by Cástulo Aceves/ translated from Spanish by Michael Langdon
The old man reviews what is written on the scrap of paper, the last clue in his search for his son. He folds the message, puts it in his pocket, and looks around the hotel room. Since the night he promised to find him, everything has seemed alien and vague. He had been sitting on the hospital bed, his wife sleeping in silence. The only thing audible was the sharp, rhythmic tone of the apparatus to which they had connected her. His prostrate wife, victim of cancer, spoke Ellic’s name in her dreams. The husband drew his face close to hers and thought of answering, but he didn’t know what to say. Then, looking at his wife’s blank face, he whispered that he would bring him, that he would ask him — no, he corrected himself in the half shadow — he would beg him to come home. He hugged his wife. Tears like crystal threads made their way down a face full of pathways.
He goes down to reception and approaches the front desk, where a man in a suit is watching, with a pained expression, a small black-and-white television. When he hands over the key, the man simply takes it, without saying anything, and puts it in a drawer. The old man stands there, unable to decide how to ask the question. The other man turns to him automatically, without genuine interest. “Can I help you with something?” “Yes, I’m looking for this place . . . .” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the paper, unfolding it nervously. . . . “The Red Covenant.” A mild smile lights up the face of the receptionist: “It’s downtown. You can take a taxi, but . . .” He draws closer and lowers his voice. “If you’re looking for that kind of entertainment, it’s better to go to a place just around the corner. They’ll be nicer to an old guy like you.” The old man, stunned, shouts curses at receptionist and tries to punch him in the face. The other man dodges his fist, returns the punch, and even with the front desk between them, hits him in the chest. The old man remains on the floor for a few seconds. He thinks that years ago he would have thrashed his adversary. How things change.
The old man is a violinist, a teacher at a private music school, an unsuccessful composer. In his youth, he studied in different conservatories and traveled extensively; he was considered almost a virtuoso. He was invited to give concerts and lectures about the classics, above all about Paganini. The years passed quickly while he trained to be the great promise. But his magnum opus never materialized. He would have liked to be able to say that his failure was due to some intrigue, a terrible accident, a history that conferred a minimum of tragedy to his lack of success. One day he returned home, without fame or fortune. In his hometown, he had to make do with a miserable salary in the local philharmonic. He wound up being a teacher. A few years later, he met the woman who would be his wife. Their first and only child arrived a short while later.
The smell in the taxi is sour. From the radio come the notes of a popular ballad; to him, it seems like obnoxious noise. For a moment, he thinks about asking the driver to lower the volume, but then he discards the thought. He feels pain from the blow he received in the hotel. He passes the time watching the city go by through the window, asking himself why his son had decided to come to a place like this. For a few moments, he recalls the afternoons when he, accompanied by a metronome, would teach the obstinate boy to play the violin—without much success. He was sure that, unlike himself, Ellic had what it took to be famous. His dream of playing Paganini’s capricci with mastery would be achieved by his heir. The boy had talent; he just had to mold it, to make him begin practicing at a young age. In those days, he promised himself that he would show the boy the way. During those early years, everything seemed to be going well, but with the arrival of adolescence, the boy grew increasingly distant. Arguments, silences, and later a refusal to practice on a daily basis were delineating some vague problem that would lead to a huge fight on his son’s twentieth birthday.
They had now been estranged for three years. During that argument, Ellic had accused his father of wanting to control him, of hoping to fulfill his frustrated dreams through his son. Just the mention of this truth was more painful than any other offense. The tone of the argument intensified, and it turned into a physical fight. The teacher ended up on the floor, with his faced bloodied, beaten by a boy that he had always considered a lazy, skinny weakling. The old man lifted himself from the floor, furious and humiliated, and threw his son out of the house. A few days passed before he began to feel regret, but his pride was stronger than his love for his son. During the months that followed, he learned that the young man had gone to live in the capital. His wife stayed in touch with him. She tried to get the two men to make peace. Musical talent and pigheadedness were apparently the only things the son had inherited from his father.
When the wife was diagnosed with cancer, the violin teacher was sure that she hadn’t told their son anything, that she preferred to keep her illness a secret. Then complications arose, and the doctor told them that her cancer was terminal. The old man knew that if his wife died without seeing her son one last time, he would never be able to forgive himself. This last thin thread that united him to his offspring would be broken forever. Finding him wasn’t an easy task; it was as if the boy had disappeared or simply ceased to exist. First he searched in conservatories, with help from the friends and acquaintances from the musical world that he still had in the capital. Either Ellic was no longer dedicating himself to music, which the old man considered a terrible waste of his talent, or he had simply vanished. He was left with no other option than to try to find his son through his friends.
