ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 03

A Little Old Lady in Glasses, Slippers and a Blue Polka Dot Dress

Author | Autor: Ricardo Azevedo

Translated by Laurie Anne Carpenter | Illustrated by Ricardo Azevedo

Six friends are seated on the sidewalk. It is beginning to get dark. At the door
of a house, across the street, a little old lady with glasses appears, in flip
flops and a blue polka dot dress. The friends each give their opinion about
the little old lady. Six different opinions are given of the same neighbor.

To me, she’s a writer of children’s stories. She has probably already imagined
tons of adventures, fairy tales, kings, giants, dwarfs and pirates, that ended up
becoming books. Her life is as follows: she wakes up right before lunch time, reads
the newspaper, eats something, cleans the house and goes out to pay her late bills.
At night, when the city sleeps, she sits down in front of her typewriter and works
straight through the night. During these hours, anyone who passes her house sees
a little light shining through the top floor window. She is at work writing, crossing
out, throwing out, writing again, erasing and rewriting until the story is ready.

Her husband is the type of guy who has done everything in his life. He’s
been a motorcycle racer, a butterfly catcher, a miner, astrologist, and an amateur
photgrapher. He has sold tableclothes and towels, been a bouncer, stamp collector,
a boxer (ended up with a crooked nose), and now plays piano in a pizza joint. While
she invents stories seated in front of a typewriter, he invents melodies seated on the
piano stool.They both work with their hands; that’s why I think they get along. At the
end of the day, before they go to work, they like to walk around the neighborhood.
They talk, laugh and, sometimes even kiss. At this moment, for example, she is at the
door waiting for her husband. The two of them are going to go for a walk and then
they’ll sit on a bench in the park, to feel the coming of the night.

To me, this little old lady has got something up her sleeve. It always seems
like she is hiding something. Sometimes, at night, I walk by her house and I get
spooked by that little light on in the bathroom. Why would someone leave their
light on all night long? And another thing: once in a while I hear her singing. Just
remembering her voice sends a chill up my spine. What terrible screeches and
howls! They say it’s opera that she sings. Perhaps. I guess opera must not be very
good. The other day I saw the old lady stopped like a statue in the middle of the
street. Three black cats came over the wall, with their fur standing straight up,
walked right over to her and began purring at her feet. I hate to say it, but I think
that she is a witch in disguise. Sheesh! Can you imagine what her house is like
inside? Full of bats, slugs, and frogs jumping around?

The living room is probably stacked full of secret books crawling with black
magic, bottles of poison, flying brooms, spider webs, whining black cats, leftover
food and cigar ash on the floor. And the bedroom? Yikes! Black walls, black
curtains, black floor, black carpet, black bed, black sheets, black pillow and a lit
purple candle on top of the black dresser. That little light turned on in the bathroom
desn’t fool me. It’s not really a bathroom. It is a room of witchcraft, of magic, roots
and voices from beyond. It is where the old lady lights the cauldron, mixes the
spices, dead animals and invents magic potions. Now she is at the door waiting for
someone to leave. With that crooked nose, it must be a vampire that’s living with
her. The two of them go limping through the streets. Why they have to go to the
park every afternoon, I don’t know. But they must be up to no good.

To me, she’s always been a housewife. She’s been married for forty-eight years
to that old man with the crooked nose. He was handsome when he was young,
but after he got old, he started stumbling when he walked, fell in a hole on the
sidewalk and broke his nose. The couple had five children, three boys and two girls.
Three are married. The oldest son got separated, but then remarried. The youngest
daughter doesn’t want to get married; she lives alone and goes out on lots of
dates. The second son died in a car crash. On the other hand, the couple already
have fourteen grandchildren, and the first granddaughter, daughter of her other
daughter, got married three years ago and is five months pregnant. Very soon the
little old lady will become a great grandmother. Every day she wakes up really early
in the morning and waters the lawn. Afterward, she makes coffee and reads a bit
of the newspaper. Around nine o’clock, she gets the phone and calls her children.

She spends the entire morning gossiping on the phone. Around noon, she
heats up the food, and rests for a little while after lunch. In the afternoon, she either
watches television or knits, or goes to the supermarket, or feeds some street cats,
or goes in the kitchen to make some sweets, or puts on her reading glasses to write
to her sister who lives in Rio de Janeiro. Once in awhile, the little old lady needs to
go to the doctor because of her arthritis. On Sundays she always goes to mass at
nine o’clock. After dinner, she and her husband usually watch the news and their
favorite eight o’clock program. Every now and then they fight like cats and dogs.
That little light that is on upstairs is the following: sometimes, they put records on
the record player and dance for hours. Now they are getting ready to go out. They
are going to visit a retired couple, old friends that live close to the park.

To me, she is a gym teacher. It must be. Look how firmly she walks. Look at
her bíceps. This white haired woman must be as strong as an ox. They say health
is wealth, so she must be really rich! She is close to eighty, but doesn’t look like it.
The last time that she got sick, was about seventy two years ago, when she was a
little girl and a bad case of mumps. Can you imagine her, every day, waking up in the
middle of the night, putting on her warm up jacket and tennis shoes, and going about
thirty-five laps around the block (running!), coming back and taking a cold shower? I
am sure that she has a degree in physical education. When she was young, she was
a champion swimmer, played volleyball, water polo, tennis, basketball, soccer and
handball. She is probably a black belt in jiu-jitsu, judo and karate. Even now, when
she goes on vacation, she gets her backpack and goes hiking.

