ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2015
issue/numero: # 07



Trova


Author | Autor: Carlos Eduardo de Magalhães


Translated by Anthony Doyle

1.


ALL


Gentle glides the breeze through the folds of the sprawling city, a stepped

horizon of buildings against a dark grey mantle that smears and smites

the lower sky and sullies with grime all that it touches. Prematurely

aged façades, walls, skins, clothes, billboards, graffiti, venetian blinds,

clay-tiled rooves of the city’s tight-packed houses. A breeze that sweeps the dirty

streets without cleaning them, plucking the leaves from the trees, one by one,

until all that’s left is a scrawl of branches. An invisible claw of air, the outboard

engine of inanimate objects, that hooks and moves beings that are not beings, but

ghosts and stories, the imaginary forms of fear, the cradle of faith and courage. A

breeze that cannot bend the old palm tree, much less the buildings and their men.

Like one who comes from nowhere and to nowhere returns, it is the breath of the

world’s weak lung. A breeze that permeates lives, in passing or definitively, a tousle,

a tingle, a sigh of relief after hours of sun and exercise. The breeze that lifts a paper

airplane, folded out of a torn and scribbled page, and takes it on an uncertain jaunt

toward a certain crash, the breeze that blows out the candle, that steels through

the chink and rustles the curtain.

She checked her email.


Then got up to close the window she’d left open to suck out the shower steam

before it could undermine her professionally-styled hair do. A lick of breeze graced

her face, depositing not only the traces of everything else in the city that breeze

had touched, but also, and without her understanding quite why, the memory of

her grandmother’s house. It just came to her, and more besides, and made her dally

an unplanned moment. Revamping the old dressing-table was supposed to have

been a way of revamping the self. It wasn’t a plan as such, it just happened. Before

she knew it she was taking measurements, hiring a carpenter, ordering some crystal

mirror from the glazier, buying the mosaic tiles, the PVA glue, DIY magazines.

The moment passed. She sat down and checked her reflection again, but what

she saw didn’t really look like her, but someone she’d once been, only weathered

and beaten by time, and mind that the mirror was brand-new, with neither stain

nor scratch, set into a frame mosaicked tile by tile over the last couple of weekends,

leaving her fingers numb with cuts, the same mirror she’d first looked into

tired and haggard, with bags under her eyes and sweat in her armpits, and thought

that it was far too pretty a frame for such a poor portrait, and then smiled the worn

smile of defeat. But she’d done it herself.


The make-up restored her in its reflected glow, Now that’s a face you can

present!, she said out-loud, not caring who heard—though there was no-one who

could have—, while trying to erase the other visage still ghosting on her retina. She

ran her fingers over the pendants adorning her neckline, a collar she’d bought that

day to go with that grey dress, one size too small, which he’d brought her back

from the US all those years ago, and which the weighing scales finally allowed her

to wear. Three kilos in three weeks, three months without putting on any weight,

a run three times a week, no sugar in her coffee, whole-wheat bread, dry pasta,

lettuce, carrots, carrots and more carrots. And now he wasn’t there to see her,

though if he were he’d certainly be quick to say how well he’d chosen the dress,

how much he’d paid for it, and he’d certainly invite some couples with more money

than sense out to dinner at a fancy restaurant where’d he’d find some way to bring

up her dress and that boutique in New York that they just had to check out, and

then he’d change the subject to the deal he’d struck in Brasília and when it came

to picking up the tab his would be the first hand out and he’d pay the whole bill

from the wad of notes rolled up in an elastic band which he’d been carrying with

him in his suit-jacket pocket. At that hour he was probably in his rented five-suite

apartment overlooking Ibirapuera Park watching one of those UFF fights he liked

so much while his wife, a former miss-something, put one of their kids to bed,

one of those kids she was fortunate enough not to have borne him. How life had

transformed him, or was it she who had gradually changed, until the day came

round when they hardly recognized each other anymore and she left him, and had

to listen in silence as her mother-in-law blasted her for an ingrate and her brother

