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A Visit to the Artist's Mother
by Thomas David Lisk

Notes on Incidental Music

In Christian lands we name the holy day after the sun instead of after Jehovah, and we preserve at midweek the Germanic memory of Woden (Wotan, Odin) while the Germans themselves refer to Woden's Day as Mittwoch. In Spain, Saturday, not Sunday is called Sabato, Sabbath, in keeping with the Jewish rather than the Christian tradition. Anglo-American Saturday is named for the gloomy Roman god of agriculture, Saturn. We have no day named for the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost, no Matthewsday, Marksday, Lukesday or Maryday. But we do honor the Moon (Monday), the Anglo-Saxon Deity Tiu (Tuesday), the Norse god Thor (Thursday) and goddess Freya (Friday).

So it was on Wotan's Day rather than Virgin's Day, June, 1916, that Macedonie went with Cregar to visit his mother in Toledo. If they were women, not goddesses, not Aphrodite and the Madonna, Macedonie was a pagan sprite to Senora Cregar's dignified nun.

When Cregar had told his mother the history of Macedonie's family, and stories from his adventures in Baktra, he was preparing a meeting of the two women he thought he loved. He believed they were as unlike as two people can be, but he didn't know what would transpire when they were in the same room with only Cregar himself as catalyst. In spite of their differences, he hoped Macedonie would love the Senora and his mother would love Macedonie as he wished they both loved him. He failed to take into account one important feature the two women had in common: iron will.

"When will I meet your mother?" Macedonie asked Cregar the day they arrived in Toledo.

"Soon," he said. "Let me clear the way. She's not an easy woman."

Cregar found that he couldn't use the same charm on Macedonie that he used on his mother. Though the closest thing to love Cregar could expect from his mother was cool, maternal willfulness, she had convinced him in her distant way that he was her special pet. Macedonie, on the other hand, never treated him as special. She always operated from the assumption that she was Cregar's inferior in connaisance du monde (knowledge of the world), an assumption she must at all costs avoid revealing to him--which gave her a reason for not revealing it to herself.

Thus the very difference in their ages that made Cregar nervous about bringing Macedonie to meet his mother (her youth was only one of the things about Macedonie that made him nervous) made Macedonie feel she could impress Cregar best by treating him coolly. I say she felt this, not that she could articulate it to him or even to herself. This is, of course, a crucial difference between my mother and me, for I try always to articulate to the best of my ability exactly what I am feeling--at least to myself.

Cregar managed to put off the meeting. Willful though they were, neither woman really wanted to meet the other. Six months later when Macedonie asked him again--and not for the first time--about meeting his mother, he said, "Soon."

"So your mother is a cruel old bitch," Macedonie said, having had time to do some figuring. "I'm not afraid of her," she thought. "And I'm not completely dependent on him."

"My mother is a saint," sprang to Cregar's lips. He was, however, picturing not a saint (God only knows what they look like; as far as I know, there hasn't been one since the advent of photography) but an icon-like nun, a picture of something serious and not a mere decoration. He thought better of emitting the sentence. If he presented his mother as a symbolic martyr, he would then have to descend to specifics to explain how his mother suffered in his father's hands. And that suffering would make men in general appear to be unsympathetic creatures--unless Cregar by his gentle demeanor dissociated himself from the tribe of males, which would make him appear less masculine and therefore allow Macedonie to dominate him, thus bringing out her similarities to his mother. "I wouldn't say that," he said finally.

"Of course you wouldn't, she's your mother," Macedonie said. "But you don't necessarily know her that well. I wonder about my own mother. Did you ever think Father Tomash and my mother were having an affair? I love my father as much as you love your mother, but you've got to admit I don't look much like him."

Having fathomed their lives as far as I have has certainly made me wonder.

"You're far more beautiful," Cregar said. "But I think there's a resemblance."

"And don't you think it's a little odd that I have no brothers or sisters, when even the Father has half a dozen kids?"

"I can assure you my mother has had no lovers," Cregar said.

"Not even your father?" Macedonie said.

