In a small town in Mexico, roughly 20,000 people live their small-town lives. Nothing ever too far to walk to. Dirt roads pave the way from house to house. The local school acts as an elementary, middle, and high school. Twelve teachers split up the entire group of students. Usually, that would be impossible for only twelve teachers, but graduation rates plummet the higher the grade level. Only about 15 percent of high school seniors ever receive their degree. The other 85 percent either work the tequila fields or have started their family.
Socorro Garcia de Rodriguez met Marcel Rodriguez in the sixth grade. Five years later, the two dropped out; Marcel worked the tequila fields and Socorro cared for their daughter of 8 months. Marcel was smart. Or, at least smart enough to graduate high school. He probably would have if he didn’t get Socorro pregnant.
“Marcel, I’m scared,” Socorro whispered to Marcel across the table. She had taken a pregnancy test 9 hours earlier and had finally mustered up the courage to tell Marcel the results.
“Scared of what?” Marcel asked looking up from that night’s homework. They were at Socorro’s house. Both of their mothers were there too. Their fathers had gone out drinking.
“The future,” Socorro responded.
“What do you mean? We’re 17. There’s literal decades left to figure that stuff out.”
“What about our kid?” Socorro leaned in.
“He’ll be alright. Once I finish college and become a cop, we can start thinking of that kind of stuff.”
“The Rodriguez exclusively make boys. Even the girls we make are a little manly. Have you seen my aunt Matilde? She has a bigger jaw than half her brothers.”
“I’m pregnant, Marcel.”
That upcoming Thursday, Marcel stopped going to school. He’s worked the tequila fields ever since. Socorro went for another two months before her bump started showing at which point, she saw no use. Marcel was making good money. Good enough for rent, groceries, diapers and booze.
A year after dropping out, Marcel’s family had a reunion. All the Rodriguez across Mexico gathered from across the country. Uncle Thomas was there. He owned a hotel down south. Uncle Fernando, the pianist, showed up with his ten kids. Aunt Josephina even attended. She had been locked up for the past four years and got out in time for the reunion. Every single cousin, uncle, grandpa, son, and nephew was there that day. The local pavilion was rented out for a night of dance and music.
Socorro and Marcel took their assigned seats with their 12 month old daughter Concepcion in hand . They sat a large round table with two other branches of the Rodriguez family tree. To Socorro’s right was Uncle Pablo Rodriguez, son of Ignacio Rodriguez. He was accompanied by his wife, Patricia, and their baby boy. To Socorro’s left was Grandpa Gordo, called this because he was, in fact, gordo. An hour of mingling passed before the music started playing and the Rodriguez and all their wives started dancing.
Halfway into the reunion, as Socorro and Marcel were taking a break from dancing, a young Rodriguez man approached the table. He sat down next to Patricia and the two started talking. For the next ten minutes, they exchanged giggles and glances. Finally, the young man asked Patricia to dance. She accepted and the two got lost in the crowd.
Socorro followed them with her eyes. They maneuvered their way to the middle of the pavilion where the young man took Patricia by the waist. They rocked side to side for three songs before Uncle Pablo, who had been drinking outside with his brothers, was told of this interaction.
Uncle Pablo set his drink down and stumbled inside and through the crowd. It wasn’t hard for Uncle Pablo to find his wife considering she was in the middle of the pavilion with a large circle formed around her and the man gripping her waist.
Uncle Pablo fumbled up to the young man where he ripped him from his wife’s body. His oily fingers clawed into his wife’s hair. He whipped his wife down to the pavilion floor where he punted her in the stomach with his crocodile skin boots. She was carried face down by her hair through the crowd. Specks of blood were left every couple of feet. Each drop glowed bright red on the pavilion floor, leaving a trace just in case someone bothered to go help her. The music kept playing. The Rodriguez family kept dancing.
Socorro looked at her husband in horror. He asked her to dance.
That same year, Marcel and Socorro moved in with Marcel’s parents. The child was getting very expensive to support, so they offered to take them in while the couple saved up enough money to move into a cheaper home. Their names were Olivo and Veronica. They had been married for thirty-five years at that point. All their children had grown up, married, and moved out of the house. It was an empty nest.
