Milan & Esmeralda
A PROFESSIONAL SMILE CRACKER
If Satan were a kid, Milan could make him crack a smile. That was what they said anyway. In his senior year at the School of Fine Arts he got some kind of internship in a photography studio. Truth be told, he wasn't really interested in photography. When he entered the school all he wanted to do in this world was to make movies, to tell stories. He would make his first short movie at the School, based on a script he had already written. Then he would write more stories. Some of them would be directed by him, others by the talented people he was supposed to meet at the School. But all these dreams began to vanish the moment Milan realized that his passion for telling stories had won itself a fiery rival: The passion for chasing women. My heart is a small place, Milan thought often. Sooner or later I will have to choose. And sooner rather than later, Milan chose. He chose women. Stories had given him nothing more than headaches and disappointment.
Back to the internship, the place was called Studio Llorens. In his first two weeks, his employers were so impressed by his knack for children photography that they hired him permanently. The payment wasn't spectacular but it was enough to say goodbye to his mother and fly off the nest. He rented a small apartment that he filled with miscellaneous memorabilia from several late sixties movies. Apart from independence, the job also left him with enough energy and time to chase all the women he wanted. Sometimes he went hunting every day of the week. At dawn, while he lingered on the bed of a complete stranger he wondered if he would ever get tired of that life. The answer to that question would come five years later, in the shape of a woman in her late twenties. She had curly, blonde hair, one hundred and twenty beautifully sculpted pounds, and a smile... Don't let me start with her smile.
That afternoon he had deliberately left the umbrella at home because he was positive it was going to rain. When he got to his first stop, the Fitzgerald & Co. Bookshop, he was soaking wet. He stood for a moment at the bookshop's entrance savoring the sensation. Three drops of water traveled through his underpants all at once. He smiled and entered the establishment. There was a peaceful atmosphere inside, which was quite rare for that place. He wandered around for a while. Nothing caught his attention until he saw a bunch of tiny books sprawled over a desk. Some publishing house was honoring some anniversary by giving away those miniature books with the original script from Some like it hot. The books also came with full instructions to build a 1/10 model of Marylyn Monroe. He approached the desk to take one of them but then a hand invaded his field of vision. It was a rosy hand, just a little bit on the chubby side but absolutely wonderful anyway. He looked up and there she was, all gold and curls and a birthmark on her temple shaped like the profile of Lenin. Well, the Lenin birthmark wasn't real. It was just a shadow. But the curls were very real and the gold... The gold was more real than anything else on that place.
'You first.' He hurried to say.
'You first.' She said too, almost in unison.
She was amused by the synchronic nature of the events and smiled. The smile showed a perfect set of supernaturally white teeth and added some good carats to the gold. To be honest, it was probably solid gold by then. In any case, in that very moment, Milan knew for sure that his days of chasing women had come to an end, or at least a permanent halt.
'Would you care to tell me your name?' Milan asked abruptly.
'Beg your pardon?' She said in a surprised tone.
'I would like to know your name.'
'Oh... ...it's... ...Esmeralda.' She said, half-smiling.
'Well, Esmeralda, my name is Milan and I'm a professional Smile Cracker; one of the finest subjects of an almost extinct species.'
'Smile Cracker? Seriously?' She broadened her smile as she said this. She was almost laughing by then.
'Well, you know how it is with scientific names. The thing is I can make people smile. I can't make them laugh nor can't make them happy but I can make them smile. At first it was only children but now I can do it with anyone. I thought I had seen everything there is to see in the world of smiles and then you appeared and turned everything upside down. That smile of yours is something out of this world. I don't know if I can work anymore after seeing your smile. It seems pointless somehow.'
She kept looking at him and smiling but she hid her teeth this time.
'Would you let me buy you dinner?' He asked.
'For scientific purposes, of course. I gotta study your smile, I gotta assimilate the mystery. I'm not talking about understanding it or explaining it. That would spoil the magic and I would rather kill myself. For me, this is as extraordinary as finding a new dinosaur for a paleontologist. Don't get me wrong; I'm not comparing you with a dinosaur. But when you think about it, you just shook my entire life like one of those scary T-Rexes you see on the movies. The stop-motion ones, not that digital crap of these days...'
An unstoppable verbal diarrhea had seized control of Milan's mouth. He had to use all his force of will to stop and go back to where he wanted to be in the first place.
