Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Our Lady of the Ophidians" by Daina Chaviano

Daína Chaviano was born in Havana (Cuba), where she published several science fiction and fantasy books, becoming the most renowned and best-selling author in those genres in Cuban literature.

In May 1991 Chaviano established residence in US. Since leaving the island, she has distinguished herself with a series of novels incorporating historical and more contemporary matters as well as mythological and fantastic elements, like the series of novels "The Occult Side of Havana". Her most recent book, La isla de los amores infinitos ("The Island of Eternal Love"), has been published in 25 languages, becoming the most widely translated Cuban novel of all time.

Daína Chaviano has received numerous international awards and recognitions: Anna Seghers Award (Berlin Academy of Arts, 1990); Azorín Prize for Best Novel (Spain, 1998); Goliardos International Award for Fantasy (Mexico, 2003); Guest of Honor at the 25th International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts (Fort Lauderdale, 2004); and Gold Medal for Best Book in Spanish Language (Florida Book Awards, 2006). Her website is


The first day she felt a delightful tickling throughout her body; she stretched beneath the sheets and smiled.

The second day, while she was in the bath, she noticed a stinging between her thighs. Scratching it very gently, with lathered hands, she saw that part of her skin had come loose in small plates like transparent scales. She let the water take them away, swept up in the foam, and kept rubbing herself a while longer under the shower.

The third day she got up at daybreak for a drink of water. When she passed in front of the dining room mirror, she stopped. There was something different on her face. She touched her cheeks, her forehead, the outline of her mouth; but she found nothing. She scanned each piece of furniture reflected in the glass, and only then did she know: she saw it plain as day. She looked at herself again, frowning. Her pupils had altered like those of a cat, and they were big and long and snakishly narrow.


The house changed too.

The first month, the creeper plant started to grow up the edge of the wall. Flowers bloomed that perfumed the air on the other side of the grille…At first it seemed that a sudden fertility had been born with the arrival of summer, but she realized her error when she noticed that nothing had modified in the appearance of neighboring rosebushes.

The second month, the holm oak initiated a swift trip toward the clouds and its branches embraced the mansion to protect it from the sun. Four glasses on the terrace fell to the ground mysteriously; and the crash was the cry of something dying.

The third month, the few passersby that strolled through the neighborhood could scarcely distinguish what was hidden behind that jungle sprung up right in the heart of the city.


She saw him immediately. He was tall and, undoubtedly, concealed an unusual vigor. He wore faded blue jeans, white tennis shoes and a sweater tossed over his shoulders.

He saw her when she approached with that defenseless air of someone lost. Her expression struck him as familiar and wild at the same time. She didn’t have an exceptional face, but he liked her eyes. While he told her the address, he glanced covertly at her legs, and he imagined how they would look coiled around his own, helping the movement of his body.

Of course, she adored the beach and sure, he loved to swim; and this summer had been such a good time. They said goodbye with the promise of the following Tuesday. Early in the morning. If it didn’t rain.


That afternoon, passing below the branches of the holm oak, she became aware of the unusual silence. From afar the distant clamor of vehicles traveling on the avenues could be heard. No, it wasn’t that…The birds. The evening melodies of their songs were missing. She could hear the light music of a canary, the trill of a kingbird, the fluid aria of a mockingbird…from more than half a block away.

The birds had fled from the area, as if they had smelled some danger.


The beach was rock and liquid and silence. They greeted each other with smiles. They spoke in a low voice so as not to frighten the breeze. They murmured some pleasures, some experiences, some jokes…But aren’t we going bathing? They threw themselves into the water. The sun still floated near the horizon; the sea was still cold. But blood ran arduous beneath living skin. And the union of two lukewarms always produces heat.

First was the laugh. Then the rubbing of a hand—or maybe a leg, how would one know?—beneath the water. The contact like a caress; the caress like an embrace; the embrace like an agony. And she remembered the moment of birth: a creature that floats in watery nirvana, soothing as an orgasm. Semen enters in the shadow and it becomes a fetus; the fetus is birthed and becomes a child. It’s not possible to invert the process; so that something leaves, one should enter first. Penetrate, before leaving. Leave, after having entered. An undulating form strikes the water like a snake. She clenches her eyelids. Her muscles tense: back, legs, arms; she scarcely feels them.

