A Good Return
A Happy Homecoming
“En un lugar de la Mancha , de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme”
Pueblito, mi pueblo.
Extraño tus tardes.
no puedo olvidarte.
¡Cuánta nostalgia ceñida
tengo en el alma esta tarde!
¡Ay! si pudiera otra vez,
bajo tus sauces soñar,
viendo las nubes que pasan.
¡Ah! y cuando el sol ya se va,
sentir la brisa al pasar
fragante por los azahares.
Pueblito, mi pueblo.
Extraño tus tardes.
no puedo olvidarte.
Pueblito, mi pueblo
“Estaba al final de esa carretera, en el fin del mundo. Más allá no había nada, ahí el mundo empezaba a bajar, a redondearse, a dar la vuelta.”
La Virgen De Los Sicarios
“Nam quicunque tam obscene rationis est ut locum sue nationis delitiosissimum credat esse sub sole”
VI.2, Liber Primus, De vulgari eloquentia
A man called Steven Turner finally decided to make his way back home to his old village. He had spent many years away travelling before he eventually settled in a house, located at the end of the world, on the outskirts of a small, secluded Town. The reason he chose to buy this house in particular was its resemblance to the Steventon rectory wherein Jane Austen had been born and bred, which is located “somewhere in a field in Hampshire”.
Alright, so he was returning to his family home, to be reunited with his beloved book collection. He had lived long enough without it, and now wanted to bring those books – lying around, collecting dust in his bedroom - back to his new home, with his new acquisitions.
When he arrived back to his old village, he was struck by the absence of people on the streets. He remembered that it was a small, quiet place (“un pueblo silencioso y apacible”) where only about five thousand people lived, but during the day, there was usually someone about, to give you a dirty look, call you some spontaneously chosen insult or just spit in your face.
Such was the absence of all these aspects of his normal, routine life there (so routine were his pleasant experiences with the pleasant locals) that he seriously started to doubt whether this was in fact his village, or just some new inverosimile impostor whose trap he had fallen into.
In any case, he walked on homeward bound. It was not out of any longing for the villagers’ company. He merely felt surprised; pleasantly so, not having to go to the trouble of putting his head down when someone was walking the opposite way. He resented having to strain his neck for anyone.
He approached his house to find the usual array of cars missing. He hoped they were out. Maybe he could make a quick snatch and grab, and get out of there before anyone noticed he’d even arrived. He walked up to the front door and slowly, carefully entered his old key into the trusty Yale lock. It still worked. He rushed inside to be reunited with the loved ones he had missed so much; those who had taught him so much, and helped him through all those tough times and hellish years, his one and only family, his real relatives and true kin. He refrained from kissing and hugging. They still didn’t do that. But they were still intact; and pretty much how he left them - largely unread. In his room, he found a copy of El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote De la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, which he had bought when he was nineteen and never opened.
“Oh, how I’ve missed you all”, he cried.
He could tell they felt the same, though they would never dare let on.
“The number of times I’ve needed you, when I’ve been so far from home.”
So relieved was he to finally see them.
“Thank God nothing happened to you.”
He had worried that the absence of people in the house may have made their theft by outsiders more likely.
“Thank God you weren’t stolen.”
That is what he imagined would happen if a village was suddenly deserted; that people would come from miles around to pilfer whatever they could. But perhaps he felt this only because he imagined that if he heard such a thing had occurred, that he would pay the place a visit just to see if there were any good books left to steal.
He hadn’t hidden his books under the bed, fearing that thieves would steal them. For he was wise enough to know that criminals aren’t big on reading; and the only things ever read to them are their rights by agents of law enforcement institutions.
The main problem he now faced was how to transport as many of his possessions as he could back to his new home without incurring additional costs. He looked around for the assortment of suitcases to see how many of these he could carry when full. Thankfully, they were still there. Scattered around his parents’ bedroom were newspapers, their pages strewn all over the floor. It looked as if this place had been robbed, but they hadn’t touched his room; probably because it was full only of books. The valuable items had been taken from his parents’ room though. This gave him an idea that stopped him in his tracks.
He wondered, “if the books were left here in this house, perhaps the other houses are still full of literary treasures, if not actual (or fool’s gold) treasure.”
He decided to find out before starting to go through his own collection, just in case. He feared that book bandits would arrive - the very second before he was set to steal all he could.
He rushed off, as there were many houses to visit.
For once he didn’t regret wasting his youth crippling himself for a pittance posting The Evening Advertiser, and the national papers in the morning, because it had given him the knowledge of every house on the upper side of the village, many of which - to a stranger - would never be found, so hidden away and obscured from view were they. He ventured into these houses now with some trepidation. Evening was starting to fall on this windy, autumn-browned village, and memories of dog bites shivered his tentative body with chicken skin.
