The Hangover

The Hangover

A short story by Pablo Saborío

 

 

 

It takes days to cure oneself of a bad hangover. Especially when you were drinking to annihilate your self. By the second day of recovery you venture to the outside crossing by crowds of strange humans, all dealing with their petty crimes against humanity. Some are sweet-voiced, others are confined to a wheelchair, further down the same street there’s someone eating out of a china-box within a photo booth. Then you sit next to a frisky little bunch in the metro, they’re sipping their beers patiently, almost indifferently, while I experience a resurgence in my desire to drink again, which I had considered dead, at least for the next two weeks. But no! They sip, yes sip and not gulp, their beer, degrading a liquid so awkwardly powerful and intense that it is capable of mounting you on heights hardly reachable by healthy means. They sip and get out on the next stop; I in the meanwhile savagely thirsty and guilty; will I obey the exhortations of this struggling body or should I return, intoxicated, to a realm of divine recklessness?

By midnight I am gulping down my fourth wine, talking, or more accurately, listening to a 50-some Swedish painter, he discusses art, mafia and Ikea. He runs a gallery, his gallery with his naïve art, and sells 80 Euro bottles of Italian wine. He treats me first to red, then white, then red wine again. But I am bored, he speaks in muffled English, he is clumsy and I still feel sick from the alcohol.

I leave the Swede and turn to dark over-crowded streets, the hours careen by me and the beers in my hand evaporate in my mouth. The punks’ dogs stare at me, but I am no threat; not to them at least. In limbo, between melancholy and ecstasy, I buy a bottle of Jägermeister, then stare up, the half-naked moon, two stars as bright as the reflection of the sun on a watery eye.

What happened then is gone, obsolete, erased from the face of the earth. I awake like a victim of an overnight Holocaust: dehydrated, poorly fed, muscles aching, dazed, tired, sick. I don’t attempt to recall the events of the night, too painful to think. I crawl to the bathroom, shirtless, with one sock, my genitals soaked in their own piss. I drink and drink water but the nausea is too deep to be quenched, so the water tawny by a mixture of gastric acids flings out as fast as it was coming in.  I dare look into the mirror and to my feigned surprise there is dried vomit on my hair. I begin to fill the bathtub with boiling water, remove my worn-out sock and sink into the swelling water. Sinking was like a freefall, falling endlessly, disintegrating, as if losing limb after limb, organ after organ, bone after bone,  until I am nothing more than a feeble heart thumping, aching, despairing — this wretched hangover, is all I am thinking of. It will be my prison, my womb of pain, for hours that seem like ongoing déjà-vu’s, but the pain, discomfort and depression are bearable only till nighttime, when a mountain of sleep comes over you but you can’t sleep out of anxiety, out of the fear that you will never wake up again. Right then you promise yourself you will never drink again, a vain promise of course, only because the venom is still in the body but without its transports and sedations; consciousness and the body are momentarily one, in the struggle to heal. Next day, or two or three, past the agony of hangovers, the venom will have a different name and will seduce consciousness to intimate with it, while the body is left alone again to filter and cleanse the body during the recurring hours the mind, enraptured, feels free and invincible, drained no longer by a venom but instead invigorated by an elixir.  

After the long half-awake sinking, throwing up seems like the only immediate relief. So I puke right in the tub, too weak to step out and dry a shaking body. With my feet I release the sock that served as a water plug. I climb over the white surface to reach for a towel, then without a moment to react I keep falling, this time to the ground. My ribs break the fall, a pain that only shyly overshadows the general evil of the hangover.

Food seems like a good idea. Even when appetite is alien to me, I swallow a banana without chewing much of it. I stare outside the window, more windows, more lives each with their subtle discomforts and agonies. I don’t feel jealous or even eager of a healthy lifestyle, the apparent serenity of dull hours seems a terror more strangely inacceptable than my current curse. Movies, dates, books and uninterrupted sleep represent louder hells than the buzzing of an irremediable headache.  

The afternoon sways back and forth like a drunken ship. I am lying down, face up, thoughtless at times and then thoughtful at others. No regrets, no abomination. Just a wait, a slow healing which seems never to come. Hollow thoughts, flashes of memories

was I robbed? The money I have left is astoundingly low, couldn’t have possibly spent that much. Was I robbed? The twinkling raptures of a foregone night, the heights and hymns of eternity, but now, my soul empty and debacle all within me. Had I been robbed in sleep, had I been punished for entering worlds not accessible to animal Man?   

The thought that a Sprite can appease my rolling nausea conjured strength in me to go outside. Big mistake. Day one of a hangover, stay home, keep low. Crossing the street, lights too sharp for eyes so weak, cars and people, children and dogs. Sundays are for those that think the whole world was made for them, they are careless hand-in-hand, while creatures like us are hidden away recovering from our rebellions. A stream of panic overcomes me, what if they hurt me, what if they attack me in my weak state. I stumble as I walk and families pull their children close. I vomit at the entrance of the small shop, but the old man is not visibly offended. He must be one of us or used to be in youth. I pay for the Sprite and tip him for the mess. I run, as fast as I can, home, sweet cave of mine.   

