The Swamp (Part 12)

Luz tried to move around him, but he staggered forward and pinned her against the door. She could smell him and almost gagged from the mix of rotting fish, body odor, cigars and alcohol. He pushed his face inches from her.

“Why you got my boat keys, mi hija? You going out fishing, eh?” he laughed, coughing and spitting. “Maybe you want to go fishing somewhere else, eh? Somewhere far away.”

“No Papi,” she lied, “I just was looking at them, that’s all.”

“Oh, of course, just looking at them. Right.” He cracked her across the face with the back of his knuckles. Luz saw blinking lights and collapsed, but her father caught her and held her up.

“You’re a bad liar, Luz. I saw you say goodbye to Mami, I heard everything you said, you little puta.” Rafael spat the words into her face. He grabbed her hair from behind and yanked her neck back so that her lips were near his mouth.

He pushed his mouth onto hers, his tongue licking out. She began sobbing now, trying to push her face away, but he only yanked her hair harder, causing her to shriek.

Suelta la nina, Rafael! Let her go now!” Luz’s mother put the edge of the razor sharp fillet knife against the back of his neck.

He stopped instantly, frightened, but did not let go of the girl. He began to laugh.

She pressed the knife harder, furious now. “Hijo de puta, suetlala ahora!”

Luz’s father rammed his elbow back as hard as he could, catching his wife in the midsection. She doubled over and the knife dropped on the wooden floor. He turned around and belted her with a straight right hand that landed with a meaty crunch.

Ahora si, cabrona! Te voy a joder! I’m going to fuck you up now you bitch!” He snarled, spittle flying from his mouth like a rabid dog.

Luz dove for the knife on the floor and grabbed it. Rafael saw this and turned back to stop her, but Luz was too fast. From her position on the floor she spun quickly with the knife in her hand and sliced her father across the back of his lower leg, near the heel. Blood rained out in a pressure spray that Luz had only seen in movies. She had severed two tendons and Rafael howled in agony, clutching at his leg and dropping down to the floor.

Puta! Puta!” he screamed, angrier than he had ever been in his life.

Luz watched as her mother got up and walked slowly across the room, never taking her eyes off her husband.

“What the fuck are you waiting for, you idiot? Help me up now!” he demanded.

But instead she grabbed the handle of the cast-iron skillet that she kept hanging over the cooking pot and moved slowly towards him.

“What do you think you’re going to do with that? Put that down and help me up! Maria, God damn it, I said---!”

Luz’s mother let out a primal scream and swung the heavy pot with all her might and speed, solidly connecting with a dull metallic thwack on Rafael’s temple. He fell onto his side, unconscious.

Maria stood there, panting, her mouth and eyes wide open. Luz ran up to her and took the pot from her mother’s shaking hands.

Ay Dios mio, que hice? Que hice?” she could not believe what she had just done.

Esta bien, Mami, esta bien. It’s alright,” soothed Luz, though she herself was in shock after seeing her mother finally fight back after all these years of quiet suffering and subservience.

Luz remembered all of the times her father had beat Maria and sometimes Luz too. His preferred weapon was the cinturon, or belt, which he could whip off at a moment’s notice. She could still remember the sound it made while it was in the air, a sort of swoosh and the crack as it landed on flesh or bone. If he was really pissed or drunk, he might use the buckle part, but even he knew that was way too dangerous and could kill instead of just hurt and humiliate. But hurt and humiliation were more than enough and the attacks became a way of life for her and her poor mother.

The culture was such that a woman was supposed to put up with this type of abusive treatment. Maria was supposed to stay quiet because that is what good, upstanding wives in Panama did. What they did not do is fight back, or complain to anyone, or, God forbid, walk out on their husbands. To do that was to be forever labeled a puta.

Luz sat her mother down on the bed and stroked her hair, trying to calm her down. Maria cried and continued shaking, holding herself, arms crossed over her bosom.

“You have to go, mi hija. You cannot be here when he recovers,” she pushed Luz.

“No, Mami, I can’t leave you here. He’ll kill you. You have to come with me,” Luz demanded. Grabbing her mother by the arm and trying to get her to stand up.

Maria pushed her arm away. “No, Luz Maria, you need to go right now. Take the boat and go to the mainland, or better yet, try and make it to Costa Rica, it’s only a few more miles north.”

“Costa Rica? Why Costa Rica?” Luz inquired.

“Because they will never find you there. You can start a new life there.” Maria stood up and pulled a jar from a stack that she had near the fire. She opened it and pulled out a wad of bank notes. “Here, take this with you.”

“I can’t take this money, Mami. You need to come with me.” Luz was sobbing now. “He will kill you when he wakes up.”

“No, princesa, he will not kill me. But I cannot watch him abuse you any longer. This is your big chance, now take it and go become somebody. Go!”

Luz stared at the big roll of cash that her mother had just stuffed into her hands. She wiped her face with the sleeve of her dress. She nodded once, then picked up her pack and went out the door. She went half running, half stumbling down the dark stairs.

She tripped near the bottom and fell hard, right into the open arms of Hendricks.

“Henrique! What are you doing here?” she was mystified.

“I couldn’t let you have all the fun, now could I?” said Hendricks, “Besides, I owe you for saving my life.”

Luz smiled. “Come on then, gringo. Do you know anything about boats?” she demanded.

“Not really, but I’m a quick study. How about you be the captain and I’ll be the first mate? That way you’re in charge and I can just be your hired muscle.”

“Okay, sounds good to me. Let’s get going.” She grabbed him by the arm and led him away from the shanty towards the beach.

to be continued

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2 comments

valeriebelew profile image

valeriebelew 6 years ago from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA

At least she's getting out, but i still worry about her Mama. Don't think I could leave my Mama in that situation.


bludstream profile image

bludstream 6 years ago Author

It is not Luz's decision in the end. This goes back to one of my recurring themes, which is that many women choose losers. In this case it is a combination of misplaced loyalty and cultural pressure which can cause a woman to be so subjugated and beaten that she will choose a monster over her own daughter rather than be reviled. In these countries it is all about how you are perceived by the others in your village or town. If you are a man, you must always have the upper hand and dominate your woman or else you are seen as a weakling. This is the very definition of "Machismo" and it goes very deep and has very old historical roots. If you are a woman it means that you cannot bring shame to your family, no matter what. I have seen this type of behavior over and over again in Latin American unfortunately.

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