Never to Return


Never to Return is a witty, penetrating account of a woman’s inner journey to understanding through her encounter with Freudian psychoanalysis. On the brink of turning fifty, Elena suddenly falls into a deep depression. Her husband has gone off to New York to celebrate the triumph of his cinematic career, accompanied not by his wife but by a lover half her age. Meanwhile her grown sons have left home to pursue their own lives and relationships. Fearing aging, loneliness, a failed love, and a failed life, she ...
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Never to Return is a witty, penetrating account of a woman’s inner journey to understanding through her encounter with Freudian psychoanalysis. On the brink of turning fifty, Elena suddenly falls into a deep depression. Her husband has gone off to New York to celebrate the triumph of his cinematic career, accompanied not by his wife but by a lover half her age. Meanwhile her grown sons have left home to pursue their own lives and relationships. Fearing aging, loneliness, a failed love, and a failed life, she begins sessions with a reputable Argentine psychoanalyst. Elena’s experience of analysis provides the occasion for an intense scrutiny of self and world, while it raises basic questions about the psychoanalytic method and its implications for female emotional development. Complex and ambivalent, her narration offers both a sharply satiric view of analysis and a consideration of its possible power and effectiveness.
Esther Tusquets is a leading figure on the Spanish literary scene. Since the early sixties she has directed the distinguished Barcelona publishing house Editorial Lumen. Never to Return is the fourth in a series of critically acclaimed novels characterized by a winding, associative style that captures the vibrant ebb and flow of a woman’s inner life.
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Editorial Reviews

International Fiction Review

Never to Return satisfies us on several levels: it is brilliantly written, witty, stimulating, and highly enjoyable to read. Tusquets scrutinizes accepted gender roles, but does so in a sensitive and intelligent way. An afterward by the excellent Catalan translator Barbara F. Ichiishi about Tusquet’s literary career, an extensive glossary, and the list of works in the European women series further contribute to the high quality of this edition.”—International Fiction Review
Times Literary Supplement

"Never to Return is much more than a polemic against pyschoanalysis; it is a stimulating 'open' or 'writerly' novel which contains the possibility of many and of even apparently contradictory, readings. . . . Tusquets deftly maintains her game of indeterminate meaning right up to the book's last line."—Times Literary Supplement
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Catalan author Tusquets dedicates her literary oeuvre to exploring the inner lives of women, and this fourth novel first published in 1985 marks the last volume in an award-winning cycle Love Is a Solitary Game; Stranded to be translated into English. Elena, married with two grown sons, is turning 50. Her husband is in New York celebrating a film career that she helped him build, but he's with his young mistress. Uncertain of her future and feeling old, she enters therapy with a reputable Argentine psychoanalyst. However, she questions the efficacy of his cold, rigid analytic method even as she recognizes a parallel between psychoanalysis and parenting: that one participant gives all but must not expect reciprocal attentiveness. But if that's an insight, it doesn't much help: Elena's plagued by a need for the analyst's approval, and finds herself obsessing over a piece of pottery she gave him as a gift, neurotically dreading the day he discards it. Rich with nuances that may be relevant to the academic study of Freudian, Lacanian and feminist psychoanalysis as the translator details in her afterword, Elena's story is a story of frustration, something the reader may well feel. Told through a dense, unbroken, almost breathless narrative that internalizes daily events, the book's stylistic structure accurately mimics the thought processes of a confused brain, immersed in depression and panic. That indeed is this novel's most interesting feature, but the narrative's exploration of psychoanalysis does little more than reiterate how the Freudian model of human experience fails to address female needs. Sept. FYI: Tusquets has been on the forefront of the Spanish literary scene since the early 1960s, when she began directing the Barcelona publishing house Editorial Lumen. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Elena's 40th birthday did not faze her, but as her 50th looms and her film director husband takes up with an unknown lover half her age, she simmers with rage. Elena begins sessions with a celebrated analyst from Argentina, whom she refers to as "Poker/Wooden Face" and "the Wizard." Elena's perspective, revealed in a third-person inner monolog, is both mocking of analytic methodology and appreciative of its possible effectiveness. But this double posture seems to work to her advantage. The giants of her world, especially her all-important husband, reduce in size, and she emerges from the novel's last pages with a secret sense of superiority and a more realistic outlook. But it remains for the reader to evaluate what has been gained and what lost in Elena's odyssey from the emotionalism of youth toward the confidence of adulthood. Originally published in Spain in 1985, this is the fourth of Tusquets's tetralogy of female development novels (which can all be read as separate works); significantly, this one finds its heroine ultimately in better shape than any of her novelistic predecessors. Recommended for those interested in psychology and feminism.