Admiral’s Night by Machado de Assis
Translated from the Portuguese by John Gledson
First published in Brazil in the 1880s
[Deolindo is a sailor, back from a long voyage, looking forward to seeing his sweetheart again]
He thought only of Genoveva. Even her house, so tiny, with its rickety furniture, all old and not much of it either – he remembered it when he saw palaces in faraway lands. It was only by saving every penny that he’d bought a pair of earrings in Trieste, which he was carrying in his pocket with some other trinkets…
[He finds her, but it is clear she has found a new lover. She asks him:] And as for him, so full of talk about being faithful, had he remembered her where he’d been?
His reply was to put his hand in his pocket and pull out the packet he’d brought for her. She opened it, looked at the trinkets one by one, and finally came across the earrings. They weren’t expensive, there was no chance of that; they were in bad taste, even, but they twinkled like nothing on earth. Genoveva picked them up, happy, dazzled, looked at them from both sides, close up and far off, and finally put them in her ears; then she went to the cheap mirror hanging on the wall between the door and the window, to see how they looked on her. She stood back, went closer, turned her head from left to right and from right to left.
observations: Like many of the stories by Machado de Assis, this resembles a fragment, you feel there should be more of it. Deolindo is hoping for an Admiral’s Night – what the sailors call a great night on shore – but is devastated by Genoveva’s betrayal, and threatens suicide. But he walks for a bit, and decides to live, and just smiles enigmatically when his shipmates ask him how his admiral’s night was. And that’s it.
This author very good on exact descriptions like that of Genoveva examining the earrings, and of memorable lines – a character in another story is ‘a mixture of devotion, irreligion and silk stockings. I never saw his stockings, be it said…’ while elsewhere hope is described a ‘a devil with green eyes.’
Links up with: Another of his stories is here. This young woman likes her earrings.
The picture, found on Wikimedia Commons, is of Queen Amalie of Greece, so probably these earrings are not merely inexpensive trinkets.