issue 25: July - August 2001 

 spanish original | author bio

Car - Mercedes AbadAs I Fall
Mercedes Abad
translated by Graham Thomson

A fall like the one I had gives you quite a lot of time for internal monologue. You fall and fall and you keep on falling and it’s like you’re going to fall for all eternity. There are people who have fallen from higher, of course. Airmen shot down by enemy planes during the war, for example. At first it must have been the same for them as it was for me, when I didn’t realize what was happening, but then straight away you know your time has come.
       I’m not trying to make a big deal out of this, but I fell with great dignity, in silence, not a squeak. Maybe I clenched my jaws a bit, like the tough guys do when they find themselves in a tight spot, but that was all. If it wasn’t for the fact that my brother had to squeal like a rat the whole way down my fall would have been exemplary. You can psych yourself up to go to your death with courage and dignity but if you draw a flake for a partner he’ll fuck it up for you. And as well as squealing like a rat, I think my brother shit his pants, because all of a sudden the car started to smell bad. He always was chicken, my poor brother. Let’s face it, you die the way you live: the cowards like rats and the brave like men.
      What with one thing and another, I was having trouble concentrating on my interior monologue. I’ve always liked the idea that I would die a proper death and see my whole life pass before my eyes, thinking about the nice memories and the bad moments, but when it comes to the crunch, there isn’t time for everything and you think what you think. Just exactly like in life. You think you’re going to do wonders with the twenty-four hours there are in the day and then, you know, you do what you can and that’s it.
      Maybe at first I was a little bit scared, but only a little. It could be that I banged my head and that left me a bit woozy for a couple of seconds. But as soon as I realized that the bridge had given way and the car was falling into the river, I thought that really was an amazing coincidence and I almost had to stop myself from smiling. And then I forgot about seeing my whole life pass before my eyes and I thought about how fantastic Marta was and how much we loved each other and how beautiful life had been while we were together. We were crazy about one another, we really were. Wherever Marta went, I was there. And wherever I went, Marta was there.
      What I liked best about Marta was the way she would go quiet and look at me in that strange intense way that went straight to my heart. There are people who, when they’re quiet the only thing you think is that they’re quiet and that’s it. But Marta had a way of being quiet that would make you imagine I don’t know what things inside her silence. A silence full of fabulous secret treasures, that’s how Marta’s silence was. People tend to talk too much, at least the people I know do. And it’s not as if they say anything much. They recount their lives to you detail by detail, and that gets on my nerves because it stops me from thinking; it blocks up the tubes where the ideas circulate, that’s a fact.
      Her silence was what I liked most, but it was also what hurt me most. That’s life: the same things you’re crazy about one day, the next day, they kill you. You could sum up the story of my father and wine like that, I suppose. One day you’re fond of a glass of wine and the next day it turns out you’re a hopeless alcoholic and you’ve ruined your life.
      As we were falling it also came into my head that my brother would be one of those noisy ghosts that get all worked up and wail and rattle chains and move the furniture about and become poltergeists to attract the attention of the living. As for me, though, I imagined myself being a discreet ghost. I shouldn’t be saying this, but I even laughed to think how I would drift silently into Marta’s house, giving no sign of my phantom presence, so as to spy at leisure on the family’s reactions. What a pleasure it’ll give me to see them all shocked and in a terrible state because of course they’ve got to be really upset.
      Marta's father has a pile of dough, a pile. He’s so loaded and so stuck-up that he thought I wasn’t good enough for his daughter when he found out about us. I don’t know what threats he used on Marta but he made it crystal clear that no daughter of his was going to marry a bum, still less a bum whose father is an alcoholic. A bum, that’s what he called me. I didn’t even want to hit him when Marta told me about it. The best punishment for people like that is indifference. All right, I might be a bum who makes his living with a humble job and doesn’t go around treating everybody as if they were his servants, but your daughter loves me and there’s nothing you can do about that, mister big man.
      I said to Marta we should run away and that was when she killed me with her silence. She didn’t say yes or no, she just nailed me with her silence, with a strange intense look and I felt myself dying.
      Now all Marta's father’s dough is going to go on lawyers. He’ll get the best, like people in his position do, but even so they won’t get him off. He thought I wasn’t good enough and now my brother and me are going to be too much for him. I don’t even need to slip into his house like a discreet ghost to know he isn’t sleeping at nights, that he twists and turns in his bed with the anxiety and the fear sticking to his body and that he’s been to see a specialist to help him calm his nerves.
      Chance is too much, it really is. Anybody could have been driving across that bridge. Or nobody. But just exactly when it goes, because it can’t stand up to the storm even though they only built it seven years ago, the bum and his brother are driving across the bridge in their car, what a coincidence. And now the big-shot engineer is in for it, because another bridge right next to it that’s been standing there for a hundred years held up in the storm. That’s the way it goes, mister big man. The very same thing that made you a fortune over the years is going to ruin you now.
      I’d prefer to be alive, of course. But there’s no denying that of all possible revenges this is the most complete. Now no one will ever ask him to build another bridge. And because they won’t ask him, they won’t even ask him to blow a smoke ring with a joint, poor bastard, his whole life down the can. And he’ll have to pay my parents a load of money. And all for a couple of bums who weren’t worth a thing to the big engineer.

© Mercedes Abad 2001
© Translation, Graham Thomson

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author bio Mercedes Abad

Mercedes Abad was born in Barcelona in 1961. She is an author of three books of short stories and a novel Sangre (2001). In 1986 Ligeros libertinajes sabáticos won the VIII Premio La Sonrisa Vertical prize. She is a regular contributor in the Catalan edition of El Pais as well as author of theatrical pieces. This is the first time her work has appeared in English translation.

© photo: Carmen Rosa


barcelona review 25           July - August  2001


Bill Broady: In This Block There Lives A Slag...
Pinckney Benedict: Rescuing Moon
Atima Srivastava: Dragons in E8
Joan Wilking: A Long View
Mercedes Abad: As I Fall
Anne Donovan: Hieroglyphics

-Interview Michael Ondaatje meets his translators

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