Schließen

A Guatemalan Idyll
Erzählung von Jane Bowles
Malerei von Vivian Suter

When the traveler arrived at the pension the wind was blowing hard. Before going in to have the hot soup he had been thinking about, he left his luggage inside the door and walked a few blocks in order to get an idea of the town. He came to a very large arch through which, in the distance, he could see a plain. He thought he could distinguish figures seated around a far-away fire, but he was not certain because the wind made tears in his eyes.
      “How dismal,” he thought, letting his mouth drop open. “But never mind. Brace up. It’s probably a group of boys and girls sitting around an open fire having a fine time together. The world is the world, after all is said and done, and a patch of grass in one place is green the way it is in any other.”
      He turned back and walked along quickly, skirting the walls of the low stone houses. He was a little worried that he might not be able to recognize a door of his pension.
      “There’s not supposed to be any variety in the U.S.A.,” he said to himself. “But this Spanish architecture beats everything, it’s so monotonous.” He knocked on one of the doors, and shortly a child with a shaved head appeared. With a strong American accent he said to her: “Is this the Pension Espinoza?”
      “Sí!” The child led him inside to a fountain in the center of a square patio. He looked into the basin and the child did too.
“There are four fish inside here,” she said to him in Spanish. “Would you like me to try and catch one of them for you?”
The traveler did not understand her. He stood there uncomfortably, longing to go to his room. The little girl was still trying to get hold of a fish when her mother, who owned the pension, came out and joined them. The woman was quite fat, but her face was small and pointed, and she wore glasses attached by a gold chain to her dress. She shook hands with him and asked him in fairly good English if he had had a pleasant journey.
      “He wants to see some of the fish,” explained the child.
      “Certainly,” said Señora Espinoza, moving her hands about in the water with dexterity. “Soon now, soon now,” she said, laughing as one of the fish slipped between her fingers. The traveler nodded. “I would like to go to my room,” he said.
 

*   *   *

Im Herbst 2016 unternahm Vivian Suter, auf Einladung des Sterna Art Project 2016 für die documenta 14 und organisiert von Greg Haji Joannides, eine Reise nach Nisyros, einer griechischen Vulkaninsel in der südöstlichen Ägeis. Dort arbeitete sie im Stefanos-Krater und an anderen Orten an ihren Malereien, die Teil ihrer Installationen in Athen und Kassel werden sollten.

