La cresta de Ilión by Cristina Rivera Garza

BOMB 90 Winter 2005
090 Winter 2005 1024X1024

Initial Invitation

“But what are those books doing in the pool?” I asked, surprised. “Won’t they get wet?”

“Nothing will happen to them, water is their element and they’ll stay there a long while, until someone comes along who deserves them or dares to rescue them.”

“And why don’t you fish one out for me?”

“Why don’t you go in for it yourself?” she said, looking at me with such mocking in her gaze that I found it impossible to endure.

“Why not?” I answered, as I dove into the pool.

—Amparo Dávila*


Now, after so much time has passed, I ask myself in the same disbelieving way. How is it possible that someone like me could have let an unknown woman into his house on a stormy night?

I hesitated to open the door. For a long while I vacillated between closing the book I was reading and continuing to sit in my easy chair in front of the blazing fire, as if nothing were happening. In the end, her insistence swayed me. I opened the door. I observed her. And I let her in.

The weather certainly had worsened considerably, and quite rapidly, in the preceding days. Suddenly, without warning, fall moved into the coastal area, as if moving into its own house. There were its long, scant morning lights, its mild winds, its clouded evening skies. And then winter arrived. And the rains of winter. One becomes accustomed to everything, it’s true, but the winter rains—gray, interminable, insipid—are a difficult morsel to digest. They are the sort of thing that inevitably leads one to lie in wait inside his house, in front of the fire, filled with boredom. Perhaps that was why I opened the door of my house to her: tedium.

But I’d be deceiving myself, and no doubt trying to deceive you, if I mention only the exhausting, longer-than-long storm that accompanied her appearance. I remember, more than anything, her eyes. Stars suspended within a devastating cat’s face. Her eyes were enormous, so vast, and as if they were mirrors, they actually had an expansive effect upon everything around them. In no time I had the opportunity to confirm this initial intuition: the rooms were growing beneath her gaze; the hallways were lengthening; the closets were becoming infinite horizons; the narrow vestibule, paradoxically averse to any welcome, opened completely. And that, I’d like to believe, was the second reason why I let her into my house: the expansive power of her gaze.

If I stopped now I’d still be lying. In reality, beneath the winter storm, surrounded by the empty space her eyes were creating for me at that moment, what really captured my attention was the bone on the right side of her pelvis, which, thanks to the way she was leaning against the doorframe and the weight of the water on a skirt with faded flowers, could be glimpsed beneath her unhemmed tank top and just above the elastic of her waistband. It took me a long time to remember the specific name of that part of the bone, but without a doubt my search began at that instant. I desired her. Men, I’m sure, will understand me with no need for further comment. To women I’ll say that this happens often and in no fixed pattern. I’ll also warn women that this can’t be produced artificially: just like we are, you are disarmed when it occurs. I’d venture to argue, in fact, that it can only happen if we are both disarmed, but in this, as in many other things, I could be wrong. I desired her, I was saying. Immediately. There was the characteristic impact in my lower belly, in case I dared to doubt it. There, also and above all, was my imagination. I imagined her eating blackberries—her lips fleshy and the tips of her fingers painted maraschino. I imagined her going up the stairs slowly, just barely turning her head to see her own shadow elongated. I imagined her watching the sea out the bay windows, absorbed and solitary like a mast. I imagined her leaning back on her elbows on the right-hand side of my bed. I imagined her words, her silences, her way of pursing her lips, her smiles, her laughter. When I came to and realized that she was standing in front of me, whole and damp, trembling with cold, I already knew everything about her. And I suppose that this was the third reason why I opened the door of my house and, without completely letting go of the knob, invited her in.

“I’m Amparo Dávila,” she murmured, with her gaze fixed, exactly as I had imagined minutes before, on the bay windows. She drew near them without adding anything more. She placed her right hand between her forehead and the glass and when she could finally make out the outline of the ocean, she sighed noisily. She seemed to be relieved of something heavy and menacing. She gave the impression of having found what she was seeking.


* * *


I would have liked for the whole thing to happen in exactly this way, but it wasn’t like that. It’s true that she arrived on a stormy night, interrupting my reading and my rest. It’s also true that I opened the door and that upon entering, she headed for the bay window that looks out onto the sea. And she said her name. And I heard its echo. But from the moment I observed her hip bone, the bone that was peeking out from beneath the unhemmed edge of her tank top and above the waistband of her flowered skirt, that bone the name of which I could not recall and in pursuit of which I embarked at that very instant, I did not feel desire, but rather fear.

