http://www.albany.edu/offcourse
 http://offcourse.org
 ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


 

"The Thirteenth Year. Part 1," by Ricardo Nirenberg

 

This true story will be completed in six issues, or less, or perhaps more.

 

1.

Mother was in the bathroom, standing in front of the medicine cabinet, in her slip, tweezing unwanted hair from her breasts.  I advanced stealthily.  But she saw me coming on the mirror, and said, “Basta!”  I advanced nonetheless, and tapped her, once more, on the back of her shoulder.  I retreated rapidly, but not before I got the opportunity of glancing at my face on the mirror, next to hers, cheek to jowl like in those photos from when I was a child of four or five.  Except that here, on the bathroom mirror, my face wore a completely cretinous expression, and Mother’s was turning red with rage.

I retreated.  My writing table was in the room next to the bathroom: there I sat, elbows on the glass top, head in my hands, looking intently at the map of Paris I had received as a present from my French teacher, Madame de la Barre.  Some day I would be there, and when I had a moustache I’d walk down the rue Férou, like D’Artagnan, and if any man looked at me askance, I’d take him to the Jardin du Luxembourg, unsheathe my sword and pierce his heart through.  But right now I had retreated only pour mieux sauter.  Mother was still plucking in the bathroom; I got up, ready for another raid.  Stealthily I approached, Mother saw me on the mirror and this time she said, “Shoin genik!

The utterance packed a double threat: prosodical and semantical.  Her pitch went up and the final syllable, nik, was ominously stretched out.  Also, when she turned to Yiddish, things were especially serious: shoin genik! and basta! may have the same dictionary definition, but I knew that on my mother’s lips shoin genik! was more dangerous.  Still, there was no going back.  I tapped Mother on the shoulder, and retreated.  When I saw her bending down to grab her slipper, I ran out of the bathroom, through the room with the writing table, which we called el jolcito, the small hall —there’s a Spanglish pearl for you— and down the stairs.

That was a poor idea, the stairs, because when Mother’s slipper reached me, it hit the top of my head, and the sharp wedge cut my scalp.  I brought my hands to my head: they were covered in blood.  I raised them high, with the gesture of a grand priest showing sacred offerings to the people, and tragically admonished my mother who was watching from el jolcito, “Look, look at what you did to your son!”

 

2.

At Dr. Weinstein’s office on Calle Pedernera, only a city block from home, we sat in the waiting room.  I had never been to this doctor, who was not a pediatrician but a general practitioner.  It made sense, though, since that day, August 7, 1951, was my twelfth birthday so perhaps I should not be considered a child anymore, even if I was still wearing short pants.

I had wanted to meet this doctor for quite some time.  I knew he was the brother of a certain Roque Weinstein, the addressee of a letter my father had written in 1933 from Darregueira, an outpost in the midst of the Pampas.  Today I find it amazing that I never asked Father, who was born and raised in the city of Buenos Aires, what he was doing, when he was twenty or twenty-one, in a place so far away, with so many more cattle than people, and with a name sounding so perilously close to “diarrhea”.  Was he running away from someone?  Nor did I ask why that draft or copy of a letter was in the shallow middle drawer of his desk, together with other yellowing sheets where he had begun writing over-ambitious and soon-aborted philosophical essays: was it perhaps a letter he had never sent?

After a brief reference to the melancholy of the rainy weather, Father proceeded to tell his “dear friend” about his daydreams.  They roamed all over the universe, from the intergalactic spaces to the interior of the atom, from the infinitely large to the infinitesimally small, and from there to the miracle that was his mind, able to conceive the All, hence most miraculous.  Yes, a human mind could grasp the laws governing the cosmos, if only it could muster the necessary will power… but alas, his mind now yearned only for a soft female breast on which to rest his head.  And Father finished with a sigh and a phrase that elicited my unbounded admiration: “Human, all too human!”

This Roque Weinstein must have been a very unusual man with a great talent for friendship, to merit such baring of my father’s soul.  I wished some day I’d have a friendship like that, not based on courage or partnership in crime, like the four musketeers, but on sharing our most secret thoughts.  I took the gauze off my head and looked at it: it was soaked with blood.  Without a word, Mother took it away and handed me a fresh piece.  Through the open transom window came the sounds of a radio.  Waldir Azevedo with his Baião Delicado.  “El Radio Teatro Le Sancy de Dubarry” —the speaker rolled the double r as a special selling point.  Soaps and facial powders.  “Wait for me in heaven,” with Hilda Bernard and Oscar Casco in the central roles, on a script by Nené Cascallar.  Mother leaned toward me: “Don’t tell the doctor about the shoe,” she whispered.

