Olivia, she is the very tall daughter of a very bad man. Her brother Octavio, he is the only coyote ever born of a wolf. The wolf is their mother, Evaline. We know she is a wolf because she chewed off a foot to be free. Not her own, but that of her husband, the very bad man.
This man cannot be called a dog. When you spell dog backwards, it reads as God. This man is so without God that he cannot contain even the reverse.
I tell you the story of Olivia, Octavio and Evaline, and then you tell me the kind of foot she had to chew.
Olivia she grows tall. She grows and grows until her father has to reach up to slap her face. This he will not do, as he does not feel it to be dignified, this reaching up. He suspects Olivia of growing tall just to spite him.
Octavio was to be named for his father. But Octavio was a wrong looking baby. Small and dark, nothing of his mother. Just a dull conglomeration of his father's worst features. So he was not given his father's name.
Octavio, he tries to earn the name by being a man like his father. Doing things his father does. Octavio imitates his father's secret tastes, but does so publicly. He wants only to be like his father. His father wants only to never be reminded of just what kind of animal he is.
Octavio's imitations are worse than his father's closet full of skeletons. Skeletons cannot work the knob from the inside, and parade past the guests. They do not waltz past your indiscretions with a mirror. They reflect nothing of you if the closet cannot be proven to be yours.
Evaline believes a woman should marry for love. So, she marries for money and power so that her daughter can marry for love.
The very bad man is not Olivia's real father. Olivia is too tall firstly, and too beautiful secondly to be his blood daughter.
Evaline chose the father before she picked the husband. Olivia's father was a tall mulatto, with skin the color of almonds and the heart of an African lion. By this I mean that he loved and fucked and laid in the shade while the lioness hunted for food. A man with a slow grin and a casual, royal presence. A man easy to love, but who would die in captivity.
The bad man had the mulatto killed out of vanity when Olivia was five. He was worried that someone would make the connection between the beautiful child, and the beautiful mulatto, as he himself had done.
The bad man, he wanted the credit for Olivia's beauty himself. Later he would regret the murder, because Olivia at twelve would no longer cry when he hit her. Just watched him. Her eyes hugely dark and reflective. So reflective he could not hit her without seeing himself. Suddenly this child, not even his own, could empty him of worth without blinking.
So, he regretted - as he had no one to blame for this tall daughter with the mulatto dead. He had only a tearless girl he had claimed, whose skin bore the temperament of cafe con leche. Within whose bones swelled the dark patience of a Haitian slave on the eve of revolt. The patience of a grain of sand at the heart of a pearl.
Evaline likes diamonds, so she pretends to care that the bad man keeps a mistress in order to get them. In reality, she helps keep the mistress for him. Supplements the woman's income, and lunches with her once a week. Evaline keeps her a happy conspirator in the game of keeping the bad man out of the family home as much as possible.
She and the mistress have become friends. Between the two of them, they hope to persuade the bad man to leave his family forever.
The mistress, she does not see Evaline's husband as such a bad man. And with the mistress, perhaps he isn't. Perhaps, because the mistress is the sparkling accessory the bad man thought his wife to be when he married her.
Before the tail wagged the dog.
Evaline, she calls the mistress to tell her that the bad man has bought a saphire bracelet. Evaline explains that she plans to find it and make a scene in which she will accuse him of buying it for another woman.
"He'll want to stay with you tonight," she says. "He will come to you complaining that I found your bracelet and knew it wasn't for me. Offer him sympathy and cognac. Once he is relaxed, ask him how I knew. He'll tell you that I only ever wear diamonds. Next time he'll buy you diamonds too, and think he's clever for it."
The bad man has a walnut desk he sits behind. From here he runs his business. From here he arranges bribes and gives non-descript orders to the man named Pedro who stands beside him. The orders sound toothless, but tend to result in a father being mailed the ear of his first born son.
As I said, he is a bad man, completely without God. He's the kind of man that happens when God spreads himself too thin. The kind of man that happens when no one is looking.
In fairy tales the heroine is given a wish, which she squanders. The heroine, she wishes for a man, or she wishes for a pretty dress to wear to a party.
Olivia reads these fairy tales and decides that this means she cannot be a heroine. For she dreams of spending her wish on making her mother a widow.
Octavio would spend his wish on a father who loved him.
Evaline does not believe in wishes. But - if given one, she would have the sense to sell it to someone who did.
The third drawer of Evaline's dresser has a false bottom. Under this, she hoards money she skims from the household funds and from the bad man himself when he comes home too drunk to notice.