The American was a little dismayed by his room. There were four brass beds in a row, all of them very old and a little crooked.
      “God!” he said to himself. “They’ll have to remove some of these beds. They give me the willies.”
      A cord hung down from the ceiling. On the end of it at the height of his nose was a tiny electric bulb. He turned it on and looked at his hands under the light. They were chapped and dirty. A barefoot servant girl came in with a pitcher and a bowl.
      In the dining room, calendars decorated the walls, and there was an elaborate cut-glass carafe on every table. Several people had already begun their meal in silence. One little girl was speaking in a high voice.
      “I’m not going to the band concert tonight, mamá,” she was saying.
      “Why not?” asked her mother with her mouth full. She looked seriously at her daughter.
      “Because I don’t like to hear music. I hate it!”
      “Why?” asked her mother absently, taking another large mouthful of her food. She spoke in a deep voice like a man’s. Her head, which was set low between her shoulders, was covered with black curls. Her chin was heavy and her skin was dark and coarse; however, she had very beautiful blue eyes. She sat with her legs apart, with one arm lying flat on the table. The child bore no resemblance to her mother. She was frail, with stiff hair of the peculiar light color that is often found in mulattoes. Her eyes were so pale that they seemed almost white.
      As the traveler came in, the child turned to look at him.
      “Now there are nine people eating in this pension,” she said immediately.
      “Nine,” said her mother. “Many mouths.” She pushed her plate aside wearily and looked up at the calendar beside her on the wall. At last she turned around and saw the stranger. Having already finished her own dinner, she followed the progress of his meal with interest. Once she caught his eye.
      “Good appetite,” she said, nodding gravely, and then she watched his soup until he had finished it.
      “My pills,” she said to Lilina, holding her hand out without turning her head. To amuse herself, Lilina emptied the whole bottle into her mother’s hand.
      “Now you have your pills,” she said. When Señora Ramirez realized what had happened, she dealt Lilina a terrible blow in the face, using the hand which held the pills, and thus leaving them sticking to the child’s moist skin and in her hair. The traveler turned. He was so bored and at the same time disgusted by what he saw that he decided he had better look for another pension that very night.
      “Soon,” said the waitress, putting his meat in front of him, “the musician will come. For fifty cents he will play you all the songs you want to hear. One night would not be time enough. She will be out of the room by then.” She looked over at Lilina, who was squealing like a stuck pig.
      “Those pills cost me three quetzales a bottle,” Señora Ramirez complained. One of the young men at a nearby table came over and examined the empty bottle. He shook his head.
      “A barbarous thing,” he said.
      “What a dreadful child you are, Lilina!” said an English lady who was seated at quite a distance from everybody else. All the diners looked up. Her face and neck were quite red with annoyance. She was speaking to them in English.
      “Can’t you behave like civilized people?” she demanded.
      “You be quiet, you!” The young man had finished examining the empty pill bottle. His companions burst out laughing.
      “O.K., girl,” he continued in English. “Want a piece of chewing gum?” His companions were quite helpless with laughter at his last remark, and all three of them got up and left the room. Their guffaws could be heard from the patio, where they had grouped around the fountain, fairly doubled up.
      “It’s a disgrace to the adult mind,” said the English lady. Lilina’s nose had started to bleed, and she rushed out.
      “And tell Consuelo to hurry in and eat her dinner,” her mother called after her. Just then the musician arrived. He was a small man and he wore a black suit and a dirty shirt.
      “Well,” said Lilina’s mother. “At last you came.”
      “I was having dinner with my uncle. Time passes, Señora Ramirez! Gracias a Dios!”
      Gracias a Dios nothing! It’s unheard-of, having to eat dinner without music.”
The violinist fell into a chair, and, bent over low, he started to play with all his strength.
      “Waltzes!” shouted Señora Ramirez above the music. “Waltzes!” She looked petulant and at the same time as though she were about to cry. As a matter of fact, the stranger was quite sure that he saw a tear roll down her cheek.
      “Are you going to the band concert tonight?” she asked him; she spoke English rather well.
      “I don’t know. Are you?”
      “Yes, with my daughter Consuelo. If the unfortunate girl ever gets here to eat her supper. She doesn’t like food. Only dancing. She dances like a real butterfly. She has French blood from me. She is of a much better type than the little one, Lilina, who is always hurting; hurting me, hurting her sister, hurting her friends. I hope that God will have pity on her.” At this she really did shed a tear or two, which she brushed away with her napkin.
      “Well, she’s young yet,” said the stranger. Señora Ramirez agreed heartily.
      “Yes, she is young.” She smiled at him sweetly and seemed quite content.
Lilina meanwhile was in her room, standing over the white bowl in which they washed their hands, letting the blood drip into it. She was breathing heavily like someone who is trying to simulate anger.
      “Stop that breathing! You sound like an old man,” said her sister Conseulo, who was lying on the bed with a hot brick on her stomach. Consuelo was small and dark, with a broad flat face and an unusually narrow skull. She had a surly nature, which is often the case when young girls do little else but dream of a lover. Lilina, who was a bully without any curiosity concerning the grown-up world, hated her sister more than anyone else she knew.
      “Mamá says that if you don’t come in to eat soon she will hit you.”
      “Is that how you got that bloody nose?”
      “No,” said Lilina. She walked away from the basin and her eye fell on her mother’s corset, which was lying on the bed. Quickly she picked it up and went with it into the patio, where she threw it into the fountain. Consuelo, frightened by the appropriation of the corset, got up hastily and arranged her hair.
      “Too much upset for a girl of my age,” she said to herself patting her stomach. Crossing the patio she saw Señora Córdoba walking along, holding her head very high as she slipped some hairpins more firmly into the bun at the back of her neck. Consuelo felt like a frog or a beetle walking behind her. Together they entered the dining room.
      “Why don’t you wait for midnight to strike?” said Señora Ramirez to Consuelo. Señorita Córdoba, assuming that this taunt had been addressed to her, bridled and stiffened. Her eyes narrowed and she stood still. Señora Ramirez, a gross coward, gave her a strange idiotic smile.
      “How is your health, Señorita Córdoba?” she asked softly, and then feeling confused, she pointed to the stranger and asked him if he knew Señorita Córdoba.
      “No, no; he does not know me.” She held out her hand stiffly to the stranger and he took it. No names were mentioned.
Consuelo sat down beside her mother and ate voraciously, a sad look in her eye. Señorita Córdoba ordered only fruit. She sat looking out into the dark patio, giving the other diners a view of the nape of her neck. Presently she opened a letter and began to read. The others all watched her closely. The three young men who had laughed so heartily before were now smiling like idiots, waiting for another such occasion to present itself.
      The musician was playing a waltz at the request of Señora Ramirez, who was trying her best to attract again the attention of the stranger. “Tra-la-la-la,” she sang, and in order better to convey the beauty of the waltz she folded her arms in front of her and rocked from side to side.
      “Ay, Consuelo! It is for her to waltz,” she said to the stranger. “There will be many people in the plaza tonight, and there is so much wind. I think that you must fetch my shawl, Consuelo. It is getting very cold.”
While awaiting Consuelo’s return she shivered and picked her teeth.
      The traveler thought she was crazy and a little disgusting. He had come here as a buyer for a very important textile concern. Having completed all his work, he had for some reason decided to stay on another week, perhaps because he had always heard that a vacation in a foreign country was a desirable thing. Already he regretted his decision, but there was no boat out before the following Monday. By the end of the meal he was in such despair that his face wore a peculiarly young and sensitive look. In order to buoy himself up a bit, he began to think about what he would get to eat three weeks hence, seated at his mother’s table on Thanksgiving Day. They would be very glad to hear that he had not enjoyed himself on this trip, because they had always considered it something in the nature of a betrayal when anyone in the family expressed a desire to travel. He thought they led a fine life and was inclined to agree with them.
      Consuelo had returned with her mother’s shawl. She was dreaming again when her mother pinched her arm.
      “Well, Consuelo, are you coming to the band concert or are you going to sit here like a dummy? I daresay the Señor is not coming with us, but we like music, so get up, and we will say good night to this gentleman and be on our way.”
The traveler had not understood this speech. He was therefore very much surprised when Señora Ramirez tapped him on the shoulder and said to him severely in English:
      “Good night, Señor. Consuelo and I are going to the band concert. We will see you tomorrow at breakfast.”
      “Oh, but I’m going to the band concert myself,” he said, in a panic lest they leave him with a whole evening on his hands.
      Señora Ramirez flushed with pleasure. The three walked down the badly lit street together, escorted by a group of skinny yellow dogs.
      “These old grilled windows are certainly very beautiful,” the traveler said to Señora Ramirez. “Old as the hills themselves, aren’t they?”
      “You must go to the capital if you want beautiful buildings,” said Señora Ramirez. “Very new and clean they are.”
      “I should think,” he said, “that these old buildings were your point of interest here, aside from your Indians and their native costumes.”
      They walked on for a little while in silence. A small boy came up to them and tried to sell them some lollipops.
      “Five centavos,” said the little boy.
      “Absolutely not,” said the traveler. He had been warned that the natives would cheat him, and he was actually enraged every time they approached him with their wares.
      “Four centavos … three centavos. …”
      “No, no, no! Go away!” The little boy ran ahead of them.
      “I would like a lollipop,” said Consuelo to him.
      “Well, why didn’t you say so, then?” he demanded.
      “No,” said Consuelo.
      “She does not mean no,” explained her mother. “She can’t learn to speak English. She has clouds in her head.”
      “I see,” said the traveler. Consuelo looked mortified. When they came to the end of the street, Señora Ramirez stood still and lowered her head like a bull.
      “Listen,” she said to Consuelo. “Listen. You can hear the music from here.”
      “Yes, mamá. Indeed you can.” They stood listening to the faint marimba noise that reached them. The traveler sighed.
      “Please, let’s get going if we are going,” he said. “Otherwise there is no point.”
The square was already crowded when they arrived. The older people sat on benches under the trees, while the younger ones walked round and round, the girls in one direction and the boys in the other. The musicians played inside a kiosk in the center of the square. Señora Ramirez led both Consuelo and the stranger into the girls’ line, and they had not been walking more than a minute before she settled into a comfortable gait, with an expression very much like that of someone relaxing in an armchair.
      “We have three hours,” she said to Consuelo.
      The stranger looked around him. Many of the girls were barefoot and pure Indian. They walked along holding tightly to one another, and were frequently convulsed with laughter.
      The musicians were playing a formless but militant-sounding piece which came to many climaxes without ending. The drummer was the man who had just played the violin at Señora Espinoza’s pension.
      “Look!” said the traveler excitedly. “Isn’t that the man who was just playing for us at dinner. He must have run all the way. I’ll bet he’s sweating some.”
      “Yes, it is he,” said Señora Ramirez. “The nasty little rat. I would like to tear him right off his stand. Remember the one at the Grand Hotel, Consuelo? He stopped at every table, señor, and I have never seen such beautiful teeth in my life. A smile on his face from the moment he came into the room until he went out again. This one looks at his shoes while he is playing, and he would like to kill us all.”
      Some big boys threw confetti into the traveler’s face.
      “I wonder,” he asked himself. “I wonder what kind of fun they get out of just walking around and around this little park and throwing confetti at each other.”
      The boys’ line was in a constant uproar about something. The broader their smiles became, the more he suspected them of plotting something, probably against him, for apparently he was the only tourist there that evening. Finally he was so upset that he walked along looking up at the stars, or even for short stretches with his eyes shut, because it seemed to him that somehow this rendered him a little less visible. Suddenly he caught sight of Señorita Córdoba. She was across the street buying lollipops from a boy.
      “Señorita!” He waved his hand from where he was, and then joyfully bounded out of the line and across the street. He stood panting by her side, while she reddened considerably and did not know what to say to him.
Señora Ramirez and Consuelo came to a standstill and stood like two monuments, staring after him, while the lines brushed past them on either side.
 

