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La puerta condenada (part 2)

The conclusion to a story ("The sealed door") by this Argentine.  You can read the original here.


In the morning Petrone thought things over for a while as he took his breakfast and smoked a cigarette.  Sleeping poorly did not help his daytime work one bit.  He had woken up twice in the middle of the night, both of those times because of the crying.  The second time was worse because over and above the crying, he could also hear the voice of the woman as she tried to calm the child.  The voice was quite low, and yet possessed an anxious tone that lent it a certain theatrical quality, a whisper that crossed the door with so much force it was as if she were shouting.  For short periods here and there the lullaby made the baby stop; then he began again with a light, choked-up whimper of inconsolable grief.  And again the woman murmured some incomprehensible words, a mother's incantation to hush a baby tormented by his body or his soul, for being alive of for being threatened by death.

"Everything's just fine, but the manager was telling me absolute nonsense," thought Petrone as he left his room.  He did not hide the fact that the lie bothered him.  The manager did not relent in his stare.

"A little child?  You must have been confused.  There are no small children on this floor.  In the room contiguous to yours lives a solitary woman, I think I already told you that."

Petrone hesitated before speaking again.  Either the fellow was lying foolishly, or the acoustics of the hotel were playing a trick on him.  The manager was looking at him a bit askance, as if he was now the one irritated by these continuous protests.  "Perhaps he thinks I'm easily scared and simply searching for an excuse to ask to be moved," Petrone thought.  It was difficult and somewhat absurd to insist in the face of such an adamant denial.  He shrugged his shoulders and asked for the daily. 

"I could have been dreaming," he said, annoyed for saying that, or anything else for that matter.


The cabaret was deadly boring, and his two hosts did not seem to be too enthusiastic, so it was easy for Petrone to claim that a long day's work had made him tired and get himself back to the hotel.  They would have to sign the contracts the next day in the afternoon; the business was practically complete.

The silence at the hotel's reception was so pervasive that Petrone found himself walking on tiptoe.  They had left him an evening daily next to his bed; there was also a letter from Buenos Aires, on which he recognized the handwriting of his wife.

Before going to bed he stared at the wardrobe and the protruding part of the door.  Perhaps if he placed his two suitcases in front of the wardrobe, effectively blocking the door, the sounds emanating from the neighboring room would be diminished.   As always at this time, there was no noise.  The hotel was asleep, things and people were asleep.  Yet it seemed to Petrone, who was already in a bad mood, that this was precisely the opposite state of things: everything seemed awake, breathily awake in the center of silence.  His unconfessed anxiety must have been communicating to the house, to the people within the house who were lying in wait in a kind of crouching vigilance.  Fears and more fears in abundance.

He almost didn't take this seriously until the child's crying at three in the morning brought him back to it all.  Sitting up in bed, he asked himself whether it might not be best to call for the nightwatchman as a witness to the fact that one could not sleep in this room.  The child was crying so weakly that at moments Petrone couldn't hear him, although he felt that the crying was there continuously and would not hesitate to increase anew.  Ten or twenty of the slowest seconds of his life went by; then came a short hiccup, a hardly perceivable complaint that extended softly until it erupted into a real cry.

Lighting a cigarette, he wondered whether he shouldn't knock a few times discreetly on the wall so that the woman would hush the child.  Lately when he thought about the two of them, the woman and the child, he realized that he did not believe in them, and that absurdly he did not believe that the manager had lied to him.  Now he heard the woman's voice completely stifling the child with her passionate, if still discreet consolations.  The woman was singing the child a lullaby, consoling him, and Petrone imagined her seated at the foot of the bed, moving the child's cradle or holding him in her arms.  Yet for all his might he could not imagine the child, as if the affirmation of the hotel clerk was surer than the reality to which he was now listening.  Little by little, as the time passed and the weak complaints alternated or rose between the murmurs of consolation, Petrone began to suspect that this was all a farce, a ridiculous and monstrous game that would never be explained.  He thought of those old tales about childless women organizing a clandestine cult of dolls, an invented and secret motherhood, a thousand times worse than cuddling dogs, cats, nieces, or nephews.  The woman was imitating the cry of her frustrated child, consoling the air between her empty hands, perhaps with her face awash in tears because the cry she was feigning was at the same time her real cry, her grotesque pain in the solitude of a hotel room protected by indifference and by daybreak.   

