Bread and peas

An Essay By Sarah Bethany // 10/18/2015

***

Our plates were empty of paella and were pushed away. His knees were feather-light, poking into my thighs. He leaned up, swooping his blanket over my face and hooding my head with his swaddling blanket and chortling.

It was light and white, clingy like muslin, and it smelled like babies: powder, and musty lavender, and over-washed cotton. I could almost see through it and breathe through it. I hemmed the cloth in between my mouth and pretended to bite him. "Mum mum mum!" I wobbled along his shoulder and arm.

Samuel shrieked with laughter, and I pulled the blanket off my face. "Peekaboo!" He hooded me again and I mouthed him through the cloth. He pulled it off, and this time I hooded him instead.

He shrieked and nosedived like a swan into my neck and excitedly took a chunk out of my chest. The pain ricocheted up my throat as if my skin cells had stood up and crawled away -- but I swallowed any sounds. I only whipped the blanket off his head, and looked at him white-eyed, whispering,

"Suficiente, cariño, suficiente."

Later I examined my skin in the mirror in the bathroom. It actually wasn't that bad. To the right, under my collarbone, it was a strawberry kiss in the mark of a dove. Purple-mottled.

***

A Spanish woman is a magician, and chopping blocks don't seem to exist.

Peppers, potatoes, onions, are held in the air and whittled to bits with the other hand, the blade skating towards her thumb. Abuela Avelina did this with my bread. The loaf itself was art -- buckskin-colored and tough like a turtle's back, but dewy inside. Soft with holes. The color and the thick crust meant that the flour was good, that there had been steam in the oven, and that the dough had been allowed to ferment and bake slowly.

I was the only other person awake. The Galician woman heated me coffee. It was black and hot in a small glass. Then she cut me another hunk of bread. She picked up a vase and showered olive oil on the surface. She clanked a pewter pot of salt on the table and gestured to it, so I pinched the salt. But Abuela Avelina shook her head. She cupped her hands together, signalling to me to take more.

I balked, so she scooped her own rough hand into the pot, and poured a bank of salt onto my bread. It washed over the bread like snow, and began to turn yellow and wet, soaking up the oil. "Thanks," I said, but when I bit into the bread, I realized it was sugar.

The morning before, I had found her baking hut on the mountain. Right when I opened the bolted door (the latch sprigged with weeds to keep out evil spirits) and stepped onto the earthen floor, I knew where I was -- not because of the beehive oven, made of daub, but because the smell told me. Decades of flour, salt, and yeast was sifted together, compounded with ash and wood-smoke, until I could stand in the middle of the floor and breathe the scent of a thousand loaves and feel full forever.

The rising sun was slanting in through the cracked door and curling up like a tabby on the floor. I opened a tin vat. The base was coated with white flour and cornmeal, and I printed my hands in it. In one corner of the hut were empty burlap bags. Along another wall were stacks of fresh weeds: potatoes were stashed between the layers of sagebrush and heather. Old wooden hoops for making cheese hung, broken, on the wall. And I touched the oven sides: they were made of clay and straw.

***

The dirt was hot and bubbly between my toes. I crouched in the garden, picking peas from dragging bushes of vines. Draped over my back, like an animal pelt, was the baby, his hands hanging down either side of my neck.

"Want to help me, cariño?"

"Si, te ayudo," he pipped. With his toes and a grunt, he kicked off the ground, and strained for a twisted pea. -- "Allah!" he cried. "No puedo, Sarah," pouting. "No puedo."

"Pero no te preocupes." I lifted the creeping bush off the ground. "Mira."

He crowed, kicking off once again and diving forward, reaching for the vine. He split a sultry pea off, and dropped it in the bucket with a pop. "Otra vez," he demanded, but when I lifted the vine again, he batted my hand away. "No! Yo puedo."

"Si, tú puedes."

So I became a rocking horse, as the baby half-choked me and continued kicking off the ground and reaching for peas -- pale white or bug-bitten -- and red dirt was rubbed up my arms, and my fingers pricked through leaves to find the slushy ones. We filled two buckets, and I side-shuffled down the rows, my feet skidding through dirt. Samuel was as comfortable as a coat. A warm, lumpy down coat. Caked with earth, and sometimes squeaking.

Oh, and sometimes stuffing peas, not into the bucket, but into my mouth.
"Come," he said, gently sidling a sixth or seventh pea in. "Come, come." ("Eat, eat.")

"No!" I turned my head, hacking and laughing. "No mas. No puedo."

"Come," he insisted, dangling an eighth pea in front of me. "Tú puedes. Puedes, hombre!"

"Samuel, no mas!"

