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Her Name Was Ruth

By Jennifer Clement

Jennifer Clement age 7Her name was Ruth. We lived on Palmas Street in Mexico City. She was six years older than I and she loved me with such passion it was as if I were her doll, her little sister, or her very own baby girl. She liked to cover me with very wet kisses and pinch me softly, rock me, and tickle me. I did not understand my power then, but I knew she would have done anything for me.

Ruth was a very large and strong girl and she would pick me up and carry me under her arm all around the neighborhood of San Angel. Today, when I walk through the cobblestone streets, I know every cracked sidewalk or broken flagstone from that view of looking down to the ground from under her arm.

As I grew older, she always carried me as if weight and height was no obstacle to feeling. We used to go to an abandoned lot next to her house and look for tiny obsidian black garter snakes with tongues as thin and long as an eyelash. We also liked to collect snails and line them up on the wall or ground and try to make patterns with them before they began to inch away.

She called me Mi Guerita. I belonged to her.

During the rainy season, the thunderstorms were spectacular and would last for an hour or two. The sky would turn black and strong rains would flow down our street. Often the cobblestones would be covered with small, delicate hailstones. We would pick them up and place them in our mouths like sweets. Her house, which had been her grandfather Diego Rivera’s house, had so many metal windowpanes and metal staircases, the sound of the rain on metal was so loud we could never hear each other speak. Enormous Judas’ puppets made of papier-mâché framed one window that was so large it made us feels as if we were inside the storm.

Looking back, I wonder if our friendship was also a way to get out of our houses. We both had stories we never told each other. On the street we would listen to the language of the indians who came from the provinces to sell archeological pieces dug out of their cornfields. Sometimes we would talk to the postman (who came twice a day in those years) or the flower vendor and tortilla lady who always gave us a hot tortilla from her basket. We especially liked to talk to Apolinar, the gardener who worked at all the houses in the neighborhood. He told us that he had been a bullfighter. Once he rolled up his trousers and showed us the round, horn-shaped wounds in his legs.

The last time I saw Ruth was at a party years ago. When she saw me from across the garden, she sat right up and moved toward me in her awkward, long strides. I could still feel her strong desire to lift me up and kiss me. We sat together and drank tequila and she told me she was dying.

I will always belong to her.

Ruth Maria de los Angeles Alvarado Rivera (1954-2007)

Jennifer Clement’s new novel Prayers for the Stolen, which was awarded the NEA Fellowship for Literature, is published this month by Hogarth and has already been bought in 22 countries. Clement has also published the novels A True Story Based On Lies and The Poison That Fascinates. Her memoir Widow Basquiat, about the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, is considered one of the most important works on this artist. Jennifer Clement has also published several books of poetry and is the Director, along with her sister Barbara Sibley, of the San Miguel Poetry Week. You can find her at her website.


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