(15 minute read)
Mathilde was a hat maker in Paris and barely twenty when she was seduced by the Baron. Although the affair did not last more than two weeks, somehow in that short time she became, by contagion, imbued with his philosophy of life and his seven-leagued way of solving problems. She was intrigued by something the Baron had told her casually one night: that Parisian women were highly prized in South America because of their expertness in matters of love, their vivaciousness and wit, which was quite a contrast to many of the South American wives, who still cherished a tradition of self-effacement and obedience, which diluted their personalities and was due, possibly, to men’s reluctance to make mistresses out of their wives.
Like the Baron, Mathilde developed a formula for acting out life as a series of roles—that is, by saying to herself in the morning while brushing her blond hair, “Today I want to become this or that person,” and then proceeding to be that person.
One day she decided she would like to be an elegant representative of a well-known Parisian modiste and go to Peru. All she had to do was to act the role. So she dressed with care, presented herself with extraordinary assurance at the house of the modiste, was engaged to be her representative and given a boat ticket to Lima.
Aboard ship, she behaved like a French missionary of elegance. Her innate talent for recognizing good wines, good perfumes, good dressmaking, marked her as a lady of refinement. Her palate was that of a gourmet.
Mathilde had piquant charms to enhance this role. She laughed perpetually, no matter what happened to her. When a valise was mislaid, she laughed. When her toe was stepped on, she laughed.
It was her laugh that attracted the Spanish Line representative, Dalvedo, who invited her to sit at the captain’s table. Dalvedo looked suave in his evening suit, carried himself like a captain, and had many anecdotes to share. The next night he took her to a dance. He was fully aware that the trip was not long enough for the usual courtship. So he immediately began to court the little mole on Mathilde’s chin. At midnight he asked if she liked cactus figs. She had never tasted them. He said that he had some in his cabin.
But Mathilde wanted to heighten her value by resistance, and she was on her guard when they entered the cabin. She had easily rebuffed the audacious hands of the men she brushed against when marketing, the sly buttock pats by the husbands of her clients, the pinching of her nipples by male friends who invited her to the movies. None of this stirred her. She had a vague but tenacious idea of what could stir her. She wanted to be courted with mysterious language. This had been determined by her first adventure, as a girl of sixteen.
A writer, who was a celebrity in Paris, had entered her shop one day. He was not looking for a hat. He asked if she sold luminous flowers that he had heard about, flowers which shone in the dark. He wanted them, he said, for a woman who shone in the dark. He could swear that when he took her to the theatre and she sat back in the dark loges in her evening dress, her skin was as luminous as the finest of sea shells, with a pale pink glow to it. And he wanted these flowers for her to wear in her hair.
Mathilde did not have them. But as soon as the man left she went to look at herself in the mirror. This was the kind of feeling she wanted to inspire. Could she? Her glow was not of that nature. She was much more like fire than light. Her eyes were ardent, violet in color. Her hair was dyed blond but it shed a copper shadow around her. Her skin was copper-toned, too, firm and not at all transparent. Her body filled her dresses tightly, richly. She did not wear a corset, but her body had the shape of the women who did. She arched so as to throw the breasts forward and the buttocks high.
The man had come back. But this time he was not asking for anything to buy. He stood looking at her, his long finely carved face smiling, his elegant gestures making a ritual out of lighting a cigarette, and said, “This time I came back just to see you.”
Mathilde’s heart beat so swiftly that she felt as if this were the moment she had expected for years. She almost stood up on her toes to hear the rest of his words. She felt as if she were the luminous woman sitting back in the dark box receiving the unusual flowers. But what the polished gray-haired writer said in his aristocratic voice was, “As soon as I saw you, I was stiff in my pants.”
The crudity of the words was like an insult. She reddened and struck at him.
This scene was repeated on several occasions. Mathilde found that when she appeared, men were usually speechless, deprived of all inclination for romantic courtship. Such words as these fell from them each time at the mere sight of her. Her effect was so direct that all they could express was their physical disturbance. Instead of accepting this as a tribute, she resented it.
