(Original title: Fantasia Espanola (1))
Although the morning light was clear and light blue, Galissou moved about the room as if it were full of fog. When he finally arrived at the window, he immediately took a step back, tapped the window pane lightly, and dragging his feet, returned to his seat at the table. On the table was a plate with four untouched cookies; at its side, apparently arranged in order, were an open small telephone directory, a bottle of milk, and a beige-colored telephone.
Galissou passed his finger down the column of names on a page of the little telephone book. Around two-thirds the way down nearly all were checked off with a green marking pen. Without taking his eyes from the name where his fingernail had stopped, leaning his body a little to the side, Galissou lifted the receiver and dialed a number. He waited, repeatedly smoothing his electric blue bathrobe.
"Palomera," shot out a voice from the telephone.
"Senor Palomera ..."
"I've already said I'm Palomera."
"Yes, I know. Senor Palomera. Good morning, I'm Galissou."
There was a silence of moderate severity. Tired of studying his house shoes, Galissou closed his eyes.
"I haven't had the pleasure. Not the least pleasure."
"Atalanio Galissou. Left interior of the Toviel team."
Another silence filled with confused clicking sounds.
"Oh, yes, yes, Galliso. What can I do for you? Be brief, I beg you."
"Ummm ... What is that sound? Is it on your end of the line or mine?"
"Papers." Now the voice sounded as if a little farther away.
"Papers." The voice took on a brutal loudness. "Papers, Galliso! I don't know if you're aware of where you've called, but this is the parish archives of our town and you're speaking with the person in charge. I hope you don't mind if I go on looking through these useless documents while you're talking to me. The historian's task is arduous, Galliso."
"Galissou," said Galissou. "Ga-li-ssou, Senor Palomera. I find it strange that my name isn't familiar to you."
"Well, it isn't."
Galissou took a small drink of milk. He looked sorrowfully at the bottle.
"Oh ... And what did you do last Sunday afternoon?" he asked.
A muffled laugh was heard. "And you, Galissou?"
"I played a soccer match. The finals of the regional league. I told you before: I'm the left inside player for the Toviel Soccer Club. The one ..."
"You don't say." The background sounds stopped. It sounded like maybe Palomera was clearing his throat. "And what else? Let's see, give me a clue."
"I've already done everything possible, Senor Palomera. I don't want to bother you any further. But well ... My mother was Haitian."
"Ah, so that's it! The Black."
"Mulatto. I'm a mulatto."
"Yes, of course. No doubt." There was a dull sound, as if a filing box had fallen. "Man, Galissou. Soccer isn't very important to me, but don't think I haven't thought about you. Well, shall we say I've seen that photo of you."
"What do you mean, which one? That dreadful photo, I don't know if it was in the newspaper of the capital city or in El Tovelano. You're sitting in a corner of the field, alone, hugging your knees, your head hanging ..."
"Oh, that one."
"Yes, with your hair shining with sweat and with ... it was raining, wasn't it? An indescribable desolation. And in the distance, the other team launching kisses to the fences, naked as monkeys of course, and far away a girl, I suppose one of our supporters, with her face all wrinkled from crying."
"It's been a tragedy for the people. That's precisely why I've called."
"Yes, yes, I perceived something. A little feeling, a basaltic astonishment. I believe the team was going to be moved up to ... Man, Galissou ... What do you expect of me?"
"Nothing, nothing. What I wanted to say to you ..."
"Confidentially; how could something like that happen to you?"
Galissou raised his eyes to the window. Against the unreal clarity of the sky some branches of the walnut tree trembled slightly, as if foreseeing something. On the other end of the telephone line the silence was cavernous, but provocative. He crossed his legs.
"A human error, Senor Palomera. Technically ... I don't know, the rain ... But what happened was the shot didn't come off as it should have."
"Come on, Galissou! You're a talented player. An expert. That's what they say. But you know what? I'm not convinced of that. No, no."
Galissou's back slid down a little in the chair. His buttocks rested on the edge of the seat. You could hear the insistent drumming of a finger.
