ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 02

The Estate of Julio Reis

Author | Autor: Fernando Molica

Translated by Jethro Soutar


The heat bypassed barriers like the window, kept closed in an attempt to repel the invasion of yellow, almost incandescent light. Luminous threads poked in through cracks in the wooden walls, reaffirming the sun’s victory - there was simply no escaping the stifling effect of the afternoon sun, as it imposed itself on the trench formed by the rows of houses. The noisy Electrolux fan became an enemy ally, spreading the heavy air about the atmosphere. That summer the heat seemed to isolate the room, occupy every inch of its space. Little managed to infiltrate besides the odd fragment of neighbourhood life, the street, the outside world. Isolated signals, distorted sounds that were hard to define; loose, disconnected words. Everything fused together, lost shape and mixed with other elements: the clash of pots against the marble sink, the gush of water from the tap, the percussion of the steel wool pads Lilina used to remove the remains of beans, rice and grease. The crackle of a neighbour’s radio, blaring out pop songs. The odd scream of a child, a bark. Traces of arguments, jokes, shocks, a ball being kicked, a goal, a cut kite. Scattered echoes, confused, molten. It was impossible to determine the exact origin of every sound, of every part of the whole. Particles of dust danced suspended in golden beams reaching down to the wooden floor, to the chenille quilt, the formica wardrobe. Sitting on the bed, Frederico could feel the trail his sweat made as it ran down his head: little drops descending via the temples, bypassing his jawline and reaching his neck and scrawny chest. There was no point in mopping his brow. He preferred imagining he was somewhere else, somewhere far away, free of the hassles of summer and noisy afternoons. As if withdrawn to a field tent, Frederico doggedly blocked out the temperature, the shouting, the sound of the radio, the misunderstandings, the logic of a daily routine reaffirmed by the gush of water against pots. There built up around him a sort of bubble, such as one sees on TV, when a baby is kept in a special pod because its own organism can’t protect itself from harmful microorganisms in the air. Frederico’s bubble wasn’t physical, visible or palpable, but no one - not his children, grandchildren or neighbours - doubted its existence. It was but the latest in a series of bubbles that had protected him over the years. Bunkers which cultivated antibodies against poverty, vulgarity and the mediocrity of badly paid public service jobs. A barrier that guarded him against all the problems that came with marriage, with having a wife and kids - endless problems, my God. The variety of obstacles that life had placed in his path, preventing him from furthering his studies, from becoming a pianist. He never managed to take regular classes, nor save enough to buy an upright piano of his own. He did manage to rent one once, for his father, who in old age moved in with them, into their house on Sousa Cerqueira. But when his father passed away, the piano went too, Lilina considering it a luxury, deeming it somehow offensive. Lilina, a woman with her feet nailed firmly to the ground, a magnet for every kind of fear and affliction, incapable of understanding the greatness of the melodies and chords he’d dragged from house to house in Piedade. Sousa Cerqueira street to Lima Barreto to Belmira; new addresses that merely created the illusion of change: he was always stuck in the same place, entrapped by the same boundaries. In old age, he could no longer escape on his motorbike and seek solace in a chorus girl or hostess. But the bubbles kept forming, just as he kept trying to build new bridges. He had at least to try and overcome the obstacles placed before him, though they were formidable, though they’d been built by powerful hands and minds and allowed no breaches, no unwanted guests. He felt ready to draft another letter, give it another try.

  His most excellent Senhor João Baptista Figueiredo M.D., President of
  the Federal Republic of the United States of Brazil
  Having long been an admirer of the brilliant trajectory steered by
  His Excellency at the head of the Government, I fully subscribe,
  as do the majority of Brazilians, to the tax system’s tremendous
  effectiveness in making Brazil ever stronger. One of the sectors where
  this effectiveness is most evident is, without doubt, in regards to
  education and the arts in general.

  Given all of the above, I have taken it upon myself to trace out these
  lines to His Excellency so as to inform him of the following: I am the
  son of a Brazilian artist, the maestro Julio Reis, a man who dedicated
  his life, from childhood, to the development of music, having been a
  pianist, organist, composer and musical critic. He composed numerous
  pieces of music, throughout the course of his life, the most outstanding
  of which is the symphonic poem Vigil of Arms, a work inspired by the
  famous painting by Detaille, the renowned French artist.

