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« Historias que me cuento (part 2) | Main | Monsieur Hire »

Historias que me cuento (part 1)

The first part of a work ("Stories I tell myself") by this Argentine. You can read the original as part of this collection.

I tell myself stories when I sleep alone, when the bed seems bigger and colder than it really is; but I also tell myself stories when Niagara is there and she falls asleep between indulgent murmurs, almost as if she too were telling a story. More than once I've wanted to wake her up and find out what this story is (yet it is only a sleepy murmur and in no way a story); but Niagara always comes home from work so tired that it would hardly be fair or becoming to wake her just as she falls asleep, just as she seems filled to the brim, lost in her perfumed and murmuring shell. So I let her sleep and tell myself stories, just like those days when she works the graveyard shift and I sleep alone in this brutally enormous bed.

The stories I tell myself are any old thing but almost always feature me in the lead role, a type of Buenos Aires Walter Mitty who imagines himself in anomalous or stupid situations, or through intense and belabored dramatics whereby the listener might amuse himself on melodrama or affectedness or humor deliberately inserted by the narrator. Why should Walter Mitty also have a Hyde aspect? Because English literature has wreaked havoc on his unconscious and his stories are almost always born to him from the learning of books, armed with an equally imaginary imprint. The very idea of writing down the stories I tell myself before falling asleep seems to me inconceivable the next morning  and anyway, a man should have his secret luxuries, his silent squanderings, things from which others will profit until there is nothing left. And there is also the superstition that I have always told myself, that if I were able to write down any of my stories, that story would be the last for a reason that escapes me now but which may have to do with notions of transgression or punishment. Therefore, no: it is impossible to imagine myself waiting for sleep next to Niagara or by myself without being able to tell myself a story, having stupidly to count sheep or, even worse, recall my workdays that were scarcely memorable.

Everything depends on the humor of the moment because it would never occur to me to choose a certain type of story. Hardly would I or we have turned off the light then I would enter into that very second and beautiful cape of night atop my lids. The story is there, an almost always provocative beginning. This could be an empty street with a car approaching from a great distance; the face of Marcelo Macías as he learns that he has been promoted  until that moment an almost inconceivable action given his incompetence; or simply a word or sound repeated five or ten times from which the initial image of the story begins to emerge. Occasionally I am amazed that after an episode that may be termed bureaucratic, the following night yields a story either erotic or sports-related. Surely I am imaginative even if it's only evident right before I fall asleep; yet I do not cease to be amazed at my unpredictably varied and rich repertoire. Dilia, for example, why did Dilia have to appear in that story and precisely in that story when Dilia was not a women who in any way could be linked to such a story? Why Dilia?

But I decided a while ago that I would not ask why Dilia, why Trans-Siberian, why Muhammad Ali, or why to any of the scenes adopted by the stories I tell myself. If I remember Dilia at this time already outside of the story, it is because of other things that were also there and are now also outside, because of something that is no longer the story and, perhaps for this reason, that obliges me to do what I would not have wanted or been able to do with the stories I tell myself. In that story (only in bed, Niagara would return from the hospital at eight in the morning) I would be running through a mountain pass and a route which they feared, which obliged them to drive with caution, their lights marking the ever-possible visual traps of every curve, alone and at midnight in this enormous truck that was hard to steer on this coastal road. Being a truck driver has always seemed like an enviable job because I imagine it as one of the simplest forms of freedom, going from one place to another in a truck which at once is a house with its mattress to spend the night on a tree-lined road, a lamp to read with cans of food and beer, a transistor to listen to jazz in perfect silence, as well as this sensation of knowing yourself to be unknown by the rest of the world, where no one would learn whether we have taken this road and not another, with so many possibilities and villages and adventures on the way, including muggings and accidents which are always the best part, as would suit Walter Mitty.

I have asked myself at times why a truck driver and not a pilot or transatlantic captain, knowing all the while the simple and ground-level answer at my fingertips: I have to hide more and more from the day. Being a truck driver is being the people who speak with truck drivers, it is those places through which a truck driver moves. As such, whenever I tell myself a story of freedom it frequently begins in this truck crossing over the pampas or an imaginary landscape like the one now, the Andes or the Rocky Mountains, in any case a difficult road to travel that night when I was driving up and saw the fragile silhouette of Dilia at the foot of the rocks violently picked out of nowhere by the beams of my headlights, the violet walls which rendered the image of Dilia even smaller and more abandoned. The image of Dilia making a gesture of entreating aid after having walked for so long with a satchel on her back.

