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La Vida Doble

La Vida Doble: A Novel

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    La Vida Doble
    Book Description:

    Set in the darkest years of the Pinochet dictatorship,La Vida Dobleis the story of Lorena, a leftist militant who arrives at a merciless turning point when every choice she confronts is impossible. Captured by agents of the Chilean repression, withstanding brutal torture to save her comrades, she must now either forsake the allegiances of motherhood or betray the political ideals to which she is deeply committed.

    Arturo Fontaine's Lorena is a study in contradictions-mother and combatant, intellectual and lover, idealist and traitor-and he places her within a historical context that confounds her dilemmas. Though she has few viable options, she is no mere victim, and Fontaine disallows any comfortable high moral ground. His novel is among the most subtle explorations of human violence ever written.

    Ranking with Roberto Bolaño and Mario Vargas Llosa on Latin America's roster of most accomplished authors, Fontaine is a fearless explorer of the most sordid and controversial aspects of Chile's history and culture. He addresses a set of moral questions specific to Pinochet's murderous reign but invites us, four decades later, to consider global conflicts today and question how far we've come.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19514-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-2)
  3. ONE
    (pp. 3-6)

    Can I tell you the truth? That’s a question for you. Are you going to believe me? That’s a question only you can answer. All I can do is talk. It’s up to you whether you believe me or not.

    I left the currency exchange with all the money on me. Thirty thousand dollars in cash, and a little over four million pesos. Canelo was next to me, Kid Díaz or Kid of the Day, as we called him, was a bit behind us.

    “Run, Irene!” Canelo shouted at me. “Run!” And doubling over just as we’d been trained to...

  4. TWO
    (pp. 7-12)

    Days are no different from nights, and everything unfolds within a gaseous atmosphere shot through with terror. If only there was some way to describe what happens to you while you’re in there. What are you? An animal driven mad by the horror? Where are you? What do you hope for? From the moment they put the blindfold on, you are no longer you, and you enter into a nightmare filled with indefinite shapes, in which the stupor of fear, the sudden blows and startling pain gradually bewilder you and break you down. Acry to summon all this and...

  5. THREE
    (pp. 13-21)

    All this is what I say now. At the time … That experience of mine, only mine in that here and now, was everything, and it erased everything. No one else existed. That was the idea, as I see it. Only me, tied up and splayed out and shaking; me, invaded and run through by that evil flow that shot into me and dispersed. Just me and them, the ones who have the power to put a stop to all this. The pain ceases and yet—how can I explain—what has just happened goes on terrifying you. That’s what...

  6. FOUR
    (pp. 22-25)

    A crash in my ears. I’m stunned. No. Two simultaneous, awful blows have fallen, one on each ear. I take a step. My eardrums are buzzing terribly and I lose my balance. I’m blind and deaf. The room comes unmoored and spins away from me. I can’t find the chair. Something … something sudden and horrible.

    I’m terrified. Why did I stand up? Someone came up behind me and I didn’t hear it. I’m confused. I’m going to fall down. I feel nauseated. If I could only sit down. Where? I’m lost. No. Now I start to retch. I’m no...

  7. FIVE
    (pp. 26-29)

    A faint light above, through the barred window. I came to and I was in the same narrow, damp cell with unpainted concrete walls. I wasn’t wearing a blindfold. My wrists hurt. But I could move them; my hands were free. I looked at myself, touched my body as best I could. My hip hurt, the skin of my back was stinging. They didn’t kill me, I thought. Nostalgia for death. Something was left unfinished. And suddenly I felt happy, inexplicably, absolutely happy. I was terribly thirsty, but I had survived. Fuck, I thought. Nothing has ended, then. And Anita?...

  8. SIX
    (pp. 30-33)

    C’est tout, that’s all. I’m telling you all of this because you’re going to write a novel, not an interview, right? How did you find out about me? Oh, you told me already, I remember now. Rumors, of course, those crumbs that feed the hunger of the curious. Why would a writer like you be interested in my wretched story? Anyway, you got lucky. If you had come to see me a while back I would have answered you the same way I did all the others: Not one word about that. End of story.

    Call me Lorena. Not Irene....