'So, what do you say about dinner?'
Over the years, Esmeralda had grown accustomed to the many machinations men would set into motion to get in her pants. But that bluish fire in Milan's eyes told her he was different somehow. She had barely paid any attention to the insane amount of words that had come out of his pale lips. She was amused by then, but she hadn't grasped much of what they really meant. What she did know was this: Her entire being was dying to say yes to his proposal. Precisely because of that, she excused herself, told him it just couldn't be and flew away from the store as fast as she could.
Milan came out of Fitzgerald and Co. empty-handed. He collapsed in the first vacant bench he could find. It hadn't stopped to rain and being soaked wasn't fun anymore but there was nothing he could do about it. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Then he threw out the air, making the exhalation twice as long as the inhalation. He repeated the process ten times. He had learned this trick some years before. He wasn't into yoga or anything like that, but the "Ten Breaths Trick" always worked for him. Not this time though. With his eyes closed all he could see was her smile and seeing a smile like that, he could not focus on anything else. He tried with opened eyes with the same result. It would take a little more than a few breaths to get her out of his system.
He crawled his way to a jazz club that only closed its doors when the owner felt like it. Apparently, he never felt like it because Milan, one of the regulars, had always found the place opened no matter the time of the day. The moment the bartender saw the look on his face, he fixed him a Red Bull vodka and put on a Chet Baker song. He kept doing that every twenty minutes. A night on Bop Mountain was on the loudspeakers when Milan decided it was time to go home. The bartender, as he was watching him go, muttered to himself: 'Farewell, my skinny friend. You would have made one hell of a movie director.'
Later that evening, Milan was lying in his bed, his eyes wide opened, completely incapable of going to sleep. At that point, he didn't know if it was the cocktails, Esmeralda or a deadly combination of the two of them. 'Next time I'm going to ask for a Red Bull Esmeralda.' This and other incoherent thoughts played in his head as the first sunrays of the day came through the window.
That day, he entered the studio shielded by a pair of dark sunglasses. He didn't say a word to anyone. One of the girls handed him a card with his assignments for the day. Only one line was written on it: Farm School visit. On the reverse there were a couple of notes on the shots he was supposed to take and how to get to the farm. Milan thanked the gods; the assignment was a piece of cake. He wasn't up to much more than that. He would only have to take a couple of shots of the kids as they went out of each activity. You don't need a professional Smile Cracker for that kind of thing. He put his gear in a bag, took the keys of a company-owned Audi A3 and left the building.
Two hours later he was at the farm. The country's breeze was making wonders with his hangover and Esmeralda seemed to be going away in the same direction. When the first session was over, he started his usual flirting routine with the mothers and the female teachers. He was horrified to discover that deep inside he didn't really care. He tried a couple of new schemes he'd been plotting for the past few weeks but they felt mechanical, forced and boring. He had always taken great pleasure in these games. It was the game what was important, not the results. And now it all seemed so utterly pointless. Esmeralda intended to stay after all.
He finished the job, entered the car and got the hell out of there. In the way home he kept mumbling the lyrics of Bob Dylan's If You See Her, Say Hello.
He bumped into her again a couple of weeks later. It was two o'clock in the afternoon and he had already finished all of that day's assignments. He was strolling erratically in a public garden. He was troubled. Some days before, he had finished reading a novel whose pieces did not seem to fit. Of course, it wasn't the first piece of narrative that had made him feel shortchanged. But it really was the first one to trouble him so much. Those days, the novel thoughts and the Esmeralda thoughts were competing to see which one could be the meanest torturer.
Without any notice, she came from behind a tall group of bushes. She startled him, but Milan was quick in his reaction anyway.
'You can't turn me down this time.' He said, looking her in the eyes. 'There's this vegan joint around here. They have the most amazing falafel in the Northern hemisphere. You gotta let me buy you one. If I keep just one more day away from that smile of yours I'm going to lose it for good. You know, the psychiatric services of this noble nation can't handle one more patient. If you don't do it for me, do it for your country.'
That day, Esmeralda had lunched early. Besides, she despised those vegan joints with all their smugness and complacent crap. Even more, falafel always reminded her of the macrobiotic tyranny of her mother's kitchen and all those sunless days in the year of her twelfth birthday. However, she had been dreaming of that handsome young man for two weeks and she realized that it was time to say yes. She knew she could wait for three or four more casual encounters but didn't see the point in waiting. So, she gave him a long kiss, grabbed his arm and told him she also knew of a place nearby.