Now she was in the cabin of the smooth Spaniard, Dalvedo. Dalvedo was peeling some cactus figs for her, and talking. Mathilde was regaining confidence. She sat on the arm of a chair in her red velvet evening dress.
But the peeling of the figs was interrupted. Dalvedo rose and said, “You have the most seductive little mole on your chin.” She thought that he would try to kiss her. But he didn’t. He unbuttoned himself quickly, took his penis out and, with the gesture of an apache to a woman of the streets, said, “Kneel.”
And Mathilde again struck, then moved towards the door.
“Don’t go,” he begged, “you drive me crazy. Look at the state you put me in. I was like this all evening when I danced with you. You can’t leave me now.”
He tried to embrace her. As she struggled to elude him, he came all over her dress. She had to cover herself with her evening cape to regain her cabin.
As soon as Mathilde arrived in Lima, however, she attained her dream. Men approached her with flowery words, disguising their intent with great charm and adornments. This prelude to the sexual act satisfied her. She liked a little incense. In Lima she received much of it, it was a part of the ritual. She was raised on a pedestal of poetry so that her falling into the final embrace might seem more of a miracle. She sold many more of her nights than hats.
Lima at that time was strongly influenced by its large Chinese population. Opium-smoking was prevalent. Rich young men traveled in bands from bordello to bordello, or they spent their nights in the opium dens, where prostitutes were available, or they rented absolutely bare rooms in the prostitute quarters, where they could take drugs in groups, and the prostitutes visited them there.
The young men liked to visit Mathilde. She turned her shop into a boudoir, full of chaise longues, lace and satin, curtains, and pillows. Martinez, a Peruvian aristocrat, initiated her to opium. He brought his friends there to smoke. At times they spent two or three days lost to the world, to their families. The curtains were kept closed. The atmosphere was dark, slumberous. They shared Mathilde among them. The opium made them more voluptuous than sensual. They could spend hours caressing her legs. One of them would take one of her breasts, another would sink his kisses into the soft flesh of her neck, pressing her with the lips only, because the opium heightened every sensation. A kiss could throw shivers throughout her body.
Mathilde would lie naked on the floor. All the movements were slow. The three or four young men lay back among the pillows. Lazily one finger would seek her sex, enter it, lie there between the lips of the vulva, not moving. Another hand would seek it out too, content itself with circles around the sex, seek another orifice.
One man would offer his penis to her mouth. She would suckle at it very slowly, every touch magnified by the drug.
Then for hours they might lie still, dreaming.
Erotic images would form again. Martinez saw the body of a woman, distended, headless, a woman with the breasts of a Balinese woman, the belly of an African woman, the high buttocks of a Negress; all this confounded itself into an image of a mobile flesh, a flesh that seemed to be made of elastic. The taut breasts would swell towards his mouth, and his hand would extend towards them, but then other parts of the body would stretch, become prominent, hang over his own body. The legs would part in an inhuman, impossible way, as if they were severed from the woman, to leave the sex exposed, open, as if one had taken a tulip in the hand and opened it completely by force.
This sex was also mobile, moving like rubber, as if invisible hands stretched it, curious hands that wanted to dismember the body to get at the interior of it. Then the ass would be turned fully towards him and begin to lose its shape, as if drawn apart. Every movement tended to open the body completely until it would tear. Martinez was taken with a fury because other hands were handling this body. He would half sit up and seek Mathilde’s breast, and if he found a hand on it, or a mouth suckling it, he would seek her belly, as if it were still the image that haunted his opium dream, and then fall lower upon her body so that he could kiss her between parted legs.
Mathilde’s pleasure in caressing the men was so immense, and their hands passed over her body and fondled her so completely, so continuously, that she rarely had an orgasm. She would only become aware of this fact after the men had left. She awakened from her opium dreams with her body still restless.
