Sandpaper Liquids. story by Edgar Illas. translation from the Catalan by J.M. Sobrer

Pour me another, please, before closing, and I’ll be leaving. I’ll pay tomorrow, I promise. I know what you’re thinking, that I’m always saying this, and you don’t believe me. But don’t you know how hard it is to get paid these days? There is no way to make the customers settle and that’s why we’re in trouble. But tomorrow we are due to get paid for a campaign contracted with Nestlé. Didn’t you see the double-page ad? Imagine, I had to go to Switzerland no less and meet with their executives. They are very serious folk, very competitive, it was hard to convince them to invest in our magazine! But they commissioned a whole campaign that’ll solve our financial woes for at least a year. The first month is due tomorrow. I’ll pay you back all I owe you, trust me. Come on, pour me one for the road, there’s only a finger left in the bottle. You won’t be able to sell this last bit in any case, it’s just the dregs.

Sweetheart, how can you trust what people say, in any case? I was late because we had a meeting and Senyor Andreu came from Barcelona and you know how he likes to go for a drink afterwards and the conversation goes on and on. My eyelids were drooping and I had to hold back my yawns, he’s such a bore. But I had to play along, you know I have to, he’s a big customer and we have a mortgage to pay. Don’t you think I wouldn’t have preferred to be at home at nine in the evening to enjoy the supper prepared by the best and prettiest cook in the world? I’m so lucky to have you, sweetheart! I’d be a dead man, without you. You must forgive me if at times I do not help, but you can see that, right now, the circumstances are what they are.

You will place an ad with me, won’t you? I’ve been asking you for a long time. The magazine has been selling many more copies, so lots of people will see your ad. Not just those who buy the magazine; also people in bars and libraries, because the magazine can be found all over. And now also on line. Did you see the piece about influence peddling in City Hall when the socialists were in power? It was us who blew the whistle on the scandal and now everybody has talked about it. We have a team of young journalists who fear nothing and no one. We belong to an older generation, you and I, and we don’t like to rock the boat. But these kids are not afraid to tug and tug hard, and people like that. And, besides, this is necessary for our city to function.

I don’t know, c’mon, one more round, this one on me… Gin’n’tonic for the three of us… Not skimpy, OK, hon?… You got a sensashi’nal ass… I l-love Roser a lot, I do, tha’s a fact… We’ve known each other for how long? … Chin, chin… Chin chin… To us… To our friendship… There’s nothin’ in life like friendsip-ship… Friendship and sex, ‘course… Th’older I get the hornier I feel… C’mon, hon, I’m hornier ‘an a rabbit… What do I owe you, hon?… You’re a pretty girl… I, I, when I feel like it, I kick the first rock I see and forty babes jump out… Just saying… I don’t wanna offend you, OK?… If I off-offended you, fo’give me… Today’s a shpecial day… Hey, this gin-tonic’s lost its kick… C’mon, top it with a bit more gin, OK, doll? You can barely taste it… The ice’s watered it down… Oooo, I’m higher ‘an a bitch in heat… Don’t tell Roser, that we’re having fun… She worries… But once n’awhile we’ve got to have a good time… It’s healthy, r-right?… You do it alot?… Once a week?… Do you like top or bottom?… It’s all good to me… Hey, doll, this glass’s got a hole… The gin’s come out in a squirt… Easy, easy, not me, eh!… It’s the gin’s come… Not me…

You don’t know how bad I feel that the ad did not come out. It didn’t get published because this week we’ve been swamped and we have a new girl who still doesn’t know the ropes. Young people today, you’ve got to watch over them at all times, you can’t take a moment’s break. It’s not like before when you just needed to say things once. But I guarantee you it’ll come out next week and then we’ll round up the price. You’re right, you’re right; I know I’ve said this before. But think that I’m giving you a nice discount. Publicity is not cheap. Yes, I know I owe you for a few glasses of wine. But customers always want the best page at the lowest price, and I assure you I’ll take care of giving your ad centerfold space myself. If need be I’ll go to the printers to supervise the printing and binding processes. Come on, pour me a glass of wine and have one yourself, we’ve got to celebrate that your ad will be a full-color centerfold next week.

Yes, yes, I understand. I won’t do it again, I promise. I’ve no desire to foul things up. I know it looks like something else, but you’ve got to believe me, please. Of course I don’t want to end what we have. At times, though, I think it would be best, for you and for her. I promise it won’t happen again. You’re all I have. I know I have been irresponsible lately and I’m asking you to forgive me. In my heart I love you a lot. But I see what you’re saying. We can’t go on like this. Things are hard enough wthout my making them worse. I want to be by your side and I promise I’ll change and it won’t happen again. I promise.

