ou show dad the photo and he makes a face. It came out alright, but you need to improve your framing... Then Florencia butts in and gets him all flustered, telling him he’s being too kind about the photo, to you. Like she’s trying to blame you for their forced smiles, which were what really ruined the picture. No matter what it is, every fucking little thing, is your fault. And this is when she’s making an effort to be nice. Always asking you how things are going at school and whether you have a girlfriend. She doesn’t give a shit.
Their faces do look pinched and distorted, the bodies are too low down, squashed, like they were being pressed against the ground, like they feel the weight of the heavens on their shoulders. All that gray sky up above them... That’s right, she says, always being snarky, you don’t want too much sky in there. Was it really necessary to say that? Don’t they realize that you’re still learning? Or do they think that the moment you turn fifteen you’ll pick up a camera and turn into Picasso or whoever...?
Now they’re arguing again. All because you took a bad photo. Because dad’s trying to defend you and Florencia can’t help being cruel. What did she mean by that wink? That it doesn’t matter or some shit. It does matter, things are never just OK. She must be filling dad’s head with everything you do wrong: You can’t leave Nicolás on his own for a moment, he’s fifteen and he doesn’t know how to do anything for himself, he’s immature. Because you’re an idiot... It must be horrible for dad to hear her complain all the time I must be crazy for agreeing to live like this, nerves shredded, all the air let out. It’s a good phrase. Mom doesn’t like it when you use it and she doesn’t even know it came from Florencia.
Here we go. She’s going to make a show of being offended and storm off. Dad’s going to follow her, checking out her legs, eyes fixed on her ass. He’ll catch up to her and give her a squeeze, they’ll hook up and kiss like high-school kids. You know them too well. It’ll be hours before they remember you, that they left you on your own, without the camera they took from you during the fight.
Now the couple of little people have come over to ask you to take a photo with their camera. They must be kidding. Didn’t they hear the fight? Weren’t they paying attention? Say no, you idiot... But they’re being so friendly. You won’t be able to get out of it. If it doesn’t come out well you can take more. Just apologize and that’s it. Until they get tired of sitting still waiting for you to get it right. Dad and Florencia don’t have the patience for that. They want you to get in all the different parts of the landscape: the palm tree to the side, the sea just as a wave is breaking, them from the chest up, when they’re saying cheese and have their eyes open. The moment you take it, they split up, they get tired of being together, they can’t live with one another. The little people, on the other hand, stick tight together, for sure whispering sweet nothings, you can tell from how they look at each other, the way he holds her hand and she strokes his fingers. The way their feet swing underneath the bench. It’s funny the way they don’t reach the floor. Like you in primary school. But they must be Florencia’s age, about fifteen years younger than your father.
It was amazing how they reacted to the photos. She has a contagious laugh. You laughed so hard tears came to your eyes. They thanked you, they were so grateful for the memento. If you hadn’t been here, they wouldn’t have been able to be in the same shot together. They didn’t complain about there being too much sky or anything. In fact they loved it, they kept saying how they were used to it.
Later you can tell dad that they invited you to play checkers at the hotel bar. They say they like to watch the people coming back from the beach in the evening, still covered in sand with their hair stuck to their faces by the seawater, the kids barefoot or in flip-flops, dragging their towels and boogie boards behind them. Others come out from their hotel rooms fresh from the shower, killing time before heading out. They saw you a few times waiting for your dad or his wife: they obviously know she’s not your mother. Maybe because she’s blond and you have dark hair. Or because she’s too young. And if she tries to put her arm around you, you shrug it off. Or from the way you kiss her hello, lips barely touching her cheek.
These little people seem happy because they don’t have children, or they didn’t bring them along; no third wheels. Dad and Florencia act differently when they’re alone to when you’re around. You’ve seen how they are in photos of other vacations: always together, tanned, having fun. You get the rows, the sneers, the slammed doors. The threats to break up. Every weekend it’s the same: they argue, she leaves, still complaining, without a backward glance, saying goodbye, or whether she’s coming back.
