June 24, 2024

“La Hacienda de Las Chismosas” by Rachel Gonzalez

“La Hacienda de Las Chismosas” by Rachel Gonzalez

*Featured image courtesy of Katsiaryna Endruszkiewicz on Unsplash*

This week we are proud to present another piece by our Writer-in-Residence, Rachel Gonzalez. Rachel has put a lot of work into creating this story, and it has resulted in a truly beautiful piece of writing.

They come to La Hacienda to ease their bodies and their minds. 

It’s a resplendent house of generations that will always stand. The burdened, the troubled, the mischievous, all come for the caring touch from the hands of the hacienda. With more importance and reverence than any state building or diplomat’s home, it is the beating heart of this town. A home to all, if even for a moment.

Halls of brightly-tiled walls and dimly-lit ways for privacy and peace. Cobblestone paths meander and lead into the heart of the hacienda. The pools. Oh, the pools, naturally carved basins of splendid stone see people from around the city every day. Quartz and amethyst, obsidian and selenite. Colorful and cleansing, iridescent and shining. Their waters crystal clear and dotted with petals of rose and lilac, marigold and lavender. The air is thick and comforting with incense and sage. Water so deep and so warm it carries everything away. 

And the hands of the house, the long-studied and practiced attendants. The Chismosas. The true power of this place. As the secrets and the lies are sighed out by the masses, the Chismosas keep them. Collected fragments from loved ones and strangers alike are expelled through the pores and radiate into the air. The Chismosas keep them all. 

Their steady hands urge the secrets to the surface. Massaging hands tired from a long day of doing, good or bad, it doesn’t matter. Passing specially carved combs from temple to nape to loosen the mind. Sweet melodies murmured and hummed to ease it all and part the lips. Treating tender skin with salves and weighted minds with care.  

Spelled out in the oils of the pools is a language the Chismosas created. The shine of secrets and stories rising to the surface. An undeniable array of colors dancing to the top. Imperceptible sighs that carry words only the Chismosas can decipher. 

You didn’t hear this from me…

I heard he was messing around…

She has been stealing from them…

She is going to leave him for me… 

There were cop cars at my neighbor’s house…

I saw them out together, he told my cousin he was sick…

I don’t think it’s going to last, but I can’t tell her that…

All that is left behind is bottled and distilled, kept secret and safe until the right time. And when the water runs clear and the chest feels lighter, it is finished. Now cleansed and tended the people of the city leave La Hacienda and the Chismosas, their burden passed on. 

A tradition held in the highest esteem. A power learned from under tables when mom and tia are speaking in hushed voices. From around the corner in houses and places of business. From pretending to be asleep at the slumber party. From catching a quick glimpse at a phone screen. From playing dumb to get the whole story. From whispering just loud enough when you know there’s no privacy. 

The Chismosas are the most trusted and most powerful people of this place. 

They are the secret keepers—until they aren’t. 


Maritza had wanted to be one of them since she was far too young. When she was little, her mother would have to tug her arm a little harder when they walked down this street. Maritza’s feet always slowed at the mouth of this carved door. But now that she was of age, ready to train in La Hacienda, her feet carried her right up to the entrance. On the other side was her unspoken dream. Their whispers called to her from all across the city and finally brought her here.

The heel of her shoes tapped gently on the terracotta-colored stones and the sound bounced back to her. Down a corridor she could hear the trickling of water being prepared as it splashed and sloshed in an unseen place. The open air was thick with the smell of incense and rose, scents she couldn’t wait to have seep into her clothes and hair after long days in these halls.

Even though Maritza had always dreamed about being on the inside, now that her feet were over the threshold she didn’t actually know what was next. 

She adjusted the leather strap of her sandal and smoothed the front of her patterned skirt, waiting for someone to arrive. But there were no footsteps, no voices, just the sounds of the hacienda. 

