“Woman Creature,” a short story by Brazilian writer and Machado de Assis Prize-winner Sheyla Smanioto, draws on the same polyphonic expression as her São Paulo Prize-winning novel Desesterro. Like that novel, “Woman Creature” gives expression to the outskirts of São Paulo and lives of the women who battle in the midst of a world defined by violence and the threat of hunger, making use of a storytelling method that shifts between dream and reality.
Maria Ana gone nowhere, but no one believe us if we say it. She gone to live in Cida’s dream.
Long time no one sees Maria Ana in Vilaboinha opening windows, beating cloths and raising dust, laying out on ledges. Long time no one see cloths on her window ledges. Cousin Tonício came round with some story for all us, rolling in drunk half-crazy swearing Maria Ana been ate up in one bite, wept hand on heart a woman creature swallowed up the girl in one fell chomp. It wouldn’t talk, the woman creature, wouldn’t look at us straight, only whine around like a mosquito and go about knocking things over, now and then straighting a curtain, honestly! One more woman we all had to pretend we couldn’t see.
Cida told nobody when a woman come to live in her dream. Maria Ana swept, set the table, did the cupboards, everything. Put doilies on the table, doilies on everything, doilies she crocheted herself, she crocheted herself out of Cida’s memories. Cida’s cranky grannies, three long faces in the window, they didn’t much like her hoity-toity doilies or her tables and chairs or Maria, specially not with windows open. But it was Maria Ana who shut them all fixed up locks, swore she hears roaring, Cida herself saw the shadow only.
Must be the creature, the creature breathing down her neck in Cida’s dream.
The living creature cast a shadow on the doorstep, Maria Ana locked everything and cried out before the old ladies, leave the poor thing alone, Maria Ana cried out and wept and when she isn’t shouting Cida can hear the vast breath expel from its nostrils, the hot breath, the longing in this creature, the thing was weeping, not roaring, the creature weeping and Maria Ana sobbing and Cida wakes up her body possessed and old lady Penha calling out daughter, my daughter, this is the way out, come here, my daughter.
Cida pretended she got a secret boyfriend. This didn’t bother her mama and Cida went over to see the creature which was also dreaming her.
Girl took her courage in both hands, had a good look at the woman creature’s body with its tough bull’s hide and wispy-dry pelt like lime leaves. Nowhere was the gaze of the woman in her dream to be found. Cida sidled right up close to hear the noise of spiders spinning their dull webs, the woman creature moaning to all around its memories, scratching her own face with her foot ’most tearing off her ear, matting her hair all over, armpit hair cobweb silk, dammit, who’d make a doily out these cobwebs?
Cida asked, and also asked the creature’s name she knew already but asked even so, and the woman creature took Cida’s words, Cida’s little words, took the words and went on snuffing and licking.
She went back to look after the creature, took a plate of leftovers, sat down with her. Got to straightening out the tangled webs with her fingers, plucking threads off the dry, wrinkled skin, picking out memories with her fingers dry snakish skin left along the way. Cida almost felt like who wouldn’t feel like making doilies with the fine soft thread of Maria Ana’s memories, but it was the creature who wove webs with Cida’s stick-thin fingers and her chicken-skin, with her furrowed palms hearing stories drip through.
Seems Cousin Tonício wanted a kiss just one kiss and us all saying to Maria Ana it wouldn’t cost her a nothing to lend her lips to the poor critter, he does so much for the family, he wouldn’t even let Maria Ana leave the house, brought her everything she had. The girl Maria Ana smoldering with desire didn’t want nothing from her Cousin Tonício battering at the door between her legs, didn’t like it at all but there wasn’t nothing we didn’t try to stop her being mean, you wilderness creature, throw your arms around him pronto, Maria, there’s nothing Cousin Tonício don’t do for you, go give him those legs, that belly, you never even had to step out of the house.
No woman keep her own body, dammit, drop this notion you’re one of a kind.
Cousin Tonício had a soft spot for Maria Ana. He doing his damnedest to make a baby with her, he’d go on thumping away and she would pick it out again, time and again like jackfruit flesh, press it out and eat it. Secrets go well with any meal. Cousin Tonício was making a devil’s deal for that girl and we all called Maria Ana ungrateful girl, dammit, that girl don’t know her own luck. She must be mad, she hadn’t even need to leave the house, Cousin Tonício brought her everything, clothes, dish of food, herbs so she can put on her wounds’ open lips, shut up or you’ll be hurt all over, he hardly hit her at all.
Don’t Maria Ana know this is what love is? A tree. There aren’t that many, so we tie ourselves to a little one and the stem grows up, us with the rope a rocky soil round the throat and the love grows grows grows till it’s closed around our throats.
One day Cousin Tonício battering at the doors in Maria Ana’s legs saw another door and left her, left the body behind left the guilt and went away to see that pain from afar. Every night she’d go, left her body for him, he’d take everything like the sun over Vilaboinha, she could only be mad wanting to get out, Cousin Tonício loved Maria Ana like mad, she could only be mad to come to grab her things. She out of her mind, and Tonício blind to Maria Ana taking back a little more of her body each time she went left, he didn’t even see Maria Ana he only wanted to rub his cock inside her and didn’t see Ana take out every word. Take it far. Every last word her name included.
And go live in Cida’s dream.
Cida wound all this on a bobbin and after Maria Ana hemmed so many doilies with matching rugs, in the end saw the body pulled down, head low, huge, the creature wanted stroking, a cuddle, a name. Cida left the pair of them alone there like teenage lovers and saw Maria Ana put her arm around it a tingle in both breathing together and saw the grannies praying the grannies almost crying and never saw Maria Ana again.
None of us heard any more talk of the woman creature prowling about our places, sending shadows through the cracks, Cida never again felt the woman creature’s hot breath as it prowled about her dreams.
Cida even dreamed that the woman was riding her own animal body, each forgiving the other and there are some swear they saw a house I swear to you a house right on the creature’s flanks as they rode away.
Cida ran to see if the creature’s eyes had curtains crocheted out of memories.
“Woman Creature” originally appeared in the Brazilian journal Revista Pessoa. It appears here as a part of WWB’s ongoing partnership with Revista Pessoa. Each month, WWB will bring readers new work that originally appeared in Pessoa here in English translation, and Pessoa will publish work from WWB’s pages in translation into Brazilian Portuguese.