Palabras Errantes Latin American Literature in Translation

Palabras Errantes
The Divided Sky

By Reina Roffé. Translated by Roanne Kantor.



In the café where Donna, after the conference in the Cultural Centre, would reveal her secret to Eleanora, Mijal would berate her for being a woman without a face: “A passive, complacent spectator.” In time, she would understand the depth of those words, which, at that moment, had infuriated her. She had said to Mijal, “they bore me,” invoking in plural the majority of her ghosts and pursuers. Since she’d returned, everyone felt qualified to tell her exactly what she was, either to flatter or to destroy her.

“They bore me,” Eleanora said again in a dark, taciturn murmur, obliquely, as if asleep. Later, returning to the story of her second night with Donna, she would say: “We came together in such a way that every encounter was promiscuous. When, I mentioned Giselle at this very table, I had the feeling that I had said a forbidden name. Even if I’d known then that Donna always fell for people out of her league, it would not made it any less shocking. I listened, passive and complacent, to the story of her romantic misadventures, hiding my surprise, trying to banish into limbo what my memory had registered; and, even so, even with the impartiality with which I received that confession, I could see that the splendor of those last days had been extinguished.”

“This is a small community in the middle of a big, flat city” Donna had said, ceaselessly stirring her coffee. “ We live in a ghetto, where everyone knows about everyone else. I told you what I told you because sooner or later you’ll hear it from someone else, with their own helping of fantasy and subjectivity.”

They walked along the avenue as if it were a public square full of people and vehicles, distant from each other and from everything else around them, two insignificant, unremembered silhouettes. Suddenly, Donna opened her mouth, scrunched up her face, swallowed and exhaled, releasing tension, if not pain. At almost the same moment, Eleonora yawned, too. That night wasn’t good for anything but keeping company.

The apartment hallway had lost its echoes. Eleonora passed through the long corridor on the way to the door; she hoped Donna would let her in. She entered the patio, careful not to knock over the flowerpots. She paused for a few minutes in the bathroom, then entered the bedroom, climbed the spiral staircase, undressed rapidly and got into bed. When she heard Donna approaching, she closed her eyes. She had, again, lost her head. Donna turned on a lamp, and her shadow on the ceiling resembled an enormous butterfly beating its wings. Soon the light and shadow disappeared. A slow dance, gently rhythmic, held in the intersection of bodies, had brought them together the morning before. Now, despite their closeness, a blade lay in between the two of them.


Reading those pages, Mijal would awaken Eleonora in the middle of the night. “When will you be the one who watches me sleep?” she would say, somewhere between imploring and commanding. “Refrain from yawning,” she would add in the most precise Castilian Spanish, half seriously and half in jest. “Listen. There is a real force here that will not tolerate your quotidian laziness. Understood? What I mean is, if you could write this, it’s unpardonable of you to act the fool. You know a lot more than you think. That’s why you have to stop playing the part of the cute little girl and be yourself. Let out your demons if you have to, but don’t lose sight of yourself.”

To which Eleonora would respond: “I’m not going to let you forbid me from yawning, much less sit here and tell me who I am or how I should be.” And before putting her clothes on she would cry: “Everyone here is a psychoanalyst, doctors in every discipline. I’m sick of them! God only knows how sick of them!

A while later, sleepless, she would sit up in bed and observe the ceiling plastered with glow-in the dark stars. Who in the world had thought of sticking all those stars up there, and how had they managed it? She remembered how the first night she spent in that apartment, she literally stared at them, trying to count them as a way of putting herself to sleep, she remembered, but she had found herself distracted by the sounds of the new house and surprised by the discovery of this world of constellations in her bedroom. At first she thought she was hallucinating, because during the day they were invisible. She thought that the roof had flown off and she was outside, that her feelings and fears had, at last, come true. She wasn’t sure which was more horrible.

When the stars align, she said to herself, watching Mijal fall ever more deeply asleep. To reach for the stars, she thought, following the line of thought. To be born under a lucky star, something so many people wanted. To set among the stars, what she did with Mijal, even though the acidity of her words and attitudes suggested the opposite. To see stars, a kind of pain she felt often, depending on the humidity. Later, she would shut her eyes, and like a great nebula falling from the sky, she would see before her a disquieting, opaque screen. She would experience a rapturous hatred, silent and suppressed. It was Mijal, and not her, who would suffer from insomnia or troubled sleep. She would twist the sheets, the quilt, or she would throw off both, she would awaken Mijal and whistle a patriotic march with the aim of cutting short the snoring of the insomniac lying beside her. It was useless: useless counting the stars, getting mad, crying, so that from her sobs would emerge a coiled threat.


