pearls around the neck 221
to work in the kitchen and I went to help her. I wore my white chef’s hat and my apron, and I
peeled potatoes, chopped onions, washed the dishes, and dried glasses, serving dishes and silverware.
Meanwhile, behind the swing door, we could make out the great party. It wrings my heart every time I
think of what I learned a week later when I read the only letter Magdalena wrote to me. Do you want
me to read it to you?
Joaquín invited me to dance. I tried to dissuade him by saying that I had a backache. “Just one dance,
pretty girl,” he insisted, pulling my hand, leading me towards the dance floor. A moment later, using
the heat as an excuse, he suggested that I go sit on the terrace’s deckchair and he arrived instantly
with two glasses. “Wait for me here. Don’t go away, and don’t make me force you,” he said; and for
a moment, I have to confess, Curro, that I felt attracted by his gallant way of imposing himself [how
naïve women are, really!]. He soon arrived with a yellow rose between his lips and in each hand a stem
glass with sparkling champagne bubbles. He sat next to me, put the glasses down and slipped the
rose in the curls of my hair [what about the thorn? I thought as I was reading, the bastard’s removed
them]. We intertwined our arms and drank. He asked me whether I’d seen the fish pond, which was
even prettier at night, when illuminated, and one word leading to another, he put his arm around my
waist and we stepped down from the terrace to go in the garden. Suddenly, we stopped. He stroked my
cheek with the back of his hand and kissed my forehead like a father. And before I could react, we were
lying down in the grass. I started trembling and I begged him to take me back but he said: “Be a good
girl, and let me take care of you. You’re in good hands.”
It isn’t necessary for me to go any further for you to understand how this little story ends, and what’s
more I couldn’t bear it. But what’s happening to you, Peña? You look like you’re about to froth at
the mouth. I understand that you’re moved by my story but you look as though you were the fiancé.
You disconcert me. Do you want a cigarette? A glass of water? All right, let’s go back to the wedding.
Within a month, the invitations had been sent out.
Doña Clemencia and my mother still met at the snail’s stall. Clemencia would tell her how things
were at the Iturrazpe’s without omitting a single detail. I would write a letter or two each time but
Magdalena didn’t even write a small note. Her silence became my ordeal and one night, I couldn’t take
it any longer; I climbed her wall, grabbing onto the ivy. I know it sounds like a story from another time,
but that’s how it happened, so I’m telling you. The ivy led right to the bedroom balcony. The window
was open. I approached her bed and gently put my hand over her mouth in case she got scared and
screamed, and I whispered in her ear: “It’s me, princess, your Curro, who’s dying if a broken heart.”
We fell into each other’s arms and kissed. She told me that she was pregnant and that they were forcing
her to marry Joaquín and I begged her to run away with me. I promised her I’d be a good father even
though the child wasn’t mine. But to no avail, Peña. The day of the ceremony, after everyone had sat
down, I hid behind a column next to the statue of Saint Francis. The betrothed were there, with their
witnesses, the village’s richest people, father Lucas wearing his best cassock and the chapel decorated
with more flowers than spring itself. After eight months, Martirio was born. After two years, Adela.
With these two pregnancies in succession, my princess lost her waistline, and this good-for-nothing
Joaquín started seeing whores, staying away for weeks at a time; that’s what Doña Clemencia told me.
It sure caved in on her, Doña Eulogia’s upper crust!
I didn’t try to see Magdalena again. “She’s now the mother of two, I told myself, and in the end,
she’s also responsible for her fate, even though she made me believe others decided for her.” But one
morning, I went to the market, it was after my mother’s death, and I thought I saw her from the back
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