Part 16, Countdown to Freedom
Pansy settles in with her newborn daughter at Los Ocotes, the finca of Susana and her husband, and adapts well, if unwillingly, to working as Suzi's maid. But will she find a way to escape when the month is over, and she is allowed to go her own way?
-- Lilia awakened Pansy earlier than usual, at 5 AM. She was teething–far earlier than she should–and irritable. Pansy changed her daughter’s diaper expertly and nursed her until she was satisfied. Then she showered and dressed in her hated uniform. At least it was Sunday: after breakfast she could change into a pretty dress for the trip into town for Mass. She enjoyed the Sunday trips, and the admiration she received from men. One of them was Hector Trujillo, who had come from Las Rosas when Susana married. Pansy knew he was one of the bastards who had kidnapped Seá±or Pinkerton, almost two years ago–although he clearly didn’t know who she was. Or had been. Against her will, she found him sexually attractive; however, she rejected his advances–partly because of his race and low status, but even more because she remembered his rough, even brutal, treatment of Seá±or Pinkerton during the abduction. She had to admit, though, he acted decently towards her, taking her rejections in stride only to ask her out again at a later time. For that reason she was equally courteous to him.
She didn’t accept any of the other dating requests either. Her attitude towards men was ambivalent. She knew Susana looked forward to seeing her trapped in a marriage to a poor and ignorant campesino, preferably a local man like Hector, so that she’d have to continue working as Susana’s maid. Pansy didn’t intend to follow that script, but her conditioning and her body conspired to give her a strong sex drive. Briefly, Pansy had come to hate celibacy as much as Jack had. Although she was tempted to accept a date with one of the other men, she decided to postpone any association with a man until after her release. After that, she knew that resisting her libido was an undesirable option. She didn’t want to spend the rest of her life as a frustrated spinster. But how could she meet a man who might help her escape from her cage? There hadn’t been much point in thinking about it; until now; she had been subject to Don Pablo’s (and Susana’s) whims, and any plans might be futile.
And what about her options once she was free? She’d have to continue work at Los Ocotes, for some indefinite time after that–in spite of all her efforts, she couldn’t see any alternative–but at least those damned doctors would stop using her as a guinea pig. That’s what Don Pablo had promised, and she believed him. Then she’d find a way out, a way to return to the middle-class life that had been torn from her.
Susana and Felipe arrived for breakfast at 7:30, a little later than on a weekday. Pansy served them, then fetched Josecito and fed him. She ate after he finished, but then had to hurry to wash the dishes before leaving for Mass in La Libertad. She always took special care with her looks on Sundays, trying to appear as much as possible like a middle-class educated woman, and not like the campesina Don Pablo had tried to make of her. (Unfortunately, her taste in clothing owed too much to the conditioning she had undergone–as Marta had observed.)
After Pansy finished the dishes, she returned to her room to change into her church clothes. When she reappeared, Marta complimented her. “You look very pretty, Pansy. I’ll be surprised if some handsome fellow doesn’t snap you up soon. Hector’s interested, I hear. Or maybe Gordo.”
Pansy winced. She accepted–reluctantly–her need for a man, but Marta had in mind some unwashed campesino, just as Susana did. Marta’s vision lacked Susana’s malice, but the result would be the same: Pansy would be trapped as a peasant, to become the baby machine that Susana had named her. But she acknowledged Marta’s compliment with thanks and a smile. “I hope so, Marta. I know I need a husband. But I’m picky.”
“Too picky, I’m afraid.” Marta guessed Pansy’s ambition, but thought she was foolish. She was just a maid. “But you’ll get one eventually.” When you lower your sights, she told herself. “I have a bit of advice, though. Choose your clothes more carefully. When I first met you, I thought you might be… well, a little easy.” Pansy’s eyes widened, and she began to object, but Marta waved her to silence. “I know, I know. Now that I know you better, I can see you’re not like that at all; but your taste in clothes suggests that you might be. That could lead to trouble with some of the men: if they think you’re a loose woman, or you’re teasing them, they might force themselves on you.” Pansy’s jaw dropped. She hadn’t considered that possibility. Then she recalled how Seá±or Cualquiera had treated his maid, and she began to speak again, but Marta still went on: “ ¡Don’t take my advice in the wrong way, please! If I didn’t think you were a decent woman, I wouldn’t bother telling you anything.” Pansy remembered her official registration as a prostitute, and guilt washed over her. She tries to tell herself that she hadn’t had any choice, but she couldn’t persuade herself: she hadn’t tried to leave after being left at the brothel. She needed the money, yes–but she was honest enough to realize that the other girls there for exactly the same reason. She was no better than they were. “ ¡Enough said on that subject! Back to that husband you want: if you’re looking for a good man, we got some eligible bachelors here. You say you’re picky, and that’s good, but you’ll have to be reasonable, and the men here are about as good as you’ll find in other place. Here you have the advantage of seeing what they’re really like, and you can check with the other women, too. It’s awfully hard to keep secrets here.” She smiled: “In the end, I think you’ll be picking one of them, so you might as well do it sooner rather than later.”
That’s what Pansy was afraid of: she’d have to settle for less than she needed. Well, next month she’d be officially free, and then she could plan more effectively. She’d escape her maid status via the altar, but it’d be a step up, not just a different and more irrevocable set of shackles, as Don Pablo had planned. “You might be right, Marta,” she told her friend. “But I’ll look around a bit more first. And thanks for the advice on my clothes. I’ll see what I can do.” She’d have to observe the local young women more carefully, to see what was considered acceptable. After all, in spite of the doctors’ efforts, she didn’t really have the benefit of a proper Honduran girl’s upbringing.
Susana suspected what was running through her maid’s mind, and she chuckled to herself. She was pleased with her father’s project. Her only complaint was that it was too successful. George was trapped within Pansy, but he was so well disguised that it was difficult to appreciate his predicament. It was plain that Pansy accepted that she was forever female, and that whatever her previous life might have been, it was hopelessly lost. Her attempts to make herself attractive might only be the result of her conditioning, but Susana didn’t think so. No, she was trying to snare a husband–a well-off husband. Pansy didn’t yet realize how severely handicapped she was in the marital sweepstakes. And she didn’t have the advantage of having grown up female. She was playing the game without sufficient experience, and it was only a matter of time before she blundered badly.
On returning from town, Susana changed into a light sleeveless white blouse, khaki slacks, and comfortable flats. She relaxed in the shade of a large fig tree, reading a light romance novel. Pansy changed back into her pink uniform and rebraided her hair, then helped Marta prepare lunch. On a whim Susana called, “ ¿Pansy? ¡Pansy! ¡Come here!” Pansy called back, “Just a minute, Seá±ora. I’ll be right there.” Susana sighed contentedly, and in three minutes Pansy appeared. Her mistress told her, “I’m a little thirsty, Pansy. Go get me some iced tea.”
“Yes, Seá±ora. ¿With lemon?”
“I think so, yes. And fix one for yourself. Then I want to talk to you.” Pansy’s eyes widened slightly, and Susana reassured her, “There’s no problem. I just want to discuss your future. After all, you’ll be free to leave soon.”
“Very well, Seá±ora. It’ll take a minute; there ain’t no tea ready, and I got to make it fresh.”
When she returned with the tea, and with Lilia in a tiny crib, Susana waved for her to sit. “Pansy, you’ve been my maid since May, and you’ve been a big help. Father was right when he said you’d make a fine maid.” Pansy held back the retort she wanted to make; she couldn’t afford to anger her mistress. Susana went on: “Next month you’ll be free to go.” Pansy started to respond, but Susana stopped her. “I think you know your ‘freedom’ won’t be worth much. I don’t think you have any choice but to stay. Still, I want to know what you plan to do. Last week you said you’d leave my service as soon as you could, although you admitted it’d be difficult. Tell me, ¿do you still plan to leave?”
Pansy looked down. Her hands were clenched tightly in her lap, but she replied quietly, “Yes, Seá±ora, but I can’t do it yet. Like I said, it’s hard. I ain’t going to leave on New Year’s Day. Or any time soon. But eventually I want to be a teacher, like I said.” Teaching had never been part of Seá±or Cualquiera’s plans, but it was the best Pansy could possibly hope for now, if she could recover a little of her education. “I won’t never be satisfied with being a maid.”
“ ¿Then you don’t plan to leave me as soon as you’re free?”
“No, Seá±ora. I can’t. Not now, anyway. Don Pablo–and your brother–made sure I got to stay with you for now.”
Susana nodded. “I know, and of course I like that. If anyone should be trapped with ‘women’s work’, it’s Seá±or Cualquiera. But right now I’m not trying to gloat, Pansy. I know you’re ambitious–if ignorant–and I know you’ll leave if you find a practical way to do it. Father made me promise not to try to stop you, and I won’t. But in return I want a promise: if you do find a way out, you’ll tell me before you leave–say, a month before. I need you, you know. I’d be trapped taking care of Josecito full-time if you weren’t here. And I intend to have another child or two. More than ever I’ll need someone to help me. I’m hoping it’ll be you–you’re a conscientious and caring nanny and mother, and I really think it’s what God intended that you should be. You were wasted as a man.” She took a sip of the iced tea, then added, “ The only way a woman with children can live independently is if she has reliable care for them.”
“I know that, Seá±ora–but there’s other women who’d be delighted to work for you. Real campesinas.”
“True, but I prefer to have you. I know you’re good at it–and besides, you’ll be a real campesina soon enough. Anyway, I want your promise.”
“OK, I promise.” Pansy looked straight at her mistress. “I’ll tell you as soon as I got a way to escape, and I’ll give a month’s notice.” She added, “I want to return to the U.S. I’m still really a U.S. citizen, you know. I’m entitled to return.”
Susana giggled. “You’ll have a problem persuading la migra. Practically speaking, you’re a native-born citizen of Honduras. And you’d be worse off if you succeeded. An illiterate black woman with no technical skills–except sewing, of course: you’re truly an artist with a needle. You don’t even speak decent English. If you did get back in, you’d spend your life in a ghetto somewhere, trying to support your daughter and yourself. You’d be even more frustrated than you are here.”
“ ¿Black? ¡I ain’t black!” Pansy’s voice betrayed a sudden panic. “I know I look like I’m part Indian–and even that ain’t really true. ¡But I ain’t black! ¡I ain’t!”
Amused, her mistress giggled again. “Not completely, no. You look a little Indian too, like you said, and part Spanish, but your face and your skin color say you have African blood in you too. In the U.S., you’d be considered black. In local terms, you’re a morena.” She grinned at Pansy’s distress. “You remember the garáfuna, ¿don’t you? I told you about them when we were on the beach at Tornabé, two years ago. Now you should definitely know about them–because you’re part garáfuna yourself. On your maternal grandmother’s side.”
That wasn’t really true, of course–but Pansy stared at the back of her hand. The skin had darkened slowly, and she hadn’t noticed the change. By now it was a light brown, darker than any tan. She jumped up, ran back into the house, and looked at a mirror. Her thick lips and dark skin betrayed her apparent ancestry. Seá±ora Arias was right.
When she returned she was weeping softly. Susana asked, “ ¿You really hadn’t guessed? ¿You thought it was just a good tan?” Then she noted, “It’s no disgrace to be a morena. It’s not as bad here as in the U.S. Lots of Hondurans have some black in them–especially on the coast. Yes, it’s a handicap–but after all, you’ll never be more than a maid anyway. Like you said, my father trapped you well. Your skin color’s just another padlock on a door already securely barred.”
“But… but I’m… ¡I’m white! ¡I’m a white norteamericana! ¡Really!” But the mirror had agreed with Seá±ora Arias.
“You were white. Now you’re not, and you never will be. Father tells me your future children’ll be dark too.” She smiled: “Remember when we first met? You were so fair, you managed to get yourself badly sunburned. ¡You were peeling like a tourist tree! You’ll never have that problem again.” She went on: “If you didn’t realize you’re a morena, then maybe you didn’t understand how limited your choice of husbands’ll be. I’ll give you some unsolicited advice. Be very careful on your fishing expeditions, and beware of sharks.”
“ ¿My… my fishing expeditions?” Pansy’s weeping stopped. “ ¿Sharks? I don’t understand.” She sniffled.
“You’re fishing for a husband. Someone who’ll take you away from all this. Someone other than a local campesino, I do believe.” Startled out of her mourning, Pansy stared at Susana, who sipped her tea and smiled. “I’ve seen you baiting the hook on Sunday. You advertise your abundant girlish charms well, for someone whose background was so… well, so inappropriate.” She grinned and added, “But of course, I know that one of Father’s doctors– ¿Ibá¡á±ez? No, Ibarra. Anyway, he gave you a more useful background, I’m told. ¿I understand you were a bridesmaid at your friend’s wedding?” Pansy flushed and didn’t reply. “I think you’re still naíve, though, and you don’t yet understand what you’re up against.”
“I still don’t understand you, Seá±ora. Yes, you’re right: I want…” Pansy looked at the floor. “I want a husband.” It galled her to admit it–to acknowledge that she’d accept a woman’s place in life. But what point was there in denying the obvious? She looked back up. “I didn’t think you’d object. You told me I got to marry eventually.”
