In this short story, Borja Bagunyà drops in on a riotous party that would make Gatsby blush.
Of course it wasn’t natural, but it was necessary, and unavoidable.
You’ve likely never been to a party this big—no, to a party in a house this big; no, no, this enormous, this unbelievably enormous. So the house is big, but all this stuff and all these people make it seem even bigger, as if the fact that things keep crisscrossing your line of sight makes it enormous in a different sense, one impossible to quantify. Each room contains an open bar, including waiters in tails and girls in uniform, and there are Persian rugs everywhere, as well as chandeliers, and the furniture is all made of either oak or ebony, and yet, every room on every floor boasts an environment all its own, and environment in the way people use it in reference to a party, like, as a place where a DJ spins a certain kind of music to attract a certain kind of people, who all share the same certain sets of opinions and positions on the same certain sets of issues and arguments; a place where you can expect a certain kind of expectation to become a reality, or at least, have a better shot of it becoming a reality, relative to any other environment, or any other music, or any other crowd, or any other thousand plus people spread throughout a never-ending house.
You’ve already had a look around the place, and it already seems to offer the promise of a better life. You’d always imagined that in a house like this, with that thirty-foot-tall covered entryway flanked by Grecian columns on either side, and those gardens rippling down the slope of the driveway, and the sort of like monumental calm—for once you can breathe, you were saying to yourself, you never have any time simply to breathe in and breathe out, not in this packed, neurotic city, but then this house just appeared—in a house like this you imagined all the stories had happy endings. There were probably people relaxing all over the place, who dressed any way they wanted and always vacationed in Hawaii or Punta Cana or one of those big old Swiss resorts full of Audrey Hepburn-types in turtlenecks. The occasion of a party had been (or has been—now it’s hard to say) the ideal excuse to finally step inside and cross that invisible line between workaday life and the life of a dandy, between prose and poetry, although nobody is really clear on what kind of party this is, or what it’s supposed to be celebrating, or who’s throwing it, not that you really care (err, had cared), since all parties, after a certain point, tend to take on a life of their own. No matter how many people you tap on the back, or drag into the corner, I’m all ears, in the end they all tell you the exact same thing: no, they don’t remember when they first arrived, but the place was still empty. A case of spontaneous generation, you’re thinking (were thinking), a single accident multiplied a thousand times, coalescing as a party, but which could have just as easily manifested in the form of a demonstration against some type of violence, or one of those soccer brawls that infect and spread as an all-encompassing wave of destruction.
You’re here because of Ariadna, who apparently couldn’t be brought to spend yet another Friday night inside and got you to see that you couldn’t either. More precisely, she got you to see that you were dying to go to a party with her, and that, thanks to her charitable nature and clear thinking—not to mention the fact that someone as gorgeous as her would even waste her time getting you to see all this, when there are tons of other guys who already get how gorgeous she is, and don't need anybody to convince them to go to a party with her—you came to realize not only this, but also that it wasn't too late to take her, if you just smartened up. You realized right in time. Ariadna had gotten you to see how not going to the party with her would have been the worst decision of your entire life. How you said No when all your friends saw every reason for you to go, how this would have established for them just how much of a moron you are, and how the ability, in short, to deprive yourself of a party with Ariadna on a Friday night was a serious and extremely dangerous psychological disorder that you had better overcome, starting right this minute. Or, as she had put it, starting right this party, and you couldn't convince yourself otherwise, not the morning after, or out walking your whiny dog, or at the Saturday dinner you always do with your family.
