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from the April 2019 issue

My Name’s Nancy

A girl of seventeen agrees to marry a gringo on their first date. Nothing in this impulsive start to their marriage hints at the coming misfortunes that will tear them from each other and themselves. 
 

Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.

Hosea, 4:11

 

He said: I know you. You used to live in Ch, near the big port—isn’t your name Carla? I told him he was right except for the name, recognizing the same roughness in his accent as those gringos we use to go to Playa Roja with sometimes  ✕  ✕  ✕  

✕  ✕  ✕  My name’s Nancy  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕

       ✕  ✕  ✕  He smiled and asked me out for a bite to eat  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕     ✕  ✕  ✕  When I saw him up close I realized he was the same lost gringo we’d almost run over  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  We shook hands clumsily and headed to a rotisserie chicken place  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  There he asked me to marry him before I’d eaten a single chip  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  I looked at him for a second, terrified he wouldn’t let me eat if I said no  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  I shoved a couple of chips in my mouth and, as they turned to mash between my teeth, I considered him carefully  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  Judging by his looks, I reckon Tim couldn’t have been more than thirty-five at the time. I was seventeen.  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  I said yes then and there and we went to live in Guayaquil, until one day we realized, out walking in a tropical rainstorm, that we didn’t belong there but in Chile  ✕  ✕  ✕  We decided to move back and settle in this disgusting port town, where rum and Teletrak betting took my husband from me  ✕  Over twenty years Tim managed to lose every job imaginable, till no one except the Japanese would hire him  ✕  Working for the Japanese was a kind of slow death sentence  ✕  He’d leave one day and spend a fortnight offshore with two hundred other hired hands, trawling and processing and canning the fish then and there  ✕  He always came back smiling, serene, but it didn’t last. He’d go straight to some bar and spend the night getting soaked with his friends

 

        ✕  Still, we were fond of each other, even after we grew apart  ✕  While I waited for him I’d remember nights when I’d stare at the sky for hours on end, lying on the bare earth outside the dump that was my home in Ch. I felt closer to everything going on up there than I did to that idiot  ✕  

 

Booze got the better of him. Every night. Without fail.  ✕              ✕              ✕  

 

  ✕  ✕  ✕  

And I’d think: when did you agree to this, Nancy?  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  When did you agree to live like a widow before your time?

✕  ✕  ✕  ✕               ✕  ✕ 

 

            It was Tim that got me listening to the radio, to stop from feeling lonely and because I was tired of talking to myself  ✕

            I’d say to myself: It’s like I’m his damn mother

✕                               He worried me so much. I’d imagine him dead somewhere, even though Tim was a lucky old drunk: he never did get hurt and would always show up eventually, when everything had finally shut, out cold, dragged home by some other waster. Once he was stretched out on the sofa he’d be there for hours, that gringo of mine. Eventually he’d get up, shower, go and buy some hake and vegetables and make me the best dinner in the world. I’d watch him and worry just as much as I did when he wasn’t there, my chest hurting like he’d never come home at all  ✕  We’d eat in silence, hardly speaking, and then we’d make love in the dark for five minutes  ✕  On a good day  ✕  The last time we did it was the day I told him I was dying of cancer. We stared at each other like divers under water, sunk in uncertainty, until I poured another glass of wine to break the silence  ✕  Then he took me by the hand and led me to bed, like when we did it in Santa Cruz all that time ago, the first time, and while he took off his trousers I lay down on my stomach and waited, burning, dying, but happy, for him to give it to me  ✕  Instead of crying I held in the need to pee and crushed my face into a pillow  ✕  Tim was so rough it felt like the handful of times I’d slept with Jesulé  ✕  ✕  ✕  While he was going at it he asked me: Is it for sure? I said, of course, the doctor told me it was a miracle I was still alive, really. He gave a couple more thrusts and, coming inside me, let out an electric moan, horrible, like he was in pain  ✕  I needed to pee so badly a couple of drops actually came out  ✕  I ran to the bathroom and peed for three whole minutes, nonstop. Through the door I could see the silhouette of my husband, lying on the bed, panting, and I felt an oppressive heat rise up through my legs from the freezing tiles  ✕  I pressed the soles of my feet onto the floor and then lifted them up, transfixed by the sweaty prints they left on the white tiles, by the way they slowly disappeared, and I thought: why can’t cancer be like this, why can’t it disappear, like words, like cigarettes

