Los mejores cuentos traducidos al inglés

En este mes encontrará los siguientes artículos:

1. Juegos de la imaginación al inglés
2. La egolatría
3. MT corta los artículos a Milenio El Portal
4. Nadie dice la verdad
5. Agentes literarios
6. Taller de cuento y novela
7. Por qué no quiero el Premio Nobel
8. La historia de todas las cosas
9. Video de MT en su estudio
10. Lector ecomienda a El pollo que no quiso ser gallo
11. Cuentos para ANTES de hacer el amor en El Financiero
12. MT es un continente literario





Juegos de la imaginación al inglés

Janis Krugh estaba traduciendo al inglés mi libro de cuentos Juegos de la imaginación cuando le cayó del cielo un cáncer. Tradujo dos y luego no supe de ella. En su memoria publico la traducción de dos textos, que incluyen en diferente color mis correcciones, sugerencias y dudas.
MT

IMAGINATIVE GAMES

GAMES OF IMAGINATION?



Marco Tulio Aguilera Garramuño


Translated from the Spanish by Janis L. Krugh

I dedicate this book to Leticia Luna, who, for fifteen years has known how to endure the games of my imagination indulgently and the attacks of the world patiently.

HYMNE

A la très-chère, à la très belle dear,
Qui templit mon coeur de clarté,
A l’ange, à l’idole immortelle,
Salut en l’immortalité!

Elle se répand dans ma vie
Comme un air imprégné de sel,
Et dans mon âme inassouvie
Verse le goût de éternel.

Sachet toujours frais qui parfume
L atmosphère d’un cher réduit,
Encensoir oublié qui fume
En secret á travers la nuit,

Comment, amour incorruptible,
T’exprimer avec vérité?
Grain de musc qui gis, invisible,
Au fond de mon éternité!

A la très-bonne, à la très-belle,
Qui fait ma joie et ma santé,
A l’ange, à l’idole immortelle,
Salut en l’immortalité!

Baudelaire
Tr. Roy Campbell
By Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire:
A Translation of Les Fleurs du mal
(New York: Pantheon Books, 1952).


TABLE OF CONTENTS

The Call of the Beast 1
Repent, Sinner 20
Scenes of Conjugal Life 41
1. The Woman and the Mirror 41
2. The Video Women 46
3.Dreams of a Good Christian Man 55

Achilles and Virgin’s Night 69
Games of the Imagination
The Story of Sally Random
The Mulatta from Havana
The Little Bayamese Massage


THE CALL OF THE BEAST

bea•ver, n. Either of two large semiaquatic rodents having webbed hind feet and a broad flat tail, feeding chiefly on bark and twigs, being remarkable for ingenuity in the construction of lodges and dams, and yielding valuable fur and castor. (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary)
Yes, only two times. Who told you? The most recent one is yesterday’s. And not because I wanted to, but just because I left the house ready to see a good movie. A Mexican film that oddly won a prize in Cannes. You weren’t home. I suppose you had left the children at Mom’s house and decided to visit Lolita. When I went into the living room and saw the lights off, I realized that you had left and that I couldn’t take a two-hour interval alone without doing something. Neither music nor television is enough to fill the void that you leave. I picked up the newspaper and opened it to the entertainment section. Among the ads with lots of flesh (so much visible flesh), I caught a glimpse of a small one (se refiere al ad no al ad con mucha carne) with some olive palms and a coat of arms. This should be a good movie, I told myself, but the theater must not be first-class if they advertise in such microscopic print. But for goodness’ sake! I just can’t stand this loneliness. The half-empty garage reaffirmed my need to go out and see a good spectacle. I started the engine and looked up the address on the map.


My Beloved is the mountains,
And lonely wooded valleys,
Strange islands,
And resounding rivers,
The whistling of love-stirring breezes!
St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, tr. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodríguez (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Carmelite Studies Publications, 1973.)

An enormous cactus plant, whose branches, like a tree, extended from one side of the house’s surrounding exterior wall to the other. Its pure green skin could hardly be touched, inserting my hand vertically very carefully among the long, sharp, resistant needles. With infinite care, assisted by a kitchen knife, I went around cleaning its surface. At the beginning it was difficult because there wasn’t enough space between the needles. Later, after I received several pricks from it, the ravaged area kept growing until there was no longer any problem. A milky white sap appeared as I cut off each needle. The cicatrization lasted for several days and finally ended up becoming part of the delicate green color, until the wounds were almost imperceptible. Once I had concluded the operation, I could stroke its skin without risk. Then, with the same knife, I drew a heart, wrote my name, and left a blank space. I waited. A week later I read: Patty.

For those accustomed to the routine of work, church, and home, a map isn’t enough. And that’s why I got lost among the winding streets, dark factories and confusing signs. I made two or three turns. And I finally found it. But what do I find? The lights are off, no one is there, the box office is closed. Almost pleased, I go back to the car and start the trip home. I tell myself, Patty must be waiting for me. I turn on the radio, haltingly advance and with great patience manage to get out of the labyrinth. I must confess that in spite of it all I felt a little annoyed. If there’s anything I don’t like, it’s to make plans that don’t work out. I was going down Madero Street in order to take University Avenue when I see lights. (does it sound OK in english to use present tense the way I use it here?) I see the brightly lit marquee and I remember that that theater is the Blanquita, a place I went so long ago with my peers from the seminary. It isn’t a very recommendable place, but, I don’t know exactly how to explain it to you (cant you spare “to you?), I just felt like doing something different. Not scandalous, of course, just different, to be with other kinds of people. I thought for a moment about Father Ruvalcaba’s words: “We live in our world, but we forget that we are in the company of another thousand worlds.” And I think Father Ruvalcaba is right. It’s true that we are happy, that we glorify God, that we belong to the Society of the Most Holy Host and that we do everything possible not to break His commandments. But what about the rest? What do we do to even get acquainted with our traveling companions? It was that thought that led me to stop in the middle of the street. I didn’t find any parking nearby so I decided to leave the car on an adjacent street. I turned on both alarms, disconnected the flow of electricity. (La frase siguiente no corresponde al sentido de la original. Mas bien sería: “Being afraid that my compasion would cause the robbery of my car”…more or less. Sería interesante que lo consultaras con una persona que maneje perfectamente los dos idiomas, un native speaker de spanish que maneje el ingles a la perfección). (They aren’t going to steal from me because I’m so compassionate!) I asked, “What time does the show begin?” They told me, “It began two hours ago”; I said, “Oh well, what a shame.” Somewhat reconciled with my own conscience, I arrived at the conclusion that it was more prudent to go home. Patty should already be waiting for me. On my way out, I couldn’t help looking at the photos on the billboards. Good grief! Girls in shameless positions, girls wearing black underwear, dressed in costumes or undressed, totally naked, with their hands covering the indecent parts of their anatomies. I made a movement of revulsion and I felt happy that the show was just about over. Forgive me, I’m going to light a cigarette. The first I am daring to light in this sacred enclosure. I can explain it to you. The fact is that, almost illuminated by a new and unknown light, I started back to the car, convinced that I had been on the edge of an abyss and that the evil enemy had led me astray. Of course, I had misinterpreted Father Ruvalcaba’s words. I’m sorry, I regret it.

I had my head down while Dad was talking about me. Your mother and my mother looked at me proudly. We were all sitting in the living room of your house. The crystal chandelier seemed like an inverted tree hanging from the ceiling, loaded with precious stones. A painting in which sinners were howling from among flames and the Virgin was floating above them dominated the scene. When your father called, “Patty,” I raised my head. It was a moment before you appeared and I supposed you were combing your curls or that you were putting your dolls to bed, or that you were embarrassed, like I was. “Play Für Elise for us,” your father proudly requested. You put your hands behind you and almost fearfully you said, “Daddy, I can’t do it well enough yet.” There was an instant of tense silence, an imperative look, and finally you sat down at the piano. The first measures were tentative, then the music flowed gloriously and clearly and when you lowered your head and placed your hands on your lap, I had already begun to love you.
(space)
I had walked little more than a hundred yards when I think: “And why am I going to throw away my good intentions?” I’ll simply take a religious booklet in with me, I’ll sit down in the waiting area and I’ll wait for the next show to begin. In fact, I went back to the car and made sure that everything was in its place: the alarms were on, the distributor cap disconnected, the windows closed and doors locked. I took my “guardian” prayer book, one that Father Ruvalcaba had lent me and which has helped me a lot, it’s a great help for those times when one has to wait in line at the bank or wait to be seated, in any of those unforeseen circumstances that turn into torture if one doesn’t have something to do, something to entertain oneself with. Then, well, I went and sat down. Naturally, I felt a little out of place there, in my High Life suit and Oxford tie. I took off the latter quickly. I rumpled my shirt. The look of those around me wasn’t very reassuring: unkempt young guys with hair as dry as straw, barefoot peasants, an individual with the looks of a butcher, some hands that undoubtedly belonged to a mechanic, faces that could be anything, but not people of my level, naturally. I sat down to wait and I raised my scarf a little. No, not because I was trying to make it difficult for someone to recognize me; you know that sometimes one can run in to people in the most unlikely places, people who... By the way, who told you? Remember what they say about running into people you know in the strangest places? I tell you, life is strange, God’s ways are...

It bugged them that I didn’t want to participate in their conversations, that I avoided the secrets that were a thrilling mystery for everyone else. And that’s why they took me to the Blanquita. They didn’t even let me look at the photos at the entrance of the theater and they stopped me from protesting because I only saw older people around me and I heard insolent laughter and bad words. Sure, I was a little curious, but my fear was much greater than my curiosity. My legs trembled and I had the most horrible urge to pee. They sat down on either side of me and nudged me and tried to calm me down. At the seminary my peers commented that I was really going to be a priest and that annoyed them. Since they were all there out of obligation, they tried to break the rules and whoever broke them the most was the most admired. I barely had time to see the first female dancer when I began running.(en ingles yo buscaria una expresión mas coloquial que “began running).

...people that you don’t really think would go to one of those places, but that in effect, suddenly it happens that you find yourself there with the manager of the bank where you have your account, you run into the family doctor there, the lawyer, and well, it’s embarrassing and you have to give explanations, and they do too, but the truth is that I didn’t raise my scarf because I wanted to hide, but simply because it was getting cold, very cold. I began to read. They were beautiful pages, selections from the Bible, I even memorized some passages: Consider the lilies of the field: even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Imagine: with these kinds of thoughts, how could I feel bad even if I were waiting at the gates of hell? We are all God’s creatures.

I don’t remember exactly what was first. If it was our names on the skin of the cactus or the evening at your parents’ house. What I most definitely do remember is that your name appeared, still adorned with fresh drops of sap, when I was losing hope. And even though you swear that you never wrote in the blank space, I know that you did because no one else could do it. Not the gardener who cut the grass once a week, nor Petra, who was already very old to be climbing up on the surrounding exterior wall of the house, (no entiendo bien la siguiente expresión “let alone”. Quizas sería mejor poner “much less”. Lo que quiero decir es que los últimos en escribir en el cacto serían padre y madre).let alone your father or mother, who knew nothing about our childish games. It was something beautiful and I don’t understand why you insist on denying it since there was nothing wrong about it. Or maybe you think I’m inventing it. I bet that if we go back to that house and the cactus is still there, we’ll be able to see the marks in it.

So I sat in the front, very far up front. In row E-10, I remember perfectly. The first bell rang, just like for a concert, imagine. The men rubbed their hands together, you had to see them, they smoked nervously, read shocking magazines, chronicles about crimes, talked brazenly about topics suitable enough for the place they were in. Another world, I tell you it was absolutely another world, traveling companions totally foreign to us. I naturally continued to read my respectable book, since it wasn’t a question of my mixing with those kinds of people. My intention was a charitable one, you know. The third bell rang. I dared to ask my neighbor, a kid with the most horrendous skin I’ve ever seen in my life, for the first cigarette in my life and I closed the book, still repeating the consoling words from memory: Shall He not much more care for you than for the lilies, O ye of little faith? The first strains of music coincided with my coughing fit. When I finally pulled myself together, I could hear a kind of Antillean dance, a mambo or something like that, I don’t know. The curtain opened and the stage was empty. From the speakers they announced the performance of the Women’s Ballet of the Blanquita Theater. Five girls appeared, naturally...barely clothed. Four of them were rather awkward. And one was very experienced. She moved very gracefully...No, “gracefully” isn’t the word. Seductively, suggestively, involvedly.
(space)
When I got home from the seminary on weekends, the first thing I did, before unpacking my dirty clothes and books, was go to the patio, climb up the surrounding exterior wall and feel the letters with my fingers in the darkness. From my observation post I tried to make you out behind the curtains in the living room or under the lights in your bedroom. And on some occasions I was lucky enough to be received by piano music. We never talked, really talked, in those days. Everything was limited to signs, gestures, echoes, shadows, sounds, little flying pieces of paper. And just as I began to live to be able to see you behind every movement produced in your house, you would remain on the front balcony waiting on Saturday nights for the instant when you would hear the car’s horn requesting that the garage door be opened. Then, later I found out, you used to comb your curls hurriedly and run to sit down at the piano. And that’s why, since you learned the dates and times of my arrivals, I was received by music.

