By Gabriel García Márquez
Gabriel García Márquez / Rosas artificiales (A short story in Spanish)
Groping her way in the half-light of dawn, Mina put on the sleeveless dress that she had hung next to her bed the night before and rummaged through her trunk for her fake sleeves. Then she searched for them on the nails in the wall and behind the door, trying not to make a sound so as not to wake her blind grandmother who slept in the same room. When her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she realized that her grandmother had gotten up. So she went to thekitchen to ask her about the sleeves.
There they were, hanging from a wire held on by two clothespins. They were still damp. Mina returned to the kitchen and laid out the sleeves on the stones of the stove. In front of her the blind woman stirred the coffee, her dead pupils fixed on the ledge of bricks in the corridor where there was a row of medicinal herbs.
“Don’t pick up my things again,” Mina said. “These days you can’t count on the sun.”
The blind woman turned her face towards the voice.
“I had forgotten that it was the First Friday of the month,” she said.
After inhaling deeply to see if the coffee was done, she took the pot off the burner.
“Put a piece of paper underneath them, because these stones are dirty,” she said.
Mina rubbed her index finger against the stones of the stove. There was a crust of soot that would not dirty the sleeves if they did not rub directly against it.
“If they get dirty you’re the one to blame,” she said.
The blind woman had gotten herself a cup of coffee.
“You’re angry,” she said, rolling a chair towards the corridor. “It’s sacrilegious to receive the holy communion when you’re angry.” She sat to drink her coffee in front of the roses on the patio. When the third stroke for mass tolled, Mina took her sleeves from the stove. They were still damp, but she put them on. Father Ángel would not give her the communion if she had bare shoulders. She did not wash her face. With a towel she wiped off what was left of her blush, grabbed the book of prayers and her silk scarf from her room, and left. A quarter of an hour later she was back.
“You’re going to get there after the gospel,” the blind woman said, sitting in front of the roses on the patio.
Mina went directly to the outhouse.
“I can’t go to mass,” she said. “My sleeves are wet and none of my clothes are ironed.” She felt herself being followed by a clairvoyant stare.
“It’s First Friday and you aren’t going to mass,” the blind woman remarked.
On her way back from the outhouse, Mina got a cup of coffee and sat against the lime doorjamb near the blind woman. But she could not drink her coffee.
“It’s your fault,” she murmured, with muffled resentment, feeling like she was drowning in tears.
“You’re crying,” the blind woman exclaimed.
She put the watering pot down next to the oregano plants and left the patio, repeating: “You’re crying.”
Mina put her cup on the floor before standing up.
“I’m crying out of anger,” she said. And as she passed her grandmother, she added: “You have to confess your sins, because you made me miss First Friday communion.”
The blind woman stayed still, waiting for Mina to close the door of the bedroom. Then she walked to the end of the corridor. She leaned over, feeling her way, until she found the intact cup on the floor. As she poured the coffee back into the clay pot, she went on to say: “God knows my conscience is clear.”
Mina’s mother came out of her bedroom.
“Who are you talking to?” she asked.
“No one,” said the blind woman. “I already told you I’m going crazy.”
Shut away in her room, Mina unbuttoned her bodice and took out three little keys that she wore held together on a safety pin. With one of the keys she opened the lower drawer of the dresser and took out a miniature wooden chest. She opened it with the next key. Inside was a packet of letters on colored paper, bundled together by an elastic band. She put them beneath her bodice, put the little trunk in its place and once again locked the drawer. Then she went to the outhouse and threw the letters to the bottom of the pit.
“I thought you were in mass,” said the mother.
“She couldn’t go,” the blind woman interjected. “I forgot that it was First Friday and I washed her sleeves yesterday afternoon.”
“They’re still damp,” muttered Mina.
“You’ve had to work a lot these days,” said the blind woman.
“On Easter I have to deliver one hundred and fifty dozen roses,” Mina replied.
The sun came out early that day. Before seven Mina set up her artificial rose workshop in her room: a basket full of petals and wire, a crate of elastic paper, two pairs of scissors, a spool of thread and a jar of glue. A moment later Trinidad arrived, with a cardboard box under her arm, to ask her why she had not gone to mass.
“I didn’t have sleeves,” said Mina.
“Anyone would have been able to lend you some,” said Trinidad.