Now they’re quarreling again, at night in the hotel room. Florencia is crying because she wants to have a baby. Your dad’s voice is muffled, you can’t hear exactly what he’s saying, but it’s something like no, not another child. He sounds bitter, like he’s choking on his words. Now is when she screams Of course, it’s easy to say no when you already have a kid, but the pain of knowing that she’ll never be a mother will eat her alive... Why on earth would they have a baby when they’re at their best on their own?
She always comes back but lately, every time a little more so, you feel that maybe one day you’ll get there and dad will say something like it’s over, she’s gone, they’re through, enough is enough. Man, you don’t want Florencia to leave him, he’ll fall apart without a woman by his side. The split from your mother was hard enough.
So, dude, put up with it, make an effort to follow her rules. So they don’t get so angry with each other about whatever it is you do. But you’re not sure that’ll be enough. Hard as you try, something always gets away from you, there’s always something. Like the joy missing from the photos, the ones you take and the ones you’re in.
So now Nicolás has decided to spend the whole vacation with the midgets. When you and his father are making such an effort to be friendly. Things aren’t as good between you as they are with them but that’s no reason to ignore you. You’re family. Guillermo, same as usual, doesn’t seem to mind at all, everything’s cool: Fine, whatever you like, champ, go, don’t get back too late. The problem is your hands are tied because you’re not the mother; if you were, you’d set him right.
You saw the midgets before, on the journey out, but you didn’t tell the woman that because you didn’t want to admit that you were watching them at the dock, while they were checking in to the boat. You’re not about to tell her how amazed you were to see that her parents were normal height and the way her father treated her like a child. They must have gone to see the young couple off. They waved through the glass, the old man crouched down to his daughter´s height with his hands against the glass. It looked like he wanted to touch her, to stroke her hair. The midget woman put her hands to the glass too, like she was trying to reach through it, she stuck out her tongue and they both laughed and then pretended to read each other’s lips. The husband was handing over their passports at the desk. The girl’s mother stood next to the father but she was stony-faced, staying out of it, pretty cold compared to him. Maybe the whole performance upset her, she didn’t appear to have accepted her daughter for who she was, she seemed embarrassed. It must be hard. Depends on how you look at it, or what you want out of life. Because the father was happy, and the daughter was too.
And you’re not going to tell her that afterward, on the boat, you saw her standing on a bench like a child. Her husband was sitting next to her looking up at her like she was a queen. A doll queen. His eyes gleamed like sunbeams. You’ve never seen anyone look at someone else like that before. Or rather you have, Guillermo when you first met him and during the first few years, before the trouble started. It would be pretty stupid of you to say that you spied on them for the whole trip because you loved what you saw between them. Because it made you nostalgic and you thought that maybe it might inspire you to get back a little of what you were missing. You even had the lovely feeling that maybe this vacation might fix everything.
But you did tell her about yourself. Too much. Later, on the beach, when Nicolás brought them over to our sunshade. What on earth were you thinking spilling your guts about Guillermo and the boy to that woman? It never fails, you fire up the motor mouth and then you regret it later. You want to kill yourself. What if the midgets let slip to Nicolás that you want to get pregnant? The kid will only go and tell his father. That you’re trying to put pressure on him but he doesn’t want one. That when he refuses to have a child you feel rejected. That sometimes you even try things to get pregnant. That you refuse to be a mother to Nicolás while Guillermo refuses to give you a child of your own. Because he can beg as much as he likes but what does that mean to you? Why should you care? Fortunately, you asked her to be discreet. She’s definitely a good person, so don’t worry. There’s no point getting your panties in a twist, she’ll keep it to herself.
She was the one who started it, when she told you she was two months pregnant. You were right to congratulate her, even though you were dying of envy. In love and pregnant, she couldn’t ask for more. She was careful talking about herself, she was shy in the way she told you, she’s shy about everything. Extremely sweet. It’s early days yet, she said carefully, you don’t know for sure until the third month and because of who they are, there’s always the worry that there might be some kind of physical issue. But they’re thrilled, and it shows.
