We never discovered how they found us out. My brother insisted that Márgara had stumbled across them accidentally while she was putting clean sheets on the bed, and that she had squealed on us. I suspected something different. On a number of occasions I had surprised my mother going through my drawers, or secretly reading my diary—it was more like an exercise book of notes and drawings and doodles—or stealthily lifting the other receiver while I was talking to a friend on the phone.

“I want you to tell me where you got them.”

Neither of us spoke. It wasn’t exactly a question.

“Tell me.”

My mother was sitting in one of the white chairs in the dining room, her arms crossed, smoke rising from her cigarette, the pile of magazines in front of her on the table. She hadn’t even said hello to us. We were still carrying our books and lunchboxes.

“I want to know where you got this filth.”

The answer, I suppose, was simple.

One afternoon, as we were on our bikes circling round the El Campo neighborhood, my brother and I had found a cardboard box in an empty lot. A big box, soaked through after so much rain, flimsy and partly torn, and full of porn magazines that somebody had decided to throw out. We raced home and then returned to the empty lot with a couple of backpacks, and I put all the magazines inside them while my brother kept watch. Later, when we had locked ourselves in our bathroom and were drying each page in turn with the blow dryer, we discovered, astonished, that these weren’t just magazines with the sorts of pictures you’d find in a set of dirty playing cards—tits and ass and, at most, if you were very lucky, a quick glimpse of pubic hair—but a much more explicit porn: leather and ropes and chains and double-penetrations and the cucumbers of a gorgeous brunette who, unforgettably, was called Marian the Vegetarian and who it took us a while to understand what she was doing there. But we understood all those full-color photos perfectly well, and even more so the fact that they were forbidden, which for us was perhaps the most important thing. We hid the dry, stiff magazines between the bedsprings and mattresses of our two beds—we still slept in the same room—and promised not to tell anyone, anything, ever.

“Tell me, boys.”

My brother took a step timidly toward me. He gripped hold of my T-shirt.

“I want to know.”

I noticed that my mother, perhaps out of shame, had closed the dining room curtains. Very seventies curtains, white background with large yellow and orange circles. Just like the tablecloth. The chairs were fiberglass: white, oval, modern, their cushions also alternating orange and yellow. On the table there were two silver ashtrays, round and solid, one with an orange rim and the other with a yellow rim. My mother spent a lot of time in that perfectly matched dining room. It was the only place in the house where my father would let her smoke.

“Are you going to tell me or aren’t you?”

“We found them,” I murmured.

“Right, and where did you find them?”

“On the street.”

“On the street?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You found this on the street?”

“Uh-huh.”

She let the smoke out again, desperate.

“Go to your room,” she said, pronouncing sentence.

We didn’t move. My brother, downcast, was still clinging to my T-shirt.

“Maybe you’ll tell your father the truth.”

“But that is the truth . . .” I insisted.

“Immediately. You hear me? To your room.”

The tone in her voice was sharp, final, nonnegotiable.

We turned, climbed the steps, and went into our room. As if we’d also been forbidden from speaking or playing with anything, my brother quickly lay down on his bed and fell asleep. I closed the door. I played with my wire models for a bit. I put on the Beatles record I’d been given by an uncle and which was almost scratched from so much listening. I looked for my headphones, a huge contraption with a thick, coiled black cable. I lay on my back on the rug and listened to both sides of the vinyl—whispering the songs as well as the conversations between the four of them that came between each song and the next and which for some reason I liked even more—before the creak of my father opening the door startled me instantly back to alertness and woke my brother.

“Boys . . .” he spoke, deep, serious, with forced manliness, and he sat down in one of the two little white chairs, next to a little table made of the same white Formica on which we did our homework.

I stayed where I was, sitting on the floor, waiting for his inquisition, readying myself to learn what our punishment would be. But my father, huge and ungainly in that little toy chair, just started talking about decent acts and indecent acts, about pure nakedness and impure nakedness, about good women and bad women.

“You do understand what I’m saying, don’t you?”

My brother and I turned to look at one another. The expression on his face was puzzled, as though asking me for help. I didn’t know what our father was talking about either. But we both babbled that yes, of course we did.

