The night is profound and quiet when I climb down into the living room. We’re okay now. Adele is sitting on the couch, reading a book. We’re expecting guests.
The gun’s not loaded.
We’re okay now.
At least until she finds the bullets…
I take a seat next to her and sigh. I don’t like waiting. The simple act of sitting on a couch, waiting for Patricia and Herbert May to knock at our door is driving me crazy.
For a few minutes I stare at the walls, as if I’m trying to discover something new. Of course, we never find anything worth finding when we want to.
So I think. I remember.
I met Herbert at Art School and soon we became best friends. The most promising two painters of our generation, I went on to become a true artist, as they say, while Herbert, at the age of thirty, understood that he was never going to be quite as brilliant as he would have liked to and decided to give up. He married Patricia Woodworth, ten years his senior, and never had to think about money again. The same year he opened the biggest art gallery in town, and that has been his occupation ever since.
We were so wild and impulsive, and just remembering the times when our rebellious nature got us into all kinds of trouble makes me shiver with excitement. We got arrested so many times, mostly for misdemeanors, but nevertheless, we got arrested so many times that we stopped keeping count in our sophomore year.
The phone rings. Adele puts her book down and goes to pick up the phone.
I don’t even flinch. It’s as if there’s a thin pellicle sheltering me from whatever is going on around me. An invisible layer added to my skin that’s making me impervious to the conversation Adele is having on the phone.
Actually, I’m trapped in the past. I see Herbert, not the way he looks like now, always wearing tailored suits like a business man, always talking on the phone like one. No, I see Herbert, the true Herbert, the rebellious twenty year old, the skinny son-of-a-bitch who wanted to become the next big thing after Andy Warhol.
Echoes sluggishly reach me. “No, no you can’t. How can you think of doing such a thing?” Her voice is growing weaker and weaker. “You have to think about your father’s condition…”
And the words slowly dissolve into the hot air of the living room.
We were both supposed to become more than we ended up being…
Herbert May, his head shaved, his eyes burning inside their sockets all day and all night, always aspiring to create something wonderful. Herbert May, always drawing and sketching, Herbert May, the one who used to write down the titles of his paintings before he’d put paint to canvas.
This is the worst part about remembering: once the memories start rolling before your eyes, they keep raining down on you like a cool waterfall. The older you get, the harder it is to return to the present.
Herbert May, who thought Mona Lisa was just the portrait of an ugly woman.
“Where’s the mystery? The passion? What kind of secret a woman like that can hold?” he’d say.
Herbert May, whose soul died twenty years ago… and now, ineffably, my soul is going to die as well.
The defeat, the sense of having had and lost everything I am is slowly growing inside my chest. I can feel it like a burning pain inside my body, and all I can do is gasp for air like a fish out of the water.
I tell myself this is not real, over and over again, murmuring the words with a pathetic lack of conviction. I glance around, as if I’m trying to anchor myself in the intimate and pleasant décor of the living room. I sink deeper into the warm embrace of the couch and close my eyes.
The pain always goes away. Death’s just playing with me. She doesn’t want me dead. Not yet.
But pain can’t be measured. Pain is infinite. It lasts for as long as it has to, and not knowing how long it’s going to last is the most difficult part.
Not knowing is our biggest enemy, the source of our greatest suffering.
I force myself to open my eyes, and the room becomes sublime, and a bizarre beatitude engulfs my soul, making the pain go away. Adele’s still talking on the phone. I know this is just a small victory, this is just one of the disease’s perverse deceits, but I welcome this frantic feeling of freedom.
It’s as if freedom screams from all the objects inside the living room, from the bookshelf, from the paintings, from the photographs, from the TV set, from the old radio my father bought me for my eighteenth birthday, from the old, mustered desk that my grandfather acquired from an army general back in 1898.
And I wouldn’t be lying if I’d say that I feel, in the most peculiar way possible, incredibly happy.
Bathed in this strange enthusiasm, I feel the need to share my joy with the world, but something’s holding me captive. I feel there’s a thin thread that connects me to every single one of the objects inside the room. We have shared the most intimate of experiences; we have exchanged pain, and that has turned me into an object as well.
I stretch my arm forward and stare at it. At the tiny fingers, at the black strands of hair that cover my knuckles, at the thin, purple veins that run under the skin, and I’m almost certain my arm doesn’t belong to me. I’m quite sure of it. My arm’s just not my own. I half expect it to vanish.
I recover something from deep inside my chest: a bit of the present.
And I find myself standing in the middle of the room.
“Paul!” I hear Adele saying.
I shake my head. Slowly, I find my way back to this world, to the world of the living, to the world of the present.
Adele is standing in front of me, her arms crossed against her chest. The doorbell is ringing with such an indescribable fury, its high pitched tune sending ripples across the entire house. “Paul, the door!” she shouts. “Open the door.”
I look around one more time and realize that the living room, the old desk, the paintings and photographs, the sofa and the chairs, the bookshelf with its many layers of multi colored books, have regained their uselessness.
Once again, it’s just a simple room.