The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2012

All Issues
FEB 2012 Issue

The Diary of Martín Santomé: A Novel

A New Translation of La Tregua
by Mario Benedetti

Translated from the Spanish
by Harry Morales

This is the second English translation of the novel, La Tregua by Mario Benedetti that was first published by Editorial Nueva Imagen, S.A. in 1960. Originally translated by Benjamin Graham and published in 1969 by Harper & Row as The Truce, the novel is long out of print in English. The Rail will be serializing this Benedetti masterpiece over the winter and into the spring of 2012.

Mi mano derecha es una golondrina
Mi mano izquierda es un ciprés
Mi cabeza por delante es un señor vivo
Y por detrás es un señor muerto.

—Vicente Huidobro


Tuesday, April 2nd

I don’t see my children very often. Especially Jaime. It’s interesting, because it’s Jaime in particular who I would especially like to see more often. Of the three of them, he’s the only one with a sense of humor. I don’t know how valid affection is in the relationship between fathers and sons, but the truth is that of the three of them, Jaime is the nicest. But, as compensation, he is also the least transparent.

I saw him today, but he didn’t see me. It was an interesting experience. I was at Convención and Colonia saying good-bye to Muñoz who had accompanied me that far. I saw him walk by on the sidewalk in front of me with two others who had something disagreeable in their demeanor or their attire; I don’t remember exactly which, because I was especially focused on Jaime. I don’t know what he was saying to them, but they were laughing wildly. Meanwhile, Jaime remained serious, but with a satisfied look on his face, or perhaps it wasn’t, but rather stems from his certainty about his superiority, of the clear dominance which he was exerting on his friends at that moment.

Later that evening I told him: “I saw you near Colonia today. You were with two others.” Perhaps I was mistaken, but it looked like he was blushing. “It was a friend from the office and his cousin,” he said. “It looked like you were really amusing them,” I added. “Ugh, those two laugh at any nonsense,” Jaime replied.

Then, I think that for the first time in his life, he asked me a personal question, a question that addressed my own worries: “And...when do you think you’ll be able to retire?” Jaime asking me about retiring! I told him that Esteban had talked to a friend about expediting the process. But he can only do but so much. And besides, before anything, I inevitably have to turn 50. “And how do you feel?” Jaime asked. I laughed and limited myself to a shrug. I didn’t say anything for two reasons. First, I still don’t know what I’m going to do when I retire, and second, I was moved by Jaime’s sudden interest. Today was a good day.

Thursday, April 4th

Today we had to stay late again. This time it was our fault: we had to look for a discrepancy. And there was a big problem in choosing those who would have to stay. Poor Robledo was looking at me defiantly, but I didn’t choose him; I prefer to let him think he has authority over me. Santini had a birthday party to attend, Muñoz has an ingrown toenail that has put him in a bad mood, and Sierra hasn’t been to work in two days. In the end, Méndez and Avellaneda stayed. At seven forty-five, Méndez approached me very mysteriously and asked how much longer we would have to stay. I told him that at least until nine o’clock. Then, acting even more mysterious and taking every possible precaution so that Avellaneda wouldn’t overhear, he told me he had a date at nine o’clock and that first he wanted to go home to shower, shave, change, etc. Still, I made him suffer a little and asked: “Is she pretty?” “She’s beautiful, boss,” he replied. They well know that the only weapon that can conquer me is honesty. And they’re both quite honest. Naturally, I gave him permission to leave.

