Essay
To Adorn the Saints

To Adorn the Saints

Liliana V. Blum

In the streets of San Cordelio de Cocoyótl, orange peels, leaves of tamales, dust, and people jostle rhythmically against the wind. The village observes once again the day that flaunts the name of its patron saint. Every villager celebrates with dances, songs, and an excessive practice of some of the deadly sins. Suddenly, in the bell tower, a woman appears. The men who celebrate in the courtyard of the church raise their eyes and see Ludivina Castañón, naked and dangling by her hands from the rope of the bell, her breasts swaying to the rhythm of the clapper. Like popcorn when it stops popping, the noises of the fiesta fade one by one. The men urinating suspend their golden trickles, frozen in a perfect arch from their penises to the ground, even though some of them lose their aim and wet their neighbors. The dancers in the courtyard stop their bodies in figurine-like poses, taking off their masks with surprise. Between sniffles of mucus and resentment, the crybabies clean their noses with the back of their hands and become hushed. The ardent solitary candle intensifies its flame. Even the eyes of the adorned icon seem to become larger with interest. In a moment, all eyes are on the bell tower. Jaws drop, pupils marvel, imaginations run wild.

Ludivina Castañón keeps swinging under the bell, naked as a fish, the queen of the fiesta, of the church, of the whole village. From below, the celebrants can’t take delight in the exact details on a larger scale. They can’t see the texture of her freckled skin, spotted and sweet-smelling like the peel of ripe bananas. Nor they can appreciate the delicacy of her hairdo, full of hairspray, so vertical and fantastic, a beehive on her head. But much more difficult is to discover and understand the virginity Ludivina Castañón has painfully endured in each pore, in each cell of her body, for many years.

In the village, they had always suspected that Ludivina Castañón had a touch of madness. There even existed the myth that in her boarding house, exclusively for men, the mature single lady played the piano in her birthday suit just when her tenants were having their afternoon snacks. But it was nothing more than a rumor. No man in the village could testify with absolute certainty to Ludivina’s alleged exhibitionism. On the other hand, all the women who attended mass every day saw the devout woman receiving Holy Communion. She was always dressed austerely and modestly, with a rosary and the Bible in her hand. No one dared speak ill of her, that is, no one had the audacity to do so openly at least, or if anything only some sympathetic commentary: “Poor Ludi, so lonely and helpless, no man to look after her and watch out for her.”

But this day is not like any other; there is no whispering behind anyone’s back. Here she is, in front of the whole village, exposing her fallen breasts, her smooth hips, and her pubes, an unspoiled forest, while the bell tolls wildly. Some of the women waver between covering their children’s eyes and their husbands’. However, the most avid look certainly belongs to Catarino, the sacristan, who, by the way, doesn’t consider celibacy as one of the requirements for being assistant to the priest. For example, on his “menu” he includes, along with the sheep and hens from the corral, the ladies in the red light district, who give him a discount once in a while. A chubby and generous man, at last he crosses himself, overcome by anguish. How many times has he undressed Ludivina Castañón with his eyes when she got in line to receive Holy Communion! It’s true, he has dreamed of stripping all women who attended mass of their clothes. Still, Catarino suspects Ludivina’s madness is a divine punishment for his carnal thoughts. “Mea culpa, mea culpa,” he strikes his brown and hairless chest.

Suddenly, silence returns to the village. Confident that the entire village watches her, Ludivina has stopped pulling the rope of the bell tower. The old men are about to burst into speculation about her motive. The women can’t resist exchanging shocked and caustic critiques of Ludivina’s body. The men want to shout something vulgar—anything—because their simple nature doesn’t inspire them to do anything else in a situation like this. The priest assumes responsibility of the matter. After all, Ludivina is in the bell tower of his church and is a member of his flock. So he whispers a few words to an altar boy who apparently has some sort of mental defect. The boy goes out running and returns in a few minutes with the news that the naked woman has closed the door and bolted herself inside the bell tower.

Before someone can curse or come up with a brilliant idea on how to take Ludivina Castañón out of her confinement, something happens. She goes up to the window so that the people can have a better look at her. Between her breasts, which are like two giant pink-nosed caterpillars hanging over her belly, she holds a brown-feathered pigeon. Then she kisses its oval head and lets it fly. The creature, as if led by San Jorge, gracefully perches on the sacristan’s shoulder. When Catarino is about to put the bird down to take it home—well, you know what for, maybe for a lonely moment when the sheep aren’t around— someone notices the piece of paper around its claw. “It’s a carrier pigeon,” says Doña Cococha and snatches the unhappy bird from the unhappy sacristan. By the authority bestowed by God and none other than the Pope himself, Father Girasol opens the sheet of paper before his face, adjusts his glasses, and reads the following note aloud, as if he were giving one of his best sermons.

I’m my own hostage. I’ll be locked up here until the next conditions are met:
1. Send a man to the bell tower. He must be young and attractive. Well, at least he should have good equipment and deliver the goods.
2. The man must stay with me at least one night and must be at my complete disposal.
3. The man must bring a garnish of strawberries and guavas, as well as red wine and a pizza with mushrooms.
4. If someone comes to rescue me, or rather, if the man doesn’t turn up within the next three hours, I swear I’ll jump from the window and all of you, people of San Cordelio de Cocoyótl, will be responsible for my death.
Yours sincerely,
Ludivina Castañón

The married women, forcefully but discretely, squeeze the arm of their husbands so that no one will offer himself as a volunteer. The adolescents are itching with their hormones and recently awakened lust, but no one dares say a word. Ludivina, the virginal señorita Castañón, couldn’t be further from the sex goddess they would dream of. The priest excuses himself by default while the old men are, sadly, defeated by the gravity of the passing years. It all seems to point to Catarino, the sacristan—he’s the only choice! Father Girasol forgives his sin beforehand for being a pious man on a mission to save a life. He’ll later make sure that those two become man and wife. “I’ll have to sacrifice myself,” sighs the sacristan with feigned resignation. He knows very well that when all’s said and done, it would suit him well to have a female companion of his own species instead of the pigeon, just for a change. Some women run to bring wine and fruits and ask for a pizza by telephone—no peculiar thing these days. With modernization and the free market, the tiny village, despite its dirt roads, has been flooded with franchises of greasy pizzas and telephone companies that fight for the few inhabitants’ business.

In the midst of the uproar, no one remembers the patron saint of San Cordelio de Cocoyótl. His image, dressed up in fine clothes and carrying a crown veneered with gold, sheds a tiny teardrop: from now on, he’ll have no one to adorn him.


Posted: April 3, 2012 at 2:26 am

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