Vestige of a Forgotten Kingdom

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y name is Györgi Szabó.
I am an archivist at the Cortázar MNP on rue du Vieux-Colombier in Paris and I have worked there for many years. One morning a man wearing a heavy black raincoat and a hat of blue felt walked into my cellar office and said, I am here for the manuscript of Around the Day in Eighty Worlds. La Vuelta al Dia? I asked. Yes, he said, La Vuelta al Dia en Ochenta Mundos. His Spanish was slowly and poorly enunciated in an accent that seemed almost German. I’m afraid we do not have that here, I said, returning to the clerical matter before me. He cleared his throat and said, I am a relative of Cortázar’s, although my name is not Cortázar and has never been Cortázar, a name which is foreign to me everywhere but printed on paper: Hopscotch, by Julio Cortázar, 1967, etc., or in the memories which were often related to me by my mother, who died a long time ago. I looked to the papers which had in the previous weeks piled higher and higher upon my pockmarked desk, owing greatly to the anniversary of Cortázar’s death approaching fast but not suddenly: I lay upon the leftmost lane of the A3 and watched with solemn anticipation the lone car approach. I looked up at the stranger and said, We do not possess that manuscript. I told you this already. I do not care if you are Cortázar himself: it’s not here and it never was. I brought it here myself three years ago, the stranger said. I gave it to a woman upstairs who was about your age. She seemed happy to receive it and we had coffee in her office on the second floor. She told me of her love for Cortázar and Neruda and Borges and Casares and especially Donoso, whose bird, she said, had flown finally and irrevocably into her young heart. She told me of childhood summers washed away in the blue of Pehoe Lake under the eternal jagged of the Andes, and of lazy music on the black sands of Pichilemu’s beaches. Chile, she said, was literature, José Hernández be damned. The stranger met my eyes and I his: I have worked here for thirty-two years, I said, and I have not once seen the manuscript for La Vuelta al Dia, not once. And I do not know of any Chilean woman who works the archives——not upstairs, not down here, not anywhere. You are gravely mistaken, sir. And then the stranger sighed and said, I must insist that you check your records. I need this manuscript. Sir, I said, sir, it is not here. I will not waste any more of my time on this nonsense. And the stranger, who had been until that moment standing calmly in front of my desk, or rather in front of the bare counter before my desk, made briefly his hands into fists and then, letting his fingers fall to their natural state, said, I have been sent here by the estate of Cortázar in order to obtain the manuscript that three years ago I had turned over to your care. I began to protest, started to shout that no, it had not been my care into which anything of his had been entrusted, but he did not let me speak. The Cortázar estate, he said, will be disconsolate at this news. Saúl Alfonso Gutiérrez, who studied under the great Lamborghini himself, chairs the Cortázar estate. He sent me here with a typical Saúlian flourish: Get the papers, he said, or we face our imminent ruin. It is easy, clerk, to laugh now in the face of this Saúlian hyperbole, the easy exaggeration of the practiced artist, he who in his youth was the scourge of Cerro (after a split with Lamborghini), he who drove the young poet to tears and into a Buenos Aires hospital in frantic retreat, hands shaking, eyes bloodshot and his face as white as the blank pages of the books he would not live to write. But it is not, after all, hyperbole. Saúl Alfonso Gutiérrez is a serious man who is not inclined towards trivialities. So I implore you, clerk, look again through your catalog. I hope tomorrow I will return to more pleasing results. And then the stranger turned and left and I never saw him again.

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