Manuel Puig: IEI-Fe or EIE
Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig; p. 27-9:
—You’re a good cook.
—Thank you, Valentin.
—But you’re getting me into bad habits. That could hurt me.
—You’re crazy, live for the moment! Enjoy life a little! Are you going to spoil our dinner thinking about what’s going to happen tomorrow?
—I don’t believe in that business of living for the moment, Molina, nobody lives for the moment. That’s Garden of Eden stuff.
—You believe in Heaven and Hell?
—Wait a minute, Molina, if we’re going to discuss things let’s have some ground rules, because if we don’t stick to the point it’s just kid stuff, strictly sophomoric.
—I’m sticking to the point.
—Great, then let me state my position first, so you’ll have some idea of it.
—There’s no way I can live for the moment, because my life is dedicated to political struggle, or, you know, political action, let’s call it. Follow me? I can put up with everything in here, which is quite a lot . . . but it’s nothing if you think about torture . . . because you have no idea what that’s like . . .
—But I can imagine.
—No, you can’t imagine . . . Anyway, I put up with all of it . . . because there’s a purpose behind it. Social revolution, that’s what’s important, and gratifying the senses is only secondary. While the struggle goes on, and it’ll probably go on for the rest of my life, it’s not right for me to cultivate any kind of sensual gratification, do you get my point? because, really, that takes second place for me. The great pleasure’s something else, it’s knowing I’ve put myself in the service of what’s truly noble, I mean . . . well . . . a certain ideology . . .
—What do you mean, a certain ideology?
—My ideals . . . Marxism, if you want me to spell it out in only one word. And I can get that pleasure anywhere, right here in this cell, and even in torture. And that’s my real strength.
—And your girl?
—That’s also secondary. I’m secondary to her, too, because she also knows what’s most important.
—You taught her that?
—No, I think the two of us actually discovered it together. Make any sense, what I just explained to you?
—Mmm-hmm . . .
—You don’t sound too convinced, Molina.
—No, don’t pay any attention to me. And now I think I’ll just get some sleep.
—You’ve got to be kidding! And the panther woman? You left me hanging in suspense last night.
—Come on, what’s up?
—Nothing . . .
—Say something . . .
—No, I’m being silly, that’s all.
—Give me some idea, at least.
—Look, it’s just the way I am, I’m easily hurt by some things. And I cooked you this dinner, with my own provisions, and worst of all, mad as I am about avocados I gave you half, when I could just as easily have had the other half for myself tomorrow. And for what? . . . For you to throw it right back in my face about how I’m teaching you bad habits.
—But don’t act like that, you’re oversensitive . . .
—So what am I supposed to do about it? That’s how I am, very sentimental.
—I’ll say. It sounds just like a . . .
—What are you stopping for?
—Say it, I know what you were going to say, Valentin.
—Don’t be silly.
—Say it, like a woman, that’s what you were going to say.
—And what’s so bad about being soft like a woman? Why is it men or whoever, some poor bastard, some queen, can’t be sensitive, too, if he’s got a mind to?
—I don’t know, but sometimes that kind of behavior can get in a man’s way.
—When? When it comes to torturing?
—No, when it comes to being finished with the torturers.
—But if men acted like women there wouldn’t be any more torturers.
—And you, what would you do without men?
—You’re right. They’re mostly brutes, but I like them.
—Molina . . . But you did say if they all acted like women then there wouldn’t be any torturers. You’ve got a point there, a flimsy one, but still, it’s a point.
—Nice of you to say so.
—What do you mean nice?
—Nice and uppity: “Still, it’s a point.”
—Okay, I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.
—Nothing to be sorry about.
—Fine, then relax and don’t try to punish me.
—Punish you? You’re out of your mind.
—Act as if nothing happened, then.
—Want me to go on with the film?
—Something a little strange, that’s what you notice, that she’s not a woman like all the others. She looks fairly young, twenty-five, maybe a little more, petite face, a little catlike, small turned-up nose. The shape of her face, it’s . . . more roundish than oval, broad forehead, pronounced cheeks too but then they come down to a point, like with cats.
—What about her eyes?
—Clear, pretty sure they’re green, half-closed to focus better on the drawing. She looks at her subject: the black panther at the zoo, which was quiet at first, stretched out in its cage. But when the girl made a noise with her easel and chair, the panther spotted her and began pacing back and forth in its cage and to growl at the girl, who up to then was still having trouble with shading in the drawing.
—Couldn’t the animal smell her before that?
—No, there’s a big slab of meat in the case, that’s all it can smell. The keeper drops the meat near the bars, and it blocks out any smell from outside, that’s the point, so the panther won’t get excited. And noticing the anger of the wild animal the girl begins to work more feverishly, with faster and faster strokes, and she draws the face of an animal that’s also a devil. And the panther watches her, a male panther, and it’s hard to tell if he’s watching to tear her to pieces and make a meal of her, of if he’s driven by some other, still uglier instinct.
—Nobody else at the zoo that day?
—No, almost nobody. It’s winter, it’s freezing. The trees are bare in the park. There’s a cold wind blowing. So the girl’s practically by herself, sitting there on the folding chair she brought out herself, along with the easel to clip her drawing paper to. A little further off, near the giraffe cage, there’s some boys with their schoolteacher, but they go away quickly, the cold’s too much for them.
—And she’s not cold?
—No, she’s not thinking about the cold, it’s as if she’s in some other world, all wrapped up in herself drawing the panther.
—If she’s wrapped up inside herself, she’s not in some other world. That’s a contradiction.
—Yes, that’s right, she’s all wrapped up in herself, lost in that world she carries inside her, that she’s just beginning to discover. She has her legs crossed, her shoes are black, thick high heels, open toed, with dark-polished toenails sticking out. Her stockings glitter, that kind they turned inside out when the sheen went out of style, her legs look flushed and silky, you can’t tell if it’s the stockings or her skin.
—Look, remember what I told you, no erotic descriptions. This isn’t the place for it.
—Whatever you want. Okay then, she’s wearing gloves, but to get on with her drawing she slips off the right one. Her fingernails are longish, they’re painted almost black, and the fingers are white, until the cold begins to turn them slightly blue. She stops working for a minute, puts one hand inside her coat to warm it. It’s a heavy coat, black plush, very padded in the shoulders, but thick plush, more like the coat of a Persian cat, no, a lot thicker. And who’s there behind her? Someone tries to light a cigarette, the wind blowing out the flame of the match.
—Who is it?
—Wait. She hears the striking of the match and it startles her, she spins around. It’s a guy, kind of good-looking, not a pretty boy, just a likable face, hat brim turned down and a baggy overcoat, full-cut trousers. He touches the brim of his hat by way of introduction and apologizes, tells her it’s sensational that drawing. She sees the guy’s okay, face gives him away, he’s the quiet, understanding type. With her fingers she touches up the hairdo a little, partly messed by the wind. It’s cut in bangs with curls, and down to the shoulders, that’s how they used to wear it, with little curls at the ends too, almost like a permanent wave.
—I picture her dark-looking, not too tall, really nice figure, and she moves like a cat. A real piece.
—Who didn’t want to get aroused?
—She answers that he didn’t frighten her. But with all this, and the business of fixing her hair, the page works loose and the wind blows it away. The fellow runs and catches it, he brings it back to the girl and offers an apology. She says it’s nothing, and by the accent he can tell she’s a foreigner. The girl explains to him she’s a refugee, she studied fine arts in Budapest, when the war broke out she left for New York. He asks her if she’s homesick for her city, and it’s as if a dark cloud passes over her eyes, the whole expression of her face darkens and she says she doesn’t come from a city, she’s from the mountains, way off in the Carpathians.
—Where Dracula comes from.
—Mmm-hmm, those mountains with dark forests, where wild beasts live who go mad with hunger in the wintertime and have to come down into the villages to kill. And people are scared to death, and hang sheep and other dead animals in their doorways and make vows, for protection. After all that, the fellow wants to see her again, and she tells him she’ll be back to draw again tomorrow afternoon, like almost every day recently, whenever there’s been sun. Then you see him in his studio, he’s an architect, the next afternoon with his architect colleagues and his assistant, a young woman, who’s an architect too. But when three o’clock comes and not much daylight’s left, he gets the urge to put away his compass and ruler and go over to the zoo, almost directly across the way in Central Park. The assistant asks him where he’s going, and why he’s so happy. He treats her like a friend but it’s obvious that deep down she’s in love with him, even though she hides it.
—She’s a dog?
—No, friendly face, chestnut hair, nothing out of this world, but nice enough. He leaves without giving her the pleasure of knowing where he’s going. It upsets her but she doesn’t let anybody see and buries herself in work so that she doesn’t get more depressed. At the zoo it still hasn’t begun to get dark yet, it’s been a day with very strange light for wintertime, everything seems to stand out more sharply than ever, the black bars, the white tile walls of the cages, the gravel looks white too, and the leafless trees gray with no leaves. And the blood-red eyes of the beasts. But the girl, whose name is Irena, isn’t there. Days go by and the architect can’t forget her, until one day walking down some fashionable avenue something in the window of an art gallery catches his attention. They’re showing works by an artist who draws nothing but panthers. The architect walks in, Irena’s there, getting congratulated from all sides. And I don’t know exactly what happens then.
—Try to remember.
—Wait a minute . . . I don’t know if this is when someone gives her a greeting that scares her . . . Anyway, then the architect congratulates her too and notices something different in Irena, something like happiness, she’s got no dark look in her eyes like the first time. And he invites her to a restaurant and she walks out on all those critics, and they go off together. She looks as though she can walk down the street for the first time, like she’d been a prisoner, and now she’s free to go wherever she wants.
—But you you said he takes her to a restaurant, not wherever she wants.
—Hey, don’t take me so literally. Anyhow, when he stops in front of some restaurant, Hungarian or Rumanian, something like that, she starts feeling funny again. He thought she’d enjoy being taken someplace like that, with her own kind of people, but it backfires on him. And he figures something’s going on and asks her. She lies and says something about memories of the war, which is still going strong at the time. Then he tells her they can go someplace else for lunch. But she realizes that he, the poor guy, doesn’t have much time, he’s on his lunch break and has to go back to the studio later. So she gets a grip on herself and walks into the restaurant, and everything’s fine, because the atmosphere’s relaxed and the food’s good, and she’s back to feeling how pleasant life is.
