The Morphing Hacienda
The Morphing Hacienda
Maybe it was a trick of the light or a wink of her mind, but Bibiana believed she saw the house shift. Yes, shift.
It would have been a beautiful residence if located on a seaside, even a fashionable one. But here, in the middle of the desert, on a mountainside, it looked lost, abandoned, done for. The thought that this house could possibly be her grandma’s made her doubt she was on the right road, the right taxi, in the right place. Maybe they took the wrong turn. Maybe the taxi’s Geo–tracking device malfunctioned. Maybe she took the wrong cab.
Bibiana shook her head No, she didn’t even want to go there. No matter what it was, it was too late to turn back. The night was falling. There was one house in the far distance, one single hacienda. They had to drive all the way to the door and ask.
Earlier that day, they had passed lively mariachi bands and people forming altars for their dead ones. But they were all gone by now. Dias de los Muertos were in full swing somewhere behind her. She didn’t even mind. Sure, like then, she came to remember her ancestors and pay her respect to her roots, but unlike them, she didn’t come here to party.
For a November, when the air was freezing in America, here in Mexico, nature was festive. A flurry of orange invaded the villages they had traveled through. But these weren’t autumn leaves or people in disguise. No, millions of monarch butterflies on the wing fluttered around the tequila plants to pollinate them. The air hummed with them.
“Hola, ancestors,” she whispered.
She had been away for years, in fact since she was a baby. She didn’t remember the place, and now she was back. She was going to meet her grandma for the first time. A meeting long overdue.
Bibiana, still groggy from hours of flight, needed to rest her eyes. The twirling of dirt roads made her stomach churn, which felt even worse than being seasick. Since the taxi had left Tlaxcala in the center of Mexico, she had the queasy feeling that the world rolled around her like a stormy sea. Even the huge agaves with their rosettes of spikes reminded her of seaweeds. Her kitten, Churito, agreed with her judging by the way he flattened his ears and curled his tail against his legs. He yowled every time the car rattled on the bumpy road.
Bibiana wanted to ask the driver to slow down, to take a pit stop, and check the map, but he was an adult, and you didn’t tell a grownup what to do. Well, not if your parents were Mexicans and old fashioned. With the night falling, it wouldn’t be safe to stop either.
As they drove over hills, every time the taxi dipped down, the house fell out of view, and when the taxi came over the top of the next hill, the house seemed to change in some way or another. Towers with pointy tips like brujas hats, witches’ hats, jutted out the sides of the house, then a wall turned bright pink as if sun baked.
Bibiana gasped. “Oh Dios mío. Oh my God!”
The house grew bigger and bigger as they came closer, with many details and ornamentations. Red foliage adorned patios. White paint highlighted arched windows that popped here and there along the gigantic buildings. Bright red washes gave unexpected quirks to the top of terraces. Ornaments forged in the shape of branches ran through wooden doors. Many columns and many domes succeeded each other. Balconies jutted out from towers, overflowed with flowery white and yellow cacti. They shimmered and moved.
She shook her head. No, she had not just seen the house morph. No at all, No way.
This was a hacienda. It seemed so imposing, so fairy royal, and so unnatural. She had heard of morphing houses, but who could afford them? Her family didn’t have this kind of money. Not even close. A neighbor’s hacienda, maybe? Yes, this belonged to a neighbor.
Bibiana sighed in relief. That meant she wouldn’t have to stay in that… um… thing. Imagine chasing her grandma with a GPS to track her down across all the rooms.
¡Imposible! No way! That would be so decadent, too decadent for her family’s taste. Her relatives lived in a small mud house. This hacienda seemed to have so many rooms; her head swirled at the thought of living there. Bibiana chewed on the tip of her fingers. Haciendas included visible parts and hidden parts, right. It was hard to tell how many interior patios, yards, and maybe stables the place contained. Who said they couldn’t be moved, especially if her grandmother's bots were tasked with shifting the walls around?
She snorted. Nah, the house hadn’t morphed. That was ridiculous.
