Some almost random extracts from Bernardo Bueno’s novel Legendary Days, originally a PhD project at the University of East Anglia, now published in Brazil by Bestiario.
I started playing when I was six and I got an Atari from my parents. Now I’m 28 and I’m still holding a video game controller, playing a game in which I have to slay sixteen giant monsters so I can inspire life back into my loved one. Her corpse lies on an altar inside a ruined temple. As I ride my horse across the fields – other people are hunting me down because I stole a sacred sword and came to this forbidden realm – I’m thinking how beautiful and lonely this world is.
The phone rings. It’s from the hospital. They ask for my name, they apologise. They say that my father has been admitted there with chest pains. ‘I’m on my way,’ I say. It’s not the first time it has happened, but it’s not like I’m used to it either. I call my wife, Gabriela, to let her know what’s happening, then get in my car and race across town, fast but still not dangerously so; I’m not trying to get myself killed. Anyway, there’s nothing I can do right now.
When I get there, he’s dead.
I ask what happened, and they repeat the same story: my father was admitted with severe chest pains. They tried to help, but they couldn’t save him. They are sorry.
Some people think death a worse fate than boredom. I read that once and it always stuck with me. I wait and I wait for the paperwork to be done; in the meantime Gabriela arrives. She doesn’t say anything because she doesn’t have to. So we wait in a corridor somewhere, together. She wipes her thick-rimmed glasses with the end of her shirt. She braids her red hair like I’ve seen her do countless times before. There is some kind of comfort in knowing her movements so well.
I start calling our relatives. Then it’s like a time warp: everything feels like it’s moving in slow motion, but in fact, several hours pass. I’m suddenly aware of sorting out the funeral. Then it happens again. Next thing I know, I’m walking around the cemetery, thinking how this place is filled with a chunky sensation of peace that is hard to swallow. My mother hugs me, wailing; someone drags her away. I’m told she took a pill or something. I don’t see her again for the rest of the day. They’d been divorced for more than ten years.
He’s lying there in his coffin and I feel I have to do something to say goodbye, so I touch his arm. Immediately I wish I hadn’t, because it’s like stone. In Baldur’s Gate, whenever one of my characters was petrified, they were as good as dead, since I never memorised the Stone to Flesh spell. It’s never a good thing when your father turns into stone. I watch his coffin being lowered into his grave and that’s it. We go home.
Gabriela makes us some tea. She says, ‘This has been the worst year ever.’
I silently nod. We both want to talk things over, we need to talk things over, but it’s really not the time. Thing is, Gabriela had a miscarriage two weeks ago. Talk about bad timing. It sucks when things overlap and you don’t know what to sort out first. I look at her and reciprocate her sad smile.
‘Tomorrow will be a better day,’ she says, then holds my hand and kisses it.
She gets up and I watch as she leaves the kitchen and goes to our bedroom. I listen to the sounds of her: her footsteps on the squeaky floor, brushing her teeth, opening the wardrobe, changing to her pyjamas and finally turning the lights off. She doesn’t wait for me. She hasn’t waited for me lately.
I keep thinking ‘He’s dead but I still remember him.’ Eleven years ago, when I came back from a trip to the seaside in my last year of school, he said to me, ‘I’m not going lie to you: things are about to change.’ I was seventeen; that age when you’re on the verge of something but you have no idea what it is. That was a nice talk, that day on the veranda. I make myself another tea and allow the time to pass as I remember that day.
When I think of my father, now that he’s dead, the first thing that comes to mind is the talk we had one day on the veranda of the house we shared for a while. The house where we had lived together before my parents divorced. This particular memory is what brings it back; it’s what ties it all together. I’ll tell you, the first sign that your father considers you an adult is the first time he hands you a beer and you have a long talk on a summer night, looking at the cars driving by, never minding the time.
Point is, school was over and I had gone on a trip with my classmates to Garopaba, a small seaside town on the coast of Santa Catarina: the only place you could go if you wanted to escape the shitty Rio Grande do Sul shore and its eternal wind and the rough, brown sea. It was our last thing as classmates. I was seventeen.
We got back the day before the graduation ceremony. The air was warm and thick like oil in our lungs. It was something past six. I’d got a nice souvenir for myself: an arm in a white cast, all covered in signatures, funny messages and the occasional penis art. My face was bruised, not that swollen any more but it still hurt; the Tylenol was wearing off. I wasn’t looking forward to explaining that to Dad when I got home.
My classmates started hugging one another as we looked for our luggage. They were acting like it was the end, as if we would never see each other again. They were right, in a way: one of the great benefits and limitations of being seventeen is the feeling that the world is about to explode. A year in the future is a whole era of uncertainty.
I ignored the knot in my throat while I struggled with my bag, trying to put it over my shoulder using only my left arm. Diego, Pablo and Gabriela, my closest friends, were standing behind a group of sobbing girls. Behind the enemy lines. They were staring at me, waiting for what I was going to say, perhaps, or wondering what they could say to make everything feel better. But all that trip had left behind was a metallic taste in my mouth and a tingly sensation telling me that from now on I should behave as an adult, whatever that meant.