Poor Avellaneda. Once we were alone in that enormous office, she became even more nervous than usual. When she reached for a payroll document and I saw that her hand was trembling, I asked her point blank: “Avellaneda, is there something threatening about me? Please don’t be nervous.” She laughed, and from that moment on worked more calmly. Talking to her is a real problem. I always have to be midway between strictness and trustfulness. I’ve looked at her out of the corner of my eye three or four times and one can see she’s a good woman. She has defined features, loyal. When she becomes a little confused with the work, her hair inevitably becomes disheveled and she looks good like that. It was ten minutes after nine before we finally found the discrepancy. I asked her if she wanted me to accompany her home. “No, Mr. Santomé, certainly not.” But while we were walking towards the Plaza, we talked about work. She also turned down a cup of coffee. I asked her where she lived and with whom. With her mother and father, she replied. Did she have a boyfriend? Apparently, outside the office I inspire less respect in her, as she answered affirmatively and in a normal tone of voice. “And when do we take up a collection for your wedding gift?” I asked, as is customary in these situations. “Oh, we’ve only been dating for a year,” she replied. I think that after having told me she had a boyfriend, she felt more secure and began to interpret my questions as being rooted in an almost paternal interest on my part. She summoned all of her courage to inquire whether or not I was married, had children, etc. She became very serious upon learning that I was a widower and I think she was struggling over whether or not to quickly change the subject or share my sense of loss twenty years later. Common sense prevailed and she went on to talk about her boyfriend. She had just told me he worked for the city government, when her trolley appeared. She shook my hand and everything; good Lord!

Friday, April 5th

A letter from Aníbal. He became bored in San Pablo and is returning at the end of the month. That’s good news. I only have a few friends and Aníbal is the closest. Or at least he’s the only friend I can talk to about certain topics without feeling foolish. Someday we’ll have to inquire into just what our relationship is based on. He is Catholic and I’m not religious at all. He is a womanizer, and I limit myself to whoever is available. He is active, creative, positive; and I’m unimaginative and indecisive. The truth is, on many occasions, he pushes me to make a decision; and at other times, it is I who curbs him with my doubts. When my mother died — it will be fifteen years in August — I was a wreck. Only a fervent hatred of God, my relatives, and my fellow man sustained me during that period. Every time I remember that endless wake I feel disgusted. Those who attended were divided into two classes: those who started to cry as soon as they walked through the door and afterwards shook me in an embrace, and those who came out of courtesy, shook my hand with cloying remorse, and ten minutes later were telling dirty jokes. And then Aníbal arrived. He approached, didn’t even shake my hand, and started to talk in a natural, unaffected way about me, himself, his family, and my mother’s family. His natural manner was a kind of balm, a real consolation; which I interpreted as the finest homage that anyone could pay to my mother and I during my grief. It was merely a gesture, an almost insignificant episode, this I well understand. But it occurred during one of those moments in which the pain of loss makes one exaggeratedly receptive.

Saturday, April 6th

A wild dream. I had just walked through Aliados Park dressed in my pajamas, when all of a sudden I saw Avellaneda standing on the sidewalk of a luxurious two-story house. I approached without hesitating. She was wearing a plain dress, without any embellishments or a belt, and no underwear. She was sitting on a little kitchen bench next to a eucalyptus tree, peeling potatoes. I suddenly realized it was already night time and I approached and said: “What a wonderful smell of the countryside.” Apparently, my reasoning was decisive, because I immediately attempted to possess her, without any intervening resistance on her part.

This morning, when Avellaneda appeared wearing a plain dress, without any embellishments or a belt, I couldn’t restrain myself and said: “What a wonderful smell of the countryside.” She looked at me in a genuine panic, exactly the same way one looks at a lunatic or a drunk. To make matters worse, I tried to explain that I was talking to myself. I didn’t convince her, and when she left at noon, she was still watching me with a certain wariness. Just further proof that it’s possible to be more convincing in dreams than in reality.