This taxi was weird. It captured different views of the house every time she looked through a separate window. Maybe she was just seeing the hacienda from different sides. Or maybe it was another house every time. Bibiana couldn’t just crank down the window and look. The windows were sealed and the air-conditioning was full on. The hills made for a wide ride with significant dips and turns. Several haciendas might dot the place too. And, for all she knew, maybe the hills themselves moved. Moving highways and mountains were after all quite common. Technology shifted landscapes every day, unpleasant or undesirable landscapes that is.
Around the next bend, the hacienda morphed into a different shape right in front of her eyes. Bibiana stood up straight, her long black hair falling over her face, her shawl coiled around her. Si, the house had morphed. She couldn’t blame the vision on the road bends, the angle the taxi took, or even being so tired she couldn’t gauge what was real. It sort of magically shifted.
“Aie, aie, aie!” she squeaked. She muffled her voice between her hands and opened her eyes wide. The taxi driver held her gaze a few seconds in the rearview mirror and frowned. He didn’t seem to have noticed anything, except for her jolt of panic. If he had noticed the house, he didn’t seem fazed by it. Instead, he tapped a bag full of chanclas to prop them back against the passenger seat. Bibiana had no clue why someone like him would carry those dusty and broken slippers, but asking would sound even ruder than asking him if they were lost. No one asked about things in Mexico, especially in the year 2120. Questions made someone suspicious. Maybe he would think she wasn’t who she pretended to be. After all, who didn’t know how her grandma’s house looked like? Everyone was so shifty. Also, the man hadn’t been talkative. So odd. All the taxi drivers she had met were chatterboxes. You virtually cranked the tongue mechanism, and it never stopped -- cha, cha, cha, like a background music. But not in this taxi. No, she wasn’t going to be suspicious, not right now. Mom had picked the driver herself.
Bibiana couldn’t stop staring at his face covered with scars, the swollen nose he wiped every few minutes, the flabby sides of his face. The man reminded her of a skull. His beady eyes seemed to dig into hers every time their gaze met. Every time, she had chills. Those eyes didn’t seem to be alive. They watched her as if from beyond the grave. And he was all the time on the phone, talking to someone, only she couldn’t hear what he said. He had turned off sound waves so that no sound could reach her. She felt so very far away from home.
She glanced at him from time to time, wondering if he was in on it, the big joke Grandma had prepared for her. Nonsense. The driver probably lived miles away from here. He probably didn’t relish being here. He combed his short hair with his hand. Sweat glued strands around his face. Why was he sweating with the air-conditioning on?
The driver looked at her again. She averted her eyes. It was rude to stare, especially at an older man. Her hands trembled and squeezed her bag; her heart bumped into her chest as dread descended upon her. Bibiana dug both hands in the thick fur of her kitten and pressed his little body against her cheek. Churito’s warm body warmed her from inside out. There, there, the familiar smell of the kitten. A musky scent mixed with laundry soap. That made her feel better.
The kitten nuzzled her and meowed.
“Thank god you’re here,” she whispered. She checked his claws. “Bien. Good. You might need them to defend me.” She wished she had claws too.
The taxi turned around a bend, ascending the mountain, and there the house did it again. The hacienda shimmered, and fizzled, and changed in small ways.
She scribbled furiously on her sketchpad to try to catch the shape but had to rip up the pages and try again. Changes were too fast. No, it couldn’t be. A house wouldn’t morph, add or remove parts as if made out of blocks. She couldn’t quite curl her mind around the idea. Houses were supposed to be built out of concrete that stood for centuries in the same spot, in the same shape. It was designed to be there when you came back from a trip, exhausted, and it opened the same closets at the same place and kept your things where you had stowed them. Although its colors could fade, they didn’t shift in a blink of an eye. What purpose would that serve?
She sketched again with more enthusiasm. At times, additional rooms or storage sheds replaced the rough bottom shape blocked off with an iron fence. The fence itself turned red. Who could ever live in this place? How comfortable could that be?
Bibiana opened her eyes twice as big when the taxi took the last bend and climbed the dusty path that led to the hacienda. Her grandma’s hacienda? The shocking realization hit her. Up close, it resembled the house her grandma had sent her a picture of. It showed the same fence, with a clay wall and iron spikes, as in the letter her grandma had sent her. Now, she bit the skin around her fingernails.
She fumbled around and retrieved the picture from the envelope. There. The same front.
