The Dreams of the Rabbit – 6

“For the record, can you confirm that your name is Franz Hausler?” General Müller asked.

“Sure,” Franz replied.

“Is it true that you have not been in contact with your parents for at least the last two years?”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“What do you think they were up to during the last two years?”

“Who, my parents?”

“Yes, your parents.”

“How would I know? I thought we just agreed that I haven’t been talking to them in years. And what do you mean ‘were up to’? What happened to them?”

“What do you think happened to them?”

“I was told they died, in an accident or something.”

“Are you sure they are dead?”

“Again, how would I know? Wait a minute, you don’t know if they are dead?”

“We’re trying to determine what’s that you know, Mr. Hausler.”

“Well, I don’t know anything, other than you told me to come because…” Franz couldn’t recall any definite details about the phone conversation he had had in Barcelona about his parents. Did that happen yesterday? Two days ago? “What am I doing here? What happened to my parents?”

“Mr. Hausler, we would appreciate your help.”

“My help with what?”

“Are you willing to help us, Mr. Hausler?”

“Not sure if I can help you with anything.”

“Would you try, Mr. Hausler, helping us?”

“Sure,” Franz said, and then there was a prolonged silence. General Müller opened a folder and read for a while. “When is the last time that you communicated with any of your parents, Mr. Hausler?” he finally asked.

“Phone conversation, around five years ago.”

“I see, who made that call?”

“My mother.”

“What was the conversation about?”

“My mother wanted to know how I was doing, supposedly, but very soon it became clear that she just wanted me to call back and pretend that I wanted to talk to my father, show some interest in the family affairs, that type of thing. She thought that if I did that my father could end up suggesting that I should visit them for a couple of days.”

“What happened then?”

“Nothing happened. I didn’t phone my father.”

“Why not?”

“Because I didn’t feel like it?”

“You didn’t feel like it, I see. What else?

“Nothing else, I didn’t hear anything else from them.”

“What about letters?”

“No letters, from me or from them.”

“Did you read anything about them, in a newspaper perhaps, or someone mentioned something to you about them? Maybe something that you thought it had no importance whatsoever?”

“No, not really.”

“I see.” General Müller read the same file again, looked at Franz, opened a different folder and read again, leisurely, as if wasting a few minutes of time was the appropriate thing to do. When he addressed Franz again he seemed even more serious than before. “Are you tired, Mr. Hausler?” he said.

“Yes, actually, I am.”

“Would you want to take a break, continue this conversation later.”

“I don’t see how that’s going to help anyone, I don’t have anything else to tell you about my parents,” Franz said, then he added “What happened to them?”

“We were hoping you would tell us that, Mr. Hausler.”

“Are they dead?” Franz asked, making an effort to modulate his tone into being so calm and friendly that General Müller would answer his question in simple and clear terms, and maybe even disclose details and conjectures.

The Dreams of the Rabbit – 5

I wasn’t offered a chair, or asked to move forward. I stayed there in the darkness, outside of the circle of light that included the table and their faces. I couldn’t know if they had recently started this meeting and they had been waiting for me, if I was the main reason for all of them being in that room; or if I was a minor item in their packed agenda, some type of interlude between more important matters, and they would play with me now before restarting their serious discussions about bombs, battles, and whatnot.

Nobody other than Müller said anything during the whole time I was there, nobody wrote any notes, nor made any gestures. I’m not even sure any of them moved on the slightest. Maybe they were trying to be inconspicuous so that all my awareness would be channeled towards Müller. If that’s what they were trying to do, they failed beyond measure, it was so unnerving that collection of pale faces behind the table and murky faces closer to me that every time that Müller said something I had to turn my attention to him, although right away my eyes would be pulled by one of the faces, then another, then another, searching for any flicker of emotion in any of them.

Adding to the strangeness and removed nature of those faces, Müller didn’t introduce any of the remaining people around the table to me. Müller started our conversation as if he didn’t know about the presence of the others. He didn’t look for their consent or readiness. He scrutinized me like an abstract painting, as if trying to understand the motivations and rationale that had led the artist to create me.