"You're right, Palomera. About everything."
"Noooow, yes. Now, yes. Don't think I haven't tried to think of what could have caused it. The solitude, the weight of an inordinate mission. But I really like the idea of a mental vortex. A gleam, an ... interference."
Galissou uncrossed his legs and slowly straightened himself in the chair.
"You didn't see the game."
"No, what for? But I think, Galissou, that's what I do in life, and I work things out. Maybe I'm the only person who thinks about Toviel. Thinking continually expands perceptions."
"You have something to tell. I'm listening. We have time."
Undecided, Galissou looked at the cookies but again he picked up the bottle of milk. He stopped it an inch from his lips.
"It had rained all the second half and much more after they made their goal. We didn't become desperate until the last five minutes. We've been the best throughout the season. Infinitely better than the others. So when they pushed Coure in the penalty area and the official whistled the foul, it seemed logical to us. As if the God of Soccer were just. So I went and put the ball on the penalty spot. I'm the one who takes all the penalties. I go and place the ball and take a little run-up. Everything completely natural ... When suddenly a thunderclap is heard. And more rain. I don't know how it could rain more. It was a flood."
"Exactly. Senor Palomera, you couldn't see the stands, not the spectators or the umbrellas. I looked over my shoulder and the rain blurred my teammates and our opponents. I was waiting. I waited a terribly long time. Then the official came and shook my arm, and he said, how long was I going to wait?"
"Damn! You hadn't heard the whistle."
"Um ... Senor Palomera, you're a ..."
"I think, Galissou. Right now I'm thinking. I can imagine things with great precision. Your story allows me to imagine everything."
Galissou finally drank a little more of the milk. A tremor shook his shoulders. In the window, the branches of the walnut tree had become still.
"The official returned to his place and whistled louder. Then the goal appeared and the goalkeeper. With his legs apart, crouching a little, like those people do. He appeared within the rain, like an animal ... I saw him very clearly. He seemed ... I don't know."
There was heard the clicking of a tongue.
"Galissou, Galissou. Come on now. Speak with confidence."
"He looked like a lion. He's a keeper with a tremendous head of hair, the color of straw. Bernardez is his name. But I looked at the ball. I wasn't trying to fool him or anything, only kick with my soul and life and drive it in there and obtain justice for once and for all. So I took off. One step, two steps. Three steps, Palomera. Four. Look, I couldn't ever get there. To the ball. And suddenly I was surrounded by a silence ... a loud silence."
"The spectators, within the rain."
"No. It had stopped raining."
"It was like the silence of a jungle."
The two men remained silent for a moment. At Palomera's end of the line steps were heard, as if he had gotten up to look for something, and then a gurgling sound.
"That's what I guessed," said Palomera, "did you black out?"
"What? Well, 1 don't know. No. I couldn't move. I ran but I was paralyzed."
"You were tied up."
Galissou swallowed saliva. His head hung down.
"Yes. I was tied to a post. I don't know where that sensation came from, that ... memory. It was something in my head, and in my body, from some other time. A post. In the jungle. I yelled, I shook myself, I cried. But ... Don't you see, I was tied up, understand? There was an old ...
"Tied up, did you say?" Palomera's voice was becoming slightly harsh. (2)
"Yes. Tied up. There was an old man with a brightly colored mask and a kind of rattle, a stick with little bells on it. He came and passed the rattle over my chest and my thighs, and then he left, he disappeared in ..."
"Into the depths of the jungle. I understand. He was a sorcerer. Then ..."
"It was night, or late twilight, among the vines, far away a liturgical song, a kind of praying. There was a smell ... I don't know. Then the lion appeared. Don't imagine that he roared, no. He passed his tongue over his snout, he opened his ... maw. Not until he was very close did he begin to roar, with a burning breath. He rose up on his hind legs and put his paws on my shoulders ... I was terrified, and I passed out."
"Well, I'm not surprised."
