The boiling water Jaime used to soften the chickens’ skins smelled like a grave of wet dogs. I watched his steam-reddened hands rip off feathers, rinse pale birds, and remove entrails. The stench birthed shallow breaths and bile out of my gut, but I didn’t let on.
“Don’t let them fall in the dirt,” he said, throwing a still full gizzard into the bucket I held in front of me. “When you’re done, set aside three heads for Marianella.”
I sliced one side of the gizzard, making sure not to damage the lining that separated undigested feed from flesh. I rinsed it out, and handed it back to Jaime to add to the rest of the giblets. Then I put three chicken heads in a plastic bag.
“Marianella didn’t come,” I said, as I washed my hands. “She must have no money again.”
“Throw them in the burning pile,” he told me.
Without saying anything, I grabbed the bag with the chicken heads and started walking towards the burning pile.
I circled the pile for a minute, poked it with a stick a time or two, and when Jaime’s eyes shifted from me, I threw the bag three feet above the flames. The heads hit the dirt with a plastic thud, and I crossed my fingers before turning around to check if Jaime had seen me.
“Come early on Sunday,” he shouted, from where he stood by the chicken table. “And tell your mom you’ve almost earned half a chicken.”
“I’ll tell her,” I said. When Jaime turned around, I collected the heads from the dirt, and took them to Marianella for her cats.
“Can you see me through the clouds and through the leaves, Niño Jesús? I’m sitting on the thick mango root that’s cracking the foundation of the house.” I looked, saw no lightning, and went on. “I took from Jaime today; three chicken heads. I’m sorry if you’re angry with me. But old cats shouldn’t go hungry because Marianella has no money to buy trash. Amén.”
Process Note: I started rereading Magaly Guerrero’s Pagan Culture, my first blog. With “I Confess to Stealing Three Chicken Heads”, I’ve tried to capture one of the motifs that inspired the first post I ever wrote, back in the spring of 2009. I’ve posted the original entry, after the visual art; some typos have been corrected, but everything else remains the same.
“Take Control of Your Life”, by Gina Morley
A Tale of Mythology and Paganism
by Magaly Guerrero
(First published on Pagan Culture (May 5, 2009); an edited version was also published on the Witchvox, under the title “A Witch Brewing among Catholics” (August 28, 2011).
The church looked amazing. The altar was adorned with huge candelabras, roses and tulips, and there were chains of white daisies draped all around the pews. Our catechism teacher told us that Father Elias was going to marry a couple after he was done with us. I was a little confused because it was Wednesday afternoon, and I thought people got married during Sunday mass.
I looked at my watch. I had been sitting on a wooden pew for over an hour. My butt was numb.
“You’re next.” Manuel Tapia’s voice made me jump. He was the oldest boy in my catechism group, and I had a crush on him. I confessed it to God as soon as I realized I liked him. I wasn’t sure if liking Manuel was a sin, but I told God anyway, just to be safe.
I walked to the confession booth rubbing the stiffness off my behind. I prayed it recovered before I got there. Please God let the chair have some padding. My poor butt couldn’t take any more pew torture.
I got to the booth, climbed three steps, and took a look. Crap! Another wooden pew. I stood very still waiting for my punishment, and then I guessed that saying—or thinking—the word “crap” in church wasn’t a sin because God didn’t strike me on the spot. I sat on the accursed pew.
“You have to kneel.”
“Crap!” Father Elias scared the living Jesus out of me. For a moment, I believed God had decided that saying ‘crap’ in his house was a sin after all, and I was about to get it. But it wasn’t God. The putrid breath seeping through the tiny screened window belonged to a familiar mortal.
“I won’t tolerate that kind of language in the house of God.” Father Elias moved so closed to the window that I could see his angry little eyes. I wanted to protest and tell him that God hadn’t said anything, and it was his house. But Father Elias’s stench made me dizzy, so I just nodded.
“Well?” asked Father Elias impatiently. “Didn’t you learn how to confess? You need to kneel.”
“But I don’t have anything to confess. I ask God for forgiveness as soon as I make a mistake.”
“Insolent girl! You can’t confess without a priest!”
I stared at the livid man thanking God for the screened window. Father Elias would have probably spat all over my face if it wasn’t for it. He continued ranting and I continued to stare without listening. My mind’s voice was screaming too. Why do I need a priest to confess my sins? Why would I share anything with this lunatic? Why am I here? Will my mom be mad if I leave? One question actually crossed my lips: “Why can’t I talk to my God on my own?”
Father Elias was in my face a couple of seconds later. “Get out. Go talk to your teacher and tell her you are not ready. I will speak to her later. Send in whoever is next.”
I walked out of the booth and looked at my best friend, Dahlia, who had been seating behind me, waiting for her turn. I froze. What kind of friend would I be, if I let her face this crazy man without warning? Help me, God.
“Well?” Father Elias spat into my thoughts.
I looked at the condemning fire in his eyes, and I knew that I had to do something, and do it fast. I took off running.
I ran until my lungs ordered me to stop. I found a tree to lean on, and waited for my breath to catch up.
“Maggy, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”
It was Ms. Toledo, the town librarian. She was always nice to me. I touched my face and realized she was right. I was crying. I told her everything as we walked to the library. When we got there, Ms. Toledo offered me a chair, but I declined.
She let out a long sigh. “Oh, don’t worry too much. It’s not the end of the world.”
I knew she was trying to help, but she didn’t see Father Elias’s face. She wasn’t there when he told me that I wasn’t ready. Ready for what anyway? And why didn’t he answer my question?
Ms. Toledo must have read my mind because she said, “Tell you what, I’ll have a word with Father Elias.”
I gave her a pained look, and said, “Thanks.” I just wasn’t sure if that was the best idea.
She walked away and I thought about stopping her. She should know that Father Elias wouldn’t listen. I gathered some courage and was ready to go find her, but she came back before I had a chance to move.
“Here,” she whispered. “Take it home. Come back next week and tell me what you think.”
The excitement of taking a book home made me forget all about Father Elias, sins, and confessions. You see, the library in my town was so small that it couldn’t allow people to check out books. So taking the book with me was an adventure, especially because I didn’t own any books. My family was too poor, so we couldn’t afford them. That’s why I was such good friends with Ms. Toledo. I used to spend as much time in the library as I was allowed, in order to finish a book.
I thanked Ms. Toledo and left with a smile on my face. I walked the three miles from the library to my house, taking glances at the book every now and then, but not daring to open it. What if I dropped it and ruined it?
I got home, climbed my favorite mango tree, and opened my borrowed treasure. I read about ancient Gods—males and females—who interacted with their worshipers. I learned about ancient times when humanity lived in harmony with the earth, when people revered the moon and the sun and these Old Powers listened; times when people believed in the power of their own energy.
I enjoyed the book so much that I was really sad when Monday came and I had to return it. But my sadness didn’t last because Ms. Toledo replaced the book. The new title was filled with Gods from all over the world. Some of the Gods were terrible and scary, but I loved learning about them too.
I didn’t start practicing Paganism right there and then. I was only eleven. But it was in the yellowish pages of a mythology book where I found explanations for things I already believed in. I created this blog in order to explore what else is out there. Also, to figure out how my early readings have affected/influenced my writing.
Why do you blog?