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About the author:
CARLOS RUBIO was born in Cuba and came to the United States in 1961. After finishing high school, he attended Concord College and West Virginia University. A bilingual novelist, in Spanish he has written Saga, Orisha and Hubris. In 1989 his novel Quadrivium received the Nuevo León International Prize for Novels. In English he is the e author of Orpheus’s Blues, Secret Memories and American
Triptych, a trilogy of satirical novels. In 2004 his novel Dead Time received Foreword’s Magazine Book of the Year Award. His novel Forgotten Objects was published by Editions Dedicaces in 2014. Since then he has completed two Spanish-language works, Final Aria and Double Edge. The latter was a finalist in the International Reinaldo Arenas Literary Contest and was subsequently published by Ediciones Alféizar in 2019.
What inspired you to write your book?
I have always been interested in Italian culture. After spending some time in Italy in 2017, I decided it was time to put these experiences into a novel.
Here is a short sample from the book:
With the same mechanical motion that he had repeated for years, Donald Wilson reached out to the clock on the nightstand and turned off the alarm. It was exactly five minutes until seven, just before its annoying sound was programmed to go off and drive him from the comfortable warmth of his bed. Although his body always woke him a few minutes early, every night before going to sleep he made sure the alarm was on.
He did not linger in bed, as many people do, but sat up right away and easily stepped into the slippers that he had symmetrically aligned nearby the night before. The short distance to the bathroom was clear of any obstacles, lest he have to get up in the middle of the night, although he never did. A motion-activated nightlight would have lit the way. It was just a precaution.
After taking a short shower and drying himself off vigorously, he opened the bathroom door in order to release any residual vapor that might cloud the mirror, and reached for the shaving cream and his razor. He used this time to contemplate the day ahead of him, think of any possible contingencies that might arise, and the most efficient alternatives to solve them. Today he did not foresee anything out of the ordinary, just the usual clients that had been scheduled at the accounting firm that he had founded.
Before going into the kitchen, he stepped into the walk-in closet and put on the pants, shirt and shoes that he had selected the night before. He purposely set aside the sober jacket and tie, lest he accidentally spill something on them.
For years he had made a habit of allowing himself only a light breakfast: freshly brewed coffee (the programmable machine came on automatically as he took his shower), toast with butter or jelly, which he alternated, a hard-boiled egg and fresh orange juice. He was fully conscious that the sedentary nature of his job could quickly lead to being overweight if one was not careful. Not only had he always watched his intake of calories, but had joined a gym where he worked out vigorously every other day after leaving the office. The reason he gave himself, especially when his yearly membership came due, was one of bodily health and general well being, but underneath it all there was also a touch of vanity. Although not as handsome as a movie star, Donald was not completely dissatisfied with his looks.
As he sat at the kitchen table, he turned on the small television to get a heads up on the weather and the latest news. He would eat breakfast then return to the bedroom to make the bed, brush his teeth and put on his tie and coat.
Donald Wilson was a man of habit, one whose life was as colorless as an Ansel Adams print, as predictable and as accurate as a Swiss watch and as exciting as a slice of stale bread. In his own mind, however, he did not consider himself as such, he simply saw himself as a man, just any man.
His meticulousness, over time, had turned into fastidiousness, a quality that made him an ideal candidate for his job. No one knew if he was born that way or if he had acquired these habits along the way. Even as a young boy, it was clear that he was not like his older brother or the rest of his classmates. If anything, his mother would secretly worry that his room was just too orderly and tidy. Donald made up his bed as soon as he got up and the clothes in his closet were hung using an esoteric system that she never managed to decipher. His work area was always clear of the usual items—pencils, pens, erasers and other sundry knick-knacks—that would have been found on the desk belonging to any other boy his age. Instead, he kept everything in a compartmentalized cookie tin box that he had received during one Christmas a few years back. Above his desk, hanging on the wall, a calendar with typical American landscapes—the Grand Canyon, Golden Gate Bridge, etc.—held a chronological sequence of upcoming events, whether social or academic. His report cards, needless to say, were just as predictable and orderly as his room: they were populated by neat rows of the letter A and the same repetitious comments made by his teachers after having exhausted their laudatory repertoire.
