Two black crucifixes closed in over Elenas’s head. She looked up slowly from her textbook to the hovering figures and recognized the polished onyx crosses that belonged to two black rosarios hanging from the necks of Mateo and José.
“What happened?” they whispered in a conspiratorial tone. They moved in further. “Did he wash his shoes?”
“What?” she said and closed her chemistry book. She looked at them annoyed that they interrupted her studying right before química but peeved even more that they seemed to know something she didn’t.
“Isaac and Mireya are back together. We just saw them holding hands,” they said in unison. Mateo and José both wore a smirk on their faces that confused Elena. Their asembla—their group of witches that they had formed several months ago—had been the one that helped Elena cast the love spell on Isaac a few days earlier. And now they looked smug because it hadn’t worked.
“Oh, yeah. I saw them too,” she lied. “I haven’t tossed the ashes on his feet yet. I’m waiting for the right moment.” Elena shrugged and hoped that they believed her.
Mateo and José looked at each other and before they could tell Elena that she doesn’t have much time, she told them that she had a test and would see them later. She left them standing there, shoulder-to-shoulder with their black crosses over their green school uniform sweaters by the bench where she had been studying.
Although Elena had never really liked Mateo and José, she joined their coven for their sabiduría. But lately, she had been thinking that she had learned enough from them about spells and rituals and where to go in Coyoacán to gather for what she needed—including the required black rosario for protection—that Elena had considered going solo.
Their first kiss happened under one of México’s seasonal rainstorms. There was lightning and thunder and Elena had felt like mother earth was speaking, telling her that this would be a momentous day.
Isaac had held her close under Elena’s umbrella just outside the secundaria’s gates, the pitter-patter of rain drops on the umbrella’s canopy a lulling sound. The turno vespertino had just been let out of classes and the steady stream of students was diverting into different directions around where Elena and Isaac stood. He was at least a foot taller than Elena and she had to look up at him and get on her tiptoes to speak into his ear because it was loud outside. They had not stood that close before.
She had kissed other boys before, and she knew that he had kissed other girls too. But when he stole that first kiss, a quick playful peck on her lips under the paraguas after whispering into her ear, her cheeks reddened. When he saw that she didn’t pull away, Isaac kissed her again, and she felt like she was floating toward the clouds. The world felt like they were the only people en el mundo.
Elena had transferred schools to begin her third and final year of secundaria at Jesús Mastache Román. This final year of middle school was preparation for admittance into the national preparatory system that would give her direct entrance to México’s prestigious—and tuition-free—national university. Like many of her friends, Elena’s future would be determined at the conclusión of this academic year and her educational plan had not included falling in love or playing with magia.
The first weeks of classes at the new school had been a blur. As the new girl, Elena had every student’s interest. While she noticed that her classmates shared a history from having attended the same school—and maybe the same classes—for two years, Elena never felt excluded.
She became quick friends with a girl named Rebecca who always had her hair brushed back and tied in a low bun and wore long sleeve tees under her uniform’s white blouse. Elena liked her because she was easy to talk to and they soon started spending free periods together walking the courtyard or at the basketball courts. Elena really enjoyed cheering for Rebecca when she played with the boys. Rebecca was a better baloncesto player than most of them, though she was not as tall. It was through Rebecca that Elena really got to know Isaac since Rebecca and him were good friends since year one of secundaria.
The three of them were in the same class and Elena had noticed Isaac the first day of school. He had sat at the back of the classroom, sunk deep in his desk, eyeline down toward his binder, while others laughed and horsed around beside him. He was tall and handsome—short dark hair, large hazel eyes, glowing bronzed skin—but insecure about his body. Isaac would shift uncomfortably in his seat and then tug at the hem of his polo shirt, away from the outline of his stomach, the way Elena did when she wanted to hide her own llantitas.
He was soft and melancólico. And something about that combination was intriguing to her. During breaks from lessons, he’d leave the classroom with his quiet and disappear into campus. Sometimes he was absent from lecciones for entire weeks at a time and Elena worried he would fall behind. There were rumores that his father, who was wealthy in comparison to most of others’ fathers, paid the teachers at the end of every term to pass him. Elena couldn’t believe that to be true.
The day of the cigarettes incident Elena and Isaac weren’t talking. Again.
