Katerina Valencia Contrerez is an angry old bruja who lives outside the village of Dos Cruces. She hates her nephew, Cecilio. She beats him with her fists and chases him away. So Cecilio made her a beautiful walking stick to get in her good graces. Now Katerina beats him with her stick. The villagers say the lesson is, don’t arm your enemies. They say Cecilio is a great teacher.
They say she danced like a puta and then like an angel, but she was no puta, and she was no angel; she would writhe like a she-devil, shimmering and wresting off her mortal coil, and swiftly shifting to an angel, to float across the wooden floor of her little house, graceful and lithe and so lovely, men would want her in their arms to make love to her, and then back again to the vulgar and most lewd movements imaginable; and it was also said the deer and other animals of the forest would crowd at her window to watch.
One night, in a little village called Dos Cruces in the valley of the Sierra Madre, Hector and Nestor and Beebo stole a bottle of whiskey from Jose’s Cantina to get drunk. Hector was the oldest at nineteen. Nestor wasn’t sure how old he was. Beebo was the youngest at only fifteen. He wore two different shoes. Nestor was telling his two criminal friends about the dancer, Maria Elena Gonzalez, but they had heard the story and they didn’t believe it.
“It’s just a story they tell,” Nestor said.
“Yes,” Beebo agreed. “A story to scare the ninos on Dia del Muerte to frighten them from the vieja’s house so they wouldn’t take the sweets she offered to snatch them up and pull them screaming into her house.”
Nestor said it was the old woman who did the screaming. He said she screamed with delight.
“Vieja?” Hector said. “I never heard about no old woman.”
“Oh, yeah,” Beebo said. He took more than his share of the whiskey and passed it to Hector. “She snatches the fattest little ones and cooks them in boiling water until they stop wiggling. Then she puts them in her bread oven with potatoes and things all wrapped in elephant ear leaves to roast, and then she eats them and makes candles out of them.”
Hector shook his head and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “I don’t believe that part,” he said.
“It’s true,” Beebo insisted. “And she always asks them, ‘Where you been?’ in her ugly voice.”
“And the animals watch Maria dance?” Nestor asked.
The others didn’t answer. They were too drunk by then and it was too much trouble.
They sat in Juan Baptiste’s old Cadillac, each thinking up their own images of Maria Elena Gonzalez dancing in her flimsy see-through nighty, being vulgar and angelic.
Juan Baptiste still polished his old Cadillac, even though it was up on blocks and he sold the engine and transmission when he came home from the war because he couldn’t find a job. He had to pay off his house, but he kept the old car polished because it was such a handsome car, and he thought it made him look rich parked outside even though the whole village laughed at him. They knew he wasn’t rich. Why would a rich man dress like a peone and eat his pigs and goats and ride his old burrow everywhere?
Finally, when Hector was drunk enough and his two criminal friends eyes were sagging heavy and their heads were nodding, said, “I wan’t to see Maria Elena Gonzalez dance.”
Beebo gasped. “Oh, no,” he said with a great deal of dread in his voice. “I knew you were going to say that. I knew it. She’s a Bruja, Hector. A mean one.”
“That’s loco,” Nestor said. “I ain’t goin.”
“I’ll go by myself,” Hector said. “I ain’t ascared.”
So, they all got out of Juan Baptiste’s Cadillac, and the doors closed as quietly as a new refrigerator, and they headed south of town to the forest where no one went at night because things moved around in there at night, but that’s where Maria Elena Gonzalez’ house was.
“We’re gonna be sorry,” Beebo warned them. “This is the stupidest thing we ever did.”
“The stupidest thing we ever did was steal the Sheriff’s car to go to Mexico City and we wound up in Juarez,” Nestor said.
“That’s how we came to be called criminals,” Hector said. “It ruined our names for good.”
“We already ruined our names,” Beebo lamented. “The Sheriff just put a new name on all three of us- Criminals.”
“You didn’t complain when we woke up in the alley behind Tia Bernardo’s.” Nestor said. “You had a grin on your face like a Chinaman.”
“That’s because he went with the fat one,” Hector said.
“She smiled at me.”
“Even when we hitchhiked back with the pigs in a truck, you were still smiling,” Hector said.
“And she gave you a little present, didn’t she? You weren’t smiling then.”
“It stung to pee,” Beebo said. “I hated peein’. I even pee’d myself trying to hold it because it stung. I had to go see Anna the Curada and steal a chicken to pay her.”
With that, Hector and Nestor fell to the forest floor laughing. Even Beebo laughed, and as they laughed, he noticed it was a full moon hiding in the clouds.
