ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 03

The compote

Author | Autor: Celso Sisto

Translated by Fal Azevedo | Illustrated by Bebel Callage

This is a mountainous story. You will have to go up and down, as if you
were hiking. The path goes between words. And the mountain formed by
memories can take you very high; it can even take you to the sky. Or, on
the other hand, it can turn into a slope and take you right into the abyss.
This is a story that leans over to look down. And when you wear prescription
glasses, you can see the Mountain of Joy, of Surprise, of Fear, of Enchantment.
However, depending on our age, we don’t even see the edge of the cliff, right
in front of us.
Only now, at 82 years of age, I can see that many stories – I think all of them,
really – make us get closer and closer to the edge of the cliff.
How great life is – a jump over the edge of the cliff! A dive into the unknown.
Time after time after time!
And sometimes, we have to jump backwards.

The dress
Joy came to pay me a visit. It was early morning, when I was getting ready for
a birthday party. The party would take place at Marizinha’s grandmother’s house.
An old house, full of doors, secret passages and mysteries!
I got dressed before the time. I wanted to wear my party clothes, feel them
touching my skin for as long as I could. Because of that soft, thin fabric that seems
to caress our bodies. It was a blue caress, the colour of my dress.
Joy, in the beginning of the day, is like coming close to the sky, that’s why I
wore the blue dress with white flowers.
When I’m in blue, I’m fast and light. I can run faster than any boy. And I can
jump high too, and my head touches the clouds!
Ha ha ha! That’s right! My head is always up in the clouds! And I should be
called Cotton Alice!

The party
I was the first one to arrive to the party. Walking slowly, like a tortoise, so that
the gift box in my arms would call a lot of attention.
A closed box, beautifully wrapped, is always so beautiful! Even better than
opening it up is thinking about what’s inside it. I think all presents should stay in
their boxes as long as possible. After we open the present, it becomes past!
Marizinha screamed when she saw the box that covered my face. It was a
scream of joy. It was a scream of surprise. It was a scream the size of the box, big,
pointy, pinching us! Making us laugh together after the scream. And making us
clap our hands quickly and happily.
The open box revealed the size of our friendship. My favourite book, Pippi
Longstocking, was inside it, as well as a collection of stationery paper, a whole case
of coloured pens, flower stamps, a sheet of stickers and a lock of my hair, which
Marizinha thought was beautiful. “Princess hair”, she said.
She gave me a kiss every time she removed something from the box. Friends
are like this – they like to kiss!

The table
Marizinha took me by the hand:
‘Come with me, Alice, come!’
We went to see the party table. My eyes were blinded as if I was looking
straight at the sun! I had never seen so many different things. I asked, radiant:
‘How do you call that?’ and I pointed out.
Marizinha laughed. A happy, open laugh, like a rose petal full of drops of rain.
‘That is called compote!’
What a sweet word! Watery, like rain. I kept repeating, very low: compote,
compote, compote. And I couldn’t take my eyes off the table.
The Aunties arrived and the compotes multiplied. All the Aunties would bring
compotes made with their favourite ingredients, I mean, the birthday girl’s favourite
ingredients: green papaya, cheese, cider, soft coconut... Hmmm! Delicious!
That was when I discovered that Marizinha had invited me to her grandmother’s
birthday party. And I hadn’t understood! What now? Wrong gift, wrong party,
wrong person! The blue colour of joy faded away on my dress and on my face. I
had become a big red balloon of shame!

When Grandma came into the room, she brought with her a delicious smell
of lavender. How beautiful she was! And she smelled great, of course! She was
wearing a light sleeveless dress, with flower patterns – forget-me-nots, I know,
because Mummy always talks about this flower. Underneath the dress, she wore
a blouse with a funny collar, like a cloud explosion! A bubbling white collar! Like a
waterfall from her neck!
Marizinha pulled me by the arm:
‘Come meet my Grandma!’
I was shaking. I was a cloud before the storm!
‘Grandma, this is my friend Alice!’
It was too late to run away. Grandma hugged me and squeezed me, as if I was
the birthday girl. Now, with my nose buried in her neck, I lost my fear. I think it was
because the smell of lavender. It was impossible to fear when my lungs were full of
that spring air, and I was protected by smiles, soft as air kisses.
When she let me go, I quickly put my hand on my chest and said:
‘This is for you!’
She smiled even more, if that was possible!
‘I brought it open, so it wouldn’t wilt!’
She laughed, now. And I saw birds coming out of her throat. It was a birdy laugh!
‘That is beautiful, Alice!’
I finally removed the brooch my mother had, at the last minute, attached to
my clothes. It was a lavender bouquet! Pure coincidence (I wonder)! I stretched out
my arm and tenderly put the flower on her clothes.
‘You are a flower!’
When she said that, I ran away, purple all over – a mix of the red of
embarrassment and the blue of my dress. Everything happened so fast! And I had
nearly ruined the party! I ran away and took something with me...

