The Change (Cambiarse)

By Sara Rich 

Inspired by true events, as reported to AP by Olga R. Rodriguez, January 7, 2013 at 11:50pm ET, from Mexico City.

That first night, Maria took her dog to the park on top the hill. It was a new moon, and the sky to the east was black. To the west, the sun was almost done setting behind a few thick clouds. Maria and Chucho walked up the hill where there was an open field. Families liked to picnic there in the summers, before it got too hot in the afternoons. The young couples liked to come up there late at night and grope each other. That time of night though, the air was cooler and the park was usually empty. Too late for picnics and too early for fooling around.

They reached the top of the hill, Chucho’s tongue lolling out his crooked little mouth, and Maria’s knees aching a little. At 48 years old, her body wasn’t what it used to be. She bent down to let Chucho off the leash, and as she leaned over, she felt her stomach bulging out the top of her pants. It never used to do that, except when she was pregnant. And she wasn’t pregnant, unless it was the child of God. Chucho ran off to chase mosquitos and jejenes.

The night was cooler but still humid, and a small wind rustled up the smell of a dead animal, wet and rotting. It was heavy and clung low to the ground, crawling over from somewhere in the creosote and burro bushes. Maria tilted her head back away from it and looked up. The sky was doing something suspcious. It was being split apart by this cloud that looked purple, or magenta, glowing unnaturally and backlit by whatever was left of the sun. Looming over the hill, it formed a line breaking apart the fluffy bluish clouds that had been there before and the black of the new moon sky, like a great purple machete slashing through the horizon. The sky had changed so fast. Most things take so long to change, if they ever do. And that cloud kept growing and darkening, like a storm front or an apocalypse. Maria felt a tingle in her spine that fingered its way up to the base of her neck, and the dark hairs on her forearms stood up. She crossed herself.

“Chucho!” she called to the dog. Her voice echoed across the field. It had never done that before. There was nothing for the sound to bounce off of except a little dried grass and some dog turds. Chucho came running up to her, and she took the leash and said, “Vamanos.” Again, her voice made an echo across the hilltop, like she was in a tunnel or an empty room, or speaking into a well. She looked up at the big purple mass in the sky as it spoke her own words back to her, “Vamanos… vamanos… vamanos.” Maria automatically crossed herself again and snapped the leash back on Chucho’s collar.


“Already back?” Pedro asked as if he were disappointed. She didn’t answer him. It was obvious that she was back because she was standing in the doorway. It was a stupid question. He was always asking stupid questions. She sighed and hung Chucho’s leash on a hook by the door. Chucho ran up to Pedro and jumped on his lap. His love was indiscriminate, the way hers used to be.

Maria had a sudden need to piss and closed herself in the bathroom. Sitting on the toilet, with her pants around her ankles, she examined her thighs. The sides were criss­crossed with blue, like a child had taken an ink pen and drawn little squiggles on her brown skin. Some cellulite formed at the bottoms of her thighs where they were squished against the toilet seat. She looked at the toilet paper she’d just brought out from between her legs. Still white. Still late. It had been two months since her last cycle, and six months since the last time she and Pedro had sex. It was on his birthday. Either God was using her as a receptacle or she was about to go through the change. She looked at her forearms and the hairline wrinkles etched in the skin, the follicles stretching. It seemed like the hair was visibly getting thicker, maybe even longer. On her legs too. “Ay, Dios mio,” she muttered under her breath and sighed, envisioning the estrogen leaking out of her body every time she used the toilet.

There was a knock on the bathroom door. “Hurry up in there. I need to shit.”

“Pedro, all you ever think about is your asshole,” and under her breath she added, “or your pene.”

He heard her through the thin door but didn’t care what she said. Lately, he’d almost given up trying. And even when he did, her hole was so dry it was hard to get inside, and she always complained. Even the left hand and some oil was better than her dried up old twat.

Maria glanced in the blotched mirror as she rinsed her hands under the tap. A withered flower, drying up in the desert heat. Desiccating.

