REVIEW: LATIN AMERICAN
LITERATURE AND ARTS -
NEW WRITING AND ARTS FROM BRAZIL
Nº 53 - FALL 1996
Cristovão Tezza (b. 1952) has lived in Curitiba for over
30 years. Besides Uma noite em Curitiba (A Night in Curitiba)
(1995), he has published four other novels: Trapo (Rag),
Juliano Pavollini, A Suavidade do Vento (The Gentleness
of the Wind) and O Fantasma da Infância (The Ghost
o Childhood). Tezza began Uma Noite em Curitiba in Brazil
but finished it in the United States, where he had a Ledig House
Foundation grant. What follows, the novel's final chapter, is
a son's settling of accounts with a father (Frederico Augusto
Rennon) whose letters, involving adultery and murder, open gaping
holes in a most decorous façade.
A Night in Curitiba
And I heard nothing more about Professor Frederico Rennon-unfortunately,
this was more a desire than a truth.
On October 30, a Saturday, my father disappeared. Meaning we didn't
notice his absence immediately because over the course of the
week he disappeared a little bit every day: absent from a lunch,
then the light's not being on in his study when it should have
been, a necktie forgotten on the sofa for 48 hours, the rustle
of slippers at 4:00 a.m., another kind of silence, infinitesimal,
taking control of the spaces in the house, an open door, cereal
in the kitchen before morning coffee. I made mental notes of these
portents of the end. He only slept, when he slept, after Dona
Margarida got up.The number of telephone calls shot up, and I
already knew the sequence of things I had to say: "He's not
in. I don't know. I'll give him the message."
And on Saturday, there were so many hints everywhere in the house,
brutally obvious hints-even the absence of a small valise from
a closet in the storeroom whose door was left open, just one more
deliberate clue in this version of "Jeopardy." So obvious,
that not even Dona Margarida could keep on believing that the
earth was square, flat, and held up by ten elephants in infinite
space. No, the earth really is round, spins on its axis around
the sun, follows a curved path diabolically identical year after
year, and is held up by nothing at all. Even so, it took us a
while to accept the proof. The last question or rather the final
answer that ended the game was the disappearance of a few (very
few) items of clothing. through the halfopen door of their room,
I saw my mother making an oral inventory of the underpants, socks,
shirts, and trousers on the bed. I went back to the living room,
thinking. Good, we finally had something concrete in our hands,
something that allowed me to live with an exciting sense of abandonment.
To defend myself, I ran to the study in the hope of reading yet
another letter, perhaps the last one in that fantastic voyage,
my father's hallucinating dream-perhaps in it he might dispose
of the family property in his usual meticulous style (to my well-beloved
son, I leave my gold watch and my library; to my unforgettable
wife, whose hands I kiss under a divine blessing, I leave my eternal
love, my shirt studs, and the treasure chest; to my daughter and
my little grandson, I leave my memory, my dresser, and my stamp
collection; to... but there's no one left and nothing left to
leave). No letter, all I found rooting around in the computer
was that encoded draft of the letter of resignation. Thus ended
my dishonest joy in-just as my father had always disappeared,
always in the most implausible moments-running excitedly to the
study and discovering what that doped-up head was inventing. My
pleasure was all the greater because of my fear that he might
return unexpectedly, the implacable Abraham pointing his finger
at my moral misery (and I just missed being sentenced to death
after one of those inexplicable returns: As soon as I heard those
crazy footsteps coming down the hall, I turned off the computer
and took up my post next to the bookcase, consulting a greasy
dictionary of Greek mythology, my heart pounding so loudly that
even he must have heard, unless he was completely deaf by then).
Nothing new on TV. The show-and my past-was coming to an end.
I went back to the living room and patiently waited for Dona Margarida,
counting my father's clothes for the tenth time, all to convince
herself that a complicated page of our book was being definitively
turned. But it's difficult to believe the obvious. We read and
reread the same worn-out phrases we know by heart, we look for
esoteric meanings between the lines, we think about other things
while our eyes uselessly scrutinize the same letters, until we
get to the point of grasping the tip of the sweaty, filthy page
to turn it: Now!-but no, who knows if there's some hidden clue
we overlooked. I calmly waited for her to find out on her own.