The big scare
The lace tablecloth, I don’t know how, had gotten stuck on my dress and I took
with me everything that was on the edge of the table.
When I noticed and turned away, because of the screaming, it was too late: PLO FT!
‘Oh, my God!’
‘Mother of God!’
‘What now?’
‘Holy Mary!’
‘Good Heavens!’
‘There’s nothing left!’
‘What a tragedy!’
After so many desperate exclamations, I saw that the damage had been serious.
On the floor, broken and swimming in a sea of fruit syrup, was the green compote bowl.
I didn’t know what to do. I looked at Marizinha and started to cry.
‘I’m sorry... aaaaaaaaaaaah... I didn’t mean to... aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah...’
All Aunties ran in my direction.
‘It was nothing!’ said Aunt Violet.
‘It happens to everyone!’ said Aunt Daisy.
‘You didn’t do it on purpose!’ said Aunt Magnolia.
And the more the Aunties talked around me, the more I cried. I wept and
sobbed! It was like I had a macaw stuck in my throat. A screaming, scared macaw!
While I was swimming in a sea of tears, the Aunties cleaned everything up
so quickly that soon there was no evidence of my crime! No signs of destruction.
But that didn’t mean the damage could be undone, or that I could swallow my
tears and pretend nothing had happened.

The fear
They took me to the sofa. They brought me sugared water. But my tears
were still salty!
It was only when I noticed Grandma’s fingers stroking my dishevelled hair
that I felt my breath slowing down, sending that boat of tears softly away... to the
harbour of forgetfulness.
I was so embarrassed I couldn’t even raise my head.
Then, Grandma touched my face with her velvet hand, as if she was caressing
a scared kitty, tilting my chin up tenderly and blowing me a kiss. She blew words
in the shape of a song:

‘I feel this sadness in my heart
Mysteries my mind cannot figure out,
Sometimes I smile – with a sigh,
But the sadness comes about...

A vivid memory fills my head,
And time brings back my old pains.
I remember everything with tenderness,
Good times that won’t come back again...’

Grandma loved to sing! And everybody loved to listen to her songs. When
she started, Elias, the cat, appeared and jumped to my lap, getting comfortable to
hear better:

‘The time of blossoming flowers has gone;
They wilted under the sun.
The beautiful sky became restless,
And the waves weep under the strong winds.

My soul is the home of vivid memories,
And time brings back my old pains.
I remember everything with tenderness,
Good times that won’t come back again...’

When Grandma finished, she said:
‘ See? Elias only shows up when there’s music and poetry. Who’s next?’
Elias meowed, seeming to agree, and that was it! Chaos was installed.

All the Aunties wanted to sing songs and say poems. They made a queue
to decide the order of the presentations. But the first one to go was my friend
Marizinha, who said with her delicate voice:

‘I wish I had
A wind blow
To take me fast
Where my thoughts go’

After every presentation, Elias meowed in approval, stretched out, span
around himself and laid back again to listen to the next one.
While the Aunties gave their presentations, Grandma grabbed my hand and
took me away.

She opened her bedroom door and asked me to sit down on a funny chair, in
front of a round mirror, a big one – it was her dresser, she told me. She brushed my
hair with a soft brush, made of mother-of-pearl, she said. She did my hair in a funny
way, that she called “banana twist”.
‘How beautiful you look, Alice! You look like a cotton cloud!’
I smiled, embarrassed. We were about to leave the bedroom when I saw the
bed and was enchanted.
‘Do you sleep here?’ I asked, full of wonderment.
‘Yes, I do,’ she said, adding: ‘Would you like to try it out? Marizinha loves
sleeping here with me. And she always wants me to tickle her!’

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