--Jack Shreve, Allegany Coll. of Maryland, Cumberland Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Never To Return ( paper 194 pp.; Aug. 18; 0-8032-4433-9; paper 0-8032-9438-7). Spanish author Tusquets' fourth novel, first published in 1985, is part of an ambitious series portraying the nature of contemporary womanhood—specifically, the experiences of women as daughters, wives, and mothers in a tradition-bound patriarchal society. Here, we have the story of 50-year-old Elena's adaptation to empty-nest syndrome, her husband Julio's flagrant unfaithfulness, and a deepening depression that sends her into increasingly revelatory encounters with a famed Argentine psychoanalyst ("the Wizard"). Boldly risking flatness and redundancy, Tusquets instead subtly builds a touching, bawdy, and often very funny characterization of a woman who's had it with insensitive males and finds ways to free her impatient body and spirit. Whether or not you respond to Tusquets' implicit agenda, you won't be able to resist Elena.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803294387
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/1999
  • Series: European Women Writers Series
  • Pages: 194
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 9.03 (h) x 0.41 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara F. Ichiishi is the author of The Apple of Earthly Love: Female Development in Esther Tusquets’ Fiction and cotranslator of ƒdouard Glissant’s Monsieur Toussaint.
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Read an Excerpt


    THIS NAGGING IRRITATION, THIS SIMMERING RAGE brought on by so many things over the last few months. It must be that she's growing old, this time for real, not like at the age of seventeen or twenty when fantasizing about being old and world-weary was simply one more form of playful affectation ("For Elena, who at the age of seventeen feels like an old woman," the sacred cow of Spanish letters, the greatest novelist since the generation of '98, had written in her autograph album), or at the age of thirty or even forty, because it's clear that she hadn't felt anything very special upon passing the threshold of forty, maybe because everyone around her was going through it along with her or had already gone through it two or three or five years earlier, one unexpected advantage of having long ago chosen friends older than oneself, and Julio continued treating her, as always, like a little girl ("An overgrown, silly little girl who can't resist mothering you," she had joked with him just a few months before), and besides, when Elena turned forty she must have been caught up in one of her peculiar obsessions (impossible now to recall which one), suffering and rejoicing and struggling over something that had little or nothing to do with the real world, nor with her age, or at least that's how it seemed to Elena, although she couldn't be too sure about it, because maybe she had gotten something after all out of those two months of psychoanalysis, and it was among other things, the almost constant habit of turning things around, of asking the minute an idea crossed your mind if it couldn't just as well bethe opposite, the notion that two contrary assertions were not necessarily mutually exclusive but rather could perhaps coexist in a dense amalgam of truth and falsehood, the suspicion, which existed prior to analysis, it's true, but which might have intensified over its course, that one could without letup be playing dirty tricks on oneself — weren't there individuals who, to Elena's amazement, cheated themselves playing solitaire? So easy, moreover, to detect these failings in others, so evident from the outside what was happening to others, so obvious ("The analyst spends his time pointing out the obvious," she had protested crossly at one stormy session, and the guy, imperturbable, with that wooden look that was starting to get on her nerves, "Couldn't it be because the analysand spends his time denying the obvious?" and "My face wouldn't bother you if you were lying down on the couch," so that yes, he did want her once and for all stretched out on the couch and him behind her back, despite the fact that at the outset — so later it perhaps became difficult to correct — in a display of express heterodoxy, he had allowed her to adopt whatever position she preferred, so Elena sat with her legs crossed in lotus position, her back against the angle of the wall, facing the Wizard head on from the farthest corner of the room). So obvious, then, what was happening, only one didn't hit upon it oneself, or one couldn't allow oneself to recognize it, and this was one of her long-standing doubts about psychoanalysis, because what dosage of truth could each individual stand without it blowing up in his face and breaking him in two, body and soul? what happened when you confronted a human being — through psychoanalysis or some equivalent kind of experience, the nature of which she could not imagine — with a reality that he had made great efforts to deny to himself for ever and ever, since he first developed the faculty to reason? and how could the analyst for his part