Brazilian southeast, a farm for genetic improvement, Mariana is engaged to Juliano, godson of his father and his manager; Manuela, young and pretty, arrives to be the new teacher. Juliano has an accident. Mariana has to take care of the farm alone and, like Cowboi, who plays the bull, she takes the lead and succeeds. Manuela supports and comforts her, together they discover a new horizon.
novel by GUSTAVO HOMSI
Translated from the Portuguese
by Gustavo Homsi & Tulana Oliveira
© 2012 Gustavo Homsi
...The Lady of Dreams...
Life must go on
A day of freedom
– Eagle 4, please reply, this is Sao Paulo.
– Go ahead, Sao Paulo, this is Eagle 4.
– Routine check, can you tell me the mission code?
– Ok, understood, thank you. How are you guys?
– All quiet, soon we’ll have visual contact with the prison in Riolandia, our "passengers" are doing well, collaborative, I think we'll finish the mission on time.
– Oh boy, here is so boring, I wish I was there.
– Well, we can’t complain, weather is great, I’ve just flown over the city where I was born, I wish you had our view, it rained and the fields are green. We’re flying over the Freedom Ranch, looks like a garden. The woods, the river dams, the cattle, all white, what a beautiful thing to see!
– You know, I spent some time in Colorado USA, training. Of course it’s also nice, but not the same, the cattle stays in barns. The cows aren’t white, they are brown, they came from England. Not from India, like here. But the meat! Oh boy, there, beef is so tender and juicy.
– Stop, I am drooling!
– Look! A pickup leaves the farmhouse going to the village making dust rollers on the dirty road. What a crazy driving! So early in the morning... Something serious must have happened.
Juliano was half asleep on the horse’s back. Oh boy, this is boring. In the next months, at the beginning and the end of each day, raining, shining, holiday, holy day, he will be there, circulating among the cows. Doing what? Checking who is ready for insemination.
It was not complicated, after years there, cowboys know each cow, they put nicknames on them. The hard part is finding someone responsible and disciplined to get the job donne.
Juliano was born on the farm. His father was the earlier administrator, some college, agricultural technician, replaced his father since his death. Our days, he is the right-hand man for Juvencio, the owner.
Slow morning today, few cows show estrus. One or two have already been inseminated, but are in heat again, this is bad, a sign that they don’t get pregnant in the first attempt. But okay, the beginnings are all the same, kind of slow.
– Jurandir – shouts to his partner – Do you see? One teaser [term used to describe animals prepared to find the cows who are at fertile period without inseminate them] is over the cow, that one with the broken horn, go and get her number.
The man spurs the horse and goes away galloping. Juliano hears the sound of an engine far away; it’s the school bus arriving at the farm. They have been waiting for them, one of the New Genova High School classes. Every year they come to visit the farm.
– Jurandir, gather the cattle, time is over; and we don’t have anything else to do here today, let’s go.
– Good morning, teacher Manuela, we talked by phone, isn’t it? Good morning, everyone! Welcome to the Freedom Ranch. My name is Mariana. I’m a specialist in ruminant production and responsible for the breeding area in this ranch. This class seems livelier than last year guys! Is it right?
– Yeeeeee! – the teens answer.
– Well, it's always a pleasure to welcome you here. Basically what we do here is using the principles of genetics to give a helping hand to Mother Nature, hurrying natural selection and twisting it a bit to our side. Let's start the visit by the lab.
– Who is in this photo? – Mariana queries the teens.
– Debbie! – a joker answers.
– Joohhhnnn! – teacher Manuela warns – We'll talk.
– A nice cow – Mirian, the cheerleader, answers.
– Okay – Mariana agrees – this is our goal, to get cows like that, small neck, big and round butts! Who knows why? Except you, John! Nobody? Simple, the best meat is on the back. Tenderness! Someone here likes eating tough meat?
– We also don’t want a really big cow, they eat too much. There are many other features that we seek, such as earliness, femininity, maternal aptitude and the ability to transfer these qualities to future generations. So! When a cow is small, we use the sperm of a bull...? – Mariana asks, pointing to the biggest bull on a poster with several males.
– ...a big bull!!!
– Good, nice class. I think you got the spirit, any questions?
– Mariana – John asks – this thing of natural selection, feminine.., also works with people?
– Sure – Mariana responds without losing her attitude – this subject is exciting, I have a theory that ...
– Mariaaaana – Juvencio arrives, interrupting his daughter. – Folks, it's a pleasure to have you all here at Freedom Ranch, I hope you enjoy the visit.
– Mariana, my dear – the rancher continues – we are starting inseminations. If they want to come to the corral, it will be interesting and then we’ll have a coffee break.
Students follow Juvencio which, proudly shows the property, explaining everything.
Manuela discreetly pulls Mariana's arm and stays a bit behind the group.
– Mariana, what theory didn’t your father let you explain?
– Oh, bullshit, not a big deal, you know elder people.
– Well, tell me, I'm a biology teacher, I think I can bear it.
– I’ve been thinking, for example, do you feel horny when someone kisses your neck?
– Wow, what a question! Sorry, I don’t know, I think.. everybody… isn’t it?
– Yes… And if they also bite a little?
– Jesus, Mariana! It gives me chills; yes, I guess! So, what is that?
– Well, follow me to the time of caves; men were not exactly kind and neither our foremothers. Imagine the scene, a man trying to get her laid; the only way would be to throw her face down to the floor, his feet over her feet, his hands on her hands, right?
– I don’t know, I'm getting worse.
– Well, she might still give him some head-butts, then the only way is biting her neck tightly, penetrates her.
– Oh dear Lord, Mariana, Mr. Juvencio was right!
– So – Mariana continues, laughing – those women who could live with this, or even liked this, had more chances to procreate and become our great-great-great-grandmothers, we inherited it from them.
– Okay, folks – Mariana shouts, coming forward, still smiling, leaving Manuela perplexed. – Let me introduce Juliano, the farm manager and my fiancé.
The cow ready for insemination was completely contained in the equipment with the tail tied up.
Juliano had everything ready, he slips his arm, gloved till the shoulder and lubricated, inside the cow’s anus to guide the pipe he is carefully introducing into the vagina with his other hand. Quickly, he deposits the semen into the womb, removes his hand from the cow and massages her vagina.
Students were watching excited.
The cows seem also attending the class.
John, after a number of tricks, finished falling into the cow shit. General laughter, and end of the lesson. Juliano leads John to the locker room; the rest of the group goes to the house.
The students stepped up a few stairs to the big porch where Mrs. Maria Pia was waiting for them, drying her hands on the apron.
She is Juliano’s mother, widow of the old foreman. Maria Pia took care of Mariana after her mom died prematurely.
– Guys, everybody washing hands – Maria Pia says. – Then come to eat. Tell me folks, Mariana talked to much? Mr. Juvencio reprimanded her?
There was a huge buffet, Brazilian cheese bread – made with arrowroot –, corn cake, cheese, milk, coffee, juice, and fruits.
The students were a little shy to begin eating, then John arrived, he hugged and kissed Maria Pia and attacked the cheese breads, the guys finally came to the table.
Juliano joins to the young group, eating and talking animatedly.
Manuela is standing against one of the poles of the porch. She holds a wedge of a colored and fragrant tangerine near her red mouth. Her other hand is holding her elbow. Her arm position enhances her perfectly rounded breasts behind the discreet neckline. Her smooth and tanned skin contrasts with the white blouse. The morning light illuminates the strands of her long hair.
Juvencio, beside her, doesn’t know what to do to please her more; he talks big about himself, stories of old times.
Mariana went to the kitchen with Maria Pia. When she is coming back, she listens to a kind of naughty laughter coming from the boys group with Juliano, who looks embarrassed.
– Mariana! – calls one of the students. – Among the teasers, all males, of course, we saw a cow, Juliano began to explain, but he complicated the story.
– Actually – answers Mariana, biting a cheese bread –, our cows, all the white ones, are Zebus, from India. They produce little milk, they are a kind of wild, and it’s hard to deal with them. We like them by the ability they have to produce meat also in wild conditions, we are in Brazil. The cow you saw came here very young to grow up and to produce milk for the farm spending. That one is Dutch, European cattle, you know.
