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    Frances De Pontes Peebles

    30. The Drowned Woman

    By Frances De Pontes Peebles

    It was the summer of the year Juscelino Kubitschek was elected president of the republic, the summer when the drought in the farmlands got worse. The summer when someone mysteriously opened all of the birdcages at the Madalena Market, and for an entire Saturday morning canaries and parrots and sabiás flew free in the square as the vendors waved their hats and makeshift nets and tried to reclaim the birds. It was the summer when my grandmother’s nurse washed ashore in front of our beach house. She wore a flowered dress and her shoes were missing. Her body was bloated and stiff, and one of her arms stood straight up in the air. No one knew what had happened to her.

    We were finishing lunch when the body came ashore. Our cousin Dorany ran into our dining room.

    “They just found a dead woman on the beach,” he panted.

    He was in his swim trunks and bare feet. I remember there was sand stuck to the hairs on his chest. My father would have never allowed Dorany into the dining room like that under normal circumstances. He put down his napkin and slid out from behind the table where he and my mother had just begun their meal. In our house, the children ate first and always at a separate table. Our meals were simple. Lunch was meat, beans, and rice. Dinners were always some kind of soup: black bean, or vegetable, or chicken, with a cup of cold milk. We were not allowed to have sugar. Every once in a while my mother made us a plain yellow cake with a small swirl of chocolate in the center, which was a luxury. Looking back I realize we were well fed, even healthy.

    My father’s untouched serving of calf brains steamed on his plate. They were white and covered with tomato sauce, which looked to me like chunks of blood. My mother ate plain rice, steamed pumpkin, and black beans, all in separate piles on her plate.

    My brothers and I stared at my father expectantly. He looked confused. I squirmed to the rim of my chair, making my skirt hike above my knees.

    “Let’s have a look, then,” he said slowly. . . . Read More.


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