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 dispersed.
"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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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