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from the March 2015 issue

The Cornerist

I am sitting under an open sky in the city where I was born. This spot I chose is part of the old cemetery, and these words I write will end up forming both my testimony and my epitaph. I know full well that the art historians will misinterpret me. They can have their pound of flesh as long as I reach my intended audience.

I’ll start from the top: 3, 2, 1. My name is Amauro Montiel. I grew up not far from here, but a fair distance farther up: in a housing block on the Third Urban Level. We still called levels by their full names back then, unlike kids nowadays, who haven’t got a clue what UL actually stands for. I’m quite old. As old as the Great Prohibition. I was born exactly two months after the Qatar Treatise came into effect. My sister had been born five years earlier and, although she claims not to remember, did go down, on one occasion, to the Ground Level. My father took her shortly before the Prohibition so that she’d have a chance to touch the sea. There’s an old 3-D photo of it. They’re standing in line on a staircase leading down to the Sea Wall, which is still under construction but already well set in the ground. He’s carrying her in his arms. The other people in line are holding children and also small jars, because at that stage you were still allowed to take a few grams of sand with you, as a kind of souvenir. My family’s sand traveled in my father’s trouser pocket, which you can see in the photo is bulging.

I grew up assuming that the privilege of having touched the ground, smelled the earth, seen the sea made my sister a superior being. She, on the other hand, never lent it much importance, and when she left home she gave me her jar, which was sealed with a military stamp that read: DISINFECTED. My sister was not superior to me, but she certainly was less complicated. Perhaps wiser, too. Over the years, I’ve come to hold simplicity in higher regard than exuberance.

I’ve dedicated the best part of my eighty years to looking down and have often asked myself if this vocation was connected to that first, weighty feeling of envy. Either way, I’ve moved apartments more than twenty times over the course of my life and the jar has always come with me. I know that nothing can grow in sand, but it was the closest thing I’d seen to dirt. That jar was to me a precious idol of Mother Earth.

During my childhood, there wasn’t anything above UL3. The region still hadn’t been waterproofed and I had known rain. We played in seminatural gardens above the hydroponic roofs on UL3. The skyscraper where I grew up was demolished decades ago and supplanted by a thousand-story housing block. But before that, we lived barely two kilometers away from the prohibited Ground Level, and in winter, if the day cleared, we could just about make the faint lines that once made up the old city. Or at least we would look for them from the window or leaning over bridges. I hesitate here: I can’t be sure anymore if we really could still make out the ancient asphalt laid by the twenty-first-century men, or simply imagined it. So many times I wondered what it would be like to walk along those streets. Whoever reads this will know that I didn’t die with the doubt. Or perhaps nobody will read it. Perhaps I’m writing this message for no other reason than to convince myself: It’s real, Amauro, you’re here; here at last.

The Ground Level, the “terra firma” as the geologists call it, was by far the dominant theme of my boyhood, and, unlike most childish crazes, it never waned. I read the stories written by bygone men on my first screen. I searched for images of people traveling horizontally, circumnavigating the land, going barefoot, allowing their babies to crawl on the soil—not yet deadly, but already badly contaminated. But images from that time were hard to come by, since in their foolishness those men fashioned self-portraits from perishable materials: silver on top of gelatin! Bits and pixels! But the one feature from the past that obsessed me more than any other was burial—both sacred and profane. I could never get my mind around the basic, sordid fact—historically proven, yet so hard to grasp—that for thousands of years men buried their dead in the same earth they harvested.

I have been down here at Ground Level for half a day. My insulation suit has a fifty-year guarantee, but my oxygen mask has no more than two hours of life left in it. This precious time could have easily been spent just being lost. Instead, I’ve managed to find the cemetery—that landmark of my childhood fantasies. Having made it, I can hardly contain my excitement, let alone contain it in this message. I am here, at last: no more looking down. And yet there is something below, be they nothing more than remains and symbols. Here I am, and below me are the dead.

 

On the 67th floor we had the basics: water and daylight. My parents had gone against the custom of having just one child, and that’s why we lived in this city, which was bigger than theirs and, as such, more permissive. They built themselves a family, and raised a wall around it. As a young boy I couldn’t imagine living outside of our little nucleus. I wanted to repeat their valiant story: two ordinary, hard-working people, who valued kinship in a way that is lost on us today. I harbored no other dream but this, and certainly none that had to do with art. I never said, “When I grow up I want to be a Cornerist.” But shapes, shapes I always saw: in the creases of the bed sheets and between the damp marks on the wall. One time, I pointed out an oil stain on the table and said, “It’s an elephant.” My father considered it for a second and then went on wiping the table, carefully avoiding the stain, which was then soaked up into the surface of the table and remained there, set. The elephant grew old in our dining room. On walks, my mother would stop us halfway across a bridge in order for me to look for figures in the low clouds. “You’re a natural,” she’d say, but even at that age I knew: that’s what mothers say. I grew up thinking that mine was a common case. Not even a case; the norm. I thought that everyone perceived another world—accidental, hidden—behind the real one. That is until I turned eight, when I became convinced that the opposite was true. 

