Translation: Victoria’s Secret

By ANDREA CHAPELA

Translated from the Spanish by ALLANA C. NOYES

The story appears below in both English and Spanish.


Translator’s Note

I’ve had the great pleasure of collaborating with Andrea Chapela since we met in Iowa City in 2016, and it was not long after our first meeting that we began working on this text. Nearly five years later, Andrea’s original Spanish-language versions were published as a triptych of “Monólogos” in Fondo Blanco’s Mexicanas: Trece Narrativas Contemporáneas, and it seemed an excellent time to revisit the very first project we ever worked on together.

In this hurried, breathless monologue, the reader is presented with a woman confronting the paradox of her own desire to be seen and her resentment of society’s obsession with seeing. The narrator’s cognitive dissonance between her femininity and bodily autonomy spirals out of control in the few moments she is alone with her thoughts, creating a snake-bite-quick micro fiction that strikes fast but alludes to a more insidious, lasting harm.

—Allana C. Noyes

 

Victoria’s Secret

I always thought the best place to start any writing anything is in the bathroom because when I’m sitting there contemplating the wall and looking for shapes in the tiles that appear and disappear with each visit that’s when my deepest thoughts and best story ideas come to me because sometimes I feel like those moments are the only ones I have to be truly alone with thoughts and that’s exactly what I need in times like these when the whole house is teeming with people and I follow that winding path from the kitchen past the guests in the living room down the long crowded hallway to my miraculously empty bathroom I open the door turn the lock lift up my dress pull down my tights and sit and look around and recognize a familiar space that now seems strange with the jumbled swell of music and conversation and it’s then that I think about how my feet hurt from those stupid heels and I check that there’s still toilet paper and soap and the towels are clean and everything is in its proper place and then my gaze falls on the hooks on the door with my still damp towel and there next to it hanging like some kind of modern art installation are three pairs of underwear washed and hung in the same spot I always hang them because my mother taught me that women should wash their intimates separately and the best way to do so is in the privacy of the bathroom but then the gynecologist told me to never hang them inside the shower because the moisture could make them mold and then I would catch the mold spores and have to suffer through horrible stinging pain so on doctor’s orders I started washing my underwear in private and hanging them up in plain sight but normally only in plain sight of my roommate who’s a man but grew up with three sisters so he’s plenty used to it and I admit there was a time I did it but still felt embarrassed until one day I found a pair of his girlfriend’s underwear hanging up there and then feeling like I was in good company I stopped caring but now I look at the three pairs of underwear and I ask myself if I should have taken them out of the bathroom before everyone arrived but between all the other preparations for the surprise party it hadn’t even crossed my mind between making sure my roommate was out of the house that someone was keeping him busy that everyone arrived on time leaving work early to decorate ordering the pizza picking up the cake changing my dress and with all of those tasks I didn’t think to check the bathroom door and when I think I should’ve taken them down I also think about how many people must have seen them in the last two hours because with those fluorescent fucking colors no one would have been able to ignore them hanging there so innocently in all their Victoria’s Secret glory the only kind I buy since one summer when I was sixteen when my mother gave me some money and dropped me off alone for the first time at a gringo mall so I could buy myself some clothes and then praying she wouldn’t find out I snuck into that pink perfumed store I’d always wanted to go in but definitely didn’t want to go to with my mother because it had always been good enough to buy my bras at the Liverpool department store ever since I was fourteen and I didn’t want to relive that experience and because I had started wondering about Victoria’s actual secrets which must have something to do with being a woman and being an adult and wearing lingerie that someone else might see but after buying two pairs of underwear I was so embarrassed that I took them out of their bag and stuffed them in a different one under some jeans between layers of shirts and I hid the pink bag in the trash so that what I’d done would never be found out and then again it seems stupid having lingerie at sixteen when I was the only one who was going to see it but it’s because I had also secretly read in an issue of Cosmo that a woman should wear fancy underwear for herself just to know that she has it on underneath and that’s exactly what I thought that day at the mall and I also thought it years later when I decided to begin collecting fancy underwear in all the dazzling colors of the rainbow and I’ve thought about it every time I know that I have something important to do and I get dressed carefully selecting which underwear I’ll put on because I feel a satisfaction in knowing that beneath all my layers I’m wearing red underwear and because I feel like I do it for me and if I decide that someone else should see it that would be by pure coincidence because it wasn’t intended for him and the truth is that I like that independence of not having to ask permission or forgiveness for what I’m wearing flush against my skin and it really fucking bothers me that I’d have the thought at all that seeing them out in the open makes me want to hide them in my room so people don’t think I put them there on purpose just so they could be looked at so people don’t think I’m easy because I intentionally left my underwear out so they don’t see them and judge me and I think about what a fucked up thing it is that after ten years of having stepped foot in a Victoria’s Secret for the first time that I still feel the urge to throw away the bag and hide them although none of it should be a secret and I shouldn’t be such a prude about who might’ve seen my underwear because really no one should even give a shit about what I choose to do with them and it shouldn’t matter to me either what everyone thinks who comes in and out of my bathroom during a party and meanwhile the more I look at them the less I know what to do so I flush the toilet and wash my hands and try to decide if I want to feel the weight of all those eyes baring down on me while I pretend like it doesn’t really bother me but given all the contradictions I face as a woman I always choose to pretend like I can go to the bathroom without checking my makeup twice or fixing my straightened hair that keeps getting curlier as the night wears on or thinking about the way my feet ache from wearing those painful heels or having doubts about my underwear hanging on the bathroom door I like to pretend that I can go in thinking about the last conversation I had without obsessing in infinite loops about the little details of being a woman and being seen and seeing myself and the confusion of it all which leads me to consider these things and I would be able to be in and out in a few minutes unlike now where somebody’s knocking at the door maybe I’ve been in here for too long.