As my father would say, destiny is pulling us along by the hand,
it's useless to fight it.
It took a while. An hour later-all that time with ears burning,
interrupting the tasty consumption of milk and cookies whenever
I thought I heard weeping break out, which never happened, the
old lady is solid-she reappeared, nicely turned out for another
trip to the movies. Not a word. I mean, not a word did she say
about the main subject of our lives.
"They're showing a French film at the Bristol. Want to go?"
It's obvious. Here I stand with the person who will be my ally
until death. And she, more and more beautiful, more relaxed, more
absolutely happy, is with no one. I'm only a good screen, and
I can continue being a silent support for a good while, which
I have done with a touch of fervor almost-doglike, I was going
to say, as if the absent old man had whispered the word. As always,
we, my mother and I, reenacted the beautiful, silent, and oppressive
ritual. Time, this short time, was transforming my mother. It
was as if the trips to the movie were the alibi she needed to
think, actualy think, about her new Iife, without concerning herself
exclusively with the abstract, sterile, empty relationships our
minds are always ready to produce in gushes as soon as we look
away. She wept once again, in the dark, and the next day-and afterward,
insofar as I know, never again, at least for that kind of sadness.
The house became lighter. A misunderstanding, a small deception
was resolved-as if, after coming back from the bathroom, we had
sat down at the wrong table and begun chewing the same lasagna
we ordered, but under the horrified gazeof someone else's dinner
partner, someone who had only left his chair to chat with an acquaintance
sitting ten feet away; or as if someone were speaking to us in
the street in an absurdly familiar way, as if we were his cousin
because we're identical to his cousin; as if someone had opened
a car door right in front of our body, which only wanted to cross
the street, saying: "Get in. Am I very late? Did you bring
the envelope?" A small misunderstanding that laziness extends
into 25 years of routine. Sometimes we never notice the deception.
We come to live in another house, to eat someone else's food,
to get into an unknown car, and get rich in one fell swoop in
a completely different family, one that is much more amusing.
Or we see the mistake, but it's already too late, we wilI never
be set free, we're so interesting! Some lunatics put up a fight-Let
me out of here!-to the consternation of the new setting, what
to do to cure him? But there is no cure, no one in our former
life would recognize us anymore.
Light, lightness, air. The house, light now, rapidly filling up
with lightness, curves, breeze, color, and sounds. A week later,
Dona Margarida (no: Dida) turned up with half a dozen CD's of
popular Brazilian music. Luminous. An almost aggressive light,
almost a representation of light. Well, it's explicable. At the
beginning, it's always that way. And for the first time in many
years my mother-Dida-had a visitor, a lively girlfriend from highschool
days, married to an architect who apparently, according to the
lady's smile, never left home when young. How the two of them
laughed! Hand in hand, they strolled into the Disneyland of youth.
I actually became jealous of that jolly chatter, which from time
to time I listened in on during strategic incursions from the
study to the kitchen. At one point-holding the mouthful of milk
in my swollen cheeks to listen-the ancient Rennon entered the
"But dearie, can you believe I really don't know where he
I swallowed the milk and missed the rest. Things were going well.
And going well also from the practical point of view, or, to use
my father's jargon, with regard to the economic infrastructure.
After that tedious week when the Institute called Dona Margarida
every hour on the hour tracking down the Disappeared Professor,
perhaps by then with veiled threats of sinister, shameful consequences-expulsion,
docking of salary, a civil suit, the road to bitterness-judging
by my mother's increasingly harsh answers, a repetitive I don't
know that got louder and louder until the phone was slammed down.
Then a strange lull settled in. If we listened carefully, we would
have been able to hear the whispers of the Corporation, deciding
how to save the future-what future?-of the abominable man by using
only that letter of resignation with no recognizable signature
they'd received in the mail. And save they did. AIso through the
mail (but quite some time later) came a copy of the Official Union
List with the pension laid out in due form: full salary plus additional
funds corresponding to this or that sabbatical prize or aid endangerment,
I have no idea, but my mother confirmed it all in the bank, where
her account was replenished the second working day of every month.
