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BEACH
BY ROBERTO BOLAÑO
(TRANSLATED BY RILEY HANICK)

I kicked heroin and went back to the little town and began taking methadone, which I was given at the outpatient clinic, and I had nothing much else to get up for each morning, and I would watch television and try to sleep through the night, but I was unable to, something was keeping me from closing my eyes and resting, and this was my routine until I couldnít take it anymore, so I bought a black swimsuit in a shop at the center of town and went to the beach with my black swimsuit, a towel, and magazine, and I would roll out my towel at a distance from the water, stretch out and read for awhile, considering whether or not to go in the water, and there were many reasons that occurred to me in favor of doing so, though many reasons not to go in also occurred to me, the children playing along the shoreline, for example, so that finally I would simply sit there killing time before returning home, and the next morning I bought some suntan lotion and went to the beach again and at noon I marched to the outpatient clinic and took my dose of methadone and nodded at the familiar faces, not one of them a friend, just faces I knew from the methadone line, surprised to see me standing there in my swimsuit, but I couldnít have cared less, and then I went back to the beach, getting my nerve up to swim this time, and though I couldnít, to me it was enough to have tried, and the next day I walked back to the beach, and remembered to slather my body with sunscreen and fell asleep on the sand, and when I came to I felt quite refreshed, and hadnít burned my back at all, and another week passed Ė maybe two, I donít remember Ė the only certainty was that every day my tan grew darker, every day I spoke to no one, and every day I felt better, or different, which is not the same though, in my case, it seemed the same, and one day an old woman and an old man appeared on the beach, and it was clear to me that they had spent a great deal of time together, the woman fat and round, and there, walking alongside her for something like seventy years, a man, skinny, beyond skinny, a walking skeleton, that was what had caught my attention, whereas generally I barely noticed any of the people that came to the beach, and I tried to affix a cause to his skinniness, and I saw it and was frightened, shit, I thought, itís death coming for me, but he did not come for me, it was only an old married couple, him seventy-five and her seventy, or the other way around, and she seemed to be glowing with health, and it seemed that he was ready to begin groping her at any moment, or that this was his last summer, and at first, after my initial fright, it was hard for me to pull my gaze away from the face of the old man, which looked like a skull covered by a thin layer of skin, and then I got used to looking at the two of them without their noticing, sprawled across the sand on my stomach, my face covered by my forearms, or I would sit on a bench along the esplanade beside the beach, pretending to brush sand from my body, and I noticed that the old couple always came to the beach with a little parasol, whose shade the woman would quickly step into, without a swimsuit, though sometimes I did see her in a swimsuit, but more often in an oversized summer dress that made her look a little less fat than she actually was, and under the umbrella the old woman spent hours and hours reading a very thick book, while her skeletal husband stretched out on the sand in only a miniscule swimsuit, almost a thong, soaking up the sun with a voraciousness that brought distant memories back to me, of junkies, blissful, motionless, junkies concentrating entirely on what they were doing, the only thing that they could do, and then my head began to hurt and I walked from the beach to the esplanade and had a plate of anchovies and a beer and smoked and stared at the beach through the windows of the bar, and when I went back the old man and old woman were still there, her under the umbrella, him utterly exposed to the sun, and then, for no reason, I suddenly wanted to cry, and I went into the water and started swimming, and when I was far away from the shore I looked up at the sun and it seemed strange to me that it was there, so enormous and distinct from us, and then I was able to swim back to shore (I nearly drowned twice) and when I got there I dropped onto my towel, where I remained a long time, breathing quickly and with difficulty, but always looking for the old couple, and maybe I fell asleep lying there on the sand and when I woke up the beach was beginning to empty out, but they were still there, her holding a novel under the parasol and him, mouth open, standing in a space without shade, his eyes closed, an odd expression upon his skull, as if he was trying to feel each second that passed, to take a pleasure in it, even though the sunlight was weak, even though the sun was on the other side of the buildings lining the seafront, on the other side of the hills, but this seemed