Authors: Francesc Miralles
love in lowercase
is an award-winning author who has written a number of bestselling books. Born in Barcelona, he studied journalism, English literature, and German, and has worked as an editor, a translator, a ghostwriter, and a musician.
Love in Lowercase
has been translated into twenty languages.
An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
375 Hudson Street
New York, New York 10014
First published in Great Britain under the title
Love in Small Letters
by Alma Books Limited 2014
Published in Penguin Books 2016
Copyright Â© 2010, 2014 by Francesc Miralles
Translation copyright Â© 2014 by Julie Wark
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
Originally published in Spanish as
Amor en minuscula
by Amsterdam Llibres, an imprint of Ara Llibres SCCL in 2010. This translation, based on a revised text, published by Alma Books Limited in 2014.
Excerpt from “Prayer for Marilyn Monroe” from
Pluriverse: New and Selected Poems
by Ernesto Cardenal. Copyright Â© 1977 by Ernesto Cardenal.
Translation copyright Â© 1977, 1980 by Robert Pring-Mill.
Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-40639-1
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Miralles, Francesc, 1968â
[Amor en minÃºscula. English]
Love in lowercase / Francesc Miralles ; translated by Julie Wark.
I. Wark, Julie. II. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover design and illustration: Tal Goretsky
In memory of
Enjoy the little things,
for one day you may look back
and realize they were the big things.
In no time at all the year was going to end and the new one was about to begin. Human inventions for selling calendars. After all, we're the ones who've arbitrarily decided when the years, months, and even hours start. We shape the world in our own measure, and that soothes us. Under the apparent chaos, maybe there really is order in the universe. However, it certainly won't be our order.
I was putting a minibottle of cava and a dozen grapes on the tableâone for each stroke of midnight, as is the custom in this countryâand thinking about hours. I'd read somewhere that the battery of a human life runs down after 650,000 hours.
Considering the medical history of the males in my family, I calculated that my best life expectancy in terms of hours was lower than the average: 600,000 at most. At thirty-seven, I could very well be halfway through. The question was, how many thousands of hours had I wasted so far?
Until just before midnight on that 31st of December, my life hadn't exactly been an adventure.
The only member of my family was one sister I rarely saw. My existence alternated between the Department of German Studies
and Linguistics, where I am an assistant lecturer, and my dreary apartment.
Outside my literature classes, I had very little contact with other people. In my spare time, when I wasn't preparing for classes and correcting exams, I did the typical things a boring bachelor does: read and reread books, listen to classical music, watch the news, and so on. It was a routine in which the biggest thrill was the odd trip to the supermarket.
Sometimes, I gave myself a treat on weekends and went to the Verdi movie complex to see a foreign film. I came out as lonely as when I went in, but at least it was something to do at the end of the day. Then, tucked in bed, I read the information sheet the Verdi supplied about the film, listing the credits, quoting praise from the critics (never anything negative), and offering interviews with the director or actors.
None of this ever changed my opinion of the film. Then I switched off the light.
That was when a strange sensation took over, the idea that there was no guarantee I was going to wake up the next morning. Worse, I'd get even more anxious when I started calculating how many days or even weeks would go by before somebody realized I'd died.
I'd been brooding about this ever since I read in some newspaper that a Japanese man had been found in his apartment three years after his death. Everything suggested that no one had missed him.
Anyway, going back to the grapesÂ .Â .Â . While I was thinking about wasted hours, I counted out the twelve grapes and set them out on a plate, next to which I'd placed the champagne glass and the minibottle. I've never been much of a drinker.
Having turned on the TV and tuned in to one of those programs that link up with some famous clock or another, I opened the bottle six minutes before the chimes of midnight began to
ring out. I didn't want the new year to catch me unawares. I think the festivities were in Puerta del Sol in Madrid. Behind the pair of beautiful, glamorous hosts, an excited crowd was popping champagne corks. Some people were singing or jumping, waving their arms in the air in the hope that the cameras would capture them.
When people are lonely, they amuse themselves in very strange ways.
Midnight finally came, and I observed the ritual by putting one grape into my mouth with each chime. As I took a mouthful of cava and tried to wash down the grapes that were clogging up my throat, I couldn't help feeling ridiculous about having fallen into the trap of tradition. Who said I had to take part in that routine?
I decided it was a waste of time, so I wiped my mouth with a napkin and turned off the TV.
I could hear loud laughter and fireworks on the street as I undressed and got ready for bed.
How childish they are
. I switched off the light on yet another day.
I had trouble getting to sleep that night. I usually sleep with earplugs and mask, so it wasn't because of the noise outside, which was considerable, since I live between two squares in the bustling neighborhood of GrÃ cia.
For the first time in that festive season I felt lonely and vulnerable. I wanted the whole Christmas farce to endâand the sooner the better. I had five quiet days ahead, so to speak. Then, on January 6th, the Epiphany and last day of the Christmas holidays, I was going to have lunch with my sister and her husband, who's been depressed ever since I've known him. They don't have children.
It'll be a nightmare
Thank heavens everything will be back to normal on January 7th
Comforted by this, I could feel my eyelids closing. But would they open again?
I'm already in the new year. But there's nothing new about it
. That was my last thought.
I went to sleep, not knowing how wrong I was.
I got up early with the feeling that the whole city, except for me, was asleep. The silence was so intense that, although I was still in my pajamas, I had the guilty feeling that I was committing a crime by making myself a slice of buttered toast when most human beings were still sleeping off their hangovers.
I didn't suspect that the new year had a surprise in store for meâa small surprise, but one with world-shattering consequences. The fluttering of a butterfly's wings can cause a cataclysm on the other side of the world. A hurricane was now roaring in to blow down the faÃ§ade behind which I'd confined my life. There is no weatherman who can forecast this kind of cyclone.