She would lie filing her nails and covering them with lacquer, doing her refined toilette for future occasions, brushing her blond hair. Sitting in the sun, using little cotton wads of peroxide, she dyed her pubic hair to match.
Left to herself, memories of the hands over her body haunted her. Now she felt one under her arm, sliding down to her waist. She remembered Martinez, his way of opening the sex like a bud, the flicks of his quick tongue covering the distance from the pubic hair to the buttocks, ending on the dimple at the end of her spine. How he loved this dimple, which led his fingers and his tongue to follow the downwards curve and vanish between the two full mounts of flesh.
Thinking of Martinez, Mathilde would feel passionate. And she could not wait for his return. She looked down at her legs. From living so much indoors they had become white, very alluring, like the chalk-white complexion of the Chinese women, the morbid hothouse paleness that men, and particularly the dark-skinned Peruvians, loved. She looked at her belly, without fault, without a single line that should not be there. The pubic hair shone red-gold now in the sun.
“How do I look to him?” she asked herself. She got up and brought a long mirror towards the window. She stood it on the floor against a chair. Then she sat down in front of it on the rug and, facing it, slowly opened her legs. The sight was enchanting. The skin was flawless, the vulva, roseate and full. She thought it was like the gum plant leaf with its secret milk that the pressure of the finger could bring out, the odorous moisture that came like the moisture of the sea shells. So was Venus born of the sea with this little kernel of salty honey in her, which only caresses could bring out of the hidden recesses of her body.
Mathilde wondered if she could bring it out of its mysterious core. With her fingers she opened the two little lips of the vulva, and she began stroking it with catlike softness. Back and forth she stroked it as Martinez did with his more nervous dark fingers. She remembered his dark fingers on her skin, such a contrast to her skin, and the thickness of them seeming to promise to hurt the skin rather than arouse pleasure by their touch. How delicately he touched it, she thought, how he held the vulva between his fingers, as if he were touching velvet. She held it now as he did, in her forefinger and thumb. With the other free hand she continued the caresses. She felt the same dissolving feeling that she felt under Martinez’s fingers. From somewhere a salty liquid was coming, covering the wings of her sex; between these it now shone.
Then Mathilde wanted to know how she looked when Martinez told her to turn over. She lay on her left side and exposed her ass to the mirror. She could see her sex now from another side. She moved as she moved for Martinez. She saw her own hand appear over the little hill formed by the ass, which she began to stroke. Her other hand went between her legs and showed in the mirror from behind. This hand stroked her sex back and forth. Then a forefinger was inserted and she began to rub against it. Now she was taken with the desire to be taken from both sides, and she inserted her other forefinger into the ass hole. Now when she moved forwards she felt her finger in the front, and when she lurched back she felt the other finger, as she sometimes felt Martinez and a friend when they both caressed her at once. The approach of the orgasm excited her, she went into convulsive gestures, as if to pull away the ultimate fruit from a branch, pulling, pulling at the branch to bring down everything into a wild orgasm, which came while she watched herself in the mirror, seeing the hands move, the honey shining, the whole sex and ass shining wet between the legs.
After seeing her movements in the mirror she understood the story told to her by a sailor—how the sailors on his ship had made a rubber woman for themselves to while away the time and satisfy the desires they felt during their six or seven months at sea. The woman had been beautifully made and gave them a perfect illusion. The sailors loved her. They took her to bed with them. She was made so that each aperture could satisfy them. She had the quality that an old Indian had once attributed to his young wife: Soon after their marriage, his wife was the mistress of every young man in the hacienda. The master called the old Indian to inform him of the scandalous conduct of his young wife and advised him to watch over her better. The Indian shook his head skeptically and answered: “Well, I don’t see why I should worry my head so much. My wife is not made of soap, she will not wear out.”
So it was with the woman made of rubber. The sailors found her untiring and yielding—truly a marvelous companion. There were no jealousies, no fights between them, no possessiveness. The rubber woman was very much loved. But in spite of her innocence, her pliant good nature, her generosity, her silence, in spite of her faithfulness to her sailors, she gave them all syphilis.
