—– Nick Joaquin
Category Archives: NICK JOAQUIN’s LITERARY WORKS
THE MORETAS WERE spending St. John’s Day with the children’s grandfather, whose feast day it was. Doña Lupeng awoke feeling faint with the heat, a sound of screaming in her ears. In the dining room the three boys already attired in their holiday suits, were at breakfast, and came crowding around her, talking all at once.
“How long you have slept, Mama!”
“We thought you were never getting up!”
“Do we leave at once, huh? Are we going now?”
“Hush, hush I implore you! Now look: your father has a headache, and so have I. So be quiet this instant—or no one goes to Grandfather.”
Though it was only seven by the clock the house was already a furnace, the windows dilating with the harsh light and the air already burning with the immense, intense fever of noon.
She found the children’s nurse working in the kitchen. “And why is it you who are preparing breakfast? Where is Amada?” But without waiting for an answer she went to the backdoor and opened it, and the screaming in her ears became wild screaming in the stables across the yard. “Oh my God!” she groaned and, grasping her skirts, hurried across the yard.
In the stables Entoy, the driver, apparently deaf to the screams, was hitching the pair of piebald ponies to the coach.
“Not the closed coach, Entoy! The open carriage!” shouted Doña Lupeng as she came up.
“But the dust, señora—“
“I know, but better to be dirty than to be boiled alive. And what ails your wife, eh? Have you been beating her again?”
“Oh no, señora: I have not touched her.”
“Then why is she screaming? Is she ill?”
“I do not think so. But how do I know? You can go and see for yourself, señora. She is up there.”
When Doña Lupeng entered the room, the big half-naked woman sprawled across the bamboo bed stopped screaming. Doña Lupeng was shocked.
“What is this Amada? Why are you still in bed at this hour? And in such a posture! Come, get up at once. You should be ashamed!”
But the woman on the bed merely stared. Her sweat-beaded brows contracted, as if in an effort to understand. Then her face relax her mouth sagged open humorously and, rolling over on her back and spreading out her big soft arms and legs, she began noiselessly quaking with laughter—the mute mirth jerking in her throat; the moist pile of her flesh quivering like brown jelly. Saliva dribbled from the corners of her mouth.
Doña Lupeng blushed, looking around helplessly, and seeing that Entoy had followed and was leaning in the doorway, watching stolidly, she blushed again. The room reeked hotly of intimate odors. She averted her eyes from the laughing woman on the bed, in whose nakedness she seemed so to participate that she was ashamed to look directly at the man in the doorway.
“Tell me, Entoy: has she had been to the Tadtarin?”
“Yes, señora. Last night.”
“But I forbade her to go! And I forbade you to let her go!”
“I could do nothing.”
“Why, you beat her at the least pretext!”
“But now I dare not touch her.”
“Oh, and why not?”
“It is the day of St. John: the spirit is in her.”
“It is true, señora. The spirit is in her. She is the Tadtarin. She must do as she pleases. Otherwise, the grain would not grow, the trees would bear no fruit, the rivers would give no fish, and the animals would die.”
“Naku, I did no know your wife was so powerful, Entoy.”
“At such times she is not my wife: she is the wife of the river, she is the wife of the crocodile, she is the wife of the moon.”
“BUT HOW CAN they still believe such things?” demanded Doña Lupeng of her husband as they drove in the open carriage through the pastoral countryside that was the arrabal of Paco in the 1850’s.
Don Paeng darted a sidelong glance at his wife, by which he intimated that the subject was not a proper one for the children, who were sitting opposite, facing their parents.
Don Paeng, drowsily stroking his moustaches, his eyes closed against the hot light, merely shrugged.
“And you should have seen that Entoy,” continued his wife. “You know how the brute treats her: she cannot say a word but he thrashes her. But this morning he stood as meek as a lamb while she screamed and screamed. He seemed actually in awe of her, do you know—actually afraid of her!”
“Oh, look, boys—here comes the St. John!” cried Doña Lupeng, and she sprang up in the swaying carriage, propping one hand on her husband’s shoulder wile the other she held up her silk parasol.
And “Here come the men with their St. John!” cried voices up and down the countryside. People in wet clothes dripping with well-water, ditch-water and river-water came running across the hot woods and fields and meadows, brandishing cans of water, wetting each other uproariously, and shouting San Juan! San Juan! as they ran to meet the procession.
