Part 15, The Mother of a Beautiful Baby Girl
George refused to accept the responsibilities of fatherhood, so now he'll have to learn to deal with becoming a mother.
-- Doctor Cantáº was correct concerning the arrival of Pansy’s baby. Pansy felt slight cramps in her belly early on the 30th. The pain was unfamiliar, as though it was in a new set of muscles. She called the doctor, who was still in the clinic. “I think my baby’s coming,” Pansy told her. “Either that or someone kicked me hard in the belly. ¡It hurt, Doctor!”
“It’ll hurt more, I’m afraid. It’ll be a while yet before you go into serious labor. At least the baby’s had the decency to arrive at a reasonable hour.” She chuckled and told Pansy, “I’ve heard some women say that if men had to have the babies, they’d be a lot more careful. Well, your Seá±or Cualquiera’s about to get a belated education.”
The next contraction came half an hour later, then twenty-two minutes, then twenty-seven. Gradually the intervals shortened and the pain became more severe. Pansy received the light anesthetic she had been promised. Soon she was sweating profusely.
Ten hours later she was still on the delivery table, and suffering more than she had imagined possible. “ ¡Aaaaahhhyyy! ¡Aaagh! ¡Aaa! Ooooh! Doctor, ¿are you cer… certain that was an… an anes… anesthetic? ¡I’m getting some… ¡s… oooOOooh! some real pain!” She was getting hoarse from crying out.
A nurse put a cool cloth on her brow. She felt a sudden wetness around her crotch. The nurse announced, “Her waters have broken, Doctor.”
“ ¡Good! It won’t be long now, Pansy. Here, chew on this.” She gave Pansy a leather-covered rubber rod. “When the pain becomes too bad, bear down on your stomach muscles. ¡Push! ¡Push your child out!”
When the pain gets too bad? “Doctor, it… already feels…” Her face contorted. Conscious thought fled as the pain swept over her. “ ¡Aaaiiiiyyyy! ¡Aahh! ¡Aaaaaiih! ¡Aaahh!”
“ ¡Chew! ¡Chew on the rod, Pansy! ¡And bear down! ¡Push! ¡Push as hard as you can!”
She pushed. It felt as though her guts were being torn out. Even after being warned, she had had no idea of the agony involved in having a baby.
Cantáº repeated, “ ¡Bear down! ¡Bear down!” Pansy was near exhaustion with pain and effort, but she obeyed, pushing with all her strength. Suddenly it felt as though she were passing a watermelon. The doctor cried, “ ¡Here we go!” Pansy gave a last effort and felt the baby slide out to meet the world. The pressure and pain were suddenly only memories. As she lay there reveling in the lack of pain, she heard a slap and a thin squall. Cantáº came around to her head and showed her a tiny infant, wrinkled and red. “Your daughter, Pansy. You’re a mother now.” Pansy sat up, and the nurse quickly rearranged her pillows. She reached out and took the baby–her baby.
The nurse beamed at her. “She’s a beautiful baby, Seá±ora.” Pansy thought cynically, “ ¿What baby ain’t?” but she found herself agreeing despite her cynicism. Her daughter’s eyes were screwed shut, and her face looked like a red prune. Still, as Pansy held her, she had to agree: it was a beautiful little prune. Cantáº, who had left for a moment, returned with Herná¡ndez and Weiss. As Pansy held the infant, she began to wave her miniature arms. The obstetrician told Pansy, “You can rest now. It’ll be a while before she needs to be fed, and you had a hard time. You won’t need to breastfeed her for a day or so.” Herná¡ndez and Weiss both had a proprietary look as she lay there exhausted, and Pansy realized they were proud of the success of their project. Their masterpiece–her body–had passed its final test. She cursed them both silently.
Later, when she regained her strength, she told them bitterly, “ ¿Les gusta a ustedes, Seá±ores? Tus papers can writed now. Es posible yo debo ser agradecida que usted maked tu job bien–o brillantamente–but weeth a choice, prefiero leer about eet. Si me permiten leer.”
Weiss had trouble understanding her, but Herná¡ndez replied, “I know you’re not happy about this, Pansy, but it could’ve been worse. Look at the good side. You have a good healthy body, and several excellent doctors have a vested interest in keeping you healthy. Now, ¿what are you going to name your baby?”
Pansy gave him a blank look; she hadn’t thought about it. “Ask me later. I’ll pick a name later today,” she finally told him. After a while she decided to call the baby Lilia.