In a certain sense, there’s nothing strange about you finding her attractive. She’s got that special something, you think, and the kind of figure that probably made her quite a thing back in high school, and in no way does she seem to be the kind of mess that would complicate your life. The perfect girl ever since she was sixteen, you think, but now she’s twenty-nine, and stuck in that same engagement, with that same simplistic understanding of right and wrong, which always makes her so hard for you to read. (You see it in evidence every time she tries to make excuses for one of those morons she attracts, and the terrible way they treat her, and you don't understand how she could possibly take a month to see what anyone else would have seen in half an hour. Or when she walks out of Custo with those woolly pink legwarmers around her ankles, and she whips out that mesmerizingly pink and, like, half-illiterate-looking bookmark, which, at her age, in that sad SonusTel office, stuck between those laminate wood walls with the most physically repulsive staff you’ve ever seen, all those hairy warts, the double and triple chins, the acrylic nails covering up the genuine black ones, the bad breath, the lip herpes, the one cross-eyes, and that prime example of an anti-receptionist, Maribel, and her emerging hunchback—feels a little out of place.) But in that five-foot frame of hers there’s nevertheless something special that the party has caused to reemerge, as though she suddenly remembered her superpower to shape-shift. Maybe that’s why you want her. You want her so, so bad. But all you can really do right now, as you’re walking back through the foyer of an estate returned to its former medieval glory, is trace and retrace the line of her profile. You're thinking that this had to have been exactly the desire that made you want to come to the party and gel back your hair and wear the ass-hugging jeans and resort to all those other tricks you’ve picked up from a lifetime of going out, which are finally doing their job.
But now you’re ready to leave. You’ve already done everything there is to do, and something in your body is telling you that the party has reached the end of its natural cycle. Honestly, you have no idea how long it has been going on. A couple hours? The whole night? A few days, a few nights? What does register is the record of all the party’s tastes and smells you have in your mouth—a sort of, like, rancid and chunky version of those ice cores they extract in Antarctica—all combining into this one mysterious stench that is probably rotting your teeth. And you feel like your head is on fire, as if somebody drew a needle right through it and is now folding it and unfolding it, accordion-style. You feel like shit. You think it’s probably not too late to preserve some shred of your dignity, of your integrity and self-control, if you leave right now, except the house is set up like a supermarket or a casino, and it’s practically as impossible to make a speedy exit as it is to locate a clock or get to a window. Every time you think you’ve come to the back of the room, a narrow corridor appears, with a half dozen solid doors, or a tiny hallway, hiding another room, just as enormous as the first, and flanked on either side by two more rooms set inside the black wood lining their doorless doorways, where the party is looking even livelier than what you left behind. You try not to give in to your tragic impulses. Yet you enjoy thinking it’s all a trap, and that there’s something heroic or tragic about your escape, in attempting the impossible, you say, and then you envision yourself relating the story to someone, one of your future children, maybe: there wasn't a single clock anywhere, and the house was so big and so full of all this stuff . . .
You migrate. You’ve been sitting this whole time on a tufted leather sofa, which dawns on you only once you’re back on your feet. Off in the corner, beneath one of the wooden beams arching across the ceiling, there’s this dude in a backward hat devouring the ear off some girl in a pale green dress and gold hoop earrings, completely surrounded by a group of girls all nodding and smoking water pipes. They’re talking about something, you’re sure of it; you just can’t tell what. All these people sitting on the floor make you feel like you’re at some top secret rendezvous, or one of those pre-parties people have before heading out for a concert, where everybody is smoking and singing and dealing out rounds of Mus and knocking back Xibecas, when the party in general is just people sitting around cross-legged in little groups and talking quietly among themselves, with the sleeves of their sweaters pulled down over their knuckles to keep their hands from getting cold. You can’t remember what you’re doing in this room, or how you got here, when suddenly you locate a door that leads into (yet) another hallway, about six feet tall and five feet wide, where this couple asks you if you don’t by any chance have any rolling papers.
You don’t. You walk right past them toward a second door, which opens onto a room that you’re all of sudden being pushed into by all the people charging up behind you toward something they can see but you can't. You turn around, shifting your arms, trying to make yourself small, but it’s no use. You suddenly realize you’re stuck. You’re now a part of this audience awaiting some spectacle. The tight crowd reminds you of when you first got to the party—so long ago now, but who knows how long—and the way the entrance hall was clogged with people crowding around the welcome cocktails, and how that one acquaintance of Ariadna’s—some spikey-haired dude in one of those blue banker’s shirts with the white collar you’ve always associated with a sort of, like, ambiguous but fucked-up lack of restraint—pulled her off to the side to chat while you were still waiting for your gin and tonic. You might have been wedged between some lady in a silk scarf and a pair of six-foot-wide shoulders with a shaved head, but you could still manage to spot Ariadna through the gap between the two backs stooped in conversation. (Whenever the backs slid apart, you would spot her clutching her martini and digging the toe of her right shoe into the carpet, but when they slid back together, she would disappear again behind a brown corduroy sleeve, and all that remained of her was the impression of her long blond hair seared onto your retinas, like when you close your eyes after looking directly at the sun.) Unable to find a single exit, or do anything except resign yourself to the crowd, you wriggle between two of the backs entrapping you and make your way to the corner closest to the door. You wonder, sitting down again, where Ariadna could be right this minute. Disconnecting from whatever everyone is waiting for is the closest you can get to leaving this room or this floor or this party.
