Mario Vargas Llosa; Translated by Edith Grossman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
The Return of Fonchito
The doorbell rang, Doña Lucrecia went to see who was there, and like a portrait in the open doorway, with the twisted gray trees of the Olivar de San Isidro as the background, she saw the golden ringlets and blue eyes of Fonchito’s head. The world began to spin.
“I miss you very much, Stepmamá,” chirped the voice she remembered so well. “Are you still angry with me? I came to ask your forgiveness. Do you forgive me?”
“You, it’s you?” Still holding the doorknob, Doña Lucrecia had to lean against the wall. “Aren’t you ashamed to come here?”
“I sneaked out of the academy,” the boy insisted, showing her his sketchbook, his colored pencils. “I missed you very much, really I did. Why are you so pale?”
“My God, my God.” Doña Lucrecia staggered and dropped to the faux-colonial bench next to the door. White as a sheet, she covered her eyes.
“Don’t die!” shouted the boy in fright.
And Doña Lucrecia—she felt herself passing out—saw the small, childish figure cross the threshold, close the door, fall to his knees at her feet, grasp her hands, and rub them in bewilderment. “Don’t die, don’t faint, please.”
She made an effort to collect her wits and regain her self-control. She took a deep breath before speaking. Her words came slowly, for she thought her voice would break at any moment. “Nothing’s wrong, I’m fine now. Seeing you here was the last thing I expected. How did you have the nerve? Don’t you feel any remorse?”
Still on his knees, Fonchito tried to kiss her hand.
“Say you forgive me, Stepmamá,” he begged. “Say it, say it. The house isn’t the same since you left. I came here so many times after school just to catch a glimpse of you. I wanted to ring the bell but I didn’t have the courage. Won’t you ever forgive me?”
“Never,” she said firmly. “I’ll never forgive what you did, you wicked boy.”
But, belying her own words, her large, dark eyes scrutinized with curiosity, some pleasure, perhaps even with tenderness, the tousled curls, the thin blue veins in his neck, the tips of his ears visible among the blond ringlets, the slim graceful body tightly encased in the blue jacket and gray trousers of his school uniform. Her nostrils breathed in that adolescent odor of soccer games, hard candies, and d’Onofrio ice cream; her ears recognized the high-pitched breaks, the changing voice that still echoed in her memory. Doña Lucrecia’s hands resigned themselves to being dampened by the baby-bird kisses of that sweet mouth.
“I love you very much, Stepmamá,” Fonchito whimpered. “And even if you don’t think so, my papá does too.”
Just then Justiniana appeared, a lithe, cinnamon-colored figure wrapped in a flowered smock, with a kerchief around her head and a feather duster in her hand. She stood, frozen, in the hallway leading to the kitchen.
“Master Alfonso,” she murmured in disbelief. “Fonchito! I can’t believe it!”
“Imagine, imagine!” Doña Lucrecia exclaimed, determined to display more indignation than she actually felt. “He has the gall to come to this house. After ruining my life and hurting Rigoberto so. To ask for my forgiveness and shed his crocodile tears. Have you ever seen anything so shameless, Justiniana?”
But even now she did not pull away the slender fingers that Fonchito, shaken by his sobs, continued to kiss.
“Go on, Master Alfonso,” said the girl, so confused that without realizing it she now began to address him with the more familiar tú. “Can’t you see how much you’re upsetting the señora? Go on, leave now, Fonchito.”
“I’ll go if she says she forgives me,” pleaded the boy, sighing, his head resting on Doña Lucrecia’s hands. “And you, Justita, you don’t even say hello, you start right in insulting me? What did I ever do to you? I love you too, a lot; I love you so much I cried all night when you left.”
“Quiet, you liar, I don’t believe a word you say.” Justiniana smoothed Doña Lucrecia’s hair. “Shall I bring you a cloth and some alcohol, Señora?”
