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bottom of her transparent drunkenness I sensed a thick sediment that stirred up quickly when she became serious. Then her mouth curved downward, heavy; her expression became fugitive. Twice she squeezed my hand, I need you, she said. But immediately afterward she didn’t need me anymore and her fear turned to indifference, almost scorn, with a certain torpidity thickening her lips. When she laughed, she was an adolescent again, the best of our class without a doubt. Without a danger. She had been beautiful and still was, but her now-corrupted beauty was sad even when she was happy. She told me she had separated from her fifth husband and was living with a small tiger in a penthouse.
With a tiger, Romana? She laughed. She’d had a boy-friend who had traveled through Asia and he had brought back Tigrela with the baggage, in a little basket. She was teeny-tiny and had to be raised on a bottle. She had grown to be just a little bigger that a cat, the kind with tawny fur and toast-colored stripes, golden eyes. Two-thirds tiger and one–third woman, she’s gotten more and more human and now… In the beginning it was funny, she imitated me so much, and I started imitating her, too, and we ended up getting so involved with each other that I don’t remember if it was she who taught me to look at myself slit-eyed in the mirror. Or if she learned from me to stretch out on the floor and rest her head on her arms to listen to music, she’s so harmonious. So clean, said Romana, dropping an ice cube into the glass. Her fur is this color, she added, swirling the whisky. With the tips of her fingers she gathered up the thin blade of ice that was melting in the bottom of the glass. She crunched it between her teeth. The sound made me remember that she used to chew ice cream. This Tigrela liked whisky but she knew how to drink, she had self-control, only once did she go so far as to get really smashed. And Romana laughed as she recalled the animal turning somersaults, rolling across the furniture until she jumped up onto the chandelier and perched there swinging back and forth. Romana said weakly imitating the movement of a pendulum. She crashed down with one half of the chandelier onto the big cushion, where we danced a tango together, it was atrocious. Afterwards she got depressed and at such times she loses her temper, she almost leveled the garden, tore up my bathrobe, broke things. In the end she wanted to throw herself off the parapet of the terrace, just exactly like a person. Exactly, repeated Romana looking for e watch on my wrist. She appealed to a man who passed by alongside our table, the time, the time! When she learned that it was almost midnight she lowered her eyes in sober calculation. She remained silent; I waited. When she began talking again, she seemed to me like an excited player hiding her strategy behind an artificial voice: I had steel railings attached to the wall, all around, if she wants, she can climb this railing easily, of course. But I know she’d only attempt suicide if drunk, and so I can just close the door that leads to the terrace, She’s always so sober, she went on, lowering her voice; her face darkened. What is it, Romana? I asked, touching her hand. It was icy. She fixed her eyes on me astutely. She was thinking of something else when she told me that at sunset, when the light slanted over the top of the building, the shadow of the railing was projected halfway across the living
room rug, and if Tigrela was sleeping on the big cushion, the pattern cast over her fur by the shadow was beautiful, like a net.
She stirred the ice cube in her glass of whisky with her index finger. On this finger she wore a square-cut emerald, like queens do. But wasn’t it extraordinary, really? The limited pace of the apartment conditioned the growth of an Asiatic tiger through the magic wisdom of adaptation, she’s really nothing more than an overgrown tabby, as though she intuited the need to restrict herself; no bigger than a big cat. I alone realize that she’s grown. I’m the only one who notices that she’s taking up more space even though she’s still the same size. Lately there’s hardly room for us both, one of us will really have to… She interrupted herself to light a small cigarillo, the flame flickering in her trembling hand. She sleeps with me but when she’s in a huff she goes to sleep on the big cushion, on her back, stiff as a sphinx.
