One or Two Landscapes

Graciela entered the bedroom, took off her light overcoat, looked at herself in the dressing table mirror,  and frowned. Then she removed her blouse and skirt and threw herself on the bed. She bent one of her legs, stretched it as much as she could, and suddenly noticed a run in her stocking. She sat down, took off her stockings, and began to inspect them for another run. Afterward, she made a small pile of them and placed it on a chair. She looked at herself in the mirror again and pressed her fingers against her temples.

The waning light of an afternoon that had been cool and windy still entered through the window. She parted one of the lace curtains and looked out. There were six or seven children playing in front of Building B. Among them she recognized Beatriz, her hair uncombed and agitated, but openly enjoying herself. Graciela smiled without much conviction and passed her hand through her hair.

The telephone rang next to the bed. It was Rolando.

Graciela lay down on the bed again to talk more comfortably.

"What an unpleasant afternoon, don't you think?" he said.

"Well, it's not so bad. I like the wind. I don't know why, but when I walk against the wind, it seems to erase things off of me. I mean to say: things that I want to erase."

"Which things?"

"Don't you read the newspapers? Don't you know that's called intervention in the internal affairs of another nation?"

"That’s fine . . . 'republic.'"

"At least, a friendly republic, right?"

Graciela switched the receiver to her left hand and ear so she could scratch herself behind her right ear.

"What's new?"

"A letter from Santiago."

"Oh, great."

"It's a little enigmatic."

"In what sense?" said Rolando.

"He talks about stains on the walls and shapes he’s imagined since he was a child."

"It used to happen to me, too."

"It happens to everyone, doesn't it?"

"Actually, that obsession may not be very original, but it doesn’t seem enigmatic to me either. Or did you want me to send you a proclamation against those warmonger soldiers?"

"Don't be silly. It just seems to me that he was once more daring."

"Yes, of course, and maybe it was because of that daring that you didn’t receive any news from him for more than a month.  

"I realize that. It was a general precaution, one of many collective punishments."

"Which are generally based on a childish pretext, such as: while writing, someone might consciously or otherwise overstep limits that are not pre-existing, but still real."

Graciela didn't respond. After a few seconds, Rolando continued speaking.

"How is Beatriz?"

"Playing outside, with her gang."

"I like her. She's healthy and energetic."

"Yes, much more than me."

"It's not that simple. It's true that the majority of her energy comes from Santiago, but it also comes from you."

"From Santiago, yes."

"And from you, too. It's just that you've been depressed lately."

"That might be. The truth is I don't see any way out. In addition, my job bores me incredibly."

"Eventually, you'll find another job that is more stimulating. For now, be satisfied."

"Now it follows that you're going to tell me I was lucky."

"You were lucky."

"It also follows that you're going to tell me that not all of the exiles from the Southern Cone have found such highly rewarding jobs with only six hours of work a day, and as a bonus, free Saturdays."

"Not all of the exiles from the Southern Cone have found such highly rewarding jobs, et cetera, et cetera. May I add that you deserve it because you're a very efficient secretary?"

"You may. But my efficiency is precisely one of the reasons for my boredom. It would be more pleasant if from time to time I made a mistake."

"I don't believe that. It's possible that you become bored with efficiency, but in general, the bosses and managers become bored much more and much faster with inefficiency."

Once again Graciela didn't answer, and once again it was Rolando who restarted the dialogue.

"Can I make you a proposition?"

"Yes, if it's not indecent."

"Let's say it's semidecent."

"Then I'll only authorize a portion of it. Go ahead."

"Do you want to go to the movies?"

"No, Rolando."

“It's a good film."

"I don't doubt it. I have confidence in your taste. At least your taste in films."

"Furthermore, you'll shake the cobwebs out a bit."

"I'm resigned to my cobwebs," said Graciela.

"Even more serious. I repeat my invitation. Do you want to go to the movies?"

"No, Rolando. I really appreciate it, but I'm exhausted. If I didn't have to cook something for Beatriz, I swear I would go to bed without eating."

"That isn't good either. Do anything before letting yourself be defeated by routine."

Graciela placed the receiver between her jaw and shoulder. Evidently, she had ample experience in that secretarial maneuver. Furthermore, it left her two hands free, on this occasion free for her to look at her nails and go over them from time to time with a small file.

"Rolando."

"Yes, I'm listening."

"Have you ever traveled by railroad with another person, seated face-to-face, each of you next to a window?"

"I think so. Although I don't remember the precise occasion right now. What does that have to do with anything?"

"Haven't you ever noticed that if both passengers start to discuss the landscape they're observing, the comments of the passenger who is seated facing the front are not exactly the same as those of the passenger who is seated facing the back."

"I confess that I've never noticed that aspect. But it's possible."

"I, on the other hand, have always noticed. Because I loved watching the landscape when I was a little girl traveling on the railroad. It was one of my favorite pastimes. I never liked to read on the train, nor do I now, if I travel by train. I'm fascinated by that whirling landscape that runs alongside, but in the opposite direction. But when I sit facing forward , it seems that the landscape is coming toward me and it makes me feel optimistic; what do I know."

"And if you sit facing the back?"

"Then it seems that the landscape is moving away, dissolving, dying. Frankly, it depresses me."

"And how are you sitting now?"

"Don't make fun of me. I realized this clearly the other day when I started rereading Santiago's letters. Santiago, who is in prison, writes as if life is coming to meet him. To me, on the other hand, who is, should I say, free, it appears that sometimes that landscape is moving away, dissolving, disappearing."

"That's not bad, as an attempt at poetry, of course."

"It's not an attempt at poetry, it isn't even prose. It’s simply the way I feel."

"Well, now I'll talk to you seriously. Do you know that I'm worried about your state of mind? And if I'm quite convinced that each person is the only one who can solve his own problems, it's also true that sometimes he can help, only help, someone who has plenty of confidence. If you want, I offer myself for the kind of help that you need. But what is essential is that you conduct a profound study of yourself.

"Conduct a profound study of myself? Could be. Could be. But I'm not sure I'll like it."

Translation of “Heridos y Contusos (Uno o Dos Paisajes)” from Primavera Con Una Esquina Rota (Editorial Nueva Imagen, 1982). Copyright Mario Benedetti. By arrangement with Guillermo Schavelson & Asociados, Agencia Literaria, www. schavelzon.com. Translation copyright 2010 by Harry Morales. All rights reserved.