When Olivia turned twelve, Evaline showed her the special drawer. She lifted out the money and prized a picture of the mulatto from underneath it. Evaline laid the picture across Olivia's palm, and then pressed the picture, the palm and the secret to Olivia's breastbone with her hand.
Evaline then put all the money back in the drawer's compartment, dropped the lid, and covered it back over with slips and camisoles. She slid the drawer shut and crouched down to Olivia.
"For going away," she said, and rapped the drawer with her nuckles. "For keeping," she said, and tapped the photograph pressed to Olivia's chest.
Underneath it, Olivia's heart tapped back.
Afterwards, Olivia went back to her room. She stood in front of her bureau mirror with the photograph next to her face. She compared the two for many minutes, and then tucked the photo behind the wooden backing of the mirror.
She practised for three days, then took the photograph out. She labored on the back of it in her best handwriting,
She tucked the photo back behind the mirror. That night, Olivia's mouth moved in the shape of,
"Goodnight, Papi," but made no sound. She crossed herself and blew a kiss at the mirror.
The bad man caught her, and berated Olivia for her vanity - for blowing kisses to her own reflection. He threatened to break the mirror, but did not do so, as he feared bad luck. In the end, he settled only for beating Olivia and left the mirror alone.
In so doing, he brought himself the worst possible luck of all. For the bad man beat the blood of her father awake in her bones. And Olivia, she began to grow tall.
Pedro is the right hand of the bad man.
He hasn't been to confession in twelve years. Pedro keeps no secrets from God. He considers the Padre just a dirty poacher in the land of his sin. Pedro trusts no one save himself.
For twelve years, Pedro has watched Olivia grow and grow into the tall daughter of the bad man.
It is now a Friday in August when we find him. Olivia has just turned sixteen.
Pedro catches himself tracing the arch of Olivia's foot across his palm after she leaves the room. In this way he discovers that he can no longer trust himself. On Sunday he goes to confession and bends the spine of the Padre double under the weight of his deeds.
It is now Monday.
Pedro sees Olivia when she brings her father his morning cup of coffee to drink at his walnut desk.
"Buenos dias," Pedro says. And then he adds softly, "Olivia."
Olivia sets the coffee down carefully in front of her father.
"Buenos dias, Papa. Buenos dias, Pedro," she says. Then backs towards the door with her eyes lowered.
The bad man goes back to his phone call. Olivia hesitates in the doorway and meets Pedro's eyes over the top of her father's head.
There is a double thump inside Pedro's chest where his heart used to be. He then realizes that this is the first time he has spoken her name out loud in her presence. In her expression, he reads that she has realized this as well. He sees that she has filed the sound of her name in his mouth away, to listen to over again, later.
Pedro turns and walks to the window when she leaves. For no reason he wishes to understand, a white pigeon flies into the window as he watches. Pedro does not peer down to see if the bird is lying broken on the cobbles, or if it has somehow survived. He just continues to watch the spot where the bird used to be. He stares with such intensity that the bad man has to call his name twice before Pedro hears him.
The bad man asks him what the noise was. Pedro tells him that it was just a bird flying in to the window. Inside his shirt, Pedro begins to sweat although the room is cool.
That night Pedro is being the right hand of the bad man by beating a man's face into a table. The man slides to the floor and Pedro steps over him. He reaches for a napkin to wipe off his hands. When he looks down at the tablecloth, he sees that in the blood of the man, he can see Olivia's face.
"Olivia," he says in the same voice he used to say, "Dios mio." Before he came to work for the bad man.
Alone in her bed, Olivia adds, "Y Pedro," to her "Goodnight, Papi."
When he was twelve he was forced to watch what Pedro had only expected since he was ten. Ever since his sister's eyes stood out like bruises in the morning and his father began to treat her with a proprietary hunger.
In the dry summer of his twelfth year, Pedro found he could not look on his sister without feeling hate for his father. The hate was so large it eclipsed the love he had for his sister in his eyes. And so - she came to believe the hate she saw in her brother, was aimed at her.
During the same summer, Pedro beat his father to death in their small village market place. The beating took place in the bare of night and was witnessed only by two stray dogs and an old drunk.
When Pedro returned home to his sister, she backed away from him, clutching at her blouse. He knew then, that his hate for his father owned his familial love.
When he reached for her, his sister began to undo her buttons out of fear.
The good love he had for his sister could not find its way around the red bloom of his patricide to reach her.
It is because of this that Pedro stopped believing in absolution, and therefore could not be saved.
It is because of this, that Pedro sought employment with the bad man.
