ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 06



Behold the Night!


Author | Autor: João Alphonsus


Translated by Darlene J. Sadlier

"

Edward,” his widow told me,” was a little strange, but he was a good husband.

Sometimes he had tragic thoughts and proclaimed he was even

capable of dying. I don’t know if he was implying suicide, but he must

have been since everyone has the ability to die naturally.”

“If you were to die, I vow I’d never be a merry widow, only a sad one. The saddest

widow ever to have lived. . .”.

Suddenly filled with a lust for life that was a delight, Edward would kiss me

after one of these jokes and it seemed then that we were going to live forever. Or,

on the other hand, we were living forever the moment, Eddie and me. I called him

Eddie only those moments of infinite tenderness because, being a finicky fellow,

both proper and wise, my husband didn’t like being called by any nickname. It was

an extreme, occasional concession by Eddie! Forgive me for sighing, but the truth

is that I’ve remained a sad widow.

During that time I played the piano and sang a lot of pretty things, even pieces

from the Merry Widow, and from that came the joke . . . . Before retiring in the

evenings, I would play and he would sing. Sometimes visitors from the village came

to our little home. The house was located at the end of the street, or better, it was

a bit removed from the village, propitiously isolated on high, next to the bridge

where we used to take walks in the afternoon after dinner. They called it Canyon

Bridge and it crossed over a deep gorge with a modest brook far below, a mountain

stream so small that the murmuring of its current was nearly inaudible, except

in the rainy season when it swelled a little . . . .

Everything came flooding back to me as I watched the skyrockets exploding

in the distance, pretty skyrockets with low trailers. Do you see them? So far away

that we see them, but can’t hear them, as hard as we try. Whose hands are setting

off those rockets? Whose eyes are following their path, their explosion, the sparkles

that scatter into the evening sky? We know nothing of those hands and eyes,

nor will we ever. Edward didn’t know either. From the bridge or from the window

at our home in the little city on the mountain, we sometimes would see skyrockets

far in the distance, coming from an encampment or farm or any isolated place

suddenly revealed to us only by that flash of light in the sky, which was neither an

appeal for solidarity nor a signal from distant brethren, nothing. Perhaps they were

empty spirits who, like little balloons, were hoping to inflate with the smoke from

the skyrockets and that’s how they entertained themselves! But Edward was often

excited by the commonplace fact:

“Strange, Maria. . . I see those skyrockets in the distance and I’m filled with a

desire to be in those unknown places where fireworks lift into the sky. But if I were

there, perhaps I wouldn’t care about the rockets and would prefer to be here . . .”.

“Well, Edward, does that mean you prefer the skyrockets to me?”

Repeated on several occasions, my question shows that I didn’t understand

my poor Eddie . . . He never answered me and kept quiet with a slightly disdainful

smile that made me truly mad and all too aware that I didn’t understand certain

subtleties of his nature, especially those related to the skyrockets in the distance.

I used to sulk until, in his superiority, he turned to another topic of conversation,

a sort of trial balloon towards reconciliation. Whenever I would remain silent, he

would humble himself a little:

“Forgive me, Maria.”

“Forgive what, my little fool?”

“The skyrockets . . .”.

The reason for our quarrel was so stupid that we ended up laughing with our

arms around each other, and being happy. All that happened in the town where my

husband held a relatively important position as manager of the only local bank. We

had married when I told him that I would go anywhere just to be with him.

“Very well, Maria. In order to rise in the bank, I can ask to run a small city office.

It’s a salary that will enable us to begin a life with sufficient funds, have children,

without thinking about tomorrow, even put a little away. Then I can apply for any

agency. But it’s necessary to be patient at first with that little life. . .because when a

person is starting out, without much job security, those hardship postings require

staying put for quite a while.”

“What little life, if the life is ours? Even if we were to spend our whole lives there!”

He kissed me and we agreed on a March wedding. I remember that March well

because we took a terrible trip by horse, on terrible roads through rain and mud .

