I hear it and my knees, pillars of salt, dissolve. I collapse on the wet earth. Soaked. I pretend I am digging and that all this is nothing other than one of those passing nightmares which soaked me a short while ago. It’s not. The dentist – a mighty hunter – is waiting for an answer and father goes red, his lips tremble … why?
I get up. My head comes up to his waist. I stand next to him with eyes wide open and mouth half open. I have my right hand in my pocket – deadly cold November – and my left hand is hooked round the dirty piece of rope my father uses for a belt. I squeeze the words to come out right, but they don’t come out. I swallow half of them. He stoops, looks at me sideways, but doesn’t see. He doesn’t see that I am overflowing, leaping up through my pores, jumping out of my skin, dripping all over. My tears, yes, are flowing inwards, but he could make out, if he wanted, the burning torrent behind the eyelashes. He thinks again and gives in. They shake hands. “All right…” and Leon goes. He sells off my beloved dog before my very eyes!
The dentist now smiles triumphantly and it doesn’t bother him that I have seized Leon’s throat. On the contrary, he drags both of us by force, Leon by the lead and me by Leon. He puts the dog into the corrugated iron cage on the two-wheeled trailer – attached to the back of an old black Vauxhall – shoots the wooden bolt, closes the door and leaves me outside. He sterilises his hands with alcohol, dries them by rubbing them on his knees, opens the door, sits at the steering wheel and moves off. Leon continues to protest. I hear him scratching the corrugated iron like a skeleton, growling choked sympathy that he is inside and I am outside or perhaps the other way round and I don’t see it?
The rain had just caressed the filmy face of the horizon and the car was tearing down the wet slope like a phantom when suddenly, down at the bottom where the road skews a bit to the left towards the asphalt, the engine, full of Furies, chokes and stops. I regain my courage. Sweet blades of light pierce me: perhaps he’s changed his mind, had second thoughts. Maybe he saw my eyes were full of tears. What the hellhe was wearing the glasses for?
The engines coughs, however, puffs out two or three black balls from the exhaust, inhales fresh petrol and, with lungs lighter now, moves off again. It accelerates and vanishes like the devil at the first whiff of incense.
It’s since then that that horrible cage pursues me. It goes downhill in my dreams, loaded with dogs and unbearable guilt. I could have saved him and I didn’t. I had time to run, open the cage just when the nightmare car coughed and died apoplectically on the slope, but I didn’t do it. All that was needed was a slalom over the mud and I could have pulled back the bolt, I could have opened the door. And I didn’t do it.
All these things – heavy coins of soul – I had almost forgotten, until one afternoon She spreads her wings and frr…up, before I can open my mouth and explain, flies off and reminds me of Leon. Hadn’t I persisted enough with her either? Perhaps, if I had entreated her, if my eyes had filled a bit more with tears, maybe she would have stayed. I could have run, caught up with her before she got into the taxi for the airport. And I didn’t do it. It’s already a month since then. Shut up indoors, face to face with myself – wasting away day by day – I keep on saying “I’ll have to open up, go out”, but such foolhardiness isn’t for me. I think of myself out there without her and the streets become impassable and alien and I keep putting it off.
Tonight, however, I’ll make this last attempt to get out of here. It’s time to let myself go, to stop being so inhuman. And it’s all because of Leon. It’s been a while since I called him and soon he’ll appear. I’ve already made him a promise: tonight I am determined to save him with a sudden, redeeming slalom.
I now sense a distant sound of paws on the wet cement and I jump up. I open the door, dash out into the corridor, lean over the light-well, look sideways at the entrance and – you see, you didn’t believe me: Leon is sitting on his haunches in front of the entrance, his muzzle pointing proudly up, waiting! But as the thunderbolts bombard the block, in the intervals between the volleys I lose him and whilst I am on the verge of distinguishing something, the heavens darken suddenly and I can’t see anything! Is it really Leon out there, or perhaps her, coming back?
I enter the lift and the oesophagus of the block swallows me straight down. Alone in the void, I am now like a marionette on a vertical course to Hades. A clumsy hulk of a god on the roof is manipulating me, I think, pulling the cables up and down with professional skill.
At the ground floor the stainless steel doors open up, give me leave to pass and the dense darkness of the street makes an assault on the cage. I extend my foot to get out but I am bogged down in the pitch blackness of the lift. I move like a crab, two steps forward, one step back. Finally I’m out, but what if the sneaky residents catch me unawares? What do I say to them, now that I can’t endure opening up to anyone? What do I say to them, now that it doesn’t suit me to become a turn for the spectacle-loving public of the block. Eh, well, I’ll tell them I’m going to meet Leon. That’s what I’ll tell them!
Heading towards the exit, I pass by the porter’s counter, cast an eye over the unclaimed mail and immediately think of her. I want to swallow my secret complaint that she has gone without noticing my sob and a whole acid-sharp lemon blocks my throat. I inhale and a snake-like hiss comes out. I turn white.
I am now behind the glass entrance door. From the nostrils of the city, sprawled on its back, rises a nightmarish black exhalation, the asphalt is awash with a frigid cocktail of loneliness and indifference. I see all this and my hair stands two metres on end. Where am I going without her hand, without the one who sprinkled icing sugar on the air and snowed warm sweetness within me?
I have second thoughts. I think of going back but I remember Leon, who is waiting, and the demons of her memory are kicked out of me and I proceed. I press my nose against the glass: Yes, it’s him! The four spots on his back stand out: three big ones at the top, the fourth, and smallest, just where the tail begins! I know, she who left will not come back but I don’t care because now I’ll have him. I can see him now clearly on the first step, with his tongue a foot long, panting and impatient.
It’s foggy outside. Truly, only a madman would dare to go out in such dreadful weather, but I’m not afraid. Leon, already on all fours, is waiting anxiously. His wagging tail indicates a nervous dog and I don’t blame him. I open the door …
I pay off the usher of Spacetime and secure a seat in the front row of the balcony for Leon, with opera glasses and an Arabian lamé cushion under his back legs. He’s full – after so many years of going hungry he deserved to be wined and dined – and I have bought him a bottle of “Fanta”, with a straw.
So there he is, calmly raising the telescope and, with an air of detachment, watching. The dark car of the devil is descending the wet slope, confident supposedly about the journey, dragging the caged dog behind, the Jew of another era. The Nazi dentist, I see him in the mirror, is laughing his head off satanically. False teeth of porcelain, pure Frankenstein, a dreadful member of the S.S.
Suddenly, at the bottom, there where the road skews a little to the left towards the asphalt, the engine chokes on a curse and stops. I waste no time: I bend down, put on my roller skates, stand up, flex my knees, set off, give a push and, performing an alpine slalom, skate over the slimy saddle of the road, zig-zag. The descent, exemplary, perfect, I go past the row of eucalyptus trees as well, which for a moment, I think, bow and greet with me with a swish of joy.
Now I’m alongside the trailer with the cage. I stretch out my hand while still in motion and with a decisive movement, perfectly calculated, I pull back the bolt and toss it up high with reverse momentum. It goes upwards, twists in the air like restless sleep and falls, falls, falls, falls, comes to rest in the insatiable mouth of time, which chews it up. I open the door and shout, “Cats, Leon, attack!”
Tonight, when I return to the flat, she will not be beside me, but the washed streets will shine in the moonlight like the laugh of a little child. The air will be so light that if I want I can breath and if I want I can fly.
Because tonight, just when I turn the key, Leon will be waiting behind the door. I can already hear him scratching.
From “TIPOTA, TIPOTA” (“Nothing, nothing”, 2003).