I turned on the gas, made some coffee, and swallowed the last mouthful of toast. Then I started to plan my day while I got dressed, which is what I usually do. I feel lost if I don't program my day, even on holidays.
I didn't have much choice. One possibility was to correct the essays of the stragglers who'd handed in their work just before Christmas rather than on December 1st as I'd asked, in order to have time to correct them. I decided against it.
I thought I might watch part of the New Year's concert, even
though I'm not crazy about waltzes. In any case, I had a couple of hours before it began.
I washed my face with a generous splash of water. Then it was time to comb my hair. I immediately spotted a new gray hair, which must have appeared overnight. I was certain it hadn't been there the day before.
OK, I know gray hairs are a sign of wisdom
. I pulled it out with some tweezers.
But I don't want people to know I'm so wise.
Gray hairs depress me more than hair loss. After all, if a hair falls out, there's always the chance that it will grow again and maybe even stronger. However, if it goes gray, there's no use hoping it will go black again, at least not naturally. On the contrary, the most probable thing is that it will turn completely white.
Assailed by these gloomy thoughts, I went into the living room. Walking past the telephone, I glanced at it forlornly. It hadn't rung on New Year's Eveâand neither had it made a peep on Christmas Eve, or on the morning of Christmas Day. Nothing led me to believe that things might change on January 1st.
Then again, that wasn't so surprising. I hadn't phoned anyone either.
I sat on the couch thinking I'd dive back into a book by an American writer whom I'd found quite entertaining the last few days. I'd bought it on Amazon after seeing it mentioned in a novel. It's called
They Have a Word for It
, and it's an odd dictionary of expressions that exist in only one language.
According to its author, Howard Rheingold, finding the name for something means ensuring its existence. We think and behave in certain ways because we have words to underpin what we're doing. In this sense, words shape thoughts.
Some examples of these unique words are:
: in Arabic, spiritual energy that can be used for worldly ends.
: the Korean word for the reluctance to give up an illusion.
: in Russian, the feeling one has for someone she has loved but no longer loves.
: the Kiriwina word for the truth that everyone knows but no one ever utters.
The author also mentions the Spanish word
. I would never have thought that this was untranslatable.
I saw that there were a lot of entries in German, sinceâas long as certain rules are respectedâanyone can construct new words in this language. One example it gave was
(literally, panic at the closing of a door), the dismay of a childless woman faced with the irreversible ticking of the biological clock.
From what I could see, Japanese was the language with the most subtle nuances, with expressions like
for the tacit understanding between two friends, or my favorite one:
Mono no aware
, to denote the pathos of things.
As I was pondering that last entry, I realized that I'd been hearing a persistent noise for several minutes. It was a slow, steady crunching sound, as if some insect was gnawing its way through the door.
I turned off the music to get a clearer idea of where the aggravating sound was coming from. It stopped that very moment, as if the culprit realized it had been detected.
Shrugging it off, I went back to the couch and picked up the book, but before I could focus on the page the noise started again, much louder.
It can't be an insectânot a normal-sized one, at least
I listened harder and, yes, it seemed that the rasping was coming from the door. I went over to it warily, wondering what kind of lunatic would scratch at someone's door. Then I remembered that there is a monstrous creature in Bantu mythology, the
, which does exactly that.
Man or monster, whatever it was, if it wanted to rattle me, it was succeeding. In any case, it had heard my footsteps and, by the time I was standing there, facing the door, it was scratching at the wood even more frantically.
Spurred on by fear, I flung the door open, hoping to startle my enemy.
But no one was there.
To be more precise, there was no human being visible at eye level. Bewildered and staring at the empty landing, I felt something soft and warm coiling around my legs.
I instinctively jumped backward and then looked down to see what had been attacking my door. It was a cat, which greeted me with melodious meowingâa young cat, but bigger than a kitten: a tabby, like millions of other cats that run around and climb things in this world.
The cat tried to placate me by rubbing against my legs more energetically, weaving a series of horizontal eights or MÃ¶bius stripsâthe symbol of infinity.
“That's enough,” I said, and nudged the cat away with my ankle, trying to ease it back onto the landing.
But it came back inside and stared at me defiantly.
Overcoming the feeling of revulsion I've always had for cats, I picked it up, fearing that it might try to claw at me, but it only uttered a high-pitched meow.
“Off you go now,” I ordered, throwing it unceremoniously onto the landing.
No sooner had it landed than the nimble creature dashed back inside before I could close the door.
I was losing my patience.
For a moment, I considered chasing it out with a broom, which is what my late father would have done in such circumstances. Perhaps it was an act of insubordination from this side of the grave, or a scrap of leftover Christmas spirit, but in the end I decided to give it a saucer of milk so it could fill its belly and stop bothering me.
I thought the cat would follow me to the kitchen, but it chose to wait by the front door, watching me hopefully.
I poured some milk into the saucer and walked slowly back down the corridor, trying not to spill it. When I got to the door the cat wasn't there.
Since I'd left the door slightly ajar, I assumed the cat, feeling ignored, had left. Cursing the animal for making me fetch milk for nothing, I put the saucer down and looked out onto the landing to see if I could spot it.
Not a trace.
It must have gone off to try its luck at the other apartments.
I'm a rational, pragmatic man, and I don't like whimsical behavior. I'd brought milk for the cat; therefore the cat had to drink it. I started calling itâKitty, Kitty, Kittyâbut it didn't appear.
Fed up with playing a role that was strange to me, I left the saucer on the landing and closed the door.