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Every day she arranges his books, dusts the bookcases and takes care not to disturb the alphabetical order when she replaces each copy on the shelf. While she works, she admires the spines with their golden letters, silently reads the titles and sometimes even opens a book and lets her eyes pass over a few pages. What am I doing, Lord, what am I doing? In the half-light of the bedroom, all the lamps turned off, the body beside her gently hums while she dreams in and out of sleep. She rushes to the window, imagining she’s a dove, and the city appears mysterious and beautiful at this hour when nearly everyone is sleeping. Only when he moves in the bed, disturbed by a dream, does she fully awake. The man’s body and her body have changed. The years are visible. Their children, two boys, sleep close together in the parlour without suspecting how her mind wanders. If only they knew. She daydreams of a grand boat trip that her father promised for her eighteenth birthday but never came to pass. She sees the enormous ship waiting for her at port, hears her name over the loudspeakers and the people aboard waving to her with white handkerchiefs. Goodbye! Farewell! She likes to get up early and see the sun, sure of itself, entering between the wooden slats of the Persian blinds. She goes to the front door, picks up the newspaper from the doorstep, and sets it at the foot of the bed before he wakes up. Another day. She sighs and swallows an idea: when they all go out, I’ll go shopping. She writes the list in the small spiral notebook. Tomatoes, potatoes, breadcrumbs, and if there’s extra… She raises her eyes from the paper in search of the next thought. Stop dreaming, girl, she admonishes herself, there won’t be any money left over. As he adjusts his tie, bending to look in the dressing-table mirror, he inquires: what are you writing there, dear? The shopping list, for heaven’s sake. She hates that he meddles in her affairs. If she knows so little of his, how can he think he has a right to hers, for heaven’s sake? She knows about the secretary. Damned sixth sense. Every Thursday he comes home with a stupid look, pink cheeks and relaxed hands. Guilt. When he rings the doorbell twice to announce his arrival, turns the key in the lock, opens the door and faces them, seated on the sofa in front of the tv, waiting for him, he must feel a shudder of guilt, then. She sniffed his clothes, rifled through his briefcase and, finding nothing suspicious, decided that the following Thursday she would take a taxi to see with her own eyes where he went when he left the office. A ‘meeting’, I know. In the lift, she felt her stomach cramp. She returned home and headed for the bathroom. Seated on the toilet, scrutinising for the millionth time the tile accidentally set upside-down, she thought that perhaps she was about to do something foolish. Follow that car! Even in sunglasses, she was unable to disguise her agitation. Would it be her? Could it really be her? Of course not. Of course she would never tell a cab-driver: Follow that car! Like all the women she created, this one was pent-up. What were these scars that wouldn’t fade? Of course she would keep her suspicion under lock and key, preserving her pride. Scornful, she would conceal her jealousy. But would she suffer in silence, night after night? Suffer without a word? No. That was not her, either. She would shout at him, not in front of the boys, but after they went out with their friends, on Sunday. She would shout without a thought for the neighbours. She was fed up. Never again would she play the fool. She had not married for this. He had left her. She would live her life. Would she know how? That wasn’t her, either. Where to start? What to do? What about money? Thirty years, my God! Thirty years! She could not count on relatives after so long not speaking to them. Whom would she ask for help? On whose shoulder would she rest her head? On whom would she rely? Would the boys stay by her side? That could very well be her. Distrustful, seemingly solid as a rock, self-assured, but doubting everything. When no one was home, she would throw his books on the floor in a fit of rage. She would rip up photographs, break the small porcelain boxes, take sedatives and, curled up motionless in a corner of the bathtub, watch as her own skin shriveled under the hot water. That could very well be her. Dressed in black, brown hair cinched into a bun, she watches from the window of the taxi as evening darkens the city. The streets are crowded with cars, people wearing winter coats walk hurriedly, the commotion in the city centre announces the end of another day. Don’t lose sight of the car, she implores the driver. Inside it are her husband and his secretary. She sees her laughing and guesses that his hand is on her thigh. She guesses the honeyed words and suggestive look he uses to seduce her. The car enters a parking lot. Stop here, she orders the driver. She pays the ten pesos quickly and exits the cab carefully so as not to be seen. She follows the two of them to a cinema on Calle Lavalle. He in a suit and tie, she with her substantial derriere. She stands behind a pillar watching as they buy their tickets and turn toward the cinema entrance. Suddenly, a searing pain, an urge to scream until her insides are forced out. Will someone see her terrified expression? Will someone notice her bewilderment, her loneliness, the chill in her stomach, her shaking legs? The passersby stick to their path and no one stops to question what a woman in dark glasses is doing contorting herself behind a pillar outside the cinema. She is being observed, yes. My eyes rest upon her. I feel what she feels, I see what she sees, and the tears that she holds back I let flow. She walks to the box office and buys a ticket. In the dark theatre, the outline of the couple is perfectly recognisable, comfortably settled up front on the left. She sits at the back of the nearly empty room, a snake preparing to strike. She could scream like a crazy person from there at the back. You slut! You shameless prick! Would she purge her hate this way? She would scratch the woman’s face with her nails, leave the mark of her claws on the complexion of that filthy woman. Anger corrupts her thoughts. She can’t breathe; it’s unbearable. She feels a burning in the pit of her stomach. She will die there if she doesn’t do something. I would have walked slowly to where they sat, steadying myself with the seat-back, and whispered, softly, some corrosive phrase that captured all my contempt. Then I would have run out, raving mad, crying and hoping that he would follow me. But we are not the same. She contains her rage with all her strength and watches the film until the end, an American comedy that manages to distract her from the surrounding commotion. Before the lights go on, she makes her way to the exit. At the door of the cinema, standing straight-backed and solemn, her small purse tucked under her arm and her hands crossed one over the other in front of her body, she waits for them to come out. Seeing them, she approaches, not letting their surprise dissuade her speech. Let’s go home, she says, linking arms with her husband, who does not dare glance at the other woman, left there, waiting for something.
Translated by Hilary Kaplan.
Hilary Kaplan is a poet and translator of Brazilian poetry and fiction. She received a 2011 PEN Translation Fund award for her translation of Rilke Shake by Angélica Freitas (Phoneme Media, forthcoming). She teaches in the Language and Thinking Program at Bard College. You can read her translation of Paloma Vidal’s “Así es la vida”, from our Brazil issue, here.