Still in bed, watching the bedroom grow smokier as Mijal lit up one cigarette after the other, and prompted like an apprentice thief confessing her crime, Eleonora would continue the narration of her first impressions during her gradual return: “I know that there is something worse than knowing the truth,” she would say at last, condescendingly: “and that’s knowing what the truth is. Then, in those days, I used to let myself keep on believing that maybe I would find myself whole when I least expected it. Because there were moments in which I would intuit that I was at the cusp of hitting a solid trail, even when it would open before me such a vast and steep terrain that entering into it robbed me of my voice and my breath and emptied out my brain. For a long time this kept happening to me. I feel like my life in that last period had become a perpetual contradiction. I can’t even manage to respond to the simplest questions, or in every one of them I discover so many tangents that I get lost in the minutiae. What did Donna mean? Perhaps she was a bridge from which to take the first strides onto the ocean that churned inside of me. The opportunity to go back, at risk to my life, into the sick womb from which I emerged.

She would breathe deeply of the leaded air of the room, trying to overcome the disgust she felt around revealing her emotions, and the discomfort of being obliged to dredge up, from her secret drawers, some non-existent trump card. Even so, urged again by Mijal, she would go on: “One night, having gone out with Donna somewhere crowded, it occurred to me that she was a breath of fresh air for me, just like I was, for her, a kind of trophy to be pleasantly exhibited. Neither of us took the other one seriously. Somehow, I convinced myself that our relationship had originated that way. Now it seems to me a shame to have wasted that time together. I suppose each of us missed something vital in the other. But to suppose so means giving yourself hope. It’s possible that both of us were so self-involved that we couldn’t, despite all we had together, offer each other anything but a fleeting refuge.”

Eleonora would get out of bed surreptitiously, as if she were afraid of getting tangled again in those sheets, smelling of blonde tobacco, in that environment that was transformed into a refectory at twilight, swarming with echoes and sighs, a yellowing, putrid memory. She would open the window. In the same motion, she would shut herself off in the bathroom. The water from the shower would fall onto her body, returning her, bit by bit, to the coursing of her blood. She would become conscious of the time: they would have missed breakfast, and lunch as well. She would feel disgusted by the disorder of the days that ran on, unproductive and sedentary. She would think: something must happen tomorrow, it’s too late today. Let’s go take a walk, she would suggest to Mijal, given over to the softness that discharged itself with no precise object, in a zigzag, toward some endless space.

Leaning against the railing of the bridge, Eleonora would be absorbed in watching the hundreds of multicolored fish in the artificial lake, in the Japanese garden. It would be an idle, limpid afternoon, with one of those skies that one always remembers, in which one can begin, very early, to see traces of the moon.

They’re horrible,” Mijal would say, looking at the mouths of the fish coming up to the surface, tame, domesticated, insatiable in their demand of food from those passing by. “And it’s for that very reason that we watch them ecstatically: everything horrible is also enchanting.”

Eleonora would maintain her focus on the progress of a marbled red fish that popped its head out of the water again and again before her. Its mouth froze in a grimace that was both irreverent and obscene, a twitching lasciviousness that bewitched the spectator.

“If they don’t scare you,” Mijal would add, “why do you shrink from me?”

A flash of annoyance would insinuate itself on Eleonora’s face, still fixed on the vision of fish that swirled beneath the bridge. Sizable, their bodies sparkled like mirrors that moved with fits and starts, throwing off violent spectrums of light.

“I’m intolerable to you,” Mijal would say. “Of course, what you find intolerable is the equality between us. If I were stronger, you would submit to me; if I were weaker, you would do whatever you wanted with me. In either case, you would be easier, although I doubt that you could tolerate a placid life for long. Let’s face up to the fact that what you like about those oriental fish is just as much the whirlwind as their sinister beauty. If I show that I’m certain, you’ll become ambiguous; would you rather someone weak and anodyne, to make you feel secure? The way things are, you don’t know what to go by: love and hate are turbulent, they come from the same place and degenerate, over time, into one another.

Eleonara would part ways from Mijal and, walking toward the end of the bridge, facing the sky, would confess her state of emergency. A cloud would pass over the full face of the moon.


There, where the lions are, she had heard the metallic voice of Irma over the telephone. The diminutive little lions that flank either side of a small staircase in the park. She took a stroll through dry grass that crunched under her feet – or were they the dead leaves of the trees? Twilight, the hour of twilight tricked the senses. She took another stroll on the paved walkway ringing the playground: the slide, the swing set, six boys and their laughter, watched over by mothers who were putting off the trip home or had struck a compromise with the children’s begging for “just a little while longer.” How much further would she have to walk to come upon the lions? Lions made of bronze, of granite, what was it? She came to the back of the amphitheater. She came to the ticket booth: a rock performance, a jazz concert, an operetta by the Compañia Nacional Española. Someone behind her said: that’s from last month. She looked closer at the dates; it was true. Why, then, were there so many old people in the stands, as if they expected the show to start at any moment? In the twilight of life, she said to herself, in this twilight of the park, they are sitting, they are resting for the rest of the day. It was a cliché that nearly undid itself by the end.

