Excerpt from Who Among Us: A Novel

Part Two: “Alicia”


I’ve decided. Would it have been better to discuss it face to face, with the greatest possible calm? Perhaps, but it doesn’t matter. I could tell you, of course, that all of us women are cowards, but the only truth is that I wouldn’t have been able to face your shock. In short, this is the revelation: I can’t go on, I’m leaving with Lucas. Don’t think the worst, I beg you; I’m not that. You’ll slowly come to detest me, but still, I want to explain everything to you, even though for you there is no explanation.

We’ve committed various offenses, but I have the slight idea that our big mistake, the most irreparable, has been not ever talking about them. The only possible frankness, that which is enjoyed by the majority of couples who insult each other daily, curse at one another and equally take pleasure in their stages of hatred and calm, has been lost by us. They are constantly updating each other’s photograph, mutually know what to abide by, but we’re behind–your respect for me, my respect for you. The most recent data that we possess, if we possess any during the period of openness, is so old it’s as if it were derived from foreign beings, unknown. Perhaps it would no longer be feasible to update ourselves and we’re destined to preserve a false memory from the other one, to despise and pine for what we haven’t been or, maybe, only the worst of how much we’ve been. I’m sure that you don’t know me, sure that I don’t know you. Who knows how much goodness and kindness there was in you and me, an attainable, potential happiness, which we’ve never had to fix upon. But now it’s too late, I’ve decided.

Now it’s horrible to have to tell you (I too realize), but sometimes I’ve truly loved you. This must sound like a cracked bell; nevertheless, it’s decorously true. Often you thought, without becoming agitated, with your usual calm, that I loved Lucas, but that I couldn’t because of my shame, that selecting you had been a mistake, and now I was paying for my error. But it was you who were mistaken. When I chose you, and before I chose you, I liked you. I always liked you, I still do.

I perfectly understand what the misunderstanding was. Because I argued with Lucas, enthusiastically contradicted him, we were mutually encouraged to hurl the best witty remarks, and because on the other hand, with you there was no conflict, you interpreted that as me showing a profound interest in Lucas’ affairs and a clear indifference towards you and your opinions. It wouldn’t occur to you to think that the other possible interpretation–and, finally, the truth–permitted the conjecture that you and I were too alike to be in constant disagreement, that I liked arguing with Lucas but appreciated the simple peace of our conversations much more. To me, our love was always understood (the first big mistake, the first failed silence about something we should say, without fear of our private ridicule; afterwards I’ve convinced myself there is inevitably always something ridiculous about love) and there was no reason to waste words on that still uncertain saying, that always seemed about to become obsolete.

To me it was enough to turn around and close my eyes, and then enter the house with the conviction of your face, of your moving and tall figure, of your raised arm arranging the books.

And there was nothing to say, because the next day I would arrive late for class and you were sitting there in front and I would look at your blond and defenseless nape and that was sufficient to recover my calm wooing and again wait for your companionship to the house, shut my eyes, and have you once again.

I could never understand why you insisted on bringing me close to Lucas. He was an interloper, I thought, and I wanted to reject him, I wanted to deny him before the transmitted boundless prestige you possess inevitably penetrated our disintegrated security. He was, for obvious reasons, representative of that which is alien, of all the powers lying in wait that were going to weaken our modest, unmistakable happiness forever, and now I cursed him before knowing him, above all I hated him because I couldn’t avoid knowing him. I faithfully, scrupulously detested him, even after I had confronted his defiant and melancholy air, his aggressive method of smiling and keeping silent, his swaying while he listened, his hands in his pockets, his caution and his presentiments. Perhaps he owes you a little bit of admiration, because you took the risk. Nevertheless, that same risk intimidated you, it forced you to judge yourself stingily, to believe you’re destined to lose. I argued with Lucas, we spoke by shouting, and felt, sensed that you were carrying out imaginary verifications, that you had discovered I don’t know what affinities, profound and secret connections that related to us in perpetuity. My stubbornness consisted in not yielding, implacably finding a violent climate and, most unfortunately, not clarifying anything, hoping you would realize. But you didn’t feel jealousy or rage, nor even impatience; you were so sure, so touchingly sure and defeated.

