No Surrender

On many nights while Pascual dreamt he completed this which he was now doing, pressing the button of the doorbell of the old Millán house. He always woke up rancorous and annoyed with himself because of that weakness of the subconscious, ready to return as soon as possible to the hatred of twenty-five years, to the anger with which, without being able to avoid it, he usually muttered his brother’s name. It’s true that he had avoided an explanation—what good is it in a case like that?—so as not to cloud his mother’s memory with so much sordidness. Perhaps someone believed he had made up figures for the probable value of the sparkling ring, the genuine pearl necklace, the topaz earrings. Not true. Pascual only cared that they had once belonged to his mother and that they had indeed accompanied her during her finest hour when her father was alive and she still had color in her cheeks. In exchange, he would have offered the small farm on Thirty-third which he had received in the bequest and which he didn’t even visit.

Pascual hadn’t wanted to ask for an explanation. He had simply stopped speaking to Matías. Matías could keep them, sell them if he wanted to. And he could also relinquish his soul to the devil. Not discussing the issue any more had been a relatively easy decision; in the end, Pascual felt comfortable, almost content in his silence.

And Matías? Matías, naturally, had accepted the situation without looking for the opportunity to clarify it. Pascual couldn’t remember who had avoided who. They had simply not spoken to each other any more and neither one of them had searched out the other. Pascual thought he understood: “He does good, he takes evasive action early.”

He had prepared himself for this very early on. Pascual clearly remembers the era of the gazebo. At that time, Matías was fourteen and he was twelve. During siesta, while their parents were resting and the noise of the plates and the pots and the murmuring of the black women who while they washed dishes exchanged the gossip of the day arrived from in the kitchen, while the hot and idle wind pushed the leaves and from time to time a repugnant and silky hairy bug would fall off, he and Matías would lie down on the benches of the gazebo to read their vacation books. Matías—confused, small, nervous—looked at Pascual’s books (preferentially, Buffalo Bill and Sandokan) with contempt. Meanwhile, Pascual directed a disapproving look at the titles (The Viscount’s Daughter, Mother and Destiny, The Final Tear) of ominous sentimentality that his brother’s books exhibited.

Back then they didn’t read the same books, nor did they later have the same friends. Friends of Pascual, who had laboriously arrived at his second year of medical school, were jokers, energetic, disorderly. Matías’ friends, who bored themselves for years at the same café table, were unemployed, weak-willed vagabonds, slovenly leaning towards being intellectuals.

Susana, the poor relative, had also set them apart. Matías was the first to fall in love, and Pascual, who up to that moment had paid little or no attention to his little cousin, decided to impress her with his lewd compliments. In the end, it was a double failure because Susana unexpectedly nabbed a very old, wealthy man and decided to confine herself to a respectable home, with a reasonable view towards a comfortable widowhood.

It’s true that on one occasion, the brothers had united and had even taken delight in the surprising feeling of solidarity: they were both militants in the same political party and were even on the club register. They often found themselves arguing, shoulder to shoulder, against some disbeliever, against some candidate turned turncoat who was recording the unfulfilled promises, the individual faults of the leaders. Pascual had thought that, despite his dissensions, perhaps it wouldn’t be too late to feel a brotherly pull.

Their father had provoked and encountered fainting spells, so that every night they would stay to keep their mother company and distract her as much as possible from that confusing affliction that was inevitably going to oppress his final years. Afterwards, Matías got married, and Pascual, who was still holding on to his freedom as a bachelor at the time, allowed that modest camaraderie to be extinguished, of which, nevertheless, they both had bittersweet memories.

But their mother’s death arrived, the only stable attachment that the brothers had maintained and which Pascual didn’t recover from so easily. In none of his frequent dreams was there a more oppressive nightmare than that vision of his poor mother desperately wanting to leave this world, with her tired eyes filled with worry every time a well-intentioned person created hope for her. Pascual would have preferred an illness with a precise syndrome and focal point; he couldn’t accept the idea that she would have died purely and exclusively out of a desire to die, from rarefied boredom, from not wanting to hold on to anything. Nevertheless, despite the pricking sensation of not having made himself indispensable, of not having discovered that his mother desired, at least, to live for his sake, Pascual couldn’t, however, surround her with shame. Pity weighed more on him, inevitably dazzled by those lips that didn’t want to speak, by those eyes that didn’t even contain sadness.