Sunday, April 7th

Almost every Sunday, I eat lunch and dinner alone and inevitably become melancholy. “What have I done with my life?” is a question that is reminiscent of either Carlos Gardel, the Woman’s Supplement of the La Mañana newspaper, or an article from Reader’s Digest. But it doesn’t matter. Today, Sunday, I feel as if I’m beyond the ridiculous and can ask myself these kinds of questions. In my particular case, there have been no irrational changes or unusual and sudden switches. The most unusual event was Isabel’s death. Does the real key to what I consider to be my frustration lie in Isabel’s death? I don’t think so. Furthermore, the more I inquire, the more I’m convinced that her untimely death was a case of misfortune, that is to say, with any luck. (Good God, how mean and coarse this sounds. I’m horrifying myself). I mean to say that when Isabel died I was 28 years old and she was 25. We were, then, at the very peak of desire. I think she was the inspiration for my most impassioned physical desire. Perhaps that’s why although I’m incapable of reconstructing (with my own images, not with photographs or memories of memories) Isabel’s face, I can, instead, once again feel in my hands, every time I need to, the particular contour of her waist, her stomach, her calves, her breasts. Why do the palms of my hands have a more faithful memory than I do? One conclusion that I can draw from all of this is that if Isabel had lived long enough for her body to sag (that was one good thing about her: smooth and taut skin) and indeed it had, along with my capacity to desire her, I can’t guarantee what would have happened to our exemplary bond. Because all of our real harmony inexorably depended on what happened in the bedroom, our bedroom. I don’t mean to say that during the day we didn’t get along like a cat and dog, on the contrary. In our everyday life we used a good dose of mutual consent. But how could we put an end to the outbursts, the overflows? By simply enjoying our evenings and their protective presence in the midst of the displeasures of the day. If at any time we were tempted by hatred and started to become angry, the lure of past and future evenings would flash before our eyes, and then, inevitably, we would become wrapped up in a wave of tenderness that pacified every outburst of anger. But I’m not unhappy about this. My marriage was a good thing, and a happy time in my life.

But what about the rest? There is the opinion that one can have about oneself, which incredibly, has very little to do with being vain. I refer to the opinion that is completely sincere, the opinion that one wouldn’t dare to confess even to the mirror in front of which one shaves. I remember a time (between the ages of 16 and 20) during which I had a good, and can almost say, excellent opinion of myself. I felt the urge to accomplish “something great,” to be useful to many, to rectify things. It can’t be said I had a cretinous, egocentric attitude. Even though I would have liked to have received the praise and acceptance of others, I think my prime objective wasn’t to make use of the others, but to be useful to them. I know this isn’t pure and Christian charity; but then again, I don’t care too much about the Christian sense of charity. I remember I didn’t pretend to help the needy, or the disabled, or the wretched (I have less and less faith in chaotically distributed help). My intention was more modest; simply, to be of use to my peers who had a more understandable right to need from me.

In truth, that excellent opinion of myself has decayed quite a bit. Today I feel common, and in some respects, defenseless. I could tolerate my lifestyle better if I weren’t aware (only mentally, of course) that I’m above the commonness. To know that I have, or had, the ability to attain another position elsewhere, know that I’m somewhat superior at my outdated job, my few hobbies, my rhythm of speech: but knowing all of this doesn’t really add to my tranquility, but rather makes me feel more frustrated, more incapable of overcoming the circumstances. Worst of all is that no terrible things have occurred that will besiege me (well, Isabel’s death is hard, but I can’t call it terrible; after all, is there anything more natural than leaving this world?), halt my best impulses, impede my development, or put an end to my lethargic routine. I have devised my own routine, but in the simplest way: by accumulation. The security of knowing that I’m capable of something better has caused me to procrastinate, which when all is said and done, is a terrible and suicidal weapon. In this way, my routine never had character or definition; it has always been temporary, has always represented a precarious route. A route to be followed only as long as my procrastination lasted, and only to secure the right of the journey during that period of preparation that I apparently considered indispensable before finally leaping into the refuge of my destiny. What nonsense, huh? Now it so happens I don’t have important vices (I smoke a little, and only out of boredom drink a shot of rum from time to time), but I think that I couldn’t stop procrastinating: this is my vice, which is, moreover, incurable. Because if at this moment I were to decide to reassure myself, in a kind of belated oath: “I’m going to be exactly what I wanted to be,” everything would end up being pointless. First, because I feel I have limited strength with which to gamble on a change of life, and also, how valid is what I wanted to be back then, to me now? It would almost be like consciously rushing into premature senility. What I desire now is much more modest than what I desired thirty years ago, and, above all, it matters much less if I get it. To retire, for example. Naturally, it’s an aspiration, but it’s a downhill aspiration. I know that it’s going to arrive, that it’s going to arrive alone, and it won’t be necessary for me to do anything. It’s easy this way, it makes surrendering and decision making worthwhile.

Tuesday, April 9th

Blockhead Vignale called me this morning. I asked someone to tell him I wasn’t in the office, but when he called again in the afternoon I felt obliged to speak to him. There is one thing I’m sure of: if I have this relationship (I don’t dare call it a friendship) with Vignale, it’s because I deserve it.