My grandfather came to visit and gave me a very unusual present: a book. I had heard about books, but of course we didn’t own any. It was an ancient thing, with 2-D photos of the Ground Level. I was thrilled with it, and yet, without a second thought, used my frosting-smeared forefinger to outline the shapes I saw on the photos among the buildings. Of course, I received a severe telling-off. Above all, I remember a feeling of injustice. It wasn’t remotely clear to me how tree paper worked, nor why my mistake was such a grave one, and perhaps that’s why I assumed I was being told off for my habit of making out figures in the landscape, and not, as was in fact the case, for destroying a priceless relic. At any rate, I carried that scar for years. I didn’t stop seeing things, but I did avoid mentioning them or pointing them out. Meanwhile, I started sprouting hairs in new places, became an expert in my own defects and learned how to withdraw further and further into myself. Fear of ridicule and a desire to impress (those two poles between which the painful tapestry of adolescence is woven) are the worst enemies of creativity, and my particular case was no exception. Cornerism seemed like a distant game played by the wealthy and the privileged, and I felt that my own way of looking at the world couldn’t be less uninteresting. As I saw it, my unique way of seeing was something to overcome, to shed like a useless, shaming skin. Among numerous other stupidities from that period, I convinced myself that forging opinions was more important than nurturing a good eye. 

It was a moment of distraction that led me to Cornerism. I was standing on the rooftop of my high school one day as the teacher explained something about the stratosphere, six or so kilometers above our heads. While everyone else looked up toward our subject, I, out of sheer boredom, peered down. That’s when I noticed it: below me, between the walkways above the school and the neighboring car lot, the perfect caricature of my friend Elfred. I drew it out on the air with my finger for him but he couldn’t see it, and so that evening I snuck back to school and outlined the image over a sheet of transparent acrylic which, held up to the right height, connected the dots and rendered the image almost exactly. I would find out later that this is a standard recourse for Cornerists who are just starting out, or poor ones, or those whose aerograph is getting fixed. I hung the acrylic from a nearby girder, then went home and told my buddy to go up and see it the next day. Luckily, dear Elfred-with-an-e—who sadly, and because of my own foolhardiness, I can no longer count as a friend—was a worldly sort who led the relevant people to the drawing the moment he saw it.

“How did you do it, Montiel?” asked my principal on the rooftop.

“You can take it down,” I said.

“I mean, how did you see it?” 

“I don’t know, I just saw it.”

“If it were up to me, I’d give you permission to outline it properly on the air.”

I told her that, in any case, I wouldn’t know how, and she made me promise to enroll on a course in Cornerism. She told me she happened to know a very fine teacher. Afterward, I spent what I remember as a long time on the roof, alone, with a huge smile on my face. Something inside me that I hadn’t known was dislocated clicked into place. The inner butterflies borne of high praise are a dangerous drug, but I wouldn’t come to understand that until much later on.

 

Sunny Sol was the teacher that my principal knew and, despite his tautological name, Sunny turned out to be an altogether brilliant guy. He was the most sensitive teacher I ever had. Classes were held outside—as they should be—and once a week we would take a long walk. Like everyone in the city at that time, I was familiar with the Bison, drawn over the old, elevated beltway, and the Galatea, which you can no longer see because it was only visible from the First Urban Level. My parents had taken us to see those. But it was with Sunny that I first encountered the great works in the northeast part of the city.

And it was during this particular period that I fell in love with Cornerism. With Cornerism in the first person. I spent the following years gradually discovering the city. I studied the local works in detail, correcting and improving on them in my head. I taught myself perspective, fluency, composition. In Sunny’s classes we all learned from one another, too. We didn’t actually draw much when out as a group, since we had only one dilapidated aerograph between us, so instead we pointed out any finds and the lessons consisted in trying to grasp what the others were seeing. We played, learned, agonized over each other’s strong points. We grew together. Someone who sighted a medusa was no more highly regarded than another who found a hamburger—a lack of originality was the least of our shortcomings. At every turn, I would spot tombs. I mean, of course, tombs with the dead emerging from them, or with mourners gathered around, otherwise you’d be talking about nothing more than a rectangular prism, a shape so obvious that I wouldn’t even have been allowed to waste precious pigment on it. This obsession of mine with burials earned me a nickname among my fellow students: they called me Morbidiel.

