The scrolling, corn yellow text of the LED screen displays the word ‘station’ in Basque, in Spanish, in French, and in English. We are approaching Gaintxurizketa, but I must take the screen’s word for it: the world outside has drowned in a coal-colored blackness. I discern the faint shapes of skeletal trees.
Seated opposite me, a woman in her early forties, who’s sporting a few grey hairs and wearing a duffle coat over a turtleneck sweater, has crossed her arms and hidden her eyes with sunglasses to doze off, although a reprobate slumped near the exit door, of whom I can only see the shaved head, is blasting reggaeton through his phone’s speakers. Even this late, most of the seats are occupied; the train must pick up those that work the afternoon shift.
Inside this container with plasticky, frost white walls and bent grab poles that reflect the artificial light, the passengers look drained and dazed as if they were woken up in the middle of the night for an adventure. However, a nearby trio of college-aged girls have been babbling for half of the trip. The only one seated facing me whom I can see fully is wearing a loose sweater and ripped skinny jeans. The artificial light dances in her long, neartly parted, chestnut brown hair. She’s flaunting the lively eyes and the easygoing smile of those too young to realize that the world is aching to spear us through the heart. People like her represent temporary smudges on the canvas of reality, dirty little stains of light, but they brighten up this otherwise cold wasteland.
The girl’s gaze locks on mine, and her smile wanes as if I had offered her a front row seat to watch a stranger lose her mind. After she shifts her weight, she leans towards her friend and speaks in a hushed tone, but she has miscalculated the volume, because I understood her: she mentioned that I look sick. Soon enough I’ll have to tune out the whispers of my fellow passengers.
I am sick, though. Sick at heart and sick to the bone. This world has drained all color from me, and I’m growing more fragile every day. I’m a cracked critter who was already crumbling before she boarded this train of madness. I wish I had gotten accustomed to a steady diet of psilocybin and psilocin, but instead I’m haunted by otherworldly visions synthesized by my brain as it slides slowly down the event horizon of a black hole.
I want to lean back in this rigid seat, shut my eyes and feel how the living nightmare recedes into a dull throb. However, only the naïve expose their unconscious self to these human beasts. I take a deep breath and focus on the isolated light sources that zip past our train in the encroaching darkness.
Such rides used to make me envious of the lives I came across. I would have loved to lose myself in the colors that played in so many strangers’ irises, to figure out what strange beauty lit them up. On many nights I wished that someone would lean close to me and whisper magical words into my ear while the train rocked back and forth with its steady motion, but instead I suffered the unrelenting screams of my own mind. I wanted to grab strangers and shout that I love them, that they shouldn’t feel bad because they’re alive, that I should be the one to disappear instead.
Thankfully, now that I’ve tasted Jacqueline, all other human beings become blurs in my peripheral vision. Their faces feature two dots where eyes should reside. Their mouths are uninviting voids. When they speak, their words sound like a hollow mockery of human speech.
Nobody, nothing can compete with my depraved queen. I need the touch of her fingers as they comb through my hair, I need the pain of her nails digging into my back while I grind myself against her warm anatomy. When she kisses me I feel a taste of the end of all things, like a cup of bitter, caustic liquid that if I drank it I would turn into a black bird. I’d commit any evil to make love to her again.
Blood rushes to my pussy, bathing it in a velvety tide, as my genitals pulsate to the beat of my jittery heart. I yearn for mommy to rub out with her wicked, wet tongue every one of my worries, blanking my mind and memories like those of a newborn baby. My right hand trembles as it struggles to overcome my resistance; if I let go, it will grip my sex in a vice-like hold.
I press my knees together and rub my thighs against each other. I should give in to my urges. Why would these public transports vibrate and sway seductively except to seduce perverts into pulling down their trousers and relieving their tension on the spot? People only reveal their true nature while naked from the waist down and molesting themselves. Those who would resent your public display of self-love weren’t meant to stick around, and who knows, through your bravery you might find the unique souls who would cherish your true self.
I bet that if the sapped office worker seated opposite me, whom life has worn down to the extent that she naps on the train, awoke to find my trousers and panties bunched up around my ankles, and me lost in the throes of lust as my oiled fingers polished my throbbing clit, her heart would flutter like a hummingbird’s wings. While the wheels of the train clacked against the track in an ethereal hymn, she would gawk at the spectacle and slowly remove her sunglasses. Inch by inch, a child-like smile would crack the mask glued to her face that had helped her endure an everlasting routine of stress and disappointment. Once the mask shattered she would burst into hysterical giggles, which would make her breasts jiggle like two pudding cups filled with caramel. Having witnessed someone escaping the suffocating walls of a cage, the office worker’s soul would flare up as if she were born anew. While the juices bubbled out of my groin, I would grin back, tightening the string of saliva that linked my mouth to my crotch. I would rejoice in the knowledge that thanks to my bravery, someone else’s heart warmed up in such a hibernal night.
