Since neither of them feels like going to a restaurant, as soon as Hug arrives Heribert begins to prepare the shrimp. Now, sitting face to face, across a table set with a white tablecloth, Heribert and Hug are devouring them. As he peels one, Heribert thinks that the shell of a shrimp isn’t all that different from the shell of a cockroach. He opens another bottle of white wine.

“Kid,” says Hug, “I’m here to give you a good talking-to, but since you’re certainly old enough to know what you’re doing, I’ll just remind you that we could lose our shirts here. No temper tantrums, now, and no weird, outlandish games. All artists have creative crises (if that’s what you want to call them, even though I think it’s ridiculous), and all artists get over them, and even if they don’t, they pretend they do and keep on going.  Maybe what you need is to have a little fun. Go out with some girls. You certainly don’t have to worry about Helena at this stage of the game, right? You don’t get out to clear the cobwebs enough. Not only that, you let all kinds of opportunities pass you by, and, believe me, you do have opportu- nities … You weren’t like this before; you were more lighthearted. Until a few months ago, you were always telling me about one affair or another.  You’ve been slowing down, going out less and less. Or are you going out and just not telling me? I’d never forgive you for holding out on me. I’d be incredibly pissed at your lack of faith. And if I say you let opportunities pass you by, it’s because Hildegarda—whom you, of all people introduced me to—is a babe, and if you were interested … Well, she’s really into you.  I’m sure of it, because five or six days ago we arranged to get together for a moment because she had been calling me ever since you introduced us, to show me her work, but since I thought it was odd, the way she looks at you, that you weren’t already involved, I kept putting her off, saying I was busy … Did you know she used to sing in the opera? She even sang at the Met.  Did you already know that, or are you just not surprised? In the chorus, but she sang there, and not everyone gets that far, not even in the chorus.  Stop laughing. Now it seems she’s decided to paint, and so she finally got me up to her house to show me her work. Her husband is in Europe, on a tour, since he’s an opera singer, and, listen, you can’t imagine how good it was. It’s been years since I met a woman who melted like butter at the first touch. With such soft, full lips … and those enormous eyes. I’m telling you this, so you’ll stop being a fool and go for it. And then, get down to work, because in two (two or three?), well, in two or three weeks we have to start hanging canvases. Call her. Really. I don’t mind. You know how we used to … remember the trouble we used to get into? Boy.”

Heribert is surprised not to be amazed. Then he is surprised at being surprised. Why should he have been amazed? What about Hildegarda, wouldn’t she figure out that he and Hug knew each other, and that it was more than likely they would talk about their affairs? He imagines this must be what she wants. Hug lifts his empty glass, and Heribert rushes to open a third bottle of white wine.

When Helena arrives they are eating chocolate cookies and drinking coffee and cognac. She’s arrived in a sweat, carrying two bags from a department store. She kisses each of them on the cheek. Hug helps her put one of the bags on the table, and quickly says goodbye and leaves.

Heribert goes up to the studio. He finds the morning’s colors all pre- pared, a little dry. He sits down. He stares at the painting. He dips the brush into the paint mechanically. The boredom that engulfs him is so great he messes up the application of the paint to the legs of the stool. If he keeps on painting, he’ll ruin it altogether. “If I can’t overcome this boredom,” he thinks, “I won’t be able to go on.” He continues painting and ruins the canvas beyond repair. “At least I’ve been …” He doesn’t know whether to finish the thought with the word sincere, or honest, or consistent. He hears Helena turn on the television. He goes on working despite the fact that each brushstroke wreaks new havoc on the painting.

A half hour later, he considers the painting to be an absolute disaster. He takes it off the easel, half resting it, half throwing it against the wall. He hears Helena turn off the television and tell him she’s leaving, she has to go to the gallery to see if they’ve picked up some lithographs, and if they haven’t, to make sure they do so immediately. As he hears the door close, Heribert places a new, bigger, canvas on another easel.


An hour later, he looks at the new painting, screws up his face into an expression of disgust, takes it off the easel, and throws it on top of the first one. He quickly cleans the brushes and paint and, in doing so, stains his pants. He wonders whether to shower and finally opts for the most passive route: not showering. He changes his pants, doesn’t change his t-shirt, puts a jacket on over it, then a coat and boots. He goes out into the street and into the subway. On the platform he decides to get off at the sixth stop.  “Because six is an insignificant number, a petty number. It’s not brilliant like three, or pleasant like two, or magical like seven, or independent like one, or …” He boards the train. He closes his eyes. So he won’t see the next station and therefore won’t know which line he’s on (which would have made it impossible for him not to figure out what the sixth stop would be), he mentally hums an obsessive tune.

