Palabras Errantes Latin American Literature in Translation

Palabras Errantes

By Rosa María Roffiel. Translated by Charlotte Coombe.

Oh, the fantasy!
Oh, the reality!

Yes, these are things that I only tell myself.

Like how when we had our first meeting to see if you would take me on as a patient and if I wanted you as my therapist, straight off I liked the sound of your laugh; I was attracted to your forthrightness. Only later did I notice your skin soft as peachfuzz, your strong hands with their nibbled red nails, your chestnut hair constantly in motion.

Communication flowed immediately. I opened windows to you. Too much life is slowly falling away from me, I confessed to you. From deep inside of me out came my total inability to deal with the desperation in beggars’ eyes, my lengthy periods of sadness because of the violence of everyday life, my chronic impotence because the world is not how I had wanted it to be. Yes, I am a narcissist. I admitted it. That was my first discovery.

We often ran over the allotted fifty minutes, something that would be unthinkable at other clinics. You were surprised at my unabashed self-assurance as a lesbian, especially as that was not the reason I was in therapy. It was a revelation for you, for me to confirm that I was so comfortable being a woman who could love other women. Very soon, my extreme feminism reared its head. I loaned you books; I kept newspaper clippings for you. We debated: whether women really do have a double working day, at home and at the office; whether our body is our own property; whether the personal is political; if we are sexual beings. In short, I started to move the ground beneath your feet, as you so often used to say. I used to joke, ‘I feel like you should be the one paying me!’

Fresh from the provinces, you abruptly discovered the heartlessness of big cities. They stabbed you in the back at work. Nobody came to your defence. “It’s a conspiracy of silence,” you whispered sadly, one Monday as you saw me to the door.

You hardly ever talked about your private life. You only mentioned a few minor details, chuckling to yourself in amusement at my blatant curiosity to know more about you. Despite your courage you were accustomed to being a loser in love, but now you started to understand that you could be a winner. Being a woman took on new meaning for you. Without knowing it, you recovered the self-worth you had lost. You ended the relationship with that married man who treated you so badly, who hid you away from the world like a dirty secret. “And you were there in my head,” you told me. “I swear, it was as if I was listening to you up banging on about dignity.”

On so many of those afternoons I had the distinct feeling that we were both growing, each magnificent, each with our own process. Thanks to you, I learned the secret of how to not let guilt shape my very existence. Working my fingers to the bone, I finally managed to wrench myself away from the snares of Judeo-Christian charity. You led me through my inner labyrinths until I came face to face with my right to say ‘No’.


After seven months of seeing each other once a week, I realised that lesbians had not previously been part of your world, that we had come to be part of your life for less than a year: first through an introductory psychology course that you gave at the University; and later, in therapy with several of us. “You lot are really not as butch, sex crazed or perverse as people told me,” you said with a laugh.

However, I could sense how scared you were of any possible physical contact. Hellos and goodbyes took place with several metres of distance between us. I observed you. Soon I realised you weren’t scared of me, but of yourself. Of something you were beginning to feel and did not want to. “Dealing with all these lesbians has definitely proved to me that I’m straight. I love men!” you repeated almost obsessively, the comment often coming totally out of the blue.

I smiled inwardly to myself, while outwardly I agreed with you, putting on my best serious face.

One morning we happened to bump into one another in Coyoacán and we sat down to have a coffee together. It was the first time you talked about yourself. Through the steam of the cappuccino I glimpsed a picture of you as a little girl, a sad girl, a lonely girl, a girl with a dead mother, a stepmother and wimp for a father. You spewed out your story, raging, your cheeks blazing, your hands knotted tightly together. I stored away each and every one of your sentences, taking possession of your past. I wanted to squeeze your shoulder, to hold one of your hands; to kiss this little girl who was pouring out the long story of her short life. But I did not do any of those things; I sat in my chair, not moving a muscle.

You went on talking about your divorce. Five years of marriage. Your daughter. Your loneliness. In seconds, you aged before my eyes. Suddenly you stopped talking and stared fixedly at the sugar pot. You began to nervously twiddle the spoon, still damp with cappuccino froth.

This time, I remember, you gave me a hug when we said goodbye. You kissed me on the cheek without even realising. Then you got into your car and I watched you disappear up Francisco Sosa Street. I was left rooted to the spot, in the middle of the road.

The walls were coming down between us; trust wrapped itself warmly around us. The coming of winter meant that the sky darkened earlier in the afternoon. Your office was an intimate haven, our own little world where we talked, lulled by the sound of our own voices… until suddenly you realised how dark it had grown and jumped up to switch on the light. If it was raining, the raindrops would patter rhythmically in time to our words, filling our occasional silences. I started to anticipate our Monday session the way I used to look forward to Sunday Mass when I was a child and was convinced that the Baby Jesus was going to appear to me in the communion wafer.

I had to admit it: I had fallen in love with my own psychotherapist. I was a sinner. I had bitten into the forbidden apple one Monday without even noticing. All that remained was for me to revel in my sin.

There were afternoons when, in the middle of a session, we would end up staring into each other’s eyes for a matter of seconds, and I could tell that you felt it, because your eyes lit up or you gave me a smile or simply blushed. It was on those afternoons that my imagination ran wild. I would play the moment over in my head like someone leaving their record player on repeat so they can listen to the same song for hours on end. In the car, the radio tuned to XEB to provide some romantic background music, I imagined us very close, without touching, enjoying the pull of our flesh. You, coming slowly towards me, your eyes closed and lips slightly parted, self-assured, towards my mouth, waiting for you like Sleeping Beauty for her Prince. At night in my bed, I dared to go even further. Then, we danced barefoot on a cool tiled floor, walked hand in hand through a quiet park far from the noise of traffic, or talked until dawn… always ending up naked, making love without the pressures of time or taboos.

At the next session I was worried you would notice something; I tried to act as if nothing had happened, as if I had not been imagining my mouth on your breasts, my fingers inside you, as if we had never said all the things we said in my wild dreams.

But you never noticed anything, or at least you never let on that you had. And today you discharged me. We had our final session. We will stop seeing each other every Monday. The ritual of you opening the door for me, at the beginning and end, is over. As are the looks, the words, my fantasy. And believe it or not, I considered saying this to you, but decided I had better not, because these are things that I only tell myself.



¡Ah, la fantasía!
¡Ah, la realidad!

Sí, esas son cosas que sólo yo me cuento.

Por ejemplo, que cuando nos entrevistamos por primera vez para ver si me aceptabas como paciente y yo a ti como terapeuta, de entrada me gustó el repique de tu risa, me atrajo tu manera ostensible de ser, que luego me fijé en tu piel cascarita de chabacano, en tus manos fuertes de uñas rojas y roídas, en tu pelo castaño que no sabe estarse quieto.

La comunicación surgió enseguida. Abrí ventanas ante ti. Demasiada vida me deshoja lentamente, te confié. De mis cajones interiores saqué mi aguda imposibilidad para enfrentar los tragafuegos habitantes de semáforos, mis prolongadas tristezas a causa de la violencia cotidiana, mi impotencia crónica porque el mundo no es así, como yo hubiera querido que fuera. Sí, claro, soy una narcisista, admití. Ese fue mi primer descubrimiento.

Era frecuente pasarnos de los cincuenta minutos, inviolables en otros consultorios. Saberme lesbiana te sorprendió, sobre todo porque no era esa la razón de mi presencia en la terapia. Fue una revelación para ti confirmarme tan a gusto en mi ser mujer capaz de amar a otras mujeres. Muy pronto, brincó mi exacerbado feminismo. Discutíamos, te prestaba libros, te guardaba recortes de periódico. Que si la doble jornada, que si nuestro cuerpo es nuestra propiedad, que si lo personal es político, que si somos seres sexuales. En resumen, te empecé a mover el piso, como has dicho tantas veces. Yo bromeaba: ¡A mí se me hace que la que tendría que pagarme eres tú.”

Recién llegada de provincia, descubriste la crueldad de las grandes ciudades. Te apuñalearon por la espalda en el trabajo. Nadie salió en tu defensa. “Es una conspiración de silencios”, murmuraste triste un lunes, al acompañarme a la puerta.

Casi nunca hablabas de tu vida íntima. Sólo mencionabas detalles, riéndote divertida ante mi curiosidad por saber más de ti. Acostumbrada, pese a tu bravura, a ser vencida en el amor, empezaste a comprender que podías ser vencedora. Tu ser mujer cobró nuevos sentidos. Recuperaste un valor perdido sin saberlo. Pusiste fin a la relación con ese hombre casado que te trataba tan mal y te ocultaba en el clandestinaje. “¡Y ahí estabas tú, te lo juro, era como estar escuchando tu discurso sobre la dignidad!, relataste.

Varias tardes sentí claramente cómo crecíamos las dos, espléndidas, cada una en su propio proceso. Gracias a ti aprendí el secreto para que la culpa no dirigiera los hilos de mi existencia. Me sangré los dedos y me corté las piernas hasta que logré salir de la trampa de la caridad judeo-cristiana. Me condujiste por mis laberintos interiores hasta que me encontré de de frente con mi derecho a decir no.


A los siete meses de vernos una vez a la semana me enteré por ti que las lesbianas no formábamos parte de tu mundo anterior, que llevabas apenas un año de habernos integrado a tu presente, primero a través de un curso de introducción a la psicología que diste en la Universidad; después, en la terapia con varias de nosotras. “¡No son machorras, ligadoras ni perversas como me habían contado!” Te reíste al decirlo.

Sin embargo, percibía tu miedo ante mi posible contacto físico. Los holas y los adioses se daban con varios metros de distancia entre las dos. Yo te observaba. Pronto, supe que el miedo no era a mí sino a ti misma. A algo que comenzabas a sentir y no querías. “Este trato con lesbianas ha servido para comprobar que soy absolutamente heterosexual. ¡Me encantan los hombres!”, repetías casi obsesiva, a veces sin que viniera al caso el comentario.

Yo sonreía por dentro mientras por fuera te daba, muy seria, la razón.

Una mañana nos encontramos accidentalmente en Coyoacán y nos sentamos a tomar un capuchino. Fue la primera vez que hablaste de ti misma. De entre el humo de la taza surgió tu ser niña, niña triste, niña sola, niña de madre muerta, de madrastra, de padre débil. Vomitaste tu historia, rabiosa, con las mejillas prendidas y las manos arrebatadas. Yo guardé cada una de tus frases. Me posesioné de tu pasado. Sentí gana de apretarte un hombro, tomarte una mano, darle un beso a esa pequeña que me contaba el largo cuento de su corta vida. Pero no hice nada, permanecí inmóvil en mi silla.

Seguiste con tu divorcio. Tus cinco años de matrimonio. Tu hija. Tu soledad. Envejeciste ante mí en segundos. De repente callaste, clavaste la mirada en la azucarera y te pusiste a jugar nerviosa con la cuchara, húmeda aún por la espuma de la leche.

Esa vez, recuerdo, me abrazaste al despedirnos, me besaste la cara casi sin darte cuenta. Después, entraste apurada en tu auto y te perdiste por Francisco Sosa. Yo me quedé estaqueada a mitad de la calle.


Los muros fueron cayendo entre nosotras, la confianza envolviéndonos. Con el invierno, el cielo se ennegrecía más temprano. Tu consultorio era un puerto íntimo, una tierra propicia donde hablábamos arrulladas por nuestras propias voces, hasta que tú te dabas cuenta y corrías a prender la luz. Si llovía, el sonido de las gotas en el techo columpiaba a las palabras, colmando los silencios que se formaban por momentos. Comencé a esperar la sesión de los lunes como la misa del domingo, cuando era chica y estaba convencida de que el Niño Jesús se me aparecería en la hostia, a la hora de la comunión.

Tuve que confesármelo: me había enamorada de mi propia psicoterapeuta. Era una pecadora. Mordí la manzana un lunes sin darme apenas cuenta. Lo único que me restaba era disfrutar de mi pecado.

Hubo tardes en las que, en plena sesión, nos quedábamos viendo a los ojos por segundos, y yo sentía que sentías porque se te iluminaba la mirada o te ganaba una sonrisa, o simplemente por tu rubor. Esas tardes se me soltaba la imaginación. Repetía el momento en mi cabeza como quien deja el automático del tocadiscos para oír la misma canción durante horas. En el auto, con el radio en la XEB para tener música romántica de fondo, nos pensaba muy próximas, sin tocarnos, gozando el llamado de las pieles. Tú, acercándote despacio, con los ojos cerrados y los labios entreabiertos, segura, hasta mi boca que te esperaba como la Bella Durmiente al Príncipe. En la noche, en mi cama, me atrevía a llegar más lejos. Entonces bailábamos descalzas sobre un piso de mosaico fresco, caminábamos de la mano por un parque alejado del tránsito, o platicábamos hasta el amanecer, siempre para acabar desnudas, amándonos sin relojes ni tabúes.

A la siguiente sesión temía que fueras a notarme algo y trataba de actuar como si nada, como si no hubiera imaginado tus pechos en mi boca y tu sexo entre mis dedos, como si nunca nos hubiéramos dicho todo eso que nos decíamos en mis sueños locos.

Pero no, jamás notaste nada, o al menos nunca dijiste que lo hicieras. Y hoy me diste de alta. Tuvimos nuestra última sesión. Dejaremos de vernos cada lunes. Terminó el rito de abrirme la puerta al principio y al final. Las miradas, las palabras, mi fantasía. Y no creas, pensé en decírtelo, pero decidí que mejor no, que esas son cosas que sólo yo me cuento.

Rosa María Roffiel
El para siempre dura una noche, pp. 123-28
Editorial Sentido Contrario, México, D.F: 1999

Translated into English by Charlotte Coombe © 2015

Rosa María Roffiel was born in Veracruz, Mexico in 1945. Her book *Amora*, published in 1989 and still circulating is considered the first lesbian-feminist novel in Mexico. She is also the author of *Corramos libres ahora*, a collection of poems and *El para siempre dura una noche*, a book of short stories.

Charlotte Coombe is a British literary translator, currently living in Marrakesh with her husband and a fluctuating numbers of cats. She translates literature, poetry and other creative texts from French and Spanish. Recent published titles include A Single Decision by Maria Paulina Camejo, and Johnny Depp: Anatomy of an Actor (Phaidon, 2015) for Cahiers du Cinema. For Palabras Errantes, she has translated Edgardo Nuñez Caballero’s collection of poems Landscape with Beasts and a short story by Mexican writer Rosa María Roffiel. At the moment she is working on the translation of Abnousse Shalmani’s Khomeiny, Sade et Moi for the publishing house World Editions. In her spare time she is mainly exploring Moroccan-French literature in the hunt for her next book to translate, eating tagine and learning Darija. She likes the occasional tweet (@cmctranslations) and you can usually find her procrastinating on Facebook. For more info, visit www.cmctranslations.com

Share Button

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *