The most exciting thing for Graciela was to watch the paseo each evening. Boys and girls would walk up and down the Plaza Mayor in segregated groups, the boys eyeing the girls, while parents and grandparents and friends watched, hawk-eyed, from sidewalk cafes. It was the traditional mating ritual, observed for centuries. Graciela longed to join in it, but her mother forbade her.
"Do you want to be a puta?" she would scream at Graciela. "Stay away from boys. They want only one thing from you. I know from experience," she added bitterly.
If the days were bearable, the nights were an agony. Through the thin curtain that separated their beds, Graciela could hear the sounds of savage moaning and writhings and heavy breathing, and always the obscenities.
"¡Mamame el verga!"
"¡Metelo en el culo!"
Before she was ten years old, Graciela had heard every obscene word in the Spanish vocabulary. They were whispered and shouted and shuddered and moaned. The cries of passion repelled Graciela, and at the same time awakened strange longings in her.
When Graciela was fourteen years old, the Moor moved in. He was the biggest man Graciela had ever seen. His skin was shiny black, and his head was shaved. He had enormous shoulders, a barrel chest, and huge arms. The Moor had arrived in the middle of the night when Graciela was asleep, and she got her first sight of him in the morning when he pushed the curtain aside and walked stark naked past Graciela's bed to go outside to the outhouse. Graciela looked at him and almost gasped aloud. He was enormous, in every part. That will kill my mother, Graciela thought.
The Moor was staring at her. "Well, well. And who do we have here?"
Dolores Pinero hurried out of her bed and moved to his side. "My daughter," she said curtly.
A wave of embarrassment swept over Graciela as she saw her mother's naked body next to the man.
The Moor smiled, showing beautiful white, even teeth. "What's your name, guapa?"
Graciela was too shamed by his nakedness to speak.
"Her name's Graciela. She's retarded."
"She's beautiful. I'll bet you looked like that when you were young."
"I'm still young," Dolores snapped. She turned to her daughter. "Get dressed. You'll be late for school."
The Moor stood there, eyeing her.
The older woman took his arm and said cajolingly, "Come back to bed, querido. We're not finished yet."
"Later," the Moor said. He was still looking at Graciela.
The Moor stayed. Every day when Graciela came home from school she prayed that he would be gone. For reasons she did not understand, he terrified her. He was always polite to her and never made any advances, yet the mere thought of him sent shivers through her body.
His treatment of her mother was something else. The Moor stayed in the small house most of the day, drinking heavily. He took whatever money Dolores earned. Sometimes at night in the middle of lovemaking, Graciela would hear him beating her mother, and in the morning Dolores would appear with a blackened eye or split Up.
"Mama, why do you put up with him?" Graciela asked.
"You wouldn't understand," she said sullenly. "He's a real man, not a midget like the others. He knows how to satisfy a woman." She ran her hand through her hair coquettishly. "Besides, he's madly in love with me."
Graciela did not believe it. She knew that the Moor was using her mother, but she did not dare protest again. She was too terrified of her mother's temper, for when Dolores Pinero was really angry, a kind of insanity took possession of her. She had once chased Graciela with a kitchen knife because the girl had dared make a pot of tea for one of the "uncles."
Early one Sunday morning Graciela rose to get ready for church. Her mother had left early to deliver some dresses. As Graciela pulled off her nightgown, the curtain was pushed aside and the Moor appeared. He was naked.
"Where's your mother, guapa?"
"Mama went out early. She had some errands to do."
The Moor was studying Graciela's nude body. "You really are a beauty," he said softly.
Graciela felt her face flush. She knew what she should do. She should cover her nakedness, put on her skirt and blouse and leave. Instead, she stood there, unable to move. She watched his manhood begin to swell and grow before her eyes. She could hear the voices ringing in her ears:
She felt faint.
The Moor said huskily, "You're a child. Get your clothes on and get out of here."
And Graciela found herself moving. Moving toward him. She reached up and slid her arms around his waist and felt his male hardness against her body.
"No," she moaned. "I'm not a child."
The pain that followed was like nothing Graciela had ever known. It was excruciating, unbearable. It was wonderful, exhilarating, beautiful. She held the Moor tightly in her arms, screaming with ecstasy. He brought her to orgasm after orgasm, and Graciela thought: So this is what the mystery is all about. And it was so wonderful to know finally the secret of all creation, to be a part of life at last, to know what joy was for now and forever.
"What the fuck are you doing?"
It was Dolores Pinero's voice screaming, and for an instant everything stopped, frozen in time. She was standing at the side of the bed, staring down at her daughter and the Moor.
Graciela looked up at her mother, too terrified to speak. Dolores's eyes were filled with an insane rage.
"You bitch!" she yelled. "You rotten bitch."
"Mama - please - "