Elsewhere, Doctor Ibá¡á±ez was checking his console. Pansy had borne her child, and now it was up to him to keep his promise to Don Pablo: that she’d be devoted to the infant. Ever since she had been working for Susana Herrera, he had been strengthening her emotional ties to Josecito, and that effort had succeeded. Now, thanks to Weiss, her new reproductive system was causing her brain to flood her body with oxytocin and endorphins. Even without the doctors’ meddling, she would probably find herself experiencing normal maternal love. But they weren’t leaving anything to chance. Pansy would become a devoted mother–undoubtedly against all her expectations and wishes.
After listening to Pansy on her latest visit, Doctor Cantáº was sure that Don Pablo’s project was indefensible. The destruction of the original persona, whatever the offense, amounted to psychic murder. But what to do?
-- Four days later Pansy left the clinic. She had already learned her first lesson about newborns: they need to be fed every three or four hours, and they need to be changed equally often. A complete night’s sleep was impossible, and would remain so for several months. Lilia demanded at least two feedings during the wee hours. But the task wasn’t a burden. In fact, Pansy delighted in nursing her daughter. When the baby first nuzzled her nipple, Pansy felt a stir of arousal, but it quickly faded as the infant suckled, to be replaced by intense pleasure. Objectively she marveled at how much she adored the infant, in spite of her disrupted sleep.
Doctor Cantáº spoke to her shortly before she was discharged. The doctor smiled as she told Pansy, “I’ve got good news. I found your friend Petunia. She lives on a ranch not far from you. You’re going to be near La Libertad, ¿true?” Pansy nodded. “Well, she’s married now, as you guessed. Her name’s Petunia Baca de Sáºlivan. The ranch is off the east side of the Comayagua - La Libertad road, about fifteen kilometers north of Comayagua, and a few kilometers south of San Jerá³nimo. The ranch is called Jácaro Grande, and there’s an old wooden sign along the road, pointing to it. I’ll see what else I can find out, Pansy, but you were right: your old name’s pretty well erased. I’ll still do what I can, but don’t expect too much.”
Elated, Pansy hugged the startled doctor. “ ¡Thank you! ¡You already done a big favor for me! Petunia’s the only real friend I got, and I was afraid I lost her for good. I’m in your debt, Doctor.”
A little later Pansy waited in the vestibule of the clinic, dressed again in a green floral-print dress of normal proportions. Her waist was back to an approximation of its dimensions of a year ago. Lilia slept in her arms. Doctor Cantáº had told her that she’d be picked up, and she wasn’t surprised when Susana appeared. “ ¡Ah, Pansy! ¡There you are! And your new baby.” She came up to Pansy with a smile on her face and asked, “ ¿May I see her?” Pansy nodded, and Susana turned back the blanket sheltering the infant’s face from the sun, fierce even in mid-autumn. “ ¡Qué bonita la niá±ita! ¿What’s her name?”
“Lilia. Lilia Maráa Baca. I considered naming her after my mother, but I decided not to.”
“ ¿Why not? Certainly you could name her whatever you liked.”
Pansy looked carefully at her mistress, but the question seemed innocent. Sighing, Pansy reminded her that the doctors had messed with her memories, and she was no longer certain that she knew her parents’ correct names. “You got to know something about that, Seá±ora. A lot of my past is gone, just like you told me. That’s just one of a long list of losses.”
Susana nodded. “Yes, I knew that. The losses don’t matter, though. You have what you need for your new life.” She paused, then added, “You know, little Lilia could be a problem. You have a baby, but no husband.” Pansy began to protest, but Susana forestalled her. “I know, it wasn’t your fault. Still, you can hardly give people the real explanation, ¿can you? ¿You were working as a whore, and Lilia was a byproduct?” Again Pansy didn’t have a chance to get a word in. “That’s still not what you want to tell people.” Pansy shook her head resentfully. “Well, here’s the solution. You can claim you’re a widow, and Lilia’ll be legitimate. I won’t say different–I want a respectable woman raising my child. Now let’s head back home. It’s a long drive, so we’d better get started.” She noted the change in Pansy’s Spanish but she didn’t comment. Her maid’s speech was an odd mixture. In some ways Pansy sounded like a native-born San Pedro campesina, with a lower-class slur to her speech and only a trace of an English accent, but her vocabulary and some of her phrasing reminded Susana of the educated norteamericano she had once loved, but now despised.
They followed the familiar route out of the Sula Valley flatlands, across the mountains, and down into the Comayagua Valley. Turning north on the gravel road from Comayagua, they drove through dry acacia and cactus scrub. At the Las Rosas turnoff they continued straight north along the main road. Pansy recalled that Petunia lived nearby, about fifteen kilometers from Comayagua. When she saw a weathered sign pointing up a side road at about the right distance, she guessed it might be Jácaro Grande, even though she couldn’t read it. “That’s where Petunia is,” she told herself. “I’ll find her as soon as I can.”
