David Soto Writes

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

Tag: fiction (page 1 of 4)

How To Make Cinnamon Rolls

 

First, you make love. What does this have to do with making cinnamon rolls? Everything. It’s the most important part. Cinnamon rolls are supposed to be sweet. If you have any built up passion in your system at all, it will throw off your taste buds. You won’t be able to sense the hidden fire that the cinnamon holds and therefore add too much when concocting the mixture that makes cinnamon rolls—cinnamon rolls.

One time, my Tia took on the task of baking my favorite pastry when her husband was away at war. He had been gone six months, and of course, she was faithful. She hadn’t even pleased herself on those nights where she was so frustrated that sleep had eluded her. When my Tia mixed the cinnamon and sugar, she had so much pent-up desire that she could not taste the cinnamon at all.

She added the spice until every bit she could find in the house was in her mixing bowl. “Well, that’s going to have to do,” she said.

When I took the first forkful in my mouth, not even the frosting — which was cream cheese, powdered sugar, and a little milk — could not tame the fire in those rolls fresh from the oven. I choked and gagged, and tears ran down my face. I had to drink a gallon of milk before the symptoms abated.

“What’s wrong, mijo?” My Tia asked when she saw me react as if I had been sprayed with mace. “It needs more cinnamon, huh?”

Luckily for me, she didn’t make cinnamon rolls again until the morning after my Tio came home, three months later. They were perfect. I ate three of the giant rolls and would have eaten a fourth if my Tia hadn’t of stopped me. “That’s enough,” she said. “You’ll get diabetes.” My Tia was always afraid I would catch some disease.

You see. That’s why you should always make love first! Why don’t you just use measurements, you ask. Well, how do you know how much you are going to need, for one thing. Plus, what do measuring spoons know about cinnamon rolls? Nothing. That’s what.

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. 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.

Lover Number 5 (Chapter 12)

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

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

The second youngest among the soldiers was a man by the name of Pascual Ortiz. Pascual was only four years older than Pierre. Because of this, the two bonded. Pierre was far superior when in came to soldiering, but Pascual had 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 upon leaving home. 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. This was usually done during a meal. Pascual read the letters out loud, but changed his routine one day when the letter opened with “Dear Pierre” instead of “My dearest son.”

“What is it?” Pierre said through a mouth full of arroz con coco. Pascual was reading 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. He was denied and instead promoted to sergeant and given a squad to lead. Pierre was too good of a soldier to be granted leave. His commander 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 not only no longer have the protection of the army, but 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 wasn’t going to be a prisoner who helped his captors by killing their enemy. 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 to find the camp, torch it, and bring back any surviving enemy soldiers. The day before the patrol was to head out, Pierre requested leave for when he got back.

“I’m sure we can figure something out upon your return,” said the colonel. 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 and 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 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 was getting so much pleasure from touching Pierre’s naked 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.

“Apparently, when he 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. I never found out if they made the weeks-long journey back home alive without me.”

“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 Mexico and Cuba. Then went off the Middle East and Asia. I returned to Cuba and then went off to 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 them 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 started joking with me, saying that I was immortal. One drunken night, I decided to prove them wrong, and 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 the next several years, I continued to hear 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, Lupita.”

***

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 had 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. One or two members even shouted out, “Eso!”

“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 a few more “Esos” and a couple “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 very little experience with foreplay. And even though she was enjoying 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 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 like 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 his own passionate moans. 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 moans 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 had collapsed on top on 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 loudly, 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 the early morning.

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


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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. He was looking for something. Along the way, he would stop 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 in his heart and trailed down to his groin. 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.” As Pierre bent down to take a screwdriver out of the toolbox, a small group of children that had gathered behind him was revealed to Esperanza.

“You kids go play,” she shouted while waving a white towel that was 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 slivers 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. When he was done, 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 the job complete 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 with a hint of sarcasm.

“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 actually 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 door 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 large 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. Destiny, he thought.

