The Pure Peridiam
by Daniel Christopher June
There once was a young woman, señorita Cordita, a Doña in her own eyes, who lived on a farm with her hardworking but otherwise rather lenient father. She also lived with an often exasperated mother, who was secretly intimidated yet nevertheless proud for having given birth to such a peerless beauty of a daughter. To her chagrin, she even lived with a couple dozen chickens, who were rather indifferent to all such matters, and many other matters others might fuss over – romance, marriage, riches, fame – so long as the corn was given each morning.
"That handsome boy Juan Geraldo was here to see you," said her mother, with a significant look.
"Handsome! I don't see how anybody who dresses in such rags should be called 'handsome.' You mean the clerk at the store? Isn't his father a school teacher? Why was he here?"
Juan Demaro, her father, was by now immune to this sort of rant. How his daughter had put on such airs, feasting her pride on fantasies of riches and handsome courters, he could never have guessed except that she was a bit too beautiful for her own good. Besides, he had seen the way Cordita had put on haughty airs around the hard-working and perhaps too considerate Geraldo, and being not the stupidest farmer in the world, knew how to look past appearances. But sometimes he could be overheard to mutter, “Blasted daughter!”
"Is it so shocking for a store clerk to come calling on a farmer's daughter?" he asked her.
"Farmer's daughter! Hmm! When I am well and on my way, the last thing that will come to anybody's mind will be that I was once a farmer's daughter."
"And do you think that you will one day cease to be my daughter?" he wondered.
She was silent and glowered.
"Do you suppose that you won't have to feed the chickens each morning, when you live under my roof?" he asked.
More silence. She looked at her plate.
"You may choose whom you will love, and being as beautiful as you are, you will have more choices than most girls, but remember there is more than one kind of beauty."
"That will never be a problem for me!" said Cordita.
"Here is your dinner," he said, and gave her the gizzards from the chicken they had cooked. He had the nerve to share the best pieces between himself and his wife, and give her this! How many times did they have to fight about it? Just let him throw it away like usual.
" I will never eat the gizzards, I never have and never will! There are limits, limits I just won't go past."
"When you are willing to eat the gizzards, for the sake of love, maybe you will one day deserve a good husband."
"I already deserve the best!" she said, and after carefully setting down her silverware she excused herself from the table.
Juan Geraldo did persist in visiting her, but how could he not? She seemed to beckon him on with her eyes, and then when he was certain she was interested in him, she would back off and act as if his attention were an insult to her dignity.
Finally, in exasperation, she said, "Juan Geraldo, do not keep calling on me. If you could give me the Pure Peridiam for a ring, then I would marry you."
Juan Geraldo sulked home that day. The Pure Peridiam was the showpiece of the local jeweler. Its diamond was larger than any other, and it was at the shop mostly to attract attention, though nobody in town could afford to purchase such a ring.
A few months went by, and Geraldo wasn't to be heard of. Plenty of other young men came, and Cordita was delighted to discover that many of them were rich, well-known, well-born, handsome, or otherwise suitable for her attention. Her father didn't comment on them, but she sensed his disapproval anyway. Not that it mattered at all. He would probably have wanted her to marry the Geraldo boy, somebody at her father's level, somebody the old man wasn't intimidated by. Cordita pitied the man.
But after about a year, Cordita grew a little tired of the visits of the rich boys. She had to turn down a few offers -- a woman can't be too choosy! -- but now she was thinking that there wasn't any good enough among them, and they all seemed to be a bit too much alike.
"You've not had any company for a while," her mother noted.
"Yes, I've turned them all away. I guess I needed a break," laughed Cordita. "I think each of them would come every day whether I told them to or not."
"I haven't seen Juan Geraldo in over a year," noted her father, philosophically chewing on a piece of bread.
Cordita turned red. At this point, Cordita's mother knew when to chime in. "But Sergio, he's a winner, isn't he? And he seems really taken by you, Cordita! I was sure he was even going to propose to you, but then you've been turning your suitors away so much. I wouldn't be surprised if he were visiting that girl Estegania..." Her mother mused over the thought and sipped some water.
"Oh, Sergio! He would drop that girl in a moment, in a flat second if I gave him a mere nod of the head," scoffed Cordita, and smiled.
"Then let's have him over for dinner this Friday and see," said her father.
"No! Papa no! I do not want you interfering with my choice of men." Such disrespect for parents was really something unheard of. But Damero seemed unconcerned.
"Would you like the gizzards?" he asked. She scowled and stormed off.
"You really shouldn't torture the girl," her mother said. Her father threw away the gizzard, laughing.
The next day somebody arrived at the door, and was very insistent on seeing Cordita, though she had expressly put herself on reprieve from the tedium of society. But it was probably Sergio, and now she would show her dad how even the highest of her suitors was putty in her hands.
But when she walked up to the door, who was it other than Juan Geraldo!
"Oh, thank God I can see you!" he said. "It was such an important thing I had to say, dear Cordita, and I couldn't pass it along to you, I had to say it to your face."
Cordita was confused, scared, excited, but she hid that behind a mask of annoyance. "Well here I am! Make it quick."
