AIR by Emilia Pardo Bazan (Translated by Diana Ferraro)

“Here we have another mad woman; in this case, an interesting one" said the asylum director after the disheartening visit to the women’s department. “Another lunatic who represents the most perfect contrast to the wretched women we’ ve just seen who, with cynical laughter, cling to visitors' coats.

This mad woman, instead, is in love; but in love to the point of delirium. She only speaks about her fiancé who, need it be said, hasn’t visited her a single time since she was secluded here. I firmly believe that, if her love were suppressed, this gal would be completely sane. It’s very true that the same thing happens to many people. Passion is maybe a transitory form of insanity since we became civilized people."

“Not at all," I answered, “It’s in the Antiquity where you find the most characteristic cases of passion: Phaedra, Mirrha, Hero and Leander..."

“Why, humankind was already civilized at that time. I meant primitive times."

“God knows what happened in those times," I retorted, “No witness’s reports or documents had been left. We cannot doubt that the great su fering because of love is one of humankind’s great privileges; a sign of nobility and a punishment at the same time … Could I see this young woman?"

“Let’s go; but let me first fill you in with some of her background. She is very well-educated girl, the daughter of an employee, who happened to lose her father and mother and had to find a job to survive. Her name is, let me remember… Cecilia: Cecilia Bohorques.
She wanted to work as a piano tutor, but she wasn’t exactly a professor and she couldn’t make it with lessons. She then proposed herself as a companion to young ladies, but she was told everywhere that French or English women were preferred, because with them the young ladies would learn … God know which things! Then, this girl started to sew in di ferent people’s houses and that’s how she finally found a way to make a living; they say she has a great skill and taste for clothes. Soonclients started to compete for her services. Everyone complimented her behavior. And that’s when she happened to find a boyfriend, the son of the medical doctor Gandea: a handsome guy, somehow lost. There follows infatuation, impassioned love: a novel in full action. As it seems, the young man wanted to take the novel onto its last chapter, but she refrained, a resistance that deserves much merit because, and I repeat this, because facts have shown that she was under the dominion of the most heated love delusion. One of the signs that characterize the power of this delusion is the extraordinary e fect created by any word or sentence of the beloved, absolutely unrelated to its cause. We could say that it works like the Gospel, with words immediately engrained in the mind and from which sometimes all the content of a human existence develops. The strange psychic power of passion! At the end of every scene, in which Cecilia’s fiancé demanded what she denied while she mastered the flood of her surrendered will, he'd shout in the most deprecating tone: 'You’ re nothing! You’ re colder than air! ’ And that’s how, with its tone and all, the brief sentence hit -- like a well-directed bullet-- the girl’s mind and that’s where it remained, creating a profound conviction. As he had said she had to be air. She repeated this hour after hour and this was the first sign of her disturbance. She didn’t act-out any other strange or inconvenient things. With the same modesty and reserve that you’ ll observe in a moment, she went on visiting the houses of the ladies she worked for, and it was these ladies that had the idea to bring her here so that I could try to heal her. They care a lot about her."

“Then you expect her to become sane!"

“No," answered the doctor with a decisive and melancholy tone, “Experience has taught me that these types of madness-- of quiet waters without any fits, lovely, smiling, apparently peacefulm-- are those that stick and never leave. I’m not scared of the wild madness of blood and flesh, but of those which are poetical, refined, delicate, well-bred. I call them, in my inner dictionary, 'in the madness of air.’ "

“Like Ophelia’s!" I answered.

“Like Ophelia’s, precisely. That great psychiatrist called --or not called--William Shakespeare, knew about its diagnoses and its prognosis."

After these words of bad omen, the doctor walked me into the in air madwoman’s' cell.

The small room was very tidy and Cecilia, sitting on a low chair, looked out -- with infinite yearning-- across the bars at the spacious blue sky and green garden.

She turned slightly towards us when we greeted her. The madwoman was a slender and pale girl: her features childish and delicate would have been pretty if enlivened by joy and good health but, truth is that there are very few beautiful madwomen. Cecilia was not one of them but for the divine expression of her big black eyes which were surrounded by a livid blue and reddened by weeping when she answered our questions:

“He’s going to come; he’s coming to see me at any moment! He loves me without restraint and myself, well, I can’t say how much I love him. The bad thing is that by the time he comes, he might not find me, because here where you see me, I’ m nothing, I’ m colder than air. That’s who I am: air. I don’t have a body, gentlemen. And, since I’ ve no body, I couldn’t obey him with my body. Can you obey with what you lack? We certainly can’t, can we? I’ m just air. Don’t you believe me? Were it not for those bars, you would see it’s true that I’ m just air. And any day that I choose you’ ll be convinced that air is what I am. Nothing but air! He told me so and he always tells the truth. Do you know when he said it for the first time? One afternoon, when we strolled along the river, at las Delicias. How lovely the country smelled around us! He wanted to hug me, but since I’ m air, he couldn’t! And, of course, he was convinced. I’m air, just air!"

She ended these comments with a sudden, childish laughter. We left her cell after assuring her that if we met her fiancé we'd warn him that she was impatiently waiting for him. It was at the most no later than a week that I read the news on the papers. The headline said: “Novel-like event.- Novel- like! Life-event, they meant, because it’s life that is the great and eternal novelist.

Taking advantage of a momentary distraction of her guards, trapped in her mind’s whirl and grasping tightly to the idea that she was “air," Cecilia climbed up to the roof of one of the pavilions, walked up to the eaves and, exhaling a cry of pleasure, she threw herself to the space.

She fell down onto a mound of sand from a height of twenty meters. She remained motionless, asleep in her brain concussion. She still breathed and lived for two more days. She never regained consciousness.

Her last sensation was to drink the air, melt with it, and absorb from it, the filter of death, that which cures love.


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