“I don’t object. In fact, I look forward to attending your wedding. Let me explain. Pansy, you’re a girl with a pretty face and a nice figure. You’re well trained in all the womanly arts, and Father says you’ll be a properly obedient wife. You’re being trained that way. If Seá±or Cualquiera could see you–if he still possessed all his original equipment, that is–he’d find you sexy as hell. You were designed that way, to his specifications–and believe me, men here aren’t much different from him.”
Pansy had no intention of remaining obedient–it was a necessity for the moment only–but arguing with her mistress was a poor idea. “ ¿Then why do you say I got a problem? You are saying that, ¿true?”
“Yes, I am. You’re a campesina. You’re dark-skinned, with the face of a morena. You don’t come from a good family. You’re poor and illiterate–your speech makes it clear. ¿Now do you see your problem?”
Pansy discounted that last comment: she spoke good Spanish now. “ ¿Are you saying I ain’t going to find a man?”
“Not at all. But you’ll find it very difficult to attract the kind of man you’re hunting. You’re looking for a Prince Charming. So’s every other campesina in La Libertad. There’s a lot of competition, and just about all of it has more experience than you. And Prince Charming himself is looking for a princess, not a housemaid. Not a dark-skinned mestiza housemaid. Most especially not a dark-skinned mestiza housemaid, illiterate and ignorant, with a baby on her hip.” She put her hands on her hips and looked Pansy up and down. “But as I said, you’re a very attractive woman, physically. Father’s doctors conditioned you so you’d want a man, just like any other woman. I imagine that’s hell for what’s left of your original self–but it’s a hell Seá±or Cualquiera deserves. If you’re not careful, some nasty man like him–and there are many here like him–will tell you he loves you and wants to marry you. Then he’ll take you to bed, use you, and throw you away.” Susana’s bitterness was was apparent. “If your search isn’t sensible, you may end up destroying yourself.”
Lilia woke up then and began to cry. Pansy interrupted their conversation, telling Susana, “She’s wet. Excuse me, Seá±ora, but I got to change her.”
“Of course. Go to her.” The knowledge that she shared one chromosome with Lilia had given Susana some maternal feeling towards the infant. “Come back when you’re done.” Pansy took Lilia back to the casa and changed her. She avoided looking in the mirror. When she brought Lilia back in her crib, her distress was clear.
Susana nodded approvingly as she sat down again. “Like I told you, you’re very good with children. You seem to have some aptitude for motherhood. Raising children is definitely what you should be doing with your life. ”
Her maid scowled. “It ain’t high on my list of career choices.”
“Nor mine. But it is your career now. I think you’ll have more.”
“I don’t want no more children. Lilita’s more than enough.”
“And Josecito as well. Don’t forget, he’s your child too.” She smiled slightly. “After all, you’re his father.” Susana laughed at Pansy’s scowl, and commented, “Yes, I know it’s unlikely, to look at you, but strictly speaking you are his father. Anyway, you have two children to raise already, and as I said, you’ll have more. ‘Baby machine’, ¿remember?”
“ ¡It don’t got to be that way! Not all women got lots of babies. You don’t.”
“That’s true. But you admit you want a husband.” She smiled. “Most men here want their wives to bear several children, and then to stay home to raise them. That’s almost universal. If you catch your man, I expect he’ll be like that too.”
Pansy wouldn’t accept that. “I’ll find a man who won’t insist. Or I’ll stay on the pill.”
Laughing again, Susana explained that her husband wasn’t likely to allow her a choice. “When Father gave you that body, he told you what to expect. Your only way out of my service is through marriage, he said–and I see that you finally agree. But this is Honduras. Most women here–especially campesinas–fit your old prejudices: ‘Anatomy is Destiny’. You’re right when you say that not all women are trapped that way, even here. But you are. Father made certain of that. His object wasn’t just to make you female–although he succeeded in that beyond my fondest dreams–or my brother’s.” She smiled and gave Pansy’s body a slow scan from top to bottom, and Pansy flushed deeply. “No, his doctors worked very hard to make you an old-fashioned traditional woman–as you yourself told me, a ‘baby machine’. And to put you into a position where you couldn’t ever escape filling that old-fashioned traditional woman’s rá´le. I think he succeeded.”
“ ¡No! I want… I want to marry, but not a campesino. I’ll find an educated man, who’ll be different.”
“I told you, you’re an ignorant campesina. A poor morena. It’s obvious. You can try, Pansy máa, and I won’t stop you, but you’re playing a game you can’t win. And it’s dangerous.”
“I know better than most. I got burned.” She smiled ruefully. “ ¿Don’t you remember? I tried to marry one of your ‘educated men’ and he gave me Josecito. If you play that game, you have almost no chance of winning. Some bastard like Seá±or Cualquiera’ll leave you with a big belly and no husband.”
“I’m too careful for that.”
“ ¿Oh? So was I. No, your only chance is to lower your sights. Find some campesino. Marry him, and accept that you’ll spend the rest of your life cooking, doing his laundry, and raising his kids. It’s what you’ve been designed for: you’re the ideal peasant wife. Maybe for my stablehand Hector.” She gave Pansy a sly smile. “As I told you, you’re a cow. He’s a real bull, the perfect man for you. And he deserves to have you: he played a small part in making you what you are.” Of course, Pansy despised the man, in spite of his sexual magnetism. Aside from his race and his social status, he had been among the bastards who had captured her–although he no longer knew her. She’d never accept him. “If you’re lucky, you’ll find a man who’ll take his conjugal responsibilities seriously. It’s the best you can do now.” Susana was almost sympathetic. “I know you’re feeling trapped. You are trapped, and it’ll be even worse after you marry. Once upon a time you were rich and privileged. You had a nice house, a good job. You could go wherever you wanted–skiing in the Rockies today, to the beach in Florida next month. You could choose your own fate. Most of the people in the world–women or men–aren’t that lucky, you know. They’re poor. They live in shacks, and have to scramble for their next meal. They live at the mercy of other people’s whims. That’s not ‘they’ any more. That’s you. Over the last couple of years your horizons have diminished. Tela, Tegus, Gracias a Dios, San Pedro, Comayagua–that’s been your whole world. I don’t think you’ll ever leave Honduras again. Most Hondurans don’t, you know. Certainly most campesinas don’t. And now you have a baby. Your horizons’ll shrink a bit more. You may never even see the ocean again. Ask other campesinas here at Los Ocotes. Most of them don’t ever get more than a few tens of kilometers from home. Soon you won’t be dreaming of Boston or Atlanta. ¡You’ll be pining for Comayagua! Even La Libertad’ll seem like the big city.”
“ ¡No!” Pansy was almost weeping again.
Susana laughed. “I don’t expect you to take my advice, Pansy, and I certainly won’t push you into marriage. There’s no need. I know you well–or I know Seá±or Cualquiera, and I think your desire for sex is nearly the same. I look forward to watching you try to escape your fate. It’ll be amusing. I’ll say, ‘I told you so’ when you’re pregnant again.” Pansy tried to protest, but Susana overrode her and continued. “That’s not your only problem. You’re a sexy girl. It’s plain to every man over twelve. You’re attractive, and you’re weak. And you don’t have a man to protect you. By the time most girls reach puberty, they’ve learned to be wary of men. I’m afraid your lack of a proper girl’s upbringing–in spite of Ibarra’s efforts–leaves you with too little appreciation of the risks that beset a woman who’s alone. There are lots of men out there–those sharks I mentioned–who’ll see you as their natural prey. If you’re not careful, you’ll be eaten.”
Pansy thought her mistress was exaggerating her problems. “I can take care of myself, Seá±ora. I don’t think anyone’s going to attack me. As for my other problem–finding a good husband–there must be a man who’d want me, and who’d allow me more freedom than you say. Even Seá±or Cualquiera didn’t try to control women like that.”
“No, he didn’t,” Susana agreed. “He might’ve approved of it–his opinions certainly leaned in that direction–but you’re right, he didn’t. That doesn’t matter, not now. You’re not dealing with Seá±or Cualquiera, but with Honduran society, and that’s how it is here, for a campesina like you. ¿Unfair? Of course– ¡but that’s life!”
Ignoring her, Pansy went on: “He’ll let me work. I know I’m illiterate–damn José–but I ain’t no campesina. Not really. I’ll learn to read again. I got enough education left to let me get back. ¡I’ll be a professional again! Maybe a teacher.”
Susana giggled. “ ¿A teacher, you say? I’ll enjoy watching you try, but I doubt you’ll succeed. ¿What could you teach? Take a sober look at yourself, girl. It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but you don’t have an education. You don’t know math or science–or history or geography, for that matter. You have almost no English. You can’t read or write. And listen to yourself speak some time. You may not realize it, but even your Spanish marks you as an ignorant peasant. You don’t have the resources to get your education back. Worse than that, you’re not very smart: Father says you lost a lot of your intelligence when they made you ‘forget’ things. But not to worry, as a campesina, you have all the brains you’ll ever need.” A satisfied smile drifted across her face. “You are weak, dumb, and pretty. Father designed you that way–exactly as you described in the letter you sent me. No, Pansy, you’re a campesina, and your only profession is ‘maid’. It’s honorable work, though, and you’re good at it. You’ll make a good wife and mother, too, once you accept that you’ll never be anything more. In the end you’ll give in. You’ll teach Lilia how to cook and sew, so she can follow in your footsteps, and that’s about all you’ll teach.”
“I’ll break out of that trap, Seá±ora. Just like you did.” But how? No matter, she would!
“Pansita máa, Seá±or Cualquiera’d say you’re just fulfilling your natural destiny as a woman. You’re a hondureá±a, my dear, and in this society, with the assets that Father left you, he’d be right. I predict that in a couple of years you’ll be married to a campesino, you’ll have another baby, and you’ll spend every waking moment cooking, cleaning, and taking care of your brood–and mine. Five years after that you’ll probably think you were born a campesina. Ibarra gave you the appropriate memories for that, ¿true? He made you into a proper hondureá±a in your own head, and you’ll believe it in the end. You say you’re not ‘really’ a campesina, but you’re wrong. You are a campesina, admit it or not. You fit almost every criterion, mental as well as physical–you were designed to fit them. Look at yourself objectively– ¿can you can still do that? You like pretty clothes and jewelry. You like babies. Your amusements are embroidery and telenovelas. Your subconscious accepts that your status and worth are low, so you’re naturally obedient and passive. Month by month, year by year, as you become more habituated to your body and to your social and intellectual limitations, you’ll fit the criteria even better. In just seven months, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Seá±or Cualquiera as he slowly changes into a peasant girl within his own head. You fight it, but it’s happening. I see it. Like Father told me–and he told you too, I know–your body and your social status are forcing it. In the end you’ll forget you were ever a norteamericano. I don’t know what’ll finally push you over the edge or how long it’ll take, but eventually you’ll quit fighting it. ¿Another year of seeing a peasant girl in the mirror every morning, of nursing your baby and changing diapers half a dozen times a day? ¿Five years of washing clothes and raising children? ¿Ten years of obeying your macho husband? One day you’ll wake up and accept that you’re ‘only a campesina’. As you are.”
“ ¡Never! Yes, I got those false memories–but I know they’re false.” She hung onto that knowledge desperately.
“We’ll see. Right now you do, but Father says you might not keep that knowledge. And it’s not important anyhow. What’s important is your appearance, your lack of education, your speech–the details that define your status.” Susana giggled briefly. “At least you did get one benefit out of all this. A couple of years ago you wanted to learn Spanish, and now you do–just like a native. Too bad you lost your English in the process. And your education too. Even your Spanish says you’re ‘only a campesina’. Pansy, everything about you says ‘only a campesina’. You are ‘only a campesina’, body and soul. You’re just fighting reality. But that’s OK. Like I said, I enjoy watching the fading remnant of Seá±or Cualquiera as he struggles like a fly in flypaper, losing the battle against his own body. And like I said, I’ll attend your wedding– ¡I can’t wait to see you agreeing to become a peasant wife! ‘Barefoot and pregnant’, until you’re an old woman.” Pansy looked confused at that last comment, and Susana giggled again. “Sorry about the English, I forgot–for just a moment I thought of you as Seá±or Cualquiera, as you claim. ¡How foolish of me!” She translated the phrase, then looked at her empty glass and added, “Right now, though, and for the immediate future, Seá±or Cualquiera is my maid. I’m thirsty again. Get me more tea. Then there’s laundry that needs attention. Hop to it, girl.” Pansy was seething with resentment, but she curtsied and obeyed.
