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A Cross For Bridgette (Part Seven of "The Loro Machaco of Villa Rica" Saga)
When Miss Bridgette Martinez, died, a large portion of our town’s folks went to her memorial service: the men seemingly went to see a legend behind a legend, the women, to see how she had lived, for it was said among many of us, after her uncle died, the store and house-which was one building structure-remained as it was, and that was thirty-years prior (in 1978). No one-save the old renegade, Fernando, her uncle’s spiritual leader-had seen her face to face-other than by a window profile, or a shadow walking in the backyard of her now empty and vacant store, in at least ten-years.
It was a large, corner adobe brick store, and the living quarters was up a floor, it had not been painted in nearly a generation. Built, with a Spanish style architecture to its doorways and windowsills, built around the turn of the century (1899), with a balcony, over the front of the store-that when standing on it you could get a good view down both of those, dirt roads meeting at the corner, it had once been the busiest grocery store in Villa Rica. But “The Lore Machaco,” gangsters and their reputation to the Martinez family, had eaten, if not wiped-out the once good name they had, even her good name, Bridgette’s was smeared in our hamlet, or small town, of Villa Rica: only Miss Bridgette’s store was left, the other family members went to Huancayo, and Lima to live, and here the old store lay in decay among the gravel streets, newer built hotels and gas stations. Not a pleasing sight for the new generation’s perception, rather a blemish. And now Miss Bridgette had gone to visit her old family members, long deed-in the nearby mountain-valley cemetery, among them her uncle Juan Diego Martinez who raised her after her parents were killed a bus accident near La Merced (a township two hours by dirt road from Villa Rica, and nearer Huancayo, the large of the three cities); her uncle who was the Boss man of the ‘Loro Machaco,’ cartel, killed on the streets of Huancayo, for trying to rob a bank.
Living, Miss Bridgette had become a legend of sorts, the one who endured, and remained worried for her family name-or so it appeared to us, a sort of inherited compulsion, that now the town had forgotten about; her family dating back fifty-years, prior to the township’s officially becoming a district, sixty-four years earlier (1944), when General Martinez (her great uncle), became the first unofficial mayor of the town, and built the store for his son to inherit, Juan. He made a law back then, that no Chilean could enter the township, without a paper of recommendation from a member of the hamlet’s Committee, and there were only two members on the board, himself, and a writer. Thus, if no such paper was submitted at the time of entry, the allowance dating from the moment he entered the town’s limits, he could be jailed, time without end, although they only had a one cell jailhouse, and one had to have a relative nearby, or a mighty good friend, to feed the prisoner, for the township didn’t have the money to do so, or was unwilling to do so.
The General had documented that his store had paid for the town’s jail to be built, and in doing so, the town would compensate him by allowing his store to be tax free, not of duty tax, but land tax. A way to repay him, true or not, he never paid land tax, nor did his son, Juan Diego, nor Miss Bridgette, Diego’s niece. No one believed it, but everyone in the Martinez family lived by it, and so did Villa Rica.
She was no longer young, a short, thin woman, with deep dark eyes, who wore no jewelry, no rings, or earrings, or necklaces, her face once bronze and smooth, now pale and vanishing into her bone structure. She used no cane, but leaned on everything, everywhere as she walked, seemingly much older than what she was. Her once wavy black hair now streaked with white. Her frame, petite and unused-she had never married, merely (we town folks all guessed), because she was so fussy.
She looked skeletonized, almost deboned, likened to a body frame crushed by a tone of coal, pressed tightly against her every pour, and as she stood in the cemetery, she looked from one headstone head to the other, as if recalling earlier days. Nearby, there were other visitors, visiting gravesites, once they caught a glimpse of Miss Bridgette they stared at her as if she was the mystery of mysteries, their duty to bring home the gossip.
She did not ask them to stop gawking, she just quietly looked about, faltering from one headstone to the next, as if undetectable like, her heart ticking like the solid silver watch, that was attached to along intertwined silver chain, her uncle once gave her, and Fernando polished now and then.
A murmur, perhaps more on a whisper, came from her voice box, slight and iced,
“You’ve been dead a long, long time Juan, they haven’t forgotten!”
Consequently she, Bridgette, left the cemetery, Fernando helping her by foot to his old 1950s Chevy, passing the small groups of visitors to the cemetery along the dirt path; just as she had done thirty-years prior, when they buried Juan Diego, and ten-years prior to that, when they buried the General. Her last visit was ten-years ago, a short time after her lover, the one everyone thought she’d marry, had run off with another sweetheart, he had charmed-they say-we didn’t know for sure of course-but we figured we had guessed good, he having charmed half the town’s unwed girls, and a few of the married ones. That even isolated her more, and Fernando, who had promised Juan Diego to take care of her, kept his word, and like his uncle-a young man back then-kept a close eye on her, and anyone and everyone, who had ideas to possess her, were subject to his scrutiny.
Several of Bridgette’s schoolmates, had tried aimlessly to get a hold of her, to call on her to join them at the church, or poetry readings her uncle had started back when, but she never gave them the time of day, and Fernando did all the market shopping for her and him.