I’m freeing the top button of my trousers when a recorded voice announces that we are arriving to Irún. On our right, past some leafy greenery, the working-class apartment buildings of López de Becerra street, with laundry draped over the balcony railings, loom ominously, sending the first signal that those witless enough to seek residence in this city will soon find themselves like critters that have fallen into a septic tank, helplessly flailing their limbs in the slurry to avoid drowning in shit.
I wipe my forehead. I’m dripping with desire; I must reek of sweaty vagina. I shove my right hand in the pocket of my corduroy jacket to caress the casing of the external hard drive. I can bask in the knowledge that tonight I’ll plug the drive into my computer, lie in bed and diddle myself at my leisure as I enjoy a nostalgic look back at our encounters.
Once I disembark at the platform along with the rest of the damned, I hurry up the stairs to reach the Colón promenade. The cold wind that was blowing in Donostia has followed me over here, seeking refuge under my clothes. My bowels are rumbling, my limbs feel heavy as stone slabs, my breasts seem to have lost a cup-sized chunk of flesh. I steel myself for the eight minutes long walk to my apartment, during which I’ll need to elude thugs, drunks and other vermin, sights more revolting than any slimy blob lurking at the entrance of my office building.
After I cross the bridge over the railways, I venture through a sidewalk in which only two people can walk abreast. A pigeon lands on the pavement next to me, and the street lights glimmer in the bird’s eyes as if it intended to make conversation with a friend. I hurry past darkened apartment buildings like mausoleums where the living are entombed. I scurry across the cracked pavements and narrow roads. I’m a mouse sneaking around a maze of underground chambers, afraid of being spotted by some sinister vagrant. I’m shaken by an urge to pull down my trousers and hump some rusty lamp post until the skin of my vulva peels off. In the infinite blackness above, the moon’s craters are crammed with trash and corpses.
I pass the dirty brick wall of the Uranzu market as well as the homeless men that roam around it like a pack of stray dogs. When I lift my gaze, I certify that the cinnamon brown building I chose to inhabit still stands at the end of the street in its grimy, monstrous glory, although one of these days it will collapse under the weight of its own decrepitude like some gargantuan stalagmite.
While I make a beeline for the front door, a lanky familiar figure exits the building: a neighbor in his early fifties who looks like a grey-haired teenager. He’s lugging bulging garbage bags to deposit them in the container across the road.
I’ve spotted this guy dozens of times when I returned from my self-imposed overtimes, because he made a habit of throwing out the trash at night. He should consider throwing out his clothes as well. He must have been present during the few tenant meetings I dared to attend, although I wouldn’t have retained anyone’s face from the terrified glances I shot at the gathered beasts with whom I’m forced to share this hovel.
As the guy passes me by, he pierces my face with his gaze.
“Hello, hello,” he says.
I lower my head and nod. I pull the keys from my pocket, but when I reach with my free hand to grab the handle of the front door, I find myself holding air. Only the escutcheon remains, as if the handle had been unscrewed. Stunned, I gape at the absence.
I’m suddenly sniped by a memory: my mother is fumbling with a handful of keys to open the front door of our old apartment. She’s swaying from side to side. Her jacket is half off and her skirt is hiked up to her hips, exposing her knickers. She smells of piss and sour milk. I’m dancing around her while I laugh and repeat, “The lock’s busted! The lock’s busted!”
My lanky neighbor has returned from his nightly mission and is standing nearby, trying to get my attention. I step aside and shoot him a wary glance in case he wants to persuade me to get naked. I’m in no mood for a session of sex on demand from any brute.
“Someone stole it,” he says in a resigned tone.
“The door handle. Someone stole the damn thing.”
I narrow my shoulders and tremble at having to interact with this creature.
“Well, I didn’t do it,” I mumble.
The guy chuckles nervously; his crooked smile suggests that he can’t tell if I was joking.
“I wasn’t accusing you. I know none of us did it.”
“Who on earth would steal a door handle?”
The guy smacks his lips and shakes his head.
“Oh, don’t get me started. They do it for the same reason they steal copper wire, copper pipes… Unfortunately some local fence must be buying that stuff from the thieves.”
A black market for door handles. I’m living through the apocalypse.
“Wh-what should I do?”
My neighbor draws his head back, then he lets out a bitter chuckle.
“You? What the hell can any of us do? Call the cops?”
The city that welcomed the disaster of my birth has decided to add yet another torture to my life.
“I should start sleeping with a knife under my pillow,” I utter gravely.
“Good luck! If you defend yourself, you’ll end up in jail.”
“You’re right. If I had a knife, I would cut my own throat.”
My neighbor wipes his forehead with the sleeve of his jacket.