Was the professor living on air? No, by no means. We discovered-to
tell the truth at the insistence of Fernanda, for whom my mother's
indifference made no sense-that he sold the two properties we
owned a few days before disappearing. Someone (I think it had
to be Fernanda. That would explain why my mother still has some
suspicions about her-Fernanda is very practical and objective)
hinted that perhaps the transaction consummated exactly one year
before might be invalid and could be contested in a court of law.
Because of insanity? I thought, without saying it. No, because
Dona Margarida's signature was missing from the contract, but
after digging through the mound of papers in the files she discovered
the copy of the power of attorney ad perpetuam that would have
allowed him to sell Zacarias Plaza if he owned it and if there
was a buyer. Fernanda still thought that the argument of bad faith
could... but, happily, the matter died.
And after all that, where was my father, the repentant murderer?
During the first weeks, I'm not sure why, I would buy São
Paulo and Rio newspapers with the money Dida now gave me regularly
because I was so dedicated to my studies looking for news of our
star. But the star seemed to be falling. I was running my finger
over the casts in the theater, movie, and TV sections without
finding Sara Donovan anywhere. Well, today I know that they had
two properties worth of cash to spend before going to work. So
we were all happy and forgetting things-my mother reading Anna
Karenina, her beautiful profile under the light pouring out of
the lampshade in the living room, I reviewing chemistry in the
study, both of us breathing the softness of the air when thinking
about life represented a joyful and generous activity. The only
disagreeable moments in our lives took place in the elevator when
someone else joined us. Where might Professor Rennon be? Such
a nice man, going off to school early every morning, coming home
at lunch, patting all the neighbors' children on the head, making
wise comments about Curitiba's harsh climate, on the same day
it rains, it's sunny, it's cold, hot, all it needs to do is snow,
it's just terrible. Now, silence. I'm known to be a nut, and no
one's weirder; my mother's disagreeable. So the smiles are always
forced. But all I have to do is close the elevator door to hear
the desperation of the gossip about our Shame, The Sad Fate of
That Poor Woman and Her Abandoned Son-without mentioning the daughter
who it seems was murdered or kidnapped, not sure which. It seems
something came out in the paper about it at that time.
No ma'am, you've got it all wrong. The one mentioned in the paper
was my father, but it took some time. The first news came absolutely
by chance and not in a newspaper but in a shredded gossip magazine
the barber put in my hand before trimming my hair. I unwillingly
skimmed that garbage-there is something about the barber chair
that reminds me of concentration camps, with the most refined
cruelty-until on one of the multicolored pages, I saw my father.
Meaning that the story was about the Star; Professor Rennon only
played the role of the pirate's parrot. I closed my eyes, I broke
out in a cold sweat. Couldn't old Frederico Augusto find a more,
let's say, fitting place to make his appearance? In the Bulletin
of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science, for example,
or as the author of some article in a popular science magazine,
the kind put out for intelligent children? Or he could have been
the object of a critical review in the cultural supplement in
a São Paulo magazine, under the title, who knows, of The
Echoes of Slavery: Roads and Detours of Brazilian Negritude during
the Twenties. I turned the page as if none of that mattered to
me, but two pages later I turned back-filial love is an atavistic
There he was, same as ever, enjoying life, a cartoon-character
smile on his face, wearing a suit and tie (at least that) sitting
at a table in a noisy nightclub. At his side glittered the Star
(I could barely recognize her; she looked like someone else, with
different hair in a different tone-only her eyes were the same).
Both were toasting for the photographer, who had also caught a
fancy bottle of champagne at center stage slightly out of focus.
The Star held the glass in her left hand, he held his in his right;
they were clearly posed, awaiting the click. A premeditated photo.
The text was even worse, all two or three lines of it. It went
something like this, if I remember properly: The vivacious Sara
Donovan, on a welI-deserved vacation, enjoys the delights of her
eighth husband, the elegant historian Frederico Renom (sic).
