The Rings Of Saturn – Chapter 4

Last week our correspondent Emmanuel, writing to the woman he abandoned in London, was invited by the artist Edouardo Del Bosques to be his amanuensis. All of a sudden, Emmanuel finds a reason to live.

~

Dear Em,

Been a few days since I last wrote. In fact, just over a week. How time flies! Have you been in touch? Can’t quite tell. Would have thought you’d let me know how things are with Great Aunty Baby. How is the game old bird? Been sober for best part of four days now. Had the most startling of revelations. What if I don’t want to die at all? I’m still mad as hell at you for what you did to us,  you sour old hook, but not to the point where I want to die. Had the mother of all hangovers after kicking the drink; three days. Couldn’t eat the first day. Second day was on fluids, and yesterday all the pigs’ ears in Madrid couldn’t have sated me. That’s when the thought came to me. The pile diminishes. Still plenty left, but I’ll need to start earning if I’m to carry on living. Bosques hasn’t yet discussed any financial arrangement with me save for some line about being compensated for my time through “royalties”. Yet to see any form of contract.

Life is good. Maybe that’s why I left Baby when I did. Couldn’t bear to leave her, really. 

Finally started work with Bosques today. He called it off sick the first day, and left me to my own devices. Think it was a trick, see if I’d go and get pissed. Decided not to. Good decision. Passed an absinthe bar on my travels though the city; bought a bottle, expensive one, but so far just looked at it. Who knows; maybe you’ll write me one of these days, let me know what’s happening with you. Then I’ll need it. 

Do hurry.

Not sure how much thought Bosques has given this amanuensis business. Thought they were usually used for writers or musicians or such. He wants me to translate ideas from his head on the paper. With words and music this is easy. Anything that comes out the mouth is objective. I sing a C#, that’s exactly what you hear, right, Em? But the stuff inside a person’s head? Times like this one realises the limitations of language: it’s clunky and unreliable and does a terrible job of capturing subjective “truth”.

Mind you, he has a wonderful studio. Penthouse apartment, filled with artistic detritus, the remnants of a half-fizzled-out career. Views over Banca de España and bits of the park. Could enjoy being here. You’d love it, old girl. One day, eh?

He suggested we start with some breezy sketches, nothing too specific. Try to capture some moods, some feelings. 

“Isn’t there something specific you’d like to work on?” I asked.

“Yes, but for now we must establish a pattern of working, so you understand my method of thinking, or working.”

I pushed him. Wanted to know why I was being asked to do this. Said he wanted to capture the decrepitude of the city.

“Of Madrid?” I asked.

“Of course. It is full of ancient things, and like all ancient things, bits and pieces begin to fall away.”

“Do you mean it’s like…” I gingerly motioned towards his own body. Didn’t want to say it outright.

“…Like my own withered body? You can say it, Emmanuel! Yes. Yes, I mean that. I have an image in my head; where the old buildings of Lavapiés reach out and dismantle the ugly bastard towers of the CTBA, towering over them like the branches of willows as those skyscrapers collapse into the dust.”

“The what?”

“Cuatro Torres Business Area. Another soulless, shiny mausoleum. You are from London, so you will know what I speak of.”

I nodded and sketched out some conceptual designs which prompted only a grumble or a mutter. Sometimes he offers unhelpful, cryptic advice. “I want this to be part me, and part you, Emmanuel.” I tend to ignore such trite nonsense, and just focus on the images.

Sometimes he shouts in Spanish, holding his pincers above his head like a dilapidated ballerina. He tried to rip the leaf of paper from the desk and fling it away at one point but his hands didn’t quite allow it. Certain tragedy in that. Finished the day with nine unfinished sketches of fruit, buildings and faces, incomplete fragments that end up disused on the floor. Doubt any of them will be used. Bosques gets migraines, sometimes staggers around the studio.

Spent half the night trawling the streets again, this time sober. When I was drunk, saw the old place in a different light. Was angrier at it then, angry at its gentrification, but why? Pissed-up rage is no way to see the world, and shaking one’s fist at the sky is a fool’s errand. Did I mention before that this city is full of ghosts? I think I was right, but nobody seems to see them but me. This city is old, truly old. Not in the same way as other old cities; this place feels like the old inhabitants never really left, they just withered. It feels like it’s the living who are truly the imposters. The Sun only rises for a quarter of the day. The rest is retreat, and darkness. Things die because people let them die. Bosques understands that. That’s why he desperately wants to imagine this place as surviving. Maybe you only get to understand that when you’re old and close to death. I was old and close to death not so long ago, as you well know. You almost took me there, you pickled old sow, didn’t you? No longer. When one is reborn nothing seems inevitable; I’ve turned the tide, been given a purpose. From certain hilltop vistas the glistening metal phalluses of the financial quarter offer their slimy impregnation of the blood-riven skyline. Close to my eye the older buildings, all wooden blinds and cheap wine and battered stereos heaving out Latin jazz fusions breathe with an erratic pulse. The party at the end of the world isn’t an almighty blowout; it’s a chillout zone long after the hedonism has hit its peak.

I returned to the studio at 1am or so, and began to sketch. Remembered the structure of the vista on the hilltops, and ploughed it down, trying new forms for marrying the old and the new. I stopped at 5am to write this. 6am now. Eyes drooping. Still dark outside. Music outside’s stopped. I’ll be sleeping in the studio for the night, or what’s left of it.

E x

<<<>>>

Chapter 5

Published by Dan Jones

I'm a science fiction writer and podcaster. My debut novel Man O’War was published in 2018 by Snowbooks, and I’ve had a few short stories published here and there. I also host Chronscast, the official podcast of SFF Chronicles, the world's largest science-fiction and fantasy community. Away from writing I work for the UK Space Agency on a programme of space robotics for advanced satellite and planetary exploration technologies. All of which comes in rather handy when coming up with new ideas for science fiction stories.

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