Read The Double Online

Authors: Jose Saramago

The Double (9 page)

BOOK: The Double
5.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

the necessary preparation to take full cognizance of any ideological signals unless they first explained who they were and what they wanted. However, throughout Tertuliano Máximo Afonso's speech, she had noticed a kind of embarrassed catch in his voice, a disharmony that occasionally distorted his delivery, like the characteristic vibrato produced by a cracked water jar when struck with the knuckles, quick, someone, go to Maria da Paz's aid and tell her that it is with precisely this sound that our words leave our mouth when the truth we appear to be saying is the lie we are concealing. Apparently, yes, apparently someone did warn her or else intimated as much with the usual hints and suggestions, what other explanation can there be for the fact that the admiring light in her eyes was suddenly extinguished and replaced by a wounded expression, an air of compassionate pity, whether for herself or for the man sitting opposite we do not know. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso realized that his discourse had been not only offensive but useless too, that there are many ways of showing one's disrespect for other people's intelligence and sensitivity and that this had been one of the grosser examples. Maria da Paz did not come to see him in order to be given explanations about procedures that are neither here nor there, or anywhere else for that matter, she came to find out how much she would have to pay to have restored to her, if such a thing were still possible, the small happiness she had believed to be hers during the last six months. It is also true that Tertuliano Máximo Afonso is not going to say, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, You won't believe this, but I've discovered a man who is my exact double and who appears as an actor in some of these films, there was no way he would say that to her, if, indeed, such words could legitimately follow the words that immediately preceded them,
this could be interpreted by Maria da Paz as yet another diversionary tactic, when all she had come to find out was how much she would have to pay to have restored to her the small happiness she had believed to be hers during the last six months, and please forgive the repetition, which we make in the name of the right we all have to say over and over where the pain is. There was an awkward silence. Maria da Paz should really speak now and say defiantly, Right, if you've finished your stupid spiel about nonexistent ideological signals, let's talk about us, but dread has formed a lump in her throat, the fear that the simplest word could shatter the glass of her fragile hope, which is why she says nothing, which is why she waits for Tertuliano Máximo Afonso to begin, but Tertuliano Máximo Afonso is sitting, eyes downcast, apparently absorbed in contemplation of his slippers and the pale fringe of skin that appears where his pajama bottoms end, the truth, however, is very different, Tertuliano Máximo Afonso does not dare to look up in case his eyes drift over to the papers on the desk, the list of films and actors' names, with its little crosses, deletions, and question marks, all so far removed from his unfortunate discourse on ideological signals, which seems to him now the work of another person. Contrary to popular belief, the helpful words that open the way to great, dramatic dialogues are, in general, modest, ordinary, banal, no one would think that Would you like a cup of coffee could serve as an introduction to a bitter debate about feelings that have died or to the sweetness of a reconciliation that neither person knows how to bring about. Maria da Paz should have responded with due coolness, I didn't come here to drink coffee, but, looking inside herself, she saw that this wasn't true, she saw that she really had come there to drink coffee, that her own happiness, imagine, depended on that coffee. In a voice
was intended to reveal only weary resignation but which shook with nerves, she said, Yes, I would, and added, I'll make it. She got up from her chair, and it wasn't that she stopped as she walked past Tertuliano Máximo Afonso, how can we explain what happened, we pile up words, words, and more words, the very words we talked about elsewhere, a personal pronoun, an adverb, a verb, an adjective, and, however we try, however hard we struggle, we always find ourselves outside the feelings we so ingenuously hoped to describe, as if a feeling were like a landscape with mountains in the distance and trees in the foreground, but the truth is that Maria da Paz's spirit subtly froze the rectilinear movement of her body, hoping, who knows what, perhaps that Tertuliano Máximo Afonso would stand up and embrace her, or softly take the hand hanging loose by her side, which is indeed what happened, first his hand taking hold of hers, then the embrace that did not dare to go beyond a discreet proximity, she did not offer him her lips and he did not seek them, there are times when it is a thousand times better to do less than to do more, to hand the matter over to sensibility, which will know better than rational intelligence how best to proceed toward the full perfection of the following moments, if, that is, they were born to reach such heights. They slowly separated, she smiled a little, he smiled a little, but we know that Tertuliano Máximo Afonso has another idea in his head, which is to remove from Maria da Paz's eyes, as quickly as possible, the telltale papers, which is why we need not be surprised by the way he almost propels her toward the kitchen, Go on, then, you make the coffee while I try to bring some order to this chaos, and then the unexpected happened, for, as if giving no particular importance to the words emerging from her mouth or as if she did not entirely understand them, she murmured,
