“The Illustrated Woman” by Guillermo Rosales Translated from the Spanish by Anna Kushner

Taking license with Ray Bradbury

If you ever pass through Citrus Park, I recommend that you not enter Miss Roberta Donovan’s bar. Keep going, at full speed, and try not to listen to the siren’s song of the women tattooed on that enormous madam. I had the bad luck of stopping in Citrus because my car broke down there. The radiator, the spark plugs, who knows what went wrong with my old ’69 Mazda. Today it’s gone forever in the sands of that ghost town.

Because, gentlemen, Citrus Park is a ghostly town. There are no garages, no markets, no pharmacies, no cafés: nothing. One glance is enough to understand that it’s completely uninhabited, perhaps due to those hurricanes in the early part of the century that beat the Florida coast with unusual fury. The houses are in ruins, the streets are made of white sand, and millions of gi­ant red ants crawl over everything in search of scarce shrubs found around the periphery. They’re enormous ants, perhaps the world’s largest, and they attack humans, leaving enormous terribly itchy welts.

But that’s where I ended up. Woodland, the closest town, is eighteen miles away, and I was too tired to make the journey by foot. So I decided to spend the night there, in Citrus Park, and to leave for Woodland first thing in the morning. The heat made me take off my shirt, and curiosity led me to wander the streets of that sad town, in search of a human face. I called out among the uninhabited houses, and then I pissed in the middle of the street, but no one showed up to reprimand me. All I saw was a red lightbulb go on. A solitary red lightbulb in the door of a crumbling bar, whose window announced Coors beer.

I wish I had never entered. I’ve gone through some difficult moments in my life, but none like that adventure in Donovan’s bar. I pushed the door open and went inside. There, the sand from the hurricanes covered the counter and the tables, and the giant ants sought out ivy and purslane to satiate their hunger. There also was the very fat Roberta Donovan, bending over the counter near the cash register that didn’t seem to have worked since the 1930s.

Behind the counter was a round stage with a microphone in the center, and on a corner of the curtain hung a sign that read: “Sex at Six.” I asked for a Budweiser.

“Hot or cold?” the fat woman asked me in a languorous voice.

“Cold, of course.”

“It’s a matter of taste. Some people prefer it hot because it has a different effect.”

“Give it to me cold.”

The fat woman opened the fridge and rummaged around amid bottles and cans, and after much searching placed a beer right in front of me.

“Are you thinking of staying around here long?” she asked.

“Until tomorrow. First thing, I’m on my way to Miami.”

“Then you’ll have time to see the show.”

“What kind of show?”

“Ladies. The most exciting and most shapely ladies of any bar in the country.”

“Where are they?” I wanted to know.

“Here, with me. You’ll see them soon.”

We didn’t talk anymore. I drank a Miller, a Coors, and another Budweiser. It was a quarter to six when fat Donovan served me a last beer. Then she disappeared behind the red curtains.

Citrus Park. How is it possible for someone to live in such a place? That fat woman Donovan had to be either crazy or com­pletely antisocial. How did she feed herself? What food did she eat to maintain that 300-pound body?

I pondered this mystery, until she reappeared before me dressed in a sequin-covered pink cape.

“You want to know what I eat, right?” she said, leaning over the counter again: “well, this.”

And she picked up three or four giant ants with her fingers and brought them to her mouth, then chewed them with great pleasure.

“At first, it takes work, but then they end up tasting as deli­cious as pork rinds. What time is it?”

“Six,” I informed her.

“Well, keep your eyes on the show, it’s the most unique show on the entire American continent.”

She went over to the stage and put on a record by Barry White and his Love Unlimited Orchestra. Little by little, she began swaying her hips slowly while undoing the pink cape button by button.

She ended up naked, and yet there was not an inch on that colossal body that wasn’t tattooed. Tattoos of naked women that seemed to move lasciviously to the beat of the slow and exciting music. I thought they were moving as a result of my incipient drunkenness, but when I took a good look, I noticed they were moving on their own, with their own lives, showing their asses, ardently kissing each other, rolling around in twos all over Ms. Donovan’s monumental body. It was a lesbian orgy. One of them was whipping another with a riding crop, while another practiced cunnilingus on a blonde with exuberant breasts. Oth­ers kissed passionately, united at the pubis.

I was perplexed—even more, I was turned on to the point that my penis wanted to break through my underwear. Suddenly, fat Donovan turned off the turntable. She came over to me slowly, and confidently taking me by the hand, led me to a small room behind the curtains. There, she fell on me like a lustful elephant. But I wasn’t looking at her, all of my attention was fixed on the dozens of tattooed women, who kept rolling around with each other, showing off their perfect asses, their divine breasts, their monumental legs. Thus, watching that overwhelming show of hot lesbians, I made love to the very fat Donovan. How many times? Two, three, five; until the tattooed women began to stay still, as if sleeping, and fat Donovan, beyond all tiredness, also fell asleep on top of me. Carefully, I wriggled out from under the weight of her body until I was completely free. Then, an enor­mous exhaustion came over me, and I fell asleep next to her, facing her enormous back.

I slept very little, it’s true, because the giant ants were attack­ing my feet with canine fury. At two in the morning, I opened my eyes and noticed that fat Donovan was still sleeping and snoring, despite the giant ants. Her back, her enormous sumo wrestler’s back, was the only place on her body without any tat­toos. I looked at her white back as if into a mirror for a long time, and little by little, I noticed figures start to appear that had not been in the show. One of them was me in the room, naked and sprawled out asleep, and the other one was fat Donovan, who with a sickle was chopping off my penis all in one stroke.

I sprang quickly from the bed. Very carefully, I put on my pants and shoes. I left the room on tip toe and headed quickly to the wide intercoastal highway that would lead me to Miami.

I quickened my pace. My heart pounded. There, in the dis­tance, I could see the lights of a town. Woodland, maybe. Or perhaps Alexandria. I didn’t know, the only thing I knew for sure was that I had to be in that town, or any town, by break of day.


Copyright © 2013 by New Directions
Translation Copyright © 2013 by Anna Kushner

“The Illustrated Woman” is taken from Leapfrog & Other Stories by Guillermo Rosales, forthcoming from New Directions in October 2013.