Lily, the last priestess of whoredom, gets up from the cold floor tiles where she’s sitting with other prostitutes. She straightens up forcefully, and with a mystical air, walks toward the only light pole in the rainy and echoing night. She’s wearing broken sandals and a robe. A large, pleated bag is positioned sloppily on her back. A dry lock of hair drifts back and forth across her forehead. “Adiós,” she says, emphasized with a wave of her free hand.

“Adiós? Where are you going? You’ve never said those words before,” someone remarks.

“Adiósss,” Lily shouts, waving her arms in the air. “Farewell, girls.”

“Don’t go, Lily, don’t go,” say the rest of the wretched little prostitutes appearing behind her, suddenly expressing a round of discouragement. Lily displays a gesture of uniqueness, inimitability, raising her eyebrows and appearing regal.

“It’s up to you,” she says, cornering them like nervous hens. “Just as one day I decided to convince the world that prostitutes still exist for the love of the art, I have also resolved to become an ex-prostitute, or in other words, a respectable old woman with devotions and everything and priests for friends. Farewell for the rest of my days, I’m leaving without any bitter feelings, I’ve done my part, and you’ll remain behind to continue my mission, if you’re capable of loving it.”

Lily pulls away from an adolescent prostitute with gray eyes and smooth skin who is hugging the plump waist of the exhausted old mare. “A somber destiny awaits you,” Lily whispers to her as she kisses her on the cheek.

“Lily, aren’t you moving too fast?” asks the young woman with the reddened eyelids. “Have you thought this over properly? Is it true you won’t be coming back?” asks the young woman, attempting to hug Lily again with the long and weary arms of a frustrated dancer.

“You’re the best, Mariucha Carmen,” says Lily, “because you’ve only been here a week. By the way, are you now convinced that you’re no longer a virgin?” Lily’s laughter sounds like broken castanets as she very quickly moves away.

“Lily, let’s go to Monis,” roars a big, fat woman with a homicidal glimmer in her pupils. “We’ll say our goodbyes and give you a send-off.”

“Goodbyes? Who believes in goodbyes? Never say goodbye to anyone. Take care of yourselves,” Lily says, before she escapes from her eleven professional coworkers, laughing and displaying her final parting gestures as shadows on the burned wall in the night.

“Come back Lily!” they yell. “Don’t leave us! Come back…!”

Lily does return, and seems angry, as if she’s remembering a sad memory, and encounters Orejas taking refuge under a bus shelter. “Woman of the street,” Orejas sings softly, soaking his eyes in the puddle on the slanted sidewalk, “looking for caresses, with her painted little face, with her painted little face and her wounded heart…” Drunk, Orejas purrs the bolero of Los Panchos, and it’s as if someone has shattered an empty bottle of cheap anisette. Lily, perturbed, observes the appearance of Orejas (retired railroad worker, failed anarchist, emancipated husband–a little bit of everything) and tries to execute him with her look.

“Orejas,” says Lily, “when you’ve finished drinking yourself into a stupor, you go roaming in the street, and if the world understood…”

“Don’t fuck around, you poor whore madam,” says Orejas. “You know I still like you Lily, I’ve liked you all of my life,” Orejas says, slobbering. “Come on, come on, don’t you remember that some time ago you said it was possible that one day you would live with me? I’ve been waiting for you, Lily.” Lily quickens her pace and Orejas, staggering, follows her.

“I know you felt shame and sadness the first time you left me,” said Orejas. “The second time, less, the other times, nothing, but you always returned to inundate me with hope…Lily…”

“The first time?” said Lily. “There’s never a first time for anything, Orejas, much less for unhappiness.”

Orejas steps forward and imitates a scarecrow by sticking his thumbs into his ears, flapping his hands, sticking his tongue in and out of his mouth, and emitting monkey sounds. Then he squats and barks deeply, beating his chest with his hands, exactly like a lapdog, then he cackles, falls into a pothole, and gets up quickly imitating a child’s pout. Afterwards, he hastily brushes off his buttocks, and limping, joins Lily.

“Don’t be a clown,” says Lily, chiding Orejas while she fondles the smooth folds of his turtle neck. “Have you ever thought about what I am? How many times I wallowed in dead tiredness or sadness like a seashell? Do you know how many men have used me? That I was always a whore because I always liked the scenario…?”

