The Premonition

To say it was a premonition might not be accurate. I don’t know that anything was being foretold, but it was something. As if a conversation had been interrupted suddenly. It was still dark, so the sky didn’t reveal itself but my sinuses, and the lack of stars, told me it was either raining or about to. Probably more of a drizzle-a bone chilling late November drizzle. I pulled the spare pillow over my head and flopped onto my side squeezing my eyelids shut as if sleep, once fled, could be coaxed back. It usually didn’t work.

What was it? I wondered. My eyes scanned the room for an intruder-real or imagined. The darkness must not have been truly dark-or pitch, as they call it-because I could make out the chair by the window. It was empty as it should have been but for a moment-just a moment-I was sure someone was sitting there. Someone had to have been sitting there. It wouldn’t have been the first time. But no. And there was no movement in the house. My perturbed heart fluttered lightly and I held my breath to better hear. Nope. Nada. Had there been a forgotten dream that left me feeling this way?

Sleep had been deep and syrupy-aided no doubt by a glass of bourbon around ten. But just one. More than that and I’d have stirred all night. But no, no dreams that I could remember. There was something though-like a rush of water…maybe wind through the leaves. I’d been back in the woods yesterday and had heard the winds whispering. Maybe it had stuck with me. Maybe I’d dragged something back again like a burr in the cuff of my jeans.

After thrashing about for a while-probably no more than minutes-I tossed the covers and sat up, bare feet on the chill wood floor. I’d have to lay a fire in tonight, no doubt. It was time. Always tried to go as long as possible without one.  The woodpile seemed large enough but nothing worse than reaching the end of it in a chilly, wet March. Without turning on any lights I made my way down the back stairs into the kitchen avoiding the urge to look back over my shoulder.

I poured a glass of cold water in the light from the open refrigerator and gulped it; less drinking than hydrating. I poured another and reached back behind the eggs for the old pill bottle. A day that started with an edge before sunup was a day best avoided. I shook a few tablets into my hand and regarded them carefully before deciding on an orange football. I swallowed it and replaced the bottle, closing the door and sliding back into the dark. Still nothing brightening outside.

With the refilled glass I padded into the living room and sat in the recliner. By feel I found the cigar box on the table and opened it. Like a soldier who learned to break down his weapon blindfolded, I took the glass one-hitter out of the box and broke off a piece of bud that was rolled in the corner of a plastic bag. The lighter flared and I sucked an enormous cloud into my lungs. I held it only so long as the bud was burning away and took a second hit-bigger than the first. The ember in the pipe went out. That was that. I sat back and embraced the smoke for what seemed like hours before letting it out with a slow whistle.

Once, when drinking, I had told my brother about my drug habits and how I dealt with life’s stresses. He called me a coward.  Of course he did-the prick. I had wanted to slap him, but he was my older brother. And bigger. And in better shape. Had I slapped him he would have been surprised and maybe laughed at me. But there was the possibility he might have kicked my ass, so I didn’t slap him. Wonder what he was up to these days? He was a major pain in the dick, but I still wondered sometime where he was.

I rubbed my hand over my face hard. Once. Then again. It was starting. The roof of my mouth was dry. My lips stuck gently together. The water-sipped like expensive wine-was perfectly chilled. My heart fluttered a bit more-the dope would do that-but only for a little bit. By the time I got back into bed and stretched out, the layer of warm, wet cotton would cover me from the top down and I’d drift back off into the black. Of course, there was always the chance that I wouldn’t fall back to sleep and would just lay there stoned for a few hours. Which, on balance, beat the shit out of laying there straight.

Back in bed I glanced at the chair once more. Still seemed to be empty, which was good, but I resisted any temptation to go near it. I remembered slapping my lips once. Then drifting away.

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Communion

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“Did ye eat the body?”

“Ye saw me walk up. Of course I et the body.”

“Did ye drink the blood?” he asked with an accusing tilt of his head.

“Ye saw me up there!”

