Read The Frozen Heart Online

Authors: Almudena Grandes

Tags: #Literary, #General, #Fiction

The Frozen Heart

Table of Contents
Also by Almudena Grandes
The Ages of Lulu
The Wind from the East
The Frozen Heart
A Weidenfeld & Nicolson ebook
First published in Great Britain in 2010 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
This ebook first published in 2010 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
© Almudena Grandes 2007 Translation © Frank Wynne 2010
The rights of Almudena Grandes and Frank Wynne, to be identified as the author and translator of this work
respectively, have been asserted in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in Spain as
El corazón helado
in 2007 by Tusquets Editores
This work has been published with a subsidy from the Directorate General of Books, Archives and Libraries of the Spanish Ministry of Culture.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor to be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
eISBN : 978 0 2978 5586 6
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Weidenfeld & Nicolson
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
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A Hachette UK Company
To Luis.
To Mauro, to Irene and to Elisa
I watch over you.
One of the two Spains will freeze your heart
Antonio Machado
I am tired of not knowing where to die. This is the greatest sadness of the emigrant. What is there to connect us to the cemeteries in the countries in which we live? [. . .]
Don’t you understand ? We are the ones who have observed each and every thought for thirty years. For thirty years we have longed for a lost paradise, a paradise that is unique, special, that is ours. A paradise of crumbling houses and collapsing roofs. A paradise of deserted streets, of unburied dead. A paradise of razed walls, fallen towers and devastated fields [. . .] We are the exiles of Spain [. . .] Leave us our ruins. We must begin again from the ruins. We will get there.
María Teresa León,
Memoria de la Melancolía
(Buenos Aires, 1970)
What distinguishes man from the animals is that man is an heir, not simply a descendant.
José Ortega y Gasset
he women weren’t wearing tights. Their fat, fleshy knees bulged over the elastic of their socks, peeking out from under the hem of their dresses, which were not really dresses but shapeless, collarless smocks made of some lightweight fabric I could not name. I looked at them, planted like squat trees in the unkempt cemetery, wearing no stockings, no boots, and with no other coat than the coarse woollen jackets they kept closed by folding their arms across their chests.
The men weren’t wearing overcoats either, but their jackets - made of a darker shade of the same coarse wool - were buttoned up to hide the fact that they had their hands in their pockets. Like the women, they all looked identical - shirts buttoned to the throat, heavy stubble, hair close cropped. Some wore caps, others were bare headed, but, like the women, they adopted the same stance: legs apart, heads held high, feet planted firmly in the ground like stout trees, ancient and strong, impervious to cold or catastrophe.
My father, like them, had had no time for people who were sensitive to the cold. I remembered that as I stood with the icy wind from the sierras slashing at my face - ‘a bit of a breeze’, he would have called it. In early March the sun can be deceitful, pretending to be riper, warmer, on one of those late winter mornings when the sky seems like a photograph of itself, the blue so intense it looks as though a child had coloured it in with a crayon - a perfect sky, clear, deep, translucent; in the distance, the mountains’ peaks still capped with snow, a few pale clouds ravelling slowly, their unhurried progress completing this perfect illusion of spring. ‘A glorious day’, my father would have said, but I was cold as the icy wind whipped at my face and the damp seeped through the soles of my boots, my woollen socks, through the delicate barrier of skin. ‘You should have been in Russia, or Poland, now that was cold’, my father would say when as kids we grumbled about the cold on mornings like this. ‘You should have been in Russia, or Poland, now that was cold’. I remembered his words as I stared at these men, these hardy men who did not feel the cold, men he had once resembled. ‘You should have been in Russia, or Poland’, and the voice of my mother saying, ‘Julio, don’t say things like that to the children . . .’
‘Are you all right, Álvaro?’
I heard my wife’s voice, felt the pressure of her fingers, her hand searching for mine in my coat pocket. Mai turned to me, her eyes wide, her smile uncertain; the expression of someone intelligent enough to know that, in the face of death, there is no possible consolation. The tip of her nose glowed pink and the dark hair that usually tumbled over her shoulders lashed at her face.
‘Yes,’ I said after a moment. ‘Yes, I’m fine.’
I squeezed her fingers and then she left me to my thoughts.
There may be no consolation in the face of death, but it would have pleased my father to be buried on a morning like this, so similar to the mornings when he would bundle us all into the car and drive to Torrelodones for lunch. ‘A glorious day, just look at that sky, and the Sierra! You can see all the way to Navacerrada. The air is so fresh it’d bring a dead man back to life . . .’ Mamá never enjoyed these trips, though she had spent her summers in Torrelodones as a child and it was where she had met her future husband. I didn’t enjoy them either, but we all loved him - his strength, his enthusiasm, his joy - and so we smiled and sang ‘
ahora que vamos despacio vamos a contar mentiras, ¡tra-la-rá!, vamos a contar mentiras
