Literatura en México

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Cinco Décadas de Cuento Mexicano. Antología. Perea, Pitman, Taylor, Tedeschi, Valenzuela

Santa (English version)

Carlos Chimal

Ah, what a night that was! How could I ever forget it! But then at fourteen, impressions ―those left deep inside you― last forever. Two weeks before, my mother has sat at her sewing machine and produce an organdie dress with an imperial waistline ―terrible! My legs were very skinny, so I didn't dare take a step except to chase the kids who suddenly darted past like flashes in and out of the guests, and I felt I belonged more to the dark, lonely garden than to the glittering, lively drawing room. It has always been like that, since I'd turned twelve: my mother would always get her hopes up whenever one of her dressmaking clients invited her to a little party, and of course I was the best person to accompany her now that I was "of age". But that night was too much. To go to the wedding of one of the daughters of the owner of so many shops in the city? My mother was showing off my dress, which all the ladies were fussing about and all the young girls were staring at green with envy. I wanted to vanish on the spot! And then, suddenly, the orchestra began to play Patricia! I was all hot under the collar at the thought of one of the boys coming up to me, taking me by the hand, and saying¿But nothing happened, tan, taran, taran, taran; tan, taran, taran, taran¿ Without realizing it, I had begun to wiggle my large feet which were swallowed up by a pair of white yarn socks and black patent leather pumps. Then two of the boys who lived in the house (I only know that later) came up to me, both very cute, in their little gunpowder blue suits, with their hands in their pockets and their quiffs help up by brilliantine. I was all of a flutter! One of them, the older one, said to me, "Drivel yesterday?" or something of the sort which I didn't quite catch. "What?" I asked, moving my head a bit closer without uncrossing my hands which were dripping with sweat, making me even more embarrassed; then he added, "With your mouth," and burst out laughing. Still dopey, I let out, "Uhh?" And he said to me in the silly tone that they all use in Chapalita, "Huuuh? Purrr!" ending with the tip of his tongue to one side, spraying me with his disgusting saliva. Thank God it wasn't long before the Beatles came on the scene so that, despite the wailing and scolding, we were able to leave behind satin and tulle for denim and freedom. 

In fact, I'm not sure it was them, though I believe it was, because to dance the Twist and to shout there was no better outfit than trousers, and to shake to Roll Over Beethoven you had to let the topknots away. Oh, it was marvelous to feel your legs swathed in floral cotton and to kick them up to the moon! But life isn't always a bowl of cherries. I don't know how it happened, but four or five visits by my mother to that house in Chapalita were enough to get me mixed up with those two devils. They used to follow me about in the garden which surrounded the house, corner me on the verandah, and we would finish up to our necks in the swimming pool. Although, as I've said, I was terrible skinny, I had breasts already, and when I emerged from that beautiful pool my bosom, molded in the shiny nylon, was just the sight Javier and Fernando wanted to see. They were very thin too, like beanpoles, but they had their charms. They both had full, pert bottoms, and white backs that would become broad and firm over the years, and whiter and more freckly. I remember that first night well, as I also remember another, three years later, stained on my memory like beet juice.

I had just turned seventeen, I was still on the slim side, but my breasts were large and round. Javier was nineteen, and Fernando eighteen. Things had not changed that much, but the clothes had, a lot. My hair reached down to my rump, and, in spite of my mother's theatrics, I would squeeze myself into jeans, wear Chinese cotton T-shirts with no bra, and a wide brown leather belt. Javier and Fernando had hair that came down over their ears, but I never saw them in anything other than cotton drill trousers.