Mathilde laughed as she remembered the young Peruvian sailor who had told her this story, how he had described lying over her as if she were an air mattress, and how she made him bounce off her sometimes by sheer resilience. Mathilde felt exactly like this rubber woman when she took opium. How pleasurable was the feeling of utter abandon! Her only occupation was to count the money that her friends left her.
One of them, Antonio, did not seem content with the luxury of her room. He was always begging her to visit him. He was a prizefighter and looked like the man who knows how to make women work for his living. He had at once the necessary elegance to make women proud of him, a groomed air of the man of leisure and a suave manner that, one felt, could turn to violence at the necessary moment. And in his eyes he had the look of the cat who inspires a desire to caress but loves no one, who never feels he must respond to the impulses he arouses.
He had a mistress who matched him well, who was equal to his strength and vigor, able to take blows lustily; a woman who wore her femaleness with honor and who did not demand pity from men; a real woman who knew that a vigorous fight was a marvelous stimulant to the blood (pity only dilutes the blood) and that the best reconciliations could come only after combat. She knew that when Antonio was not with her he was at the Frenchwoman’s taking opium, but she did not mind that as much as not knowing where he was at all.
Today he had just finished brushing his mustache with satisfaction and was preparing himself for an opium feast. To placate his mistress he started to pinch and pat her buttocks. She was an unusual-looking woman with some African blood in her. Her breasts were higher than any woman’s he had ever seen, placed almost parallel with the shoulder line, and they were absolutely round and big. It was these breasts which had first attracted him. Their being placed so provocatively, so near the mouth, pointing upwards, somehow awakened in him a direct response. It was as if his sex had a peculiar affinity with these breasts, and as soon as they showed themselves in the whorehouse where he had found her, his sex raised itself to challenge them on equal terms.
Every time he had gone into the whorehouse, he experienced the same condition. He finally took the woman out of the house and lived with her. At first he could only make love to her breasts. They haunted him, obsessed him. When he inserted his penis into her mouth they seemed to be pointing hungrily towards it, and would rest it between her breasts, holding them against the penis with his hands. The nipples were large and would harden like a fruit pit in his mouth.
Aroused by his caresses, she was left with the lower half of her body completely disregarded. Her legs would shake, begging violence, the sex would open, but he gave no attention to it. He filled his mouth with her breasts and rested his penis there; he liked to see the sperm spraying them. The rest of her body would writhe in space, legs and sex curling like a leaf at each caress, beating the air, and finally she would put her own hands there and masturbate.
This morning as he was about to leave, he repeated his caresses. He bit into her breasts. She offered her sex to him but he would not have it. He made her kneel before him and take his penis into her mouth. She rubbed her breasts against him. Sometimes this made her come. Then he went out and walked leisurely to Mathilde’s place. He found the door partially open. He walked in with his catlike steps, which made no sound on the carpet. He found Mathilde lying on the floor in front of a mirror. She was on her hands and knees looking between her legs at the mirror.
He said, “Don’t move, Mathilde. That’s a pose I love.”
He crouched over her like a giant cat, and his penis went into her. He gave Mathilde what he would not give his mistress. His weight finally made her sink down and sprawl on the rug. He raised her ass with his two hands and fell on her again and again. His penis seemed made of hot iron. It was long and narrow, and he moved it in all directions, and leaped inside of her with an agility she had never known. He quickened his gestures even more and said hoarsely, “Come now, come now, come, I tell you. Give it all to me, now. Give it to me. Like you never did before. Give yourself now.” At these words she began to fling herself against him, furiously, and the orgasm came like lightning striking them together.
The others found them still entangled on the rug. They laughed at seeing the mirror which had witnessed the embrace. They began to prepare their opium pipes. Mathilde was languid. Martinez began his dream of distended, open-sexed women. Antonio retained his erection and asked Mathilde to sit over him, which she did.
