In a Low Voice by Mercè Rodoreda

Alani Hicks-Bartlett

In a Low Voice

It was the last day. The last. The very last day.

She wore a pale blue dress. A wide-brimmed hat with black velvet straps that hung halfway down her back. The color of the dress and the velvet ties is what I remember the most because they were the last things that I saw. That shade of blue. Sky blue. At times, during the summer, the sky takes on a blue like the color of her dress: a blue gray, a blue consumed by the sun. On the most scorching of summer days, a blue bitter like gentian flowers.

The blue dress, her eyes with her pupils that were small and black like the velvet ribbon, her mouth—all milk and roses—her hands, everything, including shapes and colors, were a reproach, an insult to my discipline. “There are sad loves and happy loves, and ours happens to be a sad love”, she told me one day with a gloomy, monotonous voice... one day, a long time ago. But it hurt me so deeply, I just couldn’t forget it. “Why, sad?” “Because you’re a proper man”. Eight days had gone by in which we were not able to see each other because I had to accompany my wife, convalescent, to a tiny town in the mountains. A proper man... A man who lived for any gesture of hers, who was full of emotion for anything that was hers, for anything that came to me from her. A proper man...

I can still see the awning of the café, that early morning, an orange color, with its frayed drapery that the wind was causing to sway, the bushes skimming the edge of the sidewalk, the mirror with a note advertising a football game, and I can hear her cold, deep voice. “I’m getting married”. She lowered her head, and the brim of her hat obscured her face. I couldn’t see anything other than her lips and her chin, quivering now and then with a nervous tremor. And the tainted blue of her dress.

Everything grew empty around me. And inside of me. A cavern without shadows and without sound. I went through a rotten period, a time full of ineluctable magic. The things that could give me a sign, or inspire hope, suddenly dissipated as if an invisible hand had whisked them away. As if they were simply giving up.

But later... At forty, nothing is really over. No. Nothing is over. That little one who was born to me, whom I loved, and who will continue to live on once I’m dead... The last child. A little pale child as light as a sheaf of flowers. Albert went to see her with his Latin book tucked under his arm. His mother said to him, “Don’t you like having a baby sister?” He stared at the baby with curiosity and contempt, scowling, pouting, with his lips slightly snarled. He left without saying a word; he closed the door without making a sound. The last child. I had darkly conjured her up from the depths of my loneliness to assuage it, as if I wanted to make all of that defunct sweetness thrive again, preserving it within a being who was still undecided, still open.

Today we celebrated her birthday. She’s already starting to walk but she still needs to cling to things: to furniture, to the wall. If she tries to walk from one chair to another and has to take a few steps alone, she looks around anxiously and bursts into tears. I asked for a blue dress to be made for her. I held her for a moment and she laughed and gave off a few small joyful cries, like a bird. I focused all of my tenderness on this little ball of warm flesh, on these hands and these tiny little feet. A bitter tenderness. She started staring at me fixedly, completely enthralled, which left me needing to close my eyes. She has pupils that are shining and black, surrounded by a hint of sky blue.

I had an impulsive desire to write to her. “To catch a glimpse of you, only that. Even if it would just be to see you go by. And perhaps you might wear the blue dress... That blue dress you wore the last day.” I ripped the letter into a thousand pieces. I know she asked for me. She must have asked for me with that colorless voice of hers, without nuance, neutral: “Ah, so he had a daughter?” If only I could explain to her... “I’m married”. If only I had been able to say to her, “I wish it weren’t so”. The two words that pushed me headfirst into the void, leaving me to fall and turn... Goodness, she is young! What terror her youth made me feel... Since we had the girl, my son looks at me as if he were trying to decode me, and I feel him smile harshly.

I wasn’t able to sleep all night long, and now I have a splitting headache. I got up to crack open the window and I went back to bed. The bedroom, once so dark, filled up with starlight, bit by bit. I caught a chill and drew my blanket around me. The wind was making the leaves of the lemon tree strike the glass panes. “She’s in Algiers,” they told me yesterday afternoon. “She left two months ago now”. The entire night I envisioned the sea and the boat. I couldn’t free my mind from the image of the sea and the boat being flung about like the leaves of the lemon tree. As soon as day began to break, I went into my daughter’s bedroom. I took her out of her bed almost brutally. She groused a bit, but didn’t wake up. I held her in my arms for a good while. Slowly the effulgence of day restored the shape and colors to all things. I must have hurt her because all of the sudden she dissolved into tears. “What is it?” My wife entered, worried, still tying the belt of her robe. “Has she been crying a long time?” Then she looked at me: “If you saw how sickly you look! What’s wrong with you?” I said: “Nothing. Nothing is wrong with me. Don’t look at me like that, nothing is wrong. I promise. Don’t look at me like that”. Not even during the most painful days of those eighteen years, had I ever had such a furious desire to die.

Alani Hicks-Bartlett

Alani Rosa Hicks-Bartlett is a writer and translator who lives on the East Coast, where she finds herself increasingly in a nudiustertian mode. Her recent work has appeared in Cagibi, The Antonym, The Stillwater Review, IthacaLit, Broad River Review, La Piccioletta Barca, The Fourth River, and Mantis: A Journal of Poetry, Criticism, and Translation, among others. She is currently working a collection of villanelles as well as a series of translations from French, Portuguese, and Italian, and a full-length translation of a Medieval French romance. @alanirosa (instagram and twitter) Alani hicks-Bartlett on Facebook.

Back to Issue
Also in this thread
This thread has no other posts