Sunday, November 2, 2008

First Chapter: EARRINGS OF IXTUMEA by Kim Baccellia


Chapter One

“How often do you hear a girl saves the world?” The melodic hush of Abuela’s voice, downstairs in the kitchen, woke Lupe. Darkness filled her room. She peered over at her alarm clock. Six o’clock in the morning.

She pulled her pink blanket over her head and moaned. Oh, here we go again, she thought. Couldn’t Abuela let her sleep in, just once? The blanket might cover her, but she couldn’t escape the sounds of her grandmother reciting yet another fable about the girl who saves a world. Wasn’t it bad enough she’d been forced to listen to that stupid tale last night? And even worse, downstairs in their kitchen, listening and encouraging were her abuelita’s amigas.

Lupe stumbled out of bed, kicking aside a collection of navy and white uniform clothes on the floor. Throwing on a faded flannel robe, she cracked her bedroom door open. The voices grew louder.

“Sí, tell us more.” The ting of spoons against the tiny tea cups sounded like a battle cry. Didn’t those women know it was way too early? Jeez, no way was I going to sleep. I might as well see if they made some Ubarra chocolate or tea. At least that way maybe I could stomach this whole nonsense of Ixtumea and Super-Girl before I go to school.

She had long outgrown the silly tales. Though she hated to admit it, the tale of the girl savior fascinated her. Never had she heard of a teen age Latina battling evil forces and saving a people like her own in a parallel world not unlike the land of her Mexican ancestors.

No, the only stories of teen heroes she’d heard starred thin beautiful blondes. Everything she wasn’t.

Still Abuela’s voice cast a spell on her. Lupe knew she shouldn’t eavesdrop on the chismes, but she couldn’t help herself.

She crept down the stairs past the pictures of the Virgin Guadalupe, Pope John Paul II, and one of the mysterious Mayan gods.

“Ay, too bad she couldn’t have come sooner,” Coco, their next door neighbor, sighed. “Too many cosas modernas in our world. Now who believes? No one but us.”

Who were they talking about? Lupe wondered.

“Now that’s one story I’d like to hear,” An unfamiliar gravely voice replied. “Not another about the pobrecita guera who steals the ranchero’s heart. How many poor blonds from Mexico do you ladies know?”

“You mean real ones or ones that appear with la magica of the bleach?” said Esperanza, the local gossip of the apartment building.

Laughter filled the small apartment. Lupe couldn’t help but smile. These ladies loved those telenovelas almost as much as Abuela’s tales. She thought it funny that her grandmother got on her case about her Anglo pop idols. Maybe the ladies weren’t that different from her after all.
Lupe crouched down and hid behind one of the banisters. Ixchel, the spider goddess, smiled down on her from a painting on the wall. Red gems sparkled from her ear lobes, similar to the earrings her grandmother had tried to give her last night.

From this position Lupe saw the usual group of amigas sitting around the Formica table, sipping café de leche or manzanilla--chamomile--tea in delicate small cups. Vivid crimson, yellow, and orange house coats brightened the kitchen. They sounded like a flock of colorful parrots.

Next to the stove, Abuela worked her magic. She pinched off a bit of dough, rolled the soft masa into the size of a golf ball, and flattened the dough between her earth-colored hands. Quickly she threw the pancake shaped masa into a sizzling black pan.

Other women helped. Esperanza scrambled eggs, the vivid red house dress she wore fluttering over her round figure. Esperanza’s large gold hoop earrings bounced with every movement.
Coco stood to the far corner, one large embroidered rose peeking out of her simple rebozo. She cut the tortillas into thin strips to mix in with the eggs, chorizo, and cheese. “Oye, espera un momento. I want to hear more about this niña who’ll save Ixtumea.”

“Here, let me finish.” The scrape of a metal chair dragged across the wooden floor and one of the women took over cooking the tortillas.

“Ay, where was I?” Lupe’s abuela asked as she settled down in one of the chairs. She wiped her hands on her apron, sealing in the roasted scent of tortillas that Lupe loved.

“The prophecy. How does it go, again?”

“Oh, yes.” Abuelita took a deep breath. Then she began.

“She will come,
Descending through the sacred web,
To vanquish the great deceiver.
Many will be her name:

“Cipriana, do we know this niña?”

Lupe leaned down closer to the stair, curious to find out if her grandmother would reveal the name of a person. Wouldn’t it be a real hoot if it was someone she knew?

“Let me guess.” Esperanza turned off the stove. “She’s tall, thin, and has blonde hair.”

“You sound as bad as my Lupita. Nadie está contento con su suerte. Always dreaming the other side is better.”

Her grandmother let out a deep sigh. “If only she’d listen and take the earrings....”

“So, she hasn’t taken them?” Coco asked. “Does she not know how importante they are?”

