by Ana Consuelo Matiella
Elena Parra walked down the dirt road, her chanclas making a flip-flop sound as she took each rapid step away from her family and her pueblito, San Ignacio. She didn’t take much with her, just a mochila with water for the day, some socks, underpants, and a sweatshirt, in case she got cold. She felt guilty about stealing her mother’s money, the cash she kept in a tomato sauce can at the bottom of the wooden table that held the wash basins to wash the dishes. But she had no choice. She had no money and she had to get away fast before anyone would find out what happened.
She knew that once she got to the edge of town, she could hitch a ride to Magdalena and from there she could take a Transportes Nortes de Sonora bus as far as Imuris because that is where the tourists would stop to buy quesadillas and beer before their final trek back to the border. Once in Imuris, surely a kind family of Gringos would give her a ride to Nogales, Sonora.
In Nogales, Sonora, she would be safe, even if she didn’t get to the Other Side just yet.
The Other Side. That is what everyone called it. “We are going to al Otro Lado,” as if al Otro Lado was some magical place where all your troubles would melt away just because you got a job. You might end up working for a nice family that would buy you clothes and feed you and pay you a few extra dollars, and all for just cleaning their big house and taking care of their children.
Elena Parra knew this story and had heard it many times because her friend Martha had escaped San Ignacio and made it all the way to el Otro Lado and came back to tell about it. She came back “with child” as they said, because what choice did she have when she got pregnant, and her boss lady didn’t know what to do with her. Martha’s “family” from el Otro Lado were a nice bunch of Mexicans who had become American. They drove her all the way back to San Ignacio and dropped her off at her grandmother’s little store. There Martha stayed and had her baby, a blonde little boy whom everyone called Güero. It wasn’t too bad for Martha. She had her grandmother and the store and her Güero and there she would make a life, helping her Nana, raising her son, and entertaining the local girls with stories from the Other Side.
Elena liked listening to Martha’s stories; Martha was a real cuentera and embellished her cuentos with sound effects and a few little tunes, mostly rancheras she knew by heart.
So now it was Elena’s turn to get out of San Ignacio with one big difference: while Martha came back with a baby in her panza, Elena was leaving San Ignacio with a baby in her panza. Another difference, and a big one was that Elena Parra’s father was not as benevolent as Martha’s Nana and would not take kindly to the fact that Elena Parra had opened up her legs to the wrong boy at the wrong time.
There it was, the predicament that Elena Parra found herself in.
Going to Nogales, Sonora was going to be okay because once there she knew that her Tía Manue would open her large fluffy arms and let her rest in the bosom of her tiny little house on top of the hill overlooking Stink Bug Bridge – El Puente del Pinacate. And while Manue did not have a tiendita to make her living, she did have a widow’s pension from when her husband fell off a ladder while inspecting a building for the health department. Manue would take her in because in addition to being Elena’s aunt, she was also her madrina. And the promise of the Madrina was that if anything happened to your goddaughter, you would step up and take care of her.
So, Elena Parra had a predicament, but she also had a plan. All she had to do was get to Nogales, Sonora. How hard could that be?
“Flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop,” the fine dust of the desert ground seeped in to her chanclas and was soft against her bare feet. The sky was blue like it always was and the day was warm but not hot. It was October and soon, the sun’s angle would be kinder to the eyes, and the night air would be just right for sleeping. She would be at her tía’s after dark, but she knew exactly how to get there even though she would be exhausted from climbing the 106 steps to get to the top of the hill.
Elena didn’t expect things to go right all the way, but she also didn’t expect things to go so wrong so quickly.
The three boys that picked her up to take her to Magdalena were not strangers, but she broke the rule of never getting into a car alone with more than one man, even if you knew who they were. And she only knew one of them by name. Vico. He was the wiry one that spoke too fast and always wore a white cowboy hat and boots. He dressed like a cowboy even though he had no cows. A vaquero sin vacas.
She could hear their laughter before they stopped to ask her where she was going.
“A Magdalena,” she said, “to the bus station.”
