I’m a really first-rate writer. Nobody knows it, but it’s true—that’s what I said to my son yesterday. It wasn’t the first time; I usually say it when I’ve had too much to drink. What you are, he responded, looking me straight in the eye, is a run-of-the-mill pen pusher at a second-rate newspaper. He’d also had too much to drink. I’m a writer, I repeated. Maybe I’m a lousy one, but I’m still a writer. I’d never used that one before. But his retort left me in the shade. With cocksure cruelty, he smiled—a smile I’ve lived with since he was a boy—and said: Yeah, right. You ever gonna get a book published? Real writers publish books.
I left the table and went and locked myself in the bathroom where I sat down on the toilet to have a smoke. I could hear Estela scolding my son. She was reminding him— Allow me to remind you , she said, which meant that they’d already argued about it before—that I’d stopped working on my own writing full time the minute she told me she was pregnant. He wanted you to have the same privileges your grandfather gave him, my wife continued. Your father never could’ve paid for all the things you’ve had just by writing essays. Not to mention books. Well, they were so good nobody wanted to publish them.
Estela’s version of things isn’t entirely accurate, but by now it’s become a set piece in our family mythology. We all like to believe that’s the way things went. But, first off, I’ve always had a steady job. How else could I support the intensely literary life we’ve led all these years? It’s impossible to even dress like a writer, for example, on what you earn from writing. We never lived off my writing. At the most the stuff I published provided us with drinking money—and they were pretty cheap drinks at that. And then, it was only one of my books that nobody wanted to publish, for the simple reason that it was the only one I ever finished. But at that moment, locked in the bathroom, smoking, I was in no mood to quibble over little things like the truth.
I finally came out when I was sure that Sebastián had left the apartment. Estela was washing the dishes. Without saying a word, I poured myself another glass of anís then came and sat down at my desk here in the den and lit another cigarette. The unspoken rules of the house state that I can smoke all I like when I’m sitting here. However much it stinks up the house, it’s tolerated because it would be worse if I closed the door behind me. Also, here I can drink alone without arousing suspicion. I take refuge in the myth that alcohol and writing go hand in hand.
Thirty or thirty-five years ago, anyone would’ve been surprised if you’d told them that I would end up dedicating myself to something other than literature. Our whole circle of friends was quite familiar with my vocation, and given the speed with which I had risen in literary circles, most of them thought that I had a good chance of achieving some success. A few, Estela chief among them, were sure that I’d become really famous. Back then, she was a naïve, dazzling young thing, and I had plenty of charisma—I still do, in fact, but I’ve got no interest in dusting it off. One day at dinner with some quasi-distinguished guests—nobody really special—a very drunken acquaintance described Estela and me as a Renaissance couple . And to a certain extent we were: we frequented vintage booksellers, attended concerts and exhibitions, and took long trips around the country. We could talk cinema and dance gracefully. We didn’t have much money—very little, in fact—but we never wanted for very much. Our families helped us out, as much as they could, but we never abused their generosity.
Estela still believes, or maybe she’s just in the habit of believing, or perhaps she’s only allowing me to believe that she believes, that I will one day manage to write a publishable book. I also believed it, at least until yesterday when I saw that cruel, familiar smile. It’s true that my son has given me the best moments in my life, even if getting at them has sometimes been like pulling teeth. Perhaps the only thing left for him to give me was this entirely unappreciated, yet totally decisive, liberation.
When Estela finished washing the dishes she came to the den to say goodnight. She had something to tell me but kept it to herself: seeing me in front of the computer makes her curiously respectful, as if I
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