“Oh, Tony.” Carmelúcia’s voice whined ingratiatingly. “Get water for me.”
“Get it yourself,” the boy answered, not looking up from his comic book.
“Little black bastard,” she shot back. “I don’t know why Mãe took you in.”
“So she wouldn’t have to be alone with a pale tramp like you,” Tony answered calmly. He turned a page.
“Filho da puta,” she said, and grabbed the bucket angrily. It banged loudly against the metal stove as she stormed out of the shack, and she heard Tony laugh quietly. How incredibly irritating that an eleven-year-old boy could always get the best of her—and she, seventeen—make her mad, get her to go banging into things. And he always calm. Even when he was four years old, when Doña Rosa had run off next door, leaving Tony alone, and Mãe had taken him in, even then Carmelúcia could almost never get him to cry. He would stand looking at her with his big deep eyes and, if he hadn’t then learned the trick of laughing at her, still he made her feel insignificant and small.
The morning sun was already growing hot as she came back up the steps from the faucet carrying the heavy bucket. Thirty-seven steps, thirty-seven concrete steps, some of them cracked, some of them so small you could hardly put your foot on them, climbing straight, almost as steep as a ladder up the hillside. She had counted them ever since she could remember, and she hated them. Thirty-seven steps, and beside them tufts of grass with garbage caught in them and then, at the top, the bico stretching straight, slanting gradually up the hill: a path, paved in front of the first few shacks, then turning to dirt in front of the twenty or so others strung out side by side. Beyond the shacks the path went up the steep grassy mountainside toward the granite rocks, then on out of sight to the Rocinha slum on the other side of the mountain. Sometimes at night drug runners, escaping the police, came down the hill, into the bico, then down the steps, between the lower houses, and out onto the streets of Botafogo. You were careful never to see them.
You’d never think the mountain was in the middle of Rio de Janeiro, Mãe always said when she stood outside their shack and looked up at the green grass and gray rock, but maybe in the country, where Mãe was born. Carmelúcia didn’t care about that. The hill and the city were all she’d ever known.
Their shack was the first one at the top of the steps, and from there, looking around the other way, you knew you were in the city: the small houses in the alley below running down to the backs of stores, the busy streets of Botafogo with their apartment buildings and, beyond them, the slum of Santa Marta running up Corcovado Mountain toward the giant gray statue of Christ, his arms outstretched, embracing the city beneath him.
She set down the bucket and looked back at it all for a moment, not Christ’s statue, but the teeming, life-filled streets below, alive with energy. She laughed and shook back her long curly dark hair, her own aliveness reflecting the energy of the streets. Then she stopped laughing suddenly, the shadow of last night’s dream passing lightly across her mind.
Carmelúcia’s dreams had a geography all their own.
The hill loomed large in them—a mountain, always the steps leading up—the small, concrete steps—thirty-seven of them, but never-ending. And then, suddenly at the top, the bico running straight away, and the people there. . . .
Mãe was also a mountain in Carmelúcia’s dreams, Mãe’s large black figure looming up on the steps, lugging her heavy body up the hill. So giant was her mother, so filled with love demanding she do right, that Carmelúcia trembled. An enormous love, objective and distant so that, in its light, Carmelúcia saw her own emptiness and littleness, saw her body lit up and all that she had done clearly shown as if by a giant beacon. And yet a love so close and strong, calling to her inside herself, offering to guide her. In her dream Carmelúcia was trying to hide from it.
Further away in her dream, way out beyond Botafogo Bay, a tiny ship danced up and down on the blue water. Carmelúcia had never been to the ports, and the only ships she had seen were moving in and out of the bay beyond Sugar Loaf. The ship in her dream was like those, but toy-like and fragile. On that ship stood a white man in a white uniform and this, she knew, was her father—of him she knew nothing except that he was white and had been a sailor.
More recently there had been added to the geography of her dreams the labyrinthian streets of Copacabana, leading to the store where she worked. In her dreams she was always lost in the streets, trying to get to the store, and she would struggle and struggle but never really get there. Then suddenly, she would be there in the quiet of the store, with jewelry in the glass cases and the shelves filled with soapstone and wooden carvings the foreigners and rich Brazilians would come in to buy. It was cool in the store, the quiet air conditioning keeping out the sounds of the street, a chapel of tranquility in her dreams. There she was safe. Mãe with her enormous love had no place there—it was Carmelúcia’s world—free, cool, filled with expensive things.