I did my first proper outline of an airborne image at nineteen—and it wasn’t mortuary. I had saved up and paid for my own high-quality, deep crimson floating pigment. I used this to draw a scene I’d been observing for weeks from a bridge near school. It was a couple entwined. They were formed out of the roofs of half a dozen buildings and everything in and around them contributed an element to their embrace; the awnings on UL1 lent the man’s suit a peculiar texture, a nearby bus stop formed the woman’s bag.  Their faces were two pristine, connected penthouses that lit up at night and shone during the day because the floor was so white. The whole thing was about three and a half blocks long. The lines came out wobbly, of course, and what’s more the clapped-out aerograph failed me halfway through and I had to improvise, putting a hat on the woman. And yet, when my classmates saw it they broke out in applause, Sunny Sol shed a tear, and I made up my mind there and then that I would go to the National College of Cornerism.

Nina, perhaps my best-known piece, is the portrait of a friend of mine from that time, whose name was in fact Lîla. Reading the reams of nonsense that have been written in ignorance of this fact has been a constant source of amusement for me over the last thirty years. Their theories are all painfully bland, not to mention wide of the mark. Back then it was impossible for me to confess the true identity of Lîla, but here I can. I tell myself: Amauro, perhaps this message is meant precisely for this. I tell myself: You owe it to her.

 

I met her on a rooftop where budding Cornerists would meet up for soirées and to exchange pigments. I think few events since have made me as nervous as I was on those first trips to that roof: where everything felt new and important. Where everything was only just coming into sight.

Lîla had black hair like satin, and beyond that all of the usual adolescent deformities: she was paralyzed by her own high expectations of herself, and couldn’t bring herself to take even the first small step toward air drawing. She was shy, hard-edged, and a know-it-all. When she spoke she tended to trip up on her own pretentious judgments and my friends wouldn’t give her the time of day, nor her them. But she was my master. Like no one else. Lîla taught me how to observe. She never actually drew anything herself, but again and again she would make striking discoveries.

“Look,” she said, “it’s sinking.”

She pointed from the street, to the lamp post, to the edge of a block in UL2, to the rubbish dumps from UL1, and there it was: a boat (that mythological beast) going under.

One time we stood for an hour on a bridge in the industrial zone, putting up with the stench and watching a moving texture, like foam, emerging from the factory pipes. She didn’t have to point them out to me: the crowns of a cluster of peach trees blooming before our eyes. An impossible piece to capture, but nevertheless a work of art.

Sometimes I like to pretend that Lîla didn’t disappear. I like to imagine that she reached a ripe old age and that she still walks around here, squinting one eye closed to picture the frame, just as she would seventy years ago, and telling me, as she used to, “A Cornerist is first and foremost a walker, Monti, an explorer.” 

And I’d tell her “Yes” and “Sorry,” and that she always knew better than me. I also like to imagine her returning to the past via some magical time slip: a group of faceless men find her, and she is dead but they know how to save her; they wash her in a river somewhere and carry her back to a time when humankind still trod the surface of the earth.

A walker, an explorer: this was what the father of Cornerism had been. Theodor Van Gunten took his morning stroll religiously, no matter the climate (political or meteorological), and this routine of his, in terms of inheritance, is as important as his body of work.

Though, historically, Holland has been far from the epicenter of Cornerism, it did play a crucial role in its formation. For starters, the Dutch invented interconnected rooftops. Not for survival purposes—in those days you could still breathe at sea level—but rather as an artistic endeavor: mere architectural whims. Back then they were only just getting to grips with what for us today is the norm: green roofs, raised walkways to connect skyscrapers, the dead frozen in liquid nitrogen until their bodies turn brittle and can be smashed into powder, hydroponic cultivation gel, H2O generators, and all those other things that we now take for granted. What was I saying?  Yes, the first rooftops with bridges. It makes sense, then, that the birthplace of Cornerism should be Holland, since as an art form it’s so intimately linked with aerial architecture. Those long-departed men had the forests, beaches, prairies, mountains… we have bridges. Jashpat, creator of the great Chakni Wache in Belize, wrote on the placard next to the lookout: Works of Cornerism are both conceived and perceived from bridges. Everything else is mere painting, graffiti, archaisms.

