Book Extracts
A Crack in the Wall by Claudia Pineiro


 Pablo Simó is at his desk drawing the outline of a building that will never exist. He has been making the same sketch for years, like a man condemned to have the same dream every night: one about an eleven-storey tower facing north. There’s a series of identical drawings in a file; he doesn’t know exactly how many, he lost count a long time ago – more than a hundred, less than a thousand. They aren’t numbered, but each one is dated and signed: Pablo Simó, Architect. If he wanted to know which day he drew the first one, he would need to find it and look at the date, but he never does that; the most recent bears today’s date: 15 March 2007. One day he plans to count them all, these drawings of the same tower on the same plot of land, with the same number of windows and balconies identically spaced, always the same façade, the same garden to the front and sides of the building, with the same trees, one on either side of the front door. Pablo suspects that if he were to count the bricks drawn freehand on the façade, he would find exactly the same number on each drawing. And for that very reason he doesn’t count them – because it scares him to think that this obsessive drawing isn’t the product of his own application but of some external force.

 His eight-of-an-inch Caran d’Ache pencil goes up and down the page, shading, retouching, and Simó tells him- self, yet again, that he will build this tower one day, when he finally decides to leave the Borla and Associates architectural practice. But this isn’t the day to make such a decision, and so Pablo tries not to dwell on the fact that he is already forty-five, that this tower gets further every day from being anything more than graphite lines on a sheet of white paper and that a mere two yards from him Marta Horvat is carelessly crossing her legs as though there were nobody sitting opposite to notice.

 He notices, of course, though Pablo Simó no longer thinks of Marta in the way he once did. Not that he doesn’t want to, but for some time now – and he would rather not remember precisely how long – he hasn’t been able to think of her without sudden and even violent interruptions to his pleasurable fantasies. It was different before. He used to dream of Marta all day and in his mind he owned her; he undressed her, he kissed her, touched her – and, since he couldn’t foresee ever separating from Laura, Pablo Simó imagined that if his wife died, as all of us shall die one day, Marta Horvat would cease to be simply that woman he undressed in his fantasies and he would try to win her for real.

 Two yards from where Pablo is drawing, with a skill that comes as naturally to him as walking, talking or breathing, Marta sits at her own desk, shouting down the telephone at a contractor. She’s complaining that this man hasn’t finished a cementing job on time; she says she doesn’t care about the rain or the two public holidays that fell within that month, much less about the transport workers’ strike. She declares, with a vehemence that is all too familiar to Pablo, that she likes people who keep their word. And she cuts him off. Pablo pictures the contractor, left hanging at the other end of the line, reeling from this tongue-lashing and with no chance of a comeback. Without looking up from his drawing, Pablo knows that Marta has risen from her desk and is pacing around the office. He hears each step, hears her light a cigarette, hears her throw the lighter back into her bag and the bag onto a chair. He hears her walking again and, finally, coming over to him. Pablo covers his sketch with other papers; he doesn’t want Marta to see what he is doing – not that she hasn’t found him drawing this north-facing, eleven-storey tower before, but he wants to be spared her comments about him and his useless ob- sessions. Mind you, Marta Horvat would never use those words; she wouldn’t say “useless obsessions”, she would simply say, “The plot ratio doesn’t work, Pablo.” And even though Pablo doesn’t need anyone to tell him what that means, over the years she has often explained it to him, apparently in the belief that Pablo doesn’t really grasp how important it is to exploit to the maximum the relationship between a plot’s square footage and the number of flats that can be built on it. For that reason, she says, nobody will ever construct a building like the one he has in mind on any plot in Buenos Aires that has enough square feet to build something higher than his whimsical eleven storeys. He always lets Marta say her piece, but Pablo Simó knows her argument would collapse if he pointed out one detail: he doesn’t want to build the tower in Buenos Aires. This isn’t the city where he aspires to carry out the first project he can really call his own. He knows it too well. There isn’t a street he hasn’t gone down looking for plots for Borla and Associates, and his exhaustive surveys have taught him that you can’t lay a single brick in Buenos Aires without first finding a building and condemning it to annihilation: a car park, a school, a family home, a cinema, a warehouse, a gym – it doesn’t matter what, so long as the width and surface area allow for a high-rise. Pablo Simó doesn’t want to raise his building on the rubble of something else, but in Argentina’s capital there is no longer any alternative. What Marta doesn’t realize is that when the day finally comes he’ll choose another city. He doesn’t yet know which – perhaps somewhere he’s never been – but he does know that it will be somewhere where a north-facing building can get the morning sun and be built without anyone shedding tears for what was there before.