Late that night, she stood before a mirror as she considered Susana’s evaluation of her. Was she really a peasant woman? Certainly she was cursed with a woman’s body: the point was driven home every morning as she nursed Lilia. Worse, she was afflicted with a woman’s desires. Ever since her sojourn on Golondrinas, her libido had clamored for a man. It was difficult to resist the attentions of the men on the finca, even knowing her inevitable fate if she succumbed to their blandishments. Beyond the fact of her sex, she certainly looked like a campesina. Her face, so familiar to her now that she could scarcely believe it had been imposed on her, fairly shouted the fact. And her skin–how had she failed to notice that it was so dark now? How had they done that to her? Her long hair was almost jet black instead of light brown–another mystery. She had to admit, any honest observer would accept her as a peasant. Yes, Susana was right, as far as her body was concerned: she was a campesina, now and forever. But her mind? She tried to be brutally honest with herself: “I can’t read or write. I don’t speak English good. I lost a lot of my education.” Then she amended the last statement to, “I ain’t got hardly no education. I’m ignorant. And I even remember growing up here as a peasant girl.” She realized that, after–what had Seá±ora Arias said? Seven months at Los Ocotes?–she identified completely with the other women. She was assimilating into a campesina, just as her mistress claimed. She nearly despaired. What was left? How could she ever escape a life of peasant drudgery? But she still had ambition, she told herself. She knew her true identity, even if his name was lost, and she’d never settle for the life Don Pablo had planned for her. To herself she insisted, “I will climb back. I will be a professional again.” For the moment Seá±ora Arias held the reins. “But I’ll find a way out. ¡There has to be one!” She’d find it; she’d never accept the life of a mere campesina. It wouldn’t be easy. Don Pablo and his diabolical doctors had left her exactly where they had said they would, and as Seá±ora Arias had insisted, she was just a peasant maid now. Well, in a month, she’d see about using what the doctors had given her, to escape the trap keeping her in a menial position. Don Pablo had inflicted a sexy body on her, and José had trained her well to please men. In addition, she still had a little of Seá±or Cualquiera’s background, and she still had his drive to succeed. It would be fitting if she could escape her menial status by using the very qualities the doctors had forced on her. If she needed a man, and if she was good at attracting and pleasing men, then she’d use a man to escape her trap. A man who’d allow her to do more than just cook and clean and have babies. She would! She’d have a life again! Just thinking about the prospect cheered her up.
-- Las Rosas was festive for the holidays. The air was warm, but without the sticky humidity that made the rainy season uncomfortable. The bright flowers around the finca were matched indoors by decorations for La Fiesta de La Navidad, and Christmas carols (many of them incongruously northern) floated softly through the air from battery-powered radios.
In the casa, Don Pablo met with Ibá¡á±ez. Pansy would be freed in a few days, and the don wanted to know how well his intentions had been realized. “ ¿What is the status of Seá±or Deon?” he asked. “Susana is pleased with Pansy’s service, and her reports suggest that your project has succeeded.” He took a sip of brandy, an indulgence he seldom allowed himself. “I know this is a long-term project and no final results can be expected yet, but this is a good time to take stock. ¿What do you think? ¿Is Pansy a campesina? ¿Does her outlook, her attitude, agree with her appearance?”
Ibá¡á±ez replied, “As usual, the answer’s not simple. Yes, she has a woman’s instincts and desires. I spoke with your daughter too, and she says Pansy tries to make herself attractive. She still likes to sew–in fact, now that she can’t read, it’s her chief pastime in her spare time. She’s conscientious in her work, and she takes good care of her children. More, she accepts her sexuality, if only with resentment. She knows she needs a man, and hopes to marry eventually. ¿But is she truly a campesina? Not completely. She still thinks of herself as Seá±or Deon, even if the name is lost. She doesn’t believe she should have to accept a subordinate position. Women in general, maybe–but not her. It’s not what she was born to, she says–as though it made a difference. Still, Seá±ora Arias tells me that she’s a good maid and an excellent mother. I’d say we have a partial success.”
Nodding, the don agreed with most of the analysis. “Nevertheless, Susana says that Pansy does not accept that her God-given duty is to stay home and raise her children. As you put it, it is not what she was born to do. She seems to love them–both of them–and she cares for them well, but she resents her new life, and entertains hopes of escape.”
“ ¿God-given?” The doctor raised an eyebrow. “With due respect, Seá±or, I’d have to say she’s right. God didn’t give her this duty. We did.”
Waving his hand, the don dismissed the quibble. “Yes, we made her a woman. But now she is a woman, now she has a child, and it is God’s will that she accept her responsibility. No, not accept it: embrace it as a privilege.”
Exasperated, Ibá¡á±ez told his patrá³n, “If I may point out, Seá±or, your instructions specified that George Deon’s soul be trapped in a woman’s body. George Deon never wanted to stay home to cook, clean, and care for children, and whatever the body housing that essence, he still doesn’t. Under those circumstances, it’s too much to ask that Pansy should ‘embrace’ her new responsibilities. She’s correct: laundry and cooking and cleaning–and babies–weren’t given to her as a duty by God, nor as a privilege. It’s a punishment we imposed on her. If you wish, Ibarra can take away her memory of ever being a man. Or at least I think he can. Short of that, I don’t know how to satisfy your instructions. They’re incompatible.”
For a moment the don started to become angry, but he saw the justice of his doctor’s position. “You are right, and I congratulate you on how well you have succeeded in accomplishing my purpose. You and the others have done a remarkable job.” He took another sip of brandy. “Still, Pansy is charged with raising Susana’s son. My own grandson. I can only wish that she would see that task, not as a punishment, but as a joy and a delight. And Pansy’s own infant– ¿Lilita, I think she calls her?” Ibá¡á±ez nodded. “That child too carries my blood–although you tell me her genetic relation to me is almost nonexistent. I wish she had a mother who took delight in raising her.” He sighed. “I understand the difficulty, but I could wish it did not exist. In less than two weeks, Pansy will have completed the two years of punishment–or at least, of formal captivity–that I imposed. I do not wish to allow further experimentation after that time–I cannot, by agreement with our clients–and she will be free to do as she likes without coercion, subject only to the constraints of any woman in her position. If you or Ibarra can think of any way to address the concerns I have discussed, I wish to hear about it.”
On the way back to San Pedro, Ibá¡á±ez considered the problem. As he had protested, the don’s desires were contradictory. Either Pansy would know that she had once been a man and that her womanhood was a punishment, which would unavoidably cause (at the least) resentment and (probably) neurosis; or she’d forget her true past, which would negate a goal of the psychological experiment and contravene one of Don Pablo’s instructions. He sighed. Don Pablo would have to decide which he wanted.
-- Around 1 PM, while Pansy was cleaning after lunch, she heard” the doctor ordered, but George couldn’t remember. Ibarra smiled and told his assistant, “ Susana say, “Yes, of course, Seá±or, she’s in the kitchen. Go right in, you can speak with her now.” As she was the only person in the kitchen, she dried her hands in expectation of a visitor. In a moment a dark-skinned Latino entered. When he caught sight of her, he smiled, displaying a gold tooth. She recognized him, but at first couldn’t recall where she had seen him.
“Good afternoon, Seá±orita,” he greeted her. “Seá±ora Arias told to me I could talk with you for a little.” When she looked confused, he chuckled. “So it’s true then: you’ve lost your English.” Her lips compressed, but she confirmed his statement without comment. He went on: “Seá±ora Arias told me I could speak with you for a while.” Sitting down at the table, he invited her, “Please, sit here with me.” After taking a moment to dry her hands, Pansy began to sit, until he continued, “But first, ¿would you please make me a cup of coffee?”
“Of course, Seá±or,” she responded automatically, and got up to prepare his drink.
As she fetched the coffee, he asked, “ ¿Do you remember me, Seá±orita? I last spoke with you a year ago.”
Now she remembered: he was one of the pendejos who was helping to support Don Pablo’s project. “Yes, Seá±or, although I don’t got your name.” She measured a small amount of ground coffee into the percolator, added water, and returned to sit at the table.
“Not important. As you might have guessed, I’m here to evaluate your progress towards the goal Seá±or Herrera set for you. I understand that you’ll be freed in a little over a week.”
“Yes, Seá±or, that was what Don Pablo promised.”
“ ¿Will you leave then? ¿Or will you remain, to serve as a maid for Seá±ora Arias?”
“I will stay, but only until I got another way to live. Then I will go.”
“That was your intent last year, and I was skeptical then. I’ve been following you closely for the last year, and I have to say, in my judgment Seá±or Herrera has succeeded. You have become the campesina they intended, and you will remain a maid–unless you find a husband, of course. I see no other practical course of action for you.”
She was tempted to tell him the truth, that she only behaved like a campesina to avoid incurring further “treatment”, but she was so close to attaining her freedom. She didn’t trust him, and there was no reason to jeopardize what remained of Seá±or Cualquiera. “I know what they intend, Seá±or. Maybe they succeeded, like you say. I don’t know.” “I’m just a stupid campesina,” she thought bitterly. “ ¿How would I know anything?” “But please, Seá±or, can you tell me: ¿Why are you helping to do this to me? This got to cost a lot of money, and I ain’t done nothing to you.”
“That’s not your concern, girl.”
She cast her eyes down. “I’m sorry, Seá±or. It’s just… It seems stupid. There’s lots of girls to hire as maids, and I ain’t nothing special. And there’s lots of easier ways to punish, quick and cheap.”
Machado chuckled, then took the bait. “Of course there are easier ways to find a maid; and other punishments are a dime a dozen. But sometimes we need something special. Torture, or a bullet in the back of the head, and we can end up creating a martyr who’s more trouble dead than he was alive. Some of our enemies take advantage of that, and for some it’s no longer even a deterrent. The same with prison–and that’s an expensive nuisance as well. What we’re looking for is a punishment that’s a real deterrent–that no man would risk. And seeing a man–a former man–ask for a job as a maid for his old enemy is going to be very effective, we think.” He smiled. “If that former man becomes a sex partner–a willing sex partner–and is seen to become so, ¡then all the better!”
Pansy wanted to tell him he was sick, but she merely remarked, “I got to disagree with you, Seá±or. It ain’t right.”
“ ¿‘Right’? Not important. ¿Is it ‘right’ to bomb a city in a war, and to kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of civilians? Your country–or your former country–has done that. What matters is, ¿is it effective?”
“ ¿And is it effective?”
“If a norteamericano scientist can be changed–really changed–into a campesina, then it’s technically effective. ¿Would it be an effective deterrent? Time will tell.” He pulled a cigar from his pocket and lit it. “Your transformation–of your soul, that is–is of great interest to us.” He closed his eyes, inhaled, and puffed out a cloud of smoke. “We consider that the physical transformation has been fully demonstrated–Seá±orita. I’m sure you have to agree, ¿yes?”
Before Pansy could answer, Susana entered the kitchen and asked Machado, “ ¿Is there anything we can get you, Seá±or? ¿Have you eaten?”
Machado turned to her and replied, “Thank you, Seá±ora, but I ate before I arrived. ¿But perhaps I might have a beer, if you have one?”
Pansy began to get up, but Susana waved her back. “I’ll get it,” she told her maid. “Right now it’s more important that you speak with our guest.”
He asked Pansy again: Did she consider the physical transformation to be effective?
“Yes, Seá±or, they were successful.” It was hard to deny, with her nursing infant in the next room.
“ ¿And your soul?”
“No. They played with my head, and I ain’t got much of what I knew before. But I ain’t no campesina like they want.”
“But you like pretty clothes, and makeup, ¿yes? And Seá±or Herrera tells me you watch the telenovelas, and you enjoy sewing. ¿Is that true?”
“Yes,” she replied shortly. He frowned, and she realized she had been disrespectful. A touch of panic hit her. She couldn’t misbehave, not now, when she was so close to freedom–they could still punish her. She answered again, admitting, “Seá±or, they made me a woman, and I got to find my pleasures in the things a woman can enjoy.”
“ ¿So you think now you have the soul of a woman?”
She thought for a moment, then shrugged. “I ain’t got no idea. I got the same soul as before, I think, but I got to change some things.”
“ ¿You like men now, instead of women?”
Her face flushed, but she replied, “Yes, Seá±or.” Even now, the thought of lying with a man excited her. Her nipples hardened, and she felt her groin become moist. She repressed her lust; since leaving Golondrinas she had managed to control the longing that had been conditioned into her, if not to banish it.
“ ¿Do you plan to get married?”
She looked down. It was a hard question to answer, and one she hadn’t been able to decide. “I… I don’t know. I may marry some day, if I can find the right man.” Seá±ora Herrera had warned her that it would be difficult to find such a man, who would permit her to escape the female drudgery Don Pablo had planned for her, for the rest of her life; but she wanted sex without the stigma of becoming a slut–and a well-to-do husband could be her ticket out of menial service. “ ¡I just don’t know!”
Machado saw her reaction to the question and interpreted it to mean that she was beginning to accept her new gender, if not her social status. He went on: “ ¿What about your baby? ¿How do you feel about her?”
Without hesitation she responded, “I love her, Seá±or, and I’ll try to see that she has a good home and a good life.” Another argument for marriage, she knew.
Machado asked a few more questions, about her work and her leisure time, then returned to Susana, to speak with her privately. “I think your father has succeeded,” he told her. “George Deon will be dead soon, although he doesn’t know it. Pansy will remain, as nothing more than a campesina. For a while I thought she might go the way of several other subjects, lost to suicide–but now I think her baby will keep her alive. She gives Pansy a reason to live.”
“George Deon is alive. He’s well hidden, but he’s still there.”
“ ¿In what sense is he alive, Seá±ora? Define ‘George Deon’.”
Flustered, she responded, “I… I can’t define him–but he’s still there.”
Machado shook his head. “I think you want him to be there, Seá±ora, so you can watch him suffer. And Pansy would agree with your belief, as she clings to the hope of returning to something like his former life. I understand. But I’m a professional psychologist, and I would define a person–or ‘ego’ in the jargon–as the sum total of the contents of the brain. The memories, beliefs, attitudes, reflexes–everything stored between the ears. In my professional opinion, Pansy is not Seá±or Deon. I must ignore the different body; I concede that he could still be trapped in that body. Seá±or Deon’s attitudes, his personality, most of his memories–his language even–are all gone. Some trace of him exists, but it’s fading. You’re prolonging his life when you think of him as George Deon. It supports Pansy’s delusion that she is still him, in her head.”
