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Unjustified Fears

Fernando Sorrentino
Smaller text sizeDefault text sizeBigger text size Add to my bookshelf epub mobi Permalink MapBuenos Aires, Argentina

I’m not very sociable, and often I forget about my friends. After letting two years go by, on one of those January days in 1979—they’re so hot—I went to visit a friend who suffers from somewhat unjustified fears. His name doesn’t matter; let’s call him—just call him—Enrique Viani.

On a certain Saturday in March, 1977, his life changed course.

It seems that, while in the living room of his house, near the door to the balcony, Enrique Viani saw, suddenly, an “enormous”—according to him—spider on his right shoe. No sooner had he had the thought this was the biggest spider he’d seen in his life, when, suddenly leaving its place on his shoe, the animal slipped up his pants leg between the leg and the pants.

Enrique Viani was—he said—“petrified.” Nothing so disagreeable had ever happened to him. At that instant he recalled two principles he had read somewhere or other, which were: 1) that, without exception, all spiders, even the smallest ones, carry poison, and can inject it; and, 2) that spiders only sting when they feel attacked or disturbed. It was plain to see, that huge spider must surely have plenty of poison in it, the full strength toxic type. So, Enrique Viani thought the most sensible thing to do was hold stock still, since at the least move of his, the insect would inject him with a definitive dose of deadly poison.

So he kept rigid for five or six hours, with the reasonable hope that the spider would eventually leave the spot it had taken up on his right tibia; clearly, it couldn’t stay too long in a place where it couldn’t find any food.

As he came up with this optimistic prediction, he felt that, indeed, the visitor was starting to move. It was such a bulky, heavy spider that Enrique Viani could feel—and count—the footfalls of the eight feet—hairy and slightly sticky—across the goose flesh of his leg. But, unfortunately, the guest was not leaving; instead, it nested, with its warm and throbbing cephalothorax and abdomen, in the hollow we all have behind our knees.

Up to here we have the first—and, of course, fundamental—part of this story. After that there came some not very significant variations: the basic fact was that Enrique Viani, afraid of getting stung, insisted on keeping stone still as long as need be, despite his wife and two daughters’ pleas for him to abandon the plan. And so, they came to a stalemate where no progress was possible.

Then Graciela—the wife—did me the honor of calling me in to see if I could resolve the problem. This happened around two in the afternoon: I was a bit annoyed to have to give up my one siesta of the week and I silently cursed out people who can’t manage their own affairs. Once over at Enrique Viani’s house, I found a pathetic scene: he stood immobile, though not in too stiff a pose, rather like parade rest; Graciela and the girls were crying.

I managed to keep myself calm and tried to calm the three women as well. Then I told Enrique Viani that if he agreed to my plan, I could make quick work of the invading spider. Opening his mouth just the least bit, so as not to send the slightest quiver through his leg muscle, Enrique Viani wondered:

“What plan?”

I explained. I’d take a razor blade and make a vertical slit downwards in his pants leg till I came to the spider, without even touching it. Once this was done, it would be easy for me to hit it with a rolled-up newspaper, knock it to the floor and then kill it or catch it.

“No, no,” muttered Enrique Viani, desperate, but trying to restrain himself. “The pants leg will move and the spider will sting me. No, no, that’s a terrible idea.”

Stubborn people drive me up the wall. Without boasting, I can say my plan was perfect, and here this wretch who’d made me miss my siesta just up and rejects it, for no serious reason and, to top it off, he’s snotty about it.

“Then I don’t know what on earth we’ll do,” said Graciela. “And just tonight we have Patricia’s fifteenth birthday party ...”

“Congratulations,” I said, and kissed the birthday girl.

“... and we can’t let the guests see Enrique standing there like a statue.”

“Besides, what will Alejandro say.”

“Who’s Alejandro?”

“My boyfriend,” Patricia, predictably, answered.

“I’ve got an idea!” exclaimed Claudia, the little sister. “We can call Don Nicola and ...”

I want it clear that I wasn’t exactly wild about Claudia’s plan and had nothing to do with its being adopted. In fact, I was dead set against it. But everyone else was heartily in favor of it and Enrique Viani was more enthusiastic than anyone.

So Don Nicola showed up and right away, being a man of action and not words, he set to work. Quickly he mixed mortar and, brick by brick, built up around Enrique Viani a tall, thin cylinder. The tight fit of his living quarters, far from being a drawback, allowed Enrique Viani to sleep standing up with no fear of falling and losing his upright position. Then Don Nicola carefully plastered over the construction, applied a base and painted it moss green to blend in with the carpeting and chairs.

Still, Graciela—dissatisfied with the general effect of this mini obelisk in the living room—tried putting a vase of flowers on top of it and then an ornamental lamp. Undecided, she said:

“This mess will have to do for now. Monday I’ll buy something decent-looking.”

To keep Enrique Viani from getting too lonely, I thought of staying on for Patricia’s party, but the thought of facing the music our young people are so fond of terrified me. Anyway, Don Nicola had taken care to make a little rectangular window in front of Enrique Viani’s eyes, so he could keep entertained watching certain irregularities in the wall paint. So, seeing everything was normal, I said goodbye to the Vianis and Don Nicola and went back home.

In Buenos Aires back in those years we were all overwhelmed with duties and obligations: the truth is I almost forgot all about Enrique Viani. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I managed to get free for a moment and went to call on him.

I found he was still living in his little obelisk, only now a splendid blue-flowering creeper had twined its runners and leaves all around it. I pulled a bit to one side some of the luxuriant greenery and through the little window I managed to spot a face so pale it was nearly transparent. Guessing the question I was about to ask, Graciela told me that, through a kind of wise adaptation to the new circumstances, nature had exempted Enrique Viani from all physical necessities.

I didn’t want to leave without making one last plea for sanity. I asked Enrique Viani to be reasonable; after twenty-three months of being walled up, this spider of ours was surely dead, so, then, we could tear down Don Nicola’s handiwork and ...

Enrique Viani had lost the power of speech or at any rate his voice could no longer be heard; he just said no desperately with his eyes.

Tired and, maybe, a bit sad, I left.

In general, I don’t think about Enrique Viani. But lately, I recalled his situation two or three times, and I flared up with rebellion: ah, if those unjustified fears didn’t have such a hold, you’d see how I’d grab a pickaxe and knock down that ridiculous structure of Don Nicola’s; you’d see how, facing facts that spoke louder than words, Enrique Viani would end up agreeing his fears were groundless.

But, after these flareups, respect for my fellow-man wins out, and I realize I have no right to butt into other people’s lives and deprive Enrique Viani of an advantage he so treasures.

Translation: Naomi Lindstrom
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Copyright ©Fernando Sorrentino, 1982
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Date of publicationJanuary 2004
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