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En memoria de Paulina (part 2)

 The conclusion to a story ("In memory of Paulina") by this native of Buenos Aires. You can read the original here.

The evening I arrived from Europe, my thoughts returned to Paulina.  There lurked the fear that the memories of her might be too vivid once I was home.  When I entered my room I was beset by emotion, and I stopped respectfully to commemorate the past and the extremes of happiness and grief which I had known.  Then I had an embarrassing revelation: it was not the secret monuments to our love that moved me as they manifested themselves suddenly in the most intimate vales of my memory, but the emphatic light entering through the window, the light of Buenos Aires.

At around four o’clock I went to the corner shop and bought a kilo of coffee.  In the bakery I was recognized by the owner who greeted me with loud cordiality and told me that for a while now, for at least six months, I hadn’t been paying my tab.  After these niceties, I asked him meekly for half a kilo of bread.  He asked me, as he always had:

“Toasted or white?”

And I answered, as always:


I returned home.  It was a day as clear as crystal and very cold.

While I prepared my coffee, I thought of Paulina.  We would always drink a cup of black coffee towards the end of the afternoon.

Just as in a dream, I soon abandoned my affable and even−tempered indifference in favor of the emotion and madness stirred up in me by her appearance.  Upon seeing her I fell to my knees, sank my face into my hands and, for the first time, sobbed out all the pain of having lost her.

Her arrival occurred thus: there were three knocks on the door; I asked myself who could be the intruder; I thought that this intruder would be to blame for my coffee getting cold; and, distracted by all these thoughts, I opened the door.

Then — I don’t know whether the time that passed was very long or very short — Paulina ordered me to follow her.  I understood that, having been persuaded by relentless facts, she was in the middle of correcting those age−old mistakes in our relationship to one another.  It seems to me (but, in addition to relapsing into those same mistakes, I am unfaithful to that evening) that she corrected them with excessive determination.  When she asked me to take her by the hand (“Give me your hand!” she said. “Now!”).  I abandoned myself to pure delight. We looked in each other’s eyes and, just like two confluent rivers, our souls united as well.  Outside, on the roof, against the walls, it was raining.  I interpreted this rain — which was the whole world surging forth anew — as the panicked expansion of our love.

Such emotion did not, however, prevent me from discovering that Montero had polluted Paulina’s speech.  Here and there when she spoke I had the unpleasant impression that I was listening to my rival.  I recognized the characteristic weightiness of his locution, the ingenuous and laborious attempts to find the precise word or turn of phrase, and, most embarrassingly, his incontrovertible vulgarity.

With effort I was able to superimpose myself. I gazed at her face, her smile, her eyes.  There was Paulina, whole and perfect.  There, for me, she had not changed.

Then, while I was considering her in the mercurial shadows of the mirror, surrounded by a frame of garlands, crowns, and black angels, she seemed different.  It was as if I had discovered another version of Paulina, as if I saw her now in another way.  I was thankful for this separation that interrupted my habit of seeing her, now more beautiful than ever.

Paulina said:

“I’m off.  Julio is waiting for me.”

There was a strange mix of scorn and anguish in her voice which troubled me.  Melancholy thoughts: Paulina, in other times, would not have betrayed anyone.  When I lifted my gaze, she was already gone.

After a moment’s hesitation, I called her.  I called her again, went down to the entrance, and ran through the street.  But I didn’t find her.  Coming back I felt cold.  I said to myself: “It’s cooled off.  It was just a simple shower.”  The street was dry.

When I returned home I saw that it was already nine o’clock.  Not having any desire to go out to eat, I was afraid of running into someone I knew.  I made a bit of coffee, drank two or three cups, and nibbled at the end of a piece of bread.

I didn’t even know when we would see each other again.  I wanted to talk to Paulina.  I wanted to ask her to explain … Suddenly, my ingratitude frightened me.  Destiny had provided me with all the joy in the world and I wasn’t content.  That evening was the culmination of our lives.  That’s how Paulina had understood it.  And that’s how I had taken it as well.  For that reason, we almost didn’t talk (in a way talking and asking questions would have been like differentiating one another).

It seemed impossible to me to have to wait until the following day to see Paulina.  As urgent relief to my pain, I determined that it would be, in fact, that very night in Montero’s house.  Very soon thereafter, I decided against it: I couldn’t visit them without speaking with Paulina beforehand.  I made up my mind to look for a friend — Luis Alberto Morgan seemed to be the best choice — and ask him to tell me what he knew about Paulina’s life in the time I was away.

