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issue 20: september - october 2000 

Version in french | author's bio

The Tale of How Iguana Got Her Wrinkles
Or The True Tale of El Dorado
NudeBy Robert Antoni

for Janine Antoni


 Ayeeyosmío! You want me to give you this nasty story? Well you best push up close here beside me so I don't have to talk too loud. Even though at ninety-six years of age I can't make so much more noise anyway, and worse still since I lost the teeth. Because when the man carried them the other day with me bawling thief! thief! behind him, he only continued climbing through the window smiling he big horsesmile at me with my own teeth in he mouth, and me there with my gums and my lips flapping, and nothing more than the soft thufft! thufft! like a fart coming out my mouth. Sweet heart of Jesus! So I don't have my jewels no more - that is how I used to call the teeth -and when I try to talk up loud everything comes out in a jumble beneath the shower, but Johnny, it would take plenty more than that to shut me up. And we got to be careful just the same, even if we don't talk no louder than a whisper. Because if you mummy only hears me telling you this nasty story - particular when I reach to the main part that concerns, of course, the pussy of this younggirl - she will put us both out the house before we can catch we breath. That is one word to grate up against she ears in truth, that every time I am giving a joke or telling a story and I forget myself and let it escape, you poor mummy gets that look on she face red red like she's trying to make a caca with a corcho inside she culo! You daddy too, never mind when he was a youngboy this one was he favorite of all my stories. You daddy, and he wicked brothers, and all they badjohnboyfriends begging me again and again please to give them the story of the old iguana - even though it was the younggirl's pussy they wanted to hear about, and not that old wrinkled up iguana a-tall - because of course, there ain't nothing in the world to excite the blood of the youngboys more than that.
      Well then, it happened in the old old time, this story. Back in the very beginning, when the first of those explorers from Spain and England arrived in this Caribbean, and the only people they found here living happy and peaceful enough were Amerindians, Caribs and Arawacks and Warrahoons and such. The explorers came as you know youself, searching out the famous El Dorado, Sir Walter Raleigh leading the English, and Fernando de Berrío the Spanish. Sir Walter was the tall, handsome Captain dressed fancy in he jacket of red velvet and he pantaloons, he white shirt with the collar of ruffles shoved up against he chin. Always reciting he love poetry, even at the moment of he brutal attacks. And de Berrío was the short, funny-looking fellow with he little round paunch - he tin costume creaking from the caballeros of the century before - with he little legs shaped in a bow from all those years riding on a horse. Always disappearing down in he cabin in the middle of he fierce battles, plagued either by seasickness, or he frequent diarrhoea. So those were the two who came with they fleets of ships, and of course it was we misfortune to get Fernando de Berrío, the Captain from Spain, because he was the one who decided that this El Dorado they were both looking for so crazy, was hidden somewhere right here on this island of Corpus Christi. Sir Walter made up he mind it was somewhere else - up the river Orinoco in what we now call Venezuela - or hidden somewhere along the coast of what we now know as Guyana.
      But Johnny, the truth is that these two spent as much time watching each other, as they did searching out the gold. Each was afraid the other would find it first, so every time they heard a rumour or got a premonition that the other one was close, they would go straight away and ransack him. This would mean he would have to recover heself - and repair he ships and send to England or Spain for more soldiers so he could start he expedition all over again - but of course, before he could begin again he had to retaliate and attack the other. Back and forth and back and forth so many times that it's not surprising they never did find the gold, even after all those years, even if there was any gold to find here a4all. Johnny, the truth is that all this El Dorado business wasn't nothing more than the fantasy of everybody's imagination. Growing bigger and bigger all the time, otherwise it could never have sent them so vie-kee-vie as it did.
      Because not only didn't they know where was this El Dorado, they didn't know what it was neither. Some said how it was the long lost city of those Chibchas - another of the ancient Amerindian tribes - with the houses and the furnitures made solid from silver, all adorned in diamonds, and rubies, and every kind of jewel that you could name, and the streets paved only in gold. Some said how it was the mausoleum of a great Arawack king, or the emperor of those Incas from Peru, hidden high in the mountains. Others said that it was not the creation of a man, but some marvel of the earth itself. A river in the forest overflowing with water that was molten gold, or a lake, or the famous fountain of youth. And if you bathed youself in that golden water it could cure all you diseases - particular syphilis and the rest of that nastiness they brought with them from Europe that had they toe-tees turning green, and rotting off, and all those poor Amerindians dropping down like flies - that fountain of youth that could cure all you diseases, and you could live happy forever. Others said that it was a secret fruit, or flower, and if you ate some you shit would come out in shining bars. Others said how this fruit was the very same one out the Bible, and when you ate it the bar would appear instant in front - blossoming out to burst open you zipper - tall and permanent like a golden obelisk almost to touch you nose. And Johnny, with that standpipe standing up like that and all those beautiful Amerindian slavegirls, you could live happy forever too! They just didn't know. And the more they talked about it and ransacked each other the more excited they became, and the more frustrated, until after a time they'd work theyselves up into a frenzy to find this El Dorado. Only beating the Indians and torturing them and dragging them from one place to the next to show them the secret or tell them in a language they couldn't even understand - wherever or whatever it was - with the poor Indians the most confuffled of all.
      So it was this same Fernando de Berrío, as I was saying, who arrived here in Corpus Christi with he fleet of ships, and he built the first houses - the jail and the church and the palace for the governor - the first settlement of Europeans here on the island. They were mostly Spanish. But some of them were also French, Portugee and Italian and whoever else wanted to come - anybody but English - and the name of this settlement was Demerara. The very same settlement that years later came to be called St Mary, and still later St Maggy. But it was named Demerara first for the crystals of sugar they would send back on the ships to Europe. That way the ships could return loaded with salted hams, Spanish wine and French champagne, Edam cheeses from Holland like cannonballs in they skins of red wax, clothes and books and guns and whatever else they needed. After a time, though, they began to say how those same yellow-brown crystals of Demerara sugar was the very El Dorado they were looking for, because after they sold it off, those ships were returning to Corpus Christi loaded down mostly with gold. But Johnny, the true El Dorado in all that sugar commerce wasn't those demerara crystals a-tall. It was the same yellow-brown Amerindians the Europeans put as slaves to clear the ground and grow the cane and make the sugar, and they beat them so much and worked them so hard, they were killing them off as quick as they could make they-selves a fortune.
      Of course, the main reason for all that sugar was to finance the explorations of Fernando de Berrío. But before he could leave de Berrío had to put somebody in charge of Demerara. For this reason he sent to Spain for he partner in the sugar tradings, Don Antonio Sedeño, to pick up heself and come to Corpus Christi straight away. De Berrío wrote a letter at the same time to the King of Spain - because of course at this time Corpus Christi and all these islands belonged to the Spanish crown - that the King could name Don Antonio the first governor of the island. So it happened, and if you look in you history book you will see how it is true, that Don Antonio Sedeño was the first governor of Corpus Christi.


