The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2010

All Issues
JUL-AUG 2010 Issue


from the collection
THE REST IS JUNGLE AND OTHER STORIES (host publications July 2010)

The richness of life is
made of memories, forgotten.
                            Cesare Pavese


This must be the thirtieth departure. It’s a procedure that Fernando Varengo knows only too well. As a witness, of course; not as a traveler. To be present at Miguel and Carmen’s usual and passionate argument with the Iberia employee who, with good reason, tries to charge them 15,000 pesetas for excess luggage (four large suitcases, two medium-size, and several handbags too heavy to lift); nevertheless verify that the man isn’t as obstinate as his Goyesque face suggests and finally agrees to charge them a merely symbolic amount, which they in turn accept practically crying with gratitude and savings; to watch, once the boarding cards are obtained, the hellish procession of boxes of nougats, radio cassettes, a little stuffed teddy bear (for Miguel’s niece), a giant puzzle (for Carmen’s nephew), sacks, large bags, a Japanese camera, and in the middle of that Cheops pyramid, the two emotional and agitated travelers who, due to the abundance of carry-on baggage (Miguel, in particular, looked like a 20th century Siva god), weren’t in a position to hug others, but indeed be hugged by Fernando and the few people who were remaining in the Madrid oasis, and to finally see them, during passport inspection, really crying now and waving good-bye with their left hand while retrieving several pieces of luggage which must surely be emerging in a torrent from behind the dark little security inspection curtain. Then, after the travelers have disappeared in search of gate 12 (that is to say, gueite namber tuguelfe, as announced by the Iberian loudspeakers when they become polyglot), to observe oneself along with the others who, like him, are staying, without saying anything because in reality there isn’t much to say, and Norma who offers to take him if he wants and Fernando who refuses and really appreciates it, but today he’s going in a different direction, even though it’s not true, since he’s going in the same direction as always, but he wants to ride the airport bus by himself and get off at Serrano Falls to stay for a while observing the people who pass by, although it would be late, coming from the cafés and restaurants or going to the movie theatres; people who, like him, are staying in Madrid. Yes, it must be the thirtieth departure. Already gone were Andrés, Mauricio, Alejandra, Claudio, Marta, José, Carlos, Irene, Pablo, Omar, Gladys, Washington, Victoria, Pepe, Magda, Horacio, Manolo, Nicolás, María Luisa, Agustín, Sara, and other men, other women. Everyone returns to the homeland, even though afterwards, some return from their return. There they go, the most ignorant, and for what reason? They know why and that’s enough for them. Everyone returns but Fernando, who has decided to stay. Now, on the airport bus that was taking him to Serrano, Fernando knew that without Miguel and Carmen, as before without Rocío (only when he thought about the name did the “c” appear), he was going to feel more lonesome, but also more foreign. The French manage to express this emotion better. Étranger means “foreign” and “foreigner” at the same time. Sometimes, Fernando felt like a “foreigner” (in spite of, or above all, because of the pyrotechnics of the Fifth Centennial), but at other times he felt “foreign,” and he couldn’t define which was worse. Or better. Because foreignness or foreignism don’t only contain disadvantages. They also permit a certain amount of objective appraisal (of which he wasn’t capable, for example, when he passed judgment on his country and his fellow countrymen) and even a certain amount of enjoyment which never stopped being minimally touristy. There is always a piece of history, a Gothic cathedral, a news item from the day before yesterday, a pack of banderillas (when the poor bull still inspires hope), the extroverted and nevertheless intimate sympathy of a few Andalusians who don’t ascend to become “yuppies”; the new beauty of the Madrilenian women (how they’ve improved in barely a decade of democracy!); the shaky hands of Paco de Lucía; the lions of Cybele with ringlets and whiskers of ice; the contaminated and beautiful blue of the Mediterranean; the children who commit suicide because they had classes still outstanding; the nude Nordic tourists and the indignant and loyal onlookers of the Opus Dei; there is always something to discover every day in this Spain that tries to be European at all cost, but yet didn’t find the spear (here they call it a pole) to throw over the Pyrenees.



