In the first of an occasional series of original short stories, the Latin American Review of Books is proud to publish for the first time in English The Fall of the Bodies by the Mexican writer Maritza M. Buendía, translated by Anna María D’Amore.
IT WAS AUTUMN; the leaves fell from the trees like paper rain, fine and delicate, fragile to the touch of the wind or a child’s steps. Yellow, ochre, brown and orange seemed to weave a carpet along the streets, softening their appearance. In those days, the town was covered with a colored blanket, an all-encompassing patchwork blanket. If anyone opened their front door, the leaves would soon reach the hallway, the rooms. Any attempt at cleaning was useless; the wind moved the blanket from one place to another. With so much swishing the streets were a piece of sea, a tanned sea filled with fragmented waves, smelling of salt and fish, perfumed by a woman’s sex. Because not even the man’s emissions were that penetrating. No: it was the fragrance spilt by a woman, a woman satisfied by her man; it was, in exclusive, the town covered with the perfume of her sex, wrapped up in her taste.
Who were they? Where did they come from? Why did they turn up there? No one ever guessed or could even imagine the reason behind the actions of the man and the woman, the explanation of their behavior, and over the years all the versions contradicted each other. That the man was dark and strong like solid chocolate, so dark that his skin reflected certain shades of green, completely olive-coloured. The woman was white, like refined sugar or fresh milk. That he used to take his lovers from city to city and from town to town, and that she was the chosen one this time. Or rather: that she was hounded by a jealous husband and two neglected children, it was his fault. Or that both of them were the victims of a great tragedy: the death of their newborn baby, a failed business, eviction from a house, relentless pursuit by their creditors. Although they never seemed worried, perhaps only saddened, people murmured around them. That the man was no longer dark: not white, not black either, a cup of milky coffee. The woman was: black, really black, an African goddess bathed by the sun.
The truth is that the man and woman never spoke. They appeared one autumn day and in the most natural and illogical way moved into one of those falling-down houses that no one could remember who owned. They walked for hours to get there, from no one knows where. And that same day, as soon as they pushed the door open, they made love. It is said that they didn’t care about the dirt or the dust, or the cobwebs, and the dryness, his lips were like two prunes and she was on the verge of fainting several times, sick and malnourished for having not eaten for days, and they didn’t drink any water, nor made time for freshening up: their passion was eating them up inside, right to the bone, to the point of delirium.
They say that their first encounter in that house was timid compared to those that followed: perhaps they dared to take the wooden boards off the windows and lie down on top of the hundreds of leaves that entered like a wave. And just like the first time, they both closed their eyes, indifferent to the early footsteps and the surprised cries of those who discovered them.
It is said that only they could make love with such violence, like animals rolling around, like animals choking on their prey; and that later some tried in vain to imitate them. And the thing is that the man, while licking the woman’s breasts, made the roundness into matter for his mouth, as if instead of flesh he was sucking in a crème caramel; alternating its taste between the velvet of the thighs, the pulp of her belly and the lemon of her armpits.
They say that the man and the woman soon tired of their artificial confinement: it is impossible to reduce a love like this to a single space. Has anyone seen them? It is not certain. Heard them? The anxiety of their bodies was a hilarious thing, like laughter: displaying their love through open windows was no longer enough, the confinement gave them a severe headache. So it didn’t take them long to decide: that’s what the streets were for, to let their embrace grow. From then on, they needed no sheet or bed, none of the little commodities or luxuries: no creams, lotions, deodorants. For her, a dress. For him, trousers.
Some say that they made love during the day, in broad daylight, with the rays of light on their faces. That she didn’t stop smiling and that her whole face was like an open sunflower following the trajectory of her man. Others say that they made love at night, under the coolness of the moon, under its brightness. And that they only kissed in the half-light.
As for everything else, almost all of the versions coincided: their first time on the street was right in front of the abandoned house; afraid, perhaps, of people’s reactions. But nothing happened. That first time, the woman was laid down on top of the leaves (hot if it was day, damp if it was night). The man barely lifted the dress above the knees. There was no need to remove any clothing. She merely kept her legs raised to receive him better; he lowered his trouser zipper. They barely moved; from time to time a light shudder in the man’s hips.
The few who saw them doubted or, astonished, couldn’t even make them out: were they shadows copulating or animals stuck together? Children? And instinctively or embarrassedly people covered their faces with their hands, quickly moving along, as though the vision were unbearable, fearful of becoming infected with some disease. Finding a man inside a woman is not common: it isn’t every day you see two paralyzed bodies in the street.
That day (or that night) she took off her shoes and he copied her. Since then, people began to admire them: who were they? Where did they come from? Why did they arrive there?
The man and the woman walked barefoot along the streets, barely hurting themselves. Just the odd scratch appeared. Their walk varied: sometimes she would walk ahead, sometimes him, and neither would turn to check the other was near. They didn’t hold hands.
The most daring claimed that the man and the woman were lost souls, that they appeared there because their pilgrimage was tremendously long and extenuating, and that instead of walking on the leaves they floated above them; and there were the thousands of unbroken leaves, intact leaves, to prove it. Therefore, to deliver them from their burden, it would only be necessary to sprinkle them with a few drops of holy water.
