by Coralie del Roble Duchesne

He was a man who lived by himself in a wooden hut with a zinc roof, and in the rainy season the sound of the rain clattering down on the roof kept him awake and he wanted a warm body beside him. But he was so ugly that women mocked him or cast down their eyes and pretended they couldn't see his disfigured nose and cheeks, scarred when he was a child and a radio battery he was trying to fix exploded in his face. Now he was known in his village by the nickname Cara de torta—Pancake face—or simply called Torta.

During the cane cutting season Torta worked in the cane fields. In the evenings he would come back home, hang up his machete on a hook by his bed, take off his shirt, wash down under the tap in his backyard and put on his clean shirt. Then he would sit on the stone doorstep of his house and watch the kids flying kites out on the street.

Sometimes one of the women who were chatting with neighbours along the street might shout out to him, "Hey Torta still on your own? Too ugly to get a woman between the sheets?"

Torta always smiled and answered, "I'm taking my time to find the right one. I'm slow because I'm picky."

At this all the women would laugh raucously and he forced himself to join in.


He noticed her the first time standing outside the pale pink store, La Tienda de Matilde. Matilde's shop was crowded with raffia baskets, plastic basins and bunches of rubber sandals hung by the door. The girl was looking at the sandals. Her feet were stuffed into a pair of torn, undersized sneakers. When he spoke to her she didn't turn away or pretend she hadn't heard him as many women did but smiled and answered him clearly: yes, she would like a pair of those sandals but had to think about it, because right now she didn't have the money. She had skinny legs and her breasts were two tiny bumps beneath her cotton dress and she had furtive eyes with thick lashes. She told him that they all called her La Guira—The Weasel—on account, she said, that she was quick and silent as a weasel. But then he recalled that she lived high up on the mountain with su abuelita and the real reason the townsfolk had given her this nickname, weasel, was that she was a thief, known for slipping out of stores with bags of rice or flour or detergent. 'Sly and thieving as any weasel,' was what the townsfolk said. But Torta liked the way she squinted up at him through her thick lashes. He made her a gift of a pair of sandals with daisies on the front. She was delighted by the way they showed off her delicate feet, after the floppy, dirty sneakers she had been wearing, and thanked him, saying she would never forget.

He invited her home with him to eat fish. Weasel helped him to scale and gut the fish outside his hut. The glistening scales falling onto the sandy ground looked like jewels. Then they cooked the fish over the paraffin stove in his minute kitchen. In the blue flame of the stove her eyes turned yellow. She put her finger on the spatula and swept up a piece of fish, which she licked off with her finger. The oil smeared her lips and made them sparkle. He asked her to stay with him.

They made up a bed on the rush mat just under the back window, which looked out onto a small coconut grove. The sky turned dark and the moon was framed by the window, which had no glass, only wooden shutters to close if it rained. Torta and Weasel could hear the rats squeak and rustle among the dry palm fronds as they went after the coconuts. The palms creaked in the night breeze. The coqui frogs made their calls—'co-qui, co-qui.' They smelled the bougainvillea flowers and the rotting breadfruit on the night air. The wooden shutters flapped faintly when the wind from off the sea blew in stronger. Their skin touched and a trickle of sweat ran between them.

Weasel seldom spoke. Instead she rubbed her cheek against the back of his hand, or she would let him feed her fried plantains, nibbling at his fingers in play. He watched while she washed her hair from the rain barrel and then shook it out in the sunlight so the drops glittered like chips of glass. Now he told the woman who had mocked him, "See what I found because I was patient and waited!" Nobody argued that Torta and Weasel made a happy pair.


Torta woke, shivering. It was raining. He stretched out his hand, searching for Weasel's shank. Emptiness. He waited a while, thinking maybe she had gone to the outhouse to pee. The rain spattered down on the trees, the sound of it like pebbles on his zinc roof. The scent of the bougainvillea blossoms in the damp air was powerful. Scarves of dark cloud drifted across the moon. He could hear the rat claws scuttling among the palm fronds. He lay growing colder in the bed. Waiting. He got up, went out to the outhouse. No sign of Weasel. He pulled his jacket around him and lay down again. Waiting.

The rain stopped. The sky gradually lightened with pink streaks. Torta heard a louder rustling among the fronds. A shutter rattled. A slim shape slithered through the window. A soft thud onto the floor, patter of feet. He felt her skin, damp from rain or heat, brush against his thigh. At first her breathing was a little quick as if panting, then it slowed down and she fell into a tranquil sleep.