– Ok, but, what is she doing among the teasers, Mariana?
Juvencio stopped telling stories to Manuela and got worried.
– You know – Mariana recovers – when the time to start breeding arrived, nothing. No babies and, of course, no milk. Her destiny was to be steak. When she was about to be discarded, our vet, seeing my sadness, said:
– “This cow is wealthy; she doesn’t get pregnant because she has too much testosterone. Have you ever noticed how big and angry she is? She attacks, scratching the ground, like a bull! We can give her a little bit more hormone, increase her natural masculinity and use her like a teaser”.
– My God, Mariana, a dyke cow!
– Jairrrrrr! – Manuela censures.
– Almost it – Mariana continues – we prefer to call her Cowboi.
Just another day
Juvencio have never slept well, as early as three or four in the morning he starts looking at the clock. Oh God, it could be later!
He heard that sleeping was more important than anything, diet, exercise, but there is nothing to do, he simply woke up, ready, and that’s it.
When at home, he used to try to compensate with a nap after lunch.
He doesn’t want to live forever, or is afraid of dying, but he likes living. He’s been thinking about death. He began to believe that his wife wouldn’t keep on waiting for him in paradise. Bullshit, Juvencio, there is nothing beyond.
It’s nonsense to think about it, he gets out of bed and looks himself in the mirror. He slept a little, his face is not so bad, there were these bags under his eyes, and without them he would seem younger.
He had thought he wouldn't get bald; his father wasn’t, the father of his mother either. Well, his forehead was growing, okay, it doesn’t matter.
Tanned skin, white hair. He needed a shave.
He was in a good mood; the belly in the mirror was manageable, just cut the carbs. He was tall, almost six feet and a half. Well, a little shorter by now, people get smaller with age. Not too bad for a sixty-year-old!
Rich, honest, successful! Who knows? Would life bring him a good surprise?
He got dressed, made some coffee. Maria Pia would make another one when she gets working, no one could understand how he liked that dirty water.
He brought his big cup to the porch, sat down on a hammock. This porch had a low wall, a kind of bench, surrounding it, he put his feet on it, tasted the warm coffee, breathed the fresh morning air, a feeling of well-being spread through his long body.
The sun rose behind the grove, the sky turned red, and then a yellow light began to shine through. It didn’t rain, but a pleasant moisture was everywhere. Nature begins to wake up, first birds, then the cattle. He thought maybe he should start painting.
Juvencio grew up in a family with natural talents; his sisters have studied music, painting. Then the great depression came, they had a lot of culture and little money.
Fortunately, Mariana's mother was enchanted by his charm and refined manners. He was a handsome man and she was rich. He didn’t marry her only for the money, that tall woman with strict principles gave meaning to his life, before full of promise and empty of possibilities.
My father-in-law! – Juvencio keeps on thinking. He lived in a good time. The cattle increased, they needed more land? Easy! Set fire to the forest, plant grass, fire on it again, and the new pasture was ready; some salt, water to drink at the river and it was all done.
During the tropical winter, windy, hot and dry, the cattle could survive using its own reserves losing a little weight, in the summer they could come to revenge.
Now, with a lot of cattle in a limited piece of land, we must produce food in summer time and store for the winter. Beef was turned into petroleum derived, diesel oil to transportation and farming, nitrogen to fertilization, God! Oh boy! – Juvencio thinks – What a trip!
To be honest there was something running through his head: Manuela.
He couldn’t even admit it, but she fascinated him. Of course she is the same age as his daughter, he wasn’t expecting something else, but anyway she was very relaxed. He had so much to offer and she was so pretty. Apparently the age gap meant nothing to her, if she felt something about it, she didn’t show. She just stood there with her unbelievable scent, her marvelous mouth and those breasts…
– Good morning, cowboy, fell out of bed?
It is Mariana, who appears in shorts and a t-shirt, sleepy and stretching. Behind Juvencio, she hugs his father by the neck and kisses him on the cheek.
– Maria Pia arrived, she’s making a decent coffee for us. Are you coming?
– I am hungry – Juvencio answers.
– As always, isn’t it? I'll get dressed, I’ll be back in a minute.
Mariana gets headfirst in the shower, washes her short hair with an unscented shampoo, she is allergic to bees, it would be better not smell like flowers in a farm.
She wipes her ear, looking at the mirror. She turns, gets off behind the towel, and on tiptoes evaluates herself.
She is tall and slim; her skin is white and smooth. She’s got an ass, it’s not that ass, but she has one, of course she has. She looks at her breasts, firm, not large, they are nicely pointy and the nipples are pink, not too bad at all.
She raises the breast with the palm of one hand, thinks about silicone, yesterday the men were drooling by Manuela – I shouldn’t have told her that story, we had just met, poor girl, she got stunned – Oh yes, those are breasts. But no, silicone wouldn’t work for me.
She shakes the thoughts away from her head. Cotton panties today, I’ll have to ride. A top bra firmly holding her breasts, polo shirt, with the Freedom brand, jeans, boots, no heels, leather belt with a silver buckle, souvenir from Texas. Choose a cap from her collection, one embroidered with a famous Quarter Horse stallion's name, chic, ... Dad insinuated this guy was flirting with me when he gave me this cap! Really? Well! This is a nice cap, it could be….
Mariana had her breakfast, it was nice, some treats from the students' snack. Yesterday so much to eat and Manuela only had a wedge of tangerine, Jesus!
She brings a coffee mug to the office and sits at the computer, opens a spreadsheet, cows control, this work has been her life lately. Only she understands this database. Sometimes she feels herself lost. She added links to other spreadsheets, photos, statistical controls, apparently a mess, but it works.
She flats her hands over her face and runs her fingers over her eyebrows, it’s a tic, she repeats it before doing something difficult or complicated.
Today, no big deal, just checking what cows were inseminated exactly twenty-one days ago; if one of them returns to estrus, obviously she failed. By the first time, the cow gets a new insemination; if failing again, she will only get another chance, if she has a good reason. Well, here they are, she picks up the radio and calls Juliano, he must be already among the cattle.
– Hi, tiger! Good morning.
– Good morning, princess, slept well?
Before she begins telling him the cow’s numbers, Juliano tells her:
– Bad news, remind the "4642", the “Holyfield”? She came back. Cowboi is on top of her, your father already warned us that was her last chance.
– What a shame! I can see here, this cow gave birth late, a male calf, big guy, she is still breastfeeding, how is she?
– I'll talk to Dad. Do you want the other’s numbers?
– Go ahead.
Mariana watches her desk, the paperwork is enormous, worksheets for the association, records, inscriptions in sales, exhibitions. Christ! Those were the days – she thinks, my grandfather’s… a lot of cows, some bulls all together, they kept on doing what were supposed to do, procreating, the calves growing, getting fat, finally they were going to the meat plant and the work was done. My grandmother was a lady! She tries to imagine herself with one of those dresses with laces and buttons, working on an embroidery hoop among other women, Mariana laughed alone, ok, ok, back to work.
In the pasture, Juliano finishes his job and goes to the corral. The cattle comes after him; Jurandir, closing the line, drove a cow who tried to eat a sprout in the passage.
On his horse, alone, Juliano reminds last night, he had Manuela in his dreams. My God – he thinks – if Mariana suspects, I'm a dead man.
He doesn’t remind it well, it was something about Manuela, she was teaching, he was watching, whatever. He remembers those tight jeans she was wearing, the heeled boots and her ass, my God, what ass!
I'm going crazy – he thought. Horny! He felt so horny on the horse.
Do I really want to marry Mariana? Sometimes, he wonders. Once he risked a comment with his mother. He heard a lesson.
– Juliano, my son, don’t play with this. Marriage is a serious matter! Mariana is a wonderful girl, honest, she loves you. Don’t mess everything; life won’t give you another chance like that.
She might be right – he thinks, kids, everything we need to live, a quiet life. What else could I ask for?
Well! Good was in Mariana's grandfather’s time, he was famous all around, if a young girl arrived at any cabaret, he would be the first to have her. The wife at home, taking care of the family, and there he was, always having a good time!