They say that five floors without an elevator is good for the circulation. Even better for the monthly budget, because if love is paid with love, floors can be paid with an elevator, too. Even so, Fernando’s forty-five years (which aren’t many but seems more when the individual cultivates sedentary writing) demands that he rest. But where? Well, as implied by the word itself, on the landing, which in this building is in front of 3A (useless accuracy if there ever was any, as there is only one apartment per floor). As soon as Leonardo, the occupational asthmatic, comes to visit him, Fernando begins to slightly regret his leisure, which he doesn’t see as a sign of poverty but of deficiency. Nevertheless, Leo and his asthma are long-time acquaintances, with each other and the host. When he finally arrives at the 5th floor, Leo performs the ritual of collapsing into the leather armchair to nervously use the inhaler. “They used to be more primitive,” Leo says, between more or less hissing wheezes, “but unlike these very modern and portable types, they weren’t helping to enlarge the hole in the Antarctic ozone layer. I don’t know if you’re aware that Lezama Lima called them subtle saxophones: those inexcusable little pumps, invalid and noisy, which delivered ordinary adrenaline into the bronchial tubes with the same dilating function with which these elegant little devices, which look like deodorants, introduce salbutamol or fenoterol bromhydrate or ipatroprium bromide or terbutaline sulfate, or other contributions of the bronchial postmodern era. In short: I’m here by mandate of the illustrious Prada. Since you don’t have an answering machine, among other reasons because you don’t even have a telephone and in addition are generally nowhere to be found, I didn’t have any other choice but to scale your Himalayas. If I hadn’t found you, I would have left you a simple message written with wavy pen strokes underneath the doormat, with the premeditated objective that you would increase, if you still have reason to, your guilty feelings about my sacrifice.” “Leonardo or martyr,” says Fernando, “and so what does Prada want?” “What do you mean, what does he want. He wants you to write, goddamn it. Two articles a week, what do you think?” says Leo. “I think you’re a harpy,” says Fernando. “Please, Fernando,” says Leo, “are you going to act clever here and now? You who don’t have any residency nor work permit nor a party identity card of any kind, not even of the opposition?” And before Leo begins to recite Alien Law from memory, Fernando says: “Look, tell Prada that I’ll write the articles, but he should at least suggest the subject, or send me some book, all right? And also the specifications: How many pages or, as they say now, how many typewriter strokes; and do I sign with initials or my full name or pseudonym or simply not sign?” “But, what’s wrong?” says Leo. Don’t you have any ideas? Or are you having a skepticism crisis?” “Skepticism, no; complete discouragement,” says Fernando. “Fortunately, old friend, you haven’t become desperate yet,” says Leo. They laugh as an antidote, or as an exorcism. But to Leo, the laughter brings on an attack of dyspnea and since only twenty minutes have elapsed since the last blast or puff, he becomes serious even though the laughter is coming out of his eyes, his nose, his ears. “Aren’t you even going to treat me to a miserable grilled steak in appreciation for the bonne nouvelle? says Leo. “Leo, I can only offer you melon, highland ham, peaches in syrup, and whole milk,” says Fernando. “Whole milk?” says Leo. “Maybe you don’t know that milk is allergenic, and more allergenic when it’s more whole. And hey, what about whiskey, is it also allergenic?” says Fernando. “Only if it’s the national brand,” says Leo, laughing. “Don’t laugh, you’ll bring on another spasm,” says Fernando.


The little apartment that the Pinto’s (Felipe and Andrea) rent on the sixth floor (with an elevator, of course) in a building on Canillas Street acquires a temporary and mediocre tidiness only when they are entertaining friends. Without deliberation nor the slightest reproach, not even mental, Fernando’s look surmises, almost knows, that that heap of books and that pile of records were, until very recently, scattered on the jute rug. The ashtrays are on the shelf, but a cigarette butt is still smoldering. One also has to realize that with three children (five, four, and two years old) it’s almost impossible to maintain any home in the orderly fashion that one brags about. After all, the art posters and political placards brighten up the room and exemplify how the home owners would like their whole apartment to look. Present are Norma and Aníbal, Joaco and Teresa, and also two Grenadians, Inma and Carlos. Fernando asks Aníbal why he decided to return to Madrid after having spent a month and a half in Montevideo. Aníbal says that he went by himself to look into the possibilities of finding work and then later, plan the common move. “But it’s no use,” Aníbal continues, “I didn’t find anything, and it would be risky for us to venture out like that, because don’t forget, we have two kids.” “Children,” says none other than Felipe the Andalusian, correcting Aníbal, as everyone looks at each other in amazement. “Children, of course. It’s difficult to decide not to go, to settle down here permanently, and only travel there on vacation, and that’s if things go well during the year.” “I see,” says Inma, the dilemma is: ‘He was COMING here or he was GOING there.’” “But why doesn’t this young man just GO?” Joaco asks. Frozen and unanimous silence. Only Norma laughs, in solidarity, but she returns to the subject. And now the excuse of exile no longer exists: residents or shit. “And you Fernando?” asks Joaco. “Shit,” says Fernando. “I haven’t even obtained residency. But I’ve already decided: I’m staying, and not because it would be difficult for me to find work there. I’m staying; that’s all. And I don’t have any kids. Nor any children.” “Ah. Why is it,” Joaco dares to inquire,” that nationals always analyze themselves and we never do.” “Well, not really, says Aníbal,” I know a man from Sanduce who is in therapy with a man from Entre Ríos in Barcelona; he’s influenced by Artigas’ Provincias Unidas de Rio de Plata. You know something, I don’t think the therapist is going to reveal anything I don’t already know.” “But Aníbal,” says Joaco, “you have to be taught to read and write, and urgently. The therapist isn’t going to reveal anything to you, he’s simply (or complicatedly, it doesn’t matter) going to help you discover yourself. I would recommend that we drop the subject until 1992, as part of the Fifth Centennial.” Inma suddenly breaks her silence and says that in Andalusia, people psychoanalyze themselves through the flamenco. Everyone is amazed for the second time. No one dares to contradict her. “And what about you, Fernando?” says Inma. “Did you undergo therapy to learn why you don’t leave?” “I resort to my own flamenco,” says Fernando. “However, there is a tacit agreement about not insisting. The oven isn’t ready for buns. Nor for foolishness. Ice and drinks are welcome. Nevertheless, it’s not like it used to be. No one offers to return quickly. Those who already left aren’t present to offer. The social event of the day is that Matías the cat and the youngest Pinto child defecated in unison in front of the freezer. Or rather, in front of the refrigerator, since Matías and Tito are both natives of Old Castile.”