Yes, it was a brunette whose experience showed, mastering with her acting all the nuances of provocative faces, of lascivious gestures, without its ceasing to be art, of course. And the other four were a rather obese, awkward girl whose movements didn’t correspond to those of the other ballerinas; another one was rather shy, a young inexpert girl who gave the impression that this was her debut; as for the other two, I don’t remember. The performance of the Women’s Ballet of the Blanquita Theater ended and then there was a comedy with Fufurufo, a fat man who has dedicated himself to disseminating pornography, nudity, cheap and pernicious entertainment for the lower classes of Monterrey. Besides Fufurufo, there was an older woman, a likeable young woman with a good figure, and... a leading man, the typical macho with his hair slicked back. The plot consisted of Fufurufo’s buying some magic glasses with which he could see people naked. At the end, he discovers that his daughter’s fiancé, how shall I tell you... well, he has...few masculine attributes, I don’t know if you know what I mean. That he doesn’t have...a certain part of his body well developed. That was the first comedy in which everything evolved in an atmosphere of indecency that wasn’t lacking in a certain ingenuity, which, I must confess, made me laugh in spite of my eminently religious attitude.

You were moving up the main aisle, the first one in the row from your school. Your mother silently let her tears slide down her cheeks. Your father softly murmured prayers. The organ music made the Cathedral’s walls vibrate and my spirit fluttered like a sheet hung out in a cyclonic wind: it swirled crazily with a mystical intoxication that was about to make me faint. When you knelt and separated one hand from the other to move aside the veil that obstructed the Host’s path to your mouth, I thought I couldn’t stand it, that I was going to start bawling from emotion. I took three deep breaths and regained my composure. You came with your head lowered and knelt at my side. As we left the church, my father gave me the agreed upon signal. I approached you and, without a word, gave you the Bible with its gold lettering and silk book mark that I had bought for you in Barcelona. You didn’t raise your eyes either. Nor did you say thanks. The four of us walked together towards the car.

Oh, well, I was forgetting: during the comedy a woman scarcely had appeared when the audience started yelling, “Beaver, beaver beaver!” I really didn’t understand what they meant. Maybe it’s part of some jargon that is used there, or an expression with a double meaning, but you didn’t have to be very bright to guess at the existence of an irreverent meaning. Later came the young Betty What’s-Her-Name, Jiménez, Rodríguez . . . I don’t remember: a girl who looked decent enough, very well cared for in terms of her physical appearance, and she began to dance in an interesting way. The interesting part of it was... No, not the interesting part... The strange thing was that her dress, completely gold in the front... as soon as she turned around... I had to lower my eyes. She had her shoulder blades exposed, as well as the part where the back becomes obscene... and her buttocks, let’s just say it, she had her buttocks exposed. At that moment I was tempted to leave, but twenty or thirty legs were in the way and I was sure that as soon as I got to my feet, they would make terrible catcalls at me. So I resigned myself to staying put. And when the girl turned her back, the audience got excited and yelled: “Beaver, beaver, beaver!” The girl didn’t bat an eye. Oh, yes, she did. The one who was unperturbed was Norma Lee, in the finale. I’ll tell you about it, but let me light up another cigarette. Forgive me. I don’t know. It’s something like a spiritual enema, like a lubricant, it permits me to speak freely. Oh, I forgot to mention that this girl, Betty Rodríguez, Betty Jiménez or whatever her name is, was... white, very white and she had blond hair. Naturally, one could tell that her hair color was artificial. No, not pretty at all: her round face, her eyes invisible in the darkness with their frightful dark circles, her large and vulgar mouth; however, her hands, her legs, her body in general were so light and clear that she didn’t inspire any evil thought. Well, as I was saying, the first part ended. I naturally went back to my book. And it was Saint Paul who took me by the hand: Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up... The words enveloped me to such a degree that I forgot about everything else: ...doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. The words lifted me above the temporal plane and I only returned to the theater hall when the three required calls were given.

Like every sincere Salesian, I invoked Don Bosco in my activities, I imitated him in his faith and I followed his example. How many times his beautiful image saved me from temptation during the dangerous period of adolescence, how many times I was on the verge of mortal sin, how many times I was about to break--even if only in my imagination--the irrecoverable vow of chastity with which I had sanctified my life. And it isn’t that I had the priestly calling. I never did. Like Saint Augustine, the need to know the world swept me along. I suspected my weaknesses and because of it my fight was more tenacious. You were my objective, and I--like Saint Anthony, who built up a great saintliness living in the desert--wanted to test my will to remain pure until marriage, even though I lived surrounded by vermin. And there had never been any talk of marriage or any such thing between your family and mine. It all happened here, in my head. And talk about affinities: it also happened in your head. Ours was a genuine marriage of souls, a spiritual marriage.

The evening’s stellar moment arrives and Norma Lee is presented to the audience. Naturally, everyone applauds and settles down into the seats. Most of them take out their cigarettes and light them nervously, there are comments; it seems that some have already seen her--by “her” I mean Norma Lee. I asked for another cigarette apologetically. Imagine: the man next to me gave me this pack. And Norma Lee appears. It’s impossible to deny that Norma Lee is a beautiful woman. In her intensely black hair she uses a ribbon to pull it up in a Greek-like fashion.

God always rewards the souls who trust in Him, He fills them with gifts and there was no reason for me to be the exception to the divine rule. I always waited confidently for the fulfillment of my intentions and when our relationship went from the garden to the living room of your house, I wasn’t at all surprised. It was my prayers and yours, I suppose, that formalized an engagement which was never talked about. I don’t remember a first time but rather a complex, and at the same time, invariable mixture of a thousand afternoons, the two of us sitting in the uncomfortable armchairs, one next to the other and your mother facing us as she tirelessly crocheted white doilies to sell at the parish bazaars and at the same time to fill her time. The sum of the words we exchanged throughout ten or twelve years of courtship wouldn’t be enough to comprise a book of poems. There was always something physically between you and me. A Chinese checker board, a chess set, the piano. But it was enough for us. We reached spiritual communion through the objects.

She had scarcely sung the first song when she tugged back the ribbon, removing it so that her hair formed a black torrent that completely enveloped her. And when she twirled around she was a very beautiful whirlwind, especially because, just like the first dancer, Norma Lee was intensely white, intensely white, with the most beautiful, gorgeous, indescribable skin... Then she danced and sang again, with a voice sufficiently trained so as not to make a bad impression, but not with the mastery that would make a connoisseur remark on it; and once she had sung she disappeared for a second. Another curtain rose and an older man appeared, looking respectable and wearing a tie, and he began to play African-style music on the drum, you know, that fast-paced rhythm of pounding drums, yes, African style, because there’s something about those primitive African styles that has to do with what I would be so bold as to describe as the call of the beast, something that makes the blood boil, as though we all hide under our skin a less temperate creature and when one hears those drums, one knows that something different is going to happen, that something... unusual is about to take place and that each of us is different. I don’t know if you understand. The music gradually got louder until Norma Lee appeared... Norma Lee appeared and this time she was decked out much more, dressed from head to toe with kind of an Arabic tunic made from many veils and full of ribbons, scads of ribbons, everywhere, so that when she whirled around, she looked like a spinning top to which they had tied a series of... I wouldn’t know how to define it ... She looked like a shuttlecock, a vision, part of a dream that I couldn’t manage to describe.

A little bit of heaven fixes everything, Domingo Savio used to say, and I didn’t have a little bit but rather an infinite amount in my hands when I walked down the main aisle of the Cathedral toward the main altar where you would become--finally--the wife with whom I would share my joys and sorrows until death do us part. I think that for the first time, after receiving the ring from my hands, you looked me fixedly and steadily in the eye. Then I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t even hear the officiant’s words when he said, “If the groom wishes, he may kiss his bride.” I was totally dumbfounded and it wouldn’t have taken much for me to run away. I only fulfilled my duty when my father, furtively pushing me, whispered in my ear, “Kiss her, stupid.” Blushing to the roots of your hair, you withdrew your lips and offered me your cheek.

A spinning top, and she was in the middle, spinning, spinning among the colors, mostly light colors that contrasted with her black hair and were in harmony with her intensely white skin. She began to dance, doing it quite well, and it was obvious that she had the rudiments of ballet. One could see that she was a professional and not just an amateur. And oddly, the shouts of “Beaver, beaver, beaver!” which had been heard throughout the show, were not heard. She danced very beautifully, with pleasure and seduction, and began to untie ribbons, a ribbon here, another ribbon there, and it seemed that she was enveloped in clothing, extremely so, and that she was never going to finish unwrapping herself. But instead of damping down the crowd’s excitement, that only made it grow, and well... her apparel was reduced to a couple of pieces and that classic, perfect sculpture without the least imperfection emerged. Her hands were a dove’s wings unfolded on a gentle breeze and her body trembled in an intensely artistic way and I said to myself, “I really haven’t wasted my time: this is art.” But after this dance that might be called that of an odalisque or maybe even vestal, ritualistic or esoteric, once she stood scantily clad, voices from the back began to shout: “Beaver, beaver, beaver!”


Neither of us wanted to be the first to come out of the bathroom. I showered as meticulously as I could, shaved until my skin turned red, read (hay que evitar la repeticion de sonidos de alguna forma) the hotel’s policy, sat down on the toilet seat and tried to listen. The noise from the water of the shower in your bathroom continued and in the distance I could hear orchestra music from the ballroom. Remember? They were playing Alegrías y tristezas del amor (it s a love valse from Viena, you can find the equivalence in english, please) on the first floor. I supposed that the same thing was happening to you as to me, but I didn’t have the courage to open the door first. I looked at my watch. It was one o’clock in the morning when I finally heard the sound of your door. And even then I didn’t come out. From the whisper of the sheets and the noise of the light switch I imagined that you had gotten into bed and I grasped the door knob. But I couldn’t. At one thirty some modest taps at my bathroom door woke me up. “Aren’t you sleepy?” you asked and there was nothing left for me to do but come out. The next day we went out for a gondola ride and fed the pigeons in Saint Mark’s Square.

And this woman didn’t even get perturbed like the first young woman, but stoically went on with her routine. The music went down to an almost inaudible level. No. Before that she formed perfectly geometrical figures with her body, and there were moments when you could only make out her anatomy from the waist down. Her private parts stood out in a disquieting way and that was like an apple in profile against the purple horizon of the curtain. She lay down, opened her legs and formed an impeccable V, and everyone shouted, “Beaver, beaver, beaver!” and she caressed herself without any morbidity, simply as in a ritual, if you’ll forgive me the comparison, as the Holy Mass could be. It was something perfectly artistic, and after she had formed all these figures–beautiful ones, without any doubt–since there’s nothing sinful about human body, the rhythm slowed down, the sound lowered to a very low volume... and a man appeared, a he-man, a Greek hero, a statue of Apollo... It doesn’t look good for me to say it, but he was perhaps... the most beautiful man I have (ever?) seen in my life. He appeared before the audience dancing impeccably en pointe with his body forming two irreproachable triangles united by an impossible waistline. He carried a look of mastery and began to dance around her, encircled her, placed her in as many positions as he wanted and simulated what was unmistakably the act of love in so many different ways that I couldn’t help but be surprised.

At other times the same thing happened. We went into the bathrooms and neither of us wanted to be the first to come out. During our third night in Venice, while the hot water was running down my body, I had a pleasant and perhaps uncomfortable sensation. I swear to you that it was the first time it happened. In the boys’ Catholic high school the cold water calmed any ardor. A part of my body, which until then had been only an accessory to my anatomy, began to acquire a life of its own and to demand urgently something about which, I can say it with my hand on the Bible, I had not had the slightest idea until then. (Evitar repeticion) Then I was the one who inaugurated the bed and knocked on your door. I lay on my back and waited until you were at my side. All the willpower I exercised to conquer my fear of embracing you robbed me of the strange energy I had felt in the bathroom. Then you were the one who embraced me and felt my rigid body and perceived my astounded state of mind and who finally turned her back to me when you realized that there wasn’t anything more. The two of us were waiting, but we didn’t know for what.