“Just a glass of water. Don’t worry, I’m all right now. But seeing the boy here in this house gave me such a shock.”
And, at last, very gently, she withdrew her hands from Fonchito’s grasp. The boy remained at her feet, not crying now, struggling to suppress his sobs. His eyes were red and tears had streaked his face. A thread of saliva hung from his mouth. Through the mist that fogged her eyes, Doña Lucrecia observed his chiseled nose, well-defined lips, small, imperious cleft chin, the brilliant whiteness of his teeth. She wanted to slap him, scratch that Baby Jesus face. Hypocrite! Judas! Even bite his neck and suck his blood like a vampire.
“Does your father know you’re here?”
“What an idea, Stepmamá,” the boy answered immediately, in a conspiratorial tone. “Who knows what he’d do to me. He never talks about you, but I know how much he misses you. I swear you’re all he thinks about, night or day. I came here in secret, I sneaked out of the academy. I go three times a week, after school. Do you want me to show you my drawings? Say you forgive me, Stepmamá.”
“Don’t say anything, throw him out, Señora.” Justiniana had come back with a glass of water; Doña Lucrecia took several sips. “Don’t let him fool you with his pretty face. He’s Lucifer in person, and you know it. He’ll play another evil trick on you worse than the first one.”
“Don’t say that, Justita.” Fonchito looked ready to burst into tears again. “I swear I’m sorry, Stepmamá. I didn’t know what I was doing, honest. I didn’t want anything to happen. Do you think I wanted you to go away? That I wanted my papá and me to be left all alone?”
“I didn’t go away,” Doña Lucrecia muttered, contradicting him. “Rigoberto threw me out as if I were a whore. And it was all your fault!”
“Don’t say dirty words, Stepmamá.” The boy raised both hands in horror. “Don’t say them, they don’t suit you.”
Despite her grief and anger, Doña Lucrecia almost smiled. Cursing didn’t suit her! A perceptive, sensitive child? Justiniana was right: he was Beelzebub, a viper with the face of an angel.
The boy exploded with jubilation. “You’re laughing, Stepmamá! Does that mean you forgive me? Then say it, say you have, Stepmamá.”
He clapped his hands, and in his blue eyes the sadness had cleared and a savage little light was flashing. Doña Lucrecia noticed the ink stains on his fingers. Despite herself, she was touched. Was she going to faint again? How absurd. She saw her reflection in the foyer mirror: her expression had regained its composure, but a light blush tinged her cheeks, and her breast rose and fell in agitation. With an automatic gesture she closed the neckline of her dressing gown. How could he be so shameless, so cynical, so perverse, when he was still so young? Justiniana read her thoughts. She looked at her as if to say, “Don’t be weak, Señora, don’t forgive him. Don’t be a fool!” Hiding her embarrassment, she took a few more sips of water; it was cold and did her good. The boy quickly grasped her free hand and began to kiss it again, talking all the while.
“Thank you, Stepmamá. You’re so good, but I knew that, that’s why I had the courage to ring the bell. I want to show you my drawings. And talk to you about Egon Schiele, about his life and his paintings. And tell you what I’ll be when I grow up, and a thousand other things. Can you guess? A painter, Stepmamá! That’s what I want to be.”
Justiniana shook her head in alarm. Outside, motors and horns disturbed the San Isidro twilight, and through the sheer curtains in the dining alcove, Doña Lucrecia caught a glimpse of the bare branches and knotted trunks of the olive trees; they had become a friendly presence. Enough indecisiveness, it was time to act.
“All right, Fonchito,” she said, with a severity her heart no longer demanded of her. “Now make me happy. Please go away.”
“Yes, Stepmamá.” The boy leaped to his feet. “Whatever you say. I’ll always listen to you, I’ll always obey you in everything. You’ll see how well I can behave.”