When you wake up—because you ended up falling asleep, or you’ve disengaged yourself from your surroundings long enough to get the impression that something is different, that something has disengaged itself from you, too, although you can’t quite figure out why, and you find that unsettling—there’s a woman’s naked torso being projected on the far wall. Something about this woman’s naked torso leads you to a piercing insight having to do with the sort of like ritual objectification of bodies at the heart of all parties, not because it’s an idea you’ve had yourself—you’re not self-reflective enough to draw piercing insights from a sweet pair of tits—but because you remember hearing it come out of the mouths of a couple of film students in thick black frames during their animated discussion of some film and the quintessentially bourgeois nausea it made them feel. You can’t remember whether this took place in the room with the ostrich meat and the cheese or in that sort of like carpeted foyer with the stream of cabezudos running around in their oversize papier-mâché heads, chanting political jingles—really more like mangling them, you think, although there was something hilarious about the sight of those enormous heads and the ironic, irreverent way they acted, like they were one of those jokes you can really only get if you were there for it, at the party, right when it was being told, as if the cabezudos and the enormous heads were the instrument of the party’s whole comedic intelligence—except, no, it had to have been in the first room, the room the film students were in, because something had caused the conversation to drift to whether it was truly possible to eat until you burst, like in that one classic, they were saying, fucking intense.
Or did the fucking intense happen before that? Honestly, it’s getting harder and harder for anything not to remind you of the party in some way. Did you hear it back on the top floor, in that sort of like polyester-wrapped room where those two staff guys in the Hawaiian shirts were desperately trying to start up the foam cannon? Or was it hours ago? Or even days, you wonder, because you could swear that it’s been forever since you and Ariadna first arrived, once you take into account the progressive decay afflicting your memory, or the accumulation of moments and scenes and conversations that makes the distance between now and the time you arrived stretch on into infinity, and forces you to convert this stretch into a unit of measurement that feels totally made up—and given the complete lack of clocks or windows, or people able to tell you how much time has gone by since they first arrived, or when this thing is supposed to end, assuming it some day will, you’re now starting to think no one ever planned it with any end in mind. This is what you heard from a bald guy with moles on the back of his neck as he was talking to a dude in a gorilla costume beside the rainbow-colored punch bowl with the eggs, vanilla ice cream, and whiskey. Goddammit, he was saying, there’s just no way to get a collective shot of the entire party at once. Because even if you stood right in the middle—which of course doesn’t actually exist, the center, as you know perfectly well, because the party just keeps expanding and rearranging itself anarchically, according to no discernible logic—even if it was possible for you to stand right in the party’s fictional center, some anecdote would still elude you, or some situation would escalate on the third floor while you’re still down enjoying yourself on the first, I mean, unless you got a group together whose sole task it was to document the party, this great occasion, said the bald guy with the moles, and now that you think about it, he’s totally right.
The thing is, you could give two shits about the collective shot of the party. Leaving is the only thing you care about—or, to be more exact, beginning to think about how leaving is pretty soon going to be the only thing you care about, if think about is a fair description of the sort of like crap-quality, stuttering language you use to express to yourself what you think you should express to yourself, all this, like, blah blah blah that means anything you want it to mean—but you’re still clinging to the possibility of taking Ariadna back with you to bed and executing the fantasy that has been playing out in your head ever since you walked in, whenever that was. Or maybe what refuses to disappear is really just the memory of this possibility—or even the memory of the outline you've sketched out for the party, this idea that tonight was the night, so you made yourself look hot, and Ariadna made herself look hot, because it was now or never—which is also what makes you tell yourself that the party isn't quite over, and that it won't be over until you’re taking Ariadna back with you to bed, and that there’s still time to make you and Ariadna happen. Which starts with you finding her, you think, and once again you all of a sudden find yourself walking down a corridor carpeted in red and with lanterns hanging above the doors, slogging through all the couples pressing up against the wall and sliding to the floor and calmly making out, the way you’d picture happening in a strip club, you think, if you’d ever set foot in one before.
