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Holiday Heart

Holiday Heart

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Holiday Heart

164 página
2 horas
Jun 25, 2020


Lucía and Pablo are Colombian immigrants who’ve built their lives together in the US yet maintain conflicting attitudes towards their homeland and the extent to which it defines their identity. After undergoing fertility treatment, Pablo finds himself excluded from raising their twins, and the new family situation seems to question the very nature of their relationship and of who they believed they were. In search of respite and time to reflect, Lucía takes the kids to her parents’ apartment in Miami. Meanwhile, Pablo learns he is suffering from a syndrome known as ‘Holiday Heart’. But is this just a break, or is it really the final days of their marriage?

Jun 25, 2020

Sobre el autor

Margarita García Robayo (Cartagena, Colombia, 1980) is the author of three novels, a book of autobiographical essays and several collections of short stories, including Worse Things, which obtained the prestigious Casa de las Américas Prize in 2014. Her work has appeared in several anthologies such as _Región: cuento político latinoamericano _(Political Latin American Short Stories, 2011) and _Childless Parents _(2014). In 2013, she was awarded a Literary Creation Grant from the Han Nefkens Foundation and the Pompeu Fabra University. Her books have been praised in Latin America as well as in Spain, and have been translated into French, Portuguese, Italian, Hebrew and Chinese. _Holiday Heart _will be her second book to appear in English after the very successful Fish Soup.

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Holiday Heart - Margarita García Robayo

Holiday Heart

Margarita García Robayo

Holiday Heart

Translated by

Charlotte Coombe

Afterwards, when we have slept, paradise-comaed

and woken, we lie a long time looking at each other.

Sharon Olds

The Knowing


Lucía and the children are lying on the sand.

Tomás is slotted into one side of her body and Rosa into the other. Like two soft organs, easily removed.

They smell of salt and of grilled corn.

Tomás is complaining about the book Lucía bought him. ‘Benjamin goes for a ride in his spaceship and runs out of fuel. He makes an emergency landing on an asteroid and sits down to wait…’

‘I hate it,’ he says.

‘Why?’ Lucía asks.

He shrugs and furrows his brow. This is a tic he has; he does it several times a day. A tiny but vital movement, the way the diaphragm expands and contracts with every breath.

The fireworks are already over. Only the Russians are left, their brash voices carrying in the air as they try to salvage some rockets which, instead of exploding, belch thick black smoke. A while ago, the children started coughing and Lucía moved them to the next stretch of beach along, where they found a small mound of sand likely carved up by a quad bike. Lucía sat down and leaned back against it.

She is on the verge of falling asleep.

The last of the rockets drop onto the sand with a dull thud, colourless and broken.

Tomás says he can tell a better story than the one in the book. He opens it and pretends to read: ‘Benjamin leaps into the abyss. He plummets into a deep hole of freezing water and is instantly immobilised.’

‘Who taught you the word immobilised?’ Lucía asks.

And what does Tomás do? He shrugs.

Rosa is asleep. Before dropping off, she’d asked where her dad was. ‘He had to stay home and work,’ Lucía replied. Rosa stared at her, as if searching her face for some other answer. Then she gave a huge yawn, her gaping mouth wide enough to fit a clenched fist inside.

It’s the Fourth of July. The fireworks started at around 8 p.m. when it was still light. ‘I don’t see anything,’ Tomás complained, shading his eyes with his hand as he searched the sky. Once it grew dark, the entire shoreline of Miami Beach was filled with lights exploding into more lights. People sat on the sand clutching bottles of beer and eating food out of tins. Lucía had brought juice boxes along for the children, and champagne for herself. Plus, some organic grapes that Rosa fancied in the supermarket and then later didn’t want. They’d cost almost as much as the champagne. Around 8.30 p.m. Rosa spotted some corn on the cob being grilled at the pool bar, went over, ordered three and told them to charge it to the room. She was more than capable of looking after herself in hotels. She had not yet grasped basic multiplication – according to what one Miss Fox had written in her latest school report – but she knew the sixteen digits of her mommy’s credit card off by heart.

‘Benjamin remains frozen for twelve centuries, until a meteorite lands in the sinkhole of ice-cold water and explodes inside it. He comes back to life, but in pieces.’

‘Tommy,’ says Lucía, ‘It’s time for bed. You can carry on tomorrow.’

Tomás shuts the book and gets to his feet. Lucía scoops Rosa up and they start walking back towards the hotel beach. The Russians are sitting in a circle, drinking out of disposable cups and singing Russian songs. They are raucous. Their clothes are expensive but ugly. The younger ones, both the men and women, are outrageously good-looking. The older ones are flabby and weathered. Seeing that makes her feel slightly relieved.

‘I don’t like those people,’ says Tomás.

‘They’re called Russians.’

To get back into the hotel, they must cross a gravel path up to some steps leading to the pool.

‘I don’t like Russians,’ says Tomás, once they’re inside the lift.

Lucía wants to reach out and smooth the furrow between his eyebrows, but she needs both hands to support Rosa’s weight.

‘Me neither,’ she replies.