Maritza shifted forward slightly to check up and down the hallways, tiled corridors and door lined walls. “Uh, hello?” she called out. “I’m—I’m uh, here to start training?” the uncertainty in her voice kicked back at her and she cringed. She’d been dreaming of this place her entire life and now suddenly she lacked conviction? Great disembodied first impression. 

“Anyone home?” Maritza shouted in a sing-song voice down the hall. Much to her immediate embarrassment, she was answered immediately. A veiled woman, her dress embroidered with luxuriously open roses and hemmed with gold thread, was gliding down the corridor. The gossamer veil, itself hemmed with gold and studded at the edge with glittering red gems, obscured all of her features but one—the glistening, full red lips of a Chismosa. 

“Maritza,” the woman said, not a question and not quite a greeting either. 

“I—yes,” Maritza instinctively smoothed out her skirt again. “I wasn’t sure where to go,” 

“Follow me.” The woman turned and her skirt blossomed around her, bouncing lightly as she moved. 

Tripping over her toes just a little, Maritza followed along behind. They walked down the path, passing huge painted urns with agave, yucca, and aloe growing tall and proud, prickly pear cacti heavy with rich magenta fruit. 

“We’ve been watching you for some time,” the still unnamed woman said from over her shoulder. 

“You have?” Maritza’s heart pounded in her chest. “I guess I do run my mouth a lot,” she chuckled nervously. 

A small smile curled the edges of her guide’s lips. “You have a way with people.” They arrived at another heavy carved door. “But yes, you are quite the talker,” she said and pushed the door open and there they were—the pools. The pools that her bisa had told her about, but Maritza herself had only ever dreamed of. The air was heavy but not unpleasant. The low candlelight created a dizzying effect that made her limbs feel light and her head easy. She felt the pull of the carved crystal pools. 

“We just walked through the invernadero—well, one of them. It takes a lot of space to grow all the plants we use.” 

“For all the oils and salves you use, of course,” Maritza said and immediately felt like a child on a field trip trying to impress the teacher. 

The guide laughed softly through her nose. 

“This is the Bañera, obviously,” her guide gestured to the pools with an uncovered hand. Her fingers and wrists were dotted with fine-line tattoos. 

Maritza gently dropped down to her knees and peered into the pool. It swirled with shining oils and foamy trails of fading bubbles. 

“I wouldn’t,” she caught Maritza’s hand, “unless you want to tell me all of your secrets.” 

Maritza blushed and got back to her feet. This great first impression just kept on going. The woman kept hold of her hand. 

“It happens to everyone their first time through,” she said. Maritza couldn’t say for sure but she could have sworn she winked at her. “Come on, I’ll take you to the Señora.”

“So, how long have you been here?” Maritza asked, as they wound their way through the pools. Maritza tried to give people their privacy, but she so wanted to see the work being done. If anyone in the water had been paying attention, they would have thought Maritza was one of them. Another mind full of stories and grievances in need of a Chimososa’s studied hands.

“Since I was sixteen,” she told me. “coming up on seven years.”

“We’re the same age,” Maritza smiled, for some reason really grateful that they had something in common. 

They came to a curtained corner of the expansive room and the guide dropped Maritza’s hand to open it. Beyond the woven fabric was a room with high ceilings and veiled women moving expertly through their tasks. There were groups crushing herbs and all the finest parts of plants to distill for salves and oils. Strings and strings of dried petals and stalks hung above while below hands smoothed and shaped rocks and crystals into combs and soft- edged scrapers. Handblown glasses collected the used water to be taken to a special place for safe secret-keeping. The air was busy with singing, laughing, talking, and love. Maritaza and her guide moved through all of this work toward a red-painted door. 


A tall woman in a dark, high-necked dress turned to the pair. Her veil, the longest one in the hacienda, was topped with a crown of deep red roses and vibrant yellow and orange marigolds. Her lips were painted a deeper shade than the guide’s, nearly purple but still visible through the shroud that covered every other feature.

