy bit higher, just a touch.’
    ‘Boy, you make me so jealous!’ Even though that afternoon was all me about leaving Bernat with his mouth hanging open, the exclamation came straight from my heart.
    ‘Why?’
    ‘Because you have perfect pitch.’
    ‘What does that mean?’
    ‘Forget about it.’ And going back to the initial situation: ‘Seventeen sixty-four, did you hear me?’
    ‘Seventeen sixty-four …’ He said it with sincere admiration and I was very pleased. He stroked it again, sensually, like he had when he said I’ve finished, Maria, my love. And she whispered I’m proud of you. Lorenzo stroked its skin and the instrument seemed to shiver, and Maria felt a bit jealous. He admired the rhythm of its curves with his hands. He placed it on the workshop table and moved away from it until he could no longer smell the intense scent of the miraculous fir and maple and he proudly contemplated the whole. Master Zosimo had taught him that a good violin, besides sounding good, had to be pleasing to the eye and faithful to the proportions that make it valuable. He felt satisfied. With a shadow of doubt, because he still didn’t know the price he would have to pay for the wood. But yes, he was satisfied. It was the first violin that he had started and finished all by himself and he knew that it was a very good one.
    Lorenzo Storioni smiled in relief. He also knew that the sound would take on the right colour with the varnishing process. He didn’t know if he should show it to Master Zosimo first or go and offer it directly to Monsieur La Guitte, who they say is a bit fed up with the people of Cremona and will soon return to Paris. A feeling of loyalty to his teacher sent him to Zosimo Bergonzi’s workshop with the still pale instrument under his arm, like a corpse in its provisional coffin. Three heads lifted up from their labours when they saw him come in. The maestro understood the smile of his young quasi disciple. He placed the cello he was polishing on a shelf and brought Lorenzo to the window that opened onto the street below, which had the best light for examining instruments. In silence, Lorenzo pulled the violin from its pinewood case and presented it to the master. The first thing that Zosimo Bergonzi did was caress its back and face. He understood that everything was going as he had foreseen when, a few months earlier, he had secretly presented his disciple Lorenzo with a gift of some exceptional wood so he could prove that he had truly learned his lessons.
    ‘This is really a gift?’ Lorenzo Storioni had said, shocked.
    ‘More or less.’
    ‘But this is part of the wood that …’
    ‘Yes. That Jachiam of Pardàc brought. It is at its best moment now.’
    ‘I want to know the price, Master Zosimo.’
    ‘I told you not to worry about it. When you have made the first instrument I will tell you the price.’
    That wood had never been free. The Year of Our Lord 1705, many years ago, long before young Storioni had been born, when the earth was increasingly round, Jachiam the unrepentant, of the Muredas of Pardàc, had arrived in Cremona with a cart loaded down with wood that was apparently worthless, saving them quite a few scares along the endless journey. Jachiam was a man over thirty, strong and with a gaze darkened by the determination with which he took on life. He left Blond with the load at a safe distance from Cremona and he headed quickly towards the city. When he reached a small wood of holm oaks, he entered it. He soon found a spot where he could empty his bowels comfortably. As he squatted he looked out in front of him distractedly, and saw some discarded cloth tatters. Those anonymous scraps of clothing reminded him of the accursed doublet of Bulchanij of Moena, and all the misfortune that fell upon the Muredas of Pardàc and which might now end with the stroke of luck he was working in his favour. He cried as he defecated, unable to contain his nervousness. When he was fully composed, after he’d relieved his body and carefully replaced his greasy clothes, he entered the city and went straight to Stradivari’s workshop as he had done a few times as a lad. He asked to speak directly to Master Antonio. He told him that he knew he was about to have problems finding wood because of the fire in the Paneveggio fifteen years ago.
    ‘I get it from other places.’
    ‘I know. From the Slovenian forests. When you make an instrument you will find its sound is muffled.’
    ‘That’s all there is.’
    ‘No, it’s not. I have an alternative.’
    Stradivari must really have been in a bind, because he followed the stranger to the outskirts of Cremona, where he had hidden the cart. His most taciturn son, Omobono, and a workshop apprentice named Bergonzi came with him. All three of them examined the wood, cutting off pieces, chewing them, looking at each other furtively, and Jachiam, Mureda’s son, watched them with satisfaction, sure of his work, as they examined the pieces again and again. It was already getting dark when Master Antonio challenged Jachiam: ‘Where did you get this wood?’
    ‘From very far away. From the West, a very cold place.’
    ‘How do I know you didn’t steal it?’
    ‘You have to trust me. My whole life is wood, I know how to make it sing, I know how to smell it, I know how to choose it.’
    ‘It is of very high quality and very well packed. Where did you learn the trade?’
    ‘I am the son of Mureda of Pardàc. Have someone sent to ask my father.’
    ‘Pardàc?’
    ‘Down here you call it Predazzo.’
    ‘Mureda of Predazzo is dead.’
    Two unexpected tears of pain sprang from Jachiam’s eyes. My father is dead and won’t see me return home with ten bags of gold so he and and all my brothers and sisters won’t ever have to work again. Agno, Jenn, Max, Hermes the slow one, Josef, Theodor who can’t walk, Micurà, Ilse, Erica, Katharina, Matilde, Gretchen and little Bettina, my little blind sweetheart who gave me the medallion of Santa Maria dai Ciüf that our mother had given her when she died.
    ‘Dead? My father?’
    ‘From grief at the burning of his woods. From grief over the death of his son.’
    ‘Which son?’
    ‘Jachiam, the best of the Muredas.’
    ‘I am Jachiam.’
    ‘Jachiam was drowned in the eddies of Forte Buso because of the fire.’ With an ironic look, ‘If you are Mureda’s son, you must remember that.’
    ‘I am Jachiam, son of Mureda of Pardàc,’ insisted Jachiam, son of Mureda of Pardàc, as Blond of Cazilhac listened with interest despite the fact that he sometimes missed a word because they spoke so quickly.
    ‘I know that you are trying to trick me.’
    ‘No. Look, Master.’
    He pulled out the medallion around his neck and showed it to Master Stradivari.
    ‘What is that?’
    ‘Santa Maria dai Ciüf of Pardàc. The patron saint of the woodcutters. The patron saint of the Muredas. It belonged to my mother.’
    Stradivari grabbed the medallion and studied it carefully. A stately Virgin Mary and a tree.
    ‘A fir tree, Master.’
    ‘A fir tree in the background.’ He gave it back to him. ‘That’s your proof?’
    ‘The proof is the wood I am offering you, Master Antonio. If you don’t want it, I will offer it to Guarneri or someone else. I’m tired. I want to go home and see if my brothers and sisters are still alive. I want to see if Agno, Jenn, Max, Hermes the dull-witted, Josef, Theodor the lame, Micurà, Ilse, Erica, Katharina, Matilde, Gretchen and little Bettina who gave me the medallion are still alive.’
    Antonio Stradivari, sensing the possibility that Guarneri would profit from this wood, was generous and paid very well for that load that would save him work when he was able to use it, after a few years of peaceful ageing in the warehouse. He had his future well protected. And that was why the violins he made twenty years later were his finest. He couldn’t know that yet. But Omobono and Francesco, after the master’s death, knew it full well. They still had quite a few planks of that mysterious wood that had come from the west and they used it sparingly. And when they both died, Carlo Bergonzi inherited the workshop, along with the secret stash of special wood. And Bergonzi passed on the secret to his two sons. Now, the younger of the Bergonzi boys, who had become Master Zosimo, was examining the first instrument that young Lorenzo had made in the light that came from the window overlooking the Cucciatta. He examined its interior: ‘Laurentis Storioni Cremonensis me fecit, seventeen sixty-four.’
    ‘Why did you underline Cremonensis?’
    ‘Because of my pride in being from here.’
    ‘That is a signature. You should do the same thing in every violin you make.’
    ‘I will always be proud of having been born in Cremona, Master Zosimo.’
    The master was satisfied and he returned the corpse to its maker, who placed it in the coffin.
    ‘Don’t ever say where you got your wood. And buy some from wherever you can for the coming years. At whatever price, if you want to have a future.’
    ‘Yes, Master.’
    ‘And don’t screw up with the varnish.’
    ‘I know how I have to do it, Master.’
    ‘I know you know. But don’t screw it up.’
    ‘What do I owe you for the wood, Master?’
    ‘Just one favour.’
    ‘I’m at your service …’
    ‘Keep away from my daughter. She is too young.’
    ‘What?’
    ‘You heard me. Don’t make me repeat myself.’ He extended his hand towards the case. ‘Or give me back the violin and the wood that’s left over.’
    ‘Well, I …’
    He grew as pale as his first violin. He didn’t dare look the maestro in the eye and he left Zosimo Bergonzi’s workshop in silence.
    Lorenzo Storioni spent several weeks absorbed in the varnishing process as he began a new violin and considered the price Zosimo had demanded of him. When the sound was as it should be, Monsieur La Guitte, who was still wandering about Cremona, got the chance to have a look at that slightly darkened varnish that would become a distinctive mark of a Storioni. He passed it to a silent, scrawny boy who grabbed the bow and began to play. Lorenzo Storioni cried, over the sound and over Maria. The scrawny boy got an even better sound out of it than he’d been able to. Maria, I love you. He added a florin to the original price for each tear shed.
    ‘A thousand florins, Monsieur La Guitte.’
    La Guitte looked him in the eyes for ten very uncomfortable seconds. Out of the corner of his eye he watched the scrawny, taciturn boy, who lowered his lids in a sign of assent; and Storioni thought that surely he could have got more out of him and that he would still have to learn about that aspect of the trade.
    ‘We can’t see each other any more, my beloved Maria.’
    ‘It’s a fortune,’ said La Guitte, reflecting his refusal in his facial expression.
    ‘Your Lordship knows it is worth that.’ And in an act of supreme bravery, Lorenzo grabbed the violin. ‘If you don’t want it, I have other buyers lined up for next week.’
    ‘Why, Lorenzo, my love?’
    ‘My client will want Stradivari or Guarneri … You are still unknown. Storioni! Connais pas.’
    ‘In ten years’ time, everyone will want a Storioni in their home.’ He placed the violin in its protective case.
    ‘Your father has forbidden me from seeing you. That’s why he gave me the wood.’
    ‘Eight hundred,’ he heard the Frenchman say.
    ‘No! I love you. We love each other!’
    ‘Nine hundred and fifty.’
    ‘Yes, we love each other; but if your father doesn’t want us to … I can’t …’
    ‘Nine hundred, because I’m in a rush.’
    ‘Let’s run away together, Lorenzo!’
    ‘Sold. Nine hundred.’
    ‘Run away? How can we run away from Cremona when I’m setting up my workshop here?’
    It was true that he was in a rush. Monsieur La Guitte was anxious to leave with the new instruments he had bought and the only thing that kept him in Cremona were the attentions of dark, passionate Carina. He thought that one would be a good violin for Monsieur Leclair.
    ‘Set it up in another city!’
    ‘Far from Cremona? Never!’
    ‘Lorenzo, you are a traitor! Lorenzo, you are a coward! You don’t love me any more.’
    ‘If next year I come back with a couple of commissions, we’ll renegotiate the price in my favour,’ warned La Guitte.
    ‘I do love you, Maria. With all my heart. But if you can’t understand …’
    ‘Agreed, Monsieur La Guitte.’
    ‘There’s another woman, isn’t there? Traitor!’
    ‘No! You know how your father is. He’s got my hands and feet tied.’
    ‘Coward!’
    La Guitte paid without any further discussion. He was convinced that Leclair, in Paris, would pay five times more for it without batting an eyelash and he was pleased with the job he’d done. It was a shame that it would be the last week he’d get to sleep with sweet Carina.
    Storioni was also pleased with his own work. And he also felt sad because he hadn’t realised up until that point that selling an instrument meant never seeing it again. And making the instrument had also meant losing a love. Ciao, Maria. Coward. Ciao, beloved. There’s nothing you can say. Ciao: I’ll never forget you. You traded me for fine wood, Lorenzo: I hope you drop dead! Ciao, Maria, you don’t know how sorry I am. I hope your wood rots, or burns up in a fire. But it went worse for Monsieur Jean-Marie Leclair of Paris or Leclair l’Aîné or Tonton Jean depending on who was addressing him, because, besides the inflated price they asked of him, he barely got the chance to hear that sweet, velvety D that Bernat had imprudently plucked.
    That was one of the many times in life that I let myself get carried away by crazy impulse because I understood that I had to take advantage of Bernat’s musical superiority for my own gain, but I also knew it would require something really spectacular. As I let my new friend stroke the top of the Storioni with his fingertips, I said if you teach me how to do vibrato, you can take it home with you one day.
    ‘Whoa!’
    Bernat smiled, but after a few seconds he grew serious, even disconsolate: ‘That’s impossible: vibrato isn’t something you can teach; you have to find it.’
    ‘You can teach it.’
    ‘You have to find it.’
    ‘I won’t lend you the Storioni.’
    ‘I’ll teach you to do vibrato.’
    ‘It has to be now.’
    ‘OK. But then I’ll take it with me.’
    ‘Not today. I have to prepare it. Some day.’
    Silence, mental calculation, avoiding my eyes, thinking of the magical sound and not trusting me.
    ‘Some day is like saying never. When?’
    ‘Next week. I swear.’
    In my room, Ŝevcîk’s scales and arpeggios were on the music stand, open to the page detailing the accursed exercise XXXIX, which was, according to Trullols, pure genius and the essence of what I had to learn in life, before or after tackling the double stop. They spent half an hour, in which Bernat drew out the sounds in a measured, sweet vibrato, and Adrià watched him, seeing how Bernat closed his eyes as he concentrated on the sound, thinking that to vibrate the sound I have to close my eyes, trying it, closing his eyes … but the sound came out stunted, snide, in a duck’s voice. And he closed his eyes and squeezed them tight; but the sound escaped him.
    ‘You know what? You’re too anxious.’
    ‘You’re the one who’s anxious.’
    ‘Me? What are you talking about?’
    ‘Yeah, because if you don’t teach me right, forget about the Storioni. Not next week and not ever.’
    It’s called moral blackmail. But Bernat didn’t know what more to do besides stop saying that vibrato couldn’t be taught and had to be found. He had him check his hand position, and his sequence of hand movements.
    ‘No, no, you’re not making mayonnaise with the strings. Relax!’
    Adrià didn’t entirely know what relax meant; but he relaxed; he closed his eyes and he found the vibrato at the end of a long C on the second string. I will remember it my entire life because it seemed to me like I was starting to learn how to make the sound laugh and cry. If it weren’t for the fact that Bernat was there and it wasn’t allowed in my house, I would have roared with happiness.
    Despite that epiphany I can still recall, despite the infinite appreciation I felt towards my brand-new friend, I didn’t have it in me to tell him about the Arapaho chief or Carson the tobacco chewer, because it didn’t look good that a boy of ten or twelve who went around acting like a child genius still played with Arapaho chiefs and sheriffs with hard hearts and full beards. I simply stood there with my mouth agape, remembering the sound I had made with my student violin. It was with the second string in first position: a C that Adrià made vibrate with his second finger. It was seven in the evening on some autumn or winter day of nineteen fifty-seven in Barcelona, in what will always be my flat on València Street, in the heart of the Eixample, at the centre of the world, and I thought I was touching heaven without realising how close I was to hell.

9

    That Sunday, which was memorable because Father had awoken in a good mood, my parents had invited Doctor Prunés over. He was the best living palaeographer in the world according to Father. They had invited him over for coffee with his wife, who was the best wife of the best living palaeographer in the world. And he winked at me and I didn’t understand anything even though I knew that the wink referred to some essential subtext that I couldn’t catch because of lack of context. I think I already told you that I was a real know-it-all, and I thought about things in almost just that way.
    They talked about the coffee, about the porcelain china that was so fine it made the coffee even better, about manuscripts and, every once in a while, they enlivened the conversation with uncomfortable silences. And Father decided to put an end to it. In a loud voice I could hear from my room, he ordered, ‘Come here, boy. Do you hear me?’
    Of course Adrià could hear him. But he feared disaster.
    ‘Boooy!’
    ‘Yes?’ as if from a long distance away.
    ‘Come here.’
    Adrià had no choice but to go there. Father’s eyes were gleaming from the cognac; Mr and Mrs Prunés were looking sympathetically at the boy. And Mother was just serving more coffee and washing her hands of the disaster.
    ‘Yes. Hello, good day.’
    The guests murmured an expectant good day and looked towards Mr Ardèvol, their hopes raised. Father pointed to my chest and ordered, ‘Count in German.’
    ‘Father …’
    ‘Do as I tell you.’ Flashes of cognac in his eyes. Mother, serving coffee and looking at the little porcelain cups that were so fine they made the coffee even better.
    ‘Eins, zwei, drei.’
    ‘Slowly, slowly,’ Father stopped me. ‘Start again.’
    ‘Eins, zwei, drei, vier, fünf, sechs, sieben, acht, neun, zehn.’ And I stopped.
    ‘What else?’ said Father, severely.
    ‘Elf, zwölf, dreizehn, vierzhen.’
    ‘Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera,’ said Father as if he were Pater D’Angelo. Switching to a curt, commanding tone: ‘Now in English.’
    ‘That’s enough, Fèlix,’ said Mother, finally.
    ‘I said in English.’ And to Mother, severely, ‘Isn’t that right?’
    I waited a few seconds, but Mother didn’t respond.
    ‘One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.’
    ‘Very good, lad,’ said the best living palaeographer in the world, enthusiastically. And his wife applauded silently until Father interrupted us with a wait, wait, wait and he pointed at me again.
    ‘Now in Latin.’
    ‘No …’ said the best living palaeographer in the world, humbled by admiration.
    I looked at Father, I looked at Mother, who was as uncomfortable as I was but kept her eyes glued on the coffee, and I said unus una unum, duo duae duo, tres, tria, quattuor, quinque, sex, septem, octo, novem, decem. And pleading, ‘Father …’
    ‘Quiet,’ said Father curtly. And he looked at Doctor Prunés who said goodness gracious, sincerely impressed.
    ‘He’s so precious,’ said Doctor Prunés’s wife.
    ‘Fèlix …’ said Mother.
    ‘Father …’ I said.
    ‘Quiet!’ he said. And to the guests: ‘That’s nothing.’ He snapped his fingers in my direction and said curtly, ‘Now in Greek.’
    ‘Heis mia hen, duo, treis tria, tettares tessares, pente, hex, hepta, octo, ennea, deka.’
    ‘Fan-tast-tic!’ Now Mrs and Mrs Prunés clapped, captivated by the spectacle.
    ‘How.’
    ‘Not now, Black Eagle.’
    Father pointed at me, gesturing from top to bottom, as if showing off a freshly caught sea bass, and said proudly, ‘Twelve years old.’ And to me, without looking at me, ‘OK, you can leave.’
    I locked myself in my bedroom, upset with Mother, who hadn’t lifted a finger to save me from that ridiculous situation. I dove into Karl May to drown my sorrows. And Sunday afternoon slowly gave way to evening and night. Neither Black Eagle nor brave Carson dared to disturb my sorrow.
    Until one day I found out Cecília’s true nature. I was slow to realise it. When the bell on the shop door rang Adrià (who, as far as Mother was concerned, was practising with the school’s second string handball team) was in the manuscript corner (doing homework as far as Mr Berenguer was concerned). He was actually illegally examining a thirteenth-century vellum manuscript written in Latin, which I barely understood a word of, but which filled me with strong emotions. The bell. I immediately thought that Father had unexpectedly returned from Germany and now there would be a big scene; prepare yourself, and you had the three-part lie so well set up. I looked towards the door: Mr Berenguer, putting on his coat, said something hurriedly to Cecília, who was the one who had just arrived. And then, with hat in hand, a very angry face and in a big hurry, he left without saying goodbye. Cecília remained standing there for a while, in the entrance, with her coat on, thinking. I didn’t know whether to say hello, Cecília, or wait for her to see me. No, I should say something; but then she’ll think it very strange that I hadn’t shown myself earlier. And the manuscript. Better not; no, better to hide and to … or perhaps better if I wait to see what … I’d have to start thinking in French.
    He decided to remain hidden when Cecília, sighing, went into the office as she removed her coat. I don’t know why, but that day the air was heavy. And Cecília didn’t emerge from the office. And suddenly I heard someone crying. Cecília was crying in the office and I wanted to vanish, because otherwise it was impossible for her not to know that I had heard her secretly crying. Grownups cry sometimes. And what if I went to console her? I felt bad because Cecília was highly respected in our home and even Mother, who usually had contempt for all the women Father saw often, spoke very well of her. And besides, hearing a grownup cry, as a lad, makes a big impression. So Adrià wanted to vanish. The woman made a phone call, turning the numbers violently. And I imagined her, irritated, irate, and I didn’t understand that I was the one in danger because at some point they would close up the shop and I would be inside, walled up alive.
    ‘You’re a coward. No, no, let me speak: a coward. It’s been five years of the same old song and dance, yes, Cecília, next month I’ll tell her everything, I swear. Coward. Five years of excuses. Five years! I’m not a little girl.’
    I agreed with that. The rest of it I didn’t understand. And Black Eagle was at home, on the bedside table, having a peaceful nap.
    ‘No, no, no! I’m talking now: we will never live together because you don’t love me. No, you be quiet, it’s my turn to talk. I said be quiet! Well, you can stick your sweet words up your arse. It’s over. Do you hear me? What?’
    Adrià, from beside the manuscript table, didn’t know what was over nor whether it affected him; he didn’t really get why grownups were always losing sleep because don’t you love me, when he was starting to discover that the whole love thing was a drag, what with the kissing and all that.
    ‘No. Don’t say a word. What? Because I’ll hang up when I’m good and ready. No, sir: quan a mi em roti.’
    It was the first time I had ever heard that expression ‘quan a mi em roti’. I could tell it meant when I feel like it, yet it contained the word burp. And it was strange that I’d heard it from the mouth of the most polite person in my world. ‘Rotar’, to burp, came from the Latin ructare, frequentative of rugere. Over time it became ruptare and continued evolving from there. Cecília hung up with such force that I thought she might have shattered the telephone. And she began working on labelling and cataloguing new material into two registry books, serious, with her eyeglasses on and no apparent sign of the collapse she’d had moments earlier. It wasn’t hard for me to leave through the small door and come in again from the street, say hello Cecília and check whether there were any traces of tears on that always impeccable face.
    ‘What are you doing, cutie?’ She smiled at me.
    And I, mouth agape, because she looked like another woman.
    ‘What did you ask the Three Kings to bring you for Christmas?’ she inquired.
    I shrugged because in my house we never celebrated Epiphany because it was your parents and not the Three Kings who brought presents and one shouldn’t fall for primitive superstitions: so, from the first time I ever heard of the Three Kings, the excited wait for their gifts was more of a resigned wait for the present or presents that my father had chosen and which had no relationship to my achievement at school, which was expected without question, or with whether I’d been nice instead of naughty, which was also assumed. But at least I was given gifts meant for a child, in contrast with the general seriousness of our home.
    ‘I asked for a …’ I remember that my father had informed me that I would receive a lorry that made a siren noise and that I’d best not make the noise inside the house, ‘a lorry with a siren.’
    ‘Come on, give me a kiss,’ said Cecília, waving me over.
    Father returned from Bremen on the weekend with a Mycenaean vase that spent many years in the store, and, from what I understood, with many useful documents and a couple of possible gems in the shape of first editions and handwritten manuscripts, including one from the fourteenth century that he said was now one of his prized jewels. Both at home and at work, they told him he had received a couple of strange calls. And, as if he couldn’t care less about all that would happen in a few days’ time, he told me look, look, look how beautiful this is, and he showed me some notebooks: it was a manuscript of the last things Proust had written. From À la recherche. A hotchpotch of tiny handwriting, paragraphs written in the margins, notes, arrows, little slips of paper attached with staples … Come on, read it.
    ‘It’s unintelligible.’
    ‘Come on, boy! It’s the end. The last pages; the last line: don’t tell me you don’t know how the Recherche ends.’
    I didn’t answer. Father, all on his own, realised that he had tightened the rope too much and he played it off in that way he was so good at: ‘Don’t tell me you still don’t know French!’
    ‘Oui, bien sûr: but I can’t read his handwriting!’
    That must not have been the right answer because Father, without any further comment, closed the notebook and put it away in the safe while he said under his breath I’ll have to make some decisions because we are starting to have too many treasures in this house. And I understood that we were starting to have too many skeletons in this house.

10

    ‘Your father … How can I say this, my son? Father …’
    ‘What? What happened to him?’
    ‘Well, he’s gone to heaven.’
    ‘But heaven doesn’t exist!’
    ‘Father is dead.’
    I paid more attention to Mother’s excessively pale face than to the news. It looked like she was the one who was dead. As pale as young Lorenzo Storioni’s violin before it was varnished. And her eyes filled with anguish. I had never heard Mother’s voice catch. Without looking at me, staring at a stain on the wall where the bed was, she was telling me I didn’t kiss him as he left the house. Perhaps I could have saved him with a kiss. And I think she added he got what he deserved, in a softer voice. But I wasn’t sure.
    Since I didn’t fully understand her, I locked myself in my messy bedroom, holding tight to the Red Cross lorry that the Three Kings had given me, and sat down on the bed. I started to cry silently, which was how I always did everything at home because if Father wasn’t studying manuscripts, he was reading or he was dying.
    I didn’t ask Mother for details. I couldn’t see my father dead because they told me he’d had an accident, that he’d been run over by a lorry on the Arrabassada road, which isn’t on the way to the Athenaeum and well, you can’t see him, there’s no way. And I felt distressed because I had to find Bernat urgently before my world crumbled and they put me in prison.
    ‘Boy, why did he take your violin?’
    ‘Huh? What?’
    ‘Why did your father take your violin?’ repeated Little Lola.
    Now it would all come out and I was dying of fright. I still had the pluck to lie, ‘He asked me for it for some reason. I don’t know why.’ And I added desperately, ‘Father was acting very strange.’
    When I lie, which is often, I have the feeling that everyone can tell. The blood rushes to my face, I think I must be turning red, I look to either side searching for the hidden incoherence crouching inside the fiction I am creating … I see that I am in their hands and I’m always surprised that no one else has realised. Mother never catches on; but I’m sure Little Lola does. And yet she pretends she doesn’t. Everything about lying is a mystery. Even now that I’m older, I still turn red when I lie and I hear the voice of Mrs Angeleta, who one day when I told her I hadn’t stolen that square of chocolate, grabbed my hand and made me open it, revealing to Mother and Little Lola the ignominious chocolate stain. I closed it again, like a book, and she said you can catch a liar faster than a cripple, always remember that, Adrià. And I still remember it, at sixty. My memories are etched in marble, Mrs Angeleta, and marble they will become. But now the problem wasn’t the stolen chocolate square. I made a sad face, which wasn’t difficult because I was very sad and very afraid and I said I don’t know anything about it, and I started to cry because Father was dead and …
    Little Lola left the bedroom and I heard her talking to someone. Then a strange man — who gave off an intense odour of tobacco, spoke in Spanish, hadn’t removed his coat, and had his hat in his hand — came into the bedroom and said to me what’s your name.
    ‘Adrià.’
    ‘Why did your father take your violin.’ Like that, like a weary interrogative.
    ‘I don’t know, I swear.’
    The man showed me pieces of wood from my student violin.
    ‘Do you recognise this?’
    ‘Well, sure. It’s my violin … it was my violin.’
    ‘Did he ask you for it?’
    ‘Yes,’ I lied.
    ‘Without any explanation?’
    ‘No. Yes.’
    ‘Does he play the violin?
    ‘Who?’
    ‘Your father.’
    ‘No, of course not.’
    I had to repress a mocking smile that came up at the mere thought of Father playing the violin. The man with the coat, hat and tobacco smell looked towards Mother and Little Lola, who nodded in silence. The man pointed, with his hat, to the Red Cross lorry in my hands and said that lorry is really nice. And he left the room. I was left alone with my lies and didn’t understand a thing. From inside the ambulance lorry, Black Eagle shot me a commiserating look. I know that he thinks little of liars.
    The funeral was dark, filled with serious gentlemen with their hats in their hands and ladies who covered their faces with thin veils. My cousins came from Tona and some vague Bosch second cousins from Amposta, and for the first time in my life I felt that I was the centre of attention, dressed in black with my hair well parted and very kempt because Little Lola had given me a double dose of hair spray and said I was very handsome. And she kissed me on the forehead the way Mother never did, and even less now, when she doesn’t even look at me. They say that Father was in the dark box, but I wasn’t able to check. Little Lola told me that he had been badly injured and it was better not to look at him. Poor Father, all day long immersed in books and strange objects and he somehow manages to die covered in wounds. Life is so idiotic. And what if the wounds had been caused by a Kaiken dagger in the shop? No: they told me that it had been an accident.
    For a few days, we lived with the curtains drawn and I was entirely surrounded by whispers. Lola paid more attention to me and Mother spent hours sitting in the armchair where she took her coffee, in front of the empty armchair where Father took his coffee, before he died. But she didn’t take any coffee because it wasn’t coffee hour. It was complicated, all that, because I didn’t know if I could sit in the other armchair because Mother didn’t see me and as many times as I said hey, Mother, she grabbed my wrist but she looked at the wallpaper and she didn’t say anything to me and then I thought it doesn’t matter and I didn’t sit in Father’s armchair and I thought this is what grief is like. But I was grieving too and I still looked all around. There were a few very anguished days because I knew that Mother didn’t see me. Then I got used to it. I think that Mother hasn’t looked at me since. She must have guessed that it was all my fault and that was why she didn’t want to have anything more to do with me. Sometimes she looks at me, but it’s only to give me instructions. And she left my life in the hands of Little Lola. For the moment.
    Without any prior discussion, Mother showed up at the house one day with a new student violin, a nice one with good proportions and good sound. And she gave it to me almost without saying a word and definitely without looking me in the eyes. As if she were distracted and acting mechanically. As if she were thinking about before or after but not about what she was doing. It took me a long time to understand her. And I returned to my violin studies, which had been interrupted many days before.
    One day, while I was studying in my bedroom, I tuned the bass-string with such fury that I snapped it. Then I snapped two more strings and I went out into the sitting room and I said Mother, you have to take me to Casa Beethoven. I have no more E strings. She looked at me. Well: she looked towards me, more or less, and she said nothing. Then I repeated that I had to buy new strings and then Little Lola came out from behind some curtain and said I’ll take you, but you have to tell me which strings they are because they all look the same to me.
    We went there on the metro. Little Lola explained that she had been born in the Barceloneta and that often, when she would walk with her girlfriends, they’d say let’s go to Barcelona and in ten minutes they’d be at the lower end of the Ramblas and they’d go up and down the Ramblas like silly fools, laughing and covering their mouths with their hands so the boys wouldn’t see them laugh, which it seems is more fun than going to the cinema, according to what Little Lola told me. And she told me that she’d never imagined that in that tiny, dark shop they sold violin strings. And I asked for a G, two Es and one Pirastro, and she said that was easy: you could have written that down on a piece of paper and I could have come by myself. Then I said no, that Mother always had me come with her just in case. Little Lola paid, we left Casa Beethoven, and as she bent down to kiss my cheek she looked down the Ramblas with nostalgia, but she didn’t cover her mouth with her hand because she wasn’t laughing like a silly fool. Then it occurred to me that perhaps I was also losing my mother.
    A couple of weeks after the funeral, some other men who spoke Spanish came and Mother again turned pale like death and again the whispering between Mother and Little Lola and I felt left out and I screwed up my courage and I said to my mother, what is going on. It was the first time she really looked at me in many days. She said it’s too big, my son, it’s too big. It’s best that … and then Little Lola came in and took me to school. I noticed that some of the other children were looking at me strangely, more than usual. And Riera came over to me at breaktime and he told me did they bury it too? And I said, what? And Riera, with a smug smile, said how disgusting, right, seeing a head by itself? And he insisted with the you buried it too, right? And I didn’t understand anything and, just in case, I went to the sunny corner, with the lads who were trading collectors’ cards, and from then on I avoided Riera.
    It had always been hard for me to be just another kid like the others. Basically, I just wasn’t. My problem, which was very serious and according to Pujol had no solution, was that I liked to study: I liked studying history and Latin and French and I liked going to the conservatory and when Trullols made me do mechanics, because I did scales and I imagined myself before a full theatre and then the mechanics came out with a better sound. Because the secret is in the sound. The hands are a cinch, they move on their own if you invest the hours. And sometimes I improvised. I liked all that and I also liked picking up the encyclopaedia Espasa and taking a trip through its entries. And then, at school, when Mr Badia asked a question about something, Pujol would point to me and say that I’d been chosen to answer all the questions. And then I would be embarrassed about answering the question because it seemed they were parading me around, as if they were Father. Esteban, who sat at the desk behind mine and was a right bastard, called me girl every time I answered a question correctly until one day I said to Mr Badia that no, I didn’t remember what the square root of one hundred and forty-four was and I had to go to the toilet and throw up, and as I threw up Esteban came in. He saw me vomit and he told me look what a girl you are. But when my father died I saw that they looked at me somehow differently, as if I had gone up in their estimation. Despite everything, I think I envied all the children who didn’t want to study and who, every once in a while, failed something. And in the conservatory it was different because you’d put the violin in your hand right away and try to get a good sound out of it, no, no, it sounds like a hoarse duck, listen to this. And Trullols grabbed my violin and got such a lovely sound out of it that even though she was quite old and too thin, I almost fell in love. It was a sound that seemed made of velvet and had the perfume of some flower I can’t name, but I can still remember.
    ‘I’ll never be able to get that sound out of it. Even though I can do vibrato now.’
    ‘These things take time.’
    ‘Yes, but I never …’
    ‘Never say never, Ardèvol.’
    It is surely the most poorly expressed bit of musical and intellectual advice ever, but it has had more of an effect on me than any other throughout my life, either in Barcelona or in Germany. A month later the sound had ostensibly improved. It was a sound that still lacked perfume but was closer to velvet. But now that I think about it, I didn’t go back right away, not to school and not to the conservatory. First I spent some days in Tona, with my cousins. And when I came back, I tried to understand how it had all happened.
    On 7 January, Doctor Fèlix Ardèvol wasn’t at home because he had an appointment with a Portuguese colleague who was in town.
    ‘Where?’
    Doctor Ardèvol told Adrià that when he returned he wanted to see his entire room tidied because the next day the holidays were ending and he looked at his wife.
    ‘What did you say?’ He used the severe tone of a professor, although he wasn’t one, as he put on his hat. She swallowed hard like a student, although she wasn’t one. But she repeated the question, ‘Where are you meeting Pinheiro?’
    Little Lola, who was entering the dining room, headed back towards the kitchen when she noticed the air was heavy. Fèlix Ardèvol let three or four seconds pass, which she found humiliating, and which gave Adrià time to look first at his father, then at his mother and to realise that something was going on.
    ‘And why do you want to know?’
    ‘Fine, fine … Forget I said anything.’
    Mother left to another part of the flat without giving him the kiss she’d been saving for him. Before she got to the back, to Mrs Angeleta’s territory, she heard him say we are meeting at the Athenaeum — and with heavy emphasis: ‘if you don’t mind.’ And in a reproachful tone to punish her for that atypical slight prying, ‘And I don’t know when I’ll be back.’
    He went into his study and came out quickly. We heard the door to the flat, the sound it made as it opened and the bang when it closed with perhaps more force than usual. And then the silence. And Adrià trembling because his father had taken, oh my God, Father had taken the violin. The violin case with the student violin inside. Like an automaton, on the warpath, Adrià waited for the right moment and went into the study like a thief, like the Lord I will enter your house, and praying to the God who doesn’t exist that his mother wouldn’t happen to come in just then, he murmured six one five four two eight and he opened the safe: my violin wasn’t there and I wanted to die. And then I tried to put everything back the way it was and then I locked myself in my bedroom to wait for Father to return, furious and saying who the hell is trying to trick me? Who has access to the safe, who? Who? Little Lola?
    ‘But I …’
    ‘Carme?’
    ‘For the love of God, Fèlix.’
    And then he would look at me and he would say Adrià? And I would have to start lying, as badly as ever, and Father would work it all out. And despite the fact that I was two steps away, he would shout at me as if he were calling me from Bruc Street and he would say come over here and since I wouldn’t budge, he, shouting even more, would say I said come over here! And poor Adrià would go over with his head bowed and he would try to act innocent and all told it would be a very bitter bitter pill to swallow. But instead of that there was the telephone call and Mother coming into the bedroom and saying your father … How can I say this? … My son … Father … And he said, what? What happened to him? And she, well, he’s gone to heaven. And it occurred to him to answer that heaven doesn’t exist.
    ‘Father is dead.’
    Then the first feeling was relief, because if he was dead, he wasn’t going to lay into me. And then I thought that it was a sin to think that. And also that even though there’s no such thing as heaven, I can feel like a miserable sinner because I knew for a fact that Father’s death had been my fault.
    Mrs Carme Bosch d’Ardèvol had to do the painful, distressing official identification of the headless body that was Fèlix’s: a birthmark on … yes, that birthmark. Yes, and the two moles. And he, a cold body that could no longer scold anyone, but unmistakably him, yes, my husband, Mr Fèlix Ardèvol i Guiteres, yes.
    ‘Who did he say?’
    ‘Pinheiro. From Coimbra. A professor in Coimbra, yes. Horacio Pinheiro.’
    ‘Do you know him, Ma’am?’
    ‘I’ve seen him a couple of times. When he comes to Barcelona he usually stays at the Hotel Colón.’
    Commissioner Plasencia gestured to the man with the thin moustache, who left silently. Then he looked at that widow who’d been widowed so recently that she wasn’t yet in mourning clothes because they’d come looking for her half an hour earlier and they’d said you’d better come with us, and she, but what’s going on, and the two men I’m sorry madam but we aren’t authorised to speak about it, and she put on her red coat with an elegant tug and told Little Lola you look after the boy’s tea, I’ll be back soon, and now she was seated, with her red coat, looking without seeing them, at the cracks in the commissioner’s desk and thinking this is impossible. And out loud, pleading, she said can you tell me what is going on?
    ‘Not a trace, Commissioner,’ said the one with the thin moustache.
    Not at the Athenaeum, nor at the Hotel Colón or anywhere in Barcelona, not a trace of Professor Pinheiro. In fact, when they called Coimbra, they heard the very frightened voice of Doctor Horacio da Costa Pinheiro who only managed to say ho-ho-ho-how can it be that that that … Doctor Ardèvol, how can … how … Oh, how awful. But Mr Ardèvol, but he, but he … are you sure there isn’t some mistake? Decapitated? And how do you know that … But it can’t be that … It’s just not possible.
    ‘Your father … My son, Father has gone to heaven.’
    Then I understood that it was my fault he had died. But I couldn’t tell that to anyone. And while Little Lola, Mother and Mrs Angeleta looked for clothes for the deceased and occasionally broke out into tears, I felt miserable, a coward and a killer. And many other things I don’t remember.
    The day after the burial, Mother, as she washed her hands anxiously, sudden froze and said to Little Lola, give me Commissioner Plasencia’s card. And Adrià heard her speaking on the phone and she said we have a very valuable violin in the house. The commissioner showed up at home and Mother had called for Mr Berenguer so he could give them a hand.
    ‘No one knows the combination to the safe?’
    The commissioner turned to look at Mother, Mr Berenguer, Little Lola and me, who was watching from outside my father’s study.
    For a few minutes, Mr Berenguer asked for my mother’s and my birthdates and tried the combination.
    ‘No luck,’ he said, annoyed. And from the hallway, I almost said six one five four two eight, but I couldn’t because that would make me a murder suspect. And I wasn’t suspected of that. I was guilty of it. I stayed quiet. It was very hard for me to stay quiet. The commissioner made a call on the study telephone and after a little while we watched a fat man, who sweated a lot because it seemed kneeling was a lot of work for him; even so he touched things very delicately and found, with a stethoscope and much silence, the mystery of the combination and jotted it down on a secret slip of paper. He opened the safe with a ceremonial gesture of satisfaction and he straightened up with difficulty as he made way for the others. Inside the safe was the Storioni, naked, without its case, looking at me ironically. Then it was Mr Berenguer’s turn, and he picked it up with gloves on. He inspected it carefully beneath the beam from the desk lamp, lifted up his head and his right eyebrow and with a certain solemnity said to Mother, to the commissioner, to the fat man who wiped the sweat from his forehead, to Sheriff Carson, to Black Eagle, Arapaho chief, and to me, who was on the other side of the door:
    ‘I can assure you that this is the violin that goes by the name of Vial and was built by Lorenzo Storioni. Without a shadow of a doubt.’
    ‘With no case? Does he always put it away without a case?’ — the commissioner who stank of tobacco.
    ‘I don’t think so,’ — my mother — ‘I think he kept it inside the case, in the safe.’
    ‘And what sense does it make to grab the case, open it up, leave the violin in the safe, close it, ask your son for his student violin and put that into the good one’s case? Huh?’
    He looked around. He focused on me, who was on the threshold trying to conceal my fearful trembling. Le tremblement de la panique. For a few seconds his gaze indicated that he had guessed the why behind the mystery. I was already imagining myself speaking French for my entire ffucking life.
    I don’t know what happened, I don’t know what my father wanted. I don’t know why, if he had to go to the Athenaeum, they found him on the Arrabassada. I only know that I pushed him to his death and today, fifty years later, I still think the same thing.

11

    And one day Mother ascended from the nadir and began to observe things with her eyes again. I noticed because at dinnertime — she, Little Lola and I — she looked at me for an instant and I thought she was going to say something and I was trembling all over because I was convinced she was about to say I know everything, I know it’s your fault Father died and now I’m going to turn you in to the police, murderer, and I, but Mother, I just, I didn’t mean to do it, I didn’t … and Little Lola trying to keep the peace, because she was the one in charge of keeping the peace in a house where little was said and she did it with few words and measured gestures. Little Lola, I should have kept you by my side my entire life.
    And Mother kept looking at me and I didn’t know what to do. I think that my mother hated me since my father’s death. Before his death she wasn’t overly fond of me. It’s strange: why have we always been so cold with each other in my family? I imagine, today, that it all comes from the way my father set up our lives. At that time, at dinner, it must have been April or May, Mother looked at me and didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what was worse: a mother who doesn’t even look at you or a mother who accuses you. And then she launched her terrible accusation:
    ‘How are your violin classes going?’
    The truth is I didn’t know how to answer; but I do remember that I was sweating on the inside.
    ‘Fine. Same as ever.’
    ‘I’m glad to hear it.’ Now her eyes drilled into me. ‘Are you happy, with Miss Trullols?’
    ‘Yes. Very much so.’
    ‘And with your new violin?’
    ‘Come now …’
    ‘What does come now mean? Are you happy or not?’
    ‘Well, sure.’
    ‘Well, sure or yes?’
    ‘Yes.’
    Silence. I looked down and Little Lola chose that moment to take away the empty bowl of green beans and acted as if she had a lot of work to do in the kitchen, the big coward.
    ‘Adrià.’
    I looked at her with bulging eyes. She observed me the way she used to in the past and said are you OK?
    ‘Well, sure.’
    ‘You’re sad.’
    ‘Well, sure.’
    Now she would finish me off with a finger pointing at my black soul.
    ‘I haven’t been there for you, lately.’
    ‘Doesn’t matter.’
    ‘Yes, it does matter.’
    Little Lola returned with a dish of fried mackerel, which was the food I detested most in the world, and Mother, seeing it, sketched a sort of meagre smile and said how nice, mackerel.
    And that was the end of the conversation and the accusation. That night I ate all the mackerel that was put on my plate, and afterward, the glass of milk, and when I was on my way to bed, I saw that Mother was rummaging around in Father’s study and I think it was the first time she’d done that since his death. And I couldn’t help sneaking a glance, because for me any excuse was a good one to have a look around in there. I brought Carson with me just in case. Mother was kneeling and looking through the safe. Now she knew the combination. Vial was leaning, outside of the safe. And she pulled out the bunch of papers and gave them an apathetic glance and started to pile them up neatly on the floor.
    ‘What are you looking for?’
    ‘Papers. From the store. From Tona.’
    ‘I’ll help you, if you’d like.’
    ‘No, because I don’t know what I’m looking for.’
    And I was very pleased because Mother and I had started up a conversation; it was brief, but a conversation. And I had the evil thought of how nice that Father had died because now Mother and I could talk. I didn’t want to think that, it just came into my mind. But it was true that Mother’s eyes had begun to shine from that day on.
    And then she pulled out three or four small boxes and put them on top of the table. I came closer. She opened one: there was a gold fountain pen with a gold nib.
    ‘Wow,’ I said, in admiration.
    Mother closed the little box.
    ‘Is it gold?’
    ‘I don’t know. I suppose so.’
    ‘I’ve never seen it before.’
    ‘Neither have I.’
    Immediately, she chewed on her lips. She put away the box with the gold pen that she hadn’t known was there and opened the other box, smaller and green. With trembling fingers, she pulled aside the pink cotton.
    Over the years I have come to understand that my mother’s life wasn’t easy. That it must not have been a great idea to marry Father, despite the fact that he removed his hat so elegantly to greet her and said how are you, beautiful. That surely she would have been happier with another man who occasionally wasn’t right, or made mistakes, or started laughing just because. All of us, in that house, were marked by Father’s incorruptible seriousness, with its slight covering of acrimony. And, even though I spent the day observing and I was quite a clever lad, I have to admit that really the lights were on but no one was home. So, as a colophon to that night that I found extraordinary because I had got my mother back, I said can I study with Vial, Mother? And Mother froze in her tracks. For a few moments she stared at the wall and I thought here we go again, she’s never going to look at me again. But she gave me a shy smile and said let me think it over. I think that that was when I realised that maybe things were starting to change. They changed, obviously, but not the way I would have liked. Of course, if that weren’t the case, I wouldn’t have met you.
    Have you noticed that life is an inscrutable accident? Out of Father’s millions of spermatazoa, only one fertilises the egg it reaches. That you were born; that I was born, those are vast random accidents. We could have been born millions of different beings who wouldn’t have been either you or me. That we both like Brahms is also a coincidence. That your family has had so many deaths and so few survivors. All random. If the itinerary of our genes and then our lives had shifted along another of the millions of possible forks in the road, none of this would have been written and who knows who would read it. It’s mind blowing.
    After that night, things began to change. Mother spent many hours locked in the study, as if she were Father but without a loupe, combing through all the documents in the safe now that six one five four two eight was in the public domain. She had so little regard for Father’s way of doing things that she didn’t even change the combination to the safe, which I liked even though I couldn’t say why. And she spent even more hours going through the papers and speaking to strange men, with eyeglasses that they would put on or take off depending on whether they were reading papers or looking at Mother, always speaking in a soft tone, everyone very serious, and neither I nor Carson nor even silent Black Eagle could catch much of anything. After a few weeks of murmuring, advice given almost in a whisper, recommendations, eyebrow raising and brief, convincing comments, Mother put away the whole lot of papers into the safe, six one five four two eight, and she put a few papers into a dark folder. And in that precise moment, she changed the combination to the safe. Then she put on her black coat over a black dress, she took in a deep breath, she picked up the dark folder and she showed up unexpectedly at the shop and Cecília said good day, Mrs Ardèvol. And she went directly to the office of Mr Ardèvol, she went in without asking for permission, she placed her hand, delicately, on the interrupter of the telephone that a startled Mr Berenguer was using and she cut off his call.
    ‘What the hell …’
    Mrs Ardèvol smiled and sat in front of Mr Berenguer, who had an irritated expression as he sat in Fèlix’s grey desk chair. She put the dark folder down on the desk.
    ‘Good day, Mr Berenguer.’
    ‘I was talking to Frankfurt.’ He smacked his open palm angrily against the desktop. ‘It took me a long time to get a line, damn it!’
    ‘That’s what I wanted to avoid. You and I need to talk.’
    And they talked about everything. It turns out that Mother knew much more than she was supposed to. And more or less half of the material in the shop is mine.
    ‘Yours?’
    ‘Personally. An inheritance from my father. Doctor Adrià Bosch.’
    ‘Well, I knew nothing about this.’
    ‘Neither did I until a few days ago. My husband was very good with such details. I have the documents to prove it.’
    ‘And if they’ve been sold?’
    ‘The profits belong to me.’
    ‘But this is a business that
    ‘That’s what I’ve come here to discuss. From now on I will run the shop.’
    Mr Berenguer looked at her with his jaw dropped open. She smiled without pleasure and said I want to see the books. Now.
    Mr Berenguer took a few seconds to react. He got up and went into Cecília’s territory, and had a curt, quick and informative conversation with her, and when he returned, with a stack of accounting ledgers, he found that Mrs Ardèvol had sat down in Fèlix’s grey desk chair and she granted him entrance into the office with a wave.
    Mother came home trembling and, as soon as she closed the door, took off her black coat and, not finding the strength to hang it up, left it on the bench in the hall and went to her room. I heard her cry and I opted to stay out of things I didn’t really understand. Then she spoke with Little Lola for a long time, in the kitchen and I saw how Little Lola put a hand over hers and gave her an encouraging look. It took me years to put together the pieces of that image, which I can still see, as if it were a painting by Hopper. My entire childhood in that house is etched into my brain like slides of Hopper’s paintings, with the same mysterious, sticky loneliness. And I see myself in them like one of the people on an unmade bed, with a book abandoned on a bare chair, who looks out the window or sits beside a clean table, watching the blank wall. Because at home everything was resolved in whispers and the noise that could be heard most clearly, besides my violin portamento exercises, was when Mother put on her high-heeled shoes to go out. And while Hopper said that he painted to express what he couldn’t put into words, I write with words because, even though I can see it, I’m unable to paint it. And I always see it like he did, through windows or doors that aren’t quite closed. And what he didn’t know, I have learned. And what I don’t know, I invent and it’s just as true. I know that you will understand me and forgive me.
    Two days later, Mr Berenguer had taken his belongings back to his little office, beside the Japanese daggers, and Cecília barely concealed her satisfaction by feigning being above such details. It was Mother who spoke with Frankfurt, and that redistribution of pieces was what, attacking with the knights and the queen, I imagine, was what made Mr Berenguer decide, in what could be considered an unexpected and sudden attack, to bring out the big guns. The heavyweight antiquarians on Palla Street had declared war and everything was fair game.
    Mother had always presented herself as long-suffering, submissive and discreet and she’d never raised her voice to anyone except me. But when Father died, she transformed and became an excellent organiser, with a relentless toughness that I never would have suspected. The shop soon shifted its focus towards high-quality objects no more than a century old, which increased turnover, and Mr Berenguer had to live through the humiliation of thanking his enemy for a raise he hadn’t asked for and which was accompanied by a threatening you and I need to have a long conversation soon. Mother rolled up her sleeves again and then looked towards me, took a deep breath and I clearly understood that we were entering what would be a difficult period in my life.
    At that time I didn’t know anything about Mother’s secret movements. I wouldn’t know about them for some time because at home we only discussed things when there was no other option, delegating confidences to written notes to avoid full frontal eye contact. It took me a long time to find out that my mother was acting like a new Magdalena Giralt. She hadn’t demanded her husband’s head because they’d given it to her as soon as they’d found it. What she demanded was the head of her husband’s murderer. Each Wednesday, whatever was going on at the shop or at home, she dressed in full black and went down to the police station on Llúria, where the case was being dealt with, and asked for Commissioner Plasencia, who led her into that smoke-filled office that made her dizzy, and she demanded justice for the death of her husband who had never loved her. And every time, after the greetings, she asked if there were any developments in the Ardèvol case and every time the commissioner, without inviting her to sit down, answered stiffly, no, madam. Remember that we agreed that we’d be in touch with you if that were the case.
    ‘You can’t decapitate a man without leaving a trace.’
    ‘Are you calling us incompetent?’
    ‘I am considering appealing to a higher authority.’
    ‘Are you threatening me?’
    ‘Take care, Commissioner.’
    ‘Take care, madam. And we will let you know if there is any news.’
    And when the black widow left the office, the commissioner opened and closed the top drawer of his desk angrily and Inspector Ocaña came in without asking permission and said not her again and the commissioner didn’t deign to answer even though sometimes he wanted to burst out laughing at the strange accent that elegant woman had when she spoke Spanish. And that happened every Wednesday, every Wednesday, every Wednesday. Every Wednesday at the time the Caudillo held audience at the Palacio del Pardo. At the time that Pius XII held audience at the Vatican, Commissioner Plasencia received the black widow, he let her speak, and when she left, he took out his irritation on the top drawer of his desk, opening and slamming it shut.
    When Mrs Ardèvol had had enough, she hired the services of the best detective in the world, according to the leaflet in his waiting room, which was so small that it gave her hives. The best detective in the world asked for a month up front, a month’s time, and a month-long moratorium on her visits to the commissioner. Mrs Ardèvol paid, waited and abstained from visiting the commissioner. And in a month’s time, after waiting in the oppressive waiting room, she was received for the second time by the best detective in the world.
    ‘Have a seat, Mrs Ardèvol.’
    The best detective in the world hadn’t got up, but he waited for his client to sit down before getting comfortable in his chair. The desk was between them.
    ‘What’s new?’ she asked, intrigued.
    The best detective in the world drummed his fingers on the desk in reply, perhaps following some mental rhythm, perhaps not, because the thoughts of the best detectives in the world are indecipherable.
    ‘And so … what’s new?’ repeated my mother, peeved.
    But the detective threatened with another minute of finger drumming. She cleared her throat with a cough and in a bitter voice, as if she were dealing with Mr Berenguer, said why did you have me come, Mr Ramis?
    Ramis. The best detective in the world was named Ramis. I couldn’t come up with his name until just now. Now that I’m explaining it all to you. Detective Ramis looked at his client and said I’m quitting the case.
    ‘What?’
    ‘You heard me. I’m quitting the case.’
    ‘But you just took it on four days ago!’
    ‘A month ago, madam.’
    ‘I don’t accept this decision. I’ve paid you and I have a right to …’
    ‘If you read the contract,’ he cut her off, ‘you will see that section twelve of the appendix foresees the possibility of recision by either party.’
    ‘And what is your reason?’
    ‘I have too much work.’
    Silence in his office. Silence in the entire place. Not a single typewriter typing up a report.
    ‘I don’t believe it.’
    ‘Pardon?’
    ‘You are lying to me. Why are you quitting?’
    The best detective in the world got up, pulled an envelope out from under his leather desk pad and put it in front of my mother.
    ‘I am returning my fees.’
    Mrs Ardèvol got up abruptly, looked at the envelope with contempt and, without touching it, left stomping her heels. When she slammed the door hard on her way out, she was pleased to hear the ensuing clatter that told her that the door’s central pane of glass had come out of its frame and was falling to the floor in pieces.
    All that, along with more details that I can’t recall right now, I learned much later. On the other hand, I remember that I already knew how to read quite complex texts in German and English; they said my aptitude was astounding. It had always seemed to me like the most normal thing in the world, but seeing what usually happens around me, I understand that I do have a gift. French was no problem, and reading Italian, although I put the accents in the wrong places, was almost second nature. And the Latin of De bello Gallico, besides of course Catalan and Spanish. I wanted to start either Russian or Aramaic, but Mother came into my room and said don’t even think about it. That I was fine with the languages I knew, but that there were other things in life beside learning languages like a parrot.
    ‘Mother, parrots
    ‘I know what I’m talking about. And you know what I mean.’
    ‘I don’t understand.’
    ‘Well, try harder!’
    I tried harder. What scared me was the direction she wanted to give my life. It was clear that she wanted to erase the traces of Father in my education. So what she did was take the Storioni, which was in the safe protected by the new secret combination that only she knew, seven two eight zero six five, and offer it to me. Then she informed me that starting from the beginning of the month you will leave the conservatory and Miss Trullols and you will study under Joan Manlleu.
    ‘What?’
    ‘You heard me.’
    ‘Who is Joan Manlleu?’
    ‘The best. You will begin your new career as a virtuoso.’
    ‘I don’t want a caree
    ‘You don’t know what you want.’
    Here, Mother was wrong; I knew that I wanted to be a … well, it’s not that Father’s programme completely satisfied me, spending all day studying what the world had written, closely following and thinking about culture. No, in fact it didn’t satisfy me; but I liked to read and I liked to learn new languages and … Well, OK. I didn’t know what I wanted. But I knew what I didn’t want.
    ‘I don’t want a career as a virtuoso.’
    ‘Master Manlleu has said you are good enough.’
    ‘And how does he know that? Does he have magical powers?’
    ‘He’s heard you. A couple of times, when you were practising.’
    It turned out that Mother had meticulously planned to get Joan Manlleu’s approval before hiring him. She had invited him over for tea at my practice time and, discreetly, they had spoken little and listened. Master Manlleu quickly saw that he could ask for whatever he wanted and he did. Mother didn’t bat an eyelash and hired him. In the rush, she overlooked asking Adrià for his approval.
    ‘And what do I tell Trullols?’
    ‘Miss Trullols already knows.’
    ‘Oh, really? And what does she say?’
    ‘That you are a diamond in the rough.’
    ‘I don’t want to. I don’t know. I don’t want to suffer. No. Definitely, categorically no and no.’ One of the few times I yelled at her. ‘Do you understand me, Mother? No!’
    At the start of the next month, I began classes with Master Manlleu.
    ‘You will be a great violinist and that’s that,’ Mother had said when I convinced her to leave the Storioni at home just in case and go around with the new Parramon. Adrià Ardèvol began the second educational reform with resignation. At some point he began to daydream about running away from home.

