The Dorado Woman

When someone insinuated that it might be possible the señora Virginia Fhury never aged, a great bewilderment mixed with stupor and surprise flooded the town. We’d grown up hearing thousands of stories about her, spending our siesta hours coming up with varying speculations about her eccentricities, always observing her from a distance when she went down into the city with her crank-handle Ford, or when she continued along her way without even so much as directing a single glance at us, no confirmation of our existence… We waited in the background for the day when she might require our assistance, and we could meagerly insert ourselves into her world. To tell the truth, it mattered little to us if this moment came dressed in solemn mourning or accompanied by a splendid funeral rose.

The Fhury farm was one of the oldest along the bank. You had to walk six or seven kilometers along Camino Real, which opened in back of the railroad station along the river path; cross the old bridge and bend lined with willows; and later, before the path dropped off to the east between poplars and five-leaved silk-cottons, you would almost run into the entrance to the hacienda. William Fhury had arrived in the town months before World War II had started, with a mute mulatto woman and an impetuous Doberman that watched over him as if it were his shadow. From the splendid foundation of the house to the arbors that crowned the entrance to the estate, the stables, the pond, the tool shed, and the hangar where he kept the light aircraft in which he crashed to his death, old Fhury had raised that empire from nothing, christening it “the golden place”: El Dorado. He had this carved on a placard that now, so many years later, was reduced to tin and rust. Some remembered Fhury as a rich engineer who had fled from his native land and from his wife just to consummate his passion for their handmaid; others were sure he had amassed a fortune as a spy for the British crown in German territory; and there were still others who say that he’d robbed a North American treasury, stealing gold bars and burying them in the bed of the pond he’d built fifty meters from his home, with water brought in from the river. But other townsfolk less sensitive to myth and fantasy thought that the old man had just been a swindler of little importance but with great gall, high-minded even in his exile, and with more than one score left to settle in blood, which explained his custom of walking with a .38 caliber revolver loaded in his belt. The truth is that, with or without a fortune, William Fhury had brought ostentation to his grave. He’d died when Virginia was small, and less than a decade later, the mulatto woman had accompanied him.

Virginia had inherited the demeanor and character of her father. She was tall, skinny, and a little bit awkward, with long, curly, chestnut hair that she wore pulled back in a bun or in a braid down her back. In the distance, she seemed like a wading bird come from the river: not completely ugly, and not pretty either, but quite spectacular with those manly pants she used to wear, her impassive face of indefinite age, and above all, her hypnotic eyes, somewhere between yellow and green. Every so often, when someone happened upon the farm to buy a dog (over the years, she had perfected the raising of Dobermans), they brought news about the state of the house that had once been the most beautiful in the area, with its brick on display and English-green shutters. From Don Emir Caicedo we knew, for example, that Señora Fhury had constructed kennels in the hangar and had improvised a small chicken coop. From Don Fernández we heard that her garden was a disaster and that it was so overgrown he could let his horse graze freely around the house. From Antonio Montenegro, the owner of the central store, we knew that her finances were not entirely good. And it was in the same way we learned of the day that little Teresa Ludueña appeared on the farm, Bible under one arm, waving palms in the evangelist way. Without even asking little Teresa to identify herself, Virginia blew her wide-brimmed hat off her head with a single, precise shot. The Ludueña girl was notably devout, wearing a religious habit, and was perhaps better known for founding the first gated community in the area than for her charity.

“That woman is crazy!” she said the following Sunday as she left church. “I went to talk to her about an important real estate transaction, and that crazy woman greeted me with a compressed air rifle. We should report her!”

The stories traveled by word of mouth, from person to person. Some were recent and others centered on her infancy and childhood: stories we’d heard as children and that we’d later told as parents. We had the statement, the star personality, and what our children had heard. The warrant was perfect. We were just missing the age of Señora Fhury, to corroborate the temporal order of the facts in order to grant a contiguous credibility to our lives.

For this reason we went along with the mayor’s decision to form an expert committee to study the pond, without second-guessing him. The suspicion that something strange existed there had been around for quite some time, and the general curiosity was, at this point, a rather public matter. Zulma Pozuelo, the wife of the mayor, Alberto, and the owner of the pharmacy of the same name, affirmed that Virginia’s “recipe for eternal youth,” as she called it, was to be found in the pond. She spoke of the effects of certain minerals in the water and of other things she tried to explain while we could think only of the story of the old man burying gold bars beneath the water.

