When Dad went away, my mother was suddenly extinguished, like a candle blown out by a gust of frosty wind.
Like her, I loved my father to the point of madness. And I too wanted him to love me back. But he was gone a lot. When he was home, he’d write letters at night on my old Remington portable typewriter and pile them up on the desk for me to hand on when the truck came to pick up the sheets. They were letters to his friends, he said. “Mes vieux copains.”
Occasionally, when we’ve been drinking brandy, the miller drops some nugget of information, and so I always listen to him with great attention. But his trails lead nowhere. He keeps things quiet by talking about them. Or rather, he talks about things while keeping them quiet. It’s as though he had a secret pact with my father. Un jurement de sang.
When Pierre decided to leave, I was just about to graduate from the teachers’ college in Santiago. The week before I was to arrive in Contulmo, elementary school teaching certificate in hand, he told my mother that the cold climate of southern Chile cracked his bones, and that a ship was waiting for him in the harbor at Valparaíso.
I got off the train and he got on, boarding the very same car.
In southern Chile, the trains still belch smoke.
My father shouldn’t have left the same night I arrived. I didn’t even get a chance to open my suitcase and show him my diploma. My mother and I wept, both of us.