Two Stories

Juan José Millás

Artwork by Elephnt


We were burying a friend when the sound of a cell phone interrupted the grave ceremony. After a brief exchange of disapproving looks, we understood that the sound was coming from the corpse, whose coffin had been left open so we could bid our late friend a final goodbye. With more thoughtlessness than bravery, the widow leaned toward the dead body and took the phone out of one of his jacket pockets. “Hello?” she uttered, dolefully. We don’t know what she heard on the other end, but we saw her grow pale and promptly shout, “Fernando died yesterday and you’re a bitch who has destroyed our home.” That said, she hung up and returned the device to its place.

While leaving the cemetery, I learned from someone in the family that it had been Fernando’s own wish to be buried with his cell phone. This eccentricity aligned perfectly with his character, but brought to me a dark, less pleasant image of someone who had undoubtedly been one of the most important role models in my life. As is customary, I went in the company of his closest survivors to his widow’s home to offer comfort and support. She offered us coffee, which we savored, chatting about inconsequential things, when the home telephone rang. A few terror-filled moments passed, and those present reached a tacit agreement: no one had heard anything; no sound from beyond the grave had rung out in that meeting of friends. After ten or twelve rings, the phone went quiet and the widow herself stood to shut it off. “I’m not in the mood for condolences,” she said.

That night, at the hour when insomniacs begin their naps, I got up, went to the phone and dialed Fernando’s number. He answered on the first ring, but I hung up before hearing any voice. I just wanted to make sure that Hell existed.

The Canary

When the work meeting began to drag on longer than it should have, I closed my eyes to rest a moment, and imagined that my mouth had transformed into a pointed archway similar to the nave of a cathedral. I then removed my molars from my upper gums, and their sockets transformed into the side chapels of that architectural style. My tongue, dried out from tobacco, turned out to be an excellent floor. Elderly women the size of larvae prayed in the pews or set out candles for their favorite saints. An entourage of choirboys dressed in red exited the sacristy. A bishop prepared to officiate.

Suddenly the guy next to me lit a cigarette, and after covering my mouth to cough, I noticed that something had fallen into my hand. With a furtive glance, I saw that it was full of miniature elderly women with turned up skirts. I hid them, uneasy, in my jacket pocket and raised my hand to my mouth once again, to block a second cough. This time the choirboys, the bishop, and some Japanese tourists came flying out. I dropped them in with the old women and while I pretended to pay attention to a proposal, I stroked them with my fingers. My pocket seemed like a hive of insects attempting to scale my hand. When I arrived home, I approached my pet canary and emptied the contents of my pocket into its cage. The animal devoured them with a disturbing amount of joy, savoring them.

Wracked with guilt, I went to confession the next day. I was on my knees when a hurricane forced me through the air alongside the priest and other parishioners. I ended up on the inside of a leathery hand with a broken leg, and then, at the bottom of a sack from which I could hear the sinister flapping of a large bird’s wings. I’m writing these lines in my journal, hastily, before being eaten, in case it falls into the hands of someone who can explain to me what the hell is going on.

translated from the Spanish by Gabriella Martin