It is normal to feel this way, I keep repeating myself. It is normal and it will go away. The torture comes in waves, both physically and mentally. The best you can do is crumble up in fetus position and wait.  

The dread of night arrives. I could have been sleeping all this time but I refused. I wait till midnight, one, two, the eyelids are heavy from the denial of their function. There is only one last thing I must do. I must take a long crap, eject the putrid contents of my bowels. The trip to the bathroom lasts long as I was nearly defeated by sleep. Short and heavy steps, deep breaths, very slow and laborious heart beats. I squat, the intestines twist and turn and a blob of nondescript matter is sunk.  

Lighter and victorious I can return to bed. The thin sheet serves as a mother, embracing her wretched child. Thoughts are cloudy, random images are appearing, yes, sleep is finally here and tomorrow this will have become a nightmare and no more. The beauty of time! Sinking and disappearing, nearly at the entrance of the first dream, I gasp violently for air and sit up. The first attempt to sleep is never easy. Before actually falling asleep, three or four times this was repeated. Gasping for air as I was drowning in sleep that felt like a cold lake. I could have died, I think, I could have never returned.  

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A man in San José

  (photo by Ryan Moss)

 

 

It may appear imprudent that a story that takes place in a Spanish-speaking city should be told in English. First, and partly, because the English-speaking readers will have a hard time grasping the culture in which the story takes place. Secondly, and conversely, those that can relate to the story are few since the story is narrated in a foreign language. But I will remind the indulgent reader that my situation is a hopeless conundrum. English-speakers constantly visit San José but do not have enough time in the city to experience its routine and tradition. Anglophone foreigners might have come to live permanently in Costa Rica but it is highly likely they have stayed outside the capital due to its ordinariness and its dangerous crime. Likewise those that were unwittingly born in this country have avoided the city because of its pollution, recklessness and delinquency. Finally, those that have actually managed to live in the heart of San José year after year are unlikely candidates to enter this blog and squander a few minutes to the reflections of an (Anglo-phony!) Costa Rican.  I have therefore taken the liberty to entertain only a few at the risk that much of what will be said will be lost in the abysmal gap between dissimilar cultures. Also, it may not be superfluous to add that the message will apply to Anglophone first-world citizens and the English-speaking high-class citizens of Costa Rica, which so eagerly emulate the ideals of foreign societies. 

It is common to step down from the bus and abruptly wake up from your daydreaming as you enter the rowdy streets of San José. Those inevitable reveries that take place while you sit silently on an old American school bus come to an end when the smoke, heat and noise startle you back into reality. The images of the outer world that were streaming like invisible currents in the fabric of your mind become concrete and your attention is no longer floating in careless thoughts. Your vision is attracted to the large enchiladas on your right, the kiosk man selling newspapers and mangos at the corner, the pretty girl with a low-cut skirt, the taxi honking at that young woman, the bus almost crashing into the sidewalk, a big dog followed by three smaller dogs. Your head turns to and fro unless you are already too numb to notice the riot of any ordinary day. Your pace accelerates as you cross the street when the pedestrian light is red or slow down as you inspect the imitation sunglasses in every third store. People cross by you as they speak on the phone, scold their children or speak to themselves in a sometimes delusional manner. The stores’ windows have merchandise in every conceivable quality with prices tags in bold colorful numbers: ¢5,000 for a tank top, ¢800 for lipstick, ¢13500 for wide legged jeans, ¢250 for a pair of earrings, ¢18000 for a new toaster oven. Small cantina bars have brown and white beads-on-a-string hanging from the entrance, palm trees are easily spotted at street corners and if you venture a bit outside the crowded pedestrian streets you may even find trees ripe with mangos, bananas or jocotes. You get on an inner city bus that costs ¢100. When you pay make sure you don’t stand in between the electronic bars that count how many passengers get on and off (a rather recent feature), and then, quietly take your seat and distract yourself with the view of the sidewalks. It was on this Sabana-Cementerio bus that I saw for a quadrillion time the old bespectacled man that takes notes on his clipboard.

He has been working for the bus company for 37 years, out of those he has been in the same position, every weekday, for 35 years; keeping track of how many buses pass by his position, how many passengers were on the bus at each particular time, and making sure the money the bus driver has matches with registered passenger count of the day. It seems the electronic bars are not foolproof, and a good pair of scrupulous eyes is still warranted.  I have seen him so many times I was bound to ask him one day about his job, but as it is common in our country to tattle once we engage in a conversation, I ended up knowing much more than I initially wanted to inquire.   

It may seem strange that a man of sound judgment would choose to work in the same unchallenging job for 35 years. Not unless, we could argue, it was very high paying. But the truth is that a salary of under $325 a month is not very much. Our modern avaricious conscience would rebel against this inhumanity; but our initial repulsion might subdue with what I will now tell. 