Three Problem Notes

By returning to Paris with Macedonie at convenient intervals Cregar was able to delay the meeting for six months. In Paris he and Macedonie listened to the Great War booming across the Belgian border. The years from 1915 to 1918 represent the only period in Macedonie's life when politics and war moved into the background. Cregar hoped that in the tranquility of Toledo his mother would ignore Macedonie--or rather, the possibility of Macedonie, for his mother was always indulgent about his affairs, which tended to be short-lived, a month or two at most. But the longer he waited the more difficult it became. The possibility of Macedonie had become the reality of love.

"Why have you put off bringing her to me?" Senora Cregar said. "Are you ashamed of her?"

"Not at all," Cregar said. "But I value my time alone with you."

"You've already explained that she's a darky. And I understand that sort of thing appeals to you. I hope you know what you're doing." His mother never showed the slightest interest in sex. Her speaking frankly about Cregar's own interests unnerved him.

"It's time for you to meet her," he said through tightened lips. "If she doesn't like Macedonie," he thought, "I'll be as dutiful and cool toward her as she has always been toward me."

"You must be serious," the Senora said. One might hope that she wisely grasped that if her son was serious about this girl she would have to yield and accept Macedonie, or risk alienating her only son, the economic mainstay of her comfort.

Perhaps the long stories Cregar had told his mother about Balkia were intended to make her love Macedonie. But love is not aroused any more easily by indirection than by direction. And though Cregar's wealth and fame made him immune to scandal which would have plagued a poorer man, his mother was not insensitive to the fact she couldn't accept Macedonie socially unless Cregar married her in church. Cregar's referring to Macedonie as "my ward" convinced no one of the propriety of their liaison, but it reminds us that he believed both her parents were dead.

Fortunately--because she was, after all, not a native but only the offspring of an ancestral Toledan--Senora Cregar's position in society was more the product of her individual and flexible imagination than of the attitudes of the top crust of Toledo's society. And, while surely tongues wagged about Cregar and Macedonie, a legitimizing cachet attached to the gossip of those with inside information about the scandalous menage of the aging painter and the beautiful colored girl from some foreign country--which guaranteed Senora Cregar the company of a circle of friends large enough to support her in the role she imagined for herself in society.

How much would Macedonie agree to, knowing she was going to meet Cregar's mother? Would she be confident enough to say, "I won't embarrass you" to Cregar? Or would she silently dress herself in conservative fashion and adopt a submissive demeanor? Metaphorically gaudy though she may have been, when I was growing up my mother never donned raucous gypsy garb or the quaint festival costumes of the native Balk. No, she daily dressed in the wardrobe of a well-to-do American woman, which is of course what in my lifetime she was. However she dressed or undressed in Cregar's atelier, if Cregar footed the bill, in her dealings with the world Macedonie could wear whatever was most tasteful and unobtrusive.

"If only you had kept her in Paris, there would be no problem," Senora Cregar permitted herself to say.

As I explain later in an earlier draft, when I was a student at Commander Olmstead Academy, after Mr. Wells, the mathematics master, bungled one of our homework exercises on the blackboard, "Problem Three" became a catch phrase for trying to explain your way out of an awkward situation, a mistake. The three of them--the Senora, Cregar and Macedonie--made one problem, a Problem Three for fair.

On that Wednesday afternoon when Macedonie went to meet Cregar's mother, she outfitted herself in a new frock she had allowed Cregar to buy for her in Paris, a white Henri-David Poirot creation with a modish high waistline setting off conservative long skirts and doubling a high, firm collar. Under a black-striped bib across the front, the fabric was covered with white medallions on a white ground. The dress itself had a more natural (less constricted) waist and full sleeves not as tight at the wrist or as billowy at the shoulders as the legs of mutton popular on dresses before the turn of the century. Her ankles were barely visible.

Macedonie had her hair arranged in a checkerboard knot concealing all loose ends and further restrained by a white straw hat with a black band. The outfit was beautiful and blank, not in Macedonie's usual style and therefore not integral to her, but seeming to stand for something as yet undetermined, a role she might or might not continue playing. Inside the dress she was wild and human, not an avatar of Aphrodite but a beautiful young woman scented with sweet smoke, mushrooms and wood violets. If she had asked Cregar how she looked, he would have been forced to say she looked demure and lovely. But she didn't ask.

