Darling Shell

A short story by Bea Salas

To the casual viewer, there was nothing strange about Humberto Tolchinsky other than his rather unusually open eyes. Fleeting by nature, he registered conversations as sighs and days as clicks, sometimes managing to foresee déjà vus. And given that there is no better partner for someone with an intense idiosyncrasy than their polar opposite, Humberto Tolchinsky had the common sense to lure the unshakeable Regina Kienle into a shared routine. Despite their evident disparities in height, circadian rhythms, and culinary preferences, he knew, from the very moment she first allowed him caress her skin, that their future in mutual company had been carved in stone.

Over time, the Tolchinsky-Kienle household on the outskirts of the city became a balanced temple to running slowly. Swaying between gusts and contemplations, the days unfolded like slow-motion ping-pong games–veritable symphonies of rushing meditations and waltzes of contemplative haste. Stress was a trivial concept with no place in their garden of equilibrium.

On a cool Sunday in the early spring of 1983, Humberto walked through the hall holding a bouquet of wildflowers in his bony hands. He was saddened by the thought that Regina’s reduced mobility prevented her from accompanying him on his essential early morning walks, and chose to take the outdoors to Regina, as it was impossible for Regina to take herself outdoors. Standing on a chair, probing the flower vases with his fingertips, Humberto told her about the route he had chosen, listing the breeds of dogs he had seen in alphabetical order and drawing similes with the species of trees in the area. Regina listened in silence, leaning on the kitchen counter, her feet wet and her gaze blank. In an attempt to minimize the effects of his anthropocentric whim, Humberto decided to place the flowers by the window. After stating with his index finger raised and his eyelids turned up towards Saturn that no living thing ought to be stripped of its natural habitat unless Man considers it of the utmost importance for the survival of the spirit, Humberto walked into his study, turned the key in the lock twice, and, sitting down at his typewriter, started a finger tap dance.

Eight pages and forty-three flying drafts later, Humberto headed back to the kitchen to brew his third morning coffee. He was deeply struck, thoroughly shocked, and utterly stupefied to find Regina, still leaning on the marble, disturbingly calm as she devoured the elderberry flowers from the vase, now lying dramatically on its side. Like freshly spilled blood, drops of water trickled over the edge of the countertop, creating a pool of translucent blood on the checkerboard floor. From the innocence of her heights and turning on her long neck, Regina cast an indifferent glance at Humberto, and, chewing delicately, went back to gazing blankly at her murderous task.

Divorce! Divorce! Help, my wife has lost her mind! Humberto spanned the house from end to end with giant strides, his hands on his head, dodging furniture aimlessly, raising his eyebrows to humanly impossible heights. Somebody stop this murderer! He darted through the garden, stumbling over the watering can and the lawn mower in his senseless path, finally yielding to an imminent fall and landing on the porch. Hugging his shins and sinking his chin between his knees, he hid under the table until dinnertime. The magic synchronicity of those who live together arose with irony and kindness: at the very moment Humberto peered out between the legs of his trench, Regina was emerging from her unipersonal tent, recovered after a much-deserved nap. She stretched her legs, neck, and tail and, tying her apron behind her back, took the turkey out of the refrigerator. The evening meal, unlike the diner sitting across from her, would seem to last for centuries.

Translation: Deborah Bonner

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