'It would cure that vegan disease of yours once and for all.' She said.
'I'm not a vegan.' Milan replied.
'We all are, up to a point.' She said, looking like someone who knew what she is talking about.
They walked in silence for forty-five minutes. With each yard they covered, the distance between them grew shorter. When they finally reached their destiny it was impossible to tell where one body ended and the other started.
The place was called The Burger Wormhole. It was a big, vulgar, dirty fast-food restaurant and it smelled like heaven. By then, Esmeralda was hungry again. She ordered the menu 48, her favorite. They had eighty-seven different menus. Any other given day, with so many options, Milan would have been in trouble. This time, he just followed Esmeralda and ordered the same.
They sit beside a column covered with lines from rare 90's flicks. While they ate, she looked at his eyes and he looked at her mouth. Milan was fascinated by the way her jaws moved, the shape her lips took when something particularly delicious stroked her taste buds and that air about her that seemed to tell everything there was to be told without a single word. No doubt, smiling was just one of the many abilities of that mouth. By the time they finished their desserts, an hour and a half of silent conversation had passed by. Then, they started talking like crazy.
It turned out that they worshiped the same movies, overrated the same books and hated the same music. They also shared the habit of making up complete biographies of random people they met in the street based only on their walking manners. For hours, they were fighting to see who had created the most original factoid, the best made-up birthmark or the most unusual first kiss. Soon, it was dinnertime at The Burger Wormhole. They ordered Esmeralda's second favorite: The 35.
When there was not a single crumb left in their plates they exited the restaurant holding hands and once they were out, they stood in front of the entrance. In the face of Milan's clock, the second hand completed one whole cycle. Meanwhile, they saw an old couple strolling while they grab each other's butts, a group of five teenage girls dressed as pin-ups and a helium balloon stamped with the face of Mao Tse-Tung floating ominously down the street. Milan leaned towards Esmeralda.
'Don't even think about it.' She exclaimed, pushing him away. 'You won't kiss me after having a 35. '
Milan considered the situation. Truth be told, the 35 was probably the gastronomy equivalent of three atom bombs. Right now, their breaths together should be able to stop half the troops of the Genghis Khan army for at least a couple of minutes. Of course a kiss was out of the question. Milan struggled to find a solution. One more minute passed till he found the answer. In spite of the extraordinary nature of Esmeralda, the answer was the same as with the rest of the ordinary women he had been with. The answer was in front of his eyes. The answer was a hotel.
When I said in front of his eyes, I meant precisely that. Across the street, a gigantic vertical pink neon sign read: Kafka Hotel. Milan tried to decide the proper way to pitch the idea to Esmeralda. He was afraid she might take it the wrong way. He was following the same procedure that with any other given woman precisely because she wasn't any other given woman. But, how could he explain that? While he was consumed by this dilemma, she read his thoughts, redoubled the strength of her grip and dragged him across the street. Five minutes later they were registered as Benjamin Hiragana and Beatrice Katakana at the Kafka Hotel.
The room decorator was very fond of the white color. There was no point in denying that. The white walls were covered by white panels with tiny black strokes distributed randomly. The floor was also white and so they were the clothes of the king-size bed. The furniture consisted in a desk and a couple of chairs. They were transparent. Every object in the bathroom was transparent too, including the toilet and the bathtub.
They took turns to wash their teeth. First Milan, then Esmeralda. While he waited for her, he sat in one of the transparent chairs. It was really comfortable despite of its appearance.
She came out of the bathroom and stared at him for a couple of seconds. Then, she smiled. The light reflected by all the white things in the room became so shiny he was sure it would leave him blind. But, what's the matter with going blind when you have an image like that to keep you company forever? In any case, the feeling wasn't painful at all, quite the contrary.
'What is it about that smile? Don't tell me. I'll be glad to just be around you and see it from time to time.'
Esmeralda got closer. Milan stood. They kissed. Time stopped.
