Javier Valdes People Like Us: Short Stories

ISBN 13: 9780743286466

People Like Us: Short Stories

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9780743286466: People Like Us: Short Stories

Darkly comic and highly entertaining, Javier Valdés's stories insinuate themselves in the unsuspecting reader like a heady brew with a strange kick. From the exploits of an urban vigilante to the erotic pleasures exacted from an unrequited love, from a menacing treasure to a family that brings a whole new twist to the meaning of neighbors, People Like Us is seasoned with irreverent takes on Valdés's favorite writers and directors -- such as Stephen King and Martin Scorsese -- as he delivers a unique array of fascinating and hapless urban creatures.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Javier Valdés trabajó como dentista durante muchos años y escribía cuentos mientras esperaba que la anestesia le hiciera efecto a sus pacientes. Desde entonces, Valdés ha publicado dos novelas, Asesino en serio y Días de cementerio. Vive con su familia en Ciudad de México.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

From People Like Us

Gold is cash and love is a worthless check.

Ana Laura and I decided to spend part of the winter in the mountains. After weighing all the possibilities, we were leaning toward renting a house. Although we wouldn't have the conveniences of a hotel, we wouldn't have the inconveniences either, and it would cost about a third as much.

Besides, we would have the peace and quiet we both needed to be able to work. Ana Laura had to correct six texts that her editor was to publish in February and I had to finish more than twelve stories, which I had started some time ago and which would serve to pay a good portion of my not-unsubstantial debts.

So that's what we ended up doing. We loaded my tiny car with food and equipment for our pending work and then set off for our temporary paradise on earth.

The route to the mountains was rife with splendid aromas and scenes. The birds were singing as if it were the last day of their lives, and the painting that nature was unfolding impressed us beyond measure.

We stopped at a scenic overlook along the highway to better appreciate the countryside.

Although many of the trees were leafless, others still glowed a stunning dark green. The ground was carpeted with leaves, forming a mosaic in several shades of brown. In the distance, the tallest peaks were enveloped in snow and clouds that seemed to kiss them.

The air was cold, but pleasant.

We smoked a cigarette in silence as we contemplated the landscape.

"Which way is the house?" asked Ana Laura.

I thought a moment and then pointed to a spot between two low mountains. "Over there," I replied.

Her gaze followed my finger to the horizon.

"Okay then, let's go. This is beautiful, but I wouldn't want to spend the night here."

We got back in the Volkswagen, which soon began to show signs of fatigue as we started the steepest part of the ascent, but German technology ultimately prevailed and the small car successfully scaled the slopes.

We finally arrived at the house around six o'clock, and by then it was much colder.

The house was a real icebox and felt even colder than outside, but the fireplace was stacked with dry wood and it didn't take us long to get a good fire going.

We huddled in front of the flames until our bones warmed up again. Then we made several trips to the car to get our bags, Ana Laura's laptop, and my word processor.

Once this was done, we set about inspecting the house.

It was a small structure, fairly old, but immaculately maintained. There was a pleasant living room, a dining room, a big kitchen -- which seemed overly large for the tiny house -- and a very cozy bedroom with another fireplace, which Ana Laura immediately lit.

We poured ourselves drinks and ate cheese and pâté. After eating, we unpacked, stoked the fireplaces, and went to bed. The drive had been tiring, not just for the Volkswagen, but for us too, and the cold made us burrow under the heavy down comforter.

The next day we each began our respective work. The mountain air made me feel wonderful and I finished a story that I'd been stuck on for six months. Ana Laura, on the other hand, worked for a few hours and then started poking around the house. By five o'clock she had already drunk more than half a bottle of vodka. At eight I had to carry her to bed, because she had fallen asleep in front of the fire.

Several days passed in similar fashion. Since she wasn't drunk all the time, Ana Laura soon realized that it had been a mistake for us to cloister ourselves in such a remote part of the world. The poor woman couldn't work and went out for long walks in the forest. She took the car to town several times to buy groceries -- and vodka. Meanwhile, I quickly finished one story after another. I felt like a freshly uncorked bottle of sparkling wine, and sentence after sentence bubbled out with an ease I had never known before.

Ana Laura's laptop remained solitary and inactive, as if it were nothing more than a prop.

I knew very well that Ana Laura was dying to go back to the city or someplace more lively, but she didn't say a word. She wore her boredom stoically.

One afternoon, at the height of her boredom, she discovered a door to the attic. It had been sealed, but no seal can withstand feminine curiosity, and Ana Laura launched an exploration of the space, with the aid of a flashlight she brought in from the car.