***

“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 is 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 she 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. She had kept this secret for so long that did feel good to finally tell someone. 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. She was caught off guard by his request and 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.

“Menso!” 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. She removed her apron and said, “I have to do some shopping. If I am not back before you leave, be back here just before sunset,” and walked out the door.

***

Everything was ready by the time Pierre reappeared that evening. Being that the only clothes he had were his green fatigues, this was what he wore to dinner, though he did bathe and change into a clean set. 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; both were made from scratch. Esperanza grilled a whole chicken over a small wood fire before she allowed it to simmer in the sauce and get tender. She realized that she had made a mistake by only buying one chicken. It slipped her mind 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 was left 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, menso. 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, just so 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 told you to in your dreams?”

“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 confidence wasn’t unwarranted. Esperanza was attracted to him. He had known this for weeks, but it had never been more obvious than it was on this night. The sexual tension was so intense that it gave off an odor that Pierre could smell in the air.

“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 introduced herself in the beginning. 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 him? 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 for a second, 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.”


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

Pierre was born in a brothel in Panamá 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 was a master at 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 that he was no longer in possession of his 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 let out a chuckle 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. Happy as a pig in shit.


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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 got off the bus, 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 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 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, “Bienvenida, Esperanza. Come in. I’ve been waiting for you. Lupita has told me so much about you.”

Knowing 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 will 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 settle down 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 would have a late dinner with Doña Luz, and some nights they would even share 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 little 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 tienda across the street.

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

The woman who hadn’t spoken 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 prior to 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 second 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, and a new school had to be built.

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 seven 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 stranger in green fatigues, wearing a black beret, standing across the street.


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Lover Number 4 (Chapter 4)

In Guanajuato, Esperanza was not the only one living with Doña Eva. María Elena was the head housemaid of the residence. Because of her tenure, she was not only allowed to stay in the house, but so was her oldest daughter, Ana. The rest of María Elena’s family lived in Guadalajara. Every few months, Mariá Elena traveled home by bus for an extended weekend with her family. Ana had a special bond with her mother, especially when it came to cooking and the months-long separations from her mother were particularly hard on the young girl. When María Elena told Doña Eva that she might not return from her next trip to Guadalajara, Doña Eva insisted that her maid bring her daughter back with her to Guanajuato.

In awe of Esperanza’s beauty, the twelve-year-old Ana looked up to her, and started splitting her time between the kitchen, with her mother, and the bakery, with Esperanza. The two bonded and became like sisters. They would laugh, play games and go for walks in the city, shopping along the way or trying pastries from other panaderías. When Ana started her first period, it was Esperanza she broke the news to first, not her mother. Although honored that Ana had confided in her, Esperanza sternly told Ana, “That is something you need to tell your mother first, not me.”

***

Ana wanted so badly to emulate Esperanza that, over time, she even started to mimic her in ways she could not control. Her voice inflections, mannerisms, and kindness were easy to explain, but what seemed almost magical was how Ana’s body started to blossom into that of a mature woman—specifically the body of Esperanza.

It got so bad that both María Elena and Esperanza spent a good deal of money and time taking Ana shopping. The little girl clothes that the twelve-year-old wore had become so full with breast and hips that it brought her a lot of unwanted attention from older men. One of them was Esperanza’s fourth lover, Miguel Sandoval.

Miguel Sandoval was a bachelor who made a decent living delivering water. Between drinking and baking, Doña Eva’s house went through so much water that she had to have water delivered every day. Doña Eva’s house was on Miguel Sandoval’s route. On every delivery he would count the empty twenty-liter garrafones, haul them up to his truck, and carry the full ones back down, two at a time, to replace the empties. He would alternate trips from the truck between the bakery and the kitchen until he replaced every empty bottle with a full one. When he finished, Doña Eva paid him for each bottle, plus a generous tip.

His tips were why Miguel Sandoval made such a good living. He was polite, courteous, and charming. He never left a house without a generous tip. The only person who saw through his deceit was Esperanza. No matter how polite he was to her, she could see his real intentions. Just by the feel of his lustful gaze, she could tell that he was in the bakery without ever seeing him. Luckily for Miguel Sandoval, Esperanza was not in charge of paying for the water.

