A Short Story From:  Strangers And Graves
Peter Feibleman

     Across the room the tension in her voice touched the blind man queerly. Through the thing he called darkness (that only his wife knew was not darkness to him because you must be able to see in order to see even darkness) and through his forgotten hunger and the worry for his family; through all things now he felt needlessly sorry for this woman who had come to collect money from him. He pushed his chair back and stood up. "Senora," he said quietly, "my intention has not been to make trouble for you. It has only been to pay my bill. I have not meant to make you feel . . ."
     "Shut up," the woman shouted to him viciously across the room. "Shut up now. Idiot. Don't talk. Do not be a Shameless. Do not talk to me without respect, Sinverguenza, pay my husband's bill, that is why I am here. You are not my problem. You are your wife's problem. My husband is my problem. You are not my husband."
     She ceased speaking and reached for breath, herself again hearing what she had said. It was in his darkness that the Devil had possessed her and it was in the worst possible way. She had said "Shut up" and those two words had flown off, dragging other words after them and forming a magic circle in the air until the end had met the beginning: the meeting of opposites had taken place out of her mouth so that "You are not my husband'' merely completed what "Shut up" had begun: and in the moment of heating them now she knew that the opposites were the same.
     So her body had turned inside out exactly as she had felt it would and there she was. She. She who was her own opposite.
     And she knew then too (the one who was her opposite) that shouting would not help. Not against this person. She felt awkward. She felt as though she had just been taken against her ardent will but with her most ardent cooperation. She felt huge and powerless, like a country whose church has just been separated from its state. The only thing that could help her now, the only possible thing, was to unpower him in return; the woman of the melodramatic instincts sensed that she must somehow destroy the blind man and raising her voice would not do it. It would take an enormous amount of something other than shouting to eradicate this man that had in some mysterious way, so insultingly, so easily, without even touching her, ravaged her.
     She looked blindly in her mind for a way to do it but she could not find any. She counted the seconds and said, "I beg your pardon," and she had never said that in her life. She said, "I am unwell today. There are so many things that . . ."
     "I understand," the blind man said.
     She was afraid he did. She coughed and bit her mouth.
     "Sit down, Senora," the blind man said.
     She groped forward to the table and sat in the chair he pushed forward for her. His chair.
     "You see, my husband and I... we... we have no money either," she began, lying, "the fact is so few of our bills are ever paid. That is what makes me unwell. No one pays us willingly and I must go out on the street and berate people to make them pay us what they owe us. That is my position; I am a berator of people. All the people think that I am a horrible woman. Yes, yes they think so. No, do not answer me . . ." (He was not going to.) "... I know what they say. All the world thinks that I am a very proud woman."
     "I do not think so," the blind man said. "No?"
     "No," the blind man said. "I do not think that you are proud."
     "I am not proud: I am a poor woman just like everybody else," the Senora de Quico said, trying to sound as though she were trying not to cry. "I have my lot in life. I have become a bill collector. I, who was the daughter of the owner of a certain fish market. I was not born to be a berator of people. But who, tell me, would collect the bills if I did not . . . ah? How would we live, my husband and I? Would my husband find money to buy more meat to sell if I did not collect for what has been sold? I am not like you," she said to the blind man's wife, "everyone respects you. Everyone is sorry for you. Who respects me? No one."
     "You must learn to respect yourself," the blind man said, "it is the only respect that counts."
     The Senora de Quico slapped herself on the neck with three fingers and knew, without shock or suddenness, that if she had had a knife in her hand at that moment she would have cut the blind man's throat. "Alii esta," she said, "There it is. You have said it exactly. I must learn to respect myself. I will begin tomorrow... Tomorrow evening I will bring meat here whether you have money or not . . ."
     "No . . ."
     "Yes. Do not answer me," the Senora de Quico said, rising, "I will bring a package of fresh meat tomorrow. How can I thank you? How can I respect myself coming to this house without meat, seeing the children without food, coming only for the money?"
     She hurried to the door, past the blind man's protests and his outstretched arm.
     "For the children," she said at the door, "that we must all think of them. I will have a new respect for myself tomorrow by doing at least one good thing. Listen," she said as if it were an afterthought, "... you know what you must do? I can tell you why you do not make money. I know about these things; I am a student of the new psychology. It is because your son is too tall; he has grown, he is a tall boy even for his age. The people on the street cannot feel pity for a man with a son so tall, comprende usted? Take the little girl instead. Not so clean. Your children are always clean. Learn from the gypsies . . . you should let her face be dirty as the gypsies do and . . ." she saw the blind man's eyes and said quickly, "or forget the dirt. Listen. The dirt is not important, you are not gypsies. You are a good family. But you must take the smaller child with you to the street comer. Not the boy, estamos? Send him to work alone. Take the little girl instead and from the American tourists especially you will make money. The Americans love to give money to little ones. It is their great pleasure to be noble with children. You will make money with the girl, I know what I say . . . You will see . . ."
     The door closed and the room was silent again with them in it, except for the fading footsteps of the Senora de Quico, her flat rope soles slapping on the damp bulbous cobblestones outside.
     It had rained that day.
     The boy kept his eyes on his father.
     He kept watching and they sat there and then his mother got up and went to the stove. She took the remainder of the heated coffee and poured it into his father's cup and then into his.
     She sat down and said nothing and the boy's sister said nothing and his father said nothing and the boy said nothing. He did not move. Over his father's head he was aware weakly of the eyes of God, wracked and outraged, agonized; straining and shining wetly heavenward like the cobblestones outside, as if the Senora de Quico had walked recently over them.

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