Up on the Roof

A man, about 50 years old. He speaks Spanish with an accent that is at once identifiably local and non-native

Christ! Here I am at the fucking beach and it’s closed. It’s over there. On the other side of some crappy barriers and some plastic tape. Is it because of all those people from Madrid, the ones who came down to Cadiz, fleeing from the plague? Yesterday my son joked: “If you see someone in a Real Madrid top, just kill them.” I think he was joking. We only moved to Cadiz a couple of years ago but he’s already gone completely native.

What am I going to do? The dogs are looking at me with that typical Labrador expression. Love betrayed. Disappointment. Hunger. Should we jump the barrier? I think about it. And then I rule it out. Not out of a sense of responsibility or from fear of the authorities. More because I’m afraid of the embarrassment. I can see myself on the front page of the local newspaper. “The police have caught a middle-aged man, of Scottish nationality, on Santa María beach, in flagrant violation of the lockdown order…”

We turn around. The dogs are confused. “Now what?” they ask. Or, rather, I ask myself. Should we just hole ourselves up in the flat – me, the two dogs, and my two teenage kids? I don’t know if I should be happy because the lockdown coincides with the week when I’m with the kids and the dogs, and my ex is away. Okay, I admit it. I’m happy. The world is going to hell in a handbasket but I can look after my people. The end of the world is nigh but so long as I can play the cool, recently-separated dad, I’m fulfilled. Hundreds of thousands of people can die but so long as I can fill the fridge with stewed artichokes, Chinese aubergines, fried chicken, hamburgers, pork cheek curry, I’m fine. I don’t know if I’m incredibly selfish or just a bit of a dickhead. I’m going to make scones in the morning and bake bread in the afternoon.

We’re nearly home when I have an idea. I’ve got to hang up the laundry anyway. Our building has an azotea, a flat roof with clotheslines strung across it. I’ll make myself a coffee, grab some muffins and take everything up to the roof: the laundry, my breakfast, the dogs. And, why not, a portable loudspeaker, to make a party of it. We go into the flat, and the dogs look at me again. They’re waiting for their breakfast. Normally, I give them breakfast when we get back. So how do I explain it? “Look, babies, everything’s up in the air. There are going to be some changes to our routines.”

I take the clothes out of the washing machine. That’s me. I’m a man who puts the washing machine on the night before so he can hang the clothes out to dry first thing in the morning. A modern man. A man capable of facing the end of the world without losing his mind. I put the clothes in a big bag, one of those blue ones from Ikea. I grab the basket with the pegs. I put the kettle on.

The dogs are still looking at me, expectant, hungry. And I stop. How am I going to do it? I’ve got to take the laundry, the dogs and my breakfast up to the roof. I can’t take everything at once. The bag is too big, the coffee will spill, the dogs will go crazy on the stairs. What can I do? What’s more, there are seagulls up there. Lots of them. Normally, they leave me in peace. They haven’t got any chicks yet this year; they’re not nesting. But I suspect the dogs will set them off. And if I take my breakfast up first, then the seagulls will definitely eat my muffins. Fuck! Suddenly, I’m in that riddle about the guy who has to get from one side of a river to the other in a rowing boat with a fox and a chicken and something else, I can’t remember what. A cabbage? Could it be a cabbage? Foxes don’t like cabbage, I’m sure. But Labradors like everything. Absolutely everything. The question is: what order should I take the stuff up in?

I start with the laundry. I go up the stairs, unlock the door onto the azotea, leave the bag and the basket with the pegs, and go downstairs. I go up again, this time with the coffee, the muffins and the loudspeaker. Great. But I can’t leave the muffins out in the open. Because of the seagulls. There are only two or three of them in the building across the street just now, but I don’t trust them. I put the muffins inside the basket and put the basket inside the laundry bag.

I go down for the dogs. They’re still gazing at me, their eyes asking: “…and our breakfast?” I get their leads, a couple of tennis balls and some bone-shaped biscuits. The dogs forget about their breakfast and follow me. I open the door onto the azotea, the dogs go out, I take my muffins, pick up my coffee, and breathe in. I’ve made it to the far shore with my fox and my chicken and my cabbage or whatever it was.

I look at the building across the way. There are more seagulls now. Lots of seagulls. There must be at least ten, just watching us. But those aren’t the ones I’m worried about. Because suddenly the air is full of seagulls. As if every fucking seagull in Cadiz was right here, above my azotea. This isn’t a riddle anymore. This has turned into that Hitchcock movie. I don’t remember the film or its plot, just that there were a lot of birds and it ends badly.

I hold my breath. The seagulls circle above us but for now they’re not attacking. Fortunately, there are some sheets and towels already hanging on the lines and they act as a kind of screen, and the dogs are occupied with their tennis balls. I take a sip of my coffee and put on some music. Gradually, things calm down. The seagulls seem to have understood that the dogs can’t jump from our rooftop to theirs. That this isn’t an invasion and is, instead, something new but inoffensive. We can share this space up here, without fighting. The dogs seem to have accepted this rather unconventional walk. It seems like everything’s going to be alright. I take a bite out of my muffin, take another sip of coffee, turn the volume up to maximum. And I sing at the top of my voice:

La donna è mobile
qual piuma al vento,
muta d’accento
e di pensiero.

(c) Tim Gutteridge. This text was translated by the author from the original text in Spanish – La Azotea – written and shared as part of the #Coronavirusplays initiative.