An Excerpt from AlmaMia Cienfuegos and Other Stories

AlmaMia was seven the night she shaved her fourteen-year-old sister’s left eyebrow while the older sibling slept. Soledad hadn’t talked to her in two days, and AlmaMia was not going to ask for forgiveness. In her mind, Soledad had been the one to start all the trouble.
The afternoon prior to the shaving incident, Soledad and a couple of her friends from school had ambushed AlmaMia in the woods. She had been leaving Miss Toledo’s cabin when her sister and the other teenagers pushed her against a coconut tree and tickled her armpits until her underwear and legs got wet and warm. Mamabuela had been out of town attending a funeral, and Miss Toledo had gone to a meeting at Cienfuegos Boarding School where she worked as a librarian. AlmaMia tried getting back into Miss Toledo’s place to clean up, but her teacher’s doors were locked. The girl was forced to run to Vanesa’s house in shoes full of piss.
Moisture, heat and pressure weakened the cement glue that kept the top of AlmaMia’s shoes attached to their soles. The right shoe came apart. AlmaMia wanted to hide the split from Vanesa, but her mother caught her before she could sneak into the house. When Vanesa grabbed her by the hair, AlmaMia shut her eyes and covered her mouth with both hands. Vanesa always hit harder and longer if AlmaMia cried. That day, Vanesa took her favorite machete sheath and beat AlmaMia on the ribs and thighs only four times.
The leather scabbard bruised the side of AlmaMia’s right thigh. AlmaMia swore to herself that she would tell Mamabuela about the beating. But after the pain began to lessen, she realized she would also have to explain shaving off Soledad’s eyebrow with a crafting blade Mamabuela kept in her do-not-touch box. Instead of concocting an accusation plan, AlmaMia returned the double edged blade to the box and grabbed a small bottle of her grandmother’s arnica oil. After a couple of rubs, during a two-day period, the oil had taken care of the pain and most of the marks. Mamabuela’s herbal remedy had worked so well that AlmaMia was no longer angry at her mother or at her sister.
“Are you almost done ironing?” AlmaMia said.
Soledad continued pressing the blue skirt of her school uniform as if her sister hadn’t spoken. If she wasn’t such an ass, AlmaMia thought, she would’ve checked if Mamabuela had something to make eyebrow hair grow back faster. Sighing, AlmaMia wished Soledad’s ironing would take a very long time.
If she didn’t finish her homework before her sister was done, Vanesa wouldn’t let her go with Soledad and Matías, her father’s best friend, to a fiesta de palos at Miss Toledo’s cabin. AlmaMia was trying to complete the assignment, but her brain couldn’t think of any more three-syllable words that named people, things, or places which were hostile. She grabbed her head with both hands and wondered, How does Miss Toledo come up with these stupid homework ideas?
“Vanesa,” AlmaMia said to her mother. “What if I spell nine words and then tell you five aloud? That’s more, isn’t it?” She crossed her fingers under the table and waited.
“Write ten,” Vanesa said without looking up from the dress she had been mending. 
AlmaMia looked at her wrist and willed the charms hanging from her silver bracelet to give her some inspiration. The small frog and the happy skull stared back at her without answers. Her third charm, a book-shaped infuser filled with rosemary leaves from Mamabuela’s garden, smelled like her grandmother’s hugs at dinnertime, but the scent didn’t trigger any words.
She scratched the top of her head with a pencil and searched around Vanesa’s living room for ideas; nothing useful on the packed dirt floor, the zinc roof, or the unpainted small window that let in the night breeze and every mosquito in the Dominican Republic. AlmaMia stared at Soledad’s pale face and bulging eye, and was wondering how to spell piranha, when something tapped her foot.
Matías was pointing at the table. AlmaMia perked up; her father’s best friend always came up with the best games. She followed his index finger to the cover of the comic book he had been reading, and copied the last word in the title: Araña. She didn’t think the eight-legged weavers were particularly hostile, but Vanesa ran screaming whenever she saw one. Maybe Miss Toledo would think of Vanesa’s blaring, and see spiders as mean creatures.
After writing the word, AlmaMia winked at Matías. Then she danced in circles around Vanesa’s rocking chair. “I’m done, I’m done, I’m done, I’m done, I’m done,” she squealed. “Ten mean words with three syllables in them.” She planted the notebook on Vanesa’s lap.
“Cheat.” The sound of Soledad’s voice made AlmaMia want to poke her sister’s browless eyeball.
Vanesa stopped sewing. “Did you cheat, AlmaMia?” 
AlmaMia stared at her feet, paying special attention to the way the blackened nail of her left big toe stuck out of her faded pink flip-flop, before she glanced back and forth between Vanesa, Soledad, and the toe.
“Matías gave her a word.” Soledad’s hazel eyes shined brighter than the coals she had been using to heat up the iron.
“Did you help her?” Vanesa cocked her head towards Matías.