They slept with their backs facing each other. She wasn’t really sleeping, though. Her mind had been especially busy the last several months, but her body was tired, conscious but comatose. She’d finally scrounged enough pesos to pay the curandero the month before for some valerian root to help her sleep. What he gave her should have lasted two or three months, but she hadn’t rationed well and now it was gone. But for that last month she had slept wonderfully: no midnight hunger, no dry throat, not even a single dream. Her restless soul had been quieted and soothed by a foul­tasting but hypnotic tea.

But not tonight. As soon as he started snoring, Maria opened her eyes again. She thought about giving him a little donkey kick to get him to roll over, but instead she just lay there, listening to his raucous breath. Being a wife is not much different from being a whore. It’s a way of earning your keep. He paid for the leaking roof over their heads and the stained mattress where they slept. He paid for the flour, sugar, corn, and beef that she put in her mouth and the toilet where it came back out. At least they had a toilet. She didn’t have to shit in the street like the people on the other side of the hill. And all she had to do in return was pick up after him, put up with him, and put out for him. It shouldn’t have been such a hard job. But at least if she’d been a whore, like a lot of other women in that barrio, she would have a little of her own money. Maybe putas have more freedom than wives.

Maria thought about Eve. We women always want more; we’re never happy with what we have. More money, more children, more love. It’s never enough. She promised God she would try to change her attitude, and then she thanked Him for being so gracious. He took pretty good care of her. She turned over and faced Pedro’s back, watching his hairy shoulders rise and fall with his snores. She ran her right hand gently up his leg and over his hip, underneath the elastic of his boxer shorts. He stopped snoring.

The next day, the cramping set in. This is it, she thought, the beginning of the end. It felt like her ovaries were being pulled out through her navel, like her uterus was being tied in a knot, barring the entrance and exit for any babies that might come. Her womanhood was in a noose.

Two weeks of cramping, each day worse than the one before it. Pedro came home and found Maria lying on their bed in the fetal position. He pulled the blanket over her shoulders and went to the kitchen. When she woke up it was dark, and the full moon was shining through the cracked glass of their bedroom window. At first she thought she’d wet herself. The bed and the blanket were sopping, and she threw off the cover. The cool night air hit her wet, sticky skin and raised bumps like a plucked chicken, and her hairs stood on end. She realized then it was just sweat, not urine.

Pedro had fallen asleep on the couch next to a half­empty bottle of mezcal. The TV was still on, rerunning a telenovela. Some buxom, mature woman was seducing a much­younger man, young enough to be her son at least. Sweat poured down Maria’s temples and the back of her neck. She took Pedro’s empty glass and poured the mezcal. She let the burn fill her stomach and numb her aching pelvis. I’ll show you a hot flash, she thought.

Late the next morning, she came out of the bedroom to find Pedro in the same situation she’d left him in that night, but with the news playing on TV this time. And the bottle of mezcal was dry – even the worm was gone. “Maria!” he said, “Get a load of this!”

The hill was on TV. The reporter was talking about the park at the top of the hill. “Police have identified the victims as Carlos Del Toro and Ana Romirez, two area teenagers. They died as a result of blood loss associated with bite wounds. Animal control has set traps for the feral dogs who attacked and killed this young couple last night. Authorities say that the vicious dogs left nothing but the bone on Ana’s right arm, and that Carlos’s abdominal organs had been gruesomely eaten while he was still alive. 16­year­old Ana managed to use her mobile phone to call her sister as the wild animals were approaching them. Let’s have a word with Lola Romirez, the sister of the deceased girl. Lola, what did Ana say to you when she called?”

Lola’s eyes were red, and her mouth quivered when she talked. “She said to help her, that they were being attacked. And then she screamed.”

“Did you know that there are feral dogs living in this park?”

“Dogs did not kill my sister. If Ana and Carlos were attacked by dogs, then why are there no bite marks on their throats? The skin ripped off her arm? Her breasts are chewed off! Dogs don’t do that. Something else killed them, I know it.”

“It looks as though animal control just caught one of the canine culprits,” the reporter announced, and the camera shifted to a brown­suited officer dragging a skinny black mutt with floppy ears toward a van parked on the hilltop.

Pedro turned to Maria. “Those dogs never hurt anything before. Why do you think they would attack those kids?”

“Maybe they were hungry,” Maria said, watching the mutt get thrown into the back of the van.

“That’s the news here at El Cerro de la Estrella. Back to you, Juan.”

