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Literatura en México

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

Beatriz Espejo Marilyn in bed (English version)

The White Goddess is anti-domestic; she is the perpetual "other woman", and her part is difficult indeed for a woman of sensibility to play for more than a few years, because the temptation to commit suicide in simple domesticity lurks in every maenad's and muse’s heart

Robert Graves

She was lying face down on the mattress, her naked body covered with a dirty white sheet. The decor consisted of a bedside table overflowing with a chaotic jumble of books, some sort of bench at the back of the room, and a white rug. White was definitely her colour. The young journalist could barely recognise her in that woman; lying there with her face buried between her arms, her strange-textured hair bleached to an incredible blonde with noticeable dark roots. She wondered why she had granted her the interview, allowing her into her private life, if she was in no fit state for it. The few words that she expressed she stuttered with the dry, furry tongue of someone half-asleep, paying little attention to those going in or out of that darkened room; partially-lit mirrors stretched from the floor to the ceiling giving it a cage-like feel. The journalist wondered where to sit and how best to begin her interview, though she understood deep down that just being there was a victory in itself, albeit easily won. Two phone calls were enough to get her the appointment...was she a nurse or a social worker? She arrived on time but was sceptical, convinced that something would happen at the last minute. But there were no formalities; they took her straight to that squalid room, with its overpowering stench: a combination of Chanel No. 5 and the pungent odours of the human body. The state of it was not all that surprising, though. The young journalist was told by her teachers that the secret of a good reporter was to begin by finding out everything there is to know about your subject. Marilyn had been banned from trying on dresses in Bullocks in Beverly Hills, her favourite shop. She soiled the garments because she didn't wear any underwear, only washed herself every now and again, and sweated excessively due to her addiction to the Benzedrine that she needed to wake herself up and the Nembutal that she used to tackle her incurable insomnia. That was all part of her legend. Now she looked like an undulating piece of meat lying on the bed as though she were acting out a role in a depressing adult film. She had let herself go so much that no one would recognise her as the woman from those huge billboards on the rooftops of New York’s Fifth Avenue or along California’s highways, or from magazine adverts featuring a blonde with an elegant neck, her head thrown back in a kind of offering to the beholder, ready to kiss with her red lips half-open, her eyes half-closed and the naughty-girl look that paradoxically made eroticism both a game and a science. The young journalist coughed as if to say 'I'm here! I have been for a while...' but nothing happened; just an almost imperceptible movement, a shuffling under the sheet and a gentle groan. The young journalist sat down tentatively by the edge of the mattress and waited quietly with her notebook and pen in hand observing the slumbering creature, who suddenly looked up, her entire body covered in an impeccable, pearlescent pallor. She asked what the girl was doing there. Her deep blue pupils were short-sighted. They struggled to make out what was moving in front of them, wide open as though encountering a strange visitor through the fog in the middle of a nightmare, apparitions between life and death. She lay back down. 'I'd like to know how you're feeling after the fall, after you lost your baby', said the young journalist, getting straight to the point since she sensed that she wouldn't have very long and could be thrown out into the street at any moment. Marilyn's pregnancy had been a miracle given that she'd had several backstreet abortions. How she had fallen down the stairs in that house - which her husband had rented to keep her away from the hustle and bustle and the press - was a mystery. What was she doing with a torch and a six-months-pregnant belly leaning over the basement stairwell in the middle of the night? How did she lift up the floorboard that was covering the entrance without anyone noticing, while her husband was asleep upstairs? 

The cats were to blame. I feel great pity for orphans, and orphaned cats came to me in their masses. First a pair of them came and I fed them. The following morning that same pair brought along another, and then another, and then a mangy young one barely a few months old, followed by many, many more. There were enough to fill an orphanage. I would feed them minced hide that the town butcher sold me in increasing amounts each day, as more and more cats came along. They would miaow with hunger around the back of the house. They would spy on me. They would follow me around with their demands, stopping me from getting anything done. Alert. They would wait for me. They would recognise me when I came out carrying a bucket with their rations. I would share them out one by one. Or two by two. Until they were satisfied for the day. We would chat. I would tell them about my fears, my anxieties. And it's not that I even like cats. They're evil, selfish. They use you to satisfy their needs and then off they go. They don't come back if they don't feel like it. They're that cynical. They became a horrible obligation, a terrifying obligation. They conspired to make me pity them, to torment me with their crying. I tried to explain my condition; I told them that their fur posed a grave risk for pregnant women, causing a dreadful illness that can leave the mother or baby blind. The gynaecologist had forbidden me from carrying heavy things. He recommended peace and rest. But they didn't understand. They didn't care. They thought I was just acting. They would demand relentlessly. They would take turns to miaow. Asking for food. I would cover my ears to block it out. Their cries pierced through my bones. They reminded me of how empty my stomach had felt as a young girl in nearly every foster home that I stayed in; enduring the hunger in order to pretend I'd eaten enough. I always pretended. I learnt to pretend that I was happy, that I hadn't wet the bed in my sleep. I would pray to my guardian angel not to wet myself, but every day I would wake up in a puddle of urine. So I would get up early to wash the bed covers and hang them up to dry in the sunshine. The cats would also stay out in the sunshine eating, or sleeping with their legs outstretched as though they were dead, or curled up warming their backs. When I was little I used to warm up my back in the sun, sitting on the steps leading up to people's houses. I would watch cars pass by, wanting to jump inside them, believing it would be simple just to leave everything behind. 

A few rays of light came through an open window high up on one of the bedroom walls. That's when the young journalist realised. She noticed that they were no longer in darkness. She realised that Marilyn was telling her something but she was whispering inaudible words, stammering in a very soft voice. The same whisper of a voice with which she seduced the leading men in all of those comedies, playing the role of the naive girl who always gets her way, because gentlemen prefer blondes, dumb ones, or at least not intelligent or anything remotely resembling an intellectual. They were very successful comedies. She would walk with tiny footsteps, forced to by the satin dresses that she was sewn into; the perfect attire for those Hollywood premieres, for which huge crowds would gather. The police would put up barriers. As soon as she was spotted, people would start chanting her name. They would clap furiously. They would go crazy as she emerged triumphantly from her Cinderella carriage. She would greet them by blowing kisses, assuring them that this was the happiest day of her life, and she would walk along a carpet rolled out up to her car, moving her bottom as though meaning to convince them that there wasn't a more beautiful heart-shaped bottom in the whole world. It was all part of the ritual. A requirement of that character created with the help of her gay make-up artist, who would need five hours behind closed doors to transform her into Marilyn: the woman that every man longed to possess at least for one night, at least for one good screw, one unforgettable one-night stand with that obliging platinum blonde, ready to show them how capable they were when the time came for the supreme thrust; the ultimate test. If they satisfied her, a woman rumoured to have been with a whole army of men, then they could satisfy any female willing to open her legs, send them into ecstasy and put her own pleasure after theirs in order to leave them contented, confident, and free from the fear of impotence that men carry around with them from the day they are born. That is the sentence to which they're condemned; the price for being born with an anxious and insecure penis, scared of entering the deep vagina. Satisfied males lying next to a screen goddess, incapable of having real orgasms but willing to lie on her back to fulfil their every whim or obey them with the same docility with which she obeyed the photographer's instructions as he turned her into a calendar girl: come over here, put your hand in the air, stretch out your left leg, show off your unfading whiteness against this bright red fabric. And so mechanics will hang up your picture in their garage and stroke their phallus fantasising about you. Adolescent boys will hide a naked photo of you behind their wardrobe doors and masturbate imagining that they are penetrating you. Rich old men will fantasise about going on a date with you and will want to buy you. Although they no longer rise to the occasion straight away, they'll still seek you out as a teacher. A mistress of disguise, open to their degrading whims. The young journalist noticed that Marilyn's feet were sticking out from under the sheet. They had ingrown toenails and traces of pink nail varnish; tiny feet with soles covered in mysterious lines, and calluses on the heels caused by climbing onto treacherous high heels. She had always seen those feet either bare or in strappy sandals, she couldn't imagine them suffocating inside the trainers that she wore during her pregnancy. ‘What were you doing in that basement putting so much at risk?’ she asked again.

I already told you. The cats needed my help. They kept on calling out to me. A daring few found a way to get into the basement and then got themselves trapped down there. They were miaowing for help. Every night I would hear their agonising cries, even if I put a pillow over my head. Their intermittent, inconsolable cries. I would hear them knocking over logs in the fireplace and other junk that we kept down there. They were knocking them onto the floor in a rage. I was scared. I begged Arthur to get them out of there, to end the torment once and for all. He went down to look for them. They hid so he couldn’t see them. Even before that he tried to convince me that it was all in my head, that they were just figments of my imagination, triggered by my nocturnal fears. I’m afraid of making a mistake when I give a speech, or that my breasts will become saggy. Afraid of becoming a wrinkled-up old reject just like my mother. And the fear makes me want to run away crying for help. I’m scared of bathtubs filled with hot water, because my mother once tried to put me in one so she could pluck out my feathers. That’s how they pluck chickens before making soup. I put up a fight. She set fire to the apartment, and out of pure survival instinct I wriggled out of her hands and asked the neighbour for help. Then I was taken to a home for abandoned children, and she was admitted to a mental asylum. She is a depressive schizophrenic. She says that my father – a major player in the film studios – left her because of me. My mother hates me for that. She won’t reply to my letters or talk to me when I visit her. She just stares into the distance, piercing through walls with her gaze. She reproaches me for not having died. She reproaches me with her faded beauty, her plucked, arched eyebrows which have ceased to grow, the dirty robes and threadbare nightdresses she wears despite me giving her large boxes of lace garments from Bullock’s. She doesn’t even open them. She hates it when her carers show her newspaper articles about me. She thinks that I don’t deserve it, that I deserve to fail just as she did, to lose my mind just as she did. To inherit her fate. Oh, Mother! How will I ever forgive you? It’s hard to survive with no help from anyone, knowing that your mother is rotting away, dressed in rags, consumed by her imaginary pain like a shrivelled up piece of fruit. It condemns you. Hinders your happiness. Convinces you that happiness is meant for others. You gaze at the rest of the world from behind a pane of glass, feeling excluded from the paradise of true happiness; despite marrying three times, despite the fact that two of your husbands love you in their own way, not minding that you often forget to pull the lavatory chain; despite becoming a sex symbol and having soldiers see you as a stunning white goddess in the sky, flying over their camp while hanging from a helicopter with your arms open wide in a generous wave while they throw their caps into the air cheering like rabid monkeys. Not even with all this do you know happiness. You merely learn to imitate it, wearing the stereotypical forced smile of a doll. I once had a doll but I lost it. I can still remember its half-rotten face, repulsive just like my mother.

Also on the table stood the base of an old flower arrangement, broken at the edges. The young journalist wondered who would throw away the flowers; perhaps the servant who had led her to the bedroom. Marilyn was a picture of solitude, lacking any form of company. Still lying face down, she repositioned herself. Her head resting on her arms accentuated her innocent profile. She moved her pale, bare lips, uttering something incomprehensible. The journalist moved as close as possible but could barely make out individual words. But there was no doubt about it. She was answering the questions, responding half-asleep. She was honouring their agreement. The young journalist asked her to raise her voice and tried to touch her to get the conversation going; she nudged her tentatively, but to no avail. Marilyn shuddered when she touched her, as though shivers were running down her spine. The sheet sunk slightly into the gap between her buttocks. It made you want to touch her to feel those soft curves and unearth the secrets that her stuttering tongue failed to explain. The mirrors were like a kaleidoscope, chaotically reflecting light from each and every angle in the room. Marilyn enjoyed looking at herself naked and had them hung up there to satisfy her whim. To pass the time, the young journalist read the titles of books nearest to her. The first one she noticed, An Actor Preparesby Konstantin Stanislavski, had been read many times. Another cough. More movement. More questions. Are you sad about losing the baby? People say that you had fitted out a bedroom full of toys, and that Arthur Miller is devastated. Just as his name was mentioned, a sad-looking man entered from a door hidden behind the mirrors, and sat down quietly on the bench at the back of the room with the air of a ghost contemplating the ruins of his castle. Two deep lines plunged down the sides of his nose emphasising his sombre appearance. As he sat down, his tortoiseshell glasses slipped down gently and he pushed them back up with his finger. Was he trying to witness the end of the interview in silence? Was he trying to look after his wife, listen to what she might say? There was no way of knowing for sure. The situation intensified. God was guiding her shrewdly and relentlessly. Marilyn kept moving her lips.

I am sad, of course am. I am sorry about what happened. I’m sorry as well for poor Arthur, but what else could I do but throw myself headfirst like the cats told me to? I spent days deciding. But I had already chosen my fate, and I shouldn’t change that. I shouldn’t. They assured me of that. I’ve fought too hard to get to where I am today and nobody will stop me. Not even an intruding baby. The young journalist almost leant on the lying body to hear the words being uttered so softly, but once again couldn’t understand a thing.*

Translation by Tansy Larsen

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MULTIMEDIA:

BOOKS BY BEATRIZ ESPEJO (CNL-INBA)

Short stories (Google Books)

Beatriz Espejo, in her own voice (Descarga cultural, UNAM)

“Beatriz Espejo”, interview (Universidad de México)

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Fuente: * Del libro Marilyn en la cama y otros cuentos, México, Nueva Imagen, 2004

 

 

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