“Surely I haven’t been the only one in your life, Lily,” says Orejas, as he takes hold of her arm, like a boyfriend does with his girlfriend in church, or like a future father with an expectant mother who is going to give birth to his firstborn. “But it’s never too late, Lily, never. Do you want to…?”

“What?” says Lily.

“We could still sit together for the rest…” replies Orejas.

“You’re crazy, Orejas,” says Lily. “Why?”

Lily is the one who steps forward now, and, raising her arms like a puppet, starts reciting: “The wind takes everything, Orejas, protect yourself from the wind, the wind has been my thief, my only lover.” “You know that, right?” she asks. “Yes, you must know that I had a great love, ideals; I wanted to be a nun, widow, single, married. Do you know who took all of that?”

“Prostitution,” thunders the amusing Tío Canillas, the ageless maricon who rounded out the circle of friends many, many years ago, from the edge of the other sidewalk.

“Filthy, partying friar,” says Lily, laughing boldly at the oppressive light of the moon. “How can you talk about prostitution if ever since you were a child your anus has been violated.”

“Lily,” says Orejas, ignoring Tío Canillas, don’t be selfish, tell me, do you accept…?”

“The wind, Orejas, the wind,” Lily replies. Tío Canillas hugs Lily affectionately. He’s wearing a green sequined suit that’s too big for him, displaying audicious shoulder pads and fashionably showy lapels. Below his intervening chin and stout, bovine, pock-marked face is a fastened safety pin.

“What is that look for, Tío,” says Lily, “are you sick?” “You look as low as a nun’s tit. Was the little dead man fatter than you?” she asks, shaking his jacket. They frolic around for a while pretending to dishevel each other’s hair, after which Tío Canillas directs his hands shakily, caricaturing his swords.

“Is it true Lily, is it true?” asks Tío Canillas. “Are you going to leave the life? Are you going to retreat? I don’t believe you. The good soldiers die in the field of battle.”

“Yesss…” crackles Lily, quite joyously, “yesss, I was always a determined woman, yess…” And then like a crazy woman she proceeds to run away from her circle of friends.

“Lily, Lilyyy,” screams Orejas, sniveling, his waddling steps faltering as he tries to follow her.

“Don’t be a fool,” brays Tío Canillas. “Haven’t you heard that an older person is more experienced and knowledgeable about lovemaking?

Orejas disappears from Tío Canillas’s side, yelling, “Lily, Lily…” Meanwhile, Lily has arrived at the top of Alhambra, soaked by the rain. “Adiósss…” she can be heard howling into the wind.

Lily dashes along Guayaquil panting and repeating: “Yesss, I’m a determined woman, prostitution, I was always a determined woman.” With the speed of an exhaled breath she walks along Plaza del Teatro y Los Corazones, which at that hour is populated by petty thieves. She crosses Santo Domingo, under whose city gates squadrons of prostitutes are huddled together, protected from spears of rain by plastic bags and paper hats shaped like cones, next to beggars, drunks, hard-luck sissies, and vagrants located underneath burlap bags, fighting off hunger with small pieces of hard bread. Like a leaf trapped by a tornado, Lily exerts a final effort to arrive at La Ronda, where she falls and rolls around, the skin covering her injured bones becoming bruised and purple-colored, her lungs sounding unclear and her feet feeling numb.

“It’s Lily, Lily,” they say, approaching her as in a reverent procession behind the Virgin of Holy Water. They look at her closely. They place their hands on her genuflections one by one and carefully lift up her head–which seems to be the most important thing–arranging her left arm to serve as a pillow, and then placing her head upon it. But then they notice that her legs, wrapped with varicose veins, now lie level with the ground. “Wake up Lily,” they slowly chirp, “wake up.”

“She’s dead,” says the leader, distraught, placing her right hand on the ice floe that is Lily’s forehead. We’re screwed.”

“Dead?” cackle those closest by.

“Let’s call a taxi, someone finally suggests.”

“El San Juan de Dios is nearby,” someone else interjects. “And what if they lock us up for doing the right thing?”