So now at last de Berrío could gather up he soldiers and he ships and leave on he first expedition. Because they had to make those expeditions by sea and not by land - an unfortunate thing for de Berrío, considering especially he seasickness and persistent ricewater-stools - as that jungle was too thick and dangerous with poisonous snakes for them to penetrate. That first expedition de Berrío intended to study the pitchlake at La Brea in the south of the island, and search the length of the coast beside it. Because de Berrío had read long before in the logs of Columbus how he went there to collect tar to stop-up holes in the bottoms of he ships. And Columbus wrote how that pitchlake was a marvel of nature that nobody never saw nothing like it before, 'not even the dancing troubadour-donkey from Seville!' so maybe the earth could have made the natural marvel of that golden lake somewhere beside it too?
      But no sooner did de Berrío raise he sails when Sir Walter Raleigh, as was he habit, came straight away to ransack Demerara and burn the Church of San José de Irura flat to the ground. At the same time Sir Walter rescued those five little Amerindian kings de Berrío had chained together in the jail. Wannawanari, Tanoopanami, Maquarami, Atrimi and Caroni - that the hardest thing for me about telling this story is trying to pronounce those names - the five of them standing there naked, and trembling, they backsides pressed curious against the wall. Until Sir Walter turned them each slowly around, and he discovered they bamsees singed from the torture of those burning pokers and boiling pigfat.
      That was the year of 1595. So de Berrío had to change he course and come straight back before he could begin he explorations, and he had to build back everything that Raleigh destroyed. But this time he built a big wall going right around Demerara, and the big fortress up above the harbour shooting off plenty cannons, and this time too, when he set sail on he expedition at last, he left half he soldiers there with Don Antonio. Of course, before he could begin he expedition again he had to sail all the way up the river Orinoco. Because first he was obliged to ransack Raleigh and take back he five little Amerindian kings, each dressed up now in they own frilly white shirt with the sleeves reaching down past they knees, a pair of red velvet pantaloons dragging around they ankles.
      And now at last Don Antonio could send to Spain for he wife and he two daughters, because he had to leave them behind when he came running to Corpus Christi in such a hurry. He wife was a very stern and pious woman. So pious she used to shave she head bald like a nun, and she pledged sheself to dress only in black - this was the sign that she was mourning the death of she husband in advance - and she name was Doña
      María Penitencia.
With the two daughters called María Dolores and María Consuelo. Three Marías, and just as you would expect from names like these, the three of them were only for the Church. María Dolores and María Consuelo were the two doting acolytes of the old Archbishop, assisting him to prepare the altar and light the incense and fill the silver bowl with communion breads for all the Masses. Attending him the whole day long to put on and take off and put on again all he vestments. Because in addition to he several complete outfits for each of the Masses, he had another special green costume only to walk the garden, and a white one only for he midday meditation - a yellow one to greet the sick and a red one for the poor - and another complete brown costume with hat and cape and tall leather cowboy boots, only to stoop behind the bush when he received the calling. With the mother, María Penitencia she-self, sewing out with she own hand he long robe of purple silk for him to hear the penance, forty-two mother-of-pearl buttons going from beneath he chin all the way down to he toes! And, of course, those three Marías could never come to this place of heathens in the savage Caribbean, without bringing with them they old Archbishop.