precisely measure the potency of the fire he was playing with, the dosage at which the medicine would perhaps turn into a lethal poison? And at one of the first sessions, when she still didn't know the half of it, Elena had begun to tell the joke (with the annoyance, considered absurd by the Wizard but to her insurmountable, of not knowing whether he already knew it, if she was like an idiot telling the guy a story he already knew, and not having the nerve to ask him, because she had already learned that she'd only receive silence in answer, or if he was feeling especially benevolent, the assurance that the fact that he had or had not previously heard the content of a joke the woman told would in no way impede the favorable course of the analysis), the joke, then, about the poor devil who went to consult a psychiatrist, and of course, she admitted obediently, a psychiatrist was not the same as a psychoanalyst (allusions to psychiatry, like any complacent reference to religion and, she would discover later, to feminism, caused the wooden face's expression to darken for a few seconds: it was strange how a wooden face without the slightest muscular contraction could darken), how could you compare those individuals, the psychiatrists, conceited and dangerous, who went around handing out potions and lavishing intrusive advice, and who occupied, the Impassive One had pronounced, with that air of solemnity that the overwhelming profusion of his silences lent to each of his interventions, "an impossible space." Someone, then, some poor guy went to consult a psychiatrist, explaining distressed and terrified that he had a crocodile under his bed, and begging the doctor to free him from this uncomfortable hallucination, and the psychiatrist actually did cure him, except that afterward, some days or weeks later, the crocodile without any more nonsense ate him up. You can be sure the psychiatrist prescribed colorful sugar-coated pills (they had at their disposal, as Elena well knew, drugs for everything, or for almost anything, including drugs to neutralize the image of the crocodile lurking under the bed), he must have administered kind words, and even some soothingly paternal pats on the back, while in contrast a psychoanalyst, a more genuine and experienced wizard, would have urged him to confront all alone, without any pills whatsoever and hence unarmed, the psychic reality of the crocodile and all its possible origins and associations, because, let's see, what did the patient associate the image of the crocodile with? did his mama scold him when he was little for crying crocodile's tears, did his nanny or governess threaten to take him to the zoo so the crocodile would gobble him up if he ever again wet his bed? but one way or another, whether through the intervention of psychiatrists or psychoanalysts, it seemed to Elena that such poor fellows inevitably ended up being eaten by the crocodile who was waiting patiently under the bed, although maybe it was to their advantage after all, she conceded sarcastically, that those who had been analyzed had a more complete understanding of what to be devoured meant. And what did one do, Mr. Wizard — she continued her harangue from the couch-stage, on days when she felt in a better mood or less darkly depressed — with the patient whom no one in the world loved, with the analysand who was really, for family and strangers alike, an authentic disaster, who was dull and stupid, had a shitty character, a huge rear end, an almost total lack of kindliness and charm? what happened to them, and they were without number ("Do you imagine yourself among them?" had inquired wily Wooden Face, always ready to put salt on the wound and think badly of his patients, "Why don't you tell me about the crocodile you do or do not have under your own bed?" and she had admitted that yes, sometimes she did fantasize herself to be among them, although she didn't have too clear an idea — and that's why she was there — of what could be her particular crocodile), what did you do, then, with the multitudes who had long before taken the wrong turn and could not go back, and did not even know at what bend in the road they had gone astray? with all those who had devoted themselves to a cause that was, more than lost, misguided — lost causes at least had a certain charm — to an endeavor in which they would never succeed and yet for which it was now impossible to substitute another? In short, what would happen, Mr. Wizard, if you placed before their eyes that implacable mirror and obliged them to contemplate themselves in it, and even forced them to recognize themselves, that dreadful mirror which almost all of us, with model tenacity and discretion, have strived day by day to remove or at least blur? "You are playing with fire, Stranger" — had the Impassive One seen the film? — and the Stranger, undaunted, he too poker face or wooden face, infinitely wise and contemptuous: "What else would I play with?" bewitching Elena, sitting there like a ninny in a seat in the darkened theater, so shamefully in love with risk and adventure — it would have been truly magnificent to be able to sidle up to the Stranger with the long snakelike body of Bacall, in a tight-fitting suit, eyebrow raised, and declare her solidarity and love in a brief, unforgettable phrase — and then suddenly overcome with fear, with the huge and urgent need to ignore all fires and run to the bed and get under it and not find the slightest trace of any crocodile whatsoever.