 Marta pauses behind him. On top of the pile of papers Pablo has used to cover his sketch is the advertisement he has to look at before returning it to the agency. In a few days they are going to start selling another building off-plan and the announcement needs to appear in the weekend’s newspapers. The heading they’ve chosen is “Paradise Exists”, in big, colourful typography above a page of text at the bottom of which the same burgundy letters spell out “Borla and Associates”. Marta reads it over his shoulder. She suggests he cross out “laundry room” and replace it with “utility room”. Pablo isn’t sure, but she insists, remind- ing him that the agency must have used as a template the announcement for the last building they sold, the one in Avenida La Plata, and that while a laundry room is fine for Boedo, it isn’t for Palermo. Pablo lets himself be persuaded, crosses out “laundry” and writes “utility” above it. Marta, evidently taking this small intervention as a territorial victory, returns to her desk and packs up for the day.

 In fact the day is not over yet, although Borla himself seems to be concluding business, coming out of his office carrying his briefcase and an umbrella that must have been left there on some previous occasion, given that the sky dawned blue over Buenos Aires this morning and stayed blue all day. Borla walks over to Marta’s desk and asks some routine questions while taking advantage of his position to peer into her cleavage. She smiles and answers; he lowers his voice and Pablo can’t make out what they’re saying, but he can see that the bad mood that induced Marta Horvat to shout at the contractor has evaporated. Marta’s hands move in the air, accompanying each of her words. Pablo, still at his desk, follows their movement, hypnotized by the red nails; he watches her hands dance in the air, swirling back and forth, making circles, pausing as though ready to swoop and finally covering the face that disappears behind them when Marta bursts out laughing. Borla draws closer and whispers something quickly into her ear, some word that takes no longer to say than it takes him to lean in to her then move away to watch her reaction. And then they both laugh.

 All indications are that in a few minutes Pablo will have the office to himself, that he’ll proceed as he does every evening, tidying his drawing board and desk, patting his top pocket to be sure that the tape measure is there where it should be and putting his smooth-paged notebook into the inside pocket of his jacket; he’ll attach the Caran d’Ache pencil between the second and third buttons of his shirt, with its point tucked in under the fabric, and finally he too will go, after all the others. However, things don’t always work out as imagined, and on that evening that Pablo Simó drew, yet again, his eleven-storey tower that will never be built, precisely at the moment that Borla says to Marta, “Want a lift anywhere?” there is a knock at the door and a young woman steps into the room, wearing black trainers, jeans and a white T-shirt, a woman carrying a much larger backpack than you might expect of someone merely popping in, a woman Pablo judges to be no more than twenty-five years old, and without any greeting or preliminaries she says:

 “Do any of you know Nelson Jara?”

 And at that moment, just as Pablo had always feared might one day come to pass, the world pauses for a fraction of a second before immediately beginning to spin at top speed in the opposite direction. All three of them, without answering the woman or saying anything, without even exchanging glances, feel themselves transported back through time to the night, three years ago, that they swore together never to revisit.

 “I’m sorry, but I’m looking for Nelson Jara…” the girl tries again.

 Borla is the first to break his trance and ask, “For whom?”

 “Nelson Jara,” she repeats.