Those stories go increasing with time, probably not everything had happened.
I’d better not play with Mariana, she is tough!
How would it be between me and Manuela? I couldn’t even think about another woman, I would stay on her day and night, oh my God, it would be heaven!
Today Juvencio wanted to talk about the next year supplies program. Mariana begins with a spreadsheet. How many cows, heifers, calves, how much do they eat, how many tons of grass will they eat by themselves, how many tons will be processed and saved for the winter time, how much will it cost? Buy, produce in the farm, what are the alternatives and the market price? Corn, soya beans, sugar cane, sunflower, sugar cane bagasse, citrus pulp. It can blow someone’s mind!
Juliano used to listen to it all, give some suggestions and he knew that at the end, it was never like the spreadsheet and he should improvise and take care of everything.
This night, Juliano stayed to dinner with Mariana and Juvencio. A farm raised chicken, braised, served in a dark and spiced sauce, the meat sleeping off the bones. Rice, zucchini with eggs and crumbs of corn flour, the ‘brazilian farofa’.
They spoke about the TV news, the subject turned, turned, until Juvencio says:
– Very friendly, the new teacher.
– Friendly! I know – Mariana joked.
– Yes, friendly, she doesn’t have your eloquence… but she is polite – Juvencio replied.
Juliano felt himself on a minefield, the smaller carelessness would be deadly.
– And about you, Mr. Juliano! Don’t you think I didn’t see you looking at her ass, men are all the same, I can’t believe that – Mariana was really nervous.
Juliano is a simple man, if he had to say something, he would tell her to shut up. He didn’t want to do this and to be honest, he felt a little guilty, he had taken a look! Everyone had looked! He wipes his mouth with his napkin, trying to get some time and looks to Juvencio expecting him to save the situation. Juvencio made an attempt, but only got it worse.
– My daughter, you should give her a chance, Manuela just arrived, poor girl! She is away from family, came late in the year to assume the post of teacher, she needs our help before she gives up, like the other teacher did.
Maria Pia hears the discussion, in fact she hated this Manuela from the very first moment, now she enters the dining room with the dessert, cocoa pudding, Mariana’s favorite treat.
– Manuela! Manuela! – Mariana is possessed. – I can’t believe that! She just got here and you know her better than me, sorry Pia, I can’t eat dessert, I'm fat. Good night, Daddy; goodnight, Juliano, excuse me – Mariana throws her napkin on the table and leaves.
Juliano woke up earlier today, he felt weird, he didn’t know why, there was nothing wrong ... weird, just weird.
The yesterday’s explosion wasn’t that bad, it was not for real, just charm; in a moment, she could call him on the radio, "Hi, tiger" and everything would be okay.
He cut the cows in heat, made the inseminations. He followed the previous selection in the mating table; each cow, each bull.
The job was done, but there was a heifer hurt by barbed wire, he was handling with her. The morning was fresh and calm. Mariana haven’t called, she might have other things to do. Women are like that, better let her cool down before anything – Juliano thinks.
Mariana also didn’t sleep well. I had been immature – she assumed –, jealous, why? It was not her nature.
She used her only child prerogatives to stay a little longer in her room, she watched the news, organized drawers, anyway, she was a little ashamed.
Suddenly Maria Pia enters desperate into her room, crying:
– Mariana, Juliano had an accident in the corral, please help him, for God's sake!
She runs out and sees Jurandir running to her.
– Mariana! Oh my God, Juliano got a kick in his face, I think he's dead!
Juliano is fallen, unconscious, his face covered in blood, an ugly wound in the mouth, a cut from the lip to the nose.
Maria Pia raises her hands up.
– Pia, give me your apron, brings me water and a clean cloth. Jurandir, go! Get some mats, bring another man and my truck, quickly – Mariana takes control of the situation.
She starts cleaning Juliano, mud, dung, blood, skin, really ugly and bad. Finally she could listen to his breath, weak, but still there, she can hear it. In vain she tries to wake him up .
– Where is my father? – Mariana screams.
– He left early, Dona Mariana, to the garage, I think.
She accommodates Juliano in the back of the truck on the mats. Mariana holds his head in her lap, now all stained with blood, trying to contain the bleeding, Mariana opens Juliano’s mouth, cleans his nose, he can‘t stop breathing.
– Pia! Look for my father by phone, send him to the Hospital.
– Fast, Jurandir, accelerates this pickup.
It will be seven miles in a dirty road, five miles on the asphalt, the longest twelve miles in Mariana’s life.
The shake awakened Juliano, who babbled confusedly with his smashed mouth:
– Tie her leg, Jurandir, be careful...
It sticks a thorn into Mariana’s heart; she holds the unconscious and disturbed fiancé’s head. She looks at the sky in a pray and cries. Why she had mistreated him yesterday? For nothing, he hadn’t said a word. She looks above and asks: – My God, forgive me, if he gets out of that, I’ll do anything.
A helicopter crossing the blue sky was all the answer she had, maybe God was too busy to help them.
Approaching the hospital, Mariana saw her father, he was waiting at the entrance with the doctor and a stretcher. Juvencio was livid.
They carry the unconscious Juliano into the hospital.
Juvencio asks her daughter:
– How is he? What happened anyway?
Mariana is all blood and tears, falls down into her father's arms.
– He tried to tell a few words, disconnectedly, he is badly hurt.
– Seu Juvencio – Jurandir is desperate, it hurts him more than in Juliano – I asked him: – Do you want me to hold the heifer, Juliano? From the early morning, he was acting oddly, tongue-tied. He said: "– No, thanks, go and get a bottle of iodine for me." I was going, I looked behind. The heifer had been squeezed in the chute and I saw him opening the rear door to examine her injury. A little dangerous I thought, but this heifer is so kind, everything was quiet; he made it so many times before. Then I heard the noise. Pah! I turned back and saw. Juliano had his hands over his mouth, trying to get out of the cattle chute, spun and fell down, unconscious. For God's sake, Seu Juvencio, Will he survive?
A Sister of Charity took Mariana inside the small hospital and aided her to recompose herself, helped her to wash up, gave her a glass of sugared water and a pill. One of the nurses lent her a clean shirt. When she returned outside, she found her father and Jurandir sitting over the balustrade, at the porch, waiting, devastated.
It would be useless to call Pia, they didn’t know anything. Should they have gone straight to the next big city, Rio Preto? No, better stop here for first aid, what agony, my God.
Finally, the doctor comes out bringing news.
– This guy is strong like bull, it could had been worse. He has regained consciousness, remembers who he is and where he is. He is still confused, but it is normal. We made an x-ray, the nose is broken, he lost a tooth, not a big deal in this scenario, the lip is really bad, must be reconstructed. He is awake and responding, but the real concern is about the brain, we have to keep him under observation for twelve hours, this is the usual thing to do in cases like that.
– Jurandir – said Juvencio –, look for my cell phone in the van, call Dona Maria Pia and updates her.
Jurandir goes away, Juvencio pulls the doctor and Mariana aside by their arms, and says:
– Well doc, you know, this boy is like a son to me. Of course I trust you, we are friends, so I’ll risk this question. Should we take him to a bigger hospital like in Ribeirao or Rio Preto?
– Yes, I am sure. Rio Preto is near and also as good as Ribeirao, a CT Scan would give us a better diagnosis. I am using compression bandage to stop the bleeding, I can sew it here, but in a big hospital, a reconstructive plastic surgery specialist can do miracles in our days. He is already medicated with antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tetanus. He could go tomorrow. Do you want to do this? Great, I'll make a transference guide to the Hospital de Base there; they are the best for traumas.
– Doc, please, who is the best surgeon of Rio Preto?
– I can make a recommendation. I'll join the test results we did here.
– Thank you, Doctor.
Mariana, who had been silent, asks:
– Can we see him, Doctor?
– Just for a moment and don’t be alarmed. Like I said, he's still confused, it is natural.
