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Authors: Horacio Castellanos Moya

The She-Devil in the Mirror

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Horacio Castellanos Moya

The She-Devil
in the Mirror

Translated from the Spanish
by Katherine Silver

A NEW DIRECTIONS PAPERBOOK ORIGINAL

TO TANIA MATA PARDUCCI, OTONIEL MARTÍNEZ AND PATRICIA ARDÓN, LUCRECIA ARDÓN, ANA TOMICO

1. THE WAKE

H
OW COULD SUCH A TRAGEDY HAVE HAPPENED,
my dear? I just spent the
whole morning with Olga María at her boutique at the Villas Españolas Mall, she
had to check on a special order. It's unbelievable. I still can't believe it;
it's like a nightmare. I don't know why they're taking so long to get her ready:
it's already five thirty, and they still haven't brought her out. It's that
magistrate, he took his sweet time. He's a disgrace. The poor thing, stretched
out there on her living room floor, everybody and his brother coming and going
through the house. How horrible. They let me know right away: Sergio, Olga
María's brother, called my house and said something terrible had happened, Olga
María had been “mortally wounded” during an attempted robbery. That's what he
said: “mortally wounded.” I couldn't believe it—I'd been with her just an hour
and a half earlier. We left the boutique and walked to the parking lot together.
She said she was going to pick the girls up at school and then she'd call me in
the afternoon. No wonder Sergio's call caught me totally by surprise. I asked
him which hospital they'd taken her to. He said she wasn't in a hospital, she
was lying dead on her living room floor, and Marito had taken the girls to Doña
Olga's. I was in shock. I couldn't even react. Then I said, “I'm on my way.” I
drove like a madwoman, like I was on drugs, my dear, I don't know how I managed
to avoid having an accident. So many images of her raced through my mind, and
the last words we'd exchanged that morning, about how happy she was that sales
at the boutique were up and about how she was trying to patch up her
relationship with Marito. And then something like this—it's so unfair. Anyway,
their house is in Colonia La Sultana, and I live in Santa Tecla, so it took me
only ten minutes to get there. The police were already there. I dashed out of my
car, I wanted to prove to myself that it wasn't true, Olga María was still
alive, and everything had been a terrible mistake. But there was her body,
stretched out on the living room rug next to the sofa in a pool of blood,
covered with a white sheet. I knelt down and lifted the edge of the sheet: the
hole in her head was small, but all her brains had poured out the back. Oh, my
dear, I felt horrible—I even felt like vomiting. But I was too upset to even
cry. I covered her back up. Sergio placed his hands on my shoulders and told me
he needed me to be with the girls, they'd killed her in cold blood right in
front of them, they were still in shock when Marito came to get them. Imagine
that: those murderers killed Olga María right in front of the girls. It's
unforgivable. They sure are taking their sweet time, they should be bringing her
out any minute, a lot of people are starting to arrive. We chose a black satin
dress for her, very elegant. I want to see how it looks. Doña Olga had her
doubts, but finally she followed my advice: it is her prettiest dress, the one
that looks best on her. Sergio insisted I go to their mother's to help her with
the girls, because Marito had to get back to the house to deal with all the
legalities, after all he is her husband, the owner of the house, he's the one
who's responsible for everything. Poor Marito, he's devastated. I didn't see him
till later. We must've crossed paths, he on his way back to the house and me on
my way to Doña Olga's. I was so eager to give the girls a hug, protect them,
somehow make them forget what they'd seen. But halfway there, I broke down, it
was horrible, my dear, I was choking and I couldn't breathe; I managed to pull
off the road, then I started crying uncontrollably—my forehead on the steering
wheel, I was crying for Olga María, for the girls, for Marito, for myself,
because if I didn't get it off my chest it would only get worse later. When I
got there a doctor was talking to the girls. Doña Olga seemed composed, strong,
she wasn't even crying, though you could see in her body how tortured she was.
She told me they'd just given the girls a sedative, they were very upset, the
best thing for them now was to get some rest instead of going over what they'd
seen again and again, that's what the doctor recommended. I hugged them, trying
to control myself: I didn't want them to see me falling apart. Little Olga just
turned ten, she's so grown up, so pretty, just like her mother, the same
expressions, intelligent like her, too; Raquelita looks more like Marito, and
she's a bit withdrawn, maybe because she's the youngest. They've always called
