by: Carmen Baca ((Header art by Jessica Rimondi.))
A follow up to “Baile De Diablo,” where the fallout from that fateful evening at the Blue Light City Roadhouse continues…
We were all lunatics or witches to the old woman who moved into our little village. All the years she lived among, yet apart from us, and every time she passed up or down our rutted dirt road, this was the refrain we heard from her. Whether wandering up to her house at the end of the valley, or driving down to the nearest town for groceries or errands, the old crone yelled at all of us, but mainly at one older woman, Prima María, La Médica — the closest thing we had to a doctor in our community.
Years before, when she was a young girl, Claudia (that was her name at this juncture in time) was a cherished child of two doting parents with an older sister. An accident, thereafter, stole her parents, and the sister who was already married took Claudia in. She was a sheltered child. Her sister and brother-in-law tried their best to keep her safe and comfortable, and to remind her that she was loved. But when she turned eighteen, they began taking her to dances and fiestas in the hopes they could find a good man to whom they could marry her off. It was at a dance at the Blue Light City Roadhouse that something so terrible and shocking occurred that resulted in Claudia being institutionalized. When Claudia was released, she didn’t want to remain in a city where the dance hall and such a traumatic event unfolded and where the insane asylum was located. For many years after she moved to our little town, we silently wished we knew who had suggested she move there so we could lay our complaints at their feet.
The feud between La Médica and La Lunática — the name we eventually gave Claudia — began shortly after La Lunática settled in our rural community. Our town was having a dance one evening, and everyone in attendance was having a grand time. The party was in full swing when La Lunática decided to drop in. No one thought she’d been invited, and since we couldn’t know for sure, no one moved to ask, much less to throw her out. None of us knew her personally and we were too apprehensive about making that all important first move toward friendship. We all had heard rumors she’d come from the hospital in the nearby city of Las Nubes, and since we didn’t know just how unstable she was, we stayed away concerned for our safety. We all wondered why she had even come to our community gathering that evening, being that it was in fact a dance that began her descent into lunacy.
La Lunática was a tall woman, thin and bony. She wore a look of superiority as if she were the village queen. The fact that she dressed in silks and velvets set her apart from us, even when we wore our Sunday best. We knew the woman didn’t see us as equals, and we all felt her disdain as she looked us over. La Lunática moved gracefully across the long room as as the dance commenced causing the musicians to stumble a bit in their rhythm. All the dancers kept dancing however, only pausing to turn their heads to watch her while those seated or standing along the walls stopped their conversations to keep her in their line of sight. La Lunática paused and sat at an unoccupied chair tucked behind a table. Those with their backs to La Lunática swiveled in their seats to keep their eyes on her, even if only peripherally. In time, the conversations resumed and she continued to sit and observe the room. After a while, she stood and made her way to the refreshment table where La Médica stood pouring a drink from the punch bowl.
We kept our eyes glued on the two women. We all knew La Médica; she’d been our “doctor” for most of her life and every one of us had been treated by her at one time or another. Because of this, we knew her character, her ability to “see” things, her lack of tolerance for the lazy or the vain among us, and her bottomless generosity. As La Lunática began to reach for a tea cup with a white-gloved hand, La Médica raised the one she held and motioned for La Lunática to take it since it was already filled with punch. La Lunática mumbled a short “thank you” as she raised the cup to her lips and took a large swallow. La Médica stood skeptically looking up at the woman’s throat when she swallowed. Then she slowly took a couple of steps away as if preparing for something.
“Brrr—ach!” emerged from the La Lunática’s mouth as she let out a monstrous belch. Those close to her swore later they actually saw vapor emerge from her widely parted lips. No one knew if she’d been about to say something specific and no one cared. They were too busy enjoying her reaction to the liquor.
Unfortunately, the moments immediately after are when the condemnation of La Médica, and all of us, began.
“¡Brujas!” La Lunática spat. “¡Lunáticos!”
“Something the matter?” La Médica smiled sweetly.
“¡Bruja!” La Lunática accused with a pointed finger almost touching La Médica’s nose.
“You’ve poisoned me!” She turned for help where there was none. “She gave me poison and now I’m dying!”
“M’bah!” The diminutive La Médica dismissed the accusation with a wave of her hand.
“Don’t you know how to drink mula? Moonshine should be sipped like a lady, not slurped like a horse.”
The punch had been spiked generously with a Mason jar full of moonshine, some of the best turpentine-tasting liquor for miles around. La Lunática thrust the cup at La Médica who caught it in both hands before it spilled, for moonshine was not to be wasted on the clothes or the floor. Spinning on her heels, La Lunática raised her gloved hands in the air and shook her head as if to say we were all too much for her to waste her time on. The room filled with laughter as she took long swift steps toward the exit. Right before she reached it, La Lunática turned and looked at all of us once more. Her voice took on a sort of desperation and as a whole we quieted, feeling a touch of shame for laughing. Until she yelled again, that is.
“¡Son brujas todas!¡Lunáticos todos!” La Lunática bellowed.
“Yes, we are!” one fellow agreed.
“¡Sí, somos brujas— wicked witches!” two elderly woman, Comadre Teresita and Prima Paula, chimed in.
