No One Said a Word
ad phoned from New York. He told me he'd be coming to Buenos Aires. It didn't cheer me up like other times. Dad said, "It's not for pleasure, this trip. My brother's having heart surgery. We don't want your grandmother to find out. When he gets in to Buenos Aires from Bogota he'll let you know which hotel he's staying in. And you can tell me." I felt anxious when I hung up. Dad sounded really worried. I felt sorry for him. For the first time ever I felt sorry for Dad. The thought of going through such a tough time with his brother seemed to weigh him down. Dad's wife wasn't coming with him. I was the only one in Buenos Aires who knew. I was overwhelmed. It was too much responsibility to support Dad through something like this. His brother in Bogota was the only one he had left alive. As the days went by, my unease increased. I talked to Juan. I told him what was going on in my family. He asked me if I was afraid my uncle would die. I said no. I was scared for Dad.
My university entrance exam was coming up. I couldn't study. I thought maybe Dad could help me. I changed my mind. I'd rather study alone. It would have been better if I could've taken the exam before they operated on my uncle. But no. The date for the surgery was already set. My entrance exam didn't matter to anyone. The day before Dad was to arrive, the situation became unbearable. I had to leave class because I couldn't stand it one minute longer. There'd been several heart attacks in my family. My Dad's father and his older brother both died fairly young of heart attacks. I was so upset that evening, I called my therapist. She'd been off work for two months: she was expecting a baby. She listened to me and asked me to calm down. Tomorrow, she told me, I'd see Dad and could tell him how much I loved him and that I was worried about him. And in any case, she added that if I was still worried after seeing Dad, to call her back. When I hung up, my anxiety remained intact. I wondered what would happen if Dad died. Immediately I tried to erase that thought. When I was already in bed, still awake, the telephone rang: it was Dad. He told me he was still in New York: the plane was delayed. He might miss his connection in Rio, and that had him practically in shock. He'd travelled so often and never missed a flight! We were dealing with a real blot on his existence here. I told him if he missed his plane it didn't matter; I'd go to the airport anyway, and wait for him there. He asked me not to; if he missed his connection in Rio he'd call me. Dad didn't call. Part of the ritual of his visits involved me going out to Ezeiza airport to meet him. I knew he liked to be met. I liked going. As usual, the taxi came to pick me up. Mom came downstairs with me and told me to take care. In the car I heard that song that goes, "He's alright, my old man...." When I got to Ezeiza I found out the plane from Rio was delayed. I was glad. I spoke to Ana on the phone from Ezeiza. I told her Dad was probably just about to arrive since he hadn't called. I was studying Logic for the Mathematics entrance exam. I was pleased to be able to prove the validity of logic to every-day life: if P denotes the premise "Dad missed his connection in Rio" and Q "He would call me," the rule of inference—if P then Q if not P therefore not Q—applied perfectly. I thought, "If Dad missed his connection in Rio, he would have called me; he didn't call, therefore he hadn't missed his connection in Rio." How cool, Modus Tollens worked in real life! I informed Ana of my brilliant deduction.
