My Year of Living Backwards – Red Queen to White Queen, Part 15: The Accounting


Mondays and Thursdays, I will introduce consecutive passages from my new novel, Red Queen to White Queen. The book explores how a Colombian matriarch came to exert a lifelong dominance over her family, until a newcomer threatens her reign.
At the end of each chapter, you will find a recipe from the book.

Cast of Characters:
Magdalena (Magda): Already in her 80s when the book begins, Magda is the most powerful figure in her family. Flashbacks explore the life that made her who she is.
Rosalba: Magda’s daughter, who has devoted her life to the care of her mother.
Immaculata (Imma): Magda’s lifelong servant
Dante: Magda’s husband
Seňora Moreno: Family friend of long standing
Desiderio: Magda’s son
Don Claudio & Don Cosimo: Italian brothers, friends of the family
Father Martens: Magda’s Belgian tutor
Click here for Part I.


Téo had to explain the puzzle her father and duenna had conspired to keep secret from Magda.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll make sure there is no child.”

Child? The pieces suddenly fell into place. Magda had never liked small children. She also knew instinctively that once Téo completed the bizarre act he was describing, he would return to his school in Medellín. Magda was not one to relinquish power, once tasted.

They spent the afternoon engaged in a series of moves and countermoves. Although new to the game, Magda had quickly determined her strategy. She sacrificed a few minor pieces, all the while ensuring her queen was protected. Téo scorned the idea of vanquishing her through brute force: Magda had relinquished enough pawns to encourage his hopes of ultimate victory.

Their play—thanks to Teo’s skill and Magda’s eagerness to appease without throwing the game—was a source of breathless delight for both. This new sensation fascinated Magda, whose view of marriage had encompassed little beyond the visible realities of farm management.

The two were loathe to venture once more into the blazing sun. Magda felt ensnared in the veil she wrapped around her head.

“You must be hungry,” said Téo. “We can go to the hotel before going back. They serve a fine snapper.”

“Everyone establishment on this coast serves a ‘fine snapper,’” Magda teased. “What else is on the menu?”

“Let’s find out.”

“I’ll have the shark cooked in coconut milk,” she said, snapping her menu shut. It was a day for adventure, after all.

Téo, who knew a little about a great many things, explained its preparation. Magda, who intended to conquer cooking along with other wifely accomplishments, listened closely.

“It must be skinned then soaked in cow’s milk to remove the odour.”

“What odour?”

“The fishermen claim that sharks urinate through their skin. The milk nullifies the taste of ammonia.”

The girl reopened her menu.

“We can share a paella,” said Téo.
“My father says no one outside of Spain knows how to make a proper paella.”

“Let’s test that theory, shall we? This coast is renowned for its prawns. No Spanish prawn could compete.”

Dinner was followed by a coconut flan. “We are in coco country after all,” laughed Téo, waving a hand at the hectares of palm trees surrounding them.

Magda had put down her fork and was fanning herself when her attention was caught by a voice. She could not make out the words, but the tone was familiar. Peeping around the pillar that blocked her view, she saw a couple standing at the hotel’s front desk, their bags on the floor beside them. The woman had her gloved hand on the man’s back and was stroking it.

Madga ducked back behind the pillar. It was her father. But Don Arturo had left for Barranquilla that same morning, had he not? Why was he here in Turbaco and who was that woman? She appeared to be in her early 20s, barely older than Magda herself.

Carefully, Magda peeped around the pillar once more. The woman was tickling her father’s neck—he who could not bear to be touched. As a little girl, Magda had tried to climb into his lap, only to be pushed off. Yet here was this woman…

Understanding dawned as she recalled the activity in which she and Téo had been engaged a mere hour earlier.

Magda felt a hand on her arm. Téo’s lips were moving, but she could not make out the words.

“Something important…the future…”

Magda willed herself to remain calm. There must be a back way out of the hotel. Perhaps the ladies room…
“This way, Señora.”
The hotel clerk was leading her father’s companion toward a table, Don Arturo following close behind.

