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Egypt

 

The Mexican girl, she was now going on 17, was sleeping in her motel room curled up as tightly as she could curl. She slept this way always after working, after the men hurt her. They always hurt her. Mostly, they hurt her with their bodies, penetrating every orifice and surface, hard and soft, always greedy. Sometimes they penetrated her with their looks. And always with their words. Cried or whispered or grunted or rasped, they called her all kinds of names, names of people, names of things, foul names and sweet names and sometimes names of God. Often she thought the names were the worst. Only Sunday night, when she had withheld herself from the men because it was God's day, did she sleep differently. Last night had not been Sunday night, nor would tonight be, it was the middle of the week, and far from Sunday. It was about one in the afternoon; she was waking up from a dream in which she was still a child, going hungry in a desert of junk and garbage. The men pursued her in the dream as well, eager and distended, and she ran away from them knowing they would also be wherever she ran to. Her mother ran after her for awhile and then turned into a sad-eyed dog and walked away.

Except for the dog, this was a summary of the Mexican girl's life. She had grown up on the periphery of a junkyard or garbage dump where her mother had gone after something had happened to her father. She had lived in boxes and later a shack her mother built. When her mother saw that she was going to be pretty she instructed her in the ways of women with men -- she was then 8 or 9 years old -- and managed to place her with a middle-class family, hoping for the best. This worked well, and one of the young men of the family indeed found her irresistible and forced himself on her. However, the family said she was a whore and threw her out.

She decided to go to the border where there were factories and get a job. However, there was no work for her there except the kind of work she did now. Then a man who had used her services told her he would take her over the border in exchange for further services, which he felt urgent need for. After a busy week he dropped her off not far from where she now stayed, with a new twenty dollar bill. The twenty dollar bill got her into the motel, and her beauty got her into business. Even before she could dress properly, there were men who understood her need.

The Mexican girl woke up and set the dream aside. She stretched out slowly. Although her body was young, it was cramped and stiff from the way she slept, and she moved around in bed, loosening herself up for another day. She would not be asleep again until five or six in the morning, and she took her time waking up.

Once she felt able to get up, the first thing she did was go over to a little table on which there was a statue of the Blessed Mother and the Baby Jesus, and pray. The prayer took a long time. She had worked it out from pieces of prayers and her own thoughts, knitted it together. In it she remembered her mother and her father, her sisters and her brothers, her uncles and aunts and relatives, and many other persons, living and dead. She also prayed for certain animals, including some which had appeared to her only in dreams. Finally she prayed for herself. She thanked the Blessed Mother and Baby Jesus for her room and her food and for the money she had hidden, and asked them to not let the men hurt her too much and if possible to find some other way for her.

The Blessed Mother and Baby Jesus might have looked strange to many of the people in the California city in which she prayed. They had dark, almost black skin, and fierce expressions. There were odd objects attached to their dress or at their feet. The Mexican girl understood this: God is mysterious and works in mysterious ways. But the old man who ran the motel did not and told her that they were devils. The next morning the Mexican girl prayed for the forgiveness of the Blessed Mother and the Baby Jesus for having allowed the old man to see them. She did not pray for the old man; she thought he might be a devil himself.

She knew that the Blessed Mother and Jesus hated what she did and what was done to her, but that people must suffer under sin in this world. The men had hurt them too. They had killed Jesus, and had killed the Blessed Mother's child: the two worst things in the world they could do, because they were steeped in sin and evil. What they did to her was much less, much more bearable, and the Blessed Mother and the Baby Jesus helped her bear them.

After the Mexican girl had prayed she made herself breakfast. She made herself cups of strong instant coffee with a lot of milk and sugar, and ate day-old rolls and sometimes fruit which was about to be discarded and could be obtained very cheaply. One of the boys at a store was friendly and sometimes gave her food, but she was not too friendly with him, because she knew his desire was like the desire of the men but even more harmful. They would hurt her and leave her alone, but he would hurt her and make her get pregnant and make her serve him. And maybe beat her. She would get old and her body would become ugly and then she would be thrown out of her room and she would have to go back to the junk and garbage like her mother.

After the Mexican girl had finished her breakfast, she prepared herself carefully for the day's work. The first thing to do was to take stock of her clothing, cosmetics, and other equipment. If clothing was worn, torn, or too dirty, it had to be replaced; if it was not too dirty, it had to be cleaned. After work each morning she cleaned her working clothes as best she could, but sometimes they were too stained by what had happened to be easily cleaned and had to be done again, or discarded. If her powder, lipstick, or perfume were low, they had to be replaced -- her clients usually wanted her to have a lot of makeup and to smell of perfume of a certain kind. If only small things had to be obtained, then she might get them and put them in her purse on the way to work, but articles of clothing required a special trip and meant she would have to start work two or three hours later, possibly missing one or two clients and their money. But this was a business expense and had to be taken care of.

On those days when there was no errand to run, she studied glamor, fashion, and celebrity magazines which she had taken out of people's garbage. She thought it was possible that she could become a star of television or the movies, or maybe a model -- such women were beautiful, but not more beautiful than she, and not all of them were White although most were. Although the magazines were in English and she could not read them -- she read Spanish only with great difficulty -- she studied them earnestly and from them learned what to wear and how to wear it. While the magazines were not explicitly about her work, they contained a great deal of useful information about it in the form of pictures, which showed what kind of garments men who had money expected to find on women in various situations, including those of her work.

It seemed to the Mexican girl that, in doing her work, she was a the bottom of a great pyramid of desire, of the evil desire of men, which was built out of flesh and money. But even this evil desire could be turned into riches and beauty with the help of the Blessed Mother and the Baby Jesus. If she could suffer under the sin of the men then it might be that she would be found worthy to overcome it and rise above it into the light of glamour. Then she would return to her family and become a little like the Blessed Mother herself, giving forth light and good things to her grateful family and neighbors.

Today she found only that her condoms were low. Some of the men demanded them, others refused. Some didn't seem to care. The Mexican girl knew that they were supposed to prevent disease and pregnancy, but she had other ways of preventing disease and pregnancy which included prayers to the Blessed Mother and the Baby Jesus, the burning of certain kinds of incense, and the drinking of certain herbal preparations. The condoms were for the clients. There were probably enough unless she was unusually lucky at getting clients.

After checking her equipment, she went around her room and examined each of the four corners, in which she had placed small charms made of grass. She was very happy with the space of her room. In her life she had slept in culverts and boxes and shacks, in cars and trucks, and even in the open air. The motel in which she lived was seedy and run down, and the man who owned it or ran it did not even turn on the sign for it any more. Nor were any cleaning services provided. Thus, no one bothered the room or its charms and this made the Mexican girl feel happy and secure when she was in it. She would never entertain a man here -- if it was necessary to take one to a motel, she would go to a different one which rented rooms on an hourly basis.

As part of her preparation, she removed a box hidden behind the bed in the wall, where the cheap plywood panels could be bent back. The box contained her money, which she counted each day. There was now six hundred and thirty dollars. Out of the money still in her purse, she took out everything over forty dollars. Too much meant the possibility of being robbed or being accused of robbery. She left forty dollars as well in the drawer of the table in her room, so that if a robber came, he would find it, and not continue looking but go away. She put the other money in the box and put the box back in the wall.

Once she had assessed her supplies and equipment, she opened a book she used as a diary. This was indeed a diary, but it had been someone else's day book a few years ago, a person in some kind of business obscure to the Mexican girl. In any case she could not read English. And instead of writing text in the diary, a skill she had never been taught, she added numbers and symbols she had seen, and small pictures and pictographs of her own devising. Sometimes she copied things the original diarist had written. She especially liked the symbols @ and %. The first preceded numbers and was female; the second followed them, and was clearly male.

