A Delicate Crime
Set in Rio de Janeiro, A Delicate Crime follows Antônio Martins, a middle-aged theater critic whose life becomes enmeshed with that of a young woman about whom he knows next to nothing, and whose physical impairment and beauty captivate him to the point of obsession. After much speculation and exploration, Antônio discovers that this woman, Inês—a member of the carioca bohemia, of artists who through their art aim to turn the canon on its head—is a model for a visual artist with whom he suspects she has a torrid and enigmatic relationship, both paternal and sadistic. Driven by a surge of emotions that confuse themselves in his mind—blurring the borders between reality and art and turning the whole world into a painting, a stage—Antônio is driven to an act that, in his view, is the most delicate crime. Written by one of Brazil’s most important living short story writers, A Delicate Crime is at once a thrilling mystery, a story of love steeped in lawless eroticism, and a reflection on criticism and art.
The Author: Sérgio Sant’Anna was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1941. His first book of short stories, published in 1969, was titled O sobrevivente (The Survivor). Since then, he has written more than twenty novels and short story collections. He has won the Prêmio Jabuti, one of Brazil’s most prestigious literary prizes, four times, most recently for O voo da madrugada (The Morning Flight), which was also awarded the APCA prize and was runner-up for the Portugal Telecom prize. His work has been translated into German, Italian, Spanish, French and Czech, and has also been adapted to film.
I should clarify that the first time I saw her she was seated at a table in the Café, so I couldn’t make out her whole body, although I’d concluded, because of the fine, delicate lines of her face—and her breasts, which seemed, at first sight, to barely rise from her elegant blouse—that she was slim and well-proportioned. But I was attracted mostly to her face and to her light, curly hair, which, with the help, perhaps, of two glasses of cognac, brought to mind a Russian princess.
So it would be an exaggeration to say that I’d been attracted from the very beginning to that, as later accounts would seem to suggest. Unless we were to consider that one’s first impressions can capture a person’s whole being, and that the only understanding one would then have to confirm from the other is the destiny they would come to share together. And I must admit that her melancholic gaze and unassuming solitude, in a café known for bustle—but which at that time was not full—seduced me, as I drank and ate dinner alone, filling me with thoughts like the one about the Russian princess. And it’s true that the cause of her melancholy may likely have been that, but I had no real way of knowing it then.
* * *
Many consider me eccentric, and somewhat taciturn, but they don’t take into account that a person can feel comfortable in their own company, in the company of their dreams, images, and fantasies; even though these—and our mind’s reflection of reality—can often imply traversing frightful lands, they can also, at certain opportune moments, be an antechamber of peace, illumination, and of a solitary happiness, devoid of any artificial stimulants or alcohol. What matters, then, is to let one’s mind run freely, and perhaps it is this flow that can, in truth, be called life. For even when we experience great adventures, what is living, if not the subjectivity of those who live?
Even when a person’s work takes place mostly at home, it is impossible to avoid the external reality of the street. I don’t mean the confined spaces of bars and restaurants, with their artificial stimulants, but the changeable reality of night, its scenes and spectacles. No, when I speak of the street, I mean the day’s battles—its sweat, anxieties, and brawls.
One afternoon, as I crossed the Largo do Machado, I was seized by a sudden premonition, which I tried immediately to push out of my mind so that I could continue on my way—the feeling that something was imminent. I don’t deny that this city is so full of danger and strain that something is always in some way about to happen. And a sensitive person—and with respect to some things, even fragile—such as myself, could find himself continually tuning into these imminences. Not only that, I was also just then crossing a crowded, heavily trafficked area, a point where various bus lines converged with the many loitering homeless and with people who lived off odd jobs. I was on my way to a bank in the city center—something I loathe doing and causes me great distress—and was more alert than usual. Like an effect preceding its cause, I felt queasy, my heart beating out of sync. I picked up my pace, as if I were a creature fleeing to its lair, so that I could quickly reach the subway entrance. But it was too late. Or maybe, considering the circumstances, it might be more apt to say that it was “too early.” As I walked down the steps, I heard frightened whispers and scattered yells behind me, the sound of bodies knocking into each other, and I noticed that the people on the escalator next to me seemed to be staring, in fear, at something behind me. I turned, instinctively, and a woman fell onto me. And again, instinctively, I caught her in my arms. And the sensation I had then, which would etch itself in my mind—even though at that moment I wasn’t fully conscious of it—was of how very light her body was . . .
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