Contrary to what had happened on previous occasions, the rumor that a couple of exhibitionists or ghosts of exhibitionist ghosts had landed in the town spread pretty slowly. As if the town were responsible for a secret, of something beyond if strength and daily life, preferred to reserve comment. The fusion of those beings intimidated them and, heads bowed, opted for silence. Sin? Punishment? Pain? Impossible to predict. And the thing is that the man and the woman didn’t always seem happy.
After a few days, the man and the woman adventured out onto other streets, their sexes throbbing under their clothes. Walking and fornicating; fornicating and walking. They did it on every corner that they considered appropriate: opposite the post office, next to the school, in the entrance to the cinema, on the way out of the church. Him on top, her underneath. Him uncontrollable, her placid. Him choking, her screaming. And the legs trembling and confused. And the eyes open. And the hands clawing. And the hips. And the people refusing to see, hiding their amazement with greater sorrow.
Didn’t they exist? Were they really ghosts?
In two weeks the inevitable occurred.
A twelve year old girl, wearing her almost brand new school uniform, was on her way home. She had to cross the main square. Absent, perhaps thinking about her homework or her duties with her younger brothers and sisters, blinked several times before rubbing her eyes with her hands: what was that? Two bodies? One? The girl slowly went towards the centre of the square, there was the vision. Two bodies, neither hallucinations nor ghosts; two bodies, one on top of the other, gyrating interminably among themselves. She recognized the movements: a couple of weeks ago her boyfriend had led her to the most remote rooms of the school and covered her as a man does a woman.
Rubbing her eyes, the girl got as close as she could without looking away, longing to touch those two bodies, to feel the heat in her hand, to copy them. And just when she discovered that the man and the woman were observing her, too, the books slipped out of her hands and, in view of her clumsiness, she started to laugh open-mouthed, showing the row of her teeth.
Some say that the girl’s laughter was happy, like the song of a dove; other say that the laughter was like a cry, as if someone were strangling her. They say that the laughter, cry, resounded throughout the town and that the people immediately went to the square to see what was happening.
Children, young people, adults, old people, one at a time, the inhabitants of the town gathered in the square, around the man and the woman, with the laughter or cry in their ears, contemplating the child paralyzed before the bodies. They say that some, those who couldn’t see, climbed onto the benches and others climbed the trees: it isn’t every day that you see a man devoured by a woman on the street. And it isn’t that they were doing anything different now, maybe they perfected some movements and executed the rocking more smoothly, upsetting in their wake the sea of all those leaves. It was impossible to tell which of the two was pushing, which was inside, which was outside: both were sunk in a slow and seductive breeze that emanated from the centre of their bones.
They say that the first to get undressed was the girl. How quickly she got rid of her uniform and unzipped the first trousers she could find to then lie on the leaves. That she was the first and that the others immediately copied her, surrendering to their own urges. Trousers, shirts, blouses, skirts, shoes, belts, all accumulated together and it was only possible to contemplate the fall of the bodies: bodies falling on top of other bodies, like a shower of leaves. The contortion of multiple hips, the intertwining of legs. The hands of the leaves. The crushing. The fingers of the leaves. The pressure.
The bodies (the leaves) fell like drops of water into a sea, an overcoat of clothes: yellow, ochre, the hundreds of shades of brown and the great variety of orange tones seemed to weave a carpet with the gold and the pink, with the white. The bodies, clean, recently bathed, free of modesty, matching the leaves.
A compact blanket covered the town in an instant.
They say that it was impossible to hold back, that the salty smell of the woman was extremely penetrating, that all the bodies were touched by her taste and that, expectant, they awaited the end: to join in the warmth of a single embrace, to open their mouths and senses in a single caress. They say that only then did the man close his eyes again and that with one hand closed the woman’s eyes. And that the next day, when the inhabitants of the town awoke and opened the doors of their houses, they discovered autumn in the arrival of winter.
About the author and translator:
Maritza M. Buendía, Zacatecas, 1974, is a storyteller and essayist. She holds a doctorate in literature from the UAM-Iztapalapa. She is the author of Isla de sombras: una aproximación a la vida y a la obra de Roberto Cabral del Hoyo (essay, Gobierno del Estado de Zacatecas, 1999) and La memoria del agua (short story, Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro, 2002). She was one of the first generation of grantholders at the Fundación para las Letras Mexicanas (2003-04) and was the winner of the Premio Nacional de Cuento Joven Julio Torri 2004 for her book En el jardín de los cautivos (Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro, 2005). She has been awarded grants on two occasions by the Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes for young artists (2007-10). In 2008 she was the resident writer at the Pen Club Flamenco in Amberes, Belgium, to which she returned in 2012 thanks to the FONCA-CONACYT support programme for artistic residencies. In 2011, she won the Premio Nacional de Ensayo José Revueltas.
Anna Maria D’Amore is the author of Translating Contemporary Mexican Texts: Fidelity to Alterity (2009) and the editor and translator of Voces Zacatecanas/Zacatecan Voices (2012), a bilingual anthology of literary texts by Zacatecan writers.She holds a PhD in Hispanic Studies from the University of Sheffield and teaches English reading comprehension and Applied Linguistics at the University of Zacatecas, Mexico.
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