by Marie Rennard
A Short Story
[ed. This is the English version of the author's short story in French, Ignacio, which can be read on lafrancophonie.net. The translation is by the author.]
(Swans - March 26, 2007) Ignacio loved the white and orange cones arranged on the pavement to signal road works. He truly dreamt of wearing one as a hat after work to mark a clear-cut rupture with his fanciless days.
The only touch of colour today in the windowless office had been brought in by the tender and unusual yellow of the invoice of a new toilet paper supplier. Ignacio had closed his eyes to smell the honey of the paper, and had imagined himself a scarecrow in a field of sunflowers, crowned with the fluorescent cone, desperately trying to threaten rooks laughing at his discomfited appearance.
The metallic voice of his chief had squeaked to his ear through the dream:
"Do toilet paper invoices inspire you Ignacio? Could you work please, harder?"
Ignacio had not sighed. He had just put the invoice on his desk to smooth it with his sleeve. He had noted the VAT number, including every decimal, had thought of embellishing it with a circumflex accent on the last six to get a surprising effect, and had renounced to it, with a sigh this time. Anyway the program would have refused it.
He reluctantly left the yellow invoice for another white one.
At his very beginnings in this job, he had encouraged himself by counting them. One hundred and thirty left, one hundred and ten left... He always thought of numbers as long chains of cursive characters; it made them funnier and more susceptible to variation...
He had soon understood that the pile of white invoices deceitfully enriched itself at night, and that his own days would forever dissolve without a fizz into a stodgy ocean of numbers. He was resigned to it, and tried to harness his thoughts during work time to avoid troubles.
Although he had been born with a fanciful mind, family tradition had led him to pursue the sure and respectable occupation of an accountant. His parents had trained him since his childhood. His first short pants had been as grey as his father's suits and mother's skirts. On his second birthday, his ungovernable locks had been shaved.
He could remember quite well what had happened at that precise moment: his locks had started growing inside, driving along his thoughts in shimmering spirals, making him sigh with happiness when their moving extremities came to skim over the clock of his seconds.
He used to listen to his clock quite often. It did not toll hours like the big waxed one in the living room, it just counted his own time, small regular pulsations, except when he was frightened: the clock then started to count faster, and he could see in the shadow el lobo negro his father sometimes threatened him with.
Nobody knew he had this clock in his chest, except perhaps the family's doctor. The old man sometimes appeared to carefully listen to something in his chest when Ignacio was ill, but then Ignacio tried to make it silent, successfully he thought, since the doctor never had talked about it.
This remembrance made him smile. He strode over the joint between two paving stones, won the bonus of the manhole cover kicking his left foot on it before walking round a street lamp he politely greeted. The street lamp was a badly educated one, and didn't answer him.
Ignacio was pulverizing in his jacket pocket the bus ticket on which he had noted the toilet paper supplier's telephone number. A wee happiness tingle skimmed over his heart. That was not unpleasant, finally -- even if he had been quite disappointed to learn it was not a clock. Moreover, clocks all obeyed the same geometry, whereas hearts...
He thought (tenderly) of the one on the painting at church, crowned with orange flames, shivered (lamentably) to the remembrance of the pig's heart he had had to dissect at school while his own was (really) beginning to race at the contact of the bus ticket in his pocket.
His locks inside had started vibrating, and he missed a bonus.
He rushed into a phone booth and dialed the number. It rang three times before the message recorder enounced:
"Paradero Ltd, our offices are open from Mondays to Fridays, nine AM to six PM........................sunflower and celidulindese."
He had placed so many hopes on the yellow paper that the banal message had left him standing still in the phone booth for a bunch of seconds, and then he had very distinctly heard something. No, that was not something, that was "sunflower and celidulindese." Sunflower and celidulindese he repeated loudly while leaving.
A housewife passing by threw an unlenient glance at him.
Ignacio took a few slow steps, doubtful, and then started walking briskly again down to the following corner to find another phone booth. He had to know.
"Paradero Ltd, our offices are open from Mondays to Fridays, nine AM to six PM.....................sunflower and celidulindese."
That was stronger this time, slightly but undoubtedly stronger.
