1. A new girl started working in the tattoo parlour that summer and turned the whole street on its head. The doorman from number 90 and the guys from the copy shop and the phone shop hung around in their doorways more than ever. The girl smoked roll-ups and the doorman took up smoking again, ten years after he’d quit, just so he could talk to her. 2. I saw her on one of her first days, while I was having a coffee outside the Chinese guy’s cafe. She looked like a girl from a sword-and-sorcery comic, only without the sword. Tall, blonde and tattooed, she had a certain youthful melancholy. I wanted to know her name. 3. The people who worked on the street had the advantage. They could see when she went out and find ways to bump into her. It’s not like I didn’t have anything else to do, but my routine changed that summer. I started buying the newspaper at different times, hoping we’d meet. But the day she was there smoking and drinking coffee out of a plastic cup, my legs trembled and our eyes locked that bit too long for me to strike up a casual conversation. 4. She’d go out again around twelve, and I’d hurry down to check the post. If there was a magazine, I’d stand outside and flick through it. I did this twice. The first day she wasn’t there. The second day she was, but too far away. Maybe I could go to the phone shop, which was nearer – but why wouldn’t I just read at home? If I had a magazine and started looking at the phones, I’d have two excuses: that would never work. The doorman came out and started talking to her and they laughed, and I was convinced they were laughing at me. 5. For the first time in six years, I began speaking to the guy from the tattoo parlour. We said hello, we smiled: it was definitely the easiest approach. The girl would show up at some point while I was talking to him and we’d get to meet. I realised, after a few days, that they worked different shifts, so that plan was doomed. 6. I studied her movements. The shop opened at ten-thirty. She’d get a coffee from the Chinese guy and go out a couple of times for a smoke. Just before two, she’d ride off on her motorbike and that was it for the day. The afternoons were boring. 7. At the end of the summer I went into the shop. She seemed to recognise me. I said I wanted a tattoo. She asked what I wanted to have. That’s when I asked her name.
Translated from the Spanish by Anne Scott, Chris Lloyd, Lindsey Ford, Lisa McCreadie, Lucy Greaves, María Natalia Paillie, Melanie Mauthner, Patricia Colombo, Phoebe Taylor & Rosa Shaw
With the collaboration of Anne McLean & Daniel Gascón
With thanks to New Spanish Books for their support.
Author’s note: For the workshop Anne McLean and I chose two very short stories. One, “El gato”, has several different tones, but I’ve always thought of it as a sort of song that combined humour and melancholy. “Tatuaje” has aspects of a tale of a summer romance told by a numbskull. There were some worrying moments in the workshop: at first, it felt as if they were taking an x-ray, and at times the situation resembled one of those dreams when you show up to class naked. But I’m very happy with the result. And the experience allowed me to see what was important in the texts and see the merit in options I’d previously discarded. Of course, a translator is the most careful reader a writer can have. Being the object of such attention is so flattering and thrilling that it’s almost embarrassing, but I think what most struck me was the spectacle of language and all its nuances (the translators in the group were from various parts of the world and different generations and this enriched the texts in English, as well as provoking the odd headache). I’ve learned things about rhythm, about accuracy, about passionate preoccupations with words. I’ve always liked the kind of people who introduce strangers at parties. In the workshop I had that feeling, and I felt fortunate that such a group of people should offer their talents to helping me talk to other guests at the party.