Wednesday, April 24, 2013

'Stupid vile woman! Hussy! I'm never going to think about her again!'

The next day, Vítor went to find out how Genoveva was. In his mind, he could still see her as she had appeared to him the previous day, reclining on a sofa, her gestures languid, her words weary. He was most put out to see Dâmaso's coupé at the door. Since the coachman knew him, he resisted the temp­tation to withdraw discreetly and went in. On the final flight of stairs, he bumped into Dâmaso, who was coming down. They were both slightly embarrassed.
'She's gone out,' said Dâmaso brusquely.
'I thought she was ill.'
'Ill?' said Dâmaso, surprised. 'No, she's in perfect health. She's gone out. I spent the night with her.'
This was a lie, but he wanted to humiliate Vítor and make him think he was happy. The poor lad turned pale. They went down the stairs in silence.
'So, what have you been up to?' asked Dâmaso, at the front door, drawing on his gloves.
'Oh, nothing much,' said Vítor vaguely.
Dâmaso got into the coupé and, wanting to appear in command, he ordered the coachman rather sharply to drive on and slammed the carriage door shut with a satisfied air, although he was, in fact, furious, because Genoveva had gone out, having promised to wait for him.
Vítor walked slowly down the street. The brusqueness of his friend's words had set a distance between them. 'So much the better,' thought Vítor. 'The man's a fool.'
And he immediately set off on a trawl of all the places where he might meet him. He was furious with him and he wanted to meet him in order to greet him with indifference, as if his mind were on other things. He walked round the Aterro, up and down the Chiado, looked in at all the shops, ate a few cakes at Balthreschi's, but there was still no sign of Dâmaso.
At supper, he was so glum that Uncle Timóteo, who had had enough of silence, said irritably:
'Oh, for heaven's sake, say something. I'm dying for a bit of conversation.'
Vítor apologised; he was done in, under the weather. And having mumbled a few more words, as if his tongue were heavy as lead, he sank back into taciturnity. He couldn't get Dâmaso's words out of his head: 'I spent the night with her'; they sang ironically inside him; he could see her undressing, throwing her arms about Dâmaso's neck, sighing with love; he felt nothing but intense hatred and immense scorn for her. He consoled himself by think­ing how superior he was to Dâmaso, but even while he despised him, he envied him.
'And how's your friend Dâmaso?' asked Uncle Timóteo.
Vítor recovered himself immediately. He didn't know, he hadn't seen him. Nor did he want do. The man was basically a fool. Vítor unleashed a torrent of remarks about the ludicrous figure Dâmaso cut, about his sheer fatuousness, his crass stu­pidity. He warmed to his theme, retailing some of Dâmaso's more laughable faux-pas and ridiculing his clothes. He cut rancorously into his roast veal, as if he were slicing away at Dâmaso's hated flesh.
'What did the lad do to you?'
'To me? Nothing. Honestly. If he had, I'd have split his head open, I would, as sure as two and two make four. I'd tear him limb from limb. I'd walk all over him.'
He was speaking with increasing choler, his pale skin red with passion.
Uncle Timóteo glanced at him out of the corner of his eye and smiled to himself.
'Poor chap,' he murmured.
That night, Vítor visited all the theatres. As it was growing dark, a fine drizzle began to fall. In the cab he took from Rua dos Condes to the Teatro da Trindade and from the Trindade to the Teatro de São Carlos, he was planning what attitude he would take if he should see her in a box. He would not even visit her. He would merely greet her coldly. He would flirt with other women. He would take a tip from the actors. He would speak to Dâmaso and yawn in his face, and if Dâmaso so much as looked at him or made some bold remark, then he would beat him round the head with his cane.
But he did not see Genoveva, and every colour seemed dull to him, every woman hideous, every face inexpressive, and the city, wrapped in damp mist and drizzle, seemed sad as a prison, solitary as a cave. Near the Teatro Dona Maria, he met Palma Gordo, his hands in his pockets, his jacket pulled tightly around him and revealing the plump curves of his large buttocks.
'Have you seen Dâmaso?' Vítor asked him.
Palma, a cigarette between his fleshy, sweaty fingers, said drunkenly:
'He's probably with that. . .' and he used an obscene word.
Vítor almost struck him, but instead turned his back on him and stalked off home.
'Stupid vile woman! Hussy! I'm never going to think about her again!'
He went in to ask if there was a letter for him. Nothing.
That only fuelled his hatred. 'The wretch!' he thought. And following the romantic tradition, according to which any difficulties encountered with ideal love are best remedied by a good dose of licentiousness, he went off to dine at the Malta with a Spanish woman called Mercedes, a delightful girl from Málaga, who claimed to be the daughter of a general and affected aristocratic manners, but ate with her hands and licked her fingers afterwards.
Vítor drank a whole bottle of Colares wine and two glasses of cognac, convinced that sadness made him interesting, and thinking of Alfred de Musset who also used to get drunk in order to forget his disillusion with love.

Eça de Queirós, The Tragedy of the Street of Flowers, London, Dedalus, 2000, translated by Margaret Jull Costa

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