Do you know that color? The color in between, after the milk and sugar and butter have been mixed and have begun to boil, but before the mixture reaches the hard-candy stage, when a spoonful of it forms a perfect caramel ball when dropped in a glass of water. That color that is just the hint of sweetness of a soft caramel dissolving in your mouth, a brief note of butter melting on the tongue. It has a whisper of pink in it, a faint blush. That is the color of my mother's flushed skin as she leans over the stove and stirs and stirs with the wooden spoon in the speckled kettle.
She has sent me out to the monte, just past the pasture and the cemetery, to pick prickly pears for the cactus candy she is making. I carry a few dozen of the tunas home in a tin pail. They are a deep, purplish-brownish red like nothing else I have ever seen. They are not as deep as the blood that spills from the neck of the goat that my grandfather has slaughtered for our Easter dinner, the blood that pours in a living stream into the white of the enameled basin. There is something lifeless about that red of the pear-shaped tunas; they turn like knobs as I cut them from the cactus. Nestled together in the metal pail, they look like they more properly belong in the box of rusted hinges and old doorknobs and bent nails that my father keeps in the old shed. Yes, that is it: they are a rusted knob of a fruit, hard, born in dryness and suffering, the fruit of the poor.
The tunas make a hard sound, like knocking, when I dump them out onto the wooden table in the kitchen. Mama lifts each one with metal tongs and holds it over the open flame of the stove to burn off the wispy spines. When the tunas cool, she finally sits down for the first time that day in the steamy kitchen, with a sigh of aching joints and wilted skirts. The paring knives with the wooden handles are old and blunt, but my mother's hands are sure and deft as she peels the tunas. The dry skin of the fruit peels off in short strips to reveal a surprising interior: a scarlet pulp that drips with moisture. Where does it come from, I wonder, this hidden well, this tender heart? Here in the scrublands the rains are infrequent but violent: the llovisnas that pound the metal roof and wash out the caliche roads and drown the chickens that are too silly to take shelter in the hen house. The prickly pear cactus blooms after these rains and gives birth to that bruised fruit, the fruits that my mother sweetens and boils and then bakes into candied red squares for the family feasts.