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 every day 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…”
He didn’t stop. He would never stop. He would never let her go.
* * *
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 pretended to mend her blouse by the window of her small adobe hut. She was 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!”
“M’hija, why bring that up every time Rufina gets a new dress? You know how things are!”
“She just likes showing-off, like when we were kids. That dress would look so nice on me, don’t you think? Mama, look!” She stood away from the window into the small mirror, pushing her breasts together. “You can’t even see her chi-chis! Que feita!”
“María! Cállate! Leave her alone. She likes you, no? Anyways, she looks like her mama, pobre cita! Be happy you look like your Papa!”
“She 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.” María lowered her voice and whispered, “Fina told me that Carlotta is having a Quinceanera next week. If I get invited, I’ll need something to wear!” María looked down at her tattered dress and shoes slowly twirling in front of the mirror.
“Invited? To Carlotta’s party? Ay, thats a big wish María. I’ve told you before, we have our place. Rufina will always come first. Apolonia is a good woman. Just do your chores and don’t cause trouble.” 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’d he say?”
“He stared at us and didn’t say anything, and then grabbed our hair and slapped us.”
“No, he’d never do that.”
“Si, mama, he did. He just came back from that meeting in town with all of the other men from church. He heard us talking about Baltazar and Roberto.”
“Who are they?”
“You know Baltazar! He’s the tall boy who comes with Don Doroteo every month from Rancho La Horóstiga. They have those big, sweet strawberries and avocados. I like talking to him.”
“María! I’ve told you not to talk to men like that. Young men have no business talking to young girls. They only want one thing.”
“No, Mama. He’s a good boy! So handsome, sweet.”
“Luz doesn’t want you speaking with anyone. He told you that. Does he know who you are?”
“I think he knows who Papa is. He saw me in the house helping Apolonia. He even gave me some flowers from his ranch!” Composing herself, María continued, “Anyway, Papa 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!! Don’t 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 liked her. She told him to stay away ‘cause Papa’d shoot him if he came back.”
“Poor Fina. Sometimes I wonder how Apolonia puts up with Luz. He’s a good man, m’hija. The revolution’s changed our men. Your Papa’s just protecting you two. Girls’ve been taken by Pancho Villa. Luz thinks he can protect you forever.”
“How am I supposed to get married if I can’t have a boyfriend?”
“We’ll talk about that when the time comes, M’hija.”
Looking out of the window again, María stares at the women and their children walking by on the street. “I can’t live here forever, mama. I’m sick of it.”
“I know, m’hija. But I lost Luz once. I don’t want to lose him again.”
“Why’d Papa marry Apolonia? You’ve never told me the whole story.”
“That’s a long time ago.”
“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 was around 1886. I always walked with Florencia, but she was busy, so I went alone.”
“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. Before I knew it, he grabbed me up and we rode up into the hills.”
“Didn’t you try to fight him? Didn’t you try to run away?”
“Of course I did. But he was strong, and I was scared. He told me if I tried to get away, he’d kill me.”
“How long did he keep you? What did he do to you? Did Papa try to find you?”
“Five months. Long enough to get pregnant. Luz looked for me every day. He finally found me, but it was too late. Pilar was his name.”
“Your Papa’s mother didn’t let us get married. Luz told me I belonged to him, and he would love me forever. His parents forced him marry Apolonia.” Petra’s eyes began to water.
“Mama, I have to leave. Baltazar asked me to marry him.”
Petra held María close. “My mother used to tell me she knew what was in my heart. She’d say, ‘Petra, por donde vas, yo ya vengo; where you’re going, I’ve already been.’ Promise me, m’hija, promise me you’ll never look back.”