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The Gift

by Roberto Sanhueza

Part 1
Part 2
in this issue.

The odd thing about the next few days is that there wasn’t anything odd about them. I kept expecting something terrible to happen, but it was school as usual. Even Fatty was more civil than usual. Patty and me seemed to have an unspoken agreement not to mention “Wedake Dangü,” and in fact I saw very little of her those days.

It was too peaceful and perfect. It couldn’t last, and it didn’t. Wednesday morning, Fatty didn’t show up at school and soon I heard the rumor he’d had an accident coming to school . His mother was driving him to school as usual when they were hit by a delivery truck, Fatty’s side of the car had taken most of the hit, and he was pretty badly hurt in intensive care at the hospital. His mother had only minor injuries.

I felt my guts wrenching inside me, just like a cold hand had grabbed me inside, and fear took hold of me. We had gone too far...

I got ahold of Patty on our way home. She was cool and unconcerned, “It’s what you wanted, isn’t it?” And if I read any expression on her face, it was contempt. “You’re not going chicken on me, are you? Besides, who’s gonna believe you?”

Who indeed. I stood aside and watched her go. I felt very lonely and guilty. The cold hand didn’t seem to let go of my guts.

That night Patty called me on the phone, as she had done so many times before this whole thing began. She sounded almost like the Patty of some weeks before; she was nice and chatty and conciliating.

“Don’t panic, Rolo, we are into something big here. You gotta keep your cool and it’ll be just fine. No way anybody can link this to us.”

“Yeah, I know that, but that’s not what worries me. I feel guilty about it. This cursing business just can’t be right.“

“Don’t be silly. They had it coming to them. We didn’t start it.”

“I know that, too, but that doesn’t make it easier, either. It’s just too much power in your hands, Patty.”

“And we haven’t tried all of it, Rolo, I’ve got the feeling I can do a “Wedake Dangü” in real time. The person will be cursed as we proceed and not afterwards as up till now.”

“You can’t be serious. You’re not gonna try that bit any more, are you?”

Slight hesitation. “Of course not... besides, nobody’s been mean to me, and I don’t think any good friend of mine would betray me. Don’t you agree Rolo?”

But somehow it didn’t sound true to my ears. If anything, there was a not very subtle threat in her words, and I didn’t feel happier when she hang up.

Fatty didn’t get worse, but he didn’t get any better either. He just lay in a coma without signs of recovery. Miss Sarmiento, our head teacher, asked us to pray for Fatty (Alberto, she said) and the whole school went to a mass held for Fatty’s recovery.

I only felt gloomier and gloomier, I couldn’t help remembering I had asked Patty not to kill Fatty; well, she hadn’t but... was this any better?

My mom asked me what was the matter with me. My school grades were dropping, and I was obviously losing weight. But there was nothing I could say to her, nothing that would make sense anyway. Miss Sarmiento wondered, too. She asked me to her office “for a talk.”

“Rolando,” she said, “something is worrying you and you show it. You hardly laugh these days, and you just stay by yourself at lunch and between classes. I haven’t even seen you hanging around with Patty lately. Did you have a disagreement with her?”

She obviously thought we were going steady. I get a lot of that, but it wasn’t like that. I just shook my head.

Then she came closer and sat beside me. “Do you feel guilty about Alberto?”

Hey! That was close!

She held my head up and looked into my eyes. “I know he was mean to you, I know he attacked you in the park — yeah, don’t look so surprised, one of his buddies told me about it. I also know you must have hated him, and you must have wished him ill, but that is a long way from feeling you had anything to do with his accident.”

That was too much, I broke down and cried like a child in her arms, it felt good, it felt like that heavy hand was letting go of my guts. I didn’t tell her what had actually happened, she wouldn’t have believed me anyway, but I didn’t need to. I just needed to let go.

I left the office feeling lighter than I had in days but that only lasted until I saw Patty watching me from the other side of the hall, she came over and she was looking mean. “What were you and that bitch talking about?”

“Hey, hold it! That’s none of your business!”

“It is too! You’re supposed to be my friend and not to squeal on me!”

“I wasn’t talking about you! The world doesn’t spin around you, you know!”

I could see Patty’s effort to calm down. I was shaking, furious too.

“All right,” she said, “I’ll take your word for it, but keep in mind I have ways to deal with those who cross me.” And she turned her back on me and went her way.

The gloomy feeling returned, wouldn’t this ever end?

Next morning Patty called in sick, an alarm bell started ringing in my head and it didn’t stop all morning, I just didn’t believe it, what was she up to?

Lunch time, just a couple of hours more and this school day would be over. I planned to drop by at Patty’s on my way home to find out if she was really ill or she was up to something.

