Read The Secret of Evil Online

Authors: Roberto Bolaño

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary

The Secret of Evil (10 page)

I finished eating before they did and went off to my bedroom and
shut the door. My brother came to tell me there was a good movie on, but I said
I had to get up early. I wasn’t sleepy. I took off my shoes and flopped onto the
bed, still dressed, with the complete works of Xenophanes of Colophon (“For all
things are from earth and in earth all things end”), until I heard them get up
from the table. First they went to the kitchen, washed the dishes, laughed again
(what was there in the kitchen that could have made them laugh?) and then they
came back to the living room and started watching something on TV. I can’t
remember falling asleep. But I do remember this: a sentence from Xenophanes (“He
sees as a whole, he thinks as a whole, he hears as a whole”) which for some
reason I found unsettling. I was woken by noises from my brother’s room. At
first, although the light was still on in my room, I didn’t know where I was.
Then I heard the shouting and the moaning. It was my brother moaning, I was
absolutely sure of that. And one of the South Americans was shouting (in an
urgent, imperious, affectionate way), but I couldn’t tell which one of them it
was. I got undressed, put on my nightie, and for a while I just lay there
listening and thinking. I tried to read Xenophanes, but I couldn’t get past the
following sentence or fragment: “wild cherry.” It made me feel very sad. Then I
got up and tried to hear what the South American was saying. With my ear to the
wall I could hear the odd word or sentence (in a way it was like reading the
fragments of Xenophanes): “that’s the way,” “nice and tight,” “careful,”
“slowly.” Then I went back to bed and fell asleep. In the morning, for the first
time in I don’t know how many years, my brother didn’t have breakfast with

I thought they’d done something to him; I knocked on his door. After a
while he said to come in. The room smelt of the hair-removal cream my brother
uses. I asked him if he was sick. He said no, he was fine, but he thought he’d
go to work a bit later.

“And the South Americans?”

“In Mom and Dad’s room, sleeping. We stayed up late last night.”

“I heard you,” I said. “You went to bed with one of them.”

My brother surprised me by laughing.

“Did we wake you up?”

“No, I woke up anyway, I was feeling restless, then I heard you. By
chance. I wasn’t spying on you.”

“Well, it’s no big deal. Let me get a bit more sleep.”

I stood there, frozen, watching him, not knowing what to do or say,
until I heard voices in Mom and Dad’s room and then I turned around and walked
out of the apartment without having breakfast. I worked all morning in a daze,
as if I was the one who hadn’t gotten any sleep. At midday I went to have lunch
at a Chinese restaurant where some of the other girls from the Academía Malú
used to go and then I went walking in the streets around Plaza de España. I
thought about when I was seven and my brother was sixteen and he was the person
I loved most in the world. One time he told me that his dream was to play
Maciste when he grew up. I had no idea who Maciste was, so he showed me a
picture of him in a movie magazine. I didn’t like him. You’re much better
looking, I said, and he looked pleased and smiled. Then, for some reason, as I
was walking around, I remembered him hugging Mom and Dad, giving them all his
pay, taking me to the movies (though we never went to see a Maciste film), and
doing little poses in front of the mirror in the elevator.

I must have been feeling terrible that afternoon — though I can’t
really remember; I know I was thinking about my brother and our apartment, and
my mental images of him and of it seemed to be shackled, sunken, black and
white, irreparable — and it must have been obvious because even Montse García
came over to ask if there was something wrong.

“What could possibly be wrong?” I said. I guess I must have said it in
a way that sounded aggressive, although I didn’t mean to.

“Maybe that brother of yours has been horrible to you,” said Montse.

“Enric is going through a rough patch, but he’s gradually getting it
together,” I replied. “He’s trying to find his way, which is more than you can
say for some.”

From the way Montse looked at me I guessed that she still felt
something for him.

“Your brother’s a bad person, seriously,” she said. “He’s never
satisfied with anything, but he doesn’t know what he wants. He’ll screw things
up for everyone else just to make himself happy, but the thing is he doesn’t
know how to be happy. Am I making myself clear?”

“I could kill you sometimes,” I said.