She pulled over a chair to sit next to the basket of petals.
“It made me late,” said Mina.
She finished a rose. Afterwards she pulled the basket towards her to curl the loose petals with scissors. Trinidad put her cardboard box on the floor and joined in the work.
Mina noticed the box.
“Did you buy shoes?” she asked.
“They’re dead mice,” said Trinidad.
Because Trinidad was an expert petal-curler, Mina devoted herself to making wire stems covered in green paper. They worked in silence without noticing how the sun moved through the room, decorated with idyllic paintings and familiar photographs. When she finished the stems, Mina turned back to Trinidad with a blank expression, her mind elsewhere. Trinidad curled petals with admirable preciseness, barely moving the tips of her fingers, her legs tightly pressed together. Mina noticed she was wearing men’s shoes. Trinidad avoided the glance and, without lifting her head, ever-so-slightly pulled her legs back and interrupted their work.
“What happened?” she asked.
Mina leaned towards her.
“He’s gone,” she said.
Trinidad dropped the scissors in her lap.
“He left,” Mina repeated.
Trinidad looked at her without blinking. A vertical wrinkle marked her furrowed brow.
“And now what?” she asked.
Mina responded, without a tremor in her voice.
Trinidad left before ten. Free from the weight of her secret, Mina took a moment to throw the dead mice into the outhouse. The blind woman was pruning the rose bed.
“I bet you don’t know what I have in this box,” Mina said to her as she passed.
She shook the box.
The blind woman listened closely.
“Move it again,” she said.
Mina repeated the motion. After listening for a third time with her index finger pressed to her earlobe, the blind woman still could not identify the objects.
“They’re the mice that fell in the church’s trap last night,” said Mina.
Returning, she passed by the blind woman without speaking. But the blind woman followed her. When she got to the room, Mina was alone next to the closed window, finishing the artificial roses.
“Mina,” said the blind woman, “if you want to be happy, don’t count on strangers.”
Mina looked at her without speaking. The blind woman took the seat in front of her and tried to join in the work. But Mina stopped her.
“You’re on edge,” said the blind woman.
“It’s your fault,” said Mina.
“Why didn’t you go to mass?”
“You know better than anyone.”
“If it had been because of the sleeves you wouldn’t have even left the house,” said the blind woman. “On your way there, someone was waiting for you and told you something you did not want to hear.”
Mina passed her hands in front of her grandmother’s eyes, as if she were wiping an invisible glass pane.
“You are a psychic,” she said.
“You have gone to the outhouse twice this morning,” said the blind woman. “You never go more than once.”
Mina continued to make roses.
“Would you be willing to show me what you keep in the dresser drawer?” the blind woman asked.
Without hurrying Mina stuck the rose in the window frame, took the three keys out from beneath her bodice, and put them in the blind woman’s hand. She closed the woman’s fingers around them.
“Go see it with your own eyes,” she said.
Her grandmother examined the little keys with the tips of her fingers.
“My eyes cannot see the bottom of the outhouse.”
Mina lifted her head and had the strange feeling that the blind woman knew that she was watching her.
“Throw yourself to the bottom of the outhouse if my things interest you so much,” she said.
The blind woman ignored the comment.
“You always write in bed until dawn,” she said.
“You yourself turn off the lights,” Mina said.
“And immediately after you turn on the small lantern,” said the blind woman. “By your breathing I can tell what you are writing.”
Mina made an effort not to move.
“Okay,” she said without raising her head. “And suppose that is what happens. What’s so strange about it?”
“Nothing,” responded the blind woman. “Only that it made you miss First Friday communion.”
Mina gathered the spool of thread, the scissors, and a fistful of stems and unfinished roses with both hands. She put everything in the basket and confronted the blind woman.
“So you want me to tell you what I went to do in the outhouse?” she asked. The two remained in suspense, until Mina responded to her own question: “I went to shit.”
Her grandmother threw the three little keys into the basket.
“It would be a good excuse,” she murmured, making her way to the kitchen. “You would have convinced me if this weren’t the first time in your life that I’ve heard you swear.”
Mina’s mother was coming through the corridor in the opposite direction, loaded down with thorny stems.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“I’m crazy,” said the blind woman. “But as far as I can tell they won’t send me to the madhouse until I start to throw stones.”