It has been the fortune of many of us to never have dealt with the misfortune of poverty. Even if some of us have endured the hardship of unemployment, most of us, I venture to say, have always had enough food on our tables. In this country many have to strive for a decent meal every day and sometimes circumstances are not in favor of poor families that battle just to survive. Our protagonist grew in a similar condition. His mother had to support his whole family because his father had become blind from an accident at a construction site after some deadly chemicals had fallen on his face. Her mother worked in middleclass homes as a maid and on weekends sold knitted sweaters at a street corner in San José. Having four brothers and a sister, they had a very harsh time growing up. One brother ran away when he was twelve, the remaining three had to drop school to help their mother earn a living. Our friend never reached beyond third grade. It was clear from his expression that his early years were tremendously hard, yet I could perceive a certain satisfaction in his eyes. I assume he is now proud that they survived those tumultuous years.   

As a young adult he carried out many different kinds of jobs. He didn’t go too much into detail but he had enough to live on and support his family until the unavoidable crossed his path. He had gone out one night to a salsa/merengue club. Never having a radio or TV at home he grew up unfamiliar with the dexterous moves of Latin dance although he enjoyed greatly listening to the music. (He jiggled his rusty hips, I laughed). He would envy every corrongo male that would sweep women by their dance abilities. That night he was drinking a cold Tropical, a new beer that had just been released in the market by Cuban entrepreneurs, although he hardly had the habit of drinking beer. Eased by the alcohol, he ventured to take out a girl to dance. If it wasn’t for those beers, I would have never asked Yelena out for a dance– he commented. Not very romantic, I know. There’s a common misperception that we Latinos are all desperate romantics. They got married next year and started raising a family. His wife’s father had been working as an administrative director in a bus company and the rest seems logical. 

I didn’t dare to ask him why he settled for that simple position. True, it’s a higher position than being a bus driver but also very monotonous. However, when I was just about to bid him goodbye, in an unusual expansion of lucidity, he reflects on his humble circumstances and pronounces thoughts that have answered my tacit doubts: 

 “No puedo culpar mi familia, mi cultura, mi sociedad, mi país, ni la civilización mundial actual. Mi vida fue la consecuencia de una sencilla decisión: vivir sin la ambición de conocer otros continentes o poseer una abundancia de posesiones. Yo viví así y declaro sin arrepentimiento mi total conformidad con la rutina y singular angostura de mi vida. Me conformo con ser el señor que trabajó 35 años en la misma parada de bus, repitiendo la misma labor día tras día, arruga tras arruga, sin la ambición de buscar algo más que tener la comida en mi hogar mientras veía mis hijos crecer.” 

This can be roughly translated thus: 

I cannot blame my family, my culture, my society, my country, or this modern civilization. My life was the consequence of a simple decision: living without the ambition of knowing other continents or having great material wealth. I lived this way and I affirm without regret my complete conformity with my routine and singularly narrow lifestyle. I’m comfortable being that man that worked for 35 years at the same bus stop, repeating the same activity day after day, wrinkle after wrinkle, without having the ambition to look beyond the meal of each day while I saw my children grow up. 

The end.

Scavenger of the Rare

 

Be careful, o’ solitary wanderer
Of what the night might do to you
-Forgotten proverb

 

(a short fictional narrative)

Under the asphalt of the night when the city streets have become a monotonous geometry of angles and straight lines, where a few strangers roam free in silence and private thought, it was then when the Scavenger of the Rare was struck by an indisputably bitter truth, a truth so bizarre and easily forgotten that none seem to notice it. As all mortal days have it, today was simply a cascade of neglected events (meaning that little or no attention had been paid to the events of another perishing day), the Weight of Time had unstoppably dissolved every single phenomenon of the decaying present into an ambiguous mist of past: the world is burning, slipping away and nobody cares! But to return to this already desultory narrative, the Scavenger of the Rare having spent the whole day seeking among the Fragments of the Impermanent for signs and symbols of a meaningful and trustworthy existence, but had by some unfortunate circumstance stumbled upon quite the opposite evidence. The truth he discovered, perhaps re-discovered for it is easily forgotten, was that…

A brief parenthesis is here peremptorily required. The “truth” that will soon be expounded is by no means easily understood. Millennia of ineffective thinking have putrefied the meaning of the word truth and therefore some elucidation on this matter is necessary. Even though in this day and age faith in the possibility of truth has nearly disappeared, there still remains the concept of truth as a statement made in language that accurately reflects the state of affairs it refers to. A more ambiguous definition is virtually impossible, but a general sense can be rescued from that definition. In other words, Truth is equated to words rightfully employed. But my long conversations with the Scavenger of the Rare and our long (frightfully long) speculations into the nature of truth have convinced me that mankind has been deceived for far too long in this matter and a serious revision is needed in the world of epistemology. However, the Scavenger of the Rare nor myself are at all interested in clarifying human existence, instead I believe we prefer to obscure it. But for the purpose of this short narrative I’ll have to explain the background of the words here employed so as to convey a wider context of meaning.

Words. They are close to being the most elusive phenomena of human existence. Words don’t have a meaning in themselves, I recall the Scavenger once saying. We impart meaning on them by constantly associating them with our perceptions. After long years of repeating words after the same objects of perception we arrive at a stable vocabulary. But when we have a novelty in our perceptions, a never-before experienced feeling or intuition, we are unable to communicate this new experience in terms of an old (and therefore inadequate) language. The truth of the experience precedes the statement of the truth. This is how Scavenger’s experience should be read, we’re reading into his state of mind rather than a statement of his mind.