“Get in,” said the driver, a dark-haired boy she had seen only from afar at the dances on the plaza.
She hesitated, and Vico said, “Andale pues, Elena, what are you waiting for? We don’t bite.”
She got into the back seat of the old brown Toyota sedan next to another boy who didn’t look at her. He was drinking from a cahuama, a large brown bottle of beer.
They drove down the dusty road for a good half hour in silence. The beer guy kept dosing off and startling himself out of sleep. He was awake now and staring at Elena with blood shot eyes and a crooked smile.
Elena’s mouth went dry, so she reached into her mochila for her water bottle and when she pulled it out, her small coin purse slipped out and on to the floor of the car. The stuffed bills were sticking out of the metal clasp.
Beer Guy looked down and watched Elena try to reach for the coin purse that had fallen by his foot. He tapped Vico’s shoulder from the back seat and when Vico looked back, he pointed to Elena Parra’s coin purse with his chin.
“So where are you going, Elena Parra? That you are in such a hurry?” Vico said.
Elena put the coin purse back in her pack. “Just to visit my aunt in Nogales,” she said.
“How much did your mother give you to spend? Can you buy us some tortas for the road?”
Elena clutched her mochila to her chest. “No, I just have money for the bus ticket.”
“Well, let’s take a look,” Vico said, and reached over and grabbed her mochila.
“Please don’t be mean, Vico.” She said. After all, she did in fact know him and his family. She never thought he was a bad guy.
“I’m not being mean,” Vico said, “just hungry.” He chuckled as he grabbed the coin purse.
Beer Guy laughed a stupid drunk laugh and that is when Elena Parra realized she was in trouble.
“Ay, ay, ay,” Vico said finding the coin purse. “Let’s see how much you have for your little trip.”
He pulled the crumpled bills out and counted them. “Fifty pesos? That’s enough for tortas and a bus ticket, ¿qué no?”
Elena looked out the window of the old Toyota trying to muster up the courage to open the car door and jump out.
Beer Guy reached over to her side and slammed the door lock down with his brown fist.
The three boys laughed, and the driver swerved while he said, “Well, muchachos, it looks like we won the lotería!”
Elena sat back without saying a word. The driver turned on the radio full blast as they barreled down the dirt road that led to the paved road to Magdalena.
“We’re almost there, Preciosa,” Beer Guy said as he reached over and stroked Elena’s knee. When Vico noticed, he yelled at him, “¡Déjala en paz! Leave her to me.”
Vico winked at Elena and Beer Guy was amused. He attempted a celebratory howl.
When they came to the turn that Elena knew was a left turn to go into the narrow-paved highway to Magdalena, the driver turned right.
Vico said, “Where are you going, Pendejo? I thought we were going to Magdalena.”
“Change of plans,” the driver said and sped down the highway in the direction of Santa Ana.
Elena Parra sat in the corner of the back seat of the old Toyota pushing herself as far away from the scene as possible. The tears rolled down her cheeks as she realized her father’s beating would have been much better than this.
After what seemed like a long time to Elena, Vico as if startling himself out of a deep sleep, turned a deep shade of red and pounded on the dashboard.
“No! ¡Chinga tu madre, Buey!” He said. “This is going too far!”
The driver looked over to Vico and said, “No mames, Buey, I’m just fooling around.”
“Turn back,” Vico said staring at him. “I’m serious.”
“Cálmate, Pendejo. I know where I’m going. It’s not far. We can get some tortas and have a little fun.”
“Pull over!” Vico yelled. “Pull over now or I’ll break your face.”
Elena was sobbing softly to herself.
The driver jerked the car into a U-turn in the middle of the highway.
As Elena looked out the window, she saw the place that everyone called Las Tres Hermanas up ahead. It was a small gathering of out buildings and three houses in a row in a clearing behind a tall, barbed wire fence by the highway. They were grand houses by Elena Parra’s estimation. They belonged to a prominent family of ranchers, the Maytorena’s, and the story told that Mr. Maytorena built each of his beautiful daughters a house on the edge of his vast cattle ranch.