“I’m glad, boys.”

My mother came into the room. In her hands she was carrying a large, square book.

“Now I want you to listen to your mother,” he stammered, made some effort, and with a bit of a grunt he finally managed to get himself out of the chair and to his feet.

My mother sat in the same toy chair. She put the book down on the little table and opened it at the first page. There was a drawing of a man and a woman, both naked, flabby, all pinkish, both smiling modestly. And as my mother explained to us, with the help of some awful childish illustrations, exactly how a baby was made, my father took a couple of folded pieces of paper out of his shirt pocket, dropped them on the small table, and without another word practically ran out of the room. My mother said something about a stiff, erect little birdie and I found, there on the table, a signed check and an annual subscription form to Playboy magazine.

Mujeres buena y mujeres malas” © Eduardo Halfon. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2012 by Daniel Hahn. All rights reserved.

Nunca supimos cómo nos descubrieron. Mi hermano insistía en que Márgara las había encontrado accidentalmente con la mano al estar poniendo sábanas limpias, y nos había delatado. Yo tenía otra sospecha. Varias veces había sorprendido a mi mamá revisando gavetas, o leyendo en secreto mi diario –era más bien un cuadernode apuntes y dibujos y garabatos–, o levantando con sigilo el auricular de otro teléfono mientras yo hablaba con algún amigo.

–Quiero que me digan de dónde las sacaron.

Ambos callamos. No era exactamente una pregunta.

–Díganme.

Mi mamá estaba sentada en una de las sillas blancas del comedor, los brazos cruzados, un cigarrillo ahumando hacia arriba y la pila de revistas frente a ella, sobre la mesa. Ni siquiera nos había saludado. Aún sosteníamos cuadernos y loncheras.

–Quiero saber dónde consiguieron esta porquería.

La respuesta era simple, supongo.

Una tarde, rondando en nuestras bicicletas por la coloniaEl Campo, mi hermano y yo habíamos encontrado una caja de cartón en un terreno baldío. Una caja grande, empapada por tanta lluvia, endeble y medio rota y llena de revistas porno que alguien había decidido botar. Volamos a casa y luego regresamos al terreno baldío con un par de mochilas y yo fui guardando todas las revistas mientras mi hermano vigilaba. Más tarde, ya encerrados con llave en nuestro baño y soplando página por página con el aire caliente de una secadora de pelo, descubrimos boquiabiertos que no eran revistas de porno de naipes –culos y tetas y a lo sumo, con suerte, un breve atisbo de vello púbico–, sino de un porno mucho más explícito –cueros y sogas y cadenas y penetraciones dobles y los pepinos de una morenaza que, imposible olvidarlo, se llamaba Mariana la Vegetariana y que tardamos  un poco en comprender qué hacía allí–. Pero comprendimos muy bien las fotos a todo color, y aún mejor su carácter prohibitivo, que para nosotros quizás era lo más importante. Escondimos las revistas secas y tiesas entre somier y colchón de ambas camas –aún dormíamos en el mismo cuarto–, y prometimos no decir nada, nunca, a nadie.

–Díganme, niños.

Mi hermano dio un paso tímido hacia mí. Se agarró de mi playera.

–Quiero saber.

Noté que mi mamá, quizás por vergüenza, había cerrado las cortinas del comedor. Unas cortinas muy años setenta, de fondo blanco y grandes bolas anaranjadas y amarillas. Igual que el mantel de la mesa. Las sillas eran de fibra de vidrio: blancas, ovaladas, modernas, alter-nando cojines también anaranjados y amarillos. Sobre la mesa había dos ceniceros de plata, redondos y macizos, uno con borde anaranjado y el otro con borde amarillo. Mi mamá pasaba mucho tiempo en aquel comedor perfectamente combinado. Era el único espacio de la casa donde mi papá le permitía fumar.

–¿Me van a decir o no?

–Las encontramos –murmuré.

–Ya, ¿y dónde las encontraron?

–En la calle.

–¿En la calle?

–Ajá.

