The Girls Resembled Each Other in the Unfathomable

Carlos Labbé

Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer


To this day, investigators are still adding sightings of Bruno Vivar to the case file of the disappeared Navidad siblings. Every summer since the incident, a dozen witnesses from different parts of central Chile claim to have seen a young man fitting his description: striped T-shirt in various combinations of primary colours; shorts or bathing trunks; leather sandals; extremely thin hairless legs; dishevelled hair in a ragged cut, sometimes brown and other times dyed red. Over and over again, as if his parents’ last memory of him had been burned on the retinas of so many who never knew him (the press coverage was as intense as it was brief), they see Bruno Vivar lying in the sand, face down on a towel, staring out to sea, looking disdainfully through some photographs, or swimming in silence. Other testimonies, of course, add specific and equally disturbing details: Bruno drinking at hotel bars, beer in cans or double shots of whiskey that he pays for with a card issued in the United States, while with the other hand he fondles a die that he spins like a top on the lacquered surface of the bar; sitting on a terrace at noon, noisily eating French fries; reading, in the dining hall, a letter delivered to the hotel weeks before; tossing the die and then writing another letter never sent by the local mail.

These bits of information come from different sources: guards; waiters; store clerks; receptionists; cleaning people who at the time also yearned to assemble the missing pieces of the case but who only succeeded in helping the police to declare impossible a verdict of either homicide or kidnapping. It has been tacitly assumed that Bruno Vivar – a legal adult – simply abandoned his family all of a sudden, which isn’t a crime in Chile.

The unasked question is why the name of Alicia Vivar, the fourteen-year-old girl, appears only twice in the file. Especially after a detailed review of reports on the reappearances of her brother, Bruno. Because Bruno never once turns up alone. The various accounts agree that he arrives at hotel parking garages in different expensive cars always driven by a man whose smile also appears in police files, though in another section: Boris Real.

Boris Real became known in Chile in 1984 as the young local businessman who, representing a group of Swiss investors who wanted to buy Petrohué Bank, landed in the Capuchinos jail as the result of an anti-monopoly suit brought by the Superintendency of Banks when it was discovered that the Swiss were linked to an Australian investment group acquired by Atacama Bank and, at the same time, to the Norwegian-Spanish group that was acquiring the De Los Lagos Bank and Antonio Varas Bank. Boris Real was tried as the representative of the inscrutable international consortium that attempted to acquire 51 per cent of the Chilean bank, an operation which, it is noted, might have had consequences for the country beyond the strictly financial. The group in question immediately left the country, leaving no trace. At least until the summer of 1999. Of course, Boris Real wasn’t the businessman’s actual name but rather the alias of Francisco Virditti, forty-one, who acknowledged having headed a group of six shareholders motivated by nothing more than ‘legitimate market play’, as he states in the only interview he’s given.

Seven years later, when the Chilean press could scarcely recall the business conspiracies that served to avoid analysis of the Pinochet recession, there came the regrettable death of Juan Ausencio Martínez Salas. On 5 February, on the seventeenth hole of the Prince of Wales Golf Club, a heart attack ended the days of the Patricio Aylwin administration’s undersecretary of education. That afternoon, Martínez Salas was walking the links of the capital’s golf club with two friends from his days as an MBA student at the University of Chicago: the board- and video-game executive José Francisco Vivar and Boris Real. A check of the witnesses at the Official Records Office reveals that the given name of the businessman present at the moment of death was Boris Real Yáñez, forty-eight, and there is no request on file for a name change for the individual in question. Perhaps it was a different Boris Real; perhaps Francisco Virditti had been the real pseudonym. Nevertheless, in another newspaper photograph of Real discussing his dear friend, the face is the same as that of the businessman who declared himself innocent before the Superintendency of Banks in 1984. In a press conference on 16 May 1995, the then congressman Nelson Ávila decried the possibility of a secret murder plot after the release of the findings from the autopsy of Martínez Salas, which seemed to suggest traces of poison in the undersecretary’s system. The public outcry lasted for two days. As so often, there was vague talk of a political crisis. Then everything was forgotten. Boris Real was subpoenaed at his Vitacura residence before returning to anonymity. According to various accounts, he made a statement to Irma Sepúlveda, the judge in charge of the trial investigating the death of Martínez Salas. Today Boris Real is nearly impossible to find. He has no known address, nor does his name appear in any public record. José Francisco Vivar, approached by the press around the time of his children’s disappearance, stated that he was no longer in contact with his friend.

