‘Anna Belle Grey’ by Almon E. Moxley, 1902. Library of Congress/Wikimedia CommonsThere was a young lady who had a spare head. She lived in Comodoro Rivadavia. Maybe because of the constant wind, or the monotony of limited society, she began to long for variety.

The first step, as we said, was a replacement head. Since she had Armenian features, she chose blonde.

Every fondness either grows or dies. In both cases it ceases to be a fondness. With her it grew into a need.

She therefore added a few pairs of eyes and mouths, as well as two magnificent breasts to alternate with her own and a set of feet that couldn’t have been more graceful.

There are secrets that force a change of scenery. She decided to move to another city. She packed her bags and went straight to Buenos Aires.

For some it was a demotion: from teacher to store employee. According to her, it was a piece of luck.

She joined Harrods, in the children’s shoes section. She was happy when she was transferred to perfumes, because patience was not her strong point. Also, she had a knack for perfumes. She sold well, and commissions increased her salary. Which would suit anybody, and her even more so.

Her life was fascinating. She even got to the point of accepting invitations from the same man, an employee in household goods, making him believe she was two women. That is, her, the vivacious Armenian, and a blonde friend living in her house. They went out dancing, and the man, though happy with the liberties allowed by the blonde, ended up proposing to the brunette.

He was a man of the sort they don’t make any more. She confessed everything. About the man from household goods. And most of all her secret. It wasn’t easy! But she did it.”

The interest of her life was not limited to such dangers. It took as little as going shopping. Buying shoes for certain feet, bras for certain breast sizes, make-up for eyes and mouths.

Her life consisted of putting things on and taking them off, matching, laughing.

They say love is a trial by fire. The trial came. And it was love for real.

He was a man of the sort they don’t make any more. She confessed everything. About the man from household goods. And most of all her secret. It wasn’t easy! But she did it. Crying as if her soul were being pulled out, she showed him her collection. She swore she would stay a brunette, Armenian, with small breasts and big feet.

He… went pale, obviously. Leaning out the window he smoked a whole cigarette in silence. Waiting for a word, already regretting her confession, she planned to pack her bags and flee early in the morning to Mendoza. But turning around slowly, he embraced her. He would always love her. No matter what form she wanted to take. She just had to let him know beforehand. Mostly at the beginning.

The happiness of love, when it gives more than is expected. Out of gratitude and joy, she danced a crazy dance, covered him with kisses, wept buckets. They loved each other with abandon. They went to the cinema.

And they were happy. It has to be said that he grew addicted to her, to put it somehow. She had so much to offer.

On her side, seeing her most secret of secrets accepted was a rivet nothing could loosen.

They say a leopard never changes its spots, and it’s true. But this does not include fleeing. There are ways and forms. She kept her need for transmutation under control with small eccentricities that harmed no one and which she didn’t need to confess. Eating a gold and black plastic bag of the kind used to wrap purchases at her job, cleaning the floor of the kitchen with hair shampoo, going to a costume party without a costume.

One day they decided to celebrate their happiness with a child.

Conceived it was, and it grew larger and began moving around, as usually happens.

Beside himself with enthusiasm and love, the father did everything today in fashion: paternity classes, couples counselling, endless bothers for both. Among these, he decided to accompany his wife during the delivery.

The boy was born in splendour. But wrapped in the gold and black plastic bag. Harrods Household Goods, it said in beautiful letters. He was a good-looking boy, identical to his father, everyone said.

The father left the delivery room. He left the city. He left the woman – and the child – forever. Love is like that, when it feels betrayed.

That’s how a secret is. It wants us alone. Alone.

from Land of Smoke, translated by by Jessica Sequeira


Sara_Gallardo_420Sara Gallardo was a celebrated and prize-winning Argentinian writer. Born in Buenos Aires in 1931, her first book was published in 1958, and by the time she died in 1988 she had published novels, short stories, children’s books and essays. Land of Smoke, translated by Jessica Sequeira, is out now from Pushkin Press (£12 paperback).
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Author portrait © Eduardo Comesaña/Revista Confirmado

Jessica Sequeira is an American writer and translator based in Santiago, Chile, who studied at Harvard and the University of Cambridge. She recently translated Liliana Colanzi’s story collection Our Dead World (Dalkey Archive Press, 2017). Land of Smoke is her first translation for Pushkin Press.

Read an appreciation of Sara Gallardo by her son,
writer and translator Agustín Pico Estrada:
Magic in the mists