A Lake in Flames

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Gori Desclot, leaning up against the wall, thought there was something uncomfortable about an orgy, which could be demonstrated by any silence, pause, change or physiological chance. Perhaps inevitably, power relationships are created, and relationships of competition, and revenge, sometimes the ancestral roles of head wolf, the alpha-female, the role of religious mantis; at times it would seem there are the defeated who surrender and plea for mercy. There is also an element of boredom, of sterility, possibly related to the dark shadows of guilt and the incapacity for pure, timeless, intranscendent and trivial enjoyment and linked to the shadow of transcendence and sensitivity, and difficulty of relinquishing conscience and moving beyond any strength of sense, and then being capable of building without shadows, entering the pure land of pleasure, the pleasure of pleasure.

Bernat Riera, Gori Desclot and Marc Crespí had been in the jacuzzi room for a while. The three Bulgarian girls had been bathing them carefully, thoroughly, first their cocks, with soapy hands which they slid over the skin, caressing with such delicacy they could have been rinsing fine silk handkerchieves. As this went on, all three began to display perceptible symptoms of reinvigoration, and the Bulgarians, kneeling down, were giving out little sounds of satisfaction. Only a couple of words were clearly audible, something like dobre or tak, tak, giggle, tak, giggle, dobri, tak, and the giggles sounded as if they’d each just been presented with a furry teddy bear. Bernat and Marc were sitting in a few inches of water at either end of the bath with a girl busying herself on each body. One was lathering Marc and displaying her rear to Bernat. Svetlana was dealing with Bernat and displaying her rear to Marc, and the men were pawing, with a degree of interest, at the body of one then the other, buttocks shining and taut.

Suddenly, from behind the music of the loudspeakers, the burbling of the water and the murmurings of the Bulgarians, they heard loud banging on the door, the woman who ran the place shouting and at least two men swearing at each other. Then the door burst open and in came Biel Gost, a blonde girl, the madame and her lackey, pushing and shoving each other as they did. Bernat stood up, his cock erect and soapy, covered in colourful bubbles. Marc said hello from the jacuzzi, and Biel Gost said “Have you met Vera?” “I’m calling the police,” screeched the madame and the lackey in unison. “No, no,” said Marc. “Let them in, let them in,” yelled Bernat, his penis pointing straight at madame Remedios’s forehead. Remedios lived near the brothel and had a parrot which could sing Ne me quitte pas. When people came to his house, the lackey used to let his dog, a Great Dane, fornicate against the legs of the guests until they got angry. Then he’d take the dog out onto the balcony, which overlooked S’Arenal Walk, and the dog would pee on a rubber plant and the pedestrians below.

“Life is a collection of erections, a succession of stiffenings,” said one of them and they all, even the one who’d said it, thought that at best that was a stupid thing to say and not even a smart-arse one at that, but this wasn’t the time to split hairs: the party continued, madame Remedios and the lackey having left.

Biel had undressed and was helping Vera off with her clothes. Marc was following the action spellbound, not responding very much to his Bulgarian’s requests. Gori had arranged his plump body against the wall and was absently letting Ània get on with it, and looking at the obstructed, humid, enclosed density of the large room. Vera emerged naked from her clothes and rounder than Venus from the oyster-shell, more beautiful than any image Marc could recall, as if it were that vision from youth of the German girl on the secluded beach where Bernat had taken him one difficult August so many years ago, during his sickly, feverish adolescence. He instinctively looked over to Bernat and saw that he and one of the girls were too busy soaping each other for Bernat to share in the memory.

Vera and Biel were having a quiet disagreement. She didn’t want to join in with the jacuzzi party and Biel got into the bath on his own. Vera sat down in an armchair looking vacant. It seemed to Marc that her glance had crossed with his momentarily. At this point, he had Bernat’s Bulgarian on top of him, licking his nipples and belly, and rubbing her breasts against his body, murmuring words in three or four indistinct languages. Biel Gost was reciting “Water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink,” as he rubbed a knee against a Bulgarian’s glossy backside; “Come on Vera, come on gorgeous, let me introduce you to my friends,” he said. Vera didn’t take much notice of him, if she heard him at all. The music playing was getting noisier all the time.