Last night João Luiz had shot across her dream, but not the bright neon light he usually was. Last night he had been small and troubling, a rich woman’s spoiled child on a tricycle. Never before had she thought of him like that.
“I have to take a bath,” she said, putting the bucket down.
Tony got off the narrow bed where he’d been sitting, reading his comics.
“Who’s the man?” he asked.
He laughed quietly and walked outside. She closed the door behind him and locked it. She took a sheet and hung it to cover some of the cracks between the boards of the shack’s front wall. She turned and looked back at the room.
It was a small room—the kitchen alcove where she stood with a four-burner stove and its small tank of gas, a two-by-two table, then the room itself: the narrow bed where she slept at night and Mãe slept when she was home during the day, the old wardrobe, the television standing on a set of shelves. The shelves were stuffed with odds and ends of their life: old schoolbooks, Tony’s comics, a china cup and saucer. The top of the wardrobe was piled high with cardboard boxes. In the corner beyond it, rolled up, stood the foam rubber mattress Tony slept on at night. Under the bed was an old suitcase filled with clothes.
A single wooden window stood open and, because they were at the edge of the hill and the window was high above everything, they could leave it open almost all of the time. Their shack was the best location on the upper part of the bico. Carmelúcia was aware of this, aware of all the things that made her superior to the drunks and slum whores and drug addicts, unemployed laborers and workwomen who lived along the bico. Mãe was black but she was proud and had worked nights in the kitchen at the Hotel Meridien for twelve years; she didn’t sell herself to men, or even give herself. Not that Carmelúcia knew of, not since Carmelúcia’s father. And he’d been white and a sailor; an officer in the navy, Carmelúcia always said to herself when she was imagining him.
This was their home. Every month the heavy-set, balding Portuguese whose bar was at the street end of the bico and who owned the land the shacks were on, came to collect the rent. Every month Mãe, her large black body moving slowly, would get up and reach down her purse and open it, would take out the rent money and, strong and defiant, hand it to him, looking at him in such a way that the Portuguese, taking her money, would lower his eyes. Most of the money Mãe earned working night shift went for the rent. She earned extra cleaning house twice a week for an old lady and taking in laundry.
If her family was above the bico, she, Carmelúcia, was even higher. There were Edilson and Nilva, older than Carmelúcia, Mãe’s children from her husband who had died. They were almost as dark as Mãe, and Nilva wasn’t anywhere near as pretty as Carmelúcia. Anyway, they were gone now, Edilson working on trucks somewhere near São Paulo and Nilva living with her husband and kids over in Rocinha, dirt poor and never going to be any better. Carmelúcia smiled; she was going to do better.
She set the metal basin on the floor and took an unframed mirror out of the wardrobe, propping it up against the wall. This was one of her favorite times: alone, the door shutting out the squalor of the bico, the window open on the live city below.
Stripping off her clothes, she stood naked in front of the mirror, looking at herself—her dark curly hair, her pert lively face, her light brown skin. She ran her hands down over her small well-shaped breasts, her taut abdomen, her shapely thighs. So beautiful, she thought, her body tingling alive.
She shook her hair and hurled her thoughts toward João Luiz. He was hers—her body, her beauty, her ability to shift moods, to always be just a little hard to catch—she had caught him, held him captive. João Luiz—not bad-looking, white, strong, rich. At least, rich enough.
First there had been the store. Carmelúcia had heard that the new store was opening; she had dressed carefully and gone for an interview. Doña Vera, the woman who owned the store, had talked to her. How old was she? Nineteen, Carmelúcia lied. How many years of school did she have? Eighth grade, she lied again; she had only finished the sixth. Doña Vera looked at her; Carmelúcia smiled. She knew the smiles, the expressions, to make women like her—so different from the smiles and expressions for men. She got the job.
She had been working in the store a month and a half, six days a week, eight to six. She was standing behind a glass case counter toward the back of the store, sorting sales slips, when João Luiz came in. He was with his mother and aunt. Dangling car keys from his finger, he leaned back against the wall, one blue-jeaned leg up, the top three buttons of his sport shirt undone, his brown hair neatly trimmed. His mother and aunt were busy looking at jewelry. João Luiz’s bored gray-green eyes roamed around the store, and alighted on her.
Instinctively she knew. All her life she had been waiting, waiting for the moment to use the secret power that had been growing in her, that power that could capture a man, power she would not squander away like the women on the hill. She did not now smile at him cheaply, she did not flirt like most girls would, but looked straight into his eyes a moment and then glanced down, as though indifferent, yet moving her body slightly in a special way, letting him know she could be pursued.