    This nagging irritation, that boundless rage — it might come from aging, or simply be the other side of the bitter pill of depression, which leaves one exhausted, defenseless, without the strength to so much as lift a finger, go get a glass of water, make it to the next corner, and at the same time excitable and testy as a powder keg — as she finds herself obliged to repeat for the hundredth time, without the salesgirl understanding or even listening, that what she wants is six frames of exactly the same size, fifty by sixty-two centimeters, "Make a note of it, Miss," and centered in the six equal frames the six prints which, it's quite apparent, are not equal in size, and the employee with her broad flat face, as though she lacked one dimension, and her thin hair turned into Brillo by a bad-quality dye — would things be different if she looked like Bacall? — knits her brow and focuses all her attention on this difficult problem and stubbornly insists that she also has to record, one by one, the dimensions of each of the six prints, the length and width of the six. And yes, it must be due to her age or to depression, this urge to grab her by the shoulders and shake her, as the girl goes on measuring and taking notes, and then, after an interminable pause, concentrates still harder and picks up her calculator — and what the devil is she trying to calculate, what rule of three or cube root is she seeking, when it would have been much simpler once and for all to listen to her? — and Elena repeats again, teeth clenched so as not to scream, "six prints of different sizes, each of the six centered in six equal frames," and the salesgirl interrupts triumphantly, "But then the borders won't be equal!" no, of course not, it's very clear that the borders won't be equal, and that doesn't matter to Elena and there's nothing to make note of or calculate, it's enough to jot down carefully the size of the frames, and the girl again frowns, at the height of confusion, and concludes that, in any case, it's better for her to take down all the measurements, and Elena thinks, as a homicidal rage creeps from the tail of her spine up to the nape of her neck: "I'm going to kill her if she uses that damned calculator one more time, if she takes down one more figure I'll kill her, I'll drag her by her steel wool hair, I'll pull it out by the handful, I'll slap her in the face, I'll kick her, I'll make her swallow in a horrid death rattle that pencil and notebook and that blasted calculator." All the while conscious of the absurdity of the situation, the enormity of her anger, Lord what would the papers say: "The wife of one of our most distinguished movie directors, whose latest film, by the way, is going to have its Broadway début in the coming days, attempts to assassinate without plausible motive the salesgirl of a prestigious downtown art gallery ..." There's no history, of course, although ... "perhaps the explanation for such deviant behavior lies in a sudden fit of madness, given the fact that the assailant has on various occasions consulted a psychiatrist, and is currently undergoing analysis (no, it would be `psychoanalysis,' because the terms `analyst' and `analysand' are part of the jargon of the initiated, who also always talk about the unconscious rather than the subconscious, the latter term used by the common people and badly informed journalists) with an eminent professor from the University of Rosario ..." Maybe they'd even print a photo of Wooden Face in the papers, but joking apart, what would her colleagues in the production company think? what would she tell Julio when he called, amazed and incredulous, from New York? and how would she explain it to the Wizard at tomorrow's session? "What do you associate the salesgirl's face with?" he'd ask suspiciously, although in a bored and neutral tone of voice, as though going around murdering salesgirls-with-steel-wool-hair were an everyday occurrence, and then, "Doesn't it occur to you that these uncontrollable fits of anger, which you've described to me on various occasions and which are totally out of proportion to the trivial incidents that set them off, may have deeper roots, may be closely linked to your depression?" Yes, of course they could have something or a lot to do with her depression, something or a lot to do with her age, and Eduardo might even have been right when he pronounced, shaking his index finger at her admonishingly, with regard to Elena or other people or himself: "These irrational outbursts directed against individuals you don't give a damn about only occur when one is walking around feeling very unloved or very screwed up." So that, when the employee finishes taking notes, raises the notebook close to her nearsighted eyes, nibbles again at the tip of her pencil, picks up her calculator once more and starts saying, "So the first print ...," Elena, so as not to kill her, gathers up the engravings, stuffs them any which way into her briefcase, stands up and leaves the gallery so fast that the girl has no time to react, and by the time her boss reaches Elena she's already at the door and doesn't have to explain. "There comes a time in one's life, perhaps around the age of fifty, when one is excused from having to go on tolerating certain doses of human imbecility," she could have told him, "and all the more so when they come from art gallery employees with badly dyed hair and two-dimensional faces who don't even remotely resemble Lauren Bacall," although it's much better that she didn't have time to say it, because if she had she would later have suffered such an attack of shame that to her dying day she would not have dared return to that gallery to view a fucking exhibition.