How dare you come home like this, child? If you come home drunk you’ll have to deal with me, you hear? I don’t want this to happen again. Why didn’t you obey your father? I told you to be home by two and it’s now four o’clock. Can’t you see your mother is worried sick? Next time you disobey me I’ll punish you, as if you were a little kid. You’re old enough to behave like a grown-up. I’ll go find you wherever you are and I’ll drag you by your ear to the car. My dad did this to me once in front of my friends because I was late for supper. But I was not three hours late, no way; I was fifteen minutes late. I was so embarrassed that from then on I always obeyed him. So do me a favor, pretty please; I don’t want to have to say this again.

Seagram’s is very good also, very dry. It’s from America. Lawrenceburg, IN. IN means the state of Indiana. London is also quite good. Perhaps not so dry. Hendrick’s is very traditional. I suggest you start with this one, if you haven’t tried any of them. Today, well, give me a Beefeater, that’ll do. Mind you, it’s the house brand, but it is also good, right? What’s crucial is lots of ice and a well-squeezed lime wedge. The gin and the tonic water should mix in the glass. See? You’ve got to stir, because what counts is the blending of the gin and the tonic. You shouldn’t taste one over the other. Good job! It’s tasty, right? Nice and cool. It’s one of the most refreshing. Stop me if you know this one; guy walks into a bar and the bartender, who lisps, asks him: Theagram’s? And he: No, thanks, one gram is my limit. And while we are at it, shouldn’t we go and plaster the wall? You got any left? I’m fresh out. The next hit’s on me.

Do you know the one about a man hitting it off with a terrific babe? I’m sorry for your loss. It’s raining hard. I remember as if it were yesterday. He was a good egg. We played soccer during recess. Well, the babe takes the man to her place and pushes him into her bedroom. Who could have guessed it, he was so young. She tells the man to lie in bed and steps into to the bathroom. We’re all dangling from a thread. And it’s raining. It’s like tossing dice, life. She comes out of the bathroom wearing a very sexy outfit, garters, thong, stiletto heels. How’s his mother bearing it? Ah, I see. She begins a strip-tease. You know. It makes sense for her not to attend. Cats and dogs. There’s nothing worse than the death of a child. The woman slides on top of the guy and starts to rub her body over his. Anything I can do for you, just ask, don’t be shy. She keeps rubbing and is getting very excited. Do excuse me, I’ll be leaving now, I’ve got to get back to work. Outside it’s raining hard, more and more, and when she’s ready to make love to the man, he, flustered, says: don’t you think we should wait for a day with sunnier weather?

I know, I know, Roser. But what happens is that at work we don’t have a moment to breathe. This crisis has put everyone on edge. Nobody wants to advertise. Everyone is scared, morale is low. I know. I know this is no excuse for my behavior. I’m telling you so you’ll understand, what I’ve got to deal with and the pressure I’m under. But I swear, sweetie, from now on things will be better. I won’t let the stress affect us and our child. You have my word. No, I don’t need to see a doctor. What I need is a little rest, or at least to take my job more calmly. I’ve got to stop sweating the little things and not take work so much to heart. But, of course, we’ve got a mortgage to pay, the loan on the car, our daughter’s lessons. Believe me, I would like nothing better than to take it easy and for you and me to take off on a romantic trip somewhere. Do you remember when we went to Italy on a whim? We had such a great time. Do you remember when we messed with some ice cream in the hotel room? Jeez, was that hot! Yes, I know that was a long time ago. But I’m telling you so you know I remember every detail of that night, and I’m dying to do it again, once things settle down.

