Alazne and I fucked a few more times, as carelessly as only a couple in love can do when the one occupying the man’s body can freely fill the woman’s womb with his cum. After one of my orgasms, I went down on Alazne to tend to her clit. Given that I am a woman even though I’m wearing some dead bastard’s corpse, and that I was always attracted to women, I thought that licking my cum mixed with pussy juices would revolt me, but I didn’t have a problem with it beyond the taste. I suppose that I have gotten used to this man-body’s fluids, because I’m constantly tasting and sometimes drinking its saliva, and plenty of its mucus has gone down my throat. Still, I don’t understand why cum doesn’t taste better at this point of human evolution. Wouldn’t nature have made it so it would taste like syrup, so most women would be eager to gulp down plenty of cum every day? I’m frequently puzzled by how nature put this world together.
I guess Alazne and I felt like cleansing our sins, because at around seven in the afternoon we had the idea of walking down to the spa and figuring out what the hell that implies. I never visited a spa back when I inhabited my original female body, and as a ghost I couldn’t even feel the rain, so watching breathing people stewing in hot tubs would have only made me envious. To be fair even watching living people getting hurt also used to make me envious. I yearned for the pain that would certify that I was alive. I suppose that’s why a couple of other ghosts whom I came to know and who could also possess people, almost immediately jumped into self-harm, while the original soul of the person from whom they had stolen control kept licking the intruder all over for him or her to fuck off.
Turns out we were lucky. The spa, built underground, closes at eight. We descend the stairs to the facilities while carrying my swim trunks and Alazne’s bikini, because it’s forbidden to enjoy the hot tub naked. After we take a shower in different changing rooms, we exit into a large pillared room bathed in yellow light. It contains two circular pools with a strange circuit built in them, that people are supposed to walk through while submerged. Some strategically installed faucets shoot streams into the water constantly, even though most of those streams aren’t hitting anybody. A waste of energy and water. Whoever designed this spa also put lights underwater, which project hazy, widening yellow beams. The din from so many streams of water becomes a soothing background noise.
We aren’t alone: two middle-aged couples are submerged up to their shoulders in bubbling water, hopefully because they are enjoying a hot tub session.
I lean in towards Alazne’s tasty ear, so I can whisper in.
“Too bad we aren’t alone. We should fuck in a hot tub some time.”
“Oh, don’t start. I don’t want my nipples to stand out in my bikini. And how could you keep going? You should be dry by now! I can barely stand up.”
“I know, I know. Just wanted to get your mind off the cold you’re suffering from, now that you are semi naked but not in bed nor in the water.”
“Well, it’s working. Let’s go in.”
We stroll through the roomy area towards the emptiest corner of the pools. The light installed underwater shines a cloudy yellow under the rippling water as we sink into it. Alazne and I let out long sighs. The stream shooting from the faucet installed behind us massages our shoulders while some bubbly jets tickle our ass cheeks and genitals. I lean back against the inner wall of the pool. I feel myself finally relaxing. I have emptied my balls to the extent that if I tried to cum again, my dick only would cough dust, and I might have impregnated my girlfriend, so my job is done. I can die in peace.
“My goodness!” Alazne says, delighted. “What a nice feeling.”
“Want me to massage your feet?”
She’s surprised, and then smiles at me gratefully.
“You don’t have to…”
“I want to.”
I scoot a bit further away from Alazne so she can turn and rest her calves on my thighs. I grab her dangling feet, which remain underwater, and rub them lovingly. She sighs in contentment.
“I don’t know where you learned to do this, but you are the best boyfriend ever.”
There’s no feeling like knowing that you have made your girl orgasm and possibly impregnated her like she yearns for, so for a few hours I will remain crowned as the queen of the universe.
“Thank you,” I say, kidding only a little. “I learned it watching YouTube videos, I think, and from many daydreams.”