worried out-loud about losing the government job he’d fixed him up with. And her

guilt would have been tripled had she told her mother-in-law, her brother and all

those moneyed friends who barely knew which cutlery to use for starters about all

the times he’d hurt her; about the slap in the face, the kick that left her limping for

a week, the pinch that proved fatal to their marriage and the bruise she thought

would never leave her arm—the mark of a time when there’d been time for time

and for plans. The purple bruise had turned black, and the black had yellowed and

the yellow had finally disappeared. Now the dress, which Neuza had rescued from

several visits to Oxfam, really did sit well, and it was a cut that was back in fashion.

To wear it for eyes other than his gave her enormous pleasure. Of course she

would not have worn it had she known that, the following morning, when Ricardo

left her home, there would be blood spattered on the waistline and hem. And that

that blood, even after it had been washed off at the laundromat, would always be

there, a living stain visible in the light that lingers behind closed eyelids. This time

Neuza would not be able to talk her out of dumping it at some church bazaar or

other, where it would be sold on for a tenth of the original price.

She checked her email.


She looked at the little black number on the bed, a much safer bet…She exhaled

long and hard, just as a pediatrician had once told her to when she was

young. Little could he know that she had carried that tip with her ever since, and

used it every time she needed to return to the world the airy anguish it had seeded

in her. Later that night, she wouldn’t quite manage it. The air would cling to her

lungs, impossible to dislodge, like soot that would clog and suffocate her forever.

It was only after she’d vomited and the police had taken the body away that she

was able to get rid of it, expel that fetid, malodorous air. Animals aside, it would

be the first death she had witnessed in her 37 years. Her grandmother had died,

but she’d stayed home with her brother and cousins, as they were too young for

funerals. There was that fairly distant grandfather too, but she was off traveling

somewhere when he died. Every Christmas, which was the only time in the year

they ever saw him, she’d introduce herself, Márcia, Rosa’s daughter. That last year,

when she was already grown up, the old man lost his patience, Stop introducing

yourself, girl with the white ballet shoes!, he said, to her great surprise, and then

stared off into space again, indifferent to the bustle going on around him—the wiz

of the electric carving knife slicing through the turkey, the kids doing what kids

do, the esfihas, the pistachios, the pita bread, the babaganuche, the hummus on

the coffee-tables, which on that day alone were pulled from hibernation at the

foot of the threadbare old settees. Along with the hummus there was beer, which

she, the firstborn of the third generation, was offered for the first time on that last

visit. Her grandfather never did receive the postcard she’d not sent from Paris,

where she was studying French the January he died. It was a picture-postcard of

Degas’ ballerinas she’d bought at d’Orsay with him in mind; a brief thought that

had caught her off-guard as she perused the stands for mementoes for family and

her many friends, and for Ricardo. So her grandfather still remembered her dance

performances at the club—man was she awkward….When she got back to Brazil,

with the postcard in her bag, she received the news. There was no body to mourn,

just the same absence as always, only now definitive. She didn’t exactly feel sad,

it was an odd feeling, and it soon dispersed among her many Monday morning

chores, and only years later did she remember the words her aunt had whispered

into her ear during a heartfelt hug in the departure lounge, You were always his favorite

grandchild. Of course, there’d been innumerable deaths on TV, in newspaper

photos, in books, in those dumbass action films she’d had to watch during all those

years of marriage. She had taken none of them seriously. There was no stench, no

temperature, no dimension or meaning. Separation meant she no longer had to

watch anything she didn’t want to.


She checked her email, switched off the computer and closed the lid. Not a

single message the whole day long, not a single reply, not so much as a hi from

some distant friend, not even the usual spam about how to get rich quick or spice

up your sex life, no clients requesting a meeting or a price quote, no self-help

words of wisdom, and no yellowed, blurred photos from her teenage years like

the ones she’d been receiving in bevvies over the last few weeks. She hadn’t seen

those people in twenty years, what would have become of them? What lives would

they have led? How would they see her now? And then there’d be Ricardo. She

looked at herself again; a kaleidoscope of scenes colored her eyes and made her

smile. The last time she’d seen him was at the cinema, just months before he married.