They follow the doctor through the nursing home, Juliano is already clean, lying on a hospital bed, the swelling took his whole face, his eyes are blood red. Mariana holds his hand; he outlines a smile that becomes a grimace of pain, then he speaks softly between his teeth:
– Pincess, a’you… goin…to carnaval?
Only then she notices, the nurse's shirt was from a recent party. Mariana collapses in tears.
Juvencio returned to the farm to support Maria Pia and pick up some things for Juliano; the rancher was also down.
Mariana categorically refused to leave the hospital until she is sure that the hit on Juliano’s head wouldn’t have major consequences.
She was devastated by the agony, by the remorse about the yesterday’s disagreement. Jurandir said that Juliano was silent this morning. She sat back on the balustrade and looked at the ending afternoon. What a sad hour, my God!
She slowly comes back from this blankness; Manuela is walking up the entrance ramp.
She is still dressing the lab coat, opened, the belt dragging behind her.
– Hi – Manuela said.
– Hi – Mariana replied.
Manuela sat next to Mariana and stayed there for a while, until Mariana asked:
– Did you heard about the accident?
– Yes, John told me, I ended my last class, the school is in front, I saw the pickup, and then I saw you, here, sad, looking down, holding your knees. I came to say hello. How is he?
– Bad, a cow kick… I mean… can you imagine? On his face, my God! He is strong, still resisting well and is going to Rio Preto tomorrow, needs a plastic surgery, his face is disfigured – tears drop from Mariana’s eyes.
Manuela puts his arm around Mariana’s shoulder and remains quiet while she cries. They are still there when the sun sets.
The nurse comes out.
– Juliano is getting better, more conscious, and now he can take a strong painkiller and probably is going to sleep until tomorrow.
– He must be hungry, won’t he eat?
– No way, but he is having intravenous feeding, don’t worry, he will be fine, the doctor took care of everything before leave. Juliano can be transported by an ambulance tomorrow by noon. We have your phone number, go home now, any news, we call you.
– Thank you.
The nurse came back into the hospital and Mariana said:
– Sorry, we barely know each other and I've been doing this pantomime, I look like a little girl.
– Well, you are a girl… John told me how brave you have been, you saved Juliano taking care of him all the way… and everything. In fact, I have to apologize, I am new here appearing from nowhere. You know, you were the first people welcoming me. This is important for someone alone and far from home.
– My dear – more relaxed Mariana responds –, you did a tremendous success, the men spoke only of you, we had an argument.
– Stop! I'm ashamed; your father is a charming man, different from the ranchers I used to know, so polite. Your fiancé, kind, a handsome man... Oh! Poor guy, I am sorry, the kick, I'm sure he'll be fine.
Mariana cries again.
Manuela, embarrassed because of the gaffe, starts talking over and over.
– Please, don’t take me seriously, I’m only talking nonsense, "dumb blonde", indeed, the men on your house are great to me, but I was really impressed with you.
– What? – Mariana blowing her nose.
– I liked seeing you comfortable in the middle of a men group talking about semen and things like that. Cool! And also that story you told me. I loved; it didn’t get out of my mind. You are so funny.
The babble of Manuela comforted Mariana, she felt a little better. She was being friendly at a difficult time.
– Well, now we gotta wait, I think I'll go back to the farm, bringing the news, Pia must be ... Poor her, Juliano is all she has. Want a ride?
– I think it will be on your way, then you can see where I live. I'll give you my number, if I can help, just give a call.
Life must go on
Mariana had a bad night, she woke up early and went fast to the hospital to see Juliano. Things were looking better this morning, he slept reasonably well, responded positively to the tests, vision, reflexes, questions, etc.
Neurological damage was virtually discarded, but he still had an MRI scheduled in the afternoon in Rio Preto.
Besides, the cut would still need attention. The doctor gave her a better evaluation:
– He didn’t lose too much tissue, but for a nice result probably he will need some skin transplants in two or three operations, it will take some time, but anyway... Well, the ambulance will be available at noon.
Juvencio and Maria Pia went to Rio Preto with Juliano, probably staying there for many weeks. Mariana was left in the farm, she was the only one who could keep things running in the absence of Juliano. She was able to keep inseminations going on. Jurandir's wife had already helped Maria Pia, would take care of the house.
The day was long and hard; Mariana and Jurandir blamed themselves for the accident; her, because of the stupid fight, and him for not being around.
Probably some cows in heat were left behind; patience, they would be empty another cycle.
Things were calming down on the farm.
In the summer, we don’t need to feed the cows, they graze. They only must be changed from one area to another, so as not to cut the grass too much.
– My daughter, how are you? Alright?
– Here, yes, and there?
– Okay, the MRI didn’t bring anything new and confirmed the doctor’s diagnosis, so, about the trauma, he just needs to rest. I spoke to Dr. Anthony. Do you remind Mr. Faber, our farm neighbor in Goias? So, he is his brother, Can you imagine that, what luck! He received us very well, he’s very interested in this case. The doc was right, Juliano needs two surgeries; the first one will be on the day after tomorrow. Now you, tell me how are you doing at the farm, all right?
– Everything is ok, don’t worry. I’m sending Pia and Juliano a kiss, he keeps making fun?
Mariana hung up and looked at the picture on the entrance wall. A poster, she was there, Quarter Horse Magazine, cover page, Campeonato Brasileiro de Bauru. A barrel racing, mounted riders running a cloverleaf pattern around barrels.
She missed this skinny girl, riding this beautiful mare. Firm in his head, the cap, huge, embroidered with the Freedom's brand. Her hair was long and twisted, passing out through the back opening of the cap over the adjust Velcro. A black long-sleeved shirt, with red and yellow flames, rising from the waist and cuffs. Silver buckle, jeans and ostrich boots.
The photographer did a nice job. The day was clear, a brilliant deep blue sky. The photo was taken at the exact moment when Mariana contoured the last barrel and resumed speed. She used the whip, loosened the reins and the mare jumped forward, leaving a cloud of dust that rose behind the perfect rotation. The barrel seemed like exploding.
The girl’s face was peaceful, relaxed, completely focused in her absolute determination.
What a glorious day.
In the last few years, Mariana hadn’t ridden horses as much as she used to do, no time at all. Forms to fill, cattle selecting for the sales, post-graduation, she had almost forgotten how nice animals handling can be.
The days passed. Her horse, which had been standing there, only eating and fattening, began to improve. She also returned to her old practice, her musculature was toning, she was running like a bullet in the middle of the herd, Jurandir badly accompanied her.
One day, Jurandir couldn’t hold his point, and said:
– Dona Mariana, it seems to me that you're faster than Juliano, and look, he's damned good at work.
– Ok, Jurandir, you’ve made my day. Today you will make an insemination. You took the classes, didn’t you?
– I did, Dona Mariana, and I'm good, you will see, Juliano never trusts me.
Mariana worked hard, she slept sleepily and ate hungrily! The farm was immaculate. She decided to give herself a break. She called Manuela:
– Today, I think I'll finish my job a little earlier. Have you been to the New Inn, by the river? No? Well, it’s nice there. I thought we could go there… in the late afternoon… you can get to know the place, we can drink a caipirinha, and the food is also good. Okay, I’ll pick up you. At five? Ok, bye.
Mariana asked Jurandir to clean the van, took a bath, chose some little more fashionable pants, tried a shorter shirt, her belly was flat, not even a gram of fat. But no, she didn’t like the blouse, still preferred the polo shirt, Manuela said she was fine like that, repeated the usual, without the belt and a moccasin replacing the boot. A soft colony, a little blush and lip gloss.
She looked at herself in the mirror, not bad. She turned; her short hair has a little peak going down in the middle of her white neck.
At five o'clock sharp, the cleaned van stops in front of Manuela’s house.
– I’m coming! I'm almost ready.
She lied; it took long ten minutes before she finally came out.
Manuela had a tiny waist, she had flesh but she was not fat. No way! She was wearing a short blouse, showing the belly. A female venter, really female, that's it! That's her, Manuela, tanned, blond, earrings, bracelets, high heels, colors, everything.
– Forgive me, please. My clothes don’t fit me anymore, the student’s mothers are spoiling me, they send me all kind of treats. I'm a mammoth!
