Read The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto Online

Authors: Mario Vargas Llosa

The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto

BOOK: The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto
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Man, a god when he dreams, barely a beggar when he thinks.


I cannot keep a record of my life through my actions; fortune has buried them too deep: I keep it through my fantasies.



The Return of Fonchito

The doorbell rang, Doña Lucrecia went to see who was there, and like a portrait in the open doorway, with the twisted gray trees of the Olivar de San Isidro as the background, she saw the golden ringlets and blue eyes of Fonchito’s head. The world began to spin.

“I miss you very much, Stepmamá,” chirped the voice she remembered so well. “Are you still angry with me? I came to ask your forgiveness. Do you forgive me?”

“You, it’s you?” Still holding the doorknob, Doña Lucrecia had to lean against the wall. “Aren’t you ashamed to come here?”

“I sneaked out of the academy,” the boy insisted, showing her his sketchbook, his colored pencils. “I missed you very much, really I did. Why are you so pale?”

“My God, my God.” Doña Lucrecia staggered and dropped to the faux-colonial bench next to the door. White as a sheet, she covered her eyes.

“Don’t die!” shouted the boy in fright.

And Doña Lucrecia—she felt herself passing out—saw the small, childish figure cross the threshold, close the door, fall to his knees at her feet, grasp her hands, and rub them in bewilderment. “Don’t die, don’t faint, please.”

She made an effort to collect her wits and regain her self-control. She took a deep breath before speaking. Her words came slowly, for she thought her voice would break at any moment. “Nothing’s wrong, I’m fine now. Seeing you here was the last thing I expected. How did you have the nerve? Don’t you feel any remorse?”

Still on his knees, Fonchito tried to kiss her hand.

“Say you forgive me, Stepmamá,” he begged. “Say it, say it. The house isn’t the same since you left. I came here so many times after school just to catch a glimpse of you. I wanted to ring the bell but I didn’t have the courage. Won’t you ever forgive me?”

“Never,” she said firmly. “I’ll never forgive what you did, you wicked boy.”

But, belying her own words, her large, dark eyes scrutinized with curiosity, some pleasure, perhaps even with tenderness, the tousled curls, the thin blue veins in his neck, the tips of his ears visible among the blond ringlets, the slim graceful body tightly encased in the blue jacket and gray trousers of his school uniform. Her nostrils breathed in that adolescent odor of soccer games, hard candies, and d’Onofrio ice cream; her ears recognized the high-pitched breaks, the changing voice that still echoed in her memory. Doña Lucrecia’s hands resigned themselves to being dampened by the baby-bird kisses of that sweet mouth.

“I love you very much, Stepmamá,” Fonchito whimpered. “And even if you don’t think so, my papá does too.”

Just then Justiniana appeared, a lithe, cinnamon-colored figure wrapped in a flowered smock, with a kerchief around her head and a feather duster in her hand. She stood, frozen, in the hallway leading to the kitchen.

“Master Alfonso,” she murmured in disbelief. “Fonchito! I can’t believe it!”

“Imagine, imagine!” Doña Lucrecia exclaimed, determined to display more indignation than she actually felt. “He has the gall to come to this house. After ruining my life and hurting Rigoberto so. To ask for my forgiveness and shed his crocodile tears. Have you ever seen anything so shameless, Justiniana?”

But even now she did not pull away the slender fingers that Fonchito, shaken by his sobs, continued to kiss.

“Go on, Master Alfonso,” said the girl, so confused that without realizing it she now began to address him with the more familiar

. “Can’t you see how much you’re upsetting the señora? Go on, leave now, Fonchito.”

“I’ll go if she says she forgives me,” pleaded the boy, sighing, his head resting on Doña Lucrecia’s hands. “And you, Justita, you don’t even say hello, you start right in insulting me? What did I ever do to you? I love you too, a lot; I love you so much I cried all night when you left.”

“Quiet, you liar, I don’t believe a word you say.” Justiniana smoothed Doña Lucrecia’s hair. “Shall I bring you a cloth and some alcohol, Señora?”

“Just a glass of water. Don’t worry, I’m all right now. But seeing the boy here in this house gave me such a shock.”

And, at last, very gently, she withdrew her hands from Fonchito’s grasp. The boy remained at her feet, not crying now, struggling to suppress his sobs. His eyes were red and tears had streaked his face. A thread of saliva hung from his mouth. Through the mist that fogged her eyes, Doña Lucrecia observed his chiseled nose, well-defined lips, small, imperious cleft chin, the brilliant whiteness of his teeth. She wanted to slap him, scratch that Baby Jesus face. Hypocrite! Judas! Even bite his neck and suck his blood like a vampire.

“Does your father know you’re here?”

