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From the Spring 2023 issue of The Massachusetts Review. Translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Diteman and Shanta Lee.

The nanny Fidelia Córdoba kept her rhythm in her tetas. She’d been born on the banks of the River Sipí and she had bulging tetas, small and round like a pair of corozos, with retractile nipples that also had a sense of direction. They were all at once compass–sextant–weather vane–plumb line–astrolabe quadrant–point you left point you right, or wherever you needed to go but never get you lost kinda nipples. The nipples on the tetas of the nanny Fidelia pointed north and south, east and west, up and down, inward and outward. The nipples on the tetas of the nanny Fidelia were the navigator, the pathfinder, the salvation of all those who lost their way. The nipples on the tetas of the nanny Fidelia moved like a fish in water.

Once there was a riverboat ride, clear throats singing, “un potro que aguabajo venga” as the boat traveled up the River Atrato. The river water splashed our faces, the droplets like needles pricking the skin. The sun, which had been scorching, scorned our embrace then hid behind the riverbank. “Al oscuro metí la mano,” someone sang. The boat stopped in the middle of the night, in the middle of the River Atrato. The motor was dead as a doornail. We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know where we were. First we were enveloped in silence, then that gave way to worry, which pretty soon erupted into despair. Everybody started talking at once. Fear was the only thing glowing in the now-dark night.

As usual, the downpour wasn’t long in coming. It was then that the compass–sextant–weather vane–plumb line–astrolabe quadrant–point you left point you right nipples on the tetas of the nanny Fidelia found their element in the water. The rosy nubs that were the nipples of the tetas of the nanny Fidelia began pointing in one direction. In the darkness, in the middle of the River Atrato, everyone who could row began rowing that way. A long time passed. Nobody knew how long. The boat knocked into the riverbank of a dark village. The bank was called Lloró.

Overwhelmed by emotion, we all surged off the boat. No one knew what kinda plumb lineastrolabecompass had brought them to land. Only the nanny Fidelia, who thanked first her left nipple then her right with a big smile. Her white teeth were the last thing to be seen in the deep darkness.

Another day, the River Sipí rose up. A pot of tapao, cooking on an improvised grill fanned with woven pepenas, was the first thing it swept away. Then some water bottles chilling in the river. Then a washboard on which a woman had been scrubbing laundry after rubbing it abundantly with a ball of soap. Then the ball of soap. It left everyone stranded on a tiny sliver of riverbank, their backs pressed against high rocky cliffs and their fronts exposed to a river that was swelling and swelling by the second, giving no time for nothing but surprise. They all realized at once that the river had played them dirty.

A compass started spinning, the nipples on the tetas of the nanny Fidelia. The retractile left nipple settled on a ford in the river, a rhythmically burbling ford which was then swiftly crossed by all the people trapped by the swelling River Sipí, to reach the exuberance of a jungle which offered itself, overwhelming but safe.

The last one to reach the other side was the nanny Fidelia, who cast a grateful glance first at her left nipple then at her right.

It was like having been reborn in another rhythm: the rhythm of the nipples on the tetas of the nanny Fidelia.

But then the nanny Fidelia fell in love, vehemently, forcefully, and uneasily. She let herself go, get got, caught, and sprung. That was how she lost her sense of direction.

His name was Katol Landó. He was white and much older than Fidelia Córdoba in years, but not only in years, also in trickery. He convinced her he loved her. He brought her to live by the seaside, where he collected packages that somnambulant airplanes dropped at a predetermined location deep in the middle of the night. The right nipple, the left nipple pointed directly to the location of the drop. Her nimble nipples never led her astray.

He never told her what her nipples were detecting. Fidelia went on forever blinded by love. Her body was brought out to find packages dropped from planes into the sea, neither her nor her nipples ever knowing what was in them. One of those dark, moonless nights, Fidelia went out, working the rhythm of her nipples for Katol, and never returned. No one knew whether the sea swallowed them all up: Fidelia, her nipples, the boat, Katol.

It was hard to believe, with the keen sense of direction Fidelia derived from the left nipple of her left teta and the right nipple of her right teta, that she lost her way at sea. For all its immensity and depth, the sea did not have, never had, and never will have its rhythm in a pair of turgid tetas the size of two corozos.

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August 2023

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