Doña Elvia takes the 8 month-old baby from its mother. She’s held many children—each is basically the same as another. Some babies are more beautiful than others. Some are lighter skinned, some darker. Boys are worth more than the girls.
“Llora mucho,” says the mother, “No está comiendo.”
Doña Elvia grunts.
“Que le paso al niño?”
“Nada, doña,” the mother says.
Doña Elvia hands the baby back. She stands with effort. Right now, her varicose veins are flaring up. They are throbbing violet piles on above her knees. When the mother is gone, she’ll make a compresses of hot rosemary water. In the Mexican village she’s from, granddaughters served their superiors. But her own granddaughter is an American-born bitch who doesn’t understand the importance of elders.
Doña Elvia disappears into a hallway towards the back of her house. She walks passed the vitrine with her syringes. There are two ways to exit the living room and they both lead to the kitchen. The hallways in this house are tight and long—like a rat’s maze.
Perhaps the maze will trap her granddaughter into servitude. The girl will get lost in the circles of this house, round and round till she understands subjugation.
Doña Elvia became a wife when she was 15. Her village practiced bride kidnapping. That is how she ended up with her husband.
She thinks about that night and the rape. And this makes her hate her granddaughter more.
When she flicks the lights on in the kitchen, the cockroaches scatter. Their feet scratch on the tiles and walls. Doña Elvia ignores them. She finds the olive oil on a shelf. The linoleum floors of her kitchen are cracked and dirty. Doña Elvia waddles back to her client with the olive oil. She grabs a roll of paper towels on the way out of the kitchen.
Doña Elvia grunts loudly when she sits. She takes the baby from its mother again and lays the baby face-up on her lap. She pours oil into her left hand and sets bottle down again. With her palms, grease gleams on the baby’s head. They already cry at this point.
“Que tiene?” mom says.
“Se le cayó la mollera,” Doña Elvia says.
The baby howls as Doña Elvia runs his arms. Doña Elvia presses so hard she can feel her own fingers on the other sides of the arms.
Violence. It always makes her think of her granddaughter. That girl needs some violence to straighten her up.
“Tiene que cuidarlo mejor,” Doña Elvia says, “Que le paso al niño?”
“Como que nada?” Doña Elvia says.
The mother recoils. She scoots a bit farther on the sofa, remembering from childhood stories that witches eat babies. Her own mother told her that witches will suck on a baby’s blood. At night, these witches turn into owls and fly around looking for prey. Her friends told her this woman was a healer. How is that different from a witch?
Doña Elvia grins when the mother shifts on the sofa. She likes the mother’s discomfort.
“Que pues?” Doña Elvia says again.
“Yo trabajo. Mi suegra se encarga del niño.”
Doña Elvia grunts. She keeps working on the baby. His cries don’t bother her.
“Ya, ya,” Doña Elvia says to the baby. It sounds soothing, but she just wants it to shut up and stop overreacting.
When she is done, Doña Elvia hands the baby back to its mother.
“Tapelo. Que no le pegue el aire,” Doña Elvia says.
The mother takes the baby and wraps him in a blanket.
“Tiene que cuidar a ese niño,” Doña Elvia says.
The mother reaches into her purse and gives Doña Elvia a few dollars. Outside, the mother bundles the baby in the stroller. The baby is still crying from the pain and looks dazed from the experience. But what the hell do babies know?
The mother pushes the stroller passed the gate and brushes past the geraniums. The smell wafts into the air.
Doña Elvia looks out the window till the mother is gone. Her front yard is rich in medicinal herbs that she protects with fervor. Doña Elvia looks at the clock. It’s almost time for her novela. She sets a pot of water to boil in the kitchen. She hobbles to the front door. There are two more steps to get the front garden. She grips the post that frames her entryway. When she takes a step down, she feels the purple veins bite and growl. She stumbles a bit. Then regains her balance and takes the next step down.
The rosemary bush is near the front door. It grows up against the fence that separates her property from the property next door. Her son lives in that house with his own family. From where she is standing, she can see her eldest granddaughter sitting on a chair on the porch of her son’s home.
“Hola, hija,” Doña Elvia calls out.
The girl’s legs are draped over another chair. She only needs one chair, but she boldly takes up two. A cat is cradled between her thighs. Doña Elvia sneers at her in the dark.
“Hi, abuela,” the girl says.
The girl gives her grandmother a small wave. Then goes back to petting the cat.
The dumb girl has the simpleton behaviors of Americans. In her village, girls showed proper deference. The girl should have stood up and said, “Buenas noches. ¿Cómo está usted?” A woman is supposed to offer a wide welcoming smile. Even in the dark the Doña Elvia knows the girl isn’t smiling. She never smiles. It’s like she chooses to be a fountain of disappointments.
Doña Elvia grabs a fistful of rosemary and pulls violently.
She was torn from her family like that. When her husband picked her, she didn’t have a choice. Doña Elvia had seen him once in the plaza as she was walking from church with her mother and sisters. She remembers catching his stare. When she smiled and looked down. Her long lashes brushed against her skin. She flung her rebozo over her shoulder and threw her head back.
Doña Elvia yanks another handful of rosemary. Its pungent smell fills the air. At this, the granddaughter looks up. The girl can sense the violence. Doña Elvia hates this about her. She walks inside, reminding herself to keep an eye on that girl’s keen eye. She’s likely to spot all the ways that Elvia revels in the heat of destruction.
Dona Elvia drops the rosemary into the pot of water on the stove and stirs the herbs with a wooden spoon. She turns on the TV.
Doña Elvia has four sons. She might have had more but she aborted the babies every time she thought she was pregnant with a girl.
She likes to tell her granddaughter what the fetuses looked like.
“On the boys,” she says, “You could already see their penis forming. The girls were just a mass of flesh.”
When she describes the female fetuses, Doña Elvia uses the word “carne”. The words “un pedaso de carne” stays in the girl’s mind. Doña Elvia cackles when her granddaughter recoils. The girl doesn’t ask for more details. She imagines her grandmother’s bloodied hands clutching a dead child. And even though her grandmother has never said it directly, she knows that her grandmother detests girls.
At bedtime, Doña Elvia looks out the window. The girl is talking to someone. She can’t see her clearly, but she knows it’s a boy. A woman knows these things. They are sitting outside the porch talking. They aren’t touching but that doesn’t matter. Doña Elvia can tell it’s a boy that girl is fucking. The granddaughter is 15—old enough to be a mother.
That girl is such a whore.
The girl leans over to grab a cat. She loves these animals. Her need is so disgusting. But it’s a good leveraging point for Doña Elvia. She hurts the animals whenever she can. That’s what the girl gets.
That whore will grab at anything.
The cat stays on her lap. The girl scratches its back. When the tail whips around and hits her face, the girl laughs.
What’s she got to be happy about? She’s never worked for anything in her life. Free-loading bitch. She doesn’t even appreciate what she has.
Doña Elvia seethes with rage. She’s relieved she only has one granddaughter. Her sons have no sense in picking wives. These women should be providing more sons.
The girl pushes the cat off her lap and goes back inside. The boy stands outside for a few minutes. He’s looking up at the moon. He gets up too and goes into the house. That’s when Doña Elvia realizes it’s her grandson.
She sighs, knowing with all her being that everything she thought is still true. She takes a moment to wish ill on her granddaughter. Then closes the window and draws the curtains closed.
Mireya Vela is a Mexican-American nonfiction writer living in Los Angeles who has an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University.