Translation of “El Ausente” by Ana Maria Matute

(If there is a something in [?], that means I am unsure if something before it is translated correctly.)


At night they argued. They went to bed full of ill-feelings for each other. This was frequent, especially lately. Everyone knew in the town – especially Maria Laureana, their neighbor – that the marriage was badly made. This, perhaps, made it bitterer. “Don’t wash your dirty linen in public,” she said, awake, with her face to the wall. She turned her back to him deliberately, brazenly. His body too, was like an eel, on the edge of the other side of the bed. “He will fall to the floor,” she soon thought. Later, she heard his snores and her anger increased. “Thus it is. A savage, a brute. He has no feelings.” However, she wakes up. Wakes up, with her face to that whitewashed wall, voluntarily locked up.

            She was displeased. Yes: there was no reason to deny it, there in her own mind. She was displeased, and paid for her mistake of marrying without love. Her mother (a simple woman, a farmer) always told her that it was a sin to marry without love. But she was proud. “Everything is a thing of pride. At least in Marcos’s head. Nothing more.” Always, since her childhood, she was in love with Marcos. In the dark, with open eyes, close to the wall, Luisa felt again the heat of tears under her eyelids. She bit her lips. A happy time came to her memory, in spite of the poverty. The kitchen gardens, the picking of the fruit… “Marcos.” There, together on the mud wall of the orchard, she and Marcos. The sun shone and she heard the running water in the irrigation ditch, after the wall. “Marcos.” Without stopping, how did it end? It was almost wise to not say it: Marcos had married the daughter of the judge: a clumsy, rude, ugly woman. Already the years had added up. Marcos had married her. “I never believed that Marcos would do that. Never.” But how was it possible that even after so many years he could hurt her? She had also forgotten. Yes: There was a remedy. Life, poverty, and worries erased these things from her head. “From the head, one can… but somewhere the pain stays. Yes: the pain reappears, en times like this…” Later, she married Amadeo. Amadeo was a stranger, a thankless mine worker. One of those that the day laborers looked down on. It was a bad moment.[?] That same day of the wedding, she felt repentance. She did not love him then, nor would she ever love him. Never. There was no remedy. “And there it was: an incompatible marriage. No more and no less. This man had no heart, he didn’t even know what gentleness was. It is possible to be poor, but… I myself was the daughter of a tenant farmer. En the fields we had courtesy, gentleness… Yes: We had those. Only this man!” She was surprised that she said “this man,” instead of Amadeo. “If only we had had a child…” But they didn’t, and they were already 5 years into the marriage.

            At dawn she heard him get up. Later, his steps in the kitchen, the sound of clay pots. “He is preparing breakfast.” She felt a childish happiness. “He can prepare it himself. I’m not going.” A great resentment dominated her. She had a slight fright: “Do I hate him perhaps?” She closed her eyes. She didn’t want to think of it. Her mother always told her: “to hate is a sin, Luisa.” (Since the death of her mother, her words, before heard routinely, had seemed sacred, new, and terrible.)

            Amadeo left for work, like every day. She heard his footsteps and the closing of the door. She got comfortable in the bed and slept.

            She got up late. In a bad mood, she cleaned the house. When she went down to give food to the hens, the weasel face of her neighbor Maria Laureana showed over the fence.

            “Hey, woman: know that I heard the voices last night.”

            Luisa looked at her, coloring.[blushing?]

            “And why do you bother yourself about our business, woman?”

            Maria Laureana smiled with a face of satisfaction.

            “It’s not like that… if we understood everything, everything… That man does not deserve you!”

           She continued her comments. Full of false compassion. Luisa, with a gathered frown, did not listen. But she heard her voice, there, in her ears, like a slow poison. She already knew, she was already used to it.[?]

            “Leave him, woman… leave him. Go to your sisters and let him manage by himself.”

            For the first time, she thought on that. Something was swarming in her mind. “Return home.” Home, to work again on the land. And what? Was she not perhaps accustomed to it?[?] “To free myself of him.” Something strange filled her: like the bitter happiness of triumph, of vengeance. “ I will think about it” she said.[?]