The Atlas Circuit festivities had been announced: its route started in Guadalajara, reached Zapopan and ended back in the outskirts of the city. That afternoon, to celebrate my birthday, we went out to the El Abajeño restaurant. I had a job by then, making up bikinis and sequin-studded clothes for starlets, so they didn't have to invite me, not for that matter at any other time, which is I believe what saved me from all those hoodlums. The thing is that there we came across their friends, the Ruizes¿, we climbed into their Cadillac and carried on drinking local tequila from a small barrel installed in the car: great fun, both the car and the tequila. Further down the road, it was all agreed: Javier and Fernando would tune up their cars and race, with all expenses paid by their friends the Ruizes¿. Javier had a white T-Bird, and he dived into his machine, got stuck into the suspension, and ended up with a powerful and super stable car. A speedboat, in fact. Fernando's father had given him a Corvette on condition that he wouldn't fail his first year at highschool, and he made the most fabulous use of the thing. He even had some bursts of flames painted on the sides, that's how he used to take his machine around. We stayed together those weeks. We didn't leave the garage other than to cross the ironing room and go to eat in the kitchen, or to doze for a few hours in the rooms at the end of the garden, outside the house. Actually, now that I think of it, we did go out one Saturday afternoon. We couldn't miss the first live performance of our friend Manolo Muñoz, he wouldn't have forgiven us. We cheered like mad, ate meat toasts, and drank tepache in the evening in his honor. In the house in Chapalita we didn't take any risks: his parents had gone away on a long trip and his aunt Chala, who had come from the capital to take care of them and their ten brothers and sisters, had fixed me with her eyes and asked me a few things, enough to make out my class and education. I'd never known such a lady. She was attentive, refined and self-controlled. I would have liked to have been her daughter, then they would have been my cousins and nothing of what followed would have broken my heart¿ The one good thing I have from those years is Alfredo, my Freddy.

The day finally arrived. Guadalajara was one big party. The presence of several international drivers, among them Moisés Solana and Pedro Rodríguez, gave extra dash to the competition. Can you imagine it? A real race! Javier was dreaming of going over to the other side, not to run race tracks, but the stock exchange. On the other hand, when it came to Fernando, I even had to cool him down once, well, twice, as he was stubbornly planting himself in the middle of Indianapolis and spraying everyone with champagne. I don't know which of them I like better (I know that I fascinated both of them, I think they'd never had a friend like me), and my heart was pounding because I felt that I'd have to decide that night. They had sworn in the Ruizes' Cadillac that they would race for me and in these matters, there can be only one winner¿ Engines roared, helmets dropped over the necks, arms were seen stretched tensely over steering wheels. A young girl in a tennis skirt waved the starting flag and the racing cars were away that red afternoon. Nearly two hours later, a vehicle appeared in the distance, then another, and immediately several more. I thought my heart was going to burst, when I saw Fernando's Corvette in the lead. A man waved the black and white checkered flag with great skill and speed, leaping in the air at the finish. Fernando had won, he had beaten the great racing drivers! I jumped for joy, but later I thought with sadness that that would be the end. Who can tell, perhaps I would get on with him (I never thought of getting married, can you believed it?). But, no. The most possible thing would be for him to pack up his things with a juicy contract and let the track go. But, well! At that moment, in the middle of the din and confusion, I forgot everything and I ran into his arms. He kissed me on the lips. I kissed him back, and took his helmet off and sunk my fingers into his blond head of hair. Humm¿ what didn't I feel here, there, and further down! Later he told me that he was upset because just as his brother's Thunderbird had found its way to the front and was overtaking the Moisés Solana¿s, the gearbox had broken. After the prize-giving we managed to get rid of the Ruizes¿, ran off to Chapalita for another car, told aunt Chala the news and went to look for Javier. We bought some bread, a bit of ham and yellow cheese, a few cokes, and we sped off on our way. With the excuse that Javier had been left behind we took their father's Mercury ―automatic from A to Z, with air conditioning and everything else thrown in. Fernando switched on the radio and glided down the road. The night sky was clear, blue and full of stars. Suddenly we saw, heading in the opposite direction, a tow-truck pulling another which in turn was hauling Javier's T-bird. Fernando tooted his horn like someone possessed, but the procession continued on its way. Not knowing what to do, we stopped on the side of the road. The night was so warm and beautiful that we climbed out to watch it. There he surprised me for the second time. He knew the names of some constellations and pointed them out. I had already noticed his powers of observation, especially when he looked at me. He told me a story about the Milky Way and said that my eyes had fallen from the sky millions of years ago and that my mouth was unforgettable. He embraced me again and this time we didn't let go. It wasn't him who suggested the car ―it was I. None of the small hotels in Zapopan could have competed with those wide leather seats and the radio music which echoed our first feelings. Afterwards, he took a box of Lucky Strike from the glove compartment and we share a cigarette. A sheep truck hurtled past and brought us back to earth. I'm sure no one found out, but even before my belly began to swell, Javier sensed it. And Fernando too. One day we didn't see each other, nor the next, and nor on those that followed. I wasn't going to ask them for anything: with what I was earning making those minute clothes for the strippers I managed quite well, especially later when they started ordering costumes for their films. They all knew what was happening to me and they behaved impeccably. When I first became aware of it I was living in a flat in the suburb of Narvarte and, the next thing, Freddy was born.

