My infatuation with the lovely Luisa Frascati began in the most ordinary way in the world.
I was the supervisor of the late shift at the telegraph office and, during my nightly foot-commute, which was also an after-dinner stroll, I would always pass, halfway there, a house with two low balconies — the only one on the block. The rest was taken up by the grounds of a small estate, at the ironwork of whose gate it was my custom to stop to snap off a sprig of honeysuckle.
The house with two balconies, for some reason, remained isolated; and because of this, the sidewalk was dark and quiet. At one of the balconies, the first night I passed by, stood a pale girl taking the air; she was so pale that I couldn’t help but stare at her profoundly — my pace was casual — entranced by her superb beauty. It was a warm evening, whitened by the soft stars of summer. The fragrance of the honeysuckle mingled with that of this pale young woman, as might be expected. I felt poetic and my heart skipped a beat.
I walked by three or four nights in a row. She was always there. She was always there, dressed in white, as soft and mute as a character from a romantic novel, and somehow it bothered me.
On the fifth night, I forced an exploratory greeting, and she returned it. At first, I just said hello, because I was seized by the shyness of first love, mixed with the ardent desire to own a beautiful voice while being heard by her; but two weeks later I was standing beneath her window, speaking of love.
She lived alone, except for an old Galician woman who was her servant; and when I asked the shopkeeper at the corner about her background and her parents, he turned out to know less than I did. What’s more, he smiled snidely, and I decided to keep silent. Interrogating the servant would have been out of place, and I wasn’t about to do that.
I resolved, then, to make the most of the fortune which had come my way, and to devote myself to loving as fervently as I could. The rest was for destiny to decide.
My beloved had a voice which was divine, but which was always soft, always low; it was more like music than simple sound. Many times, as I was leaving one of our trysts, drunk with love, and fittingly so, I was struck by the idea that she hadn’t communicated with me by means of language but by a sort of melodic interpenetration of thought. Even today, calmly detached as I am, I have to ask myself if I ever actually heard her voice, the angelic voice of Luisa Frascati.
The thing that’s certain is that she invited me one evening to visit her in her parlor, to avoid the gossip of the neighbors, on one capricious condition:
“Promise with your word of honor you will never turn on the light in my presence…”
I gave my word, but not without feeling a slight twinge of mystery and misgiving. Some defect, some unconfessable blemish perhaps?
Subsequent intimacies proved otherwise. My beloved was beautiful to the point of ecstasy, a being rarefied and irreal. The first night I entered her house I noticed, as she withdrew from the balcony to order the maid to open the door, a strange lightness to her step. One might say she really wasn’t even walking. But my happiness was such that I didn’t dwell on details.
My love had extraordinary hands. Hands more refined, more aesthetic than any I had ever seen. But she never let me stroke them with my own. However odd it may seem, we spent four straight months alone together, night after night, speaking of love in strict and perfect purity.
Can it even be said that we spoke?
Only she spoke, in that melodious, ethereal voice of hers, which hurled me into a delirium simultaneously rapturous and deep as fear. I have never felt such a poetic rhapsody of moments shared in mutual solitude.
Now and then a moonbeam strayed through the parlor from the half-open balcony door. For awhile, the beauty of my beloved would shimmer in its immaterial pallor, her supreme eyes filled with an anguished fatality, her mouth throbbing with the foretaste of future kisses, her hands inaccessible as a cosmic spell; but as soon as she sensed the advent of light, she would rise to her feet with a shiver.
“Go away,” she would cry in distress. And I would obey. Was there anything else I could have done, enslaved as I was by my own ecstasy?
Curse the hour I made my escape! Curse that scoundrel Albertino Talante and his perfidious counsel! Curse the vanity that led me to tell him about my love!
Albertino Talante laughed at me because, after four months of rendezvous, I hadn’t kissed my beloved. And so as not to look like a coward in the eyes of that rake, I brought about my own downfall.
I tried, that same night, to give a kiss to Luisa Frascati. I approached her surreptitiously, tried to take her by surprise, but she eluded my grasp like a gust of wind. I’m sure she started to scream but couldn’t. I had removed the key from the door.
Then ensued an ignoble and exhausting chase around the darkened parlor where, in her white dress, she looked like a swirl of mist. Once, and then again, we spun around the room. Suddenly a piece of furniture broke with a loud crash.
I stood stock still; then I perceived my beloved silhouetted against the opposite wall, motionless, as if pasted to it, about six feet above the floor.
At that moment, the maid came through the door, entering hurriedly with a lamp in her hand.
My blood froze in horror. Luisa Frascati was nothing but a tall oil painting in a gilded frame, with all the characteristic traits: those hands of hers, those eyes of hers, that unmistakable pallor…
I don’t know how I got out of the house, but no one barred my way.
A year later, that same Albertino Talante, author of my undoing, came to invite me to an auction of artworks.
I accepted, though what transpired there almost knocked me off my feet. Imagine my chagrin when, barely through the door, I was confronted by that portrait of Luisa Frascati. A man with a long beard was studying it carefully.
“Devilish canvas,” said my friend. “I could have sworn that yesterday the lady was seated and was wearing a green dress.”
“Precisely so,” the bearded gentleman courteously concurred.
– Leopoldo Lugones
(Translated by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert)