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from the July 2010 issue

The Game

It’s the son’s idea: he’ll hide in an armoire and, when his father walks by, he’ll jump out and scare him. The boy opens the doors, clambers under the lowest shelf, and, from inside, silently closes them. After a while, he hears his father’s voice. At first he calls him in a normal tone of voice. Soon, it becomes more uneasy. Back and forth through the house, the father repeats his son’s name, with increasing volume, increasing irritation. When, judging by the proximity of the footsteps and of the shouting, he guesses that his father must be right there, the son suddenly opens the doors, delighted, and screams, “Boo!” The father has just enough time to see his own reflection in the armoire mirror. Frightened, he pales, feels an intense pressure in his chest, falls to his knees, pulls a face, his eyes rolling back, loses his breath, convulses, slobbers and, thirty seconds later, is clinically dead. Terrified at his game partner’s reaction, the son begins to cry. When he sees that his father’s body does not react, he clings to him with a desperation antithetical to the joy that, thirty seconds earlier, played on his face. Meanwhile, enshrouded in special effects of spectacular luminosity, the father’s soul shoots up from his body, whoooosh, toward heaven. When it reaches the huge outlet’s check-in desk, Saint Peter looks it up and down. “What do you want?” he asks. “To go back,” the soul replies.  Saint Peter smiles. “You’re all the same,” he quips. The soul insists that it was absurd, the episode that, a short while ago, culminated in the orphanage of a boy, all alone in a hallway, in an increasingly unsafe city, in a world without pity. Saint Peter doesn’t budge. “Should have thought of that before playing such a dangerous game,” he says. The soul makes an appeal to universal kindness and, with great rhetorical flourish, wonders at the unfathomable cruelty of leaving a poor, six-year-old boy all alone in the world. And, by putting fears into words, which leads to grasping the full gravity of the situation, the soul enumerates the problems that, if it does not get back right this minute, will confront the boy: flunking out of school, emotional crisis, dyslexia, the aftereffects of an event so traumatic that it will, surely, lead to isolation, violence, addiction, psychopathy, trauma, debt, doubt about his sexual identity, and eviction. “Does that seem fair to you?” the soul asks, aware of the tone it’s using and the risk involved, given the circumstances. At first Saint Peter simply shrugs but, perhaps because he has no other souls in line and doesn’t feel like working, he then says okay, go ahead, go back, and, next time, try playing more educational games: Scrabble, Monopoly, hangman, hopscotch, Tetris. The soul is moved. It had heard of Saint Peter’s compassion but feared that, like so many other things, it was just a myth. It thanks him effusively, reverently even, but Saint Peter, proffering a smile tinged with melancholy, tells it not to be so happy, that it will be sorry. The trip back is as quick as the one out: whooooosh! All of a sudden, the father’s soul once again becomes part of the body on top of which, hysterical and out of control, a little boy cries. The father feels his heartbeat as well as his son’s, much faster. They embrace. They look at one another. Equally overcome by emotion, they are the picture of symbiotic balance. They stand. The father grabs his son by the neck and the boy, giggling, his eyes still flecked with tears, asks him, “What should we play now?”

Translation of “El Joc.” Copyright 2006 by Sergi Pàmies. Copyright 2006 by Quaderns Crema S.A.U. By arrangement with Quaderns Crema S.A.U. Translation copyright 2010 by Lisa Dillman. All rights reserved.

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