Every time Miguel Sandoval delivered water to Doña Eva’s, he would hope to catch Esperanza still in the bakery, mixing something or maybe washing dishes, so he could get a glimpse of her breasts gyrating underneath her sheer white cotton top. Then one day, Esperanza noticed that the all the empty garrafones had been replaced, but she had not seen Miguel Sandoval. More importantly, she had not felt his lustful gaze upon her.

This was about the time Ana had started to blossom. Miguel Sandoval had occasionally seen Ana during his deliveries. He had thought nothing more of her than that she was the head maid’s little girl—until the day he carried in two full garrafones, one on each shoulder, into the kitchen and saw a large pair of breasts swaying with the rhythm a woman used to knead masa with her bare hands. When Miguel Sandoval finally looked up from the woman’s jiggling breasts, he realized that the woman was not a woman at all but the twelve-year-old Ana.

Now, during every water delivery, it was Ana he was hoping to catch in the kitchen, instead of Esperanza in the bakery. It didn’t matter to him how young she was. Her purity turned him on even more. The young college girls that he seduced on a nightly basis at the bar no longer satiated him. He knew he needed something different but wasn’t sure what it was—until the day he started to notice Ana.

***

María Elena’s scream seemed louder than it actually was, being as it came at siesta time. Immediately, both Doña Eva and Esperanza tracked the scream down to Ana’s room. On the bed was Ana, curled up in the fetal position sobbing. Standing next to her, holding a pair of Ana’s panties soiled with a pink liquid, an obvious mixture of blood and semen, was María Elena. She was also sobbing.

María Elena was crying because she thought her daughter had given up her virtue at such a young age. Esperanza knew better. “She’s been raped,” Esperanza announced. The other two women gasped simultaneously, both doing the sign of the cross.

“Is this true?” María Elena asked her daughter. Ana was nonresponsive.

“It’s true,” Esperanza answered for her. Lowering her voice she continued, “Burn those clothes, so that she never has to see them again. She’ll need time heal. Let me handle this. I’ll find out who did it. Going to the police will be a waste of time. Doña Eva, my time here has come to an end. Do you know someone in another city I can apprentice under? I’ll need a letter of introduction. I will have to leave on the day I avenge her.”

Both María Elena and Doña Eva were shocked at how Esperanza sounded more like a general than a baker’s apprentice. They followed through with everything she had requested.

Esperanza knew it was Miguel Sandoval, but would need confirmation before she committed the deed. It would have to come from Ana herself. Esperanza knew the child would tell her when the time was right. In the meantime, María Elena burned the soiled clothes Ana wore that day, and Doña Eva sent off a letter to Doña Luz in Barra de Navidad.

It took several weeks before Ana started to resemble her old self. Miguel Sandoval had given up his profitable water delivery route, trading it with someone else in the company and claiming that he needed a change of scenery. When Esperanza felt she would get an answer, she asked Ana what had happened.

She learned that Ana had been walking home from school and was about to start up a steep hill—the kind of hill Guanajuato was famous for—when Miguel Sandoval pulled up next to her and offered her a ride. Innocent of any intentions he may have had, Ana gladly accepted. Halfway up the hill Miguel Sandoval pulled into a small parking lot of an apartment building, claiming he needed to make a quick water delivery first.

Sitting in his truck, he couldn’t help but notice how her breasts filled her white school-uniform blouse so much that the buttons looked as if they were going to pop off. And how sitting down caused her navy blue skirt to expose a good portion of her thighs. Right there, in the apartment building parking lot, in the cab of his water delivery truck, Miguel Sandoval stole Ana’s virtue.

Upon hearing this, Esperanza knew that Miguel Sandoval would be dead that night and that she would leave Guanajuato, never to return.

