Part Two: The Tree
The evening, just after eight, that part of the tree fell, we did not go to the bar to sit outside at our favorite table, smashed into pieces all too soon by the weight of fallen branches.
The next day, I arrived there with Julian, my drinking companion of just twenty-five who, as we sipped our wine and beer, uttered once again his refrain that he would not live to see fifty.
I asked him, and not for the first time, what made him reckon that, far from getting to my age of sixty, he would not even make it to half a century, and he replied, as if by rote, that it was not just a random feeling, but a sense of certainty that impelled him to sound his own death-knell so often while still alive.
Straining to detect in his youthful features some sign of the blight that he feared would befall him while still in his prime, I was distracted by the appearance of Walter, the anthropology student who worked there as a waiter in the evening and who, pointing at the tree, explained in a tremulous voice, "You guys must have a guardian angel or two. Most evenings you are both here by eight, to make the most of our happy hour and, whenever it's free, as it was yesterday, you sit at your favorite table. But not last night and thank heaven for that. For months we had been phoning the council to come and remove the overgrowth that was making the tree lopsided, but they kept on putting it off and yesterday evening, in that squall that came out of nowhere, some heavy branches fell, reducing the table to smithereens. Had you been sitting there, you would have been gonners, I can vouch for that."
As Walter took our orders, before heading back into the bar, I pondered the fact that had an urgent freelance assignment not come in from a consulting agency for which I worked, I would have invited Julian to share some drinks at our home-from-home next to the tree.
Was it my imagination or did I notice a hint of apprehension as, picking up his glass, Julian intoned in an English almost as perfect as his Spanish, "For as long as we live."
I echoed his words and, clinking our glasses, we laughed, but there was more short-lived relief than joy in the words we used to toast.
When Walter came back with the bill, I asked, "As we are old-timers, had we ended up in the morgue, do you think that the bar would have stretched to two statues, in our memory?”
Walter's laughter had a dark undertone. To lighten the mood, I hazarded, "For irony, it's got to be up there with Shakespeare, who died on his fifty-second birthday, during a drinking bout with friends. Imagine if all that wood had cleaved our heads in half just as we were raising the glasses to our lips."
Walter seemed to smirk as he retorted, "Times are hard. Even if a whip-round came up with the funds, any such monument would be lucky to survive a single day. Haven’t you heard of the mafia that robbed a bronze statue, even though it weighed almost half a tonne, from Chacarita cemetery? So the best we can offer you both is papier mache."
I could not banish from my mind the thought of our paper effigies, plundered to jazz up some children's party, and then left out in the rain, the paint trickling down our faces, like smudged mascara.
Part One: Plummeting Like Lead
Part Three: The New World
"The Power of Prose"