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June 2024 Issue [Readings]

A Suit with an Extra Pair of Pants

From A Question of Belonging, which was published last month by Archipelago Books. Translated from the Spanish by Anna Vilner.

A long time ago, Atilio and I lived in an apartment that my mom had purchased because Atilio said the last one depressed him so much he couldn’t work. He had a point: the elevator in my old building had been jammed for about seventy years. When the windowpane fell onto us, we patched it up with cardboard and resolved to start a new life in a smaller, but newer, apartment. I dreamed of decorating it to my taste—I must have had a little taste in me—but I didn’t know how people found all those pretty things for their houses. I chose the decorations very carefully, since Atilio tended to insult them, trip over them, or break them. We did save one thing from my old apartment, a small single bed, which I viewed as a discomfort I was destined to endure. At night, he would come home from his meanderings with the same old story: he had gotten into it with a huge military guy wearing epaulets and had won.

“Go to bed,” I would tell him gently, anticipating his speech about mediocre people not knowing the meaning of a heroic gesture.

When I’d leave for work, he’d be sleeping, enveloped in a cloud of alcohol.

“Let’s get you cleaned up,” I said one day, determined. We went to see a doctor who prescribed him vitamins, but even his vitamins were different from the rest of the human race’s—they were brown and circular, like grainy meatballs. I also took him to a psychiatrist, whom he called Dr. Doormat. Atilio entered loudly, slurring his words.

Dr. Doormat said, “Shhh. Why don’t you sit down, nice and calm now.”

Given that he was afraid of the police, the military, doctors, his girlfriends’ mothers, dogs, and traveling, Atilio obeyed.

He told me that if he was going to get a job, he would need a new suit, and I wasn’t going to let an opportunity like that pass us by. My mom gave me money to go to Casa Muñoz, where one peso was worth two and a suit came with an extra pair of pants.

Atilio always wore a suit with a dress shirt and tie—not once did I see him in a casual jacket or jeans. Deep down he wanted to fit in, but the odds were stacked against him. He had worked at an insurance company for a few months, where, according to some protocol I’d never heard of, he’d been promoted to company secretary. His job was to take the minutes at meetings. But it caused him so much anxiety to write everything down (he couldn’t catch even half of what was said) that he threw the minute book into the Riachuelo River. Afterward he was anxious he might be punished and felt humiliated for lying, since he told his colleagues he had lost the book.

So I went to Casa Muñoz with the confidence of someone fulfilling an important role, while he waited in the bar on the corner (he always waited in the bar on the corner) for me to carry out my official duties. I didn’t have any of his measurements, so I brought a spool of thread to measure the length of the pants—in such a hectic and eventful life, measurements are irrelevant details. I had just gone inside that beautiful shop with its elegant salesmen when it occurred to me that I was going about things all wrong, but I wasn’t one to be easily daunted, so I put the spool on the counter.

“Oh, no. This won’t do. The young man must come in person.”

“He’s in the bar on the corner,” I said weakly.

“Bring him here.”

As though it were an easy feat, I went to convince Atilio to come, and he followed me to the shop, terrified. Two tall, elegantly dressed salesmen were standing by the door, an arrogant air about them. Atilio was skinny and dressed in tattered clothing—he looked at the shop and its two giants like he couldn’t believe his eyes. The large and prestigious men took his measurements in a corner.

When we left, one of the giants, a security guard of sorts, said, “You need to eat more, young man, you are too skinny.”

I would soon need to return to Casa Muñoz because both pairs fell into disuse. I don’t know where the first pants disappeared to, and the second ones looked like they’d passed through a thousand wars. They had strange things attached to them, sticky things, and they seemed like they’d been chewed up and torn.

I’ll go back and have them mended, I thought.

The salesman looked at them.

Taking care not to touch them, he spoke in a dubious and troubled voice: “Just look at them! How could he have torn them in such a way?”

“I don’t know,” I said, distressed by my own ignorance.

“No, there is no fixing these,” he said.

What a shame, I thought, while Atilio waited for me at home under the covers, since he hadn’t been able to come along without pants to wear. I had wanted the salesman to raise them toward the light, with a stick, perhaps—but sticks aren’t found in shops, so he lifted the cuff with his fingernail to see what unfathomable mystery might be hiding inside those pants.

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June 2024

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