Hello internet. My name is Magdalena, I’m 66 years young, and yesterday I had four pins and a plate installed in my ankle. “Installed”... like I’m a Volkswagen or something. I shouldn’t complain; Doctor Mandy, my orthopedic surgeon, says I’m lucky I still have a leg at all.
Now, I told Doctor Mandy I tripped on a spade I’d left in my herb garden; just a clumsy old lady not looking where she’s going. When I told him this, he couldn’t believe it, pointing out that my x-rays don’t match the injuries that come with a fall. The fractures are too severe for a simple fall. He thinks the fractures are a sign that my bones are becoming too fragile. That I’m becoming weak at my age.
But that’s not why my injuries don’t match my story. They don't match because I’m lying about what happened.
My bones aren’t weak and neither am I. Soy un mujer fuerte, I am a strong woman. A weak woman wouldn’t come to this country alone at fifteen years old with just two dollars in my pocket and mi abuela’s rosary around my neck. The two dollars were quickly spent but my rosary is still with me today... gracias a Dios.
A weak woman wouldn’t have left the pinche cabrón (perdóname, Dios) that I had married. A weak woman wouldn’t have raised two beautiful children alone. A weak woman wouldn’t attend night school to become a middle school geography teacher. All on her own. I couldn’t have done any of this if I were fragile. But that’s what people like Doctor Mandy assume of someone like me; that we’re fragile in both body and mind.
That’s why I’ve been lying... when you get to be my age, people think you’re weak in body and that your senses are too dull to be trusted... that you are too old to be believed.
Well, my vision hasn’t changed since I was 40, I hear just fine, and I finish my sudoku books in a day or two. But I’m old still an old woman with an unbelievable story... which is why I’m scared people will dismiss what happened to me. I’m scared that they’ll hear my story and no longer see me, Magdalena the retired teacher and abuela, but an elderly woman who can no longer live independently.
Which is why I haven’t even told mis niños I’m in the hospital.
Alvin lives in California and Ellena lives in Canada, very far from their mama. Ever since I retired, they've worried about me living alone in rural upstate New York. It wasn't always a problem, not until lockdowns and travel restrictions. Visiting used to be easy but... we haven’t seen one another face-to-face since last Thanksgiving. We do the FaceTime but it’s not the same... sometimes it makes things worse when I tell them about the aches and pains I feel after my afternoon walks or tending my herb garden. I tell them it’s only natural and that I’m okay but ellos son mis hijos and they worry.
But know this; I’m not afraid to tell my kids what happened because I think they’ll put me somewhere with nurses and medicines... I’m afraid they’ll take the next plane out here to be with me. It’s ironic, I haven’t seen them in so long and miss them so much but I can’t let them come here. Not yet... not until the new moon.
Despite my fears of how Doctor Mandy and my children will react, lying is a sin and I can’t keep the truth hidden any longer. That’s why I’m telling the internet what happened.
My hope is that by writing this out, I’ll find the right way to tell everyone the truth. Especially my kids. I hate lying to them so much... even it’s to keep them safe...
I also hope that maybe I’ll find someone who has had a similar experience. Someone who can back up my story so I don’t sound like a crazy old lady... maybe someone who knows how I can protect mi familia and myself from Mr. Burbank and the people he changed. People like the Horowitz’s.
I suppose I should start with them, Jim and Parvati Horowitz, my only neighbors.
The Horowitz's and I lived in a town called Puckwudgie Valley. It’s rural but not the cornfields and planes type of rural but the hills and trees type rural. Ours were the only two houses on Barlowe Road, a single-lane gravel road that cuts through dense wilderness. Barlowe goes for about two and a half miles with a mile of pines and bushes and deer crap separating mi casa from the Horowitiz’s home.
Like our homes, we weren’t very close. That isn’t to say there were bad feelings between me and the Horowitz’s, we just didn’t have much in common.
Jim and Parvati were work from home types in their 40’s and without children aside from their fat little shih-tsu, Tyson. They told me once their perrito was named after the famous boxer but I joked that it was because he eats Tyson fried chicken all day. They didn’t think it was funny. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why we didn’t talk much.
