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Rooms

    What a shame, Olga said as she ran her eyes sadly over the

Christmas tree’s beautiful landscape, now out of date. The Three

Kings had left their gifts at its pleasantly snow-covered cotton base 24

hours ago. Marina, in a period of benevolent indifference at the time,

shrugged and told Olga that if it was so heartbreaking she should not

take it down.

    “Leave it up for a few more days?”

    “No.”

    “So…what then?”

    “I just said not to take it down.”

    Baffled, Olga looked at Marina and understood the silent message

in her authoritative greenish eyes. It clearly said: Leave it up forever.

Olga nodded, perplexed. She then covered her mouth to stifle a laugh,

    “A perennial Christmas tree!”

    And she didn’t touch it. The kids were happy to find it there when

they came home from school, but a week later the tree started to get

on everyone’s nerves a bit because every single visitor asked what was

keeping them from finally taking it down.

    It was then they decided to move the tree to the back room, where

from that moment on it would always be Christmas. They’d be spared

the wait for December’s decreed and blessed joy. It would be enough

to enter the room and, it goes without saying, dine on suckling pig

and radishes the twenty-fourth, carve the turkey the twenty-fifth,

devour twelve grapes the thirty-first, and let the carols flow, all without

seasonal limitations. And of course, on the morning of the sixth, wake

to gifts at the foot of the tree.

    Rene said they were getting nuttier every day. Esteban didn’t even

move the armchair where he had coffee every day after lunch to make the

move a little easier. So, Olga and the kids proceeded with difficulty through

the hallway while Marina, in the back, said: “Careful, slowly, a little more

to the right, the star’s falling, okay—now you’ve got it, go ahead!”

    This initiative was the first of a series of others. If there were more

rooms in the house, why not have them all celebrate a seasonal occasion?

The Circus, the kids demanded. Carnival, suggested Martica, who was

just coming of age and liked a good party. In that case, added Marina

in the neo-devout nature she acquired after turning fifty, we shouldn’t

forget Holy Week.

    Collective enthusiasm moved the project forward splendidly.

    By March, in addition to the Christmas tree room, we had one with

streamers, balloons, masks, and a good supply of harlequins, skaters,

and gypsies. And another had religious images and deep-purple drapery

with Handel, or whatever other requiem we came across through friends,

in the background.

    There was no longer any peace and quiet. Busybodies were always

dropping in, and fake visitors came over with no other purpose than to

snoop around—but every institution has its pitfalls. The men declared

themselves in favor of a plan for an eternal summer, which resulted in

digging an in-ground pool in the basement and attaching a bar where

there always seemed to be a crowd of hangers-on. And if that wasn’t

enough, Rene Jr. insisted on putting a call girl up in the empty room

on the roof—the only space left. There was some rationale for this. If

everyone else got to enjoy themselves at home, why did he have to run

around in his adolescent fervor, when it was so simple to screw in a red

light bulb and bring in a bleached-blond? Fortunately, she turned out

to be very easy-going and got used to eating at the patio table with the

circus troupe who had installed themselves in the garden around the

old lion’s cage (the lion-tamer doubled as the acrobat who exchanged

incomprehensible lampooneries with the clown). The group also

included an equestrian who neither had nor requested a horse. They’d

all arrived after some failed venture along life’s paths, guided by the

luminous rumors about our project.

    When someone realized we didn’t have a Hurricane room things

got ugly, because all of the other rooms were in use. In the end we

commissioned a huge bathroom in the back that at the time was only

used by an old ghost in his morning coat. We installed a strong fan,

a brightly lit lantern, and a small stove to make the hot chocolate

associated with the storm. It turned out to be surprisingly lucrative—

some friends amused themselves by sending us victim-relief donations.

    How long could we keep time at bay, isolated as we were from the

world in our own house? I don’t know… I guess our enthusiasm lasted as

long as it could. But the kids grew up in the electronic age and no longer

had any interest in our fantasyland project. René Jr., who graduated

with a degree in Fjordic Engineering, left for Holland after marrying

a tourist from there who’d been headed for Aruba and ended up on the

wrong island. Olga, creaky with age, hums her carols no matter what

corner of the house she’s in and can therefore do without the rooms.

Marina, ever more devout, prefers the parish congregational life. Their

respective husbands, retired, spend most of their time in parks, where

they get together with their contemporaries and usually talk about

the rooms as just one of those things from the good old days. Martica

obeyed the Biblical mandate to follow one’s husband, a Barabbas who

wants nothing to do with procreation and blames her for it, citing I

don’t know what chromosomal deficiency or other.

    In short, I am the only one who still walks through these rooms

filled with our happy memories and decidedly faded decorations… I

get together regularly with the troupe who, after the lion died, had no

place to go—except for the equestrian who found a job with a foreign

balloon-inflating company.

    We eat at the kitchen table and once in a while put on a Christmas,

Carnival, Hurricane or Holy Week. For these occasions, the big-lipped

clown is kind enough to put a red ball on his nose, and the girl from

upstairs one of her see-through dressing gowns. Generally we just look

at each other with affection, fearful of doing or saying anything out of

place because, well, lately we’re not quite sure which room we are in.


María Elena Llana

from An Address in Havana/Domicilio habanero (Cubanabooks 2014)