—He’s happy, because he sees how to please him she got her complex under control, just the way he planned, to go there in the first place, to please her. The kind of thing when two people get to know each other and things start working. And he’s so swept off his feet by her he decides not to go back to work that afternoon. He tells her how he happened by the gallery by chance, that he was actually out on another errand to buy a present.
—For the other girl, the assistant.
—How did you know?
—Didn’t, just guessed it.
—You saw the film.
—No, I swear. Go on.
—And the girl, Irena I mean, says that then they can go do that errand. Well, right away, he wonders if he has enough cash to buy two identical presents, one for the assistant’s birthday and another for Irena, so he can win her over completely. On the way Irena says how this afternoon, oddly enough, it doesn’t make her sad to see it getting so dark already, when it’s only three in the afternoon. He asks her why the nightfall upsets her, is it because she’s afraid of the dark.
—He asks her again if she wants to marry him. She answers yes she wants to with all her heart, and she doesn’t want to ever have to leave that house again, she feels so at home there, and she looks all around and the drapes are dark velvet to block the light out, and so to let the light in she draws them open and behind them there’s another set of lacy curtains. Then you get to see the whole turn-of-the-century décor. She asks who picked out all the lovely things and I think he tells her how much his mother had to do with all that, every piece of furniture, how she was such a good mother and how much she would have loved Irena, like her own daughter. Irena goes over to him and kisses him almost with adoration, the way one kisses a holy saint, you know? On the forehead. And she begs him please never to leave her, she wants to be together with him always, all she could ever ask for is to wake up each morning to see him again, always by her side . . . But, to become a real wife to him, she asks him to give her a little time, until all those fears have a chance to subside . . .
—You get what’s going on, don’t you?
—That she’s afraid she’ll turn into a panther.
—Well, I think she’s frigid, she’s afraid of men, either that or she has some idea about sex that’s really violent, and so she invents things.
—Wait, will you? He says okay, and they marry. And when the wedding night comes, she sleeps in the bed, and he’s on the sofa.
—Keeping an eye on his mother’s furniture.
—If you’re going to laugh I won’t go on, I’m telling you this in all seriousness, because I really like it. And besides there’s something else I can’t tell you, that makes me really like this film a lot.
—Tell me what, what is it?
—No, I was about to bring it up but now I see you’re laughing, and, to tell you the truth, it makes me angry.
—No, I like the picture, but you have the fun of telling it and I just want to chime in once in a while too, see what I mean? I’m not the type who knows how to sit around and just listen all the time, you get what I mean? And all of a sudden I have to sit quiet listening to you for hours on end.
—I thought it helped you pass the time, and fall asleep.
—Yeah, that’s true, absolutely, it does both things, it passes time and puts me to sleep.
—Only, if it doesn’t rub you the wrong way, I’d like us to discuss the thing a little, as you go on with it, so I get a chance now and then to rap about something. Doesn’t that seem fair to you?
—If it’s so you can crack jokes about a picture I happen to be fond of, then the answer is no.
—No, look, it could be just a simple discussion. Like for example: I personally would like to ask you how you picture the guy’s mother.
—If you’re not going to laugh anymore.
—Let’s see . . . I don’t know, a really good person. A lovely lady, who gave her husband every happiness and her children too, always managing everything perfectly.
—Do you picture her doing housework?
—No, I see her as impeccably attired, a dress with a high collar, edged in lace to cover the wrinkles on her neck. She has that marvelous thing of certain respectable ladies, which is that little touch of coquettishness, beneath all the properness, on account of her age, but what you notice about them is the way they go on being women and wanting to please.
—Yes, always impeccable. Perfect. She has her servants, she exploits people who can’t do anything else but serve her, for a few pennies. And clearly, she felt very happy with her husband, who in turn exploited her, forced her to do whatever he wanted, keeping her cooped up in a house like a slave, waiting for him—
—Listen . . .
—waiting for him every night, until he got back from his law firm, or from his doctor’s office. And she was in perfect agreement with the whole system, and she didn’t rebel, and she fed her own son the same crap and now the son runs smack into the panther woman. Good luck with that one.
—But tell the truth, wouldn’t you like to have a mother like that? Full of affection, always carefully dressed . . . Come on now, no kidding . . .
—No, and I’ll tell you why, if you don’t follow me.
—Look, I’m tired, and it makes me angry the way you brought all this up, because until you brought it up I was feeling fabulous, I’d forgotten all about this filthy cell, and all the rest, just telling you about the film.
—I forgot all the rest, too.
—Well? Why break the illusion for me, and for yourself too? What kind of trick is that to pull?
—I guess I have to draw you a map, because you sure don’t get the idea.
—Here in the dark he starts drawing things for me, well that’s just wonderful.
—Let me explain.
—Sure, but tomorrow, because right now I’m up to here with it, so skip it till tomorrow . . . Why couldn’t I have the luck to get the panther woman’s boyfriend to keep me company, instead of you?
—Oh, now that’s another story, and I’m not interested.
—Afraid to talk about such things?
—No, not afraid. Just not my bag. I already know all about yours, even if you didn’t tell me a thing.
—Well I told you what I’m in for, corruption of minors, and that tells it all, so don’t start playing the psychologist now.
—Come on, admit it, you like him because he smokes a pipe.
—No, because he’s the gentle type, and understanding.
—His mother castrated him, plain and simple.
—I like him and that’s enough for me. And you, you like the assistant, some urban guerrilla that one!
—I like her, sure, more than the panther woman.
—Ciao, you tell me why tomorrow. Let me get some sleep.
—We were just where she’s going to marry the pipe-smoker. I’m all ears.
—What’s the little sneer for?
—Nothing, tell it to me, go ahead, Molina.
—No, you go ahead, you tell me about the pipe-smoker, since you know him so much better than me, I only saw the film.
—The pipe-smoker’s no good for you.
—Because what you have in mind’s not strictly platonic, right? Admit it.
—Okay, the reason he likes Irena is because she’s frigid and he doesn’t have to make her, that’s why he looks after her and takes her home where the mother’s all over the place. Even if she’s dead she’s there, in every stick of furniture, and the curtains and all that junk, didn’t you say so yourself?
—If he’s left all his mother’s stuff in the house just the way it was, it’s because he still wants to be a little boy, back in his mama’s house, and what he brings home with him isn’t a woman, it’s a little playmate.
—But that’s all your own concoction. How do I know if the house was the mother’s? I told you that because I liked the apartment a lot, and since it was decorated with antiques I said it could be the mother’s, but that’s all. Maybe he rents the place furnished.
—Then you’re inventing half the picture.
—No, I’m not inventing, I swear, but some things, to round them out for you, so you can see them the way I’m seeing them . . . well, to some extent I have to embroider a little. Like with the house, for example.
—Admit that it’s the house you’d like to live in yourself.
—Yes, obviously. And now I have to put up with you while you tell me the same old thing everybody tells me.
—Is that so . . . What is it exactly I’m supposed to tell you?
—You’re all alike, always coming to me with the same business, always!
—How they spoiled me too much as a kid, and that’s why I’m the way I am, how I was tied to my mother’s apron strings and now I’m this way, and how a person can always straighten out though, and what I really need is a woman, because a woman’s the best there is.
—Well, as I was telling you yesterday, I don’t remember this last part so well. That very night the husband calls her psychiatrist to get him to come to the house. They’re there waiting for her, for Irena, who hasn’t arrived yet.
—At whose house?
—The architect’s. But then the assistant calls up the architect to get him to go to the women’s hotel and from there to the police station, because the incident in the pool just happened, so the architect leaves the psychiatrist by himself for just a little while, no more, and, zap! Irena comes home, and finds herself face to face with the psychiatrist. It’s nighttime, obviously; the room’s lit with only a table lamp. The psychiatrist, who’s been reading, takes off his glasses, looks at her. Irena feels that same mixture of repulsion and desire for him, because he’s good-looking, like I told you, a sexy guy. And here something strange happens. She throws herself into his arms, because she feels so abandoned, nobody wants her, her husband’s forsaken her. And the psychiatrist interprets this as a sign that she’s interested in him sexually, and to top it off he thinks if he kisses her and even manages to go all the way, he’ll be able to rid her of those strange ideas about being a panther woman. And he kisses her, and they press up against each other, embracing and kissing, until all of a sudden she . . . she kind of slips out of his arms, looking at him through half-closed eyes, green eyes glittering with something like desire and hatred at the same time. And she breaks away from him and goes to the other end of that room filled with lovely turn-of-the-century furniture, all beautiful velvet armchairs and tables with crochet doilies on them. But she goes into that corner because the light from the table lamp doesn’t reach there. And she drops down to the floor, and the psychiatrist tries to defend himself, but it’s too late, because now over in that dark corner everything turns blurry for an instant, and before you know it she’s transformed into a panther, and he just manages to grab the poker from the fireplace to defend himself, but the panther’s already pounced on him, and he tries to strike with the poker, but she’s already ripped his throat open with her claws and the man’s already fallen to the floor with his blood gushing out. The panther snarls and bares a set of perfect white fangs and sinks her claws in again, this time into his face, to tear it to pieces, those cheeks and mouth she’d kissed a few moments ago. By then the assistant’s already with Irena’s husband who’d gone to meet her at the hotel and there at the front desk they try to call the psychiatrist to warn him he’s in danger, because now there’s no way around it, it’s not just Irena’s imagination, she really is a panther woman.
—No, she’s a psychopathic killer.
—Okay, but the telephone rings and rings and no one answers; the psychiatrist is lying dead, all his blood drained. Then the husband, the assistant and the police who’d already been called to the house, climb the stairs slowly, find the door open and inside the guy’s dead. Irena, she’s not there.
—The husband knows where to find her, it’s the only place she’d go, and even though it’s midnight already, they go over to the park . . . more specifically, to the zoo. Oh, but I forgot to tell you something!
