The Girls, Part I

    Every day was the same, wake up, get dressed, have breakfast, open the workshop, and create. The five sisters huddled over their workstations for hours at a time, tracing, carving, blowing fine black dust into the air, which settled on their light brown skin. Add a bit of shine, and at the end of the day, they could be the artwork they toiled on.

    At night, their rituals were the same as well, each sister helping the other bathe, and together, they joined their mother on the open fire where they baked corn tortillas, or stirred a pot of stew. The men sat around a table and conversed, while they fulfilled yet another duty and finished preparing a hearty meal.

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    Each one of them was striking. The eldest, AnaMaria was serious, with a round, haughty face, and a broader figure. She took the lead, naturally, and often bullied the others into following her lead. She was the one who convinced them to take their niece into the tall grass at dusk, a long time ago. She was the one who knew where to pinch, just how to frown, and what words to use to convince her to get answers that she wanted. She was the one on the constant hunt for equality with her brother, her father, even the cowhands around the farm. She was AnaMaria, old and proud.

    Mercedes was quiet, not shy, but quiet. She had an oval face, one which she kept painted with rouge and lipstick all day. She was slender, with delicate wrists and long fingers. Her fingers were deft, and created truly beautiful artwork. Her embroidery was good enough to sell, and each of her sisters demanded that she work on their dresses. Even though she barely spoke or smiled, she was intelligent, and she observed everything, greedily taking in knowledge. When the men were saddling up their horses, she watched and learned. She learned to load and unload their hunting rifles, and her father often patted her affectionately, making her beam and be proud. When her niece was being harassed, she took notes from her sister, keeping in mind the best place to pinch, and just how to frown, to make sure she got what she wanted when her time came.

    Araceli was white and round. Her face, shoulders, hips and even her toes were round. She was round in a way that made everyone love her, and she was kinder and gentler than her sisters. She worked hard enough, but she only did what she was asked to. Her head was often in the clouds, a smile plastered on her face as she dreamed of her future. Mostly roly-poly children and a smiling husband occupied her thoughts. Her innocence made her impervious to the barbs of her sisters. It served her well.

    Selena and Carmen were two of a kind, as opposite as two sisters could look, but so intertwined, it was still hard to tell who was who. Carmen had wiry, curly black hair, gleaming eyes and a wide mouth. Her features were strikingly cool. She had ambition, beyond everyone’s imagination, but she hid it well. She merely smiled and carried on as though nothing was going through her mind. She hid it so well, her baby sister, never dreamed, much less imagined her dark thoughts. While the other sisters plotted their life dreams and imagined a home for themselves, and babies and men, she saw the world.

    Selena, the baby, had no imagination. She did what Carmen told her to do. In her innocence and naïveté, she worshiped the sister who paid the most attention to her. She was the light-haired, slender, beauty of a pet, and happy to be so. Mama, Papa and brother rounded out the family. The jewels were the girls, and it was thanks to them that the fields flourished, the cows grew fat and luscious, the farmhands got paid, and the money bag burst at the seams.

    Early on the morning of February 14, 1988, the family awoke to the sounds of horses galloping across the field. The clop-clop-clopping of their hooves on the hard earth sounded like thunder, and the sound grew ever so ominous as the family slowly came awake. The sisters stirred in their beds. Carmen and Selena as always, entwined as only two sisters can be, slowly disentangling as they grew more aware. Araceli jumped up nervously, while AnaMaria tutted and got up crossly. Having been woken up, they all got up and began their day as usual. Mercedes was not in bed.

    The sharp instruments of their trade waited for them on the tables, just as they had left them the night before. The workshop was cool, the bare earth under their feet moist from the dew that bathed it in the early hours of the morning. Once in a while, in a fit of creativity and unspent energy, one of the sisters would find her way to the ‘shop to start or finish a project before the first meal of the day. A steaming mug of black coffee sat atop Mercedes’ station. She bent over a large piece of stone, blowing and carving, blowing and carving. AnaMaria came by to see her work, and saw that Mercedes’ eyes were bloodshot. Uncharacteristically, she leaned across and cleaned off bits of sleep from the corner of her sister’s eyes, a small smile playing on her face.

    Mercedes set her work down, and drank some coffee.

    The other girls came into the shop, yawning, stretching, and all hugging cups of sweet coffee to their chests. In the kitchen, Mama started a fire, and eggs were beaten. Masa was prepared, and beans reheated. A large pot of hot water was prepared, and pitchers of coffee were made, sweetened with sugar and condensed milk, strong and milky at the same time, bitter and sweet.

    And the girls, they toiled for a while, waiting for breakfast.

    Farmhands soon started showing up, and as accustomed, they went in line to get some coffee to accompany the breakfast their moms, wives or sisters had prepared. Mercedes looked out into the kitchen, and she smiled to herself. She bent over her piece once more, and continued to carve, brush and blow. The men soon took their leave, mounting the horses and heading into the mountains to start their workday.

    By the time the sun began to shine in earnest, the girls each put away their tools and headed in for respite, and some food. Fresh coffee was prepared, and each girl sweetened their drinks before heading to the table. Mercedes added extra condensed milk, as was her custom. AnaMaria’s eyes missed nothing. During breakfast, they argued, discussed and slowly came to agreement as to the new shipment, the new images they needed to start on. A writer was asking to stay with them for a week, to watch what they did, and do a story on their work. They argued about whose bed to give up. Carmen and Selena slept in the same bed all the time anyway, so one of their beds was designated for their visitor. Mercedes said they could use hers, and she could take one of the younger girls’ beds, which were smaller anyway. AnaMaria narrowed her eyes, but saw the sense in the argument, and soon, all was settled. It was time for more work.

    Mercedes headed to the bathroom while the other girls went to the ‘shop. AnaMaria followed closely behind her. While she was in the toilet, AnaMaria started asking questions, slow, menacing questions.

    “Black coffee? Who drinks black coffee? That man Alfonso is the only farmhand who drinks black coffee.”

    Mercedes kept quiet, her heart hammering in her chest, its clop-clop-clopping sounding eerily like the horses across the field that morning. She could hear the hiss of her sister’s whisper, her maiden sister, bound to be a spinster, with her foul attitude and bossy self. Again, she imagined her like a snake, like she imagined her that night with their niece. She was a snake in the tall grass frightening a little girl, and now, frightening her.

    She opened the door to the outhouse and came out smiling. Her mind made up. AnaMaria kept hissing, but all Mercedes heard was a dull roar. Her mind was made up.

    Selena and Carmen made silly faces at each other across their worktable, playing and giggling like little girls so early in the morning. Araceli sat lost in thought, her fingers carving, but her eyes not seeing. AnaMaria stepped into the outhouse, mulling over what she would tell her father. She would suggest that Alfonso be fired; it was the best way to deal with the issue. He was not from around here, so he would have to leave. It was for the best.

    The shot rang out loud through the big house, and echoes reverberated in the hills. The workmen, already in the mountains, slowed slightly, then shrugged and continued onward and upward. Alfonso felt a slight chill, but shrugged and urged his horse to continue. Don Augustin, head of the household, cocked his head slightly, and wondered where the sound had come from. As his workmen did, he soon forgot his worry and continued up the mountain, seeking more fortune. It was for the best…           

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