From the Publisher
“The most beautiful novel published in Spain since the Civil War.” Gabriel García Márquez
“Mercè Rodoreda is the writer I cannot stop talking about.” Alberto Ríos
“[I] read [The Time of the Doves] cover to cover all in one afternoon. When I was finished, I felt as foolish as Balboa discovering the powerful Pacific.” Sandra Cisneros, from her Foreword to Camilla Street
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The Time of the Doves
By David Rosenthal Merce Rodoreda
Graywolf Press Copyright © 1985 Mercè Rodereda
All right reserved.
Chapter One Julieta came by the pastry shop just to tell me that, before they raffled off the basket of fruit and candy, they'd raffle some coffeepots. She'd already seen them: lovely white ones with oranges painted on them. The oranges were cut in half so you could see the seeds. I didn't feel like dancing or even going out because I'd spent the day selling pastries and my fingertips hurt from tying so many gold ribbons and making so many bows and handles. And because I knew Julieta. She felt fine after three hours' sleep and didn't care if she slept at all. But she made me come even though I didn't want to, because that's how I was. It was hard for me to say no if someone asked me to do something. I was dressed all in white, my dress and petticoats starched, my shoes like two drops of milk, my earrings white enamel, three hoop bracelets that matched the earrings, and a white purse Julieta said was made of vinyl and a snap shaped like a gold shellfish.
When we got to the square, the musicians were already playing. The roof was covered with colored flowers and paper chains: a chain of paper, a chain of flowers. There were flowers with lights inside them and the whole roof was like an umbrella turned inside out, because the ends of the chains were tied much higher up than the middle where they all came together. My petticoat had a rubber waistband I'd had a lot of trouble putting on with a crochet hook that could barely squeeze through. It was fastened with a little button and a loop of string and it dug into my skin. I probably already had a red mark around my waist, but as soon as I started breathing harder I began to feel like I was being martyred. There were asparagus plants around the bandstand to keep the crowd away, and the plants were decorated with flowers tied together with tiny wires. And the musicians with their jackets off, sweating. My mother had been dead for years and couldn't give me advice and my father had remarried. My father remarried and me without my mother whose only joy in life had been to fuss over me. And my father remarried and me a young woman all alone in the Plaça del Diamant waiting for the coffeepot rattle and Julieta shouting to be heard above the music "Stop! You'll get your clothes all wrinkled!" and before my eyes the flower-covered lights and the chains pasted on them and everybody happy and while I was gazing a voice said right by my ear, "Would you like to dance?"
Without hardly realizing, I answered that I didn't know how, and then I turned around to look. I bumped into a face so close to mine that I could hardly see what it looked like, but it was a young man's face. "Don't worry," he said. "I'm good at it. I'll show you how." I thought about poor Pere, who at that moment was shut up in the basement of the Hotel Colòn cooking in a white apron, and I was dumb enough to say:
"What if my fiancè finds out?"
He brought his face even closer and said, laughing, "So young and you're already engaged?" And when he laughed his lips stretched and I saw all his teeth. He had little eyes like a monkey and was wearing a white shirt with thin blue stripes, soaked with sweat around the armpits and open at the neck. And suddenly he turned his back to me and stood on tiptoe and leaned one way and then the other and turned back to me and said, "Excuse me," and started shouting, "Hey! Has anyone seen my jacket? It was next to the bandstand! On a chair! Hey ..." And he told me they'd taken his jacket and he'd be right back and would I be good enough to wait for him. He began shouting, "Cintet ... Cintet!"
Julieta, who was wearing a canary-yellow dress with green embroidery on it, came up from I don't know where and said, "Cover me. I've got to take off my shoes.... I can't stand it anymore." I told her I couldn't move because a boy who was looking for his jacket and was determined to dance with me had told me to wait for him. And Julieta said, "Then dance, dance...." And it was hot. Kids were setting off firecrackers and rockets in the street. There were watermelon seeds on the ground and near the buildings watermelon rinds and empty beer bottles and they were setting off rockets on the rooftops too and from balconies. I saw faces shining with sweat and young men wiping their faces with handkerchiefs. The musicians happily playing away. Everything like a decoration. And the two-step. I found myself dancing back and forth and, like it was coming from far away though really it was up close, I heard his voice: "Well, so she does know how to dance!" And I smelled the strong sweat and faded cologne. And those gleaming monkey's eyes right next to mine and those ears like little medallions. That rubber waistband digging into my waist and my dead mother couldn't advise me, because I told him my fiancé was a cook at the Colòn and he laughed and said he felt sorry for him because by New Year's I'd be his wife and his queen and we'd be dancing in the Plaça del Diamant.
"My queen," he said.
And he said by the end of the year I'd be his wife and I hadn't even looked at him yet and I looked him over and then he said, "Don't look at me like that or they'll have to pick me up off the ground," and when I told him he had eyes like a monkey he started laughing. The waistband was like a knife in my skin and the musicians "TararI tararI!" And I couldn't see Julieta anywhere. She'd disappeared. And me with those eyes in front of me that wouldn't go away, as if the whole world had become those eyes and there was no way to escape them. And the night moving forward with its chariot of stars and the festival going on and the fruitbasket and the girl with the fruitbasket, all in blue, whirling around.... My mother in Saint Gervasi Cemetery and me in the Plaça del Diamant.... "You sell sweet things? Honey and jam ..." And the musicians, tired, putting things in their cases and taking them out again because someone had tipped them to play a waltz and everyone spinning around like tops. When the waltz ended people started to leave. I said I'd lost Julieta and he said he'd lost Cintet and that when we were alone and everyone shut up in their houses and the streets empty we'd dance a waltz on tiptoe in the Plaça del Diamant ... round and round ... He called me Colometa, his little dove. I looked at him very annoyed and said my name was Natalia and when I said my name was Natalia he kept laughing and said I could have only one name: Colometa. That was when I started running with him behind me: "Don't get scared ... listen, you can't walk through the streets all alone, you'll get robbed...." and he grabbed my arm and stopped me. "Don't you see you'll get robbed, Colometa?" And my mother dead and me caught in my tracks and that waistband pinching, pinching, like I was tied with a wire to a bunch of asparagus.
And I started running again. With him behind me. The stores shut with their blinds down and the windows full of silent things like inkwells and blotters and postcards and dolls and clothing on display and aluminum pots and needlepoint patterns.... And we came out on the Carrer Gran and me running up the street and him behind me and both of us running and years later he'd still talk about it sometimes: "The day I met Colometa in the Plaça del Diamant she suddenly started running and right in front of the streetcar stop, blam! her petticoat fell down."
The loop broke and my petticoat ended up on the ground. I jumped over it, almost tripping, and then I started running again like all the devils in hell were after me. I got home and threw myself on the bed in the dark, my girl's brass bed, like I was throwing a stone onto it. I felt embarrassed. When I got tired of feeling embarrassed, I kicked off my shoes and untied my hair. And Quimet, years later, still talked about it as if it had just happened: "Her waistband broke and she ran like the wind...."
Excerpted from The Time of the Doves by David Rosenthal Merce Rodoreda Copyright © 1985 by Mercè Rodereda. Excerpted by permission.
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