A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.




 

Only the circumstances were false, the time, and one or two names.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ford Falcon 

A few days ago I read in my NY Times a story, Daughter of ‘Dirty War,’ Raised by Man Who Killed Her Parents, by Alexei Barrionuevo. It rattled me. Barrionuevo began:


BUENOS AIRES — Victoria Montenegro recalls a childhood filled with chilling dinnertime discussions. Lt. Col. Hernán Tetzlaff, the head of the family, would recount military operations he had taken part in where “subversives” had been tortured or killed. The discussions often ended with his “slamming his gun on the table,” she said.

It took an incessant search by a human rights group, a DNA match and almost a decade of overcoming denial for Ms. Montenegro, 35, to realize that Colonel Tetzlaff was, in fact, not her father — nor the hero he portrayed himself to be.

Instead, he was the man responsible for murdering her real parents and illegally taking her as his own child, she said.
The article ended with a chilling paragraph:

She says she still does not hate the Tetzlaffs. But “the heart doesn’t kidnap you, it doesn’t hide you, it doesn’t hurt you, it doesn’t lie to you all of your life,” she said. “Love is something else.”


I was further affected to learn that in spite of what she knew of her ‘guardian’, when he was put in jail she visited and brought him food. It was that bit of information that took me back to a rainy Seattle afternoon in 1994 to interview and photograph writer Michael Dibdin.


Michael Dibdin

Rosemary had refused to accompany me into Dibdin’s house so she waited outside. Once the interview was over and I had taken my photo, Dibdin asked about me and when I told him of my Argentine roots and my fondness for Borges he told me that he had coincidentally written a short story involving Borges back in 1990. “This is the only short story I have ever written that was ever published. It was commissioned by GQ Magazine and re-printed in Best Short Stories – 1991 Edited by Giles Gordon & David Hughes. I thanked him for his hospitality and left. As I was about to open the car door, Dibdin shouted in my direction, “Alex, wait. I am going to get a Xerox copy of my story for you.” He did and as soon as Rosemary and I got home I read the story. It was startling and still is every time I re-read it.

In the story, A Death in the Family, protagonist Eva goes to a Buenos Aires bookstore, on Calle Corrientes that was frequented in the afternoons by Jorge Luís Borges. It was called Pigmalion. Both my mother and father were patrons of Pigmalion as it was one of the few bookstores in Buenos Aires that sold books in English. In fact in 1965/66 (did I somehow miss running into Borges?) I purchased at least two books there. One was The Philosophy of Hegel by Carl J. Friedrich and the other was Markings by Dag Hammarskjöld. In Dibdin’s short story Eva is asked which story in her book, his book, Ficciones is her favourite. She answers Emma Zunz. Borges dedicates her book with that story’s last line, ‘Only the circumstances were false, the time, and one or two names.’ Both Dibdin’s story and Borges’s Emma Zunz have similarities that force one to think that Dibdin indeed read Emma Zunz and it inspired him to write A Death in the Family.


Pigmalion - The Philsophy of Hegel
Carl J. Friedrich

But there is a mistake in Dibdin’s story that at first I thought was a mistake. Now I am not so sure. Dibdin, now deceased, liked to play games. This could be one of them if I only could figure it out. You see I have a copy of Ficciones and I know there is no Emma (Eva??) Zunz in it. Emma Zunz is in another Borges book El Aleph. In Dibdin’s story Eva’s surname is Marqués. That resembles Gabriel García Márquez surname but the use of an s and an accent in the wrong syllable I am sure is not unintended.

In Buenos Aires in the 1960s the Ford Falcons I often saw on the streets did not merit any head turning. These cars, laer, painted a sickly blue green, were used in the 70s and 80s to whisk away the desaparecidos (mentioned in Dibdin) ot secret places of detention which included the now infamous Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada on Avenida Libertador. I often went there in my capacity as an Argentine Navy conscript sent to deliver messages, and as Dibdin writes, it was a beautiful place. But then torture had not yet begun.

