I decided to go to another country. It had been many years since I’d traveled. I found myself filled with a strange dread. I was no longer young. The world had changed, I was sure, since my last adventures, many years ago. Nevertheless I gathered the few things I needed and boarded a bus. It was filled with swarthy men with weary faces. They talked desultorily to each other. Only the bus driver was animated: he beat at his steering wheel in time to music, a blast of ranchero tunes from a radio lashed to his console. Outside I saw desert, fleetingly. I was 67 years old. My thin and grizzled arms lay across my lap. I had difficulty remembering things. In any case who was I? This question caused me great unease. I looked for myself in shadows, in images found in windows. At times I felt on the verge of understanding something, but this feeling quickly passed. On the bus I took out my passport and stared at it. It seemed to tell me nothing. After a moment I put it away, sank into my seat, and shut my eyes.
“Are you going far?” I asked the man sitting next to me.
“Tecotitlan,” he replied after a moment.
“Ah,” I said. “A town?”
He had drooping eyes and a moustache turning gray.
“I have not seen my wife,” he said, “in 15 years.”
“Yes, that is true. And my babies!”
“Not babies any more. No, grown men and women!”
He smiled sadly.
“They will not know me,” he said. “I am a stranger now.”
Later he turned to me.
“And you, señor? Are you going far?”
I did not know how to answer him.
We arrived in Tecotitlan after three days on the bus. I had grown dry and wispy. He introduced me to his wife, a tiny woman who wiped her hands in the folds of her skirt. A son and daughter stood there, the youngest of his brood. The house they had built, with the money he’d sent, was red brick and two stories high. In back was a garden with adobe walls. Geraniums grew everywhere, and little palm trees. They gave me a cot and a folding chair, which I placed near a pomegranate tree. The red fruit shone like Christmas balls. Immediately I began to work. The nights were balmy enough so I needed no blankets. We were up high, on a bluff overlooking a slow river, and there were no mosquitoes. At night the moon rose like the face of a woman in a field of diamonds. My morning coffee was boiled in a pot—café de olla, they called it—and lunch consisted of fruit and wine. I sampled wild plums and meaty cantaloupes, green-skinned citrus and bananas the size of little fingers. Sometimes there was cream with the fruit, and once molasses. In the evening we gathered in the formal dining room—my host in baggy khakis, myself in a blue blazer—and discussed in minute detail the day’s events. The daughter, whom I called Ofelia, sat on my right. Her eyes were always lowered, and she said nothing. In the afternoon when she returned from school she would take off her uniform—a navy skirt, a white blouse—and pose for me as I sculpted the walls. Sometimes the son watched from the verandah at the back of the house, rocking on his heels and saying nothing. Once one of his friends stood with him, but after a moment there were angry words. I thought I saw the flash of a blade. The friend left, and never returned.
Ofelia and I became lovers in the following way. Early one evening—I preferred working in the twilight—she suddenly lifted her head. “The breasts are not correct,” she said. It was the first time she’d ever spoken to me. “What do you mean?” I asked in astonishment. “They are not correct,” she insisted. “Look,” she said. She poked at her own breast: “One has to have a sense of softness.” What use were breasts if they were hard? The world was hard enough, she said, and without this sensation of softness men were doomed: “When women become hard, there is no hope.” How could we live without hope? She pointed out that the women I was sculpting not only had hard breasts, literally—they were made of clay so they could not escape that—but they gave off the sensation of hardness as well. That was fatal to the work, she argued. There was no sense of weight in the breasts, she said. Even her breasts, young though she was, had weight. What was most astonishing to me is that she was right. I looked at my women with new eyes. Their breasts indeed were hard and cruel. Perhaps there was no hope in these women. Is that what I wanted to create? I stared from Ofelia to the sculptures with some amazement. Finally she took my hand and pressed it to her breast. “Have you ever felt such softness?” she demanded. Had I? I could not remember. I hurried to the wall and immediately began altering the clay breasts. She stood next to the figures so I could continue running my hands over her. After a while she said: “No man has ever touched me.” She tossed back her head, and her black hair flew over her shoulders. “There is more to a woman’s softness than breasts,” she said. She placed my hand between her legs. Could I put this softness into my work? The sensation of warmth, of dampness, took me by surprise. I could hardly imagine touching a woman in her secret places. I did not know what to do. I started to put a finger into her, but she quickly moved her hips away.
“No,” she said. “Not your finger. You must fuck me.”
“That is the proper thing to do.”
“I dont know if I can—”
She chatted to me about other things as she removed my clothes. I looked with trepidation at my body next to hers. I could remember—this vision came to me unbidden—myself as a young Adonis, a lean and muscular man who moved through the world with the grace of a cat. What was this pathetic creature I now saw? To whom belonged this little hill of a belly? these scrawny folds of skin? I had turned papery over the years. I was like a wrinkled fig. There were veins and warts and bones everywhere. My penis hung like a folded thumb. I was dry and without weight. As I stared at myself Ofelia described her day in school, the jokes her classmates made, the lessons her teachers delivered. Oh, it was a long walk to the school, over dusty roads, down into the valley! She did not like the stink of the town, the ghastly faces of the townspeople. Dogs lurked in the shadows, and overhead birds huddled together, as though frightened. She did not like to go to the school, the lessons she longed to learn lay elsewhere, perhaps here, she said—“with you.” She took my knife and dug down into the earth by the pomegranate tree. She brought out a piece of root. It was shiny and damp with a knurled head. She spat onto it to clean it. Then, cutting off some of her hair, she lashed the root to my limp penis. As she settled onto me, in the shade of the tree, she began to cry. Her tears ran down her face and over her breasts. Once inside her I could not tell which was me, the knurled root or my penis. Perhaps it did not matter. Later she lay in the crook of my arm. She lifted her lips to mine. As I tasted her I found I could remember other women, perhaps many women. There seemed memories of women milling around me, fluttering among the branches of the pomegranate tree. The next day we repeated ourselves: we fucked at twilight, using the same root, which remained wet and gleaming. Our use of it seemed to polish it, so it shone at night, when I could see it by the moon and the stars. Soon her brother began to watch, half obscured on the verandah. Then Ofelia’s mother, then her father, watched. They put chairs there, and a table. I saw bottles of tequila, and the fiery Mexican brandy that he liked. At dinner he and his wife often seemed tipsy. Ofelia sat demurely at my right, as always. Her mother brought out dishes of plátanos fried in a caramel sauce. Was there a shine to her eyes that I hadnt seen before? By the time I finished my sculptured women, Ofelia was noticeably pregnant. I stroked with adoration her belly. I painted the clay women, whose breasts now seemed as soft and swollen as hers. Then I got on the bus. I promised I would send money, to help build a bigger house. I will always be here, Ofelia murmured. For three days and three nights I journeyed north, in a bus filled with swarthy young men. We’re going north, they told me, to seek our fortunes. They smiled, and their teeth shone. They seemed full of optimism and energy. The driver, a robust man with hair in an oiled pompadour, pounded on his steering wheel in time to his music. Outside the desert passed in a blur. I closed my eyes and hummed, and dreamed of Ofelia’s breasts.
Ofelia's Breasts was originally
published in Black Ice