No, it’s not the solution
to throw yourself under a train lilke Tolstoy’s Anna
or to drink Madame Bovary’s poison
or wait on the plain of Avila for the visit
by the angel with an arrow
until throwing a shawl over your head
and beginning to act.
There must be another way that isn’t called Sappho
or Messalina or Mary of Egypt
or Magdalente or Clemencia Isaura.
Another way of being human and free
Another way of being.
The day the carpetlayer arrived, Adelaide met her Destiny. He was short, skinny, disheveled, and very macho. He had red hair and a beard. As he wove a net of smooth, beguiling words around Adelaide’s beauty, he laid the carpet, and then he laid Adelaide herself on the carpet. He took her there the first time with the smell of new carpet tufts exciting her nose; then on her grandmother’s sofa that exhaled ancestral dust with every thrust; twice under the dining room table while she saw Christmas lights and gave thanks and, in a final superhuman effort, he besieged her in the broom closet where he fell exhausted on the mouse droppings.
Adelaide straightened what was left of her skirt, while the redhead gathered his tools, snapped shut his toolbox and his fly, bade farewell with an arrogant gesture, and disappeared through the back door where he had entered just an hour earlier.
She never saw the carpetlayer again, nor did she ever have another carpet laid, or tidy any sofa, or mess up another skirt. She abandoned her house to dust and time and with iron determination began to pursue that Fatal Star that had shone for her under the table as the carpetlayer enjoyed something she couldn’t understand. It didn’t have anything to do with nocturnes by Chopin or exercises on the piano or cross-stitch embroidery or art history classes or the elaborate preparation of succulent meals for a future husband or knitting little sweaters for mothers-to-be or bridge parties on leisurely afternoons or rosaries for the dead or even that pleasurable and undoubtedly sinful sensation of washing certain parts of her body under the tepid caress of water. In other words it had nothing to do with anything that she had ever known.
Unknown or not, Adelaide was convinced that that was her Calling in life and with her usual tenacity she dedicated herself to pursuing her new goal. Exactly how many bookstores she explored in search of ancient guides for her exercises or how many hours she spent prostrated before the makeshift altar with her forehead against the hard tile floor or how many days of fasting and sacrifice she endured or how many different names she invoked before hitting upon the one that corresponded to her century, will never be known because they are secrets that remained behind the closed door of her bedroom. But exactly at 11:59 p.m. on the second Saturday of May, just before the merciless hand of the clock marked the first hour of the date that is so stressful for the Wicked One, Mephistopheles grew tired of hearing such a string of nonsense and anachronisms in the sharp, persistent voice that silenced even the hissing of the infernal fires and decided to make an appearance in order to find out what the devil she wanted.
Satan arrived precisely at midnight. Adelaide was waiting for him in her blackest, tightest, most sensual dress. When she saw him she uttered the well-known but archaic formula of three, and she awoke in the spirit of the Spirit a nostalgia for the ancient rhetoric.
“Oh, mysterious and morbid lady who so fearlessly and insistently invokes the Spirit of Evil, the Prince of Darkness, the Invincible Satan, the Fallen Angel, Lucifer, the Supreme Instigator of Sin! What dark, secret and impeccable. . .I mean, peccable purpose has moved you to such conjuration?”
Adelaide rejoiced upon hearing the tenebrous tones and stood upright and proud to deliver her plea.
“Oh, Indisputable King of the Dark Gloom, Sinister Prince, Ill-fated and Ill-favored, Malign Being invoked by me since I realized my malevolent and lascivious desire, night after night in the long nights of this winter of my life. . .”
“Get to the point, wench! Many barren women are waiting for me tonight so they can wake up mothers-to-be. I suppose you want the same.”
“. . .in the long nights of this winter of my life, who on this Transcendent Night, Unique and Inimitable, has deigned to respond to my black-hearted and unyielding faith by appearing. . .”
“Hush or I’ll make you a zealot!”
