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Translated by Peter Bush
This time we’d agreed I would go and collect Borja at his place, naturally wearing my new suit, and from there we’d go to Mariona’s. The homage was invitation only for a hundred or so and began at seven, though we wanted to get there early, and did so at three minutes to. Very few people had arrived. Journalists and television cameras were around, and drinks, though not canapés, were circulating. A small army of waiters stood to attention, ready to do their duty, and Mariona’s butler, Marcelo, was supervising proceedings as efficiently as ever. He was a fine figure of a man, and his delicate manners contrasted with an athletic body that was midway between Johnny Weissmuller and Rock Hudson. Mariona had alerted him to our security worries and he’d promised to keep a beady eye out.
The modernist salon, where the event was being held, was dominated by a huge black-and-white photograph of murdered novelist, Marina Dolç. It seemed very recent. I stared at her face, in particular, her eyes: they radiated an extraordinary serenity and bore the half lucid half bitter expression of people who’ve suffered a lot and refrained from speaking out. I thought how she wasn’t at all like the extremely ingenuous heroines of her novels. No, Marina Dolç might have been many things in her life, but she’d surely never behaved like a fool. My brother, who’d known her personally, was in agreement.
Next to the portrait of the writer were a huge bunch of red roses and a copy of each of her books, as if it were a kind of altar. They’d also lit candles and a real pianist was playing pieces by Satie in a corner of the room where guests were now beginning to huddle. More people gradually came and the room filled up. Everyone greeted Mariona, whom they treated with deference but as a lifelong friend. Most guests were acquainted and were dressed extremely fashionably. One lady had turned up in a long evening dress that jarred slightly and another was resplendent in a posh trendy style of tight jeans baring her belly button, and high-heeled sandals. There was some variation among the men as well, but most wore a tie.
That evening, Mariona wore white crêpe trousers and a pearl grey, Chinese dress coat embroidered with green-and-blue silk. I’m sure it was a unique garment and worth a fortune. Her hair was curly and flowing loose, and, as ever, she was only lightly made up. I didn’t notice her shoes.
There were a hundred of us tightly packed in there. Almost everyone had arrived by half-past seven and the waiters started bringing round the canapés that, as Mariona explained, were the creation of none other than Ferran Adrià. I had something of an upset tummy, I expect due to the heat, and was on a compulsory diet of boiled rice. I opted not to take any risks and stuck to the gin-and-tonic Marcelo had prepared for me, which they say is just the thing for an upset stomach. People were drinking, eating, smoking and conversing around us, and the volume of the conversations was rising in intensity and tone. By eight o’clock you couldn’t hear the piano at all, even though the pianist kept moving her fingers unabated. Borja, who had decided to eat and drink freely, pursued the waiters and their trays of canapés and just kept saying: “Out of this world, young man! Out of this world!”
We chatted to Clàudia, who initially seemed rather lacklustre, before sidling towards a little group of people who Borja knew from a party at the Ritz. They were talking about Marina Dolç and we listened in. Borja told me who they were, and didn’t pull his punches: Llibert Celoni, a writer who was fiftyish and swollen-headed; Agustí Planer, a ruthless critic who always raved about his friends; Ferran Fontserè, a poet about the same age as murder suspect Amadeu Cabestany with a high opinion of himself; Amàlia Vidal, a feminist historian who doubled as literary critic; and finally Eudald Suñol, a much younger writer of historical and adventure novels who was by far the best-selling author of the bunch. They were arguing fiercely, and perhaps it was then that I realized something odd was taking place.
“Come off it, she was a shit author! I can’t think why the hell we’re celebrating her!…” I heard Llibert Celoni bawl.
“You’re only attacking her because she was a woman!” retorted Amàlia Vidal. “And because you’d like to have her sales figures!”
“No, thank you very much. I would never want to prostitute myself to the rabble like she did.”
“Well, fuck you, kid.”
I couldn’t believe my ears, and instinctively rubbed them. How was it possible that well-mannered, cultured people could use such language during a soirée of posthumous homage to Marina? I soon realized that was the only beginning.
“The problem today is that publishers publish lots of books but very little genuine literature,” Ferran Fontserè was now holding forth. “Literature is now the preserve of us poets. The novel is dead.”
“My sentiments entirely, but it all depends on the novel. The reviews of my last effort were first-rate…” Llibert Celoni said in self-defence.
“An unreadable brick!” erupted Eudald Suñol, turning deep red. He was the only writer in that little huddle that really sold. “How do you expect people to read the shite you write?”
“Your books are the real shite! They’re only good for wiping your arse on. It’s you people who queer the pitch for the true writers!”
“But you’re just one big mental wank!… Don’t you ever read what you write? At least I’m not into abusing my readers…”
“Absolutely! You and your ilk refuse to take risks, you don’t want to create a style, subvert… You write for the publishing industry and mass-produce literature as if you were processing hamburgers, you’re not real writers.”