Vico pulled the steering wheel away from the driver and the car swerved and hit a dirt embankment as the driver slammed on the breaks.
The driver hit his head hard against the steering wheel and screamed. “¡Te voy a matar, Cabrón!”
Vico called out to Elena. “Get out! Get out and go!”
Elena saw that Vico was almost as afraid as she was.
The driver staggered out of the car to stop her, and Vico ran around and kicked him in the groin.
“What the hell are you doing?” Yelled the driver.
Vico opened the back door and yelled at Elena again. “Run!”
The driver shoved Vico against the car and started to make a grab for Elena and Vico punched him hard in the face.
Elena scrambled out of the car and ran toward the barbed wire fence that surrounded the property. She ran toward the gate and looked for a way to open it. The sign on the gate read, “¡Peligro¡” with pictures of red lightning bolts.
While Vico and the driver were fighting, Beer Guy got out of the car and stood by holding himself up against the car. Elena took off toward the periphery of the fence for a few yards and saw a space in the barbed wire where she thought she could crawl through without tripping up the fence. She put one leg in carefully and bent down in a straight line and inserted her head through the wire while her other leg straddled the barbed wire. With her body halfway into the yard she slowly balanced and pulled her left leg out away from wire and into the yard. Then she ran without looking back. She ran away from the highway, away from the fence and deep into the mesquite grove behind the houses. When she couldn’t run anymore, she hid behind a mesquite tree; she looked back but couldn’t see the road. She then heard the car peel out. From the sound of it, it sounded like they were heading back toward Magdalena.
Elena Parra sat by the mesquite tree until her heart stopped pounding. She felt a sudden urge to gag from the dust in her throat. She couldn’t swallow. She needed water but her water was in her mochila along with the rest of her belongings, and they were gone. She thanked God.
There had to be water somewhere near the houses.
As she walked toward the houses again, Elena remembered driving to Santa Ana with her mother and father on trips to buy feed or some other provision that they couldn’t get in Magdalena. She remembered her mother telling her about the houses…
“Look at the Tres Hermanas,” she would say, “and how beautiful they are. One of them pink, one of the yellow and the other the color of a peach.”
As a little girl Elena only imagined what those houses might look like inside. Maybe they had crystal chandeliers or velvet couches; maybe they had a real sink with running water and a gas stove. All the things that Elena Parra’s home didn’t have.
“I was lucky one time to know the lady that cleaned the houses,” Mrs. Parra said, “and I went into the pink house. That one belongs to Elsa, one of the three Maytorena sisters. The other two belong to Ciria and Maria del Carmen.”
Elena loved hearing stories about Los Maytorena and how rich they had gotten. The story told that their grandfather had come from Spain many years ago and married a Mayo woman, the beautiful and tall Gertrudes, now known as Doña Tule. She was so beautiful that no one minded that she as an Indian.
Although Elena Parra knew no one would be home, she knocked on the back door of the yellow house. Nada.
She knocked on the pink house. Nada.
She knocked on the house the color of a peach. Also, nothing.
The afternoon was dead silent. No birds. No cicadas. No crickets. Nada.
She went around the front of the houses, afraid to find the brown Toyota with her assailants waiting for her, Beer Guy sobered-up and ready to pounce on her while driver watched. Vico, gone, or worse, dead on the side of the road, hit with a rock on the head. Bloody.
She shook off her vision as she noticed that there were flowers growing by the front door of the peach-colored house. And then she saw that there were flower beds in front of the others as well. Perritos is what she called those miniature purple and yellow flowers that looked like little dogs, and margaritas were the white daisies with yellow centers. There had to be water if there were flowers!
Elena saw a thick green hose under the greenery and followed it to the faucet on the side of the house. She turned it and water gushed out from a leak. She sucked water into her mouth, spit out the dirt from her mouth and guzzled the water, not bothering to go find the end of the hose and drink from it.
She looked around the property and saw the stables and the animal corrals. There was no one there. She was alone.