Up the road, stirring a cloud of dust, and gaily bedrenched by the crowds gathered along the wayside, a concourse of young men clad only in soggy trousers were carrying aloft an image of the Precursor. Their teeth flashed white in their laughing faces and their hot bodies glowed crimson as they pranced past, shrouded in fiery dust, singing and shouting and waving their arms: the St. John riding swiftly above the sea of dark heads and glittering in the noon sun—a fine, blonde, heroic St. John: very male, very arrogant: the Lord of Summer indeed; the Lord of Light and Heat—erect and godly virile above the prone and female earth—while the worshippers danced and the dust thickened and the animals reared and roared and the merciless fires came raining down form the skies—the relentlessly upon field and river and town and winding road, and upon the joyous throng of young men against whose uproar a couple of seminarians in muddy cassocks vainly intoned the hymn of the noon god:
That we, thy servants, in chorus
May praise thee, our tongues restore us…
But Doña Lupeng, standing in the stopped carriage, looking very young and elegant in her white frock, under the twirling parasol, stared down on the passing male horde with increasing annoyance. The insolent man-smell of their bodies rose all about her—wave upon wave of it—enveloping her, assaulting her senses, till she felt faint with it and pressed a handkerchief to her nose. And as she glanced at her husband and saw with what a smug smile he was watching the revelers, her annoyance deepened. When he bade her sit down because all eyes were turned on her, she pretended not to hear; stood up even straighter, as if to defy those rude creatures flaunting their manhood in the sun.
And she wondered peevishly what the braggarts were being so cocky about? For this arrogance, this pride, this bluff male health of theirs was (she told herself) founded on the impregnable virtue of generations of good women. The boobies were so sure of themselves because they had always been sure of their wives. “All the sisters being virtuous, all the brothers are brave,” thought Doña Lupeng, with a bitterness that rather surprised her. Women had built it up: this poise of the male. Ah, and women could destroy it, too! She recalled, vindictively, this morning’s scene at the stables: Amada naked and screaming in bed whiled from the doorway her lord and master looked on in meek silence. And was it not the mystery of a woman in her flowers that had restored the tongue of that old Hebrew prophet?
“Look, Lupeng, they have all passed now,” Don Paeng was saying, “Do you mean to stand all the way?”
She looked around in surprise and hastily sat down. The children tittered, and the carriage started.
“Has the heat gone to your head, woman?” asked Don Paeng, smiling. The children burst frankly into laughter.
Their mother colored and hung her head. She was beginning to feel ashamed of the thoughts that had filled her mind. They seemed improper—almost obscene—and the discovery of such depths of wickedness in herself appalled her. She moved closer to her husband to share the parasol with him.
“And did you see our young cousin Guido?” he asked.
“Oh, was he in that crowd?”
“A European education does not seem to have spoiled his taste for country pleasures.”
“I did not see him.”
“He waved and waved.”
“The poor boy. He will feel hurt. But truly, Paeng. I did not see him.”
“Well, that is always a woman’s privilege.”
BUT WHEN THAT afternoon, at the grandfather’s, the young Guido presented himself, properly attired and brushed and scented, Doña Lupeng was so charming and gracious with him that he was enchanted and gazed after her all afternoon with enamored eyes.
This was the time when our young men were all going to Europe and bringing back with them, not the Age of Victoria, but the Age of Byron. The young Guido knew nothing of Darwin and evolution; he knew everything about Napoleon and the Revolution. When Doña Lupeng expressed surprise at his presence that morning in the St. John’s crowd, he laughed in her face.
“But I adore these old fiestas of ours! They are so romantic! Last night, do you know, we walked all the way through the woods, I and some boys, to see the procession of the Tadtarin.”
“And was that romantic too?” asked Doña Lupeng.
“It was weird. It made my flesh crawl. All those women in such a mystic frenzy! And she who was the Tadtarin last night—she was a figure right out of a flamenco!”
“I fear to disenchant you, Guido—but that woman happens to be our cook.”
“She is beautiful.”
“Our Amada beautiful? But she is old and fat!”
“She is beautiful—as that old tree you are leaning on is beautiful,” calmly insisted the young man, mocking her with his eyes.
They were out in the buzzing orchard, among the ripe mangoes; Doña Lupeng seated on the grass, her legs tucked beneath her, and the young man sprawled flat on his belly, gazing up at her, his face moist with sweat. The children were chasing dragonflies. The sun stood still in the west. The long day refused to end. From the house came the sudden roaring laughter of the men playing cards.
“Beautiful! Romantic! Adorable! Are those the only words you learned in Europe?” cried Doña Lupeng, feeling very annoyed with this young man whose eyes adored her one moment and mocked her the next.
“Ah, I also learned to open my eyes over there—to see the holiness and the mystery of what is vulgar.”
“And what is so holy and mysterious about—about the Tadtarin, for instance?”
“I do not know. I can only feel it. And it frightens me. Those rituals come to us from the earliest dawn of the world. And the dominant figure is not the male but the female.”
“But they are in honor of St. John.”
“What has your St. John to do with them? Those women worship a more ancient lord. Why, do you know that no man may join those rites unless he first puts on some article of women’s apparel and—“
“And what did you put on, Guido?”
“How sharp you are! Oh, I made such love to a toothless old hag there that she pulled off her stocking for me. And I pulled it on, over my arm, like a glove. How your husband would have despised me!”
“But what on earth does it mean?”
“I think it is to remind us men that once upon a time you women were supreme and we men were the slaves.”
“But surely there have always been kings?”
