Her name was Jacinta. Nobody knew why her mother had named her like that when she had brought her into the world – maybe she hoped that, by naming her after a flower, her gipsy origin would be easier ignored (although that one was fully betrayed by her dark features and her eyes like a black bottomless pond). Or maybe the little burden had been so precious to her that she thought her to deserve to be named after the stone with which was garnished a small brassy ring, otherwise the only earthly treasure inherited by the little gipsy from her mother when this one died. No matter the reason though, from the moment of her coming to life Jacinta had gotten that name, pronounced with a slight Portuguese accent (that kind of a round and fleshy accent, filling your mouth entirely, teaching you to touch the sounds with all the known or unknown muscles of your mouth).

Jacinta walked (more like hobbled) towards home on the side of the boulevard. The two crutches barely helped her to crawl among the people too much in a rush to pay attention to her. Men knew almost nothing about her, and women knew only that, in exchange for a few coins, Jacinta read their future in the coffee cups, and because of that you could see from time to time some woman calling her inside. Now and then, some women gave away to her things that were of no use to them anymore, but which in the poor house of the old gypsy seemed to regain their lost purpose. Some pot, some unmatched plates, food from time to time…but the dearest of all the things received was to Jacinta a coffee cup, with shapes so delicate and fine that, the first time when she had seen it, she almost didn’t dare to take it with her old and gnarled fingers, considering it to be too precious. Nevertheless, the cup had ended up in her kitchen, and since that moment, every day at the same hour, Jacinta drank her coffee out of it, in the company of the few flower pots with violets from her kitchenet’s window. Just like now.

The woman entered the house slowly, almost without a noise, looked at the chipped glass clock near the door, and then hobbled further, putting the water on fire and getting ready for her tiny ritual. Soon, the flavor of the bitter brew filled all the corners of the rooms, and Jacinta sat slowly in her favorite corner and drank the coffee with small sips from the white porcelain cup, admiring the golden arabesques discreetly decorating its edge. The coffee grounds had spread all over the bottom of the cup, forming the vague pattern of a peacock tail, dotted here and there with fragments of coffee beans that had escaped the grinding. Jacinta pried at it, trying to not remember the time when the eyes of a bunch of such feathers had watched her from an enormous vase by the tent bed in which, when she was only sixteen, she had learned the taste of illusions. Back then Jacinta’s legs were long and nervous, curling like two snakes around the waist of…what was his name?…with a bitter smile, Jacinta realized that she didn’t know it anymore. “And they say that you never forget your first love…what a lie…”

The funny thing was that Jacinta had loved, maybe in a stranger way, the one who had had the luck (or the misfortune?!) to transform her into a woman. She remembered clearly the way in which her flesh, squeezed by the overwrought hands of the man (let’s say that his name was Pedro – it most certainly hadn’t been his name, but for the sake of the story, and in order to match somehow his name to the scent of the circumstances, let’s say, dear reader, that his name had been Pedro) quivered, mad with desire, in that night long ago.

She enjoyed being his. She liked that, once she had become a woman and he had been gone from the sheets, Pedro would be the one to rot up her soul, sculpting her on the inside like an old master (one of those who had sculpted the statues inside the church from the central square of the town, imagined Jacinta) and removing that first layer of innocence. She never regretted it, although she knew that there hadn’t been even the slightest shade of an honorable intention inside Pedro’s thoughts when he had convinced her to go with him in that postern room of the manor where they were both working, him as a gardener and her as an aid for her aunt in the kitchen. And after all he didn’t lie to her. He never promised anything, neither to take her as a wife, nor to make a respectable woman out of her. And she didn’t want anything like that either.

She also didn’t regret the fact that, sensing that she was watched in those moments by hidden eyes, even more burning had been her pleasure, more ample her body’s arching and more profound her moaning. When she had remained alone in the room, after the leaving of a dazed and satisfied Pedro, a shadow came out of the dark, and Jacinta realized that the eyes that had burned her skin from a distance belonged to her Master. Her only fear had been that this one would fire her – the little that she earned by working at the manor was more than necessary for her family. But when the forty years old man, measuring her nakedness in silence, slowly, didn’t send her away at once, Jacinta took courage, spreading her legs and beckoning him to come closer. The Master hadn’t done that, and told her clearly that he didn’t want to commit to such adventures. However, he asked her that, in exchange for his silence, she would let him watch stealthily, from the darkness, the love dates that, with his approval, she would have in the same room. And Jacinta accepted. Should she announce him when she wanted to go in there? There was no need, he assured her. In that room people entered extremely rarely, and he would know anyway when she was going to have such a date. How? It wasn’t her business, he ended up briskly the talking with a strange glint in his eyes.