“What do you think they’ll do with them?” Maria asked.

“Probably euthanize them. Shit, they killed two kids, what do you think? Train them as seeing eye dogs? Nobody’s gonna adopt those wild mutts.” She had guessed as much but felt sorry for them anyway. She looked down at Chucho lying on the braided rug in front of the television, rolled into a harmless ball of hair. If he went crazy, he might be able to reach someone’s kneecaps. Or a child’s ear.

“Hey, what happened to you?”

“What do you mean, what happened to me?”

“Your arm’s all red.”

“Oh this,” she turned her right arm inward and examined the puffy red scratches that were still a little tender. “No lo sé. I must have scratched myself in my sleep.”

“Must of been some itch.”

“It’s one of the symptoms, itchy skin.” Pedro rolled his eyes and turned back to the TV. Symptoms. With women, it’s always something. The infomercial advertised magical creams and potions that made wrinkles and liver spots disappear in thirty days, guaranteed or your money back. Monthly installments were an option for qualifying buyers.

Maria made tamales for dinner that night. She picked open the corn casings and ate the ground beef inside. She gave Chucho the rest.

As she washed the dishes, she looked out the little window over the sink, watching the moon climb into the sky. It was just starting to wane, the black just starting to wash back over its right side. She dried her hands off and went into the living room, where Pedro was watching TV. She stood between him and the TV.

“You’re not a window, you know. I can’t see through you.”

She held the buttons of her blouse between her fingers and one by one, slipped them out of their holes. She let the blouse slide down her arms and fall on the floor. She reached her hands behind her back and unsnapped the bra. Her breasts fell a little. They were flat against her chest at the top and sloped into coconuts at the bottom. There were black hairs encircling her nipples, and a few others in the center of her chest. Another trail of hair started at her navel and met the forest of others between her legs.

“Dios mio, mujer. What has gotten into you?”

Maria straddled Pedro and felt him poking at her through his jeans. She unzipped him.

Afterward, she was washing up in the bathroom. Pedro came and stood in the doorway. She half expected him to tell her to hurry up. Instead, he said, “Maria, don’t take Chucho to the park tonight.”

Some exercise probably would have helped her sleep better since she was out of valeriana and wouldn’t be getting more any time soon. So that night, like the ones for the last two weeks before it, she just lay there, pretending to sleep. Staring out the window at the moon, wondering if Pedro had another bottle of mezcal hidden away somewhere. She thought of reaching around and getting him aroused again. Maybe that would make her tired.

Her stomach growled. That was why she was so fussy. She was hungry.


Over the next couple weeks, the symptoms seemed to reside. The cramping went away and she wasn’t hungry all the time. She was sleeping better too. Chucho had started crapping on the floor, so Pedro let Maria take him back to the park, but only in the daytime. The police already cleaned up those kids’ bodies, and they’d been trapping all the wild dogs. Chucho had to stay on the leash all the time so he didn’t end up in one of the cages. Dogs don’t know the difference between bait and food. They’d just follow their nose right into a trap.

Maria was doing dishes after supper one night, and she noticed that the moon wasn’t out. The window looked out on a big empty­black sky. All of a sudden a sharp pain hit her in the stomach and she gasped. She folded over and dropped the glass she was holding. It shattered, suds and shards rolling over the concrete floor. Like the month before, the cramping came in waves, each one worse than the last.

Day in, day out, she imagined her internal organs held in an invisible vice, and her bladder squeezed into a narrow tube. She was like Chucho at the park, always hiking his leg to let out a stream of piss in never­ending supply. She went to the toilet for the seven­hundredth time that week and decided to just stay there.

When Pedro came in the door that night, Maria sighed and pulled herself off the toilet to give her hands a rinse before going back outside. She glanced in the mirror as water trickled from the tap over her fingers. At the corners of her mouth and above her upper lip, there were little black hairs, like the mustache of a juvenile delinquent. Above her eyes, a row of eyebrow continued uninterrupted across her face. She’d always had a little peach fuzz, but this was getting ridiculous. She closed her eyes and shook her head. “I look like an ugly, old Frida Kahlo,” she muttered. She dried her hands off and saw the dark hairs on the backs of her fingers. She slipped off her huaraches and found matching tufts of hair on her toes and the bridges of her feet.

