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Carta a una señorita en París (part 2)

The conclusion to a short story ("Letter to a young lady in Paris") by this Argentine.  You can read the original here.

You must love the beautiful wardrobe in your bedroom, with that large door that opens generously, those empty planks awaiting my clothes.  Now I have them here.  Here inside.  True, it seems impossible; even Sara did not believe it.   But Sara suspects nothing, and he who suspects nothing proceeds from my horrible task, a task that in a single swipe of a rake snatches up my days and nights, scorching me from the inside and hardening me like the starfish you placed above the bathtub.  That starfish which at every bath seems to fill one's body with salt, with lashes of the sun's whip, and with great murmurs of profundity.

During the day they sleep.  There are ten of them.   During the day they sleep.  With the door closed the wardrobe offers a daytime night only for them, and there they sleep in peaceful obedience.  I take the bedroom keys with me when I go to work.  Sara gives me a dubious look – she must think I do not trust in her integrity.  Every morning she appears as if she wishes to say something to me, but in the end she keeps her thoughts to herself and for that I am so very glad.  (When she straightens up the bedroom from nine to ten o'clock, I make some noise in the living room and put on a Benny Carter record that soaks the entire atmosphere.  And since Sara is also a fan of saetas and paso dobles, the wardrobe seems silent and perhaps it is indeed so, because for the bunnies it is night and a time for rest.)

Their day begins during the hour immediately after dinner, when Sara takes the tray, mildly jingling the sugar tongs, bids me good night – yes she most certainly does, Andrée, the most bitter thing is that she bids me good night – and locks herself in her room.  And so I am left alone, alone with that condemned wardrobe, alone with my duty and sadness.

I let them out, let them hop around the living room.  They are a lively bunch, smell the clover hidden by my pockets, and now on the rug turn into ephemeral daggers as they alternate, move, and end in the moment.  They eat well, quiet and properly, and up to this point I have nothing to say: I simply look at them from the sofa with a useless book in my hand – I who wanted to read all your Giraudoux, Andrée, and the copy of López's Argentine history you keep on the bottom shelf – and they eat up the clover.

There are ten of them.  They are almost completely white.  They raise their warm heads towards the living room lamps, the three immobile suns that compose their day, they who love the light because their night has no moon, no stars, no street lamps.  They gaze at their triple sun and are happy.  And this is how they hop about the rug, on the chairs, ten light blotches shifting like a moving constellation from one part to another, whereas I would like to see them still, at my feet and still – to some degree, the dream of every god, Andrée, the unachieved dream of the gods.  But this is not how they insinuate themselves behind the portrait of Miguel de Unamuno, then, in turn, the clear green vase, the black cavity of the desk.  There are always fewer than ten, always six or eight, and I find myself asking where the other two might have gone, whether Sara might get up for some reason, and about the presidency of Rivadavia that I wanted to read up on in López's Argentine history.

How I resist, Andrée, I simply don't know.  You will remember that I came to your house to relax.  It's not my fault if now and then I vomit up a bunny, if this move transformed me from the inside – this is not nominalism, or magic, but simply the fact that things cannot change so soon; sometimes things do swerve violently, especially if you expected to be slapped by a right hand and – but so it is, Andrée.  One way or another, but it is so. 

I am writing to you at night.  It is three in the afternoon, but I am writing to you during their night.  During the day they sleep.  What a relief is this office teeming with yells, orders, Royal typewriters, vice-presidents, and mimeographs!  What relief, what peace, what horror, Andrée!  Now I get phone calls from friends worried about these peaceful, secluded nights of mine: Luis, who asks whether I would like to go for a stroll; Jorge, who has this concert to which he wants to take me.  I almost do not dare tell them no and instead invent long and ineffectual tales of bad health, of overdue translations, of evasion.  And every night, when I come back and take the elevator all the way up, between the first and second floor I irremediably nourish the vain hope that all this is not true.

I do what I can in order that they do not destroy your things.  They have gnawed a bit on the books on your lower shelf; you will find them hidden so that Sara does not catch wind of it.  Were you particularly fond of your porcelain lamp speckled with butterflies and ancient knights?  The chip is barely noticeable; I worked all night with a special glue that was sold to me at an English store – you know how those English stores have the best glues – and now I stay out of the way so that their paws never again reach the vase (it is almost beautiful to see how they like standing up on their hind legs, nostalgia of the distant human, perhaps an imitation of their god walking around and giving them a surly look; moreover, you might have noticed – perhaps when you were a child – that one can punish a bunny by having it stand upright, paws against the wall, and there it will remain, totally still, for hours and hours).