He meandered his way over to where she was, pretending to look at merchandise on the shelves. She smiled to herself, as she reeled him in, busying her hands with the sales slips, amused at his hesitation, sensing his growing nervousness. He was almost in front of her now, across the counter, a few feet to her right. She glanced up.
“May I help you?”
He looked around, then pointed—randomly, she guessed—to a dark wooden carving of the Corcovado Christ—the Christ she could see from her shack, the Christ visible to everyone from almost anywhere in the city. She turned and stretched up to reach it down, aware as she reached upward of the beauty of her body in profile. She handed the statue to him—their fingers touched and he glanced at her to see if she had noticed—she had, but pretended not to. He, in turn, pretended interest in the statue, turning it over in his hands, looking at the carving. It was a good statue—Carmelúcia had an innate sense of quality, and the items sold in this store ranged from good to excellent.
“João Luiz!” The two women had made their purchases and were preparing to leave.
“A moment, Mãe,” he called back. He smiled at Carmelúcia. “Have to go,” he said. “I’ll be back another time.”
She gave him a quiet, professional smile.
He was back two days later, and bought the statue. Then again, a couple of days after that, buying earrings, he said, for his sister’s birthday. Each time he would browse about the front of the store until Carmelúcia was alone behind the counter, then come over and talk to her. The earring selection took quite a bit of discussion, with Carmelúcia holding up earrings to her own nicely shaped ear so that he could see them. He bought three pair. On the next visit, it was a bracelet for a cousin—Carmelúcia modeled several on her wrist.
There were four other girls working in the shop besides Doña Vera and Carmelúcia. It was not unusual for regular customers to have a favorite sales clerk, and to seek her out each time they came. But most of their customers were not good-looking young men, and João Luiz’s visits were noticed.
“That young man is coming in quite a bit,” Doña Vera remarked to her one afternoon as he was leaving.
Carmelúcia shrugged. “He always buys something—jewelry, an ornament.”
Doña Vera looked at her. “As long as that’s all he’s buying.”
Carmelúcia flashed her brightest, most innocent smile.
Doña Vera shook her head. “Be careful, girl,” she said.
“Can you meet me after you get out of work?” It was his fifth visit to the store, a Saturday.
She was wrapping up the package—a pendant for his aunt. She looked up at him, feigning surprise.
“Tonight?” she asked. “Oh, I don’t think so. I have other plans.”
He looked discouraged. Afraid she had gone too far, she said, pretending shyness “. . . maybe, maybe some other time?”
He brightened. “When?”
“I’ll have to check my schedule.”
Nonetheless, an hour later when she came out of work, he was waiting for her, down the block about three stores, leaning against a lamppost. It occurred to her that he knew what time she got out of work, knew which direction she took when she left the store. Had he been following her? The thought gave her a little thrill, yet. . . . He would have seen her get on the bus to Botafogo, but that was no problem—Botafogo was a solidly middle-class neighborhood, only at the edges running up into the slums where she lived or, at the other side of the valley, up to the slums of Santa Marta. Besides, the bus went on to richer neighborhoods—Humaitá, Lagoa, Ipanema.
She was almost up to him now. He held up one hand in greeting.
She shook her head, smiling, letting him know that she was only pretending to be irritated.
“João Luiz,” she said. “I told you I’m busy tonight.”
“I thought you might change your mind,” he said.
He stood up straight. Outside of the store, she suddenly realized, the energy between them was different. No longer did they have a counter between them, the formality of a business relationship, the protective structure of a store run by women primarily for other women. Here they were not customer and clerk, but man and woman. Here he seemed bigger, stronger, more masculine. She suddenly felt wary.
“Just coffee,” he said. “That won’t take half an hour. There’s a place down the street.”
She hesitated a moment. “All right,” she said.
The other girls in the shop chatted freely about their boyfriends, families, activities. Carmelúcia listened, smiling gently, recording information in her sharp mind—it would have startled the other girls how much she knew about them, how thoroughly she read their personalities, their strengths, their weaknesses. She very seldom shared—though she had a way of doing it that made the others not notice she wasn’t sharing. She tried to avoid lying, but if the other girls assumed things about her—that she had a father, for instance, or lived in an apartment—she wouldn’t correct them.
Sometimes, however, she needed information. One day she asked Leah, the girl she trusted most:
“Have you heard of USCUDA?”
“USCUDA? What is it?”
“Some kind of college.”
“Oh. USCDE. That’s one of those colleges that kids go to who can’t get into the good ones. The ones for sons of rich fathers, who pay for the diploma. Why, are you thinking of going to college?”