That night, Maria switched off the lights before she and Pedro se cojían. It helped with her headache too.

She didn’t wake up with Pedro the next morning but lay on her side curled up in a ball, like Chucho, but covered in sweat.

When Pedro came home that evening, she was still there. She hadn’t even noticed he was late. “Maria, wake up.”

“It’s the middle of the night, Pedro. Let me be.”

“You slept through the day, and now it’s night again. You should wake up. I brought something for you.”

She sat up gingerly and disbelievingly at the promise of a gift. How long had it been? She tried to remember what day it was. Anniversary? Birthday? Christmas?

“I went to the curandero, and he gave me this.”

“A joint, Pedro? You haven’t smoked that shit since you knocked me up twenty years ago.”

“No, it’s something special. From the curandero. There’s some marijuana to help with the pain and some other stuff too. Artemisía y ambrosia, I think he said. Supposed to help with the burning.”

“You went to the curandero for me?”

“Of course. You’re my wife. I don’t like to see you suffer.”

She sat next to him on the couch, and he lit the joint. He held it while she pulled in slowly. Her lungs tried to throw the smoke right back out of her mouth, but Pedro told her to hold it in as long as she could. It burned at first, but then everything went numb, and she felt the top of her head fly off and the fully­recovered moonlight shining right in on her brain. Pedro couldn’t help but feel the corners of his mouth go up as she slumped against him. Maybe it was just a contact high, or maybe he thought it was cute that she was stoned. He put his arm around her.

Maria woke up in the park at the top of the hill, the moon glaring down like a peeping tom. She was covered in blood, but there wasn’t any pain. Her pelvis didn’t ache, her skin wasn’t itching, her head wasn’t about to implode. The eastern sky was starting to brighten, and she stood there on top of the hill, completely naked. She quickly crossed her arms over her breasts to keep them from flopping while she ran down the hill, back to her house.

When she opened the door, Chucho started barking. Pedro woke from his position on the couch. Then he saw her, and his mouth fell open. “Maria.”

She ran to the bathroom to find out where the blood was coming from. She was sticky all over, but there was nothing coming from between her legs.

“Maria, what happened? Talk to me, Maria,” Pedro was outside the thin bathroom door.

No lo sé, Pedro. I woke up on the hill. I can’t find where the blood is coming from.” She cleaned the sticky red off her skin and came out of the bathroom. Pedro was waiting with a blanket and wrapped it over her shoulders. “Gracias,” she said.

From the television set came a woman’s voice, delivering the morning news. “Buenos días,Ahi fuera Aída la Ciudad de México. We are reporting live from El Cerro de la Estrella this morning, where the bodies of two more teenage victims have just been discovered. The young lovers were killed only one month after…”

Pedro looked at Maria, who stared voiceless at the television. Just then, there was a knock at the door.

Fear washed over Pedro’s face, and he crossed himself. Maria sat down on the couch, still wrapped in the blanket, face still frozen on the television screen, with one hand over her mouth. There was still blood under her fingernails.

When Pedro finally dared to open the door, relief replaced the fear. The withered, brown old curandero stood outside, not the policía judicial. “Buenos días, Pedro. I come to check on Maria.”

Pedro stood aside and let the old man in, and then he quickly shut and bolted the door. “Señor, what was in that joint?”

The old man smiled, wide and toothless. “Powerful medicine. You don’t want her to remember, do you?”

Pedro floundered with disbelief. “So you knew? You knew what she was going to do? You know … what she is?” He’d never swallowed any of the ancient legends they’d grown up hearing from the abuelos, no one did. Nobody believed the old stories about shape­shifters and bloodthirsty man­coyotes that terrorized the countryside and sucked the blood from children. No one believed those stories anymore except for the old fools who still sacrificed chickens to Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc.

“Of course,” the old man kept smiling and laughed dryly. “Where did you think she was getting her libido?”

And so it went, from the monthly bloodbaths of her youth to the ones of her maturity. Pedro knew, when the moon was full and so was he, to leave the door unlocked and have the blanket ready for his nagualita.

Illustration by Aida Garcia

Find more of Aida’s illustrations on her blog and Facebook page:

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