Father and Son

Flavia Company, transl. by Kate Whittemore


The son can’t sleep. He looks at the father. Rather, he looks toward the father, toward the source of the snoring, toward the heaving, half-glimpsed lump of the old man’s body.
How much longer is he going to live?

Eladio hadn’t slept—not well, not poorly—in many nights. He got in bed by force of habit, and because his father shouted hoarsely for him from the bed, demanding his presence, as if it were required in order to fall asleep. And he obeyed. He even brought his father a glass of warm milk, handed it to him, watched as he drank, then set it on the only nightstand, which was on his father’s side—next to the dead telephone and the broken alarm clock, ceremonial scepters, denoting his power—and then began to undress with the inexplicable feeling of undressing more than was quite appropriate. Life was so strange. Rather, life had been so strange, since Eladio felt that his was ending along with his father’s, the two of them together in that dump, in that tiny room, in that double bed with the squeaky frame and worn mattress that he had always wanted to replace with two twins. But his father had never approved of the expense; he thought selling his gold watch, his only inheritance—just so they could buy two beds—was a sacrilege, and in any case why did they need two beds, he said, seeing as they were father and son, with all the times he had wiped his butt as a baby, and two beds wouldn’t fit in such a small room anyhow. If he hadn’t lost his job they could have stayed in that other apartment, they had been comfortable there. And Eladio repeated for the thousandth time that it wasn’t that he had lost his job but that the company had gone bankrupt. Yes, well, the father concluded.

On the floor was a bedpan that the father filled with spittle and urine every night and which Eladio emptied every morning, stifling guilty waves of nausea. The man was his father. How could he be so disgusted by him? His mother, long dead, always told him: your father will outlive us all, but not before he makes us suffer as much as he wants to, and more.

The father didn’t get up except to empty his bowels. The rest of the time he spent there in bed, between threadbare sheets, smelling of that odor the elderly give off even when they are washed and clean, that inexplicable sour smell, that mixture of medicine and ammonia—in the best of cases—that forced Eladio to cover his nose surreptitiously, so as not to offend, because if old age worsened a person’s smell, what could be said about its effect on their irritability? What a cross to bear. I don’t matter to you anymore, you don’t even talk to me, you don’t say a word, and we used to have good conversations before, not anymore, of course, now I’m just a burden, I bother you, now I’m worse than an old piece of junk because I complain and cost you money. No, Father, it’s not like that. What did you say? And Eladio had to raise his voice, almost shout, it’s not like that, Father, I’m telling you, and then he muttered, I don’t talk to you because you’re deaf as a post. What are you muttering? I’m not muttering. I saw you. Well, you’re mistaken. Think you can fool me, do you? When the only thing I haven’t done for you is give birth to you myself!

Some days, not often, things were easier, and they remembered the good times or watched a football match or the father said that they needed to find a nice girl to look after them both, a pretty girl that would brighten things up. And where would she sleep? Eladio asked then, unsuspecting—he always fell into the trap—and the father, deeply wounded, would answer straightaway: don’t you worry about that, with all this unpleasantness I won’t be around much longer.

It happened over and over, time and time again. Eladio had waited fifteen years for things to change by themselves, on their own, not knowing that the strongest law is that of inertia.

What was Eladio doing there, sleeping with a man twenty-five years his senior, father or not. Though there was no doubt about that—they were identical, exactly the same, the two of them. When Eladio looked at his father, he saw himself at eighty-five years old, but alone, without a son to sleep with, and that thought so saddened him that he began to feel sorry for his father who did have a son after all; true, a son that was fed up, or put more aptly, a son that was tired of him.

The father often spit at the bedpan and missed. So when Eladio got up in the night to go to the bathroom, stepping quickly since he was barefoot, he suddenly felt the sticky mucus the father had hocked up, thick from years of practice, under the sole of his foot. It was times like that—why deny it?—when he wished the father would die, or that he would die himself. What was a sixty-year-old man doing stepping on another person’s phlegm in a shoddy room, with no prospects for the future, scraping by on two miserable pensions that confined them to absolute financial insecurity. He wasn’t doing anything. Put simply, that was life. That was living. Those were their lives. It was horrifying. Both with their ailments, both crippled by indolence. Or maybe nothing was really holding them there, not even indolence; indolence, after all, was a mindset, or perhaps a question of character.