She understood writing numbers, however, and each day entered the number of clients she had serviced the day before and amount of money she had taken home. The clients were placed under the sign of prohibition and forgetfulness, #, and the money was placed under the sign of money, $. When she was robbed or raped or beaten she made a mark, X, which was the sign of suffering and extinction, once for each instance or blow. Once, when she was beaten for a long time, she forgot how many X's to make, so she drew a long chain of them, one on top of the other, crossing each other out.

The money might be zero, but the number of clients was never zero except when she was too sick or had been too severely beaten to work for a few days.

Once the clients had been placed under the sign of forgetfulness they could disappear from her memory and her life. At the end of each day's entry she placed two small hearts for the Blessed Mother and the Baby Jesus. She also drew an eye at the top of each page as she began to use it. When she had completed her work in the book, the previous day was really finished, and she could begin the new day.

With her domestic tasks completed, she assembled her clothing, took a long shower, and carefully put on the perfume and cosmetics she had learned about from the magazines. Her outer garments were dictated by the nature of her work: a tight, bright red blouse made of some kind of satiny material; a very short, very tight, leather skirt, net stockings, and high heels. No one on the lookout for the services she was going to offer would be in any doubt about her readiness to supply them.

She inspected herself carefully in the mirror and saw that all was in order. Then she went out on the street and started walking toward the appropriate part of town. It was about two in the afternoon of a hot, sunny day. She took her time so as to appear glamorous and fresh, rather than sweaty or dirty, and took in all that she saw very carefully.

)|(

Kyra awoke early, as always, but her mother was up first. For Kyra, who was 17, almost 18, it was a working day, Wednesday, with four hours of her regular routine of training and tutoring, and the rest of the day to run errands. Kyra was in training to be a beauty queen, certainly Miss California and perhaps Miss America, and the training was like training to be an athlete or a stage performer, rigorous and continuous, building on a good deal of natural beauty including good bones, an excellent figure, an almost perfect face, and blonde hair. Kyra had the best equipment: a small gym's worth of exercise machines, a large makeup table with an impressive array of substances, and a professional full-length three-way mirror with variable built-in lighting. All of these were used daily.

Early as Kyra awoke, her mother was up first, for her mother, a beauty queen once herself, was her chief coach and manager, and oversaw the preparation of breakfast, although the details were handled by servants. Her mother, now almost 40, had taken careful care of her looks and physical condition, and among those who didn't know them, expected to be taken for Kyra's older sister and usually was.

Kyra's mother had told her long ago that she was going to be a looker and had better make use of it. Kyra had come to agree. She had now been working at it for several years. She had remained in high school only long enough to achieve the status of captain of cheerleaders and get her name in the local newspapers; then she shifted to home schooling and training, since the relaxed time-wasting of public school was inconsistent with her determination to succeed in the Miss California beauty contest and in a subsequent career based on the title. Each day, after breakfast, Kyra examined her body in the mirror with great care, and carefully judged her development and beauty. She monitored her strength, skills and precision as well. Everything was part of her project.

Kyra's days ran on a strict schedule; nine hours a day on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, consisting of physical workouts, tutoring, and the elaboration and practice of certain performances and other skills though useful. Four hours a day on Wednesday and Saturday, just the workouts and study, with the remainder of these days set aside not for leisure but workmanlike, though often enjoyable, shopping and errands, and occasionally important social functions or meetings. Some contact with friends and relatives was maintained by occasional visits and get-togethers in the evenings and on Sundays, but the orgiastic partying, drug abuse and random adventuring of her former classmates was of course avoided, along with the concomitant fights, pregnancies, sicknesses, car accidents, and other disasters. Kyra had no time for these.

After lunch on Wednesdays, when there were no immediate appointments, Kyra and her mother often discussed her career, the project of making her into Miss California. Generally, they went over her appearance, presentation, and performances in detail, as well as the preparatory work of being seen by the right people in the right places, but from the higher level of their function in the larger system, rather than as a matter of detail. Kyra had long since learned and incorporated the detail.

On this particular Wednesday, the discussion was more complex than usual because Kyra thought some changes needed to be made to the project. Kyra had two changes in mind: her high-school subjects tutor, and her routine trainers, both of whom had occasioned her dissatisfaction. She took up the tutor first.

"That pukey little greaseball Harry is working up to putting moves on me," she complained. "Again. Can't we find someone a little less pukey? He's such a pathetic geek."

Her mother shrugged. "We don't want to take time to go through a lot of interviews," she said. "I'm sure you know how to put him off."

"It's the idea of it, Mother. Besides, he's not very bright."

"The point is not for him to be bright but to get you through the courses quickly and give you the tests. You know that."

"He's so awful and boring," said Kyra. She sighed. "I guess I can put up with him, but if he puts his hand on me I'll kill him."

"We can get rid of him, dearest," said her mother. "But I'll have a word with him and I'm sure he'll understand."

"I'll bet he will," said Kyra. "He'll piss in his pants."

"Kyra!"

"Now the other thing," said Kyra, "we're going to have to get rid of the Godwins."

"But they've been so good so far."

"So far is so local," said Kyra. "We got rid of the Miss Gwynyth during my cheerleading days. What's the big deal now?"

"The Godwins are important and know the right people," said Jessi. "Miss Gwynyth was a nobody. I'm surprised you even remember her."

"She was big when I was 12. She got me into cheerleading and the beauty pageants! Then she had to go. Well, I'm going to need an edge, Mother. Juli the Pee is using routines just like mine, according to my spies. I'm sure they're like something off the tube. That's probably where Juli got them. You've got to do something about the Godwins and get me some kind of an artist . A fag."

"Kyra, I wish you wouldn't use language like that. Some of the nicest -- "

"I know. Sam was my best friend until he got sent away. I'm just being realistic. I need an artist -- someone who's committed. All the best dancers and choreographers around here are fags. Oh, never mind. You have to deal with the Godwins if you want me to succeed, that's all. We have to do something, phase them out. If you want all this work to go to something."

"Well, I'm sure you do."

"I sure do. I want fame and glory and a lot of money, just like you said."

"You can have your pick of men, too."

" 'That's how I got your father,' " Kyra quoted in advance.

Her mother pressed her lips together and said nothing.

"Oh, Kyra, honey," she said after a moment, "I know I do go on." Her voice began to be tinged with a Southern accent, as if she were playing a role in an old movie. "But it's very important to get somewhere and be somebody in this world. You know I grew up very poor, and it was very, very hard. I would just die if I had to go back to that, I know I would. I was very lucky to get into beauty pageants and to marry your father. I know he's not always nice, he's done some things you think are wrong, but we're all right . We're not poor at all, we're rich! And you're going to be a big success."

"I know, Mother," said Kyra, and continued as if reciting a memorized passage: "I know that running away doesn't work, no matter how bad things are, because what's out there is just as bad as the things I was running away from. So I know what the deal is: climb up or go down to the bottom where people will step on me. I figured it out the hard way when I was eleven, and I became a good girl, and I've been working hard at it for six years now, because you told me I can become Miss California and then do whatever I want, and I believe you. I know what I'm doing and you know I know what I'm doing. I'm just what you wanted me to become. What else do you want?"

"Many girls would give their right arm to be what you are!" said her mother sharply.

"One arm, and Miss California too!" Kyra broke down in helpless laughter at the thought of a one-armed Miss California. Her mother turned away and stared out the window until Kyra got control of herself.

"What about their virtue , Mother," she finally said, "They could give that up. It would be hard, dirty work, but at least they'd have two arms, right? The might need them for some of the work!"

"I don't want to discuss this any further," said her mother. "You said you had to go shopping."

"I'm going to LaBré," said Kyra, quickly serious again. "I've decided to get that sweatsuit we looked at after all. The metallic-purple thing."

Her mother frowned. "But it's a Negro sort of color," she complained. "I don't think it's right for you at all."

"Negro is in, Mother," said Kyra. "It's been in for awhile. I can't just fall into the background, you know that. And the black sweat is just too avant-punk. That's last year at least. The purple suit is dark enough to look all right with my skin and hair. And at the same time it's shiny, iridescent. It'll show me off."

