It Is Nothing of Mine
Teresita del Nino Jesus Rodriguez made this phrase immortal, for she said it in front of the whole world on the most important day of her life.
As a girl, Tere had been marked by the death of her older brother. They were young and she barely understood what had happened. But she suffered from her father's grief, for he had the misfortune to live yearning for this son who would have been his heir, successor, and companion. Certainly, he would have been a superb horseman, masterfully wielding the lasso to perform the most audacious stunts: not only would he have roped cattle; he would have been cold-blooded enough to execute "the pass of death," that is, to ride out of the corral bareback alongside a bronco and, coming up close to it, leap from one to the other, hanging on only by their manes.
Manuel Rodriguez had been destined to inherit the best ranch in the region, with hundreds of Holsteins, quarter horses, enormous hogs -- which were slaughtered on the premises -- and a flock of sheep fed and cared for on a whim: to make the smoothest and most delicious cheese to spread on the Sunday hors d'oeuvres.
But Manuel died in early childhood, attacked by fevers his small body could not fend off. Teresita, his sister and five years his junior, then became the erroneous heir -- erroneous because she could never be the agile and authoritative horseman her father needed to preserve his lineage.
Nevertheless, little by little, time cured Senor Rodriguez of his grief, and his daughter's laughter had the desired effect: it was a balm for his wounds, a tiny tinkling bell that rang all through the house. In unexpected moments, there was the music of her piano, and she was the first of a bouquet of her friends, darling girls who came to spend their vacations at the ranch, when Tere was let out of her convent school.
When Tere finished junior high school, her parents decided to buy a house in Queretaro, right on the Avenida de Independencia. Her mother, Dona Laura, could attend mass at San Francisco Church, pray at La Congregacion, and practice her Spiritual Exercises in the convent of Santa Cruz de los Milagros: furthermore -- of course -- here the girl could study, make quality friendships, get married, and perhaps soon, with God's help, have many children. And then, with her large family, she would return to the ranch to live in the big house and oversee the planting, the peach harvest, and the care of the livestock.
"Your daughter is a gem," the very proud mother would say to her husband, knowing that there was something of a trade-off.
"She has made me happy," the father would say. "For an old man, there is no better love than that of the women in his house."
Tere learned so much in so few years that others could not help but notice: she became an expert at embroidery; she could play Chopin as if Polish blood ran in her veins; she spoke French with Monsieur Aubert, a descendant of Maximilian's photographer and the founding teacher of Queretaro's Alliance Francaise. Tere knew that she was at a disadvantage in life. She lived with the oil portrait of her dead brother presiding over the dining room. And what's more, between her soft, honeyed eyes and the curve of her beautiful lips, right next to her nose, Tere had a wart that would have ruined the life of any other girl.
In those days, there was no plastic surgery. And men, as if they were perfect, they were exacting and domineering with their girlfriends. Never mind how they were with their wives.
So Tere had to content herself with being doubly studious, diligent, pleasant, and merry. She had to accept her role as bridesmaid when her closest friends married. And when Juvenal Monraz stepped into her life, she gave thanks to San Antonio the matchmaker, and to Santa Rita de Casia, the Augustinian nun who grants the impossible. Santa Rita was in fashion; she had been canonized in May of 1900 and now, thirty years later, she did not yet have so many prayers in Heaven and thus she had time to perform the most spectacular miracles.
"Juvenal is a miracle," said Chole and Maru, Teresita's best friends.
"I'd like one like him for my aunt, Yola," lamented Chole, sincerely grieved by the misfortune of her good, home-loving, and hardworking aunt.
"He's handsome, Tere. I like his square chin, well-cut ears, almost aquiline nose; a very Arabic look," said Maru, whose husband was of Turkish descent and had a penetrating gaze.
According to the "old boys" who met in the cafe in front of the main square, the suitor was nothing more than a loafer in search of a meal-ticket for life. They knew Juvenal well: he was one of them.
For the suitor, it was relatively easy to conquer Senorita Rodriguez. In full view of the town, he strolled with her on his arm, serenaded her once a month, sent her white roses, then yellow roses, and finally, for her birthday, he sent her red roses. He bought her corsages of gardenias to adorn her hand on summer afternoons. In short, he fulfilled each and every one of the rituals of courtship with elegance and precision.
Tere knew that two square centimeters of misshapen flesh condemned her to rushing to accept this chance to marry, for it was a chance that would not come again. And for many years, she did not regret it.
For Juvenal was a good husband. He was considerate enough to allow her to have her own room, to visit her friends and attend their get-togethers every month, to buy an automobile and drive it three times a week to the ranch, while he would sit on the passenger side because she enjoyed driving and he did not want the responsibility of risking an accident that might scratch its brilliant finish.
When her father died, Tere suggested to her husband that they move to her parents' house to keep her mother company. Juvenal agreed with pleasure and this convinced Tere, as she told her closest friends, that she had truly won the lottery. By this time, the others had to put up with contempt, rudeness, brooding silences, infidelities (even with the maids), and sometimes beatings. Some had been abandoned for a while, and, after their husbands had finished with their adventures, had had to take them back, though the women hid this with discretion and lies. And what’s more, Juvenal had even forgiven Tere for being barren. Despite all their attempts -- at siesta-time, at night, even at dawn, in traditional positions and others out of a circus -- she could not get pregnant. Senora Monraz continued to endure the emptiness inside her. Nothing could allay her grief, not even her husband's goodness that had allowed her to keep her ranch, her house, and her car.
