Aunque al espejo se miran
las mujeres con frecuencia,
en el vidrio nunca ven
que es de vidrio su belleza. --Tomás de Iriarte
Isabel was pretty. Not beautiful, just pretty. She lived in Aberdeen and I lived in Blackfoot. Aberdeen was over thirty miles from Blackfoot. I was sixteen and she was fifteen - a woman, according to Mexican custom. We met at a Mexican dance in Aberdeen. One of my friends said to me, Oye, ¡creo que te quiere! And when I looked at her, she didn’t look too bad, especially after a couple of beers.
But there was something peculiar about Isabel. She couldn’t pass by a mirror without looking at herself. She thought herself the most beautiful girl in Idaho and made sure everybody knew it. That night, I danced with her for the first time, and for the first time, I realized she had a psychological problem. She was vain to the extreme and what made her vanity insupportable was that it wounded mine, as La Rochefoucauld would have said in his Maxims. But I was not conscious of my vanity, only hers. She was intolerable at times, a real pain.
If there was a mirror in a parlor or in a vitrine, she would stop and say, Mira, ¡Qué bonita soy! And what could I say but, Sí, eres muy bonita. Bonita, yes, but not hermosa. Beauty in a woman is rare and hard to find; that would be stretching it too far. But what to do about Isabel’s vanity?
My only recourse was to visit the curandera in Blackfoot to see what could be done about my girlfriend - Isabel had become my girlfriend by then. Ah, ¡vienes por un espejo! the curandera said knowingly. A mirror? What could I do with a mirror? I just wanted to cure Isabel. But how did the curandera know about Isabel’s attraction to mirrors? I was impressed. And the curandera sold me a mirror and told me that Isabel should look at herself in that mirror as soon as possible, without delay!
And there was no dilly-dallying or tardiness on my part. I heeded the curandera’s command directly. I bought the mirror on Friday and Isabel’s birthday was on Saturday, when I planned to go to Aberdeen to her birthday party. Her parents liked me and probably felt sorry for me because they knew of their daughter’s vainglory - her weakness. They could not bear their daughter’s excessive self-love and hoped a young man could change her ways; a young man like me.
I arrived in the afternoon with the mirror in a box covered with a red gift wrapper and tied with a purple bow, her favorite colors.
The party went on as as expected. She had few friends over - who could stand her?, especially other girls?...for there is no jealousy greater than that of girls against each other. And even though her other friends were also guilty of self love - after all, in jealousy there is more self-love than love - they were not as excessive. Isabel was in a league of her own.
And after the cake and punch and beer, it was time for Isabel to open her presents. Of these she could ask no more. She got dresses, rouge, hair spray, shoes, and, of course, a mirror. ¡Qué bonito! she said, acting surprised. She had so many mirrors, everybody wondered why get another one?! But Isabel was happy. There were never too many mirrors in her life. And she did what she always did when approaching a mirror: she looked into it, of course! And what she saw was not what she expected.
She saw an old face, wrinkled, deep-set tired eyes, graying hair, decaying teeth: a tired, old woman. And Isabel was terrified and started crying agonizingly. Her mother and father were mortified. ¿Qué te pasa, Isabel? inquired her concerned parents. "¡Nada, nada! was all Isabel could muster up. And she darted to her room crying bitterly. The party was over. We went home and her parents went to bed, still perplexed, unable to figure out the evening.
In the days that followed, I noticed a strange change in Isabel’s demeanor. She refused to look in any mirror. It seemed her habit was cured. She became more introspective, but in a positive way. She had seen the ugly side of herself and knew she wasn’t perfect. But the ugliness had its balance, its other extreme. Isabel, although self-conscious, saw the beauty in others, and she attracted friends as never before. Other girls came to her for advice and counsel. How can I fix my hair like yours? What eye liner do you use? Can I accentuate my lips like yours? How do you do it?! All these were questions Isabel could answer.
And Isabel - my girlfriend - blossomed like a flower in the warm Idaho spring. She became more enchanting and personable than ever. And her inner beauty was even greater than her outer charm. My friends were jealous of me for having such a beautiful enamorada, such a modest and humble companion. And everybody said that it was genetics and that it was just nature taking its course and favoring such a beautiful girl. But I knew differently. It began with the curandera’s mirror. After all, the curandera knew what Isabel needed before I even told her. It was the mirror...and to this day Isabel has never looked into one, has had no need to do it...and never will.
Amando Álvarez 1/3/02
AMANDO ÁLVAREZ HOME
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The Mexican Experience in Idaho
The Old Man
Juanito and the Library
The Coin (by Daniel Rodriguez)
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