They had arrived from New Haven that morning, to spend two weeks at Lucía’s parents’ apartment in Sunny Isles. Located in a modern but low-key hotel, it has everything that a reasonably well-off Latin American family requires when they go on holiday – including a daily cleaning service and the option of hiring an in-house maid to do all the extras for them: cooking, cleaning, ironing, grocery shopping, childcare. Some families bring their nanny with them. Lucía’s parents have Cindy, who came with the apartment, thus offering them a marginally less third-world solution to carting along their own maid – or at least that’s what they say. Cindy was born in the United States, but her parents are Cuban. She doesn’t wear a uniform. She has curly brown hair, her own car, and wide, shapely hips. And a jealous husband, as she once announced, though nobody had asked. Cindy is one of those girls who gets extremely close to you when she’s talking, as if everything she says is top secret. She’s also overly tactile: ‘Want me to give you a foot massage, Lucy?’ she’ll say, out of the blue, and before you can answer she’ll have whipped off your shoes and be digging her thumbs into the soles of your feet, generating a combination of pleasure and revulsion. Lucía doesn’t give her enough space to get close to her, but even so, she is unable to keep her in check. Cindy hates her. Or that’s what Lucía thinks, although her mother disagrees: ‘You haven’t given her a chance to get to know you.’ Lucía: ‘Of course I haven’t.’ Cindy uses the children as a means of communicating her resentment; almost all the grievances she lets slip while scrambling eggs or pouring coffee or inspecting her cuticles are to do with Lucía’s personality: ‘What did your mommy have for breakfast, hydrochloric acid?’ The children gaze at her, enraptured. ‘Or lemon and vinegar?’ The children hug her, kiss her.

The first time they visited the apartment, all of them were there: Pablo, Lucía, Tomás and Rosa, who were still babies then. The grandparents joined them a few days later. Cindy was frantic with excitement. She had about as much awareness of personal space as a lapdog, wriggling through tight spaces as if she’d been swept up by a tornado. One day she whacked Pablo with her bottom. Right in the face. She’d bent over to pick up one of Tomás’ toys from under an armchair, and Pablo, who was trying to read a book in the chair opposite, received the full force of her backside, square on the nose. Tears clouded his vision for a moment. ‘It was like kissing a wrecking ball,’ he would say that night to Lucía, and they would giggle like a pair of drunkards. Because they would be drunk. They hadn’t yet had the conversation about alcohol and the children. Or about alcohol as a stand-in for sex. Or about alcohol and the rancid breath they both had lately.

Tonight, Lucía is sleeping in her bed with the children.

Or rather, the children are sleeping while she lies there awake, watching the news. The forecast is for days of sunshine. This should probably be a cause for celebration, but she’d actually prefer to be hit by a storm that very night. Something threatening, but not tragic. Not the kind that tears off lots of roofs, but one that forces them to stay inside the hotel for most of the holiday, the children glued to their iPads or playing Ludo with Cindy (the best thing about Cindy was that she could get them to sit down and play games which didn’t involve screens), while she reads her way through the trashy novels on her mother’s bookshelves. The kind of utter bilge that dulls her mind more effectively than Valium.

She gets out of bed and goes to the kitchen for some milk.

She pours it into a mug and pops it in the microwave. When it’s warmed through, she adds a dash of cognac: her dad’s recipe for sleep.

Cindy has left them fruit, bread and eggs for breakfast. Inside the fridge, the food looks too bright and shiny, too healthy, like props. Cindy has also put fresh flowers in the bathroom, and there is a note tucked into the frame of the mirror, held in place by a magnet of the Brandenburg Gate in miniature. ‘Welcome!’ it reads. Lucía pulls it down and tosses it in the bin.


At the end of the corridor was a floor-to-ceiling window looking out onto the landscape: a wooded area and a lake with ducks bobbing on it. Disrupting this view was a girl wearing a baggy t-shirt and a plaid mini skirt that would clash with pretty much any other clothing choice. Her name was Kelly. She was the girl who’d called the ambulance and accompanied Pablo to the hospital. Not that Lucía knew this as she arrived there herself.

Kelly was also one of the girls who’d signed that letter Pablo received the previous semester, just before Christmas, from the high school where he worked. Now she remembered the name, which had appeared at the top of the list of students. It was followed by a ‘J’ and a full stop – which jarred with the formal nature of the letter – and was written in purple ink, in lower case.

The afternoon of the letter, Pablo told Lucía – by way of an excuse, she’d thought at the time, but now she thought it had perhaps been a distraction technique – that he was having a breakdown. Apparently, he wanted to give up teaching and focus on his writing. Lucía would’ve preferred his crisis to a) be more original, and b) take a pragmatic approach that might transform his aspirations into more of a project, and less of a fantasy which had ample – enormous – potential for failure. The day of the letter, Pablo had already been working for a year on a novel about a Colombian island where he’d lived for part of his childhood. He’d been busy doing research about a canal that cut through the island, the construction of which had driven all its fauna to extinction. She didn’t understand how this could form the basis of a novel. ‘What about the plot?’ Lucía had asked him once. He seemed to take it as an ironic question; one he preferred not to answer.

The letter arrived on a Friday. The children were away on a school camping trip, and Pablo and Lucía were sitting down to dinner. He read it out to her at the table. ‘Did you get fired?’ she asked. She could feel a small lump of sauerkraut stuck in her throat. Pablo didn’t answer. Instead he said – as if it were somehow relevant – that on the island he was writing about, there was a swamp that was home to some very strange insects. These insects were, in his opinion, the perfect allegory for explaining most of the social and political history of his country. In fact, he said our country, but Lucía pretended not to hear, so as to avoid getting into their usual argument. He carried on describing the creatures, endowing them with nonsensical features such as protrusions on their heads, poisonous stingers and amorphous trunks which stuck out above the surface of the water, to suck in oxygen. ‘What does that have to do with the letter?’ she asked, interrupting what was turning into a monologue. Pablo was on the verge of tears, his sentences becoming increasingly garbled. He was having a breakdown, it was true, but then again, thought Lucía, feeling suddenly furious, who wasn’t? She poured a glass of water and nudged it towards him. Taking it, Pablo shot her a look that was pleading, yet unreadable. But Lucía was quickly distracted by the bulging veins in his corneas. Red cracks against the yellowish white.

He left the table and

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