The Clouds - EXCERPT
Around 7:00, a little dazed from the heat and his overly long nap, [Pinchón] leaves to do some shopping in the neighborhood, but after dallying in a wine shop, selecting bottles of white for the coming days, he finds himself feeling refreshed, clean, and perfectly content, passing back through the blue evening air down stifling, deserted streets, and returns to his empty house. As soon as he enters, he goes to shower, dries himself gently, patting the towel over his skin, as one dabs blotting paper over lines of fresh ink, never rubbing; then he puts on only a clean pair of shorts. He has a light dinner—a slice of ham, a few tomatoes, a nugget of cheese, and mineral water—but when he sits down at the computer, starting it up and inserting the dìsket to read out its contents on the screen, he thinks the better of it and makes his way to the refrigerator. He returns with a big, white crockery mug of cherries, sets it on his desk within reach of his left hand, amid the mess of pens, pencils, lighters, and cigarette packs, and an ashtray of heavy, dark green glass. He begins to read the text marching down the screen, and though he lifts the cherries to his mouth, one by one, without looking, the taste, at once sweet and tart, conjures vivid little red globes in his mind as if the flavor and feeling they’re about to produce on his tongue make a detour through his eyes, or through memory, before arriving in his brain. Large, meaty, cold, gloriously firm and red, by chance the first he’s gotten, the reality is that although they’ve been flourishing, the month of July is flying by, and, as much as he hopes otherwise, they are the last cherries of summer. And nothing reassures Pichón that once this black, interminable summer has passed, they’ll return again with that same capricious grace, emerging from nothing into the light of day.
Rivers swollen to excess, an unexpected summer, and that most-peculiar cargo: With the perspective of time and distance, it could be summed up thusly to explain the paradoxical difficulty of crossing the plain, our hundred leagues of troubles.
That arduous, protracted voyage took place, as if I could forget, in the August of 1804. On the first of that month, we set out for Buenos Aires during a terrible freeze, horseshoes cracking at blades of hoarfrost, a blue-tinged pink in the dawn, but within a few short days we found ourselves embroiled in a summer as squalid as it was cruel.
We made progress ten times faster on the trek from Buenos Aires to the city, Santa Fé, than we did on the return journey, though there were just four of us on horseback that time, and despite countless obstacles, the cold always tormenting us even in full sunlight. And so this sudden onset of sweltering heat was doubly confounding, both for its great intensity and for its unseasonable arrival, contradicting the laws of nature and the order of the seasons. How little nature takes our plans into account; she proved insolent, opposing the laws that contain her, with that strange heat in the depths of one of the bleakest winters the region, according to numerous testimonials, had suffered. That unwholesome “summer,” which blossomed into a sham spring only to be obliterated a few days later, unleashed an anomalous chain of seasons marching in hurried disarray, all in the space of a month. But Osuna, the man who guided us to the city and who led us, in a large convoy this time, back to Buenos Aires, kept saying that once in a while a mid-August dry spell like this would set in, anticipating the Santa Rosa storms on the thirtieth. Suffice it to say, he was right as always, and precisely on the thirtieth, some days before we reached our destination, the predicted storm descended to crown our parade of hardships—though it also helped to extricate us from a most precarious situation.
But I am getting ahead of the facts and, perhaps, out of consideration for the possible reader, decades from now, into whose hands this memoir might someday fall, it would behoove me to introduce myself: I am Dr. Real, specialist of those afflictions not of the body, but of the mind and soul. A native of Bajada Grande del Paraná, I was born and raised in those treacherous northern hills where the great river’s ceaseless red current has its source. I learned my letters under the Franciscans, but when I reached the age for a young man to delve into his studies, my parents thought Madrid preferable to anywhere else as the capital of knowledge; this can be accounted for by the fact that they were Castilian, and hoped the tumult dividing France—a commotion which had shaken Europe for the past six or seven years—would not reach the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares. Unlike my parents, I was drawn to that tumult, and, given my growing interest in diseases of the mind, when I caught wind that Salpetrière Hospital was loosing its madmen, I resolved to continue my studies amid the frays of Paris rather than the sleepy cloisters of Alcalá. As happens so often throughout history, the last decade of the previous century had been tumultuous; like all parents, mine sought to educate me at the margins of that tumult, and, like all young people, I sensed that it was in that very tumult where my life was to begin.