—That afternoon Irena went to the zoo the same as every afternoon to see the panther that had her hypnotized. And she was right there when the keeper came along with his keys to give the meat to the beasts. The keeper’s that absent-minded old guy I told you about. Irena kept at a distance but watched everything. The keeper came up with the keys, opened the lock on the cage, slid back the bolt, opened the door and tossed in a couple of gigantic chunks of meat, and afterwards shot the bolt back through the latch on the door again, but forgot the key in the lock. When he wasn’t looking, Irena approached the cage and took the key. Anyway, all that was in the afternoon but now it’s night already and the psychiatrist’s dead already, when the husband with the other one and the police rush toward the zoo, just a few blocks away. But Irena’s just getting there, at the very cage the panther’s in. Walking like a sleepwalker. Holding the keys in her hand. The panther’s asleep, but Irena’s odor wakes him up. Irena looks at him through the bars. Slowly she goes up to the door, puts the key in the lock, opens it. Meantime, the others are arriving; you hear police cars approaching with sirens going to clear a way through the traffic, even though at that hour the place is almost deserted. Irena slides back the bolt and opens the door, setting the panther free. Irena’s almost transported into another world; her expression’s strange, tragic and yet excited sort of, her eyes misty. The panther escapes from the cage in a single leap; for a split second he looks suspended in midair, with nothing in front of him but Irena. Only the force of his leap and Irena’s knocked down. Cars are pulling up. The panther runs through the park and across the road, just as a police car races by at full speed. The car hits him. They get out and find the dead panther. The architect goes toward the cages and finds Irena stretched out on the cobblestone, right where they met for the first time. Irena’s face is disfigured from the swipe of the claw. She’s dead. The young assistant comes over to where he’s standing and they walk off together arm in arm, trying to forget the terrible spectacle they’ve just seen, and, The End.
— . . .
—Did you like it?
—Yes . . .
—A lot or a little?
—I’m sorry it’s over.
—We had a good time, didn’t we?
—Yeah, for sure.
—I must be crazy.
—What’s wrong with you?
—I’m sorry it’s over.
—So what, I’ll tell you another one.
—No, it’s not that. You’re going to laugh at what I’m going to tell you.
—Let’s have it.
—I’m sorry because I’ve become attached to the characters. And now it’s all over, and it’s just like they died.
—So, Valentin, you too have a little bit of a heart.
—It has to come out some place . . . weakness, I mean.
—It’s not weakness, listen.
—Funny how you can’t get along without becoming attached to something . . . It’s . . . as if the mind had to secret affection without stopping . . .
—You think so?
— . . . same way your stomach secretes juices for digestion.
—You really think so?
—Sure, like a leaky faucet. And those drops continue dripping on anything, they can’t be turned off.
—Who knows . . . because they’re spilling over the top of their container.
—And you don’t want to think about your girl.
—But it’s like I can’t avoid it . . . because I get attached to anything that reminds me of her.
—Tell me a little what she’s like.
—I’d give . . . absolutely anything to be able to hold her, even for just a second.
—That day’ll come.
—Sometimes I think it’s never going to come.
—But you’re not a lifer.
—Something could happen to her.
—Write her, tell her not to take any chances, that you need her.
—Never. If you’re going to think like that, you’ll never change anything in this world.
—And you think you’re going to change the world?
—Yes, and I don’t care if you laugh . . . It makes people laugh to say it, but what’s got to be done more than anything . . . is change the world.
—But you can’t change it just like that, and you can’t do it all alone.
—But that’s just it, I’m not alone! . . . you get me? . . . There’s the truth, that’s what’s important! . . . That’s just it, right at this minute I’m not alone! I’m with her and with everybody who thinks like her and me . . . and I can’t let myself forget it. That’s the piece of thread that sometimes slips out of my fingers. But luckily I’ve got a good grip on it now. And I’m not about to let go . . . I’m not far from any of my comrades, I’m with them! Now, at this very moment! . . . It doesn’t matter if I can’t see them.
—If you can swallow something like that, great.
—What an idiot you are!
—Such names . . .
—Don’t be so annoying then . . . Don’t say things like that. As if I were some dreamer who kids himself about everything, because that’s not how it is! I’m not some loudmouth playing at café politics, understand? The proof’s that I’m here in this place, not in a café!
—It’s all right.
—You started to tell me something about your girl and you never told me anything.
—No, better we forget the whole thing.
—Whatever you want.
—Even though there’s no reason not to talk. It shouldn’t upset me to talk about her.
—If it upsets you, don’t . . .
—It doesn’t upset me . . . Only it’s better for me not to tell you her name.
—I just remembered the name of the actress who played the assistant.
—What is it?
—Never heard of her.
—She goes back a ways, to the forties, around then. For your girl’s name we can simply say Jane Randolph.
—Jane Randolph in . . . The Mystery of Cellblock Seven.
—One of the initials actually fits . . .
—What do you want me to tell you about her?
—Whatever you want to say, what kind of girl she is.
—She’s twenty-four, Molina. Two years younger than me.
—Thirteen less than me.
—She always was a revolutionary. At first in terms of . . . well, I won’t hesitate with you . . . in terms of the sexual revolution.
—Please, tell me about it.
—She comes from a bourgeois family, people who aren’t very rich, but, you know, comfortable enough, two-story house in Caballito. But she spent her whole childhood and adolescence tormented by watching her parents destroying one another. With a father who deceived the mother, but you know what I mean . . .
—Deceived her by not telling her how he needed outside relationships. And the mother devoted herself to criticizing him in front of the daughter, devoted herself to being the martyr. I don’t believe in marriage—or in monogamy, to be more precise.
—But how marvelous when a couple loves each other for a lifetime.
—You’d really go for that?
—It’s my dream.
—So why do you like men then?
—What’s that got to do with it? . . . I’d like to marry a man for the rest of my life.
—So you’re a regular bourgeois gentleman at heart, eh, Molina? . . . . But don’t you see how all that’s nothing but a deception? . . . .
—I’m in love with a wonderful guy and all I ask is to live by his side for the rest of my life.
—Molina, there’s something I’d like to ask you.
—It’s complicated. Well . . . it’s like this: you, physically you’re a man as much as I am . . .
—Mmm . . .
—Sure, you’re not in any way inferior. Then why doesn’t it occur to you to ever be . . . to ever act like a man? I don’t say with women, if they don’t attract you. But with another man.
—No, that’s not for me . . .
—Because it’s not.
—That’s what I don’t really understand very well . . . All homosexuals, they’re not that way.
—Right, there’s all kinds. But me, no, I don’t . . . I don’t enjoy it any other way.
—Look, I don’t understand anything about this, but I want to explain something to you, even if I just bumble my way through it . . . I don’t know.
—I mean that if you enjoy being a woman . . . you shouldn’t feel any the less because of it.
— . . .
—I don’t know if you follow me . . . how do you see it?
— . . .
—I just mean that you don’t have to make up for it with anything, with favors, or excuses. You don’t have to . . . submit.
—But if a man is . . . my husband, he has to give the orders, so he will feel right. That’s the natural thing, because that makes him the . . . the man of the house.
—No, the man of the house and the woman of the house have to be equal with one another. If not, their relation becomes a form of exploitation.
—But then there’s no kick to it.
—Well, this is very intimate, but since you’re asking about it . . . The kick is in the fact that when a man embraces you . . . you may feel a little bit frightened.
—No, that’s all wrong. Whoever put that idea in your head? It’s absolutely wrong.
—But that’s the way I feel.
—You don’t feel that way, you’ve been fed an old wives’ tale by whoever filled your head with that nonsense. To be a woman you don’t have to be . . . I don’t know . . . a martyr. Look . . . if it weren’t for the fact that it must hurt a hell of a lot, I’d tell you to do it to me, to demonstrate that this business of being a man, it doesn’t give any special rights to anyone.
—Let’s not talk about it anymore, because this conversation isn’t getting anywhere.
—To me it is, I want to talk more about it.
—But I don’t.
—Because I don’t, and that’s that. Please, I’m asking you . . .
— . . . Oh . . . well . . .
—Why the big sigh?
—It’s a hard life . . .
—What’s the matter, Molina?
—I don’t know, I’m scared of everything, scared of kidding myself about getting out of here, scared they’ll never let me. And what scares me most is that they might separate us and stick me in another cell and keep me there forever, with who knows what sort of creep . . .
—Best not to think about it, especially since nothing depends upon us.
—But you see, I don’t agree with that. I think that maybe if we think about it we might come up with something, Valentin.
—Well . . . at least some way not to be separated.
—Look . . . Don’t you go spoiling things for yourself at this point, think about just one thing: what you want is to get out of here in order to take care of your mother. Nothing else. Don’t think about anything else. Because her health is what’s most important to you, right?
—Yes . . .
—Concentrate on that, and only that.
—But I don’t want to concentrate on it . . . I won’t . . .
—Hey . . . what’s up?
—Nothing . . .
—Come on, don’t get like that . . . Take your head out of the pillow . . .
—Leave me alone . . .
—But what’s up? Are you hiding something from me?
—No, not hiding anything . . . But it’s just . . .
—Just what? When you’re out of here, you’ll be free, you’ll be with people. If you want you can even join up with some kind of political group.
—That’s ridiculous and you know it; they’d never trust some ******.
—But I can tell you who to go see . . .
—Not on your life, never, you hear? Never, never tell me anything about your comrades.
—Why? Who would ever figure you’d go to see any of them?
—No, I could be interrogated or something, and as long as I don’t know anything I can’t tell anything.
—Anyway, there’s a lot of different types of groups for political action. And if you find one that appeals to you, join it, even if it’s a group that just does a lot of talking.
—I don’t know anything about that stuff . . .
—And don’t you have any close friends? . . . good friends?
—Oh, I have silly girlfriends like myself, but just in passing, good for a laugh once in a while, and that’s all. But as soon as we start getting a little dramatic . . . then we can’t stand the sight of each other. Because I already told you what it’s like; you see yourself in the other ones like so many mirrors and then you start running for your life.
—Things could change for you once you’re outside.
—No, they’ll never change . . .
—Come on, don’t cry . . . don’t be that way . . . Look how many times you make me listen to you cry . . . Well, I suppose you had to put up with my blubbering that time, too . . . But enough is enough. God . . . you . . . you make me nervous with your crying.
—I just can’t help it . . . I always have such rotten . . . luck . . .