The valley grew more verdant as they drove. About fifty kilometers from Comayagua they came to La Libertad, a small coffee-market town. It might have been a tourist draw as a well-preserved colonial town, with cobblestone streets, old church, wrought-iron bars on windows and doors, and flowers everywhere, set in a bowl of green hills. There was little sign of the twentieth century except for the ubiquitous Coca-Cola signs. Of course, the remoteness that had preserved it had also prevented its development for tourists. Limited access via a dead-end gravel road, a lack of amenities, and rutted dirt back streets, dusty now and muddy in the rainy season, were definite drawbacks.
“There’s no electricity here yet,” Susana told Pansy. “When the Cajá³n project was done, we were supposed to get electricity, but the project turned out to be a fiasco. The town has a generator of its own, turned on from 6 to 10 every night. And lots of local fincas have their own generators. Los Ocotes certainly does.”
They left town on a dirt road and crossed the Ráo Humuya on a wooden suspension bridge. “The local people built this themselves,” Susana noted. “If they left it to the central government in Tegucigalpa, nothing would ever be done here.” After passing through a small village, Ojos de Agua, the road deteriorated as it climbed away from the river. Soon they were in pines again, and they reached their destination only a mile from the village.
Finca Los Ocotes was less grand than Las Rosas, but it seemed comfortable enough. The main house was a rambling affair that had grown haphazardly; part was adobe, part wood, and some was brick. Bananas and papayas grew in front, but the eye was caught by a shrubby grove of early-flowering poinsettias, caught in the slanting rays of the late afternoon sun. The aromas of pine and flowers mixed with the odor of horses and donkeys. Somewhere a rooster crowed halfheartedly, and chickens scratched in the yard.
Pansy and her baby followed Susana into the house. Susana called, “ ¡Marta! ¡I’m back! ¡Come meet my maid!” To Pansy she said, “This can be a fresh start for you. No one here knows you as anything other than my maid–and I won’t tell them.” A short stout woman in a black uniform appeared, her jet-black braids swinging behind her. She appeared to be in her forties, and had a broad Indian face. “ ¡Susana!” she exclaimed: “I’m glad you’re back. Josecito’s been a nuisance, into everything. He’s a happy child, not a whiner, but he’s stubborn. Oh, Seá±ora,” she said as she caught sight of Pansy. “You’re the new maid. I’ll gladly turn Josecito over to you. I’m Marta Ruáz, the cook and, until now, the maid. You’ll be a big help, I’m sure. I cook and do some cleaning, but it’s been difficult with a child to watch–I really need some assistance. I see you have a little one too. Seá±ora Arias told me about her. It’s good that you have something left of your poor dead husband.” She came to Pansy for a closer look. “Aaaayyyy, such a little beauty she is. ¿May I hold her?”
Pansy smiled–she couldn’t help it–and gave Lilia to the woman, who held her expertly and chucked her under the chin. At least the finca seemed like a decent place, Pansy thought. She thought she could tolerate a few months here, until she succeeded in recovering from her present low status and escaping to a better life. Other women had, and so could she.
Susana smiled too, and called, “Pansy, leave Lilia with Marta, and I’ll show you around. My husband Felipe’s out with his mayordomo ’Fredo, herding cattle. They’ll be back for dinner soon. You’ll meet them then.” Pansy felt oddly reluctant to leave her infant with the older woman, but she looked competent, so she obeyed and followed Susana to a small back room. “This is your room.” A cradle and a crib were there, along with a brass bed, a dressing table, a set of drawers, a chair, and a table. Her clothes were already hanging in the closet. Her books were gone, but she didn’t miss them; she hadn’t been able to read for months. A radio/CD player sat on the table. From the window she saw the stables, with open pine forest in the background. “This is all ready for Josecito, and of course for your baby– ¿I think you told me she’s Lilia?” Pansy confirmed it, and Susana went on: “You’ll be responsible for them here. Otherwise you’ll serve at the table while Marta cooks, and then you’ll wash the dishes. In truth, Pansy, you’ll never be the cook she is. Also, you’ll do sewing for the household–you’re very good at that–and you’ll help with cleaning. Marta’s senior to you, and you’ll help with whatever she needs, as long as it doesn’t interfere with caring for the babies. That’s your main task–what I’m hiring you for. As before, you’ll have Thursdays off, except for the babies.” She looked directly at her maid and told her, “I hope you like Los Ocotes, Pansy; but like it or not, I expect this’ll be your home for the rest of your life. Maybe you’ll find a husband here, and then you’ll move in with him, but you’ll still be part of my household. You’ll find it’s a good place to raise your children.” Pansy didn’t reply and looked away; she didn’t intend to remain, but she didn’t want to fight with her mistress. Susana raised an eyebrow at her maid’s reticence and asked with a half smile, “ ¿Well? ¿What do you think of your new home? It’s not quite what you were used to in Atlanta, I know, but then, you aren’t quite what you were used to in Atlanta either, ¿are you?” Flushing, Pansy pointed out that she had never agreed to stay forever. Susana nodded. “I know, I know. It’ll be a while before you realize how difficult it’ll be to leave–although I won’t try to trap you here. Father promised you’d be free to go, and I’ll honor that commitment. Now come meet Catalina.”