At five in the morning (at this point I've slept a little stretched out on the sofa, waking up to every velvety footrace, every clinking) I put them in the wardrobe and set to cleaning the apartment.  This is how Sara always ends up finding everything in tiptop shape, although sometimes I've detected in her a certain contained surprise as she stands there gazing at an object, perhaps a faint discoloration in the carpet, followed by a renewed desire to ask me something, whereas I whistle some of Franck's symphonic variations like nuns might.  So as to recount to you, Andrée, the ill-fated details of that dull and lifeless morning in which I walk half-asleep with clover stems, stray leaves, bits of white fur, running into the walls, crazed with sleep, my Gide translation overdue, and that Troyat that I haven't translated, and my responses to a lady far away who may already be asking herself whether ... so as to follow all this, so as to follow this letter I write between telephones and interviews.

Andrée, my dear Andrée, my consolation is that there are but ten of them and not more.  Fifteen days ago I held in my hand one last bunny, but since then nothing, only the ten with me and their daytime night.  And they are growing: as newborns they are ugly and long-haired; as adolescents full of urgency and capriciousness, jumping over the bust of Antinous (that is Antinous, right?  That boy with the blind stare?), or losing themselves in the living room, where their movements create resonant noise so that I am obliged to shoo them out of there out of fear that Sara may hear them and appear before me horrified, perhaps in a nightdress, because Sara simply has to be like that, in a nightdress, thus ... Only ten of them.  Think of this tiny joy I possess in the midst of it all, the growing calm with which I cross anew those rigid skies of the first and second floors.

I interrupted this letter because I had to do some work for a commission.  I am continuing here in your apartment, Andrée, beneath the dull grisaille of dawn.  Is it really the next day, Andrée?  A chunk of white on the page will be your interval, hardly the bridge to link yesterday's writing with today's.  If I were to tell you that in this interval everything has broken down – that is, where you perceive an easy bridge I hear the furious waist of water – for me this part of my letter does not maintain the calm with which I was writing when I abandoned it to do some commission-based work.  In a cubic night bereft of sadness eleven bunnies sleep.  Perhaps at this very moment – no, not at this very moment.  In the elevator, after a while, or upon entering.  It no longer matters if the 'when' is now, if it could be in any of the 'nows' that I have remaining.

That's enough.  I have written because it is important for me to prove to you that I was not culpable in the unstoppable destruction of your apartment.  I will leave this letter waiting for you.  It might have been sordid for this to have been delivered to you one clear morning in Paris.  Last night I returned the books to the second shelf, and they were able to reach them standing up or hopping, gnawing on the spines to sharpen their teeth not out of hunger, mind you, as they have all the clovers I buy and store for them in the desk drawers.  They ripped the curtains, the fabrics off the armchairs, and the edge off the self-portrait by Augusto Torres; they filled the rug with fur and also yelled in a circle beneath the light of the lamp, in a circle as if in adoration of me, and again and again they yelled in a way that I did not think bunnies could yell.

I have tried in vain to remove the hairs that damaged the rug, smooth out the edges of the gnawed fabrics, and lock them again in the wardrobe.  The sun and the day rise in tandem; perhaps Sara will be getting up soon.  It is almost strange that seeing them hop around in search of toys does not matter to me.  I was not very guilty in all this.  You will see when you come back that most of what was destroyed has since been properly repaired with that glue I bought in the English store.  I did what I could to avoid an annoyance ...

As for me, moving from ten to eleven has been an insuperable gap.  Ten were good, you see: with a wardrobe, clovers and some hope, how many things could be accomplished!  No longer the case with eleven, because saying eleven is surely saying twelve, Andrée, twelve that might be thirteen.  So now it is daybreak, a cold solitude in which happiness, memories, you, and perhaps many more things end.  This balcony above Suipacha street is now brimming with dawn and the first sounds of the city.  I do not think it will be difficult for them to link eleven bunnies splattered upon the cobblestones – perhaps they won't even notice them – now occupied with another body that they will need to remove very soon, before the first schoolchildren pass by.

Reader Comments (2)

He keeps mentioning the first, second, and third floors. Do they have a significance or are symbolic?

November 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

Hello, Emily! To answer your questions: Sara is someone well-known to the addressee of the letter, Andrée, but perhaps someone the narrator should avoid; the alcohol coming through the rabbit's skin certainly suggests it will be eaten; and there is no immediate significance to the floors. That said, consider the following details: that the narrator takes the bunny to the bathroom to kill it; that the bunny's fate involves "three or four spoonfuls of alcohol then the bathroom or one more bag joining the rest of the trash"; that the narrator constantly has to hide the bunnies from Sara; that "the most bitter thing is that she [Sara] bids me good night – and locks herself in her room. And so I am left alone, alone with that condemned wardrobe, alone with my duty and sadness"; that "Sara may hear them and appear before me horrified, perhaps in a nightdress, because Sara simply has to be like that, in a nightdress"; and that the end of story implies a rather hideous crime. Thanks again for your comments.

November 7, 2014 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

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