His voice and expression were those of someone who has eased himself of a heavy burden and made peace with his conscience. A golden lock of hair brushed his forehead, and his eyes sparkled with joy. Doña Lucrecia watched as he put a hand into his back pocket, took out a handkerchief, blew his nose, and then picked up his book bag, his portfolio of drawings, his box of pencils from the floor. With all that on his shoulder, he backed away, smiling, toward the door, not taking his eyes off Doña Lucrecia and Justiniana.
“As soon as I can, I’ll sneak away again and come and visit you, Stepmamá,” he warbled from the doorway. “And you too, Justita, of course.”
When the street door closed, both women stood motionless and silent. Soon the bells of the Virgen del Pilar Church began to ring in the distance. A dog barked.
“It’s incredible,” murmured Doña Lucrecia. “I can’t believe he had the nerve to show his face in this house.”
“What’s incredible is how good you are,” the girl replied indignantly. “You’ve forgiven him, haven’t you? After the way he tricked you into fighting with the señor. There’s a place reserved for you in heaven, Señora!”
“I’m not even certain it was a trick, or that he planned it all out ahead of time.”
She was walking toward the bathroom, talking to herself, but she heard Justiniana chiding her. “Of course he planned everything. Fonchito is capable of the most awful things, don’t you know that yet?”
Perhaps, thought Doña Lucrecia. But he was a boy, only a boy. Wasn’t he? Yes, at least there could be no doubt about that. In the bathroom she splashed cold water on her forehead and looked at herself in the mirror. Agitation had sharpened her nose and made it twitch uneasily, and there were bluish circles under her eyes. Between her partially opened lips she could see the tip of the sandpaper her tongue had turned into. She recalled the lizards and iguanas in Piura; their tongues were always bone-dry, like hers was now. Fonchito’s presence in her house had made her feel stony and ancient, like those prehistoric relics of the northern deserts. Without thinking, acting automatically, she untied her belt, and with a movement of her shoulders shrugged off her dressing gown; the silk slid down her body like a caress and fell with a whisper to the floor. Flat and round, the dressing gown covered her insteps, like a gigantic flower. Not knowing what she was doing or what she was going to do, breathing heavily, her feet stepped across the barrier of clothing that encircled them and carried her to the bidet, where, after lowering her lace panties, she sat down. What was she doing? What are you going to do, Lucrecia? She was not smiling. She tried to inhale and exhale more calmly while her hands, moving independently, turned the taps, the hot, the cold, testing them, mixing them, adjusting them, raising or lowering the jet of water—lukewarm, hot, cold, cool, weak, strong, pulsating. Her lower body moved forward, moved back, leaned to the right, the left, until it found just the right spot. There. A shiver ran down her spine. “Perhaps he didn’t even realize, perhaps he didn’t know what he was doing,” she repeated to herself, feeling sorry for the boy she had cursed so often during these past six months. Perhaps he wasn’t bad, perhaps he wasn’t. Mischievous, naughty, conceited, irresponsible, a thousand other things. But not evil, no. “Perhaps not.” Thoughts burst inside her head like bubbles in a pot of boiling water. She recalled the day she had met Rigoberto, the widower with the great Buddha ears and outrageous nose whom she would marry a short while later, and the first time she had seen her stepson, a cherub in a blue sailor suit—gold buttons, a little cap with an anchor—and all she had discovered and learned, the unexpected, imaginative, intense nocturnal life in the little house in Barranco that Rigoberto had built to begin their life together, and the arguments between the architect and her husband which had marked the construction of what would become her home. So much had happened! The images came and went, dissolved, changed, entwined, followed one after the other, and it was as if the liquid caress of the nimble jet of water reached to her very soul.
