HOLY WEEK MASS
I must have been six at the time and the only food I liked was my grandmother’s, Jesús, a true artist in the kitchen. An exceptional hand. A witch. My mother and I lived in her house, along with my grandfather and twelve aunts and uncles, all of them my mother’s brothers and sisters. Therefore, with so many mouths to feed, in addition to my grandfather’s almost pathological stinginess, my grandmother had to work miracles so that food would not be lacking at home. That was why she kept a pen where she raised chickens, guinea pigs and rabbits. I helped her in the kitchen: I ground the chile and coriander, cleaned the rice, got the fire going, brought her water from the bucket, and ran errands for her. And more than once I saw her slit the throat of a chicken or rabbit with a steady hand and big smile, fully convinced that God had put them in our pen for our nourishment. She could prepare a dish out of anything, but her specialty was chicken stew. She prepared it simply, with its rice and potatoes, but with a seasoning that everyone at home attributed to her witchcraft. A true delicacy. Intoxicating. Almost fifty years later, I still remember what for me was her last stew. One day –it was some day during Holy Week– at around eleven in the morning, my grandmother announced that she was going to prepare a stew for lunch. I volunteered to help her, but that day she ordered me to go to church and not return, no matter what, until lunch time. I protested to no avail. I had no choice but to obey her. For the couple of hours the mass lasted, my mouth was watering. I could not think of anything else other than my grandmother’s blessed stew. The entire church smelled of chile and coriander. I began to feel something strange. My head was spinning. I thought the Christ on the cross grew wings and I heard the screech of a rooster. I ran out of the church and I returned home. Everyone was already seated at the table. They ate in ecstasy, as if transported to some sort of paradise. I sat down and my grandmother served me my portion. I ate slowly, mashing the rice with the potatoes, savoring every bite, chewing on the bones, praying from within that my plate never empty.
Then I heard something snap. It was my grandfather, who –as he licked his lips– exclaimed sighing, “Damn, Limpy sure was good!”
The food returned from my stomach onto the plate. My eyes met my grandmother’s and she looked at me cold as stone, ordering me to stop my tears. Limpy was my chicken. My pet. My soul mate. Almost a brother. They called him Limpy because he limped on his right leg, but his name was Jesús. I gave him that name, in honor of my grandmother. And it just so happens that, by pure coincidence, we ate him on Holy Week. Years later, my grandmother, Jesús, had her right leg amputated.
Isaac Goldemberg was born in Chepén, La Libertad, Peru. He studied Literature at City College and at New York University. He has lived in New York since 1964 where he directs the Latin American Writers Institute and the journal Brújula/Compás. His work has been translated into French, English, Hebrew, Italian, and German. His novel The Fragmented Life of Don Jacobo Lerner was selected as one of the 100 most important works of Jewish literature in the last 150 years.
This story was translated by Luis Guzmán Valerio.