Donald Wilson was, indeed, a model child; he never gave his parents or teachers any trouble. How could she complain? Yet, his mother still worried. In her mind, no child, especially a boy, could or should be that perfect.
David, his older brother, was the opposite side of the coin, and his room reflected it. There were clothes strewn on the furniture, on the unmade bed and often also on the floor. Why bother to hang them up? He simply chose from the ample and random assortment that was easily within reach. That the clothes were wrinkled or unwashed didn’t seem to make any difference to David; he just dragged himself out of bed, put them on and sat at the breakfast table still half asleep. Usually his parents and his younger brother were already half way through their meal.
David’s report cards were always full of surprises. Unlike Donald’s, his grades encompassed the entire range, from an occasional A or D, to the more common Cs. His parents believed that he was just as intelligent as Donald, but he just did not take school that seriously. He was more interested in sports and having a social life than in his academic formation. Throughout high school he sought the company of many girlfriends, with whom he attended—or organized—wild parties and usually came home at a late hour.
The parents never reproached David, or compared him to his brother, lest he feel that they wished he were more like him. At school, most of the teachers never suspected they were related. They just assumed that they shared the same last name by coincidence, but that there was no relation. After all, while David was often late with his assignments and never volunteered any answers in class, Donald was always prompt, meticulous and his hand went up as soon as the teachers asked a question.
There was a tacit pact between the brothers never to visit each other’s room; they were on opposite poles that were destined never to meet. The rest of the house was neutral territory jointly controlled by their parents. The two brothers would see each other whenever the family sat down for their meals, or occasionally in the evenings when everyone gathered in the living room to watch television. Most of the time, however, Donald was in his room doing homework and David was out with his friends. Despite the fact that they lived under the same roof, had the same parents and had been raised in the same way, the only thing they had in common was their last name.
Although they wished their sons were closer, in time the parents accepted the situation. They concluded that the boys were different; that was all. Just before his high-school graduation, David announced that he wanted to attend the university and pursue a degree in art history. His parents were both surprised and pleased. He had never mentioned an interest in art, but at least it was better than just getting a dead-end job and wasting away his best years, so they supported his decision.
Donald would never forget the day of David’s departure to college. That morning the entire family got in the car and drove for several hours until they reached the campus. Following a brief orientation led by an upper classman, they were shown to the dorms, where the new students were abuzz carrying in their belongings, arranging their closets and generally settling in. After a brief good-bye, they left David in the room and walked back to the car. The return trip was a lot more silent. Donald’s parents simply commented that David would probably adapt well and make friends right away, but did not voice any of their academic expectations.
As soon as he walked into his room, Donald knew that someone had been there. Sitting on his desk, he found a small box and a glass jar. They were accompanied by a hand-written note.
Use these on a regular basis.
Maybe they will help you with
your stiff and constipated way of life.
Your brother, David
The box contained a full assortment of suppositories, and the jar was Ben Gay. At first Donald thought that it was a joke in poor taste. But after thinking about it for a while, he concluded that David had meant it.
Although he never mentioned the incident to his parents, nor showed any outward signs of it ever happening, it really bothered him. At first he was angry, not so much at the explicit message and the accompanying remedies, but at the violation of his private space. No one ever came into his room unless they were invited. Even his mother, whenever she had came in to deliver clean sheets and pillow cases, or for whatever other reason, always knocked on the door and waited politely before she was asked to come in.
But during the subsequent days, in the silence that was born out of David’s absence, he began to ponder about what his brother had meant. It was obvious that he considered a neat, orderly and organized way of life a liability rather than an asset. Was it possible that in his quest for efficiency he had taken these qualities to an extreme? Obviously he didn’t think so. Everything he did was logical and orderly. Shouldn’t life be pursued in exactly that way?
In the end, he concluded that his brother was wrong; it was David who needed to change his general outlook on just about everything. He wondered how his brother could ever succeed in college with such a disorganized approach to life. David had no rules, so he observed none. He just took the days as they came, as unopened envelopes that were delivered to him every morning and that contained an assortment of possibilities with which he could fill the hours. No. He preferred his own, methodical and predictable way of doing things, without any surprises that might upset the normal flow of life. Nothing changed; if anything, after his brother’s departure, he became more focused on his own studies. Although David called occasionally, Donald made it a point not to come to the phone; there was nothing he wanted to say to his brother.
