Angela Vicario is fourth born out of her sisters, sixth born out of all. Her mother, Purisima del Carmen, swaddles her in white, and later on, when Angela is older, her mother tells her that she barely cried as a child. The only time she ever cried was when her older sister accidentally dropped her. There was a long scratch that lanced over her thighs and stained the white cloth a brilliant crimson.
That was the only time that Angela Vicario ever truly cried as a babe.
Oh, she cries later on. She cries when her father comes home and speaks to her mother in angry tones that grow louder and louder as the night grows longer. She cries when her sisters return home, heartbroken and work-weary and beaten down by the long stick of poverty. She cries when her brothers come home, bloody and beaten from a fight.
She stops crying when they tell her that they won in triumphant whispers. Victory is nothing to cry over.
Angela Vicario likes wearing white as well. She knows that it’s impractical. The day’s work will stain it yellow and brown with dust and dirt and spills of food across her skirts. But she continues to wear white in her outfits — a sash one day, a crisp apron on the other, a collar sewn from the cleanest white fabric she can find — and she wears the color like a banner amongst her family. She even makes flowers out of the white fabric on cloudy afternoons by the window.
She never stains the white red again though.
Her cousins take her out of the town on a day trip one day. Angela bounds to her mother’s side to beg permission. Her mother is cooking humitas, elbow deep into the corn and lard. She gives Angela a long, weary look before she finally says, “Go have your fun. There aren’t many opportunities left to do so.”
Angela swoops in to peck her mother’s cheek before she dashes off to find her cousins. She doesn’t want to hesitate; her mother, normally so strict and harsh, may change her mind if she does not leave quickly. She joins her cousins by the docks, and they wander down the dust-beaten path, worn down after years and years of footsteps. When Angela walks over them, she pinches her skirts together so that the white trimming doesn’t get dirtied by the dirt.
She thinks about the number of footsteps required to beat a path down to submission. Oh, the answer is too many, but Angela wants to know how many. How many people lived here, walked here with their mules and their llamas and their burdens?
Angela finds a strange delight in these sorts of specific details. Margot, her cousin, tells her that she would be an excellent storyteller one day. Luis Enrique, her other cousin, corrects her and says that she already is a good storyteller. But her third cousin, Gabriel, remains quiet. Instead, he watches her for the details in her face. That makes Angela clear her throat and says, “I think Gabriel would be the best storyteller out of all of us.”
“Why?” Margot asks. She looks over at her quiet brother, meek and shy under the attention, and snorts, “Why would Gabriel be a good storyteller? He barely talks.”
“That makes him the best storyteller,” Angela says lightly. “The best listener catches the most details. Gabriel could gather all the details of the town to him in his quietness and then tell the best story with the most sides out of all of us.”
“Why does a story need to have the most sides to be the best?” Luis Enrique asks.
Angela cocks her head at Luis Enrique and smiles slow, steady, and wide. “Every story has multiple sides,” she tells him. “Multifaceted, I think the right word is. My sister told me that word once. But if you only look at a story from one side, then you only view a narrow window of that single story.”
Margot and Luis Enrique share a glance before they shrug and move onward towards their destination. Gabriel, however, looks at her with a strange look in his eyes. He shoves his hands in his pockets and continues to walk forward, but Angela doesn’t miss it.
“Cousin,” she calls out. “It is not such a bad thing to listen.”
He looks back at her and presses his lips thinly together. He hesitates, and Angela steps forward to place her hand on his shoulder. “What is it?” she prods. He does not say anything more, so Angela walks in tandem with his strides for a while. “They say that the devil’s in the details,” Angela carelessly says. “But I think there’s more to be seen in the details than what people give them credit for. Same with stories.” She gives him a hard look before she murmurs, “I wasn’t lying when I said you would make a fine storyteller.”
“Thank you,” Gabriel manages to say.
Oh, her cousin has always been a quiet one. So, Angela does not prod any more. Instead, she leaves him alone and revels in this minor freedom from the house. A day underneath the bright, blue sky is better than staying in her hovel of a house, bound up in expectations and the needs of a family before hers.
She hopes that Gabriel remembers her words. So few people remember what she has to say, but in this, she hopes that Gabriel remembers.
Later, when he comes to her, decades older than they were on that day, he is quiet as always. Angela putters around her kitchen, tossing together a quick meal for him.
“Was Santiago ever the right one?” he suddenly asks.
“Oh, stop beating that old tale to death,” Angela lightly replies.
She keeps the truth tightly locked in her heart, but she pauses when Gabriel clears his throat. “The devil’s in the details,” he quietly says. “But you thought differently. Are you going to let the devil stay there?”
Angela turns to look at him, and he gazes back with dark, liquid eyes that betray nothing. Only an impassive face. Her cousin does not back down, and Angela sighs heavily. Trust Gabriel to be the one to remember anything, even a small comment she made as a young girl.
“Let the devil go where he wants to go,” she finally says. “And let me go where I want to.”
Gabriel does not say another word, but he does not need to. Angela understands what he wants from her, and this is the one thing that she will not give up.