"Well," said her mother, "we'd better keep the others around just in case Negro is out again in a few months."

"Of course," said Kyra. "It's all right if it's out a little. Maybe it's even better. So are you coming with me?"

"No," said her mother. "I have some other errands to run. I promised Mrs. Estrebrook I'd look in at her show. You'll be glad I run around like this when the time comes. Everyone who is anyone knows who you are and who your father and mother are. When it comes time...."

"I know, Mother, you've told me often enough," said Kyra.

"You have such a difficult attitude sometimes. You're so hard ."

"I'm as hard as I need to be," said Kyra, "because there are lots of hard people, aren't there? They're hard and I'm hard. And I do the work , don't I? And that's what counts."

"A bad attitude will hurt you, Kyra," said her mother. "It'll show up. They can tell."

"Maybe they'll like it, Mother," said Kyra. "Maybe it'll be fashionable, like Negroes."

Having no more to say, she picked up her purse and strode out to her car.

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As the Mexican girl made her way towards her work, she sensed herself being in an unlucky situation. There was something pushing her backwards on the street. On the other hand, to pass between the slum area in which she lived and the district in which she worked, she had to get through an expensive, upper-middle-class district. Even being on the major street was something of a problem for someone like her, but the side streets, being residential, were far more dangerous to her. It would not be unlikely to be noticed and picked up by the police on such streets. If one got picked up it might mean being sent back to wherever one came from, even if that was a junkyard or a garbage dump. So she decided to go along her usual route, but to exercise unusual caution.

As she came to the center of the expensive district, where there was a large mall complex set in and over a huge parking lot, her apprehensions were confirmed. Something had happened, an accident, and there were a lot of police idling around and an ambulance in the street.

She slowed down and tried to proceed unobtrusively. Most of the police cars were on one side of the street, so she went to the other, past a temporarily closed store in front of the mall parking lot. There were no pedestrians here and only one police car.

Normally, she simply ignored the police; with so many girls of the same kind around, they were unlikely to pick on her. However, she was not to be lucky on this day. As she passed by one of the police cars idling at the curb, the policeman wandering about outside made a humorous game of stretching out his arms and preventing her passage. Then before she could move away, he grasped her arm.

"Speak English?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered. "I speak."

"I'll bet you do. Well, we'll find out what kind of English you speak in a minute." There was a younger policeman still in the car, and the policeman who had grabbed her got his attention by knocking on the window. "Chaz," he said, "why don't you go for coffee while I question this suspect."

"Right," said the younger policeman. He got out of the car. "Isn't this the third one today?"

"Take your time," said the older policeman. "Seeing that freak mashed up in the street made me real nervous."

Now he guided the Mexican girl into the front seat of the car and did something to the door so that she couldn't get out. He went around to the other side and slid behind the steering wheel. He was overweight, with a large, soft belly, and smelled sour. He turned and reached over and idly fingered her hair as he spoke in a low, urgent voice.

"Do you savvy English? Never mind. I know you're a hooker and a wetback. I should take you to the Migra right now and have them throw you in the can. But I think we can work things out. I like you. Let's just get on with it and then you can go. Comprendy?" He was a little bit whiny, a little bit breathless. There was a fine sweat on his brow.

The Mexican girl stared at him. He undid his belt and pushed his hips forward, and pressed a button that raised the steering wheel several inches. "Now do you understand?" he asked. "Come on. You're a smart girl. Don't take all day. I'm hot to pop and you're it."

The Mexican girl nodded and went to work.

Suddenly, there was a loud knock at the window, and the fat policemen pushed the girl aside and pushed himself back in his seat. Another policeman with a lot of gold braid on his uniform was outside, and he looked angry. The fat policeman zipped up his trousers and opened the door and jumped out, somewhat disheveled. He stood before the new policeman, who was obviously some kind of authority, and made hesitant remarks to a series of sharp, angry, questions. While they were talking the Mexican girl slid across the driver's seat, got out of the car, took her shoes off, and started running. The two policemen yelled at her, but she disappeared into a parking lot that led up to a large, upscale mall. By bending over she made herself invisible from the street and, dodging between the cars, got into the mall entrance. The police, she knew, understood where she went but had lost track of her.

Instantly she was surrounded by cool air and cool White people with expensive clothing on, who stared at her. She put her shoes back on. Dressed as she was, she could not pass as a sales clerk or a domestic servant. A plan formed in her mind. She would go into a store, get a dress off the racks, and put it on. Then she would pay for it and walk out. It would be an unfortunate but necessary expense.

But first it would be necessary to hide, in case the police were looking for her. She chose a sort of sports-fashion store because no store personnel were visible in the front of the store, and its racks were jammed full with sports-fashion store enthusiasm. Noticing that the sales clerks were gathered around a desk joking -- one of them was talking on the telephone -- she quickly slipped inside the store and made her way to the back to see what would happen.

)|(

A moment after the Mexican girl had run into the store, and hidden in the back, Kyra entered and strode directly to the place where the Mexican girl was hiding, almost as if she were following her, for it happened to be the place where she had seen the iridescent sweatsuit the day before. The Mexican girl was in fact standing directly before it and looking at it, regretting that like her present clothes it was too remarkable, too beautiful, to use for her escape.

Kyra was well-known to the store personnel as an important customer and the daughter of a man who owned an interest in the store, so one of the salesgirls ran after her to wait on her. Kyra, meanwhile, almost fell over the Mexican girl, who seemed stunned by her sudden appearance.

In the moment that Kyra first saw the Mexican girl, she felt a shock, as if she had unexpectedly come across a mirror image of herself, but in a darkened mirror or the depths of a pool. They both froze. The Mexican's eyes shone impassively, like an wild animal whose flight has failed and now awaits the kill. For the Kyra, the world momentarily fell away, and time seemed to stop. Kyra put her hand out and touched the Mexican girl's arm with the lightest possible touch. The moment stretched out.

"Oh, it's the hooker they called up about," screamed the salesgirl, who had come up behind Kyra, breaking the spell. "Don't go near her! They have terrible diseases. Oh, my God!, someone get the police," she cried, backing away. The other salespeople looked up from where they were standing around the cash register, astounded.

A kind of lightning flashed through Kyra's mind. Transported by a sudden fury, she whirled around. "Hooker my ass! She's a maid! She works at my house!" she shouted at them. But one of them had already run outside for the police who were strolling about.

The salespeople looked uncertain; they hadn't seen the Mexican girl come in, and while she did look to be dressed like a working whore, it could be a vulgar fashion experiment. Two policemen were entering the store. Kyra knew them; they'd been out at the house with moderately important city officials on one occasion or another.

"Call the manager, then!" ordered Kyra, loudly so that the police could hear and recognize her.

"He's out," said one of the salesgirls, rather hesitantly. The others who had been chattering excitedly to each other, fell silent. "He's at lunch," the salesgirl added uncertainly.

"At 3:15? An late lunch after a hard morning's work? My father will be very interested in all this. She turned to Mexican girl. "Ven conmigo," she ordered, "y no digas nada a éstos chingados idiotas. Vamos a salir inmediatamente."

"Just a minute," said one of the policemen. "We had a call that there was a hooker operating in the mall. The description fits."

"They all look alike, do they?" snarled Kyra. "This is going to be very interesting: I can't go shopping without having my servants arrested because you don't approve of their dress."

The police officer smiled and held up his hand in a gesture of peace. "Miss Leeds, if this girl works for you, that's fine," he said. "I have to write it up, put it in the report. I need her name and I'll just put down that you identified her. Then we'll go looking for, ah, the other one."

"Rosalinda Cruz Rodríguez", said Kyra. "R-o-d-r-i-g-u-e-z. Will that do? She works for us and lives at our house."

