by Emilia Pardo Bazán
In an outburst of confidence, of the type brought about by the familiarity and conviviality of health spas, the woman with heart disease recounted her illness to me, with all the details of shortness of breath, violent palpitations, vertigo, fainting, collapses, in which one could see the approach of one’s final hour. While we spoke, I watched her attentively. She was a woman of about thirty five or thirty six, worn out by her ailment; at least so I believed, although, on examining her longer, I began to suspect that there was something beyond the physical in her decline. Indeed, she spoke and expressed herself like someone who had suffered much, and I know that bodily afflictions, when they aren’t immediately pressing, are generally not enough to produce that wasting away, that radical depression. And noticing how the broad leaves of the plane tree, touched with crimson by the artistic hand of autumn, fell to earth majestically and lay stretched out like severed hands, I called her attention, in order to draw forth more confidences, to the fleetingness of everything, the melancholy passage of all things…
“All is nothing,” she answered me, understanding instantly that I knocked at the doors of her soul not out of curiosity, but out of compassion. “All is nothing…unless we ourselves transform this nothing into something. If only we regarded everything with the gentle, but sad, emotion caused by the fall of those leaves on the sand.”
The sickly flush of her cheeks deepened, and then I realized that she might have once been very beautiful, although her beauty had been erased and swept away, like the colors of a fine painting over which an alcohol-soaked cotton has been passed. Her blond and silky hair showed traces of ash, premature gray. Her features had withered; her complexion, above all, revealed those disturbances of the blood that are slow poisonings, decompositions of the organism. Her eyes, of a lovely blue with black flecks, must have been attractive at one time; but now something worse than the years had blighted them, some kind of loss that at moments lent them the gleam of madness.
We fell silent; but my manner of contemplating her conveyed my pity so expressively, that she, yearning to relieve a little her ever-oppressed heart, made up her mind; and, stopping once in a while to catch her breath and recover herself, she told me her strange story.
* * *
I married very much in love. My husband was advanced in age compared to me: he was nearly forty, and I was only nineteen. I had a cheerful temperament, very lively; I still had a girlish nature, and the times when he wasn’t at home I spent singing, playing the piano, chatting and laughing with friends who came to see me, and who envied me my happiness, my exemplary marriage, my passionate spouse, and my brilliant social position.
This lasted a year–the delightful year of our honeymoon. With the return of spring, the anniversary of our marriage, I began to notice that Reinaldo’s character was changing. His mood was often somber, and for reasons I could never divine, he would speak harshly to me, have bouts of anger. It didn’t take me long, however, to understand the origin of his transformation: Reinaldo had developed a jealousy, a violent jealousy without object or cause, and for this reason, doubly cruel and difficult to cure.
If we went out together, he was watchful of the people who looked at me or who said to me, in passing, whatever foolish things one says to young women. If he went out alone, he was watchful of what I did while I remained at home, of the people who came to see me. If I went out alone, his distrust, his suspicions were even more infamous….
If I proposed to him, pleading, that we stay at home together, he was watchful of my saddened air, of my supposed boredom, of my work, of those instants when, passing in front of a window, it would occur to me to look at the view outside…. He was watchful, above all, when he perceived that my bird-like temperament, my girlish good humor had disappeared, and that many afternoons, on turning on the lights, he would see shining on my skin the hot, damp traces of weeping. Deprived of my innocent distractions; now separated from my friends, from my relations, from my own family, because Reinaldo interpreted as treasonous schemes the desire to communicate and see other faces than his own, I cried often, and did not respond to Reinaldo’s transports of passion with the sweet abandon of earlier days.
One day, after one of our usual bitter scenes, my husband warned me:
“Flora, I may be crazy, but I’m not a fool. I have alienated your love, and though maybe you wouldn’t have thought of deceiving me before, from now on, without being able to help it, you might. Now I will never again be your beloved. The swallows that have flown do not return. But, unfortunately, I love you more each day; I love you wildly, anxiously, feverishly. So I’m telling you that I have thought of a way for there to be no questions, no illusions, no tears between us; and once and for all you will know how our future will be.”
Saying this, he took my arm and led me to the bedroom.
I went trembling, frozen by cruel forebodings. Reinaldo opened a drawer of the inlaid cabinet where he kept his tobacco, watch, and handkerchiefs, and showed me a large revolver, a sinister weapon.
“Here you have it,” he told me, “the guarantee that your life will be tranquil and pleasant from now on. I will no longer hold you accountable for how you spend your time, nor for your friends, or your amusements. You are free, as the air is free. But the day that I notice something that cuts me to the quick, that day — I swear by my mother! — without complaints, without scenes, without the least signal that I am upset — ah, that, no! — I will get up silently in the night, take the gun, put it to your temple and you will wake up in eternity. You have been warned….”
I collapsed, unconsious. It was necessary to call the doctor, my fainting spell lasted so long. When I recovered my senses and remembered, I was overcome by convulsions. I should tell you that I have a terror of firearms; my younger brother died by an accidental shot. My eyes, staring madly, would not leave the cabinet drawer that held the revolver.
I could not doubt, from Reinaldo’s tone and expression, that he was ready to make good on his warning, and as I also knew how easily his imagination was confounded, I began to give myself up for dead. In fact, Reinaldo, fulfilling his promise, left me completely my own mistress, without censuring me in the least, without showing even by his expression that he opposed any of my desires or disapproved my actions. But even this frightened me, because it showed the strength and the rigidity of his resolute will. And victim of a terror that grew deeper each day, I remained paralyzed, not daring to take a step. Always, I saw the steely reflection of the revolver barrel.
At night, insomnia kept me open-eyed, imagining that I sensed against my temple the metallic cold of a steel ring. If sleep consoled me, I would wake with a start, with palpitations that felt as if my heart was going to leave my chest, because I had dreamed that an appalling report had shattered the bones of my skull and blown my brains out, splattering them against the wall…. This lasted four years, four years when I had not a single peaceful moment, in which I didn’t take a step without fearing that this step would provoke a tragedy.
* * *
“And how did that horrible situation end?” I asked, to cut the story short, because I could see that she was gasping for breath.
“It ended…with Reinaldo, who was thrown by a horse and injured internally, leaving him dead on the spot. Then, only then, I understood that I still loved him, and I truly cried for him, though he was my executioner, my deliberate executioner!”
“And did you retrieve that revolver and throw it out the window?”
“You will see,” she murmured. “Something happened… something odd. I sent Reinaldo’s manservant to remove the revolver from my room, because I continued to see the shot in my dreams and to feel the cold against my temple…. And after completing the task, the manservant came to tell me:
‘Madam, there was nothing to fear…that revolver wasn’t loaded.’
‘It wasn’t loaded?’
‘No, Madam, nor do I think it ever was…since my poor master never managed to buy the bullets. I even asked him, at times, if he wanted me to go out to the gunsmith’s and fetch some, but he wouldn’t answer me, and eventually he never referred to the matter again….'”
“And so,” added the heart patient, “an unloaded revolver has shot me, not in the head, but straight through the heart, and I believe that, in spite of the digitalis and the mineral baths, and all the medicines, the bullet gives me no reprieve.”
Collected in Interiores (1907)
First published in El Imparcial, 27 February 1895.
Translated by Nina Zumel