Ocosingo, Chiapas, Hacienda of Roberto de Gonzalez
Towel-wrapped, Roberto walked out of the bathroom and sat down on the edge of the bed. Eying Elena with half lowered eyelids, he reached and grasped her hands firmly in his. The warmth of his recent shower bathed her in a false heat. With drooping shoulders, Elena waited.
Roberto waited still as if gauging how the weight of his words might affect her. Drawing his face close up to hers, Roberto kissed his wife on her lips – a mere peck – and then drew back, holding his breath. Compressing her lips, Elena closed her eyes and sighed. The kiss did nothing to arouse her. Her senses remained muted as if Roberto had never made physical contact with her. No tingling in her toes. No sudden urges to fling herself against his moist chest hairs and cling to him as any self-respecting hacienda wife would do.
Elena sighed, withdrawing her clasped hands from Roberto’s damp ones.
“Answer me this. Where did you go when the Chiapas city-fathers exiled you?”
“Is it important? I came home to you.”
Shrugging, Elena half turned away from him. Roberto, sensing that he lost the war before he even begun to fight, got to his feet and walked to the other side of the bed. Facing his wife a second time, he didn’t make the mistake of clasping her hands. Instead, he reached out and grasped her shoulders forcing Elena to look directly into his eyes.
“It’s like this. When I left Chiapas, I caught the first red-eye out of the country”
“Convenient,” Elena said.
“Compliments of the Chiapas’ city-fathers. They wanted me out of the country before anyone else became contaminated.”
Elena laughed. This time, Roberto sighed and relaxed. He felt his muscles loosen. The crick at the back of his neck disappeared as did the ache in his heart. She believed him. He went on with the rest of the story as concocted by Father Valorous, Counts Erros and Ambros.
“It started when I got to Rome.”
Elena raised her eyebrows, her eyes widening.
“To see the Holy Father?” she asked incredulously. “What did he say?”
Roberto hung his head.
“His secretary wouldn’t let me see him, although I tried explaining why I had to see him.”
“Anything happened to change the secretary’s mind?”
“Sacrifice always worked.”
Camazotz’s voice filtered into Elena’s mind. Ignoring it, she lifted her husband’s chin so that his eyes connected with hers. Roberto locked his eyes with hers, shrugged, and blinked as if this helped bring back the memories of that painful exchange of words with the Pope’s secretary.
“He told me . . .,” Roberto said.
Elena cocked her head.
“He told me to go and see Father Valorous. That he could help me far better than the Holy Father. That Father Valorous had connections that would make the city-fathers of Chiapas understand my desire to help Mother Church.”
Elena drew back her head almost drawing the ritualized protection of the cross in the air before her. Starting at the vehemence in her husband’s voice, she traced the outline of the cross on the rumpled bed sheet.
Roberto’s eyes followed her forefinger.
“It’s not like that,” he began saying, then stopped and waited until Elena finished drawing the cross. “Father Valorous lives in Bulgaria in an ancient town immersed in myths, legends, and innuendos.”
Elena’s voice caught. Shaking her head, she lifted Roberto’s chin up and turned his face from side to side as if examining it to find additional clues for his hesitation in speaking. Bringing up his hand, he pushed Elena’s arm away. Her hand dropped as did her eyes.
“Tell me in simple words, Roberto, what really happened. I’ll try and understand so that when I go in front of the city council I can beg forgiveness for my husband’s soul.”
Roberto laughed like a dog’s howl. Elena chose to ignore it and concentrated on her husband’s face. It changed colors from white to red to hardened black. She couldn’t tell when one color leached into the other. His eyes narrowed to pinpoints. Elena saw her reflection, or maybe a trick of the dimmed lighting in the room caused her chills that raced up her spine and settled in her shoulders. Shuddering, she tried breaking contact with him, but Roberto forced her toward him until collapsing in his arms, Elena clutched him.
Roberto whispered the final words into her right ear. His words alone, but Elena knew that Camazotz also heard and marked them.