Carmelúcia shrugged and smiled.
“Well, don’t go to that one.”
It was João Luiz’s college—where he went to classes a few times a week. She had learned that about him, that he was nineteen, that he had three sisters—all older and married, that his father was part owner of a small company that had something to do with airplane parts (João Luiz was vague about that), that his mother was a medical doctor who worked part time. They lived in an apartment in Ipanema overlooking the beach, and two of his uncles had apartments in the same building.
When he asked, she told him her father was dead, but had been a naval officer. Her mother worked in the hotel industry.
She was seeing João Luiz regularly now, almost every day after work. Starting, the first few days, with coffee; then dinner a few nights. A hidden kiss behind a tree. Then going to a movie, where João Luiz’s passion flared in the dark—she returned his kisses but had to control his hands. Sunday rides in his car—a ten-year-old Puma convertible—out to beaches. Stopping the car to kiss passionately—she tried to control his hands, but he was strong. He wanted to go to a motel, but she refused.
He picked her up Sundays in his car. She had given him the address of an apartment building in Botafogo, located about six blocks from the bico on a prosperous, shaded street—a building she had always admired for its clean glass and stone front with small palm trees in the tiny yard. She would wait for him in front of the building. She had struck up a friendship with the doormen at the building, and would chat with them, so that, when João Luiz picked her up, she would wave brightly to the doormen—as she had seen girls in apartment buildings do—and they would wave back.
“Do you want to see our apartment?” João Luiz asked one Sunday afternoon.
“Is there anybody there?”
“Sure. There are always people there.”
He parked in the garage of the apartment building. They went up the elevator from the garage, not encountering the doormen who sat by the front elevators. He opened the back door with his key, and they walked into the kitchen. The kitchen was all white tiles and chrome, and bigger than Carmelúcia’s entire home.
“Anybody here!” João Luiz called out. There was silence. “They must be in the family room,” he said. “Come on.”
The kitchen door led to a dining room and, through an archway ahead of them, she could see the living room with huge glass windows. She walked into the living room and looked down—they were on the fifth floor—onto the Avenida Vieira Souto and the beach and ocean beyond it.
“This is beautiful,” she said.
“Yeah,” he answered. Then called out, “Mãe. Pai!”
There was no answer. Suddenly suspicious, she glanced up at him, but he looked innocent enough.
“Come on,” he said. He showed her the family room, his parents’ home office—lined with bookshelves.
“Do you want to see my room?” he asked.
“No, João Luiz,” she said firmly. “Not when there’s nobody here. We should go.”
She turned and went back into the living room, pausing once again to look out at the beach, at the ocean. He came up beside her and put his arm around her waist, and she leaned her head against his shoulder. He was looking down at her.
“I love you, Carmelúcia,” he said. “I love you so much.”
She turned her head, and he leaned down and kissed her—gently at first, but then passionately. He pulled her closer to him. “I love you so much. I want to marry you.”
Pushing away from him, she looked up into his eyes.
“Do you mean that?” she asked.
She stood back, smiling. “Then get me a ring,” she said.
“Today,” he said, and then he was kissing her. She felt her body arouse and tingle, responding in a way she had never expected.
Mãe stood looming in the kitchen of the shack.
“Tony says you’ve been getting home real late,” Mãe said.
“Don’t so me, girl. What are you up to?”
“I can take care of myself.”
Flame rose up in Mãe’s face, and she lifted her right arm. Carmelúcia scooted back, out of reach. She’d felt the slap of Mãe’s hand often enough to know she didn’t want to feel it again. Mãe took a step toward her, and for a moment Carmelúcia thought her mother was going to chase her, catch her. But then Mãe sighed and lowered her arm, and her shoulders sagged as though she were carrying a heavy weight.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” she said.
They were together almost every evening now—though Carmelúcia was careful to not make it every night, to hold back now and then. One of João Luiz’s uncles and his family were on vacation in Argentina, and João Luiz had a key to their apartment. They would lie in the dark (they were afraid to turn on the lights) on one of the big beds, or on the carpet by the big front windows overlooking the ocean. They made love fiercely—he had always wanted to touch her, hold her, kiss her, but now Carmelúcia was amazed at how fully she responded to it. Once she overheard Leah say to one of the other girls, “Be careful what you chase, because it may catch you.” Was that what was happening to her? Was she—the capturer—becoming a captive?
