Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fiction: "Daughter of Silence" - By Manuela Fingueret (Translated by Darrel B. Lockhart)

The following excerpt from the novel Daughter of Silence (The Americas - Texas Tech University Press, 2012), by Argentine writer Manuela Fingueret, is published with authorization.


WHEN EVITA PERÓN ENTERED INTO IMMORTALITY, for the first time I became acutely aware of the relationship between things that demand our undivided attention and daily life, which only pretends to go on around us.

Since then, winter has always smelled of death to me.

The perfume of jasmine announcing the arrival of summer, butterflies, hair and clothing flowing in the breeze, allowed me to imagine I could find a new place in my world. I seemed to drag the rest around with me like a burden, an unsettling awareness of shapeless spaces created by my mother and set adrift on a ship that never fully set anchor in the port of Buenos Aires. With time I became the captain of that ghost ship. Her attempts to conceal that legacy were brimming with food, layers of warm clothing and, at times a gentle embrace during my weekly bath that she gave to me in the tub filled with warm water. A longing caress, warm, snug, moist, felt through the towel. 

“Essay topic”: Mother’s Day. I used to invent a different Tinkeleh for this homework assignment. She opened my notebook once, which almost never happened, and came across the image of her own unrecognizable face. She didn’t know what to say. She would have loved to say something, but breaking the pact of silence between us was unthinkable. Her heavy sigh became the strongest element of the bond between us.

My father is a meticulous storyteller, from Bible stories to family chronicles. I learned from him to follow the paths of exotic tales that took place both in the realm of fantasy and the concrete world. We covered it all, from using tools or making adhesive to fix furniture, to delving into the Jewish past through literature and interweaving the stories of ancestors and those close to us. How we cherished those moments together. In school there were three basic subject areas: letters, numbers, and useless things. I love letters, I detest numbers, and I was forced to take useless things. Cross-stitch, for example, mending old socks, sewing a hem on a skirt. I felt like dashing off to the worlds I discovered wide-eyed with my father. I preferred a hundred times over the macramé shoulder bags, the fishing rods, and the carving boards that the boys made to those insipid chores of “young ladies.” The way social roles are assigned is appalling; pre-arranged attitudes and roles ruin the fun in everything.

She’s here again, sustaining a windstorm of memories with yerba mate and milk. Here, in this place, she’s stuck to my skin, tattooed like a number.

Hysterical teachers who yell more than they speak, neighborhood women whose words are as frayed as their bedroom slippers, all passing through life on the installment plan. That’s how I felt at times, like I was on a payment plan, always choosing between woodworking and cross-stitch, or the bread that makes up the body and soul of Tinkeleh. Those that she cared and longed for remain hidden amongst the shadows. My world consisted of the afternoon soaps or the Cine Lux radio show on Saturday night. Fernando Siro and Rosa Rosen, Julio César Barton and “The Princess Who Wanted to Live.” I imagined my own Gregory Peck getting out of his Fiat 600 to take me in his arms. And, of course, there were the books with which I created my living environment. Being able to discover the melody hidden behind words turned me into an avid reader, an attentive listener, and a subtle observer. Among the white pages and the silence, I was able to interpret the symbols of a narrative that transpires between what’s known as reality and the afternoon soaps.

Smokes, yerba mate, literature. Saratoga, Cruz Malta, Corín Tellado. Yerba mate, smokes, literature. Taragü., Le Mans, Simone de Beauvoir. Literature, yerba mate, and smokes. Emily Dickenson, Cruz Malta, and Marlboro. Choosing. An obsession? Or militancy? Tinkeleh, Rivka, Hannah, Eva Perón. Without repeating or stalling. Mate, literature, smokes, militancy. That’s how it got started. In that order. Unsweetened mate with milk, lots of poetry, some novels, constant reading, filtered cigarettes, and a lot of smoke to fill my lungs with Evita.

My father played the role of fire stoker in all this. Topics and concerns: the destiny of Israel, the survival of Judaism, chess,Yiddish, a few legendary writers. A narrative I’ve been embroidering since adolescence with a sloppy but convincing stitch. Every once in a while I completed a woodworking project that took the home economics teacher by surprise. That’s how I made up for the embarrassment over the horrible scarf I knitted wider that it was long or the unacceptable knickers that turned out like briefs and made me the butt of jokes about my so-called feminine abilities.

At fifteen I added splendid tales about heroes and novels with various Quixotes. I invented stories while daydreaming of her and watching her slowly drift off. I also included the Zionist fervor of my father, who considered himself a reservist at the ready to be called upon by the Israeli army. I left aside the neighborhood girls, so close and yet so far from being the women that I desired them to be and that they refused to be. Goodbye, Glostora Tango Club, Cine Lux Radio, Samson and Delilah, forever. I crumpled them all into a ball and I threw it into a little container I used for a wastebasket. We shall meet again in one of Che Guevara’s chapters, in Neruda’s “Heights of Machu Picchu,” or in the punches thrown by Bonavena. With or without them, within reach of Roberto Arlt or one of his melancholy ruffians who take me in along the way and we keep each other company without making any demands.

No demands? Those were the days! I, who molded myself in the image and likeness of duty.

A hand claws at this hood underneath which I desperately try to breathe. What else will they do if I don’t play by the rules? Do they have any concept of mercy? What are you rambling about, Rita? Am I who I hoped to be or am I the hand that pulls at this rag as if it were the curtain for a show that demands many encores? I’m an actress in an unstable cast of characters. I’m a momentary detour in her sea of uncertainty. I
did set anchor in the Río de la Plata, and in this unrecognizable frozen morgue that’s overflowing with viscous anger-filled bodies, in a fierce struggle with that hell they try to reproduce in their harsh cackles.

Tinkeleh, Rivka, Hannah, Evita. Am I headed in your direction? Toward each one of you? Life flows from them into me. The furtive passion of what I desired, of what I don’t yet know, of all they inspired in me flows from me to them.

I drag them with me as I drag myself desperately along.

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