Translated by Robin Myers.
THE WOMEN SHOW up sleepy. One rings the buzzer. I appreciate her courage. The door opens and we’re each assigned a manicurist. There are six of us at the service of nails: ours, theirs. We all want our cuticles reduced to their subtlest expression, and we want to make sure we choose the perfect color for two weeks of semipermanent polish. An assistant offers us some coffee; we thank her. The work begins in silence because we’re still half-asleep. The three manicurists are beautiful, cat-eyed. Mine is fair-skinned and sleek-haired, a sort of Avril Lavigne on the lam in Argentina, with a Buenos Aires accent and hiking boots and her own nails painted black. She’s so shy and pale that she seems almost transparent, but she works with a tenderness I can feel in the fingers of my right hand. The woman beside me starts to recount her latest amorous disaster. The girl who shattered her heart into countless pieces. What’s her sign, her manicurist asks. Leo, the woman replies, and the rest of us glance down at our hands-in-progress. It’s a tough zodiac sign for an ensemble, we agree. Although, deep down, we know that this is true of all signs and none, that the timing of your birth doesn’t make you more or less difficult. The woman’s break-up, her spite, her parting wish—to have her hands look good despite her grief—unites us in some pointless way. We too fell in love once, and we know the rocky ground ahead. We could easily finish our aesthetic business here and make our way to the nearest bar, where we’d keep sharing stories about the endings that still undo us. About the moment when that man or that woman started glancing elsewhere, disinterest hovering around their eyes, their nose, their ears. Disinterest like a bowtie, an accessory donned and never removed. That’s when I fall silent, because I don’t have much else to contribute to the conversation. The meeting or parting of eyes and lips is too far off. Love is something that passed me by. Time goes on, and the shell against sensation gets thicker and tougher until it embeds itself, growing and growing. Now we’re all silent: we’re peering too deep inside, it turns out, and maybe we aren’t crazy about what we see. But our nails look great. It’s as if we’d had a pair of new hands implanted. As if we could say, in unison: now we’re ready.
Romantic outcomes are things that happen to other people. I don’t necessarily just mean outcomes but also beginnings, coincidences, plot twists in faraway places. There’s a little bit of everything in their stories, a jumble of circumstances. The woman who met a man through a long-distance collaboration. How they looked at each other deeply for months on Zoom, as if, despite themselves, some great bolt of lightning had cracked through the screen. They break up with their current partners and she moves to a new city, a new country, into his apartment. Once they find themselves in the same place, they wander the streets lined with new buildings, sometimes in silence, sometimes speaking in a state of sweet exaltation. Maybe they’d never even held hands before. But now they do, for the first time, even though they’ve already exchanged words more formidable than two pairs of hands. And they’re doing it, trying, wanting to try. And something is forged there. Or the guy who met another guy while walking their dogs. Forced into chatting about who they were, what they did for a living, as their dogs tussled and sprinted and lunged at a bicyclist’s legs. The guys who wound up kissing in the same park a few months later, their dogs nearby but largely forgotten, making promises of total devotion they’d keep only in part—but even in part means a promise kept. Or the couple, for example, that’s been living together for three years, with lawn chairs on the balcony and a gray cat. The duo that no one ever thought would flourish, but there they are: marrying in elegant, loose-fitting clothes in a garden with tall trees, wishing each other a whole list of things, cutting a white cake with a yellow center, feeding each other mouthfuls of it. Smiling for the camera, for what will instantaneously leap into the virtual realm and sail into the eyes of a stranger, who will let out a long sigh, longing for a similar experience. That’s where they’ll be, making promises, because promising is a stage of romance. If you don’t invoke a seemingly improbable future, then there’s no union.
In today’s world, which is very different from the newly technological world of the ’90s, forever-romances are those relationships or commitments that last six to 10 years. That’s forever. There’s nothing more forever than this accumulation of even-numbered years—it’s rare for them to last seven or 11; they’re always even—shared by two people in hopes of remaining stable, accompanied, and safe. But there are other people who miss the mark, who come unplugged. Who take in such stories from the jury box or the witness stand, drawing conclusions or adding nuance for the sake of vicarious fanaticization. These are usually the people who fall silent in conversation. While others clutch their glasses and flash their teeth in response to clever remarks, the quiet ones tuck the glimmers of these occasions into their pockets, discovering a bonus track in their absolute silence. It’s much harder for these people to fall in love.
That’s the group I’m in.
In your thirties, singlehood is still a flaw. Something to be cured. Something to be removed. Being alone is almost never a natural state, something to return to, something that can actually be chosen. Even the construction to be alone, to be on your own, is freighted with melancholy, with mournful affliction in any city or landscape. The desire to solve solitude is shot through with a kind of urgent demand, and there we are, groping around, mired in the frenetic labor of finding someone. And in that halfhearted search, we go on dates in bars or restaurants. We expose our everyday lives, submit our resumes, in the instant zeal to recite who we are, what we’re looking for, why we’re doing what we’re doing. And the other person approves or disapproves and so do we. We chat with the waitress in a show of ease, trying to act as if this isn’t a first date, although everything screams that it is. That we’re two people in the throes of evaluating each other’s behavior and intentions. And we focus our attention on unusual things when we sit down with strangers for the first time. We order a drink, maybe something to eat, depending on the hour—but nothing too abundant, so they won’t catch us with our mouth full, or so our face won’t twist into a first impression we wouldn’t want to make. If the conversation escalates, then that’s progress, but if there are more than three silences in a short span, we’d better make a run for it. No direct eye contact, because we don’t want to send signals we don’t mean, but we can’t look at the ground, either, or at our phones; to look is to emphasize and to not look is impolite. Then it’s time to pay and there we are, mirroring our smiles. We don’t really feel like getting involved, so we walk a few deserted blocks in the dark. We wait for the stoplights to change. We laugh at something. We share the joke. Falling in love is like cluttering your house. We’d rather keep everything in its place. We hug and thank each other. For sharing a kind of implicit search that isn’t our own but belongs to something larger than ourselves, a custom, a commandment of sorts. We walk to our respective bus stops. We reach for our ear buds. I listen to Violeta Parra, the eternally besotted, the heartbroken, the heartbreaker. I don’t know what he’s listening to, but I can handle the intrigue. He must be listening to something. As the bus pulls up, I lift my hand to wave. There I am. The great middle-aged single citizen of Buenos Aires, cheerful, satisfied, boarding a bus in the middle of the night.
Camila Fabbri is a writer, playwright, and actress from Buenos Aires. The author of two short story collections, a novel, and several plays, she was recently included in Granta 155: The Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists 2.
Robin Myers is a poet, translator, and 2023 NEA Translation Fellow. Recent projects include In Vitro by Isabel Zapata (Coffee House Press, 2023), Bariloche by Andrés Neuman (Open Letter Books, 2023), and Copy by Dolores Dorantes (Wave Books, 2022).
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