Her second oldest sister warns her, “Don’t trust that Nasar boy. He’ll grow up to be just like his father with his hands up his maids’ skirts.”
Her oldest sister clicks her tongue disapprovingly. “Don’t stir up trouble,” her oldest sister tells them both. “Don’t speak of that Nasar boy, and he’ll stay away from us. We have nothing that he wants.”
“Perhaps we do,” her second oldest sister laughs. “The Nasar boys have never cared what a girl looks like as long as she performs well down below. Don’t try to lie to Angela, dear sister. She should know what kind of dangers are around her. I’m doing her a kindness if anything.”
Angela turns to look at Santiago Nasar again. By this point, she can barely make out his outline among the crowd. Soon, he disappears, and Angela spots people like Clothilde Armenta and Don Rogelio de la Flor instead.
She forgets about Santiago after that day. A dangerous prospect, but she forgets until Santiago comes by her window. She is sewing cloth flowers on that day as well. Her mother has commandeered her little hobby; Angela now sews cloth flowers for money rather than enjoyment. She is in the middle of the fifth petal when she hears the tap on her window.
Angela looks up to see Santiago’s smiling face. With a sigh, Angela sets her flower down in her lap and opens up the windowpane. “Good morning,” Santiago says the minute the window cracks open. “I was just interested in what you were doing.”
“Sewing flowers,” she says. She holds up the flower, half-finished, and gestures behind her where a basket of finished flowers waits. “It is exactly what it looks like.”
“What is your name?” Santiago asks.
“Angela Vicario,” Angela says warily. “Although I think that our town is small enough to know everyone else at this rate already.”
“Oh, people come and go,” Santiago airily says. He waves his hand dismissively and says, “You start losing names after that. So, Angela Vicario, if you say that, then who am I?”
“Santiago Nasar,” Angela says flatly. “Everyone knows who you are in this town.”
“Really now?” Santiago says with too much delight. He leans in closer to Angela and says, “But I don’t know you, and that’s a shame. Say, why don’t you come over one day?”
Angela immediately recoils, and Santiago frowns. It looks like he wasn’t expecting that kind of reaction. Perhaps he expects something different from her. Perhaps he has received different responses from different girls before. Perhaps that makes him complacent and expectant. Well, Angela refuses to abide by those expectations. She picks up her unfinished flower and starts to deftly add on more petals to hide the center of the bare flower from Santiago Nasar.
“Perhaps another day,” she says. “It was nice meeting you.” The lie feels chalky on her tongue, but she forces it out anyways. Santiago opens his mouth to say something more, but Angela shuts the window before he can.
Several months later, at a festival, Angela sees Santiago Nasar again. This time, he has a falcon perched on his gloved hand. He handles the bird like an expert: all delicate touches, quiet croons, and an intense focus in his eyes that is so vastly different than the eyes that Angela Vicario did not see before.
The bird takes flight, slicing through the air on wings that leave trails of remnant breezes in its wake. It circles above Santiago’s head once, twice, thrice, before it sails off towards some unseen goal that Santiago has already whispered to it.
Angela watches it with wide eyes. She tries to track the dark flight of its wings across the sky, but she loses it. When she looks back down on the ground, she sees that Santiago Nasar is looking directly around her with a softer smile playing around his lips. He stands there with the falconry glove still latched onto his hand and a roughly-sewn, coarse blouse. Even from this distance, Angela can tell that this is less finer than the clothes that he normally wears. But somehow, Santiago Nasar looks kinder, more innocent, when he wears simple clothes. The finery and the frippery that he drapes on himself makes him seem false.
Angela Vicario offers a hesitant smile up to Santiago, and soon, she sees the smile dawn on his face like the blinding sun.
Every woman in this town knows every other woman.
Angela Vicario is very much the same. She knows Margot, her cousin, and she knows how Margot loves the taste of fresh tortillas, still hot and crispy from the pan. She knows Flora Miguel, the pretty girl who lives near Santiago Nasar’s house and who has virtually nothing else but simple, vacant thoughts in her head. Angela Vicario even knows Plácida Linero, Santiago’s mother who is renowned for her skill with dreams, and María Alejandrina Cervantes, the whore with the eyes of a leopard.
Angela Vicario knows of every woman, and they know of her too. But there is one woman in particular who comes by Angela Vicario’s house on her way to her market. Two, in fact. Victoria Gúzman and her daughter, Divina Flor, stop by Angela’s window as she sews flowers together.
There is the familiar rap on the window. Angela has to tighten the threadbare shawl around her shoulders before she cracks open the window. Autumn and winter always make her shoulders and her fingers stiff from the cooler temperatures, and her family has barely any money to spare on clothes. Angela braces herself and then pries the glass open.
“Good morning, Señora Gúzman, Divina,” Angela says with a nod.
“Good morning to you as well,” Victoria Gúzman says as she eyes Angela carefully. She glances over at her daughter before she folds her hands together. “I heard you met Santiago Nasar,” she says.