12

    Between one thing and another, after Father’s death, I didn’t go to school for many days. I even spent a few very strange weeks in Tona, with my cousins, who were surprisingly silent and looked at me out of the corners of their eyes when they thought I didn’t see. And at one point I caught Xevi and Quico discussing decapitations in low voices, but with such energy that their low voices found their way into every corner. And meanwhile Rosa, at breakfast, gave me the largest slice of bread before her brothers could grab it. And Aunt Leo tousled my hair dozens of times and I came to wonder why couldn’t I stay in Tona forever close to my Aunt Leo, as if life were a never-ending summer far from Barcelona, there in that magical place where you can dirty your knees and no one will scold you for it. And Uncle Cinto, when he came home covered in dust from the threshing floor or dirty with mud or manure, looked down because men weren’t allowed to cry, but it was clear that he was very affected by his brother’s death. By his death and the circumstances surrounding his death.
    When I returned home, and as the great Joan Manlleu’s presence took shape in my life, I reintegrated myself in at school as a brand-new fatherless child. Brother Climent took me to class. He pinched my back hard with his fingers yellowed from snuff, which was his way of showing his affection, consideration and condolence, and once we were at the classroom he bade me enter with a magnanimous gesture, that it didn’t matter that class had already begun, that the teacher had already been informed. I went into the classroom and forty-three pairs of eyes looked at me with curiosity and Mr Badia, who, judging by the sentence he was in the middle of, was explaining the subtle difference between the subject and the direct object, stopped his lecture and said come in, Ardèvol, sit down. On the blackboard, Juan writes a letter to Pedro. I had to cross the entire room to reach my desk and I was very embarrassed, and I would have liked having Bernat in my class, but that was impossible because he was in second and even though I was still bored in first listening to that twaddle about direct and indirect objects that had already been explained to us in Latin and that, surprisingly, some of my classmates still didn’t understand. Which is the direct object, Rull?
    ‘Juan.’ Pause. Mr Badia, undaunted. Rull, wary, sensing a trap, pondered deeply and lifted his head. ‘Pedro?’
    ‘No. Terrible. You didn’t understand a thing.’
    ‘Wait, no! Writes!’
    ‘Sit down, it’s hopeless.’
    ‘I know! Wait, I know it: it’s the letter. Right?’
    When the idea of the direct object had been fully explained and we entered into the shadowy world of the indirect object, I realised that four or five kids had been staring at me for a while. From the layout of the desks I knew that they were Massan, Esteban, Riera, Torres, Escaiola, Pujol and maybe Borrell, because the nape of my neck was itchy. I guessed that they were looks of … of admiration? More likely a strange mix of emotions.
    ‘Look, kid …’ Borrell said to me at breaktime. ‘Play with us.’ And to avoid a disaster, ‘But stay here in the middle to keep them from getting through, OK?’
    ‘I don’t like football.’
    ‘You see?’ said Esteban, who was also part of the group of ambassadors. ‘Ardèvol likes the violin; I told you he’s a poof.’
    And they left quickly because the game had already started without the ambassadors. Borrell, resigned, gave me a few pats on the back and left in silence. I looked for Bernat among the muddle of students in first, second and third who, distributed into bands throughout the playground, played twelve different games and, in general, didn’t mix up the balls. Poof, big marica. The Russians call girls named Maria Marika, and I’m sure Esteban doesn’t know Russian.
    ‘Marica?’ Bernat looked out into the distance, as he ruminated despite the noise of the over-excited footballers. ‘No. That’s Russian for Maria.’
    ‘I already knew that.’
    ‘Well, look it up in the dictionary. Am I supposed to explain everything to …’
    ‘Do you know what it means or not?’
    It was very cold those days and pretty much everyone had chafed hands and thighs, except for me and Bernat, who always wore gloves by express orders from Trullols because, with chilblains on your hands, playing the violin was insufferable torment. But chafed thighs weren’t a problem.
    The first days at school after Father’s death were special. Particularly after Riera spoke openly about my father’s head, which it turned out gave me a prestige that no one else could match. They even forgave me for my good marks and I became just another kid. And when the teachers asked a question, Pujol no longer said that I was the one chosen to answer all the questions, instead everyone played dumb and then Father Valero, to put an end to it said, Ardèvol, and I would finally answer. But it wasn’t the same.
    Even though he wouldn’t admit that he didn’t know what marica meant, Bernat was my point of reference, especially after Father’s death. He kept me company and helped me feel more comfortable with life. The thing is that he was also a kind of special boy. He wasn’t like the other boys at school either, who were normal, they fought, failed and, at least some in fifth and even fourth, knew how to smoke, and they did it hidden right inside the school. And the fact that he was in a different year and I didn’t see him much at school made our friendship more clandestine and unofficial. But that day, sitting on my bed, his mouth agape, my friend’s eyes were teary because what he’d just heard was too much for him. He looked at me with hatred and said that is a betrayal. And I said, no, Bernat, it was my mother’s decision.
    ‘And you can’t go against it? Huh? Can’t you say that you have to study with Trullols because otherwise …’
    Otherwise, otherwise we won’t go to class together, he wanted to say; but he didn’t dare because he didn’t want to look like a little boy. His rebellious tears said more than any words could. It is so difficult to be a child pretending to be a man, but who couldn’t care less about what it seemed men cared about, and realise that you couldn’t care less but you have to play it off because if the others see that you do care, and quite a bit, then they’ll laugh at you and say what a baby you are, Bernat, Adrià, what a little boy. Or if it was Esteban, he would say little girl, what a little girl. No, now he’d say marica, you big poof. Along with our moustache hairs, evidence was growing that life was really difficult. But it wasn’t yet unbelievably difficult; I hadn’t met you yet.
    We had our tea in silence. Little Lola was already serving us each two squares of chocolate. We were silent for a good long while, chewing our bread, sitting on the bed, looking out at the future that was so complicated. And then we started our arpeggio exercises and I echoed what Bernat played even when it wasn’t in the score and that was a way to make the exercise more fun. But we were sad.
    ‘Look, look, look, look! …’
    Bernat, his mouth agape, put the bow down on the music stand and went over to the window of Adrià’s bedroom. The world had changed, the sadness was no longer so bad; his friend could do what he wanted with his violin teachers; his blood was returning to his veins. Bernat was looking towards the window of the room across the interior courtyard, with the light on and a thin curtain drawn. You could see the bare bust of a woman. Naked? Who is it? Who?
    It was Little Lola. It was Lola’s room. Little Lola naked. Wow. From the waist up. She was changing. She must be going out. Naked? And Adrià thought that … you couldn’t see very well but the drawn curtain made it more arousing.
    ‘That’s the neighbour’s house. I don’t know her,’ I replied, offhandedly, as I again began the anacrusis of the eighteenth bar so that Bernat would now echo me. ‘Come on, let’s see if we can get this right.’
    Bernat didn’t come back to the music stand until Lola was completely covered up. The exercise came out quite well, but Adrià was hurt by his friend’s enthusiasm and also because he didn’t like having seen Lola … A woman’s breasts are … It was the first time he had seen them, the curtain didn’t …
    ‘Have you ever seen a naked lady?’ asked Bernat when they finished the exercise.
    ‘You just saw her, didn’t you?’
    ‘Well, that was seeing without really seeing. I mean really seeing. And the whole thing.’
    ‘Can you imagine Trullols naked?’
    I said it to divert his attention from Little Lola.
    ‘Don’t talk nonsense!’
    I had imagined her a hundred times, not because she was good-looking. She was older, skinny and had long fingers. But she had a pretty voice, and she looked you in the eyes when she spoke to you. But when she played the violin, that was when I imagined her naked. But that was because the sound she made was so lovely, so … I’ve always been one to mix things up like that. It’s not something I’m proud of; it’s more like contained resignation. As hard as I’ve tried, I’ve never been able to create watertight compartments and everything blends together like it’s blending now as I write to you and my tears are the ink.
    ‘Don’t worry, Adrià,’ Trullols told me. ‘Manlleu is a great violinist.’ She ruffled my hair with her hand. And as a farewell she made me play the slow tempo of Brahms’s sonata number one and when I finished she kissed my forehead. That’s how Trullols was. And I didn’t realise that she’d said Manlleu was a great violinist and she hadn’t said don’t worry, Adrià; Manlleu is a great teacher. And Bernat looking all serious and pretending he wasn’t about to cry. I did shed three or four tears. My God. It must have been because he felt so sad that, when they reached Bernat’s house, Adrià said that he was giving him the Storioni, and Bernat said really? And Adrià, sure, so you remember me fondly. Really? repeated the other boy, incredulous. And Adrià, you can count on it. And your mother, what will she say? She won’t even notice. She spends all day at the shop. And the next day Bernat went home with his heart beating boom, boom, boom like the bells of the Concepción ringing out the noon mass, and that was when he said Mama, I have a surprise for you; and he opened up the case and Mrs Plensa smelled the unmistakable scent of old things and with extreme emotion she said where did you get this violin, Son? And he, playing it cool, answered by imitating Cassidy James when Dorothy asks him where that horse came from:
    ‘It’s a long story.’
    And it was true. Europe smelled of burnt gunpowder and of walls turned to rubble; and Rome, even more so. He let a fast American Jeep past. It bounced along the gutted streets but didn’t slow at the corners, and he continued at a good clip towards Santa Sabina. There, Morlin gave him a message: Ufficio della Giustizia e della Pace. The concierge, someone named Signor Falegnami. And be careful, he could be dangerous.
    ‘Why dangerous?’
    ‘Because he is not what he seems. But he’s having problems.’
    Fèlix Ardèvol didn’t take long to find that vaguely Vatican office located on the outskirts of the Papal City, in the middle of Borgo. The man who opened the door, fat, tall, with a large nose and a restless gaze, asked him who he had come to see.
    ‘I’m afraid I’ve come to see you. Signor Falegnami?’
    ‘Why are you afraid? Do I scare you?’
    ‘It’s just an expression.’ Fèlix Ardèvol wanted to smile. ‘I understand you have something interesting to show me.’
    ‘In the evening, the office closes at six,’ he said, gesturing with his head towards the glass door, which gave off a sad light. ‘Wait outside on the street.’
    At six three men came out, one of whom wore a cassock, and Fèlix felt like he was on a secret romantic date. Like in Rome many years earlier, when he still had hopes and dreams and the apples in Signor Amato’s fruit shop reminded him of earthly paradise. Then the man with the restless gaze stuck his head out and waved him in.
    ‘Aren’t we going to your house?’
    ‘I live here.’
    They had to go up a solemn staircase, almost in the dark, the man panting from the effort, with footsteps echoing in that strange office. On the third floor, a long corridor, and suddenly, the man opened a door and turned on a wan light. They were greeted by an overwhelming stench of musty air.
    ‘Go on in,’ the man said.
    A narrow bed, a dark wooden wardrobe, a bricked-up window and a sink. The man opened the wardrobe and pulled a violin case out from the back of it. He used the bed as a table. He opened the case. It was the first time Fèlix Ardèvol saw it.
    ‘It’s a Storioni,’ said the man with the uneasy gaze.
    A Storioni. That word didn’t mean anything to Fèlix Ardèvol. He didn’t know that Lorenzo Storioni, when he’d finished it, had stroked its skin and felt the instrument tremble and decided to show it to the good master Zosimo.
    The man with the uneasy gaze turned on the table lamp and invited Fèlix to come closer to the instrument. Laurentius Storioni Cremonensis me fecit, he read aloud.
    ‘And how do I know it’s authentic.’
    ‘I’m asking fifty thousand U.S. dollars.’
    ‘That’s no proof.’
    ‘That’s the price. I’m going through a rough patch and …’
    He had seen so many people who were going through rough patches. But the rough patches in thirty-eight and thirty-nine weren’t the same as the ones at the end of the war. He gave the violin back to the man and felt an immense void in his soul; exactly the way he had when six or seven years earlier he had held Nicola Galliano’s viola in his hands. He was increasingly able to get the object itself to tell him that it was valuable, pulsing with life in his hands. That could be an authentication of the object. But Mr Ardèvol, with that much money at stake, couldn’t rely on intuitions and poetic heartbeats. He tried to be cold and made a quick calculation. He smiled, ‘Tomorrow I will return with an answer.’
    More than an answer it was a declaration of war. That night he had managed to get a meeting in his room at the Bramante with Father Morlin and that promising young man named Berenguer, who was a tall, thin lad: serious, meticulous and, it seemed, an expert in many things.
    ‘Be careful, Ardevole,’ insisted Father Morlin.
    ‘I know how to get around in life, dear friend.’
    ‘Appearances are one thing and reality another. Negotiate, earn your living, but don’t humiliate him, it’s dangerous.’
    ‘I know what I’m doing. You’ve seen that already, haven’t you?’
    Father Morlin didn’t insist, but he spent the rest of the meeting in silence. Berenguer, the promising young man, knew three luthiers in Rome but could only trust one of them, a man named Saverio Somethingorother. The other two …
    ‘Bring him to me tomorrow, sir.’
    ‘Please, no need for such formality with me, Mr Ardèvol.’
    The next day, Mr Berenguer, Fèlix Ardèvol and Saverio Somethingorother knocked on the door of the room of the man with the frightened eyes. They entered with a collective smile, they stoically withstood the stench of the room, and Mr Saverio Somethingorother spent half an hour sniffing the violin and looking at it with a loupe and doing inexplicable things to it with instruments he carried in a doctor’s satchel. And he played it.
    ‘Father Morlin told me that you were trustworthy people,’ said Falegnami impatiently.
    ‘I am trustworthy. But I don’t want to get taken for a ride.’
    ‘The price is fair. It’s what it’s worth.’
    ‘I will pay what it’s worth, not what you tell me.’
    Mr Falegnami picked up his small ‘just in case’ notebook and wrote something down in it. He closed the notebook and stared into impatient Ardèvol’s eyes. Since there was no window, he looked at Dottor Somethingorother, who was lightly tapping the wood of the top and side, with a phonendoscope in his ears.
    They went out of that wretched room and into the evening. Dr Somethingorother walked quickly, eyes forward, talking to himself. Fèlix Ardèvol looked at Mr Berenguer out of the corner of his eye, as the young man pretended to be completely disinterested. When they reached Via Crescenzio, Mr Berenguer shook his head and stopped. The other two followed suit.
    ‘What’s going on?’
    ‘No: it’s too dangerous.’
    ‘It’s an authentic Storioni,’ said Saverio Somethingorother, fervidly. ‘And I’ll say something more.’
    ‘Why do you say it’s dangerous, Mr Berenguer?’ Fèlix Ardèvol was beginning to like that somewhat stiff-looking young man.
    ‘When a wild beast is cornered, it will do all it can to save itself. But later it can bite.’
    ‘What more do you have to say, Signor Somethingorother?’ asked Fèlix, turning coldly towards the luthier.
    ‘I’ll say something more.’
    ‘Well, then say it.’
    ‘This violin has a name. It’s called Vial.’
    ‘Excuse me?’
    ‘It’s Vial.’
    ‘Now you’ve lost me.’
    ‘That’s its name. That’s what it’s called. There are instruments that have proper names.’
    ‘Does that make it more valuable?’
    ‘That’s not the point, Signor Ardevole.’
    ‘Of course that’s the point. Does that mean it’s even more valuable?’
    ‘It’s the first violin he ever made. Of course it’s valuable.’
    ‘That who made?’
    ‘Lorenzo Storioni.’
    ‘Where does its name come from?’ asked Mr Berenguer, his curiosity piqued.
    ‘Guillaume-François Vial, Jean-Marie Leclair’s murderer.’
    Signor Somethingorother made that gesture that reminded Fèlix of Saint Dominic preaching from the throne about the immensity of divine goodness. And Guillaume-François Vial took a step out of the darkness, so the person inside the carriage could see him. The coachman stopped the horses right before him. He opened the door and Monsieur Vial got into the coach.
    ‘Good evening,’ said La Guitte.
    ‘You can give it to me, Monsieur La Guitte. My uncle has agreed to the price.’
    La Guitte laughed to himself, proud of his nose. ‘We are talking about five thousand florins,’ he confirmed.
    ‘We are talking about five thousand florins,’ Monsieur Vial reassured him.
    ‘Tomorrow you will have the famous Storioni’s violin in your hands.’
    ‘Don’t try to deceive me, Monsieur La Guitte: Storioni isn’t famous.’
    ‘In Italy, in Naples and Florence … they speak of no one else.’
    ‘And in Cremona?’
    ‘The Bergonzis and the others aren’t happy at all about the appearance of that new workshop. Everyone says that Storioni is the new Stradivari.’
    They continued to talk half-heartedly on three or four more topics, for example, hopefully this will lower instrument prices, which are sky high. You can say that again. And they said goodbye to each other. Vial got out of La Guitte’s coach convinced that this time it would come off.
    ‘Mon cher tonton! …’ he declared as he burst into the room early the next morning. Jean-Marie Leclair didn’t even deign to look up; he was watching the flames in the fireplace. ‘Mon cher tonton,’ repeated Vial, with less enthusiasm.
    Leclair half turned. Without looking him in the eyes he asked him if he had the violin with him. Leclair soon was running his fingers over the instrument. From a painting on the wall emerged a servant with a beak-like nose and a violin bow in his hand, and Leclair spent some time searching out all of that Storioni’s possible sounds with fragments of three of his sonatas.
    ‘It’s very good,’ he said when he had finished. ‘How much did it cost you?’
    ‘Ten thousand florins, plus a five-hundred coin reward that you’ll give me for finding this jewel.’
    With an authoritative wave, Leclair sent out the servants. He put a hand on his nephew’s shoulder and smiled.
    ‘You’re a bastard. I don’t know who you take after, you son of a rotten bitch. Your mother or your pathetic father. Thief, conman.’
    ‘Why? I just …’ Fencing with their eyes. ‘Fine: I can forget about the reward.’
    ‘You think that I would trust you, after so many years of you being such a thorn in my side?’
    ‘So why did you entrust me to …’
    ‘As a test, you stupid son of a sickly, mangy bitch. This time you won’t escape prison.’ After a few seconds, for emphasis: ‘You don’t know how I’ve been waiting for this moment.’
    ‘You’ve always wanted my ruin, Tonton Jean. You envy me.’
    Leclair looked at him in surprise. After a long pause: ‘What do you think I could envy about you, you wretched, crappy fleabag?’
    Vial, red as a tomato, was too enraged to be able to respond.
    ‘It’s better if we don’t go into details,’ he said just to say something.
    Leclair looked at him with contempt.
    ‘Why not go into details? Physique? Height? People skills? Friendliness? Talent? Moral stature?’
    ‘This conversation is over, Tonton Jean.’
    ‘It will end when I say so. Intelligence? Culture? Wealth? Health?’
    Leclair grabbed the violin and improvised a pizzicato. He examined it with respect. ‘The violin is very good, but I don’t give a damn, you understand me? I only want to be able to send you to prison.’
    ‘You’re a bad uncle.’
    ‘And you are a bastard who I’ve finally been able to unmask. Do you know what?’ He smiled exaggeratedly, bringing his face very close to his nephew’s. ‘I’ll keep the violin, but for the price La Guitte gives me.’
    He pulled the little bell’s rope taut and the servant with the beak-like nose entered through the door to the back of the room.
    ‘Call the commissioner. He can come whenever he’s ready.’ To his nephew: ‘Have a seat, we’ll wait for Monsieur Béjart.’
    They didn’t have a chance to sit down. Instead Guillaume-François Vial walked in front of the fireplace, grabbed the poker and bashed in his beloved tonton’s head. Jean-Marie Leclair, known as l’Aîne, was unable to say another word. He collapsed without even a groan, the poker stuck in his head. Splattered blood stained the violin’s wooden case. Vial, breathing heavily, wiped his clean hands on his uncle’s coat and said you don’t know how much I was looking forward to this moment, Tonton Jean. He looked around him, grabbed the violin, put it into the blood-spattered case and left the room through the balcony that led to the terrace. As he ran away, in the light of day, it occurred to him that he should make a not very friendly visit to La Guitte.
    ‘As far as I know,’ continued Signor Somethingorother, still standing in the middle of the street, ‘it is a violin that has never been played regularly: like the Stradivarius Messiah, do you understand what I’m saying?’
    ‘No,’ said Ardèvol, impatient.
    ‘I’m saying that that makes it even more valuable. The same year it was made, Guillaume-François Vial made off with it and its whereabouts have been unknown. Perhaps it has been played, but I have no record of it. And now we find it here. It is an instrument of incalculable value.’
    ‘That is what I wanted to hear, caro dottore.’
    ‘Is it really his first?’ asked Mr Berenguer, his interest piqued.
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘I would forget about it, Mr Ardèvol. That’s a lot of money.’
    ‘Is it worth it?’ asked Fèlix Ardèvol, looking at Somethingorother.
    ‘I would pay it without hesitating. If you have the money. It has an incredibly lovely sound.’
    ‘I don’t give a damn about its sound.’
    ‘And exceptional symbolic value.’
    ‘That does matter to me.’
    ‘And we are returning it right now to its owner.’
    ‘But he gave it to me! I swear it, Papa!’
    Mr Plensa put on his coat, shifted his eyes imperceptibly towards his wife, picked up the case and, with a forceful nod, ordered Bernat to follow him.
    The silent funereal retinue that transported the scrawny coffin was presided over by Bernat’s black thoughts, as he cursed the moment when he’d flaunted the violin in front of his mother and showed her an authentic Storioni, and the dirty grass went straight to his father as soon as he arrived and said Joan, look what the boy has. And Mr Plensa looked at it; he examined it; and after a few seconds of silence he said blast it, where did you get this violin?
    ‘It has a beautiful sound, Papa.’
    ‘Yes, but I’m asking you where you got it.’
    ‘Joan, please!’
    ‘Come now, Bernat. This is no joking matter.’ Impatiently, ‘Where did you get it from.’
    ‘Nowhere; I mean they gave it to me. Its owner gave it to me.’
    ‘And who is this idiotic owner?’
    ‘Adrià Ardèvol.’
    ‘This violin belongs to the Ardèvols?’
    Silence: his mother and father exchanged a quick glance. His father sighed, picked up the violin, put it into its case and said we are going to return it to its owner right now.

13

    I was the one who opened the door for her. She was younger than my mother, very tall, with sweet eyes and lipstick. She gave me a friendly smile as soon as she saw me and I liked her right away. Well, more than liked her, exactly, I fell irresistibly and forever in love with her and was overcome with a desire to see her naked.
    ‘Are you Adrià?’
    How did she know my name? And that accent was truly strange.
    ‘Who is it?’ Little Lola, from the depths of the flat.
    ‘I don’t know,’ I said and smiled at the apparition. She smiled at me and even winked, asking if my mother was home.
    Little Lola came into the hall and, from the apparition’s reaction, I assumed she had taken her for my mother.
    ‘This is Little Lola,’ I warned.
    ‘Mrs Ardèvol?’ she said with the voice of an angel.
    ‘You’re Italian!’ I said.
    ‘Very good! They told me you’re a clever lad.’
    ‘Who told you?’
    Mother had been in the shop waging war and organising things since the crack of dawn, but the apparition said she didn’t mind waiting as long as it took. Little Lola pointed brusquely to the bench and vanished. The angel sat down and looked at me, a very pretty golden cross glittering around her neck. She said come stai. And I answered bene with another charming smile, my violin case in my hand because I had class with Manlleu and he couldn’t abide by tardiness.
    ‘Ciao!’ I said timidly as I opened the door to the stairwell. And my angel, without moving from the bench, blew me a kiss, which rebounded against my heart and gave me a jolt. And her red lips soundlessly said ciao in such a way that I heard it perfectly inside my heart. I closed the door as gently as I could so that the miracle wouldn’t disappear.
    ‘Don’t drag your bow, child! You are reproducing negroid, epileptic rhythms, more suited to a wind instrument!’
    ‘What?’
    ‘Look, look, look!’
    Professor Manlleu snatched the violin from him and did a wildly exaggerated portamento, something I had never done. And, with the violin in position, he said to me that is crap. You understand me? Insanity, dementia, filth and rubbish!
    And boy did I miss Trullols, and I was only ten minutes into my third class with Master Manlleu. Later, surely in an attempt to impress him with his dazzling talent, he explained that when he was his age, uff, at your age: I was a child prodigy. At your age I played Max Bruch and I learned it all on my own.
    And he snatched the violin out of his hands again and began with the soooooltiresolsiiila#faasooool. Tiresoltiiiietcetera, how lovely.
    ‘That is a concert and not these lousy studies you’ve been studying.’
    ‘Can I start with Max Bruch?’
    ‘How can you start with Bruch when you’re still not out of nappies, child?’ He gave him back the violin and he drew very close to him and shouted so he could hear him loud and clear: ‘Maybe, if you were me. But I’m one of a kind.’ In a brusque voice: ‘Exercise twenty-two. And don’t harbour any illusions, Ardèvol: Bruch was mediocre and just happened to get lucky.’ And he shook his head, pained by life: if only I could have devoted more time to composing …
    Exercise twenty-two, dei portamenti, was designed to teach you how to do portamenti but Master Manlleu, when he heard the first portamento, was again shocked and again began to talk about his precocious genius and, this time, about the Bartók concerto that he knew backwards and forwards without the slightest hesitation at the age of fifteen.
    ‘You must know that the good interpreter has a special memory in addition to his normal memory that allows him retain all of the soloist’s notes and all of the orchestra’s. If you can’t do that, you’re no good; you should deliver ice or light streetlamps. And then don’t forget to put them out.’
    So I opted to do the portamenti exercise without portamenti and that way we were able to keep the peace. And I would learn the portamenti at home. And Bruch was mediocre. In case I didn’t have that clear, I received the last three minutes of my third class with Master Manlleu in the hall of his house, standing, my scarf around my neck, while he ranted against gypsy violinists, who play in bars and night clubs and do such harm to the young folk because they incite them to do unnecessary and exaggerated portamenti. It quickly becomes obvious that they are only playing to impress women. Those portamenti are only admissible for poofs. Until next Friday, child.
    ‘Good night, Master Manlleu.’
    ‘And remember, as if it were burned onto your brain, everything I’ve told you and will be telling you in each class. Not everyone has the privilege of studying with me.’
    At least I already knew that the concept of poofs was closely linked to the violin. But when I’d looked marica up it didn’t help at all because it wasn’t in the dictionary and my question remained. Bruch must have been a mediocre poof. I guess.
    In that period, Adrià Ardèvol was a saintly person, with endless saintly patience, and that was why the classes with Master Manlleu didn’t seem as bad to him as they seem to me now when I describe them to you. I did my duty with him and I remember, minute by minute, the years I was under his yoke. And I particularly remember that after two or three sessions I began to turn a problem over in my mind, one that I’ve never been able to resolve: musical interpreters are required to be perfect. They can be miserable wretches, but their execution must be perfect. Like Master Manlleu, who seemed to have every possible defect but who played perfectly.
    The problem was that listening to him and listening to Bernat I thought I could grasp a difference between Manlleu’s perfection and Bernat’s truth. And that made me a bit more interested in music. I don’t understand why Bernat isn’t satisfied with his talent and obsessively seeks out personal dissatisfaction, crashing up against self-confessed impotence, in book after book. We’ve both truly got a gift for finding dissatisfaction in life.
    ‘But you don’t make mistakes!’ Bernat told me, shocked, fifty years ago, when I explained my doubts to him.
    ‘But I need to know that I can make them.’ Perplexed silence. ‘Don’t you understand?’
    And that’s why I stopped playing the violin. But that’s another story. As Bernat and I walked to school, I explained all the ins and outs of my classes with Manlleu. And we took forever to get to school because in the middle of Aragó Street, amid the smoke from the locomotive engines that blackened the facades, Bernat tried to imitate, without a violin, what Manlleu had told me to do. The people passing by looked at us, and later, at home, he would try it and that was how he became, for free, some sort of second disciple of Wednesdays and Fridays with the great Manlleu.
    ‘Thursday afternoon, you are both punished. This is the third time you’ve been late in fifteen days, young men.’ The beadle with the blond moustache who stood guard at the entrance smiled, pleased to have caught us.
    ‘But …’
    ‘No buts.’ Shaking the loathsome notebook and pulling a pencil out of his smock. ‘Name and class.’
    And on Thursday afternoons in the Manlleu era, instead of being at home secretly rummaging through Father’s papers, may he rest in peace, instead of being at Bernat’s house, practising or having him over to my house to practise, we were forced to show up at the 2B classroom, where twelve or fifteen other scamps were purging their tardiness with a textbook open on their desks while Herr Oliveres or Mr Rodrigo watched over us with obvious boredom.
    And when I got home, Mother interrogated me about my lessons with Manlleu and asked captious questions about the possibilities that I would very soon give a dazzling recital, you hear me, Adrià? with top-notch works, as it seems Manlleu had promised her.
    ‘Like which ones?’
    ‘The Kreutzer Sonata. Or Brahms,’ she said one day.
    ‘That’s impossible, Mother!’
    ‘Nothing’s impossible,’ she answered, as if she were Trullols saying never say never, Ardèvol. But even though it was almost the same piece of advice, it didn’t have any effect on me.
    ‘I don’t know how to play as well as you think I do, Mother.’
    ‘You will play perfectly.’
    And, perfectly imitating Father’s skill for avoiding being contradicted, she left the room before I could tell her that I hated the perfection demanded of musicians, blah, blah, blah … and she headed towards Mrs Angeleta’s dominions and I felt a little sad because even though Mother was speaking to me again, she barely looked me in the eye and she was more interested in my progress report than in my irrepressible desire to see a woman naked and the inexplicable stains on my sheets, which, actually, I had no interest in making a topic of conversation. And now how could I study i portamenti at home without doing portamenti?
    At home? As soon as I had reached the stairs I thought again about my angel whom I had cruelly abandoned to her fate, forced to by my Negroid rhythm classes with Manlleu. I went up the stairs two by two thinking of the angel who must have flown away as I dilly-dallied, thinking that she would never forgive me, and I knocked impatiently and Lola opened the door. I pushed her aside and looked towards the bench. Her red smile welcomed me with another ciao dolcíssim and I felt like the happiest violinist on earth.
    And three hours after her miraculous apparition, Mother arrived with a worried expression and when she saw the angel in the hall, she looked at Little Lola, who had come out to greet her, and she made that face she makes when she understands, because without allowing her much introduction, she had her go into Father’s study. Three minutes later the shouting began.
    One thing is hearing a conversation clearly enough, and another is understanding what it’s about. The espionage system that Adrià used to know what was cooking in Father’s study was complicated and, as he grew taller and heavier, it had to become more sophisticated because I could no longer fit behind the sofa. When I heard the first shouts I saw that I had to somehow protect my angel from Mother’s rage. From the little dressing room, the door that opened onto the gallery and the laundry room left me before a ground glass window that was never opened but looked into Father’s study. The little natural light that reached the study entered through that window. And by lying down under the window I could hear the conversation. As if I were in there with them. At home I was always everywhere. Almost. Mother, pale, finished reading the letter and looked at the wall.
    ‘How do I know this is true?’
    ‘Because I inherited Can Casic in Tona.’
    ‘Pardon?’
    My angel, in reply, handed her another document in which the notary Garolera of Vic certified to all effects the willing of the house, the straw loft, the pond, the garden plot and the three fields of Can Casic to Daniela Amato, born in Rome on 25th December of 1919, daughter of Carolina Amato and an unknown father.
    ‘Can Casic in Tona?’ Vehemently: ‘It didn’t belong to Fèlix.’
    ‘It did. And now it’s mine.’
    Mother tried to conceal the trembling in the hand that held the document. She gave it back to its owner with a disdainful gesture.
    ‘I don’t know where you are going with this. What do you want?’
    ‘The shop. I have a right to it.’
    From her tone of voice, I could tell that my angel had said it with a delicious smile, which made me want to cover her in kisses. If I were in my mother’s place, I would have given her the shop and whatever else it took with the only condition being that she never lost that smile. But Mother, instead of giving her anything, started laughing, pretending to laugh heartily: a fake laugh that she had recently added to her repertoire. I started to be scared, because I still wasn’t used to that side of Mother, the heartless, anti-angel side; I had always seen her either with her gaze lowered before Father or absent and cold, when she was recently widowed and was planning my future. But I had never seen her snap her fingers, demanding to see the document detailing ownership of Can Casic again and saying, after a pause, I don’t give a ffuck what this paper says.
    ‘It is a legal document. And I have a right to my part of the shop. That is why I’ve come.’
    ‘My solicitor will inform you of my refusal of all of your proposals. All of them.’
    ‘I am your husband’s daughter.’
    ‘That’s like saying you are Raquel Meller’s daughter. It’s a lie.’
    My angel said no, Mrs Ardèvol: it is not a lie. She looked around her, slowly, and she repeated it is not a lie: Fifteen years ago I was in this study. He didn’t invite me to take a seat either.
    ‘What a surprise, Carolina,’ said Fèlix Ardèvol, his mouth agape, completely disconcerted. Even his tone of voice had cracked from the shock. The two women came in and he had them go into the study before Little Lola, who was busy with Carme’s trousseau, noticed the inopportune visit.
    The three of them were in the study, standing as hustle and bustle reigned in the rest of the house, porters bringing up Mother’s furniture, Grandmother’s dresser, the hall mirror that Fèlix had agreed to put in the dressing room and people coming and going, and Little Lola, who had only been there for two hours but already knew every tile in Mr Ardèvol’s house, my God, what a grand flat the girl will have. And the study door was closed, with those visitors she didn’t find amusing in the least, but she couldn’t pry into Mr Fèlix’s affairs.
    ‘Are you busy?’ asked the older woman.
    ‘Quite.’ He lifted his arms. ‘Everything’s topsy-turvy.’ Curtly: ‘What do you want?’
    ‘Your daughter, Fèlix.’
    ‘Carolina, I …’
    Carolina had understood pretty much everything from the moment her seminarian with the clean gaze of a good man had shrugged so cowardly when she’d placed his palm on her belly.
    ‘But we’ve only gone to bed together three or four times!’ he had said, frightened, pale, scared, terrified, sweaty.
    ‘Twelve times,’ she replied gravely. ‘And it only takes once.’
    Silence. Hiding the fear. Looking at the future. Glancing at the exit doors. Looking the girl in the face and hearing her say, with her eyes glassy with emotion, aren’t you excited, Fèlix?
    ‘Oh, sure.’
    ‘We’re going to have a baby, Fèlix!’
    ‘How great. I’m so happy.’
    And the next day fleeing Rome, leaving his studies half completed. What he most regretted was not being able to hear the end of Pater Faluba’s course.
    ‘Fèlix Ardèvol?’ Bishop Muñoz had said with his mouth hanging open. ‘Fèlix Ardèvol i Guiteres?’ He shook his head. ‘That’s not possible.’
    He was sitting before the desk in his office and Father Ayats was standing, with a folder in his hand and that deferential bearing that so irked the monsignor. Through the palace’s balcony rose the whine of a cart that must have been overloaded and the shriek of a woman scolding a child.
    ‘Yes it is possible.’ The episcopal secretary didn’t stifle his smug tone. ‘Unfortunately, he has done it. He got a woman pregnant and …’
    ‘Save me the details,’ said the bishop.
    Once he had informed him of every last facet, shocked Monsignor Muñoz went to pray because his soul was confused, as he mused over his luck that Monsignor Torras i Bages had been saved the shame of the behaviour of the student many said was the pearl of the bishopric, and Father Ayata lowered his eyes humbly because he had known for some time that Ardèvol was no pearl. Very clever, very philosophical, very this and very that, but an inveterate rogue.
    ‘How did you know I’m marrying tomorrow?’
    Carolina didn’t answer. Her daughter couldn’t stop looking at the face of that man who was her father, and she barely paid attention to the conversation. Carolina looked at Fèlix — fatter, not as charming, badly aged, with darker skin and crow’s feet — and she hid a smile. ‘Your daughter is named Daniela.’
    Daniela. She looks just like her mother did when I met her.
    ‘That day, right here,’ said my angel, ‘your husband signed Can Casic over to me under oath. And when you came back from Majorca the inheritance was formalised.’
    The trip to Majorca, the days with her husband, who no longer removed his hat when he ran into her because they were together all day long and, so he couldn’t say how are you, beautiful, either. Or he could say it but he didn’t; at first her husband was very attentive to her every move and, gradually, more mindful of his own silent thoughts. I never understood what your father did, thinking all day without saying a word, Son. All day long thinking without a word. And every once in a while shouting or smacking whomever was closest because he must have thought about that Italian tart, and about missing her and giving her Can Casics.
    ‘How did you know that my husband had died?’
    My angel looked into my mother’s eyes and, as if she hadn’t heard her, ‘He promised me. No, he swore to me that I would be in his will.’
    ‘Then you must already know that you aren’t.’
    ‘He didn’t think he would die so soon.’
    ‘Farewell. And send your mother my regards.’
    ‘She is dead too.’
    Mother didn’t say I’m sorry or anything like that. She opened the door to the study but my angel still stipulated, turning towards Mother as she left, ‘A part of the business is mine and I won’t stop fighting unt
    ‘Farewell.’
    The door to the street slammed, like the day Father left the house to be killed. Honestly, I hadn’t understood much. Only a vague suspicion of I don’t know what. In that period, I had the absolute ablative conquered but life, not so much. Mother went back to the study, locked the door behind her, rummaged through the safe for a little while, pulled out a small green box, moved aside the pink cotton and pulled out a chain from which hung a very pretty golden medallion. She put it back in the little box and she threw it in the bin. Then she sat on the sofa and she started to cry all the tears she hadn’t cried since the day she was married, with that bittersweet weeping that produces stinging tears because they are made of a mix of rage and grief.
    I was skilful. Accompanied by clever Black Eagle (fine, I was a big baby but I sometimes needed moral support), when everyone was sleeping, I slipped into Father’s study and, feeling my way, I searched through the bin until I came upon the small cube-shaped box. I grabbed it and the valiant Arapaho kept me from doing anything rash. Following his instructions, I turned on the magnifying lamp, I opened the little box and I pulled out the medallion. I closed the little box again and I placed it silently at the bottom of the bin. Adrià turned off the lamp with the loupe and backed up, his booty in his hands, to his room. Once he was inside with the door closed, violating the unwritten law that the doors at home should never be shut but rather ajar, he turned on the lamp on his bedside table, silently expressed his gratitude to Black Eagle and looked at that medallion with an interest that made his heart beat like a runaway train. It was a fairly rudimentary Madonna, surely a reproduction of a Romanesque sculpture, vaguely resembling the Virgin of Montserrat, with a slight baby Jesus in her arms. It had a very curious background, an enormous, lush tree in the distance. On the flip side, where I hoped to find the solution to the mystery, was only the word Pardàc roughly engraved on the bottom. And that was all. I sniffed the medallion to see if it gave off the scent of angel, since — although I couldn’t say why — I was convinced that it was closely linked to my great, only and forever Italian love.

14

    Mother usually spent mornings at the shop. As soon as she entered she raised her eyebrows and didn’t lower them again until she left. As soon as she entered she considered everyone an enemy to be distrusted. It seems that’s a good method. First she attacked Mr Berenguer and came out the winner because her surprise attack had caught him with his guard down and he was unable to fight back. When he was very, very old, he explained it to me himself, I think with a hint of admiration towards his bosom enemy. I never would have thought that your mother knew what a promissory note was or the differences between ebony and cherry wood. But she knew that and she knew many things about the shady dealings that your father—
    ‘Shady dealings?’
    ‘More like murky.’
    So Mother took the reins at the shop and began to say you do this and you do that, without having to look them in the eye.
    ‘Mrs Ardèvol,’ said Mr Berenguer one day, entering Mr Ardèvol’s office, which he had tried, unsuccessfully, to convert into Mr Berenguer’s office. And he said Mrs Ardèvol with his voice sullied by rage. She looked at him, with an eyebrow raised and in silence.
    ‘I should think that I have some rights earned over so many years of working at the highest level. I am the expert in this shop; I travel, I buy and I know the buying and selling prices. I know how to negotiate prices and, if necessary, I know how to swindle. I am the one your husband always trusted! It’s not fair that now I … I know how to do my job!’
    ‘Well, then do it. But from now on I will be the one who says what your job is. For example: of the three console tables from Turin, buy two if they don’t give you the third for free.’
    ‘It’s better to have all three. That way the prices will be m
    ‘Two. I told Ottaviani that you would go there tomorrow.’
    ‘Tomorrow?’
    It wasn’t that he minded travelling; in fact, he enjoyed it immensely. But going to Turin for a couple of days meant leaving the shop in the hands of that witch.
    ‘Yes, tomorrow. Cecília will go and pick up the tickets this afternoon. And come back the day after tomorrow. And if you think you need to make a decision that isn’t the one we’ve discussed, check with me by telephone.’
    Things had changed in the shop. Mr Berenguer was so constantly surprised that he hadn’t shut his mouth in weeks. And Cecília had spent that same time carefully trying to conceal her smugly innocent smile; she hid it pretty well, but not perfectly because she wanted Mr Berenguer to see that for once she had the whip hand. Vengeance is so sweet.
    But Mr Berenguer didn’t see it the same way and that morning, before Mrs Ardèvol arrived at the shop to put everything on its head, he stood in front of Cecília, with his hands on her desk and his body leaned towards her, and said what the hell are you laughing about, eh?
    ‘Nothing. Just that finally someone is getting things in order and keeping you on a short lead.’
    Mr Berenguer debated between smacking her and strangling her. She looked into his eyes and added that’s what the hell I’m laughing about.
    It was one of the few times that Mr Berenguer lost control. He went around the desk and grabbed Cecília’s arm roughly, so hard that he sprained it, and she shrieked with pain. So when Mrs Ardèvol entered the shop, after the ten o’clock bells had rung, into a silence so thick it could only be cut with a straight razor, all sorts of bad things could happen.
    ‘Good morning, Mrs Ardèvol.’
    Cecília couldn’t pay much attention to the boss because a customer came in with an urgent need to buy two chairs that matched the chest of drawers in the photo, you see, with these kind of legs, you see?
    ‘Come to my office, Mr Berenguer.’
    They prepared the trip to Turin in five minutes. Then, Mrs Ardèvol opened Mr Ardèvol’s briefcase and pulled out a file, put it on the desk and, without looking at her victim, said now you’ll have to explain why this, this and this don’t add up. The buyer paid twenty and fifteen went into the till.
    Mrs Ardèvol began to drum her fingers on the desk, deliberately imitating the best detective in the world. Then she looked at Mr Berenguer and passed him this, this and this, which were the accounts of about a hundred objects defrauded from the company. Mr Berenguer looked, with a disgusted face, at the first this and he’d had enough. How the hell had that woman been able …
    ‘Cecília helped me,’ said Mother as if she could read his thoughts, the way she did to me. ‘I wouldn’t have been able to on my own.’
    Fucking cunts, both of them. That’s what I get for working with women, damn it.
    ‘When did you start this illegal practice that goes against the company’s interests?’
    Dignified silence, like Jesus before Pilate.
    ‘The very beginning?’
    Even more dignified silence, surpassing Jesus’s.
    ‘I will have to turn you in.’
    ‘I did it with Mr Ardèvol’s permission.’
    ‘Come on now!’
    ‘Do you doubt my word?’
    ‘Of course! And why would my husband allow you to swindle us?’
    ‘It’s not swindling anyone: it’s adjusting prices.’
    ‘And why would my husband allow you to adjust prices?’
    ‘Because he recognised that my salary was low considering all I do for the shop.’
    ‘Why didn’t he raise it?’
    ‘You’ll have to ask him that. Excuse me. But it’s true.’
    ‘Do you have any document proving that?’
    ‘No. It was a verbal agreement.’
    ‘Well, I will have to turn you in.’
    ‘Do you know why Cecília gave you those receipts?’
    ‘No.’
    ‘Because she wants my ruin.’
    ‘Why?’ Mother, curious, leaning back in her chair with a questioning stance.
    ‘It’s a long story.’
    ‘Go ahead. We have time. Your plane leaves in the mid-afternoon.’
    Mr Berenguer sat down. Mrs Ardèvol placed her elbows on the desk and held up her chin with both hands. She looked him in the eye, inviting him to speak.
    ‘Come on, Cecília, we don’t have time.’
    Cecília made that lewd smile she did when no one was watching and she let Mr Ardèvol grab her by the hand and take her into his office, here.
    ‘Where is Berenguer?’
    ‘In Sarrià. Emptying out the Pericas-Sala flat.’
    ‘Didn’t you send Cortés?’
    ‘He doesn’t trust the heirs. They want to hide things.’
    ‘What sneaks. Take off your clothes.’
    ‘The door is open.’
    ‘More exciting. Take off your clothes.’
    Cecília naked in the middle of the office, her eyes lowered and that innocent smile of hers. And I wasn’t emptying out the Pericas-Sala flat because the inventory was very specific and if even a drawing-pin were missing I would have demanded it back. The nasty girl, sitting on top of this desk, doing things to your husband.
    ‘You get better every day.’
    ‘Someone could come in.’
    ‘You just do your job. If someone comes in, I’ll deal with them. Can you imagine?’
    They started laughing like crazy as they knocked things over and made a mess, the inkwell fell to the floor and you can still make out the stain, see?
    ‘I love you.’
    ‘Me too. You’ll come with me to Bordeaux.’
    ‘What about the shop?’
    ‘Mr Berenguer.’
    ‘But he doesn’t even know where the
    ‘Don’t stop what you’re doing. You’ll come to Bordeaux and we’ll have a party every night.’
    Then the little bell on the door sounded and in came a customer who was very interested in buying a Japanese weapon he’d looked at the week before. While Fèlix helped him, Cecília did what she could to tidy up her appearance.
    ‘Can you help him, Cecília?’
    ‘One moment, Mr Ardèvol.’
    Without underwear, trying to erase the trail of lipstick smudged all over her face, Cecília emerged from the office bright red and waved for the customer to follow her while Fèlix watched the scene with amusement.
    ‘And why are you telling me this, Mr Berenguer?’
    ‘So you know everything. It went on for years.’
    ‘I don’t believe a word.’
    ‘Well, there’s more. And we are all tired of the song and dance.’
    ‘Go ahead, I already told you, we’ve got time.’
    ‘You are a coward. No, no, let me speak: a coward. It’s been five years of the same old song and dance, yes, Cecília, next month I’ll tell her everything, I swear. Coward. Coward. Five years of excuses. Five years! I’m not a little girl. (…) No, no, no! I’m talking now: we will never live together because you don’t love me. No, you be quiet, it’s my turn to talk. I said be quiet! Well, you can stick your sweet words up your arse. It’s over. Do you hear me? What? (…) No. Don’t say a word. What? Because I’ll hang up when I’m good and ready. No, sir: quan a mi em roti.’
    ‘I already told you that I don’t believe a word. And I know of which I speak.’
    ‘As you wish. I suppose I’ll have to look for a new job.’
    ‘No. Each month you’ll pay me back a part of what you’ve stolen and you can continue working here.’
    ‘I’d rather leave.’
    ‘Then I will turn you in, Mr Berenguer.’
    Mother pulled a sheet with some figures out of her briefcase.
    ‘Your salary, from now on. And here is the amount you won’t receive, as the repayment. I want you to give back every last red cent and from prison you won’t be able to do that. So what do you say, Mr Berenguer? Yes or yes?’
    Mr Berenguer opened and closed his mouth like a fish. And he still had to feel Mrs Ardèvol’s breath on his face. She had sat up and leaned over the desk, to say, in a soft voice, if anything funny happens to me, you should know that I have all this information and instructions for the police in a notary’s safe in Barcelona, on the twenty-first of March of nineteen fifty-eight; signed, Carme Bosch d’Ardèvol. Notary xxx bore witness. And after another silence she repeated yes or yes, Mr Berenguer?
    And while she was at it, seizing the momentum, she requested an appointment with Barcelona’s Civil Governor, the loathsome Acedo Colunga. In her role as General Moragues’s widow, Mrs Carme Bosch d’Ardèvol went before the Governor’s personal secretary and demanded justice.
    ‘Justice for what, madam?’
    ‘For my husband’s murder.’
    ‘I will have to look into it in order to know what you are referring to.’
    ‘The form they had me fill out explained the reason behind my request to be seen. In detail.’ Pause. ‘Have you read it?’
    The Governor’s secretary looked at the papers he had in front of him. He read them carefully. The black widow, trying to even out her breathing, thought what am I doing here, wasting my breath over a man who ignored me from the very start and never loved me in his entire ffucking life.
    ‘Very well,’ said the secretary. ‘And what do you want?’
    ‘To speak with His Excellency the Civil Governor.’
    ‘You are already speaking with me, which is the same thing.’
    ‘I wish to speak with the Governor personally.’
    ‘That’s impossible. Forget about it.’
    ‘But …’
    ‘You cannot do that.’
    And she could not do it. When she left the governor’s offices, her legs shaking with rage, she decided to let it go. Perhaps she was more worried about the miraculous apparition of my guardian angel than the disdain of the Francoist authorities. Or the maddening insistence of various parties that Fèlix was an impossibly compulsive fornicator. Or, who knows, maybe she’d finally arrived at the conclusion that it wasn’t worth her while demanding justice for a man who had been so unjust with her. Yes. Or no. Really I have no idea, because after Father, the biggest question mark in my life, before meeting you, has always been my mother. I can say that, only two days later, things shifted slightly and her plans changed, and that I can speak of first-hand without making any of it up.
    ‘Rrrrrrrrinnnnnnng.’
    I opened the door. Mother had just arrived from wreaking havoc in the shop and I think she was in the bathroom. The first thing that entered the house was the stench of Commissioner Plasencia’s tobacco.
    ‘Mrs Ardèvol?’ He screwed up his face in what may have been an attempt at a smile. ‘We’ve met, haven’t we?’ he said.
    Mother had the Commissioner and his stench enter the study. Her heart went boom, boom, boom and mine went bam, boom, bom because I urgently assembled Black Eagle and Carson, without his horse, to avoid making any noise. Little Lola was in the gallery with the window, so I had to do something desperate and I slipped, like a thief, behind the sofa just as Mother and the policeman were sitting down and making noise with their chairs. It was the last time I used the sofa as a base for spying: my legs were too long. Mother went out to tell Little Lola not to let anyone disturb her even if the shop is on fire, you hear me, Little Lola? And she turned around and closed the door with the five of us inside.
    ‘Commissioner.’
    ‘It seems you’ve tried to discredit me to His Excellency the Civil Governor.’
    ‘I’m not discrediting or criticising anyone. I am only demanding the information I am owed.’
    ‘Well, now I will give you the information and let’s see if you can make an effort to understand the situation.’
    ‘Let’s see,’ she said sarcastically. And I applauded her in silence, as the best wife of the best palaeographer in the world had done.
    ‘I am sorry to tell you that if we dig into your husband’s life we will find unpleasant things. Do you want to hear them?’
    ‘Of course.’
    I suppose that Mother, after the appearance of my Italian angel (I lovingly touched the medallion I secretly wore around my neck), was prepared for anything. So she added, go ahead, Commissioner.
    ‘I warn you that you’ll say I’m making things up and you won’t believe me.’
    ‘Try me.’
    ‘Very well.’
    The Commissioner paused and then he began to tell her the truth and nothing but the truth. He explained that Mr Fèlix Ardèvol was a criminal who ran two brothels in Barcelona and had got involved in a shady affair of inducing a minor into prostitution. Do you know what a whore is, madam?
    ‘Go on.’
    ‘Il fait déjà beaucoup de temps que son mari mène une double vie, madame Agdevol. Deux prostíbuls (prostiboules?) with l’agreujant (agreujant?) de faire, de … de … d’utiliser des filles de quinze ou seize ans. Je suis désolé d’être obligé de parler de tout ça.’
    My foot had calmed down, thankfully, because my French was awful that day and I could go back to the Commissioner’s difficult, muttered Spanish. I think Carson winked at me when he saw that I managed to control my foot.
    ‘Do you want me to continue, madam?’
    ‘Please.’
    ‘It seems that the father of one of these girls your husband prostituted took his revenge. Because before locking them up in the brothel, he tried them out personally. Do you understand me?’ With some emphasis: ‘He deflowered them.’
    ‘How.’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘That’s two.’
    ‘Yes: brothel and deflower.’
    ‘It’s awful and hard to believe. Put yourself in those girls’ skins. Or the father of those girls’. Mind if I smoke?’
    ‘Yes, I do, Commissioner.’
    ‘If you’d like, we can investigate and find the desperate father who disappeared after taking justice into his own hands. But any movements on our part will make your husband’s unwholesome life more public.’
    Silence. My foot threatened to bouger encore une fois. Little sounds. The Commissioner was probably putting away the small cigar he’d been denied. Suddenly, Mother: ‘Do you know what, Commissioner?’
    ‘What?’
    ‘You’re completely right. I don’t believe a word. You are making this up. Now I need to know why.’
    ‘You see? You see? I warned you.’ Raising his voice: ‘Didn’t I? Eh?’
    ‘That’s no argument.’
    ‘If you aren’t afraid of the consequences, I can keep pulling on loose ends. But only your husband knows what we’ll find.’
    ‘Farewell, Commissioner. I have to admit it was a good try.’
    Mother spoke like Old Shatterhand, a bit cocksure. I liked it. Carson and Black Eagle were so gobsmacked that Black Eagle, that evening, asked me if I would call him Winnetou. I refused. Mother had said farewell and they hadn’t even stood up yet! Since she had started cracking the whip in the shop she had got much better at setting a scene. Because Commissioner Plasencia could only stand up and mutter something incoherent. And I was left wondering whether what the Commissioner had said about Father, which I hadn’t entirely understood, was true or not.
    ‘How.’
    ‘Yes. Brothel and what was the other one?’
    ‘Depowder?’ suggested Carson.
    ‘I don’t know. Something like that.’
    ‘Well, let’s look up brothel. In the Espasa dictionary.’
    ‘Brothel: whorehouse, bawdyhouse, cathouse.’
    ‘Wow. We’ll have to look up whorehouse now. Here, in this volume.’
    ‘Whorehouse: brothel, bawdyhouse, house of ill repute.’
    Silence. All three of them were still confused.
    ‘And bawdyhouse?’
    ‘Bawdyhouse: whorehouse, cathouse, brothel. That’s annoying. Place or house that serves as a den of iniquity.’
    ‘Now cathouse.’
    ‘Cathouse: whorehouse, brothel.’
    ‘Jeez!’
    ‘Hey, wait. House or place that lacks decorum and is filled with noise and confusion.’
    So Father had cathouses, which are noisy public houses. And they had to kill him for that?
    ‘What if we look up depowder?’
    ‘How do you say depowder in Spanish?’
    They were silent for a little while. Adrià was confused.
    ‘How.’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘That’s all about sex, not noise.’
    ‘Are you sure?’
    ‘I’m sure. When a warrior reaches adulthood, the shaman explains the secrets of sex to him.’
    ‘When I reach adulthood, nobody’s going to explain any sex secrets to me.’
    Slightly bitter silence. I heard someone spitting curtly.
    ‘What is it, Carson?’
    ‘I could you tell you a few things.’
    ‘So, come on, tell me.’
    ‘No. You aren’t the right age for some things.’
    Sheriff Carson was right. I was never the right age for anything. I was either too young or I’m too old.

