Excerpt of The Invisible Mountain by Carolina De Robertis
(Page 7 of 12)
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Doña Rosa opened her mouth, then closed it. No one spoke. Artigas
looked up again at the infant in the treetop. She stared back. She was far
away, close close to heaven, yet he could swear he saw the texture of her
eyes: dark pools, wide awake, red veins in the whites. He imagined himself
soaring up to meet her.
"Wait for me," he called into the foliage.
He mounted his horse and galloped down the hill.
He found Tía Tita outside their hut, plucking a chicken. He dismounted
in a rush and told her everything about the morning plaza, the
crowd around the ceibo, the child up on the branch. She listened. She
tilted her face to the sun. Her lips moved without making any sound.
She wiped her wide hands on her apron and untied it. "Let's go."
By the time they arrived at the ceibo, most of the town had formed
a ring around it. Women had brought their children, children had
brought their great-grandparents, men had brought wives, the stray dogs
from the plaza had brought one another. Horses grazed. Doña Rosa
had sacrificed the front of her dress to kneel on the ground and pray
intensely with her rosary that had been blessed sixteen years earlier by
the pope. The shopkeeper's son brandished a wooden flute. Dogs barked
and brayed. Several mate gourds and baskets of empanadas circulated
from hand to hand. Arguments rose and broke and rose again, about the
girl, about the pastries, about who drank how much and did what with
whom last night in the plaza. The infant stared at them from the high
foliage, which held her like an adoptive guardian's arms.
Tía Tita and Artigas slid from their shared saddle. The crowd grew
quiet. Tía Tita was not tall, but she was large somehow, hard-jawed,
commanding. "Leave us alone," she said, looking at the baby but speaking
to the throng. No one wanted to miss the story, break up the party,
let someone else fix the problem. But Tía Tita—odd, unfathomable,
needed for the cure of old men's creaks and the froth on soldiers'
mouths—could not be easily denied. Slowly, grudgingly, the crowd
"You too, Artigas."
He did as he was told. Horseflesh moved damply below his thighs.
The air was hot and thick and heavy. He joined a cluster that had
formed in the shade of an ombú, and turned to watch from his saddle: Tita and that high speck of a girl, still and dark against a ruthless sky.Tita raised her arms and seemed to wait, and then the treetop shook and
rushed with leaves and sudden-downward-streaking and her arms closed
around a thing that thudded against her chest. Artigas watched his aunt
walk from the tree, away from town, returning home on foot. By the
time the moon had risen, all of Tacuarembó knew the story of the fall
that turned to flight or flight that turned to fall.
They called her Pajarita. Little Bird.
Not all lives begin that way. Look at Ignazio Firielli. He never disappeared or reappeared or had a village call him miraculous. He did
have his day with magic, once he was a grown man far from home,
but even then it was for a single day that only served the purpose of
forcing him toward love. That's how he told it, anyway, years later, to
his grandchildren—especially to Salomé, listening, smiling, fatal secrets
tucked away. He would say the sight of a certain woman made magic
spring from his hands. It was only as a carnival performer, bumbling
through tricks in a gaudy suit. But memory is an expert at sleight-of-hand:
it can raise up things that glitter and leave clumsiness and pain to
be swallowed by the dark.
Before Ignazio knew a thing about magic, or Uruguay, or women
born from trees, he knew Venezia. He held Venezia in his body: the
canals, vast, veinlike; the lilting brass of his language; the smells of brine
and basil and freshly cut wood in his family home. Above all, he knew
gondolas. It was the family business to make gondolas of every size and
style. Arcs of wood leaned beside the window; he could trace them with
his hands and eyes and know where he belonged. Their shapes could
keep a person gliding on the surface of the water, he could not drown, he
would not drown, surrounded by planks and prows, gondolas for fishing,
for coupling, for heading to the market, and, most of all, gondolas
for taking the dead to the tomb-ridden Isle of San Michele.
Excerpted from The Invisible Mountains
by Carolina De Robertis Copyright © 2009 by Carolina De Robertis. Excerpted by
permission of Knopf. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.