One does not have to be Borgesian to see so many parallels in Emma Zunz, A Death in the Family and in Barrionuevo’s reporting on Victoria Montenegro and thus to reflect again on that last line from Emma Kunz:

And the outrage which she had suffered was also real, only the circumstances were false, the time, and one or two names.

As for the presence of this photograph that I had forgotten I had taken sometime in the 90s I recalled it as soon as I read in Barrionuevo’s account:


Adolfo Pérez Esquivel - Nobel Peace Prize 

Priests and bishops in Argentina justified their support of the government on national security concerns, and defended the taking of children as a way to ensure they were not “contaminated” by leftist enemies of the military, said Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, a Nobel Prize-winning human rights advocate who has investigated dozens of disappearances and testified at the trial last month.

And finally to end this I feel I must include Dibdin's story. Both editors of the book are dead and GQ's data base does not include Michael Dibdin. The book is out of print. How can you, if you have gotten this far not be caught with the desire to read A Death in the Family? And if you are further interested in reading Borges's Emma Zunz it is here. We must thank Hadi Kamil Deeb for this translation. And here Emma Zunz in Spanish.












A Death in the Family
Michael Dibdin


Thank you for agreeing to see me at such short notice, Doctor. As a matter of fact, I had been going to consult you any case, before I had this relapse. You were highly recommended by people I spoke to before leaving. Did you know that Argentina has more psychiatrists per capita than any other country? It’s the only world record we still hold, our one sad distinction.

However, it was out of the question for me to seek treatment there, as you will see. And then as soon as I arrived here in London, I unfortunately had one of my bad spells. Yes, I’m off the drugs now. I don’t like taking them for any longer than I must. They don’t cure me, they just turn me into someone else, someone who doesn’t need to be cured. Perhaps that is all that can [italics] be done, I don’t know. That’s what I want you to tell me. But first I must explain the problem. It won’t take long.

I am a porteña a native of Buenos Aires. I had a privileged upbringing. My father was a naval officer, my mother a direct descendant of Julio Roca, the general who led the extermination of the the indigenous tribes. Just when they had given up hope of being able to have a family – my mother was in her early forties by then – I appeared. But his remained a unique event. As if to try to make up to this, I was denied nothing. I attended an exclusive private school, kept a horse and several dogs, had tennis tuition from an ex-Wimbledon competitor, and so on. Every winter we went skiing at Bariloche or San Martín, the summers we spent at our villa near Punta del Este in Uruguay.



Like many only children, I was imaginative and intellectually advanced for my age. I read as widely as I could, given that my parents had very conservative views on what was and was not suitable. I can still remember my father’s fury on discovering the novel by Sartre I had found at the lending library at Harrods on Calle Florida. Sartre was a communist and an atheist, I was told, and his books subversive propaganda. If you want to read modern literature, he said, read our own Jorge Luís Borges, who is famous all over the world, and whose political views are perfectly sound.

It was like falling into a whirlpool. My ideas about history and personality and character, which were just beginning to form, were promptly dissolved by the power of Borges’s imagination, plunged back into a dreamlike state of potentiality where anything could happen to anyone at any time. It was inevitable that I should make the pilgrimage to the bookshop where the old man was to be found most afternoons. Eventually I overcame my trepidation and asked him to sign a copy of Ficciones..

The huge, soft, benign face turned slowly, the eyes seemingly fixed n someone standing slightly to one side of me. I knew very well that Borges was blind, of course, but this impression was so strong that I couldn’t help glancing around. Needless to say, there was no one there.