“Yesss…” someone yells, “it’s better if we go to Retén. We’ll leave her.” Ideas are skipping around among the circle of women like fire beetles turning on and off.

“Silence,” orders the big, fat one, “can’t you see that it’s Lily? Today, I do for you, tomorrow, you do for me.”

“Whatever you say, Monis,” says another, bowing her head.

“Wake up, Lily,” pleads Monis, sobbing, but managing to sit her on top of her enormous legs and rocking her. “Wake up, old woman, we all love you,” Monis continues, tenderly caressing her chin and carelessly wiping away the water which slides ridiculously around her face.

Lily breathes weakly. She’s alive. “She’s alive!” Monis announces. “She’s alive!” shout the others, stupified and applauding.

Lily sighs. “Ow, ow, ow,” she complains, smiling. Then, muttering, she says: “Is it you, sister? Is it all of you, or is it that I’m in the kingdom of heaven…” Happy, they all laugh, opening their red mouths.

Lily rejoins them shortly thereafter. “It was the running, yesss, the running,” Lily says.

“Here, drink this,” says one of the young women, offering half a glass of Alhambrado cognac, “a drink will do you good.”

Lily grips the bottle, warding off the shaking. “Ugh!” she says, grimacing, after she takes a long drink.

The blind violinists from La Casa Blanca cross the street with their instruments underneath their overcoats. With their jaws pressing down on their chests, they walk in single file led by the least-blind musician. “What a great downpour! A rich Indian boss never gets wet,” they say jokingly as they go along.

Meanwhile, one of them remembers  that they can’t sing “Lamparilla” again because the audience will stomp their feet in disapproval. “Do we smell like rotten fish?” they ask themselves regretfully, while the orchestra is celebrating the joke with a single captive hyena laugh, then turning on Morales Street while telling jokes that can no longer be heard.

Tears run down along the dimples of Lily’s face, and, with her blood, the memory of a man who truly wanted to love her. She collapses in a noisy lament, curled up, the result of a blow she feels in her ruined ovaries every time she cries excessively.

“All right, all right,” they say, shaking her, knowing that she’s alive, “don’t fuck around.” They start to move away from her.

“No, don’t go, help me,” Lily begs, deriving her strength from Monis. Lily stands up and leans against her, farting. “Yesss,” she says, laughing and still panting, “it was the running. Don’t pay any attention to me. Let’s go. You can be my guest at Palatino.”


Marco Antonio Rodríguez

Marco Antonio Rodríguez was born in Quito, Ecuador, in 1941. He has published essays about Ecuadorian painters, and been a contributing writer for specialized publications in and outside of Ecuador. His stories have been translated into multiple languages, and his books have been published in many editions. He is the author of the essay collections Rostros de la Actual Poesía Ecuatoriana (1963), Benjamín Carrión y Miguel Angel Zambrano (1966), and Isaac J. Barrera, the Man and his Work (1969), and the short fiction collections Historia de un Intruso (1976), Un Delfín y la Luna (1985), and Jaula (1992).

Harry Morales

Harry Morales is a Spanish literary translator whose translations include the work of the late Mario Benedetti, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Eugenio María de Hostos, Emir Rodríguez Monegal, Juan Rulfo, Alberto Ruy-Sánchez, Ilan Stavans, and Francisco Proaño Arandi, among many other distinguished Latin American writers. His work has been widely published in numerous anthologies, and has appeared in various journals, including Pequod, Quarterly West, Chicago Review, TriQuarterly, The Literary Review, AGNI, The Kenyon Review, Mid-American Review, ACM: Another Chicago Magazine, Mānoa, BOMB, WORLDVIEW, Puerto del Sol, The Iowa Review, Michigan Review, World Literature Today, and Hayden's Ferry Review, among others. His English translation of two verse collections by Mario Benedetti, Sólo Mientras Tanto: Poemas: 1948-1950 (Only in the Meantime: Poems: 1948-1950) and Poemas de la Oficina: 1953-1956 (Office Poems: 1953-1956), and a volume of stories, El Resto Es Selva y Otros Cuentos (The Rest is Jungle and Other Stories), are published by Host Publications.

Copyright (c) Marco Antonio Rodríguez, 1994. English translation copyright (c) Harry Morales, 2007.