Isaac Chocrón: The last Interview

Milagros Socorro

Traduced by: Marie Claire Brillembourg

I phoned on Tuesday November 1st with the fixed idea of greeting Sara. I wanted to check on her –quite diminished- health and also to let Isaac know that I was worried about him. Two days before I had seen Belén and Rodolfo, two Isaac’s great friends. They told me he wasn’t responding phone calls nor receiving visitors.

Quite to my surprise, Sara sounded firm and cheerful. Nothing in her voice revealed the pounding effects of the chemotherapy treatment he was undergoing. When I asked for Isaac she told me to wait. She would check to see if he could answer the phone. An instant later I heard a very highly pitched voice that distorted Isaac’s own but preserved his singular conversation pulse. He was asking me for lunch that next day. I confirmed with Sara the surprising invitation and she agreed joyfully. Isaac was evidently animated and chirpy.

Sara is small and brunette. She was born in San Fernando de Apure on 1935. By 1965 she got tired of ironing enormous piles at a dry cleaner store and asked Miguel Salazar, an actor, to recommend her to a family who needed someone only for washing and ironing. Only washing and ironing because she never learned how to cook. Nor was interested in it. By next Saturday at noontime she arrived to the Chocrón house on a day that Román Chalbaud and Elías Pérez Borjas were guests for lunch.

She started to work that next Monday and this Sunday November 6th it was she who at dawn, closed the writer’s eyes.

On the way, Sara had become his housekeeper, his assistant, his room clerk (which supposed shooing for decades those inconvenient morning calls because mornings were exclusively dedicated to writing) and his travel companion when he was invited to teach term seminaries at important universities.  She also accompanied him to trips where both interchanged with show stars from Madrid, New York and San Juan de Puerto Rico. During those long stays, Sara read Isaac’s books. It was impossible to read them in Caracas. She had no time for that. When she commented parts of the book to him he said “Please don’t Sara, don’t tell me anything. I hate to reread myself.”

-At the beginning it was very difficult. You can’t imagine the patience I had to gather- says Sara while keeping an eye over the two persons under her supervision who were fixing the cushions where Isaac laid. She barely surpassed me as she stood by the chair where I was sitting at the front of Isaac’s bed. She is a very small person. She wears a small woolen cap with a pointy end since she lost her hair and doesn’t want to show her baldness.  She looks like a troubled short-legged elf running from side to side and supervising everything. She is the one who takes care of Isaac and of everything regarding Isaac. She is there when they help him lye down and when he asks for help to get up. She makes sure that he takes his meals, she administers his medicines and sits by his side at nights when nightmares torment his rest. She was permanently subscribed to that bunk provided by hospitals to companions of patients.

-He spends awful nights. He complains of pains and talks… he says things. Talks about times long gone. The doctor has suffered a lot– oh, she has always called him “doctor”.

As soon as I get there, at half past twelve like he planned, I am taken to where he is. Isaac does not sleep in his upper floor bedroom for almost a year now. He is in the living room where he had placed the clinical bed. I find him pale and thinner.

He gives two orders with a weary voice. The first one is for me to go to the dining room where the table is set specially for me. The other is for Sara so she would serve him a vodka with Angostura bitter. Both of us left in a hurry. The dining table is truly splendid. In a short while Sara comes in bringing his drink and placing it at the sliding hospital table.

I set up myself to make this visit in a most unusual way. I hold tight my host’s both frozen kneecaps just as if I held the steering wheel of the cart where art and creation were outpouring. Even dying, Isaac Chocrón floats in what Ugo Ulive has defined as “an enormous creative impulse”. I can feel it.

We both know he is dying. But we can’t forget our traditional practice, talking about the books he has written and the books he will write. I ask him how does he feel and he says “ much better because I am not afraid anymore. Nor to die, nor to live”.

With much precaution we spoke about those fears he felt months ago (at some point he was really terrified). Suddenly, he remains silent, closes his eyes and in a fragile sleepiness, babbles about the Medical Center. He says something about doctors not telling him the truth. I ask him to open his eyes and look at me. He does. He flashes his eyes like dishes and at their bottom is Isaac. The same as always Isaac.

-You say you are better- I tell him.