Elena Parra had set out on a simple plan. To get to Magdalena, then Imuris, then Nogales, Sonora. She wasn’t even going all the way to the Other Side. She just wanted to get to her Tía Manue where she would be scolded and cussed at and then hugged and sobbed over and then blessed a million times and doused with holy water with a huge scream to our Blessed Mother – “¡Ave María Purísima! What are we going to do now, Child?”
That’s all she wanted. And look what she got.
She sat on the stoop of the porch of the peach-colored house, waiting for someone to come and help her. She did not dare go out to the highway to catch a ride.
“Please, please, somebody help,” she whispered and leaned against the screen door. It moved – it wasn’t locked. She let herself into the screen porch. She sat on an old wooden chair. She waited. And waited. The sun was almost down, and she wondered what she could do.
“Just sleep on the porch,” she whispered to herself. “Wait until morning and then hitch a ride back to San Ignacio. Tell them the truth.”
It was her fault. Her and Fidencio, the neighbor’s son, met up at the dance at the plaza and did it. It was no big deal, not what she was expecting at all, and she swore she would never do it again. She swore she would never have sex with anyone let alone Fidencio who was clumsy and had scratchy hands. He wasn’t even a good dancer. He just shoved her around the dance floor, dragging his feet in a haphazard way. Al trochi mochi is what that style of dancing was called. Willy nilly.
Nothing to tell stories about. No cuento here. Not like Martha’s. Nothing like Martha’s sexy escapades with the cute Gringo. No romance. No pretty dress. No French cologne. Just Fidencio on a whim on a hot night in San Ignacio.
Her father would kill him for sure because he was kind of a useless kid. And he would beat her with his belt like he had done so many other times before for much less offensive acts than opening her patas for some good for nothing kid who didn’t even know how to shave.
Night fell on the peach-colored house and Elena Parra was cold and hungry. She could stand the hunger more than she could stand the cold. While in the daytime the place was quiet, she started hearing a variety of noises coming from just outside the porch. The hooting didn’t bother her at all because for a long time she considered owls her friends. When she heard the owls late at night at home in San Ignacio, she always felt soothed by it like a lullaby putting her to sleep. Tonight, was different. Elena was alert to every sound. Coyotes never bothered her much either but here she was alone in a strange house and the yelping seemed to be getting closer. She laid down on her side and could feel her little bump under her shirt. Now there would be two of them and how would she be able to provide for the little creature if she didn’t go back home to her mother and father.
Would her father beat her after she had a baby? She knew the answer as she heard scratching at the door. It startled her and made her sit up. There was no way anything could get into the porch. It had a latch and the door fit tight. She was safe, but there was no doubt there was an enormous coyote trying to get in.
“I’m safe,” she said, and then she started repeating, “Blessed Mother, I trust in you. Blessed Mother, I trust in you. Blessed Mother, I trust in you.”
This was the way she prayed. Being too lazy to recite the full rosary with all Our fathers and all the Hail Marys, that’s the way she said her beads from start to finish and then end with, “Oh my God I am so sorry for having offended thee…” The Act of Contrition. She knew that one by heart from start to finish.
She had recited the Act of Contrition a dozen times a day since the Fidencio incident, on that terrible day behind the plaza. Much good it did her. God had obviously not forgiven her.
Elena Parra was sure that this mess that she found herself in was all just punishment for having sex with the wrong boy at the wrong time.
“I am never doing it again, ever,” she told Martha.
“Well, you are only 15 years old, and you might change your mind. So never say never.” Martha said.
But Elena Parra was resolved. She made a manda to the Blessed Mother. If she could somehow get to safety, to her Tia Manue’s and she took her in and let her have her baby and didn’t let Elena’s father beat her with the belt until he could no longer swing his arm, she would never ever have sex again.
“Sht. Sht.” Elena hissed at the animal. She got a stick and hit the door with it. “¡Andale! Go away!”
The animal wouldn’t budge. He kept whining and trying to pry the door open with his paw. He looked up at her through the screen with his yellow eyes and panted like a dog. He seemed harmless, but she knew these crazy beasts and they were not called tricksters for nothing. If she weakened and let him in, he would tear her to shreds.
Stay tuned for the ending, next post!