About the book:
Sylvia Molloy is one of the most prominent voices in Argentine literature, and one of the first to include the LGBTTIQ+ culture and representation in her fiction and literary critique texts. In Animalia, published posthumously, she paid particular attention to the warmest, fuzziest aspects of the incredible bond we share with animals, sometimes lost in the fog of our daily routines. She wrote a brilliant series of short stories that are bound to touch the hearts of every reader.
The rights to translate Animalia into Portuguese have already been sold.
My mother’s complicated relationship with animals was mostly limited to species that were not, customarily, considered pets, say any two-legged creature, not very high up the ranks of animal evolution, that crossed her path. When my first dog died, even I—surprisingly in agreement with my mother—decided I didn’t want, at least for the time being, another dog, though I did not completely rule every possibility out. Months later, while I was still musing on the idea, I suddenly thought of ducks. I liked their clumsiness, the way they walked, struggling and wobbling, just as insecure when moving as I was when wearing my brand-new heels. I said nothing to my mother. Then one afternoon, as I was leaving university, I resolutely walked to a nearby pet store (can’t remember the name now). I bought a little duckling that can’t have been more than three or four weeks old. I didn’t dare to buy more than one, however, even though buying two was what they recommended at the pet store, given that no-one likes to be alone. I took the train back home with the small box at my feet, from which squawks and unexpected gurgles emerged. People stared at me. But that’s not the end of this little story. My mother, one of the most stoic people I’ve ever known, fell in love with the duckling. Confined to the kitchen, the duck kept soiling the floor, unbothered. My mother found the perfect, short-term solution: she fashioned a pair of red panties for him to prevent the mess. Then she got into the habit of letting the duck out, taking the panties off and letting him roam around the garden while she tended to her plants. When it was time to go back inside, she called him (“Patí!”), put the panties back on and placed him inside her gardening apron pocket. The fact that my mother, a woman so mindful of manners, so mindful of the opinions of others, in other words, so snobbish and so unsentimental, had fallen in love with a duck, filled me with glee and shame. I washed my hands of the whole thing. My father took it upon himself to build the duck a more stable home at the back of the garden, and my mother would go and feed him. Every time the duck saw her crossing the garden towards him with something in her hand, he would squawk with pleasure and pounce. I left home and, living alone, I stopped thinking about animals for a few years altogether, unless they were of the literary kind. Later on, I found out that a friend of my mother’s, who owned a small farm in Escobar, had offered to adopt the duck, who had turned out to be female and was looking for a mate. My mother let her go. Like she did with me.
There is no one without another
I’m surprised that it took me so long to accept the fact that I needed to live with animals. Perhaps my mother’s reluctance to be in contact with others, or perhaps my own insecurity, had left a mark on me. I’d had a dog, but he’d died; I’d briefly had a duck, but it chose my mother over me. I’d raised silkworms and had marveled at them spinning their cocoons, but we had been unable to form a relationship. Once I moved on my own, I didn’t think to look for a dog, a cat, or a bird to keep me company. For the first time, I wanted to be just by myself, living my life without having to share it with parents, sister, or pets. It was only a long time and two foreign countries later that I realized that, in order to be oneself, it’s best to be with another, especially if that other is from a different species—that is, completely not like one. A year and a half after I left home someone rang the bell at home and asked me if I wanted to adopt a cat. It was my downstairs neighbor, who’d found a small female cat abandoned next to the garbage cans.
The rest is history.
I’ve said that she was evil, yes. She didn’t like other animals and, when she gave birth—to three scrawny kittens—, she looked at her offspring as if they weren’t hers. She didn’t know them, didn’t want to know them, it was all my fault and she made sure I knew. And she desperately didn’t want to meet any animals of a different species. When Geiger and I decided to move in together, both of us brought a pet to our new home. I remember the afternoon that Charlie first came into the apartment. He was a Portuguese Water Dog: elegant, obedient, with a sense of humor. He smelled the presence of another being and froze, suspicious of the new place and especially of the unknown being deliberately approaching him, rightfully instilling fear. The cat stopped next to him, smelled him all over in an orderly manner and then, while Charlie was still standing, petrified, she settled in under him, as if the dog were a tent. She finally exited from under him and as she nonchalantly passed between his hind legs, she let her tail graze his testicles. She’d shown him who was boss. They managed to live together, each loyal to their own style. Titoga was haughty, hard to please. Charlie was always nice and well-educated, except for the day when we left them alone and Charlie ate (out of spite?) half a volume of Lucio Mansilla’s memoirs.
But that’s another story.
Translated by Mercedes del Sol Acosta - Edited by Cecilia Della Croce