Illustrious Paths

Illustrious Paths

By Fanny Carrión de Fierro (Translated by Donald N. Flemming)

“Love no flood con quench.

nor torrent drown.”

Solomon, Song of Songs. 8, 7


“The most beautiful death must be when you die for love”, Magdalena says to herself while she wanders along the cypress-lined driveway.


“To die, for example, taking the bullet intended for your loved one, or sinking slowly in the river while the piercing agony of absence excises your memories little by little, or feeling your child forcing you open while your life slowly slips away through a shadowy tunnel, or feeling the pride you feel deservedly for not talking no matter how much they tighten the screws of hate in order to extract your secrets, and so to die a slow death.”


“It would seem that we are destined to lose all our inner battles,” Alejandro thinks to himself as he pulls off a sprig of lemon blossoms which glisten in the night light. He takes the sprig and with it he adorns Magdalena’s flowing locks. “To know that I should never have begun to love these wax-like hands between which the perfume of the lemon blossoms is dissipated with the same violence that causes my will to collapse beneath the arch of your eyebrows. Magdalena, Magdalena, what can I do so that you won’t be the Master’s daughter, the Mistress of these corn fields and these vineyards and these flower gardens which have sprung forth from my father’s aching body.


The son of a vineyard worker, I had to be the son of the vineyard worker that your father, the Count, brought over from Spain to establish viticulture here in the valley, so I was able to get up close to the cooling waters of your childhood games though at the same time I hated the man who killed the gaggle of baby ducks every summer and who broke my father’s back from sun up to sundown. But I can’t and therein is the revenge of His Excellency. I can’t avoid the starlike rain which sparkles from your hair nor can I escape the well-spring of your love.


You are my destiny, Magdalena. My destiny is to love you and to hate your kind until death. Such is the dark fate of people born on American soil—to search for the freedom that is hidden behind the illustrious paths of love and death just as this landscape was hidden beneath the blues and the purples which we piled on the canvasses we painted when we were kids…”


Sir Francisco de Castro y Figueroa, Count of Villardompardo, will never forget that glorious morning when he was given the honor of joining the group of magistrates who would travel to Lima as a member of the party that was to welcome the new Viceroy. The sun warmed his heart almost as it did in his valley although it was impossible for him to imagine That unreproduceable green in this serious and orderly city. How he wished he could have brought his beloved daughter, so that she could have outshone the light of the candles with the brightness of her joy and could have illuminated the magnificent ballrooms of the palace with her pretty big eyes and could have lightened up the restrained pomp of the contradance with her graceful figure!


But the protocol was unbending. Only Lady Ignacia, his wife, figured in the invitation list. Far away over there in the warm valley which sleeps beside the river, more than an hour away from the city by carriage, his daughter, Magdalena, was probably walking amongst the trees towards the arbor in the middle of the garden to set herself to paint her watercolors of sparrows and orange trees, of humming birds and honeysuckles.


“Speak, shameful one! Who was the son-of-a-bitch who dared to soil the honor of this family? Imagine doing this to a judge of the Real Audiencia of Quito! To dare to cause such a disgrace! But your mother is to blame with her stupid and frenchified ideas and her attacks on the sacred name of the King. All I need now is for the bastard to be an anti-royallst commoner!”


“Yes, he’s a commoner. Yes. he’s against the king. Yes, he wants the independence of the American people And he’s the most handsome man that has walked the face of the Earth.” Magdalena says to herself as she recalls the night when she left the Great House to slip out through the double row of cypresses, to pass by the pond where her father practiced his shooting by killing the ducklings, and to reach at last the arbor where Alejandro awaited her.


“So her mother hadn’t lied to her. There were actually beautiful and transparent beings like this man who sheltered her in his embrace, the father of this child that nothing or no one would keep from being born, the one who lit up her life under the dim out-of-the-way background of the lemon grove and who abated her fears with the wisdom of his dark hands.”


“What could have happened, what in the world could have happened so that it turned out that the little crazy head would suddenly become sensible and vulnerable.” Lucia asks herself while she raises her martini to her lips and tries to keep looking the Minister of Natural Resources in the eyes though she knows those very eyes are undressing her all the while.


“My child, you have been touched by love, that happy insanity that I probably will never experience. But what will your father say when he finds out? How can I help you, my little one? How can I protect your sense of joy and make the woman in me master my maternal instincts because it’s a matter of your love. But this society doesn’t forgive, and I’m afraid for you. I’m afraid that you’ll have to give in to its cruelty, my child.”


“No, Mommy, I don’t care if he is a half-breed, as you say, nor that he’s mixed up in politics. Someday, this rotten government, with which my dear Pappy collaborates, will have to come to an end. And you can tell the Honorable Minister straight away that his daughter is going to marry the one responsible for informing the authorities about these shady flour deals, because I suppose that you two want me to get married,” shouts Maggie while she adjusts the position of her shapely derriere on the seat of the Mercedes Benz which moves slowly along the cypress lane which serves as the driveway for the old Great House of the estate.


“But dearest, how am I going to give your daddy such a headache, busy as he is? I don’t know why you think it bothers me that he’s a half-breed—I never said that. But if he’s mixed up in the antigovernment activities, one of these days they’re gonna kill him. And then what will become of you?