Catalina, or ’Lina, was Marta’s eleven-year-old daughter. She was babysitting Josecito in a nearby cottage where Marta lived with her husband Alfredo, the finca manager. “’Lina, this is Pansy Baca, my maid. She’ll be taking care of Josecito from now on. She just had her own baby, a beautiful little girl.”
The girl was slender and pretty, with large dark eyes, dark brown curls, and her mother’s high cheekbones. Seá±or Cualquiera might once have thought her dark-skinned, but now she was much lighter than Pansy herself. ’Lina greeted Pansy politely, telling her, “I’m pleased to meet you, Seá±ora Baca. You have such pretty eyes. ¿Does your baby have eyes like yours? ¿Can I go see her now?”
Susana looked at Pansy and shrugged, and Pansy answered, “ ¿Why not? Come on, ’Lina. And please, call me Pansy.” She gathered up Josecito and they headed back to Pansy’s room.
’Lina oohed and aahed over the infant, now three days old, and asked to pick her up. Pansy was pleased by her interest; little girls were the same the world over. She reminded her of her older brother’s daughter Jenny back in Dallas–or Ames? No matter. “Not now, ’Lina, she’s sleeping. Later, maybe.” Then a bell rang and Susana told her, “The men are here. Supper’s ready. For now you and Josecito’ll eat with us. Tomorrow’s time enough to begin your duties.”
Pansy was introduced to Felipe Arias and Alfredo Ruáz at the dinner table. Both were burly men in their mid-twenties. Felipe was clean-shaven, and ’Fredo wore a thick black mustache. Pansy blushed and giggled as she realized both were eyeing her appreciatively.
Dinner was beef with rice, beans, and chayote, a vegetable with which Pansy wasn’t familiar. It was something like squash, and she decided she liked it. Josecito, in a high chair next to Pansy, ate a small dish of Gerber’s strained baby food. Pansy spooned it into him; when he was full, he spat it back out. After supper Pansy excused herself and took Josecito–her son, she reminded herself–back to her room. She put Josecito on the floor with large brightly-colored wooden toys. He promptly picked one up and began to chew on it. Lilia had awakened, and was fretting with hunger. Pansy had nursed her that morning, and twice on the way to Los Ocotes. Now she fed her again, burped her, and laid her in the cradle. Lilia gurgled for a while, then fell asleep. Lying in bed, Pansy contemplated her new home. It seemed to be a cheerful place, one where a campesina could be happy; but she promised herself it was only a temporary stop. In fifty-one days she’d be free, and then she’d find a way out. She didn’t know how she’d do it–maybe an advantageous marriage?–but she would escape.
-- Pansy quickly fell into a routine. Rise before dawn, shower in cold water, don her uniform, nurse Lilia, and help Marta with breakfast. It was the same each morning: ham and fried eggs (a sausage omelet for Susana), fried plantain, buttered toast, orange juice, and strong coffee. She fetched Susana’s clothes, helped her dress, and brushed her hair. Seá±ora Arias ate with the men, then Pansy ate with Marta, ’Lina, and Josecito. The finca workers, from Ojos de Agua, arrived after breakfast in an old truck that served as a local bus. ’Fredo and Felipe assigned tasks, then began their own work. Pansy cleaned up, then tended Lilia and Josecito while doing chores. In particular, she was responsible for the laundry and sewing for the finca. She also helped with preparing supper, served it, then ate with Marta and ’Lina again. Susana often took a hot bath before bed; Pansy washed and dried her, and sometimes gave her a back rub. She was usually in bed by 9 PM, but she had to get up at least twice during the night to nurse Lilia. By now she hardly awakened, nursing the baby and changing her almost in her sleep.
The finca was quite large. It included coffee groves, a commercial cattle operation, and other livestock for consumption on the finca. Vegetable gardens supplied most of their needs. Felipe also owned a feed-and-grain business in Comayagua, and a general store in La Libertad. Susana had been put in charge of the general store, Felipe spent most of his time with the Comayagua business, and the day-to-day operation of the finca was left in the hands of ’Fredo. Marta ran the household, and under her Pansy was responsible for the children. Catalina left every weekday for school in La Libertad. Today as on every Sunday, everyone on the finca, including Pansy with the babies, left in the morning for Mass at the church in La Libertad. The old familiar rituals of the Catholic service came back easily to Pansy, even in this different setting and different language. The hymns were unfamiliar, but she sang along anyway in her high and sweet, if weak, soprano. It felt strange to be hitting all those high notes so easily.