***

Late that night, Esperanza walked into the kitchen with her two leather bags and announced to María Elena and Doña Eva that she was leaving. Upon hearing this, Doña Eva walked over to a drawer and pulled out an envelope and handed it to Esperanza.

In the envelope were a letter of introduction to Doña Luz and a wad of cash. “Doña Luz is a retired widow now. Her bakery has been closed for years. There is enough money here to rent the shop for three months. That should get you started. You no longer need to apprentice under anyone. I assure you. Open your own shop and find an apprentice of your own.” Doña Eva placed the envelope in Esperanza’s hand and followed it with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Take care of yourself,” she said with tears in her eyes.

Esperanza then made her way to a crying María Elena. “When Ana is a woman, tell her what happened.”

Through her tears, María Elena said, “Thank you for this, Esperanza. God bless you.”

Esperanza embraced María Elena once more and made her way to the front door. Before she closed the door behind her she turned around and said, “It was Miguel Sandoval.”

***

Had she gotten Ana’s confession a day later, she would not have known where to find Miguel Sandoval. It would have been Easter Sunday, and no businesses would have been open. Thankfully, it was Saturday, and she knew he would be at his regular spot, trying to seduce a tourist or exchange student on the dance floor.

She had the taxi driver park on a quiet street. She asked him how much he made in one night, and offered him half that amount up front and told him she would pay him the rest by midnight if he waited for her. He agreed. Leaving her two leather cases in the car, she went off to the bar with nothing but two of her seductive chocolates.

As soon as she walked into the place, she spotted Miguel Sandoval trying to dance with an awkward, but pretty, blond exchange student from the States. When the song ended they sat down at a table, and Miguel Sandoval mixed the pretty blonde a drink of sweet limeade and tequila, heavy on the tequila.

Esperanza had to turn down four offers to dance on her way to Miguel Sandoval’s table. When she arrived, she asked, “Can you mix one of those for me?” Miguel Sandoval was shocked when he looked up to see that the request had come from the woman he had been lusting after for nearly two years.

“Claro que sí,” he said as he scooted over, making room for her to sit. Completely ignoring the pretty blonde, Miguel Sandoval handed over the drink intended for her to Esperanza.

“It’s too sweet,” Esperanza said. “More tequila.”

“Do you think I never noticed how you looked at me at Doña Eva’s house?” Esperanza said as Miguel Sandoval topped off her drink with more tequila. Esperanza took a sip. “Ahh, that’s better. Why did you stop looking at me like that?” She took another sip.

“I didn’t think you were interested.”

“You give up too easy.”

“It was two years!”

“Well, I’m here now. I want you to look at me like that again.”

Usually the ladies’ man, Miguel Sandoval stumbled over his words. He was in disbelief. Never had he seen Esperanza outside Doña Eva’s house, and never had he thought he had a chance with such a beautiful woman.

“Quiero bailar,” she demanded.

“Claro que sí,” he responded as he offered her his hand and took her to the dance floor. Miguel Sandoval then took both of Esperanza’s hands in his, and they immediately fell in step with the music.

Feeling something between their fingers, Miguel Sandoval took a look and asked, “What’s this?”

“Those are my chocolates. I brought them for you.”

Confused Miguel Sandoval said, “Oh,” and went to put them in the pocket of his shirt.

Still in step, Esperanza stopped him and said, “No, try them. They’re made with chili.”

Reluctant, Miguel Sandoval unwrapped the chocolates and put one in his mouth, all while staying in step. He faked a smile to show that he liked it and attempted to put the other in his pocket, but was interrupted by Esperanza as she held up one finger and ticked it side to side. “Y el otro,” she said just before doing a solo turn. When she came back around to face him, she followed with, “Cómatelo!” Just to get it over with, he popped the other chocolate in his mouth and put the wrapper in his pocket. He then took her hand again, and they continued to dance.

Esperanza was pretty sure she could have the man if she wanted, but decided it was too important to take a chance, so she’d brought her chocolates. They continued to dance for several songs while she waited for the chocolates to take effect. When she saw a somewhat familiar look of lust and desperation in his eyes, she knew it was time.

