Juan Rodolfo Wilcock’s story The Island

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Inspired by his reading of Robinson Crusoe, Gromibo decided to turn his flat into a desert island. In the beginning Crabua, his wife, didn’t object but then, when one evening he returned from his job at the bank with the news that the removal men were coming to take away the furniture the next morning, she was distraught and even started to cry. She, too, had read Robinson’s inspiring story and went to fetch a copy of the novel pointing out to her husband that in reality Robinson really had some items of furniture and sundry objects salvaged from the shipwreck. These included an inkpot, some weapons, cheeses, coils of lead piping, hammocks, a small cupboard, silver cutlery and, in short, more things than they owned while living in their apartment block. So husband and wife together came to a common agreement to draw up a list of items to salvage from the shipwreck. Drafting this list what was really shipwrecked was any common agreement. Crabua wanted to hold on to everything, in fact she even talked of making new purchases such as deckchairs, beach umbrellas, mosquito nets. Gromibo, on the contrary, wished to start from scratch, that is, with only a hammer and a kilogram of nails of varying sizes. Crabua also feared that the slow procession of her furniture downstairs would be accompanied by a rapid decline in her personal standing amongst the women of the neighbourhood, but Gromibo tried to explain to her that, as soon as they had landed on the island, such a thing as a neighbourhood would have ceased to exist by definition. Besides he with his hammer and those trunks – those strong, bulky ones which people sometimes leave at night without thinking alongside the rubbish and which the rubbish collectors simply refuse to take away – will mean that she won’t lack anything. The expulsion of the furniture turned into a terribly distressing scene. Caruba grabbed on to the bedside tables as though they were her own sons and brothers; she threatened fainting fits from which she immediately recovered to throw herself on to the oven with all the pots and pans in her arms. She spat out feathers and tufts of wool in her patriotic attempt to defend with her teeth the mattresses and pillows. With the fridges first steps into exile she completely lost her mind for about a quarter of an hour. In spite of this she managed to save something, though not it should be said, the respect of her neighbours. This, more than any consideration about the natural isolation of the islands, resulted in her no longer leaving the house, at least during the daytime. She now prefers to do her shopping between four and five in the morning in a small market open at night-time.

There then followed a period of absolute conjugal bliss for this shipwrecked couple. Upon hearing the first shrieks of the macaques soon to be drowned out by the screeches of the early morning parrots, Gromibo gets up from his fresh straw mattresses made from carbon paper, washes himself with some leftover lard and then merrily awakens his wife with a few cudgel blows and then leaves to go to the bank. Caruba has been renamed Friday and sleeps in the bathtub because of the cockroaches which have invaded the island. He is never one to return from work without some useful object or titbit gathered in the early morning from the trashcans along the way: a car hub cap, an exotic looking banana, a charming little animal to keep them company or keep them fed, potato peelings which they can sow, a theodolite with a single arm, even a dead sheep he found one evening after closing his account books. Friday does her best to keep his clothes clean and tidy, as a bank post entails but she goes around with any old rags even those gathered by her husband in the course of his forays in the surroundings of the small fort or in mountainous zones in the outlying areas. For example, he may bring her a modern lampshade with a frieze of tanks for her to wear as a dress during the day and another with the ancient map of Dacia and Sarmatia as an evening dress as well as those wonderful combinations of doormats that the island women wear. Gromibo relatively often adds to his usual gifts a sack of bones or chicken heads which can be crushed with flint and then gnawed on along with the scraps of watermelon found under swarms of flies and birds of prey in the archipelago. In the evening under the mystical glow of endless advertising, Friday will light the sharp oil lamp and, in the dream-like light, will beckon to the delight of her husband with the paces of a Gregorian dance. After this they will sit on the floor lovingly wrapped in each other embraces by the last embers of the firebrick hearth and together they will listen to the magnificent silence of the night interrupted only by the bloodcurdling screams coming from the television sets or from the measured howls of distant hyenas. But now and again Gromibo will get up and turning his trustful gaze towards the windowpane misting over with the cold and veiled by the rain, he will murmur “oh, if only a ship would pass by…”

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About afoniya

I am a translator, language teacher, independent film scholar who is interested in many aspects of culture. I have my own blog on Russian and Soviet cinema at http://giuvivrussianfilm.blogspot.com and I have also written for journals such as Film Philosophy and Bright Lights as well as Ribbed magazine. Outside of film my interest runs to language, politics, literature and my world is centred around the Meditteranean, Russia, Southern Ukraine as well as the UK.

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