So no Dad, not that I’ve lacked for stand-ins. Only my fathers have all been mayfly dads, the kind that are here one day and gone after three days at most. Some left traces behind, a khakicoloured toothbrush in the bathroom, an inhaler, a book on a bedside table, and sometimes those traces would give rise to hopes that they might come back, come in the door to the flat and suddenly be struck by the idea that this really was a bit like returning home, that everything was already here—a home, a wife and a child—all they had to do was enter and start living. I wrote about all of them in my diary, and because their names eventually started to blur (Valerio, Enrique, Álvaro, José María) I began calling them ‘the Jogging Pants Man’, ‘the Chuckling Man’ and ‘the Tartare Man’ instead, and then their images would immediately reappear before me. ‘The Tartare Man’ once made himself a steak tartare on our terrace. I had no idea what steak tartare actually was until he explained with a lofty expression on his face that this was what sophisticated bohemians in Paris ate. The sophisticated inhabitants of Paris were people whose taste buds had not yet been destroyed by charred meat and fried onions. He took the ingredients out of the bag and put the tartare together in front of us. The tartare consisted of cutting up a packet of raw mince and mixing it right there and then with egg yolk, salt and pepper. Have a taste—it’s delicious, he said and offered the greasy plastic tray to Mum. She turned her head away and pretended not to look, but I did. His fingers closed hungrily around the mess and you could see the pleasure in his face as he pushed the morsel into his mouth. Uhhnn, he said. Then he swallowed and it was impossible not to think of a snake as his Adam’s apple pushed the mouthful down his throat. Please don’t let her let him move in, I thought, and she didn’t.
For his part the ‘Canary Man’ made his mark with a rather distinctive present. Before he arrived Mum explained that this man wasn’t ugly, or attractive, but attractively ugly. He turned up one Friday evening, appearing in the gloom of our hall with a bottle he presented to Mum. Mum accepted the gift and put it on the linen cupboard.
‘Thank you,’ she said.