Skyscrapers – Alejandro Zambra | New Yorker

“Do we understand each other?”

I didn’t hear what he said, or just heard the supposed music of his voice.

I said, “I wasn’t listening.”

“What or what?”

“I lost my attention.”

He walked out with a few more words, poorly faking what was left of his patience. I started yelling at him. I don’t know what I yelled at, but he just stared at me unfazed, like a politician or a dead man.

“Let’s not exaggerate,” he interrupted. “You overreact, you always do this. I left, it’s over. In the US, kids leave the house much earlier. You’ll be considered a late bloomer there. And I’m glad I now have another room in the house. I’ll put a big TV on.” There so I can stay up until five in the morning watching movies.”

I got to Schuster’s class late again. I didn’t feel like going, but I thought maybe I’d run into you. You are not there. There were hardly anyone, because the class was being taught by the TA, who didn’t smoke a single cigarette throughout the session. It was a different kind of class and it was really good, full of ideas that sounded new. I remember we read some parts of Martin Adan’s “The Cardboard House”, and Luis Omar Cáceres’ poem, whose first lines are etched instantly into my memory, as if I’ve known them forever: the road is dead / And our transformable reflection licks its ghost / With a stunned tongue. . . “

Zachary Kanin cartoon

Perhaps I walked a few blocks to the beat of that poem, skipped the curriculum again and headed straight for Nonwa Square. I wanted to talk to Miguel, although when I got to Mad Toy I realized what I really wanted was to talk to you. I asked Miguel if I was at the bookstore, and he said no. I gave him a full summary of my news. He listened intently, then said to me, “You’ll be fine.”

Ask for details and lots of details. He asked me if I needed anything, money, anything else.

I told him, “What I need is work.”

“Well, I can’t give you a job,” he said. “I almost don’t have one. We’re going to close — it’s pretty much for sure.”


“In a couple of months, if we are lucky. We will try to hold out until Christmas, but it will be difficult.”

“Damn, that’s awful.”

“So we can’t hire you.”

“Of course true.”

The fantasy of working in Mad Toy was a panacea for everything for me, but at that moment I wasn’t even thinking about my impending poverty. Instead, I was heartbroken at the thought that the place had been emptied, and certainly taken over by a stupid coffee shop or hair salon. On one of the shelves I found “Defense of the Idol”, the only book Luis Omar Caceres ever published, and I read each poem in it several times. Occasionally Miguel would say something and I answered, and at times it was like an intermittent friendly dialogue between two strangers sitting together by chance in the doctor’s waiting room or in a waking state. But when I was about to leave, he handed me a paper with the phone numbers of ten people written on it who might be able to give me a job of some sort: as a Latin teacher, teacher, house sitter, assistant editorial assistant.

“I will let my hair grow in solidarity with you,” he told me as we hugged goodbye.

I bought some Dobladetas and four slices of cheese and walked toward my new home thinking of the empty library, but also imagining another version of myself, walking down an unknown street in New York with short hair and a stunned expression. I imagined myself as a small tree, a young, newly pruned tree that wants to stretch and reach the sun so that it grows more. That’s what I was thinking when I noticed you were there, almost stepping on my heels, with your dog.

“We’ve been following you for several blocks. He’s chasing you.”

I didn’t believe you, but then I felt like, yeah, you’ve been close to me for a while.

“How is that?”

“I wanted you to meet Flush.”

Flush was a little black dumber with very wet eyes, he had a little sausage, and he was moving arrogantly, seeming to be out of the world. At first, she seemed to limp, but then I thought she was decorating her steps with timid little leaps. You talked to me about “Flush”, a book by Virginia Woolf named after your dog, and you gave me a copy of “The Subterraneans”, a Jack Kerouac novel I had never heard of, and I read it shortly afterwards, and I still reread it every two or three years Years, excited to experience the warm quake of that ending again, one of the best quakes I’ve ever read.

We got to a building and sat on the stairs. I made cheese sandwiches, and the dog ate one too. Everything has changed drastically in just one week, and I tried to explain everything to you. But to do so, I had to tell you the story of my whole life, which was not so eventful, though I probably thought at the time that it was. I told you everything, or almost everything. I spoke for about two hours, and it was almost dark when I ran out of words and waited for your words that never came.

“Let’s go inside. It’s a little cold.” That’s all I said.

The owner of the house was with some tourists – Canadians I think – who were going to rent out the other bedrooms; She and her daughters slept in the living room, in sleeping bags. We were offered some wine, but we went to my room instead. You sprawled out on the mattress casually, as if you lived there. Lie Flush at your feet and bite her leash until you take it off. I tried to straighten the room a little; I didn’t have time to get a bookshelf, and she was still in the trash bags, and so did my clothes.

The light from a distant street lamp was flickering dimly through the window. I watched you speak, your lips barely moving. You talked about your dead mother and the movies she and your dad used to watch that you now watched with him — “Gabriella loved that part,” your dad was interfering with enthusiasm that was touching and painful to you. Then she talked about insomnia, the medications you take for insomnia, and a novel about insomnia that I wanted to write. And around the time I got food poisoning from shellfish in Bellohio. And about your favorite songs, trees, birds, and a curious theory on how to make the perfect salad. And four or five people you hated — high school classmates, I think, and an ex-boyfriend. I remember thinking these people didn’t deserve your hate or anyone else’s, but I didn’t say that. I also remember feeling a sudden, intense happiness that she didn’t hate me. Once, out of nowhere, I burst into tears, and tried to console you.

“It’s just, your dad makes me so angry,” I said.

“Why are you crying? Because of my father?” I asked.

“I don’t know. You said I don’t cry because of it, I’m not sad.” I never cry over anything in particular. I just used to cry. I’m with tears.”

“Me too.”

“I’m lying. I cry because I pretend all the time. I’m not.”

“I like how you are. Although I don’t know what you like. I also pretend all the time. With you and everyone else.”


Then came a long, important and pleasant silence. Like someone who saves a shopping list, I thought about the details of our conversation, so as not to forget anything.

“Do you think your father will read the letter?” She asked me then.

I had just told you about the letter, and yet I felt as if this part of the conversation had been left behind for good; It was difficult for me to return to this void. I also felt as if the meeting with my father was far in the past, but I tried to answer honestly: I thought he had already read the letter, but he lied and said that he did not read it.

I said, “Yes, he read it, I’m sure of it.”

Squirting and snoring spread. I went to the bathroom, and when I got back, I jumped on the bed again. Ten seconds later, as if to remember something urgent, I got up and turned on the light and began to take my books out of the bags one by one. Almost without looking at them, they piled up like constellations.

“This is your New York,” she told me then. “Look, these are the buildings in Manhattan, the skyscrapers.”

We stacked books in bobbing, replicas of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the Twin Towers, which were still standing at the time. We hadn’t kissed yet, hadn’t slept together yet, and didn’t know anything for sure about the future. Perhaps you hunch or imagine that we will spend a lot of time together, several years, maybe our whole life. But I did not doubt that those years would be pleasant, and exciting, and bitter, and that decades would follow during which we knew nothing of each other, until the moment when it seemed possible, and conceivably, that we might tell a story—that is, a story, this story—and erase it from you. . That night, I was completely inerasable. And no thought of the future really mattered to us as we used my books as bricks to imitate those vast, majestic, cold, distant, absurd, and beautiful buildings. ♦

(Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell).

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