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Winter
2009

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The Mango Woman
Jan Steckel

“Stop the guagua!” the Peace Corps volunteer called out, and elbowed her way out of the bus. Cars had stopped and people were milling around. She saw a motorcycle tipped over and someone on the ground in what looked like a pool of motor oil.

It wasn’t oil, but blood. The man’s left leg had been severed at the hip. The artery seemed to pulse faintly, then stopped as she watched. She knelt in the spreading pool and put her fingers to the man’s neck as she had learned in her CPR course. His light eyes, surprising in his dark face, seemed to gaze into hers, until she realized they weren’t blinking. He was warm, but she could find no pulse.

“He’s dead,” said the men around her. “Muerto.” She knew she should try to put pressure on his wound, start CPR—but what for? What ambulance would come for him out here on the two-lane road that passed for the main highway of this one-horse, two-bit country? Did they even have an EMS system here? She didn’t think so. She imagined pumping on his chest; it would only force the blood out that big artery where his leg used to be even faster. And what if, through some miracle, she “saved” him? What kind of life was there here for a legless man but that of the beggars who accosted her daily? She got up slowly, away from the stare of the dead man. She walked to the side of the highway to hail another guagua. The hem of her golden sundress glowed red with his blood.

Night after night, she dreamt of the man’s gray eyes fixed on the cloudless sky, and of his blood on the pavement. She stopped eating breakfasts, then lunches too, continuing to eat only the mangos that fell from the trees everywhere. For two weeks she ate nothing but mangos, until a blistery rash broke out on the corners of her mouth and she turned scarlet from head to toe.  She thought perhaps she was ripening, like the blushing mangos, but the doctor in the capital said she had developed an allergy. She must not eat mangos anymore, or her throat might swell up and choke her, like a fruity hand strangling her sweetly.

Ruben wove his little Honda motorbike in and out of the traffic. He was thinking of Amalia’s ripe breasts, golden mango-colored skin, and straight black hair that fell to her waist. He was going to pick her up in El Fondo del Aguacate, the slum by the National Zoo. Her brothers were probably sneaking into the Zoo and stealing eggs from the Egyptian geese and the West Indian whistling ducks to make a midday meal. If they were feeling bold enough, they might even make off with a guinea hen’s brood. The chicks made crunchy fried treats to serve to a gentleman caller.

After they ate he’d take her to the Malecón to walk by the sea, and tell her about his home in the campo, Las Terrenas outside of Samaná. Her breasts would press against his back on the way there, as she clung and shrieked happily in mock fear every time he swerved. He’d buy her a chilled fruit licuada from the guy running the blender off a car battery in the shade. Do you want papaya? Do you want pineapple? Plátano? Guanabana?

Mango! she’d cry. Always mango, nothing but mango.  He’d pay for the fruit drink blended with milk and ice, and she’d slurp it happily as they walked on colonial stones. He was imagining the sweet mango-flavored kisses he’d pluck from her mouth when the truck driver pulled over suddenly without seeing him. Neatly the truck’s bumper, already twisted up and sharp from a previous accident, sliced through the joint between his leg and his hip, like a knife paring fruit.

In the seconds between the ceasing of his heartbeat and the exploding of his neurons, an angel moved into the space between him and the sky. She was all dressed in gold, and her skin was white as the sand at Las Terrenas beach.  She touched his neck gently.  He felt heaven pouring into his mouth and eyes as his soul flew into her hand.  She held it there for a moment like a frightened chick, then tossed it up and away into the cerulean sky.