The Dutch were also the first ones to barricade themselves against the sea. How many families must have taken leisurely strolls along the Sea Wall, unaware of the fact that one day, in Qatar, a universal law would be passed prohibiting people from going down to the Ground Level so that, eventually, even approaching the wall would be inconceivable. But two centuries before Qatar, and before my birth, Van Gunten was moseying along the raised bridges of The Hague one day when he noticed a figure down below that amused him. He spent three weeks marking out (with acrylic yarn and plastic bags tied together to form chains!) the outline of his über-famous The Three Crocodiles. Linking together trees, cornices, lampposts, he invented my profession. They say that some of his neighbors took him bags and helped him to tie them together with knots. And they did so because they liked the man, even if they didn’t fully understand what he was doing. In blind faith they helped him until, eventually, the figure was outlined in its entirety. “They’re crocodiles!” the first of them to get it must have cried, most likely a child.

Rudimentary as Van Gunten’s methods were, The Three Crocodiles is still considered the first air drawing; that is, the first real Cornerist work. No doubt for this reason, the mythical piece was renovated some hundred years later, and transformed into what is its current metallic incarnation on UL2 (its false incarnation, as some of us would say). Originally, Van Gunten formed the snouts of the three beasts by outlining the intersections of various roads, and it was this chance fact that gave Cornerism its name. I don’t remember if Van Gunten is meant to have used the term first in a talk or an interview, but I have always imagined a run-of-the-mill conversation, something along the lines of:

“You made what exactly?

“Three crocodiles.”

“And how did you go about making them?”

“Joining up corners… cornering…. A cornerism, that’s what I made.”

Just like that. No dictionaries, or conventions or royal academies of letters coining anything. Just one man and his imagination, and the desire to share the things he saw. And then, much later on, the same man finds he must explain himself. He mutters a word on the spur of the moment, something insufficient, perhaps in the way all names are chosen. But this word he happens upon is even more inadequate than most. Because if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that Cornerism has always been too small a word for the form: plenty of air pieces, perhaps most of them, don’t even use right angles or corners. But us Cornerists have held onto the ungainly moniker; whether in homage to Van Gunten or out of habit, I don’t know. Perhaps we keep the name to avoid having to explain to others the art we cannot fully explain to ourselves. I know a great deal about Cornerism, but could never claim to fully understand it. That is a good thing, of course.

Despite the lamentable decision by the Dutch government to solidify Van Gunten’s works, we ought to pay credit to their gesture, which paved the way for our art. The following developments were made by Cornerists themselves, with the help, it must be said, of scientists, and inventions like the long-distance aerograph and, of course, the floating pigments; tools which, in my opinion, are still irreplaceable. I’m going to stop with all this now, I apologize: getting old, one tends to state and restate the obvious.

 

My time at The National College was a fiasco. The professors were very invested in theory, but totally removed from any kind of practice, which they’d given up like a childhood dream. You could feel their frustration lacing the air with a kind of stickiness. We sank into it, further and further down until, in the end, we could no longer tell the difference between Cornerism and that sad, institutional bitumen. We were flies in a spider’s web, flapping about until the thickness of that atmosphere finally put out the last traces of our enthusiasm. And yet, I stayed until the end. Because it was comfortable: they had the aerographs; they had pigment. What’s more, people liked my work, and the distinct lack of criticism kept my ego well inflated. And there was the occasional commission, too, which allowed me to live off my art. Somewhere deep inside me nestled an unhealthy self-complacency, while at the same time I became totally intolerant of mediocrity. And everyone whose path I crossed during that period fell into that category. Everyone except Lîla, who still hadn’t outlined any works, but whose practice never faltered: every day she would go out walking and every day she would find even more beautiful and complex compositions, which seemed to come to her without the least effort. “Nonsense,” she would snap if I told her something was difficult. But what did she know? She, who was a true natural, but didn’t have the courage to share her visions. “Talent is a gift,” I urged her. “There is nothing more wretched than to keep it to yourself.” But Lîla never answered me.

Only much later on did I come to understand what she had always known: that it’s not true. The idea that Cornerism is difficult is a myth. The only complicated part is staying true. And this is essential: this act of lifting the curtain, cutting through new veils to find yourself put on the spot again, as vulnerable as ever. Every single day.