me Auntie, even though we're not related, Olga María taught them to call me
that: Auntie Laura. We were best friends, have been ever since we started at the
American School—imagine that, twenty-three years ago. Finally, they're bringing
her out. Come on, come with me, let's see how she looks. Look at those gorgeous
flower arrangements: Marito's advertising agency sent them over. I told you
that's her best dress—don't you think she looks gorgeous, they did a good job on
her, you can barely even see the hole in her head. Life is a catastrophe. How
could this have happened to her? You went to her last birthday party, remember?
She was so happy to be turning thirty—she said the best part of life was just
beginning, always so optimistic, so vivacious. Those sons of bitches, those
cowards, they should all be killed. Doesn't her hair look great? It's just like
she used to wear it for parties, Mercedes herself came from the salon to do it.
They're truly evil, all they wanted to do was kill her, they didn't steal
anything, they didn't even try to. That's what little Olga told me this
afternoon: he snuck up on them in the garage as they were getting out of the
car, then forced them into the living room and there, without a word, he shot
Olga María in the chest, then one to the head to finish her off. Disgraceful.
Makes me so angry. More people are starting to arrive—let's go sit down. Look,
here comes Marito. Sergio said he was going home to change clothes. Doña Olga
and the girls will be here around seven, those poor dears, those girls have
behaved so well, it's amazing how grown up they are. The one I'm worried about
is Marito, he seems fragile, I don't know what he'd have done without Sergio.
It's been a crazy afternoon. I spent about an hour at Doña Olga's, trying to
distract the girls until the sedatives kicked in so they'd fall asleep. That's
when little Olga told me about the murderer and how all he wanted was to kill
Olga María: she told him to take the car, whatever he wanted, just don't hurt
them, especially not the girls; but he didn't want anything, he just wanted to
kill her, like someone had sent him, like he'd been given explicit instructions.
Something smells rotten, because Olga María couldn't have any enemies. That's
exactly what I told those insolent policemen who came to Doña Olga's asking for
the girls; they wanted to question them, they said, because they were the only
ones who'd seen the killer, they urgently needed a description of the murderer
so they could make a composite sketch—they kept insisting it was very important.
But the doctor said the girls shouldn't be disturbed—I told them—and anyway they
were already asleep, so they'd better put off their questioning till tomorrow.
But they were pigheaded, especially the boss, the one who said his name was
Deputy Chief Handal, what a pig of a man—that's why we're in the mess we're in:
the police spend their time harassing defenseless little girls instead of
catching criminals. That's what I told him. No reaction. He just repeated that
the sooner they got a description of the suspect the easier it would be to
organize a manhunt and capture him. But I wasn't going to let those rude men
wake up the girls. I stood my ground and told them they would have to wait a
couple of hours until the girls woke up, and if the girls ended up with some
permanent psychological damage, I would hold them responsible—Handal and that
other nasty man who said his name was Detective Villalta—and that wouldn't be
the end of it because I'd sue them, and I'm not just some nobody, they couldn't
mess with me, they'd better be very careful and show more respect or they'd soon
find out who they were dealing with. But little Olga hadn't fallen asleep yet,
she was lying down and dozing—a bit dazed from the sedatives—and what with the
ruckus those policemen were making, she woke up. She got out of bed and appeared
in the doorway and asked what was going on, maybe she got scared that the
policemen were murderers, like the one who'd just killed Olga María. These two
gentlemen, I explained to her, were policemen investigating her mother's death,
and she should go back to bed because they were just about to leave. But that
Deputy Chief Handal shoved his way in front of me and started interrogating
little Olga—such a snake, they've got no respect for anybody, that pig—and they
wanted to take advantage of little Olga's innocence to get her to tell them what
she'd already told me: that the murderer didn't want anything, all he wanted was
to kill Olga María. Three times the deputy chief asked little Olga to repeat
every detail of the story, and he kept asking her questions—what a
degenerate—then he called in some creep with a mustache who was supposed to make
a sketch based on the girl's information. Little Olga said the murderer was tall