The house was unkempt, upswept, the grass uncut, the weeds as high as the fence posts, neighbors complained, and the cities officials decided to trim the premises up free of charge, knowing Miss Bridgette wouldn’t, and Fernando could care less, his duties were to Bridgette not to gardening and we all figured that to be the case, he was afraid to leave her alone. And the judge knew her uncle, Judge Franca, now in his 90s, and he would not lift a finger against Juan Diego’s niece, nor allow anyone else to do so, they-Juan Diego and the Judge-were compadre to one another, at one time.
As Fernando, and Miss Bridgette, crossed the dirt street, she saw in a window, a café underneath it, curtains opened, behind them an old man, she saw mostly his torso as he stood up from a chair to get a better look at her- (an old schoolmate she thought); unbelieving his eyes, still as the frame of the building, she walked slowly across the street, a shadow of a dog ran past her, she saw it only by the blink of an eye, then the shadow, or silhouette, once in the window was gone, went away.
That was when people started to remember her, and her uncle’s terrorist gang; people in our town, remembering how he brought scorn to us, not necessary her great uncle, the general, but Juan Diego Martinez, known as the ‘Loro Machaco,’ the deadly snake killer. They started to think the Martinez family, and perchance Bridgette, held her status a little too high, for what they and she were.
Miss Bridgette’s parents, were really way back in the background, no one remembering them for the most part, a shadow in the foreground, their daughter hanging onto their memory though: a shadow and infamous legend: two father figures framed in a decaying adobe store, vacant for twenty-years.
When she got to be middle-aged, and still not married, the town was suspicious, but blameless, so they felt, perhaps allowing her a tinge of madness, that of which her uncle and great uncle portrayed long ago, she may have inherited-perhaps a family trait. Chances now were nil to nothing, that she’d ever marry-perhaps at one time they thought it might materialize, but of course it never did.
When her uncle died, she inherited the store that was all that was left of his so called empire of terrorizing the land from Lima to Huancayo. I think we all were glad she got something from her uncle; it made him look more humanized in our eyes. If anything, thereafter, she learned the thriftiness of spending and saving.
After her uncle’s death, many town folks went to give their condolences, and assistance, verbally anyways, it was traditional in our small town, there was much grief in her face, and she couldn’t or wouldn’t believe he was dead, not until Huancayo sent his body to be buried in the local cemetery of Villa Rica, a week later. She kept the body in the house for another week, until it reeked, and Fernando had to insist the body be removed, and it was, painfully for her.
None of us called her mad, not to he face anyhow, it was not the thing to do, he fathered her for many years, we all knew that, and she really had nothing left, especially after the few relations she had in the town left shortly after. And I suppose we all felt, she was robbed, just like all those other victims by the gang called ‘The Loro Machaco.’
She had isolated herself for a long time after her first lover had left town, some fifteen-years prior to her death, thereafter her second lover came into the picture, she had gained some weight, and even darkened her gray hair with coloring, bought new cloths, we were all happy for her in town, thinking and finding out our thinking was correct, she and Gunderson, a European had been dating.
The township had just paid for the paving of the dirt roads in what was turning out to be a little city. There was lots of machinery on the sides of the roads now-sitting idle during lunch times and at night, but running steadily during the work day, and a new sewer system was being put into place also, here and there, alongside the buildings the road was parallel to…
Gunderson, was a tall white European, with a deep rustic voice, charming green eyes, white to reddish cheeks, and a large face, perhaps he was twelve-years her junior. The young kids would follow him, and watch him torment his workers, as they built a small house along Wetland Lake, a sort of gatehouse; likened to the one her uncle had purchased, but one forth the size.
Alex Gunderson would be working right along with the help, the Cholos, people from the mountains surrounding the valley. It was during these days, we folks of the town saw them both on weekends, Saturdays and Sundays, walking in the park, and down around Wetland Lake, and up and about Divine Mountain.
We were all glad for Bridgette, or at least for the on-start of the ongoing relationship, but some of the folks stated,
“I’m sure Bridgette is not seriously considering marrying a foreigner, especially a gringo, I mean, what would her uncle think?”
It would appeared to us, she forgot her noble name at this juncture, and so we just felt sorry for her, and let her go along her own life path.
She had some relatives in Huancayo, and they came to visit her during this period (about fifteen-years prior to her death), two young men, who wanted to do work in the coffee orchards that surrounded the countryside, and so she allowed them to stay in an upper room above the store, in the back section of the house, the lower section had been vacant now for about five-years.
Oh we all talked about Bridgette and her affair with Gunderson, but we pitied her more than favored her for her selection. I mean, some of us at the bar asked each other,
“Do you think it is so? …what else could it be but marriage?”
This wasn’t jealousy or envy, nothing like that, just plain old curiosity and being nosy, meddlesome you might say.