“Yeah, but. Did you actually drink it or jest swish it around in the cup?”

Ah, fer Crissakes, he thought. Then blessed himself. Sorry, he thought, but it’s flu season. “I drank some”, he settled.

“Ye barely put yer lips to it!”

“Fer Gawd’s sake…”

“Don’t ye dare!”

“Did ye not hear all the hackin’ and coughin’ and snottin’ goin’ on all aroun’ us?”

“Say what you will. You dint have a proper communion is all I’m sayin’. Not proper.”

“I didn’t see YOU drinkin’ it!”

“Ye low bastard! Ye know I can’t drink of the blood since I took the cure.”

“Wait a bloody minit! By the time it gets to yer lips it’s not wine anymore, is it? It’s the blood of the Divine.”

“Ya betchyer ass it is. And there’s enough alcohol innit to kill off all the germs yer so fraid of.”

“Wait…what? If it’s blood how can there be alcohol…?”

“Shhh…here comes Father…”

They nodded without really looking up from the nothings they were kicking about.

“Father.”

“Fadder…”

“Boys”, he said and walked on.

“I don’t know if I liked the way he said that.”

“Nor the way he looked just now…”

“Don’t be a mutt-you dint even look up. Why dint ye look a’ him.” He said nothing, just worried the ground with the toe of his shoe. “It’s a ringing indictment it is. Yer feckin’ silence.”

“You got a extra cig?”

“Why would I give you one? You don’ even inhale! Ye jest roll the smoke aroun’ in yer mouth.”

“I don’! I do so inhale!”

“You suck a cig the same way you mouth the Lord’s blood. I’m not wasting a cig on you. Hey! Where you goin?”

“Pub”, he said wandering off down the cobbles.

“Ye know I can’t go in there.”

Thank Christ, he thought raising the back of his hand in farewell.

“Satan has a plan for you, buddy boy…” he said, inhaling deeply. “You’ll see.”

Five Bucks a Pill

“You think living this long, I’d know all there was to know about myself”, I said not expecting an answer.

“What are these?” she asked, fingering the thin white caplets only half-listening.

“Tramadol”, I told her. “Five bucks a pill.”

“They any good?”

I shrugged but she didn’t see it.

“No oxy?”

“No oxy, no hydro…that’s dry. Maybe some perc’s end of the week.”

“Huh”, she said knocking the pills around with a blood red fingernail that matched her lipstick.

“So whatta you think”, I asked after a moment. “Am I frightening?” She looked up with a crinkle around her green eyes that could have presaged either a smile or a wince. “Do you think I’m frightening? Am I scary?”

She wriggled her ass deeper into the chair and crossed her legs; a bit of stage-business while she fashioned an answer. “You do tend to lean in a bit”, she said finally. “But you always did that.”

“Huh”, was all I could come up with. “But I never saw myself as scary.”

“We’re all used to you, sweetie. You get to be a particular way, we leave you be.”

Fuck, I thought, taking a turn at spinning the pills across the dark Formica tabletop.

“Poor Tommy”, she said reaching across the table and patting my cheek.

“Don’t say that”, I said more sharply than intended. “My mother always says that.”

“How is she?”

“Same. She’ll never die. Too busy killing me.”

“Christ, boyo…” she pulled back a little and reached for her purse. “You wanna get high?”

“Naw. I might get all scary and shit.”

She smiled and took it as a joke, which is probably not how I meant it. “This is bugging you bad, isn’t it? Who said you were scary?”

“I was at a party last weekend up in Mifflin and a girl said…”

She sniffed. “Mifflin? Shit. You have to stop trying to mix with new folks. They don’t know you like we know you. Play in your own sandbox.”

She pulled a crumpled pack of Pall Mall greens out of her purse and squeezed it open to peek. She’d need a new pack soon. “Five bucks a pill seems steep for something I never tried.”

“You should get out more”, I grinned. “Three for you.” She was thinking-counting how many were on the table. I’d go down to two.