Dad, it’s true I don’t visit you as much as I’d like. You know how busy I am these days. But we’re all fine. Today, Roser and the kid went to the beach, since it’s already summer hot. Just for the day; they’ll be here at dinnertime. I couldn’t go because I had to go to the office. I was there at eight in the morning. I said to myself, go early and then you’ll have time to see dad. The bags under my eyes come from working too much and not getting enough sleep. These days things are very complicated and we’re all overworked.  No, I am no longer managing editor, but I’ve been charged with outreach for the magazine. All told I do the same work, because the current manager is a straw man put there by the socialists in power. Yeah, he’s the son of the owners of that shoe store on Carrer Sant Tomàs. Remember how you’d take me there right before Palm Sunday to buy new shoes? You always got me shoes one or two sizes too big. You used to say, for the money, the bigger the better. And I’d go to mass to have my palm blessed, with shoes so shiny, blinding. Yeah, he’s a kiss-ass and a climber. In this country things go the way they go, you know that. It’s even worse now that politics have smeared everything and merit counts for not a thing. But I can’t complain. People value a personal touch and they want to do business with me. I tell them, let’s do it this way, but we’ve got to pretend it’s the editor’s idea. Me, after all, they know me and trust me. Of course I’m busier than ever: the work I do now comes on top of all the work I used to do before. That’s why you see these bags under my eyes. You, however, are looking great; I’m happy to see you so fit. By the way, before I forget, this week I went to the bank and Josep told me you had to renew your mortgage papers. It seems that they have to be filed again, for security reasons. They found out some people have lost them or old people who’ve gotten scammed. You know, with all the riff-raff we have today, so many immigrants. Don’t give these numbers to anybody here in the retirement home, OK? Well, Josep said all you needed to do was sign this paper and he’d do the rest. It’s a mere legality; you don’t need to bother reading it. I’ll make sure he gets it and sees the mortgage papers are in order. Just sign here and it’s done. Great! I’ll take care of the rest. I’m sorry, dad, but I’ll have to leave now. I’ve got a ton of work waiting for me in the office. Do not worry, things are OK. I’ll come back see you. Soon. I promise.

Oh, no, excuse me, I got a little dizzy and tripped on the last step. Do pardon the racket. I’m sorry I woke you up. I hope I didn’t wake anybody else in the building. I just got back from Barcelona and felt car sick. No need to tell Roser. She knew I’d be home late. I’ll find my key, don’t worry. Between home and work I have so many keys that now I can’t tell which is which. I’ll find it, thanks. Go back to bed. Don’t worry. And excuse the noise. It’s bad to work such long hours because then you see what happens. Let’s see, the key. It’s this one. No, not this one either. Let’s see. Hey, the lock. I was inserting it upside-down. I don’t want to turn on the lights because I don’t want to wake people up, and you see what happens. Go back to bed. Thanks for your help. Good night. Don’t tell Roser, please; she would worry, you know how she is, such a nice person. I don’t know what I’d do without her. Good night, and pardon me again. Good night, good night.

It’s a screwy thing, this crisis. They’re restructuring our business now. C’mon, pour me another. It’ll kill us all. This goes down easy. I’m lucky to have you taking care of me. You’re a god. And we work hard, mind you. It’s so hard to get paid. We’ll see where it all ends up. I bet you we’ll be the first to be fired. Yes, please give me another one. I’d rather not think about it. The extra hours we’ve put in. And there’s a bunch of folks who owe me favors. C’mon, have one yourself, girl. They are just pushing the most dynamic out the door. It’s politics. Politics, you know how it is. I better keep quiet. We have to keep fighting. You’re a fighter too, hon, here at the bar. How hard it is to keep a business going these days. But what else can we do? We are not valued. See, what you do, that’s really admirable. You exert yourself day in and day out. And who appreciates it? We’ll be kicked out any day now. No one wants to know anything, anything at all. The world has become a jungle. We’ll roam the streets like abandoned dogs.

I love you a lot. I’ve always been faithful to you. You can’t do this to me, sweetheart. If you leave me, what will there be left for me to do in this world? I’d better die. I’m finished. You’re the only good thing in my life. I’m worth nothing without you. I’ve always loved you and I will always love you. Without you I’ll be but the rubble of a man. I’ll cower in a corner until death comes. I just want to tell you that my last thought, the instant before losing consciousness, with the last drop of blood reaching my brain, will be about how lucky I’ve been to be loved by you all these years.

If you have a problem call me. Yeah, they’re all a bunch of puppets. Me, you can trust. What’ll you have? On me. What puppets! I could tell you stories… There’s a mafia in there. But if you have any sort of problem, call me. You’ve got my cell number, right? They’ve placed those puppets at the top. It’s what happens when politics gets added to the mix. But they owe me a lot of favors. One for the road? My treat. Call me at any time. In the middle of the night even. Just dial my number and don’t mind the clock. You’ve got my cell, right? Any time is good. But don’t look at me. You’ve got to know who’s pulling the strings. Just think that it’s all a mafia. They can’t touch me because I know too much. That’s why if you have any problem, you call me, day or night. I’m always awake, working. Sure, let’s go. Oh, shoot! Where’d I put my wallet? I may have left it in the office. Oh, no: I’ve left it in the office. Do you mind setting the tab? I’ll pay you back tomorrow, I promise.

