The Mystery Book that Wasn’t

When I was 12ish I tried to write a mystery novel. The year before, I had been introduced to Agatha Christie and I had become an instant fan. Over the course of the next few years, I would go on to own every one of her books, which I numbered in order of their publication date.

The novels were cheap, barely more than the cost of a Condorito or a Disney magazine and available at newsstands. On those occasions when my parents or my aunt Gladys would take us to a newsstand and offer to buy us something, I would opt for one of these books. My aunt Gladys had been a fan as well, she had a handful of the slim English language versions that had been discarded from the book club she attended monthly. I don’t think they discussed books at her book club, merely socialized and borrowed English language novels from each other.

So that summer before seventh grade, the last summer I spent with my family in Argentina, I wanted to imitate Dame Agatha and write a mystery novel of my own.

We were spending a fortnight- or maybe just a week, that treacherous memory and all – in a small house we had rented near the beach in Villa Gesell. It was a very simple house, built as part of a complex of similar vacation rentals. The setting seemed promising for a novel. It still does, but I never could figure out even a rudimentary plot. I did write notes, characters and even perhaps some narrative on the backs of discarded ravioli boxes. I think we kept those for a while, until we didn’t.

With my family at the beach in Villa Gesell, our last summer together in Argentina.

I wasn’t fond of those ravioli. I’m not exactly sure why, as I’m pretty sure I ate ravioli – I do recall eating both fresh red fideos from a pasta shop near our apartment, though only with Swift tuco, and canelones con salsa blanca – though my pickiness was such that I might not have at all. I am pretty sure I didn’t eat these ravioli. They came from a restaurant in town and there were always lines of people waiting for tables or takeout. My mom would tell us how smart and lucky we were to be able to buy them raw and cook them ourselves. At least, they provided me with a writing surface. I had not had the foresight to travel with a notebook or even blank paper. I know better now.

My second attempt to write a mystery novel came about a year later, while we were already in the US. And this novel, which never developed beyond a list of characters and a page of text, I do remember. It concerned a rich guy, whose name unfortunately escapes me but I feel I remembered for a long time and only recently have forgotten. He had four children. It might have been six. The two youngest, a girl and a boy, were obviously me and the older brother I had started to fantasize about. The father, Mr. I-can’t-quite-recall-his-name is murdered in the middle of the night. Everyone wakes up, the police comes and investigates and… then what? That’s what I asked myself. Do you go back to sleep when your father has died? To me that seemed very unlikely, but I had no experience with family members dying at night. So instead I had my intrepid young detectives meet in one of their rooms to plan their course of action. But they wouldn’t really do that, I thought. The girl would want to cry, I thought. Wouldn’t I cry if my father had just died? Would I be in the emotional state to investigate his murder?

With my dad, sister Gabriela, brother and aunt Gladys at the house we rented in Encino, soon after coming to the US.


It took 40 years, but I finally found out. When I was told my father had died I cried, and wailed, and cried again. But you can only cry so much (wailing, in particular, is pretty exhausting). Eventually you calm down and ask questions. Investigate. It turns out that that is also exhausting, and you go back to crying, and maybe some wailing, but less. Eventually I did go to sleep.

Faith at the End

The day after my father died, we drove down to LA, as we had planned to do when we thought he’d still be alive. I was reluctant to go, I did not want to face his death straight on, but my sister said she needed me. It ended up being a good thing. I wrote this last night.

Coming to my father’s home ended up helping me. I still feel him here, making him not quite gone. Being with my siblings helped more than I thought.

I’m glad that coronavirus prevents us from having a funeral. It’s much easier that way.

My dad very much did not believe in the resurrection of bodies. Growing up Protestant in a Catholic country, he was almost militaristic in his rejection of Catholic dogma. I know he believed his body was a vessel and it mattered little what happened to it after he was dead. He will be buried with my sister, however, to whom he dedicated his whole life and that feels appropriate. I imagine him in heaven, asking her if she wants her tea and whether she has taken her medicine.

It’s comforting for me to think of them two together.

My brother and I grew up Protestant, we chose the religion of my father over that of my mother perhaps because we liked our dad more, perhaps because he cared about his religion more than she did, and perhaps because we liked being contrarians. We took our Protestantism seriously. We did not, for instance, participate in the annual masses celebrating our school’s birthday (though we did attend a mass in honor of my dead grandfather). For me, promising the flag in third (or was it fourth?) grade brought about a whole crisis of conscience, which was finally resolved by being somewhat talked into agreeing that promising the flag was not the same as swearing it. Still, I think when the moment came I just stood silent and didn’t voice the promise, just like I skipped the line juremos during the daily recital of the Argentine prayer to the flag, our pledge of allegiance, a disgusting militaristic pledge that our military masters forced upon us through our school authorities to say. Many years later I would find out that our school principal was responsible for turning suspicious students to the military to be disappeared. But I digress. Stream of consciousness and all.

Once in college, my brother and I shed our religion at the first encounter with a class on evolution. We became militant atheists and for a long time I blamed my father for lying to me about God. A long time. He took it rather stoically, as he took my latter accusations that he had to know about the disappearances in the factory where he worked. Eventually, with time and age, I dropped it. Life is hard. If believing in God helps you, do it. As long as you don’t force it on me, more power to you. My dad never forced his beliefs, my mom was never clear as to hers.

As anti-Catholic as my dad had been, sometime in the 90s and, I think, against my mother’s beliefs, he actually made a trip to Mexico to buy some miraculous water that had appeared around that time. “What is it going to do?”, I recall or imagine (memory is so treacherous nowadays) my mother saying, “grow her a new kidney?”. The water didn’t work, my dad went back to his quiet Protestantism, and I got a souvenir he bought at the airport, a glass pyramid I still have somewhere.

When I last saw my father, in February, he confided in me that he was losing his faith. All those years of my brother and I challenging it had apparently taken their toll. “How do I know God really exists? And why does he allow all these bad things to happen?” Reasonable questions for a man who had spent most of his adult life caring for a sick child.

“You have believed all your life.” I told him. “Are you going to stop now at the end of your life, when you need religion the most? No. Why?” None of us know for certain, so we chose to believe or not. Religion, at his age, would be a comfort. He could look forward to reuniting with my sister and his family, he could feel there was sense to his life, to ours.

My mom told me that he had become very religious in recent months, he would wake up in the middle of the night and watch a televangelist. I hope it gave him comfort. When I imagine him with his family or with my sister, it’s just a story for me, day dreaming, but it’s comforting.

A daily run

My sister was born on my father’s 50th birthday, and they always had a special bond. Since she was able to walk she would greet him when he came home from work by running towards him. He would grab her and hug her.

I like seeing in this picture not just my mom behind the counter, but the Barbie camper I got as my Santa gift my first Christmas in America.

The night after my dad’s death

I’ve been lucky. Death, until now, has been clean for me. Literally.

Tonight I walked into my parents home, after the trip down south, and saw my father’s blood on the dining room floor. He bled to death last night.

I’m not sure how to deal with this.

I’m so soft. And maybe too self indulgent in my pain. There is privilege even in grief, until there isn’t.

Papi, quiero pensar que seguís estando tras la puerta cerrada de tu cuarto. Dormido, ahora, para encontrarnos a la mañana. Pero la sangre no me deja.