A Glance at Those Who Come to be Seen

Inside, the house at Numero 6 Calle Domenica where Senora Cregar lived was dark and hot. Macedonie didn't like the dark, but the heat was comfortable. The motherly servant who answered the door smiled and spoke politely to Senor Cregar.

"Azucena," Cregar said, "this is Macedonie Inkamen."

Azucena made a little curtsy to Macedonie. A wide, slightly bowlegged woman in her fifties, motherly Azucena was in fact childless and unmarried. Turning to Cregar, she said, "I will tell your mother you are here." She disappeared down the hall. A minute passed before she returned. "She is waiting for you in the courtyard room," she said and started back down the hall as if to lead Cregar and Macedonie to their destination. But Azucena turned left just before Cregar directed Macedonie to the right.

When One Shifts One's Seat Squeaks

You may be wondering why I don't have more to say about Azucena, who has just made her first and nearly her last appearance in the story. Instead of worrying about Azucena, consider instead the patience with which I have just described the trivialities of a common social interchange. Sometimes I feel as if the dialogues I find these characters in have appeared out of nowhere. I read and read, and remember almost nothing. In this case, you will see exactly how the whole scene came to pass.

In the courtyard room, Senora Cregar was seated near an open window on a chair covered with colorful fabric. Though padded, the chair appeared stiff and upright. If elsewhere I refer to it as a wing chair to suggest the presence of angels, you must understand that if the wings existed at all, they were placed not on the chair's shoulders but in front, like bosoms or embracing stumpy arms. It was a piece of furniture M. Cregar had brought with him from Canada when he followed his wife. To get within speaking distance of the Senora, Cregar and Macedonie had to cover ten feet of floor. Each covered the ten feet differently. Cregar trod it unconsciously, as he had many times before. Macedonie saw it as a sheet of ice on which she was expected to walk with oily-soled shoes. She glided over it self-consciously, but with great dignity and just a soupçon of charming adolescent awkwardness.

"Senora Garza de Cregar," Cregar said, looking at his mother but turning his body toward Macedonie, "Macedonie Inkamen."

Of course the black clad Senora didn't rise, even when Macedonie mimed Azucena's curtsy. Rising wasn't expected of her, and if I understood etiquette I would probably know that. The Senora had neither bible nor water glass beside her; those palliatives were some years in her future. Macedonie tried to imagine the Senora as the woman the boy Francisco Cregar had sketched as a naked mama to attract his papa home, but it was impossible that this thin woman erect as a pine in black bombazine had ever posed au naturel for anyone, much less for her own son. Perhaps Cregar's story about his troubled youth had been metaphorical only, flourishes to decorate a dry nubbin of idea. Macedonie saw why Cregar was sure his mother had never had a lover, but I see that what one sees isn't everything. For example, in addition to feeling the Senora's sexlessness Macedonie recognized the fineness of her bone structure and the tight whiteness of her skin, for the Senora's face was a more delicate version of the handsome face behind which Francisco conducted his emotional business and with which Macedonie herself was reluctantly in love.[1]

"Enchanted to make your acquaintance," Macedonie said, translating a commonplace French greeting into Spanish. In the year that she had known Cregar, she had made progress in both languages.

"It's nothing," said Senora Cregar; "de nada." In Spanish this familiar phrase is usually uttered in response to "Thank you," rather than to a greeting. Macedonie might enchant Cregar but she would never enchant the Senora.

"Please seat yourselves," she went on. Her fan was closed in her lap. The large nineteen-strut fan unfolded to reveal a setting (or rising) sun painted on white silk. In her iron gray hair a stiff upright comb held up a crisp black lace mantilla. One might like a more violent confrontation, a less tedious exchange of pleasantries, but neither the Senora nor Macedonie wanted to risk all by challenging the other.

"You're not so black as I expected," the Senora said.

