I could hear Anna talking with her mother in the kitchen. In the living room, there were still chairs set up and food left by the guests who had come to pay their respects. I sat in one of the chairs and smoked, staring up at a looming portrait of the Captain. He peered back over the rose-laden mantle and surveyed the empty room with gloomy repose. It grew silent in the kitchen, save for intermittent sobs. Anna eventually came and leaned in the doorway beside the mantle. She scanned the room slowly and said, “She’s gone to bed. I doubt she’ll sleep though.”
I said, “Should we stay?”
“No, she’ll be fine. I’ll just have to check on her from time to time.”
“Sure. How are you?”
“I didn’t really know him. It’s just strange to see her like this. I didn’t think she knew him either.”
“Maybe that’s what she’s grieving.”
Autumn never really seems to come to Buenos Aires. The cool wind dips into the streets between the buildings from time to time, but the stifled air simply changes temperature as winter encroaches. The real magic of the changing seasons is kept at bay on the outskirts of town and deepens in the countryside. There the land breathes openly, and there’s room for the wind to touch down and make the air new and crisp again. But the city has its own stubborn loveliness distinct from that of the great cattle lands. Some might find it in the varied faces of people passing on the street, others in the particular curve of a favorite edifice or maybe even a prancing pack of dogs passing by. For me, it’s geraniums. There is nothing as beautiful to me as one of those beloved flowers peeking from a row of potted greenery lining an apartment porch, except perhaps when one stands alone on a ledge. One day I saw an elderly man watering his lone geranium, and I stopped to watch. The tenderness and care with which he nurtured the little drooping thing astounded me. I don’t know what he saw as he looked at the delicate pedals, but he was deeply affected by the vision and began to cry softly to himself.
We cleaned up the living room and took the elevator down to go for a walk. It was a brisk night, and a hint of that rare autumn magic was mixed in the air. Neither of us talked for a while, so I kept on smoking. We were tracing Serrano, walking slowly and each in our own fashion- me looking up at the tops of buildings (and of course, the porches below in case a new geranium was to be found), and Anna looking straight ahead and seemingly at nothing in particular. To an observer, it might look as if my thoughts were contingent on sensory input, but hers relied on nothing but her own inner world, and maybe that was true. It certainly seemed true to me after almost a year of being with her and feeling as though I couldn’t join her in that inner world. I didn’t mind at the time, but still, I knew the relationship was coming to some sort of close. Surely we both knew.
“You think they were friends back when they overthrew the Radicals? Maybe they fought together. That’d make for quite a drama,” I said.
She said, “I don’t much care. It’s inhuman the way they toss away life in their foolish power struggles. And what for? The people of our country gain nothing but agony because of it.”
I knew she resented her father not only for leaving her mother and her behind, but also because of who he was. A high-ranking officer in the Argentine Navy; a gambler of human life. As far as she was concerned, he got what was coming to him.
Argentine leadership had always been plagued by coups, but that decade was particularly bloody-the power struggles were more numerous and violent than any our people could remember for a long time. That particular year, a military coup led by General Eduardo Lonardi overthrew the Perón government. Thousands of soldiers and civilians died in the battle, and Anna’s estranged father was one of the casualties on Lonardi’s side. Her mother hated Perón, and so when she was told that her husband was killed in the coup, she immediately forgave him his absence and propped him up as a hero, although she had hardly known him. In fact, they married only days after meeting, and then only a week after Anna was conceived, he disappeared. No one ever knew why.
“You’re right,” I said, “I do wish we lived in a time of peace. Perhaps if these people running our country just kept a garden, we would. If they could just understand what it is that makes life precious, they wouldn’t throw it away so wantonly. They might even forget their quest for power and live simpler lives. That’s what we need- a gardener for president.”
“Yeah, maybe so,” she said, laughing a little. “Just a row of geraniums, and all would be well, huh?”
“Something like that, yeah,” I said, laughing with her.
Just then, a boy no older than thirteen or fourteen in ragged clothing walked up to us. “Would you like to buy some socks? High quality, from America.”
“From America, huh? They must be nice then,” I said, still laughing. But when I looked up at Anna, she wasn’t laughing any more. I blushed. “Here, I’ll take the blue ones. Stay warm, okay?” I gave him a few pesos and took the socks. After he walked away, I lifted my eyebrows and said to Anna, “America.”
She shook her head, and with a barely perceivable smile kept walking. When we got back to her place, I gave her a kiss at the door and left. I didn’t feel like going home or sleeping, so I just kept walking. I walked down Sarmiento until I finally reached the ocean. I traced the bay for a little while and eventually stopped to lean on the railing. I lit another cigarette. There was a new moon, so the sky was just dark enough to see some stars. I focused on that inkwell that lay immense above the ocean’s horizon. Far from the reach of city lights, far from generals and presidents, far from America, far from everything, the stars were imperceptible diamonds set in the blackness. As I squinted at them, it became apparent to me that there were millions more behind them, and for an ecstatic moment I could see them—every star that is, was, or ever will be, bulking into a mass of heat and light and caving into itself to destroy everything in its path until everything that has come to be has finally come to pass. The still water before me stirred, and I saw a fish’s tail graze the surface. It occurred to me then that a geranium is a silly thing to love.