Eladio gave up on his struggle against neglect and waited several days to empty the bedpan, clean the spittle from the floor, pick up the dishes, take out the trash, shower, air out the house. Eladio had given up on everything, and he often thought that the fault lie in sharing the bed, that that was what so humiliated him, he couldn’t say exactly why. Perhaps it was just that he had to put up with his father’s flatulence, his snores, his bitter breath, his sweat, it was if by putting up with all that he had renounced the most minimal sense of dignity, of humanity, even.

And so, after looking toward the heaving, barely-glimpsed lump of the old man’s body and wondering how long he was going to live, Eladio rises quietly, dresses, and goes down to the street to wait for daylight and the stores to open so he can finally pawn or sell the gold watch and buy two beds, one for each of them, even if it caused his father to keel over in displeasure, stone-dead. At least he would be in his own bed.


Padre e hijo

El hijo no puede dormir. Mira al padre o, mejor dicho, mira hacia el padre, hacia donde suenan sus ronquidos, hacia el bulto entrevisto y agitado de su cuerpo anciano, ¿Cuánto más va a vivir?

Hacía ya muchas noches que Eladio no dormía. Ni bien ni mal. Se acostaba por inercia y porque su padre desde la cama reclamaba con gritos afónicos su presencia, como si le fuera imprescindible para conciliar el sueño. Y obedecía. Iba hasta él con el vaso de leche tibia, se lo daba, observaba mientras se lo bebía, lo dejaba después en la única mesilla de noche, que estaba del lado del padre —y allí el teléfono con la línea cortada y el despertador estropeado, como antiguos bastones de mando—, y luego empezaba a desvestirse con la inexplicable sensación de estar desnudándose más de lo conveniente. Que rara era la vida o, mejor dicho, qué rara habia sido, porque Eladio tenía la sensación de estar acabándola, a la vez que su padre, juntos los dos en aquel cuchitril, en aquel cuarto minúsculo, en aquella cama de matrimonio de somier ruidoso y colchón vencido que tantas veces él había querido cambiar por dos pequeñas. A su padre, sin embargo, no le parecía bien el gasto, pensaba que vender el reloj de oro, su única herencia, para comprar dos camas era un sacrilegio y además qué falta les hacía, decía él, siendo como eran padre e hijo, con las veces que él le había limpiado el culo, y además mal iban a caber dos catres en aquel cuarto tan pequeño; si no hubiese perdido el trabajo habrían podido conservar el otro piso, que allí sí que se estaba bien. Y Eladio por enésima vez repetía que no era que hubiese perdido el empleo sino que había quebrado la empresa. Pues eso, concluía el padre.

Junto a la cama había un orinal que el padre llenaba de esputos y orines todas las noches y que Eladio recogía to­das las mañanas aguantando las bascas culpables que le producían. Era su padre, ¿Cómo podía darle asco?, se preguntaba. Su madre, fallecida años atrás, siempre le decía, tu padre nos va a enterrar a todos, pero antes nos hará sufrir lo que le dé la gana y más.

El padre no se levantaba de la cama más que para ir de vientre. El resto del tiempo se lo pasaba allí, acostado, y las sábanas estaban siempre sobadas y olían a ese olor que los ancianos despiden aunque sean aseados y pulcros, ese olor ácido inexplicable, esa mezcla de medicamentos y amoniaco, en el mejor de los casos, que lo obligaba a taparse la nariz a escondidas, para no ofenderlo, porque si la edad empeoraba los aromas corporales qué decir entonces de la susceptibilidad. Qué cruz. Ya no cuento para nada, ni siquiera me hablas, no me dices qué ni cómo, con las buenas conversaciones que teníamos antes, pero ya no, claro, ahora soy un estorbo, te molesto, soy peor que un cachivache porque encima me quejo y te doy gasto. Que no, padre, que no es asi. ¿Cómo dices? Y Eladio levantaba la voz, gritando casi, que no es así padre, le digo, y murmuraba luego, que si no le hablo es porque está usted sordo como una tapia. ¿Qué  murmuras? No murmuro. Te he visto. Pues se equivoca usted. A mi me vas a engañar, que lo linico que no he hecho por ti es parirte.

