From this side of the cloister.
Go and get me a bit of bread, the voice demanded, there'll still be some at the bakery and, in a less overbearing tone, added, but don't say it's for me because I can manage by myself and they know it. Rita and I looked at one another, she with mischief in her eyes and something calculating too, the calculating of her working out whether it was worth it just to do what the woman wanted, or if it was even more interesting because, if we obeyed, it could open up the door that was always closed and that was now only ajar. I shrugged. Rita nodded as she does when she wants to convince me, when she doesn't want me to go away and when she wants my heart to take the jump with hers. I nodded too, to say maybe yes, okay, let's. I'll wait for you both here, said the voice. I don't know how, but the voice saw the two of us. A hand came out of the cat flap with money for a small baguette.
There were no small baguettes at the baker's. They'd run out, but we held out the palms of our hands with the coins and waited. The baker's wife exclaimed, but your mother already came this morning ... so why do you want a baguette now? Rita and I kept quiet and we were so quiet that the baker's wife tried again. Why do you want the baguette? She spoke as if we were one person, as if one of us wasn't there and we didn't answer. We moved really close together, as if we were on a boat going down the river, holding our breath and keeping things steady so the boat wouldn't tip us into the moving water. We kept our arms outstretched so the coins were clearly visible and stared at the two large baguettes that were left on the shelf. A shout from the back room claimed the attention of the baker's wife and made her go inside. The family was having dinner and they were calling her to join them, so let's see when you'll have your dinner then, we heard the baker saying, jokingly but annoyed. Just to sell a bit of bread you'd be able to go without eating anything all day long, he went on, and then began one of those conversations that, even if they are loud, you don't understand anything because everyone's talking at once. Yes, yes, that's right, was the baker's wife's last shout, that's business, yes sir. She shot out of the back room all red in the face with a plate of vegetables that she put down on the counter. She took one of the large baguettes, broke it in two and gave us one half. Don't say anything, not a word, she yelled. Now get home, she added furiously. We paid and we left.
We went back to carrer del Castell in silence. We must both have been thinking the same but we didn't say anything. More than usual, we walked as if we were one. Perfect, impossible understanding, mum once said to the doctor. We went slowly along carrer Major to the square where the church is and then, just before it starts going up to the castle, to the street where the house with the closed door was. Slowly but not overdoing it. We didn't want to attract anyone's attention because, at our age, everyone thinks they can say the first thing that comes out of their mouth and they especially think they can ask you for all kinds of explanations about everything. Like Quimet who, as we came out of the baker's, told us that this was no time for us to be running round the streets. Rita had stopped him with her witch's eyes and the old man said, "You're going to have problems if you get around like that, and he'd gone into the bar giving the door a good slam.
For a moment we talked about going along carrer de la Lluna, which is always really empty, but we found it funny to think, if someone saw us in carrer Major, how they'd explain things tomorrow depending on what happened tonight at the house with the dosed door. Near the watchmaker's shop we were stopped by Carmeta de Campanilles who liked to wander round by herself at dinner time. She'd stopped in the middle of the road with a hand on her hip and was beckoning us over to her so we wouldn't walk right past her, but I'd like to know how you could walk past her when she says hullo to you and calls you over and is as nice as nice can be. Where are you off to, you witch? she asked with her Grenache voice, as they called it, but we'd never tasted Grenache though maybe we would soon, in the winter festival. Aren't you having dinner, child? Do they know at home that you're running round the streets? And who's that bread for? Rita kept staring at her and I knew what was going to happen: she was going to show the whites of her eyes, tip her head backwards and open out her arms as wide as she could. She gave the half baguette to Carmeta and got herself into the position that Carmeta knew all too well. Carmeta took a step backwards. Silly gift, you're such a silly gift, she exclaimed, you can't fool me, you've never had a vision in your life. Having lost interest in us, she went off in the opposite direction. Before she reached Quimet's bar she turned round and shouted, but one day you might have one, you might have a vision and then we'll see who has the last laugh. Carmeta didn't understand her but she was the only one who liked talking with Rita more than with me.
We kept heading for the square where the church is. When we got to the barber's shop, we exchanged glances when we saw a man coming out the door of mum's friend's house. We'd sworn never to say anything about it and it was as if we'd never seen him. We also wanted respect and tact (these were mum's words when she was talking about her friend) when it came to our things, but this didn't happen very often. Depending on the moment, it was even worse when they treated Rita as if she didn't exist. Only mum, and sometimes dad, when he was reading novels, asked me about her from time to time, but the usual thing was that they pretended to be happy to see me studying when, with a book in my hand, the only thing I was doing was talking to Rita. It didn't look as if the reality interested them. One day Rita told me that families were like that and they constituted (she liked this word a lot) a place where things that don't end well with other people are possible because, even if you get very angry with each other, when it comes to the crunch, only the people who constitute a real family turn a blind eye as if nothing was wrong. Maybe that's why she didn't care that nobody except Carmeta de Campanilles said hullo or anything at all to her, and that they only talked to me. They were jealous because we were so united. We didn't say this out loud but that's what we both thought.
It often happened that we thought the same but it wasn't always like that. Right now I thought Rita was hanging around too long in the square where the church is, as if all of a sudden she didn't want to go to the house with the closed door. She looked again at the war memorial cross that was hanging from the facade of the church and said out loud the old name of the square that was written in the old, very old stone, almost illegible, an ancient sign with big letters: Plata de la Constitucio. We'd talked a lot about this word which was one of Rita's top favourites, we'd asked about it at home, we'd looked it up in the dictionary and we'd even wondered if we two constituted essential elements of one organism. What organism we didn't know but we didn't want to ask about it either, not at home or at school.
Another time, Rita read in a book that a person's heart is like a cloister, another word we found difficult even though we liked it.
I started holding her hand, and took the bread that she was about to drop because her arm was getting tired and we went off to the house with the closed door. The hill going up at the end of carrer del Castell wasn't lit. Only one gloomy bulb gave off a bit of light from a lamppost halfway down the street, at the frontier outside the dosed door. It was because of the light bulb that people knew that the woman went out very early in the morning. Rita still wasn't sure. Her calculations had changed since we'd heard the voice and gone to get the bread. The Placa de la Constitucio sometimes had that effect on her. Do you mean no, that we shouldn't go in? I was a bit apprehensive and also relieved. The door opened at that very moment, opened up wide. The entrance was very old, like in the oldest houses in the village. You couldn't see a soul in there and almost nothing else either: it was dark and black, as we'd imagined it to be.
You come in first Rita, said the woman from the top of the stairs, in a voice that was calmer than before. Come in both of you, she added. Thank you, I said. Then I saw that Rita was no longer in any doubt and that, without my seeing her go in, was already inside and waiting for me at the foot of the stairs.
While we were going upstairs, and as if we'd just decided this, I realised that Rita was dissolving inside me and, as the dictionary would say, she was constituting me.
As far as everyone else was concerned, my friend Rita met her end that night, vanished into the house in carrer del Castell. Not for me. People said later that I'd improved a lot, that now I wasn't such a dreamer. It's true that I can talk normally with other people. Sometimes I listen to them but not always. Not like I do with Rita. There are certain things I only tell her. And, from this side of the cloister, she answers me.
--Translated by Julie Wark
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|Title Annotation:||AND NOW|
|Author:||Ibarz, Merce; Wark, Julie|
|Publication:||The Review of Contemporary Fiction|
|Article Type:||Fictional work|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2008|
|Previous Article:||Family life.|
|Next Article:||The brothers Kovacks.|