[mdlch, line drawing of two peanuts :) ]
"Sure, "slices of toast" sounds better. Thus, I will graciously allow this."
-6th April '04

 

Requiem with Toast

Yes, my name is Eduardo. You ask me that so that we can somehow start a conversation, and I can understand that. But you've known me for a long time, even if from afar. Like I know you. Since you started meeting my mother at the cafe on Larra~naga and Rivera, or this one. Don't think I spied on you. Not at all. You might think so, but it's because you don't know the whole story. Or did mom tell you? I've been wanting to talk to you for some time, but I didn't dare. So, after all, I'm grateful that you've beaten me to it. Do you know why I wanted to talk to you? Because it seems to me you are a good guy. Mom was also a good person. We didn't talk much, she and I. At home it was either silence or my father's word. But the Old Man only really talked when he was drunk, almost every night, and then he just screamed. All three of us were afraid: mom, my little sister Mirta, and myself. I'm thirteen and a half now and I've learned many things, among others that guys who scream, punish and insult are deep inside poor devils. But then I was a lot younger and I didn't know. Mirta doesn't even know it now, but she's three years younger than I, and I know that she sometimes wakes up at night crying. It's fear. Have you ever been afraid? Mirta always thinks the Old Man will show up drunk and will take off his belt to hit her. She hasn't gotten used to the new situation yet. I, on the other hand, have tried to get used to it. You showed up a year and a half ago, but the Old Man used to get drunk long before that, and soon after he started hitting all three of us. He hit Mirta and myself with the belt, it hurt a lot, but he hit mom with closed fists. Just because, with no reason: because the soup was too hot, or because it was too cold, or because she hadn't waited for him awake until three in the morning, or because her eyes were swollen after crying so much. After a while mom stopped crying. I don't know how she did it, but when he punched her she didn't even bite her lips, and she didn't cry, and the Old Man got even angrier. She was aware of that and yet she would rather not cry. You knew mom when she had already gone through a lot and suffered dearly, but only four years before that (I remember perfectly) she was still very pretty and had a nice colouring. She was also a strong woman. Some nights, when the Old Man finally fell to the floor and started to snore, she and I would lift him and put him on the bed. He was really heavy, and it was like lifting a dead person. She was the one who made all the effort. I could barely lift a leg, his pants all filthy and a brown shoe with an undone shoelace. You probably think that the Old Man was always a brute. But no, dad was destroyed by a dirty trick. It was one of mom's cousins, the one who works for the Municipality. I never knew what the dirtytrick had been, but mom somehow forgave the Old Man's abuse because she felt a bit responsible that someone in her family had hurt him that way. I never knew the details about the dirty trick, but the truth is that dad, every time he drank, blamed her like she was the only one guilty. Before the dirty trick we lived very well. Not because of the money, as both my sister and I were born in the same apartment (like a little convent) next to Villa Dolores. Dad's salary was never enough for anything, and mom had to perform miracles to give us something to eat and buy us some clothes. Some days we wouldn't eat (if you knew how ugly it is to be hungry), but back then at least it was peaceful. The Old Man didn't get drunk, he didn't hit us, and he would sometimes take us to the matinee. Some rare Sunday when there was money. I think they never loved each other very much. They were very different. Even before the dirty trick, when dad didn't drink yet, he was a very quiet guy. Sometimes he would wake up at noon and wouldn't speak to anyone, but at least he didn't hit us and he didn't insult mom. I wish it would've stayed like that forever. Of course, the dirty trick came later and he crumbled, he started to drink and come home always after midnight, stinking of booze. Lately he was even worse, because he would also get drunk during the day and we didn't even get a break then. I'm sure the neighbours heard all the screams, but nobody said anything, of course, because dad is a big guy and they were afraid of him. I was also afraid of him, not only for me and for Mirta, but especially for mom. Sometimes I didn't go to school, not because I wanted to skip class, but to stay around the house, because I was afraid the Old Man would come back during the day, drunker than usual, and crush her. I couldn't defend her, you can see how skinny I am, and back then I was even thinner, but I wanted to be near to call the police. Did you know that my dad and my mom were not poor? Both my grandparents, I wouldn't say they're rich, but they live in decent places, they have balconies facing the street and