A Valentine’s Day Mess Pt. 01

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This story is set around Valentine’s Day of 2009 in New Mexico, where some people still hold to superstitions and beliefs rooted in a mystical world.

Las animas — the spirits of the dead and the natural spirits of the land — are invisibly present everywhere. Witches called brujos can curse people with an evil eye and once cursed only a shaman or a curandero — a healing witch — can cure them.

1. Making a mess

The last Christmas present that Manny opened was a card nestled into the branches of the Christmas tree. The card read “For Manny with our love. Mom and Dad.” It held a photograph of a smiling, dark-eyed girl. He turned it over and found it signed “Claudia” in an unfamiliar, feminine hand.

“We reached your sister through the adoption agency.” Mom explained. “She’s an adult now and she agreed to see you. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to, but we planned to meet at her parents’ house tomorrow.”

Claudia was the dimmest of Manny’s memories. They were separated when he was three years old and he never heard from her or about her again. She was two years younger than Manny and all he remembered was a baby in a pink blanket. She would be twenty now.

The day after Christmas started bright and calm and the cold morning air bit at Manny’s lung’s. He settled his long frame into the back seat of Dad’s car and they drove into the heart of the valley. Dad stopped in a neighborhood of large homes that sprawled among pastures and frosted fields of alfalfa and lavender, all outlined by spreading cottonwood trees. The name on the mailbox was Candelária.

Mom rang the doorbell and the chime was answered immediately by a clamor of voices on the opposite side. A graying man in western wear threw the door open. He gestured them into the foyer and grinned “You must be Dr. Nielson.” He stuck his hand out to Dad and introduced himself. “I’m Gil Candelária.” There was little need for an introduction; Gilberto Candelária was a well-known attorney.

Gil’s wife stood behind him along with a frail-looking older woman and five kids who seemed to vary in age from seven to seventeen. There was a rush of introductions; the Señora, Idalia Candelária, Abuela Ortiz and the five kids whose names Manny immediately forgot. Everyone fell quiet and stood back so that Manny could see past them to where his sister perched on the edge of an ottoman. Claudia sat silhouetted against a wall of sunlit windows and dragged her fingers through her pony tail. She stood when she saw Manny and tossed her dark hair behind her shoulders.

Three hesitant steps were all the Señora allowed Claudia before she reached out and tugged her toward Manny. “Mi Hija,” she started, “this is Manuel Nielson — your biological brother.” Manny recognized himself in Claudia and for a moment before he offered his hand he was frozen by her brown eyes.

Claudia looked at Manny’s extended hand and laughed, “Eee, no! We hug in this house.” Claudia wrapped her arms around Manny and her family laughed while her scent, somehow warm and familiar, enveloped him. She excited him and there was excitement in her eyes when she stepped back.

The conversation slowly settled into childhood stories and Claudia pulled Manny aside. She told him, “Get your coat and I’ll show you around.” They left through the kitchen where Claudia’s grandmother was ready to make empenadas for lunch. Claudia kissed her cheek and as they left Abuela Ortiz focused a piercing look on Manny.

“Is she always like that?” Manny asked. “The way she watched us leave I felt like I was stripped and skewered.”

“Abuelita is a little different.” Claudia laughed. “My mom grew up in the north.” she said, and waved toward the mountains on the north horizon. “Mom and Dad brought Abuela here after Abuelo Ortiz died. She’s a curandera — a healer — and sometimes she sees things that other people don’t see.”

They walked side by side past paddocks and pens and fields where cranes and crows by the hundreds foraged for food in a frosty, ground-hugging haze. “This is all your Dad’s?” Manny asked, motioning around him.

“It’s one of the biggest farms left in the valley.” Claudia replied. “The Candelárias were one of the founding families here and they’ve lived on this land for more than 300 years.”

Claudia stopped by a pen where hens pecked around a hog. She used her hand to shield her eyes from the sunlight while she looked up at Manny and asked, “What did your mom and dad tell you about our biological mother?”

“I don’t think they know very much.” Manny shrugged. “She was from El Salvador. When her husband disappeared she brought us here and asked for asylum, then she was killed in a hit-and-run accident. At least they thought it was an accident. The state couldn’t find her family in El Salvador—probably because she came here with an assumed name—so we went up for adoption.”