*   *   *

Lilina was looking out of her window at some boys who were playing on the corner of the street under the street light. One of them kept pulling a snake out of his pocket; he would then stuff it back in again. Lilina wanted the snake very much. She chose her toys according to the amount of power or responsibility she thought they would give her in the eyes of others. She thought now that if she were able to get the snake, she would perhaps put on a little act called “Lilina and the Viper,” and charge admission. She imagined that she would wear a fancy dress and let the snake wriggle under her collar. She left her room and went out of doors. The wind was stronger than it had been, and she could hear the music playing even from where she was. She felt chilly and hurried toward the boys.
      “For how much will you sell your snake?” she asked the oldest boy, Ramón.
      “You mean Victoria?” said Ramón. His voice was beginning to change and there was a shadow above his upper lip.
      “Victoria is too much of a queen for you to have,” said one of the smaller boys. “She is a beauty and you are not.” They all roared with laughter, including Ramón, who all at once looked very silly. He giggled like a girl. Lilina’s heart sank. She was determined to have the snake.
      “Are you ever going to stop laughing and begin to bargain with me? If you don’t I’ll have to go back in, because my mother and sister will be coming home soon, and they wouldn’t allow me to be talking here like this with you. I’m from a good family.”
      This sobered Ramón, and he ordered the boys to be quiet. He took Victoria from his pocket and played with her in silence. Lilina stared at the snake.
      “Come to my house,” said Ramón. “My mother will want to know how much I’m selling her for.”
      “All right,” said Lilina. “But be quick, and I don’t want them with us.” She indicated the other boys. Ramón gave them orders to go back to their houses and meet him later at the playground near the Cathedral.
      “Where do you live?” she asked him.
      “Calle de las Delicias number six.”
      “Does your house belong to you?”
      “My house belongs to my Aunt Gudelia.”
      “Is she richer than your mother?”
      “Oh, yes.” They said no more to each other.
      There were eight rooms opening onto the patio of Ramón’s house, but only one was furnished. In this room the family cooked and slept. His mother and his aunt were seated opposite one another on two brightly painted chairs. Both were fat and both were wearing black. The only light came from a charcoal fire which was burning in a brazier on the floor.
      They had bought the chairs that very morning and were consequently feeling lighthearted and festive. When the children arrived they were singing a little song together.
      “Why don’t we buy something to drink?” said Gudelia, when they stopped singing.
      “Now you’re going to go crazy, I see,” said Ramón’s mother. “You’re very disagreeable when you’re drinking.”
      “No, I’m not,” said Gudelia.
      “Mother,” said Ramón. “This little girl has come to buy Victoria.”
      “I have never seen you before,” said Ramón’s mother to Lilina.
      “Nor I,” said Gudelia. “I am Ramón’s aunt, Gudelia. This is my house.”
      “My name is Lilina Ramirez. I want to bargain for Ramón’s Victoria.”
      “Victoria,” they repeated gravely.
      “Ramón is very fond of Victoria and so are Gudelia and I,” said his mother. “It’s a shame that we sold Alfredo the parrot. We sold him for far too little. He sang and danced. We have taken care of Victoria for a long time, and it has been very expensive. She eats much meat.” This was an obvious lie. They all looked at Lilina.
      “Where do you live, dear?” Gudelia asked Lilina.
      “I live in the capital, but I’m staying now at Señora Espinoza’s pension.”
      “I meet her in the market every day of my life,” said Gudelia. “Maria de la Luz Espinoza. She buys a lot. How many people has she staying in her house? Five, six?”
      “Nine.”
      “Nine! Dear God! Does she have many animals?”
      “Certainly,” said Lilina.
      “Come,” said Ramón to Lilina. “Let’s go outside and bargain.”
      “He loves that snake,” said Ramón’s mother, looking fixedly at Lilina.
      The aunt sighed. “Victoria … Victoria.”
      Lilina and Ramón climbed through a hole in the wall and sat down together in the midst of some foliage.
      “Listen,” said Ramón. “If you kiss me, I’ll give you Victoria for nothing. You have blue eyes. I saw them when we were in the street.”
      “I can hear what you are saying,” his mother called out from the kitchen.
      “Shame, shame,” said Gudelia. “Giving Victoria away for nothing. Your mother will be without food. I can buy my own food, but what will your mother do?”
      Lilina jumped to her feet impatiently. She saw that they were getting nowhere, and unlike most of her countrymen, she was always eager to get things done quickly.
      She stamped back into the kitchen, opened her eyes very wide in order to frighten the two ladies, and shouted as loud as she could: “Sell me that snake right now or I will go away and never put my foot in this house again.”
      The two women were not used to such a display of rage over the mere settlement of a price. They rose from their chairs and started moving about the room to no purpose, picking up things and putting them down again. They were not quite sure what to do. Gudelia was terribly upset. She stepped here and there with her hand below her breast, peering about cautiously. Finally she slipped out into the patio and disappeared.
      Ramón took Victoria out of his pocket. They arranged a price and Lilina left, carrying her in a little box.
 