"Nor as white as you wished," Macedonie said with at least the suggestion of a smile.

"When it comes to women, my son has always been a willful boy."

"But I think he has also been a dutiful son. He speaks of you always with piety," she said, mixing up reverence and piety in Spanish.

The Senora picked up her fan. "Azucena will bring chocolate," she said. "I prefer it to coffee."

"In this warm weather," Macedonie said.

"Macedonie has a cadeau for you," Cregar said, drawing attention to a speck of his father's French that he knew would vex his mother.

The Senora opened her fan. Macedonie had no fan. From the reticule attached to her left wrist (naturally her hands were gloved) she extracted a small box.

"From my country," she said, rising to hand the box to the Senora. Taking the gift with her left hand, the Senora opened her fan with her right. She rested the box in her lap while Macedonie returned to her seat. The handsome Balkian box, carved from a single piece of ebony and inlaid with white silver varnished against tarnish, resembled Rad's decorated pistol grip. What was in the box was another story. Cregar himself didn't know the contents, which made him nervous.

"One loves handsome containers," the Senora said.

"Open it, mother," Cregar said.

"In my own time," the Senora said, fanning herself with three slow strokes. "I will enjoy imagining what is inside. The reality may disappoint me. How long will you be in Toledo?"

Macedonie looked at Cregar. "We spend a great deal of time in Paris," she said.

"Of this I am aware."

"Your fan is beautiful," Macedonie said. "Is it from Japan?"

We know the fan was in fact from Japan because Cregar used it in a painting he did after his mother died. Not only is "Japanese Fan" part of the picture's title ("Still Life with J. F."), in the painting one can see a line of oriental calligraphy to one side of the bright sun. Macedonie, however, never received an answer to her question.

"You're not black at all, you know," the Senora said. Senora Cregar used the fan less as a weapon than as a defense. Keeping it at the ready when there was no danger, she lowered it when she attacked. You must imagine the movements of her fan during the rest of the conversation. "It seems to me your color is a shade of brown. I'm sure my son could give it a name." He might as well not have been in the room.

"Nor are you white," Macedonie said.

"Ave verum," Cregar thought. "What one sees is not the same as what's there. The problem is with language--a black that is not a black, a white that is not a white."

Scales from a Backstage Vocalist

Sometimes I feel as if I'm only able to pick out words and guess half-accurately at their meanings, without understanding the sentence's syntax or the logic of the whole paragraph. Verum means "truth" in Latin. I think it's the genitive case, "of truth." Ave is from avere, "to long for" in the imperative mood, i.e., "Long for truth!" Avere also means "to be well," signifying in the imperative "Hail!" as in "Ave Caesar!" or here, "Hail truth!" Which is the correct interpretation? Without a crib, a pony, a reliable translation, how is one to know? I don't have the time or energy to relearn the whole Latin language. Sometimes I tire of these smatterings and wish I could truly know something.

Azucena came in with a tray containing a portly pot of chocolate, three absolutely white china cups and saucers, snowy napkins, small plates that matched the cups and saucers, and a dish of desiccated biscotti. First she passed out the napkins. Then she poured out a cup and handed it to Macedonie, then one to Cregar, and finally one to the Senora. Then came the dessert plates. Finally she sent the cookies around. While Azucena worked, the Senora spoke as freely as if Azucena were not there at all.

"Society has such definite notions about color," the Senora said, conceivably making an aesthetic as well as a social statement and declining the plate of treats. "My son used to draw with smutty charcoal on beautiful white paper. It disturbed me to see him spoil that perfect whiteness with his childish black scribble marks. You didn't know that, eh? Of course you didn't. I said nothing, nothing.

"Then he had some red chalk, and his drawings became clearer, but I still had to strain my excellent eyes to see the spotted dog or the brightly colored parrot in the rust-red lines. I preferred the reality to the picture. But he must be encouraged, no?"

