Aperitif from Double Exposures

Here is a clip from one of the short stories in Double Exposures, available from Amazon in paper and kindle.

From How Carmen Maria Became Two Women:

From her birth, Carmen showed righteousness not seen before in the village. She learned Bible lessons so well her teachers feared questioning her lest she turn the table and take up the questioning. Brother Pedro, who taught Sunday school for five years, once proclaimed Jesus’ observation about rich men having as much chance to get into heaven as through the eye of a needle was about greed, not wealth, the former being a sin, the latter not. “Do you suppose Jesus didn’t know the difference?” she asked Brother Pedro. “Do you think with his disciples standing by recording every word he had a little slip of the tongue?”

“One day she will be a saint,” some predicted, but puberty swept over her like late summer storms and drove churning, muddy waters into the ravines down her west slope. When her fiesta de quinceañera came, already her dark eyes burned like hot coals when she fixed them on a young man.

The old women who managed affairs in the village watched with apprehension as Carmen grew up, wondering if her fire would consume her, or a man would come to feed her beast, or God would have mercy and intervene. One day, under the Ceiba tree by the market, Senora Gutierrez remembered, “Armando Ortega fed his donkey hot chilies and worked the animal’s manure into the soil in his garden, all in a proud attempt to grow the hottest chiles in the village. It’s unnatural, chiles so hot. Soon his garden could be seen from miles away. His habaneros glowed in the dark.”

“Still he didn’t stop,” Senora Motejo added, “not until a kitchen fire destroyed his house.”

“A bowl of his chiles burst into flame in his kitchen and set fire to the house,” Senora Gutierrez completed the story. The other women nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same with Carmen Maria,” Senora Gutierrez continued. “If she doesn’t find release one day her body will burst into flames like Ortega’s chiles and her kitchen will catch fire.”

“Consuming her and whoever is fool enough to awaken her beast,” Senora Motejo added. “Someone might die eating that chili pepper, ridden to death like a borrowed donkey.”

“Perhaps she should wear a sign,” Senora Gutierrez suggested.

“A bell around her neck,” Senora Motejo said.

The men and boys of the village took the old women’s warnings seriously. They might taste Ortega’s chilies, when drunk or on a dare, but they kept their hands off the budding she-pepper Carmen Maria.

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