They arrived to find Don Antonio still fast asleep for he afternoon siesta, and when they tiptoed quiet inside to lift the sheet and take a peek, there sleeping beside him in all she natural beauty, naked as the day she was born, was he little Amerindian slavegirl. So the first job for this Archbishop now that he had reached the New World - soon as they could bring he big trunk from off the ship - was to dress heself in he special costume for excising Caribbean devils, and pray over the head of Don Antonio. Now the two Marías could assist him to change he outfit to the one of purple silk, and they gave him a chalice of wine to satisfy he thirst. Now the Archbishop could take from out he trunk the instrument they called the 'cat-of-the-nine-tales', and he delivered one hundred hot lashes to the little slavegirl. Poor child could scarce stand by the time he finished. But now at least María Penitencia was satisfied enough, ready to let loose the child that she could return to she family in the forest. Because in truth this little slavegirl was a princess very precious to she own Arawack people - the daughter of that same Wannawanari King that de Berrío had locked up in the jail - with she royal family waiting anxious for her on the other side of the island.
      They would have let her return home to she royal family too, if it wasn't for one thing already obvious for all of them to see, that this little slavegirl was pregnant with the child of Don Antonio. So they couldn't send her home straight away. Instead, they locked her up in the cell downstairs in the basement, with María Dolores and María Consuelo bringing her she food every morning, nothing but a piece of Johnny cake and a glass of coconut water. But Don Antonio had a kind heart and late each night he would tiptoe down the stairs to bring the child something proper to eat. Of course, most nights Don Antonio would get carried away with heself, and the two Marías would discover him early the next morning still consoling he little slavegirl, there struggling beneath him in she hammock tied in the corner.
      The baby was born premature. A tiny creature with transparent skin and all the branches of blue veins showing, shiny red eyes like those of a salamander, and it didn't have no eyebrows nor lashes nor nails at the ends of its fingers and toes, only tiny cups like the suckers of a frog. But this little slavegirl loved she baby just the same. Cooing and talking to it soft and gentle in the language none of them could understand, and she wouldn't let she little salamander out from she hands for even a second. In truth, she would have remained happy enough locked up there in she cell for the rest of she days, before she lost that child. But they took it away from her just the same. And they called in two big soldiers to knock her down and beat her and bind she hands and feet, and they carried her off still struggling inside the banana peel of she little hammock, back to she family in the forest.
      It was those two Marías who raised up this child, because every time they gave it to they mother to hold, María Penitencia, she only wanted to pelt it out the window. The Marías used to keep it in a shoebox in the corner of they room, some dry grass sprinkled at the bottom. And they tried to feed it every kind of fly and mosquito and spider that they could find - until they discovered the only one thing this little salamander liked to eat - and that was the green green dasheen leaves growing beneath a full moon beside the river, soft and wet with dew. So very early every morning the two Marías would get up faithful to go and collect them. It was a little girl, and the Marías called her by the same name as she mummy, Iwana, which in the language of the Arawacks means 'iguana'. And when she began to crawl the two Marías would carry her out in the yard every afternoon, each taking they turn to walk behind her, attached to a long string tied around she neck. Until one afternoon when Iwana got loose and took off ruining up the tall poinciana tree, she legs and arms turning at she sides like the blades of an airplane - which is just the way iguanas run if you've ever see them - and she remained up in that tree for three days. Until the two Marías attended the old Archbishop to dress in he green costume for walking the garden, and he climbed up in the poinciana heself to bring her down.
      The Marías continued to feed her the soft dasheen leaves every day, and Iwana continued to grow, that after a time nobody didn't take hardly no notice of her inside the house. Scrambling between they legs each time they came through the door, and climbing up to sit draped like a scarf around they necks, or curled comfortable in they laps every evening beneath the dinner table. Sometimes they would realize all in a sudden that nobody had seen little Iwana the whole week - with everybody taking off crazy to search in all the drawers, and the cupboards, and beneath the beds - because they were all afraid María Penitencia would stumble across her first. Like the time Iwana crawled down in the drain of the kitchen sink, and María Penitencia opened the pipe full and almost drowned her.
      But in time even she seemed to grow accustomed to Iwana's presence in the house. Before they could turn around she'd grown up into a little girl and just as you would expect from a tale like this - despite that Iwana was born such an ugly baby -she grew into the most beautiful younggirl Demerara had ever seen. Because don't forget that this Iwana, like she mummy before her, was a princess of royal Arawack blood. In addition to being the very first child of the New World to come out half-Spanish and haff-Amerindian, and as always happens with mixtures like that she took the best features from both. Tall and slim with golden skin and green almond eyes, she long dark hair reaching all the way down she back. And Johnny, every bit as beautiful as this child's looks were she gentle ways, calm and quiet and so graceful - that every time she passed you in the street hurrying back and forth between the governor's palace and that church - you couldn't help but feel a pang of pity. Because just as you would suppose too from a tale like this, the more beautiful and kind was this Iwana, the more cruel those two Marías treated her, and they mother, María Penitencia.
      They put her to clean the palace and cook the food and wash all the clothes, not only those of the household, but now Iwana must wash and iron and attend to the old Archbishop for all he endless vestments too. Rising at the crack of dawn to grind the coffee and put it to boil, squeeze the oranges and bake the magdalenas for breakfast. Then she must heat the water with aromatic leaves for the bath of María Penitencia, sponging down she broad shoulders, she shiny coconut-head. Then Iwana must prepare the baths for the two daughters, washing and drying and combing out they hair, before she could attend them to dress theyselves. Then - before she could even have a chance to catch she breath - she must take off running across the square to attend the old Archbishop, that by the time those three Marías arrived he could begin the six o'clock Mass. So on and so forth the whole day long, until at last Iwana could descend the stairs to she little room in the basement, followed close behind by María Penitencia, the big key in she hand to lock her up inside. Because of course, that was the only way to keep out Don Antonio. And by the time Iwana lay sheself at last in she little hammock in the corner, and she closed she eyes to drop quiet asleep, María Penitencia was there already at the door unlocking it to let her out.