15

    ‘Put your hands in hot water. Take them out, take them out, don’t let them get too soft. Walk. Don’t get nervous. Relax. Walk. Take deep breaths. Stop. There. Very good. Think about the beginning. Imagine yourself entering the theatre and bowing to the audience. Very, very good. Now, bow. No, come on, not like that, please. You have to lean forwards, you have to submit to the audience. But, don’t really submit. The audience has to think you are submitting to them; but if you reach the summit, where I am, you’ll know that you are superior and that they should be kneeling before you. I said don’t get nervous. Dry your hands; do you want to catch a cold? Pick up the violin. Stroke it, dominate it, think how you are in charge, that you order it to do what you want. Think about the first bars. That’s it, without the bow, as if you were playing. Very good. Now you can do more scales.’
    Master Manlleu, spent, left the dressing room and I was finally able to breathe. I was more relaxed doing scales, extracting the sound without gaffes, without shrillness, making the bow glide well, measuring the rosin, breathing. And then Adrià Ardèvol said never again, that this was torture, that he wasn’t made for going out onto that display case that was the stage and presenting his merchandise in case someone wanted to buy it with a smattering of applause. From the theatre came the sounds of a very well-played Chopin prelude, and he imagined the hand of a lovely girl stroking the piano keys and he couldn’t take it any more, he put the violin into the open case and went out and, through the curtain, he saw her; she was a girl, she was beyond lovely and he fell head over heels and urgently in love; at that moment he wanted to be the baby grand piano. When the sublime girl had finished and was taking an unbelievably cute bow, Adrià began to applaud frantically and a very impatient hand landed on his shoulder.
    ‘What the hell are you doing here? You are about to go on stage!’
    On the way to the dressing room, Master Manlleu cursed my lack of professionalism, which was that of a twelve- or thirteen-year-old boy not terribly excited for his first recital, and look at how we’ve worked for this, your mother and I; and here you are with your head in the clouds. In such a way that he left me suitably nervous. I greeted Professor Marí, who was already waiting at the stage exit (You see? Now that’s a professional), and Professor Marí winked at me and said relax, you do it very well and it’ll be even better up there. And that I shouldn’t speed up in the introduction: that I was the boss and that she would follow me; don’t rush. Like in the last rehearsal. And then Adrià felt Master Manlleu’s breath on the back of his neck.
    ‘Breathe. Don’t look at the audience. Bow elegantly. Feet slightly apart. Look at the back of the theatre and begin even before Professor Marí is completely prepared. You are the one in charge.’
    I had wanted to know who the girl who’d gone on before me was so I could say hi to her or give her a kiss, or hug her and smell her hair; but it seems that those who’d already finished exited on the other side, and I heard them say the young talent Adrià Ardèvol i Bosch with the collaboration of Professor Antònia Marí. So we had to go out on stage and I found that Bernat, who had sworn don’t worry, really, Adrià, relax, I won’t come, I swear, was in the front row, the big poof, and I thought I could see him trying to hide a mocking smile. He had even brought his parents, the little … And Mother, accompanied by two men I had never seen before. And Master Manlleu, who joined the group and whispered something into Mother’s ear. More than half of the theatre was filled with strangers. And I was overcome with an irrepressible need to piss. I told Professor Marí, into her ear, that I was going to go make a pee pee and she said, don’t worry, they won’t leave without hearing you.
    Adrià Ardèvol didn’t head to the bathroom. He went to the dressing room, put the violin in its case and left it there. When he ran towards the exit he found himself before Bernat, who watched him, frightened, and said, where do you think you’re going? And he said home. And Bernat but you’re crazy. And Adrià said you have to help me. Say that they took me to the hospital or something like that, and he left the Casal del Metge and was greeted by the night-time traffic on the Via Laietana and he noticed he was sweating profusely and then he headed home. And it wasn’t until a long hour later that he found out that Bernat had been a good friend because he went back inside and told Mother that I didn’t feel well and that they had taken me to the hospital.
    ‘To what hospital, darling?’
    ‘What do I know? Ask the taxi driver.’
    And, in the middle of the hallway, Master Manlleu gave contradictory orders, completely losing it because the strangers who were with him could barely stifle their laughter, and Bernat was the crucial obstacle that kept them from seeing me run down the Via Laietana, when they stepped out onto the street.
    An hour later they were already home, because Little Lola, the big dummy, sneaked on me when she saw me arriving in a panic and had called the Casal del Metge — because grownups always help each other out — and Mother made me go into the study and had Master Manlleu come in too and closed the door. It was terrible. Mother said what were you thinking. I said I didn’t want to try it again. Mother: what were you thinking; Master Manlleu: lifting his arms and saying incredible, incredible. And me: no, I was fed up; that I wanted time to read; and Mother: no, you will study violin and when you are grown up you can decide; and me, well, I’ve already decided. And Mother: at thirteen you aren’t able to decide; and me, indignant: thirteen and a half!; and Master Manlleu lifting his arms and saying incredible, incredible; and Mother, what was I thinking for the second or third time, and adding that with the money I’m spending on these classes and you acting like a … and Master Manlleu who felt he was being alluded to, pointed out that they weren’t actually expensive; and Mother: well, let me tell you, they are expensive, very expensive. And Master Manlleu, well, if they’re so expensive then you can work it out with your son; it’s not like he’s Oistrakh. And my mother replied angrily, don’t even start: you said that the boy had talent and that you would make a violinist out of him. Meanwhile I was calming down because they were hitting the ball back and forth between them and I didn’t even have to translate the conversation into my French. And Little Lola, the sneaky pettegola, stuck her head in saying there was a very urgent call from the Casal del Metge, and Mother, saying as she left no one move I’ll be right back, and Master Manlleu brought his face close to mine and said fucking coward, you had the sonata mastered, and I said I couldn’t care less, I don’t want to perform in public. And he: and what would Beethoven think about that? And I: Beethoven is dead and won’t know. And he: incredulous. And I: poof. And there was a very thick silence the colour of a dirty smudge.
    ‘What did you say?’
    Both stock still, facing each other. Then Mother came back. Master Manlleu, his mouth hanging open, was still unable to react. Mother said that I was not allowed out except for going to school and violin class. Go to your room now and we’ll discuss whether or not you’ll have supper tonight. Go on. Master Manlleu still had his arm raised and his mouth open. Too slow for the rage Mother and I had inside of us.
    I closed the door in an act of rebellion and Mother could complain if she wanted to. I opened the box of treasures where — except for Black Eagle and Carson, who roamed free — I kept my secrets. Now I remember there being a double trading card of a Maserati, some gorgeous glass marbles and my angel’s medallion when it wasn’t around my neck, which was my souvenir of my angel with her red smile saying ciao, Adriano. And Adrià imagined himself replying, ciao, angelo mio.
    He arranged to meet him in the dusty rooms where the younger kids did their music theory classes, in the other building. When he went into the dark hallway, the excessive dust on the floor and the stillness muffled the shouts of his classmates running after the ball. Down the hall, in the far classroom, there was a light on.
    ‘Look at him, the artist.’
    Father Bartrina was an angular man, so tall and thin that his cassock was inevitably short on him and worn trousers peeked out at the bottom. Since he always had to lean over, it seemed that he was about to pounce on his interlocutor. Actually, he was kindly, and he had accepted that no student would ever be interested in music theory. But since he was the music teacher, he taught music theory and that was that. And the problem was maintaining a certain sense of authority because all of the students, without exception, even if they couldn’t hit a note or had no idea how to write fa, would never be left back because of music. So he shrugged at life and just kept on, with that immense scratched blackboard with four red staves on which he wrote the absurd difference between a black (which in chalk was coloured white) and a white (a circle the colour of the blackboard). And he just kept passing every student, year after year.
    ‘Hello.’
    ‘I’m told you play the violin.’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘And that you refused to go on stage at the Casal del Metge.’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘Why?’
    Adrian explained his theory about the perfection required of an interpreter.
    ‘Forget about perfection. You have trac.’
    ‘What?’
    And Father Bartrina explained his theory about interpreters’ trac, which he had got from an English music magazine: it was French for stage fright. No. It wasn’t the same, I thought. But I had trouble getting him to understand that. It’s not that I’m afraid: it’s that I don’t want to strive for perfection. I don’t want to do a job that doesn’t allow for error or hesitation.
    ‘Error and hesitation are there, in the interpreter. But he keeps them in the practice room. When he plays in front of an audience he has already overcome his hesitations. And that’s that.’
    ‘You’re lying.’
    ‘What?’
    ‘Pardon. I do not agree. I love music too much to make it a slave to a misplaced finger.’
    ‘How old are you?’
    ‘Thirteen and a half.’
    ‘You don’t talk like a boy.’
    Was he scolding me? I scrutinised his gaze and didn’t find the answer.
    ‘How come you never take communion?’
    ‘I’m not baptised.’
    ‘My God.’
    ‘I’m not Catholic.’
    ‘What are you?’ Cautiously, as Adrià thought it over. ‘Protestant? Jewish?’
    ‘I’m not anything. We aren’t anything at home.’
    ‘We’ll have to talk about that.’
    ‘My parents were assured by the school that they wouldn’t speak to me about those matters.’
    ‘My God.’ And to himself: ‘I will have to investigate this.’
    Then he began again with his accusatory tone: ‘I’ve been told you get A+s in every subject.’
    ‘Sure. There’s no merit in that,’ I said in my defence.
    ‘Why not?’
    ‘Because it’s easy. And I have a good memory.’
    ‘Do you?’
    ‘Yes. I remember everything.’
    ‘Can you play without a score?’
    ‘Of course. If I’ve read it once.’
    ‘Extraordinary.’
    ‘No. Because I don’t have perfect pitch. Plensa does.’
    ‘Who?’
    ‘Plensa in 4C. He plays the violin with me.’
    ‘Plensa? That blond boy, slightly tall?’
    ‘That’s the one.’
    ‘And he plays the violin?’
    What could that man want. Why was he asking so many questions? What was he getting at? I nodded and thought that perhaps I was putting Bernat in a fix by revealing these secrets.
    ‘And I’ve been told that you know languages.’
    ‘No.’
    ‘No?’
    ‘Well … French … We study it in class.’
    ‘For the last year; but they say that you already speak it.’
    ‘It’s that …’ And now what do I tell him?
    ‘And German.’
    ‘Well, I …’
    ‘And English.’
    He said it as if rubbing salt in a wound after having caught me in fragranti, and Adrià got defensive. He had to admit that yes, English too.
    ‘And that you taught yourself.’
    ‘No,’ I said with relief. ‘That’s a lie. I take lessons.’
    ‘Well, I was told that …’
    ‘No, it’s Italian.’ Contrite. ‘That I’m teaching myself.’
    ‘That’s incredible.’
    ‘No: it’s very simple. Romance vocabulary. If you know Catalan, Spanish and French, it’s a cinch, I mean it’s very easy.’
    Father Bartrina looked at me askance, as if trying to gauge whether that lad was pulling his leg. Adrià, to get on his good side: ‘I’m sure my Italian pronunciation is bad.’
    ‘Oh, really?’
    ‘Yes. I never know where to put the tonic.’
    After an incredibly long minute of silence: ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’
    ‘I don’t know. Read. Study. I don’t know.’
    Silence. Father Bartrina took a few steps towards the balcony. From the inner depths of his cassock he pulled out an immaculate white handkerchief and dried his lips, pensively. The traffic on Llúria Street was intense and, at points, overwhelming. Father Bartrina turned towards the boy, who was still standing in the middle of the room. Perhaps that was when he realised:
    ‘Sit, sit.’
    I sat at a desk, not knowing what the man wanted. He approached me and sat at the desk beside mine. He looked me in the eye.
    ‘I play the piano.’
    Silence. I had already figured that because in class he played the chords on the piano while we sol-faed drowsily. And that was also how he kept us from lowering our tone when we sang. It seemed he was having difficulties getting the words out. But he finally took the bull by the horns: ‘We could rehearse the Kreutzer for the end of the school year, for the graduation event. What do you think? At the Palau de la Música! Wouldn’t you enjoy playing in the Palau de la Música?’
    I was silent. I imagined all the kids calling me a poof and me trying to be perfect up on stage. Utter hell.
    ‘It’s what you were supposed to play at the Casal del Metge. You must know it by heart, right?’
    For the first time he sketched a smile, intent on inspiring me. Trying to convince me. So I would say yes. I was still silent, because I had come up with a great idea. It occurred to me that, as a musician, he could help me and I said Father Bartrina, do they call you a poof too?
    Adrià Ardèvol i Bosch, of class 3A, was expelled for three days for unclear reasons they didn’t even want to explain to Mother. The explanation given to his classmates was a sore throat. And to Bernat, well, when I asked him if he was a poof like me, the bloke flew into a rage.
    ‘Are you a poof?’
    ‘What do I know? Esteban says I am because I play the violin. So that means you’re one too. And Father Bartrina, if playing the piano counts.’
    ‘And Jascha Heifetz.’
    ‘Yeah. I suppose so. And Pau Casals.’
    ‘Yeah. But no one’s said that to me.’
    ‘Because they don’t know you play the violin. Bartrina didn’t know.’
    Before reaching the conservatory, both friends stopped, oblivious to the rapid traffic on Bruc Street. Bernat came up with an idea: ‘Why don’t you ask your mother?’
    ‘Why don’t you ask yours? Or your father, since you’ve got a father. Huh?’
    ‘But I’m not the one who got expelled for calling someone a poof.’
    ‘Why don’t we ask Trullols?’
    That day, Adrià had decided to attend Trullols’s class to see if he could infuriate Master Manlleu once and for all. She was pleased to see him, checked his progress and didn’t mention the incident at the Casal del Metge, although she’d surely heard about it. They didn’t ask Trullols about the mysterious word poof; she complained that they were both out of tune just to annoy her and it wasn’t true at all. What happened was that, to top it all off, we heard a younger boy playing before we came in, I think his name was Claret, he was visiting from somewhere, and he played the violin as if he were a man of twenty. And that, far from motivating me, made me feel small.
    ‘Oh, not me. It makes me angry and I practise more.’
    ‘You will be a great violinist, Bernat.’
    ‘As will you.’
    The conversations Bernat and I had weren’t typical of boys our age. But a violin in your hands has the power to transform you.
    That evening, Adrià lied to his mother. He had been expelled for three days because he had laughed at a teacher for not knowing something. Mother, who was thinking about the shop and the angelic machinations of Daniela the angel of my eyes, gave him a very half-hearted, utilitarian lecture. She said that you must know that God has blessed you with unique intelligence. Remember that it is not by your merit but by nature. And Adrià noticed that now that Father had died, Mother spoke of God again even though she jumbled him together with nature. Let see if it turns out God does exist and I’m here in the dark.
    ‘All right, Mother. I won’t do it again. Forgive me.’
    ‘No: you have to ask for forgiveness from your teacher.’
    ‘Yes, Mother.’
    And she didn’t ask who the teacher was, nor what exactly Adrià had said and what the teacher had answered. She was changed beyond all recognition. And as soon as they finished supper, she locked herself in Father’s study, where she had some accounting books open on the incunabula table.
    As Little Lola cleared the dishes and began to tidy up the kitchen, Adrià dragged his heels while pretending that he wanted to give her a hand, and when he was sure that Mother was good and busy in the study, he went into the kitchen, closed the door partway and, before shyness could make him change his mind, said Little Lola, can you explain why they call me a poof at school?
    It took me a long time to fall asleep because the mere possibility of being able to demonstrate Bernat’s ignorance — he who was the one who always knew everything that was beyond the realm of our studies — kept me up so late that I even heard the Concepció bells ringing out eleven and the night watchman’s truncheon hitting the metal doors of Can Solà and echoing out through the entire neighbourhood, in those days when Franco ruled and the earth again became flat for us, when I was little and hadn’t met you yet; in those days when Barcelona, as soon as night fell, was still a city that also went to sleep.

III ET IN ARCADIA EGO

    When I was young, I fought to be myself; now I am resigned to being how I am.
Josep Maria Morreres

16

    Adrià Ardèvol had matured quite a lot. Time wasn’t passing in vain. He now knew what poof meant and he had even discovered the meaning of theodicy. Black Eagle, the Arapaho chief, and valiant Sheriff Carson gathered desert dust on the shelf that held Salgari, Karl May, Zane Grey and Jules Verne. But he hadn’t managed to escape his mother’s implacable tutelage. My capacity for obedience had made me a technically good, yet soulless, violinist. Like a second-rate Bernat. Even my shameful flight from my first public recital was eventually accepted by Master Manlleu as a sign of my genius nature. Our relationship didn’t change, except that, from then on, he considered it his right to insult me when he deemed it necessary. Master Manlleu and I never spoke about music. We only spoke about the violin repertoire, and about names like Wieniaswski, Nardini, Viotti, Ernst, Sarasate, Paganini and, above all, Manlleu, Manlleu and Manlleu, and I felt like saying to him but, sir, when will we play real music? But I knew that it would set off a tempest that could cause me real damage. We only spoke of repertoire, of his repertoire. Of hand position. Of feet position. Of what clothes you have to wear when you practise. And whether the foot position could be the Sarasate-Sauret position, the Wieniaswski-Wilhelmj position, the Ysaÿe-Joachim or, only for the chosen few, the Paganini-Manlleu position. And you have to try the Paganini-Manlleu position because I want you to be a chosen one even though, unfortunately, you were unable to be a child prodigy because I arrived in your life too late.
    Resuming lessons with Master Manlleu after Adrià’s escape from the recital, with a substantial raise from Mrs Ardèvol, had been extremely difficult because at first they were silent classes, designed to show the offended silence of the genius who strove to convert a boy confused by weak character into a semi-genius. Gradually, the indications and the corrections led him back to his usual loquacity until one day he said bring your Storioni.
    ‘Why, sir?’
    ‘I want to play it.’
    ‘I have to ask my mother for permission.’ Adrià had learned the rules of prudence after so many disasters.
    ‘She will let you if you tell her that it is my express wish.’
    Mother said you’re crazy, what are you thinking; take your Parramon and get going. And Adrià insisted long enough that she said no means no. That was when he let out that it was Master Manlleu’s express wish.
    ‘You should have said that to begin with,’ she said, serious. Very serious, because mother and son had been at war for a few years and any excuse was a good one, to the point that one day Adrià said when I turn eighteen I’m going to leave home. And she answered: with what money? And he: with my hands; with my inheritance from Father; I don’t know. And she: well, you’d better find out before you leave.
    And the next Friday I showed up with the Storioni. More than playing it, the master wanted to compare it. He played Wieniawski’s tarantella with my Storioni; it sounded amazing. And then, with his eyes gleaming, looking for my reaction, he revealed a secret to me: a 1702 Guarnerius that had belonged to Felix Mendelssohn. And he played the same tarantella, which sounded amazing. With a triumphant look on his face he told me that his Guarnerius sounded ten times better than my Storioni. And he gave it back to me smugly.
    ‘Master Manlleu, I don’t want to be a violinist.’
    ‘You keep quiet and practise.’
    ‘No.’
    ‘What will your adversaries say?’
    ‘I have no adversaries.’
    ‘Son,’ he said, sitting in the listening chair. ‘Everyone who is studying violin at a level above you is your adversary. And they will look for a way to sink you.’
    And we went back to the vibrato, vibrato trill, and the hunt for harmonics, martelé and tremolo … and I was sadder with each passing day.
    ‘Mother, I don’t want to be a violinist.’
    ‘Son: you are a violinist.’
    ‘I want to give it up.’
    Her response was to set up a recital for me in Paris. So I would realise what a spectacular life awaits you as a violinist, Son.
    ‘At eight years old,’ reflected Master Manlleu, ‘I did my first recital. You’ve had to wait until seventeen. You’ll never be able to catch up to me. But you must try to approach my greatness. And I’ll help you to overcome the trac.’
    ‘I don’t want to be a violinist. I want to read. And I don’t have trac.’
    ‘Bernat, I don’t want to be a violinist.’
    ‘Don’t say that, you’ll make me angry. You play great and with seeming effortlessness. It’s just trac.’
    ‘I have no problem with playing the violin, but I don’t want to be a violinist. I don’t want to. And I don’t have trac.’
    ‘Whatever you do, don’t give up your lessons.’
    It wasn’t that Bernat was interested in my mental health or my future. It was that Bernat was still following along with my lessons from Manlleu, second-hand. And he was making progress in his technique and, since he didn’t have to deal with Manlleu, he didn’t get bored of it or tire of the instrument or get heartburn. And meanwhile he was studying with Massià, who had been highly recommended by Trullols.
    Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Adrià Ardèvol was to realise that his aversion to a career as a soloist had sprung up as the only way to fight against his mother and Master Manlleu. And, when his voice was already beginning to crack because he couldn’t control it, he said Master Manlleu, I want to play music.
    ‘What?’
    ‘I want to play Brahms, Bartók, Schumann. I hate Sarasate.’
    Master Manlleu was silent for a few weeks, teaching lessons with mere gestures, until one Friday he put a stack of scores, a good six inches high, on top of the piano and said come now, let’s return to the repertoire. It was the only time in his life that Master Manlleu acknowledged that Adrià was right. His father had done it only once, but he’d admitted it. Master Manlleu only said come now, let’s return to the repertoire. And in revenge for having to acknowledge that I was right he wiped the dandruff off his dark trousers and said on the twentieth of next month, in the Debussy theatre in Paris. The Kreutzer, the César Franck, Brahms’s third and just a brilliant performance of some Wieniaswski and Paganini for the encores. Happy now?
    The spectre of my trac, because I had massive trac, skilfully disguised by the charming theory that my love for music kept me from etcetera. The spectre of my trac reappeared and Adrià began to sweat.
    ‘Who will play the piano?’
    ‘Some accompanist. I’ll find one for you.’
    ‘No. Someone who … The piano won’t accompany me: it should do what I do.’
    ‘Nonsense: you are the leader. Yes or no? I will find an acceptable pianist for you. Three rehearsals. And now let’s read. We’ll begin with Brahms.’
    And Adrià started to feel that perhaps knowing how to play the violin was a way to figure out life, figure out the mysteries of loneliness, the growing evidence that his desires never match up to his reality, his yearning to discover what he had made happen to his father.
    The acceptable pianist was Master Castells, a good pianist, timid, able to hide beneath the keys at Master Manlleu’s slightest bidding. Adrià realised very quickly that he formed part of the vast economic network of Mrs Ardèvol, who was shelling out a fortune for her son to play in Paris, in one of Pleyel’s chamber halls with a seating capacity for one hundred, of which about forty were filled. The musicians travelled alone, to concentrate on their work. Mr Castells and Adrià, in third class. Master Manlleu, in first so he could focus on his multiple roles. The musicians fought insomnia by reading the concerto and Adrià was amused to see Master Castells singing and marking his entrance and he pretended to be playing and singing softly, humouring him; it was a brilliant system to get their entrances properly in sync. That was when the steward had to come in to make the beds and he turned right around thinking that it was a compartment filled with lunatics. When they had passed Lyon, after nightfall, Master Castells confessed that Master Manlleu had him under his thumb and he wanted to ask Adrià for a favour, could he ask Master Manlleu to let them take a walk alone before the concert because … I have to see my sister and Master Manlleu doesn’t want us mixing work and pleasure, you know?
    Paris was a contrivance designed by my mother to make me decide to continue studying the violin. But she didn’t know that it would change my life. That was where I met you. Thanks to her contrivance. But it wasn’t in the music hall, but before, during the semi-clandestine side trip I made with Mr Castells. To the Café Condé. He had to meet his sister there, and she brought a niece with her, who was you.
    ‘Saga Voltes-Epstein.’
    ‘Adrià Ardèvol-Bosch.’
    ‘I draw.’
    ‘I read.’
    ‘Aren’t you a violinist?’
    ‘No.’
    You laughed and the sky entered the Condé. Your aunt and uncle chattered, absorbed in their things, and they didn’t notice.
    ‘Don’t come to the concert, please,’ I implored. And for the first time I was honest and I said in a lower voice, I’m scared to death. And what I liked best about you was that you didn’t come to the concert. That won me over. I don’t think I ever told you that.
    The concert went well. Adrià played normally, not nervous, knowing that he would never see the people in the audience again in his life. And Master Castells turned out to be an excellent partner because on the couple of occasions when I hesitated he covered me very delicately. And Adrià thought that perhaps with him as a teacher he could make music.
    We met thirty or forty years ago, Sara and I. The light of my life, and the person I weep most bitterly for. A girl with dark hair pulled back into two plaits, who spoke Catalan with a French accent she never lost, as if she were from the Roussillon. Sara Voltes-Epstein, who came into my life sporadically and whom I’ve always missed. The twentieth of September of the early nineteen-sixties. And after that brief encounter at the Café Condé we didn’t see each other again for two years, and the next time was also random. And at a concert.

~ ~ ~

    Then Xènia stood before him and said, I’d love to.
    Bernat looked into her dark eyes that matched the night. Xènia. He replied all right then, come up to my house. We can talk as long as we want. Xènia.
    It had been a few months since Bernat and Tecla had parted ways in a meticulous and gruelling effort on both sides to ensure that it was a noisy, traumatic, useless, painful, angry break-up filled with petty details, particularly on her side, I don’t understand how I ever was interested in a woman like that. Much less share my life with her, it’s astounding. And Tecla explained that their last few months of living together were hell because Bernat spent all day looking in the mirror, no, no, you have to understand: he only cared about himself, as always; only his things were important at home; he was only worried about whether a concert went well, that the critics were more and more mediocre each day, how could they not mention our sublime interpretation; and whether the violin was tucked away in the safe or whether we should replace the safe because the violin is the most important thing in this house, you hear me Tecla? and if you don’t get that into your head, we’ll regret it; and, above all, what hurt me was his absolute tactlessness and lack of love for Llorenç. I couldn’t get past that. That was when I started to put my foot down. Until the blow-up and the sentencing a few months ago. He’s a terrible egomaniac who thinks he’s a great artist and he’s just a good-for-nothing idiot who, in addition to playing the violin, is constantly playing on my nerves because he thinks he’s the greatest writer in the world and he’ll say here, read it and tell me what you think. And poor me if I give him a single but, because then he’ll spend days trying to convince me that I was completely wrong and that he was the only one who knew anything about it.
    ‘I didn’t know he wrote.’
    ‘No one knows: not even his editor, really. He writes boring, pretentious crap … anyway. I still don’t understand how I could have ever been interested in a man like that. Much less spend my life with him!’
    ‘And why did you give up the piano?’
    ‘I gave it up without realising I was. Partly …’
    ‘Bernat continued with the violin.’
    ‘I gave up the piano because the priority in our house was Bernat’s career, you understand? This was many years ago. Before Llorenç.’
    ‘Typical.’
    ‘Don’t get all feminist on me: I’m telling you this as a friend; don’t get me worked up, all right?’
    ‘But do you really think that separating … at our age?’
    ‘So what? If you’re too young, because you’re too young. If you’re old, because you’re old. And we’re not that old. I’ve got my whole life ahead of me. Well, I’ve got half my life ahead of me, all right?’
    ‘You’re very nervous.’
    It was understandable: among other things, in that well-planned break-up process, Bernat had tried to get her to be the one to move out. Her reply was to grab his violin and throw it out the window. Four hours later she received word of her husband reporting her for serious damage to his assets and she had to go running to her lawyer, who had scolded her as if she were a little girl and warned her don’t play around like that, Mrs Plensa, it’s serious: if you want, I can handle the case; but you’ll have to do what I tell you to.
    ‘If I ever see that ruddy violin again, I’ll throw it right out the window, just like I did before, I don’t care if I end up in prison.’
    ‘That’s no way to talk. Do you want me to handle the case?’
    ‘Of course: that’s why I’ve come here.’
    ‘Well, I have to say that it’d be better to fight, to hate each other and throw dishes. Dishes: not the violin. That was a serious mistake.’
    ‘I wanted to hurt him.’
    ‘And you did; but you chose an idiotic way to do it, excuse my frankness.’
    And he explained their strategy.
    ‘And now I’m telling you my problems because you’re my best friend.’
    ‘Don’t worry, go ahead and cry, Tecla. It’ll do you good. I do it all the time.’
    ‘The judge was a woman and she ruled in her favour on everything. See how unjust justice can be. All she did was give her a fine for destroying the violin. A fine she hasn’t paid and never will. Four months in Bagué’s clinic and I still don’t think it sounds the same.’
    ‘Is it a good instrument?’
    ‘Very good. A mirecourt from the late nineteenth century. A Thouvenel.’
    ‘Why don’t you insist she pays the fine?’
    ‘I don’t want to have anything more to do with Tecla. I hate her from the bottom of my heart. She’s even prejudiced me against my son. And that is almost as unforgivable as destroying the violin.’
    Silence.
    ‘I meant the other way around.’
    ‘I knew what you meant.’
    Every once in a while, large cities have narrow streets, silent passageways that allow your footsteps to echo in the stillness of the night, and it seems like everything is going back to the way it was, when there were only a few of us and we all knew each other and greeted each other on the street. In the period when Barcelona, at night, also went to bed. Bernat and Xènia walked along the lonely Permanyer Alley, the child of another world, and for a few minutes all they heard were their own footsteps. Xènia wore heels. Dressed to the nines. She was dressed to the nines even though it was almost an improvised meeting. And her heels echoed in the night of her dark eyes; she’s simply lovely.
    ‘I feel your pain,’ said Xènia when they got to Llúria and were greeted by the honk of a noisy taxi in a hurry. ‘But you have to get it out of your head. It’s better if you don’t talk about it.’
    ‘You were the one who asked me.’
    ‘If only I’d known …’
    As Bernat opened the door to his flat he said right back where I started from, and then explained that he had grown up in the Born district and now, coincidentally, after his separation, he had moved back. And I like being back here because I have memories around every corner. You want whisky or something like that?
    ‘I don’t drink.’
    ‘Neither do I. But I have some for guests.’
    ‘I’ll have some water.’
    ‘The bitch didn’t even give me the option of staying in my own home. I had to pull myself up by my bootstraps.’ He opened his arms as if he wanted to show her the whole flat in one swoop. ‘But I’m glad to be back in my old neighbourhood. This way.’
    He pointed towards where she should go. He went ahead to turn on the light in the room. ‘I think that people make a journey and then come back to where they started from. We always return to our roots. Unless we die first.’
    It was a large room, surely meant to be a dining room. There was a sofa and an armchair in front of a small round table, two music stands with scores on them, a cabinet with three instruments and a table with a computer and a large pile of papers beside it. The opposite wall was covered with books and scores. As if they summed up Bernat’s life.
    Xènia opened her purse, pulled out the tape recorder and placed it in front of Bernat.
    ‘You see? I’ve haven’t got it all fixed up yet, but this is meant to be a living room.’
    ‘It’s quite comfortable.’
    ‘Tecla, that bitch, didn’t even let me take a stick of furniture. It’s all from Ikea. At my age and shopping at Ikea. Hell’s bells, are you recording?’
    Xènia turned off the tape recorder. In a tone he hadn’t heard the whole evening: ‘Do you want to talk about your bitch of a wife or about your books? So I know whether to turn the tape recorder on or not.’
    The silence was so deep they could have heard their own footsteps. But they weren’t walking along a deserted narrow street. Bernat could make out his own heartbeat and he felt incredibly ridiculous. He waited for the sound of a motorbike going up Llúria to pass.
    ‘Touché.’
    ‘I don’t speak French.’
    Bernat vanished, embarrassed. He returned with a bottle of some water she’d never seen before. And two Ikea glasses.
    ‘Water from the clouds of Tasmania. You’ll like it.’
    They spent half an hour talking about his short stories and his writing process. And that the third and fourth collections were the best. Novel? No, no: I like the short form. As he calmed down, he mentioned that he was embarrassed about the scene he’d made talking about his bitch of an ex-wife, but that it was still all going through his head and he couldn’t believe that even after he’d paid a fortune to the lawyer they’d sided with Tecla on almost everything, and I’m still shaken up about it and I’m really sorry to have told you all that, but as you can see writers — all artists — are people too.
    ‘I never doubted that.’
    ‘Touché pour la seconde fois.’
    ‘I told you I don’t speak French. Can you tell me about your creative process?’
    They spoke for a long time. Bernat explained how he started, many, many years ago, to write, in no particular rush. I take a long time to finish a book. Plasma took a good three years.
    ‘Wow!’
    ‘Yes. It wrote itself. How can I explain it …’
    Silence. A couple of hours had passed and they’d finished off the Tasmanian cloud water. Xènia listened, rapt. The occasional car still went up Llúria. The place was comfortable; for the first time in many months, Bernat was comfortable at home, with someone who listened to him and didn’t criticise him the way poor Adrià had always done.
    Suddenly, he was overcome by the fatigue that followed the tension of so many hours of conversation. The years take their toll.
    Xènia settled back in the Ikea armchair. She extended her hand as if she wanted to turn off the tape recorder, but she stopped halfway.
    ‘Now I’d like to discuss … your double personality, as a musician and a writer.’
    ‘Aren’t you tired?’
    ‘Yes. But this is something I’ve been wanting to do for some time, an interview so … like this.’
    ‘Thank you so much. But we can leave it for tomorrow. I’m …’
    He knew that he was spoiling the magic of the moment but there was nothing he could do about it. For a few minutes they were seated in silence, as she put away her things and both of them calculating whether it was a good moment to continue or if it was best to be prudent, until Bernat said I’m very sorry that I only offered you water.
    ‘It was excellent.’
    What I’d like to do is take you to bed.
    ‘Should we meet tomorrow?’
    ‘Tomorrow’s not good for me. The day after.’
    To the bedroom, right now.
    ‘Very well. Come here, if that works for you.’
    ‘All right.’
    ‘And we’ll talk about whatever.’
    ‘Whatever.’
    They grew silent. She smiled and he smiled back.
    ‘Wait, I’ll call you a cab.’
    They were so close. Looking at each other, in silence, she with the serene night in her gaze. He, with the vague greyness of unconfessable secrets in his eyes. But despite everything, she left in the ruddy blooming taxi that always had to spoil everything. Before, Xènia had given him a furtive kiss on the cheek, near his lips. She’d had to stand on tiptoe to reach. She’s so cute on tiptoes. Downstairs on the street he watched the taxi take Xènia out of his life, even just for a couple of days. He smiled. It had been two long years since he’d last smiled.
    The second meeting was easier. Xènia took off her coat without asking permission, she put her recording devices down on the little table and patiently waited for Bernat, who had gone to the other end of the flat with his mobile, to finish an endless argument with someone who was probably his lawyer. He spoke in a low voice and with a kind of stifled rage.
    Xènia looked at some book spines. In one corner were the five books that Bernat Plensa had published; she hadn’t read the first two. She pulled out the oldest one. On the first page was a dedication to my muse, my beloved Tecla, who was so supportive to me in the creation of these stories, Barcelona, 12 February 1977. Xènia couldn’t help but smile. She put the book back in its place, beside its companions in the complete works of Bernat Plensa. On the desk, the computer was sleeping with the screen dark. She moved the mouse and the screen lit up. There was a text. A seventy-page document. Bernat Plensa was writing a novel and he had said no, no novels. She looked towards the hallway. She could hear Bernat’s voice at the far end, still speaking softly. She sat in front of the computer and read After buying the tickets, Bernat put them in his pocket. He gazed at the sign announcing the concert. The young man beside him, wearing a hat that hid his face and wrapped in a scarf, tapped his feet on the ground to ward off the cold, very interested in that night’s programme. Another man, who was fat and stuffed into a slender coat, was trying to return his tickets because of some problem. They took a walk along Sant Pere Més Alt and they missed it. When they were back in front of the Palau de la Música, it was all over. The sign that read Prokofiev’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 2 in G-Minor performed by Jascha Heifetz and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra directed by Eduard Toldrà had an aggressive JEWS RAUS scrawled on it in tar and a swastika that dripped from each arm, and the atmosphere had become darker, people avoided eye contact and the earth had become even flatter. Then they told me that it had been a Falangist gang and that the couple of policemen who’d been sent from the headquarters on Via Laietana, right around the corner, had coincidentally been away from their post in front of the Palau having a coffee break and Adrià was overcome with an irrepressible desire to go live in Europe, further north, where they say people are clean and cultured and free, and lively and happy and have parents who love you and don’t die because of something you did. What a crap country we were born into, he said looking at the smear that dripped hatred. Then the policemen arrived and said, all right, move it along, not in groups, come on, on your way, and Adrià and Bernat, like the rest of the onlookers, disappeared because you never know.
    The auditorium of the Palau de la Música was full, but the silent was thick. We had trouble getting to our two empty seats, in the stalls, almost in the middle.
    ‘Hello.’
    ‘Hello,’ said Adrià, timidly as he sat beside the lovely girl who smiled at him.
    ‘Adrià? Adrià Ican’trememberwhat?’
    Then I recognised you. You didn’t have plaits in your hair and you looked like a real woman.
    ‘Sara Voltes-Epstein! …’ I said, astonished. ‘Are you here?’
    ‘What does it look like?’
    ‘No, I mean …’
    ‘Yes,’ she said laughing and putting her hand over mine casually, setting off a fatal electric shock. ‘I live in Barcelona now.’
    ‘Well, how about that,’ I said, looking from side to side. ‘This is my friend Bernat. Sara.’
    Bernat and Sara nodded politely to each other.
    ‘How awful, eh, the thing with the sign …’ said Adrià, with his extraordinary ability to stick his foot in it. Sara made a vague expression and started looking at the programme. Without taking her eyes off of it, ‘How did your concert go?’
    ‘The one in Paris?’ A bit embarrassed. ‘Fine. Normal.’
    ‘Do you still read?’
    ‘Yes. And you, do you still draw?’
    ‘Yes. I’m having an exhibition.’
    ‘Where?’
    ‘In the parish of …’ She smiled. ‘No, no. I don’t want you to come.’
    I don’t know if she meant it or if it was a joke. Adrià was so stiff that he didn’t dare to look her in the eye. He just smiled timidly. The lights began to dim, the audience started to applaud and Master Toldrà came out on the stage and Bernat’s footsteps were heard coming from the other end of the flat. Then Xènia put the computer to sleep and stood up from the chair. She pretending she’d been reading book spines and when Bernat entered the study she made a bored face.
    ‘Forgive me,’ he said, brandishing the mobile.
    ‘More problems?’
    He furrowed his brow. It was clear he didn’t want to talk about it. Or that he had learned he shouldn’t discuss it with Xènia. They sat down and, for a few seconds, the silence was quite uncomfortable; perhaps that was why they both smiled without looking at each other.
    ‘And how does it feel to be a musician writing literature?’ asked Xènia, putting the tiny recorder in front of her on the small round table.
    He looked at her without seeing her, thinking of the furtive kiss of the other night, so close to his lips.
    ‘I don’t know. It all happened gradually, inevitably.’
    That was a real whopper. It all happened so bloody slowly, so gratuitously and capriciously and, yet, his anxiety did arrive all at once, because Bernat had been writing for years and for years Adrià had been telling him that what he wrote was completely uninteresting, it was grey, predictable, dispensable; definitely not an essential text. And if you don’t like what I’m saying, stop asking me for my opinion.
    ‘And that’s it?’ said Xènia, a bit peeved. ‘It all happened gradually, inevitably? And full stop? Should I turn off the tape recorder?’
    ‘Excuse me?’
    ‘Where are you?’
    ‘Here, with you.’
    ‘No.’
    ‘Well, it’s post-concert trauma.’
    ‘What’s that?’
    ‘I’m more than sixty years old, I am a professional violinist, I know that I do fine but playing with the orchestra doesn’t do it for me. What I wanted was to be a writer, you understand?’
    ‘You already are.’
    ‘Not the way I wanted to be.’
    ‘Are you writing something now?’
    ‘No.’
    ‘No?’
    ‘No. Why?’
    ‘No reason. What do you mean by not the way you wanted to be?’
    ‘That I’d like to captivate, enthral.’
    ‘But with the violin …’
    ‘There are fifty of us playing. I’m not a soloist.’
    ‘But sometimes you play chamber music.’
    ‘Sometimes.’
    ‘And why aren’t you a soloist?’
    ‘Not everyone who wants to be one can be. I don’t have the skill or temperament for it. A writer is a soloist.’
    ‘Is it an ego problem?’
    Bernat Plensa picked up Xènia’s recording device, examined it, found the button and turned it off. He placed it back down on the table while he said I am the epitome of mediocrity.
    ‘You don’t believe what that imbecile from
    ‘That imbecile and all the others who’ve been kind enough to tell me that in the press.’
    ‘You know that critics are just …’
    ‘Just what?’
    ‘Big poofs.’
    ‘I’m being serious.’
    ‘Now I understand your hysterical side.’
    ‘Wow: you don’t pull your punches.’
    ‘You want to be perfect. And since you can’t … you get cranky; or you demand that those around you be perfect.’
    ‘Do you work for Tecla?’
    ‘Tecla is a forbidden subject.’
    ‘What’s got into you?’
    ‘I’m trying to get a reaction out of you,’ replied Xènia. ‘Because you have to answer my question.’
    ‘What question?’
    Bernat watched as Xènia turned on the recorder again and placed it gently on the little table.
    ‘How does it feel to be a musician writing literature?’ she repeated.
    ‘I don’t know. It all happens gradually. Inevitably.’
    ‘You already said that.’
    It’s just that it happens so bloody slowly and yet his anxiety arrives all at once because Bernat had been writing for so many years and Adrià had been saying for so many years that what he wrote was of no interest, it was grey, predictable, unessential; it was definitely Adrià’s fault.
    ‘I am about to break off all ties with you. I don’t like unbearable people. That’s your first and last warning.’
    For the first time since he had met her, he looked into her eyes and held Xènia’s black gaze of serene night.
    ‘I can’t bear being unbearable. Forgive me.’
    ‘Can we get back to work?’
    ‘Go ahead. And thanks for the warning.’
    ‘First and last.’
    I love you, he thought. So he had to be perfect if he wanted to have those lovely eyes with him for a few more hours. I love you, he repeated.
    ‘How does it feel to be a musician making literature?’
    I am falling in love with your obstinacy.
    ‘It feels … I feel … in two worlds … and it bothers me that I don’t know which is more important to me.’
    ‘Does that matter?’
    ‘I don’t know. The thing is …’
    That evening they didn’t call a cab. But two days later Bernat Plensa screwed up his courage and went to visit his friend. Caterina, with her coat already on and about to leave, opened the door for him and, before he could open his mouth, said in a low voice he’s not well.
    ‘Why?’
    ‘I had to hide yesterday’s newspaper from him.’
    ‘Why?’
    ‘Because if I don’t notice, he reads the same paper three times.’
    ‘Boy …’
    ‘He’s such a hard worker, I hate to see him wasting his time rereading the newspaper, you know?’
    ‘You did the right thing.’
    ‘What are you two conspiring about?’
    They turned. Adrià had just come out of his study and caught them speaking in low voices.
    ‘Rrrrriiiiiiinnnnnnnnnngggg.’
    Caterina opened the door for Plàcida instead of answering, while Adrià had Bernat enter his study. The two women discussed their shift switch quietly and Caterina said loudly see you tomorrow, Adrià!
    ‘How’s it going?’ asked Adrià.
    ‘I’ve been typing it up when I have a moment. Slowly.’
    ‘Do you understand everything?’
    ‘Yeah,’ he answered falteringly. ‘I like it a lot.’
    ‘Why do you say yeah like that?’
    ‘Because you have the handwriting of a doctor, and it’s tiny. I have to read every paragraph a couple of times to get it right.’
    ‘Oh. Sorry …’
    ‘No, no, no … I’m happy to do it. But I don’t work on it every day, obviously.’
    ‘I’m making a lot of work for you, aren’t I?’
    ‘No. Not at all.’
    ‘Good evening, Adrià,’ said a young woman, a smiling stranger, sticking her head into the study.
    ‘Hello, good evening.’
    ‘Who’s that?’ Bernat asked in a surprised whisper when the woman had left the study.
    ‘Whatshername. Now they don’t leave me alone for a second.’
    ‘Whoa.’
    ‘Yeah, you have no idea. This place is like the Ramblas with all the coming and going.’
    ‘It’s better that you’re not alone, right?’
    ‘Yes. And thank goodness for Little Lola, she takes care of organising everything.’
    ‘Caterina.’
    ‘What?’
    ‘No, nothing.’
    They were silent for a little while. Then Bernat asked him about what he was studying and he looked around him, touched the book on his reading table and made a vague expression that Bernat was unable to interpret. He got up and grabbed the book.
    ‘Hey, poetry!’
    ‘Huh?’
    Bernat waved the book. ‘You’re reading poetry.’
    ‘I always have.’
    ‘Really? Not me.’
    ‘And look how things turned out for you.’
    Bernat laughed because it was impossible to get angry at Adrià now that he was ill. And then he repeated I can’t do any more, I can’t go any faster with your papers.
    ‘Fine …’
    ‘Do you want me to hire someone?’
    ‘No!’ Now the life came back into his appearance, his face and the colour of his hair. ‘Definitely not! This can only be done by a friend. And I don’t want …. I don’t know … It’s very personal and … Maybe once it’s typed up I won’t want it published.’
    ‘Didn’t you say I should give it to Bauça?’
    ‘When the time comes, we’ll discuss it.’
    Silence came over the room. Someone was going through doors or making noise with something in some part of the house. Perhaps in the kitchen.
    ‘Plàcida, that’s it! Her name is Plàcida, this one.’ Pleased with himself. ‘You see? Despite what they say, I still have a good memory.’
    ‘Ah!’ said Bernat, remembering something. ‘The backside of your manuscript pages, what you wrote in black ink, you know? it’s really interesting too.’
    For a moment, Adrià hesitated.
    ‘What is it?’ he said, a bit frightened.
    ‘A reflection on evil. Well: a study of the history of evil, I’d say. You called it ‘The Problem of Evil’.’
    ‘Oh, no. I’d forgotten. No: that’s very … I don’t know: soulless.’
    ‘No. I think you should publish it too. If you want, I can type it up as well.’
    ‘Poor thing. That’s my failure as a thinker.’ He was quiet for a few very long seconds. ‘I didn’t know how to say even half of what I had in my head.’
    He grabbed the volume of poems. He opened and closed it, uncomfortable. He put it back down on the table and finally said that’s why I wrote on the other side, to kill it.
    ‘Why didn’t you throw it away?’
    ‘I never throw away any papers.’
    And a slow silence, as long as a Sunday afternoon, hovered over the study and the two friends. A silence almost devoid of meaning.

