Zarabanda (short story)

March 26, 2011

This is my first attempt at fiction in a very long time. So pardon the morbidness.

At the funeral, the priest, Fr. Benedict, thrust two Polaroids of Elicia Castellanos into my hands. I recognized them instantly, I had to say, even though Elicia’s body, by then lowered, covered, bore no resemblance to the pictures Fr. Benedict presented me, shot through with the ugly sepia of an early summer. I studied the pictures with a hungry eye. I pored over them, aware of my hatred for myself growing steadily. Hatred, most of all, for the unfortunate circumstance of Elicia’s death. As you can imagine, all of this was happening against my will.

I knew I was fated to never see Elicia Castellanos again, and yet, there I was, presented with her leavings. By a priest, no less. Such finality! Surely, you understand why I would be distressed by the discomfort I saw coursing through the translucent patchwork of Elicia’s veins. Her unease, hammering at the crow’s feet of her eyes. Are you all right? the priest asked me. I shook my head. I’ll be fine, Father. I thanked him for his time and asked his permission to look away.

The mourners collected their sorrows and moved single-file into the black transports of their lives.

Free at last, I gave myself a moment to collect my thoughts. I set myself down at the foot of an ancient oak tree. I was out of breath. Why had this incident distressed me so? I did not know. She was gone. I had pictures. Plenty of pictures. There was nothing special about these Polaroids. This much was fact. I loosened my tie and sat very still in the afternoon’s glare, half of my face shadowed by leaves. Surely, I said aloud, I had been with Elicia through every day of her long march into illness. God and I, her constant companions, she had always said. Then it struck me. The answer. What upset me was my own absence in these last reckonings. What I did not see in the picture, after all, was my body. Where was I? I had lived with her all her adult life. Where was I? Who had taken the picture? Was it me or was it someone else? In her final leavings, what space did I occupy?

Elicia Castellanos’ favourite song was a piece of furniture by Erik Satie. Zarabanda. Our first dance. Oh Elicia, that it were not my favorite also! I could hear it looped in the background of the pictures Fr. Benedict had thrust into my hands. Our cat, on her lap, asleep in some nightmare, its claws digging into the soft flesh of her thigh. The crucifix wrapped tightly around Elicia’s left wrist. Curious, I thought, how curious, and in a moment of rashness, found myself leaping up and running towards the cavernous cemetery gate.

There, at the threshold, I found the priest and retrieved the pictures from his jacket. I must know, I said, there is something further still.

My gaze returned to Elicia, poor, gaunt Elicia in the oppressive summer of our youth. I watched her grow steadily sicker the longer I gazed at her picture. Oh my poor attempts at medicine! Squinting, I could make out ten pinpricks in the soft material of her dress. nothing further could be ascertained with any degree of certainty.

The second picture was taken after the California earthquake of ’89. I could tell she hadn’t cleaned up because the pots were still overturned and our zinnias were leaking from them, crushed under the heavy clay.

I asked Fr. Benedict why he had chosen this moment to show me the Polaroids. These are obscene, I told him. He laughed. The Zarabanda was considered an erotic dance when it was first performed in Spain, he replied, clapping me on the back, humming to himself.


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