I T ' S T H E F A U L T O F T H E T L A X C A L T E C A S by Elena Garro translated by Patricia Wahl _________ |"Some day| |you will find| |yourself faced with| |your actions changed| |into solid stone like that one,"| |they told me as a child when| |showing me the image of some god, I don't| |remember which one now. One forgets, right| |Nachita? but only for a while. Back then, the words| |also seemed to me like stone, but like a crystalline| | and fluid rock. The stone would solidify at the end of each word, to | |remain written forever in time. Weren't those the words of your elders?|
Nacha heard them calling at the kitchen door and froze. When they insisted, she opened it reluctantly and looked out into the night. Laura appeared with a finger over her lips in a sign of silence. She was still wearing the white suit, burnt and soiled with dirt and blood.
`Señora!' whispered Nacha.
Señora Laura entered softly and looked with interrogating eyes at the cook. Later, confident, she sat down next to the stove and examined her kitchen as if she had never seen it before.
`Nachita, give me some coffee. . . I'm cold.'
`Señora, the señor...the señor will kill you. We had already given you up for dead.'
Laura stared in amazement at the white tiles, drew her feet up on the chair, clasped her knees and became pensive. Nacha put the water on to boil for coffee and looked sideways at her mistress; she couldn't think of anything else to say. Laura rested her head on her knees, she seemed very sad.
`You know, Nacha? It's the fault of the tlaxcaltecas.'
Nacha didn't answer, preferring to stare at the water that wasn't boiling.
Outside, the night erased the roses in the garden and pulled shadows over the fig trees. Far behind the branches, the illuminated windows burned from the neighbors' houses. The kitchen was separated from the world by an invisible wall of sadness, by a compass of hope.
`Don't you agree, Nacha?'
`I am like them: a traitor...' Laura said mournfully.
The cook folded her arms in hopes the water would boil.
`And you, Nachita, are you a traitor?'
She looked at her expectantly. If Nacha shared her disloyalty, she would understand her, and Laura needed someone to understand her that night.
Nacha reflected a moment, turning to look again at the water that was beginning to boil noisily. She poured it over the coffee and the hot aroma helped made her comfortable around her mistress.
`Yes, I too am a traitor, señora Laurita.'
Satisfied, she served the coffee in a white cup, put in two lumps of sugar and placed it in front of Laura who, deep in thought, took some small sips.
`You know, Nachita? Now I know why we have so many accidents on the infamous road to Guanajuato. At Thousand Peaks we ran out of gas. Margarita was scared because it was already getting dark. A trucker gave us enough to get to Morelia. At Cuitzeo, when crossing the white bridge, the car stopped suddenly. Margarita got upset with me, you know how empty roads and Indians' eyes frighten her. When a car full of tourists came by, she went to the pueblo to look for a mechanic and I stayed in the middle of the white bridge that crosses the dried lake with a bottom of white stones. The light was very white and the bridge, the stones and the automobile began to float in it. Then the light broke into many pieces until it became a thousand points and began to spin until it was fixed like a picture. Time had taken a complete turn, like when you look at a postcard and then turn it over to see what's written on back. That was how I came to the lake of Cuitzeo, to the other girl that I was. Light produces these catastrophes, when the sun turns white and one is at the center of its rays. Thoughts also become a thousand points, and you suffer vertigo. In that moment, I saw the texture of my white dress and in that instant I heard his steps. I wasn't surprised. I looked up and I saw him coming. In that instant, I also remembered the magnitude of my treason, I was afraid and tried to run away. But time closed in on me. It became rare and dying, and I couldn't move from the seat of the automobile. "Some day you will find yourself faced with your actions changed into solid stone like that one," they told me as a child when showing me the image of some god, I don't remember which one now. One forgets, right Nachita? but only for a while. Back then, the words also seemed to me like stone, but like a crystalline and fluid rock. The stone would solidify at the end of each word, to remain written forever in time. Weren't those the words of your elders?'
Nacha reflected for a few moments, then convinced, she agreed.
`So they were, señora Laurita.'