"Yes, but in an instant I came to, and I saw a claw, and I passed out again."
"And you dreamed of the lion."
"I think so, it seemed like that. It was the lion, and it was Bernardez, the goalkeeper, and it was also Bernardez and a kind of soldier who attacked me with a bayonet, but I don't know about that, the sensation came from some other point in time. When I woke up again I had my breasts soiled, you could see a kind of slobber, and the lion was lying at my feet, looking at me with ..."
"With kindness, Senor Palomera. He was resting his head on his paws. Only when the man with the mask came up furiously to urge him on did he roar. He took a swipe at him, at the sorcerer. And then he looked at me again, quite steadily, with Bernardez's face. And it seemed that everybody was leaving, those who were behind the trees, although I couldn't see them, my tribe, and the man with the mask, and I was very tired, extremely tired, but also relieved, happy, I no longer was crying ... And the fact is that when the memory turned off."
"You'd stopped your run-up."
"Yes. The sensation ... faded away. In my tiredness I saw the ball, shining, and Bernardez, bouncing on his straddled legs, a few inches in front of the line, because goalkeepers always try to advance in order to cut off more space. But you're right, I'd stopped. Everybody believes I made a paradinha as the Brazilians say, a feint."
"Aha! People are so delightfully naive."
"There was nothing delightful about it, Senor Palomera. I couldn't shoot. I simply could not attack that man, humiliate him. He also had something at stake. And he was sleeping at my feet, the image came and went. He had done everything contrary to what my tribe expected of him. He was protecting me."
"A noble creature."
"My head was floating."
"I can imagine."
A disdainful smile briefly creased Galissou's thick lips. He wiped it away with his hand, as if repenting it.
"No, you can't imagine it. It was something horrible, it was all screwed up."
"Calm down, Galissou. 1 only said I could imagine it. But certainly, I didn't live the moment. I'm trying to understand."
"He got up suddenly, stretching himself like all cats do. And he roared."
"That was thunder, Galissou, there in the stadium."
"If you say so. I heard a roar. And then, and then the claws again on my neck, on my belly, and the teeth, Palomera, the teeth, each gash an infinite pain, an eternity of pain, and there were infinite gashes, the welling up of ... to see my blood, my intestines, see how one is eaten but doesn't die. To die without dying completely, agonizing. Seeing Bernardez's claws, my ... tissues." (3)
"And your breasts, Galissou." Palomera paused. "I suppose you will have continued advancing. That you will have thrown yourself."
"Yes, toward the ball. Against Bernardez. You know, I've always been an elegant and precise player. But at that moment I couldn't decide whether to shoot off my instep to the lower corner of the goal or to fool him, those silly thoughts. I wanted to rip the net, send Bernardez into the goal, with the ball and all. Bury him. Tie the game with a fierce shot and win the championship, Palomera. Win the championship. I'd already wasted too much time, damn it."
"That's what's called poetic justice. Metaphysical revenge, I'd say. A life for a life, hell! In anyone's life." Palomera blew his nose. "But well, you haven't told me what happened."
It took a little time for Galissou's panting to acquire a rhythm, and by then he preferred to transform it into a sigh.
"I believe that after so many stops, I finally arrived at the ball out of balance. A little too soon or a little late, and twisted, my leg didn't have ... I don't know. There were puddles of water. I hit it weakly, or my shoe slipped. That usually happens when the ball is wet; one doesn't hit it cleanly. And it went off nearly right up the middle ... And even with that, it would have gone in because Bernardez had thrown himself to the left. But it hit his foot." (4)
"Yeah, and afterwards it flew to the right post, bounced off and began to roll along the line. I saw that Bernardez was getting up and I went after the ball. I should have thrown myself, dived, hit it with a rib, whatever it took."
"It would have been glorious."
"Pssh." Galissou straightened his body and adjusted his bathrobe. "But I slipped. The field was ... three steps from the ball I fell, as if my legs had been cut from under me. And he leaped like a cat and trapped it." His voice had become nasal. "For me that was my death. Again."