But where was Grandma?
The taxi finally pulled in front of the door. Maybe it had many doors and many entrances. It didn’t look like one single house as in the photo with the fence and the front of the house. It seemed so humble without the rest of it. An assortment of terracotta rooftops, white stucco balconies, turrets with crenellations, they all seemed to belong to a mad architect who loosely dropped them on top of each other.
Nothing seemed real. Nada. Nothing.
She dialed her grandma’s phone number on her cell. No answer. No tone. Dead as a doornail.
Silly old fashion phones good for nothing.
Bibiana’s heart panicked inside her chest. Did Grandma forget about her?
She climbed out of the taxi, holding Churito in her arms.
“You’ll defend me, right?” she whispered in the kitten’s ear. “In case something bad happens.”
The kitten purred.
She closed the door of the taxi with a click, making sure the driver wouldn’t hear. In case of a sketchy driver, she’d rather have a head start. There was something to say about being alone in a desert with a scary stranger. It made her mind flip in all crazy directions. Murderer. Kidnapper. Bad news. They always seem to live in expensive haciendas.
This place seemed to have endless nooks to hide in and disappear. At least there was that.
Shudders replaced shivers as she pushed the patio’s fence open and the cool desert air pinched her exposed skin.
She looked back one more time. The driver’s eyes seemed to stare through her in the rearview mirror. He waved a sharp object at her and grabbed the bag of slippers.
He jumped out of the car. “Hola, Chiquita. Hey.”
Bibiana didn’t need any more incentive, nor did Churito. Was he going to throw chanclas at her? These were the deadliest weapons in Mexico as people threw them at people’s heads whenever angry. Sure way to end up in the hospital.
Bibiana and Churito ran and disappeared into the shadows of the patio. Churito took one way; she took another. She wrapped her shawl around her head, black against black. The front gate inside the patio welcomed her with a graceful salvo of smells. The sweetness reminded her of the sachets in Mom’s drawers filled with rose and lavender.
The feeling of familiarity ended a few seconds later when the shadows from arches barred her way, and the chirping of cicadas warned her, their trills deafening. Staying on the path lighted by the moon, she soon encountered a pool of water. The moonlight bathed the strange pool in nebulous waves. Maybe walking around the pool would be faster, but she refused to make contact with the shadows. They felt cold. With this kind of fear in her belly, every object poking out of the night seemed an insurmountable obstacle or a deathly trap.
She looked behind her, thinking about the driver. The walls surrounding the hacienda had moved, and the gate had disappeared. The house might be gathering up all its hidden fortifications, gobbling her up in its labyrinth. Bibiana shivered in the fresh air. No one appeared, yet footsteps chased after her, searching the entrance, clapping around the rocky pathways. She could hear them as the sound passed over the walls.
She stretched a foot, tentatively feeling the water, but to her surprise, her foot didn’t find any resistance. There was no water. Instead, three large curved steps dipped into a garden. She jumped over them and landed in the grass on her knees. The sweet smell made her want to burry inside a hole and fall asleep inside it.
She shaped clay, back home, a hobby people regarded as an odd hobby. Nothing in her eyes compared to smoothing the earth between her hands and turning the pottery wheel with her feet. As an apprentice, she had made lamps out of clay, lanterns with many holes, lamps that broke down the light of a candle and projected little fingers of fire on the walls and ceiling. She wished she had one now. Yes, the good old earth, not that synthetic stuff that made the lawns look like playgrounds. The real thing, the one she grabbed between her hands, the scent of damp earth that meant home. That was what she felt now under her. Her ancestors’ land.
A cold air current, like the hand of the dead, ruffled her skirt and caused her to shudder.
An angry voice followed, “Que pasa, chiquita? What’s going on, little girl?”
The sharp thing in the driver’s hand glistened. It was impossible to tell what it was, but Bibiana didn’t want to figure out. Maybe he had come after her to steal from Grandma. In that case, she had better find the grownups and fast.
“Que pasa, chiquita?” the driver repeated, and then someone called him on the phone.