Alazne remains silent. She stares at me with such love and trust that my blood gets warmer. A couple of locks of her beautiful hair are pasted to her temples. The pools are a perfect temperature, the underwater lighting creates a pleasurable ambiance, and my girlfriend’s feet are soft and smooth in my hands. I’m groggy and on the verge of sleep.
I feel someone’s eyes on me, and I realize that a middle-aged woman sitting inside the other pool is nudging her husband while gesturing with her head towards us. They talk to each other in a low voice. The man, who is almost entirely bald and has hirsute shoulders, shrugs and seemingly attempts to disuade his wife from getting a foot massage.
“I don’t think I will be able to do anything but sleep afterwards,” Alazne says with a dreamy languor. “Not even eat dinner.”
“Yeah, I’m not hungry. And this hotel offers a fancy breakfast buffet, so we can look forward to that.”
“I love you,” she says, and closes her eyes.
“I bet. I’ll intend to drag you to Gijón tomorrow morning, though.”
“Sure, let’s go to places and see new things… You lead the way…”
Shortly after, Alazne has had enough of my massage, or wants me to relax as well, so she lifts her holy calves from my thighs. However, I lean sideways against the cool tiled wall so I can put my arm around her shoulders. Her skin is warm and soft to the touch, and I let my fingertips linger.
I yawn to the point that my jaw cracks. I stretch my arms and legs, feeling all my muscles become loose. I could fall asleep like this. I close my eyes.
“Wake me up before I end up in France,” I murmur.
I woke Alazne up at eight in the morning so we could enjoy the breakfast buffet without having to hurry up. Once we got dressed and walked down to the dining area, we waited in a queue while a stressed employee made sure none of us were random bums off the streets, and then directed us to our tables. Although the hotel had seemed almost deserted, except for a few clients I had seen in the lounge, now we are surrounded by around two dozen groups of people, from rich executive types to working-class families with bored children.
Once Alazne and I are given a table, we serve ourselves coffee, orange juice and some pastries. I don’t touch the lunch meats nor any other food out of the ordinary, mainly because I feel I would have trouble digesting it. I don’t have the intestines of a twenty years old woman anymore.
Alazne and I talk about mundane things, although she is excited for the rest of our trip.
“So what are we going to see in Gijón?” she asks.
I take a sip of my bitter coffee, as I hadn’t added milk to it, and I steel myself to open up about old memories, most of which I don’t want my girlfriend to know. I take a deep breath.
“We won’t go sightseeing straight off. As I told you, I wanted to come to Gijón partly because writing my memoir was bringing some information and images to the surface. I want to visit a street that is linked to my past.”
Alazne listens wanting to retain every detail.
“Maybe you lived in that street long ago?”
I can’t hold her gaze any longer.
“I dont know… But it’s linked to complicated feelings from around two decades ago.”
She takes my hand and caresses it with her thumb. She isn’t pressing me for answers. I have committed fully to her, after all. Our baby might already be growing inside her. After a few seconds, I speak again.
“They are unpleasant feelings. So this could be difficult. Maybe bad memories will come up, and I fear turning into a sad sack for the next few days.”
Alazne smiles reassuringly.
“Asier, I’m not your girlfriend just for the laughs and the… wild sex. You can lay it all on me.”
I call for a taxi so a driver will waste a couple of hours of his or her morning driving up to this nowhere place and then straight into Gijón. I’m sure it’s going to cost me a few days of any regular person’s salary, but who cares. As a rich person, I have every right to waste money.
This time we get an old guy who gives me the impression of being someone’s grandfather, and it doesn’t take him much to bring up that he has indeed three grandkids. Alazne is eager to hear about his experiences raising a family. However, I notice that our new driver misses the exit of the roundabout that we entered through when that fish-man drove us here in the first place, and this old guy ventures through a small road surrounded by working-class neighborhoods, under a cloudy sky no less. Is the man a brigand? I keep looking out of the windows nervously, anticipating an ambush.
“Is this some kidnapping situation?” I ask to our driver from the passenger’s seat.
“Oh, I know this area like the bread on my table. We just took a shortcut.”