"Thanks very much, Miss Leeds," said the policeman. He gave a little salute with just the hint of a wink and a smile, turned, and walked out of the store.

"Well," asked Kyra, glaring at the store clerks. "Do you have any more trouble to make?"

None of them said anything. "Sígueme," said Kyra to the Mexican girl. The girl followed and they walked out of the store. Some middle-aged, well-dressed women gawked -- some kind of word had gotten around -- but Kyra ignored them. She took the Mexican girl by the arm and guided her to her red Porsche. "Sit in the car," she said, opening the door and propelling her gently forward. The girl collapsed onto the seat and Kyra shut the door. Then she went around to the other side, started the car, and wrenched it out onto the street with its tires squealing.

"Assholes," she muttered to herself. "You, do you speak any English?" she said to the girl.

"Sometime I understand" said the Mexican girl, faintly.

"You really are a hooker, right? Tu eres puta? Puedes contestarme, no soy puerco."

The Mexican girl looked down. "Sí," she answered, in a low voice.

"Ya no eres puta, eres puta no más," said Kyra. "You savvy? That's finished, acabado. No more chinga with those filthy assholes. Now you're Rosalinda Cruz Rodríguez, my beloved and respectable servant, mi criada amada. Get it? ¿Sabes lo que te digo?"

"Sí, Señora."

"Shit! I'm not señora! It's señorita, se, ño, ri, ta, and don't forget it! I'm 17 and a beauty queen, no some dried up old brown bag. Soy señorita!"

"Sí... señorita" murmured the Mexican, now Rosalinda.

"There's going to be a lot of shit at home, but I'll handle it," said Kyra.

"No comprendo, señorita," said Rosalinda.

"Just do as I say and don't say anything," said Kyra in Spanish. "Do you have a boyfriend, a lover?"

"No, señorita."

"Good," said Kyra, reverting to English. "I don't want some filthy asshole José or Jaime coming around to stick his dick in you and take your money, and whine about how much he loves you until he knocks you up and disappears. You don't have to do any of that shit any more. ¿Tu comprendes lo que yo te digo?"

"I understand," said Rosalinda.

"What about a pimp?" asked Kyra. "Were you working for anybody?"

"For no one, señorita," said Rosalinda. "There was an old man who give me a lot of money and promised me work, but he cannot see me more. It is too bad, because he don't hurt me so much and... era fácil."

"Why? He got arrested or he dropped dead, I hope?"

"He is an important man in a big church which I see on the television. I have seen him there. Someone has found out he was visiting women like me, many many women, and now he has to go away."

"To Hell!" crowed Kyra.

"No, señorita, to, to ... I don't know the name. To Utah."

"Close enough," laughed Kyra. "May they all go to Hell and Utah!" She paused. "How about your clothes and stuff -- tu ropa, ¿qué tienes, dónde está?"

"At the Motel Berger," said the Mexican Girl, giving the name a Spanish pronunciation, She continued in Spanish, "I have my clothes, my dress for church, my book, and the Blessed Mother and the Baby Jesus. It is six blocks..."

"Barehair..., oh Burger ! I thought they closed it down! Jesus!" Kyra executed a rapid turn, skidding through an intersection, and in a few minutes had traversed the path that had taken the Mexican girl so long just a a few hours before. Kyra screeched the car to a stop in front of the motel, went around to the other side, opened the door, and gently guided the Mexican girl out of the car.

"Which one?" asked Kyra.

"Diéciseis."

They walked to 16 and the Mexican opened the door. It took her only a minute to gather her few garments and her book. Then she hesitated for a moment, thinking about the money she had hidden in the wall behind the bed. "Dress yourself in your Jesus dress," said Kyra, sensing difficulty. She stepped out of the room and made it obvious she was looking the other way, across the street at nothing. The Mexican girl quickly changed her clothing, and as she did so she surreptitiously got her money out from under the bed and stuffed it in with her other possessions where it was well hidden. Everything went into a large bag. She picked up the statue of the Blessed Mother and the Baby Jesus and the candles. She put the candles in the bag and, holding the statue in her other arm, she came out. Kyra was surprised at the good taste of the Jesus dress, which had simple, straight lines, an attractive color and texture, and was just the right length.

"That's all -- ¿es todo?" asked Kyra. "God, what a statue. Must keep the creeps off."

"Si, señorita,"

"Do you owe these bastards anything? ¿Hay que pagar?"

"No, señorita."

The old man who ran the motel was now looking out his battered glass door at the two girls, but he made no move to come out.

"Fuck you, you filthy creep," called Kyra indifferently, giving him the finger in an offhand way. The man probably couldn't hear her. She got the Mexican girl back in the car and they drove off.

Kyra drove in silence and high speed after again admonishing Rosalinda to say nothing when she reached the house. In about fifteen minutes they squealed into a private street that led to a large house in a ring of houses on the top of a rise. It was clearly the dominant house. Behind it a long lawn stretched down a hillside into low brush and then woods; below that was a small river, and beyond, more expensive houses and hills and beyond them the mountains.

Kyra stopped, got out of the car, and walked around and opened the Mexican's door. She gently pulled her out and, guiding her by the arm, walked up to the large front door and opened it.

The first person they encountered in the house was her mother. As they entered, her mother called out from the living room, "Oh, Kyra, is that you? I just had the strangest phone call." She walked into the foyer and gasped. "Oh, my God, it's true. They said you picked up a Mexican whore!"

"This isn't a whore, mother. This is Rosalinda Cruz Rodríguez. She's now my personal maid."

"Oh, no, this is the limit. This is just impossible!" her mother cried.

"There's nothing impossible about it," said Kyra. I have a personal trainer and tutor and this and that, and this is my personal servant. There's no use arguing about it. I'll talk to Daddy when he comes home and you know he'll agree with me."

"She must have awful diseases, Kyra."

"I took her by Dr. Garren and she's in perfect health," said Kyra.

"And she'll steal everything...."

"Don't be ridiculous, mother. She's a good girl and brought the Baby Jesus with her. Anyway, it doesn't matter. You know Daddy will do what I want, so shut up about it."

"Your father is much too lenient."

"I'll let him know. He can be a hard man, as I'm sure you're aware."

The older woman looked away, and bowed her head. "It's so stupid," she said, "it is just dreadful and stupid. What are people going to say?"

"It is dreadful, mother, but we're making the best of it. I'm going to be Miss California and become rich and famous and get out of here. I need a personal servant, and I just got one -- and not some dried-up bitch like the last one you got me, but someone beautiful just like me. And people aren't going to say anything because they're afraid of Daddy, as they should be, because he'll cut their dicks off if they say anything. That's what he likes to say."

"That's enough of that," said her mother harshly.

"It certainly is," said Kyra. "It's been enough for a long time."

"You know what I mean!" said her mother.

Kyra shrugged. "I'm taking Rosalinda to the kitchen. I don't want to hear any remarks about her," she said. "Don't carry on about it, Mother. Nothing has changed. I'm on the track."

Her mother looked at her bitterly but said nothing. Then she turned and walked away.

Kyra led Rosalinda to the kitchen where she found Dona Luisa, as she expected. The Mexican woman was the head servant, cool, intelligent, and well-groomed. She looked at Rosalinda expressionlessly.

"This is Rosalinda," said Kyra. "I have hired her to be my personal servant," she said.

"Yes," said Dona Luisa. "We have heard about Rosalinda."

"Rosalinda works for me, not for the house. Everyone is to leave her alone. She'll be treated as my guest, and take her meals with me. She will sleep in the room downstairs next to my room."

"She should certainly be treated as a guest," said Dona Luisa. "I can assure you no one who works here will bother with her in any way."

Kyra glared at Dona Luisa. "If you have a problem with this you can speak to my father," she said.

"What kind of problem could I have with what you have said, Miss Leeds? It is clear, and presents no problem at all. This woman will be treated as a guest, and will be no problem for anyone."