“Maritza,” the Señora took the edges of her veil in her hands and brought the gossamer fabric over the flowers, revealing a kind smile and serious eyes. Age and good humor tugged at the corners of her mouth and eyes. “We’re so glad to have you with us. Thank you for bringing her, Luz.”

Maritza glanced at her guide out of the corner of her eye. Luz. So that was her name. 

“Come, child,” the Señora held her hands out to Maritza. They weren’t tattooed like Luz’s but instead embellished with gold jewelry and age spots. 

Maritza took another sideways look at Luz for some reassurance before stepping forward. Maritza’s fingertips touched the soft pads of the Señora’s palm and she was pulled gently forward. With her free hand the Señora cupped the edge of Maritza’s chin and looked long into the girl’s eyes. The Señora’s thumb brushed over Maritza’s bottom lip, but Maritza felt no need to recoil; it was a comforting gesture. The Señora smiled and brought her whole hand lovingly to the girl’s cheek. “Yes, you have the makings of a fine chismosa.” A laugh was playing at the edge of her tone. 

Maritza couldn’t help it; she let out an excited laugh of her own and looked back at Luz with a smile. She saw the corners of Luz’s crimson lips turn up, revealing a small glimpse at a top row of perfect teeth. 

“Now, I’m sure you know you’ve got a lot to learn here.” The Señora started to move through the room. Each wall was built of shelves and drawers filled with vials and volumes on display. “You’ll train in every aspect of what keeps this hacidena alive. Cultivation, medicine, refining, healing, and discretion. This is why we wear the veil.” 

“Otherwise we’d be mobbed in the streets by people looking for dirt on their best friend’s novio,” Luz added. 

The Señora gave her a stern but not unkind look from over her shoulder. Luz just shrugged in response. 

“But there is a lot to be said for natural talent,” the Señora continued, “before we let you lay hands on any of our practices, I want to see what you can do on your own.” On a table that looked like it was cut from the same rough, red wood as the hacienda itself, the Señora laid out bottles, tools and swatches of silk. A heavy clay basin was brought out too, with a pitcher of water. 

Maritza’s mouth hung open. Nerves ran through her. She thought she’d have more time to train and observe before having to show the Señora herself what she could do.

“Don’t worry,” Luz put a comforting hand on Maritza’s elbow. “She just wants to see you work. She already knows you’re one of us. That’s why you’re here.” 

Maritza took in a deep breath and nodded.

“How do I…?” Maritza asked, worried that she was already failing her first trial. 

“Luz will be your subject,” the Señora gestured to Luz. 

In one graceful motion, Luz swept the delicate veil away from her face and draped it over her arm. She had the softest jaw and sharpest cheekbones Maritza had ever seen. Her eyes were dark and sharp at the corners. Even though Maritza could see the color through her veil, she couldn’t stop staring at her mouth when it was unobscured, perfectly full with a severe cupid’s bow. Luz ran her fingers through her choppy bangs, fluffing them up and tucking the longer strands behind her ears. 

She was the most beautiful thing Maritza had seen all day. 

“I saw my best friend’s novio with another girl,” she said, her voice the only thing that hadn’t changed. 

Maritza cleared her throat and took a deep breath. She gestured for Luz to take a seat before the basin. Luz sat and flipped her hair back so it cascaded into the empty bowl. Maritza grasped the handle of the pitcher and looked for reassurance from the Señora, but she was met with a blank expression. It would have been the same as if she had put her veil back on. This was a sink or swim moment, Maritza realized. Gently she poured the water over Luz’s hair, careful not to splash or let any drip into her eyes. 

“Did you know the girl?” Maritza asked, her voice low but interested. 

“Not personally, but I’ve seen her around,” Luz started. Maritza’s hands hovered over the unlabeled tincture bottles. With faith, she grabbed a squat bottle and let a long ribbon of the smooth oil fall over Luz’s hair. The room filled with the smell of peppermint and eucalyptus, exactly what Maritza had wanted. “I think she works at that one café that sells those really big concha, you know the place?” 

