Manuel Moyano (Córdoba, Spain, 1963) won the Tigre Juan prize for first narrative book published in Spain for Kafka’s Friend (2002). He is the author of the novels Yegorov’s Empire (Finalist for the Herralde Prize; translated into Dutch), The Devil’s Alibi (Tristan Prize for Fantasy Novel) and The Black Agenda. His other books are The Pessimistic Theatre (flash fiction); The Magical Logbook, about folk medicine and quackery; and American Voyage, which chronicles a family road trip from one coast of the United States to the other.
Andrea del Moral was born in Seattle, WA. She holds an MFA in Dramatic Art from UC Davis and received the Irving Layton Prize for Poetry at Concordia University (Montréal). She writes poems, tongue-twisters, fiction, scores for performance, essays and questions. She teaches English and writes in Galicia (Spain) and California. This is her first published translation.
The Strange Case of Mr. Valbuena
Those who knew Ramón Valbuena regarded him as a person of excellent character. He said hello to everyone, he never refused to do anyone a favor, and he treated everyone around him with a smile not unlike that of a tired, old Clydsedale horse. Tall and broad-shouldered, he had crossed the forty-year mark without hardly anyone noticing. He had a wife, three children, and an old, lame dog named Coqui, whom someone had abandoned on his doorstep fifteen years earlier. Every day he woke up at 6 a.m. and took the dog out for a walk and to defecate, in that magical hour in which the city is the secret kingdom of bakers, newspaper delivery boys, and all night partiers. Upon returning to the apartment, he would leave Coqui on the balcony and begin his selfless ritual of making himself presentable—but not without first putting the coffee on. The whistle of the coffee maker—he had calculated this—coincided exactly with the moment he sprayed his face with after-shave. Valbuena would then turn off the stove and, standing in the kitchen, gulp down his coffee. Before leaving, he would kiss his wife and then his three children, who were still sleeping, always in the same order: he started with the firstborn and ended, invariably, with the youngest.
Valbuena entered the office at ten minutes to eight and greeted the receptionist and the manager. When the rest of his colleagues began to arrive, sleepy and grumpy, they always found him seated at his table, already lost in a sea of documents, or stamping envelopes, or typing on the adding machine with a very concentrated air about him.
“Are you going to inherit the office, Valbuena?”
He always took his coffee break alone, and at the bar he would read the newspaper, which they had reserved for him, from cover to cover. He never rushed this half-hour break that was his due. If there was some especially complicated issue in the office, everyone turned to Valbuena to put out the fire. If someone came in off the street in some altered state or looking to start trouble, it was Valbuena, with his cool and serene personality, that they'd charge with calming the person down. Everyone, from bosses to subordinates, held him in high esteem.
At ten ’til two he would arrive home and kiss his family in reverse order from the morning, starting with the little girl, so that nobody could feel offended. His wife prepared lunch following a strict diet, because his blood sugar level was high, and after he related a few things from the office, Felisa would talk about the price of green beans in the market, or she would indignantly comment on that morning's attempted terrorist attack, or she would give him a shopping list for when he returned from work at the end of the afternoon.
At 3:15 Valbuena left home, with his three children in tow. He dropped them off at school and went back to work, where he remained from 4 to 7 p.m. If he didn't have any errands to do, he would walk through the streets for half an hour, looking at the shop windows and, very occasionally, transgressing his pre-diabetic regimen by holing up inside some sweets shop and stuffing himself with spiral pastries and chocolate-filled croissants. The rest of the evening he stayed home, watching a soccer game on TV or helping his children with their homework. Generally he did a bit of exercise before eating dinner. Then he'd take a cold shower and eat frugally: low-fat cheese, lettuce or tomato slices, and a cup of yogurt. After dinner he'd accompany his children to their bedrooms and kiss them goodnight in corresponding order. Finally, he'd put on his pajamas and lie down in the matrimonial bed, completely exhausted, but before falling asleep he wouldn't forget to kiss his wife and wish her good night.
This was Ramón Valbuena until the day he decided not to get up. It was winter, and when he heard his alarm clock that morning, he felt a shocking weariness like he'd never experienced before, and imagined the series of repetitive and trivial acts that he would carry out that day. He unplugged the alarm clock and stayed in bed with his eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling. He thought about shouting, about howling at the moon, the light of which still filtered through the cracks of the blinds. For the first time in his life he felt like a trapped animal, a wild beast caught in the body of Ramón Valbuena, the bonded and grey being who'd let himself be broken by the daily routine with the resignation of a ruminant. He hated himself. He would've given anything to stop being himself, to rebel, to escape, but with tears of rage in his eyes he arrived at the firm conviction that he'd never get together enough courage to do it.
Coqui’s bark, outside on the terrace, woke Felisa. She looked with half-closed eyes at the alarm clock and blinked with amazement when she saw that it was already almost seven.
“What happened to you?” she murmured. “You don’t think you'll take the dog out today, or what?”
Valbuena thought about replying, “The dog can fuck himself,” but suddenly a thought struck him, a thought that seemed to come to him from nowhere. In a man who'd never had a brilliant imagination, the idea he conceived of seemed to be a miracle or divine inspiration. He sat up in bed, looked at his wife with stunned eyes and said,
“Who are you?”
And so began Ramón Valbuena’s pretend amnesia [...]