The Patron's Wife

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Chapter 7

The kitchen was warm and Lupita and her grandmother, Maria Terèsa, were at the work table making empanadas.

“Lupita, necesitamos toallas, bring two towels, one for Señor Aguila and one for me.” Alma looked in a pot that was simmering on the stove top. “Señor Aguila, would you like some soup, I am going to have some.”

I appreciated the propriety Alma showed in front of the help, although I saw Lupita and Maria Terèsa exchange an incredulous glance and cryptic smile as if they suspected Alma calling me señor would somehow disguise the dangerously relaxed aura of familiarity that surrounded us.

“Yes, Señora Alvarez, soup sounds excellent.” My clothes were rain soaked and I was actually getting a chill. “It certainly is cooling off,” I said followed with a shiver.

“It is like this every day. When you look at your maps you will see that the little land bridge lies at the mouth of a mountain pass. Each day the cold air from the Andes rushes down through that pass, and covers the plateau. The warmth of the selva comes up from below and tries to push the cold air back. Everyday rain, everyday mist covers the plateau, every day the battle between the mountains and the selva goes on.”

Alma gave me a mug of millet and chicken soup. The warmth felt good against my hands. We sat at a little round table in front of the window, drank our soup and watched the rain.

Alma smiled and looked at me with those golden eyes. “I’m sorry for making the weather sound like an epic battle between, well, life and death. But that is what you have to look forward to when you survey for your project.” The shower stopped just when we finished our soup.

We both looked up when we heard the kitchen door bang open. It was Hèctor. He wiped the rain off his face with his palms and looked around the room. His shirt was wet in a V that went from his shoulders to his belt. Lupita and Maria Terèsa nodded and quietly left.

“I’m sorry to hear about El Cid. I know how much you loved that horse.” Alma said with sincerity.

“Yes, he’s gone,” Hèctor answered in a sad monotone. “I saw Leòn and his boys buried him. Good, I don’t think I could have stood it.” He looked at both of us with a keener eye. “What’s that in your hair, and you Aguila, where did you get those flowers?”

I realized Alma still wore the circlet of flowers as did I. The back of my neck tensed and my throat went dry.

“You went to the selva, didn’t you?”

Alma put her spoon down, tilted her head back and sat up straighter. “And if we did?”

“I told you never go down there.” Hèctor scolded. He stuck his chest out and leaned in closer to Alma’s face. She didn’t flinch. The hard glint in his eyes softened and his authoritarian frown turned into the perplexed pout of a parent. “I wouldn’t want you to get hurt or lose your way, that’s all. It has been a trying day.” He extended his hand and tried to caress her cheek with his fingers. She countered by intercepting his fingers and gently squeezed them.

“Thank you for your concern, dear husband.” She let go.

Hèctor stood up straight and pulled his hand back. His shoulders slumped and he let out an airy sigh, “Very well.” He looked at me, “Study your maps. We will look for a suitable area for the project tomorrow.” He looked back at Alma, “Where is Lupita? I have work for her in the library.”

“I don’t know, if I see her, I’ll tell her.” Alma said stiffly.

Hèctor nodded, “Alma, Aguila, until dinner.” We heard him mounting the stairs. I assumed he went to their room.

Maria Terèsa and Lupita cautiously looked around the corner, came back into the kitchen and nodded at their Patrònita. Alma gestured for Lupita to come close. “Lupita, go stay with your cousins, stay away for a few days.” Alma hugged the appreciative girl and Lupita quietly left. We watched as she stayed close to the wall beyond the veranda so as not to be seen from the upstairs bedroom. When she reached the corner she began to run.

I looked at Alma, “Won’t Hèctor be angry?”

“Let him be angry.” She crossed her arms.

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