The Sham :: J. L. Borges

It was one day in July, 1952, when the mourner appeared in that little town in the Chaco. He was tall, thin, Indian-like, with the inexpressive face of a mask or a dullard. People treated him with deference, not for himself but rather for the person he represented or had already become. He chose a site near the river. WIth the help of some local women he set up a board on two wooden horses and on top a cardboard box with a blond doll in it. In addition, they lit four candles in tall candlesticks and put flowers around. People were not long in coming. Hopeless old women, gaping children, peasants whose cork helmets were respectfully removed, filed past the box and repeated, “Deepest sympathy, General.” He, very sorrowful, received them at the head of the box, his hands crossed over his stomach in the attitude of a pregnant woman. He held out his right hand to shake the hands they extended to him and replied with dignity and resignation: “It was fate. Everything humanly possible was done.” A tin money box received the two-peso fee, and many came more than once.

What kind of man, I ask myself, conceived and executed that funereal farce? A fanatic, a pitiful wretch, a victim of hallucinations, or an impostor and a cynic? Did he believe he was Peron as he played his suffering role as the macabre widower? The story was incredible, but it happened, and perhaps not once but many times, with different actors in different locales. It contains the perfect cipher of an unreal epoch; it is like the reflection of a dream or like the drama-within-the-drama we see in Hamlet. The mourner was not Peron and the blond doll was not the woman Eva Duarte, but neither was Peron Peron, nor was Eva Eva. They were, rather, unknown individuals — or anonymous ones whose secret names and true faces we do not know — who acted out, for the credulous love of the lower middle classes, a crass mythology.

[From Dreamtigers, by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Mildred Boyer]

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