Mariana did not like to wait, she had a rush to be there on time.
The scenario was from a movie, the dam, the river, wide, almost impossible to see the other shore.
The sun almost gone and the moon was already there, so near, full, pregnant, wonderful.
The inn was empty. The staff knew Mariana and nicely welcomes them. They choose a table on the deck, almost on the water.
The mosquitoes started biting Mariana’s feet. She usually wears socks and boots, the bright white skin was a feast for these stupid insects.
Oh boy! This is not my day – Mariana thought slapping on her feet and cursing.
Manuela took some baby oil from her purse, put Mariana’s feet over her lap, took off her shoes and started massaging her feet with the oil and said:
– My father loves fishing, then he used to take us together, it was nice but there were lots of mosquitoes. One day, we came back with many spots, my mother got mad with him. Then, he started “greasing” us with canola oil, nowadays I can’t smell it, but worked. Some time ago I learned that any kind of oil is also good. They don’t like the scent, you'll see.
And the night came fresh and fragrant, The sun set took away the mosquitoes and Mariana’s moodiness, the drinks arrived.
– How about the farm, how are you doing there? You must be getting crazy, alone and with all that job? – Manuela questioned.
– I have something to confess to you. I'm worried about Juliano, of course, I miss him, my father, Pia, but, God forgive me, I'm loving these days alone. I’m in a peace of mind, you can‘t imagine.
– First of all, my father gave me a break. He stopped pushing me. Because I'm his daughter, everything I do must be one hundred and ten percent perfect. Now he knows that I’m overloaded, he doesn’t ask me too much, it's all right ... But the worst is…
– There's more?
– Yep! When I saw Juliano lying there, bleeding, my heart was about to explode, you can’t imagine that. He is my brother, my buddy.
– Your fiancé! – Manuela exclaims.
– So! This is the problem, it bothers me. Because he's my boyfriend, he feels like he should control me, you know?
– Heloow! You are the boss, baby.
– I know, it's hard to understand, but this is it. Everyone expects me doing things to please him, woman’s stuff. You know. By the way, you do it spontaneously, I can see how easily you do that, by the time we realize, you already did. I have good will, I swear, but it's hard to me. And about me being the boss, is complicated. Dad looks modern, but he isn’t.
– I know, mine is just like that! I can do whatever I want as long as I’m a teacher. You’re right. I don’t mind it anyway, he’s so proud of me.
– My dad says – continues Mariana – “A man must be in charge”! Without false modesty, I am much better prepared than Juliano. Also I can ride a horse, I know how to handle the staff, I’ll be the owner of the farm, but all of that doesn’t matter, no way. The boss has to be a man! Can you understand?
– I don’t even want to try. Really good drink, caipirinha, isn’t it?
– Great, let me ask another round.
– I’ll make a sacrifice, because of you!!
They ordered dinner; the moon was bigger, yellow, disquieting. The chatting was better.
They were different and equal at the same time. Manuela also came from a rancher’s family, less wealthy, but their lands were leased for sugarcane production and this could provid a comfortable life for all of them.
Manuela soon applied for this job, teaching was the only way to leave her house without marrying. She passed a test, but not in the first places, the nearest city she could pick was New Genoa. An influent uncle was dealing to move her back home, but, at first she would have to stay some time there, in fact she was loving it.
They seemed childhood friends, half the time the two of them spoke together, laughing to death.
– You know what's worse? – Mariana asks, a little drunk – Juliano is getting well, next week he will be back, I haven’t seen him, we only talked by phone. People say that this doctor remade him better than before. The problem is… This accident increases my commitment to him. It connects me and Juliano forever, this is driving me crazy.
– Calm down, my friend! We can talk about it – says Manuela.
– My father and Juliano – Mariana continues –, they love those cows, there is no other life for them. I also like the cows, but, you know, there is much more in the world. Money isn’t so good anymore, work, risk. Actually, we could make more money if the land was leased for sugarcane, as yours family did, and spend the days here, sitting contemplating the river. Isn’t it crazy?
– Well, at home it made all the difference.
– This week I saw on the internet – Mariana is now excited –, there is a place called Museum of Comparative Anatomy, in Paris, heard about it?
– Neither did I. Do you know when Juliano will visit Paris and I will see this museum? Never!
– I wanna go to Paris! – Manuela says, also drunk.
– Exactly, you’re a biologist, would love it, it looks like Indiana Jones’s movies, shelves of varnished dark wood, and glass. There is a sequence of small real skeletons showing how fish became birds. It's crazy. Think about it, all of this in the beginning of the last century. And I’m still here, asking men for permission, working with that fucking spreadsheet, controlling if the bitch of the 4348 returned to estrus. I'm sick of this; I want to go to Paris.
– I'll go with you to the Museum of Comparative Anatomy, I liked it! We can also eat some crepes and go shopping a little bit?
– Sure. Today we can even go to the Moon!
– A toast to the moon! Mariana!
– A toast to the moon! Manuela!
– Dona Mariana seems tired today, it isn’t? This was Jurandir playing with her. He knew she arrived in the morning hours and the way she stopped the truck, she might have drunk a bit.
– Jurandir! Stop mocking me, you know I got a hangover, speak softly and look. Cowboi is on top of that cow, go and get her number, she is in heat.
And Jurandir ran, he loved these days when he was the first on the farm. He comes back with the number and continues talking.
– Next Saturday we will have the City Ball, we are all invited, Freedom Ranch is one of the sponsors. Well, people know about the accident but they are counting on you and Seu Juvencio, are you going?
– I don’t know Jurandir. Juliano has already left the hospital, he is still there because of the last visit to the surgeon, on Monday, and then he’ll probably come back. Not to work, of course, he must recuperate a few days more.
– He won’t, he can’t stop working.
– I know Jurandir, but he can’t work yet, and you must help us. Today he is fixing his tooth, that one you had found in the corral. I sent it to a dentist friend of mine in Rio Preto. I think they are having fun, he is frequently mute and she talks for two, she fills your mouth with cotton pads and keeps asking you questions, Simone, she is funny.
– I don’t know how this is, Dona Mariana, I’ve never been to a dentist. Jurandir smiles showing his perfect white teeth. On horseback, he flies into the sea of cows.
Juvencio is coming to the Ball, he’s itching to get back, see the farm, Pia stays with Juliano over the weekend. The rancher will return to pick them up later.
The Ball is more like a party in the club lounge, an infernal heat, the same black light and a mirror ball turning around since Mariana can remember.
People are wearing everything, from black tie to t-shirt, the important is the party. A nice band, Chapadão, the same as always.
Juvencio, chic, wearing the clothes Mariana brought him from Texas. He talks to the Mayor and his candidate for succession, the veterinary products shopkeeper and municipal representative.
Manuela arrives with Mariana, she was too embarrassed to come alone. They are the highlight of the party. Mariana with her friend – the beautiful teacher – are the perfect subject for the gossipers, who comment:
– Gee, this girl is really pretty, Manuela, isn’t it? What the hell is she doing here, at the end of the world?
– Who knows it! Running away from a situation? Small towns – the other answers – are small because nobody wants to live there!
What a cruel thing to say! Actually, people arrive in a new city to try something new and to be succeeded. They arrive absolutely committed and confident, they could succeed anywhere, but they are grateful and become the new city fans, forever.
For the children, it was not a matter of choice, they were born there. They hear about the big city, they want to know all about it. Some can make the inverse route their parents did and succeed for the same reasons.
Others don’t, they can’t come back, can’t go on, they can’t build a life on they own, they can only rebel and spend the rest of their lives cursing those who succeeded.
Mariana is a winner, could do her job wherever she wanted. He returned home because of her father. Now, she lives the worst of both worlds, she doesn’t have what she fought to conquer and suffers with a lot of boring guys cursing her success.
Thankfully, vulture curse doesn’t stick on a fat horse! – Mariana thinks, with an outbreath.
Manuela greets Juvencio, laments the accident. The rancher appreciates the support she has given to his daughter and says:
– At the hot times we find out who are the true friends, thank you a lot.
The teacher is introduced to the mayor. She’s already met the politician, who strives in courtesies to flatter the rancher.