“It is hard not to,” Angela returns. And that’s true; everyone knows who everyone is in this town. It’s only a matter of time before you speak to each and every one of them. The only reason why Angela has not yet spoken to every person in this town is because of her poverty. Few people stop by her window, and few people waste their time speaking to someone as poor as she is.
Divina Flor chokes out a gasp when she hears Angela’s reply, and her mother quickly shushes her. Angela looks over at Divina with her brows furrowed in confusion. However, Divina offers nothing more and remain silent. Victoria Gúzman clears her throat and says, “I simply wanted to stop by and warn you. I am the cook for the Nasar family.” Angela nods, and Victoria Gúzman continues, “I wanted to offer you a warning before it’s too late.”
“A warning about what?” Angela asks.
She already knows though.
“About Santiago Nasar,” Divina Flor breathes out. She takes a step closer to Angela’s window and says fervently, “Don’t let him trick you into anything that you’re not willing to give up.”
“Like his father, he is,” Victoria Gúzman says. Her voice veers too close to the edge of a snarl, and she snaps, “Ibrahim and Santiago both have a habit of breaking hearts and picking flowers too early before they’re ripe. You know what I mean, don’t you?”
Angela’s grip tightens on her cloth flowers as she nods.
Victoria Gúzman gestures to herself and bitterly says, “I am still ashamed of this, but watch out, hija. Ibrahim Nasar promised me the world and more, and look at me now. Santiago is and will be the same. Never let the word of a man shake you from what you believe in. That Santiago already has his eyes marked on my daughter, just like his father did with me.” A strange, wicked smile curls her lips up to reveal her teeth. “I’ll die before that happens though. Let Santiago find his pleasure with the Cervantes girl. And as for you, stay safe in your house with your flowers, girl.”
Divina Flor glances around before she whispers, “Listen to my mother. You don’t know what he’s really like. Not until you live every single day with him constantly watching you.”
Angela Vicario reaches over for one of her finished flowers and wordlessly passes it on to Divina Flor. Divina clutches the flower in her grip, almost crushing the flower petals in her deathly grip. Something cold fills Angela Vicario’s heart that day.
The next time Santiago Nasar comes sauntering by her window, Angela Vicario keeps the windowpane shut. She pretends to not hear anything. Eventually, he leaves with empty hands and empty words. Those empty words go filtering out over the town, and Angela Vicario gets marked as a girl unworthy of time. Now, people say that she is growing too old, that her beauty does not make up for her poverty, that she will forever spend her days by her window sewing flowers over and over and over again.
Her brothers, Pedro and Pablo, come back home, and they rise up into seething fury when they hear about the rumors. Angela manages to soothe them with gentle words and a few freshly-cooked humitas. Her mother and father, on the other hand, are far more furious than Pedro and Pablo. They rant and rave about how Angela will never get married now.
Later, Angela pulls her mother aside and tells her about Santiago Nasar. Her mother clutches her hands tight and promises, “If you ever lose your virginity to that man, then he will be dead. He will not lay hands on you. Never, not in a million years.”
Her mother is still angry — about Santiago Nasar, about Angela’s decreased chances of marriage, about the issue of money always — but on this, Angela feels comforted. And on that day, Angela Vicario loses all pity for Santiago Nasar.
Sometimes, Angela Vicario plants her cloth flowers into the ground.
Right below her window, there is a small plot of overturned dirt when Pedro accidentally broke a vase and had to go rooting around in the dirt for the pieces. The soil never returned to the baked hardness that it used to be and remains as upturned soil. Angela Vicario once dropped one of her cloth flowers there while she was sewing, and later, she watched the flower root deep into the ground and flower as though it was real.
Now, Angela Vicario covers her entire backyard with the scraps of leftover cloth. She lets the earth reclaim the flowers and watches as the soil offers a refuge for these leftover flowers. They bloom in iridescent colors and attract attention from anyone who passes by. She may be from one of the poorest families in this town, but her family now owns one of the best gardens that rivals Plácida Linero’s and Xius’s gardens.
That is the day that Angela Vicario discovers life in her fingertips, in her needle, in the way that she sews the world together in a matter of a few stitches. Her garden serves as a reminder of that every day.
It is also this garden that first brings Bayardo San Roman to her house.
Angela Vicario is done with another basket of cloth flowers and sets it aside for her mother to sell. She gathers her thin, ragged skirts in her hand as she moves from her usual seat by the window. Just before she calls for her mother, she rummages through the flower and selects the smallest one with the most mars. This one has too many stitches along the bottom and not enough petals. Perfect.
Angela carefully holds the flower in her hand and keeps her skirts clutched in the other one. She steps out of her house and searches for an empty spot among the effusive blooms. Right by the door, there is one empty patch. It seems like a perfect place to start, so Angela sets the flower by it. She squats down to stir up the dirt with her index finger. When she’s satisfied, she tucks the flower in the ground and watches it slowly unfurl into a flower, roots and leaves and petals and all.
