From: Regina Edelman
To: Dave Eggers
Sent: Friday, February 29, 2008 8:11 PM
Subject: Re: Great letter
I hope you are doing good! Every minute of my life I've been thinking your lights turned to my manuscript, and that at this moment you're reading it, although is well true that you didn't promise you would, but your words struck me it would be possible for you to do so, though a busy man.
For long years of my life I was forced to believe I couldn't learn and was good for nothing other than catch the fleas that drilled my blood; life went on too hard on me. I have no idea how I managed to be out of jail. You know, a child mistreated easily goes to jail for the crime of being born in poverty. Under the justice of ignorant men, a girl has even less voice, but my higher being tired of injustice led me to write my novel, Garments of Fleas. I did, and figure that is probably my last strength to have a voice in life. I see through your writing you're an honorable man and capable of compassion for mankind's suffering, and understanding that there is not exactly reason for so much suffering because all we need is education to clear up minds, rich or poor, and that the more we know the better we feel, and better we will organize ourselves to live forever if we want to.
I definitely don't want to be a burden to you. I have clear understanding that nobody asked me to write anything, and now I trouble a king to please read and help me to publish what I wrote. I dare paste below some few pages of my manuscript to prick your curiosity that you might want to read all of it for sure.
Thank you so much for your precious time and understanding.
For better or total ruin, time brought us till the end of February of nineteen sixty-five. For a week the sky was stabilized lead, threatening a waterspout on our wretched heads at any time, but thank heavens only a short storm fell twice or three times a day, most in the hot and humid afternoons, and when Carnival started Friday, the sky had the same dark looks of omnipotent owner of all.
Exacerbated euphoria took over. Radio waves from the neighbors escaped through their windows in form of Carnival marches and mixed with varieties of high and low whistles, and the beat of drums. It was impossible to forget for a fraction of a second that it was Carnival season, the season of total abandon and happiness.
Rockets burst night and day for two days, but the official Carnival parade was on Sunday evening. My mother seized my hand and carried me to Avenida das Palmeiras, where we went to watch the parade. The street was large and chic, ornamented by tall palm trees, rich mansions with long gardens, and illuminated balconies. Happy masquerades filled the balconies, and perambulate Pierrots, or mermaids among a crowd of every kind filled the sidewalk and middle of the street. Onion smell from sweaty human armpits mingled with cachaça.
José and Pero didn’t come with us. José promised he would take care of Pero. Mom let them be.
Lansquenet and tambourine ruffled far. The crowd shrilled and strident whistles blew while we waited for the parade to develop and come along to where we were. I settled on the curb beside mom’s feet in blue Alpargatas shoes. An ocean of human feet surrounded me behind a rope.
“Don’t go get lost!” my mother warned. “When I was single we didn’t need rope at Carnival to curb us. We were all polite and knew better not to invade. Now they curb us behind a rope because people grew rude, and enthusiastically invade the middle of the parade to ruin the fantasy spectacle for the public,” she concluded, apparently talking to me down on the curb, leaning on the rope above my head, but what did the rope talk have to do with me getting lost? In addition, her tone of voice was so to gain the attention of neighbors in the crowd. Her head looked discreetly for supporters.
“True, invaders are simpletons, dressed plain and dancing out of rhythm. They definitely ruin the spectacle,” a woman said.
“Don’t get lost,” mom told me again, then turned.
“But time, time is not changing for better if more rude people do not understand the psychology of the rope. They don’t understand. You see how many blockheads come and go under the cord, crossing the avenue. The meaning of the rope is that, who is on this side of the sidewalk must remain, who is on the other side of sidewalk should remain there. A rope can’t curb any herd of people behind it unless they are polite people, raised in gold cradles. Obviously not the case of the citizens here,” a little old man said, his shoes varnished white, his passion red suit.
“And the police let them. Look! They don’t stop people from crossing,” mom observed. “Don’t get lost!” she called my attention once more, and went back to express points of views with the neighbors in the crowd. I understood she meant I should not take my eyes from her, and that it would be my fault if I got lost. So, besides looking up to her sometimes, I also fixed my attention on her blue Alpargatas. No one around had such big bunions, and as long as I saw her bunions sticking out of her blue Alpargatas, it meant I wasn’t lost yet, and if I didn’t hear her for half a second, all I needed was to turn my head.
“What time is it?” someone asked.