“Do you…?”, she asked haltingly, then stopped.

I let the silence ride a little. She was waiting for me. It was my turn to say something. But I wasn’t. I saw how this whole fucker was going to play out. I had the high hand. I didn’t have to do anything to win. All I had to do was sit there and shut up, collect a few bucks and she’d be out of the picture until she was dry again. But I didn’t. Instead I said, “…What?”

“You interested in doing a deal like we used to do?” she asked. “It’s been awhile.” Fuck! It had always been my idea. My suggestion. My task to pull her in. Of course I wanted to, but… “Cause, I’m fine with it, if you are. I’m ready. “

I closed my eyes and leaned back in the creaking chair. For whatever reason, it was Joe Pesci’s voice in my head saying ‘Don’t do it! You better not do it!” When I opened them the first thing I saw was the smattering of faded freckles across the bridge of her nose. And the lines around her eyes were gone, the skin unetched by time. I knew I was seeing memories; not what was in front of me. But I was seeing it that way.

If she only hadn’t smiled just then, I’d a’ been fine. But of course, she did.

“Sure”, I said. “Why not?” Playing it like it had been my plan all along.

No Redemption Without Damnation

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(Continued from The Colonel Comes Home – Memories)

“You’re Sylvia Palacios?” he growled in a guttural lowland accent.

“Yes Captain”.

Garcia squinted. “You know me?”

“No sir. Your braid is the mark of a Captain. My husband was a soldier, sir.”

“We know. At this moment, that’s the only thing saving your life.”

Garcia flipped his good leg over and hopped to the ground. He loosened the ax from its’ bindings. With a few barked orders the soldiers dismounted and spread through the property and into the house.  She didn’t move as he strode by her, as if immobility made her invisible. “Did you know my Antonio?”

“No. The Colonel suddenly has a soft spot for widows of those who died under his command.”

She jumped but didn’t turn at the crash of the first ax blow. Then the second-she knew what he was doing. A few more then the door, in shards, was tossed aside. A window shattered as a chair flew through it. She directed the men with what sounded like grunts and coughs. The dialect was strange to her, but she thought she heard the word “treasure.”

“Where is the gold?” he asked, suddenly back at her shoulder.

“What gold Captain?”

He leaned and rumbled into her ear. “Remember I said your life has been saved for the moment. It’s a gift that can be withdrawn any time.”

She turned and met his eyes but for a moment. “Bedroom closet. Under the floorboards.”

He turned his head and barked. She heard the rumble of men rushing through her house then the crashing of axes.

“What’s to become of me?” she asked having turned away again.

“If you live, it’s shit-town for you”, he said distracted, paying attention to the two bags that his men were bringing out of the house. The little she knew of shit-town was it was the bottom of the bottom caste. Natives living naked in the jungle occupied a higher rung on their society’s ladder. At least the band of outcasts and ne’er do wells that lived along a downstream slough of the river had a function. They managed the rudimentary sewage runnels that the viceroy had invented years before to relieve the highlands of any town’s most vexing and continuous need. And they washed soldier’s uniforms and the army’s bandages in large boiling pots well upstream from the shit pipes. The other lore she ignored for the time being. She would know soon enough.

He brought the bags to the table beside her and emptied the smaller one. “Not as much here as I thought there would be.”

“I’ve been living off it, since Antonio died.”

“There’s more?”

“There was. That’s all that’s left. I swear.”

They were old coins imprinted with the name of a Spanish king who had rotted away decades ago. Impossible to know when, or where, Antonio Palacios had made them his own. But it didn’t matter, they belonged to the Colonel now he thought, as he put them back into the sack. Most of them anyway. He left enough on the table for his men to pick up. They would notice there were exactly three per man and would take their share. Everyone had ways to ensure a soldier’s loyalty.