Now the time arrived for Don Antonio to look for suitable husbands to marry off the two Marías. By now, of course, Demerara was a busy town well known in Europe, and attracting plenty youngmen to come to the Caribbean and make they-selves a fortune. On top of that Fernando de Berrío was convinced that any day soon he would find he El Dorado, and when that happened, of course, everybody would have more gold than they could dream. But in truth the majority of these youngmen coming to Demerara didn't have so much of pedigree and high breeding, but they were only wadjanks and bad-johns looking to get theyselves rich. Prisoners that escaped the jail, and thieves, and every kind of scoundrel that you could imagine, that in truth none of those youngmen were suitable for the daughters of Don Antonio a-tall. There was only one, and he was the young French doctor who arrived in Corpus Christi from he city of Marseille. Only boasting about how he was the last of a long long line of Compts, and Bis-Compts, Barons and every kind of thing - and people used to go to hear him recite the names without interruption for three hours at a stretch - tracing he blueblood all the way back to Charlemagne the Great! He full name was Dr Jewels Derrière-Cri de Plus-Bourbon. But people used to call him Dr Jewels. So Don Antonio proclaimed that whichever one of the two Marías Dr Jewels chose would go with half he estate, and the other could return to Spain and marry sheself off to the convent.
      So for a period of several months Dr Jewels would come every evening to take he dinner at the palace of Don Antonio. But Dr Jewels was famous in Corpus Christi for another thing besides he name, and that was he peculiar culinary habits. You see, the only thing he blueblood would allow him to drink was French champagne - that would be obvious enough - and the only dish he palate could tolerate was the legs of a frog, sauteed soft in butter. Of course, nobody had never even thought of eating those crapolegs before, that people said was surely food for the devil. And it was several evenings before the three Marías and Don Antonio could sit at the same table, watching Dr Jewels nibbling careful at them like little twigs, and not run in the yard quick quick to vomit up they own dinner. He would eat them one by one for hours at a stretch - the big red-and-white checkered kerchief tied like the bib of an infant around he neck - he eyes closed tight in complete ecstasy, he fingers and he waxed moustaches dripping with butter. But this vision of Dr Jewels at table was not even the worst thing about all these crapolegs, which of course would require a great quantity piled on the plate as tall as he nose to satisfy this Dr Jewels. The worst thing was that now, in addition to all she many other labours in the palace, now Iwana must spend several hours a day at that stinking Maraval Swamp, wading through the mud high as she waist, chasing behind all this multitude of jumping crapos. Then she must take out the froglegs and sautee them soft in the butter every evening, that every evening they could be ready in time for the dinner of this Dr Jewels.
      After dinner he would take he snifter of cognac and smoke he cigar with Don Antonio. Then he would choose one of the two Marías - Dolores or Consuelo - and they would go and sit together on the back gallery, gazing up at the big moon floating above a glittering sea. Holding hands and reciting poems and professing they love to eachother - all the things that young-people did when they went courting - with of course, María Penitencia the chaperone always there beside them. Some evenings Dr Jewels would go for a walk along the wharf with María Dolores, or he would stroll through a sleeping Demerara arm-in-arm with María Consuelo, with of course, María Penitencia stumbling in the dark a few steps behind.


Soon the day arrived for Dr Jewels to announce he decision. So Don Antonio made a big fête in the palace to celebrate this event and he invited all the important people of Demerara, including Fernando de Berrío heself. Because he had the ill-fortune to be in port at this same time, furnishing he fleet with fresh supplies. Early that Saturday morning the seamstress brought the gowns for the three Marías, white lace for María Consuelo and red for María Dolores, and of course, black for the gown and the big wide-brimmed hat of María Penitencia. With the three of them fussing the whole day long to get they-selves ready - the two daughters scurrying back and forth in the palace, each bubbling with excitement sheself - each convinced that she would be the choice of the young Dr Jewels. María Consuelo swore that in the moment of she passion one evening of sweltering poetry, the eloquent Dr Jewels - even with he mouth full - had pledged heself to her. And María Dolores proclaimed that just at she climax of he serenade one slippery and passionate night - poor Dr Jewels with he tongue in tatters - had promised heself forever to her. With Iwana running behind them both from the dawn of morning, bathing them and combing out they hair and attending them to dress in they magnificent gowns, and of course, she must prepare all the food for this big banquet tonight too.
      Well those guests consumed a galleon-load of French champagne before the food could even reach the tables. And after they ate they first and second and they third courses - and then Iwana brought in the main course which, for Dr Jewels, was nothing more than he plate of froglegs piled up as tall as he nose - of course, the rest of those guests had to run in the yard quick quick to vomit up they own previous three courses. But after all that confusion, and revelry, and so on and so forth -when they could no longer sustain they suspense and everybody began to beat they spoons against they champagne glasses - at last Dr Jewels arose to ascend to the podium and announce he decision. But at that precise moment all they heard was the big explosion of cannons firing, everybody burying theyselves beneath the tables. Because of course, when Sir Walter heard the rumour that de Berrío was returning home to port for this big fête, he decided it could only mean they were celebrating he discovery of El Dorado at last. So of course he had to come straight away with he own fleet of ships, and launch another of he attacks on unsuspecting Demerara. He waited until the fête was in full swing, with all those soldiers so borracho they could hardly stand, and he fired off he cannons all together. But Sir Walter realized soon enough that de Berrío didn't find a fart again as usual - and the only treasure he could think in he moment of frustration to run off with was those two prize daughters of Don Antonio - both they magnificent gowns ruined with the stains of squids simmering in they own ink, both trembling with fear beneath the table.
      So now de Berrío had to jump up quick and take off in he fleet chasing behind Raleigh, all the way up the Orinoco again, and attack him and take back the two prize Marías. Of course, now there was the same great preoccupation weighing down on everybody's mind, particular Don Antonio's and Doña Penitencia's. Because nobody really believed what they said about those English sailors, even after the evidence to document the proof. That it didn't have nothing to do with all they boasting about honour - all they feathers, and flowery gestures, and all they schoolgirl manners - because every single Englishman is a fairyboy in truth.
      It was Dr Jewels heself who performed those inspections. Utilizing the probe of he own educated little finger, with all Demerara waiting anxious outside the palace to hear the results. And before long he appeared gallant on the balcony to drape he kerchief over the rail - not the checkered one, but a special white kerchief this time - and then he retrieved the kerchief to repeat heself draping it over the rail a second time, the whole crowd bursting forth spontaneous in a great uproar. Because of course, this was the signal obvious enough for everybody to understand, that both those Marías still possessed they virtues untouched. Except of course by the Doctor's own little finger.
      Don Antonio was so pleased he declared a festival to last for three days and nights. Everybody singing, and dancing, and drinking rum in the streets - that many people say how this is the true origin of modern day carnival - and when at last they were all exhausted, and stale-drunk, all with they voices hoarse from so much bacchanal, they dragged theyselves once again to assemble beneath the balcony of Don Antonio. Now Dr Jewels appeared again to announce he decision everybody was waiting in suspense for so long to hear, which of those two Marías he would choose for he wife, and which would return to Spain to bury sheself in the convent? But no sooner could he open he mouth when a next spontaneous uproar arose from the crowd - this time of cursing, and beating they fists in the air, and pelting rotten fruit - because what Dr Jewels answered, in all he youthful innocence, was that he didn't understand the question.
      You see, just like all those sophisticated young Frenchmen of polish, and education, and plenty pretensions during that era, this Dr Jewels was a Socialist. That means of course he was an atheist too - and he didn't believe in Papa God, nor Pope nor King nor nothing else at all besides the power of money so how could he possibly marry heself to a Roman Catholic like either of those two Marías? Dr Jewels said, just as you are expecting, that if Don Antonio still wanted him for he son-in-law, then the only way was for him to marry he youngest daughter, who was none other than the Princess Iwana. Because even though from a little girl Iwana had spent all she time in the church, running behind the old Archbishop, it never occurred to none of them even to pelt a little holywater and a pinch of salt over she head to baptize her. So before Don Antonio and Doña Penitencia could have a chance to think how they could get theyselves out from this pepperpot they'd found theyselves swimming in all of a sudden, the crowd let loose another spontaneous explosion of cheering this time. And just like true blue Caribbean people, they took off for another three days of carnival and bacchanal in the streets. Leaving Don Antonio and those three Marías standing there on the balcony, all cross-eyed with they mouths hanging wide open like if they were a family of lizards now catching flies.


