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The Short Form

“The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra”

Pedro Mairal

Excerpt

So he became the little dumb kid, the idiot of the family. They let him play with the women, and did not demand from him the proofs of virility the other males in the family were called upon to demonstrate: firing a shotgun, lassoing or riding steers. He spent his time with his cousins, who fetched and carried him, treated him like a doll, played at being schoolmarms with him, and taught him everything they knew. They forced him to write so that he wouldn't forget the alphabet, made him communicate with them by writing letters on a slate, and bathed in the river with him. My aunt Dolores used to tell me that when the girls were getting changed to go for a swim down among the willows, they would make him turn his back to them. He would clap his hands once (his way of asking if he could look yet) and they would say no. After a while he would clap again, and they would say no a second time, that on no account was he to look around, and then he would hear them laughing and turn to find that his cousins were already in the water.

Their little joke must have tormented Salvatierra, because in his work you can often see adolescent girls getting changed in the green light beneath the riverside willows, suntanned girls in a hurry because they are ashamed of their nudity. He must have painted them because he needed to see at long last those scenes that had taken place behind his back but which he had been unable to witness, their luminous intensity that was so close and yet forbidden to him.