I live in a seventh-floor apartment with a view interrupted by treetops and some modern skyscrapers newly built along the block. Almost right across from me, or more like diagonally, there’s a building of high-ceilinged lofts with a steel and glass façade. The lofts are expensive, pretentious, and tiny. From my window I can see everything that happens inside the only unit that faces towards me; the inhabitants are a couple and their baby. They’re not home today. They left last night with a couple of cloth bags and the collapsible pushchair, and, as usual, they left the light on to throw off who knows who. ‘Maybe they do it so they won’t trip when they get back,’ Axel said as we watched them leave from my terrace. We were sitting in a couple of plastic chairs set far back from the railing, because he’s afraid of heights. Last night was the third time Axel came to my place. Usually we go to his, which is better equipped and doesn’t have a balcony.
I don’t like it when the neighbours leave. Then I have to look at other windows where the view is more diffuse. I don’t think they like leaving, either; they always look grumpy when they come back. They shift the baby from arm to arm and he cries, because he can sense their discomfort. They, in turn, are bewildered by his crying: they rock him very fast, they turn pale and look like they’re about to lose it, until the baby quietens down and they can breathe again. I don’t know how they can recover their equilibrium when it slips away so easily, right before their eyes like an onslaught of midges.
Now I’m resting my elbows on the balcony railing. I’m not afraid of heights; on the contrary, taking in the view from up high soothes me. Down below, the doorman is sweeping the building’s entrance. He is wearing brown overalls that, seen from above, make him look like one of those round bugs that smell bad. Stinkbugs, they’re called. He looks up, squints into the bright sky, and catches me looking at him. I wave, and he leans against the broom to wave back. There’s a slow but constant shower of yellow leaves falling. I wait for him to turn around and go on with his work. Máximo – that’s the doorman’s name – can spend the whole day sweeping. And in that exercise a ball of bitterness gradually builds up in the pit of his stomach. The kind of bitterness that over time will lead a person to grab the nearest stick and beat the shit out of a dog or an old man.
The sun shines through the foliage and I leave the terrace.
The forecast is for rain all weekend, though there’s not a whiff of it now. I don’t plan to go out. I’m going to make do with a can of tuna and an apple, and I’m going to spend all afternoon sitting here writing the grant proposal. I have ten days to send it.
I pace lazily around the apartment: kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom, bedroom, living room, kitchen. If my footsteps left marks on the floor, they would make a narrow U-shape. My apartment is tiny, too, but in a more proletarian way than the ones across from me. I try hard to keep it bare of any decoration because I’m afraid that if I don’t watch myself, I’ll display a provincial taste that I reject but that, deep down, I know I possess and could rear up at the slightest provocation. So I try to keep it clean and curated, favouring functional elements that for the most part live in the kitchen. I disguise my ignorance with minimalism.
The only thing in this space that elides that austere vocation is a Chesterfield sofa that takes up the whole room designated as living-dining. The Chesterfield is my visitors’ couch, my chaise longue for naps, my desk and my dining table. I bought it at a garage sale held at a rich old lady’s house after she died. The sale was announced on a page I had subscribed to that occasionally sent me notifications for auctions that I didn’t attend. I always found that the things I liked were too expensive, and the things I could afford were painful because they only reminded me of my precariousness. I went to this one because the dead old lady had the same name as me, and that coincidence was enough to convince me to go – though it wasn’t so strange: my name, at least in this city, is old-fashioned. When I arrived, the sofa had already been sold. That’s what the woman in charge told me with a determined toss of her crown of red ringlets, and then she tried to sell me a set of tarnished silverware as a consolation prize. Then the dead woman’s son appeared; he had some kind of mental condition, and so no one paid him much mind when he hawked the bric-a-brac displayed on a garden table, the sector he’d been relegated to by that cruel redheaded woman. But it was clear the man couldn’t stand the disappointment that came over my face; he led me outside, insisting on showing me some mouldy parasols, and he took a little card from his pocket with the sofa’s brand and model, plus the words ‘purchased by’ and a name that had been crossed out. I had to replace it with my information and then drop it in the sales urn. ‘It’s yours,’ he said in his languid modulation, handing me the card with a gesture that was like a bow. And that was how we perpetrated a fraud that cost me dearly: between the price of the sofa and the moving truck rental, I spent my budget for two months.
The sofa is so out of place in my living room that it has a certain flair. Its purpose is to isolate me in a bubble of false sophistication, incomprehensible to most of the people who come into my house. Just last night, Axel asked if I wasn’t a countess fallen on hard times, ‘or something like that’. He laughed. I sat watching his face fall as he grew more discomfited by my silence. ‘Joke,’ he clarified. I was thinking about the hollowness of that expression: ‘or something like that’. Something like what? In the end I gave him one of those generic replies that could be applied to a range of questions: no one is interested enough in looking, I told him, and that’s why some people got a false idea of my tastes and my home (really, I said fatuous and false, and my memory is editing out the redundancy), which only reinforced my lack of desire to explain myself to others. When I finished talking I felt stupid and I must have looked stupid, because he didn’t stay to sleep over. In the meantime, we talked about other things that I can’t remember now. We entered into a dance of ambiguity that ruined everything.
From The Delivery by Margarita García Robayo, translated by Megan McDowell. Used with permission of the publisher, Charco Press. Copyright © 2023 by Margarita García Robayo. Translation copyright © 2023 by Megan McDowell.
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