“I know it’s not easy to hear this stuff. But you’re alone in the
world, Marta, and you have to watch out for yourself. I like you. You’re a good
person and that’s why I’m saying this, although I know you’re not going to

For a moment I was tempted to tell her about what had happened the
night before, but I decided that it was better to keep my mouth shut.

That night, when I got home, Enric, Florencio and Tomé were already in
the living room watching TV. I made a coffee and sat as far away from them as I
could, at the end of the table, near the window, where my father used to sit.
Enric and Tomé were sprawled on the sofa and Florencio was in the armchair,
which is where I normally sit to watch TV. There were containers of
high-calorie, high-protein food scattered over the table, the kind my brother
eats, but these were new. I also saw a baguette, ham, cheese, and several
bottles of beer.

“The guys brought some supplies,” said my brother.

I didn’t respond. The containers of food, the pills, the Fuel Tank and
the Super Egg (vanilla and chocolate flavored, respectively) were expensive,
more than five thousand pesetas a tub, and I couldn’t imagine that scruffy pair
having so much money. It would have cost them more than fifty thousand pesetas
all together.

“Where did you steal it from?”

“I like your sister,” said Florencio.

My brother looked at me and then at them with a half-amused,
half-incredulous expression on his face.

“We went to get some stuff from our place,” said Florencio. “And we
decided to pick up some food on the way.”

“I brought my tarot cards as well,” said Tomé.

“If you have a place of your own, why do you want to move in

“That was just a manner of speaking,” said Florencio. “Actually, it’s
a boarding house. When you don’t have a place of your own, you end up calling
any place home, even a shithole like that boarding house. Enric invited us to
stay here for a few days, till we see how things work out.”

“In other words, you’re broke.”

“You could say our finances are tight.”

At that moment, for some reason, they looked handsome to me. Both of
them had just taken a shower. Tomé’s hair was still wet, and his manner was
unassuming but self-assured. Everything seemed to be much simpler and clearer
for them than it was for my brother and me.

“So you stole that food.”

“Well, yeah, that’s right, we did,” said Florencio.

“We thought it would be rude to turn up empty-handed, and Enric likes
that stuff; he spends a fortune on it.”

“It isn’t cheap, that’s for sure,” said my brother.

“We went to a store on Avenida Roma, near the Modelo Prison, a store
that specializes in bodybuilding supplements, and we took whatever we

“You shouldn’t have done that, guys,” my brother said.

“Hey, it was the least we could do,” said Tomé.

My brother smiled happily: “Now I have supplies for like five

“What if you’d been caught?” I said.

“We never get caught,” said Florencio.

“We bought a packet of soy cookies,” said Tomé.

Suddenly I ran out of arguments. I would have liked to ask them how
many days they were planning to stay at our place, but I didn’t want to go too
far. It’s one thing to be frank and another to be rude. It’s one thing to be
aggressive and another to be hospitable. So I kept quiet, sitting on my father’s
chair, staring at the bottom of my coffee cup and occasionally glancing up at
the game show they were watching on TV (Florencio and Tomé knew all the answers)
until it was time to eat.

“The guys made dinner tonight,” said my brother.

Poor fool, I thought, without getting up. That night we ate rice and
vegetables. My brother, who always eats meat, didn’t complain; on the contrary,
he praised the flavor of the meal and went back for seconds and thirds.
Florencio set the table, and Tomé served the food. They opened a bottle of
expensive wine (“You stole this too?” I asked — “Naturally,” replied Florencio)
and we all had some.

“Let’s drink a toast to Marta and Enric,” said Tomé. “Two very special
people. There’s no else like you two.”

I could feel myself blushing. I’m not used to drinking wine (my
parents were teetotalers, my brother too, until yesterday, anyway) and I’m even
less used to public compliments.

Translator’s note
e quotations from Diogenes of Apollonia and
Xenophanes of Colophon in “Muscles” are given in Jonathan Barnes’s
translation, from
Greek Philosophy
Penguin, 1987).