—Hey, they shut off the lights . . .
—Of course they did, what do you think? It’s already eight-thirty. And just as well anyway, so you can’t see my face.
—That picture really made the time fly, Molina.
—And I won’t ever get to sleep tonight.
—Now listen to me, because there must be something I can help you with. It’s just a matter of discussing it a little. First of all, you have to think about getting into some group, and not be alone all the time. That’s bound to help you.
—Get into what group? I tell you I don’t understand any of those things, and I don’t believe in them very much either.
—Then you have no right to complain.
—Let’s just . . . stop talking . . .
—Come on . . . don’t be that way . . . Molina.
—No . . . don’t touch me . . .
—Can’t a buddy even pat your back?
—It makes me feel worse . . .
—Why? . . . Come on now, say something. It’s time for us to be honest with each other. Really, Molina, I want to help you, tell me what’s wrong.
—I just want to die. That’s all I want.
—Don’t be saying things like that. Think how sad it’d make your mother, and your friends, and me.
—You? It wouldn’t matter to you . . .
—What do you mean it wouldn’t! Come on, what a thing to say . . .
—I’m tired, Valentin. Tired of hurting. You don’t know, I hurt so much inside.
—Where does it hurt you?
—In my chest, and my throat . . . Why does the sadness always jam up right there, in that one spot?
—It’s true . . .
—And now . . . you made me stop crying, so I can’t even cry anymore. And that makes it worse, the knot in my throat, it’s so tight there, so tight . . .
— . . .
— . . .
—Is it hurting you right now? that knot I mean?
— . . .
— . . .
—Can I massage it for you?
—Does that feel better?
—Yes . . . it feels better.
—Me too, I feel better.
—Mmm . . . It’s restful . . .
—How come restful, Valentin?
—Because . . . I don’t know.
—Maybe because I’m not thinking about me . . .
—You do me a lot of good, Valentin.
—Maybe because I feel like you really need me, so I can do something for you.
—You’re always looking for explanations, Valentin . . . You’re crazy . . .
—I don’t like to just go along with things . . . I want to know why they happen . . .
—Valentin . . . Can I touch you too?
—I want to touch the mole there . . . right above your eyebrow.
— . . .
—And this way, can I touch you this way?
— . . .
—And this way?
— . . .
—It doesn’t disgust you to have me caress you?
—No . . .
—You’re kind to me . . .
— . . .
—Really, you are . . .
—No, you’re the one who’s kind.
—Valentin . . . If you like, you can do whatever you want with me . . . because I want you to.
— . . .
—If I don’t disgust you.
—Don’t talk like that. It’s better if it’s quiet.
— . . . Aren’t you tired of reading yet?
—No. How do you feel?
—I think I’m becoming horribly depressed.
—Come, come, old buddy, no getting soft now.
—Don’t you get tired of reading in this miserable light?
—No, I’m used to it by now. But what about your stomach, how is it feeling?
—A little better. Tell me something about what you’re reading.
—What can I tell you? It’s philosophy, a book concerning political power.
—But it must say something, doesn’t it?
—It says that honest men cannot deal with political power, because their concept of responsibility prevents them.
—And that’s true, because politicians are all a bunch of crooks.
—To me it’s just the opposite. Only a flawed conception of responsibility makes one stay away from political involvement. Rather, my responsibility is precisely to stop people from dying of hunger, and that’s why I go on with the struggle.
—Cannon fodder, that’s what you are.
—If you can’t understand, then shut your mouth . . .
—You don’t like my saying the truth . . .
—What an ignoramus! When you know nothing, then say nothing.
—It’s no accident you’re so angry . . .
—Enough! I’m reading!
—You’ll see. One of these days you’ll be the sick one and I’ll get even.
—Molina, once and for all, shut up!
—You wait and see. Sometime I’ll tell you a thing or two.
—explanation on the part of the spinster, permission granted to the maid to stay on at the house since she has no other place to go, spinster’s sadness and the maid’s too, sum of two sadnesses, better each one alone than one mirrored by the other, no matter if sometimes it’s better together, at least to share one can of soup that makes two servings. Bitter winter, nothing but snow, total silence, white blanket deadening the noise of a running motor in front of the house, windowpanes all misted on the insides and frosted over outside, maid’s hand rubbing in a circle to clean the glass, young man outside with his back turned, closing the car door, joy of the maid, why? hurried footsteps to the front door, I’ll fly to open the door to the young man so spirited and handsome coming here finally with his nasty fiancée! . . . “Ahhh!!! Forgive me!” shame of the maid, unable to contain her own gesture of disgust, black look of the poor young man, his once fearless pilot’s face crossed now with a horrible scar. Young man’s conversation with the spinster, relating the battle, his injury and eventual nervous collapse, impossibility of returning to the front, proposal to rent the house for himself, spinster’s actual sorrow at seeing him thus, young man’s bitterness, his sharp words to the maid, sharp commands, “Bring me what I tell you and leave me alone, and don’t make any noise, because I’m very tense,” memory of the young man’s happy lovely face still in the mind’s eye of the little maid and I ask myself: what is it that makes a face so lovely? why such an urge to caress a lovely face? why do I feel the urge to always have a lovely face close to mine, to touch, and to kiss? a lovely face should have a petite nose, but sometimes big noses can be appealing, and big eyes, or even little eyes if they smile a lot, little eyes sparkling with goodness . . . A scar from the tip of the forehead cutting down across one of the eyebrows, down across the same eyelid, furrowing into the nose until it sinks into the opposite cheek, a face exed out, a black look, an evil look, reading a work of philosophy and just because I ask a question he gives me that black look, it feels so bad when somebody gives you a black look, what’s worse? when they give you a black look or when they refuse to look at you altogether? mom never gave me that black look, they condemned me to eight years for fooling around with a minor but mom never gave me that black look, but because of me my mom could die, tired heart of a woman suffering so much, tired heart, from forgiving too much? so many hardships her whole life beside a husband that never understood her, and later on the hardship of having a son steeped in vice, and the judge wouldn’t pardon me a single day, and there in front of my mom said that of all things I was the worst, a revolting fag, and in order to keep me away from any other kids, he wouldn’t allow me one single day less than the full weight of what the law permitted, and after him saying all that, my mom still kept her eyes fixed on him, eyes full of tears as if someone had just died, but when she turned from the judge to look at me she gave me a smile, “The years go by quickly and, God willing, I’ll still be alive to see it,” and everything will be like nothing ever happened, and each passing minute her heart beats on, weaker and weaker? so terribly easy for her heart to get tired and not be able to beat anymore, but I never said a word to this son of a bitch, not a word about my mother ever, because if he dared to say one stupid word about her I’d kill the son of a bitch, what does he know about feelings? what does he know about dying of grief? how does he know what you feel when you’re to blame for a sickly mother getting worse and worse? is mom worse? is mom dying? can she wait those seven years until I get out? will the warden keep his promise? is it true what he promised? a pardon? a reduction in my sentence? one day a visit by the parents of the wounded flyer, the flyer locked in his room way up on the top floor, “Tell my parents I don’t want to see them,” insistence on the part of the parents, a couple of rich stuffed shirts cold as ice, parents departing, arrival of his fiancee, “Tell my fiancée I don’t want to see her,” his fiancée begging at the bottom of the steps, “Let me come up and see you, my love, because I swear to you nothing matters about your accident,” fiancée’s hypocritical voice, insincerity of every word she speaks, fiancée’s brusque departure, the days passing, the drawings done by the young man while locked up in his study, view of the snow-covered forest from up in the window, first notes of spring, buds so tender and green, some drawings of trees and clouds done out in the open air, arrival of the maid carrying hot coffee and a couple of doughnuts into the forest, maid’s observation with respect to the drawing set upon a cute little easel, surprise on the part of the wounded flier, what did the girl say exactly about that drawing? why did the young man realize at just that moment that the maid actually possessed a refined soul? how does it happen that sometimes someone says something and wins someone else over forever? what was it the poor maid said about that drawing? how did she get him to see she was something more than just an ugly little maid? how I’d like to remember those words, what would she have said? nothing at all can I remember about that scene, and the other important scene, his encounter with the blind man, the blind man’s own story of how little by little he resigned himself to the loss of his eyesight, and one night the flyer’s proposition to the girl, “The two of us are all alone and expecting nothing more out of life, neither love nor joy, and so perhaps it’s possible to help one another, for I have some money that could be your security, and you too might take care of me a little, since my health’s no longer improving, and I don’t want to be near anyone who feels sorry for me but you can’t feel sorry for me, because you’re as sad and lonely as I am, and so perhaps we could join together, but with nothing more to it than a contract, an arrangement between just friends.” Could it be the blind man’s idea? What would he have said to him which I can’t remember now? at times a single word can work miracles. A wooden church, the blind man and the spinster as witnesses, a couple of candles burning on the altar, no flowers, empty benches, somber faces, organist’s bench empty and the choir loft empty too, words of the priest, his blessing, footsteps resounding through the empty nave as the couple leaves, afternoon coming to its end, return to the silent house, windows open to catch the pleasant summer air, young man’s bed shifted to his study, maid’s bedroom shifted to his bedroom, to his ex-bedroom, wedding supper already prepared by the spinster, table set for two in the living room close to the window, candelabra between both plates, spinster’s goodnight, her own skepticism before their simulacrum of love, embittered grimace on her lips, the couple in absolute silence, a bottle of vintage wine, a toast without so much as a word, impossibility of looking at one another, crick-crick of crickets out there in the garden, slight murmur—not heard until then—of forest foliage swayed by the breeze, strange radiance—not noticed until then—of candelabras, stranger and stranger radiance, hazier contours of everything in sight, of her face so ugly, of his face so disfigured, sound of music almost imperceptible and so very sweet you don’t know where it comes from, her face and all her features enveloped in a misty white light, only the glow of the eyes at all perceptible, mistiness fading little by little, agreeable face of a woman, same as the little maid’s face but beautified, the coarse eyebrows transformed into light penciled lines, eyes illuminated from within, eyelashes elongated with curling, skin like porcelain, mouth widened in a smile of perfect white teeth, hair waved in silky ringlets, and her simple percale dress? an elegant lace evening gown, and what of him? impossible to determine his features, only an image distorted by the glare from