“Hole in one!” waxed the poet as he gulped down the contents of his glass.
“We,” Llibert Celoni was waxing eloquent now, “are the heirs to the avant-garde and have turned literature into a lifestyle, not a modus vivendi.”
“Oh, you are so clever. But the avant-garde is a corpse that stinks to high heaven,” Eudald Suñol put his hand over his nose. “You know, the problem with you folks is that you’ve no story to tell. That’s why you write such recherché bullshit.”
“‘We’, as you say, are moved to write about the important things in existence!” interjected the poet.
“You bet you are! The colour of your defecations is surely of universal transcendence.”
“You’re so thick you can’t handle a metaphor!” “Me and a million other readers!” “I don’t care a piss about your readers.” “Well, you should know, you’re the piss-artist…”
I couldn’t think what to do. The argument had clearly entered a critical stage and if one or other of the parties didn’t back off they were heading for a punch-up. Borja was loitering suspiciously with Cláudia, seemingly oblivious to everything. It struck me as very strange that nobody around seemed to be interested in the shouting match, because insults were raining down from all sides. Upping the ante, Amàlia Vidal had decided to get in on the act.
“Marina was a woman and that’s what’s getting you lot hot under the collar.”
“Look, darling, we’re talking seriously here. You women are all sugar and sweetness. What you write has the stench of hormones.”
“Know what? That’s something I can agree with,” chortled Eudald Suñol, slapping him on the back.
“Well, in case you didn’t know it, kid, you write with your cock,” Amàlia spat back, appearing to be rather the worse for wear.
“And you can’t wait for me to stick it between your thighs for a bit…”
“And wouldn’t it be a very short bit…”
“We are the bold creators of literature, the explorers of virgin territories…” pontificated Llibert Celoni, deciding to ignore Amàlia. “We’re not book-making machines.”
”But you are a bunch of decadent ponces who think talent means being clever-clever.”
”’Talent’ being writing about conspiracies and magic potions, I suppose?” responded the poet sarcastically.
“At least we use our imaginations and get people reading.”
“Reading rubbish. Soon nobody will know who the hell Shakespeare was.”
“A chauvinist and an emotional bully!” shouted Amàlia, not knowing what to say to get them to take any notice of her.
”Shakespeare was also a popular author and wrote about historical subjects. And I seem to remember potions and ghosts make an appearance in his work,” argued Eudald Suñol.
”You’s gone barmy!”
”You are mad, speak properly, if you don’t mind,” responded Eudald.
“My God, have we sunk so low…!” groaned Agustí Planer, head in hands.
“We have lost this war…” Llibert Celoni seemed despondent. “This is the end… The end of literature…”
“Will nobody listen to me?” Nobody was taking any notice
of Amàlia and she was furious. “I’ve had my cuntful of men!”
“Well, a pity you cut your bollocks off then.”
To tell the truth, I can’t say I’ve been to many literary soirées in my lifetime, but I’d always imagined them quite differently. You know, cultured, polite people conversing in measured tones, and, naturally enough, disagreeing courteously and never raising their voices. Everybody here was screaming insults. The scene around me was disconcerting. I’d been so hooked by the row I’d been listening to that I’d failed to notice some ladies had stripped their blouses off and were displaying their bras, and most of the men, Borja included, were down to their underpants. There was a flurry of hairy legs under the piano and the pianist was no more to be seen. This posthumous homage was more like a triple-X adult movie, and even my brother seemed have completely lost it.
“Oh, Eduard, my kid brother… See what makes the world go round!…” he shouted while trying to unzip Clàudia’s dress.
“Shssh! Borja, what do you think you’re saying? Or doing for that matter? You gone crazy or what?”
“Borja? What do you mean ‘Borja’? I’m Josep… Josep Martínez, at your disposition, missie… She’s a bit of all right, don’t you think, Eduard?”
“Please, Borja, behave yourself.”
“Oh my kid brother, the big…”
Luckily there was such pandemonium that nobody was paying him any attention, not even Clàudia, who didn’t seem all there. Marina Dolç’s publisher, also down to his underpants, was standing on the piano brandishing the microphone and trying to make a speech while his wife was attempting to snatch it from him, thinking to put his crotch to better uses. Joining in the fray, a half-naked woman, about my mother-in-law’s age, threw herself upon me and tried to pull my trousers down. I managed to escape by a whisker.
Something was definitely amiss. Mariona was sitting in a corner of the room, eyes rolling, apparently in ecstasy. The floor was a sea of cast-off clothing around her and everyone was naked. Dancing like dervishes, if not copulating like crazy. Borja was busy groping a Clàudia much improved by her lack of garments, who was letting him get on with it. This homage to a prematurely deceased novelist had turned into an orgy.