It’s a peculiar talent of hers, but Angela has heard of stranger occurrences. They say that Plácida Linero, Santiago Nasar’s mother, can read dreams with a stunning accuracy. They say that Xius, the widower, can see ghosts of the pasts and still lives with the ghost of his dead wife. They say that María Alejandrina Cervantes can see in the dark and pry out men’s secrets with her leopard eyes alone. Among all of those, Angela thinks that hers is a kinder one, a gentler one. She would rather live among her flowers than dreams or ghosts or secrets.
She stands up, satisfied with the results of her work, and stretches out. She surveys the rest of her garden, just to make sure that there aren’t any flowers in need of additional attention. All of them seem healthy, but then, she notices a man standing in front of her house. Angela Vicario does not recognize this man which is rare. She knows everyone in the town; this man is a new oddity.
He’s dressed well and has a slim waist. When Angela meets his gaze, she sees that his eyes are bright and golden. “Good afternoon,” he says as he dips into a small bow. “I simply could not help but notice the beautiful garden you have.”
“Thank you,” Angela says warily. She no longer trusts men who come to her window and to her house. Not after Santiago Nasar.
The man looks at the flowers and reaches out to brush his fingers against the soft petals. His touch is gentle and barely disturbs the petals from their place. He looks back up at Angela and smiles, “Ah, but where are my manners. I am Bayardo San Roman. And you, pretty lady?”
“Angela Vicario,” Angela says unwillingly. She folds her arms over her chest and wishes that he would leave. She has no time nor patience for men, not anymore. She knows that most men only look at her pretty face and think about their own wants instead of her own desires. She does not trust this Bayardo San Roman.
Bayardo San Roman leans against the fencing, and the flowers frame his pretty face almost perfectly. Traitors, Angela Vicario thinks to her flowers. Grow some thorns and send him away. The flowers do not listen, and so, Bayardo San Roman remains there with petals gracing his cheekbones.
“So, Angela Vicario, what are you doing today?” he asks.
“The same as always,” she replies. She gestures over to her garden and the house. “Sewing flowers, planting flowers, taking care of my father.”
“Oh, are you not married?” Bayardo San Roman asks. He looks genuinely confused by her words. “Forgive me for my audacity, but I would have expected you to be married already.”
“Why so?” Angela asks.
Bayardo San Roman flushes a pale pink, and he quietly says, “Because you were too beautiful. I believed you were already taken by another.”
“Well, good sir, I am not,” Angela stonily replies. “And I am happy with my current circumstances. Good day, Bayardo San Roman.” She hesitates before she lets the lie slip out past her teeth. “It was nice meeting you.”
“And to you as well,” Bayardo San Roman says.
Angela Vicario turns to leave and returns back to her seat by the window. She settles a new basket beside her and starts to stitch the base of the flower together. When she glances up, she sees Bayardo San Roman still standing there. She sighs and returns to her work. Another day, another boy.
This is not the last time that she ever sees Bayardo San Roman. Life has chosen to curse her by making her path intersect with Bayardo San Roman’s. Angela Vicario grits her teeth and lives on with it.
He does not leave her. Instead, he showers her with gifts and money and praise. It starts with the damn music box at the fair and does not end after that. Angela Vicario wants none of it, but Bayardo San Roman does not seem like he understands the concept of listening. He goes directly to her parents and announces that he is courting her.
Of course, her parents are ecstatic and ignore anything that Angela has to say about it. Her sisters laugh and chatter in a flurry about it while her brothers soon become fast friends with Bayardo San Roman. But for Angela Vicario herself? She does not want to marry Bayardo San Roman. She wants her own choice in the matter. What use does she have for a man who appeals to her father and mother above herself? What worth is love if it is directed and shown only through money? Angela Vicario may be poor, but she is no fool to mistake money for love.
Bayardo San Roman makes her feel like some item to be bought and sold on the market. Angela Vicario doesn’t want that. She wants to learn how to love in the right way: in gentleness and tender touch and quiet words whispered to her as the sun sets below the horizon. Angela Vicario wants to be loved, and Bayardo San Roman offers none of that. He is a pretty, gilded face. Nothing more, nothing less.
He tells her that she is pretty. Angela has no need of that. She knows this already; she is the prettiest out of her siblings and has been told this many times over. He tells her that she is skilled. Angela knows that she is because her entire garden and part of her family’s funds are evidence of that. He tells her that he will give her anything that she ever wanted. Angela knows that’s false because she asks for love and receives money back.
That is why she goes to María Alejandrina Cervantes.
They say that María Alejandrina Cervantes can see in the dark and pry out men’s secrets with her leopard eyes alone. Angela hopes that María Alejandrina Cervantes can pry something unknown for her. Angela Vicario wants to know more about this Bayardo San Roman and what he hides in his soul. But more importantly, Angela Vicario wants to know more about herself.