Soon, the streetlights came on. In the opposite quadrant, close to where she had come from, sat the lions, and Irma, too. Leaning on the railing, looked just like that young whore that Eleonora had first seen in the doorway of an apartment building in New York. 13 East 31st Street. The address was easy to remember, although she had long since forgotten who lived there. Perhaps the most interesting thing about whoever lived there was that little whore standing in the doorway, messing up the respectability of the place. She remembered the dirty, straw-like hair that fell in her face, her sidelong look when she had to make room for her, the ostensibly open trench coat covered with smears of grime, smoke, and the damp of many rainy days, and the red leather miniskirt that clung to her thighs. Poor poets and hookers look alike, she said to herself. Both inspire a similar repulsion and the same exact fascination. Women of a constantly tragic uniform. Irma’s skin called out for a wash and beauty treatment, her clothing a good hard scrub, that is if any miracle detergent could save it from the dumpster.

They walked along a path parallel to the lake, while Irma questioned her clearly and directly about everything she wanted to know or to corroborate, building from the few tidbits that had been supplied ahead of time. Donna must be untrustworthy, or maybe Mijal, whom Donna could have clued in. Eleonora was now inadvertently in the loop: she was told, and retold, and recreated. The cold of twilight shocked her. Even so, she processed the revelation and made peace with it. Irma was tremendously indiscrete and fearfully innocent. And she wasn’t even that young anymore. She admitted to being thirty; she had said: I know that in certain countries, people who get to my age without achieving anything are considered failures. Then she went over her history. Receptionist, shop girl, copy editor, occasional journalist. She enumerated her diverse professions and jobs; in none had she made it past the first nine months. Either she left or they threw her out. They expel me as if I were a freak of nature, she said with cheerful resignation. Just think, there are people who spend half their life at the same job, she added. Sometimes I envy the routine, that mechanical order, the absolute symmetry of daily life. Anyway, I couldn’t bear it. She lit a cigarette. The flame from the lighter flashed on her nails. How could she manage to fuck them up so badly? Did she desecrate graves, claw the earth, scrub them with dust, with debris, with manure? They’d made a full circuit of the lake, and like the children, the mothers, and the aged, they too abandoned the park.

Will you take me out for coffee? She said, turning out the empty pockets of her trench. The whore on 31st street had nails that were covered with a dark polish, maroon. Invite me for a hamburger? She had said that time, when no one responded to any of the buzzers on the call box and her face should have exuded deception, sensuality and, finally, aversion. Asking her for a hamburger became a gift, an act of female solidarity. Now it was ridiculous to think of it like that, but not then; and she followed her tamely from street to street to the table where the whore ate, in perfect silence, a double burger from whose rotundity dribbled a thick mix of cheese, mustard and tomato that smeared all over her fingers. She still hadn’t seen the frozen bat’s hand that was hidden in the leather glove; the fact of being stood up, her disenchantment, filled and overflowed her mind. Street after street it pursued her, without a doubt, without a shadow of a doubt, nothing but the sparkle of the sidewalks, the steam of the grates, the gutters, and later, the crumbling facades of the buildings, the rust on the lattices, obscene scribbles on the wall. They climbed up three, four flights of stairs. One, guided by familiarity, the habit of having done it hundreds, thousands of times; the other, by the clatter of high heels and the crunch of wood. Someone opened the door and they entered somewhere slightly warmer, more fetid, with a smell like boiled sprouts or captive beasts. First sight: a bottle of milk spilt on the floor, the irregular whiteness of the substance as it sank into what had once been a rug. First sound: the asthmatic wheezing of a radiator. Later, a turbulence of sound and a painful, shattering deafness. Who is that? shrieked an unidentified voice. In another corner of the property there was a commotion of shadows. Let’s go to the back, ordered the harsh voice of a man. A few minutes passed in which you could cut the tension with a knife, but even so, her legs wouldn’t move to escape from the schemes that were doubtless being settled only a few steps away, where the tension was equally high. The hooker returned unhurriedly, with displeasure, rolling down a sleeve stained with drops of blood; the trench over her shoulder, her eyes on the bottle, still on the floor. With the same slowness, the same reluctance, she hung up the overcoat and looked without any fear of looking. She brandished her deformed hand, which hardly fit into the leather glove. Let’s go, she added in English: there’s not enough for the two of us. They descended toward the street. What was it that wasn’t enough for two? Relief, baby. The street was deserted, a ghost highway. I’m sorry, she said by way of goodbye. And again in Spanish, I’m sorry, girl, before crossing into the mist.