"Perhaps you should make that clear to your young cousins who work on the grounds as well," said Kyra.

"You can be sure I will," said Dona Luisa. "I will make it extremely clear."

A car was audible outside. "That will be your father," said Dona Luisa. "I am sure you will want to greet him right away and tell him what he has agreed to," she added, and turned away to study something at the other end of the kitchen.

Kyra took Rosalinda into the dining room, told her to sit at the table. She waited while a small flurry of conversation went by outside, then heard her father expostulate, "Well, I don't know!" and his stride off to the study and the slam of its door. "Wait for me here," said Kyra, "don't go anywhere, and don't say anything to anyone."

The study was next to the dining room; Kyra strode into it without knocking and shut the door behind her. Her father was sitting at a big desk, looking at papers and the screen of a computer. He was a large, athletic man in vigorous middle age, with thinning black hair, a bony, resolute, yet handsome face, and a manner and bearing appropriate to his considerable power in the world.

"Well," said her father, while continuing to study the computer, "I hear you bought a Mexican hooker. I don't get it. I thought we went to a lot of time and effort to make you Miss White Girl of the Week."

"Now, Daddy," said Kyra, "I'm sure you want me to be happy and to be a big success and to win the Miss California title. You don't want me to be a bad girl who has to talk to social workers and police and say tedious and unpleasant things."

"Don't be ridiculous," said her father. "We went through all that a long time ago. I just don't get it, coming from you. I thought we had an understanding."

"We do , Daddy," said Kyra, "it's just what I need and what I want. I want this girl to be my personal servant. I need a personal servant. You've certainly got the money and you can certainly fix anything that needs to be fixed. Why, even I can get her good papers, practically with pocket money. Now be a nice Daddy, so I can be the kind of girl you want me to be."

"I don't know what you're up to," said her father. He paid close attention to the papers and the screen. "It's stupid to pull some puta off the streets. If she's committed crimes I can't necessarily fix them, and I'm not going to. What's she supposed to do, show you the ropes? Show you the other side?"

"Rosalinda is a good girl, just like me," said Kyra. Her father remained studiously silent. "There are no crimes, there is no problem. Everything that happened in the store was a big, big mistake on the part of the store help. By the way, Mr. Geeson was out of the LaBré store in the middle of the afternoon, and no one knew where he was. Anyway, I just want you to make sure nobody bothers me about Rosalinda."

While she was speaking, Kyra went around behind her father and leaned her head against his, letting her blonde hair fall on his neck. "Really, Daddy," she said, "I've done so much for you, and such big things. I've been such a good girl, no trouble at all, and think of the difficult burdens I've borne. The least you could do is allow me this little favor." She placed her hand on his neck. "I'm a very nice girl," she murmured. "You know what a nice girl I am."

"That's enough of that," said her father sharply. "Do what you want with this Mexican. And it has nothing to do with anything else."

"Of course it doesn't, Daddy," said Kyra, standing back. "I'm just reminding you what a good, good girl I am. And I need Rosalinda. I need a personal servant if I'm going to be Miss California, someone my own age who understands things."

"I don't care about that. Just make sure she stays out of trouble, and you stay on course," said her father.

"And one other thing, Daddy," said Kyra, "I want everyone to stay away from her, if you know what I mean. I found her and she's mine."

Her father visibly reddened with anger, but said nothing and continued to study the screen of the computer.

"Really, Daddy," said Kyra, "I'm working very hard to be a credit to you. I think you should be happy."

"I'm busy now," her father said. "You got what you want. Why don't you go find something to do with your your new girlfriend?"

"I hope we understand each other," said Kyra. "It would be so awfully tedious if we didn't." Her father said nothing.

Kyra stared at the back of her father's head for several seconds without saying anything. She looked as if she were trying to bore a hole in it by staring at it. Then she left the study and went back to the dining where Rosalinda was sitting by herself. The other servants, including Dona Luisa, had pointedly left the neighboring kitchen.

Kyra took Rosalinda downstairs. First she showed her the room she would have, next to her own. It was a fine room with a big window that looked out on the lawn. Outside the two bedrooms was a wide passage way that lead to big glass doors. Outside the doors were the pool and patio and lawn. Kyra had Rosalinda put her bag and the Blessed Mother and Baby Jesus in the room. Then Kyra took her to her own bedroom, and told her to sit on the bed. She shut the door.

"Now you're really here, Rosalinda. No one can make you go away. Do you understand that?" said Kyra in Spanish.

"If you say so, señorita," answered Rosalinda.

"If I say so," said Kyra. "And I say so. That is the truth." She gazed at Rosalinda and sighed. "Those people want what they want, and I want what I want, and they have to go along with me to get me to go along with them and not say certain things they don't want me to say. To be their perfect big little lovely girl. Do you understand?"

"No, señorita," said Rosalinda.

"Never mind," said Kyra. She sighed and stretched herself luxuriously. Then slowly, dreamily, she began taking off her clothes, a piece at a time, almost like stripping but without music, while chatting about trivialities in English and Spanish. Before long she was naked. She went up to her three-way mirror, turned its lights up to a moderate, warm setting, and examined herself. She preened.

"Look at me, Rosalinda," she said in Spanish. "Am I not beautiful?"

"You are indeed beautiful, señorita," said Rosalinda.

"Don't lie to me, Rosalinda," said Kyra. "You must do what I say, but you don't have to lie to me."

"I am not lying, señorita."

"I believe you." Kyra turned slowly before there mirror. "Everything is in place and perfectly shaped, and my skin is unmarked and evenly tanned. There is nothing too much and nothing too little."

"It is true, señorita," agreed Rosalinda.

"But maybe my breasts are too small. I don't want them to be too big so that they hang down, but they could be a little bit bigger."

"They are beautiful, señorita," said Rosalinda.

"Don't lie to me. Are they too small?"

"Señorita, a little bit bigger, a little bit smaller, what difference does it make? They are beautiful -- you are beautiful. This is not a lie, it's the truth. I say it to you."

"Yes," said Kyra. "You are right. It is better not to be too big; to be firm and well shaped." She ran her hands along her breasts and down her sides. Then she turned around. "You, Rosalinda, take your clothes off; I want to see what you look like."

Silently, keeping her eyes on Kyra, Rosalinda stood and slowly complied. She was wearing only the Jesus dress and a slip under it, and it took her only moments to get them off. "Come over here," said Kyra. "Stand in front of me."

Rosalinda walked over slowly.

"It's amazing," said Kyra. "You're perfect, just like me. You're the brown me." It was more or less true; although Rosalinda was slightly shorter than Kyra, she was about the same weight; like Kyra, her breasts and buttocks were round and high, and there was nothing out of place. Indeed, he body was almost an image of Kyra's in a darker color. Kyra looked at her carefully, from top to bottom, and said, "I work at being perfect; I work out with weights, I eat this and not that, I train. I made myself perfect. But God made you perfect."

Kyra reached out and stroked Rosalinda's arms. Gently, she pulled Rosalinda closer to her.

"Your skin feels as soft as its color. Truly, you are my beloved sister," said Kyra in a low, almost fierce voice. "Tu eres mi hermana y mi amor. I knew you for my own when I saw you." She put her arms around Rosalinda and drew her closer, until their breasts and hips pressed into each other. "Embrace me," she ordered.

Without saying anything, Rosalinda put her arms around Kyra and looked in her eyes. Her eyes were dark and still like the eyes of a deer listening in the woods. Kyra kissed her softly and slowly on the lips. They kept looking into each other's eyes.

"I brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage," said Kyra in a low voice. "You will have no one before me." She paused. "Do you know what I'm saying?" From Kyra's blue eyes tears started and ran down her cheeks, but she continued to stare into Rosalinda's dark pupils.

"Sí... señorita," said Rosalinda. Her eyes fell.