The rumors are laughably true. María Alejandrina Cervantes has wide, luminous eyes that gleam like a leopard’s in the dark. There’s a confidence in her eyes, and when Angela Vicario sneaks in through the back, she catches a glimpse of María surrounded by men. There, María looks powerful as she makes the men bend to her beck and call, puts them at her whims and fancies, and holds them all in the palm of her hand. Here, María Alejandrina Cervantes is a hunter among prey, a queen among peasants, and a leopard among fools who have no idea who they are dealing with.
Angela Vicario has a hood and a shawl and her dirtiest dress on to hide her features, but when María looks at her across the room, Angela feels like she’s already exposed. The leopard eyes glint and seem almost delighted to see her, and María makes a careless gesture with her left hand as she speaks with the men. One girl immediately gets up from her place by the sidelines towards Angela and whispers, “Hurry, get upstairs before any of the men see you. I’ll take you where María wants you.”
“Was she expecting me?” Angela wonders with a questioning look.
The girl shakes her head as she herds Angela upstairs. “No, but she usually knows what to do,” she tells Angela. “Haven’t you heard? María Alejandrina Cervantes sees secrets in the dark with a single look. She probably already saw what you had to hide.”
Angela Vicario shivers at the thought and tries to keep herself calm as she ascends the stairs. They turn left at the farthest door down the hall, and Angela is left in a room that is surprisingly spotless. The room is simple: a bed, a chair, a rack with a few clothes hangers on it. Angela glances at the bed and wonders how many people have slept in it. She plucks the edge of the sheet with her fingers and finds it perfectly clean. It’s not a perfect white, but there are no stains in the off-cream color of it.
She still chooses to sit down in the chair anyways.
Angela twists her fingers together before she finally tugs the hood down. It doesn’t take long though before María Alejandrina Cervantes arrives. María carefully shuts the door behind her before she murmurs, “So, what do I owe the pleasure of your company too?” She peers at Angela’s face with her cat-like eyes before she says, “Ah, I see. Curiosity.” She steps — no, Angela thinks that María prowls — over to the bed and takes a seat, crossing her legs over the knee. Her slit skirts slide down to reveal the bare expanse of her legs, and María props her elbow up on her knee. “Don’t you know?” María muses. “Curiosity killed the cat. That isn’t going to stop you though, is it?"
“No,” Angela manages to say. “I came to ask questions.”
“About your newfound lover, yes?” María says. She purses her lips together as she thinks. “Bayardo San Roman,” she says, rolling the name on her tongue carefully. “Possessive man, but he has some sort of sense to him. Thinks of his partner when he’s having sex, has the decency to touch women instead of chasing his own pleasure, tips well. Marry him, and you’ll have a decent time between the sheets. Anything else you want to know?”
Angela licks her chapped lips once, but that motion instantly garners María’s closer attention. Angela hesitates on her words before she lets the question spill out of her. “What is it like?” she asks in the barest of breaths.
“Oh,” María responds. She rakes her gaze down Angela’s body before she drags her eyes back up to meet Angela’s. “You’re scared of losing it, aren’t you?” she sighs. “Virginity. It barely means anything in the long run. It certainly makes men feel accomplished and strokes their ego, but what use does a man’s ego have? Nothing. I won’t lie; you’ll bleed. Men have a tendency to force things along in the end, even that Bayardo San Roman.”
“Is there any way to make it easier?” Angela asks.
María considers it before she shrugs, “Lose it beforehand. Or at least warm yourself up for it. Experimentation. Learn what you like and don’t like. Have the courage to tell the man when it’s good and when it’s not. Some girls take it quietly with their teeth gritted against each other in their jaws. Don’t do that to yourself.”
Angela exhales. She glances out the window at the moon hanging low in the sky, and she wonders how much it’ll hurt. She barely knows a thing about it, and the only reason why she knows is because her second oldest sister told her the barest of bare details as she possibly could.
“What does it mean to be woman?” Angela finally says. That catches María’s attention too, moreso than anything Angela has ever said. Angela, however, is too caught up in her thoughts to notice. “Why are we not allowed to know this? Why are we not allowed to understand such matters? Why are we expected to remain perfect and pure while the rest of men bury themselves in sex as freely as they can?” Angela’s voice grows harsher, and her words bite harder and harder as she snaps, “Why are we supposed to hurt?”
María looks at her sadly and murmurs, “Such is the expectation of society.”
“I don’t want to live like that,” Angela Vicario blurts out. “Let me live a life worth living, a life worth knowing, a life where I do not have to bend and break to other people’s wills.” She stands up, and the chair clatters against the floorboards when she pushes it back. “If I am to marry a man, then I will know what it is to be woman and what it feels to pursue what I want before I submit.”
María slowly rises from the bed, and she quietly asks, “Are you asking what I think you are asking?”
María carefully makes her way over to Angela, making sure that each and every one of her motions are clearly in Angela’s view. Angela lifts her chin, and María runs her touch across Angela’s cheekbone, down to her jaw and down her neck. Angela shivers from María’s warm touch, but she leans in closer to María. “Please,” Angela begs.
