David Soto Writes

I think I figured out what I want to be when I grow up.

Author: writerdave (page 1 of 5)

My Kwajalein Story

“Kwajalein?” my father said. “I’ve been there.” This was the birth of the Kwajalein story.

Sometime before Reagan took office, my father got tasked to go on a trip to a military installation on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. He wasn’t in the military himself. He was a computer technician for the now long gone computer company, Data General. The U.S. government used a Data General computer for radar displays and they seemed to have a problem with the system that no one on the island could fix.

“Who wants to go to Kwajalein?” my dad’s boss must have asked. I don’t know if he was the first to raise his hand or the only one, but I think the reason he did was that my dad had never been anywhere. Unlike myself and his father, my dad didn’t serve in the military and, at this point in his life, I think he had only traveled out of the country with his grandmother to Mexico City as a child. On this day, he jumped at the opportunity to go to some far away place he had never heard of.

He made his way to Kwajalein via Hawaii. The man who picked him up asked him if he wanted a tour of the island before getting to work. “Sure,” my dad said. Twenty minutes later, they were back where they started. It was a small island. This is one of the highlights of the story when my dad tells it.

The computer was an easy fix, and my father caught a flight back to Hawaii the very next day. While in Hawaii, my dad called his boss notifying him of the status. The boss, impressed that my father was able to fix the computer without any problems, offered to cover expenses for a couple of days in Hawaii as a reward.

The next phone call my Dad made was to Mona, my mother.

“The boss is offering to let me stay for a couple of days on the company,” he said to Mona with enthusiasm. I am making an assumption here about his enthusiasm but think about it. This young man, practically still a boy, started with the company in the warehouse fresh out of high school and worked his way up to the position of a computer technician. And now, after being sent to a remote government installation and saving the day, was being rewarded with a couple of nights stay in Hawaii. I would have said it with enthusiasm.

“Get your ass home,” was Mona’s response. He was on the next plane back to LA. This is the other highlight of the story when he tells it, though he leaves it out now when I’m around. I had long ago requested that the slandering of my mother not be a part of our family gatherings.

The first time I ever heard my father tell the Kwajalein story was when I got back from Iraq in the fall of 2005. We stood in the driveway of his Missouri home and chatted. So what now, he asked. “I don’t know,” I said. “I heard they need HVAC guys some place called Kwajalein.” That’s when my dad said, “Kwajalein? I’ve been there.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this damn story now. It’s to the point that I interrupt him and say something like, Yes, we’ve heard this story a thousand times. He’d get defensive and say, “(So and so) hasn’t heard it?” So and so was usually someone my brothers or I were currently dating at the time. To which So and so would look at my father and then, as gently as possible, nod her head and say, yes I have.

“The hell with you then,” he’d say to no one in particular but probably to me.

“No,” my younger half-brother would say. “Go ahead and tell it.” And of course, he told it. “You forgot the best part,” my little brother said, putting a fist to his ear as if he was holding a phone. “The part about Mona telling you to ‘get your ass home.’”

I don’t remember my dad ever relaying any stories about his past before that first telling of the Kwajalein story in his driveway. I feel like that story opened him up to tell others. Of course, he had to be well lubricated in order to tell them. The storytelling usually takes place during family events when his adult children are home. We all sit around the kitchen counter getting shit-faced and before too long the stories come.

I’m tired of hearing those other stories too but I’m not ungrateful for them. There’s the Mexico City story, where his grandmother bribed soldiers at checkpoints. The time he and his friend got their bikes stolen and my grandfather took them out looking for said bicycles. They found them too. “Get on your bikes and get the hell out of here,” My grandfather told my dad and his friend. The thieves chased them all the way home but turned around when they got stared down by my Nina, my dad’s older brother’s wife. She stood on the porch with her fist on her hips as if to say, Do we have a problem here?

I guess the best part of the Kwajalein story is the connection to my grandfather who died when I was very young.

I get conflicting stories about how he was injured during the war. I heard it was from a German grenade and later, I heard it was German artillery. Either way, tucked away somewhere in my Tio’s Mesa, Arizona home is the Purple Heart they awarded him for his injuries in the Pacific. After his initial aid, my grandfather was evacuated to Kwajalein where they wired his jaw together and kept him until he was stable enough to make the journey to Hawaii where he stayed for the duration of his recovery.

I’m not exactly sure how it went down so many decades ago, but I have to imagine my grandfather must have asked his son what he had been up to. “I just got back from Kwajalein,” my father must have said as he looked into his dad’s eyes just as I had been looking at him on the fall day in Missouri, clueless as to what our fathers’ lives were like as young men.

“Kwajalein?” my grandfather said. “I’ve been there.”

Cordage

 

The first thing I do in the morning is shit. I don’t even need my standard two cups of coffee anymore, which is good because there is no coffee here. I’ve been stranded here a long time, long enough to have my routine pretty much down.

I wake up with the sun and take a dump. I go out to the water and bathe. It’s cold but refreshing. I couldn’t imagine starting my day any other way. I use the sand to scrub every inch of my skin. I am careful with the sensitive parts. I come out of the water a little salty but as clean as if I got out of the shower back in my apartment

After my bath I eat a ripe banana or two for energy and I get to work. Improving my shelter takes up most of my time. No matter how many episodes of Naked and Afraid I watched, I didn’t learn how to make a rainproof shelter—it’s not as easy as one would think. I mean, even if you think it’s hard, it’s not that easy.

Collecting firewood is a daily task that exponentially takes more time every day. The more dead wood I need to gather, the deeper I have to go into the island to gather more. The good thing about this is I found a new fresh water source. I collect the water in an old Tide detergent bottle—one of those big ones with a spout on it. There is no limit to the plastic that washes up on shore. I would kill to find a volleyball.

Once I’ve harvested the wood and water, I check the tide pools my traps. Again, I have to thank survival shows for showing me how to make these damn things, or at least giving me a general idea. Crabs are easier to catch than fish—those dirty buggers will eat anything.

Supper is a big deal. Most of my daily routine revolves around mealtime—the firewood, the traps, the shelter where I eat, and yes, even taking a dump. It’s funny how true Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is when we are put in a situation where we are stripped of everything. Air, water, food, and shelter are all I need—it’s all I have time for.

At night by the fire, I’ve taken up what I call deserted island crocheting. I make rope. This hobby took me forever to figure out. I had to scroll through my memory Rolodex of survival shows and recall one about making “cordage” as they called it. I remembered the method being something like: twist, pinch, under, over, or was it over, under, pinch and twist. There were many failed combinations. It turns out the method is: pinch and twist, over and under. Experimenting with different materials took some time as well. I settled on the branches of palm fronds. Strips from the stem alone are strong so using it to make rope seemed logical. Next, I figured out how to attach another length to make the rope as long as I wanted, not just the length of one piece of a palm frond.

I tell you about my routine because I think it makes it clear, in the god knows how many months I have been here, I have covered a lot of ground on this island. Not the whole thing, not every nook and cranny, but most of it. There is no resort on the other side, no village, no port, no ship, cruise-liner, not even a canoe. I’ve seen no signs of human life. No tracks, no campsites, fire pits, not a down limb or broken branch, nothing. If there were someone else on this island, they would’ve seen my signs of life. I’m not shy about leaving clues I’ve been somewhere. I want to be found! I’m lonely for Christ’s sake. I want to talk to someone. I want to tell bad jokes. I want to get laid. I wouldn’t even be picky about gender at this point. Though, if I had my choice, it would be a woman.

So you can imagine how surprised I was to find the words “I give up” drawn in the sand this morning when I went to bathe.

 

***

 

Whoever wrote it covered their tracks. The footprints come from and go back into the water. King Neptune, perhaps? Did he even have feet? Never-mind. The point is someone else is here, right? Someone came out to this beach while I was asleep and wrote in the sand—a human who knows English and has decent penmanship. I am not alone here after all.

So what do I do now? Do I look for this person? Like I said, I’ve been all over this island and haven’t seen any other sign of human existence besides my own. It’s evident there’s someone here and they are close enough to leave me a message in the sand. About that message, what does it mean? “I give up” Give up what?

During my routine that day I decided the only thing I could do was leave a message for whoever left one for me. That night before bed, I went down to the beach and left a message. “Give up what?” Of course, I couldn’t sleep, so I went down to the beach and sat in the tree line waiting for someone to come. And, of course, no one did.

Are they some being with extra sensitive senses? Could they feel that I was lurking in the bushes; like deer before opening day of the season? They are all over the place except the morning the season opens when they’re nowhere to be found. It’s as if they know you are waiting for them in a tree with a high-powered rifle ready to kill them.

Whoever this person is, they must have some type of supernatural powers to be hidden from me for all these months. Wait. What if they haven’t been here for months? Did they just get here? Is that why I’ve never seen any sign of them? But the message, “I give up,” does that imply they give up trying to survive on this island? They would’ve had to be here for at least as long as I have in order to want to give up. How does one give up in a situation like this? The only way out of this, if not rescue, would be death.

After three nights of restless sleep, three nights of drawing, “Give up what?” in the sand, and three mornings of no messages back, I finally got a good night’s sleep. Not expecting there being anything written in the sand for me must have allowed me to relax. Of course, there was a message that following morning. “Living”

Evidently, he or she has had it.

That night I left a message, “How long on island?”

Eager with anticipation I could not sleep and tended to my campfire hobby of making rope. I have been making a lot of progress since the first night.

When fatigue caught up with me a couple of nights later I found another message the next morning. “Six months.” That’s probably how long I’ve been here. It didn’t occur to me to keep track of the days until I had been here a while—maybe two months. I tallied my hash marks and counted one hundred and twenty-five. If you add my estimated two months, you get six months damn near right on the money.

I can’t wrap my head around the fact that someone else has been living on this island with me this whole time. How is this even possible?

I leave a message, “So what now?”

“Suicide,” came back a couple of mornings later. I don’t put out another message for a few nights after this. Why doesn’t this person show himself or herself? They come so close to my camp. Why not just come all the way in? If they have survived here for six months like me, we’d make a hell of a team. We could survive the shit out of this island.

I leave a message. “How?” And spend the next few nights pinching and twisting, over and under. I estimated I made about one hundred feet of rope. When I fished, I doubled it over and began again pinching and twisting, over and under. My goal was a fifty-foot length of double reinforced rope. I finished it over these few nights and then gathered more palm fronds and started the process all over again.

I must have fallen asleep while making cordage. When I woke up, I headed down to the beach. “Hang myself.”

I stayed up for as many nights as I could.


Cody

Her name was Cody. Can you believe that? A girl named Cody. She was cute, terribly cute with these big brown eyes and messy bunned curly light brown hair. She didn’t have the curves I like, but the way she looked at me made me melt. All I knew about her is her name and that she liked to drink. Last time I was at this place was the first time we met. She was completely shit-faced.