Torta went to work with his machete over his shoulder. As he walked along the road in the early morning light the other cane cutters one by one joined him. He worked all day pushing his way through the cane, ceaselessly hacking it down. He worked, swing back, slice, swing back, slice, cutting, cutting a path through the lines of cane, faster than he ever had, without stopping to drink water. Sweat soaked his shirt and streamed down his face, his eyes and nostrils stinging. His arms ached, his back hurt. Nothing to the pain he felt in his heart. The other men asked him why he didn't rest. What was the hurry, he'd get paid the same? He told them to leave him alone.

When work finished he went back home, hung up his machete, washed down. Weasel hummed a tune, her face content. He prayed he had dreamed her absence. He put his arms around her, kissed her face and neck and arms and belly. She seemed happy with his kisses. Perhaps it had all been a nightmare, brought on by his fear of losing her. But when darkness came and he made himself breathe heavily as if asleep, he felt her body edge carefully away from him. Quick as an animal she pulled on a dress and slid out the window. Again he waited. On this night it was hot and he tossed about. A cock crowed. With the first pink light in the sky her shape loomed in the window, blotting out the dawn. She slid beside him.

In the morning he got his own coffee, poured out another for Weasel. He took it to her and sat beside her on their makeshift bed on the rush mat. She smiled, sleepily. He asked her if he was very ugly. Weasel stroked his face. "Bobo," she said, "you're my cara de tortita and I love you."

At night he waited, wishing, praying she would sleep through the night. But again in the darkness she left. This time he had lain down in his clothes and he followed out the door behind her. She ran along the road without glancing back. Torta kept to the side of the road where the overhanging branches of the flame trees gave him cover. As they rounded a corner he saw the car waiting. A man stepped out and walked towards Weasel, arms outstretched. Under the light of the moon Torta recognized the narrow body, slicked back hair and nose like a knife. It was Evaristo Roldan, one of the publico drivers, who ran a route driving his collective taxi from the town square. Like all the publicos, he was popular with the women because he made a good living with his big Chevrolet. Evaristo was known as a tanque, a hunk. He wore fancy shirts and had a gold lighter and he could get any girl he fancied.

The two bodies pressed together, merging into one clumsy shape. With one hand Evaristo—expert in handling such maneuvers—opened the car door while still clasping Weasel to him and tipped them both gracefully into the back seat.

Torta trudged back home, took off his clothes and lay down on the bed to wait for Weasel's stealthy return.

He felt as if a big boulder had landed on his chest and wouldn't move. He felt he might stop breathing and wished everything would tumble away into nothingness and he would never have to wake up and think of it again. But he went on breathing, went on living in spite of the weight in his chest. When she did steal back and he felt her slight body fit against his, he felt no warmth, only a terrible solitude that he knew would stretch on through the years ahead.


For three more nights her flights were repeated. Each time he followed Weasel till he saw her arrive near Evaristo Roldan's car, saw how Evaristo wrapped her in his long arms, saw them tumble into the back seat of the car.

On the fourth evening after he came home from work, Torta cleaned his machete, then sharpened the blade against a big stone by the kitchen door, passing the blade back and forth until, when he ran his finger gently along it, blood sprang to the surface of his skin. He didn't hang it on the hook; instead, he hid it under his jacket beside the bed. After she left he remained lying calmly on his back, arms crossed on his chest, breathing steadily, eyes open, facing towards the window. He heard all the habitual sounds very clearly as if he were listening to them for the first or last time. He heard the rattle of the shutter at dawn, he heard the soft thud as she landed on the floor, he felt her slip in under the sheet beside him and avoiding any movement he waited till he heard her snuffy little snore.

He stood up and took the machete from under his jacket and he stood and looked at Weasel's face, so he would never forget it. He looked at her crescent shaped lids with the thick lashes, her mouth, which even in sleep had its cunning smile that he had loved from the first day he saw her looking at the plastic sandals. He noticed how her collarbone stood out sharply as if she had often gone hungry.

"Weasel," he said, "they all said you were a thief. And you are. You stole our happiness."

He raised the machete then brought it down on her neck where it met her delicate collarbone. Blood drenched the tips of her hair.

Coralie del Roble Duchesne's early childhood was spent in India where she was born. During her school years she lived in the U.K., and then spent many years in Spain and Puerto Rico, until coming to Montreal. Her plays Matters of Class and Race, Also Sex, Marrakech, and Electric Moon Over Nowhere Street have been performed in Montreal. Electric Moon Over Nowhere Street was published by the Playwrights' Guild of Canada in 1991. Marrakech was published in Postdata, a Spanish/English quarterly. A story, "Pictures Of A Happy Family," was published under the name Coralie Lucas in Encounter magazine in the U.K.