"See, that's why I don't want you to come by yourself."
"What did I do?"
"Don't make believe you don't know."
"But, what did I do?"
"You were going to cross with a red light."
"But no cars were coming."
"Yes they were, Beatriz."
"But they were very far away."
"Let's go now."
They walk by the supermarket. Then, by the dry cleaners.
"What is it?"
"I promise to always cross with the green light."
"You already promised me that last week."
"But now I really promise. Do you forgive me?"
"It's not a question of forgiving you or not. Don't you realize that if you cross with a red light you could be run over by a car?"
"What would I do, Beatriz, if something happens to you? How would your father feel if something happens to you? Don't you think about that?"
"Nothing is going to happen to me, Mom. Don't cry. Please don't cry. I'll always cross with the green light. Graciela. Mom. Don't cry."
"I'm not crying anymore, silly. Come on, go in."
"It's still early. Classes begin in twenty minutes. The little sunshine is lovely, and I'd like to stay with you a while longer."
When she says this, Graciela loosens up a bit and smiles.
"Have you forgiven me?"
"Are you going to the office now?"
"Are you on vacation?"
"I worked very hard last week and they gave me this Monday off."
"And what are you going to do? Are you going to the movies?"
"I don't think so. I think I'm going home."
"Will you come to pick me up when I get out? Or can I come home by myself?"
"I'd like to trust you."
"Trust me, Mom. Nothing is going to happen to me. Really."
Beatriz doesn't wait for Graciela's reply. She kisses her, almost in the air, and runs into the school. Graciela remains motionless for a while, watching her move away. Then she presses her lips together and leaves.
She walks slowly, balancing her purse, and stopping at times, as if disoriented. Upon arriving at the avenue, she looks up and surveys the chain of tall buildings. Suddenly, those who are going to cross brush by her, push her, and make comments. Then, she too decides to cross. But before reaching the other sidewalk, the traffic lights have turned red and a truck has to swerve to avoid hitting her.
Now she turns into a street that is almost deserted, where there are several overflowing and foul-smelling garbage cans. She approaches one of them and looks at its contents with some interest. She makes a gesture as if to put her hand in, but restrains herself.
She walks two, three, five, ten blocks. On the corner preceding the other avenue there is a woman asking for charity. Next to her there are two very small children sleeping. She approaches and the woman reinitiates her simple ballad.
"Why are you begging? Eh?"
The woman looks at her in amazement. She's accustomed to generosity, refusals, and indifference. Not to dialogue.
"I said, why are you begging?"
"So I can eat, lady. For the love of God."
"And, can't you work?"
"No, lady. For the love of God."
"You can't, or you don't want to?"
"There's no work. For the love of God."
"Leave the love of God alone. Don't you realize that God doesn't want to love you?"
"Don't say that, lady. Don't say that."
"Thanks, lady. For the love of God."
Now she walks with a more steadfast and rapid pace. The beggar remains behind, amazed. One of her children starts to cry. Graciela turns her head to look at the group, but doesn't stop.
When she is two blocks away from her house, she sees a blurred image of Rolando. He's leaning against the door. She walks another block and waves at him. He doesn't seem to see her. She repeats the gesture and then he responds by also waving his hand in the air, and comes to meet her.
"How did you know I was coming home?"
"It's very simple. I called your office and they told me you weren't coming to work today."
"I almost went to the movies."
"Yes, I thought of that possibility. But the sun was so lovely that it seemed unlikely you would lock yourself up in a movie theatre. And well, I set out for your house, and as you can see, I guessed right."
He kisses her on both cheeks. She looks in her bag, finds her key, and opens the door.
"Come in. Sit down. Do you want something to drink?"
Graciela opens the venetian blinds and takes off her overcoat. Rolando looks at her inquisitively.
"Have you been crying?"
"Does it show?"
"You have the look which is technically referred to as after the storm."
"Bah, it was just a little cloudburst."
"Not much. Just an unfair dispiritedness in front of a beggar, and before that, a justified temper tantrum with Beatriz."
"With Beatriz? She's so pretty."
"She's a little devil. But she always gets the better of me."
"It's my own stupidity. She can be so reckless when she crosses the street. And I become scared."
"Is that all?"
Rolando offers her a cigarette, but she refuses it. He takes one and lights it. He exhales the first puff of smoke and looks at her through the smoke.
"Graciela, when are you going to decide?"
"To confess to yourself; I don't know what. Evidently, something you don't want to admit."
"Don't start again, Rolando. That paternal tone infuriates me."
"I've known you for a long time, Graciela. Before Santiago."
"And it's because I know you, that I know you feel bad."
"And you'll continue to feel bad until you admit it."
"Maybe. But it's difficult. It's hard."
"It's about Santiago."
"And especially about me. Bah, it's not so complicated. But it's hard. I don't know what's wrong with me, Rolando. It's terrible to admit it, but I don't need Santiago anymore."
"And how long have you felt this way?"
"Don't ask me for dates. What do I know? It's absurd."
"Don't classify it yet."
"It's absurd, Rolando. Santiago didn't do anything to me. He was merely arrested. What do you think? After all, can something worse be done to someone, something more ominous? That's what he did to me. He was arrested. He abandoned me."
"He didn't abandon you, Graciela. He was taken away."
"I know. That's why I say it's absurd. I know he was taken away, and nevertheless, I feel as if he has abandoned me."
"And do you blame him for it?"
"No, how can I blame him? He behaved properly, very properly, endured the torture, acted bravely, and didn't inform on anyone. He is an example."
