Carle held the theory that human beings are divided into anvils and hammers: some are born to beat, others to be beaten. Naturally, he wanted his male children to be hammers.
My madrina’s brain was slightly addled from rum. She believed in all the catholic saints, some saints of African origin, and still others of her own invention. Before a small altar in her room she had aligned holy water, voodoo fetishes, a photograph of her dead father, and a bust she thought was St. Christopher but was, I later discovered, Beethoven–although I have never told her because he is the most miraculous figure on her altar. She carried on a continuous conversation with her deities in a colloquial yet proud tone, asking them for insignificant favors; later, when she became a fan of the telephone, she would call them in heaven, interpreting the hum of the receiver as parables from her divine respondents. She believed that was how she received instructions from the heavenly court concerning even the most trivial matters.
When the patrona washed out my mouth with baking soda to cure my habit of muttering to myself, I stopped talking aloud with my mother, but continued doing it in secret.
Elvira warned me with explicit clarity that men have a monster as ugly as a yucca root between their legs, and tiny babies come out of it and get into women’s bellies and grow there.
Rolf went through life with his emotions bared, tripping over his pride, falling, and struggling to his feet again.
You won’t catch me letting the juices of two men mix in my belly. The fruit of that sin is circus freaks.
That’s your only treasure. As long as you’re untouched, you’re worth something, she would say; but when you lose it, you’re nobody. I did not understand why the part of my body that was so sinful and forbidden could at the same time be so valuable.
“The best thing about this country, she used to sigh with delight, is that there is enough corruption for everyone.”
Zulema spent hours listening to me, her senses alert to every gesture and sound, until one day she awoke speaking fluent Spanish, as if for ten years the language had been in her throat waiting only for her to open her mouth and let it escape.
My patrona still sat motionless in the chair, her dress wrinkled, her hands clenched; tears wet her face and her makeup was streaked. She looked like a mask left out in the rain.
A throng of men, women, and children covered with the dust of victory rushed into the dictator’s mansion and, while a black man played jazz on a white grand piano adjoining the terrace, they jumped into the swimming pool, turning the water to a human soup.
Illness was her way of avoiding boring household duties, her marriage, herself. Sadness and boredom were more bearable than the effort of living a normal life.
“This country has as many layers as phyllo dough.”
I had told myself so often it is a curse to be born a woman that I had some difficulty understanding Melesio’s struggle to become one. I could not see a single advantage, but he wanted it so much he was willing to go through hell to achieve it.
I realized that our problems were not related in any way to the fortunes of the guerrillas; even if he achieved his dream, there would be no equality for me. For Naranjo, and others like him, “the people” seemed to be composed exclusively of men; we women should contribute to the struggle but were excluded from decision-making and power.
It seemed as if I had lived many lives, that I had turned to smoke each night, and been reborn each morning.