Cuento “Los Pilares de doña Blanca”
Publicado en la Revista Literaria Baquiana
“The Pillars: a children’s song”
By Beatriz Salcedo-Strumpf
(Translated by Hanya Brayman)
Why didn’t I have condoms and spermicidal? The question haunted me constantly. This could only have happened to those who never used contraceptives, to the girls without sex education, to the servants at my parent’s home, to the under-educated? But to me? Why me? No, no, I repeated to myself insistently.
(Dona Blanca is all covered up in Pillars)
For the first time in my life, I was the person I had always dreamed of becoming: I had a scholarship and was working towards my Master’s in the United States. I had rented and furnished an apartment. My affectionate tri-colored cat, Mapache, kept me company during all those nocturnal reading sessions, purring endearingly. And the best part of all was the tremendous relief that I felt at having escaped my mother’s oppressive domain. I was just finishing my first semester, adjusting little by little to the hectic pace, to the Nordic cold, to walking twenty five blocks daily for a lack of a car so that I could save a tiny bit and at the same time keep myself from thinking about Mexican food. David decided to visit me during the Christmas holiday. He was about to graduate in Physics from a university in New York. We had been dating for over a year and, as fate would have it, he went to the city of skyscrapers and I to Milwaukee, the city of beer. Although we could see each other only every trimester, our relationship worked. Both of us could concentrate thoroughly on our studies and enjoy our encounters during our free time.
After his last pleasant visit, as I was attempting to regain my diurnal routine, I suddenly realized that my period was late. At first I reasoned that it was just menstrual irregularity, caused by so many recent emotions bout David. But gradually I began to worry, especially when unexplained morning bouts of nausea started to assault me. I decided to begin a rigid program of jogging, swimming, jumping rope, and lifting weights. All the while, I listened to the music of Joan Manuel Serrat in hops of calming my anxiety and uncertainty. I dieted when my abdomen began to inflate, but it was useless, and my belly continued to expand. Never in my life had my imagination focused so much on that red liquid running between my legs.
(Doña Blanca is all covered up in pillars of gold and silver.)
Now, every five minutes, I would beg God for that which before had been a punishment. I would have been accepted it now as a blessing. After every exercise session, I ran to the toilet hoping to discover a small bloody stain. But it was futile. My pants tightened and stiffened, and I felt like I needed a shoehorn to squeeze myself into them.
(Doña Blanca is all covered up in pillars of gold and silver/ Let us open up a space so we can look at Dona Blanca.)
It was then I decided to let David know. His answer left me speechless: “Have an abortion and I will send you the money today,” he told me. “Keep your money. I don’t want to hear from you anymore.” I hung up. He never understood my position, nor I his
Now I can envision how Christ felt, shouldering his cross, crowned with thorns. I sensed rage against David, never wanting to know more about him. I found it impossible to postpone any longer my mental burial of him whom I loved so much.
Finally, I decided to confide in Karen, the girl who shared my apartment. She was getting her degree in French at the same university. When I confessed my unwanted pregnancy, she manifested an attitude of solidarity and told me that, whatever my decision, she would respect it and support me.
She also suggested adoption, or in case I chose to keep the baby, she offered her help in caring for my child.
(Doña Blanca is all covered up in pillars of gold and silver/ Let us open up a space so we can look at Doña Blanca/ And who is this one who follows, trailing after Dona Blanca?)
The last thing left to do was to verify my pregnancy, so I made an appointment at the university clinic. The nurse, young and with an agreeable smile, came over and asked me if I wanted to wait for the results. My uncertainty was obvious. Those ten minutes were the longest I ever spent, in much the same way that a drowning man takes his last gasps of air in the middle of the ocean. This was my very last hope, and when she returned grinning broadly, for a moment I thought that she was bringing good news. Then she spoke “You’re going to be a great mother, a very good mother,” her affirmation accompanied by immense joy. My head felt like it would explode and her words kept repeating themselves over and over in my mind like war drums.
(And who is this one follows, trailing after Doña Blanca?)
I left the clinic a zombie, never feeling the snow that stung my face, unaware of the fierce wind that tangled my long hair. I kept asking myself:
“My God, what am I going to do now?” I rebuked myself all the way back to the apartment, at the same time studiously examining every single option that I had.