I hadn’t thought of telling Dr. Weinstein about Mother’s shoe landing on my head.  Rather, I was wondering whether to ask him about his brother Roque, and I was trying to discover the manifold possibilities latent in that name.  Roque is like the English word rook, a tower, and assuming Father was the king, his friendship with Roque was very much like an enroque, a castling, a defensive embrace between the king and the rook, between Father and Roque.  “Let’s tell him that you fell down the stairs.”

Dr. Weinstein, it seemed to me, was a little suspicious, but he first disinfected and then stitched the wound.  All of which did not prevent my being in bondage, from that day on, to the sexual allure of high-heeled slippers.

 

3.

My elementary school was built on the classical colonial plan: two large open courts surrounded by classrooms and separated by a gallery containing a battered piano and a choral riser.  Only boys.  It was known as Escuela Nº 8, Consejo Escolar 11, but at some point after my time it acquired the extra name “Coronel Ingeniero Pedro Antonio Cerviño”, and it is a sure bet that in the near future it will be renamed “Jorge Bergoglio” or “Papa Francisco”, since His Future Sanctity attended that school between 1943 and 1948.  He was three years ahead of me, and I don’t think we ever interacted.

In the classrooms we learned about the patriotic virtues of the Fathers of the Fatherland; in the intervening gallery we sang songs in their honor.  Of a different kind were the lessons imparted in the courts or patios.  Each recreo, as we called the breaks, we —I mean the smaller, weaker boys like me— had to endure the abuse of the bullies, which could occasionally be a punch on the shoulder or the stomach, but were most often directed towards our behind.

The first level of abuse, and the most broadly focused, corresponded to the word culo, a common word in Spanish, meaning “bottom.”  In Argentina it used to be a dirty word, which in semi-polite company was replaced by the word cola, from the Latin coda, meaning “tail.” Once, when I was five or six, a cousin of mine, Polo, falsely told my parents that I had said “culo”, for which I got a spanking.  On the cola, mind you.  I never had any further dealings with my cousin Polo, but I wish to expose him here to public scorn for his treachery.  In the school patios, to exert pressure with a hand on the general area of someone else’s buttocks was tocarle (to touch) his culo, and it was taken as an act of domination: if consistently repeated, the touching boy became the master and the touched one a slave.  It was advisable, whenever possible, to stay or move against a wall just behind you.

A more grievous and focused humiliation was centered at the ojete, literally the eyelet, i.e. the brown eye.  To get someone’s finger stuck in there was a dreaded and ever present possibility.  It was worse than death, for when we die all is over, but when you got somebody’s finger in the ojete there was the added dread that you might actually enjoy it, meaning that you were a puto by nature, and that from now on, haunted by that finger, you’ll be an actual puto for life, a maricón, a passive homosexual—the horror! the shame!

Hidden behind the ojete was the orto.  “I’ll take you to the toilet and mount you!  I’ll break your orto till it bleeds,” were common threatening phrases during our recreos, just as “I’ll break your face,” or “your teeth.”  Recently I read that, more than sixty years later, it has become a common thing, a compliment, for men to say to women passing by in the streets of Buenos Aires that they’ll mount them, break their orto till it bleeds.  Ex-president Cristina Kirchner was heard on a recorded phone exchange with one of her goons, saying that a political opponent “ought to have his orto cosido (sewed up)” —a feminine, celestinesque version, I guess, of anal violence.  Orto may come from the Greek orthón, which in Latin is rectum and in English too, but I’m not prepared to defend this etymology, or any other.

Those boys had two and only two sorts of ideas in their head: fútbol (soccer) and the anus.  The two topics were connected, like the sum and multiplication of numbers are connected by the distributive law, or like the pressure and temperature of a volume of gas are connected by the law of Gay-Lussac: if you happened to drop a pencil and foolishly leaned down to pick it up, someone would scream “orr-SY!” (from the soccer term “off-side”) and try to stick a finger up your ass.  If he succeeded, he screamed “GOAL!”  In retrospect, it doesn’t seem I was particularly unlucky or that my school was exceptionally rough: like most boys, I was the victim of a full-fledged system, the two-pronged barbarous logic based on the fútbol fixture and on who could bugger, or at least goose, who.  Excluded third.  Meaning, nothing else has to, or should, be considered.  Maradona, the divine footballer, hero and top model of Argentine manhood, was, and still is, much celebrated for replying to a male critic: “La tenés adentro”, you got it plugged in. Maradona is not only witty: his was an unassailable rebuttal.

