The Hot Pitch Under 

by Nina Ferraz

The mother couldn’t go to the market that day. She had to work. The fancy people living on Church Street would hold a party that night. She had a lot to do. Galinha a cabidela — a delicious chicken prepared in its own blood. Bode assado — strips of goat meat salted and fried in boiling oil. The party was for the patroness of the city, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The whole town would march for three miles, chanting and holding images of the Virgin Mother. The Mass would be long. By the end of the night God’s elect would be hungry.

She couldn’t go, so she gave her daughter the money, the list, and a kiss. You will be thirteen next month. Old enough. And you are so good at math. But you have to take care anyway. Watch out for the wrong change. Don’t buy bananas if they’re too soft. Don’t buy bread if it’s too hard. Don’t forget the milk, goat’s or cow’s, it’s your choice. And don’t buy eggs at all, you broke two last week.

The man in the market liked her. He liked her. That day he gave her six eggs for free. He would always speak to her looking in her eyes like no one else did. He had such big eyes. He would touch her shoulders and hold her bags like no one else did. He had such big hands. That day he held her hands longer, rubbing his palms on hers, interlacing their fingers, like never before. Happy at first, she felt an odd cry in her stomach, and then she felt ashamed, and then she pulled herself away.

The girl fled from his hands and didn’t look back. One last stop for the milk and she was done. On her way home, she saw his silhouette blocking her path on the empty ring road.  He came closer. His eyes were hard like spears and she felt painfully female. The hot pitch under her feet stretched both ways, boundless, like a solid ocean glowing at two opposing horizons. And yet she knew she had nowhere to go. Even though she was so young, she could sense the cold looming from his shadow, flat and deformed, creeping out of the asphalt, over the small stones. 

Far away, down the hill, the main street was indifferent, busy with the ordinary, a buzzing hive of visitors from nearby towns, tired vendors and their almost rotten vegetables, children exploring, men drinking, smoking, amusing themselves, and housewives running late to feed everybody. Their loud voices were muffled into a constant drone, but what were they saying? Maybe nothing. Maybe things like, How much for the eggs? How much for the milk? How much for the meat? Their questions and silences blended, as if disguised in the wind. They stormed over the freeway, hissed into her ears, rumpled her hair, lifted her skirt and glided through her skin, goatish, lustful. She could scream if someone would hear, but no one would. And inside the man there was only silence.

When the bag fell, only one egg broke, but the milk spilled all over her, moistening her legs. Goat milk. She clung to the bag because there was nothing else to hang onto. The bruised fruits spread over the warm pebbles. He dragged her body to the side of the road, to the very bed of stones where the priest eventually erected a small chapel to honor her death.

No one honored her struggle. 

Now, so many years later, her mother has quit cooking, filled with staggering pity for chickens, cows, goats and girls. 

And harsh winds are still blowing. Hostile whispers can still be heard at the small ring road. It was horrible, you know? How many boys did that to her? Only one man? Did she know him? Did she go there with him? Why did the mother let her go there? Why did she go there? 

That was still the best way for her to go home. The shortest. 

As short as her skirt. 

Photo credit: YellowstoneNPS