Where are you? Said Irma, shaking her out of it. Had she said relief, had she understood right? She remembered the deserted streets, she remembered having stepped in shit, having walked with the feeling that she was about to slip, that she would fall on her ass on the pavement. She remembered having seen the subway station from a distance. Later, the subterranean crossroads, the buzz of unfamiliarity, the passages toward Penn Station. And later the station clock, the ticket booth, the last train to Princeton, her one-way ticket, with no way to return to 31st street. No, there was no relief for her.

Your coffee is getting cold, said Irma. She smiled. Time had passed, she had emerged from that day so quickly, unharmed. If it makes you feel any better, said Irma, I sometimes lose my head, too.

Night had fallen. She returned to her shoebox of an apartment, the park close by, a short stroll, so short that it occurred to her that she would have liked to catch the bus Irma was riding and go somewhere else. The elevator in her building was the smallest and the slowest in the world, she exaggerated, an elevator for lovers that transported her alone to her solitary thirty square meters. If there was someone waiting, the lamp lit, a steaming plate of food on the table, a song playing on the radio, maybe a letter from Frank slid under the door. Just a crumb, baby. Even so, there was something theatrical and beautiful in the act of coming home to a place where no one was waiting and everything was exactly as one had left it, a sanctuary consecrated to the most intimate and miserable self.

She took off her shoes and left them in the front room. When she emerged from the bathroom, it seemed to her that her shoes no longer held the form of her feet, as if now they held an invisible being that could only lift its feet with incredible pain. She put them back on, they were cold; the bad light dyed the leather that indefinable black of a casket. She thought about dead things that, in their time, had breathed with the tension of a vibrant life, with the urgency of life, and that had disappeared into memory. Because in her sudden memory of the afternoon, the details prevailed, a pair of sensations, a number, the whore in the doorway, the blind night, the nip of heroin. She didn’t know how or why, the person who lived at 13 East 31st Street had existed perhaps for weeks or even months, with their apparatus of attributes and substances. And of all of that, nothing was left. In bed, she piled on more covers than necessary. She dreaded the coming of winter.

This image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows infant stars "hatching" in the head of the hunter constellation, Orion. Astronomers suspect that shockwaves from a supernova explosion in Orion's head, nearly three million years ago, may have initiated this newfound birth. The region featured in this Spitzer image is called Barnard 30. It is located approximately 1,300 light-years away and sits on the right side of Orion's head, just north of the massive star Lambda Orionis. Wisps of red in the cloud are organic molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are formed anytime carbon-based materials are burned incompletely. On Earth, they can be found in the sooty exhaust from automobile and airplane engines. They also coat the grills where charcoal-broiled meats are cooked. This image shows infrared light captured by Spitzer's infrared array camera. Light with wavelengths of 8 and 5.8 microns (red and orange) comes mainly from dust that has been heated by starlight. Light of 4.5 microns (green) shows hot gas and dust; and light of 3.6 microns (blue) is from starlight.



El cielo dividido



En el café donde Donna, después de la jornada en el Complejo Cultural, le revelara a Eleonora su secreto, Mijal habría de recriminarle que era una mujer sin rostro: “Una espectadora pasiva y complaciente”. Con el tiempo, comprendería el alcance de aquellas palabras que, en su momento, la sublevaron. Le había dicho a Mijal: “Me aburren”, involucrando con el plural a la mayoría de sus fantasmas y perseguidores. Desde que había vuelto, todos parecían haberse asignado el derecho de señalarle cómo era, fuese para halagarla o destruirla.

“Me aburren”, volvería a decir Eleonora con un murmullo taciturno y opaco, oblicuo como el sueño. Luego, retomando la historia de su segunda noche con Donna, diría: “Nos mezclamos de tal manera que cada encuentro era una promiscuidad. Cuando en esta misma mesa mencioné a Giselle, tuve la certeza de que había pronunciado un nombre prohibido. Haber sabido entonces que Donna se enamora siempre de lo inalcanzable, no hubiese reducido mi asombro. Oí pasiva y complaciente el relato de su desventura amorosa ocultando la sorpresa, tratando de enviar al limbo lo que mi memoria registraba; y a pesar de ello, del anonimato con el que asistía a aquella confesión, percibí que el resplandor de esos últimos días se apagaba”.

–Éste es un barrio pequeño, insertado en una ciudad ancha y llana –dijo Donna revolviendo interminablemente su café–. Vivimos en un ghetto, donde cada uno sabe algo de cada cual. Te he dicho lo que acabo de decirte porque tarde o temprano llegará a tus oídos en otra voz, con su carga de fantasía y subjetividad.

Anduvieron por la avenida como por un cuadro repleto de personas y vehículos, distantes una de la otra y de todo lo que las rodeaba, dos siluetas insignificantes y olvidadas. De pronto, Donna abrió la boca, arrugó la cara, tragó y exhaló aire, liberó tensión, quizá dolor. Casi al mismo tiempo, Eleonora también bostezó. Esa noche era una noche sólo para hacerse compañía.