When the clock hands started spinning again, their clothes were gone. Gone to one of those places where things that are of no use anymore dwell. Naked, Esmeralda's body fulfilled all of its promises and then some. On the other hand, the skinny, muscular nature of Milan made Esmeralda shiver with anticipation. They got engaged in a battle that only the both of them could win. They loved each other countless times. Around three in the morning, Milan asked for a truce. Each time she touched him, he got an erection. The last couple of times it had hurt a little bit. Definitely he had never been with a woman like her. That rare magic in her smile extended all over her body. All her being followed the laws of that mystery. He didn't want to stop but if he didn't, he was bound to end up in the emergency room of the nearest hospital.
'It hurts.' He moaned pitifully. 'I really want to go on, but I can't.'
Esmeralda burst out laughing.
'Fair enough.' She replied, grabbing his penis firmly. 'You are discharged. But only till sunrise.'
As she grabbed him, Milan felt a mixture of pleasure and pain so delicious he was about to forget about the truce. However, truly fearing for his welfare, he restrained himself.
The sun came out mere hours later. Milan had not opened his eyes yet, but he knew Esmeralda was looking at him. Guessing her position, he threw himself at her.
The second act was a repetition of the first, only this time they added new numbers as they saw fit. At the end of the fifth act they lay on their backs, holding each other hands and trying to decide which of the shadows in the ceiling had the weirdest shape.
'I'm starving.' Milan exclaimed.
'What kind of breakfast do you fancy?'
'A Wormholy one, of course.' She rolled her eyes back and uttered something like this: 'Gagagagagagaga.'
Without any clothes at hand and unsure of the Wormhole's policy towards nudity, they look up the number of a tailor's shop and ordered tuxes and tailcoats, White for Milan, Black for Esmeralda. An hour later, someone knocked at the door. Milan opened it a little bit and slipped two envelopes through the small crack, one to pay the tailor's delivery girl and the other to tip the bellboy. He instructed them to leave all the stuff on the corridor's floor. When they were gone, he retrieved everything, taking great care not to be seen. As he entered back into the room, he realized they had forgotten all about the underwear. Anyway, some moments later they discovered the tuxedos cloth was so lovely to the touch it would have been a mortal sin to wear it with underwear.
Before they left the room, Milan called the studio and elaborated a poor excuse to take the rest of the week off. The secretary at the other end of the line limited herself to grunt and say something about a new kind of flu transmitted by the Lyrebird. Milan hung up and joined Esmeralda at the door.
The rest of the week they were immersed in a delicious routine, bouncing back and forth between the Wormhole and the hotel. They didn't need anything else. On Sunday, Milan asked her if she would move to his apartment. She said yes.
Monday and back on the job. Llorens approached Milan. He had founded the studio thirty years before and fifteen years later he had gone bankrupt. A group of investors got hold of everything. They kept Llorens name and presence because by then he had granted himself a notorious reputation. Rumor had it he had dilapidated his earnings on expensive liquors and luxury prostitutes. Milan was not the kind of person that pays attention to rumors, but knowing Llorens, he was pretty sure this one was true.
'The past week was fucking horrible.' Llorens said in a hoarse voice. 'All because of you. I had to cope with all the bullshit children photography you were supposed to do. I'm fucking exhausted.'
'Why didn't you pass the assignments to some of the other guys?'
'Are you fucking kidding me?' Llorens face was red by then, as if they had been arguing for hours. 'Those fuckers are incapable of distinguishing a wide-angle lens from a monkey's cunt.'
Milan was very fond of that fifty-something big man. He thought of him as a paternal figure. He suspected that his long white hair had something to do with it but there was also something else he couldn't quite pinpoint. They had had drinks together quite a few times over the years. Sometimes, Milan tried to get some inside info about the fall of the Llorens era, but despite being heavily intoxicated, Llorens remained silent about the matter.
'Is it about a woman?' Llorens inquired. 'Are you going to settle down?'
'You are so fucked, my retarded friend.'
Milan smiled. That was all he could do. He had spent the entire morning smiling. He had left Esmeralda sleeping in the bed that now was theirs. She was naked. The weather was pretty warm for that time of the year but anyway he had covered her with a white cotton sheet, just in case. The image of her sleeping peacefully in the apartment keep him company all the time he was working that day. The assignments they put him on were what Llorens would sure have called a fucking unbelievable tall pile of unbearable bullshit but he didn't even notice. They were like raindrops in the windshield of a car going at one hundred and fifty miles per hour. Or maybe one hundred and forty. In any case, the car was going pretty fast.
