The tafetta dress

Allow me to introduce you to Senhor Horácio, a former scribe and the ex-owner of a confectioner’s which used to supply the Confeitaria Colombo (a traditional cafeteria in the centre of Rio), ex-typesetter for a printer’s on the Rua do Sabão where the literary works of Emílio de Menezes were printed, ex-supporter of Andaraí F.C. (football team), ex-neighbour of the (classic Brazilian composer) Noel Rosa ("that boy will go far yet!", he used to say) and ex-broadcaster on Rádio Cruzeiro do Sul. With so many ‘ex’s to list together with his deeds and professions, the age of this ex-Horácio can be calculated at around 90, not lived so very well because in this ex-Rio de Janeiro life was much less comfortable than it is for the many neo-Horácios of today; but, in the worst of hypotheses, diverse enough because, in addition to the above-cited curriculum, there are other important points which must be added: ex-contemporary of (writer Olavo) Bilac, ex-friend of the Baron of Itararé, ex-activist of Antônio Carlos’ political campaigns, etc.

Horácio Vivacqua is married to Dona Natália (whom he calls Nazinha) Peçanha, a woman of the Empire who seems to continue living in the Imperial age. The fact that Nazinha is a year and a half older than Horácio has caused complications in the couple’s life. She, a few months older, suffered from chronic jealousy of her husband, living ever in fear of his finding, along the paths of life, someone younger and, for this reason, more tempting; and he, ever afraid that Dona Nazinha might fall for some Paula Ney who could whisper phrases to her that Horácio would never be able to compose.

This mutual jealousy caused the couple, on their "Tenderness" wedding anniversary (no other name can be given to the celebration of 75 years of wedlock), to celebrate the anniversary of their War at the same time, since they had lived through 75 years of daily fights and arguments. The motives? Anything at all. The Vivacquas clashed their swords over doctors ("the next time that so-called doctor takes your pulse with that look on his face, I’ll hit him with a candlestick!"), over nurses ("I saw the way she cleaned your arm with cotton-wool, to apply the injection"), milkmen ("when he comes to deliver the milk, does he have to say good morning in such a syrupy voice?"), household servants ("that bitch made eyes at you when she cleared the table!"), clerks ("when he asked for your name, I thought he was going to ask for your telephone number too"), teachers ("she kissed your beloved son as though she was saying, I’ll kiss the child since I can’t kiss the father"), dentists ("the delicacy with which he pulled your tooth was obvious: with me it’s out in an instant, but with you it was all fuss – is it hurting, are you feeling any pain?), neighbours ("just let her try to come and borrow an egg again!"), and for 75 years Horácio and Nazinha had turned their lives into a war of mutual mistrust, in almost constant escalation.

But there they were, the weary and abused pair of lovers seated at the table, surrounded by their children, their scrubbed grandchildren, their watchful neighbours and friends, commemorating 75 years of reciprocal strife.
Horácio dressed in his ex-wedding suit and Nazinha enjoying herself in a beautiful sky-blue dress that left behind a tasty swish of taffeta at every slow step she took as she served the guests.

The age of the pair, added together, was far greater than the sum total of all the years of their sons and grandchildren combined.

181 years of love, getting ready to cut the cake which was baked in the shape of a trench (a joke prepared by their children, as a way of teasing them for their past romantic discords). I say ‘past’ because, together with their wedding-anniversary, they were also celebrating eight years of truce. Nobody had called a ceasefire and neither of them had raised the white flag of surrender. But simply, with age, they had decided, overnight, that there was no more reason for doubts or quarrels.

When the time came to cut the commemorative cake, the knife was placed in good Horácio’s hand and he, sporting that same old goatee beard that was now back in fashion, readied himself to start the slicing.

– No – cried one of the children – not on your own, no. Mummy, take the knife together with Daddy. It’s got to be cut with hands clasped.

Just as on their wedding-day, as on their tenth anniversary, on their silver wedding and gold and so on. It was not the first time their hands had joined together to share out a cake. So thus they did again and, before serving the first slice to the guest he thought most deserving, old Horácio cleared his throat and, in a calm voice as loud as his age permitted, he declared to the assembly of guests:
– I wish to communicate that this party to commemorate 75 years of marriage should have, as background music, the Last Waltz. Today, after the last of you has left, I’m moving into an hotel. I’m going to separate from Nazinha.
The room took on the atmosphere of a wake. The silence provoked by this shock was so great that the delicate, almost inaudible, voice of Dona Nazinha could be heard:

– Why, Horácio? What is it that I’ve done? – she asked. – What is it that I’ve done? – she insisted, repeating the phrase she had said most during the course of her life.
Horácio Vivacqua, his eyes shining and nerves tensed, did not look his spouse in the eye as he tore (or tried to tear) the taffeta dress.

– Don’t try to play the innocent. You put on that dress in order to humiliate me. That’s the one you were wearing that afternoon.
– Which afternoon? The one with Marechal Floriano’s adjutant?
– See how you remember? – said Horácio, throwing the cake onto the floor and going out to look for the Hotel Central (which he didn’t even know had already been demolished), while Dona Nazinha, a headache coming on, made her way up to her room to write yet another page of the thirteenth volume of her diary.

As she went up the stairs, the taffeta made a noise like a shleck-schleck... shleck-shleck...
As always.

Translation: Simon Fisher, taken from the book of chronicles "O Batizado da vaca". Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1972.