“Speak Spanish to me?”
“No.” Stevie smiles because the Word might be spelled the same way but the way Xabi said it was definitely not the English way.
“I’d rather you made me talk dirty. It’d be less embarrassing.”
“That could be arranged. Seriously, Xabs. Anything.”
Xabi looks up and bites his lip for a moment.
“Pensarte en español no tiene sentido, y menos aún en Euskadi. Es que eres tan inglés, tan terco y Stevie que quiero odiarte para no amarte tanto. Contigo no me corro, no me vengo, contigo pierdo el lenguaje y el aliento en un solo espasmo de tus caderas. Entonces está blanco, tibio y está tu cara, o mejor dicho, tú. No te veo, no te oigo, pero sé que me rodeas. Y te quiero.“
Stevie bites his lip and tilts his head to one side. “Now, was that so hard?”
Xabi smiles and eyes him, tucks his head in Stevie’s neck. “You have no idea.”
Xabi’s words are sometimes like an ointment, or a blanket. They make Stevie feel safe. Sometimes they make him feel inadequate, too, but it’s not envy, it’s awe. Stevie is awed by Xabi, awed by the notion that someone can be so articulate and fluid in a language they’ve borrowed.
“What are you reading?” Stevie lets himself fall on the couch next to Xabi, who closes his book to show Stevie the cover.
“Lolita? Isn’t that the book about the pedo guy?”
Xabi chuckles. “Yes and no. It’s so much more than that, I’m not sure I can really explain.”
Stevie moves around until he’s stretched across the couch and his head is resting on Xabi’s lap. “Try?”
Xabi cards his fingers through Stevie’s hair absent mindedly.
“I.. Nabokov’s prose is amazing. When you read it you get involved in it so quickly, it’s a true fight within yourself, you want Humbert –he’s the protagonist and he tells you his story in the first person- to fail, you want him to get caught and at the same time you want him to get her. You feel disgusted and aroused and it’s not because of the subject but because of the execution. You read Lolita sprawling limply in your chair, ravished, overcome, nodding scandalized assent.”
Stevie looks up at Xabi and smiles filled with warmth. Xabi goes back to the book’s first page and starts reading out loud. He is enraptured and Stevie doesn’t care about Nabokov; Xabi could be reciting the phonebook for all that Stevie minds, but it’s Xabi’s accent, Xabi’s mannerisms, the way he rushes to turn the page that make Stevie love him a bit more.
“Why are you reading it in English?”
“That’s the way it should be read. The way the writer plays with language must surely get lost in translation.” He smirks as he takes his eyes off the page “Did you know that Nabokov’s first language wasn’t English? Russian was his mother tongue and he used to write in Russian. I think he knew Lolita could only be written in English. I love Spanish, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something about English, about the way it’s been universally accepted as a second language. It’s like wherever we go, we will always understand each other as long as we speak English. I love English, I never thought I’d grow to love it so much. And just as Nabokov, I think some things can only be thought, can only be felt in English. I’m not sure I could talk and feel this way in Spanish. No, I don’t think.”
Stevie wonders sometimes if the reason Xabi doesn’t like to speak –nor think- in Spanish around him is that English is quintessentially him: Stevie, Liverpool; if somehow Spanish is only meant for Nagore or even if Nagore is confined to some part of Basqué country and the rest of Spain –and actual Spanish- is reserved for someone else, someone Xabi hasn’t met yet.
Maybe that’s the way Xabi’s found to keep his life divided, his lovers apart. Language.
“Sorry my arse” Stevie thinks and crumples the note left on the bed. He knows he’ll straighten the paper and reread it endlessly later but he can’t do that now, it hurts too much. The note could probably be published as tragic, angst-ridden poetic prose.
It’s only later at night, when Stevie is feeling buzzed with a couple of beers in his system, that he goes to the bookshelf and takes Xabi’s old copy of Lolita. He opens it to the first chapter and as his eyes roam the page, fixates on a sentence. “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.” And then “Look at this tangle of thorns.”