“Get some drinks in,” Bernat said loudly. Vera seemed to perk up a little, rose lazily and walked towards the door. Before she got there, however, the door opened and Remedios’s head appeared. “I’ve brought gin and tonics, whisky and champagne.” “Bailey’s,” said a Bulgarian. “And Jack Daniel’s, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s,” Biel called out. Vera asked Remedios for whatever and the door closed. Vera rummaged through her clothes and bag and came up with papers and a little bundle of hash wrapped in plastic. She sat down again and started to roll a joint.

Ha visto più bataglie
la mia sotana
che tutta la marina

sang Biel in a loud, raucous voice. Vera looked up from her task. Bernat pushed his Bulgarian away with his arm and asked repeatedly for someone to translate the song; Biel took no notice and went on splashing around in the bath. “Look, mate, are you going to tell me what that means?” The water smelled of vaguely herbal soap, possibly rosemary and also green lemon. In the corners of the room, however, sometimes the stench of standing water and perfumed disinfectant wafted upwards.

“Classical poems,” said Biel eventually. Bernat’s Bulgarian was licking the end of his cock. “High literature,” he added, sounding like a fairground barker, as he held Svetlana’s head—that being the Bulgarian’s name, or at least what she’d said it was although another of them had said it was Ivanna—against his abdomen.

Was Vera really called Vera, or was it also a wartime alias? In wars like this everyone had a wartime alias, the johns, the whores, the same way as in other battles years ago in Barcelona, in clandestine meetings. Everyone was clandestine, soapy, licked, erect, pissed, sticky. “Comrade, you’re going to get into trouble and it’s a question of ideology, because you see you’re a liberal, as president Mao would say, and you need ideological re-education because you’re a petit bourgeois intellectual with all the petit bourgeois characteristics and if we were in China you’d be straight off to a factory and then an agricultural commune and you’d learn soon enough.”

Han’ visto più bataglie
le mie mutandine
che il general MacArthur
a Filippine.

“Just look at the way you go around. Like some kind of hippy. Haven’t you seen how Lenin used to dress? Suit and tie! Like Marx, like Engels! That’s respect for the workers, not all these underclass rags. Can you imagine Marx or Lenin turning up late for a meeting of the cell? Arriving late, pissed and high? Or skipping a security rendezvous? Do you really think the revolution would ever have gone ahead with people like you?”

Porta Romana bella,
Porta Romana.

“Would you kindly be good enough to tell me what that means?” brayed Bernat, stammering like a machine gun. He was now standing up and his cock looked like it was illuminated by the coloured lightbulbs at a fairground. He looked at Vera and felt even more aroused, impossibly so, almost painfully so. He looked over to Gori who was reclined in the bath as if he was just enjoying a soak in the water, a distant look in his eyes.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door and the lackey came in with a trolleyful of drinks. He ceremoniously acknowledged the presence of everyone, especially Bernat’s extended cock, outstanding like the finger of Sodom and Gomorrah’s angel. He looked disapprovingly at the spliff Vera was exhaling as she spread her legs on the armchair. The lackey looked to Bernat and said, “Is that all okay? Anything else?” “No, that’s fine, gayboy,” called back Bernat. “Do you want the dosh now?”

“Yes,” shouted the indignant waiter. In a softer voice, he added, “If you don’t mind, that’s the house rules.”

Bernat got out of the bath, splashing everywhere over the floor and people, and went over to where his clothes were, took out his wallet and then berthed some notes into the hands of the lackey who counted them and with a dignified gesture handed a couple back; then, however, he accepted the tip, and with reverential bows to the north, east and west, withdrew to the door. Bernat’s organ was indicating due south, and the lackey disappeared behind the door with a practised smile.

Vera stood up, completely naked. There was something glorious about her body, and also an arrogance, as if all the happenings in that room were extraneous to her, cramped, small. Bernat saw her as an unattainable being but soon he would have her, whether she just seemed made for him or in fact really was made for him. Top and bottom of it was that he made the invitation, the whores took the cash, and he screwed them. Biel didn’t appear to take too much notice of her, but he felt she was one of his own kind, not just any whore; she was an equal. It didn’t bother him in the slightest that she screwed other men, right there in a few minutes’ time. He knew that she was above it all.