What about Guillermo’s face when the woman came over yesterday to show us the photos that Nicolás took? He obviously invited them over to warm up the icy atmosphere that had settled over our table. Christ, they couldn’t stop talking about those bad photos. You barely looked at them. The midgets were dark smudges in the distance. They were so happy to share them, they laughed and laughed. At themselves, at Nicolás, at us. They proposed a toast to the future. The future. Nicolás and Guillermo were acting like idiots, falling over each other, laughing, slapping each other on the back, hugging. The midgets lifting the mood brought them closer.
The problem is you’re always being left out: the couple don’t like you so much. You tried to get close to her, chatting away about girl stuff, but she’s not interested in you because you’re not Nicolás’ mother, you’re not Guille’s wife, you don’t have a child like they’re going to have. You’re not even the actress you thought you would be when you started out, when you were just eighteen. And you won’t be, experience has shown that leading roles aren’t your forté, especially not at your age. I mean it, Florencia, you’d better start getting used to the idea: goodbye top billing, goodbye Broadway. Hello supporting roles: filler, stepmother, girlfriend. Just the one scene in the next play; you kill yourself in the gymnasium and after that you’re a body with that pretty face you never knew what to do with, except for swearing back when bastards catcall at you in the street. What else? Guillermo won’t even do the paperwork to make you common law partners. It’s not even on the table right now.
You pretended to look at the photos from afar, so you wouldn’t come off so bad, but you had nothing to say. Too much sky, and that hysterical happiness, it turned your stomach. It just reminded you of the haves and the have-nots. Them and you. Like the midget’s father, like her mother. Like the baby she has in her womb. Like Guillermo with Nicolás. Nicolás will get everything. Like Guillermo’s eyes when you met him, like his eyes now.
You’re going to have to man up, Guille, when you get back from the vacation, no more messing around. Having a kid at fifty, dude... Florencia even more intense than she is already; women get more neurotic when they become mothers. Especially first mothers. If it hadn’t been for how difficult things got after Nicolás was born, maybe you and Estela would still be together. It’s not the kid’s fault, but you weren’t ready and you didn’t know how to handle it. You’d give anything to do it over again...
Poor Florencia, she, in contrast, thinks that a bundle of joy is going to solve everything: that you’ll fall back in love, that it’ll bring Nico, her and you together. If only she knew the strain of bringing up a new-born child: work, exhaustion, frayed nerves. Imagine it Guille, changing diapers at your age, warming up milk bottles, rushing to the emergency room over a bout of colic. Then looking for a school, starting all over again, right back at the beginning of the journey. Until he gets to Nico’s age and he’s depressed because one of the dozens of girlfriends he’s had before he even turns sixteen has dumped him. If only you could explain to him that it’ll be years before he finds a lasting relationship and there’ll be ten thousand disappointments along the way. That it’s not worth getting all worked up over it, choose your battles. And then teaching him to be careful, to avoid unintended pregnancies, not to smoke when he’s still so young, to stop secretly finishing off the dregs of wine and beer bottles. Going to pick him up from parties in the middle of the night. Picture it: you spend the night up with the baby, Florencia out cold, and you have to head out at five in the morning to pick Nico up from a club. He comes back woozy, birds cheeping in a circle around his head, planning on sleeping in until the afternoon, if you please. You trying to keep the baby quiet so it won’t wake him up and Florencia pissed because you’re trying to protect the teenager. Horrifying.
Until she starts being more affectionate with Nico you can’t imagine her as a mother. While she refuses to talk to him, when she does it’s to say something mean, it would be a crazy thing to do. Afterward she feels guilty, smothers you with affection, does whatever she can to make you happy but she doesn’t understand what you really want. It’s actually quite simple: peace for Nico; for him to find with us what he has to go looking for with strangers. Fortunately the dwarves are great, the kid has found some good people. But you can’t bear seeing your son scrounging for affection with other people because Florencia and the broken family keep him at arm’s length. He’s acting more and more like he’s being driven out, an outsider. And then come the drugs... Enough messing around, old man, it’s time to get serious.