El departamento de pasillo había perdido sus resonancias. Eleonora atravesó el largo corredor hasta llegar a la puerta; esperó que Donna abriera. Penetró en el patio cuidando no dañar los tiestos. Se demoró unos minutos en el baño, después entró en la habitación, subió la escalerilla caracol, se desnudó rápidamente y se metió en la cama. Cuando oyó que Donna se acercaba, cerró los ojos. Estaba, otra vez, descerebrada. Donna encendió una lámpara, su sombra en el cielo raso parecía la de una mariposa enorme batiendo alas. Pronto la luz y la sombra desaparecieron. Una danza lenta, pausadamente rítmica, detenida en un cruce del cuerpo, las había unido la madrugada anterior. Ahora, a pesar de la proximidad, había una espada entre las dos.


Al leer esas páginas, Mijal despertaría a Eleonora en mitad de la noche. “¿Cuándo será el día en que seas vos la que vele mi sueño?”, le diría entre implorante y autoritaria. “Depón tus bostezos”, agregaría en el más estricto castellano, un poco en broma y un poco en serio. “Óyeme. Hay aquí una fuerza de verdad que no indulta tu pereza cotidiana. ¿Se entiende? Quiero decir que si fuiste capaz de escribir esto, hacerte la tonta es imperdonable. Sabes mucho más de lo que crees. Por lo tanto, abandona el papel de chica encantadora para ser tú misma. Si es necesario, muestra todas tus miserias, pero no te pierdas de vista.”

A lo que Eleonora respondería: “No voy a consentir que se me prohíba el bostezo y mucho menos que se me interprete o se me diga cómo tengo que ser”. Y antes de arroparse, exclamaría: “Aquí son todos psicoanalistas, doctos en múltiples disciplinas. Me hartan, sabe Dios cómo me hartan”.

Un rato más tarde, ya en vela, se incorporaría en la cama y observaría el techo salpicado de estrellas que resplandecían en la oscuridad. ¿A quién se le habría ocurrido pegar allí todas esas estrellas, cómo lo habría hecho? La primera noche que pasó en aquel departamento, estuvo literalmente mirándolas, intentando contarlas para dormirse, recordaría, pero se hallaba pendiente de los ruidos de la nueva casa y sorprendida por el descubrimiento de ese mundo de constelaciones en su dormitorio. Al principio creyó alucinar, porque durante el día eran invisibles. Pensó que se le había volado el techo y se encontraba a la intemperie, que sus sensaciones y temores se habían, al fin, convertido en realidad. Y no sabía qué era más horroroso.

Campar uno con su estrella, diría para sí, espiando el sueño cada vez más profundo de Mijal. Levantarse a las estrellas, seguiría la cadena. Nacer con estrella, era lo que muchos querían. Poner por las estrellas, lo que hacía con Mijal, aunque la acidez de sus palabras y actitudes demostrara lo contrario. Ver las estrellas, algo que le pasaba con frecuencia y adjudicaba a la humedad. Luego, cerraría los ojos, y como una gran nebulosa que cayera del cielo, tendría ante sí una pantalla opaca, inquietante. Padecería de un rapto de odio, odio contenido y silencioso. Era Mijal, y no ella, la que sufría de insomnio o tenía el sueño cambiado. Estrujaría la sábana, la manta, tiraría de ambas, destaparía a Mijal y silbaría una marcha patriótica con el propósito de cortar los ronquidos de la insomne que yacía a su lado. Sería inútil: inútil contar las estrellas, rabiar, llorar, y que en su llanto aflorara el reto serpentino.


Todavía en la cama, viendo cómo la habitación se iba ahumando a medida que Mijal encendía un cigarrillo tras otro, y azuzada como un aprendiz de ladrón a confesar su delito, Eleonora continuaría con la narración de sus primeras impresiones durante su lento regreso: “Sé que hay algo peor que saber la verdad”, diría al fin, condescendiente: “ignorar cuál es. Entonces, en aquellos días, me dejaba llevar creyendo que quizá me encontraría entera cuando menos lo pensara. Porque hubo momentos en que intuía que estaba a un tris de poner mis pies sobre una pista segura, aun cuando se abría ante mí un terreno tan vasto y empinado que toda interpelación me quitaba el aliento y la voz, licuaba mi cerebro. Desde luego, esto me sigue pasando. Siento que mi vida de este último período se ha convertido en una perpetua aporía. No acierto a responderme las preguntas más elementales, o en cada una de ellas descubro tantos costados que me pierdo en agua de cerrajas. ¿Qué significó Donna? Tal vez un puente por donde dar los primeros trancos sobre ese mar de fondo que se agitaba dentro de mí. La posibilidad de volver, a riesgo de morirme, a la matriz enferma de la que procedía”.