As a supposed widow, Pansy associated almost entirely with women. She saw a great deal of Susana and Marta, of course, but casual social contact was also limited to the women of the finca. At first the constant talk of husbands and children, varied with details concerning pregnancies and housework, repelled her, but she quickly became accustomed to it. Starved for companionship, she found herself participating in the conversations. She told herself that she could tolerate it until she found a way to escape, and that the end of her captivity was quickly approaching (ignoring the fact that she had found no practical alternative to continued service for Seá±ora Arias).
Pansy asked Susana about Petunia, but her mistress didn’t know anything about her. “You’ll be meeting with my father again soon, Pansy,” she promised: “He’ll want to talk with you before you’re officially freed. In fact, I think he wants to see you before the end of next month. You can ask him then.”
-- Pansy and her baby needed to return to the clinic for a physical. Susana offered to bring them, and they left shortly after breakfast. The women needed to dash to the car, running through a sudden shower that had come up. Lilia woke up and started to cry, but when Pansy reached the car and cuddled her, she subsided. As Susana started down the rutted track to the Comayagua valley, she remarked, “Lilita’s a good baby. Believe me, I’ve seen some that never seem to stop crying. Josecito’s not bad either.” Pansy agreed, and added that she’d never expected to have to worry about caring for a baby. Susana chuckled: “That was your big problem, Pansy. I recall your attitude then. ‘It’s a woman’s job,’ you said. I suppose you were right, if it’s any comfort.” Stung by the remark, Pansy didn’t answer. Susana noted her silence and went on: “Oh, I didn’t mean to attack you, Pansy–although I admit, I do harass you more than I should. I’ve even come to agree, a little anyway. Like my father said, your crime wasn’t your opinions, but your irresponsibility. And I think you’re cured. Sometimes I have trouble seeing you as ‘Seá±or Cualquiera’ at all, even if I know he’s still there, at least partly. It’s not just the new body, face, and voice–although all those are certainly very different. It’s the new personality. I don’t know how they did it, but Pansy is much nicer than Seá±or Cualquiera.”
Pansy gave a humorless laugh. “That’s a mixed compliment if I ever heard one, Seá±ora. On the whole I preferred the original version. The book was much better than the movie.”
“Now that was a bit of vintage Seá±or Cualquiera right there. Seriously, Pansy, you still have a lot of him left. The wit, the intelligence, the fund of knowledge–or at least a little of it.”
“A lot of good it does me as a maid. Seá±ora, I learned to turn my mind off. It’s how I stay sane.” She looked down at Lilia, contentedly dozing in her lap. “Anyway, I ain’t returning to my old identity, that’s obvious. I will escape from being a maid. I want to teach. To do that I need papers. I got to prove that I’m really Seá±or Cualquiera. To do that I got to know who he was. Also, I want to be able to contact my family, of course.”
Susana carefully guided her car around a large puddle, then pointed it down a steep rocky pitch. When her attention was free she noted, “You’re wrong, Pansy. If you want to teach–here or in the U.S.–the last thing you should do is claim Seá±or Cualquiera’s credentials. If people knew your history, you’d be a carnival freak. They’d come to stare at you, not to hire you. ¡Think! ¿Would you hire a woman who’d once been a man? ¿A man who had seduced and abandoned two pregnant girlfriends, and then become pregnant himself? No, Pansy, that’s foolish. If you must have papers–credentials–then you need to re-establish them in your own name. If you still have enough education, that is, and that’s doubtful.” She gave her maid a sidelong glance. “For example, there’s the minor problem of your illiteracy–and I think your math is about as bad. Father did his best to see that you’d have to live by Seá±or Cualquiera’s opinion that a woman should stay home and tend to her man and her children, and I think his best was pretty effective. Anyway, if you could recover some education, you wouldn’t need the credentials. With them, but without my father’s approval, you won’t be able to do a thing; without credentials, and with his approval, you could teach. There’d be no problem.”
Pansy thought about it. Seá±ora Arias’ words seemed realistic. She still wanted Seá±or Cualquiera’s name and history, and she told that to her mistress. “I ain’t going be happy with my past, my family, taken from me. You may be right about the teaching. And even if I know my name, I still ain’t going to be able to escape.” Her voice was resigned. “There ain’t no way I can ever escape. You tell me that often enough, and it’s true. So please, Seá±ora, tell me who I was.”