“Seven o’clock,” a man’s voice answered.
“Eh, irresponsible people who can’t do anything on time,” mom said.
Rockets exploded. I covered my ears.
“Ahahaha! Mom! Mom! Look at the exquisite men dressed in striped horse costumes, dancing and kicking disorganized like that! Ahahahha!”
“Your mama is talking, Regina. Don’t interrupt me!”
“True, the parade was supposed to start at six o’clock,” a female voice agreed after her scolding.
A fool with naïve looks crossed the street, came straight to me and offered me baked bananas with cinnamon from inside his piss pot.
“No! No!” I refused, nauseated, suspicious of the painted face, but he laughed and left to disturb somebody else.
“Silly girl. Why didn’t you accept? His piss pot is new. It’s all a joke.”
“How could I trust in his mascara?”
“You know, it’s good she didn’t accept. Who knows what he put in that baked banana?” a woman said.
“Yes, yes, the girl acted right,” voices like a chorus agreed.
“O, now, I don’t believe he would harm a little girl,” my mother replied.
“You can’t even imagine how sick people are. This is a party of hell. Devils are loose,” the man in white shoes said.
“You know what, you’re right, and devils are indeed around, but the father of my parish, which is Santa Teresinha do Menino Jesus, said in the sermon this morning that it’s perfectly fine to watch the Carnival in the streets or appreciate the spectacle in ball saloons. It rinses the spirits. Now, we would be a sinner if we actually participate in Carnival like devils in the party of hell as you well said!” mom distorted the man in white shoes subject. No reply arrived besides the drums that beat strongly and uniformly, and the rockets that exploded like popcorn.
Bodies pressed each other forward. Heads poked up curiously to be the first to sight King Momo, his queen, and his princesses, haltingly coming through in a convertible car shiny like a star, to finally open the first official day of Carnival parade.
Claps added to the shrill of happiness for the fake King who approached, loaded of excess, including golden jewelry. Fake, I thought. The fat king of carnival passed smiling large, a shiny bauble in one hand. The other hand with five ringed fingers waved to the crowd from the green and white Chevrolet convertible sliding slowly away, decorated with paper streamers and colorful confetti that the queen and princesses threw among charming and sparkling kisses. O! Their nobility indeed eluded me.
The conversation around decreased. Voices sang in chorus. The drums increased then, pounding like hearts of giants unimaginably gigantic, very annoying, and loud enough to disturb far waves into the sky.
Blacks, fancy and shiny, dressed as ancient slaves, passionatly incorporated their ancestors with fervor, elevating their voices, singing the hymn of their samba school.
No more tears oooo! No more tears oooo! God is Brazilian and we thankful sing for Brazil being the happiest place in the world! We negroes grieve the tears of our ancestors, but with glory we come on the avenue in this carnival to sing our happiness to be seeded in this marvelous Brazil. No more tears oooo! No more tears oooo!
They went on dancing a holy mess.
A cabrocha entered in the way with a man in a blue evening sky suit. He beat a timbrel in rhythm to the swing of the cabrocha’s hips, to shake the peacock feathers of her strange headpiece, to wave the red satin cords on the edges of her bra and mini skirt. She sambaed, enthusiastically twisting her body wormy-like to the ground, and wiggled back up the same way. Her lips sparkled red. Spectators applauded in frenzy. The timbrel player stepped ahead. The shabby cabrocha sprinted in her gold high heel sandals behind him. They performed a new show ahead on the other side of the sidewalk to men with opened mouths, admiring the round goddess’ happy body of dark caramel skin.
No more tears oooo! No more tears oooo…
A tribe of green feathered Indios manifested their content in the middle of the street. Giants puppets came along. I saw every one with its man inside. Happy Arabians followed, and next, fat Baianas spinning their sparkling red gowns, and shaking their many beaded necklaces. On their heads, they carried a mound of fake tidbits from Bahia. In my head, Bahia was a land so far away in the north that I doubted it really existed.
A few blondes in bikinis got out of convertible cars. They didn’t mix in the crowd, but they smiled to the blacks. I saw.
The air smelled of warm, fired onions. The samba school passed followed by loud drums. Euphoric devils drank straight from their bottles. The party was for all, but mostly for miserable mixed people and blacks, smiling toothless, carriers of fake swords to embellish a pirate fantasy.