Now it really was hard to get into the elevator. I closed the
magazine, thinking. Things were going so well, and now. . I looked
into the mirror. Maybe I should ask the barber to stop cutting.
It looked fine just as it was, half done. Looking at me, with
my Mohican, no one would be reminded of my father's shame. But
I let time finish its work completely-time that became miserably
slow, almost vengeful. I spent hours getting home, from Osório
Plaza almost to the Social Garden in a straight line, appraising
every face that passed. What were they thinking? Once again, the
filament in my brain gave smail electric alarm signals. I went
on to deep breathing, looking for relaxation-l'm not going to
poison our lives just because of a magazine photo. In this day
and age, who worries about things like that? Not even the doorman,
who surprisingly ran to open the door of the (empty) elevator
for me, with an almost ingratiating smlie: "Did you get a
I didn't bother to answer. Should I tell Dida? Of course not.
It had been a long time since I'd felt the impulse to show her
my father's letters. To avenge what? In truth, the desire to reveal
his madness had been only an attempt to show solidarity, completely
unnecessary in any case-my mother knew who was on her side. But
I read the letters again, almost daily. I knew almost all of them
by heart, the long series of sentences, the lengthy paragraphs
interrupted here and there by rhetorical questions, that stylized
rhythm, the embarrassed clichés of love, the sudden elegant
passages, that Frenchified sense of humor, the pleasure of circumlocution,
the shocked enumerations, the lies and omissions, sometimes well-intentioned
sometimes not, the fragments of information to which I tried to
give meaning in order to solve the puzzle, and, finally, the shocking
revelation of the crime, in details, photogram by photogram. I
was drinking in all of that, absorbing it. The supposed crime
was what concerned me most. My father is a murderer. It's strange.
What seemed tragic, arousing resentful darts of revenge- from
what moral high ground could he complain about me?-now seemed
funny. Isn't it funny-that your father should so unexpectedly
turn out to be a murderer?
For a few weeks, I fantasized about telling the whole course (in
the maritime sense of the word, as my father would say) of those
years that have fascinated the memory of Brazil so much and to
discover amid the whirlpool whose head it was my father smashed
in the alley during that obscure student demonstration with no
date (1969 is a very vague year). To investigate, to identify
his friends from that time, and interview them coldly. But I couldn't
do that, I thought, unless he died. Now that I'm free, the idea
does not seem so attractive. Fernanda says the subject has been
exhausted, and that perhaps I should specialize in the philosophy
of history. She's probably right. I depend on her.
More than I do on my mother. When I got home after my haircut,
with my father's toast hammering my memory, I found a note that
informed me she'd gone out to renew her driver's license. Oh yes,
there's a sausage in the refrigerator and bread in the cupboard.
The license business took a long time. At 11:00 p.m., taking advantage
of the lower rates, my divorced grandmother, my mother's mother,
called from Londrina, furious, demanding to know what that stuff
was in the magazine-l could even hear the old lady smacking the
page with the smiling husband and wife making their toast.
"I don't know, Grandma."
"Where's your father at?"
"He's on a trip. A... a congress."
"A congress." I clear my throat. "A congress in
"Too bad. Call your mother."
"She... she went out."
Vulgar old woman! I shouted: "Mom's not here. She won't be
back until tomorrow."
Silence. I heard the massacre of the magazine page.
"Teu that ingrate to call me-it's urgent."
I felt an inexplicable malaise when my mother, tired and happy,
opened the living room door at 2:00 a.m. She was still laughing
to herself at some joke her girlfriends had made-she was presumably
coming from some dinner or party. I didn't ask-of course-and went
on studying trigonometry sitting on the sofa under my light. I
decided not to give her the message. Always better to forget messages.