“Oh, no. The queen came before the king, and the priestess before the priest, and the moon before the sun.”
“—who is the Lord of the women.”
“Because the tides of women, like the tides of the sea, are tides of the moon. Because the first blood -But what is the matter, Lupe? Oh, have I offended you?”
“Is this how they talk to decent women in Europe?”
“They do not talk to women, they pray to them—as men did in the dawn of the world.”
“Oh, you are mad! mad!”
“Why are you so afraid, Lupe?”
“I afraid? And of whom? My dear boy, you still have your mother’s milk in your mouth. I only wish you to remember that I am a married woman.”
“I remember that you are a woman, yes. A beautiful woman. And why not? Did you turn into some dreadful monster when you married? Did you stop being a woman? Did you stop being beautiful? Then why should my eyes not tell you what you are—just because you are married?”
“Ah, this is too much now!” cried Doña Lupeng, and she rose to her feet.
“Do not go, I implore you! Have pity on me!”
“No more of your comedy, Guido! And besides—where have those children gone to! I must go after them.”
As she lifted her skirts to walk away, the young man, propping up his elbows, dragged himself forward on the ground and solemnly kissed the tips of her shoes. She stared down in sudden horror, transfixed—and he felt her violent shudder. She backed away slowly, still staring; then turned and fled toward the house.
ON THE WAY home that evening Don Paeng noticed that his wife was in a mood. They were alone in the carriage: the children were staying overnight at their grandfather’s. The heat had not subsided. It was heat without gradations: that knew no twilights and no dawns; that was still there, after the sun had set; that would be there already, before the sun had risen.
“Has young Guido been annoying you?” asked Don Paeng.
“Yes! All afternoon.”
“These young men today—what a disgrace they are! I felt embarrassed as a man to see him following you about with those eyes of a whipped dog.”
She glanced at him coldly. “And was that all you felt, Paeng? embarrassed—as a man?”
“A good husband has constant confidence in the good sense of his wife,” he pronounced grandly, and smiled at her.
But she drew away; huddled herself in the other corner. “He kissed my feet,” she told him disdainfully, her eyes on his face.
He frowned and made a gesture of distaste. “Do you see? They have the instincts, the style of the canalla! To kiss a woman’s feet, to follow her like a dog, to adore her like a slave –”
“Is it so shameful for a man to adore women?”
“A gentleman loves and respects Woman. The cads and lunatics—they ‘adore’ the women.”
“But maybe we do not want to be loved and respected—but to be adored.”
But when they reached home she did not lie down but wandered listlessly through the empty house. When Don Paeng, having bathed and changed, came down from the bedroom, he found her in the dark parlour seated at the harp and plucking out a tune, still in her white frock and shoes.
“How can you bear those hot clothes, Lupeng? And why the darkness? Order someone to bring light in here.”
“There is no one, they have all gone to see the Tadtarin.”
“A pack of loafers we are feeding!”
She had risen and gone to the window. He approached and stood behind her, grasped her elbows and, stooping, kissed the nape of her neck. But she stood still, not responding, and he released her sulkily. She turned around to face him.
“Listen, Paeng. I want to see it, too. The Tadtarin, I mean. I have not seen it since I was a little girl. And tonight is the last night.”
“You must be crazy! Only low people go there. And I thought you had a headache?” He was still sulking.
“But I want to go! My head aches worse in the house. For a favor, Paeng.”
“I told you: No! go and take those clothes off. But, woman, whatever has got into you!” he strode off to the table, opened the box of cigars, took one, banged the lid shut, bit off an end of the cigar, and glared about for a light.
She was still standing by the window and her chin was up.
“Very well, if you do want to come, do not come—but I am going.”
“I warn you, Lupe; do not provoke me!”
“I will go with Amada. Entoy can take us. You cannot forbid me, Paeng. There is nothing wrong with it. I am not a child.”
But standing very straight in her white frock, her eyes shining in the dark and her chin thrust up, she looked so young, so fragile, that his heart was touched. He sighed, smiled ruefully, and shrugged his shoulders.
“Yes, the heat ahs touched you in the head, Lupeng. And since you are so set on it—very well, let us go. Come, have the coach ordered!”
THE CULT OF the Tadtarin is celebrated on three days: the feast of St. John and the two preceding days. On the first night, a young girl heads the procession; on the second, a mature woman; and on the third, a very old woman who dies and comes to life again. In these processions, as in those of Pakil and Obando, everyone dances.
Around the tiny plaza in front of the barrio chapel, quite a stream of carriages was flowing leisurely. The Moretas were constantly being hailed from the other vehicles. The plaza itself and the sidewalks were filled with chattering, strolling, profusely sweating people. More people were crowded on the balconies and windows of the houses. The moon had not yet risen; the black night smoldered; in the windless sky the lightning’s abruptly branching fire seemed the nerves of the tortured air made visible.
“Here they come now!” cried the people on the balconies.
