in that endless necropolis, tens of thousands more would remain unexplored, forgotten forever. I felt myself surrounded by millions of abandoned pages, by worlds and souls without an owner sinking in an ocean of darkness, while the world that throbbed outside the library seemed to be losing its memory, day after day, unknowingly, feeling all the wiser the more it forgot.
D AWN WAS BREAKING WHEN I RETURNED TO THE APARTMENT ON C ALLE Santa Ana. Opening the door quietly, I slipped in without switching on the light. From the entrance hall, I could see the dining room at the end of the corridor, the table still decked out for the party. The cake was there, untouched, and the dinner service still waited for the meal. I could make out the motionless silhouette of my father in the armchair, as he observed the scene from the window. He was awake and still wearing his best suit. Wreaths of smoke rose lazily from a cigarette he held between his index and ring fingers, as if it were a pen. I hadnât seen my father smoke for years.
âGood morning,â he murmured, putting out the cigarette in an ashtray that was full of half-smoked butts.
I looked at him without knowing what to say. The light from behind him concealed his eyes.
âClara phoned a few times last night, a couple of hours after you left,â he said. âShe sounded very worried. She left a message for you to call her, no matter what time it was.â
âI donât intend to see or speak to Clara again,â I said.
My father nodded but didnât reply. I fell into one of the dining-room chairs and stared at the floor.
âArenât you going to tell me where youâve been?â
âYouâve given me one hell of a fright.â
There was no anger in his voice and hardly any reproach, just tiredness.
âI know. And Iâm sorry,â I answered.
âWhat have you done to your face?â
âI slipped in the rain and fell.â
âThat rain must have a good right hook. Put something on it.â
âItâs nothing. I donât even notice it,â I lied. âWhat I need is to get some sleep. I can barely stand up.â
âAt least open your present before you go to bed,â said my father.
He pointed to the packet wrapped in cellophane, which he had placed the night before on the coffee table. I hesitated for a moment. My father nodded. I took the packet and felt its weight. I handed it to my father without opening it.
âYouâd better return it. I donât deserve any presents.â
âPresents are made for the pleasure of who gives them, not for the merits of who receives them,â said my father. âBesides, it canât be returned. Open it.â
I undid the carefully wrapped package in the dim light of dawn. It contained a shiny carved wooden box, edged with gold rivets. Even before opening it, I was smiling. The sound of the clasp when it unlocked was exquisite, like the ticking of a watch. Inside, the case was lined with dark blue velvet. Victor Hugoâs fabulous Montblanc MeinsterstÃ¼ck rested in the center. It was a dazzling sight. I took it and gazed at it by the light of the balcony. The gold clip of the pen top had an inscription.
D ANIEL S EMPERE , 1950
I stared at my father, dumbfounded. I donât think I had ever seen him look as happy as he seemed to me at that moment. Without saying anything, he got up from his armchair and held me tight. I felt a lump in my throat and, lost for words, fell utterly silent.
True to Character
T HAT YEAR AUTUMN BLANKETED B ARCELONA WITH FALLEN LEAVES that rippled through the streets like silvery scales. The distant memory of the night of my sixteenth birthday had put a damper on my spirits, or perhaps life had decided to grant me a sabbatical from my melodramatic woes so that I could begin to grow up. I was surprised at how little I thought about Clara