After she died, Matías and Susana had to attend to everything; Pascual was unhinged, in a state of semi-prostration and shock that didn’t allow him to look at himself without feeling pity. For many days he was horrified that someone was going to talk to him about figures, interests, deeds. He was anxiously awaiting one single question. If Matías had offered him the jewelry, he would have accepted them. He was ready to hand over everything in exchange: Keeping that treasure that fit in the palm of one hand had become a futile obsession. He didn’t exactly know why, but it seemed to be the closest thing to his mother, the only factor that could keep her fitter than that poor body of the last few months. That necklace, that ring, those drop earrings, were still the mother who smiled, who still attended parties, and who during the now distant and vacillating shady afternoons would give his father her arm and invite him to walk in the garden.

But Matías didn’t discuss the issue. He tried to talk about stocks, real estate, investments. Nothing about the jewelry. Pascual assented: “Make any arrangements you like. It’s all the same to me.” Uninfringeable modesty prevented Pascual from extorting Matías with his own forsaking. Clumsily, he felt like a poor orphan, as helpless as if he were seven years old, but with the tedious sensation of his shocking maturity, and that in the future, crying was only going to be worth a weak incantation of another’s pity.

One day, Matías didn’t come to their pre-arranged meeting. “He doesn’t want to talk. Good. Everything is clear,” thought Pascual. In his mind, Pascual became thoroughly convinced of Matías’ trick, and when he passed him on Mercedes and Piedad two months later, he provokingly ignored the short little steps, the impeccable top hat, and the legitimate Havana cigar, particularities that he knew as well as his own tics, his own uninteresting and methodical vices.

Nevertheless, there was one thing he had to admit. Thanks to the tenacity of that flaming hatred, truly filled with possibilities, Pascual had managed to overcome the paralysis into which he tended to immerse his self-pity. His hatred towards Matías had revived him, encouraged his everyday deep thinking, created the useful impulse for returning him to his world of few outbursts, of slow and expected repetitions. The jewels and their yearned possession ended up receding, becoming a memory, satisfied with becoming angry and supporting that ritual of abomination and contempt.

The necklace, the ring, and the earrings, which constituted the final nexus to the mother, and which, at any rate, seemed to affirm Pascual’s memory, had gone on to become the lofty image that sustained a gloomy tradition, and only that.

Pascual supported the integrity of his rancor. He recognized that there was an unsettled issue between him and his brother, nothing more. He didn’t have any reason to discuss it with Sienra, Matías’ lawyer, nor with his dwindling personal friends, nor even with Susana, who once or twice a month came to his bachelor apartment (he allowed her to invite herself) to have tea and where some question always came up, nonchalantly, that was aimed at finding out what mysterious affront had caused the break. The many years of trust authorized Pascual to contain his cousin’s aggressive curiosity with a “What do you care?” that, without managing to annoy her, obviously didn’t satisfy her either, because the next time they had tea she would return to her task with renovated spirit.

Susana had turned into an expensively dressed fifty-year old, but the good experience of her widowhood hadn’t been enough to alleviate her obesity, nor even less postpone an affronting and mannish baldness that, without a doubt and under any wig, constituted the unbearable torture, the abject compensation for her good life. Sometimes, Pascual, a man of few and forgettable passions, looked at her attentively, as if he couldn’t believe his eyes, which inevitably tended to compare her with that pleasant coquette of yore, that hussy who during dances and strolls, carriage and flower carnivals, had made Matías and him crave for the possession of her little body.