Marc was the only one who seemed to consider her, study her, evaluate her. His interest was like the result of a re-encounter, as if he had known her before, a long time before, as if he was her, Vera, if he had correctly understood her name, someone who had always inhabited his memory, his expectations, and now, by accident, had appeared there, in that form, in that body, with green eyes which he saw flash fleetingly away, and the beautiful, serene, distant face, aristocratic. He now realised she was not a woman, not even a beautiful woman, but that persistent, changing shape constructed by the grammar of dreams, dreams of many objects, landscapes, stories, readings, conversations, scenes from films, all laid over a fabric of desires, impulses, lacks, expectations, expulsions, gifts snatched back. As if she was the materialisation of Will, of life, its real form, autonomous in an individual body and appearance, but profoundly and totally part of the general substance of general will, of the essence which constitutes all living beings.

Marc, naked as a horse, started opening bottles of champagne, shaking them first and sending the corks everywhere. The Bulgarians started yelling. One cork hit the ceiling and landed on Gori’s head. Vera was dancing. She poured herself a vodka and orange and escaped Bernat’s onslaught with a laugh. Not for long. Bernat sat down in the armchair and pulled her towards him. She let him do so and reached over to her bag, opened a condom with her teeth, put it on him and climbed on top. Bernat, glass in one hand, was singing Porta Romana, bella, Porta Romana in his own special way and hauling Vera’s body with the other. The job and the song ended with a Zulu call and Vera dismounted, went over to her things and rolled herself another joint. Bernat was the very picture of Pantagruelic satisfaction.

What was next? Was it his turn now, or should he consider the fact that there were three other women there, the Bulgarians? Vera was the centre of everyone’s attention, and the Bulgarians were beginning to display symptoms of irritation.

In all this, Marc, perhaps because Vera was a photographic still from whatever clouded dream, almost ethereal, was not quite entering the field of play. He decided to leave alone the three Bulgarians who were now unoccupied. Biel and Bernat were participating in a threesome with Vera.

Vera drew on a spliff and with the smoke in her mouth took Bernat’s cock and mixed the sweetish perfumed taste of the condom with the desert warmth of the marijuana and the dry crystalline odour of the vodka, as Biel took her from behind as if in another world, with long strokes, slow as a rolling wave which broke on her thighs, her taut buttocks.

Vera felt good, now, about this activity, with the cash she was making, the clothes she was bought, the trips to Ibiza, the flashy shops in downtown Palma and Barcelona, her clients’ cars, their speed and the parties, the ever more unreachable distance from her own country, her family, her improbable return there, the pleasure of nights dancing like a dervish on the sand until the sun came up, the taste of prawns and lobster, fish and white wine, chocolate and tiramisu, the rush of the amphetamines, the constant beat of the music in her belly, the visits to the bay at Valldemossa, to Trenc, the snow of the mountains, the gaping of this country’s men, their homage to her flesh, repeated and unending, the step from silence to shining, blinding cacophony.

“I haven’t finished yet,” said Bernat. Vera was smoking her joint and was unaware he was alluding to her. Bernat reviewed the situation. Marc and Gori appeared relatively absent. Gori was giving in, and the flamenco-like music, the persisting whiff of disinfectant and blocked drain and dampness, which the smell of soap and the fresh perfume of the naked girls couldn’t entirely mask, everything ground up like crumbs of bread, took him from that moment back in time.

Gori, around ’74, lived in an apartment in Robadors Street which he’d rented from a gay Dutch couple. At night, at two o’clock in the morning or thereabout, when the bars and the brothels were closing, and the screeching ripping music of the jukeboxes was turned off, it was only necessary to wait a short while before the jangling of crowbars and the crash of broken glass, people running and swearing and police sirens were heard. From the balcony, behind the curtains, he never tired of the show.

He looked at Biel, the only one of the three who was still scattered and impossible, and he’d always remembered him like that, ever since he was little, always unpredictable, his life like a sponge, like a landscape of  burned woodland beginning to grow again, like a swarm of bees scared away by the smoke.