Hollers from the crowd mocked La Lunática, urging her to go back to the looney bin. Defeated she lifted her nose, turned and left with a swirl of her velvet skirt. Her abrupt departure made those of us in attendance hang their heads in shame. We didn’t feel comfortable around her and breathed a sigh of relief when she departed, but the way we did it made us all confess our sins the next day to the Padre who came from town to hear our confessions and to give mass.
In the following weeks we returned to our daily routines, shaking our heads anew when La Lunática passed up or down our dirt road, each time yelling at us with even more vigor. One detail we all remembered was that she always wore those white gloves. And we all knew why. Rumor had it she bore the mark of the devil — his lips had been burned into the skin at the back of her hand as it had on all those who had attended the dance where she lost her sanity many years earlier. We were grateful in those days to be guided in our faith by Los Hermanos, the Brotherhood of devout men who cared for us, for they never would’ve let us go to such a celebration during Lent. Even though La Lunática continued her tirade of condemnation of us all, we felt a certain sympathy for her plight. But we also remained steadfast in avoiding her for our own self-preservation. That is, until the Fall, when the women of our little valley decided to offer her mercy.
Autumn brought the driving winds and the cold and with it the urgency to harvest our crops before the first freeze. Neighbors exchanged fruits and vegetables, one having harvested more than enough pumpkins to go around while another shared his corn crop or wheat crop, and so on. The Tres Compañeras, Paula, Teresita, and Dolores, worked together and by horse and wagon went up and down the valley distributing the fruits of their harvests.
At the top of the hill stood the house of La Lunática, and the Tres Compañeras stopped their wagon several hundred yards away, as they argued over whether to extend their charity to the woman.
“So do we keep going?” Paula asked her cohorts.
“We’re here already, seems a shame to just turn back,” Teresita said, throwing in her two cents.
“We don’t need to take the whole sack to her,” added Dolores.
“What sack? We didn’t bring any sack.”
“What are you two rambling about?” Paula grumbled. “Let’s just take her a few things.”
“Nothings going to happen to the wagon’s springs.” Dolores looked at the road, which was worn with muddy ruts. She added, “They aren’t deep enough to break the wheels.”
“What are you talking about? Never mind,” Teresita stopped herself. “Vámonos ya,” she added.
Comadre Dolores looked at her in disgust, leaving Teresita to wonder why.
“¡Vomito? “Who has to vomit?”
“Bah, ha, ha” burst from Paula’s mouth. “It’s her hearing!” she exclaimed, pointing at Dolores. Distracted by the trepidation of going any closer to the house of La Lunática, both had forgotten for a moment just how deaf Dolores was. Christian consciences ruled the day, however, and they slowly approached. Teresita stiffly lowered her seventy-year-old body from the wagon and tried to quicken her pace to the back, where she retrieved a box of calabacitas, corn, manzanas y duraznos, peas, avas, and cucumbers. There was no way Teresita was going near the front door, so she placed the box on the ground by the wooden gate and backed away. Once mounted, she motioned to Paula to get going.
Suddenly, La Lunática emerged from the house with raised fists, and the horse began balking as if sensing something amiss.
“Leave!” she yelled. “You won’t get rid of me that easily with your poisoned fruit!” She picked up a rock the size of a baseball at the same moment that Teresita spotted the black mark on La Lunática’s hand and gave a little screech. Paula slapped the reins on the horse’s back to turn her away from the rabid woman. The horse reared at first, giving La Lunática time to launch her rocky missile. Both Dolores and Teresita threw their arms over their heads in an attempt to shield themselves.
“¡Apurate!” Teresita yelled at Paula.
“I’m hurrying, I’m hurrying!”
“¡Pronto! Get out of here!”
“Dolly, come around!” Paula screamed at the horse.
“You stupid, or what?” Dolores screamed back. “I’m not getting down!”
Finally Paula was able to control Dolly and they sped off just as the rock crashed against the back of the wagon.
After the Tres Compañeras explained to the townsfolk what had happened, no one attempted to engage with La Lunática again. In some ways this was a shame, as what no one saw during the confrontation with La Lunática was her smiling to herself when she spotted the box of vegetables and fruits the Tres Compañeras had left for her.
The food, both fresh and the portion she had set aside to dry for the long winter, sustained her for some time. La Lunática enjoyed all of it immensely after coming to an understanding that the food hadn’t been poisoned in the least. She had learned to appreciate her solitude during the time she spent in the asylum and preferred to be left alone. In the back of the woman’s mind was the threat of the future looming before her and the dark promise of the stranger — el Diablo — who had ruined her life on that night of her first real dance at the Blue Light City Roadhouse. Fearing she was a danger to others, she avoided forming friendships purposely to prevent putting any of her neighbors, her kind vecinos, from falling victim to the demon which haunted her days and who visited her mind in the nights.
Then something else occurred in our little valley, something which made us all believe witches had truly taken up residence among us. All of us believed then that la Lunática was herself a bruja and that she’d accused us to divert suspicion from herself. But that’s another story for another time…
Carmen Baca taught a variety of English and history courses, mostly at the high school and college levels, over the course of thirty-six years before retiring in 2014. Living on the land left to her by her father, she and her husband enjoy a peaceful county life in northern New Mexico.