Anthony came back from the contemporary art museum and told me to stop being a pussy. I shivered and my neck hurt. I couldn’t leave my bed. I would freeze. So he went out to get me soup. I realized that I was just like his friend, the Dying Spaniard. I am the Dying American.
I know Anthony Browne from Bushwick. He’s a sculptor. His work is in a show in Manhattan, with other famous artists. Back in December we had planned on meeting in Romania. Now we’re here. But as many of you know, Anthony and I met up in Greece more than two weeks ago.
He had flown into Berlin, intending to stay there for a month, meet the artists in the scene and make some friends. But it was cold, too cold. This winter has been the coldest in many years in Europe, part of the El Nino pattern. Anyway, Anthony was staying in a Soviet-era apartment in the neighborhood of Kreuzberg, in East Berlin, which he had found on CraigsList.
His roommate was a pale skinny sick little man, a Spaniard named Antonio, whose hair was always dirty and messy. He stuck out his lips over his buckteeth and squinted his eyes like a little mouse. He only ate soup and drank tea.
Their apartment was heated by a coal oven between Anthony’s and Antonio’s bedrooms. They had to sleep with their doors open to let the heat in. Worse, they were running out of coal while waiting for the landlord to come back, so they had to start rationing it. Poor Antonio often complained of the cold, despite his thick wool sweater. He complained about how he had trouble breathing, about the pain in his lungs and how he was getting ever skinnier and paler. Anthony suggested insulating the windows with plastic and comforters, using extra covers, breathing more deeply. But nothing he did could keep Antonio warm.
Anthony hadn’t been taking very good care of himself either. His diet consisted of bread and cheese and various sausages he bought at the Kaiser grocery store. After returning from the Kaiser one day, our two friends talked about something besides Antonio’s rapidly diminishing health. Antonio showed Anthony a program for a music festival which he had no hope of going to. They talked about the music they liked. After this nice moment Anthony left to go to a contemporary art gallery. He walked around in the 15 degree (F) weather and couldn’t find the gallery. He was sick and tired of walking in the cold. He decided to leave Berlin. He was going to meet me in sunny Athens.
Antonio was very sad when Anthony told him he was leaving. Antonio wrote out on a piece of paper his name, his phone number, email address, and what part of Spain he was from, so in case anything happened to him, Anthony would be able to contact his family. There was nothing more Anthony could do. He lost the piece of paper the dying Spaniard gave him. He still feels bad about it. When I asked him if the Spaniard has died yet, Anthony said, “He’s perpetually dying.”
And now in Romania, in this Samuel Beckett style play we’re living in, I feel like the Dying Spaniard, perpetually cold, concerned with my health. I wonder if Antonio wasn’t just a part of Anthony’s subconscious rearing its ugly head… In any case, if I die, Anthony already knows my family.