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Claudia PiÃ±eiro lives in Buenos Aires. For many years she was a journalist, playwright and television scriptwriter and in 1992 won the prestigious PlÃ©yade journalism award. She has more recently turned to fiction and is the author the crime novel
(finalist for the 2003 Planeta Prize),
Un ladrÃ³n entre nosotros
Thursday Night Widows
is her first novel to be available in English and won the ClarÃn Prize for fiction in 2005.
To Gabriel and to my children
Yes, I have tricks in my pocket. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion. To begin with, I turn back time. I reverse it to that quaint period, the Thirties, when the huge middle class of America was matriculating in a school for the blind.
The Glass Menagerie
Without servants there can be no tragedy, only a sordid bourgeois drama. While you are washing your own tea cup and emptying the ashtrays, passion ebbs away.
Under a Mantle of Stars
I opened the fridge and stood there for a moment with my hand still on the door, bathed in the cold light, gazing blankly at the illuminated shelves. Only the alarm going off, warning that the open door was letting out cold air, brought me back to my senses and reminded me why I was standing in front of the fridge. I looked for something to eat. I collected some of the previous day's leftovers on a plate, warmed them up in the microwave and took them to the table. I didn't put on a tablecloth, just one of those rafia place mats brought back from Brazil a couple of years ago, from one of the last holidays the three of us took together. I mean as a family. I sat down opposite the window â it wasn't my usual place at the table, but I liked to look out at the garden when I was eating alone. That night, the night in question, Ronie was having dinner at El Tano Scaglia's house. The same as every Thursday â except that this day was different. It was a Thursday in September 2001. Thursday 27th September 2001.
Thursday. We were all still in shock after the attack on the Twin Towers and were opening our letters wearing rubber gloves, for fear of finding white powder inside. Juani had gone out. I didn't ask him where, or with whom. Juani didn't like to be asked. But I knew anyway. Or I thought I did.
I ate almost without dirtying any plates. A few years back I had accepted that we could no longer afford full-time domestic staff, and now a woman came only
twice a week to do the heavy work. Meanwhile, I had learned how to create the least possible mess: I knew how to keep my clothes crease-free and how to leave the bedclothes scarcely rumpled. It wasn't so much that the chores were a burden, but washing plates, making beds and ironing clothes reminded me of what I had once had, and lost.
I thought of going out for a walk, but I was nervous of running into Juani, in case he thought I was spying on him. It was hot; the night was star-filled and luminous. I didn't want to go to bed if it meant lying awake, worrying about some property transaction that was not yet complete. At that time, it felt as though every deal were doomed to collapse before I'd had a chance to collect my commission. We had already weathered a few months of the economic crisis. Some people were putting a better face on it than others, but one way or another all our lives had changed â or were about to change. I went to my room to look for a cigarette. I had decided to go out, regardless of Juani, and I liked to smoke as I walked. As I passed my son's room, I thought of going in to look for cigarettes there, but I knew that I wouldn't find any. It would simply be an excuse to go in and poke around, and I had already done that this morning, when I had made his bed and tidied his room â and I hadn't found what I was looking for then, either. I went on to my room, where there was a new packet on the bedside table; I opened it, took out a cigarette, lit it and went down the stairs, ready to go out. That was when Ronie came in and my plans changed. Nothing turned out as expected that night.
Ronie went straight to the bar. “Strange you're back so soonâ¦” I said, from the foot of the stairs.
“Yes,” he said, and went upstairs with a glass and a bottle of whisky. I waited for a moment, standing there, and then I followed him up. I walked past our bedroom, but he wasn't in there. Nor was he in the bathroom. He had gone out to the terrace and was settled onto a lounger, preparing to drink. I pulled up a chair, sat down next to him and waited, following his gaze but saying nothing. I wanted him to tell me something. Not anything important or funny or even particularly meaningful â but just for him to play his usual part in the scanty exchange to which our conversations had been reduced over the years. We had an unspoken agreement to string set phrases together, to let words fill the silence, with the aim of never addressing the silence itself. They were empty words, husks of words. If I ever complained, Ronie argued that we spoke little because we spent too much time together â how could there be anything new to talk about when we had not been apart for most of the day? Yet these were our circumstances ever since Ronie had lost his job six years ago and had not found any other occupation, apart from one or two “projects” that never amounted to anything. I was not anxious to discover why our relationship had gradually become stripped of words, so much as why it was that I had only recently noticed the silence that had taken up residence in our house, like a distant relative whom one has no choice but to accommodate and look after. Why did it not cause me more pain? Perhaps it was because the pain was taking hold very gradually and in silence. Like the silence itself.