But the professor's photo went everywhere and certainly reached
Dona Margarida. I both feared and desired that. I was afraid because
the news would provoke more suffering, not mortal, personal, untransferable
suffering, but the peripheral suffering of shame, which is the
worst of all. My mother doesn't deserve to feel shame. Nor should
she, but the others, all the others working hand in hand, looking
at us, are powerful. They know it and use that power. To be fair,
I think we do as welI. And I wanted her to see the photo (just
as I had wanted her to read the letters) for purely pragmatic
reasons. That would accelerate the flow of time, unstick the gears
of convenience, and in some way define and clarify my future in
that (perhaps) provisionally vague space.
The suffering was immediately visible. From one day to the next,
Dona Margarida decided to lock herself in her room much longer
than usual. I never heard weeping, but she only left that room
once or twice a day, to drink small cups of tea and eat unsaited
crackers. She lost quite a bit of weight and wouldn't answer the
telephone-which rang a good deal in pursuit of Dida. For an extremely
short period of time, I was that exquisite figure, "the man
of the house," an uncomfortable position because you don't
know where the orders are coming from. They're in the air, silently
waiting for you to recognize them and not to make mistakes. I
tried to be the most nonexistent person possible, and I think
Suddenly, leaving the study after reviewing biology seven hours
straight, I found my mother on the living room sofa, the new Dida,
svelte and fixed up, her mature legs crossed under the side slit
of her black dress. She was attentively reading the real estate
section in the paper looking for apartments to rent, to buy, to
exchange, drawing a red circle around one ad or another. I speculated
that it wasn't the house she wanted to divest herself of but the
elevator, especially waiting for the elevator in the lobby.
Changing houses! An idea, as soon as the shock of the novelty
wore off, that didn't seem so good to me. What an annoying thing-leaving
the place where you are! But that didn't last Iong-four days,
30 telephone calls, a couple of visits to real estate agencies,
some calculations written in pencil, and I never saw the real
estate section again. Thinking it over carefully, why give up
130 square meters a year and a half before paying off the mortgage
at a monthly rate that would be half the maintenance on a condominium?
Shame is powerful, but even shame has its limits. We stayed put
except that we were much calmer. And Dida's happiness after the
shock-in colors and with nation-wide distribution-seemed surer,
less, shall we say, extroverted, less aggressive, as she was in
the first days of this war, when you've got to stamp your foot
and convince the world by shouting that you're not even there-and
no one believes you because it isn't logical, and the others notice
the tremor in our hands. Once this contretemps was passed, calm
would ensue. And at the end of December my antenna picked up some
different signals on the telephone. Lawyers. Two or three times
I heard the word divorce spoken in an interrogative tone: divorce?
Later I began to detect even weightier terms: trial, indemnization,
divestiture, perhaps self-defense. Pension. That one I heard with
each glass of milk I drank in the kitchen, in different rhythms.
Pension?! Yes, pension. Ah, pension. Pension ... The old girl
thought and weighed things-in silence. Today I know that some
lawyer friends of hers, referred by her girlfriends, who were
deeply upset by her sad fate, made a plan to help her. That she
should take the initiative to untie the knot that Professor Rennon-in
certain ways, let's agree, the generous Professor Frederico Augusto
Rennon-had left behind with olympian indifference. Who knows,
methodical, organized, and prudent as he always was, Professor
Frederico Augusto had deliberately left the door ajar, just in
case the delights of paradise might turn out to be a bit boring:
those pomegranates devoid of flavor, that dullest of dull orchestras
made up of harps, those naked women painted in oil by Renaissance
masters, the tedium of Eden, the discomfort of bare feet on the
But the beautiful Dona Margarida-How great you look, Dida!, her
girlfriends would say, girlfriends whose numbers increased-locked
the door seven times over and tossed the key out the window. With
the deposit receipt in her hand as regular as clockwork, there
was nothing to complain about. And why get old before your time
getting mixed up in court cases and other wretched things? My
family always lived the delightful laziness of chance. Time is
our master and our companion, as the poet says.
The old photograph continued making its way around the world-or
perhaps it was another, a more recent shot, about which I knew
nothing. A week before Christmas I opened the door, and there
was my sister Lucila. A four-year-old boy forced his way between
my legs, ran straight to the sound system, opened one of the new
CDs, and tried to stuff the disk into every hole on the machine,
all the while asking to be picked up and staring provocatively
at his astonished grandmother, herself in a quandary as to whether
she should save Brazilian popular music, smack her grandson, or
hug her daughter, who was also becoming rather ill-mannered:
"Well, kids?! Does this mean the old man took off too?"
