Excerpt

“St. Valentine’s”

Quim Monzó, trans. Peter Bush

October 10, 2019 
The following is from Quim Monzó's story collection, Why, Why, Why?. Monzó has been awarded the National Award, the City of Barcelona Award, the Prudenci Bertrana Award, the El Temps Award, the Lletra d’Or Prize for the best book of the year, and the Catalan Writers’ Award, and he has been awarded Serra d’Or magazine’s prestigious Critics’ Award four times. He has also translated numerous authors into Catalan, including Truman Capote, J. D. Salinger, and Ernest Hemingway.

The man who never falls in love leaves the museum and sits down on a bench in the square opposite. When he was looking at a Manolo Hugué drawing in the museum he met a woman with deep, sparkling, slightly mischievous eyes, and thought that maybe he could fall in love with her. He also thinks that it isn’t just her sparkling, slightly mischievous eyes he likes about her. It’s also the way she speaks. The whole time they spoke in the museum, she didn’t utter a single cliché or parrot any received wisdom she’d learned by heart. That’s why, after they said goodbye, he followed her at a distance, until he saw her go into a building entrance; now he’s waiting.

From a very early age, the man who never falls in love had intuited that it wouldn’t be easy to find the woman of his dreams. As a baby he looked at his babysitter’s white socks and legs, and something inside him said it was going to be a rough ride. Especially because he didn’t have a clear idea what the woman of his dreams should be like, or, (in fact) whether there would be one. He had no preferences. He didn’t imagine her small or tall, blonde or brunette. Nor was he worried about her being especially intelligent, or simple-minded, as some preferred. At the age of five he fell in love with the daughter of the owners of the stationery store near home, where he bought pencils, erasers, pens, nibs, ink, and spiral notebooks. Naturally, he never told her. It was a secret love that kept him awake at night, tossing and turning in his bed, with the image of the bookseller’s daughter in his mind’s eye: those sparkling, slightly mischievous eyes. Even now, when he thinks of the woman he could fall in love with, he thinks of those sparkling, slightly mischievous eyes. One day, however, her parents sold their store, left the city, and he never heard of her again. He longed for her. To the point that he felt ever more regretful that all he knew about her was that she’d lived opposite and he’d never dared declare himself. He didn’t fall in love again until he was eight. He didn’t know this at the time, but it would be the last time he fell in love. He fell in love with his big sister’s friend, who often came to their house to play. He felt guilty about falling in love with her: it seemed like a betrayal of the stationery-store owner’s daughter. His sister’s friend must have been twelve and he, a mere eight-year-old, would get nowhere with her. Maybe when he grew up and the distances that now seemed unbridgeable became more relative . . . Then the years went by at a hundred miles an hour, ever more quickly. He’s nineteen now. He came of age a year ago. One more year and he would be twenty. Twenty! He’d never have thought he’d get that far, between the ages of twelve and fourteen he’d had this mystical intuition he would die before he reached twenty: in a car or motorbike accident, or else by committing suicide. His worry is: will he never fall in love again? He hasn’t been in love with anyone for ten years and is beginning to long for those sleepless nights, tossing and turning in bed, with his beloved in his mind’s eye. Maybe that’s what becoming an adult is all about. At the end of the day, he ruminates, falling in love is a symptom of immaturity, a sign that one isn’t sufficiently independent. What he can’t understand is how he can miss something that is rationally so harmful. Why does he feel so empty? Why didn’t he fall in love with Marta, the girl he met in his drawing class? She had many good qualities. And defects. But defects you can forgive. Like all defects: indeed, all defects can be forgiven. That was what he thought when he decided to break up with her. But why forgive Marta’s and anyone else’s? If you have to love someone, if loving really means what it’s supposed to, petty defects shouldn’t irritate you. And Marta’s defects do irritate him. She is presumptuous and obsessive. Obviously she is warm, understanding, and welcoming. But Neus is also warm, understanding and welcoming. Neus, on the other hand, has the drawback that she is too banal, that she’s never had an original thought. That drawback is complemented by her aggressive attitude (because she is insecure). A kind of aggression that is typical of people who go clubbing and are quick, as the music blasts away, to show that they are interesting. They manufacture the image of being interesting through acerbic, pre-fabricated phrases, which can be easily inserted at any point in the conversation. And what about Tessa? Tessa is intelligent, witty, and amusing. And they interpenetrate. They only have to glance at each other across a restaurant table to know, without saying a word, from the glint in their eyes, what they are thinking, who they find boring. What’s more, they get on wonderfully well in bed. Conversely, she is a spoiled child, who puckers her lips when she’s refused some whim. Moreover, she is lethargic and spends the day supine on the sofa, languidly smoking a never-ending cigarette. Quite unlike Anna, who is always doing something. She is a dynamo who inspires a desire to live. But what is Anna’s defect? That she is possessive like no other woman he has ever known, and in the months they dated controlled him day and night, and was always doubting he loved her as much as she loved him. Which was true. Because he never managed to love her however hard he tried. He’s fond of her, appreciates her . . . But love, as in true love . . . And it’s not as if he is chasing an unattainable ideal. He’s not so idiotic as to think he’ll find someone without defects. If you really love someone, their defects are consigned to a drawer and not a constant sore point. He tried to love her. Just as he tried to love Tessa, Neus, and Marta. He’d give up his life to be in love with any of them. Because it would be worthwhile falling in love with any of them; if it weren’t for that fact that, however hard he tries, he never succeeds. Why can’t he be like everyone else and fall in love? Sefa (another girl worthy of arousing love in anyone with a bit of nous) says it surely goes back to a childhood trauma. That neither his mother nor his father had shown him enough love and that is why he is as he is. Another original explanation is the one expressed by Cuqui, who told him on their last day together, before their final goodbye, that his problem is that he can’t love anyone because he only loves himself. Because he is an egotist unworthy of the love of the women who fall in love with him. What a great conclusion, if only it were true! And that is another side to it: lots of women fall in love with him. He can’t understand that. Why do they all fall in love with him with such frenzied passion? Why is he incapable of falling in love with any of them and properly requiting their feelings?

While he is deep in such thoughts, the man who never falls in love watches as the girl he met in the museum emerges from the building entrance and turns down a street. He springs to his feet. He follows her. Gradually the distance between them shortens. The more he looks at her walking in front of him, the more he likes her, and from what he grasped in the museum, she likes him too. And what if it really went well this time? Now he is a few steps behind her; she’s with hand’s reach. He’d only have to tap her on the shoulder and she’d turn around.

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Excerpted from Why, Why, Why?, by Quim Monzó. Used with permission of the publisher, Open Letter. Translation copyright © 2019 by Peter Bush.




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