-Yes- verifying with that particular melody that was his trademark, his precious style-. I asked not to send death to me. Asked to be allowed to do five or six things that needed to be done. After that, I will deliver myself calmly to death. Remember I have an advantage: I’m Jewish. Because of that, I feel a great certainty at the face of death”.

What are those pending things, Isaac?

His eyelids fall off, he sakes his head heavily. “I want to continue writing. Anything. Whatever. Maybe a love story”.

I think it’s a wonderful idea. We all want to write a love story.

Between who -I’d like to know-. Who would be the main characters of that love story?

Some friends. I would love to write the story of my friendship with Victoria De Stefano.

He sips his vodka. Returns to that conversation we always held (and that I have decided was going to be his secret legacy for me). “My writing schedule has always been from 9 a.m. to noon. I had written nothing if I not forced myself into that schedule”.

Little Sara comes by to check on everything. Looks at him with immense tenderness, as always. I ask her if she thinks I should let him rest. But Isaac himself intervenes to stop me. Have I forgotten there is a special luncheon? Sara tells him precisely that. Lunch is ready. Isaac makes movements as if walking to the table but Sara shows him that it can be rather complicated. So, in a couple of minutes the cushions are reinforced with another couple of cushions. It has been decided, we will eat at the hospital table.

Isaac makes efforts to eat some of the paella he had ordered to please me. I look around and see a copy of Beirut, I love you by Zena el Khalil edited by Siruela. It’s a present from Father Baquedano. Further down was Boris Izaguirre’s most recent novel “Two monsters together” with an inscription stating: “ For Sarita and Isaac, mi two favorite monsters.

Isaac finishes his lunch. He has barely eaten. Little Sara returns with an ice cream. The phone rings persistently. I grab the small dish from Sara’s hands when she has to answer the phone. With reverential respect I bring the spoon to the teacher’s mouth. He gladly accepts the treat. I serve him with my left hand. We are both left-handed which has made us eager accomplices. Left-handedness brings me close to Isaac Chocrón. I can say we are left-handed writers. Venezuelan and left handed. We both came from out of town (Isaac was born in Maracay on September 25th 1.930). We admired the English language. And, left-handed. Little Sara takes away the dishes, makes certain he is absolutely clean and leaves.

I ask him about failure. He put the thought aside without fuzz. “I believe I never failed. I couldn’t because I love to write. And take my vodka”.

-What would you say to young people- I asked him knowing it was a stupid question, but it is a last question. I know I will not see him again.

-I would say- he answers without hesitation-: forget about yourself and write two hours.

He gives me a long look. The interview is over. I ask him for Roman Chalbaud one of his great friends. He spoke about him as his personal cross in a past interview for his 75th birthday (because political polarization left them both in different arenas. Isaac has a very poor opinion of Chávez while Chalbaud praises him).

Has Roman come to visit?

He closes his eyes. Suddenly opens them widely and says: “How is he going to come? He not dead yet”.

I nod without opposition. I understand: we are not in Kansas anymore, now we are in the fiction zone, the immensity.

It’s time to leave. Only a small rite has to be revisited. I ask him to recite the Shemá Israel for me. He immediately starts: Shemá Israel, Adonai Elohim… one verse after the other with his soft entonation. The Hebrew prayer with Isaac’s own melody. I know he learnt it from his father. And in fact, he says it to me again.

As soon as he finishes I get up. Sara has arrived on time to hear him recite the prayer. She comes to make him rest and he does not refuse. He turns again to me and says: Are you coming tomorrow?

On Sunday 6th, Sara recalls that at one in the morning she heard him complain. She went to him. He took her hand, moved it to his heart and made pressure over it. She asked: Is it there where it hurts, Doctor? Then he exhaled a long sigh and stayed, says Sara, “like a boy, so calm. No pain, no hassles”.

That night I am going to the theater to see Suicidal Oil Workers by Ibsen Martinez, conducted by Hector Manrique, with Fabiola Colmenares, Ivan Tamayo, Dimas González and Luis Abreu as leading actor. It will be him, Luis Abreu, who at the play’s end, and with a broken voice, makes a small homage to Isaac Chocrón. I make a standing ovation with my left hand pounding over the right one.

Papel Literario, El Nacional, 12 de noviembre de 2011

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