Exactly what Father had told her, she knew. “ ¿Why do you care about the existence of George Deon?”
“I don’t, not personally. I’m an observer, nothing else. But as a psychologist, I have to say that the experiment is fascinating. Also, I’m compelled to say that it’s unethical, and troubling–but I can’t affect its progress. The data are useful, and we may as well use them.” He shrugged. “My government may or may not use the information–I have no say in the matter–but certainly they want to know about the process of personality engineering. Even if they never use it, perhaps someone might find a way to use it against them.”
He left soon after, and Susana thought about his words. Finally she decided that she knew better than the Cuban, having seen a lot more of both Pansy and George. Maybe George would die, and it might even be soon, but for the moment, he was still present.
-- Pansy attended the customary early service on Christmas morning, after which Susana took her with Lilia back to Las Rosas to assist in preparing for the family Christmas party. She spent most of the morning in the kitchen peeling potatoes, washing vegetables, and otherwise assisting the more experienced cooks, leaving Lilia in a crib in the nursery. The work was easy enough, and she enjoyed seeing the Las Rosas staff again–Lilia and her duties at Los Ocotes had left her in need more of social contact. She chatted amiably with them about their boyfriends and the telenovelas they all watched, knowing that they were ignorant of her bizarre history. With her new face, darker complexion, and short stature, she fit in well. “But I’m not like them,” she tried to tell herself. “They’re just campesinos, and I’m better than that.” Nevertheless, her similarity to the others was unsettling.
The guests began arriving shortly after noon, and after she had nursed Lilia and stolen a few minutes to eat a sandwich, Don Pablo put her to serving drinks.
In midafternoon Susana told her to deliver a glass of Hennessey cognac to a guest in the library. She fetched the drink and took it to the library, where an elderly woman sat in one of the overstuffed chairs. “Here is your drink, Seá±ora,” she told her, handing her the glass with a curtsy. “ ¿Can I get you anything else?”
“Not just now, thank you. But you can sit over there.” She indicated another chair “I’d like to talk with you for a bit.”
Pansy shook her head. “I’m sorry, Seá±ora, but I can’t sit now. I got to keep working. Don Pablo…”
“Pablo has given me these few minutes. Now sit down.” Puzzled, Pansy arranged her skirt and sat. “You may not remember me, girl, but I’m Pablo’s sister–Suzi’s Aunt Mariana.”
Pansy still shook her head. “I don’t understand, Seá±ora. But if Don Pablo wants me to talk to you, then of course I will. ¿What do you want to know?”
Mariana leaned forward. “Just a year ago, Suzi introduced you to me at this party.”
Now Pansy remembered: Suzi and her aunt had made a bet. “Yes, Seá±ora.” She folded her hands in her lap and looked at the floor. “One more week,” she reminded herself. “Then I’ll find a way to leave.”
“ ¿Do you remember the wager we made?”
“Yes, Seá±ora, but I don’t know… I ain’t going to be able to settle the bet for you.”
“ ¡Of course not, girl! That’s for us to decide.” She looked down at her cognac, swirled it, and sniffed. “Pablito always did have good taste in liquor. ¿Would you like a little, my dear?”
“Thank you, no, Seá±ora.” What did this woman want from her? But then she realized it was probably simple curiosity: Was Pansy closer to becoming a true campesina, as Suzi had predicted? Would she lose her bet?
“I understand that Pablo will set you free next week. ¿Is that right?”
Pansy nodded. “Yes, I think so. He promised, and I believe him.”
“If he promised, then he will do it. Depend on it.” She sipped her drink and smiled. “They did a wonderful job on you, girl–or a horrible, disgusting job on your Seá±or Cualquiera. I’ve discussed your situation with Pablo, and he told me a little about you.” Jaime knocked and stepped into the room, but Mariana ordered him back out: “Leave us, Jaime. Pablo can do without one maid for a few minutes, I’ll send her back shortly.” Turning back to Pansy, she commented, “Jaime is all too willing to act as Pablo’s lieutenant. He has no power of his own, but he’s only too happy to use that of others. It’s a way to compensate for his own loss, I suspect.”
Pansy fidgeted. She had to help at the party! Would the woman ever get to the point? “Perhaps, Seá±ora.”
Noting Pansy’s discomfort, Mariana realized that the girl actually wanted to return to her work! Maybe Pablo had come closer to reshaping that norteamericano than she had thought possible. “No matter. In any case, I wondered what your own plans were, come the New Year.” She saw Pansy stiffen, and quickly added, “I don’t expect you to tell me your plans, girl. In your place, I’d keep my intentions to myself. And I’m no fool: I wouldn’t necessarily believe whatever you told me here anyway. But I can offer some advice. I doubt you’ll accept it–at least not right away–but maybe after some time, you’ll consider it.” Then she added, “And stop worrying about getting into trouble. I’ll tell Pablo that I was keeping you here, and you had no choice.”
“Thank you, Seá±ora. But…” Pansy shook her head, still puzzled. “I don’t… I mean… ¿Why would you give me advice? I was… I done bad to Suzi, I know now. Don Pablo still ain’t got no right to do what he done, but I deserved some punishment. And you’re Suzi’s aunt. ¿Why do you want to help me?”
“Because I agree with you. Suzi was at fault too–she should’ve known better. You needed punishment, as you admit–you acted abominably–but this is too much. Pablo had no right to do this to you. Sometimes he thinks he’s God.” She took another sip of cognac. “Of course, he felt he had to punish you severely–too severely, in my own opinion–to maintain his position. But what’s done, is done. And Pablo told the truth when he said your punishment will be over next week. He still has his other goals, though. He wants you to become a campesina, to demonstrate his doctors’ skills and abilities–he says you’re his prize exhibit for potential clients, and your existence will draw in enough support to pay for all the expense of creating you–and he wants you to work as Suzi’s maid.”
“I know that. But… But still, ¿why would you help?”
“I feel sorry for you, and I think your life could be a living hell. Or, just maybe, you might salvage something from it.”
“I ain’t never going to get my life back, Seá±ora.” Revenge was the most she could hope for.
“Of course not. Not your original life, anyway. That’s over. I suggest that you accept that you’re fully a woman–you can hardly disagree–and redefine your goals accordingly. Find a good man, marry him, raise a family of your own.”
“That’s what Don Pablo wants me to do. And I ain’t going to accept it. Not the way he wants.”
“Pablo’s revenge is over. That part of his plan for you is done. If your ambition is no more than to frustrate his wishes, then you’re doomed to that living hell. Or the hell for the dead–I suspect you won’t live long, and I wouldn’t want to stand in your place before the judgment seat. Besides, you can’t frustrate his wishes. The punishment is already accomplished. Besides that, as a guinea pig for his project you’ll provide useful data whatever you do–your death or your lifelong unhappiness will serve him as well as a successful adjustment to your new circumstances. And Suzi can always find another maid. Lots of girls would want that job.”
Alarm twisted Pansy’s face. “ ¡Don Pablo ain’t going to kill me!”
“ ¡Of course not, girl! ¡Don’t be silly! The danger is, you’ll kill yourself. Directly as a suicide, or indirectly. Pablo boasts that he’s never killed a man, but several of his victims have died by their own hands. He’s not unhappy with that.” Mariana stood up and walked to a window, where she looked out across the yard to the pine forest beyond, bathed in the late-afternoon sunshine of the dry season. “By the way,” she added in a dry tone, “my brother and my niece aren’t the only Herreras following your career. My nephew José is also very interested in you.”
“He… I…” Pansy stood up, clearly agitated.
“Oh, don’t worry, girl. He won’t harm you. Yes, I know you wouldn’t consider him to be a friend. And you’d be right: he’s a scoundrel and a sadist, a poor excuse for a man. Pablo will keep him tightly reined, though, and if he didn’t, I would.” She turned from the window and sat again. “José won’t be allowed near you after next week; Pablo doesn’t trust him to leave you to find your own way. And that’s necessary, Pablo says, to complete his project.”
“ ¿How do you know so much about me?” Pansy sat again and leaned forward. “ ¿Do you know who I am, really?” Finding her true identity was the first step on the road back.
“To answer the first question: as I said earlier, I spoke with Pablo. As for the second: Yes, you’re Pansy-Ann Baca Gá³mez. Really.”
“I know what you mean. I can’t tell you that. First, Pablo wouldn’t allow it. Second, he didn’t give me your former name, and I had no reason to ask. Third, and most important, you are Pansy-Ann, a Honduran peasant girl. Seá±or Cualquiera is dead. You have to let him go–he can only drag you down with him.”
“ ¡I ain’t no peasant girl! ¡And I ain’t gonna be no peasant girl! ¡I won’t!”
“I’m afraid you are, my dear. ¿But who said you had to remain a peasant? Yes, that’s Pablo’s plan, and right now you are hardly distinguishable from a natural-born campesina. Looking at you, listening to you–any unbiased observer would say you are a peasant girl. But you don’t have to stay there. With ambition and luck and work, you might pull yourself up. He won’t stop you.”
“He didn’t leave me nothing to work with. He took everything that could help me escape.”
“Almost everything, true. But he left you with ambition, and the ability to work hard, and maybe luck.”
“ ¡That ain’t enough to get me back to what I had!”
“Girl, ¿didn’t you hear me?” Scorn dripped from Mariana’s voice. “‘What you had’ is gone. Forever. You need to make a new life, as a woman, starting from where you are right now–and that means your choices are limited. I think your best opportunities would be as a Honduran woman, but that’s strictly my opinion. Pablo told me what you thought a woman’s life should be– ¡but that need not be a curse! ¿Don’t you think a woman can be happy, doing what she was designed to do? It’s actually a better life than the one you had before, or it can be–although I can understand if you don’t yet see it.”
Pansy shook her head again. “It ain’t no better, Seá±ora. I worked hard for an education, for a good life with a nice car, a good house, a career. Now I ain’t got nothing.” Tears began to flow unnoticed down her cheeks.
“My dear, a good life isn’t a car and a house, or even a good education. They’re nice, but not the essentials. It’s love, respect, dear friends, a family–your connections to other people–that are life’s true riches. Seá±or Cualquiera had none of those. He was close to no one, and had little chance for true happiness or satisfaction in his life. It was empty, and he didn’t even realize it. Now you have another chance: you can have the wealth that Seá±or Cualquiera lacked.”
“As a maid.”
“ ¡Yes, as a maid! To start with, anyway. With a lovely baby daughter, a secure position–and later, if you are lucky, with a loving and attentive husband. You’re a pretty girl, and finding a good man should be easy enough. Believe me, a woman’s life can be very rewarding. And Pablo will not object at all–in fact, your long and happy life as a woman would cap all his efforts with success. Pablo wins, yes, and Suzi also, with a good maid, at least for a while–but you win most of all.”
“ ¿So Don Pablo done me a favor, making me a girl? ¿Maybe I should thank him?”
She sighed and shook her head. “ ¡Men!” She tried again: “Pansy, you seem to think that women are a lesser form of humanity, unworthy of respect. I fear that many men–including my nephew, but not including Pablo–share that opinion, especially here in Honduras. And many norteamericanos equally believe that latinos are inferior; I suspect you hold to that as well. Further, those who are blessed with material wealth tend to view those less well off as below them in every way. ¡All of these opinions are wrong, wrong, wrong! Women are meant to play a different rá´le, yes–but it is just as important, fulfilling, and challenging as that of a man. As for the others: latinos are fully as capable as norteamericanos, and rich and poor exchange positions frequently. If you accept that you are presently Pansy Baca, a Honduran campesina–and accept that you need not let that fact crush your hopes–then you can have a good life. Let go of your Seá±or Cualquiera. Let him die unmourned, and seek success as Pansy Baca, wife and mother. The alternative–your only alternative–is to refuse to accept it, but then you waste your life and die a miserable death–nevertheless, as Pansy Baca.”
Pansy recognized that Mariana wished her well and wouldn’t betray her to Don Pablo, so she replied, “Inside, I ain’t really no campesina. I got to act like one, but it’s just an act. When I’m free, I’ll escape. I know I ain’t going to get back all of my old life, like I said, but I got to get back some of it. ¡Somehow I’ll escape!”
Mariana shook her head again. The girl really thought she was “just acting”! She couldn’t see what she had become, believing that all she needed was her freedom. Such a blind denial of reality! “ ¿You will escape yourself? That is your true prison. Girl, with that attitude you will fail. Your life will be short and full of misery and frustration. ¡Such an unnecessary waste! No, Pablo didn’t intend to help you, but you could turn his efforts to your advantage.” Mariana arose and looked down at Pansy. “I can only hope that you change your mind. Pablo thinks you might, after you are freed. José believes–hopes–you won’t. Suzi… well, I don’t know, but I think if you do change your mind–if you accept life as a Honduran woman and forget you were ever Seá±or Cualquiera–she might forget it too, and help you become more than just a campesina.” She took another sip of cognac. “The worst turn anyone could inflict upon you would be to give you the information you seek. It would hinder you from going forward, instead of looking backwards. It would poison you.” She shook her head. “I hope to lose my bet, girl. I hope to attend your wedding, and see you enter a new life of fulfillment, full of love, with a good husband and wonderful children. A life so much better than the sterile and lonely life you were fated to endure. But it’s all up to you. Now, you’d best get back to work.”
