184 • pearls around the neck
finished making her bun in a nervous gesture; it was crooked but she knew it was the best she could do.
At first, Mirta didn’t want her to go. She was terrified of staying alone and was also afraid of what
might happen to Ana in the streets. “For a young, pretty lady like you, it’s dangerous in the streets.”
Ana had the hardest time convincing her that she would come home early and that everything would
be fine. They had the telephone number of a neighbor who sometimes helped them with their papers.
She meticulously explained to her how to use the cell phone and left it on her armchair’s armrest for
her to practice. The weeks passed and Mirta seemed to have resigned to silence.
Ana was often on the brink of uninviting herself as well, but the image of the bride in her pretty
white satin dress walking down the aisle helped her stick to her decision. Every night, she imagined a
profusion of colorful fabrics, and elegant dresses and suits moving in waves towards the portico. She
could feel the rice fall on her face and hear the cries of joy uttered by Clara’s friends. She invented,
and reinvented the evening’s conversations: she spoke with heavily made-up ladies and with men who
glanced at her décolletage.
“I’m going now, mother. If you need anything, you call Susana, all right?” Mirta didn’t take her
eyes off the television screen, where a girl looking at an old photograph was crying. Ana grabbed
her handbag that matched her shoes. She checked that everything was all there: her lipstick, her
handkerchief, and her perfume spray but also her key, her papers, a few breath mints, hand cream,
a few toothpicks, thread and a needle, and a plasticized visiting card with the name and telephone
number of a few acquaintances, just in case. She drew the rusted bolt and adjusted the strap of her
handbag on her shoulder.
She had already walked across the dining room and was heading for the front door when she heard
Mirta’s feeble voice. “Wait a moment, Anita. Bring me some water before you leave.” Ana took a deep
breath and came back. She brought a glass of water from the kitchen, gave it to her and stood waiting
by the armchair, but Mirta was concentrating on her film and wasn’t moving.
- Mother, take the water, I have to go now.
- Since you’re there, give me the pill for my legs.
Ana brought her one of her aniseed drops, for she wouldn’t take it any other way. She pushed hard
to embed the pill in the soft candy and then put it in her mouth. Mirta tipped up the glass to drink
some water but her lips were much too far and the water ran slowly down on her night gown. Ana
knew she couldn’t leave until she had changed her; she might catch pneumonia.
Her bag still on her shoulder, she brought her a clean night gown while Mirta watched her in
silence, impassive. She let herself be undressed docilely, unlike the times when it hurt to lift her arms to
take her clothes off. With her handbag in the way, Ana took more time than she usually did and Mirta
shivered when she left her for a few minutes in her underwear to fold her night gown. When she was
finished dressing her again, she covered her with a blanket and put another one on her legs so that she
would warm up faster. She gave her a kiss on her forehead and smoothed her dress. Her mother looked
at her from where she was sitting, her chin pursed forward. She looked her up and down, scrutinizing
her slowly and stopped at the brown hem, hand seamed. “A loose thread,” Mirta sighed, her eyes
sharply focused. She drew her trembling hand and pulled. In an almost imperceptible swoosh, Ana’s
hem fell like a curtain. Mirta, who now had a long brown thread hanging from her finger all the way to
the floor, bit her lips.
Ana, a lump in her throat, took the deepest possible breath she could muster. She turned on her
heels, her back to her mother, who immediately turned back to her film to try and understand what
was happening to the girl who was so miserable on the television screen. Her dress unstitched, Ana
went to her room, opened her purse and took out the thread and needle. There was a full sewing set