By Elizabeth Ferry
Above my bones, the concrete slab presses down. On the other side of my body, it’s hot from the sun. On my side, it must be cool. I mostly can’t feel it anymore. I know that the life of the village goes on above me. But I remember it less and less. The bits of what was my body sink into the blessed dirt.
They buried me, but they said the next morning my body was laying on top of the ground next to the grave. They buried me again, and they said the same thing happened the next morning. The holy ground wouldn’t keep me, they said. A third time they buried me, and finally, under a concrete slab, just outside the entrance to the cemetery. It was the priest’s idea to put me there. So that everyone would step on me as they entered the cemetery.
It all started with the man who was hanging in the plaza for a week. Before he was hanging, he was hanged. Before he was hanged, he was running along the crest of the hill, bleeding, trying to get away from the men on horseback. Before that, he was a man on horseback himself, a soldier in the army of Christ. And before that, he was my father, and he used to push my hair out of my eyes and tuck it behind my ear.
He left me, my mother, and my three brothers, and she was able to live till we were almost grown. He left a herd of goats and the right to graze them on Don Miguel the shopkeeper’s land. After she died, my brothers tried to stay around, but shame and pride and jobs in the city took them one by one. I stayed behind with the goats, wondering what would become of me.
I tried to keep the house and my own body clean, my clothes washed and darned. I went to Mass twice a week. I asked the priest to bless me each time I saw him. But I couldn’t control my envy of the Garcías next door, with their tended garden, their sleek goats and their sleeker children. Their real beds instead of straw pallets, their electric irons and blenders.
It was my envy that got me. My envy showed in my eye. Sra. García saw me looking at her new Singer sewing machine and said, “You used to be just a dirty girl, but now you have become a witch. You’ll curse us by stirring a pot of boiling herbs and calling on the devil to make us ill. You can’t come in the house anymore.”
No one would sit in the same pew with me at Mass. When the bus came, unless someone else was at the stop, it would keep on going. The priest pretended not to see me as he walked through the town. He would bend down to tie his shoe as I passed, but I could see that it was already tied. He was only waiting till I passed by. I suppose he thought I was already beyond his blessings.
Did I ever actually cast a spell or a curse? For the life of me, I cannot remember. Did I stir the pot three times in the wrong direction, casting herbs into the steaming hot broth while chanting words of ill will? Or did I just lie on my back on my straw pallet, listening to the sound of the radio next door, with hot tears running into my hair?
Soon I heard that the Garcías, and other neighbors, too, were curing themselves from the curse that came from my hot envious eye, drawing the curse out into a raw egg. When the egg was passed over the part of the body or house I had cursed and then put in a bowl of cold water, the water began to boil. Cracked open, the egg had a black spot in the yolk. I never saw this, of course. The kids, who were really not all that much younger than me, yelled it after me in the street.