And “Here come the women with their St. John!” cried the people on the sidewalks, surging forth on the street. The carriages halted and their occupants descended. The plaza rang with the shouts of people and the neighing of horses—and with another keener sound: a sound as of sea-waves steadily rolling nearer.
The crowd parted, and up the street came the prancing, screaming, writhing women, their eyes wild, black shawls flying around their shoulders, and their long hair streaming and covered with leaves and flowers. But the Tadtarin, a small old woman with white hair, walked with calm dignity in the midst of the female tumult, a wand in one hand, a bunch of seedling in the other. Behind her, a group of girls bore aloft a little black image of the Baptist—a crude, primitive, grotesque image, its big-eyed head too big for its puny naked torso, bobbing and swaying above the hysterical female horde and looking at once so comical and so pathetic that Don Paeng, watching with his wife on the sidewalk, was outraged. The image seemed to be crying for help, to be struggling to escape—a St. John indeed in the hands of the Herodias; a doomed captive these witches were subjecting first to their derision; a gross and brutal caricature of his sex.
Don Paeng flushed hotly: he felt that all those women had personally insulted him. He turned to his wife, to take her away—but she was watching greedily, taut and breathless, her head thrust forward and her eyes bulging, the teeth bared in the slack mouth, and the sweat gleaning on her face. Don Paeng was horrified. He grasped her arm—but just then a flash of lightning blazed and the screaming women fell silent: the Tadtarin was about to die.
The old woman closed her eyes and bowed her head and sank slowly to her knees. A pallet was brought and set on the ground and she was laid in it and her face covered with a shroud. Her hands still clutched the wand and the seedlings. The women drew away, leaving her in a cleared space. They covered their heads with their black shawls and began wailing softly, unhumanly—a hushed, animal keening.
Overhead the sky was brightening, silver light defined the rooftops. When the moon rose and flooded with hot brilliance the moveless crowded square, the black-shawled women stopped wailing and a girl approached and unshrouded the Tadtarin, who opened her eyes and sat up, her face lifted to the moonlight. She rose to her feet and extended the wand and the seedlings and the women joined in a mighty shout. They pulled off and waved their shawls and whirled and began dancing again—laughing and dancing with such joyous exciting abandon that the people in the square and on the sidewalk, and even those on the balconies, were soon laughing and dancing, too. Girls broke away from their parents and wives from their husbands to join in the orgy.
“Come, let us go now,” said Don Paeng to his wife. She was shaking with fascination; tears trembled on her lashes; but she nodded meekly and allowed herself to be led away. But suddenly she pulled free from his grasp, darted off, and ran into the crowd of dancing women.
She flung her hands to her hair and whirled and her hair came undone. Then, planting her arms akimbo, she began to trip a nimble measure, an indistinctive folk-movement. She tossed her head back and her arched throat bloomed whitely. Her eyes brimmed with moonlight, and her mouth with laughter.
Don Paeng ran after her, shouting her name, but she laughed and shook her head and darted deeper into the dense maze of procession, which was moving again, towards the chapel. He followed her, shouting; she eluded him, laughing—and through the thick of the female horde they lost and found and lost each other again—she, dancing and he pursuing—till, carried along by the tide, they were both swallowed up into the hot, packed, turbulent darkness of the chapel. Inside poured the entire procession, and Don Paeng, finding himself trapped tight among milling female bodies, struggled with sudden panic to fight his way out. Angry voices rose all about him in the stifling darkness.
“Hoy you are crushing my feet!”
“And let go of my shawl, my shawl!”
“Stop pushing, shameless one, or I kick you!”
“Let me pass, let me pass, you harlots!” cried Don Paeng.
“Abah, it is a man!”
“How dare he come in here?”
“Break his head!”
“Throw the animal out!”
”Throw him out! Throw him out!” shrieked the voices, and Don Paeng found himself surrounded by a swarm of gleaming eyes.
Terror possessed him and he struck out savagely with both fists, with all his strength—but they closed in as savagely: solid walls of flesh that crushed upon him and pinned his arms helpless, while unseen hands struck and struck his face, and ravaged his hair and clothes, and clawed at his flesh, as—kicked and buffeted, his eyes blind and his torn mouth salty with blood—he was pushed down, down to his knees, and half-shoved, half-dragged to the doorway and rolled out to the street. He picked himself up at once and walked away with a dignity that forbade the crowd gathered outside to laugh or to pity. Entoy came running to meet him.
“But what has happened to you, Don Paeng?”
“Nothing. Where is the coach?”
“Just over there, sir. But you are wounded in the face!”
“No, these are only scratches. Go and get the señora. We are going home.”
When she entered the coach and saw his bruised face and torn clothing, she smiled coolly.
“What a sight you are, man! What have you done with yourself?”
And when he did not answer: “Why, have they pulled out his tongue too?” she wondered aloud.
AND WHEN THEY are home and stood facing each other in the bedroom, she was still as light-hearted.
“What are you going to do, Rafael?”
“I am going to give you a whipping.”
“Because you have behaved tonight like a lewd woman.”