 “It doesn’t ring a bell,” says Borla. Then he asks, “Does the name mean anything to you, Pablo? Do you know of any Nelson Jara?”

 Borla waits for the answer they agreed on, but Pablo Simó isn’t going to give it. “No, I don’t remember” – that’s what he’s supposed to say, but he says neither that nor anything else. He keeps quiet, following Borla in as far as his silence will take him, yet unable to utter a single word, for all that the other man is fixing him with that particular expression. How can Pablo deny what he knows, and what Marta knows and what Borla knows: that Nelson Jara is dead, buried a few feet beneath the heavy-wear tiles over which the three of them walk every day on their way into or out of the office, under the concrete floor of the parking lot, exactly where they left him that night, three years ago.

All Yours by Claudia Pineiro


 By then it was more than a month since Ernesto had last made love to me. Maybe even two months. I don’t know. It wasn’t as if it mattered all that much. I’m always really tired by the evening. You wouldn’t think it, but house- work can be exhausting if you’re the kind of person who likes to have everything perfect. If it was up to me, I’d be asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow. But a woman knows that if her husband goes such a long time without seeking her out, well, it can mean lots of things. I thought I ought to talk to Ernesto about this, ask him if anything was wrong. And I so nearly did. But then I said to myself, what if asking questions backfires on me, the way it did with Mummy? Because when she thought Daddy seemed a bit strange she went to him one day and said, “Is there a problem, Roberto?” And he said, “Yes, you’re the problem! I can’t stand you any more!” He left there and then, slamming the door be- hind him, and we never saw him again. Poor Mummy. Anyway, I had a pretty good idea of what was wrong with Ernesto. He was working like a dog all day, filling every spare minute with courses and workshops – so wasn’t it obvious that he’d be exhausted at night? And then I said to myself, “Rather than start asking questions, I’m going to trust the evidence of my own two eyes.” And what I saw was that we had a fantastic family, a daughter about to finish secondary school, a house to die for. And that Ernesto loved me – no one could deny that. He never deprived me of anything. So I calmed down and told myself, “The sex will return when the moment’s right; I’ve got so much, there’s no point getting obsessed about the one thing that’s lacking.” Because, after all, we’re not living in the Sixties any more, nowadays people know that there are other things that are just as important – or more so – than sex. The family, spirituality, getting on well, harmony. Plenty of couples who behave like sex gods in bed can hardly bear to look at each other the rest of the time. It’s true, isn’t it? So why go looking for trouble, like my mother did?

 But all too soon I found out that Ernesto was cheating on me. I was looking around for a pen one day, and since I couldn’t find one, I opened his briefcase and there it was: a love heart, drawn in lipstick, with the words “All Yours” across it, and signed “your true love”. Pretty corny stuff, but the truth is that at that moment I felt very hurt. My instinct was to throw it in his face, to say “What is this, you piece of shit?!” Fortunately, I chose instead to count to ten, took a deep breath – and did nothing at all. It was hard keeping up a front over dinner. Lali was in one of those moods when nobody can stand her, apart from Ernesto. It didn’t get to me any more; that’s just the way our daughter was, and I was used to it. But it bothered Ernesto. He would be trying to have a conversation and she would reply in monosyllables. Given my own recent discovery, I was hardly in the mood for repartee myself. But I was worried that they would notice something.