The first few weeks, Olivo and Marcel would go to work in the morning together leaving their wives to tend to the house. While their husbands were away, Veronica, Socorro and her daughter played music, danced, laughed, and generally enjoyed each other’s company.
One weekday, Socorro took Veronica out to eat. There was a place down a couple of blocks that sold carnitas.
“Why don’t you want to go out?” asked Socorro.
“Oh I don’t know. Look how I’m dressed,” Veronica replied.
“You look nice!” said Socorro.
“I’m in my Mickey Mouse pajamas. And I don’t want Marcel to find out,” said Veronica.
“We won’t spend too much money. It’s just lunch,” said Socorro.
“That’s what I always say too, but listen if we wanted to go out, we should have let Olivo know beforehand,” said Veronica.
“But you look nice,” Socorro said in one last attempt of persuasion.
Veronica looked down at her faded Mickey Mouse pajama shirt. She laughed a little. Veronica agreed to go out.
At the restaurant, the two were seated. They talked gossip over carnitas for two hours. At the end of their meal, as Veronica picked her teeth with her pinky, leaned over the table and whispered.
“Isn’t it nice to be outside in public and not be called whores?” asked Veronica.
“You just can’t pay those men off the street any attention. Just walk right past them without no eye contact or no nothing,” Socorro replied. She was rocking her daughter to sleep.
“I mean by our husbands.”
The third weekend after Socorro moved in, Marcel and Olivo went out for drinks with friends. As soon as the door closed behind them, Veronica locked it. She shut the blinds, locked the windows, and rushed into her bedroom. Socorro was in the living room watching Veronica bounce from room to room. Socorro finally got up and followed her in-law into the bedroom. Inside, Veronica had a pistol in hand.
“What are you doing?” Socorro asked.
“Relax, I’m hiding it,” Veronica replied, “I couldn’t shoot myself even if I wanted to.”
“Why? Wasn’t it in the safe already?”
“That’s not what would stop me,” said Veronica.
“No, I mean it’s already hidden in the safe,” replied Socorro.
“Yes, but Olivo knows the combination. If I hide it, then he won’t be able to use it.”
“Yes Olivo. He gets angry when he’s drunk. Usually I’ll be able to take it, but I’m getting older. A bruise lasts me weeks at this age. We have about four hours before they get home. I have this hiding place in the closet where they can’t get to us. You can fit too. I don’t think they’ll touch the baby. She’s asleep right?”
“Yes, but Marcel is going to be here. He’ll help us if Olivo gets violent.”
“If?” asked Veronica, “Listen. Marcel is my son. I love him as his mother, but he is a Rodriguez and if there’s something a Rodriguez is, it’s a drunk. And when a Rodriguez gets drunk, they like to put their hands on their wives.”
“He’s never hit me.”
“That doesn’t mean he won’t. Now help me hide the kitchen knives.”
Socorro sat in terror in the living room. Veronica sat in silence next to her. Comfortable. Her terror had become routine. A stain in her spirit. She would call it a birthmark.
They were waiting to hear their husbands footsteps in the dark. As soon as one of them heard the slightest of sounds or saw their husbands return through the blinds, they would run into Veronica’s bedroom closet like they planned. Some neighborhood kids climbed the fence on the side of the house which caused the two to hide in the closet for twenty minutes before they realized it was a false alarm.
Hours crawled by before Veronica spotted her husband and Marcel down the road through the blinds.
“Socorro, it’s them!” Veronica sprinted to the bedroom.
“Wait! I’m scared!” Socorro called out as she rushed to the bedroom.
Socorro and Veronica squeezed into the closet. They pushed themselves against its corner and covered themselves with trash bags full of blankets. The plastic made their skin sweat.
“My mom showed me this hiding spot,” Veronica whispered.
There was noise coming from the door. It was Olivo trying to turn the handle. He charged his shoulder into the door trying to open it several times before Marcel found a way to turn the knob.
From the closet, Veronica and Socorro could hear their husbands call.
“We’re here!” Olivo screamed, “I know you’re hiding again, you dirty perra. Call for them, Marcel.”
“Socorro! Veronica!” Marcel called out.
