The Old Masters

Alexander Maksik

Summer 2017

I’d been sleeping with another Argentine, Luis Perón (no relation, or so he claimed), a narrow, meatless man surviving on a fat trust fund who spoke in a self-conscious combination of languages. He found me the job, not that it was any grand gesture on his part. Someone called Luis, Luis called me, y voilà, as he would say.

“Ciao, Céline, you wanna speak English con un vieux Argentin?”

Despite my name and its pretty little accent aigu, I have no direct connection to this country. Our line goes straight and neat from Sweden to Iowa. In this regard, I’m a real torchbearer, the first of our American clan to escape the Midwestern flatlands, never to return. Though, having named and raised me on her own, my mother, Karina Bonggren, née Klasson, liberated from a bad marriage by my father’s timely cardiac arrest, was our family’s first iconoclast.

On the telephone, señor Cortázar spoke French better than I did, and with an accent vastly more charming. From the instant he cut the call I was sorry that we’d be forever strapped to the English language.

Señor Cortázar lived on the second floor of a hôtel particulier just around the corner from the Picasso Museum. To see him, I first had to enter a code into a blue-lit keypad and then lean with all my weight against the leaden outer door before stumbling into the courtyard, which, after the two-tone thunk and submarine-seal, went quiet.

This silence was at its finest after some snow had fallen, and I’d have traded all the brimming flower boxes in the world for that flawless square of white.

I was living then in a charmless apartment on the eleventh floor of a deathly building in the fifteenth, constructed in the seventies when Parisians, apparently lonely for the days when others were destroying their city, took a shot at doing it themselves. It was late October when Luis called me, and late November when I first heard my footsteps echoing in señor Cortázar’s secret courtyard.

Back then I was always glad to be somewhere else, and tried never to spend a night at home. Which is, in large part, why I was sleeping with Luis in the first place. I liked his clean sheets, his crackling fire, his bathtub, its golden claws balancing on sparkling yellow tile, but I’d never been in bed with anyone so meager and pretty and, beyond his apartment’s comforts, he provided me very little pleasure.

Alexander Maksik is a 2017 Guggenheim Fellow and the author of three novels: "You Deserve Nothing", "A Marker to Measure Drift" and "Shelter in Place". He’s the co-director of the Can Cab Literary Residence in Catalonia, Spain.

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