Chapter 8

The day they give me an expiration date

Illustration by Paloma Agüera

He arrived and the table was already set for two with the appetizers before the paella: olives, french fries and some mussels that stained the tablecloth in a dotted line and reported them to those who were not expecting to see both start snacking.

– A beer?

– No, thanks – said the nephew – I don’t drink when I drive.

He lit up a cigarette while his uncle left the living room to pour the rice and pushed the ashtray full of cigarette butts from between the plates. He looked at some of the family photos where his father also was and wondered again about this invitation to be alone with this jerk.

While he was making time in the kitchen, the uncle was mentally preparing the questions and possible answers, at the same time cursing the sting that cutting some lemon slices had produced in the hangnails of his fingers. Between them, the living room and the kitchen, a narrow corridor, so narrow that it seemed they could not fit one or the other to get closer and bridge the walls between them.

An awkward silence once the two sat down, facing each other, separated by a pan full of yellow rice that reflected even more on the red tablecloth. Whatever interrupted it, “Shall I serve you?” or “Maybe it lacks salt,” was so unnatural that they both missed the silence in those few seconds of sound.

– I invited you to lunch to tell you something very important – he said with a half-smile after the third can of beer, feeling secure about what he was going to say – I don’t know what you know about your father’s disease, but.

– Little, and little is what I want to know – said the young man, anticipating any certainty that could hurt him.

The uncle turned up the television volume, picked up the grains scattered on the tablecloth, further staining it with ash falling from his cigar, and said a couple of self-indulgent sentences about his rice. He left his brother’s son in the living room after another awkward silence and returned to the kitchen to rethink how to deal with the topic.

As he was leaving, angry at the umpteenth family trap, but sure of his ignorance, they passed through each other in the corridor and it became even smaller, a tunnel with no way out.

– The disease anticipates ten years in each generation – said the uncle suddenly, checking how, within seconds, his nephew’s skin bristled – if your father started when he was forty – he continued with a trembling voice, with many doubts of having started, but conscious that he had to finish it – you, well, you know, in case you had it, which you don’t have, well, you know.

He went out rubbing the walls and felt dirty because of the narrowness that made him touch the one who had passed his sentence. Once in the car, he leaned his head against the steering wheel to stop it, as if his thoughts would stop spinning.

I was 18 years old and, I thought, only 12 more to go.

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