Aspiraría hondamente el aire plúmbeo del cuarto intentando sobreponerse al pudor que le daba revelar sus emociones, y a la incomodidad de verse obligada a rastrear, en sus secretos cajones, una carta de triunfo inexistente. A pesar de ello, exigida una vez más por Mijal, proseguiría: “Una noche, al salir con Donna de un lugar lleno de gente, pensé que ella era un viento fresco para mí, así como yo era para ella una especie de trofeo que graciosamente exhibía. Ninguna de las dos nos tomábamos en serio. De alguna manera, me satisfacía que la relación se hubiese establecido de esa forma. Ahora me parece una lástima haber desperdiciado ese período juntas. Supongo que cada una se perdió una parte importante de la otra. Pero suponer significa darse una esperanza. Es posible que ambas estuviésemos tan sobre sí mismas, que no pudiéramos, a pesar nuestro, ofrecernos otra cosa que no fuera un refugio pasajero”.

Eleonora se levantaría de la cama subrepticiamente, como si temiera ser acorralada otra vez en aquellas sábanas, que ya olían a tabaco rubio, en aquel ambiente que se le tornaba un refectorio entre tinieblas, invadido por ecos, suspiros, memoria amarillenta y pútrida. Abriría la ventana. Acto continuo, se encerraría en el baño. El agua de la ducha caería sobre su cuerpo devolviéndole poco a poco el curso de la sangre. Tomaría conciencia de la hora: había pasado la del desayuno y también la del almuerzo. Sentiría disgusto por el desorden de los días que transcurrían improductivos, sedentarios. Pensaría: mañana algo tiene que suceder, hoy es demasiado tarde. Vayamos a dar un paseo, le propondría a Mijal entregada a la molicie del tiempo que se disparaba sin objeto preciso, en zigzag, hacia un espacio inescrutable.

Recostada sobre la barandilla del puente, Eleonora miraría absorta los cientos de peces multicolores del lago artificial, en el jardín japonés. Sería una tarde ociosa, límpida, con uno de esos cielos que siempre se recuerdan, en los que principia temprano a dibujarse la luna.

“Dan horror”, dirá Misal viendo las bocas de los peces asomándose a la superficie, mansos, domésticos, reclamando insaciables comida a los paseantes. “Y es por eso que los contemplamos extasiadas: no hay horror que no encante.”

Eleonora mantendría su concentración en el derrotero de un pez rosa, veteado, que volvía a sacar la cabeza del agua una y otra vez frente a ella. Tenía un rictus irreverente y obsceno en la boca, un crispamiento de lascivia que hechizaba al espectador.

“Si ellos no te espantan”, agregaría Mijal, “¿por qué me rehuís?”

Un gesto de fastidio se insinuaría en el rostro de Eleonora, prendida a la visión de los peces que se arremolinaban debajo del puente. De tamaños considerables, sus cuerpos brillaban como espejos que se desplazan a trompicones, eyectando un violento arco iris.

“Te resulto intolerable”, diría Mijal. “Ciertamente, lo que te resulta intolerable es la paridad que hay entre nosotras. Si fuese más fuerte, me rendirías culto; y si fuese más débil, harías conmigo lo que te diera la gana. En ambos casos, estarías más tranquila, aunque dudo que soportases durante mucho tiempo una vida apacible. Reconozcamos que te gusta el vértigo tanto como la belleza siniestra de estos peces orientales. Que yo me muestre segura, te coloca en una zona ambigua; para sentirte confirmada, ¿preferirías un ser débil y anodino? Dadas como están las cosas, no sabés a qué atenerte: el odio y el amor son turbulentos, provienen de una misma especie y degeneran en uno u otro alternativamente.”

Eleonora apartaría a Mijal de su camino y avanzando hacia el final del puente, de cara al cielo, movería los labios, confesaría su estado de emergencia. Una nube ocultaría la cara llena de la luna.


Allí, donde están los leones, había oído la voz metálica de Irma en el teléfono. Los leones diminutos del parque que flanquean una escalinata. Recorrió un tramo de césped seco que crujía a su paso, ¿o eran las hojas muertas de los árboles? El crepúsculo, la hora del crepúsculo engañaba los sentidos. Recorrió otro tramo sobre el pavimento de un sendero que bordeaba los juegos de los niños: el tobogán, el columpio y cinco, seis chicos con sus risas, vigilados por madres que demoraban el regreso a casa o habían transigido tras los ruegos infantiles de un rato más. ¿Cuánto más debería andar hasta toparse con los leones? ¿Los leones de bronce, de granito, de qué materia? Llegó a la parte trasera del teatro al aire libre. Leyó la cartelera: recital de rock, concierto de jazz, zarzuela por la Compañía Nacional Española. Alguien, detrás, dijo: esto fue el mes pasado. Se fijó en las fechas, era cierto. ¿Por qué entonces había tantos viejos en las gradas, de cara al escenario, como si esperaran que de un momento a otro comenzara la función? En el crepúsculo de la vida, se dijo, en este crepúsculo del parque, reposan, descansan sus restos del día. Era una frase hecha, deshecha casi al final.