I say conversation because it didn’t struck me as an interrogation, even though I guess that’s what it was. It left me dazzled and dirty, so maybe it was an interrogation after all.

Müller started this interrogation of ours by making sure that I was the person they were interested in, which was reassuring because at that point I was beginning to suspect that they had apprehended the wrong man and there was someone back at the train station still searching for me.

The Dreams of the Rabbit – 4

Halfway done eating the apple, I remembered that the reason I was in that room, in that military complex, in a country immersed in and preoccupied by war, had to do with my parents being dead. I think it was precisely in that moment that for the first time I registered the abrupt and unchangeable reality of their departure. Of them not being there, or anywhere. No longer. You know I never liked them, that I spent years without any of my thoughts including them or anything about them. But until then I could have argued that there had been the dormant possibility of retaking any sort of relationship at some point, to give it another try, in a different, more civilized way, if everyone agreed to it. All the imaginable scenarios in which that could have happened were now gone. Again that sensation of looking down and understanding that there was no safety net below, my feet would have to keep treading carefully on the tightrope, step by step maintaining my gaze on the horizon, nothing to be accomplished by turning my head and looking behind me.

The door guarded by the soldier was opened from the other side as I was nibbling the last pieces of the apple around the core. A different soldier stepping from the darkness within the adjacent room mentioned my name and ordered me to go in.

I walked up to the threshold but I then stopped. The darkness that I had first perceived submerged the walls and the ceiling. In what seemed to be the center of the room, there was a massive oval table, twenty or so generals, or colonels, or such, sitting around it. There were several lights on the table, illuminating the faces, the mahogany nature of the table, and the papers and glasses scattered around, but not much else beyond the table.

I could clearly see the faces that were on the other side of the table. The people that had their backs towards me hadn’t turned their chairs around, only their heads, so the lights on the table being behind them, their faces were ashy, blurred by the slowly moving haze. I don’t recall seeing any of them puffing cigars or cigarettes, nor I recall smelling burned tobacco, but that seemed to be the logical source of the waving strands of smoke.

I threw the apple core inside a metal basket by the door and a bang that I didn’t expect reverberated in the room, startling me. If birds had been perched somewhere in the ceiling, they would have surely thrust into flight.

One of the generals that was sitting on the other side of the table introduced himself as General Otto Müller. He said that they were going to ask me a few questions if I didn’t mind. “Do you want a glass of water?” he asked me. I looked at the different faces. I didn’t like any of them. Fat, sweaty and vicious; distorted and unfriendly; white, angular and animalistic; intelligent but self-centered and dangerous; the worst one was that of Müller, the face of a patient fish, his eyes two strokes of bluish black. I give you that maybe it was just my subjectivity, the strange and menacing setting, and had they been civilians in a beer garden on a sunny day their faces would have been plain, safe, inconsequential.

I didn’t care for water. Another apple struck me as a more tempting option. “Some apple strudel wouldn’t be bad”, I said. Müller smirked very slowly, then looked at the soldier standing next to me and dismissed him with a nod. The soldier closed the door behind me, forcing me to move one step into the room, and disappeared for a moment into the darkness of the room until he opened another small door, which lightened the room during the second that took him to close that door in his way out. That soldier didn’t come back, and that day I didn’t eat any strudel.

Old notes written by someone I’m not anymore

IMG_2151I just found some of my first notes for what’s now “The Dreams of the Rabbit,” although at that time it was going to be “Casa Tomada” (yes, an adaptation of Julio Cortázar’s short-story, in which all of the town except the mansion of the artist is bombed out and the inhabitants slowly invade all the corners of the mansion). It’s not surprising that those notes, being around 15 years old, are mostly useless now. I’ll go through them and rescue what I can, but the novel has been so metamorphosed in my brain throughout the years that now it has become a totally different creature. The town is still mostly destroyed, with the mansion left standing, although not as a result of the war but by the dreams of a fly (and obviously the mansion is not destroyed because the dreaming fly was in the mansion at that time and you don’t shit on your own porridge). And the invasion of the mansion by the town inhabitants is no longer an invasion, it’s not even a central part of the story, it’s just a logical consequence of the bombing. The angst of the artist to create a masterpiece is no longer the main driver of the story, now it’s more about rediscovering, relearning, adjusting to the ongoing circumstances, trying to put an end to the dreams of the prolific rabbits.