The rest of the afternoon and evening were spent serving and cleaning up afterwards. The work kept Pansy from brooding over her situation, and within an hour she was cheerfully filling glasses and fetching hors-d’oeuvres. Once back to Los Ocotes, she had to tend to Lilia, and by the time she fell into an exhausted sleep, the conversation with Doá±a Mariana had ceased to trouble her.
-- At the request of Don Pablo, Susana returned Pansy to Las Rosas, leaving Lilia with Marta. Susana parked her Nissan and the women walked up to the casa. Pansy paused as Susana knocked, retrieving her compact from her purse and peering into the mirror to refresh her lipstick. Evelina answered the door. “Come in, Seá±oritas,” she told them; “Don Pablo is in the library.” She ushered them to the door of the study and knocked.
Don Pablo invited them in and greeted them: “It is always a pleasure to have two pretty young women visit this old man. Welcome back, Suzi, Pansy, and please sit down.”
Susana grinned and replied, “Flattery will get you nowhere, Father–but it’s always appreciated anyway.”
The don smiled at his daughter. “It is only the truth, after all; and I have noticed that you are always in a better frame of mind after receiving a compliment.” To his maid he said, “Evelina, please bring us coffee: the usual black for Suzi and me, and cream and sugar for Pansy-Ann.” Turning back to Susana, he asked, “ ¿Has Pansy satisfied your expectations, my dear? She has been your maid for over seven months now, and your reports have been quite favorable.”
“Not really,” she replied. When her father raised an eyebrow, she clarified her denial: “My expectations were far too low. Pansy’s been an excellent maid, much better than I could ever have expected, or even hoped for.”
He nodded. “Yes, I have to consider the project a qualified success, so far.”
In unconscious imitation of her father, Susana raised an eyebrow. “ ¿‘Qualified’? ¿How does she fall short?”
“Although an impartial observer might call her a campesina, and she fits many of the criteria, she does not consider herself to be such but retains her dream of returning to the United States and reclaiming Seá±or Cualquiera’s citizenship.”
“Yes, she’s told me that–I think it was only a week or two ago.” She shrugged. “But I explained to her, it’s an unrealistic ambition. It’ll never happen.”
“No, of course not. But she still intends to attempt it.” He turned to Pansy. “ ¿Am I right?”
“Yes, Seá±or,” she responded. “I don’t know how I’ll do it–you made it difficult–but I will return. I ain’t no campesina. I am a norteamericana.”
“ ¿No? Tell me, girl: aside from your unorthodox origin, ¿in what ways are you different from any other campesina? ¿And how will you persuade the authorities that you are not what you seem? It is safe to speak.”
“I… I ain’t born to it. You made me this way.”
He nodded. “I grant you that. But I am saying that you were made into a campesina, and I asked for evidence to the contrary. Still, you have a point: in itself, that knowledge of your past creates a distinction.” He turned to his daughter. “Pansy’s refusal to accept her new status is the only flaw, and I hope that flaw will mend itself with time.”
“No,” Pansy insisted. “I know what I was, and I ain’t never going to accept staying like this.”
“We will see.” Evelina returned with the coffee and poured three cups, one with cream and sugar. Don Pablo lifted his cup to his lips and closed his eyes for a moment, savoring the bouquet of his drink. Susana and Pansy also sipped at their cups. He continued: “Suzi, your maid presents me with a problem. I am coming to believe that Pansy may be correct. As long as Seá±or Cualquiera lives in that pretty head, we may never fully realize our goal of creating a campesina. Or, at the least, it may take several years.”
“It doesn’t matter to me, Father. Whether he’s there or not, Pansy’s a good maid, and I think she’s a good mother. Besides, I rather like to see the occasional reappearance of that pendejo who abandoned me. It amuses me to see him trapped in a maid’s dress, forced to do the ‘women’s work’ he wished on me.”
“I understand,” he replied with a sigh. “That is part of the problem. As long as he keeps reappearing, you treat Pansy as if she were still Seá±or Cualquiera, and that recognition hinders his complete assimilation into the new persona we are creating–or so my doctors tell me. In truth, they are only guessing–they are exploring new territory.”
“I’m sorry, Father, but it’s very difficult not to see him. Sometimes he really is there.”
“I know, I know. But his punishment is finished. Now I simply want to complete the psychological transformation as soon as possible, and we have very little more time. I promised to terminate further treatment after New Year’s Day.” He turned to Pansy. “Seá±orita, your change–your metamorphosis–is almost complete. There is very little left of the man whom I brought here two years ago. ¿Do you agree?”
Pansy had heard their conversation with dread. Complete the transformation, Don Pablo had said. What else was left? Whatever it was, she didn’t want it. She set down her coffee. “Seá±or, I… I don’t know. Like I said, I ain’t no campesina, but my… ¿what did you say? My meta… metamofis is too good. Way too good. I don’t want no more.”
“Of course not. And yet… You suffer from your knowledge of your previous existence, and it also hinders the final success of our project–as you yourself have pointed out.”
“I…I ain’t…” She didn’t like the direction of the don’s thoughts at all. “Let me suffer. ¡Please! I want to remember who I was… ¡who I am! Even if it means Seá±ora Arias can continue to watch… watch Seá±or Cualquiera in a maid’s dress, doing her laundry. As long as I can know who I really am, it pushes me to escape.”
“But aside from that memory, there is so little left. You are irreversibly female–and totally feminine as well, in your interests, your mannerisms, your tastes. Worse, you are illiterate, with almost no English, no education, no family, and no outside resources. Yet you still hope to return to the United States and regain your old life.”
“I ain’t going to get my old life back. But I want to go home.”
“Even though it is no longer your home. There is nothing there for you, and the obstacles are almost impossible.”
“Even so, yes.”
Don Pablo turned to Susana. “We have blocked all plausible exits from the life we have planned for her–but I must admit, no plan can be foolproof. Pansy might just succeed, if we allow her to try.”
Susana disagreed: “I don’t think so. And even if she does, she’ll be no better off. She’d just end up working as a maid there–if she’s lucky–or more likely, cleaning toilets. Or worse.”
“Absolutely correct–as to her prospects there–but irrelevant to us. What is relevant is that it would prevent us from monitoring her. And Pansy-Ann Baca is by far the greatest success of the Ovid Project. We must remain able to observe her as her personality stabilizes. My doctors believe she will probably adapt to her circumstances as do other women in those circumstances–that is, she will truly become a campesina, content to stay home and raise a brood of children–but that is a supposition. Pansy certainly does not fit that mold now, and we should continue to watch her as she moves in that direction. We need evidence, so that she can continue to demonstrate the efficacy of our process to interested parties.” Don Pablo took another sip of coffee. “Doctor Ibarra assures me that it would be very simple to remove what is left of Pansy’s memories of Seá±or Cualquiera; and Doctor Ibá¡á±ez tells me that, without those memories, she would almost certainly conform to our design within a very short time. There would be no attempt to escape–or better, ‘escape’ would be a meaningless concept–and her ambition would be limited to finding a suitable husband–suitable for the campesina she would indeed have become.”
Pansy blanched. The imposed memories of her girlhood were clear and detailed, and they pointed directly towards the life the don had laid out. “Please, Seá±or, ¡don’t do that! ¡Don’t… don’t kill me! ¡Leave me some hope!”
“ ¿‘Kill’ you?” Don Pablo cocked his head. “You–Pansy-Ann Baca–would be very much alive and, I am certain, much less unhappy. It would seem to solve my problem, and bring the Ovid Project to a successful end. ¿Can you tell me why I should not simply erase the remnants of Seá±or Cualquiera? After all, what little remains of him, is itself partly artificial. His birthplace, for example: Ovid, Oklamo, does not exist.”
Pansy’s heart sank. Was he right? Should she just give up? “ ¡No, Seá±or! I… I ain’t really Pansy, you know it. If I don’t know my real name, it don’t matter–I’m still… still really Seá±or Cualquiera.”
Irritated, the don retorted, “I know no such thing. Seá±or Cualquiera is–or was–a pattern of memories, habits, and reflexes that marked you as an educated norteamericano. It was programmed into a kilo-and-a-half computer of meat, in a male body full of testosterone. All that is gone forever. We reprogrammed that computer with a different set of memories, habits, and reflexes that define a campesina, and put it into a female body well supplied with estrogen. You may think of yourself as Seá±or Cualquiera–but he is dead. I have cut pieces from him–his body, yes, but more especially, his mind–for two years, until now there is too little left to matter. You look like a campesina, speak like a campesina, think like a campesina, react like a campesina. You are a campesina–created, not born to it, but none the less a campesina.”
Susana pushed back into the conversation: “Father, I don’t know about that computer talk, but I have to agree with Pansy. Somehow or other, my old boyfriend is still there, memories or no. His… well, I don’t know, maybe his soul… Whatever you call it, it’s still there. And Pansy Baca isn’t real. She never existed, never was a quinceaá±era, never cuddled a doll named Panchita.”
“Pepita,” Pansy automatically corrected under her breath.
“No, you are wrong,” Don Pablo told his daughter. “Pansy Baca did exist. She was born in Comayagá¼ela, she had her first communion, her quinceaá±os, her first kiss. Her mother Rosa scolded her, she worked for her Uncle Juan. And she cherished her doll Pepita. Unfortunately, she died. We modeled our Pansy after her, and her memories as Pansy-Ann are those the original would have had. To the best of our ability, she is a re-creation of that girl. In effect, Pansy Baca lives again. She was–is–well suited for a position as a maid.” He turned back to Pansy and stated firmly: “You are not Seá±or Cualquiera, but Pansy Baca. You cannot live the life of Seá±or Cualquiera–we have destroyed all possibility of that–but you can take up the life of Pansy Baca. As Suzi notes, there are vestiges of your old personality, but they are fading. I might even say that you have been given a personality transplant.” He softened. “Seá±or Cualquiera did not actually have a good life, Seá±orita. He was financially well off, but he lacked human connections, even to his own family, and those connections are what make human existence truly satisfying. His life was centered completely on himself, and he had no purpose to his existence. That is an unfortunate, but common, tendency among norteamericanos, who pride themselves on being self-sufficient individuals; but in the extreme it is not healthy, and you carried it to that extreme. As a campesina, you will find that you are a member of a community. You will have a duty to Susana, to work hard for her; but Susana will also have a responsibility to you, to see that you and your child are taken care of.” He finished the last of his coffee. “I know you do not believe me, but the life of a campesina is not so terrible. Your material needs will be met: food, clothing, a warm place to stay. You will have friends, family. You already have a beautiful baby. You have been designed for that life, and if you accept it, I think that you can actually be happier than was Seá±or Cualquiera. I repeat: ¿can you give me a reason why I should not release you from the presence of his ghost? Not as a punishment, but as a mercy.”
Pansy pulled herself together and took a deep breath. She believed the don: if he carried out his plan, next year would find a compliant and passive Pansy-Ann Baca cheerfully washing the clothes of Seá±ora Arias and changing the diapers of Josecito and Lilita. And she knew the mind of the original Pansy, as designed by those damned doctors, only too well; in a short time, she’d be the wife of some smelly peasant, the only sort of man the prototypical Pansy could conceive of marrying, and the mother of half a dozen of his brats–exactly the baby machine Seá±or Cualquiera had described. But then she thought: New Year’s Day… Don Pablo’s promise… “Yes, Seá±or, there is a reason. You promised I would be free on New Year’s Day…”
“But you–Pansy-Ann Baca–will be free…”
In turn she interrupted and rushed on. “ ¡No! You promised to free Seá±or Cualquiera, not Pansy Baca, in the hotel room where he was found, with his passport and his money. Also, you said you never kill your enemies. You are planning to kill… to kill what is left of Seá±or Cualquiera. If he is dying, let him die naturally–but please… please don’t kill him. And then your… your doctors–they can study me, see how I… how I…” She broke down and wept.
Looking down, Don Pablo shook his head, then stared out the window, where bright sunshine filtered through the pines. Ten seconds passed in silence. Then he looked up. “You make a good point, Seá±orita. But there are other considerations. I do not wish to free you with your knowledge of the project. I know that there are those who would be delighted to pick your brain, and would assist you to leave–Seá±or Bianchi comes to mind. I think you would be the worse off in their hands, but I can understand how you might see it differently.” He thought a moment more. “I will keep my promise, and bow to your desire. The ghost of Seá±or Cualquiera–if he exists–will be allowed to continue, trapped in the body of Pansy Baca, but without information concerning the project. You will be taken back to the hotel as I promised, free to go or to return to Suzi, and I will consider your punishment–or the active phase of your punishment–to be completed.”
Pansy smiled through her tears. “ ¡Thank… thank you, Seá±or!”
Don Pablo returned a scowl. “There is no need to thank me. I believe you would be better off had I held to my original plan; but I will keep my word.” He finished the last of his coffee, now cooled, then added, “I must, however, make sure that you do not pass along any information concerning your transformation–but I must think on exactly how I will proceed.” He turned back to Susana. “Take her back, Suzi. I must confer with my doctors.”