Olivo grabbed his son by the collar. “No. They don’t have names.” He squeezed tighter. “They’re all putas, Marcel. Every single one of them.” He released his clutches and went inside the bedroom. Marcel followed.
“Every single one of them.” Olivo pressed his hands on the cool metal of the gun safe. “How many women have you fucked?” He squinted at the dial and started to spin the combination.
“My wife,” Marcel replied. He sat down on the bed. “Fuck, my head is spinning.”
“You don’t have to lie to me.” Olivo opened the gun safe with a creak that made Socorro flinch. “God damn it.”
“No my head really is spinning.”
“How many girls do you have on the side? Three? Five?”
“Just my wife.”
“You don’t want to tell me? That’s fine. You too much like your mom. That’s why you had a daughter. Couldn’t continue the legacy. Me? I’m old but I got six or seven bitches waiting for me at any given moment. And that’s why they’re perras. A whore sleeps around with all the men they can get their hands on. They’re fucking filth. That’s why you have to put them in their place.”
Veronica turned to Socorro. The two had tears streaming down their face. All they could do was look at each other in the dark and guess who the other one was crying for.
Olivo left the room. The women heard his rough voice shake the walls. The rumble of his voice grew louder once again.
“What are you doing with the scissors?” asked Marcel.
Olivo opened the closet door. He removed each hangar one by one. He laid each dress, each t-shirt, each blouse onto the bed. Then, through several vicious jerks of his scissors, Olivo cut each piece of clothing in half. When the scissors went dull, he tore the strands of cotton with his bare hands.
“What the fuck are you doing?” asked Marcel, “It’s her clothes.”
“If she wants to go around acting like a whore, then she might as well dress as one. Get me the trash bags from in there,” said Olivo.
“What are you doing?” Marcel asked.
“Oh save it. Grab those damn trash bags,” replied Olivo.
Marcel and his flimsy spirit walked to the closet. He removed the trash bag on top of the pile. Underneath, he saw the faces of his wife and mother. Their hands, who had been covering their mouths, had come together in prayer. Asking for grace, mercy, or at very least a blind eye. Yet, in betrayal Marcel uttered the most damning phrase imaginable.
Veronica and Socorro dug themselves out of the pile of trash bags. Veronica ran out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. Olivo reacted just as quickly. He ran after his wife.
“Pinche vieja! Come here. Did you see your new clothes?” asked Olivo as he ran out of the bedroom.
Socorro stepped out of the closet and approached her husband. They looked at each other. Marcel opened his mouth to speak, but he was cut short by the screams of his mother. The sound of flesh hitting flesh cracked through the home. Veronica’s howls slowly turned to whimpers. This is all she could do. Cry and take it. Cry and take it. Fist after fist. Open hand after open hand. Slur and spit covered her body. She felt every much the filth she was called.
“I’m sorry,” said Marcel between his mother’s cries.
“No you’re not,” replied Socorro.
“Stop that. You think I like hearing my mom cry?” asked Marcel.
“You haven’t done anything to stop it,” replied Socorro.
“You want me to stop my dad by hitting him? Is that it?” he asked.
“Two times for every hit he landed,” she said.
“I’m not hitting my dad, Socorro,” he said.
“Of course not. That would mean you’d do something and God knows you like to stay away from anything that troubles you,” she said.
“Stop it,” he said.
“No that’s what you do. You pretend to care about things like your mom, but you don’t. You just put up weak arguments and fold the moment someone questions you. You drunkenly walk in here and stumble about. And just the same you stumble around anything you don’t agree with which isn’t much, you spineless rat,” she said.
“Spineless? You can fuck off with that,” he replied.
“Spineless. Instead of going into that kitchen and killing that bastard where he stands, you stay here. Away from the sight. But I know you hear it. I know you hear her screams. I’m sure this isn’t the first time too. How many times have you stayed behind a closed door?”
“Quit your shit.”
“When did you realize your Mom died? And why didn’t you say anything other than I’m sorry? And tell me how many apologies it takes to heal a bruise? And how many more do you need to fix her spirit?”
“Fuck you.” Marcel clenched his fist. His breathing deepened.
