by Javier Marías

There I was, signing books in Barcelona on the day of St. Jordi, the patron saint of Catalonia. On this day, when as tradition dictates, people give one another gifts of roses and books, I was in the middle of a book-signing session. The bookstore to whose stand I had been assigned had set things up in a particular way to handle the flow of customers: to avoid bottlenecks they had some seven authors (most of them far more popular than I) seated at a long table, and the customers were asked to approach us one at a time. Suddenly one of the booksellers walked over to me and handed me a rose: “This is from one of your readers,” he said. Why, what a lovely thing to do, I thought, and then put the rose to the side so that I could continue signing books. After a short while, however, the bookseller approached me again, with yet another message. “This is from the woman who gave you the rose; she wants you to look at the card.” Only then did I realize that, beneath the cellophane wrapping there was a rolled-up slip of paper stuck to the stem of the flower. I paused for a moment, opened it, and began to read an extremely insulting note. When I looked up, a woman sandwiched in among the crowd made an insolent gesture in my direction, as if to ask, “Get the picture, jerk?” The only thing missing in her silent statement was that other, very Spanish gesture which consists of making a fist and holding the arm horizontally in front of you, then executing a sharp hand movement with the exterior side of the fist, which is the physical equivalent of the comment “Take that!” Since I am not able to see myself, I cannot accurately describe the expression that crossed my face, but my intention was to respond with a silent “Oh, well, that’s the way it goes,” or perhaps “Oh, well, all part of a day’s work.” But in a flash the woman turned around and disappeared, her patient mission completed.

Translated from the Spanish by Kristina Cordero

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Javier Marías was born in Madrid in 1951. English-language translations of his novels include All Souls, A Heart So White, Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me, and the short-story collection When I Was Mortal. This spring Believer Books will publish his second novel, Voyage Along the Horizon.

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