After awhile Kyra dressed and told Rosalinda to dress and had the servants bring them some supper. Then Kyra went through her clothing and gave Rosalinda some of it. She chose sober, somewhat out-of-fashion garments that would be appropriate and attractive on a servant. She gave her underwear and nightgowns as well, and shoes of a plain and sturdy sort. Then she found bedlinens for the bed in Rosalinda's room and told her to make the bed. Although for Rosalinda it still the middle of the day, she was exhausted, and Kyra told her to get in bed. When she had, Kyra kissed her and turned out the light, as if she were Rosalinda's parent. Rosalinda fell into a deep sleep. In the first light of morning, she woke in terror, but all was quiet and she calmed herself.

The day was the first of a routine. Rosalinda had set up the Blessed Mother and the Baby Jesus on a small table she found in the room. Now she would have more time and her prayers would be longer, because she had not only many people to remember but she felt that she had descended into a lower pit of Hell. In a dream she saw that Kyra's father, whom everyone called "Daddy", did what men do, but he was worse than the other men, because between his legs there was not the usual member of men but a long bony thing that penetrated and hurt the whole world. It penetrated and hurt everything, even his daughter. She saw that Daddy loved it because it was evil.

And she saw Daddy in a dream dealing with men who were devils, some who kept men's souls in bottles and others who kept venomous snakes in their hollow bellies. She prayed for Kyra's mother Jessi, who she saw was doomed; the mark of it was on her. Finally she prayed for Kyra, whom she had seen, dressed in armor and carrying a sword, walking on a thin edge over a flaming pit where demons howled, and bleeding from a hundred wounds.

She prayed also to be forgiven for the electricity that ran between her body and Kyra's and kept her here when she should run away.

Rosalinda did not know how to put these things in her book; there were no symbols for them. So she drew several very dark lines, some going across the page, and some down. One stood for Daddy and one for his member and one for the Devil, and so on. The page looked like a picture of a prison.

Each day the schedule was the same. After praying she ate her breakfast as before; she missed her strong coffee and day-old rolls, but she learned to eat the food that Kyra ate, peculiar as it was: familiar fruits, but unfamiliar things as well such as whole-wheat pancakes laced with kelp. Kyra's diet was set by a sports dietician and carried out by Dona Luisa and her staff exactly. Kyra decided they would eat together. Then, Kyra would go through her daily program with Rosalinda in attendance, occasionally asking Rosalinda to run small, unimportant errands for her or to bring her little things. Kyra's trainers and tutors were informed that they were to behave in a scrupulously correct manner with Rosalinda and did so.

Each evening, Kyra spent some time with Rosalinda, giving her elementary lessons in driving and English.

It was a Wednesday when Kyra had found Rosalinda; Thursday, Friday and Saturday they followed the schedule. Each evening, when they went to bed, Kyra took Rosalinda to her room. Kyra watched while Rosalinda put on her nightgown and got into bed. Then she sat by the bedside for a few moments saying nothing, gazing at Rosalinda. Then, again like a mother putting a child to bed, Kyra would turn out the light and leave the room.

Once, when Rosalinda got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, she found Kyra quietly standing in the passageway, watching. Kyra asked her calmly if everything was all right. Rosalinda nodded, not knowing what to say. As she walked down the hall to the bathroom she felt Kyra looking at her. When Rosalinda returned Kyra was no longer there, but her presence seemed to remain in the hallway, as if she was watching it in her mind.

On another occasion when Rosalinda got up there was a large gray spider in the hallway. She stared at it and it seemed to stare back. It made her skin crawl, yet she was not afraid of it; it was a Watcher, something she knew about. She made a sign for it. When she came back, it too was gone but maybe not gone. She made another sign. The spider did not return but something remained where it had been. Rosalinda made the sign for it whenever she passed the place where she had seen it.

When the first Sunday came, Rosalinda felt anxious about getting to church. Also, she felt anxious about whether she go to church, considering Hell of evil and suffering she was surrounded by. She studied the Blessed Mother and the Baby Jesus. This reminded her that they understood the suffering of evil, that they accepted it in the church as in their bodies. A few minutes later she approached Kyra and asked her if she could go to church.

"I'll take you wherever you want to go," said Kyra, "as long as I can go with you."

"Señorita, I do not confess and or take communion. I sit in back to hear the mass and to pray to the Blessed Mother and Jesus."

"But where do you want to go?"

"To mass," said Rosalinda.

Kyra drove her to a small Catholic church about half an hour away which mostly catered to tourists driving up and down the coastal highway. They sat in the back, as Rosalinda had said. Rosalinda sat quietly, but after awhile Kyra noticed that her eyes were tightly shut and small drops of sweat stood on her brow and upper lip. When the mass was over they waited until every had gone out, and then they too exited.

"Was that what you wanted?" asked Kyra.

"I prayed for you," said Rosalinda, in a frightened way. "I asked the Blessed Mother and the Baby Jesus to help you."

"That was when the sweat stood out on your face," said Kyra.

"Yes, señorita," said Rosalinda.

They drove back. It was about noon and the day was warm. Kyra told Rosalinda to come to her room. The room was shadowy -- heavy curtains had been drawn over the large windows -- and cool, in spite of the heat outside. The large three-way mirror seemed to draw all the light from the room into its depths.

"Stand in front of the mirror, Rosalinda," said Kyra. "Take off your clothes. I want to look at you again." Rosalinda did as she was told. It took a little longer than it had before, because now she had more clothing and because she moved more slowly.

"Turn around slowly," said Kyra. Rosalinda began turning; when she got halfway around, Kyra walked up to her, removing her clothing as she moved.

"You're still my reflection," smiled Kyra. She moved closer so that once again their breasts and hips touched, and once again Rosalinda felt the electricity flow between them. Kyra kissed her on the lips again, but this time she didn't weep. Instead, she smiled. Then she stepped back and ran her hands gently and slowly over Rosalinda's body. "You're perfect, as I am perfect," she said in Spanish. "Truly, you are my sister, my very soul." Then she led Rosalinda away from the mirror and made her sit in the large, plush easy chair across from the bed. Then she knelt in front of her. She laid her had on Rosalinda's knees for awhile and then looked up at her. Rosalinda looked down with solemn gravity. Softly, Kyra kissed each of Rosalinda's knees.

"Have you ever been in love with a girl?" asked Kyra.

"No, señorita. I do not believe Blessed Mother and the Baby Jesus want me to do with a woman what I have done with men."

"No, of course they don't. But that is not love," said Kyra. "The Blessed Mother and Jesus -- they are happy when you are happy," said Kyra. "And I am happy when you are happy, too." Again, she kissed Rosalinda's knees, a little on the inside. The electricity which Rosalinda felt in her breasts swelled up and descended like a slow, hot fluid into her belly.

"I am afraid," said Rosalinda in a low voice, almost a whisper.

"Don't be afraid," said Kyra. "Love me as I love you." She continued to kiss Rosalinda, now inside her knees and along her thighs. Rosalinda felt her legs slowly, involuntarily relaxing and opening, felt the electricity pouring down through her body. She held back her head and closed her eyes, and laid her hands softly on Kyra's head. She took deep breaths like someone who had surfaced from being under the water. Kyra kissed her again and again. She began to run her tongue delicately along the inside of Rosalinda's knees and thighs, deeper and deeper, while with her hands she gently stroked Rosalinda's haunches and slowly drew her hips forward.

After awhile, Roslinda felt the suspended fire rise up and fall like a lightning, blotting out everything in the world. She cried out like an injured child. Her body shook and tears poured out of her closed eyes, and she held Kyra's head against her as she sobbed.

Later she prayed for an especially long time because she felt as if she was sinking into the house. When she could no longer move, Daddy would come for her as he had for everyone else; his long bone would rend her and smash her to little pieces and she would die. After she prayed she darkened the lines in her book. Then she made a dot in the middle of the lines. She stared at the dot, thinking that it would become something when its time came.

