Short Story Zita

By Arturo Rotor
TURONG brought him from Pauambang in his small sailboat, for the coastwise steamer did not stop at any little island of broken cliffs and coconut palms. It was almost midday; they had been standing in that white glare where the tiniest pebble and fluted conch had become points of light, piercing-bright--the municipal president, the parish priest, Don Eliodoro who owned almost all the coconuts, the herb doctor, the village character. Their mild surprise over when he spoke in their native dialect, they looked at him more closely and his easy manner did not deceive them. His head was uncovered and he had a way of bringing the back of his hand to his brow or mouth; they read behind that too, it was not a gesture of protection. "An exile has come to Anayat… and he is so young, so young." So young and lonely and sufficient unto himself. There was no mistaking the stamp of a strong decision on that brow, the brow of those who have to be cold and haughty, those shoulders stooped slightly, less from the burden that they bore than from a carefully cultivated air of unconcern; no common school-teacher could dress so carelessly and not appear shoddy. They had prepared a room for him in Don Eliodoro's house so that he would not have to walk far to school every morning, but he gave nothing more than a glance at the big stone building with its Spanish azotea, its arched doorways, its flagged courtyard. He chose instead Turong's home, a shaky hut near the sea. Was the sea rough and dangerous at times? He did not mind it. Was the place far from the church and the schoolhouse? The walk would do him good. Would he not feel lonely with nobody but an illiterate fisherman for a companion? He was used to living alone. And they let him do as he wanted, for the old men knew that it was not so much the nearness of the sea that he desired as its silence so that he might tell it secrets he could not tell anyone else. They thought of nobody but him; they talked about him in the barber shop, in the cockpit, in the sari-sari store, the way he walked, the way he looked at you, his unruly hair. They dressed him in purple and linen, in myth and mystery, put him astride a black stallion, at the wheel of a blue automobile. Mr. Reteche? Mr. Reteche! The name suggested the fantasy and the glitter of a place and people they never would see; he was the scion of a powerful family, a poet and artist, a prince. That night, Don Eliodoro had the story from his daughter of his first day in the classroom; she perched wide-eyed, low-voiced, short of breath on the arm of his chair. "He strode into the room, very tall and serious and polite, stood in front of us and looked at us all over and yet did not seem to see us. " 'Good morning, teacher,' we said timidly. "He bowed as if we were his equals. He asked for the fist of our names and as he read off each one we looked at him long. When he came to my name, Father, the most surprising thing happened. He started pronouncing it and then he stopped as if he had forgotten something and just stared and stared at the paper in his hand. I heard my name repeated three times through his half-closed lips, 'Zita. Zita. Zita.' " 'Yes sir, I am Zita.' "He looked at me uncomprehendingly, inarticulate, and it seemed to me, Father, it actually seemed that he was begging me to tell him that that was not my name, that I was deceiving him. He looked so miserable and sick I felt like sinking down or running away. " 'Zita is not your name; it is just a pet name, no?' " 'My father has always called me that, sir.' " 'It can't be; maybe it is Pacita or Luisa or--'

emphasis. you are. as if he were displeased with their work. When I awoke at dawn to prepare the nets. they must see it with their greedy. he is a gentleman. he comes from the city. that always went with learning and education. blue envelopes with a gold design in the upper left hand comer. a large bird with lovely gold and green feathers. other names she could not find anywhere? She meant to ask him someday." Don Eliodoro had his dreams and she was his only daughter. they only come to the light. 'A thousand miles. And the light looked so inviting. absently. I shook my head determinedly. he was hurt perhaps that he should have such a stubborn pupil. He sat by the window that faces the sea and just looked out hour after hour. When I came from the market the stars were already out and I saw that he had not touched the food I had prepared. one does not even know one is a moth until one's wings are burned. begging.' He kept on looking at me. which took them hour after hour in the dictionary. The students were busy writing a composition on a subject that he had given them. "The Things That I Love Most. angular. Zita was all aflutter when the students handed in their work for he had promised that he would read aloud the best. But you must try to please him. no end. Father?" "Yes." "Maybe he wants to go home already. I woke up three times during the night and saw that he had not so much as changed his position. writing them down as she heard them. and all the while he looked at me begging. carelessly read it. use a blue paper to write her lessons on. but then. I was thinking… Private le ssons. He went over the pile two times. Even his words were so difficult. no beginning. They would not believe it. and who were Sirse. as vaguely disturbing as the secrets that the sea whispered into the night. Reteche that the young people there could understand. just like those dark and dismaying things that they came across in their readers. My answer must have angered him. large. there was no resisting it. perhaps. It did not have unity." It was incomprehensible." Every month there was a letter that came for him. just before he died. sweeping handwriting. but he motioned me away. Why did he choose that one? What did he see in it? And she had worked so hard. Then he stopped and picked up one. coherence. Turong had his own story to tell in the barber shop that night. a deep frown on his brow. and addressed in broad. He must have thought I was very hard-headed. I am sure of it. a flower that never fades. Moths are not supposed to know. You remember Father Fernando? He had a way of looking like that. seeing nobody. and carelessly tossed it aside. I thought once that he was asleep and came near. She had learned like a good student to pick out the words she did not recognize. and once again. she had wanted to please. did it not? One night Bue saw him coming out of the dim doorway. sentences. Her heart sank when she saw that it was not hers. "He did not sleep a wink. She had a whole notebook filled now. into space. Lorelay. I asked him to eat and he said he was not hungry. "He is sick. for he said. But I am not really so. Father. Moths are not supposed to know. but it was a thankless task."His voice was scarcely above a whisper. sometimes two or three. Who could have written what he had read aloud? She did not know that any of her classmates could write so. she hardly heard him reading: "I did not know any better. he was still there. Mother of Mercy… it is not possible. One time Turong brought one of them to him in the classroom. actress of a thousand faces mean. if he won't ask too much. selfishness. two columns to each page: esurient Amaranth peacock Mirash The last word was not in the dictionary." Carelessly he had opened the letter. use such words. He watched again and the following night he saw him again. my dear. someday when his eyes were kinder. . insatiable. she had written about the flowers that she loved most. He never went to church. But then there was little in Mr. a story as vividly etched as the lone coconut palm in front of the shop that shot up straight into the darkness of the night. And what did such things as original sin." They looked up with concern.