“Very well, Father.” She rose. “Come along, Pansy. You’ll have to wait a bit longer to find out exactly what Father decides.” On the way home, Pansy asked Susana to speculate on what her father might decide to do, but Susana just shrugged. “I have no idea, Pansy. I suppose we’ll both have to wait and see. But he did tell me that your punishment–or Seá±or Cualquiera’s punishment–is done. Whatever happens, you–Pansy-Ann Baca–will be free to follow your own path, and Father thinks you can actually have a decent life.” She thought for a moment. “I guess I’m content with that. Seá±or Cualquiera paid full price for his sins, and I agree with Father: he’s dying now. And I agree with you too; he’s not totally dead yet. I have mixed feelings about Father’s decision not to erase what’s left of him–I still enjoy watching him fight a losing battle with Pansy–but it seems you’ll get your wish to keep him in your head for as long as you want. Father will keep his word. But I have to tell you, I’m surprised at myself.”
Pansy couldn’t keep silent. “ ¿Surprised in what way, Seá±ora?”
Susana glanced over at her maid. “I like you and respect you–as Pansy Baca. And other people at the finca feel the same way. When Seá±or Cualquiera isn’t present, you’re actually a decent woman–a hard worker and a good mother. I think Táa Mariana was right: you might even make a success of your life, if you let Seá±or Cualquiera fade away. The quickest way to do that would be to let Father erase what’s left of that pendejo–although on those rare occasions when he reappears, I very much enjoy watching him struggle in vain against what he’s become. I’d miss him if he left.”
“ ¿A success if he fades away and I lose all my ambition? If you were trapped as a maid, Seá±ora, ¿would you call your life a success?”
“ ¡Of course not! But I’m not a campesina, and you are. ‘Success’ is making the most of your potential. You can be a success as a wife and mother, and a respected member of the Los Ocotes community–but that’s pretty much it. ¡And that would be a successful life! Pansy Baca, left to herself, would realize that. Seá±or Cualquiera never will–and he’ll be forever frustrated, because he can’t define success that way, and yet he’s bound by the same campesina limits. Success and happiness for Pansy equals failure and misery for Seá±or Cualquiera. Failure and misery he richly deserves.” She stopped speaking for a minute, then resumed. “And being a wife and mother is acceptable for most of the female half of the human race.” She paused again. “Not ‘acceptable’– ¡wonderful! It has joys and rewards that men will never know.”
Pansy looked closely at her mistress. She was smiling slightly–a real smile, not aimed at Pansy. She seemed to be offering serious advice. And Pansy admitted to herself that Lilita was a beacon of joy in her own life. “I… I suppose you could be right, Seá±ora.”
Susana smile grew wider. “Yes, of course I am. Like I told you, I’m pregnant myself. I owe a child to Felipe, but more important, I want another child.”
Pansy looked away. Her first thought was, “ ¿And who’ll get to do all the dirty work of taking care of the brat? You told me I’ll be the one stuck caring for him!” She kept that to herself, though–she’d be free to leave by then–and simply said, “Yes, I remember. I hope you and Seá±or Arias have a wonderful child.”
Soon they turned off the main highway to the Los Ocotes road. Pansy reflected on what Susana had said about her future. It was hard to gainsay her words, but there was no way Pansy could accept them. There was more remaining of Seá±or Cualquiera than Don Pablo and Seá±ora Arias realized, and he couldn’t settle for the life he was offered. He had been behaving like a model campesina in the hope that he might be treated better, and clearly the ruse had succeeded. He’d find some way to do better. There had to be a way!
-- The garden outside Ibarra’s office was dreary. Poinsettias still bloomed, but a steady rain spoiled the festive effect. Ibarra closed the curtains to shut out the depressing sight. The office itself was brightly lit, and Ibarra was cheerful; the gloomy skies couldn’t spoil his mood. One of his subjects, Patricio Dáaz, had been treated two months earlier. He had been Juan Benavides then, but he had been given a new identity to prevent him from carrying out a revenge murder. Much of his past had been expunged, and since then he had worked as a mechanic in San Pedro for a company controlled by Don Pablo. Now he had been returned to the Institute, and Ibarra had completed a new experiment. He suppressed, but didn’t erase, all the memories that Seá±or Dáaz had accumulated since his rebirth, effectively returning him to that day. The erased memories hadn’t returned; but all the memories of the earlier life that hadn’t been erased, but only submerged in the subconscious as incompatible with the new identity, had reappeared. In effect, the original persona had been resurrected from limbo. The two-year interval, with a new environment, had been sufficient to create a new personality, and the return of the old persona was easily observed by anyone who had known the original Seá±or Benavides.
Now Ibarra wondered about his most challenging subject. George Deon had suffered a more radical change than Seá±or Benavides. Both body and persona had been thoroughly altered, but the change had been so gradual, taking almost two years, that there had never been any discontinuity. The subject had been physically emasculated only after he had been completely feminized in other respects; yet his ego seemed to persist, even through the changed body and imposed persona of Pansy Baca were totally alien to that ego. And now Don Pablo had reversed himself and vetoed the most likely method of completing the psychological transformation. “Pansy must retain the knowledge that she was once a norteamericano,” he had ordered Ibarra. “But I want her to lose her knowledge of how she was changed, and who was responsible. And I need to have this done quickly.”
Ibá¡á±ez and José Herrera, who had been called to consult, stopped by while he was reviewing the Benavides/Dáaz case, and the three psychologists discussed the result of his experiment. The resurgence of the Benavides persona, if only briefly, had intrigued all three, and possible parallels with the Deon case occurred to them. José asked, “ ¿Is George Deon is really still there in Pansy’s head? My sister claims she still sees her old lover occasionally, but that most of the time Pansy seems to be a different person altogether.”
Ibá¡á±ez laughed. “Whether he’s there or not, there’s no doubt that Pansy’s a very different person. We went to some effort to secure that result.” He recalled the conversation with Don Pablo and added, “In any case, I discussed her with your father just last night. Right now, my own opinion–shared by Don Pablo–is that Seá±or Deon is still trapped in that pretty little head. He lies low most of the time, because life is easier for ‘Pansy Baca’. He’s very frustrated, as you might expect. Pansy coexists with him, I think, and runs their everyday life. She isn’t quite real, though, in spite of the work Jesáºs put into inventing her own past. Don Pablo would prefer that she become dominant. It seems to me that we should simply delete the remaining Deon memories, as originally planned. But now Don Pablo wants us to come up with something else.”
Ibarra reminded his colleagues of the first appearance of Pansy as a young girl, when he had begun creating a life for her while the personality and memories of George Deon were suppressed. “His comments while he was recovering from the drug’s effect suggested that he was predisposed to the multiple-personality syndrome. Seá±ora Arias’s experience with Pansy supports that diagnosis.”
Ibá¡á±ez agreed in part. “However, Im skeptical about ‘predisposed’. I think it more likely that the intolerable pressure we applied, induced the syndrome–if indeed that’s an accurate diagnosis. But George Deon still seems to be the dominant personality, even though the conditioning we imposed is firmly, and I think permanently, imbedded. I think that eventually Pansy Baca might overcome Seá±or Deon, but right now he knows who he really is, deep down. He’s George Deon–even if he knows himself only as Seá±or Cualquiera. In a way, that state of affairs is fine and suitable as a punishment, given his crimes. It maximizes his frustration with the limitations imposed on him by his present status. But it’s not the complete psychological makeover that we had hoped for.”
“ ¿Then why does Don Pablo want him submerged in Pansy?” asked Ibarra. “That is his desire, you know. I don’t understand. Not really. After all, as you say, the punishment seems to be effective. Effective and appropriate, I think.”
“Two reasons, Jesáºs. First, the don’s satisfied that Seá±or Deon’s been punished enough. More important, Pansy is responsible for rearing his grandson Josecito.” He drew on his cigarette and exhaled a cloud of smoke. “And for Lilia Baca as well. Genetically, Pansy’s child is the don’s grandchild as well. Or at least she has a fragment of Susana’s genetic heritage. And that means she’s your niece too, José. ¿Don’t you recall?” José nodded, although he was annoyed that Ibá¡á±ez would mention it. Pansy’s brat was nothing to him, even if there was a theoretical blood relationship. Ibá¡á±ez continued, “The don wants Pansy to accept that her biography–her imaginary biography–is as real as that of George Deon. He believes she’ll do a better job of raising the two children if Seá±or Deon is subordinated to Seá±orita Baca. But as long as she knows what happened to her, I doubt that’s possible–and besides, according to Don Pablo, Pansy isn’t supposed to know how any of this happened, or who is responsible.” He shook his head, puzzled.
Jesáºs Ibarra recalled the Benavides experiment. He pointed out, “The problem that the don discussed with me is caused by one fact: Pansy knows that the biography we gave her is fiction. She knows we put Seá±or Deon into that body. ¿What would happen if she didn’t know? ¿If I erased all those memories?” He looked at Ibá¡á±ez. “I think the idea is worth considering. I only worry that the project might not be practical.” He shook his head. “Just how would ‘he’ explain ‘his’ new self. I mean, it’s a different situation from Seá±or Garza. Very different. It’ll be clear to Seá±or Deon that he’s not quite the man he used to be.”
José was delighted by the notion. “I’d be interested in the reaction of Seá±or Deon to the experience of finding himself suddenly reincarnated as a peasant girl.” He smiled with anticipation. “Perhaps we have the time for this one last experiment.”
Disgusted with José, Ibarra scolded him, telling his colleague, “We’re supposed to be scientists, not little boys pulling wings off flies. Our purpose isn’t to torment Pansy. It’s true that one of the original reasons for this project was the punishment of Seá±or Deon, but that was never the chief purpose. Anyways, that’s over now, as the don has said. Over and done with.”
Sitting back in his chair, Ibá¡á±ez agreed: “You’re right, Jesáºs: our purpose now isn’t punishment. Still, we can consider the proposal on its own merits, and I think it’s a good idea. But I don’t think we need to provide a reasonable explanation. Let Seá±or Deon explain it as best he can. More to the point, Pansy will have a plausible background. She will be the persona with a convincing past. Or she will if you can provide an uninterrupted biography, Jesáºs.”
Ibarra assured him that it could be done. “I have some experience in the matter, after all. I’ve given other men new lives, and they’ve never detected discrepancies. Or not in the end, anyway.” He pointed out that the truth of what had happened was more improbable than almost any other story that could be concocted. “Willy-nilly, her ‘Baca’ biography should prevail in the end.”
Ibá¡á±ez joked that witchcraft was the only reasonable explanation for the transformation: “No rational person would accept that Pansy could ever have been a norteamericana–never mind a norteamericano. Our methods are all known to science–if on the cutting edge of technology, and known only to a few workers in a small field–but no one ever had the genius to put them all together like this.”
José seized on the idea. “ ¡That’s an excellent idea, Roberto! She’ll need an explanation, and sorcery’s as good an explanation as any. She can be told that George Deon was changed into Pansy Baca by witchcraft.”
“She’ll never accept that, José,” Ibarra insisted. “She still has too much of George Deon in her, and Don Pablo doesn’t want us to erase him. Seá±or Deon was a scientist, after all. Pansy won’t accept witchcraft.”
“ ¿So? Then let her wonder about what happened. Maybe she won’t accept witchcraft–or not right away–but she won’t have any other reasonable possibilities. The George Deon of two years ago wouldn’t have believed he could be changed to a campesina by any technology, and he still won’t, after we erase his knowledge of what happened to him. ¡Just look at her! I have trouble believing it myself.” Ibarra nodded his head. “Yes, I think that Pansy may indeed come to believe in witchcraft. After all, her own personal experiences’ll support the notion.” He nodded again, thoughtfully. “I’ll give her some memories that’ll push her in that direction. After all, belief in the supernatural is common among campesinas–and Pansy’s lost all her scientific background.”
They discussed the possible results of such a procedure. Ibá¡á±ez suggested that the trauma of suddenly finding himself in a woman’s body would weaken the Deon persona, but that the Baca persona would receive no great shock. “And without any knowledge that the Baca body and memories are constructs, there’s a fair possibility that Pansy might come to accept her existence as the norm. Jack Pinkerton would become the anomaly, the interloper.” José agreed, but both Ibarra and Ibá¡á±ez silently discounted his opinion as biased. However, Ibá¡á±ez also agreed on objective grounds.
“ ¿What about the physical evidence of our work?” José asked. “There are some traces of the surgery. The plastic surgeon did an excellent piece of work–that’s his specialty–and I can’t see any scars to betray what happened to her old face, but Weiss’s transplant left abdominal scars. He did an excellent job in minimizing them, but the work couldn’t be hidden completely.”
Ibarra told José he could take care of that detail. “I’ll see that she ‘remembers’ that Seá±or Deon had those scars before he came to Honduras.” But he shook his head. “I still don’t think it’ll work, but we can try..”
The discussion turned to their Iraqi subject. Ibarra pointed out that Seá±or Ergec had never accepted his new identity. “The conditioning to obedience and to a feminine personality was insufficient. ‘Lilit bint Shaitan’ knew who she had been, and never reconciled to it. When the ties to Ergec’s old identity–and to his family–began to weaken, then Ergec’s family mattered less. Those family ties were the only incentive that kept Ergec from suicide. If we want Pansy Baca to remain alive, we should remove any knowledge of a previous identity.”