 

 

✕                          ✕✕✕                                     ✕✕                 ✕

✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                    ✕                    ✕                     ✕                    ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

  ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                                            ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕                      ✕                    ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

 ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

   ✕                    ✕                    ✕                                            ✕                  ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                          ✕✕✕                                     ✕✕                 ✕

✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

 ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                                            ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                    ✕                    ✕                                            ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                         ✕✕✕                                     ✕✕                 ✕

✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

 ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                                            ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕                    ✕                   ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                    ✕                    ✕                                           ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕                    ✕        ✕        ✕

  ✕

 

For the next three months neither of us mentioned it. When I saw Tim for the first time after they removed my breasts and uterus, when he got back from trawling, his face remained serene  ✕  He asked me to show him  ✕  I took off my dressing gown, wincing, and we looked at me together: where my breasts and belly button used to be it was like I’d been zipped up  ✕  The morning light came through the window and I felt completely alone  ✕  Tim said: Like an Amazon. That was all. He hugged me, carefully, quickly made some lunch, then went out drinking  ✕  When he was upset, his nose, red and broken, used to twitch up and down  ✕  His eyes, slanted and blue, used to glisten a bit under his cap, though you’d never notice unless you knew him really well  ✕  He’d breathe through his mouth and moisten his lips  ✕  Those were the signs  ✕  He looked unfazed but I knew he needed a drink. Knew I wouldn’t see him for a while  ✕    

 

         ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕     

✕  ✕  ✕                                                            ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  

✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕       

             The chemotherapy was looming and I decided to shave my head so I didn’t have to see my hair fall out in big handfuls  ✕  I did it alone, so when Tim came back from his stint offshore and found me pale and shivering, my skull wrapped in a multicolored scarf, the only thing he could think to do was give me a kiss on the forehead then go back to his same old shit  ✕  He left, dragging his feet. 

     And that was that. 

✕  

✕  

✕  

Knowing you’re going to die is horrible not just because you don’t want to die, but also because there’s always some residual, surviving doubt. It survived in me all right, a fledgling hope, hiding behind the eyes. Even though I was skeletal, mutilated, barren ✕       

✕  I thought: no motherfucker should have to die alone like this  ✕  ✕  ✕

If only the world had ended in 2012 like everyone said it would, that would have been perfect  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  I was twelve that year—I had Pato, and my mum wasn’t so crazy, or at least I felt I could handle her  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  And now? What have you got left, Nancy?   ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  Hope?  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕

            Sometimes when I woke up, even if I was really tired, it didn’t feel like I was dying. How could I be, when there was still a body reflected in the mirror  ✕         ✕       ✕       ✕       ✕       ✕  But the locals took it upon themselves to remind me  ✕       ✕  In the street people simply stopped saying hello, and this drove me to complete despair. Weeks could go by when the only reason I didn’t talk to myself was because the radio was on at full volume, and only then because I couldn’t hear my own voice  ✕           

 

Under my breath, I’d whisper: 

Chavela Vargas, pray for us

Palmenia Pizarro, thy kingdom come

Orquesta Huambalí, thy will be done, on earth as it is . . . 