I was taking my tray across the cafeteria when the commotion started, it was over at the teachers table and from where I stood I could see Miss Sarmiento standing, hands to her throat and a look of utter terror in her face. She was choking!

Everybody ran to help her, not me, I dropped the tray and ran the other way.

I knew perfectly well what was happening. Hell! I was the only one who knew what was really happening!

I ran, I ran like I had never run in my life, past the school door — the janitor saw me pass by, mouth open in awe — past the park to Patty’s house.

The door was miraculously open, by the corner of my eyes I saw the new maid, head down watering the front yard flowers, she must have left it open. I stormed in, up the stairs to Patty’s room, I slammed the door open and sure enough, there she was sitting down in the middle of the room, cross legged and with all the curtains closed, to the sick yellowish light of a candle.

I screamed and rammed her yelling “No you don’t! Not anymore!”

She looked up, but the face in front of me wasn’t like the one I knew. It was a rage twisted mask, eyes deeply set in shadowy holes, mouth frothing in hellish anger.

She laughed, but her laughter sounded like no laughter I’ve ever heard.

“You scum!” she roared, “You worried for your sweet bitch? That’ll teach you not to double-cross me!”

She got up, and although Patty’s not any taller than I am, she seemed to loom over me. I felt the world going away on me. Out of breath I fell against the wall, and Patty came smiling hideously, hands extended in front of her.

“You can’t stop me. I trusted you and you turned against me, but now you’ll learn yourself what my curse is all about.”

I couldn’t breathe. I felt the air going out of my lungs and an awful weight threw me to my knees. Light seemed to go slowly out and the world was turning very dark for me, Patty’s laughter was a dim sound coming from very far away.

Then the door burst open once more, standing there was a woman, rather fat and dressed in full Mapuche traditional costume.


She had a diadem on her head; made of silver coins, she was beating a small drum and chanting in her language.

Patty shrieked and I felt the pressure let go of my chest.

Rosenda ignored me, she faced Patty and they stood there like two fighters, Rosenda all the time chanting her strange tune.

Darkness seemed to condense itself around Patty, like a big shadow surrounding her. Then that fearful shadow fell over Rosenda, but she didn’t hesitate, she just kept on beating her drum and chanting.

By then I was feeling a bit more like my usual self and I wondered how it was that nobody came over. I knew Patty’s parents were probably at work, but at least the new nanny should hear all the racket we were making. It then occurred to me that perhaps what was happening inside Patty’s room wasn’t perceived outside. Indeed the room itself seemed very weird, like it wasn’t quite in this world.

Rosenda stopped chanting and spoke to Patty in her native tongue, although Rosenda speaks perfect Spanish. I understood her though; I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but I was sure Patty did, too.

“Be gone, creature of Cai-Cai Vilú!
Be gone in the name of Tren-Tren the Good Snake!
I am Rosenda Antimán,
Granddaughter of Fresia,
the great Machi of Huenqueleuquén!
The light of Tren-Tren shines through me.

Patty threw her head back and her laughter turned into a howl. The hood of shadows around her focused in one point above Rosenda and it came down, hitting like a huge dark hammer on her. But the shadows never touched her. They dissolved and split like dark sparks around Rosenda, and all of a sudden the world seemed to return.

I heard the sounds outside the room, I saw the sunshine through the closed curtains, and I saw Patty lying unconscious in Rosenda’s arms. Rosenda had tears in her eyes as she held Patty tight against her. She spoke to me: “Go now, young Rolando, I will take care of this poor child. Go now before somebody misses you at school. Everything will be fine, you’ll see.”

I didn’t quite know what to do, but I heard footsteps hurrying up the stairs, and Rosenda was right: it would be very hard to explain my absence from school if somebody found me here.

I climbed down from Patty’s window as I had done many times before, when we were just friends and classmates. I headed back to school and made it in time to the first class after lunch.

All this happened some weeks ago. Now it’s finally summer vacation. I try hard to pretend it was never real. Some times I come very close to convincing myself.

Miss Sarmiento is all right, she just had a bad scare with her choking, but she’s all right. Rosenda made the evening news and the morning papers too: they said, “Mapuche nanny attacks former employer’s daughter” and so on.

It seems she refused to declare anything when they found her holding Patty unconscious and now she’s in detention, awaiting trial.

Patty is still in a coma. I’ve been to see her at the hospital but she just lies there, a peaceful expression on her face.

The good news is — and I never thought I’d say this — Fatty is recovering from his accident and although he still has a long period before him to get well, he is getting better.

I go every other day to the hospital to visit Patty. Although I know she probably doesn’t know I’m there, I pray she gets back to the old Patty who was my friend. Sometimes I think I can see her eyes move, but maybe it’s just wishful thinking. I don’t know. I only know I miss her.

Copyright © 2007 by Roberto Sanhueza

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