“How I behaved tonight is what I am. If you call that lewd, then I was always a lewd woman and a whipping will not change me—though you whipped me till I died.”
“I want this madness to die in you.”
“No, you want me to pay for your bruises.”
He flushed darkly. “How can you say that, Lupe?”
“Because it is true. You have been whipped by the women and now you think to avenge yourself by whipping me.”
His shoulders sagged and his face dulled. “If you can think that of me –”
“You could think me a lewd woman!”
“Oh, how do I know what to think of you? I was sure I knew you as I knew myself. But now you are as distant and strange to me as a female Turk in Africa.”
“Yet you would dare whip me –”
“Because I love you, because I respect you.”
“And because if you ceased to respect me you would cease to respect yourself?”
“Ah, I did not say that!”
“Then why not say it? It is true. And you want to say it, you want to say it!”
But he struggled against her power. “Why should I want to?” he demanded peevishly.
“Because, either you must say it—or you must whip me,” she taunted.
Her eyes were upon him and the shameful fear that had unmanned him in the dark chapel possessed him again. His legs had turned to water; it was a monstrous agony to remain standing.
But she was waiting for him to speak, forcing him to speak.
“No, I cannot whip you!” he confessed miserably.
“Then say it! Say it!” she cried, pounding her clenched fists together. “Why suffer and suffer? And in the end you would only submit.”
But he still struggled stubbornly. “Is it not enough that you have me helpless? Is it not enough that I feel what you want me feel?”
But she shook her head furiously. “Until you have said to me, there can be no peace between us.”
He was exhausted at last; he sank heavily to his knees, breathing hard and streaming with sweat, his fine body curiously diminished now in its ravaged apparel.
“I adore you, Lupe,” he said tonelessly.
She strained forward avidly, “What? What did you say?” she screamed.
And he, in his dead voice: “That I adore you. That I adore you. That I worship you. That the air you breathe and the ground you tread is so holy to me. That I am your dog, your slave…”
But it was still not enough. Her fists were still clenched, and she cried: “Then come, crawl on the floor, and kiss my feet!”
Without moment’s hesitation, he sprawled down flat and, working his arms and legs, gaspingly clawed his way across the floor, like a great agonized lizard, the woman steadily backing away as he approached, her eyes watching him avidly, her nostrils dilating, till behind her loomed the open window, the huge glittering moon, the rapid flashes of lightning. she stopped, panting, and leaned against the sill. He lay exhausted at her feet, his face flat on the floor.
She raised her skirts and contemptuously thrust out a naked foot. He lifted his dripping face and touched his bruised lips to her toes; lifted his hands and grasped the white foot and kiss it savagely – kissed the step, the sole, the frail ankle – while she bit her lips and clutched in pain at the whole windowsill her body and her loose hair streaming out the window – streaming fluid and black in the white night where the huge moon glowed like a sun and the dry air flamed into lightning and the pure heat burned with the immense intense fever of noon.
—– Nick Joaquin
The old people had ordered that the dancing should stop at ten o’clock but it was almost midnight before the carriages came filing up the departing guests, while the girls who were staying were promptly herded upstairs to the bedrooms, the young men gathering around to wish them a good night and lamenting their ascent with mock signs and moaning, proclaiming themselves disconsolate but straightway going off to finish the punch and the brandy though they were quite drunk already and simply bursting with wild spirits, merriment, arrogance and audacity, for they were young bucks newly arrived from Europe; the ball had been in their honor; and they had waltzed and polka-ed and bragged and swaggered and flirted all night and where in no mood to sleep yet–no, caramba, not on this moist tropic eve! not on this mystic May eve! –with the night still young and so seductive that it was madness not to go out, not to go forth—and serenade the neighbors! cried one; and swim in the Pasid! cried another; and gather fireflies! cried a third—whereupon there arose a great clamor for coats and capes, for hats and canes, and they were a couple of street-lamps flickered and a last carriage rattled away upon the cobbles while the blind black houses muttered hush-hush, their tile roofs looming like sinister chessboards against a wile sky murky with clouds, save where an evil young moon prowled about in a corner or where a murderous wind whirled, whistling and whining, smelling now of the sea and now of the summer orchards and wafting unbearable childhood fragrances or ripe guavas to the young men trooping so uproariously down the street that the girls who were desiring upstairs in the bedrooms catered screaming to the windows, crowded giggling at the windows, but were soon sighing amorously over those young men bawling below; over those wicked young men and their handsome apparel, their proud flashing eyes, and their elegant mustaches so black and vivid in the moonlight that the girls were quite ravished with love, and began crying to one another how carefree were men but how awful to be a girl and what a horrid, horrid world it was, till old Anastasia plucked them off by the ear or the pigtail and chases them off to bed—while from up the street came the clackety-clack of the watchman’s boots on the cobble and the clang-clang of his lantern against his knee, and the mighty roll of his great voice booming through the night, “Guardia serno-o-o! A las doce han dado-o-o.