Instructions for the Architect
Our misunderstanding is conceptual in nature. You have created this attractive design for my house and library based on the supposition—one that is extremely widespread, unfortunately—that people, not objects, are the primary consideration in a residence. I do not criticize you for having made this opinion your own, since it is indispensable for any man in your profession not resigned to doing without clients. But my conception of my future home is just the opposite. To wit: in the small constructed space that I will call my world and that will be ruled by my whims, we humans will be second-class citizens; books, pictures, and engravings will have first priority. My four thousand volumes and one hundred canvases and prints should constitute the primary rationale for the design I have hired you to make. You must subordinate the comfort, safety, and space allotted human occupants to what is needed for those objects.
An absolutely essential factor is the fireplace, which must have the capacity to serve, at my discretion, as a crematorium for unwanted books and prints. For this reason, it must be placed very close to the bookshelves and within reach of my chair, since it pleases me to play inquisitor to literary and artistic calamities while seated. Let me explain. The four thousand volumes and one hundred prints in my possession are invariable numbers. In order to avoid excessive abundance and disorder, I will never own more, but they will not always be the same, for they will be replaced constantly until my death. Which means that for each book I add to my library, I eliminate another, and each image that enters my collection—lithograph, woodcut, xylograph, drawing, engraving, mixed media, oil painting, watercolor, et cetera—displaces the least favorite among all the others. I will not conceal from you that choosing the victim is difficult, at times heartrending, a Hamletian dilemma that torments me for days, weeks, and then becomes part of my nightmares. At first I presented the sacrificed books and prints to public libraries and museums. Now I burn them, which accounts for the importance of the fireplace. I chose this drastic method, which seasons the discomfort of selecting a victim with the spice of committing a cultural sacrilege, an ethical transgression, on the day, or, I should say, the night when, having decided to replace a reproduction of Andy Warhol’s multicolored Campbell’s soup can with a beautiful Szyszlo inspired by the sea of Paracas, I realized it was stupid to inflict on other eyes a work I had come to consider unworthy of mine. And then I threw it in the fire. As I watched the pasteboard scorch and burn, I confess to experiencing a vague remorse. This no longer happens. I have consigned dozens of romantic and indigenist poets to the flames, and an equal number of conceptualist, abstract, informalist, landscapist, portraitist, and sacred works of art in order to maintain the numerus clausus of my library and art collection, and I have done so not with regret but with the stimulating sense that I was engaging in literary and artistic criticism as it should be practiced: radically, irreversibly, and flammably. Let me add, to bring this digression to a close, that the pastime amuses me, but since it in no way serves as an aphrodisiac, I consider it limited, minor, merely spiritual, lacking bodily repercussions.
I trust you will not interpret what you have just read—the greater importance I attribute to pictures and books than to flesh-and-blood bipeds—as a sudden whim or cynical pose. It is neither, but rather a deep-rooted conviction, the result of certain extremely difficult but also highly pleasurable experiences. It was in no way easy for me to adopt a position that contradicted the ancient traditions—with a smile on our lips, let us call them humanistic—of anthropocentric philosophies and religions in which it is inconceivable that a real human being, an organism of perishable flesh and bone, can be considered less worthy of interest and respect than the invented one that resides (if it makes you more comfortable, let us say it is reflected) in the imagery of art and literature. I will spare you the details of this story and move directly to the conclusion I reached, which I now proclaim with no embarrassment. It is not the world of cunning cattle that you and I are part of which interests me and brings me joy or suffering, but the myriad beings animated by imagination, desire, and artistic skill, the beings present in the paintings, books, and prints that I have collected with the patience and love of many years. The house I am going to build in Barranco, the project you are going to redesign from beginning to end, is for them rather than for me or my new bride or young son. The trinity formed by my family, no blasphemy intended, is in the service of these objects, as you must be when, after reading these lines, you lean over the drawing board to correct the mistake you have made.
What I have just written is the literal truth, not an enigmatic metaphor. I am building this house to suffer and find pleasure with them and by them and for them. Make an effort to imitate me during the limited time you will be in my employ.
And now, draw up your plans.