Then I thought that the best thing would be to go to bed and sleep.  Rested, I would see everything with greater understanding.  On the other hand, I was not ready for frivolous talk about Paulina.  Getting into bed I had the impression of setting foot into a trap (perhaps I remembered sleepless nights in which one stayed in bed without realizing one was awake).  I turned off the lights.

I didn’t ponder Paulina’s conduct any longer.  I knew far too little to understand the situation.  Since I was no longer able to turn my mind off and stop thinking, I sought alee in the memories of that evening.

I would continue to love Paulina’s face even if it appeared so hostile and strange that I distanced myself from her.  Her face was the one she always had, that pure and marvelous jewel that had loved me before the abominable appearance of Montero.  I said to myself: “A face has a certain faithfulness which a soul might not be able to share.”

Or was everything a sham?  Was I in love with a blind projection of my desires and dislikes?  Had I never really known Paulina?

I selected an image from that evening, Paulina before the smooth dark profundity of the mirror, and I tried to summon it.  When I caught sight of it, I had an instantaneous revelation: I doubted why I forgot Paulina.  I wanted to devote myself to the contemplation of her image.  Memory and imagination are capricious faculties: I recalled disheveled hair, pleated clothes, the vague surrounding shadows.  But my beloved vanished.

Many images, inspired by unavoidable energy, passed between my closed eyes.  Then suddenly I made a discovery.  As if on the dark edge of an abyss, in an angle of the mirror, at the right of Paulina appeared the little horse of green stone.

At the time that it occurred, the vision did not seem strange.  Only minutes later did I remember that the horse was not in the house.  I had given it to Paulina two years ago as a gift.

This was from, I said to myself, the superimposition of anachronistic memories (the oldest being the little horse and the most recent being Paulina).  The matter was clarified, and I grew calm and fell asleep.  I then came up with an embarrassing thought, and, in light of what I would later confirm, a pathetic one.  “If I don’t go to sleep soon,” I thought, “tomorrow I will be haggard and Paulina will not be so pleased.”  Later I noticed that my memory of the statuette in the mirror of the bedroom was not justified.  I never put it in the bedroom.  At home, I had only seen it in the other room (either on the shelf, or in Paulina’s hands, or in my hands).

Terrified, I wanted to take another look at those memories.  The mirror reappeared, surrounded by angels and garlands of wood, with Paulina in the center and the little horse at the right.  I was not certain of what the room reflected.  Perhaps it reflected her, if in a brief and vague way.  Instead, the horse was clearly reared up on the library shelf.  The library took up all the background and the darkness on the side surrounded a new figure whom I initially didn’t recognize.  Then, with scant interest, I noticed that I was this figure.

I saw Paulina’s face, I saw it whole, not in parts, as if projected towards me by the extreme intensity of her beauty and sadness.  I woke up crying.

I don’t know how long I had been asleep.  All I know is that the dream was not invented.  Unconsciously I continued my imaginings and faithfully reproduced the scenes from that evening.

I looked at the clock: it was five.  I would be get up early and, even at the risk of annoying her, go to Paulina’s house.  This resolution did not mitigate my anguish.

I got up at half past seven, took a long bath and slowly got dressed.

I didn’t happen to know where Paulina lived.  The concierge lent me the phonebook and a Green Guide.  Montero’s address wasn’t registered anywhere.  I looked for Paulina’s number, but it too could not be found.  I also checked that someone else was living in Montero’s old house.  Then I thought of asking for the address from Paulina’s parents.

It had been ages since I’d seen them last (once I found out about Paulina’s love for Montero, I stopped interacting with them).  Now, to pardon my action, I would have to document my sufferings, for which I didn’t have the heart.

I decided to talk to Luis Alberto Morgan, whom I couldn’t call on before eleven.  I wandered through the streets without seeing a thing, momentarily shifting my attention to the shape of the molding of a particular wall or to the sense of a word heard by chance.  I remember a woman in the Plaza Independencia with her shoes in one hand and a book in the other passing barefoot over the wet lawn.

Morgan received me in bed, his face in a giant bowl which he held with both hands.  I caught a glimpse of a whitish liquid, and, floating, a piece of bread.

“Where does Montero live?” I asked him.

Having already drunk all the milk, he now proceeded to scoop up the pieces of bread from the bottom of the bowl.

“Montero is in custody,” he replied.

I couldn’t conceal my astonishment.  Morgan continued:

“What? You don’t know?”