Regardless, I’m not a dog person and the only work I do from home is tending my herb garden. But the Horowitz’s were nice enough. Cordial if we happened to see one another but we never had a conversation last more than a minute or two.
Not until last Tuesday.
Last Tuesday was the season premiere of my favorite program on television: The Bachelorette. I like to watch it the night it airs so, for that reason, I had to make sure I finished everything I needed to do well beforehand. I did my morning prayers, I weeded my herb garden, I went to the library to say hello to Mr. Vaughn, did my daily walk down Barlowe, and I, of course, called my babies. So, by the time I was in front of the television with my camomile tea, I was very tired.
Then I heard a sound that was so loud and so unexpected I almost spilled my tea. It took me a few seconds to realize that the sound was my doorbell; I hadn’t heard someone ring it in so long I’d forgotten what it sounded like.
Now, my second favorite program is Law & Order: SVU and I’ve seen enough episodes to know that an unexpected visitor at night isn’t always a good thing. So, I got the bear mace I take with me on my walks and peaked through my curtains. It was Jim and Parvati standing beneath my porch light.
I set the bear mace aside, threw on my robe, and hurried to the door.
I thought it must be an emergency for them to show up at night, completely out of the blue. Then I opened the door, careful to keep the outer screen door closed to keep with social distancing. I quickly learned there was no emergency... just two big, warm smiles. I had never seen these two so alive and enthusiastic and happy.
“Magdalena! We’re so happy you’re home! How are you?”, said Parvati the moment I appeared behind the screen door.
“Doing great, we hope!”, chimed Jim.
Now, you know how some older people say things like “I lived through the 70’s” whenever they see someone they think is on marijuana? Well, I lived through the 80’s in the Bronx so I know when someone is on coke. It gave me a feeling that things weren’t right... but, well, it was a chance for conversation, face-to-face conversation, so...
“I’m okay. Tired, but okay.” I said. “But are you two okay? You’ve never visited me this late at night.”, I continued, leaving out the fact that they had never visited me, period, in the ten or so years I’d been living there.
“We’re great!”, replied Parvati. “We just wanted to personally invite you to a cookout we’re having this Friday.”
“It’d be great to have you.”, added Jim.
“And, before you ask, yes, all our guests are completely vaccinated and we’ll be outdoors the whole time. You won’t have a single thing to worry about.”, said Parvati in reassuring tones.
I was very surprised. Not just because of the invitation but because I pass Jim and Parvati’s home on my afternoon walks to Oberland’s Watch and the only cars I’d seen in their driveway were their Range Rovers. They never have anyone over their house, ever. So to hear they were hosting a cookout with multiple guests, was surprising. Of course, they might have had parties in the past but I was never invited.
“Oh, that sounds nice. Is it a special occasion?”, I asked.
“A friend of ours is in town.”, said Parvati. I noticed she started fidgeting with a gold ring tied to a leather string hanging from her neck. Now, I know I didn’t see these people often but I’d seen Parvati enough to know she didn’t wear any jewelry aside from her wedding ring and fancy iPod watch.
“That is very nice of you. Your friend must be very special to earn a cookout.” I said, glancing at her necklace.
“He is. And he’s older, like you. You should come and meet him.”, said Jim.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the statement. ‘Older like you’ didn’t sound very flattering... but, again, the opportunity to meet new people...
“I’d love to.”, I replied with a smile I couldn’t help.
“That’s great!”, Jim blurted out.
“You’ve made our night, Magdalena, we’re so happy you said yes.”, beamed Parvati, still fingering the ring dangling around her neck. I finally took the bait.
“That’s a lovely necklaces, Parvati.”, I said, assuming that this is where Parvati wanted the conversation to go. “Is it an anniversary gift?” I asked, referencing its resemblance to a wedding band.
“These? Oh, they’re from our friend we mentioned.”, chuckled Jim as he pulled his own, the ring tucked beneath his sweatshirt. It was identical to his wife’s.
“They’re called moon dials. Aren’t they pretty?”, said Parvati as she held it up for me to see. I leaned closer for a better look, my nose a few inches from the screen door that separated us. It was the most beautiful, gaudy, ugliest thing I’d ever seen. My eyes were glued to it.
Even though the moon dial looked like a wedding ring, it was too big to fit on an average person’s finger. Even if someone could wear it as a ring, it wouldn’t be comfortable as it was as thick as a car’s lug nuts.