The Night of the Cats
Faithfully keeping the appointment, Lucrecia came in with the darkness, talking of cats. She herself resembled a beautiful Angora in the whispering ermine that reached down to her feet and concealed her movements. Was she naked under her silvery wrap?
“Did you say cats?”
“Little cats, I mean,” she mewed, striding resolutely around Don Rigoberto, who was reminded of a bull that has just emerged from the pen and is taking the bullfighter’s measure. “Kitty cats, pussycats, kittens. A dozen, maybe more.”
They were frolicking on the red velvet bedspread. They pulled back and extended their little paws beneath the cone of brutal light that fell, like stardust, from the invisible ceiling onto the bed. The scent of musk filled the air, and baroque music, with its abrupt diapasons, came from the same corner as the dry, commanding voice.
“Absolutely not,” Doña Lucrecia protested. “You want me there with those animals. I’d rather die, I can’t stand them.”
“He wanted you to make love to him in the middle of all those kittens?” Don Rigoberto did not miss a single moment of Doña Lucrecia’s progress around the soft thick carpet. His heart awoke as the Barrancan night became less humid, more lively.
“Imagine,” she replied softly, stopping for an instant and then resuming her circular pacing. “He wanted to see me naked in the middle of those cats. And I find them so disgusting! I get gooseflesh just thinking about it.”
Don Rigoberto began to discern their shapes, his ears began to hear the weak mewing of the swarm of cats. Segregated by shadows, they began to appear, become corporeal, and on the fiery bedspread, beneath the shower of light, the gleams and reflections and dark contortions made him dizzy. He sensed that at the tips of those shifting limbs there was a suggestion of aqueous, curved, infant claws.
“Come, come here,” the man in the corner ordered in a quiet voice. And at the same time he must have turned up the volume, because clavichords and violins swelled, assaulting his ears. Pergolesi! Don Rigoberto recognized the composer. He understood why that sonata had been chosen: the eighteenth century was not only the time of disguises and confusion of the sexes; it was also the century par excellence of cats. Hadn’t Venice always been a feline republic?
“Were you naked by this time?” Listening to himself, he realized that desire was quickly taking control of his body.
“Not yet. He undressed me, as always. Why do you ask when you know that’s what he likes best?”
“And do you too?” he interrupted in a honeyed tone.
Doña Lucrecia laughed, a little forced laugh.
“It’s always nice to have a valet,” she whispered, inventing a charming modesty for herself. “Though this time it was different.”
“Because of the cats?”
“Of course because of the cats. They made me so nervous. My nerves were all on edge, Rigoberto.”
And still, she had obeyed the order of the lover hidden in the corner. Docile, curious, aroused, she stood beside him and waited, not for a second forgetting the pack of felines knotted together, arching their backs, rolling over, licking with their tongues, displaying themselves in the obscene yellow circle that held them prisoner in the center of the flaming bedspread. When she felt his two hands on her ankles, moving down to her feet and removing her shoes, her breasts grew as taut as two bows. Her nipples hardened. Meticulously he removed her stockings, kissing, without haste and with great care, every inch of exposed skin. He murmured something that Doña Lucrecia thought at first were tender or vulgar words dictated by excitement.
“But no, it was not a declaration of love, or any of the filthy things that sometimes occur to him.” She laughed again, the same little disbelieving laugh, and stopped within reach of Don Rigoberto’s hands. He did not attempt to touch her.
“What, then,” he stammered, struggling with his recalcitrant tongue.
“Explanations, a whole felinesque lecture,” and she laughed again between stifled little screams. “Did you know that the thing kittens like best in the world is honey? And that at their backsides they have a sac that produces perfume?”
Don Rigoberto sniffed at the night with dilated nostrils.
“Is that the scent you’re wearing? Isn’t that musk?”
“It’s civet. Cat perfume. I’m covered with it. Does it bother you?”
The story was slipping away from him, he was losing his hold on it, he had thought he was inside and now he found himself on the outside. Don Rigoberto did not know what to think.
