Blood On the Roses
tatiana de la tierra
When the guerrillas came to The Beehive, more than a week had already passed with Katinka splayed out in bed, becoming a dreamer from devouring so many words. All the books were metaphysical: The Moment is Now, Autobiography of a Winged Woman, Positive Witchcraft, Drawing Down the Moon. Her stay at her aunt’s farm was a retreat from her fast city life, an attempt to become intimate with herself once again, a chance to detach from everything that confined her. She wanted to let herself be and she knew that if she didn’t do just that, she was on her way to a nervous breakdown. She wanted to be far from the bumper-to-bumper traffic, the air pollution, the cellular telephones, the armed guards stationed at the entrance to her apartment building. Far from her marriage, her executive suits, her high heels and cosmetics. Far from her life as she knew it and close to herself as she had once been.
Her aunt had warned her, “Be careful, there’s a rumor that the guerrillas are setting up camp in the nearby mountains. Why don’t you just stay in town, visit with your family?” But Katinka wouldn’t hear any of it.
She wanted to get away, to be at The Beehive all by herself. She had known the farm since she was a little girl. She had planted carrots in the garden, walked the trails into the mountains, collected guavas and lemons from the trees, picked blackberries off the vines and eaten them on the spot. She had been with her aunt in the rose garden for hours at a time while her aunt clipped leaves and spoke softly to her roses.
Katinka was also acquainted with the swarm of bees that The Beehive had been named after. The bees lived in the trunk of a tree in the hill at the base of the house. The trunk hummed like a lawnmower on a Saturday morning, and the bees attacked anyone who approached their colony. When the house was being built, the construction workers had tried to eradicate the bees with poisonous gases and even attempted to chop down the tree itself. But always, the bees stung the perpetrators and finally, the workers gave up. Ever since, the bees were proprietors of their space at the foot of the hill, and were the farm’s feisty mascots. The Beehive had a colorful
wooden railing that surrounded the main house. Katinka had painted the railing with alternating bold colors–yellow, purple, red, blue and green–when she was a teenager. The Beehive, with its faded kaleidoscopic railing, was to be her refuge.
But the guerrillas came. Katinka didn’t notice anything, though. At dawn, she opened the windows and doors so that the house would fill with the morning clouds. She listened for the song of the hummingbird as if it were a concert in her honor. She greeted the chickens, looked tenderly at the horses and cows, petted the dogs. In the mornings, Idalia, the head worker’s wife, brought her freshly-baked corn arepas with hot foamy chocolate. Later in the day she would bring her a stew, dulce de leche, red beans with rice and plantains.
Katinka gazed at the velvet mountains and listened to the wind, the rush of water from a nearby cascade, the buzz of the bees. She walked down the hill and picked chamomile, basil and spearmint from the herb garden. She smudged the house with eucalyptus, lit beeswax candles, and meditated. She prayed for her life, for her desire to live. In The Beehive she began to feel like she was someone else, someone in love with oxygen, the most basic element of life. She let herself enjoy the simple things–the aroma of roses, wood, lemon grass. She spent hours reading in bed, learning rituals to strengthen her internal power. She recited her affirmations aloud: I am strong, independent and powerful. I am strong, independent and powerful. I am…
At sunset she sat in the rocking chair to be present for the spectacle of a sky that lit up with a subtle play of colors–orange, amethyst, a gray cloud tinged with blood red, the horizon bathed in translucent pink. At night she went outside to bid the stars goodnight. Katinka was in paradise. She seemed like a figure in a new age watercolor painting, her hair and breasts loose, her white gown trailing around her bare feet, her face serene and inclined at the stars. She extended her arms and opened the palms of her hands towards the sky to receive its cosmic energy.
But the guerrillas came. There was no one to warn her because she had been fasting for three days and had asked Idalia to please leave her alone; Idalia was tending to her own family and didn’t know anything was amiss. Katinka’s meditations were intensifying with the herbal waters that she was drinking and the hits of marijuana that she inhaled. While her body detoxified, Katinka saw with more clarity than ever. Most of all, she saw that she was the owner of her reality. From reading the books she had learned the fundamentals of magic–how to impregnate candle with intention, how to mark a circle of protection invoking earth, air, water, fire and spirit, and how to offer blood and honey to the goddess. Now, she walked in the nude in the house and in the mountains, menstruated and let her blood flow freely out of her. She spoke with the birds and forged friendships with the chickens. She adopted one of the chickens as her mascot and let her cluck freely inside the house. For the first time in her life, Katinka wore no masks and felt like she was coming back to herself. She looked in the mirror and saw a woman reinvented. She loved what she saw.
It was nighttime and it was too late. The guerrillas were already there. They tied up the workers and held them at gunpoint. They silenced the dogs and surrounded the house. They knew that the woman was alone in the house, that her husband owned a cellular phone company and that once in their hands, the bourgeois woman would be worth a hefty sum of money. They knew that she was from the city, that she was vacationing in the countryside. “An easy pick,” they had decided, so the commander stayed in another farm and sent five of his men to capture the prisoner. One was stationed by the side of the road near the entrance of The Beehive while another one pointed a gun to the workers’ heads. Another watched from the woods behind the house, and the other two approached the house from the front. They were there to get her.
The two men punched the doors with their fists, pounding a war drum that resonated over the night’s silence. A chicken clucked in response. The house was dark and the woman didn’t stir. They pounded on the door again and yelled, “Open the door, you bourgeois bitch.” No response. They squinted through the iron railings, trying to see something, anything, through the windows. Was it possible that she wasn’t there? But they knew that she was because they had been keeping vigil on the house for several days and knew that she had not traveled into town. They pounded again. And again. They snorted, huffed, kicked at the door, produced adrenaline, became furious.
They broke the windows with the butts of their guns. The glass fell and chimed to the floor. They blew away the lock, kicked the door open.
Then they found her. She was in the nude, surrounded by candles and roses. She sat on the floor with her legs crossed beneath her, vines intertwined in her hair, blood smeared over her entire body. Blood dripped from her lips, down her neck, traveled in a thin line between her breasts. Her open palms were bloody, and blood pooled on the floor around her. Her eyes were closed. She inhaled and exhaled very slowly, her chest rising and lowering with each breath. The cadaver of a chicken surrounded by white roses lay at her feet.
“She’s a witch!”
“Let’s kill her!”
“She’s worth more alive than dead!”
“Let’s get out of here!”
“You dimwit, we have orders!”
“I’m not getting near that witch!”
“You’re going to follow orders, you faggot!”
They picked up the cross-legged prisoner between the two of them, hoisting her by the thighs on either side. She was sticky and she stunk. They extended their arms to avoid as much contact as possible. They put away their guns, knocked down candles, became entangled in the vines, slipped in honey and flattened roses. Drops of blood and beeswax fell on their boots. They carried the beast towards the woods behind the house, where the others awaited them.
Katinka opened her eyes in the darkness. Emitted a war cry and jumped to the ground. She ran downhill and followed the buzzing of the bees, barefoot, naked and bloody. She flew with her hair loose, her face shiny with honey, with her blood pumping life. She looked like a portrait of a woman with wings.
originally written in spanish. translated al inglés 16 de diciembre de 1998, melrose, florida.
de la tierra, tatiana. “Blood on the Roses.” Flyway Literary Review 5.3 (2000): 79-82.