            And then the unexpected thing happened. It was him that didn’t return/

            At first she did not give it importance. “He will return,” she said. A few hours passed until the moment when he usually walked in the door of the house. Two hours, and she knew nothing of him. She had the dinner prepared and was sitting in the door, shelling green beans. En the sky, pale blue, the moon shone, beautiful and offensive. Her rage had turned into secret, quiet anxiety. “I am despicable. Despicable.” At last, she ate alone. She waited a bit more. And she went to bed.

            She rose at dawn, with a rare fright. At her side, the bed was still empty. She got up and went to see: the shabby little house was silent. The dinner of Amadeo was untouched. She felt something strange in her chest, something cold. She shrugged [?] her shoulders. “There he is. There he is with his tempers.”[?] She returned to bed and thought. “He never stayed away at night.” Good, perhaps it mattered to him? All men stay away from home some nights, all drinking in the tavern, sometimes more than the account.[?] How strange: he has never done that. Yes: he was a rare man. She tried to sleep, but couldn’t. She heard  the time on the church clock. She thought of the sky full of the moon, in the river, in her. “Despicable. No more, no less.”

            The day came. Amadeo had not returned. Nor did he return the next day, or the next.

            The weasel face of Maria Laureana appeared in the frame of the door.

            “But woman… what is this? Is it true that Amadeo didn’t go to the mine? The foreman is going to fire him!” Luisa was pale. She didn’t eat. “I am full of hate. Only full of hate,” she thought, looking at Maria.

            “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know and I don’t care.” She turned her back and continued with her work.

            “Alright,” said the neighbor, “it’s better this way… for the life he gave you!” She left and Luisa was alone. Absolutely alone. She sat weakly. Her hands let the knife fall to the floor. She was cold, very cold. Through the shabby window she could hear the calls of the birds, the running of the river over the stones. “Marcos, this is your fault… You, because Amadeo…” Suddenly she was afraid. A strange fear that made her hands tremble. “Amadeo loved me. Yes: he loved me.” How did I ever doubt it? Amadeo was abrupt, lacking of tenderness, silent, taciturn. Amadeo –by a few words she understood– He had a hard childhood, a bitter youth. Amadeo was poor and earned his life –his life, her life, and the life of the children they could have had– in a thankless job that ruined his health. And her: did she have tenderness for him? Understanding? Care? Suddenly she saw something. She saw his chair, his clothes there, dirty to the point of needing washing. His boots in the corner, full of mud. Something rose through her, like a yell. “If he loved me… perhaps, would he be able to kill himself?”

            The blood rushed to her head. “Kill himself? To never know any more of him? Never see him there: on the side, thoughtful, with his hands clasped together, next to the fire, black hair on his forehead, tired, sad? Yes: sad. She had never thought about it: sad. The tears ran down her cheeks. She thought rapidly of the child they hadn’t had, of the inclined head of Amadeo. “Sad, he was sad: he is a man of little words and was a sad child too. Sad and abused. And I: What am I to him?

            She got up and went outside. Running, panting, she took the path to the mine. She arrived choked and sweaty. No, they didn’t know anything about him. The men gave her looks of reproach. She saw those and felt guilty.

            She returned full of despair. She lay down on the bed and cried because she had lost her partner. “One only has one thing in the world: his or her partner.” And was it that important? She looked with childish anxiety for the dirty clothes, the muddy boots. “A partner. Silence on the side. Yes: his silence on the side, his inclined head, full of memories, his gaze.” His body there on the side, in the night. His body, great and dark but full of thirst that she had not understood. It was what she did not know: she the ignorant one, the rude one, the selfish one. “A partner.” Very well, and love? Perhaps it wasn’t that important? “Marcos…” She returned to the memory, but it was a fleeting memory, pale and cold, faded. “Well, love? Is it not important?” At last she said, “And what do I know about love? Fantasies!”

            The house was empty and she was alone.

            Amadeo returned. At night she saw him return, with a weary pace. She went down, running to the door. Forehead to forehead, the stood like mutes, looking at each other. He was dirty, tired. Surely hungry. She just thought: “You tried to flee from me, leave me, but you couldn’t. You couldn’t. You have returned.”

            “Come in, Amadeo,” she said as smoothly as she could, but her voice was rough like a farmer, “Come in, you had me worried stiff…”

            Amadeo swallowed something: a blade of grass, or who knows what, that he chewed in his teeth. He put his arm around Luisa’s shoulders and entered the house.