 

✕  After a while, silence is worse than actually dying  ✕  Maybe even worse than hope  ✕

            ✕

            ✕

The side effects of chemotherapy eventually kicked in, and I went into a slow decline: I barely ate, and spent long hours in bed, lying half-asleep, feeling all the bones in my body tightening  ✕  In rare hours of lucidity I’d try half-heartedly to shower and wash up. The water was so cold, like metal, even when it was boiling, so instead I had to sit shivering on the toilet and clean myself with wet wipes  ✕  ✕  In the kitchen I’d rinse the dirty plates and cutlery under the tap, struggling to hold them by the edges to avoid the chills I got from touching the water  ✕  ✕  ✕

✕                    I devoted myself to contemplating the dust invasion. I couldn’t really believe it. I sort of thought that if I looked at it long enough the dirt might somehow disappear  ✕

 

It didn’t  ✕       

            

                                                The pain

And the mannequins in the street

the old ladies with waxen skin

and me turning to papier-mâché

 

✕  Don’t even get me started on the nausea  ✕

 

A couple of days before I started taking morphine—I may as well have had no husband by this point, the gringo wasn’t even coming home to sleep anymore— a friend of Tim’s banged on the door, waited the fifteen minutes it took me to get out of bed and drag myself out front, and said, quickly, not looking me in the eye, that my husband had been involved in an accident offshore and had gone to a better place ✕  ✕        ✕        ✕       ✕       ✕            What happened? I asked  ✕     ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕  ✕    He was sucked into the tuna processor  ✕        ✕            ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕  And his body?  ✕    ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕       ✕       ✕       ✕       ✕  There is no body, he replied, and, after he’d hugged me, added that someone would come on behalf of the Japanese to give me their condolences and a check for the funeral  ✕  And that was that: an hour later an official––short, barely comprehensible, bowing continually—told me he was sorry for my loss, and that they’d cover all the expenses, the funeral and that sort of thing, but unfortunately they couldn’t give me any compensation because, according to the insurance company, Tim had been drunk when the accident happened  ✕  As I listened to this diminutive Japanese specimen I leaned against the doorframe, trying not to pass out from pain, and struggled to understand what the fuck was going on  ✕  I shook my head and asked again about his body  ✕   ✕       The Japanese man looked displeased, like it was rude to demand to see the gringo’s remains after he’d explained what had happened, and although in the end he said nothing I imagined him replying, coolly, that the only thing he could do was give me a moment alone with the 2,500 tins containing my dead husband ✕                        

 

✕       (In fact, I’m convinced he was perfectly capable of saying it, only he rushed off after giving me the check so as not to waste any more time)  ✕            ✕       

 

That afternoon I took out my grandmother’s First Communion dress and dyed it with aniline. While it was hanging in the sun, dripping black water, I polished my shoes and stood in front of the mirror, preparing myself for the wake, which would be the next day in the fishermen’s chapel. All night I lay on the bed in my widow’s clothes, eyes open, waiting till it was time

 

✕       A few workers from the processing plant came to the chapel, mainly women, but that was it really  ✕  The burial was even emptier  ✕  After the final shovelful of earth, the last few stragglers silently dispersed, not daring to give their condolences, and I went back to being a ghost  ✕  The only person who continued to give me the time of day during this whole nightmare was Isidorita. A kindly fat woman who comes and looks after me every now and then  ✕  ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕        We share our regrets sometimes, quietly, and I try and console her       ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕            ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕  She wanted to be the carnival queen and everyone had laughed at her  ✕    ✕        ✕        ✕            ✕        ✕        When we ran into each other in the street she looked like a kindred spirit. She saw me sunk in a void, alone. I saw how anxious she was, everyone acting all friendly then laughing behind her back  ✕      ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕        ✕  Sometimes they laughed in her face, too  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  I love that she talks to me, that she washes the dishes, and most of all that she tries to smile between sighs  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  ✕  She convinces me, more easily each time, to turn on the TV so we don’t miss Gavilanes de Cristo: Juan the missionary under the jungle palms, exchanging glances with Enriqueta  ✕  ✕  ✕  Sweating as they clean the lepers’ wounds, hearts racing, completely besotted with each other  ✕  ✕  ✕

 

The morphine means I’m usually sunk in a dream even more painful than the cancer eating away at my bones  ✕  When the gringo was alive at least I had someone to worry about, but it all went so fast

 

I’m here, waiting.
 

From Nancy © Bruno Lloret. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2019 by Ellen Jones. All rights reserved.

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