    The Wizard lets her in with a competent, professional air ("serious as a dog in a boat," her Argentine friends would say, one of the many unusual expressions that amuse her and that she often adopts as her own), he briskly shakes her hand, makes way and follows her along the dark corridor (both of them, not just today but always, a little stiff, slightly uncomfortable, with that forced naturalness one assumes in the corridors of houses of assignation, the same impossible ease, although she'd better not inform the Impassive One of this association because there's no telling where it might lead them), to his office, a small interior room, the window of which, Elena imagines, opens onto the elevator shaft and the inner courtyard — she sometimes hears sounds and voices, which makes her automatically lower her own — with a desk, a Kennedy-style rocking chair for the Wizard, a couch for the patients, two small armchairs that get lost on either side of the desk, where they sat only on the first two or three days before agreeing that Elena would indeed begin treatment, whereupon he moved to the rocker and she to the couch, and some shelves on which she has seen the books grow and multiply in an almost miraculous proliferation from one session to the next, so already there is room for only a few more and they are pushing toward the edge, where they are on the point of knocking off the ceramic jug she had bought the Stranger at the very outset, en route from the house by the shore to one of the first sessions, at a time when Elena still did not know the most basic rules of the game — to be sure, she had read Freud with delight during her college years, but that was a long time ago, and besides, she doesn't find in Papa Freud a hint of those rigid tics, those schematic methods, that set of rules seemingly devised by Puritans or Mormons — and that's why it had bothered her a little, bothered, not hurt her, because they were still in the prehistory of the analysis and she had not yet fallen into the trap hook, line and sinker, that the guy took it with a neutral air, without thanking her or smiling, total impassivity, so Elena had said, "It's folk art pottery from La Bisbal; do you like it?" and she wasn't sure if even at that point he had talked or smiled, although perhaps he did mutter "Yes, thank you" while placing the jug at one end of the desk, and by the following session it had been shifted to one of the bookcases, and the fact that it had been stationed there, that it had won a place in the sanctuary, had been interpreted by Elena as a real sign of acceptance, however minimal, a recognition on the part of the Stranger of the slightest underground current of understanding or affection. At least she had the jug before her during the sessions — in that initial stage when she didn't even hint at the idea of lying down, but rather sat with her legs crossed on the couch in the corner where the latter was lodged — and its presence lent the room — so empty, so aseptic — a minimal degree of familiarity and warmth. Elena came close to attributing to the jug the secret powers of a talisman, and would seek it out bewildered in search of shelter and support, when she and the analyst — and this began very soon, when they had barely emerged from the prehistory-faced off with fury, like cat and dog, although to tell the truth there was probably no fury at all on his part, just the serious air of a dog in a boat, and she was a cornered cat belly up, clawing and hissing, and in moments of red-hot anger, when so much free-floating aggression, such disproportionate rage (maybe Eduardo was right that it all came from being badly screwed up, what did the Wizard think? and the Wizard smiled slightly, and traced a vague arabesque in the air with his hand) focused fleetingly on a single point, on that stuck-up guy who seemed sure of possessing the whole truth — damn he must be pedantic and overbearing in his real life — that guy who possibly spoke with God every night and who came to symbolize for a few moments or a few hours everything Elena most feared and detested in the outside world. At these moments, then, the woman directed her gaze toward the jug, situated at the other end of the bookcase invaded by the huge carcinogenic growth of the books, and she promised herself, "The day when it's unseated, the day I enter this office and the jug is no longer there, I'll put an end to this stupid game," because she needed this boast, which she herself did not believe, which she least of all believed, to continue feeding the illusion, from day to day dying out, that it was entirely up to her whether or not to abandon the sessions and terminate the psychoanalysis: in fact, it would simply be a matter of not showing up for an appointment, of being at that very hour — five o'clock sharp in the afternoon — somewhere else, engaged in some other activity, with other people. So Elena made luncheon dates that would inevitably stretch on and on, she left to spend the day at the house by the shore, she arranged meetings for that hour that would later be impossible to cancel or postpone, she interposed between herself and this place — the little room with the rocker and the couch — every distance, every imaginable obstacle, and yet, until now such scheming had been to no avail, because without knowing exactly how or why, the luncheon abruptly ended, the work problems were resolved in record time, the throughway was unexpectedly empty, so there was Elena charging full speed ahead, foot all the way down on the accelerator, or jumping in the first taxi, hardly aware of what she was doing, and all she knew was that at ten minutes to five she found herself on that precise corner of that very street (the only one in the whole city where she was not supposed to be), and there was even