He wants to come to the house. “It’s a private matter, friend. I can’t discuss it over the phone, nor can I invite you over to my house to discuss it, either,” said Vignale. We agreed to meet on Thursday night, after dinner.

Wednesday, April 10th

I’m attracted to something about Avellaneda, that’s obvious. But what is it?

Thursday, April 11th

It’s a half an hour before we have dinner. Vignale is coming over tonight, but only Blanca and I will be here. Jaime and Esteban disappeared as soon as they found out he was coming. I don’t blame them though, I would have escaped, too.

A change has come over Blanca. She has color in her cheeks now. And it’s not makeup because she retains this color even after she washes her face. Sometimes she forgets that I’m in the house and starts to sing. She doesn’t have a strong voice, but she sings pleasantly. It pleases me to hear her singing. I wonder what goes through my sons’ heads. Are they in the middle of uphill aspirations?

Friday, April 12th

Last night, Vignale arrived at eleven and left at two o’clock in the morning. His problem is very simple: his sister-in-law is in love with him. Although it won’t be verbatim, Vignale’s explanation of the situation is worth transcribing: “Just look, they’ve been living with us for the past six years. Six years isn’t four days. I’m not going to tell you that up till now I’ve never noticed Elvira. You already know she’s very pretty. And if you were to see her in a bathing suit, you would be knocked speechless. But hey, looking is one thing, taking advantage is another. What do you want from me? My wife is already middle-aged and besides, doing the housework and taking care of the kids has exhausted her. You can imagine that after fifteen years of marriage, it’s not a matter of looking at her and ipso facto becoming aroused with passion. Besides, some of her periods last two weeks, so it’s very difficult for me to arrange my desires to coincide with her availability. The truth is I’m hungry for sex quite often, so I feed on Elvira’s calves with my eyes, who, to make matters worse, always wears shorts in the house. The thing is that Elvira has misinterpreted the way I look at her; well, actually, she hasn’t, but there’s no need to make such a fuss. The fact of the matter is that if I had known Elvira was interested in me earlier, I wouldn’t have paid her any attention because the last thing I want is to create a scandal and disrupt my own home, which for me has always been sacred. First, there was the exchange of glances and me pretending not to notice. But the other day she was wearing those shorts when she simply crossed her legs and I had no other choice but to say to her: ‘Be careful.’ She then replied: ‘I don’t want to be careful,’ and that was the last straw. Then she asked me if I was blind, that I well knew that I wasn’t unresponsive towards her, etc., etc. Although I was sure it was a waste of time and effort, I reminded her about her husband, or that is to say, my brother-in-law, and do you know what she said? ‘Who? That moron?’ And the worse thing is that she’s right, Francisco is a moron. That’s what mitigates my scruples a bit. ‘What would you do in my place?’”

In his place I wouldn’t have any problems: first of all, I wouldn’t have married that idiot woman, and second, I wouldn’t be completely captivated by that other middle-aged woman’s soft skin. But I couldn’t tell him anything that wasn’t common knowledge: “Be careful because you won’t be able to get rid of her. If you want to break up your family, then go ahead, but if your family means more to you than anything, then don’t take the risk.”

He left remorseful, preoccupied, and undecided. Nevertheless, I think Francisco’s home life is in danger.

Sunday, April 14th

This morning I took the bus and got off at Agraciada and 19 de Abril. It’s been years since I’ve been around there and I pretended that I was visiting an unfamiliar city. Only now do I realize that I’ve become accustomed to living on streets without trees and how irremediably cold these streets can become.

One of the most pleasant things in life is seeing how the sun filters through the leaves.

It was a good morning. But this afternoon I took a nap for four hours and woke up in a bad mood.

Tuesday, April 16th

I still haven’t learned why I’m attracted to Avellaneda. I was observing her today. She moves well, arranges her hair nicely, and has a peach-like fuzz on her cheeks. I wonder what she does with her boyfriend? Or better yet, what does her boyfriend do with her? Do they play the decent couple or do they become sexually aroused just like some neighbor’s offspring? A key question for a suitor: envious?