The Dreams of the Rabbit – 3

I asked them where we were going but none of the soldiers replied. I didn’t ask again, I didn’t seem to have the energy to care that much. It was a moment of action, of fighting for my rights, of slapping the table with my hands and calling the shots, but instead I was a leaf carried by the gutter current to an unknown destination. Outside the station I felt again like I didn’t belong anywhere; being there, forced to move and then being shoved into the backseat of a car was as reasonable, as acceptable as being next to you or strolling down the Great Wall of China. I hope you know what I mean. Of course I would have preferred being with you, hearing your voice, your laugh, painting together, having a drink on the balcony. I’m just trying to say that I was out of myself, hauled away from my mind, like sleeping without dreaming, with my eyes open, seeing but not processing the succession of trees, cars, pedestrians, street signs, all the greyness and diffuseness of Stuttgart that morning.

In the backseat of the car, I was flanked by two of the soldiers but they were not touching me. I thought this was because the car was ample enough for everyone to have that extra space, but then I noticed that the two soldiers were pressed against the doors. If not for their serious faces and their position of power over me, I would have thought that they were scared of me. They had their eyes unceasingly on me. Like golems mostly petrified. In a couple of occasions I held their gaze but then I looked away, accepted their victory; I didn’t have their compromise or their fear, whatever it was.

The Stuttgart that we were traversing wasn’t a Stuttgart I recognized, between the fog, my unforeseen and tired emptiness, the limited views through the car windows, and the patina of circumstance thrown over a city saddened and moody over the ongoing war. That general impression of Stuttgart was contagious. Instead of thinking hard about getting myself from that situation, plan my next move, I settled on the backseat, I allowed that blankness, that not caring, to overtake me. It was better not to fight it, just wait to receive more information or to be awaken. Then we turned out of traffic and through a tunnel carved into a classical-looking building.

We passed three security stops and finally the car came to a halt in the middle of a large courtyard, with members of the army walking in all directions. I was asked to get out of the car, much more nicely this time, and then I followed my parade into one of the buildings, up some stairs, along corridors and more corridors. When we arrived to our destination, a double door was opened and I was escorted into a room by two of my soldiers and ordered to wait there.

It was a small room, with a round table in the center. There was another door on the left wall and one of the two soldiers went there and stood by its side. The other soldier took his position against the right wall. They kept looking at me as if I represented some type of danger, but I suppose that was their job.

There was a line of chairs against the back wall. Even though I felt tired, I didn’t think about sitting down, I must have seen those chairs as props, or maybe my attention was too drawn to the decorative fruit platter on the center of the table. Most of the fruit pieces had gone bad or looked unappetizing, but I picked a small apple that didn’t seem to have any imperfections. It didn’t taste like much, but the juices were very settling. It was then, chewing the apple and ambling around the table, trying to ignore the eyes of the two soldiers constantly following me, that I looked up and noticed the string of paintings hanging on the upper part of the high walls. Mostly portraits and pastoral scenes, nothing inspiring, some of them so dark I could barely discern the content, much less the lines, strokes and details. Apart from their darkness, all of the paintings were very diffuse, as if the fog from outside had penetrated through the walls and was hanging up there in front of the frames and their contents.

The Dreams of the Rabbit – 2

I’m very shaken (or I should be, given the circumstances). What I’m for sure is confused. I’m afraid I’m not yet able to tell you what’s going on. I drafted these lines inside a military car, in my way to my parents’ house, and I don’t even know whether it was so very nice of them bothering to take me there or whether the only reason they didn’t kick me into that car is that I was sufficiently compliant.