 I’m used to covering silences, stepping into the breach when a conversation’s floundering. It’s a kind of gift I have. To allay their suspicions, I told them I didn’t feel well, that I had a headache. I think they believed me. And while Ernesto pursued his monologue with Lali, I began to imagine what I was going to say to him. Because I had already ruled out my first reaction, which would have been to ask “What is this?” I mean, how would he have answered me? A piece of paper with a heart, the words “All Yours”, a signature. No, that would have been a stupid question. What mattered was finding out if the note signified something important to him or not. Because the truth is that, however painful it is to admit it, at some time or other, all women are deceived by their husbands. It’s like the menopause: it may come sooner or later, but nobody gets away scot-free. Sure enough, there are some who never find out, and they are the lucky ones, because life stays the same for them. While those of us who do find out start asking ourselves who she is, where we went wrong, what we should do, whether or not to be forgiving, how to make him pay for what he’s done – and the mental tangle we create becomes so great that, by the time he’s left the other woman, it’s too late to unpick it. We even run the risk of inventing a much more serious and complicated story than the real one. And I didn’t want to make the same mistake that so many other women make. Because there was no way that a woman who draws love hearts with lipstick and signs herself “your true love” could be anyone important in Ernesto’s life. I knew Ernesto: he loathed that sort of thing. “He’s just getting his rocks off,” I thought. Because women these days are shameless. They see a guy and they go after him, pursuing him until he feels like a wimp if he does nothing. “The truth is,” I told myself, “why confront Ernesto with some big scenario, when this woman’s going to be history in a week anyway?” Right?

 All that mattered was to be vigilant, to be sure that the relationship was not developing. So I started going through his pockets, opening his mail, keeping an eye on his diary, listening in on the extension when he was on the telephone. The kinds of things that any woman in my situation would do. As I had imagined, I didn’t find anything important. There were one or two more notes, but no cause for alarm. Until I started noticing that Ernesto was coming home later and later, that he was working at the weekends, that he was never around. The only thing he didn’t miss were meetings about the school leavers’ trip Lali was going on. As for everything else – absent without leave. And then I did begin to worry, because, if it was always the same woman he was seeing, this could get nasty. One day I followed him. It was a Tuesday – I remember the exact day because we had just been at a meeting about the details of Lali’s trip. Ernesto was already in a bad mood but that didn’t surprise me because this school trip was driving him round the bend. I thought he was over-reacting because everyone knows that those trips are a bit chaotic, but you have to trust in the education you’ve chosen for your daughter. What else can you do? Ernesto wanted to control every- thing – it all seemed badly organized to him. As soon as we got home, Lali shut herself in her room; she’s always holed up in there. We went to the kitchen to eat some- thing. That was when the telephone rang and Ernesto answered it. It was late, inappropriately late, I’d say, to call a family home. Ernesto became agitated, even more than he had been already, his voice began to rise – and then he went to the study for more privacy. Meanwhile I picked up the kitchen extension in time to hear her say: “If you don’t come right now I won’t answer for my own actions.” And I hung up.

 Ernesto came back to the kitchen, putting on a front though his eyes were glistening and his jaw was clenched.

 “There’s been a serious problem at the office,” he said. “The system’s crashed.”

 “That’s fine, Erni,” I said. “Off you go and reboot the system.”

 I slipped out after him, got into my car and followed his. I’m not a good driver, especially at night, but needs must. I could hardly call a taxi and say “Follow that car!” like on TV. I hadn’t the first idea of what I was going to find! He drove to the Palermo Woods and parked beside the lake. Switching off my lights so that he wouldn’t see me, I parked about a hundred yards away, then got out of the car and continued on foot. I hid behind a tree. Immediately she arrived – Truelove – also on foot. It was Alicia, his secretary. I never would have imagined that woman drawing a heart in lipstick and writing “All Yours” to a married man. I mean, I even liked her! She was a lovely girl, simple, with a style very similar to my own. She walked towards him and put her arms around his neck as if to kiss him, but Ernesto pushed her away. He seemed annoyed about something. There was an argument and she cried then tried to embrace him, but he seemed increasingly angry. I began to feel more at ease: this relationship clearly wasn’t going anywhere. Ernesto had never ever treated me that way, not in seventeen years of marriage. He made to leave and she tried to hold him back. He shook her off. She clung on to him and he ended up pushing her. Such was his bad luck, though, that her head caught a blow on a tree trunk in the undergrowth and she was knocked out cold. Ernesto went berserk, shaking her, taking her pulse, even trying to give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. All in vain – it was a lost cause. I didn’t know what to do; I couldn’t exactly step out from behind the tree and say “Shall I give you a hand, Ernesto?”