On the street, he buys three papers at the first newsstand he comes across. He walks down the avenue, never stepping on snow that has al- ready been stepped on. This reminds him of when, as a child in Barce- lona, he would walk down the street trying to step only on alternating paving stones, on the diagonal, like in a game of checkers, feeling that, if he missed, a tremendous curse would fall upon him. Every so often, he makes clouds with his breath. He sees a bar with a long window-front.  It’s one of those bars he’s always disliked: too clean, quiet, unnecessarily expensive, and with an annoying tendency to be frequented by people favoring hot chocolate and lattes. He goes in and sits down. It’s hot. He takes off his coat and jacket. He picks up one of the newspapers, looks at the front page, and sees that none of the headlines interests him in the least. He looks over the room: it’s almost empty. There is just one couple, across the room, sitting very close and having espresso. From behind the bar a waiter is approaching, notebook in hand. Heribert understands his purpose. He feels terrified. He doesn’t know what to order.

“What should I have?”

The waiter’s expression shows that he thinks he’s either an obnoxious character who’s trying to give him a hard time or a snob who likes to be waited on down to the smallest detail. Nevertheless, with a smile on his face, he recites:

“A beer? An espresso? A scotch? A bourbon? Pernod? Fernet? Rum? Gin? Tequila? Vodka?”

Humbert orders tequila because the word makes him think of the sun, of a desert, of cactus. A woman with woolen earmuffs going down the street stops for a moment to look at a little Christmas tree, decorated with garlands and tiny balls, in a garbage can. The waiter is already back, serving him the tequila in a small glass. The label on the bottle reads José Cuervo. He also leaves him a saucer with a salt shaker and half a lemon, but the mere thought of going through the ritual of licking the salt and sucking on the lemon before drinking down the tequila irritates him beyond expression. He drinks it down and asks for more. The waiter brings another, in another glass, with another piece of lemon. If he asks for many more tequilas, the table will soon be full of half lemons. So why haven’t they brought him another salt shaker? He had not consumed the lemon and they had brought him another. By the same token, he had not used the salt shaker, and they ought to have brought him another. Something is out of whack here, but the effort required to follow the thread of the argument is so tiring that he turns his attention to something that won’t require him to think so hard.

He looks at his glass and wonders if those little glasses have a special name. If only he had Hildegarda’s dictionary … If only, as before (a before whose border blurs in the distance between two and four weeks earlier), he had the energy to jot down on a scrap of paper “Look up synonyms for glass and find the one that corresponds to little glass …” He remembers the word “tankard” and finds it stunning. Each glass for each different drink ought to have a different name. Once, making small talk, a waiter had told him the names of a number of glasses: “up glasses,” for cocktails served without ice, straight up, like a Manhattan up, or a martini up …; “rock glasses,” for cocktails served with ice or water, like whiskey sours, Manhat- tans, vodka tonics, scotch and water …; “tall glasses,” in which Bloody Marys, piña coladas, Tom Collinses, fizzes, and beer must be served …; “cordial glasses,” for Kahlua and Amaretto-type liqueurs; brandy snifters, for cognac; “sherry glasses,” for Harvey’s Bristol Cream … When he looks back down at his glass, he doesn’t want it any more. He can already predict how it will taste if he brings it to his lips. What a strange feeling, to be repelled by a familiar taste, when till now he had always been nauseated the first time he tried new foods whose taste was unfamiliar!

He looks at the first page of the other two newspapers and pushes them aside. He asks for the check, pays, and just as he is getting up, manages to snatch up the glass and gulp down what’s left. But this gesture seems absurdly tragic to him. He gathers up the papers, sticks them under his arm, and goes outside.

He walks under the tress in a square. All at once, just as he had felt, before going into the bar, that, despite its not appealing to him, it was relax- ing for the place to be clean and quiet, now the neighborhood seems too bland, too pretty. It is a nice neighborhood, and he finds this very unpleas- ant. He throws the paper into the garbage can and breaks into a trot. If only his feelings would take a definite turn instead of this constant fluctuation, this swinging back and forth between desiring and despising …

He goes into the first train station he comes across and gets on the first train that comes along, without looking to see which part of the city it’s heading for; once inside, he shuts his eyes, trying not even to count the number of stations the train stops at.