*   *   *

Meanwhile Señora Ramirez and her daughter were on their way home from the band concert. Both of them were in a bad humor. Consuelo was not disposed to talk at all. She looked angrily at the houses they were passing and sighed at everything her mother had to say.
      “You have no merriment in your heart,” said Señora Ramirez. “Just revenge.” As Consuelo refused to answer, she continued. “Sometimes I feel that I am walking along with an assassin.”
      She stopped still in the street and looked up at the sky. “Jesus Maria!” she said. “Don’t let me say such things about my own daughter.” She clutched at Consuelo’s arm.
      “Come, come. Let us hurry. My feet ache. What an ugly city this is!”
      Consuelo began to whimper. The word “assassin” had affected her painfully. Although she had no very clear idea of an assassin in her mind, she knew it to be a gross insult and contrary to all usage when applied to a young lady of breeding. It so frightened her that her mother had used such a word in connection with her that she actually felt a little sick to her stomach.
      “No, mamá, no!” she cried. “Don’t say that I am an assassin. Don’t!” Her hands were beginning to shake, and already the tears were filling her eyes. Her mother hugged her and they stood for a moment locked in each other’s arms.
      Maria, the servant, was standing near the fountain looking into it when Consuelo and her mother arrived at the pension. The traveler and Señorita Córdoba were seated together having a chat.
      “Doesn’t love interest you?” the traveler was asking her.
      “No … no …” answered Señorita Córdoba. “City life, business, the theater. …” She sounded somewhat halfhearted about the theater.
      “Well, that’s funny,” said the traveler. “In my country most young girls are interested in love. There are some, of course, who are interested in having a career, either business or the stage. But I’ve heard tell that even these women deep down in their hearts want a home and everything that goes with it.”
      “So?” said Señorita Córdoba.
      “Well, yes,” said the traveler. “Deep down in your heart, don’t you always hope the right man will come along some day?”
      “No … no … no. … Do you?” she said absentmindedly.
      “Who, me? No.”
      “No?” She was the most preoccupied woman he had ever spoken with. “Look, señoras,” said Maria to Consuelo and her mother.
      “Look what is floating around in the fountain! What is it?”
      Consuelo bent over the basin and fished around a bit. Presently she pulled out her mother’s pink corset.
      “Why, mamá,” she said. “It’s your corset.”
      Señora Ramirez examined the wet corset. It was covered with muck from the bottom of the fountain. She went over to a chair and sat down in it, burying her face in her hands. She rocked back and forth and sobbed very softly. Señora Espinoza came out of her room.
      “Lilina, my sister, threw it into the fountain,” Consuelo announced to all present.
      Señora Espinoza looked at the corset.
      “It can be fixed. It can be fixed,” she said, walking over to Señora Ramirez and putting her arms around her.
      “Look, my friend. My dear little friend, why don’t you go to bed and get some sleep? Tomorrow you can think about getting it cleaned.”
      “How can we stand it? Oh, how can we stand it?” Señora Ramirez asked imploringly, her beautiful eyes filled with sorrow.       “Sometimes,” she said in a trembling voice, “I have no more strength than a sparrow. I would like to send my children to the four winds and sleep and sleep and sleep.”
      Consuelo, hearing this, said in a gentle tone: “Why don’t you do so, mamá?”
      “They are like two daggers in my heart, you see?” continued her mother.
      “No, they are not,” said Señora Espinoza. “They are flowers that brighten your life.” She removed her glasses and polished them on her blouse.
      “Daggers in my heart,” repeated Señora Ramirez.
      “Have some hot soup,” urged Señora Espinoza. “Maria will make you some—a gift from me—and then you can go to bed and forget all about this.”
      “No, I think I will just sit here, thank you.”
      “Mamá is going to have one of her fits,” said Consuelo to the servant. “She does sometimes. She gets just like a child instead of getting angry, and she doesn’t worry about what she is eating or when she goes to sleep, but she just sits in a chair or goes walking and her face looks very different from the way it looks at other times.” The servant nodded, and Consuelo went in to bed.
      “I have French blood,” Señora Ramirez was saying to Señora Espinoza. “I am very delicate for that reason—too delicate for my husband.”
      Señora Espinoza seemed worried by the confession of her friend. She had no interest in gossip or in what people had to say about their lives. To Señora Ramirez she was like a man, and she often had dreams about her in which she became a man.
The traveler was highly amused.
      “I’ll be damned!” he said. “All this because of an old corset. Some people have nothing to think about in this world. It’s funny, though, funny as a barrel of monkeys.”
      To Señorita Córdoba it was not funny. “It’s too bad,” she said. “Very much too bad that the corset was spoiled. What are you doing here in this country?”
      “I’m buying textiles. At least, I was, and now I’m just taking a little vacation here until the next boat leaves for the United States. I kind of miss my family and I’m anxious to get back. I don’t see what you’re supposed to get out of traveling.”
      “Oh, yes, yes. Surely you do,” said Señorita Córdoba politely. “Now if you will excuse me I am going inside to do a little drawing. I must not forget how in this peasant land.”
      “What are you, an artist?” he asked.
      “I draw dresses.” She disappeared.
      “Oh, God!” thought the traveler after she had left. “Here I am, left alone, and I’m not sleepy yet. This empty patio is so barren and so uninteresting, and as far as Señorita Córdoba is concerned, she’s an iceberg. I like her neck though. She has a neck like a swan, so long and white and slender, the kind of neck you dream about girls having. But she’s more like a virgin than a swan.” He turned around and noticed that Señora Ramirez was still sitting in her chair. He picked up his own chair and carried it over next to hers.
      “Do you mind?” he asked. “I see that you’ve decided to take a little night air. It isn’t a bad idea. I don’t feel like going to bed much either.”
      “No,” she said. “I don’t want to go to bed. I will sit here. I like to sit out at night, if I am warmly enough dressed, and look up at the stars.”
      “Yes, it’s a great source of peace,” the traveler said. “People don’t do enough of it these days.”
      “Would you not like very much to go to Italy?” Señora Ramirez asked him. “The fruit trees and the flowers will be wonderful there at night.”
      “Well, you’ve got enough fruit and flowers here, I should say. What do you want to go to Italy for? I’ll bet there isn’t as much variety in the fruit there as here.”
      “No? Do you have many flowers in your country?”
The traveler was not able to decide.
      “I would like really,” continued Señora Ramirez, “to be somewhere else—in your country or in Italy. I would like to be somewhere where the life is beautiful. I care very much whether life is beautiful or ugly. People who live here don’t care very much. Because they do not think.” She touched her finger to her forehead. “I love beautiful things: beautiful houses, beautiful gardens, beautiful songs. When I was a young girl I was truly wild with happiness—doing and thinking and running in and out. I was so happy that my mother was afraid I would fall and break my leg or have some kind of accident. She was a very religious woman, but when I was a young girl I could not remember to think about such a thing. I was up always every morning before anybody except the Indians, and every morning I would go to market with them to buy food for all the houses. For many years I was doing this. Even when I was very little. It was very easy for me to do anything. I loved to learn English. I had a professor and I used to get on my knees in front of my father that the professor would stay longer with me every day. I was walking in the parks when my sisters were sleeping. My eyes were so big.” She made a circle with two fingers. “And shiny like two diamonds, I was so excited all the time.” She churned the air with her clenched fist. “Like this,” she said. “Like a storm. My sisters called me wild Sofía. At the same time they were calling me wild Sofia, I was in love with my uncle, Aldo Torres. He never came much to the house before, but I heard my mother say that he had no more money and we would feed him. We were very rich and getting richer every year. I felt very sorry for him and was thinking about him all the time. We fell in love with each other and were kissing and hugging each other when nobody was there who could see us. I would have lived with him in a grass hut. He married a woman who had a little money, who also loved him very much. When he was married he got fat and started joking a lot with my father. I was glad for him that he was richer but pretty sad for myself. Then my sister Juanita, the oldest, married a very rich man. We were all very happy about her and there was a very big wedding.”
