The cane and the hat

The performance at school had been a success, especially the one by the fourth-graders, wasn't it Father? Sure. Father Trisoglio laughed with all his body, his immense belly bounced, his powerful voice stood out over the rumour of the parents' comments.
Where had Signora Lucha found questo cane? The priest said, his ring shone a ruby glow. E questo capello? His forefinger moved a few centimetres.
Mrs. Lucha smiled. We borrowed it, Father.
I thought it could be your grandfather's, Ms. Torrejon stroked Cesitar's head. You did great, you must've rehearsed a lot.
Mr. Sebastian, his teacher, listened motionless a few steps away, his chest filled with pride.
Cesitar smiled squeezing the cane and hat onto his chest. With the back of his hand, he wiped the cork soot that had been used to paint his sideburns and moustache, but he only managed to run it and stain his cheeks. His sister, Monica, laughed pointing at him, you look like a tramp. His mother came up and, with the tip of her sleeve, wiped out the blackish stripe.

Questo is a molto well-worked cane, Father Trisoglio said, while giving it back to them. He was right, the silver handle showed a bas-relief of broad-winged angels with holy expressions; the wood sported a perfect varnish that shone like a protective layer of transparent metal.
The black hat was spotless, not a speck of dirt or moisture. Its silk ribbon wrapped the circumference elegantly and ended up in a sober knot. Yes, very nice, Mr. Sebastian nodded, they look like museum pieces.
Lucha adjusted the tiny circumference of her watch: Look what time it is! Off we go, children. She thanked everyone and went out with Monica and Cesitar by the hand.

On the way home, Lucha remembered that she had promised Mrs. Carmen to take the cane and hat back to her that same afternoon. She sighed, the event had lasted longer than expected and the talk that followed consumed the evening incredibly fast. She decided to give them back the next day. She had followed all the instructions exactly: Beware of my late husband's hat and cane, Mrs. Luchita, she had warned her with that kindness only elders have. She had heard that same story which Mrs. Carmen was beginning to repeat for her once more, as if for the first time. Those were her husband's favourites, the only belongings she has kept so carefully, do not to let the children play with them. Of course, she would look after them as if they were hers. Mrs. Carmencita, do not worry. The cane reminded her of one her father had. God knows where it ended up, would her sister Teresa have it? Mrs. Carmen smiled with satisfaction by the promise, she'd wait for her in the afternoon, Mrs. Luchita. But it was not time to go to Mrs. Carmen's house; besides, she also had to fix dinner and prepare the school uniforms for the next day. I have not ironed your shirt, Cesitar. On top of that, I have to hem your skirt, right Monica? What are we going to do! She sighed and continued her way home, tomorrow, I'll go to her house with a cake like the ones she loves and everything will be fine.

After dinner, ironing, sewing and putting the children to bed, Lucha sat to watch television, what had happened on her favourite soap-opera? It wasn't late, but she felt so sleepy that she fell asleep on the couch. She awoke when her body slipped to the side and almost fell to the floor. She went to her bedroom, changed clothes, and went to bed, it had been a long day. She yawned, put her head on the pillow and fell asleep immediately. A little later her husband arrived, eager to hear about Cesitar's performance, but when he saw his wife so placidly asleep, he decided to have dinner on his own and wait until breakfast the next morning, Cesitar's version would be funnier anyway. The cane and hat on the dresser facing the bed called his attention. He raised the cane, put on the hat, bent a little so as to see his silhouette in the mirror: it was too big. He smiled, left the cane and hat and went to bed.

It must have been about 3 or 4 am when Lucha awoke with a start, what happened? A sensation of intense cold wrapped her, was she uncovered? She tried to catch the tip of the quilt, but her arm did not respond. She tried to turn around: her body refused to obey. She wanted to open her eyes, but her eyelids were glued: She was motionless. Terror washed over her, she tried to call her husband, but her voice got tangled in her throat. A cold sweat ran down her forehead plowing icy lines on her cheeks and neck. The stillness of the night seemed to have intensified, she could hear her husband breathing clearly. Suddenly, she realized that the sound did not come from her husband lying on his side of the bed, but from the door. She listened: it was a serene breath; calm, watchful. She tried to move again, but without success, do the comatose feel that way?, Quadriplegics? The breathing began to move, now she heard footsteps and a faint squeak of shoes. The steps came near her, she can feel them stop about twenty centimetres from her, was it a thief? She has heard stories of criminals who use nerve gases and the like. She got desperate, tried to scream, alert her husband to chase the thief, it was useless. Then, the shoes resume their walk. They approached the chest of drawers. They stopped. Is that a sigh? The sound that now comes to her is unclear, it may be the rub of clothing on the body of a person or a search for valuables in the jewel boxes. She suspects that the thief is admiring the cane and hat; how could he? In the dark? If he had turned on the light, perhaps she would notice a shade or profile through the eyelids. Then, the steps are close again, what does he want? Why doesn't he leave already? The bed sinks beside her, the thief has sat, but he makes no other movement. She feels something at her feet, it is light in weight but enough to notice it's there. The thief gets up, the steps are lost at the door.

The minute the sound of the footsteps disappeared into the night, Lucha can move again. She shook her arms to get rid of the quilt, she incorporated, opened her eyes, woke up her husband, Cesar, Cesar! She shook him frantically, the silhouette bounced like a spring: What? The children, the children! Cesar jumped out of bed, ran to the adjoining bedrooms. He walked into the living room, kitchen, bathroom. He returned immediately, intrigued: What happened? Lucha breathed shallowly, quickly, her heart thundering in her chest. In the darkness, she distinguished a rounded bulge at the foot of the bed, what is that? Turn on the light, she heard herself in a faint voice.

The light flashes and reveals, at her feet, the cane and the hat.

César Klauer is a professor at Universidad de Piura and Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas, in Lima. He has published books of tales "Pura Suerte", "El gigante del viento", "El perro Patitas" y "El delfín de Arena".

Arts and expression + Literature