A young Cornerist looks for guides and gets handed a manual of prejudices: you must sketch what you know; less than one block is second-rate and more than ten is showy; you better be open to innovation, to trends and criticism; open up that thoracic cavity and trade in your heart for a new one, a more intelligent one; make sure you don’t go outside the dotted line. And there go the fresh flies: flinging themselves into the wide-open mouths of the cicerones. My grandfather used to say about the day he was sent to war, “They gave me a gun but they didn’t give me no ammo.” Isn’t this exactly what being young is like?

But perhaps one needs to grow old to really understand. Cornerism is more an experience than a sighting. A true masterpiece will wring you dry, catch you unaware in spite of the gargantuan sign pointing to it and the farcical pair of yellow feet on the lookout floor; anticlimactic instructions telling you where to stand and how to squint your eyes so you can enjoy the best view. All that will fade away once you connect the lines of a good work of Cornerism. To give one example, as much as I had heard people talk about it, nothing prepared me for the moment when my eyes adjusted, and Akira, Sophie Deveaux’s dragon, burst out of the skyline breathing fire.

I went back to Manchester ten times in my life and every time a new, previously unnoted detail would fill me with intense emotion. If you went in summertime, a row of low-rise houses made her look doleful; in spring she was adorned with colorful eyelashes. In the rain she seemed to shiver, and when it snowed she was a crouching, lurking monster. The years made her more beautiful, stripping her down to her essentials. The last time that I saw her was from a conference. I’d been invited by a committee to give my opinion on whether or not Akira ought to be preserved. I voted against it. As the only “representative” from Latin America I was severely criticized by the majority of my fellow Cornerists on the continent. But this remains my only conviction with respect to Cornerism. I’ve said other things which, no doubt, time will refute. But on the subject of preservation I remain resolute.

Once or twice, certainly, looking at her from above, I questioned my vote. Not because of the critics but because a part of me would say: “You selfish fool! Why deny the next generation this extraordinary vision?” If I voted against it, it was because preserving her would have been akin to transforming her into a caricature of herself. They would have had to relocate thousands of people so that a lucky few could pay their ticket to England, stop by the rooftop and experience their moment of aesthetic ecstasy, above all to be able to say that they’d been there. No, this is not what Cornerism is about. Cornerist works are alive. They mutate. The old fence that marked Akira’s blazing flames was rusting to the point of disintegration. She was the most beautiful dragon because her breath had the quality of real fire: it was extinguishable.

A Cornerist can aspire to frame the urban dance, but it is beyond him to choreograph the steps. His job is to point out, not to control. And when I talk on this subject, I like to bring up one of Deveaux’s own sayings: Le matériel du corneriste est la ville et donc aussi le devenir et le mouvement: nuages, chantiers, corps: temps, temps, temps. We have to be firm on this matter: Cornerism must not be treated as a purely visual art form, when it is more a scenic act. Unrepeatable. Lasting, yes, but ephemeral. A dragon is many dragons, and then, one day, she is nothing. The chain of mutations in a single being drives it naturally toward its disappearance. We old men understand this.

 

In my fifties I found myself on Seville’s UL4, on the top floor of the new Íbera offices, looking down onto the bustling lower levels of the city. They had commissioned me to come up with a work that could be seen from various lookouts, which they’d already put in place. I was stuck, in more than one sense, at the highpoint of my career as a Cornerist. But I was blind. For the first time in my life a city below appeared to me as a city and nothing else. Just lights, noise, human ants.

Installing the lookouts first and then coming up with the work is fair enough. It exercises the eye and can even, if one is sufficiently open-minded, beget a decent piece. Above all, it can be fun. What is not fun, on the other hand, is spending almost every morning, day and night for five weeks looking down on a beautiful and intricate city and not seeing a thing. I paced about the building (magnificent, empty) like an intruder, moving up and down the great scale of emotions, hating the landscape more and more each day, until I decided it was best if I quit. I couldn’t do it. I called them up and told them I’d return the payment. I went back to say my last good-bye to that maddening view, and in that second I saw it. It was night. Her form emerged out of the streetlamps. Her long black hair, the Guadalquivir River. She appeared in one fell swoop: fully formed, like the elephant on the table from my childhood, and beautiful, like the last time I’d seen her. She came to say: “If you remember that it’s easy, I forgive you.” She came only once I’d given up fighting. That’s art for you. You have to start by surrendering.