Not waiting for the song to finish, Esperanza took Miguel Sandoval by the hand out of the bar. Looking for some privacy, she dragged him to the back of the building. When she came to a staircase, she let his hand go and climbed the stairs to the roof of the building. Miguel Sandoval was close behind.

On the roof, the salsa music seemed far away but was still quite loud as it made its way out of the windows of the building and into the crisp air of the night. Esperanza saw a curious wooden table that was so large, it had to have been built on the roof. Better than the floor, she thought. She turned to Miguel Sandoval, hopped on the table, pulled her skirt over her knees and said, “Take me.”

She lay back on the table and lifted up her blouse, exposing her breasts, hoping that the visual would aid in Miguel Sandoval’s quick climax. Looking up at the stars, she wondered if they were being watched and patiently waited for Miguel Sandoval to enter her.

Never in his life had he made love to such a beautiful woman. The excitement was too much, and within thirty seconds of sliding his erection into Esperanza, Miguel Sandoval was dead.

***

As soon as she heard Miguel Sandoval climax and drop to the floor, Esperanza pulled her blouse back down over her breasts, got up, and walked down the stairs. She was relieved to see that her taxi was still there, waiting for her. As promised, she paid the driver the rest of the sum she owed him after he dropped her off at the bus station. When the overnight bus to Puerto Vallarta pulled out of Guanajuato’s Estación de Autobuses, she let out a big sigh and wept.


If you like what you read, feel free to get the rest of the story on Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, and Kobo!

Guanajuato (Chapter 2)

It had been seven years since Esperanza felt the touch of a man. Within an hour of the last time she’d made love, she was on a bus with her two leather bags, on her way from the capital city of Guanajuato to the small village of Barra de Navidad.

In Guanajuato, she’d lived and worked with the best and most adored baker in the city. She was an apprentice to Doña Eva. Doña Eva was not only a master baker but also a gourmet chef and had studied her trade in France. It was Doña Eva who had written the letter of introduction to Doña Luz when Esperanza decided it was time to leave Guanajuato.

Doña Eva and her apprentice made all the pastries in the bakery, which was attached to the house, during the early hours of the morning. Esperanza hated that her workday began at two a.m. and swore that if she ever had a place of her own, it would open at a reasonable hour.

By seven in the morning, all the pastries were loaded into a van driven by Eva’s husband, Don José Gutierrez. Don José then delivered the pastries to Panadería Gutierrez, located downtown. This “bakery” only featured and sold the goods. No actual baking took place in there. The most attractive of fresh breads were thoughtfully displayed on shelves in front of the huge picture window. This and the aroma of the sweet bread were all the marketing the Gutierrezes needed to sell out every day.

No one could walk by without being seduced by the smell or beautiful display of conchas, niño envuelto, pan fino, pata de mula, orejas, quequitos, pan picón, bisquetes, or even the savory bolillos used for tortas. All the Mexican favorites were there, but what really made the Panadería Gutierrez stand out were the products of Doña Eva’s French training. Her bakery was the only one in town that had puff pastries and croissants for sale. The most popular of all, of course, were the chocolate-filled croissants made by none other than Esperanza herself.

Locals and tourists alike flowed into the bakery at a steady pace every day until the shop sold out. Then one day, local women started lining up and buying all the chocolate croissants they could afford, ignoring the rest of the delights on display. This had not always been the case, but Esperanza figured out the reason for her croissants’ popularity only days after a slip of her butcher knife.

Though there was no baking done on Sundays, Esperanza still put in a full day’s work in the bakery. The only condition Esperanza insisted on when she and Doña Eva came to terms on her apprenticeship was that, instead of store-bought chocolate bars being used in the chocolate croissants, Esperanza be allowed to make the chocolate herself. Doña Eva agreed, as long as that didn’t interfere with the regular baking schedule.

As soon as the terms were agreed to, Esperanza slung one of her two leather bags onto the table and said, “Good, I’ll get started right away.” She overturned the bag, dumping the entire contents onto the table: cocoa bean pods.

