M came on Sunday – no, not Sunday, Saturday. There I was, Nora García, eating with my mother, when the black dog – a chow chow – howls and warns us that something is there, under the door. The maid picks it up and hands it to me; it’s probably one of those advertisements trying to sex up the sale of a fridge, Christmas fare, or the installation of an intercom, I tell myself. But I am wrong. It is a letter (a love letter?), unsealed, on ordinary paper; the characters are precise, formal. Impeccable. Legible English writing, the result of patient work and of the rulers that public-school teachers or matrons used to punish little boys whose letters lacked elegance, neatness, and precision. (If only I had had such a teacher! It’s enough to look at my writing to understand why.) The note starts with the usual formula: Dear Nora.
I don’t take much notice. I see that it’s a strange declaration of love – of a rather literary kind – that, to make matters worse, or better (according to how one looks at it), alludes to a book by Graham Greene, Travels with My Aunt, as if I knew it. It seems that such an aunt was very much like me. Had nobody told me? No, of course, any resemblance with any aunt is purely coincidental. Given the situation, I go on eating and paying attention to the frustrated idyll of my dogs. She is still small, very excitable, a lion cub, affectionate and greedy; he is black, bony, with tousled fur. She’s in heat, he’s in love. Unfortunately, they’re separated, like Tristan and Isolde. They look at each other through the windowpane, yelp, scratch, whine, breaking my heart. I look at my letter with nostalgia, nothing romantic in it, nothing like the medieval passion that my dogs are living now, flesh and blood. My little