“You gather everything you can carry in a pillowcase”, he told her. As she entered the house, the soldiers walked out carrying Laurencia’s clothes. Deadened to what she might see, she didn’t even gasp at the ruin around her. Tables, chairs, dressers, all smashed and scattered. She found another dress, like the one she wore, in a pile. Also trousers. Sandals, underclothing, boots…all jammed into a sack. Turning from the shattered room she saw the captain-silhouetted in the sunshine from outside- standing between her and the door. He was unfastening his belt. “Oh”, was all she said.

“Remove your dress and lay over the bed”, he said simply. That’s when it registered to her that the bed was the only piece of furniture in the house left undisturbed. She turned her back to him and pulled the rough cloth over her head, letting it fall to the floor. “Your rump has all the colors of the sunset, Senora.” She knew as she lowered herself that the bruises were fading but still very much in evidence.

“The Colonel was very thorough”, she said situating herself over the foot of the bed, feet on the floor. “I deserved it”, she repeated her mantra.

“Well, there will be no whipping today”, he said.

She turned her head to look back over her shoulder. His dark cock, long, and slender, pointed to her bottom like a compass needle finding true north. Again, even in her shame, she felt a flutter in her breast. She had nothing not grown in the garden between her legs for years. Her rounded backside was large and heavy enough to well cover her treasures. “Spread these”, he said stepping between her legs. She wriggled to comply and felt his surprisingly gentle finger over her dry slit. She pushed backward trying to open as he wriggled against the opening that seemed impossibly narrow.

“There is lotion”, she said quickly. “If you can find it. It was in a jar on the dresser.”

“You would like that”, he said rubbing back and forth. “It would be easier for you.”

“And for you”, she said. “Would you rather slip through butter or grind through sand?”

She felt his hand on her bottom cheek as he pushed away and shuffled to where the dresser lay, its drawers having vomited their contents in a swath across the floor. She rolled onto her side and pointed to a spot near the wall. “There”, she said. “The green jar.” He picked it up and she settled back onto her stomach.

“And it’s not broken”, he said chuckling. “I’ll have to speak to my men.”

The joke did not register as she pulled a pillow to her face and opened her legs. She gasped as first one, then two fingers, worked their way up and down then, well-greased, entered her. She lifted onto her toes to better accommodate him as he oiled and stretched her with a few minutes of thorough fingering. She felt him move closer against her before he withdrew his hand and roughly grasped her hips. Pulling as he pushed forward, he sheathed himself-in a single slow thrust-as completely as possible into her secreted vagina. He pushed harder trying to get all the way in but her bottom-as pleasant as he found it to rub against-was an impediment to complete penetration.

“Your ass, senora…It is in the way…” he caught his breath and bit his tongue.  Though an older man, he spent little time with women these days and concentrated, concerned that he might come too quickly.

“I could lay on my back”, she offered.

“No”, he said pulling out. “I like it back here. But I think I’ll switch holes.”

Before she could panic at the prospect of being violated in a way she hadn’t for years, the head of his cock was pushing at her tiny brown button. As a child she was told if she opened her mouth wide, it would open her back there. So, feeling the searing burn as the Captain stretched his way into her top hole, she opened her mouth wide and said nothing as he filled her completely with his length and breadth.

“Better…” he grunted pushing deeply. He saw the woman’s hands shaking as she clenched the bedclothes and knew her mouth was full of pillow. His strokes, for the most part, were shallow and quick. Not until he felt himself gathering at the gate did he drive deeply, grinding into Sylvia Palacios’ ass. He didn’t care any longer about coming; would prefer to get it over with. His job here was complete-he could report her well used.

Backside aflame, her ears rang with the slapping sound of skin on skin as he bounced off her bottom. Hurry damn you! she thought holding her breath as he quickened pace for a moment then stiffened with a grunt and shudder. He collapsed atop her as his throbbing cock painted her insides with ill sown seed. He lay still until his breathing recovered then pushed himself off her to stand.

“Come on”, he said after wiping himself with the end of the sheet. “We have to be off.” He picked up the dress and her sack and strode out the door. She knew he meant for her to follow him naked into the yard but she refused, finding a limit to her appetite for punishment. Moving stiffly, she wrapped the soiled sheet around her and shuffled through the door.