  9. SEVEN
    (pp. 34-37)

    Hate is human. There is nothing I don’t hate. Tomasa hates only the other side. Not our brothers, not the ones who placed the bomb and blew up the bridge, not the ones she hid and who later fled, she tells me, leaving her at the mercy of these rabid dogs. I don’t know what cell she’s in. We try to maintain our compartmentalization. But I do know that they’ve brought her face to face with Chico Escobar and with Vladimir Briceño. There must be microphones in here, because she whispers it in my ear. “They want to know about...

  10. EIGHT
    (pp. 38-47)

    They let me go in the afternoon. I did what our manuals taught us to do, to lose any “shadows,” as we called them. “Tails,” as they said in Central. But it’s hard for me to walk in a straight line. The light hurts. The wideness scares me, the open space of the street. My first job is to lose my potential watcher. Useless, I thought. But I had to do it and I did it. I got on and off of two buses in a row, I walked along streets and then retraced my steps, I walked around the...

  11. NINE
    (pp. 48-49)

    I come out of my childhood room and I search among my mother’s jars and bottles. I draw an almost boiling bath, a bubble bath. I use her verbena soap, her shampoo, her conditioner with pure olive oil, I dry off with her fluffy towel, I spread her almond-scented lotion over my legs, my arms, over my diminished breasts. I trim my toenails, I use her lotion for cracked heels. I take the top off her bottle of nail polish; its smell would make me dizzy now. I open her makeup box and that palette of colors calls out to...

  12. TEN
    (pp. 50-57)

    My inability to coincide with myself, when did that begin? The distance from myself that I seem to have always felt, what caused it? And my resentment? I go back, then, inevitably, to the rupture that came from my parents’ divorce, my harsh disdain for my mother after my father left—my mother, who didn’t know how to keep him with her. Her efforts to be motherly only seemed like signs of her impotence. I go back to my father, the love I felt—the resentful love of an only child for the man who had left us both—my...

  13. ELEVEN
    (pp. 58-66)

    I stopped seeing the few high-school girlfriends I still met up with on occasional afternoons. I was ashamed to tell them. A friend from university materialized, Rafa, with his big belly, his candid laugh and friendly gaze, and he took me with him to a demonstration. I walked along beside him, jostled and confused and with that ridiculous ball where another being, an abusive invader, was growing at my body’s expense. I felt lost in the mass of workers with their overpowering smell, and I repeated to myself that a hand on the plow was worth as much as a...

  14. TWELVE
    (pp. 67-75)

    Someone had opened my curtains, and in among the apricot flowers, I could see the first green buds that were opening to the sun. I closed the curtains and waited in the dark. I called my father at his office. He answered right away. I told him I was calling to apologize and that I hadn’t meant to act the way I had. He choked up, searching for a way to thank me for my gesture, he said, for the generosity of my call, he said, the incommensurable—I remember that word, so unusual for him—happiness of that call...

    (pp. 76-78)

    Some days later I went to a “meet” on Calle Placer. Evening was falling and the storekeepers were starting to close up shop. I spent a few minutes looking at tennis shoes outside the Danny and Robert shoe stores, until I saw the sign of recognition, heard the question we had prearranged, and I got into a Fiat with a couple in the front seat. He was muscular and very dark. The woman, a redhead, was driving. They asked me to lie down on the floor. I figure it was on Gran Avenida, around stop number 9, more or less,...

    (pp. 79-84)

    I rented an apartment in the Carlos Antúnez Towers. Just one room, plenty of light, and thin walls that let the constant murmur of my neighbor’s TV filter in. Without my stipend I had no other choice. My daughter went on living as before, with my mother. I went to pick her up early in the morning to bring her to school. And I often brought her to stay with me on weekends. “I have to send her to Havana,” I told myself sometimes, and my heart would skip a beat and the sweat would run down my back and...

    (pp. 85-92)

    Our cell—I told you this, right?—reported to the Spartan. I never met anyone like him. I’d like to give you a picture of his soul. If only I could. I want to tell you about him. His character was constructed from books, you know? From certain books, of course. Something clearly incomprehensible amid the promiscuity of ideas that exists today. A Quixote, maybe, or a Bovary. He would say to us: “We must be professionals,revolutionary monks, as Lenin demands.” And he lived it day and night. “Everything else is a lie,” he would say. “Our example is...

