One time the vipers held a great dance. They invited the frogs and the toads, the flamingos, the alligators and the fish. The fish could not walk let alone dance, but as the dance was held at the shore of the river the fish appeared on the sand and applauded with their tails.
The alligators, so as to dress well, had hung a necklace of bananas around their throats, and smoked Paraguayan cigarettes. The toads had stuck fish scales to all parts of their bodies and swayed as they walked as if they were swimming. And every time that they passed, so seriously, by the shore of the river, the fish cried out and made fun of them.
The frogs had perfumed their whole bodies and walked on two feet. Besides, each one carried, hanging like a small lantern, a glow-worm that kept them balanced.
But the most beautiful were the vipers. All of them, without exception, were dressed in dancers’ outfits, of the same colour as each viper. The red vipers wore a little skirt of red tulle; the green, a green one; the yellow, another of yellow tulle; and the yararás, a little grey skirt with stripes the colour of brick powder and ash, this being the yarará’s colour.
And the most splendid of all were the coral vipers, which were dressed with abundant red, black and white chiffon that fluttered like streamers. When the vipers danced and turned, balanced on the tips of their tails, the invited applauded wildly.
Only the flamingos, who then had white legs and, as much now as then, very thick and crooked noses, only the flamingos were sad because not being very intelligent they had not known how to adorn themselves. They were jealous of the others’ outfits, above all that worn by the coral vipers. Every time that a viper passed in front of them, flirting and making the chiffon streamers flutter, the flamingos died of jealousy.
A flamingo then said:
“I know what we can do. We’re going to put on red, black and white stockings, and the coral vipers are going to fall in love with us.”
They took to the air, crossed the river and knocked at a village store.
“Knock-knock!” they tapped with their feet.
“Who is it?” replied the proprietor.
“We’re the flamingos. Do you have red, black and white stockings?”
“No, there aren’t any,” answered the proprietor. “Are you crazy? You’re not going to find stockings like that anywhere.”
The flamingos then went to another store.
“Knock-knock! Do you have red, black and white stockings?”
“What are you saying? Red, black and white? There are no stockings like that anywhere. You’re crazy. Who are you?”
“We’re the flamingos,” they replied. And the man said:
“Then without doubt you’re crazy flamingos.” They went to another store.
“Knock-knock! Do you have red, black and white stockings?”
The proprietor cried out:
“What colour? Red, black and white? Only big-nosed birds like you would ask for stockings like that. Get out of here at once!”
And the man threw his broom at them.
The flamingos called at all the stores similarly and everywhere they were taken as crazy.
Then an armadillo that had gone to gather water at the river decided to make fun of the flamingos and said to them, giving them a big greeting:
“Good evening, flamingos! I know what you’re looking for. But you’re not going to find stockings like that in any store. There might be some in Buenos Aires, but you would have to request they be sent by parcel post. My sister-in-law, the owl, has stockings like that. Ask for them and she’s going to give you the red, black and white stockings.”
The flamingos thanked him and went flying toward the owl’s cave. And they said to him:
“Good evening, Owl! We’ve come to ask you for the red, black and white stockings. Today the vipers are holding a great dance, and if we put on these stockings the coral vipers are going to fall in love with us.”
“With pleasure!” replied the owl. “Wait a second and I’ll return with them.”
Taking to the air, he left the flamingos alone and moments later returned with the stockings. But they were not stockings, rather the skins of coral vipers, lovely skins that the owl had recently removed from the vipers he had hunted.
“Here are the stockings,” the owl said to them. “Don’t worry about a thing except this: dance the whole night, dance without stopping, dance on your sides, on your beaks, on your heads, however you want, but don’t stop because then you’ll cry.”
But because they are so stupid, the flamingos did not understand well the danger they were running in this and mad with happiness put on the coral viper skins, as if they were stockings, inserting their legs in the skins, which were like tubes. Very pleased they went flying to the dance.
When they saw the flamingos with their beautiful stockings, everyone was jealous. The vipers wanted to dance only with them and because the flamingos did not stop moving their legs even for an instant, the vipers could not see well what the precious stockings were made of.
However, little by little, the vipers became mistrustful. When the flamingos danced to the side of them, they bent toward the floor to see well.
The coral vipers were the most anxious of all of them. They did not remove their gazes from the stockings and also bent down and tried to touch the flamingos’ legs with their tongues, viper tongues being like people’s hands. But the flamingos danced and danced without stopping although they were tired and already on the verge of quitting.
The coral vipers that were aware of this at once asked the frogs for their glow-worms, which were little bug lights and everyone waited together for the flamingos to fall over with tiredness.
Precisely a minute later, a flamingo that could not continue collided with an alligator’s cigarette, staggered and fell on it side. The coral vipers at once ran with their glow-worms and shone them full upon the flamingo’s legs. And they saw what those stockings were and emitted a whistle that could be heard on the other side of the Paraná River.
“They’re not stockings,” cried the vipers. “We know what they are! They’ve tricked us! The flamingos have killed our brothers and have put on the skins like stockings! Those stockings are coral viper skins!”
Hearing this, the flamingos, frightened because they had been found out, wanted to fly away. But they were so tired that they could not even lift a foot. Then the coral vipers threw themselves upon them and twisting upon their feet bit apart the stockings. Furious, they tore them into pieces and also bit the flamingos’ legs so that they would die.
The flamingos, driven crazy with pain, leapt from side to side, but the coral vipers continued twisting upon their feet. Until finally, seeing that there remained not even one piece of stocking, the coral vipers left them alone. Tired out, they tidied up their chiffon outfits.
Besides, the coral vipers were sure that the flamingos were going to die because at least half of those that had bitten them were poisonous.
But the flamingos did not die. Feeling great pain, they ran and threw themselves in the water. They cried out with pain and their legs, which had been white, were now red with the vipers’ poison. Days passed and the terrible pain in their legs never ceased. They were the colour of blood because they were poisoned.
This happened a long time ago. Now, the flamingos still spend almost the entire day with their red legs in the water, trying to relieve the pain in them.
From time to time they leave the shore and take some steps on the ground to see how they feel. But the pain of the poison returns at once and they run and put their legs back in the water. At times the pain they feel is so great that they contract a leg and remain thus for hours, being unable to stretch it.
This is the story of the flamingos, whose once white legs are now red. All the fish know the reason for this and make fun of them. But the flamingos, while they take their cure in the water, lose no opportunity to get their own back, making a meal of any tiny fish that draws too near to joke at their expense.