Even more disturbingly, I must report that one July afternoon in 1997, I myself saw all of them: Vivar, Boris Real and the congressman Nelson Ávila strolling along the big beach at Cachagua. They were accompanied by their respective children. Naturally, I urged my companion to edge closer with me. The significance of the situation has only become evident to me since the beginning of the investigation of the incidents of Navidad and Matanza: Boris Real was walking hand in hand with little Alicia Vivar, then a girl of twelve. They were several feet behind the rest of the group. She asked him to come with her to the rocks, to look for shells. She didn’t address him formally or call him uncle, but rather Boris. Then they talked about the reddish colour of the clouds at that hour and she asked how long it was until the end of the world.

What they did that summer was to drive around the beaches of central Chile in a Cadillac. Virditti reclined the passenger seat, closed his eyes and, through closed lips, murmured songs that a woman had taped for him five years before. ‘Memories are made of these’ could be heard. He dragged on a cigarette every so often; that was the only thing to indicate that he wasn’t asleep to anyone looking in from the outside; specifically, from the other end of the beach. There I was on my towel, face down, with a pair of binoculars. Alicia was next to me. Or rather: sometimes she came out of the sea, shivering, and lay down beside me with her arms clutched tight against the yearned-for skin of her body. I set down the binoculars, picked up a fistful of sand and let it fall gently along the path traced by the freckles on her back down to her waist, between the shoulder blades. But she didn’t smile. Fist-fuck, she whispered, her eyes closed, and with nothing but that extremely disturbing expression she reminded me that she wasn’t happy, that she never would be. Those nights that she spoke to me in English across the hotel corridor from her room in a voice hoarse with tears or laughter, the voice of a woman who has wet herself laughing, she told me horrible children’s tales that later turned into the story of her nightmares: a rabbit passing by, her on top of another woman whom I also loved, sucking at her dried-up breast, heedless. Walking over a grave. Boldly she said: the grave I’m staring into now. Do you want to know what I see?

Clearly the Alicia I’m talking to you about isn’t the same girl of fourteen, at least not the Alicia Vivar the investigators are still seeking. She got up, she went running into the sea. And she managed to kick sand in my eyes. For peeping! she shouted. Then I had to go running after her, grabbing her where the waves were already over our shoulders and forcing her down under the full weight of my body for the space of half a minute. She came up half drowned and wouldn’t speak to me. Then I took her face in my hands to say: my little girl, my lost one, my unreadable book. Right, moron, in your dreams, she answered, before coming closer to bite my lip. That’s what I was fated to discover. That we’ll never be allowed to experience a desire that we simply can’t handle. I’m writing this for her, wherever she is. For me this report can’t be neutral: hundreds of associations come between us, just because I was naive enough to believe that love had something to do with words, with the correct use of them. Now I’m afraid to talk; I’ll just turn into a professional. But one thing is true. I loved Alicia. Most importantly: I still love her. Whatever the name she’s got now.

That’s why I’m writing at this time of night. Back from forty hours of work at the laboratory. Drunk. Alone. Lost. Staring into the grave. I know what’s right, what awaits me and the splendour. Glimpses. I know, too, that sometimes, in the Cadillac, Francisco Virditti opened his eyes and watched Bruno head for the beach wearing nothing but a bathing suit. Virditti knew perfectly well which girl Bruno had chosen that afternoon, all of them different but resembling each other in the unfathomable. Bruno worked things so as to dive in next to them, make some charming joke, laugh – sidelong glance – and brush against them, as if by chance, in the salt and the spray. So that ten minutes later the girl felt sorry for Bruno Vivar when she noticed his purple lips and offered to share her towel with him. That was the key moment, when they got back to where her things were and she turned pale upon discovering that her towels had been stolen. The shaken look on her face. She reminded me of my sister, or rather my father’s daughter, Bruno would tell me much later, between two whiskeys, under the weight of a death threat: my threat. Arrogant twisted idiot, fucking hell, if I had him in front of me this instant he wouldn’t get a word out. I’d spit on him; kick the shit out of him. And that’s all there is to say. Because at the same time Virditti was laughing his head off in the car. He had crossed the beach, taken the towels, and coolly returned to the passenger seat of the Cadillac as Bruno plied his charms amid the waves. But the game was interrupted when Alicia chose to wait for Francisco Virditti in the back seat of the Cadillac and greet him: idiot, you’re the one I wanted to see. I realize that there was nothing I could do to stop her. Then he started the car and sped toward the highway. Where death so often dwells.

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