Excerpt from my Southwestern Gothic Tale

(The following is an excerpt from a Southwestern Gothic Tale I have been working on for several years. This excerpt is entitled “Tía Lupe”, but the overall story will be called “Casanegra”.)

I first learned that my mother had a twin about twenty-five or so years ago, on my eighteenth birthday, when she showed up on our doorstep looking like my mother’s shadow-self. They were not identical, but close enough in their features so that their kinship was undeniable.
My mother, my father and I had just sat down for a pizza dinner (extra cheese-a birthday concession from my mother who thinks takeout food is one of the myriad steps on the path to corruption in this society of questionable morality and gluttonous consumption) when the doorbell rang. Hoping it was one of my friends come to wish me well and whisk me away for a night of celebratory hijinks I leapt from my seat, sprinted to the door and swung it open to reveal my aunt Lupe in all her bewitching glory.
She was petite and curvy, like my mother, and shared her fair complexion, full lips and sable hair but, where my mother wore hers in a tight bun, Lupe’s locks cascaded over her shoulders in ebon waves. Her eyes were two sparkling discs of obsidian drawing me into her gaze as she smiled and said,
“Hola querida, yo soy tu tía Lupe. ¿Está tu mamá en casa?”
I was dumfounded; lost in her glamour when my mother clamped her dishpan hand on my shoulder and through clenched teeth ordered me to return to my birthday dinner. I took a few steps towards the table then slowly turned on my heel to look back at the two figures in the doorway, my mother, in her well-worn but carefully maintained clothes and Tía Lupe, with her slinky getup, smiling like a wolf about to pounce on its prey, engaged in heated Spanish dialogue, most of which was passing too quickly for me to decipher with my limited knowledge of the language.
“Vamanos Charo, is your own flesh and blood not welcome in your house?” Lupe eventually asked in perfect English albeit with a faint accent, in a voice that was high-pitched, youthful and melodious; almost like a little girl’s voice, belied by an undercurrent of amused condescension that showed her true colors, if only I had been wise enough to see them.
My mother continued in Spanish using harsh hushed tones as Lupe listened with a smirk, occasionally casting a burning glance in my direction, each individual look causing me to flinch with an electric shock. Once my mother said her piece she raised her head in a defiant stance and steeled herself for her sister’s response. Lupe reached out, clamping her black nail-polished fingers onto my mother’s right shoulder as she leaned in close and said something which made my mother blanch; stepping back to wink at me, Lupe slipped away into the gloaming.
My mother stood for a moment holding the door frame, looking into the growing night, then snapped to attention and slammed the door shut. My father, whom I had forgotten was there, looked to my mother and asked if she was alright; she raised her hand in a halting gesture and said, “Por favor Eliseo, no empiezas conmigo.” Then stormed off to their bedroom and slammed the door shut.
My father motioned for me to eat my dinner and quietly got up to attend to my mother. I was later informed that if I ever saw my aunt again I was to avoid her no matter what she said, and let my parents know right away. Of course, it was too late for that…
That night, I couldn’t get my newly discovered relative out of my head. I had always wondered how my parents who were so staid and overbearingly religious could spawn such a free spirit as myself. Or perhaps I was a byproduct or opposing reaction to their goody-two-shoes lifestyle? Either way, I found a kindred spirit in Lupe. She had style, confidence, and no fear. She wasn’t at all bothered by my mother’s minacious utterances and even threw her off her footing with just a few choice words. What I would have given to know what she told her sister to make her recoil like she did.
In retrospect, I should have found it alarming when she appeared later that night at the glass sliding door which led from my bedroom to the backyard of our home. I had been startled from a deep sleep to find glowing phosphorescence fogging the outer side of the glass. Trying to focus my sleep-blurred eyes on something forming within the center of the brume, I rubbed my eyes and shook my head to disperse the sleep from my brain and gain some clarity of vision.
Burning a shadowy figure in the dimming light, Lupe stood, hand pressed on the glass, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Unperturbed by this unusual development, I sprinted from my bed to let her in. Upon entering the room, she nimbly pulled me close and embraced me saying, “Querida sobrina, ¡que gusto me da en conocerte finalmente!”
Gently pushing me away to an arm’s length, she looked into my eyes, then lightly snickered and said in her charming lilt, “You don’t speak much Spanish, do you?” Embarrassed, I looked down and self-consciously bit my lip. Lifting up my chin with her index finger, she reassured me, “I’m not trying to embarrass you mija, I’m just stating a fact. You need to learn more about where you come from. I would like for you to come stay with me and your Tío Beltrán once you finish school. Since your mother does not seem to want you to know about me, we shall communicate in secret through the post.”
“The post?” I asked.
“Tu sabes mija, el correo, este…the mail!”
“Oh!” then we both broke out in laughter, which was quickly stifled when we heard my father call agitatedly from across the hall, “Altagracia! Turn off that television and go to sleep!”