But, frankly, why would Pascual confide in her? After all, Susana also visited Matías and his wife. She generally ate lunch with them on Sundays, and then afterwards, they would go to Rodó Park for a walk around the edge of the lake, quietly endure the commotion of the kids on the merry-go-round, and return around seven, in a good mood, on the same swaying trolley car. Susana couldn’t find the words to excessively praise to Pascual the delicious dishes of Matías’ wife, Isoldita, who until she was fifty-three, promptly became angry each time someone would say her name in the diminutive, but who eventually, tired of her own defense, had resigned herself—now with false teeth and rheumatism—to feeling like Isoldita.

Pascual didn’t know himself too well, but on the other hand, he knew his cousin’s surprising outbursts by experience. Just talking to her on one single occasion about the jewelry would have been enough to ensure the immediate transmission of his equivocal, almost irritating complaining to Matías. In short, Pascual had cut off all dialogue with his brother and had no intention of reestablishing it.

Did he have no intention? On many occasions while he dreamt he completed this which he was now doing: pressing the button of the doorbell of the old Millán house. He always woke up rancorous, but now … now he was implacably awake, now he wasn’t surrendering only in his subconscious, now he was creating, in reality and with his hands, his own necessary humiliation.

Pascual still couldn’t believe it. He hadn’t believed it that afternoon when, upon returning from Susana’s burial, he found Sienra’s little note. He hadn’t believed it a week later, when he decided to call the lawyer and was told that Matías wanted to talk to him; that it was about something that couldn’t be put off (Matías’ words) and he should go to Millán’s house immediately because Matías was ill and couldn’t go out. He hadn’t believed it the moment when Sienra obtained his pledge, and now, nevertheless, he was here, disoriented, still undecided, when strictly speaking, indecision was no longer serving any purpose. He had surrendered, the doorbell was ringing inside and his heart was worn out. Susana, poor and annoying Susana had gone, with a wig and everything, to the bottom of the earth. Pascual seemed to feel that in every existence, as in daily life, an hour of Angelus also arrived, and he was living that hour. Susana was already an inscrutable memory that he didn’t love, nor would he ever have been able to love, but that had left a moderately encompassing void.

He knowingly tested the steel door and ascertained that it was open. He pushed it gently so that it wouldn’t creak, and entered, after twenty-five years, the usual garden. To the right, the square flower bed of white geraniums and the statue of the three little angels which urinated continuously. Then, the long rock where he had played an endless solitary game of jacks during summer mornings. Next, the Caucasus fir, which had arrived in its little box from a European origin, even though it wasn’t exactly a Caucasus, and that everyone claimed was going to dry up. Back there, partially hidden from view by the house, the gazebo; one of the benches had broken, and the leaves—who knows—seemed flimsier and darker.

Then, the door opened and Pascual saw what looked like Isoldita’s mother, or aunt, or perhaps an old relative, who didn’t exactly know what to say. But the smile preserved her name. “How are you, Isolda?” he said with certain embarrassment. She extended her hand and he felt obliged to enter, the horrible curiosity of introducing himself in the living room and facing the large oil painting of his mother, done by that Basque painter who charged three hundred pesos to forgo time and wrinkles. He didn’t linger there, passing quickly and following Isolda, but the quick glance was enough to prove how little he remembered about that face. The sister-in-law was in mourning, for Susana, of course, and the entire house was dark; the Venetian blinds were closed and even an awning was drawn. “Matías is upstairs,” she said, as though apologizing. Pascual felt slightly dizzy. To be specific, a wave of disgust came over him upon feeling a sharp pain in his joints in the effort to climb the same stairs that he had once climbed in four leaps.

Isolda opened the door and with her eyebrows signaled to Pascual to enter. It was his mother’s old bedroom, but he—was “that” Matías?—was on the left side of the bed, wearing a grayish scarf, his eyes swollen, and his hair bunched closely together. Pascual approached, each step taking him a lifetime, and Matías said, without any apparent effort: “Please sit over there.” Pascual sat down and hadn’t opened his mouth yet when Matías was already adding: “Look, I had to talk to you. There’s been a misunderstanding, you know?” Pascual felt a sudden warmness on his temples and he moved his lips: “Do you think so?” Matías was nervous, squeezing the bedspread with his hands and couldn’t settle into a comfortable position.