I was scared and made my way as best I could to Marcelo, who seemed to be intact and contemplating the spectacle in a rage from another corner of the room.
“I told madam I didn’t think stramonium canapés were a good idea. I did warn her, sir,” he whispered in his Argentine lilt.
“What do you mean, stramonium canapés? What are you raving about, Marcelo?”
“It’s one of Mr Adrià’s concoctions, using a hallucinogen. I reckon he overdid the dosage. The menu says ‘a hint of stramonium’ but I think it was more like an overload…”
“Stramonium? Are you sure? I think that what’s my grandmother called ‘hell’s fig tree’ or ‘angel’s strumpet’…” Then I saw the light. “Good heavens, Marcelo! Stramonium is devil’s weed, the plant witches used. These people have been poisoned!”
“That is clear enough, sir. But you don’t seem affected…”
“I’ve got tummy problems, you know, so I kept clear of the canapés. We must do something, Marcelo! They’ve all gone completely mad!”
“I agree, sir. What do you suggest?”
“What do you suggest?” I responded timidly.
“You know, there aren’t that many options. This is going to hit the headlines, che.”
And that was when the free-for-all started. Llibert Celoni hit Eudald Suñer with a fist and things went from bad to worse. Eudald returned the blow and had the misfortune to strike Amàlia, who at the time was naked but for a black tanga that highlighted her cellulitis and spare tyres. Amàlia lashed out right and left, and very soon everyone stopped shafting the man or woman next to them (or both at once) and started pummelling the first person they laid their hands on. It was a battleground. Whatever item that could be flung – glasses, bottles, ashtrays – was hurled through the air. The pianist, who’d hidden behind the curtains to avoid being raped, had a bloody nose, and the waiters, who must have tasted a few canapés in the kitchen, had cheerfully joined in the debauchery. They were in the nude and busy throwing trays of food through the air like Greek athletes.
A brimful glass of cava shattered on the Fortuny over the fireplace, at which point Marcelo decided enough was enough. He dragged Mariona into her bedroom, locked the door and rang the police. He asked me to accompany him and we both stood guard in front of the entrance to the mansion. As well as impatiently waiting for the security forces to arrive, we were ready to keep out the press, if necessary. As I saw Borja was still working on Clàudia and she didn’t seem to be protesting, I let them be.
A dozen vans of mossos and an ambulance drove up in less than five minutes. An army of health-workers, carrying medicine chests, were now distributing atropine and sedatives at their discretion. I narrowly missed being injected, although I did accept a sedative because the recent spectacle had left feeling me groggy. Shortly after men in plain clothes, presumably secret police, arrived and took control of the house. Silently and systematically, they requisitioned film and photo cameras from journalists who were tripping with the guests, and discreetly took a few individuals off after they’d wrapped them in blankets. After a couple of hours, the effects of the stramonium began to wear off and the guests started to come round. They embarrassedly looked for their clothes and personal effects so they could leave. Fortunately only a dozen or so had to be taken to hospital, mostly with slight injuries.
When the mossos finally let us leave, it was almost 2 a.m. I took Borja home in a taxi, gave him another tranquillizer and put him to bed. He was in a poorly state and went to sleep immediately. I decided to return home, praying Montse wouldn’t be waiting up for me. When I finally opened our front door, it was five o’clock and I felt like a rag.
Luckily Montse was snoring. The morning after, after grasping that the incidents on the previous evening hadn’t been a nightmare, I decided not to say anything to my wife, for the moment. I wanted to speak to Borja first. I was convinced she wouldn’t swallow the story that Ferran Adrià had accidentally poisoned us with stramonium canapés, let alone that I hadn’t joined in the subsequent orgy, whether half- or whole-heartedly. When she told me she was going to get ensaimades for breakfast and that, en route, would buy the newspaper, I was expecting all hell to be let loose on the home front. It was impossible the débacle at Mariona’s house wouldn’t be headline news, but that was precisely what didn’t happen. The papers inexplicably didn’t devote a single line to that episode. They didn’t publish anything on Sunday, or the day after. I’m not sure whether it was because too many well-known politicians and pillars of society were present or because Marion is very wealthy and the tentacles of her influence stretch far. In any case, the night’s events were silenced. Everyone agreed to say nothing and none of the guests spoke about that unfortunate soirée ever again, Mariona included. It had simply never happened.
I do know, however, that more than one person has never eaten a canapé again.
Teresa Solana’s first novel, Un crim imperfecte, was published in 2006 – A Not So Perfect Crime (Bitter Lemon, 2008) – and won the Brigada 21 Prize. This was followed by Drecera al Paradis. Her work is translated into French, German, Italian, Romanian, Russian, Spanish as well as English. The Party is an extract from A Shortcut to Paradise (Bitter Lemon, 2011).