Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty

   

Diego shoved the feelings of panic and fear into the deep recesses of his mind.  Now was not the time to lose control.  This had to be resolved calmly and quickly. “Sergeant, do you realize just how ridiculous that sounds?  And do you realize how much a statement like that would hurt Minta.” He made his voice rise a bit in righteous indignation, but not so much that it would attract the attention of those around them.  “You are talking about the woman that I love and that I intend on marrying, a very kind, gentle and sweet woman.  How can you equate her with demons?” he asked, rising to leave. 

“I am sorry, Don Diego, I did not mean to imply…”

“No, not another word!” Diego hissed, knowing that in the sergeant’s sudden agitation, Garcia’s voice would rise as well, even louder than his own.   As though gaining some small measure of control, he said a bit more quietly, “I wish that you would not say another word concerning this.  I want my wedding to be a beautiful one, not one with the atmosphere of an inquisition.   Adios, sergeant.”  He turned and stalked out, surreptitiously glancing about him.   He did not see anyone who appeared to be trying to follow the recent conversation, but that didn’t mean that someone hadn’t heard it.  There were several individuals sitting near enough. 

“Adios, Don Diego,” Garcia said, his voice small and contrite.   Corporal Reyes just poured himself more wine, not wishing to get involved in this mess that his commanding officer had gotten himself into. 

Diego mentally cursed this ill wind that blew his way.  Sergeant Garcia was a man of big heart, but sometimes he was possessed of an even bigger mouth, which occasionally didn’t seem attached to his brain.  As he saw Minta crossing the plaza, Diego forced himself to calm down.  It would do no good to let her know about this latest incident.  The obvious feelings of some of the townspeople still disturbed her, although she did her best to hide it. 

 

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Minta watched Juanita making the tortillas with the sureness of much practice.  “How do you get them so thin?  I would imagine they would get a hole in them when you pick them up but yours never do,” she said, her eyes following the deft hands intently.  The stone roller made the maize pastry thinner and thinner until the Rantiri thought it would be possible to see through it.  Juanita picked it up with ease and laid it on a hot iron slab where it sat cooking with only the tiniest bit of curl on the edges. 

“Practice, señorita,” the cook told her, as she put another ball of the ground corn mixture on the rolling slab. 

“May I try it, Juanita?” Minta asked. 

Juanita looked up at her in surprise, and then shrugged, moving away from the stone slab.  Minta knelt before the slab and took the stone roller in her hands.  The gloves on her hands were loose, so she quickly took them off and began rolling, just as she had seen Juanita do it.  The tortilla was not as smoothly rounded as the cook’s efforts and one edge was thicker than the other, but Minta was pleased with her efforts. 

Juanita’s voice intruded on her small triumph.  Señorita, if Don Alejandro found out that I let you kneel in the dust and do my work, he would not be happy.”

Minta looked over her shoulder and smiled.  “I would tell him that I forced you,” she replied.  Juanita returned her smile.  Quickly, Minta slipped her gloves back on; grateful in her eagerness that the cook was standing behind her and her hands had been hidden from Juanita’s view.  Getting up and dusting herself off, she added, “They do not have such things as tortillas where I come from.  I thank you for letting me try to make one.” 

“You are entirely welcome, señorita,” Juanita said, feeling the other woman’s happiness with life, as well as a genuine curiosity for everything around her.  Despite her physical differences, the cook felt that this woman was good medicine for this hacienda. 

As the señorita left the kitchen, Juanita glanced up and saw Maria Louisa standing in the dark doorway to the storage shed.  “Come, my daughter, finish rolling the tortillas for me, while I cook these.”  The girl stood in the doorway not moving.  “I told you to do something!” Juanita snapped, now picking up on the surly mood of her daughter. 

“Her hand has too many fingers,” Maria Louisa said. 

Juanita jerked up, startled by the statement.  “You are loca!” she snapped. 

“I saw them.  Both hands.  There were five fingers with her thumb.   It proves she is a witch!”

“It proves nothing,” Juanita answered quickly, but feeling the tendrils of doubt creep into her heart.  It was totally unreasonable…the idea that the sweet and gentle señorita could be a bruha.   “It could be something that afflicted her in the womb.”

“It is a mark of the devil,” Maria Louisa insisted. 

“That is not a matter for you to decide.  It is for the priest to determine.   You will not go around talking about such things.  She is Don Diego’s fiancé.”

“She has bewitched him and will put a curse on all of us.”  Maria Louisa stood, her arms folded, her mouth set. 

“And I will put bruises all over your body if you do not get down here and make more tortillas right now,” Juanita retorted.   Maria Louisa did as she was told, but her eyes glittered in anticipation.

 

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Diego watched the sparkles of sunlight flashing in diamond-like splendor on the surface of the little lake.  It had now been twenty days since they had returned, and life seemed to have slipped into splendid normalcy that was intensely comforting to him.  Even those who still distrusted and feared Minta seemed remote and unimportant right now.

In front of him lay a basket, its contents spread on a blanket nearby, only half eaten.  The real meal, thought Diego in amusement, is lying right here next to me.  Reaching over, he played with Minta’s soft, white gold hair, letting his fingers luxuriate in its silkiness.  He loved every nuance of her uniqueness.

“Do you hear that bird calling?” she asked. 

Diego listened, hearing a meadowlark in the distance.  He imitated it.  “That one?”

“Yes,” she said, also imitating it.    “It is a very pretty call.  It sounds lonely, while at the same time, triumphant.” 

“Why triumphant?” he asked.  Even birdcalls sounded musical to him, coming from her lips.

“Because in all this wide, wild world, it is surviving and is letting the world know that it has triumphed, at least for this one day.”