`The terrible thing is, I discovered in that instant that all the unbelievable is real. There he came, moving along the edge of the bridge, with his skin burned by the sun and the weight of defeat over his naked shoulders. His steps rang like dried leaves. His eyes were brilliant. From far away their black spark reached me and I saw his black hair waving in the blinding light of our meeting. Before I could avoid it, he was in front of my eyes. He stopped, grabbed the door of the car and looked at me. He had a cut in his left hand, his hair was full of dust, and from the wound on his shoulder dripped blood so red that it seemed black. He didn't say anything to me. But I knew that he was running, defeated. He tried to tell me that I deserved to die, and at the same time he told me that my death would bring about his own. He was wounded, badly hurt, in search of me.
`It's the fault of the tlaxcaltecas,' I told him.
He turned and looked at the sky. Afterwards, his eyes rested on mine once again.
"`What have you been up to?' he asked with his profound voice. I couldn't tell him that I had married, because I am married to him. There are things you just can't say, you know that, Nachita.
"`And the others?' I asked him.
"`Those who came out alive are in the same situation as I am.'" I saw that each word hurt his tongue and I stopped talking, thinking of the shame of my treason.
"`You already know that I am afraid and that's way I betray...'
"`I already know,' he answered and hung his head. He has known me since childhood, Nacha. His father and mine were brothers and we were cousins. He always loved me, at least he said that, and so everyone believed it. On the bridge I was ashamed. The blood flowed onto his chest. I took out a handkerchief from my purse and without a word, I began to wipe it off. I always loved him, too, Nachita, because he is the opposite of me: he is not afraid and he is not a traitor. He took my hand and looked at me.
"`It's very faded, it looks like one of their hands,' he told me.
"`It's been a while since I've been in the sun.' He lowered his eyes and dropped my hand. We stood that way, in silence, listening to the blood run over his chest. He never reproached me, knowing well of what I'm capable. But the little threads of his blood wrote on his chest that his heart continued to hold my words and my body. There I found out Nachita, that time and love are one and the same.
"`And my house?' I asked.
"`Let's go see it.' He took hold of me with his warm hand, like he used to grab his shield and I realized that he wasn't carrying it. "He lost it in flight," I thought, and I let him lead. His steps sounded in the light of Cuitzeo the same as in the other light: hushed and calm. We walked through the city burning at the water's edge. I closed my eyes. I already told you, Nacha, that I am a coward. Or maybe it was the smoke and dust that brought my tears. I sat down on a rock and covered my face with my hands.
"`I'm not walking anymore...' I told him.
"`We're already here,' he answered. He squatted down next to me and with the tip of his fingers he stroked my white dress.
"`If you don't want to see what it looks like, don't see it,' he said gently.
His black hair sheltered me. He was not angry, he was no longer sad. Before I never would have dared to kiss him, but now I have learned to not have reverence for a man, and I put my arms around his neck and kissed him on the mouth.
"`You have always had the most precious place in my heart,' he said. He looked down at the ground covered with dried stones. With one of them he drew two parallel lines that he extended until they joined and became only one.
"`This is you and I,' he said without raising his eyes. I, Nachita, remained silent.
"`It won't be long before time runs out and we are only one...that's why I have come looking for you.' I had forgotten, Nacha, that when time runs out, the two of us must remain one in the other in order to enter in real time converted into one. When he told me this, I looked in his eyes. Before, I would have dared to look into them only when he made love to me, but now, as I already told you, I have learned not to respect the eyes of a man. It is also true that I didn't want to watch what was happening around me...I am really a coward. I remembered the screams and I listened again: shrill, blazing in the middle of the morning. I also heard the blows of the stones and I saw them whizzing over my head. He kneeled in front of me and crossed his arms over my head to make me a little roof.
"`This is the end of man,' I said.
"`So it is,' he answered with his voice over mine. And I saw myself in his eyes and in his body. Could it be a stag that carried me to his side? Or a star that hurled me out to write signs in the sky? His voice wrote symbols of blood on my chest and my white dress was striped like a red and white tiger.
"`I will return at night, wait for me...' he whispered. He grabbed his shield and looked at me from far above.
"`It won't be long before we are one,' he added with his usual politeness.
When he left, I heard once again the shouts of combat and I left, running in the shower of stones, and I lost myself on the way to the stalled car on the bridge of the Lake of Cuitzeo.