“Maybe I’ll tell you some day, Pansy, but not now. I want Seá±or Cualquiera dead. Dead, buried, and forgotten, just as he is now.” She maneuvered the Nissan around a corner, avoiding a stray cow, and the road leveled out as they headed for the junction with the La Libertad road.
“You know I’ll keep trying.”
“Of course. I won’t stop you and neither will Father.”
“Very well, Seá±ora. ¿What about teaching? Will you help me regain my literacy? And if I succeed, ¿will you help me get new credentials in my own name? ¿Or will you put in a word with your father, so I can teach without the credentials?”
“No. Not now. I prefer you as a maid. I still see Seá±or Cualquiera in you. I like to see Seá±or Cualquiera changing a diaper or breastfeeding an infant. I enjoy the sight of Seá±or Cualquiera trapped in a dress that shows off his sexy figure. I want to see him mooning over some husky young campesino with lots of testosterone and no brains. I want to watch him as he gradually comes to realize that he’s unable to resist the demands of his pretty new body, even knowing that he was once a man, that he once held a pretty girl in his arms. I’ll see you pregnant again, Pansy. Then maybe I’ll tell you who you used to be, once upon a time.” Suddenly she realized that she’d gradually gotten louder, and that the last sentence had been screamed at Pansy, who sat with her now-awakened daughter.
Pansy sat quietly, her face blank. Lilia began to cry, and Pansy unbuttoned her dress to nurse her. Glancing at her mistress, she remarked with no apparent emotion, “Get a good look, Seá±ora. This was first on your list, ¿true?”
Ashamed, Susana lowered her voice. “I’m sorry, Pansy, really I am. I apologize. You aren’t Seá±or Cualquiera, you really aren’t, not any more. You’re really a campesina. Or mostly a campesina, even if some remnant of him survives. I will help you, eventually–but not now, not yet. I do need help with Josecito, and you’re it. And anyway, your dream isn’t realistic. Like I said, my father did a good job on you. You’ll never succeed.” She turned south in La Libertad and accelerated on the gravel, sending muddy water flying to the sides. “Please, don’t push me. When you do, I see him. And I want to gloat as I see him trapped as I was trapped. As I am trapped.” She forced herself to remain calm. “If I see Seá±or Cualquiera returning, I’ll make his life less than pleasant; but I’ll treat Pansy Baca well, and I’ll see that others do too. Your life hasn’t been too hard, ¿has it? For a campesina, of course.”
Susana was trapped? She had a good husband and a wonderful life! But arguing with her was a bad idea. “No, Seá±ora. Believe me, my life at Los Ocotes is better than my life at Golondrinas. If… But never mind. I’ll do like you want. I’ll keep trying, though.”
The weather improved as they passed through Comayagua, but it deteriorated again as they turned north across the highlands. Clouds and drizzle hid Cerro Santa Bá¡rbara as they passed Lake Yojoa, and the steady rain of a norther drummed against the windshield as they descended into the Sula Valley. Pansy was sunk deep into depression by the time they turned into the old estate grounds where the clinic was located. Her libido had become more insistent recently, as José had predicted, and Pansy was finding it difficult to reject the tentative overtures of several men who worked for the finca. They were simple campesinos, and such a liaison would condemn her to a menial position for the rest of her life. Suppression of her sex drive was difficult, and her old life as Seá±or Cualquiera hadn’t given her practice in self-denial. Lilia was cranky too. She’d been fed, and she was dry, but Pansy’s mood seemed to have infected her, and she had been whimpering irritably since Lake Yojoa.
Susana parked near the rear door. Pansy held Lilia with one arm and an umbrella with her other. Susana opened the clinic door for her, and they entered. A bored clerk registered her arrival and made a telephone call. Doctor Ibá¡á±ez soon appeared.
“ ¡Pansy, our prize patient!” Ibá¡á±ez exclaimed. “ ¡I’m delighted to see you! Doctor Cantáº will arrive in a minute or two. In the meantime, ¿how do you feel? ¿Do you have any physical complaints?”
She scowled; she hated him, and all the others who had put her here. Including Seá±or Cualquiera. Especially Seá±or Cualquiera. “No, Doctor, I don’t think so. Please, do what you got to, as quick as you can, and let me go home.”
He nodded. “I’ll test you first. Then Doctor Cantáº’ll be able to check you, and you can return. Believe me, Pansy, we have only your best interests at heart now. You’re invaluable to us.” He motioned to her. “Come upstairs. I won’t take long.” She followed him to an examining room. “I have some tests for you here. I want you to take the Rorschach test again–I know you’re familiar with it, it’s just another version of the one you took before. And I want you to do some word association. I have an IQ test for you too.”