17

    Finishing secondary school was a relief. Bernat had already graduated the year before and he’d thrown his heart and soul into playing the violin while half-heartedly studying Liberal Arts. Adrià entered university thinking that everything would be easier from that point on. But he found many cracks and prickly bushes. And even just the low level of the students, who were frightened by Virgil and panicked over Ovid. And the policemen in the assembly rooms. And the revolution in the classrooms. For a while I was friends with a guy named Gensana who was very interested in literature but when he asked me what I wanted to devote myself to and I answered to the history of ideas and culture, he dropped his jaw in shock.
    ‘Come on, Ardèvol, nobody says they want to be an historian of ideas.’
    ‘I do.’
    ‘You’re the first I’ve ever heard. Jesus. The history of ideas and culture.’ He looked at me suspiciously. ‘You’re having a laugh, right?’
    ‘No: I want to know everything. What is known now and what was known before. And why it’s known and why it’s not yet known. Do you understand?’
    ‘No.’
    ‘And what do you want to be?’
    ‘I don’t know,’ replied Gensana. He fluttered his hand vaguely over his forehead. ‘I’m all batty. But I’ll figure out something to do, you’ll see.’
    Three pretty laughing girls passed by them on the way to Greek class. Adrià looked at his watch and waved goodbye to Gensana, who was still trying to digest the bit about being an historian of ideas and culture. I followed the pretty laughing girls. Before entering the classroom I turned around. Gensana was still pondering Ardèvol’s future. And a few months later, during a very cold autumn, Bernat, who was in his eighth year of violin, asked me to go with him to the Palau de la Música to hear Jascha Heifetz. Which was a one-of-a-kind opportunity and Master Massià had explained that despite Heifetz’s reluctance to play in a fascist country, Master Toldrà’s had finally managed to convince him. Adrià, who in most arenas had yet to lose his virginity, discussed it with Master Manlleu at the end of an exhausting lesson devoted to unison. After some seconds of reflection, Manlleu said that he had never known a colder, more arrogant, abominable, stupid, stuck-up, repulsive, detestable and haughty violinist than Jascha Heifetz.
    ‘But does he play well, sir?’
    Master Manlleu was looking at the score without seeing it. Violin in hand, he played an involuntary pizzicato and kept his eyes fixed straight ahead. After a very long pause: ‘He plays to perfection.’
    Perhaps he realised that what he’d said had come from too deep inside and wanted to temper it, ‘Besides me, he is the best violinist alive.’ Tap of the bow on the music stand. ‘Come now, let’s get back to it.’
    Applause filled the hall. And it was warmer than usual, which was very noticeable because, in a dictatorship, people get used to saying things between the lines and between the applause, with indirect gestures, glancing at the man in the mackintosh with the pencil moustache who was most likely a secret agent, careful, look how he’s barely clapping. And people had grown accustomed to understanding that language which, from fear, strove to fight against fear. I only sensed that, because I had no father, and Mother was absorbed by the shop and only turned her loupe on my violin progress, and Little Lola didn’t want to talk about such things because during the war they had killed an anarchist cousin of hers and she refused to get into the thorny territory of street politics. They began to dim the lights, people clapped and Master Toldrà came out on stage and leisurely walked over to his music stand. In the penumbra, I saw Sara writing something in her programme and passing it to me and asking for my programme so she wouldn’t be left without one. Some digits. A telephone number! I handed her mine, like an idiot, without jotting down my own phone number. The applause ended. I noticed that Bernat, wordless, in the seat to my other side, was observing my every move. Silence fell over the hall.
    Toldrà played a Coriolano that I’d never heard before and really enjoyed. Then, when he came back out on stage, he brought Jascha Heifetz by the hand, probably to show his support or something like that. Heifetz made a cold, arrogant, abominable, stupid, stuck-up, repulsive, detestable and haughty nod of his head. He didn’t have any interest in concealing his irritated, severe expression. He gave himself three long minutes to shake off his indignation while Master Toldrà stood, looking to either side, patiently waiting for the other man to say let’s begin. And they began. I remember that my mouth hung open throughout the entire concert. And that I cried without the slightest embarrassment during the andante assai, compelled by the physical pleasure of the binary rhythm of the violin set on top of the triplets of the orchestral backdrop. And how the piece was left in the hands of the orchestra and, at the end, the horn and a humble pizzicato. True beauty. And Heifetz was a warm, humble, kind man devoted to the service of the beauty that captivated me. And Adrià thought he saw Heifetz’s eyes gleaming suspiciously. Bernat, I know, held back a deep sob. And at intermission he rose and said I have to go meet him.
    ‘They won’t let you backstage.’
    ‘I’m going to try.’
    ‘Wait,’ she said.
    Sara got up and gestured for them to follow her. Bernat and I looked at each other quizzically. We went up the small stairs on the side and through a door. The guard inside gave us the sign for vade retro, but Sara, with a smile, pointed to Master Toldrà, who was talking to one of the musicians, and he, as if he had caught Sara’s gesture, turned, saw us and said hello, princess, how are you? How’s your mother?
    And he came over to give her a kiss. He didn’t even see us. Master Toldrà explained that Heifetz was deeply offended by the graffiti that it seems was everywhere around the Palau and that he was cancelling his performance tomorrow and leaving the country. It’s not the best moment to bother him, you understand?
    When the concert was over and we were out on the street, we saw that it was true, that the tarred graffiti on the sign and on the walls, all over, suggested, in Spanish, that the Jews leave.
    ‘If I were him, I would have done the concert tomorrow,’ said Adrià, future historian of ideas, without knowing anything about the history of humanity. Sara whispered in his ear that she was in a rush and she also said call me, and Adrià barely reacted because his head was still filled with Heifetz and all he said was yes, yes, and thanks.
    ‘I’m giving up the violin,’ I said before the profaned sign, before an incredulous Bernat and before myself. All my life I’ve remembered myself saying I’m giving up the violin, at the exit, before the profaned sign before an incredulous Bernat and before myself, all my life I’ve remembered myself saying I’m giving up the violin.
    ‘But … but …’ Bernat pointed to the Palau as if he wanted to say what better argument cou
    ‘I’m giving up the violin. I’ll never be able to play like that.’
    ‘Practise.’
    ‘Bullshit. I’m giving it up. It’s impossible. I’ll finish seventh, take the exam and that’s it. Enough. Assez. Schluss. Basta.’
    ‘Who was that girl?’
    ‘Which one?’
    ‘That one!’ He pointed at Sara’s aura, which still lingered. ‘The one who led us to Master Toldrà like Ariadna, that one! The one who said Adrià Ican’trememberwhat, my pet. The one who said call me …’
    Adrià looked at his friend with his mouth hanging open.
    ‘What have I done to you this time?’
    ‘What have you done to me? You’re threatening to give up the violin.’
    ‘Yes. It’s final. But I’m not giving you up: I’m giving up the violin.’
    When Heifetz finished the Prokofiev concert, he was transformed, to the point that he seemed taller and more powerful. And he played, I would almost say arrogantly, three Jewish dances and then I found him even taller and with an even more powerful aura. Then he gathered himself and gave us the gift of the Ciaccona of the Partita for Violin No. 2, which, apart from our attempts, I had only heard on a shellac 78 played by Ysaÿe. They were minutes of perfection. I have been to many concerts. But for me this was the foundation, the concert that opened up the path to beauty for me, the concert that closed the door to the violin for me, the concert that put an end to my brief career as a musician.
    ‘You’re a lousy bum,’ was Bernat’s opinion, who saw that he would have to face his eighth year all on his own, without my presence one year behind him. All alone with Master Massià. ‘A lousy stinking bum.’
    ‘Not if I learn how to be happy. I’ve seen the light: no more suffering and I’ll enjoy music played by those who know how.’
    ‘A lousy bum, and a coward to boot.’
    ‘Yes. Probably. Now I can devote myself to my studies without added pressures.’
    Right there in the street, as we walked home, the pedestrians caught in the cold wind coming down Jonqueres Street were witnesses to one of the three times I’ve seen my friend Bernat explode. It was terrible. He began to shout and to say German, English, Catalan, Spanish, French, Italian, Greek, Latin, counting on his fingers. You’re nineteen and you can read one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight languages, and you’re afraid of eighth-year violin, idiot? If I had your brain, for fuck’s sake!
    Then silent snowflakes started to fall. I had never seen it snow in Barcelona; I had never seen Bernat so indignant. I had never seen Bernat so helpless. I don’t know if it was snowing for him or for me.
    ‘Look,’ I said.
    ‘I don’t give a shit about the snow. You’re making a mistake.’
    ‘You’re afraid to face up to Massià without me.’
    ‘Yeah, so?’
    ‘You have what it takes to be a violinist. I don’t.’
    Bernat lowered his voice and said don’t think that, I’m always at my limit. I smile when I play, but not because I’m happy. It’s to ward off panic. But the violin is as treacherous as the horn: you can play a false note at any moment. Even still, I don’t give up like you, like a little shit. I want to get to tenth and then I’ll see whether I go on or not. Give it up after tenth.
    ‘There will come a day when you’ll smile with pleasure while you play the violin, Bernat.’
    I realised I came off sounding like Jesus Christ with that prophecy, and if we examine how things turned out … well, look, I don’t know what to say.
    ‘Give it up after tenth.’
    ‘No. After the exams in June. For appearances. Because if you really make me angry, I’ll stop right now and fuck appearances.’
    And the snow continued to fall. We walked to my house in silence. He left me in front of the dark wooden door without even a good night or any slight gesture of affection.
    I’ve fought with Bernat a few times in my life. This was the first serious fight, the first one that left scars. Christmas break that year took place in an unusually snowy landscape. At home, Mother was silent, Little Lola attentive to everything, and I was spending more and more hours in Father’s study each day. I had earned the right to with the outstanding honours I’d received at the end of term, and the space drew me irresistibly further and further in. The day after Boxing Day I went for a walk along the white streets and I saw Bernat, who was living at the top of Bruc Street, skiing down Bruc with his violin on his back. He saw me but said nothing. I confess that I was overcome with jealousy because I immediately thought whose house is he going to go play at, the bastard, without saying anything to me. Nineteen- or twenty-year-old Adrià, in the throes of a fit of jealousy, started to chase after him, but he couldn’t catch up to the skis and soon Bernat was just a tiny crèche figure, probably already at the Gran Via. How ridiculous, panting, exhaling through his scarf, watching his friend leave. I never found out where he went that day and I would give … I was about to say I would give half my life, but today that expression makes no sense. But what the hell, still today I would give half my life to know whose house he went to play at on that day during Christmas break when Barcelona was enveloped in several feet of unexpected snow.
    That night, desperate, I went through the pockets of my coat, my jacket and my trousers, cursing because I couldn’t find the concert programme.
    ‘Sara Voltes-Epstein? No. Doesn’t ring a bell. Try the Betlem parish, they do those sorts of activities there.’
    I went to about twenty parishes, trudging through increasingly dirty snow, until I found her, in the neighbourhood of Poble Sec, in a very modest parish church, in an even more modest, and almost empty, room with three walls covered in extraordinary charcoal drawings. Six or seven portraits and some landscapes. I was impressed by the sadness of the gaze in one entitled Uncle Haïm. And a dog that was amazing. And a house by the sea that was called Little Beach at Portlligat. I’ve looked at those drawings so many times, Sara. That girl was a real artist, Sara. My mouth hung open for half an hour until I heard your voice at my neck, as if scolding me, your voice saying I told you not to come.
    I turned with an excuse on my lips, but all that came out was a shy I just happened to be passing by and. With a smile she forgave me. And in a soft, timid voice you said, ‘What do you think of them?’

18

    ‘Mother.’
    ‘What?’ Without looking up from the papers she was going over on the manuscript table.
    ‘Can you hear me?’
    But she was avidly reading financial reports from Caturla, the man she had chosen to get the shop back on a sound footing. I knew that she wasn’t paying attention, but it was now or never.
    ‘I’m giving up the violin.’
    ‘Fine.’
    And she continued reading the reports from Caturla, which must have been enthralling. When Adrià left the study, with a cold sweat on his soul, he heard his mother’s eyeglasses folding with a click-clack. She must have been watching him. Adrià turned. Yes, she was watching him, with her glasses in one hand and holding up a sheaf of reports in the other.
    ‘What did you say?’
    ‘That I’m giving up the violin. I’ll finish seventh year, but then I’m done.’
    ‘Don’t even think it.’
    ‘I’ve made up my mind.’
    ‘You aren’t old enough to make such a decision.’
    ‘Of course I am.’
    Mother put down Caturla’s report and stood up. I’m sure she was wondering how Father would resolve this mutiny. To begin with, she used a low, private, threatening tone.
    ‘You will take your seventh year examinations, then your eighth year examinations and then you will do two years of virtuosity and, when the time comes, you will go to the Julliard School or wherever Master Manlleu decides.’
    ‘Mother: I don’t want to devote my life to interpreting music.’
    ‘Why not?’
    ‘It doesn’t make me happy.’
    ‘We weren’t born to be happy.’
    ‘I was.’
    ‘Master Manlleu says you have what it takes.’
    ‘Master Manlleu despises me.’
    ‘Master Manlleu tries to goad you because sometimes you’re listless.’
    ‘That is my decision. You are going to have to put up with it,’ I dared to say.
    That was a declaration of war. But there was no other way I could do it. I left Father’s study without looking back.
    ‘How.’
    ‘Yes?’
    ‘You can start painting my face with war paint. Black and white from the mouth to the ears and two yellow stripes from top to bottom.’
    ‘Stop joking, I’m trembling.’
    Adrià locked himself in his room, unwilling to give an inch. If that meant war, so be it.
    Little Lola’s voice was the only one heard in the house for many days. She was the only one who tried to give an appearance of normality. Mother, always at the shop, I at university, and dinners in silence, both of us looking at our plates, and Little Lola watching one of us and then the other. It was very difficult and so intense that, for a few days, the joy of having found you again was subdued by the violin crisis.
    The storm was unleashed the day I had class with Master Manlleu. That morning, before vanishing into the shop, Mother spoke to me for the first time that entire week. Without looking at me, as if Father had just died: ‘Bring the Storioni to class.’
    I arrived at Master Manlleu’s house with Vial and, as we went down the hallway to his studio, I heard his voice, now sweet, telling me we could look at some other repertoire that you like better. All right, lad?
    ‘When I’ve finished seventh, I’m giving up the violin. Does everybody understand that? I have other priorities in my life.’
    ‘You will regret this wrong decision for every day of your entire life’ (Mother).
    ‘Coward’ (Manlleu).
    ‘Don’t leave me alone, mate’ (Bernat).
    ‘Negroid’ (Manlleu).
    ‘But you play better than I do!’ (Bernat).
    ‘Poof’ (Manlleu).
    ‘What about all the hours you’ve invested, what about that? Just flush them down the drain?’ (Mother).
    ‘Capricious gypsy’ (Manlleu).
    ‘And what is it you want to do?’ (Mother).
    ‘Study’ (me).
    ‘You can combine that with the violin, can’t you?’ (Bernat).
    ‘Study what?’ (Mother).
    ‘Bastard’ (Manlleu).
    ‘Poof’ (me).
    ‘Watch it, or I’ll walk out on you right now’ (Manlleu).
    ‘Do you even know what you want to study?’ (Mother).
    ‘How’ (Black Eagle, the valiant Arapaho chief).
    ‘Hey, I asked you what it is you want to study. Medicine?’ (Mother)
    ‘Ingrate’ (Manlleu).
    ‘Come on, Adrià, shit!’ (Bernat).
    ‘History’ (me).
    ‘Ha!’ (Mother).
    ‘What?’ (me).
    ‘You’ll starve to death. And get bored’ (Mother).
    ‘History!?’ (Manlleu).
    ‘Yes’ (Mother).
    ‘But history …’ (Manlleu).
    ‘Ha, ha … Tell me about it’ (Mother).
    ‘Traitor!!’ (Manlleu).
    ‘And I also want to study philosophy’ (me).
    ‘Philosophy?’ (Mother).
    ‘Philosophy?’ (Manlleu).
    ‘Philosophy?’ (Bernat).
    ‘Even worse’ (Mother).
    ‘Why even worse?’ (me)
    ‘If you have to choose between two evils, become a lawyer’ (Mother).
    ‘No. I hate the normalisation of life with rules’ (me).
    ‘Smart arse’ (Bernat).
    ‘What you want is to contradict just for the sake of contradicting. That’s your style, isn’t it?’ (Manlleu).
    ‘I want to understand humanity by studying its cultural evolution’ (me).
    ‘A smart arse, that’s what you are. Should we go to the cinema?’ (Bernat).
    ‘Sure, let’s go. Where?’ (me).
    ‘To the Publi’ (Bernat).
    ‘I don’t understand you, Son’ (Mother).
    ‘Irresponsible’ (Manlleu).
    ‘History, philosophy … Don’t you see they’re useless?’ (Manlleu).
    ‘What do you know!’ (me).
    ‘Arrogant!’ (Manlleu).
    ‘And music? What use is it?’ (me).
    ‘You’ll make a lot of money; look at it that way’ (Manlleu).
    ‘History, philosophy … Don’t you see they’re useless?’ (Bernat).
    ‘Tu quoque?’ (me).
    ‘What?’ (Bernat).
    ‘Nothing’ (me).
    ‘Did you like the film?’ (Bernat).
    ‘Well, yeah’ (me).
    ‘Well, yeah or yes?’ (Bernat).
    ‘Yes’ (me).
    ‘It’s useless!’ (Mother).
    ‘I like it’ (me).
    ‘And the shop? Would you like to work there?’ (Mother).
    ‘We’ll discuss that later’ (me).
    ‘How’ (Black Eagle, the valiant Arapaho chief).
    ‘Not now, damn, don’t be a drag’ (me).
    ‘And I want to study languages’ (me).
    ‘English is all you need’ (Manlleu).
    ‘What languages?’ (Mother).
    ‘I want to perfect my Latin and Greek. And start Hebrew, Aramaic and Sanskrit’ (me).
    ‘Whoa! What a disappointment …’ (Mother).
    ‘Latin, Greek and what else?’ (Manlleu).
    ‘Hebrew, Aramaic and Sanskrit’ (me).
    ‘You’ve got a screw loose, lad’ (Manlleu).
    ‘That depends’ (me).
    ‘The girls on aeroplanes speak English’ (Manlleu).
    ‘What?’ (me).
    ‘I can assure you that you have no need for Aramaic when flying to New York for a concert’ (Manlleu).
    ‘We speak different languages, Master Manlleu’ (me).
    ‘Abominable!’ (Manlleu).
    ‘Maybe you could stop insulting me’ (me).
    ‘Now I understand! I’m too difficult a role model for you’ (Manlleu).
    ‘No, no way!’ (me).
    ‘What does “no, no way” mean? Eh? What do you mean by “no, no way”?’ (Manlleu).
    ‘What is said cannot be unsaid’ (me).
    ‘Cold, arrogant, abominable, stupid, stuck-up, repulsive, detestable, haughty!’ (Manlleu).
    ‘Very well, as you wish’ (me).
    ‘What is said cannot be unsaid’ (Manlleu).
    ‘Bernat?’ (me).
    ‘What?’ (Bernat).
    ‘Want to go for a walk along the breakwater?’ (me).
    ‘Let’s go’ (Bernat).
    ‘If your father could see you now!’ (Mother).
    I’m sorry, but the day that Mother said that, in the middle of the war, I couldn’t help a booming, exaggerated laugh at the thought of a decapitated corpse seeing anything. I know that Little Lola, who was listening to everything from the kitchen, also stifled a smile. Mother, pale, realised too late what she’d said. We were all exhausted and we just left it at that. It was the seventh day of conflict.
    ‘How’ (Black Eagle, the valiant Arapaho chief).
    ‘I’m tired’ (me).
    ‘All right. But you should know that you’ve begun a war of attrition, of trenches, like World War One; I just want you to keep in mind that you are fighting on three fronts’ (Black Eagle, the valiant Arapaho chief).
    ‘You’re right. But I know that I don’t aspire to be an elite musician’ (me).
    ‘And, above all, don’t confuse tactics with strategy’ (Black Eagle, the valiant Arapaho chief).
    Sheriff Carson spat chaw on the ground and said keep it up, what the hell. If what you want is to spend your life reading, go ahead, you and your books. And tell the others where they can stuff it.
    ‘Thank you, Carson’ (me).
    ‘Don’t mention it’ (Sheriff Carson).
    It was the seventh day and we all went to sleep, worn out from so much tension and hoping an armistice would come. That night was the first of many in which I dreamt about Sara.
    From a strategic point of view it was very good that the armies of the Triple Alliance fought amongst themselves: Turkey stood up to Germany in Master Manlleu’s house. And that was good for the Entente, who had time to lick its wounds and begin to think about Sara constructively. The chronicles of the battle say that the old allies were bloodthirsty and cruel and that the screams could be heard echoing through the courtyard of Master Manlleu’s house. She said everything that had been kept quiet for years and accused him of not being able to hold on to a boy who was very flighty but had an extraordinary intellectual ability.
    ‘Don’t exaggerate.’
    ‘My son is extremely gifted. Didn’t you know? Haven’t we discussed it enough?’
    ‘There has only ever been one extremely gifted person in this house, Mrs Ardèvol.’
    ‘My son needs a guiding hand. Your ego, Mr Manlleu …’
    ‘Master Manlleu.’
    ‘You see? Your ego keeps you from seeing reality. We have to rethink the financial agreement.’
    ‘That’s unfair. This is all your extremely gifted son’s fault.’
    ‘Don’t try to be funny, it’s lame.’
    Then they moved straight into the insults (negroid, gypsy, coward, poof, cold, arrogant, abominable, stupid, stuck-up, repulsive, detestable and haughty on one hand. On the other, only pathetic.)
    ‘What did you just say to me?’
    ‘Pathetic.’ And bringing her face very close to his: ‘Pa-thet-ic!’
    ‘The last straw. Insulting me! I’ll take you to court.’
    ‘It would be a pleasure to be able to set a few lawyers on you. Now I won’t even pay you for next month. As far as I’m concerned … As for me … I’ll speak with Yehudi Menuhin.’
    And, it seems, they came to blows, he saying that Menuhin was greyness personified and that he’d charge her ten times more, while she headed towards the door, followed by an indignant Manlleu, who kept repeating do you know how Menuhin teaches? Do you know?
    When she heard the whack of the door to Manlleu’s house, after she herself had slammed it in rage, Carme Bosch knew that her dream of making Adrià into the finest violinist in the world was finished. What a shame, Little Lola. And I told Bernat that he would get used to it and I promised we could play together whenever he felt like it; at my house or his, whichever he preferred. Then I began to breathe and to be able to think about you without impediments.

19

    Et in Arcadia ego. Although Poussin made the painting thinking that it was death speaking, death which is present everywhere, even in the corners of happiness, I have always preferred to believe that it is my own ego speaking: I have been in Arcadia, Adrià has his Arcadia. Adrià, so sad, bald, miserable, pot-bellied and cowardly, has lived in an Arcadia, because I have had several and the first, the personified one, is your presence, and I’ve lost it forever. I was expelled from it by an angel with a fiery sword, and Adrià headed out covering his naughty bits and thinking from now on I’ll have to work to earn a living, alone, without you, my Sara. Another of my Arcadias — the one that is a place — is Tona, the ugliest and prettiest town in the world, where I spent fifteen summers frolicking on the edges of the fields of Can Casic, my body covered in the itchy spikes that came off the harvested piles where I hid from Xevi, Quico and Rosa, my inseparable companions during the eight weeks my summer out of Barcelona lasted, far from the tolling bells of the Concepció, the black and yellow taxis and anything that reminded me of school. Far from my parents; later, far from my mother, and far from the books that Adrià couldn’t bring with him. And we scampered up to the castle, to look out at Can Ges, the large house, the gardens and, in the distance, the farms; the landscape looked like a nativity scene. And closer, the fields covered in harvested piles and Can Casic, the small house, the old gnawed haystack, also like in a nativity scene. And further on, the cork mountains, the Collsacabra to the northeast and the Montseny to the east. And we shouted and were the kings of the world, especially Xevi, who was six years older than me and beat me at everything, until he started helping his father with the cows and stopped playing with us. Quico also won all the time, but one day I beat him in a race to the white wall. All right: it was because he tripped; but I won fair and square. And Rosa was very pretty and, yes, she too beat me at everything. At Aunt Leo’s house life was different. It was life without grumbling, without silences. People spoke and made eye contact. It was an immense house where Aunt Leo reigned without ever removing her neat, beige apron. Can Ges, the Ardèvol family home, is a vast house with more than thirteen rooms, open to every current in the summer and all the urban comforts in the winter, conveniently distanced from the cow barn and the horse stables, and whose southern face is adorned with a porch that was the best place in the world to read and also the best spot for practising the violin. My three cousins would casually come over to hear me, and I would practise repertoire instead of doing exercises, which is always more enjoyable, and one day a blackbird alighted on the porch’s parapet, beside a potted geranium, and watched me as I played Leclair’s Sonata No. 2 from his Second livre de sonates, which is very ornate and the blackbird seemed to really like and that Trullols had made me play one year in the opening concert at the conservatory on Bruc. And Tonton Leclair, when he wrote the last note, blew on the manuscript because he had run out of drying powder. Then he got up, satisfied, picked up his violin and played it without glancing at the score, thinking of impossible continuations. And he clicked his tongue, proud of himself. And he sat back down. On the lower half of the last page, which was blank, in his most ceremonious hand, he wrote: ‘I dedicate this sonata to my beloved nephew Guillaume-Francois, son of my beloved sister Annette, on the day of his birth. May his passage through this vale of tears be auspicious.’ He read it over and had to blow again, cursing all the servants in the house, who were incapable of keeping his writing implements in proper order. Everyone knew what had to be done, at Can Ges. Everyone, including me now, was welcome there as long as they fulfilled their duties. And in the summer, I didn’t have anything to do except eat bountifully, because these city lads are skinny as beanstalks, look at his colour when he gets here, poor thing. My cousins were older; Rosa, the youngest, was three years ahead of me. So I was sort of the spoiled baby they had to fatten up with real cow’s milk and proper sausage. And bread smeared with oil. And bread drizzled with wine and sprinkled with sugar. And streaked bacon. What worried Uncle Cinto was that Adrià had the somewhat unhealthy habit of shutting himself up in his room for hours reading books without illustrations, only letters: and that, at seven, ten or twelve years old, was frankly distressing. But Aunt Leo would gently place her hand on his uncle’s arm and he would change the subject, saying to Xevi that he’d have to come with him that afternoon because Prudenci was going to pay the cows a visit.
    ‘I want to come too,’ Rosa.
    ‘No.’
    ‘And me?’
    ‘Yes.’
    Rosa stormed off, affronted because Adrià, who was the littlest, could go with you and I can’t.
    ‘It’s very unpleasant, my girl,’ said Aunt Leo.
    And I went to see how Prudenci jammed his fist and entire arm into Blanca’s arsehole and then said something I didn’t catch to my uncle and Xevi jotted it down on a piece of paper and Blanca chewed her cud, oblivious to the worries of the—
    ‘Watch out, watch out, watch out, she’s pissing!’ shouted Adrià in excitement.
    The men moved aside, still discussing their matters, but I stayed in the front row because watching a cow piss and shit from the stalls was one of the great spectacles life in Tona had to offer. Like watching Parrot, the mule at Can Casic, piss. That was really something to see, and that’s why I think my aunt and uncle were being unfair with poor Rosa. And there were more things, like fishing for tadpoles in the stream beside the Matamonges gully. And returning with eight or ten victims that we kept in a glass bottle.
    ‘Poor creatures.’
    ‘No, Auntie, I’ll feed them every day.’
    ‘Poor creatures.’
    ‘I’ll give them bread, I promise.’
    ‘Poor creatures.’
    I wanted to see how they turned into frogs or, more often, into dead tadpoles because we never thought to change their water or about what they could eat inside the bottle. And the swallows’ nests in the lean-to. And the sudden downpours. And the apotheosis of the threshing days at Can Casic, where the grain was no longer winnowed but separated by machines that made the haystack and filled the town and my memories with straw dust. Et in Arcadia ego, Adrià Ardèvol. No one can take those memories from me. And now I think that Aunt Leo and Uncle Cinto must have been made of solid stuff because they pretended nothing had happened after the fight between the two brothers. It was a long time ago. Adrià hadn’t been born yet. And I knew about it because the summer I turned twenty, to avoid being alone with Mother in Barcelona, I decided to spend three or four weeks in Tona, if you’ll have me. I was also feeling somewhat forlorn because Sara, who I was already dating while keeping it secret from both families, had had to go to Cadaqués with her parents and I was feeling so, so alone.
    ‘What does if you’ll have me mean? Don’t ever say that again,’ said my Aunt Leo, indignant. ‘When are you coming?’
    ‘Tomorrow.’
    ‘Your cousins aren’t here. Well, Xevi is, but he spends all day at the farm.’
    ‘I reckoned.’
    ‘Josep and Maria from Can Casic died this past winter.’
    ‘Oh, no.’
    ‘And Viola died of grief.’ Silence on the other end of the line. As a consolation: ‘They were very old, both of them. Josep walked in a right angle, poor thing. And the dog was also very old.’
    ‘I’m so sorry.’
    ‘Bring your violin.’
    So I told Mother that Aunt Leo had invited me and I couldn’t refuse. Mother didn’t say yes or no. We were very distant and didn’t speak much. I spent my days studying and reading, and she spent hers in the shop. And when I was at home, her gaze still accused me of capriciously throwing away a brilliant violin career.
    ‘Did you hear me, Mother?’
    It seems that, as always, in the shop, there were problems she didn’t want to let me in on. And so, without looking at me, she just said bring them a little gift.
    ‘Like what?’
    ‘I don’t know. Something small, you choose it.’
    My first day in Tona, with my hands in my pockets, I went into town to find a little gift at Can Berdagué. And when I reached the main square I saw her sitting at the tables of El Racó, drinking tiger nut milk and smiling at me as if she were waiting for me. Well, she was waiting for me. At first I didn’t recognise her; but then, wait, I know her, who is she, who is she, who is she. I knew that smile.
    ‘Ciao,’ she said.
    Then I recognised her. She was no longer an angel, but she had the same angelic smile. Now she was a grown woman, simply lovely. She waved me over to sit by her side, and I obeyed.
    ‘My Catalan is still very spotty.’
    I asked her if we could speak in Italian. Then she asked me caro Adrià, sai chi sono, vero?
    I didn’t buy any gift for Aunt Leo at Can Berdagué. The first hour was spent with her drinking tiger nut milk and Adrià swallowing hard. She didn’t stop talking and she explained everything to me that Adrià didn’t know or pretended not to know because even though he was now twenty years old, at home such things weren’t discussed. It was she, in Tona’s main square, who told me that my angel and I were siblings.
    I looked at her, stunned. It was the first time that anyone had put it into words. She could sense my confusion.
    ‘É vero,’ she insisted.
    ‘This is like something out of a photo-novel,’ I said, wanting to conceal my bewilderment.
    She didn’t bat an eyelash. She clarified that she was old enough to be my mother, but that she was my half-sister, and she showed me a birth certificate or something where my father recognised his paternity of some Daniela Amato, which was her according to her passport, which she also showed me. So she had been waiting for me, with the conversation and the documents at the ready. So what I half knew but no one had come out and said was true; I, only child par excellence, had an older, much older, sister. And I felt defrauded by Father, by Mother, by Little Lola and by so many secrets. And I think it hurt me that Sheriff Carson had never even ever insinuated it. A sister. I looked at her again: she was just as pretty as when she’d showed up at my house in angel form, but she was a forty-six year old woman who was my sister. We had never played over boring Sunday afternoons. She would have gone off laughing with Little Lola, and covering her mouth with her hand every time they’d caught a man looking at them.
    ‘But you’re my mother’s age,’ I said, just to say something.
    ‘A bit younger.’ I noticed an irritated tone in her reply.
    Her name was Daniela. And she told me that her mother … and she explained a very beautiful love story, and I couldn’t imagine Father in love and I kept very quiet and listened, listened to what she told me and tried to imagine it, and I don’t know why she started to talk about the relationship between the two brothers, because Father, before beginning his studies at the seminary in Vic, had had to learn to winnow the wheat, to thresh properly and to touch Estrella’s belly to see if she had finally got knocked up. Grandfather Ardèvol had taught both sons to tie the hampers tightly to the mule and to know that if the clouds were dark but came from Collsuspina they always blew past without a sprinkle. Uncle Cinto, who was the heir, put more care into things around the farm. And in the management of the land, the harvests, and the hired hands. Our father, on the other hand, was in the clouds whenever he could be, thinking and reading hidden in the corners, like you do. When they, somewhat desperately, sent Father to the seminary in Vic he was already, despite his lack of interest, half-trained to be a farmer. There he found his motivation and started to learn Latin, Greek and some lessons from the great teachers. Verdaguer’s shadow was still fresh and ran through the hallways, and two out of three seminarians tried their hand at writing verse; but not our father: he wanted to study the philosophy and theology they offered him in instalments.
    ‘And how do you know all this?’
    ‘My mother explained it to me. Our father was quite talkative as a young man. Later, it seems he shut up like a closed umbrella, like a mummy.’
    ‘What else?’
    ‘They sent him to Rome because he was very clever. And he got my mother pregnant. And he fled Rome because he was a coward. And I was born.’
    ‘Wow … like something out of a photo-novel,’ I insisted.
    Daniela, instead of getting annoyed, smiled encouragingly and continued with her story saying and your father had a fight with his brother.
    ‘With Uncle Cinto?’
    ‘You can shove the idea of marrying me off to that drip where the sun don’t shine,’ said Fèlix, pushing the photo back at him.
    ‘But you won’t have to lift a finger! The estate is a well-oiled machine. I’ve looked into it carefully. And you can devote yourself to your books, hell, what more do you want?’
    ‘And why are you in such a hurry to marry me off?’
    ‘Our parents asked me to; that if you ever left the path of priesthood … then you should marry; that I should have you marry.’
    ‘But you’re not married! Who are you to …’
    ‘I will be. I have my eye on a …’
    ‘As if they were cows.’
    ‘You can’t offend me. Mama knew it would be work to convince you.’
    ‘I’ll marry when I’m good and ready. If I ever do.’
    ‘I can find you a better-looking one,’ said Cinto, putting away the grey photo of the heiress of Can Puig.
    Then our father asked, too curtly, if Cinto would buy out his share of the estate because he wanted to move to Barcelona. That was when the shouting began and the words thrown like rocks, to hurt. And both brothers looked at each other with hatred. It didn’t come to blows. Fèlix Ardèvol got his share and they didn’t have much to do with each other for a few years. Thanks to Leo’s insistence, Father showed up when she and Cinto married. But then the brothers grew apart. One, buying up land in the area, raising livestock, making fodder, and the other, spending his share on mysterious trips to Europe.
    ‘What do you mean by mysterious trips?’
    Daniela slurped up the last of her tiger nut milk and said no more. Adrià went to pay and when he returned he said why don’t we take a walk, and Tori, the waiter at El Racó, as he sullied the table with a cleaning rag, made a face as if to say damn, I wouldn’t mind getting my paws on that French lady, no, I would not.
    Still standing, in the square, Daniela stood in front of him and put on dark glasses that gave her a modern and inevitably foreign air. As if they shared a private secret, she came over to him and undid the top button on his shirt.
    ‘Scusa,’ she said.
    And Tori thought bloody hell, how did that punk kid get a French lady like that. And he shook his head, astonished that the world moved so fast, as Daniela’s gaze fell on the little chain with the medallion.
    ‘I didn’t know you were religious.’
    ‘This isn’t religious.’
    ‘The Madonna of Pardàc is a Virgin Mary.’
    ‘It’s a keepsake.’
    ‘From who?’
    ‘I don’t rightly know.’
    Daniela stifled a smile, rubbed the medallion with her fingers and let it drop onto Adrià’s chest. He hid it, angered by that invasion of his privacy. So he added it’s none of your business.
    ‘That depends.’
    He didn’t understand her. They walked in silence.
    ‘It’s a lovely medallion.’
    Jachiam pulled it out, showed it to the jeweller and said it’s gold. And the chain is too.
    ‘You haven’t stolen it?’
    ‘No! Little Bettina, my blind sister, gave it to me so I would never feel lonely.’
    ‘And so why do you want to sell it?’
    ‘That surprises you?’
    ‘Well … a family heirloom …’
    ‘My family … Oh, how I miss the living and the dead. My mother, my father and all the Muredas: Agno, Jenn, Max, Hermes, Josef, Theodor, Micurà, Ilse, Erica, Katharina, Matilde, Gretchen and little blind Bettina … I miss the landscape of Pardàc too.’
    ‘Why don’t you go back?’
    ‘Because there are still people there who want to hurt me and my family has let me know that it wouldn’t be prudent to …’
    ‘Yeah …’ said the goldsmith, lowering his head to get a better look at the medallion, not even slightly interested in the problems of the Muredas of Pardàc.
    ‘I sent my siblings a lot of money, to help them.’
    ‘Aha.’
    He continued to examine it before giving it back to its owner.
    ‘Pardàc is Predazzo?’ he said, looking him in the eye, as if he had just thought of something.
    ‘The people of the plains call it Predazzo, yes. But it’s Pardàc … Don’t you want to buy it?’
    The jeweller shook his head.
    ‘If you spend the winter with me, I’ll teach you my trade and when the snows melt you can go wherever you like. But don’t sell the medallion.’
    And Jachiam learned the trade of smelting metals to turn them into rings, medallions and earrings and for a few months he buried his longing at that good man’s house until one day, shaking his head, he said, as if picking up the thread of their first conversation: ‘Whom did you entrust the money to?’
    ‘What money?’
    ‘The money you sent to your family.’
    ‘A trustworthy man.’
    ‘From Occitania?’
    ‘Yes, why?’
    ‘No, nothing, nothing …’
    ‘What have you heard?’
    ‘What was the man’s name?’
    ‘I called him Blond. His name was Blond of Cazilhac. He was very blond.’
    ‘I don’t think he got past …’
    ‘What?’
    ‘They killed him. And robbed him.’
    ‘Who?’
    ‘Mountain people.’
    ‘From Moena?’
    ‘I believe so.’
    That morning, with the winter’s wages in his pocket, Jachiam asked for the jeweller’s blessing and rushed northward to find out what had happened to the Muredas’s money and poor Blond. He walked rapidly, spurred on by rage and throwing all caution to the wind. On the fifth day he reached Moena and began bellowing in the main square. Come out, Brocias, he said, and a Brocia who heard him warned his cousin, and that cousin told another, and when they were ten men they went down to the square, snatched up Jachiam and brought him to the river. His panicked screams didn’t reach Pardàc. The medallion of the Madonna dai Ciüf was kept, as a reward, by the Brocia who had seen him.
    ‘Pardàc is in Trento,’ said Adrià.
    ‘But in my house,’ replied Daniela, pensively, ‘they always said that a sailor uncle I’d never met brought it back from Africa.’
    They strolled to the cemetery and the chapel of Lourdes without saying anything, and it was a lovely day for walking. After half an hour of silence, sitting on the stone benches in the chapel’s garden, Adrià, who now trusted her more, pointed to his chest and said do you want it?
    ‘No. It’s yours. Don’t ever lose it.’
    The sun’s trajectory had shifted the shadows in the garden, and Adrià again asked what do you mean about Father’s mysterious trips.
    He had checked into a little hotel in the Borgo, five minutes from St. Peter’s in the Vatican, on the edge of the Passetto. It was a discreet, modest and inexpensive hostel called Bramante that was run by a Roman matron who had spent many years rearing geese with an iron hand and who looked like a page pulled from the transition between Julius and Augustus. The first person he visited once he was set up in the narrow, damp room overlooking the Vicolo delle Palline was Father Morlin, whose initial reaction was to stand staring in the door to the cloister of the Santa Sabina monastery, struggling to remember who that man was who … no!
    ‘Fèlix Ardevole!’ he shouted. ‘Il mio omonimo! Vero?’
    Fèlix Ardèvol nodded and submissively kissed the friar’s hand, who was sweating beneath his heavy habit. Morlin, after looking him in the eyes, hesitated for a moment and instead of having him enter one of the visiting rooms, or stroll in the cloister, he sent him down an empty corridor, with the occasional worthless painting on its white walls. A very long corridor with few doors. Instinctively lowering his tone of voice, like in the old days, he said what do you want, and Fèlix Ardèvol replied I want contacts, only contacts. I want to establish a shop and I think you can help me to find top quality material.
    They walked a few steps in silence. It was strange because despite the barrenness of the location, neither their footsteps nor their words echoed. Father Morlin must have known it was a discreet spot. When they had passed two paintings, he stopped in front of a very modest Annunciation, wiped his brow and looked him in the eye: ‘While you are at war? How were you able to get out?’
    ‘I can come and go pretty easily. I have my system. And I have contacts.’
    Father Morlin’s expression seemed to indicate that he didn’t want to know any more details.
    They talked for a long time. Fèlix Ardèvol’s idea was crystal clear: in the last few years, many Germans, Austrians and Poles began to feel uncomfortable with Hitler’s plans and searched for a change of scenery.
    ‘You are looking for rich Jews.’
    ‘People on the run always have great bargains for an antiquarian. Take me to those wanting to move to America. I’ll take care of the rest.’
    They reached the end of the corridor. A window overlooked a small austere cloister, decorated only with geraniums the colour of blood in some pots on the ground. Fèlix had trouble imagining a Dominican friar watering a row of geraniums. On the other side of the small cloister a similar window perfectly framed, as if on purpose, the distant dome of Saint Peter’s. For a few seconds, Fèlix Ardèvol thought that he’d like to take the window and its view along with him. He returned to reality, convinced that Morlin had brought him there to show him the window.
    ‘I need three or four addresses, of people in such circumstances.’
    ‘And how do you know, dear Ardevole, that I could help you with this?’
    ‘I have my sources: I devote many hours to my work and I know that you’ve been constantly widening your circle of contacts.’
    Father Morlin took the blow but showed no outward reaction.
    ‘And where does this sudden interest in others’ objects come from?’
    He was about to say because my work fascinates me; because when I find an object that I’m interested in, the world reduces to that object, whether it’s a statuette, a painting, a document or a fabric. And the world is filled with objects that need no justification. There are objects that …
    ‘I’ve become a collector.’ He specified: ‘I am a collector.’
    ‘A collector of what?’
    ‘A collector.’ He opened his arms, like Saint Dominic preaching from the throne. ‘I’m looking for beautiful things.’
    And heavens did Father Morlin have information. If there was one person in the world able to know everything while barely ever leaving Santa Sabina, it was Father Fèlix Morlin, a friend to his friends and, according to what they say, a danger to his enemies. Ardevole was a friend and, therefore, they soon came to an agreement. First, Fèlix Ardèvol had to put up with a sermon about the frenzied times that were their lot and no one wants, and to make a good impression he added a you can say that again, you can say that again, and if you were watching from a distance, you’d think they were reciting the litanies of the rosary. And the frenzied times that Europe was experiencing were starting to force a lot of people to look towards America and, thanks to Father Morlin, Fèlix Ardèvol spent a few months travelling through Europe before the fire, trying to save the furniture from any likely earthquake. His first contact was Tiefer Graben, in Vienna’s Innere Stadt district. It was a very nice house, not very wide but surely quite deep. He rang the bell and smiled sympathetically at the woman who had opened the door to him somewhat reluctantly. With that first contact he was able to buy all of the house’s furnishings, which, after setting aside the five most valuable objects, he resold for twice the price without leaving Vienna, almost without crossing the Ring. Such a spectacular success that it could have given him a swelled head, but Fèlix Ardèvol was an astute man, as well as intelligent. And so he proceeded with caution. In Nuremberg he bought a collection of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century painting: two Fragonards, an evanescent Watteau and three Rigauds. And the Mignon with the yellow gardenias, I imagine, which he saved for himself. Pontegradella, near Ferrara, was where he first held a valuable musical instrument in his hands. It was a viola made by Nicola Galliano of Naples. As he considered buying it, he even lamented not having learned to play that type of instrument. He knew enough to stay silent until the seller, a viola player named Davide Fiordaliso who, according to what his sources had informed him, had been forced out of the Vienna Philharmonic because of the new race laws and was reduced to earning a living playing in a café in Ferrara, anxiously told him due milioni in a very soft voice. He looked at Signor Arrau, who’d spent an hour examining the viola with a magnifying glass, and Arrau gave him the sign with his eyes that meant yes. Fèlix Ardèvol knew that what he had to do then was give the object back to its owner with an offended expression on his face and offer some absurdly low figure. He did it, but he was so reluctant to endanger his chances of possessing that viola, that afterwards he had to sit down and rethink his strategy. One thing was buying and selling with a cool head and the other was setting up the shop, if he ever did. He bought the viola for duecentomila lire. And he refused to have a coffee with the seller whose hands trembled violently, because in war they teach you not to look your victim in the eye. A Galliano. Signor Arrau told him that, although instruments weren’t his strong suit, he’d venture that he could get three times that if he discreetly spread the word and wasn’t in a rush to sell. And if he wished, he would introduce him to another Catalan, Signor Berenguer, a promising young man who had learned to appraise things with extraordinary precision and who, when the war ended in Spain, which had to happen someday, planned to return home.
    On the advice of Father Morlin, who seemed to know it all, he rented a storage space in a village near Zurich and stockpiled the sofas, canapes, console tables, Fragonards, Chippendale chairs and Watteaus there. And the Galliano viola. He still couldn’t even imagine that one day a string instrument, similar on the face of it, would be his end. But he had already made a clear distinction between the shop and his private collection comprised of the most select objects in his catalogue.
    Every once in a while he returned to Rome, to the Bramante hostel, and met with Morlin. They talked about possible clients, they talked about the future, and Morlin let on that the war in Spain would never end because Europe was now undergoing a convulsive period and that meant things would be very uncomfortable. The world map had to be reworked and the fastest way to do that was with bombs and trenches, he said with a touch of nonchalant resignation.
    ‘And how do you know all this?’
    I was unable to ask any other question. Daniela and I had gone up the Barri path to the castle, as if we were walking with someone elderly who didn’t want to tackle the other, much steeper, one.
    ‘What a marvellous view,’ she said.
    In front of the castle’s chapel, they looked out at the Plana, and Adrià thought about his Arcadia, but only fleetingly. ‘How do you know so much about my father?’
    ‘Because he’s my father. What’s the name of that mountain in the distance?’
    ‘The Montseny.’
    ‘Doesn’t it all look like a nativity scene?’
    What do you know about my crèches, the ones we never set up at home, I thought. But Daniela was right, Tona looked more like a nativity scene than ever and Adrià couldn’t help but point downhill, ‘Can Ges.’
    ‘Yes. And Can Casic.’
    They walked to the Torre dels Moros. Inside it was filled with piss and shit. Outside, there was the wind and the landscape. Adrià sat beside the precipice to get a good view of his landscape. Until then he hadn’t formulated the right question: ‘Why are you telling me all this?’
    She sat beside him and without looking at him said that they were brother and sister, that they had to understand each other, that she was the owner of Can Casic.
    ‘I already know that. My mother told me.’
    ‘I’m planning on demolishing the house, the filth, the pond, the manure and the stench of rotten hay. And put up new houses there.’
    ‘Don’t even think it.’
    ‘You’ll get used to the idea.’
    ‘Viola died of grief.’
    ‘Who is Viola?’
    ‘The bitch of Can Casic. Dark beige with a black snout and droopy ears.’
    Surely Daniela didn’t understand him, but she didn’t say anything. Adrià stared at her for a few seconds in silence.
    ‘Why are you telling me all this?’
    ‘You need to know who our father was.’
    ‘You hate him.’
    ‘Our father is dead, Adrià.’
    ‘But you hate him. Why have you come to Tona?’
    ‘To talk to you without your mother around. To talk to you about the shop. When it’s yours I would like to be involved as a partner.’
    ‘But why are you telling this to me? Deal with my mother …’
    ‘Your mother is impossible to deal with. And you know that full well.’
    The sun had hidden behind Collsuspina some time ago and I felt an immense void inside of me. The light was gradually dimming and I thought I could hear the crickets starting. The pale moon awoke drowsily, rising early, over the Collsacabra. When the shop is mine, was that what she had said?
    ‘It will eventually be yours, sooner or later.’
    ‘Go to hell.’
    I said that last bit in Catalan. From her slight smile I could tell she had understood me perfectly even though she didn’t bat an eyelash.
    ‘I still have more things to tell you about. By the way, what violin did you bring with you?’
    ‘I’m not planning on practising much at all. In fact, I’ve stopped my lessons. I only brought it for Aunt Leo.’
    Since it would soon be dark, they started the walk down. Along the steep path, in revenge, he took long strides, making light of the precipice, and she, despite her narrow skirt, followed him without any apparent problems. The moon was already at its height when they reached the level of the trees, near the cemetery.
    ‘But which violin did you bring with you?’
    ‘My student one. Why?’
    ‘As far as I know,’ continued Signor Somethingorother, still standing in the middle of the street, ‘it is a violin that has never been played regularly: like the Stradivarius Messiah, do you understand what I’m saying?’
    ‘No,’ said Ardèvol, impatient.
    ‘I’m saying that makes it even more valuable. Guillaume-François Vial made off with it the very same year it was made, and its whereabouts since then are unknown. Perhaps it has been played, but I have no record of it. And now we find it here. It is an instrument of incalculable value.’
    ‘That is what I wanted to hear, caro dottore.’
    ‘Is it really his first?’ asked Mr Berenguer, his interest piqued.
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘I would forget about it, Mr Ardèvol. That’s a lot of money.’
    ‘Is it worth it?’ asked Fèlix Ardèvol, looking at Somethingorother.
    ‘I would pay it without thinking twice. If you have the money. It has an incredibly lovely sound.’
    ‘I don’t give a damn about its sound.’
    ‘And exceptional symbolic value.’
    ‘That does matter to me.’
    They said goodbye because it was starting to rain. They said goodbye after Signor Somethingorother got paid his expert’s fee, right there on the street. The ravages of war, besides millions of dead and entire cities destroyed, had got people out of the habits of courtesy and they now settled things on any old street corner, deals that could seriously affect more than one life. They said goodbye when Fèlix Ardèvol said all right, that he would take Mr Berenguer’s advice and that yes, fifty thousand dollars was too much money. And thank you both very much. And until we meet again, if we ever do. Mr Berenguer, before going round the corner, turned to observe Ardèvol. He pretended to be lighting a cigarette that he didn’t have in his hand in order to get a better look. Fèlix Ardèvol felt the other man’s gaze on the back of his neck but didn’t turn.
    ‘Who is Mr Falegnami?
    He was back at the Santa Sabina monastery. They were back in the discreet corridor without an echo. Father Morlin checked his watch and sent Ardèvol, forcefully, out towards the street.
    ‘Blast it, Morlin, it’s raining!’
    Father Morlin opened a huge umbrella, the size used by country folk, grabbed Ardèvol by the arm and they started walking in front of the monastery. They looked like a Dominican friar consoling and giving advice to a poor mortal with a heavy conscience, pacing in front of Santa Sabina’s facade, as if they were speaking of infidelities, fits of lust, sinful feelings of envy or rage, and it’s been many years since my last confession, Father, and for the passers-by it was an uplifting image.
    ‘He’s the concierge of the Ufficio della Giustizia e della Pace.’
    ‘I already know that.’ Two drenched strides. ‘Who is he, come on. How is it that he has such a valuable violin?’
    ‘So it really is incredibly valuable …’
    ‘You’ll have your commission.’
    ‘I know what he’s asking.’
    ‘I reckoned as much. But you don’t know what I’m going to give him.’
    ‘His name isn’t Falegnami: it’s Zimmermann.’
    He looked at him out of the corner of his eye. After a few steps in silence, Father Morlin tested the waters: ‘You don’t know who he is, do you?’
    ‘I’m convinced his real name isn’t Zimmermann either.’
    ‘It’s best if you continue to call him Falegnami. You can offer him a quarter of what he asked you for. But don’t make him feel choked because …’
    ‘Because he’s dangerous.’
    ‘Yes.’
    An American army jeep passed quickly along the Corso and splashed the bottoms of their habit and trousers.
    ‘Damn it to hell,’ said Ardèvol, without raising his voice. Morlin shook his head with displeasure.
    ‘My dear friend,’ he said with a distant smile as if looking into the future, ‘your character will be your undoing.’
    ‘What do you mean?’
    ‘That you should know that you aren’t as strong as you think you are. And even less so in times like these.’
    ‘Who is this Zimmermann?’
    Félix Morlin took his friend by the arm. The whisper of the rain hitting the umbrella didn’t drown out his voice.
    Outside, the extreme cold had turned the downpour into a profuse, silent snowfall. Inside, as he looked into the iridescent colour of the wine in his raised glass, he said, I was born into a wealthy and very religious family, and the moral rectitude of my upbringing has helped me to assume the difficult task, by direct order from the Führer via the explicit instructions from Reichsführer Himmler, of becoming a stalwart defence against the enemy inside our fatherland. This wine is excellent, Doctor.
    ‘Thank you,’ said Doctor Voigt, a bit weary of so much talk. ‘It is an honour for me to be able to taste it here, in my improvised home,’ he thought to say. With each passing day he was more repulsed by these grotesque characters without the slightest manners.
    ‘Improvised but comfortable,’ said the Oberlagerführer.
    A second little sip. Outside, the snow was already covering the earth’s unmentionables with a modest thick sheet of cold. Rudolf Höss continued, ‘For me, orders are sacred, no matter how difficult they may seem, since as an SS I must be willing to completely sacrifice my personality in the fulfilment of my duty to the fatherland.’
    Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
    ‘Of course, Obersturmbannführer Höss.’
    And then Höss told him, loudly, about that pathetic episode with Soldier Bruno something or other, until, as if he were Dietmar Kehlmann at the Berliner Theater, he ended with the famous line take away this carrion. He had told it to about twenty people and, as far as Doctor Voigt knew, always concluded with the same shrill ending.
    ‘My parents, who were fervent Catholics in a predominantly Lutheran, if not Calvinist, Germany, wanted me to be a priest. I spent quite some time considering it.’
    Envious wretch.
    ‘You would have made a good priest, Obersturbannführer Höss.’
    ‘I imagine so.’
    And conceited.
    ‘I’m sure: everything you do, you do well.’
    ‘What you’ve just made out to be a virtue, could also be my ruin. And especially now that Reichsführer Himmler is going to visit us.’
    ‘Why?’
    ‘Because as Oberlagerführer, I am responsible for all the failings of the system. For example, I only have two or three cans at the most left from the last shipment of Zyklon gas and the quartermaster hasn’t even thought to tell me to make a new order. And so I’ll have to ask for favours, get some lorries to come here that probably should be somewhere else, and stifle my craving to yell at the quartermaster because we are all working at our limit, here at Auschwitz.’
    ‘I imagine that the experience of Dachau …’
    ‘From a psychological point of view, the difference is vast. At Dachau we had prisoners.’
    ‘From what I understand huge numbers of them died and still do.’
    This doctor is an imbecile, thought Höss. Let’s call a spade a spade.
    ‘Yes, Doctor Voigt, but Dachau is a prison camp. Auschwitz-Birkenau is designed, created and calculated to exterminate rats. If it weren’t for the fact that Jews aren’t human, I would think we are living in hell, with one door that leads to a gas chamber and another place that’s cremation ovens and their flames, or the open pits in the forest, where we burn the remaining units, because we can’t keep up with all the material they send us. This is the first time I’ve talked about these things with someone not involved in the camp, Doctor.’
    And who does this brainless piece of shit think he was then?
    ‘It’s good to vent every once in a while, Obersturmbannführer Höss.’
    It feels good to really get things off your chest, even if it’s with a conceited, stupid doctor like this one, thought Höss.
    ‘I’m counting on your professional secrecy, because the Reichsführer …’
    ‘Naturally. You, who are a Christian … In short, a psychiatrist is like a confessor, the confessor you could have been.’
    ‘My men have to be strong to carry out the task they have been entrusted with. The other day a soldier, more than thirty years old, not some teenager, burst into tears in one of the barracks in front of his comrades.’
    ‘And what happened?’
    ‘Bruno, Bruno, wake up!’
    Although it’s hard to believe, the Oberlagerführer, the Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss, was about to relate the entire scene again from start to finish as soon as he drank his second glass of wine. By the fourth or fifth, his eyes were glassy. Then he began to be incoherent and inadvertently let slip that he was fixated on a Jewish girl. The doctor was shocked but he concealed it, telling himself that it could be very interesting information to use in periods of hardship. So the next day he spoke with Gefreiter Hänsch and very politely asked him whom the Obersturmbannführer was referring to. It was simple: his maid. And he jotted it down in his ‘just in case’ notebook.
    A few days later, he had to once again tend to the odious task of selecting merchandise. Shielded, Doctor Voigt observed the soldiers, who tried to forcefully convince the women to let their children be taken away. He saw the selection that Doctor Budden made, the ten girls and boys that he had ordered, and then he noticed an old woman who was coughing and weeping. He went over to her.
    ‘What’s this?’
    He touched the case with his hand, but the old shrew stepped back; who did that contemptible hag think she was, he thought. The old woman clung to the case in such a way that it was impossible to get it from her. Sturmbannführer Voigt pulled out his pistol, aimed it at the back of the woman’s worn, grey neck and fired; the weak pac! was barely heard amid the general wailing. And the disgusting crone splattered blood on the violin case. The doctor ordered Emmanuel to clean it off and bring it to his office at once; meanwhile he headed off as he put away his weapon, followed by many terrified eyes.
    ‘Here’s the thing you asked for,’ said Emmanuel, a few minutes later. And he put the case down on the desk. It was a fine one; that was what had caught Doctor Voigt’s eye. A fine case doesn’t usually hide a bad instrument. A person who spends money on a case has already spent plenty on the instrument. And if the instrument is good, you hold on to it for dear life, even if you are headed to Auschwitz.
    ‘Break the lock.’
    ‘How, commander?’
    ‘Use your imagination.’ Suddenly startled: ‘But don’t shoot it!’
    The assistant opened it with a non-standard issue knife, a detail which Voigt wrote down in his ‘just in case’ notebook. He waved him off and, somewhat excited, opened the violin case. There was an instrument inside, yes; but at first glance he could already see it was nothing … No, wait a minute. He picked it up and read the label inside: Laurentius Storioni Cremonensis me fecit 1764. Would you look at that.
    Höss, that idiot clodhopper, had him come in at three, wrinkled his nose and dared to tell him that, as a temporary guest to the Lager, you have no right to make a scene by executing a unit in the reception and selection area, Doctor Voigt.
    ‘She refused to obey me.’
    ‘What was she carrying?’
    ‘A violin.’
    ‘Can I see it?’
    ‘It’s nothing valuable, Obersturmbannführer.’
    ‘Doesn’t matter, but I still want to see it.’
    ‘Trust me, it’s of no interest.’
    ‘That’s an order.’
    Doctor Voigt opened the door to the pharmacy’s cabinet and said, with a soft voice and a fawning smile, ‘As you wish, Obersturmbannführer.’
    As he examined it and checked its scars, Rudolf Höss said I don’t know any musician who can tell me what it’s worth.
    ‘Must I remind you that I am the one who found it, Obersturmbannführer?’
    Rudolf Höss lifted his head, surprised by Doctor Voigt’s excessively curt tone. He let a few seconds pass so the other man would have a chance to realise that he had realised what there was to realise, although he wasn’t altogether sure what that was.
    ‘Didn’t you say it wasn’t worth anything?’
    ‘It’s not. But I like it.’
    ‘Well, I’m going to keep it, Doctor Voigt. In compensation for …’
    He didn’t know in compensation for what. So he let it trail off with a dot dot dot as he put the instrument back in its case and closed it.
    ‘How disgusting.’ He extended his arms to look at it. ‘That’s blood, right?’
    He leaned back against the wall.
    ‘Because of your little whim, I’ll have to change the case.’
    ‘I’ll do it, because I’m keeping it.’
    ‘You are mistaken, my friend: I’m keeping it.’
    ‘You are not keeping it, Obersturmbannführer.’
    Rudolf Höss grabbed the case by the handle, as if he was preparing to come to blows. Now he clearly saw that the instrument was valuable. From the Doctor Commander’s boldness, it must be very valuable. He smiled, but he had to stop smiling when he heard the words of Doctor Voigt, who brought his breath and his thickset nose close to Höss’s face: ‘You can’t keep it because I will report you.’
    ‘On what grounds?’ Höss, perplexed.
    ‘Six hundred and fifteen thousand, four hundred and twenty-eight.’
    ‘What?’
    ‘Elisaveta Meireva.’
    ‘What?’
    ‘Unit number six hundred and fifteen thousand, four hundred and twenty-eight. Six, one, five, four, two, eight, Elisaveta Meireva. Your maid. Reichsführer Himmler will condemn you to death when he finds out you’ve had sexual relations with a Jewess.’
    Red as a tomato, Höss put the violin down on the desk with a thud.
    ‘All your talk about confessional secrets, you bastard.’
    ‘I’m no priest.’
    The violin remained with Doctor Voigt, who was just passing through Auschwitz, supervising with an iron hand the experiments of Doctor Budden, that stuck-up Obersturmführer who must have swallowed a broomstick one day and had yet to shit it out. And also the experiments of three more deputy doctors; what he had conceived as the most in-depth investigation ever attempted on the limits of pain. As for Höss, he spent a few days nervously clenching his arse cheeks together, wondering whether that artful poof of a bandit, Aribert Voigt, was, in addition to being an artful poof of a pirate, also a blabbermouth.
    ‘Five thousand dollars, Mr Falegnami.’
    The man with the frightened, increasingly glassy eyes stared into Fèlix Ardèvol’s.
    ‘Are you pulling my leg?’
    ‘No. Look, you know what? I’ll take it for three thousand, Mr Zimmermann.’
    ‘You’ve gone mad.’
    ‘No. Either you give it to me for that price or … Well, the authorities will be very interested in knowing that Doctor Aribert Voigt, Sturmbannführer Voigt, is alive, hidden a kilometre away from the Vatican City, probably with the complicity of someone high up in the Vatican. And that he’s trying to sell a violin nicked from Auschwitz.’
    Mr Falegnami had pulled out a feminine little parlour gun and aimed it at him nervously. Fèlix Ardèvol didn’t even flinch. He pretending to be stifling a smile and shook his head as if he were very displeased, ‘You are alone. How will you get rid of my corpse?’
    ‘It will be a pleasure to face that challenge.’
    ‘You’ll still be left with an even bigger one: if I don’t walk out of here on my own two feet, the people waiting for me on the street already have their instructions.’ He pointed to the gun, sternly. ‘And now I’ll take it for two thousand. Don’t you know that you are one of the Allies’ ten most wanted?’ He improvised that part in the tone of someone scolding an unruly child.
    Doctor Voigt watched as Ardèvol pulled out a wad of notes and put them on the table. He lowered the gun, with his eyes wide, incredulous: ‘That’s not even fifteen hundred!’
    ‘Don’t make me lose my patience, Sturmbannführer Voigt.’
    That was Fèlix Ardèvol’s doctorate in buying and selling. A half an hour later he was out on the street with the violin, striding quickly with his heart beating fast and the satisfaction of a job well done.
    ‘You just broke with the most sacred of diplomatic relations.’
    ‘Excuse me?’
    ‘You acted like an elephant in a Bohemian glassware shop.’
    ‘I don’t know what you are talking about?’
    Friar Fèlix Morlin, with indignation in his face and voice, spat out, ‘I’m in no position to judge people. Mr Falegnami was under my protection.’
    ‘But he is a savage son of a bitch.’
    ‘He was under my protection!’
    ‘Why do you protect murderers?’
    Félix Morlin closed the door in the face of Fèlix Ardèvol, who didn’t really understand his reaction.
    As he left Santa Sabina, he put on his hat and raised the lapels of his coat. He didn’t know that he would never again see that Dominican who was full of surprises.
    ‘I don’t know what to say.’
    ‘There are more things I can tell you about our father.’
    It was already dark. They had to walk along dark streets and be careful not to trip on the hardened wheel tracks sculpted in the road’s mud. Daniela gave him kiss on the forehead in front of Can Ges and for a few seconds Adrià was reminded of the angel she’d once been, now without wings or any special aura. Then he realised that all the shops were closed and Aunt Leo wouldn’t be getting any little gift.

