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Fiction by Juan José Millás
Translated from the Spanish by
Peter Robertson
 
Music by Guthrie Lowe
 
'performance artist' © 2007 Peter Schwartz
The Ubiquitous Jinx

Taking a taxi to the town center, I grew conscious of the fact that the taxi driver was staring at me through the rear-view mirror. I was sure that he had finally recognized me and, while I don't consider myself a vain person, I felt flattered by his interest. No doubt you too will have heard of me. I am Vicente Holgado, the expert on household plants and a leading TV and radio personality, renowned for unraveling mysteries known only to the cognoscenti.

After setting off, the taxi driver asked:

"Haven't I seen you before?"

"Could be," I said, playing dumb.

"Your face looks familiar."

"Then perhaps you've seen me on TV," I replied, thinking this might jog his memory.

Before he started interrogating me as to my identity, I had been on the verge of suggesting he festoon his taxi with plants. I am convinced that such a gesture could start a trend—taxis would make ideal habitats for interior gardens and a number of upholstered surfaces, normally left empty or cluttered with useless objects, could be pressed into service for this purpose. All it would take would be a small layer of well-manured earth, placed on a hermetically sealed tray, to turn cars into mobile gardens. Tending these plants would be the perfect antidote to the daily stresses endured by taxi-drivers, with the result that these gardens would not only be esthetically pleasing but would serve as a kind of occupational therapy.

"It's not from television that I know you."

"So you're not interested in gardening?"

"Not at all. You know, I'm sure I've had you in my cab once before."

"Could be," I replied, piqued that my celebrity was wasted on him.

"Now I remember, Wasn't it you who got onto the taxi the other day, carrying a small dog?"

"Out of the question! I can't stand dogs and would never dream of keeping one. Houses may be ideal for plants but, so far as I'm concerned, they are ill-suited for supposedly domesticated pets."

The taxi driver, convinced that I was lying, looked at me quizzically. He went on to explain that, much to his chagrin, the dog in question had urinated all over his vehicle and, were he ever to meet the owner again, he was determined to give him a piece of his mind. Although I had nothing to do with the irreverent act he had described, for some inexplicable reason I fell prey to vicarious remorse. The driver, sensing my discomfiture, worked himself up into a true fury, leaving me in little doubt that his revenge, once unleashed, would be frightful to behold. The remainder of the journey was sheer purgatory, and it was an immense relief when I finally alighted at the department store to do my Christmas shopping.

Keen to buy pruning shears, I made my way to the gardening department. No sooner had I arrived than I sensed the agitation of the shop assistants as they pointed at me, whispering conspiratorially. However, I did not feel put out as it was only to be expected that, working in this section of the store, the assistants would be avid viewers of TV gardening programmes, and would therefore recognize me. Indeed, I was gratified by their attention, a far cry from the recriminatory atmosphere that had prevailed in the taxi and, after choosing the requisite shears, I lingered for a moment, basking in their adulation. Why rush? In any case, I was convinced that, when I went to pay, the shop assistant would refuse outright to accept any money—how could she deign to accept a derisory sum from none other than Vicente Holgado, the foremost authority on household plants?

With studied aplomb, I made my way to the checkout counter where I asked the assistant to wrap the shears in Christmas paper. By now the poor girl was so beside herself that it was only with the greatest physical exertion that she managed to suppress a smirk. Seeking to defuse the tension, I asked:

"You've recognized me?"

"So you're not with your lapdog today?"

"My lapdog? What lapdog?"

"The one that you tried to hide under your jacket, the one that looked like a skinned rat. You obviously don't know the store's policy, animals are expressly forbidden here."

Faced with my bemusement, she went on to inform me that, just a few days before, someone bearing an uncanny resemblance to me had had the temerity to enter the premises, carrying a small dog. After it had escaped, the customers scattered helter-skelter, mistaking it for a large rat.

Conscious that all eyes were upon me, and anxiously searching for the quickest exit, I made my way to a nearby café. But, once there, it proved no refuge, the clientele asking me what I had done with my lapdog. In the end, accosted by an army of inquisitors at every turn, I had little choice but return home. Opening the front door, I was overpowered by the stench of excrement and, reaching the kitchen, I saw that a minuscule canine had somehow gained access to my apartment and was chomping on some leftovers. Indignant, I picked it up and tossed the ubiquitous jinx out of the window. My neighbors promptly called the police and the story was covered in the press. No sooner had my photo appeared in the papers than one lawsuit after another was filed against me. I fear I will have to give up my interest in plants now that my contacts at the TV and the radio, branding me a criminal, no longer phone me.

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last update: June 25, 2007