The Adventure of the Busts of Eva PeronBy: Carlos Gamerro
The day Ernesto Marroné returned home from the Los Ceibales Country Club after a splendid afternoon’s golf and discovered the poster of Che Guevara hanging on his teenage son’s bedroom wall, he knew the time had come to tell the truth about his guerrilla past.
Not that this had been a secret kept under lock and key: his wife had, of course, been partially privy to it – after all, they were already married at the time, and something of that magnitude was harder to hide than an extra-marital affair – but, far from attempting to pry, Mabel had always clipped his timid attempts at confession with a curt ‘I’d rather not know’. His in-laws, and to a lesser extent his parents, were aware of something; just how much he’d never dared find out. And at the office, of course, it was an open secret. Who hadn’t heard of Marroné’s rise through the ranks of the Montoneros, the far-left Peronist guerrilla force, who had taken hostage no less than his company’s president, Sr Fausto Tamerlán? But his children had, for better or worse, been spared this knowledge – until today.
That’s how it is, thought Marroné with a sigh as he unknotted the laces of his Jack Nicklaus golf shoes; there’s no escaping the past. No matter how far you run, sooner or later it catches up with you – with all of us. Because, far from being an exception, Marroné’s story was emblematic of a whole generation – a generation now striving to erase the traces of a shameful past with the same diligence it had once devoted to building a utopian future. Who then would dare to point the finger at him, who to cast the first stone? Take this very place, no need to look any further: how many of the current occupants of these beautiful houses half-hidden among leafy groves had, in the past, with the same hand that now gracefully swung a Slazenger, taken up arms against privileges far less unjust than those they now enjoyed?
The hot shower restored the warmth driven from his body by the June cold and the bitter memories, and strengthened his purpose: the time had come for his son to know the truth. He wouldn’t even discuss it with Mabel beforehand as he usually did, in case she challenged his decision and weakened his resolve. A couple could walk the path of life blithely avoiding silent corners and wisely passing closed doors. But a son was different. To a son, the secret, the silence, the indifference of a father was a message, a command, perhaps even a curse, all the more insidious for having gone unsaid. Perhaps if this had concerned his daughter Cynthia, Daddy’s pampered princess, he could have left it for a future date. What could she know, when only yesterday her Barbie games and today her hairdos, weekend discos, diets and innocent flirting with boys her own age and background occupied all the free time her studies at the Country Club school afforded her? If it was true that in those days the impetuous advance of the guerrilla movement had added thousands of women to its ranks, it was equally true that today any such possibility was well and truly dead. With boys, however, you could never be sure. They always went for them first, taking advantage of their idealism, their romantic yearnings for adventure, their worship of risk for risk’s sake; of all that energy that was so much easier to detonate than to channel and conduct along the ordered circuits of society. He had faith in his son: he was a brilliant young man, ‘fated to succeed’, a born leader and true friend, and most of all he had a noble heart. But it was precisely these qualities – what was best in him – that made him easy prey to the siren song of the violent and impatient. Marroné knew better than anyone. Hadn’t they succeeded with him? How could he believe then that his son was safe?
Dressed now in his casuals, which he would wear until bedtime, he passed the open door of his son’s room and came, once again, face to face with the sharp, black and white outlines – no shades of grey – of the Che Guevara poster. His eyes looked into the intense, defiant ones of his all-too-famous compatriot, but, unlike other times, this time he met his gaze. ‘It might have worked with me,’ he said to him, ‘but you won’t have it so easy with my son. Because he’s not alone; he has me. And I… I know you all too well.’ Marroné felt a stab of pain in his chest on thinking about how many lives could have been saved if only parents had spoken to their children in time. ‘We never realised,’ they’d say later as if they’d never received the warning that flashed from the romantic revolutionary’s fiery eyes on hundreds of walls, in hundreds of children’s rooms. A whole generation had sacrificed itself on the altar of dubious idols – a generation of which he, Marroné, was a survivor. But what had he survived for if not to tell his story, and in the telling to prevent it being repeated and lay the unquiet ghosts of the past to rest in the slumber of the grave?