â€œWhere are you off to?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€
From midnight to eight in the morning you sleep. From eight in the morning until midnight you donâ€™t sleep.
â€œWhere are you off to?â€
â€œHow should I know?â€
There are three roads. They lead to three places, always the same. And in between? What if I were to follow a path in between two of those roads? They would lead to familiar places too, always the same. Because I know everything around here. Because nothing changes. Because thatâ€™s how we are. Because weâ€™re on the map and on the plan and the train knows where to find us, and so does the bus, the mail, the telephone, our friends, our family, and weâ€™re hemmed in by the street, the room, and the door. The window always looks out on the same view. And what if, one day, that view changed? It wonâ€™t.
Sometimes, at four in the afternoon or seven in the evening my head feels like lead. But no one goes to sleep at that hour, and so I donâ€™t either. Sometimes, at four in the morning, or at five, Iâ€™m wide awake and my headâ€™s as clear as a star. And I want to sleep. And I canâ€™t. And my wife is sleeping. And my children. The fire and me are the same, you see, we take a while to cool down. I can feel the embers glowing in my head, the last embers of dawn, into which, sometimes, an idea drops and painfully revives them, with something vaguely funereal, like a bunch of lavender.
Why couldnâ€™t I eat lunch today at lunchtime?
â€œWhere are you off to at this hour?â€
â€œThis hourâ€ is always intended for something else, I know that. Sometimes it smells of food out in the street, or of a freshly lit stove, or of a warm, sleepy mule, or else the fields and the stars start to give off a mist. And what if I were to go out now and not see Mateo, never see him again, and yet he hadnâ€™t died?
â€œGo to bed.â€
The other day, I would have given anything to be able to enter the other room a different way. I really tried, but I couldnâ€™t. I pushd hard and I couldnâ€™t. I screamed and hammered with my fists, but I couldnâ€™t. I nearly went to fetch the pickaxe.
At around dawn, I wrung the neck of our cockerel. He was only missed because he didnâ€™t crow any more, whereas the neighboursâ€™ cockerels did, as they do every day.
I donâ€™t like to close anything at night, not the windows or the doors or the chicken run or the stable. I donâ€™t want to stop seeing the sun at night. And I do see it. How is it that no one, absolutely no one, goes out in the street at night? If I wanted to smoke a cigarette now with Felipe, could I?
Now Iâ€™m exhausted and would rather not go out, but something hard and rough and strong is pushing me out of the door, and however much I shout â€œleave me alone, leave me aloneâ€, I know that Iâ€™m already on my way.
Sometimes, I go to work extra early, even if I donâ€™t have any work to do. And then I probably donâ€™t do anything much, but sit there like an absurd iron statue. Between hammer blows, though, I soak up the silence; like a bath, yes, itâ€™s like taking a bath. And even the ladies of easy virtue are sleeping; the ladies of easy virtue with their fat, lustrous, much-fondled buttocks. If I wantedâ€¦ But, no, I have my bed and my wife waiting for me. But what if I donâ€™t want that bed?
Why arenâ€™t people out dancing at night? Is it impossible? Whatâ€™s wrong with a bit of a ruckus?
â€œGo to bed. Or go for a walk if you canâ€™t sleep.â€
All right, but where? No, donâ€™t fall into the trap, donâ€™t go out in the street. To the left is the main square, I know that; to the right is the church, the churchyard, the cemetery. No, I donâ€™t go out in the street, I donâ€™t follow the paths or go to the door or look out of the window, I canâ€™t even sleep at night, or eat when itâ€™s time to eat or laugh when the others laugh, and sometimes, when they laugh, I feel my eyes filling up and stinging.
There have been nights when Iâ€™ve set off along that path flanked by high walls that no one knows about. And another night I walked on the moon. And the other thing thatâ€™s good is to wade into the river and keep on going, without a care in the world..
Whenever Iâ€™m about to go out, the trap is there watching me: the enormous, dangerous ditch of the day, full of smaller ditches, and the freer, broader ditch of the night, which is like a narcotic.
I get up and look at the clock again and again, the first trap, and I make haste and I get anxious because a little black hand is approaching the eight or the nine and I have to go out five minutes before, whether I want to or not. And the clock is like a heartless fool who has been crowned king. I go out and I pass NicolÃ¡s and Iâ€™m just about to say â€œGood morningâ€, but I donâ€™t; I only fall half into the trap and instead I say â€œGoodnightâ€, and he, who has been in the trap ever since he was born, gives me an odd look and laughs because he thinks it isnâ€™t night, and no one will ever convince him that other people in the world are sleeping, or that Iâ€™m completely outside all of this, and want nothing to do with the pavement or the short cut, and make a point of treading on all the cracks. And that some days, I help the priest, and on others Iâ€™m a poultry dealer, and on others, I do nothing at all, and on Sundays the only hammering youâ€™ll hear in the village will be coming from me, even though, all day and every day, Iâ€™m a blacksmith. And sometimes I leave by the window, not by the door, and sometimes I escape over the wall of the chicken run that separates us off from Goyoâ€™s place; Goyo is married and, if he sees me, heâ€™ll think only one thing: that Iâ€™m after his wife. And heâ€™s wrong, Iâ€™m not after his wife.
Sometimes, Iâ€™d like to be a woodworm, sometimes a bat.
â€œYou need to rest.â€
No. I canâ€™t. And in the evening, when I sit at the front door, straddling my chair, people think Iâ€™m here, just like everyone else, but Iâ€™m not; I always feel a kind of nagging resentment, a sense that I deserve more, that Iâ€™m trapped by order.
Now Iâ€™m exhausted and would rather not go out, but something hard and rough and strong is pushing me out of the door, and however much I shout â€œleave me alone, leave me aloneâ€, I know that Iâ€™m already on my way. And Iâ€™m tired, so tired, just shattered really. Because man is made for the trap; because the trap is anything thatâ€™s easy and comfortable, and itâ€™s so well constructed that I donâ€™t have the brains or the courage to get out of it.
One day, I will escape, though, perhaps over the rooftops. The day when I donâ€™t even know where Iâ€™m going, when Iâ€™m not thinking, not feeling. Today is only a rehearsal. And then just let people try saying thereâ€™s only day and night, only certain hours for doing certain things, that there are no other roadsâ€¦
Medardo Fraile (b.1925) grew up in Madrid, and lived through the siege of the city during the Spanish Civil War. He first achieved literary recognition for his work in experimental theatre, becoming part of a group that included Alfonso Sastre and Alfonso Paso, and writing the acclaimed play ‘El Hermano’. During the Fifties, his focus moved to short-story writing, and he left Francoâ€™s Spain to eventually settle in Scotland as Professor of Spanish at the University of Strathclyde. His stories brought him many awards, including the Premio de la CrÃtica, the SÃ©samo and Estafeta Literaria prizes as well as the Hucha de Oro. He is widely thought of as Spainâ€™s finest exponent of the genre. He died in 2013.
Margaret Jull Costa has translated works by novelists such as EÃ§a de Queiroz, JosÃ© Saramago, Javier MarÃas and Teolinda GersÃ£o, as well as poets such as Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen and Ana LuÃsa Amaral. She has won many prizes, most recently the 2015 Marsh Award for Childrenâ€™s Fiction in Translation for Bernardo Atxagaâ€™s â€˜The Adventures of Sholaâ€™. In 2013 she was invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 2014 was awarded an OBE for services to literature. In 2015 she was given an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Leeds.