Water is for guppies. The man moaning in the shadows, emitting shrieks that don’t seem human – or that shouldn’t be heard by human ears – has probably drunk water. It’s not hard to imagine it, his devastated anus, his useless genitals, his lacerated tongue, drinking avidly, as in a dream that fleetingly restores him to his forgotten human condition. No one has explained to him that during the application of an electric cattle prod it isn’t advisable to drink, even if one’s mouth is twisted with thirst, since water is a good conductor of electricity: the jolt will be intensified and he will let out a piercing shriek that will make the woman, lying naked and chained in the place where the cursing woman was before her, squeeze her eyes shut and think (now that she can think because the one who has brutalized her vulva, her nipples, and her gums is giving her a break, offering her water): Water is for guppies. 

The knowledge that the howling man has acquired in his fifty-three years of life is of a different nature. He has read Malatesta and Count Kropotkin and has fervently believed in freedom and solidarity; that’s why he was proud that the students could find those beautiful liberal-minded books in his subway newspaper kiosk in the station by the university, books that had formed him and which would prepare those youths for the blowing winds of revolution. He loved to say “youths” and “winds of revolution.” He’s been a bit naïve and a bit melodramatic. Typical guppy, a water drinker. Those are the first to fall, thinks the woman who lies naked, having just refused a glass of water. 

The light blinds her: someone has lifted her hood. When her eyes grow accustomed to the light, she sees a very young woman with painted lips. She’s flanked by two men, but not handcuffed (only when she finishes saying what she has to say and turns to leave does the woman who lies naked notice that one of her ankles is chained to a cannonball). 

It may have lasted until summer, she stubbornly thinks, in order to avoid hearing the siren that pierces the night like a wound, determined, in spite of everything, to resurrect the brief time when Leonora, tall and olive-skinned, and she, with her persistent, childlike demeanor, formed a perfect whole. Persistent childlike demeanor? she thinks, curiously, feeling the uncomfortable sensation of the passage of the years. Because that defining demeanor is now barely a vestige, a bruise, whenever a spontaneous burst of joy, highly inappropriate to her age and to Argentine history (this very afternoon, the bougainvillea), lodges in her body and makes her go a little wild. But only sometimes. Since there have been romantic whirlwinds and unnoticeable failures, including perhaps this very story that she insists on telling in order to find redemption or to erase the panic of the present moment – where are you, Leonora, on this moonless night, where are you escaping to, and how can you escape when even mothers and sweethearts fall? – generic and personal stories that have ravaged her face, so the word “childlike” would be imprudent. So she writes that all the happiness in the world was summed up in that spring: until the end of summer, she wore a blue pleated skirt and a sailor blouse, and Leonora wore a white shirt and the turquoise skirt – everything was turquoise that season – a detail that allowed Diana, despite her nearsightedness, to recognize her from afar the morning when she burst into the street because the intoxication of being alive overflowed the walls of her house. First it was the skirt, like a big, patchy wave. Then the way she walked, and especially the way she waved from afar with her arm high in the air. Diana waved in return. Then they ran toward each other with that virile exuberance they were so proud of and embraced as if they hadn’t seen each other in years or as if the meeting were taking place on a barren planet where they were the only survivors. “I came to meet you,” “I was sure I’d find you,” they said at the same time, and it was enough to make them burst out laughing uncontrollably, leaning into each other to keep from losing their balance. They embraced as they walked along, Leonora’s protective arm around her shoulders, and her arm around Leonora’s waist, drinking her in through her skin, as though they, the morning light, and the fragrance of the geraniums were a single, perfect, blissful body.