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Ibá¡á±ez objected. “The cases are not parallel. First, Pansy Baca has a perfectly good independent existence, with a coherent past. Lilit had no such existence. Second, and more important, Pansy has a strong incentive to continue to live: her infant daughter. That same incentive should keep the Pansy persona dominant, even if George returns.”
The three decided that George Deon would be resurrected and returned to the time just before his capture. Ibarra reminded them that the reborn Seá±or Deon wouldn’t be quite the same as the original–even aside from the physical changes. “Too much was erased, and that material is irretrievable. It’s gone forever. His English, for example, will be poor…” José snickered and interjected, “ ¿Poor? ¡It’s almost nonexistent!” Ibarra shot him an annoyed glance and went on: “…and the other erased memories will not return. Also, Pansy’s conditioning will remain. But I think enough remains to allow us to retrieve the original persona.” He looked at José with disapproval and noted, “Doctor Herrera, I want to make it clear that I don’t share your motivation, as I perceive it. Not at all. But I do have some scientific curiosity concerning the outcome. Our express orders from Don Pablo were that George Deon would remain more or less intact within the body of Pansy Baca. I believe we succeeded, but this experiment should test the proposition. And it may–may–assist in furthering Don Pablo’s present aims.” He puffed a bit on his cigarette and then pointed out that the resurrected persona would need a name. “I think we should let her use the name ‘Jack Pinkerton’ now, if only temporarily. I’m curious to see whether it persists, given that Pansy’s now well integrated into a campesina persona.”
“That’s reasonable, Doctor,” José told him. “She can be ‘Jack Pinkerton’ again, for a while. But suppress it after she’s reverted to Pansy-Ann. We need to make sure she stays integrated.”
José suggested further that they should involve Susana in the experiment. He argued, “She’d like to discuss several points with her former lover, I’m sure, and I think she deserves the opportunity.” Ibarra agreed, and they called Don Pablo. His approval cemented their plans.
Late that afternoon Ibarra called Susana on the radio and told her of George’s impending resurrection. “We believe his persona still exists. We think we can bring him back almost completely with hypnotic drugs. We’ll make Pansy forget everything that we did to make her what she is today. It’ll be almost as if the last two years never happened–except for the physical results of those two years, of course. Your brother suggests that you might like to see him when he realizes who and what he is now. ¿Would you like to be there when he discovers his balls suddenly are gone? We can arrange it so that he’ll think you took them.”
She accepted the invitation, telling him that she had dreamed of having George back again, and at her mercy. “ ¡That’d be marvelous! I used to fantasize about changing him into a girl so he’d see what it was like, and Father’s project seemed like a miracle. I thought having him as my maid would satisfy me–and it has helped. But by the time Pansy came, there was too little of George left. I get a little satisfaction from teasing her, but she’s actually too different from him. I feel guilty. I think what you’re offering me is my fantasy, ¿true? ¿I’d really take George’s balls? ¿And give him tits instead?”
“I’m not sure, Seá±ora, but I think so, yes. I believe we can return him–in his own mind, at least–to a time before any physical changes were imposed. Of course, Pansy’s body will not be restored to its original condition. That’s impossible. What we can do, I think, is use drugs to prevent the old ‘George’ persona from noticing those changes. You see, the drugs work best when they reinforce what the subject desires. I think I can say that our subject would dearly like to return to a time before his body was changed. We’ll tell him that he does have his old body again. As long as he’s under the influence of the hypnotic, he shouldn’t notice anything that contradicts that belief. Until he’s told to, that is. When you order him to take notice, he will. And he’ll think you did it to him, if you tell him that.”
Susana was delighted by the idea, but then, glancing at Pansy washing dishes in the kitchen, she had second thoughts. “Doctor, I see a possible hitch. Pansy’s useful to me now, as she is. She’s a good maid, and I don’t want to lose her. ¿How long would George be present, and would his return have any permanent effects?”
“I don’t think you need to worry. Of course, we can’t be absolutely certain, but we think Pansy’s training will remain. The loss of memory should apply only to her recollections of events and people. Habits, skills, training–they shouldn’t be affected. George should find that he has all the training, the conditioning, that Pansy has now. ¿How long would George remain? I don’t know, but I think, as long as the drug remains in effect. If you like, we could implant a time-release dose, so that he could remain for two or three days. ¿Would that be all right?”
“ ¡Yes indeed! ¿But will George get back all his old knowledge? ¿The information that was erased? I wouldn’t want that to happen.”
“Not possible, Seá±ora. The drug is not magic. Time will not turn back. That information is destroyed–it’s gone from his brain forever–and this won’t bring it back. Nothing can. I promise that.”
She was puzzled. “But you said… ¿How can that be? ¿How can he forget everything that happened, but keep everything he learned about sewing, and cooking, and all that?”
The doctors began to speak at the same time; Ibarra conceded and Ibá¡á±ez explained, “Seá±ora, the brain has several different sorts of memory. Events, facts, faces, and names and such are stored one way, and abilities, habits, likes and dislikes… They go elsewhere. When we finish–or at least if we succeed–Pansy will keep the abilities and habits we trained into her. The circumstances under which she acquired them will be erased, but that won’t affect the training. And besides, we won’t erase all her memories of the last two years. Some we’ll just suppress, and she’ll recover them when the drug wears off.”
Susana shook her head, confused. “Seá±ores, I suppose it doesn’t matter if I don’t understand how you do it. I just want to know what Pansy will keep and what she’ll lose. OK, she’ll keep her conditioning, you say. But you’ll erase memories. ¿Which will she keep, and which lose?”
This time Ibarra answered. “First, we won’t take any memories from before George’s capture. Everything, or almost everything–auxiliary losses may occur–over two years old should be untouched. At least at first, the last two years will seem to disappear completely. However, a lot of that won’t be erased, just suppressed. Everything after Pansy began working as a maid for you should return. She’ll remember she’s really a maid. For the time in between, the period of George’s transformation to Pansy, she’ll lose a lot. She’ll forget George’s capture, his time at Las Rosas, his surgery and training. We’ll leave a little of Pansy’s time in San Pedro, and fragments of Golondrinas, but we’ll change the context. The fragments we leave will be associated with Pansy’s work for other employers before she started work for you. She’ll think your brother was an employer who did to her what George did to his own maid. We’ll add enough false memories to fill in the story and tie it in to the biography we’ve given Pansy over the last eighteen months or so.”
Susana nodded doubtfully, but brought up another point. “Pansy’s last name is Baca, the same as George’s old girlfriend. ¿Why was that name chosen? ¿Are they supposed to be related?”
Ibarra laughed. “Yes, although Pansy doesn’t know it yet. It was planned from the beginning. We laid the groundwork, and Pansy’s final treatment will seal their relationship. Having a local family should help her campesina personality overcome her old norteamericano identity. I’ll give you details later.”
Ibá¡á±ez told her, “When George awakens, you’ll control him. I’ll lend you a gadget that manipulates his emotions. As far as George’s concerned, you’ll have total power over him, body and mind.”
“ ¿I’ll have total control? ¿What does that mean?”
Ibá¡á±ez told her about the chips in Pansy’s brain and showed her the hand-held control. “The buttons control the chips. This one is fear; that’s pleasure; the third is sexual arousal. The last two are physical and induce nausea and cramps. The knobs control the intensity. It’s how I conditioned her.” He cautioned her to use the chips sparingly, if at all. “We’re trying to determine how permanent the conditioning is, and we want as little messing about with the chips as possible. Please, keep the use to a minimum. We’ll want it back after the first couple of days.”
She nodded. “I can understand that. No, I won’t overdo it, and you’ll get it back. But between that gadget and the little play you’ve scripted, I think ‘Jack Pinkerton’ is going to have a very interesting time. And I’ll enjoy every minute of it.”
-- On the morning of the 30th, Pansy was knocked out, and taken to Ibarra’s lab under sedation. José strapped her into the chair and prepared her for George’s return. Ibarra entered the lab as he finished. The familiar effluvium of animals and chemicals met him there. His assistant Horacio Morales cheerfully informed him that Pansy had received her shot of hypnotics. “She’ll be conscious soon, Doctor. She’ll believe anything you say when she awakens, and she’s really a foxy woman. ¡Convince her that she loves me madly!”
Ibarra retorted, “Horacio, you know better. This formulation of metrazine isn’t magic. It can only reinforce suggestions that don’t conflict too strongly with the subject’s basic beliefs. It’ll work now only because Pansy would rather go back two years. ¿Do you really think I could convince her that she loves a monkey like you?”
The assistant laughed and shrugged. “It’s worth a try, Doctor. Anyway, she’ll wake up in a couple of minutes, I think. ¿What fables are we pouring into her brain today?”
“We’re going to erase pieces of her past, and then we’ll persuade her that Petunia Baca is her sister. You remember Seá±orita Baca, ¿don’t you? We treated her quite a while ago.”
Morales looked puzzled, then smiled. “Yes, I remember. So Pansy’ll have a new sister, ¿will she?”
“Not really a new sister. Don Pablo had both George Deon and Petunia Baca investigated thoroughly before this project ever began. Pansy’s girlhood memories–the ones you helped me give her for the last couple of years–were tailored to match the real biography of one of Seá±orita Baca’s actual sisters. The real–or I should say, the original–Pansy Baca died in her teens.” He paused: “Actually, her name was Violeta, but after we did a little work with Petunia–and the other family members–everyone remembers her as Pansy. Our Pansy’s new biography matches Violeta’s, as well as possible. Where there was an unavoidable mismatch, Petunia’s memory was altered to match Pansy’s. For example, Petunia has ‘forgotten’ that her sister died. And she thinks her sister had striking green eyes in a dark Indian face. We are doing the same with Pansy’s other family members.”
“ ¿India? ¡She’s a morena!”
Ibarra smiled. “Yes, she is, in skin color; but her features are more india. My colleagues did a remarkable job on her. Anyway, I took a recent photo of Pansy and imprinted it into Petunia’s memory. When she sees Pansy, she’ll immediately recognize her as her sister. And considering the wonderful job that Marcus did on her face, anyone else would agree that the two women are sisters, although Pansy is dark and Petunia, light. I’m having Pansy’s remaining close relatives treated as well–it was easy enough to arrange–and they’ll confirm her new identity too, if and when she meets them.”
“ ¿Did they agree to be treated?”
“So far, yes. We told them it was a harmless experimental procedure, offered them a sufficient sum of money, and promised to to take liability for any damage.” He smiled: “Of course, they forgot everything we agreed to–but Don Pablo will honor the agreement anyway.”
Morales wrinkled his brow, still puzzled. “But Pansy knows her girlhood memories are false. She knows that she used to be a man, and I think you told me that won’t change. ¿How do you intend to reconcile her two sets of memories?”
“We won’t. She’ll have to do that for herself.”
Shaking his head, Morales told Ibarra, “I’m confused.”
Ibarra grinned. “Not as confused as Pansy will be, I’m afraid.”
The assistant’s assessment was accurate, and within five minutes Pansy opened her eyes. Ibarra asked her, “ ¿Do you hear me, Pansy?”
“Yes, I… hear you.”
“Pansy, two years ago you were someone else, a norteamericano. ¿Do you remember?”
“I remember.” She knew she should care, but under the drug she had no emotion.
“ ¿What was his name? ¿Do you know? ¿Do you have any idea? Tell me.”
Her brow wrinkled as she tried to comply. “I… I don’t… know. I thought maybe… maybe it was ‘Jack Pinkerton’.” She mispronounced the name badly.
“ ¿Why did you think that?”
“Doctor Cantáº told me.”
Ibarra lifted an eyebrow. It was fortunate that a false trail had been laid. The news that Isabel Cantáº had helped Pansy was a surprise. It was unimportant, though. More significantly, the deletion of George Deon had held. He checked Seá±or Deon’s biography and concluded that no erased material had returned. Then he erased “Jack Pinkerton” again–although its recovery wouldn’t really matter–and turned to the task of resurrecting his persona.
“I’m taking you back in time two years, to when you were sleeping with Petunia Baca. When you awaken, you won’t remember anything that’s happened since then, because it hasn’t happened. You’re still a man, a norteamericano, and you won’t take notice of anything to the contrary until and unless you are so ordered. When you awaken, it will be New Year’s Day, and you’ll be back in the same hotel room in San Pedro where you met with your girlfriend Petunia. You left Susana Herrera just three months ago, and you are still hiding from her now. ¿Do you remember the fight you had with her, just before you left her? It was only three months ago. Tell me about it. ¿What did you say to her in that fight? ¿What did she tell you?”
Pansy responded in a monotone: “She… she told me she’s pregnant. I told … I told her I won’t marry her, that it was… the baby was her problem, not mine. I told her women were made to please men and bear children, and… and that I didn’t trap her, her own body did. She… told me I’d have the responsibility for the child.”
Ibarra smiled. The poor bastard would have a rude awakening. “When you wake up in the hotel, Seá±or, you’ll know that it is January 1, three months after you left Susana. You have been hiding from her, but she will be sitting next to you. You won’t notice that you are not speaking English. In fact, you won’t notice anything unusual about yourself until Susana points it out. Whatever she tells you is true, and you will believe it. And you must obey her orders. ¿Do you understand? Answer me.”
“Yes, I understand. I am a norteamericano. Nothing about me is unusual. I have been hiding from Susana. I will wake up in the hotel with her. What she tells me is true. I will obey her.”