The local matriarchs were watching the scene, tight in slimming-girdles purchased from the TV shopping channel, wearing her strapless blue dresses, praying for the zippers to resist. Hate is in the air, you could cut the atmosphere with a knife.
For years, they’ve been there, begging for some attention and that bitch – who has just arrived – is the image of comfort, looks like being at home, laughs, has fun with the cream of New Genoa society, that bitch!
– Girls – says one of the matrons, side by side with the other –, this teacher knows how to be beautiful. She is not slim like Mariana, but there is nothing extra, her dress follows her curves like a glove.
On the men's side, it couldn’t be different! The subject is Manuela.
– How hot she is!
– I really want to bang Manuela!
– Dude, you'll be wanting. Think! She’s just arrived in Nova Genova! No chance. On a trip ... maybe. Here? Only married!
– Well, there is a chance – says another. – Tell her you're in love. You’re rich, handsome, she’ll believe. You ask for a test drive and then, get out!
– Tubby! You're a genius.
Mariana early learned how to live with this, greets everyone, pretends to remember them all, smiles and keeps going.
Her father brought a whisky from his collection, one for special occasions; she looks into the ice bucket, disgusting and suspect, probably broken from a bigger piece, melting under this infernal heat. She thinks, my God. She prepares a glass with ice, whisky and soda for Manuela, takes a shot for herself and gives a scolding on her father who was going for the third. She never gets comfortable wearing dresses, which is a shame because she looks beautiful. Juvencio had bought this one, a gift from Rio Preto, she liked it.
She watched the couples dancing, every Ball was the same, this couple must have an incredible self-esteem, both chubby, always face to face, hands together and their asses backwards, as if they were at the Russian Ballet.
It must be my period arriving, Jesus! What a moodiness – Mariana thinks.
Manuela had escaped from her father and the mayor. Now she was literally surrounded by the bachelors in town.
Mariana took another sip of whisky and went to help her.
– Hello, gentlemen, any news? – asks Mariana.
– Nothing, all the same. And Juliano?
– Well, thank God, he will be back on Monday – answers Mariana.
– And the hangover! Someone told me about two girls a little drunk in the Inn, this week!
– Not a big deal – Mariana answers –, haven’t you ever had a hangover?
– Sure, sure!
– I mean, one of this hangovers with fear, you wake up with a headache, dry mouth, pain all over the body and still feeling like horny, all mixed up?
They were habituated to Mariana, so, they looked embarrassedly at Manuela, but, she smiled.
– Sure, sure! – the boys answer, in choir.
– This is normal – Mariana proceeds. Men who could live with discomfort, pain, were more likely to survive, as they had more children. You came from these fighters.
Their egos were massaged and begin to inflate.
Juvencio looks at the situation from afar and raises his eyebrow, he knows his daughter, she remains resolute:
– These genetic qualities – Mariana continues – are sometimes reinforced by the environment. The mother has a lot to do, just takes care of the children when they are sick. The child associates his pain with the mother's caresses, this reinforces the process.
– Sure, sure!
– Finally, it explains why men get horny when in a hangover, sometimes a lot.
– Sure, sure!
– There is a name for that, masochism! – Mariana completes.
Wow! The boys got trapped. Juvencio looks at the other side, Manuela takes Mariana’s hand and says:
– I'll touch up my makeup, do you come with me? – and drags her friend.
Coming out to the terrace, Manuela starts laughing but gives an earful in Mariana:
– My friend, you are nuts.
– Ah! I'm sick of these guys, they're too childlike for my taste, they will never grow. I caught them off guard, didn’t I?
– I told you, you’re crazy. I mean… I loved it. Aren’t you afraid? They will give a pay back, you humiliated those guys.
– I don’t know what happened with me, I wanted to kill them.
– What a night! – Manuela exclaims. I was melting there and is still hot here. Everywhere here is so hot, the school is like an oven, asbestos roof, I think, whatever – Manuela complains.
Mariana has an idea:
– The Freedom Ranch is the highest point in the area, no asphalt, trees, it’s colder there. Tomorrow is my last day playing boss; on Monday men will arrive and I’m going back to the boring work while they exhibit their masculinity. We can go there, have a few more drinks, you can help me tomorrow; I have to work a bit, just a little. And we could ride, do you like it?
– Ride? Do you mean ...
– Horses, your silly.
– I'm kidding – Manuela smiles –, well, I can do that... Anyway, staying here, I think this party will probably get worse, those cowboys must be planning something, we better go. Won’t you drive your father home?
– He's a pretty big boy, whenever he has a party he ends up here, sleeping at Aunt Cotinha’s. At least that's what he says; and tomorrow I think he is going to Rio Preto to bring Juliano back home.
– So, let's go!
Mariana's mother liked planning, she had asked her husband to raise the floor enlarging the terrace beyond the porch roof. Amid this space she left a small circle with no bricks, a camp fire.
Mariana was right, the night was delightful there, almost cold; quickly, she made a bonfire with dried logs from Pia’s stove stock.
The new moon lets the stars shining above. The city lights away. Mariana went inside and returned with a blanket, a bottle of "Black Label", other one of "Drambuie" and two glasses. She poured just whisky into her glass, mixed it half and half with the liquor into Manuela’s glass. Manuela snuggled up with the blanket and had a taste.
– Delicious Mariana, you've made this whisky better!
Mariana felt the heat, the presence of Manuela beside her. It was amazing how she talked too much at the right times and shut up herself completely at times even better. Mariana enjoyed the compliment, drank a sip from her cup, took a deep breath. The cool night air came through her chest; she felt a tremendous sense of wellbeing and peace. Freedom never seemed so beautiful to her.
A day of freedom
Manuela was a little tight in Mariana’s riding clothes. They met Juvencio waiting them with his mug of coffee.
Juliano’s accident, these days in the hospital, those things tenderized the old rancher's heart. Juliano could have died. It could have been Mariana in his place. No, he should never waste another day with small annoyances; these were good to maintain discipline, but whatever.
– Good morning, girls, the New Genoa bachelors, modestly including myself, are still wondering where they got it wrong! Juvencio continued:
– I know, I know! That Ball was slow! Freedom was probably much better. Actually, Freedom Ranch is better than ever. We have another inseminator. Jurandir told me the news.
Mariana – still half asleep – was puzzled, she thought the world was going to fall down on her head, but everything was fine for Juvencio.
And the father continues:
– My daughters, Jurandir’s wife made a fancy breakfast for you, pumpkin pie. Jurandir went up with a few more men to help him. I'll assist the insemination and do the paper work. He wanted me going to the pasture, but, you know, my backbone won’t let me ride. By the way, the horses are ready for you, if you can, please take a look at Jurandir and the cows. Manuela, you are radiant this morning!
The two girls – perplexed – are drinking coffee. Manuela bites a cheese bread, with her head down, looks at Mariana, smiling like "what happened anyway?”.
Mariana, finally awake, notices her friend... God didn’t waste a millimeter when he made Manuela's face. She must have a bit of Moorish, or from where those large and almond-shaped eyes would come? They are clear, transparent and honey colored. Her nose is small, not her mouth. It begins in tight corners and is pulpy in the middle, I think it’s like that to fit in that small face. Her hair was thick and had that little edge coming into the forehead – widow's peak – from this point, her hair swings from one side to the other. The color is the same as her eyes’ with lighter locks.
– You know what? – says Mariana. – My dad is acting differently. He bought me a new dress, that one I used yesterday, very cool to be chosen by himself. He is also well-groomed, nice haircut. I never imagined that he could spend so much time away from here. He loves Juliano, but not that much. There is something.
– A girlfriend?
– Must be.
– Nova Genova singles! Naughty boy, Mr. Juvencio.
– Well, Manuela! Don’t you know men? They are all the same. Juliano and I, we are together since I can remember. In his mind, he is still single. Can you believe it?
– Look Mariana, I have to be honest, when dating, I’ve never stopped looking at the opportunities around me.
– Sure, you are right! A woman knows what she does.
