Photo by Xauxa (Håkan Svensson), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
At ten years of age, I stopped being innocent. The experience was not sexual in nature, but something darker. Funny enough, children are natural in the world of the invisible, but if the door of the weird opens too soon, you can end up lost for years until you gather enough strength to deal with the shadows. Magic, poetry and madness share some basic premises, you see?
My parents had decided to spend late summer in my grandmother’s village, Villafranca del Bierzo, an important spot in The Way of St. James. It was a great contrast with the urban environment I was used to: narrow streets of stone exhaling a persistent smell of wet moss and sweet figs, an atmosphere of simplicity and freedom. The hostel we stayed in was located in Plaza de Don Pío, such a cozy square it could pass for a front yard. I was allowed to do whatever I wanted. There was just one prohibition.
Right in front of the hostel, there stood an old house belonging to an unmarried woman living alone in her forties. In 1976 that was enough to taint her with an obscure reputation. She scarcely interacted with the rest of the village. Her straw chair, however, was always beside her front door, waiting for her to sit down and do chores like mending clothes and crocheting, peeling potatoes and beans. It was really nice out there in the square, specially in the sunset, with the constant rattling of swifts high in the air, the earthenware pitcher always filled with fresh water tasting of anisette. Later at night the skies would offer stars and meteor showers. Barking dogs would echo the news from village to village. In those years TV sets were a rare commodity many locals didn’t fall for yet.
One evening the woman unexpectedly stood up and went indoors in a hurry, visibly annoyed. I was playing hopscotch, so I threw the stone further to get closer to her door. There was a stain of fresh blood on the seat of her straw chair. My mother quickly summoned me. “Don’t you ever get close to her, you hear me? Let alone sit on that chair. Ever,” she whispered to my ear, imperious. “Why, mother?” “Just do what I say.” I nodded as if I was going to, but of course I did not.
When we had to pass by her door, my mother would hold my hand tighter as code for “do not sit there.” From the corner of my eye I would check out if the blood stain was still on the seat. It was indeed, as ominous as a black cat or a broken mirror. As a matter of fact, it was the only oddity I could observe in her realms: she had a pretty brown-haired face, totally wart-less; no pets wandering around, no familiars to turn into; her windows were clear of spiderwebs; I remember no traces of doves’ ripped hearts, kittens’ eyes punctured by needles, small phalanges sticking out her apron, toad’s drool, chalk spells, baby fat unguents, thin vials filled with urine, corn dolls dotted with human hair; not even Belladona’s shadows in what I could peek at her garden.
At the summer’s end, few days before returning to the capital city, I found myself alone in the square. It was early afternoon: everybody was entranced by an ineludible siesta; the swifts already gone, leaving the town in a precocious silence; some of the shrubs on the square offered blackberries, though ugly, small and bitter. I picked a selection and sat down on the blood-stained straw nibbling them slowly, pretending I was on a throne tasting the most exclusive candies. I breathed all the power of the moment, defying not only my mother’s command, but the whole village’s. Later in the evening, I could still feel electric and daring. My mother didn’t notice anything unusual, but the woman did: with shiny amber eyes, she cast furtive glances at me, so piercing I didn’t know how to feel about it.
The following morning my feelings grew gloomier when I discovered a red stain on my underwear. Trembling and sweating, I changed my pants and buried the dirty ones in the bottom of the litter. Had I become a woman? Had the spinster turned me into an adult female? Actually, no. Those were not the drops of my first menstruation; that would start three years after this incident. That was just a blood stain on my panties, the exact twin in shape to the one on the straw seat. I felt so confused I didn’t go outdoors until the day we left, a dark rainy morning, the stone square shining under the abundant shower and smelling of rotten apples and fall. When I got into the car, I felt her presence behind her window, her hazel eyes fixed on me, watching me leave for good.
Rosemary Thorne (she/her) is a bilingual Spanish writer, horror researcher, and translator living in Madrid, Spain. Born in 1968, too early to be understood in her own country, she is currently writing horror in English. Her first novel, El Pacto de las 12 uvas, was published in December 2021. She also translated Edward Lee’s The Bighead into Spanish for Dimensiones Ocultas Press. An active member of the HWA since 2019, her goal is to populate the English market with her dreadful monsters.
Find out more at: linktr.ee/Rosemary_thorne and Twitter.