And it was May again, said the old Anastasia. It was the first day of May and witches were abroad in the night, she said–for it was a night of divination, and night of lovers, and those who cared might peer into a mirror and would there behold the face of whoever it was they were fated to marry, said the old Anastasia as she hobble about picking up the piled crinolines and folding up shawls and raking slippers in corner while the girls climbing into four great poster-beds that overwhelmed the room began shrieking with terror, scrambling over each other and imploring the old woman not to frighten them.
“Enough, enough, Anastasia! We want to sleep!”
“Go scare the boys instead, you old witch!”
“She is not a witch, she is a maga. She is a maga. She was born of Christmas Eve!”
“St. Anastasia, virgin and martyr.”
“Huh? Impossible! She has conquered seven husbands! Are you a virgin, Anastasia?”
“No, but I am seven times a martyr because of you girls!”
“Let her prophesy, let her prophesy! Whom will I marry, old gypsy? Come, tell me.”
“You may learn in a mirror if you are not afraid.”
“I am not afraid, I will go,” cried the young cousin Agueda, jumping up in bed.
“Girls, girls—we are making too much noise! My mother will hear and will come and pinch us all. Agueda, lie down! And you Anastasia, I command you to shut your mouth and go away!””Your mother told me to stay here all night, my grand lady!”
“And I will not lie down!” cried the rebellious Agueda, leaping to the floor. “Stay, old woman. Tell me what I have to do.”
“Tell her! Tell her!” chimed the other girls.
The old woman dropped the clothes she had gathered and approached and fixed her eyes on the girl. “You must take a candle,” she instructed, “and go into a room that is dark and that has a mirror in it and you must be alone in the room. Go up to the mirror and close your eyes and shy:
Mirror, mirror, show to me him whose woman I will be. If all goes right, just above your left shoulder will appear the face of the man you will marry.” A silence. Then: “And hat if all does not go right?” asked Agueda. “Ah, then the Lord have mercy on you!” “Why.” “Because you may see–the Devil!”
The girls screamed and clutched one another, shivering. “But what nonsense!” cried Agueda. “This is the year 1847. There are no devil anymore!” Nevertheless she had turned pale. “But where could I go, hugh? Yes, I know! Down to the sala. It has that big mirror and no one is there now.” “No, Agueda, no! It is a mortal sin! You will see the devil!” “I do not care! I am not afraid! I will go!” “Oh, you wicked girl! Oh, you mad girl!” “If you do not come to bed, Agueda, I will call my mother.” “And if you do I will tell her who came to visit you at the convent last March. Come, old woman—give me that candle. I go.” “Oh girls—give me that candle, I go.”
But Agueda had already slipped outside; was already tiptoeing across the hall; her feet bare and her dark hair falling down her shoulders and streaming in the wind as she fled down the stairs, the lighted candle sputtering in one hand while with the other she pulled up her white gown from her ankles. She paused breathless in the doorway to the sala and her heart failed her. She tried to imagine the room filled again with lights, laughter, whirling couples, and the jolly jerky music of the fiddlers. But, oh, it was a dark den, a weird cavern for the windows had been closed and the furniture stacked up against the walls. She crossed herself and stepped inside.
The mirror hung on the wall before her; a big antique mirror with a gold frame carved into leaves and flowers and mysterious curlicues. She saw herself approaching fearfully in it: a small while ghost that the darkness bodied forth—but not willingly, not completely, for her eyes and hair were so dark that the face approaching in the mirror seemed only a mask that floated forward; a bright mask with two holes gaping in it, blown forward by the white cloud of her gown. But when she stood before the mirror she lifted the candle level with her chin and the dead mask bloomed into her living face.
She closed her eyes and whispered the incantation. When she had finished such a terror took hold of her that she felt unable to move, unable to open her eyes and thought she would stand there forever, enchanted. But she heard a step behind her, and a smothered giggle, and instantly opened her eyes.
“And what did you see, Mama? Oh, what was it?” But Dona Agueda had forgotten the little girl on her lap: she was staring pass the curly head nestling at her breast and seeing herself in the big mirror hanging in the room. It was the same room and the same mirror out the face she now saw in it was an old face—a hard, bitter, vengeful face, framed in graying hair, and so sadly altered, so sadly different from that other face like a white mask, that fresh young face like a pure mask than she had brought before this mirror one wild May Day midnight years and years ago…. “But what was it Mama? Oh please go on! What did you see?” Dona Agueda looked down at her daughter but her face did not soften though her eyes filled with tears. “I saw the devil.” she said bitterly. The child blanched. “The devil, Mama? Oh… Oh…” “Yes, my love. I opened my eyes and there in the mirror, smiling at me over my left shoulder, was the face of the devil.” “Oh, my poor little Mama! And were you very frightened?” “You can imagine. And that is why good little girls do not look into mirrors except when their mothers tell them. You must stop this naughty habit, darling, of admiring yourself in every mirror you pass- or you may see something frightful some day.” “But the devil, Mama—what did he look like?” “Well, let me see… he has curly hair and a scar on his cheek—” “Like the scar of Papa?” “Well, yes. But this of the devil was a scar of sin, while that of your Papa is a scar of honor. Or so he says.” “Go on about the devil.” “Well, he had mustaches.” “Like those of Papa?” “Oh, no. Those of your Papa are dirty and graying and smell horribly of tobacco, while these of the devil were very black and elegant–oh, how elegant!” “And did he speak to you, Mama?” “Yes… Yes, he spoke to me,” said Dona Agueda. And bowing her graying head; she wept.