So first thing Dr Jewels had to build a house adequate for heself and Iwana to live in, and he built the biggest one, on the highest point of the whole island. It was a castle bigger than Sandlord's own, bigger even than the palace of Don Antonio. With walls that were five feet thick of solid coral blocks, and it had more than a hundred rooms, each with a window looking out over the sea. And the bedroom of Dr Jewels had its own fireplace - a big bed with the canopy above, and a bathtub with the golden feet of a lion below - and hidden behind the bookcase in the library was a secret door. That door opened to a narrow hallway with a deep dark hole at the end, like a waterwell without the water, and a long ladder to climb down inside. Then a tunnel to crawl on hands and knees all the way beneath the foundations of the castle, then a stone staircase winding around and around climbing higher and higher, until you reached to the highest point of the roof. Then there was a next door of rusty iron bars and a big rusty padlock, and of course, beyond this second door was the tower of this castle. It was open to the open air, only a piece of thatched roof in the corner, and beneath the roof was the bed. Only a little bed with a prickly coconut-fibre mattress, and attached to one leg of the bed was a long rusty chain. At the other end of this chain - with a next padlock and a rusty neck-clamp clasping secure around she neck - was of course Iwana, sitting naked on the little bed. But Iwana was happier living in the tower of that castle than she had been in all she life!
      Now she didn't have that household of Don Antonio to take care of, with those three Marías and the old Archbishop to run behind from dawn of morning until late into the night. Now she didn't have she cold dark cell in the basement to sleep the stingy few minutes Doña Penitencia would allow her at the end of she wretched days. Because in truth, there wasn't nothing in the world Iwana loved to do better than sleep! Now she would crawl out from under she piece of thatched roof to stretch sheself lazy beneath the sun, she skin a glittering gold, eyes half-closed beneath she thick dreamy lids. The whole day long, not even a worry in the world! And she never felt lonely nor hungry neither, because from that first day in the tower iguana came to visit her.
      Understand, there beside this castle was the tallest and oldest tree on the whole island. And Johnny, this ain't no beanstalk we're talking about! This one was a giant kapok tree, the royal silk cotton, with the tallest of its branches hanging just above the piece of thatched roof. Iguana - who was the only creature on Papa God's earth able to climb so high -iguana would drop from out the tree to land safe with a thwack on the thatched roof, and she would go to visit with Iwana. That first morning iguana happened to be chewing the last piece of a soft green dasheen leaf, she favourite food, and of course, Iwana's eyes lit up straight away. She hadn't seen a tender dasheen leaf like that since she was a little girl. That same night was a fullmoon night and early the following morning iguana brought her a big bundle of leaves tied together with twine. With the two of them chewing happy together the whole day long - pausing every now and again only to stretch out side-by-side for a nap beneath the sun - both they eyes halfclosed beneath they dreamy lids. Until late one afternoon, with the sun sinking slow in the glittering sea beneath a crimson sky, when they were startled awake by the rattling of Dr Jewels in the padlock.
      Iguana didn't have no choice, and neither did Iwana. There wasn't even time to scramble beneath the bed and hide sheself. Because of course, like everybody else on the island, iguana had long ago heard about the peculiar palate of this Dr Jewels. And Johnny, the tail of an iguana doesn't taste so different from the legs of a crapo at all! In the space of a breath Iwana had stretched out one of she long golden legs toward iguana, and iguana scrambled up quick along it disappearing sudden inside!
      But as much as everybody on the island knew about the unusual culinary habits of this French doctor, nobody had never heard nothing before about he peculiar palate for sex. And that was a fortunate thing for both iguana and Iwana. Because if he did he business normal like everybody else as you would expect Dr Jewels would have discovered iguana hiding inside Iwana straight away. But Johnny, in order to partake of he particular kind of pleasure, Dr Jewels didn't even need to take off he clothes. On the contrary, he dressed heself up in more clothes, if you consider the big red-and-white checkered kerchief he took out from he back pocket and he fled it up like the bib of an infant around he neck. Now Dr Jewels took hold of the rusty chain attached to the neck-clamp around Iwana's neck, and he led her over to the little bed. But he didn't do it rough, nor brute, nor in any way cruel! Because the truth is that despite that rusty chain - despite the padlock and neck-clamp and all the rest - this Dr Jewels always handled Iwana like if she was a china doll. Like if she was a fragile little bird, and he put her to sit gentle on the bed, she backresting cool against the coral wall. Now Dr Jewels opened up she legs. He went down on he knees beside the bed as if he was no longer the socialist-atheist a-tall, but he was a better Catholic than all of us, only preparing heself to say he evening prayers. As if he was sitting at table before he cherished plate of froglegs sauteed soft in butter - and he smoothed back he stiff moustaches with he eyes closed tight in complete ecstasy just the same - Dr Jewels bent over careful beneath Iwana for he evening feast.
      Papa-yo! What Dr Jewels tasted, of course, was not Iwana, but iguana, hiding sheself inside Iwana. And of course, he'd never tasted a pussy so sweet as that in all he life! Because this Dr Jewels, due to he medical profession, had the opportunity to study a great variety. And he'd sampled every thinkable flavour and nationality, from French Bordeau, to Italian oregano, to English pussies doused in they double cream. Hindu palori pussies, German pussies boiled in beer, and Portugee cavinadash pussies pickled in garlic. This Dr Jewels had the opportunity to sample Chinee sideways pussies, Singapore squinty-eye ones - even the incense-smoking Catholic pussies of those two Marías - since this particular preference of Dr Jewels was the only unperilous kind of sex condoned by the Church. But Johnny, he had never before tasted nothing like Iwana, who in truth was iguana.