bathrooms with bidet and tub. After all had happened, Mirta went to live with my grandmother Juana, my dad's mother, and for now I'm at the house of my grandmother Blanca, my mom's mother. Now they almost got into a fight to take us in, but when dad and mom married they were against the marriage (now I think they were right) and cut us off. I say us because dad and mom got married when I was six months old. They told me that in school and I punched Beto on the nose, but when I asked mom she told me it was true. Well, I wanted to speak to you because (I'm not sure how you'll take it) you were important to me, simpy because you were important to my mom. I loved her a lot, as is natural, but I think I never could tell her. We were always so afraid, we had no time to be tender. However, when she wasn't looking at me I looked at her and I felt, I don't know, an emotion which wasn't pity, but a mix of tenderness and anger of seeing her so young and so finished, so overwhelmed by a guilt which wasn't hers, by a punishment she didn't deserve. Maybe you noticed it too, but I can assure you my mother was intelligent, much more than my dad, I think, and that to me was the worst: knowing that she saw that horrible life with her eyes wide open, because neither misery nor punches not even the hunger ever managed to make her a brute. It made her sad, though. Sometimes she had blue bags under her eyes, but she got mad if I asked her if anything was wrong. Actually, she pretended to be mad. I never saw her really mad towards me. Or with anyone. But before you showed up I noticed she got more and more depressed, more quiet, more alone. Maybe that's why I could easily see the difference. Also, one night she came back a little bit late (although always much earlier than dad) and she looked at me in a different way, so different I could tell something was going on. As if for the first time she felt I was capable of understanding her. She hugged me tightly, as if she were ashamed, and she smiled at me. Do you remember her smile? I remember. At first that change worried me so much I missed work two or three times (lately I ran errands for a grocery) to follow her and find out what it was about. It was then when I saw you. I saw you and her. And I was happy. People might think I'm a nasty person, and maybe it was wrong to be happy that my mom was cheating on my dad. They can think that. That's why I never say it. With you it's different. You loved her. And to me that was a great thing. Because she deserved to be loved. You loved her, isn't that so? I saw you many times and I'm almost sure. Of course I also try to understand the Old Man. It's hard but I try. I could never bring myself to hate him, do you understand? Maybe because, in spite of what he did, he is still my father. When he hit us, Mirta and myself, or when we attacked mom, I felt both terror and pity. Pity for him, for her, for Mirta, and for me. Even now I also feel pity, now that he killed mom and will be in jail for I don't know how long. At first, he didn't want me to go, but it's been at least a month since I visit him at Miquelete and he allows me to see him. It's strange to see him naturally, I mean, not being drunk. He looks at me, and most of the time he never says anything. I think that when he's out he won't hit me anymore. Also, I'll be a man, maybe I'll be married by then and I'll have kids. But I will never hit my kids, what do you think? I'm sure dad would not have done what he did if he hadn't been so drunk. Do you not think so? You think he would have killed mom anyway that afternoon he followed me and ended up finding you two? I don't think so. Look, he didn't do anything to you. Only later, after he had drank more than usual, did he attack mom. I think that, in other circumstances, he would have understood that mom needed tenderness, needed sympathy, and that he had only given her blows. Because mom was a good person. You must know that as well as I do. That's why, a little while ago, when you approached me and invited me for a cappuccino with toast, here at the cafe where you met her, I felt I had to tell you all this. Maybe you didn't know, or only knew a part of it, because mom was a very quiet person and she didn't like to talk about herself. Now I'm sure I did good. Because you are crying, and now that mom is dead, this is like a gift for her, who never cried.

 

Translated into English by Marco De la Cruz-Heredia
note: This is how it was sent to me, basically.. :)
I did not use 'slices of toast' in the end, using instead just 'toast'.

 

Réquiem con Tostadas

It can be found in it's original Spanish, here which Marco pointed me to, and with some illustrations here.

For those who might like to know more of Mario Benedetti's works, there is a collection of stories - " Blood Pact & Other Stories", and one of poems - "Little Stones at My Window " both translated into English.

 

 

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Requiem with Toast
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Requiem with Toast
First online: May '04