She has probably gone to the Amazon forest to visit the indians. She has
already climbed Flag Peak a thousand times. She has already gone scuba diving
off the island of Fernando de Noronha and sent the sharks on their way. Noone can
stop this woman. She still does sit-ups, and, standing up with her legs stretched,
she can touch her palms tothe floor. I’ve seen it! In the afternoon, after lunch, she
goes for a bike ride around the neighborhood to keep in shape. That white haired
man is her husband. The guy is also an athlete. When they were newlyweds, they
had a bad fight and she punched him in the face; that is why the poor guy has a
crooked nose. They hardly ever fight anymore. At night, when that little light is on,
it is because she is watching tv and working out. Right now, the couple is going out
for their daily short walk of fifteen kilometers around the local park.

To me, this little old lady is a widow and has lived alone for a long time. She
had two children, but one died when he was small and the other one lives far
away, and is very busy and can almost never come to visit. She spent her whole
life as a housewife and lives off of her husband’s retirement funds. She worked a
lot: cleaned up the house, washed and ironed the clothes, made breakfast, lunch
and dinner, went shopping and took her son to school. Having spent so much
time taking care of others, the poor lady forgot to to make friends and take care
of herself. Now she is a widow and feels very lonely. Her daily routine is like this:
wake up early in the morning, have coffee and toast, feed her twelve cats, clean the
bird’s cage, straighten up the house, take two aspirins with a glass of water, check
to see if the back door is locked and watch a little television.

Afterwards, she makes lunch, eats something and rests awhile. During the
afternoon, she is still alone with nothing to do. She watches a little television,
checks to see if the front door is closed, takes an aspirin with a glass of water,
watches a little television, checks to see if the backdoor is locked, takes another
aspirin with a glass of water, and watches television until nightfall.
Her telephone rarely rings and when it does it’s usually a wrong number. That
little light on the top floor stays on all night because she is afraid of robbers and
thinks that the thief will think that there are people awake and break into her
neighbor’s house instead. That guy with the crooked nose is a retired engineer
and widower that she met the other day, in line at the bank, when she went to pick
up her retirement check. It looks like they talked and decided to become friends.
Today he came to visit and the two felt like going for walk in the park.

To me, she is a theater actress. One of those that goes on stage and transforms
completely. When she was young she played the part of a ballerina, elementary
school teacher, princess, maid, maiden, a flirtatious girl and a shy girl. Now, because
of her age, she prefers to play grandmothers, bar owners, widows, retired teachers,
queen mothers of kings, nannies, mother superiors and spinster aunts that have
come from far away.
This woman can still get the audience all worked up, giving her a standing
ovation. When that little light is on upstairs, I know that she is in front of the mirror
rehearsing and memorizing some text for a new play.

Through the powder, rouge, the folds and the wrinkles on the face of the old
actress, twinkles a sweet and quiet look. Also, in order to do theater she had to
learn so many things. She had to feel pain and cry when she played the part of a
mother who had lost her son in the war; she had to feel the warmth of her body
when she played the part of a woman in love; she had to feel fear when she played
a prisoner condemed to death; she had to pretend she was a deaf and senile old
woman; she had to dance, feel ashamed, use swear words, laugh out loud, stutter,
fail, pull her hair out, sing, pretend to be shy, celebrate and feel happy.

Dear reader
I must interrupt the story at this point. Despite having tried a thousand times, I
have not been able to draw a mirror that reflects anything. Since the right illustration
for this page couldn’t be anything else, I am going to ask you to find one and glue
it in this space. If, after you glue it on, your face appears in the background of the
mirror, you don’t need to worry. It is because I wanted you to enter the story. Thank
you for your attention and see you soon.
The Author

Because she had lived so many lives, and she had learned to understand and
like everyone; she had many friends. When a new person appears at her house, she
smiles lovingly, gives them a hug and invites them in as if they were an old friend. In
her free time, she usually sits on a armchair in the livingroom thinking. Sometimes,
when she is doing this, she smiles. At the end of each afternoon, unless it rains or
is too cold, she likes to go and walk for awhile. Now, for example, she is at the door
waiting for a friend. The two are going to stroll arm in arm and later sit on the park
bench to watch the sunset.

One day, awhile ago, I was on a street in Pinheiros, when a door opened, and a
tall woman with white hair, thick glasses and a low cut blue polka dot dress came
out of a house. The woman, about eighty years old, seemed geuine nand very
expressive. It was a very quick encounter. On my way home I thought: she is the
type of woman that when she likes someone, she can be very generous; however,
if she doesn’t like them...I kept on imagining. On the other hand, well, that day
she was like that, full of energy. But what if the month before she had lost a dear
friend or, I don’t know, gotten a cold? If I had seen her in those conditions, pale,
shivering, with red eyes and a runny nose, I would have had a different opinion
of her. However, it would be the same person. Actually it is like that for all of us,
despite age or anything else. We have moments of strength and joy, when it seems
like everything is going right. At other times, our battery runs low and for awhile,
we turn into good-for nothings, gloomy unfortunate beings limping around. I felt
like I had stuff to invent something. Back home, I wrote three opinions about this
woman, three points of view on the same person. I gave the title You See an Old
Lady with Glasses, Flip flops and a Blue Polka Dot Dress at the Door of That House?
The text was published first in the Revista Nova Escola and later by Editora FTD.
Now, for this new edition, I shortened the title, revised it and wrote three more
texts. I also redid all the drawings. I know of schools that, based on the original
book, have encouraged children to create a new possibility for the character.
Another idea is to ask each student to choose a person, someone they know by
sight, and from there invent a life for the person. Fiction is always, at least I think, a
way to try to understand people, ourselves, life and the world.

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