“. . .appearing in Perverse Person and in all your Turbulent Grandeur to grant me my only burning and ill-conceived desire, without which I would prefer to descend to the eternal fire rather than continue in this miserable world, I beg of you. . .”
“. . .to make you a mother!” concluded Satan with a sigh of relief.
“. . .to make me a man!” concluded Adelaide, piercing him with an implacable look.
“Don’t recant! I am ready to sign with blood, saliva, or any other bodily fluid to close the deal and surrender my Soul to you for all of eternity.”
Mephistopheles gave her an incredulous look and burst out laughing with such violence that he extinguished the devotional candles and set the curtains aflutter.
“You poor little, insignificant thing! Innocent and naive creature! Women don’t have souls.”
“But I thought. . .”
“Just spiritual demagoguery to keep you under control. I’m sorry. No merchandise, no deal. Arrivederci!”
Mephistopheles spun around on one foot and headed resolutely toward the door. Adelaide felt her last opportunity slipping away and she held out a trembling hand.
“Wait! If I have no soul, I will give you my body.”
The Prince of Darkness stopped and, turned slowly around, his astute glance caught by Adelaide’s determined look.
“What good is it to me?” he asked cautiously.
“It’s young, strong and healthy. It’s got years of use ahead.”
“It’s imperfect, unstable, unpredictable, and in general, extremely defective.”
“By no means,” refuted Adelaide, slipping off her stockings and unbuttoning her blouse. “It’s a perfect, natural clock; tireless, accommodating, and docile. It has an endless capacity for enduring pain and tedium; it harbors an ancestral resignation; it withstands humiliation and mistreatment. It is a source of temptation, an indecipherable enigma, deception of innocent souls, bitter sweetness, a lair of contradictions capable of confounding the wisest sage or the holiest saint; it requires very little upkeep and will never aspire to fame or glory. . .”
Adelaide let her voice fall along with her bra, as she approached her bidder and allowed him to inspect the merchandise: the firm breasts, the smooth thighs, the flexible back, the aroma of the neck, the softness of the belly, and the incessant undulation of the hips. The deal was closed with no further haggling.
“Tomorrow you will wake up a man, and your name will be Adel,” Mephistopheles exclaimed, as he disappeared.
“. . .and my trade: carpetlayer,” sighed Adelaide before she fell asleep.
+ + +
The day he arrived at Aida’s house to lay the carpet, Adel met his Destiny. He was tall, handsome, blond, and seductive. As he wove a tapestry of sweet and insidious words around the beautiful body reclining on the sofa, he laid the honey-colored carpet and then he tried to lay Aida on the carpet, but she made him chase her all through the living room, around the table, across the sofa, into the kitchen, upstairs to the bedroom, and back downstairs until he managed to corner her in the broom closet and fall exhausted at her feet.
From that moment on, Adel was convinced that that was his Calling in life. He devoted himself night and day to the task of laying carpets so he could save enough money to dress that irresistible body with silk, adorn that smooth neck with pearls and diamonds, and bestow golden slippers on those tantalizing feet. He grew grey hairs and his skin became wrinkled as he labored endlessly, imagining in his solitude the ultimate possession of the body he so desired. In delirious dreams he constructed feverish altars for her and he saw her naked and tender, docile and resigned, fertile and submissive. Between carpet laying jobs he would visit her, giving her lavish gifts, kissing her feet, and besieging her with declarations of eternal, boundless love. Finally he reached his goal. On the afternoon of Holy Friday, Adel arrived at Aida’s house dressed in a suit of pure silk. He was only ten years older but it looked like twenty; he had the latest-model automobile with a chauffeur, an enormous diamond ring, and a bank account with seven figures. He laid it all at her feet and asked her to marry him. When he heard her resounding “No!” he exclaimed with desperation, “But, woman! Have you no soul?”
Aida gave him an incredulous look and let forth a peal of delighted laughter that ruffled the curtains and made the crystal chandelier tinkle.
* * *
(From the book of short stories “When I Was a Horse”
by Brianda Domecq; translation by Kayla García).
Available on Amazon.