I am twenty-three years old

I am twenty-three years old
but today I played in the sea
like I was ten, eleven
at best.
I blasted through the waves until I reached the shore
and then I went back in
leaping over the foam.
More than once I stumbled
upon some pits of sand
that stretched out underwater.
The sea here is tepid
and if I was completely underwater I could escape
the wind from the coast.
Dad stayed on the shore
without taking off his shirt,
with his black glasses on.
He was standing with his legs apart
at the width of his shoulders
and his hands together behind his back,
on his belt.
Every so often he would move his arms
to give me signals that I come up.
The sea was rough, and when I wasn’t trying,
the current, very slowly,
carried me out.

Two kids hide
underneath the waves
from their dad’s sight.
One is a teenager, and the other is
less than twelve years old.
When the sea foam retreats
they barely lift their heads
to breathe and see the man
getting anxious on the beach.
From his lounge chair, blocking the sun
with the palm of his hand,
he tries to see them
on the horizon.
I did it too,
one summer in Pinamar
before I started junior high.
Dad got upset and I was grounded
for the three days we had left of our vacation,
stuck in an apartment
that didn’t have A.C.
My parents and the girls would get in at noon
to eat on the balcony.
We would all have lunch together, and they
would go back to the beach.
On my headphones the noise of the water
gets tangled up with a song by the Beatles,
but I can’t remember the name.
McCartney’s soft voice tells someone to please
step inside his house.
Now the guy comes running into the water,
darting around the people on the shore.
The two kids laugh
just on the other side
of where the waves break.

It’s winter, and although it’s hot
it gets dark early.
Today at four o’clock in the afternoon the sun
had already quit shining on the coast.
The only person left in the sea was a surfer girl
sitting on her board.
She had her legs in the water
up to her knees.
Her blond hair slicked back, damp,
looked like it was glued
to her wetsuit.

At night we go out for a walk
along the coastal highway.
It’s hot, and on the beach side
there’s not even any breeze.
The stones on the ground are white, and they’re decorated
by circles in colored paving stones.
They’re on vacation here,
And the pedestrian area fills with people
all the way to the part with the restaurants.
There are also artisans and painters
that sell their prints on the street.
On the sea they always sketch
little wooden boats
but so far while I’ve been here
I haven’t seen a single one.
Other people sell tours
to go and see the sand dunes
or go swimming with the dolphins.
In among the electric wires in the sky
bats flutter.
“It’s because of the heat,”
Dad says.
“I never saw so many of them
as that time in Seville,”
Mom says.
I walk faster
without looking up,
and my sister asks further on
what the price is of a bracelet.

While we wait for a flight
that’s been delayed to land
the Argentines start to gather
in front of Gate Eight.
Behind me, a man notes
with astonishment
that he saw costing eighty pesos
the wine that he buys in Buenos Aires
for thirty-five per bottle.

We came thousands of kilometers
to get away from the cold.
And we did it. What do we take away from this?
We have sunburns
and highlights in our hair.
I packed two kilos of cashews
covered in caramel.
We can still
look each other in the eye.
Talking over dinner I expounded heatedly
upon an idea for a doctoral dissertation
that I am never going to write.
Mom was listening to me attentively and Dad
asked several questions when I got done.
The plane that brought us back
passed through a large area of turbulence.
Outside it was dark, and out the window
you couldn’t see anything but the intermittent light
of one of the wings.
Next to me a guy started reading
the safety precautions that the airline provides.
My little sister muttered, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye,
what an idiot.

By Lucas Mertehikian
translated, from the Spanish, by Jennifer Croft

Jennifer Croft is a translator, writer, and literary critic. She is a Founding Editor of the Buenos Aires Review.

Lucas Mertehikian is a poet, translator, and editor from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is Associate Editor of the Buenos Aires Review and Managing Editor of Dakota Press.