I looked up. There was a profound blue sky and the summer was about to start, but I myself had had enough of the sun. I always liked the rain and never understood why everybody hated it. It felt like everything was too bright and there was no place to hide.
Then I looked to the front of our school and found its walls were already shrinking before my eyes. I said a quick ‘See you tomorrow’ to my friends, then turned around, heading home. Fuck it, I thought.
Soon I was alone on the street. The empty bus passed by a bit later. I could hear the TVs inside the houses, I could see their lights reflected on the walls, the grandmas watching the six o’clock soap opera, drinking instant coffee with milk, as my own granny did. I assumed, of course, they all did the same.
I was tired and confused because of everything that had happened at the seaside. It was around this time every year that the smell in the air grew different, something to do with walking on the streets of Porto Alegre under a scorching sun, buying popsicles, going to the club’s swimming pool, the easy life of a middle-class boy who went to a private school and didn’t have a worry in the world, except growing up.
I lived just down the road from the school. As I approached my dad’s house I noticed his TV wasn’t on. Instead, he was listening to music, though I couldn’t recognise it from where I was. That was unusual for two reasons: my father wasn’t supposed to be home at that time of day, since he taught at the university in the evenings. There was also something different about the garden: the grass was actually alive; it was new.
I went through the gate and opened the front door. Everything looked different – new furniture, new paint on the walls. The house smelled like a newly-opened hotel. I could hear the music quite well now – his old Bob Dylan Blood on the Tracks LP record. My father was slouching on the sofa, wearing only his underpants and a kitchen apron, his feet on a new tea table, a beer in his hand.
‘Hey, I didn’t hear you coming,’ he said, smiling. Then he had a better look at me and sat up straight. ‘What happened to you?’
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘I’m fine.’
I passed by him, climbed the stairs and went into my room. It was different than when I had left. Tidy. Clean. On a chair, protected by a plastic bag, was the suit I was going to wear to my graduation ceremony, one of my father’s, a tad big for me.
I turned my computer on to check for e-mails, but there was nothing; my friends were with me on that trip, after all. I checked mIRC and ICQ but no one was online. I launched Full Throttle but gave up playing after it crashed – my PC was rubbish. I looked at the corkboard on the wall, where I had pinned posters from X-men, Spawn, Oh My Goddess! and Akira, together with some pictures of Gabriela, Diego, Pablo and me at school and from the last time we had pizza together. I took it all down, tossed the photos on the desk, crumpled the posters together and threw them in the bin.
Dad put on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Soon after the first vocals on the beginning of ‘Breathe’ he called me to dinner. In the kitchen we sat together and ate chips and hot dogs.
‘Have you talked to Mum?’ I asked.
‘She said she’ll be there, you don’t have to worry.’ He removed his glasses and placed them next to his plate. ‘What happened to you? Did you pick a fight?’
The emphasis on ‘fight’ carried all the absurdity of that possibility in his mind. I wouldn’t have believed, a week ago, that I’d go around picking fights. However, that was exactly what happened and I was well proud of it, even though I didn’t feel like telling him anything. I wanted to keep it all inside me, afraid that if I let one of those memories go, they would all flee, leaving me empty and flat. Good or bad, they were mine, and of all the powers I had when I was seventeen, which weren’t many, at least I could choose to withhold information as I pleased.
‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ I said.
He sighed. ‘Are you nervous? About tomorrow?’
‘What? I don’t know,’ I said. ‘Maybe.’
He poured me more Coke. I took a long sip.
‘What the hell happened to the house?’ I asked.
‘Oh, that,’ he said. ‘I thought it was time for a change.’
I looked at him: he was still wearing only his underpants and the kitchen apron. His face was red. I had never seen my father drunk.
‘Dad, seriously, what happened?’
Was he withholding information from me? It was weird to get home and see that everything was so different. Dad was a bit of a mess lately – ever since the divorce and ever since I moved back to his place six months after they divorced – so it was hard to predict his actions.
‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ he said, barely hiding his grin.
I didn’t find it funny.
‘So, how was the trip?’ he asked.
We spent the rest of the meal in silence. My father was distant, looking at the blank wall by my side, distracted. After we finished, he took the dishes and put them in the sink, over a big pile of dirty pans. He opened the fridge, got two beer cans, handed me one and said, ‘Let’s go outside for a minute.’
I watched him walk past me and after a moment of doubt I followed. Pink Floyd was still playing. Now it was ‘Us and Them’. Outside, on the veranda, Dad was looking at the empty street and the TV lights reflected on the neighbours’ walls.
‘I can’t stand these fucking soap operas,’ he said, ‘any of them.’ Then he turned to me: ‘Why don’t we talk, Max? You’re graduating tomorrow. We have time. Let’s talk.’