Magda thought of running, but could not will her legs to move. Her father, too, suddenly seemed frozen in place. After the first incredulous look, he turned to Téo.

“Who are you?”
Later, Magda tried to piece together what had happened. She recalled Téo asking for her hand in marrige, followed by her father’s scornful rejection. She remembered the hotel manager leading Téo away. And she remembered the young woman, watching it all from afar, something like amusement on her face.

Within the hour, Magda found herself alone in a carriage with her irate parent. During the journey, she was forced to listen to the litany of punishments her father would inflict on her lover.

Throughout the drive, Don Arturo continued to bark questions at her, never once waiting for a response. Once back at the hotel, he gripped her painfully by the upper arm and dragged her up to Señora Rodriguez’s room. Banging on the door brought no response.

“Go downstairs and ask the hotel clerk for the key. No, wait here. I can’t trust a puta like you to converse with a man. You’ll be dragging him up to your own room the minute my back is turned.”

Magda remembered the young woman in Turbaco and guessed that her father probably knew quite a lot about putas.


PAELLA: The word “paella” refers to the pan in which this dish is cooked. Historians believe it derives from patella, the Latin word for pan.

The recipe was created in Valencia, Spain following the Muslim conquest of that country. Its Moorish conquerors introduced the cultivation of rice, the basic ingredient in the its preparation.

Paella can be as simple as chicken and rice, or clams and rice. The following version, consisting of layered chicken, sausage, and seafood, would be served as a party dish.

2 pieces chicken per person, thighs or drumsticks
4-5 links chorizo sausage (mild Italian sausage also works well)
1-2 onions
4-5 cloves chopped garlic
olive oil, to sauté
1 can whole tomatoes, liquified
1 can clams, in juice
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup rice per person
turmeric for colour; or saffron for colour and taste (Italian spices can be substituted for saffron)
2/3 cup peas, fresh or frozen
green, yellow, red pepper: 1 of each, julienned
1 small jar of capers
seafood in any combination: prawns, white fish (halibut or cod), scallops, oysters mussels for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Pat dry chicken and fry in oil, until 2/3 cooked. (It will cook completely in the oven.) Use 1-2 pieces chicken per person. Drain on paper towel.
3. Fry or bake sausage (chorizo or Italian) and cut into pieces about 2 cm long. Drain on paper towel. Set aside.
4. Cut 1-2 onions into eighths. Sauté in olive oil.
5. Add chopped garlic, 4-5 cloves.
6. Add 1 can of tomatoes. Cook on low heat, stirring and shaking frequently.
7. Salt to taste. Season to taste with Italian spices and oregano. A teaspoon of turmeric can be added at this point for colour.
8. Add 1/2 cup of rice per person plus 1 cup for the pot, sprinkling evenly.
9. Embed chicken in a star pattern in the pan, then add sausage pieces.
10. Add 2/3 cup peas.
11. Add 1/2 small bottle capers.
12. Add 1-2 cups chicken broth (mixed with clam juice, if desired), then fill the pan to the rim with water. Distribute water over a small plate so as not to cause funnels in the rice.
13. Float the saffron threads on top.
14. Bake 45 minutes, until a knife inserted in the dish comes out clean. If the rice is still hard, add more water and bake for another 15 minutes.
15. While the dish is baking, chop red, green, and yellow peppers. Prepare seafood.
16. Remove dish from the oven. Add any or all of the following: halibut or cod pieces, scallops, claims, shrimp or prawns, oysters, mussels in shell. Sprinkle capers over all. Return to oven for 10-15 minutes.

Check back on April 14 for Part 16. All text is protected under copyright to Susan Young de Biagi. Images are in the public domain.


Susan Young de Biagi is a regular contributor to prdn.

As a trained historian, my twin passions are writing and teaching. In addition to Cibou – my first novel – I have written or co-written three books of non-fiction, and authored a number of digital, educational products.

This entry was posted in Arts & Culture, BC, Education, Fun, History, World and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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