    (pp. 93-105)

    I always wanted a Paris love. I’m talking now about some years before that fateful day I was captured. I was twenty-four. When I had landed for the third time at Charles de Gaulle, I’d told myself: this is it, third time’s the charm. Nothing happened. I completed the mission I’d been given, returned to Chile, and that was it. And now, as I said, I was twenty-four and I was in Paris again, at a table at the back of La Closerie des Lilas, telling Pelao Cuyano: “I always wanted a Paris love.” And he almost died laughing at...

    (pp. 106-107)

    Our organization functioned as a body fed by “ties” or “meet points.” If the “meet” was with our cell, the Spartan would arrive last of all, and he would always sit with his back to the wall in the spot with the greatest visibility in case of attack. He took orders from Max, his immediate superior, by means of a liaison. Who were they, these intermediaries? Where did they come from? Who recruited them? I never knew. The ones I saw were fragile women between sixty and seventy years old, who wore clothes that were neither luxurious nor poor, and...

    (pp. 108-115)

    The woman with glasses and the Bic pen examined the fake Argentine passport I handed her. Through the bars and without speaking, she showed me on her calculator the number of pesos I could buy with the two hundred dollars I’d given her. I nodded. She hit the buttons with fingers tipped with blunt, purple-painted nails, and she passed me the receipt through the drawer so I could sign it. Canelo was behind me; I could hear him breathing. I stared at my fingertips, at their transparent layers of dried adhesive, and I checked the time: one thirty. According to...

    (pp. 116-118)

    Of course, I didn’t read that reconstruction until months later. I read it alone in my sweltering apartment on Carlos Antúnez. The walls, I think I’ve mentioned, were very thin, and I could hear the constant murmur of my neighbor’s TV. I hadn’t finished moving in yet. There were still suitcases and boxes to open. I got into bed and I couldn’t cry for Canelo. I spent the whole day between the sheets, not eating, my face turned to the wall.

    Canelo was thin and lanky, with straight, blond hair cut short like a soldier’s. I loved to run my...

  22. TWENTY
    (pp. 119-128)

    And there was neither war nor guerrillas, you say now; there was nothing, so many say today. Just a few isolated acts of sabotage and erratic attacks. Insignificant factions that were, moreover, ineffective. And that’s what you’ve been told and what you’ve read, I know. There was nothing, you repeat, that could pose a threat to the terror of the established order. So the sacrifice of our comrades was in vain.

    And how do you want me to answer, from my bed in this Ersta home? What would the Spartan have thrown back in your face? What did the reports...

    (pp. 129-131)

    His death was his life’s work. That’s what being a hero is. The combination of doubt and the desire to believe was resolved in action. He told me, “It doesn’t hurt to not exist, only the bullets hurt.” He wasn’t a sensual man, Canelo, as I’ve said. He was tender in love, but not passionate. He preferred the idea of love to flesh-and-blood women. But he had loved a beautiful woman—tiposa, as a Cuban would say. This was in El Salvador. She was the daughter of the pharmacist in Laguna. One night he arrived at her house with its...

    (pp. 132-137)

    After exactly seventy days of freedom, a white Mazda pulled up next to me in the street, a block away from my mother’s house. I was coming back from teaching a French class. The door opened, an arm yanked me inside, the car took off, and the blindfold went over my eyes. I recognized Ronco’s shouts and I caught a glimpse of, yes, Rat’s matted red hair. He was looking at me with the same mocking smile. My mission of revenge crumbled. I obeyed like a worn-out ox. They put handcuffs on me. Now, don’t imagine these were two big,...

    (pp. 138-142)

    When I came out of there, shivering from cold and shivering from fear, and filthy, thirsty, fetid, and suffering, under the edge of my blindfold I could see where they’d held me: two red trucks, shiny and at the ready, waiting for the alarm. It was a fire station. Where was it? I never found out. At Central they took my clothes, which were disgusting, and they handed me the grimy prison uniform.

    Tomasa squeezes me in a hug. “How can you possibly still be here?” I ask. She tells me that no, they had let her go, too, and...

