by Skeeze Whitlow
"Anybody who thinks the bay's bottom is closer than the gates
of hell will have to revise the map," she proclaimed as she
dropped bundles of pescado from her boat.
Of all the fish in the sea, she fed and nurtured the biggest.
Slipping this dietary regimen into dark waters, a froth of life
rose, causing her skiff to tip. Shoulders to the oars, she turned
toward shore. Raw power of tiburon fabulosa scraping her keel,
bumping her prow, pressing and banging the thin wood.
Mouthing the words of Psalm 64, she knew no harm would come.
Across a waterspout of mad activity, she rode - monstrous killer
fish thrashing below. Nearing the edge of this wild throng,
a gaping hole in the night revealed convex arches of glistening
teeth. Twenty-inch ivory spikes, set row upon row, formed a
half-circle around the smooth, blunt-nosed face.
Her heart quickened. The Psalm - a prayer of protection - was
all remaining between her and eternity. Searching out the fire
on the beach, she lined up a beacon. Until now, the sharks had
been utterly dependent upon her - but this was too much. This
sea creature of unfathomable magnitude. Moonlight glittered
off its serpentine length. She hurried to shore.
Ever since she'd come from within the cultivations, she'd spoken
with the sharks. They promise to even the score. Voice of their
willingness comes through the rite of fire.
Reaching shore, she beaches the boat, steps over the bow and
rushes to the blaze. Kneeling, peering into the heart of embers
she understands that it is time to add the planks of her skiff.
So, dragging the old boat over wind-blown sand to the intoxicating
glow, she uses an axe to break it up. She piles pieces of the
useless vessel atop the *flickering driftwood. Many sediments
have been absorbed in the taint of her old craft. The taint
sizzles and sparkles. It gives the heart of fire a rainbow of
*flickering hue. She strains to grasp the meaning conveyed.
Flames climb into the night revealing a spirit of retribution.
Hissing, the taint breaks into a phosphorescence clutching
the thwarts of her destroyed scow. It has a great deal to tell:
of wealth and need in a province where the small are consumed
by the large.
Her name is Estrella and she is the Bruja. She charms the snakes
of despair in the tiny port of Armuelles. Lighting fires before
her small house of wood at the base of the first green slope
to rise out of the bay. She holds ceremonies bewitching the
cloven-hoofed beast of hopelessness.
Beyond the broken-down pier of the Fruit Company, cock fights
are held. A pastime of Diablo. People would do better spending
their time in holy reverence - not betting on fowl wearing inch-long
razor spurs. These contests thrill those with no trabajo. With
no faith. For so long now the cultivations have been empty of
The Bruja's once-lovely skin was marred by spiders, years back,
within the cultivations. She remains severed from social activity,
staying close to her house. Often, village folk ask why she
has to be so separate from all of Chiriqui province. But common
knowledge remembers how as a girl she'd entered into the Academy
of San Vicente where the Sisters whispered that she was touched
by tongues of the Holy Spirit.
A very perceptive little sorceress who, as charms of femininity
bloomed, spoke so much of unseen energies, powers and forces
that courting caballeros shied away from. After she had entered
the cultivations - coming out draped in scars - the caballeros
considered her not simply crazy, but ugly as well. Those vainglorious
strapping men who are now being recruited for the new wharf
under construction beside the old pier.
Her house on the strand is a refuge against the village. Against
the cultivations and the caballeros. Against the consuming evil
of the world.
As a barefoot maiden, Estrella had stepped into the lush cultivations.
She cherished the rich folds of earth rife with botanical amusements,
basking in the sun between the trees. Chiriqui province boasts
of verdant linear beauty as far as the eye will travel. Peasants
devote lifetimes growing rows of banana trees for the Land Company.
Estrella's job was to knock nests of spiders out of the tall
trees. Using a long pole, she was supposed to kill as many of
the eight-legged pests as possible. Nobody likes spiders; her
purpose was to keep everybody free of the little nuisances.
This jumpy contest commanded the mania of a senorita blessed
by a spirit of spunky grit.
She was determined that the lousy critters would not chase
her. Never! It was her row of trees - she was in control. It
did not belong to the creepy little prickling devils nesting
in the towering tops above and below the voluptuous fronds,
on the ground or in holes beneath the earth. Offensive vermin!
Heebee-jeebies of her wire-drawn nerves pulled hysteria near
enough to make her spasmodic. Spiders being parasites, freeloaders
- leeches at large. Jittery, lowly, animals living off fruit
which wasn't theirs. Spooking the soul of a girl getting mighty
She went after these cooties with the fury of a spitfire, zigzagging
up and down the rows, stabbing at gossamer nests with her great
skewer. Herding and pushing, she fought against armies of long-legged
spinners. And they high-tailed it.