And I told myself, “This is something else, how much I’ve missed, how much I’ve missed! The classic position of the woman looking at the sky isn’t bad, and it’s the one the doctors of the Church recommend, but it gets boring; imagining then a bit all the possibilities we could try, Patty, if, forgive me, you consented to this kind of thing.” And this man, in an attitude of supreme authority, placed her on her back, on her front, on her head... he crossed his arms and opened his legs and ordered her, “Here! Here! Kiss me!” and she refused. “Here! At my feet! On your knees! Kiss me!” and she refused. And she was flung out on the floor with her hair over her face and she didn’t want to and the man took her by the hair and pulled her toward his body and she hit him and hit him until finally, exhausted in the face of how imposing that he-man was, she had to do what he demanded of her and I’m not even going to tell you what it was because you aren’t going to believe me. And I felt a kind of emotion at odds with my eminently pious attitude, since if I was there it was to share the journey with the fellow travelers of this world who are so forgotten. However, I contained myself, I closed my eyes and with Don Bosco’s help I regained my composure. It had been a human weakness, just a human weakness. We are finite beings, God’s creatures and we are subject to the ups and downs of this world. After glancing at the audience, I continued to contemplate that woman, who after she was possessed–symbolically, of course, since both the man and the woman kept on their G-strings and the woman kept on what I heard someone call her pasties–after the woman was possessed symbolically came the moment when the he-man disappeared and the crowd’s furor was raised unanimously: “Beaver, beaver, beaver!” And then the shouts were transformed into entreaties: “Hey, baby, show us some beaver!”

After a week at the Hotel of the Great Canal we went on being the same naïve couple as always. We walked (along?) through the streets with our hands linked only by the little finger and in moments of supreme happiness we even came to give each other always chaste kisses. We returned to the house our ever-providing parents had ready for us. We busied ourselves with domestic details and we tried to forget the matter. But we knew that there was something unfinished because our bodies asked for the consummation of an act that we were far from imagining. The trip to the beach was a veiled pretext. Eating shellfish was a suggestion that my father ran by me almost by chance in the middle of an insignificant conversation. But I guessed his intentions and if I didn’t ask him directly, it was because there was something shameful about the topic. There are matters that shouldn’t be discussed and about which only nature can teach us. Your pain and my surprise were monumental when the wound was opened.

“Beaver, beaver, beaver, that’s my beaver, wild beaver, animal beaver, delicious beaver, pretty beaver, shocking beaver, greedy beaver, I have something tasty for you here!” Indecent shouts, I knew, I discovered fulminatingly, because I saw an individual put his hands between his legs as he was yelling his stupid remarks, then I understood all the vulgarity, all the primitivism, but I couldn’t escape, I felt myself being carried along by the overflowing river of what was happening there and the revelation became even more horrible when the woman, obeying the shouts, with a quick, elegant and proud movement, said:
“If you don’t know how to appreciate my art, I’ll give you your beaver, guys, so you’ll calm down.”(so we… suena muy square, hay que buscar algo coloquial)
She shed the garment covering the lower part of her body and uncovered... her beaver, which made the audience roar. Not even Don Bosco could help me overcome my emotion and although I tried to close my eyes, I kept watching like a person in an hypnotic trance... because... the show went on... Smiling, enigmatic, wonderful, and challenging, the woman approached.
“You guys want beaver? You’re gonna get it.”
She sat down on the edge of the stage... she opened her legs and began to move about and I felt that that human mass, myself included in it, was penetrating that woman... and I became acquainted with... beaver... I found out that there was the essence of what you and I have been ignorant of all the time because of our haste and embarrassment. When she gave the final shout, I understood that the journey should be shared, and that that woman with her brilliant-colored garments was like a...

We stopped talking to each other for a time and we started communicating (with each other) creo que esto sobra again by means of objects. When you heard me arrive, you played the piano and I recovered the emotion and disappointment of that first night at the beach. We tried it again several times. It was useless, you stoically resigned yourself to it, like a …

like a devout woman.

(la idea es que el parrafo anterior “like a…, termine con la expresión “like a... ) pero devout woman no me parece suficientemente enfático



REPENT, SINNER

Regret it? Why? He hasn’t, correction, hadn’t participated in this, what shall we call it?, sport for so long and each night the feelings of loneliness and abandonment were so violent as he opened the door of his house that her words and fewer drinks than the number of excusable ones were enough to surrender himself fully to their skirmishes. He pursued her the whole night, from the instant she was introduced to him and that spark of ironic liking began to brighten up a party that portended itself to be different when she said, “Stop pursuing me or you’ll regret it.”
He was behind her even if he suspected that everything was going to turn out like it did every night, that view of the living room where everything stayed in the same place, intact and deplorable. He even followed her (and she demanded to be followed because in every room she left tracks, trails and glanced at indiscreet places out of the corner of his eye and made several attempts to tell her (tell her what, he didn’t know, something, hell, she couldn’t pass by like this, with impunity like the shadow of a bird on the sea) but he ended up behaving viciously, remorselessly taking a drink, telling himself, “I’ve already lost her. No woman puts up with such awkwardness.” And, nevertheless, he went back to the pursuit. If she was dancing with other guys, which she did imprudently and too magnanimously to be sincere, he kept watching her, looking for that domestic (domestic in the most obscene sense of the word, he thought) look she had in her violet eyes with their amazing iridescences. He changed his perspective several times, stretching between his eyes and hers links, channels, lures, clutching, however, the glass that mysteriously appeared full time and time again. A kind of paranoid happiness made him suppose that anything was possible, that is, propitious, almost inevitable.
If she embraced Dr. Bread-and-Water (it s just a funny name, you could translate it as “Breadandwater” or some funny mixture of words: but it must be a rather common second name) too affectionately, if she abandoned herself to the pretentiously erotic rhythm of the afternoon’s speaker, if she permitted others’ hands to touch her nape and whispering voices to state the same urgent need, it was nothing more than an enormous barricade to protect herself from what was going to happen come hell or high water.
Her voice, because of an unusual peculiarity of the acoustics (or maybe because of a hypersensibility awakened by anxiety or alcohol) reached him clearly. “Incredible,” he thought, “that she was talking about functionalist categories at the same time a satyr was playing with one of her earlobes.”
Something resembling a woman--fat and crowned with a Phrygian cap that she hasn’t taken off during the seven days of the conference--approaches, asks him for a cigarette and then blurts out an unenthusiastic, “Shall we dance?”
Barbara, or what was left of her, a head that rises and falls, appears and disappears amid the tumult, continuing to pretend that I don’t exist, that nothing has happened. Now she’s changed doctors. She’s making herself comfortable in the arms of a little genius from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and it’s easy to suppose that he claims to have written a book on the crisis of the industrial bourgeoisie.
“Unpublished, of course,” Barbara will comment with that aberrant superiority of women who, besides being intelligent, are beautiful. “Yes, unpublished,” the little doctor will answer, “but I have offers from several publishing companies.” Or rather, (I think or I thought then, I don’t know which): he’s been on the verge of publishing it for five years and secretly he knows that it’s never going to be published. Meanwhile, he lives proclaiming the success of his project.
The woman dressed up as the French Revolution, who has dedicated herself to dancing with my body, tries to communicate and asks, “What university do you come from?” and I know it’s an invitation to draft before her eyes my skimpy curriculum vitae, which will in turn permit her to open her legs spiritually and surprise me with her progressive conception of history and why not?, of her private life. I am understanding: I confess my single doctorate and invent a couple of Master’s degrees.
You’ll regret it. Of course, I didn’t regret it then. Now I couldn’t explain to myself what happened. How to abandon the challenge, the fruit-like softness of her cheeks, the precocious wisdom of a twenty-year-old female. It was a threat, obviously, like saying leave me alone, you don’t know me, I’m terrible. On the contrary, it’s absolutely impossible for me to leave you alone, love, precisely because I don’t know you.
Pursuer pursued, I should free myself from the French Revolution, from the little erudite spider, and the best way to do it is to suggest to her that I’m the kind of guy who, when he’s on vacation, can’t leave his Kodak instamatic and his American Express card, how disgusting.
“Oh, what a coincidence, Barbie, I finally found you,” I say from the bottom of my heart, guessing that without meaning to I am stating a grave and fundamental truth for my life. “Leave me alone, won’t you?” she says putting up a resistance that is inciting. I manage to trap her by my side for a couple of songs. She relaxes against my body with joyful harmony and doesn’t stop complaining. She seems to suffer because of the joy she says she feels, incomprehensible woman. She disappears again.
At the end of the party she comes out surrounded by three doctors, her most assidous ones, kisses them all on the mouth, a consolation prize, I sense. She sees me approach out of the corner of her eye, I take her by the arm with little consideration and tell her, “I’ll take you to your hotel.” “No, sir, you’re not taking me anywhere, I’m leaving with my friend and bodyguard, Nati, she’s entrusted with my chastity.” And, of course, her friend Nati was, is, precisely, the French Revolution.
Vargas Vila, to whom I owe my ability to turn the pages of books using only one hand, wrote that if a man has held a woman’s breasts in his hands, he can already consider her surrender complete. He was at least partially wrong, he was wrong, I thought on the way to my apartment, and when I opened the door, the same old order, the lack of evidence of anyone else in my life, pounced on the little esteem in which I held myself at that moment. I made intricate paths on the carpets in the studio, the living room and the bedroom. I prepared a cup of strong coffee. I found myself making faces in front of the mirror and saying things like “Poor Leone, poor guy.” On my night stand I saw the book, that strange gift from my housekeeper. On the occasion of your forty-fifth birthday, written in the script of an assiduous writer of letters. Good grief! It’s the first book of literature I’ve opened in two years. You should be ashamed, Dr. Leone. I read the first line and I feel trapped.
With effort I manage to stop and meditate. There’s something frightening in the purity of Dante’s feelings, something that makes me dizzy, that new life his love for Beatrice offers him has nothing to do with me, or maybe as I compare him with myself, I have no alternative but to send Dante to the hell of the ridiculous. I remember:
“Look, leave me alone; I have my house, my boyfriend, my work, and my daily orgasm assured.”
Oh, Leone, how long has it been since you’ve made a confession? How long? And now this girl comes and tells you, “I confess daily.” It’s not fair. And yet Barbara is right: few people reach such fullness in life and it would be the limit to throw it all away for a little fling at a sociology conference, for an amorous frenzy that will dissipate when the effect of the alcohol wears off. She said that with more of a rational tone than a boastful one. I turn my eyes back to the text and I read: The woman for whom love thus besieges you is not like other women, whose hearts can easily be won. Great comfort. They surprise me, those loves that place all their virtue and happiness in a passing look, in an indirect greeting and that have a diluvial strength powerful enough to keep the lovers’ hands still while they are caught up in the limbo of contemplation.

