The Coffee Table


Estrella D. Alfon

Magnificence is basically a story about a bus conductor who has taken interest in a little girl of seven. The little girl and her brother, who is of eight years old, find delight in spending time with the man because he gives them pencils – a ‘rage,’ or something that is popular; a fad – besides spending time when they would do their homework. But shortly afterwards, the action of the bus conductor shows that he has taken a different kind of interest towards the little girl. When he gave the siblings pencils, there was a bonus for the girl, a jumbo one, because he said that “she was very bright, and deserved more…” When Vicente, the man, asked for a reward in return, the children kiss him but he jokingly said to Oscar, the girl’s older brother, that boys don’t kiss boys. When the girl kissed the bus conductor on the cheek, she embraced him, and he did so as well. His hold tightened which gave the girl an uneasy feeling. The third time the man showed his desire towards the little girl was when he asked the brother to fetch him a glass of water. As the two of them were left alone, he took her to his lap. Knowing that she was tall and quite heavy for her age, the girl asked him to put her down. The man did not say anything, except when she looked at him, his face was sweaty, and there was a strange look in his eyes. He told her to turn around and do her homework. When she suddenly felt very uncomfortable, she jumped from Vicente’s lap. Just in time, the little boy arrived with his mother who was holding a glass of zarzaparilla. Unknowingly, she had been watching in the shadows of the room. The mother asked Vicente to stay where he was. She then bade her son to do his homework, and her daughter to go upstairs to her room. She was about to reprimand Vicente, who had her daughter’s papers of homework held onto his stomach, but saw that Oscar was still in the room. She asked him also to go to his room before telling Vicente to go upstairs as well. By the time he reached the upper landing, she slapped him hard. He stepped down one tread as the mother kept hitting his face with her palm until he reached the bottom landing of the stairs. He retreated out of the house without even defending himself. The little girl, in the meantime, had also been watching the whole scene from the shadows. As her mother called out to her, she remembered Vicente’s kneading touch on her shoulders. Her mother tore her dress from her body and bathed her quickly and thoroughly. She gathered the girl’s clothes and pencils, and was about to throw them into the fire in the kitchen range, but thought to herself that she would instead do it the next day. She led her child into her bed. Tucking her in gently, the little girl soon fell asleep.

In terms of form, I personally like how Alfon blends the dialogue into the narrative by omitting the use of quotation marks that would usually signify the start and end of a character’s line. Alfon also subtly suggests the whole context of the story itself instead of directly stating the author’s intention towards the plot. Besides the idea that Vicente lusts for the seven year-old girl – as suggested by how the former interacts with the latter – there are also other instances that suggest what could possibly be happening in that particular scene. For example, when the mother arrives in the room, and Vicente suddenly grabs the papers off the little girl’s desk, he brings it to his stomach. Why would he cover his stomach right after having implied that he was trying to become intimate with the little girl? Based on my opinion, I would interpret this as not exactly covering his stomach, but rather his erection that he knew must have shown through his lower body clothing. Another example is the scene close to the end of the story wherein the mother rids her child of her dress, and bathes her thoroughly. This scene may suggest a kind of ‘purification’ act that would cleanse her daughter of the ‘air of lust’ that had or would almost have taken advantage of her. In relation to this scene in particular, when the mother examines the back part of her daughter before asking her to go upstairs to her room, she is perhaps trying to check if he had undone her dress or perhaps her brassiere – since it was stated that she was a bit grown up for her age – as an act gearing towards intentions of rape. This scene was analyzed in such way because I personally see its connection when the little girl remembers Vicente’s kneading touch on her shoulders when he had made her sit on his lap. Lastly, but not the least, I think that Magnificence is entitled as such because of the fierceness of the spirit that the mother showed in the ‘action’ part of the story. When she (*itch)slapped Vicente down the stairs, the little girl, who was at that time witnessing the scene secretly, must’ve felt how her mother defended her from the man who kept giving her feelings of uneasiness whenever he was near to her.