This joint had community tables. All I wanted to do on this night was sit down to enjoy my arepas. I butted in on a group of people that left one end of the table open. I asked to sit. “Sure,” they said with drunken glee. Cody wasn’t there, she was at another table. I didn’t get in more than a hello when I was introduced to her. When the time came, I said my goodbyes and gave a little wave to Cody who was eating tostones with a curiosity that said she was so drunk she had no idea what she ordered. She gave me a dismissive wave with her fork.

“Sorry we couldn’t chat,” I said.

“Yeah, well. I would have liked to talk for a bit.”

She looked offended. Normally I wouldn’t care, but those big brown eyes reached out and pulled me close to her. I sat down. “What are you eating?”

“Fried plantains or something. I don’t know. It’s good though. You want to try it?” She picked at her food with her fork trying to get a little bit of everything in this one bite she was about to offer me.

“No, thank you.”

“It’s good. Trust me.”

“Yes, I’m sure, but I just ate. I’m full.”

She didn’t believe me. “Fine!” she said. I had the feeling she thought I didn’t want to use the same fork as her. The truth is I would have used it if I wasn’t full. I wasn’t afraid of her cooties. I would have kissed her if she had given me the slightest clue that she wanted me to kiss her. When was the last time I kissed a girl? Jesus.

There was not much of a conversation. Maybe if I was also shit-faced things may have gone differently. But I wasn’t, and they didn’t.

The next time I saw her we talked a little more. I went to the same place every Friday because of the food trucks but mainly to see if I’d run into her again. It was two Fridays later when we I saw her. I think she saw me too but pretended not too. When she walked by, I touched her on her shoulder and gave a little wave. She turned and smiled not at all surprised to see me. She continued to the bathroom or wherever she was going. When she got back, she asked me to sit next to her.

“Sorry about last time. I was pretty drunk.”

“I don’t think you did anything you have to apologize for?”

“Apology accepted is the proper response, or you could not accept it, I guess.”

The funny thing about her apologizing for being drunk last time was that she was just as drunk this time as well. We tried to converse, but it was useless again. I did, however, noticed the way she was looking at me. A woman hadn’t looked at me like that in a long time. They used to—a lot—but once I hit my forties, it just hasn’t happened. I say this not to brag but to let you know that I know what that look is. It’s the look someone gives you when they are in love with you.

Several Fridays passed by and finally, there she was again. She helped herself to my sweet potato fries.

“These taste like funnel cake.”

“By all means, help yourself,” I said with sarcasm.

“You put them in front of me. That implies sharing.”

“It does?”

“Yes, it does. But don’t worry I won’t eat anymore.”

“Oh my god. I was totally kidding. Eat as many as you want.”

She was not drunk on this night we chatted for a bit, and then I asked her “Do you always look at people like that?”

“Like what?” she asked back.

“Like you are in love with them.”

“Is that how I am looking at you?”

“Yes.”

“Then, no. I don’t.”

“So why are you looking at me like this?”

“I guess I love you?”

“You love me? We barely know each other?”

“Well if that’s how I’m looking at you, then that must be it, no? You appear to be the one who’s an expert at how one looks at people when they are in love.”

“Maybe I’m wrong.”

“You’re not.”

“I’m twice your age. How old are you?”

“I’m 28.”

“Ok. Not twice but still.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. This is kind of a shock to me. Have you ever been in love?”

“Yes. Many times.”

“Well, I haven’t. This is the first time, and I am not blowing it off like it’s nothing.”

“What if I’m an asshole?”

“Then I fell in love with an asshole.”

“Well, I am an asshole. So…”

“Do you believe me?” I could see the tears start well up in her eyes. It was the first time she had ever been in love, and she was scared. She had managed to keep men at distant for some time. What happened? I can guess. I suppose the real question is at what age did her father abandon her.

“I do.”

“How could you?” she asked.

“I can tell. It’s one of these things I have.”

“Things?”

“Yeah. Like gifts. Some people are gifted with music, or numbers, or athleticism, or even entrepreneurship. My gift is love. I can give it and receive it on demand.”

“Do you love me?” she asked me.

“I can if you want. I mean, I would love to love you. It’s just…”

“Just what?”

“It’s never worked out for anyone. There were a lot of tender and beautiful moments. Ones I’ll cherish for the rest of my life but with them comes sorrow. Something I’d like to avoid.”

“Yeah, let’s avoid that. What do you mean if I want?”

“I mean. Just say the word, and I’ll love you back.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that!”

“I don’t know how I feel about this. I kind of want you to love me back on your own. You know? Isn’t that how it usually works.?”

“Not with me. Though, I suppose I could have just loved you back without telling you. Then you would have had the illusion that I just fell in love with you.”

“Why couldn’t I have just fallen for someone normal?”

“I doubt anything you do is normal.”

“You’re right. That’s why I would love some normalcy. But no. Why start now?” she said as she took a drink of her local super-hoppy ale. “Do you love me or not? I am not going to tell you if I want you to. That’s just strange, I …” She paused when she saw the look in my eyes. I was looking at her like she had been looking at me—like I was in love.

Now, that I think about it, I didn’t just decide to start loving her at that very moment. I already loved her. I just chose to let it show. Or rather, not to act on it. She’s so young and cute. I didn’t want to scar her for life. I am Facebook friends with a lot of married women who still love me. I have the other end of the spectrum too. Some women have blocked me completely—not wanting to have anything to do with me. I prefer the ones who still love me.

So what is the problem with a man who can love so freely? How easy it is for him to take it away. What happens when you love a woman like she has never been loved before and then suddenly take it away? Well, one of two things. She’ll either tell you how much she is still in love with you only days before her wedding day or she will hate your guts and never want to have anything to do with you ever again.

The truth is, I love them all. All women! I just don’t let them all know it. I can’t explain it. I do know that it’s easier to show love to the cute ones. I’m shallow, sue me. I used to think I needed to find a reason why—like they were good with kids or had blue hair. It turns out that way all bullshit. I love every woman I come across. I let my guard down after few drinks. That’s why even the occasional flings never ended up flings. What was supposed to be a no strings hook up after a night of drinking always seemed to turn into a romance that shouldn’t have really happened.

Panadería Diamanté (Chapter 13)

The next morning, just before the sun was fully up, Esperanza and Pierre made love again. This time, after Pierre blissfully erupted, instead of playing possum, he collapsed next to Esperanza, pulled her close, and held her till they both fell back asleep.

Sometime after noon, Pierre woke-up to find Esperanza standing at the foot of the bed wearing nothing but her black shawl over her shoulders, holding a tray of cookies in one hand and two cups of coffee in the other. “Some coffee, my love?” she asked him.

He didn’t answer her. He just sat up and took the two cups from her hand and let her sit next to him before giving one of them back to her. The two sat in bed enjoying their coffee together, not saying much, until Esperanza noticed an odd look on Pierre’s face.

“What is it?” she asked holding her steaming mug in front of her mouth with both hands.

“Your eyes,” he said.

Esperanza prepared herself to hear how beautiful they were, something she had heard many times through the years. She felt a little disappointed, wishing that her new lover had come up with something more original to say. Then, he did.

“Something has happened,” he said. “They are no longer green.”

“What?” she said. “That is impossible.” She got off the bed and walked over to the bureau. She put down her coffee and picked up an overturned hand mirror. “These eyes are the eyes of a serpent. It’s been a sign of my curse all…” She looked at herself in the mirror and quietly finished her sentence, stunned. “…these years.”

Her eyes were black. So dark there was no telling the difference between the iris and pupil. She looked over at Pierre but quickly returned her gaze to the mirror. “I can’t believe it,” she said. “What does this mean?”

“I don’t know,” Pierre said. “But maybe it’s for the best. I don’t know if I can be with a woman who has eyes of a serpent.”

Esperanza shot a quick glare over at him. “Oh? I got news for you, Señor. You are stuck with me no matter what color my eyes are!”

“If you insist, my love.”

“I insist,” she said as she walked back to the bed, taking the mirror with her.

She sat down at the edge of the bed and looked into the mirror once more. Pierre came up behind her, straddled her, and put one arm around her while he held onto his coffee with the other. He kissed her on the back of her neck and rested his chin on her shoulder.

“Did you make chocolates today?” he asked, not sure how long she‘d been awake.

“Shit,” she said as she got up to check the clock. “It’s almost two.” She put the mirror down and adjusted her shawl to cover most of her naked body. As she quickly tiptoed to the front door, Pierre enjoyed watching her bare ass jiggle until she was out of sight.

The women out front were surprised to hear the metal bolt slide, unlocking the door before two o’clock. Esperanza didn’t swing both of the large doors open like she usually did. Instead, she just opened one barely enough to stick her head through, “Sorry, ladies. There will be no chocolates today.”

The ladies giggled as they walked away, not saying anything in return and too hungover to notice the change in Esperanza’s eye color.

When Esperanza made it back to the bedroom, she found Pierre had finished his coffee and what was left of the cookies and was lying back in bed.

“You finished the cookies, I see,” Esperanza said as she spread her arms, opening her shawl and exposing her body. “Good, you’re going to need your energy.” She let the shawl drop to the floor and made her way into bed.

“Again?” Pierre asked.

“Twice is luck. Good or bad,” she said. “Three times is destiny.”

***

Pierre brought over his duffle bag from the boarding house that very day, and for the next nine months, he continued to fix things around the shop. One of his tasks was to redo the shop’s sign. It now read, PANADERÍA DIAMANTÉ.

Esperanza had assumed the key to her secret ingredient was her built-up passion, or whatever it was that kept her eyes green. Whether it was that her eyes were now black or that she had a satisfying lover, she now knew she could not offer her overpriced chocolates with a money-back guarantee. She now had to make a living as a regular baker. She didn’t mind it. It was a fair trade for finally being happy.

She stocked the shelves of her shop with conchas, niño envuelto, pan fino, pata de mula, orejas, quequitos, pan picón, bisquetes, and, of course, chocolate croissants. She made a good living and was happy in her new life.

One of Pierre’s tasks, one that Doña Luz prophesied, was to turn the bedroom with the ocean view into a nursery. Several miracles happened on the night their bedroom illuminated the town. One of them was the conception of Pierre and Esperanza’s first child.

The day of the child’s birth was an auspicious one. The whole village gathered outside of the bakery to await news that would signal the beginning of another all-night celebration, like the one they’d enjoyed on the night of the conception. This time, though, they’d had months to prepare. The villagers had decorated the town, swept the streets, and even made a banner that read, BIENVENIDA. Musicians from different communities were invited to play. Bar and restaurant owners ordered extra beer and tequila. When Esperanza went into labor, fishermen set out to sea to gather fresh fish and shrimp for the occasion.