    (pp. 143-145)

    Would you believe me if I told you that more than one prisoner came out of her cell at night to kiss and dance with her jailers in some club, and that was part of the horror? Would you believe Tomasa and I did it, that sometimes, like a couple of Cinderellas, we went happily into Oliver to toss back one Chivas Regal after another, and that we also went to that mansion with adobe walls and high ceilings on a plot of land in Malloco?

    Flaco took me out in his brand-new Volvo and—I almost forgot!—he took...

    (pp. 146-148)

    Flaco paid my cover charge. Several bills. “Some expensive place,” I thought. They gave him a key that he put in his pocket. He handed me a mask that was Zorro-style, only red, and a top hat. That made him laugh a lot. “Put all your hair up under the hat,” he told me, laughing. “I like you better with short hair,” he told me. And he kissed the nape of my neck. He wore the same disguise as I did.

    Tomasa was with a friend of Flaco’s, Mauricio. He was a big man, with a blunt nose and small...

    (pp. 149-154)

    I give them the address of a safe house. We met there the night before the mission when I was taken prisoner. Calle Zenteno, between Sargento Aldea and Pedro Lagos, I told them, and when I did it, a tremor passed over my face. A crack was opening up. The vessel had broken.

    We parked some fifty yards from the house—Rat in the driver’s seat, Ronco in the back next to me in my ski mask. A Fiat taxi and a blue Toyota four-door pulled up. A man with narrow shoulders and a crooked nose, a woman with a...

    (pp. 155-160)

    Though it was hard for me to admit, I had started to fall in love with Flaco. He infected me. I thought about his gestures, and I felt myself copying them. Without consciously trying, I imitated his way of walking and moving. He hypnotized me. I wanted to help him. Why? He was the strong one, after all. I was a submissive lover, as if my submission would allow me to participate in his power. I felt that his hands, when they touched me, shaped me anew as if my flesh were soft clay, that old image that my feminist...

    (pp. 161-164)

    I saw combatants go to pieces. Not from the torture itself but because they weren’t able to withstand it. Not because they were afraid of being arrested and tied up again, that the whole ordeal would start over, but because they’d collaborated. All of this pursued me, eating away at my conscience; it stayed with me like a persistent bad odor. For weeks and months and years I felt disgusted at myself. I still do. I’m contradicting myself. I’ll never be able to understand myself. Or forget. No. Never. But I don’t want to remember. Nor do I want to...

    (pp. 165-168)

    I remember a man with hairless skin and small, black eyes. His teeth were even and square, he had short, strong arms, and legs that were also short and muscular. He was like a little tank. “Lechón,” they called him, “Piglet.” His hair was sparse. You could see the skin of his head between the thick, separate strands. I remember that hair well, and his arms, so thick and so short, and the enormous Adam’s apple in his throat. Supposedly, he had headed a combat cell that blew up a bridge over the Tinguiririca River. But I knew little about...

  32. THIRTY
    (pp. 169-169)

    I spend hours alone in the apartment, in my room in the dark with the door closed. I don’t want to see anyone. I throw myself onto the bed. I don’t even take my shoes off. I don’t know what I’m thinking about, if I’m thinking about anything. Sometimes I wake up at dawn with my guts twisted in anguish, and I realize I never even put my pajamas on. I didn’t feel like it and I just stayed there, still dressed and stretched out on the bed. Cold. Morning comes and it’s so hard for me to get up....

    (pp. 170-171)

    I would lose it suddenly, I would seek it out and yearn for it, for his gaze close by me, covering me, and later I would find it again, contemplating me. Because what attracted me were those masculine backs and arms and legs and chins, and of course the mocking and tender smiles of some and the staring, intense eyes of others, but I enjoyed them most of all if I felt Flaco’s great, shining eyes on me. His peremptory orders in that cavernous voice, the release, the sweetness of fulfilling them, humiliating myself; and his forehead in concentration, his...

    (pp. 172-173)

    I watch Macha in the cafeteria. Gato never sets foot in here. I watch Macha at his table eating hischarquicánbeef stew or his beans with noodles with a bottle of Cristal beer. His agents surround him, the women and men of his horde. I remember the scene exactly. Great Dane is there. I’ve already mentioned him to you: he was at Oliver with the girl with Siamese cat eyes, he’s the one who kicked in the door of the safe house I gave them. He’s a handsome and simple blond, with a huge body and a big head...