De pronto, se encendieron las farolas. En el sector opuesto, cerca de donde había venido, estaban los leones y también Irma. Apoyada en la baranda, tenía el mismo aspecto de una puta joven que había visto en el portal de un edificio de apartamentos en Nueva York. 13 East 31 Street. La dirección era fácil de recordar, aunque ya había olvidado quién vivía allí. Tal vez lo más interesante de quien vivía allí era esa putita en el portal incordiando la respetabilidad de la casa. Se acordaba del pelo pajizo y sucio que le caía sobre la frente, de la mirada oblicua cuando tenía que cederle el paso, de la gabardina ostensiblemente abierta con los lamparones de mugre, miasmas, humedad de muchas lluvias, y de la minifalda de cuero rojo atenazándole los muslos. Las poetas pobres y las putas se parecen, se dijo. Ambas le inspiraban un rechazo similar y una idéntica fascinación. Mujeres de uniformes siempre tristes. El pelo de Irma necesitaba con urgencia un tratamiento de higiene y belleza, y su ropa un lavado intenso, si algún detergente milagroso podía salvarla de la basura.

Caminaron un tramo paralelo al lago, mientras Irma le preguntaba de manera directa y clara todo lo que quería saber o corroborar, a partir de algunos datos previos que le habían sido suministrados. Donna debía de ser la infidente, o quizá Mijal, a quien Donna podría haber puesto al tanto. Eleonora había entrado inadvertidamente en el círculo: era contada, recontada, recreada. La destempló el frío crepuscular. No obstante, procesó la revelación y se avino a ella. Irma era temiblemente indiscreta o de una inocencia temible. Y ya no era tan joven. Confesó treinta años; había dicho: sé que en otros países, a las personas que tienen mi edad y no lograron alcanzar una posición, se las considera un fracaso. Ahora contaba su historia. Telefonista, dependienta, correctora de pruebas, periodista a veces. Enumeró sus diversas profesiones y empleos; en ninguno había superado los nueve meses de trabajo continuo. La echaban o se iba. Me expulsan como si fuese un engendro de la naturaleza, dijo con una resignación alegre. Pensar que hay gente que pasa más de la mitad de su vida en el mismo trabajo, añadió. A veces envidio la rutina, ese orden mecánico, esa cotidianidad de simetría absoluta. De cualquier forma, no la soportaría. Prendió un cigarrillo. La lumbre del encendedor iluminó sus uñas. ¿Cómo haría para enroñárselas de esa manera, profanaría tumbas, arañaría el suelo, estregaría polvo, abono, resaca? Habían dado la vuelta completa al lago, y como los niños, las madres y los ancianos, ellas también abandonaron el parque.

¿Me invitás a un café?, dijo mostrando los bolsillos vacíos de su gabardina. La putita de la 31 Street tenía las uñas cubiertas de una laca oscura, marrón. ¿Me convidas a una hamburguesa?, le había dicho aquella vez, cuando las llamadas al portero automático de la casa no obtuvieron respuesta y su rostro debió de trasuntar la decepción, el bochorno y, finalmente, la inquina. Que le pidiera una hamburguesa se convirtió en un regalo, en solidaridad femenina. Ahora era ridículo pensarlo así, pero entonces no; y la siguió dócilmente calle tras calle hasta la mesa donde la putita comió en silencio una hamburguesa doble que babeaba por toda su redondez una mezcla espesa de queso, mostaza y tomate, con la que se iba embadurnando los dedos. Todavía no había visto la mano gélida, de murciélago, que escondía en un guante de piel; la cita frustrada, el desencanto, ocupaba, desbordaba su mente. Calle tras calle volvió a seguirla sin una duda, sin un temblor de duda, nada, sólo el brillo de las aceras, el vapor de las alcantarillas, los contenedores de inmundicias y, después, las fachadas derruidas de los edificios, el óxido de los enrejados, las inscripciones obscenas en las paredes. Subieron tres, cuatro plantas de escaleras. Una, guiada por la familiaridad, el hábito de haberlo hecho cientos, miles de veces; otra, por el repiqueteo de los tacones y el crujir de la madera. Alguien abrió la puerta y se introdujeron en una atmósfera algo más tibia, más fétida, con olor a coles hirviendo, a bestias cautivas. Primera imagen: una botella de leche derramada sobre el suelo, la blancura irregular de la sustancia absorbida por los retazos de una alfombra. Primer sonido: la respiración asmática del radiador. Luego, la turbulencia de los sentidos y una rajante sordidez lastimándolos. ¿Quién es ésa?, dijo una voz chillona, indefinida. En otro hueco del inmueble había una conmoción de sombras. Vamos al fondo, ordenó una voz grave, de hombre. Transcurrieron unos minutos en los que se podía cortar el aire y, sin embargo, las piernas no le respondían para escapar de los designios que se estaban dirimiendo tan sólo a unos pasos, donde seguramente también el aire se cortaba. La putita volvió sin prisa, con desgana, bajándose una manga de la blusa que manchó con unas gotas de sangre; la gabardina en el hombro, los ojos sobre la botella inmóvil en el suelo. Con la misma lentitud, la misma abulia, se colocó el abrigo y miró sin miedo de mirar. Esgrimió la mano deforme, que encajó dificultosamente en el guante de piel. Let’s go, y agregó: no hay para las dos. Bajaron hacia la calle. ¿Qué era lo que no había para las dos? Consuelo, baby. La calle estaba desierta, era una arteria fantasma. I’m sorry, se despidió. Lo siento, chica, dijo en castellano antes de atravesar la niebla.