María bends closer to Angela, so close that her lips brush against Angela’s skin. Her hands move to Angela’s shoulders and push the shawl and the hood aside. Angela hesitantly reaches out for María’s body as well and settles her hands on María’s waist. María’s breath puffs softly against Angela’s skin. The heat of it is welcome against the chill she feels against the slivers of exposed skin.
Then, they kiss. Angela Vicario has never kissed another person other than her mother and father’s cheeks, but when she kisses María Alejandrina Cervantes, she wonders why she’s never kissed more people before. She feels like she’s blooming under María’s touch. Is this what kissing is like? Or is it only like this because she is kissing María?
María pauses in her ministrations, and she glances up at Angela. Angela swallows, and María asks, “Are you sure?”
María shakes her head. “I need your firm answer on this,” she tells Angela. “Do you want me to take your virginity?” Her hands are still on Angela’s bare shoulders, only inches away from the buttons keeping the fabric closed.
“Yes,” Angela says thickly.
With that, María pushes the rest of Angela’s dress down, past her shoulders and down her arms. María kisses Angela gently, but soon, she starts nipping at Angela’s lips as she skates her hands down Angela’s bare waist and stomach. Angela can’t help but arch up into María’s touch. She chokes back a moan that rises up in her throat, but María whispers, “Let it go. This is your night.”
Angela lets the moan slip out past her lips and grinds into María’s touch. “Please,” she breathes out. “More.”
And in the darkness, María Alejandrina Cervantes shows Angela Vicario what it means to be woman, what it means to be loved, what it means to feel ecstasy and pleasure beyond the imprisoning touch of men. This is Angela’s moment, and she discovers that it is a joy to love María Alejandrina Cervantes, that it is a joy to be woman and it is a joy to love women.
In the darkness, Angela Vicario lets go of herself and finds herself anew.
Angela Vicario keeps secrets well, but there is only one person in the entire town that knows where she left on that night. Angela is only grateful that it is her fa and sweet cousin instead. But even Margot cannot tamp down her curiosity. So, Margot asks Angela why she visited María Alejandrina Cervantes.
Angela Vicario ducks her head and laughs sheepishly when her cousin broaches the subject.. She says, “I wanted to know more about Bayardo San Roman. She knows about every man in the town, even Santiago Nasar.”
It isn’t a lie. Margot accepts it readily, and so, Angela Vicario holds onto the only secret she’s ever had in her life.
Angela continues to sew her white flowers as Bayardo San Roman continues to ply her family with gifts. Even when Bayardo’s own family arrives to the town in complete pomp and circumstance, Angela continues to sew. But one day, as Bayardo San Roman leaves her house, Angela Vicario pricks her finger with her needle.
For the first time, Angela Vicario bleeds bright, vivid red over the petals of her white flowers. In shock, Angela drops the flower to the ground. The petals turn a complete scarlet and bloom darkly in the shadows by Angela’s feet. Angela hurries to grab the flower and flings it out of her window. When it lands on the ground, it takes root and grows stronger and stronger and stronger. The petals that the flower now blooms are all white thoroughly mottled with deep crimson.
Angela stares at the flower and feels a premonition shaking in her bones.
Angela Vicario returns to María Alejandrina Cervantes under the cover of night.
No matter how many times she comes, María always makes the time for her in their own room where they first began. Angela brings her cloth flowers and drops them out of the window of their room, and they both watch the flowers bloom underneath the light of the moon.
But as the wedding night approaches, María hands Angela a small bag. “Here,” she tells Angela. “This is how you will fool Bayardo San Roman.”
Angela takes the bag and looks inside. There is ground sugar, an egg, alum, pennyroyal, calamint, and other herbs. A soft cloth is wrapped around all of it. Angela looks up with a questioning look, and María answers, “Take the sugar, the white of the egg, and alum. Mix them together in rainwater that’s been boiled with the pennyroyal, calamint, and the other herbs. Wash your private parts with it. And this is the most important step.”
María steps closer to hold Angela’s hand and whispers, “Before Bayardo San Roman takes you to bed, either bleed yourself with a knife or with a leech. You don’t need much, but you must let some blood flow. A little crust will form in that place, and that is the blood that will stain the wedding sheets. That is how you must deceive Bayardo San Roman.”
Angela nods, and María’s face dissolves into relief. She sets the bag aside and kisses María as passionately as she possibly can. Both know that this is the last time that they ever will. Afterwards, Angela Vicario returns home and weeps among the flowers of her garden, mourning for the loss of her first love.
Bayardo San Roman and Angela Vicario’s wedding is the talk of the town, and the wedding seems to swell each time Angela hears about it. The bishop even plans to come to sanction their wedding. Both Bayardo’s sisters and Angela’s sisters fuss over her and make sure that she is radiant on her wedding day. Angela washes herself with the rainwater and dons on her wedding dress.
Bayardo San Roman cries when he first sees her step down the wedding aisle. It’s not much, but it moves Angela to see how Bayardo reacts. He does not let go of her hand during the entire ceremony, and when it is time to kiss her, he kisses her tenderly. Angela can’t help but compare Bayardo to María, and she thinks that María kisses with more love.
