First Edition features new original works by Northern California Jewish writers. Appearing the first issue of each month, it includes a poem and an excerpt from a novel or short story.
The Duel for Consuelo
by claudia h. long
Colonial Mexico, 1711. Consuelo, daughter of a city mayor and a descendant of the Conversos (Spanish Jews forcibly converted to Christianity) has been sent away to study apothecary arts at the Marquis’ castle, a day’s journey from her home. Though she gave herself to Juan Carlos, the son of wealthy landowners and her childhood love, after the night of passion Juan Carlos has repudiated her. Those who love her want to isolate her for reasons she doesn’t understand. Powerless, she acquiesces and finds herself being conducted to the nuns’ wing of the castle, a penitent without the usual evidence of her sin.
Huge double doors fronted the building and one of the young men opened them, bowing her through. She took a breath and stepped across the threshold into a dark hall. Her eyes took a moment to adjust, and she made out wall hangings to the right, a set of tall windows, and an enormous staircase leading up from the left.
A grey-haired nun sat at a desk in the front of a grand hall, just inside the door. “Good evening, SenÌƒorita Costa. Bienvenida. Abelardo will show you to your room. Abelardo!” A young man about her age approached. “Take SenÌƒorita Costa to the nuns’ wing.”
He raised his eyebrows and looked her up and down insolently. “Come, sweetheart. Let’s go to your new home.” Consuelo stared at him. No one had ever spoken to her that way. “I don’t think you will mind the nuns, they’re not too bad with girls of quality. And quality is what you are.”
“Mind your words,” she answered sharply. How dare he? She looked over at the nun at the desk, hoping for intercession. The old woman adjusted the monocle she was using to see the visitor’s book she held in front of her, but said nothing.
“Oh, come on, darlin’. Don’t go all prim and proper on me. You mustn’t have been so high and mighty when your boyfriend came around at night, huh? I can see how a piece like you could get in trouble, a long tall drink of tart lemonade!”
Finally the nun interceded. “Abelardo, that’s enough. I am sorry, SenÌƒorita. Abelardo, take SenÌƒorita Costa to the nuns’ wing now, and not another word out of you.”
“Yes, sister,” Abelardo said, not the least bit meekly. “This way, my lady.”
Consuelo lifted her chin and turned to follow him. They passed the tall windows, and the grand entry, open and cavernous, gave way to a smaller, stone paved hallway, with tapestries hanging on the whitewashed walls. There was a drifting aroma of candle wax and powder. They walked in silence past a set of tall double doors that stood open to a room with a pianoforte and comfortable looking chairs. “The music room,” Abelardo said, gesturing to the piano. The next set of doors, even larger, was closed. “The library,” Abelardo said. “More books than any one body should read.” They made another turn and the appetizing smell of tortillas wafted by. Consuelo’s stomach growled and she realized how hungry she was. She had consumed nothing but the cup of chocolate at the inn since breakfast.
“Got to feed the tummy, eh? Or are you still at the upchuck phase?” “Silence, Abelardo,” she said, as if to a barking dog. He laughed. “You’ll get plenty to eat, that’s for sure. These sisters know all about eating for two. Soon you’ll be waddling down the halls, unable to find your embroidery needle under your big belly!”
At last they came to a curtain. “Hello, good sisters!” he called. “I’ve got your latest sinner!”
“Oh my goodness, Abelardo, you fool. Shut your mouth and get back to the gate. I am so sorry,” said a voice on the other side of the curtain. A hand reached around and opened the drape. A tiny woman, perhaps as high as Consuelo’s elbow, with a grey veil and habit, looked up at her. “SenÌƒorita Costa?”
“Come in, my dear. Get out of here, fool!” she said to Abelardo. He winked at Consuelo and turned away. “Come in here,” she repeated to Consuelo. “Ignore him, he’s an absolute boor. Brought up by a footman from the era of the former MarqueÌs. There’s no dismissing him, he’s a family servant, but he’s a vulgar piece of work. I am sorry he was on gate duty when you arrived. But now you’re here. Let’s make you welcome.”
Claudia H. Long writes about 17th-century Mexico and roaring ‘20s California. She practices law as a mediator for employment and business disputes, has two grown children, cooks anything that calls itself food and reads voraciously. Claudia grew up in Mexico City and New York, and lives in Lafayette. “Duel for Conseulo” is her third novel.