and heavy-set, a big huge guy, clean-shaven, with very short hair, like a
soldier's, and he was wearing blue jeans and white tennis shoes, like the kind
astronauts wear, she said. The deputy chief asked her if she remembered any
other details, anything out of the ordinary that would help them identify the
suspect. Little Olga said he walked like RoboCop, that robot policeman on
television. I warned the deputy chief to leave the girl alone, not to take
advantage of her, who knows what damage it could do—she'd just taken a strong
sedative. But that Handal creep kept at it: Was he alone? Did little Olga see
the car he drove away in? Was she aware of anybody else in the street? Did the
housekeeper show up before or after the crime had been committed? Oh no, not
her, not our Julita, how could they possibly suspect her, I butted in, what a
pig, Julita practically raised Olga María, and now she's almost fifty, what are
they thinking, she's worked for Doña Olga and Olga María her entire life, she's
totally trustworthy, how could he be such an idiot. Doña Olga agreed. Little
Olga explained that Julita came into the living room after the shots were fired,
she was in the laundry room at the back of the house—she was the one who called
Marito and Sergio and Doña Olga, and she was the one who ran to get help from
the neighbors. You see those people coming in now: they work at Marito's
agency—don't they look young? The tall one in the brown suit with curly hair and
little round glasses, yes, the good-looking one, that's the new marketing
director Marito just hired. Olga María told me about him; she was right, he's
very handsome. Anyway, as I was saying, once they finished with little Olga,
that Deputy Chief Handal said he wanted to ask me a few questions, alone, seeing
as how I'd known the victim so well, seeing how I'd been her best friend, maybe
I could help him, give him a few leads so he could find out what happened. But I
suspected he had something nasty up his sleeve, people like that—so crass, so
degenerate, so dirty-minded—I've always known about policemen like him, that's
why I was on my guard, I didn't want him to think he could trip me up. And it
was just as I'd feared: the deputy chief asked me if I knew of any enemies Olga
María or Marito might have, or maybe they had a big debt, or if there was an
employee who'd threatened them after getting fired, or, with all due
respect—those were his words, brazen man, “with all due respect”—if Olga María
had had any extramarital relationships, maybe there was a disappointed lover,
someone who might want to hurt her. That's when I got furious: he was a total
idiot, I shouted at him, a complete boor, whatever made him think I was going to
talk to some nobody like him, about my best friend's private life, where could
he possibly have gotten such an idea, how could he suspect such an honest
honorable woman, someone so devoted to her family and her work, what a
scandalous insinuation; Olga María didn't have any enemies, nobody would ever
dream of wanting to kill her, it had to have been a mistake or the act of a
madman. I almost threw them out of the apartment, that's how dreadful they were,
like mangy dogs. Right then Cuca, Sergio's wife, arrived: she was crying her
head off, asking if the girls were alright, if Doña Olga needed anything. Here
come Cheli and Conchita, Olga María's assistants at the boutique, you know them,
don't you? They look so
comment il faux
, they adored Olga María,
they've been working for her ever since she first opened the boutique, who knows
what'll happen to them now. Marito will have to decide, or Doña Olga, whether to
sell or not. As I was saying, Cuca arrived and we left her to look after the
girls so Doña Olga and I could go to Olga María's house to make sure they fixed
her up as best as possible. We took my car. Doña Olga had taken some strong
sedatives—the poor woman is pretty old and unwell, and the doctor told her not
to go to the scene of the crime, just the sight of it could do her great harm,
she should wait till they took her to the funeral home. Sergio agreed and
managed to convince her to wait. But when we got to Olga María's house, her body
was still there. That's what I'm telling you: the magistrate is a stupid old
drunk, he must have been out partying with his secretaries, I'm sure of it,
that's why he took so long and why we couldn't prevent Doña Olga from seeing her
daughter with her head blown to bits. But Marito and I took her by her arm and
we led her into the master bedroom so she could help me choose the clothes to
dress Olga María in, and the jewelry, and the right makeup, that's what I said,
but Doña Olga, who's always so composed and on top of things, she was falling
apart, sobbing, which is understandable, her eldest daughter, her most beloved
daughter, lying there dead in the living room, and for no reason whatsoever. I