“Did you hear?” Rebecca had leaned over from her desk toward Elena’s. Their math profesor was writing a formula on the chalkboard and had his back toward the class.
“Isaac was caught smoking by a teacher,” Rebecca whispered. “Today,” she said, pointing downward with her index finger.
“What? I thought he didn’t come to school today,” Elena said, looking through the classroom windows, as if expecting to find Isaac on the other side.
“You didn’t see him?”
“No. He’s not talking to me right now.”
Rebecca released a heavy “huh” as she settled back in her seat. Their professor continued his lecture and Elena struggled to focus on the algebraic equation they had been instructed to solve on their own.
She was not expecting to run into Isaac that afternoon, but when Elena spotted him across the quad while between classes, she hurriedly walked toward him and called his name. When his stride didn’t slow, she began to run awkwardly after him, her hands holding her pleated skirt from bouncing up too high.
“Isaac, wait!” She stopped in front of him. “Are you okay?” she said.
“Yeah,” he said and looked down.
“Talk to me,” she said, while inspecting his face. It was clear he had been crying; his eyelids were swollen and the tip of his nose red. She was surprised to see him this way and she reached for his hand.
“I’ve got to go,” he said, pushing past her.
Elena watched him make for the secundaria’s entrance; backpack swung over his shoulder. She let him go because something about him told her that his tears had not been over being caught with cigarillos.
It had taken them almost an hour to get to Coyoacán by bus from Rebecca’s house. One of the many times she had visited the indoor shopping warehouse with abuelita, Elena had accidentally discovered the bruja’s store behind a tostadas place while they waited for their food.
It seemed like an unlikely area of the Mercado to look for candles, amulets, and other witchy supplies, she thought, but was relieved when they found the bruja’s hidden stand right where Elena had remembered it.
“So, what are you going to do now?” Rebecca said, following Elena through the shop’s beaded curtains. The shopkeeper—a woman with thick wavy black hair in her treintas—looked up at them, smiled quickly, and returned to her paperwork.
It had smelled like heaven when they walked past the tostadas stand: steak and lengua frying on cast-iron burners, freshly pressed masa, salsa verde reposing in a molcajete, their smells mixed into a glorious aroma. Elena didn’t have enough money for food, but she remembered biting into a tostada de res that day with her Abuelita. In contrast now were the softer scents in the bruja’s stand of candle wax, incense, and dried rose petals that had greeted them as they crossed the store’s threshold. Then the shopkeeper said, “Bienvenidas,” startling Elena out of her daydream.
“Gracias,” they both respond.
The bruja began to put her papers into folders and tucked them in a drawer, as Elena told herself to focus. She picked-up a wicker basket. “About what?” Elena asked. She had barely paid any attention to Rebecca during their way through the maze that was the Mercado.
“You know, about Isaac and you-know-who,” Rebecca said, susurando the last part.
Elena selected a red candle from an assortment and read the label fixed to its underside. In small letters it read: Used in magic for love, resolving relationship or family problems, revenge, anger, courage, determination, enemies. She placed it in her basket along with a white candle. “I’ve decided on a different approach,” Elena said. “He knows how I feel and if he chooses her now, he’s only doing that to get my attention.” Elena would never admit that what had hurt her more than not having Isaac’s love was to have been passed over, not chosen.
“He’s torn, you know,” said Rebecca. “I’ve talked to him about you and… her. And, well, he’s having a difficult time with it.”
Elena turned to her friend, ready to sling a pithy remark, but when she saw concern on Rebecca’s face, she dropped it and sighed. “I know he’s your friend, Rebecca, and you care about him, but he’s done this to me too many times now. He breaks-up with me for no razón and goes to her. Then comes back like nothing ever happened. No explanation. And then breaks-up with me again. And I just can’t…” Elena could feel her heart fast in her chest and sadness building in her throat.
Rebecca nodded and turned to the many trinkets displayed on a table. “So, what are you getting from here?” she said, while picking up a clay apothecary jar from a set and studying the dark glazed textures that wrapped along its side. A clear attempt to change the topic.
“Oh, I need to ask la señora something. Wait here,” Elena said. She was a bit embarrassed to reveal to Rebecca why they were there and was realizing that it might also be difficult thing to explain to the bruja.