Wednesday, April 17th

Esteban says if I want to retire by the end of the year, we have to begin the process right away. He says he’s going to help me expedite the process, but even so, it’s going to take time. This might mean greasing someone’s palm, and I wouldn’t like that. I know that the person accepting the bribe would be more contemptible than me, but I wouldn’t be innocent either. Esteban’s theory is that it’s necessary to behave in the manner which the environment demands. That which is simply honorable in one environment, could be just as idiotic in another. There is some truth to this, but I’m dismayed about that fact.

Thursday, April 18th

The amiable, heavily moustached auditor came to the office today. No one would have thought he could be so annoying. He started by asking for some data from the last balance sheet and ended by requesting a discriminate record of captions which appear in the initial inventory. I spent the day, from morning until afternoon, carting old and shabby books. The auditor was a charming man; he smiled, begged your pardon, and said: “Many thanks.” He was a real delight. Why doesn’t he just die? In the beginning, I was amassing my anger, mumbling, and mentally cursing. Later, my anger turned into a different emotion. I started to feel old. It was I who had entered that data back in 1929; the entries and counter-entries that appeared in the rough draft of the daybook, and the transport figures written in pencil in the cash book. Back then I was just an errand boy, but I was already being given important things to do, even though the moderate glory only went to the boss; in the same way I now attain my glory for the important things that Muñoz and Robledo do. I feel a little bit like the Herodotus of the company, its registrar and scribe, and the surviving witness to its history. Twenty-five years, five periods of five years, or a quarter of a century. But no, it’s much more startling to say, plainly and simply, twenty-five years. And how my handwriting has changed over these twenty-five years! In 1929, I had uneven penmanship: the small letter “t” did not slant in the same direction as the small letter “d,” “b,” or “h,” as if I had not breathed on all of them in the same way. In 1939, the lower half of the letters “f,” “g,” and “j,” looked like types of faint fringes, without character or willpower. In 1945, the era of capital letters began and so did my great pleasure in embellishing them with ample curves, spectacular and useless. My “M’s” and “H’s” were big spiders, with cobwebs and all. Now my handwriting has become artificial, level, disciplined, and genuine. It’s the only thing that proves I’m a pretender, since I have now become complicated, odd, chaotic, and lewd. When the auditor suddenly asked me for data corresponding to 1930, I recognized my penmanship; that penmanship from a special period. With the same handwriting that I had written: “Detailed account of salaries paid to personnel in the month of August, 1930,” I had also written: “Dear Isabel,” twice a week. Isabel lived in Melo at the time and I wrote to her every Tuesday and Friday without fail. That had been, well, my handwriting as a boyfriend. I then smiled, carried along by my memories, and the auditor smiled with me. Afterwards, he asked me for another list of captions.

Saturday, April 20th

Could I be dried up? Emotionally, I mean.

Monday, April 22nd

Some new confessions from Santini. Once again they were about his little seventeen year old sister. He says that when his parents are out, she comes into his room and dances almost naked in front of him. “She has one of those two-piece bathing suits, you know? Well, when she comes into my room to dance, she removes the top piece,” Santini said. “And what do you do?” I asked. “I...get nervous,” Santini replied. I told him that if the only thing he did was get nervous, then there was no danger. “But, sir, that’s immoral,” Santini said, waving his wrist with the chain and medal. “And her, what reason does she give for dancing in front of you almost naked?” I asked. “Just imagine, sir, she says that I don’t like women and that she’s going to cure me of that,” Santini replied. “And is that true?” I asked. “Well, even if it was true...she has no reason to do what she does...for her own seems to me,” Santini replied. Then I resigned myself to ask him the question he had been in search of for a long time: “And what about men, do you like them?” He shook his wrist with the chain and medal and said: “But that’s immoral, sir,” and gave me a wink that was midway between mischievousness and lewdness and, before I could add anything, asked: “Or don’t you think so?” I moved him aside violently and gave him one of those tedious projects to work on. He now has enough work to last him at least ten days without raising his head. That’s all I needed: a queer in the section. He looks like the kind who “has scruples.” What a gem. Nevertheless, one thing is true: there’s more to his sister than meets the eye.