When Pierre announced, “It’s a girl!” the crowd erupted in cheers, and the first of many bands began to play.

The delivery was flawless. The couple held each other’s hand and smiled with tears of joy in their eyes as the midwife cut the umbilical cord and bathed the newborn baby girl. Neither of them could believe that all those years of turmoil could have come to such a happy ending. But, as the attendant swaddled the unnamed baby, she couldn’t help but notice something peculiar. Curious, she looked at Esperanza and then at Pierre. Pierre and Esperanza looked at each other and then back at the midwife, losing their smiles and wondering what was wrong.

Finally, the midwife spoke unable to contain her concern. “Señora? Señor?” she said. “Excuse me, but does anyone in your family have green eyes?”

Lover Number 5 (Chapter 12)

During his years in the Colombian army, Pierre continued to grow. The food and physical demands aided in this, but combat seemed to fuel his growth more than anything.

Pierre was fierce on the battlefield. In the rebels, he instilled fear. In his fellow soldiers, he instilled courage. His comrades looked up to him, even though he was younger than most of them.

The second youngest among the soldiers was a man by the name of Pascual Ortiz. Unlike most of the other soldiers, Pascual was only a couple years older than Pierre. Because of this, the two bonded. Pierre was far superior when it came to soldiering, but Pascual possessed a quality Pierre wished he had, the ability to read and write.

One day Pascual, feeling indebted to his friend because he had already saved his life on more than one occasion, offered to write letters to anyone Pierre chose. “A woman, perhaps?” Pierre took him up on his offer and had him write a letter to the most special woman in his life, his mother.

For the next several years, Pierre communicated with his mother through Pascual. Pilar, who was also illiterate, had one of her newest whores, Marisol, read his letters to her. Marisol was a young lady who was supposed to go off to university but instead became a prostitute after accidentally wandering into Pilar’s brothel. Pilar would dictate letters back to Marisol, who gladly scribed them, even though she would have rather been working in her new profession.

When the letters came back, Pierre would keep them in his breast pocket until the next opportunity arrived for Pascual to read them to him—usually during a meal. Pascual read the letters out loud, but changed his routine one day when the message opened with “Dear Pierre” instead of “My dearest son.”

“What is it?” Pierre said with a mouth full of arroz con coco. Pascual read the letter to himself, a strange thing for him to do. But what piqued Pierre’s curiosity was the somber look on his friend’s face.

Pascual looked up—on the verge of tears, “I’m sorry, my friend. Your mother has died.”

Pierre swallowed his rice. “Read it to me.”

“I, I…,” Pascual stuttered not wanting to perform the task requested of him.

“Read it!” Pierre shouted.

“Dear, Pierre,” Pascual began. “My name is Marisol. I have been the one writing the letters for your mother all these years. Your mamá had been suffering with tuberculosis for some time now. She kept this from you so that you wouldn’t worry. She was doing quite well, but just the other day she suffered a horrible coughing fit that resulted in her death. I was there with her when she passed. Her dying wish was for me to write you this letter. By the time you get this, she will have been buried for several weeks, I imagine. I am sorry that word could not get to you in time for you to make the funeral. If you ever do make it back here, please look me up, and I will take you to her grave. Sincerely, Marisol Rivera.”

When Pierre began to sob, Pascual got up, left the letter, and walked out of the dining tent. The rest of the soldiers soon followed, some leaving full plates of food behind. None of them thought less of Pierre. The young man had proven his manliness countless times on the battlefield. Many of them were alive because of him. They all knew there was only one thing that could make a man of such caliber cry, and they left him to do so alone in the mess tent.

Later that evening, Pierre presented the letter to his commander and asked to take leave. The colonel denied his request. He instead promoted Pierre to sergeant and gave him a squad to lead. Pierre was too good of a soldier to be granted leave. The colonel knew that if they were ever to engage the enemy without him, many men would end up dead.

For several weeks, Pierre requested leave, and each time the commander denied it. His superiors told him the time was not right. So he waited, growing more and more impatient. He was willing to dedicate his entire life to the army. All he wanted was a little bit of it for himself so that he could pay his respects to his mother.

After more requests and more denials, it became apparent to Pierre that the officers he reported to had no intention of ever granting him leave. His first impulse was to desert, but then he would be hunted by two armies. He had personally seen to the deaths of so many rebel soldiers that he became the first person in the Colombian army to have a bounty on his head who was not an officer.

Deserting meant that he would no longer have the protection of the army but that that very army would also be looking to put a bullet in his head. To Pierre, death didn’t seem like such a bad idea, but not as a deserter. That was dishonorable. He was a good soldier, the best. The army won many battles because of him. If they couldn’t grant him leave, then to hell with them, he thought. He would no longer fight for the same people who held him prisoner. Death in battle would be an honorable way out and an even better solution. He would do more than see the spot in the earth where they buried his mother. He would join her in the afterlife.

The army received word of a rebel camp just a couple days’ march away. Pierre was to lead one of the squads. The mission was to find the camp, torch it, and bring back any surviving enemy soldiers. The day before the patrol headed out, Pierre requested leave for when he got back.

“I’m sure we can figure something out upon your return,” the colonel said. Pierre knew what this meant. He had heard it before, too many times. He decided that this was the last patrol he would ever go out on—at least, the last for the Colombian army.

***

“When I woke up, I was lying on a table. A doctor was working on me by lamplight. Trying to dig a bullet out of here,” Pierre tapped on the scar right below his sternum. Esperanza was intrigued by the story and didn’t say anything for fear of interrupting him. “‘You should be dead, Señor,’ the doctor told me. ‘I know,’ I told him.”

“I had been out for three days. All of the men that went out on that patrol were dead. All but me,” he told Esperanza, looking down at the ground as if in shame. “When we got to the camp, the rebels were waiting for us. The men didn’t stand a chance, especially since I was there to get killed—not to kill.”

“I just stood there watching my men get slaughtered as I waited for a bullet of my own. I didn’t even raise my rifle. I could see the rebels. There were many well in range, which meant they could have easily shot me. But they kept missing and taking out the soldiers around me instead. I didn’t realize how much the men depended on me to fight. I saw so many of them fall and was about to say, the hell with it and start taking out rebels, when the bullet I was waiting for finally struck me.”

“I dropped my rifle and fell to the ground in pain. I waited on my knees for another shot to hit me, but I must have passed out instead. The rebels slaughtered the rest of the men, and then went through and stabbed all the bodies with bayonets. That’s how they found me alive.” Pierre took his green shirt completely off and turned his back to Esperanza. He tried to point to the spot where the bayonet had pierced him, but couldn’t reach it.

Esperanza touched a scar and asked, “This one?”

“No,” he said. “Lower.”

“Here?”

“No. Too low.”

She tried another scar.

“No,” he said. “To the left.”

Esperanza got the point, but she got so much pleasure from touching Pierre’s bare back that she continued. “This one,” said determined it was the right wound.

“No. Just above…” Esperanza touched a scar that was the straightest and most subtle of all of them. “Eso,” he said.

“When a rebel pierced my flesh, I let out a gasp. He was about to push the bayonet all the way through me when his commander stopped him. Based on my size, he guessed who I was and thought it essential to keep me alive. So, I became their prisoner. It took them three days to get me to their base camp. A trip that should have taken them half that. I guess I was quite a load to carry.”

Esperanza caught herself still touching Pierre’s back long after she’d identified the wound and quickly dropped her hand to her side.

“They never got the bullet out of me, but I healed anyway. In my convalescence, I got to know the rebels. Their base camp was also their home. Not their real home, the government seized that property, but a temporary one. Their families were with them. They had nowhere else to go. While the men went out looking for supplies, the women stayed back preparing meals and tending to the children.

“You notice I said go out for supplies?” he said to Esperanza, wanting to make sure she understood this part. “That was all they ever did, was go out looking for food and things they needed to live. They never went out looking for us or to cause trouble, like we were told. We went out on patrol to interrupt their supply runs. We killed men who were just out trying to find food to feed their children. And we took that food,” his voice grew louder, “back to our camp!”

Esperanza could see the pain on his face and hear the remorse in his voice. She had already been fighting off the temptation of throwing herself at him, but seeing the side of the giant warrior made the temptation worse.

“The only reason they kept me alive was their hope to get me to fight on their side. I could have easily done it, but my goal was to die so that I could see my mother, and I was halfway there. As far as the Colombian army knew, I was dead. The rebels burned the camp and the bodies along with it. With this, I could make my way north without being hunted by either side.”

“I gave them as much intelligence as I could and swore to them that I would never take up arms against them ever again. I also swore to myself that I would never take up arms against any rebels, ever.”

“They sent me off with two escorts, and I made my way back to Panamá. The two escorts kept me alive whenever we ran into any other rebels, by simply introducing me as a friend. I kept the two rebels alive when we ran into patrols of Colombian soldiers, by killing the soldiers.”

“Paying respects to my mother brought me no joy, and I started to regret not dying back in Colombia. I became a drunkard and began wandering the earth looking for wars to fight in. I fought in all sorts of armed conflicts as I traveled north. After Mexico, I found myself in Cuba and then ended up in Africa. Always fighting on the rebel side.”

“Even as a drunk, I was still a hell of a fighter. I killed many men. But being a drunk has its disadvantages. My reflexes slowed, and I began getting injured more and more often. I was stabbed, shot, and hit with grenade fragments. Some of the injuries were minor, but most were not. This was when I started to notice a trend. I heard the words, ‘You should be dead,’ over and over again. I began to wonder if I would ever die.”

“Men joked with me, saying that I was immortal. In Panama, they even started a rumor that I was an immortal soldier. For years that rumor followed me, and then one day, I started to believe it. I didn’t want to, you see. I didn’t want to be immortal. In fact, just the opposite. I wanted to die, so I put my pistol to my head and pulled the trigger.”

Esperanza gasped when she heard this and responded with, “Ay, no!”

“It’s okay,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m here. Aren’t I?” Pierre began to part his long, black hair next to his temple. “Maybe it was just dumb luck, or maybe I just have a hard head, but the bullet traveled around my skull under my scalp and came out the other side.” Once he knew Esperanza saw the scar hidden by his hair, he parted his hair on the opposite side of his head, showing her the exit wound. “It burned like a son of a bitch.”

“For years, I heard the words, ‘you should be dead,’ but never died. Not even close. So you see, Señorita, I cannot be killed. Not even by you,” he said as he grabbed Esperanza by the waist and brought her into his bare chest. “And even if you could kill me, dying because I made love to you would not only bring a much-wanted death, it would be the most glorious death I could ever have dreamed of.”

Esperanza closed her eyes and said to herself, “Thank you, Pita.”

***

Before Pierre could even lean in for a kiss, Esperanza already had her lips locked onto his and her arms wrapped around him.

As busy as she was getting their meal ready that afternoon, Esperanza had forgotten to close the wooden shutters on the window in the front of the shop. They were both so engaged in Pierre’s story that they hadn’t noticed the crowd that gathered in front of the window. Many of the villagers were peeping in, looking past the dark front of Doña Luz’s old bakery and into the well-lit kitchen in the back. When the two finally embraced, the crowd erupted into cheers and applauds.

“Upstairs,” Esperanza commanded, slightly embarrassed, but eager to continue. Pierre picked her up with one arm under her back and the other under her knees, and carried her up to the bedroom without the slightest bit of effort. The crowd awarded this action with more cheers and even some órales.

With disappointment, the crowd dispersed, but they were content with what they assumed would take place next. They all felt, especially the women, that it was long overdue.

***

Upstairs the couple undressed each other. Esperanza was struck with a bit of fear when she noticed that every part of Pierre was proportionate to his stature. For the first time in her life, she thought that her lover might kill her.

Pierre took what Esperanza thought was an eternity to enter her. She had minimal experience with foreplay. And even though she enjoyed it, she was anxious to both feel him inside of her and see if he would live through the experience.

When it finally did happen, she felt more pain than she had experienced when she unwillingly lost her virtue to her stepfather. She thought God had gifted her virginity back, but it could have been the massiveness of Pierre. It made little difference. As the pain faded, she began to feel the tension build as it had with Antonio Cruz before he climaxed and died. Only, this time, her lover persisted, and she was on the verge, at the age of thirty-five, of her own hard-to-come-by orgasm. The first of her life.

As the two made love, their passion was so strong that they started to emit a glow—a glow that grew brighter as they each grew closer to erupting in pleasure. At first, only a few of the townspeople noticed the white light coming from the bedroom windows. But, eventually, the light became so bright that it woke some people out of a dead sleep when they mistook it for the sun.

The pleasurable moans from Esperanza as she began to climax expedited the satisfaction of Pierre, and he began to emit passionate groans of his own. Concern grew in Esperanza as the moment of truth approached, but she was so overwhelmed with physical pleasure, so caught up in the moment, that she didn’t dare do anything to stop it.

As their passionate cries grew louder, the light coming from the bedroom grew brighter. So bright that some of the villagers who had come outside to investigate shaded their eyes. The two reached their climax together, and out of both fear and pure joy, Esperanza began to cry. Pierre collapsed on top of her.

With the immobile weight of her giant lover on top of her, the crying Esperanza started to panic. She thought surely she would suffocate or, in the least, be stuck there for days until someone finally forced their way into her shop to find her, naked, underneath Pierre’s dead, stiff body. She was curious, though, to find that she wasn’t having any trouble breathing at all. It was as though not all of Pierre’s body weight was on her.

Before she realized why she could breathe, she heard words, “Thank you, Lupita.” It was Pierre.

Through more tears, she began to repeatedly slap her naked lover on his shoulders, chest, and face. “You did that on purpose,” she yelled.

“Grrr,” Pierre responded like he did when he played with the children. He propped himself up on his hands and knees and growled again through the biggest smile Esperanza had ever seen on the man. “Grrr,” he said again as he leaned in and gave playful nibbles on Esperanza’s neck.

Her crying subsided a bit to make way for laughter as she gave a few more slaps, eventually stopping and wrapping her arms around her lover. Her tears continued, but they were tears of joy.

Pierre let out one more growl as he brought himself up onto his knees and proudly stuck his chest out. He raised both his fists in the air and screamed, as if he were on the battlefield making a declaration to his enemy, “I am immortal!”

***

When the light from the bedroom faded, the whole town erupted in cheers, and an impromptu fiesta began. Music started to play, and everyone danced and drank in the street until well the sun came up.

Just before two p.m. the next day, there was a gathering of hung-over women outside the front door of Esperanza’s shop.

Pierre Fixes Everything (Chapter 11)

His size alone was enough, but add the look someone gets after decades of combat, and Pierre was an intimidating-looking beast of a man. The men in Barra avoided eye contact with him out of fear. The children, though, they couldn’t care less. They were drawn to the giant.

The afternoon Pierre was to repair Esperanza’s door hinges, he made his way to her shop with his head down looking for something. Along the way, he periodically stopped to turn and growl at the children closely following him. They’d turn and scream and run out of reach, giggling. Pierre would then resume his walk, searching the ground for something, until the children got their confidence back and got close enough to him to be just beyond his grasp. “Grrr,” the sound came from between his teeth as he chased the children away again, laughing and smiling the whole time.

Pierre preferred the company of younglings over adults. Partly because he was an overgrown child himself, but mainly because no child had ever tried to kill him. It was the only time he could let his guard down.

Just before getting to Chocolates Diamanté, Pierre spotted what he was looking for, a useless, discarded piece of wood that had probably been lying in the street undetected for weeks. He picked it up and put it in the back pocket of his green pants and continued to Esperanza’s.

When he got to the open doors of the shop, he stopped and turned around and gave one last growl, scattering the children.

“Are those your kids?” Esperanza asked as she appeared in the doorway.

Still looking at the scurrying children, Pierre answered, “I don’t think so.”

He meant it as a joke and turned to look at Esperanza, hoping for a laugh or at least a giggle. What he got instead was a spark that lit a fire deep inside him in a place that had been dark for a long time. Even though this was not the first time he saw her, her beauty stunned him. He looked into her eyes as if trying to tell her he loved her without words. She looked back at him as if to say, I know.

Esperanza broke their gaze to look down at Doña Luz’s husband’s wooden toolbox as she slid it towards him with her foot. The sound of the wood scraping against the tile floor caused Pierre to finally look away from her.

“I have some tools here,” she said. “If there is something else you need, let me know. I might have it.” With the purchase of the bakery came everything that Doña Luz didn’t take with her when she left, including her dead husband’s belongings.

“Ah,” he said. “I already see what I need.” Pierre bent down to take a screwdriver out of the toolbox revealing the small group of children that had gathered behind him.

“You kids go play,” Esperanza shouted, waving the towel in her hand. “This man has work to do. You can come back and harass him later when he is done.”

Pierre got to work on the door. He removed two of the screws from one of the top hinges with his fingers and the third with the screwdriver. He then took the piece of wood from his back pocket and, with his knife, split it in half over and over until he had many thin slivers. He packed the three screw holes tightly with as many pieces of wood as he could, and with a swipe of his knife, he cut off the excess, making the slivers flush with the wooden door frame. He then put the hinge back in place and began tightening the three screws. In the end, the hinge was as secure as it had been the day the door was originally installed, however many decades before.

He did the same to the other door and had completed the job in fifteen minutes, including picking up the tiny pieces of wood splinters off the floor.

“All done…” Pierre hesitated.

“Esperanza,” she said. “Did you forget my name already?”

“No, of course not. How could I? It’s just, I didn’t know if we would speak to each other informally or not.”

“Is it okay with you if we do, Señor De Los Campos?” Esperanza asked.

“Yes,” Pierre said. “I would like that very much, Esperanza.”

“Well then, Pierre, come in, and let’s figure out how else to put you to work. Don’t expect to be paid for a full hour after doing only a quarter hour’s worth of work.”

As Pierre crossed the threshold of Esperanza’s shop, the whole village turned to one another and grinned as to say, See, he is here for her.

***

Esperanza was curious as to the way Pierre entered the shop. He turned to the side and ducked his head as if the door was narrower and shorter than it was.

“Why are you doing that?” Esperanza asked.

“Doing what?” he said as he straightened up, feeling safe that he’d cleared the door.

“Go back outside,” Esperanza ordered.

Following her orders, he turned back around, and again turned to the side and ducked his head until he was outside. Confused, Pierre turned around to face Esperanza, shrugging his shoulders and turning up his hands.

“Now, come back in,” she said.

Pierre again began to walk through the entry like he had every other door in his adult life, and was immediately interrupted by Esperanza, “Ah, ah, ah! Stand up straight.” He did. “Face me!” He did this as well. “Now, take a step!”

Pierre smiled when he realized what she was trying to do. Even though he had been working on the massive doors, it hadn’t sunk in how big they were. As he walked through the door like a normal-sized person would, he felt it fitting that the home of this beautiful woman had doors that seemed to be custom-built just for him.

***

“Some coffee,” Esperanza offered.

“Only if you join me,” Pierre returned.

“Well, I was already going to have some, so it will be you who are joining me. Have a seat. I’ll be right back.”

Pierre looked at the small table and pair of wood-and-wicker chairs. They looked more like decoration than actual furniture. When Esperanza returned, she found him leaning against the high counter she stood behind when the shop was open for business.

“You don’t want to sit?” Esperanza asked.

“Those chairs look un-repairable.”

“What are you talking about? They are not broken.”

“They would be if I were to sit in them.”

Esperanza understood and set the tray with the coffee on the counter. “We’ll stand then.” After setting the tray down, she quickly lifted an unfolded napkin as if performing a magic trick. “For you,” she said.

Underneath the napkin was a dish of Esperanza’s chocolates. Pierre looked at them as if they were pellets of rat poison. “Uhh,” Pierre said, not taking his eyes off the candy. “I am not having problems with my menstruation.”

“Don’t worry. I made those just for you, without my secret ingredient.”

Somewhat relieved, Pierre picked up a chocolate to examine it. “What is your secret ingredient?” he asked.

Esperanza responded without hesitation, “My blood.”

***

She could not believe that she let that out, though felt good to finally tell someone. She had kept this secret for so long. Doña Luz knew of course, but it was Lupita’s ghost that spilled the beans to her. This was the first time that Esperanza had told anyone. Why she chose to disclose it to Pierre, she did not understand.

Pierre was indifferent to the whole revelation and just shrugged his shoulders and popped a chocolate into his mouth.

Esperanza, eager to change the subject, asked, “What else can you fix?”

“I can fix everything,” Pierre told her.

Pierre was a talented and gifted warrior, but over the years he had developed some exceptional skills as a handyman. It wasn’t that he wanted to be a tradesman. It was just that he was so large that he often broke things and found himself responsible for returning what he damaged to good-as-new conditions.

He would have to fix things like a chair he’d broken just by sitting in it, doors that were damaged because he didn’t know they were locked when he tried to open them, ceiling fans that hit him in the head, and countless walls, support beams, and furniture that he would break just by leaning against or bumping into them.

Over coffee that afternoon, Esperanza decided to employ Pierre to get the entire shop in good-as-new condition, and for the next several weeks, Pierre reported to the shop at two-thirty every day. While doing his repairs or over a coffee break, which Esperanza ensured took place, the two became acquainted with each other.

