Do you mind if I interview you?” “Go ahead, but keep it brief.” “Do you realize that you’re the youngest writer ever to win this prize?”
“Is that so?”
“I’ve just spoken to one of the organizers. I got the sense that they were moved.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. . . . It’s an honor. . . . I’m very happy.”
“It seems everyone is happy. What are you drinking?”
“Vodka here. Vodka is a strange drink, isn’t it? It’s not what most women would choose. Vodka neat.”
“I don’t know what women drink.”
“Oh, no? Anyway, it doesn’t matter. A woman’s drink is always secret. Her true drink, I mean. Her infinite pour. But never mind. It’s such a clear night, isn’t it? From here we can see the farthest towns and the most distant stars.”
“That’s an optical illusion, miss. If you look carefully, you’ll observe that the windows are oddly fogged. Go out on the terrace. I believe we’re in the middle of the woods. Practically all we can see are tree branches.”
“Then those are paper stars, of course. But what about the town lights?”
“You’re so clever. Please, tell me about your work. Yourself and your work.”
“I feel a little nervous, you know? All these people singing and dancing nonstop, I’m not . . . . . .—”
“Don’t you like the party?” “I think everyone is drunk.”
“They’re the winners and runners‑up of all the previous prizes.”
“They’re celebrating the end of another contest. It’s . . . natural.”
Ghosts and ghostly days passed through Jan’s mind. I think it was quick, a sigh, and then there was Jan on the floor, sweating and howling in pain. Worth mentioning, too, are the signs he was making, the frozen flurry of gestures, as if to show me that there was something on the ceiling, what? I asked as his index finger rose and fell with exasperating slowness, oh, shit, said Jan, it hurts, rats, mountain‑climbing rats, you dumbfuck, and then he said, ah, ah, ah, and I grabbed him by the arms, or I pulled him up, which is when I realized that he wasn’t just sweating rivers but cold rivers. I know I should have run for a doctor, but I got the sense that he didn’t want to be left alone. Or maybe I was afraid to go out. (This was the night I realized that the night is really big.) Actually, from a certain perspective I think Jan didn’t care whether I stayed or left. But he didn’t want a doctor. So I said, don’t die, you’re like the prince from The Idiot.
I’d bring you a mirror if we had a mirror, but since we don’t, trust me and try to calm down, don’t die on me. Then, after he had sweated a Norwegian river, he said that the roof of our room was plagued with mutant rats, can’t you hear them? he whispered, my hand was on his forehead, and I said, yes, it was the first time I’d heard rats shrieking on the roof of an eighth‑floor room. Ah, said Jan. Poor Posadas, he said. His body was so long and thin that I promised myself that from now on I would do a better job of keeping him fed. Then he seemed to fall asleep, his eyes half closed, his face turned to the wall. I lit a cigarette. Through our only window, the first rays of dawn began to appear. The street below was still dark and deserted, but cars went by with some regularity. Suddenly, behind me, I heard Jan’s snores. I looked at him. He was asleep, naked on his bare mattress, a lock of blond hair drying slowly on his forehead. I slumped against the wall and let myself slide down until I was sitting in a corner. Through the window, I saw an airplane go by: red, green, blue, yellow lights, the kernel of a rainbow. I closed my eyes and thought about the past few days, the big sad scenes, what I could see and touch, and then I got undressed and lay down on my mattress and tried to imagine Jan’s nightmares, and suddenly, before I fell asleep, I was as certain as if it were being dictated to me that Jan had felt many things that night, but not fear.
Copyright © 2019 by Roberto Bolano. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.