A story by Mónica Lavín
I used to be a redhead, but I’ve no regrets about my hair or the heavy makeup I need to disguise my face with, or this little room with a radio and the one window dressed in cheap curtains. What I miss is not seeing them; just the thought of them makes it feel like a long cold knife is running through me.
I used to have such a pretty bedroom! The one my mom decorated in pink with a mirror and a vanity full of little bottles to perfume my fifteenth year. For an entire month, I showed it off to my school friends and cousins, and a few guys that went upstairs to the bedroom just for a second. The lamps on the night tables had pleated shades full of roses. The night tables with their white curled up legs had a drawer with a golden pull where I kept my diary with its little key, letters from Lorena and pictures of Robert Redford and Jorge Rivero. I’d even procured one of those magazines that were off limits to me, the kind with the naked ladies that made me nervous and sweaty just to look at them. I had my very own record player and my secrets would spin inside those invisible furrows on the LPs. I used to paint my nails several times a day sitting on the rug with a messy stack of records lying around me.
My dad used to spoil me a lot. He said I was just like his sister Chata, who had died very young. One time he even bought me a piano because I wanted to learn how to play. The teacher came by the house for three months, but my father was the one who ended up learning, and after a few drinks who knows what memories got hold of him as he very sadly and listlessly played Agustín Lara songs.
Anyway, my Daddy forgot I was his favorite when Mauricio went and complained to him about me. Dad made that same reproachful face my husband wore and said I was dead to him. That really hurt me. I kneeled on the floor and asked to speak to him alone, but Mauricio made fun of me as he kicked my thighs with the tips of his shoes. Dad didn’t even look at me, but his hand was shaking and I held it tight. That gesture was the last he gave me.
I would’ve liked to tell him the truth before, ever since the time I spent days watching TV and eating cookies as if that would ward off the fear of Mauricio coming home late again. Because he almost always did, and once or twice when I was already asleep he had even woken me up to feed dinner to him and his friends.
One day I protested and he struck me on the face. He said that if he was bringing in the money it was my obligation to serve him. After a sleepless night, I fixed breakfast for the kids and sent them off. He’d stretched out slowly as he woke up and called me to get his morning pleasure, which had become torture to me, a painful act that hurt my dry vagina.
Afternoons I’d play with the children. That’s when I stopped thinking about his acne-scarred face and his white pot-belly. Sometimes I would even imagine that not everything was a mere chore.
Mauricio, what a corny name! Andres had laughed. Then he had immediately begun to sniff my neck and so inflamed had covered my body with kisses. Every night, I’d promise myself never to see him again, but the very next day at noon I’d be ringing his doorbell. Andres was a student so he was always there with his mattress on the floor and pillows against the wall. He’d knock me down on the bed with such a force, and then would undress me so slowly that it was as if he’d been saving himself completely just for this frenzy. We’d spend an hour naked making love, watching TV. I’d hold his slender body while he studied with a book in his hand. He used to say that he couldn’t concentrate without me beside him. And even though I knew myself to be fat and a little bit of a wreck, I began to feel younger and had something that let me bear with Mauricio.
I met Andrés at a supermarket around the corner from my kid’s school. He politely helped me with the groceries and invited me for coffee at his house. I didn’t think accepting was either good or bad. I was so bored I went there despite the feeling that something could happen. As we walked there I noticed his thick long neck, his free hand hanging beside him, his noble eyes. I began to want him. I don’t know what came over his virgin head, but as soon as we got to his house we put the groceries on the table and right away -no coffee or hesitation- he kissed me. After dreaming about love at fifteen, I finally knew it.
After this encounter, I had to buy something at the supermarket every day. But one day, we fell asleep. It had been a cool quiet morning, and as we cuddled from the rain under Andres’ blankets the clock struck four in the afternoon. When I got home Mauricio and the children were waiting for me in the living room. I said I had been mugged, pretended to be nervous (which I actually was), and weepy. They had put me in a car and taken me far away. They’d stolen my rings and earrings that I had hidden in my shoes. Mauricio was reluctant to believe me. He didn’t go out that night and stared at me as I put my nightgown on. I felt that Andres’ caresses were showing through my skin. He approached me slowly. Why are you wearing your bra inside out? I blushed. He threw me on the bed and left. He returned three days later completely out of sorts and dirty, he said he’d gone to see Roxana, his little whore friend, and so what. He threatened to take the children away from me.
I stopped seeing Andres who became desperate and called in the afternoons; meanwhile, Mauricio became increasingly brutal. Three times a day he had me make love forcibly and morbidly until I was exhausted, with such a rage that I accepted this punishment. One day he got nice, almost even good. He gave me a drink and insisted on my telling him who the other guy was, and if I liked him in bed. I just looked at him as the tears began to stream down silently.
The next morning I wanted to see Andres. I made sure Mauricio was at work and escaped on a bus. I knocked on Andres’ door and he held me crazy for joy while I cried like a baby. We loved each other for an hour and I left promising myself not to return. But I did. I’d said just for a while, but that was enough for them to come and tear down the door. In came Mauricio and a guy. I felt absurd covered by a white sheet amid Andres’ physics books and his shaky body that kept asking them in a low voice not to hurt me. Mauricio made his nose bleed with a single punch, and I was taken to the police station with almost no clothes on.
He took the children away from me, and with them, the dreams and fantasies Andres had restored to me.
Mauricio told the little ones I was crazy. I imagine that little by little they began to believe it; more so after my mother brought them to see me and they’d found me heaped in makeup and nervous in such a poor room and with half my hair black and the other half red, not knowing how to approach them or what to say, or whether to hold them or give them candy.
One day my mother showed up alone and said they didn’t want to come anymore, that I frightened them.
After that nobody else came, not even Andres who loved me so much, nor the reflection of my pink room; just that distant melody my father used to play on the piano.
That’s when I took to climbing on to the window in my room and stretching out my body on the narrow sill (where I barely fit) to catch the heat of the afternoon sun. One day I heard a child’s voice and saw another pointing at me: There she is, The Lizard!
Translation: Martha Macías