Gélico, first prize winner in the third edition of the nuestra palabra short story competition in 2006, began his first publications as a cartoonist at age 17 in the humorous weekly magazine Melaíto. Since then, his work has been published in hundreds of magazines and newspapers in Cuba, Canada, and many other countries. During his career he has won more than twenty awards and participated in more than thirty collective exhibitions. He currently resides in Toronto, where he is the director of Gélico Gallery.
Angel Fernández (Gélico)
That morning he climbed those narrow stairs and everything seemed to happen so fast. Even the petit déjeuner was tres francais, although with a little more croissant than usual. On the third floor, with his hand clutching his chest, he became aware that his heart was humming a song of fright. He spent most of the day sitting at his the window of his room, watching as the drops of water slid down the silent, dirty glass. Even now, past ten o’clock at night as a fine rain shimmered softly in the light of the lamp post, he still felt the bitter pain of the forgiveness he had privately granted the bellboy who had served him at five. He had never felt so wounded by such a simple, casual and thoughtless joke. Rue Saint Honoré shone opaquely like a ripe, wet fruit, casting reflections, cloistered on the black pavement, of the umbrellas and dogs that passed by.
Since his last visit to the doctor he had felt worse and the pain had become sharper and more penetrating. He sat there all day long, watching the drizzle and remembering the days of his untroubled happiness, wallowing in hollow kisses and savouring an exquisite hazelnut parfait, while a Danish three-masted sailboat drifted like a silent bird along the French Riviera in the off-season. And he recalled the mild winter climate in that place where the French Belle said that Peille was nestled with its starch coloured houses, and the Promenade des Anglais running along the beach.
A restless furrow of water streaked down one of the window panes and an inner remorse throbbed ceaselessly in his stomach. This sensitivity that wracked his soul was normal after so many months weighed down by the illness that would end that night, hanging from the ceiling light of his hotel room of choice, swaying to the rhythm of an invisible tremor.
He wanted to sink into his seraphic past, into those spellbinding cabinet meetings, where the smell of tea thoroughly permeated the clothes and medals, and a little further back, Belle‘s back stretched out indifferently, together with his tobacco smoke and the conversations speculating on the chronology of the Capetian monarchs or why John the Good failed to raise the money to secure his freedom and his invented last words in captivity. And his mind overflowed with the escapades in the middle of the government meetings, to unleash his inborn lech’s fury onto the naked body of the French Belle, on top of the presidential desk, slavering over her smooth and nubile skin, drowned in a lie of desire. He also recalled his days of triumph, when a crowd before him raised their hands heavenward, crying out his name and tossing their hats in the air to paint the sky with them. But his stomach hammered incessantly when he let in the five o’clock tea service, and the bellboy, smiling under a “Monsieur“, opened the teapot and, hovering over the dusky liquid, asked him if his surname was “comme le dictateur?“, and the night fell faster with death cries.
The night was silent and the tinkling of the drizzle transported him back to his days as a scrawny and tremulous child. staring through a window that concealed an immense field of yellow grass with green hills on the edge of the horizon. For a few seconds he saw that child, an emaciated preschooler, standing in the light that the sun cast through his bars; with a solitary and devastating childhood, burying little baby birds alive in the yard and drowning the lizards on the fence in green glass bottles. He sighed beneath a sob. He pulled out his chain to open the golden shells that encased his watch and ruminate on the time that would swallow him up. It was 9:50 and he expelled a laboured breath.
He stopped in front of the mirror and an old, even unrecognizable face appeared sacrificing the image of a man forgotten in time. He was pale and his eyelids weighed him down too much. Strangely and clearly he managed to catch a whiff of his own smell of dried dates in each inhalation. He realized how withered he was, and how long old age had lasted; so long that he could remember nothing of his years of jeunesse. He removed his spectacles and he could see the bedroom more clearly, in spite of his cataract-coated eyes. Then he saw that the window panes were coated thickly in a foul layer of grease.
He had been wearing that same coarsely knit suit for several weeks. He no longer had any concern for public opinion, and much less for the lacklustre kisses that he would never receive again from Belle. Belle, Belle! Always Belle? There was no reason to go on loving her, although she was the only thing he had ever loved in his life. Because if Belle had anything, it was that she did not belong to anyone, much less to him, even if he felt her in his pores every day. In reality, she was everyone’s and for everyone. Belle belonged entirely to her people, to that France that he hated so much with a requited love. Belle, on every visit to the tropics, lay with all his generals, with the nightwatchman, with the members of the opposition, with every visiting minister and even with the cook after a drink or four.
He left the mirror and walked, with the spent force of an old man of ninety-six, over to the immobile armchair that seemed to throb beside the window. He dragged it into the middle of the room, right below the light. One of the windows blew open and a cool wind invigorated the whole space after being shut up for a day. A light shone on his first years of power, and on the diary where he wrote of his escapades on his rest periods, to the Bernese Alps in Switzerland, the Julian Alps in the Kingdom of Slovenia and the Maritime Alps in his dear France. It shone too on the money laundering operations in the basements of the Cabaret Orange and the aristocratic orgies on nights spent in clouds of ecstasy. He climbed up onto the chair and tied his blue tie, stained with cognac and the milk from his petit déjeuner, to the central bar of the hanging light fixture. He knew perfectly well that his feet would not reach the floor when he fell and that, in a few seconds, he would cease to exist… this time forever.
Even with his trembling and shrivelled fingers, it was easy to tie the knot around his weak, scraggily neck. He closed his eyes, and the skipping of that scrawny child and those first green glass bottles played upon his mind once again. He swallowed what seemed a pound of hard saliva and he felt a deep urge to weep. His eyes misted over and he lost his sight completely inside that room that only let in the light from the lamp post on Rue Saint Honoré, shimmering behind the fine drops of drizzle that refused to cease. He had no reason to cry, not even for Belle‘s betrayal, or for the massacre of the two thousand young men who opposed him and whom he ordered to be shot in the garden of the Pabellón or for the unassailable desire to look again through that window filled with a faroff yellow field, with the same unconscious innocence of that age. In his head he could not recall what day it was, but only the solitude that had enveloped him. Not even his doctor, the one who prescribed him so many pills for the pain in his bones and in his soul, had recognized, for so many years, his surname or his resemblance to that foreign president.
His country had forgotten him a long time ago, and he realized this when he climbed onto the buses filled with stares that only looked indifferently upon a cancerous nonagenarian, and when he looked at the Latin American newspapers that never mentioned his name or anything about his bloodthirsty rule. The few friends he had left in his France of old had vanished when he fled into exile. He never heard again from his French Belle; all that remained was the memory of a naked back with a Judas’ love and the familiar utilitarian kiss. His whole fortune had been reduced to a tiny rented room, reeking of torrid dampness and stale pills, near the Tower.
A cold tear burst from his eye, running down an expansive cheek covered in a white two-day growth. A tear that only sought a refuge in that abysmal solitude, in that silence of the night, in the dark room, in the endless tinkling of the rain. With a breathless voice he repeated the words of the bellboy, that young man who without malice and without knowledge, was reluctantly forgiven. With a final sigh from his deathly lips he let out the words “comme le dictateur?” with purposeful emphasis. He was still hanging there from the light the next day, when he was found by a housekeeper.
Translated by Martin Boyd