A shock. Here we have to interrupt the scene (for two seconds,
be patient) so you can objectively see all the multiple variations
the new factor imposed with no warning on the chessboard both
I and Dida imagined to be completely under control. Let me list
1. A four-year-old plague, with no father and, apparently, no
2. The first and only little grandchild.
3. A sister I hadn't seen for six years.
4. A concrete daughter.
5. The memory of someone who'd been a daughter for 17 years.
6. Forgetting someone who'd been a sister for 15 years.
7. A strange girl.
8. A woman who was deliberately ugly.
9. A familiar voice speaking in a foreign vocabulary.
10. A space, especially a space that shrank so much that I felt
the pressure of the walls crushing my shoulders.
And so on. She looking at me with an excessive smile, and I feeling
the complicated electricity of two children competing in the aggressive
mist of childhood. She looking at my mother as if she'd gone out
of the house yesterday afternoon and slept over at a girlfriend's
house. Dona Margarida looking at her and trying to recognize in
that sluttish being the traces of a girl in pigtails who no longer
exists. The boy looking at Dona Margarida, a little rogue, smiling
and charming, like someone who likes to share with others the
pleasure of hearing the noise fingernails make on the surface
of the shiny disk covered with rainbows. My mother's open mouth
as she stretches out an arm to hold herself up; the wave of dizziness
on her face. Lucila's sudden silence, the rapid disintegration
of each feature on her face, the instantaneous perception of that
other reality, in a flash, like a person adapting his eyes to
sudden darkness. Doubt, the uncertainty of the next step, between
my eyes and my mother's.
Two, three seconds. I clearly heard the fingernail scratching
the disk, not as forcefully now, as if even the child felt the
weight-it's funny but it did occur te me in that instant-the Anglo-Saxon
weight of that family.
Then, quickly, the obvious: Mother and daughter threw themselves
at each other in an embrace that would never end, tears flowing,
the final scene, the happy ending of an edifying film for the
whole family. With the lights on again, the credits running on
the screen, we would bear on our retinas forever that picture
of the immortal values of Christianity. Even the boy, tossing
the disk on the fioor and trying to separate the legs of the two
souls glued together and later, defeated, throwing himself against
me to kick me in the shins, even he was a part of the picture.
I locked myself up in the study to think, but there was nothing
to think about. With no options, I just let things happen, retreating
even more furiously into my studies, an elegant way to point out
And the differences did the job for me on their own. Not even
maternal love, the greatest of all, could escape unscathed from
that aggressive increase in presences, the small savage avenging
the injustices of life on every object capable of being broken
and on every hair that could be pulled, always unexpectedly, as
if negating Pavlov with a club, even in the case of the model
electric train, the colored blocks, the battery-driven fire chief's
car whose lights lit and that stridently wailed for two whole
days until it fell out of the window (fortunateiy smashing in
the patio without killing anyene, or in the case of the connecting
plastic blocks that clogged up the bathroom drain, in the face
of all that exaggeration of presents on that melancholy Christmas
night. Maternal love was having difficulty flowering completely.
And my sister didn't help much, obstinately refusing te be anything:
To be the mother of her son, the wife of her second husband (as
far as I understood things, they tried te live together in Porto
Alegre with prolonged periods of violent separation), to be Dida's
daughter, my sister, to be, in point of fact, anyone. That is,
some personality recognizable by stable traits. Those grimaces
on her face that appeared in her moments of ironic laughter, 60
times per hour, whenever she saw my mother's lipstick, my glass
of milk, the television when turned on, or whenever someone suggested
going to the movies, or that she buy a new blouse-those precocious
wrinkles looked like a hiding place for a soul, a mysterious intention
to disappear even before embodying itself. And, of course, she
always refused to be the daughter of Professor Frederico Augusto
The man who, after all, let justice be done, brought Lucila home,
not to lament it but to justify objectively what was an excess.
