a short story by Bart
Maria Chávez Diaz was twelve when she died in the Gringo’s brothel in
the pueblo of Tenancingo in Tlaxcala, Mexico. She arrived on Saturday,
wearing her Easter dress and a red ribbon in her hair, and she died on
Tuesday before the sun rose.
hated Rosa. She was useless. She was selfish and refused to learn. She
fought until she had no more strength, then she lay on the floor and
begged her teachers to kill her.
was weak. Why the Gringo paid good money for her, I’ll never know. Any
fool could see she was a little princess, an apretada, not at all
this is not my story. It’s Rosa’s.
was the one with the family and the long hair and a collection of
was born out of Rosa’s screams. Her tears are my blood; her prayers,
the air I breathe.
have no mother and I have no father. I have no grandfather named El
Loco, no silly old fart who dances the Jarabe Tapatío with a
donkey and drinks beer out of a shoe.
had all of that and much more.
is also dead.
another reason I hate her.
stared out of the tinted windows of the Suburban©
as it snaked through
the mountains, past villages not unlike hers, where children played in
fifty-gallon drums filled with water and women washed clothes in streams
stained red with clay.
Gringo, sat in the passenger seat, a burlap sack filled with pistachios
in his lap. He pried open the nuts with his fingernails and tossed the
empty shells on the floor near his feet.
did not say a word for nearly five hours. She promised her mother that
she would be good. She would listen to the Gringo and do as he
instructed. “Señor Reyes is a fine man, a great man,” her mother
said. “St. Jude has sent him to us.”
when her bladder was full, and holding her knees together while reciting
the Lord’s Prayer no longer eased her discomfort, only then did Rosa
interrupt the silence. Her voice was barely a whisper, and her first
words were an apology.
nodded, and the driver pulled to the side of the road. Both men
opened their doors. Reyes stood beside the Suburban©
bits of shell from his lap. The driver unlocked Rosa’s door, took her
by the hand and guided her around the vehicle.
Gringo unzipped his pants, and the driver did the same.
the driver finished, he lit a cigarette. He was a young man, not more
than twenty years old, and he watched Rosa as he pulled on the
the Gringo shook off the last drops of his dribble, the driver took
Rosa’s hand and guided her to the door.
stepped up. She put one foot inside the vehicle, winced, and stepped
back down. Her
eyes pleaded with the young man to turn away, if nothing more.
the Gringo said. He
cracked the shell of a pistachio with his teeth and licked the salt off
squatted beside the tire and closed her eyes.
she opened them, they had arrived in Tenancingo. The driver guided the
Suburban© through the narrow streets. He honked the horn at
some children playing soccer, and waved at a few of the vendors busy
with women over the price of chickens and tomatillos. In doorways and on
stoops men gathered, laughing and shouting, passing bottles from hand
to hand. As the Suburban© rolled past, many became quiet. A few nodded.
Others ducked inside the buildings, held their breath, and waited for
the vehicle to pass.
driver turned into a dead end street, and pulled up to the entrance of a
three-story building. Four men with rifles stood at the entrance. The
youngest stepped forward and opened Reyes door. Each of the men
greeted him. The oldest asked if he needed anything.
Gringo busied himself with the end of a cigar and did not respond.
group of boys, no more than five or six years-old, ran
up the street. One of the guards stepped forward and raised his rifle,
but the Gringo placed a hand on his shoulder as he fished inside his
pocket. He offered each boy a coin and a pat on the head.
driver took Rosa’s hand and led her inside the building. He passed her
to a fat old woman who smelled of onions, and instructed her to cut
looked out the door at Reyes in his linen shirt and chinos,
standing in the sun. One of the guards held a match. There was no
breeze, but the guard cupped his hands. The flame burned low as Reyes worked the cigar, rotating it with his fingers.
waved, her mother had made her promise to thank the Gringo, but inside
the building, in the shadows, she could not be seen.
was a stupid girl. Her teachers worked in hourly shifts, two or three at
a time, late into the night, but still she failed to learn her lessons.
men came to her room, but none left. They sat in the corners of her
mind, grinning and dripping sweat. They pressed against her and taunted. They made her thank them for their attention, and they covered her
in their filth.
the evening, the fat woman poured mescal on a rag and swabbed Rosa. The
alcohol burned, but it did not stop the bleeding.
the third day, welts and bruises covered Rosa’s body. Her throat was
swollen. Her hair was wet. A fetid stench filled the room.
the last lesson had been administered, the fat woman unfastened the
leather straps on Rosa’s ankles, then the smaller straps that bound
her wrists to the wall.
fat woman massaged Rosa’s arm with her thumb, raising a vein. She
inserted a syringe, and filled her with black tar.
fat woman carried Rosa from her cell, up a stone staircase, to a storage
placed Rosa on a mat and closed the door.
stared, then blinked. A few heads swiveled. Children, defective and
discarded but still human, crowded the room. They listened to the
footsteps recede down the hall and echo in the stairwell, then they
became animated. A small boy coughed. Two girls whispered. The room
pulsed with life.
rested her head on a pillow of red and purple poppies.
the other children, she did not listen for danger; she did not worry
that the bolt would ratchet on the door and the fat woman would call her
she rose in the middle of the night, her body was sore and her mouth was
other children lay together on their mats. Curled up like a litter of
puppies, they twitched and ran and whimpered in their sleep.
walked to the window. It was no wider than a slat, but a half moon was
visible through the bars, and a light breeze caressed her face.
greeted El Loco. He sat to the left of the window with his back propped against
the wall. He extended his hand, and she settled onto the floor beside
him. She was tired. She leaned into him and rested her head on his
chest. She listened to the beat of his heart.
do you want?” he asked.
wanted her bed, even if it was only a pallet barely thicker than her
wanted eggs and chorizo and cilantro.
wanted to play with her donkey, Isabelle, and she wanted to wade in the
cool water of the stream at the edge of her village.
thought of everything she wanted and when she could think no more, she
raised her head and folded her hands in her lap.
