map The Lady from Asunción

by Martin Canepa

Published in Issue No. 265 ~ June, 2019

The heat did nothing but strengthen Joaquina’s bad mood. The summer had not yet arrived, the first flowers were just beginning to appear, and yet the climate was becoming oppressive. Her face lit up with a timid ray of light that made its way through the heavy curtains of blue velvet. Waving the fan, she tried to get rid of the sweat that ran down her neck while two of her maids arranged her hair to start combing it on the eve of the soiree that was taking place that evening. One of them takes it with one hand and while stretching it, with the other hand gently slides the bristle of the pearly brush over and over again until those diaphanous and light threads become as bright as Indian silk. The fan did not stop going from one place to another. One of her maids took it for her and continued with the rite, causing the tired face of the elegant woman to return to color and shed the annoyed and strenuous image that a few moments ago was reflected in the mirror. The latter was composed of three well-marked spaces, with a golden detail on the edges and half oval on the top. In the middle, it was possible to see her figure, at times bored, at times smiling and even jocular. This scene of causerie between the lady and her maids was repeated daily, almost religiously with the same routine. Today was a special day; therefore, the preparation was going to last a little longer than usual, but for the rest, nothing changed. The two women, who assisted in the task of embellishing the noble lady, always commented on the beauty and unparalleled bearing of her figure, on the delicacy and meticulous work of her splendid dresses, her face as soft as the skin of a newborn, the show that caused her perfect French pronunciation.


Joaquina’s soft fingers brushed the thick, leafy velvet of the curtains, which moved to one side, opening endless greenish colors, plants, and flowers. Everything invaded the room, the view of the lady. The immense leaves of the banana tree, located in the center of the garden, disturbed her imagination, causing infinite sensations of strangeness in a soul incapable of having dreamed of such extravagant displays of beauty. The palm trees: small with large trunks, tall and thin, whose glasses reached the sky, others with fruits about to fall to the ground and a couple with emerging flowers. The first image that any visitor received when stepping on that land was an immeasurable verdure that exploded with such exuberance, cracking the limits of imagination. She remembers until today the comments of some people in the street of the town hall: here you only need to throw some orange seeds on the ground to see a tree grow a few months later. It was true. The climate had blessed the lands, but not before punishing the locals with its unbearable heat.


She had forgotten about the weather, but now she saw again through the window the lightning bolt through the curtain placing on her forehead. She experienced the boredom, the heaviness of the body, the feeling of constant fainting again. Her eyes began to blur, and one of the maids took her hand and managed to reincorporate her to take a seat in the armchair, where until a few minutes ago she had been combed with care and delicacy. Erect, taken from both hands, she stretches completely. The petticoats mark her silhouette; the silk of the underwear seems to slide with ease, like the dawn that melts the autumnal snow. A white corset girds her waist completely. Two laborious hands take the cords and pull them one by one until they achieve the perfect body. The lady feels choked; her breathing yields from one second to another. Both find their eyes in the mirror, the maid, and her mistress; in that tiny interval of time, the roles deviate from the rule.


She enjoys being trapped in the armor of springs; she feels the bonds that haunt her back, she continues looking at herself, her breasts seem more turgid, they look like a hill of ripe fruits, whose nectar would satisfy her thirst. Still unable to breathe; the two hands that hold the strong knot, do not ask if it is okay or too tight. She also looks at the mirror and finds joy in the image of her mistress. Knowing the power of that garment, she delights, almost without realizing it. Their eyes merge like January fire; she lowers her arms, her rosy fingers caress the impious hands, that knowing the sign, release the contained force to let the relief pass. A brief sigh is heard, the faint glances are lost, and they avoid each other until they forget. The crinoline stretches uncomfortably by the sides, still naked, like a skeleton whose flesh has disappeared. Then, it is completely covered.

A splendid scarlet cloth does not reveal what is below. It begins to take shape and keep similar to the picture placed on the side of the room. She allows a pearl necklace to be laid on her neck and while placing two rings of equal size, with a small hand mirror, she observes her face to confirm the last touches of the headdress — a new wave of heat return to whip the room again. The Sun is still high. The time of twilight will take time to be seen. The door opens gently, letting an almost imperceptible shadow to enter the room. She extends the right hand to take the cold glass, try to quench the thirst. Before putting it in her mouth, observes the lemon slice that floats in the middle of the water like a lifeguard on the sea. She drinks the first sip, softening her movements, measuring her needs before the eyes of the others that surround her. She does not leave a drop, would continue to drink without stopping, but knows that she must disguise, it is not worthy of a lady to show herself as a wild beast. Past images bloom the sweet walks along the river, the country house away from the urban hustle, surrounded by a docile jungle, where exotic fruits abounded and her days passed between the fervor of moisture and the pursuit of adventure.


Her scalp begins to tingle, and the black tortoiseshell tines pinch her flesh. They place the Spanish comb with great care, arrange the hair around them. It is time to go. She looks for the last time in front of the mirror, observes herself with detached admiration. Her beauty honors her and makes her proud. She stands up indicating to take the tail of the dress. The two maids deposit in their hands the piece of cloth so that it will not be ruined. They go down the oak staircase to the main entrance of the residence. The door opens completely allowing the ardor to take hold of her. With a perfectly carved parasol of white lace, they accompany the young lady to the carriage and watch her leave. She vanishes, does not say goodbye, does not look back, puts on her red satin gloves, with heavy movements fans her face while the horses raise a cloud of dust that makes her disappear.



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I'm from Argentina, Buenos Aires. I'm a lawyer and work as a professor of Public International Law at the School of Law, University of Buenos Aires.