One cold August morning, the inspectors arrived at Señora Fhury’s farm, accompanied by police, along with the mayor, his wife, and some neighbors. Virginia’s reception of them was cordial, but the dogs that flanked her barked with such ferocity that everyone was paralyzed with fear. The mayor began to stammer some kind of explanation, visibly nervous, when Zulma Pozuelo planted herself at his side and took his arm. (Everyone knew that in his youth, the mayor had been one of Virginia’s most attentive suitors.) She opened the gate, and with a single command, the dogs stopped barking. The two certainly did not seem to be of the same age. Pozuelo had thinning white hair; Virginia’s was think and dark. The bulge of the man’s belly preceded his body, while hers was as trim as a marathoner’s. And their faces: the strangest thing was to confront their faces. His was white, rolling with wrinkles, now a bit flushed with color; hers, in contrast, was remarkably smooth and tanned from working under the sun, and the steady serenity in her eyes left a very strange expression on her face as a whole.

The commission took samples for analysis and departed. The condition of the farm in general was calamitous, in sharp contrast with the good shape of the animals and their owner. There was no doubt Señora Fhury was in grave financial trouble; it could be said this was the reason that a short time later she decided to rent out the four hectares generally set aside for grazing to a Bolivian family, which sealed her fate. But before the stories of a young boy named Johnny scandalized the town, the town had already discovered the large tax debt owed on the property that, month by month, was closing in on Virginia.

During the summer, there were not enough stories to fill the pages of the daily paper. The headline which proclaimed “Dorado Woman Exposed!” was therefore almost a blessing. Of course, Virginia Fhury was not named in the article; only small details about her property were given, and people connected the dots and drew their own conclusions. The text had been a big break for the new editor, who had overheard only by chance the Bolivian boy talking about the curious customs of a woman. The journalist had restricted himself to recreating, almost playfully, the boy’s story.

“Look at Señora Fhury!” the influential people of the town said. “What a free spirit she became, eh?”

“It’s not for nothing they call the goldfish the Tiger of the Paraná River!” someone else said, and they all followed with a hearty guffaw.

Johnny was interviewed at various times later, and his parents received a bit of money for his trouble. The original story was brief, shall we say, but with each retelling, he added a new fact: that the señora took baths in the pond at sunset, and that she did this completely nude; that he’d spied on her, and one day waited as she climbed a tree with branches dangling into the pond, and waited as a goldfish of great size passed between her thighs. This was not the official story, but it was curious to observe how the story changed according to the fantasy of each person relating it, how each one filled the gaps with pieces of non-existent evidence.

Later, something unexpected happened, before the story and its variants were finally–to my liking–exhausted. Little Teresa Ludueña all of a sudden paid the great tax debt that weighed down upon El Dorado, and with that, she became–for the better, at first–the new proprietor of the estate. At daybreak on the morning of the delivery date, Señora Fhury’s body was found floating in the still waters of the pond. Her face, in death, was that of a woman of nearly seventy years.

Bios

Jimena Néspolo

Jimena Néspolo (b. 1973, Buenos Aires) has been an artisan, seamstress, saleswoman, nanny, tarot card reader, librarian, teacher, and journalist…roles that currently come into play in her position as a researcher for the National Research Council in Argentina. She is an advocate for desperate and lost causes: she edited murals of poems in the city, and directs Boca de Sapo, a magazine of art, literature, and thought (www.bocadesapo.com.ar). She’s published several books of poetry and fiction and produced literary criticism as if she were weaving on an invisible loom in a damp, dark corner of her room. She wrote the narrative of Antonio di Benedetto (AH, 2004), and together with her brother Matías compiled the anthology The Erotic Story: Writers of New Argentine Literature (AH, 2009). She admires people who live their lives–that is, their literature–as if they were dancing a beautiful dance in the center of a fatal fire. She writes accordingly.

Kristina Zdravič Reardon

Kristina Zdravič Reardon is a PhD candidate in Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at the University of Connecticut. After earning an MFA in creative writing from the University of New Hampshire in 2010, she was awarded a Fulbright grant and spent a year in Ljubljana translating fiction. She is the recipient of several grants, prizes, and fellowships in writing and translation from Spanish and Slovenian into English. Her work has been published in World Literature Today, Words Without Borders, and Slovene Studies, and is forthcoming in Norton's international flash fiction anthology.

La mujer del dorado. Copyright (c) Jimena Néspolo, 2011. English translation copyright (c) Kristina Zdravič Reardon, 2o14.