Back home, he cooked lunch for Esmeralda. The Burger Wormhole hasn't cured him entirely of the Vegan Disease and he tried his best with purple, green and yellow vegetable ingredients. With the first bite, Esmeralda overcame at least half of his childhood traumas. When they finished, she said her thanks over the dining table, on the living room carpet and in several spots of the hallway. He took delight in the many shapes Esmeralda's mouth adopted when she panted and moaned. Every time he looked at her, he was so overwhelmed with pure fascination he had to use all his force of will to not ejaculate then and there. Who was that wonderful creature that had appeared in his sad life? He still didn't want to know.
MILAN AND ESMERALDA
The moment Milan got back from work they were together for the rest of the day. Those afternoons were full of food and sex. When they went out, they spent countless hours inspecting goods and merchandise in several picturesque shops spread across the city. Milan gladly welcomed Esmeralda's habit of wandering around town trying to get lost. Their town was a gargantuan megalopolis already and had not ceased to expand yet. So, sooner or later, they had to get lost. And, wouldn't it be nice to get lost in the very same place where you were born? At least, that was how Esmeralda felt. Milan couldn't believe he hadn't thought about that earlier. They discovered second-hand bookshops where you could have a delicious ramen bowl while you tried not to demolish any of the several piles of books sprawled here and there, auteristic video rental shops that programmed Schwarzenegger Vs Bergman double features hidden in dead-end alleys that smelled of ancient urine, garages where people repaired cars by the light of day and became Kung Fu Dai Sifus when the sun was down,... They found out that the fabric of reality contained at least two dimensions and that you should think twice before saying you had traveled a lot.
In any case, one should admit that, for a while, they did travel a lot. Every fifteen days, Milan would appear with one-way tickets to random faraway places. Esmeralda just smiled and packed everything in less than five minutes. At the studio, this new habits got him into trouble so many times but he just ignored the warnings. He only needed her smile. That was all he ever needed. If he got kicked out of the studio, he would get a job somewhere else or even better: he would go freelance. As a professional Smile Cracker he had never been in better shape. Let them dare to kick him out.
In one of those trips, Milan caught himself working in the construction of a new story. It was their third day in Tangier and they had planned a special outing. A Portuguese couple they had met in the plane insisted in renting a car and spending the day the four of them together. Milan and Esmeralda managed to dodge the proposal. The Tangier experience wasn't -up to that point and for lack of a better expression- being African enough. The last thing they needed was spending time with people who came from the same continent they lived on. So, they crouched in the hall of the hotel until the other couple had disappeared and then, they rented a languid red Hyundai Accent. Half an hour later, Milan was about to provoke a car accident. He changed lanes without looking in the rear mirror and they almost got smashed by a truck. Our favorite Smile Cracker had been distracted for the past few days. Esmeralda offered him a dirham for his thoughts. He either thought a dirham was far too little money or he didn't feel like sharing his mind because he assured her that he wasn't thinking in anything in particular.
That was far from the truth. That very morning the story had possessed him while he was taking a shower. It had planted its roots in an uncharted place between his heart and his brain and from there it had started to grow at an alarming pace. He was barely aware of being on a trip but even more alarming: For the first time since he had met her, he was barely aware of Esmeralda's presence.
The process had in fact started some time before that morning. The week prior to the trip he had bought a 200 sheets package of 24 lb. white paper and five 2H pencils: His all-time favorite writing materials. The moment he had gotten home he had hid everything in his suitcase. It was almost sleepwalking behavior. He didn't say a word to Esmeralda about it. At first it didn't occur to him that he might be doing something wrong. But as the hours passed by, he thought more and more about the things that were lurking in the suitcase. The bigger the guilt grew, the less he felt like confessing.
Under the standards of any ordinary couple, that second day in Tangier would have been wonderful, something to cherish and passed to their unborn grandchildren. But in Milan and Esmeralda's world, that day was a catastrophe, a horrible mistake to be erased as soon as possible. Back in the hotel, Esmeralda's mouth was crooked and it projected an ominous shadow all around her. The colors of the day were in desperate need of a transfusion of red, or at least some magenta. In the hotel's hall, people's faces appeared to Milan in black and white.
