|Oct/Nov 2005 fiction|
Grandma Lul˙'s house is right in the center of the city. It is old, mysterious, and of cantera stone, like grandparents' houses should be. The cool rooms have a view of the patio and the canaries overrun the atmosphere with their yellow chirps. In the afternoons the kitchen turns into the gathering place for daughters, aunts, and daughters-in-law who play cards with the grandma, eat cookies baked by the Carmelite nuns, and take coffee over gossip and events of the city.
"Did you all know that Chiquis Campuzano's daughter is getting married?" asks Aunt Delfina, sipping her coffee. She takes a cookie, nibbles it slowly, and sweetens her words with morbid curiosity and cinnamon. "Because the girl has a bun in the oven, doesn't she?"
The other women shake their heads with greedy curiosity, urging Aunt Delfina to spill the beans, to leave out no detail. Above all, they are dying to hear her caustic critiques and harsh judgments. At that moment, unable to resist the impulse to play the good hostess, the grandma breaks into the narrator's yarn at the beginning and offers the gathering of women "more coffee, more cookies, my girls. Help yourselves to quince jelly if you like." The aunts and daughters-in-law replenish their plates and cups while getting ready to spend an afternoon of destructive gossip--a delightful opportunity to escape from the boredom of housework and unbearable husbands for a few hours.
All of a sudden, one of the aunts asks rhetorically, "Where are the boys?" as if she felt obliged to worry. A calm silence arises among the women and no one answers because everyone knows where the boys are playing: they spend energy as if youth burned from their cores and they had to get rid of the flames as soon as possible. They run agilely from the hall, pass through corridors and dark rooms of white walls until they arrive at the patio, the backyard, and finally the garden. They play with the ball and form rival teams with cousins and friends of the street. They struggle in heated games while each one pretends to be his favorite soccer star. They might also be tormenting a dog or watching television for hours.
"And what are the girls doing?" asks again Aunt Rosalina.
"They're in the orchard," answers the grandma. Of course, it is always very important to know the girls' whereabouts. "They're cutting fruits; I told them I would show them how to make pies tomorrow."
A general and calm "ah" with a touch of feigned surprise invades the kitchen. Aunt Delfina picks up the thread of her monologue, skillfully, as if she had never been interrupted.
"...I told Chiquis Campuzano that girl was very wicked since she was little. Once while Chiquis and I were enjoying talking, the girl asked me if I knew what Kotex pads were for. Can you believe it? What a child!"
"Touch yourself down there," demands Susana, the eldest cousin.
The blonde girl with thick braids obeys with a sad look. Lifting her skirt, she reveals her pink panties.
The girls are hiding under the largest fig tree, the one at the back of the orchard, beyond peach and orange trees filling the center. The mulberry tree, the quince tree, and the lemon trees guard the entrance with their ripe and gentle fruits.
"Put the peach inside you," Susana orders again. "We all did it already. You must do it, too, so go on."
The girl stares at the fruit her cousin gave her and blinks from fear.
"What if it gets stuck inside forever?" she says, distressed.
"Nothing is going to happen to you, Delfinita," the others assure her. The girl inserts the small peach in her small vagina. Brushed by the soft fluff of the fruit and the glances of her cousins, she wets the fruit and pushes it out at once before the awakened interest of the other girls.
At that moment, the girls hear the dried leaves on the ground rustle and pretend to cut early figs from the fig trees. The footsteps halt and Grandma Lul˙ appears before them, smiling and with her hands on her hips.
"Did you already cut the fruit? I have chocolate bars for the girl who wants to listen to a story," the old lady hurries her granddaughters, urging them to return to the house. They shouldn't be by themselves where no one can see them, she thinks to herself.
"A story of princesses, Grandma?"
"Yes, Delfinita, one about princesses, fairies, and toads."
Entering the kitchen, the girls follow Grandma Lul˙ like chicks following a hen. The aunts and daughters-in-law become hushed and smile at their respective daughters. Little Delfinita runs to her mother and throws her arms around her neck with a charming smile.
"Mami, we put peaches in our quesadillas!" she announces proudly, her brown eyes gleaming. Do˝a Delfina lets out a smothered cry, holding her hand to her throat instinctually. Her mouth stays open for a few seconds as she tries to take in what she has heard. The rest of the women look at each other discreetly, without knowing whether to celebrate the girl's witticism or to pretend to join in her mother's bitter surprise. A few seconds later, Delfina blushes pink and seizes the girl violently by the arm.
"We have to go. My husband will be home soon, and he gets mad if I don't have dinner ready," she says. Throwing kisses in the air as a sign of good-bye, she forces herself to smile and leaves as fast as she can. Confused, the girl follows her mother closely, trying not to be dragged along. When they are on the street, Do˝a Delfina slaps her daughter in the face, dry and hard.
"Naughty girl! Look, you have embarrassed me in front of your aunts. You know what sort of busybodies they are!"
Delfinita has grown up. Time had to pass. She got pregnant by a boy from a well-known family and has to marry, just as Chiquis Campuzano's daughter had to. Only this time, Aunt Delfina is not the one telling the story. She has stopped coming to the afternoon get-togethers in Grandma Lul˙'s kitchen.
In the orchard, the peaches have dried already.