He asked me which of his stories I preferred. I mentioned one I had just read, the only title I could think of on the spur of the moment. A peculiar smile appeared on his lips, as though appreciating an irony only he was aware of. Then he wrote a few lines in the book, and signed it. I was too nervous to look at the inscription until I was outside the shop and on my way home. It was the last line of Emma Zunz [Italics], the story I had mentioned. ‘Only the circumstances were false, the time, and one or two names.’ I assumed it was the influence of these words which had led me to the unfortunate mistake in the dedication. My first name, Eva, was correct, but instead of Martinez, Borges had written ‘Marqués’.

I was bitterly disappointed, but I didn’t have the nerve to go back and point out the mistake. That evening my father asked to see the book. The moment he saw what Borges had written, he flinched as though he had been slapped by an invisible hand. Then he ripped the page out and threw it into the fire. ‘The old man’s brain has gone soft,’ he said. The matter was never referred to again, and when I looked at the book a few days later there was not sign of the torn flyleaf. Someone must have bought a new copy and exchanged it for the spoiled one. It was as if the whole incident had been cancelled from my life, as though it had never happened.


This disturbing and inexplicable event just seemed just one more proof of the widening gulf between me and my parents. Increasingly, I felt that our home life was just a sham, a hollow façade. It never occurred to me that this was anything but the sort of adolescent alienation which my friends were all going through too. I assumed that it was just part of growing up, of breaking the parental mould. I was proud of my dark hair and swarthy skin because they seemed to mark me out as destined for a more exotic and colourful future than the pallidly correct couple I lived with. I liked to imagine that I looked Jewish, because that seemed to sum up everything my parents were not, everything they rejected and dismissed. But In reality I never questioned their explanation that my looks represented a genetic throwback to a strain of Moreno [italics] beauty last exemplified by my great grandmother, whose oil portrait, which hung above the fireplace, was always cited whenever the topic came up.

The next episode occurred when my father and I went to Punta del Este one weekend in early summer. My mother stayed behind. She had been suffering from heart trouble for some time, and had also taken a dislike to the villa after an attempted robbery at a neighbouring property in which one of our friends had been shot and seriously injured. Since she would not come my father had invited one of his colleagues from the Navy Mechanics School to join us. Our flight left early in the morning. As usual, we took a taxi to the Aeroparque. I sat in the back, between the two men. I as in that state between sleeping and waking, when reality has not yet exerted its reassuring tyranny. The streets were almost empty. The taxi drove fast, ignoring red lights and stop signs. Darkness surged n through the open windows.

Suddenly, I was overcome by the knowledge that all this had happened before, though not to me. Although brief, the experience was intensely threatening, inducing an almost physical sense of nausea. I slumped forward, lost in the tidal currents and swirling memories of this alien self. The sensation eventually passed, but the sense of horror and panic, of utter helplessness and sickening terror, remained with me throughout the whole weekend, and indeed long after.

That summer I passed my examinations with distinction. As a reward my parents sent me to Europe to study English for a month at Oxford. I was in the centre of that town one afternoon when it suddenly started to rain. I took shelter in the doorway of a bookshop and when it became clear that the rain was going to last for some time I went inside to browse around. I normally love books, but I was feeling lonely and homesick, and the rows and rows of volumes seemed to threaten to crush me beneath the weight of Anglo-Saxon culture. So when a title in my own language suddenly pooped out at me, I greeted it like a friend sighted amidst a crowd of strangers.

The book was called Nunca Más - ‘Never again’ – which reminded me about Poe’s poem about the raven. Unfortunately only the title was in Spanish, and the text was too difficult for me to read. Leafing through it, however, I found to my surprise and delight a detailed plan and description of the Navy Mechanics School where my father worked. There was also a section of photographs showing dull-looking building in the federal capital and various provincial cities like Tucumán and Formosa. I couldn’t see why anybody would want to photograph places like that when there were so many great beauty spots in Argentina, but I bought the book anyway, as a nostalgic gesture, a token of home.