Suddenly, Matías began to speak and said it all in almost a single stretch. Later, Pascual was going to confusedly remember that he wanted to interrupt his explanation, but that it had been pointless. Matías, feverish, encrusting the words with his cough, shouting sometimes, and mechanically arranging the pillow that always tended to slip behind his head, seemed eager to reach the end and convince himself that Pascual understood: “I’m going to be frank with you. Of course, perhaps this is no longer the time to be frank. You might think like that and be correct, absolutely correct. The truth is that when mom died … it’s hard to believe, but the fifteenth made it twenty-five years … I stopped seeing you, speaking to you … I swear that you were dead to me. Yes, I know, you didn’t come to see me, you refused to greet me, and that was the worst thing, because I thought you didn’t want to talk to me about the jewelry. Of course, of course. Now I know that wasn’t true, but at the time I ignored everything. I only understood that you didn’t want to talk to me because you had taken the necklace, the rings, the earrings. To me that was indisputable, because they had disappeared and you wouldn’t talk about that forbidden subject. I don’t know what they would have represented to you; to me, at least, they were mom’s presence. That’s why I couldn’t forgive you, understand? I couldn’t forgive you for not wanting to discuss the issue, and, at the same time (herein lies my stupidity), I didn’t want to talk to you. Understand, old man, that each person has their own kind of shame. Understand that I couldn’t ask you for anything. I waited for you to come, you don’t know how anxiously I waited for you to come. But how I hated you. For twenty-five years, day after day; don’t you think it’s completely horrible? Who knows how long this would have continued, who knows for how long that rancor would have been drawn out if Susana hadn’t died. She called us a few days ago, you know? She could hardly talk, but she gave us the jewelry. It was her, the cretin. She had taken them when mom died. Her, that filthy woman. Isolda would look at her and couldn’t believe it. Twenty-five years … do you realize? And I not having spoken to you … seen you.”

Just then Matías seems to loosen up and relaxes his muscles and nerves a bit. But he immediately remembers the rest and leans over onto the little night table. His hands are trembling a little, but he noisily opens one of the drawers and takes out a long, green package. “Here,” says Matías, and holds It out to Pascual. “Here, I said. I want to punish myself for my stupidity, my distrust. Now that I finally have the jewelry, I want you to take them. Understand?”

Pascual doesn’t say anything. He has the little green package on his knees and he’s never felt so ridiculous. He tries to think: “So, Susana …” but Matías has already started again and speaks in quick thrusts: “We have to recover lost time. I want to have a brother again. I want you to come and live with us, here, in your house. Isolda also feels the same way.”

Pascual stammers that he’s going to think about it, that there will be time later on to discuss it calmly. He’s exhausted, that’s the difficulty. He wants to stop feeling surprised, know with complete certainty what he thinks about this, but Matías’ voice intimidates him, demands—like the most fitting receipt of the jewelry—the foul forgiveness.

Matías now has another coughing fit, much more intense than the earlier ones, and Pascual takes advantage of the respite to stand up, mutter any excuse, promise to return, and shake the sweat on that hand that looks like a twin of his own. Isolda, who has been present, unannounced, at the entire repentance, once again accompanies Pascual to the door. “Goodbye, Isolda,” says Pascual, and she, grateful, doesn’t ask him to return.

Pascual looks at the long rock and the little angels without nostalgia, closes the steel door so that it creaks, and finds himself in the street again. To tell the truth, he hasn’t surrendered. His left hand continues to squeeze the package and he suddenly feels an uncontrollable desire to smoke. Then, he stops at the corner, lights a cigarette, and upon feeling the old pleasure of the smoke, suddenly sees everything clearly. Now the jewelry is no longer important; his hatred towards Matías continues intact; may his cousin Susana rest in peace.