“Look,” he said. “It’s a full moon. A man shouldn’t do anything when it’s a full moon.”
“I know,” Nestor said. “A man shouldn’t even take a crap when it’s a full moon.”
Beebo shuddered. “I know. A man shouldn’t even fart when it’s a full moon.”
And with that, they fell into another fit of irresistible laughter until their noses were running and their eyes were tearing. It was a wonderful thing, these friends, these criminals enjoying the camaraderie of each other.
When they finally came to their senses and proceeded through the woods, they came to the shabby little house of Maria Elena Gonzalez.
Beebo was shaking scared. “Give me the bottle,” he said.
“I don’t have it,” Hector said.
“I don’t have it,” Nestor said.
You had it last, pendajo, Hector said. “You left it in Juan Baptiste’s Cadillac.”
Beebo leaped upon the opportunity. “I’ll go get it,” he said, and he was gone at a run before the others could protest.
“Don’t worry,” Nestor said. “I have my flask. I filled it when we were stealing the whiskey from Jose’s Cantina.”
“Good thinking, Nestor. You’re a true criminal.”
“Muchas gracias, amigo. What do we do now?”
Hector shrugged. “We have to sneak around in back where the window is.”
So, the two criminals moved like thieves through the forest to the rear of Maria Elena Gonzalez’ little house, and what did they see?
“Mio dios,” Hector said. “Mira. Mira estas.”
They saw several deer standing in the glow of the window. A raccoon was sitting on the window sill and another stretched its neck to see from the back of one of the deer.
“What should we do? Nestor said.
“We should sneak up to the window.”
“But the deer-”
And that’s what they did and they feasted their eyes on the beautiful, young body of Maria Elena Gonzalez in her gauzy nighty and watched her leap and twirl with the deer crowded around them.
Oh, she was a sight to behold, young and preciously pretty with her long, shiny hair that seemed to dance with her, one minute like an angelic visage and then twisting and tantalizing, more lurid than any of the dancers at Tia Bernardo’s Cantina in Juarez, even the fat one.
She moved across the room as naked as a young man might imagine in his wildest fantasies, bursting outward with her hips and running her hands over her melon-like breasts, and her shadow, cast by the candles, danced behind her on the wall. It was truly a wicked scene. She was, indeed, every man’s desire, inviting and beckoning and pursing her lips while her dark eyes flashed. Then she danced out of sight into another room, and the two criminals waited, and she appeared once more through another door, wearing even less.
As it happened, she danced once more out of the room and the two criminals waited, and they waited, their eyes hungrily alert on the other door, and they waited, and they did not notice the deer had gone and the raccoon had let itself down from the window sill, and they stood watching, the two of them alone, never realizing they had been drawn in until out of nowhere they heard the skittery croak of the hideous old woman who fastened her lips together at the end of a sentence. “Whey have you bim-m-m?”
They froze where they stood, shrieking at the sight of her. Nestor grabbed onto Hector, hugging him and jumping and screaming. Hector could hardly breathe. He forced Nestor’s grip. Frantically, he broke loose by smashing his fist into Nestor’s stomach. Then he ran. With a strength he didn’t know he had, he ran through the forest back toward the village without stopping until he could no longer breathe fast enough to sustain himself. He fell at the edge of the forest and squirmed gasping under a mix of shrubbery to breathe freely and recover.
The sun was already well into the morning hours when he awoke. There was no trace of Nestor. He got up, still shaking, his legs weak and wobbly, and headed back to the Cadillac of Juan Baptiste where he found Beebo asleep with the empty whiskey bottle clutched to his chest like a child’s stuffed sleeping toy.
Hector shoved on Beebo to wake him up and Beebo asked where Nestor was. Hector told him about the wonder they had seen; the deer and the beautiful dance of Maria Elena Gonzalez and the ugly, old vieja who had scared them away.
Beebo rubbed his eyes and yawned and listened attentively. “But where is Nestor?” he insisted.
“I don’t know,” Hector said, sadly. “We ran. Maybe he’ll come along. We should wait for him.”
So they waited.
Beebo said he was hungry enough to eat a harness.
“Do you have any money?” Hector asked.
“No. Do you?”
“Don’t worry,” Beebo said. “I know where there’s a couple tires. Pretty good ones. We can steal them. Maybe Jose will give us some tortillas and frijoles for them.”
“Good idea,” Hector said. He patted Beebo on the back. “You’re a true criminal.”
They waited until they were too hungry to wait any more. No one ever saw Nestor again and there was no one to ask after him.