      “You must have been brokenhearted, though, about your uncle Aldo Torres going off with someone else, when you had befriended him so much when he was poor.”
      “Oh, I liked him very much,” she said. Her memory seemed suddenly to have failed her and she did not appear to be interested in speaking any longer of the past. The traveler felt disturbed.
      “I would love to travel,” she continued, “very, very much, and I think it would be very nice to have the life of an actress, without children. You know it is my nature to love men and kissing.”
      “Well,” said the traveler, “nobody gets as much kissing as they would like to get. Most people are frustrated. You’d be surprised at the number of people in my country who are frustrated and good-looking at the same time.”
      She turned her face toward his. The one little light bulb shed just enough light to enable him to see into her beautiful eyes. The tears were still wet on her lashes and they magnified her eyes to such an extent that they appeared to be almost twice their normal size. While she was looking at him she caught her breath.
      “Oh, my darling man,” she said to him suddenly. “I don’t want to be separated from you. Let’s go where I can hold you in my arms.” The traveler was feeling excited. She had taken hold of his hand and was crushing it very hard.
      “Where do you want to go?” he asked stupidly.
      “Into your bed.” She closed her eyes and waited for him to answer.
      “All right. Are you sure?”
      She nodded her head vigorously.
      “This,” he said to himself, “is undoubtedly one of those things that you don’t want to remember the next morning. I’ll want to shake it off like a dog shaking water off its back. But what can I do? It’s too far along now. I’ll be going home soon and the whole thing will be just a soap bubble among many other soap bubbles.”
      He was beginning to feel inspired and he could not understand it, because he had not been drinking.
      “A soap bubble among many other soap bubbles,” he repeated to himself. His inner life was undefined but well controlled as a rule. Together they went into his room.
      “Ah,” said Señora Ramirez after he had closed the door behind them, “this makes me happy.”
      She fell onto the bed sideways, like a beaten person. Her feet stuck out into the air, and her heavy breathing filled the room. He realized that he had never before seen a person behave in this manner unless sodden with alcohol, and he did not know what to do. According to all his standards and the standards of his friends she was not a pleasant thing to lie beside. She was unfastening her dress at the neck. The brooch with which she pinned her collar together she stuck into the pillow behind her.
      “So much fat,” she said. “So much fat.” She was smiling at him very tenderly. This for some reason excited him, and he took off his own clothing and got into bed beside her. He was as cold as a clam and very bony, but being a truly passionate woman she did not notice any of that.
      “Do you really want to go through with this?” he said to her, for he was incapable of finding new words for a situation that was certainly unlike any other he had ever experienced. She fell upon him and felt his face and his neck with feverish excitement.
      “Dear God!” she said. “Dear God!” They were in the very act of making love. “I have lived twenty years for this moment and I cannot think that heaven itself could be more wonderful.”
      The traveler hardly listened to this remark. His face was hidden in the pillow and he was feeling the pangs of guilt in the very midst of his pleasure. When it was all over she said to him: “That is all I want to do ever.” She patted his hands and smiled at him.
      “Are you happy, too?” she asked him.
      “Yes, indeed,” he said. He got off the bed and went out into the patio.
      “She was certainly in a bad way,” he thought. “It was almost like death itself.” He didn’t want to think any further. He stayed outside near the fountain as long as possible. When he returned she was up in front of the bureau trying to arrange her hair.
      “I’m ashamed of the way I look,” she said. “I don’t look the way I feel.” She laughed and he told her that she looked perfectly all right. She drew him down onto the bed again. “Don’t send me back to my room,” she said. “I love to be here with you, my sweetheart.”
      The dawn was breaking when the traveler awakened next morning. Señora Ramirez was still beside him, sleeping very soundly. Her arm was flung over the pillow behind her head.
      “Lordy,” said the traveler to himself. “I’d better get her out of here.” He shook her as hard as he could.
      “Mrs. Ramirez,” he said. “Mrs. Ramirez, wake up. Wake up!” When she finally did wake up, she looked frightened to death. She turned and stared at him blankly for a little while. Before he noticed any change in her expression, her hand was already moving over his body.
      “Mrs. Ramirez,” he said. “I’m worried that perhaps your daughters will get up and raise a hullabaloo. You know, start whining for you, or something like that. Your place is probably in there.”
      “What?” she asked him. He had pulled away from her to the other side of the bed.
      “I say I think you ought to go into your room now the morning’s here.”
      “Yes, my darling, I will go to my room. You are right.” She sidled over to him and put her arms around him.
      “I will see you later in the dining room, and look at you and look at you, because I love you so much.”
      “Don’t be crazy,” he said. “You don’t want anything to show in your face. You don’t want people to guess about this. We must be cold with one another.”
      She put her hand over her heart.
      “Ay!” she said. “This cannot be.”
      “Oh, Mrs. Ramirez. Please be sensible. Look, you go to your room and we’ll talk about this in the morning … or, at least, later in the morning.”
      “Cold I cannot be.” To illustrate this, she looked deep into his eyes.
      “I know, I know,” he said. “You’re a very passionate woman. But my God! Here we are in a crazy Spanish country.”
      He jumped from the bed and she followed him. After she had put on her shoes, he took her to the door.
      “Good-bye,” he said. She couched her cheek on her two hands and looked up at him.
      He shut the door. She was too happy to go right to bed, and so she went over to the bureau and took from it a little stale sugar Virgin which she broke into three pieces. She went over to Consuelo and shook her very hard. Consuelo opened her eyes, and after some time asked her mother crossly what she wanted. Señora Ramirez stuffed the candy into her daughter’s mouth.
      “Eat it, darling,” she said. “It’s the little Virgin from the bureau.”
      “Ay, mamá!” Consuelo sighed. “Who knows what you will do next? It is already light out and you are still in your clothes. I am sure there is no other mother who is still in her clothes now, in the whole world. Please don’t make me eat any more of the Virgin now. Tomorrow I will eat some more. But it is tomorrow, isn’t it? What a mix-up. I don’t like it.” She shut her eyes and tried to sleep. There was a look of deep disgust on her face. Her mother’s spell was a little frightening this time.
      Señora Ramirez now went over to Lilina’s bed and awakened her. Lilina opened her eyes wide and immediately looked very tense, because she thought she was going to be scolded about the corset and also about having gone out alone after dark. “Here, little one,” said her mother. “Eat some of the Virgin.”
      Lilina was delighted. She ate the stale sugar candy and patted her stomach to show how pleased she was. The snake was asleep in a box near her bed.
      “Now tell me,” said her mother. “What did you do today?” She had completely forgotten about the corset. Lilina was beside herself with joy. She ran her fingers along her mother’s lips and then pushed them into her mouth. Señora Ramirez snapped at the fingers like a dog. Then she laughed uproariously.
      “Mamá, please be quiet,” pleaded Consuelo. “I want to go to sleep.”
      “Yes, darling. Everything will be quiet so that you can sleep peacefully.”
      “I bought a snake, mamá,” said Lilina.
      “Good!” exclaimed Señora Ramirez. And after musing a little while with her daughter’s hand in hers, she went to bed.
 