  Mr President, I am but a modest retired public servant, and so it has
  never been within my means to organise the performance of any of the
  artistic works left by my father, which is why I request His Excellency’s
  sponsorship, in order that Vigil of Arms might be performed by an
  orchestra here in Brazil.

How many more letters would he have to write? How many more envelopes, how many more letters acknowledging receipt, how many more protocol replies, how many more lacks of even a protocol reply? Dear governors, presidents, ambassadors, newspaper editors - sitting down time and again in front of the portable Olympia, borrowed from his son-in-law, to demonstrate an agility acquired over several decades of public service. He could type without looking at the keys, type with his eyes shut, type without even thinking. The words, after all, repeated themselves; it was always the same story, the same request. All that changed was the heading, the form of address: His most excellent, most eminent, most worthy. Then came plentiful praise for the addressee, an introduction to the father and his work, the request for help and renewed displays of highest esteem and utmost respect. Letters, letters, letters. Letters that at least distracted him from the heat for a few hours, from the mediocrity, from the shouting of children and their mothers, the arguments that broke out and travelled through the walls of those eighteen houses, invaded the neighbourhood’s public spaces. Letters, like the instructive programmes he listened to on Radio MEC, on his red, imitation-leather clad radio, brought him light relief, renewed hope; it was as if, for a few moments, he could float above life’s difficulties, his lack of money and petty day-to-day worries. The prospect of a positive reply allowed him to put up with the vulgar music the radio spat out, meaningless noise devoid of any harmony or talent. Songs that brought glory and riches to long-haired illiterates who then got bookings at the auditorium, men who accumulated fortunes by crying out nonsensical verses lacking all meaning and inspiration. An insignificant fraction of the money they made would be enough to bring a whole orchestra of 42 masters to the stage, to perform a score that was busy gathering dust, along with so many others, in a little black box he himself had made. A gala concert that would unveil a treasure hidden for almost half a century, that would compensate for all the disappointments and failures. A show that would make up for a predictable and joyless life marked out only by a change in departments, countless new bosses, and one or two subordinates. Make up for all the lost time spent dreaming of following in his father’s footsteps, of becoming a musician, enchanting audiences, sweeping singers and actresses off their feet. A night that would rehabilitate him in the eyes of his children, grandchildren, sonsin- law, daughters-in-law, neighbours and Lilina. They would all come to realise why he’d been so distant, so callous, why he’d found performing the role of father and husband so difficult. Children, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, Lilina: now you’ll understand, I could not steal myself away from what was a higher calling, my commitment to my father, to music, to art. Now you’ll come to appreciate my distance, my absences, my dedication to the piano, my aversion to drumming and to carnival. It was all in the name of something greater, something which transcends this little, narrow life, these houses, this shouting, these radio songs, these drum rolls, this hysteria. You’ll come with me to listen to my father’s work: we’ll get store cards at Exposição, at Mesbla, we’ll buy new clothes and shoes, we’ll take a taxi to the Municipal. All it needs is one reply, one letter, one Yes, one handshake. 
  Frederico couldn’t read the intricate score of Vigil of Arms. His shaky grasp of music limited him to performing simpler pieces, trivialities. And even then, only when he had a piano to hand. But he was certain of the quality of the work left by Julio Reis. He’d heard it praised from the mouth of a famous maestro, whom he’d been taken to meet by one of his grandchildren. He’d never forget the man’s verdict: “Your father’s work is truly inspired, poetic and deserving of performance.” That night he’d sensed the end of his struggle. He’d crossed the footbridge at Piedade station convinced the symphony would soon be heard in a theatre, or even a great open-air concert. The maestro was well known, famous, a headline name of a symphony orchestra. An inspired work, poetic - naturally the score would soon be available on music store book shelves. But the maestro vanished after their conversation, stopped answering phone calls, seemed not to get the many messages sent to him. Frederico would have to write more letters, make more requests. He’d also have to up the ante on his betting, watch more games, study the predictions, aim for the cherished 13 points. He’d guess the results right, predict the upsets, win the pools; he’d get the orchestra on stage. He wasn’t interested in money, the payment of royalties. He simply wanted to be reintroduced to those notes, those chords which he’d heard as a young man in the audience at Lyrico, sunk into a front row seat, at a programme organised by the Society of Symphony Concerts. How he wanted to bring that jumble of notes, flats and sharps, quavers, semiquavers and demiquavers back to life. He wouldn’t rest until he’d heard his father’s music once more.

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