Since Richie left me I've done nothing but follow my friend Clara's advice. She's a meteorologist and dressmaker and had the good judgment, much to her regret, to arrive ten days after Richie had left. The first thing she said was that it the best thing I could do would be to cut my toenails and take the dog for a walk. Afterwards she sat there looking back and forth from me to an article by Will Self that she held in her right hand.
"It's always better to expect that tomorrow will be a rainy day," she said.
Then she commented on a tornado on the Florida peninsula and a low intensity earthquake in Japan. She desisted from mentioning a lunar eclipse to help me look for the paper towels, which didn't appear anywhere. She raised the hem of my blue skirt and left closing the door softly.
The next time I saw her was on a special program about UFOs. By then my toenails had taken on strange forms and my dog had found an original way to amuse himself by barking at the canary and chasing his tail like a top on the living room carpet.
I'm slow to react, but I remembered her advice at that moment as if someone had hit me in the back of the neck with an unbreakable plate.
Five minutes later I got up and it took another twenty to find the toenail scissors. I'm never sure where I keep them. At twenty-five minutes I was ready to go out once more onto the streets of this repugnant city.
All I thought of was that tomorrow would be a rainy day until a grouchy man told me that I couldn't go into the Café Varsovia with my dog. I never knew how I got there without having taken the subway to the Catedral station.
Richie and I used to pass in front of the large windows of that café and after seeing ourselves in the brilliant glass we kissed, thinking that we would never be as old and serious as those couples who sat there munching toast without speaking.
"I will never be old," he said with conviction.
Everyone in his family died before they reached forty, which at thirty-five had turned him into a grieving wreck weighed down by wills and probates. Not a day went by when he didn't have to go to his lawyer's office to sign something. Most of the women in his family had died unacquainted with the rituals of hair rinses and Revlon cosmetics.
Mario began to bark at the grouchy man and my thoughts turned abruptly to my friend's meteorological advice. If it rained people would get wet, the streets would be reborn glittering and sad. Everything changes with rain. People recover an intimacy which is impossible under a brilliant sun. It makes some weep; others become more authentic. The rain is like the night.
Mario barked again. I looked down curiously as though just awakening from a dream. I found myself with an ice-cream cone in my hand and the old woman who reads sitting on the sidewalk looking at me. Always in the same place. Richie and I could never find out what she was reading. Now the old woman looked at me and I looked at her. Her legs were folded in front of her and her hands, twisted by rheumatism, were placed on an open book. In the middle of the book were five or six coins.
"What are you reading?" I asked.
"I already told Richie. Didn't he tell you?"
I squeezed Mario's leash so hard it hurt. He never told me. He never told me that the old woman had told him what she was reading. Another of his humiliating betrayals. I dried the tears with the palm of my hand. Mario sat down and hung out his tongue. It was going to rain. Today, tomorrow, it was going to rain. The old woman slowly lifted the book from her lap, closed it and handed it to me.
I threw the ice cream in a wastebasket and took the book with my left hand, I had Mario's leash in me right hand and besides I'm left-handed. I gave her a five peso note and walked quickly towards the plaza without blowing my nose. I released Mario, who shot away after a cat with the pressure of champagne cork.
I sat on a dilapidated bench full of graffiti next to a couple who never stopped kissing. I thought they'd end up suffocating because of lack of oxygen, or at least their hearts would burst.
I crossed my legs just as the thunder jolted the city. I looked up at the sky, it had become black and threatening. I didn't see Mario anywhere, but soon felt his humid panting on my feet. Mario had an irrational fear of thunder. I wondered at the source of this terror.
Richie always attributes the unknown to atavism. The intrauterine experiences of the fetus fascinate him. He's been writing a treatise for several years (it's already three reams long) about the message his ancestors' experiences left imprinted in his genes. Even his aversion to sweets is impressively explained by the polemic figure of a Nordic great-grandfather.
I discovered three obvious things while seated on the bench: that it was going to rain at any moment, that the couple alongside me would never stop kissing, and that I still loved Richie with the same intensity as always.
But I didn't intend to break down for such a pathetic reality. I was going to pull myself together. Didn't my aunt recuperate from the irreversible loss of a winning lottery ticket? And money is always stronger than love. If my aunt could recuperate I could also forget Richie and be happy with some Jorge or any Pablo.
I remembered the book when I tried to use my left hand to scratch my back.
"So this is what the crazy old woman reads," I said out loud.
It was a thin book with a soft cover.
The plaza's luminosity had been transformed into a disturbing nocturnal darkness. Some women fled toward the street with their children, gesticulating, nervous, squeezing their children's' hands as though afraid to lose them. Drivers who felt pressed to return to their homes, their families, their hot tea and their well stocked refrigerators blew their horns on all sides.
I'VE COME TO SHATTER YOUR WORLD
The title of the book the old woman had given me was nothing less than that. But the title wasn't the worst, the subtitle read: How to keep yourself present in the most devastating absence and the author's name was Richie Fernandez.
Mario whined. The rain fell insolently and suddenly like a heavy curtain. I was getting drenched. But I didn't move. The couple didn't either. So this is what he was doing writing until morning.
"A guy who isn't even going to live to forty has to accelerate his experiences in order to be remembered with the same intensity as a guy who has lived seventy odd years."
I cursed him: I hope he lives to be a hundred and his theory about evolved souls and reincarnation sinks without a trace.
It's always better to think tomorrow with be a rainy day.
I stood up, walked a few steps over the grass, left the plaza with Mario stepping on my heels and thought seriously about how much I needed an embrace.
© 1999 BelÚn Wedeltoft
This story may not be archived or distributed further without the author's express permission.
Belén Wedeltoft was born in Buenos Aires in June of 1962. She studied advertising, psychology and film and television scriptwriting. In literature she has devoted herself almost exclusively to the short story. Her stories have been published in leading Buenos Aires newspaper literary supplements. In 1997 she won an award form the Argentine National Art Fund, which financed her first book of short stories, published in 1999. She is currently working on her first novel.