The Dictator's Ex-Wife Writes Him a Letter


(Alinari Archives -- Corbis - )
By Julia Alvarez
Sunday, February 10, 2008

She hears the commotion, the quirky creole and expressive voices of her island, and she is instantly at the window. One look at the well-dressed woman and the nervous little man in a guayabera, and her heart quickens.

The weekend nurse is shaking her head. Madame cannot receive visitors. They must wait in the garden until the doctor has been notified.

The residence is full of windows, a peculiarity of Dr. Marion's treatment. The patient should be exposed to a great deal of light, wear loose clothing, nothing restraining, and be encouraged in activities that stimulate the creative mind. She has been permitted pen and ink and paper so she can draw -- the flowers in the garden, the hands of her fellow patients: the widow, Bernadette, whose husband died in a fall from a stallion; the Belgian girl, Justine, who has not uttered a word; the Argentine, Margarita, married to a vastly wealthy rancher who sent her here by ship, along with his linens to be laundered by a French establishment.

"Tell him that El Generalissimo has sent us," the man says. His French is atrocious. An embarrassment as a consul. "We have news for her from him."

"Generalissimo? How do you spell that?"

They are not used to delays when they invoke his name, but they spell it out for the nurse.

Bienvenida whispers his name, the one he has taken away from her along with everything else. Or so he thinks. But she, too, has news for him.

DR. MARION HAD SEEMED PLEASED BY HER NEWS -- as if it were his doing. He had counseled Bienvenida, his elbows on his desk, his fingers forming the spire of a church.

She should continue her strict regimen: a glass of milk every few hours, mineral baths, massages in the morning, afternoon. No books, no writing, no visitors, unless approved.

"You are a tyrant!" she had told him, shocked at her own indiscretion.

"I am. A tyrant for your happiness."

The slight enigmatic smile, so much like her husband's. The same neatness, the soft almost feminine voice, the iron will. He makes his rounds in his starched whites, always at the appointed hour. Dr. Marion learned her language traveling in Cuba, Puerto Rico and La Republique, as he calls her country. His private clinic in the outskirts of Paris specializes in a certain class of wealthy woman with a broken heart and mind in need of creative reconstruction. She is not a prisoner. But neither is she free to leave. When she gave herself over to his care, she agreed to stay until she was healed and happy.


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