Chalina had hair like the night wind, and skin like honey. Her eyes were like stars fallen from a sultry night. But the story begins with her mother. Everyone talked about her mother even before she was pregnant with Chalina. Because Chalina’s mother was a witch.
Before Chalina was born, she used to visit her mother at night, bringing prophecies and incantations and all sorts of illicit knowledge. She would push her mother’s ribs apart at the breastbone—just as if they were those swinging saloon doors that you see in old Westerns—and climb right out and talk to her mother, whose name was Mari. Mari called Chalina “brujita vellosa,” “woolly witch-baby,” because she already had lots of hair even before she was born. And Chalina was also a witch. Mari was always half-asleep when the baby came out for a visit, and she didn’t always recognize her for who she was; which meant that, on several occasions, Mari came close to putting her on the comal and searing her in bacon fat—because she thought her baby was a plump damsel bass!
Mari should not have let her baby come out and speak with her before she was born, but Chalina was a witch-baby, and her mother was a witch-mother. And there came a day when Chalina ventured out of her mother through the doors of her rib cage, and the little woolly witch-baby was very hungry, so she asked her mother for a slice of apple. Mari, still half-asleep, groped about in the dark for an apple slice, but in her oscitant confusion and carelessness, she handed her baby a lemon slice instead. Chalina grew furious over such an unpleasant mix-up—she was a baby, after all—and decided to punish her mother with certain wicked and deceitful words.
“Mother, mother, I have seen a crime. I conjure up a revelation. A dream of my father. I conjure up an evil vision. My father, Don Anselmo Molina, the man that you love, does not belong to you anymore. His heart is with someone else, and all his desire as well. That woman is Guillermina Hortencia Torres-Salinas, your very own mother!”
After that night, Chalina refused to come out any more. She closed the door and locked it, but only after she had set the house on fire. Brokenhearted Mari cried like the clouds do when they’ve spilled the water that they carefully collect to make creamy rice-milk. Mari was a very tender witch. But Chalina wasn’t caring at all. She just laughed and laughed inside her mother.
When Don Anselmo returned that night from the cantina, Mari’s black grief turned to anger. She made bitter coffee for her husband, and seasoned his frijoles with rue and wormwood instead of cilantro and rosemary. She sewed the cuffs of his pants too high, and made his bed up all backward. Instead of feeding his chickens alpiste and rapeseed, she fed them gunpowder and broken glass. As time went on, Don Anselmo became more and more angry and vindictive in his own right. Chalina was eventually born to Mari and Don Anselmo, coming out of her mother the natural way, but her parents were now in open warfare, a dreadful war that she herself had instigated; a war invented with a lie, out of spite.
After her cuarentena was over, Mari decided to have a party to celebrate the birth of her witch-daughter, and to officially give her a name. And so, on the seventh of March, at the hour when the light climbed out of the twisted tree branches and right up into the crown of the sky, and the smoke from cooking fires festooned their little town with insipid angels in dinghies who were rowing through the air like the sullenness of gamblers down on their luck, at that hour of fiery sunset hues and tenebrous shadows, Chalina’s birth was celebrated in the little farmhouse where Mari and Don Anselmo lived in a state of continual antagonism and malevolence toward each other. They acted with politeness on that special occasion, for the sake of their child, but there was tension in the air as the family and friends gathered for botanas and antojitos, and tequila and brandy. Mari graciously prepared all the food and drink, and served the guests with her own hands, including her hated husband and wicked mother—those two who, according to the witch-baby, had committed appalling crimes against her and God and nature and love.
Everyone at the party ate and drank to their heart’s content, but most especially Don Anselmo, who consumed twenty tamales, and ten gorditas, and five empanadas, and six cups of brandy, before falling asleep in the midst of the tables. So it was no surprise at all that when he awoke in the early afternoon on the following day, he had no appetite, and couldn’t even drink a little water. He didn’t become alarmed until his thirst began to grow and his belly began to rumble, but no matter how wide he opened his mouth, and no matter how hard he tried to swallow, not a trickle or a morsel would find its way down his throat. He didn’t know it, but Mari’s mother, Guillermina Hortencia Torres-Salinas, had been stricken with the very same malady after the witch-baby’s naming party. In a short space, both Don Anselmo and Chalina’s grandmother died of hunger and thirst. Only Mari, and the cups she buried in the back yard, which were unearthed by accidental coincidence after she was carried off by tick fever twelve years later, knew what really happened to her husband and her mother. Mari had dissolved sealing wax in the brandy she served them on the evening of the party that had been called to celebrate the birth and naming of Chalina, and the sealing wax they unwittingly drank to the health of the witch-baby sealed up both of their gullets and the rest of their insides.
Nobody knows what happened to Chalina, but my guess is that she still lives in the little village where she was born, and is still making mischief for the people there.
Charles Haddox lives in El Paso, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexico border, and has family roots in both countries. His work has appeared in over forty journals including Chicago Quarterly Review, The Sierra Nevada Review, Folio, and Concho River Review.
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Photo by Christal Yuen