And so every evening it was just the same. Soon as the sun began to sink beneath the sea, and iguana and Iwana heard the rattling of Dr Jewels with he key in the gate. Iguana would scramble up she leg and hide sheself inside Iwana. And Dr Jewels would take out he red-and-white checkered bib from he back pocket and he would go down on he knees beside the bed for he evening feast. But Johnny, it is only fair to Dr Jewels to tell you that after a time, Iwana had learned to close she eyes just the same. After a time Iwana discovered she pleasures in those evening visits of Dr Jewels too. Until she could no longer tolerate the intensity of she own excitement and she would shove he head tender away. And Dr Jewels, always kind and respectful of Iwana, would wipe he whiskers and fold up he bib again straight away in he back pocket he would bow he head gallant before her, and he would hurry out the gate.
      Every evening it was just the same, as I was saying. And almost before Iwana could realize the years had passed. But hidden away like that high in the tower of this castle, Iwana could never know of the happenings of the world at she feet. Of course, iguana would keep her informed to a certain extent, and she brought her fresh news every morning. Of the most recent events m Demerara, of the latest attacks of Sir Walter on Fernandp de Berrío, of de Berrío 's retaliations on Sir Walter Raleigh. But there was one piece of news iguana could never find the heart to tell Iwana. It was news of she own Amerindian people, of she royal family at home, of the Arawacks, and Caribs, and Warrahoons. Of how all those Europeans were killing them off fast enough. Putting them as slaves to grow the cane and make the sugar - and tobacco, coffee, cocoa and all they crops - and they worked those gentle Amerindians and beat them with the cat-of-the-nine-tails until they dropped. Iguana could never find the heart to tell Iwana that in truth, all she royal family had perished long ago, and there wasn't a handful of she people still walking the earth. Because Johnny, already those Europeans were bringing shiploads of new slaves to this Caribbean. New ones to replace the perished Amerindians. These slaves came on ships from Africa. And iguana never told Iwana that even in the castle of Dr Jewels, there wasn't but a single Amerindian slave remaining. Now they all were Africans.
      Dr Jewels heself began to change, as if to coincide with all these changes of the world. By now this Dr Jewels had become a rickety oldman, frustrated with heself and he own feeble oldage. He no longer treated Iwana so kind, nor gentle, and Johnny, some of he activities during this period were too nasty to name. Iwana and iguana soon came to despise he visits each afternoon. Then, one afternoon with no warning a-tall, Dr Jew-
      els appeared in the tower accompanied by another. It was the first time in all those years he had not arrived alone. This time - attached to a next rusty chain with a next neck-clamp and padlock - Dr Jewels brought with him the new slaveboy he'd purchased that same morning in the market. And Johnny, when Iwana heard the rattling of Dr Jewels in the padlock that afternoon, and she opened she half-closed lids to see the creature standing there beside him, now she sat up straight away. Because Iwana had never seen a man so beautiful as him in all she life! Similar to Iwana, this young slaveboy was a prince from the royal family of he own Yoruba people. Tall and strong with rich purple skin and the grace of a panther moving beneath the trees, a gentle look on he face, and he name was Anaconda.
      Dr Jewels took out he red-and-white kerchief just the same. He went down on he knees at the bedside before Iwana, just as he did every evening. But this time he held in he hands the chain of Anaconda, standing there beside him with he head turned to look the other way. Because of course, he would never look at Iwana to shame her so. Never! And now - when Dr Jewels had satisfied heself and he folded up he kerchief again in he back pocket - now he didn't bow he head gallant to take he leave as usual. Johnny, now this wicked Dr Jewels wanted the additional pleasure of observing Anaconda, doing what he, in he feeble oldage, could never manage heself. He commanded Anaconda to strip heself naked. Anaconda obeyed. He order him to lay heself on the bed beside Iwana. And Anaconda lay heself down. Now Dr Jewels smiled wicked and he smoothed back he waxed moustaches, and he ordered Anaconda to kiss Iwana. First she mouth, and then she soft breasts. Anaconda obeyed. But quick as Dr Jewels could issue the next inhuman command - Iwana trembling with fear in Anaconda's strong arms, frightened for both sheself and iguana - Anaconda took pity, and he called up those special powers that he had brought with him across the sea from Africa.
      Johnny, just like all those Yoruba princes of royal African blood, Anaconda could change he shape at will to the very creature that bore he name. And in that same instant Iwana looked down to discover only the thick black snake squirming on the bed beside her. With Dr Jewels standing there astonished, nothing in he hands but the rusty chain and the empty neck-clamp! Quick as a breath Anaconda climbed up onto the piece of thatched roof above they heads, up onto the nearest branch of that kapok tree. Because despite the fact that Anaconda could never climb up a tree so tall, he could climb down easy enough! Dropping one branch to the next until he reached safe to the ground. And then - the most curious thing of all -Anaconda crawled straight into the waiting crocusssack of Dr Jewels. Because of course, Dr Jewels had hurried heself back down the stairs, and he was there waiting beneath the tree to hold Anaconda prisoner again.


