Autors i Autores

Olga Xirinacs

English [Concert in Maida Vale]

Julie closed the door and jumped from the boat to the narrow fenced-in walkway. On the walkway there were pots with petunias and a small gate in the fence, which was the way out for the people who lived in the houseboats. The fence was high and painted black and, just then, at ten in the morning, the drizzle lay damp on the iron of the fence and Julie's hair. She was carefully carrying her cello in its plastic case, which was as voluminous as a coffin. Once she'd locked and chained the gate, she secured the cello to her back and crossed the little bridge over Regent’s Canal on her way to the Warwick Avenue underground station.

Julie walked slowly, her eyes running along the canal where the boats, all in line, gave no signs of life at that hour. However, there were bicycles on board, neat flowerpots and open windows revealing wicker chairs, rows of books, ceramic collections and tiny kitchens with cloths drying.

She liked living in Maida Vale. The night rocked her dreams almost imperceptibly on the quiet water and the elm trees on either side of the canal gave a grey-green shade, like a refuge. It was a refuge and she'd decided to rent it at first sight. The boat was called Onyx and, in the two rows of boats, was the second on the right-hand bank going towards Warwick Avenue. It was her first autumn on the boat and she felt the tug of regret that comes with fallen leaves and the end-of-September air that announces the cold to come. In the Onyx, Julie felt safe, although it was just a floating wooden construction painted in navy blue and white.

When Julie disappeared behind the bridge, the black-jacketed man crossed to the gate in the fence. He opened it with a picklock and jumped on board the Onyx. He moved stealthily, like a cat, as he entered the small dining area. Inside, there were lace curtains, a shelf of scores and a music stand. Julie practised here and he'd watched her on many an evening from the shadows under the bridge. He couldn't resist the effect of the light on Julie's fair hair and agile fingers as she played. She was all feeling and lightness and he knew Julie was an angel because she could be no other thing for him. But touch an angel? What would it be like to touch an angel? Would she dissolve in his hands? Would the light flee from her eyes and hair? His desire had become obsession and, this last day of September, he had decided to touch his angel.

He chose a storeroom with clothes and boxes as his hiding place. Since Julie would take some time to return, the man had time to rummage through drawers and wardrobes and he made himself some bread and butter. Then he heard the chain and the gate. It was just four o’clock when Julie put the cello down, took off her shoes and changed into a long white dress with a yellow embroidered waistcoat that she was very fond of. She danced around the dining area a couple of times and the dress billowed out behind her. As the sky was already dark she turned on the light, began to practise and the first deep notes of a ballad vibrated in the air.

The furtive watcher crept up from behind and firmly clasped Julie's slender waist at which she leapt from the chair without letting go of the bow or the cello. The man kicked the chair aside and put his hand on her breast to feel her heart. She couldn't see him because he was tight against her back. She didn't scream, but her hands turned white from the force with which she was gripping the bow and the cello.

The man discovered that the angel body did not dissolve, that it had a heart and the heart was in a very beautiful body that he was feeling, testing and sounding, like the musician who examines the structures and tensions of an instrument. Their movements resounded in the cello with a rare percussion. For him, it was a piercing sensation, punctuated by his panting against Julie's neck.

Julie was silent, holding on to her cello, unmoving. Slowly she began to be aware of a different feeling. From the chill of terror she went to the suffocation of certainty. Someone was playing her, just as she played the cello. Somebody was embracing her from behind and pressing, pinching, exploring, rubbing her body. All in silence. Only the wind and water made the timbers of the boat creak and, in the small room, the silk lampshade illuminated a mute score.

Suddenly the man released Julie and ran off. When he jumped from the boat to the walkway the Onyx rocked slightly. Then Julie heard the gate in the fence and, finally, the wind that was blowing leaves on to the roof of the boat. Nothing more.

Without letting go of her cello, Julie turned off the light and closed the door. She turned the cello around to face her, embraced it and started to cry. With the touch of her body the strings made music.

Translated from the Catalan by Julie Wark ©

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Institució de les Lletres Catalanes