 So I went home. It seemed the most sensible thing to do.

Thursday Night Widows by Claudia Pineiro


 I opened the fridge and stood there for a moment with my hand still on the door, bathed in the cold light, gazing blankly at the illuminated shelves. Only the alarm going off, warning that the open door was letting out cold air, brought me back to my senses and reminded me why I was standing in front of the fridge. I looked for something to eat. I collected some of the previous day’s leftovers on a plate, warmed them up in the microwave and took them to the table. I didn’t put on a tablecloth, just one of those rafia place mats brought back from Brazil a couple of years ago, from one of the last holidays the three of us took together. I mean as a
family. I sat down opposite the window – it wasn’t my usual place at the table, but I liked to look out at the garden when I was eating alone. That night, the night in question, Ronie was having dinner at El Tano Scaglia’s house. The same as every Thursday – except that this day was different. It was a Thursday in September 2001. Thursday 27th September 2001. That Thursday. We were all still in shock after the attack on the Twin Towers and were opening our letters wearing rubber gloves, for fear of finding white powder inside. Juani had gone out. I didn’t ask him where, or with whom. Juani didn’t like to be asked. But I knew anyway. Or I thought I did.

 I ate almost without dirtying any plates. A few years back I had accepted that we could no longer afford full-time domestic staff, and now a woman came only twice a week to do the heavy work. Meanwhile, I had learned how to create the least possible mess: I knew how to keep my clothes crease-free and how to leave the bedclothes scarcely rumpled. It wasn’t so much that the chores were a burden, but washing plates, making beds and ironing clothes reminded me of what I had once had, and lost.

 I thought of going out for a walk, but I was nervous of running into Juani, in case he thought I was spying on him. It was hot; the night was star-filled and luminous. I didn’t want to go to bed if it meant lying awake, worrying about some property transaction that was not yet complete. At that time, it felt as though every deal were doomed to collapse before I’d had a chance to collect my commission. We had already weathered a few months of the economic crisis. Some people were putting a better face on it than others, but one way or another all our lives had changed – or were about to change. I went to my room to look for a cigarette. I had decided to go out, regardless of Juani, and I liked to smoke as I walked. As I passed my son’s room, I thought of going in to look for cigarettes there, but I knew that I wouldn’t find any. It would simply be an excuse to go in and poke around, and I had already done that this morning, when I had made his bed and tidied his room – and I hadn’t found what I was looking for then, either. I went on to my room, where there was a new packet on the bedside table; I opened it, took out a cigarette, lit it and went down the stairs, ready to go out. That was when Ronie came in and my plans changed. Nothing turned out as expected that night.

 Ronie went straight to the bar. “Strange you’re back so soon…” I said, from the foot of the stairs.

 “Yes,” he said, and went upstairs with a glass and a bottle of whisky. I waited for a moment, standing there, and then I followed him up. I walked past our bedroom, but he wasn’t in there. Nor was he in the bathroom. He had gone out to the terrace and was settled onto a lounger, preparing to drink. I pulled up a chair, sat down next to him and waited, following his gaze but saying nothing. I wanted him to tell me something. Not anything important or funny or even particularly meaningful – but just for him to play his usual part in the scanty exchange to which our conversations had been reduced over the years. We had an unspoken agreement to string set phrases together, to let words fill the silence, with the aim of never addressing the silence itself. They were empty words, husks of words. If I ever complained, Ronie argued that we spoke little because we spent too much time together – how could there be anything new to talk about when we had not been apart for most of the day? Yet these were our circumstances ever since Ronie had lost his job six years ago and had not found any other occupation, apart from one or two “projects” that never amounted to anything. I was not anxious to discover why our relationship had gradually become stripped of words, so much as why it was that I had only recently noticed the silence that had taken up residence in our house, like a distant relative whom one has no choice but to accommodate and look after. Why did it not cause me more pain? Perhaps it was because the pain was taking hold very gradually and in silence. Like the silence itself.