They didn’t speak, and she pretended not to notice when he nodded to her.

At the end of the film, she’d looked for him out of the corner of her eye, ready

now to exchange a word or two, but he was nowhere to be seen. How stupid she’d

been, she thought. She let her eyes fall on herself again and the mirror informed

her that the dress really did look good on her. Panty line? No, apparently not. She

flipped her laptop open, but stopped short of switching it back on. Time to quit

pussy-footing around and go, because she wasn’t a kid anymore, she just wasn’t.

Of course, she wouldn’t have gone had she known that from that night on she’d

panic at the sound of a firework, a popping motorbike exhaust, a banger at a Halloween

party, and that it would take ages to get her breath back. And yet, despite

the nightmares, which would stalk her, waking her up in the middle of the night,

disoriented and soaked with sweat, those brown eyes that rested on her, then

looked right through her, as if scanning her, her soul, not her body, already tattooed

by myriad leering eyes. It’s okay…, he said, before his sight grew dim. Okay

how? No, nothing’s okay, nothing could ever be okay again. Yet when all is said and

done, even nightmares grow stale.


Are you sure you don’t want to go?

I’m sure, go see your friends, if I went I’d just hold you back, wanting to leave

early and all, I’m wrecked.

That’s fine, we can come back early.

No.

I want you to come.

You’ll have a better time on your own, believe me, Ri.

If you’re sure…Will you be okay on your own?

Of course.

Ricardo kisses his wife, already in her nightie, teeth-brushed, hair down, magazine

in-hand for a pre-sleep read.

Ri, will she be there?

He hears her from the doorway. He turns on his heel.

She who?

His wife arches an eyebrow. This is the question she swore she wouldn’t ask,

but which refused to be stifled at the last moment, just as he’s about to leave.

Though she had said he should go, he wasn’t supposed to go, of course. Just as

when he insisted that she come along, she was never actually supposed to come

along.

I guess so.

No relapses, okay!...

She says it breezily, her faced crunched into faux levity, and blows him a kiss

as she snuggles in, reaches for the switch of the reading light on the bedside table

and opens the decoration mag on a write-up about one of her interiors, which she

will studiously pretend to read until she’s sure he’s gone. She’ll look toward the

doorway he’s just vacated, and her gaze will freeze there for a moment. After two

whole weeks of reciprocal insistences, she hesitated when push came to shove.

She’ll close the magazine and get out of bed. She’ll go out into the hallway and

hear the front door close. When he pushes the elevator button, the lift will be two

floors down. She’ll walk into the sitting room, pick up the phone, dial two digits,

then hang up. He’d be angry, of course, and with good reason, but what has reason

got to do with a situation like this? She’ll walk over to the window and see

the car pull out of the garage ten floors down. She’ll follow it to the traffic light,

where it’ll stop and he’ll reach out an arm to give the street juggler some spare

change before driving off round a corner. The phone will ring and she’ll answer it

at a snatch. The swirl of her arm will add to the stream of air coming through the

chink in the bedroom window, and it’ll curl and billow down the hallway, into the

sitting-room and out onto the balcony, flipping a portrait hung haphazardly from a

piece of wire just above the television. It’ll be her mother on the phone, just to tell

her that the kids are sound asleep and that her father loved The Incredibles DVD,

which she’d slipped into their overnight bag. You know what he’s like, don’t you?