But for this place, the comparison is accurate. All the rooms, halls, dining rooms, living rooms, corridors, bathrooms, game rooms, trophy rooms, and all those other spaces you couldn’t quite match with a specific function together remind you of a different house, or class of house, to which this one belongs—not that you find this at all strange; in the end, parties make all houses look alike, and the style of this particular house is so all over the place that it’s a little lacking in character, as though the house were this house and all houses at once, and the party, this party and all parties—but then it starts to dawn on you that you can’t remember any prior houses, just rooms you saw a while ago (maybe days ago, who knows), because you’re starting to forget everything unrelated to the party, and your keen sense of direction is starting to become a detriment. Ariadna, you suddenly say, find her—fie urr—as though that were the key to eliminating all the confusion screwing with your head right now, and allowing yourself to abandon once and for all whatever is tying you here. You find it easier to contemplate your fate from within the chaos of arms and legs and different types of music audible behind closed doors, just like in a strip club, thrilled by the thought of the people moving all around you—than anywhere else. And what if you do manage to find Ariadna? To be honest, you’re not totally sure you’re up to it anymore. Your ability to perform has been incrementally diminishing with every beer and gin and tonic, so you almost prefer not to find her, rather than spoil your one shot at what you had always imagined to be gold medal-level sex—an image inclusive of everything you've ever heard said about one-night stands, and the way to fuck shorter girls, whom you had never suspected to be the subject of so much scientific concern, or demand so much physical endurance. Also, you know yourself well enough to know that four drinks too many is a sufficient number to trap you inside the laziest, most unpleasant version of yourself, a version you despise, the polar opposite of the sort of self-praise that will restore both your courage and your status as a fertility god and allow you to proceed ahead into everything you find so terrifying about the extreme exhibitionism that is sex in all its forms. If you’re not into it, you won't get hard, you’re thinking, when this electric sensation shoots through your right shinbone and you fall to the floor with such little grace that you sprain your left wrist as the force of your body comes crashing down on your hands.
What the fuck, they say, what a fucking idiot, except it doesn't even cross your mind that this is directed at you, much less that it’s coming from one of the cabezudos from earlier, the guy now picking himself up off the ground. He fits his oversize head down over some angry-looking face and runs off in the direction that everybody else seems to be running. You follow them into a bi-level room where three lanky guys with geeky-looking faces are siphoning beer from a keg into a plastic funnel with a huge brim. The funnel has to be at least six feet across, and they’ve got it mounted inside the narrow mouth of this see-through, boa-constrictor-like hose stretching from the upper floor down to the floor below. At the end of the hose, there’s a girl in a wet T-shirt knotted around her waist waiting for the beer to flow. This whole scene reminds you of something, you think, like a movie maybe, or some TV show, you’re not sure. Now here’s an idea for those film students, you think, those guys who wanted to eat until they burst. The room is so jam-packed with people that you can’t help feeling like you should make conversation with the person next to you, in this case, a Basque girl with a metal colander on her head. She just can’t believe how nuts some people are, but you tell her to stop exaggerating, how it’s really just grains, and that tomorrow, beer’s on your breakfast menu anyway, a comment she finds especially entertaining, probably on account of everything she’s already had to drink. You’re suddenly her best friend and she takes advantage of her status to slap a hand on your shoulder and push you toward the center of the shit show. The crowd (or maybe just you) don't stop themselves from yelling even though the girl with the makeshift crop top has finished downing the beer, which has stained her from top to bottom, while down on the lower level they’re asking for volunteers to keep the mayhem rolling. You decline, but it looks like the crowd has already made the decision for you, because now it’s your turn—although it’s not really your turn, not technically, but you look like you want it to be, and if you want it to be, it is—so they’re pushing you and chanting something you can’t really make out and eyeing you so intensely that you don't even think about how many other people have already drunk from the same hose or what kind of hose it is or where they got it from or how, deep down, despite what it looks like, you don’t actually give a shit about the approval of all these strangers, who want you to drink not for your own benefit, but for theirs, so that they can remain in this state of mindless bliss they all find so goddamn entertaining.