Mariana's horse was her darling, pure Quarter Horse, El Zorrero’s grandson. For Manuela, Jurandir had sealed Jurema, a half blood mare. Mariana had won a few cups in barrel racing with this mare.
They meet the cowboys, Mariana very comfortable, and Manuela watching the scene.
– Good morning, Jurandir. How many cows in estrus so far?
– Good morning, Mariana, good morning, teacher. I found twelve, I think it’s what we have.
– Ok, my dad said he would stay with you for the insemination.
– Do you see? Chic, me, inseminator, working directly with Mr. Juvencio!
– You are a joker, Jurandir, since I am dispensed I'll show the farm to Manuela, the pass towards the lake, is it opened?
– Yeah yeah – Jurandir says and goes to get the cow’s number, Cowboi was there again, on top!
– Shall we go Manuela?
– Wow, Mariana, while you talked I was watching the cowboys dealing with the cows. Their agility with the horses, how easily they do it.
– Well, I'm not bad too, to be honest, the horse does almost everything by himself.
– Seriously? – Manuela questions.
– Horses are simple creatures, like men. Instructions should be simple and accurate.
– Always, Mariana!
– Well, I was watching you riding. I don’t want to bother you, but would you like some tips?
– I am not a man, Mariana! I don’t care about you telling me what to do or how to do. If I like it, it’s ok; if not, I don’t understand it.
– Look at me, the horse's mouth is sensitive, there is also a lever system inside its mouth, you don’t need much force to stop it. I observed that when your horse runs, you get scared and push yours legs around the animal’s belly before pulling the reins. This is contradictory to the horse. Tightening or poking the belly means that you want more speed. If you want to stop, open your legs a bit and pull the reins to you. You can put your feet forward to support, if you want, look at me. Ok, try it.
Manuela relaxes the reins, slams her feet on the horse’s belly, which ran off. She opens her legs a bit and pulls the reins, the horse stops suddenly, she almost falls forward.
Mariana runs to her, but Manuela is well, she got surprised by the horse, is already laughing again.
– Why haven’t they ever told me this before? This is amazing, please, teach me more.
– Now, the turn. We have agreed that the reins are the brake, right? Okay, if you want to turn right, don’t pull both reins in this direction. Let your left hand relaxed, use it only if you want to slow down during the curve. Just open your right arm to let the animal know where you want to go. Bend your right leg back a little and push your ankle over the horse’s flank to the outside of the curve. Look at me, can you see? Again, the other side. Now you try, be careful.
Manuela repeats what she did. It seems that her leg pushed the mare’s flank, sliding out of the curve. They spin around the axis.
– Wow! This is cool! I want more.
Both run over the green, avoiding trees and imaginary obstacles.
They arrive at the lake, the place is beautiful, the cattail is flowered. Around the water; the grass is greener, and the morning is fresher. They sit in a shade, the horses drink water.
Mariana has a canteen. Manuela takes a sip, some water drips down her neck. She wipes her mouth with her back hand and asks, naughty:
– What a beautiful place, do you come here often, I mean… with Juliano?
– I would love it, my dear, but no. Juliano is so strict, time to work, is time to work, the same for eating, for going out, for… My God, men are so limited. Why they can’t mix things a little?
– I know how it is.
– We work together all the time. Why he never drags me behind one of these bushes, strip my clothes? I don’t know!
Manuela is rolling laugh. Mariana continues.
– Always respectful, he thinks he needs to ask me for sex. I know, he wants to pleasure me, but he doesn’t know how. If I try to do something different, he freezes.
– Maybe he is afraid of you getting pregnant before marriage? You know – Manuela says.
– Impossible, he knows I take the pill, I am a clock with my periods. In fact, for me to have a child, must be with Juliano. He likes me, is trustable, he would never use this child to hurt me. I think he would be a good father, anyway, he and his family has been taking care of us as long as I know; it would be unfair to have a son from another father, as you see, it's all right.
– So, to have a child, I just need to sleep with him once… What frightens me is sleeping with him for eternity.
At the sunset Mariana drove Manuela home. To get a little more time together, they stop at the sandwich trailer to eat.
– Mariana, you say these things, they are spinning in my head.
– That thing about eternally sleeping with the same man, their ignorance about women. Are we doing something wrong, who's is responsible for it?
– Last week – Mariana says – I read an interesting article. They showed pictures of naked men and women for a group of men and women.
– Here we go!
– Seriously, they were monitored, couldn’t lie. All the women got turned on by the photos of men and also by women pictures. Most men, only by sexy women photos; few, only by the pictures of other men.
– Wait, Mariana, I'm already getting to know you, are you going to do with me the same you did with the guys at the ball, aren’t you?
– No, silly, come with me back to the Stone Age.
– Oh boy!
– The men fought each other, the stronger got women pregnant. Then they went out for long periods to hunt. They depended on each other, but they were still fighting the beasts and against each other for the leadership. Pure antagonism.
– Men are just like that – says Manuela.
– The women stayed in the cave breastfeeding her kids, the other women’s kids and sometimes themselves. Sleeping all together, no longer they knew where the mother ended and began the daughter; where they ended and the other began. By this time they have learned to like affection, mouth kissing, breasts, caressing, intimacy. Now, these women’s legatees, we are demanding this from men, things about which they don’t even have a clue!
The sandwiches arrived. Mariana put mustard and attacked her. Manuela looked unsure about what to say.
When Juvencio’s pickup arrived, everyone ran to the homestead.
Juliano returned. He's slimmer. His nose seems better, it was kind of heavy, is better balanced now. A trimmed beard hides the scars. His eyes are still a little red; the words continue to come out like blowing.
Mariana runs from the stall, she is the first to hug him. Maria Pia leaves the van with some packages. Women surrounded her, they want to see the news from the city, she also changed her hair.
Juliano walks to the balcony and sits down. All these days reposing, all the blood lost, the surgery, he is weak, any effort and he gets sweat.
Everybody is saying things and asking questions at the same time, Juliano’s head spins. Mariana enters the house with her father.
– Did you have fun with your friend? – Juvencio questions.
– Yes – Mariana answers. – What are the doctor's recommendations?
– Not many, bed and food until he feels better. What worries me more is that he can’t forgive himself. He keeps on thinking about the accident and doesn’t admit having done this crap. I'm tired of talking to him. These things just happen. I think that for Christmas he'll be fine.
My God! – Mariana thinks – it's the end of the year; we have thousands of things to do. Christmas in the USA is different, the snow, everything is already done… Here we are in the middle of the season, wrong time to celebrate, she prefers St. John feast, in June.
The air at the farm, Pia’s food did miracles for Juliano’s health, life’s back to normal.
They planted corn and sunflower. When the flowers are opened and the seeds get the point, everything will be cut, crushed and compressed into large trenches and covered with tent material, the silos. Fermentation will keep food all right until the tropical winter, when the rain stops and the pastures back to sleep.
This year they planted one more grass field, Mariana wanted to gradually replace the food in silos with hay, instead of fermenting, drying the grass, as in Texas.
The school year ended and Manuela went on holiday to Lins, her hometown. Juliano got healthy and dove headfirst into work, forgot that nonsense of guiltiness. He shaved his beard, mostly forgot the sunscreen, the scars got darker, not much.
It’s vaccination day, all the herd passing by the narrow aisle, the cattle chute; it starts early and there’s no time to finish. They have to squeeze a dozen cows into this little space and give them an injection. Cows, of course, don’t collaborate; it’s a war to put them in there. One climbs on top of another, interlaced legs in seemingly impossible positions to happen. Needles, horns, bumps, pull one’s tail, slap another in the face, a fight.
At the end of the day, heat and dust are unbearable, the men are tired. Everything is more difficult for cowboys and cows; and there is always a more temperamental animal.
– Beware! – Juliano alerts. – Cowboi comes along and she is furious!
He was right, the cow bumped on against one side of the fence, then on the other, stuck a leg out of the chute, another cow fell on top of her. Cowboi broke her hand.
– What the fuck! Must be Cowboi?! That stupid cow! Oh my God! Hurry! Remove the other cow off her – Juliano says.