    (pp. 174-177)

    One Friday, I don’t know why but I remember it was a Friday, Flaco took me out to lunch. He brought me to the Giratorio, the rotating restaurant on the top floor of a building on Avenida Lyon. From up there you could see a good portion of Santiago. San Cristóbal Hill was in front of us as we started lunch and we turned, we turned without noticing it while we ate an exquisite sole and drank a Santa Rita white wine. I felt happy up there. Everything was left behind, down below. The snow-covered mountains paraded in front of...

    (pp. 178-180)

    Gato wanted “Gladiolo” and he wanted him alive. That’s it. In Flaco’s flow chart, “Gladiolo” appeared now as the leader of one of the cells under “Prince of Wales.” Where had that information come from? They had watched the house on Calle Los Gladiolos, but the man never turned up there. The tone of that terrible order was peremptory. I understood very well. What could I do? Those were the rules of the game. I asked for time. How much? They gave me a month. There were three weeks until Teruca’s birthday, and I’d heard she was going to celebrate...

    (pp. 181-183)

    Plaza Manuel Rodríguez was empty and all the shops had closed. It was eleven thirty at night. Plenty afraid, I circled around checking the plaza’s benches, in search of a piece of gum. I kept thinking I heard Rafa’s steps behind me, and the sweat was rolling down my back. When I had only two left to check, on the bench under a big, bluish cedar tree I saw a little white-tinged spot on the green-painted iron leg. I didn’t touch it.

    Plaza Manuel Rodríguez is small and secluded. It’s bordered by four streets: Calle Plaza Manuel Rodríguez to the...

    (pp. 184-187)

    He called me right on time at my student’s house, interrupting my class as I’d wanted. I arranged to meet him without giving any explanations. My tone, firm and decisive, was enough. Address, day, time. Nothing else. I don’t know why I was so sure he would listen to me, in spite of the irregular way I went about it. The “meet point,” the shadowy Plaza Concha y Toro in the old part of downtown Santiago, had escape routes on three narrow streets: Erasmo de Escala, Maturana, and Concha y Toro. That, I thought, would give him confidence. At one...

    (pp. 188-190)

    Laughing, he repeated: “My Malinche, thanks to you the empire will fall, my Malinche.” And he laughed, smelling of garlic. Gato never made any advances toward me, but he created an atmosphere of intimacy between us. And I listened to him, bound up in my impossibilities with my insides contorting. And he talked to me in his viscous, sticky voice.

    He told me about his trips three times a week to the sauna, about the massages he got from a woman there, she was skinny but her hands and fingers were strong enough for all the different maneuvers—the pinching,...

    (pp. 191-194)

    I found out that a detainee from Red Ax, one I hadn’t seen, had given up an address. By this time I was completely recovered from my injury. They sent a team to check out the information. They went through the garbage and found cigar ash and the end of a smoked cigar. The tobacco was still fresh. It’s hard for me to believe that someone of the Spartan’s caliber could make such a big mistake. It’s enough to make you think he wanted them to catch him.

    Once, an urgent mission had come down to our cell: clear out...

    (pp. 195-197)

    Iris raised her arms unhurriedly, aiming her gun with both hands, and waited. I saw a shadow run through the yard toward the back. It knelt down and covered the others who were following, shooting. Then it was relieved by another shadow and it took off running. They weren’t just students, those two students. They knew how to fight. Iris calmly took aim. There, with her sharp face, she looked like a fox. I think I’ve told you she was an expert shot. The best of the team. When it reached the wall, one of the shadows seemed to take...

  42. FORTY
    (pp. 198-200)

    The Volvo left and the operation was considered terminated. Macha took out the first aid kit, cut a piece of gauze with his Swiss army knife, opened the bottle of peroxide, and, looking at himself in the Toyota’s mirror, cleaned his wound. It was a superficial cut, but there were little shards of glass in it. Iris helped him get them out with the tweezers on the same pocketknife. One splinter had gone in sideways and when it was forced out, it tore the flesh with its irregular rhombus shape. Iris, who was shining a flashlight on it, had trouble...

