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Los Algodones

words by Jane Hammons
12.14.2010

It isn’t until the bride and her husband pull into the gravel drive in front of the house in the shade of the cottonwood trees that she knows what will happen. They bought the little ranchero in Algodones, because of its location. For them it is a midpoint. From here, he can drive to his art gallery in Santa Fe, and she can drive to the store in Albuquerque where she sells boots and bridles. Others buy it because it is an adobe they can afford or because the cottonwoods, los algodones, line the lane just so. There are variations, but the ending is always the same. The bride is the one who does it, though the tools differ: an ax, a carving knife, something sharp at hand.

After their wedding, the newlyweds left directly for their honeymoon. They return first to the home of the bride. Her mother stored wedding gifts in her small trailer until the newlyweds could retrieve them. While loading the gifts from his mother-in-law’s bedroom into the car, the husband noticed that the blue crystal champagne glasses were broken. He could have admitted some responsibility. He was the one who packed them for storage, but he had a low opinion of his in-laws. They gave toasters and towels. His people gave crystal and silver. It was easy to blame them. He made his mother-in-law cry.

The bride, too, had seen the broken crystal, two headless goblets, the bowls severed from their stems. One had broken neatly. Its bowl sat upright and whole in the box. The other goblet had shattered, its blue stem a splintered shard.

They arrive in Algodones, tired and irritable from the 200-mile-long drive across the desert. When they get out of the car, the sun is setting, and they are greeted by a curious tittering in the cottonwood trees. Cicadas, she remarks, drawn to the shrill chatter. She stands beneath the leafy boughs and looks for casings and other signs. She sees nothing. Hurry up, the husband says, pushing her toward the house.

Closed up for weeks, it is hot and stuffy. The bride opens windows and suggests they leave gifts in the trunk of the car until morning. The husband agrees and puts on his favorite CD. He turns the volume up and sings along loudly and out of tune. She turns the volume down. Angry, the husband punches her breasts and bloodies her nose. She worries that this time it might be broken.

Nonetheless they go to bed. She lies down carefully, trying not to dent the pillow. It is late. Cool air from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains drifts down into the foothills. She is cold but afraid to reach for the blanket. The sheet covers her like a whisper. The moon is full, and from the cantina down the road, the bride hears mariachis. Dogs bark in neighboring fields. She wants this to comfort her, but it cannot.

She lowers her lashes gently, mindful of the swelling beneath her eyes and the husband sleeping next to her. The barking turns to howling, bloodthirsty and longing. Moonlight shatters the room. She opens her eyes, and as always, the woman is there, wounded and beckoning. The bride falls asleep understanding what she must do.

When she wakes in the morning, the husband is unloading the wedding gifts from the car. She goes out to help him. Carmen, the woman from across the road, waves and joins them with a mug of coffee in one hand. In the other, she conceals something behind her back. The bride welcomes a chat, but the husband barks, We’re busy. He lifts the espresso machine from the trunk and carries it into the kitchen. Before she returns to her own house, Carmen smiles at the bride and drops the length of rope like an invitation at her feet.

When the husband returns for the toaster and towels, he glares at the bride. Her bruised eyes offend him. He has only a moment to wonder about the coil of rope before she drives the blue crystal shard into his neck.

The bride takes the rope and climbs into los algodones. She ties it firmly around a sturdy branch, places the noose around her neck and falls. She feels the ligaments stretch. Bones snap. These are not new feelings. She joins the ones who have gone before her. They are her and they are not her. She hangs there with them, hundreds of them, tittering in the morning sun as the new bride arrives.

Jane Hammons has been published in Able Muse, Everyday Genius, and Opium Magazine (online). Twice nominated for Pushcart Prizes, she also has hint fiction forthcoming in the anthology Hint Fiction (Norton, 2010). Her nonfiction has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Columbia Journalism Review, Word Riot, and in the anthology The Maternal is Political (Seal Press, 2008).

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