When he saw her, he barked a quick order and the soldier nearest her ripped the sheet from her with such force she almost tumbled. “I can’t ride like this!” she cried, her alabaster body gleaming in the sunlight.

He gave another quick order and two soldiers took her roughly and tied her feet and hands with coarse rope that had been thrown over their saddles. She didn’t resist knowing struggle was fruitless and allowed herself to be lifted and thrown bottom up over the saddle like a bag of corn. She watched the ground mutely as they tied her hands to her ankles and with another rope, fastened her to the saddle.

“There”, he said standing beside the burro and patting her upturned bottom strongly. “You think you can ride like this?” She said something he didn’t hear. “What?”, he asked.

“I’m leaking you bastard!”, she whispered raggedly. Knowing what she meant he tore a slice from the sheet and shoved it roughly between the cheeks of her ass. “There”, he said patting her again. “That should save the saddle.” Then, struck by an idea, he stepped to the fire pit and took a piece of charcoal. He brushed her bottom as one might a table to clear crumbs and with the charcoal wrote in fine script, “Sylvia Palacios” and below that “Madre Horrible”. He stood back admiring his handiwork before mounting and tying Sylvia’s burro to his saddle horn. “Now let’s ride.”

The soldier in the lead headed off on a neglected trail that led directly to the river. “Not that way”, the captain said turning his horse to the well-worn path. “Let’s go down through town.”

Her humiliation complete, Sylvia Palacios wept. The Captain leaned over and spoke softly to the back of her downcast head. “There can be no redemption without damnation, Senora.”

(Thus ends Chapter One of ‘The Colonel Comes Home’)

The Colonel Comes Home – Memories

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(Continued from The Colonel Comes Home – 4)

Sylvia Palacios sat on a hard stool in the courtyard of her home and let her eyes flow over the untended garden and the darkness of the ever-encroaching jungle. Years before, they’d cut many trees in clearing this land. What she knew is that trees, like memories, were never gone. You could drop the thickest tree, cut it into logs and send it down river or burn it for charcoal. With a strong mule and harness, maybe a little dynamite, you can be rid of the stump and with dirt fill, the ground would look fine. Would look strong. Would be strong; for a while.

But over the years the roots below ground would be eaten by insects; would rot. Would disappear and become voids where there was once strength. The voids, unseen on the surface, would create sinkholes that lay in wait to twist a knee, crack an ankle or crumble a house. That is what memories are: voids from the never-forgotten past that open sinkholes in the soul and she had fallen into one and gotten horribly twisted.

She could not grasp why she did what she did. Even now, in the light of day, she could barely remember it. But when she finally awoke this morning and found Laurencia gone, she knew what she had done. She was strangely composed as she changed from her night clothes into an old, shapeless cotton house dress: a fitting garment for her last day on earth. She deserved no better. She wore no underclothes in case there would be another whipping before her execution.

Her long hair was tied in a braid to make it easier for the hangman’s noose or, God forbid, the chopping block. She’d heard of beheadings-horrific stories of tribal warfare-but had never seen one. If they were to shoot her, she hoped it would be against the front wall so the last thing she would see was the garden and the purple mountains beyond. That was her preference, she supposed. Antonio had been shot. In battle, yes. But shot.

These were her thoughts as, with a rumble, the soldiers rode into her yard. The first of the riders, a tall one with gray hair, had an axe strapped to the side of his saddle. Had she eaten anything in the previous days she would have lost it from one end or the other. Idle rumination of one’s imminent demise are one thing; seeing the instrument of your own end riding in, is was quite another. As it was, her stomach empty and feeding on itself, she only stared, bowels roiling.