Doubtless he thought that my lack of knowledge only encompassed that one detail, but because he liked to talk, he told me everything that had occurred.  I thought I had lost consciousness and fallen into a sudden precipice.  But there I still heard his clear, ceremonious, and implacable voice relating incomprehensible facts with the monstrous and persuasive conviction that they were familiar to me.

Morgan told me the following: suspecting that Paulina might visit me, Montero had hidden in the garden of my house.  Seeing her leave, he followed her then questioned her in the street.  When curious onlookers began to gather, he threw her into a rental car and took off.  They drove the whole night through the Costanera and the lakes, and at dawn, at a certain Hotel del Tigre, he killed her with a bullet.  This had not happened the night before this morning, but on the night before my trip to Europe.  It had occurred two years ago.

At life’s most terrible moments our habitual recourse is that of defensive irresponsibility, and instead of thinking about what’s happening to us, we turn our attention to trivialities.  This was when I asked Morgan:

“Do you remember our last meeting, at my house, before my trip?”

Morgan did indeed.  I went on:

“When you noticed that I was concerned and you went into my bedroom to fetch Paulina, what was Montero doing?”

“Nothing,” replied Morgan, with a certain vivacity.  “Nothing.  Now, however, I remember: he was looking at himself in the mirror.”

I returned home.  At the entrance, I ran into the concierge.  Affecting indifference, I asked him:

“Do you know that Ms. Paulina is dead?”

“How could I not?” he replied.  “All the newspapers talked about her murder, and I ended up making a statement to the police.”

The man looked at me inquisitively.

“Is something up?” he said, coming much closer.  “Do you want me to come with you?”

I thanked him and fled upstairs.  I have a vague recollection of struggling with a key, of retrieving some letters, of the other side of the door, of having my eyes closed and of being face down in my bed.

Then I found myself in front of the mirror, thinking: “That Paulina visited me last night is certain.  She died knowing that her marriage to Montero had been a mistake — an atrocious mistake — and that we were the truth.  She returned from the dead to fulfill her destiny.  Our destiny.” I remembered a sentence that Paulina wrote, years ago, in a book: “Our souls have already been conjoined.”  I continued thinking: “Last night, finally, at that moment when I took her by the hand.”  Then I said to myself: “I am unworthy of her.  I have doubted.  I have been jealous.  She came back from the dead in order to love me.”

Paulina had forgiven me.  Never had we loved each other so much as now.  Never had we been so close.

This was when I, wallowing and wavering in this sad and victorious inebriation of love, asked myself — better said, when my brain, led by the simple habit of proposing alternatives, asked itself — whether there could not be any other explanation for last night’s visit.  Then, like lightning, I touched upon the truth.

Now I would like to find out again that I’m wrong.  Unfortunately, as always occurs when the truth surfaces, my horrible explanation clarifies the facts which seemed mysterious.  And these, in turn, confirm the truth.

Our poor love was not ripped from Paulina’s tomb, nor was it Paulina’s ghost.  I had embraced a monstrous ghost of the jealousy of my rival.

The key to what happened is hidden in the visit that Paulina paid me on the eve of my departure.  Montero followed her and waited for her in the garden.  He argued with her the whole night and, because he did believe her explanations (how could this man understand Paulina’s pureness?), at dawn he ended her life.

I saw him now in jail, pondering this visit, reimagining it with jealousy’s cruel stubbornness.

The image that entered the house, and that which later occurred there were a projection of the horrific imagination of Montero.  I didn’t find this out at the time because I was so moved and happy that my only wish was to obey Paulina.  Yet there is no lack of evidence.  For example, the rain.  During the visit of the real Paulina, on the eve of my departure, I didn’t hear the rain.  Montero, who was in the garden, felt it directly on his body.  In imagining us, he thought that we had heard it.  For that reason I heard rain last night.  Then I found myself on a dry street.

More proof can be derived from the statuette.  I kept it at home for one day and one day only: the day of the reception.  For Montero it remained a symbol of the place.  For that reason it appeared again last night.

I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror because Montero did not imagine me clearly.  Nor did he imagine the bedroom with any exactitude.  He didn’t even recognize Paulina.  The image projected by Montero was guided in a way not Paulina’s own.  In addition, she spoke the way he did.

Warping this fantasy remains Montero’s torment.  Mine is real.  Mine is the belief that Paulina did not return because she was disappointed with her love, the belief that I was never her love, the belief that Montero was privy to aspects of her life which I only knew indirectly, the belief that, in taking her by the hand in the supposed moment of the conjoining of our souls, I was obeying a request by Paulina that she never gave me and which my rival heard many times.

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