Sergi Pàmies

The Other Life
© Dimitris Tsoumplekas
Translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush

I had to die to find out whether anybody loved me. When alive, I was never very popular, and it was a real problem for me that I fought very vigorously and quite without success. At home, if I didn’t initiate a conversation, my wife and children felt they only had to give me the time of day for purely practical matters. At work, when I went sick, nobody noticed my absences. So the reactions provoked by my death came as no surprise. The mild dismay invading the family scene had more to do with the upset that accompanies this kind of situation – and a number of financial worries – than with any sense of irrevocable loss. Once it was clear they’d be paid the life insurance, the children were as po-faced as ever. It was only when my young daughter caressed the cheap wooden coffin where I’d been stuffed, in the mourning room at the funeral directors that I noticed any expression of sorrow connected, I imagined, to memories of childhood. The majority of the people who came to the funeral looked at their watches during the chaplain’s sermon that was way too long for my liking. Not a single tear shed: the polite silence during the wake was too telling to be punctured by any out-pouring of grief that would have been quite artificial anyway. My wife behaved calmly in the days after the burial. Within a week, she’d packed her grief and my clothes into cardboard boxes she handed to the tramp begging in front of the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. Two weeks later, she’d had a hair-do, painted her toenails, given up smoking and started to laugh more loudly and more often than ever. When alive, I felt others were rejecting me, but this display of indifference towards me was tolerable. And if, by some miscalculation, the way they ignored me became too blatant, I just put on a brave face and sheltered behind laconically resigned proverbs: Father Time marches on; grin and bear it… Sometimes, when I found it difficult to cope with the fact I was so isolated, I’d drive to the look-out point up on the Arrabassada and have a smoke and think while, in the cars all around, couples fucked with the energy that youth or adultery bring. Expressed by squeaking shock absorbers and moans muted by steamed up windows, their glee injected me with a strength one might consider rather perverse, but strength it was nonetheless. I died on the way back from one of these excursions. I can’t say it was an accident. I was driving as carefully as ever, admiring the beauty of the city spreading out from the skirts of the mountain, and listening to the news blasted from the car-radio. The last few metres before a bend I felt the need to let go, that is, in the broadest meaning of the verb “to let go”. It’s not exactly suicide, I thought, more like a bout of irresponsibility. First I ignored the speed limit sign. Then the word stop painted on the asphalt (the first letter was so faded I read top). Finally a red traffic light. A few metres to go to the ring road, I saw an old couple crossing the road. I accelerated so as to miss them, suddenly swerved into another lane. Didn’t brake. The car hit, broke through the safety barrier and flew three or four metres before turning over and crashing into the right-hand lane of the motorway. Miraculously there was no collision. It took me seventeen minutes to die, during which I was surprised the radio was still working, given the violence of the smash. “That’s the news for now” announced a female voice backed by a pompous signature tune. Death was neither sweet nor sour. More complicated than I’d thought, perhaps because in life I’d never given it a thought. A mixture of emotional and physical paralysis prevented me from feeling any pain. I sensed I was filtering the reality around me through a level of perception different to what I’d been used to till then, as if it depended more on others than on myself. Before I was definitively classified as dead, I spent a while in an ambulance. Thanks to the skills of a male nurse with halitosis, I sustained a few vital impulses for a few seconds. I stripped the occasion of any emotional gloss and concluded it wasn’t worth making so much effort. The crossroads between survival as an invalid and imminent death illuminated my consciousness with the brilliance of a revelation. The indicators pointing to the road to survival were quite spectacular, with flashing neon lights, pay for two take three offers and a most delightful array of signs. The road of no return, on the other hand, was a mere suggestion from a sixty-watt bulb. I preferred to do nothing and wait on developments. Conditioned by long-standing inertia, I saw myself on the ill-lit road, sure it would all soon be over, quite unsuspecting I’d enjoy an opportunity to witness the lives of my nearest and dearest not only going on perfectly well without me, but, in fact, going from strength to strength. Look at my elder son laugh, a kid who never said boo to a goose, now into cyber-sex with a Swiss guy pretending to be a Brazilian au pair. Look at my young daughter moving it, a girl who always had an excuse to stay in bed and not go to school, and now getting up early and swimming length after length just to get near a shaven-bodied instructor. Look at her, the love of my life, seeking out her reflection in shop windows to see how pretty she is. And, as if I had registered a first victory after so many years, I feel I must smile because I’ve finally made them happy.

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