    (pp. 201-203)

    In the meantime, Clementina had a book published that compiled her reviews and catalog copy. She was invited to Paris to give a series of lectures. I thought of Giuseppe. I bought him a gift—a book of photographs of Patagonia—and I wrote him a card. Clementina happily agreed to deliver it. When I went to say good-bye to her, I brought the gift in my bag. At the last minute I thought better of it, and I didn’t want to give it to her. I chickened out. Clementina’s lectures were a roaring success. One publisher was interested in...

    (pp. 204-206)

    I got a call from Central. I was summoned to appear in Macha’s office right away. Indio Galdámez greets me, in his sleeveless shirt, sweaty and foul smelling, that shows off his cretin’s muscles with their green boa. I sit on the brown plastic imitation leather sofa in the waiting room. He goes back to his game of foosball with Chico Marín, who, wide as a cube, waits for him scratching his shaved head. Over the chessboard, Iris is motionless. Across from her, Mono Lepe. He’s lost three pawns and a knight. He looks on, alarmed, and leans down until...

    (pp. 207-216)

    “Where you headed, Malinche?”

    “To Makeup.”

    “And? Why? Are they taking you on a mission?”

    I smiled enigmatically.

    “I don’t like it one bit. It’s dangerous. Your place is here, with me. Anyone can do that other thing. Macha’s bringing you, right?”

    I smiled.

    “Are you sure the operation is authorized?”

    I nodded. He made a sudden, unexpectedly quick movement. Now I didn’t have my purse and my arm hurt terribly, twisted behind my back. He manipulated it from my wrist that was bent painfully. He did it all with an agility and skill that were unthinkable in such a...

    (pp. 217-218)

    They intercepted him at eight in the morning coming out of a house that was being watched. He walked calmly, an ordinary man. He didn’t worry about checking for a tail. Once again, no attempt at checking his surroundings. Nothing. I watched what happened second by second through my binoculars from a fake taxi parked a block and a half away. As soon as I recognized him walking toward me, I gave the signal. Macha got out of another car parked closer, got right on top of him, and aimed at his forehead. No more than four yards between them....

    (pp. 219-223)

    “Let’s go to Wild Cat,” he says, “Come on.” And in the Volvo he gives me a bottle of Christian Dior perfume—a small bottle so I can carry it in my purse—and then he hands me a line on his gold credit card. Flaco is attractive, but you know, the fire of the beginning has cooled over time. But not if we go to the den in Malloco. There, my whole body starts to vibrate again. Sometimes, I go with Flaco to the private room with Louis XV chairs and the faded black velvet sofa. And after a...

    (pp. 224-225)

    I say to Flaco: I’m going to leave you, I’ll retire and start my own security business. Don’t you think I’d be able to start a security business and make money?

    And he says: Of course. You could start a business and make a lot of money. I have no doubt.

    And me: And you know what I’m going to do with all that money?

    And he looks at me with questioning eyes, and waits.

    And me, smiling: I’m going to buy myself a penthouse, or, more like it, a penis-house.

    And he: Oh! Really? That’s what you want?


    (pp. 226-232)

    Suddenly, Flaco is tormented by the future. He tells me: “We have to wipe out the terrorists. We’re in the process of exterminating the rats in this country.” That’s what Central’s director had told him that morning. He’d asked for an audience so he could “expound on” a few things, as he put it. Flaco did not agree with what was happening. It’s impossible for me to connect the person talking to me now with the one who goes with me to the Malloco house. Of course, the same happens with me and with everyone else who goes there. Images...

    (pp. 233-236)

    Pancha Ortiz was putting on makeup. She barely greeted me. With the lipstick still in her hand, she pursed her lips in the mirror, spreading out the color until it was even. Her lips were much fuller and more sensuous than I had noticed before. Her black blouse, open, left bare that fissure that men like so much, and part of those insolent breasts of hers. She took a little bottle of perfume from her purse and she sprayed her neck and I watched her, turning her breasts, contemplating herself in the mirror as if she were alone in the...

    (pp. 237-238)

    A week later Flaco Artaza had already been promoted. The positive evaluation after the “elimination”—the term they used—of the Spartan and Max got him that. Two very hard blows for Red Ax. They took him out of Central and installed him in Military Intelligence. It was what he wanted. Flaco left Central behind and he vanished from my life without even saying good-bye. Do I need to tell you how I felt?