I wake up but keep my eyes closed a few minutes enjoying the images of my dream, I have to make a gradual entry into the world, without violence or force. It’s an old custom I keep in complicity with my alarm clock or my whim. The sun strikes my eyelids. I hide my face in the pillow. The artificial darkness and the iridescences superimposed on the vast black tapestry make me remember. I dreamed that I was Dante, that I was leaning against the railing of a bridge and that two women were passing by my side: the French Revolution and an adolescent whose beauty was so radiant that she was hidden in her own light (I didn’t see her face because it was veiled, but vaguely I knew that it was an unusual beauty, little suited to this world). I feel tempted to call Revillagigedo to explain the dream to me, but the obviousness of its meaning and fear of appearing frustrated or senile or superstitious make me give up the idea.
The doorbell rings. I lazily put on my robe and my slippers and go to the door. It must be my housekeeper. It’s Barbara. Without bothering to greet me, she says point-blank, “I decided not to go to the conference today and I came to make love with you, okay?”
What to say? The accomplishment of what I pursued so persistently last night is so surprising that today I can’t manage to make my body agree with my mind to confront the situation. I’m sure it’s too simple a conclusion to an enigma that seemed complicated for there not to be some trick involved. More disoriented than in possession of the required subtlety and emotionality, without preambles or pretences that serve as substitutes for love, I undo the buttons on her navy blue blouse, I find a lacy bra. Under her bluejeans Dior panties. I suspend my investigation for a moment and ask, “Are you sure?”
Barbara doesn’t want to answer questions, doesn’t want to give herself time to have doubts, she wants what she came for and as her garments are removed, piece by piece, she analytically sifts through her blame before the sin:
“Look, guy,” she says with an amusing but annoying impudence in a woman so young, “I had a horrible day today. Nati said that it was because of my excessive expectations and not fulfilling them and that the most advisable thing to do was to relieve the tensions with smoke in my dreams. She gave me marihuana and I was so green I thought it was cocaine. It was terrible, imagine, as if they offered you a glass of liquor but they told you it was water and you drink it down in one gulp.”
I didn’t understand how the hell one thing (which I know from experience is smoked) could be confused with the other (which, from what I’m told) which is (too much whichs) snorted through the nose in the form of a fine powder. I prefer to keep my doubts for a less compromising situation, perhaps afterwards, if indeed it happens. It isn’t a matter for exegetic particulars, especially if we’re already about to take the leap. Nevertheless, Barbara lights up a cigarette and persists with her existential novel:
“You know,” she says, “I’ve had an authentically married life daily for almost three years –ugh! how disgusting!–and even though I don’t believe in oaths, I can swear that I’m happy, that I fully endure Julian, because loving is enduring, you know it all well, I suppose, wonderful, mar-ve–lous, until you come along touching my ideology and my body, pig!, but what a delight!, I still blush when I remember the second floor, the pretext that we were in line to go into the bathroom and pretending that the booze had made us lose any sense of socially acceptable caresses and I didn’t know if it was your aggressiveness or my eagerness that led us to such extremes and it was as if I remembered something I had lost, the desire to roar, accompanied by a fear of definitively messing up my life, as though you awakened in me a sleeping animal from those days when Julian rescued me from the hippes, because I was one of the hippies into drugs, peace and love, and he put me onto the path to social work and registered me in the party. But...”
Her “but” permits her, or rather, adorns the act of untying the belt to my robe and exclaiming, “Gucci!,” an exclamation which doesn’t stop her from continuing her speech:
“You’re one of the most senxual guys, yes senxual, because you stimulate my senses. Senxual is one of my words, your body has an ergonomic quality that makes it infinitely adjustable to mine, I realized that when we danced, but I was going against the tide, I suppose you’ve heard of ergonomics. And apart from that, your words, those vile things you impudently said to me, groaning that you would like to put your whole hand in me there and that if you had my body at your disposal you would do this, that and the other. No, sir, one doesn’t say that to a woman who has, shall we say, a small one (“cuatro dedos de frente” es una expresion que mediante un atributo fisico: tener una, and. . . Do you think I’m made of stone?”
I sincerely don’t believe anything, my hands are seeking her hidden flesh like a thirsty man seeks water.
After so much advertisement of cataclysms and such promises of delights, after the aforementioned act, Barbara is cold, watching me with her owl-like eyes in the dark, almost smiling, but with a tremendous anger that makes itself evident in a nervous back and forth movement of her head: contempt, mockery, hate, disappointment.
“What did you expect? Rome wasn’t built in a day,” I say.
“But the walls of Jericho fell with the first sounding of the trumpet,” she answers, and I don’t know if it’s merely an erudite game or the definitive coup de grâce, a new version of the famous little silver bells that tinkle at the moment of amorous ecstasy.
Then we went into the annoying phase called From the Soap Opera: justifications, that you were nervous, that it was the first time, that I in my prolonged abstinence, imagine!, months without going to confession, it’s just that... “It’s just that nothing!” she answered with her eyes more iridescent than ever. “My whole life is shattered and it’s your fault.” Then I see a passion play coming with aggravating circumstances of marxist or trotskyist moral, Judas only knows. Prolonged silence. Barbara, stretched out on the bed, her wonderful white body sweetly angled, part of her lower lip hidden by the impeccable line of her upper teeth, sighs one of those sighs that are definition and relief. “Anyway, now I feel fine,” she says, “and I enjoy your company, and that’s the worst of it.” She delivers the last part of the phrase coquettishly wrinkling her nose. Telling her she looks pretty would be useless, she already knows it and she tries to shorten clichés. “I can’t imagine any place where I could feel better,” she says making of the sheet the most poetic shroud for her lazy death.

Once the conference ended, Barbara leaves for the capital without any warning whatsoever. I have looked in vain for a message in code (that might have been left) in the disorder that industriously accumulated on all the shelves in my apartment. I go back to my classes and there’s nothing new to say, except that the emptiness of going back home gets tougher all the time. Days go by and I remember her phrase: “You’ll regret it.” Truly, if I can regret anything, it isn’t exactly having known her, but rather–to put it plainly and simply–my whole life subject to a discipline that turned into the respectable and dull character of a theoretician, of a professor, of an uptight ass. How I would really like to repent and start over again, I tell myself, and then my laughter as I face the mirror is cut off by the ringing of the phone. The secretary from the university is calling me: “A telegram for you,” she says.
“Open it,” I request and she reads, “Repent, sinner.” Nothing more.
As I arrive at the apartment two days later, before opening the door I close my eyes and I imagine the disorder that awaits me.
Barbara has her hooves–“That’s what you call feet when they’re placed on tables and other furniture intended for social uses,” she comments–on the coffee table, barely an inch away from my one and only Sèvres vase. Her faded blue jeans, her French-governess shoes, a Chanel scarf, and especially her eyes. She doesn’t give me time to get over my surprise. She starts talking:
“As soon as I got home, I told Julian, ‘You know what, I went to bed with another guy. Now let’s see if what we said about sexual freedom and self-determination is true.’ And he answered me, ‘Well, start packing.’ What could I do? Nothing except pack my books and clothes, my nose running, all my pride lost, I even resorted to begging: ‘How is it possible, if we said before that adventure is fundamental in order for interest to last in a couple?’ I thought I was going to have a lot of emotional stress as soon as I had to face family life again, but oddly that didn’t happen, much to my surprise. I should clarify that I love my mother independently of her class extraction, even if she is a decadent bourgeois. If she judged my conduct adversely, I never found out about it (the truth is that when I escaped from home, I never knew anything about Mom again for two years) and my return was a real celebration in which we drank a bottle of Oppenheimer Krötenbrunen that had been in the wine cellar for twelve years. It was one of life’s strange things: We got drunk and Mom took a notion to study my skin: ‘It’s horrible,’ she said, ‘we’re going to get you a special cleansing.’ No sooner said than done, she took me to what she calls her Health and Beauty Palace, a room with exercise bikes and a thousand and one creams and gadgets and there she subjected me to the ritual that she carries out nightly, while she extracted from me revelations about the past years I had been away from home. And in spite of my maintaining with proof and photos that I had been happy, she stuck to the idea that that wasn’t true, that it was purely an illusion since happiness didn’t exist. We both finally ended up crying and Mom closed the session with a truly indigestible lament: ‘How wretched we are!’”
Silence. Barbara takes the gum out of her mouth and wads it up with the palms of her hands and then throws it out the window. “Haven’t you noticed? I don’t have those little blackheads on my nose anymore.” The truth of the matter is that I had never found blackheads anywhere, but for the sake of the continuity of the discourse, I looked at her nose. Before making love, I wanted to tell her something about what has happened around here (I’m referring to the inside of my body, at the height of the fourth rib on my left side), but I discovered that I had nothing to express; not only did I lack the words, but also the concepts with which to fill them.
Barbara seems to have gotten a little more pleasure out of it, but only a little. “Oh, Barb, if you had surrendered the first night, it would have been perfect,” I say.
“You’re right,” she says, “but the conditions weren’t right.” In any case, we went on trying for the best of possible delights. Even though I try not to not to be shocked by her erotic-philosophical concepts, it’s inevitable for me to comment that in my time people didn’t call such intimate pleasures by their name, but rather alluded to them through the use of poetic figures. “Pathetic ones,” you will say.(“Pathetic ones, you will say” –I think it s better this way) Between one joy and another we chatted about her trips to England where she learned her impeccable, tea-with-her-pinky-stuck-out English; her wonderful French, which she perfected with a bona fide nanny who bequeathed her her shoes; her surprising German, which allows her to read Marx in the original. I pretend to believe her. “Then you’re one of those people who can read Hegel without going into a bad mood,” I say, “a woman who knows more than she should.”
“That’s right,” she concludes radiantly, “even if it doesn’t seem like it.”
We go back to where we were before, with better luck, but the bigger bells don’t toll this time and we talk again. Barbara wants to establish the ground rules for our relationship. She insists that our affair can’t go beyond strictly sexual limits since she isn’t inclined to establish emotional ties; stupid, bourgeois habits already overcome by history. “In spite of everything, metaphysics,” she explains, “so devalued, continues to impose absolute principles on us: sexual instinct is one thing, reason another; feelings, one thing; social class another. Love has nothing to do with it; it’s an irrational topic, a nonexistent entity. In summary,” Barbara concludes, sinking her bare feet into the carpet as she adopts her best pose of a peripatetic nymph, “we should base fleeting pleasure, lack of commitment, on a few fallacies that contradict our materialistic foundations.”
It’s more than enough to say that Barbara’s wisdom seems abnormal to me and her exhibition very strangely charming. How can a twenty-year-old woman know so much?
“Easy: when girls my age were torturing themselves masturbating, I dedicated myself to reading. I discovered that solitary pleasure too late. I learned to use my middle finger while I was reading Phenomenology of the Spirit.”(Este es el titulo del libro de Hegel en inglés? Investigar) Barbara’s eyes intrigue me more all the time. Now they appear to be another color. Her irises are intensely black and like rays of sun, light coffee-colored striations on top of a pale blue background begin from them. But her face has only to change position for it to be impossible again to determine the shades of color when the light rays that enter through the window strike her eyes from another angle. Barbara knows the power she has and doesn’t abuse it. The right half of her body rests on my left thigh. One elbow rests on the pillow. Her eyelashes, arched thanks to the continuous use of a teaspoon that she carries inside a case that is also a music box, quiver a second and then remain immobile. Her eyes are so movingly beautiful that I feel like shouting, “What have I done to deserve this?” Instead of howling, I ask her to change the lighting.
Her large unmoving eyes and the long silence are trying to tell me something.
“You’re an inconsistent guy.”
That’s the first insult. Then come others in an uninterrupted succession; insensitive, pedantic, selfish, conceited, proud, fickle.
I confess that I don’t understand her reaction but tacitly I consider it better to leave logic aside for the moment.
Insulting each other joyfully, we wander the colonial streets the next day and we pause to look in on interior gardens, to imagine secret architectures and inhabitants worthy of their houses. We pause in front of the statues of the four virtues. For Barbara, it’s the limit that such boring women are exalted and that the vices are not even taken into account. In order to rectify such an omission, she gets up on the pedestal and says, “Let’s see, Dr. Fuck-and-Hide, what do I represent?” (Bravo! ¡Fuckandhide! Es un hallazgo)
She has placed her arms at a right angle and with her hands holds her two peaks of delight, as though offering them. It’s clear that she wants to appear vulgar and to offend her own refinement some way, without achieving anything but to give new perspectives on an overwhelming freshness.

The passersby stop to look at her and she keeps her pose, totally transfigured. When she gets bored, she tells me, “Now you, I want you to portray what you think you are.”
Reluctantly–it would be horrible for ((for me if any of my students?) any of my students to catch me in such games–I climb on the pedestal, raise my chin, take off my glasses, place my forearm in a horizontal position waist high, rest the elbow of the other arm on my closed fist and point to the sky with my index finger. Meanwhile, Barbara plays photographer. Now we’re sitting on a bench in the park. I put my head in her lap and philosophize a little. I talk about contemplation and the dangers that go along with it, about how the Orient succumbed to the denial of the world; about the great extremes that have taken over humanity: the feverish activity and absolute passivity.
Barbara scratches my head, saying that one can never really know anyone, not even oneself, and one wastes time this way. The green branches that were outlined against a clean, celestial blue sky are now hardly more than patches of thick vegetation. The darkness offers us new motifs for entertainment that we don’t dare call poetry. We dedicate ourselves to observing couples in love, we are surprised and discuss the different positions they adopt, near or far from the fire, pretending to kiss each other chastely in order to hide their subterranean caresses, deliberately keeping some distance between themselves, as though separated by a sword, or playing by coming together and separating. Finally Barbara seems to succumb to the provincial charm, the primitive romanticism. She says that in this city the air is worthy of being drunk, that the water inebriates and the aroma of the araucarian pine trees and wistaria make her dizzy, that the humus that the earth transpires is a maddening exhalation. She drags me towards a niche that two teenagers have just abandoned as though expelled from paradise, and there she snuggles up to my body. I wanted for that to be all, a scene worthy of an uncensored movie, but Barbara can’t conceive (¿is this correct?) “of life” without the noise of sighs.
Soon we call the attention of the lovers that break their statues and begin to disappear. A policeman approaches. He’s facing us with his legs open and he’s looking at us shamelessly. My companion begins to laugh. “Let’s go, honey, I can’t take the brazenness of the public servants.”
“She’s an expert at these matters,” I think. Once in the car, Barbara can’t stay still. She looks for my ticklish spots and we almost run into another car. I ask her to show a little reason and she gets angry. She resumes the series of insults: mental eunuch; neurotic, mentally deficient fool; she even unpacks some archaisms that speak well of her literary culture and of her gradual change of mood: bore, scoundrel, deceiver, lout. And joined to these, that is to say, alternately, appear the somewhat exaggerated praises of the beauty of my body, the firmness and good lines of my thighs, the perfection of the path of hair that goes from my chest to my belly button and from there to the almost pianistic length of my fingers (which are, to tell the truth, short and flat with wide, spatula-shaped nails). Her attitude of adoration frankly strikes me as excessive and inappropriate and I tell her so: “Look, Barb, I think that you’re beginning to love me.” She opens wide her dumb but beautiful eyes and says:
“Well, of course, silly, hadn’t you realized that?” and she seals her words with a sophisticated, labyrinthine kiss, difficult to describe not only because of the diversity of techniques employed, the effusiveness and duration, but also because of the universal history of emotions that went through my memory along the way. “Is it possible that I’m beginning to love her?” I wonder with legitimate concern. But Barbara doesn’t give me time or space to settle the matter. Now comes the total ecstasy after such a transcendental revelation. It’s essential that Barb explode like an atomic love bomb on top of my still astonished body to crown it all with an exclamation of joy and promises of eternal faithfulness worthy of the big screen. We are face to face. I see in the little windows of her eyes the upper half of my body cut off at the waist as if I were a genie in a bottle. She looks at me and I know she is waiting for something. Barbara disengages her eyes from mine, as well as her body. She turns her back to me, bites the sheet, and says, “You’re not a serious man.” And in spite of everything, we sleep in each other’s arms and when I wake up, I try to rectify what was twisted around hours earlier. She doesn’t agree with my points of view and my caresses are understood as a form of consolation. She prefers to escape in her long-winded, intentionally inane speeches, in her pose of a defenseless little girl.
“You know what? You abused me. I’m a good girl, a decent woman. The psychiatrist told me I should look for values to cling to. And you... what did you offer me? You wrecked my relationship with Julian, you make me doubt my social convictions, you awake a fever in me, and in exchange for what? You remain distant over there, as if you were a saint and you’re letting me dance all around you. Let’s see... Tell me, you’re forty-five years old and what else? A number sums up your life? I don’t know anything about you perhaps because you don’t even exist. Have you ever in your whole life moved anything out of its place? I bet your life is like your apartment: everything in its place and everything in its due time. Women? How many have you had? Where are they?”
Then I have to tell her about the pristine and immobile love I had with Rebecca, my intermittent relationship with Leni, my frustrated ecstasy with Monica, my attending mass with Martha, my playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with Beatrice, the funny names I gave Heidi and I should recognize that if all these relationships and others I can’t remember failed, it was my fault, that being imperfect, I was seeking impossible perfection and having an apartment with only one bedroom, I couldn’t imagine sharing it with someone who wasn’t in complete agreement with me.
Barb, perhaps humanized by the beginnings of a hasty and to some degree false attempt at communication, gets up and dances for me to the beat of an internal music she says she feels inside her whole body. Still nude, with the most beautiful nudity I have ever seen, she wants to go to the kitchen but I ask her to cover herself with at least a tee shirt; it wouldn’t be unusual for my housekeeper to suddenly appear and peek through the curtains. I remain looking at the ceiling and thinking about past and possible memories.
“Honey, breakfast is ready,” I hear her yell without considering the existence of my housekeeper.
She sits down to look at me with her beautiful eyes–more beautiful than Elizabeth Taylor’s–and hands me the newspaper.
“I want Daddy to read the newspaper while Mommy washes the dishes.”
Such a sentence, especially in the tone of voice in which she said it, seems frankly suspicious to me. It gives me the impression that I am being subjected to an experiment and that Barbara is the bait. Now she’s drying her hands on the sheet, she walks around the bed on tiptoe and comes to sit down on my lap.
“You know what? You don’t want anyone to love you.”
I adopt my best Bogart voice and answer her, “You’re right, doll, but remember that the agreement was not to mix feelings with sex.”
“This is impossible!” she screams.
“You’re already pulling your nails out,” I think. And then her phrase comes to mind: Stop pursuing me or you’ll regret it.

