Extract from Michael Mitchell's translation

Mercedes Deambrosis' Milagrosa

‘A mushroom!’

Grandmother bent her head over her sewing and shuffled her feet nervously. Papa turned back to the sideboard, pretending to be looking for something. Aunt Matilda retreated into the shadows of the dining-room. My mother's cry was enveloped in heavy silence. With a vigorous shove, but without letting go of my hand, she pushed me in front of her. I was still wearing my round, white fur hat with the pompons and my new red coat, which just about covered my buttocks, leaving my skinny legs and patent-leather shoes for all to see.

I was four years old.

My mother lifted up her breast in indignation and breathed in. The silence continued.

‘He had the nerve to call my daughter a mushroom!’

Then papa, in his shirt sleeves, slowly stirred himself and looked at me, a smile on his face. He was holding his tobacco pouch and his long fingers were thrusting mysteriously into the mixture

I was too afraid to speak, but I found his presence reassuring.

‘Do you hear?’ my mother cried, her cheeks ablaze with rage.

Aunt decided to come into the room. She went over to her sister and tried to help her off with her coat.

‘Yes,’ replied my father in a voice that was scarcely audible.

Mama exploded. She banged her bag down on the table, spilling the contents, dumped her coat on the floor and set about throwing a screaming fit.

I took advantage of the momentary slackening of her attention to make my escape and dash over to the low chair by the window, where grandmother spent all day sewing, because she didn't think much of electric light.

‘Is that all you can think of to say? “Yes, yes, yes”! Your daughter's been insulted and you say nothing! A mushroom … my daughter! My treasure! For all to hear! A mushroom!’

‘Mushrooms are nice,’ said aunt. It just slipped out.

She swung round, seething. Her voice became hoarse.

‘That doesn't surprise me, coming from you! No consideration whatsoever! What do I get in this house? Nothing but ingratitude! That's all the reward I get for everything I've done for you and that miscreant son of yours! Trust you to take their side! My daughter, the prettiest, the, the … insulted by a pervert, a pederast …’

‘Carmencita!’ Grandmother shot to her feet, her glasses slipping off her nose. ‘For the love of God! The children!’

My mother bit her lips.

‘What's that, a pederast?’ demanded a thin, reedy voice, the voice of my eleven-year-old cousin, Arturo, who had been living with us since the death of his father, the late husband of my Aunt Matilda.

‘Your son! Your son!’ screamed my mother, taking a step towards Arturo, who quickly retreated and slipped behind aunt. ‘That criminal's spawn! That murderer!’

She placed a hand to her chest, gave a terrible shriek and fell on her back.

Arturo started jumping up and down, chanting triumphantly, ‘A mushroom! A mushroom! Milagrosa's a mushroom! Milagrosa's a mushroom!’

Only now did I feel involved and burst into sobs which quickly mutated into strident cries.

Grandmother stood up, a look of determination on her face. Aunt Matilda put the corner of her apron in her mouth. Down on the ground, Mama opened a coal-black eye. Papa struck a match with the tips of his fingers.

The doorbell rang loudly, transfixing Arturo, Aunt Matilda, grandmother, and switching off my tears.

It was almost nine o'clock. Night had fallen two hours ago, even if papa did keep saying the days were starting to get longer. We weren't expecting anyone. The bell sounded again, insistently.

Mama emerged from her faint, pushed herself up on one elbow, and addressed her husband harshly, as the doorbell chimes jangled away furiously at the end of the corridor.

‘Why don't you open it? Can't you hear?’

‘Yes, Carmencita.’

‘“Yes, Carmencita” … O Lord, what have I done for you to give me a husband like this? Tell me, what have I done? … And what are you doing there, Matilda, rooted to the spot? Come and help me get up. You know very well that with my problem I can't …’

Aunt rushed over to help her sister.

We were all waiting in silence, hanging on the rhythm of papa's steps in the corridor, on his brief pause by the door, on the swish of the heavy drape of burgundy velvet and, finally, the unbolting of the door.

The sound of voices came to us, an indistinct murmur, pierced by the occasional angry outburst. Mama was beginning to fidget, a sure sign of her impatience.

‘Well, what is it? What's he doing? I'm going to go and see …’


Grandmother had taken a step forward. Her imperious tone brooked no demur.

‘I have to know!’

‘You can't go. Do not forget that you are a lady, and a lady …’

The silent reappearance of a visibly shocked papa cut short the discussion.

‘It's the police, the Guardia Civil.’

Mama opened her mouth and placed her hand on her chest, a sign announcing another fainting fit.

‘Oh no you don't! You're not going to swoon now!’ said grandmother, moving towards the corridor. ‘Sit down.’

Mama obeyed meekly.

‘What do they want, Luis? Have you put them in the drawing-room?’

‘No, I —’

‘Well go and do it now. Respectable people don't keep gentlemen like that standing —’ She broke off, as if what she had just said had revealed to her some hitherto concealed fact.

‘It must be some mistake … mustn't it? What did they say?’

‘The Mayor's here too,’ papa remarked casually.

Mama was back on her feet at once. ‘I'll kill him!’