So often it was the fridge that held the very heart of the mystery, the key to explaining houses and their owners (and this owner, it began to seem to her, was the most inexplicable of them all, or at least the one who best reigned over his things while he slept).
In plain view in this one was a bit of fruit: an orange, an apple and a banana, expressing so little or so much, so orange and so bananaesque, that not much else could be wheedled out of them. There was a carton of milk, four desolate capers in their brine and a peeled boiled egg like an emblem on its saucer. In the vegetable drawer, a head of lettuce and a few dodgy carrots played nice to distract her from something more serious. In the freezer, another bag of ice cubes turned out to be just about all that had anything to say. So, then, there were drinks and parties, friends and acquaintances and things to celebrate in that house.
The fridge purred like a spaceship. When she closed the door, the sound blended with the tinkling of the strip light on the ceiling. They became indistinguishable from each other and turned the whole kitchen into a spaceship, or into the kitchen of a house-spaceship adrift far from the Solar System. She looked out the window, the way the penultimate survivor of a race might watch from the command bridge overlooking three galaxies, watching over the eternal rest of her companion, the other penultimate, above the noise of the interplanetary engines. They were overtaken by a speeding car-meteorite orbiting along Avenida de Bruselas.
There were mismatched glasses on the shelves; she drank tap water from one, tepid although she let it run. In another, a bunch of parsley stood in water, the parsley offering itself as another mystery (the mystery of the boy who used parsley).
She pulled a cookbook out of a drawer without expecting much. It was almost falling apart, with strips of paper marking some pages and a sticky film on the cloth cover. Traces of vapour from a thousand stews, surely: the cover smelled of cooking coming from across the way. On the back was a black-and-white photograph of the author with an old-fashioned hairdo. Her smile was sad, as if she had just finished cooking up all the world’s recipes only to sense the winds of change that were about to catch up with her.
Inside, however, the photographs were in colour, the rice a bright yellow and the shellfish the loud orange of propane canisters. There were also recipes clipped from magazines and newspapers, and others written out in different hands, some in neat handwriting, underlined in several colours, and others scribbled on paper napkins. There were shopping lists, and two old cinema tickets without the name of the movie on rough, mustard-coloured paper. The book had a heart of its own: it always opened – she tried it twice – at the baby squid in their ink.
A postcard fell to the floor. It showed a very blue harbour with very red boats and people dressed in very bright colours. It was from Llanes. It said so on the back: Llanes, Asturias. Seafarers’ procession for Our Lady of Mount Carmel. And underneath, written in pen in a hurried hand: “It hasn’t stopped raining! Tomás and the kids are over the moon. Much love.” It was signed with several scribbles. The only legible one was Tomás. It was obviously the signature of someone having a great time who, between coming and going, leans over the table to sign postcards without reading them, as if he were a millionaire for a day. It was clearly postmarked: 2nd of August 1972. She hadn’t been born yet, nor had the boy. The address was from the far end of Juan Bravo, where the Salamanca neighbourhood starts to lose its ritz.
She liked the entire book, but especially the postcard. Now she had a clan for the boy: a father with friends who fished and a mother who was bored with the lousy weather. The dates weren’t right, and of course the book’s owner couldn’t have sent the postcard as well as received it, but that didn’t matter. It was a big help, in its own way. It was the dangling thread she was looking for. She kept it as a souvenir.
There wasn’t any bread, but there were crumbs in the breadbox from many previous loaves. A good sign: she didn’t trust people who didn’t eat bread, who didn’t have any in the house and didn’t offer any to their guests – or worse, who offered only a tiny bit. Better to have bread enough to bore you, as the saying went; although she was never bored by the miracle of bread, which is neither boring nor tiresome. The boy ate bread, at any rate, and she ate from the same loaf without realizing it. As she took one last turn around the kitchen, she found a little crumb melting on her tongue, at once insipid and delicious, like an astronaut’s ration that concentrated all the meals and all the flavours from the book and the kitchen and the boy.
Excerpt from Los penúltimos by Javier Montes, translated by Jennifer Adcock, Kymm Coveney, Lucy Greaves, Ellen Kenny, Emily Rose, Joey Rubin & Anne McLean with the collaboration & intervention of Javier Montes, at the BCLT literary translation summer school 2013.