PATRICINO BARELA: The Woodcarver & the Witch
Award winning short fiction from Andres Vargas
Frost permeated Taos Valley one early spring morning as Patrociño got up from his homemade bed with metal springs and a wool filled mattress. He sipped his coffee, scooped up his calabacitas with his tortilla, and thought about his garden. He would have a supply of dried squash, posole, chaquewe, chicos, beans and peas to enjoy during the long winter months.
One evening he noticed that the two ripening squash he had seen earlier were gone. Someone was stealing his vegetables. The next night he walked to his garden and lay down by the acequia bank to keep watch. Soon after he detected movement. Someone dressed in black was picking through his squash, radishes and turnips. He jumped up and ran toward the person yelling as loudly as he could , “Hoye, cabrón!” Startled, the thief immediately ran, jumping over a barbwire fence with ease. As he gave chase he saw it was a woman, his neighbor Doña Clara, but fast as he was, he couldn’t catch her. She seemed to fly over the barbwire fences in her long black dress.
The next morning, he walked to Doña Clara’s and knocked on her door. She opened it and he said, “Buenos Días. I came to ask why you were stealing my vegetables? I saw you last night, and the evidence is on top of your table – the toppings of the carrots and beets.”
“How dare you. Are you crazy, accusing me of being a thief? Get out of my house!”
Patrociño’s parting words were, “ You’ll have to convince the justice of the peace because I’m taking you to court.”
From Doña Clara’s he walked to town directly to JP Flores, the Justice of the Peace, and lodged his complaint against Doña Clara. Five days later at trial, JP Flores in his heavily-accented English asked Dona Clara “Gilte or not gilte?” Doña Clara mimicked the judge and replied “not guilte!”
Patrociño related his story of the night of the full moon and his chase of a woman dressed all in black who seemed to fly over a barbed-wire fence , that he recognized Doña Clara, and that he went to her house early the next morning and saw the same kind of vegetables that were missing from his garden. JP turned to Dona Clara for her defense. She said she had purchased the carrots and beets from George Sahd at the Ranchos Trading Post.
The Judge called for a brief recess and went to his kitchen and called George Sahd and asked him if he knew Doña Clara and had he sold her beets and carrots.
George Sahd said he knew Doña Clara “doesn’t everyone?” but he did not have carrots or beets yet and could truthfully state that Doña Clara had not been at his store on the day in question or for many months prior.
JP Flores then returned to the bench and promptly found her guilty of the theft. Doña Clara denounced the finding as an outrage and cursed the judge. “You shall pay for the injustice you have perpetrated against me”, and under her breath she uttered, “Y qué te lleve la chingada, viejo cabrón!”
Everyone who believed in witchcraft knew Doña Clara was a witch. JP Flores did not believe in such nonsense, but that night at midnight and every night thereafter he was awakened by a hooting owl on top of the ponderosa pine near his window. Every night JP took careful aim and shot at the owl, but it would fly away. It kept coming back, night after night. It was his friend, Belisandro Mares, who suggested that the Judge consider putting a cross on the bullet. Everyone knew that witches often assumed the form of an owl, and the only way to get rid of such an owl, if indeed it was a witch, was to carve a cross on the tip of the bullet.
The next night JP Flores was waiting with his .22 and two bullets with a cross on the tip. He took careful aim, squeezed a round off and he immediately knew by the sound that he had hit the owl. The next night JP Flores slept soundly.
Two days after JP Flores shot the owl Juan Joker was walking by Doña Clara’s and noticed a broken kitchen window. He walked up to the window and looked inside and saw Doña Clara splayed out on her kitchen floor, covered in blood and the walls splattered with blood, as if a giant bird in its last throes had flapped its blood on all the walls. After that experience Juan Joker stopped drinking, albeit for only a week. Doña Clara was returned to the earth at the Campo Santo de Cañon, in the community where she had been conceived and where she lived her life. And life went on in the little community of Cañon.