Bruja by Elena Armas
They always said there was something special about the Valdés women. Something odd, something strange. A devilish air. Something that set them apart and also that irrevocably cast them away.
Only one female Valdés was conceived in each generation. And only then, with the birth of the youngest child would the oldest pass away, fading quickly, as if the world couldn’t bear the weight of one too many.
All Valdés women were born in the early hours of a solstice or an equinox. The position and motion of the sun marking their skin with a little birthmark and their existence with a little something special.
Those that the world welcomed with the freezing winds of winter, grew to be solemn and severe. Those that did so before bonfires lit the first night of Summer, carried hearts fated to burn with a passion unknown to common man. A Valdés woman born when the earliest of lush colours blossomed painting fields, farmlands and pastures, could smell bad omens long before a black cat had the chance to cross their path.
But the feared ones, the Valdés women that were watched with an enticing mix of fright and awe, were the ones whose eyes first opened with the crash of the early crisp leaves hitting the ground. The ones whose leading cry was carried away by the chill of the first Autumn night.
A Valdés born with the Fall equinox was believed to be wicked. A bruja. And it was she who was remembered the longest, her essence lingering in the world even after she was nothing but dust.
It had always been common knowledge that the Valdés women hid something among their trinkets, herbs and odd garments— not that anyone would dare acknowledge this out loud. It was rather a murmur, quiet but always present. A loud secret. Like the scent of a storm lurking, impregnating the earth and the air, waiting to happen. The fearful didn’t even dare let the thought take shape in their minds. The boldest called it magic, as dark as the night and mighty as the moon. They said it was a magic capable of altering hearts, souls and wills. A power which inspired more fear than respect. And yet, pounding chests and trembling hands, some still dared knock on the Valdés’ doors. They still entered the Valdés’ home and waded into the unknown.
They invaded the space of the women they deemed wicked with cries of heartache, anger and grief. But every single time, a Valdés woman opened the door and nodded her head. A Valdés woman crossed her hands and listened to the ills of the soul. Even when cast away by the world, it was not in a Valdés woman’s nature to deny aid.
Until it was.
Juana Valdés. Born when the last leaf of the maple’s crown in the Valdés’ yard turned russet.
“And crimson her end will be rendered,” had said the tired Valdés matriarch a heartbeat before parting ways with the world, just moments after seeing Juana open her eyes to the cool night. But not many had heard, and even fewer had remembered. By the time those words came to pass, nothing could be done to escape the meaning behind them.
Juana Valdés, the wicked one. Bruja. Wild black curls, crooked smile and a little birthmark shaped like a horseshoe right above her left cheek.
Juana Valdés, who refused to change the will of a heart. How could she when the heart she was begged to beguile was one she could never give up? How could she when the woman knocking on Juana’s door thought she had a right to the man Juana loved?
The man the woman in front of her claimed to be her fiancé.
The man that Juana thought loved her back and instead, loved them both.
Juana decided. She would bewitch that heart to be only hers instead. She would erase any trace of anyone else but her from the mind of the man she loved.
Every Valdés present that day warned her. That was the only thing a Valdés mustn’t do. They begged her to stop. They commanded her to. She didn’t listen. She could lose it all. Magic could turn on you, they said. But Juana’s mind was set. She had to have him, even if that meant not having anything at all.
Just like that, Juana summoned conjuring words under her breath and she turned her back on the woman that had claimed the man Juana thought hers. She heard the metal draw. Juana felt the blade pierce her back and saw the tip protrude from her chest. She felt the cold seep into her veins and her scarlet blood stain her dress. Before her legs gave in, a lick of magic left her, extracting the knife from her back and taking the woman down with it. With her. If Juana couldn’t have him, no one would.
Once both her knees hit the floor, Juana’s gaze searched the room. In aid, perhaps, to this day, no one could know. The last thing she saw were the faces of her relatives. Knowing glances tainted with heartache, and not a trace of mercy.
They had done nothing to stop her fall, her own blood.