Monday arrives and instead of giving my classes, I go to the beach with the girl. (“Are you very sick, Dr. Leone?” the secretary asked. “Very sick, Bayita, I think it’s the emphysema they told me about last year, (even thou?) why I switched from cigarettes to a pipe.”)
As soon as we arrive, Barb strips naked –that seems to be her natural state, the only one that makes her happy–runs towards the water with her arms open wide, leaps twice like a frog and falls, smacked down by a wave. Thanks to God and the fact it’s a work day, no one is around. In the distance I see her floating. Bobbing with the action of the waves, her two feet and her breasts, which look like (silly aqua…) aquamarines with red eyes, rise to the surface. She swims a while, splashes about, pretends to be chased by a shark, returns dragging her feet, and sits down on the mirror formed by the wet sand. Crouching, with her legs slightly apart and her heels pressed against her buttocks, she awaits the sea’s onslaught. Now, with a serene expression that is brought only by complete love and the tolling of the larger bells, she comes towards me. For reasons of her own she rips off my bathing trunks and I can’t help feeling ridiculous with my private parts openly dangling. We embrace in the water and Barb tries to reenact the scene from a film, but the waves, cooperating very little, fill our mouths with salt water, breaking off our breathing and making us lose the cosmic harmony that the girl said she was on the verge of finding. We stretch out on the beach, still nude in spite of the fact that we see a decent young couple (clothed, holding hands, looking at or pretending to look at each other’s eyes) no more than forty-five yards away. They ignore us and that gives us the courage to continue in our paradisiacal state, transformed into bronze statues by the sun’s last rays. I want to sleep for a minute but Barbara wants to capture the moment with all her senses, that’s what she says, while she begins to kiss me, following with her mouth the line of hair that culminates in just the right spot. I don’t interrupt her pleasure which is also mine. In spite of the fact that I close my eyes tightly, the flash of light explodes violently as never before. Barbara makes a gesture of revulsion, and spits twice, three times. The noise of shattering glass explodes inside my brain and I don’t understand it, I don’t want to understand it. To what point can my cynicism, perhaps my vengeance, go? I make an innocent face.
“What does it taste like?”
“It stings, it stings horribly. It’s as if you took a drink of muriatic acid.”
Again I want to adopt my Bogart voice and tell her, “Forgive me, doll, I thought you were addicted to it”, but (such expresion )it seems excessive to me.” Suddenly, I realize on the other side, barely thirty-five yards away, three boys are contemplating the scene very attentively. I make Barbara aware of it, but it doesn’t matter to her. She has gathered up her things and still naked she walks toward the car. For eighty miles she was silent, covering her mouth with a perfumed handkerchief.
That night there aren’t any insults, only silence. We sleep back to back. She rests against me and I begin to feel that I miss her breathing in the hollow of my shoulder.
I don’t go to teach my classes the next day either. Invaded by a despondency that keeps me from opening my mouth, I spend the whole day in bed. As dusk falls, I look in the living room, lean against the door jamb and from there I can see her in the midst of a most frightening disorder, with her knees between her arms and her head between her knees. I know I ought to do something to rescue her, as well as myself. I propose that we go out for a walk. We walk around the Great Lake and reach the playground. The slides seem specially made for suicides, they’re too high and steep, in addition to being broken. Barbara lets herself go and falls in a seated position on a bed of stones. She’s crying and with her panties blackened, she says that her bottom hurts. “Check to see if I’m bleeding,” she says, showing me the grazed and reddened flesh. The children on the teeter-totters point at us and laugh. The mist is suddenly so thick that as we walk, we seem to do so hand-in-hand with a ghost.
“Shall we go to the movies?” I ask her. Unenthusiastic but acquiescent, she answers me with her shoulders. While we are crossing the city, I can almost feel the alchemy that is being produced down there and I promise myself I’ll make good use of my body’s wine. I’ll be very cautious, I’ll kiss the junctures of her arms, her knees, her back from top to bottom, her neck, her ear lobes, I’ll prick my tongue on her earrings and I’ll ask her to drink the blood. With stars shimmering in her eyes, she’ll ask, “What do you think I am, a vampire?” A pause, and then a confession: “How did you know?” I’ll continue to adore her for hours until it’s impossible to keep the secret, I’ll say the swearwords that shouldn’t be uttered, I’ll see that the ice of my errors is beginning to melt and that Barbara is letting herself be won over by her emotions. I imagine what her happiness and joy will be like, I suppose that she’ll moan more and more noisily as she’s about to come and I’ll have to observe a brown, powdery moth circle around the light, she’ll finally listen to the tolling of the large bells and I will feel that my heart is involved for the first time in so many years and I’ll also let loose with a howl that will be like jumping into the wind with my arms open and feeling that everything that came before, life and its sorrows finally flowered, and that in my living room, under the carpet, coming in the windows, through the openings in the radio and the television, through the cracks between the tiles in the bathroom, tender stems are sprouting, little flowers with subdued colors, little suns that become diluted with the blowing of the wind, herbs smelling of mint and basil, and in the face of such outrageous beauty, my housekeeper will arrive and will say, “Dr. Leone, you don’t need me any more, you already have someone to cook and clean for you.”
“Thank you,” I’ll say, “I knew (she was) you were going to show up sooner or later.” That’s how it will be. I have been calculating it all throughout the film as I feel Barbara’s hand in mine, a very slow pulse that gradually seems to be quieting, as if the blood in her body were becoming thicker and going towards a dreadful motionlessness.
In order to get into my bedroom, one has to move forward, kicking aside articles of clothing, moving chairs and tables out of the way, stepping on ashtrays. I am ravenously hungry. Barbara too, I suppose. “Stay in bed,” she tells me, “rest while I prepare everything.” I try to protest, but she, very serious and authoritarian for the first time, demands that I not leave my room while she finishes. I go back to my book and reread the phrase: The woman for whom love thus besieges you is not like other women, whose hearts can easily be won. I believe I understand without trying to put my comprehension into words. I have the most joyful and radiant sensation that a book (which came to my hands by chance. Remember that the housekeeper gave it to dr L) )I picked up by chance has ended up giving me the solution to the only enigma that makes any real sense. I listen for movements on the other side of the wall. Barbara comes and goes. I smell or I imagine the smell of some seasoning, something baking in the oven. I know that I shouldn’t cross through the doorway before time. I have more patience when I most feel this sun growing inside my chest. Between the joy of reading and the creative efforts of my imagination, time goes by.
The cathedral’s clock strikes five o’clock in the morning and I return to my spot. I haven’t heard anything for almost an hour–maybe two or three. I feel the talon of a beast grabbing me around the neck before I open the door that leads to the living room. I don’t have to look around to get the full picture. Everything will be in its proper place. There won’t even be a note. Not even an address. Not even a telephone number. Nothing.



SCENES OF CONJUGAL LIFE

1. THE WOMAN AND THE MIRROR
What is it that we men really love in women,
but that when they “give” themselves,
they also always put on a show?
Nietzsche

