the obscene bird of night

“It was just that someone, and the someone had to be you, was upsetting the balance of the emptiness of my nights, in which nothing could touch me - not even memories, not even desire - in which there was no other presence to threaten my vulnerability. You must have sneaked out of bed to find out if I stay up very late every night, sometimes all night, roaming through the Casa, because I never sleep, and you crossed my path, at first without showing yourself, only forcing me to feel your presence occupy the space of night, my territory, and demanding that I follow you without seeing you, like a dog tracking down a scent.”

- from ‘El obsceno párajo de la noche’ by José Donoso [1970]

from "The Obscene Bird of Night" by Jose Donoso

“Look, Gina, the Giant’s here.”

“Yell down to him that I’ll go out as soon as the old ladies are in bed.”

“The guys want you to dance for them.”

She’s the only one left at the lighted window. She grinds her hips. Sticking out her breasts, she smooths her sweater with a long caress that runs the whole length of her body and ends with her hiking her skirt to show her heavy thighs that are a quivering mass, while her other hand piles up her hair and she puckers her lips as if she were about give someone a madly passionate kiss. The group gathering under the streetlights cheers her on. The woman combing her hair in the window across the way turns up the music, resting her elbows on the railing to get a good look. Iris begins to move very slowly, only rubbing her thighs together at first, then shaking her whole body to the wild beat of babalu, whirling, hair flying, arms outstretched, hands open as if searching for something or someone, whirling again, bending, stretching; she tosses back her head and lets all her hair spill forward, her gyrating body moving to the rhythm of rock, the frug, anything, as long as she can rotate and show her thighs and her filthy panties, and her bouncing breasts, her tongue hot and searching like her hands, as she dances at the window so that the people in the street will applaud and egg her on and yell up to her… come on, give, Gina baby, give it all you’ve got, good-lookin’, shake those tits, shake your ass off, burn down the Casa, burn us all… And the Giant, with his enormous papier-mache head, steps into the middle of the street and dances as if he were shaking with Iris, Iris sways, grinds her hips, gyrates, shakes and screams from her candlelit cage that seems to hang from the side of the Casa as she dances like a Virgin Mary gone berserk in her niche. The Giant stands on the sidewalk and calls to her: “Gina, Gina, come on down so we can play yumyum, hey kid, yell up at her, she can’t hear me because I’m shut up inside this stinking head.”

“He says for you to come down, Gina!”

“Hey, Eliana, ask him what kind of present he’s brought me today. Otherwise, I won’t go down.”

“Not money, he says, but he’s got five love story magazines for you and a lipstick that’s not new but’s real good and comes in a gold case.”

“It must be gold-plated, gold ones are very expensive.”

“Don’t accept any of his crappy stuff, Iris, don’t be stupid. You gotta get money out of him so you can pay me for the readings.”

“If you don’t read to me Mirella will, so who cares.”

“But you like how I read because I explain the story, otherwise you wouldn’t understand a thing. I’ve got you where I want you, Iris Mateluna, right where I want you, because if I don’t read and explain the love stories and Donald Duck you get bored to death here in this shithouse…”

Iris hangs on the bars to look at him… it’s him with his eyes that are as big and round as saucers and his laugh that’s always the same because he never gets mad, he’s good, we play yumyum real nice and when he calls me Gina he raises his eyebrow and the wrinkles on his forehead hold up his silly little hat… it’s him , he wants to marry me because he likes the way I play yumyum, he’s going to take me to see movies that show real live actresses so that pain-in-the-ass Eliana won’t have to read anything to me, the Giant’s going to take me to one of those tall buildings downtown so I can dance in a contest and win the prize, a makeup they say they give to the girl who dances best, and afterwards her picture comes out in the love story magazines and that moron Eliana and Miss Rita and Mudito and Mother Benita and the girls and all the old bags will see my picture in the magazines.

“What are you gonna pay me with if the Giant doesn’t give you money today?”

Iris shrugs.

“Because you’ve got to pay me before you get married, you hear, or else I’ll get the cops after you, the same ones who carried off your old man, to make you pay up, and if you don’t pay they’ll drag you off to jail too. I’ll settle for the lipstick and two of the magazines the Giant’s going to give you today.”

“Do you think I’m stupid? One magazine and you can use the lipstick twice, and that’s it…”

“It’s a deal. But you’ll have to give me the lipstick case when it’s all used up.”

“It’s a deal.”