It happened the same way every evening, time and time again. Anaconda taking he animal shape and sliding away at the last minute, with Dr Jewels hurrying down from the tower to capture him again - of he own volition - as soon as Anaconda could reach the ground. Until one evening when the sun was just disappearing beneath the glittering sea, the whole sky burning a bright crimson, and Anaconda could never resist the temptation to pause there on the branch a moment to take it in. Then he turned to watch Dr Jewels hurrying out the tower gate, rusty chain and neck-clamp dragging down the stairs behind him. And then - so strange a sight he had to blink he eyes twice before he could believe it - Anaconda watched iguana wriggle sheself out from inside Iwana. He shook he head, and he was just about to write it off as another one of those meaningless, magical events common enough in folktale-stories like this ready to drop down to the next branch and begin he descent again - when he happened to see something else to sadden he heart: the two of them were weeping. So now Anaconda dropped instead with a thwack back to the piece of roof, and he slid down the post again to question them why.
      They both answered together, Iwana and iguana, speaking both at the same time. And they told him, of course, that they were both in love with him. Each, of course, with the appropriate shape. Anaconda looked up at the crimson sky a moment and filled with sadness heself, he told them that he, too, was very much in love. To such extent that he was willing to surrender heself a prisoner to Dr Jewels every evening, only to enjoy the kisses of beautiful Iwana again. An impossible love! But just as soon as he said this a spark lit up in the depths of Anaconda's dark eyes. He smiled, and he told them both to dry they tears. 'Let me study me head good tonight' he said. 'And tomorrow evening, I going to tell you what we will do!' With that Anaconda slid up onto the thatched roof, he climbed up onto the nearest branch, and he began he descent down the great kapok. Down toward the ready crocusssack of Dr Jewels.
      The following evening Anaconda waited for Dr Jewels to take he leave as usual. Again he dropped with a thwack to the piece of roof, and he slid down toward Iwana and iguana, a smile shining on he face. 'Listen!' he told them both. 'What I going to do is take off my skin. And I want iguana to put it on. Tomorrow, when Dr Jewels comes to take he feast iguana must crawl up inside Iwana just the same. 'Then,' Anaconda said, smiling he knowing smile, 'we going to see what we will see!'
      And that was just what happened. Anaconda took off he long skin, and he slid away blushing like a little boy. But Anaconda's skin was a size many many times too long to fit iguana. She put it on just the same. And just as you would suppose too - all those ages and ages ago when the earth was young sheself - iguana was still a fresh younggirl. She skin as soft and smooth as a new zabuca-pear, golden and glistening without a blemish to the tip of she tail! But Johnny, by the time iguana finished dressing sheself in Anaconda's long skin, she didn't look like no springchicken a-tall. Now she looked like the oldest ramshackled creature on all Papa God's earth! Like a ratty old rastaman, he dreadlocks hanging down below he waist so many wrinkles did iguana have now around she neck, she belly and all about. So many wrinkles that she had to struggle and struggle to squeeze all that extra skin inside Iwana, the following afternoon when Dr Jewels arrived with Anaconda, he big key rattling inside the gate.
      After only a single sour taste of Anaconda, Dr Jewels opened he eyes wide wide for the first time ever during he evening feasts. He looked inside Iwana to see all those endless oldlady wrinkies, in that very pussy which only the previous day, he had tasted smooth, and sweet, fresh as a fresh younggirl! Dr Jewels jumped up in a rage straight away. He rushed to the wall of the tower to spit the sour taste over the side. And Johnny, then something happened that nobody could anticipate a-tall. Even me, and I have been telling this story for so many years. Now Dr Jewels turned around to see beautiful Iwana lying there on the bed, handsome Anaconda there at the bedside also - two of the most beautiful creatures ever to walk on Papa God's golden earth - and he saw for the first time the reality of those wretched chains around they necks. He contemplated for the first time the wretched state that was the world - which, in good measure, was he own doing - and without the least forewarning a-tall, Dr Jewels threw heself from the tower to he death down below.
      Just like that! The story was over already, before anybody was ready to see it finish. Because Johnny, the only thing remaining was for iguana to crawl out from inside Iwana, so Anaconda could make love to her for we tale to have its happy end. But then something else happened that neither of those three nor nobody else could have ever suspected. You see, when iguana wriggled sheself out from Iwana at last she couldn't help but leave half the wrinkled up skin inside. And when iguana tried to wriggle out sheself from all that wrinkled up skin she was wearing, she couldn't. All that skin had stuck - to Iwana and iguana - and so both of them remained with they wrinkles to this very day. It's true, that's the way they got them. And Johnny, when you grow older and you have thc opportunity to look for youself, you'll find all those wrinkles folded up inside just the same. Just as I am telling you. But don't worry, because Johnny, one more thing that I can tell you about iguanas too - despite all they wrinkles - is that both of them remained young and sweet sweet forever!
      This, of course, Anaconda knew as good as anybody else. So with the sun just disappearing beneath the glittering sea, all the sky above them painted a brilliant crimson, Iwana and Anaconda could make love to each other at last. And the next morning, Anaconda taught her the trick of how to change she shape. Iwana became iguana. Then Anaconda changed to he serpent self too, both of them climbing down from the giant kapok tree. They disappeared inside the forest where they have lived happy together to this very day. Only on occasion, when the moon is full with the scent of the forest green like the first day Papa God breathed life in the earth, do Anaconda and Iwana feel a longing to change they shape. Only on occasion do they surrender, and only to make love together like human beings.