The jubilation of the reunion, by New Year, was giving way to
some mutual reserves, on her part and on my mother's. Locked up
in the study, I heard the prolonged rustle of their whispers at
the livingroom tabie, in which both Luciia and Dona Margarida
put their cards on the table. Rather, only my mother put her cards
on the table because Lucila had neither cards nor table. Between
two outbursts of tears by the boy, I clearly heard the suddenly
loud voice of Dona Margarida accompanied by a slap on the table:
"But he's not dead yet! Show some respect!"
During the days that foliowed, the funerary clouds briefly lifted
when I passed the history course at the university-i'd taken second
place: Someone had beaten me out by a few points. I'm no longer
the same person. I got a prolonged hug from Lucila who, perhaps
shocked by the excess emotion, fell back into her habitual style:
"You were always the family's little genius. Just like Dad!"
Radiating light, Dona Margarida, turned back into Dida, offered
her daughter a monthly allowance until things definitively cleared
up-a Solomonic compensation for what might be taken as an unfair
maternal preference. For the first time in my life I was personally
consulted, almost as a vindication. Magnanimous, elegant, superior,
I suggested an even greater sum, secretly dreaming about the void
that-not Lucila, of course, after all, she's my sister-the little
devil would leave in the house. When the practical side of things
had been decided, all our relationships smoothed out, the air
again became light, even the boy seemed to have some sparks of
civilization. The remaining tension disappeared forever when Lucila,
answering a long-distance telephone call, poured on her husband
for 2 hours and 40 minutes the most hallucinatory declarations
of love I'd ever heard in my life, something that would have made
the professor mad during his greatest days, torrential, gauche
vows primitively exaggerated, almost cowardly, shameless, the
unhinged verbiage of someone with no experience, but so intense
that it ended in an explosion of weeping, a happy cry, disorderly,
deliberately indiscreet, with occasional shouts-"l love you,
passion of my life! "-and it was as if we, nervous in the
limited space of the living room, were the person for whom that
brutish happiness was intended, as if the telephone were only
another childhood hiding place for feelings.
Three days later, the house returned to its agreeable silence.
In the following weeks, it was a comfort to discover under the
bed, in the medicine chest, on a shelf in the refrigerator, one
piece or another of a forgotten toy, signs of a storm that has
passed without, happily, leaving behind any victims.
Things became clear once and for all-I'm returning now to the
main subject-when my mother was awakened at 3:00 a.m. by a telephone
call. Her face, when she received the news, an image I won't forget
when, still foggy with sleep, I opened the livingroom door. It
had the absolute weight that only definitive facts (and I mean
definitive) can reveal. She softened the impact of the news with
a prolonged sigh and hung up the telephone while the other voice
went on speaking all by itself. My mother stared toward the wall.
Happily, the impact rapidly dissipated. At the funeral our group
consisted of my mother, one of her girlfriends and her husband,
and me. And Fernanda, of course, my first and (probably) only
girlfriend, a classmate, who conquered me in a week by following
me everywhere and even walking me home, taking long strolls, as
if she were the hunter and I the prey. (She thinks that's funny,
but that's what happened.) It may not look that way, but I too
am susceptible to passion.
As we were leaving the cemetery, slowly threading our way among
the other tombstones, three professors from the university approached,
all out of breath. They'd gone to the wrong cemetery, and their
confused excuses for arriving late were quite opportune because
they dissipated the natural discomfort of the object of the gathering.
It's useless to pretend: The fact is, we aren't educated to fight
with death. In three minutes, they were no longer there, and that
too was a good thing. There was no explosion of weeping-l think
we were already well-prepared.
lt happened this way: All alone in a São Paulo hotel room,
my father wrote two words on a piece of hotel stationery, two
words that went far beyond several vigorously crossed-out sentences,
went to the window (eleventh floor), and threw himself out. According
to the newspapers, a witness saw him sitting on the ledge for
a few seconds before he jumped, but it's possibie he was already
there for some time before he was seen. These are the facts. A
historian shouldn't opine about things he doesn't know, but I
would like to venture a hypothesis about those final moments.