What a sorrow! Accidents are part of the deal, but a hurt animal is always very sad. It doesn’t understand what is happening and keeps looking at you, confused.
Juvencio, who is watching in silence, finally speaks.
– Come on, folks, there is nothing to do, separate her from the others, give her some water to drink. Juliano, call the butcher, he must be in lack of meat, the day after tomorrow will be a holiday.
– Seu Juvencio – Juliano insists – let's try to fix the bone, it’s the hand, maybe it heals, Mariana loves this cow.
– Time waste, you know that, Juliano. I understand your concern, but it will be money, time and misery for nothing, she’ll only get worse.
– But ... to the butcher?
– Well, Juliano, this cow is still healthy by now. She is Dutch! European cattle, Mariana is always saying that they are softer, the best stuff to eat, isn’t it? Turning to the men, he still says:
– Back to work fellows, I’ve just remembered that, in the middle of this week, we’lll have this fucking holiday, only to mess up our work.
And there goes Cowboi!
Well, these things are sad, but they do happen. The cowboys were disappointed, but anyway, soon they are back to work.
There is nothing better than get into a corral full of angry cows with pointy horns to maintain concentration. All unnecessary thoughts are magically vanished from their head. They were back to the routine.
Vaccination lasted all the next day. A few cows needing some healing were separated. Juliano would take care of them in the holiday.
Mariana spent the holiday with her friend Manuela, she had returned to resume classes.
It rained overnight, the sun came in the morning; it was a beautiful day, fresh. They were having lunch at Juvenal’s.
Juvenal was born there, in Santa Genova, he worked for a while in a fancy restaurant, Barbecue, in Rio Preto. He returned full of nine hours, manners, special cuts, Angus beef here, Angus beef there, anyway, the city finally had a restaurant.
Juvenal rented a small house at the central square, in front of the church. He took out almost all the walls, a few tables on the sidewalk, others in the yard, under the shade of a mango tree. He received the girls with style.
– What an honor! City's most beautiful ladies in my establishment! Where would the ladies like to sit down, please?
Manuela and Mariana greet the guys, the same from the Ball, they’ve already had lunch and were still drinking beer in a table at the sidewalk.
– Here, on the sidewalk? – Juvenal asks. – Ok, under the tree! Sure, I’m coming back in a minute with our menu.
The girls saluted a few more people, and finally chosen a table near the wall, watching the shaded patio.
– Gee, how nice! – Manuela speaks. – I’m glad you came to see me.
Mariana looked at her friend blushingly; she was a little shy with displays of affection.
Manuela’s hair was shiny, smooth, tied and meticulously messy. She used a flowery dress more for short than for long, yet elegant. She wore low heel shoes and stood almost as tall as Mariana, who was wearing a ballerina, light skinny jeans and a tight white shirt highlighting her shoulders and her slim waist; today she had a clip on her short hair.
– Ladies, please excuse the delay, the holiday surprised me, but we are already here to answer all your desires! Soon it will be calmer, here are the menus and here is our welcome drink, on the house.
Without asking, he took out two shots from a tray, cachaça and honey and put them on the table.
– Light and delightful! – says Juvenal – Try it. We were about to close the kitchen for lunch, but of course we will serve you first. The today’s special, as you can see, is "entrecote", grilled over real wood coal. Served with cabbage, purple and white, and Japanese sauce.
– I’m not sure Juvenal, rib? This is a first world kind of thing. Here, meat, if we are not talking about rump coat or tenderloin, only on pressure cooker. I don’t want a steak reminding me the sole of my boots!
– Trust me ladies, the meat is nice. I’ll be back in a minute, make your choice please.
– Wow, Mariana! You know everything.
Again embarrassed by the compliment, Mariana changes the subject.
– Did you like the drink?
– I loved it – Manuela agree and insists – I have no talent for those man’s subjects, but when you're talking about that, I kind of like, you speak in a way that I understand.
– Silly! So, what do we eat? This menu is a trip around the world, pizza, hamburgers, pasta, kebab, it has everything.
– I don’t know, too many things to read. What are you going to eat?
– Today’s special, I think.
– For me the same – Manuela decides – I get mad when I ask for something and someone’s dish is prettier than mine. Do you mind if I ask the steak well done? I almost faint if I see blood.
– No problem, at all!
Juvenal is back with a bowl, cucumbers and carrots cut into sticks, in a very cold and salty water.
– The appetizer and another drink, sorry about the delay. Are you ready to order?
– Let's try the entrecote, one rare and the other well done – Mariana says naturally.
– Excellent choice – Juvenal says, spins rapidly and leaves the scene.
– Juvenal is funny – Mariana comments. These vegetables are really crisp.
– You know, he bothers me – Manuela confess – I came here with the mayor. He brought me to lunch, to show the city big gratitude because I have accepted the position; and then tried to bang me. I couldn’t believe, I think he’s married, has children.
– Asshole! At this time, Juvenal, to flatter the mayor, spent the lunch offering me a lot of things I didn’t know, snubbing his "great" knowledge.
– Oh! Really?
– So, I liked how you answered him, firmly. You’ve made intelligent questions, chose the dish and told him that I wanted the meat well done; he didn’t wrinkle his nose like he did with me before. I felt good.
– You are mocking me!
Everything was really good. The last customer left, the evening was calm, quiet, the garden scent.
Of course a few sips don’t eliminate the major problems, but dissolve the small ones. That delicious feeling of togetherness, the lazy afternoon.
– Ladies, well done to the teacher, au point to Mariana. Our Japanese salad. The original recipe had sesame oil and soy sauce. I added grated ginger and chili pepper. I hope you enjoy the meal. Something to drink, a glass of Carmenere, beer, rafraichissement, mineral water? One sparkling and one still, perfectly.
The turn and the triumphant exit.
The girls laughed at him.
– Liked the salad? – Mariana questions.
– Cabbage is always Cabbage, but the mix of colors is beautiful, enhanced the dish, the taste is really different. And you, did you like it?
– I'm amazed, the salad is delicious and the meat, oh boy! I don’t know where Juvenal got this meat, soft, juicy, perfect, I regret by not having accepted that glass of wine.
– Ask for it, I’ll take a sip, is it too dry?
Eating together, this is intimacy...
– Girls, how's everything?
– Juvenal, my dear, you really know what are you doing. Manuela, who is not carnivore, ate everything. Accept this as our best compliment.
– Oh God, thank you – the cook raises his hands, theatrically – my talent recognized by people who really matters, it was my dream. A dessert? No? Coffee? No, of course. No, no, no, no check, this is the first time that you give me the honor of your visit, I owe a lot to your father, Mr. Juvencio.
He came back with the tray.
– My dears, I am offering a last drink, a homemade Jabuticaba liqueur. This is a tiny cup, I'll leave the bottle here and I'll go back inside. I have to work on Sunday’s menu. There is nobody else in the restaurant, but if you need me, just call. I loooved you liked – almost a pirouette and there goes Juvenal.
– Ma! – Manuela joins her hands like clapping and continues. – This guy is hilarious, I’ve never had so much fun, that's great.
Mariana, so good facing situations, blushes and serves the liqueur into Manuela’s glass.
They drink a sip and breathe. The alcohol evaporates and spreads that warm and comfortable feeling into their bodies.
– Cheers to Juvenal, our host, wizard of steaks and liqueurs – Manuela toasts.
Mariana takes a sip, fills the glasses again, smiles at Manu. In her head a thousand things, spinning at the same time. Her mother, who died too soon, her life as an only child, a father who needed a son. Everything so hard, every day was a fight, a conquest. Now she's here. Who knows why, suddenly, it all made sense, no doubt. Her heart beats strong, heat rises through her body.
– Hey, Ma! Wake up, are you okay?
– Oh baby! Sure, I'm sorry, this week was complicated, a cow died on the farm, I think her spirit passed here.
– That is crazy, I think this is only the jabuticaba doing effect.
– No. It's true. Cowboi, do you remember her?
– Of course, poor cow!
– We all loved her, now I don’t know, I think she is inside of me.
– Ave Maria!
Mariana is purple, everything is turning around her and she says, speaking with difficulty.
– I'm about to attack you!