SYNOPSIS

“To tell a story is to know how to keep a secret”. There are many secrets kept in the short stories of The Last Minute: love and its strange anxieties, the most hidden passions, the deceits and certainties of the gaze, the power of the imagination when it is the answer to a constant longing... What seems impossible becomes here real and reveals the true value of a single minute.The final pages of the book include a thorough, personal essay on the literary genre of short story, of great interest both to the specialist and to the curious reader. Andrés Neuman finds in the brevity and the small “time bombs” of his stories the best way of disturbing and moving his reader, and at the same time encourages a reflection on those everyday phenomena that almost always enclose a secret which we must discover and learn how to keep.

A SHORT STORY FROM THE LAST MINUTE

 

Páginas de Espuma (ed. rev.)
Madrid, 2007
Buenos Aires, 2010
Espasa-Calpe (1ª ed.)
Madrid, 2001

 

THE BATHTUB

My grandfather took off all his clothes, one by one, until he was naked. He looked at his sick, worn-out and yet upright body, without an ounce of fat. Like him, the bathroom mirror had grown dark over time and was dotted with splashes. Above the mirror was a 40-watt bare lightbulb. My grandfather folded his clothes with care and left them on the seat of the toilet. He stopped for a moment, with his woollen slippers hanging from his index fingers. Then he decided to take them out to the corridor. Then he locked the door from the inside.

It wasn’t cold. Naked, he felt, for a moment, more comfortable and safe. Then he felt shame, and turned the two taps on the opposite wall of the bath. The tiles began to mist over. My grandfather put his hand into the water and waggled it around, feeling for the temperature; annoyed, he adjusted one tap after the other a few times. He sat on the edge of the bathtub to wait.

The two jets of water stopped disturbing the surface. The water changed from murky to clear. Slowly, my grandfather put one foot in and then the other, then he cautiously tested with his buttocks how hot it was. He ended up sitting in the water, with his knees bent and his arms around his legs. He sighed. Distant episodes came to his memory: a child in shorts on a bicycle, delivering bread; a fat lady, lying on a bunk, giving him orders and demanding breakfast; a tall, blond man, vaguely foreign, stroking his head down on the quay of the port; a giant red, white and black boat disappearing from sight; green, open countryside and a house without a fireplace; a small library that an upright boy consulted day and night, in the midst of the fat lady’s cries; an unattended funeral, an enormous coffin; a different house, with more light, and a beautiful young girl smiling at him; a child in shorts, on a bicycle, who would never have to deliver bread at dawn; another girl studying in the kitchen; a factory, dozens of nameless shadows and a few kind faces; a boy and a girl, now without bicycles, without notebooks; a wedding; another wedding; an empty house, less light; a companion voice, calming; the identical walks of identical mornings; a bittersweet peace; the consulting room of a clinic; a doctor saying ridiculous things;a rectangular envelope, addressed by hand, in blue ink, on the table of the living room; an old lady going out to do the shopping; a naked old man, curled up in a ball, covered by warm, still water…

Nothing could be heard, except for the light dripping of one of the taps. He counted drip by drip up to ten, then to twenty, thirty, he counted fifty, then to a hundred drips. He unfurled his arms and, with his hand on his forehead, he leant backwards until he felt the marble bottom of the bathtub on his back. Under the water, amid murky reflections, my grandfather sealed his lips so that the air wouldn’t escape from his mouth and he remained motionless.

But then something unforeseen happened, something that I alone have imagined: suddenly, at the last moment, my grandfather sat up energetically and began to gasp. His face was red, distorted, his eyes inflamed and his hair –for the first time– unkempt; but he was still breathing. No image came to his mind, this time. He was alone with the water, with the taps, with the tiles, with the marble, with the steam and the mirror, with his naked body. I know that at that moment, gasping and alone, my grandfather must have had the trace of a half-smile and had a last moment of wellbeing.

It was at that point that he sealed his lips again and his eyelids, he leant back until he felt the marble, and my grandfather ceased to be my grandfather.


(Translation: Trevor Stack & Julia Biggane)