(Continuing…)

The Colonel Comes Home – 4

(Continued from The Colonel Comes Home – 3)

A short, sharp, duo-tone whistle reached the ears of Captain Miguel Garcia, the head of the Colonel’s house guard. Captain Garcia, a widower who had ridden with the Colonel since the beginning, looked older than he was but he was still older than the Colonel. Still fierce but with a diplomatic side-a trait that made him valuable to the Colonel in a different way than the soldiers garrisoned across the river or the berserk warriors guarding the poppy fields.

Garcia, limping slightly from an old lance wound, materialized at the end of the veranda. He was tall with a proud leonine head and wavy gray hair combed straight back giving him a patrician air that belied his low country roots. He was not the type of man to be summoned by a whistle like a dog but since losing the hearing in his left ear from cannon fire on the savannah years before, it worked.

“You know the girl’s mother, right?”

“Yes. A Rondon. Breed of pigs, you ask me. The young one” he nodded toward the house “is the last of a misbegotten line.”

With a flick of his wrist the Colonel offered wine which Garcia happily accepted. He sat, stretching and rubbing his gimpy leg.

“What do we know of her father?”

“The girl’s? He was one of ours. Died in the Battle of Marzipan some years ago.”

“Did I know him?”

“I doubt it.” He shrugged. “Decent soldier-otherwise undistinguished.”

The Colonel pulled at his lip. As always, more information complicated things. “How did she come to be living in a stone house halfway up the mountain?”

Garcia shrugged. “Maybe he was a thief.”

“You think he stole from us?” he asked sharply, the question rife with dark import.

“No”, replied Garcia. “He kept his head until he lost it. There are endless places for a soldier to steal if he’s a mind.”

“But”, said the Colonel finger raised for emphasis “Doesn’t all treasure won in conquest belong to all of us?” Garcia shrugged uninterested in that debate. Easier to legislate against soldiers shitting than stealing. The Colonel let it lie. “Otherwise he served us well?”

“Adequately. Died well-at the front of a charge.”

“A horseman?”

“No.”

“No?”

“One of the human waves we sent at them, on the Sun Plains.”

“Ah”, said the Colonel. “A glorious day.”

“Not for him.”

“He was probably out in front to get to the gold first.”

“There is that.”

“Serves him right then. Why can’t I remember him?”

“You’ve commanded hundreds—thousands–over the years Colonel. You can’t remember them all. “

“Aye”, he waved it away like a bug. “No matter. Her house is ours now. You want it?”

“I’m happy where I am Colonel.”

“Leave it empty then. Take the doors and windows off so the mountain can reclaim it. Let her collect everything in a single sack that she can carry. Bring the livestock and anything else you can find here. It’s off to shit-town for her. Let them deal with her.”

“As you will Colonel”. He finished his wine in a swallow and stood. “Will she be coming back? Or is this a one-way trip?”

“Up to her, I’d imagine.”

“Very well.” With a nod that could have been interpreted as a bow, Garcia turned to take his leave.

“And Miguel,” the Colonel added softly. Hearing his given name, the Captain stopped and leaned back. “Use her, my friend. You won’t take her house, take her. With my permission. No, even at my insistence.” He would use words like this sometimes to disguise orders.

The Captain nodded and was off.

 

(Continuing…)

The Colonel Comes Home – 3

(Continued from The Colonel Comes Home – 2)

“Fried Christ!” the Colonel grumbled as sweat leaked from his hat band into his eyes. He was glad they had started before sunup but now it didn’t matter. He coaxed his burro over a slight rise then into the darkening cool between two boulders. “Hot!” he called to Diego who was keeping the pace ahead of him.

“It’s good for us, this sun”, he called back over his shoulder. “Wait till you see the crop.”

The Colonel pulled up and lifted his hat to wipe his brow. The poppies weren’t going anywhere-they would wait for him. His foreman went not much farther before realizing he was alone. He turned his burro to find his father drinking from his gourd in the shade. “I’m sorry, Colonel”, he said. “I shouldn’t have…”

“Don’t apologize for doing what every man your age does. Rush forward, run here-run there. It’s your running about-being everywhere at the same time- that makes this estate, and us, rich. Don’t apologize for it. I did it too. Years ago. Now, I sit in the shade when God provides.” Diego took the offered gourd and drank deeply.

