Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down the pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.
After a while it occurred to me that between the covers of each of those books lay a boundless universe waiting to be discovered, while beyond those walls, in the outside world, people allowed life to pass by in afternoons of football and radio soaps, content to do little more than gaze at their navels.
It might have been that notion, or just chance, or its more flamboyant relative, destiny, but at that precise moment I knew I had already chosen the book I was going to adopt, or that was going to adopt me.
I could not blot out Clara’s story about her father’s disappearance. In my world death was like a nameless and incomprehensible hand, a door-to-door salesman who took away mothers, beggars, or ninety-year-old neighbors, like a hellish lottery. But I couldn’t absorb the idea that death could actually walk by my side, with a human face and a heart that was poisoned by hatred, that death could be dressed in a uniform or a raincoat, queue up at a cinema, laugh in bars, or take his children out for walk…and then, in the afternoon, make someone disappear in the dungeons of Montjuïc Castle.
I couldn’t help thinking that if I, by pure chance, had found a whole universe in a single unknown book, buried in that endless necropolis, tens of thousands more would remain unexplored, forgotten forever. I felt myself surrounded by millions of pages, by worlds and souls without an owner sinking into an ocean of darkness, while the world that throbbed outside the library seemed to be losing its memory, day after day, unknowingly, feeling all the wiser the more it forgot.
Sophie refused to reveal the identity of the child’s father…Antoni Fortuny decided that it must be the devil, for that child was the child of sin, and sin had only one father: the One. Convinced in this manner that it had sneaked into his home and also between his wife’s thighs, the hatter took to hanging crucifixes everywhere…
I imagined Julián Carax at that age, holding that image in his hands…and for a moment I thought there were no more ghosts there than those of absence and loss, and that the light that smiled on me was borrowed light, real only as long as I could hold it in my eyes, second by second.
Julián lived in his books. The body that ended up in the morgue was only a part of him. His soul is in his stories. I once asked him who inspired him to create his characters, and his answer was no one. That all his characters were himself.
He didn’t tell me any of that because he knew that the miracle happened only once…A thousand times I’ve wanted to recover that first afternoon with Bea in the rambling house of Avenida del Tibidabo…
Nobody had noticed, nobody had paid attention, but as usual, the essential part of the matter had been settled before the story had begun, and by then it was too late.
“Look, the one thing that really pisses me off is people who stir up the shit from the past!” Fumero cried out. “Things from the past have to be left alone, do you understand?”
It didn’t occur to him for an instant that Julián secretly despised him, that his affection was a sham, only a pretext to be close to Penélope. To possess her wholly and utterly. They did resemble each other in that.
He revered mosquitos and all insects in general. He admired their discipline, their fortitude and organization. There was no laziness in them, no irreverence or racial degeneration…In his opinion, society had a lot to learn from insects.
Fumero found old men revolting – as he did crippled men, Gypsies, and queers – whether or not they had muscle tone. Sometimes God made mistakes. It was the duty of every upright citizen to correct these small failings and keep the world looking presentable.
Fumero was very keen on movies and went to the cinema at least twice a week. It was in a cinema that he had understood that Penélope had been the love of his life. The rest, especially his mother, had been nothing but tarts.
The hatter…had no doubt that Penélope was that love in his son’s life. Without realizing it, he thought that if he helped him recover her, perhaps he, too, would recover some part of what he had lost, that void that weighed on his bones like a curse.
He hated the man who had caused this calamity, this trail of death and misery: himself. He hated those filthy books to which he had devoted his life and about which nobody cared. He hated every stolen second and every breath.
I discovered that Laín Coubert, impersonating Julián, had been roaming through the city and visiting the Aldaya mansion.
I was afraid of listening to Julián and starting to believe, as he did, that we were all bound together in a strange chain of destiny, afraid of recognizing in you the Julián I had lost.
Of all the things that Julián wrote, the one I have always felt closest to my heart is that so long as we are being remembered, we remain alive…Remember me, Daniel, even if it’s only in a corner and secretly. Don’t let me go.
It was Laín Coubert, just as I’d learned to fear him reading the pages of a book, so many years ago…I saw how the hand of the angel pierced [Fumero’s] chest, spearing him, how the accursed soul was driven out like black vapor, falling like frozen tears over the mirror of water.
I can’t remember his exact words, or the sound of his voice. I do know that he held my hand and I felt as if he were asking me to live for him, telling me I would never see him again. What I have not forgotten is what I told him. I told him to take that pen, which had always been his, and write again.
Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it’s an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day.