The Mermaid Plague:Part 3

I sense the Noor’s disappointment. She and her husband were not real to me until tonight. In hindsight, I had heard whispers in the street that Noor not being the best wife and her ankles were on the medium side, but I dismissed it for jealousy. Now that I know she is awaiting a pregnancy that may not come, I feel for the first time I have invaded someone’s privacy. If she can’t produce the next Diego, how can their line survive? From downstairs I smell something curious-cigarette smoke- and leave the bed. Our company went home an hour ago. Tiptoeing down the stairs, I station myself outside the kitchen. Neptuna is gathering and washing the dishes.

            I watch her fill up the sink twice.  She works over the silverware with vigor. A cough incubates in my throat from all the cigarette smoke and I step out ready to request juice, but pull my foot back into the shadows.  Neptuna purses her lips out and she kisses the four dessertspoons.  She serenades them chanting “Happiness/Good luck/Praise”.  I look away to ease the burn in my stomach.  When I look again, she takes out a metal container from underneath the sink and drops dessertspoons inside. Despite the volcanic activity in my stomach, I concentrate enough to see her take a wooden bowl and mix honey, sugar, leftover champagne into a gelatinous pile. Then she is quiet. A trickle of sweat oozes down my back and leg to my ankle before she inexplicably she cries “Osiria, Osiria” holding the bowl underneath her mouth. I behold her releasing drops of her own saliva into the container and a sea of acrid liquid rushes up to my throat threatening to out me. Father Infanta doesn’t spit in church, and I know from the countless retelling of the gypsy story that spitting has deep meaning. I just can’t think right now.

            Neptuna straightens up from her crouch and seals in her mixture. What is she doing? Why the spitting? I know she is performing a spell. Denalis have a separate religion from Guerros. Sometimes I see in the marketplace Virgin Marys with offerings of watermelons and fish tantalizing the stray dogs. That religion is not allowed in our house, but I cannot tell Mother. Neptuna’s mother was my grandmother’s maid. I need to walk away and think about what is happening. I need a moment, but I cannot look away now. She lays the box on the counter and washes her hands. My throat constricts when she picks up the box and walks out to the garden. I hesitate, but run to the largest sculpture for cover.  

             Under our mahogany tree that looks like a headless man with broken limbs, Neptuna digs a small hole. A stray dog comes from nowhere looking for scraps. Gently cursing the animal, she dismisses it with her foot. I insert a finger into my mouth to steady my breathing. Inhale, exhale, and inhale as the new smell arrives. Charcoal. Neptuna stands still and looks in my direction. She knows I’m here and is going to scold me for being out in the night air. Inching up higher, I stand on the balls of my bare feet when another sound besides my breathing presents itself. It is low at first, I sniff again and the charcoal undercurrent intensifies, Neptuna gathers something in her throat. With each heaping shovel of dirt, Neptuna spits. The stray dog runs away.

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