‘The Ball’ by Virgilio Piñera, translated by Mark Schaefer

Virgilio Piñera’s name ought to be as familiar as that of García Márquez or Borges. His short stories, a sample of which are collected in Cold Tales (ably translated by Mark Schaefer), are all, in some way, variations on the theme of taking things to extremes, on the inevitable collision of the ideal with the real. 

In this story, a countess decides to recreate a lavish ball she’s read about in a historical account. But soon after mailing out the invitations, she realizes that she has at least seven different balls to consider: 

First: the ball as it was actually held one century ago.
Second: the ball as described by the chronicler of the day.
Third: the ball as the countess imagines it, based on the chronicler’s description.
Fourth: the ball as the countess imagines it, without the chronicler’s description.
Fifth: the ball as she imagines holding it.
Sixth: the ball as it is actually held.
Seventh: the ball as it is conceived based on the memory of the ball as it is actually held.

As she contemplates these different realities, her life becomes “a perpetual game of the solitaire of possibilities”. Her husband, the count, insists that a ball must be held. She protests that to do so would not only require choosing one of the seven balls as a starting point but inevitably lead the resulting ball to be seen as one or more of the others, causing a potentially infinite number of combinations. 

Included in Cold Tales, Eridanos Press, 1988

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