The Course of Happiness

By Jean Wyllys
Translated by John Keene

The room in disarray, two used condoms strewn on the floor. The sun, which entered through the wide-open window, made her head hurt even more. She tasted bitterness in her mouth and heard the shower water running. She hurried to the bathroom and encountered a masculine silhouette inside the shower stall. The still unknown person opened the door—the body nude and wet—and said, “Good morning. Or maybe I should say good afternoon. Three o’clock has already passed.” Right after that he bared a smile. She wanted to ask, “Who are you?” but thought it might be too offensive; finally, she thought, if this man was in her house, it was because she herself had brought him there. She therefore asked him, “What exactly is your name?”

The boy responded in a disgusted manner that his name was André and asked right after that what was her name? “I believe he also was on a bender last night,” she thought. “My brother is about to show up,” she told the boy, who at that moment was winding a towel around himself like a belt. She always used that lie when she wanted to rid herself of whomever the previous night’s depressing prey was. Only she didn’t consider herself alone in the world because she believed in God (the sole one who remains when everyone else has gone away, even the ones she didn’t want anyway). Her parents had been dead for ten years and her only sister was lost in some corner of Brazil. Every man was her prey because, since she had been abandoned by her husband, she brought them to her bed after a night out hunting. Her prey was this cycle of self-destruction; she chose clothing that she considered sexy, she put on her makeup carefully, she selected accessories, she spritzed on perfume and drove her car to the Pelourinho or Barra or the Fish Market or bars on the shore in search of a man to alleviate, at least until sunrise, the weight of her loneliness.

On one of those nights, lacking available men, she managed to come home with a lesbian (“A femme sandal-wearer,” she thought at the time, referring to the delicate fashion and the young woman’s beauty), but she couldn’t manage to entirely give herself to the experience. She liked feeling her breasts burning in a man’s warm mouth. And what this one would say to her, softly and at the tip of her ear: obscene words. Only with men did she experience the fleeting happiness that is the orgasm. Every orgasm is a fugitive happiness that materializes in a coursing of sexual fluids which flow out into emptiness. “You need to go,” she repeated to no one. She had spent so much time in her daydreaming that she didn’t see the boy vanish into the elevator well, leaving her house and soul empty. Emptiness into which happiness itself disappeared.


Jean Wyllys is a journalist, activist, member of Brazil’s Congress representing Rio de Janeiro, and the author of several books, including the award-winning collection Aflitos, from which these stories are drawn. A native of Alagoinhas, Bahia, he is the second openly gay Brazilian federal legislator.

John R. Keene is the author of Annotations , Seismosis , with artist Christopher Stackhouse, and the collection Counternarratives. He is the translator of Brazilian author Hilda Hilst’s novel Letters from a Seducer. He teaches at Rutgers University-Newark.