So to continue… He discovered in himself a truth that made him shudder and nearly vomit in that dismal revelation. The street light was red and he waited rather impatiently for it to change its color so he could cross the street and examine an abandoned shoe on the other side (he had a peculiar pleasure in spending time with the most trivial of human objects). Two cars glided in front of him as he remained magnetized with the sight of that footwear, pondering perhaps the history of its wretched condition. But as the time came closer when the red light would fade out and in its stead a green caricature of a man would magically appear, an uncomfortable sensation sprung at the kernel of his being. In the complexity of an instant: red-light, impatient-waiting, shoe-on-the-other-side, cars-passing-by, breeze-on-the-face, twinkling-bright-stars, quiet-thinking-strangers, parallel-streets, right-angled-corners; in that jumble of sensations that occupy the minutest millisecond, a volcanic revelation took place that challenged his sturdiest notions of human reality. Oh! I wish I would have the ability to fully recall my friend’s eloquent recounting of this episode. Here I can only rescue a few scraps from the tenebrous archives of my memory.

The Scavenger of the Rare approximately said, “It was as if the entire planet had split into two and I was suspended between the two halves, lingering in a dumbfounded state, relentlessly asking myself if I were not dreaming or altogether dead! I conceived it clearly, nay, FELT it lucidly how mistaken we all are. Slowly I recovered my senses to find myself still standing at the edge of the sidewalk. The city, if city I could call it, had transformed itself into an enormous chessboard and every individual walking in their quiet monologue I saw as hollow puppets following invisible commands that the authority of routine had imparted upon them. I understood to the very marrow of my bones how gullible we all are, how we’ve demolished all potential in the human realm by reducing our lives to this civil existence, believing too firmly that we ought to live for this type of civilization, as if human life could only strive in the conditions we now find it. The question of why we find most of us walking on sidewalks, going to work every Monday and talking to ourselves endlessly is most naturally answered by our submission to the authority of tradition, an authority whose power comes from our believing in it. If we didn’t believe in it, it would cease to have control over us.”

The Scavenger uttered such words in terrific excitement. I remember his wild eyes soaring from one end of the room to the other as he practically relived the earlier portion of that significant evening. Before his sudden departure, he added,

“I had to come here and tell you all this for fear that I might forget it tomorrow and return to the sidewalks and crosswalks. I might wake tomorrow and return to the same systematical squandering of time, through barren alleys and among neglected benches under clouded skies. But since the revelation, I feel these, also, to be utterly meaningless activities even if they remain outside the stock of normality. No matter what activity I choose for my life I will make it a tradition and inevitably become a slave to it. I would care less if a lightning struck me dead right now. Yet in discovering this so-called truth there is one reason that still makes me laugh in despair and it is this: how little is solved with the discovery of our mental slavery.”

In haste he disappeared from my sight and left me in a prolonged state of silent bafflement. It has been a few weeks since I last saw my friend, the Scavenger of the Rare, yet I’ve kept a rigorous watch on the weather conditions of our locality and fortunately there have been no electrical storms since his disappearance.

The Murderer

There was something dead serious about his eyes. He was staring at his reflection on the rearview mirror and his grave countenance sparked a jocular internal laugh. His eyes were revealing the truth, he would soon murder someone. Yes, he was dead serious about his crime. A deathly stare revealed his intentions but no one was around to take warning. With trepidation he awaited the closing hour. The blazing stars where his only companions as the retreating twilight unleashed the nightly spectacle. With one hand on the driving wheel and the other on his right thigh gently caressing the firearm through his worn jeans. Two in the chest and one in the skull, he speculated. Perhaps two in the skull and one in the heart, he concluded. How delicate the whole situation was, how easily it could all go wrong. But his mind was set and he was going to terminate his victim and relish in the sight of his last living breath.

The night was turning cold. He could sense the bloodless air acquiring his own ghastly evil as it became increasingly cold. The fibers of his muscles presented a quivering tension, a display revealing both excitement and loathsome anticipation. He wanted it to be over, to dissolve the burden of impatience that was taking over his whole spirit. Yet the most severe vexation to exterminate was the life of his victim. The thought of him being still alive was more unbearable than the thought of committing the homicide. His impatience grew with the knowledge that his victim had taken pleasure in his most precious jewel. One week ago they were still friends. Now, his victim had become the most abominable monster to be wiped out of this earth.