If being a truck driver is a story I've told myself many a time, I was not forced to meet women asking me to give them a ride like Dilia was doing. Although, of course, I had placed them there so that these stories almost always satisfied a fantasy in which the night, the truck and solitude were the perfect accessories to the brief happiness of finishing a stage. At times, no, at times there was only an avalanche from which I escaped – God knows how  or the brakes which failed during the descent so that everything ended in a whirlwind of changing visions which obliged me to open my eyes and refuse to carry on, then to look for Niagara's warm waist with the relief of having eluded the worst. Whenever the story dealt with a woman on the side of the road this woman was always a stranger, the caprices of my stories which would opt for a redhead or a woman of mixed race seen perhaps in a film or magazine and forgotten in the surface of the day until my story brought them back without my recognizing them. Seeing Dilia was therefore more than a surprise, it was almost a scandal. Dilia, you see, had nothing to do on this road and in a way was damaging the story with her gesture both imploring and threatening. Dilia and Alfonso are friends whom Niagara and I see from time to time; they live in different orbits and we are only brought together by a certain faithfulness to our university years, our common tastes and interests, eating now and then at their house or here, following from afar their life with baby and quite a bit of dough. What the hell was Dilia doing there when the story was proceeding in such a way that any imaginary girl, but not Dilia ... because if anything was clear in this story it was that, this time, I would meet a girl on the road and hence would occur some of the many things which can happen when you arrive at the plains and make a stop after the great tension of the crossroads. Everything was so clear after that first image, dinner with other truck drivers in the village inn before the mountain, a story in no way original but always pleasant in its variations and mysteries, only that now the mystery was different. It was Dilia who was completely incongruent with this curve on the road.

Maybe if Niagara had been there murmuring and snorting softly in her sleep, I would have chosen not to pick Dilia up, and instead erased her and the truck and the story by simply opening my eyes and saying to Niagara: "It's strange: I was about to sleep with a woman and it was Dilia." At which point Niagara in turn might have opened her eyes and kissed me on the cheek, calling me an idiot or mentioning some phony pop psychology, or asking me if I had ever desired Dilia, just to hear me say the truth or whatever about a dog's life, and so then more phony psychology or something to that effect. Yet feeling so alone within the story, as alone as I was, a truck driver in the middle of the mountain crossroads at midnight, I did not have the willpower to pass her by. I braked slowly, opened the cab door, and let Dilia climb in. In her fatigue and somnolence she barely murmured a "thank you" and stretched herself out in the seat with her travel bag at her feet.

The rules of the game are fulfilled from the very beginning in the stories I tell myself. Dilia was Dilia but in the story I was a truck driver and nothing more than that for her; it would never have occurred to me to ask her what she was doing there in the middle of the night or to call her by her name. The exceptional thing about the story, I think, was that this girl contained the person of Dilia, her limp red hair, her bright eyes, her legs almost conventionally evocative of those of a foal, too long for her height. Apart from this the story treated her like anyone else, without a name or prior relation, the perfect meeting by chance. We exchanged two or three sentences, I gave her a cigarette and lit myself another, and we began to descend the slope the way one has to descend a slope in a heavy truck. Meanwhile Dilia stretched herself out even more, smoking out of neglect and the torpor which had washed over her during her many hours walking and perhaps even out of fear of the mountain.

I thought that she would fall asleep at once, and it was pleasant to imagine her like that all the way down to the plain below; I also thought it might have been pleasant to invite her to the back of the truck and pull out a real bed. But never during a story had things permitted me such a liberty because any of those girls would have looked at me with a bitter and desperate expression of what they imagined to be my immediate intentions, and almost always looked for the door handle, for the necessary flight. Both in these stories and in the presumable reality of a truck driver, things could not happen this way. A truck driver had to talk, smoke, make friends, obtain from all this the inevitably tacit acceptance of a stop at some woodland or shelter, the acquiescence of what would come later and yet not be bitter nor angry. A truck driver would simply share what he had already been sharing since the chat began, his cigarettes, and the first bottle of beer drunk straight from the neck between two turns.

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