The Three Marias

Doesn’t the title grab you?

It belongs to a special guest today, writer DONNA DARLING, who has agreed to share with us the first chapter of her book. I’m pleased to give you this preview as Donna makes the final edits to her manuscript.

The Three Marias

By Donna Darling

Chapter One

In the steep hills above the coastal town of Ponce was Adjuntas, a place touched by heaven and cursed by hell. We lived there, where coffee and sugar plantations dotted the lush, green Puerto Rican mountainside populated by many Corsicans, including my father, Guillermo Paoli.

Papa steered off the main road and turned up the narrow, one-lane road toward our hacienda. It was a sprawling, two-story house on our own coffee plantation. I was very proud of our strong, wooden house because Papa built it himself with help from local laborers. Some of the surrounding haciendas were made of brick, but our rustic house sat majestically in the tall trees as if it sprouted from the earth.

Banana and coconut trees grew plentiful where we got much more rain than in the flatlands, and the climate was cooler in the mountains which we thought made it the perfect place to live. The many rivers and streams flowed all the way to the Caribbean Sea. It was a lush, tropical dream life, but the roads were treacherous. There was no way to see a cart coming toward you on the twisting, narrow road. Papa pulled the whistle from around his neck and clenched it between his teeth. He whistled at every turn, so that any rider coming down the hill would be alerted to our wagon coming up. The downhill riders leaned into the grade and rode fast and wild, without fear, taking blind turns and skirting the edge of the road, flirting with danger. If they slipped off the edge, a fall down a steep ravine would mean certain death. Their only weapon was the whistle clenched between their teeth which they blew in an alert while they rode a donkey, pony or horse with frightful intensity. Riding uphill was a much more relaxed experience. My brother, Victor rode beside Papa and leaned with the turns. Victor was a serious man. Not to be crossed, but fiercely loyal to family.

My brother Ursulo, who we called Lolo picked up his four-string guitar and somehow managed to strum along despite the bumpy ride, while we clapped and sang a hollow tune. “That’s a song about heartbreak,” Papa complained. “Play The Blue, Blue Sea.” He always had a cheerful disposition and was the one to lift our spirits. “Fina, sing for us,” he said.

My given name was Maria Josefina, but they called me Fina. Mama had the most beautiful voice in our family. Some of us kids liked to think we got her voice. Since she was at home, I led us in chorus, “Will you meet me at the blue, blue sea?” I sang.

Lolo was my playful brother, always ready with a joke. He took after Papa. I hoped he would meet a girl who would be kind to him. He was sensitive, and a strong woman like Mama might be too hard on him. He was born with a withered leg and Mama said it made him stronger. He was small and crawled on his belly as a baby, using his arms to pull his body. He got so strong, he pulled himself up on everything. When we were younger, he couldn’t run and keep up, but he could climb most any tree like a monkey. We always called for Lolo to get the highest fruit. He built a lookout, high up in a banana tree, where he perched for hours watching over everyone’s comings and goings on the property. He was our little spy.

Lolo made the ride home enjoyable by playing his guitar. We all sang along and my eleven-year-old sister, Maria Celia laughed at the silly lyrics. Even my oldest brother, Victor’s mood was light and he sang along too.

“Where’s Leo?” Celia said.

Our family dog was always at the edge of our property when we arrived home. He sat at the bottom of the road to our house. Papa trained him to never leave the property, and he wouldn’t put one paw over the line.

“Mama’s home. He must be on the porch,” Victor said.

Papa stopped the wagon in front of the house. “I’ll get out here,” he said and hopped out. “You pull around back and unload the supplies. I’ll be out in a minute to help with the horses.”  Papa’s long legs took the porch steps with one stride. Victor brought the wagon around back to the kitchen door where we began to unload supplies.

“Hijo de puta!” Papa’s voice boomed like thunder and echoed in the trees.

            My brothers and I turned to see Papa storm out of the house and sprint to the barn. “I’ve never heard Papa swear in my life,” I said.

            “Mama must’ve been very angry,” Celia said.

            Victor set down the flour sack and ran to the barn. Papa erupted from the barn on horseback and raced down the hill, blasting his whistle.

            “Where’s Papa off to in such a hurry?” Celia asked. My little sister reported everyone’s business in our family. “There goes Victor,” Celia sighed.

            Victor disappeared on horseback down the hill in a cloud of dust.

            “Now we only have Lolo to help us unload the wagon,” Celia complained.

            I gave Lolo a look of concern. Panic grew within me.

~*~*~ *~*~*

Donna Darling writes short stories, and novels for readers of all ages. Her debut novel, an historical fiction titled The Three Marias is inspired by her Puerto Rican roots.
When not writing she enjoys sketching her characters, or drawing a scene from her story.
She is a member of the California Writers Club, and belongs to a writer’s group of published authors who meet weekly.
Donna lives in Northern California with her family. She enjoys traveling and weaving stories with history.


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5 Responses to “The Three Marias”

  1. Brian S says:

    What a great model for an opening sentence. You’ve got a visceral setting, action and the tie-in to a changing, moving world Not to mention Heaven and Hell. I’m sensing drama!

  2. Vicki says:

    Great job! I’m ready to read on


  3. Lynette K says:

    What an intriguing first chapter. I will watch for the book.

  4. Camille says:

    Same here, Jo! Thanks for commenting in support of Donna’s goals.

  5. Josephine Mele says:

    Can’t wait to see this in print.