The Snake with Heads at Both Ends

by Dennis Vickers

How Carmen Maria Caridad Milagros Became Two Women

Carmen Maria Caridad Milagros’ spirit was like a steep mountain, where rivers rush down plummeting slopes in torrents cutting deeply into the soil and stone, half in the east slope, half in the west. Such rivers carry life to the fertile valleys, no matter which direction they flow, but they disfigure the mountain’s surface and score her with bottomless ravines. So it was with Carmen Maria: fierce, uncontrollable desires ran through her and rendered her profoundly scarred.

From her birth, Carmen showed righteousness not seen before in the village. She learned Bible lessons so well her teachers feared questioning her lest she turn the table and take up the questioning. Brother Pedro, who taught Sunday school for five years, once proclaimed Jesus’ observation about rich men having as much chance to get into heaven as through the eye of a needle was about greed, not wealth, the former being a sin, the latter not. “Do you suppose Jesus didn’t know the difference?” she asked Brother Pedro. “Do you think with his disciples standing by recording every word he had a little slip of the tongue?”

“One day she will be a saint,” some predicted, but puberty swept over her like late summer storms and drove churning, muddy waters into the ravines down her west slope. When her fiesta de quinceañera came, already her dark eyes burned like hot coals when she fixed them on a young man.

The old women who managed affairs in the village watched with apprehension as Carmen grew up, wondering if her fire would consume her, or a man would come to feed her beast, or God would have mercy and intervene. One day, under the Ceiba tree by the market, Senora Gutierrez remembered, “Armando Ortega fed his donkey hot chilies and worked the animal’s manure into the soil in his garden, all in a proud attempt to grow the hottest chiles in the village. It’s unnatural, chiles so hot. Soon his garden could be seen from miles away. His habaneros glowed in the dark.”

“Still he didn’t stop,” Senora Motejo added, “not until a kitchen fire destroyed his house.”

“A bowl of his chiles burst into flame in his kitchen and set fire to the house,” Senora Gutierrez completed the story. The other women nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same with Carmen Maria,” Senora Gutierrez continued. “If she doesn’t find release one day her body will burst into flames like Ortega’s chiles and her kitchen will catch fire.”

“Consuming her and whoever is fool enough to awaken her beast,” Senora Motejo added. “Someone might die eating that chili pepper, ridden to death like a borrowed donkey.”

“Perhaps she should wear a sign,” Senora Gutierrez suggested.

“A bell around her neck,” Senora Motejo said.

The men and boys of the village took the old women’s warnings seriously. They might taste Ortega’s chilies, when drunk or on a dare, but they kept their hands off the budding she-pepper Carmen Maria.

Being alone gave Carmen Maria time to develop the other side of her nature, and so she went to Mass every day, sometimes twice, and took responsibility to clean the church sanctuary once a week and keep the candles replenished. One day she was throwing out spent candles when young Father Espinoza arrived from Saint Thomas seminary to assist aging Father Jiménez. “You must melt down the remnants,” Father Espinoza said as he came up behind her. “Together they will be reborn to make a new candle, a thick, stiff one that will burn bright as the morning star.” Carmen Maria turned to see the handsome young priest for the first time. His curly black hair, shorn at St. Thomas’s to teach him humility, had grown back twice as luxuriant as before into a lion’s mane that reminded women to attend mass. This and his gentle brown eyes, soft and tranquil as a dairy cow’s, captured the attention of the young woman below Carmen’s neck. “A thick, stiff one,” she whispered. At the same time, the young priest’s collar and beatific continence enthralled the young woman above her neck. “Like the morning star,” she whispered.

Seeing Carmen’s burning dark eyes, lashes long and sultry, blinking with arousal, irises shining with the black gold from which saints’ souls are made, caused Father Espinoza to draw breath in until his chest pushed against the buttons of his shirt. Celibacy may be easier to contemplate than to practice, he thought. “You are here to assist the priest?” he asked.