"Well yes, of course. You see, you said you would marry me if I bought you the Pure Peridiam. That was a most expensive diamond. I worked two jobs for a year, and yet couldn't even afford more than a third of it."
Cordita's eyes were wide, but she quickly corrected that. "Ah, yes. And so?"
"And so the shopkeeper heard of my reputation as an honest and hardworking man, and gave me the rest on credit."
Juan Geraldo took from his pocket a black box, opened it, and revealed a ring of shining purity, so large, and yet infinitely cut with subtle grace. Cordita didn't know what to do. She backed up.
But Geraldo pressed the ring into her hand--so she had to take it. She couldn't drop something so ... precious.
"Cordita, I have studied you from afar, and admired more than your beauty, but also your pride and the sensitivities of your heart, which you try so hard to disguise. Take this ring as a token of my pledge to marry you."
She looked at the ring, looked up at his pleading eyes… looked away.
And now Geraldo was facing the first indication that his gambit had failed, the first great danger that he had risked too much, and he could not let that happen.
"Cordita, not a word more. I bought this ring on credit, yes, but also on the contingency that I travel to New Amsterdam on an assignment that will earn me enough money to pay it off, and pay for a wedding." And now he fled—what better word was there for it?--leaving Cordita behind, and deeply troubled in her thoughts.
She didn't have any guests for quite some time after that. She gave the ring to her mother and told her to tell nobody about it. Geraldo was indeed gone, so what was there to do? Sell it back? Give it to his family? Or what? For over a month she hated that ring, and any mention of it brought red to her cheeks. Only nobody had to mention it, because it seemed like all of nature was conspiring to remind her of it, to rub it in her face.
When the sun broke at dawn and she was feeding the chickens, it was almost as beautiful as that ring was, and she would admire the dawn, really for the first time in her life. And sometimes when her mother would sing while doing the laundry, Cordita would stop and listen to the singing, and not be annoyed like usual, but marvel that the words were beautiful, the melody very beautiful, after all, with words so perfectly cut, like a fine diamond.
Well then! Surely there is no harm in trying it on. The boy had gone through a lot of effort, and was she really above at least trying it on?
So she did, and what beauty! What perfection! It was as if an angel were trapped inside the diamond, shining surprising sparkles left and right! She had to take it off again.
But soon enough she was wearing it all the time and everywhere. What a mystery, what a wonder! What a shame it will be, she thought, when I have to give it back. After all, that's what I should do. When I spoke of this ring, I only meant that I wasn't going to marry him, not that I really wanted this perfectly beautiful diamond. It was just a way of saying no, after all. The poor, poor boy!
One day, after feeding the chickens, and sitting down from a breakfast of eggs and bread, Cordita's mother gasped: "Where's the diamond?" The ring was still on her finger, but the diamond was missing. They searched the hen yard. Then they searched her bedroom up and down--the whole house even. Never in her life had she searched for something more urgently, but after three days of scrutinizing everything, she realized the gem was undeniably lost.
What would he say? Would he accuse her of selling it? But what would her suitors think of her then? That I'm poor! she thought. That I am a poor dirty thief! Damn him! Why did the fool give me something like that so it would fall apart and ruin my reputation? How dare he! Now what? Would he want me to pay for it back? There is no way I can afford it! Soon she realized that she hated Juan Geraldo.
Not that she could say it to his face. He finally arrived home from his expedition, triumphantly. He paid his debt and was now invited to have dinner with Juan Demaro and his peerless daughter. He wondered very much what sort of decision she had made in his absence.
He had a sinking feeling it was a bad one. For there was a long awkward silence during the meal. Geraldo talked about his work, and how much it took out of him, and these sorts of matters, never mentioning why he had worked so hard, what it was all for, still holding on to the fancy that he could marry this perfect girl. Only she wouldn't look at him. No, not even once did she look at him. What could that mean?
Finally, he took a risk and said, "Cordita, how have you been all these months?"
She looked down, turned pale.
"Cordita, maybe you should just say what you have to --"
"I lost the gem."
He blinked. "What?"
"I lost the diamond, that fancy perfect impossible gem you gave me, and no I did not lose it on purpose, nor sell it, nor give it away, but now I'm so scared because..."
"Because what?" he said.
"Because now you won't want to marry me!"
Juan Geraldo took the words in for a second, and then burst out laughing. "What? I won't want to marry you? Because you dropped that trinket? Forget it. I love you. I care nothing for the ring. That doesn't matter at all now because you've said it, and I was so scared you wouldn't, but you really do want to marry me!"
"Yes," said Cordita, and she realized that it was true. She did want to marry him, and she knew that she in fact loved him. What matters some petty piece of rock when somebody as good and pure as this man gives you his love? "Yes," she said, "I will marry you."
Dinner went much better after that. The lovers were alive with a power that Juan Demaro and his wife had felt so long ago -- the pure love of two young people who have seen each other for the first time. It almost seemed natural, then, that when her father Juan Demaro offered her the gizzard--the gizzard of all things, and at a time like this!-- she actually took it--took it and laughed. What did that matter? She tasted it as if it were ambrosia itself, but was surprised when her teeth bit down on a remaining gizzard stone. She politely and discreetly spit it into her hand, looked at it, gasped, and set down on the table before her family the Pure Peridiam.