ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 02

Anarchist Love

Author | Autor: Miguel Sanches Neto

Translated by John Whitlam

On a wooden stool beside my narrow, single bed, I placed a tin can
with some wild flowers in it, so that Jean Gelèac would find pleasant
surroundings. He has been with the group since mid 1891 and has never
had a woman, refusing the easy affections of Narcisa, who had done
more to sow discord among the married and single men than to ease the lack of
female company. Shy and youthful, somewhat romantic as we always are at the age
of twenty, Gelèac has been indulging in the vice of virtue, taking care of his needs by
his own hand. His face is covered in pimples and, unlike the married men, or the older
ones, who are used to the loneliness of the wilds, his skin is the colour of parchment
and his eyes sunken, revealing a longing for love.
  I had a serious talk with him, told him he needed a woman, and he said no, he
could handle life in the Colony perfectly well, but you only had to look at that face to
realize how much he was suffering. Even if they wanted to, and unfortunately they
don’t want to, the married women could not give him the loving he deserves. So I
decided to open up my bed to him.
  I also changed the sheets – it would be his first time with a real woman, and he
deserved a treat for what he had done for the Colony, for his courage and self-denial.
I was excited to be able to provide him with that moment of love.
  Adele got there when the bed was made. She had come in one of her old dresses
which was patched at the front and at the side of the waist, and flimsy from so much
washing, revealing the slight, but shapely figure of a mature and healthy woman –
that healthiness would be Gelèac’s medicine. She was neither demonstrative nor 
selfconscious as she came over to kiss me on the lips in peaceful and silent surrender - I
felt her cool skin and hair still damp from her evening bath. For a moment, I felt a
desire to stay in the bedroom with her, to lock the door of our little house and invite
her to lie down; I was also starved of love. I could stay with her till dawn, not allowing
anyone to touch that body of hers, but the thought soon evaporated. I went over to
the window and closed it to keep the mosquitoes out. She lit the lamp on the wall.
  In order not to slip into a bourgeois way of thinking, I had to get on with the
job of preparing the bedroom. The broom made a scraping sound as I swept the
floorboards, while Adele arranged herself on the bed, watching the flame of the
lamp which cast strange glints in her eyes.
  "Do you think Gelèac is coming?" she inquired.
  "He assured me he would. What about Aníbal? Did you talk to him?"
  "I said I was coming to your house. He was already a bit drunk and told me to
give you plenty of loving, as you deserved it."
  "Did you tell him about Gelèac?"
  "Not yet. He may not even come, so why make Aníbal suffer before the fact?"
  "He will accept it when other women follow your example."
  "He does accept it, but he still suffers. He can’t help it."
  "He’s a good socialist, he’ll find the strength eventually."
Adele was not paying attention to my movements. Motionless, she was
awaiting the moment when she would act out her role. That was how I regarded the
encounter, a play with me as the scriptwriter, deciding what each of the characters
should do or say, and being the scriptwriter exonerated me of the sadness distilled
in Adele’s eyes by the flicker of the lamp.
  The light brought out her good looks. I had not spotted that beauty when we
met on my trip back to Italy. Here in the Colony, perhaps because of the tropical
brightness or the green of the forest, or even because of the silence, she has acquired
a beauty which increases by the day. She is the only one not to notice it as she does
not even have a mirror. And that is a good thing. Her beauty belongs to all the free
men who desire her, not as Adele, companion of Aníbal, but as a woman.
  I realized that there was someone else in the house, but I could not hear a
sound. I went to the kitchen and found Gelèac leaning against the wall. I asked him
to come with me, and he, looking bashful, with his hands in his pockets close to his
manhood, a place so familiar to his fingers, followed behind me. I told him to make
himself comfortable on the bed next to Adele. He hesitated for a moment, but she
carefully took hold of the young man’s hands and started drawing him towards her.
And that strong body yielded to the pull of the woman’s slender arms, leaning over
to the point of either sitting on the bed or kneeling down. He sat down and was
given a kiss, I knew that from then on I was no longer needed, so I leaned down,
kissed them both on the forehead and went out, closing the front door behind me,
my heart racing as if it were my first time with a woman.
  I walked across the field, avoiding the dining hall. Aníbal might see me and ask
me about our companion. It was not the time to tell him that our anarchist marriage
now included another partner, a young man full of life and ideals, one of us, an
advocate of communal living, who deserved Adele maybe more than either of us
because he was young and had traded his youth for this way of life.
  Yet part of me missed her. It was my core of selfishness that I struggled
with every day by reminding myself that the interests of the Colony were more
important and my own woes were nothing more than the bearable feelings of an
individual. I walked along the road, watching the moon rise on the horizon, a full
moon pulsating with such intensity that it made me want to go back to my house,
to my bed, to my woman. And suddenly I wanted those things to be mine. That
was sad, sadder than loneliness.
  I had met Adele in November 1891 in Italy, when I was speaking on free love, on
the need for change in relationships. It was only when women no longer belonged to
anyone and children did not belong to a single father, but to the community, that the
notion of family would cease to exist. I spoke enthusiastically about it, giving details
of my vision, and at the end, when I was talking to a group of people and recounting
the latest news from the Colony – it was going very well, but there was still a shortage
of women, who are less adventurous than men – she came up and, taking me over to
a corner of the room, said she agreed with me, a woman could not tie herself down
to one man, she should feel love for all men; if you feel love for someone, sex is more
legitimate than with a spouse; within marriage, a sense of obligation cancels out
desire. She looked at me as she spoke, and then I asked her to tell me a little about
herself, so she told me she was the widow of one of the comrades and was thinking
of leaving for Brazil, that was why she had come to my lecture.
  As is my wont, I asked her straight out, with no hint of lewdness in my voice, if