“Shall I show you your room?” she suggested, caressing the side of the bowl she held as if rubbing a kitten’s belly.

The old priest, Father Jiménez, found the young one, Father Espinoza, a few hours later, prostrate before the altar, tears streaming down his cheeks, reciting the Our Father, repeating several times the part that goes “lead us not into temptation,” every time he came to it. Jiménez immediately suspected possession. He went straightaway to Espinoza’s room, where he found no demon, but two young women sitting on the bed, back to back. “Carmen Maria, who is...?” he began, but when both girls turned he realized they were both Carmen Maria. He stepped out of the room and closed the door behind him. “Madre Dios!” He made the sign of the cross and sent for the old women.

“Their hair has been braided together,” Senora Gutierrez observed when she first saw Carmen and Maria.

“No! Every hair roots in both heads!” Senora Motejo whispered, looking closer.

“Impossible!” Senora Gutierrez said.

“Satan’s work!” Senora Motejo said.

“Or God’s. It’s not for us to decide. These girls need our help.”

The girls looked identical, but the old women detected one was restless while the other was serene. Working carefully they snipped each hair at Maria Caridad’s scalp, leaving her bald as a calabash gourd, while Carmen Milagros they left with beautiful, shining black hair to the bottom of her back. “The quiet one won’t need such hair, and the troubled one will need every advantage,” Senora Gutierrez predicted. When the haircut was finished the girls went their own ways, Maria Caridad to pray in the church, Carmen Milagros to find a job in the tavern. The old women never spoke of how they found them.

How Carmen Milagros Found Compassion

“Take everything off,” Carman Milagros hissed. “No socks, no shirt, no rings, nothing.” She huffed through flaring nostrils, flashed her dark eyes, lifted her luxuriant eyebrows. Miguel Salazar unzipped his pants and pulled them over his skinny thighs. “Everything,” she repeated. He pulled his shirt over his head and slipped off his rings (one to honor his high school, the other to honor the prosperity he found as a bank clerk). He lay flat on his back and considered the ceiling. His thighs twitched.

“Glasses too,” Carmen added. “You won’t need them.”

He removed his glasses, set them on the nightstand, resumed viewing the ceiling, now blurry, a washed beige color, criss-crossed with tiny lines like an old woman’s cheekbones.

Carmen squeezed body lotion into her right palm and stroked his penis gently. “Undulé, Rodney, you have work to do this day,” she whispered.

“Miguel,” Miguel corrected.

“I don’t care what your name is,” Carmen said. “I speak to this naughty one.” She stroked his penis again, smiled diabolically at the result.

Miguel shivered with anticipation.

Carmen pulled herself fully onto the bed, threw one brown leg over his torso. “Relax,” she said. “Trust me.” She reached down and slipped his rigid penis through her shimmering labia. She thrust her pelvis back to complete the insertion, burying him to his testicles, and began to roll her hips forward and back, rocking to the sides as she did. She reached back to grasp his legs above the knees, squeezed his skinny thighs powerfully, threw her head back, swung her long, black hair like a pennant in a stiff breeze.

Miguel’s eyes crossed before his first organism, and the ceiling became a throbbing beige blob. He attempted to focus on Carmen’s face but could make out only her flaring nostrils, flashing eyes, blood-red lips drawn into a pouting bow.

Carmen was just getting started. When she achieved her first orgasm Miguel lost the sight in his right eye and his left leaked tears like a wooden faucet. “Hold me here,” Carmen huffed. She placed his willing hands on her flanks. “Feel how firm?” she said. “I squeeze juice from a lime through a pinhole in the end.” Miguel tried to focus on her face again. It was puffy, her eyebrows big as wooly bears, her lips protruding out fishlike.

“Don’t buck!” Carmen hissed. “I hate that. Relax, enjoy, let me work. I know exactly what you want.” She closed her eyes, squeezed with her pelvic muscles, lifted herself up to draw his penis out like a stretched balloon.

He sighed from deep in his soul.

