Nine months and a day
Translated by: Phyllis Zatlin
Artwork by Janice Ling
It all started that night when I said to Juan, "You don't have to put it on it this time." Or maybe, to be more exact, it began before, quite a bit before, when the doctor told me the IUD was giving me a lesion, or even before that, one day, when I was leaning over the toilet, wiping the drool from my mouth with toilet paper between each wave of vomit; that's when I thought I'd have to find some other method because the kind of morning sickness I had was making me prone to bouts of nausea even at the best of times.
So it all goes back a while, even though in the strictest sense it started that night.
Juan wasn't happy about it, but that wasn't anything new, he’d reacted the same way when he heard about Marieta and Juan Carlos, like he’d been kicked in the head. In a way, this time he was more bewildered, "are you sure?" he asked, "we'll talk about it later," because that day he had a meeting of the philatelic society, and I think that in his excitement about some new stamp series the news never really sank in, and then he just shrugged it off.
It was worse with Marieta. I wanted to tell her first, after all, she's a woman and ought to understand, so I got up my courage and said to her, "Marieta, honey, you're going to have...". But at the last moment I cut myself off. Marieta has always been very cold, very detached, and suddenly I saw her there so distant, eating her steak and French fries without even waiting for her father to arrive, but my words got jumbled and I said, "Marieta, honey, you're going to have a baby." And then, without lifting her eyes from her plate or the magazine next to her, gulping her food down at top speed, she said, "Don't talk nonsense, Mom, it’s just that I haven’t had breakfast."
I ought to have dropped it, it was just not the right moment, but you never know with her, and besides, she's always in a rush, so I persisted and told her. I had to tell her twice, it was very unpleasant, I felt as ashamed as if it were a crime, for no reason at all. Marieta inherited that way of looking at you from my mother-in-law.
I remember when I met her, you still couldn't tell, but I felt as if my belly was suddenly growing and my skirt was bulging out, it was much worse than with my father, hard as that is to believe, it was my father who lowered his head, too astonished to speak, and I can understand why, we didn't have a cent and, besides, I was his little girl, eighteen was very young to get married like that, shotgun style, but what else could we do about it.
Marieta looked at me just like my mother-in-law, no understanding, no sympathy, what am I saying, sympathy, I mean no compassion, I'd even say with the same hatred. Dear Lord, why? What is she reproaching me for? What's so wrong? When they were little children I explained it to them both, I told them everything, the truth, nothing about storks, but in a special way, "mothers carry their babies in a little nest, next to their hearts, but a bit lower," and later, when they were older, I gave them a nice book that some friends had brought me back from France because here, in Spain, there still weren't any books like that, people seldom talked to children about these things, but I wanted them to know from the beginning, I wanted them to learn right, not the way their father and I did.
When she spent the summer in England, several years ago, I told her about the pill, it wasn't pleasant for me to do that, she seemed like such a child, only seventeen, but I knew from experience what can happen at that age, and better safe than sorry, parents are always caught by surprise, but she cut me off drily, "I'm already taking precautions, Mom, I won’t be having any shotgun wedding." No, no shotgun wedding, no wedding of any kind for that matter.
I don't know what she's reproaching me for, or how she has the nerve to talk to me like that. When she said she was going to go live with Pablo, what did she expect us to do? Be happy for her? My word, what a difficult situation! Even now when people ask me, what can I say to them? "Well, no, she isn't married," "well, yes, she's living with someone," and introducing him to my friends, it would be so much easier if I could just say, "my son-in-law" or "Marieta's husband," which would be the normal thing; but no: It's Pablo here and Pablo there and everyone pretending not to notice and covering up. And on top of that, so cold, so unfeeling, I don’t mind that she comes to eat at home, that both of them come, and that Juan gives them money every month, but, for goodness sake, how about a little understanding for the weakness of others?
I admit that they're weaknesses, but she has to realize that I'm not an old woman and I have the same needs she does and anyone can make a mistake. But she's always been like that, and I expected it, in a way Juan Carlos's reaction hurt me more; if I’d told him I had leprosy he couldn't have looked more horrified. He’s always been more affectionate than his sister, no comparison, as a matter of fact, it worries me, there's something not quite right, I don't know if the priests in Catholic school... I don't know, but his lack of interest doesn't seem normal to me.
I'm not like my mother-in-law who wanted her son for herself, even if she was a widow, she ought to have realized that some woman was going to take him away from her sooner or later, nothing to be so upset about. I'd be happy if Juan Carlos went out with girls, after all, it's normal at his age, part of nature's plan. When I started to show, he'd turn his eyes away, as if it were something repugnant, even though I had very cute, concealing clothes, and now it's the same thing, I go to give him a kiss and he turns his face. I'm worried about the boy, and it hurts me to have him react like that, the truth is he's selfish and doesn't want to know about my problems.
So if this is what the family is like, what can I expect from other people? "You're crazy." "How foolish." "At your age!" Even the doctor, "Have you calculated the risks?" Calculated? Good grief, as if I were a machine; not one word of encouragement, not from anyone. Only Juan, with his "what's done is done," like always, it's not much consolation, but he's not as bad as the others.
More than one person recommended I go to London, including Marieta. But I didn't want that, not because I'm Catholic, although I am, but because it seems horrible to me, like planning a crime in secret and in a country where I don't understand the language at all. Besides, I told Gloria, who went to London herself years ago and is one of those who urged me to make the trip, my grandmother had eighteen children, she was still having babies until she was almost fifty, and none of them turned out bad. And Gloria said to me, "But how do you know if one of the six who died in childhood wasn't a bit retarded," and she's right about that, because when they're little you notice it less and particularly back then when medicine was less advanced.
But not mine, mine wasn't retarded. He was a beautiful little boy and he seemed strong. He was born at exactly nine months and a day. Born dead. It happened during delivery, the baby was coming along fine, but I took a long time dilating and then something went wrong, I didn't feel like pushing, I don't know why. I felt such sorrow. Then I did feel old, as if I were no longer good for anything, as if I'm no longer any good. Because the truth is I wanted him, I wanted that baby, since that night, since before. I remember the struggles with Marieta and Juan Carlos, they came and we took care of them, but you couldn't say that we wanted them before, before seeing them already here, no, we didn't want them, and afterwards we always wanted to leave them with my mother, we liked to go out, and with just one bedroom and a tiny little kitchen you couldn't air out, we had it pretty bad, we weren't going to rent a mansion for you, my mother-in-law used to say…
Now we have a large home and some money saved and a part-time maid, and I have so much free time. Juan spends his time at the studio or the work site, and then there are whole days with the philatelic society, and I'm here, waiting for Marieta to appear and tell me something, or for my son to come home. Juan gets angry with me, he says he doesn't understand why I feel old when he's in great shape, he's thinking of signing up for the marathon, he always liked playing sports.
So I come here, to this room where I'd planned to put the crib, next to the window so as he grew he could see the tree and the birds that come sometimes in the morning, and I sit here, and I cry for a while.
Marina Mayoral is a well-known Spanish novelist, short story writer and scholar. She writes creative works in both Castilian Spanish and Galician. Several of her fifteen novels have been translated to Polish, German, Italian or Portuguese. Mayoral has been a tenured faculty member at Madrid’s Complutense University since 1978.
Phyllis Zatlin is Professor Emerita at Rutgers University where she coordinated translator training. Her play translations of works by J. L. Alonso de Santos, Eduardo Manet, Paloma Pedrero and Jaime Salom have been published and performed. She has also published translations of short stories by contemporary Spanish women writers.