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Authors: Graciela Limón

The Day of the Moon

BOOK: The Day of the Moon
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Critical Praise for

The Day of the Moon

“Graciela Limón's
commanding
novel follows four generations of the Betancourt family through five decades … Limón contextualizes her saga with crucially placed details of Mexican political and social history, providing a sharp critique of the Mexican class system while embedding
several passionate and eloquently rendered love stories.
Through multiple points of view, this novel
deftly explores one family's tragic reckoning
with issues of cultural identity, sexual autonomy, and interracial love.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Limón has created
a story rich in ideas and excitement, a suspenseful tale with memorable characters …
Murder, dismemberment, casting out, imprisonment, love, loyalty, and the lives of the spirits swirl through the pages of this novel and make it hard to put down.”

—Ellen Shull,
San Antonio Express-News

Also by Graciela Limón

In Search of Bernabé
The Memories of Ana Calderón
Song of the Hummingbird

The Day of the Moon

Graciela Limón

This volume is made possible through grants from the City of Houston through The Cultural Arts Council of Houston, Harris County.

Recovering the past, creating the future

Arte Público Press
University of Houston
452 Cullen Performance Hall
Houston, Texas 77204-2004

Cover illustration and design by James F. Brisson

Cover illustration based on photographs from
Mexico's Sierra Tarahumara: A Photohistory of People on the Edge
by Dirk W. Raat and George R. Janacek
copyright 1996 by the University of Oklahoma Press
Used by express permission of the publisher

Limón, Graciela.

The day of the moon / Graciela Limón.

p.      cm.

ISBN 1-55885-274-3 (pbk. : alk. paper)

1. Indians of North America—Mexico—Fiction. 2. Tarahumara Indians—Fiction. 3. Mexican Americans—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3562.I464D39    1999

813'.54—dc21

98-47015
CIP

The paper used in this publication meets the requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984.

© 1999 by Graciela Limón
Printed in the United States of America

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0               11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3

 

Xipe Totec was skinned alive by a destructive spirit. She did not die. Instead, she put her skin back on and was restored to life.

(A Mexica Belief)

 

 

The Ancient Ones believe that while we sleep our soul joins the spirits of the dead, and that together they work hard, harder yet than during the day when we walk about in sunlight. They also believe that during the night, when we are sleeping, we do wonderful, mysterious things with those who have gone to the other side of the sierras. They say that it is at this time that we make new songs and poems, and that we discover who we love. This is what is meant by The Day of the Moon. It happens, they say, every night when we are dreaming.

(A Rarámuri Belief)

To
Mary Wilbur
who has been an inspiration to my writing.

Contents

Preface

Acknowledgments

Don Flavio Betancourt

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Isadora Betancourt

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Úrsula Santiago

Chapter 14

Brígida Betancourt

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Alondra Santiago

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Preface

This novel touches upon the Rarámuri people of Mexico, who, scholars believe, are among those who have most fiercely resisted the incursion of European ways. Early in the Spanish conquest, the Rarámuri took refuge in the high ground of the canyon caves, where they live to this day. This place, known as El Cañón del Cobre, lies between Los Mochis on the Pacific Ocean and the city of Chihuahua, Mexico. The Spaniards named the tribe
Tarahumara,
but they call themselves
Rarámuri,
which means foot runners. I have chosen to call them by the name which they prefer.

G.L.

Acknowledgments

My sincere gratitude goes to Paz Tostado Vandeventer for the conversations she and I have had on the miracle of healing. It is to Paz that I owe my reflections on Xipe Totec as a symbol of the restoration of the human spirit. Because of her, I have written of Xipe Totec, usually viewed by scholars and admirers of Mexica mysticism as a male god, as a feminine deity.

I am grateful also for Mary Wilbur's generosity in giving of her time and effort in editing the first draft of this manuscript. It is a hard and demanding task, and she has never said no to me. I also thank Crystal Williams for assisting me in recovering valuable information on the Rarámuri people. Finally, my gratitude to Dr. Shane Martin, colleague and friend, and his research assistant, Ernesto Colín, who have read
The Day of the Moon
and written many good things about it.

Don Flavio Betancourt
Chapter 1

Los Angeles, 1965

Don Flavio Betancourt sat in the armchair, staring through the lace curtains of his bedroom. His gaze was vacant as his eyes scanned the rainy landscape; he was vaguely aware of the swishing sound each time a car drove past his house. His mind, however, was somewhere else. It had escaped, as it did nearly all the time now. The old man's thoughts ran away from him, skipping west, skittering over rooftops, dashing upward, spiraling over the Sixth Street Bridge, then turning south and rushing headlong toward Mexico.