"`What happened? Are you hurt?' Margarita shouted at me when I came. Frightened, she touched the blood on my white dress and pointed out the blood on my lips and the dirt that had fallen in my hair. From another car, the mechanic from Cuitzeo looked at me with his dead eyes.
"`Those savage indians!...A woman shouldn't be left alone!' he said when jumping from his car supposedly to help me.
"At dusk we arrived in Mexico city. How it had changed, Nachita, I almost couldn't believe it! At noon the warriors were still there, and now not even a trace. Nor was there any rubble left. We went through silent and sad Zócalo; there was nothing left of the other plaza, nothing! Margarita looked at me suspiciously. When we came to the house, you greeted us. Do you remember?"
Nacha nodded. It was certainly true that only two short months ago señora Laurita and her mother-in-law had left to visit Guanajuato. The night that she had returned, Josefina the maid and she, Nacha, had noticed blood on the dress and the absent eyes of the señora, but Margarita, the older señora indicated that they should be quiet. She seemed very worried. Much later Josefina told her that at the table the señor sat staring angrily at his wife and told her:
`Why didn't you change? Do you enjoy remembering the bad?'
Señora Margarita, his mother, had already told him what happened and she made a sign as if to say: "Be quiet! Have pity on her!" Señora Laurita didn't answer: she stroked her lips and smiled knowingly. Then the señor spoke again of President LópezMateos.
"`You know that's all he talks about,'" Josefina had commented disdainfully."
In their hearts both women believed that señora Laurita grew bored listening to constant talk of the President and of official visits.
`The way things are, Nachita, I had never noticed how much Pablo bored me until that night!' commented the señora, clasping her knees affectionately and suddenly admitting this to Josefina and to Nachita.
The cook crossed her arms and nodded. `Ever since I entered this house, the furniture, the vases and the mirrors overwhelmed me and left me sadder than I already was. How many days, how many years will I still have to wait for my cousin to come for me? I told myself this and regretted my treason. When we were eating dinner I noticed that Pablo didn't speak with words but with letters. And I started to count them while I watched his thick mouth and his dead eye. Suddenly he was quiet. You know that he forgets everything. He sat with his arms down. "This new husband doesn't have a memory and doesn't know more than daily things." '
"`You have a troubled and confused husband,' he told me looking again at the stains on my dress. My poor mother-in-law grew flustered and since we were drinking coffee, she got up to play a twist.
"`To cheer you up,' she told us with a fake smile, because she saw the fight coming.
"We remained quiet. The house filled with noises. I looked at Pablo. `He reminds me of...' and I didn't dare say his name for fear that he would read my thoughts. It's true that he is like him, Nacha. Both of them enjoy water and cool houses. Both look at the sky in the afternoon and they have black hair and white teeth. But Pablo speaks in short bursts, gets furious for no reason and constantly asks: `What are you thinking about?' My cousin husband doesn't say or do any of that."
`It's true! It's true that the señor is a pain in the ass!' said Nacha with disgust.
Laura sighed and looked at her cook with relief. At least she had her as a confidante.
`During the night, while Pablo kissed me, I would repeat to myself: "When will he come for me?" And I almost cried at the memory of the blood from his shoulder wound. Neither could I forget his arms crossed over my head to shelter me. At the same time I was afraid that Pablo would notice that my cousin had kissed me in the morning. But no one noticed anything, and if it hadn't been for Josefina who frightened me in the morning, Pablo never would have known.'
Nachita agreed. It was Josefina with her love of scandal who was to blame for it all. She, Nacha, had warned her: "Shut up! Keep quiet, for the love of God. There's probably a good reason why they didn't hear our shouts!" But, of course, Josefina had hardly entered the master bedroom with the breakfast tray when she let loose what should have been kept quiet.
"Señora, last night a man was spying through the window of your room! Nacha and I screamed and screamed!"
"We heard nothing..." the señor said, surprised.
"It's him...!" cried the señora without thinking.
"Who is `him'?" asked the señor, looking at the señora as if he were going to kill her. At least this is what Josefina said afterwards.
Terrified, the se$ora put her hand over her mouth and when the señor asked the same question over, each time with more anger, she responded:
"The indian...the indian that followed me from Cuitzeo to Mexico City..."