My idea was to interview John Malone, the musician who’d
disappeared. Five years earlier, Malone had already slipped out of the dark zone
where the legends live, and he wasn’t really newsworthy any more, although the
fans hadn’t forgotten his name. In the seventh decade of the twentieth century,
along with Jacob Morley and Dan Endycott, he’d been a founding member of Broken
Zoo, one of the most successful rock groups of the time. Broken Zoo recorded
their first LP in 1966. It was a magnificent record, up there with the best
stuff coming out of England — and this is the mid-sixties I’m talking about,
with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in top form. The second LP came out soon
after and, to everyone’s surprise, it was even better than the first. Broken Zoo
did a tour of Europe and then a tour of the States. The North American tour went
on for months. As they traveled from city to city, the record climbed up the
charts and finally reached number one. When they got back to London, they took a
few days off to rest. Morley shut himself up in a house that he’d recently
bought on the outskirts of London, where he had a private recording studio.
Endycott kept himself busy getting off with all the pretty groupies who came
swarming around the band, till one of them got off with him, and they bought a
house in Belgravia and got married. As for Malone, he seemed more lethargic.
According to some of the books about Broken Zoo, he attended “weird parties,”
though what the authors meant by
is not exactly clear. I’m
guessing it’s what they said back then to indicate a mix of sex and drugs.
Shortly afterward, Malone disappeared. And after sensibly allowing a month or
two to elapse, Broken Zoo’s manager called a press conference, at which he
admitted what everyone already knew: John Malone had quit the group without a
word of explanation. Not long after that, Morley and Endycott, along with the
drummer Ronnie Palmer, and another band member called Corrigan, came out with
their own versions of the events. Malone hadn’t been in touch with anyone except
Palmer. He called him three weeks after his disappearance, just to say that he
was fine, and to tell them not to wait for him because he wasn’t planning to
come back. Many people thought that this would be the end of the group. Malone
was the best of the lot, and it was hard to imagine Broken Zoo going on without
him. But then Morley shut himself up for a month or so in his mansion, and
Endycott went there too and worked ten hours a day, and they put together the
group’s third LP. Contrary to the expectations of the critics, Broken Zoo’s
third record was better than the first and the second. Seventy percent of the
material on the first record was written by Malone: lyrics as well as music. On
the second record, it was seventy-five percent. The rest was provided by Morley
and Endycott, except for one track, which is something of an anomaly, with
lyrics co-written by Morley and Palmer. For the third record, however, Morley
and Endycott wrote ninety percent of the material, and the remaining ten percent
was contributed by Palmer, Morley, Endycott and a new member, Venable, who’d
joined the group when it was clear that Malone wouldn’t be coming back. One of
the songs is dedicated to Malone. There’s no bitterness in it. Just friendship
and admiration. The title is “When are You Going to Come Back?” It was released
as a single and in less than two weeks it went to the top of the charts in
London. Malone, of course, didn’t come back, and although, at the time, various
journalists went searching for him, all their efforts were fruitless. There was
even a rumor that he had died in a city in France and been buried in a pauper’s
grave. Broken Zoo’s third album was followed by a fourth, which was greeted with
unanimous praise, and after the fourth came a fifth and then a sixth, a flawless
double album, the group’s apotheosis, and after that they didn’t play for while,
but then they brought out a seventh LP, which was pretty good, and then an
eighth, and in the middle of the eighties they made their ninth album, another
double, and Morley and Endycott must have signed a pact with the devil, because
this record swept the world, from Japan to Holland, from New Zealand to Canada,
tearing through Thailand like a tornado, which is really saying something. Then
the group broke up, though every now and then, on a special occasion, they’d get
back together to play their old songs at a select venue. In 1995 a journalist
Rolling Stone
found out where Malone was
living. His article stunned the die-hard fans of Broken Zoo, who cherished the
group’s first vinyl LPs. But most of the magazine’s readers didn’t really care
what had happened to a guy who was widely assumed to be dead. In a way, Malone’s
life during all those years had been a living death. When he left London, he had
simply gone back to his parents’ house. That was all. He stayed there for two
years, doing nothing, while the members of his old band set out to take the
universe by storm.

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