***

One afternoon, while Pierre was painting the interior walls of the shop, he paused long enough to ask Esperanza to dinner. “There are so many places on the beach; we should dine together this evening and watch the sunset,” he said.

Esperanza was scrubbing some dishes when he asked. Caught off guard by his request, she paused for a while to figure out the best way to answer him. “You want to pay tourist prices for mediocre food?” she said.

“I just thought it would be something nice to do.”

“The best view of the sunset in the entire village is from my roof.”

Feeling a bit defeated Pierre said, “It was just a thought.”

“It just seems like such a waste not to watch the sunset from there.”

“Yes, I suppose you are right.”

“Plus, the best food in the village is made right here in my kitchen.”

Pierre, already having resumed his painting, just nodded in agreement with Esperanza.

“So, why don’t we have dinner here, then?” Esperanza said.

Pierre kept painting and nodding his head. He seemed to be pouting over what he thought was her rejection, not realizing that it was an invitation.

“Hey!” Esperanza shouted, throwing a towel at him, to get his attention. Pierre turned, stunned as if the towel had been someone’s hand. “I am saying, why don’t we have dinner here instead?”

Pierre didn’t answer. He didn’t have to. His smile was enough to let Esperanza know that he was in favor of the idea. Realizing she now had a meal to prepare, Esperanza removed her apron. “I have to do some shopping,” she said. “If I am not back before you leave, be back here just before sunset.”

***

Everything was ready by the time Pierre reappeared that evening. He showed up for dinner wearing his green fatigues, as they were the only clothes he had. He did bathe and changed into a clean set, though. He chose to leave his beret in his back pocket, deciding that his un-frazzled, slicked-back hair was more appropriate for his date.

As Esperanza started to carry a tray of covered pots to the table she’d set on the roof, Pierre offered to take the platter for her. But she told him to take up a chair instead. The chair did not match the set, but it was made of metal and was much more capable of supporting the weight of her oversized dinner guest.

As the sun began its departure, Pierre and Esperanza dined on chicken mole, beans, and rice. The mole sauce and flour tortillas made the meal. Esperanza made both from scratch. She had grilled a whole chicken over a small wood fire before allowing it to simmer in the sauce and get tender. She realized that she had made a mistake by only buying one chicken. It never occurred to her that Pierre’s appetite would match his stature.

In the time it took Esperanza to eat one of the two breast pieces and a little beans and rice, Pierre had devoured every other piece of the chicken and most of the beans and rice at the table. They both drank their share of red wine, and when Pierre admitted that he was still hungry, she served him what the rest of the beans, rice, and tortillas from the kitchen. While Pierre finished off the food, she returned most of the dirty dishes downstairs and put on the water for coffee.

With the sun long gone, the cool of the night made the warmth of the kitchen more inviting. Pierre helped her with the rest of the dishes, and when everything was clean, Esperanza poured them each a cup of coffee and brought out a platter of sugar cookies she was able to make before dinner.

The pleasure of their meal was a bit of a distraction; it wasn’t until now that they found themselves in a position to engage in conversation.

“Why are you here, Pierre?”

“You invited me,” he said. “For dinner, remember?”

“No. I mean, why are you in Barra?”

“To marry you, I think.”

Flattered, Esperanza didn’t let it show. “You came here to marry me? Did you know I was here when you headed this way?”

“No, I didn’t know anything about this place.”

“Then what possessed you to come?”

“A lady came to me in my dreams. She told me to come here. I ignored her at first, but then the occasional visit turned into a nightly one. Eventually, she even started haunting my afternoon naps. I finally deserted the army I was serving in and began my journey here so that she would leave me alone and I could get a peaceful night’s sleep.”

Briefly distracted, Esperanza asked, “Why did you have to desert? Why couldn’t you just leave or wait till your time was up?”

“In that war, the only way out was death or peace, and for me, that meant I would serve an eternity.”

“What war was this?” Esperanza asked.

“A meaningless one in the Congo.”

“Africa! You came here from Africa because a woman in your dreams told you to?”

“She was very convincing,” Pierre assured Esperanza.

“And now that you’re here, you think you are supposed to marry me? Why is that?”

“She told me I would find something that would bring me happiness for the rest of my days. I feel that is you. And after tonight’s meal, I am almost sure of it.”

“Almost?” Esperanza asked as if offended.

“Well, we are not lovers, so how can I know for certain,” Pierre grinned. “What if you are a bad lover? That would certainly not make me happy for the rest of my days.”

Esperanza huffed and threw a half-eaten cookie at Pierre. “How could you say such a thing?”

Pierre put his hand up to defend himself from any more incoming cookies and laughed. “If it’s any consolation, I find it very hard to believe that you would be anything but a passionate lover.”

Esperanza had no idea if she was a good lover or not. She never got any feedback from the lovers she did have. Well, except for the fact that each one had died. All of a sudden, it hit her that she shouldn’t even be talking about making love.

“Well, you’ll never know,” she told him.

“Really? But I’ve come all this way,” Pierre said with a tinge of confidence as he put his coffee down and made his way over to her. His conviction wasn’t unwarranted. Esperanza was attracted to him. He had known this for weeks, but it had never been more evident than it was on this night. The sexual tension was so intense that it gave off an odor that Pierre could smell.

“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you. But it’s your own fault for listening to some crazy lady in your dreams telling you to travel halfway around the world.”

“I never said Lupita was crazy,” he said as if the woman in his dreams was a real person. “I said she was very convincing.” He was even closer to Esperanza now.

“Lupita!” She couldn’t believe what she heard. “Did you say Lupita?”

“Yes. She said she was from Guanajuato and that she had been looking for me for years.” His hands were now on her waist.

Esperanza’s mind was rapidly filling with thoughts. Could it have been her wet nurse? Did she send Pierre? Why? Why would she send such a desirable man to her, knowing her situation, knowing she couldn’t be intimate with a man? Deep in thought, the questions abruptly came to a halt when she felt Pierre’s lips against hers.

She kissed him back, but only briefly, and then slapped him across his face and stepped away. She was breathing heavily as if she had been walking the hills of Guanajuato. “This can’t happen,” she said. “It’s impossible.”

“I think it is supposed to happen.”

“It can’t!” Tears were forming in her eyes.

“Why do you say this?”

“Because I have made love four times in my life! Four times! With four different men, and every one of them died as soon as they climaxed. If you make love to me, you will die, Pierre, and that I cannot bear.”

Despite the somber mood, Pierre erupted into laughter.

“What is so funny?” Esperanza asked, crying, confused as to how he could find what she’d just told him funny.

“What’s funny?” Pierre asked as he ripped open his shirt exposing his bare chest and stomach and his many battle scars. “I am immortal. That’s what’s funny.”

The Biggest Boy To Ever Join The Colombian Army (Chapter 10)

Pierre was born in a brothel in Panama City, Panamá. His mother, Pilar, who had come to Panamá from Colombia to work, thought she was barren. After working for years in the trade, not once had she ever missed her period.

Her favorite customer was a French engineer who would pay for her services for days at a time and take her away from the whorehouse. He would bring her back when his furlough was over and promised to return the next chance he got. The last time he dropped her off, he swore that when his work in Panamá came to an end, he would marry her and take her with him back to France. The day he told her this was the last time he ever saw Pilar. Soon after making his promise, he died of malaria, like many men did during this time. Nine months later, Pilar gave birth to a miracle and named him after his father.

Not only did Pilar think it was a miracle that she became pregnant, or that she carried the baby to term, but also that she was able to pass such a large baby through her vagina and not die in the process.

Though he did not have a father, Pierre was lucky enough to have several mothers. It was almost as if Pierre needed to be raised in a brothel. The boy was so large that his mother alone could not produce enough milk to satisfy him. In a whorehouse, there is no shortage of pregnant or recently pregnant women around. If Pierre wasn’t asleep, he was attached to a whore’s breast.

The women also took turns in the changing and bathing of Pierre. They were all impressed with the young boy’s endowment. All of them hoped to be retired by the time he became of age and earned his first five Panamanian Balboas. They feared the damage he might do to them should he decide to employ such a woman.

Within due time, Pierre started working in the brothel, mopping up secretions and washing soiled bedding. By the time he was ten, Pierre was as big as any man around and started coming to the aid of women who screamed for help from their chambers. At first, he would just throw the men out. Then one day, a frightened patron apologized and paid his fee before leaving. When Pierre presented the money to the whore, she promptly paid him a tip. From this point on, Pierre made sure to collect the fee first before he threw the men out even if he had to beat it out of them.

The respect Pierre earned from the women plus his new source of income allowed Pilar to become semiretired and eventually take over the brothel as the madam.

By the time Pierre was thirteen, he had mastered fighting and self-defense. He took a few licks and nicks over the years, but, eventually, it got to the point that he would always come out unscathed. If a customer pulled a knife on Pierre, that customer would quickly find himself no longer in possession of the said knife and that it was at his throat. If he pulled out a gun, he’d find himself looking down the wrong end of the barrel, if Pierre hadn’t knocked him unconscious with it. In time, the rumors that the women of this particular whorehouse were protected by the biggest, meanest son-of-a-bitch alive had spread, and no man who frequented the whorehouse dared to raise a hand to a whore or even think of not paying.

Peace in the brothel left Pierre with no purpose. Over time, his mother could see the fire in his soul start to extinguish. “It’s time for you to go, amor!”

Though the size of a man and with the strength of two, at fourteen, he was still a boy and cried like one at the thought of being away from his mother.

“Your job here is done, my son. These women are secure and safe because of you. There is nothing more for you to do. You have no purpose here, and without a purpose, you cannot grow into the man you are supposed to become.” Right then and there, she stuffed the boy’s pockets with dollars and Balboas and sent him crying out the front door of the brothel. She never saw her son again.

The boy headed south, and by the time he got to Colombia, he was out of money and hungry. At the border, he asked a soldier if he knew where he could get some work in exchange for food. Without looking up from the papers he was checking for authenticity, the soldier said, “What skills do you have?”

“I’m afraid I don’t have any,” the boy said. “All I’ve ever done is mop floors, do laundry, and fight men.”

The soldier chuckled and handed back the papers to their owner. “Sounds like you qualify to be…” The soldier finally looked up, and then gulped as if trying to swallow an avocado pit. The boy dwarfed him. “…a soldier,” he finished.

Turning his head over his shoulder, the soldier shouted, “Colonel!”

By the end of that evening, Pierre sat alone in a dining hall kept open just for him. Dressed in the biggest uniform they could find, shoveling spoonful after spoonful of rice and fish into his mouth Pierre felt content.

Pierre Bernal de los Campos (Chapter 9)

By the time Pierre made the trek from the bus station to the front of Esperanza’s shop, everyone in Barra de Navidad was aware of the big, handsome stranger in town. His looks were on par with only one other person’s in the village, Esperanza. Everyone felt, without a doubt, that he was there for her. Everyone except Esperanza—and Pierre himself.