“See, Encanto? You like this? Isn’t this nice?”

Miguel gurgled in response; his mouth dribbled spittle. Carmen’s words made up the last question he would consider. As she rode to the first of her four orgasms, he lost the hearing in his right ear, then his left.

“Squeeze my tatas,” Carmen said. She grabbed the backs of his hands and moved them to her heaving breasts. “Squeeze!” she demanded, and he squeezed, though he heard not a word.

As she approached her second orgasm, the sight in his remaining eye faded. He didn’t notice. As she ground her clitoris into his pubic bone to bring her third orgasm, he stopped breathing, but she forced her fists into the flesh under his ribs and brought his breathing back. With her fourth orgasm Carmen screamed, “Santa Madre!” and dust fell from cracks in the ceiling plaster. Meanwhile Miguel completely lost his ability to speak.

Satisfied with four orgasms, Carmen slid Miguel’s penis out of her. It was stretched halfway to his knee and flat like a deflated balloon. She rolled him over and slapped his butt. “Wake up, Encanto,” she said. “We’re finished.”

He made a noise like gas escaping a dead horse.

“Damn it!” she said. “Another one? Men aren’t stitched together the way they should be.” She went into the kitchen and called through the window for her neighbor’s son, Jose. “Go to the hospital,” she shouted. “Tell them to bring the ambulance! Tell them I’ve done another one!”

The ambulance, a four-wheeled wagon pulled by two mules, compartment on the back painted white, arrived an hour later. The attendants rolled Miguel into a blanket, naked and whimpering, and swung him onto their stretcher. Owner of the mules and ambulance driver, Roscoe Rosario, clucked like a chicken as they loaded Miguel into the wagon through the back door. “This must stop!” he shouted for the neighborhood to hear, glaring at Carmen’s front window. After they delivered Miguel to the hospital, he continued on to city hall. “She’s done another one,” he told Mayor Rodriguez.

“Who?” the mayor asked.

“Carmen Milagros.”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” the mayor said. An hour later, he knocked on Carmen’s door. She answered in her bathrobe, her hair wet from showering.

“This must stop,” he began.

She turned and walked into the house, Rodriguez following, keeping his eyes on the floor. He was afraid to be in her house alone with her, but this was not a conversation for the doorway. “The village plaza has four corners; now each has its victim of Carmen Milagros. Each has a pitiful man sitting cross-legged on a woven mat, head lolling, regarding the world from blind eyes and deaf ears, mind turned to masa by your treatment.”

“Did I force them to come here?” she asked.

The mayor shook his head.

“Did I ask them to come here?”

Again, he shook his head.

“I can’t create lust; I only release it.”

“When they came to your door they were unbroken men.”

“Who came of their own free will. Did I surprise any of them? Did I mislead any of them? Each got exactly what he came for.”

“Contributing members of society. Now they live on the meager donations pity brings.”

“They survive on donations. They live on memories,” Carmen corrected.

“Who knows what goes on in those addled brains? All I know, the plaza has four corners; now it has four beggars. This must stop!”

“Who am I to turn away men who come of their own free will?”

“The town can afford no more. Our charity is exhausted.”

“Any one of them would return here in a heartbeat.”

Rodriguez considered this. “How do you know?”

“Ask them,” Carmen suggested.

Rodriguez considered this as well.

*****

That evening the mayor knocked on the door of the home behind the church where invalids were kept. Maria Caridad, who had taken over managing the home along with cleaning the church, answered.

“I must speak with Miguel Salazar,” Rodriguez said, pushing through the doorway.

“Speak to him,” Sister Caridad corrected. She led the mayor to Miguel’s bed, where he lay with his eyes staring blindly at the ceiling. “You’ll get no response.”

“Miguel?” Mayor Rodriguez whispered, leaning over Miguel. “I have a question.”

Miguel stared at the ceiling.

“You see?” Maria Caridad said.

“Would you go back to Carmen Melagro’s house?” Mayor Rodriguez continued bravely.