A veces, pocos días, las cosas era fáciles, y recordaron buenos momentos o veían un partido de fútbol o el padre le decía que lo que tenía que hacer era buscarse una buena moza que los cuidara a los dos, una moza guapa que les alegrara la vida. ¿Y dónde iba a dormir?, preguntaba Eladio entonces, relajado, siempre caía en la trampa, y el padre, herido de dolor verdadero, contestaba de inmediato, no te preocupes que con tanto disgusto mucho no voy a durar.

Todo se repetía, una vez tras otra. Eladio llevaba quince años esperando que las cosas cambiaran, pero ellas solas, por sí mismas, sin saber que la más fuerte de las leyes es la inercia.

Quéhacía allí Eladio durmiendo con un hombre veinticinco años mayor que él, por muy padre suyo que fuera, y de eso no cabía la menor duda porque eran calcados, iguales los dos, la misma cosa, y así en su padre se veía Eladio con ochenta y cinco afios, pero solo, sin hijo junto al que dormir, y ese pensamiento lo entristecía tanto que llegaba incluso a compadecerse de su padre que a fin de cuentas tenía hijo, si, pero harto o, mejor dicho, cansado de él.

Muchas veces el padre escupía hacía el orinal pero no embocaba, y por eso Eladio cuando se levantaba por la noche al lavabo, y por la prisa iba con los pies descalzos, notaba de pronto bajo la planta de los pies el moco viscoso que la carraspera de su padre expulsaba con la densidad que otorga la experiencia de años. Y en momentos así, por qué negarlo, le deseaba la muerte o más aún se la deseaba a sí mismo, qué hacía un hombre de sesenta años pisando los escupitajos de otro en una habitación de mala muerte y sin perspectiva alguna de futuro, malviviendo de un par de pensiones miserables que los constreftian a la más absoluta precariedad. No hacía nada. Sencillamente, eso era la vida. Vivir era eso. Sus vidas eran eso. Era pasmoso. Los dos con sus achaques, los dos ahí inmovilizados por la desidia o tal vez por nada, ni siquiera desidia, la desidia al fin y al cabo era una actitud o quizás cuestión de carácter.

Eladio había renunciado a luchar contra la dejadez y tardaba varios días en vaciar el orinal, en retirar del suelo los gargajos, en recoger los platos, en bajar la basura, en ducharse, en ventilar la casa. De alguna manera, Eladio había renunciado a todo y muchas veces pensaba que la culpa la tenía compartir la cama, eso lo hacía sentirse humillado, no sabía muy bien por qué, o quizás era tan sólo por soportar tan de cerca las flatulencias de su padre, sus ronquidos, su aliento agrio, sus sudores, era como si aceptando aquello renunciara al mínimo ámbito de dignidad, de humanidad incluso. Por eso Eladio, después de mirar hacia el bulto entrevisto y agitado del cuerpo anciano de su padre y de pensar cuánto más va a vivir, se levanta con sigilo, se viste y sale a la calle a esperar a que se haga de día y a que abran las tiendas para por fin empeñar o vender el reloj de oro y comprar dos camas, una para cada uno, aunque del disgusto le diera a su padre un síncope y se quedara tieso; por lo menos se quedaría tieso en cama propia.


Kate Whittemore is an emerging translator of contemporary Spanish prose. Her translations of the short stories “Screech Owl” by Sara Mesa (Madrid, 1976) and “Save Yourselves” by Lara Moreno (Seville, 1978) are forthcoming in Two Lines and The Arkansas International, respectively. She is translating Sara Mesa's novel Cuatro por cuatro/Four by Four for Open Letter Books. She lives in Valencia, Spain.