I suppose men know this and I have no need to add anything more. To women I’d say that this happens more often than you imagine: fear. You cause fear. Sometimes one confuses that fall, that immobility, that disjointedness, with desire. But underneath, among the roots where water and oxygen permeate one another, in the most fundamental substrata of being, one is always ready for fear to emerge. One lies in wait for it. One invokes it and rejects it with equal obstinacy, with unequaled conviction. And gives it names, and, with those names, puts implausible stories into motion. One says, for example, when I encountered Amparo Dávila I encountered desire. And one knows with absolute certainty that this is a lie. But one says it in any case to save oneself humiliation and shame. And reaffirms it later as if this were the most urgent defense strategy that, when all is said and done, one senses is useless, defeated from the start. But one needs at least a couple of minutes, a breath, a parenthesis, in order to rearrange his playing pieces, his secret machinery, his battle plans, his stratagem. One hopes the woman will believe him and that when she does, she’ll go off to some other place, satisfied, taking her own horror with her.

This is what I hoped from Amparo Dávila that winter night. And it was the only thing she refused to give me.

It was obvious that she was familiar with her own horror. There was something in the way she slipped toward the window that immediately affirmed this conviction. It was clear that she was aware of what she occasioned in her surroundings. She knew, I mean to say, that I was uncomfortable and that my discomfort would not diminish with time. But she did nothing to remedy it. Instead of allowing me to pronounce the word desire, or any one of its more quotidian manifestations, or instead of giving me at the very least the respite I needed to dramatize this desire for her benefit, the woman showed no mercy whatsoever. She did not shoot me seductive looks, nor did she behave with the fragility of those girls who seem to move through the world in search of shelter. She did not ask me personal questions. She did not give me information. If my terror had not been so great, perhaps I would have been able to open the door once again to show her the way out. But I have before me this admission, with each of its vowels and consonants: I was afraid of her. I’ll repeat it. I’ll reiterate it. As soon as I knew this for a fact, with not a shred of doubt, I saw a flock of pelicans passing out the window. Their flight filled me with doubts. Where could they be going at this hour in such a storm? Why were they all flying together? What were they fleeing?

“I didn’t arrive here by chance,” she remarked then, without turning her face to me, with the edge of her right hand against the glass still. “I know you from before.” When she turned to look at me, the empty space around my body multiplied again. I was almost deaf from being so alone. I was lost.

“I know you from when you were a tree. From those times,” she said.


*Amparo Dávila is a Mexican writer born in 1928 in Zacatecas. Her work, which comprises books of poetry and short stories of rarefied atmospheres and fantastic turns, has been largely neglected in Mexican literature.

Translated from the Spanish by Jen Hofer.

Jen Hofer edited and translated Sin puertas visibles: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry by Mexican Women (University of Pittsburgh Press and Ediciones Sin Nombre, 2003) as well as a feature section on contemporary Mexican poetry for issue #3 of the journal Aufgabe. Her first book of poems, slide rule, was published by subpress collective (2002); her next book, a collaborative effort with Patrick Durgin, will be published in 2005 by Never Die Books. Hofer lives in Los Angeles.

—After spending 15 years in the United States, Cristina Rivera-Garza now lives in central Mexico, where she is codirector of the interdisciplinary program Cátedra de Humanidades at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey-Campus Toluca. She is the author of two award-winning collections of short stories, a book of poetry and three novels: No One Will See Me Cry (Curbstone Press, 2003), La cresta de Ilíón (Mexico: Tusquets Andanzas, 2002; Spain: Tusquets Andanzas, 2004), and Lo Anterior (Mexico: Tusquets, 2004).

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Originally published in

BOMB 90, Winter 2005

Featuring interviews with Vargas-Suarez Universal and Rocio Aranda-Alvarado, Vladimir Cybil and Jerry Philogene, Carlos Eire and Silvana Paternostro, David Scott and Stuart Hall, Evelyne Trouillot, Sibylle Fisher, Carlos B. Cordova and Daniel Flores y Ascencio, Damas “Fanfan” Louis and Michael Zwack, and Peniel Guerrier and Yvonne Daniel. 

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