Before Vanessa, I had other girlfriends, but none of them was memorable or worthy of appearing in my scrapbook. Actually, I never needed a confidante because I had an imaginary one. Sometimes I talked to Tatum O'Neal, a redheaded actress I admired for her role as a precocious adolescent capable of falling in love with Richard Burton, who was old enough to be her grandfather. Vanessa was the first girl, and possibly the last, who earned the right to be a part of my world. She began to accompany me to the Witches' games and frequent parties. Now I was too old to be the team mascot, and I didn't play softball, but I got excited watching my surrogate aunts in action. Soon Vanessa became a fan like me. Fortunately, Eli didn't want to come with us because she was allergic to men's deodorant. The team welcomed Vanessa with open arms and soon got used to seeing us cuddling on the steps, slobbering over each other. Nobody was surprised, because some Witches did the same. And I figured out who was with whom, like Lú and Yola, for example. Yola was a reserve player. Sometimes she didn't even take the field, but she was always there, rooting loudly for the winning team. I found those couples funny because they weren't "girlfriends" like those well-dressed, perfectly manicured ladies who often visited Mama to play dominoes, read fashion magazines, and try Avon products. No, Mama's friends, with invisible husbands like hers, deep down envied her and hated her. Mama, for her part, made fun of their unhappy marriages, of their desperate attempts to stay beautiful through cosmetic surgeries and stupid creams. It wasn't a real friendship, but a cruel competition. Lú and Yola's friendship was something else, like the friendship between Lupita Cháirez and Dunia, the beautiful cheerleader, or Puppy Fraga and Edelmira Cueto. They were true friends, who showered affection on each other, dedicated songs to each other, looked each other in the eye, and held hands. Let's just say, before Vanessa, I had only friends like Mama's, who fought for the best doll and the best dress.
But Mama didn't want me to kiss Vanessa; she said it wasn't right, it was vulgar. Lú and the Witches had no problem with it. Nobody judged us for snuggling together in a chair, or for eating off each other's plates like puppies. For the Witches, a sincere friendship between women wasn't a bad thing. On the contrary, they celebrated it.
I had a rough time when I met Gabriel Garmendia, this intruder. My hope of having Marianela as an ally was rather quickly dashed, as the boy turned out to be very responsible. He had no intention of dragging her daughter down the dark back alley. No. He was serious. According to Eli, Gabriel Garmendia showed up at their telenovela house with a large bouquet of roses, cut and arranged by his own hand, not for Vanessa, but for Doña Marianela. He needed to talk to his future mother-in-law and convince her that his intentions were honorable. To top it all, the boy, who had recently turned fifteen, was tall, well built, handsome, blond, green-eyed, gallant, and pristine as a tablecloth in Restaurant Pedregal. Wealthy, in a word. Eli mocked the look on her mother's face when she saw the young man with slicked-back hair in front of her, holding out the bouquet. With her mouth wide open, she sighed ridiculously, received the flowers, and smelled them, tears welling up in her eyes. She has always been pathetically sentimental.
"Señora," the starchy boy began solemnly. "I'm Gabriel Garmendia, the son of Don Roque, the owner of Garmendia Auto Parts. You have seen me. We're a national chain, and I go to the Liceo. I have a personal bank account and a special driver's license, and I'm an only child, therefore the only heir. I tell you all this because I'm very much interested in forming a deep friendship with your eldest daughter with a view to a serious commitment. You can tell she'll be in good hands because my parents have taught me to act like a gentleman. Let me tell you that Vanessa is surely her mother's daughter because you're elegant as well as beautiful."
Moved to scream, Marianela poured the little gentleman sweet anisette, which she kept under her pillow for extremely special occasions, and before long, he was dazed and stammering. Needless to say, Marianela gave the suitor a pass and her blessing, going over to the enemy's camp. Now only Eli and I raised objections, Eli because she couldn't stand to see her sister happy; I, because I couldn't stand to see Vanessa happy without me.
Gabriel Garmendia wanted to use the same tactics on me. Vanessa made him realize that it was important to win over her best friend as well, because my blessing on their relationship was as important as her mother's. He just planted himself in front of my door and rang the bell with his immaculate finger. He was alone. I was watching The Smurfs lying on my stomach on the living-room rug while Mama was taking her nap, wearing an aloe facial mask. When I answered the door, the blond boy held an enormous box of imported Scandinavian marshmallows to my face.
"Hello," he said, smiling like a young heartthrob from a Disney movie. "I'm Gabriel Garmendia, Vanessa's boyfriend. My father, Don Roque, owns a national auto parts chain. "I wanted to meet you because Vanessa has told me you're like her sister."
I tried to put myself into Gabriel Garmendia's Nike shoes and Lacoste shirt; to see my own timid, chubby face sticking out, with the chain on the door still in place. My angry eyes traveled from his angelic face to the luxurious red box with its droll-faced cow. Why marshmallows, darn it? Maybe Vanessa told him her best friend was a pimply-faced fat girl addicted to sweets?
"I'm on a diet!" I said, slamming the door against his turned-up nose.
It was a miracle that Vanessa didn't get upset over my slighting her boyfriend. Instead, she acted magnanimously like a goddess of beauty who understands and forgives her followers' jealousy.
"Oh, you silly girl!" She hugged me, passionately effusive as always. "Don't you see? Oh, don't you see you mean the world to me? Gabriel is another thing, and it has nothing to do with us."
"Yes, it does!" I sobbed, wrapping my arms around her fifty-seven-centimeter waist, the product of a cross between genetic luck and the sauna belt her mother had forced her to wear since she was nine. "You'll be spending all your time with him."
"You're completely wrong." She kissed and pinched my cheek. "I'll still be with you all the time. I'm just asking you to share me with him a little."