Everything was different there. From the hewn stone central patio on which arose three absurd granite columns surrounded by a colonial fountain, to the rooms in which there was either an excessive amount of light or darkness and which had very heavy curtains, extremely soft pillows and mattresses stuffed with goose down, I suppose. Vaulted ceilings created by bricks that formed increasingly smaller concentric circles with every course. Baths worthy of Pompeii, Bohemian crystal glasses and vases. Spaces, windows, walls, carefully calculated so that the amount of light or shadow would create pictures worthy of Velázquez from the most vulgar children on. In the living room, enclosed by large windows that overlooked a garden that seemingly attempted to sum up American flora, under a large glass cover, a pre-Hispanic grave, with bones, obsidian points and pre-Hispanic ceramic pieces. It was remarkable that whoever had designed the house had considered every last detail. However, I wasn’t able to penetrate their plan, their intention. The bedroom assigned to us had the appearance of a sanctuary or of a jail, wrought iron grillwork, very wide walls, bronze candelabra. Sheets made of a very fine cotton, a very soft carpet into which one’s feet sank, towels of unsurpassable quality. Everything seemed custom made for someone most certainly other than my husband and myself. The thing that stood out most was an antique cedar closet, from floor to ceiling, that had as a door a gigantic mirror in which almost the whole room was reflected. I don’t know why mirrors make me nervous, somehow I feel that they trap me, that they attract me. I know the idea is shamefully vulgar, buy I can’t help but feel that way. It has nothing to do with simple vanity that makes me look at myself when I’m alone for a long while, since–although I’m beautiful in an unremarkable way, and some say very beautiful–I don’t concern myself too much about my looks, I don’t waste time putting on makeup, and I don’t expect the easily attained happiness that comes from others’ singing my praises. Instead, I am brief in my dealings with the mirror and my personal appearance. Like many women, I consider love more important than any other aspect of a personal relationship. I love my husband with a passion that perhaps doesn’t really reach that designation and that is related especially to our domestic happiness, the time we share together, the comfort of knowing that every night lying beside me is a man I believe I know and from whom I can expect nothing deplorable. I surrender to him easily when during the day I have felt that I share a mission with him, when things are going well at home, when I know that my husband has a certain something I couldn’t find in anyone else. I abandon myself to him with resignation when I’m really not in the mood. To find some way to phrase it, I am disciplined in our conjugal love. It’s something like an apostleship, something to do with family, children, and the suspicion of God. That’s why it’s hard for me to participate enthusiastically in making love when I’m not at home and yet, I know I’m blushing as I say this, it’s precisely away from home, in hotels or other places away from home where I subject myself to my husband’s most extravagant whims. Or perhaps I should say, I allow an absolute permissiveness to come out in me, an unusual ability to provoke crude or, at the very least, uncommon situations. I asked my husband if we could leave the room, if we could run away, if we could go back home. Patrick smiled, looking at the mirror out of the corner of his eye. I saw in his eyes an expression of playful naughtiness which I recognize when he’s plotting his misdeeds.
“Do you really want to leave?” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder and drawing me towards him. I couldn’t help yielding to his incitement and I brought my body closer, bending it against his with the ease and pleasure of a surgical glove to a surgeon’s hand. Patrick grasped the nape of my neck with little gentleness and when his mouth adhered to mine, I felt that I was like a great piece of fruit in which that greedy man was burying his mouth. Patrick slid his right hand down my back, running over my vertebrae one by one with it until he reached my waist, then he lowered it to my buttocks and buried his fingers there with delight, sinking them into my silk skirt and the underwear in my crotch. I felt as though I were losing my breath, I looked at the mirror behind my back. I saw his body and mine as though they belonged to another couple, I imagined a kind of battle in the light of a bonfire, there was desperation and delight, anger and love, something diabolical, unspeakable, in all that, and yet–forgive me for the stupid remark I’m about to make–divine.
“Are you sure you want to leave?” he asked again.
I lowered my eyes and told him, “No. I really have an insane desire to stay.” Fortunately, we had done a variety of activities before giving in to our pleasure: shopping, going to some friends’ house, a couple of lectures, the theater. In that and other more forgettable ways we passed the first few days, in which our passion was repeated in a somewhat conventional way. Anyway, my husband and I knew that that mirror that watched us almost mockingly was waiting for the right moment to compel us to do what I don’t dare dream of, or if I do dream about it, I lose it in piety or forgetting. We frittered away a week. I was still defenseless, waiting restlessly and excitedly for what had to happen. Patrick went on with his activities and didn’t notice–or pretended not to notice–that the mirror was waiting for us, was stalking us, with cheerful patience. I began to imagine that behind the mirror was an Indian, that maybe it was the caretaker of the house, an unpleasant creature who had the patience of centuries and an unhealthy curiosity at his disposal. I imagined that the house concealed somewhere, maybe in the indigenous grave, the entry to another world, more sordid and closer to the primordial, to what perhaps all human beings keep deep inside. On the eighth night, when my husband’s kisses had inflamed me to the extreme, I said to him, trying to sound as natural as possible, why didn’t we go closer to the mirror. Both of us nude, we drew up to the burning fire and facing that enemy we again wrestled in a feverish embrace. When I had the breath to do so, after having felt my husband’s full power in his most evident parts, without ceasing to look at our reflection, I said to him, “Ask me whatever you will, love, I’m willing to do it.”
Patrick leaned back slightly, caught his breath, looked me in the eye and asked, “Are you sure?”
“Absolutely certain,” I told him, “I’ll do whatever you want, I’ll allow myself to do whatever you want, absolutely anything.” And then he asked for it, what I had never dared to do, what I think no one–except for the loosest women–does. I had Patrick stretch out, I lay down on top of him, but oh God, not as nature mandates, but against all rules, and he began to devour me and with the ardor of a lioness I trapped him with my mouth, I bit him, I sucked him desperately, more completely than ever, decisively, and I didn’t want to even breathe but I ate him all, time and time again, clear to the bottom, with my delicate mouth I accepted his size, his vigor, until I realized he was coming and even then I refused to release him. He wasn’t able to avoid it either, coming on me and immobilizing me with his thighs, he transformed me into his port and I still refused to let him go and Patrick went on almost roaring on my body and burying his face and shaking like a dying mad dog, he swept over me completely with his tongue and I began to toss around, to come on him, to let myself go, and there were were–both of us melted like terrible beings struck by the same bolt of lightning, pierced by an enormous spear for hours and hours and we fell side by side, he with his glorious relaxed body and I with the feeling that having obeyed that kind of command from the man in the mirror, I had begun to be another woman and that nothing could ever be the same and that the little joys that made up my love would now take on a different meaning. I got up, went to the bathroom, washed over and over, rinsed my mouth with soap and toothpaste. When I returned, Patrick was still stretched out on the rug with his body reflecting the light of the streetlight outside and an expression of recovered virtue. I no longer wanted to embrace him. The next day I couldn’t hide my bad mood, my contempt for that man that had soiled me that way, but I stayed at his side, feigning a natural peace, even though my spirit was at war, trying to understand, to forgive, to forget. From then on, returning to the room after the daily activities would be sad, dismal and the mirror, now free of us, seemed innocent, but I knew that in it resided a power, the knowledge of our secret, and that’s why I despised it. I would have liked to destroy it, but I didn’t. It would be not only a lack of courtesy towards our hosts (whom, I should say, were almost strangers: members of a new company that offered different tourism), but also, I must say, a cowardly act. I know that I somehow must live with myself, with my husband, with our weaknesses. The last day of our stay before closing the door, Patrick (in whose cheekbones I saw an angularity I had never noticed before) and I paused in front of the mirror. My husband smiled with that confidence, with that knowledge of a sorcerer, of a wise man, of an imbecile, of an astute man, that I sometimes confuse. I also find myself smiling. I discovered that in this life, behind everything that happens, there is always something else.


2. THE VIDEO WOMEN

Looking at himself in the mirror after bathing, Patrick remembers Diedre, Nikki, Roberta, Nicoletta, Serena. They’re docile women, not at all problematic, daring. They never complain. They’re willing to do whatever whenever. Kathleen, on the contrary, is proving to be more difficult, demanding and negligent all the time.
“Really, darling,” she said the last time they did it in the house with the columns, “love fests annoy me. They’re like ventures which, in the end, don’t even compensate me. Besides that, there are things I don’t understand that worry me.”
There was a time when Kathleen wanted to reach heaven’s gates every two or three days. And she almost managed to scratch at them. She started to have unbearable orgasms that left her crying convulsively. Or that abandoned her in a limbo of fear when she suspected that never again would she reach the likes of such noisy luck. Now that years and the ardor of the first fruits have gone by, she knows that Patrick is weak and that his engagements are brief and hurried, hardly sufficient to allow her to aspire to tinplate landscapes.
“What’s happening is that you’re not accepting with resignation that in matters of love, the past was always better.”
For Kathleen any excuse is vain. It’s useless to argue with her. It would be great to make her disappear by punching a button. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t work that way. The truth? Diedre, Nikki, Roberta, or any of the others couldn’t teach Kathleen anything, since she knows it all and does it all...when she wants to.
Patrick runs his hand over his beard. Between yesterday and today the number of gray hairs seems to have doubled. A fold of skin that he hadn’t noticed before hangs beneath his right eye. It’s dark and has tiny spots, it looks like a tentacle is starting to take possession of his face, which is becoming more angular all the time. The work of time and the corrosion of secret hours. He thinks about those people with a dual personality, saints during the day and demons at night. In the mirror he tries to make the evil smile of a blood-stained beast. It’s a pity the mirrors you know are so inoffensive. They only show the ravages of time. Calm down, Patrick, don’t exaggerate, what you have is a little vice, it’s nothing, a tiny dose of badness that doesn’t hurt anyone. But those gray hairs, that wrinkle, well... He energetically massaged his face and combed his beard. He’s not willing to dye it. He wants to age proudly. He moved his head from side to side, trying to relieve the tension.
None of Patrick’s secret women complicates his life. They hate it when anyone talks to them about love; they’ve never received invitations to dinners with white-gloved waiters, embroidered linen tablecloths, candlelight emanating from silver candelabra, and champagne; they’re not fertile and the don’t go crazy when they go into a shopping center. They go straight to it and end up soaking in the sweetest fountain, licking, enjoying, and along the way leave Patrick in a haven of peace and lassitude.