He had to put her through two long Atomic Tickling treatments to get her back to something close to her normal state of mind. At the end of the second treatment they had virtually no clothes on. So they put themselves through another kind of treatment and there it went all the tension of the day. They scratched each other, licked each other, bit each other and subjected the already terminally ill bed to a serious breaking test. When everything was said, Esmeralda fell asleep almost instantly. Milan took a bottle of water and started drinking methodically until not a single drop was left inside. For a while, he mulled over the recent events and then he fell asleep too. His dreams were reasonably quiet considering the circumstances.
At exactly 4:37 AM he woke up completely sure that his bladder was going to explode. Somehow, he managed to get to the bathroom in time to avert the explosion. While the urine was splashing in the toilet's water, the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra played, only for his ears, some Rossini's overture whose name he couldn't quite remember. He thought about the first time he had masturbated, that other time when they had rubbed his arm with some strange remedy for nettle stings and the wonderful feeling of stretching one's scrotum in a particularly warm day. Out of the bathroom, he tiptoed his way to the wardrobe. He took the paper and the pencils and sat in a small desk attached to a room corner. He kept completely still for some minutes. Then, he felt something vibrating inside of him. He took a pencil and started writing. Before he could finish the first sentence, he felt the warmth of a long forgotten hearth. However, he didn't regret the many years he had kept apart from writing. Everything was happening in the precise moment it had to happen. It was one of those rare instances of perfection that come up once in a lifetime. In fact, most of the times, they don't come up at all.
At seven o'clock in the morning, Esmeralda woke up. It was odd, for she was the very opposite of an early riser. She approached Milan and asked him about all those scribbled papers. This time, Milan explained everything to her. She just nodded from time to time, a pensive look painted on her face. For a while, Milan thought that maybe he should ask her if there was something wrong. But something told him that doing so, he would only uncover a bunch of thoughts and ideas that were better left in the shadows. So, he packed the writing materials and did his best to behave as if nothing had happened. In years to come, he would remember that moment on countless occasions and each and every time he would regret that decision with all his heart.
They stayed in Tangier for one more week. Milan got up every morning between five and six: Straight from the bed to the writing desk. Esmeralda went back to her usual sleeping patterns. The moment she opened her eyes, Milan was already back beside her. Now that the story was flowing, Milan wasn't distracted or absent anymore. Every morning, he took off and went to that another place. He kept there for two or three hours. It wouldn't have mattered if it were less time. What mattered was going there. Whether he stayed ten minutes or ten hours was irrelevant. By the time Esmeralda opened her eyes, he was back on Planet Earth. Both of their feet were touching the same piece of land. And at that precise moment, it was Tangier's land. From then on, Tangier became the best of their many trips and also the last. Everything was improvised. They forgot about maps and travel guides. Each day, they left the hotel on foot or by car and followed a random course. There was no room left for the ordinary. Every day was astounding and completely different from the day before. They were Milan and Esmeralda at one hundred and one percent: A star shining ten times brighter than usual before dying.
In the plane back home, out of the blue, Esmeralda asked him again about the story.
'Aren't you going to tell me anything else about it?' She seemed genuinely interested.
A pinch of anxiety appeared on Milan's chest. He always felt that if he talked about a story before it was finished he would jinx it. At the same time, he was dying to bring it to the surface and transform it in something that belonged to both of them as every other thing in their world.
'It's been quite a while since the last time I wrote like this. I used to have this rule, you know. I wouldn't talk about a story before it was completely finished. It felt like if I exposed what was already written, the rest would vanish forever. Even if I knew every little thing that was going to happen, if I talked about it, somehow the energy that made the story's existence possible would die. I had the opportunity to prove this theory twice. But with you, it's different. It's probably because you are responsible for this. I mean, you are my muse, you know. How else would I be writing after all this time? But anyway, there's something else. I know there's something else. It's just that I can't explain it. Like every other thing about you, it's impossible to explain. I just know, now, that it's safe to tell you. The story is safe with you.'
Esmeralda smiled and muttered three words that traveled at the speed of light to a very deep and distant place at the core of Milan's mind. Even though he will never forget them, he is incapable of articulating even a single one of them. From the sound of those three words, he understood that Esmeralda was proud and sad at the same time. A cold, puncturing fear took hold of Milan but he resumed his explanation anyway.
