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Novelette: Skin So Green & Fine

Excerpt from the anthology Silver Birch, Blood Moon,
edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling,
published in trade paperback by AvoNova, March 1999.
This story was selected for The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror: 13th Edition,
and came out in hardback and trade paperback August 2000.

The day of her wedding to the Snake Man, Bonita made pastelitos to be sold on the streets of Santa Domingo just as if it were any other day. But because she was leaving her beloved Papi and the family bakery on Calle El Conde, she made these turnovers very special, with the chicken spicy the way her father liked it, extra raisins, nuts and peas.

Bonita still had the grit on her fingers from scrubbing the last iron pot when her father got back from sending the boy off with the pastelito cart. Papi's curly black hair shone with pomade and many combings. Bonita thought her father in his rented tuxedo was handsomer than ever.

"Your Most-Happy day, Daughter." Papi's smile was bright, but he wiped the sweat from his lip with a handkerchief that Bonita had laundered, pressed and scented with citrus cologne the night before.

Who would do for her Papi after she left wondered Bonita, suddenly a little dizzy now that her adventure had begun. "A lucky marriage indeed," she said dutifully. It was not the time to be selfish. Her bridegroom's wealth had saved them--the bakery's debts melted like spun sugar, even the business with the Cuban laid to rest. Her Papi was too trusting to deal with men like the Cuban.

"And who has your heart?" her father said, an old game with them. "Where is your heart, Little One?"

Bonita peered into one of his tuxedo pockets. "Is this my heart, Papi?"

He gave a gasp of surprise. "Oh, there is the heart of my favorite daughter!" He hugged Bonita to him. Her cheek rubbed against stiff gabardine. "Had not the rich man asked me for you, I would not have believed you old enough," he said. "Your sisters, now, could not wait to paint their faces and go to the clubs."

As if on cue, Bonita's two older sisters came through the bakery door.

"What are you doing in this kitchen?" scolded Raquella. "Take off that apron, chica, and show us the gown your rich bridegroom sent you!" Raquella and Ysabel had themselves only recently married, their father's sudden prosperity allowing them to find husbands in the mercado. Now they were grand senoras, with tall lacquered hair and shining red nails.

Bonita took one last look at the tiny kitchen. "Remember when Papi bought this place?" she said. "The funny name painted across the front window? Happily-God-Loves-Me-Bakery-Messenger- of-Happiness."

"A crazy thing, using the name of Our Father like that," said Ysabel. "Just like a Haitian."

There was silence. Raquella narrowed her eyes at Ysabel, who ducked her head and wiped at the countertop.

Bonita's bridegroom was a Haitian, albeit one with a sugarcane plantation somewhere in the Cibao Valley. Though the two races, brown and black, shared the island of Hispaniola, they rarely mixed. This marriage was something of a scandal.

Bonita merely smiled. "But soon you'll have a Haitian for your own brother-in-law."

"Yes," Raquella said. "And soon little babies running around! Of whatever color!"

Bonita felt her smile stiffen. "Babies?"

She had resolved to be happy in this wealthy marriage. Indeed, the part of her that spent hours gazing out the window of the bakery, wishing for the life of an adventurous woman, that part was happy.

But she had seen her future husband only once, had never touched him. How was she to make babies with this man when she was only a baby herself? For, despite being known as the most beautiful girl on El Conde Street, Bonita had done no more than hold hands with a boy. She had a face like a saint, her sisters told her. Everybody wanted to admire it, but no boys would ever want to kiss it.

As she followed them upstairs, Bonita studied the backsides of her sisters, resplendent in their snug bridesmaid dresses. They waggled before her like two heavy blooms on a fuchsia bush, one red satin and one pink. Raquella and Ysabel were married women now. Did they walk differently? With more... experience?

"Raquella, Ysabel," Bonita began. "About the wedding night..."

You've just read the first 1/10th of "Skin So Green & Fine." That's all the taste I can give you now. Can you identify the fairytale this is taken from yet? I was surprised at the many people who couldn't! If you enjoyed what you read here, be sure to look for Silver Birch, Blood Moon in the science fiction/fantasy section of your local bookstore this coming March!

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