Al­ways the Sea

New England Review - - Translations -

She has been driv­ing at ran­dom, as she some­times does when she is feel­ing sad, dis­ori­ented, or does not know what to do with her time, or when she feels like be­ing alone, and the car of­fers her a cozy in­ti­macy, com­bined with a feel­ing of free­dom that in ear­lier times—when in­tox­i­ca­tion was pos­si­ble—was in­tox­i­cat­ing. And this evening at night­fall she finds her­self by chance in the lit­tle sum­mer re­sort town of her child­hood and youth. So changed, that if it were not for the sign at the en­trance, she would not have rec­og­nized it. But she takes the road she knows so well, and there at the end, on a head­land, in one of the most beau­ti­ful spots of the Costa Brava, is “her” ho­tel. Irene likes ho­tels—the Gran Ho­tel si­t­u­ated be­fore the lake of Es­to­colmo; the small and ex­quis­ite Hô­tel de Paris, where Borges stayed and Os­car Wilde died; the Win­ter Palace on the banks of the Nile, through whose gar­dens at times slips the ghost of Agatha Christie—but “her” ho­tel was this one, so thrust into the sea, just above the beach.

Some­times she and Ed­uardo would slip out of their rooms at night, would de­scend the stair­way carved into the rock and meet on the beach. They were by far the best swim­mers of the vil­lage. Ed­uardo was faster, with a spec­tac­u­lar crawl. Irene was stronger, with a smooth and el­e­gant breast­stroke. Her long blond hair float­ing around her short body, her long legs and small steep breasts, gave her a Pre-raphaelite look. “How lovely you are! You look like Ophe­lia!” Ed­uardo told her. And she laughed, “But an Ophe­lia who is alive and kick­ing! And you, so dark and with that beard and that wild hair­cut, you look like the Moor of Venice!” He was a very hand­some lad, and he was, like Irene, a crea­ture of the sea. Irene had had many men over the course of her life—per­haps, she was not sure, too many—but they were men of fire, or air, or earth, none of them was, like Ed­uardo, of wa­ter. And nei­ther did any of her chil­dren—who had mat­tered so much to her and were now for­eign, al­most in­dif­fer­ent—have pacts with the sea, nor did they re­sem­ble what she had been like fifty years be­fore.

Irene and Ed­uardo would swim to­gether in the dark­ness to a tiny is­land, which they alone ven­tured to reach. Some­times they also went there in the morn­ing, if they wanted to be alone. There they took off their bathing suits, and with their light slip­pery bod­ies they tried out im­plau­si­ble ca­resses (ca­resses that Irene, hav­ing gone through var­i­ous lovers, has never again ex­pe­ri­enced). And upon their re­turn, the other young­sters looked at them with a strange mix­ture of envy and dis­ap­proval.

On this night she has gone into the sea leav­ing her clothes and her shoes hid­den among the rocks—no one must have seen her, but in any case it has been quite some time since she re­nounced be­ing a lady to be­come a shame­less

Es­ther Tus­quets

old woman—and she swims to­ward the small is­land. She still has an el­e­gant and firm breast­stroke, and her gray hair floats like sea­weed around her body which, im­mersed in the wa­ter, sus­tained and en­veloped by the wa­ter, mim­ics a lost youth.

Irene knows that she does not have enough strength to reach the is­land, and she planned to turn back when she felt tired. But a strange drowsi­ness over­comes her, a de­light­ful sense of well-be­ing, and she con­tin­ues on, im­pelled by the soft lit­tle waves, be­cause a north wind is com­ing up that is sweep­ing ev­ery­thing out to sea. Now the woman is so ex­hausted that she can barely con­trol the move­ment of her limbs, and she re­al­izes that at any mo­ment she will faint, but she does not feel out of breath, nor the least trace of fear, and she aban­dons her­self to the wa­ters as into the arms of a lover, who is sus­tain­ing her and will sus­tain her un­til in a few sec­onds comes the end and she loses con­scious­ness.

Now she knows that this is why she has come here, to her old ho­tel, this evening, to play the real Ophe­lia, so the sea will lib­er­ate her from the ail­ments, the ter­ri­ble de­crepi­tude of old age, the lone­li­ness and the fear, sink­ing her into the sweet­est of deaths. And the last thing she asks be­fore clos­ing her eyes is: “Carry me far out, do not re­turn me to the shore, may they never find me, drag me to the sea depths and may I serve as sus­te­nance for the great preda­tors and the tini­est fish.”

—trans­lated from the Span­ish by Bar­bara F. Ichi­ishi

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