published in Volume 7, Issue 1 on April 24th, 2000
A woman lived at the far end of a peninsula in a modest adobe hut and she appeared to be quite happy living all alone. The woman was no older than twenty, sturdily built, dark like the other Indians and Mestizos who inhabited the other end of the peninsula, and by the standards of the time, very handsome. She had all she needed to live very comfortably. The woman owned one goat that gave a great deal of rich milk. Furthermore, fruit trees grew all around her hut so that she never wanted for juicy purple figs, sweet crisp apples and tangy fragrant lemons. Though many colorful birds and energetic rabbits lived amongst the trees and shrubs, the woman did not have the heart to kill anything. So, she lived on fruit as well as on goat milk which, by her skillful hands, she made into very rich cheese and butter. All in all, the woman's world was as complete and serene as she ever could have wished and she seldom had to enter town for her needs.
The people who lived at the other end of the peninsula viewed the woman with great suspicion because she needed no one else to make her happy.
"Who does she think she is?" they grumbled.
And some said, "She will learn someday that she needs more than herself to live in this world!"
Still others wondered, "How could she not want to mingle with us? Are we not good people? Do we not offer warm company?"
They were not so simple as to imply that the woman was a "bruja" -- a witch -- or that she had some alliance with a darker power. No, the people on the other end of the peninsula were not stupid. Quite simply, they let jealousy do their thinking. And their jealousy led to griping about the woman. Other than this griping, however, the people left the woman to her own method of living.
To the north of the woman's hut was a small but plentiful pool of fresh water that ran down the nearby mountain that the people of the peninsula dubbed "El Zorro" which means "The Fox." No one knows why it was so named because the mountain did not resemble anything -- let alone a fox -- nor did foxes populate the area. The water tasted sweet and all the people of the peninsula drew water from the pool for their daily needs. It was on these trips to the pool that the people saw the woman working around her hut tending her goat and making butter and cheese. The people stared at her but she simply went about her business singing a cheerful song in her native Indian tongue rather than in Spanish. This, of course, merely angered the people even more.
The water that ran down from El Zorro into the pool made a constant rushing sound that was loud though pleasant. Indeed, the sound encouraged the woman to do her chores at a steady pace and it helped the woman sleep soundly each night. One morning, after being lulled into a deep sleep by the water rushing down the mountain and into the pool, the woman awoke and, as was her daily custom, she went to feed her goat. She took a few steps to the small wooden table at the other end of her hut and pulled from beneath it a burlap sack filled with grain. The woman picked up a battered though functional bowl made from a gourd and filled the bowl with grain. She pushed the bag back to its place and headed to the door while humming a pleasant and ancient melody. As the woman attempted to step out of her hut, her feet struck something soft though substantial. She looked down and her eyes widened. A sudden shock of horror ran throughout her limbs making her drop the goat's food. Before her, at the entrance of her little hut, lay her goat, slit from its throat down to its belly. The goat was drained of its blood that made a sea of red interrupted only by the soft white of the goat's rich thick milk that swirled within but did not mix with the blood. The woman jumped over the goat and ran to the pool of water and threw herself on the ground by the pool's edge.
Where does such cruelty come from? she thought. And she lay there for hours not knowing what to do or what else to think. The people from the other end of the peninsula saw her as they came to draw their daily water. They looked at the carcass of the goat and back at the woman and just shook their heads and said nothing to the woman.
When the woman finally pulled her emotions and thoughts together, it was almost midday. She realized what she had to do but this realization only made her feel ill. The woman knew that she had to get another goat but, to do so, she had to go to town and barter for one because wild goats no longer roamed freely on the peninsula or on El Zorro. She stood up and went to her hut turning her eyes up to the sky so as not to see her slain goat. The woman retrieved from a shelf some of her finest cheeses and put them into a large cloth sack. She then pulled a small tin box from under her bed and gathered into her small but strong hand ten pesos. That tin box had once been filled with many pesos but over that last five years, since the death of the woman's mother, the little treasure slowly shrank. But it was a necessary withdrawal. Prepared to barter, the woman left her hut carefully avoiding the sight of her slain goat and headed to town.
As she entered the main street of the town, she kept her eyes ahead of her to avoid the stares of the people. They muttered, "Look, she needs us now." But they did not interfere with the woman's mission. The woman remembered how, long ago, her mother took her to town to buy the goat that now lay dead by her hut. The goat seller had a small adobe structure with a large fenced-off yard where he kept his goats. The woman remembered that it was near the end of the main street of the town, off a little street called Calle de las Máscaras. She remembered the name of the street because, as a young girl, she wondered why you could not buy a mask from the goat seller when, after all, the goat seller's adobe sat on the Street of the Masks. She also remembered that the goat seller was quite old and smelled of dirty leather and grinned a foul grin at her. But she enjoyed the memory of that day because she had been with her mother and she was allowed to choose which goat they were going to barter for.
By and by, the woman arrived at the goat seller's adobe and approached its large wooden double doors. The woman could hear goats bleating and their pungent but not unpleasant fresh dung-smell reminded her of her slain goat. She lifted the large iron knocker and let it drop with a solid pound and waited for a response. The woman looked to the left and then to the right and noticed that some of the townspeople slowed their pace as they passed the adobe. She heard muttering and clicking tongues that she tried her best to ignore. Within a minute or so, she heard footsteps, light and energetic, advance on the other side of the doors. Not the footsteps of an old man, she thought. And she was right. For when the right door moved and its shadow revealed the person on the inside, the woman saw a young man, perhaps her age, with tousled black, curly hair and skin as smooth and white as the sand. The man smiled a smile that was crooked like a dead spider's leg but he otherwise had the most handsome countenance the woman had ever seen.
