She does not shut off the motor or roll down the windows. She simply stops, adjusts the rearview mirror so she can see her face clearly, and takes out a little cosmetics bag. Then her ritual begins.
She is not just powdering her nose and dabbing rouge on her cheeks. At this inhospitable hour, indifferent to her surroundings, she does a serious makeup job, here on this lonely street where I usually walk my dog.
Her goal, her only ambition at that moment—perhaps the only moment in the entire day that is truly hers—is to curl her eyelashes, draw a line along her eyelid, outline her lips with a pencil, then color them in, as she surely must have learned from a magazine.
She is no longer young. She must be going on fifty. At first she arrived in a big, somewhat rusty, beat-up car. My dog went over and sniffed the tires; she looked away from her mirror for a second and looked at both of us, the dog and me, with the purest, coldest indifference imaginable—that is, with infinite disdain. After all, we did not belong to her world of makeup brushes and crayons; we didn’t matter to her.
About a month later she arrived in a new car, a black car, one of those compact models. I certainly never would have thought that a woman who loves color so much would buy herself a black car. Now she does not even glance at me when I go over to spy on her. She has become accustomed to us, the dog and me, and to the nuisance of our inevitable presence and amazed looks.
For months I have asked myself where this woman is coming from: what houseful of runny-nosed, jelly-smudged children who have been fighting since dawn; what messy bedroom where her husband is demanding that she iron his shirt, the only one she had no time to iron yesterday. What routine is she fleeing? What pressures? What small, unpleasant burdens? I have been watching her for days and days.
Perhaps she married late and well. Mornings of blazing passion with her mature husband do not leave her a minute to put on her makeup at home. I presume, then, that she jumps out of bed, gets dressed on the run and realizes, a few blocks short of the office, that with her look of recent ardor, which is like a slap in the face to her colleagues, she will never get anywhere. She must act normal and put more rouge on over the divine glow from their shared frenzy.
A third possibility is that she comes to the tree simply as a prisoner of nostalgia, to remember the past, when she would come here with her lover and in the heat of the moment he would ruin her makeup. One day the lover went away, but she still does her makeup here. It is her way of keeping the dream alive.
At around noon on weekdays a few couples usually pull up to this same patch of street to eat lunch—in their cars—and to devour their passion undisturbed. I have never understood how anyone can make love among pizza leftovers and the peeled bones of fried chicken; that love must smell of ketchup. A rather Victorian lady who lives in the neighborhood is always complaining to the police that their sighs keep her awake during her siesta. But even the police succumb to the enchantment of the glorious foliage, and just when I thought I had seen it all, I caught a pair of uniformed lovebirds in a patrol car, kissing and petting while they wolfed down hamburgers.
At night the bats happily retrieve the leftovers of all this vitality. They flutter around among the branches and over my head, accurate and effective, because even bats feel a predilection for the strange fruits of the María tree. And for the inextinguishable shade of its lovely name.
De Aguaceros Dispersos, December 6, 1992
Translated from the Spanish by Lyn Dominguez