When he happened in front of Chocolates Diamanté, he stopped—intrigued by the curious crowd of women gathered in front of the shop who all happened to be staring at him. The clock struck two, the metal bolt slid over, and the heavy double doors swung open. When Pierre saw who had opened the doors, he could not believe his eyes. Years later he would claim that that was the moment he fell in love with Esperanza.

Though he had traveled for months not knowing exactly why his destination was Barra de Navidad, he was sure of it now. It was for the most beautiful women he had ever seen.

The opening of the tall doors snapped the women out of their trance. Their attention turned to Esperanza, who was now in a trance herself. Her eyes locked with those of the giant man on the opposite side of the street. It wasn’t until one of the ladies cleared her throat that Esperanza was able to look away and say, “Come in, ladies. There are plenty of chocolates for everyone.”

Pierre was nearly two meters tall and easily weighed that of two men. If he were to put on some tights and a mask, he could easily pass as a luchador. Everything about the man was dark. His skin, his hair, and his eyes. He wore the green fatigues of a soldier, but there was no rank or flag anywhere on them. The only decorations he wore were the sweat stains under his arms and down his back, recently awarded to him by the heat and humidity of the Pacific Coast. His shirt was tucked in, with several buttons unbuttoned, exposing his hairy, tan chest. His leather combat boots were worn and now brown, as all the black dye had long faded. On top of his head was a black wool beret that had to be baking his head in the heat. He was so handsome that it would be easy for a man to think Pierre could steal his wife if that man thought his wife was worth stealing.

Being the good-looking world traveler that he was, Pierre had known and bedded hundreds of beautiful women, but none compared with the owner of this chocolate shop. He knew she was his destiny, and he was not going to wait to meet her. He bought a young coconut from a street vendor and cut a hole into it with his knife. He drank the cool water in the shade until the crowd of women in the shop dwindled to nothing. It turned out his destiny could wait a little while, especially if it involved the chance of being embarrassed in front of a group of townswomen.

When the coco was empty, he tossed it back to the vendor, who would no doubt cut it into chunks and sell the white pulp. With his duffel bag in tow, Pierre headed over to Esperanza. As he approached the shop, Esperanza’s last customer walked out. It was two-thirty. She nearly slammed the doors in his face, but he stopped her with his free hand. “Excuse me.”

“Yes?” Esperanza answered, opening the doors just enough to expose her face. Even though he stood on the sidewalk and she at the elevation one had to ascend in order to enter the shop (which was just one step), she still found herself looking up at the stranger.

“What kind of shop is this?” Pierre asked.

“It’s a chocolate shop,” she responded and attempted to close the doors again.

Again Pierre stopped the doors with his hand. “In that case, Señ — or…” he drew the word out as long as he could, hoping for help.

“Señorita,” she said.

Destiny, he thought. “In that case, Señorita, I would like to buy some chocolates.”

“I’m sold out!” she announced, once again attempting to close the doors.

He stopped her again, but this time without his hand. “Ah, ah, ah. Then I will come back tomorrow.”

“I will be sold out tomorrow too.”

“Then I will come the following day.”

“You do not want these chocolates, Señor. They are dangerous.”

“Danger is something I am accustomed to, Señorita.”

Taking a different approach, Esperanza said, “Didn’t you notice who my customers were? These chocolates are only for women. It helps with their menstruation.” She was only partially lying.

Realizing the chocolates were a dead end, Pierre quickly thought of another reason to come back. “I can fix your door.”

This caught Esperanza’s attention. In seven years, there was not one repair made to her shop. There were plenty of handymen in the village, but if they were bachelors, they were too intimidated by her beauty to enter the shop, and if they were married, they were not allowed.

“I see that at least two of your hinges are loose. If I can acquire some tools by tomorrow, I can fix this in just a few minutes.”

“How much do you charge?”

“I will do it for the pleasure of your company during the time it takes me to complete the task.”

“I will pay you twenty pesos an hour.”

“If you insist, Señorita.”

“Be here at two-thirty tomorrow,” Esperanza said. “I will have all the tools you need.” This time she met no resistance as she closed the doors.

“I’ll be here,” Pierre shouted through the closed doors. Before he walked away, he shouted again, “Señorita?”

“Yes?”

“What is your name?”

“Esperanza,” she said. “Esperanza Diamanté.”

“Esperanza Diamanté, I am Pierre Bernal de los Campos. Mucho gusto.”

“Mucho gusto, Pierre,” Esperanza said quietly through to door, her lips nearly touching the ancient wood. She stood there until she could no longer feel his presence.

Barra de Navidad (Chapter 8)

Esperanza arrived in Puerto Vallarta early on Easter Sunday. It was a long and miserable bus ride. While most people slept, she lay awake in the dark, wondering if what she had done was justified.

As soon as she disembarked, Esperanza checked the departures for a bus line that had Barra de Navidad on the schedule. There was only one, Tres Estrellas, but it didn’t leave until the next day. She bought a ticket, caught a taxi, and headed downtown. As she walked through the streets, shops began to open. The morning sun and fresh ocean breeze invited her to do something she hadn’t done in years, sunbathe on the beach. After checking into a hotel and dropping off her bags, she began shopping for a bathing suit.

She fell in love with a white crocheted two-piece that seemed more ornamental than practical. As beautiful as it was, it was overpriced and so delicately made that no sensible person would ever think of paying so much for it. It was something a rich woman would buy for sitting by the pool with a cocktail, not to actually wear into the water. Esperanza bought it nonetheless. She didn’t even take it off after she tried it on. “My God,” the lady working the store said. “Only a woman as beautiful as you could ever wear that.” Esperanza left the store wearing her new bathing suit under her blouse and skirt and headed to the beach.

Using her skirt as a blanket and placing her folded-up blouse under her head, Esperanza lay in front of the breaking waves taking in the sun. After a few minutes, something seemed to ignite at both the top of her head and the soles of her feet. If one were to observe what was happening to Esperanza, one could say she looked like a fuse that had been lit at both ends. The red heat and the crackling sounds of sparks burned, working their way across her body to meet in the middle. Like the controlled burn of a cornfield where fires are lit to prepare the field for a new crop, the stalks and weeds of Esperanza’s past burned away, leaving a rich and fertile soil for a new life to grow. After a few hours, she felt rejuvenated and wasn’t the least bit burnt, as one would expect from spending so much time in the sun. It was as if her body was doing some much-needed catching up after years of being away from the beach.

On her way back to her hotel, Esperanza entertained herself by walking through all the shops that had opened since she first walked through earlier that day. When she passed by the store where she bought her bathing suit, the same lady saw her and said, “I can’t believe it, Señorita. You are even more beautiful now than you were a few hours ago.”

In her hotel room, Esperanza took an unexpected cold shower. She spent several minutes trying to figure out which of the faucet handles was for hot water and which was for cold, but eventually gave up. She washed the sand and sweat from her hair as well as from her clothes and hung everything up to dry. Lying naked on the bed, she let the ceiling fan finish drying her off. Just before sunset, she put on her clean, dry blouse and turquoise skirt, and went off to have dinner. After some mediocre ceviche, shrimp cocktail, and two beers, she returned to her hotel and went to bed. By the next afternoon, she would be in Barra de Navidad.

***

With the whole village watching her, Esperanza easily found Doña Luz’s old bakery. Though she had retired years before, the shop’s sign still hung out in front. The faded sign read, “Bueno — Panadería y Pastelería” accompanied by a cartoon Mexican man wearing a serape and sombrero. Before she could even knock, Doña Luz opened the massive doors and said, “Welcome, Esperanza. Come in. I’ve been waiting for you. Lupita has told me so much about you.”

Certain that Doña Luz must have been mistaken, she was curious that she had used that name, of all the possibilities. “You mean, Evangelina? Don’t you? Doña Eva?”

“No,” the old woman said. “Doña Eva didn’t give much detail at all in her letter. I would have responded in the negative had it not been for Lupita.”

Doña Luz could see the look of confusion on Esperanza’s face and said for clarification, “Your wet nurse.”

“Señora, Lupita has been dead nearly twenty years.”

“Yes, I know,” the Doña responded as if talking to the dead was as common as gossiping with a neighbor.

Esperanza stood there, shocked, not knowing what to think. But as Doña Luz continued to talk, she understood that there was only one way Doña Luz could know the things that she knew.

“Come in. Come in. Let’s eat something,” Doña Luz encouraged. “You must be hungry from your travels.” She escorted Esperanza up to a small kitchen just past the bakery, where she had a pot of something keeping warm on the stove. Esperanza took note of the aroma coming from it.

As Doña Luz turned and lit the burner under the comal, she continued talking. “Lupita told me all about your travels and how you worked in that bar in Puerto Escondido. If I were as beautiful as you, I would have done the same. No shame in using what the Lord gave you. It is a pity things didn’t work out with you and that young man. She told me how you studied under Don Miguel. You plan to make your chocolates here I assume? That’s why you brought a bag full of cocoa pods? Anyway, just this morning she told me what you did the other night in Guanajuato. Good for you! He deserved it. It’s not often a woman gets to exact revenge like that. Flour or corn?”

Esperanza just sat there completely shocked, with her mouth opened. No one in the world could know all of those events. Yes, there were a few that could maybe put two of them together, but no one knew them all, especially not a woman she had just met a few minutes before. Trying to figure how it was possible, she remembered Lupita’s last words, “I’ll be looking after you the whole time. I promise.”

“Flour or corn, mija?” Doña Luz asked again.

“Huh?” Esperanza said, coming out of her daze.

“Tortillas. Would you like flour or corn?”

“What are we having?” Esperanza said with a warm smile.

“Caldo de camarón,” the Doña answered.

“Corn, please.”

***

Esperanza took great comfort in Doña Luz’s soup, as well as in knowing that Lupita had been watching over her all these years, though the soup was easier to believe.

She finished a bowl, and Doña Luz refilled it without asking. Esperanza consumed the second as eagerly as she did the first, alternating spoonfuls of soup with bites of rolled tortilla wrapped around salted pieces of avocado.

While still working on her first bowl, Doña Luz started to discuss the terms of their arrangement. “Lupita said it will take you a while to come up with the money, so I’ll accept installments until you do.”

“I’m sorry?” Esperanza said. “The money for what?”

“To buy this place, of course. What do I need it for, anyway? I might as well do some traveling before I die.”

It never occurred to Esperanza to put down roots somewhere. Maybe it was time. She could have her own shop and make a good living for herself. Though she’d never have children of her own, maybe someday she could adopt a child. And why not do it all here, in Barra de Navidad?

