Sunday, July 28, 2013

Vargas Llosa's In Praise of the Stepmother (Chapter 1)

Congratulations, Señor Jorge Mario Pedro Varga...Image by * starrynight1 via Flick
The day she turned forty years old, Dona Lucrecia found on her pillow a letter of infantile stroke, calligraphed with much affection:
-Happy bithday, stepmother!
-I have no money to give you anything but will study a lot, I’ll win the first place and this will be my gift. You're the best and the most beautiful and I every night I dream of you.
-Happy birthday, again!
—Alfonso.

It was past midnight and Don Rigoberto was in the bathroom given to his bedtime ablutions, which were

complicated and slow. (After erotic paintings, body cleansing was his favorite pass-time; the spiritual aspect did not affect him as much.) Moved by the letter of the child, dona Lucrecia felt the irresistible urge to go see him, to thank him for it. These lines were his acceptance in the family, really. Was he still awake? No Matter! If not, she would kiss on the forehead with great care so as to not awaken him.
 As she went down on the carpeted stairs of the mansion, in the dark, heading for Alfonso’s room, she was thinking: "I've won him, he loves me already.” And her old fears about the child began to evaporate as Lima’s summer sun burns off a light fog. She had forgotten to put on a night gown; naked was she under the light nightgown of black silk, her white forms generous, yet hard, seemed to float in the darkness broken by the reflections of the street. She wore her long hair loose and had not yet removed her earrings, rings and necklaces from the party.
In the Child's room —right, Foncho always read till very late!— a light was on. Dona Lucrecia knocked with her knuckles and entered: "Alfonsito!" In the yellow cone that radiated from the lamp on the nightstand, from behind a book by Alexander Dumas, frightened, a baby-Jesus face peered. The golden tangled ringlets, mouth semi opened by the surprise and showing the double row of white teeth, big blue eyes were wide open trying to rescue her from the shadow of the doorway. Dona Lucrecia stood motionless, watching him tenderly. What a beautiful child! An angel of nativity, one of those gallant pages that her husband kept under four keys.
-Is that you, stepmother?
-What a cute little letter you wrote to me, Foncho. It's the best birthday gift anyone has ever given to me, I swear.
The boy had jumped and was already standing on the bed. He smiled, arms open. As she moved, toward him, smiling too, dona Lucrecia surprised herself: —Did she guess?—in the eyes of her stepson a look that went from the joy to unease and that was fixed in astonishment on her breasts. "My God, but if you're almost naked,” she thought. "How could you forget the night gown, silly! What a show for the poor kid.” Had she had more drinks than her limit?
But Alfonsito was already hugging her: "Happy birthday, stepmother!" His voice, cool and unworried rejuvenated the night. Dona Lucrecia felt against her body the slender silhouette of fragile bones and thought of a bird. It occurred to her that if she shook the child with great impetus the child would be break like a reed. So, by standing on the bed both were of the same height. He had threaded his thin arms on her neck and kissed her lovingly on the cheek. Dona Lucrecia hugged him too and one of her hands, sliding under the blue pajama in red edges, touched and patted his back, feeling in her fingertips the delicate cones his dorsal spine. "I love you, step-mother," whispered the little voice in his ear. Dona Lucrecia felt two quick lips stop short before the lower lobe of her ear, heating it with it vaporous breath, kissing it, and nibbling it, playing. It seemed to her that as he stroked her, Alfonsito laughed at the same time. Her chest was overflowing with emotion. And to think that her friends had predicted that the stepson would be the greatest obstacle, that because of him she would never be happy with Rigoberto. Touched,  she kissed him on the cheeks, forehead, and tousled hair, while vaguely, as if coming from afar, without being conscious of it, a different sensation was penetrating her body from one end to another, concentrating especially mainly on those parts —breasts, abdomen, back of the thighs, neck, shoulders, cheeks— exposed to the child’s contact. "You really love me that much?" she asked, trying to pull away. But Alfonsito would not let her go. And, on the contrary, as he replied, singing, "A lot, stepmother, you're the one I love most", he clinged to her. Next, his little hands seized her temples and threw her head back. Dona Lucrecia felt pecked in the forehead, eyes, eyebrows, cheek, chin ... When his thin lips brushed hers, she clenched her teeth, confused. Did Fonchito comprehend what he was doing? Should she distance herself with of a pull? But no, no, how was she to add malice to those fluttering, bouncing, naughty lips that twice, three times, wandering the geography of her face rested a moment on her own, pressuring them with eagerness.
