TICK-TOCK by Suso de Toro

‘Possibly the most impressive novel ever written in the Galician language’. With these words, the eminent critic Basilio Losada describes Suso de Toro’s novel Tick-Tock in a letter to the author. Suso de Toro is alternative in everything he does, he rearranges the boundaries, surprises the reader, does the unexpected, persons, tenses change, and what could be construed as an atheistic, chaotic novel acquires hints of religiosity. Nano, the narrator, is a man of uncertain age who has never made it in the world, but who likes to hold forth all the same, to fill notebooks with his thoughts on fishing in the Gran Sol, on controlling his libido, on inventing machines that serve no purpose. The novel centres on his experiences, and on the lives of those around him: his mother, his father and half-brother, the people who occupy the building where his mother cleans. Tick-Tock, a sequel to Polaroid, received the Spanish Critics’ Prize for its unconventionality and narrative expertise, and is the author’s most popular work.

What weather, eh. The day’s got off to a good start. It doesn’t stop; once it starts raining, there’s no stopping. Before that, we all used to cry out for rain, saying there’s a drought, the plants are drying up, in the winter the mountain will burn, and stuff like that. Now, there’s rain for you. Take that. By the way, I like the rain, eh, careful now; if I don’t have any for a while, it feels like I’m missing something. What would happen to us, we who are like grass, without rain? The other thing rain does is it makes you more aware of the passage of time, you feel it more, so to speak. That’s true, as true as the fact time passes straight through us, carrying bits of us away. Just like that. I sometimes think I can feel it passing straight through me. Especially when it rains. That’s right, ho, rain teaches us that life means losing bits of us all the time. There we go, now I’ve got all nostalgic and started philosophizing. As soon as it rains and I let my guard down, bam, I’m off philosophizing. Though let me say I don’t dislike this fact. Positively. But when it’s been raining for several days, like this, I have the impression I can’t breathe, I’m drowning. Something gets inside me, right down inside, and takes over all the time. A kind of nostalgia, or melancholy, something like that. When it gets like that, I think about the Amazon River in Brazil and how sunny it must be over there right now, it’s a lot to think about. I also remember when I was a child, it was very sunny back then. Spring would arrive, and in summer it would get pretty sweltry… Not any more. They say it has nothing to do with the fact the Americans went to the Moon, but I think it does. Of course, there are folk who are a whole lot more scientific than me, but I don’t care. They should never have gone to the Moon. After all, what the hell did they do it for? I wonder who could explain it to me, because I don’t know. Boh, doesn’t matter. Let it rain. After all, there’s no way of getting everyone to agree; if I want sun, the other wants rain, and vice versa. By the way, vice versa means back to front – if I want rain, the other wants sun. That’s vice versa for you. We’re always doing vice versa, whatever we do. Especially when it comes to the weather. I remember when I was a child, with the weather this never used to happen. If it rained, well, it rained. But now we see the weatherman or weatherwoman on TV – it’s like they’re the ones who deal out and decide the weather – and off we go, all wanting sun. No, no, give me a couple of clouds, the sun hurts my eyes. People now, when it comes to the weather, act like they’re in the butcher’s or a clothes shop. Like that sister-in-law of mine, who works in a clothes shop and is always saying, ‘Every client that comes in through that door, I’d have them shot,’ that’s what she says. She’s a bit bad-tempered, but then again, it’s what she says, every client that comes in wants to see every article of ladies’ underwear she has, they only sell women’s clothes in that shop, it’s a lingerie shop, they sell corsetry, bras, you wouldn’t believe… whenever I pass in front of one of those lingerie shops, I can’t believe some of the articles on display… oh, goodness. I sometimes stand there with my mouth open, of course you can’t touch even if you wanted to, the window’s in the way, and I stare at all those busts with their lace brassieres… The bust is the body part that comprises the breasts and shoulders. I see those busts and those brassieres… Oh, goodness me. And though one would like to maintain control of the situation, well, sometimes it gets difficult. Once this saleswoman came outside to tell me off. ‘Off with you, you great big brute.’ I wasn’t doing anything, I was just looking, I’m not a pervert, it’s normal if you’re looking to have your hand in your trouser pocket. I don’t see what’s so bad about that. Begging your pardon. What to say, some people are very misunderstanding, I was just looking at what was on display, which is what it’s for, right. Begging your pardon. A little comprehension, for goodness’ sake, we’re all made of flesh, that woman too, and flesh is like everything else, it doesn’t last. There are times one feels somewhat misunderstood. One wants to be as one should be. I always wanted to be what others expected of me, but one never gets it right. I always have the impression someone or other is laughing whenever you get it wrong. Then I learned it doesn’t matter, it’s better to do your own thing, but it takes several years. How is one supposed to do what others expect? That’s always been my