I came because I gave in to your persistence; those kind of parties don’t humor me and, honestly, I hadn’t thought until recently that such a mess and such a hubbub of souls gathered under the same roof are even possible; but, as I said before, I could not not say yes to your invitation; I couldn’t look into your eyes and tell you I wouldn’t come, that I like to stay locked up inside my room and read books I don’t understand much of, to pass my fingertips over a candle that I enjoy lighting in the evening and watch its waving flickering that forms into my imagination the skinny shape of a bobbysoxer from the outskirts who always wakes up before the first sunbeams will caress the dusty streets, walking through neighborhoods taken from fantasy tales, with tall windowless buildings, pigeons fluttering their wings that stir the dust, oldmen spitting noisily from the balconies to put out the fires that firemen don’t even bother to put out because of the dream we all had in a late evening of an ice-wall house with watery windows which the firemen—called upon by phone—tried to put on fire by turning on the faucets to light it into the ruby flames that were coming out through the lips of the hoses.
I read somewhere, don’t remember where, that a man has to do every day two unpleasant things for his soul to remain healthy. The day you invited me I’d already done one thing unpleasant, not repulsive though, but rather unpleasant because I was aware if I did do it, I was to certainly do the second one too, according to the cause-effect principle. That first thing was to look into your eyes, the second, to accept your invitation.
I don’t have much clothing in the ivory tower that I moved recently in; I have a pair of trousers patched countless times before, a few t-shirts and two or three pairs of shoes some merciful women gave me. So that was my first problem. I couldn’t come to a party dressed like when I’m at home. I needed something more classy. Lucky for me that I found through the chests in the ground floor the ship sail cloth that, as I was told, I was enshrouded in when Matilda found me in front of the door. I quickly scared up a pair of pants and a blouse. On my chest, around my heart area, was a tomato stain, made probably when Matilda leaned over the little basket I was in, holding a spoon for stirring into the pot, to see whether the loaves of bread made from clay were in there, loaves she must have ordered by mail at the time.
Now, about this type of parties, I must say I don’t ever believe in the efficiency of those elixirs you always consume more than needed, taking them into long stemmed glasses from which a cherry mist spills out into your quivering nostrils. I like instead the pearly bubbles that float to the surface breaking in fine poppings that soothe and incite your hearing, giving you goose-bumps; I saw people drinking that kind of drink and I can only imagine the delicacy and suavity you must feel through your senses when the miraculous liquid caresses and drenches the gustatory papillae, making the tongue pushing hard into the roof of the mouth and eyes closing shut, a physical reaction always crowned by a slight ecstatic half-smile.
As soon as I entered the room, I felt that smell particular to drinks. You came in my way and, grabbing my arm, dragged me with you. While I was carried I looked around to all those strangers with vapid faces hidden by clouds of smoke, all doing the same motion of raising glass to the mouth. You said, I’m so glad you came, Arturo—my God, I’m so glad. I only smiled and kept looking at the decor that changed by then, the bacchic air shifting into an atmosphere more conducive to seclusive love makings behind brown curtains: fake-leather armchairs, shriveled wet sheets, tangled arms and legs, lip-upon-lip sounds, neck bitings, bruises and spankings. You stopped in front of a mirror and wiped the corners of your mouth. You smiled at me in the mirror. I grabbed you by the waist and turned you toward me. I wasn’t thinking. My mind stopped sending pulses to my body. Now the body was sending pulses to my mind. I was thinking with my hands slipping on your neck. I kissed you. You bit my tongue, then sucked it. I felt a tobacco taste in my mouth. You stepped back and told me while you looked at me languidly with your emerald eyes, Arturo, you must drink, Arturo, promise me you’ll drink. I replied, I’ll drink, I’ll drink and kiss you. I was thinking what drink you would give me, because I couldn’t see, in the shadow of the room, no bottle, no glass, no nothing. Then you turned to the mirror again and turned on the faucet of the sink. I was scared. Ruby water flowed and a sweet smell wafted through the air. You grabbed my neck and shoved me to sip. I didn’t know how much I drank. Gulps maybe, maybe only wetting my lips. Sure thing is that right there She came and took my arm. It burned when she touched me, and when I looked at her I screamed: it was the skinny girl that I used to imagine when I would look to the candle flame.
Right there I realized that the drink you gave me was only taking out—materializing, better put—all the things I imagined during my moments of lucidity. I turned back to the sink and drank some more. I drank until I felt the liquid started to climb up into my neck. Then I squeezed my eyes shut and got up.
When I opened them again, Julio Cortazar was splashing my face with water. I was in a park near Montparnasse. He was asking me, Arturo, my boy, are you alright? You’re a pig of a drunkard. You’re a pig of a drunkard. He kept saying that, so I was already picturing myself with a pig snout, words transmogrifying into the unmistakable sounds made by the animal who’d made Orwell famous, in another year, in another world.
I got up and through water rivulets going down my face I saw Cortazar walking away, his hands shoved inside his pockets of a brown coat, a cigarette that felt like dripping from his lips, lips made heavy by his bushy beard, and thinking—that, I only suspected—of his axolotl.
I barely had the chance to take a few steps in the Paris that I always wanted to see. The drink that throbbed in my blood was seemingly starting to lose its hallucinogenic properties while I found myself looking at my face in the mirror where you smiled to me a few seconds or a few hundred years ago. I tried the faucets, but the miraculous elixir ran dry, I only got some kind of gurgling through the rusty pipe. How I wished to speak to my remote father, my God. To ask him, hey, you ol’ Cortazar, what is the secret of your writing? To cry and fall to his feet; to kneel in front of him and, through tears and snot, beg him to teach me to write like him so my words would sing like his. Too late, though…
When I returned to the party room, only the flies were still moving there, like flying pumpking seeds, pecking the drink traces from the open mouth of some stranger. You weren’t to be found. I looked for you. I called you out, and kept calling you out in my mind while I was getting out of the apartment, closing the door behind me.
When I got back to my ivory tower, just before putting my leg on the threshold, I swore not to touch these miraculous drinks again, drinks that offer you for a split second the impossible and make you repent afterwards and swear—during your toothaches and while you take a sip of sauerkraut juice—that you’ll never step into the realm of shadows.
Translated into English by Dan BUTUZA