He even had his old paper bag, so he wouldn’t look so suspicious, if anyone turned up. If they did, they would just presume he was a loser who still does a paper round as an adult because no other employer (except for Bertie Hicks, the stingy local paper shop owner) would take on someone as useless as (to give but one example who gained some local fame) the appropriately named fatty called Robert Ball. The bag also came in handy to carry the books that Steven was taking from the houses. He thought, pleased with himself, high on the prospect of vengeance, ““ché bell’onor s’acquista in far vendetta”. Now I will finally make up for all those freezing nights in the rain, with some compensation, however meagre. Just because you were too lazy to walk to the shop and buy your paper yourself; and what did I get for that, heaving that damnably heavy bag all over the village, almost crippling me for life? Nothing but a few measly tips at Christmas, if I was lucky!”
He still remembered one particularly freezing night a few days before Christmas, when it was so slippery he couldn’t even ride his bike, as it constantly slipped and skidded. So he had to put on an ill-fitting pair of moon boots, with socks over them to cover the soles. On top of that, he had to endeavour to keep his balance, despite the paper bag dragging his back to the right side, while he poured a canister of salt in front of him wherever he walked - all this rigmarole, just to prevent him from slipping with every treacherous step.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great collection, to be honest; i libri ritrovati non appagano i suoi gusti letterari. Trova null’altro che biografie dei grandi campioni del calcio, libri di ricette, il miglior Fabio Volo: Esco a fare due passi, È una vita che ti aspetto, Un posto nel mondo – paraliterature, nothing more to write home about than that. Once again, it had not been worth the effort. There were precious few connoisseurs of literature among the dull and dreary settlements of middle England .
As he walked around the village, he recalled the one occasion he had visited the Hay-on-Wye book festival. He wore a rucksack, while two army bags crisscrossed his body, and each arm carried two further plastic bags full of books. He mostly bought Psychiatry texts, his favourite subject of that time. One of the books he remembered most clearly was about the strange fruit of rare Psychiatric syndromes, which fascinated him; he liked finding out about the less common ones because depression, anxiety and OCD had become so ordinarily boring for him. Thus, he liked to find out what he could identify with amongst the stranger syndromes for a change – they say that change is as good as a rest anyway. He had also referred to the book in a piece of work he had written (a novella called The Attic), so he wanted to know the exact details in order to cite the work appropriately, and he had not managed to locate such information on the net. He only remembered a few things about this book, which he had never finished:
·The subtitle: rare Psychiatric syndromes.
·One of the papers was about brief psychotic episodes. Another described a syndrome whereby the patient thinks that other people look like a particular person known to the patient. Perhaps this was because of an emotional attachment; he couldn’t remember exactly, but it reminded him of the many Malkovich’s in Being John Malkovich, and the line in a Radiohead’s Black Star: “I keep falling over I keep passing out when I see a face like you. What am I coming to?”
·The book cover, which had a painting of a face consisting of fruit.
He racked his brains trying to remember the name of the book; because of the painting, he thought to himself, “It had something to do with fruit, Bizarre Fruit? No, that was a bad album. Strange Brew? No, but better. Strange Fruit? Even better, but still no cigar.”
He only recalled visiting two or three shops, but time was running on, and he had bought tickets to hear some talks, which he considered the picks of the day. Now all he could remember from those talks was the mental image of Sandi Toksvig.
He didn’t consider himself a strong person, or the type to indulge in unnecessary heavy lifting, but he made an exception for books; and once again, after so many years, he found himself breaking his back for the printed word.
When he arrived home from his brief stealing spree he was exhausted, even more so now than when he had first arrived home a few hours earlier. He had spent the last few years far away, sitting at his computer, trying to write literary criticism about just one story, Cathedral. He had a book worth of material, he now thought.
So tired was he, that he could only summon the strength to reach his parent’s bedroom and plonk himself down upon the bed, which was just as covered by newspapers as the floor was.
“Why didn’t they clean this place up before they left?” he asked himself as he picked up one of the torn and dishevelled pieces of newsprint. He could only make out the negative words at first, such was his talent for that, despite the pages being sodden and smudged. Then he picked up other pieces and tried to fit the paper jigsaw of news back together. It seemed like the result of a cut-up writing technique gone badly wrong, he was deliberately looking for meaning and so found none; such is the law of serendipity. Thus, it was an inversion of Brion Gysin unintentionally finding coherence in newspaper strips, which he accidently cut-up while cutting some other papers – the newspapers were underneath these papers merely to protect the table from the sharp edge of his razor blade. Steven had read John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy, some Surrealist and Dadaist poetry - like André Breton, Jacques Vaché, and, most notably, Tristan Tzara - he had also tried to write some of his own, but even this didn’t help him too much here, none of this helped him now, when he needed it most. Even if all language is nonsense, it is never exactly the same kind nonsense twice, so one must endeavour to find some signification in the senseless, else one will understand nothing and be understood by no one. Although he couldn’t even find all the pieces to complete - what seemed to him - a pivotal and revealing phrase from the words present (let alone an entire page) he thought that he was starting to make out something of the spirit or meaning of what it said, which, if true, really was news to him.
After a few minutes of repositioning the scraps of the star-studded gutter press, and putting into practice the best of his many years of studying hermeneutics, all he could muster was a paltry attempt at exegesis that ran something along the lines of this puerile punning spree:
PIGHILL PAVENHILL PURTONIANS PIG PLAGUE PERISH