Bibiana felt her way around. Why wasn’t any part of the hacienda lit? The driver’s voice felt so close her arms formed goosebumps. She couldn’t see him, but two minutes ago, he was standing in front of her. His voice sounded so close, so hushed as if projected from the pit of a tunnel, but no one was there. The gate had disappeared too. One thing for certain, he was somewhere inside the hacienda with his bag of chanclas. The idea knotted something in her belly.
"¡Que idiota! What an idiot!" The man yelled. “You can’t escape your destiny. Who told you you could?”
A pitiful meow came from ahead. Paws screeched the tiles on the ground. Bibiana bit her lip. Did Churito get smooshed by falling tiles or did the man throw a slippers on him? Did he get chased by a coyote? The desert wasn’t safe at night; everyone knew that.
“Argh,” the driver said as if from the other side of the building. “It’s that cat again. I will snap your neck next time I find you. And you, little girl, if you think you can hide, you get something coming your way.”
A handful of pebbles hit the ground, and a few minutes later, a furry animal rubbed against Bibiana’s legs. Her fingers reached for Churito and curled into the fur with a whimper.
She smirked at the thought of her mom telling her to stay with the driver, no matter what.
“People were kidnaped every day in places like these,” Mamma had said one day, “just for the ransom.”
You think, Mamacita?
She didn’t care to remember that now, but she couldn’t help it.
What taxi driver would bring a girl to a place like this if he didn’t want to kidnap her? Maybe he had already snatched her grandmother, and now it was her turn.
“We need to find Grandma ASAP, ” she said, placing Churito on the ground.
The kitten sniffed the air. A minute later, he darted across the patio and disappeared into a dark corner. He ran up a stairway with small hesitating leaps.
“Did you find Grandma’s trail? Come back,” Bibiana called after Churito, “Hola! Hey! Are you listening? There’re big cats around here. I don’t want you to become coyote’s chops.”
Churito meowed as if to say, “Someone needs a reality check, and it’s not me. We’ve got a murderer on our heels. Who cares about big cats?”
She followed Churito up the stairs.
The steps went on and on into a still darkness pregnant with danger. The imperfections of the steps came into focus as a sliver of light touched them. The railings mimicked grape vines with a greenish sheen and curled up like tendrils.
“Kittens don’t live very long in Mexico,” she yelled after Churito, “especially in strange houses.”
But Churito didn’t slow down. A few dull objects crashed on the floor upstairs followed by a series of mournful meows. A tile fell on the ground in front of Bibiana, a flash of red that met the cement floor with a crack. Did someone try to kill them?
“Lights - On,” she ordered the house. Nothing.
Did the driver wait for her on top of the stairs? If only she could find a light switch in this house. Why wasn’t there any switch? Why wasn’t the house responding to vocal commands?
She braved the shifting shadows and bowed to collect chards with tiny orange and green flowers lying on the spiraling staircase. The design seemed so ancient. Bibiana remembered seeing those in Renaissance mosaics, in books. Her fingers met a hard cold surface. They would make such good weapons thrown from a height. She pocketed them.
A second later, she was running until breathlessness made her stop. The cries of Churito guided her through a labyrinth of stairs that narrowed on the way up. She bumped her legs against a metal table, but she moved on, refusing to let herself get paralyzed by fear. A wall slid in front of her. She stopped, startled, and felt with her fingers. The wall had pigeon holes in it. So no, it wasn’t a door in disguise; it was a real wall. Another wall moved to her right and gave way to a side corridor. A one-foot thick wall! The house was still morphing with her inside. She skipped up a narrow stairway, feeling the walls closing in on her. The sleek surface gave her courage. They tapered off as if squeezing her in. At least no one would follow her through there.
The meows resounded in the small funnel space.
Soon, terracotta roof tiles gleamed in the moonlight. She stepped out on a roof.
The yowling of Churito redoubled.
The red clay tiles of the rooftops slid under her without warning. She slid, but regained her balance, and ran up to the top of the roof on hands and knees on the curved tiles.
“Ay, ay, ay. Where are you Churito?”
She breathed hard.
Footsteps clapped in the corridor one floor below, the hard sole of the man’s shoes echoing.
Churito’s cries became insistent. She found him, stuck in between two roofs.
“Hush,” Bibiana whispered. “The man will hear you.”