Fernando knew that Lucía was Chilean and in exile. The Chileans continue to be, for now, forced exiles and not voluntary, like Fernando is now. At the little party that Joaco threw to celebrate his thirteen correct picks in the soccer pool, Lucía could be seen in a corner, like a stranger. It had been a big pool, with a few l’s, many 2’s, and almost no x’s, but surprisingly, he had lost on the Royal pick, a mischance that prevented him from scoring fourteen correct picks; even so, the consolation prize would enable Joaco to go to Athens with Teresa, a trip that had always been his secret aspiration: It’s a crime to be in Europe and not see Greece. Greece, mon Dieu, what exquisiteness. Hey, if you’re going to Greece after guessing thirteen correct picks, then you’re capable of going to Karachi if you had guessed fourteen. Go to Greece, comrade. Fernando approached Lucía and tried to get her to join the party. Norma also tried and made a gesture to Fernando from far away that clearly indicated that he should leave her alone. But everyone left after midnight and Fernando and Lucía walked along together. “I’m not good at this,” said Lucía. “The more happiness I see, the more the idea of death pursues me.” Fernando noticed that they were walking along aimlessly. “They killed Eduardo in ‘73,” Lucía continued. “Not only did they kill him, but they killed him on me. I’ve ended up thin and dried up, as if my heart has been ironed; what do I know?” They took a taxi and she gave her address. It wasn’t a bad neighborhood and the building faced a small plaza. “Come up with me if you like,” said Lucía. But the look on her face said not to build up any false hopes. While she was making coffee, he approached the window, and noticed that the plaza, under that autumn moon, looked unstable. After the coffee, he didn’t know what to say, but he felt that he should do something. He didn’t feel desire, only the will to help, though he didn’t know how. He moved his hand towards her and at first she didn’t move. Then she quietly started to cry and Fernando understood that it wasn’t necessary to say anything in the midst of that sadness. Just be present. It was good for Lucía to cry, especially when she quietly stopped and turned her head towards Fernando’s extended hand. He understood that he should stay the night. Stay and nothing else. Lucía brought him a blanket so that he could sleep on the sofa in the small living room and she went into the bedroom. But before doing so, Fernando passed his hand through her hair and she said: “It’s good for me to know that you’re here.”