(1955)

Bios

Mario Benedetti

Mario Benedetti was born on September 14, 1920 in Pasa de los Toros, Tacuarembó Province, Uruguay. When he was four years old, his family moved to Montevideo. Between 1938 and 1941, he lived in Buenos Aires almost continuously. When he returned to Montevideo in 1945, he published his first book, La Víspera Indelebe (Poems) and became the editor of Marcha. Although he was a trained accountant, he went on to publish Peripecia y Novela (Literary Criticism) in 1948, and a year later, Esta Mañana, his first book of stories. In 1953, he published his first novel, Quién de Nosotros, but it was with the publication of Montevideanos: Cuentos (Stories), in 1959, that the urban concept of his narrative style took shape. With the publication of La Tregua in 1960, Benedetti acquired international pre-eminence. This novel, written in the form of a diary, has been published in more than one hundred editions, translated into nineteen languages, and has been adapted for the stage, screen, radio, and television. In the late fifties and sixties, he traveled extensively in Latin America, Europe, and the U.S. While in Cuba, he founded the world famous Centro de Investigaciones Literarias at Casa de las Americas, which he directed from 1969 to 1971. Returning to Uruguay in 1971, he opposed increasing government repression through his writing and participation in the leftist coalition known as the Frente Amplio, which he helped organize. Following the coup of June 1973, his work was banned by the Uruguayan military. Between 1973 and the return of the civilian government in 1985, he lived in exile in Argentina, Peru, Cuba, and Spain. Writing for an international audience, he denounced the tragic events occurring in Uruguay at the time. Since 1985, he has lived in Montevideo, where he devotes his full time to writing.

Benedetti is one of Latin America’s most highly renowned and beloved authors who writes (especially) about everyday life in Montevideo. Using well-balanced and appropriate doses of humor and colloquialisms, he shows a deep and poignant insight into his characters’ inner world and captures the problems of the city dwellers, who while trapped in an impersonal world, are building a shell to protect themselves from authentic feelings. As Jean Franco stated in The Modern Culture of Latin America, many of Uruguay’s problems stem from its high level of literacy and large middle class. “Modern Uruguay is a country of clerks and civil servants, and the hazards that face them are not those of violence and oppression, but of smugness and the excessive concern for security.” Consequently, Benedetti’s works are often set among office workers and members of the middle class, and in many, the characters’ low-key lives take on a tragic tinge simply because they are caught in the trap of routine.”

As a poet, novelist, essayist, critic, journalist, playwright, songwriter, and screenwriter, Benedetti’s vast body of work encompasses every genre and is known worldwide. He has written for magazines, newspapers, and various periodicals and journals in Uruguay, Argentina, and Mexico. In addition, selections of his work are represented in anthologies published in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, England, Italy, the United States, Israel, Venezuela, and Spain. His poetic texts, some of them set to music and frequently performed at folk concerts, are familiar to the generations of Latin Americans who flock to hear him whenever he appears in public.

On thirteen occasions he has received prizes for literature, including the “Premio Ministerio de Instrucción Pública” for Peripecia y Novela, a book of literary criticism, in 1948, and again for the play, El Reportaje, in 1958; the “Premio Municipal de Literatura” for Montevideanos: Cuentos, a collection of stories, in 1959, La Tregua, his second novel, in 1960, and again in 1963, for Literatura Uruguaya Siglo XX, a book of literary criticism; and Third Prize in the “Simposio del Comisión del Teatro Municipal” for the play, Ida y Vuelta, in 1963, for which he was also awarded a drama fellowship by the American Council of Education to visit the U.S. That same year, when Gracias Por el Fuego, his third novel, was awarded Second Prize in the “Concurso Seix Barral” in Barcelona, he won the “Concurso Periodístico de SAS” for journalism, and was awarded the “Premio Cámara del Libro” and the “Medalla Félix Varela al Merito” for his first novel, Quién de Nosotros. In 1979, he was awarded the prize for “Mejor Obra Extranjera” in Mexico, the “Premio Llama de Oro Amnistía Internacional” for the play, Pedro y el Capitán, and again in 1987, for the novel, Primavera Con Una Esquina Rota. In 1986, he was awarded the “Premio Jristo Botev de Bulgaria” for his body of work in the poetry and essay genre. In 1989, he was decorated with the “Medalla Haydeé Santamaría” by the State Council of Cuba. In 1997, the Universidad de Alicante conferred upon him a Doctor Honoris Causa. In 1999, he was awarded the “VIII Premio Reina Sofía de Poesía Iberoamericana” for his body of work in the poetry genre, and in 2000, he received the “Premio Iberoamericano José Martí.” In 2004, he was awarded the “Premio Etnosur,” and in June 2005, he received the “XIX Premio Internacional Menéndez Pelayo.”