The footsteps of the man clattered on the steps. There was no time to get Churito and make an escape. Bibiana prayed for a wildcat to appear on the roof to jump on the man and rip his throat, but nothing appeared behind the chimneys on the roof. Slithers of light cut out shapes along the balconies and the pile of rooftops. One could probably jump smoothly from one to the other.
She slid down the roof, gathered some tiles, and spread them on the steps. The curved clay pieces would roll and break if someone walked over them. They blended well in the darkness of the stairwell. Maybe the man would stumble over them. Maybe they would give her time to fetch Churito and escape. The clapping of his shoes was closer now, but not quite yet there. Perhaps the house was still changing, and he had a hard time reaching them.
She felt her way up the roof, guided by Churito’s cries, her feet tipping the tiles like chopping knives. Tip. Tip. Click.
Churity curled up in the recess between a low wall and a turret. She lay down and stretched as far as she dared. Something wet and rough touched her fingers. His tongue.
“Here you are, Gordo. You snookums.”
Churito nuzzled her hand. She grabbed him and retrieved him. Then she gathered some wet courage by kissing his nose.
A series of clinks falling broke the quiet.
Bibiana’s panted in fright. She pulled her knees to her chest, Churito on her shoulder. The tiles around them seemed to move, and change under her.
The smell of roses and lavender came flooding the roof. The driver’s silhouette towered above her, holding an object in his hand.
“Aqui estas, Chiquita. There you are, little girl. You can’t escape. No more room on the roof.” He burst out laughing and threw a slipper at her.
“I... I’m not… Don’t hurt me, please, por favor,” Bibiana breathed out.
The tiles changed color. From blood red, then turned into brown, and the terracotta morphed into a thatch roof. At the same time, the man’s shape faded away. He vanished out of thin air.
The roof became unstable and rocked from side to side. She lay down in the hope the earthquake would abate.
The scent of rose and lavender brimmed in the air. Churito dug his paws into her back before he jumped off the roof and she fell through a crack. The noise of broken tiles was deafening. The air filled with red powder and dust.
Bibiana landed on a bed of straw, coughing. The bed dipped like an old-fashioned haystack rather than a bed. Why would her grandma keep something like that in here? Strange. Few people in her day and age had visited a museum, even digitally, but this placed seemed to have emerged from one of them. Bibiana loved antiquities; it was something she had picked from reading old science-fiction tales. Many stories had some sort of return-to-the-future theme.
The quiet of the night changed into a busy muffle. Daylight bathed the room.
When her eyes adjusted, she was happy to find Churito next to her, blinking, his whiskers trembling and the hair on his back smoothing down.
Bibiana flipped on her back to look around. The room was spacious and had just a bed and a few pots, probably for bathing. Sounds of shaken cutlery and glasses clinging drew her attention. Someone was here, maybe in some kitchen, preparing food. The air grew hotter and impregnated with the smell of corn bread baked on a stove. Only her family still cooked this kind of bread, old-fashion style.
“Grandma?” she called.
No one answered.
The terrace of the bedroom butted on a pink building. She walked around the room and took the corridor.
A rich tapestry covered the entire wall of the corridor like an oversized banner. She touched it. So soft, like down feathers. Four-legged animals seemed to run along the rug. No, not running, more like caught in action, and telling a story.
Bibiana’s gaze moved from scene to scene. A hunting party was catching up with a troop of animals. The men threw spears in the air. In the next scene, one of the men found himself in a medieval castle. The horse he was chasing entered a ballroom. It was a pinto horse with large patches of white and brown. Men in the castle dived for their bows and arrows and tried to hit him. The man jumped on the horse before someone could arrow him. He reappeared in another scene. The landscape had changed entirely. He was now in a town with paved roads, and people ran away from him. A tramway crossed in front of the horse and the rider. Finally, the rider was thrown out of his mount and fell at the feet of a young girl. The next scene showed the man falling inside a vintage car with leather seats. The girl held a jug on her head and moved her hips from side to side as if walking away from him. She wore a triangular skirt that flopped right and left. She looked strangely familiar, almost like her mom. She did hold a certain family resemblance.
