Using fine point Staedtler pencils, Laredo crosses words in horizontal and vertical lines, together with black-and-white photographs of politicians, artists and famous buildings. There are moments in which a chemical fact does not want to combine with the synonym of imperturbable. Laredo drinks his wine and looks up at the walls. Those who can help him are there, in yellowish photographs, one polished silver frame after another crowding the four sides of the study and leaving room only for one more frame. Every day Laredo looks at the crossword in its chrysalis shape, and then at the photos on the walls.
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Using fine point Staedtler pencils, Laredo crosses words in horizontal and vertical lines, together with black-and-white photographs of politicians, artists and famous buildings. There are moments in which a chemical fact does not want to combine with the synonym of imperturbable.
Laredo drinks his wine and looks up at the walls. Those who can help him are there, in yellowish photographs, one polished silver frame after another crowding the four sides of the study and leaving room only for one more frame.
Every day Laredo looks at the crossword in its chrysalis shape, and then at the photos on the walls. Whom will he invoke today? Carved stone used for arches and vaults , six letters. During the last decade he could have taken advantage of his fame on some occasions, but he did not because he, first and foremost, was an ethical man. It is his only demand: each crossword must be paid upon delivery, except those of Saturday and Sunday, which must be paid on Monday.
Laredo takes a close look at his check, and is surprised by the amount although he knows it by heart. His mother would be very proud of him if she knew he could live of his art. Or a tumor produced by the inflammation of the lymphatic vessels? That evening, everything seemed radiant to Laredo, even the beggar sitting on the curb with a dislocated waist bone between the back and the inferior extremities six letters , and the adolescent who ran into him in the corner and almost made him fall and had a grotesque, protruding shape in the neck produced by the thyroid gland two words, ten letters.
Maybe it was the Italian wine he drank that day in honor of the quality of his last four crosswords. What about one with diverse forms of torture invented by South American military forces in the twentieth century? Was he now superior to his mother, so he could recover his name?
Very little was missing. Very little. There should be a Nobel prize for artists like him. Making a crossword puzzle was as complex and transcendent as writing a poem. With the subtlety and precision of a sonnet, words were interlaced from top to bottom and left to right to create a harmonic and elegant unity. He could not complain: his fame was such in Piedras Blancas that the Mayor was thinking about naming a street after him. On the corner one block from his house, a woman in a black furry coat waited for a cab.
The streetlights were on, their orange glow vain in the pale afternoon light. Laredo walked right by the woman; she turned and looked at him. Her face was of an undefined age: she could have been seventeen or thirty five. She had a white lock falling over her forehead and covering her right eye. Laredo continued walking. He stopped. That face…. An old Ford Falcon was approaching the curb. He turned around. The cab stopped. She got in and did not give him time to continue the conversation.
Laredo waited until the Ford Falcon disappeared. Of whom did she remind him? He was awake until dawn, tossing and turning in bed, ramsacking his memory in search of an image that would somehow correspond to the aquiline nose, the dark skin and the prominent jaw, the apprehensive expression. In the entrance hall of the neighborhood movie theater, eating popcorn while the girls in shiny miniskirts walked by with a brother or boyfriend at their side?
There were the brunettes whose hair smelled of apples, the blondes beautiful thanks to nature or to the tricks of make-up, the women with vulgar faces and the charm or dissatisfaction of the ordinary.
Sunlight filtered shyly through the blinds of the room when Laredo remembered another woman with a white lock over her forehead. The owner of the Palace of the Sleeping Princesses, the store in the neighborhood where Laredo, as an adolescent, used to buy the magazines from which he cut the photographs of celebrities for his crosswords.
The woman had approached him, a hand full of silver rings, when she saw him clumsily hiding, in a corner of the place that smelled of humid newspapers, an issue of Life between the folds of his brown-leather jacket. She would catch him and call the police.
A scandal. In his bed, Laredo relived the vertigo of that forgotten instant. It was the first time that he said it with such a strong conviction. One should not be afraid of anything. The woman drew a smile of complicity. The woman pinched him gently on his right cheek. Laredo ran away, his heart beating as fast as it was beating now, saying over and over that nothing compared to making crosswords. Since then he had not returned to The Palace of Sleeping Princesses out of a mixture of shame and pride.
He wondered what had happened to her? Maybe she was an old woman behind the counter of the store. Maybe she was playing with worms in a cemetery. She did not have anything to do with his present. The only resemblance to Dochera was the white lock of hair. Where could he see her again? If she took a cab so close to his home, maybe she lived nearby.
He trembled at the thought of such hypothetical vicinity, he bit his already bitten nails. It was more probable that she had been visiting a friend. Or relatives. A lover? The following day, Laredo included this definition in the crossword: Woman who waits for a cab at dusk, and who turns solitary and unconsolable men into lovesick beasts.
Seven letters, second vertical row. He had transgressed his principles of fair play, his responsibility to his followers. If the lies that filled the newspapers in the declarations of politicians and government officials extended to the holy bastion of the crossword —so stable in its offering of truths easy to prove with the help of a good encyclopedia — what possibilities did the common citizen have of escaping the general corruption?
Laredo suspended these moral dilemmas. The only thing that mattered was to send a message to Dochera, to let her know he was thinking about her. It was a small city, she would have recognized him. He imagined that the next day she would do the crossword in the office where she worked, and she would find that message of love and it would make her smile.
Dochera , she would slowly write, savoring the moment, and then she would call the newspaper to say she had received the message, they could go for coffee any afternoon. The call never came. Instead, there were calls from many people who vainly tried to solve the crossword and asked for help or complained. When the solution was published, people stared at each other. Who had heard of Dochera? Nobody dared confront Laredo: if he said it, he had his reasons.
Not for nothing did they call him The Maker, and The Maker knew things that nobody else knew. Laredo tried again with: Disturbing and nocturnal apparition, who has turned a lonely heart into a wild and contradictory sum of hope and disquiet. And: At night, all the cabs are gray, and they take away the woman of my life, and with it the principal organ of circulation of my blood.
And: One block away from Solitude, at dusk, there was the awakening of a world. The crosswords kept their habitual quality, but now they carried with them, like a scar that could not heal, a definition that incorporated the name of seven letters.
He should have stopped. He could not. There was some criticism; he did not care. Also, were not geniuses eccentric? The only difference was that Laredo had taken 24 years to find his eccentric side.
There were 57 crosswords and still no answer. Had the woman disappeared? Should he lurk around the neighborhood until meeting her again? He tried that for three nights, with his Lord Cheseline gel shining brightly in his black hair as if he were an angel in a failed mortal incarnation. He felt ridiculous and vulgar stalking her like a robber.
He considered placing a one-page ad in the newspaper, describing Dochera and offering a reward to whoever could tell him about her whereabouts. Very few women would have a white lock, or such a name. He would not do it. There was no greater ad than his crosswords. Now everybody in the city, even those soulless people who were not into crosswords, knew that he was in love with a woman named Dochera. For a pathologically shy individual, Laredo had done more than enough whenever people would ask him who she was, he would look at the floor, then he mumble something about a priceless out-of-print encyclopedia of the Hitites that he had just found in a used bookstore.
One morning, Laredo decided to visit the neighborhood of his youth, in the northwestern part of town, full of weeping willows. Laredo reached the corner where the magazine store was located.
Dochera y otros cuentos
Some early pieces were published while he was still at high school. He has resided in the United States since He obtained an M. Two of his novels have been translated into English. In , he became the first Bolivian to be published by Gallimard. Norte , published in , depicts three experiences of Latin American immigration to the US over an year span.
Dochera y Otros Cuentos
Edmundo Paz Soldán