The ways I have died, in approximate values, not at all scientific:
Shot at: 30,998
Attacked by a wild animal/ monster: 109,991
Touched by a ghost: 7,655
Poisoned (out of potions, out of antidotes): 12
Hit myself with a boomerang when low on Health: 1
Eaten by a zombie: 8,956
Melee weapon attack (sword, knife, mace, lance, club, etc): 77,001
Dark magic spell (Fireball, Magic Missiles, Lightning, etc): 9,979
Beaten by thugs (in general): 479
Obliterated by a meteor: 1
Erased from existence (corrupt save file): 8
Uncertain fate after having failed my objective: 6,009
Fallen from a high place (parkour gone wrong, miscalculated jumps): 2,377
Fallen into poisoned water (and/or acid): 1,233
Uncertain fate after my time is up: 699
Drifting in space due to lack of fuel: 8
Traffic accident/ hit and run: 68
Outer space perils (asteroid belt, de-pressurization, black holes, solar flares): 28
Atomic bomb: 2
Skating accident: 4,687
Melted in a pool of lava: 456
Eaten by dinosaurs: 2 or 3
Eaten by aliens (any kind): 23,455
Ultimate sacrifice for dramatic reasons: more often than I’d like
Heart attack: 0
This is something I found in one of your diaries.
I’ve been here before.
Endless end of the world scenarios, with zombies or not.
I’m usually alone, but sometimes I hear sounds, whispers, hints of a tune hummed somewhere in the rubble, inside an abandoned house, beyond a broken wall.
These sounds I listen to at sunset, which is the hour of memory. It’s that moment when you remember there was something you needed to do and time is running out, before night comes and you have to crawl back in your hole and wait for the wandering zombies to go away.
I’m amazed how people resist the simple logic of love.
Perhaps the lack of it is the reason for the world to end over and over and over again. We are fascinated by the barren landscape that shows us nothing but the lack of something to care for.
I’ve been here before.
Most of the time, I am alone. I’ve watched it end, over and over again. The dreams of others bring me these images. Sometimes it ends in an explosion. Sometimes there is a boy and a girl holding hands. Sometimes it’s just a quiet acceptance when the silence comes and in a whisper we’re all memories.
I’m standing on an empty road. Nature is claiming this place back day by day, weeds perforating the tarmac, flowers blossoming in cracks on the concrete. The rusty cars, turned over the curb, the ravaged stores, the broken windows. The monsters, hiding; the humans, dying. Check, check, check. It’s always the same because we are always the same.
I hear someone playing an old acoustic guitar. They play it well, but it is slightly out of tune. Whoever is playing doesn’t care. I like the way it sounds. I follow it until I reach a house with a broken window. It’s coming from there, but I don’t go in. Instead, I sit outside. I listen to the tune with my eyes closed.
‘Hey,’ I say, unable to think of anything else.
Gabriela and I stare at each other. She, blocking the entrance to the Inn; me, standing at an empty road in a deserted seaside town.
I can’t say a thing.
She says, ‘I came to find you, of course.’
She steps down and walks towards me, arms crossed, the wind messing her hair and tossing it over her face. She tucks in behind her ear.
‘What did you think? That I’d wait for you to come home, considering the way you’ve been lately? I was afraid, Max.’
I smile. She came to find me.
I hold her. She doesn’t hold me back – she’s as stiff as a petrified tree.
‘It’s okay,’ I say. ‘Really. I was about to leave and head back home.’
‘No you weren’t,’ she says, keeping her head down. I know she’s crying. She’s always cried silently but I know the difference in her voice; I get it when she’s crying. I don’t even need to look at her.
‘Yes, I was,’ I say.
‘I don’t care.’
‘What about the convention?’
‘It was boring.’
‘Good. That’s what I wanted to hear.’
‘Are you okay now, Max?’
‘I just realised I am,’ I say. ‘You know what I want to do? I want to take you home and have some pizza. Watch TV together. Maybe talk things over.’
I’m feeling invigorated. Like I can take this on. Like, I’ve survived. He’s gone, but I’ve survived. And he left behind a collection of nice memories. Maybe I should write my own, I think. My own memories and my point of view on those he wrote, too. It’s ok, I think. It’s gonna be ok.
She says, ‘Let’s go home.’
‘I just need to know one thing,’ I ask.
‘Did you meet any cute fans? The kind who offer you wine after the book signing, stuff like that.’
She smiles. ‘Not this time.’
‘Good.’ I pass my arm around her and hold her closer. ‘You won’t believe what I did today.’
We get my stuff, I pay the bill and get into the car. On the way home, I tell her everything I know about whales.
The rest is legend, memory, past, all those things we leave on a shelf in the basement. The trip back was, as trips back home always are, shorter. Everyone wanted to talk to me, to ask how the fight was and why did it happen, but since I didn’t reply much they gave up. Pablo tried to convince people he’d had a threesome, but no one believed him.
I still remember those days. Perhaps I’m still there.
People grew quieter as we went south. Passing Torres, all the views were too familiar. I couldn’t get myself to say a word. Pablo turned to me:
I just nodded, sensing that there was nothing else I could do but cry. He reached for his backpack, took the Magic: The Gathering deck of cards I gave him as a payment for coming on the trip and put it in my hands.
‘You’ve got the right cards. You just need to learn how to play them.’
I held the deck, certain that I would never play a match again in my life, and nodded. He punched my arm lightly and like that we arrived home.