 

El baño

Siempre he pensado que el mejor lugar para encontrar un texto es en el baño, porque mientras estoy allí sentada, contemplando la pared en busca de formas en el mosaico que aparecen y desaparecen dependiendo de la visita, se me ocurre cómo meditar o escribir las mejores historias porque hay veces que creo que esos minutos son los únicos que tengo para estar a solas conmigo misma, y eso es justo lo que necesito ahora con la casa a reventar de gente y por eso serpenteo desde la cocina, entre los invitados en la sala, por el largo pasillo lleno, hasta mi baño milagrosamente vacío y abro la puerta, echo el seguro, alzo el vestido, me bajo las medias, me siento y miro alrededor para reconocer un espacio familiar que parece distinto con el efecto del estruendo de la música y las conversaciones y es entonces que pienso en que me duelen los pies por los tontos tacones y que miro alrededor para asegurarme de que todavía hay papel y jabón y las toallas siguen limpias y todo está en su lugar y entonces mi vista se posa en los ganchos de la puerta con mi toalla todavía húmeda y junto a ella, como un muestrario posmoderno, cuelgan tres calzones ya lavados en el mismo lugar de siempre porque me enseñó mi madre que las mujeres tienen que lavar su ropa interior por separado y lo mejor es hacerlo en la intimidad del baño, pero luego la ginecóloga me dijo que no las colgara dentro de la regadera, para que la humedad no les sacara hongos y entonces no se me pegaran y tuviera que sufrir ese picor horrible y así por orden médica tomé la costumbre de lavar mis calzones en la intimidad para colgarlos después a la vista, por lo general, sólo de mi roommate, que aunque es hombre creció con tres hermanas entonces ya debe estar acostumbrado y admito que hubo un tiempo que lo hacía pero me daba vergüenza, hasta el día que encontré colgado un calzón de su novia y entonces, al encontrarme acompañada, me comenzó a dar igual, pero ahora que observo los tres calzones me pregunto si debí haberlos quitado del baño antes de que llegara gente, aunque ni lo pensé entre todos los preparativos de la fiesta sorpresa, entre encargarme de que mi roommate estuviera fuera, de que alguien lo entretuviera, de que todo mundo llegara temprano, de salir del trabajo a tiempo para decorarlo todo, de pedir la pizza, de recoger el pastel, de cambiarme de vestido, y con todas esas carreras no revisé la puerta del baño y cuando pienso si debí quitarlas, pienso también cuánta gente las habrá visto en las últimas dos horas, porque con esos colores chíngame la pupila nadie habrá sido capaz de ignorarlas allí colgando inocentemente en toda su gloria de encaje de Victoria’s Secret, la única marca que compro desde aquel verano a los dieciséis años que mi madre me dio dinero y me dejó por primera vez sola en un mall gringo para que me comprara ropa y entonces, sin que lo supiera, me escabullí a la tienda rosa y perfumada que siempre había querido visitar, pero que de ninguna manera quería visitar con ella porque ya había sido suficiente comprar bras en Liverpool a los catorce años como para tener otra experiencia de ésas y porque yo entonces pensaba que los secretos de Victoria tenían que ver con ser mujer y ser adulta y usar encaje que alguien vería, pero después de comprar dos calzones me dio tanta pena que los saqué de su bolsa y los metí en otra, debajo de algunos jeans, entre algunas camisetas y tiré la bolsa rosa a la basura donde no pudiera comprometerme e igual parece una tontería tener ropa de encaje a los dieciséis cuando sólo yo las iba a ver pero es que en esa época leí a escondidas