The sun was setting. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. She'd
taken a rightful stand against the delinquent beasts. It was
July. Spiders breed in the rainy season of November. In hiding,
they incubate until it grows hot. Then, coming into the sunshine,
they act as if the world were created with them in mind. Estrella
had given them a good run for their money. She showed them who's
boss. She'd exhausted herself. Sitting down, leaning against
a tree, she conked out to a deep sleep.
Awakening in the dark, she was covered with slithering, slippery,
squishy, sucking, stinging arachnids. Upon her cinnamon body
bites swelled like pimples of pox.
Pain stricken, her torso compelled itself to roll over five
or six times. She lifted herself, brushing off the slithery
wooze of living slime. On her knees she crawled to the safety
of an irrigation ditch, where she wallowed in the cool muck
until the infestation subsided. The host of her body was numb.
Punished. Inflamed with fiery agony. Along the dirty road she
carried herself in throbbing darkness. Reaching her house, she
stealthily went to the cabinet and opened a jar of ointment.
Smearing the greasy stuff with abandon, her keen misery was
unendurable. She groped across the room's murk to her mother's
hammock, twanging the supporting twine like a string on a big
Alarmed, her mother sprang up. Estrella cried that she'd been
hurt and needed ice. In a maternal way, the older woman attested
that ice is for millionaires and Eskimos. She flopped out of
the hammock and struck a match to the oil lamp, focusing concentration
on her daughter's swelling welts.
"Oh, my sweet angel! You need ice."
"Mama, I'm burning up."
"You're blessed with the tongues of Espirito Santo."
"Ice. Hiello! Hiello! Ice!" Estrella wailed.
Her mother ran to the warehouse of the Fruit Company and bribed
a man into giving up a five pound block of ice. Returning, she
found Estrella on the hammock in a dull slumber.
Chopping the ice to pieces, she wrapped them in cloth and tried
comforting the burning angel. At sunrise she persuaded a local
boy, to get one of the Sisters from the Academy of San Vicente.
The Sister, then, standing over the miserably sick girl, decided
that only the toil of unending mercy could soothe such fever.
Estrella's mother bought lots of cotton and a paring knife.
Lighting the lamp, the Sister sliced at the flame and set to
work making incisions on the heads of exuding wounds. She cut,
squeezed, pinched, poked, pressed and dabbed clean the crevice
of every puncture. Whenever the chastening knife penetrated
insensibility, Estrella would stir.
Pulling off her veil, the Sister hunched over a thousand sweltering
lesions, moistening cotton with the oozing poison. She drained
the damage done. Rolling Estrella over, she continued piercing,
curing, redressing, sculpting. Around her black shoes formed
a pool of blood. Speed, fortitude and the strength of an iron
will unlocked the angel's immunity. She glanced at Estrella's
mother, praying by the window. Sunset pulled the clouds to western
lustre. Estrella would make it. Instructing the mother to continue
sponging the poison, she put her veil back where it belonged
and returned to San Vicente.
When Estrella had fully recovered, she walked to the Academy
and thanked the Sister who'd saved her life. Smiling, the Sister
said we must all help each other along the path to everlasting
joy; that within the turmoil of land and fruit there is very
little good. She was admonished not to be overly concerned about
the scars. The scars would fade.
Never again did Estrella set foot within the cultivations.
The land company didn't miss her, and eventually the fruit company
began spraying legal poison on the bananas - repelling the translucent
From then on the Bruja cursed the companies for their vulgar
husbandry of Chiriqui province and the pawning advantage taken
of its Indians. With a vow to rectify the situation, she holds
a ceremony - to this day - before her blue house.
Nightly, just downwind from where the great new wharf is under
construction, the Bruja's fire enchants merry dancers to call
forth past, present and future. Pyromania clutches the blackness
like a cry of distress. Salts, minerals and sulfides mingle
with dangers from the briney deep wherein three-hundred year
old turtles feed upon spawning jellyfish. Wherin the reflection
of the surface roams across flanks of the monsters she has fed.
The horror she has weaned.
For the longest time, Estrella caught red snapper and wrapped
large bundles of it in cloth. She weighted the bundles with
scoops full of pebbles. Sinking these bundles of pescado out
in the bay, she allowed the sharks to feed; to grow the size
of fishing boats. Monsters. Tiburon fabulosa. Serpentine magnitude.
The Psalm of protection now admonishes her to fish only from
the fortress of the beach. It is her beach. She considers the
caballeros on thin ropes and shaky scaffolding, working on the
great new wharf.
"I wonder who will help them along the path to everlasting
joy," she muses.
is a bad moon rising.