Alex V. Cruz
Alex V. Cruz is a Paterson-born, Dominican-raised speculative fiction writer. He writes short fiction in both English and Spanish. Alex graduated Magna Cum Laude from Columbia University with a degree in Creative Writing and Hispanic Studies. He’s currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing in Spanish from NYU. He is a Clarion West 2022 alum and a member of Tin House’s 2021 Young Adult Workshops. Alex’s fiction can be found in Quislaona: A Dominican Fantasy Anthology, SmokeLong, Acentos Review, Somos en Escrito, and forthcoming in Azahares. Discover the writings of Alex V. Cruz on Instagram and Twitter @Avcruzwriter.
La Receta Fall Off the Bone
She had done crazy things for love, like leaving her coven in the mountains of Costanza for a man she barely knew and against her mother’s wishes. She was young, and her mother already had a real suitor for her.
The catch was Agustín Garcia, the son of un político corrupto and owner of more than half of Constanza’s fertile land. It didn’t matter that he belonged to Costanza’s prestigious white family. It didn’t matter that he had good hair and light eyes. When he opened his mouth, “mami chula, mira, tengo un regalito pa’ ti,” she wanted nothing but to run in the opposite direction. On good days. On bad days, she wanted to rip the patronizing tone out of his throat and choke him with it.
The only problem is that she didn’t know how to do that… yet.
So she didn’t take the job at the casa grande as her mom planned. She didn’t sneak into Agustín’s room and place the sachet de hierbas, made by her mother from the bitter of roots, the bloody tip of rooster’s feathers, and her curly hair cut in the middle of the night, under his pillow. Nor did she sneak into the bathroom at exactly noon and light a candle and recite the incantation while beating her exposed, brown legs with palma santa while she rubbed an egg on her belly.
That’s for crazy people.
That’s for brujas.
But then she met Josemaría, his skin the color of mahogany. He had gentle, honest eyes that made her forget about his calloused hands when he held her close. She was in love, and spent many an afternoon on the back of his motorcycle. The wind whipped at her hair, the sun caressed her skin, and she held him tightly as they sped north on the bumpy roads, out of Constanza, directly to Loma Azul.
A few months and many beer bottles later, in an oppressive kitchen that despised her, under a leaking tin roof surrounded by walls of rotting wooden slats that Josemaría had patched again and again, she asked him to marry her. Not because she wanted to marry him, but because she wanted to break free from her mother. To sever the umbilical cord. To silence her mother’s nagging cries of disappointment in her mind.
The time was right. It was raining buckets with the sun bright in the sky. But Josemaría said no, and then no again; and again. She still had her mother’s sachet; she still knew the ritual, but that was not in her nature, at least not yet.
Maybe he sensed her discontent, or was it out of kindness, that he bought her a pink pollito—one one of those chicks sold from the back of rickity old trucks that have more rust than paint. One peso each and dead in a week. Except hers didn’t die. She knew the concoction. She fed it crushed corn with spit and pig’s blood, and it grew big and strong. She named him Pio.
Pio was her companion in the vindictive kitchen that poked and prodded her with its sharp splinters until she bled. Pio was her companion when Josemaría grew distant from her. Pio was her companion when she locked herself in the small closet, rocked back and forth, and pulled at her long hair. Nothing could deafen the wailing cries of her mother, which penetrated her mind all the way from Constanza. Pio would make his way across her legs and nestle his head in the crook of her neck, singing soft melodies to calm her down.
“Josemaría, where’s Pio?” She asked him again and again. He calmly rocked in his chair, facing the kitchen, beer in one hand, mamajuana in the other like stigmata. “I left it in the kitchen,” he said, and her heart sank.
She walked to the terrifying kitchen. How she got there was nothing but a blur. But she didn’t run. She didn’t fuss. Time moved slowly, and the temperature rose.
Pio lay there. Motionless, his neck broken on the terra cotta counter. The fogón fire going, and the water boiling. There were screams in her head, her mother calling her name. She welcomed them.
She grabbed Pio by the legs, his limp body dead weight. She dipped him in the hot water to soften the feathers, plucked them one by one, exposing his caoba, goosey skin. She put him on the cutting board, knife came down hard on his neck, honest eyes bouncing off the floor. She cut his skinny legs, feeling his calloused feet. She took his guts out, washed him with lime, and smothered him with garlic, oregano, salt, and pimienta molida.
She took a pot, poured in some oil, burned some sugar, sautéed Pio, covered him with a lid, and let him cook in his own steam.
The sorrowful kitchen closed the windows and doors to the house. The walls creaked, slightly expanded and contracted, the floor scorched and sizzled with human fat, the walls beaded up with sweat, and the aroma of spices penetrated every corner of the house.
When fully cooked and tender, she chopped some onions, ajíes, cilantro, and a spoon of tomato sauce for a salsita, covered and cooked for another ten minutes.
She carefully placed a thigh and a leg on a bed of white rice, poured some sauce, and brought the plate to Josemaría’s corpse, flesh falling off the bones, by his severed head, next to his honest, white-cooked eyes.
She caught the first motoconcho back to Costanza, to la casa grande, and knocked on their front door. Agustín answered.
“Hello,” she said. “I’m here for the job?”
He looked at her up and down, a grin plastered on his face, and said: “Come on in.”
She got the job, sachet in one pocket, Pio’s head in the other.