His gaze is fixed on a hollow void in front of him. He is picturing the agony he is going to inflict on his despised friend. The scene becomes very clear. His friend opens the front door of his house as he makes his regular Saturday night visit to the video store. After a short five minute walk he will catch up with him and salute him in the most conventional manner. He’ll feign surprise in the apparent coincidence that both are on the way to the video store at the same time. They will discuss the past week’s work anecdotes as they approach the store. There is a long lonely alley one can go through before you reach Luvall St., where the video store is located. While walking through the alley he will voluntarily drop his mobile phone and make his friend stop while he picks it up. He can visualize the expression of impatience in his friend’s face, he knows him too well. He doesn’t want to leave their daughters at home alone for too long. The visit to the store does not take more than twenty minutes. Their daughters are obediently watching cartoons on the TV and nothing has ever happened in this short lapse of time as he walks to the video store. That is why he is eager to return as soon as possible. He sees himself bending down to pick up the phone with his left hand while his right hand reaches for the gun. As he rises he points his gun straight into his friends face, oh the grisly shock on his face, the interminable second or two before he pulls the trigger and the last remnants of his friend’s life come to an end. He will leave the body there and return to his car. He will exhale in an avalanche of relief. He will clean the firearm and will make sure to give it a good bargain price next Monday in his firearm store. He will change the ammunition so it will not match with the bullets in the body. After concealing the weapon he will make his way to his friend’s house to pick up his daughter. He will ring the door bell and the girls will obediently open the door. He will come in and wait for his friend’s return. After an hour wait he will call his friend’s wife and let her know that he has to leave and urges her to come back to watch her daughter. As she arrives they will decide to drive to the video store to look for him but since no clue of him is to appear they call the police. He will dismiss himself on account of an obliging dinner with his wife. He will make his way back home and peacefully have dinner with his wife and daughter, if she still has an appetite. The police will find the body and he will be interrogated. He’ll have an infallible alibi, first he was with his wife and then with the children and finally with his friend’s wife. The weapon will be disposed of in the hands of an inadvertent client, a gun model extremely popular these days. His eyes focus back on reality as he sees from afar the door opening slowly. The hour has come.

He steps out of his car and walks hastily towards his friend. As he draws near he sees the back of his head, a delicate egg shell that will soon be smashed to pieces. That pretty white shirt shortly will be dappled by the draining crimson fluid that will announce his death. A slight emetic paroxysm takes place but he retains the vomit from coming out of his mouth and swallows it back again. He calls out his friend’s name and he looks back in astonishment. They greet each other naturally without stopping and they both state their common objective of renting a movie. Scrupulously he examines his friend’s face, those twisted perverted eyes, the smile of a living daemon, the smell of a psychopath, a ruthless child molester. A sharp injection of sadness takes hold of him as he imagines his poor daughter being assaulted by this gruesome creature. He barely keeps his face straight as he manages to continue the casual conversation. They discuss the happenings at work this last week.

The air is so cold mist bursts out in the articulation of each syllable. His friend is particularly excited in the narration of his last sexual encounter with his new secretary. He listens this time with repulsion to what was once a normal topic of discussion. They approach the narrow alley and enter it… straight into the dungeon, he thought. The shadowy darkness engulfs them and they walk in a steady pace. He spots an empty canister at midpoint, the point, he intuitively assesses, is the decisive place for the murder. He grips his phone slyly and as they pass the canister he drops it with diffidence. An eerie echo resounds on the paint-peeling walls. They both stop as he bends down to pick his phone. His friend kneels down as well to help him but he rejects the help with an intimidating shriek. His right hand firmly holds the grip of the gun. He raises his torso almost in a theatrical fashion and swiftly takes out the gun and points it to his former friend’s face. Less than a second has passed and his whole vision turns pale white as if all his blood has gone to his feet. The second is complete and in lieu of a shattering gunpowder explosion only a nervous laugh is heard and a cowardly response comes as his resolution broke down, ‘This is my new gun to keep my family safe, how do you like it?’. His friend retorts, ‘I’d like it better if it were pointed some other direction.’ In an attempt to not arouse any suspicion of his initial intentions he asserts there are no bullets in. They continue with their walk and reach the store.

On his way back home with his daughter he is overcome by a relentless guilt, a penetrating pain as he could not fulfill his revenge. They arrive home and have a dinner in impervious silence, the chewing sounds of meat, peas and tomatoes perform a beastly symphony in the dining room. He excuses himself as soon as he is done and leaves his house pretending he was given the wrong film he rented. He walked this time towards the store, semi-consciously aware that he will pass by the house of his degenerate friend. He forges images of blood and slaughter in his head but through these images a weakness is felt, he acknowledges he has not the heart to become a murderer. He passes the house and walks towards the gloomy alley. His thoughts are racing in immeasurable speed, what to be done?

He halts near the empty canister as a dog is seen upfront. He sees the helpless animal staring at him in expectation of a kindly gesture. He puts his hands on his waist and realizes he still has the gun in his pocket. He takes it out and presses it to his forehead. All the troubles of his life seem to coalesce in this single instant and then, without hesitation, he holds the firearm, points, and shoots the dog between its eyes. A cat flees the scene and the dog falls to the ground like a sack of flesh. The man comes near it and to his brutal surprise he introduces his finger in the dog’s skull, and as if indulging the finger in a sweep of whip cream, he smells the canine blood and sucks his finger with dauntless delight.

That evening he went to bed and twirled around for hours without end. He went to bed with the conscience of a murderer. And he very well knew it wouldn’t be his last.