For two years prior to her coming to Guanajuato, Esperanza had been under the tutelage of one Don Miguel Garcia, a chocolatier in Oaxaca. It was Don Miguel who had written the letter of introduction to Doña Eva when circumstances warranted that Esperanza vacate Oaxaca.

It was on step five of Esperanza’s cocoa powder–making process when she got distracted and nicked her finger with the butcher knife one Sunday.

Step one: Remove beans from pods.

Step two: Place beans in a bucket lined with banana leaves to ferment for three days.

Step three: Remove beans from the bucket and spread them out to dry for a few days.

Step four: Roast beans in the oven until shells crack open, then remove and let cool.

Step five: Separate nibs from their shell, finely chop, then grind them into a powder.

The entire process took exactly one week. So, when Esperanza cut herself and bled all over the chopped cocoa nibs, she was faced with a decision. Dry up as much blood as she could with a towel, or throw the entire batch out and lose a week’s worth of work. Rinsing the nibs was out of the question, as much of them turned to powder in the chopping process. She did the best she could, but there was no doubt in her mind that there was some residue of her blood in that batch of cocoa powder.

That Sunday’s blood-laced batch of cocoa powder made enough chocolate to fill six day’s worth of croissants. By Tuesday of that week, rumors started to spread among a select few of the bakery’s patrons. By the following week, after successfully making chocolate without cutting herself, the rumors stopped, and the sales of croissants resumed their normal pace. But the whole event made Esperanza curious, and she decided to conduct a little experiment.

This time, instead of cutting herself, Esperanza pricked her finger with a sewing needle and squeezed out several drops of blood into her batch of chocolate. By Tuesday of that week, she started getting the feedback she was looking for. It was her blood.

After the confirmation, Esperanza decided to omit this secret ingredient from her chocolate and, in due time, the spike in sales and buzz about the croissants subsided. But the experimenting was far from done. She requested that Don José add more bean pods to the weekly shopping list. In addition to the chocolate for the croissants, she started making individual candies. She used an icing tube for decorating cakes to squeeze out spiral-shaped drops of chocolate delight.

Her first testers were Doña Eva and her husband. “Here. I want you to be the first to try my chocolates,” Esperanza said to Doña Eva.

“Ay, no,” the Doña replied. “After years of being a baker, I have no desire for sweets.”

“I know,” responded Esperanza as she handed over a chocolate wrapped in a piece of wax paper. “That’s why I put chili in these.”

The Doña reluctantly took the chocolate and put it in her mouth. Although she did tilt her head and raise her eyebrows in approval, Esperanza could tell that the candy was still too sweet for Doña Eva.

“Señor?” Esperanza said, holding out another chocolate. Unlike his wife, Don José still had an affinity for sweets, though one could never tell from the absence of any belly fat around his waist. It was ironic that, of the two, his wife was the hefty one.

“Claro que sí!” the Don said and popped the chocolate into his mouth. The smile on his face matched his approval. “Son ricos! Hay más?” The Don wanted more.

“Sorry, Señor. Only one per customer today.”

One would think that the chocolates had instilled an immediate effect on Don José, the way he talked so fast and so loud, but that was just his normal voice. “Vamos a venderlos?” He seemed to shout the question.

“No, Señor. These are just a little result of some experimenting I am doing. You can subtract the cost of these chocolates from my pay.” With that, Esperanza walked out of the room and waited patiently for the results of her little experiment.

It wasn’t until late that night that Esperanza got the results she was waiting for. The sound of Doña Eva and her husband in the throes of passion traveled down the hall, over the stairs, through the kitchen, across the bakery, and under the door of Esperanza’s bedroom to wake her out of a sound sleep. Only God himself knew the last time the elderly couple had made love, and never had it been so passionate.


If you like what you read, feel free to get the rest of the story on Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, and Kobo!

Maria’s Mom Visits – Post 23

As soon as Maria got off of Skype with Tim, she quickly walked the living room where her mother was waiting, sat down next to her, curled into a ball, and cried.