Over the next few days I spent odd moments struggling through the book with the help of a dictionary. I gradually came to realize that it was an official report by the commission set up to investigate the fate of those who had disappeared during the so-called ‘dirty war’. This was a period when my country was brought to the brink of anarchy as a result of a campaign of terror waged by foreign-trained communist subversives. It was only after an arduous struggle that the armed forces had finally succeeded in ensuring the survival of civilized western, Christian values.

That at least was what I had been brought up to believe. The book told a very different story. In horrific detail it described a nightmare world in which men, women and children of all ages, most of them having no connection whatever with the guerrilla movement, were dragged from their homes by armed thugs and taken to secret detention centres where they were tortured for weeks or even months before being shot and their bodies burned, buried in unmarked mass graves or dumped at sea. When women gave birth during the detention, their babies were taken from them and given to the families of the military to bring up as their own, while the mothers were killed. One of the principal centres for these activities had been the Navy Mechanics School, that elegant black-and-white building on Avenida Libertador where I had visited my father on numerous occasions.



During my last week in England I fell seriously ill. My temperature soared to a critical fever point and I was rushed into hospital for a series of tests. Unknown to me, the school contacted my father in Buenos Airs, One evening I awoke from a delirious sleep to find him standing by my bed. ‘My poor Eva,’ he said, wiping my brow. ‘I am afraid I have some bad news for you’re your mother…’He broke off, sighing deeply. It took an immense effort to meet his eyes. ‘My mother is dead,’ I said.

A look of amazement and fear crossed his face and then he nodded slowly. From that moment I had no further doubts. I knew everything that had happened as though I had been there. Indeed, I had [italics]. I had been there when my mother was seized early one morning and driven away in a fast car, the streets almost empty, the darkness surging in through the open windows. I had been saturated in her terror, her panic, her agony. Amniotic fluid is an excellent conductor of electricity, you know. Hooded in her womb, I had been spared nothing except her death. Torn from her labouring body, chained to the delivery bed, I was handed over to one of the officers who had supervised her torture, a man whose wife was unfortunately unable to have children.

And now she was dead too. I was told a massive heart attack had felled her, like a shot from an executioner’s pistol. A few days later we flew home to attend the funeral. My friends found me a changed person, but ascribed this to the shock of my mother’s death. I gave up eating meat, which in Argentina is practically a national crime. I also broke all relations with all the young men who were competing for my attention. Ever since learning about one particularly obscene torment inflicted to women detainees I visualized every male as carrying a live rat between his legs, savage and voracious, eager to burrow its way into my inner tissue.

After several months had passed, my guardian, as I now thought of him, finally lost patience with what he took to be my exaggerated grief and tried to impose his old authority once again. Having vainly attempted to persuade, cajole or threaten, he laid hands on me, and in a way I could not regards as purely paternal. I was by now a well-developed young woman, his wife was dead, and the taboo of incest was inoperative since he knew that I was his daughter in name only. He was expecting me to submit, of course. He was expecting a victim, gagged by dutiful obedience, hooded by filial affection.

Instead, all of my pent-up loathing burst out with a venom that amazed even me. I lost all my self-control. I screamed abuse at him, calling him a filthy old man, a rapist, a murderer, a devil. Shocked by this transformation of his doting darling into a ravening angel of vengeance, he backed away, muttering incoherent apologies and denials. I could have pressed on, revealing everything that I had guessed and demanding to know the rest, but I had enough sense to realize that my unexpected victory had been due to surprise, an advantage I would never have again. From now on, I would have to be as cold as ice, and plan my every move.

It was his custom to take a taxi back from work, but not all the way to the house. We lived in San Isidro, a secluded suburb of quiet, leafy streets overlooking the River Plate. My guardian used to get the taxi to drop him off at the turning of the main road, claiming that during the ten-minute walk to the house all the cares of his working day dropped away, leaving him free to enjoy his family life to the full. Now that I knew how he had spent his working day, and the exact nature of those ‘cares’, I trembled to remember how I had rushed to be picked up and kissed when he came home, and how by tickling me he had made me laugh until I cried.

