This is the next chapter of my serialized novel:
The Romance of the Village of Solución
As I said, being a woman, I spent most of my time with other women. Each time I queried one of them about their knowledge of the history of the village, I was rewarded by eagerly recited stories of their hallowed founder. After a time I realized I didn’t have to ask at all. The women talked about her as they ground corn and as they rocked their babies in their cradles. They talked about her as they white washed their adobe walls and as they cleaned clogged or eroded irrigation ditches. I heard about her so often and from so many women, that I began to think I had known her myself. I think she must have been memorable in everyway, for the village women talked about her as if she were someone they knew intimately. “Ah, the twin,” they’d say. “The lovely twin.” And a passionate tale would proceed. Indeed, she must have been remarkable for such a strong impression to be sustained over four hundred years.
She moved ceaselessly, they said. She moved bitterly, the roundness of her firm buttocks giving a pleasant shape to the fine fabric of her variegated woolen skirts. She moved with a bitterness that caused the shawls that were layered and bundled on and around her to seem sharp and mean. So bundled was she, even on the hottest of days, they said, that she offered to viewers only the slightest figurative cues as to the true shape and size of herself above the waist.
“My mother says she gave off a kind of radiance when she walked about,” one woman told me. It seems that the colors of the fabrics of her clothing, indigo and cochineal red, made from the bodies of dead female insects, shimmered and glowed around her.
And she was seldom still. “She was always moving, always doing something my grandmother said,” another woman related. The restless energy of the little sacrificial creatures’ incomplete lives would not allow her to stand still. She felt a longing in her body: a deep, resentful longing that stemmed, unbeknownst to her, from the unfulfilled lives of the insects. Everyone who saw her moving, enveloped by the shimmering bug bodies in her cloaks and driving her tiny humble burro across the ditches with the jugs of water splashing at its boney ribs, shared that longing–felt it stabbing at their lungs and cracked lips. She felt a longing and it came out in her toffee-tousled hair and made it stand nearly on end sometimes. It came out through her teeth into her crooked smile. It sprang from her fragrant, seductive neck. It showed itself in how she punched her dough and braised her pork. It was evident when she laid her hot hands, palms out, on the cool white wash of her adobe walls. Her perfect hands could not be soothed in this way: the walls could never satisfy.
Another longing, a longing for her lost twin, never left her the people said. “She was always sad, you know. She missed her sister,” someone said.
Though the twin had never been seen nor touched once they had both left the womb, the twin was more real to her than anyone around her. The longing enveloped her with messages of her own, inexplicable guilt in the matter, and urges to do penance, to crawl a mile upon her knees, or seek forgiveness from her priest, or shave her head. She knew, more than felt, it was her doing, the death of this twin. It was not a sensible thing she felt and a newborn could hardly be held responsible for another’s death. Yet, she tortured herself with questions: If she had been born second or not taken so long getting out.
“She thought it was her fault,” more than one villager told me.
The twin lived on within her and, symbolically, around her and she built a village on the twin’s small grave. She carried crocheted dolls and lemon drops and bundles of verbena and lavender and sorrel to the grave to comfort the dead twin. And most nights she made her bed beside the twin’s deep earthy resting place, underneath the stars.
One night, while staring at Castor and Pollux, she saw to the right the smoke of Orion’s nebula hissing and steaming in the sky. She prayed a kettle of beans to cook upon it with which to feed this long gone twin. Her dark, soft, tear-stained eyes, studded with chips of amber and jade, a universe unto themselves, reflected the far away fire. These eyes gave the fire a place to kindle and flame. Her kitchen provided a ceramic pot. She greased it inside and out and fired it again to make it leak proof. She placed the beans in the pot and the pot on a three legged iron ring and let the fragrant vessel sit over the fire until the beans were cooked, a bit of lard plopped in to make them easier to digest.
“We still do that today,” a woman said. “We learned to do that from her. All of we women know to do that.”
When the beans were finished cooking, she fed the twin’s ghost and invited all the sisters and mothers and grandmothers and secret aunts and wooden matrons and doñas from around the country side to feast. The doñas were delighted for they lived on isolated rancheros and their recipes were lost and bean pots were broken or leaky. They were hungry and weak.
“Those women, lots of them, were widows and they didn’t have nothing out on those little ranches, ” someone said.
They were too tired to hire help or repair their pumps or clean out their irrigation ditches. They rode sidesaddle across the desert, trampling the chollo cactus, dressed always in black and lace, looking for a sign, a virgin with a rose, a Mary or a Martha. But the signs hadn’t appeared. Not until now. They came, all of them, sisters and mothers and aunts and doñas alike, with woolly sheep dogs. They were served generous portions from the big pot. They were all happy that night, women and dogs, dripping and licking perfectly cooked pinto beans from quaintly cobbled wooden bowls. They were happy scooping the beans to their mouths with the softest of tortillas while they praised each others’ delicate hems and fine laces. Together they celebrated twins and death.