    But after about four months he called and invited me to lunch. I got into my red Nissan in the parking lot, and when I started...

  52. FIFTY
    (pp. 239-240)

    I’m feeling tired … You know, during that time it never even crossed my mind that my life would end like this, alone in a Swedish home, or even abroad … One of my students helped me out of pure kindness. There are good people out there, too. She got in touch with Teruca’s mother and gave her my message: I was being followed and had decided to go into exile for safety reasons. It wasn’t the bravest thing to do, but what the hell, the decision was made. She would pass along the information to her daughter Teruca, who...

    (pp. 241-242)

    Roberto was six years younger than me. A tall, handsome Brazilian. We met in the Berlitz cafeteria. It turned out he was friends with Agda and that made things easier. You know, I actually can’t remember when we started dating. How odd. That says something. I remember his first gift to me: an amber perfume. Of course, I’d already told him about how that mysterious substance had fascinated me since I was a little girl and how it was linked in my imagination to the Vikings and the Baltic Sea. Later, he would give me a beautiful necklace with stones...

    (pp. 243-246)

    There were plenty of exiled Latin Americans in Stockholm, all victims of the horror. I made friends with some of them. Mireya, a survivor of the Tupas’s struggle in Uruguay; Claudia, whose husband had been taken prisoner and never heard from again; and María Verónica. All three of them had been taken prisoner and gone through hell. We gave a wide berth to that subject. Instead we talked about our children, our latest pap tests, and Mireya talked about her menopause, which had started recently. The rest of us listened to her and tried to mask our dread. And, of...

    (pp. 247-249)

    Out of pure nosiness I find an envelope in her desk and my heart skips a beat. Nosiness? No. The truth is that she’s been a different person for some time now. She is distant. I’d like to ask her: Why did you forget how to hug me? At what moment did my body become foreign to you? I want to put my arms around her, but I don’t dare. Not like before, at least. She seems so indifferent.

    And I know that handwriting. How could I not! It’s Rodrigo’s. That’s how I find out that, after all these years,...

    (pp. 250-255)

    And she’s not here. The one who is with me is Roberto. Without him, I don’t know what would have become of me. His accent caresses and numbs me. I don’t want to make love, I want his voice to pacify me, I want him to sing into my ear:Bésame, bésame mucho / como si fuera esta noche / la última vez… And he smiles and starts to sing softly, almost in a whisper, and it lulls me to sleep.Que tengo miedo a perderte, / perderte después.

    Could someone else accept me if I couldn’t accept myself?...

    (pp. 256-258)

    I’ve come only to see him, as a surprise. And as soon as I get to Charles de Gaulle Airport, my spirits rise. I call Giuseppe that same afternoon. I’ve kept his number for years and years, written in my personal code. I don’t dare leave my name on the machine. What if he’s not in Paris? The next day I call again. A sleepy voice that could belong to anyone answers. Suddenly, I recognize my name in his shout. He can’t believe it’s real, he tells me. He’s tried to find me so many times, he tells me. We...

    (pp. 259-263)

    Returning: the old woman, the liaison who was waiting for “Viollier” the day they killed him, goes a few days later into a currency exchange in Calle Monjitas. She does it twice in the same month. Pancha, who is following her, has the temerity to follow her in the second time. She watches as they let the old woman into an interior office. She soon comes back out again. She looks tense. Pancha tries to find out which office she went into. It isn’t possible. She goes back to Central to report.

    I run into her in the hallway. She...

    (pp. 264-265)

    “What are you thinking about?” he says.

    He’s sitting on the floor, his back against my black leather sofa.

    “Cheers,” he says, raising his glass.

    “Cheers,” I say, and I feel his eyes looking for mine and I don’t look at him.

    I look at the foam on my beer. He wanders around the room. He looks out the windows. It’s dark and he’s looking out from the twelfth floor. Below, the restless lights of the cars and the immobile streetlights along the Costanera.

    “You can see San Cristóbal Hill during the day, right?”


    “Smell the pine trees?”


    (pp. 266-270)

    And there I was. Akikai–Chile Aikido Cultural Center. The sign was small. The house, big, old, and run-down. I rang the bell, the door opened, and I went in through a dark hallway. At the end, a refrigerator with drinks, and beyond that, a spacious light well. I was greeted by a fat woman with round arms and her hair pulled back in a bun, who must have been over seventy years old. She was behind a big table, and she put down her knitting to come and talk to me. I explained I was looking for Luis José...