It is impossible to decide whether or not the teachers noticed the abuse that went on in the patio.  If they did, they preferred to ignore it to save themselves trouble.  Nevertheless, I loved all my teachers in elementary school.  My seventh grade teacher, Señor Martínez, wrote in my grade book the following note: “Muy culto, caballero y dedicado” —Very cultured, gentlemanly and dedicated.  A twelve-year-old cultured gentleman!  Father was very proud, which made me happy.

 

4.

My plan was to write here, under the number four, about playing with girls: my sister and our neighbor Emilita.  But last night I had a perturbing dream.  Four enforcers were after me.  I was trying to flee, but at every turn found one or two of them blocking my way.  Muscled like Schwarzenegger and several times my size, my punches and kicks they felt like feather strokes if at all.  Finally, cornered in a room, I thought my hour had come, when I noticed that one of the guys was masturbating.  His dick looked like a garden hose: he was holding it just under the nozzle, right in front of his nose, and presently proceeded to ejaculate.  Like in summertime at the club, when after physical exercise you go to the showers and drops of condensed water fall all over you from the ceiling, semen was now dropping on the five of us, and this provoked the rage of the other three enforcers, who didn’t carry umbrellas and who did not care to be under the fertilizing rain.  While they went at each other with bared teeth, I made my escape.

So the dream ended well, and I woke up quite relieved; but the dream was clearly a warning: I could not go on putting off telling the story of the savage mockery perpetrated in Señor Martínez’ seventh grade classroom.  Our teacher was a young man, recently married, his white smock always starched and impeccable, fond of sermonizing about how we boys should respect women, and of writing on the board ethical maxims like the following: “Conscience never asleep, dumb but pertinacious witness.”  Two things I have not forgotten, in part because I found them puzzling.  In what ways should we boys respect women?  Mother I respected —more: I feared her.  True, with my sister I sometimes got angry and called her stupid, but she was a girl, not a woman.  As for conscience, why “dumb”?  Don’t we often say, “the voice of conscience”?  That was the first time I encountered the word “pertinacious” and I really liked it, yet had the vague, unsettling feeling that it fitted conscience no better than “dumb.”  But if I haven’t forgotten the teacher’s advice about women and his ethical maxims it is also because of the violent contrast they offered with what was going on all around me.

The classroom had high windows looking on Varela Street and six rows of benches screwed to the floor and arranged in three contiguous pairs.  The door opened to the patio.  The boy who sat next to me was Gastaldi, and one day I turned my head to see this utterly vacuous, foolish look on his face (not that it ever shone with any spark of intelligence).  Then I noticed that he was holding his engorged thing with his right hand, stroking it vigorously, and a handkerchief in his left, with which, after a while, he covers his big thing —by the way, much bigger than mine, which up to that point in my life I had called picololo, as Mother had taught me— and tries to mop up this whitish goo which, with all his half-hearted efforts, runs all over his smock.  I had never seen before such a fluid coming out of a human body: blood yes, and, alas recently, out of my head; but this goo out of the place where, as far as I was aware, pee alone issued…  Soon I noticed that Gastaldi was not acting alone.  Dark Páez, who was the son of a police sergeant and the tallest kid in the class, was masturbating too, and his thing was…  I couldn’t say for sure: two, three times the size of Gastaldi’s.  Turning my head, I saw Peralta doing the same, and then Noguera, the blondish son of the butcher down the street from my house, on Rivera Indarte, with whom we used to exchange pieces of paper: he’d give me damaged postage stamps and I gave him old patriotic illustrations from Billiken magazine.  They were all jerking off, but I didn’t have that word yet, nor the concept, far less the skill.

Meanwhile our teacher was blind to what was going on, enthusing about wives’ powers of salvation.  I would have thought that he was besotted by the ending of Goethe’s Faust, the eternal feminine pulling us ever upward, except I had not read Goethe’s Faust.  Had I read Dante’s Comedy, I would have noticed that the Hell and the Paradise the Tuscan poet had maintained so far apart from each other, were here scrambled together, a hellish heaven or a heavenly hell, and that I was condemned to it.  But I hadn’t read Dante either.  Nor Paul’s epistles, where it is written that the spirit does not allow itself to be mocked.  The hell it doesn’t.  I had not read any of the important books.  I was defenseless.