" They remembered the time when his walks by the seashore became less solitary.own eyes and so they came. sometimes at dawn. nearer God. more moving. in the middle of the Anayat Sea. once when it was storming and the lightning etched ragged paths from heaven to earth. but he could be seen at the most unusual hours. Frank. with the night dew still trembling in its heart. Paking. where it had lighted the lamps of a thousand fireflies. Francisco B. but always it goes forward. she strained forward. one almost directly into that bush of dama de noche at their garden gate. cool and heady and sensuous when there is no moon. a fairy princess waiting for the whispered words of a lover. And they would go home hours after sunset with the wonderful things that Mr. terrifying nights when he had got up cold and trembling to listen to the aching groan of the bamboo floor. He was not so forbidding now. sparkling and warm and effulgent when there is a moon. the shadow of a shadow. beyond a thousand years. One may drink of it and forget what lies beyond a thousand miles. They would be flushed and happy and bright-eyed. like the purple liquid that her father gave the visitors during pintakasi which made them red and noisy. The people remembered the day when he went up Don Eliodoro's house. what one who is strong and fearless might find at that exact place where the sky meets the sea. that life is a river bed. She was not a bit sleepy. and whether the impress will be shallow and transient. the water passes over it. why the sea is green. Was she dreaming? Who was it? A lost soul. and that little sip had made her head whirl. the light of a great decision in his eyes." The answer had surprised them. Turong still remembered those ominous. receive them with a smile and forget the lessons of the day and tell them all about those princesses and fairies who dwelt in flowers. like the prick of the rose's thorn. its blossoms iridescent like a thousand fireflies. the prince from his tryst with the fairy princess? What were the words that he whispered to her? They who have been young once say that only youth can make youth forget itself. crushed and soaked in some liquid. how the petals of the ylang-ylang. For that is Anayat in the crepuscule. and finally accepted the father's request that he teach his daughter "to be a lady. The knowledge came keenly. his eyes were still unseeing. And his pupils still remember those mornings he received their flowers. he would draw the whole crowd of village boys from their game of leapfrog or patintero and bring them with him. for he could stand on his head longer than any of them. "Let a peaceful man alone in his prayers. to taste. but now they rested on her. its bouquet the fragrance of flowers that know no fading. send a pebble skimming over the breast of Anayat Bay farthest. or deep and searing. Zita sat by her open window. after the next harvest perhaps. as somebody in the other room restlessly paced to and fro. more terrible than man's. bitingly. Reteche had told them. They reported it to Father Cesareo but it seemed that he already knew. like the sea breeze at dawn. sometimes it encounters obstacles and cannot go on. a glass whose wine had been spilled. like an inverted wineglass. The sky hangs over Anayat. I want her not to feel like a 'provinciana' when we get there. the camia which had fainted away at her own fragrance. one may sip it at the top of a jagged cliff. where one can see the ocean dashing against the rocks in eternal frustration. . he spoke less frequently to himself. sometimes he came twice or thrice in one evening. half dreaming. the kampupot. because she wanted to know. Sometimes he stayed for a few minutes. an unvoiced thought. for now of afternoons. He did not go in every night. would one day touch the lips of some wondrous creature in some faraway land whose eyes were blue and hair golden. or touch it to his lips in the lush shadows of the dama de noche. Her pulses raced. sometimes at dusk." "We are going to the city soon. why the dama de noche must have the darkness of the night to bring out its fragrance. only God determines. catch more crabs. purple and mellow. Pa… The night lay silent and expectant. a shadow had emerged from the shrubs and had been lost in the other shadows. already she had counted three stars that had fallen to earth. sometimes it flows unencumbered with a song in every bubble and ripple. nearer peace. When its way is obstructed it burrows deeply or swerves aside and leaves its impression. half asleep. Suddenly she stiffened. She loved to remember those moments she had caught him looking when he thought she did not know. more frequently to her. Reteche. the sky blue. a purple wine of which Anayat was the last precious drop. She had stolen a few drops one day. or--yes. what a name! What could his nickname be.