Barcelona, when all three of them arrived in 1969, still maintained in the lower Eixample area, the neighbourhoods around the top of the Rambles and south of Gran Via, a precarious, neglected air, almost sordid, as if the original post-war atmosphere had installed itself in every corner of every street, on stairways and pavement. It smelled of blockages, debris barely repaired, cemented over in patches, repainted without hope. It smelled of rat poison, and indescribable dirt from insufficient washing, skimped, always provisional, as if among the rancid stench of defeat there was a wish to preserve some reminiscence of a happy time, and hope to complete a bridge to that time. Long inhospitable corridors, tiny freezing uncomfortable bathrooms, bedrooms stuffed with shaky worm-ridden wardrobes and wobbly chairs, nightstands smelling of old sandals, pictures under square sheets of marble, pictures of Holy Jesus with arms outstretched and the corresponding wound, or nameless landscapes opening through small windows to half-closed attics, or to people from Montpellier with fearful eyes and sheets and patches and worn-out underwear and huge brassieres washed over and over again, the barking of ratting dogs, the farts of wolf-dogs, spaniels, ancient infirm dogs of widows and old people, the dust of tired cats, canaries and budgerigars, impertinent parakeets and husks of parrots. Living and dining rooms with window-fronted cupboards filled with Duralex glassware and utensils, cutlery and cruet sets where the aluminium and the glass gave off a dull matte sparkle which reached out and rebounded in incomplete tears, and beaten-up sofas, mass-produced still lifes and tacky ceramic kitsch.


Biel Gost seemed exultant. In his mind was a parade of scenes from his life of many years before, in Barcelona, a golden age, depending on how it was viewed, ranging from almost militant orgies—the idea which connected his memories and thoughts at that precise moment—to an everyday existence of almost instantaneous changes, a domestic life of sorts, certainly an odd one: militancy in a tiny Maoist cell with twice-weekly and frequently soporific meetings as dusk fell, and going out down the Rambles, late, or dancing at the Enfants Terribles, the Jazz Colon, trips to Cadaqués, all a contradiction lived with a guilty conscience, moving house, moving neighbourhood, the precariousness of life, classes at private colleges, the smell of pencils and rubbers and blocked drains, like that room now, the hunger of a day, or of a week, penniless, midday at the university with people under the arches and the arrival of the National Police and the Socials, the running away, the leaving the faculty through classroom windows and wet gardens, the house borrowed from Madrid, the cold nights with seven blankets, the whistle of a little gas fire partly drowned out by the voice of Nilsson, the endless year of Nilsson, the endless apartment of Nilsson, everybody’s talking at me…I can’t see their faces…only the echoes of my mind. Years which paraded before him, out of Vera’s mouth and the taste of champagne and marijuana, lips tasting of champagne and vodka and tonic and lemon and orange, of gin and tonic, of sickeningly perfumed disinfectant, the sad yellow streetlights of Barcelona many many years ago, Vera’s mouth so full, Bernat’s cries, the animal and the incoherent, the reduction to triviality and to the absence of sense, or the profound sense of absence, the solid sense of the absence of his sense, of everything, of the jacuzzi, the techno music over the splashing and squelching of bodies in the bathtub, the bottle tops, the cocks in pussies, the abdomens against buttocks, the pins and needles in his temples, in his ankles, and the peace, the anguished peace of journeys on horseback and menthol chemistry.


There is some providence in the fall of a sparrow,” declaimed Biel, displaying his now flaccid penis.

Ània closed her eyes as if the sun had just come out in the room illuminated by the brothel’s subdued lighting. “My God,” he moaned, “I’m starting to get really confused.”

“How do you mean? Worried?”

“I mean, no,” he laughed, “There is some providence in the fall of a sparrow…

“Come here, my prince. I am your Ophelia.”

“Oh no, I’m Raskolnikov. He’s Hamlet,” he said pointing towards Gori.