’, all the way to Torrelodones. It’s a curious town: from a distance, it looks like a housing estate, but as you draw nearer it seems to be nothing more than a train station and a scatter of buildings. ‘You know why it’s called Torrelodones?’ Of course we knew, it was named after the little fortress that perched like a toy castle on top of the hill, the Torre de los Lodones, yet every time we came he would explain it to us again. ‘The fortress is an ancient tower built by the Lodones, they were a tribe, a bit like the Visigoths . . .’ My father always claimed he didn’t like the town, but he loved taking us there, to show us the hills and the mountains and the meadows where as a boy he had tended sheep with his father; he loved to wander the streets, stopping to chat with everyone, and afterwards telling us the same stories: ‘That’s Anselmo - his grandfather was my grandfather’s cousin. That woman over there is Amada and the woman with her is Encarnita, they’ve been friends since they were little girls. That man over there, his name’s Paco, he had a vicious temper, but my friends and I used to steal apples from his orchard . . .’
At the slightest sound Paco would rush out of his house waving his rifle, though he never actually shot at the boys who were stealing his cherries, his figs. Anselmo was much older than my father; by rights he should have been long dead, yet here he was at my father’s funeral, and beside him Encarnita. Beneath the wizened mask of old age, I could still see the plump, friendly faces that had smiled into my childish eyes. It had been years - more than twenty years - since that last ‘glorious Sunday morning’ when my father had taken us to Torrelodones for lunch. I hadn’t been back since and the sight of all these people moved me. Time had been cruel to some of them, gentler to others, but they had all washed up on the shore of an old age that was very different to my father’s. At some other time, some other place, some other funeral, I probably wouldn’t have recognised them in the dark mass of huddled bodies, but that morning I stared at each of them in turn, at their powerful bodies, their solid legs, their natural, almost haughty, formality, their shoulders aged but not bowed, their dark, tawny skin, weathered by the mountain sun which burns but does not tan. Their cheeks were etched with long wrinkles, deep as scars. No delicate web of crow’s feet round their eyes, but deep, hard lines, as though time had carved their faces with a chisel thicker than the fine blade it had used on my father.
Julio Carrión González might have been born in a little house in Torrelodones, but he died in a hospital in Madrid, his skin ashen, his eldest daughter - an intensive care doctor - in attendance, and with every tube and monitor and machine available. Long ago, before I was conceived, his life had taken a different path from the lives of the men and women he had known as a boy, the people who had outlived him, who had come to his funeral as if from another time, another world, from a country that no longer existed. Life had changed in Torrelodones too. I knew that if they had time, if they knew someone with a phone, a car, these people would also die surrounded by tubes and monitors and machines. I knew that the fact that they still left the house without an overcoat, a purse or tights said little about their bank balance, which had been steadily growing over the years thanks to the influx of people from Madrid prepared to pay any price for a plot of land barely big enough to graze a dozen sheep on. I knew all this, yet looking across the grave at their weather-beaten faces, the stocky frames, the threadbare corduroy trousers, the cigarette butts clenched defiantly between the lips of some, what I saw was the abject poverty of the past. In the fat, bare knees of these women with nothing to keep out the cold but a coarse woollen jacket, I saw a harsher, crueller Spain.
We stood on the opposite side of the grave. His family, the well-dressed product of his prosperity, his widow, his children, his grandchildren, some of his colleagues, the widows of former colleagues, a few friends from the city I lived in, from the world I knew and understood. There weren’t many of us. Mamá had asked us not to tell people. ‘I mean, Torrelodones, it’s hardly Madrid,’ she said, ‘people might not want to come all that way . . .’ We realised that she wanted only those closest to her at the funeral, and we had respected her wishes. I hadn’t told my sisters-in-law, nor my mother’s brothers, I hadn’t even told Fernando Cisneros, my best friend since university. There weren’t many of us, but we weren’t expecting anyone else.
I hate funerals, everyone in the family knows that. I hate the gravediggers, their offhand manner, the predictable, hypocritical expression of condolence they put on when their eyes accidentally meet those of the bereaved. I hate the sound of the shovels, the grating of the coffin against the sides of the grave, the quiet whisper of the ropes; I hate the ritual of throwing handfuls of earth and single roses on to the coffin and the insincere, portentous homily. I hate the whole macabre ceremony, which inevitably turns out to be so brief, so banal, so unimaginably
. That’s why I was standing with Mai off to one side, almost out of earshot of the droning voice of Father Aizpuru, the priest Mamá had invited from Madrid. The man who, she claimed, had kept her children on the straight and narrow, the priest my older brothers still treated with the same infantile reverence he had cultivated when he refereed football matches in the schoolyard. I’d never liked him. In my last year in primary school, he was my tutor, and he used to make us exercise in the playground stripped to the waist on the coldest days of winter.

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