They walked along Salguero, discussing Juan Cristóbal, whose passionate life both of them were reading; they talked about the fifteenth birthday party they would both attend that Saturday, about Leonora’s boyfriend (“something really terrible is happening to him that I can’t even tell you about,” squeezing her shoulder to gain more strength), about a boy with glasses with whom Diana secretly was in love; of how they, just like Anne Frank, believed that people were really good at heart. They bought caramel apples in the plaza, sat down on a bench facing the Church of Guadalupe, and Leonora confided part of her secret: she told her (with omissions) of her boyfriend’s tragedy, which was also her own. “His lifelong dream is to get into the Police Academy, but there’s something very private that’s keeping him out: something I can’t tell anyone, not even you.” Diana briefly wondered if it could be some character flaw or some horrible prejudice that kept her from having a hypothetical boyfriend with that ambition. Less briefly, she wondered what the private impediment could be: against her will, she located it in the young man’s dick but didn’t say anything, since, ever the esthete, she loved perfect moments: no inconvenient observation must disturb that morning in bloom. Was our sacred morning, then, made of what I obstinately removed from the picture? Not now, please, now that I have the two girls sitting opposite the Church of Guadalupe at that blue moment forged by happiness, now that I’m discovering why I wanted to describe that morning and show the two holding hands and watching the changing patterns of sunlight on the church, don’t let any evil thought come along and interrupt me. Cross out the business about the Police Academy, and for symmetry, eliminate the part about her thwarted love affair. Simply write that something is making Leonora unhappy. Then Diana pulls out a piece of graph paper, saying: “I’m going to read you a poem by Alfonsina Storni.” She reads a love poem of which some verses sound like Storni and others like Héctor Gagliardi. “It’s so beautiful,” Leonora says. Diana confesses, “I wrote it myself.” They embrace, overcome with emotion, and walk back down Salguero embracing, speaking of the miracle of life that they know better than anyone, and of all the noble things they feel capable of doing. And for the first time, ignoring the sirens and illuminated by her desk lamp’s 75-watt bulb, Diana feels she has reached something, the end of the beginning, she thinks, a moment of supreme hope or supreme beauty from which all paths radiate to change the world, because that lightning bolt of happiness, that painfully lovely realization that it is possible for people to be happy, was a short time later the very thing would lead us to the desire and the will to… But perversely, as if her unbridled enthusiasm can no longer contain the maelstrom of her thoughts, she writes: And then, as we passed single file through a very narrow place, at that moment of perfect happiness, a tree fell on my head. 

“It’s better to talk right away; don’t let them destroy you. They messed me up good at first, and for what? A few less teeth, that’s all I’ve got to show for my heroism. One day I couldn’t stand it anymore and told them everything I knew. It was useful to them – that’s the important thing. I don’t know if you realize I had the codes for the meetings. And, well, it was useful to them. I think they fell like flies. So what? They would have fallen anyway. Those who must fall, will fall, because if you don’t talk, someone else will – that’s their whole philosophy. Only those at the top know how to escape. I know what I’m talking about; they tell me certain things. But those at the top are saving their own skins; they don’t give a thought to girls like me. It’s better to cooperate with these guys; they’re not bad, you’ve got to get to know them, like anyone else. They told me if I do everything they say, when my baby is born they might not take him away from me. I’m pregnant, did I tell you that? The doctor here found out about it, that guy who revives you when you pass out. I’m due in June and they promised that if I don’t let them down, I’ll be able to . . . well, I wouldn’t be able to raise him in here, but if I don’t let them down, they might even give him to my folks. They’re not bad guys; once you become their friend, they’re much more respectful than some of the guys I used to know. That’s the way it is – just like with anyone, if you’re useful to them, you’re sure to survive. If not, they’ll kill you right away. I was lucky, see? I’m useful to them in certain ways, like I told you. And in other ways, too. Don’t even think about it anymore: whatever you have to tell them, say it quick. I know what I’m talking about,” said the girl with painted lips. 

Then she picked up the cannon ball and walked away, flanked by the two men. 

“We’ll have to take her to the hospital.” The man’s authoritative voice, was the first thing to pull her from the void. Not to the hospital, no, she doesn’t know if she said it or thought it, and she desperately willed her eyes open. But now nothing was like before: during the rest of that extraordinary summer, she knew she might die. It was the scythe of death in the middle of a savage river of happiness, she wrote that same night in a notebook of lined paper. She was fourteen, and every event struck her as dazzling and unique, even that premature experience of death. And perhaps it’s an exaggeration to call it a “premature experience of death” (in fact, the tree wasn’t really a tree but rather a very thick branch), but excesses were her raison d’être in those days. And the truth is that she had experienced the branch on her head as though it had been a tree, and her fall like the unwanted embryo of her grasp of precariousness. If not, why then do I keep slipping into my own personal obsession, wonders Diana Glass at the very moment when the prisoner, naked and spread-eagled beneath the interrogation lamp, bellows like a quartered beast. A red-hot current from her vagina to her teeth. 

“This will make you talk, Montonero bitch.” 

She looks at the face of the one who spoke (no one has bothered to replace her hood). Nose, mouth, eyes. It’s the face of a man. 

“I have no one to name,” she says. 

“We’ll make sure you do.” 