 “I’m going to fetch a glass,” I said.

 “Bring some ice, Virginia,” Ronie shouted after me, when I had already gone inside.

 I went to the kitchen and, while filling up the ice bucket, pondered different explanations for Ronie’s early return. My hunch was that he had argued with someone. With El Tano Scaglia, or with Gustavo, surely. Not with Martín Urovich, because Martín had given up fighting with anyone, even himself, ages ago. Back on
the terrace, I asked Ronie point-blank – I didn’t want to find out the next day, during a tennis game, from someone else’s wife. Ever since he had lost his job, Roni had nursed a resentment that was liable to flare up at the least opportune moment. That social mechanism that prevents us making unwelcome comments had long been faulty in my husband.

 “No, I didn’t have a fight with anyone.”

 “Then why are you back so early? You never come home on Thursdays earlier than three o’clock in the morning.”

 “I did today,” he said. Then he said nothing else, and left no room for me to say anything either. He stood up and moved his lounger closer to the balustrade, all but turning his back on me. It was less a gesture of rejection than of a spectator seeking the best spot from which to view a scene. Our house is diagonally opposite the Scaglias’. There are two or three others in between but, since ours is taller – and in spite of the Iturrías’ poplars, which interfere with the view somewhat – from that vantage point you can see almost all their garden and their swimming pool. Ronie was looking towards the pool. The lights were off and there wasn’t much to see other than vague shapes and outlines; one could make out the movement of water, sketching shifting shadows on the turquoise tiles.
 I stood up and leaned on the back of Ronie’s lounger. The silence of the night was underscored by the occasional rustle of the Iturrías’ poplars as they moved in the warm air, making a sound like rain in the starry night. I wasn’t sure whether to stay or go because, for all that Ronie seemed absent, he had not insinuated that I should leave – and that mattered to me. I watched him from behind, over the top of the wooden chair back. He kept moving around on the lounger without finding the right position; he seemed nervous. Later on I discovered that fear was the problem, not nerves – but I didn’t know that at the time nor would I have suspected such a thing, because Ronie had never been fearful of anything. Not even of that fearful thing that had been frightening me for months, pursuing me day and night. That fear that made me forget what I was doing while standing in front of the fridge. That fear that was always with me even when I feigned otherwise, even when I was laughing, or chatting about something, or playing tennis, or signing a document. That night, in spite of Ronie’s distance, the same fear prompted me to say, with false composure: “Juani’s gone out.”

 “Who with?” he wanted to know.

 “I didn’t ask him.”

 “What time is he coming back?”

 “I don’t know. He went on his roller blades.”

 There was another silence and then I said: “There was a message from Romina on the answerphone. She said she was waiting for him so that they could go out and do the rounds. Could ‘doing the rounds’ be some form of code between them?”

 “Rounds are rounds, Virginia.”

 “I shouldn’t worry, then?”


 “He must be with her.”

“He must be with her.” And we both fell silent again. There were more words later, I think, though I don’t remember. More of those pat phrases to which we had grown accustomed. Ronie poured himself another whisky and I passed him the ice. He grabbed a handful of ice cubes and some of them fell on the floor and slid towards the balustrade. His eyes followed them and it seemed as though he had forgotten about the house opposite for a moment. He looked at the ice cubes and I looked at him. And perhaps we would have stayed in these poses, but at that very moment the lights went on at the Scaglias’ swimming pool and voices could be heard amid the rustling of poplar leaves. El Tano’s laughter. Music; it sounded like some sort of wistful, contemporary jazz.