"Well, now to sleep," said she, finally breaking away from the child. She struggled to look more composed than she was—. If not, you won’t get up to go to school, peewee.
The boy got into bed, agreeing.
He looked at her smiling, with rosy cheeks and an expression of rapture. How can there be malice in him! That limpid face, those rejoicing eyes, and that small body that shrugs and huddles under the sheets, were they not the personification of innocence? The rotten one is you, Lucretia! She tucked him in, straightened the pillow, kissed his hair, and turned out the light of the night table. When she left the room, she heard him chirp:
-I get the first place and I'll present it to you, stepmother!
-Promise, Fonchito?
-On my honor!
In the intimacy of the accompliced stairs, while returning to the bedroom, dona Lucrecia felt  herself burning from head to toe. "But that is no fever,” she said, stunned. Was it possible that the unconscious caresses of a child could affect her it this way? You're turning into a vicious woman. Would this be the first symptom of senility? Because the truth is that she felt flashes and her legs wet. What a shame, Lucrecia, what a shame! Suddenly it crossed her mind the memory of a licentious friend, in a tea-function to raise funds for the Red Cross, had raised blushes and nervous giggles at their table when she told them that she, while napping naked with a little goddson, he would scratch her back, lighting her fire like a torch.
Don Rigoberto was lying on his back, naked on the purple bedspread with prints that resembled scorpions. In the room with no light, barely lit by the reflection of the street, his long whiten silhouette, hairy in the chest and pubis, remained quiet while Dona Lucrecia removed her shoes and lay down beside her, without touching him. Was her husband asleep?
 -Where did you go? She heard him whisper, with the voice thick and delayed of the man who speaks from the crackle of illusion, a voice she knew so well. -Why did you abandon me, my love?
-I went to kiss Fonchito. He wrote me a birthday card you do not know. It almost made me weep; so affectionate it was.
She guessed he barely listened. She felt Don Rigoberto’s right hand grazing her thigh. It burned like a pack of boiling water. His fingers dug, clumsy, in between the folds and wrinkles of her nightdress. "Will he notice that I’m soaked wet? she thought, uncomfortable. But it was a fleeting discomfort, because the same vehement wave that had startled her in the stairs returned to her body, making her bristle. It seemed to her that all her pores opened, and awaited eagerly.
-Fonchito saw you in nightgown? fantasized, excited, her husband’s voice. -You might have given bad ideas to that little kid. Tonight he’ll have his first erotic dream, perhaps.
She heard him laughing, excited, and she laughed too: -What are saying, you fool. At the same time she feigned to hit him, dropping the left hand on Don Rigoberto’s belly. But what she touched was a stiff human shaft raising and pulsing.
-What is this? What is this? Exclaimed dona Lucrecia, grabbing it, stretching it, letting it go, and recovering it. -Look what I found, well, what a surprise.
Don Rigoberto had her over him and was kissing her with delight, sucking her lips, spreading them. For a long while, with eyes closed, while feeling her husband’s tip of his tongue explore the cavity of her mouth, crossing gums and palate, eager to taste and know everything, dona  Lucrecia sunk into bewildered happiness, a dense throbbing sensation that seemed to soften her limbs and abolish them, making her float, sink, turn. In the bottom of the whirlwind that was her pleasure, life, as if peering and disappearing in a mirror that is losing its quicksilver, was outlined at times an obtrusive face, the red-faced of a blond angel. Her husband had lifted her nightgown and was caressing her buttocks in a circular motion and methodical, as he kissed her breasts. She heard him whisper that he loved her, whisper gently that with her his real life had started. Dona Lucrecia kissed him on the neck and nibbled his nipples till she heard him moan; then slowly licked those nests that so excited Don Rigoberto and that he had carefully washed and perfumed before bed: the armpits. She heard him purr like a cuddly cat, squirming under her body. Hasty, his hands separated dona Lucrecia’s thighs with a sort of exasperation. Straddling him, they accommodated them, opened them. She moaned, hurting and joyful, while in a confused maelstrom, she could see an image of St. Sebastian pierced, crucified, and impaled. She had the feeling of being gored in the center of the heart. No longer could she contain herself. With eyes half closed, hands behind her head, pushing her breasts, she rode that stallion of love that swayed in rhythm with him, mumbling words that she could barely articulate, until she felt she swooned .
-Who am I?- She asked, blindly- Who do you say I've been?
-The wife of the king of Lydia, my love- burst Don Rigoberto, lost in dreams.


Translated from Spanish by Marciano Guerrero.
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