20

    It was a face filled with tragic wrinkles. But I was impressed by his clear direct gaze, which made me feel as if he were accusing me of something. Or, depending on how you looked at it, as if he were begging for my forgiveness. I sensed many misfortunes in it before Sara told me anything. And all the misfortunes were contained in strokes made in charcoal on thick white paper.
    ‘This is the drawing that most impressed me,’ I told her. ‘I would have liked to meet him.’
    I realised that Sara hadn’t said anything; she just stood in front of the charcoal of the Cadaqués landscape. We contemplated it in silence. The entire house was silent. Sara’s huge flat, which we had entered furtively, today my parents aren’t here and neither is anyone else. A rich home. Like mine. Like a thief, like the day of the Lord, I will come like a thief in the night.
    I didn’t dare to ask her why we had to go there on a day when no one was home. Adrià was thrilled to see the surroundings of that girl who got deeper into his bones with each passing day, with her melancholy smile and delicate gestures he’d never seen before in anyone else. And Sara’s room was larger than mine, twice as large. And very pretty: with wallpaper with geese and a farmhouse that wasn’t like Can Ges in Tona: it was prettier, neater, without flies or odours; more like a picture book; the wallpaper of a little girl who hadn’t changed it even now that she was … I don’t know how old you are, Sara.
    ‘Nineteen. And you are twenty-three.’
    ‘How do you know that I’m twenty-three?’
    ‘I can tell by your face.’
    And she put a new drawing on top of the one of Cadaqués.
    ‘You draw really well. Let me see that portrait again.’
    She put the drawing of Uncle Haïm on top of the pile. His gaze, his wrinkles, his sad aura.
    ‘Did you say it was your uncle?’
    ‘Yes. He’s dead now.’
    ‘When did he die?’
    ‘Actually, he’s my mother’s uncle. I didn’t get to know him. Well, I was very young when …’
    ‘And how …’
    ‘A photo.’
    ‘Why did you draw his portrait?’
    ‘To keep his story alive.’
    They queued up to enter the showers. Gavriloff, who during the entire trajectory in the cattle wagon had warmed two girls who had no one to hold their hands, turned towards Doctor Epstein and said they are taking us to our death, and Doctor Epstein answered, in a murmur so other people wouldn’t hear, that that was impossible, that he was crazy.
    ‘No, they’re the ones who are crazy, Doctor. When will you see!’
    ‘Everyone inside. That’s it, men on this side. Of course the children can go with the women.’
    ‘No, no; leave your clothes neatly folded and remember the number of the hook, for when you get out of the shower, all right?’
    ‘Where are you from?’ asked Uncle Haïm looking into the eyes of the man giving the instructions.
    ‘We’re not allowed to speak to you.’
    ‘Who are you? You are Jews, too, aren’t you?’
    ‘We aren’t allowed, for fuck’s sake. Don’t make things difficult for me.’ And shouting, ‘Remember your hook number!’
    When all the naked men were advancing slowly towards the showers, where there were already a group of naked women, an SS officer with a pencil moustache and a dry cough entered the dressing room and said is there a doctor in here? Doctor Haïm Epstein took a step towards the showers, but Gavriloff, beside him, said don’t be an idiot, Doctor; that gives you a chance.
    ‘Shut up.’
    Then Gavriloff turned and pointed to Haïm Epstein’s pale back and said er ist ein Arzt, mein Oberleutnant; and Herr Epstein cursed his companion in misfortune, who continued towards the showers with his eyes slightly happy and softly whistling a csárdás by Rózsavölgyi.
    ‘Are you a doctor?’ asked the officer, planted before Epstein.
    ‘Yes,’ he said, resigned and, most of all, tired. And he was only fifty years old.
    ‘Get dressed.’
    Epstein dressed slowly while the rest of the men went into the showers, shepherded by prisoners with grey, worn gazes.
    The officer paced impatiently while that Jew put on his clothes. And he began to cough, perhaps to cover up the muffled screams of horror that emerged from the shower area.
    ‘What is that? What’s going on?’
    ‘Come on, that’s enough,’ the officer said nervously, when he saw the other pulling up his trousers over his open shirt.
    He took him outside, into the inclement cold of Oświęcim, and he had him go inside a guard post, pulling out the two sentries who were loitering there.
    ‘Listen to my chest,’ he ordered, putting a stethoscope in his hands.
    Epstein was slow to understand what he wanted. The other man was already unbuttoning his shirt. He unhurriedly put the stethoscope in his ears and felt, for the first time since Drancy, invested with some sort of authority.
    ‘Sit down,’ he ordered, now a doctor.
    The officer sat down on the guard post stool. Haïm listened to his torso carefully and, from what he heard, he imagined the depleted cavities secreting mucous. He had him change position and listened to his chest and his back. He had him stand up again, just for the fun of ordering around an SS officer. For a few moments he thought that while he was listening to his chest they wouldn’t send him to those showers with the horrifying screams. Gavriloff had been right.
    He wasn’t able to completely hide his satisfaction as he looked into his patient’s eyes and told him that he would have to undergo a more thorough examination.
    ‘What do you mean?’
    ‘Genital exploration, tactile examination of the kidney area.’
    ‘Fine, fine, fine …’
    ‘Do you feel unexplained pains here?’ he asked pressing hard on his kidney with fingers of steel.
    ‘Watch it, fuck!’
    Doctor Epstein shook his head, pretending he was concerned.
    ‘What is it?’
    ‘You have tuberculosis.’
    ‘Are you positive?’
    ‘Without a shadow of a doubt. The illness is quite far along.’
    ‘Well, they’ve been ignoring me here. Is it serious?’
    ‘Very much so.’
    ‘What do I have to do?’ he said, ripping the stethoscope from his hands.
    ‘I would have you sent to a sanatorium. It’s the only thing that can be done.’ And pointing to his yellow fingers, ‘And no more tobacco, for God’s sake.’
    The officer called the sentries and told them to take that man to the showers, but one of the sentries gave him the sign that they’d finished for the day, that that had been the last turn. Then he put on his coat and shouted, as he went down to the buildings accompanied by his persistent cough, ‘Take him to barracks twenty-six.’
    And that saved his life. But he’d often said that saving his life was a worse punishment than death.
    ‘I never imagined it was so horrific.’
    ‘Well, you haven’t heard it all.’
    ‘Tell me.’
    ‘No. I can’t.’
    ‘Come on.’
    ‘Come here, I’ll show you the paintings in the parlour.’
    Sara showed him the paintings in the parlour, she showed him family photos, she responded patiently about who each person was, but when it was time to think about leaving because someone might be coming home, she said you’ll have to go. You know what? I’ll walk you part of the way.
    And that was how I didn’t meet your family.

21

    No art was cultivated and developed by the Sophists as systematically as rhetoric. Sara. In rhetoric, the Sophists saw a perfect instrument to control men. Sara, why didn’t you want to have children? Thanks to the Sophists and their rhetoric, public speeches became literary, since man began to see them as works of art worthy of being preserved in writing. Sara. From that point on, oratory training became essential to the career of a statesman, but the rhetoric included, in its realm of influence, all prose and particularly historiography. Sara, you are a mystery to me. Thus man can understand that in the fourth century the dominant position in literature was held by prose and not poetry. Strange. But logical.
    ‘Where have you been, man, I can never find you anywhere.’
    Adrià looked up from the Nestle opened to chapter fifteen, to Isocrates and new education, where he was immersed. As if he had trouble focusing his eyes, he took a few seconds to recognise the face that entered the cone of light given off by the green lampshade in the university library. Someone hushed them and Bernat had to lower his voice as he sat in the chair in front of him and said Adrià hasn’t been here for a month; no, he’s out; I don’t know where he went; Adrià? He spends the whole day out. Really, man … Not even in your own house does anyone know where you are!
    ‘Here I am, studying.’
    ‘That’s twaddle; I spend hours here.’
    ‘You?’
    ‘Yes. Making friends with pretty girls.’
    It was hard to emerge from the fourth century before Christ, especially if Bernat was there to scold him.
    ‘How’s it going?’
    ‘Who’s this girl that they say’s been stuck to you like a leech?’
    ‘Who says that?’
    ‘Everyone. Gensana described her to me and everything: dark, straight hair, thin, dark eyes, an art student.’
    ‘Well, then you already know everything …’
    ‘Is it the one from the Palau de la Música? The one who called you Adrià Ican’trememberwhat?’
    ‘You should be happy for me, shouldn’t you?’
    ‘Bloody hell, now you’re in love.’
    ‘Will you please be quiet!?’
    ‘Sorry.’ To Bernat: ‘Should we leave?’
    They strolled through the cloister and Adrià told someone for the first time that he was definitively, absolutely, devotedly, unconditionally in love with you, Sara. And don’t say a word about it at my house.
    ‘Oh, so it’s even a secret from Little Lola.’
    ‘I hope so.’
    ‘But some day …’
    ‘We’ll see about that when that day comes.’
    ‘In such circumstances, it’s hard for me to imagine that you could do a favour for your former best friend who’s now been demoted to mere acquaintance because your world revolves around that luscious girl named … what was her name?’
    ‘Mireia.’
    ‘Liar. Her name is Saga Voltes-Epstein.’
    ‘Then why did you ask? And her name is Sara.’
    ‘So why do you have to lie to me? And hide from me? Huh? It’s me, Bernat, what the hell?’
    ‘Don’t get like that, for god’s sake’
    ‘I get like this because it seems like you don’t care a whit about your life before Sara.’
    Bernat extended his hand to him and Adrià, a bit surprised, shook it.
    ‘Pleased to meet you, Mr Ardèvol. My name is Bernat Plensa i Punsoda and until a few months ago I was your best friend. Will you grant me audience?’
    ‘My goodness.’
    ‘What.’
    ‘You are a bit soft in the head.’
    ‘No. I’m angry: friends come first. And that’s that.’
    ‘The two things aren’t mutually exclusive.’
    ‘That’s where you’re wrong.’
    We cannot look for a philosophical system in Isocrates. Isocrates takes what he can use from wherever he finds it. Pure syncretism and no systematic philosophy. Sara. Bernat stood in front of him to keep him from continuing, and stared: ‘What are you thinking about?’
    ‘I don’t know. I’m very …’
    ‘It sucks to see a pal in love.’
    ‘I don’t know if I’m in love.’
    ‘What the hell, didn’t you say you were definitively, absolutely, devotedly, unconditionally in love? Bloody hell, it’s only been a minute since you made that declaration.’
    ‘But deep down I don’t know if I am. I’ve never felt a … a … um, I don’t know how to say it.’
    ‘I can tell you that you are.’
    ‘That I am what?’
    ‘That you are in love.’
    ‘How would you know, you’ve never been in love.’
    ‘What do you know?’
    They sat down on a bench in a corner of the cloister and Adrià thought that Isocrates was interested in the Sophists, but only in specific questions: for example, Xenophanes and his idea of cultural progress (I’ll have to read Xenophanes). And his interest in Philip of Macedonia was the result of his discovery of the importance of personality in history. Strange.
    ‘Bernat.’
    Bernat, pretending that he didn’t hear, looked the other way. Adrià insisted, ‘Bernat.’
    ‘What.’
    ‘What’s wrong?’
    ‘I’m angry.’
    ‘Why?’
    ‘Because in June I have my ninth-year exam and I’m not ready.’
    ‘I’ll come to hear you.’
    ‘Oh, you mean you won’t be too busy with that girl who’s got such a monopoly on you lately?’
    ‘And come over if you want, or I’ll come over to your house and we can practise.’
    ‘I don’t want to distract you from wooing the Mireia of your dreams.’
    Definitively, Isocrates’s Athens school, more than a philosophy, offered that which in Rome was called humanitas and which we would today call ‘general culture’, all that which Plato, and his Academy, left out. Oh, bloody hell. I’d like to peep in on them through a keyhole. And see Sara and her family.
    ‘I swear that I’ll come to hear you play. And if you want, she’ll come too.’
    ‘No. Only friends.’
    ‘You’re a bastard.’
    ‘How.’
    ‘What?’
    ‘You can bet on it.’
    ‘On what?’
    ‘On that you’re in love.’
    ‘And what do you know?’
    The Arapaho chief adopted a dignified silence. Did that child think that he was going to reveal his experiences and his feelings? Carson spat on the ground and took up where he’d left off: ‘You can see it a mile off. Even your mother must have noticed.’
    ‘Mother only has eyes for the shop.’
    ‘Trust me.’
    Isocrates. Xenophanes. Sara. Bernat. Syncretism. Violin exam. Sara. Philip of Macedonia. Sara. Sara. Sara.
    Sara. Days, weeks, months of being by your side and respecting that ancestral silence you were often enveloped in. You were a girl with a sad but marvellously serene gaze. And I had increasingly more strength to study knowing that afterwards I would see you and I would melt looking into your eyes. We always met on the street, eating a hot dog in Sant Jaume Square or strolling through the gardens in Ciutadella Park, in our joyful secrecy; never at your house or at my house unless we were absolutely sure that no one was there because our secret had to be a secret from both families. I didn’t know exactly why; but you did. And I let myself be carried along by days and days of unremitting happiness without asking questions.

22

    Adrià was thinking that he’d like to be able to write something like the Griechische Geistesgeschichte. That was an impossible model: thinking and writing like Nestle. And he thought many more things, because those were intense, lively, heroic, once-in-a-lifetime, epic, magnificent, superb months of discovery. Months of thinking of and living for Sara, which multiplied his desire and energy for studying and more studying, abstracted from the daily police charges against anything that sounded like student, which was a synonym for communist, mason, pro-Catalan and Jew, the four great scourges that Francoism strove to eliminate with truncheon blows and shots. None of that blackness existed for you and me, we spent our days studying, looking towards the future, looking into each other’s eyes, and saying I love you Sara, I love you, Sara, I love you, Sara.
    ‘How.’
    ‘What?’
    ‘You’re repeating yourself.’
    ‘I love you, Sara.’
    ‘Me too, Adrià.’
    Nunc et semper. Adrià sighed with satisfaction. Was he satisfied? I often asked myself if life satisfied me. In those months, waiting for Sara, I had to admit that yes, I was satisfied, that I was eager to live because in a matter of minutes, a thin woman with dark, straight hair, dark eyes, an arts student, would come round the bakery corner, wearing a plaid skirt that was really cute on her, and with a soothing smile and she’d say hello, Adrià, and we would hesitate over kissing because I knew that there on the street everyone would stare, they’d stare and point at us and say look at you two, growing up and leaving the nest, secretly in love … The day was grey and cloudy, but he was radiant. It was ten past eight, and that was strange. She is as punctual as I am. And I’ve been waiting ten minutes. She’s sick. A sore throat. She got flattened by a hit and run taxi. A flowerpot fell on her from a sixth-floor flat, my God, I’ll have to go to every hospital in Barcelona. Ah, here she is! No: it was a thin woman, with dark, straight hair, but with light eyes and lipstick and twenty years older, who passed by the tram stop and probably wasn’t named Sara. He struggled to think of other things. He lifted his head. The plane trees on the Gran Via sprouted with new leaves, but the passing cars couldn’t care less. Not me! The cycle of life! Spring … Follas novas. He looked at his watch again. Unthinkable, twenty minutes late. Three or four more trams passed and he couldn’t help being overcome by a strange premonition. Sara. ¿Qué pasa ó redor de min? ¿Qué me pasa que eu non sei? Despite the premonition, Adrià Ardèvol waited two hours on a stone bench on the Gran Via, beside the tramvia stop, his eyes glued to the bakery corner, not thinking about the Griechische Geistesgeschichte because his head was filled with the thousand horrible things that could have befallen Sara. He didn’t know what to do. Sara, the daughter of the good king, is sick; doctors come to see her, doctors and other people. It doesn’t make any sense to keep waiting. But he doesn’t know what else to do. He didn’t know what to do with his life now that Sara didn’t show up. His legs carried him to Sara’s house, despite his beloved’s strict orders against it: but he had to be there when the ambulance carried her off. The doors were closed and the doorman was inside, distributing the post in the letter boxes. A short woman was vacuuming the central carpet. The doorman finished his work and opened the doors. The sound of the vacuum was like an insult. Dressed in some sort of ridiculous apron, the doorman looked up at the sky to see if it had made up its mind to rain or if the weather would hold out. Or perhaps he was waiting for the ambulance … Daughter, my daughter, what is it that ails you? Mother, my mother, I think you know full well. He wasn’t sure which balcony was hers … The doorman noticed that boy loitering, watching the building; he shot him a suspicious look. Adrià pretended to be waiting for a taxi; maybe the one that had mowed her down. He began to take a few steps down the street. Teño medo dunha cousa que vive e que non se ve. Teño medo á desgracia traidora que ven, e que nunca se sabe ónde ven. Sara, ónde estás.
    ‘Sara Voltes?’
    ‘Who shall I say is calling?’ A confident, elegant, well-dressed lady’s voice.
    ‘No, uh. The parish of … The drawings, the show of drawings at …’
    When you make up a lie, you have to think it over before you start talking, bloody hell. You can’t take the first step and stand there with your mouth open and nothing coming out, you idiot. Ridiculous. Dreadfully ridiculous. So, it was logical that the elegant, confident lady’s voice said I think you’ve got the wrong number and hung up delicately, politely, softly, and I cursed myself because I hadn’t been up to the task. It must have been her mother. Poison you have given me, Mother, you want to kill me. Daughter, my daughter, now you must confess. Adrià hung up. At the back of the flat, Little Lola was going through the closets because she was changing the sheets. On the large table in Father’s study, Adrià had a heap of books, but he could only focus on the useless telephone, which was unable to tell him where Sara was.
    Fine Arts! He had never been there. He didn’t know where it was, if it even existed. We had always met in neutral territory, at your indication, waiting for the day when the sun sparkled on the horizon. When I got out of the metro at the Jaume I stop, it had started to rain and I had no umbrella because I never carried an umbrella in Barcelona and I was only able to make the ridiculous gesture of raising my jacket lapels. I stood in the square of the Verònica, in front of that strange neo-classical building, which I never knew existed before that day. No sign of Sara inside nor outside; not in any hallway or classroom or studio. I went to the Llotja building, which retained the name of its former function as a fish market but there they knew nothing of fish or fine arts. At that point I was completely soaked; but then I thought to go to the Massana School and there, at the entrance, protected by a dark umbrella, I saw her chatting and laughing with a boy. She wore the pumpkin-coloured scarf that was so pretty on her. And unexpectedly she kissed the boy’s cheek and she had to get on her tiptoes to do it, and Adrià felt the brutal stab of jealousy for the first time, and an unbearable tightness in his chest. And then the boy went into the school and she turned and started to walk towards me. My heart wanted to leap out and into someone else’s body because the happiness I had felt a few hours ago faded into tears of disappointment. She didn’t say hello; she didn’t notice me; she wasn’t Sara. She was a thin girl, with straight, dark hair but light eyes and, most of all, not Sara. And I, dripping with rain, was once again the happiest man in the universe.
    ‘No, uh … I’m a classmate of hers in art school who …’
    ‘She’s out of town.’
    ‘Excuse me?’
    ‘She’s out of town.’
    Was it her father? I didn’t know if she had an older brother, or if there was another uncle besides the memory of Uncle Haïm who lived with them.
    ‘But … what do you mean by out of town?’
    ‘Sara has moved to Paris.’
    The happiest man in the universe, when he hung up the phone, watched as his eyes, all on their own, against his will, began to cry disconsolately. He didn’t understand anything; how could it be that Sara …, but she didn’t tell me anything. From one day to the next, Sara. On Friday, when we saw each other, we made a date to meet at the tram stop! The forty-seven, yes, as we always did since … And what is she doing, in Paris? Huh? Why did she run away? What did I do to her?
    Adrià, for ten days, rain or shine, every morning, went to the tram stop at eight, hoping for a miracle and that Sara hadn’t moved to Paris, but that really she was back here; or that it was just a test to see if you really loved me; or I don’t know but something, anything and let’s see if she shows up before five trams pass. Until the eleventh day when, as soon as he reached the tram stop, he told himself that he was sick and tired of watching trams pass that they would never get on together. And he never again set foot on that tram stop, Sara. Never again.
    In the conservatory, lying left and right, I managed to get the address of Master Castells, who had been a teacher there some time back. I imagined that, since they were relatives, he would have Sara’s address in Paris. If she was in Paris. If she was even alive. The doorbell to Master Castell’s flat went do-fa. My impatience led me to press do-fa, do-fa, do-fa and I pulled my finger away, frightened by how little control I had over my feelings. Or no: more likely because I didn’t want Master Castells to get angry and say now I won’t tell it to you, because of your poor manners. No one opened the door to offer me Sara’s address and wish me luck.
    ‘Do-fa, do-fa, do-fa.’
    Nothing. After a few moments of insistence, Adrià looked round without knowing what he should do. Then I rang the neighbours’ bell across the landing, which made an impersonal, ugly sound, like the one at my house. Very quickly, as if they had been waiting for some time, a fat woman opened the door, dressed in a sky-blue smock and a flowered kitchen apron. The evil eye. Hands on her hips, defiantly. ‘What?’ she said.
    ‘Do you know if …’ pointing behind me, towards Master Castells’s door.
    ‘The pianist?’
    ‘Exactly.’
    ‘Thank God he died, it’s been …’ She looked back and shouted, ‘How long has it been, Taio?’
    ‘Six months, twelve days and three hours!’ said a hoarse voice from a distance.
    ‘Six months, twelve days and …’ Shouting into the flat, ‘How many hours?’
    ‘Three!’ the hoarse voice.
    ‘And three hours,’ repeated the woman to Adrià. ‘And thank God for the peace and quiet, now we can listen to the radio without interruptions. I don’t know how he made that pianola play every day, every day, all day long.’ As if remembering something, ‘What did you want from him?’
    ‘Did he have …’
    ‘Family?’
    ‘Uh huh.’
    ‘No. He lived alone.’ Into the flat: ‘He didn’t have any relatives, did he?’
    ‘No, just that damned bloody piano!’ Taio’s hoarse voice.
    ‘And in Paris?’
    ‘In Paris?’
    ‘Yes. Relatives in Paris …’
    ‘I have no idea.’ Incredulous: ‘That man, relatives in Paris?’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘No.’ As a general conclusion: ‘For us he’s dead and gone.’
    When she left him alone on the landing with that flickering light bulb, Adrià knew that many doors were closing to him. He went back home and then the thirty days of desert and penitence began. At night he dreamt that he went to Paris and stood in the middle of the street calling her name, but the din of the traffic drowned out his desperate cries and he woke up sweaty and crying, not understanding the world that, until recently, had seemed so placid. He didn’t leave the house for a few weeks. He played the Storioni and was able to get a sad sound out of it; but he felt his fingers lazy. And he wanted to reread Nestle but couldn’t. Even Euripides’s voyage from rhetoric to truth, which had enthralled him on his first reading, now said nothing to him. Euripides was Sara. He was right about one thing, that Euripides: human reason cannot win out over the irrational powers of the emotional mind. I cannot study, I cannot think. I have to cry. Come, please, Bernat.
    Bernat had never seen his friend in such a state. He was impressed to learn that heartache could be so profound. And he wanted to help him, although he didn’t have much experience in binding hearts and he told him look at it this way, Adrià.
    ‘How?’
    ‘Well, if she just left like this, without any explanation …’
    ‘What?’
    ‘Well, she’s a bi
    ‘Don’t even think about insulting her. Got it?’
    ‘Very well, as you wish.’ He looked around the study, opening his arms. ‘But don’t you see how she left you? And without even a sad piece of paper that says Adrià, lad, I found somebody better-looking? Bloody hell. Don’t you see that that’s not right?’
    ‘Better-looking and more intelligent, yes, that’s what I thought.’
    ‘There are plenty better-looking than you, but more intelligent …’
    Silence. Every once in a while, Adrià shook his head to show he didn’t understand any of it.
    ‘Let’s go to her parents’ house and say: Mr and Mrs Voltes-Epstein, what the hell is going on? What are you hiding from me? Where is Saga, etcetera. What do you think?’
    Both of us in Father’s study, which is now mine. Adrià stood up and approached the wall where years later your self-portrait would hang. He leaned against it as if he wanted to tickle the future. He shook his head: Bernat’s idea wasn’t very well thought out.
    ‘Do you want me to entertain you with the Ciaccona?’ attempted Bernat.
    ‘Yes. Play it on Vial.’
    Bernat did so, very well. Despite his pain and anguish, Adrià listened to his friend’s version attentively and came to the conclusion that it was correctly played, but that, sometimes, Bernat had a problem: he didn’t get deep into the soul of things. He had something about him that didn’t allow him to be truthful. And there I was, wallowing in pain and unable to keep myself from analysing the aesthetic object.
    ‘Are you feeling better?’ he asked when he finished.
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘Did you like it?’
    ‘No.’
    I should have kept it to myself, I know. But I’m unable to. I’m like Mother in that way.
    ‘What do you mean by no?’ Even his tone of voice had changed, it was more shrill, more on guard, more gobsmacked …
    ‘Doesn’t matter, forget about it.’
    ‘No, I’m very interested.’
    ‘Fine, all right.’
    Little Lola was at the back of the flat. Mother, in the shop. Adrià dropped onto the sofa. Standing in front of him, the Storioni in his hand, Bernat waited for the verdict and Adrià said welllll technically it’s a perfect version, or almost perfect; but you don’t get to the heart of things; it seems like you’re afraid of the truth.
    ‘You’re insane. What is truth?’
    And Jesus, instead of replying, remained silent as Pilate left the room impatiently. But since I’m not sure what the truth is, I was forced to reply.
    ‘I don’t know. I recognise it when I hear it. And I don’t recognise it in you. I recognise it in music and in poetry. And in prose. And in painting. But only every once in a while.’
    ‘Ffucking envy.’
    ‘Yes. I can admit I envy your ability to play that.’
    ‘Sure. Now you’re trying to smooth things over.’
    ‘But I don’t envy how you play.’
    ‘Bloody hell, don’t pull your punches.’
    ‘Your goal is to trap that truth and figure out how to express it.’
    ‘Whoa.’
    ‘At least you have a goal. I have none.’
    So the friendly evening in which Bernat came over to comfort his afflicted friend ended in a bitter fight in hushed voices over aesthetic truth and you can go fuck off, you hear me, fuck off. Now I understand why Saga Voltes-Epstein split. And Bernat left, slamming the door. And a few seconds later, Little Lola peeked into the study and said what happened?
    ‘No, Bernat was in a big rush, you know how he always is.’
    Little Lola looked at Adrià, who was carefully examining the violin to keep from gazing idly into his pain. Little Lola was about to say something, but she stopped herself. Then Adrià realised that she was still standing there, as if wanting to chat.
    ‘What?’ I said, with an expression that showed I didn’t have the slightest desire to converse.
    ‘Nothing. Do you know what? I’m going to make dinner because Mother should be coming soon.’
    She left and I started to clean the rosin off the violin and I felt sad to the marrow of my bones.

23

    ‘You’re mad as a hatter, my boy.’
    Mother sat down in her armchair where she takes her coffee. Adrià had outlined the conversation in the worst possible way. Sometimes I wonder why she didn’t tell me to buzz off more often. Because instead of starting by saying Mother, I’ve decided to continue my studies in Tübingen and her answering in Germany? Aren’t you doing fine here, my son? Instead of that, I started by saying, Mother, I have to tell you something.
    ‘What?’ Frightened, she sat in her armchair where she takes her coffee; frightened because we had lived together for years without any need to tell each other things, but, above all, without the need to say Mother, I have to tell you something.
    ‘Well, a while back I spoke with a woman named Daniela Amato.’
    ‘Whom did you say you spoke with?’
    ‘With my half-sister.’
    Mother leapt up as if she’d sat on a pin. I had her against me for the rest of the conversation: fool, worse than a fool, you don’t know anything about getting what you want.
    ‘You have no half-sister.’
    ‘The fact that you’ve hidden it from me doesn’t mean I don’t have one. Daniela Amato, from Rome. I have her phone number and address.’
    ‘What are you conspiring?’
    ‘Oh, please. Why?’
    ‘Don’t trust that thief.’
    ‘She told me that she wants to be a partner in the shop.’
    ‘You know she stole Can Casic from you?’
    ‘If I understood correctly, Father gave it to her; she didn’t steal anything from me.’
    ‘She’s like a vampire. She’ll want the shop for herself.’
    ‘No. She wants to be a part of it.’
    ‘Why do you think she wants it?’
    ‘I don’t know. Because it was Father’s?’
    ‘Well, now it’s mine and my answer is no to any offer that comes from that tart. Fuck her.’
    Wow: we’d got off on a good foot. She hadn’t said ffuck because she’d used it as a verb and not an adjective, like the previous time I had heard her say it. I like Mother’s linguistic refinement. Still standing, she paced around the dining room, silent, thinking whether or not she should continue with the cursing. She decided not to: ‘Is that all you wanted to tell me?’
    ‘No. I also wanted to tell you that I’m leaving home.’
    Mother sat back down in the armchair where she took her coffee.
    ‘You’re mad as a hatter, my boy.’ Silence. Nervous hands. ‘You’ve got everything here. What have I done?’
    ‘Nothing. What makes you ask that?’
    She wrung her hands nervously. Then she took a deep breath to calm down and placed both hands flat on her skirt.
    ‘And the shop? Don’t you ever plan on taking it over?’
    ‘It doesn’t appeal to me.’
    ‘That’s a lie. It’s your favourite place.’
    ‘No. I like the things in the shop. But the work …’
    She looked at me with what I took for resentment.
    ‘What you want is to contradict me. As always.’
    Why didn’t we ever love each other, Mother and I? It’s a mystery to me. All my life I’ve envied normal children, who can say mum, oh, I hurt my knee so bad, and whose mother would frighten away the pain with a mere kiss. My mother didn’t have that power. When I dared to tell her that I’d hurt my knee, instead of trying for the miracle, she sent me to Little Lola while she waited, impatiently, for my intellectual gift to begin to make some other sort of miracles.
    ‘Aren’t you happy here?’
    ‘I’ve decided to continue my studies in Tübingen.’
    ‘In Germany? Aren’t you fine here?’
    ‘I want to study under Wilhelm Nestle.’
    To be precise, I had no idea if Nestle still taught at Tübingen. Actually, I didn’t even know if he was still alive. In fact, at the time of our conversation, he had been dead for a little over eight years. And yes: he had taught classes in Tübingen, and that was why I had decided I wanted to study in Tübingen.
    ‘Who is he?’
    ‘A historian of philosophy. And I also want to meet Coşeriu.’
    That time I wasn’t lying. They said he was unbearable but a genius.
    ‘Who is he?’
    ‘A linguist. One of the great philologists of our century.’
    ‘These studies won’t make you happy, my son.’
    Let’s see: if I look at it with perspective, I’d have to say she was right. Nothing has ever made me happy except you, and you are the one who has made me suffer most. I have been close to much happiness; I have had some joy. I have enjoyed moments of peace and immense gratitude towards the world and towards some people. I have been close to beautiful things and concepts. And sometimes I feel the itch to possess valuable objects, which made me understand Father’s anxiousness. But since I was the age I was, I smiled smugly and said no one ever said I had to be happy. And I was silent, satisfied.
    ‘Look at how stupid you are.’
    I looked at her, disarmed. Because with six words she had made me feel completely unpresentable. And then I attacked viciously, ‘You made me how I am. I want to study, whether it makes me happy or not.’
    Adrià Ardèvol was that much of a smart arse. If I could start my life over again now, the first thing I would search for would be happiness; and I would try, if possible, to shield it and keep it close throughout my entire life, without any other aspirations. If a child of mine had answered me the way I answered my mother, he would have got a slap. But I have no children. All my life I’ve only ever been a son. Why, Sara, why didn’t you ever want to have children?
    ‘What you want is to get far away from me.’
    ‘No,’ I lied. ‘Why would I want that?’
    ‘What you want is to run away.’
    ‘Come now!’ I lied again. ‘Why would I want to run away?’
    ‘Why don’t you tell me?’
    I would never tell her, even if I were drunk, about Sara, my desire to merge, to start afresh, to search Paris from top to bottom, about the two visits I had made to the Voltes-Epstein house until, on the third, her father and mother told me, very politely, that their daughter had, voluntarily, gone to Paris because, in her words, she wanted to get away from you, who were hurting her so much. So you can understand that you are not welcome in this house.
    ‘But I …’
    ‘Don’t insist, young man. We have nothing against you,’ he lied, ‘but you must understand that our duty is to defend our daughter.’
    Desperate, I didn’t understand a thing. Mr Voltes got up and indicated for me to do the same. Slowly, I obeyed him. I couldn’t help the tears because I’m the crying type; they burned like drops of sulphuric acid cleaving my humiliated cheeks.
    ‘There must be some misunderstanding.’
    ‘It doesn’t seem that way,’ said Sara’s mother, in guttural Catalan. She was tall, with hair that had been dark and was now slightly greyed and dark eyes, as if she were a photo of Sara thirty years on. ‘Sara doesn’t want to have anything to do with you. Not a single thing.’
    I started to leave the room, forced out by Mr Voltes’s gesture. I stopped, ‘She didn’t leave anything in writing, any note, for me?’
    ‘No.’
    I left that house that I had visited secretly when Sara loved me, without saying goodbye to her ever-so-polite but ever-so-inflexible parents. I left stifling my sobs. The door closed silently behind me and for a few seconds I remained on the landing, as if that was somehow a way to be closer to Sara. Then I burst into unbridled tears.
    ‘I don’t want to run away, nor do I have any reason to.’ I paused to add emphasis. ‘Do you understand, Mother?’
    I had lied to Mother for the third time and I swear I heard a rooster crow.
    ‘I understood you perfectly.’ Looking into my eyes: ‘Listen, Adrià.’
    It was the first time she called me Adrià and not son. The first time in my life. The twelfth of April, nineteen sixty- or seventy-something.
    ‘Yes?’
    ‘You don’t have to work if you don’t want to. Devote your time to the violin and to reading your books. And when I’m dead, hire a manager for the shop.’
    ‘Don’t talk about dying. And I’m finished with the violin.’
    ‘Where do you say you want to go?’
    ‘To Tübingen.’
    ‘Where is that?’
    ‘In Germany.’
    ‘And what’s there that you’re missing out on?’
    ‘Coșeriu.’
    ‘Who is that?’
    ‘Don’t you spend all your time at the library, chasing girls? System, norm, speech.’
    ‘Come on, who is he?’
    ‘A Romanian linguist I want to study under.’
    ‘Now that you mention it, his name rings a bell.’
    He grew silent, sulky. But he couldn’t help himself: ‘Aren’t you studying here? Aren’t you half finished, with A+s in everything, bloody hell?’
    I didn’t mention my wanting to study under Nestle because when Bernat and I had met up at the university bar, surrounded by shouting, pushing, hurrying and white coffees, I already knew that Wilhelm Nestle had been dead for some time. It would have been like faking a quote in a footnote.
    After two days and no news, he came over to the house to practise for his exam, as if I were his teacher. Adrià opened the door and Bernat pointed an accusatory finger in greeting: ‘Don’t you realise that in Tübingen they teach classes in German?’
    ‘Wenn du willst, kannst du mit dem Storioni spielen,’ replied Adrià with an icy smile, as he ushered him inside.
    ‘I don’t know what you just said, but all right.’
    And as he put rosin on the bow, just a smidge, concentrating so as to not saturate the instrument, he grumbled that it would have been nice to have been consulted.
    ‘Why?’
    ‘Come on, we’re supposed to be friends.’
    ‘That’s why I told you now.’
    ‘Best friends, you twat! You could have told me that you were considering the crazy idea of spending a few weeks in Tübingen; what do you think, best pal of mine? Haven’t you ever heard of that?’
    ‘You would have told me to forget about it. And we’ve already had this conversation.’
    ‘Not exactly in these terms.’
    ‘You want to always have me around.’
    Bernat, in response, left the scores on the table and started to play the first movement of the Beethoven concerto. Ignoring the introduction, I was his out of tune orchestra, following the piano reduction, even imitating the timbre of some instruments. I ended up exhausted, but thrilled and happy because Bernat had played impeccably, beyond perfect. As if he wanted to make it clear that he hadn’t liked my last comment. When he finished, I respected the silence that reigned.
    ‘What?’
    ‘Good.’
    ‘That’s all?’
    ‘Very good. Different.’
    ‘Different?’
    ‘Different. If I heard it right, you were inside the music.’
    They grew silent. He sat down and wiped away the sweat. He looked me in the eye: ‘What you want is to run away. I don’t know from what, but you want to run away. I hope it’s not from me.’
    I looked at the other scores he had with him.
    ‘I think it’s a good idea for you to play the Massià pieces. Who will accompany you on the piano?’
    ‘Haven’t you thought that you might get awfully bored studying those things you want to study, about ideas and all that?’
    ‘Massià deserves it. And they are lovely. The one I like best is Allegro spiritoso.’
    ‘And why study with a linguist, if what you want is cultural history?’
    ‘Watch it with the Ciaccona, it’s treacherous.’
    ‘Don’t go, you bastard.’
    ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘From Fine Arts.’
    ‘And what is it?’
    The icy, distrusting figure of Mrs Voltes-Epstein terrified him. He swallowed hard and said she is missing some paperwork for the enrolment transfer and that’s why we need her address.
    ‘There is nothing missing.’
    ‘Yes there is. The recidivism policy.’
    ‘And what’s that?’ She sounded truly curious.
    ‘Nothing. A slight detail. But it has to be signed.’ He looked at the papers and casually let drop, ‘She has to sign it.’
    ‘Leave me the papers and …’
    ‘No, no. I’m not authorised to do that. Perhaps if you give me the name of the school in Paris where she has transferred her enrolment …’
    ‘No.’
    ‘They don’t have it in Fine Arts.’ He corrected himself. ‘We don’t have it.’
    ‘Who are you?’
    ‘Pardon?’
    ‘My daughter hasn’t transferred any enrolment. Who are you?’
    ‘And she slammed the door in my face. Bam!’
    ‘She saw right through you.’
    ‘Yup.’
    ‘Shit.’
    ‘Yup.’
    ‘Thanks, Bernat.’
    ‘I’m sorry … I’m sure you could have done it much better.’
    ‘No, no. You did the best you could.’
    ‘It makes me so angry, you know.’
    After a while of heavy silence, Adrià said I’m sorry but I think I’m going to cry a little bit.
    Bernat’s examination ended with our Ciaccona from the second suite. I had heard him play it so many times … and I always had things to tell him, as if I were the virtuoso and he the disciple. He began studying it after we heard Heifetz play it at the Palau de la Música. Fine. Perfect. But once again without soul, perhaps because he was nervous about the exam. Soulless, as if the last rehearsal at my house a mere twenty-four hours before had been a mirage. Bernat’s creative breath went flat when he was in front of an audience; he lacked that bit of God, which he tried to replace with determination and practice, and the result was good but too predictable. That was it: my best friend was too bloody predictable, even in his attacks.
    He finished the exam dripping with sweat, surely thinking that he had pulled it off. The three judges, who’d had vinegary looks on their faces throughout the two-hour audition, deliberated for a few seconds and unanimously decided to give him an excellent, with personal congratulations from each of them. And Trullols, who was in the audience, waited until Bernat’s mother had hugged him, and all that stuff that mothers who aren’t mine do, and she gave him a kiss on the cheek, excited, the way some teachers get excited, and I heard her prophesise, you’re the best student I’ve ever had; you have a brilliant future ahead of you.
    ‘Extraordinary,’ said Adrià.
    Bernat stopped loosening his bow and looked at his friend. He put it away in the case and closed it, in silence. Adrià insisted: impressive, lad; congratulations.
    ‘Yesterday I told you that you were my friend. That you are my friend.’
    ‘Yes. You recently said best friend.’
    ‘Exactly. You don’t lie to your best friend.’
    ‘Pardon?’
    ‘I played competently and that’s it. I have no élan.’
    ‘You played well today.’
    ‘You would have done it better than me.’
    ‘What are you saying! I haven’t picked up a violin in two years!’
    ‘If my bloody best friend is unable to tell me the truth and he’d rather just act like everyone else …’
    ‘What are you saying?’
    ‘Don’t ever lie to me again, Adrià.’ He wiped the sweat from his brow. ‘Your comments are very irritating and you’re making me angry.’
    ‘Well, I …’
    ‘But I know that you are the only one who says the truth.’ He winked. ‘Auf Wiedersehen.’
    When I had the train ticket in my hands, I understood that going to Tübingen to study was much more than thinking of the future. It was ending my childhood; distancing myself from my Arcadia. Yes, yes: I was a lonely, unhappy child with parents who were unresponsive to anything beyond my intelligence, and who didn’t know how to ask me if I wanted to go to Tibidabo to see the automatons that moved like people when you inserted a coin. But being a child means having the ability to smell the flower that gleams amidst the toxic mud. And it means knowing how to be happy with that five-axle lorry that was a cardboard hatbox. Buying the ticket to Stuttgart, I knew that my age of innocence was over.