Wednesday, April 24th

Today, like every April 24th, we ate together. There is a good reason: Esteban’s birthday. I think we all feel a bit forced to show our happiness. Esteban didn’t even seem excited; he told a few jokes, but held steadfast against our embraces.

The meal Blanca prepared was the high point of the evening, which naturally makes one predisposed to being in a good mood. It isn’t completely absurd that chicken-a-la-Portuguese would make me feel more optimistic than a potato omelet. Hadn’t it occurred to any sociologist to conduct a thorough analysis of the influence of digestion on Uruguayan culture, economy, and politics? My God, how we eat! In happiness, pain, fear, and discouragement. Our sensibilities are primordially digestive. Our innate democratic calling is based on an old assumption: “We all need to eat.” Our religious followers only partly care that God will forgive their doubts, but they still get down on their knees, with tears in their eyes, and pray they will not go without their Daily Bread. And that Daily Bread isn’t — I’m sure — merely a symbol: it’s a two-pound German loaf.

Well, we ate well, drank a good claret, and celebrated with Esteban. After dinner, while we were slowly stirring our coffee, Blanca made a sudden announcement: she has a boyfriend. Jaime encircled her in a strange, undefined look (What is Jaime? Who is Jaime? What does Jaime want?). Esteban happily asked the name of the “unfortunate guy.” I think I felt happy for her and made it obvious. “And when are we going to meet this lovely man?” I asked. “Look, Dad, Diego isn’t going to make those customary Monday, Wednesday and Friday visits. We meet anywhere; downtown, at his house, or here.” When she said “at his house” we all must have frowned, because she quickly added: “He lives with his mother in an apartment. Don’t be afraid.” “And does his mother ever go out?” Esteban asked, already a bit disagreeable. “Don’t be annoying,” said Blanca and quickly threw a question at me: “Dad, I want to know if you trust me. Yours is the only opinion I care about. Do you trust me?” When I’m asked in this way, point-blank, there is only one answer I can give. And my daughter knows what it is. “Of course, I trust you,” I replied. Esteban limited himself to leaving his skepticism on the record by clearing his throat loudly. Meanwhile, Jaime continued to remain silent.

Friday, April 26th

The manager convened another meeting of section directors. Suárez didn’t attend, fortunately he has a cold. Martínez took advantage of the occasion to tell a few truths. And a good thing, too. I admire his energy. Deep down, I couldn’t care less about the office, the titles, the hierarchies, and other such presumptuousness. I’ve never felt attracted to hierarchies. My secret motto: “The fewer hierarchies there are, the less responsibility there is.” The truth is one lives more comfortably without heavy burdens. As for Martínez, what he does is good. Of all the section directors, the only ones who could aspire to become an Assistant Manager (a position to be filled at the end of the year) would be, in order of seniority: me, Martínez, and Suárez. Martínez isn’t afraid of me because he knows I’m retiring. On the other hand, he’s afraid (and with reason) of Suárez, because since he began sleeping with Miss Valverde, he’s advanced remarkably: from Assistant Cashier to First Officer in the middle of last year, and from First Officer to Director of Shipping about four months ago. Martínez knows perfectly well that the only way to defend himself from Suárez is to discredit him completely. Martínez really doesn’t have to use his imagination too much to realize this since Suárez is, when it comes to his job performance, hopeless. He’s known to be immune, and hated, but having scruples has never been his forte.

You had to see the manager’s face when Martínez unleashed his concealed and embarrassing anger. Martínez asked him directly if “Mr. Manager knew if any other member of the Board had a daughter available who would like to sleep with section directors,” adding that he was “at your service.” The manager asked him what he meant by that remark, if he wanted to be suspended. “Certainly not,” Martínez replied. “I’m interested in a promotion. I understand that sleeping with a Board Member’s daughter is the procedure.” The manager was pitiful. He knows that Martínez is right, but, furthermore, he knows he can’t do anything about it. For now, at least, Suárez is untouchable.

Sunday, April 28th

Aníbal arrived. I went to pick him up at the airport. He’s much skinnier, older, and more worn out. Anyway, it was a joy to see him again. We spoke very little because his three sisters were there and I have never gotten along with those parrots. We agreed to meet one of these days; he’ll call me at the office.