That was how Josefina found out about the indian and that was how she told it to Nachita.
"We have to call the police immediately!" shouted the señor.
Josefina showed him the window through which the stranger had been peering and Pablo examined it carefully: on the sill were traces of almost fresh blood.
"He's wounded..." said the señor, preoccupied. He walked into the bedroom and stopped in front of his wife.
"It was an indian, señor," Josefina corroborated Laura's words.
Pablo saw the white suit thrown over a chair and he seized it viciously.
"Can you explain to me the origin of these stains?"
The señora remained silent, looking at the blood stains over the breast of her suit, and the señor struck the dresser with a fist. Then he walked over to the señora and gave her a hard slap. This is what Josefina saw and heard.
`His looks are savage and his conduct is as incoherent as his words. It is not my fault that he accepted defeat,' said Laura with disdain.
`That's right,' agreed Nachita.
There was a long silence in the kitchen. Laura traced the bottom of the cup with the tip of her finger to pick up the black powder of the coffee that had settled there and Nacha, on seeing this, got up to serve her more hot coffee.
`Drink your coffee, señora,' she said in sympathy with her employer's sorrow. After all, what could the señor complain about? From a mile away, it was obvious that Laura was too good for him.
`I fell in love with Pablo on a highway during one minute in which he reminded me of someone I knew, but whom I'd forgotten. Later, at times, I would recall that instant in which it seemed he would change into that other whom he resembled. But it wasn't true. Immediately he became absurd, without memory, and he only repeated the gestures of all of the men of Mexico City. How did you expect me not to realize the deceit? When he gets angry he doesn't let me go out. As you well know! How many times does he pick a fight in cinemas and restaurants? You know it, Nachita. On the other hand, my cousin husband never, but never, gets angry at a woman.'
Nacha knew that what the señora told her now was true, because of that morning when Josefina appeared in the kitchen frightened and crying, "Wake up señora Margarita, the señor is beating the señora!" She, Nacha, ran to the room of the older señora.
The presence of his mother calmed señor Pablo. Margarita remained very surprised to hear of the incident of the indian because she had not seen him in the Lake of Cuitzeo, she had only seen the blood that we could all see.
"Perhaps in the Lake you had sun-stroke, Laura, and you suffered a nose bleed. You see, son, we had the top of the convertible down." She said this almost without knowing what to say. The señora Laura lay face down on the bed and buried herself in her thoughts while her husband and her mother-in-law argued.
`You know, Nachita, what I was thinking that morning? What if he had seen me last night when Pablo kissed me? And I wanted to cry. In that moment I remembered that when a man and a woman love each other and don't have children, they are condemned to become one. That is what my other father used to tell me whenever I brought him water and he stared at the door behind which my cousin and I slept. Everything that my other father had told me is coming true now. From the pillow I heard the words of Pablo and Margarita and they were nothing but nonsense. "I'm going to look for him," I told myself. "But where?" Much later, when you came to my room to ask what we should have for dinner, a thought came to my head: "To the café Tacuba!" And I didn't even know that restaurant, Nachita, I only knew it by name.'
Nacha remembered the señora as if she were seeing her right now, putting on her white dress stained with blood, the same one she was wearing this moment in the kitchen.
"For God's sake, Laura, don't put on that dress!" said her mother-in-law. But she paid her no mind. To cover the stains, she put on a white sweater over it, buttoned to the neck, and she went out in the street without saying good bye. Afterwards came the worst. No, not the worst. The worst would come now in the kitchen, if señora Margarita managed to wake up.
`There was nobody at the café Tacuba. It's a very sad place, Nachita. A waiter came up to me. "What can I get you?" I didn't want anything, but I had to order something. "A cocada." My cousin and I ate coconuts as kids...In the café a clock kept the time. "In all the cities there are clocks that keep time, it must be slipping away. When there is only a transparent layer remaining, he will come and the two drawn lines will become only one and I will live in the most precious part of his heart." That is what I told myself while I ate the cocada.
`"What time is it?" I asked the waiter.
`"Twelve o'clock, señorita."
