Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Boxer's Portrait

This is the story of a professional boxer’s wife and how her life’s dream was finally fulfilled.

Eva and Rodrigo had known each other from their earliest childhood. So it was fitting that as they came of age they fell in love and were married.

Rodrigo fell into the profession of a boxer for he was small in stature and had learned at an early age that he must fight in order to survive the bullying that accompanied the rites of youth and coming of age in his village.

He was fast afoot and had learned to punch with authority. He was purposefully aggressive in the ring. Apart from fighting for a living he was a mild and gentle fellow by nature. He also had acquired a deep faith along the Catholic walk in keeping with the major traditions of his village.

Eva was also religious, but she was somewhat rebellious and often questioned the more rigid pronouncements of the nuns in her school. She loved Rodrigo most deeply and was always pleased to gaze at his face adoringly.

“If only I could paint his picture,” she thought “then everyone could see how beautiful he is in my eyes.”

But it was not her fate to reproduce his likeness. She had not been blessed with the talent of an artist. Apart from that unfulfilled desire to paint Rodrigo’s portrait she was content to keep his house in order and to love him in every way she could.

As Rodrigo’s career progressed he was required to travel often, for his reputation grew with his winning record. For five years they had increasing prosperity with Rodrigo gaining rankings in his weight class and then moving up from flyweight to bantamweight. He trained hard and appreciated the growing rewards his successes bestowed.

Sometimes after a fight Rodrigo’s face was swollen from the punches of his opponent. Often his muscles were sore for a week or more after a fight. Eva attended to him dutifully with all her love. They enjoyed a relatively simple life, but it was more frequently interrupted by Rodrigo’s manager and trainer demanding more of his time.

“That is the price we must pay for our success.” Rodrigo would say to Eva. “It is my job.”

Eva accepted their life, but she wanted more. She knew Rodrigo wanted a son, but it seemed that she was barren. It was a growing sadness in her that she could not conceive a child. Nor could she produce the picture of her love. Both of these failures beset her thoughts until she began to pine for her lack.

She bravely hid her sorrow from Rodrigo, but sometimes he would be on the road for months at a time. Neighbors often came by with bits of news about Rodrigo they had clipped from the newspapers. As his fame grew Eva felt increasingly less relevant in his life. Rodrigo’s trainer refused to allow Eva to travel with him.

“We can’t have any distractions, Chica,.” He would say. “It’s all about focus.”

And so Eva’s life went until Rodrigo’s frequent absence and her dearth of purpose grew until it was a gnawing pain in her chest. Her neighbors came by often to help, but she became progressively more sickly and sorrowful.

“Such a pity,” they would pronounce to each other and shake their heads. “…so pretty and young to be sick like that.”

Father Diaz visited when Eva’s neighbors reported to him that she had confined herself to her bed and would not stop crying.

He sat by Eva’s bed and prayed with her. He asked her for the cause of her pain.

“My Rodrigo’s success has stolen him from me and I have no baby,.” She complained. “And I have no ability to paint his portrait,” she sobbed. “I close my eyes and I can see his face as clearly as I can see yours, but then when I open my eyes his image is gone and I can only stare at my door to see nothing..”

She was desolate. Nothing Father Diaz could think of seemed to help.

“I must get Rodrigo back here,” he thought. “Perhaps prayers and his presence will snap her out of this terrible depression.”

Rodrigo returned as soon as he could. He was terribly distressed to see Eva’s debilitated state. He was perplexed that she should be so unhappy when he was ranked in the top ten of his weight class. “Does she no longer love me?” he asked himself. And he determined to do even better to rekindle her love.

She saw the shadow of doubt veil his eyes as he leaned over her.

“Oh, Mother Mary, he no longer loves me because I have not given him a son.” Reason left her as she concluded he had rejected her. “I can only love him, until I die.”

Rodrigo felt impotent to help. It seemed to him that she had somehow stopped loving him. “I don’t know why she rejects me so,” he thought, “but I will fight harder to be her hero again.”

And so Rodrigo went back to the training camp and Eva lay in her bed weeping and staring silently at the door.

When she closed her eyes she saw Rodrigo’s face as always. Every contour and line was there as if indelibly etched on the inside of her eyelids. She remembered happy times when they were both filled with exuberance for the life they had chosen to forge together.

But when she opened her eyes there was only the door at the end of her room. The grain of the wood formed a patternless weave of light and dark with a knot that looked a little like an eye in the middle.

Eva slept fitfully for a while and when she woke and opened her eyes the knot in the door was definitely an eye. She could even make out the lashes and the little wrinkles in the corner. “It’s just my imagination,” she thought, “Perhaps I have a fever, but that sure looks like an eye looking back at me.”

The door fascinated her from then on. In her mind the grain in the wood was rearranging itself until a vague outline of a head began to show.

Eva grabbed that thought with the tenacity of a drowning man grasping a life line.A new idea struck her, “If I can remember Rodrigo’s face so vividly with my eyes closed, then surely I can imagine his face in the grain of the door with my eyes open.”

With that in mind her sadness somehow lifted. She stared fixedly at the door and, sure enough, Rodrigo’s features began to emerge before her eyes. Bit by bit she was willing her imagination to create the image she had longed to create for so many years.

“Of course, this is only my fever and my desire making me think this is happening.” She thought. “No one else will see Rodrigo’s face there.” Still she kept looking at the door and willing the image of her husband to show itself. Minute by minute the details become more and more distinct to her eye.

As she continued this process her sorrow vanished. No longer did she feel her life empty and meaningless. By the end of the day the image on the door was as complete as any photograph. Eva could even see the little scar above his left eyebrow and the way the corners of his mouth turned up slightly in the hint of a grin that was his customary expression. She began to feel a peculiar joy envelope her as the image emerged on the wood completely.

Her strength had returned and she wondered why she had felt bad before. After all, her Rodrigo was becoming a famous boxer and she was his wife and lifelong love. Soon he would come home and they would be together again for a while.

“I’m still young,” she thought, “I can still bring to him the son of his dreams.” Tears of joy flowed and she called out to her neighbor. “Tia Ana, come in here. Hurry. I’m all right now. Help me clean up so that I can be again beautiful for Rodrigo.”

Ana came rushing in along with several of the other ladies of the village who had been keeping a de facto vigil for Eva. They were all pleased to see the sparkle had returned to her eye and there was a smile on her face.

“It must have been a mysterious fever of your soul,” said Concha, one of the elder women of the village. “Surely it is broken now.”

After several women gathered around the bed Eva pointed at the door thinking they would only see the knot in the wood. But the women all gasped and gaped. They could see Rodrigo’s image plain as day.

“Oh, my God,” exclaimed Delores, “I never saw how much that grain in the wood resembled Rodrigo. It’s simply amazing.

They all agreed.