Besides, let’s assume you decide to get married. What are you going to live on? No, I’ve thought about it a lot, and the only choice you have is to have an abortion here on the estate. If you want, I can arrange everything with Dr. Jarrin. No one, not a single soul, not even your father, will have any way to find out. You’re not showing yet, skinny as you are.”


“Don’t even think it. Mom! I’m not going to lose this child that I barely feel inside of me because he is cleansing my world with his promise.” Maggie says to herself while she pretends to look out the window of the luxury car in which her mother is taking her to the Los Chillos valley. Her plan is simple, very simple: she’ll leave in the pre-dawn hours in the Mercedes and head for Colombia. She’ll cross the border using her diplomatic passport, and she’ll sell the car to Alex’s contact in Pasto in order to take care of her money problems right away. The rest will be worked out later. She is now of age, and nothing nor no one can stop her from settling for a while in Cali until she has the baby, and then she will rejoin her handsome political activist.


“I searched for you, you brunette rose who rises above the muddy swamp of the dictatorship. I wanted you, you little bourgeois girly, my one and only lover from my proletarian nights! Why did I have to find you, pretty child, poor little rich girl, coca-cola, new wave babe, daddy’s little girl, mysterious and forbidden beauty, the torment of my sleepless nights?” thinks Alex while he takes Maggie’s hands and imagines that they are his lucky charm for the paths that lie ahead.


“Why, if you are the daughter of my pursuer, of the ball-breaker of students, of the arrogant Lord Minister of Government and Police, Master of the Republic, Father of the Fatherland? Why were there neither ideals nor theory nor social struggle which would have moved me away from the illustrious path of your love? Why was there neither program nor slogan which might have erased your name from my dreams nor cause nor accusation which might have torn me from your arms, perfumed like the blossoms of your lemon trees and determined like the songs of love and death which we used to sing in the University?”


It has been decided. Before the starlight disappears at horizon’s edge, the tyrant, the persecutor of innocent people, the hit-man for the Spanish oppressors and their royalist sycophants, will be taken prisoner. Toward dawn, the conspirers have surrounded the Great House on the estate, hidden in the forest and behind the cypresses. The light is filtered through the leaves of the lemon trees while the silence is broken by the thundering hoof beats of an approaching horse.


“Run, Alejandro! Run for your life!” screams Magdalena on learning that the conspiracy to kidnap His Excellency, the Judge of the Real Audiencia of Quito, has been discovered, and she watches in the purple light of dawn how her father takes up his duck-murdering shotgun from its velvet case where it lies from summer to summer, and while he is shouting at the top of his lungs, she sees him load the weapon. It’s of no use to struggle against the bravest gentleman of the Real Audiencia of Quito. Magdalena falls on her pregnant belly while she glimpses the abyss which borders the illustrious path of death.


“Come with me, my good men! Come in the name of the King!” shouts Sir Francisco as he sets out to give chase to the traitors. “Quickly, Pedro, Juan, Mariano, guards, help me in the name of the King! “The morning star shines brightly while the men unleash the thunder of their rifles and harquebuses on the deep restlessness of the dark forest.


Very early, when the sun is still in the process of rising, Maggie gets up and dresses noiselessly. She carefully picks up her suitcases which she had packed six hours earlier, she puts her jewels in her purse, she takes out the car keys, and she leaves the house. The soft perfume of the lemon blossoms seems to bolster her spirit as she crosses the cypress-lined lane. She unlocks and opens one of the garages, starts the Mercedes and gets it out, locks and closes the garage, and stealthily heads for the city which lies sleeping in the distance. The still purple forest suggests to her ambushes and things forgotten, paths that lead to death. But hope trickles in amongst her fears and creates invincible paths in her fantasy.


Further ahead, the beautiful landscape of the cultivated fields that seem a chess board covered with colors that go from a deep brown to a light green, and the luxurious bushes help her to hope for the best. “All l have to do is to reach the border”, she thinks while she squeezes the steering wheel. Then her handsome political activist will erase all her feats with a kiss and will press his dark beard to her fecund belly. And the child whose heart beats within her will kick his legs out of joy, and the three will walk forever along the illustrious paths of love.


“We’ve got to leave right now to chase him. The suspect has tried to flee toward Colombia, but they’ll arrest him at the border.” It was ordered by the Honorable Minister. Dawn is struggling to shake off the darkness, like a bull chasing the flies from his back, under the warm light of the horizon as the posse arrives at the home of the Honorable Minister. Ten minutes later, Dr. Cuellar gets into an official Jeep and then tells the driver to head for Inaquito and then take the Pan American Highway to the North. “Don’t worry, lieutenant.” he says. “We’ll catch him there. We know he still hasn’t crossed the border. The son-of-a-bitch won’t get away with it. He won’t leave his beloved Fatherland alive!”


Time goes by softly and in silence for the travelers. Now they are reaching the home stretch to Cayambe as the day shines across the peak of the mountain. All is joy and light and green and peace. The path is clear and fragrant. The air is sweet, almost affectionate. Then the Honorable Minister spies the family’s Mercedes Benz in the distance, like a dark dot which disappears in the merciless rays of the sun.