The old guy gives me an innocent smile. He could be a good actor.
“Well, how is the road condition ahead?”
“It’s great, don’t worry!”
I look at Alazne through the rearview mirror, but she seems more concerned with not offending the driver than our own safety.
I notice that between houses with crumbling walls there’s a way higher than average amount of palm trees given the weather. The people around here must have delusions of grandeur.
“Hey, Alazne, doesn’t this area remind you of your old home?” I ask over my shoulder.
“… Yeah, it does, but more quaint. I don’t know how to feel about that.”
“Why, where did you live before, miss?” the chatty driver asks.
Alazne opens her mouth. Her pupils dart around as if searching for an answer, or an excuse to avoid answering the snooping fellow.
“She lived in hell,” I say.
“Pretty much, yes,” Alazne agrees, then sighs.
The old man’s eyes grow wide as he realizes his mistake. Don’t try to open certain windows if you aren’t ready to face the view. This isn’t something that I can forgive, so I will have to end this man’s life. What kind of person would I be if I let him get away with his rudeness?
I take a deep breath and rub my eyes. No, I’m just anxious. I know I would regret not figuring out if my parents’ house remains there so many years later, now that I had the opportunity to come to Gijón. But at the same time I don’t want to. I wish that city had ceased to exist, that the US had dropped a thermonuclear bomb on it to cleanse the world from its depravity.
“Anyway, my name is Luis,” the old driver says.
Nobody asked you, I think.
Once the taxi leaves behind the shoddy outskirts of wherever we were, the landscape turns flat except for box-like industrial buildings, tall smokestacks and assorted dumps. Some of the cancerous plumes of grey smoke seem to be spewed from the ground, as if from geothermal vents. The traffic grows heavy with trucks, and the few signs of life on the sides of the road are rural restaurants to feed truckers and possibly prostitutes. The corrugated walls of some of the factory-like complexes are rusted and caked in thick grime as if a titan had pissed all over them, if titans had genitals. I recognize a huge orange crane as the one I had complained about to my fish-man friend when he drove in the opposite direction.
“What is this route?” I ask to the driver. “Are you trying to scare us off from your province?”
“No, it’s the fastest route to Gijón that doesn’t go through the highway. I thought you guys were tourists… You don’t get many views on those roads.”
“You should have made sure first that you had sights worth seeing. Look at that, the huge industrial complex with multiple active chimneys. It looks like the headquarters of a villain.”
“I think it’s a lumber mill,” the old man corrects me, stumped.
“You are a lumber mill.”
The driver squints as he smiles, which I suppose was intended as an apology.
“I’ve been doing this job for so long that I can’t put myself in your shoes anymore, I guess.”
“It gives a bad first impression of this area, it’s what I’m saying,” I grumble.
“Yeah, well… it’s not the best side of Gijón, but you should see the other sides.”
“We will, if we survive this ride.”
As if the landscape was hearing us, the last artificial clouds pouring from industrial complexes hang in the air behind us as the taxi continues through a verdant countryside.
“This is more like it,” I say, pleased. “We don’t have those scrawny trees at home. How do they stand upright without cracking and collapsing, when the trunks are so thin?”
“I don’t know, sir, I’m not in charge of nature.”
The view eventually degrades into isolated restaurants, dilapidated huts and a few houses with large yards. We also pass in front of healthy cornfields, with all the cornstalks carefully arranged in rows and columns.
“You guys raise your own food and everything,” I say. “It’s beautiful.”
The old man seems hesitant to even answer me, or maybe he’s upset at the poor state of the area.
“Well, we do try to survive in this world.”
“It’s good to survive. Having to eat every day gets so annoying, though.”
I feel like I’m having an old-age moment and will soon start yelling at young people to get off my lawn. Not only I’m wearing a nearly forty years old corpse, but mentally I’m even a bit older considering when the disaster of my consciousness switched on. I guess I’m overdue for a middle age crisis.