*   *   *

In her room Señora Ramirez was dressing and talking to her children.
      “I want you to put on your fiesta dresses,” she said, “because I am going to ask the traveler to have lunch with us.”
Consuelo was in love with the traveler by now and very jealous of Señorita Córdoba, who she had decided was his sweetheart. “I daresay he has already asked Señorita Córdoba to lunch,” she said. “They have been talking together near the fountain almost since dawn.”
      Santa Catarina!” cried her mother angrily. “You have the eyes of a madman who sees flowers where there are only cow turds.” She covered her face heavily with a powder that was distinctly violet in tint, and pulled a green chiffon scarf around her shoulders, pinning it together with a brooch in the form of a golf club. Then she and the girls, who were dressed in pink satin, went out into the patio and sat together just a little out of the sun. The parrot was swinging back and forth on his perch and singing. Señora Ramirez sang along with him; her own voice was a little lower than the parrot’s.

Pastores, pastores, vamos a Belén
A ver a Maria y al niño también.

She conducted the parrot with her hand. The old señora, mother of Señora Espinoza, was walking round and round the patio. She stopped for a moment and played with Señora Ramirez’s seashell bracelet.
      “Do you want some candy?” she asked Señora Ramirez.
      “I can’t. My stomach is very bad.”
      “Do you want some candy?” she repeated. Señora Ramirez smiled and looked up at the sky. The old lady patted her cheek.
      “Beautiful,” she said. “You are beautiful.”
      “Mamá!” screamed Señora Espinoza, running out of her room. “Come to bed!”
      The old lady clung to the rungs of Señora Ramirez’s chair like a tough bird, and her daughter was obliged to pry her hands open before she was able to get her away.
      “I’m sorry, Señora Ramirez,” she said. “But when you get old, you know how it is.”
      “Pretty bad,” said Señora Ramirez. She was looking at the traveler and Señorita Córdoba. They had their backs turned to her.
      “Lilina,” she said. “Go and ask him to have lunch with us … go. No, I will write it down. Get me a pen and paper.”
      “Dear,” she wrote, when Lilina returned. “Will you come to have lunch at my table this afternoon? The girls will be with me, too. All the three of us send you our deep affection. I tell Consuelo to tell the maid to move the plates all to the same table. Very truly yours, Sofia Piega de Ramirez.”
      The traveler read the note, acquiesced, and shortly they were all seated together at the dining-room table.
      “Now this is really stranger than fiction,” he said to himself. “Here I am sitting with these people at their table and feeling as though I had been here all my life, and the truth of the matter is that I have only been in this pension about fourteen or fifteen hours altogether—not even one day. Yesterday I felt that I was on a Zulu island, I was so depressed. The human animal is the funniest animal of them all.”
      Señora Ramirez had arranged to sit close beside the stranger, and she pressed her thigh to his all during the time that she was eating her soup. The traveler’s appetite was not very good. He was excited and felt like talking.
      After lunch Señora Ramirez decided to go for a walk instead of taking a siesta with her daughters. She put on her gloves and took with her an umbrella to shield her from the sun. After she had walked a little while she came to a long road, completely desolate save for a few ruins and some beautiful tall trees along the way. She looked about her and shook her head at the thought of the terrible earthquake that had thrown to the ground this city, reputed to have been once the most beautiful city in all the Western Hemisphere. She could see ahead of her, way at the road’s end, the volcano named Fire. She crossed herself and bit her lips. She had come walking with the intention of dreaming of her lover, but the thought of this volcano which had erupted many centuries ago chased all dreams of love from her mind. She saw in her mind the walls of the houses caving in, and the roofs falling on the heads of the babies … and the mothers, their skirts covered with mud, running through the streets in despair.
      “The innocents,” she said to herself. “I am sure that God had a perfect reason for this, but what could it have been? Santa Maria, but what could it have been! If such a disorder should happen again on this earth, I would turn completely to jelly like a helpless idiot.”
      She looked again at the volcano ahead of her, and although nothing had changed, to her it seemed that a cloud had passed across the face of the sun.
      “You are crazy,” she went on, “to think that an earthquake will again shake this city to the earth. You will not be going through such a trial as these other mothers went through, because everything now is different. God doesn’t send such big trials any more, like floods over the whole world, and plagues.”
      She thanked her stars that she was living now and not before. It made her feel quite weak to think of the women who had been forced to live before she was born. The future too, she had heard, was to be very stormy because of wars.
      “Ay!” she said to herself. “Precipices on all sides of me!” It had not been such a good idea to take a walk, after all. She thought again of the traveler, shutting her eyes for a moment.
      Mi amante! Amante querido!” she whispered; and she remembered the little books with their covers lettered in gold, books about love, which she had read when she was a young girl, and without the burden of a family. These little books had made the ability to read seem like the most worthwhile and delightful talent to her. They had never, of course, touched on the coarser aspects of love, but in later years she did not find it strange that it was for such physical ends that the heroes and heroines had been pining. Never had she found any difficulty in associating nosegays and couplets with the more gross manifestations of love.
      She turned off into another road in order to avoid facing the volcano, constantly ahead of her. She thought of the traveler without really thinking of him at all. Her eyes glowed with the pleasure of being in love and she decided that she had been very stupid to think of an earthquake on the very day that God was making a bed of roses for her.
      “Thank you, thank you,” she whispered to Him, “from the bottom of my heart. Ah!” She smoothed her dress over her bosom. She was suddenly very pleased with everything. Ahead she noticed that there was a very long convent, somewhat ruined, in front of which some boys were playing. There was also a little pavilion standing not far away. It was difficult to understand why it was so situated, where there was no formal park, nor any trees or grass—just some dirt and a few bushes. It had the strange static look of a ship that has been grounded. Señora Ramirez looked at it distastefully; it was a small kiosk anyway and badly in need of a coat of paint. But feeling tired, she was soon climbing up the flimsy steps, red in the face with fear lest she fall through to the ground. Inside the kiosk she spread a newspaper over the bench and sat down. Soon all her dreams of her lover faded from her mind, and she felt hot and fretful. She moved her feet around on the floor impatiently at the thought of having to walk all the way home. The dust rose up into the air and she was obliged to cover her mouth with her handker-
chief.
      “I wish to heaven,” she said to herself, “that he would come and carry me out of this kiosk.” She sat idly watching the boys playing in the dirt in front of the convent. One of them was a good deal taller than the others. As she watched their games, her head slumped forward and she fell asleep.
      No tourists came, so the smaller boys decided to go over to the main square and meet the buses, to sell their lollipops and picture postcards. The oldest boy announced that he would stay behind.
      “You’re crazy,” they said to him. “Completely crazy.” He looked at them haughtily and did not answer. They ran down the road, screaming that they were going to earn a thousand quetzales.
      He had remained behind because for some time he had noticed that there was someone in the kiosk. He knew even from where he stood that it was a woman because he could see that her dress was brightly colored like a flower garden. She had been sitting there for a long time and he wondered if she were not dead.
      “If she is dead,” he thought, “I will carry her body all the way into town.” The idea excited him and he approached the pavilion with bated breath. He went inside and stood over Señora Ramirez, but when he saw that she was quite old and fat and obviously the mother of a good rich family he was frightened and all his imagination failed him. He thought he would go away, but then he decided differently, and he shook her foot. There was no change. Her mouth, which had been open, remained so, and she went on sleeping. The boy took a good piece of the flesh on her upper arm between his thumb and forefinger and twisted it very hard. She awakened with a shudder and looked up at the boy, perplexed.
      His eyes were soft.
      “I awakened you,” he said, “because I have to go home to my house, and you are not safe here. Before, there was a man here in the bandstand trying to look under your skirt. When you are asleep, you know, people just go wild. There were some drunks here too, singing an obscene song, standing on the ground, right under you. You would have had red ears if you had heard it. I can tell you that.” He shrugged his shoulders and spat on the floor. He looked completely disgusted.
      “What is the matter?” Señora Ramirez asked him.
      “Bah! This city makes me sick. I want to be a carpenter in the capital, but I can’t. My mother gets lonesome. All my brothers and sisters are dead.”
      “Ay!” said Señora Ramirez. “How sad for you! I have a beautiful house in the capital. Maybe my husband would let you be a carpenter there, if you did not have to stay with your mother.”
The boy’s eyes were shining.
      “I’m coming back with you,” he said. “My uncle is with my mother.”
      “Yes,” said Señora Ramirez. “Maybe it will happen.”
      “My sweetheart is there in the city,” he continued. “She was living here before.”
      Señora Ramirez took the boy’s long hand in her own. The word sweetheart had recalled many things to her.
      “Sit down, sit down,” she said to him. “Sit down here beside me. I too have a sweetheart. He’s in his room now.”
      “Where does he work?”
      “In the United States.”
      “What luck for you! My sweetheart wouldn’t love him better than she loves me, though. She wants me or simply death. She says so any time I ask her. She would tell the same thing to you if you asked her about me. It’s the truth.”
      Señora Ramirez pulled him down onto the bench next to her. He was confused and looked out over his shoulder at the road. She tickled the back of his hand and smiled up at him in a coquettish manner. The boy looked at her and his face seemed to weaken.
      “You have blue eyes,” he said.
Señora Ramirez could not wait another minute. She took his head in her two hands and kissed him several times full on the mouth.
      “Oh, God!” she said. The boy was delighted with her fine clothes, her blue eyes, and her womanly ways. He took Señora Ramirez in his arms with real tenderness.
      “I love you,” he said. Tears filled his eyes, and because he was so full of a feeling of gratitude and kindness, he added: “I love my sweetheart and I love you too.”
      He helped her down the steps of the kiosk, and with his arm around her waist he led her to a sequestered spot belonging to the convent grounds.
 

