‘Nemecia’ by Kirstin Valdez Quade

Nemecia by Kirstin Valdez Quade, 2012

The magic trick:

Using an unorthodox story shape that peaks in the middle and winds down slowly

We’ll finish our week of New Mexico stories with two days of Kirstin Valdez Quade’s outstanding A Night At The Fiestas collection.

“Nemecia” is probably her most famous story, and with good reason.

I like the shape of the story. There are two obvious peaks. But they maybe don’t happen when you’d expect. Early we see Nemecia shock her younger cousin (our narrator) by telling her that she killed their grandfather. That’s a plot point that’s sure to get your attention.

Then the story peaks again a few pages later when our narrator is thrilled to be selected to lead the local Corpus Christi procession only to find Nemecia complicate the ceremony. Our narrator loses control and blurts out Nemecia’s confession to her parents.

So there are two loud moments. But about half the story’s text carries on after those moments. What’s left is a quiet kind of aftermath. No new revelations. Just an interesting echo for the reader to sit with after the early fireworks.

And that’s quite a trick on Valdez Quade’s part.

The selection:

“Come on, Maria,” my mother said gently.

Nemecia was sitting in the parlor, her hands folded and still on her lap. I wished she would stick out her tongue or glare, but she only watched me pass. My mother held open the door and then closed it behind us. She took my hand, and we walked together down the street to Paulita’s house with its garden of dusty hollyhocks.

My mother knocked on the door, and then went in, telling me to run along to the kitchen. I heard her whispering. Paulita came in for a moment to pour me milk and set out some cookies for me, and then she left again.

I didn’t eat. I tried to listen, but couldn’t make out any words. I heard Paulita click her tongue, the way she clicked it when someone had behaved shamefully, like when it was discovered that Charlie Padilla had been stealing from his grandmother.

My mother came into the kitchen. She patted my wrist. “It’s not for long, Maria.” She kissed the top of my head.

“I can see his underpants through that material.” Lola said.

“I have complete movement,” Howdy said. He did a knee bend.

“I think it’s for girls,” Lola said. “Can we please go?”

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