Monday, April 29th

The section was deserted today. Three people were out. Furthermore, Muñoz was running an errand and Robledo had to review the files in the Sales section. Luckily, there isn’t too much work at this time of the month. The chaos always begins after the first of the month, so I took advantage of the solitude and lack of work to chat with Avellaneda for a while. Over the last few days, I’ve noticed she’s been very quiet, almost sad. It’s true, I feel her sadness. It makes her face thin, her eyes sad, and makes her look even younger. I like Avellaneda, I think I’ve already written this down at one time or another. I asked her what was wrong. She approached my desk, smiled (how well she smiles), but didn’t say anything. “Over the last few days I’ve noticed that you’ve been very quiet, almost sad,” I said, and so that my remarks would carry the same weight as my thoughts, I added: “It’s true, I can feel your sadness.” She didn’t take it as a compliment, but instead, her eyes merely brightened, and she said: “You’re very nice, Mr. Santomé.” My God, why the “Mr. Santomé?” The first part sounded so nice....The “Mr. Santomé” reminded me of being almost fifty, inexorably took me down a peg, and left me with just enough strength to ask in a false, paternal tone: “And your boyfriend?” Poor Avellaneda’s eyes filled with tears, she shook her head in what appeared to be an affirmation, mumbled “sorry,” and then ran into the bathroom. For a while I remain seated in front of my documents not knowing what to do; I think I was moved. I felt agitated, like I haven’t felt in a long time. And it wasn’t the instant nervousness of someone who sees a woman crying, or who is about to. My agitation was my own, mine only; the agitation of contributing to my own emotional upheaval. All of a sudden it became clear in my head: I’m not dried up! When Avellaneda returned, having already finished crying and a little embarrassed, I was still egotistically enjoying my new discovery. I’m not dried up, I’m not dried up. Then I looked at her with gratitude, and because Muñoz and Robledo were returning at that moment, we both went back to work, as if complying with a secret accord.

Tuesday, April 30th

Let’s see, what’s wrong with me? All day long just one sentence was passing through my head, like a recurring slogan: “So, she had a fight with her boyfriend.” And then immediately afterwards my breathing pattern would fluctuate excitedly. On the same day I discover that I’m not dried up, I feel restlessly selfish. Well, I think in spite of everything, this means a step forward. 


Mario Benedetti

MARIO BENEDETTI was born on September 14, 1920 in Uruguay. He published his first book in 1945. Although a trained accountant, he went on to publish Peripecia y Novela (Literary Criticism) in 1948, and a year later, Esta Mañana, his first book of stories. In 1953, he published his first novel, Quien de Nosotros, but it was with the 1959 publication of Montevideanos: Cuentos (Stories) that the urban concept of his narrative style took shape. With the publication of La Tregua in 1960, Benedetti acquired international preeminence. While in Cuba, he founded the world famous Centro de Investigaciones Literarias at Casa de las Americas, which he directed from 1969 to 1971. Returning to Uruguay in 1971, he opposed increasing government repression through his writing and participation in the leftist coalition known as the Frente Amplio, which he helped organize. Following the coup of June 1973, his work was banned by the Uruguayan military. Between 1973 and the return of the civilian government in 1985, he lived in exile in Argentina, Peru, Cuba, and Spain. Writing for an international audience, he denounced the tragic events occurring in Uruguay at the time. From 1985 on, he lived in Montevideo, where he devoted his full time to writing. He passed away on May 17, 2009. Translator HARRY MORALES is also the author of the novel The Suit and Skirt Farm (Xlibris, 2002). He was born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico in 1962, and was raised in New York City. He has studied literary translation under Gregory Rabassa and translated stories by the novelist Mario Bendetti from various collections including Montevideanos: Cuentos, La Muerte y Otra Sorpresas: Cuentos, Esta Ma ñana: Cuentos, and Con y Sin Nostalgia: Cuentos among others. He has also translated the work of the late Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas as well as the works of Eugenio Maria de Hostos, Emir Rodriguez Monegal, Juan Rulfo, Cristina Peri Rossi, Julia de Burgos, Alberto Ruy-Sanchez, and Ilan Stavans, among many other Latin American writers.


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2012

All Issues