When Lucía goes up to Fernando’s apartment their conversation is less intense than when Fernando goes up to Lucía’s apartment. She feels more comfortable in the area created by the new friend, temporarily liberated from her solitude and ghosts and the worship of her photographs and letters. And then she doesn’t remain quiet nor does she start to cry. She faces her situation with extreme calm and updates Fernando regarding her recent activities and arrangements. She has finally found work, and, to top it off, in a bookstore. Someone introduced her to Don Fermín, the old bookseller, precisely at the time he was looking for an employee who would be capable of selling books as the books that they are and not like blenders or shoes. The mutual friend didn’t have to explain to the old man who Lucía was and where she was from in order for him to understand everything else. “He’s a sage,” Lucía says now, “but a sage in the medieval style, the type who knew everything and nevertheless don’t dehumanize themselves. I feel good working for him and, furthermore, I enjoy the work.” She had been a journalist in Santiago, and said: “But, oh Fernando, that’s almost impossible in Spain; it’s a closed and exclusive society like few others and there are still many others left over from the other era who won’t resign, even because of a heart attack.” She would like to write about so many things: what she has seen, what she has suffered, what she has left behind. “But don’t you think that suffering went out of style as a newspaper subject here?” said Lucía. “And look, I’m not flaunting that rejection. Torture wears out its victims, but it also wears out as news. ‘Please, no more about that barbarism,’ they seem to tell you with their near final expression of congeniality, ‘let us listen to Madonna and Julio Iglesias, let us see “Dynasty” again and remember Pinochet’s large carriage, and what “Dallas” was like, and leave us with Lady Di, with Stephanie, with Boris Becker, with the Marbella show.’ Don’t ask for the impossible. It’s not very easy to understand Latin America from Europe, nor even from Spain, which appears to be (and, despite everything, is) nearer. And this is the reality even when there is good will. Imagine if it didn’t exist. Well, it’s human. When you’re in the middle of comfort, cultivate safety, and work all year for the August vacation, one has to be very much in solidarity or very masochistic or simply exiled, to embitter one’s life thinking about the hunger or the torture that very distant fellow men suffer. I, because of principle or pride—it’s still not clear to me—no longer mention the word torture. I can’t bear solitary repugnancy. I almost prefer simple repugnance. You must be thinking that I’m a little crazy, and I’m not dismissing it. I have several motives, but I wouldn’t want to be insane. If Eduardo was killed by asphyxiation, I don’t want to be asphyxiated with desperation.” “The first thing,” Fernando then said, “is that you rescue yourself. Look, when one’s desire is in a well, no one can help; the only person who can do something is oneself. “Nevertheless, you helped me,” said Lucía, “you pulled me out by my hair just as I was about to sink.” “Bah, you did the same thing for me,” said Fernando. “When you started to cry on that first night in your apartment, I felt that, without you realizing it, you were also crying for me.” With an ability that he himself is surprised by, Fernando prepares his omelet-a-la española, or that is to say, a well-done potato omelet, perhaps his major debt to the Stepmotherland. He serves the Catalan wine, saying: “You’ll see how delightful it is,” and dares to offer a toast: “To everything we lack.” She smiles and says: “That’s almost like toasting the moon.”


Fernando, alone in his Himalayas, has decided to leave a half-filled sheet of paper in his typewriter for a while, drink a maté, and sit down on the rocking chair. Every now and then it’s good to make room for reflection. When one reaches forty-five years of age in solitude (after periods of companionship and in semi-solitude) one suffers a bit, but one also takes singular pleasure in life. One looks around and realizes that one’s small bachelor cave isn’t bad. Books everywhere, records, posters. One of the walls is almost completely covered with art posters, among which a wonderful Botero purchased in Oslo stands out. It depicts that immense and implacable obese woman who is starting to dress while the poor little man who is the insignificant conjugal complement and summons complete pity, is lying in the Olympic-sized bed, completely worn out and already asleep, or is pretending to be. There are objects on the shelves (a Bulgarian ashtray, a black blessed virgin from Barcelona, a little two-colored horse from Sargadelos, a candelabrum from Athens, a miniature balcony from Tenerife, a St. Martín statue from Tours, a puppet from Brussels, a little rooster from Lisbon) which is a sample collection of his exile. Well, not only of his exile, but also of his departures to the exterior which should take place every three months because they don’t give him residency in Spain: he can’t document that he receives foreign currency, among other things because he doesn’t receive it, nor can he demonstrate that he earns enough to survive without assaulting anyone, and all of that because, considering that he doesn’t have residency, he also can’t obtain a work permit, and therefore, his work as a translator and journalist are clandestine and shameful. That is to say, that with the money he earns in three months not only should he be able to eat, pay the rent for the cave, and buy himself a shirt and two pairs of underwear, but also save enough pesetas for his periodic departure. His salvation (he sits up half way to touch a drawing board, or that is to say, a wooden tablet, with the tips of his fingers) has arrived with the translation of detective novels. Thanks to those bargain contracts, he’s been able to widen the radius of his long expeditions, and that, for various reasons, benefited him. The truth is that he was a little bored with his obligatory quarterly visits to Perpignan (he already knows this city by heart), which was the most economical departure. That’s how he was able to visit Paris, Oslo, Brussels, Rome, Athens, and Lisbon. There was also the little pig from Pomaire that Lucía had given him as a gift and that had additional value since it was one of the few objects she was able to take out of Chile, and that pipe given to him by an old Greek, with whom he spent one of his most memorable episodes in exile. They spent almost two hours together, first on a corner, then in a café in Athens, drinking ouzo and talking, or rather, pretending to talk, that is to say, both of them speaking their own language and nevertheless communicating, with gestures, looks, laughter, pats on one another’s shoulder or one’s own forehead, accompanied by hands, with drawings in the air or on the napkins, as if it was a rehearsal for a four-handed pantomime. At no time was Fernando suspicious, and it seems that the old Greek wasn’t either. Fernando knew that he had made a friend there, whom he could acknowledge anywhere in the world. In the end, the old Greek (who was called Andreas, that remained clear, through gestures) gave Fernando his pipe and Fernando gave the old Greek his scarf, which he immediately put on, but on his head. They both laughed, made a final toast with the rest of their third ouzo, and that was the good-bye. Fernando remembers that he never thought that that Greek drink could be so traitorous, because as soon as he stood up, all of Athens revolved around him like a little Homeric merry-go-round and he was only able to return to his single-star hotel by leaning against the ridged walls of ancient Greece and the smooth walls of the modern version. On another shelf there is a key ring which is also a mosaic, obtained in Florence from the careful hands of a Bolognese woman, with whom he actually spoke for a long time (in this case, they each understood and even spoke the other person’s language poorly) and furthermore, ended the day by going to bed with her. The act was very normal, not with love because that’s impossible in twenty-four hours (“at first sight” doesn’t exist in Europe), but indeed with a crescendo of affection. It turned out that Claudia was nothing less than an art professor in Bologna and had come to verify some data and impressions in the Galleria degli Uffizi. That’s where they met. Since she had completed her notes the day before, they spent the day together, in reality becoming increasingly close. He tried to take her to his lousy apartment, but the de rigueur watchful guard didn’t allow the signorina to enter, so they had to go to the stylish hotel where Claudia was staying. In accordance with its four stars, it was less modest and the only precaution taken consisted of riding in different elevators. On that unique night Claudia was very tender, and even now, or that is to say, three years later, Fernando’s heart doesn’t become drained, but there is brief and excessively fast beating. When they parted, he gave her his address in Madrid. “Maybe I’ll look for you some day,” said Claudia. But she didn’t give him her address. “It’s because of my husband, understand?” said Claudia. “He might take offense.” In other words, she was married, well, well. The news like a good-bye.