For the next couple weeks, Esperanza worked in the shop, cleaning it up and getting it ready to reopen for business. She worked all morning, and after siesta, she would head to the beach to take in the sun. Each night she had a late dinner with Doña Luz, and some nights they shared a beer.

When Esperanza started to make headway on the shop, she left work a little early to head out and sell some of the chocolates she’d brought with her from Guanajuato. She was a bit timid about selling her special treats but thought she had better get to work if she was going to buy Doña Luz’s bakery anytime soon.

She walked around town with a basketful of chocolates but found that people seemed to avoid her. On her first attempt, she wasn’t even successful at getting eye contact with anyone. That night at supper, she confided in Doña Luz.

“They are all intimidated by you,” the old woman confessed. “You are too beautiful.”

“What should I do then?” Esperanza asked with a mouth full of meatball.

“Be more aggressive. Time will prove that you are not here to steal their husbands. But, for now, assert yourself when it comes to selling your chocolates.” The Doña put a portion of a meatball in her mouth and began to chew it. “And charge a premium. They’ll pay it when they learn of its powers.”

The next day Esperanza went out determined to sell some chocolates. She walked up to the first pair of villagers she saw, two middle-aged women walking down the street. She didn’t wait for them to make eye contact, but instead stood in front of them and said, “Chocolates, Señoras?”

The ladies seemed stunned to be so abruptly halted by the stranger.

“I made them myself.”

“How much?” asked one of the ladies.

“One hundred pesos,” Esperanza told her.

Both ladies gasped. “Do we look crazy?” asked the woman who had spoken before. “I could buy two chocolates for ten pesos right there.” She pointed to a little store across the street.

“Those chocolates won’t give you the best orgasm of your life!”

The other woman who had yet to say a word dug into her brassiere and pulled out a neatly folded wad of pesos, and gave it to Esperanza without counting it. Esperanza took the money and handed over two chocolates wrapped together in cellophane and a little piece of red ribbon.

“Eat them both just before making love, and if they don’t do as I say, I’ll give you your money back,” Esperanza instructed.

With a big grin that exposed her gold caps, the woman took the chocolates and finally spoke. “I’ll tell you if they work tomorrow when we have coffee,” she said to her friend.

Jealous, as if the conversation over coffee had already happened, the other woman also reached into her brassiere and pulled out a neatly folded wad of money equaling one hundred pesos, and gave them to Esperanza. Esperanza wondered if every woman in Barra kept a hundred pesos down in her bosom, as she handed over another pair of chocolates.

“Enjoy yourselves, ladies,” Esperanza said as she held up the two bundles of money. “These will be waiting for you tomorrow if you are not satisfied.” She gave them a wink and walked off back to the shop, feeling as though she had conducted enough business for one day.

The next day, when she headed out to sell some chocolates, it was she who was abruptly halted by two different women this time. “We would like to buy some chocolates,” they said in unison as they each handed over one hundred pesos.

***

Realizing that her customer base was going to grow quickly, Esperanza made haste in getting the shop ready. She ordered a sign and made arrangements with a produce vendor to keep the cocoa pods coming in. Within no time, Chocolates Diamanté was up and running.

Over the next seven years, Esperanza made chocolates in the morning, sold them in the afternoon, and spent the early evenings sunbathing and walking on the beach. As a result of her chocolates, the population of the little fishing village doubled. The town even built a new school to accommodate the influx of children.

Within the first two years, Esperanza was able to buy the shop from Doña Luz. Upon receiving payment in full, Doña Luz set off to do some traveling before she died. Her last words to Esperanza before she got on the bus were, “Enjoy the bedroom that overlooks the beach while you can. In due time, you will find that it will be well suited as a nursery.”

Esperanza blew the old woman’s comment off, thinking that she may have forgotten about Esperanza’s dilemma. For the next five years, she didn’t even look at a man with the faint hint of desire. Until the day she opened the doors of her shop and saw the tall, handsome stranger in green fatigues, wearing a black beret, standing across the street.

Lover Number 3 (Chapter 7)

    Esperanza hung around long enough to get the official cause of death which was a heart attack, just like her stepfather. Upon hearing this, she packed up her two leather bags with money, skirts, blouses, and sandals and headed up to the city of Oaxaca. She’d had enough of the beach and left her bathing suit behind.

On the bus, she couldn’t help but suspect it—two lovers, two heart attacks. Was she the daughter of the devil? Was she cursed? Could she never be able to make love to a man without killing him?

She knew nothing about the city but found out right away that it was beautiful. She got a room at a boarding house as soon as she arrived and then went out to take in the city on foot. Oaxaca was a city filled with bright, vibrant colors. Lively painted buildings lined the streets one after another. Each one painted its own combination of loud colors. They were so close together that the only way one could identify the property line was by where the cobalt blue paint ended and the canary yellow began.

As Esperanza took everything in, she kept an eye out for two things in particular: a place where she could get an answer to a crucial question, and a place where she could satisfy her sweet tooth.

The candy store came first. She smelled the Buen Día Dulcería long before she ever saw it. She followed the breadcrumbs leading her there—happy children with big smiles or rings of chocolate around their mouths.

The candy store had wooden barrels filled with all kinds of different candy. There were the typical cheap, hard candies. Two pesos. Taffy. Three pesos. Candied fruit of all flavors. Four pesos. Caramels and milk-based candies to include some chocolates. Five pesos. But what caught Esperanza’s eye were the ones with the price tag of ten pesos.

These chocolates sat behind a glass case, protected from thieves as if they were diamonds, not chocolate. They sat evenly spaced on polished copper trays. Each different type of chocolate on a sperate platter. Today there were three platters: chocolate-covered almond clusters; strawberry chocolates, which were small pieces of soft strawberry candy covered in chocolate; and what looked like just plain pieces of chocolate. It turns out, these had a little chili powder in them.

“Excuse me, Señor. Can you tell me why these chocolates cost so much?”

“Because I make them myself, Señorita. From this,” the chocolatier said, holding up a raw cocoa bean pod.

Esperanza had a look of both shock and happiness, like a child who just woke up on Christmas morning. She turned her gaze back to the chocolates in the glass and said, “I’ll have one of each. No, two!”

She gladly paid the sixty pesos and had one of the almond clusters in her mouth before she made it out the door of the store. Outside, on a bench, Esperanza ate each chocolate one at a time. By the time she finished them, she had concluded that the one she cared for the least was the strawberry. She thought it too sweet. She loved the crunch of the almond clusters, but her favorites that day were the plain chocolate pieces.

Esperanza realized that desserts were one area she had yet to gain any experience. A new city, a new skill, and a new start. Yes, she thought. This man will teach me how to make chocolates.

“Absolutely not,” said Don Miguel Garcia, the chocolate maker and owner of the Buen Día Dulcería. “I don’t have time to teach anyone anything. I’m very busy here.”

“I can help you, Esperanza said. “I’ll work for you.”

“I cannot afford to hire anyone.”

“I’ll work for free.”

And that is how Esperanza became the apprentice to the chocolatier Don Miguel Garcia.

***

With her new job, Esperanza decided she would stay in Oaxaca for a while and got herself a little apartment. Down the street from the apartment was a dance club that doubled as a dance studio in the early hours of the evening. Along with learning how to make chocolate, Esperanza decided she would learn to dance as well. The dance teacher was a cocky Spaniard named Antonio Cruz, Esperanza’s third lover.

For the next two years, Esperanza studied chocolate and dance. Eventually, Don Miguel started paying her a little something. The amount didn’t really matter. Working with Don Miguel was a pleasure. The man was a kind and patient teacher. Esperanza would have paid for the experience.

Antonio Cruz, however, seemed to be the complete opposite of Don Miguel. He was neither patient nor kind. He would ridicule students who couldn’t stay in step or remember a combination. And at every opportunity he found, he would brag about the country he’d left as a teenager more than fifteen years before. Whenever the words, “In my country” came out, everyone around prepared themselves for a line of bullshit.

Regardless of all this, Antonio Cruz went to bed with whichever of his students he wanted, whenever he wanted. They couldn’t help themselves. There was something about seeing someone practice the gift God gave him that made him irresistible, no matter how much of an ass he was. There was no denying it, Antonio danced beautifully. This alone was enough to seduce most women, but for good measure, he was also handsome. Esperanza couldn’t believe she was attracted to such a jerk, but she was.

There were two reasons why Esperanza did not go to bed with Antonio Cruz. One, because he told her she would: “It will just be a matter of time before we end up in bed,” he said to her the evening of her first dance class. The other reason was the chance she might kill him.

One day while Esperanza dipped fried banana chips into chocolate and then laid them on wax paper to cool, Don Miguel asked her, “Is there something wrong?”

Esperanza looked down at the chocolate-covered banana chips, not finding anything she could identify as wrong, and then dipped her pinky into warm chocolate and tasted it. “No, I don’t think so.”

“No, not with the chocolate,” Don Miguel hesitated. “With you? I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant. It’s just that it’s been nearly two years since you arrived here, and I haven’t seen you in the company of a man. Forgive me for saying so, but you’re a beautiful, young woman who could have anyone you want. I’m just curious as to why you choose to be alone.”

It’s not that Esperanza needed a man to be happy. Her happiness came from doing the things she loved, like dancing and cooking though she felt the prospects of becoming a mother were very low without a man. She did wonder what it would be like to have someone special in her life, but could not move forward without knowing for sure whether or not making love to her was fatal. She kept all these thoughts to herself and instead answered the Don by saying. “I think I’m cursed.”

“What do you mean?” Don Miguel said as he gave a vat of chocolate a stir with a wooden spoon.

Regretting her words, Esperanza said, “Well, it’s rather private, Don Miguel. Let’s just say I’ve been seeking help and haven’t had any luck.”

“Who have you gone to?”

“Every fortune-teller in town. So far, all that I’ve learned is that they are all fakes.”

“Yes, they are entertainment for tourists.”

“Well, I wished I checked with you before going. I would have saved myself a lot of money.”

“I know of a woman,” the Don said. “She is thought of as an Aztec medicine woman. She predicted my life as a chocolatier which may not have been such a magical prediction, being that she’s the one who taught me how to make chocolate. Chocolate is a Nahuatl word, by the way. I will take you to her when we are done here.”

“How do you know of this woman?” Esperanza asked.

“She is my mother.”

***

With all the chocolates for the next day made, Don Miguel locked up the candy shop and escorted Esperanza to his home. The house looked like all the other buildings in Oaxaca, but when Esperanza walked through the open door that was a cut-out of a bigger door, she could not believe her eyes. The house looked like a two-story hotel with an open-air garden right in the middle, complete with a fountain, though it didn’t work.

Right away Esperanza thought that Don Miguel could afford to pay her a little more, but later she found out that the house had been a gift from his father-in-law. The Don’s wife was the rich man’s only daughter.