I also noticed it wasn’t a solid piece of gold but made of three sections, kind of like a hamburger. The ‘bread’ was polished gold and between them was a band of rough, dark ebony wood. I noticed a small, point of red light flash on the wooden portion’s surface. It was a red ruby, no bigger than a pinhead, set in the ebony.
“Oh, very pretty.” I said, both meaning it and not. “Now I have to meet your friend if he gives jewelry as presents.” I joked.
“It’s more than just jewelry, it uses the moon to tell the time. Come outside, we’ll show you.”, said Jim, a hint of seriousness to his voice.
Whether it was because I was interested or compelled, I’m not sure, but I was seriously considering the offer. Gracias a Dios I was saved my a voice behind me...
“Tonight, on the season premiere of The Bachelorette!“, I looked over my shoulder. My program was starting. I turned back to my neighbors.
“That’s alright, maybe you can show me some other time.”
Jim and Parvati’s expressions dropped. Smiles and bright eyes were replaced by pursed lips and annoyed stares.
“Are you sure?”, asked Jim in obvious disappointment.
“Yes, I’m sure, Jim.”
“But aren’t you lonely, Magdalena? Don’t you want to spend more time with us?” asked Parvati, concerned and more than a little condescending.
“Mira, niña; it’s eight o’clock at night, my program is starting, the arthritis in my hips is yelling at me to sit my behind down, my tea is getting cold, but it’s now you want to keep me company? If you’re so worried about me being alone then where were you yesterday or last month or last year!?!”
That’s what I wanted to say...
but I didn’t want to be rude and risk my invitation. So, instead I said, “I’m sorry but my answer is still no. Your moon dials look lovely but I’ve had a long day and need my rest. Tomorrow I’ll stop by on my walk. Okay?”
It took a second or two before the Horowitz’s cokehead smiles returned.
“Wonderful! We’ll see you tomorrow then.”, said Parvati.
“Good night, see you tomorrow.” I said as I started to close my door. “And thank you for inviting me. That’s very nice of you.”
“You’re welcome!” They said in unison.
I locked the deadbolt before they made it off my stoop.
I got to my couch just in time for the first bachelors to arrive at the mansion and meet the Bachelorette. It happens every season and it’s very funny but, more importantly, it happens outside the mansion, at night. I say this because on the television screen, as the Bachelorette chit-chatted with a man who I don’t think is right for her, you could see the night sky. It was a full moon.
Seeing the big, full moon on the television reminded me of that night’s weather forecast; cloudy with a chance of rain. That means there weren’t any stars out and certainly no moon when Jim and Parvati were here. So, if these moon dials need the moon to work, why would they want me to come outside to show me if there wasn’t a single star in the sky?
Then one of the bachelors arrived in a fire truck. I let the question go and enjoyed my program, not realizing that I would end up outside later that evening... when I first met him... it.
It started raining a little after my program ended. It was my favorite kind of rain; not so hard that it makes the whole house noisy but not so light that it dots the windows with raindrops that make it hard to see outside. It was in the middle, the kind of rain that makes sleep come easy. Which it did, I was sound asleep until just after midnight when the sound of crashing woke me.
It was a muffled CRASH, then a second would pass... then another CRASH, and another second... and so on. I realized it was coming from my backyard. Something was messing with my herb garden, smashing the clay pots that held my mint and camomile plants one by one.
Now, I’m no stranger to deer or squirrels or other animalitos searching my garden for a snack, which is why I put my plants under these chicken wire domes that I bought at the Wal-Mart. On occasion they manage to knock a pot over but it’s rare between the domes and the flood light. Even then, it’s a single pot, maybe two, not one after the other after the other. So, my mind went to bears.
I thought about calling the police or animal control first but hearing each pot shatter made my heart ached more and more. I loved my herb garden; the work it took to be rewarded with life brought me joy. I felt I had to protect it.
So, I rolled out of bed and hurried to mi casa’s back door.
The smashing stopped the moment I reached the back door and peaked through its window. The flood lights were on so something was definitely back there. Now, my garden is tucked in a corner, that’s too far for the floodlight to reach but I was hoping I’d see whatever had been ruining my plants run through the light as it ran into the woods. All I saw was wet grass, dead leaves, and falling rain.