    (pp. 271-274)

    I thought the noise of the lock was coming from that bad movie, so I was terrified when I heard footsteps in the living room. The door to my room opened: Macha. While my heart was doing somersaults he showed me his lock pick and smiled. He made some delicious hot ham and cheese sandwiches that we devoured with a couple of beers, and I made Turkish coffee.

    I asked him why he was so afraid of that witch. We were on the black leather sofa and I could smell his animal smell. He told me it was because of...

  62. SIXTY
    (pp. 275-277)

    Mono Lepe looked at me with his dark-ringed eyes, then up at the post, measuring the distance. He clambered up easily and used pliers to cut the telephone lines. That disconnected the alarm, too. It was three thirty. Operation “Night of the Wild Boar” had commenced. Lepe also cut the electricity lines. They had gotten the blueprints to the house from City Hall. A couple of minutes later I made out a few pulses of light from a flashlight in the darkness of the night. They came from up above, on the other side of the house. Mono had already...

    (pp. 278-283)

    He didn’t wait for me to react. Without looking at anyone he gave the order to go in through the window, and he jumped through. Great Dane tried to go behind him, but his corpulent body wouldn’t fit. Chico Marín tried next. Great Dane let out another roar.

    “Hurry up, shithead! Put your head and your ass through right away.”

    Chico Marín was more frightened than ever and all the color had gone out of his face. Though he was short, he was solid and had a big head—a cube, as I’ve told you.

    “Motherfucker!” shouted Great Dane, containing...

    (pp. 284-287)

    Do you want to believe me? Because we’re here in this hospice home in Ersta, Stockholm, and if you don’t want to, I’m not about to try to convince you. I have no way to. As for me, I don’t give a shit about the truth. Am I telling the truth when I tell you I don’t give a shit about the truth? It’s my story, after all. But does such a thing exist? As I talk to you, I look at you and calibrate your reactions. Everything I’m telling you is formulated for you. I would be saying this...

    (pp. 288-291)

    Voices. I peeked over the banister of the second-floor hallway. They were inside the house. Iris stayed in the room with the old woman. Downstairs in the living room was a man in a wheelchair. A gentleman with disheveled white hair and a distinguished nose who was wearing pajamas. His hands were cuffed behind him. In front of him, Macha, his CZ drawn and his head full of dirt and half white from fallen plaster, asking where was Commander Joel, was he in Chile or not, show him a current photograph … Macha wasn’t shouting. The other man was shaking...

    (pp. 292-292)

    I escaped through the hole of the broken skylight, and after clambering and slipping over the roofs, I managed to climb down to Calle Maturana. I arrived before dawn at the house of the Swedish cultural attaché, the one who used to invite Clementina and me for lunch. Hours later, in the consul’s car, we went into the Swedish embassy. Anita was with me, wearing her school uniform.

    And I see myself now in the plane telling her about Sweden, land of the Vikings in search of amber, the “tears of sea-birds,” I tell her. I told her it was...

    (pp. 293-296)

    When the situation finally changed, when the damned dictatorship finally came to an end and the country recovered democracy, a couple of lawyers showed up unannounced at my apartment in Stockholm. They were Chilean. I let them in, resigned. Just like that time when a white Mazda pulled up and I recognized Ronco’s voice, I sat down with them obedient as a worn-out ox. They knew my story. I was a victim, they insisted, and I needed to give my complete testimony. They convinced me. Roberto—I was still with him then—really encouraged me to do it. He thought...

    (pp. 297-300)

    Did you find the bathroom? See? You can’t miss it … and your notebook is still there, see?

    And Anita? She’s good, she has a boyfriend, a Danish guy she met in Chile when she was backpacking in Torres del Paine. For a while they lived in San Francisco, and then they went to Santiago. He works at Santander Bank and she works at EuroAmerica Insurance … They seem happy. They work a lot, too much if you ask me. To Anita it’s only natural that I’m dying; I’m old, and old people die. But it’s me who is dying,...

    (pp. 301-302)
  70. Back Matter
    (pp. 303-303)