*   *   *


The traveler was lying on his bed, consumed by a feeling of guilt. He had again spent the night with Señora Ramirez, and he was wondering whether or not his mother would read this in his eyes when he returned. He had never done anything like this before. His behavior until now had never been without precedent, and he felt like a two-headed monster, as though he had somehow slipped from the real world into the other world, the world that he had always imagined as a little boy to be inhabited by assassins and orphans, and children whose mothers went to work. He put his head in his hands and wondered if he could ever forget Señora Ramirez. He remembered having read that the careers of many men had been ruined by women who because they had a certain physical stranglehold over them made it impossible for them to get away. These women, he knew, were always bad, and they were never Americans. Nor, he was certain, did they resemble Señora Ramirez. It was terrible to have done something he was certain none of his friends had ever done before him, nor would do after him. This experience, he knew, would have to remain a secret, and nothing made him feel more ill than having a secret. He liked to imagine that he and the group of men whom he considered to be his friends, discoursed freely on all things that were in their hearts and in their souls. He was beginning to talk to women in this free way, too—he talked to them a good deal, and he urged his friends to do likewise. He realized that he and Señora Ramirez never spoke, and this horrified him. He shuddered and said to himself: “We are like two gorillas.”
      He had been, it is true, with one or two prostitutes, but he had never taken them to his own bed, nor had he stayed with them longer than an hour. Also, they had been curly-headed blond American girls recommended to him by his friends.
      “Well,” he told himself, “there is no use making myself into a nervous wreck. What is done is done, and anyway, I think I might be excused on the grounds that: one, I am in a foreign country, which has sort of put me off my balance; two, I have been eating strange foods that I am not used to, and living at an unusually high altitude for me; and, three, I haven’t had my own kind to talk to for three solid weeks.”
      He felt quite a good deal happier after having enumerated these extenuating conditions, and he added: “When I get onto my boat I shall wave goodbye to the dock, and say good riddance to bad rubbish, and if the boss ever tries to send me out of the country, I’ll tell him: ‘not for a million dollars!’” He wished that it were possible to change pensions, but he had already paid for the remainder of the week. He was very thrifty, as, indeed, it was necessary for him to be. Now he lay down again on his bed, quite satisfied with himself, but soon he began to feel guilty again, and like an old truck horse, laboriously he went once more through the entire process of reassuring himself.
 

*   *   *

Lilina had put Victoria into a box and was walking in the town with her. Not far from the central square there was a dry-goods shop owned by a Jewish woman. Lilina had been there several times with her mother to buy wool. She knew the son of the proprietress, with whom she often stopped to talk. He was very quiet, but Lilina liked him. She decided to drop in at the shop now with Victoria.
      When she arrived, the boy’s mother was behind the counter stamping some old bolts of material with purple ink. She saw Lilina and smiled brightly.
      “Enrique is in the patio. How nice of you to come and see him. Why don’t you come more often?” She was very eager to please Lilina, because she knew the extent of Señora Ramirez’s wealth and was proud to have her as a customer.
      Lilina went over to the little door that led into the patio behind the shop, and opened it. Enrique was crouching in the dirt beside the washtubs. She was surprised to see that his head was wrapped in bandages. From a distance the dirty bandages gave the effect of a white turban.
      She went a little nearer, and saw that he was arranging some marbles in a row.
      “Good morning, Enrique,” she said to him.
      Enrique recognized her voice, and without turning his head, he started slowly to pick up the marbles one at a time and put them into his pocket.
      His mother had followed Lilina into the patio. When she saw that Enrique, instead of rising to his feet and greeting Lilina, remained absorbed in his marbles, she walked over to him and gave his arm a sharp twist.
      “Leave those damned marbles alone and speak to Lilina,” she said to him. Enrique got up and went over to Lilina, while his mother, bending over with difficulty, finished picking up the marbles he had left behind on the ground.
      Lilina looked at the big, dark red stain on Enrique’s bandage. They both walked back into the store. Enrique did not enjoy being with Lilina. In fact, he was a little afraid of her. Whenever she came to the shop he could hardly wait for her to leave.
      He went over now to a bolt of printed material which he started to unwind. When he had unwound a few yards, he began to follow the convolutions of the pattern with his index finger. Lilina, not realizing that his gesture was a carefully disguised insult to her, watched him with a certain amount of interest.
      “I have something with me inside this box,” she said after a while.
      Enrique, hearing his mother’s footsteps approaching, turned and smiled at her sadly.
      “Please show it to me,” he said.
      She lifted the lid from the snake’s box and took it over to Enrique.
      “This is Victoria,” she said.
      Enrique thought she was beautiful. He lifted her from her box and held her just below the head very firmly. Then he raised his arm until the snake’s eyes were on a level with his own.
      “Good morning, Victoria,” he said to her. “Do you like it here in the store?”
      This remark annoyed his mother. She had slipped down to the other end of the counter because she was terrified of the snake. “You speak as though you were drunk,” she said to Enrique.
      “That snake can’t understand a word you’re saying.”
      “She’s really beautiful,” said Enrique.
      “Let’s put her back in the box and take her to the square,” said Lilina. But Enrique did not hear her, he was so enchanted with the sensation of holding Victoria.
      His mother again spoke up. “Do you hear Lilina talking to you?” she shouted. “Or is that bandage covering your ears as well as your head?”
      She had meant this remark to be stinging and witty, but she realized herself that there had been no point to it.
      “Well, go with the little girl,” she added.
      Lilina and Enrique set off toward the square together. Lilina had put Victoria back into her box.
      “Why are we going to the square?” Enrique asked Lilina.
      “Because we are going there with Victoria.”
      Six or seven buses had converged in one of the streets that skirted the square. They had come from the capital and from other smaller cities in the region. The passengers who were not going any farther had already got out and were standing in a bunch talking together and buying food from the vendors. One lady had brought with her a cardboard fan intended as an advertisement for beer. She was fanning not only herself, but anyone who happened to come near her.
      The bus drivers were racing their motors, and some were trying to move into positions more advantageous for departing. Lilina was excited by the noise and the crowd. Enrique, however, had sought a quiet spot, and was now standing underneath a tree. After a while she ran over to him and told him that she was going to let Victoria out of her box.
      “Then we’ll see what happens,” she said.
      “No, no!” insisted Enrique. “She’ll only crawl under the buses and be squashed to death. Snakes live in the woods or in the rocks.”
      Lilina paid little attention to him. Soon she was crouching on the edge of the curbstone, busily unfastening the string around Victoria’s box.
      Enrique’s head had begun to pain him and he felt a little ill. He wondered if he could leave the square, but he decided he did not have the courage. Although the wind had risen, the sun was very hot, and the tree afforded him little shade. He watched Lilina for a little while, but soon he looked away from her, and began to think instead about his own death. He was certain that his head hurt more today than usual. This caused him to sink into the blackest gloom, as he did whenever he remembered the day he had fallen and pierced his skull on a rusty nail. His life had always been precious to him, as far back as he could recall, and it seemed perhaps even more so now that he realized it could be violently interrupted. He disliked Lilina; probably because he suspected intuitively that she was a person who could fall over and over again into the same pile of broken glass and scream just as loudly the last time as the first.
      By now Victoria had wriggled under the buses and been crushed flat. The buses cleared away, and Enrique was able to see what had happened. Only the snake’s head, which had been severed from its body, remained intact.
      Enrique came up and stood beside Lilina. “Now are you going home?” he asked her, biting his lip.
      “Look how small her head is. She must have been a very small snake,” said Lilina.
      “Are you going home to your house?” he asked her again.
      “No. I’m going over by the cathedral and play on the swings. Do you want to come? I’m going to run there.”
      “I can’t run,” said Enrique, touching his fingers to the bandages. “And I’m not sure that I want to go over to the playground.”
      “Well,” said Lilina. “I’ll run ahead of you and I’ll be there if you decide to come.”
      Enrique was very tired and a little dizzy, but he decided to follow her to the playground in order to ask her why she had allowed Victoria to escape under the buses.
      When he arrived, Lilina was already swinging back and forth. He sat on a bench near the swings and looked up at her. Each time her feet grazed the ground, he tried to ask her about Victoria, but the question stuck in his throat. At last he stood up, thrust his hands into his pockets, and shouted at her.
      “Are you going to get another snake?” he asked. It was not what he had intended to say. Lilina did not answer, but she did stare at him from the swing. It was impossible for him to tell whether or not she had heard his question.
      At last she dug her heel into the ground and brought the swing to a standstill. “I must go home,” she said, “or my mother will be angry with me.”
      “No,” said Enrique, catching hold of her dress. “Come with me and let me buy you an ice.”
      “I will,” said Lilina. “I love them.”
      They sat together in a little store, and Enrique bought two ices.
      “I’d like to have a swing hanging from the roof of my house,” said Lilina. “And I’d have my dinner and my breakfast served while I was swinging.” This idea amused her and she began to laugh so hard that her ice ran out of her mouth and over her chin.
      “Breakfast, lunch, and dinner and take a bath in the swing,” she continued. “And make pipi on Consuelo’s head from the swing.”
      Enrique was growing more and more nervous because it was getting late, and still they were not talking about Victoria.
      “Could I swing with you in your house?” he asked Lilina.
      “Yes. We’ll have two swings and you can make pipi on Consuelo’s head, too.”
      “I’d love to,” he said.
      His question seemed more and more difficult to present. By now it seemed to him that it resembled more a declaration of love than a simple question.
      Finally he tried again. “Are you going to buy another snake?” But he still could not ask her why she had been so careless.
      “No,” said Lilina. “I’m going to buy a rabbit.”
      “A rabbit?” he said. “But rabbits aren’t as intelligent or as beautiful as snakes. You had better buy another snake like Victoria.”
      “Rabbits have lots of children,” said Lilina. “Why don’t we buy a rabbit together?”
      Enrique thought about this for a while. He began to feel almost lighthearted, and even a little wicked.
      “All right,” he said. “Let’s buy two rabbits, a man and a woman.” They finished their ices and talked together more and more excitedly about the rabbits.
      On the way home, Lilina squeezed Enrique’s hand and kissed him all over his cheeks. He was red with pleasure.
      At the square they parted, after promising to meet again that afternoon.
 