She complied reluctantly. Lilia had dozed off, and she held the baby cradled in one arm as she answered the doctor’s questions. The Rorschach blots were different from the ones she’d seen back in… was it April?–but there were no basic differences. The word association test went quickly. After she finished the IQ test (designed especially for illiterates), he engaged her in apparently idle conversation for a few minutes. Then he knocked her out with the relay, reinforced her peasant Spanish, added some Honduran idioms, and took much of what remained of her English. When she awoke, she left with Lilia. The doctor scanned the results quickly after she was gone. In some ways she seemed to retain some aspects of George’s personality. Most notably, she didn’t accept that her low status was inevitable, retaining the ambition that had driven Seá±or Deon.
Isabel Cantáº was ready when she returned downstairs. “Pansy, come with me, please,” she told her patient. In the examining room she asked Pansy to strip. “ ¿Are there any lactation problems? ¿Have your periods begun again? ¿Do you have any physical complaints?”
Pansy answered as best she could while dressing. No, there were no problems with lactation; no, her periods hadn’t resumed; and no, she had no other physical problems. “I been depressed pretty bad over the last few days, but that probably ain’t your concern, Doctor. It seems to me I’d have to be crazy not to be depressed, given my problems.
The doctor laughed and said the depression might truly be her concern. “Not to make light of your real problems, Pansy, but the depression could be physiological in nature. It’s normal to experience depression after childbirth. I’ll give you an antidepressant. Now, speaking of your other problems, I’ve done a little investigating. There are some people around La Ceiba who remember a norteamericano teacher who quit suddenly. One mentioned ‘Jack Pinkerton’, but he wasn’t sure. I’m even less certain.”
Pansy became attentive. This was her first lead. Maybe she could still discover her true identity.
But the doctor went on. “I don’t think it’s correct. I have contacts, and I checked: there’s no record of anyone named ‘Pinkerton’ entering Honduras at the right time. ¿Do you know precisely when you entered the country?”
Pansy began to think, but Lilia woke and demanded to be fed. Pansy unbuttoned her blouse and gave Lilia her breast, excusing herself: “She’s awfully insistent, Doctor. She ain’t at all reasonable. Anyway, I think it was June, two years ago. Yes, early June–maybe the eighth or ninth.”
“ ¿And where did you enter? ¿Tegus or San Pedro?”
“It was San Pedro. I’m sure of that.”
Doctor Cantáº made a note. “And you entered to take a teaching job, so that would be recorded on your visa. I’ll try to check the entries for that time. Maybe we can identify you that way. ¿I assume you wrote to friends and family in the U.S.?”
“Those I could remember. I didn’t get no response. I’d try more, if I could remember their addresses–and if I could write. I think most of those memories were erased or changed.”
“You told me Don Pablo showed you your obituary. ¿When was that, and which newspaper?”
Pansy frowned. “I think it was April or May last year. ¿Or March? No, April. The paper was the Atlanta Constitution. It said I drowned at Tela. That is, if my memory’s dependable.”
Smiling, Doctor Cantáº assured her, “I think eventually we’ll find your old name.”
The checkup done, Susana left with Pansy and Lilia, and they returned to the car to drive home. It rained all the way back to Los Ocotes. They arrived shortly after dinnertime, and Marta grumbled, but she reheated the meal. Susana invited Pansy to eat with her. “Pansy, please forgive my outburst in the car. Yes, you have a lot of Seá±or Cualquiera left in you, and yes, I hate him. But he’s disappearing. My mind knows that, but my heart hasn’t caught on yet.” She lifted a forkful of reheated beans to her mouth and washed it down with sweet black coffee. “I think I might get to respect the new you, but it’ll take a while. And only after you give up that silly idea that you’re anyone other than Pansy Baca. As long as you think you’re ‘really’ Seá±or Cualquiera, I’ll see him there too, and I’ll want to punish him.”
Pansy replied, “I understand, Seá±ora. Or I try to. If I seem obsessed with my past, then you try losing your identity–your name, your face, your voice, your memories, your very body–everything that makes you who you are–and tell me if you ain’t going to be obsessed.”
“But that’s exactly my point. It’s not your name, your face, all those things. It’s his name, and you’re not him. You’re Pansy-Ann Baca. Accept that you’re just Pansy, a Honduran woman now and forever, and his losses won’t matter to you. I don’t care if Seá±or Cualquiera is obsessed with his loss. He was a cabrá³n, and he deserved to suffer.” She shrugged. “Besides, his losses are permanent. His name, his face, his memories–all those things are gone forever. Finding who he was won’t help you. You’re going to have to make a life with what you–Pansy-Ann Baca–have.”