“Father Valorous met me at the train station in V Station, in Bulgaria. I remember he wore a hood. It covered his face like a cowl from a nun’s black habit. He escorted me to a granite walled church out in the countryside surrounded by dead trees, stone huts, and a cemetery filled with crypts, mausoleums, and vaults. Standing off to one side of the church, was the bell tower.”
Elena tightened her grip on Roberto’s chest. He kept his lips close to her ears as if he, too, feared that something would tear them apart.
“I spent a year in Rome learning the culture of Bulgaria. For my own good was how the Holy Father’s secretary put it. I didn’t understand it at the time, and chafed a bit. But the secretary laughed and told me that there was plenty of slip between cup and lip. I curbed my impatience, and continued studying the ways of an ancient land.”
“Took his time to get there. Like giving blood one drop at a time,” Camazotz grunted inside Elena’s mind.
“Don’t be so hard on him. He wandered, alone and unloved in a strange land.”
“Not so strange. He went to see his God in Rome. What’s Rome?”
“A city where the Holy Seer lives and governs,” Elena replied.
“Where they give blood to their God?”
“Elena, come back to me. Where are you?”
Roberto tapped the top of his wife’s bound hair with his finger. Elena laughed and brushed his hand away from her head.
“How long did you stay in Rome?”
“A year, I just told you that.”
“And, you spent the rest of your exile in Bulgaria? Couldn’t you have written to tell me you were safe and found sanctuary? I was. . .left alone. . .without my husband, parents, or duenna.”
“It wasn’t easy for me,” Roberto said.
“It wasn’t easy for me, either. I had no one. At least, you had Father Valorous to comfort you.”
“Yes, I had him . . . . and his fellow parishioners.”
Elena shifted away from Roberto’s comforting chest and body heat.
“What did you do while you were there . . . in Bulgaria . . . with Father Valorous? Did you find work?”
“I . . . I,” Robert stuttered. “I found work that suited Father Valorous. I waited on tables and washed dishes. I swept and mopped floors. I babysat and cleaned latrines. He put me to good use.”
“You paid for your transgressions,” Elena said.
He looked up at her. A peculiar red light illuminated his brown pupils.
“I paid for my room and board. I paid for my life’s work with my life.”
Elena’s eyes shifted and wandered around the room, taking in the statue of her protector, Mary Magdalene, and drawing comfort from it.
“Paid with your life? In what way?”
“It is of no importance. I came home. Father Valorous said it was time for me to come home and reclaim my wife, land, and the valuable resources that lay beneath the land’s surface. He gave me money, Elena, to buy land and extend our ranch so we can live comfortably, and be fruitful.”
“Be fruitful? I can bear only one child at a time, Roberto, or have you forgotten that? Nine months it takes to create life.”
“And less time than that to take one,” Camazotz’s purred inside Elena’s mind.
“Land? We have more than enough land.”
“Not enough for me,” Roberto said. “Not enough by far. I want to buy the land right up to all of and including the Mayan land. It’s ours to buy and to keep and to pass on to our sons and daughters.”
“Not my land,” Camazotz rumbled.
“Where will we get the money to buy all this land? The city-fathers of Chiapas will not sell just because you have money. The rain forest land is in high demand with the foreign investors, drug cartels, the Zapatista’s, and other hacienda owners. What makes you think you can win against all of them?”
“I have my ways. Back to you, my dear. I’ve answered your questions. Now, we must prepare you for infiltrating the Zapatista’s movement. You can’t dress like a wealthy landowner’s wife. You must wear the garb of the mesitzos. Go rummage in the duenna’s old room and see if she left anything wearable. It should not fit well, which is well. Nothing fits well on those peasants from hell!”
“Roberto? Why did you come home now?”
“Are you questioning my motives? I am home now. That’s all that matters. You would think, wife, that after eleven years you would be so happy to see me that you would welcome me with opened arms, and not like a judge from the Inquisition. Going to clap me in irons and roast me alive for my sins against heaven?”
“N-o-o-o, I was just wondering why now out of all the other times you could’ve come home, you came home now.”