“If I was her, I’d be dying to use them... wait, maybe, your Lupita is this niña!” Esperanza laughed so hard she snorted. “Wouldn’t that be something?”

Startled at hearing her name, Lupe leaned back against the wall. An old picture of her mother wearing those same earrings tilted above her.

Lupe felt a strange foreboding. The tips of her ears burned. What was wrong with her?
She got up and went back to her room. Quietly she closed the door to block out the voices. A prickly sensation covered her body, along with a sick feeling that maybe Esperanza was right. She thought back to last night and her grandmother’s attempt to give her a pair of earrings, identical to the ones in all the pictures in their apartment. She’d started up again with the legend and refused to let Lupe leave the room. No, this is muy importante, she said. She talked about a web between the worlds fraying and the time of the fulfillment of the prophecy was now. And how, Lupe needed to be prepared.

As if jewelry would be a shield against any supernatural force. Lupe resisted the urge to cross herself.

But still...could the tales be true?

Lupe plopped back on her bed. All thoughts of joining the ladies had vanished.

No, they’re only fairy tales, she told herself.


“¡Lupita! ¡Vente! Come down before your breakfast gets cold!”
Lupe rolled over in bed. She glanced at her clock. Seven-thirty. She must have gone back to sleep. Then she remembered what she’d overhead from the amigas downstairs. The prophecy of Ixtumea and the magical earrings had been the talk of their early morning meeting.
Esperanza, the queen chismosa, even had joked Lupe might be the girl savior in the fairy tale.

Yeah, as if.
Jeez, why did the amigas have to come over on a school day? She hoped they’d left the apartment.

She got off her bed and made her way to her closet, and caught a glimpse of herself in the vanity mirror. Her figure might’ve been in style back before Cortez conquered Mexico, but not now. Everything about her was round—-including her butt. She was nothing like the willowy thin singers and actresses on the cover of Teen People magazine. Around the mirror pictures of Ashley Snow stared back at her. Ashley’s heavily-lined eyelids mocked her. Why couldn’t she be like Ashley?

She was tired of being brown-haired, brown-eyed and brown-skinned.

She kicked yesterday’s outfit under her bed, and took out a clean navy pleated skirt and white polo shirt. She put these on and then the white socks before she completed the look with a pair of white Oxford shoes.

She took a final peek at herself before she opened her bedroom door. Light filtered through a glass painting of the Virgin Guadalupe, filling the walkway with vivid greens, blues, and reds. Lupe stopped by the picture. Gazing into the saints’ eyes, she longed for her to whisk her away from the pagan discussions she’d eavesdropped on earlier. She’d make it a point to ask Father Michael for penance during confessional. Maybe that would help her avoid a trip to hell.

A loud snort downstairs broke the spell.

The muffled sounds of the amigas meant one thing: they hadn’t left.

Lupe clasped the wooden banister. Oh, please leave. She didn’t want to go downstairs and hear about her so-called ‘calling’ in Ixtumea. But she really had no choice. She’d left her backpack, which held her English essay paper, on the kitchen table. Without that forget about hell—-she’d rather die than spend any time in detention.

As Lupe made her way down the stairs, a few of the amigas strolled out of the kitchen. Esperanza followed. Her wide hips seemed to have a life of their own, dancing to a silent Salsa beat. Lupe stared in fascination at her nalgas. Though she hated her own, she knew Esperanza prided herself on her butt.

“Ay, look at our Lupita, not so little anymore.” Esperanza smiled.

Lupe flushed.

Esperanza grabbed a black reboza off the couch and flung the wrap around her shoulders. “Escúchala- listen to your Abuela. Don’t be so cabezona. And next time--”she added with a wink”--don’t be so afraid to come and join us.”

So she did know! Lupe’s heart dropped to her stomach. It figured she couldn’t hide anything from that chismosa.

But Lupe didn’t have a chance to comment. One by one the women left the kitchen and grabbed either their sweaters or wraps off the couch.

“Hasta luego, Lupita,” Coco said. “Tell your abuelita we’ll see her tomorrow.” She opened the door and all the women left.

Finally! Relief surged through Lupe. She hoped that all the foolishness of Ixtumea had departed with them. But somehow she doubted that.

She made her way down the staircase to the kitchen. The roasted scent of chorizo con huevos grew stronger. Her stomach gurgled. Lupe took a deep breath.

She strolled into the kitchen. Though small, a row of windows made the room seem larger. In a prominent space on the kitchen wall, a framed drawing of Santo Toribio, patron saint of guidance, seemed to bless the room. An assortment of herbs and spices grew in a window planter. A scattering of tiny coffee cups cluttered the sink.