 “Diana Krall?” I asked, but Ronie said nothing. He had gone tense again; he stood up, kicked away the ice cubes, and returned to his seat. He raised his clenched fists to his mouth, gritting his teeth. I realized that he was hiding something from me, something he dared not let out of that mouth clamped shut. It had something to do with whatever he was watching so intently. An argument, or resentment, a slight that had rankled. Humiliation disguised as a joke: that was El Tano’s speciality, I thought. Ronie stood up once more and went to the balustrade to get a better view. He drained the whisky glass. Now he was blocking my view through the poplars, watching something I could not see. But I heard a splash and I guessed that someone had dived into the Scaglias’ pool.

 “Who jumped in?” I asked.

 There was no answer and the truth was that I didn’t really care who had jumped in, but I cared about the silence, which was like a wall I kept banging into every time I tried to get closer. Tired of making futile efforts, I decided to go downstairs. Not because I was annoyed, but because it was obvious that Ronie wasn’t with me at all, but across the street, throwing himself into the pool with his friends. While I was still at the top of the stairs, the jazz that was wafting over from El Tano’s house stopped, right in the middle of a riff, breaking it off.

 I went down to the kitchen and rinsed out my glass for longer than was necessary, my head filling up again with more thoughts than it had room for. Juani was on my mind, not Ronie, no matter what distraction methods I used to avoid thinking about him. Like those people who count sheep to get to sleep, I focused on work that was pending at the estate agency: whom I was going to take to see the Gómez Pardo house; how I was going to secure finances for the Canetti sale; that deposit I had forgotten to charge the Abrevayas. Then up again popped Juani – not Ronie. Juani, in even sharper focus. I dried the glass and put it away, then took it out again and filled it with water; I was going to need something to help me sleep that night. Something to knock me out. There must be a pill in my medicine cabinet that would do the trick. Fortunately I had no time to take anything, because just then I heard hurried footsteps, a shout and the dry, hard thud of something striking the decking. I ran out and found my husband lying on the ground covered in blood and with one of his leg bones protruding through the skin. I went dizzy, as though everything around me were spinning, but I knew I must get a grip on myself because I was alone and I had to look after him, and thank goodness I hadn’t taken anything because I was going to have to make a tourniquet – and I didn’t know how to do that – to tie a rag somehow, a clean towel, to staunch the blood and then call an ambulance; no, not an ambulance because they take too long – better to go straight to the hospital and leave a note for Juani: “Daddy and I have gone to do something but we’ll be back very soon. If you need me, call the mobile. Everything’s fine. I hope you are too, love Mummy.”

 While I was dragging him towards the car, Ronie cried out in pain, and the cry galvanized me.

 “Virginia, take me to El Tano’s!” he shouted. I ignored this, believing him to be delirious, and somehow I manhandled him into the back of the car.

 “Take me to El Tano’s, for fuck’s sake!” he shouted again before passing out (from the pain, they said later in the hospital – but that wasn’t it). I drove fast and badly, ignoring the speed bumps and signs that said “Slow down. Children playing.” I didn’t even stop when I saw Juani bolting across a side street with no shoes on. Romina was behind him. As if they were running away from something – those two are always running away from something, I thought. And forgetting their roller blades somewhere or other. Juani is always losing his stuff. But I could not start thinking about Juani. Not that night. On the way to the entrance gate, Ronie woke up. Still woozy, he looked out of the window, trying to see where he was, but seemingly unable to make sense of things. He wasn’t shouting any more. Two streets before leaving The Cascade we passed Teresa Scaglia’s SUV.

 “Was that Teresa?” Ronie asked.


 Ronie clutched his head and began to cry, softly at first, a kind of lamentation which grew into stifled sobbing. I saw him in the rear-view mirror, curled up in pain. I spoke to him, trying to calm him, but this proved impossible, so I resigned myself to the litany, just as one resigns oneself to a gradually encroaching pain, or to conversations full of empty words.

 By the time we arrived at the hospital, I was no longer paying attention to my husband’s weeping. But it continued nonetheless.

 “Why are you crying like this?” asked the duty doctor.

 “Is it very painful?”
 “I’m scared,” replied Ronie.