"Enough of adverbs," reproached Ignacio, whose strong taste for them got on his own nerves.
"But, it was incredib..." He bit his tongue.
"It was clear, yes, an adjective is enough"
"Celidulindese, that must be a flower, that may be a flower, that can't be not a flower"
"Poor fool; can't you see you're getting nuts?"
Ignacio frowned, planted his fists in his pockets, pivoted on his left heel and started walking again. One would see at the florist who was right.
The florist knew quite well the man who had just come in. She distrusted him. This apparently respectable swaggerer sometimes came into the shop when she was busy out back, and used to run away as soon as she was coming in to serve him. She was almost sure he only aimed at stealing the subtle fragrances of roses and the violent perfumes of lilacs, but she had never before dared stopping him to inspect his nostrils. This time, she decided the grey suit would not intimidate her, and she hid in her set her bottle sweeping brush. She would control him anyway if he tried to go out without buying flowers. If he wanted to smell free, there were worthless wild flowers enough.
Ignacio smiled at the opulent florist, surprised by the comic frontal swelling of her hair.
"I'd like a sunflower"
"Is that for a present?"
"No, it's to be smelt at once"
The florist, fleetingly reassured, instantaneously frowned. She was bending to reach the plump stalk when Ignacio added:
"I'd like two celidulindeses with it, of the same yellow, if you have any of course."
The florist disappeared in the back of the shop, and he could hear her call the police on the phone. He took a wide breath of the sugared smell of clove pinks next to him and ran out.
"I was right!"
"I was right, she called the police when you said celidulindese."
"Blablablablabla.... Anyway the voice said it, you heard it like me."
"I didn't hear anything, and I find you rather extreme tonight. If you don't stop it now, you'll get trouble in the office again tomorrow. You're no longer a kid, let's go back home, have dinner and sleep."
"Ho no, I'm the chief after working time, you have to respect our agreement."
"Do you respect it yourself, dreaming of being a scarecrow instead of treating your quota of invoices?"
Ignacio submitted himself. He went back home, insensibly moving his right big toe when his left shoe was touching one of the irregular spots of chewing gum on the macadam.
All through the night, Ignacio dreamt of golden-pistiled celidulindeses flaunting their stalks covered with sugared pollen, and was still clearly turned on with it when he woke up. No doubt the day of work would appease his ardour.
He came into his office hiding his crotch behind the pages of El Pays, the sole paper that was tolerated here, and sat resignedly at his narrow table, instantaneously feeling itches in the legs.
White invoices were following white invoices, and Ignacio's sighs earned him the exasperated sighs of his colleagues. The uniformly round clock of the office was hardly marking ten by the time Ignacio's one had already reached Sunday.
On Sunday, he would go for a walk in the countryside of Barcelona, he would explore each dune, each fold in the ground to try to find celidulindeses. He would bring his lunch and a bottle of white wine, and wouldn't come back before night. He smiled, provoking a perceptible malaise among his colleagues and a smashing riposte of his chief who violently slapped his metallic ruler on Ignacio's desk. Ignacio gave a jump, and a last sigh, of relief that time. He could now get up to go to the toilets without strategically holding his paper before him.
During his brief pause in front of the urinal, he elaborated a complete plan. He would have to pay a visit to his parent's tonight to steal one of his father's jackets, considerably larger than his own.
He had been right to bet that decency would prevent his colleagues from any embarrassing comment. When he came on the following Saturday, dressed in a far too wide jacket, the reactions were limited to reproving glances at him and a few whispers, but nobody asked him for explanations. When the last hour of the week tolled, Ignacio imperturbably checked a last invoice while everybody was rushing out. As soon as he was reasonably sure to be alone, Ignacio reached the lift fastening his buttons up to the collar, and walked towards the tools abandoned on the pavement. He gave a furtive glance around before crouching down so as to slide the cone into his jacket, mumbling against his paper that was embarrassing him, and of which he got rid in the street gutter. Then, holding on his belly his precious accessory, he went back home.
He put the wine in the fridge for the next day, took out of the freezer a part of Stroganoff ox, and started reading a treatise about puns and tongue twisters.