"One doesn't live only one time."
"Well, Senor Palomera. That's all. I'm sorry."
"Please, Galissou. You've just related to me a very interesting experience, an enigma of the mind and the past. I remember one of Kipling's tales ..."
"No, no. I mean I'm sorry about my failure. I beg you to forgive me. Well ..."
The sound heard now was like a fingernail scraping a painted surface.
"What do you mean, you're sorry about it?"
Galissou wrinkled his brow.
"Yes. I'm sorry. Next season I will demonstrate my worth."
"Ah. You're sorry. What frivolity. The goal is seven meters wide, you're a professional, the championship was at stake, and you say you're sorry."
"Senor Palomera. I had that dizziness. That ... memory. I wasn't myself. The ball was soaking wet."
"Listen, Galissou, I believe I've seen sometime on television, although I scarcely pay any attention to it, that in these situations, good players dry the ball with their shirts before shooting. They dry it very well and they put it on an even spot."
"I know how to take penalty shots."
"No, you don't know. You didn't dry the ball. And you didn't make a good approach. You can be as much of a virgin offered to a lion as you wish, that's a painful avatar, but life goes on, it can't be said better, and one puts a penalty in the back of the net."
Galissou moved the telephone to his other hand and dried his moist palm on his bathrobe.
"Look, Palomera, I haven't told anybody about this. How is it that you can't? This was something very intimate. You would have to ..."
"It goes to the net. A penalty is put in the goal. It's not a time for affectations. Strong and to one side. What do you think of that!"
"But what the hell do you know about soccer."
"You messed up. Your fine left leg. You want it spelled out? You messed up!
"Don't spit on me. You're sending saliva through the telephone, Palomera."
"Do you have any idea of the miserable salary they pay me?"
"I don't even have any proof that you didn't do it on purpose."
"Go to hell."
"And I'll confide in you a personal thought. You've been a spoiled favorite of the fans. But it's not only the tribes in the jungle that sacrifice virgins to the lions. Precisely your skin ..."
"My father is a Spaniard." Galissou's dark fingers turned pale from squeezing the bottle of milk so hard it dented the plastic. A few drops fell onto the list of telephone numbers. "That's not the problem. On the contrary. It's their compassion."
"They're faking it. The team was one goal away from being champions."
"Perhaps. They're so silent."
"You see? And they're right. A shot a little faggot could make."
"Palomera ... Sometimes it becomes unbearable."
Galissou's voice faded into a murmur. Tense over the powerful body, the electric blue bathrobe gleamed in the brilliant morning light.
"What do you want?"
"A little spirit."
"Don't fuck with me."
"You've chosen well the person to call. You can do it whenever you like. Here you will always have someone to talk to who is sensitive. And thinking."
"What do you mean, no?"
"That you shouldn't expect a call from me. I only called to apologize. You are one, the third of the P's. I still have 425 to go."
A squeak seemed to suggest that Palomera had slid a chair.
"Certainly. Through Zuvirfa. And when will you finish?"
"I don't know. I don't know if I'll still want to. And then the training sessions will be starting."
Galissou waited until he heard the click. Then he hung up and spent some time with his hand resting on the telephone. When he realized that his arm was starting to become numb, he shook it a little, and using the border of his bathrobe, he began drying the drops of milk that had fallen on the little telephone directory. With a pen he had in his pocket, he put a mark next to the name, Palomera Diaz, Egidio. It seemed he was going to get up because he turned toward the window, but he placed a finger on the list of names and lifted the telephone receiver again.
Translated by Richard V. McGehee
(1.) Fantasia Espanola originally appeared in the story collection Cuentos de Futbol Argentino (Buenos Aires: Alfaguara, 1997).
(2.) When Galissou says "tied up," he uses the participle in feminine form, the way a woman would refer to herself. That is why Palomera asks if that was what he said.
(3.) In this last statement Galissou uses pronouns specifically indicating his femininity.
(4.) Now Galissou is referring to himself as masculine.