`"Pablo comes at one," I told myself, "if tell a taxi to take the beltway home, I can still wait a bit longer." But I didn't wait and I went out into the street. The sun was silver- plated, my thoughts became a brilliant powder and there was no present, past or future. On the sidewalk my cousin stood in front of me, his eyes were sad, he stared at me for a long time.
`"What have you been up to?" he asked me with his profound voice.
`"I was waiting for you."
He stood still like a panther. I saw his black hair and the red wound on his shoulder.
`"Weren't you afraid of being here alone?"
`The stones and cries began whizzing around us and I felt something burning behind me.
`"Don't look," he told me.
`He knelt on one knee and with his fingers smothered my dress that had begun to burn. I saw his grieving eyes.
`"Take me away from here!" I shouted with all my might because I remembered that I was in front of my father's house, that the house was burning and that behind me my parents and my brothers and sisters lay dead. I saw everything reflected in his eyes while he had one knee on the ground smothering my dress. I let myself fall over him so he would hold me in his arms. With his warm hand he covered my eyes.
`"This is the end of man," I told him with my eyes beneath his hand.
`"Don't look at it!"
`He held me against his heart. I heard it like thunder rolling over the mountains. How much longer before time would stop and I could hear it forever? My tears refreshed his hand that burned in the fire of the city. The shouts and the stones drew closer to us, but I was safe against his chest.
`"Sleep with me..." he said in a very low voice.
`"Did you see me last night?" I asked.
`"I saw you..."
`We slept in the light of the morning, in the heat of the fire. When we awakened, he stood up and grabbed his shield.
`"Hide until dawn. I will come for you."
`He left running, his naked legs moving swiftly...and I escaped again, Nachita, because I was afraid by myself.
`"Señorita, do you feel sick?"
`A voice like Pablo's came close to me in the middle of the street.
`"You fool! Leave me alone!"
`A taxi took me home by the beltway and I made it...'
Nacha remembered her arrival: she had opened the door for her. And it was she who had given her the news. Josefina came down later, tripping over the stairs.
"Señora, the señor and señora Margarita are at the police station!"
Laura stared at her in surprise, silent.
"Where did you go, señora?"
"I went to the café Tacuba."
"But that was two days ago."
Josefina was carrying the "Latest News." She read it out loud: "The señora Aldama is still missing. It is believed that the sinister individual with an indigenous appearance who followed her from Cuitzeo is a madman. The police are investigating in the states of Michoacán and Guanajuato."
Señora Laurita wrenched the newspaper from Josefina's hands and tore it up angrily. Then she went to her room. Nacha and Josefina followed her, it was better to not leave her alone. They saw her throw herself over her bed and dream with her eyes wide open. The two had the same thought and they told each other so later on in the kitchen: "It seems to me that señora Laurita is in love." When the señor arrived, they were still in the bedroom of their mistress.
"Laura!" he cried. He rushed to the bed and took his wife in his arms.
"Love of my life!" sobbed the señor.
Señora Laurita seemed moved for a few seconds.
"Señor!" shouted Josefina. "The señora's dress has been scorched."
Nacha looked at her disapprovingly. The señor scrutinized the señora's dress and legs.
"It's true..even the soles of her shoes are burnt. My love, what happened? Where were you?"
"At the café Tacuba" answered the señora composedly.
Señora Margarita wrung her hands and drew close to her daughter-in-law.
"We already know that the day before yesterday you were there and that you ate a cocada. And then?"
"Then I took a taxi and I came home on the beltway."
Nacha lowered her eyes, Josefina opened her mouth as if to say something and señora Margarita bit her lip. Pablo, on the other hand, seized his wife by the shoulders and shook her forcefully.
"Stop playing the fool! Where were you for two days?...Why is your dress burned?"
"Burned? But he smothered it..." Laura blurted out.
"Him?...That disgusting indian?" Pablo shook her again in his fury.
"He found me at the door of the café Tacuba..." cried the señora, frightened to death.
"I never thought you were so low!" said the señor, and he pushed her back on the bed.
"Tell us who he is," asked her mother-in-law, softening her voice.
`It's true, isn't it Nachita, that I couldn't tell them he was my husband?' Laura sought her cook's approval.
Nacha commended the discretion of her employer, and remembered that day at noon that, she, distressed by the condition of her mistress, had suggested:
"Perhaps the indian of Cuitzeo is a witch."