*   *   *


It was a cloudy day, rather colder than usual, and Señora Ramirez decided to dress in her mourning clothes, which she always carried with her. She hung several strands of black beads around her neck and powdered her face heavily. She and Consuelo began to walk slowly around the patio.
      Consuelo blew her nose. “Ay, mamá,” she said. “Isn’t it true that there is a greater amount of sadness in the world than happiness?”
      “I don’t know why you are thinking about this,” said her mother.
      “Because I have been counting my happy days and my sad days. There are many more sad days, and I am living now at the best age for a girl. There is nothing but fighting, even at balls. I would not believe any man if he told me he liked dancing better than fighting.”
      “This is true,” said her mother. “But not all men are really like this. There are some men who are as gentle as little lambs. But not so many.”
      “I feel like an old lady. I think that maybe I will feel better when I’m married.” They walked slowly past the traveler’s door.
      “I’m going inside,” said Consuelo suddenly.
      “Aren’t you going to sit in the patio?” her mother asked her.
      “No, with all those children screaming and the chickens and the parrot talking and the white dog. And it’s such a terrible day. Why?”
      Señora Ramirez could not think of any reason why Consuelo should stay in the patio. In any case she preferred to be there alone if the stranger should decide to talk to her. “What white dog?” she said.
      “Señora Espinoza has bought a little white dog for the children.”
      The wind was blowing and the children were chasing each other around the back patio. Señora Ramirez sat down on one of the little straight-backed chairs with her hands folded in her lap. The thought came into her mind that most days were likely to be cold and windy rather than otherwise, and that there would be many days to come exactly like this one. Unconsciously she had always felt that these were the days preferred by God, although they had never been much to her own liking.
      The traveler was packing with the vivacity of one who is in the habit of making little excursions away from the charmed fold to return almost immediately.
      “Wow!” he said joyfully to himself. “I sure have been giddy in this place, but the bad dream is over now.” It was nearly bus time. He carried his bags out to the patio, and was confused to find Señora Ramirez sitting there. He prompted himself to be pleasant.
      “Señora,” he said, walking over to her. “It’s goodby now till we meet again.”
      “What do you say?” she asked.
      “I’m taking the twelve o’clock bus. I’m going home.”
      “Ah! You must be very happy to go home.” She did not think of looking away from his face. “Do you take a boat?” she asked, staring harder.
      “Yes. Five days on the boat.”
      “How wonderful that must be. Or maybe it makes you sick.” She put her hand over her stomach.
      “I have never been seasick in my life.”
      She said nothing to this.
      He backed against the parrot swinging on its perch, and stepped forward again quickly as it leaned to bite him.
      “Is there anyone you would like me to look up in the United States?”
      “No. You will be coming back in not such a long time?”
      “No. I don’t think I will come back here again. Well. …” He put out his hand and she stood up. She was fairly impressive in her black clothes. He looked at the beads that covered her chest.
      “Well, good-bye, señora. I was very happy to have met you.”
      Adios, señor, and may God protect you on your trip. You will be coming back maybe. You don’t know.”
      He shook his head and walked over to the Indian boy standing by his luggage. They went out into the street and the heavy door closed with a bang. Señora Ramirez looked around the patio. She saw Señorita Córdoba move away from the half-open bedroom door where she had been standing.

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