opened the closet door so we could look through her clothes, I was trying to
distract Doña Olga; that's when I picked out that black satin dress Olga María
is wearing. I called Mercedes at the beauty salon to tell her what had happened
and ask her to come to the funeral home to do Olga María's hair as best she
could, and I suggested Doña Olga take her daughter's jewelry, just in case the
policemen started rummaging through her things and decided to steal whatever
they could get their hands on. The magistrate finally arrived just as we were
leaving the bedroom. Marito asked me to take Doña Olga to the funeral home so
she could be there when the body arrived and help get it ready. So that's what I
did. Then I went home to change and make myself presentable once and for all
because I'm going to stay here all night—Diana is arriving tomorrow morning,
supposedly, that's Olga María's younger sister, the one who's been living in
Miami for years, that's what she said, that she'd get on the first flight
tomorrow, they're three hours ahead, so there's no way she could get here today.
That one standing next to the coffin must be Memo, Marito's second in command,
he just started working with him; Olga María didn't take to him very well,
probably because he took Julio Iglesias's job—that's what we called the Spaniard
who helped Marito start the agency. Now, he was a hunk, tall and gorgeous,
though with a bit of a belly for my taste, but he drove Olga María crazy for a
few months, that Julio Iglesias, she used to tell me she didn't know what to do,
he was her husband's partner, her husband's friend, but she had the hots for
him. It's not that she was unfaithful, on the contrary, that's why it was so
hard for her, because that was the first time she'd been attracted in that way
to another man since she'd gotten married to Marito, it was the first time she
went further than being her naturally flirtatious self, all Marito's fault, I
can tell you, because this was when he'd all but abandoned Olga María. We never
found out who was behind it—just look at him over there, all meek and
mild-mannered, but Marito's a sneaky devil, I always suspected he had a few
things on the side, and Olga María found out about at least two of his sluts.
That was right around the time Marito decided to start his own agency, and he
asked Julio Iglesias, from Madrid, also an expert in advertising, to be his
partner; he'd just come to San Salvador as a consultant for the company Marito
was working for. But I knew right off the bat: I'd seen that same gleam in Olga
María's eyes when we were at the American School, when she started drooling over
one of our classmates. Julio Iglesias began going over to their house for
dinner, more and more frequently, and Olga María was getting hooked, little by
little, because he liked her, too, who wouldn't, and what with talking about the
business and sitting around the table after dinner, they started finding
opportunities to say things to each other, seducing each other right under
Marito's nose, because he was putting all his energy into starting his agency.
There was no applying the brakes once Julio Iglesias showed up one afternoon at
the boutique, casually, as if he just happened to be at the Villas Españolas
Mall to do a little shopping and just happened to run into a friend—his
partner's wife—at her boutique. Olga María was totally nonchalant so Cheli and
Conchita wouldn't notice that she was melting for that man who invited her out
for a cup of coffee, right there, in the mall, and once they were sitting in the
café he told her he couldn't stop thinking about her, he could no longer control
his passion. And Olga María had to admit that she'd been thinking about him a
lot, too, though she couldn't say she loved him, nor that she was in love with
him, just that it was something weird, something new. Julio Iglesias had an
apartment across the street from the Sheraton Hotel, near Villas Españolas; he
suggested they meet there, that would be best, he didn't want to complicate
things with Marito, his partner and friend. Olga María told him she'd give it
some thought, it wasn't so simple, even though her relationship with Marito was
on the rocks, she loved him, and there were the two girls, she didn't want to
risk everything, throw away eleven years of her life. But Julio Iglesias kept at
it: he called her at the boutique, came by every once in a while to invite her
out for coffee (always making it seem proper, needless to say, even though Cheli
and Conchita must have suspected something), and when he ate at the house he'd
whisper sweet nothings in her ear. Until she couldn't resist and said she would,
she'd come to his apartment, but they had to plan it very carefully, there were
a lot of obstacles to overcome, because he couldn't pick her up at the boutique
and she couldn't drive to his apartment—what if Marito or one of his friends saw