With the sounds of destruction over, I figured the vandal was gone. I couldn’t wait until sunrise to check the damage. I slipped a rain coat over my pajamas, took a flashlight and a fresh canister of bear mace, and went outside prepared for rain, bears, and heartbreak.
I shined my flashlight from the safety of my porch. I was shocked to see my herb garden was completely fine. Figuring my eyes hadn’t adjusted to the dark, I crossed the backyard for a closer look. Every pot was still in place, every cover undisturbed.
Then I was slapped with a smell that made me flinch. Dios mio it was terrible; like the bottom of a dumpster and stale sweat miseducating together. I covered my nose and turned for my home, thinking a skunk was nearby.... but as I turned, I saw something in the distant tree line. They were eyes... two large eyes glowing in amber-gold watching me from the dark.
Gracias a dios I don’t have a bad heart because I had never felt it pound the way it did that night. These eyes were ten feet above the ground and set into the face of something very, very big. Much bigger than a black bear.
My hands trembled, shaking the flashlight with it. With the beam dancing around like it was, the hundred or so yards between us, and how hidden it was between the trees, I wasn’t able to make out any details other than the thing’s size and its eyes.
But it wasn’t its size that had me so scared, it was its eyes... or I should say I was scared of what was behind its eyes. It was studying me.
This thing wasn’t looking at me with the wide, unblinking eyes you’d expect from a forest animal deciding whether to run or fight, it was analyzing me like a person would... like its narrowed eyes weren’t just reading me but the fine print of who I was, where I came from, what I loved, and hated.
Then I heard branches snap. It was walking toward me, pushing aside the brush it hid behind. I swear I felt the ground shake. I froze, too afraid to move.
Then I heard growling... something was tugging at my pajama’s pant leg. I screamed and looked down. It was Tyson, the Horowitz’s chubby shih-tsu, using all his might to pull me away.
My instincts took over. I dropped my bear mace to scoop up the perrito and ran inside with him in my arms.
I slammed the door shut, locked it, and looked out the window. I was expecting to see a giant charge out of the forest but it hadn’t moved. It was still there, a little closer but still keeping to the dark. Still watching me.
I was still terrified even though I was indoors. That’s when I noticed that the shape of its eyes had changed. They were smaller now, like it was squinting. I realized it was smiling... it was amused by my fear.
I believed I was looking at the Devil himself so, I hurried to my bedroom, grabbed my abuela’s rosary from my bedside table and prayed for protection while I called 9-1-1. Tyson hid under my coffee table.
I watched the thing the entire time I was on the phone with the dispatcher, clutching my rosary to my heart. I prayed the entire time. It wasn’t until an hour later that the thing shut its eyes and vanished, like the dark absorbed it. I thought my prayers had overpowered the demonio until a second later. Officer Retting had arrived, knocking on my front door.
Now, remember what I said about people not listening to you when you reach a certain age? Well, I made the mistake of telling Officer Retting everything down to insisting I had met the devil himself... I’d later learn I wasn’t too far off.
But Officer Retting thought my eyes and ears were playing tricks on me and assured me it was just a black bear even though I knew it wasn’t. I eventually convinced him to take his gun and check.
I watched Officer Retting half-heartedly approach the tree line, shine his powerful flashlight into the woods, and half-heartedly scan the trees. He returned a few minutes later. I knew he’d already decided there wasn’t anything there before he even clicked on his flashlight.
It was four in the morning when he left. I start my day at five so I didn’t return to bed. Not that I could sleep. Instead I kept praying in my living room, lighting mis novena candles so that todos los santos saw me while Dios heard me. Tyson fell asleep beside me.
I have to stop here.
Not because I want to but because I have to since I haven't taken my painkillers. In fact, I haven’t taken them at all since surgery; I don’t want there to be any doubt that I am of sound mind. But, right now, I’m feeling it and need to rest and pray for the strength to continue.
They haven't told me exactly how long but I will be in the hospital for a while. I'll have the time to come back and explain what happened the next day when I went to return Tyson to Jim and Parvati... and how I met their friend, Mr. Burbank... the one who had been watching me.