Féretrina [Coffin-Belly Mary]

There is a young woman whom the güeros call Coffin-Belly Mary, but that is not her name. Orphaned at an early age, she grew up on the streets of a Mexican border town where she survived partly by her wits but wasn’t hurt by the fact that she was both markedly pretty and possessed of a sweet disposition, which made her a favorite of the locals who freely gave her shelter and alms as they could afford.

Seemingly favored by Fate, she was blessed with the good fortune of finding true love at an early age. He was a small-time hood who had a reputation for being tough, but he was always gentle and loving when it came to her. When she became pregnant, they were both overjoyed with the prospect of bringing a living symbol of their love into the world and decided that the child would have whatever it needed to enjoy a better life than they themselves had lived.

So they cleaned up their lives and for the next few months they scrimped and saved but in a last-ditch attempt at making some big money so they could move across the border into the States, her young man ran into someone who was tougher than he was and so he never came home again. Devastated by her loss but determined to give their unborn baby everything she could, she sold all of their remaining non-essential possessions, took what money they had already saved, and paid some coyotes to take her across the border in Nogales.

The trip, though perilous and exhausting, was relatively uneventful, until they reached the other side. Immediately upon their arrival in Arizona, the young woman was sequestered in a shed in the rear of a secluded ranch house where they pressured her for more money. When she explained that she had no more to give and no one left in Mexico to get money from, they raped her and beat her savagely and told her that they were going to get someone who would cut the baby out of her, after which they would send her to a local maquiladora factory owned by the brother of one of the coyotes, where she would work until she paid off the rest of the money that they felt she owed them.

As she lay there broken and bloody, alternately drifting in and out of consciousness and weeping in the sweltering heat on the dusty floor of the shed, she cried out to La Huesuda for vengeance on these men and pleaded with this patron saint of the disenfranchised to save her unborn child. She swore that if granted this boon, she would devote the rest of her life to serving La Santa Muerte.

Shortly thereafter, in sharp contrast to the scorching temperature outside, the room grew unnaturally cold as the light was sucked out of her surroundings leaving her in an impenetrable darkness. Yet, in spite of the lightlessness she suddenly saw a vision of the Lady of the Shadows: La Huesuda,  La Catrina, La Santa Muerte. She stood there, in her dark robes and her bony mien and spoke to the young woman…not with her tongue, which was non-existent, but rather with her mind.

La Santa Muerte

“I am Mictecaciuatl, Queen of Mictlan,” she said “and I accept your offer, but the child I cannot save for he is already here with me, your husband, and my lord, Mictlantecuhtli. I can however give you vengeance upon the men who perpetrated this great treachery against you. I shall see that they suffer greatly and their souls will be enthralled to you, effectuating your bidding throughout eternity. They shall wear the skins of their namesakes, herald your arrival with their howls and protect you from your enemies.

“You shall remain indefinitely as you are today, young and fair, although a child-woman you shall no longer be, for you shall be an emissary of the Queen of Mictlan, and no one shall dare cut the unborn child from your belly, and it shall become a conduit through which I may communicate with my people in the world of the living. The tiny bones in your belly shall become a portal key through which your unborn son’s soul shall periodically enter to relay to you messages and directives from me in the Underworld. You shall find a black blade buried in the brow of the butcher who would have cut your son from you, retrieve it and cut a bone from him and it shall become a powerful talisman, which shall be a warning to those who would do you harm. Take the hides of the coyotes as well and wear them, for they shall give you power over their subservient souls and strike fear into the heart of your enemies. ”

“But where can I go that people will not become suspicious of a foreigner who does not speak their language, doesn’t age and carries a child that never comes to term?” the young woman asked.

“Do not worry child, you shall not have to bear the weight of a swollen belly for eternity, but when I must speak to you you shall feel your son’s bones rattle in your belly. If you have a query for me, touch your belly and think upon your son and his spirit will fly from Mictlan to the bones in your belly to hear his mother’s voice and come to her aid. Also, I have followers in many places who will gladly give you shelter and once they see your gift they will know that you speak for me. They shall call you Féretrina, after the Spanish word for coffin, because you shall carry the bones of your unborn son within you wherever you go. As for language barriers, there will be none. You shall understand all who speak to you and they shall understand you. Do you think that I speak the language of my people’s conquerors?  Nay, fear not, no foreign tongue shall keep you from communicating my messages to the ones whom would hear it.

“When you leave this small house of your heartbreak, go to the lair of your despoilers and you shall find them dead. Enter freely, and without fear, draw a bath to cleanse yourself of the dross from your suffering and what remains of your former life. Fortify yourself with food from their larder, then rest, for you soon shall embark on a quest in my name to come to the aid of my adherents and devotees in their own times of need.”

And so the young woman accepted the divine will of the Queen of Mictlan who returned to her shadowy realm as the light slowly returned to the room along with the heat. The young woman sat up and looked around to see that the blood that lately covered herself and the floor was gone, most likely taken by the goddess during her visit. Once she gathered her senses, she stood up and tried the door; finding it unlocked she staggered into the daylight.

Wincing from the harsh brightness, the first thing she focused on was a black walnut tree, a Nogal, the namesake of the twin border towns which bore the route of pain and sorrow that she had traveled to find her new life. She contemplated the great black-bark tree with its sprawling gnarled branches reaching out into the dust-heavy firmament, and marveled how its fleshy green fruit bore such a hard and blackened seed within its core, much like her own moribund treasure inside of her abdomen.

Now, accustomed to the glare of the unrelenting sun, she walked up to the ranch house and found the door open, so she passed across the threshold as she had been instructed to by Mictecacihuatl.  Upon entering the house she found the flayed bodies of the two men who had raped her and taken the life of her unborn son, as well as another man, whom she assumed must have been the doctor they spoke of retrieving. Their severed heads had been placed on wooden staves torn from an outdoor fence which were driven deep into their respective torsos; the sightless, lidless eyes of their twisted harrowed faces bulged in expressions of horror and pain, which brought a small smile to her lips.

Spying a darkly glittering object protruding from the forehead of the third man, she approached it to find that it was a ceremonial knife made from obsidian, a black volcanic glass used much by the ancient Aztec peoples in their jewelry, ceremonial implements and weapons. She took the knife from the dead man’s brow and proceeded to cut the tibia bone from his leg, which she placed in one of three earthen jars she found lined in a row in front of the gory remains. Setting the jar aside, she sought out the bathroom to wash the sweat and smuggler filth off of her body, after which she changed her clothes and then rifled through the cupboards in the kitchen for something to eat.

At nightfall she heard the howls of her coyotes keening outside the house. Opening the door she let them in to feast on the carcasses of their past wicked incarnations; then, leaving her worldly possessions behind, she picked up her gruesome trophy, stepped out the front door and into the night, walking northward toward her destiny. As Mictecacihuatl had promised, wherever she went she found shelter and succor with devotees of La Santa Muerte, who knew her by her coyote companions, her “golden cassock” fashioned from some curious hides, tanned and embroidered beautifully by an acolyte, and the ear spools she wore, hewn from the leg bone of the doctor who would have cut her child from her belly. The child she now called Nogalito, her little black walnut.

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2 Responses to “Féretrina [Coffin-Belly Mary]”

  1. very interesting- I’m curious as to how the idea originated

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