Translated by Sean Cook
When I was about ready to give up, when I started to firmly believe that Mia Swenson had lied or was delirious, that there was no such land, with no such trees, when I had started to go back and forth from one end of the earth to the other –as I had traveled before among books, feeding my curiosity about trees– thinking that I had resorted to my old obsession without even knowing the cause behind it, the Toothless Sailor came to my rescue.
It might seem rather ironic, me talking about rescue, if I were to say that when I met my savior he was lost in an extraordinary drunkenness, in the corner of some godforsaken bar on the Island of Cucumbers. I had gone there to see the trees that lay down to go to sleep, but my run-in with that man changed my intentions and my life. This story wouldn’t be what it is if I hadn’t walked into that place, if I hadn’t paid any attention to the roar of laughter, or the paradox of his perfect glimmering-white teeth.
My interest was first captivated by those teeth that he exhibited with pomp and pride. It seemed strange to me that everyone there knew him as the Toothless Sailor. I looked at him from the bar, presiding over his table, absolute master of all stories. Sometimes, the inebriation would get the best of him and his head would fall to the table and he’d start to snore, but he’d always get back on track, and I’d wait for him to let loose a big burst of laughter to see if any of the thirty-two pieces were missing. But all were accounted for.
There I was, amazed, when I saw him put his peg leg over the table and proudly declare:
“It’s made out of wood from the Land of the Crazy Trees, a place from which almost no one ever leaves.”
I feel like it was an eternity before I could really understand what I had heard. I knew that it was the confirmation that I had been looking for since I left Princeton. Two people talking about the same thing made it real. So the one place on earth where my entire life would have clarity was actually real.
I tried to find a way to join the conversation. I waited for the Toothless Sailor to come to from one of his sleeping episodes. I took advantage of his slumber to glance at the strange murkiness of his peg leg. I knew that as much as I might try, I would never be able to imagine just how that place would give me the answers I was searching for.
The Toothless Sailor lifted his head up, but it seemed like he was so drunk that it would be difficult for him to carry on a conversation. Some of the patrons got up and left in search of other entertainment. I took a seat beside him and said:
“Excuse me, sir. I’d like to know a little more about the place you’ve mentioned.”
“Place?”, he said. “What place are you talking about? You’re delirious, boy.”
“I’m talking about the Land of the Crazy Trees.”
“What?”, said the Toothless Sailor with a lost stare, raising his eyebrows, trying with that movement to keep his face from falling back on to the table.
“The Land of the Crazy Trees,” I insisted, patient, convinced that it wouldn’t be easy, but at the same time convinced that there wasn’t any other alternative except to wait for him, to try to get him to snap out of his liquor-induced stupor.
The Sailor let his forehead fall onto the table and he started to snore. I felt distraught. The world seemed disproportionately large, my solitude disproportionately sad and life, too absurd to justify.
Now it was just the two of us at the table. I decided that I would get him out of that place and try to bring him back to sobriety. When I was able to get one of his arms over my shoulder and lift him up, the owner of the bar came over and charged me for everything that had been consumed at that table for the past three weeks. And I had to pay him.
An excerpt from The Land of the Crazy Trees