Neither one of them returned to Buenos Aires. As for my recovery (one of many) – that turned out to be all an illusion, and I continued dragging out my life, my fever attacks alternating with coveted periods of convalescence.
And the years went by quickly; perhaps I should say I didn't feel them. No fewer than ten years past, dragged out by the rapid repetition of almost identical weeks. Nevertheless, two facts tested the reality of time: a new improvement in my health – I understood it to be the improvement I had been waiting for – and a new attempt by Massey and Daniela to live together. I had already spent so many months without a fever that I began to ask myself whether I was healthy. Massey and Daniela had been separated for so many years that the news of their getting back together surprised me.
To consolidate my recovery I thought I should break from both my routine and my past. Perhaps a trip to Europe was the best solution.
I went to see my doctor. For a long time I mulled over how I should tell him about my plans, what phrasing I should use; I didn't want to give him any opportunity to object. In reality I was afraid that he would talk me out of it for good or bad reasons.
Without raising his eyes from my medical files, he muttered:
"I think that's an excellent idea."
He looked at me as if he wanted to say something, but the ring of the telephone distracted him. He had a rather long conversation; meanwhile, I recalled with some apprehension that during my first visit here I had regarded this office as part of a bad dream and the doctor as my enemy (which seemed incredible now). Remembering all this made me feel very secure, but then other questions arose which alarmed me. What might he have wanted to say? Could I really swear that his words were "an excellent idea"? And if they were indeed, couldn't he have intended them to be ironic? My anxiety came to a halt when he ended his conversation and explained:
"The spiritual part of you is important in its own right. A trip now to Europe will be better for you than all the medication I could prescribe."
An array of circumstances, the most important of which being a temporary strengthening of our peso, allowed me to take this trip. It seemed like destiny was on my side.
I thought that the pleasure of staying indefinitely in almost any part of the world would prevent me from falling into the typical, agency-promoted itinerary: two days in Paris, one night in Nice, lunch in Genoa, and so forth. Yet a certain impatience similar to that of someone fleeing or desperately in search of something (so that, perhaps, my illness might not catch up to me?) obliged me to reset my trip the next day and visit the most pleasant destinations possible. In almost absurd haste I went on until one evening in December when, floating through a Venetian canal in a gondola (now I ask myself whether it wasn't a launch stuffed with tourists ... oh, what does it matter!), I found myself in a state of mind in which exaltation and peace combined in perfect harmony. I heard myself say:
"I'm staying here. This is what I was looking for."
I disembarked at the Hotel Mocenigo where I had reserved a room. I remember that I slept well, anxious for the day to come so that I could get up and wander through Venice. Suddenly it seemed that a faint light was framing my window. I leapt out of bed, rushed over to the sill, and leaned out. The dawn was resplendent in its glow over the Grand Canal and the shadows of the Rialto. Then a damp chill forced me to shut the window and take refuge under my blankets.
Once I had warmed up again, I jumped out of bed. After a light breakfast I took a steaming hot bath and with no further delay went out to explore the city. For a moment I thought I was in a dream; no, it was even stranger than that. I knew that I was not dreaming and yet I could not explain what I was seeing. "Everything will be explained in due time," I said with nothing more than mild assurance because I remained perplexed. While two or three gondolas tried to draw my attention with shouts and gestures, a harlequin was moving away in a launch. Resolved, I still don't know quite why, not to reveal my apprehensions, I asked one of the men rather indifferently how much a trip to the Rialto would cost and boarded a gondola with a hesitant step. We set off in the opposite direction to that of the mask. Gazing at the palaces on both sides of the canal I thought: "It would appear that Venice was erected as an interminable series of stages, but why is the first thing I see when I leave my hotel a harlequin? Perhaps to convince me that this is indeed a theater and subjugate me even more to its whims. It's quite clear that if I were suddenly to meet Massey, I would hear him say that everything in this world is grey and mediocre and that Venice dazzles me because I came here ready to be dazzled."
We had to pass more than one domino and a second harlequin to be reminded that we were still in a carnival. I told the gondolier that I found the abundance of people in disguise at this hour strange.
If I understood the man rightly (his dialect was rather broad), he replied that everyone was going to the Piazza San Marco where, at noon, there would be a costume competition. This was something, he added, that I should definitely not miss as there the most beautiful Venetian women, famous around the world for their beauty, would be congregating. Perhaps he took me to be ignorant, because he began naming all the masks he saw, pronouncing the names slowly and pedantically.
"Pul-ci-nel-la, Co-lum-bi-na, Do-mi-no."
Of course there were some people passing by whom I would not have identified otherwise: Il Dottore, with glasses and a big nose; Meneghino, with a white-striped tie; La Peste or La Malattia and one that I don't remember all too well, Brighella or something to that effect.
I disembarked on land near the Rialto bridge. In the mail I sent off a card to my doctor ("Dear Dottore, a splendid trip. Am doing very well. Regards"). And through the Mercerie I walked towards the Piazza San Marco, looking at the masks that happened to be around as if I were looking for one in particular. It's not for nothing that they say that if we remember someone in time, we will meet that person. On a bridge near a church – San Guiliano or Salvatore – I almost walked right into Massey. I screamed at him in spontaneous ebullience:
"We've been living in Venice for a while now. When did you arrive?"
I didn't answer him immediately because this verb in the plural came off as rather unpleasant. It only took a passing reference to Daniela to lower me into the depths of sadness; I thought that my old wounds had healed. Finally I muttered:
"Why don't you come stay with us? We have a few spare rooms."
"I would have liked to, but tomorrow I'm off to Paris," I lied so as not to subject myself to an encounter whose effect I could not gauge.
"If my wife knew that you were in Venice and that you left without seeing her, she would never forgive me. Tonight Catalani's Lorelei is playing in La Fenice."
"I don't like opera."
"Who cares about the opera? The important thing is spending some time together. Come over to our opera box. You'll have a lot of fun: there's a gala party for the carnival and everyone's going to be in costume."
"I don't like costumes."
"Very few men actually dress up. It's the women who do."
I had to believe that I'd done enough on my part and if Massey insisted, I couldn't keep saying no for much longer. I think it was at that moment that I realized that the secret motivation for my trip had been the hope of meeting Daniela and that knowing she was in Venice and leaving without seeing her seemed to be an act of asceticism that was stronger than all my forces combined.
"We'll come get you at your hotel," he said.
"No, I'll come and meet you there. Leave the ticket at will call."
He insisted that I be punctual, because if I arrived after the first chord had been played I wouldn't be allowed in until after the first act. I had an impulse to ask about Daniela, but at the same time I was filled with apprehension and disgust owing to Massey's having mentioned her. We said goodbye.