And it's for his sake that I have endured all these years, and because he has made it, that's enough talking about me. Now that the whole world recognizes my son, I'd like to tell you how he got where he is today.

Like any mother, I wanted to give him an education, a name, the best of everything. I wanted him to be an engineer or something, but with the constant coming and going in the film world, parties, and men¿ Life is easy and complicated at the same time. What it gives you, it makes you pay for. Though I can assure you that I didn't neglect Freddy, he didn't turn out very studious, as you'll see. He grew up to be a strapping young man, with white skin like his father's and his eyes blue like his grandfather's (I never knew my father ―my mother never mentioned him― but I'm sure that if Freddy carries something of mine, it's not my dark coloring or my black eyes, but my pride). One day, he sat beside me, rested his arm on my sewing machine and told me that he was going across the border. I almost stuck a needle into my finger, but I took a deep breath and sent him on his way.

After a week, I received a phone call. "Ma, I'm all right here in Los Angeles, don't worry, I've already got a job," and after four days, a postcard, Sunset Boulevard on one side, and on the other, ¿To the most beautiful mother in the world. From her Alfredo.¿ After three months, a one hundred dollars money order. I was missing him, and a lot, because it was sometime since I'd had a man around, not that I wanted one any more. Soon afterwards he sent me a dozen photos: Freddy with friends, on the beach, with an enormous car flush to the ground, and later the same car with the bonnet up, like a rearing horse, there was also one with a lovely young girl, and I couldn't hold back my tears. She had olive brown skin, her hair was black and thick like mine, her legs strong and shapely, the way I'd have liked mine to be. In the background you could see the entrance to Universal Studios, and in his letter he asked, ¿When are you coming, Ma?¿ When? I didn't know, it had never crossed my mind. Of course, some of the starlets I was working for were past their prime, but there were others now, some of them as young as Freddy's girl, who needed miniskirts in the morning, hot pants by the afternoon, and knitted bikinis by the evening. Who would dress them if I wasn't around?

At the end of one year, I received a letter. ¿Boss, it's happened. A short while ago they threw the Red Indians out from Alcatraz Island, and they say that it's our turn next. Now it's not the grownups who pass joints around, but children in rags. The damned blacks hate us. In the town, I sometimes get by like a ghost because of the color of my skin, but they don't let Maria through. This no way to go on, Ma...¿ I felt sorry for him, and I wrote right away that he should come back home, what was he doing over there, suffering for nothing. But his reply was, ¿You've got me wrong, the problem is in the Deep South, I'm going up north where things will be different for me. I have split up with Maria because she wouldn't have a chance. She cried and made a big fuss, but I'm not going to be beaten by the gringos here. Up there for sure there's equality.¿

I didn't hear from him for more than six months. Those were gray days for me and my clients. They were shooting very few films and almost the only outlet was television. With time and by the grace of God the girls have been able to recover their jobs. By then I thought everything was finished. I was in that state when I received his letter and a photo showing him in front of a house all covered in snow, with two other guys, the three of them dressed in a very peculiar manner and waving their hats at the camera. "What's this?" I asked myself, "He's dressed up like Santa Claus!" I tore open the envelope. ¿Did you think I had disappeared, Ma? Here I am, alive and well and studying. I think I have finally found what I've always really wanted, and I hope you'll be pleased too, because you always wanted me to go to school. Here in Albion, N.Y. there is one that specializes in Santas. The graduates that leave here are the best in the world. As you see, I've had to fatten up a bit and grow a moustache― it's bleached but it's my own, like the beard. You've no idea how much I've learn―d with these good people. Apart from finding the best laugh for each occasion, we learn walking, all kinds of magic tricks and public speaking. That's very important, Ma, the whole world wants to hear Santa Claus: children, young people and adults all wait for Santa's advice. I shall receive my diploma in three months and with that I'll be able to work in the best places in New York, Chicago and Washington, not only in the streets, but also at banquets and private parties. Take care, Boss, and be happy. Best wishes, Santa.¿