Lupe placed her left hand on my shoulder, and then raised her right finger up to her pursed lips in a gesture of silence as she rolled her eyes upwards, listening for any further movement from my parent’s side of the house. Turning her attention back to me, she gently pulled me close for another embrace and said that she would be in touch but that I must never, under any circumstances, reveal that she had been there and emphasized that I must never allow my mother in particular to discover our correspondence. Then, with a kiss on either cheek, she slowly stepped back into the darkness and disappeared. I didn’t recall hearing the door slide although it was slightly ajar. Still groggy from sleep, I dismissed it and went back to bed.
We kept in touch for the next few months while I finished high school. I devoured her letters, which I used to retrieve from a post office box; mind you, these were the days before email.
Through her letters, she told me the story of how she and my mother had grown up in Tlaxcala, Mexico. They were sororal twins, and were very close to each other as well as their parents, spending every moment together until my mother met and fell in love with my father. She became real serious, began ignoring Lupe and their parents to spend all of her free time with him, which hurt my grandparents deeply, and completely devastated Lupe. There was a brief respite when my father went off to medical school in the D.F., but after a couple of years he came back during the holidays, married my mother and took her with him back to the capitol. Lupe tried to find her when my grandparents passed away a few years later, only to find that they had moved to the States and hadn’t left a forwarding address.
Defeated and alone, Lupe spent the next several years wandering around Mexico, never staying anywhere very long, making her way as she could, which often meant doing things she wasn’t proud of. Eventually, she ended up in Hidalgo where she met a bruja, or witch, who took her on as an apprentice and taught Lupe the tricks of her trade. She showed her how to read fortunes, make love potions, home remedies, and how to cast spells on people who had wronged her. Over time, she became quite skilled at her craft and eventually surpassed her teacher, so when the woman passed away, Lupe took over her business.
Although she was successful at her trade, she performed much of her business on the sly as she was publically shunned by many of the locals who, despite seeking her help in many of their personal affairs, still harbored prejudices against her. Even so, she got by as she could and never gave up hope of someday finding her estranged sister.
Eventually, she heard rumors of my parents having moved to Arizona so she spent the next few years going through the process of obtaining a visa while she took on extra odd jobs to save up money for the eventual trip. Somewhere during this time she met my Uncle Beltrán, fell in love, married, then eventually moved to Arizona, although she glossed over the specifics of the move. My gut instinct is that she and Tío Beltran paid a coyote to take them across the border, since he had apparently amassed a small fortune by doing favors for influential people in his hometown of Tepito.
Two weeks before my graduation from Agua Fria High School, my mother and I had a blow-up when she found my letters from Lupe. I was tired of living under her strict rules and dealing with her intolerance anyway, so I decided to pack my things and pay a visit to Lupe as soon as I graduated. She had mentioned in her letters that Tío Beltrán was getting a little fragile health wise and wasn’t able to pitch in to help as much as he used to so I could be of some use to them both for a while as I sorted things out personally.
Preparing for the trip, I put together a trail mix of nuts, dried fruit and chocolate to snack on during the drive along with a canteen of water, this also being in the days before bottled water became so readily available everywhere. If there’s one thing I learned living in Arizona, you should never travel any distance in this state without access to water, because you can succumb to dehydration or disorientation if your car breaks down or if the air conditioning malfunctions.
Setting my cassette carrying case on the passenger seat, I stuck Tubeway Army’s “Replicas” into my car stereo and steeled myself for the two hour drive to Sedona in my little white coupe. I had intended to leave early, before the sun rose, but ended up sleeping late, like I usually do, and didn’t hit the road until the afternoon when the sun was highest in the sky—at least I was in an air conditioned environment. The drive seemed to take forever since I was so anxious to get there but my tapes kept me company. I eventually reached my destination somewhere between 3 and 4 o’clock, parked my car in front of the gate and rang the bell.
Shortly afterward, Lupe appeared at the front door with my Uncle Beltran, arms looped, under a large black parasol. Quite the ghostly pair they were, both dressed in black, which contrasted against their pale skin. I was used to Lupe with her fair skin and long black hair, but Beltran was almost luminescent, with long white hair that flowed down in waves onto his narrow shoulders. As they approached I saw that he wore large, round, wire-rimmed glasses with dark colored lenses. He had a moustache and a goatee which almost obscured his thin-lipped, friendly smile. He was at least a head taller than Lupe, but stooped down to keep her within the shady protection of the parasol. He seemed a bit frail, but over-brimming with enthusiastic energy and I knew right away that we would become good friends.


2 Responses to “Excerpt from my Southwestern Gothic Tale”

  1. Richard Colon Says:

    well written. I really like it Manny. It did what I hope any story I read does – make me want to read more. As I read the last paragraph, beginning with the ring of the doorbell, I hoped to get some sense of who the aunt and uncle were. Vampires? Other creatures of the night, etc. I am in suspense..Thanks, good stuff!

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