Fabiana Elisa Martínez was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She graduated from the UCA University in Buenos Aires with a degree of Linguistics and World Literature. Fabiana is a linguist, a language teacher and a writer. She speaks five languages: Spanish, English, French, Portuguese and Italian. Fabiana has lived and worked in Dallas, Texas, for almost twenty years. She is the author of the short story collection 12 Random Words, her first work of fiction, and the grammar book series Spanish 360 with Fabiana. Other short stories were published in Rigorous Magazine, The Closed Eye Open, Ponder Review, Hindsight Magazine, The Good Life Review, The Halcyone, and Rhodora Magazine. Fabiana is currently working on her first novel.
Annette came from the tiny bathroom, drying her hair with a towel. She wore a white sundress too loose for her waist and too revealing for her inviting breasts that reminded him of cane sugar and caramel syrup. She sat on the smaller couch shaking a bottle of lotion. She put one leg on the coffee table pretending she was not aware that he was looking and started examining her crimson toenails with the delicacy of an entomologist.
“Are you alright, chéri?” she asked without looking up. “You seem so pensive there. I guess you are not talkative in the morning. I need to remember that.”
She did not wait for an answer, opened the bottle and poured some lotion on her knee. At fifty Victor had already learned a priceless lesson, not all feminine questions are uttered for an answer. For some incomprehensible reason, defiant to the masculine logic, most of his lovers and official girlfriends had used the interrogative tone frequently to make assertive comments or to express a feeling. Men should be aware, Victor reminded himself, that the question of a woman is like a carrier pigeon whose most important message is the one it brings, not the one it carries back. Victor perceived that Annette was not asking him about his thoughts so he would tell her. She wanted to let him know that she cared about his meditations as much as she had cared to learn how much sugar he wanted in his coffee. Victor did not answer. She continued applying lotion on her leg with the same determination with which she had planned this unfathomable trip to this conjuring city after so many years, after so much silence and so very few romantic encounters in their past. She did not look around for hints, she did not wait for suggestions.
Victor went back to his coffee and the view and enveloped himself one more time in the smell of the waves. He was certain that the house of his childhood in Algiers was not close to the coast, but the smell of the sea was part of Zahli’s smell. His fatma, his nanny, smelled like seaweed and iron, like rounded stones left in the sun for too long, like milk and salt. Victor felt the soothing whisper of his most innocent secret, the memory he had not shared even once in his life. Unlike so many people who would hunt for happiness in front of them, Victor was aware that his moment of supreme completion had happened already and he was thankful that he had been able to capture it and label it as the starting point of his conscious life: being not even three, lost in the magnanimous breasts of Zahli, amorously fed by her even when Maman was not happy with the disobedient idea.
Annette finished with her left leg and raised the right one to the table slowly caressing those hidden corners of her knees that he had kissed desperately not even an hour ago. Inclined as she was over her thighs, Victor could see the lace ruffle of her dress above her chest. Exactly like the brim of Zahli’s niqāb, that he used to touch with the tip of impossibly small fingers trying to unveil the notes of her monotonous songs, while he received her motherly milk with regal pleasure. The anecdote in the house, the memory he could not possibly have, was that Maman had discovered Zahli’s act of rebellion after her second day of voluntary work at the French embassy. Practical and organized, the young worldly mother of two, with a feminist revolutionary heart, was trying to cope with the new reality that her family would live in the former colony for some years, that her husband had received an immense professional opportunity, and that she had to accept the challenge of raising two little boys in a foreign country with the help of a woman who barely spoke her language.
Annette tripped the bottle of lotion with her foot but was fast enough to catch it before its silky content touched the doubtfully clean carpet of the vacation flat. Victor heard her movements but continued looking through the window, smoking, recreating in his mind the unwitnessed moment when Maman had opened the refrigerator for the second day in a row and had found untouched the four bottles she had left in the morning for the baby. Manually pumping four bottles of milk was not an easy task in the late sixties, seeing them still full and unusable at the end of the day was even more painful. But the image of baby Victor sleeping so soundly, cooed by the Arabic notes of his fatma, who was at the same time breastfeeding the youngest of her own three boys, made Maman know the answer to her complaint before being able to structure it in a French that was comprehensible enough for Zahli: milk in a bottle was not good enough for any baby at the care of a responsible fatma with breasts as generous as her incommensurable love.
Annette looked up again and this time freed a question that did require an answer. “What are you thinking of, chéri? You have that strange smile. Are you thinking about me, about us, about how crazy I am, about how magical all this is?” Her eyes were again on her toes when she finished the question, but the direction of her body let him know she was ready for a new dangerous hug. A hug that might push even later their planned excursion to the beach.
Victor turned to her taking a last drag from his cigarette, put it out on the sill and threw the brown dead butt through the window with a movement too many times rehearsed. He looked deeply into Annette’s black eyes and then down into the welcoming lace ruffle on her chest. Before the words came to his mouth, his brain produced an atom of light that included, like the magic Aleph, the past, present and future of a mature man who sometimes felt lost and alone for too long and knew he had to stop smoking forever.
“I was just recalling my very first memory.”
“What is it? I bet it is about some beautiful girl you fell in love with when you were three. I can see you, handsome little brat breaking the hearts of female infants!” Annette said with a sarcastic smile.
“Well, it is not exactly like that. But it has to do with a foreign woman like you and her breasts.”
“See? After all these years without any contact and I can see through you like you through that window!”
“Do you know what a fatma is?”
And for the first time, Victor told a woman, this very woman who tasted like cane sugar and caramel, the only memory that he had kept hidden all his life. Drowning in the well of her eyes and the waves of her dress, Victor discovered that it was still possible to turn the compass of lost paradise at ease into a new path, into a new perfect direction.
Text in this post: © Fabiana Elisa Martínez
Published with the permission of Fabiana Elisa Martínez