By Roberto Uría
The Institute of Meteorology said today will be a warm, sunny day. And, after juggling probabilities and percentages of rain, wind and surf, concluded that the maximum temperatures this afternoon will vary between twenty-nine and thirty-two degrees centigrade. It might have been a warm, sunny day, but I woke up feeling cold – that kind of cold that starts in your stomach - and windy, with a wave of panic running through my whole body. I’m practically rainy. Wintry.
After they brought me into the world, there were considerable family disputes over my name. Hector versus Alejandro, Enrique versus Jorge. How about Hugo? How about Javier? In the end, Francisco won out. But all these years I’ve been Panchito and, on occasion, Panchy (with a ‘y’ instead of ‘i’ to make it sexier)… Except that I’ve come to prefer Leslie Caron more than any other name. It’s so musical, so European. And besides, my bosom buddies admit that there’s quite a resemblance between the actress and myself. We have the same grace, the same celestial quality…
I belong to a ‘holy family, just about perfect, the kind you don’t find anymore. With a mother, a father, adorable little sister, a dog and lots of plants, it’s a close-knit bunch, foreign to me. The house, of course, is the classic little nest, decorated and decorous. So it seems I turn out to be the only gray cloud spoiling the prosperity of an oh-so-blue sky.
Because, it has to be said the dialectic didn’t work well on me, or else, it worked so well as to not comply with the imperfections of our time. I don’t know. The fact is that the members of my family, like almost everyone, are ‘useful beings’, ‘so-cial-ly-pro-duc-tive’, wage-earners of progress and conformity, saints and virgins, bastions of the economy. And I, for my own sad part, feel alone like a butterfly or a snail: I am a beautiful parasite. I take the time to make myself attractive and happy here and now and don’t think about the ever-so-revered tomorrow, which increasingly promises to be atomic or neutronic or I-don’t-know-what all…
I quit school because it bores me to tears spending five or six hours a day with specialists, cramming with diagrams, preconceptions, a succession of disasters and mistakes, false perspectives and redundancies. I got sick of it, that’s all. And screw the future.
And where could I earn my salt from the sweat off my brow? Where, without being cremated in the cold oven of timetables and meetings? These are such barbarous times! As Attila would say.
I choose to be ‘gay’. The most explosive gaiety is mine; each stretch of the street, the city, is my stage, and I am the most sought-after starlet. I bury myself under a heap of sequins and mercury lights, I hope I don’t perish under the weight of my own lights…. That’s why I adore bus stops, parks, shops and markets, lines at movie theaters. Of course, there’s never been a public bathroom on my resume. I’m too much of a hypochondriac and a romantic for that still. What I like are flowers, music – Barbra Streisand is my idol - ice cream, and a sunny beach, the ocean spray and all the people, especially the people, good heavens! Really, practically naked! What a charming little country! It’s the enchanted isle of gorgeous men. Everyone is beautiful. Everywhere I go, strong, young men of all shapes and colors encircle and devour me. They’re mammoths who crush you with all their vitality. They encircle me – like ‘a necklace of throbbing sexual oysters,’ as Neruda would say – and yet so few ever belong to me. Watching isn’t bad, but it’s better to touch.
To touch: to perish. An instant, a wing-beat and then swift flight, on the back a relentlessly epidermic era. What a way to inflict damage! But anyway…
The fact is that I stop in front of the mirror and always look at myself and end up asking, ‘What will become of this queen? What am I going to do with you, Leslie Caron? Why did I have to be like this?’ I’ve tried to change, but I can’t manage to find anything that truly interests me. Not anything or anyone. The majority of people I just feel sorry for. They’re empty, so fake, they just move through the narrow margins of the designs imposed upon them. I chose this bondage. I didn’t choose myself, but I accept the cards I’ve been dealt and play my own deadly game just like anyone else. It’s like eye color. I don’t like mine, but since I need to see there’s no choice but to use the eyes I’ve got. And oh, the things I’ve seen and will see!
I’ve seen a father who works too much and has ‘meetings’ even more; who, when he’s not off fishing with his work buddies, runs around with other women; a father who has never remembered his children’s birthdays.
I’ve seen a mother who works like a dog; who imprisons herself within her own cold-cream-slathered skin; who, when she’s not suffering the macho antics of her husband, sets her son to brushing her wigs and goes off to forget her woes. I’ve seen a sister who marries a guy just because he has a house in Miramar and a VCR and an exceedingly long et cetera; a sister who goes and leaves her queen brother without trousseau, practically naked. And how everyone envies her! Yes, I see it clearly.
And I’ll see a poor, crestfallen fairy, all wrinkled and lonely, with no family, no friends to speak of, perhaps surrounded by a few cronies as old and ostentatious as he is. A fairy hoping to someday see the end f this daily chain of deaths she has been subjected to. I’m not committed to the future and I’m not being dramatic and I hope to God it won’t really be quite like that. But what is to be done? What miracle could change the course of these visions?
And sometimes I say screw my fear of wrinkles and I let myself charge an exorbitant amount and (believe me) I cry and cry like a baby. Yes, I wake up cold and rainy, and that’s how I take my revenge on the perfect backdrop of a warm, sunny day and sadistic realities.
And if someone were to ask, ‘Why is Leslie Caron crying?’ the only answer would be, ‘Because life’s a bitch.’
Translated by Lisa Dillman.
This tale is included in the anthology of Cuban stories ‘The Voice of the Turtle’, edited by Peter Bush and published by Quartet Books Ltd.