I was only nine at the time but I still remember the day we found out that the reservoir project was going ahead and that our house was going to be submerged by the waters. There was no turning back. All the appeals and official requests had been exhausted and we didn't have to wait until Father had come into the kitchen to know that the final decision was in favor of the reservoir. Outside it was raining and the plodding of Father's wet shoes down the corridor told us to get ready because in a few weeks' time all this is going to be water and it will be difficult to walk around, the colors and the upholstery will change, that lamp won't come on any more because light bulbs don't work under water.
We all reacted badly. But Father, who had been in the front line of the fight, had nothing left to hold on to. Things between him and Mother had not been at all good for a long time, and success in halting the order to fill the reservoir might somehow have been the only way to prevent the family flood. Father and Mother knew that very well, and that those footsteps coming slowly down the corridor marked the end of an era. Announcing the coming of the waters, Father began to drown himself in a different kind of liquid and, leaving his wet shoes in the coal bunker in the kitchen, he said, with a black look on his face, that from that day onward we'd made it too easy for them. We've made it too easy for them, he said again. As he came into the kitchen we all stared at him, and my sister, who is a couple of years younger than me, left the kitchen and returned shortly afterward, holding the fishbowl she had been given on her birthday. She looked like an angel holding that bowl with two small goldfish swimming round in it.
—What's going to happen to Tom and Jerry?
Mother went up to my sister and stroked her head. She hugged her and shed a tear. And I thought that, as the one being hugged cannot see us, hugging could be a way of concealing what we thought or felt at that moment.
—They can stay, Isabel. They can stay.
And that's exactly what happened. Father left shortly afterward. I haven't seen him since. It took us a few more weeks to pack everything into cardboard boxes and move to our aunt's house. All our life for many years was packed into cardboard boxes piled on top of each another in our aunt's garage: the pictures, furniture, lamps and other stuff. Everything in cardboard boxes. Whenever my sister or I asked about an old toy, Mother would always say, It'll be in one of the boxes, dear, I'll have a look for it next time I go down there. In the meantime we would forget about the toy in question. Forgetting toys is a good lesson for life. But we didn't pack everything in boxes to take away. Tom and Jerry, the two goldfish, stayed behind, swimming round their bowl waiting for a larger expanse of water.
And no one stood on their roofs or chained themselves to their houses. We all left the village quietly. At least that's how I remember it.
* * *
Although all this happened long ago, it's difficult to forget such things completely. If your house is under water, a part of you will stay under water forever; wherever you might be and whenever you gaze into murky waters, you will try to guess what kind of treasure lies in the depths.
I live in a seaside town now, and I don't know why, but these days, more than ever I recall the cardboard boxes, the goldfish, Father's wet shoes and those years of ours now submerged by the water. Laura's anger must have had something to do with it. I have my funny little ways, an unhealthy obsession with cardboard boxes, getting out the car at three in the morning and going fishing, things like that. She has hers, too: her consuming passion for the cinema, for instance. And she's got it into her head that we have to get married. She knows very well what I think about that. She knows I think that papers and official requests to put the seal on love are a useless requirement—she doesn't like to hear about it, but the office of the justice of the peace and the church of my hometown are under water: they are no more than soggy papers—and she knows especially that each person has his own images and memories in his head, and that I remember how our father dropped his wedding ring into my sister's fishbowl before leaving, and how Tom and Jerry darted out of the way in shock when the ring sank to the bottom.
We haven't spoken to each other for three days. I tell her I'm going fishing. I will be on the jetty. Then I slam the door to set the seal on my good-bye. That's the way. Slamming the door is much more effective than papers and official requests to set the seal on things. Laura was having coffee and after I slammed the door I thought little waves would be produced on the liquid of her cup. The shipwreck of the daily routine in those flimsy wooden houses of ours.
I put the fishing lines, hooks, extending fishing rod and other stuff in the back of the car and switched on the radio on the way to the jetty. They say a seventy-year-old man has appeared drowned in the reservoir. I feel a shiver run down my back. I don't know why but I think the drowned man must be our father. I'm thinking about that when I spot a little girl in the middle of the road. Or rather I don't spot her. I nearly run her over. The little girl has been carrying a milk bottle and it breaks into a thousand pieces. I slam on the brakes and jump out of the car in an instant. As I look at the broken bottle, I feel as if something has hit me. The girl is petrified. And I know that the man who has drowned in the reservoir is our father.
—Oh, my God, are you OK?
The girl says nothing. She gazes at the broken bottle in the middle of the road. The asphalt is all sticky. I go with her to the shop and buy her another one. She looks at me and I remember my sister. I haven't phoned her for ages, not even to say, Hi, how are things? I also feel a burning need to speak to Laura. Slowly I drive to the harbor and phone from a phone booth on the jetty. You've got to come, Laura, I'm on the jetty. I'll see, she says. But I know she'll come. I prepare the hook and wait.
She's there in half an hour, dressed in tight-fitting trousers, a serious expression on her face. Today, I'm at the end of the jetty, because I like to see how she walks. When she gets to where I am she doesn't say anything.
—I nearly ran over a little girl, Laura.
She realizes I am shaking. She doesn't know why, but she thinks she does.
—No, she wasn't hurt. Just a nasty fright. And a milk bottle smashed into a thousand pieces.
She strokes my neck. Then looks at the empty fishing basket. She smiles.
—They're not biting today, are they?
—Not my hook, at least. You try, if you like . . .
I hand her the rod. She peers at the line. The line does not reach the water. She notices that even with her nearsighted eyes. She frowns in surprise.
—But the line doesn't reach the water . . .
—You shouldn't make it too easy for the fish.
She smiles again.
—I'm off to Fer's bar to get a beer. Want anything?
—A pack of Winstons.
I go to the bar of my friend, Fer. Laura thinks something is up. She isn't stupid. As I walk I try to calculate the time it'll take her to reel in the line and find the ring tied to the end of it instead of the hook. Five, four, three, two, one. I like the sound the line makes when it is being reeled in: it reminds me of those old movie cameras. Movie projectors. Mother had one in the garage inside a cardboard box. And Laura adores the cinema.
© Harkaitz Cano. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2005 by Sarah J. Turtle and Iñaki Mendiguren. All rights reserved.