. . just to reach that handful of run-down houses on the mountain top! Imagine it

yourself, there wasn’t even a bathtub in the house that we rented until Edward sent

for one and installed it at his own expense. It was considered a novelty in the town

and was admired by public officials whenever they visited us . . . . To keep the water

tank filled, he channeled a little water off a stream that ran down the mountain,

something that scored greater success with officials. The town was more than a

century old and until then no one had the idea of putting the water to good use.

Just my husband. But the town’s praise also came with a modicum of mistrust because

of his genius . . . . To be perfectly honest, there were ruins from an antiquated

and useless rock canal that wound through the city. And the formerly meager

stream had a way of widening the gorge under the bridge when there was flooding

and modestly but freely cascading from there. A freedom that seemed guaranteed

with the laxity of modern times. Decadence! Edward had extraordinary expenses

that ate up all possible savings. Only the rent was cheap; everything else cost a

fortune. The region didn’t produce a thing and everything came from the outside,

from down the mountain, everything . . . But we kept on and

happily. . . .

The only road with its few side trails that branched off into the low-growing

brush on either side, without order nor straight of line, was just like a river and its

tributaries on a map. (I have this image in mind since from our house one could

see the entire town.) The road began where the highway ended and it proceeded

to the top of the mountain, right to our door, then passed along to the side of the

house that faced Canyon Bridge and, from there, traveled over the fearful precipice

and up the mountain. I didn’t care where it led since to me that seemed the end of

all things and all possible roads . . . . And there, at the bottom, was the stream as

it struggled to be heard while hidden among the ferns. I remember the ferns well

because, seeing so many different varieties, I planted them all around our house

and put others in butter and lard containers for the bedroom and other rooms.

Edward came home one day laughing gleefully. Born and raised on that miserable

land with its ferns, the townspeople talked about my fondness for the plant as if it

were an obsession.

When I was his fiancée, I didn’t have the courage to tell Edward that I didn’t

want to have any children. I told him soon after the wedding. And the idea of being

pregnant there was truly frightening. The place was totally without resources; it

didn’t even have a doctor at the time! The truth is that within a few months, even

with that fatal mistake that impeded any maternal perspectives, I noticed that embraces

alone did not fill all the hours of the day. And outside the house, in contact

with small talk and gossip that couldn’t possibly interest me, life was becoming

a neurasthenic monotony. I asked Edward to send for my piano, even with all the

risks involved in getting it here.

“Why don’t you wait a little longer? It’s dangerous, Maria! The piano has to

come by oxcart and will be jerked along the mountain. Absurd!”

“But doesn’t Mr. Camacho’s daughter have a piano? Didn’t her piano arrive

here safely?”

“It got here, but . . .”.

“Very well, I want mine. After all, you only have to pay the moving expenses.”

“That’s the limit! As if at any time I had denied you anything! And when I remember

that . . . . Oh, go away!”

It was our first serious quarrel. I didn’t expect that reaction from Edward, who

was so good, so prudent. Even so, a mildly childish reaction: go away . . . . I blamed

myself for the argument and ran after him as he left the house and climbed towards

the bridge. I called to him and he stopped, as if he hadn’t wanted anything else.

“Little fool! I’m not going away. It’s you who are going to contract the oxcart. . .”.

We continued the climb, arms about each other, helping each other onto the

foot of the bridge as we did every afternoon, looking into the distance, the alluring

mountain chain, the desire to leave . . . .

“Look at that little flower, over there,” I said, pointing to some little plants at

the side of the precipice. Among them was little red flower with just four very long,

thorny, unattractive petals, as if it were some supreme effort made by the rocky

terrain to adorn and delight itself.

“Do you want that flower?”

“And if I did, would you get it?”

“That means that you want it,” he murmured while gently squeezing his arm

around my shoulder. “I’ll go get it.”

“You’re mad, Edward.”

“You’re going to have it.”

It would have been useless to try and stop that beautiful resolve. I didn’t for

a moment consider the possibility of an accident on that his first great decision in

life since he was naturally so cautious and methodic.