“I never thought of it that way.  I always thought of it as a call for a mate,” Diego said, wryly. 

“Even in that there is triumph,” she responded, laughing softly.  

“Mmm,” was all Diego said.  They lay half reclined against a large tree trunk, enjoying each other’s proximity, saying nothing for several minutes. 

“How are you feeling, querida?” he finally asked.  He had been somewhat concerned when she had complained of a bit of stomach upset earlier in the day. 

“Fine, mi amor.  It was only too many chilies in last night’s soup,” she answered. 

Mollified, he bent down and kissed her tenderly, quickly.  Bernardo, understanding, in his inimitable way, allowed the couple some leeway, but Diego had no intention of taking too much advantage of his mozo’s kindly disposition by going too far in his affection, at least most of the time. 

“I am looking forward to my baptism soon.  It will be soon, yes?” Minta murmured. 

“I believe so.   It is up to Padre Felipe.”

Minta stared at the water.  “Do you know how to swim?” she asked suddenly.

“What a question!” he exclaimed, laughing. 

“Well, do you?”

“I know how not to drown,” he answered.  She laughed.

“I am a very good swimmer.  Let me teach you.”  Minta stood up and tugged at his arm. 

Diego was carried away to his childhood, when his friends would all coax the others to swim in the ponds and creeks near the haciendas, tugging and pulling and sometimes forcefully throwing each other in. Unfortunately, they were not children.  They were adults who were supposed to observe certain conventions and customs.  He said as much. 

“I did not say to swim naked, Diego.  Just swim,” she responded. 

Looking around, and seeing no one else anywhere nearby, he turned to Bernardo, who was sitting under a nearby tree.  Diego smiled and said, “My dear chaperone.  Do you approve?”

With a look of consternation, Bernardo shook his head and signed.  ‘Together?’

“Of course together, Bernardo.  How can Minta show me how to swim if we are not in the water together?  But if it will make you feel any better, I will keep my shirt on,” Diego said with a laugh.

The mozo made more signs.  Diego’s eyes widened at Bernardo’s joke and then he laughed.  “There is no need to get sarcastic.  I will stay properly clothed.” 

“Did he say what I thought he said?” Minta asked. 

“Yes, he did.  It was not the shirt that worried him, it was the pants,” Diego repeated.  Minta looked at Diego and then they both laughed.  Bernardo stood with his arms crossed over his chest, enjoying his joke.

“I will stay properly attired, as well, Bernardo,” Minta reassured the servant, still smiling.  Bernardo didn’t look reassured.  He just wrung his hands and looked all around him. 

“If you are so concerned, find a look-out point and you can warn us if someone comes along,” Diego commented, pulling off his chaqueta, banda, and boots.  In deference to their chaperone, he left his shirt and calzoneros on.  Minta appeared from behind some bushes, already in the little lake, her hair forming a bright crown around her shoulders where it trailed in the water.  Her blouse clung to her body, her riding skirt swirled around her legs, but her willowy form was still easily made out. 

Diego entered the water, felt his undergarments clinging to his body and gasped as the chill of the water hit him.   Then he paddled out to her.  He kissed her soundly, but backed off when he heard a stick banging against a rock.  Laughing, he waved to Bernardo and then let Minta show him her skills in the water.  At first he had trouble concentrating on her swimming strokes, instead preferring to pay attention to her physical attributes, but as he watched the ease with which she moved in the water, Diego became more and more interested in how she was accomplishing it.  She was patient, showing him by example how to move his arms and legs in various rhythms that would give him more speed in the water.  He was amazed at the ease he could swim from one side of the pond to the other. 

After a while, she called a halt.  “It has been some time since I went swimming and this has tired me out.”

While she hid in the brush and wrung out her skirt and blouse, he did the same with his clothing. 

Soon they were lying near each other on the warm grass, letting the sun dry them off before returning to the hacienda. Diego felt the dampness of his shirt and undergarments, but he didn’t care.  Next to him, Minta sighed.  The recurring litany repeated itself… Soon…soon.  We will be married soon.  We can be more open soon.  We can live normally soon.  Soon…soon.  He turned on his side and gazed at Minta.  Her violet eyes met his hazel eyes and spoke volumes to him, adding rooms to the library of their love and devotion for each other.  Nothing was said; nothing needed to be. 

Reaching over, Diego lightly touched her cheek, running his finger down the contour of her face.   “Are you happy?” he finally asked.  “Does my world please you?  Do you miss commuters, lights that work like magic and beds that move themselves?”

“Yes, even though some people spit at my feet and make signs to ward off evil, I still love your land.  It is my land now, with you at my side.”  She paused, thinking about his other question. 

Dismayed, Diego murmured, “I did not think you had noticed that.”

“Yes, the woman with the pottery spit on the ground as I passed,” she answered. 

“I am sorry, querida that you have had to see such things.  It is the reaction of the ignorant,” he said softly, running one finger down her cheek. 

Not wanting to dwell on the unpleasant at such a peaceful time, Minta returned to his previous question.  “Sometimes I miss all of those things that you mentioned.  Sometimes, when I burn my fingers trying to light a candle in the pitch-dark night, I wish I could just flip a switch.  I most especially miss indoor bathrooms, but those are minor compared to the joy and happiness that I have with you.”

“I wish I could give you those things to make it easier for you…”

“No, Diego, I do not need those things, not when I have what is important.  And you can always kiss my fingers when I burn them.”

“Let me do that now,” he said, rolling over and kissing the tips of each finger, glad that she had two extra for him to kiss.  Rolling over on his back, he let the feeling of contentment wash over him. 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-one
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