But she could live with this. She could live with Bayardo San Roman.
When they arrive to Xius’s house, she sees a thousand flowers gracing the garden. Some are transplanted from her own garden. The white flowers mottled with red are there at the very forefront, and Angela shudders. Bayardo doesn’t even notice as he ushers her to the door.
Once they’re inside, Bayardo suddenly says, “I’m glad you’re here with me.” He turns to her and smiles at her. “It was always so hard to talk to you alone. I wanted to make sure your parents would approve of me, but in retrospect, I may have overdone it.”
“May have?” Angela echoes. She snorts. “That would be the understatement of the century.”
Bayardo laughs and swoops in to peck Angela’s cheek. “One of the reasons why I love you,” he tells her. “You always tell the truth no matter what.” He squeezes her hand and says, “You never looked for me or pursued me for my money. You were simply honest in every way. Thank you for that, Angela Vicario.” He huffs out a small laugh. “Or I should say, Angela San Roman.”
The small razor blade in Angela’s pocket suddenly seems so heavy.
They talk, and their conversation is soft, but Angela notices the way Bayardo’s hands stray to Angela’s waist and hips. She looks up at him and his shining face full of happiness. What a pity, she thinks. A pity that I had to fall in love with him on the day that he will fall out of love with me.
The window to their garden is open, and the night breeze wafts in gently to flutter the curtains. Angela reaches over to shut the window and draw the curtains closed, but as she does so, she drops the razor blade out of the window. And she leans back against the wall as Bayardo San Roman begins to undress her, pulling the puffy tulle and white fabric off her body with a gentle touch.
Underneath the window, a blackened flower with sharp thorns blooms from the metal of the razor.
Angela San Roman never stains the white red, and in so doing, she becomes Angela Vicario again.
Bruises now mottle her skin — her mother’s work — and her brothers clamor at her for the truth. “Who took it?” Pedro snarls. The marks that the military left on him make themselves seen again in the fury of his voice. He shakes Angela by her shoulders and repeats, “Who took your virginity? I will murder them.”
The image of María Alejandrina Cervantes pops into Angela’s mind, stained over and over with scarlet. Her leopard eyes are glassy in Angela’s mind, and her smooth skin is marred with a thousand cuts from inglorious knives. Angela shudders. She cannot do that to her. She loves her too much for that.
So, Angela Vicario searches for different names. She knows every single person in the town — every man, every woman — and it is not a difficult task to think of name after name after name. Luis Enrique and Gabriel are both her cousins. Angela could never do that to them. Cristo Bedoya is a medical student and a friend of her cousin, Gabriel. He is too kind and too soft for Angela to ever indict him. However, Cristo Bedoya is also a friend of Santiago Nasar.
A kind boy, a dangerous boy, a boy with too much coltish youth trapped in his bones despite the years that pass for him. Dark-haired and dark-eyed, eager to laugh, and a smile that is as blinding as the sun itself. Angela remembers the gentle way that he crooned and clucked to his falcon: all delicate touches, quiet clicks of his tongue, and that intense focus in his eyes that Angela has rarely seen in others before.
But then, Angela remembers the way Victoria Gúzman shook with her rage and the quiet, small whispers of Divina Flor. Angela remembers the cloth flower she gave to Divina Flor, still white and still pure, unmarred by the touch of red. She remembers the low rage burning in her chest like coals left after a raging fire, and she remembers Santiago Nasar’s empty eyes and empty words after she left the window closed.
So, Angela Vicario looks into the eyes of her brothers and breathes out, “Santiago Nasar.”
Angela Vicario dreams of leopards prowling in the dark forest, shadowed by the thunderous wings of a thousand falcons that soar in the air. Angela wakes up with the memory of their eyes still in her head. She does not need to go to Plácida Linero to understand the meaning. There is only one woman with leopard eyes in this entire town.
Angela sneaks out of the house at night, making sure that her mother does not hear a single footstep. Her cloth flowers muffle the sound of her steps for her, and she steps out into the green night with a heavy sigh of relief.
María Alejandrina Cervantes waits for Angela Vicario. All of the cloth flowers that Angela planted underneath María’s window have withered from an innocent white to a dry red and yellowing brown.
“You killed him,” María quietly says. The accusation is not sharp in the way that she says it, but Angela winces at the mere sound of it.
“Better him than you,” Angela tells her. Her voice is in the barest of whispers, but it seems deafening in the cold silence between them.
María shakes her head, and her leopard eyes fill with tears. “Why didn’t you do what I told you to do?” she asks in a broken voice, ragged from too much grief. “You could have faked it. I gave you the tools, the materials, everything. And look what we’ve become.”
“I didn’t want to lie to him, María,” Angela admits. The truth is dark and sticky in her throat, but she chokes it out anyways. “He was kinder than he was in public, sweeter than the coins he slipped to my parents. He was honest in every way, about himself and the things that he did before he married me.”
