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  • From the Past
  • Alan Pauls (bio)
    Translated by Nick Caistor (bio)

Her writing compulsion was nothing new to him. How often had he suffered from it in the past? How often in the long period since he had been apart from Sophia, and how often during the nigh-on twelve years he had spent with her? In opera, characters who have reached an emotional limit, a point of no return where imperious passion demands that they change register, stop talking and start to sing. Actors in musicals stop walking around and start to dance. Sophia wrote. As a young girl (she was the typical schoolgirl overwhelmed with a long list of extracurricular activities, always half-asleep, always contented) she had studied singing, and later as part of her "corporal investigations"—as she called all the different classes and workshops she put herself through when she was no longer an adolescent—on more than one occasion she had come across the discipline of dance. But when love was too much for her, when one of its accidents, either the happiest or the most wretched (when she was in ecstasy, for example, or in despair), somehow crossed the threshold where love renders words or gestures [End Page 503] invalid, Sophia fell silent and withdrew, as though she had to disappear in order to move on. An hour, a day, sometimes a week later, when the economy of love had regained its daily balance and the "incident," as Rimini had privately baptized those episodes of aphasia, seemed to have spontaneously healed, he would suddenly find a message, a letter of three cramped lines or whole pages of confessional renunciation that Sophia had written all alone, in those strange intervals when she existed without Rimini but entirely for him: shut in a room or bar, elbows deep in small paper napkins, or sleepless in the early hours and seated at the kitchen table, while Rimini took advantage of her absence and sprawled diagonally across the bed, his legs spread in a perfect four. Or two romantic lines, slipped as if by accident into a shopping list for greengroceries or cleaning products, would suddenly leap out at him. Standing at the bus stop, he would open his wallet and between two dog-eared banknotes would discover the unexpected edge of an envelope, with his initials traced on it by a loving hand. Inside, he would find the fruits of her passionate reflections crammed onto a medical prescription. Sophia's messages lay in wait for him in the bathroom cabinet, stuffed at the bottom of a jacket pocket, on the notepad next to the phone, between the pages of the document he had to translate (where Sophia sprinkled them like hidden signposts) or even in the fridge, where they waited hours for him to see them, frozen but stoic, leaning against a milk carton or a pot of yogurt.

In the beginning, Rimini saw them as love offerings and felt flattered. Written on the back of already used pieces of paper as though they were cries for help or secret messages, they were like domestic gems, with all the enchantment of a sentimental, yearning craftsmanship, as moving as much for their gaps as for their insights. . . . As if in a belated echo of the urgency with which Sophia had composed them, Rimini felt compelled to read all the messages the moment he found them, and in his desire to savor the ill-timed phrases he was known to have turned on the gas on the stove and forgotten to light it, to have dropped whatever work he was doing, stopped in the middle of crossing a busy avenue, or with the lack of politeness typical of people in love, to have left a question someone asked him floating in midair. Every message was a balm, a shot of happiness, the tiny dose with which the ultimate drug—his love for Sophia—confirmed his addiction when he was least expecting it, or when habit—and Sophia's momentary absence—had led him to think he might be able to do without her. He was moved not so much by finding them as by the fact that they...


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pp. 503-507
Launched on MUSE
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