A story by Mónica Lavin
I don’t know much, it’s true. Two people who call themselves my children come over; their faces downcast. I don’t utter a word.
Dad, I’m Hilda, insists this more than fifty-something lady with the copper hair. She takes some pictures out of her wallet and introduces me to my grandchildren: Rodrigo and Azucena. And I nod just to sweep the sadness away from this woman who claims my fatherhood. I don’t know if I should believe her; and if I did, it would only be out of mere transient good will, that’s all, because I have nothing to tell her about her childhood, her adolescence that must have cost her mother and I more than one headache, and her brother Hilario even more so. Hilario who only wears a suit and just has lunch breaks to come stand near the bed and tell me about how I used to take him to play football.
The notions that come over some people! Like naming their children Hilda and Hilario, both with an H! My name might as well be Hugo or Hector, or their mother’s could be Helena, so Roman-like and intent on keeping an H. But something I can be sure of is that my name does not start with an H, and I know I am meticulous because I wear a shirt with my initials: CLM embroidered on my pocket.
These initials say something about me. They don’t just reflect my name, but also my mania for being embroidered, for identifying my garments. The shirt is light yellow, good quality. At night when they help me undress I ask them to read the label for me and I find out that it’s made by a tailor, a certain Leopoldo Guerra.
I am Carlos Lira Morales and I have a yellow shirt with my initials on it. I am a maniac when it comes to workmanship and identification. I’m a lawyer. Lawyers do that kind of thing. And my wife ran away with my partner, who is a lot more likeable than me.
Ortuño took advantage of my having to settle a case in Germany to call her and send her flowers, ask her out to dinner to charm her and get her to move in with him forever, just so I could return to an unkempt house, none of her perfumes in the closet, nor in the drawers or in the bathroom; and to find no jewels or clothes of hers. That’s probably why her children don’t mention her. They are not speaking to her. She’s to blame for my being here cared for by nurses, bereft of any memory.
Hilda came with a young man who calls me grandpa. What was that moment like? The moment when besides becoming a father I became a grandfather? They bring up a mirror so I can see myself and then look at the grandson. How alike we look, murmurs an excited Hilda. The young man matches my own indifference and feels compelled to hug me. I say, pleased to meet you young man, but the copper-haired lady replies, how can I say that when we used to see each other every Sunday. The alleged grandson looks at his watch. He’s uncomfortable. I tell him to leave, not to pay attention to that lady I don’t know. The young man says good-bye grandpa for the sake of the visibly distressed lady, and leaves. Dad, she gives me a serious look, the doctors say they’ve changed your medication and that you are on a routine of concentration exercises.
I run my hands over the embroidered pocket. The shirt is sky blue and has the initials: CLM. Are you by any chance Hilda Logroño? I ask the woman who is there, because I am Celso Logroño Méndez. Dad, please. Where did you get that idea from? I don’t tell her the story because I don’t want to disappoint her and make her go look for another father in one of the halls here. I keep to myself the fact that I inherited the hotels that my father started in Tlalpan, that I have managed them since I was twenty and that I’ve seen good and terrible things happen in those rooms. But that I’ve made some money and have been able to travel to Galicia with the family once a year, a family which of course does not include her nor the young man who just left. I feel nostalgia for Ribeiro wine and chorizo. I ask her to take me to the dining room even though I’m not hungry yet. She can’t go in there, and I want her to leave.
Hilda and Hilario came together this morning. They introduce themselves and say it is Sunday. And they start telling me how I used to make paella in the garden of the house in Cuernavaca, and how it was there that Hilario had gotten drunk for the first time and had thrown up all over the azalea in front of the guests and that his scandalized mother had sent him to his room. But that I, instead of scolding the boy and supporting my wife, had laughed and laughed and had brought him a cup of coffee, and that the one who had marched out feeling offended had been the mother of both of them.
How is she? I dare ask to humor them. I don’t want them to have a bad time because I like what they’ve been telling me. I like that they should think I was a man who knew when the rice was just right, and that butifarra sausages had to be bought in the second stall at San Juan Market, just as they were telling me. But they remain quiet. Hilario shakes my hand tightly. I dare not ask any further. When they leave I sigh with relief at being César Luis Macías and having nothing to do with paella nor children and grandchildren, only with keeping the company accounts, of having a proper job and an apartment in the Cuauhtemoc neighborhood of the city, and of having fallen in love with the assistant accountant who keeps my shirts clean and ironed and who smells so good as she sleeps by my side, and excites me in the mornings with her female body, all plump with meaty calves. I’m surprised by an erection that I hide under the blanket wrapping my legs. These poor visitors believe I suffer from the absence of the woman I once had. They know nothing of the true passions of César Luis.
Today I asked copper lady to leave. She responded in a voice reserved for babies asking if I had taken my medicine, if I had slept well. Dad, I’m going to call the doctor. You seem very upset. And I told her that I am not her dad, to let me be, that I don’t know her. Very serenely as if she hadn’t noticed I was annoyed, she turns on a device and a song starts coming out of it. She looks at me expectantly. Your favorite, dad. I’ve never heard that song and I’m tired of having to be in front of a stranger. Leave, lady! I say. Get out! I throw the tiny device on the floor and when she goes out to get a nurse, or so she says, I discover why I’m so irritable: when I put my hand over my pocket I don’t run into the embroidery. Today I’m not wearing a shirt with initials. I anxiously open the closet to discover that my clothes are not hanging there like usual. I throw myself on the bed and stare at the ceiling. I very likely fall asleep.
A man came over today, says his name is Hilario. He’s accompanied by a fat woman with curls in her hair. It’s his wife he says, my daughter-in-law. I touch my pocket. I don’t answer. He tells me that someone called Hilda is on vacation and won’t be coming for a few days. I don’t care about what he says. I don’t know him.
A woman comes in and arranges the clothes in my closet. Her hair is copper and her skin tanned. She comes closer and kisses me. I’m upset by this treatment. I don’t kiss strangers. I wipe her saliva off my cheek. She laughs. Oh, dad! I look at her sternly. They tell me you’ve been down. It’s probably because I haven’t been here to see you, but I’m back from Cancun. I won’t go away any more, dad, I promise. I’m going to bring you photo albums. I’m tired of that voice, terribly tired. The woman rises to close the closet door. No, I tell her. I’ve just seen the pocket on a yellow shirt. I catch three embroidered letters: CLM. I feel happy. So does she.
That’s a relief! I exclaim. I am Cecila Landú Martínez. What are you saying, dad? I ask her for the shirt. Bewildered, she gives it to me. I run my fingers over those symbols. I could sing so well, but falling in love makes you loose your head… and voice. He bred horses, Quarter Horses were his thing. He wanted me with him. I was his good-luck charm. When I accompanied him to the racetrack his team did well. He’d buy me presents, and so much caressing at night! I missed practice, rehearsals. The new fillies were all named after opera characters: Mimi, Iphigenia, Tosca because he would ask me to name them. And as he went on winning I went on losing my voice. I can’t sing any more!, I tell the lady with tear-filled eyes. Cecilia is over! The woman looks at me with alarm and runs out quickly. I attempt a few trills, notes that will bring back the soprano I once was. It’s useless. Sad and resigned I stroke my initials and hide the shirt under the pillow.
Translation: Martha Macias