“Even I could have told you that he slept with other women before you,” María bursts out, her voice dark and seething as the night outside. “All men do. Did you really think that he would have been different than any other man who would know the truth?”
“I was a fool to believe so,” Angela agrees. “I am also a fool to fall in love so quickly after a night. I only started loving him when he stopped loving me.”
“And so, you brought him like a lamb to the slaughter,” María bitterly says. “I loved him, you know. I loved Santiago Nasar, loved the way that he spoke about falcons and hawks and flight. Do you know what he told me once? The pursuit of love is like falconry. And he was right. Santiago Nasar was a desperate boy, desperate for love and touch like a starved thing. But he was kind. He was loyal. I loved him.”
“He pursued other women like a dog,” Angela retorts. “Have you heard of the women who live in fear at his own household? They lock their doors and keep knives in their pockets to keep that man at bay. If there was any man in this town worth killing, then it would be the man who keeps women scared enough to wield blood as their weapon and knives as their souls. I would rather have him dead than you!” Her voice quiets from the roar that it was, and she quietly says, “If love is like falconry, then you know that there must be blood somewhere in the equation. You know my brothers. You know that they would not hesitate.”
María Alejandrina Cervantes looks at Angela, and Angela can see the truth in her eyes. María knows her brothers. She’s extracted their secrets from them long ago. Angela suspects that she saw the violence in one of her brothers and the soft malleability of her other brother almost immediately. It is no surprise to either of them that the Vicario brothers would carry out an honor killing to the very end. But María Alejandrina Cervantes turns away from Angela. Just before she sends Angela away, she whispers, “You know what? I loved you. I loved you too.”
Angela gazes at the bare curve of María’s back. She remembers the burning fire of María’s touch, and she remembers the way María’s leopard eyes pried her heart out of her chest and made it love again. She remembers the petals of her white flowers turning red in her hands, and Angela Vicario bows her head. “I loved you too,” she breathes out.
Angela Vicario never sees María Alejandrina Cervantes again after that.
Angela Vicario leaves the town of her birth, leaves her mother and her dead father and her sisters and her brothers behind. She was fourth-born out of her sisters, sixth-born out of her siblings all, and last-born in total. But Angela Vicario is the first out of her siblings to leave for good.
She lives in a different town now, and every day, she wields her needle like a sword. She cuts through swathes of fabric and sews different things to sell. Soon, she accrues her own wealth and lives in her own house, her own room, her own life. Angela Vicario never sews flowers again though. The soil outside of her window is barren.
But Angela Vicario takes up a new hobby. She writes.
At first, she writes in a diary, but she finds no satisfaction in that. So instead, she inexplicably starts writing letters addressed to both Bayardo San Roman and María Alejandrina Cervantes. Bayardo San Roman never responds, but after the first five letters, María Alejandrina Cervantes writes back.
“Please stop” are the only words written on the paper.
So, Angela Vicario stops. Bayardo San Roman never writes back, but that doesn’t faze Angela. The days slip by and turn into months. Months turn into years. And soon, those years stack up on Angela’s shoulders until it has been seventeen years since Angela first learned how to love.
Her cousin visits her with questions still hanging from his lips. Angela laughs when she talks to him. She was always right from the very beginning. Gabriel is a very good storyteller, and he gathers details and memories and words with his careful hands and probing voice. “The devil’s in the details,” he tells her, reciting the same words she once gave to him.
But Angela can never tell anyone about María Alejandrina Cervantes. Angela will not have her nor the memory of her be tainted in any way. This is the one truth that Angela will keep to herself for all of eternity.
So, Angela lives on. She keeps writing letters and sending them off.
Something in her hands revolts against her. Years without any flowers nor any gardens makes her hands twitch. So, the paper that she uses starts to twitch and form into small birds. They start small, forming small sparrows that twitter in her room until she opens her window. Eventually, as the years pass by, the birds grow bigger, turning into a murder of crows and an unkindness of ravens. Finally, the paper twists into the forms of falcons.
Angela Vicario freezes when she sees the falcons, and the image of Santiago Nasar flickers into her mind. She lets the falcons out and watches them take flight, cutting through the air on their paper wings. They leave behind breezes in their wake, and Angela Vicario idly thinks that the pursuit love is very much like falconry.
Then, there is a knock on her door. The last bird flies out of her window, and Angela Vicario sighs wearily. She moves over to open the door, but her voice freezes in her throat when she sees who it is.
Bayardo San Roman steps into her house without a single word. He brings two suitcases with him, and he sets the largest one down. Silently, he opens that suitcase, and inside, Angela Vicario sees thousands of letters, all arranged by date in bundles tied with colored ribbons. Angela knows those ribbons; she made them herself in her little seamstress's shop. However, she does not remember sending a single ribbon to Bayardo San Roman. None of the letters are unopened, but they are lovingly and carefully put together. On top of all of the stacks, there lies a single flower made of cloth yellowed with age. Seventeen years' worth of time, Angela suspects.
Angela Vicario looks up at Bayardo San Roman, and he gives her a wistful smile.
“Hello, Angela San Roman.”