“I keep those items behind the counter,” the Bruja said, while pointing in the direction of a glass display behind the counter. Elena could see the voodoo dolls as she moved closer.
“How did you know?” Elena managed to say.
“I know many things. But I can see your intentions there, clearly,” she said, pointing at Elena’s heart. The bruja walked toward the display case and retrieved an item wrapped in twill cloth from a drawer. “My name is Flora,” said the bruja. “And this, creo yo, is what you’re here for.” She handed the item to Elena, and she unfolded the cloth to reveal a voodoo doll made from gray felt and white string. Elena studied it. It didn’t have a face yet, but there was a blood-red corazón stitched on its chest.
“Elena! What are you going to do with that?” Rebecca’s face wavered between shock and disbelief.
Elena ignored Rebecca’s outrage and thanked Flora. Flora then handed Elena a black cotton drawstring bag and said, “Everything that you will need is inside.”
For Valentine’s Day—el día del Amor y la Amistad—Isaac had been waiting for Elena after school with a heart-shaped box of Ferrero Rocher and a single red rose.
Seeing him out of his school uniform with gifts in hand had almost made Elena forget that she had spent the entire day at school wallowing and watching happy couples parade their love all over campus. What was worse was that some of the girls in class had asked her if she and Isaac had broken up.
But since they only ever saw each other at school, Elena had decided to let it go.
“These are for you,” Isaac said, shyly holding the rose and chocolates out to her.
“Thank you,” she said. “Too bad I didn’t get you a gift.” That was a lie, but she hadn’t forgiven him. Not fully.
“It’s okay. Seeing you is enough,” he said. “Can I walk you to the bus stop?”
Elena softened a bit. “You know, we can do something this weekend,” Elena said. “It doesn’t matter what we do, just as long as we can spend some time together.”
“I can’t,” he said.
“Why not?” He hadn’t even taken a minute to considered it. The immediate ‘no’ had hurt more than his absence.
“I’m helping my mom with something,” he said.
“Oh,” she said. She really wanted to make plans outside of school with him for that weekend, but she also knew that she couldn’t handle anymore disappointment. She was silent.
He pulled her into him and hugged her from behind with his long arms linking just below her breasts. She felt her face warm. He had a way making things better así derrepente.
“So, what did we do in math class today? You know, I think el profe has a crush on you,” he teased.
“No, he doesn’t!” she said, and pretended to try to shimmy from his embrace. She never wanted him to let go.
He kissed her sweetly just above the temple in response, and they walked as one to the bus stop.
Mateo and José found Elena in line at the lonchería. She had trailed Mireya to the lunch stand trying to snip a lock of hair from her high ponytail; it had swung side-to-side as Mireya walked with her friends.
“Rebecca said you were looking for us,” they said.
Seeing that they were surrounded by hungry estudiantes and possible witnesses to her plan, Elena gave up her current mission. “Yes. Come this way with me,” she said.
The three of them—Elena, Mateo, and José—wove through the crowd, past peers standing on the periphery of the crowd already in the process of consuming their meals.
“I need you to do something and not ask questions,” Elena told to Mateo and José after they had found a secluded spot around the corner of the secundaria’s main building where the Director’s office was located. “I’ll pay you ten pesos. Each.”
Mateo and José looked at each other and then back at Elena and nodded in acceptance.
“Can you clip some hair from Mireya and bring it back to me. I brought my tía’s hair scissors; they’re sharp,” she said, revealing the tijeras she was hiding inside her white sweater’s sleeve.
“Why do you want us to do it, and not you?” they said with a tono of suspicion.
“Because I’ve already been creepily following Mireya around all morning and unable to do it. She knows who I am. Her friends know who I am,” Elena said.
“Is this for a spell,” they asked in an accusatory tone. Elena was surprised Rebecca hadn’t told them about the muñeca de vudú.
“Yes,” she said, even though it wasn’t entirely la verdad.
“You can’t be casting spells without us. It’s peligroso without the group together,” Mateo and José said.
“Okay, okay” she said. “Can we talk about that afterward, though? Lunch break will be over soon.”
Mateo and José looked at each other again. They seemed frustrated and maybe they had the right to be since Elena had not consulted with them about using voodoo magic. But right now, she really needed their help, and they were running out of time. They stuck their hand out and she gave them the scissors.