“It’s like this. I came home because Father Valorous, Count Erros and Count Ambros had the funds to get all of us here.”
“Even that skulking Spanish teacher, Gabrielle Tairino? Where does he fit into all of this?”
“You know Gabrielle?”
“I know of him from Francesca Coleman, that girl I met at the ruins. She told me all about him – his love for her stepmother, Miriam, and how he used that child to get to her stepmom. Disgusting! That’s what it is.”
Roberto’s eyes glittered. His young wife was no longer young. She had her own life, her own secrets, and perhaps her own agenda. Reaching out, he caught a wisp of Elena’s hair and tugged.
“What else do you know of Tairino?”
“You’re hurting me.”
“What else? Tell me!”
Elena cringed. He dropped his hand and watched.
“He brought his Spanish class down as a cultural exchange. That he loves Miriam Coleman. That’s all Francesca would say. She didn’t need to say anything else. I was once fifteen years old and fell in love with an older man. He called it puppy love. Francesca has that same kind of affliction that I did. Tairino just didn’t appreciate the compliment she paid him. Instead he yearned for another that’s already shackled and married.”
“Much good it will do him,” Camazotz said within her mind.
Shaking her head, Elena hoped to shake Camazotz from her mind. Roberto watched his wife’s face alternating with disbelief and disgust. He lunged toward her and grasped both of her shoulders and shook them.
“Elena, believe this. I mean to get this land either with blood or money.”
Her head jerked up.
“Blood or money? Is that how you plan everything these days, Roberto? By killing those people who get in your way or Erros and Ambros’ way, by destroying them?”
Roberto’s hand cracked against Elena’s cheek suddenly and swiftly.
“For your impertinence,” Roberto said. “How dare you speak to me like that? I’ve let you go on and on with your fine notions and independent spirit, but here it must stop. You are my wife still. What you do at the Zapatista’s movement is your own concern.”
Rubbing her cheek, Elena dropped her voice and spoke in a hushed voice.
“I beg your forgiveness. It has been too long. I’ve forgotten how to properly serve and treat my husband. I meant no harm.”
Forcing herself forward, Elena latched her hands around Roberto’s neck and kissed him on the lips; her tongue darting inside his cheeks and down his throat. Gasping for breath, Roberto kissed Elena back. His teeth sank into her lips as she tried pulling back. Bright, red spots sprinkled on his and her chest, and then down to the sheets below, staining them in the shape of the cross.
“Feeling better?” Camazotz said.
His voice caressed Elena’s mind. She’d almost forgotten that the god still shared her mind.
“I can’t stand my husband who takes blood so lightly from others,” Elena said silently to Camazotz. “Did he sign a blood pact with this Father Valorous?”
“Blood is used for many things in the Mayan way of life, Elena. Some good. Some bad. Blood cannot be bought. Either it is freely given or it is freely given up by a defeated warrior, but it can not be bought.”
“What am I to do?”
“Join the Zapatistas. Own who you are. Become my mate,” Camazotz said.
“A-h-h-h-h-h, you’ve got an agenda as well. So I do exchange one set of bonds for another. You, too, want an heir?”
Inside Elena’s mind, Camazotz sucked in his breath and then let it out.
“I am Camazotz. My will be done.”
Elena pushed away from Roberto’s suffocating arms and closed her mind to Camzotz.
“I’m getting ready for bed,” she told her husband. “In the morning, I will look for my duenna’s peasant clothing and seek out the Zapatistas. I’ll be back in time for supper. You go entertain your guests, Roberto. I’m sure you and they have much to discuss and plan. As for me, I’m sleeping in the guest room!”
Elena fled her bedroom, leaving Roberto alone on the bed. Inside her mind, Camazotz settled comfortably and watched his future bedmate go to the linen closet and snatch two sheets and a light sleeping blanket. She strode to the guestroom and flung the door opened. Slamming the door behind her, Elena walked to the bed and threw the sheets and blanket down upon it. She hopped into the bed and stretched out between the fresh sheets.
"Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. If I should live for other days, I pray the Lord to guide my ways."