“Charms like yours have no need for a candle, fair one,” he had said, smiling at her in the mirror and stepping back to give her a low mocking bow. She had whirled around and glared at him and he had burst into laughter. “But I remember you!” he cried. “You are Agueda, whom I left a mere infant and came home to find a tremendous beauty, and I danced a waltz with you but you would not give me the polka.” “Let me pass,” she muttered fiercely, for he was barring the way. “But I want to dance the polka with you, fair one,” he said. So they stood before the mirror; their panting breath the only sound in the dark room; the candle shining between them and flinging their shadows to the wall. And young Badoy Montiya (who had crept home very drunk to pass out quietly in bed) suddenly found himself cold sober and very much awake and ready for anything. His eyes sparkled and the scar on his face gleamed scarlet. “Let me pass!” she cried again, in a voice of fury, but he grasped her by the wrist. “No,” he smiled. “Not until we have danced.” “Go to the devil!” “What a temper has my serrana!” “I am not your serrana!” “Whose, then? Someone I know? Someone I have offended grievously? Because you treat me, you treat all my friends like your mortal enemies.” “And why not?” she demanded, jerking her wrist away and flashing her teeth in his face. “Oh, how I detest you, you pompous young men! You go to Europe and you come back elegant lords and we poor girls are too tame to please you. We have no grace like the Parisiennes, we have no fire like the Sevillians, and we have no salt, no salt, no salt! Aie, how you weary me, how you bore me, you fastidious men!” “Come, come—how do you know about us?”
“I was not admiring myself, sir!” “You were admiring the moon perhaps?” “Oh!” she gasped, and burst into tears. The candle dropped from her hand and she covered her face and sobbed piteously. The candle had gone out and they stood in darkness, and young Badoy was conscience-stricken. “Oh, do not cry, little one!” Oh, please forgive me! Please do not cry! But what a brute I am! I was drunk, little one, I was drunk and knew not what I said.” He groped and found her hand and touched it to his lips. She shuddered in her white gown. “Let me go,” she moaned, and tugged feebly. “No. Say you forgive me first. Say you forgive me, Agueda.” But instead she pulled his hand to her mouth and bit it – bit so sharply in the knuckles that he cried with pain and lashed cut with his other hand–lashed out and hit the air, for she was gone, she had fled, and he heard the rustling of her skirts up the stairs as he furiously sucked his bleeding fingers. Cruel thoughts raced through his head: he would go and tell his mother and make her turn the savage girl out of the house–or he would go himself to the girl’s room and drag her out of bed and slap, slap, slap her silly face! But at the same time he was thinking that they were all going to Antipolo in the morning and was already planning how he would maneuver himself into the same boat with her. Oh, he would have his revenge, he would make her pay, that little harlot! She should suffer for this, he thought greedily, licking his bleeding knuckles. But—Judas! He remembered her bare shoulders: gold in her candlelight and delicately furred. He saw the mobile insolence of her neck, and her taut breasts steady in the fluid gown. Son of a Turk, but she was quite enchanting! How could she think she had no fire or grace? And no salt? An arroba she had of it!
“… No lack of salt in the chrism At the moment of thy baptism!” He sang aloud in the dark room and suddenly realized that he had fallen madly in love with her. He ached intensely to see her again—at once! —to touch her hands and her hair; to hear her harsh voice. He ran to the window and flung open the casements and the beauty of the night struck him back like a blow. It was May, it was summer, and he was young—young! —and deliriously in love. Such a happiness welled up within him that the tears spurted from his eyes. But he did not forgive her–no! He would still make her pay, he would still have his revenge, he thought viciously, and kissed his wounded fingers. But what a night it had been! “I will never forge this night! he thought aloud in an awed voice, standing by the window in the dark room, the tears in his eyes and the wind in his hair and his bleeding knuckles pressed to his mouth.