Cregar's childhood drawings reproduced in the books I have access to are wonderfully skillful, unbelievable in a boy so young. One of his juvenescent scribbles would be worth a fortune now, even if it lacked the sense of volume and subtle shading in the drawings of his later childhood. Unlike, say Matisse, Cregar never undid himself and let in air--except perhaps for the ceramics he did with Serafina and sent back to Toledo in a rifle crate. Even in the work he produced shortly before he died there is a feeling of weight and density in his picturing of shapes. On this particular Wednesday in Toledo the heat made him feel heavy in his chair.

"He doesn't seem to need encouragement now," Macedonie said. As Macedonie sipped her cocoa a mist of fine perspiration appeared at her hairline. Fortunately it was in the shadow of her hat. I forgot to mention that Cregar gave his hat to Azucena at the door.

"My boy," the Senora said, "is not a boy any longer."

"Open the box, mother," Cregar said, nervous about turning the subject to age.

His mother ignored him.

"Yet he's not quite grown up," Macedonie said.

It was the Senora's turn to smile and sip her own chocolate. The edges of her forehead under the edges of the lace were perfectly dry. Cregar took out a folded handkerchief and pressed it two or three times to his forehead and his temples. He had put his demitasse down on a nearby table. The fact that the cups held only a small amount didn't prevent the warm liquid from heating Cregar up.

"His father never gave him a good example to follow," the Senora said. "Tell me about your parents." She waved the fan genially.

The Senora and her son looked alike, but he was an artist and a bit of a rogue and she was a dry and conservative woman, content to live without erotic companionship. A woman who leaves her husband to travel to a country she thinks is her home--though she's never been there before--lives through her imagination, and that was what the Senora and her son had in common. Sometimes living through imagination unfortunately impeded the Senora's communication with the very people with whom her imagination gave her common cause.

"I'm sorry they can't meet you," Macedonie said.

"Her parents were killed last year in the war," Cregar said.

"So sad," the Senora said. "Poor child."

"My mother was, ahem, a Balkian, and my father was born in Africa."

"Ah," said the Senora, "did he not long for his ancestral home?"

"Her father was not very talkative," Cregar said. All the while they're talking, they're sipping at their cocoa and nibbling their biscuits.

"Nor was yours," the Senora said.

Some of the same things that attracted Cregar about Macedonie attracted his mother, though she imagined those things differently from her son. Cregar sensed that the tide was turning in Macedonie's favor if not his own.

"So tell me, my child," the Senora said, "where will you go?"

"Where I can do the most good," Macedonie said, perhaps flippantly, but the Senora took her seriously.

"You are Catholic?"

Cregar hoped Macedonie would simply nod, but she said, "I was brought up and educated in the Orthodox Church."

The Senora didn't know exactly what to make of "orthodox," so she said, "Ah. I was always afraid he would bring home a pagan or a Protestant like his father."

If Macedonie was not exactly what the Senora imagined, who was to correct her? If the Senora saw things in black and white, how could one introduce her to color? Was it not a blessing that Macedonie had never renounced her religion, had even wondered if her village priest might not have been her father? Well, wondering about a priest's peccadillos is perhaps not the best way to give evidence of faith, but the mother Church is generous. Once she has embraced you, unless you renounce her, she is unlikely to renounce you.

"It's all nonsense," Cregar said ungenerously. But the Senora never believed in his agnosticism. She clicked her tongue, "Tchah." So far the church had ignored his renunciations.

"Ah well, at least he loves me," the Senora said, "my bohemian son. Your country is not Bohemia, no?"

"Balkia," Cregar said. Dressed in impeccable taste in a black suit and white shirt, Cregar looked anything but bohemian.

"It seems to me it is preferable to be a Bohemian if that is where one's home is than to become a bohemian to show that one is an iconoclast." Neither the Senora nor Macedonie had a clear idea where the geographical Bohemia was.

"More chocolate?" the Senora said.