time to gulp down a cup of scalding coffee at the bar next door. What occurred, then, was very similar to something Elena remembered from an old children's film — in this case she could bet the Impassive One hadn't seen it — where the tie binding the dog Lassie to the boy who was her owner, and whom she awaited every day at the close of school — it wasn't clear to Elena that school got out at five in the afternoon, but it might well have been that hour — was so strong that, when through human intervention — not the boy's, of course — the dog was moved to a place hundreds or thousands of miles away, at that hour she felt an extreme restlessness, an intense nostalgia, a restlessness and nostalgia that impelled her time and again to set forth, braving all kinds of risks, taxing her strength and endurance to the limit, even abandoning the kind folk who had taken her in and really loved her, to arrive one day at last (the Wizard could well imagine how Elena as a girl used to weep at this point in the story) at the door of the schoolhouse, at five o'clock sharp in the afternoon, and rush into the boy's arms in an endless, stirring embrace (with the single proviso that in Lassie's case it was a pure and simple question of love, whereas what Elena felt for the Wizard was not so simple or univocal). So to end the analysis it would have sufficed, it might still be enough (although the woman was feeling day by day more insecure), to make a phone call, or not even that, to send him a brief note with a check for what she owed for the month's sessions, and the guy dubbed Wooden Face, Poker Face would have sat there frozen in his rocker — of course this formed part of the master plan and was anticipated in the Manual of the Perfect Psychoanalyst — he would not have allowed himself a single dirty look, nor taken a single step to detain or follow her, he would not have picked up the phone to give or demand an explanation, he would not even have stood up, as indeed he did not get up on the day when they fought — or when Elena fought with him, with something that was less than the shadow of a phantom — and the woman declared they were through and filled out a check then and there for the approximate amount and put it on the desk and left, without anyone following her, without anyone trying to hold her back, without the Impassive One so much as opening his mouth, to the door, the stairway, the street, her face burning like a red-hot coal and spouting tears of impotent rage, because at the very moment she slammed the door and started down the stairs, she realized she had taken a step that she would not later be able to sustain — it was then that she discovered, with alarm, that she had fallen into an extremely well-designed trap from which she could not extricate herself, she realized she had set up a dependency relationship that made all those she had experienced up to now, with parents, spouse, children, lovers, friends, seem like child's play — and she stopped the car by the first phone booth and called him, and she heard the Wizard's voice at the other end of the line, and Elena asked, "What are we going to do now?" as though the question implicated them both equally (when the Wizard had already explained at one of the first sessions — before the woman fell face down in the trap and discovered how dangerous that game could be — that the analyst-patient relationship was of necessity asymmetrical, but at that point Elena had not understood what he meant, nor had she felt a need to ask or insist) and it wasn't basically her problem, and Poker Face, maybe in a slightly more cordial and less aseptic tone than usual, perhaps with a speck of compassion (and her desire to arouse his compassion and revel in it humiliated her more than anything else), "Come back, if you like, and we'll talk about it," as though the woman were still in a position to choose what she did or did not want to do, and she quickly answering "yes," dashing back to the house in a heat, leaving the car double-parked on the street, entering the office crawling on all fours, creeping along the walls, belly dragging on the floor and tail wagging, like a puppy who has wet the carpet and is scared of being punished, a wretched little puppy who needs to ingratiate herself — it's a matter of life or death — with her master, the only thing missing was to start barking or rush to lick his shoes, so whispering in a voice that pretends to be ironic but breaks on the first words, almost hoping that on this occasion he's distracted and not listening to her (something that can easily happen on other days, but not today with all the ruckus she has raised), "I'll be your lordship's dog," without explaining that it's a quote from Lorca, and then during the time remaining, which luckily isn't much, enduring all the rigor of what she calls the punishment sessions (not the least trace, she must have dreamt it, of the touch of warmth of his voice on the phone): didn't it occur to Elena that her violent, wholly inappropriate reaction, with the "we're through" and subsequent door slamming, had a lot in common with the reaction of an enraged lover? and she biting the dust, tail invisible now between the legs, yes, yes it did seem that way to her, yes there was a lot in common, and he relentless, determined to carry through to the end: wasn't this a decidedly infantile way to behave? and Elena, about to grab him by the throat or throw herself off the balcony (which wasn't a balcony, only a sad window overlooking an inner courtyard so by throwing herself off she would only have managed to break a leg), yes, yes it was infantile behavior, yes she was acting like an idiot child, but why? did the Wizard know why? what was there about psychoanalysis that drove her almost inevitably to behave like a stupid little girl?