Gratitude can be an inflow of love. But when the current of gratitude joins love’s flow, an indecisive stage always takes place, during which no one knows for certain which is which. Lucía and Fernando functioned within that ambiguity. Lucía climbed the five flights of stairs two or three times a week and on other occasions Fernando accompanied her home. Nevertheless, she preferred coming to see him; she felt better with the already settled intimacy of that exile who had apparently risked not returning. Fernando didn’t have a telephone, so she couldn’t notify him beforehand. He knew that she could arrive at any moment, embrace him, kiss him on both cheeks (there are European customs that are charming), and finally spill into that rocking chair that had almost turned into personal territory, or at least, an enclave of his friendship. He always received her with love and even euphoria. His face would light up when the doorbell rang and it was her. Fernando cultivated his solitude with the same refinement with which he cared for the African violet that Miguel and Carmen had left in his custody when they decided to return to Uruguay. He recognized that only two months after the first meeting in the Pinto apartment, Lucía had started, almost without realizing it, to become part of his life. They spoke or were quiet; that wasn’t important. The main thing was to be aware that one has companionship. They had already told each other their respective life story (the marriage break-up and his imprisonment in Montevideo, her odyssey in Santiago), but only once and with modesty, without going into the issue of incurred terror or the monstrous convulsions, without starting to remember the fissures of fear or the proximity of delirium. His gratitude didn’t tinge itself with pleading; he simply insisted, without anyone proposing it, on solidarity and obtained it. In reality, it was a round-trip operation. The solidarity of the words started to utilize drawbridges but ended up constructing steadfast bridges, thus establishing a special bond, with less and less injuries and a greater need for the other. The solidarity was also hands that touched, embraces that were almost secret, or the shared vision of the night through the narrow window of the skylight. Fernando cooked almost always, but she usually brought, already prepared, some exquisite salads. Finally, there was a night during which Fernando, without any premeditation, found himself initiating a new phase, saying: “Lucía, we’ve been careful, prudent, mature, respectful of each other, sensible; maybe too sensible. We’ve respected each other so that we could love each other. What you went through mirrors what I went through. I think we need each other. At least, I need you. But I want to be frank with you: It might have been a gross mistake to precipitate matters when we first met, but I think it would now be no less a serious mistake to deprive ourselves of each other’s poor and chastised body. When we embrace, almost hidden from ourselves, I would like to embrace you completely. I know that it’s difficult for you, although sometimes we touch upon the subject, but barely. Now then, might it not be more difficult to remain at a cautious distance? We can’t know what the future will bring us, but on the other hand, we do know what the past brought us. We barely have contingent and fragile power over the present, and we are in it; I am in it with you. And you, are you in it with me?” Lucía finally blinked. “It’s obvious that I’m with you, Fernando,” said Lucía. “I feel touched, but still, I think I can concur with everything you’ve said. But I’m afraid. You don’t know how many times I verified and recognized my desires for your body; how many times I noticed your desire for mine.” “It’s more than desire, Lucía,” said Fernando, “or rather, it’s desire and something more.” “That’s true, but I’m afraid just the same,” said Lucía. “I don’t know (and you’ll tell me that I’ll never know unless I go through the test) to what degree my body’s commands will be capable of heeding the warnings of that same body.” “We’re adults, Lucía,” said Fernando. “I suppose we are,” said Lucía, “but foreign cruelty, Fernando, has made us older. Your gray hairs are visible; I have them too, but I color them. Older or more mature, I’m not too sure, but also more defenseless. You at forty-five and I at thirty-seven aren’t adolescents, of course. But, how much have we suffered? Why, despite our ages, does each of us arrive, alone, at this stage which is more a crossing than an encounter? One can become addicted to one’s own solitude and on occasion (it’s almost a drug) poison oneself with it. It’s difficult to suddenly open the door and say to it: Let’s go, let’s meet another solitude, another abandonment. Even if this is a beloved abandonment, like yours.” Fernando nodded his head in agreement but didn’t say anything. He walked a few steps to the window, as if he was interested in the night outside, with its scant but sufficient stars and waves of voices and metallic screeching. In contrast, he thought that his indoor night was dark and silent. When he arrived at the conclusion that he had been hasty, that he had allowed himself to be carried away by an impulse and that perhaps rage would cause him to lose his relationship with Lucía forever, he felt her arms encircling him from behind and then slowly, painstakingly starting to unbutton his shirt, from top to bottom. Despite being surprised, Fernando didn’t try to turn around, face her. He could only see, reflected in the window glass, that single, unique face over his shoulder. When those hands, which he knew so well, unfastened the last button, he heard the following prediction next to his ear: “I don’t know what’s going on, but suddenly I’m not scared anymore. You’ve given me so much, Fernando, you’ve given me so much. I want to give you my solitude, which is the only thing I truly possess. And I’m going to give it to you now.”