candelabras or even like through eyes filled with tears, his face seen through eyes filled with tears, tears drying up, face seen with absolute clarity, face of as spirited and handsome a young man as ever could be, but with trembling hands, no, hers are the trembling hands, one hand of his moving closer to one hand of hers, whistling wind in the forest’s foliage or violins and harps? gazing into one another’s eyes, conviction they are both hearing violins and harps carried by the breeze perfumed with evergreens, coupling of hands, lips approaching lips, first and moist kiss, beating of two hearts . . . in perfect time, night crowded with stars, both no longer at the table . . . empty tables at the restaurant, waiters waiting for customers, slow calm after-midnight hours, cigarette barely lit hanging from one side of his mouth, left or right corner of his lips, his saliva the taste of tobacco, black tobacco, sad eyes lost in the distance, looking through the windowpanes, cars passing all wet from the rain, one car after another, does he remember me? why is it he’s never come to see me? couldn’t he change shifts with one of his buddies? did he ever go to the doctor’s office for that earache? putting it off from one day to the next, terrible pains at night sometimes, he said, swearing next day he’d go have it looked at, then next day the pain gone and he forgets about the doctor, and after midnight while he’s waiting in the restaurant for his last customers he must remember and think about me and say tomorrow he’ll certainly come and see me, looking through the windowpane at all the passing automobiles, and the saddest thing of all is when the windowpanes in front of the restaurant get wet from the rain, as if the restaurant had been crying, because he never weakens, he holds up because he’s a man and never cries, and when I think very hard about someone I can see their face pictured in my memory, on a clear glass pane wet with the rain, a hazy face I see in my memory, my mom’s face and his face, he must remember, and I wish he’d come, I wish so much he’d come, first on a Sunday, for everything in life is just a question of habit, and he comes another day, and another, and when my pardon comes through he’s waiting there on the corner for me outside the penitentiary, we take a taxi, coupling of hands, the first kiss timid and dry, closed lips are dry, half-parted lips are a bit moist, his saliva the taste of tobacco? and if I die before getting out of this prison I’ll never find out how his saliva tastes, what happened that night? waking up and fearing it all a dream, infinitely afraid to glance at one another in the light of day, in that house where lives as lovely a girl and as handsome a young man as could ever be. And they hide themselves from the spinster, so she never sees them, both afraid of her saying something and spoiling it all, and they go out into the forest just before dawn, when no one is around, watching the sunrise as it lights upon their faces so lovely and always so close to each other, close enough to give all those kisses each to each, but let nobody see them! because strange things can happen, and suddenly footsteps this morning in the forest! impossible to hide since the tree trunks aren’t big enough, slow footsteps of a man who’s trampling over the dewy grass, and behind him a dog . . . oh, it’s only the blind man, thank heavens! since he can’t see them, but still he gives them a greeting because of the sound of their breathing, so cordial and sincere a greeting, the blind man’s intuition of a change, the three of them back now to the house of enchantment, appetite of an early morning, breakfast like in American films, girl taking charge of preparing things, blind man and young flyer alone together for a moment, blind man asking what has happened, the whole story, blind man’s joy, suddenly a black bolt of fear across the blind man’s white retina when hearing the simple statement: “Know what I think I’ll do? I’ll contact my parents so that they come visit me and my darling wife,” effort on the part of the blind man to hide his great apprehension, announcement of the arrival of the parents who have accepted his invitation, young man and his girl hiding in their bedroom awaiting the parents without courage to go downstairs, spinster waiting by the window, car pulling up, parents’ chitchat with the spinster, happiness of the parents since he wrote them how he’s all but better, appearance of the young man and his girl way up at the top of the stairs, parents’ bitter disappointment, ferocious scar slashed across the young man’s face, his bride a lowly servant with an ugly face and such clumsy manners, impossibility of pretending to be pleased, after a few short embarrassing minutes suspicion of the young man, has it all been nothing but a cruel deception? is it possible that we haven’t changed? a look at the spinster hoping she’ll regard him as handsome as ever, embittered grimace upon the spinster’s lips, girl’s flight to find a mirror, the cruel reality, young man standing beside her there in the mirror, the infamous scar, refuge in total darkness, horror of seeing one another, noise of the parents’ car, noise of the motor already far off and bound for the city, girl taking refuge in her old room, from when as a maid, and his despair, destruction of his own self-portrait embraced with the girl, demented slashes reducing the canvas to tattered shreds, spinster’s phone call to the blind man, visit by the blind man upon an autumn twilight, conversation with the sickly young man and the ugly girl, lights turned off to avoid the sight of each other, three blind beings thrown together at the saddest hour of day, spinster listening behind the door, “Don’t you two realize what has happened? Please, after I finish this talk, go back to looking at one another like before, as I know you have not done in all these many days, hiding from one another, and it’s so simple to explain the very enchantment of this lovely summer now gone by. To put it simply . . . you are beautiful to one another, because you love each other so and thus see nothing but your souls, is that perhaps so difficult to understand? I do not ask you to look at each other now, but once I have left you . . . please do, without the slightest tremor of doubt, because the love that beats within the stones of this old house has caused a miracle: that of permitting yourselves, as if blind, to see not the body but only the soul.” Departure of the blind man with the last reddening rays of sunset, young man’s ascent to his room to ready himself for suppertime, table set by the girl herself, her fear of facing the mirror in order to fix herself and comb her hair, spinster’s firm footsteps as she enters the little maid’s quarters, spinster’s eyes lost in the distance, her words of encouragement, impossibility of the girl’s combing her own hair given the trembling of hands, words of the spinster as she starts to comb the girl’s hair for her, “I heard all that the blind man said to you and I tell you he’s so very right, this house has been waiting to shelter two such beings in love, ever since my fiancé couldn’t come back from the cruel trenches of France, and the two of you have been chosen; and love is that, rendering beautiful whoever manages to love without hoping for return. And I am certain if my fiancé were to come back from the far beyond that even today he would find me just as beautiful and just as young as I was back then, yes, I’m absolutely sure, because he died loving me,” table set close to the window, young man standing looking out the window at the forest sunk in darkness, her footsteps, his fear of turning around and looking at her, his hand taking her hand, removing her ring and inscribing their names in the glass, and then caressing her silky hair, caressing her porcelain skin, his smile as handsome as can be, her smile of perfect white teeth, their wet kiss of happiness, the end of the blind man’s story, first chords of the sweet sonata, arrival on tiptoe of two additional guests, who are the young man and the girl? seen from behind, looking elegant, but from behind of course no way to tell if the faces are beautiful or not, and no one realizing that these two are the protagonists of the story that’s just been told, and mom was crazy about it, and me too, and luckily I didn’t tell this son of a bitch, and I’m certainly not going to tell him another word about anything I like, so he can’t laugh anymore about how soft I am, we’ll see if ever he weakens or not, but I won’t tell him anymore of the films I like the most, they’re just for me, in my mind’s eye, so no filthy words can touch them, this son of a bitch and his pissass of a revolution
GUARD: Remove your cap in front of the Warden.
PRISONER: Yes, sir.
WARDEN: No need to be trembling like that, young man, nothing bad is going to happen to you here.
GUARD: Prisoner has been thoroughly searched and has nothing dangerous on his person, sir.
WARDEN: Thank you, Sergeant. Be good enough to leave me alone with the prisoner now.
GUARD: Shall I remain stationed in the hallway, sir? With your permission, sir.
WARDEN: That will do fine, Sergeant, you may go out now . . . You look thin, Molina, what’s the matter?
PRISONER: Nothing, sir. I was sick to my stomach, but I’m feeling much better now.
WARDEN: Then stop your trembling . . . There’s nothing to be afraid of. We made it look like you had a visitor today. Arregui couldn’t possibly suspect anything.
PRISONER: No, he doesn’t suspect anything, sir.
WARDEN: Last night I had dinner at home with your sponsor, Molina, and he brought me some good news for you. Which is why I had you summoned to my office today. Oh, I know it’s rather soon . . . or have you learned something already?
PRISONER: No, sir, nothing yet. I feel I need to proceed very cautiously in this kind of situation . . . But what did Mr. Parisi have to say?
WARDEN: Very good news, Molina. It seems your mother is feeling a lot better, since he spoke to her about the possibility of a pardon . . . She’s practically a new person.
PRISONER: Really? . . .
WARDEN: Of course, Molina, what would you expect? . . . But stop your crying, what’s this? You should be pleased . . .
PRISONER: It’s from happiness, sir . . .
WARDEN: But come on now . . . Don’t you have a handkerchief?
PRISONER: No, sir, but I can just use my sleeve, it’s no problem.
WARDEN: Take my handkerchief at least . . .
PRISONER: No, I’m really okay. Please excuse me.
WARDEN: You know, Parisi is like a brother to me, and it was his interest in you that led us to come up with the present option, but Molina . . . we’re expecting you to know how to manage things. Do you seem to be making any headway, or what?
PRISONER: I think I’m getting somewhere . . .
WARDEN: Was it helpful to have him weakened physically, or no?
PRISONER: Actually I had to eat the prepared food the first time.
WARDEN: Why? That was certainly a mistake . . .
PRISONER: No, it wasn’t, because he doesn’t like rice, and since one plate had more than the other . . . he insisted I have the bigger portion, and it would have been suspicious had I refused. I know you warned me that the prepared one would come in a new tin plate, but they loaded it up so much I had to eat it myself.
WARDEN: Well, good work, Molina. I commend you, and I’m sorry about the mixup.
PRISONER: That’s why I look so thin. I was sick for two days.
WARDEN: And Arregui, how’s his morale? Have we managed to soften him up a little? What’s your opinion?
PRISONER: Yes, but it’s probably a good idea to let him begin to recover now.
WARDEN: Well, that I don’t know, Molina. I think the matter had best be left to our discretion. We have here appropriate techniques at our disposal.
PRISONER: But if he gets any worse there’s no way he can remain in his cell, and once he’s taken to the infirmary, there’s no chance left for me.
WARDEN: Molina, you underestimate the proficiency of our personnel here. They know exactly how to proceed in these matters. Weigh your words, my friend.
PRISONER: Excuse me, sir, I only want to cooperate. Nothing else . . .