There must have been so many problems, what about the neighbors? I asked. Romana stiffened the finger that whirled the ice. There aren’t any neighbors, one apartment per floor in a very tall building, all white, Mediterranean style, you should see how well Tigrela matches the apartment. I traveled through Persia, you know, don’t you? And I brought back fabrics, rugs, she adores this velvet comfort, she’s so sensitive to the touch of things, to smells. When she wakes ups restless, I light the incense, the perfume, calms her. I turn on the record player. And then she stretches herself all over and sleeps. I suspect she sees better with her eyes closed, like dragons do. I had some trouble convincing Aninha that she was merely a well-developed cat, Aninha is the maid. But now everything’s fine, the two of them keep a certain distance, but respect each other, the important thing is this respect. She accepted Aninha, who is old and ugly, but she almost attacked the former maid, a young girl. As long as this girl was with me, Tigrela practically didn’t come out of the garden, hidden among the foliage, her eyes slits, her fingernails dug into the ground.
Fingernails. I began and forgot what I was going to say next. The emerald slid sideways like an unsupported head and clinked against the glass, the finger too thin for the ring. The sound of the stone hitting the glass roused Romana, momentarily apathetic. She lifted her head and gazed vacantly at the full tables, such noise, eh? I suggested we leave, but instead of the bill she called for another whisky, don’t worry. I’m used to it, she said and breathed deeply. She straightened her body. Tigrela liked jewels and Bach, yes, Bach, especially the Passion According to St. Matthew. One night, while I was dressing to go out to dinner, she came to watch me, she hates it when I go out but that night she was happy, she approved of my dress; she prefers classic clothes and this was a long gown of straw-colored silk, long sleeves, and a low waistline. Do you like it Tigrela? I asked and she came and put her paws on my lap, licked my chin lightly so as not to spoil my make-up and began to pull on my amber necklace with her teeth. Do you want it? I asked and she growled, polite but firm. I took off the necklace and put it over her head. She saw her reflection in the mirror, her eyes moist with pleasure. Then she licked my hand and went off with the necklace dangling about her neck, the largest beads dragging on the floor. When she is calm. Her eyes turn a pale yellow, the color of amber.
Does Aminha sleep in the apartment? I asked and Romana gave a start, as if she had just then become conscious of the fact that Aninha arrived early and left at nightfall, the two of them slept there alone. I gave her a long look and she laughed. I know you think I am crazy but nobody understands it from the outside, it’s complicated. And yet so simple, you have to get inside to understand. I put on my jacket; it had gotten cooler. Do
you remember, Romana? Our graduation party, I still have the picture, you bought some shoes for the dance that were too tight, you ended up dancing barefoot during the waltz. I saw you whirling around from far away, your hair loose, your dress light. I thought it was beautiful, you dancing barefoot like that. She looked at me attentively but didn’t hear a single word I said. We’re vegetarians, I’ve always been a vegetarian, you know. Tigrela eats only legumes, fresh herbs and milk and honey, meat doesn’t come in through out door because meat gives you bad breath. And ideas, she said, clutching my hand, I need you. I bent over to listen, but the waiter’s arm reached out to empty the ash tray and she became frivolous again, interested in the cleanliness of the ash tray, had I by any chance tried milk, watercress and honey beaten up together? The recipe was very simple, you just whipped everything in the blender and then strained it through a sieve, she added, extending a hand, do you have the time, sir? Is there someone you have to meet, something you have to do? I inquired and she replied no, she had nothing coming up. Absolutely nothing, she repeated and I had the impression she grew paler as her mouth opened slightly to return to her obscure calculations. With the tip of her tongue she caught the diminished ice cube and chewed it. It hasn’t happened yet but it’s going to happen, she said with slight difficulty as the ice burned her tongue. I kept still. A large gulp of whisky seemed to give her back some warmth. One of these nights when I go home the porter may come running up to tell me, did madam know? From one of these terraces… but then, maybe he won’t say anything and I’ll have to take the elevator up, acting very natural so he doesn’t notice anything, to gain one more day. Sometimes we meditate and I don’t know what the results might be, I taught her so many things. I learned so many others she said, beginning a gesture but not finishing it. Had she told me Aninha was the one who trimmed her fingernails? She would offer her a paw without the least resistance, but she didn’t let her brush her teeth, she had very sensitive gums. I brought her a natural-bristle toothbrush, you have to brush in a downward direction, very lightly, mint-flavored toothpaste. She didn’t use dental floss s se never ate anything fibrous, but if she ever needed it, she knew where to find the dental floss.