I want to be a woman again feel like a woman and the desire returns me to life because it’s mine and it’s yours I want to feel my skin and luckily I do I want my hands to regain their sense of touch and fortunately enjoy what they touch what they caress what they grasp I want to love and I dare to admit that I’m loving not like I loved Eduardo my poor little Eduardo nothing is repeatable only once if it’s new only once is surprise pain and the pain is deliverance and the deliverance is the complexion of the world the pleasure of the world the hope of the world but I want to be a woman again and I’m being one not like a meticulous recluse but because Fernando is sweet he is seducing my longing pores centimeter by centimeter from his yearning palms from his lips Fernando is sweet and his weight doesn’t weigh on me his bones fit into my sockets and I clearly see the juicy sadness of being happy not like with Eduardo of course because this heavenly bliss is also part of my grief this apex also part of my ruin but the body is pragmatic and saves us saves me through pleasure like this one that now penetrates me saves us through the tongues that communicate and console our loneliness purifies us in the lament that is an appeal and is a response and thus I come and go and you come and go Fernando in my ego your home your birthplace your bed tell me again Lucía because with your clamor you give me my identity you give me my body you give me my nature you give me you give me oh how much you’re giving me Fernando Eduardo Fernando Eduardo Fernando Fernando Fernando I exist again.



Why don’t I ever talk about Ana?” thought Fernando. Never. With no one. Is it a closed subject? Is there some blame I’m trying to avoid? Ana, my wife. For five years. Ana and Fernando. Fernando and Ana. The feint of love lasted three: Two years to believe that we loved each other and only one to convince each other that we didn’t. After the deterioration, another endless year. The very long silences, the return to speech only to insult each other. And this last year, destined to convince the bodies that they no longer needed each other. In the end they finally convinced each other, and she left with Sergio to share his bed and his militancy. I remained alone, exultant and at the same time, fed up with my isolation. In reality, the contradiction lasted only six months, because one night they took me, and then, between moves, the solitude had a different pretext, a different meaning, it was at least a single, rotten solitude. On a certain day in any August, during one of those miserly and nevertheless welcome recreation periods, I learned that Sergio and Ana had disappeared in Buenos Aires. They were two out of thirty thousand. Then, in the darkness of the cell, always facing the same stains on the same wall, I devoted myself to reviewing Ana’s life, Ana’s personality, Ana’s body, Ana’s eyes. And also to mumble my ambiguous guilt: that if she would have stayed with me, that if it wouldn’t have ended up unbearable for her to continue with me, and therefore she wouldn’t have left with Sergio, perhaps she would have been in jail like me, but not disintegrated, lost, dissolved into the void. And the idea that she not exist was unbearable to me, that her mouth, her hands, her caresses, her insults, her grudges, her silences, her reconciliations, her verbal attacks, and her violent door slams would no longer exist. Ana was a contradictory being, unfair, but at the same time affectionate and sensible like few others. Despite the horrible truce of those nights, the tense quiet, my tortured and mindful body, I nevertheless moved my lips to tell her old sweet nothings or to kiss her, but she wouldn’t appear, and then I would decide to insult her, to look at her with rancor to see if that way she finally felt alluded to, but she wouldn’t appear then, either. I conversed tirelessly with her silence, I repeated remarks that I had once made to her and I would repeat remarks that she had once made to me. But it was all useless, she was one of the disappeared and there was no word about her or Sergio. Years later, when I finally got out, I was told that an Argentine priest almost tripped over a badly beaten body in the courtyard of a certain military unit and that from this body sprang forth a thready voice: Father, I’m Sergio Morán, tell them on the outside that they killed her, that they killed Ana, and that to me, as you can see, they did the same. In other words, they killed Ana and nevertheless I never talk about her. Never. With no one. Not even with Lucía, who only knows that I had been married and got separated. I don’t even mention her in my cathartic talks with Joaco or Felipe. Why? Can’t I pine for her because she left with another? Can’t I admit my pain because I didn’t know or couldn’t keep her, because I wasn’t with her when they killed her? During these years, one becomes a specialist at fabricating blame and then afterwards, it’s difficult to separate what is true from what is false. I can’t erase my five years with Ana from my life, nor much less retrieve her. I know, and I repeat it to myself, that when she left we no longer loved nor needed each other. But that’s not sufficient to imagine her dead. And furthermore, could it be true that we didn’t love nor need each other? Or had we acted like two inexperienced, spiteful, and unworthy fools; like two terrible humans? Or was it just me who had acted like an inexperienced, spiteful, and unworthy fool; like a terrible human? The truth is that I don’t feel capable of talking about Ana. I only talk to myself about her. And as far as Ana is concerned, perhaps during one of her chronic temper tantrums she has submerged herself in an ominous silence out of which no one will ever be able to rescue her. Perhaps my difficulty consists in that I still don’t know whether I loved her or not, if I love her or not.


