September in the Skin

September in the Skin by Yanina Rosenberg (translated from the Spanish by Ezra E. Fitz)

The smell of wet grass wafted into the room. I rolled over, stretched my legs in search of Guapi’s warmth, the softness of her skin, her hot, unfurled tits, but instead I found the sharp point—maybe a splinter?—stuck in my abdomen, near the waistband of my underwear. I threw off the sheets, reached out to light a candle: a thorn, the length of a hypodermic needle, was painfully embedded in me. I gripped it between my thumb and forefinger and carefully drew it out. A spot of blood swelled until it burst and ran across my skin. I wiped it away with my fingers and kept my hand over the wound for a moment, applying pressure. Guapi, my love, I said, ruffling the sheets with my leg to wake her up. I stared at her, squinting to see better, and the words caught in my throat: on her face, neck, arms, and chest, Guapi was covered in a greenish haze which, down around her legs, had the feel of buzzed hair. I leaned over and touched her with a finger: coarse, downy, damp. I felt it with my entire hand. Guapi, I said again, but still she didn’t wake up; the sprouts—of grass?—on her chest pricked up with every breath. Guapi, Guapi! I shook her until she finally opened her eyes. Are you okay? But her eyelids were still heavy with sleep, and she couldn’t bring herself back to reality. Look, look what’s happened to you, I said, but she snarled at me with a Rottweiler’s face and shut her eyes again, hands groping for the sheets. No, look at yourself, I said, and brought her arm up to her face; I patted her cheek with her own inert hand, and only then did she open her eyes again, grumpy but awake. She looked at herself. She stared and blinked in an effort to focus, to unblur her eyes, to shrug off the last remnants of sleep. She rotated her hand, examining it with a somewhat childish fascination until she bolted upright, forced yet swift, as if suddenly realizing something. She sat there and continued to examine herself with anime eyes. Her fingertips combed and caressed the tiny leaves back and forth; her lips were parted in a wry grin—amazed, amused?—that, suddenly, having realized my confusion, twisted towards shame. No, my love, you’re beautiful, I told her, not knowing what to say as she scratched at the patch of grass around her navel. From her body language, she clearly didn’t believe a single word.

Upon learning of this, Guapi’s family brought us all kinds of gifts: watering cans, aerators, trowels, pruning shears, adjustable rakes, and even a couple of pairs of cotton gardening gloves trimmed with lace: one with a pattern of sky-blue lilies, the other with tiny Rococo roses. Her mother seemed especially delighted by the news: a blessing from heaven, she said as she carefully rested her bare feet on top of her daughter’s legs…a blessing she had, undoubtedly, been long awaiting. And, with the excuse of taking care of her, it wasn’t much longer before she moved in. She bathed her four or five times a day, using a warm, gentle shower, and didn’t let her perform her usual tasks, such as cleaning the kitchen, hanging the laundry, or lifting heavy objects. Plus, she spent hours evening up the grass under her armpits and around the nipples, and, one by one, with an infinite sense of patience, she plucked the ingrown weeds from around her groin.

My mother, on the other hand…she made it clear from the beginning that she was not happy with Guapi. She barely came to visit us, and when she did, it was because I had called her and made up some excuse, like we wanted her to make some of her varenyky. She barely deigned to speak to us. Sitting on the couch, she responded to everything with one syllable words: Isn’t it cold outside? Yes. Is dad feeling any better? Yes. Do you want your coffee black or with a splash of milk? Yes. It was quite clear that she had never taken to Guapi, who was like a sour candy that can’t be sucked without having a disgusted look wrought on your face.

I still can’t point to the exact moment when we started doing things wrong…if, in fact, we—or I—was doing something wrong. I also didn’t understand what could possibly have happened. Because, after the initial shock, the surprise, everything returned to normal. It even seemed better than it had been before. Guapi and I started looking for a bigger house to move into, one with an Andalusian garden or patio, and although none of the ones we looked at were anywhere near our budget, she was still radiant, happy, in a good mood twenty-four hours a day, proud of her new condition, as if she were some kind of chosen one, the point after which everything would trend towards a new advancement in humanity or something. There were even daisies with their own particular glow sprouting from her shoulders.

The fact of the matter is that I don’t know how, from one day to the next, Guapi began to rot. Her leaves turned yellow first and later into an irreversible brown. She began to fill with parasites and started to give off an unbearable stench which all but erased the memory of what those first green shoots smelled like. We tried watering her every five minutes, and then tried not watering her for weeks at a time; we tried urea and different concentrations of phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium; we tried both liquid and solid fertilizers, controlled release formulas, even Weed & Feed. We bought organic and artificial blends from Tangier and Moscow, as well as different brands of oral contraceptives which she refused to take, but which her mother dissolved in water or crushed up and mixed in with the potting soil. We even tried acetic acid and lemon juice, but nothing worked. Guapi was still getting worse, and we had no idea what else we could do.

One afternoon I came home to find her sitting on the balcony alone. She was covered in a white fuzz—fungus? mold?—which had the appearance of a spider’s web; her head was bowed low between the bars of the railing, her eyes lost in some distant expectation. I’m here, my love, I said, but she neither stood up nor turned to greet me. How had it all come to this? How could it be that, overnight, Guapi and I had stopped even greeting one another? I went up to her and kissed her on the forehead. It was wet and sticky, though rigid. She tilted her head back just barely, and it seemed as though she was trying to avoid me, that her mouth was twisting into an expression that signified both reproach and contempt. The dried leaves of the daisies fell off, tired, defeated.

It was not easy carrying her down the street in the middle of the night, walking in the cold two blocks to the square, feeling her black eyes glowing in the dark as they watched the digging. Nor was it easy to sink the spade into the ground, to break through the dense earth, to bend her legs and bring her arms together so that she wasn’t cold, so that she would be comfortable, so that she could be who she was, so that she would finally be happy. I may never know if I did it right or wrong. Maybe I didn’t plant her deep enough, or maybe I planted her too deep and she’ll never bloom. Maybe she doesn’t want to, maybe she isn’t destined to bloom. I, who continues to love her so, sit down on the bench in the square to wait, facing her. I toss pellets of fertilizer, camouflaged as bread crumbs I pretend to toss at the pigeons. And I hope. I just hope and I wait.

Yanina Rosenberg (Buenos Aires, 1980) is a pharmacist with a degree in literature. She is the author of Intrusive Skin (La piel intrusa, Páginas de Espuma, 2019), a story collection which was awarded at the Buenos Aires International Book Fair. Her stories have been published by international media such as Granta magazine, Trampset, Iowa literaria, Perfil, Revista Ñ/Clarín, winning several literary prizes in Argentina, Perú and Spain. Her debut novel Stockholm Moment was awarded by the Argentine National Fund for the Arts.

Ezra E. Fitz has worked with Grammy-winning musician Juanes, Emmy-winning journalist Jorge Ramos, and the king of soccer himself, Pelé. His translations of contemporary Latin American literature by Alberto Fuguet, Eloy Urroz, and others have been praised by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, and The Believer, among other publications. Fitz has been awarded grants from the Mexican National Fund for Culture and Arts (FONCA), was a Resident at the Banff International Literary Translation Centre, and served as a Peter Taylor Fellow with the Kenyon Review Literary Translation Workshop. He lives with his wife and two children in Spring Hill, Tennessee.