The train arrived to Stuttgart early in the morning. I had been able to sleep for a few hours and I woke up as we were going through the suburbs. It was cloudy and also very foggy, I felt fully immersed in a continuous lack of definition, especially when I stepped off the train. Once I was inside the fog it became easier to discern the other passengers heading towards the exit stairs and the ones standing, waiting. The sun was muted right over the trees outside of the station, a wonderful pastel orange sprawling into greyish yellows that melted naturally with the ugly screen of clouds and fog.

As I put my backpack down to get my scarf, four soldiers surrounded me. Three of them were holding their rifles with both hands and directing the muzzles at me. The fourth one, the one in charge (considering he had more paraphernalia on his cap and jacket, including some small but ridiculous golden tassels hanging from his shoulders), asked for my passport. His unpleasant and rusty voice and his impersonal face coerced my hand into finding and handling the passport before I could assess the value of protesting his demand. After glancing at my passport, the tasseled commander slipped it into one of his pockets and ordered me to follow them. One of the soldiers seized my backpack and the other two strengthened the grasps on their rifles. I asked “follow you where?” and I demanded to have my passport back. The commander got closer to me and yelled “silence” and “you are to follow us” and “I don’t recommend you say a word”, those sort of things. His breath wasn’t offensive, but it carried the smell of coffee and hints of cinnamon and bacon, which reminded me that I hadn’t eaten anything since the previous night. Thinking about food: obviously, my stomach didn’t consider the current situation too alarming. In any case, I decided not to ask whether I could go to the cafeteria to buy some quick breakfast. Instead, as the commander started to move towards the stairs, I followed him, the three soldiers walking behind me. The people around us on the platform must have heard what happened, but they pretended we weren’t there, they kept looking at the fog, I’m sure that waiting until we left so that they could stand at ease.

The Dreams of the Rabbit – 1

First of all, I’m very sorry that I couldn’t meet you in Barcelona, it would have been so nice seeing you again after so much time. By now you must be in the process of settling down again in your apartment. Yes, you must be if you have read this letter. I hope you like my landscapes, I look forward to knowing how you feel about them. I tried thicker strokes this time, and using slightly off colors here and there to introduce a sense of movement, of something sprouting from the stillness in the surrounding areas. I’m not sure I got it right, in my mind those paintings looked so different from what I actually painted.

I know you well enough, I’m sure you have ripped the envelope open before going up the stairs, still mad because I wasn’t waiting for you at the station. I must say, though, that this time I had a good excuse for not being there. My parents have died. A lawyer, or police officer, not really sure, called me from Germany. The conversation was all very official, very confusing, but it seems that they were killed in an accident, or murdered, they don’t really know yet. So they asked me (ordered me, really) to get there as soon as possible. They didn’t say exactly why they need me. I don’t think they need me to recognize the bodies; as you know, my parents basically owned the whole place, any person in that town could identify them. In fact, I think I’d be the least qualified person to recognize them, it must have been more than twenty years since I last saw them. It must be something about their will, what to do with the estate, something of that sort.

So I’m writing this letter in the train, we just passed Lyon. I’ve been sketching fields, low hills covered with orchards, tiny towns with their church towers, and every time I find myself drawing faces between the trees, triangles in the sky, spirals on top of the houses, disfiguring the pleasant image. I’m so drawn to landscapes and so utterly bored of them at the same time.

I’m going to try to get some sleep. I should arrive to Stuttgart in the morning. Supposedly, a car will be waiting for me at the station. I don’t know if they will take me to my parents’ house (a castle, really, at least that’s how I remember it), to the morgue or to some dusty office where I won’t want to be. I would think I’ll need to sign some documents and then I’ll be in a train back to Barcelona as soon as I can.

It’s so weird returning to the place where everything began, but a place that I had almost forgotten. Nothing will look the same, I’m sure, not to mention the current situation. The frontline will be more than 100 kilometers away, but it’s still very unnerving to be in a country immersed in war.

PS: Would you mind going to Piera and picking up the cobalt blue and yellow ochre that I ordered last week?