She was back to being a proud woman, not that she ever lost it, we just kind of pushed it aside for her, hoping for the best. And we started to see Gunderson fooling around with other women in town, and thus, we knew it was going to be another fallen relationship, in due time that is. But as she walked around town, she seemingly radiated a demand for more recognition, or at least that is how a few of us saw her equanimity. At least that is how Mr. Valentin saw it when she visited his hardware store, and demanded he make a cage for her, out of wood and iron bars, and the top being of strong wood with a hole in it, with a circumference that would allow her thigh to fit through it. She wanted it to be three feet high, two feet wide, and she wanted handcuffs. He asked her,
“What is all this for?” and she said, point blank, “Is it against the law?” adding, “is it really any of your business, just make it.”
“Yes, Miss Bridgette-” Jose Valentin said, avoiding her cat like, angry eyes.
He remembered Bridgette asking “Is this sturdy rope?”
“Yes,” remarked Mr. Valentin, “…the best you can get!”
“I want it also,” responded Bridgette with a stern look-not at Mr. Valentin, she was too intense looking down at the rope.
We all thought, she was going to hang herself with the rope, but couldn’t figure out what the box was for, or the handcuffs, unless he, Gunderson, wanted kinky sex with her, but she didn’t seem that kind, and we all wiped that from our minds.
Gunderson sat in the bars many a night when she and he got into a fight, and I over heard him, as did a few others say, he liked men as well as women-bisexual, we thought, what a tragedy for Bridgette in the making.
As weeks passed we saw less and less of him, he was living with Bridgette, along with the two young boys working now in the coffee orchards nearby, up in the mountain area, in particular the one her uncle used to own, but was sold to a author and journalist, shortly after Diego’s death.
Valentin had given the cage to the young boys to deliver to Miss Bridget and that was the last we heard of the cage. But shortly after that, the boys left, and went back to Huancayo, never to return.
Gunderson we started to dislike, because of his so called preference towards both men and women, and the women at the Catholic church wanted the priest to confront him on his preference, and about living with Bridgette. He refused to talk to Bridgette on this matter, but would confront the man, and he wrote him a letter.
It was right about this time, he decided to go, so he was bragging in the bars, and so we thought he did go, for that was the last time we saw him in town. We were glad for the town’s sake, and for Bridgette, and the priest was happy also, the perfect storm that was building, was over for the most part-and I suppose you could say, we were not surprised, a little sad for Bridgette, whom seemed again to get the harshness of it all, a backlash of shame and pity, and loss.
The next time we saw Miss Bridgette, perhaps a year later, she had grown thin again, gray hair, wrinkles she was just getting, had now dug deep into her face, and she had now shut her windows, locked them, closed the curtains, locked the front and back door, and Fernando would not give out any information to anyone about her.
During the following years, those of us who saw her, it was usually when she was picking up her mail, or emptying garbage, her frame and hair was thin and sprinkled with white, her skin pale, and there was an odor to her house, she had fifteen cats, and we thought maybe it was that. Up to the day of her death, at sixty-one years old, she remained secretive in all her affairs; especially the downstairs where the store used to be.
During these same years, we watched Fernando grow older and older, and thinner and thinner, yet he remained active, and healthy, he was to our understandings, twenty or more years older than Bridgette, yet he looked younger than she.
And so she died, it was said of double-pneumonia, she had evidently gone out in the rain, and fell to sleep in a chair, downstairs, in a corner of the store.
The sheriff and I met Fernando at the front steps of the door of her store, and he let us in, it reeked with a stink of death, We walked right into where Bridgette had fallen to sleep in her chair, the funeral was the following day, and perhaps two-hundred folks came to see the mysterious lady, reflecting intensely at her last moments before being put underneath the earth. Perhaps recalling seeing her when she was youthful, at the poetry contests her uncle started so many years ago, or buying something at her store, that had been closed for decades, or seeing her walking down the street before they were paved.
We all knew, and we all kind of felt sad, that we knew, this was the last of the mystery behind the uncle’s saga, the Loro Machaco, gang. After they put her into the ground, the sheriff and I went back to her house to investigate the reeking smell; we figured, silently figured that is, and spoke little of what we were thinking, or might be guessing at, of what the smell was or could be, hoping it was just the cats and the long enduring years the smell festered into the woodwork and furniture, and floorboards and rugs, until it circled the outside of the premises, but we knew it was more than the cats…
In a backroom, we found it, the smell, it was in the wooden cage, with the iron bars around its square frame, that stood three feet in height, a body was in it, its head outside of it-through the hole that had been made for that very reason, the man’s neck between inner part of the wooden cage and its outer space, his hands handcuffed behind him, and a rope around his neck, a hook was wrapped round a upper beam above him, and his knees were cramped into this three by four space-he had to kneel, and all that was left was bones and cloths that hung on his skeleton, but the sheriff and I knew who it was, it was Gunderson.
It seemed like hours we stood there and stared, yet it was perhaps no more than five-minutes, we held our breath off and on, covered our mouths, lowered our heads in emotions, and tried not to show a grin, just blank faces. What was left of him was paralyzing to see; rotted blood stains on his shirt and pants, his skull looked fractured, perhaps from hitting it on the iron bars, or the edge of the wooden frame.
We saw Fernando leave, as if his duties, or obligation, was complete, the last we heard, was that he went back into the mountains, and that was the last we saw of him.
Note: Part one to “A Cross for Bridgette,” written the night of 12-7-2008
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