“And why had he brought the jars of honey?” he asked, fearing a game or a joke that would undermine the gravity of the ceremony.
“To smear on you,” said the man, and he stopped kissing her. He continued to undress her; he had finished with her stockings, jacket, and blouse. Now he was unfastening her skirt. “I brought it from Greece, from the bees on Mount Hymettus. The honey that Aristotle speaks of. I saved it for you, thinking about tonight.”
He loves her, thought Don Rigoberto, moved despite his jealousy.
“No, you won’t,” Doña Lucrecia protested. “Absolutely not. That dirty stuff’s not for me.”
Her defenses weakened by the contagious will of her lover, she spoke without authority, in the tone of one who knows she is defeated. Her body had begun to divert her thoughts from the high-pitched noises on the bed, had begun to quiver, to focus her attention on the man who had stripped away her last articles of clothing and, kneeling at her feet, continued his caresses. She allowed him to go on, attempting to abandon herself to the pleasure he gave her. His lips and hands left flames wherever they touched. The kittens were always there, grayish-green, lethargic or lively, wrinkling the bedspread. Meowing, frolicking. Pergolesi had subsided into a distant breeze, a sonorous swoon.
“Smear your body with honey from the bees on Mount Hymettus?” Don Rigoberto repeated, spelling out each word.
“So that the kittens would lick it off, can you imagine? Even though the damn things make me sick, even though I’m allergic to cats and can’t stand to touch sticky things (She never chewed gum, Don Rigoberto thought with gratitude) even with the tip of my finger. Can you imagine?”
“It was a great sacrifice, you did it only because…”
“Because I love you,” she interrupted. “You love me too, don’t you?”
With all my heart, thought Don Rigoberto. His eyes were closed. He had finally reached the state of absolute lucidity he had been striving for. He could orient himself without difficulty in that labyrinth of dense shadows. Very clearly, with a touch of envy, he could see the skill of the man who, without hurrying or losing control of his fingers, freed Lucrecia of her slip, her bra, her panties, while his lips delicately kissed her satin skin, feeling the light granulation—from cold, uncertainty, apprehension, disgust, desire?—that enervated her, and the warm exhalations, summoned by his caresses, that appeared on those same parts of her body. When he felt on the tongue, teeth, and palate of the lover the curly thatch of hair, and the spicy aroma of her juices ascended to his brain, he began to tremble. Had he begun to apply the honey? Yes. With a painter’s fine brush? No. With a cloth? No. With his bare hands? Yes. Or rather, with each of his long, bony fingers and all the knowledge of a masseur. His fingers spread the crystalline substance on her skin—the sugary scent rose, cloying, through Don Rigoberto’s nostrils—and verified the consistency of thighs, shoulders, and breasts, pinched those hips, passed over those buttocks, penetrated and separated those puckered depths. The music of Pergolesi capriciously returned. It resounded, hiding Doña Lucrecia’s muffled protests and the agitation of the kittens, who could smell the honey and, guessing at what was going to happen, had begun leaping and yowling, running along the bedspread, their jaws open, impatient.
“It was more hunger,” Doña Lucrecia corrected him.
“Were you excited?” panted Don Rigoberto. “Was he naked? Did he put honey on his own body too?”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Doña Lucrecia intoned. “He smeared me, he smeared himself, he had me smear his back where his hand couldn’t reach. Naturally those little games are very exciting. He isn’t made of wood, and you wouldn’t want me to be made of wood either, would you?”
“Of course not,” Don Rigoberto agreed. “My darling.”
“Naturally we kissed, we touched, we caressed,” his wife stated with precision. She had resumed her circular pacing, and Don Rigoberto’s ears could detect the whisper of ermine at each step. Did it inflame her, remembering? “I mean, without our leaving the corner. For a long while. Until he picked me up and carried me, all covered with honey, to the bed.”
