The first to go were my breasts. It must have happened gradually because I can't remember with any precision when it occurred. I only know that one day I looked in the mirror and they were no longer there. They had vanished completely, leaving slight pearly halos as a reminder that they had once existed.
I think it was Cecilia who ended up with them, because from the beginning, that seemed to be her privilege. She nursed until she was one and a half years old, she sucked a pacifier until she was four, and switching her from the bottle to a cup was a hard-won battle; I had to resort to all kinds of subterfuges. The others hardly questioned it. I noticed only a spark of reproach in Andrés' eyes, who had been weaned when he was barely fifteen days old, and not because I wanted it, but because the doctor had ordered it.
My eyes, on the other hand, lasted much longer, and that's even after they had been used to exhaustion. Watching to see if they were breathing during the night. Watching for skin irritations. Watching their somersaults. Watching how they dove into the pool. And later, watching over their homework, their triumphs in sports, their boyfriends and girlfriends, their clothing, always watching, twisting my head from one side to the other at an ever-increasing speed to take it all in. Even at night, when they were half-asleep, watching the turmoil of their nightmares. A thick veil started to cover my eyes, and when Andrés took them, they were no longer any good. But he insisted and he probably needed my watchfulness more than any of the others. My arms, oh so fragile when I was young, became stronger through the vigorous exercise of hugging, lifting, pushing, and separating; but after María's illness, long and exhausting, they entered a new cycle of lassitude. There were many months spent carrying her from one place in the city to another, because she would only accept going to the doctors and the clinics if I carried her in my arms. Anything, I would have done anything to cure her, and of course, she recovered. Since then, she feels herself to be the unquestionable owner of that part of my body.
However, things were not settled so easily. There was a big fight with Pablo. Once, when I discarded his old tennis shoes, he threw a terrible tantrum and he bit my right arm. The marks left by his teeth never disappeared. He considered them a sign of ownership. That arm carried his mark, and the left arm was in no way comparable. You had to be very careful with him; he always felt passed over. To have offered him the left arm would have seemed to him an unpardonable gibe. Luckily, Marta, the most diplomatic of the girls, intervened. Since she wanted my legs, she subtly convinced him of the marvels of my waist: the center of the body, the meeting point of all the forces, near the navel! You fool, she told him. How do you suppose men lead women if not by the waist? Also by the shoulders, he said, lighting up, and the question was settled.
My legs, I must say without modesty, were lovely. Climbing up and down the stairs to serve them breakfast in bed and carrying their freshly-ironed clothing kept my legs firm and young for many years. Only my knees began to give out when Gabriel, the next to the last of the boys, was born. He alone finished them off, riding every day, round trip, on that grey horsey that carried him to Paris, walking, trotting, galloping, provoking endless laughter, leaving him lying at my feet, happy and exhausted.
When the first varicose vein appeared, Marta demanded my legs. It didn't matter to her that it was only up to the knees, provided she could have them right away. She studied, worked, had a thousand projects, was full of beans all day long, always in a hurry, always running. She needed legs that could keep up with her, strong and agile like mine.
My hair, along with my ears, were the domain of Paloma. Even as a child she couldn't fall asleep if she wasn't stroking my hair with one hand and pulling on my earlobe with the other. In time she adjusted to the hair on her blonde doll and to her feather pillow. But on the other hand, until she had grown up, she maintained the habit of whispering all her secrets in my ear while she curled a lock of my hair around her fingers. When she left home, she took it all and left in exchange the dishevelled blonde doll that I still keep on the top shelf in my room.
I discovered that my back was missing the day it no longer hurt. I don't know which one of them could have taken it. I remembered that Juan had asked me for it so he could use it when he played with his toy cars. Stretched out on the floor, my spine was a track of perfect curves for his game. Gabriel also used it. Every time he cried, he would hug me from behind, pressing his moist cheeks against my back, following me around, stuck to me like a stamp and stumbling all over the house. Cecilia, when she wanted to get something special, would softly scratch my back until I got goose-bumps. But Francisco was the most intense. When I least expected it, he would come running full speed down the hall and jump on my back, then he would climb up to my shoulders as if he were climbing a mountain, stepping on my hips and on each one of my ribs.
I would have missed my cheeks if I still had had hands. I used to like to rest my chin on my hands and think, seated in the kitchen, when everyone was already asleep, during those brief moments until one of them asked for a glass of water or woke up frightened and demanding my presence.
It's true that my cheeks had become worn by tears, and to be fair, also by kisses. But the right one disappeared suddenly the day that Javier dared to hit me, when I forbade him to go on that summer camp-out. I, myself, threw the left cheek to him as well, and not out of generosity, but out of anger. After that it was too late for demands. And that's how my face remained, a vertical line supported by my brow and by the ridge of my nose.
They took my hands finger by finger, plucked like grapes, without fighting at first, but later by shoving, because there were only ten of them and the division could not be equitable. Much less so if one considers the privilege of the index finger or the tenderness of the thumb, which they fought over between piercing shrieks.
As far as my sex, which was perhaps the most thorny subject, since they were intelligent children, they quickly understood that they would all need it, to alternately love it and hate it. That is how it appeared and disappeared from my body with such frequency that I never knew when I could count on it. I preferred, then, to give it up as lost, since its sudden, random disappearances kept me jumpy and fearful.
My feet were almost the last pieces to go. I know they were wide and not very elegant, and perhaps even a little unpleasant. How silly, however, that no one valued their reliability in sustaining the difficult architecture of our family.
Pedro, the youngest, who used to dance by standing on my feet, finally took them with a contemptuous gesture, feeling that he wasn't getting much. I reminded him about the story of Puss and Boots and the inheritance of the youngest of the miller's sons, which finally gave him riches and happiness. Pedro stood there thinking, then shrugged his shoulders as if it didn't matter to him, and went off to live his life. Time proved that I had not been mistaken.
Of course, a multitude of clippings and minor pieces remained, which they also divided up, fighting for them to the last fiber.
But no one dared go after my voice. They knew that it was unobtainable, a possession that I could not transfer to them lest I disappear.
In recent years, when I am nothing more than a mere shadow sustained by memories, the returns have begun to arrive: perhaps a hand one day, or my waist another day.
Yesterday, for instance, my breasts arrived from Europe, where Cecilia now lives. They were magnificently preserved, full and fragrant like those of a young mother. I was so pleased that it made up for the disappointing appearance of my back, shrunken, skinny, in tatters, the vertebrae miserably corroded as if they had lived three lives. Poor Francisco, he had always had the nefarious power of transforming every delicate object into an old rag.
I now have recovered nearly all my parts. They are stored and waiting along with Paloma's doll and all the other objects that had belonged to them. Since I am very tired, I keep putting off the final inventory. Besides, I have the nagging suspicion that something important is missing. And it isn't simply the passing of time. It's something more immaterial yet, which lingers on in all the memories from their childhood, their adolescence, their youth. Perhaps I will realize it when I begin to assemble all the parts. They have asked me to do that. They are as restless and impatient now as when they took them away. Sooner or later I will overcome this heavy lethargy. Yes, one of these days I'll make up my mind and I'll give them that last pleasure.