is merely order waiting to be deciphered, What, what did you say, asked Tertuliano Máximo Afonso, who had already removed the list of names, Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered, Where did you read that, or did you hear someone say it, No, it just occurred to me now, I don't think I read it anywhere and I certainly never heard anyone say it, But how could you just come out with something like that, Is there something special about it, There certainly is, Oh, I don't know, perhaps it's because my work at the bank is all to do with numbers, and numbers, when they're all mixed together, muddled up, can seem like chaotic elements to people who don't know them, and yet there exists in them a latent order, in fact I don't think numbers have any sense at all outside some sort of order you impose on them, the problem lies in finding that order, There aren't any numbers here, But there is a chaos, you yourself said so, A few videos out of place, that's all, And the images inside them, attached to each other so as to tell a story, i.e., an order, as well as the successive chaoses they would form if we jumbled them up before putting them together to make different stories, and the successive orders that would come out of that, always leaving behind an ordered chaos, always advancing into a chaos waiting to be put into an order, Ideological signals, said Tertuliano Máximo Afonso, not entirely sure that the reference was pertinent, Yes, ideological signals if you want, It sounds to me like you don't believe me, It doesn't matter whether I believe you or not, you presumably know what you're after, What I find hard to understand is how you stumbled upon that discovery, the idea of order being contained within a chaos and which can be deciphered from within, Do you mean to say that in all these months, ever since our relationship first began, you have never considered me intelligent
enough to have ideas, Oh, come on, that's got nothing to do with it, you're a very intelligent person, but, Oh, I know, but not as intelligent as you, and, needless to say, I haven't got the necessary training, I am, after all, just a poor little bank employee, There's no need to be ironic, I've never once thought you were less intelligent than me, I just meant that your idea is really original, And you didn't expect such originality from me, No, in a way, I didn't, You're the historian, but I would say that it was only after our ancestors had had the ideas that made them intelligent that they actually began to be intelligent enough to have ideas, Now you've gone all paradoxical on me, I can't keep up with all these surprises, said Tertuliano Máximo Afonso, Well, before you turn into a pillar of salt, I'll go and make the coffee, said Maria da Paz with a smile, and as she headed off down the corridor that led to the kitchen, she said, Tidy up that chaos, Máximo, tidy up that chaos. The list of names was swiftly locked away in a drawer, the loose videos were returned to their respective boxes, and
The Parallel of Terror,
which was still in the video player, followed the same route, it hadn't been so easy to impose order on chaos since the world began. Experience has taught us, however, that there are always a few ends left untied, always some milk spilled along the way, always a line that comes out of alignment, which, when applied to the situation under scrutiny, means that Tertuliano Máximo Afonso is aware that his war is lost even before it's begun. The way things stand now, thanks to the sovereign stupidity of his speech on ideological signals, and after her masterstroke, that comment about the existence of order in chaos, of a decipherable order, it is impossible to tell the woman who is now in the kitchen making coffee, Our relationship has come to an end, we can still be friends if you like, but that's all, or else, I hate to have
tell you this, but I've been weighing up my feelings for you and I just don't feel that first flush of enthusiasm anymore, or even, It's been very nice, my dear, but it's over, from now on, you go your way and I'll go mine. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso goes over the conversation, trying to find out where his tactic failed, always assuming he had a tactic and wasn't just led by Maria da Paz's changes of mood, as if they were sudden minor fires he had to put out as they arose, unaware that flames were meanwhile licking around his feet. She always was more confident than me, he thought, and at that moment he saw the reasons for his defeat quite differently, who was this grotesque figure, disheveled and unshaven, in down-at-the-heels slippers, the stripes on his pajama bottoms like faded fringes peeping out from beneath his dressing gown, which has been tied clumsily so that one edge is higher than the other, there are some decisions in life that must be taken only when dressed to the nines, with one's tie knotted and one's shoes polished, so that one can exclaim in noble, wounded tones, If my presence bothers you, madam, say not another word, then sweep out of the door, without looking back, looking back brings with it terrible risks, a person can be turned into a pillar of salt at the mercy of the first shower of rain. But Tertuliano Máximo Afonso now has another problem to solve, one that requires great tact, great diplomacy, a talent for maneuvering which has so far eluded him, especially since, as we have seen, the initiative always lay in Maria da Paz's hands, even right at the start, when she arrived and threw herself into her lover's arms like a woman about to drown. This was precisely what Tertuliano Máximo Afonso thought, caught between admiration, annoyance, and a kind of dangerous tenderness, She looked as if she were about to drown, but she actually had her feet firmly on the ground. Returning to
problem, what Tertuliano Máximo Afonso cannot allow is for Maria da Paz to be left alone in the living room. What if she appears with the coffee, and, by the way, why is she taking so long, coffee takes only a few minutes to make, gone are the days when you had to strain it, what if, after drinking their coffee in sweet harmony, she says to him, either with or without ulterior motives, You go and get dressed while I have a look at one of these videos of yours, to see if I can spot any of your famous ideological signals, what if cruel fate were to make Tertuliano Máximo Afonso's double appear in the role of nightclub doorman or bank clerk, imagine Maria da Paz's scream, Máximo, Máximo, come here, quick, come and see this actor playing a medical auxiliary and who looks just like you, really, you can call him anything you like, good Samaritan, divine Providence, brother of charity, but he's certainly no ideological signal. None of this, however, will happen, Maria da Paz will bring in the coffee, you can hear her coming down the corridor now, the tray with two cups and a sugar bowl on it, a few biscuits to placate the stomach, and everything will pass off as Tertuliano Máximo Afonso would never have dared to dream, they drank their coffee in silence, but it was a companionable silence, not hostile, the perfect domestic bliss that, as far as Tertuliano Máximo Afonso was concerned, turned into utter heaven when he heard her say, While you're getting dressed, I'll sort out the chaos in the kitchen, then I'll leave you in peace to get on with your work, Oh, don't let's talk any more about that, said Tertuliano Máximo Afonso in order to remove this importunate stone from the middle of the road, but aware that he had just put another stone there in its place, more difficult to remove, as he will soon find out. In any case, Tertuliano Máximo Afonso did not want to leave anything to chance, he shaved in a trice,
in a twinkling, got dressed in a flash, did all this, in short, so rapidly that when he went into the kitchen, he was still in plenty of time to dry the dishes. The most touchingly familiar of all scenes then took place in this apartment, the man drying the plates and the woman putting them away, it could have been the other way around, but destiny or fate, call it what you will, decided that it should be thus so that what had to happen happened as Maria da Paz was reaching up to place a serving dish on a shelf, thus, either wittingly or unwittingly, offering up her slender waist to the hands of a man incapable of resisting the temptation. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso put down the tea towel, and while the cup, slipping from his grasp, shattered on the floor, he embraced Maria da Paz, clasped her furiously to him, and the most objective and impartial of spectators would readily have admitted that his so-called first flush of enthusiasm could never have been greater than this. The question, the painful and eternal question, is how long will this last, will this really mean a rekindling of an affection that will have occasionally been confused with love, with passion even, or do we merely find ourselves once more before the familiar phenomenon of the candle that, as it goes out, burns with a higher and unbearably brighter flame, unbearable only because it is the last, not because it is rejected by our eyes, which would happily remain absorbed in looking. It is said and has been said before that between the lashes the back takes its pleasure, but it is not the back, in fact, that is taking its pleasure, indeed we would go so far as to say, if we can allow ourselves to be so crude, that it is, rather, the lash that is taking its pleasure, however, the truth is, although this is not the moment for high-flown lyricism, that the joy, pleasure, and delight of these two people stretched out on the bed, one on top of the other, arms and legs literally entwined,

BOOK: The Double
5.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

City of Promise by Beverly Swerling
Beyond Eden by Kele Moon
Winged Raiders of the Desert by Gilbert L. Morris
Sing Me Your Scars (Apex Voices Book 3) by Damien Angelica Walters
Devil to the Belt (v1.1) by C. J. Cherryh
Trade Off by Cheryl Douglas
The Geek Girl's Guide to Cheerleading by Tahmaseb, Charity, Vance, Darcy