Ciudad de Mexico, 1587
Estimada Madam Mariana,
I am caught between two suitors–again!
My brother in law, Jorge de Almeida, remember him? the “other Jorge,” my sister Leonor’s husband? Anyway, now HE wants to marry me!
I’ve cried. I’ve sobbed. I took a rock and scratched my face until I bled. But to no avail. He has all the money, he has the power. And my poor sister Leonor has yet to conceive—and even the dumbest of animals can conceive a child—so Jorge is ready to wed me, and keep my sister!
Meanwhile, my estranged former suitor, Jorge de L, is furious, and telling the worst stories about my family, and me, that you could possibly imagine. My reputation is in tatters, and I am the subject of songs sung in the market-place. One particularly horrible one says something about my beauty being paraded for my entire family to bid on bedding me.
I cannot stop crying. Please help me!!!
Mariana la triste
Please dear, don’t let those songs bother you. The gossip will cool soon. Aren’t there laws against bigamy? Meanwhile, what ever happened to Hector?
Forgive my prior outburst. Hector, as you might know, is Jorge de Almeida’s brother. So, does that make him my brother in law too? I don’t know. But whether he is or not, he’s married to that witch, Juana Lopez de la Torre.
Oh, she’s not a witch in the sense that the Church would burn her at the stake, a horrible way to die even if she were a witch—imagine, the terror, the horror, the ropes, the wood, the smoke, the jeers, and then, oh, the pain of the first lick of flame, I writhe, I scream, and the pain, oh my God, I can feel it as it touches, then stabs, and burns, I cry, I cannot get away oh my God the pain is beyond screaming I have lost my mind with scream scream screaming
Mariana, dear! You are imagining this. Stop. STOP! Madam Mariana
I am so terribly sorry. These visions get a hold of my mind and I am swamped with terror. They occur when I least expect them. I wish that I could stop. The only relief I get is from Hector.
To continue: Hector is married to Juana the harridan. If I don’t use the W word I think I am able to continue my story. Hector works with Jorge (BIL) at the mine in Taxco, the one that has made them filthy rich. He brought me a beautiful rebozo, black, with red embroidered flowers, and hidden in the embroidery are symbols of our secret religion. Because, as you know, we are believers in the Law of Moses. We don’t worship the christ, and we are…no!
I must stop before the visions return.
Hector’s wife, Juana, is an Old Christian. She’s got that pure blood that keeps her safe, and her family goes back to the beginning of time. “But everyone’s family goes back to the beginning of time!” I said, and was scolded by my mother. Juana thinks she’s better than we are because her blood is untainted, as she calls it. Even though she isn’t very pretty, she has her nose up and her chin tilted so high that I can see the hair in her nostrils! I told Hector that, and oh did he laugh!
Hector isn’t like his brother. He’s a perfect specimen of a man. Tall, slender at the waist and broad at the shoulder, and his black curly hair is thick still, unlike Jorge’s. His eyes are rounder than the slitty eyes his brother has, and he secretly brings me silver rings, chains, and a particularly sweet item, a lozenge that I can suck on when I’m feeling bad. I don’t know what makes it work, but it’s a piece of silver fresh from the mercury pits, Hector said when he gave it to me. It calms the visions. I wish I could marry Hector! But he’s got Juana, and after the scenes caused by Jorge’s quest for bigamy, I don’t dare say a word.
The stains of the songs, as you said, are fading, but no one has offered for my hand. I’m almost sixteen. What shall I do? I love Hector! I will become a nun if I can’t have him.
Except the Jesus part. That’s not going to work.
Mariana la desesperada
Dear Mariana in despair,
Sweetie, it’s gonna get worse. Go ahead and love that Hot Hot Hector of yours, and keep sucking on those lozenges. They’re full of mercury, and they’ll drive you mad. You don’t have a chance, so go as crazy as you can. And when the Inquisition asks, make sure you tell them that the Virgin Mary is your one true guide. Then swallow all the mercury you can.
My editor won’t run this so I’ve re-written it.
So, Hector’s hot, is he? Hot enough to leave Juana for you? No, I didn’t think so. And those silver lozenges are full of mercury, and will make you mad as a hatter. A hatter is someone who makes men’s hats. No, not a rabbit, what gave you that crazy idea? Sounds like you’d better lay off the lozenges sooner than I thought. And (I just have to warn her!) when the Inquisition comes for you, make sure you tell them that you have visions of the Virgin Mary. It’ll make life in the convent they send you to a whole lot easier. And keep a couple of lozenges in your apron for the future. You’ll thank me later!
Sincerely, Madam Mariana
[from a work in progress, so enjoy Chains of Silver while you’re waiting!]