the comrade had been the only man in her life.
  "I’ve had others," and after a brief pause: "I loved my sister’s husband."
  "And did she know about the two of you?" It was not a man asking these questions,
but a professional. She understood that and replied as a patient would to her doctor.
  "No, she didn’t." Another pause. "Or at least, officially she didn’t. She may
have suspected, especially after she fell ill and could no longer accommodate her
husband, who would spend the nights with her and the rest of the time with me."
  "Do you feel guilty?"
  "For loving my brother-in-law?"
  "For not telling."
  "I’m not sure whether it’s guilt. I think it would have been easier for everyone,
but with her being ill, I didn’t have the heart to say anything. She was going to die
quite soon."
  "And did she?"
  "While holding my hand. I felt sorry for her, but I was relieved."
  "Did you stay together with her husband?"
  "Only for a few months, then he fell ill with tuberculosis like my sister, and it was
over even quicker in his case."
  "Has love also been a joyful experience for you?"
  "So far it has been about devotion."
  "Have you loved anyone else?"
  "An anarchist who taught me the meaning of solidarity, we were persecuted, we
went hungry, but with him love was something stronger."
  "And he left you?"
  "In the most painful way possible, the only way that doesn’t hurt a woman’s
pride even though it leaves her even more unprotected ... He died."
  "Of what?"
  "I think it was the hard life we led, with hardly any food, not sleeping properly,
always moving from one town to another, always driven out by the bosses."
  "And are you with anyone now?"
  "I’ve been living with an anarchist for a little while now. I am as fond of him as I
was of the others. As I said, for me, love has been more about companionship."
  "Love that is just is always about companionship."
  We said goodbye and I did not think about Adele again, her tiny eyes, always
bright, despite the look of a woman who has known suffering.
  When she arrived with her husband in November 1892, I was cool towards her.
They had delayed in Curitiba for several days, unable to make up their minds about
coming to the Colony because of the negative propaganda spread by the dissidents,
who see us not as an anarchist colony, but as a band of lazy idealists.
  The two of them arrived with a group of tradesmen, looking dejected and
fearing what they would find here, and what they found was our poverty, this handful
of wooden houses and the shortage of food. The married women do not like it when
more people arrive, they think that it is them and their husbands who have done the
work. Adele and Aníbal did not bring much money, only seven hundred réis, which
they put into the kitty, but even that was not enough to improve the mood of the
others. Their initial hesitation had annoyed me, they should not have believed the
lies of the former residents of the Colony whose presence here had been more of a
hindrance than a help to building our anarchist family, and who were now intent on
deterring new comrades.
  It was only a few days later, once they were working – Aníbal on the roads,
Adele in the communal dining hall and the vegetable garden -, that I had the
chance to get to know her better. One evening, after a meal of thin vegetable
broth, she showed me the letter from Giannotta, a mutual friend. It was more of a
note, recommending that she seek me out and become my friend. At the end, she
asked Adele to give me her love.
  "You haven’t done that yet," I said, slightly suggestively.
  "Maybe one day ..." she said, leaving me alone at the table and going over to
Aníbal, who was talking to a group of colonists.
  Many days were to pass before Adele kept her promise. We often talked and I
would ask her if she still agreed with free love, as someone should set an example
and I was so miserably alone that for me it would be more than just a socialist
experiment, it would be pure joy amid the deprivation. I had traded the security of
a family for the friendship of the comrades, but I was in need of physical affection.
  "We could try free love, this is an experimental colony intended to provide
freedom for women."
  Adele agreed with everything I said, but did not take a decision.
  "Are you afraid of what people will say about you?" I asked.
  "You know me well enough to know that I don’t care what other people think."
  "Are you fearful of hurting Aníbal?"
  "It’s the least you might expect of an honest woman, don’t you think?"
  "Then let’s tell him everything."
My determination spurred on Adele, who spoke to him the same day. Aníbal
was already suspicious of our as yet innocent meetings. His eyes filled with tears,
but he did not weep or protest. Adele asked him if he regarded her as a free woman
or as her husband’s servant. Free, he said. She went on with her explanation. A free
woman both could and should do as she pleased with her body and her affections.
He was forced to agree, while holding her hand in an attempt to keep her from
going. We will be an example to these peasant women who no longer have a boss,
but continue to do as they are told by their husbands, she said. Aníbal said nothing,
but just gazed at the woman who sought the right to experience other bodies.
  "Has anything happened between you yet?"
  "We wouldn’t do anything without your approval. You’re not a bourgeois pig."
  "I don’t own you either. If you think that’s how things should be, then I agree."
  "But you agree grudgingly?"
  "I agree although it pains me."
  "What are you afraid of?"
  "That you’ll end up staying with him."
  "I’ll always be with both of you."
That same night, after this talk, and after making love with raw emotion, Adele left
her house, with Aníbal’s consent, and came to my bed. She came in looking sad, but
her sadness did not stop her doing what we both desired. Her demeanour was that of
a nun answering the call of a dying man in the middle of the night, pure resignation,
our encounter was causing another person to suffer, and thus caused us suffering, too.
  "I’ve come to do what Giannotta asked me to," she said, in a serious voice.
  Then she pressed her lips against mine with no gesture of warmth. I embraced
her slight frame - she was a small woman who under different circumstances may not
have attracted me - and I felt a shiver run through me. Despite her fragile body, there
was such firmness in her resolve! She had left behind the desire to be respected for
her conduct, abandoned not only our sad homeland, but the entire past of Catholic
Italy, everything to try a new form of love with me. Adele grew in my arms and soon
we were kissing with youthful desperation. When we saw each other naked, it was
as if our bodies had known each other for centuries.

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