He was eighty-five years old and he had grown frail. He was no longer tall, as he had been during most of his life; he had shrunk. His once muscular arms now sagged. His shoulders were thin and hunched. When he walked his head drooped and his small belly jutted out. Don Flavio looked down at his spotted hands, squinting, trying to focus his blurred vision. He turned them over, palms up, and saw that the skin was wrinkled and yellowish. Then he put them on his thighs, and he saw the dark blue veins; they reminded him of spider webs. He closed his eyes for a moment, aware of the vague discomfort that pressed against the pit of his stomach. When his lids snapped open, his mind returned to his memories.

“It didn't happen all at once,” the old man mumbled as he reached out to take hold of the curtain. He moved it to the side so that he could look through the window. Tiny rivulets of rain streaked the glass but he could make out the reflection of his once handsome face. Now withered folds of parched skin hung off his jowls, pulling the corners of his lips downward, and giving his face an intimidating frown. What had been thick, nearly blond hair was almost gone; only a few strands of yellowish gray hair lay plastered
to his skull with pomade. The color of his eyes, too, had been transformed by age. What was once blue was now a faded translucent gray.

Don Flavio's reflection began to recede from his eyes, becoming smaller until it seemed to have been sucked in by the watery glass. Suddenly another image appeared in its place, one that recurred in his brain at unexpected times, making him squirm in the armchair or wherever the memory assaulted him. The apparition mesmerized him, paralyzing his will to shut his eyes, or even to rub away the reflection.

The specter usually began with what appeared to be the hooves of a deer. These blurred and mixed until it became clear that they were not hooves but the feet of a man. They moved so rapidly that the
huaraches
that bound them seemed hardly to touch the earth on which the man ran. Above the feet came the legs and thighs, the loin cloth, the muscular belly, the heaving chest and shoulders, the taut neck with its bulging vein. Then the head began to take shape with its long, black hair flowing behind the runner.

It wasn't until then that Don Flavio was able to focus on El Rarámuri, the detested Indian. That face haunted the old man: the square jaw, the straight lips partially covered by a thin, drooping mustache, the aquiline nose framed by the eyes of the nomad. And once whole, the specter ran ceaselessly, brush and rocks flashing by with indescribable speed, the coppery earth moving with him, increasing his velocity. The image did not move from the watery glass, but Don Flavio knew that the distance being covered by the native was enormous, impossible for most men. The reflection moved with a grace that disguised the strain on the runner's body. The old man's eyes dilated as he remembered the first time he saw El Rarámuri seemingly surpass the wind that gusted through the crevices of the canyon.

Don Flavio finally covered his face with his hands; a soft moan slipped through his lips as he felt the discomfort in his stomach turn into pain. He tried to think of something else, but the vision burned somewhere behind his eyeballs. He wiped a circle into the
blurry glass with his palm. He peered into the encroaching winter evening, deliberately concentrating on the steel gray color of the sky. Then he stretched his neck to look down the street; he wanted to fill his eyes with ordinary things. There, across the street, was the two-story frame house of the Miranda family. To the right, the old man saw the tree that had been threatening to die for the last twenty years. It had finally dried up in September. To the left was Third Street. On the corner was the tire garage, its grime spilling out to the sidewalk.

Don Flavio strained to see if any people were out on the street, but no one was there; it was raining too much. When he leaned back in his chair he grunted in frustration. His hands were sweaty. He realized that looking out onto the street had only interrupted the native's run and that the nagging reflection had returned to taunt him. The old man's head sagged backward onto the high back of the chair, his eyes shut tightly and his mouth clamped shut as he tasted the bitter saliva coating his tongue.

There was a muffled rap on the door.

“Entra.”

“Buenas noches, Don Flavio.”


Buenas noches
.”

Don Flavio's terse reply to the old woman was characteristic; he rarely spoke anymore. When she placed the tray on the table by his side he only nodded. It was time for his early evening chocolate. He grunted as a sign of gratitude, but as she was about to leave, he turned to her.

“Ursula, I won't have dinner tonight.”

Ursula Santiago paused as she adjusted her deep-set, small eyes to the growing darkness in the room; the gray that streaked her coarse hair caught the last glimmering of daylight. Her head was small and well-defined, as if chiseled in stone. High, bony cheekbones accentuated her beaked nose, as did the wrinkles that circled her thin lips. In the gloom, her skin was brown and auburn. Ursula was a small woman, but she held herself erect and moved with confidence, even when facing the old man.

She nodded. She knew that he was in pain. She had noticed his skipping the evening meal more frequently during the past months. What Ursula did not know was that for the moment Don Flavio was not concerned with the biting discomfort in his belly, because he was more aware of relief. Her coming into his room had finally stopped El Rarámuri. The image had vanished from the window.

As Ursula began to leave, Don Flavio stopped her again. “Where's the girl? I haven't seen her in days.”

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