We liked the house because, in addition to being spacious and old (the old houses of today succumb to the most advantageous sales of their materials), it kept the memories of our great grandparents, the paternal grandfather, our parents and all our childhood.
We got used to Irene and I to persist in it alone, which was crazy, because in this house eight people could live without getting in the way. We did the cleaning in the morning, getting up at seven o’clock, and, around eleven o’clock, I left Irene the last rooms to go over and went to the kitchen. Lunch was at noon, always on time; since there was nothing left to do but a few dirty dishes. We liked to have lunch thinking about the deep and silent house and how we managed to keep it clean. Sometimes we even thought that she was the one who wouldn’t let us get married. Irene dismissed two suitors for no major reason, I lost Maria Esther just before our engagement. We entered the forties with the unexpressed idea that our simple and silent marriage of brothers was a necessary closure of the genealogy settled by our great-grandparents in our home. There we would die someday, lazy and crude cousins would stay with the house and send it down to enrich it with the land and the bricks; or rather, we would bring it down in all fairness ourselves, before it was too late.
Irene was a young girl born not to bother anyone. Aside from her morning activity, she spent the rest of the day knitting on the sofa in her room. I don’t know why I knitted so much, I think that women knit when they consider that this task is a pretext for doing nothing. Irene was not like that, she knitted things that were always necessary, winter coats, socks for me, shawls and vests for her. Sometimes he would knit a vest and then undo it in an instant because something he didn’t like; it was funny to see in the basket that pile of curled wool resisting losing its former shape. On Saturdays I went to the center to buy wool; Irene trusted my good taste, took pleasure in the colors and never had to return the locks. I took advantage of these trips to take a walk around the bookstores and ask in vain if there was news of French literature. Since 1939 nothing valuable arrived in Argentina. But it’s the house I’m interested in talking about, the house and Irene, because I have no importance. I wonder what Irene would have done without the knitting. One can reread a book, but when a coat is finished it cannot be repeated without scandal. One day I found white, green, lilac shawls, covered with naphthalene, in a drawer in the dresser, stacked as in a haberdashery; I didn’t have the courage to ask him what he planned to do with them. We didn’t need to earn a living, every month money came from the fields, which was always increasing. But it was just the knitting that distracted Irene, she showed wonderful dexterity and I spent hours looking at her hands like silver spikes, needles coming and going, and one or two baskets on the floor where the balls were constantly agitating. It was very beautiful.
How can I not remember the distribution of the house! The dining room, a living room with gobelins, the library and three large rooms were in the most distant part, the one that overlooks Rodríguez Pena street. Only a corridor with its massive mahogany door isolated this part of the front wing where there was a bathroom, the kitchen, our rooms and the central hall, with which the rooms and the corridor communicated. The house was entered through a tiled corridor in Mallorca, and the door to the gate was at the entrance to the hall. So that people entered the corridor, opened the gate and went into the hall; there were the doors to our rooms on the sides, and in the front was the corridor that led to the furthest part; advancing down the corridor, the mahogany door was crossed and a little further on, the other side of the house began, you could also turn left just before the door and follow the narrow corridor that led to the kitchen and the bathroom. When the door was open, people realized that the house was very big; because, on the contrary, it gave the impression of being an apartment for those who are now building, you can hardly move; Irene and I always lived in that part of the house, we almost never reached beyond the mahogany door, except for cleaning, as it is incredible how dust is added to the furniture. Buenos Aires can be a clean city; but this is thanks to its inhabitants and not the other thing. There is too much dust in the air, there is barely a breeze and the dust is already felt on the marbles of the consoles and between the rhombuses of the macrame towels; it takes work to take it out well with the duster, it flies and is suspended in the air for a moment and then deposits itself again on the furniture and the pianos.
I will always remember it very clearly because it was very simple and without useless circumstances. Irene was knitting in her room, around eight in the evening, and suddenly I had the idea of putting the kettle on the fire on the fire. I walked down the hall until I was in front of the ajar mahogany door, and was making the turn that led to the kitchen when I heard something in the dining room or library. The sound came in faint and deaf, like a chair falling on the carpet or a muffled whisper of conversation. I also heard it, at the same time or a second later, down the hall that led from those rooms to the door. I threw myself against the wall before it was too late, slammed it shut, supporting my body; luckily the key was placed on our side and I also passed the big lock for more security.
I went into the kitchen, heated the kettle and, when I came back with the chimarrão tray, I said to Irene:
– I had to close the hall door. They took the back part.
She dropped her knitting and looked at me with her serious, tired eyes.
– Are you sure?
“So,” he said, picking up the needles, “we will have to live on this side.”
I prepared the chimarrão very carefully, but it took her a moment to return to her task. I remember that she was knitting a gray vest; I liked this vest.