But, alas, the heart forgets; the heart is distracted; and May time passes; summer lends; the storms break over the rot-tipe orchards and the heart grows old; while the hours, the days, the months, and the years pile up and pile up, till the mind becomes too crowded, too confused: dust gathers in it; cobwebs multiply; the walls darken and fall into ruin and decay; the memory perished…and there came a time when Don Badoy Montiya walked home through a May Day midnight without remembering, without even caring to remember; being merely concerned in feeling his way across the street with his cane; his eyes having grown quite dim and his legs uncertain–for he was old; he was over sixty; he was a very stopped and shivered old man with white hair and mustaches coming home from a secret meeting of conspirators; his mind still resounding with the speeches and his patriot heart still exultant as he picked his way up the steps to the front door and inside into the slumbering darkness of the house; wholly unconscious of the May night, till on his way down the hall, chancing to glance into the sala, he shuddered, he stopped, his blood ran cold– for he had seen a face in the mirror there—a ghostly candlelight face with the eyes closed and the lips moving, a face that he suddenly felt he had been there before though it was a full minutes before the lost memory came flowing, came tiding back, so overflooding the actual moment and so swiftly washing away the piled hours and days and months and years that he was left suddenly young again; he was a gay young buck again, lately came from Europe; he had been dancing all night; he was very drunk; he s stepped in the doorway; he saw a face in the dark; he called out…and the lad standing before the mirror (for it was a lad in a night go jumped with fright and almost dropped his candle, but looking around and seeing the old man, laughed out with relief and came running.
“Oh Grandpa, how you frightened me. Don Badoy had turned very pale. “So it was you, you young bandit! And what is all this, hey? What are you doing down here at this hour?” “Nothing, Grandpa. I was only… I am only …” “Yes, you are the great Señor only and how delighted I am to make your acquaintance, Señor Only! But if I break this cane on your head you maga wish you were someone else, Sir!” “It was just foolishness, Grandpa. They told me I would see my wife.”
“Wife? What wife?” “Mine. The boys at school said I would see her if I looked in a mirror tonight and said: Mirror, mirror show to me her whose lover I will be.
Don Badoy cackled ruefully. He took the boy by the hair, pulled him along into the room, sat down on a chair, and drew the boy between his knees. “Now, put your cane down the floor, son, and let us talk this over. So you want your wife already, hey? You want to see her in advance, hey? But so you know that these are wicked games and that wicked boys who play them are in danger of seeing horrors?”
“Well, the boys did warn me I might see a witch instead.”
“Exactly! A witch so horrible you may die of fright. And she will be witch you, she will torture you, she will eat
your heart and drink your blood!”
“Oh, come now Grandpa. This is 1890. There are no witches anymore.”
“Oh-ho, my young Voltaire! And what if I tell you that I myself have seen a witch.
“Right in this room land right in that mirror,” said the old man, and his playful voice had turned savage.
“Not so long ago. When I was a bit older than you. Oh, I was a vain fellow and though I was feeling very sick that night and merely wanted to lie down somewhere and die I could not pass that doorway of course without stopping to see in the mirror what I looked like when dying. But when I poked my head in what should I see in the mirror but…but…”
“And then she bewitch you, Grandpa!”
“She bewitched me and she tortured me. l She ate my heart and drank my blood.” said the old man bitterly.
“Oh, my poor little Grandpa! Why have you never told me! And she very horrible?
“Horrible? God, no— she was the most beautiful creature I have ever seen! Her eyes were somewhat like yours but her hair was like black waters and her golden shoulders were bare. My God, she was enchanting! But I should have known—I should have known even then—the dark and fatal creature she was!”
A silence. Then: “What a horrid mirror this is, Grandpa,” whispered the boy.
“What makes you slay that, hey?”
“Well, you saw this witch in it. And Mama once told me that Grandma once told her that Grandma once saw the devil in this mirror. Was it of the scare that Grandma died?”
Don Badoy started. For a moment he had forgotten that she was dead, that she had perished—the poor Agueda; that they were at peace at last, the two of them, her tired body at rest; her broken body set free at last from the brutal pranks of the earth—from the trap of a May night; from the snare of summer; from the terrible silver nets of the moon. She had been a mere heap of white hair and bones in the end: a whimpering withered consumptive, lashing out with her cruel tongue; her eye like live coals; her face like ashes… Now, nothing— nothing save a name on a stone; save a stone in a graveyard—nothing! was left of the young girl who had flamed so vividly in a mirror one wild May Day midnight, long, long ago.
And remembering how she had sobbed so piteously; remembering how she had bitten his hand and fled and how he had sung aloud in the dark room and surprised his heart in the instant of falling in love: such a grief tore up his throat and eyes that he felt ashamed before the boy; pushed the boy away; stood up and looked out—-looked out upon the medieval shadows of the foul street where a couple of street-lamps flickered and a last carriage was rattling away upon the cobbles, while the blind black houses muttered hush-hush, their tiled roofs looming like sinister chessboards against a wild sky murky with clouds, save where an evil old moon prowled about in a corner or where a murderous wind whirled, whistling and whining, smelling now of the sea and now of the summer orchards and wafting unbearable the window; the bowed old man sobbing so bitterly at the window; the tears streaming down his cheeks and the wind in his hair and one hand pressed to his mouth—while from up the street came the clackety-clack of the watchman’s boots on the cobbles, and the clang-clang of his lantern against his knee, and the mighty roll of his voice booming through the night:
“Guardia sereno-o-o! A las doce han dado-o-o!”
—– Nick Joaquin