The Secret of Old Blood

The devil at the dance

By Sandra Ramos O'Briant
Published on LatinoLA: January 14, 2003

The Secret of Old Blood

When a short break in the festivities was called, I joined a group of young ladies heading for the comfort station set up for them in my bedroom. A tight cluster of smoking women were already there, their backs to me, listening to two women seated, unseen by me, in the center of their conclave. I sat at my dressing table listening, the group reflected in the mirror.

"S?¡, vecina, it was the wedding of the favorite daughter at which he appeared," a voice tremulous with age insisted.

"Was he good-looking?" asked a youthful voice, clear, like a morning lark.

"So handsome! Such a good dancer was he - all the young women, and many of the not-so-young were eager for his embrace! We could not take our eyes from him," said the aged one.

A new voice burst forth, la vecina, the good neighbor. A voice filled with conviction, not so old, but ageless and strong: "He wove a spell, capturing the hearts of all. The moment no longer belonged to the bride and groom, or their happy parents. It was his. He owned them all!"

"When did they notice . . . the . . .the . . . feet?" a squeaky, nervous voice whispered.

"The cloven hooves?" The older voice. "Eh, vecina? It was not until the last, was it?"

The strong voice thundered in my room: "It was not until it was too late. The hearts of the lovers had already been surrendered. Not to each other, as God intended, but to the capricious ardor of the Other."

The circle of women parted, as if an unspoken request had been made, to look over their shoulders at me, staring back at them through the mirror, my arms poised in midair where I had been straightening my hair. Their bodies leaned further apart allowing me to see the owner of the forceful voice, whose eyes were burning into mine - la vecina, Consuelo, reputedly a witch because she dealt in herbs and charms for the lovelorn of Santa Fe.

"He danced with the bride, her purity still unblemished," she continued. "He bowed his head toward her, and she lifted her trusting eyes to his, dewy lips parted. His lips came nearer, and the wedding party held their breath, but he did not kiss her. Rather, he sighed deeply, drawing her virginal breath into his lungs, sucking out the sweet essence of her life, until her eyes bulged and the cords of her neck stood out. Just as if she had been hanged. Strangled. Smothered by the adoration of the Evil One! I turned to face her, lips parted as in her story. She knew her role well, leaning toward me, sighing deeply. My head swam, and I found it difficult to breathe.

A new voice rang out, strident in its irreverence.

"And then the bride swooned," T?¡a Pilar mocked, standing at the doorway, legs apart, fists on hips. She had refused to wear a dress, opting for the embroidered trousers and vest of a fancy caballero instead. "And everyone finally looked at the handsome one's feet, only to discover they were cloven hooves. They gasped! Hands over hearts, unsure of what to do."

She acted this part out, even leaning weak-kneed against the doorsill.

"An insane laugh echoed above, beneath and all around them, as he disappeared in a puff of sulfurous smoke." She clapped her hands together, making the girls jump. A few squealed, followed by embarrassed giggling. "Party's over. The end. Really, we've all heard this story hundreds of times." The women glanced at Consuelo, and began to move out of the room.

"Tsk. Tsk." The old lady shook her head. "These young girls believe nothing, eh, vecina? We were there, eh? We saw."

Consuelo said nothing, merely lowered her head, keeping her eyes on me. But the connection was broken between us, and her pose now looked perverse. Monique appeared, her pale rose gown shimmering; she slipped her arm into the crook of Pilar's. Dismay crisscrossed Consuelo's face. "We saw unnatural love, and the end to which it must always come," she announced solemnly, refusing to look at Pilar.

Everyone stopped what they were doing, and quiet fell over the room. No one understood what was happening ? only that they were witnessing an old conflict revived.

"Not so unnatural." Pilar answered in subdued tones. "Love comes in many disguises. Love stories are full of subterfuge and mistaken identity. Whether disguised as a bull, a swan, an angel or even as a human, the ancients couldn't get enough of human love, and were always coming to earth masquerading as la gente. To seduce, to partake of the life juice of human love."

More titillated laughter from the younger women, whispering amongst themselves. Pilar goaded them on: "You all look forward to it, don't you, ladies? To dance with the devil on your wedding night?"

Monique jabbed her in the side. "You go too far, Pilar."

"Yes, always too far, Do??a Sandoval," Consuelo agreed, holding the young women in thrall again with her thunderous voice. "Mark my words: the devil always appears when you least expect it."

About Sandra Ramos O'Briant:
Ms. O'Briant has published several short stories, and recently completed a novel set in old Santa Fe, THE SECRET OF OLD BLOOD. "Devil at the Dance," an excerpt from her novel, was published in the 2002 issue of La Herencia.
Author's website

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