At times I’ve asked myself from whom or from where you derive that oblique manner of living life, which simultaneously makes you so attractive as to be despicable. You don’t favor the tide of public opinion nor do you oppose it. You always choose the most troublesome course, that of the implicated witness.

Dear, our marriage hasn’t been a failure, but rather something much more horrible: a squandered success. All the happiness we’ve disposed of, which was more subtle than is customary; all of our love, which was more honest than our fear, has not been able to withstand so much accumulated rancor, so many compromises between pride and apathy, such inflexible, quiet shame.

I know I was tremendously clumsy upon becoming involved in your decision, but you humiliated me much more by accepting me without conviction, aware that we weren’t going to be alone, because the Other you had created, the Lucas of your own creation, had temporarily installed himself in you. Only long enough to attract my incredulous attention. Only eleven years.

I’ve decided I can’t go on, I’m leaving with Lucas. Eleven years without sorrow or glory, waiting for I don’t know what. There was nothing coming from you. You would arrive, still arrive in the afternoon and sit down next to the radio and ask for maté and talk about work and ask about the kid’s grades and say that last night you wrote to him and ask me to add a few lines and convey, as always, “affectionate regards to our good friend Lucas.” But the image of me that I see in you is truly unrecognizable, it’s full of strangeness and inevitable, wearied mockery.

It’s so absurd that we are the same and nevertheless we’ve lost courage, the capacity to feel disgust or sympathy for destiny, for the other’s fate. Because we’re not the same but copies. Only faint copies.

Eleven years, you understanding it all, awaiting my foreseen nostalgia that doesn’t arrive, your blessed opportunity to show yourself to be generous and knowingly old, horribly well-informed about my desires. It’s not really important that I now tell you: “I can’t go on, I’m leaving with Lucas,” because you’ve been dragging along eleven years of expectation, because that was the speech with which from the beginning you committed me to you. After all, how idiotic to have feared your amazement, if you already know it all, if you always knew it, and how repugnant you’ve been for knowing.

You never told me: “I can’t go on, I’m leaving with Teresa.” You always can, and nevertheless you wouldn’t leave now or ever. I know her, I’ve seen her, I’ve spoken to her. Are you surprised? She’s a good woman who does what she can and gives you what she has: an admirable body that ultimately doesn’t interest you. We’ve promised each other never to tell you that we know each other, but that promise no longer has any purpose. Don’t despise her, don’t offend her. Rather protect her, it will be good for you. You need to protect someone, and I’m outside your protection. (Despite appearances, this method of writing to you isn’t cynicism. Cynicism is only a residue of hatred, and still I don’t hate you).

I’ve seen Lucas three times. Everything was done the way you, without saying so, desired. But how you have hoped for this encounter. How much you would have given to once again act as an implicated witness, deep-down scrutinize our looks and discover, finally, the connivance you prophesy. The announcement made, you paved the way, the same as those fabricators of gospels that reconcile the story with the prophecies.

You’ve spent eleven years imagining the instant of my returning to Lucas, enjoying myself in anticipation of your sacrifice. And you were so intelligent that you never mentioned it, as if our imperturbable life, our ineffable, loathsome romance, fed itself exclusively on that horrible complicity.

It’s necessary that I give you the reason, that abominable reason you’ve patiently fabricated. But I can’t forgive you. I can’t forgive you for having made me prefer Lucas, when it was so much better to love you. I can’t forgive you for the sensation of exhaustion and impurity that inexorably accompanied my love affair with Lucas, nor even the simple act of discovering I can’t love him without definitively despising you. I can’t forgive you for becoming so much worse than I wanted.

I’ve decided despite the children. Now that we’re going to face it all with abominable sincerity, not only should I ascertain what place they’re going to occupy in our future, but also how important they’ve been until now. The children write, it’s said (among the happy ones), the best of them endowed with naiveté. The children bind, it’s said, among the unfortunate, the most exaltedly stupid. You and I can attest that they didn’t unite us: they didn’t even bind us. They too act as witnesses.

But you’re waiting for the details…. Look, the evolution has been perfect. Since the first encounter, during which we spoke about you frankly and completely, until the next rendezvous, in two hours, at which time I’m thinking about reading your cloying letter to him. It will be the best way to detach myself from you. I can only detach myself from you if I despise you. And I need to despise you. I need to receive his mocking and understanding look when I read him the affectionate words you write to me.