Fernando and Lucía were living in their new era. Separate or together. Each one in their own space, with their own walls, their own job, their own need for the other. And every two, three days, getting together, always on Fernando’s fifth floor, like a secret doctrine because that’s where they looked for each other, found each other, where the barricades finally fell and love was renovated, remade, and remodeled their bodies, took away the rust and foul smell from solitude, made them desirable and visible, mixed their sorrows and delights, revealed similarities and dissimilarities, and the identity of one and the other. Separate or together. But unlike before, their separation didn’t fabricate its excuses of lucidity and luxurious living in order to convince each respective recluse of their deep feelings, but also directed its antennas at the man (or woman) who was over there, at the other extreme of the tense clamor. There was a phase of damaged love, of sheltered dreams, of refusing to expose it to the cold wind of a Madrid February, the era of not exhibiting oneself to others, of safeguarding the intimacy and cultivating it, of bringing oneself up to date day, and especially, night, to see each other together in order to then remember each other apart, to converse endlessly in order to become familiar with every viewpoint, every mysterious haunt of the other. The past arrived in discontinuous waves, with images, words, feelings, and made them pay a dividend of anguish, but they didn’t avoid the situation, they accepted it calmly, conscious of the space that those critical moments occupied in their lives, but also being careful not to slowly linger on the details, on the outline of the mortification, on the anxiety, and even less, on corporal hell. On one occasion, Fernando synthesized his relationship with Ana in a brief testimony, without saying her name, of course, and although Lucía hadn’t asked anything because any question would introduce a risk, she absorbed the information without premeditation but with all of her memory on hand. As for Lucía, she spoke about Eduardo in a natural way and without going into details. Strictly speaking, it was about bonding and different experiences, but at some point ominous death placed them on an even level, returned them to the cloud of unfair atonement. And the day arrived when the confinement ended and Fernando and Lucia, without expressly resolving to do so, immediately went out into the street with their love, subjected it to the test and the contact of spring, and upon filling their lungs and overwhelming their vision with that cyclical and always inaugural resurrection of nature, daydreamed that it was this resurrection that gave them its approval, that the affirmative shaking of the trees was the consent they needed to feel good, each one individually and also to each other, and that the collective and deafening warbling of the returning birds was simply a celebration destined for them. It’s clear that they thought about all these things but they didn’t always say them, because each of them was startled by the proximity of the pretentious, without remembering that love always balances on that tight-rope, but it’s difficult for it to collapse (how ridiculous a kiss can be when seen from the outside, and nevertheless, how pleasant it usually is from the inside!). The good weather permitted the coats, scarves, and the wool socks to be cast off like resentments, and that other resentments, but of the soul (the prejudices, the inhibitions, the affectedness) also to become detached and remain immobile and insignificant in the common zone of false shame and winter. And on the night they appeared together at Joaco and Teresa’s, it wasn’t necessary to make any announcement, since at that stage no one could doubt they were (separate or together) a couple.