Matías stood up to talk to AlmaMia’s mother. “Yes Vanesa, but Mia was only missing one word. I just—”
“Soledad,” Vanesa cut him off, “You can go to the party with Matías after you’re done pressing that skirt. AlmaMia will stay with me studying her words.” Vanesa went back to her needling.
AlmaMia wailed.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Matías said to Soledad.
“Someone needs to keep her from becoming a brat,” Soledad said, grinning at her little sister.
AlmaMia shrieked louder.
Matías walked away from Soledad and knelt next to AlmaMia. “All right, Mia, it’s all right.” He unstuck a patch of wet curls from the little girl’s face and patted her right cheek. “If you quit crying now, we can read Spider-Man together. There’s a lot of cool fighting in this comic book. I bet I can help you find more hostile three-syllable words for your homework.”
“Okay,” AlmaMia whimpered, wiping her face with the front of her t-shirt.
In less than half an hour, Matías taught AlmaMia how to spell serpiente, alimaña and piraña, the Spanish words for serpent, vermin and piranha.  
“I’ll be ready in a minute,” Soledad told Matías. “I just have to put out the coals.”
“Leave them burning,” Vanesa said. “I need to press this hem when I’m done fixing it.”
After setting the iron in its metal cradle, Soledad stood, hands on hips, in front of Matías and AlmaMia. “I’m ready to go,” she said.
“Give me a second.” Matías looked up from Spider-Man. “We only have five pages left. Can you believe Mia learned how to spell three more hostile words already?”
“Four,” AlmaMia yelled. “I learned how to spell Trujillo.”
Soledad rolled her eyes. “Whatever. No one cares about some jerk that got shot to death thirty years ago. Let’s get out of here before Mami changes her mind and we get stuck with little shit,” she said to Matías.
“Many people care about jerks.” AlmaMia stuck her tongue out at her sister. “You’re just jealous because you repeated sixth grade this many times,” she held up three fingers, “and I’m only in third grade and know more long mean words than you.” AlmaMia saw Matías bite his lower lip to hide a grin and that made her giggle.
“Thirteen words?” Vanesa stopped the needle and extended a hand. “Let me see.”
AlmaMia gave the notebook to Vanesa and crossed her fingers and her legs, too.
Matías winked at AlmaMia. “That was a lot of work,” he said to Vanesa in an exaggerated tone. “I think Mia deserves a break. And I’m playing tonight. She hasn’t seen me hit the drums in a long time.”
Soledad kicked Matías on the side of the leg, and he dropped Spider-Man at AlmaMia’s feet.
Vanesa looked up from the notebook, and aimed an index finger at AlmaMia’s face. “You can go, but I’m testing you tomorrow before dinner. You need to become a doctor and make lots of money, so you can buy me a big house.”
AlmaMia kissed and hugged Vanesa with her eyes closed, and promised herself she would buy her mother that big house one day. Gripping Soledad’s hand, she said, “Let’s go, Sola.”
“Not before you change that t-shirt.” Vanesa scrunched up her face. “You got snot all over it.”
“I’ll get another one.” Keeping her undershirt on, AlmaMia took off the dirty t-shirt before going through the laundry basket that sat by the ironing board. She slipped into a red blouse that had big white and yellow daisies on it. “I’m ready,” she said and reached for Soledad, but her sister slapped her hand.
AlmaMia stomped Soledad on the foot.
Soledad smacked AlmaMia on the side of the head.
AlmaMia rubbed her ear and glowered at her sister.
“Stop that, you two.” Vanesa put her sewing on her lap, stared at AlmaMia and shook her head. “Soledad, are you going to let your sister walk outside looking like beasts live in this house? Put an iron to that top.”
AlmaMia pulled the wrinkled blouse over her head and handed it to Soledad. “Iron it, drowned cow.” She smirked at her sister. Soledad’s eyes were usually big and beautiful, but the missing eyebrow made her left eyeball bulge so far out of her face that AlmaMia expected it to jump out of its socket and knock somebody out.
Soledad grabbed the blouse, and said to Matías, “I won’t forgive you for this one.”
AlmaMia hugged Matías by the waist, and said, “I’ll forgive you for all the ones, in all the worlds, and all the times.”
Matías smiled. “I knew you were my favorite for a reason.” He ruffled AlmaMia’s wild hair.
She hugged him tighter before letting go. Matías was like a brother to her father, and other than letters and phone calls, he was AlmaMia’s only real connection to Papi. “His favorite, his favorite, his favorite,” AlmaMia sang, danced, and laughed in front of Soledad.
“AlmaMia Cienfuegos,” Vanesa’s eyes were on her youngest daughter, but her needle was still moving in and out of fabric that had been repaired too many times, “stop annoying your sister.”
AlmaMia covered her mouth to stifle lingering giggles. She waited until Vanesa refocused on the sewing before folding her undershirt all the way to the top of her stomach. Then, standing in front of Soledad, tongue sticking out and hands waving over her head, AlmaMia began rolling her belly around and around in one of her favorite mocking dances.
Soledad’s lips were thinned into a smile when she pushed the hot iron against her little sister’s stretched out belly. 

available at Amazon
Updated Oct 21, 2013.

38 comments:

  1. OK, CRAP... This is awesome Magaly, like I was there, like I wanted to fix things as they spiraled out of control... The siblings... the grandma, mother(?) & Papa's friend... the characters so well introduced in this excerpt I need to whisper something in your ear...

    m o r e...

    i
    w a n t
    m o r e...

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    1. I will try to give you more... okay, I have to give you more. Luna is aggressive in her write-me-now attitude, but AlmaMia is the staring with a grin kind, I rather not upset her, so she'll get a lot of writing time.

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  2. What? That's all we get?

    *Stamps foot in frustration*

    Damnit witch, you have to stop doing this to me!

    I was going to be an evil witch and say, "hey, I'll buy your book if you buy mine," but now you have me so hooked I don't even care any more and want to buy your book as soon as it's available anyway!! You better let me know as soon as it's available so I can get my copy!

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    1. If you hear chuckles, I promise they aren't mine. I'm camouflaging my roaring too well for you to hear them, so...

      Just two weeks, my dear dame, and you'll get her complete short story. Then you have to give me time to write/edit/rewrite the complete novel. But don't worry, during those days I'll give you constant Luna and Leo (plus a few others) fixes. And as soon as I'm done with the semester, I shall be reading some poetry ;-)

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  3. Well written! I really liked it!

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    1. Thanks. It's so good to read you ;-)

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  4. I already feel as though I know the characters in this story. I love how easy your writing helps me to picture each one and see where they live. Very vivid, Magaly. You have caught me up in this story, as you knew it would ;), and it is going to be a long two weeks!!!

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    1. I had a feeling you would like it. I'm so glad you can see my characters, for they all want to be seen and heard. Sometimes, all at once, and there is were the conflict begins.

      I'll try to make the two weeks very short ;-)

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  5. From the name of the main character, to the intense pain at the hands of her sister.....I am feeling every word.
    When it needs to come out, it does. I love that you thought you might have silver curls when it came. But I am glad that Almamia can tell her story now. Oma

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    1. Life tends to just happen, huh? We have all those plans, so many lists... and when Fate grabs us in her huge hands, it is better if we don't struggle too much. The energy is better spent trying to make the ride as smooth, enjoyable and educational as possible.

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  6. Wow Magaly!! Is this story based on truth?? Very powerful! I was crying! Well done my friend. Is there more to come??? I hope ;o) Hugs ;o)
    Oh, thanks for entering Laura's giveaway ;o)

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    1. Sorry it made you cry. If it makes you feel any better, you aren't alone, there are times when I'm typing and crying...

      I think all fiction is based on someone's truth, even if the truth is not our own. And yes, there will be a lot more.

      Of course I entered that beautiful crow giveaway. I'll blog about it before it's over, too!

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  7. I'm blown away.. and I WANT MORE!! WOW, Magaly.. just .. WOW!

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    1. And you shall received... on May 10th ;-)

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  8. Heart-rending and totally evocative. <3 Hurry up with more, hmm?

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    1. Today, I will need to need your witchy clock if I want to do any writing.