The vision was so clear, the definition of the image so explicit, that Don Rigoberto became fearful. “I may go blind.” Like those hippies during the psychedelic years, stimulated by the synesthesias of LSD, who defied the California sun until the rays burned their retinas and they were condemned to see life with their ears, their sense of touch, their imagination. There they were, smeared and dripping with honey and their own secretions, Hellenic in their nakedness and grace, advancing toward the cattish swarm. He was a medieval knight armed for battle and she a wood nymph, a ravished Sabine woman. She kicked her golden feet and protested, “I don’t want to, I don’t like it,” but her arms amorously encircled the neck of her raptor, her tongue struggled to enter his mouth, and she sipped his saliva with pleasure. “Wait, wait,” Don Rigoberto implored. An accommodating Doña Lucrecia stopped, and it was as if she had disappeared into those complicitous shadows while her husband evoked in memory the languid girl by Balthus (Nu avec chat), seated on a chair, her head voluptuously thrown back, one leg extended, the other bent, her slim heel resting on the edge of the chair, arm outstretched to stroke a cat that lies on the top of a dresser and, with half-closed eyes, calmly awaits his pleasure. Digging deeper, searching—in the book by the Dutch animalist Midas Dekkers?—he also recalled seeing but not paying much attention to the Rosalba by Botero (1968), an oil painting in which a small black feline, crouching on a nuptial bed, prepares to share sheets and mattress with a voluptuous, curly-haired prostitute who is finishing her cigarette; and a woodcut by Félix Vallotton (Languor, circa 1896?) in which a girl with vivacious buttocks, among flowered bolsters and a geometric quilt, scratches the erogenous neck of an aroused cat. Apart from these uncertain approximations, in the arsenal of his memory no image coincided with this one. He was childishly intrigued. His excitement had ebbed, without disappearing altogether; it appeared on the horizon of his body like one of those cold suns in a European autumn, his favorite season for traveling.
“And?” he asked, returning to the reality of his interrupted dream.
The man had placed Lucrecia beneath the cone of light, and firmly freeing himself from the arms that tried to hold him, ignoring her pleas, he stepped back. Like Don Rigoberto, he contemplated her from the darkness. It was an uncommon sight and, once he was past the initial discomfiture, incomparably beautiful. After moving away in fright to make room for her and observe her, crouching, uncertain, always on the alert—green sparks, yellow ones, tense little whiskers—the tiny animals sniffed at her and leaped onto that sweet prey. They scaled, laid siege to, and occupied the honeyed body, mewing with happiness. The noise wiped out the breathless protests, the stifled little laughs, the exclamations of Doña Lucrecia. Her arms crossed over her face to protect her mouth, eyes, and nose from their eager licking, and she was at their mercy. Don Rigoberto’s eyes followed the greedy, iridescent creatures, slipped with them along her breasts and hips, slid along her knees, stuck to her elbows, climbed along her thighs, indulged, like those little tongues, in the liquid sweetness forming pools on the full moon of her belly. The gleam of honey seasoned with the saliva of the cats gave her white body a semi-liquid appearance, and the little starts and shivers that traced the stepping and tumbling of the animals had something of the soft movements of bodies in water. Doña Lucrecia was floating, she was a living vessel cutting a wake through invisible waters. How beautiful she is! he thought. Her body with its firm breasts and generous hips, well-defined buttocks and thighs, was on the very edge of what he admired above all else in a feminine silhouette: the abundance that suggests but just avoids an undesirable obesity.
“Open your legs, my love,” asked the faceless man.
“Open them, open them,” pleaded Don Rigoberto.
“They’re very small, they don’t bite, they won’t hurt you,” the man insisted.
“Were you enjoying it?” asked Don Rigoberto.
“No, no,” replied Doña Lucrecia, who had again resumed her hypnotic walking. The murmurous ermine reawakened his suspicions: was she naked beneath the fur? Yes, she was. “The tickling drove me crazy.”