Resisting the throngs of people all around you is your last remaining form of independence. You’re you, you’re not whatever it is they want from you, or whatever it is they want you to do. You’re nothing but what you want yourself to do, you tell yourself, as they position you right where they want you and stick the end of the hose into your mouth. You decide you’re going to resist mentally. The beer pummels the back of your throat but the nausea compels you to stop chugging, so you use your beard to try to block the flow—Oh, aren’t you a clever one? You're lucky the beer agrees with you—but it’s no use: you end up choking, and coughing up all the beer that went down the wrong tube. Out of the corner of your eye you catch, in a flash of gold, Ariadna’s blond extensions appear one minute and disappear the next. You scan all around for her, but you only make out the backside of someone squeezed up against the tons of people howling for you to drink again. But Ariadna’s presence has brought you back to your senses, right as you were nearing the point of no return, and has, by consequence, brought back the guilt and the shame—and it just now occurs to you as you’re scanning the crowd to look where they're all pointing: the latex penis affixed to the end of the hose the beer just came out of, and the droplets now dangling from the tip.
You’re running. You plow through the people hovering in the hallway, shoving into them, jabbing them with your elbows, and not at all feeling bad about the guy you just slammed into the wall who is now cussing out you and your entire family, knowing you’ll be long gone before any of these altercations has a chance to develop or escalate into a situation. You pursue Ariadna, or what you think is Ariadna, through rooms and down hallways, into a crowd playing pin the tail on the donkey—only, the donkey, wherever it came from, is fucking real—then on past a bunch of clowns having themselves a good time getting these trashy hags and tipsy dudes absolutely wasted, then an impromptu rave full of zombies with sunglasses and mini water bottles. You’re looking for her not because you want her, not now; you just want to see what she might do with all those parts of you you’re not. You’re looking for her because she’s your salvation—that’s what you say, even though you hate the word; salvation, you say, save yourself, you say—and to see what will happen if you find her. You’re guided by that sort of like retinal persistence that made you see her earlier in the night (or days ago) when she wasn't actually there, that trace of blond that just refuses to go away and is at this moment in your line of sight long enough for you to know she has just banked right, out of your field of view and into a mass of people filling up a pitch dark room.
Your pursuit of Ariadna returns you to your former state. You’re a little more aware of where your body ends, and where other bodies begin. Thanks to this bit of awareness you’re able to realize that you’re over this party. You don't know anybody, plus the guests are all nuts, maybe on account of how long the party has been going on, you say, not even realizing that you’re saying all of this out loud and at such a volume that one of the guests turns around in order to find you and single you out. You could care less, but you think these people take pity on you—take pity? no, they write you off—as you propel yourself off someone’s back out of the pitch dark room and toward the bottom of this long-ass marble staircase, and lucky you, now you got all these stairs to climb. You climb them solely for the air of cinematic romance, which convinces you that it’s not too late for you and Ariadna. What a shame your body can’t come with you for it. Your knees give out, and a sharp anxiety fills your lungs every time you breathe, over and over, forcing you to pause halfway. If she would just stand still! But Ariadna is always a step ahead, always just far enough away to keep evading contact, which is the only thing you want right now, to make contact, instead of chasing after the jangling of her tacky necklace like a moron—but you’d be lying if you said you didn’t enjoy the exhaustion a little, like when you risk your good health, or what health you have, to scale a summit, and in a certain sense, the harder it is to find her, the happier you are with yourself.
Also, something hasn’t been sitting too well in your stomach, and you can just picture the simmering, green soup, but you force yourself to rally—as if rallying were purely a matter of effort or will—and by the time you get to the top, your head is spinning. Or is it the house that is spinning? The carpet down the staircase becomes a spiraling smear of red, and the paintings and the walls and everything else in your field of vision fade to one side, as though they were all made of dust and a giant finger just went and smudged them, fading exactly the way an idyllic childhood might at the moment its charm wears off. You end up sprawled across the floor, convinced that this rug is the comfiest solution to a totally temporary problem. One minute and then I’m coming, Ariadna. Don’t go, you say, unsure whether you’re talking to yourself or talking out loud. But deep down, it doesn't matter. All you care about right now is finding some kind of support for your head that doesn't make you feel like your neck is going to snap—that, and suppressing this surge of vomit that is threatening to leap up your esophagus, but you can barely keep your eyes open, or perceive anything except for the blond, white-blond figure of Ariadna fading on a far-off wall, like a projection disintegrating little by little on a screen made of smoke.