When they announced the arrival of Dad's plane, I hurried over to the customs exit. I saw the first passengers come out: huge hugs from their friends and relatives. I watched these affectionate receptions rather enviously. I thought how Dad and I were always quite restrained in our greetings. But this time I felt like hugging him. The hugs and kisses all around me continued, along with a few tears. I kept looking. I was anxiously waiting for Dad to appear. At the same time I was enviously watching the big families. Those where all of them go together to the airport to pick up the one who's arriving; those where they all live in the same city; those where there's a mom and a dad who love each other. All those things I never had. "They're almost all out," I heard someone say. But my dad wasn't there. I called home. Ester told me that Dad was still in Brazil and was trying to get in touch with me, to come home quickly. He'd already phoned several times. I didn't go home. I got a taxi, went to the university. I felt, all of a sudden, that I couldn't miss the last classes. The entrance exam was the following week. I spoke to Ester again from school. She insisted I come back there immediately. I had the feeling that something really serious was going on. I didn't go to class. I went home. From the hallway I heard the phone ringing. Ester opened the door and told me to answer it. "I'm sure it's your dad." I heard my brother Luis's voice. He lived in New York too. He told me that the worst possible thing had happened. He asked if Mom was there. No. Mom wasn't home. Then Luis said he wouldn't tell me. I insisted. I told him that anyway, Ester was right there beside me. He told me to ask Ester to hold my hand and that Dad had died. I screamed and burst into tears. My vision clouded over. I threw down the receiver. I couldn't believe it, I didn't want to believe it, I wanted to go back in time. For the world to stop. I went and locked myself in my room. I called Ana. She was in the middle of her bachelorette party; she'd come straight over. I called Laura. I said the same thing to everyone: "My dad died." That was the only thing I could say, and then I'd start crying again. I called Juan. Then Ratil. Raul wasn't home. The first to arrive was Ana. Then Laura came. She hugged me and we both started to cry. At that moment Mom came home. I heard Ester tell her, "Senor Manuel died." "Senor Manuel who?" asked Mom. I don't remember what Ester answered. But I can imagine. Mom couldn't believe it. Me neither. I felt the need to tell lots of people. Each time I said it, it still struck me as incredible. I couldn't stop repeating it to myself: Dad died, Dad died. The telephone rang every little while. It was Luis. He wanted me to go there. One of the times he called I asked how it happened. Where it happened. Dad had died on the airplane, he had a heart attack. It was a silent death. The stewardess told how Dad had come up to ask her for a glass of water. That he'd told her he wasn't feeling well. And then he died. Yes, he died. Without another word. My head was swimming. I didn't know where I'd find the strength to take a flight to New York. To go to Daddy's funeral. Nevertheless, it was imperative that I go. I had to be there. Take a plane by myself. Travel all night. No, I didn't want to go. "I don't want Dad to die." I called Mara. I told her that Dad had died and she came straight over. Two of my brother's best friends came over. Raul came. Mara despised him, and this time she didn't hide it. Raul and I had broken up eight months ago. Knowing it would bother Raul, Mara asked me about a guy I liked at school.
Some relatives came over in the evening. I didn't even want to see them. Laura and Mara stayed. The three of us were in the kitchen and Mom came in. I didn't want to see her either. At that moment I wanted another mom. A mom who'd loved Dad. I knew my mom hated him. She'd always spoken badly of him. Everything Dad did was awful, even dying. But now she was screwed. Now Dad was mine forever and she was nobody. Laura left. Mara stayed over. I couldn't get to sleep all night. Nor did I have anything to say. A deep, sharp pain settled into me. It all seemed like a movie. I couldn't believe it was true. I wanted someone to come and tell me it wasn't, that it was all a misunderstanding. No one did. Luis phoned: he'd reserved a ticket for the next day. A problem arose: my passport had expired. It would be impossible to renew it in one day. I spoke to Dad's secretary in New York. She told me not to worry about that. They'd arrange everything. I'd definitely be able to travel the next day. Mom offered to come with me. I didn't want her to. What was this? How would Susana, Dad's wife, feel if she saw Mom? Who was the widow? Were there two widows, or what? No, I'd rather Mom stayed in Buenos Aires. I couldn't stand the idea of her coming. My aunt phoned, my father's brother's wife who lived in Colombia. She and her husband were now in Buenos Aires. She wanted to know what was happening, if Dad had arrived or not. They told her Dad had died. But of course, my uncle couldn't be told that his brother had just died of a heart attack before his operation. My aunt then wanted me to go and tell my grandmother. She didn't want to go. I shouted that I wasn't going to notify anyone of anything and I couldn't care less how my grandmother found out. I never understood why everyone in my family was so scared of telling my grandmother that another of her descendants had died when she was the one who stood it best. The next day I went to the university. I explained my situ-ation. I couldn't take the entrance exam because my dad had died. I asked them to please give me another date. There was no respite. It seemed like someone was enjoying my torment. Luckily Laura came with me. She was a real comfort. I went back home. I was in my room. Mom came in to tell me that the police had come to renew my passport. I filled in the form, they took my fingerprints. There were two agents in civilian clothes. They carried briefcases with everything necessary to renew passports. They even had new passports. They completed the whole procedure right then. Mom told me they'd come to the house earlier. When I was at school. It was no trouble to them to go and look for me there. They asked Mom to go with them in a green Falcon.
