A Thousand Sad Pieces
Golden light created a soft waterfall through the dense canopy of trees in the mountain village, filtering through the early morning mist rising from the valley below, falling sporadically on the roof of his adobe home. It crawled gently down the walls looking for the window it knew everyday at this hour. It let itself in, freely, completely, flooding the entire room as if it owned it. The butter began to melt. The room was no longer cold. The light fell onto his worktable, splashing over the strips of leather and it’s delicate, worn, sharp tools, and those old nasty shoes that demanded mending. It poured onto the wooden floor and the intricate, Mayan rugs found only in the outlying rural areas. The light rushed up to the bed where she was fast asleep. Her long, black hair covered her round face. She was dreaming of home, wishing for home and wanted to be found.
How long had she been there? How far was she from home? It was a long ride on the horse with him that night. She was blindfolded for most of the journey. She was not allowed outside. She tried to go back to sleep. She listened to the other villagers in the distance. They were speaking about her. She was sure of it. They called her “La Chula”. It made her laugh. They didn’t know her name. Where was he this morning? She kept her eyes closed. Maybe if she was blind. No, she wouldn’t do it. She couldn’t do it. She hated the thought of pain.
She held her belly with both hands, exploring how much larger it was today than yesterday. It felt bigger. Maybe it was fat. She had been eating more than usual. He made her eat. He tried to be nice and he forced her to eat. She closed her eyes when he kissed her. It wasn’t so bad, as long as she kept her eyes shut. She pretended it was Luz. She liked kissing Luz. Where was he? Why hadn’t he found her yet? She didn’t want to get bigger. She didn’t want to eat. She didn’t want him.
The voices. There were more voices now. Who was outside? Why wouldn’t they stop? She just wanted to be alone. She did not want anyone to know that she was fatter. Maybe if no one knew. Then she heard the guitar. It was beautiful and tender. It couldn’t be him playing. She refused to get up and she kept her eyes shut. Although she could no longer hear the birds in the trees, she liked the guitar. And then she heard his voice. He was trying to sing to her. She screamed into the pillow. He was trying to be nice but she couldn’t hear herself think. She didn’t want to listen and she wouldn’t go outside. She didn’t want to give him her name. She didn’t want him.
She followed the morning light to his worktable and looked at the old shoes that his neighbor brought in to be repaired. She picked up the sharp knife on the table next to the leather. The light sparkled on the old blade. She was tired of being nice and she wanted to go home. She didn’t want to know him at all and she refused to speak with him at night when he would stare at her, trying to get her to speak. She hated shoes and she hated him. She refused to smile and tried not to look at him. He was dark. Moreno. She cried into her hands. She picked up the shoe. It was heavy like a brick. The guitar was playing a soft, romantic melody inviting love. The front window shattered into a thousand sad pieces; the shoe hit him in the head. The music stopped, but he kept on singing. He sang her name over and over. Petra, mi amor…mi amor. He didn’t stop. He would never stop. He would never let her go.
M is for Matriarch
Baltazar Perez was the first son of Don Doroteo Perez, a rancher from the Valle de Santiago – a small town on the outskirts of nearby Irapuato, the area’s local metropolis. The Valle de Santiago is located at the base of the Arandas mountain in the south central region of the Mexican state of Guanajuato. Baltazar worked with his father and the two traveled together on trips to sell the family produce. La Horóstiga, the Perez ranch, was located between the Silao and the Guanajuato Rivers. Verdant rolling hills and acres of lush produce were meticulously farmed and maintained with great pride and care by the family. The ranch specialized in camotes (sweet potatoes), yams, corn, avocados, guayabas and livestock hay. Hay was an important commodity as Irapuato was well known for its livestock as well as its agriculture.
Baltazar was a handsome, strong and robust young man in his early 20’s. Unusually tall for the people of his village, he towered over everyone at 6’2” in height. With a fair complexion, thick manicured mustache and intense, brown eyes that expressed much more emotion than he was able to state in his own words, Baltazar was a reserved, quiet and romantic young man, but his dream of finding the perfect girl remained unfulfilled.
Sometimes Doroteo’s trips to the outlaying areas of the city and surrounding villages would take several days. In the dry season, the dirt from the road would fill the air like a dark cloud as they rode on their wagon from village to village. Baltazar’s job was to keep the produce clean and spotless. In the spring, nature’s gardens were filled with an array of wildflowers that filled the air with sweet, gentle scents and a random and subtle beauty of texture and colors. Fields of large, juicy strawberries were everywhere. Guanajuato was known best for it’s strawberries. It made the trips a little sweeter for the father and son team. Baltazar detested these longer trips into the outlying villages, but they soon would yield a much greater sweetness. La Loma de Flores, in the Land of the Flowers. This is where his destiny would lead him.
She was pretending to mend her blouse by the window of her small adobe hut. She was much more interested in the young woman sitting on the porch of the neighbor’s house across the road. “Look at her! She’s not even going into town and she’s all dressed up. Why does Fina get the new dresses? It’s so pretty, and she’s so ugly! I wish, just once, I’d get something new!” Her mother responded with care and affection, “M’hija, why bring that up every time Rufina gets a new dress? You know how things are!”
Standing away from the window and looking at her reflection in the small mirror on the wall, María pushes her breasts together and proclaims “She just likes showing-off, like when we were kids. That dress would look so nice on me, don’t you think? Mama, look! You can’t even see her chi-chis! Que feita!”
“María! Cállate! Leave her alone. Rufina never speaks that way about you! She likes you, no? Anyways, she looks like her mama, pobre cita! Be happy you look like your Papa!”