© 2000 Robert Antoni

"The Tale of How Iguana Got Her Wrinkles Or The True Tale of El Dorado" appears in My Grandmother's Erotic Folktales (Faber and Faber, U.K. 2000). It will be published by Grove/Atlantic in the U.S. in April 2001.  This electronic version is published with kind permission of the author and the publishers.
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author bio
Robert Antoni
Robert Antoni was born in the United States in 1958, and he carries three passports: US, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Bahamas. His fictional world is the island of Corpus Christi, and to recreate it he draws upon his two hundred years of family history in Trinidad and Tobago, and his upbringing in the Bahamas. His first novel, Divina Trace, was published in 1991 by the Overlook Press in New York, and by Quartet in London. It received the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book, an NEA, James Michener and Orowitz fellowships. His second novel, Blessed is the Fruit, was published by Henry Holt in 1997, and in London by Faber & Faber as part of their Caribbean Series. Faber & Faber published a new collection, My Grandmother's Erotic Folktales, in June 2000, with a new edition of Divina Trace following in 2001. My Grandmother’s Erotic Folktales will be published in New York by Grove/Atlantic in April 2001, with the simultaneous publication of a French translation by Editions Du Rocher in Paris. His short fiction has appeared in Conjunctions, The Paris Review, Ploughshares and other periodicals, and it was included in the Editors Choice for 1985, and The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories in 1999. An excerpt from his new collection, "My Grandmother’s Tale of How Crab-o Lost His Head," was awarded the Paris Review’s Aga Khan prize for Fiction for 1999. He is the co-editor, with Bradford Morrow, of an anthology of Caribbean writing for Conjunctions: 27, titled Archipelago. He holds an MA from Johns Hopkins University, an MFA and a PhD from the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa. He is currently a Professor of creative writing and Caribbean literature at the University of Miami.  Besides Miami and the Caribbean, he spends several months a year in Barcelona, writing in the shadow of Christopher Columbus at the end of the Ramblas. He is married and the father of a three-year-old son, Gabriel, and a five-month-old daughter, Marina.            
navigation:      barcelona review #20 september - october 2000
Navigation for issue 23 below

George Saunders: Sea Oak
Anthony Bourdain: Bobby At Work
Robert Antoni: How Iguana Got Her Wrinkles...
Anne Donovan: Hieroglyphics
Yvonne Vera: excerpt from Butterfly Burning
Clayton Hansen: A Box for the Sand Country
Nuria Amat: excerpt from Intimacy


Carole Maso: Rupture, Verge, and Precipice...
Lawrence Norfolk: Being Translated...
Translators' Replies to Norfolk


John Ashbery: 3 Poems
Jonathan Monroe: 3 Poems

-Interview Carole Maso
-Article September and October in Barcelona

Harry Crews
Answers to last issue's Toni Morrison Quiz

-Regular Features Book Reviews
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navigation:    barcelona review 23           March - April 2001

Alasdair Gray: Big Pockets with Buttoned Flaps
Thomas Glave: Whose Song?
Mark Anthony Jarman: Cougar
Ryland Greene: The Compatibility Factor
Jai Clare: Ramblista

picks from back issues:
Matt Marinovich: Slide Show *new Flash version
Robert Antoni: How Iguana Got Her Wrinkles

-Article M.G. Smout: The Book, The writer, His Tools...

Ernest Hemingway
Answers to last issue's George Orwell Quiz

-Regular Features Book Reviews
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Home | Submission info | Spanish | Catalan | French | Audio | e-m@il www.BarcelonaReview.com