I can't tell a lie. At first I felt unsure, just like I did that time at the Atlas Circuit before the race. I wasn't convinced that this was the best thing for Freddy, for the more I tried to imagine it, the more I couldn't help but thinking of the poor bums in the Alameda park. But I cheered up when I realized that things must be different over there, and that one day Freddy would become a great Santa Claus.

That's just happened. A few days ago I received some photos, a magazine, Luminary, and a video tape. I watched that first. It was marvelous to be able to see Freddy, and not just read his writing! Seated under the sunshade of a garden table, with a swimming pool in the background, he was telling me, "Ma, things could not have turned out better. After a spell in the Big Apple, I left New York for a terrific contract in Miami. Just like that. A dealer from over there liked my style, and his only request was that I should put in a bit more weight. 'No problem', I said to him, I took the Silver Meteor and in no time established myself in the best houses. Have you seen my photo with Charles Bronson? Now I'm staying in the deluxe Palm Beach Hotel. Ma, look at those photos in the magazine, they're of the night of my success. I send you kisses. Tomorrow I'll deposit one thousand dollars in your account." The video showed him with the other hotel guests; he was always surrounded by people, being admired.

It was very moving. I leafed through the magazine: Madonna was on the front page and one of the titles read, "Christmas form Coast to Coast." I came to the part where there were several small photos of people at a party and, on turning the page, oh God! Freddy double page spread, ruddy, his hair white, with glasses, hugging a man of about fifty with an enormous protuberant red nose. Like my son, after all these years I have learned a little English and I was able to read a few words of the report: ¿Freddy Chaste, considered nowadays the Santa of the Stars, has just shown himself to be a fantastic host in the house of the splendid Imelda Marcos. ¿It's not easy,¿ says Santa Chaste, ¿to be a real Santa here in Hollywood.¿ As a new member of the Santa Stellar Circuit, which takes care of these tender and indispensable characters across the whole of the American Union, Santa Chaste says he feels very satisfied to travel first class now. ¿The Continentals are wonderful, but now I'm delighted with the deco cabins of Amtrak.¿ All Santas know a trick or two, but this Santa has impressed us with his skilful hands and his friendly face. ¿Once in Virginia, I had the pleasure of attending a conference of Brady White's, the great Santa of the Stars, and there I heard him say that if you want to make it in Hollywood, the rule is to take risks to attain something beautiful. He showed us the pontifical party entrance. When the Pope visited LA they met at the airport. 'Santa Claus!' exclaimed the Pope, delighted. 'Marvellous work with children,' he whispered, while Brady knelt in front of him.¿ Since then, he learned to rest two fingers, like a feather, on the little one's heads and he has perfected his pontifical entrance.¿ Santa Chaste isn't worried that the constant requests may some day start bothering him. ¿Yesterday it was dolls and video games, today it is a Mercedes Benz, divorce agreements, inheritance and diamonds.¿ Has Santa Chaste ever been asked something impossible? Before we left, the stunning Madonna approached him, sat on his knees, and asked candidly, ¿Can I be a virgin this Christmas?¿ to which Santa replied with a smile and a touch of sadness, ¿Santa cannot perform miracles.¿¿

I put the magazine on one side and I felt my heart welling up with emotion. It was not dark yet and I realized that it had been several days since I'd set foot outside the door. I took a bath, fixed myself up the best I could and went out. I ordered a double tequila at the first bar I saw and thanked the Lord that my Freddy is doing well.*

Translated by Miriam Frank

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Lengua de pájaros (Novel. Google Books)

INTERVIEW (Letras Libres)

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Fuente: * From the book Cinco del águila. México, ERA, 1990. Biblioteca ERA, Serie Claves.



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