WARDEN: Of course. Now another thing—don’t give out the slightest hint about a pardon. Hide any sign of euphoria when you go back into your cell. How are you going to explain this visit?
PRISONER: I don’t know. Perhaps you can suggest something, sir.
WARDEN: Tell him your mother came, how does that sound?
PRISONER: No, sir, impossible, not that.
WARDEN: Why not?
PRISONER: Because my mother always brings some bags of food for me.
WARDEN: We have to come up with something to justify your euphoria, Molina. That’s definite. I know now, we can requisition some groceries for you, and pack them up the same way, how does that strike you?
PRISONER: Fine, sir.
WARDEN: This way we can also repay you for your sacrifice, over that plate of rice. Poor Molina!
PRISONER: Well, my mother buys everything in the supermarket a few blocks from the prison, so as not to have to carry everything on the bus.
WARDEN: But it’s easier for us to requisition everything from supplies. We can make the package up right here.
PRISONER: No, it would look suspicious. Please don’t. Get them to go to that market, it’s just down the street.
WARDEN: Wait just a minute . . . Hello, hello . . . Gutierrez, come into my office a moment, will you please.
PRISONER: My mother always brings me the stuff packed in two brown shopping bags, one for each hand. They pack it for her at the store, so she can manage everything.
WARDEN: All right . . . Yes, over here. Look, Gutierrez, you’ll have to go buy a list of groceries which I’m going to give you, and wrap them up in a certain way. The prisoner will give you instructions, and it all has to be done in . . . let’s say half an hour. Take out a voucher and have the sergeant go make the purchases with you according to the prisoner’s instructions. Molina, you dictate whatever you think your mother would be likely to bring you . . .
PRISONER: To you, sir?
WARDEN: Yes, to me! And quickly, I have other things to attend to.
PRISONER: . . . Guava paste, in a large package . . . Make it two packages. Canned peaches, two roast chickens, still warm, obviously. A large bag of sugar. Two boxes of tea, one regular and the other camomile. Powdered milk, condensed milk, detergent . . . a small box, no, a large box, of Blanco, and four cakes of toilet soap, Suavísimo . . . and what else? . . . Yes, a big jar of pickled herring, and let me think a little, my mind’s a complete blank . . .
- p. 152-154:
. . . . in Sex in History the British anthropologist Rattray Taylor points out that, beginning with the fourth century B.C., there occurs in the classical world an increase in sexual repression and a growth of the feeling of guilt, factors which facilitated a triumph of the Hebraic attitude, sexually more repressive, over the Greek one. According to the Greeks, the sexual nature of every human being combined elements which were as much homosexual as heterosexual.
Again Altman in [Homosexual Oppression and Liberation] expresses the view that Western societies specialize in sexual repression, legitimized as it is by the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. Such repression expresses itself in three interrelated forms: by associating sex with (1) sin, and its consequent sense of guilt; (2) institution of the family and procreation of children as its only justification; (3) rejection of all forms of sexual behavior outside of the genital and the heterosexual. Further on he adds that traditional “libertarians”—in terms of sexual repression—fight to change the first two norms but neglect the third. An example of the same would be Wilhelm Reich, in his book The Function of the Orgasm, where he affirms that sexual liberation is rooted in the perfect orgasm, which can only be achieved by means of heterosexual genital copulation among individuals of the same generation. And it is under the influence of Reich that other investigators would develop their mistrust of homosexuality and of contraceptives, since these would interfere with the attainment of perfect orgasms, and as a result would be detrimental to total sexual “freedom.”
Concerning sexual liberation, Herbert Marcuse in Eros and Civilisation points out that the same implies more than mere absence of oppression; liberation requires a new morality and a revision of the notion of “human nature” itself. And later he adds that every real theory of sexual liberation must take into account the essentially polymorphous needs of human beings. According to Marcuse, in defiance of a society that employs sexuality as a means toward a useful end, perversions uphold sexuality as an end in itself; as a result, they lie outside the orbit of the ironclad principle of “performance,” which is to say, one of the basic repressive principles fundamental to the organization of capitalism, and thus they question, without proposing to do so, the very foundations of the latter.
Commenting on this manner of reasoning by Marcuse, Altman adds that at the point when homosexuality becomes exclusive and establishes its own economic norms, dispensing with its critical attitude toward the conventional forms of heterosexuals in order to attempt, instead, to copy the same, it too becomes a form of repression, as powerful a one as exclusive heterosexuality. And further on, commenting upon another radical Freudian, Norman O. Brown, as well as upon Marcuse, Altman infers that, in the last analysis, what we conceive of as “human nature” is no more than what has become the result of centuries of repression, an argument which implies, and in this respect Marcuse and Brown agree, the essential mutability of human nature.
- p. 211-214:
Anneli Taube . . . interprets the imitative attitude practiced, until very recently, by a high percentage of homosexuals, [as] an attitude imitative, above all, of the defects of heterosexuality. What has been characteristic of male homosexuals is a submissive spirit, a conservative attitude, a love of peace at any cost, even the cost of perpetuating their own marginality; whereas what has been characteristic of female homosexuals is their anarchical spirit, violently argumentative, while at the same time basically disorganized. Yet both attitudes have proven not to be deliberate, but compulsive, imposed by a slow brainwashing in which heterosexual bourgeois models for conduct participate—during infancy and adolescence—and later on, at the point of adopting homosexuality itself, “bourgeois” models for homosexual conduct.
This prejudice, or perhaps truthful observation, concerning homosexuals placed them on the periphery of movements for class liberation and political action in general. The socialist countries’ mistrust of homosexuals is notorious. Much of this—fortunately, suggests Doctor Taube—began to change throughout the decade of the sixties, with the emergence of the woman’s liberation movement, when the resulting judgments tended to discredit—in the eyes of such sexual marginals—those unattainable but tenaciously imitated roles of “strong male” and “weak female.”
The subsequent formation of homosexual liberation fronts is one proof of that.
—Which part of your body hurts you the most?
—Agh . . . aghhh . . . aghhh . . .
—Don’t try to talk, Arregui . . . if it hurts you that much.
—Ov- . . . over . . . here . . .
—Third-degree burns, what animals.
—Aiee . . . Agh, no . . . please . . .
—And how many days since you had any food?
—Th- . . . thr- . . . ee . . .
—Bastards . . .
— . . .
—Listen . . . you won’t tell anyone, promise me.
— . . .
—Nod your head whether you want it or not. God, what they did to you it’s barbaric, you’ll be in a lot of pain for quite a few days . . . Listen to me. Nobody’s around here in first aid right now, so I can take a chance and give you some morphine, that way you’ll be able to rest. If you want it, nod your head. But you’re never to tell anyone, because they’ll throw me right out of here.
— . . .
—Okay, you’ll get some relief in just a minute.
— . . .
—There, just a little pinch, and now you’ll start feeling less pain.
— . . .
—Count to forty.
—One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen . . .
—The way they’ve worked you over is unbelievable. Those burns in the groin . . . It will take weeks to heal up. But don’t tell about this or I’m finished. By tomorrow it’ll begin to hurt less.
— . . . twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-th- . . . thirty-three, th- . . . what number am I on? don’t hear any steps anymore, is it somehow possible they’re not following me anymore? if it weren’t for your knowing the way out of here, doctor, and leading me, I couldn’t go on, I’d be afraid of falling into some hole, and is it possible that I’ve covered such a long stretch if I’m so exhausted? from not eating? it must be, and since I keep falling off to sleep, how is it possible that I go on walking without stumbling? “Don’t be afraid, Valentin, the intern is a kind person and he’s going to take care of you,” Marta . . . where are you? when did you get here? I can’t open my eyes because I’m asleep, but please come closer to me, Marta . . . don’t stop speaking to me, can’t you touch me? “Don’t be afraid, I’m listening, but only on one condition, Valentin,” what’s that? “That you don’t hide anything of what you’re thinking, because the moment you do that, even though I want to listen to you I won’t be able to anymore,” no one can overhear us? “No one,” Marta, I’ve been in terrible pain . . . “I want to know how you are now,” and no one could be listening? someone waiting for me to denounce my comrades? “No,” Marta, darling, I hear you speaking inside of me, “Because I’m inside of you,” is that really true? and will it be that way always? “No, that can be only as long as I don’t keep any secrets from you, just as you’re not going to keep any from me,” then I’ll tell you everything, because this very kind intern is leading me to some way out of here through this long, long tunnel, “Is it very dark?” yes, and he told me that at the end there’ll be a light, very far away, but I don’t know if it’s true because I’m asleep and hard as I try, I can’t seem to open my eyes, “What are you thinking about this very minute?” my eyelids are so heavy that it’s impossible to open them, I’m so very sleepy, “I hear water running, and you?” water when it runs over stones is always clean and if I could reach over to where the water is with my hand, I could wet the tips of my fingers and then moisten my eyelashes to unseal them, but I’m afraid, Marta, “You’re afraid of waking up and finding yourself in your cell,” then it’s not certain that someone is going to help me to escape? I can’t remember, but this warmth that I’m beginning to feel in my hands and on my face is like the sun’s, “It’s possible that it’s beginning to be light,” I don’t know if the water is clean, do I dare take a sip? “Moving ahead in the direction of the water, surely it’ll be possible to get to wherever it empties,” it’s true, but it looks like what I see is really a desert, there are no trees, or houses, nothing more than the dunes that follow each other as far as the eye can see, “Instead of a desert, couldn’t it be the sea?” yes, it is the sea, and there’s a stretch of very hot sand, I have to run so that I don’t burn the soles of my feet, “What else can you see?” from one end of the coast to the other there’s no sign of that painted ship made of cardboard, “And what is it that you hear there?” nothing, you don’t hear any maracas, the pounding of the waves and nothing else, sometimes the waves are so big they crash on the shore and reach up as far as where the palm trees begin, Marta . . . it looks like a flower fell in the sand, “A wild orchid?” if the waves reach it they’ll carry it out too far, and is it possible for the wind to carry it off just as I was about to pick it up? and carry it way far out to sea, and it doesn’t matter if it disappears because I can swim and I’ll dive in, but right in the place where I’m sure that the flower sank . . . what you see now is a woman, a native girl, I could reach