“Even as a norteamericano, you will have the skills and training of Pansy Baca. You can cook, you can sew, you love babies.” He agreed. “And after you speak with Susana, you will know that you have become a Honduran girl, Pansy-Ann Baca, and you will know that you have to work as Susana’s maid. You will remember everything about the man you once were, and you will especially remember that you are deserving of punishment, for your sins against women. But you will also accept that you have been transformed to a campesina.”
Ibarra took Pansy into a deeper trance and spent the rest of the day erasing much of her previous two years. Most of her year at Las Rosas vanished, although she kept her date with Lorenzo and her service with the Peá±as. Nothing remained of George’s capture, of the training in sewing and makeup, of the punishments and attempted flights. The finca, Don Pablo, Conchita, Jaime–all disappeared as if they had never existed. Ibarra told José that collateral losses would help them in this case. “I’m not trying to remove selected memories from her stay at Las Rosas. I want to obliterate it entirely–the memory of her capture, her physical alteration and her training, her association with Seá±orita Baca– ¡everything!” George’s, and later Pansy’s, association with Petunia at the finca was taken, so that his last memory of Petunia would be of that night in the hotel, just before their capture. Then Ibarra edited Pansy’s time at Golondrinas, excising anything that hinted at how she had come there. Her service there–including her sexual servitude–was left, but José’s true identity was erased, and he reverted to his pseudonym of Miguel Ovando. Her week as a whore for Mamá¡ Santiago was stretched to two months, and she “knew” she had used “Dulcita Chichones” as a professional name. Lilia became the result of a contraceptive failure at the brothel. Pansy’s service as Susana’s maid was left intact, minus hints of how she had come there. Ibarra repeatedly asked her to recall details that betrayed her true history, then carefully erased them with minimum disturbance to other memories. Pansy would know only that she had found a welcome, and needed, job with Seá±ora Herrera.
José shook his head in wonder. “ ¿How do you suppose she’ll account for the missing time?”
Ibarra shrugged. “That’s a minor problem. Pansy will have enough biography so that her life will seem continuous, with no breaks from her childhood through her present status as Seá±ora Arias’s maid and as a young mother. More to the point, ¿how will George explain the fact that he has become a woman–and has a woman’s memories? I doubt the sorcery explanation will suffice. Or alternatively, ¿how will Pansy explain that she has a man’s memories in her head? Seá±or, I don’t know. I don’t know at all. ¿And which identity will dominate in the end? ¿Will we have George Deon trapped in a woman’s body, or will he assimilate completely to a campesina? ¡The questions are endless, Seá±or! Only Pansy can answer them–and at first, I think she’ll be confused. ¡Most confused! ¡It’s a fascinating project!” But then his face fell and the enthusiasm drained from his voice. “I can’t rule out failure, of course. I told you about Patricio Dáaz: he’s doing well. But one of my other projects–I renamed him Juan Vicenzio–never adapted to the new life we made for him, and he ended up drinking himself to death. And one of Doctor Ibá¡á±ez’s earliest subjects–I think his name was Seá±or Arruba–went insane last month. Ibá¡á±ez is still trying to find out what went wrong. And of course that Iraqi–but then, we expected him to fail; our clients didn’t follow our advice. But those are the risks, Seá±or. Not all experiments turn out as we’d like.” He shrugged, then brightened. “At least we keep learning. Even the ‘failures’ aren’t really failures. We get data from them, and it helps us plan our next project.” He turned back to Pansy. “This project’s gone well enough so far. Surprisingly well. But Seá±or Arruba proved that the subjects have to be monitored over the long term. There’s no way to predict accurately what’ll happen for Pansy over the next few years. Assuming she lives, of course; but of course we’ll do our best to see that she survives. She’s by far our most valuable subject now, with so much effort invested in her by so many people. Now, back to work.”
By the time all discordant details at Los Ocotes were obliterated, it was early morning of the 31st. The doctors allowed her to rest, and they themselves caught a little sleep. Then they resumed their work, filling out her biography with new details. In preparation for this final (he hoped!) treatment, he had obtained information from Petunia Baca, Tomá¡s Baca, Seá±ora Rosa Baca, and as many of (the real) Pansy Baca’s friends and acquaintances as could be found. Under the influence of mnemosine, Pansy absorbed every detail. Finally, he subtracted another year from her age. She’d be seventeen again, five years younger than Petunia, to match Petunia’s dead sister. Pansy accepted the biography without question. In the end Ibarra was half persuaded that Pansy knew more about the life of the original Pansy Baca than the original had. And she accepted it all as her own. When he was sure it was all firmly implanted so that it would never be truly forgotten, he ordered her to suppress the entire biography for the next couple of days. “You won’t recall anything of your past history as Pansy Baca when you wake up,” he ordered her under the hypnotic. “You will be only that norteamericano who betrayed Suzi. Then you will recall only those parts of your history that Susana–Seá±ora Arias–tells you to remember. After two days your entire past as Pansy Baca will return. Even then, you will know and remember that you were once a norteamericano before Seá±ora Arias caught you and transformed you to her maid. When you think of your old self, you can call him ‘Seá±or Cualquiera’, but you will think of yourself only as ‘Pansy Baca’.”
He asked her what she knew about the methods that had been used to effect her transformation, and she told him it was by hormones and surgery. “ ¿Why do you think so?” he asked. She told him about Cantáº’s genetic test and her abdominal scars, and about her knowledge of hormone therapy and transplants. The scar on her arm also indicated her original identity.
Surprised by Pansy’s remaining knowledge, and also by the assistance she had received from Doctor Cantáº, Ibarra removed all knowledge of biology: cell biology, physiology, anatomy, taxonomy, and evolutionary theory. He paid special attention to transsexual operations and hormones, leaving her totally ignorant of their existence. He implanted in Pansy the firm belief that such physical changes were technically impossible. He looked into her chemistry and physics; there was too little to bother erasing, but he took away even her knowledge of what the words meant. He checked her English, and erased what he could of the little that remained; experience had shown that it was not possible to remove the last vestige of a language, but certainly what was left would not be usable.
She was bent towards peasant religious beliefs, with a belief in the literal truth of Genesis; she acquired an unthinking devotion to the Virgin. When Ibarra had finished refurbishing her faith, it was unshakable; she “knew” that her prayers to patron saints had been answered several times. Then he added common superstitions. Witchcraft (“brujeráa”) and the evil eye became realities. Turning to her body, they planted a firm conviction that her belly scars were due to a girlhood operation, and she gained a vivid (and embarrassing) memory of her first period in the summer of her twelfth year.
At Don Pablo’s request, Ibarra reinforced the remaining Deon memories, and tried to fortify the Deon persona. To assist in that effort, the evidence of the birthmark on his behind was left, as well as the scar on his arm from his boyhood bicycle accident. The discrepancies between the calendars of Jack and Pansy were reconciled and Pansy was ordered to ignore any remaining difficulties. Pansy was reminded that she had always looked forward to getting married, and that she should, and would, love and obey her husband. Especially the latter. Finally, he implanted in her mind the conviction that she’d always be a maid until she found a husband. It was the best life she could hope for, she would tell herself, and she was fortunate to have a mistress like Seá±ora Arias. George’s old opinions on the proper place for a woman were helpful, and would be strengthened by the hypnotic suggestion he was giving her.
They finished in the wee small hours of New Year’s Day. Ibarra asked José, “You arranged everything at the hotel, ¿true?”
His collaborator stood up and nodded. “Yes,” he replied with a wide smile. “Yes, I did. Everything’s prepared. Susana will be there when Seá±or Cualquiera wakes up. She told me that Pansy disappoints her in only one way: there’s not enough left of George Deon. If you’re right, Doctor, then he’ll be back, and it’ll be just as though she did catch him then, and changed him to her maid on the spot. ¿Isn’t that what you’re telling me?”
“Yes, I think so, but I’m not sure. That’s what I’m hoping, anyway. We’ll see.”
Two aides entered with a stretcher. Pansy was transferred to it, and José ordered them, “Take her to Room 117 at the Palmas Hotel. A woman there will give further instructions.”
“Yes, Seá±or,” the older aide responded, and they took her out. José followed them. Morales asked Ibarra, “ ¿How long should the Deon persona remain dominant, Doctor?”
Ibarra glanced at José, recall their earlier conversation, and raised a shoulder. “I really don’t know, Horacio. My earlier trials weren’t comparable. Not at all. I can only guess.” Then he told his colleagues, “I’ll hazard a prediction, for what it’s worth. The Deon persona probably won’t go suddenly, not if my posthypnotic suggestions hold. I imagine that in a couple of days Seá±or Deon will begin to fade as Pansy’s own memories return–the memories we gave her last May. But I don’t think Seá±or Deon will ever disappear entirely. He’ll continue to appreciate the attractive new body he’s acquired.”
“He certainly will,” José agreed. “But tell me, Jesáºs: ¿do you really think this procedure’s needed? After all, Pansy’s body, and her conditioning, leave her very little leeway. There’s no way she can escape, and she knows it. Yes, she resents it– ¿but so what? She’s helpless.”
“True, but as she said–and I think she’s right–she’ll never accept that biography I invented for her, as long as she knows it’s fiction.” Ibarra paused, then continued: “My other subjects fully accepted their new histories, but they had no reason to doubt their truth. I think our present subject can be persuaded that her girlhood was real, in spite of her memory of her old identity. Both the Deon and the Baca pasts will have claims to reality if I succeed. Equal claims, in Pansy’s mind.” He smiled. “Of course, the subjective evidence will support her hondureá±a identity. There’s no way–none at all–that we could’ve changed George’s body so completely. Or so she’ll believe, I am hoping.”
José nodded and changed the subject. “ ¿Have you ever read Kafka?”
His colleague’s face took on a puzzled look. “ ¿Kafka? No. ¿Why?”
With a grin José told him, “I had to read him in college. One of his most famous stories is titled ‘Metamorphosis’, and it tells a story about a man who wakes up to find himself changed to a giant cockroach. No reason is given, no explanation at all–neither to Gregor Samsa nor to the reader. It isn’t possible, of course, but it happens anyway. He just has to deal with his problem as best he can. We’ve gone a bit further in one way: Seá±or Samsa never had to accept the idea that he’d always been a cockroach.” He chuckled. “Another parallel with our Pansy: With the passage of time, poor Seá±or Samsa begins to acquire the habits of a normal cockroach. I’m afraid Seá±or Deon may have a similar experience, as his planted memories join with social pressures and biological urges to push him deeper into his new life.”
Ibarra pointed out a difference: this transformation would have a reason. “He’ll know why he’s been changed to a peasant girl, if not how. But in some ways it’s comparable, I suppose. There’s no conceivable way such a thing could happen, to him or anyone. Not a rational way. I’ll be curious to see how ‘Seá±or Pinkerton’ rationalizes his metamorphosis.”
“ ¿But didn’t you give him a rationalization? ¿That he’s always been a woman, that he grew up here? You said…”
“ ¿That his new biography would have equal standing? Yes, but that won’t erase his old one. And it’ll seem to him that Seá±ora Arias is responsible for both his new body and his new mind–including the memories. He’ll realize intellectually that both the physical transformation and the apparent change in his past are impossible–utterly impossible–but equally he’ll see that the former is an indisputable fact, and that should help him accept the latter. Or so we hope. This is an experiment, after all, and we can’t be sure of its outcome.”
José shook his head. “I’m confused. In the end, ¿will he know he’s really George Deon–or ‘Seá±or Cualquiera’–or will he think he’s really our mythical ‘Pansy Baca’?”
Ibarra chuckled. “Your confusion is nothing compared to what I expect Seá±or Whoever will experience. But to answer you, I have to repeat: I don’t know. Ask me again after a few months.” Then he sobered and added, “In the end, though, I expect Pansy to adapt to the necessities of her new life, just as Seá±or Samsa did, willy-nilly. Who she ‘really’ is, or thinks she is, won’t matter. ‘Pansy Baca’ will not be mythical: she will be a true campesina.” He paused: clearly José hadn’t been privy to all the information concerning Pansy’s transformation. There was no reason to keep him ignorant, so he added, “Besides, Pansy Baca isn’t mythical at all. She actually was a real campesina. Our own Pansy, new memories and all, is a mostly accurate re-creation–although we altered a few details. You could call it ‘artistic license’. We think it’ll assist in her ultimate acceptance of her new status.”
José’s eyebrows lifted, and after a moment he replied, “In terms of the Kafka story, then, it’s as if Seá±or Samsa not only awakened as a cockroach, but also found that everyone around him believed he had always been such.”
“Yes–and even worse: as if your Seá±or Samsa could recall an earlier cockroachical existence. He might always have been a cockroach, and his memories of being a man, ¡only a dream!”
“Doctor Ibarra, ¡you are diabolical!”
The doctor smiled and responded, “Not at all. ¡Not in the least! It’s for Pansy’s own good. Whatever she believes, she’ll spend the rest of her life as a metaphorical cockroach, and we think this will help her accept it. We’re trying to avoid the outcome that befell several earlier subjects.”
“Suicide. As I remember, Kafka’s tale also ended with Gregor Samsa’s premature demise.”
“Exactly. We’ll see if this ameliorates Seá±or Deon’s despair at the prospect of living the rest of his life as a cockroach.”
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