For the next few minutes the taxi either goes through a narrow road bounded by monstrous vegetation that has absorbed tons of rainwater, or we pass by the entrance of named industrial complexes. No way this is the right route to reach Gijón. Our driver must be senile. There’s a bleak glow in his eyes, as if he’s given up on life.
The dreary stretch eventually opens up into the countryside. We find ourselves surrounded by grazing fields and farmhouses. In the distant horizon, though, two isolated and striped smokestacks tower over the rustic surroundings as if they were prehistoric monoliths. I’m biting my tongue to avoid complaining again, only because it could irritate my beloved, but a road sign announces that we are approaching Gijón, so the driver must have been sane after all.
As the taxi climbs up the road, I get to gawk at a bundle of pipes, one of them thicker than a sequoia’s trunk, laid over a hill as if it was the modern, more toxic version of the ancient aqueducts, but Romans also poisoned themselves through their lead pipes, so I guess we haven’t learned anything in thousands of years. The taxi continues along the elevated highway, and a panorama opens in which, past more factories and colossal, robot-like electric poles, the horizon is now made out of residential buildings.
“You seem to be driving us to Gijón after all,” I say to the driver. “I apologize. I don’t place much faith in human beings anymore.”
“Yeah, we’re nearly there. I’m taking the long way to avoid the traffic jam.”
There was no traffic jam when we last used the highway. He must have taken the long way to charge us more. I have bigger things to worry about, though, like the headache that keeps worsening the closer I get to the city. Now that I’m recovering from the trauma inflicted by the impossibly long bus ride that brought us to Asturias, my brain keeps firing off alarms. I have looked at this tawdry row of one-story workshops that proudly display their companies’ names with lazy logos, I recognize this exact stretch of road, I recall seeing the graffitied underside of that bridge. But Asier has never been here, only my original brain experienced these images. I doubt human brains are made so someone else’s ghost can take them over, and it feels as if my current brain is beginning to question who is commanding it.
By the time the taxi is traversing an area of grey workshops, all of them with inclined roofs and corrugated walls, my skin feels clammy, and I feel like any sudden movement is going to trigger nasty nausea. I lower my gaze to the dashboard. As the outside world passes in a blur out of the corners of my eyes, I end up in a staring contest with a toy adhered to the dashboard: a bobbing cow with a golden bell and whose alarmed eyes seem to ask me ‘why the fuck are you looking at me?’. I want to close my eyes until we reach Schulz Avenue, but after how much I had been babbling during the ride, both the old driver and my girlfriend must be wondering what’s wrong with me.
A freight train zooms by in a rhythmic clickety-clack. A minute later the soundscape that surrounds us turns into constant traffic, conversations coming from the sidewalks, and the loud music of some generous assholes who want to share their tastes from their cars. I briefly glance towards the passenger window and I see a row of working-class apartment towers, as well as two lines of thick palm trees. I don’t know what’s with this area and palm trees, we are not in the tropics. But exposing my brain to more familiar sights only sends a shiver down my spine. I feel like I’m venturing willingly into a nightmare. I lower my gaze again.
Shortly after, the driver speaks up.
“Alright, we are almost there.”
I get busy pulling my wallet out and browsing through Asier’s cards, while the taxi passes in between two buildings constructed with copper red bricks and that have the first-floor windows protected with burglar bars. I have walked along these sidewalks more times than I can count. When I went out with my girlfriends, when I wanted to drink coffee at a coffee shop, when I had to buy groceries. I truly lived twenty years ago. I threw myself off a cliff and broke my spine. I want to vomit.
The taxi turns a corner. One of my classmates lived in that apartment building, but there wasn’t an office next to its front door. I bought lunch meats at that butcher shop. I got my hair cut a few times in that tiny hair salon, although I stopped going because the hairstylist asked too many questions. I want to get out of this car and breathe fresh air.
I feel how the driver turns his head to stare at me.
“I’ll park next to the Compostela plaza. Is that fine?”