“Right, what do we do now then?” The lad who spoke was wearing a beige tweed suit with plus fours. They were his first long trousers: his family had found it was impossible to move from short trousers to long without necessarily passing through plus fours (they were called plus fours and not knickerbockers and it had always been that way, at least in their family, naturally). He’d got used to them, but for months his friends had viewed him with a certain amount of sarcasm. People don’t wear those things any more. He himself thought the same. He thought they were old, too old, like photographs of his father, his uncles and grandparents, and when occasionally, mainly at the beginning, he’d uselessly objected with timid opposition—perhaps objected wasn’t precisely the word—and especially before they took him to the tailor’s where they were going to choose the cloth for him: a pale grey flannel, a grey Cheviot worsted, a beige tweed, no, no, absolutely not, that’s too dark, it’d look almost brown; how awful, a brown suit, his mother couldn’t abide dentists, the most ordinary profession in the world—yes, they might be rich and increasingly they are richer, but a rich dentist was doubly vulgar, almost a superfluity, a loud arriviste nouveau-riche, an unmistakable symptom of how the world was becoming so extravagant and it was already extraordinarily extravagant and coarse—and neither dentists, nor of course brown suits presumably, thought the boy, could be anything like as bad as a dentist in a brown suit, or lots of then, dozens of them, all brown-suited, the cut of the suits, the waistcoats, the sky blue and white shirts, the blue and red striped ties—he avoided a bow tie in favour of a tartan tie, thanks undoubtedly to an important concession on the part of his father —as his objections were met by a reply of questioning silence.

One of the others, Bertran, looked at him with a brow slightly raised, not exactly high-brow but more with a look of curiosity, as if he expected his companion to break out of the torpor making him so dozy.

“We could go and get them.”

Biel Gost, the boy in the plus fours, had spoken. The trepidation he felt did not translate into any quiver of the voice or other gesture which Bertran could perceive.

“Right,” said Bertran and stood up. He brushed the dust off his trousers energetically.

“But afterwards we could go and look for a while, of course…”

“Yes, perhaps, but it won’t get dark for some time yet.”

Biel had got up off the ground and ran a hand over the thighs of his trousers. Then he ran a finger down one corner of his mouth and with his whole hand stifled a yawn.

All four of them walked down streets lined with single or two-storey houses with gardens enclosed by well-trimmed, chiseled shrubs which allowed a view through to plants and trees, blue swimming pools and tennis courts. These were quiet streets with big cars parked at the roadside or on driveways leading to garages. The dusk was cool and kind, and the winter sun broke through the shadows of the trees and the car windows, the silence populated by birdsong.

“I don’t know whether it’d be best if you stay here while I go and fetch them,” said Biel when they arrived at a big three-storey house with black roof tiles.

“I’m a bit hungry,” said Gori.

“Me too,” said Bertran. Marc was silent, pale-faced.

“We’ll see what there is in the kitchen, then,” breathed Biel.

They entered through the kitchen door. There was no one there. A round clock on the wall was showing four. In the fridge they found a decent piece of roast beef. Biel put it on the kitchen table. Bertran looke nauseous.

“Too undercooked for you? Have a look, I think there’s some cheese or ham in there.”

Bertran rummaged through the fridge and came back with a plateful of things wrapped in tin foil. They all ate in silence.

“I’m going to have a beer. Do you want some?”

Bertran nodded in agreement, his mouth full of ham and savoury biscuits.

“Wine, isn’t there any wine?” asked Marc.

After a short time a pretty girl came in, a little tubby, with a slightly ordinary face. A young maid’s face livened up, she thought. That’s what her mother said, or maybe it was one of he mother’s friends, about all the girls with healthy, filled bodies, even, perhaps, a little too much so; in such a way that all women were a bit too much, a bit too much like young maids livened up, maybe Marilyn, Ava, definitely Brigitte Bardot and no question at all about Sophia Loren. Who else was there? Maybe a charming lady, some anorexic insipid woman, Audrey Hepburn, Leslie Caron, and there’s always the special case of Ingrid Bergman, or Deborah Kerr, or also of course Grace Kelly, who despite being American appeared to be a lady.

“What are you doing? I’ll tell your mother. Drinking beer at your age. Don’t you realise you’ll get drunk?”

Biel looked at her and didn’t deign to say anything. Although in his eyes there was a complicity in the mockery which made the young girl laugh with too much familiarity.