The little plant was on the other side of the bridge, in a place in which a new,

small gulley was beginning to form alongside the other one, some two meters

from the bottom. The time would come when more bridgework would be needed,

if they would only remember--and they wouldn’t remember--to build a support

wall. Giving a leap, my husband crossed that eroded area and landed with his feet

on the steep bank. A quick movement of admirable precision! Securing his feet on

a small space from when the bridge was built, his body had to lean fully against

the bank. By raising one of his hands, he managed to get the flower. And by taking

advantage of the opposing push of his body, he made the return jump to the road

and to my arms, just like a hero, romantically smiling. Understand? It seems that

I’ve explained it well after having thought so much about it . . . In one move or the

other, principally the second, backwards, if there had been the slightest miscalculation,

he would have fallen into the smaller chasm. And if he hadn’t found anything

to hold onto, he would have rolled towards the precipice. . . . I only thought about

that after the deed was done and upon receiving the flower.

“Crazy! Mad!” I exclaimed smilingly, applauding the feat. “Look where you

might have fallen. . .”.

Edward looked to the bottom through the balustrades of the bridge, toward

the mystery of the tufts of ferns from which arose the murmuring of the invisible

water. And he shivered, turned pale, and caught hold of me as if to keep from falling

or so that he might not fall alone. I realized that my Edward was sensible and

contradictory! His attitude seemed to disavow his quest for the flower, but I didn’t

give the slightest indication of my disappointment. His precious hand had brought

me the flower with roots, earth and stones.

“Let’s plant it in a little jar for the bedroom window.”

The piano arrived and was another honeymoon. I knew how to play well and

momentarily forgot about that life full of tribulations . . . . We sang and the little

city, withdrawn and intrigued, listened. And the days passed, more monotonous,

less monotonous. Months. A year.

Then we took a trip to visit my family and so Edward could try to get a transfer

to a better city, even if it might not be considered a promotion. What joy to be

away from that prison! But what sheer torture to return . . . And an even greater

torment because of the disappointment with which we returned. The general manager

didn’t give my husband any hope--and for reasons that seemed absurd to me.

Managers were recommended for promotion according to the productivity of their

offices and agencies and our office was in last place, and would have been lower

than that if it were possible. I asked myself how Edward could be blamed since

the region was so poor. Today I feel that he by no means could be blamed for the

whims of destiny. But then, while trying to defend him, I began to regard my husband

as a man without the necessary qualifications to succeed in life. It was not for

lack of love, for I was desperately clinging to his embraces in that monotony, but

perhaps because of a lack of friendship. Besides, he himself had explained to me

that sometimes the general office made exceptions to the rule about promotions.

Soon, the rule was no longer absolute and the problem was not just the little town.

I looked at the houses scattered about the mountain top and cried as if about

to die. Rarely did we sing. Rarely did we smile. Our love, if it was still love, was like

a clinging together of two outcasts, exhausted and no longer consoled. I, at least,

was forlorn. Edward, on the other hand, was still outwardly calm. Sad, he was always

a little sad. But now, compensating for my own low spirits, he even hid his

natural sadness.

Now it no longer mattered that they called me proud or aloof. I didn’t pay

any visits nor did I communicate with those families that did not even resemble

humans. At times I lost all control with Edward and accused him of having brought

me to that nightmare of a prison close to the clouds. A spoiled child’s exaggerations.

Forgiving me my childishness, he’d say: “But I still have hopes, dearest Maria!

It’s only a question of time and patience.”

We left the house, no longer visiting those other creatures, but leaning on the

bridge to look at the nighttime horizon, like outcasts awaiting any ship that might

come sailing through the clouds. At least I was like an outcast. And I had never

seen so many skyrockets in the distances. It seemed that everybody from the small

villages and decaying farms had begun setting off skyrockets to compensate for

their monotony. Imagine, I did not even realize that we were in the month of Mary,

of the Months-of-Mary, and the festivals of Santa Cruz. Since it was cold, we bundled

ourselves up in coats. Sometimes it seemed like the landscape was bundled

up too. Even the skyrockets in the distance seemed more mysterious. Knowing I

would be more disagreeable than ever, Edward no longer showed any desire to

be here and there at the same time. Besides, we talked very little: hours of silent

contemplation.

