Gabriel Janer Manila
I've never known another winter to be so long. The days were uniform, monotonous. The air exhaled incessant intercessory prayers. From my balcony I could see, again and again, the same impassive views. That winter it snowed heavily over the city. Nobody could remember such heavy snow as this because it covered all the streets, right down to the sea. The nuns' cemetery, the rooftops, the palm tree: everything had acquired a different greyish gleam. Father told us that it would be many years before we saw the streets full of snow again and to keep our eyes wide open that day. My brother Joan had made up his mind to go on an excursion to the pine forests on the outskirts of the city because he was certain that, from up there, we'd be able to see it spread out under its mantle of snow. We'd leave straight after lunch so it wouldn't be dark on the way back. We'd take the tram to the foothills, after the last houses. Then we'd walk to the top along the snowy paths. The schools had let us off going to class and we got together a group of friends. That afternoon was the first time I spoke with Andreu. He had brought a camera and kept taking my photo because he said he liked the contrast of my black dress, for I was in mourning, against the snowy whiteness of the landscape. Someone said, but without managing to make a fool of him, "So you like Teresa? We think you like her."
I was thrown by this. But he answered, somewhat surprised by the question, "Of course I like her."
Then they added, still teasing, "Did you hear that? Andreu's in love with Teresa."
He just laughed, still taking photos but, in my embarrassment, I didn't even see him. They kept on at him, "But Teresa's a baby …"
It seemed as if Andreu had no idea of how much those words hurt me. I was on the point of bursting into tears. I don't know if he picked up my agitation through the lens but he came over to say to me, almost like a secret, very close, "If it was possible to photograph colours, you'd come out with your face all red. Why is that?"
"Why? I don't know", I said, my eyes flashing. "Maybe the cold's put colour in my cheeks."
We'd just started on our way back when it started to snow again. The flakes were falling with strange energy, jittery in the wind. We started to run. The pines took on a thick, almost opaque lustre. I slipped on the frozen snow of the path and fell. Everyone laughed. Andreu, amused at seeing me lying full-length in the snow took advantage of the situation to get his last photos of me for the afternoon. Then, smiling, he helped me up again. His smile, despite the overwhelming cold of that winter, was the harbinger of a newly-intuited spring.
Later, on the tram as we were going home, somebody told me that a photo is almost a caress on the skin and that, through his camera, Andreu had silently explored, one by one, every bit of my body, like someone walking through an unfamiliar landscape. That night, these words fuelled libidinous thoughts that aroused in me a hitherto unknown awareness of pleasure. If the camera was able to undress people caught in its lens, I thought, then the eye should be able to see behind the dress. Maybe Andreu would have liked it if the camera had worked the miracle of removing the clothing that covered my body. Or perhaps he didn't need the camera because he could strip any woman he liked, only by using his eyes. There was power in his gaze that had to be disguised by hiding behind the camera so it wouldn't seem so brazen. Despite the snow, it wasn't cold in the setting of his imagination, the naked body, skin pale as if in a black-and-white photo. I felt them on my breasts, those eyes. They were tender, almost soft. I could feel their caress all night long and I realised that I'd been immensely fortunate in finding them and their difficult almost perverse restlessness, which made me feel strong. I've never been as secure as I was that night – fortunately, those eyes have been with me many another night until the day, after being under their spell for so long, I violently plucked them from my dreams – and I have never again believed so intensely in love's white laughing flower. I fell madly in love with Andreu in a matter of a few hours. I was furious when they said I was still a child and wanted to slap them across the mouth to shut them up immediately so no one would notice what they were saying. The truth is that I didn't want Andreu to hear those words. I thought they'd said them to make him stop paying attention to me because – as twilight faded over snow-covered forests –some of the girls who’d come on the excursion to the pine woods with the excuse of seeing the city all covered in white were jealous of the excessive photographic attention he'd devoted to me all afternoon. It only took a few hours. I couldn't get the image of Andreu out of my mind that night. It was freezing cold, perhaps the coldest night that winter. Curled up under the bedclothes, I was aware of the harshness of the cold lying on rooftops that were thickly coated in ice. Then the hands – I dreamed they were his hands – began to run over the map of my skin so that I could feel the tenderness of an imaginary caress. It was pleasurable to feel the presence of the cold while at once being aware of the company of hands – the fingertips, the softness of palms – that were furrowing my body. I could feel them multiplying. There were a thousand hands, the whole bed was full of hands and I wasn’t afraid. They brushed over my breasts, knees, thighs … They planted orchids in me.
(From Paradís d'orquídees (Orchid Paradise), 2004)
Translated from the Catalan by Julie Wark ©