by Flavia Baralle
My husband is depressed. He has been for a while. We have been together forever and I have never seen him like this. He doesn't even send his birds to wake me with their song in the morning anymore. I rake through my mind trying to understand where I have gone wrong; tiptoeing past furrowed clouds where bitterness swallows him up. The truth is I am afraid of his wrath—it can be so loud.
He has a point; he has been put to a side for so long. He used to be very famous, worshiped by all; hands raised, heads bowed, backs to Inti. If I have to say when all the trouble started it must have been when they destroyed his temple. Those virgins singing in his glory used to give him such a high. Now hardly anyone has ever heard of him. His name falls from people's tongues like drizzle.
For the first time in my whole existence I am feeling insecure. I catch a glimpse of my reflection in a lake. I have never been considered beautiful. I am plump and short, my stomach bulges and is packed with rolls. I have enormous feet and a disproportionately large head. I am not like my rivals; not like Mary, little Miss Perfect, who always manages to look younger than her son. What kind of miracles is she wasting her energy on? Her skin reeks of plastic. I find the Virgin thing rather pretentious too, let alone dubious. Not that I'm jealous. In our respective roles as glorified waitresses it comes in useful to split the burden of taking orders and listening to prayers.
Maybe it's me, maybe I've changed. Cámac had always found me attractive before; he couldn't get enough of me. He would whip off my huge winged hat and disentangle my thick plaits with his fingers, splaying my long white hair out on the ground. He has always insisted on being on top. I hold my breath as he thrusts into me, my shape forming a ditch in the ground after it was all over. How do you think all these lakes spring up in the middle of the highest mountains suddenly? Lake Titicaca was one hell of a fuck, I can tell you.
It has been a while—although I am not sure how long—since we last came together, thunder, lightening and earthquakes in our wake. In fact, at the moment, there is a terrible drought going on. This never used to happen in the golden olden days. It rained all the time then. But now Cámac is avoiding me and when it comes down to it I believe a girl has to be down to earth and take control of her pride. I personally have never had to beg for anything before. I am ruthless this way; I expect offerings, consideration and above all respect or else! But Cámac remains passive and immune to my wrath.
I hate to admit this, but I need him in order to be able to do my job properly. You see, I'm the one with the fluctuating mood swings. I'm infamous for them in fact. He was the reasonable and rational one. Our people are cautious and fearful when they talk about me? I learnt long ago that in order to be respected you have to have an element of unpredictability in your nature. In fact to this very day, people hold ceremonies on my behalf before they sow their fields and after they have reaped them. On the other hand I am not particularly pleased with the way they use me to bring in the tourists. I know these are desperate times, but really! Those silly guide operators who, for a photo or anecdote, pour a little of their drink onto the floor saying: 'For the Pachamama'. OK, I know it makes me something of a superstar, but I despise the insincerity of this mise en scene. I refuse to become a joke. Let there be no mistake about the fact that this is real and that I take every offering very seriously. I get my back on those tour operators. I call their mules back to me, then make all the mountains appear the same to them. A journey of a few hours can take days. Ha! The joke is on me then!
Perhaps I come across as capricious, greedy and vain. I know what men say about me; how I am a typical flighty temperamental woman at heart. I attempt to shut them up. I make their crops shrivel up overnight, or I cast the ojo' i tigre on them so that they aren't able to hunt. But afterwards I do mull over their accusations. I feel for their women. They are the hard workers, the ones who labour while their husbands lie drunken and sprawled wherever.
For the record I want to clarify my need for offerings. It's not that I want to enrich myself with diamonds or gold. I have my own store of those that I swallowed back up after the conquistadores arrived. No, what is important to me is the respect and human emotion that goes into the offering. Be it a coca leaf, a little chicha or a cigarette; this is enough to catch my attention and quench my thirst. And, above all else, the generosity of the poor feeds me and maintains my plumpness throughout the centuries.
But now I am in trouble. Pachacámac is not negotiating. He wants a divorce. He wants to find himself. He says he can't do it while I am always breathing down his back. (Rich indeed, coming from him and his niggling windy breath!) He claims I crowd him and want to know everything he does, everywhere he goes and everything he feels. He says he wants to be free, that I make him feel like a freak. He says he's bored of me, that my cause is no longer his concern. Naturally, I drop my bag and flute and whisk my hat and clothes off but he just shakes his head sadly. 'It's not that' he whispers, 'that was always spectacular. Earth shattering in fact.'
At least he still talks to me, fading in and out of the twilight, he tells me he wants to see the world before it is too late. I laugh and tell him he sees the world all the time, it is right in front of his very eyes but he just looks away. I accuse him; he is the one who wants to be seen, not the other way around. He is being egotistical. His misty silhouette in the dusk is blue; he tells me that I refuse to understand.
He doesn't understand! I can hear the people moaning, crying, begging me to listen and help them. Their animals are thin and ill, their maize and trigo turned to dust and their children are dying. I am summoned to them as they dig holes in the dirt with broken black nails, burying offerings with what little they have left. But their hope is as dry as their crops. I can't make it rain without Cámac, I can't block Inti without Cámac's interference. He was always so obliging before, but now he is accusing me of having always taken him for granted. He doesn't realise that this isn't personal but business. He doesn't understand how difficult it is to be a Working Mother. (As opposed to that stay at home Virgin Mother—she even has her own little cherub cleaners!) It is so hard to balance everyone's needs. He doesn't appreciate how much organisation goes into what I do. Perhaps I have always made it look too easy?
He doesn't know that I am unwell too. Since this trouble started I have felt something cancerous lodged in my curvaceous mountains. When love disappears and all people do is demand it can begin to take its toll on your health. A murky yellowish discharge bubbles to the surface of my mouth; it reeks of rotten eggs. I can feel hard barren nodules and knots growing fast and I don't have the power to remove them. My belly growls and kicks and then I cough up fire. My skin has shrivelled and hangs loosely from me. My skin is flaky and dry, I feel like I am crumbling. I dream of an acupuncture; spades and rakes digging and dragging across and over me. I yearn for water from a spring, clean and fresh, sprinkled over me while a mud mask rejuvenates me.
So, what choice is there left to me? Renounce my fame in order to build the name Pachacámac up again? Give up my power so that my man feels useful and necessary? Does it come down to this? That Cámac must become the main breadwinner in order for our union and the world to survive?
Mine is a big sacrifice to make. Today I will dig a hole and offer myself up. Let them speak of fickle woman as I step away and hide behind Cámac's thick clouds. His wispy figure will solidify and his thundering voice will be welcomed as the sky alights with his masculine force.
How many women have done the same as I? With our feet firmly on the ground we give up our life's cause in order to secure our man's happiness? This is how we women love—surrendering and immolating ourselves.
Cámac is thrilled. He doesn't understand my selfless sacrifice but he doesn't care to analyse it. He's oblivious to it all although he has always been the guardian of lovers. Even in his darkest moments stars and moon twinkle and glimmer with hope. Birds and butterflies are free to fly through his space but their shit lands on me.—But we women are more practical and wiser in the ways of turning our disadvantages to our advantage. I recycle almost everything now anyway.
But no more.
I am tired of my feelings getting trampled over and I look forward to having a break; that is until Cámac needs me to save the world again.
Story Copyright © 2008 by Flavia Baralle. All rights reserved.
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About the author
Born in Argentina but raised in the UK, Flavia now lives in Italy with her husband and their three children. She has an MA in Creative Writing and is currently working on a novel set in the Andes.