Higher Scales

Cregar wanted his mother and Macedonie to get along. He didn't want them to be identical. How could a pale, old Mexican (who had in truth a bit of Mayan blood in her creole veins), dry and domineering, be like a beautiful, voluptuous young Africo-Balkian whom Cregar himself had taken under his angelic wing to elevate her from the dirt and ignorance of rural Baktra to the elegant multilingualism of Paris and Toledo? Impossible. Cregar had always been attracted to women who were as unlike his mother as he could imagine. Macedonie he had taken as the ultimate example. From the pseudonymous Jelly Punzon to the mysterious Marya, every woman he'd wanted, been drawn upward to from the bottom of his innards, had seemed to be the physical, psychological, moral or emotional opposite to his mother. But none of them had stayed with Cregar as he had stayed with his mother. He had high hopes for Macedonie. Expecting a confrontation that would force definition on his own identity, Cregar brought his mother and his mistress into juxtaposition as if they were opposites. But they were more like an idea and a metaphor. Instead of clashing, the two women were sliding together before his very eyes.

"It's delicious," Macedonie said, "but I haven't quite finished."


"I'm fine."

Cregar imagined Macedonie was thinking how charmingly forthright his mother was, how pleasantly surprising, how surprisingly pleasant the whole interview had become in spite of his apprehensions.

But Macedonie's eyes revealed she found the old woman annoying. By facing the Senora, by asserting herself, Macedonie was learning independence. The Senora did not expect their pleasant conversation to lead to a marriage between Cregar and Macedonie, but she was gradually reconciling herself to the idea. She already imagined herself tasking her friends with their prejudices by telling them what a lovely and charming girl her son's betrothed was. The Senora was aging at exactly the same rate as her son. For him to have a young bride would be to give the Senora renewal too. Even a foreign daughter-in-law might be better than none at all. And there was the prospect of children, continuity, a future beyond her own identity.

"Shall I open your charming gift?" the Senora said. Macedonie's expression said, "If you wish." Cregar bridled at his mother's coyness. The Senora was as definite and plain as an idea that has not sought expression. Macedonie, on the other hand, was as beautiful as an aptly chosen metaphor, overwhelming the idea while accommodating it, overwhelming the idea but less than the idea too somehow. I'm speaking metaphorically. I don't know to what extent Macedonie overwhelmed the Senora, and how much her beautiful outfit helped. But when the idea tried to change places with the metaphor by losing its seriousness in a display of egocentric frivolity, what could the metaphor do but freeze as still as an idea already fixed in words?

Watching the Senora unwrap her present, Macedonie let her cup tip to one side. Still almost full, the cup let a few drops overflow into the saucer, which in turn let a few drops escape to Macedonie's napkin, and to her dress near her thigh, just to the left of the border of her napkin. She said nothing.

The Senora had a little difficulty releasing the lid from the body of the box. "Do you need help, mother?" Cregar said.

"No more than you would," his mother said.

Macedonie, absorbed in a few moments of self consciousness about the spots on her white dress, was paying them no attention, worrying what they would think--which was perhaps unfortunate, because in that brief exchange between mother and son it was as if Macedonie were not there anyway. To avoid affecting the relationship so as to observe it more objectively, Macedonie had to be absent. After absence, the next best form of objectivity is to be present and oblivious. If Macedonie had observed the exchange between Cregar and the Senora, her merely observing it might have in some subtle way altered it. And, even if she had observed it, she would have had to interpret it to determine the relative objectivity of her observation. By not interpreting the little scene between Cregar and his mother, I'm giving it as much objectivity as possible for you--if I can give it anything.

The Last Three Notes of the Higher Scale

By the time the Senora got the box open, Macedonie had righted her saucered cup and was looking at the Senora's lap, where the present sat diverting attention as subtly as possible from her own lap, though of course the specks on the skirt of her dress covering Macedonie's thighs (yes, she had convinced herself they were only specks and not spots) were visible only to someone looking down at her legs. The Senora, somewhat taller than Macedonie but four or five feet away and with the eyesight of a woman well past middle age but too vain to wear spectacles, wouldn't be able to see the specks until Macedonie stood up again. And if the Senora herself stood up (as admittedly so far she hadn't), when Macedonie's lap disappeared, the Senora, face to face with Macedonie, would not be able to look down and see Macedonie's speckled lap.

