(Part 1 of this excerpt can be found here)
The Wounded and the Bruised (One or two landscapes)
Graciela entered the bedroom, took off her light coat, looked into the dresser’s mirror, and frowned. She removed her blouse and skirt and flopped into bed. She folded one leg then straightened it out as much as she could. She noticed a run in one stocking, sat up, slipped off both stockings, and examined them slowly to see if there were more runs. Next, she rolled the pair into a small ball and laid it on a chair. She looked at herself in the mirror once more and pressed her fingers against her temples.The next to last light of a cool and windy afternoon was still coming in through the window. She pushed aside one of the glass curtains and looked out. Six or seven children were playing in front of B Building. She made out Beatriz, all excited, her hair mussed up, thoroughly enjoying herself. Graciela smiled half heartedly and touched up her hair.
The telephone next to the bed rang. It was Rolando. She stretched out again to speak more comfortably.
“What an unpleasant afternoon, no?” he said.
“Well, not too. I like the wind. I don’t know why but when I walk into the wind, it seems to wipe away things. I mean things I want to wipe off.”
“Don’t you read the papers? Don’t you know that’s called meddling in another nation’s internal affairs?”
“Okay, Miss Republic.”
“But a friendly republic, right?”
She switched the receiver over to her left hand and left ear so she could scratch behind the right.
“Anything new?” he asked.
“A letter from Santiago.”
“Ah, that’s nice.”
“It’s a bit puzzling.”
“In what sense?”
“He talks about stains on the walls and figures these used to make him think of when he was small.”
“It used to happen to me too.”
“It happens to everybody, doesn’t it?”
“Well, the subject may not be very original but it doesn’t seem puzzling to me. Or did you expect him to send you a written attack on the goon squads?”
“Don’t be silly. It’s just that I feel he used to be more daring.”
“Yes, sure, and maybe because of his daring you went over a month without any news from him.”
“I found out why. It was something general, one of so many restrictions applied to the whole place…”
“…generally based on some childish pretext like when someone writing a letter has, intentionally or not, exceeded the limits not officially established but really there.”
She didn’t answer. At the end of a few seconds, he spoke again.
“How is Beatriz?”
“Playing outside with her gang.”
“She’s so full of vitality, so healthy.”
“Yes much more than I am.”
“Not so much. It’s true she gets most of her vitality from Santiago but she gets it from you too.”
“From Santiago, yes.”
“And from you too. It’s just that lately you’ve been depressed.”
“Could be. Actually I don’t see any way out. And besides, my job bores me to tears.”
“You’ll find another that’s more stimulating. Be satisfied, for the time being.”
“Now all you need to tell me is how lucky I was.”
“You were lucky.”
“Okay, go on. Tell me that not all the exiles of the Southern Cone have such a well-paid six-hour job with Saturdays off, to boot.”
“Not all the exiles of the Southern Cone have such a well paid job, etcetera. May I add that you’re a very efficient secretary and deserve it?”
“You may. But efficiency is precisely one of the reasons for my being bored. It would be more fun if I slipped up every now and then.”
“I don’t believe it. Maybe you’re bored with your efficiency but inefficiency generally bores bosses and managers much more and much sooner.”
Graciela cradled the receiver between her jaw and her shoulder. Obviously she had good experience in this professional secretary’s trick.
She didn’t answer. And he was the one who picked up the conversation again.
“May I make a proposition?”
“If it’s not dishonest.”
“Let’s say it’s half honest.”
“Then I’ll only half allow it. Go on.”
“Would you like to go to a movie?”
“It’s a good film.”
“I don’t doubt it. I trust your taste. At least your taste in movies.”
“And besides it will shake out the cobwebs in your head.”
“I’m happy with my cobwebs.”
“So much the worse. I repeat my offer. Would you like to go to a movie?”
“No, Rolando. I appreciate it, really, but I’m beat. If I didn’t have to cook something for Beatriz, I swear I’d go to bed without supper.”