But in the end she had consented, and two or three felines rushed eagerly to lick the hidden backs of her thighs, the little drops of honey that sparkled on the silken black hairs of her mound of Venus. The chorus of licking tongues seemed like celestial music to Don Rigoberto. Pergolesi returned, faintly now, sweetly, moaning slowly. The firm body, licked clean, lay still, in deep repose. But Doña Lucrecia was not sleeping, for Don Rigoberto’s ears could detect the discreet eddies escaping, without her realizing it, from her depths.
“Were you over your revulsion?” he inquired.
“Of course not,” she replied. And, after a pause, with some humor: “But it didn’t matter so much anymore.”
She laughed, this time with the open laugh she reserved for him on their nights of shared intimacy, the fantasy without awkwardness that made them happy. Don Rigoberto desired her with all the mouths of his body.
“Take off the coat,” he pleaded. “Come, come to my arms, my queen, my goddess.”
But he was distracted by the vision that at precisely this instant had doubled. The invisible man was no longer invisible. His long, oiled body silently infiltrated the image. Now he was there too. Dropping onto the red cover, he embraced Doña Lucrecia. The screeching of the kittens squashed between the lovers and struggling to escape with bulging eyes, wide-open jaws, tongues hanging out, hurt Don Rigoberto’s eardrums. He covered his ears, but he could still hear them. And though he closed his eyes, he saw the man covering Doña Lucrecia. He seemed to sink into the robust white hips that received him with pleasure. He kissed her with the avidity displayed by the kittens when they licked her, and he moved on her, with her, imprisoned by her arms. Doña Lucrecia’s hands clenched his back, and her raised legs fell on his and her proud feet rested on his calves, one of Don Rigoberto’s most erogenous zones. He sighed, struggling to control an overwhelming desire to cry. He caught sight of Doña Lucrecia slipping away toward the door.
“Will you come back tomorrow?” he asked anxiously.
“And the day after and the day after that,” the silent, vanishing figure replied. “Have I even left?”
The kittens, recovered from their surprise, returned to their duties and dispensed with the final drops of honey, indifferent to the couple’s fierce struggles.
The Name Fetishist
I have a name fetish, and your name captivates me and drives me mad. Rigoberto! It is virile, it is elegant, it is Bronzinian, it is Italian. When I say it quietly, just for myself, a shiver snakes all the way down my spine and these rosy heels that God (or Nature if you prefer, unbeliever!) gave me turn to ice. Rigoberto! A laughing cascade of transparent waters. Rigoberto! The yellow joy of a goldfinch celebrating the sun. Wherever you may be, I am there too. Silent and loving, I am there. Do you sign a bill of exchange or a promissory note with the four syllables of your name? I am the dot over the i, the tail of the g, the little horns on each side of the t. The spot of ink on your thumb. Do you appease the heat with a glass of mineral water? I am the tiny bubble that refreshes your palate, the cube of ice that makes your viper-tongue shiver. I, Rigoberto, am the laces in your shoes, the cherry-extract lozenge you take each night to prevent constipation. How do I know this detail of your gastroenterological life? She who loves, knows, and considers everything that concerns her love as worthwhile knowledge, sanctifying the most trivial aspect of his person. Before your portrait I cross myself and pray. To learn about your life I have your name, the numerology of the Cabalists, the divinatory arts of Nostradamus. Who am I? One who loves you as the foam loves the wave and the cloud the rosy dawn. Seek, seek and find me, beloved.
Yours, yours, yours,
The Name Fetishist
THE NOTEBOOKS OF DON RIGOBERTO Copyright © 1997 by Mario Vargas LlosaMario Vargas Llosa is the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his cartography of the structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.” Peru’s foremost writer, he has been awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world’s most distinguished literary honor, and the Jerusalem Prize. His many works include The Feast of the Goat, The Bad Girl, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, The War of the End of the World, and The Storyteller. He lives in London.