If I could give any piece of advice to a young Cornerist, I’d tell him or her to be suspicious of complications. In moments of confusion the best thing you can do is close your eyes. Forgive yourself and go for a walk. In the end, I did give back the money. I didn’t charge them anything for drawing out Nina because I had understood: the money and the commissions were making a mercenary of me. It was not that I no longer valued my work (I value it as priceless), but rather that I had begun to want to please, and with that had slipped slowly back into the bad habits of my adolescence, slipping away from myself and from my own imagination.

The contrast between Lîla’s artistic purity and my disgrace became unbearable long before Seville. I would take on contract work, while she always allowed her own curiosity and whims to lead the way. Having made it this far I hesitate, but then I tell myself: “You owe it to her, Montiel.”

We were thirty. Or rather, I was thirty, she must have been about thirty-three and she had come up with a new pastime. UL1 had become a desert after it was totally evacuated, but it still hadn't been sealed, and Lîla had the ingenious idea of going down there and looking up. She started working backward: searching for shapes above instead of below. One day I accompanied her as far as one of the enclosing walls she had been climbing. She had a big backpack on her, which I assumed contained an aerograph. “She’s going to outline today!” I thought. “She’s going to air draw backward and she’s taking me along to see it happen. I’m going to bear witness to the birth of a new kind of art, to the brilliance of this woman finally made public.” I followed her in high spirits, without asking for details. We snuck down to UL1 and scaled the immense enclosing wall via a service ladder. On the other side there was a precipice concealed by the fog. Ground Level gases condensed into a gray, thickset cloud: a dirty meringue. We sat on the wall. Above our heads, buildings from all four urban levels loomed over us, entangled. Lîla raised her arm and pointed out a shape. I couldn’t make it out, despite the fact that, according to her, it was clear as daylight. Later she saw another one and the same thing happened. My neck hurt and the sky in the background was dazzling my eyes. She showed me again one, two, three times, her neck more and more strained, her long hair tumbling down her back toward the emptiness. I gave up and she looked at me with contempt. I stood up to leave.

“You can’t go,” she said, “I found a door.”

“A door to where?”

“To the Ground Level,” she said, and gave the backpack a little pat. “I’ve brought provisions.”

She pulled out an oxygen mask and held it out to me. I declined to take it. She insisted.

“It’s now or never,” she said. “They’re going to seal them this week. Isn’t this what you’ve always wanted?”

I told her that it was dangerous. She called me a coward. Eventually I said, “Go see for yourself if you want,” and lowered myself down the ladder. I walked away—either out of fear or admiration—and when at last I turned around, I could no longer see either my friend or the upper ridge of the wall in the fog. Lîla strode into that cloud and never returned. She went in search of an impossible door, just her and a pitiful bag of provisions, and I didn’t even try to stop her.

For years I dreamed she came back, clambering up the wall. Or that she fell. Or that she went on opening door after door, each one heavier than the next. Sometimes her oxygen mask wore the face of my sister. The nightmares and the guilt only stopped once I’d outlined Nina. The sting of envy lifted then, too. I came to terms with the fact that I would never have her talent and decided that one day I would join her on the Ground Level, to go on learning from her. It took me three decades to pull off the necessary deals to come down here undetected, but I managed it and now I’m going to catch up with Lîla on this mystery that is the terra firma. She’ll show me the shapes she’s found during a half-century spent looking from the ground up. We’ll go exploring together, like kin. This grave I dig is for both of us.

You must understand, I’m old and sick and would have died soon in any case. I’m not making a scene. I’m surrendering to curiosity. And I’m here; here at last. I climbed up onto the Sea Wall and spent a long time looking at the black waters. They seemed to be calling me. How tempting it would be to jump, to die like a ship sinking slowly into the ocean. But I didn’t come down for that. I came down for a proper burial. One day, the intellectual types will call it my “last desperate gesture.” A shame for those who will never be able to picture the ecstasy of these hours that await me: my blackened nails, the embrace of the clay, the weight on my chest, the fetal position. An old man wants nothing more than rest.

I walked until I found this perfect spot. With my hands I dug. Exhaustion will make this final sleep—this stationary walk—easier to come by. Every now and again, fear washes over me, but then it dissolves amid the sweat and excitement. The ground—I can see it now—is not one but millions of particles. The earth has a hard, dry layer, made up of the most recent dead, and chemical residuals: the gray-brown matter of immediate memory. But beyond that, further down, there are softer layers: they are wet, dark, thick—like forgetting, or like the things we buried in an effort to forget.

Now to say my good-byes. Good-bye to me, to the men that I was, and to you: future and hope.

I am gone and I am wonder.

"El esquinista" © Laia Jufresa. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2015 by Sophie Hughes. All rights reserved.

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