As I was about to answer, I feel a sudden surge of nausea that forces me to swallow, just in case I end up throwing up all over the dashboard.
“Yeah, that sounds good,” I say in a grating voice.
“You have gotten carsick, haven’t you,” the old man asks, worried.
“We’ll get out in a minute, thankfully,” Alazne says from the back.
I can tell from her voice that she has been concerned about me for a good while.
Our driver parks next to a stall that sells lottery tickets. Once I get out of the passenger’s seat and stand up, I take a deep breath of air, although it smells too much like car fumes to call it fresh. My girlfriend stands on the sidewalk while I go through the process of paying with Asier’s credit card. The old man wishes for me to recover quickly, and then he thankfully leaves.
Alazne hugs me from the side and rests her head on my shoulder.
“My love, you remember this area, don’t you? I could tell that it was bringing up bad memories.”
On the opposite side of the street there’s a church lodged between old apartment buildings with covered balconies. My father forced me to attend catechism classes there.
Alazne hugs my left arm.
“Where now?” she asks sweetly.
“This was a terrible idea. We shouldn’t have come here.”
She reaches with one hand to turn my face towards her. I would have expected my girlfriend to be embarrassed of me, but in her hazel eyes there’s only concern and empathy.
“No, we are doing this. No regrets, remember? You are strong.”
I am strong, because Alazne needs me to be. I have no choice. I swallow, then point in the direction of my parents’ house.
We walk along a sidewalk so narrow, made worse by the trees planted near the middle of the pavement, that if the pedestrian in front of us walks too slowly, we’ll have to step onto the asphalt and hurry up to pass them by. We wait for a traffic light to turn green. Once we cross this sidewalk, we will only need to leave behind about seven narrow apartment buildings until we reach the two-story tall building where I used to live. As we start walking again, Alazne must sense how my dizziness increases, because she holds on tighter to my arm as if to lend me her strength.
I reach my former home, and I stop next to the facade. The wall is made of shiny slabs of some mineral with a surface that looks like black and grey noise. I don’t recall if it used to be so graffitied. The building next door is still condemned. I always wondered if bums lived there. I dare to look up towards the second story of my former home, but I can’t see any detail from this sidewalk, and the box windows jutting out from the wall are blocking most of the view.
“This is it, right?” Alazne says as she observes the for sale sign in the only storefront of the building, which has a window busted.
“Yeah, this is definitely the house from my memories,” I say in a thin voice.
“Did you live here?”
“I’m not sure whether it was me or someone else that I cared about. Let’s… cross the street to get a good look from the opposite sidewalk.”
“Are you going to be alright?”
We cross the street, and Alazne holds my hand as we look at the building for two minutes, in silence. The window blinds are lowered most of the way, and the same old, yellowed curtains block the view of the inside. Two of the windows are slightly open to let the air in. You couldn’t pull back the curtain, because people walking along the opposite sidewalk could see into your room. It felt so cramped and stuffy. A working-class apartment that the inhabitants were damned to live in because they couldn’t find anything better, and that was constantly exposed to the din of traffic and of random people talking loudly or even shouting in the small square across the street.
Some interaction between my memories back when I lived as Irene and my current brain is short circuiting it, as if it can’t figure out whether I’m supposed to know these views from some movie, from my dreams, or because I’m losing my grip on reality. Back when I died, in my first day as a ghost I had the right idea when I chose to leave this city forever.
As I rub my temple, I turn around towards the square mainly so I can stop facing my hold home. The large planter that separates the sidewalk from the square’s pavement should have grown grass and plants, but it mainly contains mucky dirt, moss and cigarette butts. Then I lift my gaze up towards the benches maybe twenty meters away from me, and my blood runs cold. That seated old man who has rested his hands on his thighs and who is looking down at the pavement. That’s not him, is it? He seems to be staring at nothing. His eyes aren’t working anymore and he’s picturing instead something missing.