¿Dónde estás?, la sacudió Irma. ¿Había dicho consuelo, había entendido bien? Recordó las calles desiertas, recordó haber pisado mierda, haber andado con la sensación de que iba a resbalar, de que daría con el culo en la acera. Recordó haber visto la boca del metro a lo lejos. Después, la encrucijada subterránea, el zumbido del desconcierto, los pasajes hacia la Pennsylvania Station. Y después el reloj de la estación, el tablero de salidas, el último tren a Princeton, su billete one way, ya sin retorno a la 31 Street. No, no había consuelo para ella.

Se te enfría el café, dijo Irma. Sonrió. Había pasado el tiempo, había salido ilesa tan pronto de aquel día. Para que te sirva de consuelo, dijo Irma, a veces a mí también se me va la cabeza.

Noche cerrada. Regresó a su caja de zapatos, el parque quedaba cerca del departamento, un tramo corto, tan corto se le hizo que hubiese querido alcanzar el autobús en el que se iba Irma y trepar a alguna parte. El ascensor de su casa era el más pequeño y el más lento del mundo, exageró, un ascensor para novios que la transportaba sola a sus solitarios treinta metros cuadrados. Si hubiera alguien esperando, la lámpara encendida, un plato humeante de comida sobre la mesa, una canción en la radio, tal vez una carta de Frank debajo de la puerta. Un mendrugo, baby. Sin embargo, había algo teatral y bello en el hecho de llegar a un lugar donde nadie espera y todo guarda el orden en que se lo dejó, un santuario consagrado al más íntimo y miserable yo.

Se quitó los zapatos y los abandonó en la sala. Cuando salió del baño, le pareció que los zapatos ya no tenían la forma de sus pies, como si ahora los calzara un ser invisible que levantaba los dedos con infinito dolor. Volvió a ponérselos, estaban fríos; la luz mala teñía el cuero con ese negro indefinible de los ataúdes. Pensó en las cosas muertas que, en su momento, habían respirado con la tensión de lo más vivo, con la urgencia de la vida, y que habían desaparecido hasta del recuerdo. Porque en su recuerdo súbito de la tarde prevalecieron los detalles, un par de sensaciones, un número, la putita del portal, la noche ciega, el pico de heroína; las circunstancias colaterales de un episodio que había languidecido en la memoria: no sabía como ni por qué, quién vivía en la 13 East 31 Street había existido acaso durante semanas, quizá meses, con su aparato de atributos y sustancias. Y de todo ello no quedaba nada. En la cama, se arropó más de lo debido. No quería que llegara el invierno.

El cielo dividido (NOVELA), Reina Roffé, editorial Sudamericana, Buenos Aires, 1996.

Reina Roffé was born in Buenos Aires and lives in Madrid. She is a novelist and essay writer. Her work includes the novels *Llamado al Puf*, *Monte de Venus*, *La rompiente*, *El cielo dividido*,*El otro amor de Federico* and the collection of short stories *Aves exóticas. Cinco cuentos con mujeres raras*. Amongst other essays she has published *Juan Rulfo: Autobiografía armada* and the book of interviews *Conversaciones americanas*. She is also the autor of *Juan Rulfo. Las mañas del zorro* and *Juan Rulfo. Biografía no autorizada*. She has received grants from Fulbright and Antorchas de Literatura and various literary prizes. Numerous European and American anthologies include her work and part of it has been translated to German, Italian, French and English.

Roanne Kantor is a Visiting Professor of Global English Literature at Brandeis University and has a doctorate in Comparative Literature from the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on twentieth century Latin American authors who spend time in living in and writing about South Asia. She was the recipient of the 2009 Susan Sontag Prize for Translation in Spanish for her rendering of José Saer’s *La mayor*, published as  *The One Before* (2015).

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