He wanted to write something substantial, but he had nothing of
substance left. He tossed aside the half-finished, disparate sentences,
looked toward the window, and as an inexplicable distraction,
opened the door of the minibar with no intention whatsoever, like
someone who wakes up at daybreak and sleepwalks his way to the
kitchen to open and close the refrigerator door in a single, useless
He then went to the window, leaned out, and breathed in the incomparable
vertigo of height, filling his lungs with it. lt's possibie he'd
begun to lift his leg for the final step, but like someone who
remembers an important meeting at the last minute, went back to
the table and furiously crossed out the random sentences. Again
he looked at the rectangular window, the metaphysical invitation,
as he sat biting his pen. One more minor element is missing, a
little nothing, he doesn't know exactly what it is, will never
know, but tries anyway. Or not; he gives up. Yes, but more out
of habit, the desire to leave a trace in the darkness, anything,
he wrote the words already thinking about something else, the
immediate future, to which he turned, throwing his pen on the
floor the way someone might throw himself irresistibly into the
tunnel in a void. Sitting on the ledge, I can see him reconnoitering
the distant terrain, the outline of the hotel's abandoned pool,
the white tables and chairs shining, small in the darkness, checking
(of this I am absolutely sure) carefully that no one is in his
path, that the leap will be only for him, and then nothing else-and
that act of leaning out to check took him, finally, into space.
At first, the newspapers were discreet, no one understanding exactly
what it all meant but respecting the relative importance of the
historian in some sectors of the academic world. Beyond that the
post mortem indicated nothing chemically newsworthy. Later, the
professor leapt from the obituary page to the culture section.
Two or three retrospective reviews of his work appeared; until
then, everything known about his private life (that is, nothing)
was that he had recently divorced his wife, Margarida da Silva
Rennon, 43 years of age-who never gave any substantial or true
information to the reporters who called for the next two weeks.
Soon remarks appeared in a gossip column about a supposed connection
with the Star, which aroused some yellow journalism: The matter
was wildly spiced up for two weeks with hypotheses, as you probably
know, and even his last words (it's over) merited a literary-graphological-psychoanalytic
analysis on an illustrated page. The absence of a period was supposedly
an important fact. But unfortunately, the key element-as I read
on-had already been in Europe for more than a month when my father
committed suicide. And the emphatic, severe, almost menacing statement
by her prominent lawyer, clarified once and for all that the actress
Sara Donovan and Professor Frederico Augusto Rennon had in fact
had a short-lived affair, a simple passing fancy that had ended
a long time before, peacefully and by mutual consent. This put
a definitive end to both speculation and public interest.
But what a mess remained!
Such a mess that my mother went back to the real estate section,
this time in another city. But that too passed from the tip of
her pencil. So I don't emphasize the negative side of things exclusively,
I remember that the University Council held a solemn session in
honor of the deceased professor, to which we were invited and
which, in truth because of timidity, we did not attend. But there
it is, on the record books.
I thought it was the right moment, the way you might make a clean
copy of your life, to show the letters to my mother. Fernanda
agreed. I went through the motions I'd done so often of turning
on the computer. She read two or three lines and said, in no speciaI
tone, almost bored: "Turn it off, son. Turn it all off."
I obeyed-after making a copy. And the national trait that my father
left behind ultimately turned out to be usefui, now that Fernanda
and I are trying to live together. She had the idea of publishing
the letters, appropriately annotated, and wrote up a professional
editing project we sent to several publishers. She was right,
and we've just signed a contract with one of them, for a reasonable
sum-which for the two of us means a good start. But it isn't only
that of course. My father's life, much more than the academic
work he left, which as he knew, would inevitably age, has some
touches of beauty, of literary value. No matter what people say,
he was totally a man of his age, as the biographies of important
people always say. Making him public, in all his words, is perhaps
the best service apprentice historians, Fernanda and I, can render
as a social contribution. Objectively, just as old Rennon would
have wanted it.
Well, I think that's all.