Maria’s mother, Espi (short for Esperanza), had taken the first flight out of Los Angeles to Sacramento as soon as she heard the news. Espi was the one who signed Maria out of the hospital.

“What am I going to do, Mama.”

“You’re going to try again,”Espi hesitated. “and you’re going to be strong.”

“I can’t.”

“What do you mean you can’t? You have to; you’re the wife.”

“Yeah, the wife. I’m not the man. The man is the one who was supposed to be strong.”

“Who told you that? Mira, every strong, powerful, and successful man that you know of is that way because of his wife. When the president of the United States has a long and terrible and stressful day who’s shoulder, do you think he leans on? Do you think that these men don’t breakdown, don’t have moments of weakness. Of course they do. They are flawed and imperfect just like any other man. They just hide it from everyone. Everyone except the one person they can’t, their wife. The wife keeps them strong by being strong for them and by being silent.”

“What does silent have to do with it?”

“Listen, the only difference between a man in a position of power and his followers is that they don’t know of his weaknesses. But his wife does. She knows them all. Think of any politician, or celebrity, or athlete that was put to shame when people realized that flawed. People lost respect for them. They have to bow out of political races or lost millions of dollars worth of endorsements all because word got out. And who told their secret? Their wives.”

“But what about Bill Clinton? Hillary didn’t…”

“Yeah yeah. I know,” Espi interrupted. “It was that pinche gringa that ratted him out. Even the strongest woman can be outdone by a man’s own stupidity. But let me ask you something. You don’t think that it that was his first time do you? Or that she didn’t already know? That man was embarrassed in front of the entire world, but it wasn’t because of his wife. She kept silent.”

“All men have flaws and weaknesses,” Espi continued. “The powerful and most respected men have one person that they can trust to show these flaws and weaknesses, and that is their wife. These men would not reach the status that they had if their wives let it out that they cry at night or like to suck toes.”

“Mama!”

“Well…”

“I just find this all hard to believe right now.”

“Who is the most strongest hardest working man you know?”

“Daddy.”

“Was he a good father to you and husband to me.”

“Yes, of course.”

“When was the last time you saw your father take a drink.”

“Geez, I was young. Maybe like my eighth birthday party?”

“And his drunk ass fell out of the tree trying to hang your piñata.”

Maria giggled, “yeah.”

“He used to go out a few times a week and get drunk with his friends after work. It used to bother me, but I let him do it. He would come home drunk belligerent loud and try to have his way with me. Sometimes I let him and sometimes I fought him off. I tolerated this for many years. Until I found out.”

“Found out what?”

“I eventually cut him off completely. I couldn’t stand his drunk ass on top of me. So as a result, he started to go out and get what he needed elsewhere.”

“What?”

“He had a girlfriend. Some skinny bitch that worked at Clark’s where he would buy his beer.”

“How did you find out?”

“His said her name one night drunk and on the verge of passing out. A few days later I found a note with a lipstick kiss on it on the back of a Clark’s receipt. I could’ve cried. Probably did actually. I could’ve picked you up and went to my moms. I could’ve left him or even worse. But I didn’t. I was strong. He was my husband this was my family, and I wasn’t gonna let anything take that away from me. So every day before I picked you up from school, I went to Clark’s. And eventually, I saw a name tag that said, ’Stephanie.’ I asked her if she knew somebody named Hector Rodriguez. She was chewing gum and smiled when she heard the name. She told me, “Yeah that’s my boyfriend.’ That’s when I grabbed her by the hair and said, “That’s my fucking husband you bitch.” And slammed her head into the cash register.

“Oh my god, mama.”

“That’s why we never went back to that store,” Espi said with a smile on her face.

“That afternoon I had your Tia pick you up from school and take you home. I went to your dad’s work and met him at his car when he got off work. ’It all stops now,’ I said. ’The drinking and the fucking around with this bitch Stephanie stops now. If you love me, if you love your daughter, if you want to have a family, it’s all done.’ I was in tears. ’I’m going to pick up Maria. If I see you at the house when I get home, I’ll know you made your decision.’ He was home when we got there and he’s been sober ever since.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Maria said.