A cry of terror brings her back to reality. The man drags her towards the shore, without averting his gaze from the tranquil surface of the sea.


She opens the garden gate and her laughter fills the afternoon, switching off the end of the story that he’s telling. A sea snake?, she teases while she looks for the key in her purse. Was it the Loch Ness monster? He couldn’t tell if it was a sea or fresh water one, but he saw it perfectly: it was moving beneath the water.

They close the front door.

If he would have been on dry land, fine; but he couldn’t fight in the water, it wasn’t his element. Yes, she interrupts, it must have been poor little Nessie. The scientists had gotten her so bored with those photography machines, dropped into her peaceful lake, that she decided to go on vacation in the Caribbean

She realizes that he’s giving her a look, really serious, and she caresses him a little. Tired? No, just a little hot; a shower would do him good.


She hears the water fall in the distance, immersed in the vapor that the pots give off. She covers the food and leans out into the patio. For some reason, that story about the snake makes her remember the absence of birds. Why had they left? She recalls the flight of the sparrows over the wet grass: their little bodies full, palpitating, delightful…Why had they fled?

She leans against the wall. The skin on her back has stung her ever since last month, when the shedding started. She slides against it with the length of her spine, scratching herself with pleasure. And her pupils diminish until they become two ophidian slots.


She serves the meat (according to her, overcooked), the vegetable stew (over-salted), the rice (too bland). He comments enthusiastically on its flavor, which she accepts out of courtesy. He finds himself so hungry that he only notices the woman’s intact plate when he finishes. You aren’t hungry? She observes the man’s profile. His thin nose, a little long, reminds her of the silhouette of a bird. I’ll eat later, she says. And her forked tongue slips between her gums.


The white sheet is a plain waiting to be conquered. They observe each other, standing, at each side of the bed. Their eyes follow the slow movements of the other’s as they undo buttons, lower zippers, take off socks, reveal nakedness…

She contemplates what now comes to life: she can’t stop thinking of a dangerous animal, too primitive to survive the emotions of the world, but clever enough to shut itself away and dream a long dream until its nature cheers it up again. “It’s mine,” she thinks. She knows it’s at her mercy. She raises her gaze, searching for the eyes that don’t yet see hers, save for a certain vulnerable zone that always stays hidden beneath a mink epidermis. She lets it appreciate, dazzle. Then she advances, and enjoys her elastic and sinuous step. She knows that he won’t stop admiring it. She moves toward her prey, which breathes roughly, and discovers that love is similar to fright. She stops in front of him. Eyes locked on eyes. A hand surrounds her neck, and she feels an impulse to crawl between the man’s legs. Crawl and climb, climb up to his member; take it in her mouth, wolf it down.

The man’s hand descends slowly, averts obstacles, palpates. She’s moist as a reptile and her flesh swells with pleasure. Now it’s the woman who approaches to touch, but she stops just before grazing him. Only her fingers rush down, brushing the lukewarm fur.

His pupils grow like those of a nocturnal bird; hers diminish to the point of extinguishing.

The bodies roll across the plain. It’s the game of testing another’s resistance; the desire that is about to explode, but no. It’s so sweet, the pleasure of containing oneself.

She opens her eyes halfway, and contemplates the aquiline face that observes her almost with anguish, almost with ferocity. She knows that they have reached a border where fear and love confuse themselves with one another. She feels the mutation coming; she won’t be able to avoid it. Her vertebrae stretch prodigiously, her legs trap the man’s body…then she notices the change in her victim: the softness of hair like a quilt, the suctioning mouth like a bird of prey’s beak, his attitude of a winged creature at the verge of flight…

You’re not going to escape, she whispers, I’m a snake. He smiles, charmed by the joke: And me, I’m a snake-eating bird. In an instant, her legs release their pressure. What’s that? He leans toward her breasts. A bird that annihilates snakes. She laughs heartily and drives her venomous fangs into his neck. “I love to devour,” she thinks. Then she feels the pain: two talons grip her arms, while something pecks her breasts.

The woman closes her eyes and lets herself be wolfed down.

- Translated by David Iaconangelo.

No comments:

Post a Comment