I hired the car in Avellaneda, a tough southern suburb where animals are slaughtered and packaged for human consumption. I rode the colectivo [a Buenos Aires bus] to the end of the line, then walked until I found the bar I was looking for. I recognized it the moment I saw it, a poky little tavern at the corner of two unremarkable streets lost in the vast, anonymous grid of the Buenos Aires suburbs. I had never seen it before, and would never be able to find it again. It was a place with no history and no future. It existed only in that moment, a mocked-up frontage for the scene I was about to play.

Inside, five men were playing cards. I went up to the bar, ordered a coffee and told the proprietor that I needed the use of a car for a few hours and was prepared to pay well. I was expecting him to contact a friend, maybe one of the card players, and arrange to steal a vehicle. I expected to have all my money stolen, and perhaps be raped into the bargain. I was even expecting to have to come back another day, to another bar, and go through it all again. I was prepared for all that, and more. But the owner simply shrugged and handed me a set of keys. ‘You can take mine’ he said. The car was a sixties Ford Falcon, one of those finned and winged monsters. It also happened to be the vehicle most commonly used by the snatch squads who disappeared people during the dirty war.

My guardian was crossing a side street, about halfway between the main road and our house when the accident occurred. I had parked close to where the taxi dropped him, then circled round. As he appeared I slowed to give way, and gestured him across. I was wearing a headscarf and dark glasses. He waved his thanks and stepped out into the street. I was aiming for his legs, but in the end I took rather more of him. By the time I reached the hospital, having returned the car, they had completed the radiography. Both legs were broken, one in three places, as well as the left hip, the collarbone and three ribs. This however, the doctors dismissed as merely superficial. What really worried them was the hairline fracture of the spine which could lead to permanent paralysis. Only time would tell. Once the sedation wore off, it became apparent that the patient was in ‘some considerable discomfort’, as the nurse put it. The police had been informed of the incident, but unfortunately my guardian was unable to give them any information about the driver or the car.

Six weeks later he finally completed his trip home in a wheelchair. The doctors held out hopes of his eventually gaining at least a measure of independent mobility, but for the foreseeable future he would require full-time nursing. I took it upon myself to cater to all his needs. I fed him, bathed him, dressed and undressed him, read to him, took him to the lavatory. This selfless behaviour was praised by all our friends and relations and held up as an example for less sublimely devoted sons and daughters. The priest at our local church made me the subject of an inspirational homily, while a Peronist deputy referred to my conduct as ‘stirring proof that the ideals which made this republic great, based on the traditional principles of respect for the Church, the state and the family, have not been extirpated by the excesses of libertarian democracy’.

Months passed before my guardian’s condition improved sufficiently for me to suggest the possibility of our visiting the villa in Uruguay. An isolated property set on a ridge of land between a deserted sandy beach and a swampy lagoon where flamingos swarmed, he had bought it as a refuge from the pressures of everyday life, and it had always been associated in his mind with happy memories and a relaxing, informal way of life. In Buenos Aires we had a large staff to run the house and spent much time entertaining and doing the social round, but at Punta del Este we looked after ourselves and so no one but a few close friends. The psychological effect, I argued, would undoubtedly be beneficial. As for the practical problems, was not my ability to care lovingly for my father already a national legend?

The specialists and the consultants gave their unanimous approval. As usual, we flew direct to the property in a small plane belonging to a family friend. Cattle and sheep graze on the open pampas near the villa. We passed over the estancia  some fifteen kilometres up the dirt road, which is the nearest human habitation, made a preliminary sweep to clear the animals off the grass landing strip, then circled back to touch down. Ten minutes later the plane took off again, leaving us alone.