“That’s about the story I heard, too.” Claudia said. “Dad would help if we wanted to find out more, but I’m pretty happy with my güvenilir bahis family here.”

Claudia watched the hog with a distant look and went on, “We’re all adopted here. Dad can’t have a quiet house, so every few years I get a new little brother or sister.”

“My dad likes it quiet.” Manny shrugged. “My mom needed a kid, but I guess one was enough.”

They walked on to an empty tin-roofed house built of adobe and wood frame. Claudia pulled a key ring from her coat pocket and unlocked the house while she spoke. “This is the house where Dad grew up. It’s about a hundred years old. It was built onto an even older adobe house that was damaged in a flood. No one knows how old that first house was.”

Manny listened carefully to the way his sister spoke. While she was with her family she sprinkled Spanish into her English and used the style and sing-song accent of the valley, but now she didn’t. They toured the empty house then stopped in a room warmed by shafts of sunlight that fell through south-facing windows. He commented, “You sound different now—different from the way you talked when we were with your family.”

Claudia looked puzzled for a moment before she realized what Manny meant, then she laughed. “Spanglish is like the official language of my mom.” she said. “When I’m around her I can’t help it; when I’m not around her I talk more like we were taught in school.”

They grew closer together as they walked and now they stood almost hip to hip. To Manny there was something intriguing about his sister—something that became irresistible with her so close. He faced Claudia and found her studying him. Without a word said, she rose on her toes and brushed his lips with hers. Manny was shocked, but when Claudia rose again with her lips parted he bent to kiss her, to taste her mouth and to draw her firm body against him. He held her until she pushed away.

“Oh God, I’m sorry!” Claudia apologized and stepped back, wide-eyed. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and explained, “I like the way you smell and I wanted to find our how you taste. You taste as good as you smell.”

Manny understood Claudia’s curiosity. “I know what you mean.” he told her. He stepped to his sister and touched her hand. Manny struggled for a moment to say what he wanted before the words tumbled out of his mouth. “I’m trying to understand you and to know you and I really want to see you with your clothes off.”

Claudia stepped back and her stunned expression was quickly replaced with a mischievous grin. “Okay,” she started. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” She reached to the zipper on her coat and stopped. “Don’t just stand there and watch.” She said. “Turn around and get your clothes off!”

Coats hit the floor first, then Manny pulled off his shirt and his shoes. He listened to the sounds behind him and tried to imagine what Claudia was doing; fabric rustled, her feet padded on the floor. He pushed his pants and his boxers down and stepped out of them then asked, “Ready?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be.” Claudia answered. Manny turned around and found his sister with her shoulders hunched forward and her arms crossed over her breasts. She met his eyes then moved one hand down to cover the wisps of pubic hair that curled between her legs.

Manny stepped closer to Claudia and she corrected her posture; she straightened her shoulders, lifted her breasts and dropped her hands to her sides while Manny’s eye’s traveled over her body. “You’re so beautiful!” Manny breathed. He stepped around her and studied her full breasts, the smooth skin on her shoulders, the contours of her back and the curve of her hips.

“May I touch you?” He asked. Claudia’s pony tail bobbed as she nodded. He laid his hands on her shoulders and stroked softly down her arms, then rested his hands on her waist. He spoke with his lips close to Claudia’s ear, “In my imagination our mother looked just like you.”

“My turn.” Claudia insisted, and turned to face her brother. He watched her eye’s travel from his face to his chest where they met with her hands. She ran her fingers down his forearms and touched his hands, then turned him to study his back. Manny felt her hands move over his shoulders and down the muscles in his back. “I used to dream sometimes,” Claudia whispered, “of a man who looked like you. He must have been our father.”

Claudia rested her hands on Manny’s hips and he could feel her warmth behind him. His cock stood up. It was an involuntary and unwanted response to his sister’s touch but—as embarrassed as Manny felt—he turned back to face his sister. Claudia seemed transfixed for a moment and started to reach both hands to Manny’s hard-on, then she hesitated and jerked her hands away.

“Híjole, Manny!” Claudia gasped. She stepped back, scooped up her panties and started to dress. Claudia watched Manny’s face burn with embarrassment and told him “You turn me on. It’s not supposed to be this way.”

Manny pulled his boxers on and struggled to türkçe bahis zip his jeans. “I know.” he said, and touched his still-throbbing bulge. He had no doubt that he would do his sister if he could, and that idea didn’t settle very easily in his mind. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. This is out of control.”