One day he announced that there was a vacancy at a nearby office. We were

acquainted with this other, equally decadent town that was a point of passage to

other places. Only through stubbornness could the general office maintain branches

in those villages! My husband was resolved to ask for the transfer.

“It’s almost the same thing. But, in any event, it does change one’s environment

and it is closer to civilization.”

He began drawing up the letter, in my presence, by the sad light of the kerosene

lamp. I remember that when he wrote “I ask,” I took the pencil from him,

crossed out that word and wrote above it “I beg.”

“That’s absurd, Maria! I won’t allow anything that might imply a weak character.”

“I want it like that, Edward! For the love of God! And add: ‘It is also the prayer

of my ailing wife.’ You think you can get something from life any other way?”

He was so overcome that he wrote as I wished, without answering my question.

A prayer! We addressed ourselves to the general manager as if to a malevolent

god . . . And the answer came, dry and negative. The vacancy was already filled

by an employee with greater potential. And there were other instructions included

that were a reprimand to my husband. There were guarded fortunes in the houses

in our region and with just a little compromising on his part (without the bank’s

intervention for the simple reason that no one around there understood the bank’s

purpose), the general manager proposed the following action. Edward was to live

cordially with those men of fortune, with the proprietors, with the farmers, with

the business men, etc., to live with all cordially, to play with personal kindness, to

please them, flatter them, and then explain to them the advantages and facilities of

a bank. They were instructions, he wrote, that didn’t need to be written out for any

competent manager and they should be maintained in strictest confidence, even

from Edward’s two assistants.

“Imagine, Edward! To play with their . . . ‘personal kindness’!”

I laughed pitilessly, accentuating those last words with all the negative force

and ridicule that I had to give. He stared at me somberly, placed the letter in his

wallet and left by the side door in the direction of the bridge, which seemed the

only solution for each troubling moment without a solution . . . .

I accompanied him, but without hurrying. I, too, leaned on the bridge railing,

without saying a word. He sighed deeply.

“You see, dear Maria, there is still an answer,” he murmured without conviction.

“I’m not a failure. We can go back to living with these people. It’s necessary. And

you, intelligent as you are, can help me a great deal, presenting ourselves, visiting

families, arranging parties, promoting goodwill . . .”.

“Live with those scarecrows, never!”

“Then, for health reasons, you return home . . . until I can be discharged.”

“You know I am too proud for that! I’ll only leave here with you. But I don’t

believe that you’ll ever leave . . .”.

And I laughed in that same pitiless way. And words came to me, a torrent of

words, pondering what our life would be like in that place without comforts, without

hygiene, without money. Poor, always poverty-stricken and with a salary that

barely covered our minimum expenses. And now that we were staying there, we

could have children, many children. That was the major local activity. Big-bellied,

yellow children, like all those playing in the streets.

“I can die in childbirth. What does it matter to me? And we could even get

goiters, like everybody else, including those poor devils that pretend to be on their

high horse, but are really on their goiters . . .”.

I recall that I laughed, surprising myself with that little joke that escaped in

a torrent of invectives. But Edward did not smile. He shivered from time to time,

seemingly because he wasn’t wearing a coat and he was always sensitive to the

cold. A spectral muteness prevailed. The overcast afternoon had become evening.

He was silently shaking. Then skyrockets began to explode in the town square to

celebrate the Crowning of Our Lady. It wasn’t the first time that had happened, but

never with such timing.

“Look, the skyrockets are no longer in the distance! Everything is falling into

place with your ideal. The skyrockets have even reached you, we can even set

some off ourselves. . . “.

I said this, laughing again. And he remained quiet. Irritated with his invincible

silence, I returned to the same topics of my hysterical tantrum, describing what our

miniscule, hopeless life on top of the mountain would be like.

“Yes, we’ll have to put up with this day by day, hour by hour, and because of

whom?”

My Edward looked at me, withdrew a little and stared. But it was already a faraway

look--a look from the other side.

“Then put up with it yourself!”

And without my foreseeing his move, let alone preventing it, he jumped off

the bridge, dived into the darkness and disappeared below. Forever!





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