Academic journal article Bilingual Review

Mage

Academic journal article Bilingual Review

Mage

Article excerpt

Zacatecas, Mexico, 1911

Nacha wrapped her legs around the rope that hung from the jacaranda tree in the center of the town. The coarse jute cord scraped faint white lines along the golden skin on her legs as she slipped down the rope. She threw her head back and pushed off the trunk. Her braids, tightly woven in deep and reddish browns, flew out behind her as she swung back and forth. She opened and closed her eyes over and over again as she glided, the tree's purple canopy, the white-hot sky, the snatches of the adobe houses forming a kaleidoscope of images. As the rope twirled her into gentle, dizzy doldrums, she slipped down onto the ground.

Alongside the tree she approached an ant mound, a miniature volcano, the ants rivulets of lava ablaze in the noonday sun. Nacha edged in closer, kneeling on the hem of her blue cotton skirt. She plucked a blade of grass and placed it in the stream of ants, then dropped her captives into the folds of her skirt. Swiftly she squeezed each ant between her thumb and forefinger, snapped off the last rounded segment, and popped it into her mouth, letting the sweet stinging ant honey burst onto her tongue. She leaned back to savor the lingering flavor and brushed against the jarro she had left by the side of the tree trunk. Remembering that her mother was waiting for the well water, she lifted the jarro and took quick, skipping steps to the well.

Nacha ran her tongue across the split, patchy ridges of her dry lips as she cranked the wooden bucket of water up from the well. The bucket reached the top, swaying and spilling shiny ribbons of water from side to side. She reached out and steadied the bucket, then eased it onto the well's stone rim. She struggled to tip the bucket and pour the water into the jarro at the base of the well. Some of the water rolled over the jarro and formed a network of tributaries in the dusty soil. The runoff swirled toward her bare feet, wriggling mud between her toes.

Nacha gripped the jarro by its thick handles and swung it in front of her. She turned and walked toward her house in a limping gait, trying not to spill the water as her legs bumped against the jarro. She was about twenty feet from her house when she heard the cry: "Los soldados, los soldados, apurense--!ahi vienen los soldados!"

Nacha felt a hot swell roll over her. She dropped the jarro onto the hard ground. A crack split across the base, oozing water from the earthen wound. Nacha leapt away from the water's widening arc and took broad, bounding steps to her door. Throwing open the sash, she raced to her mother's side.

Mage was grinding chiles in the metate when Nacha burst into the house. Nacha ran to her mother and threw her arms across her waist, burying her face into the scratchy folds of her apron. Nachas body began to quiver as she blew short breaths against her mother's breasts.

Mage, startled by the sudden entrance, fell backward one step, and then regained her balance. She stroked her daughter's hair and rocked her gently for a few seconds. Nacha's breathing began to pace itself to the slow, lulling rock. Mage cupped her daughter's face in her hands, "?Que tienes, mija?"

Nacha took a deep breath. At first only cracking noises came out when she spoke. "!Los soldados, los soldados!" she cried.

The softness in Mage's eyes dissolved instantly, and the lines across her face pulled taut. "Cierra y traba la puerta," she commanded her daughter as she bounded to the center of the main room of the small adobe house, dropped to her knees, and ran her fingers along a braided edge of the handmade rug. Her fingers played staccato across the rug's edge until they touched a hidden metal loop. Instantly, she threaded her fingers through the loop and pulled forcefully until a trapdoor flew open across the floor. The burrow was a dark four-by-four-foot cube cut into the earth. Five thin stripes of light cut across it from the slight spaces Mage's husband had left between the floorboards. …

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