17 5 / 2012

Chapter One

The Funeral

Too bad for Maribel, God gave her an extra arm. And too bad that her beautiful, olive-skinned mother went into such shock at the sight of her, that her heart shattered, and she died. Not that the arm itself was malformed or grotesque, but the fact that the arm protruded from Maribel’s back and trembled with afterbirth, proved more than Carmen’s heart could survive.

Daniel wrapped his wife in their wedding quilt, after his mother Elena had gently sponged cleaned Carmen’s cold skin and dressed her in her Quinciera dress. Meanwhile, a slight, quiet Maribel slept nestled in a warm nest of fleece blankets Grandma Elena had prepared for her, inside a wicker basket at the foot of the bed.

Daniel and Elena saved their tears, deep inside their pockets. The ceremony—taking place only twenty-four hours after Carmen’s death—was their greatest priority, the grief, the insurmountable loss of Carmen, as well as the ungodly, terrifying sight of Maribel’s dysfunction would have to wait.

Carmen’s funeral took place in the back yard, near a bed of daisies. Carmen’s parents had passed away before Carmen reached adulthood. But Carmen did not want for love. Neighbors and friends of neighbors, and relatives of those friends, attended and let their tears loose while Daniel and Carmen nearly suffocated in their grief.

Only one guest arrived unwanted, Senora Fabo, carrying her healthy, two armed beautiful boy infant. Maribel wasn’t the only child born that day. Miss Fabo gave birth to her son Sammy, not only on that same day, but that same hour, that very minute. That is when Elena knew, without a doubt, that Senora Fabo, had given Carmen, Ojo, the evil eye.

Elena had desperately tried to warn Carmen during her pregnancy that she was much too beautiful. It was true, Carmen’s beauty was both admired and coveted. But Elena was sure, that Senora Fabo desired Carmen’s beauty to the point of hatred. For Senora Fabo was truly the homeliest woman Elena, and possibly the entire neighborhood, had ever laid eyes on. When Elena caught eye of baby Sammy, her suspicions and allegations were laid to rest. Senora Fabo had stolen Carmen’s beauty, and the beauty of her child. Senora Fabo’s envy had killed her daughter-in-law, Carmen.

Sensing his mother’s rage, as only Daniel could, he sent Elena in the house to fetch Maribel. “Wrap her in her mother’s gown. It calms her.” Begrudgingly, Elena left the yard to fetch her granddaughter.

Staring into her granddaughter’s milk chocolate eyes, Elena felt some relief. The girl, after all, had her mother’s beauty. Only she’d been damned by a jealous, cruel woman while still in her mother’s womb. Not only born with a terrifying malformation, Maribel’s disfigurement had literally scared her mother to death.

As Daniel requested, Elena wrapped the pitiful child in her mother’s gown, still thick with her honeysuckle scent. Maribel cooed inside her grandmother’s embrace, her third arm awkwardly hanging over the back of Elena’s forearm. Elena tucked in the third arm, but like a spring, the arm popped over the blanket, as if it had a mind of its own. As if it was saying, “I refuse to be a secret.”

This was Maribel’s debut. Elena gently tucked the third arm in the crook of her elbow. She felt the forceful nudging, but Maribel herself couldn’t have been more content. In fact, Maribel had not yet even cried. She’d come into the world only grateful to be alive. It saddened Elena that someday the child would become aware how unlucky she was.

Elena walked steadily into the backyard, hesitant and sad, her bare feet depending on the earth with every terrifying step. Immediately, onlookers stood on their tiptoes and craned their necks. They’d heard only that Carmen had died giving birth. They knew nothing of Maribel’s third arm.

As Elena approached, her son Daniel approached the bundle with pride. Elena’s grip was firm, but eventually, she gave into her son who took his daughter Maribel into his arms with absolute love. Elena’s heart raced, Be watchful, she thought, beware that wicked arm.

But Daniel did no such thing, for he raised Maribel above his head, her mother’s gown slipping to her belly, her tiny arms flailing, and the third arm, larger, and bolder reaching even higher, making sure to be noticed.

The crowd gasped, some women and children began to cry, others closed their eyes. But a few, mind you, a very select few, managed to smile and blow her kisses.

“This is my daughter Maribel, and she is a miracle,” Daniel spoke.

But Elena kept her eye on Senora Fabo who was desperately trying to quiet her suspiciously beautiful child, Sammy whose lungs sounded as if they were about to burst. Daniel continued introducing Maribel, whom he had named Maribel Carmen Elena Trozco on the day of her birth, the third of March.

Daniel lowered his daughter and held her close to his chest and for the first time since her birth, deliberately examined his daughter’s third arm, even put the fingers to his lips and gave it a kiss. At this, Elena looked away.

Some sighs of disgust, and mild terror saturated the air. But between the loss of the beloved Carmen Trozco, and the arrival of this strange beautiful and hideous creature, the crowd could only defer to mention of food.

Half the visitors stayed for banquet Elena had stayed up all night to prepare. She thanked Jesus that Maribel had slept through the night, a rare, miraculous occurrence for a newborn. You strange, strange little beast, Elena had thought.

One particular visitor knew better than to enter the Trozco home, senora Fabo, her infant still screaming, refusing to suckle from her breast, stood with her back to the front door, moving her body every which way in hopes of quieting her baby. While Daniel occupied himself with Maribel, and the other guests piling their plates with empanadas and tamales, Elena quietly slipped outside to face Beatriz Fabo once and for all.

“Such an unhappy, but beautiful child,” she said to Beatriz, raising her eyebrows.

“He did not sleep last night, not even an hour. I did not sleep,” Beatriz mentioned quietly, the skin around her eyes like deep, dark and wrinkled valleys of flesh.

“Be certain Beatriz, that I will protect Maribel from you, all the days of my life,” Elena threatened.

“Be certain Elena,” she said, “I will do the same for my son.”

This took Elena by surprise. How dare she imply any wrongdoing on Elena’s part.

“Do you think me a fool? Carmen is dead, her daughter deformed, and your baby…” Elena stared down at Sammy’s face, truly the face of in angel, but an angel in hell, and her heart ached.

“My child screams in pain! My child doesn’t sleep! You are an awful woman Elena! To take such violence out on an innocent child!”

It was all too much for Elena. Not only had she lost Carmen, but her granddaughter had been cursed by this frightful woman.

“Get out! Get out and never return! Curse you, hideous woman!”

“Mama!” Daniel shouted, holding Maribel, still as close as before.

“See Daniel? This witch, your mother!” Beatriz accused, and near tears.

Daniel approached her with pity, never believing his mother’s suspicions but dismissing them as superstition and his mother’s habit of thinking the worst of others.

Daniel stood so close to Beatriz, that when he did, Maribel’s independent third arm reached over and petted Sammy’s head, and it was then that yet another mystery was born. Sammy Fabo cried no more. The hand and fingers, closer to the size of a toddler, stroke the small head, once red and sweaty from crying, now back to bronze, and calm and cool, just like Maribel. Within moments, Sammy’s eyelids flickered and closed. At last Sammy slept.

All three adults, Beatriz, Elena, and Daniel stood motionless, after having watched the strange, superfluous arm coax the child to sleep. But Daniel finally broke the silence. He invited Beatriz to stay and to eat. He even asked her to lay the babes side by side in the basket. Beatriz began to smile, but upon looking at Elena whose eyes were still filled with suspicion and threats, Beatriz shook her head no, and quietly slipped through the gate, and when she did, for the very first time, Maribel wept.