There once was a very poor unmarried woman by the name of Leticia who had given birth to a second daughter who she named Celestina. Leticia was not the happy soul as her name would imply for she lived a life of continual grinding poverty, sadness, and grief there in the slums of Mexico City. The father of Celestina was Raul, a smooth talking handsome devil of a man with whom Leticia had lived with for a while. She thought him a good man, though he was a thief, for he had supported her and her first daughter Gertrudis even though he was not the father of Gertrudis. But he stole away once Letiicia’s belly began to swell with his child. He was not there for the birth of his beautiful heavenly daughter. Though later he learned about it
Only Gertrudis age ten now and the midwife were there for Leticia when Clelestina was born. Gertrudis was a rather short dumpy plain looking almost homely squatty child. Leticia was not sure who her father was, for she was but fifteen and had been taken by many men when she got pregnant.
Leticia a farmer’s daughter had run away from home at that age. Run away from the hardscrabble farm life of trying to eke out a living out of the sandy soil of the not so good earth of Mexico She was the oldest of five children so when she left she was not missed that much. In fact her parents were kind of glad to see her go for she was one less mouth to feed. They hoped she might have a better life somewhere else. But alas they were wrong.
For what Leticia had done was just to exchange the rural poverty of scratching a living from the earth for the urban poverty of the dog eat dog world of the big city slums. Alone and without means to support herself she took up with different men who supported her in exchange for things she soon learned about. Gertrudis being the result of that education. But Leticia was a quick learner and adapted to her new environment. She soon got odd jobs here and there doing this and that, honest work. But it never was enough. Eventually she got a job working for a man called El Lagarto at his cantina. True to his name the man was a slimy reptile indeed. He ran a seedy rundown hole in the wall cantina named appropriately enough ‘El Agujero.’ He hired her because he was in need of help. He was an old and crippled man now unable to run the cantina by himself any more, age and a knife wound having disabled him. He offered Leticia room and board but no wages for he knew Leticia was in desperate need of work and a place to stay. So he took advantage of that. Room being a one room shack outback of the cantina, and board being beans and tortillas that Leticia would fix in the kitchen in the back of the cantina for the cantina’s lowlife clientele.
So she eked out her existence there among these low lifes, these cutthroats, these criminals of every ilk and kind who would on occasion, if they were drunk enough, had some money to spare, and thought they might get somewhere with Leticia, would leave her a tip of a few centavos or more. These tips being just enough to keep her chained in place, keep her from looking for work elsewhere. Leticia knew this was no life for her daughters. Knew she had to do something about it so that they didn’t end up like her. Already she had seen the lecherous old men eye Gertrudis. Saw them lure her daughter to their laps in exchange for candy and sweets. It made no difference to these toothless old drooling fools whether Gertrudis was homely or not for when it came to their perverted deeds that is all the saw, perversion. And Leticia knew that in a few years they would be doing likewise to Celestina.
Leticia had thought about suicide many a time but now with the birth of Celestina she was thinking that perhaps it would be better if she ended Celestina’s life not hers. That she spared her daughter a lifetime of continual grief and grinding poverty. That way Celestina would be in Heaven with God and happy for eternity. It would be so easy to take an infant’s life she thought. She remembered back to her life on the farm and the death of the baby animals there. There her father had kept an old brood sow. The sow would give birth to a liter of eight to ten piglets on a regular basis to provide enough food and money for them to get by until the next liter. She remembered that old sow would lay herself down so her piglets could suckle and invariably she would always lie down on one of her piglets that was too slow to get out of the way. The old sow ignoring her piglet’s constant squealing pleas for its life as she squeezed the air out of it. She could do that too. Just happen to accidentally roll over in her sleep on Celestina squeezing the life out of her. She knew the authorities would be notified of course and that they would deem her an unfit mother for letting this happen. But that was fine with her for then they would take Gertrudis and place her in an orphanage. There she probably wouldn’t get adopted out but at least a life in an orphanage would be a better life than she could provide. And as to herself she would confess to whatever crime they wanted for she knew she had to pay for her sin. Celesina’s life and her life would be over but Gertrudis’s wouldn’t. Yes perhaps this was the answer to her dilemma.
But she also remembered back when her father had too many pups once and she helped him bag them up and take them to the river with him. She did not know that he was going to throw them off the bridge into the raging water below and drown them. She cried the whole way home. No drowning her daughter would be a bridge way too far.
But there was still one other way from her days on the farm that might work that she remembered. Sometimes a feral cat would steal a baby chick. She remembered once when she saw such a cat with a peeping chick in its mouth. The cat looking at her with a grin on its face defying her to come and get it. She never did. She knew she could not outrun that cat. Perhaps here if she just accidentally happened to leave Celestina alone somewhere for a little while, well then maybe one of the feral low lifes of El Agujero would steal her away and sell her to someone who could provide for her. But then again he might sell her to a pervert or keep her for himself. No that was not an option either.
Gertrudis returned now with a plate of beans and some tortillas for her mother.
“Here eat,’ she said. “El Lagarto says you have to eat something. Keep up your strength.”
Leticia took the plate. Perhaps he is not such a bad fellow after all she thought by looking out for me this way. Then quickly she recanted that thought from her mind realizing that he only did this because he wanted her to come back to work tonight.
She ate while Gertrudis held Celestina smiling, talking to her in baby gibberish the whole time. When Leticia was done eating Gertrudis gave her sister back to her mother, gathered up the dirty dishes, and announced. “I am going to take your place at work tonight Mother so that you can get some rest.”
“Thank you. That is so sweet of you dear,” said Leticia knowing she was in no condition to work for her delivery had been a rough one indeed. But she feared the worst for Gertrudis by letting her work there among the low lifes.
Now Raul had heard that Leticia had given birth and he came to the cantina that night. There he saw El Lagarto tending bar and Gertrudis running drinks to the tables. He looked at El Lagarto and El Lagarto mouthed to him, “A girl’ and nodded toward the shack outback.
Raul ran out to Leticia. “Here is some money,” he said tossing a bag of coins down on her nightstand by her bed as Leticia lay there with her daughter sleeping on her chest.
Leticia said nothing, not even thank you for she knew these were ill gotten gains. But she did not tell him that she didn’t want the coins nor did she tell him to take them back.
“Here let me take our daughter,” said Raul, taking the child from her. “I will watch her until Gertrudis gets off work. You get some sleep.”
Leticia closed her eyes but did not go to sleep. She slept with one eye open. She saw Raul the thief, the cat burglar, steal away with her child that night. He did leave the coins though. He felt that only right that she received her fifteen pieces of silver, her half of what the wealthy Criollo had paid him. After all, they were partners in this matter.
Leticia went to sleep that night after he left for she knew there was nothing she could do about it. Gertrudis did not return until late the next morning, worse for the wear. Both her daughters had been stolen from her that night.
B. Craig Grafton is a retired attorney who started writing for something to do in his rusting years. His most recent stories appeared in Fear of Monkeys and The Zodiac Review.