Still in short pants, but tall enough to peer into a cradle of elaborately carved roble, a small boy watched an infant kick her pink-bootied feet and announced that when that little girl grew up, he was going to marry her. Four generations later not a living soul knows if Manuel Rovelo formally asked for Antonia Argüello’s hand in marriage before or after he held the deed to El Retiro, a cattle ranch near the border of Guatemala, just this side of the gem green lake La Esmeralda.

Only one other fact brackets the life of Antonia: she allowed no one to see her feet. On the last day she rose from bed, laced up her shoes and prepared to die. Two women from a neighboring ranch came to wash and dress her for burial. They stood on either side of the bed exchanging conspiratorial looks, taking twin breaths, expecting to discover a secret dirty as disease, deformity or disgrace. They untied the thick black laces, loosened the leather tongues, tugged lightly and slipped the old woman’s shoes from the most perfect pair of feet they had ever seen.

There was no mole, no wart, no callous, no bunion, no gnarled yellow nails, no cracks nor fissures. No mushrooms grew between her toes. There were ten—not one missing, not one extra. Neither foot was clubbed. The devil had left no cleft. The women found no broken veins, no blister, no carbuncle, no cotton batting wound about and stained the coffee-red of old blood, concealing the gift of stigmata. The women beheld a vision of feet smooth as porcelain, perfectly arched, two units of poetry, revealing not a single hint of explanation for Doña Antonia’s lifelong obligation to alabaster feet.

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