But upstairs, Daddy was looking out the picture window at the rear of the house, out over the sun deck and the patio and the pool and the lawn, past the woods and the river, and the houses on the other side of the river. Far off, beyond the houses, on the sides of the mountain, there was a thin line of fire as the dry grass and trees burned. The temperature had been rising every day, the weather got drier, and now the fires had come. Daddy liked to watch them. Perhaps they would come further, and burn the opposite hillside and its houses. It would be enjoyable to see those expensive, pretentious suckers burn, he thought. Tough for them. And good for business. It's an ill wind.

No matter what they did, the fires could never cross his lawn or the watery mists he could command from its machinery. With satisfaction he turned and went back to his study to continue his work. There was something in the air, he felt certain urges, but he put them off. The business at hand was more important.

The next day was Monday, and the schedule resumed. For Rosalinda, each day was very much like the one before, so she did not know what to put in her diary. The house servants left her strictly alone. Once, one of the gardening boys, also a Mexican, tried a few idle, innocent remarks. Rosalinda said nothing, but someone must have seen him, for the next day he was gone, to Rosalinda's relief.

Sometimes in the evening, Rosalinda wandered by herself over the lawn that stretched out towards the hills and mountains behind the house. Once, just as it was getting quite dark, she discovered a place under a rock, guarded by a scorpion, where she could hide her box of money. She returned to the house to get the box and took it out and put it there. She said the words which told the scorpion to protect the box. Over the next few days she carefully went through certain drawers in certain rooms and took a number of things which she felt were forgotten. The Blessed Mother and the Baby Jesus would see to it that she was not seen and that the objects were not particularly missed.

The next Sunday was like the previous one; Kyra took Rosalinda to church, then they returned to Kyra's room. Again, she and Kyra removed their clothes and Kyra again sat her in the chair and kissed her until she shook and wept. Then she drifted off into a trance. When she gradually came back to the world, Kyra was looking at her.

"Do you want to touch me?" she asked Rosalinda.

"I don't know, señorita," said Rosalinda.

Kyra took Rosalinda's hand and placed it on her breast. Rosalinda felt the electricity run from the center of her hand, from Kyra's breast to her breast.

"You are beautiful," said Rosalinda. "But there is evil here," she added. She began to weep again, but softly.

Kyra reached up and held her hand against her breast. "There is evil, but not in my breast," said Kyra. "No evil can keep us apart."

"Men suffer under the evil, too, but then they give themselves up to it," said Rosalinda. "I have prayed to the Blessed Mother and to Jesus to help you. Now I will do whatever you wish."

"Hold me," said Kyra, sitting next to Rosalinda and lowering her head to her breast. Rosalinda held her head and stroked her hair for a long time. Then Kyra took her hand and moved it slowly and gently over her body, now here, now there. After awhile the Rosalinda's hand began to move of its own accord, and Kyra gave herself up to its motion and its knowledge. After a very long time Kyra gave a sharp gasp and a sigh, and put her hand over Rosalinda's, stopping its movement but holding it where it was.

Later that night, as Rosalinda was falling asleep, she dreamed of a cat. The next day, she got up early and went to the back door. There was the cat; a large gray cat, the color of ashes. Rosalinda went out in the cool morning air and the cat allowed her to pick it up. She took it back to her room and put it on her bed. Then she said her morning prayers. At the end she prayed that the cat not be a demon, or, if it was a demon, that it not do her harm. The cat sat and stared at her while she did this. It stayed in her room most of the day. Kyra noticed the cat and ordered the servants to obtain food for it. Some sort of canned fish was brought by a servant who, after seeing the cat, crossed himself.

Kyra sharply asked him what he was doing.

"That is not an ordinary cat," said the servant, and went away.

"What's wrong with the cat?" Kyra asked Rosalinda.

"You know what is here," said Rosalinda. "The cat has come for it."

"You and I are here," said Kyra.

"It is not for us that the cat has come," said Rosalinda.

"Let it out, then," said Kyra. "Maybe it has visited enough." Rosalinda opened the back doors and the cat went out. However, it returned every day after that. Kyra told the servants to get food for the cat and give it to Rosalinda. Every evening, Rosalinda fed the cat. Then the cat went out. The next morning, the cat would be sitting on the patio outside the back door, and Rosalinda let it in.

The following Wednesday was a day on which Jessi decided that Kyra must go through an interview with a certain agent, who would be distracted by the presence of Rosalinda or, indeed, by Jessi, from establishing the kind of relationship with his client which would prove to be the most productive. The man, cognizant of both Kyra's beauty and Daddy's power, would want to put himself into a sort of avuncular, affectionate relationship which would nevertheless have a certain edge which might turn sharper later. But if Jessi or any other interesting person showed up at the same time, he might try to be doing too many things at once.

Therefore, Jessi gave Kyra detailed instructions as to the agent and his character, about what clothes to wear and what parts of her body to show and how much, about what to say and what not to say. The agent was an important man with many connections, and Jessi wanted him to become interested in Kyra's person and career. The man was to interview Kyra and then they were to go to lunch. The man would then attempt to show his power by buying her a drink illegally, but Kyra was to refuse on the grounds that she was in training, in such a way, however, as to indicate that under other circumstances she would be very willing to have a drink with him. Kyra was to select and eat a modest and unexceptional entree, and maintain light conversation without saying anything unconventional. It might even be best to seem a bit dumb, yet not square. When they were finished with lunch, Kyra was to avoid going back to the agent's office, pleading a prior appointment if necessary, and come home.

Kyra listened to the instructions quietly, paying strict attention. Then she went downstairs and told Rosalinda she would be away for a few hours, during which she, Rosalinda, should not leave the house or speak with anyone. Then she went and instructed Dona Luisa to bring Rosalinda lunch at the usual time, letting her know without saying as much that she would hold Dona Luisa responsible for the situation. Dona Luisa assured Kyra that everything would be taken care of as she desired. Kyra then went off to her appointment. A little later, Jessi went out, leaving only Rosalinda and the servants at home.

The house became very quiet. Rosalinda looked out the wide back glass doors, over the patio and the pool, over to the mountains where a warm haze hung in the air. The gray cat came out of her room and at sat down looking at her. In the stillness Rosalinda contemplated escape. No doubt the servants had been instructed to restrain her, but they would not expect her to leave by the back and go into the woods and down to the river. Or perhaps they would. It would be necessary to get the box, but this would slow her down. She would have to gather some clothing, but she didn't know what to take. It would be difficult to carry the Blessed Mother and the Baby Jesus and yet move quickly. Perhaps she was obliged to take the cat. Above all, she didn't know if she could break the chain of electricity around her breasts placed there by Kyra. When she tried to leave the house, it would pull her back.

As she thought of these things she felt very sleepy. Today was clearly not the day to go away. Instead, she decided to take a nap and wait for Kyra to return. Without Daddy in the house, the burden of evil in the air seemed a little lifted, and she might not be troubled by dreams. The cat followed her into her bedroom and when she had laid herself on the bed it jumped up, sat sphinxlike, and gazed at her through half-closed eyes. Rosalinda sank into a profound but troubled sleep as if a strong current were pulling her under.

)|(

Kyra swept home from the interview in a good mood -- she thought it had been quite successful -- but as she approached the top of the hill her house stood on she began to feel that something was wrong. She saw what it was when she got to the driveway: smoke was pouring out of the rear of the house. As she looked, the front door suddenly opened and the servants rushed out onto the front lawn. Through the open door, Kyra could seem flames within the house. But Rosalinda was not among the servants. She jumped out of the car and seized Dona Luisa's arm.

"Where's Rosalinda?" she cried.

"Who knows?" spat Dona Luisa. "The fire is from the basement. Maybe the little witch started it!"

Kyra slapped Dona Luisa, but she didn't blink or move. The two stared at each other for a second, and then Kyra broke away and ran into the foyer.