“Fina only pretends to like me. It’s just not fair she gets new dresses every month! Luz is my Papa, too! Just once, mama, ask him to buy me one! I want something new…not something torn or stained.” María lowers her voice and whisper’s to her mother “Fina told me that her friend Carlotta is having a Quinceanera next week. If I get invited, I’ll need something to wear!” María looks down at her tattered dress and shoes, holding her dress as if she is wearing something new and spins around as if to show it off.
“Invited? To Carlotta’s party? Ay, thats a big wish María. Don’t get your hopes up! I’ve told you before, we have our place. Rufina will always come first. Apolonia is a good woman, and even lets me work for her in the kitchen. Just do your chores, don’t cause any trouble, know your place and don’t wish for the impossible.” Petra holds María’s hand and asks, “Your Papa loves you. Doesn’t he tell you so?”
“Yes, but he scares me.” “What do you mean ‘scares you’ ?” “He just scares me lately, that’s all.” “What do you mean ‘lately’? Díme!”
“Well, last week Rufina and I were talking about some boys that we like, and Papa overheard us.” “What did he say?”
“He looked at us like strangers who just spat at him. He just came back from that meeting in town with all of the other men from church. He must have heard us speaking about Baltazar and Roberto. We were only talking about how cute they are when they want to speak with us, and how shy they are!”
“Baltazar and Roberto? Who are they?”
“You know Baltazar! He’s the tall one, the young boy who comes with Don Doroteo every month from that ranch, the one called, uh, you know, uh…Rancho La Horóstiga. They sell you those big, sweet strawberries and avocados. Baltazar is the son. We’ve been flirting for the past five months since they started coming around every month to sell their produce.”
“María! I’ve told you not to talk to strangers! You’re only 16! Young men have no business speaking to such young girls!”
“Mama, why? He’s a good boy! He’s so handsome, sweet and so nice to me!”
“Your Papa doesn’t want you speaking to boys! He’s told you! These boys only want one thing from a poor girl! Does he know who you are?”
“I think he knows who Papa is. He saw me in the house helping Apolonia last week when he came by with his father. He’s so handsome!!!! He brought me some pretty flowers from his ranch!” Composing herself, María continues, “Well, Papa scared me and Rufina last week when he told us, ‘If you ever leave me for some man, I’ll hunt you down and shoot you both, you and the man you are with!! Never disobey me, M’hijas, never!’ “
“He told you that?” “Why would I lie? Fina ran to her room and cried for two days. She said Roberto was the only boy that wanted to know her. He is kinda ugly, too. She told him to stay away because Papa’d shoot him if he saw him! Fina doesn’t think that anyone will ever ask her to marry. I don’t think she is very happy. I feel sorry for her.”
“Poor Fina. I wonder how Apolonia tolerates your Papa’s jealousy. He’s a good man, María. Don’t be scared. This revolution’s changed the men ‘round here. Your Papa’s protective of you two. Girls’ve been taken in the middle of the night by Pancho Villa and his men. He can’t lose you two; he thinks he can protect you forever.” Petra knew how strong Luz’s jealous nature could be, and wanted to be sure that María only saw her father’s love.
“If I get married, do I have to leave and never come back?”
“We’ll talk about that when the time comes, M’hija.”
Looking out of the window again, longingly, María examines the neighborhood as if for the first time. “I just can’t imagine living here forever! Always wearing Rufina’s old clothes, never having a boyfriend and never getting married!”
“I know, it’s not fair to you. It’s my choice to be here, not yours. I lost him once, and I don’t want to lose him again.”
“How come Papa never married you? You’ve never told me the whole story.”
“That’s a long time ago. It hurts too much to think about it.” “Mama, I want to know. I’m old enough to understand. What happened that day when you went to the well?”
“Alright M’hija. Lets see. It must have been around 1886. I was much younger then. I always walked with Florencia, but she was busy that day, so I went alone. I was never afraid of anything.”
“I was filling up the olla when I saw a man, dressed all in black, ride towards me on his horse. He was so dark, and so ugly. I didn’t know what was happening, and before I knew it, he grabbed me up and we disappeared into the hills.”
“Didn’t you try to fight him? Didn’t you try to run away?”
“M’hija, of course I did. I fought for my life. But he was a strong man, and I was scared. He had a big hunting knife and told me if I tried to get away, he’d hurt me.”
“How long did he keep you? What did he do to you? Did Papa try to find you?”
“I was his prisoner for five months, long enough for me to get pregnant. Luz looked for me every day, and finally found me, but it was not soon enough. His name was Pilar.”
“A baby? He did that to you? Oh Mama!”
“After that your Papa’s family wouldn’t allow us to get married. But he wouldn’t allow me to marry anyone else. He told me that I belonged to him, and even though I could not be his wife, I would be his love, forever. His parents made him marry Apolonia; he never loved her the way he loves me.” Petra thought about what she was saying and her eyes began to water, knowing that her little girl was growing up. “But now I see that he can’t hold onto you like he does me.”
“Mama, I can’t stay here any longer. I want more, so much more. Baltazar asked me to marry him.”
Petra held María closer than ever before. The embrace was filled with joy, sorrow and a loving goodbye prayer. “My mother used to tell me she knew what was in my heart. She’d tell me ‘Petra, por donde vas, yo ya vengo : where you’re going, I’ve already been.’ So now I tell that to you, María. Just promise me, promise me that you’ll never look back.”
About the Author:
Philip Charles Barragán II hails from the San Fernando Valley, California (the one and only valley). Born three years before the Summer of Love, always ahead of his time, Philip enjoys exploring his family roots and writing fiction and creative non-fiction in his almost non-existent free time. Philip spends his days working for the Office of AIDS Programs and Policy supervising a team of auditors monitoring contracted agencies providing direct client services to individuals living with HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles County.