Especially because Nico isn’t stupid and neither is she. They’ve seen the way your eyes go blank, they’ve both told you so. You’re absent, your face clouds over as though you were thinking dark thoughts, as though life were getting you down. Florencia got it into her head that you had a terminal disease and you were keeping it from her. No more than a bypass for the moment, was your reply. But the truth is that your hair has turned gray all of a sudden, your skin is dry and a greenish color from the two packs a day you’re smoking, you’re irritable, forgetful. You have the feeling that life is slipping away from you: but at the same time it’s like gum you can’t get off your shoe.
Admit it, you’re with Florencia because she’s young, has a killer body and is great in the sack. And because her career is going to take her far. Most men would give their left nut to spend a night with her. You enjoy her passion, except when it comes to having a child. But everything has its price, Guille, you can’t expect to get the body, passion, talent and future without giving anything in return.
When you get back home you’ll have to tell her that you’re still in love with Estela. Yes, dude. Look her in the eyes and admit it: that’s how it is, crazy as it sounds, you’re head over heels with your ex, the first, Nico’s mother. Obviously you need to find the right way to say it. You can’t say, for instance, that if were down to you you’d already be back with the women you left six years ago. And it was the realization of what you lost that allowed in all that cholesterol, arrhythmia, excessive smoking, absent mindedness, sadness. The bypass. Gum stuck to your shoe, keeping you stuck in place, forcing you to deal with the life you’ve made even if you don’t like it any more, even though you regret it. Scraping away at the gunk with a twig...
Listen up: it’s very important that Florencia never find out you’ve invited Estela out for coffee, more than once. She was reluctant at first but eventually agreed. She was evasive for the most part but the last time you stroked her hand, she didn’t pull away or get all haughty the way she did before. She just asked why you were going on vacation with the girl when you were looking at her all googly-eyed. What’s going on, Guille? What are you playing at? You can’t get anything by her, she has a sixth sense. You love that about her. You didn’t say anything, you just looked down at her freckled breasts, wrinkled a little with time and too much sun, but just so, like everything else about her. She didn’t ask anything of you, you agreed to meet again when you got back from the beach and had sorted things out with Florencia.
You haven’t dared to tell anyone, only the dwarf when he told you that he was going to have a child, just like you and Florencia. You’ve never cried in front of anyone before, except when your grandmother died, and you were a lot younger then. Now look at you spilling your guts, letting it all come out with a complete stranger. A nice guy, but a stranger nonetheless. His eyes popped wide when you told him that not only were you not having a child but you were thinking of breaking up. To give Florencia the freedom to start a real family. To give Nicolás a more sincere model. So you can quit smoking and reduce the likelihood of an imminent heart attack. Maybe to try again with Estela.
And along the way see if you can’t, while you’re still young enough, find something approaching the happiness the dwarf couple have. You could copy them, why not? There’s still time make amends and learn to enjoy life again. He just told you to make sure because his wife thinks that Florencia is already pregnant. She said that she could see it in her eyes, the way she talked about it, and women know things, they’re never wrong.
Suddenly it didn’t seem so bad when you said that in that case, well then, you’d have to see. Maybe a new addition really might change things. Maybe you’ll have to spend a little longer putting up with photos with far too much sky.
Mariana Sández (Buenos Aires, 1973) is a writer and cultural administrator. She studied Literature in Buenos Aires, English Literature in Manchester, and completed a Masters in Literary Theory and Comparative Literature in Barcelona. She runs the Literature Department for the Friends Association of the National Museum of Fine Art having previously held the same role for the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires and other institutions. She writes for the Ideas supplement of La Nación newspaper and Revista Ñ of the Clarín newspaper. She has published a collection of interviews and essays, El cine de Manuel: Un recorrido sobre la obra de Manuel Antín [Manuel’s cinema: an overview of the work of Manuel Antín] (2010) and the story collection Algunas familias normales [Some normal families] (2016). She has won awards for her stories in Argentina and Spain. In 2016 she received a grant from the National Fund for the Arts in the Creation category to finish Una casa llena de gente.
Kit Maude is a translator based in Buenos Aires. He has translated dozens of Latin American writers for a wide array of publications and writes reviews for Ñ, Otra Parte and the Times Literary Supplement.