“Have you heard that a couple of nights ago two men broke into an apartment in Lekaenea street?”
I picture the scene: the victim had just moved into the block, and he had yet to buy most furniture and knick-knacks. The thugs failed to find any valuables apart from underwear, so they went into his kitchen and ate a couple of olives and a baguette. Then they set fire to his fridge.
The guy nods at my puzzlement.
“The police arrested them only to make a report, and thirty minutes later the criminals were caught trying to break into another apartment!”
“I hope nobody died in the fire.”
“I swear, this city is turning into a war zone. Let’s hope that those responsible also end up disappearing, if you know what I mean!”
Against my better judgement, I must empathize with one of these humans when they peer through the façade of society and flinch in disgust at the festering rot that hid beneath.
“These streets have degenerated into anthills, and any wrong step will make us slide down their insectoid nightmare.”
My neighbor knits his brow and squints as if his brain had gotten stuck processing my words.
“They are working you to the bone, aren’t they?” he says carefully. “I hope you get some rest.”
My fingers tremble as I tighten my fist around the key ring. Why do these strangers care about whether I have a good weekend or rest enough? I’m a lost soul in a sea of wickedness, and nobody on earth can reach me. I’ve spent most of my life wishing that I could sink into the ground and disappear. If the sight of my worn-out self bothers any human being, they should pretend I never existed.
“I suppose that I’ll sleep at least a couple of hours,” I mutter icily.
I unlock the front door. The absence of a handle weighs me down as I push my way in. The lights of the hallway switch on automatically and shine mercilessly at me, as if they had been expecting this chance. I wish that my neighbor had waited until I disappeared out of sight to enter the building himself, but his footsteps are following me. The guy says goodbye. I mumble incoherently over my shoulder. At least he takes the elevator instead of ogling my ass as I drag myself up the stairs.
Now that my neighbor has retreated to his garbage-filled world, I must focus on the task at hand. I’ll need to fill a backpack with enough changes of clothes for a couple of weeks, but tomorrow I’ll meet with my beloved for our date, and it shouldn’t seem like I’m moving into her apartment. There, Jacqueline and I will talk for hours, we will shower together, we will sleep in the same bed. I will stay away from this hellhole for days at a time. However, my body feels like it’s been beaten up, so for the rest of the night I’ll just grab a snack and masturbate myself to sleep.
When I reach the landing to my apartment, I trudge until my tingling fingertips touch the door that separates the outside world from my sombre shelter. I rub my eyes and try to shake off my lethargy.
Why do I push myself so much? I must believe that I deserve to spend my limited life depleted, or maybe I’m doing myself a favor; who knows what illusory maelstroms my mind would weave if left to its own devising while healthy and invigorated?
I shove the door open, scoot inside, then close it with my ass. As I stand in the pitch-black corridor, I’d prefer to imagine that I’m floating in the void of space, but this mustiness reminds me of a crypt.
I make the mistake of taking a deep breath; a putrid stench assaults my nose and spreads in my head like some deadly neurotoxin. I cough, then gag on the acrid air.
When the coughing subsides and the bitter taste of vomit lingers in my mouth, I resort to pinching my nose closed. Has someone broken into my dreary sanctuary to kill themselves, and their abandoned carcass has been rotting for days?
I’ve been recalled to work, this time until September, potentially longer. Except for my bank account, this development represents a disaster. I revise every scene over and over until I turn each of them into an experience, a process that takes me many hours. When I’m working a morning shift, which will be the case for the rest of this month, I can only devote at the most two hours and a half to writing in the afternoons, and that’s assuming that I don’t find myself so drained after the meaningless toil that I’ll want to doze off the moment I sit down. And assuming that I don’t end up swamped in another period of tarry depression. So until mid-September, I should consider myself lucky if I deliver a single scene every week. No vacations either for this old boy; I’m the guy who subs other workers so they can travel around with their families, or whatever normal human beings do.
I’ve worked in Donostia/San Sebastián at all of my jobs except one, so I’ve experienced this train ride hundreds of times. If you walked down the street on the right at this exact moment of the video, you’d come across the apartment building where Alazne, the co-protagonist of my beloved previous novel, lived. I have to promote my stuff from time to time, although one of these days I’ll likely edit that crude blurb.
Some thieves did steal the door handle of my apartment building as well as of other nearby buildings. Twice. But that’s a minor absurdity in comparison to many crimes that have been perpetrated around here. Just recently, the main suspect of a series of murders involving GHB has turned himself in. He was living in my hellhole of a city; most criminals want to stay this close to the border so they can step into France whenever the heat gets too hot. Bless Schengen!
Anyway, we are nearing the end of the current sequence of events in this stupid novel, and the story will only get crazier from here. I hope you are enjoying it so far, and if you haven’t, why the hell are you reading this?