Loco lifted himself from the floor. He kissed his fingertips, touched
them to Rosa’s cheek, then walked away.
didn’t want El Loco to turn. She couldn’t look at his face. She
didn’t want to hear him say good-bye.
wanted him to whistle and to make up a song, to sing about a girl named
Rosa and her donkey, Isabelle, and, maybe, a fine prince named Federico.
Loco’s boots clacked on the cobbles outside. His song washed through the
window and under the door, and left a smile on Rosa’s face.
propped herself against the wall. For the first time in three days, she
was happy. She loved El Loco, and she had made her decision.
hummed El Loco’s tune. A few more hours, she told herself, perhaps
less. Rosa chewed on her hair. Soon, she hoped, Death would arrive.
is a tired old man. He is fat and lazy and travels by public
transportation. He has too many responsibilities and too few assistants.
He once inspired fear and commanded respect; now he is derided, and his
labor is tedious and predictable.
Death tottered through the door, he nodded at Rosa. He examined the
children with a tired, disinterested eye, and settled into the
corner, exhausted from his chores. He folded his coat into a pillow and
rolled onto his side. His mouth fell open, and dust assaulted his nose.
He sneezed and coughed, and nestled deeper into his coat. Before long,
his slow, steady breath became a gentle snore.
waited as the gray pumice of dawn scraped the ink from the sky. Finally impatient, Rosa said, “Señor?” She cleared her
throat and raised her voice. “Señor!”
yawned. His tongue stretched flat, then curled as his mouth snapped
shut. He sat up and blinked. The imprint of his coat creased his cheek.
heaved himself to a stand and walked to Rosa.
slumped as best as she could and held her breath.
waved away the flies and peered into her face. He extracted a pair of
spectacles from his pocket and perched them on his nose. He turned her
head from side-to-side, held open her mouth and examined her throat. He
poked and prodded, and when he had completed his exam he tickled
Rosa’s side. She exploded with laughter.
said, “Uh-huh,” then folded the arms of the glasses and returned
them to their case. From his pocket, he pulled a dog-eared notepad. He
moistened his finger, thumbed through the pages and scribbled a note.
Securing the pencil to the pad with an elastic band, he returned it to
his pocket, folded his jacket and headed to the door.
was he going without her? She demanded an answer.
madura,” he said, and shook his head. He picked no fruit before
showed him her bruises, her broken cheekbone, the gash on her head where
one of her teachers hit her when she tried to bite him.
stood at the door. He listened to her argument, and only interrupted
when she started to repeat herself.
not ready,” he said again. He smiled his sad, tired smile and walked
your mother, cabron!” Rosa said. She screamed and
spat and chased
Death out the door. She pursued him down the steps and into the street.
Her curses ricocheted off the buildings. She picked up stones and
bottles, and hurled them at his head.
stepped lively, though hindered by arthritis and a bunion. He bounded
past the fountain, through the square, and ducked into an alley. He had
the advantage of familiarity, having spent many years in Tenancingo. He
knew its houses and buildings and the tunnels that crisscrossed under
its streets, but still he could not outrun Rosa.
she caught him, she held him by the collar and whacked his nose. She
stomped on his glasses and broke his pencil. She tore pages from his
notepad and punched him in the stomach.
and berated, he relented. He picked his hat off the ground,
and dabbed at the cut on his cheek with his handkerchief.
agreed to let Rosa join him, but only on one condition—if I took her
that’s how I came to the Gringo’s berreadero.
lived here three days. I’ve been here for nearly eighteen months,
longer than any of the other children.
has been easier for me. I don’t have flesh or bones. I don’t bleed.
Men can fuck me as long as they want, any hole they wish, and I don’t
feel any pain.
visits occasionally, but I ignore him when he says hello. He is such a
slow-witted fool. I enjoy playing tricks. I steal his pencil and hide
his glasses. He scolds me, but I never listen.
try to teach the newcomers when they arrive. I introduce them to the
other children and explain our rules. I tell them what they need to know. I
cut Rosa’s arm and let the blood puddle on the floor. I show them that
it doesn’t hurt. Some listen and learn, most don’t.
I get lonely. I find myself wishing El Loco would visit, but I know he
won’t. He hates little whores like me. He hates them
almost as much as I hate Rosa.
I do wish he would visit. Maybe just once, so he can sing that song
about Rosa and Isabelle and the prince, Federico. I can still whistle
the tune, but I forget the words.
© 2005 Bart Yavorosky
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