pearls around the neck • 183
Mirta was sitting in the green armchair – an armchair so old it was imbued with a person-like scent.
She, too, had acquired the same kind of smell, of the kind that nothing, even perfume, can change, for
it is made up of something older; a mix of soup, aniseed drops, nail polish, hair spray and egg liqueur
had ended up forming the thick, pervading odor that wrapped her like an eternal veil.
Mirta and her armchair were a large immobile animal. Breathing together, they had merged into
something quite identical, even when they parted for a short while. Mirta had at first started sleeping
in it. She said she breathed better that way. She would take off her hairpins – the only thing that made
a difference between her day and night self – and tilt her head to the side. She woke up in the same
position in which she’d slept all night, her dry red curlers stuck to the green velvet.
Ana looked at herself in the mirror. They both had the same face, the same horse-like features.
A deep groove that ran from the nose to the upper lip, splitting it like a furrow. The same knitted
brows over small droopy eyes. Ana observed, in the mirror, the fashion in which her mother adjusted
a hairpin in her chignon and discovered she had the same mechanic gesture. They were an echo of one
another, like a nervous tic or an assertion. She looked at her as she grabbed the pin, opened it, and held
it between her pinched lips. When she pinned it into her chignon, she looked down and pursed her
lower jaw forward in concentration.
In the mirror, she could observe without being seen. She would bring her hand up to her hair or
smooth her clothes and stand, immobile, looking for the differences as if it were a puzzle in a summer
magazine. The blue eyes. Nothing else. Nothing but the eyes and the years distinguished mother from
daughter. Ana had discovered it, resigned, time and time again, always as if it were the first time.
Most of the time, she didn’t think about it. She had gotten used to blending in with her air, her
clothing. She hadn’t gone anywhere without her since she’d started having trouble with her legs.
Hardly a few steps and she would start staggering; she had to make sure she didn’t fall, had to monitor
her comings and goings. It was so complicated that there was always something in the way of any
outing. Ana had given up her job as secondary school tutor because, according to Mirta, it took too
much of her time and made no significant economic difference. They therefore both lived on her
pension and the rent from a small unit located in the center of town. It wasn’t much, but Ana made
sure she administered it.
The question of clothing was elementary. Everything was so expensive, Mirta had decreed. “If we
don’t go out much and take proper care of what we wear, good clothing can last for years.” So, Ana
washed by hand the blouses, skirts and underskirts that they both wore. It hadn’t been that easy at first,
for Ana hadn’t finished growing up. She’d had to adjust some of the skirts with safety pins to make
sure they wouldn’t fall from her narrow hips. However, once she had fully grown into her curves, their
bodies had had the same measurements. A generous bust and wide hips. Long arms ending with bony
hands never adorned with rings. Mirta because her fingers swelled in the summer; Ana because she
damaged jewelry when she did the washing.
That was the reason why Ana was smoothing, as she stood before the mirror, a dark brown dress
that Mirta had bought twenty years earlier for a baptism. When, a few months before, her cousin Clara
had sent them and invitation for her wedding, Ana had substituted an envelope addressed to her only
for the envelope addressed to “Mirta and Ana”. It cost her a few sleepless nights, with her mother
sniveling herself to sleep. Ana almost cried too, out of guilt, but her decision was final. She called Clara
and told her that her mother didn’t feel she had the strength to come, that she’d been too wrecked
with pain. It had been hard to stand by her lie because Clara was the only one in the family who still
visited them and Mirta had now stopped greeting her. Ana’s hand was shaking as she tied the string on
her mother’s dress: her mother knew her so well that each and every move seemed to betray her. She