Smoke and flames poured up from the basement. Below, Kyra could hear a kind of howling. She descended the stairs while the fire raged around her, burning her hair and searing her skin. Getting down on her hands and knees to be below the smoke and flames, she began to crawl. She reached Rosalinda's door and pushed it open. The entire ceiling was aflame, but the smoke and fire had not yet descended to the floor. There Rosalinda lay, unconscious; she had been on the bed, tried to get out, and collapsed, falling on the floor. The gray cat was there too, and ran back and forth, howling. With enormous strength Kyra picked Rosalinda by grasping her dress from behind with one hand and crawled out of the room dragging her, up the stairs, followed by the cat. A piece of the burning ceiling fell and smashed into her face, and blood streamed from the wounds it made, but she didn't pause. When a fiery piece of the wall fell and blocked her path, she put her hand directly on the burning wood, picked it up and tossed it aside, heedless of the flames and the pain.

By this time most of the main floor was an inferno, but there was a way open to the sun deck and Kyra, still crawling, dragged Rosalinda out the French windows, across the sun deck, down the stair to the patio, and out onto the grass. The cat followed them. As soon they were well away from the house and out of danger, Kyra let go of Rosalinda and collapsed onto the grass. They lay a foot or two apart. Very gradually the sound of sirens grew and then there were people about. Kyra realized that her clothes were covered with blood and her skin was burned and lacerated as well. The pain was so great it seemed almost funny. Rosalinda stirred a little. The cat walked off from them a short distance, toward the woods, and then sat and watched them.

"What happened?" asked Kyra in Spanish, staring at the sky and talking through the wall of pain which surrounded her head.

"The dream of the cat did this," said Rosalinda. "The cat is a demon, but he was sent from Jesus. I saw him do this: there was a candle I use to pray. I fell asleep and was dreaming: I saw the cat knock over the candle and set the curtains afire, but I couldn't move, because I had been put under a spell. Perhaps the cat had the hands of a man and held the candle so that the curtains caught fire. Then the cat walked around me seven times singing an incantation until the whole curtain was burning. Then I woke up to see flames everywhere. I am in Hell, I thought. And this was true! My lady, you know the house was full of evil, and the cat was sent from Jesus to destroy it. Then the cat summoned you to me, and you took me up out of Hell, as you promised."

Kyra reached out her hand and touched Rosalinda's hand. Rosalinda began to sing some sort of folk song under her breath, a monotonous thing in an odd key. Kyra wondered if it was another spell.

Rosalinda spoke again. "When I first came here, I thought the electricity that flowed between our breasts was the evil, that I was accursed. But then the cat came to destroy the evil in the house, and in your father. I knew we would be freed from it. And that is what happened. Now I am not afraid."

"Don't tell anyone anything," said Kyra, sensing the approach of the world.

A fireman's head appeared over her. Kyra looked up. "Hi, big guy," she said. "Where's the fire?"

"Are you all right, ma'am?" the fireman stuttered, staring at Kyra's burned and bloody form. Kyra started to laugh but the pain in her face and head was unbearable and she stopped. "You must assist my poor maid," she said, "she's been through a lot," she added, vaguely indicating Rosalinda, who was struggling to sit up. "The cat dragged us out," she added, looking around for the cat to show the fireman. But the cat had disappeared.

Kyra let them place her on a stretcher and carry her and Rosalinda away to the hospital. Rosalinda, relatively unharmed and ambiguous as to medical insurance, was soon invited to leave, but a great fuss was made about Kyra, who was rich and beautiful and who had sustained fabulous if superficial injuries to her valuable body.

)|(

Before Kyra got out of the hospital, Daddy came to see her.

"The house burned to the ground and everything in it was destroyed. So we're washed up," he said. "I'll bet that whore of yours did that for us. I never thought someone from my own house would get me."

"So what?" said Kyra. "Your insurance will pay for everything."

"You don't understand. The insurance will pay for the house and the furniture, but it won't pay for the stuff in the desk and on my computer. I had stuff on people. I kept it in the house, and there were no copies -- that was part of the deal. The people will know it's gone. It's the end. There'll be no more money, no more juicy contracts -- just big debts. To people who aren't nice. I'm finished. You ought to be able to understand that."

"You can start again," said Kyra.

"No," said Daddy. " You can start again. You can get a job. You can put out. Me -- I'm finished. Really finished." He stood up, looked at Kyra, sighed, shrugged. and walked out of the room. "Just get in that car of yours and drive somewhere. A long way." he said from the door. Then he was gone.

Later that day, Jessi, who had gone to a sister's house, took an overdose of powerful pills and died. Her family took her body back to wherever they came from and had a quiet funeral and nothing was said in the newspapers.

Meanwhile Daddy didn't leave the city. He went to a motel and waited. He made no effort to either conceal or advertise his whereabouts. He showed up at his office, did a few perfunctory things, and went back to the motel and watched television.

After about a week two men in a large late-model car showed up. Daddy had never seen them before, but he knew who they were. He had been expecting them. They knocked on his motel door, and he opened it.

"Hi, Daddy. You made things real easy for us, so we're going to make things easy for you," said one of them. He stepped back. "All set? This way, please," he said with a smile. Daddy nodded and walked out and got in the car without asking any questions or bringing anything with him. No one ever saw him again.

After Daddy had been to visit Kyra, the doctor came around, and Kyra asked him how long she would stay in the hospital.

He was young and handsome. He smiled. "Forever, if you're nice to me, Miss California."

"How long if I'm not nice to you?" asked Kyra.

"Until the insurance runs out. I think it's 30 days," said the doctor. Now he frowned professionally. "I don't think you're going to be doing Miss California this year, though. That beautiful face of yours took quite a beating. It's going to need a bit of work."

"I don't think I can stand being here for three days, much less thirty days" said Kyra. She started thinking about what to do with a scarred face that there would be no Daddy-money to pay for and fix. She thought about her car, her clothes, the money in her account at the bank, and her credit cards, about how people who weren't beautiful or rich had jobs and what kind of jobs they had. Then she stopped thinking about them, since there was nothing to think about. In a few days, when all the stitches were out, she signed herself out of the hospital.

When she walked out the door, she found Rosalinda waiting for her.

"I have been waiting for you," said Rosalinda. "Every day. I knew you would come out soon."

"Rosalinda, you don't work for us any more. Everyone's gone except me. And I'm broke."

"Oh, no," said Rosalinda, "I belong to you. I have saved things for you. And I have saved things from the house -- things which I took, jewelry and money. They are hidden away, out of the house. Now it is my time to take you away."

"What do you mean?" asked Kyra.

"You have nothing here any more. The men will bend you to their will. They will penetrate you and hurt you. Your father kept you from them in order to hurt you himself, but he is dead. Your mother is also dead. I am your true friend, your true mother and father. We must allow the men to penetrate us and hurt us, but I will teach you how to deal with it so it does not hurt so much. And when they go away we will have each other and we will have the Blessed Mother and the Baby Jesus. The money will help us. We will be well." Kyra noticed that Rosalinda had brought the car. In the back seat were a few boxes and the Blessed Mother and Baby Jesus, who had passed through the fire and had not been consumed by it but rather become darker, fiercer, and purer, with blacker skin and redder eyes. Kyra got into the car on the passenger's side and Rosalinda got in, too.

"I have learned to drive well, as you said I should," said Rosalinda. "The Blessed Mother and Jesus defended me from the police. Bad men stopped the car, but the Blessed Mother and Jesus also defended me from them, and made them think I had taken the car from away from you, so they went away. Now I will take you away from here, and you will be safe from them."

Kyra sat with her head bowed. Rosalinda, sitting in the driver's seat, turned, and with the utmost gentleness lifted Kyra's face, and kissed her, first the scars on her face, and then turning her face with her hands so that they were faced each other directly, softly on the lips. Then Rosalinda started the car, and they drove away to the South, down into the land of Egypt.

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2000,2007 Gordon Fitch