If only there would always be such things in Turong's sailboat.Those were days of surprises for Zita." He was not pleased like her father. If only those letters would not bother him now. how they could express so many things. pictures. polished stone. And as she came nearer. he might be happy and at peace. he had turned his face toward the window. he would still become thoughtful and distracted. slippers with bright stones which twinkled with the least movement of her feet. That was a dream. but every time Turong brought him one. names to learn. a Spanish . but no… oh no… not a bit… all alike… comes naturally. her eyes don't seek one's so--that reveals your true feelings. the arches of flowers and ribbons and streamers. if you would invite with your eyes. She was in a great drawing room whose floor was so polished it reflected the myriad red and green and blue fights above. Zita. waved their fans so. muttered words: "One would think she'd feel shy or uncomfortable." For beyond them she had seen him alone. women use clothes to reveal." "To hide deception. Sometimes though. And yet--the Virgin have pity on her selfish soul-suppose one day Turong brought not only those letters but the writer as well? She shuddered." "And their eyelashes are long. not to hide. flat. How did these days come. I am tired. whose feel against her throat sent a curious choking sensation there. who said one thing with their eyes and another with their lips. True he never answered them. All the great names of the capital were there. If you must show it by smiling. she could not tell so easily which was the dream and which the memory. how did they go? What does one do when one is so happy." Was that a sneer or a smile in his eyes? The gown showed her arms and shoulders and she had never known how round and fair they were. a necklace of green. lessons in everything." That was a memory. And she was among them and every young and good-looking man wanted to dance with her. stately ladies in wonderful gowns who walked so. repulse with your lips. They were all so clever and charming but she answered: "Please. even how to walk. Silk as sheer and perishable as gossamer. "Why are these dresses so tight fitting?" Her father wanted to know. "In society. a society girl does not smile so openly. let your eyes be mocking. swaying like a lily atop its stalk she heard the harsh. he whose eyes were dark and brooding and disapproving and she was waiting for him to take her. "Look. Box after box came in Turong's sailboat and each time they contained things that took the words from her lips. she saw it. perfume that she must touch her lips with. how to use a fan. or heavy and shiny and tinted like the sunset sky. and none of those horrid blue envelopes that he always brought. Like that time he was teaching her a dance. how to polish the nails. not because she feared it but because she knew it would be. so breathless? Sometimes they were a memory. "Why do these dresses have such bright colors?" "Because the peacock has bright feathers." There were books to read." "They paint their lips…" "So that they can smile when they do not want to. sometimes a dream." "But if I am glad and happy and I want to show it?" "Don't.

turn about. for once she happened to lean close and she felt how wildly his heart was beating. she smiled knowingly and drew close again. "Why do you tear up a letter if you must put it together again?" rebelliously. his features. Reteche did and she knew what he had come for. something which shut out the light. how like velvet its petals. whether he was thinking the same thoughts." One day Turong came from Pauambang and this time he brought a stranger. . sweeping. His eyes lost their sparkle. It was not surprise. They knew at once that he came from where the teacher came--his clothes. She shuddered as he laughed. When her sight cleared she saw that he was sitting down and trying to piece the letter together. Mr. thatched huts and muttering short. unconsciously. angular. for hours she had stood before her mirror and for hours it had told her that she was beautiful. Like this. it was that way when he first came. Zita heard his knock before Mr. that red lips and tragic eyes were becoming to her. gladness at meeting an old friend. Something powerful and dark had come between them. The tears came to her eyes for she felt utterly powerless. it hampered the free movement of the With one movement he tore the unopened envelope slowly. Reteche seemed so serious and so intent that she should learn quickly. The heavy Spanish shawl gave her the most trouble--she had nothing to help her but some pictures and magazines--she could not put it on just as she wanted. And yet the stranger was so cordial. he said. prayed. so sometimes their voices floated away before they reached her. She blushed even under her rouge when he took her in his arms and taught her to step this way. carelessly tied knot that always threatened to come loose but never did. it revealed her shoulder too much. but when she saw how unconcerned he seemed." "…happiness? Her idea of happiness…" Mr. The door was thick and she did not dare lean against the jamb too much. to pieces. you will do it too. "I thought I had forgotten. but she saw that there was nothing there but admiration too. It was large and blue and had a gold design in one comer. and had told her to dress accordingly. She must have been as pale as her teacher. "…like children… making yourselves… so unhappy. red like the pigeon's blood--almost touched her shoulders. so that it didn't carry at all. Turong came up and after his respectful "Good evening" he handed an envelope to the school teacher. He looked at her kindly. there was nothing but gladness in his greeting. How strong he was. he kept forever wiping his face. She'd never forget that look on his face when she came out. Zita. Reteche's voice was more low-pitched. "Someday. admiration. she looked half questioningly at her father for disapproval. That changed the whole evening. the handwriting was broad. Dreamily she closed her eyes and dimly wondered if his were shut too. even at that moment he did not forget himself. its dark." His voice was drawling. as if he did not even know that she was in his arms. hoarse. but turned to his class and dismissed them for the day. Turong. the voice of one who has just awakened. Her heavy hair hung in a big. and then you will understand. "Thank you. breathing the same prayer. It was as if he saw somebody there whom he was expecting." he murmured dully. brought in a chill. as shaken. as rebellious. crooked streets. his politeness--and that he had come for the teacher. heavy. gazing at the wobbly. but he did not deceive her. It frightened her and she drew away. his gaze wandered from time to time. joy. glide so. and as he was led through the dusty. for whom he had waited. deep shadows showing off in startling vividness how red a rose can be. that way. vehement phrases to himself. This one did not speak their dialect. Her earrings--two circlets of precious stones. "Zita!" It was a cry of recognition. But she had done her best. it seemed to her.

coming back. she was almost done now. brooding. She became suddenly aware of what she had done when she looked at the pieces. the seconds. and then. it was not in good form. questions whose answers she knew. she tried to put the pieces together and as she did so a sob escaped deep from her breast--a great understanding had come to her. cold. How well she knew them! The big house was silent as death. what matter? There was nobody to see and criticize her breeding. he must be bidding farewell now to Father Cesareo. soon. she knew it. Reteche bade me give you this. the crimson shawl thrown over her shoulders just right. she could not wait for the answer. And it was not only his preparations that kept him awake. looking at her with eyes that told her somebody had hurt him. twice. wet and brightly stained with uneven streaks of red. Slowly. she must put on more rouge. Reteche." In one bound she had reached the open window. The minutes flew. They came down unchecked and when she tried to brush them off with her hand. somebody sitting down heavily. Who knows? Perhaps they would soon meet again in the city. or was her sight failing?--she saw a blur of white moving out to sea. Sometimes they got into her mouth and they tasted bitter. there was a sound of tearing paper. The tears came freely now. if in her eyes there were tears… She heard her father go out. But she was getting chilly and she must do it to keep warm. she knew it. other things. and now he was gone. But she must know now what were the words he had wanted to whisper that night under the dama de noche." She knew what was coming now. her eyes must smile. Still he did not come. "I never realized what she meant to me until I began trying to seek from others what she would not give me. She tried to keep from counting the minutes. She smiled. The rose in her hair had too long a stem. now he was shaking the barber's hand. If her lips quivered. the color came away too from her cheeks. she knew he did not. what he had wanted to say that day he held her in his arms. everybody had gone to the seashore. leaving them bloodless. the little village seemed deserted. knew it before the stranger asked the question: "Tomorrow?" She fled. although she knew his purpose. she must manage somehow. But dimly. Everything must be like that day he had first seen her in a Spanish dress. lean. painfully. ." tall. once. The steps creaked. she heard somebody's restless pacing. soon. She was too pale. She glanced at the mirror and decided that her lips were not red enough. then disappearing behind a point of land so that she could no longer follow it. she told herself fiercely. Again she looked at the mirror. she tried to trim it with her fingers and a thorn dug deeply into her flesh. She bit her lips to stifle a wild cry there. He would soon be through and come to her house. Little boys came up to the house and she wiped away their tears and told them that he was coming back. she had more important things to do. He said you would understand. She must not show her feeling."She's been… did not mean… understand. now he was in Doña Ramona's house. she wondered if she could not wheedle her father into going earlier. "Turong!" "Mr. Her hands worked convulsively. "Mr. He did not sleep that night. for the sun was too bright. It was like that when he first came. The door opened. her lips were red and her eyebrows penciled. but she did not go." "…learning to forget…" There were periods when they both became excited and talked fast and hard. she put on more color. from getting up and pacing. What matter. With the first flicker of light she ran to her mirror. clearly against a horizon suddenly drawn out of perspective.

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