(Re-)Chronicling a death foretold

Angela at the Window

Angela Vicario sat by the window the day after her marriage, watching the bay which lay like a slit of eye-white beyond the sandy shore, where just yesterday the bishop had arrived, refused to step down from his grand boat-escort, and blessed the air, slashing his hands as if torching the sign on the invisible door of the village, and all for what good?

The marriage had left town on its whiskery blue, night wings and along with it Bayardo San Roman. Now, all she could remember was her violent wedding night, his moving figure above her, almost a hovering guillotine. She thought it was her will that caused it; her refusal to listen to her friends’ sage advice on how to raise a screen to protect chastity which did not exist. Was all the pretense that necessary? What was this question of virginity? But maybe she had no right to ask that question. She had not protested.

Now his face would haunt her always. Bayardo, with his angel-demon gaze, with his alien footfall, how he had placed each fingertip on her bare skin as if testing with the cold steel tip of a blade how fast it would yield, how close to the surface her blood ran. And immediately her ears were filled with the noise of her wedding gown ripping, ripping –and looking around she could see the shreds splattered all over her childhood room – into feathers, the white blooming the mildewed walls, and the feathers on the walls could as well be the ones littering the seashore fallen from roosters on their death sail. And behind this noise, a lesser hum of Bayardo’s hands tracing circles around the edges of the silver he carried everywhere he went. Now she couldn’t listen to the chink of coins without experiencing it in her very heart, as if the sound deliberately took the shape of a sharp tear – slicing her up – such jagged, ungainly cuts. It disturbed her that what disturbed her, more than the pain, was the inelegance of the cuts. Her mother had taught her to cut the chicken, the rabbits, the lambs, the cows with a certain cruel neatness: it added to the taste, she always said. Now all her advice was still, as if another kind of silent beating in the night.

Angela had been looking out of the window when Bayardo walked past her house, guiding his servants to take the luggage to the pier, he had looked at the window where she had been standing, and the curtains shifted to reveal her weary silhouette. But he had turned away, just like that.

Was it so easy to turn away?

Around her the Vicario house stood like a mausoleum. When she stepped back she tripped on a slab of stone on her bedroom floor which had risen up, like several other slips of concrete or decayed sand, stippled with dust under the roof – after the centuries it had spent bearing the grudges of the Vicario household. She didn’t try to turn around, if she did, she was almost certain she would set to motion an unstoppable inertia, she would keep spinning and spinning until the house heaved on her, groaning, and would split at the sides, as if collapsing. But it wouldn’t collapse. At least f it did, she felt she would have some relief from the guilt.

Outside her room, she could hear the shuffling of feet: she was used to these sounds. Over the years they had entered her bloodstream, and she could even tell who each footstep belonged to. The long, dragging shuffle was her mother’s, who always walked as if in tune with the impossible weight the house carried, as if she bore the pain of all its millennia on her shoulders; it was a shared burden. And along with the heavy footfall, she sang tinnily, an incongruous hum, as she bustled from the kitchen to the cavernous dining hall which contained a table like a slaughterhouse stoneboard, setting the dishes for the evening meal. The other heavy trudge was the cook’s, who hated her mother, but lived there because she loved her kitchen. Leaving, Angela was almost sure, would cut a cord in the cook’s heartstrings. But the kitchen was kind, it swallowed up their fights: the cook’s and her mother’s, in its raging fire-centre. But if you examined the walls carefully, you could see long scrawls of ripped whitewash, scars of bitter words.

And in the half silence, she walked to the door of her room, stood an inch away from the scumbled woodwork, breath easing on the brown, and when the noises outside her room ceased for a moment, she slipped out to staircase at the east end of the house. The energy of the house was sexual: transferred from the bodies of the women who lived there, doing nothing but attending to the household chores all day. She peered into a crack which revealed the interior of a room on the first floor of the house overlooking the kitchen. A whiff of cold breeze hit her face; inside, her sisters sat like monks, sewing cloths of so many colours she lost count, and the evening shadows lengthened. As they looped the needle in, the cloths they were holding continued into piles on the floor and lay like casual carcasses. Their sewing was slow, deliberate, and steadily in the dim, gradually fading light of the evening, it set up a calculating rhythm, as if the sewing was a null prayer, and the room an old, disused cathedral singing the evening out of itself into an impregnable darkness.

It was all the same, always. She tried to remember, and all that her memories brought back was a picture of her sisters always sewing; they could be a portrait, or life-size dolls, not human at all.