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    2. I discovered the one thing they left out of that clock was time lost to little witches-in-training. which is where all my time goes these days...

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    3. Tell me about it. Right now, I'm supposed to be editing, but I've decided to answer emails and reply to messages for a little while. I can't focus on the editing, the Little Princess is singing in the bath (loud) she stops if I tell her, but then she forgets and starts shrieking again. She is just really excited about modeling her tap recital costume in a few minutes lol

      But life would never be as rich without little souls.

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  9. oh wow!!!! like a movie in my head...i could see and feel everything. great writing, heartfelt & moving. and then it stopped!! more! more please! i know...have to wait til the 10th! love this magaly!! awesome work!

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    1. I don't know if I should celebrate or apologize because you felt everything, some of the things aren't all that pleasant. Well, I'll celebrate, for know AlmaMia has more awesome people sharing her life--and she likes it.

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    2. As always you pull the reader into the story and the image of AlmaMia’s burned abdomen is a very vivid one. So it has stayed with me a little longer than I like. Perhaps it’s because I’m a mom and my maternal instinct flared when she was assaulted and scarred for life both physically and emotionally.

      I was concerned when AlmaMia didn’t want to stay with her mother and sister and that in fact she hadn’t lived with them since she was two. Why? What happened and what the heck is wrong with Soledad?

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    3. Thanks dear carmen. I know exactly what you mean, Alma Mia is the most difficult of my writing experiences. Not the actual putting words on the page, but seeing her go through certain things. Like you said, they stay with me.

      The second half of the story should answer many questions...

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  10. Magaly, you have taken me into a world so foreign to me, yet I can see it as if I were standing right next to these very lush, well told characters and sharing their space in time. I smiled, I winced, I gasped, my mouth fell open in utter disbelief, I had a million and one thoughts about the mother and 2 daughters' relationship and how I love Matias and the grandmother, seeing bits of my own grandmother in each of them. I truly not only love the story itself, but the completely open way it is told. It is fabulous and I cannot wait to continue this tale. Hugs my sweet author.

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    1. The journey of discovering the whys in the life of AlmaMia and the other Cienfuegos women is one that surprises me every time I finish a page. I can't wait to discover more and to share it.

      Hugs right back at you, my Mina ;-)

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  11. There seems to be a deep undercurrent between Mama & Vanesa. Mama knows what goes on, so why insistent that Alma be forced to stay with people who abuse her?

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    1. I can't wait to share what flows under the bridge of the Cienfuegos women.

      I'm glad you brought up the word abuse. I think one of the hardest things to write, for me, is how the culture sees abuse (or don't see it?). I guess AlmaMia and I aren't the only ones wondering why Mamá thinks leaving her with Vanesa is a good idea.

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  12. WOW! I love it! I can't wait to read more and get to know AlmaMia better. What amazing chracters. A very emotional read. Thankk you!!

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    1. Thanks YOU for the input, AutumnWind. It is great to know you can feel the characters and that you want to journey with them, too!

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  13. I think I've read part of this before. I remember Matias helping AlmaMia. Having it from the beginning made it all make sense. I wonder why she's living with her grandmother, although I don't blame her for not wanting to go back. Can't wait for more.

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    1. You have indeed. I can't wait to share the entire thing with you. Your last feedback made reconsider a few things and change some. You rock!

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  14. Just had chance to read this through....OMG it is fabulous..I was so there in that room as the 2 girls bickered and Soledad lost it! :D XXX

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    1. "fabulous" we like fabulous in this house ;-) I hope to continue being able to put you in the story while things are happening...

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  15. I almost didn't read this as i am not as big a fan of blood and terror as you, but i am so glad i did. It draws you in and i was so scared what soledad might do? You certainly do have the knack of getting your readers engaged with the characters!!!
    I read on one of your posts that you wanted the first 13 words i thought of.... Scary, pain, anger, my aunt, my mother, revenge, payback, siblings, my brother, hate, jealousy, fear, and love. I think that's 13

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    1. I'm glad you feel drawn to my version of blood and terror. And I like the "my" bit of your 13 words.

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  16. It's intriguing, Magaly. You give the feeling of Caribbean taste in your words. :)

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    1. It was the mangoes and the mosquitoes, wasn't it? ;-)

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  17. i'm in a different land as i read this, in a intimate world of women. when she tastes snot, you really bring the scene home.

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    1. Mmm, seeing emotions go biological is one of my favorite things... glad it took you THERE...

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