 

5.

That’s not saying I didn’t read.  In my father’s library there were many books.  But before we talk about my reading, I must describe the cabinet where those books were kept, and the room where the cabinet stood.  The best will be to start with a brief description of the house.  Let us go, then, and make our visit.  Through well-known half-deserted streets, we arrive at the darkened house, the house as it was in 1951, and find the gate chain-locked.  Undaunted, under the friendly silence of the moon, we climb up the grille, and mindful that the finials have sharp points which can exact a grievous price for our temerity, we climb down into the garden, with the dozen rosebushes in my mother’s care, at the base of each of which there is an ant-moat, like a savarin ring of baked clay, filled with water and pressed hard on the earth.  Further down, the palm, taller and older than the house, thick with cobwebbed leaf-scars and heavy with coquitos.  The azulejos shine their lunar echo, blue and bronze, and the lion head of the fountain discretely spits through its teeth.  We’ve arrived at the end of the patio: should we enter the house here, through the kitchen door?  No, better sneak our way up the stairs to the terrace.  Wait, stop and smell the jasmine: the bush at the Fellipellis, against the other side of the wall; jasmine buds and moonlight are a loving couple.  Low, crawl, keep your head down under the lonely night, for we are breaking the law.  Here’s the door to the servant’s room—who is she, Celia, Rosa, Carmen, Margarita, Jacinta?  We could find out; let’s pass it over, though.  Take a look at the other end of the terrace: there, next to the pile of wood ready for winter, is the small lumber room on whose door I have painted: Lab & Workshop.  Old bones, old rags, old magazines; that’s where I did my chemical experiments, and where now there should be, up on a rickety shelf, a bottle of 95% sulfuric acid.  Don’t ask who would sell that to a twelve-year-old boy: I found them in the yellow pages.  And now, it is time to watch me in my sleep: the jealousies are open, let’s go in.  I’m sleeping here, in this bed; my sister sleeps there, in this other identical bed; between us, a night table with a radio receiver, its vacuum tubes still warm from the voice of Claudia Muzio.  No, the smoke you notice is not incense; it is from the mosquito coil: pyrethrum.  On many occasions, which I have later regretted, lying on my bed I would threaten my sister who was lying on her bed alongside that I’d flip a booger at her.  Sometimes I did; more often I just wanted to give her a scare.  She’d raise a ruckus, and our parents would threaten to flay me alive.  See, there is only an archway between the master bedroom and ours, no barrier to sound.  On later years, I wondered that we never heard a peep out of our parents’ bed, even though, as Mother told me when she was eighty and I spent the afternoons sitting with her in her tiny apartment in Caballito, Father insisted on having sex every night.  Go figure.  Anyway, there are two more doors in the master bedroom: one opening to a balcony with two arches supported by a column, a dwarf palm in a pot, and a wicker armchair.  I always had the guilty feeling that I should have spent more time in this balcony, overlooking the street and the public world, instead of confining myself to lab & workshop and to Father’s study.  Through the other door we go into the jolcito, with the table on which my sister and I did our homework, Mother’s sewing basket, and the bathroom.  Come, down the stairs we go.  Look at the Moresque decoration of the living room, the ebony wainscot panels flanked by solomonic pilasters, and on top, engraved on the stucco, the fleurs-de-lis and quatrefoils.  The double archway supported by the marble column leads to Father’s study, his desk and chair, and the petiribí-wood cabinet containing his books.  On top of the cabinet there’s a bronze cast of sitting Orpheus with his hollow lyre.

 

6.

We leave dining room and kitchen for another occasion, because I promised to write about the books I used to read around 1951.  Don Quixote foremost.  When Mother was nine or ten, so the story goes, her family, the Brodeskys, lived in the National Territory of La Pampa, where her parents had a country store.  Once my grandfather Gregorio had to travel by train to Buenos Aires on business, his children urged him to buy some books.  They wanted something divertido, fun to read.  So my grandfather, who has never read a book in Spanish (or, perhaps, in any other language), walks into a Buenos Aires bookstore and asks the salesman to recommend a good book, something divertido.  That’s how, years later, I acquired my three smallish volumes with carrot-colored hard covers, published by the newspaper La Nación in 1909; my uncles didn’t want to have anything to do with that book, and made much mockery of their poor father, who had let himself be duped by a book salesman; the three tomes devolved to my mother; she never read them, but they became part of her dowry.  My father did read Don Quixote, and on more than one occasion he would judge it divertido indeed, but then add that he didn’t understand why so many writers took that work so seriously and so tragically, when Cervantes had clearly intended it as a comic book and nothing else.

