martes, 21 de octubre de 2014

The cage

A guy in his early twenties is walking down a winding mountain road, signaling all the cars that pass by to stop. He’s wearing a wool cap, which is useless under the rain, and some of his locks are stuck to his forehead. He looks somewhat like a dog.
A black car stops 40 meters ahead of him and, shortly after, the passenger door opens in a burst, probably because of the wind, just at the exact moment that a lightning bolt crosses the sky. The boy stops, hesitantly, but then imagines the rain soaking the car upholstery and the driver getting mad at him, so he runs to the car and gets in it. He closes the door after him and the car starts again. It is a dark night, and it is stormy.
“It wasn’t raining so much.”
“Yeah, who would’ve thought.”
The boy drops his cap in the floor of the car and looks at the driver. He’s a young man, about thirty. He sits upright and grabs the steering wheel firmly, with both hands. The top button of his shirt is undone and the tie is a bit loosened. He seems very focused on driving, he doesn’t look back at the boy even for a moment.
“At least you’re still listening to Pearl Jam; otherwise it would’ve been impossible to recognize you.”
“It’s been a long time.”
“Fifteen years, almost to the day. It’s good to see you back, you know, you’ve been missed round here. But look at you: new car, suit and tie.”
“It’s all because of the job, it’s not my fault. I knew you were going to say something about it. But I like the job, and I can live at home… I see you every day. Every morning when I go to work, and then on the evening too, walking by this road up and down as if you were waiting for me, just like that day.”
“And you just ignore me.”
“Of course I do. God, I’m sorry, but you’d do the same. I put the radio on or just try to focus on the road or just sort of look the other way. But I had to stop today, with this storm, the rain…”
“I already told you, it wasn’t raining so much that day, don’t think about it.”
The boy says this sort of offhandedly, while he looks through the window. There’s lighting outside. The man keeps driving and the music and the sound of the water lashing the windshield fill the silence. But after some time he turns off the radio and starts talking.
“You were very silent that day too. I kept thinking you were angry at me. You got in the car, threw you bag in the backseat, and then you shut up and let me drive you back home. You never told me where you were intending to go.”
“I don’t know. I was 20… I wanted, you know, to go, far away. Or maybe not even that far, I don’t know, just out of that house.”
“Yes, but why were you here, then? Why using this road, you’d never get anywhere…”
“Listen, I don’t mind if you really want to talk about it, but I don’t know, what d’you want me to say? I hadn’t figured out anything; I thought dad would use the new one, so this one was safer, and I didn’t really care where to go anyway, as long as they took me far enough that nobody would know us. But the only car that stopped was dad’s, of course. And it was you driving it, but it didn’t matter, because I had seen it, you know what I mean? I had realized.
“I didn’t want you to see me and neither did you, but it happened because it was supposed to, because it had to. The only fucking option was going back, and it had been that way my whole life and it was useless to try anything… And it had to be you. You know what? Since we're talking about it, yeah, I was mad. You were driving me back in dad’s car, as if you were the eldest, ‘cause he let you use it. And, you know, fair enough, right? It was you who had learned how to drive and all that, while I kept hitchhiking around, I get it.”
“God, but I didn’t want to take you home, I had no idea what to do. If you had told me “take me to the city”, or whatever, I would have. But you were so silent I just drove home because that was what I knew how to do, I wasn’t really thinking.”
“I know. Listen, it’s fine. Really, I’ve known it for a long time. Don’t worry.”
The boy reaches with his hand to his brother’s shoulder, but he dodges it.
“Then why are you here? God, why are you still here? I see you every day, just yesterday I saw you reflected on the window at Fletcher’s. It was only a gaze, in the corner of my eye, but it was you, smiling like a child and taking a run up to jump against the glass… And now you’re in my car. What are you even doing here? How on Earth, and why… why are you following me?”
“Listen, don’t worry, really. I get that you needed to talk and I’m glad we’ve done this, but I’m not haunting you or anything.”
