Moreover, it was in the endless procession of images on the screen that little Kingston discovered the meaning of disappointment. No grunting noises, fitful pointing or even the most hysterical crying were capable of halting the stream of objects that he desired, rapidly lost forever through that infinite skylight. It was like being in the eye of an uncontrollable hurricane, stimuli pounding him from all directions, mercilessly spinning him around. King felt intense bursts of pleasure, which nevertheless seemed simultaneously submerged in a turbulent wave of pain. This seemed destined to put an end to his sense of wonder, as well as to his energy, since these pure torture sessions left him exhausted. His power was decimated by each cinema trip and he was temporarily transformed into a listless and pensive baby, harbouring grave suspicions about the authenticity of his reign. Little by little, however, things would return to normal and he would once more begin to exercise his tyrannical power over those around him. Parallel to this was his mounting desire to return to the cinema to pit his strength anew against this rival that tempted him with objects which it would then conceal or make vanish without any logic or warning. On the other hand, the longer the gap between films, the more certain he was that this time the flow of images would bend to his will. But when he returned to the darkened room he was powerless to stop the images escaping him, and his mother, instead of giving him everything he asked for, which was undoubtedly her function, would take him away and give him a good telling-off — the only reasonable reaction to his cries and childish tantrums, at least until his throat tired of howling and his whole body surrendered to sleep. This was how the cinema became his worst enemy.
However, the birth of his sister, the task of learning the alphabet and the emergence of new and greater challenges to his reign in the family palace afforded him the opportunity to feign a certain indifference to that monster that was so impervious to his increasingly uncertain powers. Then, like those enemies whose lives come to depend on the conflict they have initiated, he began to be captivated by the images. Their magic transported him to another world. Often, in a feeble attempt to uncover their workings, he would replay in his head the best parts of the films he had been taken to see, searching for the trick that had ensnared him. And this was how he fell into fetishism. Using photos and dolls, he would try to possess certain faces or characters, which nonetheless continued to prove fleeting and elusive. Despite all he possessed, there was always something that evaded his control. This was how he learned that things were not at all like their images. It was perhaps for this reason that he only felt that forces were balanced once he began to relate what happened on screen to specific words he was learning day by day and which, like images, seemed destined to fill with meaning the stream of events that was his life. The turning point, when images and words became forever connected, happened in a drive-in, in the surroundings of the last drive-in on the island. It was there that he discovered the secret of the stars.
His family had just arrived in Buenos Aires and Kingston still had many happy memories of other drive-ins and other summer evenings spent gazing up at films in the open air. Of course, sometimes what was most interesting was the show that was put on by the sky and the stars, so it was not hard for him to switch channels and fall asleep with a pleasant sensation of his own importance in the universe. For as long as he could remember, his family had lived in a large house in the outskirts of Colonia. In the summer, when the heat became unbearable, they would often sleep in the back garden. It was one of the few times King really enjoyed all the preparations leading up to a big event. The night generally started with a barbecue prepared by his father, without dessert but with the anticipation of what was to come. King had noticed his parents used these al fresco dinners to study the sky in search of suspicious-looking clouds. On several occasions they had been caught out by rain in the middle of the night and, even though they would take this unforeseen circumstance in good humour, nobody liked to have their sleep disturbed in that way. Sometimes they even relied on their dog’s nose to settle the matter. She was an alert doberman who loathed the rain, so whenever she smelt it in the air she acted accordingly, avoiding the garden at all costs, even if tempted with the juiciest cuts of meat. King loved that dog. She had been his playmate and fellow explorer before his sister came along and his mother never tired of telling him that the two had been born on the same day. But Kingston was not as impressed with this coincidence as he was with the dog’s name: Blackie was black. It seemed a trivial matter, but for him it was deadly serious. Several times he had asked his parents who it was who had christened her. He asked them both together and separately, to check whether their stories matched. King, like all Kings, was a very suspicious monarch. Apparently, the name had been given her by a vet, they didn’t know who. Kingston would have liked to ask him why he had chosen it, since every doberman he had ever seen had been black. Did it not lend itself to confusion? How was anyone to know exactly which doberman was Blackie? Had it really never occurred to anybody to give this same name to another doberman? Or perhaps it didn’t matter to them? Did people think things through first? That was why he always chose his dog as the main character each time he was asked in school to pick a subject for a creative writing piece. But his teachers also failed to grasp how important this was. King suspected there were many thing adults didn’t understand or deliberately chose not to understand, although they did seem to have cottoned on to the fact that Blackie was never wrong when it came to forecasting rain. And so, whenever his parents were convinced it wasn’t going to rain that night, as they cleared the table just before watching television or heading straight to bed, there would come the eagerly anticipated question: "Who wants to sleep outside tonight?" "Me! Me!" his sister would yell, and King would exchange a knowing look with his dog. Then they would scamper off to look for the mats his mother had made specially to put on the grass. Once the mats were laid out, it was time for the mattresses, a job reserved exclusively for the men of the house. The women took charge of the sheets, bedspreads and blankets, just in case it got too chilly during the night. Finally, the coils, sprays and creams to ward off the mosquitoes. King was always the first to go to bed and the last to fall asleep, as if he feared missing out on the spectacle of the starry night. When his parents went to bed, King would ask his mother to point out the Southern Cross, Orion’s Belt, The Seven Sisters, The Morning Star and, of course, his favourite planet, Mercury. He knew perfectly well where they were, but he never tired of asking, as if he needed fresh confirmation of the knowledge he had built up from so many nights sleeping outside. Yet he was never satisfied with just identifying the constellations he already knew. He would also try to make out new shapes in the sky. Sometimes he thought he could see boats, horses, dogs, trains and trees, or even dragons that looked like the mole on his arm. He always tried to share his discoveries with Blackie, the only member of the family he could wake in the middle of the night without getting a good telling-off. Stoically, Blackie would open one eye, look up at where her master was pointing, sigh in agreement and go back to sleep at his side. That was the life.
It was those nights that he missed the most when they had to move to the capital. His family now lived in a small flat without a garden. They had no car and they couldn’t even afford trips to the cinema. King didn't just long to fall asleep gazing at the stars, he also yearned, above all, to go to an open-air cinema. That was why he began to slip away on Saturday nights, telling his parents he was going out dancing when he was really heading for the drive-in, hoping to find a hole in the fencing or to sneak in when the guards weren’t looking. Luck was never on his side, but he did get to know the area well and one night he chanced upon a tree from which he had a full view of the huge screen. True, he couldn’t hear anything but it was fun trying to read the actors’ lips and, in any case, their gestures and expressions often said more than all the words in the world. One of the images he remembered best, the one through which he discovered the secrets of the stars, was of an unforgettably beautiful woman. He never discovered her name, or perhaps he had forgotten it on purpose in order to remember her better. She had just committed an atrocious, vindictive and unforgiveable act, and yet it was impossible not to delight in her perfect features and her perfect black hair. The image etched on his mind forever was that of her gazing straight ahead at her lover, at the camera. At him, with her green eyes sparkling in the night, as the dark backdrop of the screen fused into the starry sky. It was then that he discovered the secret; it was then that he understood why some actresses were called stars.
Translation by Anna Bennett, Junyi Chew, Amanda Fearnley, Caroline Holworthy, Eloise Horsey, Keira Ives-Keeler, Abigail Jackson-Houlston, Chloe Pilpel, Kerry Taylor, Kate Wilkins and Aimée Woodliffe of the University of Leeds, UK. Revision by Jeremy Munday.
Thank you very much for the great work. MD.
Thank you very much for the great work. MD.