He knew the laugh, and he knew the firm body, solid and a little too abundant. It was curious, because he hadn’t seen her all that much at all; well, in actual fact he’d seen her naked or almost naked quite often, sometimes in daylight in a secluded corner of the garden or the maids’ bathroom near the kitchen, but, and this is the really curious thing, though some strange mechanism, he looked at her but didn’t see her that much, or didn’t remember himself looking with care, really seeing her, as if he were ashamed to see her completely naked, so close, and then those laughs, everything together, meant he felt defenceless before her, made him feel uncomfortable because the two of them were alone, not like now with her, be it with the mocking laughter, putting him in his place and making him just a lad in the same way that she, just a few years older than he, was a maid, and above all it wasn’t like when he had dinner with his parents and Manolita—that was her name, Manolita—was serving at the table and pouring water into his glass, or lifting the plates, because then she didn’t laugh or even seemed to know him, nor he her, except for the occasional disguised knowing gesture which was undecipherable to his parents and to which he didn’t respond, and although this caused him unease and a certain indignation, he attempted to camouflage and make it all completely imperceptible, and was successful. But there was something provocative, something vengeful, in Manolita’s behaviour, when they were alone or equally when he was with his parents and even when he was with his friends, some of whom were perfectly knowledgable of his erotic adventures with the maid. Most of the time he had been with her at night, in the dark, and always with the utmost precaution not to wake his parents: he’d get up out of his bed at around two or three in the morning and then, with the slowest of movements, he’d put on slippers and open his bedroom door with extraordinary care: a minute, perhaps two, turning the door knob, opening the door, just wide enough, listening, holding his breath in case anything might be heard in his parents’ or sister’s rooms; then he slipped through the house, step by step, descended the stairs ensuring his feet were place squarely on the carpet of each step so as not to rustle, and then moved as if floating through the downstairs rooms, in darkness, until he reached the door to Manolita’s room which he also took his time time opening and closing behind him and then, with rather less precaution, getting into the bed of Manolita, who smelled strongly of woman, not like his sister or mother, or any of his female friends, some of whom he also played with touching, in the darkness of a dull Sunday after the cinema, but only touching all over, and kissing, but not making love because they were all afraid.

Manolita slept like a log, but she didn’t mind waking up with him on top of her; she always seemed prepared and he was neither very expert nor spent too much time on preambles and went straight to it, already erect—in fact his erection had accompanied him the entire long silent journey through the house. Manolita enjoyed herself out of quantity rather than quality, or to put it another way, the quantity brought about a certain quality. They did it in silence, and when they finished she held him against her as if she wanted to keep him, and kissed him, but he didn’t enjoy these kisses very much; not at all really.

“What’s up?” asked Marc as he wiped his mouth clean with a paper napkin.

“Have you finished? Right, wait here. I’m going to get them.”

He stuffed a piece of beef into his mouth and disappeared. A short time later he presented himself again, with a holdall. His friends were still eating.

“Okay, let’s go.” Then, speaking to Manolita who had come back into the room, he said “What time will my father be back?”

“Why do you ask? What were you thinking of doing?”

Manolita’s voice was making fun.

Biel’s face was impatient.

“I don’t know, around eight I suppose, and it doesn’t matter if you look at me like that,” the maid said finally.

They left. They started walking down roads, pretty much all the same, neat and tidy, of magnificent houses. After about twenty minutes they reached some gates where there was a security guard. They went through, gesturing a greeting, and found themselves in open country. In the distance they could see apartment blocks under construction, and away towards the sea, about two kilometres away, a dense wood of tall pines. The road led them that way. When they arrived there, they left the road and entered down a rough trail. They heard nothing except their own breathing and the crunch of their shoes on the pine needles. Bertran was at the front, and frequently changed direction, taking ever narrower pathways. Biel was silent; he seemed to know the way as well as his friend. Carrying the holdall didn’t seem to tire him. It felt light. At the same time he carried it firmly, not letting it sway from side to side, as if its contents were fragile or worrying. This meant he placed his footsteps solidly on the ground, paying attention at all times to where they fell. Marc walked breathing laboriously and Gori dragged his body along like a lump of soft rubber.

After half an hour’s walk through the wood, they reached a clearing about a hundred metres across. Now there was nothing to be heard except the breeze through the branches and the song of birds and insects.

“Which ones have you brought?” asked Bertran.

“You ask me now?” He zipped open the bag with some force and took out two pistols and four magazines loaded with bullets.

“Wow! What’s that?” Biel picked up the one with the longer barrel.

“I don’t know, I think it’s called a Para-something…I don’t know the rest. Cool, isn’t it?”

“Gosh. I’ve seen that in World War Two films. Parabellum, I think it’s called,” said Marc. “Wonderful. How does it work? Where’s the safety catch?”

Biel Gost held the pistol firmly in his grasp and pushed in a magazine.