    So today the Wizard has again let her in, a day after the incident at the art gallery that could have but did not end in homicide, he has made way as usual and followed her along the dark corridor — where they never exchange a single word — and has sat down in his rocker, while Elena confirms with a glance that the blessed jug is still in its place, takes off her sandals, undoing the complicated laces — which always gives her a terrible time, clumsy as she is and to top it off nervous with the other boldly and patiently looking on, and which to make matters worse she feels obliged to justify or comment on — she gets settled cross-legged on the couch and begins to tell in a joking tone (it's anyone's guess why on some days she feels pretty good, even with light, sporadic waves of euphoria, whereas on others, most days, she feels so sad, so frightened, so ill, so sure that the crocodile that is hiding under the bed is sooner or later going to eat her up), so she tells Wooden Face the anecdote about the art gallery and the six unequal prints that were to be framed in six equal frames, and she tells it in an amusing way, expecting the Impassive One to suddenly burst out laughing or at least for his eyes to light up in friendly complicity (because behind the solemn, almost liturgical mask he wears at all hours in the sanctuary, behind the numerous obstacles interposed, the barrier of his hands interlaced before his mouth, his bristly tricolored beard, his thick glasses for myopia, at times the Wizard's eyes light up with warmth and amusement — at others with emotion — which would perhaps seem very bad to Papa Freud, but which, along with the jug's sojourn on the bookshelf, is one of the very few reasons why Elena, before falling face down in the trap and its closing behind her back, had put in an appearance four times a week at this office), but now there's no twinkle at all in the Wizard's eyes, the Impassive One looks at her distracted, you can't even tell if he sees her, he yawns, takes off his glasses, passes a hand over his face, puts them on the desk, slowly lights a cigarette (without offering her one, without giving her a light when Elena takes one of her own out of her purse), so the Wizard visibly demonstrates that he's bored, that her chatter does not interest him, that the two are miserably wasting their time, and then Elena starts shifting nervously from one topic to the next, from the salesgirl-with-steel-wool-hair to her own inexplicable aggression, and from there to the problem of aging, anxiety over the passing of time, so bound up with the certainty of dying — it seems to her that the conflict does not lie in the death drive, but in death itself, a reality that human beings could not, apart from religion, and with or without analysis, understand or assimilate — and then Elena tells him about the past, about her sons when they were still little boys and wanted time and again to sleep in bed with their parents, and they showed up at all hours, barefoot and in pajamas, sleepy-eyed, on the lookout for the slightest sign of tolerance or resignation that would allow them to discreetly climb in and by nudging with the rump make a place for themselves between the two of them, and this usually occurred on nights when Julio was away but also occasionally when he was there, so they were all crowded together in disarray, Julio grumbling in his sleep and turning his back, the two boys still half asleep giving her a kiss on the cheek and holding her hand — one hand for each child, how did mothers manage who had three? — and even the dog and a teddy bear and a toy truck, Jorge sometimes even hid his sheriff's revolver under the pillow, and as much as Elena joined in Julio's protests the next morning and lodged her own futile, shocked complaints, the truth was that at heart she liked it — why would she have allowed it to go on for so long if she didn't? — she liked sleeping that way as much as or more than the kids (like gypsies, her mother would have declared, without understanding it at all), all of them promiscuously scrambled together, because ever since she was a little girl it had saddened her that the end of the day meant they had to separate and each one sleep in his own bed, especially after the bingeing and partying of adolescence (that's why she almost always asked Andrea at least to stay over, and they prepared a folding bed in her room and whiled away the remainder of the night in lucubrations and secrets), when her friends went back to their own homes and left the house dreary and what's worse turned upside down, with so many half-empty bottles, plates with leftover sweets and snacks, records mixed up and out of their jackets, ashtrays, never enough, full to overflowing, and that unpleasant stench of things that are over, of dead realities, and Elena would have liked a thousand times more, it would have seemed to her more normal and sensible, that they all get wrapped up in blankets and sleep on the sofas and the carpet, before the dying embers in the fireplace — that too heightened the feeling of things ending — so the arrival of night would not imply — as it had for many years and especially before meeting Andrea — the onset of loneliness, and the truth is that since then she has never gotten accustomed, and at this point probably never will, to sleeping alone at home or in a hotel room — who knows which is worse — and in fact she doesn't like one bit sleeping alone these days — it's