On the following morning, dressed with a light shirt and white trousers, his basket in his right hand, and the cone under his left arm, he travelled to the country by bus. He waited for the flow of people to scatter along the beach and resolutely took the direction of the hills. He stopped for a moment at the first corner of the path to bind the cone to his head with a leather belt. That was as heavy as it was uncomfortable, but so amusing!
Soon drunk with the smell of flowers, Ignacio started gambolling around raising high his knees and elbows to feel better the cool air in his back, and then started running down the hill, faster and faster, his eyes closed and mouth wide open. His right foot struck a root, the weight of the cone drove him straight forward and he fell flat, his nose violently hurting an innocent stone. He picked up the cone that had damaged his left eye, massaged his knee, checked the bottle of wine, and noticed with surprise his nose was not bleeding. He lifted his hand to his bruised nostrils, and felt the warmth of the plant that had obstructed them, stopping the hemorrhage. He carefully looked at the flower, and suddenly lost his breath. This flower couldn't exist. It was the celidulindese of his dream, as improbable in its structure as a vertebra in an exoskeleton. He couldn't move, staring at the flower, until he heard at his back:
"Looks like you've found a celidulindese."
"It does, I can't believe..."
Without getting up, Ignacio turned round. An incontestably highly feminine creature was standing in front of him, her long wavy hair putting in evidence the audacious swelling of her bosoms. Poor Ignacio started jabbering, looking for his paper until he remembered there was no Sunday issue. He quickly untied the cone to put it on his pelvis.
"Do you know these flowers?" asked Ignacio.
"Yes, I'm an occasional exobotanist, and I thought I alone was aware of their existence. I discovered them a year ago. They must come from some atypical asteroid, and are periodically driven to our planet by solar winds when they become mature in their original environment. These flowers are reluctant to die, and have decided to migrate to survive a bit longer. Their overdeveloped pistils aim at attracting old bees whose sight is lower. The bees trust the colour and take them for small sunflowers. I suppose the celidulindese are trying to cross themselves with sunflowers to increase their longevity."
"Do sunflowers live longer than other flowers?"
"You'd better put your hat on, the sun's heating up."
"I'd rather we joined the pines over there."
He got up keeping the cone in front of him, got red thinking of the obscene image he presented with this thing here, hesitated and threw it away, replacing it with the basket. The girl picked up the cone and followed Ignacio breathing deeply inside.
"These plants apparently have particularly performing homeostatic properties," said the girl while examining Ignacio's nose. "You're hardly bleeding."
The abundance of adverbs joined to the proximity of the girl's bosoms made Ignacio grab the basket harder.
"You've told me you're an exobotanist," he said to distract her from the meticulous examination of his nose. "What else do you do?"
"My job is nothing interesting. I work as a switch board operator in a society that sells toilet paper. When I'm getting bored, between two phone calls, I list my unusual flowers."
She started caressing her clavicles. Ignacio's basket lifted a bit more on his knees. Paradero, this girl was the one who had registered the message at Paradero's, he vas sure of it. He felt the girl delicately putting the orange cone on his head.
"That's unexpected, but it suits you quite well. Does your hair always grow so fast?" She asked rolling a lock around her middle finger.
Ignacio touched his head, and couldn't believe it. His locks had started growing outside again. He opened his mouth with surprise and his sight got dark when the girl kissed him, sliding her hand under the basket. That was, absolutely, remarkably, incredibly delicious.
When Ignacio managed to talk again, in the middle of the afternoon, he proposed to the girl to join him for lunch. They shared what could be saved of the Stroganoff ox scattered on the ground where Ignacio had fallen. The meat was enriched by a few red ants whose formic acid marvelously married the white wine hoarseness.
Shadows were lying long on the ground, announcing the inevitable realities of the following Sunday. Ignacio gallantly bent on Celidulindese's hand, and went back smiling to the bus stop. He had discretely slid in the girl's bag his new Sunday hat, in which he had engraved his telephone number. If she was honest, she would have to call him back before the night. If she wasn't, well, if she wasn't, Ignacio would go for a haircut on his way to work on the next morning.
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