'Back in High School, whenever I got an idea for a short movie, I wrote a story first. I needed something to keep the plot structured and I hate to write treatments. So I wrote those stories. I didn't care much about them. They were mere tools for me. But with time, even though I wouldn't admit it, I realized that my stories were way better than my scripts. Watching a lot of movies doesn't make you a filmmaker. But, back then I wouldn't hear a word about it. When I started this new story I knew it was going to be the longest one I'd ever written. I thought it would be about fifty or sixty pages long. Enough for a two-hour script. And now, as I told you all this, I realize that it's not going to be a long story or a novella. It's going to be a novel. And it's no seed for a movie script or anything else either. It deserves to exist in its own right. And all this is possible only because of you.'
Milan smiled. Esmeralda followed him and this time it was one of those legendary Esmeralda smiles. She seemed to be genuinely glad for him. The claw devouring Milan's heart vanished in pyrotechnic smoke.
THE FALL OF MILAN AND ESMERALDA
'It's like that sentence from Rayuela about people who squeeze the toothpaste tube from the bottom.' Esmeralda was clearly irritated. It was a sad thing to see.
Two months had passed since the Tangier trip. Milan had built an improvised studio in the storeroom and he kept spending more and more time there. Once he got home from work, she gave Esmeralda a big kiss and then he secluded himself in that tiny space. In there, the story flowed. It flowed from that uncharted place between his head and his heart. It flowed through his right arm until he reached his fingertips. It flowed to blow life into the 2H pencil. And the pencil, full of life, sailed through the pages and created worlds. And while those inside worlds were created, the outside world, little by little, was entering an era of decadence.
'I don't know what you're talking about.' Milan answered, knowing exactly what she was talking about.
'What I mean is that you have become one of those persons who would squeeze the toothpaste tube from the bottom.'
'That hurt worse than if you told me that you've slept with my best friend.'
'You don't have any friends.'
Two weeks later, Milan came back from work and found the house empty. Nothing was missing, not even Esmeralda's stuff, but he could feel the void the moment he entered the apartment. He knew that she went out in the mornings, her whereabouts as mysterious as her sources of income or, come to talk about it, anything else about her. But there was something that remained constant as the days passed: Her waiting for him in the hallway, smiling one big Esmeralda smile. Milan leaned against the wall and felt the muscles in his legs losing all the tension. He let himself slide until he was sitting on the floor. He remained there, transfixed, for hours. At first, he considered the idea of going after her but he knew it was pointless. He couldn't call her either, for she didn't own a cell phone, nor had any other known forms of contact. All he could do was remain motionless, let the self-pity do the dirty work and cry as quietly as possible.
He did not leave the apartment in a month. Did not take a single shower, did not shave. He approached liquids and food from time to time because he wasn't ready to die. One day, he entered Llorens Studio in that guise. A secretary handed him a note and the security guard showed him the way out. The note said that he wasn't so good anymore to justify all the recent bullshit. Milan came back home, crossed the hallway and stood at the threshold of his improvised studio. He stared with disgust at the papers sprawled all over the desk. 'You must be so very fucking proud.' He shouted at the scribbled papers. 'Look what you made out of me. Common! Look! Don't shy away!' He took a bunch of papers and threw them outside the window. He kept doing that until there was not a single sheet left on the desk. In the street, a group of kids were laughing, amused by the sudden paper rain. They made planes of different sizes and shapes. When their mothers saw what it was written in the planes they took them away from them, blushing away. The old lady living on the fourth floor called the police. After forty-seven false alarms, not a single agent showed up. Milan was done with stories. This time he really meant it.
Sometime later, Llorens pulled a few strings and got him back on the job. From then on, they drank together at least once a week. In time, Milan began chasing women again. He wasn't as enthusiastic as his old self but he was still capable of pulling new tricks. In these new tricks there were subtlety and sophistication. Things he always had lacked. He wasn't what you would call truly happy but he didn't feel miserable anymore. He had reached a point of equilibrium where at least he felt comfortable.
HE HAS LITTLE MORE TO SAY BUT STILL...
The paths of Esmeralda since he parted from Milan's side are, like everything else about her, a mystery. But there's something I can guarantee you: Milan and Esmeralda's lives will cross again at least one more time. Whatever happens after that is lost in the mists of the future. I could make an effort to dissipate them and tell you a little more, but it's late, I have a mild headache and above all: I'm dying for a Red Bull Vodka.