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César Aira: Yo era una mujer casada [I Was a Married Woman]
I was a married woman and suffered for it… I had married a real monster is how this book opens. Gladys, the narrator, is married to a man, not named, who clearly is a monster. Though he does not beat her, he is cruel, both physically and mentally, does not work, steals all her money, drinks, does drugs and takes great pleasure in seeing her suffer. He is equally cruel in bed. The couple have no children.
Why has she not left him? The few people she has discussed this with have asked the same question. She points out that separation was certainly a possibility, as it is at any time in any marriage, but she never seriously considered it, perhaps, as she says, because she did not have the time. She is the breadwinner, works long hours and has a long commute. Of course, it is she who does the cooking and housework in their rented flat. She also points out that we as humans tend to stick to relationships when they are formed and, anyway, it could have been worse. I cannot properly explain this and even less could I describe what worse would mean.
She does describe some of his cruelty, such as taking all her money when she gets paid or striking a powerful match, when he lights his cigarette, close to her so she is often burned. His excuse, of course, was the usual one of my wife does not understand me.
He has no family. She is an only child. Her parents are elderly, just about getting by on their meagre pension and living on the other side of Greater Buenos Aires. She admits that she has little contact with them, not least because of the marriage. One day he tells her that he is going to visit them. She is very surprised as he has had little contact with them and she thought he did not like them. She goes off to work, in some fear, fantasising what he might do. When she returns from work, he is still not back. He returns some time later, carrying a box. He tells her that the box is a present from her parents. She opens the box and, to her horror, sees the heads of her parents, lying neatly side by side. She has no idea what to do and does not sleep that night.
The next day, going to work, she is still in shock but realises that she should go to the police but she is sure that he will have, by now, got rid of the box and is worried that she might be implicated, so does nothing. When she gets home, the box is still there, where she left it but she is too afraid to do anything. She keeps checking the papers, sure that someone will have found her parents’ headless bodies and reported it, particularly as the papers love that sort of story, but there is nothing.
Eventually, she again checks the box and gradually realises that the heads are not the heads of her parents but merely papier-mâché models, with a wax finish. The whole thing has been a sick joke on his part. She realises that these were probably made by a disreputable sculptor friend of her husband. The two had had a falling-out on the royalties to a successful tango song but must have made it up.
Life carries on. She spends much of her time discussing the issue with her friends. Unfortunately, these friends are all imaginary. She has no time for real friends. She and her imaginary friends discuss various possible solutions to the problem, both magic and and real, as she says, but come to no real conclusion.
She then gets ill. She had been coughing a lot and she gets worse. It seems that her system has been attacked by a rare fungus (a fictitious one) giving her pulmonary tuberculosis. She spends a lot of time in hospital and finally returns home, though she has by now lost her job. Her husband has sold virtually anything of value, leaving only an old sewing machine and the curtains. He seems to be sitting in the armchair in a quasi-catatonic state, presumably caused by his drug use.
The rest of the book tells of how she deals with the rest of her life As this is Aira, if you think the solution is to walk out, go to her parents or even tell the police, you would be sorely mistaken. It involves a magic carpet, a ruby and, in particular, a statue hidden away in a poor neighbourhood of Buenos Aires.
Everything bad that had happened in my life…came from the small major error of not having set myself firmly in the centre of the universe. There was, she says, too much movement in her life. And the solution? The Admirable Clown.
Once again, this is a thoroughly original story from Aira. What seems like a straightforward story about wife abuse turns out to be much more, with a completely original take on the subject. Clearly, Aira’s idea is not one to work in the real world but his approach has never been to come up with the obvious real-world approach and that, of course, is a key aspect of his brilliance.
First published by Editorial Cuneta in 2010
No English translation