By Cynthia Morgan
(Copyright 2006, All rights reserved on this one)
Of all the poor villages in the otherworld, Santa Abuelita was the poorest. Crouched in sere yellow hills, barely able to feed its hardworking peasants, Santa Abuelita could boast of little but its tiny chapel.
The chapel itself was unremarkable though lovingly tended. The villagers propped up its tilting walls, painted the red-gold doors each spring and carefully polished its one true glory: A magnificent colored glass window. The window depicted a beautiful, luminous Virgin Mary, fast asleep. It was so arresting that many thought it could actually grant the deepest wish of the heart…if only one could pray hard enough to awaken the sleeping Virgin.
One day a pretty girl from the village strode through the red-gold doors, knelt in front of the window and prayed over and over for the deepest wish of her heart. Here is what she said:
“My lady, I would have the handsomest man of the village for my husband, but he is poor and far below my station. Grant him power and wealth so that I need not be ashamed of him.”
Three days and three nights she prayed, on her knees without food or water, loudly proclaiming her piety to anyone who listened. And, at last, the Virgin awoke. The girl clapped her hands with glee.
Had she looked more closely, she might have noticed a slight frown on the face of the Virgin…and perhaps moderated her prayer. But as she did not, at last the Virgin shook her head and the deed was done.
The handsomest, poorest man in the village became the wealthiest, and soon was appointed governor of the state. But now his power and wealth placed him far beyond the reach of his merely pretty neighbor. He sought out the fairest and richest daughters in the land, who accepted him gladly.
So the girl stormed back to the chapel, flung herself down before the window and demanded a second favor of the Virgin.
“My lady, I created this rich and powerful man of my own heart’s wish, and I would have him for my own. Make me the most beautiful, desirable, and fertile woman in all the land, so that he will not rest until I am his wife.”
Three days and three nights she prayed, loudly, furiously and without a trace of piety. The Virgin once again awoke, and with a scowl granted her wish.
She became the most beautiful woman in the world. Her dazzling looks enchanted the new governor. Within a few days she was installed in a glorious palace in the capital city as his wife. Before the year was out she had given him fine twin sons.
Alas, more than her husband saw her beauty, and she was often importuned by lustful men. When her husband was not by her side she rarely resisted these encounters, and soon discovered that fertility had its drawbacks.
No sooner would one lover’s babe draw breath than another would quicken in her womb, until her beauty faded and her body withered. Her suspicious husband, no longer besotted, soon turned to other women for comfort.
A beautiful woman may be loved for her smile, but an ugly woman is loved for her wit, and of that the governor’s wife had little. Her bored lovers deserted her. At affairs of state she made one gaffe after another and quickly became a laughingstock.
And once again she demanded favors from the Virgin in the window.
“My lady, my husband ignores me, and the townspeople mock my empty head. I would have you fill it with cleverness so that no matter the occasion, I have something to say.”
Three days, three nights, a growl of thunder and a ponderous shake of the Virgin’s head, and the foolish woman became a wit. No matter the occasion, she had something to say. In fact, she had so much to say, with sarcasm so biting, that she was never silent. Not even her many children could bear to be near her.
When the emperor complimented her table at dinner one night, she mocked his taste in a few devastating phrases, and her husband had had enough. He banished her to Santa Abuelita.
The villagers soon fled her acid tongue, and so she lived, penniless and alone, in the tiny village of her birth.
Years passed, until she could stand the loneliness no longer. In despair, she crept into the chapel of Santa Abuelita and for the first time looked into the face of the Virgin in the window. When she saw the Virgin’s glaring, furious demeanor she fell to the floor and was—at last—rendered speechless.
For three days and three nights she knelt on the hard stone dais, searching the Virgin’s face. At the end of the third day, she timidly spoke:
“My lady, I know I do not deserve it, but I beg of you, grant me this one last wish: Leave me to make my own way in the world, without help or hindrance.”
At that, the Virgin smiled and approved her wish, and more. The heavens poured through the window with the light of opals and glad sounds of angels. A thousand golden nuggets burst through the window, landing at the old woman’s feet.
The old woman rose slowly and, ignoring the golden nuggets, passed through the red gold doors one last time. She trudged down the sere yellow hills of Santa Abuelita and was never seen again.