Although that logic was irrefutable, Pansy refused to accept it–but she didn’t argue further.
After dinner Pansy cleaned the table and helped Marta with the dishes, then went to her room to tend Josecito and Lilia. She hugged both fiercely and kissed them. If nothing else, she had two beautiful children, whom she had come to love. Lilia had been foisted on her as an anchor to keep her from attaining a higher station in life, but she was more than that: she was a wonderful little person in her own right.
-- Don Pablo sat at his desk in the library and set aside a report on his cane. The price of sugar had dropped and he was considering switching some of the fields to vegetables, to see if he could increase profits; but the details in his manager’s proposal were too sketchy to allow a firm decision. He wrote a short note asking for clarification of some of the details, then set it aside. The next item for his attention was an envelope from Ibarra. He smiled and leaned back. He hadn’t seen Suzi’s betrayer since May, when Susana had accepted him as her maid, but he had received regular reports from the doctors and from Susana, and his progress was more than acceptable. Two other subjects were in middle stages of transformation, both destined to follow Seá±or Deon into careers as maids; it seemed that Pansy-Ann had greatly impressed prospective clients. Three additional subjects had unfortunately proven to be failures. One had slit his wrists, a second had walked in front of a speeding truck, and the third had become insane. Still, the Ovid project had been more successful than he had expected; and at last, it was beginning to show some financial return, if not yet a profit. He slit open the fat envelope and read:
Don Pablo Herrera E.: Three more subjects are proposed for our San Pedro facility, from the USA, Cuba, and Belarus. The first, convicted of assault, will receive a new face, and his personality is to be altered. Aggressive tendencies will be eliminated, and his libido will be lowered. His personal history will be partly rewritten, and he is to be made suitable for a career as a low-level technician. There should be no problems in meeting the specifications. The second, a Cuban dissident, is more challenging. He has opposed the Cuban government for several years, and jail terms have not dissuaded him. We are to change him into a woman. She is required to have a high libido and a docile personality, –but to retain the memory of who she was. I do not know if we can fulfill these requirements successfully. There is a high risk of suicide, as with the late Seá±ores Ergec and Valadares, or madness, as with Seá±or Petrov. I recommend that we discuss the matter further. Full details on each of the men is enclosed.
As for our first subject: This week we finished the language retraining. As you know, George Deon’s school Spanish is gone, and Pansy has been conditioned to speak the local voseo dialect of Spanish. The conditioning has held quite well, as it has been reinforced by her interaction with local peasants. Her early tendency to regress to English phonemes has been reduced to a very small degree. We have worked diligently to erase any remaining traces of accent, and her Spanish is now barely distinguishable from that spoken by local peasant girls. Also, English vocabulary and grammar have been erased to the extent practicable. Her vocabulary in that language is not entirely gone, as the words are stored in too many places in her brain to permit total eradication; however, what remains is mostly the less common words, as we have taken special pains to root out those words which are most used. The result is that her comprehension of spoken English is virtually nil; only those common words which are direct cognates elicit a positive response, and even then, the different pronunciation renders most of them unintelligible. She knows that her English has been degraded, but because of the lack of opportunity to use it, she does not yet realize how thorough the loss has been.
Pansy’s devotion to her infant has been admirable. We have helped, of course, by linking everything connected with the baby to her pleasure center and creating a positive reinforcement; but it is not certain that this artificial link was necessary. Our earlier efforts at total feminization might have proved sufficient in themselves to induce the strong maternal bond that we now see–after all, most mothers develop this bond with no outside interference. In any case, we predict that this infatuation with her baby will continue, and will limit her life choices in the future to those we have planned for her. Her induced preoccupation with looking attractive, her strong heterosexual orientation (that is, an attraction to men), and her passivity and docility also point in the same direction.
We await your decision concerning final alterations before the subject is released. I suggest that the transformation to a campesina be finished, and all memory of George Deon be erased. This would be the safest course, and the simplest, as “Pansy-Ann” has been given an appropriate past. In any case, we recommend that, after January 1, no more modifications be made, and further, that (as planned) we allow her life to proceed with no interference, so that the stability of the transformation may be evaluated. --Respectfully, Jesáºs Ibarra.
Don Pablo nodded. He hadn’t yet decided what final steps would be taken, but they would be minor. George Deon was submerged in Pansy, his return to dominance was highly improbable, and his punishment was already more than adequate; but he wanted to leave what was left of Seá±or Deon alive but trapped in a campesina body. As for the proposed new subjects, he was inclined to accept them, after pointing out the risks to the respective clients. They would provide practice for his staff of doctors, to improve their expertise. The added data would be useful. And even better, the fees would be substantial, bringing the Ovid Project well into the black.
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