Next day, the children on my street masqueraded as Pierrot, Dominó, or Columbina, astonished by the shininess and happiness of the parade the day before. The boys, army of mini imitators, organized their own samba school with drums made of rusted cans like Pero had, and drums made of plastic for others. They went on concentrated in the beat, copying more or less what we heard. The beat went wrong all the time. They stopped, started again and again. I was allowed to watch the dismaying samba battery from my porch, where grandma, mom, and I, stood as part of the society of the street.
Mothers looked upward because the sky appeared evil and dark as they rushed their masquerading daughters downhill.
“Where are they going, mom?”
“To the ball saloon in the factory club,” mom said.
“If the rain falls as promising, I would not go anywhere happy like those nonsense heads carrying their suckling,” grandma rejoined.
The masquerade girls didn’t look like suckling; they looked like pink butterflies.
“I don’t know how these ignorant parents don’t teach their children that only the sinful play at carnival. Phony Roman Catholics! They don’t go to church often, but on Ash Wednesday. By then church will be full of regretful souls desperate for Jesus’ mercy for their hubbub at carnival. I hope Jesus gets tired forgiving them their same mistake every other carnival, and sends their souls straight to the flames of hell. If I was Jesus, I would.”
“My goodness, Elga, I thought your point of view was that an irascible heart spoils faster,” grandma said and looked at her with scorn, one brow higher than the other, and held the expression in expectation of her daughter’s reply.
Mom wasn’t shameless; her face easily caught red. She was thinking. I stared at her. I too wanted to know if she would reply, however the sound of a band was growing louder and louder.
“Ah! It’s the traditional Popó band leading The Parade of Everyone is Welcome! It’s a comic parade! I’m going to change, and we’ll go down hill to watch, Regina,” she said.
“Frankly I knew she would escape from any sensical reply,” Grandma said.
A few moments later, my mother dragged me downhill to watch the parade of Popó, excusing herself, “Your grandma is becoming decrepit. She often puts me down. Once more, we Catholics have nothing against appreciating Carnival. Our souls are safe. Sinful are the ones who play Carnival, not who appreciates Carnival. I said what is true. If I were Jesus, I wouldn’t forgive the same mistake over and over. What did I say to have an irascible heart? Mom hates me. I see clearly now.”
“Hey, Elga, wait for me,” Cida called. She smiled contentedly, rushing to meet us a few steps ahead. Mom smiled contentedly too, waiting for her. I thought Mom and Cida hate each other, hard to tell if they feigned.
A giant red-faced puppet dressed in a short sleeve brown satin suit rumbled at the head of the parade, followed by the Popó band and a herd of dark men dressed like Carmen Miranda, or like slob women in flowered dresses with soccer ball breasts on crooked high heels, red lipstick outlined off their lips, veils covering their heads. The women were camouflaged in dark suits and masked in fake thick beards.
The exquisite parade caroused, fussy and fun, whistling, beer in hands, blowing confetti and rockets. Frenetically they sang:
In The Everyone is Welcome Parade,
you are welcome too.
We don’t care if you’re a man and want to
turn into a woman,
Or a woman turned into a man.
Wednesday of Ashes in the morning, people cut off their excess noise, the only whistle a far train mingled with low voices and motorcar. The sun attempted to shine now and then, but it looked like dark heaven had no intention to pass away.
Of course we went to church on such an important day, and when we got there earlier in the morning than usual, the police had trouble taking a man in Satan costume out of church, who exalted in desperation, “I need the ashes of purification! I need the ashes of purification!”
The police worked hard to drag the devilish crying being out of church. “There’s no ash for you to take,” the officer said.
“The police ought to go patiently in the Lords’ house,” mom whispered when the police finally overtook the man. “He did something very wrong to be so guilty that way.”
I thought that without the ashes he might go crazy. He kicked, yanked, and resisted the enforcement. “I need the ashes of purification! I need the ashes of purification!” His shrieking died outside the church.
I noticed after the mass, when in line to the altar to take the father’s blessing and ashes on the forehead, people smelled of alcohol like in the street parade, and did the same zoomzoom to form a single honest line for the blessed ashes.
Purified, we left for home, sky darkened purple. “Let’s walk fast so the rain don’t catch us,” mother proposed and pulled me faster.
excerpt from Garments of Fleas ©2009 Regina Edelman
sketch of Regina and Bitsy by Daryl Edelman
To be continued…