A Millstone, Always a Millstone

The blessed water trickled upon the infant’s sleep, pronouncing him Maria das Dores.  His cry of betrayal echoed in the serene sanctuary, pleading upwards to the gothic columns, where it ricocheted from the stone ears of the Saints, deaf from centuries of parishioners’ petitions.

Padre Lucas proceeded with the baptismal ceremony, his austere voice disregarding Maria das Dores’ supplications.

I shall remove the heart of stone from your body

and give you a heart of flesh.

I shall place my spirit in you,

and make you keep my laws

and sincerely respect my observances.”

Maria das Dores, for consolation, moulded his tiny body closer in his mother’s arms, just as the clay vases on the altar had moulded themselves in the moistened hands of their creators.

Engulfed in black, Eufémia, the infant’s mother, was a picture of burnt devastated soil delivering from her bosom the delicate white rose of his being. She prayed silently.

Lord, you have blessed me with this precious life.

May Maria das Dores grow in the discovery of truth.

May her hands be used to transform this world.

May her eyes never be closed to those in need.”

Eufémia’s silent lips raced in a string of prayers that sought forgiveness. The insanity of pain had condemned her to intervene in matters traditionally reserved to Divinities. A humble servant of God, she prayed to attenuate the immeasurable misfortunes of the world, and certain that God would approve of her decision to raise her son under the habits of a girl.

With the death of her husband, Eufémia had vowed to protect Maria das Dores, her sweet bundle of innocence, from the predatory mandibles of the world. Had her gentle giant man been present, she was certain he would have approved of her desperate, yet immaculately intentioned efforts to intervene in Divine matters.

Acácio had been a sacrificial lamb. His only sin hung between his legs, enabling him the pleasure that had fathered his child, and in the end, also sentenced him to death. Conscription had arrived, stomping through the courtyard, kicking the kitchen door open, as it had for Acácio’s forefathers who had been snatched in the night and sent to the Crusades to slaughter and perish in distant lands not their own. And again, in Acácio’s time, flesh was being herded into the jaws of Europe to bleed a war in a strange land, a strange language. He resisted destiny, concealed in the salt chest with the quartered pork, while the house was searched. The following day he sold trowel, square and plumb line—the tools of his trade. He borrowed money, desperate to trick death pending in the battlefield. He bribed his escape, smuggled inside an oak chest destined for Brazil. Brazil, land of dreams and riches. He dreamed of returning alive and wealthy. From the departing Pandora’s box his hand had blown Eufémia a hopeful kiss.

A lone candle burned next to the font, piercing the darkness of the church. Maria das Dores persevered in his loud protest. The water’s icy fingers lingered on his forehead, the scattered droplets seared his tender skin. Padre Lucas hastened through the christening.

“May the Lord Jesus touch your ears to receive His word, and your mouth to proclaim His faith, to the praise and glory of God.” Padre Lucas’ thumb touched the ears and mouth of Maria das Dores. He ended by signalling the cross on the infant’s forehead.

Eufémia scurried home, her legs slicing the fog that blanketed the village. At home, by the hearth, sloping forward on her stool and holding Maria das Dores under one arm, she built a fire to combat the shivers that refused to leave her life. Shivers, reminiscent of the haunted night, weeks earlier, when she had received word of Acácio’s death. Snuggled to the flames, smoke stinging her eyes, her hands had rested on the hill of her stretched womb.

“The will of God,” the messenger from her estranged and unwilling father, had suggested.

“What kind of a God locks one of his souls in a chest, in the hold of a cargo ship, burying his dreams alive,” she yelled.

Meaningless words to ease her tears. Tears, a torrent that sent pots whirling in the air and glass spraying from the walls, the way rivers smash water against rock. The tempest broke her dammed waters and grief drowned under the flood of birthing pain.

Sunday. As distant church bells announced the end of Mass, Eufémia’s last visitor hurried back home. In her arms, Maria das Dores cried. Eufémia stepped into the cold river behind her shack to scrub away the sweat that impregnated her skin. Her breasts ached from many unshaven faces. Eufémia unbuttoned her blouse and brought Maria das Dores to her nipple. The infant quieted. Eufémia splashed water between her thighs and sang the Fado in a mournful voice, a melancholic wail rising from the depths of her aches.

River of crystal waters

on your way to the sea

the torments that I bear

confide not to thee.”

 

Her tears floated down, a day’s journey to the Atlantic, where she believed the grief of the world was preserved in a gigantic vat of brine. The pure and crystallised pain of the less fortunate, floating away, destined to return one day as spice for privileged and refined palates.

(…)

excerpt                         ©paulodacosta

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The Scent of a Lie is a book of fourteen inter-connected stories, set in two charismatic towns in Portugal. Characters weave in and out of the intertwined stories, which can be read as a novel in fragments.

(2002/2012) – Paperback (140p) Format: 196 x 126 – ISBN: 978-0978184766

 MP3    Audio-Book (unabridged) Time: 4 h 14 m                  ISBN:9780978184773

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