Then she’ll sweep up the broken glass from the fallen picture frame, reorganize the

other pictures, full of memories so dear they seem so distant, and have a glass of

water before finally bedding down. Contrary to her own predictions, she’ll nod off

straight away and will only wake up the next morning, stirred by the roar of the

shower in her bedroom suite as it slowly conjures from the hum of cicada in the

orchard on her grandmother’s ranch, and the gurgle of a hose filling an old pale

with water as she walks with the cousin she hasn’t seen for ages, but who taps her

on the shoulder and runs off into the woods—You’re it!—and then she wakes up to

the roar of the shower in her bedroom suite, and it’ll take her a while to figure out

what time it is and who’s in there. It’ll be day, of course, so blades of light will be

shaving through the aluminum blinds as she gathers her wits about her. The alarm

clock on the bedside table will read 8:43. She’ll see across the smooth surface of

his undisturbed pillow. Standing outside the bathroom door, she’ll be seized by a

sudden burst of anger, which will roil even hotter when she finds the door is locked.

Ricardo, open the door! She’ll bark. She’ll hear the lock turn and will push down on

the door handle, sliding inside in time to see him disappear into a cloud of steam

that has smoked up the mirror, wet all the tiles and made the ceiling sweat. Before

saying anything, she’ll look at the pile of clothes in the bidet. She’ll root through

them and discover the browning bloodstains on the fine fabric. She’ll open the

shower box, What happened?! He’ll be breathing heavily, biting on his lower lip.

She’ll embrace his wet body, hugging him close, and for the first time since she’s

known him, and for the first time since the events of the night just passed, Ricardo

will break down and cry. In sobs. Once dry and dressed, he’ll feel a proper fool for

having lost control, and he’ll apologize profusely for reasons unknown to her, and

she’ll be full of pity, brimming with more love and care than she would ever have

thought herself capable of giving. She’ll make him some warm milk with honey, just

like her mother-in-law said she used to make, and some toast and jam, which he’ll

eat just to please her. The phone will ring and Ricardo’s every muscle will tense up.

But it will just be her mother, calling with news of the kids.


Beatriz gets her nails done every Friday at a local hairdresser’s hidden behind

an inconspicuous door she stumbled upon soon after moving into the Vila

Madalena neighborhood. So she spends the weekend with bright red nail varnish.

She sometimes daydreams while gazing at the backs of her pearly white hands,

with the long, slender fingers she inherited from her dad. Piano fingers, he used

to say; surgeon’s hands, her mother would add. She likes her hands, and carries

some moisturizer with her wherever she goes. And she only wears imported surgical

gloves. On Sunday nights, just before turning in, she sits out on the balcony

and removes the nail varnish, filling her nostrils with acetone. In slow motion, back

stream the memories of carnivals past, her T-shirt pulled up over her nose and

mouth, a certain torpor, the kids all swaying and popping to tunes barely audible

in the din. Fingernail by fingernail she prepares for Monday, the weekend-tint

staining the damp fluffs of cotton wool consigned to the trashcan. If Caio arranges

to hit the sauna with Rogério on the day the maid stays late then she’ll schedule

a massage for seven-thirty at that chain with a Japanese name, the one near

her apartment. On her first few sessions, she’d only managed to relax at the end,

Madame has many knots, said the Oriental girl. She didn’t bother correcting the

Madame part. She was still only a Resident doctor, so it was weird to have all these

folks old enough to be her parents or grandparents going doctor-this, doctor-that,

diffidently expecting answers and authority she didn’t have. She was getting used

to it, though. She’d defend her master’s at the end of the year and maybe then

she’d drum up the courage to take private patients only. They were doing alright,

as a couple. Statistically-speaking, they were rich, though there was never cash

standing idle at the end of the month. There’s the kids’ tuition, the health plan,

the mortgage, the car repayments, the last instalments on last year’s vacation, the

building maintenance fee, psychotherapy, income tax, insurance policies, trips to

the cinema, cable TV, wireless internet, the repairs on the refrigerator, the manicurist,

the costs of the kids, multiplying and mounting by the day. It’d been over a year

since she’d last bought clothes, nothing special mind, just that little black dress, a

feminine counterweight to the masculine whites she wore day-in, day-out, to go

with her nails au naturel.





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