her if she didn’t try to escape me by swimming so fast, I don’t reach her though, Marta, and it’s impossible to shout under the water and tell her not to be afraid, “Underwater you hear whatever one is thinking,” she looks at me unafraid, a man’s shirt is tied across her chest, but I’m so tired already, I have no more oxygen left in my lungs after such a long swim underwater, but Marta, the native takes my hand and lifts me up to the surface, she puts a finger to her lips as a sign that I shouldn’t speak, the wet knot is tied so tightly that she can’t undo it without my help, and while I untie the knot she looks the other way . . . I didn’t remember that I was naked and I’m brushing against her, the island girl flushed with embarrassment now puts her arms around me, my hand is warm and I touch her and it dries her right away, I touch her face, her long hair down to the waist, her hips, her navel, her breasts, her shoulders, her back, her tummy, her legs, her feet, and again her tummy, “Can I ask you to pretend that she’s me?” yes, “But don’t tell her anything, don’t be critical of her, let her think she is me, even if she fails in some way,” with a finger to her lips the native signals me not to say a word, but to you, Marta, I’ll tell everything, since I feel the same as I felt with you, because you’re with me, and soon this jet will spurt out of me, white and warm from my insides and I’m going to flood her, oh, Marta, such joy, yes I will tell you everything so that you won’t go away then, so that you’ll be with me every minute, especially now, in this instant, don’t think of leaving me, this precise instant! the most beautiful of all, now, yes, don’t move, it’s better quiet, now, now, and later on, in a while, I’ll also tell you that the native is closing her eyes because she’s sleepy, she wants to rest, and if I close my eyes, who knows when I’ll be able to open them again? my eyelids are so heavy, when it gets dark I’m not going to be able to tell because my eyes are closed, “And you’re not cold? it’s night and you’re sleeping out in the open, the sea air is cool, didn’t you feel cold during the night? tell me,” no, I didn’t feel cold, my back touched this sheet that’s so smooth and warm on which I slept every night since I came to the island, and I don’t know how to explain it, my love, but the sheet seems like . . . like in reality it’s very smooth and warm skin, of a woman, and you don’t see anything more in this place than that skin which reaches as far as the eye can see, you don’t see anything else but the skin of a woman lying down, I’m like a grain of sand in the palm of her hand, she’s lying in the sea and she lifts her hand and from up here I can see that the island is a woman, “The native?” I can’t make out the face, it’s too far, “And the sea?” just the same as always, I keep swimming underwater and you can’t see the bottom it’s so very deep but underwater my mother hears every word I’m thinking and we’re talking, do you want me to tell you what she’s asking? “Yes,” well . . . she’s asking me if it’s true all that stuff in the papers, that my cellmate died, in a shootout, and she’s asking if it was my fault, and if I’m not ashamed of having brought him such awful luck, “What did you answer her?” that yes, it was my fault, and that yes, I am very sad, but that there’s no point in being so sad because the only one who knows for sure is him, if he was sad or happy to die that way, sacrificing himself for a just cause, because he’s the only one who will ever have known, and let’s hope, Marta, how much I wish it with all my heart, let’s hope that he may have died happily, “For a just cause? hmmm . . . I think he let himself be killed because that way he could die like some heroine in a movie, and none of that business about a just cause,” that’s something only he can know, and it’s possible that even he never knew, but in my cell I can’t sleep anymore because he got me used to listening to him tell films every night, like lullabies, and if I ever get out of here sometime I’m not going to be able to call him and invite him over to dinner, he who had invited me so many times, “And what would you like to have most to eat this minute?” I’m swimming with my head above the water now so that way I won’t lose sight of the island coast, and I’m very tired by the time I reach the sand, it doesn’t burn anymore because the sun isn’t so strong anymore and before it starts to get dark I have to look for some fruit, you don’t know how beautiful it is here with this mixture of palm trees, and lianas, at night it’s all silvery, because the film is in black and white, “And the music in the background?” very soft maracas, and drums, “Isn’t that a sign of danger?” no, it’s the music that announces, when they switch on a strong spotlight, the appearance of such a strange woman, with a long dress on, that’s shining, “Silver lamé, that fits her like a glove?” yes, “And her face?” she’s wearing a mask, it’s also silver, but . . . poor creature . . . she can’t move, there in the deepest part of the jungle she’s trapped in a spider’s web, or no, the spiderweb is growing out of her own body, the threads are coming out of her waist and her hips, they’re part of her body, so many threads that look hairy like ropes and disgust me, even though if I were to touch them they might feel as smooth as who knows what, but it makes me queasy to touch them, “Doesn’t she speak?” no, she’s crying, or no, she isn’t, she’s smiling but a tear rolls out from beneath the mask, “A tear that shines like a diamond?” yes, and I ask her why she’s crying and in a close-up that covers the whole screen at the end of the film she answers me that that’s just what can never be known, because the ending is enigmatic, and I answer her that it’s good this way, that it’s the very best part of the film because it signifies . . . and at that point she didn’t let me go on, she said that I wanted to find an explanation for everything, but that in reality I was just talking from hunger although I didn’t have the courage to admit it, and she was looking at me, but every minute she seemed sadder and sadder, and more and more tears fell, “Mmm, more diamonds,” and I didn’t know what to do to get rid of her unhappiness, “I know what you did, and I’m not jealous, because you’re never going to see her again in your whole life,” it’s just that she was so sad, don’t you see? “But you enjoyed it, and I shouldn’t forgive you for that,” but I’m never going to see her again in my whole life, “And is it true that you’re very hungry?” yes, it’s true, and the spider woman pointed out to me the way through the forest with her finger, and so I don’t know where to even begin to eat so many things I’ve found now, “Are they very tasty?” yes, a leg of roast chicken, crackers with big chunks of fresh cheese and little rolled up slices of cooked ham, and a delicious piece of glazed fruit, it’s pumpkin, and later with a spoon I get to eat all the guava paste I want to, without worrying about finishing it all because there’s so much, and I’m getting so sleepy, Marta, you can’t imagine how much I just feel like sleeping after eating all that food I found thanks to the spider woman, and after I have one more spoonful of this guava paste and after I sleep . . . “You want to wake up already?” no, much, much later, because after eating all these rich foods such a heavy sleep has come over me, and I’ll just go on talking with you in my sleep, will it be possible? “Yes, this is a dream and we’re talking together, so even if you fall asleep you don’t have to be afraid, and I think now that nothing is ever going to separate us again, because we’ve realized the most difficult thing of all,” what’s the most difficult thing of all to realize? “That I live deep inside your thoughts and so I’ll always remain with you, you’ll never be alone,” of course that’s it, that’s what I can never let myself forget, if the two of us think the same then we’re together, even if I can’t see you, “Yes, that’s it,” so when I wake up on the island you’re going to go away with me, “Don’t you want to stay forever in such a beautiful place?” no, it’s been so good up to now, but enough resting, once I’ve eaten everything up and after some sleep I’m going to be strong again, because my comrades are waiting for me to resume the age-old fight, “That’s the only thing that I don’t ever want to know, the name of your comrades,” Marta, Oh how much I love you! that was the only thing I couldn’t tell you, I was so afraid you were going to ask me that and then I was going to lose you forever, “No, Valentin, beloved, that will never take place, because this dream is short but this dream is happy.”
from Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages by Manuel Puig; p. 31-33:
—It’s not that I want to find out anything about your personal life. What I want to know is what a father says to a son. Why don’t you try to recall someone else’s father? Somebody you liked or didn’t like; it’s all the same to me.
—I remember him being nasty and brutal. He would be silent and not complain about things. Then all of a sudden he would explode and hit me or my sister or my brother. I don’t remember his exact words at those times; they were more like grunts.
—What did you kids do to make him so angry?
—Played, fooled around, got into mischief.
—How hard would he hit you?
—Very hard. I once heard him sawing off a piece of a two-by-four in the basement. Making a nice club to hit me with. He was a good carpenter. I was sitting upstairs, defiant, waiting for him to come up and get me, reading a magazine.
—Did he come up?
—Yes, he beat me with relish. It hurt terribly, and I howled. The beating seemed to last a long time; but I knew I would survive and that, strong as he was, he couldn’t break me, even with that plank.
—Was he somebody you didn’t like? The father of a friend?
—No, my own.
—First you talked about a man you enjoyed being with, who may have taught you to fly a kite. Now you talk about a vicious man, trying to baffle me by saying they are one and the same.
—Listen, I’d be glad to stop talking about this.
—Not now that you have completely succeeded in confusing me. It’s impossible that you would want to spend time with someone who beat you.
—Anything you say.
— . . .
—He had a gentle, easy side, and a blind, violent one. I think it’s because he so often gave in to my mother.
—I’m not sure my interpretation is correct. Mainly I have this impression that if you love something you don’t want to break it. And if you hate it, you do. Am I right?
—Yes, but it gets more involved.
—If you don’t mind, tell me how you felt when you loved your father.
—As a matter of fact, I do mind. What happened to your chest pain?
—It’s gone. Why? Would you rather see me in pain?
— . . .
—Maybe you wouldn’t mind telling me how you felt when you hated him.
—I wanted to kill him.
—With your hands? A gun? A club? Or would you have liked to see him struck down by lightning?
—I’m not sure.
—Maybe lightning, Larry.
— . . .
—Father, I have a very strong chest pain.
—Cut that “father” shit out.
—I wasn’t looking at you, I was looking at that beautiful old tree. Why would I want to call you Father?
— . . .
—Father, I’ve lost all my notes and I need them. I know I will never recover them, but I still miss them.
—Gee, can you hear the tree talking to you from all the way over here?
—I’m getting no reply, unfortunately.
—May I suggest we go back?
—You should have picked one with fewer steps, Larry.
—They all have steps.
—None with more than this one, I’m sure.
—For me, the way up was smooth. But you went through a lot of trouble.
—Let’s get you registered for a card.
—They don’t look friendly, these people.
—Librarians all look like that.
—They are very busy now; they won’t take care of us.
—Don’t worry about it.
—Stop pushing, let’s stay here.
—Nonsense, we have to get you registered. They won’t bite.
—What are those magazines over there?
—They’re from all over the world. Do you want to look at them?
