Mary Bryan Stafford

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The following is an excerpt from my novel in progress, A Wasp in the Fig Tree:

The Camileño


I was fourteen when I learned to keep a secret.

I should’ve stayed away from the Camileño, but it drew me like the moon draws the tide. Caballeros a hundred years past camped at the outpost while they dipped cattle for ticks and castrated bull calves. And even though the ranch hands grinned above our heads, my best friend Burt Charles and I believed their stories about vaqueros calling spirits forward to dissolve their fears. Only then would the deserted bunkhouse accept the engraving of their names on its stucco walls.We rode out with every intention of signing our names on its antiquated stone, but Burt Charles pulled up his horse. “I’m not going any farther, Isabel Martin,” he said. “You can make fun of me all you want to. I am not going.” He was already turning his horse back to the barn. “Those old stories sound scarier in Spanish,” he called over his shoulder, managing to flaunt his fluency in the language while dignifying any qualms he had.Here in South Texas, he was easily identified as a gringo with his hazel eyes and light skin. And his smile, wide and genuine, robbed you of all misgivings. He tanned golden. Despite the fact that I too was a gringa, I tanned the color of a wet pecan. Seeing my dark hair and eyes, most strangers who came up to the house let loose with a tornado of Spanish. I hated that. As Cyrus York’s niece, I saw myself as different from the local folks—special. I followed Burt Charles back that afternoon, but I had much to prove when I was fourteen. Even as a dark flower of premonition blossomed in my belly, I said, “I’ll be going back out there, mister—with or without you.” Had I written my name that day, I would not have had to return. And that would have made all the difference.





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