Afterward (after what?) you wake up to find that you've become the topic of conversation. He’s just been lying there. I watched them drag him across the floor. This is the kind of stuff they’re saying, but you can't work out exactly what they’re talking about, or who they are, or what they want from you. Who the fuck is Ariadna? the person beside you keeps saying, a sort of, like, three-hundred-pound, androgynous vampire who’s giving you this look like you’re supposed to be entertaining them, when you’re simply trying to keep your eyes closed and not stare directly into any of the ghoulish faces all around you or answer any of their questions. This dude with an inverted cross on his left eyeball is acting like he wants something from you, but then someone shouts something about food and they all go running out of sight. You breathe in and out, trying to remind yourself that you have to get up and go find Ariadna and then get the hell out of here, but it’s getting harder every time. Why did you want to get out of here? You’re so comfortable on the ground, relaxing at last, that you can’t remember now. Then you realize that what you’d swear is daylight is poking into the room, either through some badly closed blind or some crack in the wall, you’re thinking, because the light definitively seems to be coming from the outside. By the stench, and by the sort of like gloopy chowder soaking your entire chest, you realize that you puked all over yourself—or maybe somewhere else, but you ended up dumping it all over yourself anyway, because you're a moron, or because somebody really wanted to see what would happen if they made you do it. Somebody has propped you up on this leather sofa, which is feeling pretty great right about now, off on the sidelines of everything and everyone, perfectly hidden away in this corner of this enormous room that is now practically empty, or maybe just full of quiet people, you can't really say. When you wake back up, your achy and swollen eyes open to a pair of CDs, about a foot from your face, one with a pile of cocaine, and the other, a pile of tabs.
You don't remember taking anything, but you sure feel like you did. You're surrounded by couples on couches, chairs, stools, tables, off in the corners, all absolutely hypnotized by each other, just waiting for whatever the other person is about to do next—totally like one of those ecstasy parties, for people who can't otherwise relax their inhibitions enough to discover their desire for not so much the other person but for themselves—and you ask yourself whether you really didn't take anything, and if that’s not the reason that you find everything and everyone so erotic, but mechanically, as though it was a feeling you had all the time.
The room opens onto a terrace where a hundred people are dancing around a half-dozen lit tiki torches. It will be night again any minute now, you think, but also: what have you been doing this whole time? But then this blonde appears, right in the middle of a cluster of arms in the air. She freezes when she spots you. She comes to you, barely able to keep her eyes open, this undying half-smile on her face. You look each other up and down. She’s got Ariadna’s hair, the exact same tiny arms, the exact same tits. She even has her laugh, and with a voice exactly like Ariadna’s, she asks you where you are, then looks at you the way you had always imagined Ariadna someday would. You could embrace her and press her up against the nearest surface and make love to her with complete impunity, except something has seized up inside you, this kind of serenity terribly similar to oblivion that makes you now view her from a remove, and you don't even care about the frenzy of people shoving you both out onto the terrace, squishing you into so many unfamiliar backs. You’re both now a part of this audience awaiting a spectacle—and with any luck, they’ll serve up another round, or spray you with a shaken-up bottle of cava, or whatever. Ariadna—but it can't be Ariadna, you think, or you’d want her, and you don't want this girl—is standing right beside you, with invisible pillows cushioning her head and protecting her from all the people collecting and pressed up against you on this terrace, and there’s no acquaintance of hers to separate her from you, no face she wants to go say hello to real quick. You stare her right in the face, unflinching, trying to remember what it was that you came to the party to accomplish, and what made you—you and her—decide to go, and go together, and why your brain keeps saying her name, and why this blond chick is staring at you right now—except your mind contains nothing but scraps of the party, and your desire to stay at the party, and the impossibility of doing anything that isn't the party—then the music starts up again, irresistibly, and there’s this couple of French dudes going du du dut, like they were casting a spell or curse, du du dah, they go, but to you it’s all the same, all so happily the same, du du dut dah dah, you think, du dah dut dah dah, they sing, and everybody is dancing and you’re all this single unit jumping to the beat of the drum and throwing its achy arms in the air, emaciated from the length of the party, sickly, faded, but in sync.
© Borja Bagunyà. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2017 by Scott Shanahan. All rights reserved.