The doctors diagnosed an immature womb and suggested treatments that she followed to the letter. Finally, sadly, she had to accept it. She had no little ones to care for, no birthday pinatas to make, nor first Communion parties to attend, and so, no choice but to accompany her mother to say the rosary.
Yes, Juvenal generously forgave her for all of it. They only thing this good husband asked for was the free use of his own time. After breakfast, while she met with the old ranch manager in the office, he read the newspaper. Then, while they walked together to the Jardin Obregon (which was at that time the main plaza, flanked by three bank buildings), he would comment on the day's important news. Her briefcase in hand, she would leave to make the deposits and necessary transfers, always confident that her husband, the respected man all women should have by their side, was waiting for her nearby, or at a distance of no more than 100 meters, having his shoes shined.
After lunch he would have his siesta, and in the afternoons he would go out to play cards and dominoes. As did all the men.
Other husbands invited him to their houses for poker weekends. Sometimes the women joined them, trying their luck with Uruguayan canasta. There were couples who knew how to play the best hands, always defeating their opponents to rake in the chips. In that city of seventy thousand pious souls, one had to relieve the tedium with something.
Juvenal was so prudent and discreet, he had such respect for his wife and his home, that it never occurred to him to invite his buddies, for they might behave badly, disturb his invalid mother-in-law, or tell off-color jokes that might be heard by Teresita's delicate ears.
And so he met his gambling friends in different places until eight at night when his wife received him at home and served him his supper. They would then spend a pleasant evening, sometimes in the company of family friends, until they went to sleep peacefully.
Furthermore, as Tere would tell her friends -- all of them envious of her good husband -- Juvenal was an ocean of generosity: a good part of their produce went to some orphans.
"Do you know them?" one asked maliciously.
"Don't even bring it up. Juvenal doesn't like to talk about it. He says your left hand should not know what the right hand is doing."
And so it was that the Monraz's buoyant finances sprang a little leak: cheeses for the orphans, fruits for the orphans. And of course, there was also the money Juvenal lost at gambling. This man had no luck at cards. But he would docilely come home to his wife -- his mind exhausted from so many calculations, Teresita thought, as she obliged him with a generous glass of sherry to begin the evening.
"Unlucky at cards...," her husband would say, giving her the chance to finish the adage.
Twenty years went by. Teresita buried her mother in the Rodriguez family tomb, and at forty years old, she began to ask herself what she could fill her days with besides hats, coats, and gloves, which were seldom worn in Queretaro. There were so few occasions: elegant weddings, bullfights with matadors of international fame, dances with full orchestras.
Then Santa Rita (who before becoming a nun was a widow) took Juvenal away with her. This husband of fifty-some years had a considerably expanded waistline, for he scarcely walked the blocks between his most pressing appointments. He had done no exercise, not even in the countryside, having given up riding at the same time as he had taken up the habit of smoking cigars.
And it was of an aggressive cancer in the center of his right lung that, one Saturday at midday, Juvenal died.
Teresita cried oceans. She called together her notary, her confessor, her manager, and the expert cook who had prepared her banquets. She arranged to have the casket taken to to the new funeral home on the Calle Hidalgo. It was the latest fashion in a town used to mourning their dead at home. On some matters, Teresita was in the vanguard. She made an arrangement with the sacristan of La Merced, ordered a lavish display of white flowers, and brought in the chef of the Grand Hotel to take care of the friends who came to offer their condolences.
That night, in a black suit -- meant for a trip to the capital for a concert in Bellas Artes -- and a black high-collared lace blouse, which made her skin appear even whiter, Tere told anecdotes of her life with her husband over and over again. She emphasized his kindness, his acts of generosity.
The next morning, she received her mother-in-law, her brothers- and sisters- in-law, and Juvenal's nephews and nieces, the only children who had enjoyed the new swimming pool at the ranch. She was a most gracious hostess to all, the most upright widow, with a strength shown only by the most spiritually advanced.
Then, at one o'clock in the afternoon, a woman in mourning arrived sobbing and shuddering, and followed by two boys and a girl, all of whom had square chins, well-cut ears, almost aquiline noses -- in short, a very Arabic look. The children drew close. The boys were wearing well-cut suits made of wool and cashmere; the little girl was in a dress with white ruffles. They did not need to say anything. In the expectant silence, the crowd of neighbors and friends parted to let them pass. They all watched as the woman and her children took their places at the four corners of the coffin, each beside a flickering candle.
Teresita, once having recovered from the confusion and with all her questions answered, rose from her seat, walked five steps to where Juvenal lay in his box, and said in a loud voice: "It is nothing of mine." She went out into the sunny street followed by her faithful manager, leaving the dead husband in the hands of his secret family.
All of Queretaro could draw its own conclusions about the case that was, for more than a year, juicier than anything on the radio soap operas. They knew all the details, both real and made-up, about the doings of Juvenal Monraz. His widow, meanwhile, had a long stay in Paris, where at last she practiced the French she had learned from Monsieur Aubert.
Translated by C.M. Mayo
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