her car parked in front of Julio Iglesias's apartment, how would they explain
that, huh? That's where I came in, Auntie Laura, who else? Best friend,
confidante, the only one who could make this whole thing happen. You can't
imagine, my dear, how nervous Olga María was at noon that day; the story was
that I'd invited her out for lunch at a new vegetarian restaurant, so Marito
should pick up the girls and then she'd go straight back to the boutique after
lunch without going home. That was the story. The idea was that I'd pick her up
at the boutique around twelve fifteen, then I'd drop her off at Julio Iglesias's
apartment, I'd go eat lunch at my cousin's, and at two fifteen I'd pick her up.
The poor thing was terrified when I got to the boutique—she was still unsure; it
was her first time. But as soon as we got in my car, she relaxed a little. She
was dressed casually—a green miniskirt, I remember it perfectly—but very
elegant, classy, as usual. She stepped confidently out of the car, and I was the
one left biting my fingernails, wondering how things would go, if finally they'd
make love or if she'd only let him kiss her—she wasn't even sure herself. I'm
telling you, that's the guy who took Julio Iglesias's place as vice president of
Marito's advertising agency; look how the other employees greet him, with such
respect, not at all like they treated that guy from Madrid I've been telling you
about. Anyway, at two fifteen on the dot I was parked in front of Julio
Iglesias's apartment; I honked the horn and saw her come out—happy, glowing, on
cloud nine. I wanted her to tell me everything, all the juicy details,
immediately. She told me she had the best time, better than she'd ever expected:
he'd made a delicious salad and opened a fine bottle of white wine, ice cold—the
way she loved it. He started kissing her the minute she stepped into the
apartment, and he never stopped kissing and touching her, so tender, that's why
she couldn't resist, and right there in the living room she let him undress her,
and he kissed her all over her body, so gently, a marvel, dear me—those were her
very words. Then he picked her up and carried her to the bed, but the poor guy
was kind of nervous, tense, so he came really fast, no warning, before they even
got to the good stuff. Then he felt terrible, poor thing, and apologized. But
that's no big deal, you know, my dear, it being the first time and all and with
a man who caresses you so affectionately. That's what Olga María told me before
I dropped her back off at the boutique. There's Sergio and Cuca now. Sergio's a
handsome devil, I can't figure out how he ended up with Cuca, even though she is
nice, but she's not woman enough for him, don't you think? The problem is that
Julio Iglesias started to fall in love. The second time—I dropped Olga María off
at his apartment another afternoon—not only did he declare his love and tell her
he was thinking about her constantly but also that he wanted her to be his
forever, she should divorce Marito, it didn't make sense for her to stay with
him if she didn't love him anymore, he wanted to marry her and give her
everything she could ever want, on the spot, right then and there. Can you
imagine? Men really are brutes, my dear: there he had her all to himself, ready
and willing, to be enjoyed to his heart's content, but no, he had to start in
with his demands, with all that possessiveness nonsense, as if Olga María would
be fool enough to leave Marito, the father of her children, just for the sake of
going off to live with some Spaniard. That Julio Iglesias turned out to be a
real cretin: he was so obsessed he didn't even care that Marito was his partner
and friend, he'd call her with no discretion whatsoever, and then he'd show up
at the boutique acting like a lunatic. That's why there never was a third time.
Olga María got desperate, being stalked like that, such pigheadedness: she asked
him not to call her anymore, to forget about what had happened between them. She
reminded him she was a married woman and had two daughters—he couldn't just
ignore all that—and she told him there was absolutely no way she would leave
Marito to live with him. You know what that dimwit said? My dear, he said he had
a flat and a Mercedes Benz in Madrid and she could start a new life there, they
could just slip away so there wouldn't even be a scandal. Yes, my dear, handsome
but dumb, that Julio Iglesias. He finally calmed down, resigned himself to the
situation, but not before trying to blackmail her—can you believe it?—he
threatened to tell Marito. A few months ago he went back to Madrid for good. He
and Olga María were distant, cold, civil to each other when Marito was
around—and as it turned out, Julio Iglesias was nothing but a sham, he had a
wife in Spain and a few weeks after his

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