“What an idea, Stepmamá,” the boy answered immediately, in a conspiratorial tone. “Who knows what he’d do to me. He never talks about you, but I know how much he misses you. I swear you’re all he thinks about, night or day. I came here in secret, I sneaked out of the academy. I go three times a week, after school. Do you want me to show you my drawings? Say you forgive me, Stepmamá.”

“Don’t say anything, throw him out, Señora.” Justiniana had come back with a glass of water; Doña Lucrecia took several sips. “Don’t let him fool you with his pretty face. He’s Lucifer in person, and you know it. He’ll play another evil trick on you worse than the first one.”

“Don’t say that, Justita.” Fonchito looked ready to burst into tears again. “I swear I’m sorry, Stepmamá. I didn’t know what I was doing, honest. I didn’t want anything to happen. Do you think I wanted you to go away? That I wanted my papá and me to be left all alone?”

“I didn’t go away,” Doña Lucrecia muttered, contradicting him. “Rigoberto threw me out as if I were a whore. And it was all your fault!”

“Don’t say dirty words, Stepmamá.” The boy raised both hands in horror. “Don’t say them, they don’t suit you.”

Despite her grief and anger, Doña Lucrecia almost smiled. Cursing didn’t suit her! A perceptive, sensitive child? Justiniana was right: he was Beelzebub, a viper with the face of an angel.

The boy exploded with jubilation. “You’re laughing, Stepmamá! Does that mean you forgive me? Then say it, say you have, Stepmamá.”

He clapped his hands, and in his blue eyes the sadness had cleared and a savage little light was flashing. Doña Lucrecia noticed the ink stains on his fingers. Despite herself, she was touched. Was she going to faint again? How absurd. She saw her reflection in the foyer mirror: her expression had regained its composure, but a light blush tinged her cheeks, and her breast rose and fell in agitation. With an automatic gesture she closed the neckline of her dressing gown. How could he be so shameless, so cynical, so perverse, when he was still so young? Justiniana read her thoughts. She looked at her as if to say, “Don’t be weak, Señora, don’t forgive him. Don’t be a fool!” Hiding her embarrassment, she took a few more sips of water; it was cold and did her good. The boy quickly grasped her free hand and began to kiss it again, talking all the while.

“Thank you, Stepmamá. You’re so good, but I knew that, that’s why I had the courage to ring the bell. I want to show you my drawings. And talk to you about Egon Schiele, about his life and his paintings. And tell you what I’ll be when I grow up, and a thousand other things. Can you guess? A painter, Stepmamá! That’s what I want to be.”

Justiniana shook her head in alarm. Outside, motors and horns disturbed the San Isidro twilight, and through the sheer curtains in the dining alcove, Doña Lucrecia caught a glimpse of the bare branches and knotted trunks of the olive trees; they had become a friendly presence. Enough indecisiveness, it was time to act.

“All right, Fonchito,” she said, with a severity her heart no longer demanded of her. “Now make me happy. Please go away.”

“Yes, Stepmamá.” The boy leaped to his feet. “Whatever you say. I’ll always listen to you, I’ll always obey you in everything. You’ll see how well I can behave.”

His voice and expression were those of someone who has eased himself of a heavy burden and made peace with his conscience. A golden lock of hair brushed his forehead, and his eyes sparkled with joy. Doña Lucrecia watched as he put a hand into his back pocket, took out a handkerchief, blew his nose, and then picked up his book bag, his portfolio of drawings, his box of pencils from the floor. With all that on his shoulder, he backed away, smiling, toward the door, not taking his eyes off Doña Lucrecia and Justiniana.

“As soon as I can, I’ll sneak away again and come and visit you, Stepmamá,” he warbled from the doorway. “And you too, Justita, of course.”

When the street door closed, both women stood motionless and silent. Soon the bells of the Virgen del Pilar Church began to ring in the distance. A dog barked.

“It’s incredible,” murmured Doña Lucrecia. “I can’t believe he had the nerve to show his face in this house.”

“What’s incredible is how good you are,” the girl replied indignantly. “You’ve forgiven him, haven’t you? After the way he tricked you into fighting with the señor. There’s a place reserved for you in heaven, Señora!”

“I’m not even certain it was a trick, or that he planned it all out ahead of time.”

She was walking toward the bathroom, talking to herself, but she heard Justiniana chiding her. “Of course he planned everything. Fonchito is capable of the most awful things, don’t you know that yet?”