I cannot say that Cervantes was the writer who most influenced me as a child: there is, alas, an Argentine pen-pusher whose influence was at least as great.  No, it was not Borges: I started admiring his work only later.  I am talking of Ricardo Rojas, born some seventeen years before Borges: a man who deserves to be still more obscure than he happens to be, a poetaster and solemn asscademic who had a pharaonic opinion of himself.  In the first decade of the 20th century Rojas travelled abroad with a grant to study the teaching of history in four European countries; upon return to Argentina he published The Nationalist Reinstatement, where he advocated: (a) the universal teaching in elementary schools of a uniform mythography of the fatherland, to which Rojas eagerly contributed; (b) the banishing from the schools of the foreign textbooks used hitherto, mostly Spanish translations from French ones; and (c) the triple imperative of nationalization, disciplination, and homogenization.  All of which, he wrote, was necessary and urgent because immigration waves were breaking on Argentine shores which threatened to dissolve the essence of the nation—those waves of which my relatives were drops.  Some of the textbooks Rojas wanted banished (and which eventually were), I happened to cherish as a child.  Albert Malet’s History of the Orient and his History of Rome, with their unforgettable photos Alinari—the Assyrian king gouging the eyes of a prisoner, or the murmillo gladiator in full helmet, the original model for Darth Vader.  And more than any other, Langlebert’s Chemistry, which convinced me I had to be a chemist when I grew up.  They had all belonged to my uncle Natalio, Mother’s eldest brother by six or seven years, born in the Ukraine, and the only one who had completed high school.

Rojas’ other claim to fame is his local version of the Blut und Boden doctrine: the “cosmopolite masses,” the immigrants, reap their corn in the fields they labored in the pampas, but they labored it without love, he accused; he judged that the blood shed in Argentina’s long civil wars was a necessary cement for her organization.  “Illiteracy,” he wrote, “which contains certain healthy instincts, is preferable to literacy which lacks a national sentiment.”  After reading that, I look at Rojas’ photograph and I see the paradigm of the humanities professors —dull, dense and sadistic— I had to submit to when, in March 1952, I entered the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires.

But Rojas’ influence on my life came mainly through the fact that he built the house where I grew up, the one we have just visited.  It must have been during the late teens or the early 1920s, perhaps when he was Dean of the School of Philosophy & Letters of the University of Buenos Aires, that Rojas conceived and executed the idea of building a house that would concretely express his notion of “hispanidad”.  He, who insisted on the importance of learning only from local books, had azulejos and floor tiles imported from Spain, wainscoting from the Low Countries, roof tiles from Marseille, bathroom fixtures from Pittsburgh, a bathroom water heater from the London firm of Califont, and so on.  The finished building had a Moorish air vaguely reminiscent of the Alhambra, except that the arches were not pointed but round.

It did not take long for him to realize that he had made an ideological gaffe.  This house seemed more appropriate for Enrique Larreta or some europeizante writer like him, who felt most at home in Madrid or in Paris; as for him, Rojas, it was a moral duty to live in a house that bespoke argentinidad, a house which was, like his country, a unique blend of Spanish and Indian blood.  No sooner thought than done: Rojas started work on a new house on calle Charcas, and moved there in 1929.  Indian decorative motifs had been grafted onto the walls of the new Spanish-colonial-style building.  The old Moorish house Rojas sold, and the new owners decided that for rental purposes it was more profitable to cut it into unequal parts: a front part—the one we would eventually rent—with the grand grille through which stray cats came and went as if they were chez eux and one could admire, from the street, the atrium, the fountain with the lion head, and in the far more spacious back part they built a row of apartments, connected by a long and narrow gangway, unroofed.

But the original cut had left its trace, and my father, sitting at the dining room table to play his card solitaire, couldn’t stand the view of the naked back wall, made more painful by being preceded, at a distance of a dozen inches, by a double arch supported by a column in whose capital a winged angel head smiled, as if inviting you to imagine the rooms, the patios and pleasure gardens which once upon a time followed beyond those arches.  So the first thing Father bought, upon renting the house, were two large oil paintings in ornate gilded frames, which were hung on the back wall behind the two arches so as to mitigate the horror vacui, the anguishing sense of a continuation that ought to have been but isn’t.

 

7.