en alguna Cosmo que una mujer debía usar ropa interior bonita para ella, para saber que la trae puesta y justo eso pensé ese día en el mall y también lo pensé cuando años después decidí comenzar a coleccionar calzones en todos los colores del espectro y lo he pensado cada vez que sé que tengo alguna cosa importante y me visto y considero con cuidado la ropa interior que me pongo, porque encuentro satisfacción en saber que bajo todas mis capas llevo calzones rojos y porque siento que lo hago para mí y que si decido que alguien más lo vea, será una casualidad, porque no eran para él y como la verdad me gusta esa independencia, la de no tener que pedir permiso ni perdón por lo que llevo pegado a la piel, me jode el pensamiento de ahorita cuando al verlas expuestas quise llevármelas a mi cuarto porque no vayan a pesar que las puse ahí a propósito para que las vieran, porque no vayan a pensar que soy una fácil por dejar mis calzones afuera, porque no vayan a juzgarme al verlas y pienso en la chingadera que es que diez años después de haber pisado por primera vez un Victoria’s Secret todavía me da ganas de tirar la bolsa y esconderlas aunque nada de esto debería ser un secreto y yo no debería chivearme al pensar en que han visto mis calzones porque en realidad a nadie debería importarle lo que hago con ellos, porque a mí tampoco debería importarme lo que piense toda la gente que sale y entra de mi baño en una fiesta y mientras más los veo menos sé qué hacer con ellos, así que mejor jalo la cadena, me lavo las manos y trato de decidir si quiero sentir la pesadez de los ojos de todos en la mente mientras pretendo que en realidad no me importa, pero es que entre las contradicciones que tengo como mujer siempre elijo pretender que podría ir al baño sin checar dos veces mi maquillaje, ni acomodarme el cabello alaciado que se va enchinando, ni pensar en el dolor de pies porque usé tacones incómodos, ni tener dudas sobre la ropa interior colgada en la puerta, me gusta pretender que puedo entrar, pensar en la última conversación que tuve, sin darle vueltas infinitas a los pequeños detalles de ser mujer y ser vista y verme y las confusiones a las que me lleva considerar todo esto, podría entrar y salir en un par de minutos no como ahorita que alguien ya toca la puerta. ¿Será que ya llevo demasiado tiempo aquí dentro?

 

Andrea Chapela is the author of Vâudïz (Ediciones Urano, 2008-2015), Grados de miopía (Tierra Adentro, 2019), Un año de servicio a la habitación (UDG, 2019) and Ansibles, perfiladores y otras máquinas de ingenio (Almadía, 2020). She has been awarded a Jóvenes Creadores fellowship by FONCA twice (2016, 2019). She won the Gilberto Owen National Literature Prize for a short story collection in 2018, the José Luis Martínez National Literature prize for young essayist in 2019, and the Juan José Arreola National Short Story Prize in 2019. In 2021, she was chosen as one of Granta‘s 25 Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists.

Allana C. Noyes is a literary translator from Reno, Nevada. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and in 2015 was granted a Fulbright to Mexico. In 2018, she was awarded the World Literature Today Translation Prize in Poetry, and in 2020 was selected for the emerging translator fellowship at the Banff Centre Residency program. Her translations have been published or are forthcoming in Tiny Nightmares (Catapult, 2020), The Washington Square Review, The Offing, and elsewhere. She can be found at allananoyes.com.

Translation: Victoria’s Secret

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