I knew exactly what was going to happen. I had thought about little else during the long dreary days and nights I had devoted to my patient’s needs, filling one hole, cleaning the other, hauling that deadweight of flesh about the house. I had come to know it very well, and had plenty of time to consider its fate in some detail. It still wasn’t easy, now the moment had come to act. That night the villa was a veritable Gethsemane for me. But whenever I found myself wishing that this cup might pass from me, I recalled the fate of my real father and my resolve was strengthened. The whiskey I drank helped too. People speak of personality as though it were a fixed attribute, like the colour of one’s eyes or the pattern of a fingerprint. We all collaborate in maintaining this fiction, precisely because we know it to be one, and because that knowledge is intolerable.

When the dawn finally broke over the lonely salt flats and sand dunes around the villa, I had become another person, unrecognizable to myself, capable of anything. I entered the room where my guardian was sleeping and covered his head with a leather bag he had given me for my eleventh birthday. When he tried to remove the bag, I rolled him off the edge of the bed. His fractures were still incompletely healed, and judging by his howls, the ‘discomfort’ of falling to the floor was indeed quite considerable. Certainly, he made little resistance when I slipped a length of clothesline around his wrists and tied them up tightly. I then stripped off his pyjamas, had another slug of whiskey, and set to work.

My techniques were all modelled on those he himself would have used on my parents. I fetched the vacuum cleaner from the store-room, unwound the lead fully then severed it from the machine with a pair of pliers. I stripped the insulation back a few centimetres, exposing the metal wire, then plugged the other end to the wall. To improve the conductivity, I poured water over the body on the floor. It was all much easier than I had supposed. I immediately appreciated the benefits of hooding the victim. Not only does this increase his sense of disorientation and helplessness, but it makes it a lot easier to get on with the work in hand. It is no longer a person you’re dealing with, only a body, and a comically defaced one at that, a figure of fun.

As well as the live wires, I made use of two appliances I had purchased in Buenos Aires before leaving, a rotary sanding device fitted with a variety of abrasive wheels, and a butane torch intended for stripping paint. I tried to work systematically, but as time passed I became increasingly distraught. One of the effects of electrocution is to stimulate vomiting and evacuation of the bowels, and then, of course, there was the screaming. It’s difficult to remain calm and lucid in such conditions, particularly with all the whiskey you need to settle your stomach and keep your nerve. But, as those who worked with my guardian at the Navy Mechanics School knew, there is no need for subtlety or refinement when the victim is doomed.

Like them, I wanted names. Not the names of casual friends and acquaintances who would then be seized and tortured in turn to add to the notional network of subversives the military was supposedly eradicating, like the demonic version of pyramid-selling scam. The name I wanted was my own, and those of my murdered mother and father. It took longer than I had supposed, longer than I would have believed possible. For hours he continued to deny everything. Then, shortly I started a second application of the blowtorch, he broke, not only admitting that I was not his natural child but proclaiming in a vehement tone of voice, as though proud  of the fact. I then put it to him that I had been born in the detention centre and adopted by him and his wife as a substitute for the child they could not have, that my name was indeed Marquéz as the sightless seer Borges had written in the book.

Unfortunately the crushing of my guardian’s macho spirit – and by a mere girl – caused a rapid collapse into hysteria. Alternately laughing and weeping, he agreed to everything I said. This did not assuage his sufferings, any more than the affirmations or denials of his own victims had theirs. On the contrary, the knowledge that he was of no further use to me merely increased my contempt for his inarticulate shrieks and disgusting convulsions. I drank deep of the whisky, turned up the radio as loud as it would go, and pressed ahead with ever more extreme measures in an effort to bring this degrading spectacle to an end as quickly as possible.

When it was over, I showered the filth from my body and changed into clean clothes. I packed my soiled garments into a plastic sack, and all the gold and silver ornaments I could find into another. Then I fetched up the jeep from the garage and loaded the two sacks into it. I drove into town by a roundabout route, dropping the weighted sacks into a drainage culvert on the way. I went to a supermarket and bought supplies for the week, then had lunch at a restaurant. On the way back to the villa I stopped of on the neighbouring farm. I explained to the inhabitants that we had not been able to visit the area for some time, firstly because of my mother’s fears about the gang of burglars, and then after her death, as a result of my father’s accident. We chatted for an hour or so, then I said I had better be getting back.