Her engagement ring—the customary simple gold ring worn on her right hand—had caused a stir at the store. “It’s João Luiz,” Leah said, and Carmelúcia smiled noncommittally. But of course she had to finally admit that it was. She gained status among the girls, and they wanted to talk about it—“How did he propose?” “What are his parents like?” “When will the wedding be?”
“Calma, meninas,” she would answer, evading their questions expertly. But her smiles were genuine—glowing with success and pride.
She slipped the ring off her finger when she went home. She didn’t want to explain it to Mãe or to Tony.
It was a little more difficult when the uncle’s family came back. João Luiz wanted to go to a motel, but she wouldn’t. “That’s for cheap whores,” she said disdainfully, though everyone knew that middle-class women would go there too with their lovers. Finally he found a friend who had a vacant apartment, and he got a key.
A month passed, and then another. Carmelúcia smiled to herself. João Luiz still couldn’t keep his hands off of her. She had heard that, once men got what they wanted, they lost interest—but she was smart—never giving in easily, always holding back a little, teasing him so that his passion flared up. It was easier for her. Though she responded to him fully, when he was not physically touching her, she almost never thought of sex. She liked him well enough—he was a good sort of guy, not as smart as she was—and she could handle him. But she didn’t particularly miss him when he was absent, certainly didn’t have the passionate, caring love that Leah, for instance, had for her boyfriend. Strange, because Leah’s boyfriend was just a simple kid who lived in Rocinha and worked as an office boy—not nearly the catch the João Luiz was.
It was over three months since they had started making love. They were lying naked on a cheap mattress in the vacant apartment, in the peace after sex.
She propped her head up on her elbow and looked at him. His body was profoundly restful, as it usually was after sex. He was looking up and slightly away, at the sky outside the window. With her index finger, she started to trace the pattern of hair on his chest.
“João Luiz, when do you want to get married?”
He turned and looked at her.
“Huh. Oh, plenty of time for that. When I finish university, I guess.”
That was four years off.
“I don’t want to wait that long,” she said.
“Well, I can’t really get married before that. Where would we live?”
“Your father said he could get you that job while you’re studying. And I could make us a really nice home. I don’t care how small it is.”
His look sharpened a fraction.
“No. You wouldn’t care about that.”
It was an odd response, but she ignored it and pushed on.
“And besides. . .”
“Well . . . we have to think about our baby.”
He half sat up, his face confused.
“Our baby,” she said. “I’m going to have our baby.”
“Baby? You’re going to have a baby?”
“Our baby,” she said, smiling.
“But . . . isn’t there something you’re supposed to be doing to prevent that?”
She looked at him. He got up and stood, his back to her, hands on his hips, looking out the window.
He turned around, leaned down, picked his underpants off the floor, and pulled them on. Armored, protected with them on, he reached down and picked up his pants.
“I’ve got to think,” he said. He was putting his shirt on. “Get dressed. I’ll drive you home.”
They were silent as he drove the twenty minutes from Ipanema to Botafogo. When she started to say anything, he would answer, “Be quiet. I’ve got to think.”
He pulled up in front of the apartment.
“Do you want to get out here?” he asked.
“Yes, of course. Why?”
“Because you don’t live here,” he said.
There was silence for a moment.
“I never said I did.” She had been very careful not to say so.
“No, I guess you didn’t.” He was sitting looking straight ahead, the car idling. “I came by one day, looking for you—I wanted to talk to you. They said you didn’t live here, that you live back there somewhere” —he pointed with his thumb— “on the hill. In the slums.”
She was silent. She forgot, sometimes, that Botafogo could be like a small town—not for the rich, but for the people who worked there. The doormen didn’t know her, but everyone on the hills did—beautiful, lively Carmelúcia with her smile. Anyone could have seen her—a janitor, a maid, a laundress—could have mentioned her to the doormen.
Silently she got out of the car, closing the door behind her. He revved the motor and drove away.
She didn’t hear from him for four days. On the fourth day, coming out of work, he was standing there, waiting for her, just where he had been the first time. She walked up to him.
“Can we go somewhere?” he asked. “I need to talk with you.”
She nodded. He led the way down and around the corner, where he’d found a parking space. He opened the car door for her, and she got in. He moved around the front of the car, got in on the driver’s side, and started the car, moving out into traffic.
“João Luiz . . .”
“Not here. Let me get out of this traffic to someplace we can stop.”
Silently, he drove them toward the beach, turned onto the Avenida Atlántica. Two blocks down, he found a parking place and pulled into it. He switched off the motor, turned and looked at her. Behind him she could see the beach, stretching out to the ocean.