IV PALIMPSESTUS

    There isn’t a single organisation that can protect itself from a grain of sand.
Michel Tournier

24

    Long ago, when the earth was flat and those reckless travellers who reached the end of the world hit up against the cold fog or hurled themselves off a dark cliff, there was a holy man who decided to devote his life to the Lord Our God. He was a Catalan named Nicolau Eimeric, and he became a well-known professor of Sacred Theology for the Order of Preachers at the monastery of Girona. His religious zeal led him to firmly command the Inquisition against evil heresy in the lands of Catalonia and the kingdoms of Valencia. Nicolau Eimeric had been born in Baden-Baden on 25 November, 1900; he had been promoted rapidly to SS Obersturmbannführer and, after a glorious first period as Oberlagerführer of Auschwitz, in 1944 he again took up the reins on the Hungarian problem. In a legal document, he condemned as perversely heretical the book Philosophica amoris by the obstinate Ramon Llull, a Catalan native from the kingdom of the Majorcas. He likewise declared perversely heretical all those in Valencia, Alcoi, Barcelona or Saragossa, Alcanyís, Montpeller or any other location who read, disseminated, taught, copied or thought about the pestiferous heretical doctrine of Ramon Llull, which came not from Christ but from the devil. And thus he signed it this day, 13 July, 1367, in the city of Girona.
    ‘Proceed. I am beginning to have a fever and I don’t want to go to bed until …’
    ‘You can go untroubled, Your Excellency.’
    Friar Nicolau wiped the sweat from his brow, half from the heat and half from fever, and watched Friar Miquel de Susqueda, his young secretary, finish the condemning document in his neat hand. Then he went out onto the street scorched by a blazing sun, barely catching his breath before he immersed himself in the slightly less hot shade of the chapel of Santa Àgueda. He got down on his knees in the middle of the room and, humbly bowing his head before the divine sacrarium, said oh, Lord, give me strength, don’t let my human feebleness weaken me; don’t let the calumnies, rumours, envy and lies unsettle my courage. Now it is the King himself who dares to criticise my proceedings to benefit the true and only faith, Lord. Give me strength to never stop serving you in my mission of strict vigilance over the truth. After saying an amen that was almost a fleeting thought, he remained kneeling to allow the strangely scorching sun to sink until it caressed the western mountains; with his mind blank, in prayer position, in direct communication with the Lord of the Truth.
    When the light entering through the window began to wane, Friar Nicolau left the chapel with the same energy he’d entered with. Outside, he eagerly breathed in the scent of thyme and dried grass that emanated from the earth, still warm from the hottest day in the memory of several generations. He again wiped the sweat from his brow, which was now burning, and he headed towards the grey stone building at the end of the narrow street. At the entrance, he had to control his impatience because just then a woman, always the same one, accompanied by the Wall-eyed Man of Salt, who acted as her husband, walked slowly into the palace, loaded down with a sack of turnips bigger than she was.
    ‘Must you use this door?’ said Friar Miquel in irritation, as he came out to receive her.
    ‘The garden entrance is flooded, Your Excellency.’
    In a curt voice, Friar Nicolau Eimeric asked if everything was prepared and, continuing his long strides towards the room, thought oh, Lord, all my energies, day and night, are focused on the defence of Your Truth. Give me strength, for at the end of the light it will be you who shall judge me and not men.
    I am a dead man, thought Josep Xarom. He hadn’t been able to hold the black gaze of the Inquisitor devil who had swept into the room, formulated his question in shouts and now waited impatiently for an answer.
    ‘What hosts?’ said Doctor Xarom after a long pause, his voice drowned in panic.
    The Inquisitor got up, wiped the sweat from his brow for the third time since he’d entered the interrogation room and repeated the question of how much did you pay Jaume Malla for the consecrated hosts that he gave you.
    ‘I know nothing about this. I have never met any Jaume Malla. I do not know what hosts are.’
    ‘That means that you consider yourself a Jew.’
    ‘Well … I am Jewish, yes, Your Excellency. You already know that. My family and all the families in the Jewish Quarter are under the King’s protection.’
    ‘In these four walls, the only protection is God’s. Never forget that.’
    Most High Adonai, where are you now, thought the venerable Doctor Josep Xarom, knowing that it was a sin to distrust the Most High.
    During an hour that dragged on, Friar Nicolau, with the patience of a saint, ignoring his headache and the heating up of his internal humours, tried to discover the secret of the nefarious crime this abominable creature had committed with the consecrated hosts, which was detailed in the meticulous and providential report, but Josep Xarom just kept repeating things he’d already said: that he was named Josep Xarom, that he had been born in the Jewish Quarter, where he had lived all this time, that he had learned the arts of medicine, that he helped babies into the world both in and out of the Jewish Quarter and that his life was the practice of that profession and nothing more.
    ‘And attending synagogue on your Sabbath day.’
    ‘The King has not forbidden that.’
    ‘The King cannot speak of the foundations of the soul. You are accused of practising nefarious crimes with consecrated hosts. What can you say in your defence?’
    ‘Who is my accuser?’
    ‘There is no need for you to know that.’
    ‘Yes, there is. This is a calumny and, depending on its source, I can demonstrate the reasons that would move someone to
    ‘Are you insinuating that a good Christian could lie?’ shocked, astounded, Friar Nicolau.
    ‘Yes, Your Excellency. Undoubtedly.’
    ‘That worsens your situation because if you insult a Christian you insult the Lord God Jesus Christ whose blood is on your hands.’
    My Highest and Most Merciful Lord, you are the one and only God, Adonai.
    Inquisitor General Nicolau Eimeric, without even looking at him — such was the disdain he provoked in him — ran his palm over his forehead with concern and told the men holding the stubborn man to torture him and bring him to me here in an hour with the declaration signed.
    ‘Which torture, Your Excellency?’ asked Friar Miquel.
    ‘The rack, for one credo in unum deum. And hooks if need be, for a couple of ourfathers.’
    ‘Your Excellency …’
    ‘And if that doesn’t refresh his memory, repeat as necessary.’
    He approached Friar Miquel de Susqueda, who had lowered his gaze some time earlier, and almost in a whisper ordered him to let this Jaume Malla know that if he sells or gives hosts to any Jew, he will hear from me.
    ‘We don’t know who he is, this Jaume Malla.’ Taking a deep breath. ‘He may not even exist.’
    But the holy man did not hear him because he was focused on his terrible headache and offering it up to God as penance.
    Doctor Josep Xarom of Girona — on the rack and with butcher’s hooks in his flesh, ripping tendons — confessed that yes, yes, yes, for Almighty God, I did it, I bought them from this man you say, yes, yes, but stop, for the love of God.
    ‘And what did you do with them?’ Friar Miquel de Susqueda, sitting before the rack, trying not to look at the blood that dripped from it.
    ‘I don’t know. Whatever you say but, please, don’t turn it any more, I …’
    ‘Watch out, if he faints on us, the declaration is over.’
    ‘So? He’s already confessed.’
    ‘Very well: then you talk to Friar Nicolau, yes, you, the redhead, and you tell him that the prisoner merely slept through the torture, and I can assure you that he himself will put us on the rack, accused of putting sticks in the wheels of divine justice. Both of us.’ Exasperated: ‘Don’t you know His Excellency?’
    ‘Sir, but if we …’
    ‘Yes. And I’ll be the notary for the record of your torture. Look lively, come now.’
    ‘Let’s see: grab him by the hair, like this. All right, let’s have it: what did you do with the consecrated hosts? Do you hear me? Hey! Xarom, fucking hell!’
    ‘I will not tolerate such language in a building of the Holy Inquisition,’ said Friar Miquel, indignant. ‘Behave like good Christians.’
    The light had completely disappeared and the room was now lit by a torch whose flame trembled like Xarom’s soul, as he listened, in a semi-conscious state, to the conclusions of the high tribunal read by the powerful voice of Nicolau Eimeric, condemning him, in the presence of the attendant witnesses, to death purified by flame, on the eve of Saint James the Apostle’s Day, since he refused to repent with a conversion that would have saved him, if not from the death of his body, at least from the death of his soul. Friar Nicolau, after signing the sentence, warned Friar Miquel: ‘You must cut out the prisoner’s tongue first. Remember that.’
    ‘Wouldn’t a gag be sufficient, Your Excellency?’
    ‘You must cut out the prisoner’s tongue first,’ insisted Friar Nicolau with saintly patience. ‘And I will not tolerate any leniency.’
    ‘But Your Excellency …’
    ‘They know all the tricks, they bite the gag, they … And I want the heretics to be mute from the moment they are brought to the bonfire. Even before it’s lit because, if they still have the ability to speak, their blasphemies and vituperation can gravely wound the piety of those who attend the event.’
    ‘That has never happened here …’
    ‘It has in Lleida. And while I hold this post, I will not allow it.’ He looked at him with eyes so black they hurt, and in a softer voice; ‘Never, I will never allow it.’ Raising his tone: ‘Look me in the eyes when I speak to you, Friar Miquel! Never.’
    He stood up and left the room quickly without looking at the secretaries, or the prisoner or the rest of those in attendance because he was invited for dinner at the episcopal palace, he was running late and was terribly uncomfortable in the intense heat of the day, what with his headache and fevers.
    Outside, the extreme cold had turned the downpour into a profuse, silent snowfall. Inside, as he looked into the iridescent colour of the wine in his raised glass, he said, I was born into a wealthy and very religious family, and the moral rectitude of my upbringing has helped me to assume the difficult task, by direct order from the Führer via the explicit instructions from Reichsführer Himmler, of becoming a stalwart defence against the enemy inside out fatherland. This wine is excellent, Doctor.
    ‘Thank you. It is an honour for me to be able to taste it here, in my improvised home.’
    ‘Improvised but comfortable.’
    A second little sip. Outside, the snow was already covering the earth’s unmentionables with a modest thick sheet of cold. The wine was warming. Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss, who had been born in Girona during the rainy autumn of 1320, in that remote period when the earth was flat and reckless travellers’ eyes grew wide when they insisted, enflamed by curiosity and fantasy, on seeing the end of the world, was especially proud to be sharing that wine in a tête à tête with the prestigious and well-situated Doctor Voigt and he was anxious to mention it, oh so casually, to one of his colleagues. And life is beautiful. Especially now that the earth is flat again and that they, with the help of the Führer’s serene gaze, were showing humanity who held the strength, power, truth and the future and teaching humanity how the unfailing attainment of the ideal was incompatible with any form of compassion. The strength of the Reich was limitless and turned the actions of all the Eimerics in history into child’s play. With the wine’s assistance, he came up with a sublime phrase: ‘For me, orders are sacred, no matter how difficult they may seem, since as an SS I must be willing to completely sacrifice my personality in the fulfilment of my duty to the fatherland. That is why, in 1334, when I turned fourteen, I entered the monastery of the Dominican friar preachers in my city of Girona and I have devoted my entire life to making the Truth shine. They call me cruel, King Pedro hates me, envies me and would like to annihilate me, but I remain impassive because against the faith I defend neither my king nor my father. I do not recognise my mother and I do not respect my lineage since above all I serve only the Truth. You will only ever find the Truth coming from my mouth, Your Grace.’
    The Bishop himself filled Friar Nicolau’s glass. He took a taste without realising what he was drinking because, enraged, he continued his speech and said I have suffered exile, I was deposed from my post as Inquisitor by order of King Pedro, I was chosen Vicar General of the Dominican order here in Girona, but what you don’t know is that the accursed king pressured Holy Father Urbà, who ended up not accepting my appointment.
    ‘I didn’t know that.’
    The Bishop, seated in a comfortable chair but with his back very straight and his entire being alert, silently contemplated how the Inquisitor General wiped the sweat from his brow with his habit sleeve. After two good ourfathers: ‘Are you feeling well, Your Excellency?’
    ‘Yes.’
    The Bishop was silent and took a sip of wine.
    ‘Nevertheless, Your Excellency, you are now Vicar General again.’
    ‘My constancy and faith in God and his holy mercy made them restore my post and dignity as Inquisitor General.’
    ‘All for the good.’
    ‘Yes, but now the King threatens me with new exile and I’ve been warned that he wants to have me killed.’
    The Bishop thought it over for quite some time. In the end, His Grace lifted a timid finger and said King Pedro maintains that your obsession with condemning the work of Llull …
    ‘Llull?’ shouted Eimeric. ‘Have you read anything by Llull, Your Grace?’
    ‘Well, I … Well … ummm, yes.’
    ‘And?’
    Eimeric stared with that black gaze of his, the one that penetrated souls. His Grace swallowed hard: ‘I don’t know what to say. I … What I read … Anyway, I didn’t know that …’ He ended up capitulating: ‘I’m no theologian.’
    ‘I’m no engineer, but I’ve managed to get the crematoria in Birkenau to function twenty-four hours a day without breaking down. And I’ve got my men who supervise the Sonderkommando’s rat squads not to go mad.’
    ‘How did you do it, dear Oberlagerführer Höss?’
    ‘I don’t know. By preaching the Truth. Showing all the hungry souls that there is only one evangelical doctrine, and that my sacred mission is to keep errors and evil from rotting the essence of the church. Therefore I work to eliminate all heresies and the most efficient way to do so is by eliminating the heretics, both the new and the relapsed.’
    ‘Nevertheless, the King …’
    ‘The Inquisitor General Major and the Vicar of the Order, when he came from Rome, understood it very well. He knew of King Pedro’s animosity towards my personage and he appreciated that, despite everything, I continued in my condemnation of the entire works, book by book, of the abominable and dangerous Ramon Llull. He didn’t argue with any of the procedures we’d begun during these years and, in an emotive celebration of the holy mass, when it came time for the sermon, he put forth my humble personage as an example of conduct for all, from the first to the last Oberlagerführer. Whatever the King of Valencia and Catalonia and Aragon and the Majorcas may say. And then I considered myself a happy man because I was faithful to the most sacred of vows that I had taken and could take in my life. The problem, however, was that woman.’
    ‘There is something that …’ The Bishop, after hesitating, lifted a finger cautiously. ‘Careful: I am not saying that they don’t deserve to die.’ He looked at the colour of the wine in his glass and it seemed red as a flame. ‘Can’t we …’
    ‘Can’t we what?’ Eimeric, impatient.
    ‘Must they necessarily die by fire?’
    ‘General practice throughout the Christian church confirms that yes, they must die by fire, Your Grace.’
    ‘It’s a horrific death.’
    ‘I’m being eaten up by fevers right now and don’t complain, as I continue to work ceaselessly for the good of the Blessed Mother Church.’
    ‘I insist that death by fire is horrific.’
    ‘But deserved!’ exploded His Excellency. ‘More horrific is the blasphemy and stubbornness in error. Or don’t you agree, Your Grace?’ — as I looked at the empty cloister, lost in my thoughts. And I realised that I was alone. I looked around me. Where had Kornelia gone?
    The group of tourists waited, patient and disciplined, in a corner of the Bebenhausen cloister, except for Kornelia who … Now I saw her: she was strolling contemplatively, alone, right through the middle of the cloister, always unpredictable. I watched her with a certain gluttony and it seemed she knew my eyes were upon her. She stopped, her back to me, and turned towards the group who were waiting for there to be enough people to begin the visit. I waved to her, but she either didn’t notice or pretended not to see me. Kornelia. A chaffinch stopped at the fountain before me, drank a sip of water and gave a lovely trill. Adrià shivered.
    On the eve of Saint James’s Day, at dusk, Josep Xarom’s only consolation was being spared Friar Nicolau’s gaze, as the defender of the Church lay in his bed burning up with a stubborn fever. Yet the relative tepidness of Friar Miquel de Susqueda, notary and assistant to the Inquisitor General, didn’t spare him any pain, any suffering, any horror. In the languidly encroaching dusk of Saint James’s Day Eve, scorched by days of inclement sun, two women and a man led three mules loaded down with pack saddles and hampers filled with memories and five children sleeping on top. They fled the Jewish Quarter and headed to the bank of the River Ter, on the heels of the two families who’d left the previous day. They left behind sixteen generations of Xaroms and Meirs in their beloved Girona, that noble and ungrateful city. The smoke of the iniquity that had devoured poor Josep still rose, Josep who was victim of a fit of envy by an anonymous informer. Dolça Xarom, the only child who awoke in time to have a last look at the proud walls of the cathedral silhouetted against the stars, cried silently, on muleback, over the death of so many things in one single night. A spark of confidence awaited the group at Estartit, in the form of a boat rented by poor Josep Xarom and Massot Bonsenyor a few days earlier, when they saw trouble brewing, when they sensed it without knowing exactly where it would come from, or how and when it would drop on them.
    The boat took advantage of a warm western wind to get some distance from the nightmare. The next evening it stopped in Ciutadella, on Minorca, where six more people embarked, and three days later it arrived in Palermo, Sicily, where they rested for half a week from the seasickness brought on by the roughness of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Once they had recovered, taking advantage of favourable winds, they crossed the Ionian Sea and docked at the Albanian port of Durrës, where the six families embarked, fleeing from tears towards some place where no one would be offended by their whisperings on the Sabbath. Since they were warmly welcomed by the Jewish community in Durrës, they established themselves there.
    Dolça Xarom, the fleeing girl, had children there, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and at eighty years old, still stubbornly recalled the silent streets of Girona’s Jewish Quarter and the hulking Christian cathedral, silhouetted against the stars and blurred by tears. Despite the nostalgia, the Xarom Meir family lived and prospered over twelve generations in Durrës and time was so insistent that a moment came when the memory of the ancestor burned by the ungodly goyim shattered and was almost erased in the memory of the children of the children of the children, just like the distant name of their beloved Girona. One fine day in the Year of the Patriarchs 5420, the nefarious Year of the Christians 1660, Emanuel Meir was drawn by the commercial boom to the Black Sea. Emanuel Meir, eighth great-great-grandson of Dolça the fleeing girl, moved to bustling Varna, in Bulgaria on the Black Sea, in the period when the Sublime Porte ruled there. My parents, who were fervent Catholics in predominantly Lutheran Germany, wanted me to be a priest. And I spent quite some time considering it.
    ‘You would have made a good priest, Obersturbannführer Höss.’
    ‘I imagine so.’
    ‘I’m sure: everything you do, you do well.’
    Obersturmbannführer Höss puffed up with the well-deserved praise. He wanted to dig deeper into it, with a more solemn air: ‘What you just made out to be a virtue, could also be my ruin. And especially now that Reichsführer Himmler is going to visit us.’
    ‘Why?’
    ‘Because as Oberlagerführer, I am responsible for all the failings of the system. For example, I only have two or three cans at the most left from the last shipment of Zyklon gas and the quartermaster hasn’t even thought to tell me to make an order. And so I’ll have to ask for favours, get some lorries to come that probably should be somewhere else, and stifle my craving to yell at the quartermaster because we are all working at our limit, here at Oświeçem. Pardon at Auschwitz.’
    ‘I imagine that the experience of Dachau …’
    ‘From a psychological point of view, the difference is vast. At Dachau we had prisoners.’
    ‘From what I understand huge numbers of them died and still do.’
    ‘Yes, Doctor Voigt, but Dachau is a prison camp. Auschwitz-Birkenau is designed, created and calculated to exterminate rats. If it weren’t for the fact that Jews aren’t human, I would think we are living in hell, with one door that leads to a gas chamber and another place that’s cremation ovens and their flames, or the open pits in the forest, where we burn the remaining units, because we can’t keep up with all the material they send us. This is the first time I talk about these things with someone not involved in the camp, Doctor.’
    ‘It’s good to vent every once in a while, Obersturmbannführer Höss.’
    ‘I’m counting on your professional secrecy, because the Reichsführer …’
    ‘Naturally. You, who are a Christian … In short, a psychiatrist is like a confessor, the confessor you could have been.’
    For a few moments, since he was letting it all out, Oberlagerführer Höss considered mentioning something about that woman, but, despite strong temptation, he managed not to bring it up. He realised it was a close call. He would have to be more careful with the wine. He expanded on the fact that my men have to be strong to carry out the task they have been entrusted with. The other day a soldier, more than thirty years old, not some teenager, burst into tears in one of the barracks in front of his comrades.
    Doctor Voigt glanced at this guest and hid his surprise; he let the other man gulp down another glass of wine and waited a few seconds before asking the question the other man was anxiously expecting: ‘And what happened?’
    ‘Bruno, Bruno, wake up!’
    But Bruno didn’t wake up, he was howling and his agony bled from his mouth and eyes, and Rottenführer Mathäus had the superior officers called in, because he didn’t know what to do, and three minutes later the Oberlagerführer himself, Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss, showed up just in the moment when the soldier Bruno Lübke had pulled out his pistol and stuck it into his mouth, still howling. An SS soldier! Every inch an SS!
    ‘Stand at attention, soldier!’ shouted Obersturmbannführer Höss. But since the soldier was howling and sticking the barrel down his throat, his superior made a motion to stop him and Bruno Lübke pulled the trigger with the hope that he would go straight to hell and thus escape Birkenau, the ash they had to breathe in and the gaze of that little girl, who was identical to his Ursula, whom he’d pushed into the gas chamber that very afternoon and seen again when a Jewish rat from the Sonderkommando shaved off her hair and put her in the pile in front of the crematoria.
    Höss disdainfully contemplated the soldier — that cowardly jackal — laid out on the ground in a puddle of pale blood. He took advantage of the occasion to improvise a speech in front of the shocked soldiers, and he told them that there is no greater inner consolation and spiritual joy than having the absolute certainty that your actions are carried out in the name of God and with the intention of preserving the holy Catholic and apostolic faith from its many enemies who will never rest until they annihilate it, Friar Miquel. And if some day you falter and discuss in public whether or not the amputation of the confessed prisoners’ tongues is appropriate, as much as I recognise your services to me, I can assure you that I will report you to the higher courts, for lassitude and weakness unworthy of an officer of the Holy Inquisition Tribunal.
    ‘I spoke thus out of mercy, Your Excellency.’
    ‘You confuse weakness with mercy.’ Friar Nicolau Eimeric began to shake with repressed rage. ‘If you continue to insist, you will be guilty of very serious insubordination.’
    Friar Miquel lowered his head, trembling in fear. His soul shrank when he heard his superior add, you are starting to seem suspect of lassitude, not only for weakness, but for collusion with heretics.
    ‘For the love of God, Your Excellency!’
    ‘Don’t take God’s name in vain. And be warned that weakness makes you a traitor and enemy of the Truth.’
    Friar Nicolau covered his face with his hands and prayed fervidly for a little while. From the depths of his reflection came a cavernous voice that said we are the only eye attentive to sin, we are the guardians of the orthodoxy, Friar Miquel, we have and we are the truth, and as harsh as the punishment we inflict on the heretic may seem, be it to his body or to his writings, as was the case with the abominable Llull whom I lament not having been able to send to the stake, remember that we are applying the law and justice, which is not exactly a fault, but rather of great merit. In addition, I remind you that we are only responsible before God and not before men. While those who hunger and thirst to be just men are happy, Friar Miquel, those who apply justice are much more so, especially if you remember that our mission was explicitly designed by our beloved Führer, who knows that he can trust in the integrity, patriotism and firmness of spirit of his SS. Or is there any doubt about the Führer’s plans? He looked at each man, dominantly, defiantly, as he walked inaudibly among them. Or do any of you doubt the decision-making ability of our Reichsführer Himmler? What will you say to him when he arrives the day after tomorrow? Eh? And after a dramatic pause of a full five seconds: Take away this carrion!
    He drank a couple more glasses of wine, or perhaps four or five, and he explained more things that he doesn’t entirely remember, carried away by the euphoria the evocation of that heroic scene instilled in him.
    Rudolf Höss emerged from Doctor Voigt’s quarters quite reassured and slightly dizzy. What worried him was not the hell of Birkenau, but human weakness. No matter how many solemn vows those men and women had made, they weren’t able to withstand having death so close. They didn’t have souls of steel and that was why they made so many mistakes, and there was no worse way to do things than having to repeat them because of … Disgusting, really. Luckily he hadn’t even insinuated the existence of that woman. And I realised that, without wanting to, he watched Kornelia out of the corner of his eye to see if she smiled at the other visitors or … I don’t want to be a jealous chap, I thought. But it’s just that she … Now! Finally there are ten people and the tour can start. The guide entered the cloister and said Bebenhausen monastery, which we will now visit, was founded by Rudolf I of Tübingen in 1180 and secularised in 1806. I searched out Kornelia with my eyes, and found her beside a very handsome boy, who was smiling at her. And she looked at me, finally, and it was cold at Bebenhausen. What does secularised mean? asked a short, bald man.
    That night Rudolf and Hedwig Höss didn’t sleep together in their marriage bed. He had too much on his mind and the conversation with Doctor Voigt kept coming back to him. Had he spoken too much? Had the third or fourth or seventh glass of wine made him say things that should never have come out of his mouth? His obsession with perfect order crumbled in the face of the enormous blunders his subordinates had made in recent weeks, and he could absolutely not allow Reichsführer Himmler to think that he was failing him, because it all began when I entered the Order of Preachers, guided by my absolute faith in the Führer’s instructions. During our novitiate, led by the kindly hand of Friar Anselm Copons, we learned to harden our hearts to human misery, because all SS must know how to completely sacrifice their personality to the absolute service of the Führer. And the basic mission of the preacher friars is precisely that of eradicating internal dangers. For the true faith, the presence of a heretic is a thousand times more dangerous than that of an infidel. The heretic has fed on the teachings of the church and lives within it, but at the same time, with his pestilent, poisonous nature, corrupts the holy elements of the sacred institution. In order to solve the problem once and for all, in 1941 the decision was taken to make the Holy Inquisition look like so much child’s play and programme the extermination of all Jews without exception. And if horror was necessary, let it be infinite horror. And if cruelty was necessary, let it be absolute cruelty, because now it was history that was picking up the baton. Naturally only true heroes with iron hearts and steel wills could achieve such a difficult objective, could carry out such a valiant deed. And I, as a faithful and disciplined friar preacher, got down to work. Until 1944, only a handful of doctors and I knew the final orders of the Reichsführer: start with the sick and the children and, solely for economic motives, make use of those who could work. I got down to my task with the absolute intention of being faithful to my oath as an SS. That is why the church doesn’t consider the Jews infidels, but heretics that live among us insistent in their heresy, which began when they crucified Our Lord Jesus and continues in every place and every moment, in their obstinacy at renouncing their false beliefs, in perpetuating human sacrifices with Christian babies and in inventing abominable acts against the holy sacraments, like the aforementioned case of the consecrated hosts, profaned by the perfidious Josep Xarom. That is why the orders given to each Schutzhaftlagerführer in all of the camps dependent on Auschwitz were so severe: the road was narrow, it depended on the capacity of the crematory ovens, the crop was too abundant, thousands and thousands of rats, and the solution was in our hands. Reality, which never comes close to pure ideal, is that Crematorium I and II have the capacity to incinerate two thousand units in twenty-four hours and, to avoid breakdowns, I cannot go above that figure.
    ‘And the other two?’ asked Doctor Voigt before the fourth glass of wine.
    ‘The third and fourth are my cross to bear: they don’t get up to even one thousand five hundred units a day. The models chosen have sorely disappointed me. If the superiors paid attention to those in the know …’ And don’t take it as a criticism of our leaders, Doctor, he said during dinner, or perhaps with the fifth glass. There is so much work that we are snowed under, and any sort of feeling at all akin to compassion must not only be ripped from the minds of the SS, but also severely punished, for the good of the fatherland.
    ‘And what do you do with the … the residue?’
    ‘The ash is loaded onto lorries and dumped in the Vistula. The river drags off tonnes of ash each day, towards the sea, which is death, as the Latin classics taught us in the unforgettable lessons of Friar Anselm Copons, during our novitiate, in Girona.’
    ‘What?’
    ‘I am only the substitute for the notary, Your Excellency. I …’
    ‘What did you just read, wretch?’
    ‘Well … that Josep Xarom cursed you shortly before the flames …’
    ‘Didn’t you cut out his tongue?’
    ‘Friar Miquel forbade it. By the authority invested in him by …’
    ‘Friar Miquel? Friar Miquel de Susqueda?’ Dramatic pause of the length of half a hailmary. ‘Bring that carrion here before me.’
    Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, who arrived from Berlin, was understanding. He is a wise man, who realised what pressure Rudolf Höss’s men were under and elegantly — what elegance — ignored the insufficiencies that had me so mortified. He approved the daily elimination figure, although I saw in his noble forehead a shadow of concern, because, it seems, finishing off the Jewish problem is urgent and we are only halfway through the process. He didn’t discuss any plans with me and, in an emotional act with the Lager staff, he offered up my humble personage as an example of how each officer, from the first to the last, should conduct themselves on the Inquisition’s high tribunal. I could well consider myself a happy man because I was faithful to the most sacred vows I had taken in my life. The problem, however, was that woman.
    Wednesday, when Frau Hedwig Höss had gone out with the group of women to buy provisions in town, Obersturmbannführer Höss waited for her to arrive at his home under the supervision of her guard, with those eyes, with that sweet face, with those hands that were so perfect that she looks like a real human being. He pretended to have a lot of work piled up on his desk and he watched her as she swept the floor, which, although she did it twice a day, was always covered in a fine layer of ash.
    ‘Your Excellency … I didn’t know you were here.’
    ‘No bother, continue.’
    Finally, after days of tension, sidelong glances, demonical obsessive imaginings that were increasingly powerful and insuperable, the demon of the flesh possessed Friar Nicolau Eimeric’s iron will. And despite the sacred habits he wore, he said enough is enough and he clasped that woman from behind, with his hands pressed against those tempting breasts, and he sank his venerable chin into her nape that promised a thousand delights. The woman, terrified, dropped the bundle of firewood and remained rigid, stiff, not knowing what to do, against the wall in the dark hallway, not sure whether she should scream, whether she should run off or whether, on the other hand, she should lend an invaluable service to the church.
    ‘Lift your dress,’ said Eimeric as he untied the rosary of fifteen beads that was wrapped around his habit.
    Prisoner number 615428, from shipment A27 from Bulgaria in January of 1944, saved from the gas chamber at the last minute because someone decided she would do for domestic labours, didn’t dare to look into the eyes of that Nazi officer, horrifically afraid, and she thought not again, no, Lord, merciful almighty God. Obersturmbannführer Höss, understanding, without growing irritated, repeated his order. When she didn’t react, he pushed her towards the armchair, with more impatience than brutality. He tore off her clothes and caressed her eyes, her face, her oh so sweet gaze. When he penetrated her, enraptured by that savage beauty born of weakness and destruction, he knew that number 615428 had got under his skin forever. 615428 had to be the best-kept secret of his life. He got up quickly, once again in control of the situation, fixed his habit, told the woman get dressed, six, one, five, four, two, eight. Quickly. Then he made it clear that nothing had happened and he swore to her that if she said anything about it to anyone, he would imprison the Wall-eyed Man of Salt, her husband, as well as her son and her mother, and he would accuse her of witchcraft, because you are nothing more than a witch who tried to seduce me with your evil powers.
    The operation was repeated over the course of a few days. Prisoner 615428 had to get down on her knees, naked, and the Obersturmbannführer Höss penetrated her, and His Excellency Nicolau Eimeric reminded her, panting, that if you speak a word of this to that wretch, the Wall-eyed Man of Salt, it will be you sent to burn at the stake as a witch, you’ve got me under your spell, and 615428 couldn’t say yes or no because she could only weep in horror.
    ‘Have you seen the rosary I wear around my waist?’ said His Excellency. ‘If you’ve stolen it, you’ll pay.’
    Until stupid Doctor Voigt took an interest in that violin and crossed the line that no Inquisitor General could ever allow anyone to cross. Despite that, Voigt won the match and Oberlagerführer Eimeric had to put the instrument down on the table with a thud.
    ‘All your talk about confessional secrets, you bastard.’
    ‘I’m no priest.’
    Sturmbannführer Voigt picked up the violin with eager hands and Rudolf Höss slammed the door excessively hard on his way out and rushed towards the chapel of his inquisitorial headquarters and remained on his knees for two hours, crying at his weakness in the face of the temptations of the flesh, until the new chief secretary, worried because he hadn’t shown up for the first advance review, found him in that edifying state of holy devotion and piety. Friar Nicolau stood up, informed the secretary not to expect him until the following day and headed to the registry office.
    ‘Prisoner number 615428.’
    ‘One moment, Obersturmbannführer. Yes. Shipment A27 from Bulgaria on 13 January of this year.’
    ‘What is her name?’
    ‘Elisaveta Meireva. She’s one of the few that has a file.’
    ‘What does it say?’
    Gefreiter Hänsch checked in the file cabinet and pulled it out and read Elisaveta Meireva, eighteen years old, daughter of Lazar Meirev and Sara Meireva of Varna. It doesn’t say anything more. Is there some problem, Obersturmbannführer?
    Elisaveta, sweet, with fairy eyes, witch eyes, lips of fresh moss; it was a shame she was so skinny.
    ‘Any complaints, Obersturmbannführer?’
    ‘No, no … But begin urgent proceedings to have her sent back to the general population.’
    ‘She still has sixteen days in the Kommando of domestic service in
    ‘That’s an order, Gefreiter.’
    ‘I can’t …’
    ‘Do you know what an order from a superior is, Gefreiter? And stand up when I speak to you.’
    ‘Yes, Obersturmbannführer!’
    ‘Then, proceed!’
    ‘Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis, in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, Obersturmbannführer.’
    ‘Amen,’ replied Friar Nicolau as he humbly kissed the gold-filled cross on the venerable father confessor’s stole, with his soul blessedly relieved by the sacrament of confession.
    ‘You Catholics have it good, with confession,’ said Kornelia, in the middle of the cloister, with her arms outstretched, taking in the springtime sun.
    ‘I’m not Catholic. I’m not religious. Are you?’
    Kornelia shrugged. When she didn’t have a proper answer, she shrugged and kept quiet. Adrià understood that the subject made her uncomfortable.
    ‘Seen from outside,’ I said, ‘I like Lutherans better: the Grace of God liberates us without intermediaries.’
    ‘I don’t like talking about that stuff,’ said Kornelia, very tense.
    ‘Why?’
    ‘Because it makes me think about death, I guess. What do I know!’ She grabbed him by the arm and they left the Bebenhausen monastery. ‘Come on, we’ll miss the bus.’
    On the bus, Adrià, looking out at the landscape without seeing it, began to think about Sara, as he always did when he lowered his guard. He found it humiliating to realise that her facial features were beginning to fade in his memory. Her eyes were dark, but were they black or dark brown? Sara, what colour were your eyes? Sara, why did you leave? And Kornelia’s hand took his and Adrià smiled sadly. And that afternoon they wandered through the cafés of Tübingen, first to have some beers and then, when they’d had their fill, they ordered very hot tea, and then dinner at the Deutsches Haus because, apart from studying and going to concerts, Adrià didn’t know what else to do in Tübingen. Read Hölderlin. Listen to Coşeriu rant about what a blockhead Chomsky was, and against generativism and all that crap.
    When they got off the bus in front of the Brechtbau, Kornelia whispered in his ear don’t come to the house this evening.
    ‘Why not?’
    ‘Because I’m busy.’
    They parted without a kiss and Adrià felt something like vertigo in the very centre of his soul. And it was all your fault because you had left me without any reason to live, and we’d only been dating for a few months, Sara, but I lived in the clouds with you and you are the best thing that could ever happen to me, until you ran away, and Adrià, once he was in Tübingen, far from his painful memory, spent four months studying desperately, trying in vain to sign up for some course with Coşeriu but secretly auditing it, and going to all the conferences, seminars, talks and open meetings offered at the Brechtbau — which had just moved to a new building — and everywhere else but especially the Burse. And when winter came suddenly, the electric heater in his room wasn’t always enough, but he continued studying to keep from thinking about Sara, because you left without saying a word, and when the sadness was too strong, he went out to stroll along the banks of the Neckar, with his nose frozen, and he would reach the Hölderlin Tower and he would think that if he didn’t do something he would lose his mind over this love. And one day the snow began to melt, gradually, it was becoming green again, and he wished he weren’t so sad, so that he could appreciate the nuances of the shades of green. And since he had no intention of returning to his distant mother’s home that summer, he decided to change his life, laugh a little, drink beer with the others who lived with him in the pension, frequent the department’s Clubhaus, laugh for laughter’s sake, and go to the cinema to see boring and incredible stories, instead of dying over love. And with a hitherto unknown restlessness he started to look at the students with different eyes, now that they were beginning to remove their anoraks and hats, and he realised how pleasurable that was, and it helped to slightly fade the memory of runaway Sara’s face and yet it didn’t erase the questions I’ve asked myself throughout my entire life, like what did you mean when you told me I ran away crying, saying not again, it can’t be. But in History of Aesthetics I, Adrià sat behind a girl with wavy black hair, whose gaze made him a bit dizzy, a girl named Kornelia Brendel who was from Offenbach. He noticed her because she seemed unattainable. And he smiled at her and she smiled back, and soon they had a coffee at the department bar and she swore you don’t have the slightest accent, I thought you were German, really. And from coffee they moved to strolling together through that park bursting with spring, and Kornelia was the first woman I went to bed with, Sara, and I hugged her close pretending that … Mea culpa, Sara. And I started to love her even though sometimes she said things I didn’t completely understand. And I knew how to hold her gaze. I liked Kornelia. And we were together like that for a few months. I clung desperately to her. Which was why I became anxious when, as the second winter began, when we returned from our visit to the Bebenhausen monastery, she told me don’t come to my house this evening.
    ‘Why not?’
    ‘Because I’ll be busy.’
    They parted without a kiss and Adrià felt something like vertigo in the very centre of his soul, because he didn’t know whether you could say to a woman hey, hey, what do you mean you’ll be busy? Or whether he had to be prudent and think she’s old enough not to have to explain herself to you. Or shouldn’t she, actually? Isn’t she your girlfriend? Kornelia Brendel, do you take Adrià Ardèvol i Bosch as your boyfriend? Can Kornelia Brendel have secrets?
    Adrià let Kornelia go off down Wilhelmstrasse without asking for any explanation because, deep down, he had his secrets from Kornelia: he still hadn’t told her anything about Sara, for example. That was all very well and good in theory, but two minutes later he was sorry he’d let her go without raising any objections. He didn’t see her in Greek or in Philosophy of the Experience. Nor in the open seminar in Moral Philosophy that she’d said she didn’t want to miss. And very ashamed of myself, I headed towards Jakobsgasse and I stood, slightly hidden and even more ashamed of myself, on the corner with Schmiedtorstrasse, as if I were waiting for the 12. And after ten or twelve 12s had passed, I was still standing there, so cold my feet were like ice about to crack, trying to find out what Kornelia’s secret was.
    At five in the afternoon, when I was frozen from the heart down, Kornelia appeared with her secret. She was wearing the same coat as always, so pretty, so Kornelia. The secret was a tall, blond, handsome, laughing boy whom she’d met in the cloister at Bebenhausen and who was now kissing her before they both entered the building. He kissed her much better than I knew how to. That’s where the problems began. Not because I had spied on her, but because she realised it when she drew the curtain in the living room and saw Adrià on the corner in front of her house, frozen, looking at her incredulously, with his eyes wide, waiting for the 12. That night I cried on the street and when I got home I found a letter from Bernat; it had been months since I’d heard from him and in the letter he assured me that he was bursting with happiness, that her name was Tecla and that he was coming to see me whether I liked it or not.
    Since I’d been in Tübingen, my relationship with Bernat had cooled somewhat. I don’t write letters: well, I didn’t when I was young. The first sign of life from him was a suicidal postcard sent from Palma, with the text in full view of the Francoist military censors, which said I am playing the cornet for the colonel of the regiment and playing with myself when they don’t let us go out or playing on everyone’s nerves when I practise the violin. I hate life, soldiers, the regime and the rock they all crawled out from under. And how are you? There was no indication as to where he could send a reply and Adrià wrote back to Bernat’s parents’ house. I think I told him about Kornelia but very sketchily. But that summer I travelled down to Barcelona and, with the money that Mother had put in my own account, I paid a small fortune to Toti Dalmau, who was already a doctor, and he sent me for a few check-ups at the Military Hospital and I came out of them with a certificate stating that I had serious cardio-respiratory problems that kept me from serving my homeland. Adrià, for a cause he considered just, had moved the strings of corruption. And I don’t regret it. No dictatorship has the right to demand a year and a half or two of my life, amen.