Elena knew she needed to smooth things over with Rebecca. The trip home from the Mercado a few days antes had been tense, and Rebecca had scantily answered Elena’s questions, her poorly received efforts at making conversation. If it hadn’t been for the morning’s assembly when their class had had to file into two close lines for el Saludo a la Bandera, Rebecca might have been able to avoid Elena all day. Standing line earlier, she had found her friend’s gaze several people ahead and then Elena had mouthed the words, “I miss you.” Over the sound of shuffling feet, Rebecca had replied, “me too.”
Elena waited for a night with a full moon to cast her spell and create Mireya’s voodoo doll. The house was quiet now that mamá, papá, her two aunts, and abuelita had all gone to bed. Elena’s room was an addition built by her father in the living room; it was formed by two thin walls and an accordion-style door that snapped close with a magnet. Because there was no privacy anywhere in the casa, Elena had been using the azotea, where they handwashed their clothes and strung them to dry, for her brujería.
She climbed the spiral iron staircase to the rooftop slowly, making sure it didn’t shake too loudly. When the tías or mamá used the azotea, their steps clapped on the iron stairway, making the escalera groan and tremble beneath them, a sound that reverberated throughout the house. Elena scaled softly with bare feet, while she hugged her backpack on her chest. From the azotea, she could look into the neighbors’ yards or view the items they have forgotten on the clothesline without embarrassment.
In her usual spot near the farthest corner, Elena sat cross-legged on the concrete floor and began to unload some items from her backpack. She lit a few candles over ceramic coasters for both energy and illumination. Before revealing the voodoo doll from a cloak, Elena took several deep breaths and focused on her intentions.
Inhaled. Make Mireya disappear. Exhaled.
Inhaled. Isaac will not love her anymore. Exhaled.
Inhaled. Isaac will love only me. Exhaled.
Inhaled. Isaac and I will be together, forever. Exhaled.
The night’s sounds were suddenly muted and when Elena opened her eyes, she felt numb and a bit lightheaded. Quickly, the ringing in her head calmed. She might have breathed-in too hard, she thought.
Over a velvet black spread, the rest of her bag’s contents were splayed. Isaac and I will be together, forever.
With a brown yarn, Elena gave the doll long hair and tied it into a high ponytail. Isaac will love only me.
Next, she stitched dark green buttons as eyes on the doll’s face, the closest shade of jade that Elena found to resemble Mireya’s ojos. Isaac will not love her anymore.
With a needle and red thread, she sewed a straight line for Mireya’s mouth and gave her lips thin. Make Mireya disappear.
With the tip of the scissors, Elena undid the stitching on the side of the doll’s chest, closest to the heart, to place the final element: strands of Mireya’s hair. Isaac and I will be together, forever.
She unwrapped the bit of hair that Mateo and José had surreptitiously handed to Elena in a napkin. When she unraveled it, the hair trimmings are shorter and darker than she had anticipated they would be. For a moment, there was doubt that the hair was Mireya’s, but she casts the suspicion away. Isaac will not love her anymore.
Elena pushed the hairs into the side of the doll, past the cotton stuffing that was protruding, and closed the opening with three long, but tight stitches. She stopped to admire her work and realized that even as a muñeca de vudú, Mireya was beautiful.
She looked up at the luna and told it that Isaac was hers. In a swift and unexpected motion, Elena began to stab the doll’s heart with scissors, over and over, until tears obstruct her vision and the rage subsided, and a sudden gust snuffed the last candle out.
About the Author Casandra Hernández Ríos received her MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction, from CSU Long Beach. Her fiction has appeared in The Bangalore Review, In Parentheses, The Acentos Review, Spectrum Literary Journal, Verdad magazine, Two Sisters, and the Santa Ana River Review. Casandra was born in Ciudad de México, raised in Los Angeles, California, and now writes from Denver, Colorado.
About the Artist
Sandra De La Torre is a 21-year-old Mexican-American aspiring photographer from the outsides of Chicago. She is currently attending Colombia College and working to receive a BA in Photography. Sandra discovered her love for photography at 14 and has recently decided to pursue it professionally. Her work consists mainly of portraits, but currently, she is focusing on capturing images that portray the beauty of Mexican Culture. For more of Sandra’s work, you can find her on @svndrvphoto on Instagram.
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