Goya's Glass - By Monika Zgustova


For the last time. For the last time, meaning never again.

For the last time. How many times have I pronounced these words as a threat? I used to think of them as words like any others, insignificant, featherweight. I played with them as a child with her doll, like a lady with her fan. Only on that one occasion, when I said them in front of him, did these words become the chimera of a nightmare, a monster with bat’s wings and donkey’s ears, with a beak and claws designed to inflict punishment, and when it has finally abandoned its horrible task, flies off with a heavy heart, as if reluctantly leaving a trail of incense and sulfur.

For the last time . . . There was just one candle lit. The light avoided the corners, the walls dripped with humidity and darkness. I thought that I had come in vain. The emptiness without his presence frightened me at first, but then left me feeling relieved. I had made the journey to his house on foot at a hurried pace, stopping every now and again, determined each time not to go one step further. I had gotten rid of my carriage because I couldn’t simply sit there without doing anything, just shouting at the driver to go faster and thinking, heaven help me, let him run over whomever in the happy crowd might be blocking our path. The happiness of others struck me as unbearable, out of place, and I jumped from the carriage so as to go ahead on foot. I was desperate.

I reached his house without feeling the pain in my feet. Of course, Venetian slippers covered in emeralds are not made for trotting through the badly paved streets of Madrid. I climbed up to the third story with my skirt raised up above my knees. I cared not if the neighbors saw me. Desperation and anguish made me run as if I were fleeing from a gaggle of cackling geese.

Darkness reigned in the spacious room of stone and the little flame of the candle lit up only the small space immediately around it. Wherever you looked there were half-painted canvases, like white monsters, full of folds and wrinkles. Little by little I grew accustomed to the shadows, and amid all the folders, paints, and pots, I found a carafe of wine and poured myself a little. In the candlelight, the Manzanilla looked like honey in its glass. At that moment I smelled the familiar odor of bitter almonds and heard the creak of a bench from which a man was rising drowsily. In the shadows, the barely visible figure tied up his shirt and trousers. Before entering the circle of light from the candle, I smelled his odor as he shifted in his sleep. So he was there! I was overcome by a feeling of relief, just as his absence had been a relief to me a moment ago. So powerfully could he move me! Suddenly something whispered to me that I should punish him for making me suffer in this way, that I should show him who I was. He didn’t give me time to do anything but took hold of me with his large hands that sunk into my back like claws. We were standing, sitting, lying, sitting again, he with his claws forever dug into my face, in a sweet violence that made me feel lost. And when I came to again, he was bending over me, nursing the wounds that the long race through the streets of Madrid had left on my feet, licking off the blood as a mother bear does with her cubs.

For the last time . . . These words came back, they grew between us, a monstrous bat that beat its wings blindly against the walls. Was it he who spoke them? No. I myself released the monster from its cage. The need to punish the man in the unlaced shirt was uppermost in me. But the bat flew out of the room of stone; it followed me when I went down the stairs, when I was fleeing. Fleeing? And the man with the creased shirt stood at the threshold of the door. His wide shoulders slumped; his hair, twisted like a nest of snakes, hung lifeless. I turned around, perhaps to tell him something, perhaps—yes, that was it!—to take back those words, to withdraw them, to cancel them out, but he had already closed the door after saying, with