The irrelevant story of Mr. Poland

 

 

After a short visit to Stockholm I brought back with me a surprising notebook. I found it in an old antique store that would sell old rotten books among the normal antiques you find in such stores. I examined this brown tarnished chest which contained books on numerous subjects but since I completely lack an understanding of the Swedish language little was of use for me. I found a couple of English books but none that actually caught my attention. Not until I found on the bottom this hard cover notebook which at first I thought it was an ordinary book. It turned out to be a diary. From long ago, the exact dates are not made evident in the writings I’ve been perusing so far. The diary belongs to a woman named Valerie Woolstand. I purchased this item for a mere 18 Krona ($2.50US). The diary itself was not very interesting but I found something in it that was quite striking. In the middle pages of this notebook I found a series of papers that seemed to be part of a confession. But this confession was not written by Valerie. It was written by some eerie individual named Mr. Poland. I was completely entranced when I read his words. He seemed to be endowed with a very insightful nature. His confession had been lying undisclosed in this chest since time immemorial and it is likely that it had only been read until now by Valerie. How this diary reached this chest in Stockholm still baffles my imagination. I have taken the liberty to transcribe of what’s left of his confession and post it here so that it reaches a wider audience, a larger ear in the words of Mr. Poland. And without further ado, I most candidly present what I have personally titled, The irrelevant story of Mr. Poland.

Dear unknown reader,

My name is Alan Edward Poland. I’m an ordinary bank clerk in an average bank called T.A.Bank. I have been employed for the last seven years, to be precise since February 9th, 19** (Mr. Poland seems to have voluntarily crossed out the last two digits). I come into work every morning at 8:45 wearing my humdrum long-sleeved white shirt and an opaque red tie. I leave the bank at 5:07 in the afternoon, as I walk out I buy a small bag of almonds which I thoroughly enjoy on my short walk home. I live alone, I am always alone. The monotony that rules my weekdays is not worth mentioning. The only way that I can sustain the strain of these dull repetitions is by practicing an internal hobby I haven’t confessed to anyone until now.

I have decided to write down a sort of confession. I’ve been trapped for so long in my mind that I desperately was requiring a route of escape. I must confess to someone, anyone the weird habits that take place in my mind. In these papers I intend to provide a fossilized record of the mental wanderings that tear apart the delicate fabric of a static reality. I have realised that on the external level I am an absolutely normal individual. Yet, when it comes to the games I play inside my head I am a monster, an undefinable ***** as the Russians say. But first I want to tell you a little about myself, of what I do, of what I am. For some day, I hope, my story won’t be buried in the depths of time’s oblivion and in this hope I long for a larger ear to carefully listen to these delusions that befog my soul. I want to be more than this trite echo inside the walls of my isolation. I want to be known before the impervious shadow of death takes hold of me. And I am afraid this confession have to begin now before it is too late.

I am a banker. I came to this business as a result of extreme need. A friend of my deceased father worked here as a manager and offered me the humble position of a clerk. I had no difficulty in learning all that was pertinent to this business and have worked since the first day with a kind of conformity, performing what is necessary in the most efficient manner without exceeding my colleagues. I didn’t want to rise in this business. I just needed the monetary income for personal survival. I earn enough to live in a small flat downtown and manage the minimal luxuries of a low-middle class subsistence. I have been in charge of making certain that people’s money go into their accounts and withdrawals are delivered to rightful owners. The work is so easy I can do it without the aid of thought which gave this faculty enough leisure to travel other lands.

During the weekends I spend my time quietly at home. I spend most mornings and afternoons reading Russian novels which have with fascinating power defeated all intrusion of boredom on my Saturdays and Sundays. On Sunday nights I share a couple of hours with Mr. Rometley next door, an old and friendly man. We play chess together and don’t communicate more than a handful of words when we are engaged in this activity. I have never been able to defeat him in this game but the illusion that I will win next time makes me return to his flat flawlessly every Sunday evening. We got into this habit about four years ago. As I was walking out one afternoon to the bookstore I held open the downstairs main door for him as he came in carrying a number of items from the store. He shyly asked me for help and I thoughtlessly consented in helping him with some paper bags that were filled with vegetables and bottles of milk. As we entered his flat I surveyed his living room’s walls and found nothing but Oriental paintings that to this day I have not inquired of their meaning or origin. I settled the bags on the table and the kind old man offered a glass of brandy as a reward for my ‘laborious efforts’. I naturally accepted this gentle gesture and sat with Mr. Rometley at first in absolute silence but then we engaged in a conventional conversation. I lend my ear to this aging man and he went endlessly on subjects which now have left no trace in my memory. When my drink was finished I was offered another one but turned down the offer. I am of a delicate stomach and was already feeling unrestrained by the brandy. As I walked towards the door I collided with a small table knocking down a pawn and a knight from his chess board. I immediately apologized for such a careless accident and with intention to return the pieces to their corresponding position. However I noticed the pieces on the board were not in their original starting position, they were in the middle of a game. Mr. Rometley let go an audible sigh and told me not to mind the incident. As it turns out he had been playing that game by himself for over two months. The only way I could repay him was by offering him a real breathing opponent. He cheerfully consented and my short visits have not stopped since that long gone Sunday.

I comfortably sit on my chair as I assist our customers with their several transactions. I provoke on my lips a courteous smile as they approach the counter. There are many clients I deal with throughout the week. But there are a few that regularly come and I recognise and remember them. There is the case of Mr. A*****, who comes every Monday at noon with ?150 to be deposited ‘straight into my account Mr. Poland.’ He wears a full business suit and the only noticeable difference on him each Monday is his necktie colour. He is of a very confident character and speaks with a tone of superb authority. All his moves are carefully calculated and leaves nothing to chance. He does not always come up to my window. He consciously selects a different clerk each week so I only get to attend him once a month. But I immediately notice when he comes into the bank each Monday at the same time. He has wide eyebrows, a handsome pointed nose and silky black hair. He must be married but still does not have children. He is too involved in his financial business and his wife most suffer from anguishing solitude in their house. He provides every material good to her but he has not the ability to show her some tenderness. Her affection is lost, evaporating daily as she tortures herself with the thought that she married the wrong man. Mr. A***** has no clue that his wife has eyes for other men. They utterly enjoy the great pleasures of higher culture, the theater, fine dinners while attending to the marvels of the opera. His wife is needy and enjoys courting with her husband’s business associates. She wants a child soon to fill up the hollowness of her amorous life. It will come to a point when Mr. A***** will be on his way to becoming a father or maltreating his wife for her irreversible lust. This is, I imagine, Mr. A’s life.

I remember not too long ago I set myself to visit the outsides of this city. There is a nice park called Lingering Heights for it has a nice hill that allows the viewer to have a breathtaking view of the sunset. This initiative was born out of a few lines I read out of a novel by Kraskowsky. I remember the lines perfectly, “There in the tremendous heights of her wretched soul, Natasha powerlessly saw the sun setting in the distance, gliding down on the canvas of the sky both the star and her dreams faded slowly like so many other times; but this time she knew, better than anyone, if she ever was again to see the sun rise from its daily grave she will then have become a woman.” These words had so much meaning to me, they pointed to the power of change and the dispiriting law that we must let go in order to grow. I sat there reading; through the clouds the round disk of fire that consumed Natasha started slowly receding. But it did not consume me, it sunk rather quickly and the enveloping darkness soon took over. I returned home in a dejected state. I couldn’t see more in that motion. It was merely a sunset, beautiful as it was, only a sunset.

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There is naturally the case of Mr. R*******. He is of a highly nervous disposition. He dresses casually whenever he makes a stop at the bank. In his case it is more fortuity than choice which brings him to my window for more than half of his visits. He is always withdrawing different amounts of money. His bank account balance is considerable which makes me think he has inherited a great fortune from a close relative. He comes up to my window and hardly notices who he is dealing with. He presents the withdrawal form and his identification. He is continuously pressing and covering his pustular blisters that enigmatically cover his face at such a late age of his life. His evident embarrassment for these natural malformations of the skin makes them the more conspicuous, he is unaware that the best way to hide a thing is to not hide it at all. There is always a mild stink of alcohol in his breath. He must drink on a daily basis in one of those wooden pubs uptown. He is careless about his money and therefore leads a life of debauchery. He must have been an orphan from a very early age. His education was an uncle’s responsibility and he was given nothing but the best available in our day. His crooked lip suggests to me he battled with Greek and Latin in his early days of childhood. He seems very intelligent but does not see a valuable application to put it into use. He finds comfort in his familiar festive environment. There he can display his wit without any reserve and his companions of lower education venerate him and treat him with respect. I fancy he must have a very light conscience and this will be his life-style to the last of his days. He has already left several women pregnant but rejects all sense of duty because he has no family values. After abandoning school his life lost all trace of demand and he indulged himself in activities which require no serious purpose. He lives in a sloppy but luxurious flat and has little concerns about its appearance. The only thing that really disturbs his mind is the thought of a painful death. He worries incessantly of having a heart seizure one of these days. He prays every night to a god he does not firmly believe in to yield him a tranquil death.

I own a dark brown velvety couch. It belonged to my parents when they were both alive. I sit here patiently during the weekends. It serves as a good place to sit and read for long hours at a time. And when the reading is interrupted by some thinking it serves equally as a good place to do that. My fantastic imaginations take place every day but they usually take place only when I’m at work. When I return home I prepare dinner and read the newspaper and my mind is as blank as my bathtub. But there has been one person that keeps coming to my mind recently. One client’s life I cannot fancy thoroughly. I have created more than a hundred versions of her history but I cannot be satisfied with any one of them…