We haven’t spoken about the immediate future yet, but you can relax, I know I’m leaving with him. I accept him with his tendency to relive our adolescence, his nervous and offensive laughter that frequently erupts and always harms me, the compassionate repulsion with which he mentions you, his eyes which desire me again.

Furthermore, I know that with him I’m not going to remain silent. I want to doubt that which is implied, modesty, and shame. This time I want to say it all, the exquisite and the repugnant, so that nothing is left to the imagination, so that nothing could betray us.

When all is said and done, I appreciate that persistent availability of your scruples. I don’t need to toss for it. I’ve spared myself the anguish of dignity, and now that is enough.

Of course, this can’t be the love that I once waited for, that love and how it should be, no longer even known to me. Anyway, it can’t be this rudimentary desire to be touched by him, without any of the opinions he had or has now mattering to me. It can’t be this hysterical yearning to go to bed with him, with absolutely not being disturbed by the possible wisdom of our future chats, the healthy union of our ideals and other boring conventions that were usually disturbing with respect to you. It can’t be, but it doesn’t matter.

If my mother taught me, through tremendous beatings, not to have dreams, on my own I’ve learned not to have hopes. Lucas is here, like a limited, unusual, accessible happiness, and I, with the excusable faults that you and I recognize, and that only bother me like an evil youngster, a painful molar or lumbago, I want to seize the occasion, offer myself to him, because he is the present and I believe in the present. After all, it’s the only available religion.

For now allow me to presume that the kids won’t complicate your life and that you won’t complicate the life of the one who can no longer be your



Mario Benedetti

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), born in Pasa de los Toros, Tacuarembó Province, Uruguay, was one of Latin America’s most renowned and beloved writers. A poet, novelist, essayist, critic, journalist, playwright, songwriter, and screenwriter, Benedetti enjoyed international acclaim. He wrote for magazines, newspapers, and various periodicals and journals in Uruguay, Argentina, and Mexico. Selections of his work are represented in anthologies published in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, England, Italy, United States, Israel, Venezuela, and Spain. Benedetti received numerous prizes for literature, including the Premio Ministerio de Instrucción Pública, Premio Municipal de Literatura, Simposio del Comisión del Teatro Municipal, Concurso Seix Barral in Barcelona, Concurso Periodístico de SAS, Premio Cámara del Libro, Medalla Félix Varela al Merito, Mejor Obra Extranjera in Mexico, Premio Llama de Oro Amnistía Internacional, Premio Jristo Botev de Bulgaria, Medalla Haydeé Santamaría, VIII Premio Reina Sofía de Poesía Iberoamericana, Premio Iberoamericano José Martí, Premio Etnosur, the XIX Premio Internacional Menéndez Pelayo, La Orden de Francisco de Miranda, and several Doctor Honoris Causa. In addition to a full-length study of twentieth-century Uruguayan literature, Benedetti authored more than ninety books, and his work has been translated into twenty-six languages, including Braille. He resided in Montevideo after 1985 and wrote full time until his death in 2009.

Harry Morales

Harry Morales is a Spanish literary translator whose translations include the work of the late Mario Benedetti, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Eugenio María de Hostos, Emir Rodríguez Monegal, Juan Rulfo, Alberto Ruy-Sánchez, Ilan Stavans, and Francisco Proaño Arandi, among many other distinguished Latin American writers. His work has been widely published in numerous anthologies, and has appeared in various journals, including Pequod, Quarterly West, Chicago Review, TriQuarterly, The Literary Review, AGNI, The Kenyon Review, Mid-American Review, ACM: Another Chicago Magazine, Mānoa, BOMB, WORLDVIEW, Puerto del Sol, The Iowa Review, Michigan Review, World Literature Today, Hayden's Ferry Review, and Denver Quarterly, among others. His English 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), and a volume of stories, El Resto Es Selva y Otros Cuentos (The Rest is Jungle and Other Stories), are published by Host Publications.

Quién de Nosotros. Copyright (c) Mario Benedetti, 1953. English translation copyright (c) Harry Morales, 2013.