The village grew and grew around the grave and the bean pot. Crosses filled the plaza where the dead twin sister lay. Strangely carved and painted crosses appeared overnight so that the plaza took on the air of circus or of mystery play or of a Punch and Judy show or carousel. The next day more crosses, in many sizes, arrived. Their makers gave them, prayerfully, in exchange for bowls of beans from the seemingly bottomless pot. Every cross that anyone had was given in exchange for the beans from heaven. Yes, crosses were made to honor the gift of miracles and healing beans. And as the twin made more wonderful foods, mystery breads and delicate sweet pork meat, more crosses were brought and raised in the plaza in her honor.
“See, she made it seem that everything was possible. People had food and came together. There were miracles in those days,” I was told.
The sister no longer had time for merely idle longing. Her suffering now required a committed full-time passion. She strung her chilies heavily across her windows and her doors, made significant signs above her lintel, scratched rows of indecipherable symbols in the adobe bricks that framed her windows, and placed herself before her house upon a polished stool made of ponderosa. She hung a mirror just above her head to deflect whatever evil might be about. She sat beneath the mirror and sang and cried and longed quite publicly. And she sold her beans. She made tortillas in the sun upon a tiny brazier, singing and weeping as she patted, grilled, and folded. She sold the beans, and all the while the village grew around her.
One uncle came and planted apple trees.
“That was my great great great great grandfather,” a woman told me proudly. “He planted the first apple tree. That started all the planting.”
Another planted fields of corn. Some melons and some squash were interspersed with beans and flourished in the sun. The burros multiplied and prospered. The sheep were strong and rugged and ruminated in the rabbit brush and bitter brush and dug for bunch grasses and small green peas.
The twin built stores and banks
Still she was caught up in a longing bred of her empty heart and bed of sorrow. She lived alone, rich, beloved, but desolate. She lived alone inside her small adobe with its old, polished vigas, the elegant peeled logs that formed the beams for her roof support. The house had a smooth, tamped earth floor, and white washed walls. She lived alone and thrived, in some ways, as did the village and the sheep. She prospered, gambled, won, and always sold the beans. She sat at hand-carved tables, dined in candlelight, and lounged on chairs so fine a queen might envy them. And yet, still, she slept beneath the stars beside the twin and she smelled, always, of lavender.
“She had a pet, you know,” a woman said. “It was one of those talkative kind of birds.” Yes, a single bird befriended her. It was a Mexican Jay, joyful and blue amidst the darkness of her life. It perched upon her cochineal colored garments, plucked at chokecherries, and teased coyote. Yet it remained, untouchable by any beast, secure on the safety of her shoulder as the woman moved beyond the orchards and the fields.
The often-cantankerous jay warned of snakes and noisily cocked it wings and pointed archly to sacred pools and healing earth. It guided the woman to caverns and to caves that the ancient inhabitants had revered. The jay was coy. It promised gold and jewels. And, most of all, the bird tried its very best to cheer the woman. But she would not be moved beyond her wailing and her tears.
Even with the bird as fast friend, she walked and snagged her gowns and tore her shawls and wept and then returned to cook her beans.
The village grew beyond her sorrow and took on suffering of its own.
“It seems funny. They had so much. But I guess the twin’s sorrow was contagious. They all got it. We’ve still all got it.”
It grew deeper and darker and lonelier in the hills and near the mountains. Ceremonies grew more elaborate and pain became a ritual necessity. The flesh of the villagers was mortified and no longer only seasonally as was the tradition. Nails were pounded through their hands and backs were whipped raw just for sport and at least monthly. On it went until one day the twin died.
She died alone beside her twin amidst the lavender and sorrel. Her burro and her bird were close at hand. Her beans were cooking near her door. Her chilies gleamed a brilliant red and all her shawls and gowns were indigo and bloody from the dye and from her heart that had finally burst.
Villagers and uncles came and women from their ranches and all the day they keened and ate and thought about her life with them.
“They couldn’t believe she was gone. They couldn’t imagine what they’d do without her is what I heard. I heard that they couldn’t do much of anything for a year.”
They slowly emerged from their disbelief that she was gone from them. They took her benches and her pots and hats and laid them all upon her body with her rosaries. They looked one last time upon her dark face and hands, so recently hot and smooth, now waxlike. They mourned the loss of her longing and how it had instructed them to live in this land. They whipped each others’ backs and crawled on hands and knees to the church. This they did daily until the next full moon following her death. Then they mounted a high hill near the village and carried three large crosses there. These were dug into the earth, their bases strengthened with piles of rock. The longing was not gone but now was theirs alone. They felt a sorrow they could not express and a loss the origin of which they did not comprehend. Whatever its source, it all was theirs now, this sorrow.
Then they began to occupy her banks and stores.