Socorro noticed his fist starting to raise. She leaned in and without unclenching her mouth she spoke.
“Go ahead. Fucking hit me. Fucking hit me. I’ll let you beat the shit out of me. It’ll hurt. I bet it hurts so much. They’re just bruises. I’ll scream at you to stop and I’ll eventually do what you want me to. But let me tell you, I’ll rise. I’ll heal. Eventually, I’ll have enough strength to pick up the heaviest rock I could find. And in the middle of the night when you’re sleeping. I’ll go and get the rock and I’ll cave your fucking head in until you’ve paid in hurt equal to that of what you gave to me and what you’re dad gave to you mom. And I’ll do the same thing to your dad. And you won’t be able to come back. Not like us.”
Socorro regained consciousness in the middle of the night. Her ears were ringing. She was curled up next to Marcel’s armpit. Slowly, she remembered the hurt. Her fat lips burned. She couldn’t open her mouth. Dazed, she got up from the bed and walked to the bathroom. She could see perfectly in the moonlight, dancing clumsily around the bathroom trying to regain her balance.
She didn’t dare to turn on the lights in the bathroom. Instead, she stared into the mirror in the dark. She didn’t need the sun to notice her hurt painted on her face. Black, blue, and orange smothered the area around her eyes. Crimson streaks ran down from her nose and down the side of her face. She raised her arms in the air. Scarlett hands were printed on her bicep as if they were holding them up for her.
She looked at herself in silence. In the mirror, in full display, was a stained glass portrait much like the ones she stared at in church. The patron saint of survival. Her falling tears aggravated the bruising.
Socorro walked out of the bedroom altogether. She crept down the hallway silently and exited the home. At the gate of the house was a rock. Just small enough to carry back inside. As big as a guarantee. She took it inside without making a noise. As she closed the door behind her, she heard the sound of silverware rattling coming from the kitchen. She readied her stone and walked to the kitchen. She poked her head into the kitchen to find Veronica holding a large chef’s knife.
“Don’t do it,” Socorro whispered.
“It’s been so many years and I never once had the balls to go through with it,” Veronica replied softly.
“Dying is just what he wants you to do,” Socorro said.
“Not myself. Him. I’ve been in this kitchen, under this moonlight for years. Holding this knife praying that I have the strength to finally thrust it in his chest. I sit here and let the light glint off its sharpness. Then, I imagine the blood drooling down the knife, holding onto the metal, still begging me to spare him. I do this until the image finally fills me up and I tuck away the knife back in the drawer and fall asleep. Use it the next day to cook his meals,” said Veronica.
“Will you ever do it?” Socorro asked.
“I don’t know. Each time I’m here I’m convinced that I will. Like you were when you picked up the rock outside. The neighbor wants to use a rope to strangle her husband. My friend across town swears by the shovel. We all have our things, Socorro. Our sticks and stones.”
“And what if I do it? What if I actually do it? I told him if he ever tried to lay a hand on me—”
“Then maybe I’ll do it one day too,” Veronica interrupted.
“I won’t have it,” said Socorro.
“You’re worried about killing my son. He is my son. He’s also a Rodriguez. Your daughter. Get her the fuck out of here. Take her and move as far away as you can go before you start coming back,” said Veronica.
“I’ll take you too. And your neighbor and your friend and anyone else in this town that wants to leave,” replied Socorro.
“That just won’t work. There’s something about all this, mija. Our husbands, the ones like Marcel and Olivo. They seem nice and they are respectable enough around here to fool everyone. And all this moonlight is cocorícamo. It’s all hidden in plain sight. An open hand isn’t always there to help. And if we leave, we’re the women with serpent tails and poison fangs. No one ever blames the work boot for stepping where it isn’t supposed to. We blame the snake for protecting itself,” said Veronica.
The weight of the rock was tiring Socorro’s arm. She walked into her bedroom once more.
All the poison in her body went into swinging the rock several times across her husband’s head. It took three blunt hits to knock Marcel unconscious. She lost count around swing twelve. She left plenty more hurt unpaid.
Silently, she slithered away into the night with her baby in hand.
And no one was inspired.
Author’s note: Pacifism is what we all need.