Just Another Day in the Park
by Kathleen Kersch
The woman was
dressed in old-fashioned finery - a bizarre 'Gibson Girl' with a cell phone. Her
large, sweeping hat was adorned with both feathers and flowers, and secured with a length of tulle which matched the ruffles
around the sleeves and neckline of her pale green, floor-length dress. She turned
toward the other woman on the wrought-iron bench - Señora Ramirez, a teacher - and smiled, the sun glinting off the bones
of her skull and showing shiny teeth, prominent in the fleshless visage. A Catrina,
noted Señora Ramirez – moving ever so slightly away from the stately skeleton, perfumed in mold and lavender. Why, the teacher wondered, would this vision of death be visiting her here in Juarez
Park, on the day of her first-graders' picnic?
Calavera Catrina moved
closer, the slit in her long skirt revealing a bony kneecap dangling from her femur, and offered a sugary skull to the child
clinging to his teacher's legs. Paco shyly accepted the candy. Señora Ramirez searched the hollow sockets of the Catrina's eyes, but could see neither avarice, nor possessiveness
there. Paco would not die.
Meanwhile, in her
home near the arroyo, Meche Gonzalez – mother of Beto – was scooping sugar into an earthenware bowl. The "Day of the Dead" was tomorrow, and she was grateful to have the ingredients to make the traditional
almond-paste candies. These candies would be taken to the cemetery with a half-liter
of the tequila her dead husband favored, her treasured photo of him, and armloads of giant marigolds bought at the little
store on the corner. The woman kneaded the dough with strong fingers, and then
glanced down at the linoleum-covered countertop where she was planning to form the dough into miniature fruits and meats. A miracle gazed back. There in the floured
lard, which she'd smeared on the counter so that her dough would not stick, appeared the face of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Hastily wiping her
hands on her apron, Meche Gonzalez ran outside yelling, "Un milagro! Madre María! Vengan!" Everyone came running –
piling into Meche's house to see the image of the Sacred Virgin. El Borracho,
the drunkard, came too – woken from his morning nap by the commotion of women and children. They all clustered around the smeared counter, speechless in their anticipation.
El Borracho broke
the reverent, yet puzzled silence: "Bah!"
He gestured expansively, flinging out his hand and 'accidentally' grazing the bosom of the woman next to him. "Look closely at your Virgin's eyes!" he commanded, conveniently taking the opportunity
to stumble into his neighbor, while pretending to be engrossed in the image. All
of the women and children leaned closer, as one worshipful entity. Meche peered
intently at the lard deity. "What of her eyes?
They are deep, and sorrowful."
"No. They are empty, and greedy. And look…" El Borracho continued – reluctantly separating himself from the firm, young body he'd fallen against,
to crane forward and jab his finger at the image. "This that you think is her
veil looks more like a wide hat to me. A hat with flowers and feathers."
Again, as one, the
neighbors sucked in their breath, leaned even closer, and stared even harder at the floury icon. Meche felt light-headed as she squinted into the deep, dark eyes on her counter. She felt a strong premonition that something unexplainable had happened.
The past was all around her and the future had already happened. A cell
phone rang in the dark, coppery distance, and she was drawn down into the eyes, down through the linoleum. Down, down, swirling as if in a slow-motion whirlpool. "Ave
María, Madre de Dios…" she muttered. "Socorranos
en nuestra hora…" She was sucked, as if completely without bones, into
the maelstrom and out of her kitchen. "It is a miracle… Ya vengo… I'm coming…." The others heard her receding voice, tiny and echoing, until it was no more.
In the Parque Juarez,
la Señora Ramirez wondered at the silence. The Calavera Catrina, who had been
sitting next to her, crooning at little Paco from her bony décolletage, had suddenly made a fizzling noise, like a one-peso
firecracker, and vanished. Completely.
There was not
another sound, save a single ring from the bizarre creature’s cell phone.
After a few moments,
a deep chill traced up the teacher's backbone and exploded out her fingertips. She
heard the wail of approaching sirens. The police.
Squad cars sped
up to the artesian well which bordered the park property and emptied its water into a large reservoir. Anxious clusters of both adults and schoolchildren were staring down into it. The teacher grabbed Paco and ran to join them. Usually dead
calm, the water in the reservoir was roiling in giant bubbles and popping like cold, mossy lava. It was swirling clockwise around the bubbles and, simultaneously, counterclockwise around the circumference
of the pond. A small child – her student Beto! – was in the center of the water, alternately being dragged under by some unseen force, and then
pushed back up by his gasping mother.
Just as he surfaced
for the third time, a bony hand emerged near the boy – dripping phosphorescence – and grasped his hair. Slowly, inexorably rising, came a skeletal arm, then a wide hat, spilling cataracts of flowers and dripping
water-logged feathers. The Calavera Catrina rose to stand on the surface, like
the contents of a coffin being extruded into the sky, dragging Beto with her. Once
fully out, the Catrina chuckled, tucked the boy under her arm, and strode a few steps over the water. She then poked two fingers in the hole that used to be her nose, laughed again, and sunk under the green
surface. Seconds later she again emerged, sputtering, dress bunched around her
dripping pelvic bones. The skeleton, still holding the squirming boy around his
waist, was levitated toward the heavens by a foggy beam of yellowish light, oozing and spreading upward from the fingertips
of the la Señora Gonzales. Beto gasped for breath and struggled to leap free
from the Catrina's hard grasp – unfortunately sticking his foot through, and breaking, the translucent beam of light
in the process. Greasy blue-white gouts of light ran down his leg, and he plummeted
toward the surface of the reservoir, wrapped in the sodden embrace of the grinning Catrina.
The child splashed in and was sucked under, under, deep under – where he met the future that had already passed. "Papa! Mama! Ya vengo!" The others heard his receding voice, tiny and echoing,
until it was no more.