He reached out and tenderly pulled my face toward the pea. With iron baby fingers, he screwed open my jaw and with his other hand flattened the pea into my mouth. Then he patted the top of my head. "Good boy," he said.

***

Comments

Oh, this is wonderful. It was

Oh, this is wonderful. It was made even better, I think, by the fact that I am semi-fluent at reading Spanish, so I understood the limited conversations. Your images were captivating. How do you get to go on these adventures? I will (hopefully) be traveling in the very near future.

Erin | Mon, 10/19/2015

"You were not meant to fit into a shallow box built by someone else." -J. Raymond

Your travels sound amazing! I

Your travels sound amazing! I also ask: how you get to experience things like this? Are you taking care of a boy/maybe in an orphanage.
Again, beautiful writing - much like your fiction. Thanks for posting and taking us to Spain.

(For anyone wondering how I comment one after another piece so quickly is because I've read everything a few days ago and have only gotten to this now.)

I LOVE how almost all of us works are on the front page - in a mixture!

Lucy Anne | Tue, 10/20/2015

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

:)

Totally enjoyed, as always.
Even though I don't know a thing about Spanish, I adored it in there (made it so colourful!) and I even got the gist of some phrasing, so it wasn't confusing to a non-spanish-speaking-person in the least.
I do wanna hear the story behind this as well ;) How do you get to look after little children over seas, huh?

I loved how the first segment was so different, or at least to me it was. The first was more like a diary entry, and the second was more like I was reading a story. Beautiful.

"but when I bit into the bread, I realized it was sugar."
I just loved that realisation bit :)

Megan: Yes, itsn't funny and cool that all our works, just one each, are the front page? Pretty awesome!

Maddi | Wed, 10/21/2015

Goodbye? Oh no, please. Can’t we just go back to page one and start all over again?” – Winnie The Pooh

How I do this :D

Thanks, Erin, Megan, and Maddi!!

I've been traveling and writing for the past few years, and the way I manage it (besides periodic spats of working, such as nannying, to re-fill my savings account) is by living in places where I don't have to pay room and board. You'd be surprised at the number of opportunities out there! I have WWOOFed in Ireland and America (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) - which is working on a farm/garden for 4-6 hours a day in exchange for a place to stay for free and food... (These places are available all over the world, and all you have to do is make an account on the WWOOF website in the country you want to go to.) I have house-sat in both America and Ireland (mindmyhouse.com and trustedhousesitters.com), where the owners were away because of business or travel and needed someone to care for their pets or gardens, or just keep their house warm over the winter (so I didn't pay rent, but I bought my own food) ... and for Spain, I found a family on a website called myfamilyabroad.com, and I helped them learn English and received room and board in exchange. They had a 4-year old and a 2-year old son. It was an amazing opportunity.

I love how we're all on the front page, too!!

Sarah Bethany | Thu, 10/22/2015

THAT IS AMAZING ALL CAPS. One

THAT IS AMAZING ALL CAPS. One of these days.

Erin | Thu, 10/22/2015

"You were not meant to fit into a shallow box built by someone else." -J. Raymond

I just have to say that is

I just have to say that is really cool.
You have some amazing experiences I'm sure, and you are able to put those experiences into words so well. You really did paint a picture with your words

Arthur | Tue, 10/27/2015

"My greatest wish for my writing is that it would point you to the Savior."

Thanks, Arthur!! :D

Thanks, Arthur!! :D

Sarah Bethany | Wed, 10/28/2015

:)

Just missing your writing. How are they doing? :)

Lucy Anne | Sat, 01/30/2016

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

aw

Awww, that means so much, Megan!! What a sweet comment to leave. My writing is, meh. I am leaving Martje II out to drip-dry for a bit, haha. The first draft is finished but I don't feel any desire to go near it for a while. I'm waiting for that energy to flow back in, to want to pick it back up again and re-work it.
I'm nearing the end of finishing a third novel, completely unrelated to Martje, but still historical fiction. It flowed more easily than writing Martje, and I wonder if it's just because I'm getting more used to the process of writing itself.

And I'm thinking of posting an essay about my writing journey overall :)

Thanks for the note!! How are your projects going? Working on any at the moment?

Sarah Bethany | Sat, 01/30/2016

Yes, really please post that

Yes, really please post that essay!
Yay for finishing a third novel!
My project other than what I write for class...is okay. Trying to write 2 pages a week. The last week it was much easier to put words on there than before.
Please post that essay!

Lucy Anne | Sat, 01/30/2016

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Writing two pages a week is a

Writing two pages a week is a good goal!!
And okay, I'm on it!! :D :D Haha
Thanks again for your message -- was so nice to hear from you.

Sarah Bethany | Sun, 01/31/2016

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