220 • pearls around the neck
doesn’t marry just anyone.” No, not just anyone, I thought, just the biggest bastard the village had.
Magdalena begged him for forgiveness and swore to obey, yet two days later Doña Clemencia came to
knock at our door. My mother, may God in all his glory keep her soul, was surprised to see her when
she opened the door. Uh? What did my mother die of? Well, a rather curious infection, which ended
with gangrene. Thank you for asking, Peña, but as I was saying, when Doña Clemencia showed up at
our house, my mother remained stony-faced. They had worked together, you know, for six years at the
town hall councilor’s, you know, the one they kicked out of the village when it was confirmed that the
community’s funds had been used to finance the purchase of his hunting reserve. We learned about
that afterwards, of course, after mother and Doña Clemencia had been accused of stealing the lady’s
jewels. They were beautiful and there were a lot of them. How do I know? Well, because I was the
one who’d stolen them. Yes, me, Peña, and there isn’t the slightest remorse on my conscience, because
stealing from a thief isn’t stealing. Especially not if the cause is worth the consequences.
I happened to be going, on a winter afternoon, to the Mount of Olives because the place inspired me
to write, you know, when I heard Don Septimo’s hammer resounding on the anvil. I made my way
through the bushes and drew close to greet him. There he was, the poor man, facing his workbench,
perched on his stool, his cap and gloves on, exposed to the bad weather. When he saw me, he dropped
his hammer and said: “Vandals, Curro, dirty vandals. They stole almost all my tools and as if this wasn’t
enough, they smashed my forge.” I gave him a few pats on the shoulder and reassured him: “you’ll see,
Don Septimo, how your luck will turn.” The following week, I came with a basket full of cakes, cooked
pork meats, olives and dates that my mother had wrapped in a small blue and white checkered cloth,
with a matching napkin.
- For you, Don Septimo, I said.
- Thank you, Currito, certainly your dear mother prepared this, he said, rummaging in the food.
But where did you find all this? He asked, gaping, as he opened the napkin and leafed through the wads
of bills as though they’d been the strings of a guitar.
- This, I will tell you another day, Don Septimo, but today we have much work to do, I replied.
- Another day, my, oh my! Another day, Currito, I will repay the favor. I swear upon the
Arcadia, he said, crossing himself three times, HE watches us from above.
Whom did I sell the jewels to? Well, to the gypsies. And it all seemed fine until the day my mother
came home in tears, because she had been fired, of course, but also because Doña Clemencia suspected
her and didn’t want to be her friend anymore. It was impossible to bring them back together until the
day when Doña Clemencia appeared at our door, a letter in her hand. In the letter, Magdalena was
recounting in minute details everything that had happened since her confession. As soon as I finished
reading it, I took a pencil and a piece of paper and started devising my plan to run away from this
damned village when she had finished her studies to become a librarian. And she agreed, of course she
agreed. Doña Clemencia and my mother became our emissaries: every Monday, between 10 and 11 am,
they met at Doña Lola’s snail stall. If it rained and there was no market, they would see each other at
Don Septimo’s forge. There were only two more months before Magdalena was going to receive her
diploma when the Country Club party was announced. She didn’t want to go and didn’t want me to
go but Doña Eulogia wasn’t going to let such an opportunity pass her by. “All the upper crust is going
to be there, my dear girl. You are going to wear your blue satin dress, the one with the low neckline, or
the purple taffeta one with the low back, and you’ll go. Your father will take you and if there is no one
to bring you back, he’ll come pick you up.”
It was a moonless night, my friend; it was a very sad night. All pretty, perfumed and made up, my
darling arrived at the party. Needless to say I hadn’t been invited, but my mother had been hired