Bibiana gasped at the beauty of the rug that seemed to come alive. She followed the scene and encountered an arcade. The men in the tapestry seemed to have traveled through time.
Bibiana shivered at the idea.
Doves clapped their wings under the roof and flew up in the air. She startled. Churito growled.
“Tranquilízate. Calm down,” she said crouching down and kissing the tips of his ears.
The birds circled above the hacienda before they glided away. Churito jumped in place as if he wanted to catch them out of the sky. No luck.
A shuffling of footsteps whispered in the building.
“Do you hear that, Churito?” Bibiana said, astonished. “There’s someone in here. Grandma?”
She ran to the parapet and leaned over. Although cups banged against metal and a group a women laughed somewhere below, no one crossed the courtyard or walked along the covered pathways.
“¡Hola! Hi! Is there anyone?”
No one answered.
“Please, over here. Answer me.”
Maybe they didn’t understand her.
She finally shouted, “¡Oye! ¿Puede usted ayudarme? Hey! Can you help me?”
Nothing. It was like a ghost house. She wrung her hands together. Churito jumped on the parapet, and she brushed his fur with long strokes.
“¿Donde estan ustedes? Where is everyone?”
Churito meowed to answer and looked at her with pleading eyes.
“Right,” Bibiana said. “They must be busy. We’re going down there later. Let’s take a look at these rooms first.”
A wall seemed to be shifting in the far corner of the building. The rock sliding on the ground made a hollow grounding sound. Bibiana knew they wouldn’t have time to catch up before the wall completely closed up. Any transformation in the architecture gave her chills. If this was a traditional hacienda, the main house was supposed to have six bedrooms, cavernous spaces from which the sound would echo and grow in intensity. But not here. There was something odd about this space, something in between, at the edge of two worlds.
The sounds she heard next reminded her of the clacking sounds of a machine.
Looms weren’t that surprising in South Mexico. Entire villages kept the tradition of weaving. Behind almost every door, a household workshop vibrated from the movement of the floor looms.
Grandma lived in a place where Zapotec tapestries helped entire villages survive. How could Bibiana have forgotten that when every time her mom visited grandma, she came back with a new rug? Mamacita had brought back Zapotec rugs with designs that captured the beauty of dry landscapes. Some of them looked like prehistoric designs etched on white rugs with tassels on one side and yellow ochre geometric borders. The tapestry in the corridor was precisely that.
Looms meant people. Any person would be better than those walls and phantom voices. Maybe someone could explain to her what was happening. Perhaps she would find Grandma.
She swatted the mosquitoes and approached the arcades where the looms clacked. The sun tapped her shoulder one last time and stayed behind in the corridor to bake the rare terra cotta pots and cacti.
She entered into the semi-darkness of a room. The temperature dropped alarmingly. She almost stepped back to go back to the warmth of the sun but stopped mid-step. Something called to her in this room. She shivered, crossed her shawl over her arms, and held her chin high. Churito followed in her footsteps, a clawed shadow in the magical shadows. His presence made her brave.
The clanking of the machines grew louder, like a song. Someone was singing, “La cucaracha, la cucaracha…” over a guitar symphony. Machines clanked in unison, chachacha, chachacha.
She tiptoed into a vacant room with large windows opened to the desert wind. She looked right and left. The voice still trilled, but no one was there. Maybe they came from another room. One single loom appeared and moved on its own accord. Bibiana touched it to make sure it was real. Yes, it was. The loom kept on the rhythm, chachacha, chachacha. Clankaticlank. It worked on its own, clapping away as she entered, throwing a spindle through the lines of yarns. No one controlled it or watched the process.
Tables appeared too. A wooden table offered baskets with a variety of spools of yarn of different colors. Metal basins showed indigo and red dye, as well as bark, mosses, and pomegranates. These were traditional dyes used in tapestry. She plunged her finger into the red dye and her fingers held the powder, just an instant while the red dye flooded through her fingers.
Another table kept carting instruments with bags or pure churro sheep wool grown in the highlands of Oaxaca. She reached for one bag. The wool puffed in her palm for a second and then fell back down through her finger. The objects seemed to hold their consistency only a few seconds before they phased into another reality or time. Bibiana’s heart danced in her chest. The magic threads and dyes linked times and spaces. She couldn’t believe her eyes.
