Sorrows of the Dirty Old Man
Gustavo Perez Firmat
He woke up in the middle of the night expecting to find his parents somewhere in the house. His mother had passed away a year ago, his father a dozen years earlier. When his mother died, he did not attend the funeral because there wasn’t one. When his father died, D.O.M. was grateful that he would no longer be reminded that his father’s collapse might foretell his own. Tonight was the first time he missed them.
At midlife he had acquired a new family. He saw them often. Dinner after dinner, they engaged in chaotic conversations about books, childhood, cheese. He said more words to them than he had ever said to his original family, but it took a decade of dinners for D.O.M. to realize that what he had in common with his second family was no more than part of a language. The part was large enough for them to talk, but not large enough for them to connect. He explained them to himself, but he did not understand them. He explained himself to them, but he was sure that they did not understand him.
There is no world in Spanish for regret. D.O.M. knows añoranza, which makes him wish he were somewhere else; pesar, which flattens him; and roña, which is as different from regret as a roar is different from a whisper. Yet this word that doesn’t exist resonates in his ears like the name of a flower. As he lies awake, its aroma scents the darkened room.
Dirty Old Man Loses His Place
When the alarm goes off in the middle of the night, he jumps out of bed and goes looking for a chair so that he can reach the reset button. Problem is, he doesn’t know where he is. For other people, having two homes is a sign of status; for D.O.M. it’s one more reason to be confused. In the dark, he rushes around inside the house that’s not there looking for a dining room that’s somewhere else to reset a smoke alarm that doesn’t exist.
As he turns a corner that does not lead to the kitchen, he crashes into Mrs. D.O.M. Usually mild and gentle, she pushes him out of the way. When she finally turns off the alarm, D.O.M. is still searching for a chair to stand on. She grabs him by the sleeve of his silk pajamas. “It’s the door,” she says. D.O.M. stares at her blankly. “It’s the front door. You must have left it open.”
D.O.M. is quite sure that he closed and locked every door, as he does every night no matter which house he thinks he’s in. He would like to say to his wife: “It wasn’t me, cariño, it was the house ghosts. They didn’t want to trip the smoke alarm, and so they went outside to light their cigars.” But he can tell that Mrs. D.O.M., who has had a long life and an even longer night, is in no mood for Cuban ghost stories. He shuffles back to the bedroom with the air of a man who can’t explain himself.
About the author:
Gustavo Pérez Firmat has published several collections of poetry in English and Spanish--and his poems and stories have appeared in many magazines, journals and anthologies. A new book of essays, A Cuban in Mayberry: Looking Back at America’s Hometown, was published by the University of Texas Press in 2014. You can visit his website here.