At the villa, nothing had changed. The house was more than just quiet; it was at piece at last. The police told me that they would be there as quickly as possible. I spent the time meditating on the fate of my real parents: the brutal interruption of armed men into their home, the looting of all the items of value, the succession of questions to which they had no answers, the slow, systematic destruction of body and mind that followed. When the police arrived, I told them what had happened: intruders had entered the house during my absence. They had stolen whatever they could find, but no doubt they thought that there were other concealed valuables. They had tried to make my father tell them where they were. Infuriated by his repeated protestations of ignorance, they had then murdered him. And like Borges’s Emma Zunz, I was believed, because my story was substantially true. Only the circumstances were false, the time, and one or two names.

Funerals, like Christmas, bring together relations who never otherwise meet. Certainly, I never recalled seeing my Aunt Esmeralda anywhere other than the Recoleta Cemetery, aside from once a year at on Christmas Eve at her own gothic monstrosity of a house in the Palermo district. No doubt it was this association, together with the heavy furnishing and perpetually lowered blinds, which made me think of the place as a funeral parlour. It was there that I was summoned, a month after my father’s burial, to receive my aunt’s commiserations on my orphanhood. ‘You poor child,’ she said as I advanced towards her through the cluttered gloom of the drawing room, ‘You poor child!’ it was on the tip of my tongue to point out that poor was one thing I certainly wasn’t. On the contrary, I had just inherited a fortune, the extent of which surprised me. Even after substantial donations to relief organizations set up to help dependants of the ‘disappeared’ – for much of my guardian’s wealth, I suspected, was the accumulated spoils of booty from the dirty war – I was still very comfortably provided for. But Aunt Esmeralda wanted to commiserate.

‘You poor child, all alone in the world! When I think of my poor sister, how happy she was when they told her she was pregnant. She had almost given up hope by then, you see. Don’t look at me like that, dear. You’re a woman now, we can discuss these things. And the birth was terrible. You were badly placed inside her, you see. Deep transverse arrest, they call it. They had to use forceps in the end to get you out. I was there the whole time, and I don’t know which of us suffered most. Ah, but afterwards to see the joy in your father’s face! That made it all worth it. How they smothered you with kisses! Oh, I’m sorry, my dear! How tactless of me to speak of such things when your grief is still fresh.’

For some weeks I tried to believe that Aunt Esmeralda was part of some monstrous conspiracy set up by my father to conceal the truth about his crimes even after his death. But a time came when I would sustain this fiction no longer. As well as my aunt’s testimony, there was the material I found when I through the family archives: documents, letters and photographs dating from the day of my birth in the city’s main hospital and proving beyond any reasonable doubt that the man and woman who brought me up were indeed my father and mother.

As for the Borges inscription, I discovered from a jealous relative, disappointed by the provision made for her in my father’s will, that one of his sisters, after whom I had been named, had caused scandal by leaving her husband to take up with a famous tango singer named Marqués. The affair had been the talk of Buenos Aires in its day, said my informant, pursing her lips in disapproval, or suppressed amusement. The aging Borge’s mistake, and my father’s indignant raction, had been a final echo of that notoriety.

Concerning my father’s activities at the Navy Mechanics School, I was unable to find out anything definite. No one wants to talk about those events in Argentina nowadays. It’s and unhappy episode we’d rather not think about, an error of judgment that’s best forgotten. Which is all I  want to do, believe me. The problem is, I don’t seem to have the knack. I can manage for weeks at a time, but sooner or later I have one of these relapses.

I don’t want to go on doping myself for ever, Doctor, but what is the alternative? Can I learn to come to terms with reality? What do you think?

Blond Angel of Death



     

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