Besides having written a full-length study of twentieth-century Uruguayan literature, he is the author of more than seventy-five books, including thirty-one books of poetry, seven novels, thirteen collections of stories, nine books of essays, eleven books of literary criticism, ten books of journalism, five plays, one children’s book, seven anthologies of stories, poetry, and journalism (as editor), and three books of music.His work has been translated into twenty-six languages: French, English, German, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Swedish, Bulgarian, Greek, Czech, Slovak, Danish, Polish, Norwegian, Hungarian, Portuguese, Hebrew, Japanese, Finnish, Ukrainian, Arabic, Romanian, Catalan, Galician, Flemish, and Braille.

Harry Morales

Harry Morales is the author of The Suit and Skirt Farm (Xlibris, 2002), a novel. He was born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, in 1962, and was raised in New York City. He is a graduate of New York City Technical College and lives in Manhattan. He has studied literary translation under Gregory Rabassa and translated stories by the Uruguayan poet and novelist, Mario Benedetti, from various collections including Montevideanos: Cuentos, La Muerte y Otra Sorpresas: Cuentos, Esta Mañana: Cuentos, and Con y Sin Nostalgia: Cuentos, among others. He has translated the poetry of the late Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas, and the work of Eugenio María de Hostos, Emir Rodríguez Monegal, Juan Rulfo, Cristina Peri Rossi, Julia de Burgos, and Ilan Stavans, among many other Latin American poets and writers. His translations from the Spanish of Mario Benedetti have appeared in The American Voice, Pequod, Fiction, Confrontation, Arshile, Quarterly West, Northwest Review, Chicago Review, Sycamore Review, The Kenyon Review, Mid-American Review, ACM: Another Chicago Magazine, Mānoa, BOMB, Puerto del Sol, Michigan Quarterly Review, and World Literature Today, among others. His translations of work by Ilan Stavans have appeared in TriQuarterly, The Literary Review, The One-Handed Pianist and Other Stories (University of New Mexico Press, Spring 1996), Prospero’s Mirror: A Translators’ Portfolio of Latin American Short Fiction (Curbstone Press, June 1998), The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories (Oxford University Press, November 1998), Agni, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror Stories (St. Martin’s Press, July 1999), The Essential Ilan Stavans (Routledge, October 2000), The Saint Ann’s Review, The Iowa Review, and MEXICO: A Traveler’s Literary Companion (Whereabouts Press, 2005). Other work in translation appears in The Oxford Book of Latin American Essays (Oxford University Press, October 1997), Contemporary Fiction from Cuba (Seven Stories Press, May 1999), and Worlds of Fiction: Second Edition (Prentice Hall, August 2001). His journalism and book reviews have appeared in Hopscotch: A Cultural Review, WorldView, and The Bloomsbury Review. He is the recipient of a Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry grant for his translations from the Spanish, and has completed a new English translation of Benedetti’s internationally-acclaimed, award-winning novel, La Tregua (The Diary of Martín Santomé: A Novel). His translation of two verse collections by Mario Benedetti, Sólo Mientras Tanto: Poemas: 1948-1950 (Only in the Meantime: Poems: 1948-1950) and Poemas de la Oficina: 1953-1956 (Office Poems: 1953-1956) is published by Host Publications.

"No Surrender" from Montevideanos: Cuentos. Copyright Editorial Alfa Montevideo, 1959. English translation copyright (c) Harry Morales, 2000.