“Are you loco?” Sister Caridad shouted. “You’d turn him back to the she-devil who made him this way?”

“If it’s his own free choice,” Mayor Rodriguez said over his shoulder as he leaned closer, straining to hear Miguel answer. “Besides, we don’t know what she’ll do. Perhaps she’ll make him sound again.”

“Hah!” Sister Caridad cried, leaning close to his ear. “I know exactly what she’ll do, and it won’t make him whole.”

Mayor Rodriguez smiled and nodded in Miguel’s face, hoping to draw out an answer to his question. “You are a woman of God,” he said over his shoulder. “You can’t know what she’ll do.”

“She is my sister,” Sister Caridad confided. “I know her like I know myself.”

Rodriguez stood up straight, turned to face her. “Your sister?”

“Twin.”

“How can sisters be so different?” Rodriquez wondered.

“Every woman is two women,” Sister Caridad said, “Christ’s bride and man’s whore.”

Rodriguez remained silent, considering this.

“Two sides to one coin, head and tail.”

“Grrraaumph,” Miguel Salazar mumbled. For a moment he focused his eyes on the mayor’s as if there was sight in them again.

“What did you say,” Rodriguez whispered, leaning in close.

“Muuuurrrhhh,” Miguel said.

“More?” the mayor asked. “More Carmen Melagro?”

“Muuuurrrhhh,” Miguel repeated.

“He wants to return to her house,” Mayor Rodriguez concluded.

“Ridiculous,” Sister Caridad said. “He said nothing intelligible.”

“Help me take him there.”

“Never!”

“Then I’ll call the ambulance,” Rodriguez said and he did.

*****

“He asked to be brought here,” Rodriguez told Carmen when she opened the door. She wore a gauzy pink nightgown, silver slippers, and Miguel Salazar’s glasses. “It’s his own free will.” Behind him two attendants held a stretcher. Miguel stared blankly into the stars from under a sheet.

“Or course he asked to return,” Carmen said. “What did you expect? But he’s worth nothing now. He’s no good to me.”

“Perhaps you might be good to him,” Rodriguez suggested.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s cruel to leave a man one stroke short of an orgasm, isn’t it?”

“I never do,” Carmen said.

“Yet here is Miguel Salazar, one step short of paradise.”

“I see what you mean,” Carmen said.

“You can’t leave him like this,” Rodriguez said.

“Bring him in,” Carmen said.

That evening Mayor Rodriguez brought Miguel Salazar, Ernesto Garcia, Dominic Lopez, and Fernando Martin to Carmen Melagro’s door. Sister Mary Caridad complained bitterly as each was taken from the invalids’ home. “You’ll kill them!” she predicted.

“It is their own free choice,” the mayor answered, both when he took them away and when he brought them back, dead as drowned cats.

Carmen used the best of her art, namely precise, gentle handling of their penises and testicles, to insure each man huffed his soul out at the very moment his penis spurted its final eruption.

How Maria Caridad Found Passion

“My father married the lustiest woman in the village,” Sister Maria Caridad confided to Father Jiménez through the confessional lattice. She ran her fingers back through her hair, which had grown back thick, black, and shining long before. She kept it cut short, since long hair invites conceit. She sat up straight, as she always did, her breasts pushed up and forward.

Father Jiménez was quite old, twenty years past any sexual desire and blind as a potato. At seventy-seven, his only vice was the chocolate cookies the women of the parish baked for him. “I remember your father,” he answered.

“It was the same with my father’s father, and his father, always the lustiest girl for his bride, no one else would do.”

“I remember,” Father said.

“While my mother married the kindest, saintliest man she could find,” she continued. “And my mother’s mother, and her mother, and so on as far as anyone remembers, always the kindest, saintliest man in the village.”

“What is your point,” Father asked, thinking about the cookies waiting in the rectory.