been two nights since Julio left for New York — very childish about this too, right? an idiot child, an absurd woman who hasn't managed, who can't manage, to age correctly, on the brink of menopause without ever having advanced beyond adolescence, without having grown into an adult woman. And Elena is telling the Wizard all this in a light, almost worldly tone, the tone she might adopt sitting around the table after dinner with friends, half joking and hoping to make him laugh, but the Wizard is smoking, his gaze lost high above in the direction of the ceiling, and he again passes his hand over his face, exerting pressure at those points where his glasses must bother him, after which he again hides behind that barricade, which today is effective because Elena can't even tell which way he's looking, and conscientiously and methodically cracks his knuckles: the Wizard gives no response, asks no question, makes no comment. He has left her alone on the couch, drowning in the rough stormy ocean of her own words, sinking into that thick swampy sea, clumsily waving her arms in the air so as not to entirely lose her footing, more and more depressed and anxious — more aggressive too, although she might not be willing to admit it — unable to pretend any longer, throwing the Impassive One irate, despairing looks, give me a hand, bastard, can't you see that if you don't I'm certainly going to drown? — "The wife of one of our most distinguished movie directors, whose latest film, etc., has mysteriously perished by drowning, buried under the rushing sea of her own words" — and the Wizard is perfectly aware of what's happening, he knows exactly what the woman is going through, and yet he remains silent, because this is another of what she calls the punishment sessions — at times, like today, she hasn't a frigging clue why she is being so cruelly punished — so she remains there, cringing in the farthest corner of the couch, tail between her legs, ears drooping, with those wretched eyes of a meek dog, his lordship's dog, whom they're brutally whipping with harsh lashes of silence, until Elena can't stand it any longer, because the entire room has been inundated and submerged in that silence, which has overflowed its narrow banks and is starting to flood the other rooms of the house and the elevator shaft, this sorcerer's apprentice undoubtedly capable of annihilating the world, and the ceramic jug sways on the shelf without being touched, as though it were undergoing the shock of an earthquake, a mini-earthquake that at the moment affects only that spot, and the air has gotten thick and dense and refuses to pass down Elena's throat to her lungs, and she's suffocating and can't stand it any longer, and has lost all semblance of self-control and sophistication (what's happening to her now could not take place at the coffee table or a bar or anywhere else), and she does something that she's already done on two occasions and had sworn never to repeat, Elena begs him in her worst idiot-child, retarded-little-girl voice, "Please say something, anything, don't leave me here jabbering on all alone like a complete moron!" because she knows that if the session ends without the Impassive One's having broken his silence, she's going to leave there, like other times, all done in, and she'll be in an awful state during the hours intervening until the next session, like a dog who's been abused by her master, a ridiculous dog who alternately or simultaneously hates and loves a cruel master whom she never understands but upon whom she hopelessly depends, and she also thinks that everything that transpires within the four walls of this office makes no sense, at least not to her, it's a silly perverse game, pure childishness, but a game so well constructed, so clever — or she so dense — that it's managed to ensnare her in its plot and now Elena, like it or not, is taking part (a crazy chess game, she thinks, in which I have no king). And so she pleads with him, flushed with anger and shame, "Say something please, anything at all, I feel so absurd chattering on here alone without anyone answering and maybe without anyone listening!" and finally she lies down on the couch, docile and defeated she lies down on the couch, because she knows this is how the Unflappable One, the Great Silent One, wants her, stretched out on the couch and him behind her back, and it's possible, not certain, of course, and not immediate — that would in some sense be to give in, for him in turn to enter the dynamics of the game, a game that he perhaps controls from outside but in which he definitely does not take part, that would be too childish, the two of them behaving like silly little kids — but yes perhaps later, when a little time has passed, it's possible that the Wizard, in view of the surrender or goodwill of the patient, Elena's surrender — not unconditional, no, not forever, and of this too they're both aware — would allow himself to break the rule of silence and utter, in his aseptic tone (a tone of voice so neutral that it scarcely betrays the Argentine accent: a voice from nowhere, a phantom voice), some phrase, without any particular significance — what's important is that he talk, not what he might say — which an Elena returned to life from the depths of the swamp, an Elena who can again thrust the air into her lungs, will immediately transform into a verdict — of acquittal — from the oracle.


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