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A new client came in today. He was of an ardent temperament. He rushed in with over ?1,500 and literary commanded me to deposit them as fast as humanly it is possible. I started wondering about this life but suddenly Ms. W******** came into the bank. She seemed distressed but waited patiently in queue until she came up to my window. She came with her usual ?25 to be deposited in her account. She always brought that amount with her but she sometimes comes twice a day, once I recall she came four times in a single day. Her visits were very spontaneous. I could not delineate any particular order or coherence to her visits. This puzzled me to a great extent. I imagined she was a nurse at first. Then I thought she was a drug dealer. But why always the same amount? She is in her mid-thirties. She’s sufficiently attractive to draw attention from my male colleagues every time she comes in, even one of my female associates seems to be infatuated with her. Personally I find her not to be in the least my type of woman but I admire her physical beauty. She is immoderately polite and has the rare gift of looking straight into people’s eyes when she speaks. Her tone of voice is sweet and her long undulated hair reminds me of Botticelli’s Venus. She handed her twenty five pounds and I assured her they will invariably end up in her account in a matter of minutes. She seemed pleased and as she was leaving I felt an unstoppable urge to ask her… what? I returned home today troubled by Ms. W’s unfathomable identity. I feel drained in my attempt to satisfy my imagination with a reasonable account of her life. What is it that confounds me each week even more? I get to see her sometimes three times a week, sometimes as much as ten times a week. Every time she comes in I examine her from head to toes in hope of finding some minuscule clue to deduce her business in life.

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I am a sensible man and can recognise this is growing to be a compulsive obsession. I have seemed to lost all tranquility and stability of mind. My recent weekends have lost their stable routine, I can no longer read my books. I’ve even missed a couple of chess games with Mr. Rometley which makes him knock on my door as he is worried something has happened to me. The muscle under my right eyebrow is having involuntary spasms which are very disturbing. I only hope, my dear reader, that when this is read (if it will be read at all) it’d be known that I lead a normal and acceptable existence.

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Dear reader, I am at the bottom of my pit. I was relieved from my duties two days ago because I mistreated a customer. I feel insecure, no longer can I trust my actions. I have become a threat to my fellow countrymen. My mind is flooded with thoughts of violence and revolt. I cannot give any justification for my behaviour two days ago. I saw Ms. W******** coming into the bank and was convinced that day I could figure out her background. An old gentleman cut into the queue which provoked Ms. W to switch to another window. I was immeasurably irritated and insulted the poor old gentlemen to such an audible extent that my employer jumped out of his leather seat. For the last forty hours I have been unable to sleep and feel incapable of going out to the streets. I may hurt someone. I might have become crazy but that doesn’t mean I’ve lost forethought. I’ve recognised how much danger I am to my fellow human being. And, yes, yes, yes, the unswerving wave of death will conquer me and will leave me sink to the bottom of its abyss.

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I have read this letter so many times with unfettered fascination. I was unsure if I should take every word to be literal or if it was perhaps just a fictitious creation by Valerie. But in the process of transcribing the letter I was reading more through Valerie’s diary and found on the last written page the clarifying solution to the mysterious character of this dramatic confession and its uncanny connection with Valerie herself.

Valerie’s diary starts in the following manner:

” Dear diary,

This is an attempt to note down the random events of my life. I am 33 years old and have recently ended up in the most extraordinary of occupations. I initially started as a makeup artist for actors in theatrical performances but after failing to acquire a decent salary in this business I was presented with a stunning opportunity. My long lost cousin Charles works in a morgue. He sent me a letter two weeks ago inquiring whether I’d be interested in taking care of the corpses’ face makeup before they were taken for the funeral and burial processions. I was undoubtedly shocked to think I could do such an atrocious thing. But my career was leading nowhere so I ended accepting the job. Especially since it had such a high pay, I would get paid ?20 immediately after I finished with each corpse. At first the work was challenging, it was hard to handle the idle stare of these morbid bodies. But with time I became better at maintaining my poise and became quite able of bestowing a life-like appearance to these faces. My work has been tremendously appreciated to such a point that I received a 25 percent increase of salary that is helping me save up for the trip I have always fantasised of. ”

On the last written page the following words make this entire situation clear and yet heartbreaking. I quote:

“Dear diary,

It has been a long time since I write anything about the people I work with. It has become routine for the last two years and I am no longer surprised by what I see. But today something quite out of the ordinary happened. I was delivered the young body of a banker. He committed suicide by hanging himself,  I was told. They needed to bury him in incredible haste since his body was beginning to rot. I began my work as fast as possible. It then dawned on me that I had known this person. I had seen him nearly seven days ago, on Monday I believe, at my bank and he had gotten into trouble because he offended a client. I remember this young quiet man. He was kind and of a calm disposition. There was something always about his eyes. He seemed to be so far away and yet he always assisted me without any problems. While experiencing these recollections I began to blush his cheeks. I had almost completed all of his face but something didn’t seem right. I knew how this person looked like while being alive and I could see where I had gone wrong. It was the eyes. I decided to paint the upper rim of his eyelids with a touch of light blue to bring some life into those pale lost eyes. I’ve always believed blue to be the colour of faded dreams and lonely hearts. The body was taken moments afterwards but I suddenly noticed something fell on the floor as he was taken away. I came closer to examine it and it was a series of papers tightly folded together. I opened them and they revealed a letter addressed to nobody. I felt an arresting curiosity and took these papers home. I still have them with me and will read them tomorrow after I get some rest. I’m too anxious for the day of my dreamed trip is drawing near.”

The diary ends abruptly here and reasons lack here to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion. However, it is clear how astonishing these events are and how fate has a humoristic method of linking the lives of people. And poor young Mr. Poland left life without ever solving the mystery of his enchanting Ms. Woolstand.