"What are you talking about?"
"I've laid out conditions for Gabriel, and he's willing to comply with them, every single one of them. He'd do anything to please me, no matter how ridiculous my wishes are. And one of them has been to have you come with us everywhere."
"You're crazy!" I wouldn't be able to stand watching him kiss her.
"Listen. I'm dying to have a boyfriend, but I don't want to lose you. Do you understand? I'm absolutely sure you'll do the same when a boy..."
"That won't happen. The only man I've ever loved, ever will love, is out of reach."
"Do you mean Mr. Noriega? Oh, don't be silly!" When she held me tightly, I had to resist the urge to lick the blue vein pulsing in her neck like a violin string. "If you'd only take my advice, try to lose some weight, and get a stylish haircut! You don't have to make sacrifices. I'll show you how to make yourself vomit if you want. I bet a thousand Mr. Noriegas would go nuts over you! Come on, you silly girl, stop crying. The largest slice of my heart is yours."
Oh my God, my idea of sex was disgustingly scandalous. The sixth-grade biology book shows how to make a baby, with illustrations and everything, but the image that came to my mind as I imagined what it was like was the image of men and women fornicating like dogs. I really thought it was like that, the man seized the woman from behind and penetrated her backside—something vulgar and disgusting. I refused to believe Papa and Mama did it like that, and moreover, I doubted they did it because they were always too discreet to let escape a moan that could ruin my innocence. I suppose they had real sex, with shouts and grunts, somewhere else, when they made those mysterious escapes to Delmonico's restaurant, leaving me with Lú, with whom I had a great time: we went out into the street to flirt with girls, she took me to poker games with her girlfriends, and we sang songs by Lola Beltrán and Chabela Vargas, and she made me delicious spicy dinners.
I knew Vanessa had been kissed on the mouth many times, but I dismissed Marianela's fears about her daughter's imminent deflowering. For my part, I had been kissed only once—a kiss stolen by a friend in elementary school, a passionate French boy named Philippe Vanier. The experience was not pleasant, especially because I think I became sick as a result of that only kiss. The first thing I did was go to the restroom and check my panties because something had happened deep inside me. I was completely soaked, wet enough to wring out. "It's pee," I told myself, "I've wet myself, filthy girl." Peeing in your pants at the age of ten was a symptom of madness or imbecility. I had to get used to that anomaly that kept happening (even though it was more controlled) when Mr. Noriega pinched my cheek.
But going back to Gabriel Garmendia: the poor thing had to go into his virgin bank account because going out with his Vanessa meant taking Eli and me with him. I'll never forget the look on his face when his girlfriend showed up for their first date chaperoned by a fatty and a midget—only the bearded lady was missing. The boy had no choice but to force a smile to his lips, fastened as if by thumbtacks at the corners of his mouth, and pretended to be glad to pick up the restaurant tab for these bulimic girls. Eli and I conspired to ruin their date in every possible way, not just smearing snot all over the seat covers of his elegant Mustang. We transformed the idyllic scene into a pigpen. Eli had four milk shakes in a row, and I only three, but I also suggested a family-size pizza was not enough, and Gabriel Garmendia had to pay for a combo with four extra ingredients. He sweated as he watched us gobble down the food. I bet he was adding up the bill on his fingers under the table. Once outside, Eli and I jumped around him like Indians around a bonfire, pleading him to take us to the movies. Little Darlings was premiering, starring Tatum and Kristy McNichol. It was long before I'd discovered I'd prefer a hairdresser to Christopher Atkins. According to Escándalo magazine, both girls compete to lose their virginity at summer camp, and the main target is, hold on, girls, Matt Dillon! Who would want to miss it? Gabriel Garmendia not only had to pay for the tickets, but also our pillaging of the candy store.
Every time I searched for Vanessa's hand under the table, I found someone else's smooth hand—Gabriel Garmendia's. Vanessa and I touched each other all the time, even in front of her mother or mine. While we were apparently eating, they never found out how our legs and hands met, pressing our knees together, touching each other's soles, or linking our ankles. Smelling of Motitas fruit gum, we absorbed each other's sweat. It was a stupid game, I know, but my desire to touch her and feel her compelled me to disregard the etiquette manual by Carreño, Papa's guru, who was always strict about the correct use of cutlery. That's why I wasn't ready to give up that pleasure, even though I had to maneuver over Gabriel Garmendia. Well, he also went over me. The first time our fingers touched Vanessa's, Gabriel Garmendia flashed me an annoyed look, but neither of us broke the contact. Once relaxed, we came to a tacit agreement to share her. After that day, six hands and six legs began an orgy under the tables in the ice-cream parlor. Sometimes we didn't even know who was caressing whom.
Sometimes I noticed that refined, tactful, and chivalrous Gabriel Garmendia transgressed the boundaries of Vanessa's knee to sneak into the enchanted kingdom under her blue skirt, where fierce dragons guarded her maidenhood. My first impulse was to hit him, knock down the table, and expose his action for the costumers to see what he was capable of, but Vane seemed to guess my intention and gently held my wrist, silently asking for complicity. My burning eyes ran from one end of the table to the other, stared into the amaretto-colored eyes of the one who kept holding me, and saw a sweet smile form around her lips, full and pink, the lips of a woman who knew pleasures unknown to me, as my hand crept toward the same place Gabriel Garmendia touched. And there, under Vanessa's skirt, he and I met again, fighting for pleasure like swordsmen. Meanwhile, Eli, scarcely paying attention to the commotion under the table and her sister's stifled sighs, wolfed down a slice of blackberry pie and stared at the lamp on the ceiling.
Translation of "Maldita primavera," from Réquiem por una muñeca rota (Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro, 2000). Copyright Eve Gil. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2010 by Toshiya Kamei. All rights reserved.