Diego had wanted him to see the crop since his return and this trip to the top of the mountain was for him. The boy was proud of his efforts as he should have been. The Colonel liked the flowers, he liked the colors, he liked the clearings hacked, in a single winter, out of the dark jungle-that showed power. But he wasn’t a farmer, this Colonel. None of his people were of the earth. He was a fighter, a soldier, a one-time mercenary, now unquestioned ruler of what once had been the largest regency in the country and owner of the largest estate in the territory. What he liked about this crop was what he liked about everything he touched: the gold that it would eventually yield. His growing fortune. The gold to buy more soldiers. That’s what he cared about. That’s what he had come to see. He sat in the shade until the sweat on his back felt cool then gestured Diego onward.

It was after two when they finally arrived back at the hacienda trudging slowly through the glowing orange trees. He had toured the poppy fields and spent the requisite time with the troops stationed up there. They were always happy to see him and worth the trip but almost nine hours on a burro was plenty for the Colonel and he left his with a groom and turned to Diego. “Join me for lunch? Some wine, perhaps?”

“I would love to Colonel”, he demurred. “But we are slaughtering from the southern herd in the morning. I’m down some caballeros and need to gather stragglers.”

The Colonel smiled and waved him off. “Go to it Diego! We need every cow-it will be a tough winter. I’ll drink enough for both of us.” With a quick, “Adio’” he was off to his cows. The older man walked slowly, straightening a little more each step. Surely, it was his imagination, but he swore he heard his spine groaning like a tree in the wind.

His coming had, of course, been foreseen and the wine, cheese, fruits and bread were at the table. He unbuckled his saber and took off his pistol, thinking about how his hardware grew heavier every year. He was looking directly upward and digging his knuckles into his kidneys when he heard a light tread on the veranda. It was one of the serving girls…Constance, Consuelo…he couldn’t remember. “Yes?” he asked.

“Excellency. The girl…she’s back.” She had nothing else to say.

The Colonel stared blinking then opened his hands to her. “Which girl, daughter? It’s been a busy week.”

“The one whose mother you…whipped.” Her voice dropped at the last word-not wanting to speak it in his presence lest…

“Ah, Laurencia”, he remembered derailing her train of thought. “She’s brought her burro back for a visit. I’ll pet him but not ride him. Enough with burros today. Please, fetch her. Send her to me.” He poured a cup of wine and took it onto his tongue. It was the Rose, served cool from the cellars. He kept it on his tongue before-eyes closed-swallowing slowly and luxuriantly. If the priests served this at Mass he never would have left the Church.

He felt, more than heard the girl cross the patio. He waved to her.  “Come here girl.” Laurencia hung back-only for a moment. Her transformation from almost-woman, back to child was stunning enough that the Colonel had to keep looking at her to ensure that this pretty waif was the same sent to him for carnal pleasure just days before. It wasn’t just the plain housedress either. The girl seemed chastened somehow. He saw something in the way she moved-there was a stiffness. His stomach hardened when he saw what might have been a thickness on her lower lip-as from a blow. He registered it, then ignored it.

The Colonel sat to get down to her level and spread his spindly legs. “Come,” he said, reaching out his hands, beckoning. “I guess there are no eggs for me this trip”, he joked but she didn’t smile. “I’m sorry”, she mumbled. “Come, come”, she took his hand shyly and slipped into the protectorate of his horseman’s thighs. She noticed, of all things, how clean his white canvas trousers were. She whimpered lightly as he turned her but gave into his gentle push to bend slightly over his left leg steadying herself with one hand on the table. She made no sound as he drew up her rough cotton dress behind.

To preserve her modesty, he only pulled the dun colored cloth up her legs but far enough to reveal thick switch slashes that left angry welts and a few cuts on the back of her thighs. He could imagine, but didn’t want to see, what her bottom looked like. His heart raced, and he thought of his saber.