I swallow. My girlfriend has asked me a question, but I haven’t processed it. I walk further into the square and a bit to the side, to get a better angle of the man. What remains of his hair is white, with a few greys at the temples. The top of his head is bald, but the hair on the sides, which he should have cut at least a month ago, has raised with the breeze, making him look like a bum. He’s wearing a worn sweater with a checkered shirt underneath, along with high-waisted trousers. All his clothes are worn, as if he were the type that wouldn’t buy a replacement unless his clothes sported holes through which he could drive a thumb.
He’s rotting. His face is wrinkled, droopy and bloodless, as well as mottled with dark spots. The back of his hands show similar spots, and that skin is veiny as if a couple of worms had gotten stuck underneath. Is that man even alive anymore? No, he hasn’t been for a long time. The ghost escaped from the frame ages ago, but the brain has kept puppeteering the flesh and blood robot out of rote memory. The ground soaked up the fluids leaking from his body, and the worms and insects made a feast of what remained inside.
“My love, your hand is trembling,” Alazne says in a low voice as I feel her looking up at me. “That man is someone you used to know, right…?”
“He’s just some sad old ruin,” I mutter.
Would you be happy now, old bastard? I’m not the Irene who cut herself off, as if out of spite, from passing the genes that you and my traitor of a mother forced upon me. I’ve become big and tough. A proper man. I have already filled my girlfriend’s womb with my manly cum, and even if that doesn’t impregnate her, we will keep trying over and over. One day I will hold in my arms a defenseless baby, a creature whose wellbeing will always make me worry, and to whom I will always feel like apologizing for damning him or her to struggle in this world. And that baby won’t carry any single one of your genes.
“Asier, you are shaking…” Alazne says.
The old man looks up and notices me staring. He doesn’t move his body below his neck a single centimeter, as if he had become paralyzed and a random passerby merely plopped down his body onto that bench. He squints and blinks so his decaying eyes clear the vision of whoever has realized he still exists.
I get a strong feeling: after today, I will never see this human being again.
My legs feel rigid as if transformed into concrete, but I force them to turn towards the sidewalk so I can walk out of this avenue and call a taxi that will drive us far away from here.
“Let’s go, Alazne,” I mutter.
My girlfriend doesn’t budge, and she tugs on my hand.
“You can’t just leave after you know he’s someone from your past,” Alazne says decisively. “Talk to him, figure out what relation he had to you.”
I feel a heavy ball of lead sinking in my gut. I can tell that if I choose to insist and walk away now, it will create a problem in our relationship. She wants me to recover from my supposed memory loss and the damage it has done to my psyche. I can’t refuse.
“Oh no,” I mutter, but I start walking towards him.
My chest tightens as the anxiety grows inside my ribcage. The old man’s eyes are now watching me as we approach him. He coughs heavily. A phlegm rattles in his windpipe before he spits it on the ground. I wince, then wonder if this bastard recognizes me. But I’m a man, and Irene is dead.
Alazne holds her hands in front of her waist and lowers her head slightly towards this rotting creature.
“Hello, sir. Sorry to bother you, but my husband here knows you from somewhere. We aren’t sure what relation you two had, though…”
He looks at me, then turns his eyes back to Alazne. He opens his mouth and exhales an odor of rotten dentures. My stomach turns at the stench of decayed gums and oral cancer. I expect that any minute now foul-smelling black blood will pour from the decomposing orifice.
“Do I know you?”
His voice is wheezy yet loud. I wonder if he’s still smoking heavily.
“No, not me, sir,” Alazne says. “I’m Alazne. We are from Hondarribia, in Gipuzkoa. But my husband had a relationship with Gijón many years ago, around twenty, and he is quite sure he used to know you.”
The old man squints as he examines my face. I try to hold my breath.
“Never seen you before,” he concludes.
“Yeah, you have,” I say, and my words taste bitter as I push them out. “You just forgot me.”
He frowns slightly as if offended.
“I haven’t forgotten anyone, boy. I remember all of them. I haven’t gone soft in the head yet. So I can say with certitude that I’ve never seen your mug before.”