“I’m glad you finally decided to wake from the dead, m’ija.” Abuela sat at the table, a cup of streaming café de leche in her hand. “A quien madruga Dios lo ayuda. Remember, God only helps those who rise early.”

Lupe rolled her eyes. Her grandmother seemed to have a Spanish dicho-saying for everything.

Lupe made her way to the old Formica table in the corner of the room. Nothing remained of the amigas on the tile counter except some tattered novelas with racy covers. Lupe hoped she could sneak a peek at them after school. She liked the romances too.

In her usual spot sat a plate filled with a mixture of eggs, chorizo-sausage, and cheese. Warm tortillas were wrapped inside a white kitchen cloth. A few slices of the shells were on her plate. Ubarra chocolate streamed in her favorite large mug. The picture of a calico cat seemed to purr, content with the sweet beverage inside.

Abuela lifted her own cup to her mouth and watched Lupe. Her intense gaze made Lupe uncomfortable.

Lupe glanced over to the end of the table where her books were scattered from the last night’s cram session. She could still see the notes she’d tried to study from peeping out of the red notebook. She slid over and crammed the books and notes back into her backpack.

Abuela took another sip of her café. “Did you think about what I said?”
Oh, here we go again. Lupe thought. Couldn’t she give this Ixtumea thing a rest?

“Ah, Abuela, I really got to go.” Lupe grabbed another warm tortilla from her plate. She shoved some chorizo and egg inside and wrapped it in a napkin. “I can’t miss my bus.”

Her grandmother watched with half veiled eyes. “M’ija, the bus can wait. But what is coming, can not.”

Lupe raised an eyebrow. “What is coming? What are you talking about?”

“The web grows weaker between our world and Ixtumea; soon you will be called on. You need to be ready.”

“Yeah, right.” Lupe picked up her mug. She took another sip. “Abuela, you’ve been reading too many--“she nodded to the romances--“novelas. And I really gotta go.”

Sadness covered her grandmother’s face. She put her mug down and reached inside her apron pocket. “Lupe, don’t forget these.” Abuela pushed her chair back. With a slight limp she walked over to Lupe, clutching something in her palms.

The earrings! The earlier prickly sensation, like ants crawling up her skin, returned.

What was it with those earrings?

Abuela opened her hand and the familiar red rubies glinted up at her. Fine strands of gold curved around the gems. Lupe squirmed in her chair. She wished she could tear her skin off, anything to stop the sensation.

Her grandmother’s large topaz eyes never left Lupe. “Here, you need these.”

“Come on, Abuela. I’m not from one of your dumb tales. Those earrings won’t whirl me into Ixtumea. This isn’t Disneyland.”

“Dios mio. Why don’t you listen?”

“Come on, Abuelita, they’re only jewelry. They don’t have any magica. That kind of stuff only happens in those novelas you all read.”

Abuela grabbed her hand. “No, child. These are important.” She firmly pressed the earrings into Lupe’s hands. “If you won’t listen, at least keep them with you.”

Lupe gritted her teeth in frustration. She wanted to throw the stones on the wooden floor. Did her grandmother think she was six or something? It was embarrassing enough she had to subject herself to Abuela’s blessings every morning, but now this?

But something bothered her. The urgency of Abuela’s words and the women’s discussion earlier scared her. Maybe she should take them. If nothing else it would stop her grandmother’s nagging. Or better yet, she would use her own dicho—-ojos que no ven, corazon que siente—-out of sight, out of mind.

“Thanks. I think.” Lupe went back to the table and picked up her backpack. She pushed the earrings into her skirt pocket and rushed past Abuela towards the door, skipping her daily blessing. She figured the earrings were more than enough.

“Lupita?” The slam of the door behind her shut out her abuela’s voice. Lupe felt a tinge of guilt. She hated being disrespectful but the combination of the women’s gossip, the earrings, and a vigilant abuela was too much to deal with this early in the morning.

Lupe dashed down the staircase, fighting the strong urge to turn around and ask her abuela why the earrings were really important. Would they really protect her against evil that was destroying the web?

Come off it. Like there really is such a thing as a gigantic spider web hiding another world. One that no-one, except Abuela and her amigas, can see. Boy, maybe some of her grandmother’s herbs were starting to affect her mind.

Lupe stopped at the foot of the stairs for a moment and opened the backpack flap to look for her iPod. She took it out, scanning for Justin Summer’s latest songs before she put the earphones on. She turned up the volume not only to drown out the sounds of the passing traffic and loud neighbors but to quiet the fears bubbling inside. She walked around a collection of greasy hamburger wrappers and half empty Coke cans, lost in her music... and away from her embarrassing life.

1 comment:

peggy said...

I just love this book! You did great writing it :)
Bravo!!! Thank you so much for it by the puter had crashed and I'm having to collect emails again:)