25

    He wanted to bring Tecla. I told him that I only had one bed in my flat and blah, blah, blah, which was ridiculous because they could have easily gone to a hostel. And then it turned out that Tecla couldn’t come because she had too much work, which, he later confessed to me, meant that Tecla’s parents wouldn’t allow her to go on such a long trip with that boyfriend of hers, who was too tall, with hair too long and a gaze too melancholy. I was glad he didn’t show up with her because otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to really talk, which meant that Adrià would have felt so envious that he wouldn’t have been able to breathe and he would have said what are you doing with a woman, you should always put friends first; you know what I mean, loser? Friends! And I would have said that out of ffucking envy and desperation at seeing my cardiac problems with Kornelia take the same path as the ones I had with you, my love. With one advantage: I knew Kornelia’s secret. Her secrets. And yet … I was still asking myself why you had run away to Paris. So he came alone, with a student violin, and with a lot of things he wanted to talk about. It seemed he had grown a bit. He was now a good half a head taller than me. And he was starting to look at the world with a little less impatience. Sometimes he even smiled for no reason, just because, just because of life.
    ‘Are you in love?’
    Then his smile widened. Yes, he was in love. Hopelessly in love. Unlike me, who was hopelessly confused by Kornelia, who went off with some other guy the minute I turned my back because she was at that age, the age of experiences. I envied Bernat’s serene smile. But there was a detail that worried me. When he set himself up in my room, on the foldout bed, he opened his violin case. Serious violinists don’t just carry a violin in their cases; they have half their lives in there: two or three bows, rosin for the strings, a photo or two, scores in a side pocket, sets of strings and their only review, from some local magazine. Bernat had his student violin, a bow and that’s it. And a folder. And the first thing he opened was the folder. There was a clumsily stapled text inside, which he held out to me. Here, read.
    ‘What is it?’
    ‘A short story. I’m a writer.’
    The way he said I’m a writer bothered me. In fact, it’s bothered me all my life. With his usual lack of tact, he wanted me to read it right then and there. I took it, looked at the title and the length, and said I’ll have to read it leisurely.
    ‘Of course, of course. I’ll go out and take a walk.’
    ‘No. I’ll read it tonight, when I usually read. Tell me about Tecla.’
    He told me that she was like this and like that, that she had delicious dimples in her cheeks, that he’d met her at the conservatory of the Liceu; she played the piano and he was the concertmaster for the Schumann quintet.
    ‘The funny thing is that she plays the piano and her name is Tecla.’ Tecla means key.
    ‘She’ll get over it. Does she play well?’
    Since if it were up to him we would stay there all day, I grabbed my anorak and said follow me and I took him to the Deutsches Haus, which was full as always, and I checked out of the corner of my eye for Kornelia and one of her experiences, which meant I wasn’t entirely attentive to the conversation with Bernat, who, after ordering the same thing I had, just in case, started to say I miss you but I don’t want to study abroad in Europe and …
    ‘You’re making a mistake.’
    ‘I prefer to make an inner voyage. That’s why I’ve started writing.’
    ‘That’s balderdash. You have to travel. Find teachers who will invigorate you, get your blood flowing.’
    ‘That’s disgusting.’
    ‘No: it’s Sauerkraut.’
    ‘What?’
    ‘Pickled cabbage. You get used to it.’
    No sign of Kornelia, yet. Halfway into my sausage I was more calm, and barely thinking about her at all.
    ‘I want to pack in the violin,’ he said, I think to provoke me.
    ‘I forbid you.’
    ‘Are you expecting someone?’
    ‘No, why?’
    ‘No, it’s just that you’re … Well, it looks like you’re expecting someone.’
    ‘Why do you say you want to give up the violin?’
    ‘Why did you give it up?’
    ‘You already know that. I don’t know how to play.’
    ‘Neither do I. I don’t know if you remember: I lack soul.’
    ‘You’ll find it studying abroad. Study under Kremer, or that kid, Perlman. Or have Stern hear you play. Hell, Europe is filled with great teachers that we’ve never even heard of. Light a fire under yourself, burn the candle at both ends. Or go to America.’
    ‘I don’t have a future as a soloist.’
    ‘Nonsense.’
    ‘Shut up, you don’t understand. I can’t do more than I’m doing.’
    ‘All right. Then you can be a good orchestral violinist.’
    ‘I still want to take on the world.’
    ‘You decide: take the risk or play it safe. And you can take on the world sitting at your music stand.’
    ‘No. I’m losing my excitement.’
    ‘And when you play chamber music? Aren’t you happy?’
    Here Bernat hesitated, looking towards one wall. I left him with his hesitation because just then Kornelia came in with a new experience on her arm and I wanted to disappear but I followed her with my eyes. She pretended not to see me and they sat down behind me. I felt a horrific emptiness at my back.
    ‘Maybe.’
    ‘What?’
    Bernat looked at me, puzzled. Patiently: ‘Maybe when I play chamber I’m something like happy.’
    I couldn’t give two shits about Bernat’s chamber music that evening. My priority was the emptiness, the itching at my back. And I turned, pretending I was looking for the blonde waitress. Kornelia was laughing as she checked the list of sausages on the plastic-coated menu. The experience had an amazing moustache that was completely odious and out of place. Diametrically opposed to the tall, blond secret of ten days earlier.
    ‘What’s wrong with you?’
    ‘Me? What do you mean?’
    ‘I don’t know. You’re like …’
    Then Adrià smiled at the waitress who was passing by and asked her for a bit of bread and looked at Bernat and said go on, go on, forgive me, I was just …
    ‘Well, maybe when I play chamber music I’m …’
    ‘You see? And if you do Beethoven’s entire series with Tecla?’
    The itching at my back was growing so intense that I didn’t think about whether I was making sense or not.
    ‘Yes, I can do it. And why? Who would ask us to do it in a hall? Or record it on a dozen LPs? Huh?’
    ‘You’re asking for a lot … Just being able to play it … Excuse me for a moment.’
    I got up and went to the bathroom. When I passed Kornelia and her experience, I looked at her, she lifted her head, saw me and said hello and continued reading the sausage menu. Hello. As if it were the most normal thing in the world, after having sworn eternal love or practically, and having slept with you, she picks up an experience and when you run into her she says hello and keeps reading the sausage menu. I was about to say you should try my Bratwurst, it’s very good, miss. As I walked to the bathroom I heard the experience, in a superstrong Bavarian accent, say who is that guy with the Bratwurst? I missed Kornelia’s response because I went into the bathroom to make way for some waitresses with full trays.
    We had to get over the spiked fence to be able to stroll in the cemetery at night. It was very cold, but we could both use the walk because we’d drunk all the beer we could get our hands on, him thinking about chamber music and me meeting new experiences. I told him about my Hebrew classes and the philosophy I alternated with my philology studies and my decision to spend my whole life studying and if I can teach in the university, fantastic: otherwise, I’ll be a private scholar.
    ‘And how will you earn a living? That is if you have to at all.’
    ‘I can always have dinner over at your house.’
    ‘How many languages do you speak?’
    ‘Don’t give up the violin.’
    ‘I’m about to.’
    ‘So why did you bring it with you?’
    ‘To do finger practice. On Sunday I’m playing at Tecla’s house.’
    ‘That’s good, right?’
    ‘Oh, sure. Thrilling. But I have to impress her parents.’
    ‘What are you going to play?’
    ‘César Franck.’
    For a minute, both of us, I’m sure of it, were reminiscing about the beginning of Franck’s sonata, that elegant dialogue between the two instruments that was merely the introduction to great pleasures.
    ‘I regret having given up the violin,’ I said.
    ‘Now you say it, you big poof.’
    ‘I say it because I don’t want you to be regretting it a few months from now and cursing my name because I didn’t warn you.’
    ‘I think I want to be a writer.’
    ‘I think it’s fine if you write. But you don’t have to give up
    ‘Do you mind not being so condescending, for fuck’s sake?’
    ‘Go to hell.’
    ‘Have you heard anything from Sara?’
    We started to walk in silence to the end of the path, to the grave of Franz Grübbe. I was realising that I’d been wrong not to tell him about Kornelia and my suffering. In those days I was already concerned about the image others had of me.
    Bernat repeated his question with his eyes and didn’t insist. The cold was cutting and made my eyes water.
    ‘Why don’t we go back?’ I said.
    ‘Who is this Grübbe?’
    Adrià looked pensively at the thick cross. Franz Grübbe, 1918–1943. Lothar Grübbe, with a trembling, indignant hand, pushed away a bramble that someone had put there as an insult. The bramble scratched him and he couldn’t think of Schubert’s wild rose because his thoughts had been abducted by his ill fate for some time. Lovingly, he put a bouquet of roses on his grave, white like his son’s soul.
    ‘You are tempting fate,’ said Herta who, nevertheless, had wanted to accompany him. Those flowers are screaming.
    ‘I have nothing to lose.’ He stood up. ‘Just the opposite: I have won the prize of a heroic, brave martyr for a son.’
    He looked around him. His breath emerged in a thick cloud. He knew that the white roses, besides being a rebellious scream, would already be frozen come evening. But it had been almost a month since they had buried Franz, and he’d promised Anna he would bring him flowers on the sixteenth of each month until the day he could no longer walk. It was the least he could do for their son, the hero, the brave martyr.
    ‘Is he somebody important, this Grübbe?’
    ‘Huh?’
    ‘Why did you stop here?’
    ‘Franz Grübbe, nineteen eighteen, nineteen forty-three.’
    ‘Who is he?’
    ‘I have no idea.’
    ‘Shit, it’s so cold. Is it always like this in Tübingen?’
    Lothar Grübbe had lived silent and sulking since Hitler had taken power and he showed his silent sulkiness to his neighbours, who pretended not to see Lothar Grübbe sulking as they said that man is looking for trouble; and he, sulking, spoke to his Anna as he strolled, alone, through the park, saying it’s not possible that no one is rebelling, it just can’t be. And when Franz went back to the university, where he wasted his time studying laws that would be abolished by the New Order, the world came crashing down around Lothar because his Franz, with his eyes bright with excitement, said Papa, following the indications and wishes of the Führer, I just asked to sign up with the SS and it’s very likely that they’ll accept me because I’ve been able to prove that we are unsullied for five or six generations. And Lothar, perplexed, disconcerted, said what have they done to you, my son, why …
    ‘Father: We are Entering a New Era Made of Power, Energy, Light and Future. Etcetera, Father. And I want you to be happy for me.’
    Lothar cried in front of his excited son, who scolded him for such weakness. That night he explained it to his Anna and he said forgive me, Anna, it’s my fault, it’s my fault for having let him study so far from home; they have infected him with fascism, my beloved Anna. And Lothar Grübbe had much time to cry because, one bad day, young Franz, who was again far from home, didn’t want to see his father’s reproachful gaze and so he just sent him an enthusiastic telegram that said The Third Company of the Waffen-SS of Who Knows Which One, Papa, Is Being Sent To The Southern Front, Stop. Finally I Can Offer My Life To My Führer, Stop. Don’t Cry For Me In That Case. Stop. I Will Have Eternal Life in Valhalla. Stop. And Lothar cried and decided that it had to be kept secret and that night he didn’t tell Anna that he had received a Telegram from Franz, Loaded With Detestable Capitals.
    Drago Gradnik had to lean his immense trunk forward in order to hear the anaemic little voice of the employee at the Jesenice post office, near the Sava Dolinka River, which was running very high due to the spring thaw.
    ‘What did you say?’
    ‘This letter will not reach its destination.’
    ‘Why?’ thundering voice.
    The little old man who worked in the post office put on his glasses and read out loud: Fèlix Ardèvol, 283 València ulica, Barcelona, Španija. And he held the letter out to the giant.
    ‘It will get lost along the way, captain. All the letters in this sack are going to Ljubljana and no further.’
    ‘I’m a sergeant.’
    ‘I don’t care: it will get lost anyway. We are at war. Or didn’t you know?’
    Gradnik, who didn’t usually do such things, pointed threateningly at the civil servant and, using the deepest and most unpleasant voice in his repertoire, said you lick a fifty-para stamp, stick it on the envelope, mark it, put the letter in the sack I’m taking and let it go. Do you understand me?
    Even though they were calling him from outside, Gradnik waited for the offended man to follow, in silence, that useless old partisan’s orders. And when he’d finished, he placed the envelope into the sack of scant correspondence headed to Ljubljana. The giant sergeant picked it up and went out onto the sunny street. Ten impatient men shouted at him from the lorry, which, seeing him come out, had turned on its engine. In the lorry’s trailer there were six or seven similar sacks and Vlado Vladić lying down, smoking and looking at his watch and saying, shit, all you had to do was pick up the sack, sergeant.
    The lorry with the postal sacks and some fifteen partisans didn’t get a chance to leave. A strange Citroën stopped in front of it and out came three partisans who explained the situation to their comrades: that Palm Sunday, the day that Croatia and Slovenia commemorate Jesus’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, three companies of the SS Division Reich decided to emulate the Son of God and triumphantly enter Slovenia but on wheels, while the Luftwaffe destroyed the centre of Belgrad and the royal government, with the king on the first line of fire, running as fast as his legs could carry him, comrades. It is time to give our lives for freedom. You will go to Kranjska Gora to halt the Waffen-SS division. And Drago Gradnik thought the hour of my death has come, blessed be the Lord. I will die in Kranjska Gora trying to halt an unstoppable division of the Waffen-SS. And, as had been the case throughout his entire life, he didn’t bemoan his fate. From the moment that he’d hung up his cassock and gone to see the local commando of partisans in order to offer himself to his country, he knew that he was making a mistake. But he couldn’t do anything else because there was evil right before him, be it Pavelić’s Ustaše or the devil’s SS, and theology had to be set aside for these sad emergencies. They reached Kranjska Gora without running into any devils and pretty much everyone was thinking that perhaps the information was erroneous; but when they went out on the Borovška highway, a commander with no stars, with a Croatian accent and a twenty-day beard, told them that the moment of truth had arrived; it is a battle to the death against Nazism: you are the army of partisans for freedom and against fascism. Show no mercy on the enemy just as no enemy has or ever will with us. Drago Gradnik wanted to add forever and ever amen. But he held himself back, because the commander without stars was clearly explaining how each defensive den had to act. Gradnik had time to think that, for the first time in his life, he would have to kill.
    ‘Come on, up into the hills, fast as you can. And good luck!’
    The bulk of the force, with machine guns, hand grenades and mortars, took the safe positions. The shooters had to go up to the peaks, like eagles. The dozen marksmen spread out nimbly — except for Father Gradnik who was wheezing like a whale — to the defence positions, each with his rifle and only thirteen magazines. And if you run out of bullets, use rocks; and if they get close to you, strangle them: but don’t let them get into the town. Good aim got you a Nagant with a telescopic sight. And it also meant watching, following, observing, relating to those you had to end up killing.
    When he was about to die, drowned in his own panting, a hand helped him up the last step. It was Vlado Vladić, who was already flat on the ground, aiming at the deserted bend in the highway and who said sergeant, we have to stay in shape. From the top of the hill they heard scared golden orioles flying over them, as if they wanted to reveal their location to the Germans. A few minutes passed in silence, as he caught his breath.
    ‘What did you do, before the war, sergeant?’ asked the Serbian partisan in terrible Slovenian.
    ‘I was a baker.’
    ‘That’s twaddle. You were a priest.’
    ‘Why’d you ask me, if you already knew?’
    ‘I want to confess, Father.’
    ‘We are at war. I am not a priest.’
    ‘Yes you are.’
    ‘No. I have sinned against hope. I am the one who should confess. I hung up my
    He was suddenly silent: around the deserted bend came a small tank followed by two, four, eight, ten, twelve, holy shit, my God. Twenty or thirty or a thousand armoured cars filled with soldiers. And behind them, at least three or four companies on foot. The golden orioles continued their racket, indifferent to the hatred and the fear.
    ‘When the fighting starts, Father, you go for the lieutenant on the right and I’ll go for the one on the left. Don’t let him out of your sight.’
    ‘The one that’s taller and thin?’
    ‘Uh-huh. Do what I do.’
    Which was court death, thought Gradnik, his heart tied up in knots.
    After the last vehicle, the young SS-Obersturmführer Franz Grübbe, at the head of his section, looked out at the hills to the left, over which flew some birds he had never seen before. He looked up, not so much to make out any enemies, but rather imagining the Moment Of Glory When All of Europe Will Be Led By Our Visionary Führer And Germany Becomes The Model Of Ideal Society That Inferior Races Must Strive To Imitate. And on the hill to the left, almost at the first houses of Kranjska Gora, one hundred partisans hidden in the landscape were waiting for the signal from their Croatian commander. And the signal was the first shot from the machine guns at the vehicles. And Drago Gradnik — born in Ljubljana on the thirtieth of August of eighteen ninety-five, who was a student at the Jesuit school in his city, who’d decided to devote his life to God and, inflamed with devotion, entered Vienna’s diocesan seminary and who, based on his intellectual ability, was chosen to study theology at the Pontificia Università Gregoriana and Biblical exegesis at the Pontifico Istituto Biblico, since he was destined to carry out great projects within the Holy Church — had that repulsive SS officer in his Nagant’s sight for a minute that stretched on forever while Grübbe looked up with victor’s pride and led that company? section? patrol? that had to be halted.
    And the fighting began. For a few moments it looked as if the soldiers were surprised to find a resistance outpost so far from Ljubljana. Gradnik coldly following the movements of his victim in his telescopic sight and thinking if you pull the trigger, Drago, you will no longer have the right to set foot in paradise. You are coexisting with the man you have to kill. Sweat tried to cloud his vision but he refused to be blinded. He was determined and he had to keep his victim in the sight. All the soldiers had their weapons loaded, but they didn’t know exactly where to aim. It was the armoured cars and their occupants that would get the worst of it.
    ‘Now, Father!’
    They both fired at once. Gradnik’s officer was facing him, with his rifle ready, still looking around unsure as to where to shoot. The SS officer leaned against the terraced wall behind him and, suddenly, dropped his rifle, immobile, indifferent to all that was going on around him, with his face abruptly red with blood. Young SS-Obersturmführer Franz Grübbe didn’t have time to think about The Glory Of Combat or The New Order or The Glorious Tomorrow that he was offering the survivors with his death, because they had blown off half of his head and he could no long think about strange birds or where the shots were coming from. Then Gradnik realised that he didn’t care if paradise was closed to him because he had to do what he was doing. He loaded the Nagant. With its telescopic sight he swept the enemy lines. An SS sergeant shouted at the soldiers to reorganise themselves. He aimed at his neck so he would stop shouting and he fired. And, coldly, without losing his nerve, he reloaded and took down some more lower-ranking officers.
    Before the sun set, the Waffen-SS column had withdrawn, leaving behind the dead and the destroyed vehicles. The partisans came down, like vultures, to rummage among the corpses. Every once in a while the icy crack of an ununiformed commander’s pistol sounded out, finishing off the wounded, a hardened curl on their lips.
    Following strict orders, all the surviving partisans had to examine the corpses and gather up weapons, ammunition, boots and leather jackets. Drago Gradnik, as if compelled by some mysterious force, went over to confront his first kill. He was a young man with a kind face and eyes covered in blood, who stared straight ahead, still leaning against the wall, his helmet destroyed and his face red. He hadn’t given him any choice. Forgive me, Son, he said to him. And then he saw Vlado Vladić, with two other comrades, collecting identification tags; they did that whenever they could to make it harder for the enemies to identify their dead. When Vladić got to Gradnik’s victim, he tore off his tag without a second thought. Gradnik suddenly sprang to life: ‘Wait! Give it to me!’
    ‘Father, we have to …’
    ‘I said give it to me!’
    Vladić shrugged and passed the tag to him.
    ‘Your first kill, eh?’
    And he continued his task. Drago Gradnik looked at the tag. Franz Grübbe. His first kill was named Franz Grübbe, and he was a young SS-Obersturmführer, probably blond with blue eyes. For a few moments he imagined visiting the dead man’s widow or parents, to comfort them and tell them, on his knees, it was me, I did it, confiteor. And he put the tag inside his pocket.
    I shrugged, still in front of the grave, and repeated let’s go back, it’s freezing. And Bernat, whatever you want, you’re in charge, you’ve always been the one in charge of my life.
    ‘Screw you.’
    Since we were stiff with cold, jumping over the cemetery fence and into the world earned me a rip in my trousers. And we left the dead alone and cold and in the dark with their never-ending stories.
    I didn’t read his story; Bernat fell asleep the minute his head hit the pillow because he was bone tired from his trip. I preferred to think about the culture clash during the decline of the Roman Empire as I waited to drift off to sleep, imagining whether that was possible in contemporary Europe. But suddenly Kornelia and Sara came into my happy thoughts and I felt deeply sad. And you don’t have the balls to explain it to your best friend.
    In the end the Bebenhausen option won out because Adrià was having a very historic day and
    ‘No: you have a historic life. Everything is history to you.’
    ‘Actually it’s more that the history of any thing explains the present state of that thing. And today I am having a historic day and we are going to Bebenhausen because according to you I’ve always been the one in charge.’
    It was unbelievably cold. The trees on Wilhelmstrasse in front of the faculty — poor things, naked of leaves — put up with it patiently, knowing that better times would come.
    ‘I couldn’t live like this. My hands would freeze and I wouldn’t be able to play …’
    ‘Since you’re giving up the violin anyway, you can just stay here.’
    ‘Have I told you what Tecla’s like?’
    ‘Yes.’ He broke into a run. ‘Come on, that’s our bus.’
    Inside the bus was just as cold as outside, but people unbuttoned their coat collars. Bernat started to say she has dimples in her cheeks that look like—
    ‘That look like two navels, you already told me.’
    ‘Hey, if you don’t want me to …’
    ‘Do you have a photo?’
    ‘Oh, bother, no. I didn’t even think of that.’
    In fact, Bernat didn’t have any photo of Tecla because he hadn’t yet taken a photo of her, because he didn’t yet have a camera and because Tecla didn’t have one to lend him, but that’s all right because I never grow tired of describing her.
    ‘I, on the other hand, do grow tired.’
    ‘You’re so peevish, I don’t know why I even talk to you.’
    Adrià opened the briefcase that was his constant companion and pulled out a sheaf of papers and showed it to him.
    ‘Because I read your ravings.’
    ‘Wow, you’ve already read it?’
    ‘Not yet.’
    Adrià read the title and didn’t turn the page. Bernat was watching him out of the corner of his eye. Neither of them realised that the straight highway was entering a valley where the fir forests on both sides were dusted with snow. Two endless minutes passed during which Bernat thought that if it took him that long to read the title, then … Maybe it was evoking things for him; perhaps he’s transported like I was when I wrote the first page. But Adrià looked at the five words of the title and thought I don’t know why I can’t just go to Kornelia and tell her, let’s forget about this and it’s over. And you acted like a real slut, you know? and from now on I’ll focus on missing Sara; and he knew that what he was thinking was a lie because when Kornelia was in front of him he melted, he would open his mouth and do whatever she told him to, even if it meant leaving because she was waiting for a new experience, my God, why am I so pussy-whipped?
    ‘Do you like it? It’s good, right?’
    Adrià returned to his world. He stood up with a start.
    ‘Hey, we’re here!’
    They got off at the stop on the side of the highway. Before them rose the frozen town of Bebenhausen. A woman with white hair had got off with them and gave them a smile. Adrià suddenly thought to ask her if she would take a photo of them with this camera, you see, madam? She puts her basket down, takes the camera and says sure, what button do I press?
    ‘Right here. Thank you very much, madam.’
    The two friends posed in front of the town, which was covered in a thin layer of ice that made it very uninviting. The woman snapped the shot and said there you go. Adrià took back the camera and picked up the basket. He silently indicated for her to go ahead, that he would carry it for her. All three of them started to walk up a ramp that led to the houses.
    ‘Watch out,’ said the woman, ‘the frozen asphalt is treacherous.’
    ‘What did she say?’ asked Bernat, all ears.
    Just then he slipped as he took a step, falling on his arse in the middle of the ramp.
    ‘That,’ replied Adrià, bursting into laughter.
    Bernat got up, humiliated, mumbled a swear word and had to put on a good face. When they reached the top of the ramp, Adrià gave the woman back her basket.
    ‘Tourists?’
    ‘Students.’
    He shook her hand and said Adrià Ardèvol. Pleased to meet you.
    ‘Herta,’ said the woman. And she headed off, with the basket in one hand and not slipping for anything in the world.
    The cold was more intense than in Tübingen. It was obscenely cold. The cloister was tranquil and silent as they waited for the guided tour at ten on the dot. The other visitors were waiting in the vestibule, more sheltered. They stepped on the still virgin ice of the night’s freeze.
    ‘What a beautiful thing,’ said Bernat in admiration.
    ‘I like this place a lot. I’ve come six or seven times, in spring, summer, autumn … It’s relaxing.’
    Bernat sighed in satisfaction, and said how can you not be a believer when you look at the beauty and peace of this cloister.
    ‘The people who lived here worshipped a vengeful and vindictive god.’
    ‘Have some respect.’
    ‘It pains me to say it, Bernat; I’m not kidding.’
    When they were silent, all that was heard was the ice cracking beneath their feet. No bird had any interest in freezing. Bernat took in a deep breath and expelled a thick cloud, as if he were a locomotive. Adrià returned to the conversation: ‘The Christian God is vindictive and vengeful. If you make a mistake and you don’t repent, he punishes you with eternal hell. I find that reaction so disproportionate that I just don’t want to have anything to do with that God.’
    ‘But …’
    ‘But what.’
    ‘Well, he is the God of love.’
    ‘No way: you’ll burn in hell forever because you didn’t go to mass or you stole from a neighbour. I don’t see the love anywhere.’
    ‘You aren’t looking at the whole picture.’
    ‘I’m not saying I am: I’m no expert.’ He stopped short. ‘But there are other things that bother me more.’
    ‘Like what?’
    ‘Evil.’
    ‘What?’
    ‘Evil. Why does your God allow it? He doesn’t keep evil from happening: all he does is punish the evildoer with eternal flames. Why doesn’t he prevent it? Do you have an answer?’
    ‘No … Well … God respects human freedom.’
    ‘That’s what the clever priests lead you to believe; they don’t have the answers to why God does nothing in the face of evil, either.’
    ‘Evil will be punished.’
    ‘Yeah, sure: after it’s done the damage.’
    ‘Bloody hell, Adrià; I don’t what to say to you. I don’t have arguments, you know that … I just believe.’
    ‘Forgive me; I don’t want to … But you’re the one who brought up the subject.’
    He opened a door and a small group of explorers, captained by the guide, prepared to start their visit.
    ‘Bebenhausen monastery, which we will now visit, was founded by Rudolf I of Tübingen in eleven eighty and was secularised in eighteen oh six.’
    ‘What does secularised mean?’ (a woman in thick plasticframed eyeglasses and a garnet overcoat).
    ‘That just means that it stopped being used as a monastery.’
    Then the guide started to soft-soap them elegantly because they were cultured people who preferred twelfth- and thirteenth-century architecture to a glass of schnapps or a beer. And he went on to say that during several periods of the twentieth century the monastery was used as a meeting place for various local and regional political groups until a recent agreement with the federal government. It will be completely restored so that visitors can see a faithful reproduction of how it looked when it was a monastery and a large community of Cistercian monks lived here. This summer the construction will begin. Now, please follow me, we will enter what was the monastery’s church. Be careful on the stairs. Watch out. Hold on here, madam, because if you break your leg you’ll miss my wonderful explanations. And ninety per cent of the group smiled.
    The frozen visitors entered the church, taking the stairs very carefully. Once inside, Bernat realised that Adrià was not among the nine ice-cold visitors. As the white-haired guide said this church, which still retains many late Gothic elements like this vault over our heads, Bernat left the church and returned to the cloister. He saw Adrià sitting on a stone that was white with snow, his back to him, reading … yes, reading his pages! He watched him anxiously. He was quite sorry not to have a camera because he wouldn’t have hesitated to immortalise the moment in which Adrià, his spiritual and intellectual mentor, the person he most trusted and most distrusted in the world, was absorbed in the fiction that he had created from absolute nothingness. For a few moments he felt important and no longer noticed the cold. He went back into the church. The group was now beneath a window that was damaged but the guide didn’t know how, and then one of the frozen visitors asked how many monks lived here, in the times of splendour.
    ‘In the fifteenth century, up to a hundred,’ answered the guide.
    Like the number of pages in my story, thought Bernat. And he imagined that his friend must now be on page sixteen, when Elisa says the only thing I can do is run away from home.
    ‘But where will you go, child?’ Amadeu asked in fright.
    ‘Don’t call me a child,’ Elisa got angry, pushing her hair off her shoulders abruptly.
    When she was angry, Elisa would get dimples on her cheeks that looked like tiny navels and Amadeu saw them, he looked at them and lost his bearings and all ability to speak.
    ‘Excuse me?’
    ‘You can’t stay here by yourself. You have to follow the group.’
    ‘No problem,’ said Bernat lifting his arms in a show of innocence and leaving his characters to Adrià’s thorough reading. And he went to the back of the group that was now going down the steps and be very careful with the stairs, they are very treacherous at these temperatures. Adrià was still in the cloister, reading, oblivious to the cold wind, and for a few moments Bernat was the happiest man in the world.
    He chose to pay again and repeat the itinerary with a new group of cold-looking visitors. In the cloister, immobile, Adrià was still reading, his head bowed. And what if he was frozen? thought Bernat, terrified. He didn’t realise that what worried him most about Adrià freezing was that he wouldn’t have finished reading his story. But he looked at him out of the corner of his eye as he heard the guide who, now in German, said Bebenhausen monastery, which we will now visit, was founded by Rudolf I of Tübingen in eleven eighty and was secularised in eighteen oh six.
    ‘What does secularised mean?’ (a young man, tall and thin, encased in an electric blue anorak).
    ‘That just means that it stopped being used as a monastery.’ Then the guide started to soft-soap them elegantly because they were cultured people who preferred twelfth- and thirteenth-century architecture to a glass of schnapps or a beer. And he went on to say that during several periods of the twentieth century the monastery was used as a meeting place for various local and regional political groups until a recent agreement with the federal government. It will be completely restored so that visitors can see a faithful reproduction of how it looked when it was a monastery and a large community of Cistercian monks lived here. This summer the construction will begin. Now, please follow me, we will enter what was the monastery’s church. Be careful on the stairs. Watch out. Hold on here, madam, because if you break your leg you’ll miss my wonderful explanations. And ninety per cent of the group smiled. Bernat heard the man starting to say this church, which still retains many late Gothic elements like this vault over our heads; but he heard it from the doorway because he was furtively going back, towards the cloister, and he hid behind a column. Page forty or forty-five, calculated Bernat. And Adrià was reading, struggling to keep Sara and Kornelia from turning into Elisa and he didn’t want to move from there despite the cold. Forty or forty-five, at the point where Elisa goes up the slope of Cantó on her bicycle, her hair fluttering behind her; now that I think about it, if she’s pedalling up, her hair can’t be fluttering because she can barely move the bicycle. I’ll have to revise that. If it were downhill, maybe. Well, I’ll change it to the descent of Cantó and let those locks fly. He must be enjoying it; he doesn’t even notice the cold. Making sure that his footsteps weren’t heard, he returned to the group that was just then lifting its head like a single person to gaze upon the coffered ceiling, which is a wonder of marquetry, and a woman with hair the colour of straw said wunderbar and looked at Bernat as if demanding to know his aesthetic stance. Bernat, who was bursting with emotion, nodded three or four times, but he didn’t dare say wunderbar because they’d be able tell that he wasn’t German and had no clue what it meant. At least not until Adrià had told him what he thought, and then he would jump and shriek, wild with joy. The woman with hair the colour of straw was satisfied with Bernat’s ambiguous gesture and said wunderbar, but now in a softer voice, as if only to herself.
    On the fourth visit, the guide, who had been looking at Bernat suspiciously for some time, came over to him and looked him in the eyes, as if he wanted to figure out whether that mute and solitary tourist was pulling his leg or whether he was an enthusiastic victim of the charms of the Bebenhausen monastery, or perhaps of his wonderful explanations. Bernat looked enthusiastically at the leaflet that he’d nervously wrinkled, and the guide shook his head, clicked his tongue and said the Bebenhausen monastery, which we will now visit, was founded by Rudolf I of Tübingen in eleven eighty and was secularised in eighteen oh six.
    ‘Wunderbar. What does secularised mean?’ (a young, pretty woman, wrapped up like an Eskimo and her nose red with cold).
    When they left the cloister after having admired the coffered ceiling, Bernat, hidden among the blocks of ice that were the visitors, saw that Adrià must be on page eighty and Elisa had already emptied the pond and let the twelve red fish die in the moving scene where she decides to punish the feelings and not the bodies of the two boys by depriving them of their fish. And that was the setup for the unexpected ending, of which he was particularly, and humbly, proud.
    There were no more groups. Bernat remained in the cloister, staring openly at Adrià, who in that moment turned page one hundred and three, folded the papers and contemplated the icy boxwood hedges he had before him. Suddenly he got up and then I saw Bernat, who was watching me with a strange expression as if I were a ghost and said I thought you had frozen. We left in silence and Bernat timidly asked me if I wanted to do the guided tour, and I told him there was no need, that I already knew it by heart.
    ‘Me too,’ he replied.
    Once we were outside I said that I needed a very hot cup of tea, urgently.
    ‘Well, what do you think?’
    Adrià looked at his friend, puzzled. Bernat pointed with his chin to the packet of pages Adrià carried in his gloved hand. Eight or ten or a thousand agonizing seconds passed. Then Adrià, without looking Bernat in the eye, said it’s very, very bad. It lacks soul; I didn’t believe a single emotion. I don’t know why, but I think it’s terrible. I don’t know who Amadeu is; and the worst of it is that I don’t give a rat’s arse. And Elisa, well, it goes without saying.’
    ‘You’re kidding.’ Bernat, pale like Mother when she told me that Father had gone to heaven.
    ‘No. I wonder why you insist on writing when with music …’
    ‘What a son of a bitch you are.’
    ‘Then why did you let me read it?’
    The next day they took the bus to Stuttgart Station because something was going on with the train in Tübingen, each looking out at the landscape, Bernat draped in a stubborn hostile silence and with the same brooding expression he’d had since their educational visit to the Bebenhausen monastery.
    ‘One day you told me that a close friend doesn’t lie to you. Remember that, Bernat. So stop acting offended, bollocks.’
    He said it in a loud, clear voice because speaking Catalan in a bus travelling from Tübingen to Stuttgart gave him a rare feeling of isolation and impunity.
    ‘Pardon? Are you speaking to me?’
    ‘Yes. And you added that if my bloody best friend can’t tell me the truth and just acts like everybody else, oh, great, Bernat, what a load of … It’s missing the magical spark. And you shouldn’t lie to me. Don’t ever lie to me again, Adrià. Or our friendship will be over. Do you remember those words? Those are your words. And you went on: you said I know that you’re the only one who tells me the truth.’ He looked at him aslant. ‘And I won’t ever stop doing that, Bernat.’ With my eyes straight ahead, I added: ‘If I’m strong enough.’
    They let the bus advance a few foggy, damp kilometres.
    ‘I play music because I don’t know how to write,’ Bernat said while looking out the window.
    ‘Now that’s good!’ shouted Adrià. And the woman in the seat in front of them looked back, as if they’d asked for her opinion. She shifted her gaze towards the sad grey, rainy landscape that was bringing them closer to Stuttgart: loud Mediterranean people; they must be Turks. Long silence until the taller of the two Turkish boys relaxed his expression and looked at his companion out of the corner of his eye: ‘Now that’s good? What do you mean?’
    ‘Real art comes from some frustration. It doesn’t come out of happiness.’
    ‘Well, if that’s the case, I’m a bona fide artist.’
    ‘Hey, you are in love, don’t forget.’
    ‘You’re right. But only my heart works,’ pointed out Kemal Bernat. ‘The rest is shite.’
    ‘I’ll switch places with you right now.’ Ismaïl Adrià meant it.
    ‘Fine. But we can’t. We are condemned to envy each other.’
    ‘What must that lady in front of us be thinking?’
    Kemal watched her as she obstinately contemplated the landscape that was now urban but equally grey and rainy. Kemal was relieved to give up his brooding since, although he was quite offended, it was a lot of work to maintain. Like someone distilling a great thought: ‘I don’t know. But I’m convinced her name is Ursula.’
    Ursula looked at him. She opened and closed her purse, perhaps to cover up her discomfiture, thought Kemal.
    ‘And she has a son our age,’ added Ismaïl.
    As it headed uphill, the cart began to moan and the cart driver cracked the whip hard against the horses’ backs. The slope was too steep to take with twenty men on board, but a bet was a bet.
    ‘You can start digging in your pockets, sergeant!’ said the cart driver.
    ‘We’re not at the top yet.’
    The soldiers, who wanted to taste the pleasure of seeing the sergeant lose a bet, held their breath as if that could help the poor beasts make it up the slope to where the houses of Vet began. It was a slow, agonising ascent, and when they finally reached the top, the driver laughed and said Allah is great, and so am I! And my mules too! What do you think, sergeant?
    The sergeant handed the cart driver a coin and Kemal and Ismaïl stifled a smile. To shake off the humiliation, the subordinate shouted orders: ‘Everyone down. Have the Armenian assassins get ready!’
    The cart driver lit a small cigar, satisfied, as he watched the soldiers, armed to the teeth, get down off the cart and head to the first house in Vet, ready for anything.
    ‘Adrià?’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘Where are you?’
    ‘Huh?’
    Adrià looked forward. Ursula was adjusting her jacket and looked out on the landscape again, apparently uninterested in the young Turks and their concerns.
    ‘Maybe her name is Barbara.’
    ‘Huh?’ He made an effort to return to the bus. ‘Yes. Or Ulrike.’
    ‘If I’d known, I wouldn’t have come to see you.’
    ‘If you’d known what?’
    ‘That you wouldn’t like my story.’
    ‘Rewrite it. But put yourself inside Amadeu.’
    ‘Elisa is the protagonist.’
    ‘Are you sure?’
    Silence from the young Turks. After a short while: ‘Well, have a look at that. You tell it from Amadeu’s point of view and …’
    ‘All right, all right, all right. I’ll rewrite it. Happy?’
    On the platform, Bernat and Adrià hugged each other and Frau Ursula thought goodness, these Turks, here, in the light of day, and she continued towards the B sector of the platform, which was considerably further on.
    Bernat, still with his arms around me, said thank you, son of a bitch, I really mean it.
    ‘You really mean the son of a bitch or the thank you?
    ‘Really what you said about dissatisfaction.’
    ‘Come back whenever you want, Bernat.’
    They had to run along the platform because they didn’t realise they were supposed to be waiting at sector C. Frau Ursula was already seated when she saw them pass by and she thought Holy Mother of God, how scandalous.
    Bernat, panting, got into the train car. After almost a minute I saw that he was still standing, talking to someone, gesturing, adjusting his rucksack and showing his ticket. Now I don’t know if I should get on and help him or let him figure it out for himself so he doesn’t get cross with me. Bernat leaned over to look through the window and I flashed him a smile. He sat with a weary gesture and looked at him again. When you say goodbye to a dear friend at the station, you have to leave when he’s got into the train carriage. But Adrià was lingering. He smiled back at him. They had to look away. They both looked at their watches at the same time. Three minutes. I screwed up my courage and waved goodbye; he barely shifted in his seat, and I left without looking back. Right there in the station I bought the Frankfurter Allgemeine and, as I waited for the bus to take me back, I paged through it, wanting to focus on something that wasn’t Bernat’s bittersweet lightning-fast visit to Tübingen. On page 12, a headline on a single column of a brief article. ‘Psychiatrist murdered in Bamberg.’ Bamberg? Baviara. My God, why would anyone want to kill a psychiatrist?
    ‘Herr Aribert Voigt?’
    ‘Yes, that’s me.’
    ‘I don’t have an appointment. I’m very sorry.’
    ‘That’s fine, come in.’
    Doctor Voigt politely let death in. The newcomer sat in the sober chair in the waiting room and the doctor went into his examining room saying I will see you shortly. From the waiting room the rustle of papers and file cabinets being opened and closed could be heard. Finally, the doctor poked his head out into the waiting room and asked death to come in. The newcomer sat where the doctor had indicated, while Voigt sat in his own chair.
    ‘How can I help you?’
    ‘I’ve come to kill you.’
    Before Doctor Voigt had time to do anything, the newcomer had stood up and was pointing a Star at his temple. The doctor lowered his head with the pressure of the pistol’s barrel.
    ‘There’s nothing you can do, Doctor. You know death comes when it comes. Without an appointment.’
    ‘What are you, a poet?’ without moving his head that was inches away from the desk, starting to sweat.
    ‘Signor Falegnami, Herr Zimmermann, Doctor Voigt … I am killing you in the name of the victims of your inhuman experiments at Auschwitz.’
    ‘And what if I tell you that you’ve got the wrong person?’
    ‘I’d laugh my head off. Better not to try it.’
    ‘I’ll pay you double.’
    ‘I’m not killing you for money.’
    Silence, the doctor’s sweat is already dripping off the tip of his nose, as if he were in the sauna with Brigitte. Death felt he had to clarify: ‘I kill for money. But not you. Voigt, Budden and Höss. We were too late for Höss. Your own victims are killing you and Budden.’
    ‘Forgive me.’
    ‘Now that’s hilarious.’
    ‘I can give you information on Budden.’
    ‘Oh, we’ve got a traitor. Give it to me.’
    ‘In exchange for my life.’
    ‘In exchange for nothing.’
    Doctor Voigt stifled a sob. He struggled to pull himself together but was unable. He closed his eyes and began to cry with rage against his will.
    ‘Come on! Do it already!’ he shouted.
    ‘Are you in a hurry? Because I’m not.’
    ‘What do you want?’
    ‘Let’s do an experiment. Like one of the ones you did on your mice. Or your children.’
    ‘No.’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘Who’s there?’ he wanted to lift his head, but the pistol didn’t allow him to.
    ‘Friends, don’t worry.’ Clicking his tongue impatiently, ‘Come on, let’s have that information on Budden.’
    ‘I don’t have any.’
    ‘Oy! You want to save him?’
    ‘I don’t give a shit about Budden. I regret what I’ve done.’
    ‘Lift your head,’ said death, grabbing his chin and roughly forcing his head up. ‘What do you remember?’
    Before him, dark, silent shadows, like in an exhibit in a parish centre, held up a panel with photos: men with their eyes destroyed, a weepy boy with his knees opened like pomegranates, a woman they performed a caesarean section on without anaesthesia. And a couple more he didn’t recognise.
    Doctor Voigt started crying again and shouting help and save me. He didn’t stop until the shot sounded out.
    ‘Psychiatrist murdered in Bamberg’. ‘Doctor Aribert Voigt was killed with a shot to the head in his office in the Bavarian city of Bamberg’. I had been in Tübingen for a couple of years. Nineteen seventy-two or seventy-three, I’m not sure. What I do know is that during those long frozen months I suffered over Kornelia. I couldn’t have known anything about Voigt yet because I hadn’t read the letter in Aramaic and I didn’t know as many things as I know now, nor did I want to write you any letters. I had exams in a couple of weeks. And every day I met another of Kornelia’s secrets. Perhaps I didn’t read that, Sara. But it was in that period when someone killed a psychiatrist in Bamberg and I was unable to imagine that he was more closely linked to my life than Kornelia and her secrets were. Life is so strange, Sara.

26

    I accuse myself of not having shed enough tears when my mother died. I was focused on the run-in I’d had with Coșeriu, my idol, who took down Chomsky, my idol, curiously without quoting Bloomfield. I already knew that he was doing it to provoke us, but on the day he mocked Language and Mind Adrià Ardèvol, who was a bit fed up with life and things like that, and was starting to have little patience, said — in a low voice and in Catalan — that’s quite enough, Herr Professor, that’s quite enough, there’s no need to repeat it. And then Coșeriu looked at me across the desk with the most terrifying gaze in his repertoire and the other eleven students were silent.
    ‘What’s quite enough?’ he challenged me, in German.
    I, cowardly, remained quiet. I was petrified by his gaze and the possibility that he would tear me apart in front of that group. And he had one day congratulated me because he’d caught me reading Mitul reintegrării and he’d said that Eliade is a good thinker; you do well to read him.
    ‘Come to see me in my office after class,’ he told me quietly in Romanian. And he continued the lesson as if nothing had happened.
    Curiously, when he went into Coșeriu’s office, Adrià Ardèvol’s legs weren’t trembling. It had been exactly one week since he’d broken up with Augusta, who had succeeded Kornelia, who hadn’t given him a chance to break up with her because, without giving any explanation, she had gone off with an experience almost seven feet tall, a basketball player who had just been signed by an important club in Stuttgart. His relationship with Augusta had been more measured and calm, but Adrià decided to distance himself after a couple of fights over stupid things. Stupiditates. And now he was in a bad mood and so humiliated by his fear of Coșeriu’s gaze, and that was enough to keep my legs from trembling.
    ‘Sit down.’
    It was funny because Coșeriu spoke in Romanian and Ardèvol answered in Catalan, following the line of mutual provocation that had started on the third day of class when Coșeriu said what’s going on here, why doesn’t anyone ask any questions, and Ardèvol, who had one on the tip of his tongue, asked his first question about linguistic immanence and the rest of the class was the response to Ardèvol’s question multiplied by ten and which I hold on to like a treasure, because it was a generous gift from a genius but thorny professor.
    It was funny because they, each in their own language, understood each other perfectly. It was funny because they knew that they both thought of the professor’s course as a version of the Last Supper at Santa Maria delle Grazie, Jesus and the twelve apostles, all hanging on the teacher’s words and slightest gesture, except for Judas, who was doing his own thing.
    ‘And who is Judas?’
    ‘You are, of course. What are you studying?’
    ‘This and that. History, philosophy, some philology and linguistics, some theology, Greek, Hebrew … One foot in the Brechtbau and one in the Burse.’
    Silence. After a little while, Adrià confessed I feel very … very unhappy because I wanted to study everything.
    ‘Everything?’
    ‘Everything.’
    ‘Yeah. I think I understand you. What is your academic situation?’
    ‘If all goes well, I’ll receive my doctorate in September.’
    ‘What is your dissertation on?’
    ‘On Vico.’
    ‘Vico?’
    ‘Vico.’
    ‘I like it.’
    ‘Well … I … I keep adding bits, smoothing … I don’t know how to decide when it’s finished.’
    ‘When they give you the deadline you’ll know how to decide when it’s finished.’ He lifted a hand as he usually did when he was going to say something important. ‘I like that you’re dusting off Vico. And do more doctorates, trust me.’
    ‘If I can stay longer in Tübingen, I will.’
    But I couldn’t stay longer in Tübingen because when I got to my flat the trembling telegram from Little Lola was waiting for me, which told me Adrià, boy, my son. Stop. Your mother is dead. Stop. And I didn’t cry. I imagined my life without Mother and I saw that it would be quite the same as it had been up until then and I responded don’t cry, Little Lola, please, stop. What happened? She wasn’t ill, was she?
    I was a little embarrassed to ask that about my mother: I hadn’t spoken with her in months. Every once in a while, there’d be a call and a very brief, unvarnished conversation, how’s everything going, how are you, don’t work so hard, come on, take care of yourself. What is it about the shop, I thought, that absorbs the thoughts of those who devote themselves to it.
    She was ill, Son, for some weeks, but she had forbidden us from telling you; only if she got worse, then … and we didn’t have time because it all happened very quickly. She was so young. Yes, she died this very morning; come immediately, for the love of God, Adrià, my son. Stop.
    I missed two of Coșeriu’s lectures and I presided over the burial, which the deceased had decided would be religious, beside an aged and saddened Aunt Leo and beside Xevi, Quico, their wives and Rosa, who told me that her husband hadn’t been able to come because / please, Rosa, there’s no need for you to apologise. Cecília, who was, as always, perfectly put together, pinched my cheek as if I were eight years old and still carried Sheriff Carson in my pocket. And Mr Berenguer’s eyes sparkled, I thought it was from grief and confusion, but I later learned it was from pure joy. And I grabbed Little Lola, who was at the back, with some women I didn’t know, and I took her by the arm to the family pew and then she burst into tears and in that moment I started to feel sorry for the deceased. There were a lot of strangers, a lot. I was surprised to find that Mother even had that many acquaintances. And my prayer with litanies was Mother, you died without telling me why you and Father were so distanced from me; you died without telling me why you were so distanced from each other; you died without telling me why you never wanted to continue with any serious investigation into Father’s death; you died without telling me, oh, Mother, why you never really loved me. And I came up with that prayer because I hadn’t yet read her will.
    Adrià hadn’t set foot in the flat in months. Now it seemed quieter than ever. It was difficult for me to enter my parents’ room. Always half in penumbra; the bed was unmade, with the mattress lifted; the wardrobe, the dressing table, the mirror, everything exactly as it had been my entire life, but without Father and his bad humour, and without Mother and her silences.
    Little Lola, seated at the kitchen table, looked at the void, still wearing dark mourning clothes. Without asking her opinion, Adrià rummaged through the cabinets until he managed to gather the implements to make tea. Little Lola was so dispirited that she didn’t get up or say leave that, boy, tell me what you want and I’ll prepare it for you. No, Little Lola looked at the wall and the infinity beyond the wall.
    ‘Drink, it’ll do you good.’
    Little Lola grasped the mug instinctively and took a slurp. I left the kitchen in silence, Little Lola’s grief weighing on me, taking the place of my lack of sorrow over Mother’s death. Adrià was sad, sure, but he wasn’t eaten up with pain and that made him feel bad; just like with his father’s death when he’d let fears and, above all, guilt fill him, now he felt himself outside of that other unexpected death, as if he had no link to it. In the dining room, he opened the balcony’s blinds to let the daylight in. The Urgell on the wall over the buffet received the light from the balcony naturally, almost as if it were the light inside the painting. The bell gable of the monastery of Santa Maria de Gerri de la Sal glittered under the late afternoon sun, almost reddish. The three-storey gable, the gable with the five bells which he had observed endless times and which had helped him daydream during the long, boring Sunday afternoons. Right in the middle of the bridge he stopped, impressed, to look upon it. He had never seen a gable like that one and now he understood what he’d been told about that monastery, that it was an institution that until recently had been rich and powerful thanks to the salt mines. To contemplate it freely, he had to lift his hood and his wide, noble forehead was illuminated like the bell gable by that sun that was setting behind Trespui. At that hour of the late afternoon the monks must be starting their frugal dinner, he calculated.
    The pilgrim was received, after making sure he wasn’t one of the count’s spies, with Benedictine hospitality, simple, without any fuss, but practical. He went directly into the refectory, where the community was silently eating a spare meal while they listened, in quite imperfect Latin, to the exemplary life of Saint Ot, Bishop of Urgell who, they had just learned, was buried right there at the Santa Maria monastery. The sadness on the face of the thirty-odd monks perhaps reflected a longing for those happier days.
    First thing the next morning, still dark, two monks began the trip north that would take them, in a couple of days’ time, to Sant Pere del Burgal, where they had to collect the Sacred Chest, oh infinite grief, because the little monastery way up high over the same river as the Santa Maria was left without monks on account of death.
    ‘What is the reason for your trip?’ he asked the father prior of La Sal, after the light meal, to be polite, strolling through the cloister that provided very little shelter from the cold northern air that came down the channel created by the Noguera.
    ‘I am searching for one of your brothers.’
    ‘From this community?’
    ‘Yes, Father. I have a personal message, from his family.’
    ‘And who is it? I’ll have him come down.’
    ‘Friar Miquel de Susqueda.’
    ‘We have no monk with that name, sir.’
    Noticing the other man’s shudder, he waved one hand as if in apology and said this spring is turning out to be quite chilly, sir.
    ‘Friar Miquel de Susqueda, who once belonged to the order of Saint Dominic.’
    ‘I can assure you that he doesn’t live there, sir. And what sort of message did you have for him?’
    Noble Friar Nicolau Eimeric, Inquisitor General of the Kingdom of Aragon, Valencia and the Majorcas and the principality of Catalonia, was lying on his deathbed in his monastery in Girona, watched over by twins, two lay brothers, who were keeping down his fever with a wet cloth and whispered prayers. The sick man straightened up when he heard the door opening. He noticed that he had trouble focusing his weak gaze.
    ‘Ramon de Nolla?’ Apprehensively, ‘Is that you?’
    ‘Yes, Your Excellency,’ said the knight, as he bowed in reverence before the bed.
    ‘Leave us alone.’
    ‘But, Your Excellency!’ protested the two brothers in unison.
    ‘I said leave us alone,’ he spat with a still frightful energy, but without shouting because he no longer had the strength. The two lay brothers, contrite, left the room without saying another word. Eimeric, sitting up in bed, looked at the knight: ‘You have the chance to complete your penitence.’
    ‘Praised be the Lord!’
    ‘You have to become the executing arm of the Holy Tribunal.’
    ‘You know that I will do whatever you order if that will earn me my pardon.’
    ‘If you fulfil the penitence I give you, God will forgive you and your soul will be cleansed. You shall no longer live in inner torment.’
    ‘That is all I wish for, Your Excellency.’
    ‘My former personal secretary in the tribunal.’
    ‘Who is he and where does he live?’
    ‘His name is Friar Miquel de Susqueda. He was condemned to death in absentia for high treason to the Holy Tribunal. This was many years ago, but none of my agents have succeeded in finding him. Which is why I’ve now chosen a man of war such as yourself.’
    He began to cough, surely induced by the eagerness with which he spoke. One of the nurse brothers opened the door, but Ramon de Nolla didn’t think twice about slamming it in his face. Friar Nicolau explained that the fugitive wasn’t hiding in Susqueda, that he had been seen in Cardona, and an agent of the tribunal had even assured him that he’d joined the order of Saint Benedict but they didn’t know in which monastery. And he explained more details of his holy mission. And it doesn’t matter if I’ve died; it doesn’t matter how many years have passed; but when you see him, tell him I am your punishment, stick a dagger in his heart, cut off his tongue and bring it to me. And if I am dead, leave it on my grave, let it rot there as is the Lord Our God’s will.’
    ‘And then my soul will be free of all guilt?’
    ‘Amen.’
    ‘It is a personal message, Father Prior,’ the visitor had insisted, when they had arrived in silence to the end of the cold cloister at Santa Maria.
    Out of Benedictine courtesy, since he was no danger, the noble knight was received by the father abbot, to whom he repeated I am looking for a brother of yours, Father Abbot.
    ‘Who?’
    ‘Friar Miquel de Susqueda, Father Abbot.’
    ‘We have no brother by that name. Why are you looking for him?’
    ‘It is a personal matter, Father Abbot. A family matter. And very important.’
    ‘Well, you have made the trip in vain.’
    ‘Before joining the order of Saint Benedict as a monk, he was a Dominican friar for some years.’
    ‘Ah, I know of whom you speak,’ said the abbot, cutting him off. ‘Yes … He is part of the community of Sant Pere del Burgal, near Escaló. Brother Julià de Sau was a Dominican friar long ago.’
    ‘Blessed be the Lord!’ exclaimed Ramon de Nolla.
    ‘You may not find him alive.’
    ‘What do you mean?’ said the noble knight, alarmed.
    ‘There were two monks at Sant Pere and yesterday we found out that one has died. I don’t know if it was the father prior or Brother Julià. The emissaries weren’t entirely sure.’
    ‘Then … How can I …’
    ‘And you’ll have to wait for better weather.’
    ‘Yes, Father Abbot. But how can I know if the surviving brother is the one I am searching for?’
    ‘I just sent two brothers to collect the Holy Chest and the surviving monk. When they return you will know.’
    Silence, each man thinking his own thoughts. And the father abbot: ‘How sad. A monastery closing its doors after almost six hundred years of praising the Lord with the chanting of the hours each and every day.’
    ‘How sad, Father Abbot. I will head off on the path to see if I can catch up with your monks.’
    ‘There’s no need: wait for them. Two or three days.’
    ‘No, Father Abbot. I have no time to wait.’
    ‘As you wish, sir: they will get you there safely.’
    With both hands he took the painting off the dining room wall and brought it over to the weaker light of the balcony. Santa Maria de Gerri, by Modest Urgell. Many families had a cheap reproduction of the last supper in their home; theirs was presided over by an Urgell. With the painting in his hand, he went into the kitchen and said Little Lola, don’t say no: keep this painting.
    Little Lola, who was still seated at the kitchen table thinking about the wall, looked towards Adrià.
    ‘What?’
    ‘It’s for you.’
    ‘You don’t know what you’re saying, boy. Your parents …’
    ‘That doesn’t matter: now I’m in charge. I’m giving it to you.’
    ‘I can’t accept it.’
    ‘Why?’
    ‘It’s too valuable. I can’t.’
    ‘No: you are afraid that Mother wouldn’t like it.’
    ‘Either way. I can’t accept it.’
    And I stood there with the rejected Urgell in my hands.
    I brought it back to the spot where I had always seen it and the dining room returned to being what it had always been. I went around the flat; I went into Father and Mother’s study to rummage through drawers without any clear objective. And after rummaging through the drawers, Adrià began to think. After a few hours of stillness, he got up and went towards the laundry room.
    ‘Little Lola.’
    ‘What.’
    ‘I have to go back to Germany. I have at least six or seven months before I can come back.’
    ‘Don’t worry.’
    ‘I’m not worried: stay, please: this is your home.’
    ‘No.’
    ‘It’s more your home than mine. I’m, as long as I have the study …’
    ‘I came here thirty-one years ago to take care of your mother. If she’s dead, my work here is done.’
    ‘Little Lola, stay.’
    Five days later I was able to read the will. In fact, it was the notary, Cases, who read it to me, Little Lola and Aunt Leo. And when, in his thin, rasping voice, the man announced it is my wish that the painting entitled Santa Maria de Gerri, by Modest Urgell, which is personal property of the family, be given without any compensation to my loyal friend Dolors Carrió, whom we have always called Little Lola, as a tiny show of appreciation for the support that she has offered me throughout my life, I started to laugh, Little Lola burst into tears and Aunt Leo looked at us, puzzled. The rest of the will was more complicated except for a personal letter in an envelope with a seal that the countertenor put into my hands and which began dear Adrià, my beloved son, something she had never said to me in my ffucking life.
    Dear Adrià, my beloved son.
    That was the end of my mother’s sentimental expansiveness. All the rest was instructions about the shop. About my moral obligation to take care of it. And she explained in full detail the unusual relationship she maintained with Mr Berenguer, imprisoned by a salary in order to return the amount of an old embezzlement, which was still in effect for one more year. And your father had all his hopes tied up in the shop and now that I’m no longer around you can’t just wash your hands of it. But since I know that you always have and will do whatever you want to, I’m not convinced that you will heed me, roll up your sleeves, go into the shop and put everyone in their place the way I did after your father’s death. I don’t want to speak ill of him, but he was a romantic: I had to bring order to the shop; I had to rationalise it. I turned it into a good business that you and I have been able to live off of, and I’ve only added a couple of salaries, as you know. I’ll be very sorry if you don’t want to keep the shop; but since I won’t be able to see you, well, what can I do? And then she gave me some very precise instructions as to how to deal with Mr Berenguer and she asked me to follow them to the letter. And then she went back to the personal arena and said but I am writing you these lines today, on the twentieth of January of nineteen seventy-five because the doctor told me that I probably won’t live much longer. I gave instructions for them not to disturb your studies until the time came. But I am writing to you because I want you to know, besides what I’ve already said, two more things. First: I have gone back to the church. When I married your father I was a wishy-washy girl, very susceptible to influence, who didn’t know exactly what she wanted out of life, and when your father told me that the most likely thing was that God didn’t exist, I said ah, well, all right. But later I missed having him in my life, especially when my father died and Fèlix died, and with the loneliness I’ve felt not knowing what to do with you.
    ‘What do you mean what to do with me? Love me.’
    ‘I did love you, Son.’
    ‘From a distance.’
    ‘We’ve never been very affectionate in this house; that doesn’t mean we’re bad people.’
    ‘Mother: love me, look me in the eyes, ask me what I want to do.’
    ‘And your father’s death ruined everything.’
    ‘You could have tried.’
    ‘I’ve never been able to forgive you for giving up the violin.’
    ‘I’ve never forgiven you for forcing me to be the best.’
    ‘You are.’
    ‘No. I’m intelligent and, you could even say, gifted. But I can’t do it all. I don’t have any obligation to be the best. You and Father made a mistake with me.’
    ‘Not your father.’
    ‘I am finishing my doctorate and I don’t plan on studying law. And I haven’t learned Russian.’
    ‘For the moment.’
    ‘Fine. For the moment.’
    ‘Let’s not argue, I’m dead.’
    ‘All right. And what was the other thing you wanted me to know? By the way: does God exist, Mother?’
    ‘I’m dying with many regrets. The main one is not knowing who killed your father and why.’
    ‘What did you do to try to find that out?’
    ‘I now know that you were spying on me from behind the sofa. You know things that I didn’t know you knew.’
    ‘Not really. I only really learned what a brothel is, but not who killed my father.’
    ‘Hey, hey, here comes the black widow!’ said Inspector Ocaña, frightened, poking his head into the Commissioner’s office.
    ‘Are you sure?’
    ‘Didn’t you get rid of her for good?’
    ‘Pain in my arse.’
    Comissioner Plasencia stuck the rest of his sandwich into the drawer, stood up and looked out the window at the traffic on Llúria Street. When he heard the female presence at the door, he turned.
    ‘What a surprise.’
    ‘Good afternoon.’
    ‘It’s been days since …’
    ‘Yes. It’s that … I had them investigate and …’
    On the table, inside a cold ashtray, a small half-smoked, snuffed-out cigar was stinking up the room.
    ‘And what?’
    ‘Aribert Voigt, Commissioner. Revenge over some business dealings, Commissioner. Or you could call it, personal revenge; but it has nothing to do with brothels or raped girls. I don’t know why you made up that deplorable story.’
    ‘I always follow orders.’
    ‘I don’t, Commissioner. And I plan on taking you to court for obstruction of
    ‘Don’t make me laugh!’ the policeman cut her off, rudely. ‘Luckily, Spain is no democracy. Here we good guys are in charge.’
    ‘You will soon receive the citation. If the guilt lies higher up, we will follow the loose ends and uncover it.’
    ‘What loose ends?’
    ‘Someone let that murderer act with impunity. And someone let him leave without detaining him.’
    ‘Don’t be naive. You won’t find any loose ends, because there are none.’
    The commissioner took the cigar from the ashtray, lit a match and began smoking. A thick bluish cloud momentarily concealed his face.
    ‘And why didn’t you go to court, Mother?’
    Commissioner Plasencia sat down, still spewing smoke from his nose and mouth. Mother preferred to remain standing before him.
    ‘There are loose ends!’ said Mother.
    ‘Ma’am, I have work to do,’ responded the commissioner, remembering his half-eaten sandwich.
    ‘A Nazi who lives without a care in the world. If he’s still alive.’
    ‘Names. Without names, it’s all just smoke and mirrors.’
    ‘A Nazi. Aribert Voigt. I’m giving you a name!’
    ‘Farewell, madam.’
    ‘On the evening of the crime my husband told me he was going to the Athenaeum to see someone named Pinheiro …’
    ‘Mother, why didn’t you take it to court?’
    ‘… but that wasn’t true, he wasn’t meeting up with Pinheiro. A commissioner had called him.’
    ‘Names. Ma’am. There are lots of commissioners in Barcelona.’
    ‘And it was a trap. Aribert Voigt was acting under the protection of the Spanish police.’
    ‘What you’re saying could get you sent to prison.’
    ‘Mother, why didn’t you take it to court?’
    ‘And the man lost control. He wanted to hurt my husband. He wanted to scare him, I think. But he ended up killing him and destroying him.’
    ‘Ma’am, don’t talk nonsense.’
    ‘Instead of arresting him, they kicked him out of the country. Isn’t that how it went, Commissioner Plasencia?’
    ‘Ma’am, you’ve read too many novels.’
    ‘I can assure you that is not the case.’
    ‘If you don’t stop badgering me and getting in the way of the police, you are going to have a very bad time of it. You, your little girlfriend and your son. Even if you flee to the ends of the earth.’
    ‘Mother, did I hear that right?’
    ‘Hear what right?’
    ‘The part about your little girlfriend.’
    The commissioner pulled back to observe the effect his words had had. And he drove them home: ‘It wouldn’t be difficult to spread information in the circles you frequent. Farewell, Mrs Ardèvol. And don’t ever come back.’ And he opened the half-empty drawer, with the remains of his thwarted sandwich, and he closed it angrily, this time in front of the black widow.
    ‘Yes, yes, all right, Mother. But how did you know that all that about the brothels and the rapes was a lie?’
    Mother, even though she was dead, grew silent. I was fretfully awaiting a response. After an eternity: ‘I just know it.’
    ‘That’s not enough for me.’
    ‘Fine.’ Dramatic pause, I suppose to gather courage. ‘Early on in our marriage, after we conceived you, your father was diagnosed with total sexual impotence. From that point on, he was completely unable to have erections. That made him bitter for the rest of his life. And it embittered us. Doctors and pitiful visits to understanding ladies, none of it did any good. Your father wasn’t perfect, but he couldn’t rape anyone, not even a child, because he ended up hating sex and everything related to it. I guess that’s why he took refuge in his sacred objects.’
    ‘If that was the case, why didn’t you take them to court? Did they blackmail you?’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘About your lover?’
    ‘No.’
    And Mother’s letter ended with a series of more general recommendations and a timid sentimental effusion at the end when it said goodbye, my beloved son. The last sentence, I will watch over you from heaven, has always seemed to contain a slight threat.
    ‘Oh, boy …’ said Mr Berenguer, stretched out in the office chair, wiping non-existent specks from his impeccable trouser leg. ‘So you’ve decided to roll up your sleeves and get to work.’
    He was sitting in Mother’s office, with the smug air of someone who’s reconquered valuable territory, and the sudden appearance of lamebrained Ardèvol Jr, who’s always got his head in the clouds, distracted him from his thoughts. He was surprised to see the lad entering his office without knocking. That was why he said oh boy.
    ‘What do you want to talk about?’
    Everything, Adrià wanted to talk about everything. But first, he cleverly laid the groundwork for them to clearly understand each other: ‘The first thing I want to do is extricate you from the shop.’
    ‘What?’
    ‘You heard me.’
    ‘Do you know about the deal I have with your mother?’
    ‘She’s dead. And yes, I’m familiar with it.’
    ‘I don’t believe you do: I signed a contract obliging me to work at the shop. I still have a year left in the galleys.’
    ‘I’m releasing you from it: I want to see the back of you.’
    ‘I don’t know what it is with your family, but you’ve all got a real nasty streak …’
    ‘Don’t start lecturing me, Mr Berenguer.’
    ‘Lectures, no; but some information, yes. Do you know that your father was a predator?’
    ‘More or less. And that you were the hyena who tried to pinch the remains of the gnu from him.’
    Mr Berenguer smiled widely, revealing a gold incisor.
    ‘Your father was a merciless predator when it came to making a profit from a sale. And I say sale, but it was often a blatant requisition.’
    ‘Fine, a requisition. But you will gather up your things today. You are no longer welcome in the shop.’
    ‘My, oh my …’ A strange smile tried to conceal his surprise at the words of the Ardèvol pup. ‘And you call me a hyena? Who are you to …’
    ‘I am the son of the king of the jungle, Mr Berenguer.’
    ‘You’re as much of a bastard as your mother was.’
    ‘Farewell, Mr Berenguer. Tomorrow the new manager will call on you, if necessary, in the company of a lawyer who will be fully informed about everything.’
    ‘You do know that your fortune is built on extortion?’
    ‘Are you still here?’
    Luckily for me, Mr Berenguer thought that I was solid as a rock, like my mother; he mistook my resigned fatalism for some sort of deep indifference and that disarmed him and strengthened me. He gathered, in silence, all that he must have only very shortly before placed in a drawer of my mother’s desk and left the office. I saw him rummaging through various nooks and crannies until I noticed that Cecília, pretending to be working with the catalogues, was glancing curiously at the hyena’s movements. She soon understood what was going on, and a lipsticked smile grew wide on her face.
    Mr Berenguer slammed the door to the street, trying to crack the glass, but he didn’t pull it off. The two new employees didn’t seem to understand anything. Mr Berenguer, after working there for thirty years, had barely taken an hour to disappear from the shop. I thought he had disappeared from my life as well. And I locked Mother and Father’s office with a key. Instead of demanding information and searching out signs of the king of the jungle’s prowess, I began to cry. The next morning, instead of demanding information and searching out signs, I put the shop in the hands of the manager and went back to Tübingen because I didn’t want to miss any more of Coșeriu’s classes. Information and signs.