“Your mother did this?”

“Yes Colonel.”

“Why?”

“She was angry.”

“Tell me true girl. Did you misbehave in any way to deserve this?”

“No sir. I was asleep. She awoke me with a stick.”

She was young; inexperienced in the ways of men. She didn’t hear his tone of voice change from sweetly cajoling to hardened steel. He lowered her dress and helped her to straighten. “Buenila!” Being deeply experienced, the old woman recognized the Colonel’s tone and materialized at the edge of the veranda like steam from a fissure in the ground.

“Am I in trouble Colonel?” Laurencia asked timidly.

“No, my dear…Not at all.”

“Buenila, take Laurencia inside, bathe her, dress her wounds…”

“Wounds?”

“You will see them…and feed her. I’m betting she’s hungry, aren’t you daughter?” She answered with a tiny nod. “Go”, he said with a wave of his hand. “Let Buenila care for you. She’s had girls just like you…she’ll know what to do. Go.”

Buenila the crone, barren since birth, never a natural mother, took Laurencia Palacios gently by the hand and led her into the cool darkness of the house. Inside, they moved to the left away from the Colonel’s quarters toward the servants and guest rooms. They passed Buenila’s small cell without comment and came to a room glowing green from sunlight reflected off the leaves through the high window. The bathing room had a handsome teak bathtub, a dressing table, a rattan lounge and small fireplace in the corner.

The girl balked when Buenila tried to undress her, so she left her be and took to filling the tub. The cistern water was warm this time of year but not warm enough so Buenila added from the steaming kettle that was always near to boiling on the fire. The scent of the oils added to the water was as enticing as the old woman’s tuneless humming was calming.

This time, when the old woman pulled at the laces at her neck, Laurencia did not resist and allowed the dress to be pulled up over her head covering her small breasts with crossed arms. Had the Colonel availed himself of what had been so crudely offered he would have found a girl on the cusp of womanhood; her throat long and thin with matted brown hair cascading over almond colored shoulders. Firm as a spring peach, she glowed in the dappled, reflected sunshine.

She pulled back when the old woman tried to pull her arms down. Again, leaving her be, Buenila cupped her hands and reached into the bathtub scooping a deep handful of water into her mouth. Then, cheeks swollen, she looked at the girl, crossed her eyes and pulled her ears spitting a stream of water out of her mouth like a demented swan, splatting Laurencia in the middle of the forehead. The girl froze in amazement then burst into laughter raising her hands to cover her face. Seeing an opening, the crone moved quickly to tickle her under both arms. The girl screeched and, dissolving into giggles, pulled her arms to her sides, her nakedness, at least for the moment, forgotten.

This time, when offered a hand, Laurencia took it and turned stepping gingerly into the tub. The old woman quickly glanced at the crosshatching on the girl’s backside and again raged quietly behind her humming.

“What is that song?” Laurencia asked, wincing as she sat in the tub.

“I don’t know. Mamma sang it. It is the sound of my childhood.”

“That was a long time ago, I bet.”

In my head, thought the old woman, it is still happening. “A very long time”, she said.

The girl allowed her hair to be washed, then to be bathed top and bottom, inside and out.  Stepping out of the tub she stood comfortably, shifting from foot to foot as Buenila dried her with thick cotton towels. Then, led by the hand, she followed the old woman to the couch and lay naked across her lap. The unguent that Buenila applied to the girl’s wounds was an old native concoction made of jungle herbs and weeds.

“This is not so bad”, she whispered interrupting her chorale as she rubbed and ministered to every stripe and mark. “You will be fine…” When finished she moved to help the girl up but heard in her breathing, in her regular and rhythmic snotty, snuffling, that she had fallen fast asleep. Buenila smiled and sat back, her arms protectively draped across the girl.

“That’s all right. Sleep Choochie”, she thought using a name her gramma had called her. “The Colonel will do the right thing.”

(Continuing…)