“So, you don’t know why you don’t return?” “Yes, I think I do know, but Lucía, it has to do with a feeling, and I’ve never been very skilled at converting a feeling into words, whether few or many. The truth is that I don’t want to return. Something broke in me and I haven’t been able to repair it, I haven’t been able to solder those pieces. The bad thing is that I’m also not from here. I have friends, people who I love. But I’m on the outside. Just imagine, I tell you this while I’m simultaneously telling it to myself. I’m more insecure than how I appear. I pretend to be secure, and I’m sure that’s only so that I won’t be controlled.” “But Fernando, who wants to control you?” “No one, that I know of, but just in case, right?” said Fernando. Lucía laughs energetically. “It’s funny, eh?” “But, would you return?” “Look, Fernando, I see it as such a distant possibility that I don’t want to start planning it right now. The situation in Chile is not the same as in Uruguay or Argentina, but when returning becomes possible for all Chileans, then yes, I do think that I would return.” Fernando grumbles a little, but doesn’t say anything. “What’s the matter? Are you thinking about us?” Fernando grumbles again, but now adds: “How can I not?” Lucía smiles, and it’s a sad and affectionate smile. “Why must we become bitter from now on? Everything is transitory, Fernando, everything is temporary. We have one foot here and the other on the border. It’s your situation and mine. What plans can we make? Now we’ve attained a little bit of well-being and are grateful to God, chance, or whoever. And if the word “well-being” seems too pompous, then let’s say a little bit of love, and how good it was for us, or wasn’t it? Let’s enjoy it then. And don’t become a hypochondriac on me. Can I have your permission to hug you? Will the Uruguayan grant it?” Yes, he grants it, and in a full embrace, with Lucía’s kiss cooling his cheek and ear, the Uruguayan sees that his own face is being reflected back at him from the window, and he’s a bit surprised that the thin, suspicious, and perplexed lips of that Fernando Varengo move silently to say: Ana.


Mario Benedetti

MARIO BENEDETTI was born on September 14, 1920 in Uruguay. He published his first book in 1945. Although a trained accountant, he went on to publish Peripecia y Novela (Literary Criticism) in 1948, and a year later, Esta Mañana, his first book of stories. In 1953, he published his first novel, Quien de Nosotros, but it was with the 1959 publication of Montevideanos: Cuentos (Stories) that the urban concept of his narrative style took shape. With the publication of La Tregua in 1960, Benedetti acquired international preeminence. While in Cuba, he founded the world famous Centro de Investigaciones Literarias at Casa de las Americas, which he directed from 1969 to 1971. Returning to Uruguay in 1971, he opposed increasing government repression through his writing and participation in the leftist coalition known as the Frente Amplio, which he helped organize. Following the coup of June 1973, his work was banned by the Uruguayan military. Between 1973 and the return of the civilian government in 1985, he lived in exile in Argentina, Peru, Cuba, and Spain. Writing for an international audience, he denounced the tragic events occurring in Uruguay at the time. From 1985 on, he lived in Montevideo, where he devoted his full time to writing. He passed away on May 17, 2009. Translator HARRY MORALES is also the author of the novel The Suit and Skirt Farm (Xlibris, 2002). He was born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico in 1962, and was raised in New York City. He has studied literary translation under Gregory Rabassa and translated stories by the novelist Mario Bendetti from various collections including Montevideanos: Cuentos, La Muerte y Otra Sorpresas: Cuentos, Esta Ma ñana: Cuentos, and Con y Sin Nostalgia: Cuentos among others. He has also translated the work of the late Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas as well as the works of Eugenio Maria de Hostos, Emir Rodriguez Monegal, Juan Rulfo, Cristina Peri Rossi, Julia de Burgos, Alberto Ruy-Sanchez, and Ilan Stavans, among many other Latin American writers.

Translated From The Spanish By Harry Morales

a Spanish literary translator whose translations include the work of the late Mario Benedetti, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Eugenio María de Hostos, Emir Rodríguez Monegal, Juan Rulfo, Alberto Ruy-Sánchez, Ilan Stavans, and Francisco Proaño Arandi, among many other distinguished Latin American writers. His work has been widely published in numerous anthologies and has appeared in various journals, including Pequod, Quarterly West, >em>Chicago Review, TriQuarterly, The Literary Review, Agni, The Kenyon Review, Mid-American Review, ACM: Another Chicago Magazine, Mānoa, BOMB, WORLDVIEW, Puerto del Sol, The Iowa Review, Michigan Review, World Literature Today, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Denver Quarterly, among others. His English translation of two verse collections by Mario Benedetti, Sólo Mientras Tanto: Poemas: 1948-1950 (Only in the Meantime: Poems: 1948-1950) and Poemas de la Oficina: 1953-1956 (Office Poems: 1953-1956) and a volume of stories, El Resto Es Selva y Otros Cuentos (The Rest is Jungle and Other Stories) are published by Host Publications. His new English translation of Benedetti’s internationally acclaimed award-winning novel, La Tregua (The Truce: The Diary of Martín Santomé) is published by Penguin UK Modern Classics in September 2015.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2010

All Issues