Unable to go back to sleep, Petrone turned on the bedside lamp and wondered what he was going to do.  His discontent was malignant, afflicted as if by contagion in this environment where all of a sudden everything seemed to him rigged, hollow and false: the silence, the crying, the lullaby, and the only real thing of this hour between night and day and something that continued to swindle him with its insufferable lies.  Knocking on the wall did not seem like it would be enough.  He was not completely awake even though it would have been impossible to fall asleep.  Not knowing quite how, he found himself moving the wardrobe little by little until he had fully uncovered the dusty, dirty door.  Barefoot and in pyjamas, he pinned himself to the door like a centipede and, pressing his mouth to the pinewood panels, began to imitate, in falsetto, imperceptibly, a plaintive cry like the one coming from the other side.  He raised his tone, moaned, and then sobbed.  On the other side came a silence that would last the entire night; and yet in the instant that preceded it, Petrone could hear the woman running through the room in a rustle of slippers, emitting a dry and quick scream, the beginnings of a howl that ceased at once like a tightened rope.


It was past ten o'clock in the morning when he passed by the reception desk.  Between dreams, after eight o'clock, he had heard the voice of the hotel employee and that of the woman.  Someone had gone around the neighboring room moving things.  He saw a trunk and two large suitcases next to the elevator.  The manager had an air about him that struck Petrone as being one of bewilderment.

"Did you sleep well last night?" he asked with that professional tone that hardly masks its indifference.

Petrone shrugged his shoulders.  He did not want to make too much of the matter since he only had another night at the hotel.

"In any case, it will soon be more quiet around here," said the manager, eyeing the suitcases, "the lady is leaving us today at noon."

He expected some commentary, so Petrone obliged him with his eyes.

"She was here for a long time.  And just like that, she's leaving.  You never know with women."

"No," said Petrone.  "You never know."

Outside on the street he felt faint, a faintness that was not physical.  While drinking a cup of bitter coffee he began to think back on the matter, forgetting his business dealings, all the while indifferent to the splendid sun.  It was his fault that the woman was leaving the hotel, crazed by fear, by shame or by anger.  She was here for a long time ... She was sick, perhaps, but harmless.  It was he not the woman who ought to have left the Cervantes.  He had the obligation of telling her that, of apologizing, and, while pledging his discretion, of asking her to stay.  He took a few steps back and stopped cold.  He was afraid to make a mess of it all, which could elicit an unpredictable reaction from the woman.  It was already time to meet his two business colleagues and he had no desire to make them wait.  Well then, this was what she deserved.  She was nothing more than an hysteric; she would find another hotel in which to take care of her imaginary child.     


But that night he felt bad again, and the silence of the room seemed to him thicker still.  Entering the hotel, he could not help but notice the board of keys which did not have the key of the neighboring room.  He had exchanged a few words with the hotel employee, who was yawning in anticipation of the end of his shift, and gone into his room with little expectation that he would be able to fall asleep.  He had the evening dailies and a crime novel.  He whiled away the time arranging his suitcases and his papers.  It was hot, and he opened the small window all the way.   The bed had been neatly made, but he found it uncomfortable and hard.  At length he gained the silence necessary for sleeping soundly and it burdened him.  He tossed and turned and felt himself defeated by this silence that had so cunningly complained and then returned to him whole and vengeful.  Ironically, he thought that he missed the child's crying, that this perfect calm would not allow him to sleep, much less stay awake.  He missed the child's crying and when he heard it again much later, weak but unmistakeable through the condemned door, beyond fear, beyond escape in the middle of the night, he knew full well that it was alright and the woman had not lied, she had not lied to herself while singing the child a lullaby, wishing that the child would be quiet so that they could fall asleep.

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