“But what does this mean then, then? Why are you in my car, in this car?”
“Because I needed a lift, that’s why. It’s really not sinister, trust me. I need you to take us somewhere… Listen, I’m going to tell you the whole story. I was hoping not to have to, but I might as well, I guess. Just don’t be scared with the kid, ok? Don’t want to have an accident.
“When I was… I don’t know, five or six, maybe, mom bought me a pet bird. It was a parakeet, a small blue one; they brought it home from Fletcher’s in a big cage that looked like the Tetris castle. It was very beautiful, I think they eventually sold it in a jumble sale; but the thing is I hated seeing the bird locked up, so when mom wasn’t home I would open the trap door of the cage and let him fly all over the room. Sometimes it would perch in your cradle and sing you, I swear.
“But one day I opened the door and the bird flew off the corridor window, and I got out of the house and followed him to O’Donnell Park. And he stood there, on the branch of a tree, as if he was waiting for me. So I climbed to the tree and I grabbed it to take it back home. I was holding it with both hands, I don’t really know how I climbed down the tree. And it was flapping its wings, you know, poor thing, it was desperate, and I was holding it tight so it would fly away. Fuck, I didn’t know, I didn’t really know what was going on.”
“God, don’t tell me you killed the bird.”
“Mom was already there when I got home. And she was, you know, just about to get really mad at me, but she saw the bird, strangled in my hands, and I started crying. She gave me a shoe box and I told her to go back to the park, to bury the bird under the tree. It was stupid, you see? There and back again, it was useless.”
The driver sees on the mirror of the car a small kid who has just sat in the backseat. He is wearing a school uniform, and he looks exactly like his brother in a third grade school photo their parents used to have over the fireplace. The kid is sobbing and wiping his snot with the sleeve of his sweater. He’s got a shoe box on his lap, and when he opens it and looks inside he stops crying, and then he tilts it tentatively back and forth, and eventually reaches inside with his hand. When he pulls it out, he drags a blue, stringy sludge.
“What on Earth is that??”
“That’s the bird. It’s weird, I know, but I guess it’s the best you can do. You were really small, back then.”
“That’s disgusting.”
The kid plays with his blue jelly, dipping his fingers in it and passing it from one hand to the. He sometimes squeezes it with both hands, and gushes of it spurt out to the seat of the car, and his uniform.
“You pretty much got it by now, right? The thing is mom’s going to go through the park in twelve minutes, and the kid has to be there. She’s been avoiding it lately, did you know? Since you told her I tried to run away that day, she always remembers the bird when she passes by. Fair enough, I guess…
“So I figure mom wouldn’t be needing the kid today and thought that I could take him to the river, since all I was doing was walking up and down this road anyway. But it’s started to rain, so mom’s going to shortcut through O’Donnell, and you need to take us there.”
The kid opens the back window of the car and cleans his blue-stained fingers with it. Then he sticks his head out the window to get the wind in his face. The driver shrugs.
“You know, I do remember the bird, I think. A blue and white bird landing on my bedside table and singing to me. I’ve never made much of it, always thought it was something I’d seen on TV, or a baby’s dr-­
Right in that moment a blue shadow flies into the car and before the man can avoid it, it smashes into the windshield, leaving a big red mark in the glass.
“What on Earth was that?!! Did you see anyone throwing us a stone, or something?”
“Nope, I guess you have just killed the bird.”
“God! But… but the glass is broken, how is that even possible?”
“Yeah, it was a hell of a bang…You’ll need to get that fixed, you know?”
Then the boy turns back in his seat and caresses the kid, who has gone back to sobbing silently, now that he has a dead bird in his shoebox. He pets his head and pinches his cheek. Outside of the car, the rain keeps falling, heavy and real and meaningless, and it washes the blood off the windshield. There's a chip in the glass, round like a cobweb.

Traduje este texto para que me dejasen participar en la Novel in a Day 2014.  
Versión en castellano de este cuento aquí.

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