Art: Whisper Road by Jamie Johnson
Story: La Puerta Verde by Margot Mona
La Puerta Verde
The small group of banditos lay down to rest for the night deep in the hills of what is now El Paso, Texas. The men were exhausted and battered from a recent run-in with the federados and needed to find a more permanent shelter soon in order to replenish their strength.
Though he was exhausted from the events of the previous days, Carlos found it difficult to surrender to sleep that night. He lay awake for hours watching the stars blinking in the vast desert sky above, thinking about home and the life he left behind many years ago.
Carlos had been orphaned at 15 when the federados came through his small village and demanded his father, a humble tejedor, pay taxes to the government. When Carlos’s father was unable to pay, the federados came in the night and took his mother and father away. Carlos had spent that night out under the stars in the desert, as he often did, and returned in the morning to an empty home.
He left his village the following morning and eventually joined a small group of banditos, resisters of the federados. He had been living a tumultuous nomadic life ever since. The mere notion of home was a novel concept to him.
Though he had spent so many years living life this way, lately Carlos had been dreaming of having a home. He saw glimpses of it in his dreams but could not fathom a way to touch it. He was a wanted man, and did not see himself fitting in anywhere but the open road. Where is there a home for a man who belongs nowhere?
Eventually, Carlos’s eyes closed and his mind drifted into sleep. He dreamt again of the green door. Of placing his open palm on its surface and pushing it open. He felt the warmth coming from inside the home and the welcoming fire that was burning there. He could smell the spices and the warm scent of fresh tortillas. But as always, he woke up just as he was walking through the door.
His waking was unpleasant as Diego was pouring a flask of water over his face, “Wake up comrade! We have to keep moving!” Carlos shook the water from his face and glared at Diego, nodding curtly.
The group headed west through the rolling, desert hills. In the distance they could see the peaks of the purple mountains, shimmering in the morning sun. “We will find shelter there,” Diego said to the group, “There is an old woman, a bruja. She lives in the purple mountains and she will give us shelter and protect us from the federados.”
The men had no choice but to believe him, afterall, they had nowhere else to go and no other hope to cling to. They walked all day through the hills. Their water reserves were running low and Carlos began to feel his legs shaking beneath him. His breathing became ragged and heavy with each step he took. Just when he thought his legs might give out from beneath him, Diego called out, “There! We must go that way!”
At the base of the looming purple mountains before them, about a mile in the distance, Carlos could just make out a small cave. There appeared to be a fire lit and burning bright within. Carlos shook his head, afraid he was imagining things. How did they suddenly come so close to the mountains? It was as if the mountains were pulling the group into them, ready to swallow the men whole. They pressed on in the direction of the cave.
As they came closer, Carlos heard the singing voice of a woman, soft and lilting. He began to make out the shape of an older woman, hunched over dancing around the fire and stirring a pot of something that smelled delicious and earthy.
As they approached the old woman she called out to them, “Ah, amigos, come sit around my fire and talk with me. I have been expecting you.”
Diego greeted the old woman first, bowing before her on one knee and kissing her hand, “Gracias, mujer.”
“De nada,” she replied, “Sit, sit!”
The men did as she instructed and sat in a circle around her fire at the mouth of the cave that was her home. She passed around clay bowls to each of them and ladeled soup into each bowl. The soup immediately filled Carlos’s empty belly with warmth and contentment.
“Tell me the story of your journey.” The old woman insisted once each man had eaten his fill. Diego began to regail her with tales of their journey and encounter with the federados. When he mentioned them, the old woman spat on the ground. Slowly, one by one, Carlos watched the men begin to fall asleep around the fire. Even as he was speaking, Diego’s eyes began to flutter shut and soon he was fast asleep and snoring. Only Carlos remained awake. He met the eyes of the old woman across the fire.
“There is something I must ask of you, Carlos.” The old woman said. Carlos looked at her in wonder. How had she come to know his name?
“It is about my daughter, Christina. She is in danger. You must go to her first thing in the morning. She lives in the village that is south of here. The federados are coming for her tomorrow. You must get there before they take her. She is to marry one of their officers and I will not allow it.”
All Carlos could do was nod in response. How could he say no to this woman who had given him food and shelter? Although he was afraid of leaving his brothers, somehow he knew this was a journey he must begin alone.
As the first beams of light touched the dry, red earth the next morning, Carlos opened his eyes. He looked around to see the group of men all slumbering deeply. The old woman was nowhere in sight. Carlos picked up his belt holding his pistol and rolled up the blanket he was sleeping on. Just then, he heard the sound of a horse nickering. He looked up and saw a beautiful white mare standing just a kilometer away from where he stood. She was fitted with reins and a bridle. Carlos went to her, putting his blanket over her back and patting her softly. He mounted her and she began riding instinctively south toward the village the old woman had spoken of.
They had been walking for two hours when Carlos could make out the roofs of small, adobe homes in the distance. They looked like crooked, white teeth on the crest of a hill. The mare picked up her pace to a trot and she and Carlos rode into the quiet village. Carlos could hear the sound of doves cooing in the morning stillness. He had a strange feeling, like he had been to this place before, though he knew not how that could be true.
They passed by the homes, one at a time. “But how should I know which one is her’s?” Carlos murmured to himself. Just then he saw it, the home with the door that was painted green. “Woah!” Carlos exclaimed. The mare halted just in front of the green door. Carlos jumped to the ground and walked slowly toward it. Already he could smell spices cooking and fresh tortillas. “I’m home,” he thought to himself for the first time in years. Carlos placed his palm on the green door, his heart was pounding. He pushed open the door and squinted in the dim light of the home. He saw the figure of a beautiful woman standing next to the hearth, she was humming and sewing something. Carlos stepped into the home and cleared his throat, smiling shyly. The woman looked up from her sewing, her cheeks became flushed at the sight of Carlos standing in the doorway.
“So, you’ve come for me.” She said.