After a moment, the woman said, "I would like to barter for a goat."
"I know," said the man to the woman's astonishment. "I have already heard of the tragedy. The townspeople who went for their daily water at the pool saw what had been done to your goat. Come in through my home and we can look for a replacement."
The man led the woman through his simple home towards a large door at the other end that led to the yard. As she walked, the woman observed each object in the two rooms through which they had to pass and noticed that the adobe was well-kept but sparsely furnished with only a few chairs and a table or two. Not a thing adorned the walls except for several bookcases with shelves stacked with large beautiful books. She also noticed a large painting of the old goat seller that the woman remembered from long ago. The painting hung in an ornate gilded wooden frame. The old goat seller's eyes stared down on the woman as if lust filled his heart.
"Where is the old man?" she asked.
"My father," said the man, "has long since left this world. I now sell goats in his place."
The woman could not help but smile at this new knowledge. She liked this young man. Finally, they arrived at the large door at the end of the adobe and entered the yard. More than twenty goats gamboled up to the man and bleated a noisy hello and dust filled the air as the goats' hooves kicked up in excitement.
"Which do you want?" said the man as he patted one of the goats.
The woman held up her bag of cheeses and the ten pesos and said, "What quality of goat can I barter with these?"
The man laughed. "No need to barter. Choose one that you like."
The woman grew angry. "I am not a pauper. I can pay for what I need." And she held up her cheeses and ten pesos even higher to make her point more emphatically.
Realizing that he had insulted the woman, the man said, "You are right. With what you have brought, you may have that goat," and he pointed to the largest animal in the yard.
The woman looked at the goat and then back at the man. "I will take this one," she said pointing to the smallest goat that her eyes could discern from among the noisy and rambunctious herd.
"It is a deal," said the young man realizing that it was no use to argue with this strong-willed woman. "But on one condition," he added. "You must let me come and visit it each day because that one is my favorite."
The woman smiled and said, "Yes, it is a deal." She handed the man the sack of cheeses and put the ten pesos gently into his left hand. She then pulled a small rope from her belt and tied it to the little goat and left through the gate at the end of the yard. The man smiled his crooked smile as he watched the woman leave leading her new little goat by the rope. One lonely cloud cleverly found its way to the vibrant sun and the goat yard suddenly grew dark. The man laughed and went back into his adobe.
So, as they agreed in their barter, the man visited the goat every day. And each day the woman asked the young man about his life and about the town. The townspeople gossiped and wondered if the old goat seller's son could actually bring this woman to her senses so that she would move to town as a new bride. After six months of the man's visits, they did indeed marry in a large boisterous wedding at the town's large old church. The woman moved to the man's adobe bringing her little goat with her.
At first, the man and woman lived a happy life full of laughter and love and warmth. The goats sold well and eventually they added two more rooms to the adobe and put a little hut in the yard for the new maid to live in. The woman no longer made cheese and butter so she had to go to town to buy such things. Over time, she began to mingle with the townspeople on her trips to the market place and they grew to enjoy the woman's company. And the townspeople felt vindicated in their belief that the woman was now finally and truly a whole person except for one thing.
Despite a full year of sharing their wedding bed, the woman did not bear a child. The man was, at first, very patient. But in the second year of their marriage, he grew cold and slowly his anger replaced the love he once had for the woman. By the third year, anger permeated his every thought, every movement and every prayer. And the townspeople began to laugh behind his back and spread ugly gossip about him. The woman grew lonely as her husband stopped speaking to her. The man eventually stopped sleeping in their bed as well but, instead, slept on a bench in the yard with the goats.
The only joy left for the woman was her daily visit to the pool for water. She would see her little abandoned hut and remember the peaceful and full life she once led caring for her goat and making cheese and butter from the goat's rich milk. She thought about her mother who had taught her the Indian ways and songs and stories. The woman's joy vanished when she realized that she had to go back to town to her husband's house.
One morning, as she returned home from drawing water from the pool, she saw her husband in the yard speaking softly to their maid. Their bodies did not touch but she saw a familiarity between them that she recognized. The woman turned her head and went into the adobe.
In the fourth year of their marriage, the maid gave birth to a handsome boy with tousled black, curly hair. The townspeople gossiped and the maid became surly and refused to work. The woman grew even more silent and accepted her circumstances. The man gave up the charade and moved his things into the maid's hut.
One night in the fifth year of their marriage, the woman lay awake in her bed looking out her opened window. The moon lit her bedroom with the light of twenty candles. The woman thought that she had been less lonely when she lived by herself under the shadow of El Zorro. While wrestling with this truth, she suddenly noticed that the light of the moon dimmed and a dark figure of a man stood at the window. The woman remained still. She saw that the man wore a mask of a canine -- a dog, a fox, or a wolf -- she could not tell from the distance. The man slowly lifted his left leg over the windowsill and entered the room. She could hear his breath echo within the mask as he came close to the bed. The man lifted his right hand and revealed a long and shiny knife.
As the man put the knife into the woman's soft brown neck, the woman noticed that the mask was indeed that of a fox. And her mind fell back effortlessly to memories of the mountain called El Zorro and of the cool sweet water that ran down the mountain and into the pool by the hut she once lived in. And she noticed how exquisite red-brown paint shone on the mask's surface and shiny dabs of raven black glistened at the fox's eyes and nostrils. The woman listened calmly to her breath as it slowed.
And as the man slowly dug the knife deeper into the woman's neck and dragged it down towards her belly, he remembered how, long ago, the woman looked so beautiful and peaceful tending to her daily chores when she lived alone near El Zorro. The man also noticed how the knife in his hand felt remarkably similar to the night he did the same to the woman's goat all those years ago.