Survival of the Fittest
A Buenos Aires Tale
This brief fiction, from my archives, was inspired by the life of John Ruskin and especially by Suzanne Fagence Cooper’s biography, The Model Wife: Effie, Ruskin and Millais. It was also informed by the eleven years I spent in Buenos Aires, dancing, teaching and writing about tango.
The August air was crisp and cold. She wrapped her shawl around her ears, babushka-style, as she walked briskly along streets lined with heaps of curly dead leaves, past the patchy graffiti of the giant skittle-shaped boy in a purple beret under the street sign that proclaims Chile, a scrofulous gate guardian whose big black eyes watch you as you cross from the neighbourhood of Montserrat into that of San Telmo, the patron saint of sailors and stomach aches.
Her own stomach was churning with nausea like a first-time seagoer, as she stood on nervous tiptoe by the grillwork of a door and pressed the bell. Her heart was beating fast as she heard the familiar voice, pushed the door open at the buzz of an intercom, rode up in the elaborate, double-doored, filigree cage of the lift—checking her mascara for clumps in the dull, green-spotted mirror—strode down the corridor with a self-consciously erect posture designed to hide her nerves from herself and, finally, stood by the high wooden door and pressed the white bell. Was she wrong to have come?
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