“What did the Child God bring you?” asked Emilita the first or second time we met—it must have been the 25th or the 26th December 1945, soon after we had moved in, and we were sitting at our respective terraces, our houses separated only by the unroofed gangway.  She was a year older than I, so seven, when she asked that strange question about the Child God, el Niño Dios.  I had never heard those two words paired, nor that such unlikely character brought gifts to children of good families, like the doll Emilita raised above her head so I could admire it.  My sister and I got our presents not on Christmas, which we studiously avoided, but, as good semi-assimilated Jews in a Spanish-speaking country, on the night of 5th to 6th January, Twelfth Night or Epiphany, when the Three Magi, or Tres Reyes Magos, arrived with gifts to adore the Christ.  We set our shoes in a row on the floor by our beds and in the morning—surprise! our shoes were covered with presents.  That’s how I got my chemistry set and my Stokys erector set.  Our neighbors were Spanish-style Catholics, solid bourgeois, opponents of Perón and not friendly to Jews, which did not preclude my sister and me to be admitted to Emilita’s garden, where the three of us climbed fig trees, bit into acid lemons, and played epic-bucolic games of hide-and-seek.

There was a gardener, Don Cosme, who lived in the garden, in a corrugated metal shed.  He was so old he might have fought under Garibaldi, and spoke, or rather sputtered, an unintelligible gibberish which, someone speculated, sounded like the dialect of Bari.  His general meaning was clear enough, though, when he became angry at us for having stepped on some flowers while running to touch home base.  One of those times, Emilita planted herself, arms akimbo, before Don Cosme and said, “Stop bothering us with your nonsense, you crazy old man!”  I was shocked by her insolence.  How could she treat an old man so, she who worshipped a child god.  Yet I couldn’t help admiring her sense of authority, of ladyship, of who she was by birth, her sense of how abysmally inferior the gardener, covered by dust and a filthy beret, was in relation to her.  No, I would never possess anything like her self-assurance.  Besides, the mathematical, physical, & philosophical lessons I regularly received from my father as a young child tended in the opposite direction, toward uncertainty.  Everything in the universe is moving: we humans move on our planet, which moves about itself and around the sun, which in turn moves around the center of the Milky Way, etc., so everything is moving at unimaginable speeds, and we never have any idea of where we are or where we go, except in relation to nearby landmarks that we happen to remember from the past.  The same applies to who we are: David Hume, at least according to my father, thought that each of us is nothing but a bundle of memories kept together in association just like the planets, the sun, and the other stars are kept together by gravitation.  I don’t remember ever talking with Emilita about those things.  I guess it would have been quite pointless, even though I do remember trying to explain the motion of the galaxies and everything else to a housemaid who worked for us about that time (1952), a young woman from Gualeguay who was illiterate and who used to say and swear to god that if you sun dry orange peel and then put a match to it, the explosion will be “worse than the atomic bomb.”

One day about that time, too, I was sitting at the top of our terrace stairs when I noticed something never seen before or since: a boy was walking on top of the farther wall of the unroofed gangway, and seconds later I noticed a second boy.  They were about my age or slightly older and although I was clearly visible to them they didn’t pay the slightest attention to my presence and proceeded on their way until they jumped into Emilita’s terrace and disappeared.  Many other boys followed, all going the same way, and some I recognized as my seventh grade classmates who masturbated around me and under Señor Martínez’ nose.  After a few minutes the boys who kept coming had to go into acrobatic contortions to stay on top of the gangway wall and not fall while allowing a passage to other boys returning in the opposite direction, toward the street.  Human ants, I thought, they’re just like human ants, but there is no ant-moat to keep them out; and suddenly I saw the light.  Our neighbors had recently brought from Tucumán a young girl, twelve or thirteen years old, to work as a housemaid: her room, just like that of our housemaid, opened to the terrace, and that day, when Emilita and her family were out of town somewhere, the young girl was receiving in her salon, like a modern day Messalina.

Who was I to question the ways of nature.  But the overkill!  Numerous males impregnating a single female in heat may tend to assure the survival of the species, as may do a million spermatic animalcules trying to penetrate an egg —still, the swarming, the pullulation, the frightening multitudes: it’s all very demoralizing, especially for a pubescent boy who views himself as something special, something unique in the history of the universe.  Upon her return, I told Emilita what I had seen.  The promiscuous servant girl was promptly shipped back to Tucumán and we never heard about her again.


Ricardo Nirenberg is editor of Offcourse.



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