The Spanish Riveter: From LOS NOMBRES PROPIOS by Marta Jiménez Serrano, translated by Kathleen Meredith

Los nombres propios is an inquiry into identity and the relationship we establish with the world around us. Dominated by a narrative voice of exceptional maturity, this debut novel by Marta Jiménez Serrano reflects on how we come to be who we are and on growing up and the way we do it: by learning to name what matters to us.

She breathes with difficulty. It’s a laboured breath, audible. It’s Friday. The rhythm constant. Each inhale identical to the one before it. Each exhale equal to the previous one. Her breath coming and going, chipping away at the time like the second hand of a clock. Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick.

Now each inhale no longer serves as the model for the next. Then one exhale is the last. You all wait for the silence to linger long enough to rule out the possibility of a reprise. How do you know when something is the last one? A breath, a kiss, a confession, an argument, how do you know when they’re the last ones? You just have to wait. You all wait. With your breath held in that space between your chest and your navel, you wait. The silence ticks on. Finally, you call the doctor. The world, that only a few moments ago stood still, fast forwards at full speed.

Mom gets up, you do too, you both go to look for a doctor, your grandma’s cool hand, the silence, a nurse comes in and goes out again, your grandma’s cool forehead, her pale skin. A doctor arrives followed by another nurse and without even needing to check, they confirm the evidence, the evidence that it’s your grandma who is dead on the white hospital bed. ‘Phone your aunt.’ You go out to the hallway to make the call, ‘it’s over’ you say and there’s a sharp whimper from the other end of the line; it’s still possible to be surprised by something you already know. More people leave the room, another nurse enters, then another doctor, you hang up and go back in. You look at Mom, at your mom who is losing her own mom right this moment, ‘it’s over’ you repeat, you’ve already called your aunt. Someone covers your grandma’s face with the bedsheet and it’s over, it’s over, you’re never going to see that face again. You feel like it’s been whipped away from you without warning, completely out of the blue, the pool net, you were just holding on to the pool net, the water lapping at your chin, you’re kicking your feet with all your might to stay afloat and suddenly it’s yanked right out of your hands and there’s barely time to breathe before you’re sinking. You wave your arms frantically but your belly is sinking, you kick your feet, you’re in the deep end, you’re sinking, water is in your eyes, in your nose, in your mouth, and you feel as if you’re drowning, you feel as if you’re sinking, you flail desperately in the water until suddenly – boom! – you feel the solid rim of the pool. Your hand, the pool’s edge, safety. You cling to it. Leaning on your forearms, you prop yourself up on the edge, coughing, you catch your breath. The sun is blinding. There’s so much light. Nobody’s around. I told you: eventually you would end up on your own.

A doctor asks you to keep the doorway clear, so you go back out to the corridor. You see Dad arrive.

‘Your mom?’


He goes into the room. You don’t cry. You don’t sit down. You have no idea what to do. You were with Mom when Grandma died – she just died, your grandma – and now your mom and dad hold one another. Dad holds Mom. Who will be with you when your mom dies. You don’t want kids. Who will hug you in a random hospital room when your mom dies. Who will take care of all the paperwork for the funeral home for you, who will cook for you that day, and get a bit drunk with you that evening until you fall asleep. Who will sleep next to you. Is there going to be someone to hold you at night, the day your mom dies? Because some day your mom will also die. One day even you will die.

By Marta Jiménez Serrano

Translated by Kathleen Meredith


(‘Proper Names’)

By Marta Jiménez Serrano

Translated by Kathleen Meredith

Published by Sexto Piso (2021)

Read The Spanish Riveter here or order your paper copy from here.

Buy books from The Spanish Riveter through the European Literature Network’s The Spanish Riveter page.

Marta Jiménez Serrano is a writer from Madrid. Her book of poetry La edad ligera was a finalist for
the Adonai Prize in 2020.
Los nombres propios is her first novel and has been translated into Italian. Her latest book, a collection of short stories, was published in March of 2023.

Kathleen Meredith is a translator and teacher based in Madrid. She has taught English and Drama classes in Spanish schools, and has participated in the Queen’s College Translation Exchange, designing and presenting a creative translation workshop for primary students.

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