But inevitably, Thanksgiving arrived and David would be coming home for a few days. There was no need to pick him up at the college, since he had secured a ride with a friend who lived in the same town. Of course, his parents were excited, and on the day of his arrival they sat in the living room, waiting and occasionally peeking through the windows that faced the front of the house.
Eventually, a station wagon pulled up to the curb and David appeared holding small bag in his hand. Walking quickly to the front door, he opened it and stepped into the living room. He seemed taller than just a few months before, and he had grown a beard. After kissing his mother and hugging his dad, he finally looked at Donald.
“Hi Donny,” he said while slapping his brother lightly on the back. “How are things?”
“Fine,” he said curtly. Everybody knew that he did not like to be call Donny, or Don. He preferred Donald, his given name.
That evening, during suppertime, David spoke about his college life, his courses, and the new friendships he had forged during his short stay. His parents must have felt a certain amount of relief that at least he was taking his studies more seriously than he had taken those in high school.
Donald did not comment, but just listened. It was as if he were listening to a stranger. Yes, he and David were brothers, but had never been friends. As soon as dinner was over, he excused himself alleging homework, and went to his room. His parents were eager to hear every word that David had to say about his college experiences.
The subsequent days, including Thanksgiving, were basically identical. David would sleep late, watch TV in the afternoons and go out with his high-school friends in the evenings. Eventually Sunday came around and David’s ride back to the college showed up at the door. He was ready to go. After kissing his mother and hugging his father, he turned towards Donald.
“I’ll see you around,” he said, and then winked at him with his left eye.
Then, he was gone.
During David’s visit Donald had made sure that whenever he was not in his room, the door remained locked. He did not want a repeat of the unspoken incident that had taken place months before. But apparently David was too preoccupied with his own activities, busy visiting his friends or maybe his concern for his brother’s behavior had just been forgotten. Donald’s room had remained the private sanctuary that he had so carefully crafted.
David’s next visit was not until Christmas, and it was pretty much a repeat of the previous one. He arrived with the same friend who had brought him at Thanksgiving and, just as before, spent most of his free time sleeping and visiting his acquaintances. Unbeknownst to Donald, this would be the last time he would see his brother for many years. He called at the end of the spring semester to tell the parents that he would not be coming home for the summer, since he had secured an apprenticeship in a museum. Even though the position did not pay much, the experience would later prove invaluable in his chosen career. He also excused himself for having to miss Donald’s high school graduation, but it was imperative that he be at his job, since it could open other doors in the future.
By that time Donald had already applied to several colleges and universities, to which he had been accepted. He had also received several generous offers for scholarships, which would greatly ease the financial burden of a university career. The one institution of higher learning which he never considered, to the chagrin of his parents, was the one where his older brother David attended. He knew that he could have easily been admitted, but he preferred to go his own way instead of being someone’s little brother.
After a careful process of elimination, he settled on Rutgers University, because of the program and the advantages that it offered him. Even as an entering freshman, he knew that he wanted to pursue a career in accounting. There was no ambiguity in numbers, a quality which he found to be very appealing. Gray areas or different interpretations were not possible. Numbers did not lie.
His parents approved wholeheartedly of his decision. Donald’s common sense was something they had accepted as a matter of course throughout the years, and they were certain that he had weighed all the factors before making such and important decision. They were also glad that scholarships would cover most of his expenses, so their financial contribution would be minimal. The only thing they disliked about his decision was the distance to the university, since New Brunswick, New Jersey, was hundreds of miles from their home in Illinois. Donald had settled on one of the most prestigious institutions on the East Coast. They accepted it because, after all, it was his decision and no one else’s, no matter how they felt about it.
On the appointed day, they drove their son to the airport; driving to the university was out of the question. After checking in his luggage and an emotional good-bye, Donald promised that he would call as soon as he arrived. Then he boarded the plane.