Without a woman we are no one. Roser is a god. Hi, how are you? I understand her, I do. Nice to see you. I’m listening, I’m listening. I’m OK. We’re still alive, thank God. Pour me another. This round’s on me. We’re going through rough times, what can I tell you? But I’m sure we’ll get back together again. Sorry, I didn’t mean to step on your foot. Roser has gone to live with her mother to clear her head. You shouldn’t sacrifice everything for the job. Without Roser I’m dead. Oops, sorry, did I splash you? My glass spilled, hon. Yes, it was almost full. Thanks. Sorry. I forget what I was about to say. It’s hard to find work. With this crisis it’s tough, but if you seek you find. On the other hand there’s only one Roser. Oh, sorry. I won’t find another. I’ve got to convince her to come back. I’m sure I’ll convince her, but I better wait a while so we can both mull things over. I’m happy to have seen you.

Water’s bad for you, it’s worse than wine. In the year 1940 there was a flood, a flood. Riiing, riing, riing. Telephone! The Fluvià river took a cakewalk through the streets of town. Riiing, riing, riing. Telephone! Water walking all over. Sheesh, it’s my cell. You see, I can’t be left alone for a second. I’m not here! In 1940 there was a flood, a flood. Gather as much wood as you can because there is water everywhere. Riiing, riing, riing. Again? They won’t leave you in peace for a moment. I’m not here at the moment! Water is much worse than wine. Things were so good before cell phones. We’re being controlled at all times now. Where were you when I called? Where are you now? Where am I? I’m here, trying to have a little quiet. Wine is worse than water. Oh, no! It’s the other way: water is worse than wine, there was a flood in 1940 and it took everything away. Let’s see who called me on my cell. Water is worse than wine. No missed calls. I could have sworn I heard my cell. I thought I heard a ring.

Roser, Roser? Are you there? Answer the phone, please. I’ve got to talk to you. Give me a call whenever you can, please. It’s very urgent. I’ve got to discuss a couple of things with you. And the kid, how is she? Call me, please. I can’t live any longer without hearing your voice and your laugh. I know we have to wait for some time, but if we could talk about the whole thing… I am worried about you. I miss you, and the kid. Please call.

Yeah, pour me one last glass of wine. I’ll pay for all of them tomorrow. I promise. They should get out of politics once and for all. I had to go all the way to Switzerland. Bonjour, monsieur. Sorry. Roser is a god. So many ads for nothing. Tomorrow, I promise. We’ve got to pretend it’s the editor who decides. This crisis will do us all in. Thank you. Yes, I’m leaving now. Monsieur, madame. All alone. They don’t pay what is due. She doesn’t pick up the phone. Full color, double-page spread. I hope she’s OK. That’s why I keep calling her. It’s the only thing I need to know. One last one and no more. I didn’t do it right. Tomorrow. What matters is that she’s alright. It’s just the end of the bottle. Where are you headed to now? Some other day, then. Is it raining? No, thanks. How long has it been since it rained last? It’s late now. I can get home on foot, thanks. I don’t mind getting wet. On the contrary: it’ll do me good.


Edgar Illas (1975) lives between his native Catalonia, where he reads and writes fiction, and Bloomington, Indiana, where he is an assistant professor of Catalan Studies at Indiana University. He has published the novel El gel de bany sobre l’esponja [Bath Gel on the Sponge] (Barcelona: Columna, 2003) and the study Thinking Barcelona: Ideologies of a Global City (Liverpool UP, 2012). “Sandpaper Liquids” is a short story is from the collection Literatura en crisi [Literature in Crisis], due to be published in 2014.

Josep Miquel Sobrer (1944) started his career as translator turning works (by H. G. Wells, Sylvia Plath, Mervyn Peake, and Ian Fleming, among others) from English into Catalan, but as his residence in the US, begun in 1967, lengthened, he turned to translating from Catalan into English by such writers as Mercè Rodoreda, Pere Calders, Quim Monzó and J. V. Foix, among others. He has just completed a memoir, The Light of those Days. Several of his poems in English appear in the issue 49 of the online journal Offcourse (

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on October 9, 2013 by in catalan, story, translation and tagged .


%d bloggers like this: