Forty Springs (English version)
We leave the room. The yard burns in the afternoon light. The sun floods the porch and lights up a wicker armchair, the only piece of furniture left outside. I don't see plants anywhere, not even the trace of old flowerpots on the floor tiles. The porch is shaped like a half moon, closed off in front of me by a very high wall that has almost lost its ochre color. At the foot of the wall there is a small pile of bricks. I feel the woman next to me following my gaze. I don't hear her breathing, but rather the subtle dialogue of her spirit with everything that moves through the air. It's as if the air were burnishing the mast of a small, secret boat anchored to her chest. That's what our dreams must sound like. Perhaps the pile of bricks was once a fountain for children and birds, I think to myself. I saw a fountain like that once but I can't say where.
The woman waits for my eyes to return to where began, the solitary armchair, and says to me:
"It wasn't always as neglected as it is now. We've left it here to be consumed by the indifference of the seasons, but it resists. My mother asks about it every morning. My father Artemio sat there with her on his lap, caressing her thighs and breasts until he drove her wild. It will be forty years now".
The woman half-closes her eyes. She is beautiful, even in the dress she has on which spoils her figure. It is her mother's notion that she dress in black and wear high collars. I don't understand how she puts up with the double cage in which she lives: her dress and the bedroom of her mother who is slowly returning to dust.
The elderly woman's room stinks of potions from the turn of the century. While the daughter told her about me, I looked at the shelf where large cups inscribed with golden letters stood. There, as in so many places, the world was rotting away behind close doors. I suddenly hated the old woman and imagined throwing her onto the porch to die under the sun, drowned at last in the fresh air. If it hadn't been for the daughter who announced that we were about to leave, I would have satisfied my desire.
When the daughter opened the bedroom door, her mother said, in an extraordinarily clear voice: "Artemio was the joy and the flame."
Despite the intense April sun which sears us, the woman and I do not seek the shade. My clothes start to give off the same odor I smelled in the sick woman's room. Feeling uncomfortable, I look at the woman again. But she seems unaware of the rank smell. She is still looking at the armchair. I discover her quiet skin, dark like aging wine.
"You can gather its quality", she says, referring to the piece of furniture, "by what it has withstood."
A woman like this almost inevitably has down on her upper lip. One whose imagination is in love with the things of this world might take that as indicating a lively temperament. One whose imagination is like mine.
"How long did you say the armchair has been outdoors?" I ask her, feigning interest.
"I already told you", she answers. "Forty springs."
The down is blonde like the wicker. Along its edge lies a string of tiny, iridescent pearls of sweat. I would gladly wipe them off with my index finger, letting it linger on the rim of her perfect lip, there to arouse her to love.
"But ma' am, have you examined it carefully?" I ask her again. "Because often with this kind of furniture, it looks solid to the eye but then collapses under the weight of a fly."
Without saying a word, the woman walks over to the armchair and plops herself down in it, bottom first. Her bust trembles as if shaken by an explosion. I think of two doves, unexpectedly powerful. The woman and I look at each other for a good long while. She searches my face for the impact of what she has just done. I am tempted to give her what she desires: to gape like a fool, eyes and mouth wide open, but I won't. She might interpret this as meaning I agree the armchair is in fact worth a fortune. I'm even afraid to blink too much. Business is business. I can't forget that. Though her next glance can devastate me, I will stick to the subject at hand. There is one thing, however, I hasten to admit: the woman has grown more beautiful. She is radiant. Immutable, she is graced by the afternoon sun.
She shifts her legs under her dress, crossing them lazily. She doesn't take her eyes off me, the antique buyer. I never wear my tie to a sale, least of all when it's hot. I must look in pretty sorry shape.
No, the woman is not thinking about business. She's waiting for me to loosen the knot of my tie and escape the stifling enclosure that is paralyzing me. She pities me. The knot is thick, large as a fruit. My fingers probe it incredulously, burned by the silk whose color I can't remember. Feeling as though I were in a nightmare, I start to take my tie off right then and there. It will always remain as mystery to me why I wore the tie on today and not on any other day. The monstrosity of the knot is obvious: lack of expertise in using such articles of clothing.
The woman yawns. It makes sense. Just before we entered her mother's room (she had to ask her permission to sell the chair and furthermore, to present her with the buyer), the woman asked that we resolve the matter quickly because she took a nap in the afternoon.
At last I free the damp tie from my stiff collar. The woman has closed her eyes and is nodding off. Weighed down by the sun, I belatedly seek the shade of one of the porch columns, one by the armchair.
The woman is already asleep, making tiny noises with her lips, her legs still crossed. I decide to let her sleep.
I will contemplate her to my heart's content from the shade and then I will go.
So great is the silence surrounding us that I can almost hear the sun crackling in the sky.
I notice that my clothes no longer stink. My cologne and skin lotion are emerging again, very tentatively, to assist the shadows in their beneficial work.
The rays of sunlight do nothing to alter the golden brown of the woman's face. In fact, she doesn't even sweat, except for her upper lip. She sleeps with her face turned to one side, revealing a small ear and, at the nape of her neck, part of her hairline.
Naked, this woman would surely blind anyone who looked at her.
I will buy the armchair from her but will tell her that she can continue to use it whenever she wishes, since that is where she receives grace.
"I live by night", she told me in front of her mother, "listening to the passion of my father Artemio: love, according to the flesh."
The shadow of the wall begins to fall and fill the yard.
I walk very softly over to the armchair and place my open hand on one of the woman's breasts. I am trembling; I don't know what's going to happen. I see the woman half-open her eyes, foggy with sleep. Then she puts her hand on mine and says:
"Come back tomorrow, but early. I will have to introduce you to my mother again."*
Translated by Mark Schafer
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BOOKS BY JESÚS GARDEA (CNL-INBA)
Los viernes de Lautaro (short stories. Google Books)
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|Fuente: * From the book Stripping Away the Sorrows from this World. México, Editorial Aldus, 1998.|