First Impressions



Translated by Daniel Alarcón.

In the months before the end of my last year of high school, I began working in the afternoons at a small printing press. My mother was not opposed. I was friendly with the owner as well as his wife, an enormous and attractive woman who visited my house now and then so my mother could cut her hair or dye it in whatever color current style demanded. I learned the publishing trade with the enthusiasm of one who hoped to see his own poems in print one day. For the time being, I was only in charge of placing letters of lead type, and I was always careful not to get them out of order, so that I wouldn’t have to place them all again, line by line, as tended to happen whenever Señora Leonor, the owner’s wife, came by the print shop. Her presence was always a bit unsettling to me, and she was well aware of this. I suspect she had always known it, even before I did, ever since I was a child, when I didn’t understand the transitory pleasure that came from brushing against her legs or her hips on the pretext of playing with my little cars, before I was sent out to the patio, leaving Señora Leonor and that smile that would electrify me years later in her husband’s print shop. If her visits were sporadic, it only made the effect more disconcerting: an unease that I tried to pour into my adolescent poems, to be transferred later onto an old plank of wood in the composition box that I kept hidden beneath the other work of the day—that is, if my shame didn’t force me to undo it all.

In this way the months passed, and, with the end of the year, my schooling, too, came to a close. It was natural, then, that the print shop should become my full-time job, at a higher salary and with all the respect accorded an adult employee—or so the owner informed me in early January. His wife, with short, red hair and a miniskirt of the kind worn at the end of the sixties—justified by the intense heat of that summer—came to visit more and more often. I should confess that the color of her hair, contrasted with her pale skin, inspired what I considered to be my best poem. And the longest. The only one I was, without misgivings, able to set in type, and the only one I was prepared to show to its muse. Of course, I imagined a thousand ways of offering her the poem, certain that her only response would be to keep me in suspense with a kiss on the cheek perhaps, or with the touch of her fingernail along my chin.

Until the appropriate afternoon came. It was a Thursday, the day of her usual visits, and her husband had gone out to pick up a few rolls of paper. I had used the opportunity to type-set and ink my poem when Señora Leonor appeared, red haired and wearing a miniskirt, intensely pale in spite of the summer sun. I don’t recall exactly what she said, I only know that she ordered me to close the door of the shop, and then called me to the back. She stood before of me, contemplating me for a moment, with a hint of that smile I knew so well, and then she kissed me. She used her hands to guide mine, so that I might caress her body, lift her miniskirt easily, and drop her underwear, which may or not have been fashionable in those days but which shook me the very moment I saw them. In this state of intoxication I pushed her to the work table, where I leaned her back and climbed on top of her, on top of the impressive Señora Leonor, who received me with moans and tremors of excitement.

We stayed that way for a long while, until satisfaction and good sense separated us. It was when she got up from the table that I discovered, perplexed, the fate of my poem. It was printed on the woman’s back. In truth, the opening, which was on her lumbar region, could be read very clearly, while the final verses, which spread to her expansive ass, were blurry, nothing more than senseless marks of ink. Though I’ve tried to explain it to myself, I still can’t quite understand my silence. I let her get dressed, let her bid me farewell with an affectionate kiss. It was the only time I managed to reshuffle the lead type on the plank that had held my poem. I could write others, I told myself, in the free moments of some future employment.

Ricardo Sumalavia is the author of three story collections: Habitaciones [Rooms] (1993); Retratos familiares [Family Portraits] (2001); Enciclopedia mínima [Minimal Encyclopedia] (2004), and the novel Que la tierra te sea leve [May the Earth Lay Lightly Upon You] (2008). He teaches at L’Université Michel de Montaigne, in Bordeaux, France.

Daniel Alarcón is a novelist, journalist, and cofounder of Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language storytelling podcast.