“You aren’t the only one out of control.” Claudia whispered as if someone could be listening. She tugged Manny toward the door and explained, “I should go change panties.”

Claudia locked the door behind them and they started back to the house. Claudia watched her brother curiously. “We’ve both been here for twenty years. Why didn’t we ever find each other?” she asked. “I’m sure I could have picked you out of a crowd.”

“Big town.” Manny shrugged. “I went to the academy and now I’m at State. Where were you? We may have never been in the same place at the same time.”

“I’m at the University now.” Claudia answered. “Before that I was a Cougar; if you were a private school boy from the other side of town then that probably explains it.”

Claudia turned her head to follow an old Ford as it rolled to a stop on the drive and cursed under her breath. Two men with shaved heads and flames tattooed on their throats climbed out of the car and hiked up their bagging pants. The passenger whistled to Claudia and made kissing noises in her direction. He called “Hey cariña! Come give us a kiss!”

Claudia told Manny, “That’s Jaime, the other one is Carlos.”

Carlos laughed, “Bring that little pussy here and I’ll make it purr real good.”

“Tío Pedro is our caretaker.” Claudia explained. “Carlos is Tío Pedro’s grandson and he grew up doing odd jobs on the farm. He used to be a good kid, but now he’s a South Side Loco—that’s a south valley gang. Last fall they got drunk and beat Tío Pedro. We’re pretty sure that they robbed him too, but we can’t prove it because Tío Pedro didn’t cooperate.”

Claudia pulled her phone from her jacket pocket. “They’re probably here to see Tío again. Dad got an injunction to keep them from coming here. I’m calling the cops.”

They left Carlos and Jaime behind and walked on while Claudia called. They were close to the house by the time Claudia was done, when Abuela Ortiz stepped out of the kitchen and tugged her black shawl around her shoulders. Her grim expression stopped Manny in his tracks. She studied them both then hissed, “Your lust for each other is written on your faces. You reek of it.”

“Abuelita, no!” Claudia protested, but then fell silent. Abuela Ortiz’s knew what she knew and even Manny could see that a lie would only make things worse.

“Careful what you do, nietos.” Abuela leaned close to warn. “The union of a brother and sister is powerful magic. It can wake las animas.”

Abuela straightened her back with a gentler expression on her face and a gentler tone in her voice then said, “Lunch is almost ready. You should clean up.” Then she stepped back into the kitchen, leaving Claudia and Manny alone.

Manny was shaken. He turned to Claudia and asked, “How could she know that?”

Claudia glanced at Manny and answered, “I don’t know, but Abuela is like that. She knows things.”

*****

Manny’s mom liked to be in warm places for Valentine’s Day. This year Dad took her to Cancún for a long weekend and they asked Manny to look after the house while they were gone. The four-hour trip home from school on the Friday before Valentines’ Day stretched through miles of brown desert landscapes within horizons defined by mountain peaks dusted with new snow. Formulas that Manny needed for his fluid mechanics exam occupied his mind, but alternated there with daydreams of Claudia.

“Let’s meet at the Pioneer.” Claudia proposed, so he planned to leave his bag at home and have dinner with his sister. Seven weeks passed since they first met, but still Manny couldn’t understand what happened and he knew from their phone conversations that Claudia felt the same.

The Pioneer Restaurant sat across the avenue from the University campus. It sold simple food 24-hours a day at prices students could afford. Claudia wore snug jeans and running shoes and when she pulled back the hood of her fitted jacket her dark hair fell loose around her shoulders. They stood a step apart from each other as they ordered at the counter, then slid to the back of a booth by the front windows.

The fluorescent glare inside the restaurant meant that they could see little outside the window beyond the glow from the restaurant’s sign, but people milling on the sidewalk could watch them with unabashed curiosity while they talked across the table.

They laughed together over enchiladas and tacos heaped with grated lettuce and cheese, and when they were done Manny insisted “Because we have to.” That overwhelmed Claudia’s dietary reluctance. He left the table and brought back two forks and a Pioneer cinnamon roll as big as a salad plate, swimming in something that was meant to pass for melted butter.

Claudia güvenilir bahis siteleri used the last bite of the sweet roll to swirl up the butter, then leaned forward and admitted, “Manny, I don’t want to go home yet.” Manny felt his breath escape and his shoulders relax; there was little that he wanted to hear more than that.