And so, with her last breath, a curse left her now crimson lips. And as with every wicked Valdés, as the bruja she had become, her essence lingered on the walls and crawled through every room in the house. And with her essence, her words of burden and bane. For years that drifted into decades that bled into centuries, her curse remained suspended in the air.
Something had been lost when Juana’s kin had failed her, so something had to be given in exchange. A payment, retribution. No Valdés woman would love or bear child until magic was renounced. Juana had been betrayed by her blood and her heart, and so every Valdés after her would fall down under the weight of that burden. Heritage or love.
A choice. A balance restored.
Those who dared loving recklessly, without renouncing what their blood entitled would lose their loved one. Taken away, just as Juana’s love was. Just as her life was.
At first, many gave up their one true love and let the Valdés magic run in their veins until their last breath took it away.
But the human heart, even when odd and even when strange, wants what it wants. So with every passing generation, more fell in the trap of the heart and lost their roots and blood right.
Like Juana, every Valdés after her was betrayed by either their hearts or the magic that ran within them. But unlike Juana, they were given the choice. And wasn’t choosing her path all Juana had wanted? Was hers truly a curse?
Valentina Valdés never believed in the stories her name carried. They were centuries old, they clearly belonged in books of myths and legends. All the women in her family had lived happy lives. They all had lived fully. Yes, she was aware of certain coincidences. Like how she had only brothers and all her cousins were boys. Perhaps it was odd how her mother would drive their car to the garage right before it would break down. Or how she would call the plumber before the pipe in the basement started leaking. But those were amusing stories from her childhood.
Val had never paid much attention to that or her grandmother’s tales. Even if Val tossed a pinch of salt over her left shoulder and even if mirrors were never placed facing each other in hers or any Valdés’ home, she still thought of that as harmless superstitions carried from one generation to the next.
Her grandmother often said that Val carried the weight of the world on her shoulders. She called her Summer child and she often sang that one could see Val’s heart beat in her chest with longing. As if awaiting something to come. And to an extent, Val felt this restlessness pounding in her body. A constant tug that she could not silence.
And yet, Val thought of it all as nonsense. But that idea dissipated to dust the day she met him. Aidan.
It could have been just a name. And the meaning beneath it? Just one whose roots belonged to another land and another time. Aidan. The fiery one, said the Irish.
It all came crashing down when their eyes met for the first time. When Aidan held her gaze as if he had been just standing there, waiting for her. Val remained suspended in the moment for one, ten, thirty seconds too long. As she looked into those foreign brown eyes dancing with a familiar emotion, Val felt the pounding stop, her restlessness finally appeased. Her heart settled. But she turned away. She didn’t believe in rooms fading or in kindred spirits.
Of course, not in her wildest dreams she would have imagined him waltzing back into her life. Even when she secretly spent weeks looking for his russet head in crowds. Not even when she could still see his gleaming gaze behind her closed eyelids at night. And yet, the world pushed them together. Time and time again, until she yielded to what seemed inevitable. Slowly, Val gave up her heart to that boy of soft smiles, gentle touch and wild eyes, and gradually she found herself taking his heart in her own hands.
And as she did that, as Val came to the realization that she had irrevocably fallen in love with Aidan, she also became aware of something else inside her coming alive. Something odd, something strange. Something powerful she had heard of before, from her grandmother tales.
One might think that only destiny could have pulled the strings. That the flames within a heart only long to burn higher, stronger. And they wouldn’t be wrong. A heart blares bright and loud when it encounters what it needs. But it can also go up in a blaze and be reduced to ash when faced with an impossible choice. And it was in that precise way that the life of Valentina Valdés ended as she knew it.
Or perhaps her life had just merely started.
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This article was originally printed in the Winter 2019 issue of Curiositales. If you would like to receive a free digital copy of the magazine, sign up for our newsletter at the top of this page! Then, confirm your email address (be sure to check your spam folder). Once you click the link in your welcome email, you'll get regular news from Curiositales, including notifications when the latest magazine is published. You can unsubscribe whenever you like. Or, you can read it for free here.
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