unimportant to him, and then, at that moment, I awoke completely and stared and stared at the sun, and I felt a slight pain in my back, as if I had been burned that afternoon more than I had thought, and I kept watching them as I got up, putting the towel on like a cape, and I went and sat on one of the benches of the esplanade, where I pretended to brush sand from my legs, and from there, from that height, the vision of the couple was different, and I told myself that maybe he was not about to die, and I told myself that time might not exist as I thought it existed, and I continued thinking about time while the sun grew distant and the shadows of buildings stretched forward, and then I went home and took a shower and looked at my red back, a back that didnít seem to be mine, but someone elseís, someone who it would take years for me to know, and then I turned on the television and watched programs that I was completely unable to understand, until I fell asleep in the armchair, and the next day the cycle was the same, the beach, the clinic, the beach again, the old couple, a routine that was sometimes interrupted by the apparition of other beings on the beach, a woman, for example, who was always on her feet, never laying down on the beach, who dressed in a bikini bottom and a blue t-shirt, and when she would go into the sea she waded in only up to her knees, and I was reading, like the old woman, and the woman remained on her feet, standing there, sometimes slouching, but in a very peculiar way, and she picked up a half-liter bottle of Pepsi and drank it standing up, radiant, then left the bottle on her towel, which I donít know why she brought if she didnít intend to lie down on it or go all the way into the water, and sometimes the woman scared me, she seemed so strange, though mostly I just felt sorry for her, and I saw other strange things at the beach, which always happens, maybe because itís the only place where we are all half-naked but itís simply no big deal, and once while I was walking to the shore, I thought I saw an ex-junkie like me, sitting on a mound of sand with an infant balanced on his knees, and another time I thought I saw some Russian girls, three Russian girls, who were probably whores, and they were speaking, the three of them, on a mobile phone, and laughing, but in truth, I was only interested in the old couple, in part because I had a sense that the old man was going to die at any moment, and when I thought this, or when I realized that this was what I was thinking about, a range of disparate ideas occurred to me, that after the old manís death there would be a tsunami, that the town would be destroyed in a tidal wave, that there would be a sudden trembling, that there would be an enormous earthquake, the town disappearing in a wave of dust, and when I thought about what Iíd just said I hid my face in my hands and started to cry, and while I was crying I dreamt (or imagined) that it was night, maybe three in the morning, and that I had left the house and gone to the beach and at the beach I encountered the old man lying facedown on the sand, and in the sky, there with the other stars but much closer to the earth than the other stars, there was a glittering black sun, an enormous sun, black and silent, and I fell upon the beach and stretched out on the sand, and the only two people at the beach were the old man and me, and when I turned and opened my eyes, I realized that the Russian whores and the girl always on her feet and the ex-junkie with the child in his arms were watching me with curiosity, maybe asking themselves who this strange guy could be, this guy with the sunburned back and shoulders, and even the old woman was looking at me from the shade of her parasol, her reading interrupted for a few interminable seconds, perhaps asking herself who this silently crying young man was, a young man of 35, who had nothing, but was recovering his will, his courage, and who knew that he was going to live a little bit longer.

*

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE

This translation of Bolaño's essay began a few months ago. While I'm sure that it has some probelms, there is currently no English translation of the piece available, and perhaps this will offer a placeholder before more  definitive translations of the work in Entre paréntesis are published. Because my own Spanish is frequently shaky, I'm very much in debt to Leah Leone for her help with the original text.

Since "Playa" has received recent attention as a disputed source of information regarding Bolaño's biography, I should say that I have called the piece an essay not because everything in an essay can be assumed to be factual, but because the piece embodies a definition of "essay" as an attempt, as an act of trying. I can't imagine it really sheds much light on the question of Bolaño's disputed addiction, though I do think it gives us another example of his artistic achievement

-- Riley Hanick

[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/bolanobeach.html]

 

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