At dinnertime she showed me something interesting that she had found earlier that afternoon. It was an old notebook with drawings of the house we were occupying, and it showed in precise sequence how it had been built, from the empty lot to the completed structure. There were details on the foundation, the construction of the walls, even the roof.

Each drawing carried a date at the bottom of the page. The house had been completed over a century ago.

"What do you think?" Ana Laura asked as she closed the notebook.

"Excellent artist."

We didn't talk about it any more that night.

From that point on, my girlfriend's boredom completely disappeared. She spent the days studying the drawings in the old notebook. She seemed hypnotized by them and spent hours poring over each one, as if it were from a collection of old Flemish masters. Ana Laura stopped drinking vodka and walking in the woods and hardly ate anything. It was almost as if she were under a spell of some kind.

The third day after her find in the attic, she interrupted my work. "Look at this!"

She indicated a particular portion of a drawing. I had no idea what she was trying to show me. "What is it?"

"It looks like some sort of cellar."

Sure enough, the drawing indicated a large opening right beneath the kitchen floor. "It's probably just a cistern," I said, trying to get back to work.

"I don't think so," she insisted. "There's plenty of water around here. And besides, there's a well a few yards from the house. Why build a cistern? There's something else," she added, slightly raising one of her beautiful eyebrows. "I already examined the kitchen floor and there's no opening."

"So?" I asked disinterestedly as I lit a cigarette.

"It could be a secret hiding place. Maybe there's treasure inside. Can you imagine?"

By now my rhythm had been totally broken, so I began to pay closer attention to what my beautiful companion was suggesting.

"You said there's no opening in the kitchen floor?"

"Look for yourself."

I went into the kitchen with the open notebook in my hands and stood over where I figured the hole should be.

There was nothing. But I did notice the stone floor covering the kitchen floor was not the same as in the drawing of the half-completed house.

This stuff looked newer.

"It's not the same floor," I said, looking distractedly at the tips of my boots.

Ana Laura seemed disappointed when she saw what I meant.

Just to make my lady happy, I tapped all over the kitchen floor with the heels of my boots. It was as solid as a rock.

"Look, Ana Laura, it must have been some sort of storage cellar. There was probably no need for it anymore, and when they changed the kitchen floor, the new owners simply filled in the hole."

"I guess you're right, but it was an interesting idea, wasn't it?" She had the look of a little girl who had been scolded.

The next morning, I found Ana Laura lying on the kitchen floor, inspecting it inch by inch.

I had other things to do, so I didn't pay any attention. If she wanted to spend the day searching for clues to a nonexistent treasure, that was her choice. I was going to get my work done.

Next time I looked, I saw she'd given up her scrutiny of the kitchen floor and gone back up to the attic.

A few hours later she came down covered with dust and carrying a roll of very old paper.

Without saying a word she unrolled it in front of me, covering my word processor.

It was a well-designed construction project. Drawn in sepia ink, it appeared to be the original plan for the house. There was no doubt that it was the work of a consummate artist.

And there it was again -- the cellar beneath the kitchen, clearly delineated with a dotted line, which indicated that it was underground.

Now I had to take Ana Laura seriously.

If it were some sort of storage space and had been sealed, we wouldn't lose anything by looking around a little, if only to please Ana Laura.

The next day we went into town. There was no office for the regulation or registration of private construction projects, but we were told that we could find information on local buildings at the public library.

The matronly woman who attended us in the library was colder than the morning, and it took several minutes to convince her we weren't planning to rob the place. Finally, after glaring at us fixedly, she led us to the reading room, ordering us to sit down and indicating that we were to remain silent by putting a finger to her lips. Neither Ana Laura nor I had said a word, but the ugly harpy seemed to enjoy treating us like a couple of schoolkids.

She disappeared for what seemed like an eternity and then reappeared carrying a very large book and two other smaller volumes, all quite old.

She opened the large book on one of the tables and wordlessly signaled that it contained what she thought we were looking for. Then, speaking in a very low voice -- which was ridiculous, because there was no one else in the room -- she told us that we would find additional information in the two smaller books. She warned us to be careful with the material, since it was very valuable. She returned after a few minutes to stare at us again, and finally disappeared in the direction of her desk.

Laughing, Ana Laura turned to look at me and whispered, "You better behave yourself if you don't want the teacher to expel you from school."

I had to control myself to keep from laughing out loud. Not that the joke was so funny, but the tension in that place made it seem hilario...

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