Don Miguel walked Esperanza to his mother’s room and yelled out, “Mamá.” He then put two ten-peso coins in Esperanza’s palm. “She will insist on being paid,” he said. “Don’t worry. I’ll get the money back. She thinks I need it.”

The old woman slowly appeared out of the darkness of her room. She wore all black, including a lace veil. She was in mourning, even though it had been nearly twenty years since her husband passed.

“Mamá, this young lady needs your help,” the Don said to his mother and then gestured to Esperanza to follow her into the room. “I’ll let you have your privacy. If I’m not around when you finish, let yourself out.” Esperanza followed the old woman into the dark room.

A combination of Aztec and Catholic relics decorated the room. From the outside, it appeared dark but more than a dozen flickering candles lit the room well. The old lady took a seat at a table, and Esperanza sat in a chair opposite of her. There was an uncomfortable silence for several seconds until Esperanza remembered the coins in her hand. She laid the pesos on the table, and the medicine woman quickly picked them up and stashed them away.

“Your hands,” the woman said.

Esperanza put her hands on the table. The Señora picked them up and studied her palms. Esperanza noticed a confused look on the Señora’s face. After a while, she gave up and looked up to stare into Esperanza’s green eyes. Esperanza waited patiently until the old woman finally spoke. “I can’t help you,” she said as she took out the coins and put them back on the table. “Your spirit is blocked by a higher power.”

“No,” Esperanza pleaded. “I need your help! I’m desperate. I need to know if I am cursed.”

Pitying the beautiful, young girl the Don’s mother said, “Tell me your troubles, and I can give you my advice, but it will just be from me, not from the Gods themselves.”

Esperanza hesitated for a minute, wondering if she should say what was troubling her. No one on earth knew what happened to her the two times she’d made love. At the most, they only knew of one event, but not both. She decided that it was time someone knew.

“Señora, the two times I have made love the men died while still inside of me. I need to know if I am cursed if this is my destiny.”

“Young lady, twice is luck. Good or bad. Three times is destiny.” Satisfied with her answer, the medicine woman swiped the two coins off the table into her hand, concluding that she had earned the pesos after all.

Esperanza left Don Miguel’s home, dumbfounded. She still had no idea whether she was cursed or not. Though now she knew of a way to find out.

***

She still needed to work on her mariposa, reverse cross-body lead, and, of course, her hand stylings. Hand styling alone made a woman look like she knew what she was doing on the dance floor, as long as she stayed in step. Esperanza still had too much to learn and couldn’t take the chance of sleeping with Antonio right away. She would wait.

Of course, she could have conducted her little test on some other poor soul. Many men made their desire to have her very clear, but she looked at it two ways: By making love to Antonio, she would be giving herself to someone she had wanted for a long time. If he lived, maybe she would let him have her again. If he died, she would rid the world of a pompous, womanizing ass.

In the meantime, Esperanza spent the next several weeks perfecting her skills, both on the dance floor and in Don Miguel’s candy shop.

***

The day Esperanza realized she had learned everything she could about dancing from Antonio, she hadn’t the courage to make her move. She didn’t have the courage for two more weeks’ worth of lessons. Eventually, her desire to finally find out the truth overcame her, and she asked Antonio if he gave private dance lessons. He knew what this meant. It was how all the women made their move. He thought this day would come, but had almost lost faith after the first two years. “Sure,” he said. “Come by my apartment tonight at nine o’clock.”

Esperanza knocked on the door at precisely nine p.m. She could hear the music coming from inside. Her heart was pounding.

Antonio opened the door and greeted her with a kiss on the cheek. He then took her hand and led her into his apartment as if he were escorting her onto the dance floor. He took her right hand in his and put his other on her back. When the two began to dance Antonio asked, “What did you want to work on tonight?”

“I want to make love,” Esperanza answered.

“Of course,” he said, giving out a little giggle.

“What’s so funny,” she asked.

“Nothing. It’s just that in my country you have to make an effort to seduce a woman. Spanish women are not so easy.”

Shut up, pendejo! Esperanza thought but didn’t say.

In the bedroom, Esperanza quickly removed her three articles of clothing. Her blouse, her skirt, and her custom-made sandals. Antonio was shocked at how the woman who had waited over two years now seemed so eager to make love. Regardless, seeing the most beautiful woman he had ever known lying naked in his bed aroused him, and he eagerly undressed and got in bed with her.

Years of having women throw themselves at him had made Antonio a lazy lover. He entered her right away, not taking any time for foreplay. Despite being a talented dancer, Antonio was a terrible lay. Even a woman as inexperienced as Esperanza was bored with his performance.

She stopped him and slid out from underneath him. Ignorant, Antonio did not pick up that she was dissatisfied but assumed she just wanted to change positions. He turned over on his back and placed both his hands behind his head.

Not sure what to do, even thinking of just leaving, Esperanza stared at the naked man with his erection pointing toward the ceiling. That’s when it occurred to her that a woman could be on top—could do all the work, so to speak. Something Antonio was more than willing to let her do.

Esperanza decided to stay and crawled on top of him, awkwardly fitting his erection into her. Sitting there, on top of him, Esperanza realized she didn’t know what to do. Antonio was no help, just lying there looking at her. Suddenly, a new song came on, a cumbia. Esperanza loved salsa music but loved the rhythm of a cumbia more. She instinctively started moving her hips to the beat.

Chuga-cha, chuga-cha, went the rhythm of the song as Esperanza rocked her hips back and forth to the tempo. In time, she found that she was enjoying herself. Never in her life had she felt this much physical pleasure. Chuga-cha, chuga-cha!

Getting lost in the music and the joy of lovemaking, Esperanza looked up in ecstasy, closing her eyes. She continued to move her hips to the music, concentrating on the tension that was building deep in her body. She felt Antonio’s hand cup her bouncing breasts, and this helped build the tension even more. Chuga-cha, Chuga-cha!

Soon, she felt she was losing control of her body. No longer in sync with the music, she was bucking wildly to her own beat. She now understood why people loved sex, and, for a brief second, she envisioned a lifetime of lovemaking. That’s when she felt Antonio’s hands release her breasts and then fall to her side.

She froze, with her head still cocked back. She slowly began to bring her head forward, only opening one eye, afraid of what she was going to see.

Only one word came to mind when she saw her dead lover: Destiny.

Chuga-cha, chuga-cha.

***

The next morning, the death of Antonio Cruz was the talk of the town. Everyone had pity in their heart for the poor girl who was in bed with him when he passed. Some even knew that the poor girl was Esperanza, but most didn’t. She had nothing to hide. No one would ever have guessed that she had killed him with her passion. Plus, would a murderer notify the authorities?

With the music still playing, Esperanza sat on top of the dead Antonio Cruz, thinking of what to do. But, before she could come up with anything, she felt the need to vomit.

After emptying the contents of her stomach, Esperanza lay on the bathroom floor, naked and sobbed. She found herself not crying for poor Antonio but for her realization that she was cursed, that she was destined to forever be alone, never to take a lover ever again.

After getting her composure, she got dressed and headed straight to the police station, where she reported that her partner had quit breathing while making love. She feared no repercussions. She was obviously distraught, and there would be no signs of foul play. In the end, the coroner his death ruled a heart attack.

Esperanza felt terrible for having killed a man. Only the fact that she didn’t know the outcome for certain, ahead of time, brought her peace. She thought for a long time of how to handle this curse of hers. In the end, all she could think of was to stay away from men for the rest of her life. Knowing what she now knew, she could never allow herself to make love to another man ever again. To do so would be murder.

***

The next morning, despite the goings-on of the night before, Esperanza decided to continue with her life and went to work at the candy store. She walked in to find Don Miguel spreading cocoa beans out to dry. Right away, she knew he was unhappy with her.

“This curse you spoke of,” the Don inquired. “This was it, wasn’t it?”

Don Miguel was well aware of what had happened. “Yes, Don Miguel,” she answered as tears welled up in her eyes.

“And this thing, it happened in Puerto Escondido? It’s why you left?”

“Yes, Don Miguel.” The tears were now rolling down her face.

“How could you do this, knowing your history?”

“Twice is luck. Good or bad. Three times…”

“Is Destiny,” Don Miguel finished. He tossed fistfuls of cocoa beans in the air as he brought his hands to his forehead. He needed no further explanation with regards to why she had done it.

“Who else knows about this? About what happened in Puerto Escondido and last night!”

“Just you and, possibly, your mother, when she hears the news. If she does.”

“Oh, she’ll hear about it alright. Gossip is her full-time job. But we don’t have to worry about her. Confidentiality is part of the arrangement. Even if she did say anything, no one would believe a crazy, old medicine woman. It’s not her I’m concerned about. Word travels fast in this state.”

Don Miguel continued, “With Puerto Escondido being only a day’s bus ride away, people travel there often to take in the beach and vice versa. It could be weeks or months, but someone will tell the story of what happened there to someone who knows what happened here. And if they don’t know your name, they’ll surely know your description. The authorities are sure to find out. In the least, they’ll lock you up on suspicion. I’m sorry. You must leave Oaxaca.”

Esperanza was now crying into her hands. Don Miguel could see her remorse. Feeling he was partially at fault, he decided to help her. He put a handful of wet cocoa beans in her hands and told her, “Here. Take over for me. I’ve got something to do.” Don Miguel dried his hands on his apron and said, “Don’t worry. I’m going to help you. It’s the least I can do.”

Esperanza dried her eyes and blew her nose, and got to work on spreading out the cocoa beans. When she finished that task, she started on grinding up a batch of cacao nibs. Don Miguel returned a couple of hours later.

“I sent a letter to a friend of mine who lives far from here. We should hear back from her in a week or so. If it’s good news, I’ll fill you in on the rest. Until then, keep working here in the shop as if everything is normal and go straight home each day when we are done. It will be in your best interest to be a recluse from now until you leave.”

Esperanza did as the Don requested. It wasn’t hard to do as she didn’t feel like doing much more than sleeping and working. About a week later, she came to the Buen Día Dulcería to find Don Miguel with a smile on his face.

“My friend has agreed to take you on as her apprentice. She is a baker and gourmet chef. She has a lot to teach you. As long as you are her apprentice, you can board with her as well.”

“Thank you, Don Miguel! When shall I leave?”

“Right now,” he said. “Go to your apartment and pack your things. Then go straight to the bus station. Draw as little attention to yourself as possible. Here, cover yourself with this.” Don Miguel tossed her a black shawl. “It’s my mother’s. It’s the least she could do. Take the first bus available. It doesn’t matter where. Stay the night there, and the next morning start making your way up north.”

“Where am I going?” Esperanza asked.

“Guanajuato,” Don Miguel answered.

Older posts

© 2018 David Soto Writes

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