But señora Margarita turned on her with glaring eyes and responded almost screaming:
"A witch? You mean an assassin!"
Afterwards, they would not let señora Laurita leave the house for many days. The señor ordered that the windows and doors of the house be guarded. The cook and the maid checked in on the señora continually. Nacha refrained from expressing her opinion on the matter or from speaking about peculiar incidents. But, who could silence Josefina?
"Señor, at dawn the indian was at the window again," she announced while bringing in the breakfast tray.
The señor rushed to the window and found more evidence of fresh blood. The señora began to cry.
"Poor thing!...poor thing!..." she said between sobs.
It was that afternoon when the señor arrived with a doctor. From then on, the doctor returned every evening.
`He asked me about my childhood, about my mother and my father. But, I, Nachita, didn't know which childhood, nor which father nor which mother he wanted to know about. That's why I told him about the Conquest of Mexico. You understand me, don't you?' asked Laura peering over the yellow saucepans.
`Yes, señora...' And Nachita, nervous, scrutinized the garden through the kitchen window. The night barely let one see among its shadows. She remembered the señor's loss of appetite at dinner and the afflicted expression of his mother.
"Mama', Laura told the doctor the History of Bernal Di'az del Castillo. She says that it's the only thing that interests her."
Señora Margarita dropped her fork.
"My poor child, your wife is insane!"
"She speaks only of the fall of the great Tenochtitlán," added Pablo in a gloomy tone.
Two days later, the doctor, señora Margarita and Pablo decided that Laura's depression was increasing with her isolation. She should have contact with the outside world and face her responsibilities. From that day on, the señor ordered a car to take his wife to Chapultepec for short strolls. The señora would leave accompanied by her mother-in-law and the chauffeur had orders to watch her closely. But the air from the eucalyptus trees didn't improve her health, because as soon as she returned to the house, señora Laurita would lock herself in her room to read The Conquest of Mexico by Bernal Díaz.
One morning señora Margarita returned from Chapultepec alone and disheartened.
"That crazy woman escaped!" she shouted in a thunderous voice as soon as she entered the house."
`Imagine, Nacha, I sat down on the usual bench and I told myself: "He won't forgive me. A man can forgive one, two, three, four betrayals, but not a permanent betrayal." This thought made me very sad. It was hot out and Margarita bought a vanilla ice cream; I didn't want any, so she sat in the automobile to eat it. I noticed that she was as bored with me as I was with her. I don't like being constantly watched and I tried to look at other things so I wouldn't see her eating her cone and watching me. I saw the grey moss that hung from the pines and I don't know why, but the morning became as sad as those trees. "The trees and I have seen the same catastrophes," I told myself. Along the empty street the hours strolled alone. I was like the hours, alone on an empty street. My husband had contemplated my eternal betrayal through the window and had abandoned me on that street made of things which did not exist. I remembered the smell of the leaves of corn and the whispered rumor of his steps. "That is how he walked with the rhythm of dried leaves when the wind of February carries them over the stones. I never used to have to turn my head to know that he was there watching me from behind"...I was thinking these sad thoughts when I heard the sun slip away and the dry leaves begin to stir. I felt his breath on my back, then he was in front of me, I saw his bare feet in front of mine. He had a scratch on his knee. I raised my eyes and found myself beneath his. We stood for a long time without speaking. Out of respect I waited for his words.'
`"What have you been up to?" he said.
`I saw that he didn't stir and that he seemed sadder than before.
`"I was waiting for you," I answered.
`"The last day is coming...."
`It seemed to me that his voice came from the bottom of time. Blood continued to flow from his shoulder. I was filled with shame, lowered my eyes, opened my purse and took out a handkerchief to wipe his chest. Then I put it away. He stood still, watching me.
`"Let's go to the exit of Tacuba...There are many betrayals..."
`He took my hand and we walked among the people, who were yelling and whimpering. There were many dead floating in the water of the canals. There were women sitting in the grass watching them float. The stench was everywhere and the children ran crying from one end to the other, having lost their parents. I watched everything without wanting to see it. The smashed canoes carried nothing but sadness. My husband sat me beneath a broken tree. He put one knee on the ground and attentively watched the events around us. He wasn't afraid. Afterwards he looked at me.
