Over the next year, on 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 xxx
Don Claudio & Don Cosimo: Italian brothers, friends of the familyx
Father Martens: Magda’s Belgian tutor xxx
xxx Click here for Part I.xxx
The eyes beneath the fierce black brow opened. The look of affection had been replaced by one of extreme wariness, as she lay back upon the pillows.
The cab driver had helped Don Claudio lift the girl into the vehicle. Having seen all manner of strange bedfellows in his time, the driver did not dare ask questions.
“Avenida 120, por favor.”
Instinct warned Don Claudio to say nothing to Don Arturo. Instead, he drew back the sheets in the spare bedroom of his own house and deposited her between them, fully dressed. Though conscious, Magda neither spoke nor opened her eyes. Touched by her trust, Don Claudio lifted a hand to his own eyes, to wipe away the tears that had gathered there. It occurred to him that he may have been the only person to ever weep for Magda Cordova.
He wondered whether to ask her for details. The two of them would soon have to face her father. Would it be better for her or worse if he, Don Claudio, knew the whole story? He gave no thought to his own reception at the hands of Don Arturo, so focused was he on the girl’s safety.
“Will your father be missing you, Magda?” he asked carefully. “It’s late and you rarely leave home unescorted.”
Don Claudio knew she never left home without the old crow at her side, but refrained from admitting as much.
“I won’t be missed until tomorrow.” A wince told him she was in pain.
Don Claudio half rose from his seat. “You are hurt. Let me see where…”
“No!” She put out a hand to stop him and winced again. “Some coca tea will be most welcome, if you have it, Señor.”
Don Claudio sprang from his chair and headed for the kitchen, to prepare the painkiller. Re-entering the room, he stopped short at the sight of blood on the sheet. Eyes closed, Magda did not follow the direction of his gaze. He stood there for a long moment, uncertain what to do. He knew this matter was far beyond the scope of his experience and expertise.
Sitting by her bed, Don Claudio watched as the girl grew whiter by the minute. He touched her hand briefly and was relieved to see her eyes flicker open. He lifted the cup of tea to her mouth.
“Don’t worry, my dear. We are quite alone. Even Cosimo will not be back until tomorrow at lunchtime.”
He waited a few moments until he was sure she slept, then raced downstairs and out into the street, where for the second time that night he hailed a cab.
“Butchery, I’ve seen it before.”
Dr. Felipe Camargo rose to pour himself a glass of aguardiente from Don Claudio’s well stocked liquor cabinet. The two had just descended from Magda’s room.
“What’s more, it’s ignorant butchery. The hymen is not a reliable indicator of virginity, much as we like to believe it is. All that nonsense about blood on the wedding sheets … The truth is, there is no way to tell for certain whether a woman is a virgin or not, other than take her word for it—which most people seem disinclined to do.”
“But the hymen exists, does it not?”
“Of course, at least in the beginning. But it is elastic and highly variable on a case by case basis. Some girls lose it through simple exercise. In other cases, it stretches enough to accommodate the male member. Among some women, admittedly, it is quite tough and resistant.”
Don Claudio recalled one such experience, wiping his brow at the mere memory of it.
“Then all those years of displaying bedsheets … ”
“Yes, well, families are quite adept at presenting the necessary evidence when required. How many chickens, I wonder, have been sacrificed to its service? Now thanks to your esteemed neighbour, the devil take him, you are aware of another trick.”
“What does this mean for Magda?”
“She will heal quickly enough, given her youth. Her wedding night may be more painful than most.”
Long after the doctor’s departure, Don Claudio sat deep in thought. How would he restore Magda to her father without arousing the man’s suspicions? And what of Magda herself: would she hate him for knowing her secret? Don Claudio smiled. Until now, he had taken Magda’s dislike of him for granted. Having seen that glimmer of affection, however, he was loath to return to the old days.
Magda arose long before Don Claudio was awake and crept next door, into her own bed. Señora Rodriguez discovered her there the next morning.
“What are you staring at, old woman?”
“I was just coming to…Don Arturo said to, to collect some clean linen and bring it to the hospital, for the trip home.”
“As you see, I took care of it myself. But there’s no need to tell Papá that, is there? Or do you have to be drugged into silence one more?”
The old woman did not have to be told a second time. She knew the lengths to which Magda would go to achieve her own ends.
Monday, April 25, will see the introduction of a major new character. Be sure to check back then! 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.