“That’s no good either. Do anything, but don’t let routine take over.”
Graciela cradled the receiver between her jaw and her shoulder. Obviously she had good experience in this professional secretary’s trick. Moreover, this time it left her hands free for her to look at her nails and go over them, now and then, with a small file.
“Yes, I’m listening.”
“Have you ever traveled by train sitting face to face with someone else, each with his own window?”
“I think so. Right now I can’t remember exactly when. Why do you mention it?”
“Didn’t you notice that if the two people start talking about the landscape they’re both watching, the description of the person looking ahead is not quite the same as that of the one looking backward?”
“I must admit I’ve never paid attention to this detail. But it is possible.”
“Well, I’ve always noticed it. Because as a little girl, whenever I traveled by train, I really loved to look at the landscape. It was one of my favorite pleasures. I never read on the train. And I still don’t like to read when I go anywhere by train. I’m fascinated by the landscape speeding dizzily at my side, in the opposite direction. When I sit facing forward, the landscape seems to be coming to meet me. I feel optimistic, I don’t know why.”
“And if you travel looking backward?”
“The landscape seems to be going away, to dissolve, to die. Honestly, it depresses me.”
“And which way are you sitting now?”
“Don’t laugh at me. All this crossed my mind the other day when I started to reread Santiago’s letters. He is in jail and writes as if life were coming to meet him. Yet I’m free, I mean, but I sometimes feel as if the landscape were going away, dissolving, ending.”
“Not bad. As poetry goes, I mean.”
“There’s nothing poetic about it. It’s not even prose. It’s simply what I feel.”
“Okay, I’m talking to you seriously now. You know, the kind of mood you’re in worries me. I’m convinced that everyone has to solve his own problems, but it’s also true that someone you trust can sometimes help, at least a little. I can help, if you want me to. Still, what’s important is for you to search deep in yourself.”
“Deep in myself? Maybe so. But I’m not sure I want to.”
Translated by Hardie St. Martin and David Unger.
Mario Benedetti (1920-2008) is considered Uruguay’s most important twentieth-century author. Though his fiction and poetry have been translated into nineteen languages, he is hardly known in the U.S., possibly because of his protests of the U.S. incursion in Vietnam and its support of right wing dictatorships in Latin America during the seventies and eighties. In the last ten years, two collections of his poetry—Little Stones at My Window: Selected Poems and Only in the Meantime & Office Poems—and a play, Pedro and the Captain, have appeared in English. Benedetti’s only fiction to appear in English translation is Blood Pact: and Other Stories. As of this date, none of his major novels (such as La Tregua, which was made into a 1974 Academy Award-nominated film in Argentina, starring Norma Aleandro) have been translated into English.
Hardie St. Martin died in 2007. He was a well-known editor and translator of Spanish poetry and prose. His translations include Memoirs by Pablo Neruda, The Garden Next Door by Jose Denoso, and Tierra del Fuego: An Historical Novel by Sylvia Iparraguirre. He was the lead translator of Roots & Wings: Poetry From Spain 1900-1975. St. Martin received the American Literary Translators Association award in 1997 for the “Outstanding Translation of the Year.” He was born in Monkey River, British Honduras.
David Unger was born in Guatemala and is the author of Life in the Damn Tropics: A Novel, Ni chicha, Ni limonada (2010), and two unpublished novels, In My Eyes, You Are Beautiful and The Price of Escape. He has translated sixteen books into English, including the work of Nicanor Parra, Silvia Molina, Elena Garro, Barbara Jacobs, Mario Benedetti, and Rigoberta Menchu.
David Unger’s Recommendations:
Films: Though the following films are Argentine, they are quite useful in understanding what occurred in neighboring Uruguay in the seventies and eighties. El Secreto De Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes), which was a 2010 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film. Set primarily in contemporary Argentina with flashbacks to the nineteen seventies when the country descended into a military dictatorship; The Official Story (1985), with Norma Aleandro about the Dirty War in Argentina.