When this opium feast was over and all but Antonio had gone, he repeated his request that she accompany him to his special den. Mathilde’s womb still burned from his plowing and churnings, and she yielded, for she wanted to be with him and to repeat this embrace.
They walked in silence through the little streets of Chinatown. Women from all over the world smiled at them from open windows, stood on the doorsteps inviting them in. Some of the rooms were exposed to the street. Only a curtain concealed the beds. One could see couples embracing. There were Syrian women wearing their native costume, Arabian women with jewelry covering their half-naked bodies, Japanese and Chinese women beckoning slyly, big African women squatting in circles, chatting together. One house was filled with French whores wearing short pink chemises and knitting and sewing as if they were at home. They always hailed the passers-by with promises of specialities.
The houses were small, dimly lit, dusty, foggy with smoke, filled with dusky voices, the murmurs of drunkards, of lovemaking. The Chinese adorned the setting and made it more confused with screens and curtains, lanterns, burning incense, Buddhas of gold. It was a maze of jewels, paper flowers, silk hangings, and rugs, with women as varied as the designs and colors, inviting men who passed by to sleep with them.
It was in this quarter that Antonio had a room. He took Mathilde up the shabby stairway, opened a door that was almost worn away, and pushed her in. There was no furniture in it. On the floor there was a Chinese mat, and on this lay a man in rags, a man so gaunt, so diseased-looking, that Mathilde drew back.
Oh, you’re here,” said Antonio rather irritably.
“I had nowhere to go.”
“You can’t stay here you know. The police are after you.”
“Yes, I know.”
“I suppose you’re the one who stole that cocaine the other day? I knew it must be you.”
“Yes,” the man talked sleepily, indifferently.
Then Mathilde saw that his body was covered with scratches and small wounds. The man made an effort to sit up. He held an ampoule in one hand, in the other hand, a fountain pen and a penknife.
She watched him with horror.
He broke the top of the ampoule with his finger, shaking off the broken bits. Then, instead of inserting a hypodermic syringe, he inserted the fountain pen and drew the liquid out. With his penknife he made a slit in his arm that was already covered with old wounds and more recent ones, and in this slit he inserted the fountain pen and pushed the cocaine into his flesh.
“He’s too poor to get an injection needle,” said Antonio. “And I did not give money to him because I thought I could save him from stealing it. But that’s what he has found to do.”
Mathilde wanted to go. But Antonio would not let her. He wanted her to take cocaine with him. The man was lying back with his eyes closed. Antonio took out a needle and gave Mathilde an injection.
They lay on the floor and she was taken with an overpowering numbness. Antonio said to her, “You feel dead, don’t you?” It was as if she had been given ether. His voice seemed to come from so far. She motioned to him that she felt as if she were fainting. He said, “It will pass.”
There began a nightmarish dream. Far away there was the figure of the prostrate man, lying back on the mat, then the figure of Antonio, very large and black. Antonio took the penknife and bent over Mathilde. She felt his penis inside of her, and it was soft and pleasurable, she moved in a slow, relaxed, wavering gesture. The penis was taken out. She felt it swinging out over the silky moisture between her legs, but she had not been satisfied and she was making a gesture as if to retrieve it. Next in the nightmare Antonio held the penknife open and he bent over her parted legs, and he touched her with the tip of it, pushed it slightly in. Mathilde felt no pain, no energy to move, she was hypnotized by this open knife. Then she became wildly conscious of what was happening—that it was not a nightmare. Antonio was watching the penknife tip touching the entrance of her sex. She screamed. The door opened. It was the police, who had come to fetch the cocaine thief.
Mathilde was rescued from the man who had so often slashed at the sexual opening of the whores, and who for this reason would never touch his mistress there. He had been safe only when he lived with her, when the provocativeness of her breasts kept his attention diverted from the sex, the morbid attraction to what he called “woman’s little wound,” which he was so violently tempted to enlarge.
More by Anais Nin
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