“Do you know how to bowl?” Manny asked. Claudia shook her head and he told her “Then I’ll teach you. It’s fun.”

The bowling alley was uptown and they laughed and joked all the way. Manny leaned over his sister to show her how to score a frame and found again the warm animal scent that so aroused him. Claudia seemed suddenly as self-conscious as her brother. He stepped back and watched while she pried a hair tie from her pocket, then held it between her teeth and pulled her hair back into a pony tail. Even the simplest things that Claudia did were attractive to Manny.

A light ball was all that Claudia could use. “Hold the ball like this.” Manny instructed, with his hand under the ball in front of him. “Take three steps forward, bring the ball back on the first step, then let it swing forward and release it on the floor just as you reach the foul line.”

Claudia’s version of the approach featured little steps and a sudden stop at the foul line; if she didn’t drop the ball on her back swing then it usually rolled slowly into the gutter. Manny laughed as his sister twisted and danced and tried to will the ball toward the pins.

They bowled one line and Manny let Claudia decide what to do next. Her eyes lit up and she said, “There’s an ice rink on the plaza downtown. Let’s go skating!” Manny had never been on ice skates in his life. “I took figure skating lessons until I was twelve.” Claudia laughed. “I can show you how.”

Manny left his car in a public garage, then they stuck their hands in their coat pockets and walked through the throngs of people who hopped the downtown bars on Friday night. Groups of girls warmed by alcohol teetered in high heels while the guys who got them drunk laughed. Hawkers sold food from carts and trucks in the middle of the street or sold Valentine’s Day flowers and candy from tables on the sidewalk. Claudia pulled her brother north away from the bars to find the ice rink on the plaza.

They rented skates at the booth, then Manny swallowed his nerves and stumbled onto the ice. Things never got much better after that. “Stand up straight, Manny!” Claudia urged, but Manny was unsteady and not confident and he bent as if he knew he was about to fall, so he did; over and over. The skating lessons ended when Manny slipped into Claudia and took her feet out from under her. His sister sat unceremoniously on his chest and laughed.

Claudia helped Manny to his feet, then leaned close to sniff the warm air that rose from below the collar of his jacket. She stepped back with a confused look in her eye’s and bit her lip. “Oh Manny,” she said. “This is so awkward. I don’t mean you.” she corrected. “I mean, it’s happening again.”

They turned in their skates and walked back to Manny’s car, both quiet and a little sore from the skating experience. They passed a group of men clustered at a corner and heard, “Hey bitch! I have a score to settle with you.” The street light was good enough for them to see Carlos and Jaime separate from the group, but Jaime’s call also caught the attention of a horse-mounted policeman on the street.

“Cross the street.” Claudia rasped. The policeman turned to stop in front of Jaime and they ran. By the time they dove into Manny’s car it seemed like Carlos and Jaime must be lost behind them.

“Just drive.” Claudia gasped. Manny couldn’t read her expression by the dashboard lights, so he wasn’t sure what she wanted. She turned in her seat and said, “I should go home pretty soon, but I like being with you, so just drive.”

Manny followed a slow line of cars out of the parking garage, pulled onto the street and drove west. Neither of them saw the old Ford that pulled away from the curb to follow them.

They crossed the river, left the valley behind, and reached the edge of town. Manny turned north to where suburban subdivisions lapped against the foot of crumbling volcanic cliffs, then Claudia pointed to a pullout and said, “Ooh, take that. It goes up to the petroglyphs. I haven’t been there since high school.” Manny drove on a sandy trail at the foot of the bluff and then stopped beside a boulder that stood taller than the car. From there the city spread below them, a lake of lights surrounded by the inky darkness of the desert.

Claudia climbed from the car as soon as it stopped and studied the stone. Broken clouds streamed across the sky, alternately hiding and revealing the gibbous moon, alternately hiding and revealing the figures on the stone.

Manny stepped up behind Claudia to look over her shoulder. “Can you see this?” she asked, and pointed to a rough figure etched into the weathered surface. It was barely visible by moonlight. “It’s a cougar—the beast god of the hunter and the warrior. God only knows how long it’s been here snarling at the world. Abuela told me once that each of these rocks contains the spirit of the animal or the kachina that’s drawn on it.”

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