December 2013

Sacrifice

     The baby taunted her with a sloppy grin. She bathed him in the bathroom sink, carefully cleaning his face and chest, his penis and legs and feet.
     A devil whispered in her ear. “Lorena, you’re mine.”
      “What about my husband?”
     The devil’s laugh was the sound of a thousand innocents wailing in sorrow. “Michael resides in the deepest pit of hell.”
     “Not true.”
     “Would I lie?”
     There was a sudden sickness in her womb, and tears fell down her cheeks. Though she hated to cry in front of a visitor, she couldn’t stop herself.
     The devil licked the tears with a forked tongue. His breath was surprisingly pleasant, like perfume. “Dance with me,” he said. She hesitated only a moment, then forgot the baby. The devil bowed, took her hand in his claw, and led her to the living room where a demonic conjunto played a perfect ranchera.
     Lorena had never truly danced before. She’d tried many times but always felt clumsy and awkward since she lacked the natural rhythm so many women seemed to possess. Yet she was surprised to find that with the devil, those insecurities drifted away in thick clouds of smoke. Her movements became almost natural. And she noticed how graceful he was, how his hooves glided across the floor and his tail never got in the way.
     They danced till sunrise.
                    *
     Soon she actually grew to enjoy the devil’s company so much that she missed him when a busy schedule kept him away. If he didn’t come, she lay in bed listening to the baby cry. Her husband had wanted a son badly, but once the baby arrived, Michael’s attitude changed. Instead of being a proud father, he became withdrawn and angry for reasons he kept private.
     It rained the day he crashed his motorcycle into a barrier on the expressway. Authorities believed the weather was to blame, but Lorena thought otherwise.
                    *
     The devil first appeared at her door a week after Michael’s funeral, on a night of the full moon. She recognized his horrific form immediately, of course, since as a girl she’d spent days playing Lotería and shivering whenever the card depicting El diablo was revealed.
     The devil promised she could touch his horns if she let him in.
     “Go away.”
     “You don’t mean that.”
     “I do. I swear.”
     “It would be best not to make me angry, señora.” His lips spread to reveal a row of sharp, twisted fangs. Lorena saw his red eyes flash and understood she had no choice.
     He sat with her at the kitchen table and she reached for his horns, which rose majestically from his forehead about a foot into the air. They were thick and hard like the antlers of a deer.
                    *
     Upon learning Lorena was pregnant, Michael had turned their spare bedroom into a nursery. He painted the walls with scenes of children playing in a field. The children were supposed to be happy, but lately Lorena thought their bodies distorted, their grins grotesque.
     “Are you afraid?” the children said one evening. “Because you should be.”
     She scribbled over their mouths with a black marker.
     The devil entered and stood over the crib. The baby wouldn’t grow quiet, and Lorena didn’t try to comfort her son.
     “Take the baby if you want.”
     “You must give him to me.”
     “How?”
     “La cocina,” the devil said, and then she understood.
                    *
     She filled a large pot with water and put it on the stove to boil. When everything was ready, Lorena took the baby and put him in the pot, ignoring his screams. The smell of burning, blistering flesh filled her nostrils.
     The devil set the table and lit candles.
                    *
     “You really are beautiful,” he said, running a claw through her hair.
                    *
     Police arrived in the morning, after the devil had gone. The officers claimed Lorena called them, but she couldn’t remember doing so. She wiped dry blood from her mouth and let them search. They found the baby’s remains, and an officer vomited.
     “What happened here?” another asked.
     Lorena, sad and tired, held out her wrists for the handcuffs and asked whether the devil would be allowed to visit her in jail.

—René Martínez

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