“I don’t know. We’ll find out now.”

He pointed it in the air and pulled the trigger. It didn’t work. Then he pointed it down to the ground and started looking for the safety catch.

“Let me,” said Bertran.

“Wait, careful. Don’t you pull this bit on the top back? Let’s try.”

The pistol made a noise as a bullet was loaded into the chamber.

“I think that’s it. Where do you want me to fire?”

“There’s a can left over there. Afterwards I’ll g…”

A shot rang out, very loud, the birds took flight and the insects seemed to be silent for an eternal moment.

“Ha ha ha, you’ve hit a cloud!” laughed Gori excitedly.

“Did you see what happened to my hand? A bit more and it would have broken my arm. Wait. I’ll fire again.”

“It’s my turn now.”

Biel took aim, holding the pistol in both hands. The can was about thirty metres away. He held his breath. The sound of gunshot rang out again and the bullet raised the dust near the can.

“Here. Be careful. It really kicks your hand back.”

Marc took the pistol with the same precaution as Biel. As he took aim, Biel leant over to pick up the other gun. He inserted a smaller magazine, but the bullets seemed heavier, round-tipped.

“It’s really heavy,” said Marc. He aimed with one hand, the other hand raised as if he were taking part in a duel.

“Hold it with both.”

“Rubbish! You watch now.”

There was another bang. The shot had hit the upper part of a tree trunk.

“You see? I told you.”

“That’s wild!” said Marc, spreadeagled on the ground laughing hysterically. He leapt up and started firing like a lunatic, three or four bangs in a row. Amid the row, Biel was screaming.

“Stop! Stop, that’s enough, that’s enoughhhhh!”

When Marc ceased, eventually, his hysterical laughter was stopped almost dead in its tracks. Biel, instinctively, had pointed at him with his gun, and it had gone off with a bang in Gori’s direction. They all stopped and stared at each other in silence. For a few stony moments, there was something of a look of terror in their eyes. Gori was thinking all the time about the high-pitched whistle he’d heard pass his face and Biel was horrified by the thoughts flashing through his brain.

Then they all, very slowly, sat down on the ground and abandoned the pistols. The sound of the crickets was deafening in the absolute silence. The smell of pine cones and resin couldn’t mask the stench of gunpowder.

A lot of time went by: lying on the ground, not uttering a word, they watched the clouds passing quickly across the soft blue of the sky.

And then they got up again and took turns, each with their own pistol, firing every bullet, one by one, at the can. Some shots hit, but they didn’t say a word. When the magazines were empty they reloaded them and coolly started shooting again until every single bullet had been fired.

