Dolores sat and wept in pain until the early hours of the morning. With what strength she had after her shock, she dragged herself across the room, pulling herself through shattered glass from family portraits and the scattered contents of her nightstand drawers. Holding onto her bed’s corner, she forced herself up onto the bed and sat and cried again, not because of the pain, but out of sadness, knowing that someone could be that hated, that worthless. She lay on her side and wiped her tears and fell asleep until the afternoon.
Her hens woke her. When she sat up, she looked about and realized that though her portraits had been shattered, the pictures were intact. The drawers hadn’t broken either, and nothing but the chain and a piece of candy had left the room. Though her heart still felt tense, the pain in her chest was no longer as unbearable and she could breath all right. She wiped her cheeks and chose to get up. When she limped into the kitchen, she saw that the damage wasn’t awful—only her china plates were smashed. All this granted her some relief, but she waited a moment before stepping outside.
Dolores had never cleaned up gore before. The dog lay beside her finished plate of food with a gunshot in her skull. It was good, she thought, that Candela’s death had been instant, that she didn’t suffer. Dolores sighed and took a blanket from her closet to wrap Candela’s corpse. She dug a hole beside an old tree on the hill-path, where she had first run into the stray pup, and buried her there. Then she limped back to her hut. She wiped away the blood, swept away the shattered china, and washed Candela’s plate. Dolores displayed this surviving dish atop her cabinet as the last physical reminder of her wedding day, and now, her dog.
With everything cleaned and back in order—and her shock mostly swept away—Dolores changed and started preparing the afternoon coffee. She placed water to boil and set three cups on the table.
Then she waited.
A minute later, Santiago walked in.
“Santi!” The old woman limped forth and kissed him. “I think the water’s ready. Here, sit. Also—” she took out a candy from her apron, “I got these. Would you like one?”
“Sure.” The man took his seat and smiled. He turned to look at the door. “Oh,” he said, “I think there’s another.”
A young woman in a black dress walked into the house.
“Carmen!” he said. He got up to greet her with a kiss on the cheek. “I haven’t seen you in a long time.”
“I know. Isn’t it nice to be back?” She smiled. “Dolores—”
“Mother,” said the old woman. “I’ve missed you.”
Carmen held her cheeks. “And I’ve missed you.”
“Come, sit, over here.”
Dolores turned to the door, stuck her fingers in her mouth, and whistled. Candela yapped from outside and came running into the kitchen. Santiago pet her.
“Ah!” Carmen laughed. “I haven’t met her yet.”
“I had her for a while with me, yes,” said Dolores, turned away as she prepared coffee.
“She’s nice,” said Carmen. The dog licked her hand.
“You know, Carmen,” said Santiago, “You don’t look like you’ve aged a day since I married your daughter.”
Carmen let out a deep laugh. Doves perched on a tree outside took flight. “Shut up,” she said.
Once she finished serving coffee, Dolores eased herself onto her chair. Breathing through the sharp pain at her joints and the throbbing in her head, she sipped her cup and smiled.
. . .
One Sunday, when the people of Santa Cruz exited their church, Doña Dolores was no longer pitched across the street. Those adults that did remark her absence thought little of it. The next week, when she failed to show again, a group of ranchers gathered at the village plaza across the church asked where she had gone. Overhearing them, one of the postmen told the group that he cad come across a satchel full of broken eggs along his route through the hills, far from any house, but saw nobody nearby. Later that week, in the middle of the night, burglars broke into the missing woman’s house, but found it empty, dusty, and devoid of anything worth taking. Those that used to buy their eggs from the old woman presumed that she simply vanished. One man joked that she probably got tired of living there and flew away. Still, no one cared enough to wonder further. Before the end of that summer, all thought and memory of the old hag from the hill had left the mind of every adult in Santa Cruz.
As the years passed, even the children that spoke among each other about a witch outgrew these stories and forgot altogether that a wretched woman used to shuffle to and fro along the streets of their village. But a new crop of children, free from long-dead rumors, began to speak of their own woman. This story they continued to tell well into their adulthood. If you went out for a walk late on a Sunday afternoon, as the sky began turning to caramel, a kind old woman might come up to you and offer you a piece of candy. If you took it and smiled, she’d smile back, and when you blinked, she’d be gone. But if you denied it, she’d frown and keep on walking, searching for someone that could, someone unafraid to smile.