The first few days seemed painful, because we had both left many things we liked in the taken part. My French literature books, for example, were all in the library. Irene thought of a bottle of Hesperidin from many years ago. Often (but this happened only in the first few days) we would close some dresser drawers and look at each other sadly.
– Is not here.
And it was one more thing that we had lost on the other side of the house.
However, we also had some advantages. The cleaning was so simplified that, although we got up much later, at half past nine, for example, before eleven o’clock we were already folded. Irene got used to going with me to the kitchen to help me prepare lunch. After thinking hard, we decided this: while I was preparing lunch, Irene would cook the dishes to eat cold at night. We were happy because it was always uncomfortable to have to leave the rooms in the evening to cook. Now it was enough to set the table in Irene’s room and the platters of cold food.
Irene was happy because there was more time to knit. I was a little lost because of the books, but, in order not to upset my sister, I decided to review my dad’s stamp collection, and it served me to kill time. We had a lot of fun, each with their own things, almost always together in Irene’s room, which was the most comfortable. Sometimes Irene said:
– Look at this point I just made up. Does it look like a drawing of a clover?
A moment later I was the one who put a small square of paper in front of his eyes to look at the merit of some Eupen and Malmédy stamp. We were doing very well, and little by little we started not to think. One can live without thinking.
(When Irene dreamed aloud, I lost sleep. I could never get used to that voice of a statue or a parrot, a voice that comes from dreams and not from the throat. Irene said that my dreams consisted of big shakes that sometimes made the blanket fall. Our rooms had the lounge in the middle, but at night there was something in the house, we heard our breathing, coughing, we sensed the gestures that brought the hand to the light switch, the mutual and frequent insomnia.
Other than that, everything was quiet in the house. During the day it was the domestic rumors, the metallic brushing of the knitting needles, a creak as the sheets of the philatelic album passed. The mahogany door, I think I already said, was massive. In the kitchen and bathroom, which were leaning against the taken part, we spoke in a louder voice or Irene sang lullabies. In a kitchen, there is a lot of noise from dishes and glass so that other sounds erupt in it. Very rarely was silence allowed, but when we returned to the bedrooms and the lounge, the house was quiet and dim, we even stepped slowly so as not to disturb us. I think that was why, at night, when Irene started to dream out loud, I was soon sleepless.)
It is almost to repeat the same thing except the consequences. At night I feel thirsty, and before going to bed I told Irene that I was going to the kitchen to get a glass of water. From the bedroom door (she was knitting) I heard noise in the kitchen or maybe in the bathroom, because the curve of the corridor drowned out the sound. Irene’s attention caught my sudden way of stopping, and came to my side without saying anything. We listened to the noises, clearly feeling that they were on this side of the mahogany door, in the kitchen and bathroom, or in the corridor where the curve began, almost beside us.
We don’t even look at each other. I squeezed Irene’s arm and made her run with me until the door cancels, without looking back. The noises were heard louder and louder, however, on our backs. I slammed the gate closed and we stayed in the corridor. Now nothing was heard.
“They took this part,” said Irene. The knitting hung from his hands and the threads reached the gate and were lost under the door. When he saw that the skeins had been on the other side, he loosened his knitting without looking at it.
– Did you have time to pick up something? – I asked him uselessly.
– No, nothing.
We had the clothes on. I remembered the fifteen thousand pesos in the bedroom closet. It was too late now.
As I still had the watch, I saw that it was eleven at night. I linked Irene’s waist with my arm (I think she was crying) and we went out into the street. Before I left I felt sorry, I closed the entrance door and threw the key down the sidewalk. Were it not for some poor devil to have the idea of stealing and entering the house, at this hour and with the house taken.
Son of a diplomat father, Julio Cortázar was born by chance in Brussels, in 1914. At the age of four he went to Argentina. With the separation of his parents, the writer was raised by his mother, an aunt and a grandmother. With the title of normal professor of Letters, he started his studies at the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, which he had to leave soon after, due to financial problems. In order to live, he gave classes and several schools in the interior of that country. As he did not agree with the current dictatorship in Argentina, he moved to Paris in 1951. Author of short stories considered to be the most perfect in the genre, we can quote among his most recognized works “Bestiary” (1951), “Las armas secretas” ( 1959),), “Rayuela”, (1963), “Todos los fuegos el fuego” (1966), “Ultimo round” (1969), “Octaedro” (1974), “Pameos y Meopas” (1971), “We want both Glenda (1980), “Salvo el crepilight” – posthumous (1984) and “Papers unexpected” – posthumous (2010). The writer died in Paris of leukemia in 1984.
The above text was originally published in “Bestiario” and extracted from the book “Contos Latino-Americanos Eternos”, Bom Texto Editora, Rio de Janeiro – 2005, p. 09, organization and translation by Alicia Ramal.