“It’s here,” says the taxi driver, pulling the old man out of his memories.
The old man gets out of the car and looks at the colorful entrance of the place that he had been told about by a stranger’s voice on the telephone. It had been difficult to get information from Ellic’s friends. All of them thought the teacher was an ogre, a “senile macho”—in their exact words—who was more interested in Bach and Paganini than in his own family. He spent days pleading, connecting dots, going round in circles, from one place to another, getting ambiguous information over the telephone. Among Ellic’s friends, few knew anything about him, and those that seemed to have information were reluctant to give it to him. Had they lost touch with his son? He approaches the door.
He enters a room where a thin man with pink hair inspects him. From there, he continues into a hallway full of black light bulbs. Then there’s a room where he sees two men in an embrace. Televisions hang from the ceiling showing penises in different states of erection. The music inside the main room is strident. Everything is dark. Shadows dance under a whitish haze. The old man feels lost. He can’t manage to make out the facial features of anyone. Everything is a sea of bodies in asynchronous movement. After walking around the place for a while without any success, he requests help from a waiter, who at first cannot hear him. He repeats the name of his son and the other man nods and then walks away, leaving him talking alone. A little while later, he returns with a florescent green cocktail. The old man tries to ask the question again but then realizes that it’s impossible.
He looks for a place to sit down, where he can abandon himself to hopelessness. He would like to get away from all the noise, the smoke, the images, the people, but the bar is packed. Every moment, someone pushes him; he feels an elbow; he bumps into a shadow. At this moment, a voice with an echo announces that the show is about to begin. The old man ignores the announcement; all he wants is to find his son, to go out into the silence, the blessed silence, and talk to him. A spotlight points toward a platform on the far side of the room. The music stops. A buzz seems to envelop everything. The long, harmonious notes of a violin resound in the speakers. The old man looks toward the origin of the music. A buxom woman in a long dress, a blond wig, and colorful makeup plays a fugue. He scarcely recognizes his son. Electronic music begins to accompany the notes. The people begin to move to the accelerated rhythm. The dancing, the lights, and the movement return.
He fights his way through the elbows and manages to reach the platform. He tries to shout to Ellic, but the music is too loud. A pair of tall men approach him. He reaches out to touch the foot of his son, but they stop him. They grab him by the shoulders and yell in his ear that if he doesn’t stop they’ll throw him out. The old man yells at them to leave him alone, that he has to say something to the violinist. The two men don’t understand his words. They begin to push him. He desists and moves away from them, placing himself among the bodies that jump to the rhythm of the electronic accompaniment. He sees Ellic in the middle of the lights: the clothes, the beauty that reminds him of his wife when he met her. The image is beautiful to him. His wife had said several times that she should have had a daughter too. Many things become clear in his head. He debates with himself: should he approach his son or forget him forever?
The violinist ends the piece, takes a breath, and then begins to play one of the capricci of Paganini. The crowd goes wild. The strings of the violin vibrate. An electronic bass accompanies the rapid rhythm. The bodies move like an ocean in a storm. In the midst of all this, the father smiles. He looks at his son with pride. The harmony, the speed, the precision. The passion that he had always sought during his life had been achieved by his former student. Although it was mixed with electronic music, he recognized the most perfect interpretation that he had heard in his life. All of his resentment dissolves in those rapid movements, in those precise tones. He thinks that there will be plenty of time to approach him, to ask for forgiveness, to recover what he has lost. The hope of accepting everything though he doesn’t understand it. The old father becomes still, ecstatic in the midst of everything. Tears like crystal threads make their way down a face full of pathways.~
Michael Langdon (Carolina del Norte, 1964) es escritor, editor, traductor y profesor. Da clases de inglés y la literatura LGBTQ en Chabot College en Hayward, California. En 2015, tuvo un año de sabático en el cual viajó por América Latina en busca de literatura LGBTQ que pudiera traducir al inglés. Se puede leer de sus viajes en su blog, quebuenaona.net. Sus traducciones ha aparecido en Queen Mob’s Teahouse y Foglifter. Vive en Oakland, California, con su esposo, Bradford.