All the time he was shooting, Gori thought about a story he’d read. A story about hunters in Africa, a story he’d read secretly in his father’s library. Sometimes, when his parents weren’t there, he used to search through the books which were everywhere, in a large room where his parents received visitors, his father’s study, on the bedside tables in his parents’ room. He enjoyed snooping and he enjoyed books. His parents read Steinbeck, some of Faulkner’s shorter works, Somerset Maugham, Pierre Benoit, André Maurois, François Mauriac, Mika Waltari, Dos Passos, Hemingway, Lajos Zilahy, Stefan Zweig. He found Maugham amusing, although sometimes hard work with so much psychological description, the same as Stefan Zweig or Zilahy, both very slow-going; and what’s more, why can’t they write more clearly? That’s why he liked Hemingway or Sinhue the Egyptian, especially the erotic scenes and the naked women, that slave who disappeared at the temple in Crete—he thought it was in Crete, the Minotaur—but most of all Nefernefernefer, just the name had a marvelous ring, the one who undressed, she always undressed, or bathed in scented water, or removed the very finest of tunics, completely transparent, and then opened her arms to Sinhue, or they enjoyed pleasure, that’s it, enjoyed pleasure—what a way to describe it. Looking at himself in a mirror, the words naked, naked woman, nakedness, naked women, fired his imagination despite his irritation at Sinhue’s stupidity, his losing everything: his parents’ mausoleum, the fortune, the women, the power to influence, a very depressing failure all in all, but still it must have been brilliant living in Egypt in those days. Hemingway was something else. Truth be told, he didn’t know why everyone said he was so good because it was all understandable and for Biel that was great, but it was easy, not like all the brownness of a rug or the dark brown aged-cherry furniture, the bookshelves in his parents’ drawing-room or his father’s study, a clean, polished brown, and tidy but thick and inexplicably dusty, depressing, blurred, like Zweig or Maugham with their complicated characters, or Hemingway himself, although he was strange too, obviously: that old man struggling with the fish and losing sometimes made him want to go back and read it again, to see if by some miracle he’d get back to shore with the big fish in one piece, or those semi-Indians he thought he remembered from Steinbeck who lost that pearl, so much effort for nothing, or that really sad one about the farmers in the midwest of America who lost everything and had to go on such a long journey, so depressing; but there were some things about the Americans, the North Americans, which exuded optimism, and even in the failures of Hemingway’s characters there was, how to put it, spirit; even the absolutely weird characters—weirdest of all were Faulkner’s—had a physical strength, a vitality which he liked, not all that dusty powdery moth-eaten brown of Maugham, Zweig, Zilahy and the rest of them. And so, as he was shooting, he felt like Francis Macomber, in a sea of tall grass up over his waist, there where the wounded lion awaited him, there where he experienced the most unworthy panic, the panic which drove his wife into the hunter’s bed, a hunter who in fact didn’t look anything like Robert Mitchum, as he’d heard his parents suggest, not in the slightest, much more perhaps like Humphrey Bogart, or even Robert Taylor or Errol Flynn, or Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, or Gregory Peck—above all, perhaps, Clark Gable—but not Robert Mitchum, no, never ever him, or afterwards, in his courageous reaction, back in the waist-high grass, face to face with a buffalo which in principle had seemed no big deal—a buffalo, just imagine!—another lion would’ve been better; but then Hemingway described it so brilliantly, a buffalo was dangerous too, mortally dangerous, and Francis Macomber got away, or he would have got away if his wife hadn’t shot him in the back. And so, pistol in hand, Gori avenged Francis Macomber with a bullet, two, three, four, five, until he’d discharged every one at the can and the shadows of buffalo, lions and tigers possibly hiding in the trees beyond the clearing of wild grass and pine needles from where they were firing.

When they had finished, and without looking at each other, they deposited the guns in the bag. They looked at the can and left. They walked in silence, one behind the other, cutting through dense vegetation.

“Do you want some chocolate?” asked Biel after a while, a good long while. Bertran uttered a swear word. Biel stopped, unzipped the bag, then took out a bar and handed it to him. Bertran broke off a chunk and handed it back. Biel broke off another chunk which he held in his teeth as he bent over to zip up the bag. Marc and Gori did similarly and they ate in silence.

They continued walking without a word until they reached the entrance to the estate. They went through between the guard’s hut and the barrier. They went down streets which were all the same. They stopped at a crossroads.

“Half past ten?”


They looked into each other’s eyes but said no more.


Hilari de Cara

Hilari de Cara (Melilla, 1945), poet, novelist, professor of literature, and cultural promoter, has lived in Manacor (Mallorca) since 1967. He has a degree in Modern and Contemporary History from the Universitat de Barcelona (1972), and a PhD in Catalan Language and Literature from the Universitat de les Illes Balears. He edits fiction series for Documenta publishing house, for which he has translated a number of foreign writers into Catalan. He is also a regular contributor to the communications media and to cultural and scientific journals. Selected works include Libro Uno, L'espai del senglar (The Wild Boar's Space), Quaderns d'es Llombards (The Llombards Notebooks), Poemes, Bolero, Absalom, and Postals de cendres (Ash Postcards).

Richard Thomson

Richard Thomson (London, 1959) moved to Catalunya in 1986, where he learned Catalan from friends and FC Barcelona television commentaries.His translation of Jordi Coca's Under the Dust was published in 2007, and Coca's play Black Beach in 2008. Other works published include the play Match Day by David Plana (Teatre Lliure) and short stories by Francesc Serés and Pere Guixà (Dalkey Archive Press). He has also acted as Catalan-English workshop leader at the British Centre for Literary Translation, University of East Anglia. His translation of Look Me in the Eye by Sílvia Soler will appear in the spring of 2010 (Parthian Books).

Un llac en flames (A Lake in Flames). Copyright (c) Hilari de Cara, Quaderns Crema SAU, 2009. English translation copyright (c) Richard Thomson, 2009.