Love is a weird thing
Foreign Rights Manager
About the book:
These three short stories or novellas have never been published before. They were written between the late eighties and the mid-nineties. Beni is the love story of Luisa, a recurrent “alter ego” of Hebe Uhart, and the man who lends his name to the title of the story, which takes place in Buenos Aires at the time of the last dictatorship in Argentina; Leonilda is the story of an immigrant from Chaco in Buenos Aires, from childhood to maturity; El tren que nos lleva (The Train that Takes Us) narrates the experiences of a suburban young girl during the sixties and seventies. The three stories are permeated by the political violence of the seventies. But they are not the classical dictatorship stories. Hebe accounts for the effects that the violence of the time had on rather marginal, eccentric characters who missed the train or did not fit the system. Love is a weird thing, and seems to be a domain where learning can be of little help; what prevails is a sense of abandonment and perplexity at everyone’s aloofness. Anyhow, the peculiar features of these stories do not prevent us from hearing the author’s voice we know so well, a voice never devoid of humor.
I In 1980, Luisa lived in an apartment that looked like a small shoe box. When you came in, the entire house, even the bathroom, could be seen at first glance. It was such a small and nice apartment that close visitors would make use of all the facilities to check they were not toys; they would go to the bathroom, lie down on the little bed that could be seen from the square entrance, slide the always half-open partition behind which there was a minute kitchen, and open the cupboard that had a curtain like a puppet theater. The cupboard had been made by the substitute janitor of the substitute janitor; he was an old man, taken to drinking wine. He had taken some disused pieces of wood from the basement of the building; like a weary and contemptuous woodcutter he had gathered the wood, as if piling a heap of dry tree branches. It was the first time in his life that he was going to make a cupboard; he took a long time to do it and did not charge her anything for it; the cupboard was shaky, he brought it up assembled from the basement and it teetered back and forth in his hands.
The not-so-close visitors or more mundane people, would move around as if saying “a house, big or small, is a house, anyway;” they would come closer to look through the window, from where you could see all the city and the window’s immediacy was such—for it had no frame or anything to separate it from the space outside—that they felt they were suspended in the air. They would approach the window without interrupting their conversation and when the feeling of being suspended in the void would leave them in awe, some would suggest whether it was possible to slide the kitchen partition to a complete close. It certainly was, but Luisa would say that she would rather not; she did not want to close it, she wanted to see the cupboard with its puppet-theater curtain.
Her mother would visit her at her place, carrying a cane with a very elegant handle that conveyed authority and good judgment. The walking cane did not match the light-brown, coarse cloth coat she wore to cover herself; the coat had eventually adapted to her plump old lady’s body, whose back was a bit stooped, and the fact that she wanted to protect her body with a thick cloth, a body that had flirted so little, made Luisa pity her and want to treat her well. In Luisa’s apartment, her mom moved around differently than at her own place; at home she gave her legs orders to keep them in proper shape and sometimes she addressed her stiff leg that refused to walk by saying “move ahead, you stupid.” At Luisa’s home she would praise the meal, sit quietly to get served some food and say: “At someone else’s home I’ve never known how to manage myself.” After having lunch, she would leave her cane on any pillow on the floor and take a short nap, and Luisa felt that for her mom her little home was a good place to die.
But Beni, the boyfriend Luisa had at the time, was not suitable to take care of the elderly during their illness, not for lack of disposition but for lack of good sense. His greatest wish was that joy prevailed, but in the form of memorable, unforgettable sparks of happiness. Luisa once witnessed how he managed to make a woman stop crying, a woman he had brought in from another house where he was staying temporarily, who was hypertensive and took medication to stay balanced, and who would later eat, drink and put on enough weight to lose her balance; the woman was hopeless when it came to that serious struggle within herself; she would cry and her homeostatic imbalance ended up being a problem for others, on that occasion, for Beni, who performed magic passes, played the clown and rubbed her eyelids under the light of a lamp; the woman laughed heartily. The role of a wizard or sorcerer suited him well, but the chiaroscuro of the elderly’s room, watching over while he or she sleeps and carrying out a small chore in the meantime, such as doing the laundry or reading the paper, was not in his nature, because on the matter of clothes, he had the fewest possible so as to have them in order or well tamed, as he used to say: a shirt that dries while I sleep, and a suit with a tie to go to the bank. As for the newspaper, even if he bought one, it looked as if he had found it somewhere by chance and inside the paper there was always a surprise; if it was nice, he would dance while ironing his shirt; if it was not, he did not make any comment, the rest of the paper was just an absurd parade for him. For Beni was not a time person, he was a space person; today he was here, tomorrow there. When he went to the countryside, he would go into the general store and tell the peasants that in Buenos Aires he had a savings account at a bank located downtown, right at Plaza de Mayo, close to where the pigeons are, across the street from the house of government.
In 1981, Luisa had her apartment floor carpeted and now it looked like a lined shoe box. When the carpet installer arrived (with an air of efficiency, as if saying: “Wipe the floor out of any rodent or non-rodent vermin, dead or alive”), Beni had just arrived from the countryside and was so happy with the new carpet that he was speechless for a while. Neither of them had ever had the floor entirely carpeted and when the installer finished his work in a little room, they sat on the floor to see how he carpeted the other one. Beni volunteered to help, but as the installer did not allow him to, he came back to his observation post in silence. He interrupted his silence only to say: “Wait till I tell them this!” He said it a bit loudly; the installer glanced at them and Luisa felt a little embarrassed; she thought the carpet installer looked at them as if he already knew that Beni would go to the general store in the countryside to tell everyone about the carpet. Beni appeared or disappeared like a god of Olympus and, as such, he could perform different activities and roles; he wanted to sell logs from the woods in Entre Ríos, as there was a very simple, natural and free transportation route: the Parana river, which would drag the logs along up to Buenos Aires. How come no one had thought of it before? Because of the narrow minded who make it all so more complex. They invent slow, petty, lousy and expensive transportation mechanisms, such as trucks, which are especially slow and expensive.
About the author:
Born in Moreno, province of Buenos Aires, Hebe Uhart (1936-2018) studied Philosophy at the University of Buenos Aires. She worked as a primary school teacher, high school professor and university lecturer, and contributed with the cultural supplement of El Pais newspaper from Montevideo. She wrote travel notes and chronicles featuring different characters and situations. Her published works include: the story Memorias de un pigmeo (1992); books of short stories La luz de un nuevo día (1983) and Guiando la hiedra (1997); the novel Camilo asciende (1987), and a nouvelle Mudanzas (1995). Adriana Hidalgo editora has published Del cielo a casa (From Heaven to Home) (2003), Turistas (Tourists) (2008) and the travel chronicles Viajera crónica (Chronic Traveler) (2011), Visto y oido (Heard and Seen) (2012), Desde la Patagonia a Mexico (From Patagonia to Mexico) (2015), De aquí para allá (Here and There) (2016), and Animales (Animals) (2017). In 2018, Adriana Hidalgo editora started a project to publish the author’s complete work, which included the publication of Novelas completas (Full Novels), Cuentos completos (Full Stories), and Crónicas completas (Full Chronicles). In addition, three unpublished nouvelles are included in El amor es una cosa extraña (Love is a Weird Thing). In 2017, Hebe Uhart received the Manuel Rojas Ibero-American Narrative Prize, granted by Chile in recognition of a vast literary career, one of the most prominent awards in the Spanish-speaking world. Several selections of her stories and chronicles have been translated into English, Portuguese and Italian. She died in Buenos Aires, in October 2018.
Translated by Julia Benseñor / Edited by Marita Propato