“I'm going to fetch a glass,” I said.
“Bring some ice, Virginia,” Ronie shouted after me, when I had already gone inside.
I went to the kitchen and, while filling up the ice bucket, pondered different explanations for Ronie's early return. My hunch was that he had argued with someone. With El Tano Scaglia, or with Gustavo, surely. Not with MartÃn Urovich, because MartÃn had given up fighting with anyone, even himself, ages ago. Back on the terrace, I asked Ronie point-blank â I didn't want to find out the next day, during a tennis game, from someone else's wife. Ever since he had lost his job, Ronie had nursed a resentment that was liable to flare up at the least opportune moment. That social mechanism that prevents us making unwelcome comments had long been faulty in my husband.
“No, I didn't have a fight with anyone.”
“Then why are you back so early? You never come home on Thursdays earlier than three o'clock in the morning.”
“I did today,” he said. Then he said nothing else, and left no room for me to say anything either. He stood up and moved his lounger closer to the balustrade, all but turning his back on me. It was less a gesture of rejection than of a spectator seeking the best spot from which to view a scene. Our house is diagonally opposite the Scaglias'. There are two or three others in between but, since ours is taller â and in spite of the IturrÃas' poplars, which interfere with the view somewhat â from that vantage point you can see almost all their garden and their swimming pool. Ronie was looking towards the pool. The lights were off and there wasn't much to see other than vague shapes and outlines; one could make out the movement of water, sketching shifting shadows on the turquoise tiles.
I stood up and leaned on the back of Ronie's lounger. The silence of the night was underscored by the
occasional rustle of the IturrÃas' poplars as they moved in the warm air, making a sound like rain in the starry night. I wasn't sure whether to stay or go because, for all that Ronie seemed absent, he had not insinuated that I should leave â and that mattered to me. I watched him from behind, over the top of the wooden chair back. He kept moving around on the lounger without finding the right position; he seemed nervous. Later on I discovered that fear was the problem, not nerves â but I didn't know that at the time nor would I have suspected such a thing, because Ronie had never been fearful of anything. Not even of that fearful thing that had been frightening me for months, pursuing me day and night. That fear that made me forget what I was doing while standing in front of the fridge. That fear that was always with me even when I feigned otherwise, even when I was laughing, or chatting about something, or playing tennis, or signing a document. That night, in spite of Ronie's distance, the same fear prompted me to say, with false composure: “Juani's gone out.” “Who with?” he wanted to know.
“I didn't ask him.”
“What time is he coming back?”
“I don't know. He went on his roller blades.”
There was another silence and then I said: “There was a message from Romina on the answerphone. She said she was waiting for him so that they could go out and do the rounds. Could âdoing the rounds' be some form of code between them?”
“Rounds are rounds, Virginia.”
“I shouldn't worry, then?”
“He must be with her.”
“He must be with her.” And we both fell silent again.
There were more words later, I think, though I don't remember. More of those pat phrases to which we had grown accustomed. Ronie poured himself another whisky and I passed him the ice. He grabbed a handful of ice cubes and some of them fell on the floor and slid towards the balustrade. His eyes followed them and it seemed as though he had forgotten about the house opposite for a moment. He looked at the ice cubes and I looked at him. And perhaps we would have stayed in these poses, but at that very moment the lights went on at the Scaglias' swimming pool and voices could be heard amid the rustling of poplar leaves. El Tano's laughter. Music; it sounded like some sort of wistful, contemporary jazz.
“Diana Krall?” I asked, but Ronie said nothing. He had gone tense again; he stood up, kicked away the ice cubes, and returned to his seat. He raised his clenched fists to his mouth, gritting his teeth. I realized that he was hiding something from me, something he dared not let out of that mouth clamped shut. It had something to do with whatever he was watching so intently. An argument, or resentment, a slight that had rankled. Humiliation disguised as a joke: that was El Tano's speciality, I thought. Ronie stood up once more and went to the balustrade to get a better view. He drained the whisky glass. Now he was blocking my view through the poplars, watching something I could not see. But I heard a splash and I guessed that someone had dived into the Scaglias' pool.