—No. Show me books.
—The whole place is full of books.
—The ones you would like to show to me.
—We could check the Astrology section.
—It may interest you.
—I don’t think so. What’s more, I thought you disliked all that.
—We’re here to satisfy your curiosity, not mine.
—Find something that both of us will be interested in. I don’t like it when you complain.
—Point to the books you would be delighted to show to me.
—Well, all right. There’s a small selection of books on Marxism.
— . . .
—In the second aisle. They have a few things here. Volume One of Capital; all libraries have Volume One.
—A minor condescension to the subject. They don’t expect anyone to read or study all three volumes. So they just throw the first one in. Like the Gideon Bible in motels.
—The name Marx has come up so frequently that I looked it up in the encyclopedia. I remember the face, chubby with a big gray beard.
—What makes Capital one of your favorite books?
—Well, it’s not a favorite in the sense that Wuthering Heights would be for someone.
—Is Wuthering Heights also one of your favorite books.
—No. Actually, I never read it.
—I did; it’s in the library at the home. I read it in two days. This past weekend. Why haven’t you?
—I don’t know.
—When I read it I imagined that the nurse, the Virgo, was reading it to me. Reading it aloud. Well, come to think of it, she did start reading it to me. I asked her to; just one page. Because the author is a woman; did you know that?
—Someday perhaps you’ll introduce me to this nurse.
—She won’t like you.
—Honestly, I can’t give you a reason. Maybe I’m wrong, but she’s too different from you.
—I’m glad you’ve found somebody you like, Mr. Ramirez.
—But it’s no use. She’s always busy on the job; she never has time for me. And then . . .
—You were going to say something.
—When she goes home she’s even busier. Not like you or me. She has a daughter and a husband to look after. But I asked you if you knew that Wuthering Heights was written by a woman.
—Yes, I know.
—When you read it, who will you imagine is reading it to you?
—I never thought of it that way. I love to read, love words and phrases. There’s nothing better than spending a few hours with a good book. It gives me great pleasure; I never imagined someone reading to me.
—Larry, when I read a book written by a man, I hear a young man’s voice.
—It doesn’t make any difference to me who writes the book. But perhaps we should find you some novels by women. You seem to miss them . . .
—She’s not going to have time, I told you. A page at most. Now, Larry, tell me, when you read a book by a man you admire, such as Marx, I guess, whose voice do you hear?
—I guess my own.
—But you’re not sure.
—No, I’m not sure, Mr. Ramirez.
—And when you talk to yourself, is it your voice you hear?
—Hmmm. I don’t think so.
—I don’t know.
—When you talk to yourself, one part always sees and judges what the other is doing. Like when you’re trying to make a decision.
—You hear two voices, then. One is yours, but the other one? Whose is it?
—Sometimes one part gets vicious.
— . . .
—Studying the floor, Mr. Ramirez? What’s so fascinating about it?
—Eh? . . .
—Why are you looking at the floor?
—I hear only one voice. Even when two parts of me talk to each other. But it is not my voice. . . . It’s a young voice. It’s a voice that sounds well; it’s strong, determined, and its tone is pleasant. Like an actor’s voice. But when I have to call a nurse or anybody, I hear my real voice. It’s raspy, quavering, and I don’t like it.
—At a certain age you have to expect that.
—If I could only stop hearing the young voice . . . maybe then I would get used to mine.
—Look, you said you wanted to know what books I enjoy. Here’s State and Revolution, one of my favorites. It is really a remarkable work.
—I like his face. There’s a big picture of him in a glass case in the Kremlin now. I saw it in the encyclopedia. It reminded me of somebody. Of course, I don’t remember who.
—It’s a very readable book.
—I would probably need my notes to understand it.
—If you understand horoscopes you will understand this.
—Who told you I read horoscopes? That’s very peculiar of you. You despise astrology and yet you want to believe that I like it. Which means you feel better if I’m a fool. You want me to be a fool. At the same time, you have to spend time with me. So it is very strange of you, young man, isn’t it? You prefer to think that you’re spending time with a fool, that you are degrading yourself. Do you feel better when you degrade yourself?
—Don’t know, I have to think about that.
— . . .
— . . .
—Capital and State and Revolution. I think I understand your preferences. Aren’t you afraid to show them?
—No, you can talk about anything in this country. Just don’t act on your beliefs. You can read whatever you like.
—Would it frighten you to act?
—No, I don’t think so. Sometimes I’d like the opportunity.
—To do what?
—Maybe get involved in union activities.
—Are they illegal here? What would be frightening about them?
—No, they’re not illegal, but a Marxist has ways of struggling and goals that would bring him into conflict with union bureaucracy.
—Lower your voice.
—In addition to fighting bosses, you’d also have to go up against union leadership.
—This is much too complicated for me; better change the subject.
- from Tropical Night Falling by Manuel Puig; p. 16-18:
—Well, a few months ago she met this other man in the clinic, and he made an impression on her because he looked like the one from Mexico. But she never thought she’d run into him again, this one here. Until one day she goes to the Argentine Consulate to renew some papers and sees him. She goes up to him and greets him in Spanish and he laughs, because he’s not Argentine. I’ll explain. It so happens that before, in that clinic, there had been a very prominent Argentine medical professor who saw all his clientele there, folks like us, from the Argentine colony here in Rio. But he was already quite elderly and, as you can imagine, he’s now dead. The point is that there in the consulate she saw this man and asked how his wife was, in Spanish, thinking that he was Argentine. Because they’d never spoken before. And he and the wife turned out to be Brazilian.
—So what was he doing in the consulate?
—Some transaction for a client. Pure chance. She says this man is very handsome, at least he is to her. She showed me a picture and I didn’t like him at all, quite bald and a little pudgy. She says that was always her type of man, domestic, not too smooth-looking, and she says that she doesn’t care if he has a little bit of a belly.
—And how was he like the other one?
—Don’t get ahead of me. It took her a good while to realize it.
—But how were they alike?
—Their eyes. He had the same eyes. Dark eyes, on the small side, somewhat evasive; he wouldn’t look straight at you.
—That’s the look of someone who doesn’t tell the truth.
—No, no. She says it’s the look of a person who needs protection, like a little boy who’s lost his mother. And that’s what I told her: only children, particularly boys, have that in their eyes, when they’re little, until they’re twelve or thirteen, then they lose it and you no longer feel like hugging them close, squeezing them almost, for being so tender, the way they used to be.
—Girls are different, you’re right. Or maybe it’s just that Emilsen always seemed like a grown-up. The only thing about her that infuriated me was when she wouldn’t sit still at the movies. She’d always have to go to the bathroom, anything to keep me from seeing the movie. But that was the only thing. She never gave me any other trouble at all.
—And my boys, who were a pain in the neck most of the time,
would sit still at the movies.
—Go on. So she asked him how his wife was doing.
—Yes, Nidia. He told her that she had since died. They began to talk about the illness and about the other patients in the hospital; she too had been there about two weeks, and had been there awhile, in and out, some time before. She knew every case on the whole floor and the floor below because in earlier times that small clinic had been just a three-story house for one family. He began to tell her all this, and they talked awhile. She says he didn’t look her in the eye much but kept looking at everything else, and she began to do the same out of nervousness. Though she hadn’t realized it yet, he made her think of the other one, but she didn’t connect the two and, like a silly fool, kept asking herself why, from the very beginning, this had attracted her. In the hospital she’d often thought that there was something strange about the man in the corridor, something she liked but didn’t quite understand. And there at the consulate, as they talked, he watched the people coming and going with their papers instead of looking at her, and when she too stopped looking at him, that’s when she felt his eyes on her. He didn’t get up the courage to let his eyes rest on her until she looked away. She began to feel his eyes moving all over her, her face, her hair, her mouth, her hands, her neckline. And when she decided to look him in the eye again, they would dart away. And there she got to observe certain details about him and noticed his shirt was wrinkled. It wasn’t one of those shirts you wash and hang and they come out almost perfect, no, it was the kind that had to be ironed, and it wasn’t ironed. That’s when she suddenly couldn’t hold herself back and the words poured out on their own: she suggested they have a coffee downstairs, in that shiny new mall where the consulate is. Because she’s too restrained a woman. That’s her problem according to her, she’s too restrained.
—That’s what I don’t like about her, it just now hit me. She chews each little thing over too much, then she says just what has to be said and no more.
—Yes, there’s nothing spontaneous about her. I told my son, and he tells me that Argentine women today are like that, too dry. That’s because the mothers were so talkative, and not very sincere, you know, trying to act charming with everybody.
—We were false, you mean.
—Not false, but professionally charming, Nato says. And this woman is the new wave.
—No, the young girls are the new wave. This one is older.
—I mean she’s the new breed. But that day the man shook her up; something he communicated to her made her speak before thinking, like the thing about going to have a drink.
- from The Buenos Aires Affair by Manuel Puig; p. 32-33:
As far as her professional preparation was concerned, Gladys continued making technical progress, but a pronounced tendency to respect the traditional rules, and even an unconscious complacency in copying established artists, were undermining her possibilities of personal expression. According to her adversaries, this was the main reason why in 1959 she was awarded the annual scholarship for pursuing advanced studies in the United States for fifteen months. Gladys was then twenty-four. The application for the scholarship had been her main reason for living during the two years following her graduation and she was sure that if she won it all her problems would be solved: in the United States, as a foreigner, her personality would become mysterious and attractive, and at some mundane reception she would meet an impetuous conductor of some symphonic orchestra, either Hungarian or Austrian, and possibly an English novelist, thus unleashing an inevitable love triangle. Her imagination always preferred European personalities, usually exiles from some tragic conflict like the Second World War.
Alicia Bonellia had never sympathized with the USA but she had refrained from making adverse comments on the trip until it became definite. Then she did disapprove of the project and told Gladys that the USA was the octopus that strangled Latin America, and she considered it treason to study there. Gladys replied that that country was the cradle of democracy. Alicia replied that if she were black she wouldn’t think so. Gladys did not wish to continue the argument and wondered to herself how Alicia could sympathize with the USSR, having such evidence against it like the books Out of the Night by Jan Valtin and I Choose Freedom by Victor Kravchenko, besides the movie The Iron Curtain with Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews.