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FICTION MOTHERS' DAY / Carlos Fuentes (translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden) For Teodoro Cesarman Every morning the grandfather vigorously stirs his cup of instant coffee. He grasps the spoon as in other times the dear-departed grandmother Clotilde had grasped the pestle, or he himself, General Vicente Vergara, had grasped the pommel of the saddle now hanging on his bedroom wall. Then he uncorks the bottle of tequila and tilts it to fill half the cup. He refrains from mixing the tequila and the Nescafe. Let the clearalcohol settlebyitself. Helooks atthebottle oftequilaanditreminds himhow redwas the spilledblood, how clear the liquorthat setthe blood boiling, inflaming it before the great encounters, Chihuahua and Torre ón, Celaya and Paso de Gavilanes, when men were men and there was no way to distinguish between the exhilaration of drunkenness and the recklessness ofthe combat, sí, señor, how could fear filter throughwhen a man's pleasure was battle and the battle was his pleasure? He almost spoke aloud, between sips of the spiked coffee. Nobody knew how to make a café de olla anymore, the little jug of coffee tasting of clay and brown sugar, no, nobody, not even the pair of servants he'd brought from the sugar plantation in Morelos. Even they drank Nescafe, invented in Switzerland, the cleanest and most orderly nation in the world. General Vergara had a vision of snowcapped mountains and belled cows, but he said nothing aloud because his false teeth still lay in the bottom of the glass before him. This was his favorite hour: peace, daydreams, memories, fantasies, and no one to deny them. Strange, he sighed, thathe'd lived such a full life andnow memory should comeback to him like a sweet lie. He sat and thought about the years of the Revolution and the battles that had forged modern Mexico. Then he spit out the mouthful of liquid he'd been swishing between his lizard tongue and his toughened gums. Later that morning I saw my grandfather in the distance, shuffling along in his carpet slippers as he always did, down the marble halls, wiping with a large kerchief theWeariness and involuntary tears fromhis cactus-colored eyes. Seeinghim from that distance he looked like a desert plant, almostmotionless. Green, rubbery, dryas theplains ofthenorth, a deceptiveancientcactusharboringthe sparserainsinits entrailsfrom one summer to the next, fermenting them: moisture seeped from his eyes but never reached the white tufts on his head, wisps of dried cornsilk. In his photographs, on horseback, he loomed tall. As he scuffed along, copyright ©, 1979, Carlos Fuentes. The Missouri Review · 39 purposeless and old, through the marble rooms of the huge house in Pedregal, he looked tiny, lean, pure bone, the skin clinging desperately to his skeleton, a taut, creaky, little old man. But notbowed, no sir, I'dlike to see the man who dared. Once again I felt the same uneasiness I felt every morning, the anguish of a cornered rat, the feeling that seized me every time I saw General Vergara purposelessly wandering the rooms and halls and corridors that Nicomedes and Engracia scrubbed on their knees, rooms that at this hour of the morning smelled of soapy scrub brushes. The servants refused to use electric appliances. They saidnowith greathumilityand dignity, with the hope it would be noticed. Grandfather thought they were right; he loved the smell of soapy scrub brushes, and that's why every morning Nicomedes and Engracia scrubbed meters and meters of Zacatecan marble, Mexican marble, even if the honorable Agustín Vergara, my father, did say that it had been imported from Carrara, his finger to his lips, don't tell anyone, it's against the law, they'll hit me with an ad valorem, you can't even give a decent party anymore, ifyou do you end up on the society page and then you pay for it, nowadays a man has to live the austere life, even feel ashamed to have worked hard all his life to give his family the things .... I ran out of the house, shrugging into my Eisenhower jacket. I reached the garage and climbed into my red Thunderbird and started the motor, the garage door lifted automatically at...


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