Along with these pictures, secrets. She tripped on the way upstairs, and when she peered into the other room now, she realized she was no longer surprised at what she saw: Pablo and Pedro’s room was swathed in a soft light which fell at just the right angle on the criss-crossing gauze curtains, and underneath – Pedro’s swift arm rushing across the careful torso of Pablo, leaving delicate shadows, and between the cove of their necks a compression of space, skin folded tight and snapping, and as her gaze shifted to their faces, suddenly there was a shocked stillness as Angela met Pedro’s agile, glinting eyes hovering in a sphere of semi-darkness like a knife. Sensing this, Pablo spun around. Angela twisted and flew down the stairs two steps at a time, fingers brushing against the damp walls, splinters in the paint cutting lines of red, and her skirt nearly caught between her feet at the bottom stair and she stumbled, but somehow, out of her fear and apprehension at being discovered, after all these years – not her fault, she protested, that they had become so careless and brash as to leave their door open – she executed an impossible pirouette and dashed towards the open backdoor, and when she burst into the empty yard behind the house, the air was silky and the sky the deep blue of death, and the sun was leaning its way out of the breadth of the village and the sea was the sea so bloodshot it was difficult to tell it was beautiful, salty, life-giving water, not a massacre.

As she walked out of the backyard, crows fought for a scrap of meal in the boughs of a tree; sand filtered through her toes and some residue remained there even as she walked, kicking her feet occasionally, towards the edge of the sea. In the distance, to her far right, she could see the hazy outline of a mob outside Santiago Nasar’s house, and the high, shrill notes of his mother crying her heart out. She felt no remorse.

She walked to that place on the seashore where she had spent all the childhood summers she could remember gathering driftwood, digging out holes for baby turtles, and building the biggest sandcastles the village had seen. She sat down in the sand, right next to a trail of newly hatched turtles which were struggling to gain use of their new limbs – such freshness, and how that must feel the first touch of each grain of sand, and the undiscovered longing of water and a first, effortless swim in the sea built into their bones, like flight. For a few years they could be birds. Above, eagles circled.

Angela thought of what she had to do. Already, she felt an irresistible longing for Bayardo, but that was, she soon realized, only a longing for someone who had rejected her outright, without compunction. She wondered what it was about women – even men? she wouldn’t know – that always drew them back to pain, with that pathetic, clinging need to be needed and desired and loved. She could imagine her whole future now, where she would, perhaps, write letters to Bayardo, first cautious, an undemanding wife, then whining, raging for her rights, for his one glance back.

He had not looked back, that was what broke her heart. She would spend countless days imagining the experience: his glance would have struck like lightning, perhaps, or something exploding inside her, and she felt the explosion unhappening in her very soul, it seemed, and the ache, such a piercing, unrelenting ache of a life just squandered away, brought tears to her eyes.

He had chosen for her, so now she would choose.

She took back that life of letters which she would never write, that life she would never lead as a solitary woman, waiting all the time while each day wrapped itself around her, its teeth bared, scratching out wrinkles on her forehead, adding silver hairs to her jet-black mop, imposing a stoop on her graceful profile; the life where at some remote point of time years away, he would be generous enough to return, and reclaim his right over his woman; a life where she would have to be thankful for his charity.

The night was upon her, and the village moved like a thief. It seemed too tight for her now, the village always hovering by her neck, waiting for her to miss a step so that it could extend it gold bars around her and cage her in. The village was a noose. The incessant noise of the sea thumping against the rocks was some perverse reflection of the village men’s sexual ministrations, their insistent, and unabashed fucking – she wasn’t supposed to use the word.

Above the sea, a full moon blazed, and despite its tug the sea was strangely still, gurgling only infrequently, as if in the middle of some bizarre attempt to retain a record of the bishop’s boat. Angela thought, if she waited now, she would soon convince herself that she was in the side wings again, abandoning the stage for some forgotten god to arrive and rescue her, such was the power of delusion. But she knew, as well as every other woman in the village knew, no impossible god would be kind enough to stray into this part of the world, and even if by accident he did, he would never step out of the hallowed waters for fear of sand in his boots, and she would have to walk into the storm, holding on to nothing, and what would she leave behind? Just a shift in the sand perhaps, as if she had never existed.

Angela decided. Some stories were better off untold, because, see, the danger was, more often than not they would come together all wrong, and like a wrecked compass, would veer directionless, chopping off the important parts: the long years of violence and neglect. To her far left a cluster of trees thrashed in the night wind. Distance distorted. It made them appear to be a hazy green mist shimmering in the air, a seductive mirage. She sprang up from where she sat, and paused to watch the last of the baby turtles slide into the frothing lip of the sea, and turning around, walked into the blessed silence of the forest. She took the stories with her.

*

This piece was a creative writing assignment for an English (World literature) class. We were supposed to write a new version of some part of Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. A highly presumptuous exercise, but I thought if I had to recast bits of the story, Angela would be a good place to start. (January, 2011)