“I found a way to take care of it,” he said.
She looked at him, silent.
“I had to be careful,” he said. “All these doctors know one another, and if my mother found out . . . But guys who do this stuff don’t talk about it. I found a place. I can take you in next week. Then, after that, when you’re feeling better, I’ve arranged for pills so this won’t happen again. I’m sorry, I should have thought of that. I just thought . . .”
“I’d never been with a man before.”
“Yes, I know. I should have thought of it. I didn’t. But it’ll be okay. We love each other. After you’re feeling better, we can be like we were before.”
She looked at him.
“You want to kill our baby?” she asked.
He shook his head, frustrated. “It’s not killing a baby, Carmelúcia—it’s just preventing it from becoming a baby.”
She shook her head. “No,” she said.
“Carmelúcia, what else can we do? We can’t have a baby. I can’t marry you.”
“You said you would. We’re engaged.”
“All that was fun. It was fun being with you, will be fun—fun pretending we’d be married. Like kids playing house. I love you. But I can’t marry you. My parents expect things of me—I’m already a disappointment to them, you know. How can I marry a girl from the slums with, what—an eighth-grade education?”
“Yes, you are.” She looked at him, but there was no touch of sarcasm in his voice, in his face. “Smarter than I am.” He turned and looked out the front window of the car.
“It wasn’t pretend to me,” she said. “It wasn’t playing house.”
“No,” he said. He sighed. “I was your ticket out of the slums.”
He offered to drive her home, but she just got out of the car and started walking. Walking the length of Copacabana, then across Arpoador to Ipanema—avoiding the street where his parents lived, but sitting for a long time in the plaza of Our Lady of Peace, watching people, being, not thinking. Then walking again up to the beach promenade in Leblon, then down the canal at the end, and back toward the Lagoa de Freitas. She sat again, a long time, on a bench by the side of the lagoon, watching the city lights sparkle in the shallow water. It was getting very late, and this wasn’t a safe place to be, but she didn’t care. She stared and stared at the water, then got up, walking again, all the way around the lagoon to Humaitá. The Church of the Immaculate Conception was closed, but she sat on the step outside it, her body tired, her mind empty. She sat until she noticed the sky starting to get light. She hauled herself up and began walking the half mile home.
She turned the corner into the lower part of the bico. Mãe was sitting on the bottom of the steps going up the hill—as, Carmelúcia suddenly thought, she almost knew she would be. Mãe stood up as Carmelúcia approached, and Carmelúcia stopped, a couple of feet in front of her.
They were silent for almost a minute. Then Mãe motioned to Carmelúcia’s belly.
“This one. How far along is he?”
Mãe knew. Nothing showed. But Mãe knew.
They were silent again.
“Mãe, he wants me to kill the baby.”
The slap hit Carmelúcia’s cheek—not a hard slap (Carmelúcia knew Mãe’s hard slaps), but it stung. Like ice-cold water in a shower, like an alarm going off in the morning. And Carmelúcia knew that slap carried her mother’s hopes and fears.
Mãe sank down on the step again, as if the effort to stand was too much. After a moment, Carmelúcia sat down beside her. Yet another moment, and Mãe put an arm around Carmelúcia, pulling her closer. Carmelúcia rested her head on Mãe’s shoulder.
They stayed sitting like that for a very long time. Then Mãe sat up straighter, reached over, and touched Carmelúcia’s belly.
“This one,” Mãe said, “is one of us. This one is family. And we will be family.”
There was a pause.
“Do you understand me?”
Carmelúcia nodded. “Yes, Mãe.”
Mãe heaved herself up to standing, turned, and started climbing the steps. Carmelúcia could hear her—the heavy footsteps, the hard breathing—until she reached the top. Carmelúcia sat for a while, looking down the bico to the street, where morning traffic was beginning to get busy. Then, standing up, she started climbing the concrete steps, following her mother.
Arthur Powers has received the Fellowship in Fiction from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, three annual awards for short fiction from the Catholic Press Association, the 2008 Tom Howard Fiction Award (2nd place), the 2012 Tuscany Novella Prize, and the 2014 Catholic Arts & Literature Award. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in many magazines and anthologies. He is the author of A Hero For The People: Stories From The Brazilian Backlands (Press 53, 2013) and The Book of Jotham (Tuscany Press, 2013). He was judge of the 2014 and 2015 Tom Howard/John Reid Short Fiction & Essay Contests and of the 2015 Dappled Things J. F. Powers Prize for Short Fiction.