I don’t say anything, and Alazne and I make eye contact briefly. I want to walk away, but I want to hurt him. I grit my teeth and narrow my eyes at the man.
“I used to know her. You know who. Twenty years ago.”
The man snorts, and a line of dark green snot, like a thin worm, leaks slowly from his left nostril and onto his upper lip. He pulls out a tissue and blows his nose.
“Most of the people from twenty years ago are gone,” he says wearily.
“So you forgot her, then.”
“Didn’t I just tell you…?”
“Say her name,” I dare him.
The man raises his upper lip as if he’s bitten into a lemon.
“You mention a woman from twenty years ago…? You don’t mean…”
The old man’s facial muscles spasm. He opens his mouth to speak, but only a throaty sound comes out.
“What was your daughter’s name?” Alazne asks softly, although she looks concerned.
His mouth hesitates as if he hasn’t allowed himself to verbalize it in many years.
“Irene… That was her name, my daughter’s.”
Alazne snaps her head back, shocked. She then stares at me as if she’s experiencing an epiphany. Whatever is going through her pretty brain can’t be the realization that I’m Irene, but she gets that I had a more complicated relationship than expected with this long dead gal who drowned. I never intended to drown myself, though. I wanted the far quicker death of spilling my brains when my head hit those jagged rocks.
“Yeah, I used to know Irene,” I say. “Had a close relationship with her, you could say that I got to know her quite well.”
He takes out his wallet. I don’t think about what he’s doing until I realize he’s pulling out a photograph. He attempts to show it to me, but I look away. I tense up from head to toe. The old man realizes that staring into those long dead eyes would be too hard for me, and he hands it to Alazne instead. I rub my eyes.
“Irene…” Alazne says sadly, I suppose while she studies the photo.
“Yeah,” the old man says, “that’s her.”
“She was pretty. And there’s a uniqueness to her eyes.”
“Pretty like her mother, and even wilder. Irene could rarely sit still, you could never get her to do anything she didn’t want, and she went on about the craziest things. Most of the time we didn’t know what she was talking about. I suppose there was… something wrong with her…”
I look down at the old man again. A soft smile lingers on his lips, as if getting to talk about Irene, despite the pain, was better than wasting another empty day. He looks up at the sky and blows his nose. Then he holds my gaze in a congenial manner, even though I must look pissed.
“So you knew our Irene, so many years ago,” the old man says. “Were you sweet on her?”
“You know that wouldn’t have changed anything.”
The arc of his bushy eyebrows tenses up and deepens his wrinkles. He knows I know, but he would never want to bring it up.
“I suppose not. But I’m asking you anyway.”
“I was fond enough of her, I guess. I didn’t consider the stuff she said as crazy. She simply had her own interests. Nothing wrong with that.”
He looks away and rubs his chin.
“Irene always seemed so sure of herself, and so bold, but she must have been… unhappy.”
I want to grab him by the throat and yell in his face.
“Did they find her body?” I ask harshly.
His eyes widen and he looks hurt.
“You really want to talk about that? What’s the use? Yes, they did. It took a week and a half until she washed up on a shore.”
He sucks in air, and the skin around his eyes reddens. He’s silent for a moment.
“I went to identify her,” the old man says as if forcing the words out. “I can see her… I wish that hadn’t been the last time I got to see her face.”
A tear rolls down his cheek, and he hastily wipes it away with the back of his hand. Neither Alazne nor me say anything for a few seconds, so the old man speaks again.
“Even though it would be a different girl, I had always hoped that she would live a long and happy life.”
“I-I can’t imagine how horrible it must be, to endure something like that happening to your daughter,” Alazne says, sounding as if she may cry as well.
“Thank you. It still doesn’t feel real. You know, I look at the time and think that Irene is going to return home from work. It feels that if I hold my breath, I will hear her putting the key in the lock.”
I’m gritting my teeth. My spine is trembling.