problem, not getting it right. Even though you’re always paying attention, how should I behave towards this guy, what should I do with that girl, careful what you say… Forget it, it’s really difficult. Positively. One wishes to please. But no way. I’m not asking for much, just a little comprehension. But people are very misunderstanding. Positively. Begging your pardon. Better not to think about certain things; if you start thinking about this and that to the end, well, my friend… I don’t know what it is with these days of rain, the sadness gets right inside you. Either that, or it was already inside you, and when it rains, out it comes. Vice versa. It must be that, it’s already inside you, lurking in its lair, and when the opportunity arises, tap-tap, out it comes, front feet first, tap-tap. It must be that. What other things must be lurking inside? The further down you go, the more things there must be. Positively. But of course there’s no way of getting all the way down inside. I read the other day the Japanese have invented a gadget that goes all the way down inside, reads your thoughts and brings everything out into the light of day. Like you’re a well or something. Progress is good, but I have to say such things make me feel a bit afraid. Unless it’s a joke, some prank by a journalist who didn’t have anything else to write about, so he came up with a new invention. ‘Breikhead’ it was called, I think that’s what it was. With a ‘k’. Though it may have been ‘brakehead’ or even ‘braikehead’. Something like that. Better not to think about it; if you think about it too much, it sends a shiver down your spine. One always wants to know what’s down there, inside, but that said, I wouldn’t let anyone go peeping around. You let them bring all of that outside, everything you’ve got hidden inside you, and there won’t be anything left. No way. It’s like… I don’t know, like you’ve stopped being you, you’re not needed any more. That’s it, you’ve been stripped of all your mystery. Don’t need you, throw him away. Like you’re an empty beer can. You’ve nothing left to tell. No way. Not even as a joke. After all, even though one is here without having asked to be, all the same, one wants to decide one’s own life. One wants to know what’s deep down inside, who knows what mysteries would turn up? Each person is a universe. But to let everybody see it, for all of that to appear on a screen, so that anyone can watch it, like it’s a film, no way. Nowadays people just want to know it all, to see it all. None of that. We can’t allow that to happen. I understand we all have a vested interest, I get that. But doing it’s another thing. There has to be a little mystery. It’s one thing to stave off your hunger, another to stuff yourself to the brim. No siree. If someone wanted to have a peep with that gadget thing, they’d have to pay me. You betcha. I wouldn’t do it for a million or two. Or for a bet, either. Five million, and we could talk. Or more, twenty million. Then I’d grab the money and take a trip to the Amazon. Or buy myself a villa and swimming pool in Majorca. Wouldn’t you just love a sunny villa, taking a dip in the pool and watching planes fly overhead? When it rains like this, all the time, it’s better to think about sunny places, otherwise you can get all nostalgic, all lonely… That’s because we have a heart. Though there are folk who don’t have a heart, and they’re the happiest. A cousin of mine, named Fernando, is the biggest bastard that will fit inside your head. Think of the biggest bastard you know. I mean big, big. Go on, think of him. Thought already? Even more. My cousin Fernando is even more of a bastard. And I say that despite the fact he’s a cousin of mine. Truth be told, Fernando is a nasty piece of work. He has the blackest innards I know. Even though his mother, my aunt Moncha, is as good as gold. She’ll give you everything she has. That son of hers finished her off. I reckon it was Fernando who gave her cancer. Cancer doesn’t just come along; if you’re working and healthy, your husband loves you, your son behaves, then you don’t just go and catch cancer. Goodness me, this son of theirs wanted to sell the house with them inside it. Of course, if he’s hooked on drugs… I don’t mean pills, I mean syringes. The money doesn’t stretch that far. So one day a married couple turns up on the doorstep of my uncle and aunt’s house, wanting to see it. You must be joking. My uncle asks why don’t they go and see the house of the slut who bore them? My uncle Paco, he can really fly off the handle. Well, the others, they asked wasn’t this the house and garden that were up for sale? My poor aunt, she felt terrible. And I reckon that’s when she got breast cancer. But just imagine what my cousin Fernando is like, he’s never had a problem getting to sleep. Do you think, having got up to one of his tricks – and some of them have been pretty bad – he had trouble going to sleep? Uh-uh. Never. The guy was a real demon, but he slept like an angel. Like an innocent. So listen to this: the less of a person you are, the better you sleep. Otherwise, just look at animals, they never have trouble going to sleep. Or look at that guy Maquieira, a police inspector who was crippled after a severe beating. Well, his soul was blacker than coal, but I always remember him in the Floyma, Florentino’s place, sitting at a table and dozing off. Sleeping at all hours. Some people are just like animals. If you’re a real person, you always feel a bit guilty; whether you like it or not, there’s always something going on. And sometimes quite a lot. So if you’re a real person, you feel guilty, and that guilt disturbs your sleep. Children also suffer from insomnia. Children, you see, they also have their little problems. We like to think, just because they’re children, they don’t have any problems, but they do. Not long ago, I went to have dinner at my sister’s house – I sometimes do that, you know – and after dinner I crept into my nephew Iván’s room and found him all huddled up under the blankets, with only his eyes showing. The light was on, but there he was, all terrified, his eyes wide open. I knew what he was afraid of, of course: the Bogeyman, the Sack Man. He was afraid, when he heard footsteps and the door opened, it wouldn’t be his uncle Nano, but a man with a knife. ‘What is it, Iván? Can’t you sleep?’ I asked. ‘No,’ he says. ‘Why’s that?’ I ask. ‘I’m afraid,’ he says. ‘What of?’ I ask. ‘Ugly things,’ he replies. Trouble is these days they watch so much television, all sorts of nonsense, I’ve no idea how they get to sleep. That said, there wasn’t so much telly before, but we children were still afraid. When you think about it, there’s no doubt children have real problems. I wouldn’t want to be a child, no siree. They’d have to pay me for it. I wouldn’t be a child even if they paid me a million or two. They’d have to pay me ten million at least, or fifteen. Fifteen, and we could talk about it. With fifteen million as a child, you could have yourself a pretty nice childhood. Of course, unless there’s understanding and affection on the part of the adulterers, then that’s not worth much either. Money without understanding and affection isn’t worth a great deal. It really is pretty difficult to be happy. Though, that said, there are some who are afraid and don’t say anything about it, but I do. At night-time, I’m sometimes afraid the Bogeyman will come. Because I’ve seen him, I have, the Bogeyman. You listen first, then express your opinion. The first time was several years ago, I wasn’t a child any more. One day, I catch sight of this guy with long hair and a straggly beard, wearing a raincoat down to his knees, I have a good look and see he’s following a girl who’s just left school with her satchel. So I go after them. And at this point, I don’t know how, the guy opens his raincoat, and out comes a huge knife that’s just hanging there. I start to shout, ‘Hey, you, listen,’ things like that. And of course people look over at us, the guy takes to his heels and disappears. Then the people start looking at me, as if to say, ‘This guy’s off his head,’ but the other, he knew what was going on and disappeared. It was the Bogeyman. I’ve seen him a few times since then, wearing different clothes, he likes to get dressed up. Once, I turn around and realize he’s following me down the street. I look, and there he is, dressed up as a priest, I can tell it’s him from the face, you don’t forget that face so easily. It’s him, and he’s coming for me. I start running, jump on a passing bus and leave him behind. ‘I’ll catch you when you’re dead,’ he shouts. People act as if nothing’s happening. When I recall that incident, I get goose pimples. That’s the fear I carry inside. Fear he’ll catch me before then, but also fear he’ll be waiting for me on the other side. I’m quite certain what follows this life is the Bogeyman. But you can’t say things like that, they’ll laugh at you. If I could warn the whole world, inform people, then perhaps we could all be saved. If people were warned, there’d be a way we could catch him between ourselves and do him in. Perhaps then children, and the whole of humanity, would be saved. That said, I had a dream it’s the boys and girls he likes best. But when I go telling people this, they just laugh at me. What people want is for you to tell them things they can believe; if you tell them things they can’t believe, they don’t like it and get annoyed. Besides, I have my doubts, he may have come out of my dreams; you know, if you dream something a lot, with all your strength, that thing can come to life and finish you off. Were it something good, that wouldn’t matter, of course. Positively. But no, this thing isn’t good. That said, I don’t think he’s the product of my dreams. If you want my opinion, he’s the one who’s behind all of this. The Great Schemer, the Great Troublemaker. He’s the one who keeps watch from afar and from close up. Even though you can’t see him, he can see you, and even though you don’t know, he does. That’s why you always have to be on your guard. Of course, if you’re always on the lookout, then you lose your innocence and stop being a child. That’s a real tragedy. I was lucky because I kept my innocence for a long time, my mother says I’m still an innocent. But I don’t listen to her. Though she may be right, and that’s why I keep seeing the Bogeyman out and about. You can’t go around saying this stuff, people will make fun of you. It’s better to talk about something else, not to embitter your life. This weather’s really pretty awful. If only it would clear up a little, let the sun peep through. I just wish I could be in the Amazon River, or in that pool by my villa on a sunny day, or back in the village, in my grandparents’ house, when I was little. Positively.


Translated from Galician by Jonathan Dunne

Additional Info

  • purchase text:

    TICK-TOCK by Suso de Toro, the eighth title in the series Small Stations Fiction devoted to the best of contemporary fiction in English, is available for purchase through your local or online bookshop

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    ISBN: 978-954-384-056-4

    Publication Date: 25 September 2016

    Language: English

    Paperback: 278 pages

    Dimensions: 203 x 133 mm