27

    During my last months in Tübingen I began to long for that city, along with the landscape of Baden-Württemberg and the Black Forest and all of it, which was so lovely; because Adrià was going through the same thing that happened to Bernat: he was happier longing after something that was out of his reach than looking at what he held in his hands. He was thinking more about how the heck will I be able to live so far from this landscape when I return to Barcelona, how? And this was while still finishing his dissertation on Vico, which had somehow become some sort of atomic pile where he’d deposited all of his thoughts and which I knew would provide me with an unceasing series of intellectual reflections that would accompany me throughout my life. That could explain, my dear, why I didn’t want to get distracted by information and signs that could disrupt my life and my studies. And I tried not to think about it much until I got used to not thinking about it at all.
    ‘It’s … No, not brilliant: it’s profound; it’s admirable. And your German, it’s perfect,’ Coșeriu told him the day after his dissertation defence. ‘Above all, don’t stop studying. And if you choose linguistics, let me know.’
    What Adrià didn’t know was that Coșeriu had barely slept over the course of two days and one night while reading one of the committee members’ copies. I found out a few years later, from Doctor Kamenek himself. But that day Adrià was only able to stand there, alone, in the corridor, watching Coșeriu head off, unable to completely grasp that the man had hugged him and told him that he admired him; no: that he admired what he had written. Coșeriu recognising that
    ‘What’s wrong with you, Ardèvol?’
    He had been standing in the corridor for five minutes and he hadn’t seen Kamenek approaching from behind.
    ‘Me? What?’
    ‘Are you feeling OK?’
    ‘Me? Yes … Yes, yes. I was …’
    He made a vague gesture with his hands to indicate that he didn’t really know. Afterwards, Kamenek asked him if he had decided whether he was going to stay in Tübingen and continue studying, and he responded that he had many binding commitments, which wasn’t true, because he couldn’t care less about the shop and the only thing he was longing for was Father’s study and he was also starting to long for the possibility of longing for Tübingen’s cold landscape. And he also wanted to be closer to the memory of Sara: I now recognised myself as a castrated man, without you. All those things were beginning to lead him to comprehend that he would never achieve happiness. That surely no one could. Happiness was always just out of reach, but unreachable; surely it was unreachable for everyone. Despite the joys that life sometimes brought, like that day when Bernat called him as if they hadn’t been officially at odds for more or less six months and said can you hear me? He’s finally dead, the rotten bastard! Everyone here is pulling the champagne out of the fridge. And then he said now is the moment for Spain to reconsider and free all its people and ask for all the historical forgiveness necessary.
    ‘Ay.’
    ‘What? Aren’t I right?’
    ‘Yes. But it sounds like you don’t know Spain very well.’
    ‘You’ll see, you’ll see.’ And with the same momentum: ‘Ah, and I am about to give you a surprise announcement.’
    ‘Are you pregnant?’
    ‘No, it’s not a joke. You’ll see. Wait a few days.’
    And he hung up because a call to Germany cost an arm and a leg and he was calling from a phone booth, euphoric, thinking Franco’s dead, the ogre is dead, the wolf is dead, the vermin is dead and with it its venom. There are moments when even good people can be happy over someone’s death.
    Bernat wasn’t lying to him: in addition to his confirming the dictator’s death, which was front page news the next day, five days later Adrià received a laconic, urgent letter that read Dear Know-It-All: you remember when you said it’sveryvery bad.Itlackssoul;Ididn’tbelieveasingleemotion.Idon’tknow why,butIthinkit’sterrible.Idon’tknowwhoAmadeuis; andtheworst ofitisthatIdon’tgivearat’sarse.And Elisa,well,itgoeswithoutsay ing. Do you remember? Well, that story without believable emotions just won the Blanes Prize. Awarded by an intelligent jury. I’m happy. YourfriendBernat.
    WowI’mthrilled, answered Adrià. Butdon’tforgetthatif youhaven’trewrittenit, it’sstilljustasbad.YourfriendAdrià. And Bernat responded with an urgent telegram that read Gotakealongwalkoffashortpierstop. YourfriendBernatstop.
    When I went back to Barcelona, they offered me a class in Aesthetic and Cultural History at the University of Barcelona and I said yes, without thinking it over, even though I had no need to work. There was something pleasing about it, after so many years of living abroad, to find work in my neighbourhood, a ten-minute walk from my house. And the first day that I went to the department to discuss the details of my joining the staff, I met Laura there. The first day! Blonde, on the short side, friendly, smiling and, I didn’t yet know, sad on the inside. She had registered for her fifth year and was asking for some professor, I think it was Cerdà, who it turned out was her advisor for a thesis on Coșeriu. And blue eyes. And a pleasant voice. Nervous, not very well-groomed hands. And some very interesting cologne or perfume — I’ve never been clear on the difference. And Adrià was smiling at her, and she said hello, do you work here? And he said: I’m not sure. And she said: I wish you would!
    ‘You should never have come back.’
    ‘Why?’
    ‘Your future is in Germany.’
    ‘And weren’t you the one who didn’t want me to go? How’s the violin going?’
    ‘I’m going to try out for a spot in the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra.’
    ‘That’s great, right?’
    ‘Yeah, sure. I’ll be a civil servant.’
    ‘No: you will be a violinist in a good orchestra with plenty of room for improvement.’
    ‘If I make it.’ A few seconds of hesitation. ‘And I’m marrying Tecla. Will you be my best man?’
    ‘Of course. When are you getting married?’
    Meanwhile, things were happening. I had to start wearing reading glasses and my hair began to desert me without any explanation. I was living alone in a vast flat in the Eixample, surrounded by the boxes of books that had arrived from Germany that I never had the energy to classify and put away in their proper place, for various reasons including that I didn’t have the shelf space. And I was unable to convince Little Lola to stay.
    ‘Goodbye, Adrià, my son.’
    ‘I’m so sorry, Little Lola.’
    ‘I want to live my own life.’
    ‘I can understand that. But this is still your home.’
    ‘Find yourself a maid, trust me.’
    ‘No, no. If you don’t … Impossible.’
    Would I cry over Little Lola’s departure? No. What I did do was to buy myself a good upright piano and put it in my parents’ bedroom, which I was turning into my own. The hallway, which was very wide, had grown accustomed to the obstacles of unpacked boxes of books.
    ‘But … Forgive me for asking, all right?’
    ‘Go ahead.’
    ‘Do you have a home?’
    ‘Of course. Even though I haven’t lived there in a thousand years, I have a little flat in the Barceloneta. I’ve had it repainted.’
    ‘Little Lola.’
    ‘What?’
    ‘Don’t get offended, but I … I wanted to give you something. In appreciation.’
    ‘I’ve been paid for each and every one of the days I’ve lived in this house.’
    ‘I don’t mean that. I mean …’
    ‘Well, you don’t need to say it.’
    Lola took me by the arm and led me to the dining room; she showed me the bare wall where the painting by Modest Urgell used to hang.
    ‘Your mother gave me a gift I don’t deserve.’
    ‘What more can I do for you …’
    ‘Deal with these books, you can’t live like this.’
    ‘Come on, Little Lola. What more can I do for you?’
    ‘Let me leave in peace; I mean it.’
    I hugged her and I realised that … it’s shocking, Sara, but I think I loved Little Lola more than I loved my own mother.
    Little Lola moved out of the house; the tramcars no longer circulated noisily up Llúria because the city council, at the end of the dictatorship, had opted for direct pollution and replaced them with buses without removing the tracks, which caused many a motorbike accident. And I shut myself up in the house, to continue studying and to forget you. Installed in my parents’ room and sleeping on the same bed where I’d been born on the thirtieth of April nineteen forty-six at six thirty-seven in the morning.
    Bernat and Tecla married, deeply in love, with excitement in their eyes; and I was the best man. During the wedding reception, still dressed as bride and groom, they played Brahms’s first sonata for us, just like that, bravely and without scores. And I was so jealous … Bernat and Tecla had their whole lives ahead of them and I joyfully envied my friend’s happiness. I longed after Sara and her inexplicable flight, deeply envying Bernat again, and I wished them all the good fortune in the world for their life together. They left on their honeymoon — smiling and expansive — and began — gradually, consistently, day by day — sowing the seeds of their unhappiness.
    For a few months, as I got used to the classes, the students’ lack of interest in cultural history, the wild landscape of the Eixample, devoid of forests, I studied piano with a woman who was nothing like the memory I had of Trullols, but who was very efficient. But I still had too much free time.
    ‘ḥāḏ.’
    ‘hadh.’
    ‘trēn.’
    ‘trén.’
    ‘tlāt.’
    ‘tláth.’
    ‘arba.’
    ‘árba.’
    ‘arba.’
    ‘árba.’
    arba!
    arba!
    ‘Raba taua!’
    Aramaic classes helped mitigate the problem. Professor Gombreny complained at first about my pronunciation, until she stopped mentioning it, I don’t know if it was because I’d improved or she was just fed up.
    Since Wednesdays dragged, Adrià signed up for a Sanskrit class that opened up a whole new world to me, especially because it was a pleasure to hear Doctor Figueres cautiously venturing etymologies and establishing webs of connection between the different Indo-European languages. I was also doing slalom through the hallways to avoid the boxes of books. I had pinpointed their exact locations and didn’t even crash into them in the dark. And when I was tired of reading, I would play my Storioni for hours until I was drenched in sweat like Bernat on the day of his exam. And the days passed quickly and I only thought of you as I was making my dinner, because then I had to let down my guard. And I went to bed with a touch of sadness and, mostly, with the unanswered question of why, Sara. I only had to meet with the shop manager twice, a very dynamic man who quickly took care of the situation. The second time he told me that Cecília was about to retire and, even though I’d had few dealings with her, I was sad about it. I know it sounds hard to believe, but Cecília had pinched my cheek and mussed my hair more times than my mother.
    The first time I felt a tickle in my fingers was when Morral, an old bookseller at the Sant Antoni market, an acquaintance of Father’s, told me I think you might be interested in coming to see something, sir.
    Adrià, who was going through a pile of books from the ‘A Tot Vent’ collection, from its beginnings to the outbreak of the Civil War, some with dedications from unknown people to other unknown people that he found highly amusing, lifted his head in surprise.
    ‘Beg your pardon?’
    The bookseller had stood up and gestured with his head for Adrià to follow him. He poked the man at the stall beside him, to let him know that he would be away for a while and could he keep an eye on his books, for the love of God. In five silent minutes they reached a narrow house with a dark stairwell on Comte Borrell Street that he remembered having visited with his father. On the first floor, Morral pulled a key out of his pocket and opened a door. The flat was dark. He switched on a weak bulb whose light didn’t reach the floor and, with four strides through a very narrow hallway, he stood in a room filled with a huge cabinet with many wide but shallow drawers, like the ones illustrators use to store their drawings. The first thing I thought was how could they have got it through such a narrow hallway. The light in the room was brighter than the one in the hallway. Then Adrià realised that there was a table in the middle, with a lamp that Morral also turned on. He opened up one of the drawers and pulled out a bunch of pages and placed them beneath the beam of light on the small table. Then I felt the palpitations, the tickle in my insides and my fingertips. Both of us gathered over the gem. Before me were some sheets of rough paper. I had to put on my glasses because I didn’t want to miss a single detail. It took me some time to get used to the strange handwriting on that manuscript. I read aloud Discours de la méthode. Pour bien conduire sa raison, & chercher la vérité dans les sciences. And that was it. I didn’t dare to touch the paper. All I said was no.
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘It can’t be.’
    ‘You’re interested, right?’
    ‘Where in hell did you get it from?’
    Rather than answering me, Morral turned the first page. And after a little while he said I’m sure you are interested.
    ‘What do you know.’
    ‘You are like your father: I know you are interested.’
    Adrià had the original manuscript of Discours de la méthode before him, written before 1637, which is when it was published along with Dioptrique, Les Météores and Géométrie.
    ‘Complete?’ he asked.
    ‘Complete. Well … it’s missing … nothing, a couple of pages.’
    ‘And how do I know that it’s not a scam?’
    ‘When you find out the price you’ll know that it’s not a scam.’
    ‘No: I understand that it will be very expensive. How do I know you aren’t cheating me?’
    The man dug around in a briefcase that leaned against one of the table legs, pulled out some sheets of paper and extended them to Adrià.
    The first eight or ten years of the ‘A Tot Vent’ collection would have to wait. Adrià Ardèvol spent the afternoon examining the packet and checking it against the certificate of authenticity and asking himself how in the hell that gem had surfaced and deciding that perhaps it was better not to ask too many questions.
    I didn’t ask a single question that wasn’t related to the pages’ authenticity and I ended up paying a fortune after a month of hesitation and discreet consultations. That was the first manuscript I acquired myself, of the twenty in my collection. At home, procured by my father, I already had twenty loose pages of the Recherche, the entire manuscript of Joyce’s The Dead, some pages by Zweig, that guy who committed suicide in Brazil, and the manuscript of the consecration of the monastery of Sant Pere del Burgal by Abbot Deligat. From that day on I understood that I was possessed by the same demon as my father had been. The tickle in my belly, the itching in my fingers, the dry mouth … all over my doubts on the authenticity, the value of the manuscript, the fear of missing the chance to possess it, the fear of paying too much, the fear of offering too little and seeing it vanish from my life …
    The Discours de la méthode was my grain of sand.

28

    The first grain of sand is a speck in your eye; then it becomes a nuisance on your fingers, a burning in your stomach, a small protuberance in your pocket and, with a bit of bad luck, it ends up transforming into a weight on your conscience. Everything — all lives and stories — begins thus, beloved Sara, with a harmless grain of sand that goes unnoticed.
    I entered the shop as if it were a temple. Or a labyrinth. Or hell. I hadn’t set foot in there since I’d expelled Mr Berenguer into the outer shadows. The same bell sounded when you opened the door. That same bell my whole life. He was received by Cecília’s affable eyes, still behind the counter, as if she had never shifted from that spot. As if she were an object displayed for sale to any collector with enough capital. Still well dressed and coiffed. Without moving, as if she had been waiting for him for hours, she demanded a kiss, like when he was ten years old. She asked him how are you feeling, Son, and he said fine, fine. And you?
    ‘Waiting for you.’
    Adrià looked from side to side. In the back some girl he didn’t recognise was patiently cleaning copper objects.
    ‘He hasn’t arrived yet,’ she said. And she took his hand to pull him closer and she couldn’t resist running her fingers through his hair, like Little Lola. ‘It’s getting thinner.’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘You look more like your father with each passing day.’
    ‘Really?’
    ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’
    ‘Sort of.’
    She opened and closed a drawer. Silence. Perhaps she was wondering if she should have asked that question.
    ‘Why don’t you have a look around?’
    ‘May I?’
    ‘You’re the boss,’ she said, opening her arms. For a few moments, Adrià thought she was offering herself to him.
    I took my last stroll through the shop’s universe. The objects were different, but the atmosphere and scent were the same. There he saw Father hunting through documents, Mr Berenguer thinking big ideas, looking towards the door to the street, Cecília all made up and coiffed, younger, smiling at a customer who was trying to get an unwarranted discount on the price of a splendid Chippendale desk, Father calling Mr Berenguer to his office, closing the door and speaking for a long time about matters Adrià knew nothing about, and some that he did. I went back to Cecília’s side; she was on the phone. When she hung up, I stood in front of her. ‘When are you retiring?’
    ‘Christmas. You don’t want to take over the shop, do you?’
    ‘I don’t know,’ I lied. ‘I have work at the university.’
    ‘The two things aren’t incompatible.’
    I had the feeling that she was going to tell me something, but just then Mr Sagrera came in, apologising for the delay, greeting Cecília and waving me towards the office, all at once. We closed ourselves in there and the manager told me how things were and what the shop’s current value was. And even though you haven’t asked my opinion, I feel I must tell you that this is a profitable business with a future. The only obstacle was Mr Berenguer and you’ve already cleared that slate. He leaned back in his chair to give more weight to his words: ‘A profitable business with a future.’
    ‘I want to sell it. I don’t want to be a shopkeeper.’
    ‘What’s wrong with that?’
    ‘Mr Sagrera …’
    ‘You’re the one in charge. Is that your final word?’
    What do I know if it’s the final word? What do I know about what I want to do?
    ‘Yes, Mr Sagrera, it’s the final word.’
    Then, Mr Sagrera got up, went over to the safe and opened it. I was surprised that he had a key and I didn’t. He pulled out an envelope.
    ‘From your mother.’
    ‘For me?’
    ‘She told me to give it to you if you came by the shop.’
    ‘But I don’t want …’
    ‘If you came by the shop: not if you decided to run it.’
    It was a sealed envelope. I opened it in front of Mr Sagrera. The letter didn’t begin with my beloved son. It didn’t have any preface; it didn’t even say hey, Adrià, how’s it going. It was a list of instructions, cold but pragmatic, with advice that I understood would be very useful to me.
    Despite my intentions, after a few days or a few weeks, I can’t remember which, I went to a clandestine auction. Morral, the bookseller from the Sant Antoni market, had given me the address with a mysterious air. Perhaps such mystery wasn’t necessary, because apparently there was no protective filter. You rang the bell, they opened the door and you went into a garage in an industrial area of Hospitalet. There was a table with a display case, as if we were in a jewellery shop, well illuminated, where the objects for auction were placed. As soon as I began to examine them, the tickle returned and I was quickly covered in that sweat, my constant companion when I’m about to acquire something. And that thick, dry tongue. I think it’s the same thing a gambler feels in front of a machine. I was actually the one who bought a large part of the things that I’ve always told you belonged to my father. For example, the fifty-ducat coin from the sixteenth century that is now worth millions. I bought it there. It cost me a pretty penny. Later, in other auctions and frenetic exchanges, leaping into the void, face to face with another fanatical collector, the five gold florins minted in Perpignan in the period of James III of Majorca. What a pleasure to hold them and make them clink in my hand. With those coins in my hand I felt like when Father lectured me about Vial and the different musicians it had had over its lifetime, serving it, trying to get a good sound out of it, respecting it, venerating it. Or the thirteen magnificent Louis d’ors that, in my hand, make the same noise that soothed Guillaume-François Vial as an old man. Despite the danger inherent in living with that Storioni, he’d grown fond of it and didn’t want to be separated from it until he heard that Monsieur La Guitte had spread the rumour that a violin made by the famous Lorenzo Storioni could be linked to the murder, years back, of Monsieur Leclair. Then his prized violin began to burn in his hands and transformed from a cherished possession into a nightmare. He decided to get rid of it, somewhere far from Paris. When he was returning from Antwerp, where he had been able to sell it most satisfactorily along with its case stained with the odious blood of Tonton Jean, the violin had metamorphosed into a soothing goat leather purse filled with Louis d’ors. It made such a lovely sound, that purse. He had even thought that the purse was his future, his hidey hole, his triumph against the vulgarity and vanity of Tonton Jean. Now that no one could link him to the violin, which had been acquired by Heer Arcan of Antwerp. And that was the sound of the Louis d’ors when he jangled them together.
    ‘Would you like to come to Rome?’
    Laura looked at him in surprise. They were in the faculty’s cloister, surrounded by students, he with his hands in his pockets, she with a full briefcase, looking like a public defender about to go into court to settle a difficult case, and I, staring into her blue gaze. Laura was no longer a student anxious for knowledge. She was a professor who was quite beloved by the students. She still had the blue gaze and the sadness inside. And Adrià contemplated her, filled with uncertainty, as images of you, Sara, mixed in his mind with images of this woman who, from what he had seen, didn’t have much luck with the boyfriends she chose.
    ‘Excuse me?’
    ‘I have to go there for work … Five days at most. We could be here on Monday and you wouldn’t miss any classes.’
    In fact, Adrià was improvising. Days earlier he had realised that he didn’t know how to approach that blue gaze. He wanted to take the step but he didn’t know how. And I was afraid to make up my mind because I thought that if I did I would finally get you out of my mind. And then he had come up with the most presentable plan; the blue gaze smiled and Adrià wondered if Laura was ever not smiling. And he was very surprised when she said all right, sure.
    ‘Sure what?’
    ‘I’ll go to Rome with you.’ She looked at him, alarmed. ‘That’s what you meant, right?’
    They both laughed and he thought you are getting involved again and you have no idea what Laura is like, besides blue.
    During the take-off and the landing, she took his hand for the first time, smiled timidly and confessed I’m afraid of flying, and he said why didn’t you tell me. And she shrugged as if to say look, this is how it played out, and he interpreted that to mean that it was worth it to her to swallow her fear and go with Ardèvol to Rome. I felt very proud of my rallying power, beloved Sara, even though she was just a young professor with her whole future ahead of her.
    Rome was no bowl of cherries; it was a bedlam of vehicles atop an immense city, captained by suicidal taxi drivers like the one who took them in record time from the hotel to the Via del Corso, which was crucified by traffic. The Amato green-grocer’s was a well-lit oasis of appetising boxes of fruit that made the passers-by turn their heads. He introduced himself to a man with a thick beard who was taking care of a demanding customer; he gave him a card with some instructions and pointed up the street, towards the Piazza del Popolo.
    ‘Do you mind telling me what we’re doing?’
    ‘You’ll know soon enough.’
    ‘Fine: I would like to understand what I’m doing here.’
    ‘Keeping me company.’
    ‘Why?’
    ‘Because I’m scared.’
    ‘Fantastic.’ She had to run to keep up with Adrià’s strides. ‘Then maybe you could explain to me what’s going on. Don’t you think?’
    ‘Look, we’re here.’
    It was three doors further on. He pressed one of the bells and soon the sound of a lock indicated that the door was open, as if they were expecting them. Up in the flat, with her hand on the open door, my angel — my former angel — was waiting, with a slightly distant smile. Adrià kissed her, pointed to her casually, informing Laura that, ‘This is my half-sister. This is Mrs Daniela Amato.’
    And to Daniela I said, ‘This is my lawyer,’ referring to Laura.
    Laura reacted well. Actually, she was fantastic. She didn’t bat an eyelash. The two women looked at each other for a few seconds, as if making calculations on the force they would have to exert. Daniela had us go into a very nice living room, where there was a Sheraton sideboard I was sure I’d seen in the shop; on top of the sideboard was a photo of Father quite young and a very pretty girl, who looked a bit like Daniela. I supposed it was the legendary Carolina Amato, Father’s Roman love, la figlia del fruttivendolo Amato. In the photo she was a young woman, with an intense gaze and smooth skin. It was strange, because that young woman’s daughter was right in front of me, and she was in her fifties and no longer bothered to try to conceal her wrinkles. My half-sister was still an elegant, beautiful woman. Before we began to speak, a lanky teenager with thick brows came in with a tray of coffee.
    ‘My son Tito,’ announced Daniela.
    ‘Piacere di conoscerti,’ I said, extending my hand.
    ‘Don’t bother,’ he responded in Catalan as he put the tray down delicately on the coffee table. ‘My father is from Vilafranca.’
    And then Laura began to shoot me murderous glances because she must have thought that I’d gone too far, expecting her, in the role of my lawyer, to chat with the Italian branch of my family, whom she couldn’t care less about. I smiled at her and put my hand over hers, to reassure her; it worked, as I had never got it to work with anyone else, before or since. Poor Laura: I have the feeling I owe her a thousand explanations and I’m afraid I’m too late.
    The coffee was wonderful. And the sale conditions for the shop were too. Laura just kept quiet; I said the price, Daniela looked at Laura a couple of times and saw that she was slowly and discreetly shaking her head, very professional. Even still, she tried to bargain: ‘I don’t agree with your offer.’
    ‘Excuse me,’ interjected Laura, and I looked at her in surprise. In a weary tone: ‘This is the only offer that Mr Ardèvol will be making.’
    She looked at her watch, as if she were in a big rush, and then she grew silent and serious. It took Adrià a few seconds to react and he said that the offer also included his right to rescue certain objects from the shop before you take over. Daniela carefully read the list I presented to her as I looked at Laura. I winked at her and she didn’t wink back, serious in her role as lawyer.
    ‘And the Urgell in the house?’ Daniela lifted her head.
    ‘That belongs to the family: it’s not part of the shop.’
    ‘And the violin?’
    ‘That too. It’s all in writing.’
    Laura lifted a hand as if she wanted to have a word and, with a studied weary air, looking at Daniela, she said you know that we are talking about a shop filled with intangibles.
    Ay, Laura.
    ‘What?’ Daniela.
    It’s best if you keep quiet.
    ‘That one thing is the object and quite another its value.’
    Why did I ever ask you to come with me to Rome, Laura?
    ‘Bravo. So?’
    ‘The price goes up with each passing day.’
    Please don’t start.
    ‘And?’
    ‘That the price you two agree on is one thing.’ Laura said that without even glancing at me, as if I weren’t there. While I thought shut up and don’t mess things up, bloody hell, she said but regardless of the price you come to, you will never even approximate its true value.
    ‘I’d be very curious to hear what you think the true value of the shop is, madam.’
    I would be, too, Laura. But stop mucking things up, all right?
    ‘No one knows that. X number of pesetas is the official price. To arrive at the true value, we would have to add the weight of history.’
    Silence. As if we were digesting those wise words. Laura wiped her hair off her forehead, putting it behind one ear and, in a confident tone that I had never heard from her before, leaning towards Daniela, she said we aren’t exactly talking about apples and bananas, Mrs Amato.
    We continued in silence. I knew that Tito was behind the door, because a shadow with thick eyebrows gave him away. Soon I was imagining that the boy had inherited the fever for objects, the one that Father had, the one that Mother had acquired, the one that I have, the one that Daniela has … Touched by the family obsession. The silence was so thick that it seemed we were all attempting to gauge the weight of history.
    ‘Deal. The lawyers will dot the i’s,’ decided Daniela, exhaling. Then she looked at Laura with a hint of irony and said we can discuss the millions of lires of history, madam, when we are in the mood.
    We didn’t say a word until we were seated, one in front of the other. It was forty-five minutes of silence that was impossible to evaluate because that blonde, blue girl had completely disorientated him. Once they were seated, after ordering and waiting, also in silence, for them to bring the first course, Laura picked up a forkful of spaghetti that immediately began to unravel.
    ‘You are a bastard,’ she said, leaning over her plate before starting to suck on the sole remaining long strand of spaghetti.
    ‘Me?’
    ‘I’m talking to you, yes.’
    ‘Why?’
    ‘I’m not your lawyer, not that you needed one.’ She abandoned the fork on the plate. ‘By the way, I take it you sell antiques.’
    ‘Uh-huh.’
    ‘Why didn’t you talk to me about it before?’
    ‘All you had to do was keep quiet.’
    ‘No one deigned to give me the manual for this trip.’
    ‘Forgive me: it’s my fault.’
    ‘Yeah.’
    ‘But you did very well.’
    ‘Well, I wanted to ruin everything and run away, because you’re a son of a bitch.’
    ‘You’re right.’
    Laura was able to fish out another strand of spaghetti and, instead of her words bothering me, all I could think was that, at that rate, she would never finish her first course. I wanted to give her explanations I hadn’t given her before: ‘Mother gave me instructions for selling the shop to Daniela; step by step. She even indicated how I had to look at her and what gestures I had to make.’
    ‘So you were acting.’
    ‘To a certain extent. But you surpassed me.’
    Both of them looked at their plates, until Adrià put down his fork and covered his full mouth with his napkin.
    ‘The value of the weight of history!’ he said, bursting into laughter.
    The dinner continued with long rifts of silence. They tried to avoid eye contact.
    ‘So your mother wrote you a book of instructions.’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘And you were following it.’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘You seemed … I don’t know: different.’
    ‘Different in what way?’
    ‘Different from how you usually are.’
    ‘How am I, usually?’
    ‘Absent. You’re always somewhere else.’
    They nibbled on olives in silence, not knowing what to say to each other, as they waited for their dessert. Until Adrià said he didn’t know she was so far-sighted and perceptive.
    ‘Who?’
    ‘My mother.’
    Laura placed her fork on the table and looked him in the eye.
    ‘Do you know I feel used?’ she insisted. ‘Did you get that, after everything I’ve said?’
    I looked at her carefully and I saw that her blue gaze was damp. Poor Laura: she was saying the great truth of her life and I still didn’t want to recognise it.
    ‘Forgive me. I couldn’t do it alone.’
    That night Laura and I made love, very tenderly and cautiously, as if we were afraid of hurting each other. She curiously examined the medallion that Adrià wore around his neck, but she didn’t mention it. And then she cried: it was the first time that smiling Laura showed me her perennial dose of sadness. And she didn’t explain her heartaches. I was silent as well.
    After strolling through the Vatican museums and silently admiring the Moses at San Pietro in Vincoli for over an hour, the patriarch took a step forward, with the tablets of the law in his hand and, when approaching his people and seeing that they were worshipping a golden calf and dancing around it, he angrily grabbed the stone tablets where Jahweh had engraved in divine script the points of the agreement, the new alliance with his people, and he threw them to the ground, smashing them to bits. While Aaron knelt and picked up a jagged piece, not too big and not too small, and saved it as a souvenir, Moses raised his voice and said you good-for-nothings, what are you doing adoring false gods the second I turn my back, bloody hell, what ingrates! And the people of God said forgive us, Moses, we won’t do it again. And he replied I am not the one who has to forgive you, but rather God the merciful against whom you have sinned by worshipping false gods. Just for that you deserve to be stoned to death. All of you. And when they went out beneath the blazing Roman midday sun, thinking of stones and smashed tablets, it occurred to me, out of the blue, that, a century earlier, in the Hijri year of twelve hundred and ninety, a crying baby had been born in the small village of al-Hisw, with her face illuminated like the moon, and her mother, upon seeing her, said this daughter of mine is a blessing from Allah the Merciful; she is beautiful like the moon and splendorous as the sun, and her father, Azizzadeh the merchant, seeing his wife’s delicate state, told her, hiding his anxiousness, what name should we give her, my wife, and she responded she will be called Amani, and the people of al-Hisw will know her as Amani the lovely; and she was left drained by her words; and her husband Azizzadeh, with bitter tears in his dark eyes, after making sure that everything was in order, gave a white coin and a basket of dates to the midwife; looked, worried, at his wife, and a black cloud crossed through his thoughts. The mother’s cracked voice still said Azizzadeh: if I die, take good care of the golden jewel in my memory.
    ‘You aren’t going to die.’
    ‘Listen to me. And when lovely Amani’s first monthly blood comes, give it to her and tell her it is from me. To remember me by, my husband. To remember her mother who didn’t have enough strength to.’ And she began to cough. ‘Promise me you will,’ she insisted.
    ‘I promise, my wife.’
    The midwife came back into the room and said she needs to rest. Azizzadeh shook his head and went back to the shop because he had to supervise the unloading of the delivery of pistachios and walnuts that had just arrived from Lebanon. But even if it had been engraved on tablets like the law of the infidel sons of Mūsa who call themselves the chosen people, Azizzadeh would never have believed the sad end lovely Amani would meet in fifteen years’ time, praise be the merciful Lord.
    ‘What are you thinking about?’
    ‘Pardon me?’
    ‘You see, see how you’re always somewhere else?’
    They took the train back to Barcelona and arrived on Wednesday: Laura missed two classes for the first time in her life and without prior notice. Dr Bastardes, who must have sensed many things, didn’t reproach her for it. And I, after the Roman operation, already knew that I would be able to devote my life to studying what I wished and teaching a few classes, just enough to maintain a presence in the academic world. It seemed that, apart from my romantic problems, the sky was clear. Even though I hadn’t come across any juicy manuscripts lately.

29

    Adrià had got a weight off his shoulders, with the help of his aloof mother who had considered his inability to handle practical matters and had watched over her son from the other side, the way every mother in the world except mine does. Just thinking of it gets me emotional and calculating that perhaps in some moment Mother did love me. Now I know for sure that Father once admired me; but I am convinced that he never loved me. I was one more object in his magnificent collection. And that one more object returned from Rome to his house with the intention of putting it in order, since he had been living too long stumbling into the unopened boxes of books that had come from Germany. He turned on the light and there was light. And he called Bernat to come over and help him to plan this ideal order, as if Bernat were Plato and he Pericles, and the flat in the Eixample the bustling city of Athens. And thus the two wise men decided that into the study would go the manuscripts, the incunabula that he would buy, the delicate objects, the books of the fathers, the records, the scores and the most commonly used dictionaries, and they divided the waters from below from those above and the firmament was made with its clouds, separate from the sea waters. In his parents’ bedroom, which he had managed to make his own, they found a place for the poetry and music books, and they separated the lower waters so that there was a dry place, and they gave that dry spot the name earth, and they called the waters ocean seas. In his childhood bedroom, beside Sheriff Carson and valiant Black Eagle, who kept constant watch from the bedside table, they emptied out, without a second glance, all the shelves of books that had accompanied him as a child and there they put the history books, from the birth of memory to the present day. And geography as well, and the earth began to have trees and seeds that germinated and sprouted grasses and flowers.
    ‘Who are these cowboys?’
    ‘Don’t touch them!’
    He didn’t dare to tell him that it was none of his business. That would have seemed unfair. He just said, nothing, I’ll get rid of them some other day.
    ‘How.’
    ‘What.’
    ‘You’re ashamed of us.’
    ‘I’m very busy right now.’
    I heard the Sheriff, from behind the Arapaho chief, spitting contemptuously onto the ground and choosing not to say anything.
    The three long hallways in the flat were devoted to literary prose, arranged by language. With some endless new shelving that he ordered from Planas. In the hallway to the bedroom, Romance languages. In the one beyond the front hall, Slavic and Nordic languages, and in the wide back hall, Germanic and Anglo-Saxon.
    ‘But how can you read in crazy language like this?’ asked Bernat suddenly, brandishing Пешчаниcat, by Danilo Kiš.
    ‘With patience. If you know Russian, Serbian isn’t that difficult.’
    ‘If you know Russian …’ grumbled Bernat, offended. He put the book in its place and muttered through his teeth, ‘Sure, then it’s a piece of cake.’
    ‘We can put literary essays and literature and art theory in the dining room.’
    ‘Either take out the glassware or take out the buffet.’ He pointed at the walls without mentioning the white stain above the buffet. Adrià lowered his eyes and said I’ll give all the glassware to the shop. They’ll sell it and be happy. That’ll give me three good walls. And he created the fish and the marine creatures and all the monsters of the sea. And the empty spot left on the wall by the absence of the monastery of Santa Maria de Gerri by Modest Urgell now had company: Wellek, Warren, Kayser, Berlin, Steiner, Eco, Benjamin, Indgarden, Grye, Canetti, Lewis, Fuster, Johnson, Calvino, Mira, Todorov, Magris and other joys.
    ‘How many languages do you know?’
    ‘I’m not sure. Doesn’t matter. Once you know a few, you can always read more than you think you can.’
    ‘Yeah, sure, I was just about to say that,’ said Bernat, a bit peeved. After a little while, as they removed a piece of furniture, ‘You never told me you were studying Russian.’
    ‘You never told me you were practising Bartók’s second.’
    ‘And how do you know?’
    ‘Contacts. In the laundry room I’ll put
    ‘Don’t touch anything in the laundry room.’ Bernat, the voice of reason. ‘You’ll have to have someone come in to dust, iron and do things like that. And she’ll need her own space.’
    ‘I’ll do that myself.’
    ‘Bullshit. Hire someone.’
    ‘I know how to make omelettes, boiled rice, fried eggs, macaroni and other pastas and whatever I need. Potato frittata. Salads. Vegetables and potatoes.’
    ‘I’m talking about things of a higher order: ironing, sewing, cleaning. And making cannelloni and baked capon.’
    What a drag. But finally he listened to Bernat and hired a woman who was still young and active, named Caterina. She came on Mondays, stayed for lunch and did the whole house leaving no stone unturned. And she ironed. And sewed. A ray of sunshine in so much darkness.
    ‘It’s best if you don’t go into the study. All right?’
    ‘As you wish,’ she said, going in and giving it the once-over with her expert eye. ‘But I must say this place is a breeding ground for dust.’
    ‘Let’s not exaggerate …’
    ‘A breeding ground for dust filled with those little silver bugs that nest in books.’
    ‘Don’t exaggerate, Little Lola.’
    ‘Caterina. I’ll just dust the old books.’
    ‘Don’t even think about it.’
    ‘Well, then let me at least sweep and clean the floor,’ Caterina, trying to save some aspects of the negotiation.
    ‘Fine. But don’t touch anything on top of the table.’
    ‘I wouldn’t think of it,’ she lied.
    Despite Adrià’s initial good intentions, he eventually took over the walls without wardrobes and Caterina ended up having to live with fine art books and encyclopedias. Visibly wrinkling her nose did her no good.
    ‘Can’t you see there’s no other space for them?’ begged Adrià.
    ‘Well, it’s not exactly a small flat. What do you want so many books for?’
    ‘To eat them.’
    ‘A waste of a lovely flat, you can’t even see the walls.’
    Caterina inspected the laundry room and said I’ll have to get used to working with books around.
    ‘Don’t worry, Little Lola. They stay still and quiet during the day.’
    ‘Caterina,’ said Caterina looking at him askance because she wasn’t sure if he was pulling her leg or if he was mad as a hatter.
    ‘And all this stuff you brought from Germany, what is it?’ asked Bernat one day, suspiciously opening the top of a cardboard box with his fingertips.
    ‘Basically, philology and philosophy. And some novels. Böll, Grass, Faulkner, Mann, Llor, Capmany, Roth and things like that.’
    ‘Where do you want to put them?’
    ‘Philosophy, in the front hall. With mathematics and astronomy. And philology and linguistics, in Little Lola’s room. The novels, each in the corresponding hallway.’
    ‘Well, let’s get to it.’
    ‘What orchestra do you want to play Bartók with?’
    ‘With mine. I want to ask for an audition.’
    ‘Wow, that’s great, don’t you think?’
    ‘We’ll see if they’ll listen to reason.’
    ‘If they’ll listen to the violin, you mean.’
    ‘Yes. You’re going to have to order more shelves.’
    He ordered them, and Planas was happy as a clam because Adrià’s orders showed no signs of letting up. And on the fourth day of creation Caterina won an important victory because she got permission from the Lord to dust all the books in the flat except for the ones in the study. And she decided that she would also come on Thursday mornings for a modest supplement, that way she could guarantee that once a year she’d have dusted all the books. And Adrià said as you wish, Little Lola: you know more about these things than I do.
    ‘Caterina.’
    ‘And since there is still space there, in the guest room, religion, theology, ethnology and the Greco-Roman world.’
    And it was the moment when the Lord parted the waters and let the earth dry and created the ocean seas.
    ‘You’ll have to … What do you like better, cats or dogs?’
    ‘No, no, neither.’ Curtly, ‘Neither.’
    ‘You don’t want them to shit on you. Right?’
    ‘No, it’s not that.’
    ‘Yeah, sure, if you say so …’ Sarcastic tone from Bernat as he placed a pile of books on the floor. ‘But it would do you good to have a pet.’
    ‘I don’t want anything to die on me. Understood?’ he said as he filled up the second row in front of the bathroom with prose in Slavic languages. And the domestic animals were created and the wild animals populated the earth and he saw that it was good.
    And, seated on the dark floor of hallway one, they reviewed their melancholy: ‘Boy, Karl May. I have a lot of his, too.’
    ‘Look: Salgari. God, no: twelve Salgaris.’
    ‘And Verne. I had this one with engravings by Doré.’
    ‘Where is it now?’
    ‘Who knows.’
    ‘And Enid Blyton. Not the strongest prose. But I read them thirty times over.’
    ‘What are you going to do with the Tintins?’
    ‘I don’t want to throw anything out. But I don’t where to put it all.’
    ‘You still have a lot of room.’
    And the Lord said yes, I have a lot of room, but I want to keep buying books. And my problem is where do I put the karlmays and julesvernes, you know? And the other said I understand. And they saw that in the bathroom there was a space between the little closet and the ceiling, and Planas, enthused, made a sturdy double shelf and all the books he had read as a kid went to rest there.
    ‘That’s not going to fall?’
    ‘If it falls, I will personally come and hold it up for the rest of time.’
    ‘Like Atlas.’
    ‘What?’
    ‘Like a caryatid.’
    ‘Well, I don’t know. But I can assure you that it won’t fall down. You can shit with no worries. Pardon me. I mean, don’t worry, it won’t fall.’
    ‘And in the small toilet, the magazines.’
    ‘Sounds good,’ said Bernat as he moved twenty kilos of ancient history through the Romance prose hallway to Adrià’s childhood bedroom.
    ‘And in the kitchen, cookbooks.’
    ‘You need a bibliography to fry to an egg?’
    ‘They’re Mother’s books; I don’t want to throw them out.’
    And as he said I will make man in my image and likeness, he thought of Sara. Of Laura. No, Sara. No, Laura. I don’t know: but he thought of her.
    And on the seventh day, Adrià and Bernat rested and they invited Tecla over to see their creation and after the visit they sat in the armchairs in the study. Tecla, who was already pregnant with Llorenç, was impressed by all their work and said to her husband let’s see if some day you decide to tidy things up in our house. And they drank tea from Can Múrria that was delicious. And Bernat straightened up suddenly, as if he had been pricked with a pin: ‘Where’s the Storioni?’
    ‘In the safe.’
    ‘Take it out. It needs air. And you have to play it so its voice doesn’t fade out.’
    ‘I do play it. I’m trying to get my level back up. I play it obsessively and I’m starting to fall in love with that instrument.’
    ‘That Storioni is easy to love,’ said Bernat in a whisper.
    ‘Is it true you play the piano too?’ Tecla, curious.
    ‘At a very basic level.’ As if excusing himself: ‘If you live alone, you have a lot of time for yourself.’
    Seven two eight zero six five. Vial was the only occupant of the safe. When he pulled it out, it seemed it had grown pale from so long in the dungeon.
    ‘Poor thing. Why don’t you put it with the incunabula, in the cabinet?’
    ‘Good idea. But the insurers …’
    ‘Screw them.’
    ‘Who’s going to steal it?’
    Adrià passed it, with a gesture that strove for solemnity, to his friend. Play something, he said to him. And Bernat tuned it, the D string was slightly flat, and he played Beethoven’s two fantasies in such a way that we could sense the orchestra. I still think that he played extraordinarily, as if having lived far away from me had matured him, and I thought that when Tecla wasn’t there I would say kid, why don’t you stop writing about stuff you know nothing about and devote yourself to what you do so well, eh?
    ‘Don’t start,’ responded Bernat when I posed that question to him eight days later. And the Lord contemplated his work and said it was very good, because he had the universe at home and more or less in universal decimal classification. And he said to the books grow and multiply and go forth throughout the house.
    ‘I’ve never seen such a large flat,’ said Laura in admiration, still wearing her coat.
    ‘Here, take that off.’
    ‘Or such a dark one.’
    ‘I always forget to open the blinds. Wait.’
    He showed her the most presentable part of the flat and when they went into the study, he couldn’t help but do so with possessive pride.
    ‘Wow, is that a violin?’
    Adrià pulled it out of the cabinet and put it in her hands. It was obvious that she didn’t know what to do with it. Then he put it under the loupe and turned on the light.
    ‘Read what’s in here.’
    ‘Laurentius Storioni Cremonensis …’ with difficulty, but with longing, ‘me fecit seventeen sixty-four. Wow.’ She looked up, amazed. ‘It must have cost a shitload, I mean an arm and a leg.’
    ‘I guess. I don’t know.’
    ‘You don’t know?’ With her mouth agape she gave him back the instrument, as if it were burning her hand.
    ‘I don’t want to know.’
    ‘You are strange, Adrià.’
    ‘Yes.’
    They were quiet for a little while, not knowing what to say to each other. I like that girl. But every time I court her, I think of you, Sara, and I wonder what made our eternal love suffer so many encumbrances. At that moment I still couldn’t understand it.
    ‘Do you play the violin?’
    ‘Yeah. A little.’
    ‘Come on, play me something.’
    ‘Uhh …’
    I supposed that Laura didn’t know much about music. In fact, I was wrong: she didn’t know a thing. But since I didn’t yet know that, I played for her, from memory and with some invention, the Meditation from Thaïs, which is very effective. With my eyes closed because I couldn’t remember all of the fingering and I needed all my concentration. And when Adrià opened his eyes, Laura was disconsolate, crying blue tears, and looking at me as if I were a god or a monster and I asked her what’s wrong, Laura, and she replied I don’t know, I think I got emotional because I felt something here and she made some circles with her hand on her stomach; and I answered that’s the sound of the violin, it’s magnificent. And then she couldn’t hold back a sob and until then I hadn’t realised that she wore a very discreet bit of makeup on her eyes because the mascara had smudged a little and she looked very, very sweet. But this time I hadn’t used her, like in Rome. She came because that morning I had said would you like to come to the inauguration of my flat? And she, who was just getting out of Greek class, I think, said you’ve moved? And I, no. And she, are you having a party? And I, no, but I’m inaugurating a new order in the house and …
    ‘Will there be many people?’
    ‘Tons.’
    ‘Who?’
    ‘Well, you and I.’
    And she came. And after the unrestrained sobbing, she was pensive for a while, sitting on the sofa behind which I had spent hours spying with Sheriff Carson and his valiant friend.
    Black Eagle kept watch from the bedside table in history and geography. When we went in there, she picked him up and looked at him; the valiant Arapaho chief didn’t complain and she turned to tell me something, but Adrià pretended he hadn’t realised and asked her some silly question. I kissed her. We kissed each other. It was tender. And then I walked her home, convinced that I was making a mistake with that girl and that, probably, I was hurting her. But I still didn’t know why.
    Or I did know. Because in Laura’s blue eyes I was searching for your fugitive dark eyes, and that is something that no woman can forgive.

30

    The stairwell was narrow and dark. The further up he went the worse he felt. It seemed like a toy, like a dark doll’s house. Up to the first door on the third floor. The doorbell, imitating a bell tower, went ding and then dong. And after that there was silence. Children’s shouts were heard on the narrow, sunless street of that end of the Barceloneta. When he was already thinking he had made a mistake, he perceived a muffled sound on the other side of the door and it opened delicately, silently. I never told you this, Sara, but that was, surely, the most important day of my life. Holding onto the door, worse for the wear, older, but still just as neat and well-groomed as ever, she looked silently into my eyes for a few seconds, as if asking me what I was doing there. Finally she reacted, opening the door the rest of the way and moving aside to let me in. She waited until it was closed to say you’ll be bald soon.
    We went into a tiny area that was the dining room and the living room. On one wall, majestic, hung the Urgell of the Sant Maria de Gerri monastery, receiving the dusky light of a sun that was setting behind Trespui. Adrià, like someone apologising, said I knew you were sick and …
    ‘How did you know?’
    ‘From a doctor friend. How are you feeling?’
    ‘Surprised to see you here.’
    ‘No, I mean how is your health?’
    ‘I’m dying. Would you like some tea?’
    ‘Yes.’
    She disappeared down the hallway. The kitchen was right there. Adrià looked at the painting and had the feeling he was re-encountering an old friend who, despite the years, hadn’t aged a bit; he took in a breath and smelled the springtime aroma of that landscape; he could even make out the murmur of the river and the cold Ramon de Nolla felt when he arrived there in search of his victim. He stood there, observing it, until he felt Little Lola’s presence behind him. She was carrying a tray with two teacups. Adrià noticed the simplicity of that flat, which was so tiny that it could have fit quite easily inside his study.
    ‘Why didn’t you stay with me?’
    ‘I’m fine. This has been my house before and after living by your mother’s side. I have no complaints. Do you hear me? I have no complaints. I’m over seventy, older than your parents; and I’ve lived the life I wanted to live.’
    They sat down at the table. A slurp of tea. Adrià was comfortable in silence. After a short while: ‘It’s not true that I’m going bald.’
    ‘You can’t see yourself from the back. You look like a Franciscan friar.’
    Adrià smiled. She was the same old Little Lola. And she was still the only person in the world he had never seen wrinkle her nose in displeasure.
    ‘This tea is very nice.’
    ‘I got your book. It’s slow going.’
    ‘I know, but I wanted you to have it.’
    ‘What have you been doing, besides writing and reading?’
    ‘Playing the violin. Hours and hours, and days and months.’
    ‘Of all things! Why did you give it up, then?’
    ‘I was drowning. I had to choose between the violin or me. And I chose me.’
    ‘Are you happy?’
    ‘No. Are you?’
    ‘Yes. Quite. Not entirely.’
    ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’
    ‘Yes. Why are you so anxious?’
    ‘It’s that … I can’t stop thinking that if you sold the painting you could buy a larger flat.’
    ‘You don’t understand anything, boy.’
    They were silent. She looked at the Urgell with a gaze that was obviously used to contemplating that landscape and to feeling, without realising it, the cold that had got into the bones of fleeing Friar Miquel de Susqueda as he searched along the road from Burgal for a refuge from the threat of divine justice. They were silent for perhaps five minutes, drinking tea, each of them remembering moments in their lives. And finally Adrià Ardèvol looked into her eyes and he said Little Lola, I love you very much; you are a very good person. She finished her last sip of tea, bowed her head, remained quiet for a long time and then began to explain that what he’d just said wasn’t true because your mother told me Little Lola, you have to help me.
    ‘What do you need, Carme?’ a bit frightened by the other woman’s tone.
    ‘Do you know this girl?’