–¿Encontraron esto en la calle?

–Ajá.

Volvió a soltar el humo con desesperación.

–Mejor váyanse a su cuarto –sentenció.

No nos movimos. Mi hermano, cabizbajo, seguía agarrándome la playera.

–Tal vez a su papá le dicen la verdad.

–Pero si ésa es la verdad… –insistí.

–Ahora mismo. ¿Oyeron? A su cuarto.

Su tono fue macheteado, final, no negociable.

Dimos media vuelta, subimos las gradas y entramos en nuestro cuarto. Mi hermano, como si también nos hubieran prohibido hablar o jugar algo, rápido se acostó en su cama y se quedó dormido. Yo cerré la puerta. Jugué un rato con mis muñecos de alambres y tuercas. Puse el disco de los Beatles que me había regalado uno de mis tíos y que ya había casi rayado de tanto escuchar. Bus-qué mis audífonos, unos audífonos enormes, con un largo cable negro y enrulado. Me eché boca arriba en la alfombra y oí ambos lados del acetato –susurrando las canciones y también los diálogos entre ellos cuatro, entre una canción y otra, que por alguna razón me gustaban aún más–, antes de que el chirrido de mi papá al abrir la puerta me despabilara de inmediato y despertara a mi hermano.

–Niños… –anunció profundo, serio, con forzada hombruna, y se sentó en una de las dos pequeñas sillas de formica blanca, frente a una mesita de la misma formica blanca donde hacíamos nuestros deberes.

Yo me quedé sentado en el suelo, esperando su inquisición, preparado para saber cuál sería nuestro castigo.

Pero mi papá, inmenso y torpe en aquella sillita de juguete, sólo empezó a hablarnos de actos dignos y actos indignos, de desnudez pura y desnudez impura, de mujeres buenas y mujeres malas.

–Sí me entienden, ¿verdad?

Nos volteamos a ver con mi hermano. Tenía él una expresión perpleja, como pidiéndome ayuda. Yo tampoco sabía de qué nos estaba hablando. Pero ambos le balbuceamos que sí, que por supuesto.

–Me alegro, niños.

Entró mi mamá. Llevaba en las manos un libro grande, cuadrado.

–Ahora quiero que le pongan atención a su mamá–balbuceó, hizo un esfuerzo, gruñó algo y por fin logró salirse de la silla y ponerse de pie.

Mi mamá se sentó en esa misma silla de juguete. Colocó el libro sobre la mesita y lo abrió en la primera página. Había allí una ilustración de un hombre y una mujer, ambos desnudos, fofos, rosaditos, ambos sonriendo con pudor. Y mientras mi mamá empezaba a explicarnos, con la ayuda de unos horribles dibujos infantiles, exactamente cómo se hacía un bebé, mi papa sacó un par de papeles doblados del bolsillo de su camisa, los dejó caer sobre la mesita y sin decir más salió casi corriendo del cuarto. Mi mamá dijo algo de un pajarito duro y tieso y yo descubrí, sobre la mesa, un cheque firmado y una tarjeta de suscripción anual para la revista Playboy.




Eduardo HalfonEduardo Halfon

Eduardo Halfon was born in Guatemala City. He moved to the United States with his family at the age of ten, went to school in South Florida, studied industrial engineering at North Carolina State University, and then returned to Guatemala to teach literature at Universidad Francisco Marroquín for eight years. Named one of the best young Latin American writers by the Hay Festival of Bogotá, he is also the recipient of the prestigious José María de Pereda Prize for the Short Novel. Although bilingual, Halfon chooses to write in Spanish and has published nine books of fiction. In 2011 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship to work on continuing the story of The Polish Boxer, which was the first of his books to be published in English, in 2012, by Bellevue Literary Press. Halfon now lives in Nebraska.

Translated from SpanishSpanish by Daniel HahnDaniel Hahn

Daniel Hahn is a writer, editor, and translator. His translations include fiction by José Eduardo Agualusa and José Luís Peixoto, and nonfiction by writers ranging from Portuguese Nobel literature laureate José Saramago to Brazilian footballer Pelé.