Patrick generally sleeps soundly like a visionary after a session of excesses, but occasionally in dreams there appears to him a little female creature that wants to continue the pleasures or a killer with a shaved head who shoots him point-blank in the face. The truth of the matter is that when Patrick decides to resort to the video women, he only does so after long periods of abstinence, when he knows that his wife won’t be available for several days. It’s Patrick’s secret peccadillo, his hidden merit badge, his medal. Escaping from the house, arriving at the video store and unashamedly going to the triple X section. Scouring the films one by one, he studies them with a merchant’s scrupulousness. He’s particularly attracted to two types: those with exotic women (Filipina, Thai, African) and those with young girls. He doesn’t forget the one that Nicoletta and Danusa filmed in the Seychelles Islands. He detests the ones with bloody perversions, bestiality, and homosexuals. He loves the ones that respect the ecological environment and the ones that deal with French kisses in minute detail.
The most recent female guest he had at home (last night, when Kathleen slept in their daughter’s room) was Danielle Butterfly Triple X, a young girl who spent the whole film closed in her room, with her hands between her legs, talking to the camera, while looking at an armchair in which she imagined scenes. Danielle was a girl, probably barely 15 years old, and her eyes widened in amazement every time she imagined seeing dirty scenes in the armchair. She saw a girl from Thailand, as young as herself, arch up like an enraged serpent while an extremely ugly Oriental man licked her with the art of a goldsmith crafting a tremulous orchid. She saw a blond girl, also young, whose teeth had gaps between them, running her tongue like a paintbrush over the large, healthy penis of a muscular oaf. She saw herself in an inverse embrace with a knowledgeable woman who played her sex like a harp.
Patrick had Danielle home for less than twelve hours, but thanks to her, he copiously spilled his pleasure twice. In the morning, he got up with no guilt complex at all at the same time as his wife, had coffee with her, and got the Ford out of the garage. They said goodbye without kissing, but courteously, almost without resentment. Actually, they hadn’t fought the night before. They only exchanged a strange look and that was enough for Kathleen to look for somewhere else to sleep. “Thanks,” Patrick said to himself, locking the door. He rubbed his hands together, smacked himself twice on the face, opened the trunk for winter clothes, and looked for Danielle Butterfly Triple X. He kissed the case and prepared himself for pleasure.
At 9:00 a.m. Patrick went to Aunt Philippa’s house, some forty-five yards away, beyond the grocery store, to pick up his little girl, who had spent the night there. He asked Celine to dress her, give her her breakfast, and he took her to kindergarten. Then he went back home, called the office to make his excuses, closed the door to the bedroom and prepared to enjoy Danielle a second time. Once the matter ended with a passionate stertor and a cry of sovereign independence, he bathed, discovered his new gray hairs and his wrinkle, got dressed to go to the office (he really didn’t have to do anything but sit and wait for the visit of the suppliers, who never came on Mondays), stopped by the gas station, abandoned Danielle at the video store and chose her successor, a young innocent-looking German girl, returned to respectability, but not without first casting a nostalgic look at Diedre, Roberta, Nicoletta and sighing with emotion at the thought of nights to come with Cindy, Janice, Helga, Akiko and another hundred female creatures whom the Sultan of Brunei, the Sheikh of Nefzaqui, and the greatest rakes who ever existed would envy. He hid the little German girl under the spare tire and promised himself that he would lock her away in the clothes trunk as soon as possible. He swore to himself that he wasn’t going to invite her to any merrymaking without first giving his wife the opportunity. He would wait exactly a week, after which he would take advantage of Kathleen’s first fit of anger in order to have just cause.
Monday would be a heavy day since the two excessive incidents with Danielle had been havoc-wreaking, but it was necessary to endure the daily routine (including going to the sauna with his wife and eating at the house of his parents-in-law. In exchange for that, the night would come (hopefully it wouldn’t occur to Kathleen to have a little reconciliation party), rest, and Tuesday he would go back to being Patrick Darkday, M.B.A., Manager of the Supply Department of the Peoples’ Tribune. Tall and attractive with his iron abs, always dressed in a youthful way, he was the stimulating member of the office. He was almost a professional tennis player, he was the advisor to a candidate of the conservative party, he was the leader of the neighborhood Scout group, he was a cyclist and accomplished the feat of going to the port of Cartagena and of returning with the pack, even if he arrived in last place. His resume of what he tried to be was tiring because of its being interminable and half absurd. What cannot be doubted is that he completed his Master’s degree in Business Administration, since the degree presides over the living room in his home and a copy of it serves as a crown for him on his office walls, which are a real newspaper mural. He’s a good-for-nothing, they say, and Patrick has no interest in making them change their mind. For him, the rule is the consoling certainty that pretending to be dumb is the simplest way to be happy.
Patrick obeys almost all the laws of decency and good citizenship. He’s a good man. “So good,” Kathleen says, “that you seem undergifted. Everyone deceives you. Anyone can convince you of the most incredible thing.” Kathleen knows about her husband’s fondness for pornography. She herself, after the excesses in the house with the columns, saw half a dozen dirty films with her husband. The first time she felt nauseous, it all seemed too organic to her, not very decorous. She tolerated it until the characters intertwined themselves in a not very aesthetic, unnatural scene.
“What does the beauty of the sexual act consist of and where does vulgarity begin?”
Patrick didn’t know how to answer the question, but she did.
“In the first place, there ought to be something more than just the flesh. A discreet melody, witty details in the scene, an authentically human expression on the faces. Secondly, wide full shots should be avoided, the bodies should only be seen partially. Thirdly, the shots should be slow and meticulous.”
Kathleen continued to expound. Patrick didn’t know how to listen to her.
With the video women there was another difference: they were subject to his fancy and because of that he could give them time, calmness, include pauses to make the pleasure last longer, leave the room to take in some fresh air and when the final surrender was inevitable, launch himself with his sword in hand and raised skyward, carefully clean up the blood and go back to sadder battles.
When she saw the third or fourth movie, Kathleen began to relate the fellations in detail with almost scientific interest and to realize that on occasion those trollops did have something to teach her. They were like patient artists who with their tongues raised sculptures that would reach their height at the same instant their fall was initiated.
“And that stuff about fellatio. I don’t know, I think it hides something no one has been able to discover or at least they haven’t dared reveal.”
“What?”
“It isn’t the need to humiliate oneself. It’s something more than that. Like wanting to appropriate the substance of the Other. Like wanting to be the Other. Something that has to do with cannibalism, with our ancestors. But this happens if and only if,” Kathleen on rare occasions brings up her philosophies, but sometimes it’s worth listening to, “the fellatio results from the most absolute love and passion of the moment. As though we go back to being the animals we were before becoming human beings with a conscience.”
Patrick preferred not to theorize. In real life he really preferred tidy and expeditious transactions, without anthropological extravagances or pretentiousness. And he generally found the matter of love with Kathleen very spicy. Too many fantasies fluttering about in the semi-darkness, hidden presences in the shadows, noises, murmurs, unexpected delays. Or maybe the problem was that his wife always wanted things her way, with a tiresome equality of opportunities in which Patrick usually considered himself the loser, attaining a meager pleasure.
And then, when they went together to the video store, Kathleen took the triple X films with daring cheek, studied the cases they came in, and generally made mocking comments. What could those individuals teach her, if she herself, moved by fiery and impatient nature or by the demons in the mirrors, had dared to fill her mouth so immodestly!
Then it was Patrick who began to keep his spouse away from those films. He didn’t want to have a depraved wife, well not too depraved. Let her dare to try everything in bed, but don’t let her get overly fond of pornography. That was a dirty and contaminating vice, a vice for men, which they only permitted themselves during their weekend love fests, increasingly rare because of an infinity of life’s incidents and Kathleen’s mood, which was increasingly sour and fickle, more philosophical and full of imagination.
“Don’t you get bored knowing that you’re going to do the same thing over and over again with the same person over the course of thirty or forty years?”
“I don’t get tired of breathing and I do that every two seconds.”
It is true that there was a measure of boredom with his wife and it had to do with routine. If they managed to escape from the house, work, and the city, and do it near the beach, on a mountain or in passing a nearby motel–how could he ever forget the house with the columns!–the act was memorable. It was like a reappearance of that old passion of their first days together, when they could do it three or four times a night and Kathleen cried silently out of joy and sorrow at the same time. Everything was simple then and he was surrounded by a halo of naïveté.
Patrick managed to get his wife away from pornography. But he himself wasn’t able to abandon his video women. When weeks and even months went by without Kathleen’s being favorably inclined, Patrick lost sleep, got up in the middle of the night, went down to the bar and little by little let himself be won over by the idea that the time was nearing for that kind of vindication and consolation. He clearly was ashamed of the matter and deep down he suffered because of his longing for a kind of conjugal sanctity that he could no longer sustain. It’s also clear that Kathleen shared the blame for not fulfilling her duties steadfastly and periodically. In any case, there was a reserve of happiness in that hidden vice: knowing that he could be unfaithful to his wife, even if it was with celluloid women. It was his little rotten spot, his worm in the apple. “All human beings have their little worms,” he told himself. Kathleen’s was her need to analyze everything, to lie to herself with her fancies, a kind of obsessive neurosis that led her to destroy any principle of harmony. He forgave her for that and the rest of it, because just as he knew how to hate intensely and was on the verge of sending it all to hell for something insignificant (and everything was more than adequate: the three-level house, the car, a maid, the children in good schools and vacations twice a year), she was also a loving woman, dedicated to her children, tidy, and above all, efficient. She was the one who brought in 75 per cent of the family income and the one who managed their finances. She gave her husband barely enough for gasoline, newspapers, and 20 dollars a week (Check with MTAG - 200 o 200 000 pesos?) in cash for emergency expenses. Naturally, among his emergency expenses were the video women.
When Patrick returned from work on Monday, exhausted from the inactivity at the office and his battles from the morning and the night before, he saw his wife open the door to the house with a surprising affability. She was in a good mood. She offered her lips for his kiss. Patrick embraced her tightly, looked her in the eye and daringly asked her, “Is it possible for us to have a little love fest tonight?”
Kathleen sighed, grabbed her husband by his ears and staring into the pupils of his eyes, she said, “Understand me, love, I’m not interested. I’m in a period of emotional balance. I prefer to sleep in our daughter’s room.”
Patrick gave his faint but very sincere smile, that of a man gifted with a never-ending patience. The key to matrimonial bliss was very simple: whatever the wife wants.
He closed his eyes for a second and remembered the innocent expression of the young German girl, who was eagerly waiting for him in the bottom of the trunk for their winter clothes. Why make her wait a week?
Mr. Patrick Darkday saw his children running towards him, he opened his arms and received their welcome like one who receives a kiss from God on the forehead.


3. DREAMS OF A GOOD CHRISTIAN MAN

I myself opened the door and turned to close it before the wind and rain transformed the living room into a catastrophic landscape. I allowed her to come in out of basic compassion. What I saw could have been anything, except what it would turn out to be, a creature so unsettling, so thin, and somehow dispensable: enormous pant legs like a clown’s, a too large dog-gray sweater, a head of hair like a big black hand, shiny and untamed, covering her face, her back and her eyes, aloof and shifting eyes. I didn’t know how it ever occurred to Kathleen to accept her into our home. I thought she had a fierce look about her, like a bird of prey. Or timid, perhaps, humbled by life. From that instant on her eyes made me uncomfortable. From the first she insisted on working, looking at the world in an oblique way, not out of humility, I suppose, but mistrust, and she refused to sit down to eat but rather walked around the whole house, sniffing the territory and touching things as warily as a blind person. She didn’t know how to read or add and subtract, but she did know how to cook basic things, to scrub her hands raw doing laundry, and to repeat messages with the accuracy of a tape recorder. From her features, I supposed that she came from Arauca or Caquetá, from a small town that civilization would reach only as a suspicion. She knocked on our door thanks to the recommendation of a travel agency, the same one that sent us to the house with the columns. I don’t understand how Kathleen, who has such a strange memory of that house and so many suspicions about the famous agency, accepted her to work in our home. On the second day she told my wife she was uncomfortable, that she couldn’t find herself. Maybe because her bathroom is made of wooden latticework screening and when she’s taking care of her personal bodily needs, she feels as though she were immersed in a fish bowl. The truth is that the girl hasn’t taken a bath since she got here. When we invite her to eat, she says in a low voice that she’ll eat later. And if we insist, she simply puts a little bit of rice on a plate and eats it standing up. In her half Spanish, she says, “This is the way I eat and I feed myself better this way.” And one thinks about a dog that alternates between eating and looking around fearfully.
Her breasts are already developed and they must be a heavenly sight. I observe how they raise the woven texture of her dog-gray sweater and my imagination is filled with fresh air as I watch her breathe. For the first time in several days the house is in order, although there are messy areas, which is natural, since our domestic assistant is hardly more than a young girl.
On the third day after the girl’s arrival, my wife and I were walking around the house until ten o’clock, the time when we normally put the children to bed and conclude our domestic routine. (Every time I close the door to our bedroom, I imagine that we are setting foot into a different area, freer and more exciting, in which everything is sanctified by the presence of a Christ who watches us accommodatingly from his cross and I also think that the depressions and ghosts who visit Kathleen will one day disappear and that we’ll be just as we were before.) We said good night to Atiú, gave her new covers, and sent her to bed. We went to bed, watched the news, my wife played with the remote control until proposing, “Let’s go to sleep,” and almost immediately she accomplished her goal. I couldn’t sleep. My whole body was like an immense receiver, a large thing–joyful, painful, and impudent–that was on the lookout for sounds, odors, trembling, vibrations, shadows. My mouth filled with saliva. A bittersweet liquid rose from my stomach. There were no noises to be heard in the children’s room or in the library. Even the dog, which we allowed to stay inside when it’s cold outside, gave no sign of being awake. The idea of making a nocturnal excursion and passing close by her room didn’t seem at all prudent to me. Atiú had too recently arrived for that. I got undressed, as I usually do when I see that my wife is asleep, and I stretched out beside her to enjoy the animal warmth of her body. I clung tightly to Kathleen. I don’t know why I feel such anguish when I see her surrender to sleep and she leaves me like a castaway on the shore. Sometimes it’s enough to put my arm around her neck or waist or rest my hands on the smoothness of her thighs in order to feel wretched, free of expectations, longings, and weaknesses. But not that night. The tick-tock of the pendulum clock tossed me from wall to wall, leaving me sweaty and bleeding, in a nightmarish half-sleep, from which I emerged floating with the idea that Atiu’s eyes were observing in the darkness. I made a move to get out of bed to go downstairs to get a drink. Before I closed our bedroom door, Kathleen, who keeps her good manners even when she’s asleep, told me, “Don’t forget to put on your robe. Remember there’s a stranger in the house.” I have the habit of walking around the house in my skivvies when everyone is asleep. Step by step I left with my robe weighing down my body. The night was so black that I decided to close my eyes and play at guessing my way. I went to the kitchen and returned to the bedroom with a drink and a cigarette lighting my way. I didn’t dare detour towards the maid’s bedroom. While I was going upstairs something in me began to tear. It was as if my body were being pulled downwards and my spirit upwards. Or the reverse. By then it must have been two o’clock in the morning. I went into our bedroom, Kathleen was pretending to sleep. I realized that because as I approached her, she released a sigh with which I’m well acquainted, resignation, relief or warning, I don’t know which. She fell for it, hook, line and sinker; took the cigarette out of my mouth and made better use of my lips, while she inhaled the smoke deeply and passionately. I heard the noise of muffled footsteps and I thought it was the dog, now awake, alerted by our murmurings and yet, discreet, as usual. I had already gotten accustomed to finding him stretched out at the door of our room, with his snout between his paws, during our vigils of love. That night was one of the ones I note on the calendar, Kathleen was more eloquent and daring than ever. One of my moral principles: one shouldn’t take perversion too far with one’s wife. The crucifix Christ is witness to the fact that I have a sense of the limits. And that’s the way the grinding was, as usual drawn out to the point of exasperation by Kathleen and then, when my turn for pleasure came, she occupied herself irreverently and was finishing me off very quickly so that I had to tell her to open her gates to me quickly and I had barely entered when I began discharging partly inside her and the rest on the sheets and Kathleen sulked, we slept back to back and the next day she, the kids and I all arrived late to work or school. Just one of those things.
A little secret: Atiú has finally taken a bath. She took it with the light off. As I passed by her, an indiscernible odor brought me uncomfortable memories, details of childhood that come back to you when you’re old. That and my first communion were my greatest thrills. My nostrils dilated to smell her recently washed skin. But what most impressed me wasn’t her odor, but her
wet, very long black hair, that great shining hand that fell in a torrent of violent water from her head, passing over the nape of her neck, her shoulders, her back, the curve at the top of her bottom. A head of hair that stripped her naked rather than covering her. Feeling me pass by her side, she slightly raised her eyes and with her lips made a moue that struck me as one of false annoyance or flirting. I tried to hint at a smile. She undoubtedly already realized. What she doesn’t know is if I can dare to or not. I received the lash of her hair and I went on my way.
On the fourth day Kathleen spoke privately with Atiú. Then she called me. “She’s going to leave, I tell you, she just can’t find herself here.” I asked her to show some confidence in her, to take her shopping. She did that. They spent the afternoon together and now Atiú is painting with Kathleen’s sacred brushes. And she’s impressed. If anything gets my Kathleen’s attention, it’s hard-working people, orderly people, and Atiú is that. Tonight we’ll have coffee and go to bed. I don’t think anything interesting will happen. But who knows. The Lord’s ways are inscrutable. Already in bed, I take stock of the situation: there were other details about Atiú’s first bath. Passing by her, I smelled a strange odor. Now I realize it wasn’t the aroma of a cheap soap, but of something stronger. I imagined herbal baths and things like that. Potions, rinses, purgatives, Indian stuff. Then, when I went to investigate her bathroom, I knew. The bar of soap, the same one we use to bathe the dog, was wet. Poor Atiú, so humble that she doesn’t deem herself worthy of a perfumed soap. Another piece of information: as she served me my coffee, she got very close to me. She brushed her hand against my face naturally, without a qualm, slowly, I imagined. Her long head of hair was like a warm breeze at my side. I couldn’t help trembling with pleasure. Fortunately, Kathleen didn’t notice. Later, while I was looking at her legs (dark, long, strong like the legs of a panther, now without the clown’s pant legs and wearing instead a full skirt adorned with large folds like elephant ears, a piece of clothing that has undoubtedly been given to her), I realized that Kathleen had seen me looking at the young girl, but pretended not to have noticed.
“You’re not going to believe it,” said Robert Guaraldo at the office, “but I suspect that our wives do it on purpose. They hire female kids to wake up their old billy goats’ appetites.”
There’s no lack of sick minds like Guaraldo’s in offices.
In the morning we repeated all of our eternal rituals. Kathleen lazily turned off the alarm clock. The next piece of news was that it was a quarter to seven and it was necessary to get Patrick to school, having bathed and eaten, with all his books, gym uniform, lunch box, homework signed, in order. A real world record. We accomplished it. Then came the battle with Diana, who had pretended to be sick so she wouldn’t have to go to preschool. And meanwhile, Atiú went on sleeping and Kathleen let her because she had a cold yesterday. Well, with Patrick, Diana and Kathleen already in their respective places (my wife is a sales manager for an airline), I made the decision. Let whatever was going to happen, happen. I turned up the water heater, telling myself that personal hygiene was the simplest and most natural thing in the world, a kind of universal recourse, that is, the great alliance. I went in to the bathroom, undressed, and turned on the hot water faucet. I knew or I supposed that Atiú was going to do exactly what I asked her to do. “Toni,” –I sometimes call her that– “come here, please,” I said without placing any authority whatsoever in my voice, but rather using a slight tone of affection that was hardly evident. The young girl approached the latticed bathroom and remained within hearing distance.
“Look, Atiú, I already realized that yesterday you bathed with the dog’s soap. That’s not okay. You need to bathe well and get that nasty stuff off of you since it could even give you mange. Come in here and take a bath.”
Atiú came in. She didn’t even protest because I was naked. “Take off your clothes,” I told her, not turning around to look at her.
There was an attempt at protest.
She asked me to forgive her, she said that the bathtub was very narrow, and proposed that first one, then the other bathe. I answered that she wasn’t to worry about it, that where one bathes, two can also, and I told her to hurry up.
“Finish undressing. I’m going to give you a bath like you’ve never had before.”
From the corner of my eye I perceived that the young girl was starting to make the motions of undressing. I didn’t turn around since I was afraid of frightening her and besides that, I supposed that seeing her dirty or torn underwear would disillusion me. “I’m going to be very cautious,” I told myself.
“Come closer.” Atiú came closer. “Get under the water, get yourself really wet.” The girl did. I didn’t look at her except for what was necessary. She was like the body of an otter which had just come out of the mirror of water in the jungle, a piece of smooth velvet, burnished and hard like mahogany. I took the soap and began to caress her back. The soap slid along with the affection of a lover’s hand. I reached her buttocks and then I directed my hand towards the front of her body, where I entertained myself with her navel. Then I was in a fight between the north and the south. The north won out and I directed my attentions to her small breasts. By then, oh God of all desiring, I already had to conceal the inconcealable. I moved the soap towards her little bust and slowly, very slowly, I was going around the outer edges and I barely grazed the tips with the gentlest of touches, only to flee to more neutral zones, her neck, her face, the nape of her neck, her shoulder blades. At that moment the telephone rang and I knew they were missing me at the office. For an instant I felt that the intrusion of that damned device was taking us away from the intimacy that we had attained with such great difficulty and that the girl had suddenly realized that this wasn’t right.
“Telephone, sir,” Atiú said.
“Let it ring,” I answered. “Twenty years of being on time constitutes a record that few can surpass.”
She remained silent. I don’t know if it was because she was enjoying the water or if she was trying to find a meaning for what was happening or searching for an appropriate response to my ceremonies. Finally, she exclaimed with inconcealable delight, “It’s hot.”
“Hadn’t you ever bathed with hot water?” I asked.
“No, sir,” she said, “it’s lovely and besides it’s my first job with the agency.”
I refused to interpret her answer. I got down on my knees and soaped the curve of her hips, her thighs, and with very great care her inner thighs. Atiú opened her legs a bit and permitted me to perform the hygiene. She then saw the inevitable and expressed curiosity. My sex, perceiving that she was alluding to it, gave a leap, but fortunately I was able to restrain it.
“What happens,” I said, “is that the hot water makes the body change.” Smiling, Atiú looked at me and looked at herself and said I was right. Things didn’t go any farther. Atiú dried off with her towel, a kind of floor rag. I arranged my things and left for the office, but not without first telling her, “What went on in the bathroom is a private matter between you and me. You already know that Kathleen is very touchy.” Atiú assented with a lovely lowering of her eyelashes. Her eyes weren’t like those of a bird of prey but more like a canary’s, round, surprised. Again she donned her skirt with the gigantic folds and her dog-gray sweater. I promised myself I would buy her something to wear that was less eye-catching. In her hair, which fell to her shoulders and then towards her waist, she had tied a pink ribbon.
The day before, when I was in front of the computer and the door was partially open, the girl approached, knocked softly, and asked me something, I don’t remember what. She looked at me with curiosity and then, lowering her eyes, said, “Forgive me, sir, you have your sweater on inside out.” I thanked her profusely. I assure you that I would have gone to the office with my sweater on inside out, which would have made me everyone’s laughingstock and I wouldn’t have realized it until I got home and Kathleen made me aware of my foolishness.
Fifth day. Little by little she’s gaining confidence. Her half smile was transformed into sheer joy. She’s already been playing mischievous pranks on Diana. She covers Diana’s eyes with her hands and asks, “Who am I?” She wants to study. At some point she learned to tell time and the multiplication table for two. Now that the sun came out, she’s wearing a short little skirt, made from a flimsy fabric, which consoles me. Enough. It’s midnight. Sitting in my recliner, I suddenly jump. What if I tell her I’m going to teach her secret little things and I initiate her precipitously and we begin to lead a secret life after midnight, when everyone’s asleep? It could make for a nice little story, so long as there weren’t any regrets or consequences. The problem would be the fatigue, the difficulty in leading a double life. Everything hinges on her maintaining her innocence and on my not letting myself be overcome by a low-class morality. Saint Augustine knew how to sin and then to redeem himself. One needs class to be even a little bit wicked. The Christian element doesn’t take away the perverse one. Saint Paul says it well when he says that sins committed in one’s imagination are forgivable. Atiú has just come in and, fully confident, empties the ashes from my third cigarette of the day. She obeys what I tell her to the letter. She’s wearing a blue ribbon tied around one of her wrists. She already understands that my study is a sacred space, that it should always be clean. I think about how easily she permits contact of her hands with mine. And now I remember that last night, once I saw Kathleen was asleep, I went to visit the children, tucked them in, and gave them their kisses. Then I went down to empty my bladder and to get a drink of water. Afterwards, I went up to flat-roofed area of the house to look at the stars. I heard Atiú cough and I supposed that her cough was a pretext for getting my attention. I heard her voice imploring, “Sir, I feel sick.”
I went into her room. Immediately a violent odor assaulted me. I saw her bare feet and came to the easy conclusion that baths weren’t enough to civilize the girl. The poor thing was carrying around years of accumulated odors. “My breast hurts,” she said.
I went closer. I put my hand under her blouse and I felt her breast leap like a little rat in a hot skillet. “No wonder, you have a fever,” I told her. “What you need is a little massage. Take off your blouse.”
She did so and showed me with almost marital confidence her breasts. They were a delight like only Bougereau has painted, barely sprouting joyfully, wonderful little fruits growing, full of enthusiasm. “It feels nice,” she said, “you have a good hand, sure that whatever seeds you sow will grow. Mrs. Kathy is really lucky to have those big hands of yours all to herself.” She was smiling in the darkness and her even darker features set off the whiteness of her teeth and the brightness of her eyes. I prepared a cup of cinnamon tea for her, she drank it hot, which made her begin to sweat. “Now sleep,” I told her. As I went down the stairs, I heard her sigh, her cough was already lessening, as though the visit had calmed her anxieties.
Eighth day. Yesterday, before we all left for church like Christmas turkeys, Atiú called us aside and told us that she’s going to leave, that she wants to go back to the country and forget about the agency and its jobs. My wife gives me a suspicious “I told you so” look. Without intending to, without thinking about it, I told her, “Yes, child, you have to leave, thirteen is no age to be wandering alone in the world, there are a lot of bad people out there. The good thing is you landed in the home of good Christian people.” Once inside the church, I couldn’t even manage to put the Lord’s prayer together. I closed my eyes and surrendered myself to the devotion of getting her back. Her bust, her legs, her odor, her bad odor, her hair, her hands, her mouth, her crotch, the lowering of her eyelashes, the curve of her buttocks, the half smile, and her sparkling eyes. When we got home, I dedicated myself to looking at her with greater pleasure. Every time she passed by me, my heart went with her. I don’t doubt that my wife was enjoying the whole thing. Maybe Guaraldo is right. At times Atiú’s hidden smile makes me think she isn’t as chaste as she seems. Maybe she’s keeping her secret, perhaps she’s a little whore who works by the agency’s assignment and with the complicity of the wives. Anyway, every time she walks by me my eyes irremediably go towards her and I avidly eye her bust line and her little buttocks and I look at her legs. She lets herself be watched. It amuses her to notice it.
Sometimes she goes beyond being nice. She’s hanging on each and every one of my whims to fulfill them. Before I left for work, she told me, “Mr. Patrick, one of your shoes is untied,” and she immediately got down on her knees to tie it.
And yet her helpfulness isn’t obsequious. Last night I went upstairs around midnight and I smelled her feet. I went up close to her and said to her, “You know what, Atiú, your feet smell bad. I want you to take a bath right now.” She obeyed. I went downstairs and was imagining her bath, while I embraced my wife. I didn’t dare do more.
In the morning I saw Atiú’s clothes hanging on the line, but I didn’t find any underwear. Either she has scarcely a pair of panties and a bra or she hides her changes of underwear. Atiú already said that she going to leave the house at the end of the month, then this torture will be over and I’ll go back to being as I was before. I almost feel at peace with the Lord. Maybe it’s just another test. Is it worth it to let oneself be carried away by sin? I don’t know. Sometimes I enjoy this situation, but I definitely am not suffering because of it. Atiú has cried inconsolably. She doesn’t want to leave, but yet she does. She really doesn’t know what she wants. And my wife already decided that if she doesn’t leave, we’ll throw her out.
The perfect maid paid us a visit. Plump, efficient, helpful, asexual, with a mustache and the neck of a bull, a rubicund woman from Boyacá who could throw a hundred-pound pack on her back without knitting her brow. She doesn’t expect anything of life except to raise her children, to work, and to die peacefully. That’s what she aspires to. My wife trusts her. She asked her to come back within a week: double the pay and two days a week off. Atiú has already given signs of adolescent laziness. We aren’t going to wait until March 31. Just so she leaves, that’s all. It’s a pain, but I agree. This can’t go on.
Dawn breaks. Atiú works melancholically. She caresses the broom, she slowly passes her hands over the plates, she seems to be leaving something of herself in each thing she touches. She’s leaving this afternoon. She prepares my breakfast for me, irons my clothes, gets my thermos of coffee for the office ready. She doesn’t stop crying. I don’t know what to do. I’m about to leave with my briefcase. It will be the last time I see her alone. Atiú opens the door for me. She has her hands on her face. After I’m already in the car, she calls to me.
“Mr. Patrick,” she says without taking her hands away from her face, tears running between her fingers, “I want to ask you something.”
“Anything you like,” I answer.
“I’ve seen how you love the missus, I’ve thought about the two of you, how you’re wrapped around each other while you’re sleeping in the darkness of the morning, I heard love noises several nights, and I want to ask you something and it’s hard for me to do.”
“Whatever you like,” I tell her irresponsibly.
“I want you not to go to the office this morning, to stay with me, to take me to your bed, to hug me like you hug Mrs. Kathleen, to get me anxious for three minutes, and then, if you want, do those love things to me, I’ll let you, I know it hurts, my mom told me so, and the agency warned me it is forbidden, but I also know that nobody will handle my first time as affectionately and respectfully as you will, and, you know, I’ll be grateful to you my whole life, and I swear on the Virgin that I won’t tell anybody, I’ll keep it secret like a love letter.”
What to do? I fulfilled her desire. The girl was intact, like one of those chicks that doesn’t completely break through the shell of the egg and one has to help them hatch. After keeping her eyes closed, no longer crying and at peace, she surrendered sweetly and I was as cautious, as affectionate as only a man about to boil over can be, knowing that a world was out there waiting for Atiú, perhaps one which might not be favorable to her, but which with the memory of that morning would perhaps be lighter for her, as perhaps it will be for me on whatever remains of the path that will take me wherever I am to go. I hope that the Lord understands and knows how to forgive, if there is such a thing as sin.
At noon, they called me from the office. I had to go. When I got home, Atiú wasn’t there. And as I entered the bedroom I share with Kathleen, I thought I saw the Christ we have above our bed wink at me.

Marco Tulio Aguilera

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