I ordered a sandwich, Romana ordered raw carrots, well scrubbed. With salt, she advised, pointing to her empty glass. We didn’t speak while the waiter poured the whisky. When he left I started laughing, but is it really true, Romana? All this. She didn’t answer, she was adding up her memories again, and one of them was leaving her short of air; she breathed deeply, loosening the knot in her scarf. Then I saw the purple bruise on her neck. I looked toward the wall. I could see in the mirror when she re-tied the knot and sniffed her whisky. She smiled. Tigrela knew when whisky wasn’t genuine, to this day I can’t distinguish them but one night she gave a paw swat to a bottle and it flew across the room, why did you do that, Tigrela? She didn’t answer. I went to look at the pieces of bottle and saw that is was a brand that had once given me a hallucinating hangover. Can you believe she knows more about my life than Yasbeck? And Yasbeck was more jealous of me than anyone else, he kept a detective watching me. She pretends not to pay any attention but her pupils dilate and spill over, like black ink spreading over her eyes, have I mentioned those eyes? In them I see her emotions, her jealousy. She becomes intractable, she refuses her shawl, her pillow and goes into the garden which I had specially planted, a miniature jungle. She stays there all day long and through the night, hidden in a thicket in the foliage. I can call her until I drop but she won’t come, her nose moist with dew or tears. I stared at the ring of water left on the tabletop by the glass. But Romana, wouldn’t it be more humane to send her to the zoo?
Let her go back to being an animal. I think it’s cruel to impose your own cage on her this way, what if she’s happier in the other kind? You’ve enslaved her this way. And ended up enslaving yourself, you must have. Aren’t you at least going to give her freedom to choose? Impatiently, Romana dipped her carrot into the salt. She licked it. Freedom is comfort, my dear, which Tigrela knows also. She has every comfort, just as Yasbeck had before disposing of me.
And now you want to dispose of her, I said. At one of the tables a man started to sing a snatch of opera at the top of his lungs, but quickly his voice was submerged in laughter. Romana spoke so quickly I had to interrupt, slower, I can’t understand you. She reined in her onrush of words, but soon they began galloping ahead again, as if she hadn’t much time left. Our most violent fight was because of him, Yasbeck, you know all the confusion of an old love who suddenly reappears, sometimes he calls and then we sleep together, she knows perfectly well what’s happening, once she heard us talking, when I got back she was awake, waiting for me as still as a stature in front of the door, of course, I covered up as well as I could, but she’s intelligent, she sniffed at me until she discovered the scent of a man on me, she went wild. I think now I’d like to have a unicorn, you know, one of those blondish horses with a pink horn on its forehead. I saw one in a tapestry; it was so in love with the princess she offered it a mirror to look at itself, please can you tell me the time? And bring more ice! She went for two days without eating, tigerish, continued Romana. She spoke slowly now, her voice thick, one word after the other with calculated little adjustments in the empty spaces. Two days without eating, dragging her necklace and her arrogance around the house. I wondered. Yasbeck had promised to call and he didn’t, he sent me a note, why is your phone dead? When I went to look I discovered the cord chewed completely through, the tooth marks all the way up and down the plastic. She didn’t say a thing but I could feel her watching me through those slits of eyes, they can penetrate wall. I think that on that same day she read my thoughts, we began to distrust each other, but even so, do you see? She used to be so full of fervor…
Used to me? I asked. She opened her hands on the table and challenged me, Why are you looking at me that way? What else could I do? She must have wakened around eleven, it’s the time she always wakes up, she enjoys the night. Instead of milk, I filled her saucer with whisky and turned off the lights, when she’s desperate she see better in the dark and today she was desperate, because she overheard my conversation, she thinks I’m with him now. The door to the terrace is open, but then it’s stayed open on other nights and nothing happened. But you never know, she’s so unpredictable, she added in a whisper. She wiped the salt from her fingers on a paper napkin. I’ll be on my way. I’ll go back to the apartment trembling because I never know where or not the porter’s coming to tell me that a young lady has thrown herself off one of the terraces, naked except for an amber necklace.
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