The money he earns goes to his sister whom he moved to a small bungalow in the city of the bad man. He bought her a maid, large cages of yellow birds, and fine linens.
He never sees her, or how she arranges the good furniture he buys her.
Out of love he cares for her and out of love he stays away from her. He follows her progress from afar, as if watching a mare run free through the largest imaginable pasture.
Pedro had once believed that he could empty himself of anger as the right hand of the bad man. One day, return to his sister, emptied of hate. But in the last twelve years his anger has not abated. Only hardened into a second spine that keeps him upright despite his exhaustion.
Pedro has always understood why God flooded the world. But know, in the kitchen of the man he has beaten, he understands why God spared Noah. That God pulled back at the last possible moment out of fear of lonliness.
Pedro, now driven by a grief he cannot restrain falls to his knees by the table and begins to pray. He finds he has no distinct words to offer. Pedro remembers Olivia's eyes on his own, the taste of her name on his tongue. Then, kneeling by the bright, inarticulate wound of his evenings work, sends thanks to God.
And God, if listening would have translated the ribbon of light Pedro offered up, into the repetition of one word,
Pedro was a boy without a mother who grew into a man without a heart.
Until now. For within his chest there is a stirring, and his blood, thick as honey, begins to move. For Olivia, his body remembers how to make itself warm. For Olivia, this dead man rises, like Lazarus. And for Olivia, he will die again in three days time.
They say that it is better to be the right hand of the Devil than in his path. But these are the same 'they' who do not understand why bad things happen to good people. The same ones who demand to know why it is that God answers some prayers but not others.
To them I say this:
Bad things happen to good people to prove the good survives them. And of the million prayers spawned by atrocity, God only answers the prayer of one who still believes in Him - when God, faced with the deeds of His own creation no longer believes in Himself.
As for being the right hand of the Devil; Lucifer always bites the hand that feeds him. It is the nature man gave him.
It is now Tuesday morning.
Olivia breakfasts on the patio. Thinking herself unseen, slips the mango from its skin and eats it with her fingers.
From the office of the bad man, Pedro looks down, watching her.
Olivia presses a glass of cold water to her throat to alleviate the mornings heat.
Above her, Pedro imagines he can hear the ice settle in the glass. He imagines he is holding it.
Unseen by both Pedro and Olivia, is Evaline. From her bedroom window she observes Pedro watching Olivia. She smiles softly to herself, having at last come across the means to justify the end.
She drums her fingers on her collarbone and thanks God for the unspeakable things men will do for love. Thanks God that those unspeakable things are nothing compared to what a mother will do out of love for her children.
And so, the end begins.
Octavio sits in the garden, crying with rage. On his face, one can still make out the four long fingers of the bad man's slap. Octavio has impregnated the daughter of the cook. The result of his pressing a forceful advantage on the girl in the kitchen's pantry.
Ever since that night, the bad man's food tastes the same, but his bowels are loosened with sickness every evening and every morning. For this, the bad man slapped his son. Octavio, sitting on a stone bench beside his mother's prized Guadalupe Rose is unaware that his father also slapped him for mirroring the essence of his own conception.
It is now Tuesday night.
Evaline has sickened Olivia with a tea. Olivia lies in her bed, gripped in the teeth of fever. In delerium she begs for her Papi. In delerium she begs for Pedro.
Evaline is liked by the servants for taking the time to learn all their stories, for being clever enough to remember them. For always being able to grant them their secret desires in exchange for their loyalty.
It is now Wednesday Morning.
Evaline brings the bad man his morning coffee.
"Where is Olivia, " he asks.
Evaline explains that she is ill. Her husband goes back to his paper.
Evaline turns her gaze to Pedro, who is standing as always, beside the desk where the bad man sits. She says to her husband,
"She cries as if to die from the pain, and cannot be consoled."
The bad man grunts in reply and folds over his paper to read the rest of his article.
Evaline taps her collarbone with her finger. Pedro's eyes shift to the source of the movement. Evaline lifts her hand to her face as if to smooth her hair.
Again, Pedro follows the movement, and in so doing, meets her eyes.
"Something very bad must have come over her in the night," she says.
"Something...very bad," says Evaline and flicks her eyes towards the bad man.
Pedro swallows with a dry click. The lines worn into his face from nose to mouth turn white.
It is now Thursday morning.
Olivia wakes to the cool touch of her mother's hand on her forehead.
"Pobrecita," Evaline murmurs to her daughter. "Te amo, Olivia. Sleep now. Your fever has been broken."