The Spanish Riveter: From TODO VA A MEJORAR by Almudena Grandes, translated by Alice Banks

Jonás González Vergara was ready to face his therapist.

Before receiving the message with the date and the time of his appointment on his 7AP mobile, bought expressly for the occasion, he’d removed all the quilts, bed sheets and towels that were stored in the chest beneath his bed. Here he had been keeping – almost carelessly – what were about to become his two illegal laptops, a pair of external hard drives, three screens, two old smartphones, the phone he’d been using up until the Great Blackout, speakers, computer mice, and other gadgets that at first glance no longer served a purpose. He covered them back up with two quilts before lowering the bed, onto which he threw a mountain of clothes. Then he took what he’d removed from his stash – what was to be discarded – to the hall: a smartphone whose screen was in pieces, a printer that hadn’t worked for ten years, a mouse, two disassembled speakers, and Lucía’s laptop – this particularly annoyed him because it was brand new and no one had had the chance to turn it on since he’d brought it back from the store, neatly wrapped, but it wasn’t plausible that a man like him would not have a laptop, and the ones he had kept hidden were better.

‘Good afternoon,’ she smiled, showing off two rows of irregular but very white teeth, before shaking his hand with more force than he had expected. ‘Jonás González, right?’ She smiled again, this time with such tenacity that her lips twisted into an excruciating grimace. ‘I’m Leticia, and I’m your personal therapist. I’ve come to inform you that …’, she lifted up her hand to make a V for victory with two of her fingers, ‘…  everything will get better.’

The new party that was leading government, Citizen’s Movement, Solutions Now!, had profusely declared that the end of the Third Pandemic’s lockdown would bring two big new changes. The first had been the installation of huge shopping centres that had been strategically placed to provide for all neighbourhoods, protected by the transparent domes that had been slowly taking over the horizon for a while now. These sections of the city, where every type of business imaginable had been installed in pre-existing buildings, could be walked through as normal. You could wander around with complete freedom and no need for protective equipment thanks to some enigmatic systems that guaranteed continuous disinfection of the air and acted as an armour against the virus. The second change, referred to as the Great Therapy Initiative, had arrived at Jonás’s house in the form of this forty-odd-year-old lady with bleached blonde hair, heavy make-up, a garish manicure, a cascade of curls down to her waist, and extremely high heels that failed to make her appear tall. If he had to draw her, thought Jonás, as he watched her walk through his living room, she would be a dwarf dressed in drag.

‘Wow, what a nice place. Do you own it?’

‘Yes.’ Jonás remembered it was best to act natural, and gave her a shy smile. ‘I bought it a few years ago, when this part of Lavapiés was still affordable …’ He paused to remind himself that fortune favoured the brave. ‘Would you like me to give you a tour?’

‘Ah! Well of course.’ Her enthusiasm did not stop her removing a notebook and pen from her bag. ‘What a great idea!’

Jonás’s apartment had a living room, a kitchen, three bedrooms, a bathroom and a second toilet. He was afraid that Leticia would make some sort of comment that it was too big for one person, but she didn’t say anything. Nor did she bring up the pile of clothes that covered the quilt on the double bed, not even when he told her she’d caught him in the middle of tidying up. However, upon entering the study, she pointed to the computer.

‘I’m taking that, right?’

‘Noooo, no, no,’ Jonás had to stop to take a breath, ‘you can’t take it, because it’s legal, it’s for my work. It doesn’t even belong to me, it’s the public television channel’s, I’m …’

‘Ah, yes,’ she consulted her papers and wrote something down, ‘yes, it’s stated in the documentation, what it is …’ She frowned for a few seconds, then smiled again. ‘You have a very strange job, don’t you? What exactly is it that you do?’

‘I’m a digital animator’, he explained, ‘basically, I make cartoons. I work for the television company making animations for two different channels. One’s a kids’ channel, I got the job through my old production company, and the other makes documentaries about the history of Spain.’

‘Ah!’ For the first time since she’d arrived, the therapist looked interested. ‘You’re the one who does the drawings of the speaking kings and the moving armies?’

‘Exactly.’ He didn’t have to force a smile, as this was the part of his job he enjoyed most. 

‘Oh, I love it!’ She wrote something in her notebook and turned on her high heels. ‘Well, the computer will stay here, that’s for sure!’

She looked into the guest bedroom, her eyes sweeping over another double bed and an empty table that would soon become the most important part of the house, and returned to the living room. Jonás offered her a coffee, which she accepted. Upon seeing him return with a tray, she motioned towards where he should sit down. He chose the other end of the sofa without saying anything, and she got up to take the place that her patient had scorned. 

‘Well, now we’ve got to the most important part.’ she started. ‘The objective of the Great Therapy Initiative is to boost everyone’s moods in this particularly hard time, which we are all finding rather tough. That’s why our motto is “everything will get better”. I’ve brought you …’ she went back to her bag and pulled out a plastic package with a T-shirt, a fridge magnet, some stickers, and some pin badges all pasted in the same phrase ‘…  this! It’s so we don’t lose sight of the fact that we have a great future ahead, where all of this will be behind us, don’t you agree?’

‘Yes.’ Jonás took one of the white pin badges with red and blue letters out of the packaging and held it towards the therapist. ‘But I like yours more. Can we swap?’

‘We can’t.’ She touched the red badge with white and blue letters that she was sporting on her lapel and hurried to suppress an expression of alarm that didn’t go unnoticed. ‘These are only for the therapists, it’s like an indication of our profession. I can’t give it to anybody.’

‘Yeah, of course …’ After confirming that there was a hidden microphone in the therapist’s badge that must be recording the conversation, he stuck one of the blue badges on his shirt. ‘No worries.’

‘Very well, so …’ she stopped to note something down in her notebook, lifted her head and looked Jonás straight in the eyes, ‘tell me Jonás, are you happy?’

by Almudena Grandes

Translated by Alice Banks

Todo va a mejorar: © Heirs of Almudena Grandes, 2022 / Tusquets Editores

From Todo va a mejorar (‘Everything Will Get Better’)

by Almudena Grandes

Translated for The Riveter by Alice Banks

Published by Tusquets Editores (2022)

The Spanish Riveter is honoured to publish an exclusive extract in English from Almudena Grandes’ final novel.

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.

Almudena Grandes was a Spanish writer. Author of fourteen novels and three short-story collections, her work has been translated into twenty languages and frequently adapted for film. She won the Premio Nacional de Narrativa and the Prix Méditerranée, among other honours.

Alice Banks is a literary translator from Spanish and French based in Madrid. Alice’s most recent translation is Deranged As I Am, by Ali Zamir. She is currently working on a translation of
Elizabeth Duval’s novel
Madrid será la tumba, which will be published in autumn 2023.

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