“Why would she have killed herself, old man?” I ask him somberly.
He forces himself to hold my gaze, even though tears may overflow from his lower eyelids at any moment.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
“But you have a guess.”
“I think… she must have been very unhappy.”
“Why would a young woman like that, with her entire life in front of her, become so unhappy?” I ask him defiantly.
“I wish I knew. The world is a dark place.” He sighs and holds his head low for a moment. “We buried her at the graveyard next to her grandmother. Words cannot describe how heartbroken her step-mother was, God rest her soul. I’ll never forget that day, as long as I live.”
“You know. You wanted her to be normal.”
He narrows his eyes at me, then takes a deep breath.
“You are trying to blame me for her choice. Every father would want his daughter to be normal.”
“Normal,” I spit out the word in disgust. “You are insane.”
“How am I insane?”
“You have brainwashed yourself to rationalize your daughter’s death,” I tell him, barely containing my fury. “You claim that she killed herself because she was unhappy. But the real reason she killed herself is that you made her feel like a freak.”
The old man’s lower lip trembles.
“I made her feel like a freak? She was not normal, anyone close would have been able to tell you that. You should know, if you cared for her as much as you think. She was… always pursuing girls. She even brought them home, when she knew that it was hard for us. Irene didn’t care about anything, nor anyone else’s feelings.”
“What, was it so horrible to picture a pretty girl making out with another one, or licking the other girl’s clit? Or did it bother you that much because Irene was your daughter?”
He scrunches his face. His hands are shaking.
“You know what was down that path? Exactly where she ended up. She turned so unhappy that she believed that the world lacked a place for her. If she had considered that one day she may start a family, have kids… she would still be around.”
“You fucking sociopath. She only wished to be allowed to be herself. Instead you constantly pushed her to become someone else, and not because she wasn’t normal, but because she embarrassed you. You didn’t want people you knew to think that your daughter was defective. Irene only mattered for you as long as she matched who you intended her to be, someone who one day would give you grandkids. Is that not the case, you rotten old shit?”
His wrinkled face turns paler.
“I can tell that you two don’t have a child yet. So you have no clue, not a single one. Your job is to make them presentable to the world so they can survive by themselves. But she… was too much. I failed her. I blame myself every day.”
“Miserable, self-pitying shell. Your job as a parent is to love them for who they are, not who you want them to be. It’s your fucking job to pick them up when they fall and take away their fears. But most of all you are meant to accept them.”
His eyes turn red and crinkled at the edges.
“I dealt with Irene how I knew I had to,” he protests frailly.
“And now you are left alone with your pain. Was it worth it?”
The old man lowers his head. A warm hand grabs my trembling fist carefully, and I turn my head to find myself looking at my beloved girlfriend’s disquiet. I have done little else than disturb her, make her worry for me. I let my arms hang limply by my side. I’m about to propose that we leave, but the old man speaks.
“If you cared so much for Irene, what did you do to prevent her from jumping off a cliff?”
The question catches me off guard. The old man continues.
“I gave her everything I could, because I loved her. But I didn’t know how to make her happy. What did you do?”
“I tried to help her forget the pain,” I say.
“Did it work?”
He knows the answer, so I just keep facing his resentment.
“I’m not your punching bag,” the old man says. “In the end, Irene chose to die. She could have chosen to quit her job, to study something else, to seek some hobby. If she asked me to see a therapist, I would have sent her. She could have fallen in love, with another woman if she couldn’t help it. But she chose to jump off a cliff. What I’m saying is that she didn’t want a way out of her sadness. And because she didn’t want to get better, any help anyone provided was wasted.”
I feel numb. What’s the point? Why did I feel the need to come here? Nothing is ever solved, no amount of shouting and blaming ever changed anything. This old man isn’t my father anymore. One day he’ll become a ghost and maybe he’ll hang around for a while or he’ll dissolve into nothing.
In the end, the old man breaks the silence.
I nod and take Alazne by the hand.