On the way into the university, they exchanged friendly greetings with the police at the door. Of course, they didn't find me. After they'd left, Mom and I looked at each other with complicity, knowing that this "house call" was due to the people Dad had been working with for the past two years. I could never under-stand how he could associate with guys like those. Mara came over. She brought me some winter clothes: it was cold up there. Ana and her husband came straight from City Hall. It dawned on me that I wasn't going to be able to go to Ana's wedding reception. After talking about it for so many months! I was even invited to the family dinner. I'd bought a new dress and some gorgeous shoes. They'd stay in my closet, never worn. Juan came over with a very affectionate little card, I really appreciated it. The time came to leave for the airport. Mara and Laura took me. On the way we bought the paper. There was an article with the headline: "Heart Attack Kills Manuel Goldman on Plane En Route to Argentina." I burst into tears. It struck me as terrible that Dad should be a news item. He was my dad and nothing else. I remembered how I'd been to Ezeiza yesterday too, nothing else. I remembered how I'd been to Ezeiza yesterday too, to meet Dad. Now I was back there, on my way to his funeral. I don't know how I managed to board the plane. I didn't want to get to New York. I felt sure I would die on the plane too.
That I wouldn't be able to stand it. That if Dad had died, I wanted to die too. I got a bit of sleep. I dreamed my cat was being strangled. A terrible injustice. I didn't know who could have even considered committing such an atrocity. I woke up terrified. I didn't want to sleep anymore. In spite of me, we arrived. We landed. I had no choice but to get off the plane. I went through Immigration, got my suit-case, went through Customs. I was walking slowly. I knew the doors would open after a few more steps. I would see everyone. They were waiting for me to go to the funeral home. I didn't want those doors to open. Still, I kept walking. I saw them suddenly: Luis, Susana, her kids; I think her four kids were there. All dressed in black. I hugged Luis. We cried. I don't know if any words were spoken. There were tears, hugs. We went towards a taxi. It was really cold. I was coming from the summer, I was tanned. They were white, really white, pale. I looked out at the road from the airport to Manhattan. It was all covered in snow. I couldn't believe that this time I wasn't going to visit Dad but to go to his funeral. That I'd never visit him again. I'd made this trip with him so many times, happy to see each other again. No one said anything, maybe there was nothing to say. All that pain drove off any words, made us mute. We went to Dad's house. I asked Luis if he'd spoken to Elena. Elena was Mom's sister who lived in Switzerland. No. He hadn't told her yet. She was very important to me. I know she'd also be chose to Dad. In Buenos Aires I wouldn't even mention her name to Mom. They'd fallen out seven years ago. They didn't speak to each other. I felt like a delinquent for loving my aunt. They told me the wake wasn't going to be at Dad's house. The funeral home was far away. Everyone was going over there. I should wear black. I didn't have any black clothes. I had jeans and a sweater on. They told me that going dressed like that was disrespectful. I didn't understand why. There didn't seem to be any room for disagreement. Luis had argued with Susana about whether the coffin should be open or closed. Susana preferred it to be open. Luis didn't. He didn't want to see Dad dead. I did. I wanted to see him for the last time. I wanted to say goodbye. Luis preferred to keep the memory of Dad when he was alive. I wanted both memories. After all, his death was part of him too. They decided the coffin would be closed but anyone who wanted to could open it. Before going to the funeral home, Luis and I stopped at a store. I thought it was ridiculous for me to wear black; the last thing Dad ever paid any attention to was clothes. Anyhow, we went. I had a white T-shirt on. Luis was furious to see I wasn't wearing a bra. He ordered me categorically to buy one. I left the store dressed completely in black.
We arrived at a sumptuous building I'd never been to. It was in one of the most elegant neighborhoods of Manhattan. Everything seemed so remote. I felt like none of it had anything to do with me. Like that wasn't my place. Like that wasn't my dad. There weren't very many people. It was a huge place. An entire floor with several large rooms. I saw Pablo, one of Susana's sons. He told us that Dad was already there. Someone had gone to Brazil to get the body. He died in that country where he didn't know anybody. Alone. They took him off the plane in Sao Paulo. They took him to a hospital. But by then there was nothing they could do. Pablo pointed out the room he was in. He asked us if we wanted to see him. I wanted to. Luis didn't. The room was very big. The coffin was at the far end. Pablo and I went up to it. He opened it and we saw Dad's corpse. It didn't look like Dad.