A movement caught her eye. Something appeared and disappeared in the middle of the room. Her luggage morphed in and out through layers of time. She recognized the ribbon she had tied to it to avoid losing it at the airport. Churito jumped on it and the luggage crashed on the floor with a flop. Real, the luggage was real.
Bibiana picked the luggage from the floor and held it against her chest.
At that moment, the driver appeared next to her. She screamed in fright and stepped back. Where did he come from? Bibiana opened her eyes wide. He was holding a knife, a real street knife with a retractable blade. As the driver phased to her reality, the bag seemed to become more and more real. The color of the ribbon changed from mousy brown to crimson red. The handle seemed more tangible. The driver’s blade was at her throat, but it didn’t touch her skin. The knife couldn’t hurt her because the driver hadn’t wholly phased in the year 2126. She tried to push the blade away and lifted her hands up, letting go of her luggage. A cloud of butterflies interposed between them, buzzing and shaking their wings in unison. Both the bag and the driver disappeared in another timeline.
Bibiana rubbed her eyes, stretched her neck, and refocused. Where the bag had rolled, butterfly shadows danced on the floor ceramics. Churito drew her attention to them by sweeping his paws right and left, intent on catching one. A row of diamonds rose from a rug on the loom, more like a band of wobbly diamonds with wings. Bibiana stepped forward to touch them, but then removed her hand. Butterflies were cold-blooded she was sure of it. Like lizards, they needed the warmth of the sun to regulate their body temperature. They wouldn’t prefer the shade. Maybe the bright designs looked like flowers to them. She remembered the Mexican folklore and how they always preferred flowers.
Churito wanted to paw some of the butterflies.
“No, Churito,” Bibiana whispered, holding the kitten back, more afraid now of hurting one of her ancestors. “They can to say hello to us. They came to take away the driver.”
Churito meowed softly.
Bibiana hugged him and then held him in front of her face.
“Listen, Churito. You’re just going to create problems. The butterflies are the soul of ancestors. They have permission to come to this world only once a year. Do not disturb them. They’re visiting.”
A white butterfly fluttered in front of her face and zigzagged until it landed on a spool of yarn.
She talked to it, “Thank you.”
Bibiana touched the leg of the insect. The butterfly walked up her finger. The wing of the insect grazed her skin, and its color faded until it gradually became translucent. Bibiana gasped in admiration and didn’t dare move. The wings looked like glass flowers. She wondered if the crystal would tinkle if she tapped on it with her nail. Just like little mirrors or espejitos.
A woman appeared in front of her, holding the same butterfly on her finger.
“Oh, my sweet,” she said, “I’m so happy to meet you finally. I’m your grandmother.”
But there was no time to say more. The driver had managed to shoulder his way through the time-space worm from his timeline to this one and stepped in front of them. His face was flushed and he still carried an enormous bag of chanclas.
“Here you are,” he said, throwing slippers at them. “I’ve been hunting for you through the corridors of time. These are all the slippers I used to chase you around.”
Bibiana protected her face from the projectiles and put herself in front of the old woman. “Watch out, Grandma,” she said.
“Hold on tight to the butterfly,” her grandmother warned.
The driver sliced the butterfly into two pieces. The pieces transformed into pieces of yarn. The girl and the woman each looked at the thread with sorrowful eyes.
“No!” Bibiana cried.
“I’m sorry,” the grandmother said, her voice trembling.
Grandma vanished with her the rugs and the dyes and all the sounds of cicadas and people singing somewhere in the hacienda.
A cloud of butterflies flew through the window. The driver disappeared with them. Bibiana stood in the middle of the room, the heat flowing in and warming up her bones. Dias de los muertos had come and passed and had given her new memories. Her trip was complete.
Somewhere inside the hacienda, the voice of her mom rose. “Bibiana, come dress up the altar.”
Flowers that looked like wings of butterflies filled her hands. No matter how much time had passed, she knew she could still go back to the meet her grandma. Maybe next year. Possibly next life. They would meet.
The marigolds fluttered between her fingers in a breeze coming from the terrace. Bibiana kissed them.
“I’m coming, Mamacita.”