Perhaps, thought Doña Lucrecia. But he was a boy, only a boy. Wasn’t he? Yes, at least there could be no doubt about that. In the bathroom she splashed cold water on her forehead and looked at herself in the mirror. Agitation had sharpened her nose and made it twitch uneasily, and there were bluish circles under her eyes. Between her partially opened lips she could see the tip of the sandpaper her tongue had turned into. She recalled the lizards and iguanas in Piura; their tongues were always bone-dry, like hers was now. Fonchito’s presence in her house had made her feel stony and ancient, like those prehistoric relics of the northern deserts. Without thinking, acting automatically, she untied her belt, and with a movement of her shoulders shrugged off her dressing gown; the silk slid down her body like a caress and fell with a whisper to the floor. Flat and round, the dressing gown covered her insteps, like a gigantic flower. Not knowing what she was doing or what she was going to do, breathing heavily, her feet stepped across the barrier of clothing that encircled them and carried her to the bidet, where, after lowering her lace panties, she sat down. What was she doing? What are you going to do, Lucrecia? She was not smiling. She tried to inhale and exhale more calmly while her hands, moving independently, turned the taps, the hot, the cold, testing them, mixing them, adjusting them, raising or lowering the jet of water—lukewarm, hot, cold, cool, weak, strong, pulsating. Her lower body moved forward, moved back, leaned to the right, the left, until it found just the right spot. There. A shiver ran down her spine. “Perhaps he didn’t even realize, perhaps he didn’t know what he was doing,” she repeated to herself, feeling sorry for the boy she had cursed so often during these past six months. Perhaps he wasn’t bad, perhaps he wasn’t. Mischievous, naughty, conceited, irresponsible, a thousand other things. But not evil, no. “Perhaps not.” Thoughts burst inside her head like bubbles in a pot of boiling water. She recalled the day she had met Rigoberto, the widower with the great Buddha ears and outrageous nose whom she would marry a short while later, and the first time she had seen her stepson, a cherub in a blue sailor suit—gold buttons, a little cap with an anchor—and all she had discovered and learned, the unexpected, imaginative, intense nocturnal life in the little house in Barranco that Rigoberto had built to begin their life together, and the arguments between the architect and her husband which had marked the construction of what would become her home. So much had happened! The images came and went, dissolved, changed, entwined, followed one after the other, and it was as if the liquid caress of the nimble jet of water reached to her very soul.

Instructions for the Architect

Our misunderstanding is conceptual in nature. You have created this attractive design for my house and library based on the supposition—one that is extremely widespread, unfortunately—that people, not objects, are the primary consideration in a residence. I do not criticize you for having made this opinion your own, since it is indispensable for any man in your profession not resigned to doing without clients. But my conception of my future home is just the opposite. To wit: in the small constructed space that I will call my world and that will be ruled by my whims, we humans will be second-class citizens; books, pictures, and engravings will have first priority. My four thousand volumes and one hundred canvases and prints should constitute the primary rationale for the design I have hired you to make. You must subordinate the comfort, safety, and space allotted human occupants to what is needed for those objects.

An absolutely essential factor is the fireplace, which must have the capacity to serve, at my discretion, as a crematorium for unwanted books and prints. For this reason, it must be placed very close to the bookshelves and within reach of my chair, since it pleases me to play inquisitor to literary and artistic calamities while seated. Let me explain. The four thousand volumes and one hundred prints in my possession are invariable numbers. In order to avoid excessive abundance and disorder, I will never own more, but they will not always be the same, for they will be replaced constantly until my death. Which means that for each book I add to my library, I eliminate another, and each image that enters my collection—lithograph, woodcut, xylograph, drawing, engraving, mixed media, oil painting, watercolor, et cetera—displaces the least favorite among all the others. I will not conceal from you that choosing the victim is difficult, at times heartrending, a Hamletian dilemma that torments me for days, weeks, and then becomes part of my nightmares. At first I presented the sacrificed books and prints to public libraries and museums. Now I burn them, which accounts for the importance of the fireplace. I chose this drastic method, which seasons the discomfort of selecting a victim with the spice of committing a cultural sacrilege, an ethical transgression, on the day, or, I should say, the night when, having decided to replace a reproduction of Andy Warhol’s multicolored Campbell’s soup can with a beautiful Szyszlo inspired by the sea of Paracas, I realized it was stupid to inflict on other eyes a work I had come to consider unworthy of mine. And then I threw it in the fire. As I watched the pasteboard scorch and burn, I confess to experiencing a vague remorse. This no longer happens. I have consigned dozens of romantic and indigenist poets to the flames, and an equal number of conceptualist, abstract, informalist, landscapist, portraitist, and sacred works of art in order to maintain the
numerus clausus
of my library and art collection, and I have done so not with regret but with the stimulating sense that I was engaging in literary and artistic criticism as it should be practiced: radically, irreversibly, and flammably. Let me add, to bring this digression to a close, that the pastime amuses me, but since it in no way serves as an aphrodisiac, I consider it limited, minor, merely spiritual, lacking bodily repercussions.

BOOK: The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto
8.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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