Now, as slowly as a submerged body, the hand holding the cattle prod moves toward one of her nipples (Or else the slow motion is a subjective impression: it’s a well-known fact that there are some moments that come into such close focus that, analyzed logically, they seem to last longer than they really do). 

“Look in my purse!” the prisoner shouts desperately, as if shouting, “Stop that cattle prod!” Then she seems to recover some of her composure. “There are two letters in there with the proof you’re looking for.”

 “Proof of what?” 

The approach of the picana has been suspended. Action hangs by a thread. 

“Proof that I’ve lost all my contacts. I have no one to name because I don’t know where to find anyone.” 

The man holding the picana laughs. 

“That’s not enough, bitch. We don’t even bother to check bullshit like that.” 

Has the picana advanced a few more centimeters toward her nipple, or is it another subjective impression? The prisoner doesn’t close her eyes. In a neutral voice, she says: “There’s another piece of information in the second letter. It will tell you a lot about me.” 

This isn’t betrayal, she would say to herself if she were in the habit of reflecting; in any case, I’m just betraying myself. Is that bad? To appear naked in front of people who have no business seeing me naked? Bad for whom? I’m already naked in front of them; they touched my body, poked inside my vagina. What difference does it make if they get their hands on my doubts about some of the methods the Organization is using? It’s not as though the letter mentions my desire to escape, my desire to erase the past. You don’t discuss those things in a letter to the Commandants unless you want to be shot. But these guys might be able to read between the lines . . . The Falcon’s no fool; if he discovers my doubts and if that encourages him, so much the better. It’s his job, not mine. My job right now is not to name names, and I’m not. 

(“Because naming names isn’t for everyone,” the man they bring in a little later will say. At first the prisoner will be surprised to see him alive. Hernández the Chimp. He was an important official who was picked up a month earlier; everyone on the outside had given him up for dead. He played the guitar like an angel. To say a name and know that in a few hours the guy with that name is going to be begging to die on the torture table . . . it’s not for people like us, and some of them know it. There are some intelligent guys among them, with the ability to get to know us. Know something? There are intelligent guys everywhere, that’s what we didn’t realize. And, well, if they give you a chance to let them know you . . . Do whatever you think best, but I’m alive; I don’t know if this is a recommendation, but maybe it’ll help you. I’m sorry if I can’t give you more reassurance; that’s not what they asked me to do. But it’s the first time they’ve sent me to do something like this, and it turns out I’m talking to someone like you . . . I hope I’m not misleading them, he will say, his hands trembling a bit, a slight breathiness in his voice, and the whole time he avoids looking at the spread legs of the woman who lies on the table, her body filthy with sweat and excrement, and her eyes . . . above all he avoids her eyes. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he glances at the man at his side, and in a slightly weary monotone, like someone who hopes to be understood without too much effort on his part, he will add, his eyes fixed on the floor, that things can be different from what you might expect here, that if you can set aside certain principles, you might find a way to survive, technical jobs, nothing great, things you know how to do that are useful to them. He’s sure, because he knows her, because he knows how talented and strong she is, that she’ll be able to find her own way. 

Then he’ll pick up his cannon ball, and, like the girl with painted lips, he’ll walk out, leaving her alone). 

But all that will happen later. Now the prisoner is alone – the two men have gone looking for the letters – and although she doesn’t reflect on it (she doesn’t have that habit), she quickly decides that what she’s doing isn’t betrayal and that’s she’s taken the right step. 

She grows alert. Rapid footsteps are approaching. Two men. 

“You lied to us, you little Montonero whore,” the first one shouts as he walks in. “There was no letter in your purse.” 

She feels terrified, but only for a moment. She’s just recognized the second man: it’s the Falcon. Yo no soy marinero, she thinks, but addresses the other one. 

“You’ve forgotten one detail,” she tells him. “Don’t you know that a purse can have more than one bottom?” Now she looks right at the Falcon. “You still have a lot to learn about us, Captain,” she says. 

The one who spoke is about to lean over her. “You little Montonero …” He doesn’t manage to complete the phrase or the act. A gesture by the Falcon stops him cold. 

“Go look for the letters where she said, Lieutenant,” he orders, barely moving his lips. 

Then he leaves, following the lieutenant. The prisoner remains alone, insofar as one can be alone. Her father isn’t there, Fernando isn’t there, the other men who loved her aren’t there, the Party won’t come to her rescue, and the top Montonero brass won’t look out for her. To whom does she belong now? Who will protect her?