"And nevertheless, I've been drifting away. And the distance has given me a reprieve so that I can review our entire relationship."
"Which was good."
"It no longer is. He continues to write me loving, warm, and sensitive letters, but I read them as if they were for another woman. Can you clarify what has happened? Could it be that prison life has turned Santiago into a different man? Or could it be that his exile has changed me into another woman?"
"Everything is possible. But everything can also compliment itself. And enrich itself. And better itself."
"I haven't bettered myself, nor have I enriched myself. I feel poorer, thinner. And I don't want to continue impoverishing myself or withering away."
"Graciela, do you still share Santiago's political beliefs?"
"Of course. They're mine too, aren't they? It's only that he was arrested. And I, on the other hand, am here."
"Do you blame him for the commitments he made?"
"Are you crazy? He did what had to be done. I did my part, too. You're on the wrong track about that. Santiago and I continue to be united in that respect. Where I don't continue united is in our relationship. Not in social matters, but in conjugal matters, understand? At least I understand that clearly. What I'm not clear about is the motive, and that grieves me. If Santiago had been nasty to me, or if I had seen him be nasty to someone. But no. He's a first-class guy. Loyal, a good friend, a good partner, and a good husband. And I was very much in love with him."
"Likewise. And it looks like he still feels the same. I'm the crazy one."
"You're still a child, Graciela. You're pretty, intelligent, and sensitive at times. Perhaps what you're missing is the balance you once had, the emotional rewards."
"Ouch, how difficult."
"That which Santiago can't give you by correspondence, and even less by censored correspondence."
"Can I ask you a very, very personal question?"
"You may. And I also may not answer you."
"Go ahead then."
"Do you dream of other men?"
"Do you mean amorous dreams?"
"Are you referring to dreaming while asleep or to daydreaming?"
"To both instances."
"When I sleep, I don't dream about any man."
"And when you daydream?"
"Yes, I dream. You're going to laugh, though. I daydream about you."
In the early afternoon, the silence is outside and inside. Graciela knows what she is going to find if she decides to look behind the venetian blinds. Not only will the flower path be deserted, but also its surroundings: the square flower beds, the streets within the housing developments, the windows, and the short terraces of Building B.
The only mobile inhabitants at this hour are a few surprising bumblebees that buzz close to the venetian blinds, but can't find a way in. Every now and then, in the distance, in the far distance, the shouts and laughter of a coed school located some twelve or fifteen blocks away can be heard in almost imperceptible waves.
So why is she going to get up to look behind the venetian blinds if she knows beforehand what she is going to find? That exterior is routine, while on the other hand, in the interior, in bed, for example, there is a newness.
Graciela puts out her cigarette by pressing it into an ashtray on her night table. She sits up half way, leaning on an elbow. She examines her own nakedness and feels a chill, but doesn't move to pull up the blanket that is piled up at the foot of the bed.
She continues looking at the venetian blinds, but without anything demanding her attention. It's probably just a way of turning her back to the rest of the bed, but not like a rejection, but like the delay of an enjoyment. And then, before turning, and looking, she slowly starts to move a hand until she rests it on the sleeper's skin.
The sleeper's skin quivers, a little like a horse's when it attempts to scare away flies. The hand isn't responded to and remains there, tenacious, until the sleeper's skin becomes calm again.
Then Graciela moves her semi-reclined body to completely face the sleeper, and without abandoning the archipelago of freckles which her palm covers, looks at him from top to bottom and vice versa, pausing at spots, nooks, and small territories that over the course of the last few hours have been winning her favor and disturbing her sense of control.
For example, she lingers on the strong shoulder which she caressed with her ear and cheek hours earlier; on the chest only partly covered with hair; on the odd-looking navel, like a child's, which looks at her like a frightened eye, moved indirectly by the respiratory rhythm; on the deep scar on his hip, the one he obtained in a certain tenement he never mentions; on the untidy and reddish hair of the lower triangle; on the magical sex now at rest after so much hard work; on the testicles, dissimilar because the left one has never recovered and is bruised and shrunken after so much of the electric shock torture in the barracks in the nameless tenement; on his well-formed legs, like the ones of the 800 hurdler he once was; and on his feet, rough and large, with long and slightly twisted toes, and a nail about to pierce the flesh.
Graciela withdraws her hand from that orography and brings her mouth up to the other mouth. At that precise moment, the mouth of the one who might be dreaming outlines a smile, and she decides to move away to see it better, to imagine it better, until the smile changes into a sigh, snort, or pant and fades away until it turns into just a half-open mouth again. She moves her mouth away, her lips pressed together.
Now she lies down on her back, with her hands at the back of her neck, and looks at the ceiling. The silence and insistence of the bumblebees continues to penetrate from the outside, but the shouts and laughter of the coed school are no longer heard.
That isn't Beatriz's school, nor does it have the same schedule, but Graciela lifts her arm until she can see the time on the digital watch, a gift from her father-in-law. She places her hand at the back of her neck again, and in a soft tone, so that the sleeper won't wake up startled, she says: "Rolando."
The sleeper barely moves, slowly stretches a leg, and then without opening his eyes places a hand on the woman's smooth belly.
"Rolando. Get up. Beatriz will be arriving in an hour."
From Primavera Con Una Esquina Rota (Mexico City: Editorial Nueva Imagen, S.A., 1982). Copyright 1982 by Mario Benedetti. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 1999 by Harry Morales. All rights reserved.