Lazaro Rising (Part II)

II

Maryflor arrived at the Yerberia Fenix around 8 o’clock, as per Jacinta’s instructions, but paused before her hand reached to knock on the glass the door. Staring at the sign which read “Closed / Cerrado”, the butterflies in her belly told her that she should turn around now and walk away as fast as her long thin legs could carry her but, just as the thought crossed her mind, the door swung open with a ring-a-ling as the lady of too much perfume appeared to quickly pull Maryflor into the store before shutting and locking the door again.

The storefront was adusk, but a light shown at the end of the hallway opposite the break-room, from behind the tapestry she had noticed earlier which she now saw was a variation of the Virgin of Guadalupe with the distinct difference of the Holy Mother appearing to be a skeleton, the revelation of which brought the butterflies back to her belly. In the dimming light, Maryflor could still see that her hostess was dressed for a special occasion, and as the rotund little woman grasped Maryflor by the arm to escort her, she could faintly make out something wriggling on the woman’s dress. Once within the light of the hallway, she found it to be a bejeweled live zopherus beetle on a broach. The soothsayer, who was all made up and had even dyed her hair a very rusty looking red, ushered her past the tapestry into what appeared to be a meeting room. The scent of incense–myrrh, although she wouldn’t have known it herself–struck her nostrils upon entering the room. The electric lights were shut off, but there were many white candles girding the periphery, which illuminated the room in a calming lambent glow.

At the far end of the room, was the focal piece: an altar. Upon a riser covered with a yellow mantel was a green veladora, a glass of water, a piece of bread, a partially smoked cigar,  three red delicious apples, a clay plate containing a small cross, a handful of coins, and a dollar bill; to the right of this was what looked like a tiny metal tajine-shaped censer, from which emanated the scent that greeted her so strenuously upon her entry. Hovering over the ofrenda was a statue, of La Santa Muerte, about the size in height of the proprietor, robed in a golden shroud, holding a globe in one hand and a scythe in the other.

In front of the altar, a dark figure sat quietly on a folding chair in the flickering candlelight, her face veiled in shadows. Pushing Maryflor in the direction of the tenebrous figure, the shopkeeper excitedly whispered, “Avanzate, go to her, acercate a la Niña and tell her your queja.

As she cautiously approached the seated figure, she was surprised to see that she was only a girl, barely in her twenties, if a day, and very slight, but when she raised her big black eyes to meet Maryflor’s gaze, she felt the weight of doom fix their fell sights upon her. She was lovely, gorgeous in fact, like a porcelain doll dressed in widow’s weeds. Her lush black hair was pulled up in a tight bun which emphasized her dark brow and sorrowful eyes. She wore no make up on her perfectly chiseled features, but sported largish plug earrings which appeared to be made of bone. Her dress seemed almost Victorian; black, with long sleeves and a high collar from which her cream and coffee colored countenance sprouted like a beautiful mournful bulb of some funereal flower. At the base of her collar was a cameo with a depiction of what was most likely a skull, although in the gloom and at a respectable distance, Maryflor was not entirely sure.

“Greetings sister, my name is Féretrina, how can I help you?” said the girl in a firm but gentle voice.

Maryflor, transfixed, didn’t answer but just stared at the solemn little relict before her, marveling how the delicacy of her mien was belied by the dark power behind that implacable stare. How horrible it must be, she thought, for someone so young to know so much sorrow. She could also swear that the movement of her lips did not match what came out of her mouth, but dismissed it as a trick of the shadows.

The sound of the proprietor clearing her throat behind her brought Maryflor back to the unanswered question and the young woman in black, who sat patiently awaiting her response.

Unconsciously folding her hands in front of herself, in a supplicatory stance, Maryflor said “Sorry,…hi…my name is Maryflor–nice to meet you–um, I  was told that you might be able to help me find out what happened to my brother. He and the men he was working with have disappeared and no one seems to know what became of them. I tried to get the police to help me, but they seem to be dragging their heals. I suppose it doesn’t help that most of his companions were day laborers, so there’s no official information available on them for the authorities to look in to.”

“I see.” said the girl, “Maryflor, I am going to ask you to do something which may make you a little uncomfortable, but I want you to trust me and believe that I am going to help you; however, you must do exactly what I say. I want you to place your hands on my stomach. You may feel some movement underneath my bodice but do not be afraid, it is only my son re-entering his former shell.”

The butterflies in her belly were in a panic as a chill shot up Maryflor’s spine, but the young woman, sensing her demurral, took Maryflor’s long hands between her delicate fingers and placed them upon her roiling abdomen. She felt a magnetic pull to the spot and the butterflies flaffed furiously in vain, as Maryflor swooned in a wave of incense and adrenalin, and those big black eyes rolled up to the whites as Féretrina, entranced, began to speak.

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