IT’S THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2017, AND IN CASE YOU’RE WONDERING WHAT THE CHEERING CROWDS IN THE STREET ARE ALL ABOUT, THEY’RE CELEBRATING BECAUSE SOLSTICE PUBLISHING JUST ACCEPTED MY SEQUEL TO BONITA, YOU CAN’T KEEP HER. MY PERSONAL ESTIMATE IS THAT IT MIGHT BE OUT AROUND THE HOLIDAYS SOMETIME. THE PERFECT GIFT, YES? HERE ARE THE OPENING LINES. TUNE IN NEXT WEEK FOR ANOTHER EXCERPT:
We were in the library, which smelled of the same leather and stale cigar smoke left behind by its late owner, Benito Alvarez. It was quite a mansion Alvarez had built high on this San Francisco hill where I now stood opposite his daughter, Flora Torres. She faced me with her arms folded across her chest, so straight and stiff I wanted to cut her corset strings, fancying she’d go all wobbly like a marionette. The image amused me, but I couldn’t indulge in humor now, with her stern dark eyes locked so intently on mine.
“You live an unsavory life, Bonita Kelly. Your parents were horse thieves. Your business partner, that disgusting Sylvia Gonsalves, is a prostitute. You live in a hotel instead of a proper house. You are unfit to enter my home, let alone associate with my daughter. We won’t allow it any longer.” She gestured to the maid who had escorted me in. “Laura will show you out.” Her lips squeezed together like pincers. By “we” she meant her husband, Miguel, who was away on business as he so often was, leaving her to manage, and she was managing with even more than her usual ferocity.
“Two years I’ve been calling on ‘Margarita,’” I said, using the name Flora had given my daughter instead of ‘Bonita,’ the name I’d given her at birth but had yet to broach with her. “Piano lessons, games, stories. We have delightful visits. You know she calls me Tía, her make-believe aunt, and she relishes our relationship. Why issue this decree now?”
“I should never have let things go this far, but now it’s over. From this day forward, you will not cross our doorstep. Now, if you please. . . ” She pointed toward the door, but I stepped toward her instead of away.
A gray cat suddenly scampered across the room toward me. I knelt and invited Chuckles into my arms. She cuddled there, meowed, then purred. I looked up at Flora, whose fists were tight with irritation. I smiled and got to my feet. Knowing me and my determined personality, it was astounding that she thought she could get away with this.
Flora’s father had stolen my Bonita from me at birth in 1847. Benito Alvarez probably considered his action as merciful, or at least presented it that way to his childless daughter. The infant was a child of rape, after all, the progeny of an attack on me by several members of a gang calling themselves the Bear Republic who had occupied Maríana Vallejo’s rancho during the swarm of conflicts that led to the Mexican-American war. I was not only a young woman with no husband. My Bonita’s father was unknown. Unknowable.
Six years I had searched for her. Then the miracle. She returned to San Francisco as a six-year-old, the adopted daughter of the Torres family who assumed control of Alvarez’s affairs after his death. I knew her on sight because looking at her was like looking in a mirror. The Torres family, though, knew nothing of me. Not then. But they certainly did now.
Rather than declare the truth to her and attempt to tear her away from the woman she had always called Mother, I had befriended her and the family, assumed the role of an imaginary aunt in order to have at least some contact with her. I hoped for an opportunity to take things further, but nothing had yet presented itself. Now, eight years after the original kidnapping, Flora was attempting to repeat her father’s crime. This time, I wouldn’t allow it.
“Since you choose to avoid my question,” I said, “I’ll answer it myself. With Chuckles’ help, of course.” I held the animal up and rubbed noses with her. “You are issuing your decree now because Margarita is beginning to suspect the truth, to wonder if I am not her pretend aunt, but her mother. You’ve been doing a pretty comical Mexican Hat Dance trying to avoid some of her questions.
“And I admit I have, too. Logical questions about the similarity in our looks and the dissimilarity between hers and the rest of the Torres family. It’s obvious how comparatively pale and blond we are, for example. The more questions she asks, the harder it is to come up with answers, and the longer it goes on the more likely you are to trip over your own fancy stepping and land flat on your duplicitous nose.”
She drew herself to an even sterner height. “Inventing answers to Margarita’s queries is a burden you’ll no longer have to bear, since you will have no more conversations with her.”
I stepped closer. We were inches apart now. I smiled.
“You know, Flora. I thank you.”
She started back, a question in her eyes.
“I’ve avoided revealing all this to Bonita because I thought it would pain her too much to find out you were her pretend mother instead of her real one. But now, I will hold nothing back.
“Let’s start with these accusations against me. You brought up Sylvia Gonsalves.” I started circling her. It felt good to be on the offense. I felt like dancing my way around her, but I only sidled around her as I spoke. Still, I made her nervous trying to keep track of me. Her head wagged back and forth in confusion.
“Yes, Sylvia owned a brothel. But now she and I own and run successful businesses—real estate, a drayage company, and more. And well you know it. Many of them are managed by the very women Sylvia once employed in the brothel. She rescued them from perdition, Flora, and her spirit is as pure as any nun’s. So Bonita can be proud of who I have become, not ashamed.”
“Once a whore, forever stained,” Flora said.
“Oh, there’s one for the ages,” I said. “Very Christian.”
I reversed direction, but continued winding my way around her. She had quit trying to follow my movements and now stood solid as a maypole in the center of my circle.
“As for my parents, I wish I’d begun earlier to clear their names. I delayed because I must leave this city to do it, and I didn’t want to give up time with my daughter. But I will go after that proof now, proof to erase the so-called stains on my character and establish legal verification of my motherhood. On that day, my Bonita and I, as daughter and mother, will together dance an Irish jig out your front door, and neither you nor any judge will deny us. Look forward to that day, Flora. It is sure to come. And soon.”
Chuckles squirmed her way out of my arms and bounded from the room, doubtless to join the girls in their play. The proof of motherhood I’d mentioned to Flora was the testimony of the midwife attending Bonita’s birth. She’d agreed to take the stand if necessary, but I hoped never to bring the matter to court because she was a member of a prominent family and would undergo considerable embarrassment should she have to appear. Not to mention the hurt it would inflict on Bonita herself.
I left Flora, my heart pained at parting from my daughter, but my feet as light as if I floated down a path toward redemption.
TODAY’S GUEST IS THE PROLIFIC MARIE LAVENDER, AUTHOR OF A VIRTUAL LIBRARY FULL OF POEMS, STORIES, AND NOVELS IN A HOST OF GENRES.
MARIE’S LATEST NOVEL
UPON YOUR LOVE
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The third volume of the Vendetta Trilogy opens with 12-year-old BONITA in pre-gold rush San Francisco. Follow our heroine through peril and romance as she navigates the Mexican-American War, the gold rush, California Statehood, and transforms herself into a prominent entrepreneur.
“A compelling story of self-discovery and courage”–Author Silvia Villalobos
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