And indeed, each time when Jacinta went inside that room with a man, she felt sliding on her body the gaze of the Master, hidden within the shadows, although he showed himself only once or twice, and only after Jacinta remained alone, wrapped in the Egyptian cotton of the sheets, imbibed with her intimate smell. There was something in the metallic-green eyes with which the Master fixed her, without saying a thing, through the air smelling sweet of cypress flowers (how strange, even now, after fifty years, that perfume continued to haunt her memory), something that made her skin burn and the inside of her thighs become a rip of molten lava. Jacinta chuckled amused – the mere remembering of that gaze made her feel the same things even now, when her legs were like brushwood, striving to carry her from place to place, with the help of crutches. The fire was still there, however. Jacinta sighed.

Moving her gaze in the cup along the thin ear, the old woman saw a long and shaky line, like a gnarled cane, and suddenly the ghosts of some long forgotten bruises flashed through her body. Jacinta had never been married, but one time only she had the curiosity to try a longer relationship. Maybe somewhere, inside her, the woman that she had become was longing after a family, but this was something that she had never told out loud to somebody else. The man with whom she had wanted to change suffered though from two illnesses too heavy to be healed by normal cures: drinking and jealousy. And because the booze was too cheap and too ready at hand, and because Jacinta was too beautiful and too admired by any man who saw her, not just once on her body had blossomed rich, bloody-black flowers, which roots, no matter how much she had tried to ignore, seemed to grow deeper within the flow of her days. Shivering, the woman began to shake, remembering the state in which, one day she dared to step on her pride and fear and she had gone to her Master, begging him to help her escape, promising him in exchange anything that he would ask of her. And him, after keeping silent for a while, looking from a distance at the traces of beating on her body, nodded his head, murmuring a single word: “Fine”. As if suddenly freed from hell, Jacinta (back then twenty two years old) felt that a burden had been taken off her soul. She didn’t know what the Master had done, or hadn’t done, but starting the next day her man had disappeared without a trace, and no matter what rumors people had tried to spread, all she cared about was that she had been relieved of misery. The Master never asked for anything of her, in exchange for his help, and her life slowly came back to its usual flow, although the visits within the room with a tent bed and peacock feathers became rarer.

The truth was that now the only reason for which Jacinta still wanted to go inside that room was the fact that she knew that somewhere, in the waves of darkness, was Him. She didn’t know how or from where did the Master find about the moments when she went there with men. She wondered if her occasional lovers weren’t actually the ones telling him, but knowing themselves to be watched, would they have unleashed their passion in bed with her they way they did?

Driven by curiosity, she decided one day to go there alone, she laid naked on the sheet and picked from the vase near the bed a single feather, which she began to slide randomly on her body. That day the Master didn’t come out of the dark, but an involuntary groan, when Jacinta reached with the feather in the hot moisture between her legs, made her understand that He was there, so she made no bones about replacing the feather with one hand, and then with both, imagining, with her eyes closed, that these were actually his hands, and at the end lying motionless, enjoying her own pleasure. Pleasure which had been so intense, that she realized too late that the shaking of her body wasn’t provoked by the waves of satisfaction flooding her veins, but by the earth revolting suddenly against the ones at its surface. Or maybe so strong had been that orgasm that even the ground had shaken with pleasure, teased herself Jacinta with a smile in the corner of her mouth. With a shy movement, the woman wiped her tears, looking at her legs – aye, so great her pleasure had been that she almost paid for it with her life.

The earthquake that day meant the death for most of her known ones. Even she, finally realizing that everything around her was crumbling, had dressed in a hurry and wanted to rush towards the exit, but one of the main beams of the manor, while falling, had caught both her legs, crippling her for ever. Jacinta thought that she was going to die there, together with everybody else. Somehow though, her life had been spared, and seeing her crutches the woman recalled the silent curses that she had addressed to the hand that had pulled her out of the wrecks, thinking that a crawling life wasn’t worth living. Time though was going to prove her the opposite, and now the woman often wondered how it would be if people ever knew what being alive truly meant.

Suddenly Jacinta heard her name called by a frail voice, so she got out of the reverie in which she sank due to the grounds’ ephemeral shapes, and headed towards the last room. In bed, in the middle of it, under an old and patchy blanket, lied an old man whose silvery strands were spread all over the pillow. Once, his eyes used to have a metallic-green glint. Now they were blind, and Jacinta looked with gentleness at their dead irises, soothing the thirst of the man whose she never had been, but to whom she had always belonged.

© 2014 Liliana Negoi

originally written in Romanian


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