“Two things, Maria. If I hadn’t been strong and stood up for what I believed in, for my family it all would’ve been gone. Everything that you know of in the past 15 years or so of your life would’ve been different. Also, if I hadn’t kept silent everyone would’ve lost respect for your father including you.”

“I only tell you this now because I know you’re old enough not to judge your father for the mistakes he made as a young man. I was strong and silent. And, if you want to keep your husband and your eventual family, you will do the same.”

5 Magical Realism Recommendations

Magical Realism – a literary genre or style associated especially with Latin America that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction

I published a “life changing” novel post a while ago and thought it was time for an update, but I wanted to do something a little different this time. I have been in a Magical Realism phase for a while now. Not only reading it but writing it as well. When I thought of writing a list of favorite Magical Realism novels, I realized that I first experienced most of my favorites as movies. In fact, three of the four below I didn’t even know were books until just a few months ago, which is weird because two of them heavily inspired the writing on my own Magical Realism novella even though I hadn’t read them.

Milagro Beanfield War By John Nichols

I was first exposed to this story in the 80s in the form of a rented VHS from the Warehouse Records and Tapes. I loved Robert Redford’s adaptation so much I that watched it anytime I could in the following years. So much so that it got to the point that my father said to me, “Not this dumb movie again!”

Just a few months ago, I was in a bookstore in Boulder, CO and this book was facing out on a shelf at my eye level. I was in shock. What! Was it a book? I thought. I bought it and made it my next read. I’m glad I did because it got me back into magical realism and inspired the story that became my first published piece of fiction, Los Chocolates De Esperanza Diamanté.

Big Fish By Daniel Wallace

One of my top five all-time favorite movies is Tim Burton’s version of this book. I love it so much that it is one of the ten DVDs that I own. Never has the ending not brought a tear to my eye.

I saw this movie when it first came out in 2003, so I was pretty shocked to see it was a book just a few weeks ago. I bought it right away and added to my bookshelf.

The book is a little different but in good ways. It’s funnier for one. I laughed so much more. One significant similarity is that I got a little teary-eyed in the end.

Like Water For Chocolate By Laura Esquivel

One Christmas in the early 90s my mother rented this movie because I’m pretty sure, it was in Spanish, and it was something my grandparents could watch.

I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t think much of it for several more years. Then, as I traveled to Mexico and began to study Spanish, I began hearing of the book over and over again. I eventually bought the Spanish version of the book was determined to read it in its original form. I didn’t. But I did watch the movie and again and found it quite enjoyable. By this time I had discovered Magical Realism and was more appreciative of the film.

Wanting to engulf myself with more Magical Realism books I sought out this one at the used bookstore. When I finally got to it, I couldn’t believe how much it influenced my novella. The odd thing was that I had just finished my manuscript. Could I be have been influenced by something I hadn’t yet read?

Chocolat By Joanne Harris

Again, another movie I fell in love with that I did not know was a book first. This story of a single mother who does the most unheard of things, open a chocolate shop in a small French town right at the start of Lent. This was the second book that I read that causes me to pause and realize that even though I hadn’t read it, it was a big influence on my story about a woman and chocolate.

Stories of Eva Luna By Isabel Allende

As a minimalist, I get rid of books after I read them. Sometimes I give them away. Sometimes I sell them back to the used bookstore. I do not collect them like trophies, though I used to. I refuse to give up this book, though. I loved it so much that I want to share it. I want to read it aloud to a lover in bed, and I fully intend to. That’s why I am keeping it.

From the moment I read the first page of the first story, I was in love with it. The thing about magical realism is that every now and then I read something so beautiful it makes me stop and reflect, and say wow. If I am lucky, it will happen once in a book, which makes it totally worth it to me. In this book in happened on the first page and continued all throughout the book.

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