3

Concha, a woman of many sayings and prayers, loved her children very much, even Nelson, whom she raised with as much dignity and care as she raised her own. Her face was beautiful, filled with peace and gratitude, and the frame of her body was small and strong and feminine. Her forearms were brown and thin. She stood upon short legs, and her breasts were a mother’s breasts, full and heavy from years of use, for, despite her strength, she had grown old and tired more quickly than her age might have told you.

It had not been her intention, nor anyone else’s, that she marry her cousin, the child of her mother’s brother, but these things sometimes happen, in this case the result of an ugly lust on the part of Sr. Moreno one night after too many drinks—she had been a virgin, and only just turned seventeen—and though no pregnancy had followed they had been found out by her parents, who demanded of them confession and marriage in the house of God. Within a year she had given birth to little Nofrito and made room in her home for Nelson, the son of a woman she had never met, a prostitute, when Sr. Moreno brought him home to her, apologizing.

It was well known, even in those days, that to mix the blood of relatives in children is a risk whose danger is beyond foolishness, and Onofre and Concha were warned against doing such things. But, as Concha was especially devoted to her religion and to piety, she refused to take medical precaution, and so had nothing to do with contraception. As a result, since the birth of Nofrito, who was healthy, Concha had been pregnant six times more, four of whose babies had died in the womb and had been delivered cold. Of the other two, only Anita had survived beyond two years, though her eyes and eyelids sometimes moved involuntarily, loosely, out of sync with the other, as though they were the broken parts of two different machines. Belinda, born just one year after Anita, had died of something similar to a heart attack a week or two after her first birthday.

All of this was very painful. Concha, the mother of five dead children, wept and prayed for understanding, and for patience, and for faith. There were times she believed the deaths of her children to be punishment, for God neither approved of sexual relations between close relatives—to be sure one must only remember the stories of Lot’s daughters, whose children became the fathers of evil nations—nor of sexual relations prior to one’s wedding, which was the sin of David with Bathsheba. But even David had to sacrifice only one of his children for his sins, this to Concha’s five, and more than adultery he had had the blood of an innocent man upon him. Of course, therefore, there were many nights filled with confusion and fear and self-pity and wailing into silent darkness, for Concha was a woman of great love and passion for the proper things, and by this virtue she had loved her children, all of them, and missed them greatly. David, in his loss, had wailed and prayed and fasted only while his child still lived, but, because of his great faith, he was content to cease when his child had passed, for it is written, the child would not return to David but David would return to the child. Sometimes Concha thought of this story and it brought her a little comfort, but she did not have faith as David had faith, and for years she felt a great mountain of pain. By the time she had turned twenty-eight, Concha had been pregnant seven times, had given birth to three living children, two of whom survived, and had raised as her own the son of a harlot; one does not accomplish such things without wearing one’s body into great sadness and age, nor without abandoning one’s religion or devoting oneself wholly to it, and so in her appearance, though she had aged beyond her years, one could see in her face the beauty and prayers of a saint upon the fires.

___

And then, it happened again. Sometime after her twenty-eighth birthday, when Nofrito and Nelson were just little boys, about ten years old, and when Anita was three, Concha became pregnant with her eighth child, and this frightened her beyond imagination.

She told only Pati at first, whose reaction was happy and full of talk, of course, for pregnancy by its nature is almost always good news. The women walked together after lunch one Sunday while the children hid among the rocks surrounding the harbor, catching small crabs with broken lines of fishing wire and bits of ham. There was a small path lining the harbor like a thin strand of hair, and it was upon this path the two women walked every Sunday after lunch, talking about their week, laughing about this or that, now listening to the children argue about how to tie a proper loop into fishing line.

On this day Concha here and there barely said these words, No sé, no sé, no sé, as though to herself, hardly above a whisper. Then they both were quiet for some time. They listened to the ocean and birds and everything. In a moment Concha again began to mumble, having finally worked up the courage; she said, Pati, it has happened again. It is unimaginable. I am pregnant.

At this Pati clapped her hands, lifting her body up on her toes. She put her arms around Concha and kissed her cheek and grabbed her hand, saying, Niña, this is a beautiful gift. Then she wrapped her fingers around Concha’s arm and leaned her head against Concha’s, and the two walked together. But once she saw in Concha all kinds of anxiety and pain, Pati offered her tender consolations, holding her hand, stroking her hair, listening to Concha’s long list of fears and worry.

Of course, Concha’s pain had not been forgotten: Pati had after all been near to Concha in those years, had poured out compassion on Concha at the deaths of her children, and though perhaps Pati should have remembered immediately that Concha would be full of fear, so responding with quiet sensitivity, she remembered now, and she was quiet now for this sister of hers.

I do not know—Concha said again, rubbing her hands and fingers over themselves, then covering her mouth. I do not know. What would God have of me? This is my eighth child. Have I not already suffered?

And of course Pati could not bring answers before her, could not comfort her sister with solutions, so in wisdom she remained quiet and they walked together silently until one of them heard Anita crying, having been pricked by a baby crab handed to her by Nelson, who had told her lies, assuring her that the babies did not prick.

___

After that—even though others were told the news, and even though her belly began to grow out for the world to see, and even though the regular preparations were made and a space was cleared for the coming child—for Concha the thing was a private matter, a private concern, a silent panic, and though she could not fast (for she was pregnant) she prayed, and she lit candles, and she made promises to many saints, keeping watch over her Rosary and her thoughts. She begged God for mercy, for the child to live, for His blessings with this baby, for His guidance and care and love, for His attention to her devotion. In the early afternoons, before the boys returned from school and before Onofre came in for the evening, she spent a quiet hour in the backyard among the grass and flowers and the tall, lovely Araucaria tree. She sat and prayed as the mystics do, with an open mind and heart, humbly, and she waited for the voice of God to speak, as she had been told He would, in a soft whisper you almost did not hear.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Full Text

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