Carmen, La Calentadora — Short Fiction by Mariela Josefina Acosta Cozar de Coronado

After days on horseback I arrived in Sevilla. It was evening, mid-August, and the streets were oppressive with heat. By the river, lined with crowds and chiringuitos, I found a suitable pensión and was shown to a humble but clean room. The muchacha said, —You will find the heat of Sevilla very hot. It will penetrate your bones and sleep will evade you. Would you like me to keep you cool in bed?
She did not hide her irritation when I told her I had brought my own cold water bottle and a solar powered water cooler.
—You are too cruel, she said.
—Why, I asked.
—How can a poor muchacha in a cheap pensión hope to make a living when travellers bring their own bed coolers?
I had no answer to give her. As a professor of all known things I should have had the answer on the tip of my tongue, but instead my tongue was tied.
—I have a sick child to care for and I live in a hovel in Triana on the shore of the Guadalquivir.
—Perhaps, I said, —another traveller will arrive with a fear of warm beds and a need of your services.
—Perhaps, she said, but her smile was insincere and her eyes despondent. She turned down the bedsheet and bid me goodnight.
With my cold water bottle cradled in my arms I slept fitfully, feeling guilty I had not done more to help a fellow creature on this fair Earth. Sometime during the night I was awoken by shouting and banging, and I thought for a moment a revolution was afoot, but the noise soon died, and my sleep returned, even as the heat of the night drifted into my room.
As the sun rose I went down for breakfast and learned from another guest that the muchacha had been arrested during the night and was now in prison. Apparently she had offered her coldness to a traveller but he found her warm and uncomfortable in bed, and refused to pay her. She screamed at him and the Guardia Civil were called. When they learned she wanted payment for false services she was arrested
—Where is the prison?, I asked.
—Calle Cujo y Sebron.
Although I had business in the Barrio Santa Cruz, I was so wracked with guilt because I had spurned her services and foolishly suggested she offer herself to another guest that, in order to assuage my conscience, I realised I would have to try to help her. The possibility that she would have offered her services even without my suggestion did not occur to me at the time.
I went straight to the prison, without even sending a message to the trader I was due to meet.
—I would like to see Carmen, the recepcionista from the Pensión Giraldillo, I said to the prison warder.
—The gypsy who sells her coldness when she has none to offer?
—That would be her.
—She is on her way to court.
—Where is the court?
—In Calle Castelejo.
On my way to the court I came across the elderly gentleman who had been pointed out to me over breakfast as the complainant.
—Are you the traveller who complained about the warm recepcionista? I asked.
—What if I am? he said. —I paid her thirty centimes to keep me cool in bed, but when she lay beside me she was like an oven to heat my body and burn my soul. In my opinion she has cooled too many men and her ardour has returned to bring hell to her bedmates. If she has nothing to sell, she should not ask for payment.
—That is true, I replied, —but I feel sorry for the girl. She had offered to cool me but I refused because I have a solar powered cold water bottle. Had I accepted her offer I could have cooled us both and saved her soul. What will it take for you to withdraw your charges against her.
—Two pesetas.
I paid him and true to his word he withdrew his complaint and the girl was set free. I spoke to her as she left court.
—Ah, you, she said, —you refused my offer of cooling, and I had to give myself to an old man for whom I felt nothing. His blood was afire with lust and ardour. A thousand cold-hearted Sevillanas could not have unheated his bones. All night he sweated and the sheets stuck to him. He blamed me of course and, with all his shouting in the night waking other guests, I was fired from my job, and now I have nothing.
She walked away from me and on the spur of the moment without any thought that I may regret it later I called, —Carmen!
She stopped and I ran to her to say, —Come back to the pensión with me. You can have my cold water bottle.
—Why would you do that for me?
—Because I blame myself for your sorrowful predicament.
At the pensión I realised, without the cold water bottle, I had no further use for my solar water cooler and decided to make her a gift of that also. I showed her how to gather the rays of the sun to cool the water to keep her cold at night. She held the cold water bottle close to her breast. —This will keep me cold and help me earn a living to feed my child. From now on I can freeze any man. Thank you, kind sir, she said and left, with the owner glaring unforgiving daggers at her.
I have to admit I had been loath to let my portable rechargeable solar water cooler go, but it would, I was sure, be of such benefit to the unemployed muchacha, that Heaven, would look upon my altruistic act and bless me in my business dealings.
I hurried to the Barrio Santa Cruz and, as the tradesman was Andaluz, he was as late as I, and we were able to conduct our business over patatas bravas and a jug of manzanilla.
With business done I returned to Madrid, and my wife was delighted to see me. She asked, —What has happened to your cold water bottle and solar water cooler?
I explained all that had happened.
—You fool, she said. No one can travel south without a solar water cooler.
I calmed her by saying that, because of my kindness which was done without any thought of reward, the angels had helped my business dealings and I was sure without them the trade would have fallen through.
There are times when I regret my actions; like those moments in summer when my wife rolls close to me in bed, and I feel her warmth and my heart reflects her heat by suddenly throbbing. But my head is cooled by the thought that the kindness I showed to a stranger helped her and her child survive the rigors of life and, even though my blood flows warmly through my body, I stay chilled with the knowledge that I have done good. And good on this Earth is what we all should do.

Mariela Josefina Acosta Cozar de Coronado lives in London. She has been writing for four years. Her story The Smuggler was published by Atlas and Alice. This is her second publication.

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