`"I know you're a traitor and that you have affection for me. The good grows together with the bad."
`I could hardly hear him over the children's cries. They came from far way, but they were so strong that they ruptured the light of the day. It seemed like it was the last time they would cry.
`"It's the children..." he told me.
`"This is the end of man," I repeated, because I could think of nothing else to say.
`He put his hands over my ears and then held me against his chest.
`"As a traitor I met you and as such I loved you."
`"You were born unlucky," I said. I clasped him to me. My cousin husband closed his eyes to keep in the tears. We lay down together over the broken branches of the piru'. The shouts of the warriors, the stones, and the children's tears reached us there.
`"Time is coming to an end..." sighed my husband.
`Through a crevice escaped the women who didn't wish to die along with the day. The ranks of men fell one after the other, in cadence as if they were gathered up by hand and the same blow knocked them all down. Some of them shrieked so loudly that the sound resonated a long while after their death.
`Little time remained before we would become one forever, when my cousin got up, gathered branches and made me a small cave.
`"Wait for me here."
`He looked at me and left to fight with the hope of avoiding defeat. I remained huddled up. I tried not to see the fleeing people to avoid temptation, and I tried not to see the bodies that floated in the water to avoid the tears. I began to count the small fruit that hung from the broken branches: they were dry and when I touched them with my fingers the red rinds fell from them. I don't know why that seemed a bad omen, but I preferred to look at the sky, which began to grow dark. First it became brown, then it began to take on the color of those drowned in the canals. I sat there remembering the colors of other afternoons. But the afternoon became bruised, swelling, as if suddenly it was going to burst and it I realized that time was up. If my cousin didn't return, what would become of me? Perhaps he was already dead in battle. His fate no longer mattered to me and I left that place as fast as I could, pursued by my own fear. "When he arrives and looks for me..." I didn't have time to finish my thought because I found myself in the twilight of Mexico city. "Margarita must have finished her vanilla ice cream and Pablo must be very mad"...A taxi took me home on the beltway. And do you know, Nachita, that the beltways were those canals infested with cadavers? That is why I arrived so sad...Now, Nachita, don't tell the señor that I spent the night with my husband.'
Nachita settled her hands over her lilac skirt.
`Señor Pablo has already been gone ten days to Acapulco. He became very weak during the weeks of the investigation,' explained Nachita with satisfaction.
Laura looked at her without surprise and sighed with relief.
`The one who is up there is señora Margarita,' added Nacha raising her eyes to the kitchen ceiling.
Laura clasped her knees and looked out the windows at the roses erased by the nocturnal shadows and at the lights of the neighboring windows that were beginning to go out.
Nachita poured salt over the back of her hand and ate it as if it were candy.
`So many coyotes! The pack is excited!' she said with a voice full of salt.
Laura sat still, listening a few moments. `Damned animals, you should have seen them this afternoon,' she said.
`As long as they don't obstruct the señor's travel or make him take the wrong road,' commented Nacha, afraid.
`If he's never been afraid of them, why should he be afraid of them tonight?' asked Laura, irritated.
Nacha drew close to her employer to emphasize the sudden intimacy established between them. `They are weaker than the tlaxcaltecas,' she told her in a low voice.
The two women sat quietly. Nacha devoured little by little another small mound of salt. Laura listened worriedly to the howls of the coyotes that filled the night. It was Nacha who saw him coming and who opened the window.
`Señora!...He has come for you...' she whispered to her in a voice so low that only Laura could hear it.
Afterwards, when Laura had already left with him forever, Nachita washed the blood from the window and chased off the coyotes, who came into her century, a century ended in just that instant. Nacha checked with her ancient eyes in order to see if everything was in order: she washed the coffee cup, threw the cigarette butts stained with lipstick into the wastecan, set the coffee pot in the cupboard and turned out the light.
`I say that señora Laurita was not from this time, nor was she meant for the señor,' she said in the morning, when she carried breakfast to señora Margarita.
`I no longer feel at home in the Aldama house. I am going to look for another job. I told Josefina.' And when the maid wasn't looking, Nacha left without even collecting her pay.
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