"El quien haga su fortuna, no se olvide de su cuna."
Excerpts from Las Mujeres Misteriosas, a novel by Carmen Baca
"When I came upon Esmeralda by the Rio Grande near El Paso—yes, I move around from one water source to another when the mood suits me—she startled me more than I did her. I was not expecting to ever meet a human who did not run in fear. Almost immediately, I sensed in her a certain love of material goods. She was a little older than you and had already begun working. Every penny she earned she saved until she could buy things which suited her fancy. So I gave her the gift of—well, the ability to make money—since that was the only thing I could gather from her. Even when she looked upon me, she was collecting her thoughts about how best to make a profit from me, how she could convince me to allow her to use me as a psychic, a mind reader of sorts."
The old woman laughed long and loud, startling Rosita for the first time. She forgot María’s true mind reading ability and allowed a twinge of fear to enter her thoughts.
"Do not be afraid, my child," the old woman continued. "I meant I merely conveyed to Esmeralda that I could not be used by her or by anyone other than those with higher powers than I. Then I gave her the ability and let her go on with her life. It was how she used the gift which created her own downfall."
"Esmeralda went forth from our meeting that day as though she were Ploutos, the god of wealth, himself. Every money-making scheme she attempted brought her profits. She started as a street vendor. Her aguas frescas were so fresh, so sweet to the taste, they were like ambrosia to her customers. Everyone flocked to her stall and left refreshed as though they’d drunk from the chalices of the gods themselves."
"But of course, she was not satisfied. She tired of the calor—the heat—and thefrío—the cold of the weather after only a year and let her brother take over her stall. Esmeralda had made enough money to open a restaurant and employed more of her family members to work for her. Sadly, the street vending business failed under her brother’s management. No one knew what happened. The same juices were sold on the same corners Esmeralda had done her business, but the customers complained the taste of the aguas was different. They stopped coming, and word of mouth did the rest."
"She blamed her brother and refused to extend him a loan to try again. Her eatery was thriving, and that was all she cared about. Again, the customers raved over the food and the drink. Again, she prospered. She even contemplated opening another and dreamed of creating a chain across the city and perhaps even to Juarez across the border. Images of how much profit she could make and what kinds of things she could buy fed her greed. Like a glutton who grows fat on favorite foods, she allowed her appetite for money to cloud her judgement. Avarice fed on her need for cash, and she would have allowed it free rein but for the failure of her first small business. This thought gave her pause. She was only one woman, and her experience with leaving her vending stall with her brother only to have him run it to the tierra stopped her. She realized that she and she alone had the ability to capitalize on her business ventures. She could involve no one else."
"Before that year was over, she had earned enough to buy the biggest house in El Paso and enjoyed becoming part of the elite, those few Texans who enjoyed their new wealth in the early nineteenth century. She hired a personal valet from France who taught her how to act and talk like a lady; she wore only the most expensive evening gowns and jewelry; she learned how to appreciate the opera and the ballet. The only reward she refused herself was love. She could not afford to fall in love because she simply could not share her wealth with another. Hers became a lonely existence once she realized she cared more for her money than she ever could for a man, much less children. Her personal life was almost non-existent because her desire for more, bigger, and better, took over."
"This was when my counterpart came into the situation. You see, another woman occupies the same plane as I occasionally although she seems to exist everywhere at once. La Muerte, Saint Death, I’m sure you’ve heard of her. She intervened to show Esmeralda the error of her thinking and to get her back on the right path. The saint came to Esmeralda every few weeks to influence her dreams. She dreamed of the Devil’s minions, those fallen angels who hovered above, watching and waiting for what came next. All around her the buzzards and other carrion-eaters perched, biding their time. And she was mired in a sort of quicksand with no way to escape. Sometimes her nightmares showed her what came after. The heat of the hot sun on her body in the sand won out and exhaustion overcame her, and she could fight it no more in those dreams. She would begin to fall asleep long enough to wake to the birds plucking the flesh from her face, inching closer to her eyes. Esmeralda’s screams shocked her awake on those nights. She knew this was a vision of what her afterlife would be, but not even such gruesome pesadillas could take away her gluttonous thoughts ofdinero."
"How to make a bigger profit and how to make money faster took over her being. She assigned her cousin Ramona to do the purchasing and gave her only a meager amount to spend while she furiously tried to keep up with the food preparation. Her cousin’s protests that she didn’t have enough funds to buy quality products fell on deaf ears. Ramona knew Esmeralda cared only for the profits. In her anger with her cousin for being such a cheapskate, she took shortcuts when she bought produce. She didn’t care that the vegetables were not as fresh nor that she left them unwashed, so the occasional worm or grub made its way into the meals she helped her boss to prepare. When some of the beef went bad in the ice box, she boiled it anyway. Laughing to herself that the maggots would dissolve, and no one would be the wiser, she turned the meat over to Esmeralda. She, in turn, created the final product which she served her guests in one of her most popular dishes that evening. Ramona wore the smile of self-satisfaction that night when she watched Esmeralda count all the bills in her cashbox. She sensed something major would befall her greedy prima because of the dish."
"Sure enough, the very next day when every patron who had eaten at her place became ill, some so violently that it killed them with excruciating pain, the entire city turned against her. Her own family, some of whom had distanced themselves from her because of the disaster with her brother and some who worked for her only because they had no alternative, did nothing to help. There was no time for her to flee. The authorities moved quickly to close her establishment down and dealt with her just as fast. Jailed for only a fortnight, she was hanged for the murder of the customers who died. La Muerte stood by the hangman’s platform with her horse-drawn carriage and swept Esperanza up inside after she drew her last breath. La Muerte sped away in the direction of the setting sun rather than flying toward the clouds above since the woman’s final destination had been predetermined by her actions on earth. There would be no resting in eternal peace for her: the sands and the carrion-eaters awaited."
"So you see, I had nothing to do with her life after giving her the gift. She allowed her greed to govern her actions and brought about her own downfall. If she had treated her employees, her own family members, fairly, her cousin would not have fostered such dislike that she sabotaged Esmeralda’s business."
"Yes," Rosita agreed in her thoughts. "If she had been happy with earning only a modest income and enjoying life with her loved ones instead, she wouldn’t have come to such a bad end."
"There’s a lesson to be learned here." La Llorona crossed her legs and adjusted her skirt, "El quien haga su fortuna, no se olvide de su cuna."
"He who makes his fortune should not forget his cradle."
"Yes, that is the literal translation, but cradle is a metaphor for home—more specifically, one’s family."
"Esmeralda forgot that her family was more valuable to her than her fortune."
"Let me tell you about Penelope now."
El Aviso Más Peligroso