“Do you remember how Armando Ortega took seeds from the hottest habaneros and inbred them fearlessly until his pepper plants glowed like red fireflies in the night? Each year his chilies grew hotter?”

“I remember.”

“While his wife, Luciana Ortega, took sweet chilies for seed, and pollinated with even sweeter chilies and did this until her’s were the sweetest chilies in the valley.”

“Your point?” Father repeated.

“Armando succeeded because he walked in one direction. Luciana the same -- one direction.

“Yes, success of a sort.”

“My parents crossed their purposes. My father took my mother as wife because her character was what he wanted, and she took him for husband for the same reason, yet the characters they pursued are directly opposite -- mules hitched to the front and back of one wagon, one pulling north, one south.”

“Did they get along?”

“Each loved the other; of course they got along.”

“So that worked out well for them, no?”

“A chili can’t be sweet and hot.”

The old priest smiled. “People are not chilies.”

“But how...?”

“You will never find peace so long as you deny your nature. I know we priests talk that way, advising our flocks to avoid intense pleasure except the pleasure of communion with God, but we only do that to get attention. None of it is true.”

“What do you mean?”

“Temptation can be God’s tool as well as Satan’s.” He paused and looked up at the ceiling of the confessional as if he could see it. “You know Francisco Noriega?”

“The banker?”

“He is a handsome man, in his prime, rich, but greedy as a hungry cat, won’t give anything to the poor. One day the dogs of hell will come for him and he’ll find he can take none of his wealth to the burning pit. You can save Francisco from this terrible fate.”

“How?”

“In him the only drive stronger than the love of money is his weakness for beautiful women. Give yourself to him on condition he donates a substantial sum to the poor.”

“Give myself?”

“You would give anything to help the church, wouldn’t you?”

“Of course.”

“Then express the nature you’ve suppressed so long. Donate yourself to the church. Francisco donates his wealth. Everyone is one step closer to heaven.”

“I don’t know.”

“Francisco isn’t a bad man, but he will never be a good one without the Church’s help, and the Church will never be able to help him without you.”

“Perhaps just one...”

“There are many Francisco Noriegas.” Father Jiménez smiled warmly. “None of them will find heaven unless you lead them there.”

“Lead them with lust?”

“God doesn’t care what bridle leads the donkey home, so long as he gets there.”

****

Twenty years later, the town council voted to erect a statue of Mayor Rodriguez on the northeast corner of the plaza. The occasion was his retirement. Under the statue, they set a brass plaque with the inscription, “Freed our plaza from panhandlers.” Every spring, the last month of the rainy season, mosquitoes swarm the plaza, thick as the stars in the Vía Láctea, but they avoid the northeast corner as sinners avoid the front pews in the church. A year later, the council erected statues of Carmen Milagros and Maria Caridad on the northwest and southeast corners, identical except for the clothing. The inscriptions were the same: “Passion and compassion: snake with two heads.” That year began the annual Procesión de Mujeres, conducted on the feast day for Saint Nicolas, patron of prostitutes. The women, old and young, march from one corner of the square to the opposite, in a continuous loop, repeating the Hail Mary. The year after the statues of Carmen and Maria went up, the council erected a small monument on the final corner, inscribed with the names Miguel Salazar, Ernesto Garcia, Dominic Lopez, and Fernando Martin, and the words, “Died manfully in the saddle.” That year began the tradition where bridegrooms, on their way to the church, leave a burning cigar in a dish set into the monument.

_______________

Dennis Vickers teaches philosophy and creative writing at the College of Menominee Nation in Wisconsin. His previous publications include several novels: Witless (2002), Bluehart (2003), The Second Virtue (2007), Adam’s Apple (2010), Passing Through Paradise (2013), Between the Shadow and the Soul (2013), and short stories, in Broadkill Review, L’Intrgue, Cynic Magazine, Go World Travel, CrimeandSuspense.com, and Dark Sky Magazine.

The Snake with Heads at Both Ends © 2014 by Dennis Vickers

 

 
     
     

 

 



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