On the one hand, it was better for me to be abroad, out of my country. If this had happened there, it would have been far worse. My parents would never have forgiven me for my dishonor to our family, and my only alternative would have been to bear both my parents and my pregnancy. Or maybe, living in Mexico, I could go north to have a legal abortion. Oh, well, the reality is that I found myself alone, pregnant, funded with a mediocre grant, in economic straits, without David. And time is getting short for me to have a safe termination. Brusquely, I said to myself “How in the world are you going to take three classes, teach another two and care for a child? Or, rather, who is going to take care of it for you? And even if you found someone, how would you get the money to pay not only for a babysitter, but also for diapers, and formula, and clothing, and then afford the pediatric costs and all the other expenses that are bound to pop up/ And what would happen if the university found out and revoked the scholarship? You would be out on the streets like a lost puppy, penniless and with an infant, heading back home with your tail between your legs. Karen insists that I give it up for adoption. I believe, however that after I saw my baby, I would find it impossible to separate myself from my own child. It seems selfish on my part, and I feel dazed. I review my religious convictions, those that make me feel guilty. Why in hell can’t I decide about my own body? It’s not that I’m not considering the life of my unborn baby, growing within me minute by minute. And I think that yes, the baby has every right to live.
I spent three longs torturing myself. Then, for the first time ever, I considered only my own needs. I decided I need to abort.
(And who is this one who follows, trailing after Doña Blanca? I’m the one who trails behind her, following after Doña Blanca/ Let us open a space so we can look at Doña Blanca.)
I kept thinking that I would wake up and discover everything had been just a bad dream. But it wasn’t. At last, exhausted from imagining hundreds of possible outcomes. I made an appointment at the clinic. Karen offered to accompany me. Together, we took the bus and, already seated, unintentionally exchanged glances. I sense the futility of words and she most assuredly sensed my loneliness, my sadness, my guilty as if they were her own. Mutually, we offered each other our silence, in sacrifice to an impending death.
We arrived at a small office, austere and with a strong odor of antiseptic. It was clinic that specialized in performing abortions. A nurse, along with a Hindu doctor, appeared frequently in the waiting room where several young girls, along with me, awaited their turn for the slaughterhouse. Their remorseful faces produced fear and chills within me. Karen tried to encourage me, to keep me strong, but when my turn came, I tried to get out of there, to escape, but it was too late. I felt like a sacrificial lamb that knowingly goes to the altar. Then, the nurse, dressed in a white uniform, gently took me by the arm and led me into a stark room. She asked me to disrobe and put on an enormous grown that reminded me of a circus clown costume. The Hindu doctor faked a smile and added:
(And who is this one who follows trailing after Doña Blanca? I’m the one who trails behind her, following after Doña Blanca.)
“This won’t hurt. In a matter of minutes you’ll go free.”
I remained as still as a statute. He told me to get comfortable and open up my legs. Suddenly, I heard a drill with a suction sound and the procedure ended. In spite of my efforts not to cry, the tears came and I asked them to call Karen. When she saw my extreme pallor, she hugged me. Then we left that place, silence, again, our only companion. I felt neither the wind that accosted me nor the snow that soaked my face. As we walked past a small café, we decided to go inside and mitigate as best as we could the pain of this last death of mine. Karen, in a secretive tone, asked “How are you feeling, Mila?
“I have so many mixed feelings, Karen. On one side, the rigidity of my obsessive upbringing, “my strict morals,” they betray me, leaving me feeling guilty. On the other side, I feel so relieved. The ambivalence of my emotions confuses me.”
At last, I was once again able to apply myself to my studies and to choose, with greater care, my contraceptives and my partner.
“Damned this mania I have that allows my guilt to open again these legs of mine, penetrating me and impregnating me with questions that I’ll never be able to answer. To hell with my moral education, so castrating; to hell with love immemorial; to hell with my obsessions. I should have felt a great relief that my entrails had been unfettered of what would have hampered my studies. I carry around conflicting sentiments that argue and clash with each other. To hell with Doña Blanca and all the pillars erected by guilt. After today, I should have change my name: I won’t be Milagros, I won’t be Blanca. And David, too, who was like the one who trailed behind, following after something that no longer exists. In this case, death follows the dead.
Oh, how stupid of me! I’ve forgotten to leave food out for my cat. I hope that this time won’t she claw the crucifix in the living room, detaching the nailed Christ from his cross. Poor little kittens, she knows that the crown of thorns and all the crosses aren’t meant for cats but for women. I would love to form an association to counsel those who know nothing about contraceptives, spermicidal, guilt, condoms, death, mistakes, depression, disillusion, abortion, love.
Damned this way I have of lapsing into silence in this cafeteria I come to so often, in this place so familiar and yet, today, so strange. I can’t find a name or surname that I can give myself.”
“Mila, I’m talking to you. Are you okay?”
Mila? Blanca? David? Jicotillo? Pillars? Guilt…Guilt…
Shit! These obsessions of mine again. Damned, this mania I have of spreading my legs for this my last guilt. I can’t believe that I was ever pregnant. Maybe I wasn’t.
“Mila, you look pale….”
Yes, let’s go.