And even if the Senora were to see the specks at that point, the mere fact she had stood up would suggest that Macedonie had made a favorable impression, so that a few freckles of drying chocolate on Macedonie's otherwise immaculate dress would hardly undo the impression, especially since, by having cocoa served in the first place, the Senora herself had been in some senses responsible for the accident that caused the freckles. The napkin itself was another story, a story which if Macedonie crumpled the napkin just right, only Azucena would read.

An Unusual Odor

"Ah," said the Senora again, holding the ebony box in her left hand and moving it closer to her face. "A golden insect."

"A scarab," Cregar put in. "The scarab itself is carved of onyx and set in white gold." Or perhaps it was lapis lazuli set in yellow gold. No, let me try to keep things in black in white. Besides, I believe this was the ring my mother later gave me. In the long run it is unimportant that her gift was a scarab ring when I so much wanted a ring commemorating my high school years. Unlike the Senora, I smiled pleasantly.

"It is from ancient Egypt," Macedonie said, though she had no certificate of verification.

The Senora gently touched the surface of the scarab with her index finger. "How grotesque," she said. "Francisco knows I never wear jewelry." Except the wedding ring mounted European-style on her right hand and worn thin and smooth with the years.

"Charmant," Macedonie said, in French, and for the first time since they'd been at No. 6 Calle Domenica, she looked at Cregar. He looked back at her. His mother looked at the ring. "He gave it to me," Macedonie said. "I thought you might like it. I can see I was wrong." Whether the container was attractive enough to the Senora for her to want to keep it, or she was just being willful, she extracted the ring from the velvet lining the box, held it out to Macedonie and kept the box close to her.

"It is the handsome box that I will accept as a gift from your own life, your home. The ring you will enjoy more than I." The Senora did not say, "It was thoughtful of you to try to give me something you cared about keeping." The Senora didn't know how much Macedonie cared about keeping the ring. The Senora showed sufficient tact not to suggest it would make a good wedding ring. Though she could reconcile herself to Cregar's marrying Macedonie, she was not going to be the one to suggest marriage.

Slowly Macedonie rose to take the ring from the Senora's fingers. Later she told Cregar it seemed the only gracious thing to do--to which Cregar muttered that graciousness had not been the dominant note of the visit. But perhaps for just a few moments Macedonie had found herself hypnotized by the older woman's will. By giving Macedonie back the ring, the Senora could have been saying, "I can't marry him; but then I don't need to, I have him already."

But of course when the Senora first seemed to be rude about the ring she didn't know that Cregar had given it to Macedonie in the first place. Perhaps the Senora reacted to the symbol without understanding what it symbolized. By keeping the box, she may have simply been choosing the gift she preferred. Or she may have been saying symbolically to Macedonie, "You are beautiful but empty." Or, "What was inside you may have been ancient and glittery, but I found it ugly and vulgar." Or she may have been attempting to behave as graciously as she knew how within the limits of the willful honesty of her character.

To take the ring from the Senora, Macedonie had to put down her cup, saucer and plate on a nearby table. Naturally the room had tables, though I've forgotten to mention them. She held the napkin in her left hand, inadvertently concealing the specks on her dress. But the Senora wasn't looking anyway.

"Now that you two have met," Cregar said, and put his palms together.

"Perhaps," Macedonie said.

"We shall see," the Senora said. She put the box on the table beside her, the fan too. Then she rose. Cregar followed suit. "So agreeable to meet you," the Senora said, holding out her left hand to grasp Macedonie's right and then place her own right hand on top of it. Macedonie smiled in spite of herself. "Very nice," the Senora said, muy simpatico. "I will show you to the door myself."

"Thank you, mother," Cregar said.

As Macedonie left the room first, Cregar's ear was momentarily near his mother's mouth. "I hope you know what you're doing," she said again.

While they were saying good-bye at the door, Azucena came across the hall into the courtyard room and began cleaning up. She didn't notice which napkin had the most cocoa on it.


[1]Cregar's life mask, cast by some lesser artist, leaves us a white plaster image of his handsome delicate face in taut repose. The mask is pictured in A Gaudy Possibility: Francisco Cregar and his World by A. S. Chromerod (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1959).

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