Maritza nodded, not having realized they would be talking about real life stuff. She started working the oil through Luz’s hair, moving slow from the roots to the ends, “Not the girl with long braids.” 

“No, the other one,” Luz said. “The one with the laugh.” 

Maritza knew exactly who she was talking about. You could hear this girl laugh from down the block. 

“Oh, yeah, Gloriana,” Maritza clicked her tongue and eyed the table of tools. There was a fine-tooth comb made of amethyst, a polished wood-handled brush, and a face roller made of quartz. “Is this the first time he’s pulled something like this?” Reaching for the comb and running it through in long strokes, she smoothed everything out again. 

Luz’s eyes fluttered closed and she trilled her lips dismissively. “No, and she still keeps taking him back. Everyone hates him, except her for some reason. But he’ll just keep pulling the same tricks, come crawling back with some big promise, and she eats it up. ‘He’s changed this time, really,’ she would say. If that’s ever true I’ll take back every bad word I’ve said about him, but until then…” as Maritza switched from the comb to her own hands, Luz spilled everything she had on her best friend’s boyfriend. All of the other girls. All of the lies. An itemized list of infidelities came pouring out of Luz’s mouth. 

“But, you know, that’s none of my business.” Luz sighed, Maritza wound her black hair into a coil and fastened it all together with the silk scarf.  

“I hear you,” Maritza said letting her fingers trail along Luz’s soft jaw. 

“You’ve got an expert touch,” Luz said, opening her eyes slowly under her thick lashes. Maritza wished she’d had her veil at that moment to cover her blushing cheeks.

“Very well done, Maritza.” The Señora looked at her fondly. “I think it’s time we get you fitted.” 

The whoosh of her skirts signaled to Maritza that it was time to follow the Señora now. 

Maritza took off too fast behind her and stumbled a little over the cobblestones. She made a note to herself that sandals would not do. From over her shoulder, she heard a giggle that was beginning to grow familiar. Luz was following along behind them. 

“Luz, I can take it from here,” The Señora said without turning or missing a step.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” Luz said and picked up the pace so she was walking beside Maritza. 

That got the Señora to look over her shoulder. Maritza could have sworn she saw a smirk in the old woman’s eyes. 

They wound through halls and Maritza tried to memorize the way, but the hacienda was expansive and didn’t seem to follow any rules. As best she could tell, the house was built around the pools. 

While the halls all looked the same, the room the trio finally stopped in was very different from the rest. From what she had seen, La Hacienda operated mostly in low light, to bring out its air of mystery and privacy. Even the working quarters she and Luz had passed through were mostly candlelit, with a few high windows. But this was the only room with a skylight. Maritza had studied this building from every angle she could for her whole life and had never seen the massive glass dome they now stood under. 

“Beautiful, right?” Luz nudged Maritza’s shoulder. Maritza had been staring straight up with her mouth slightly open. When she looked back down Luz was staring at her, completely bemused. 

“It’s certainly unexpected,” Maritza said staring right back at Luz, a bit flushed. 

Luz put a hand on Maritza’s shoulder and urged her forward, sending a small shock through them both. 

Señora was kissing a woman on both cheeks when they caught up. “Marisol, this is Maritza.”

Marisol was the most ornately decorated of anyone Maritza had seen that day. The finest gleaming silks ran over her body like a river through the earth. Jewels and chains adorned her neck and wrists and fingers. Even her veil seemed to sparkle in the bright light of the room. 

“Sister,” Marisol said as she whipped her veil back with a force that made Maritza nervous for the delicate material. A smear of bright fuchsia colored her lips. She had tattooed eyebrows; a perfectly blended palette of blues and purples hooded her eyes. Her naturally rosy cheeks and a bright warm smile felt familiar even though they were meeting for the first time. Marisol wrapped her arms around Maritza, which made a tremendous amount of jangling noise from all of her bracelets and bangles. 

“It’s so good to have a new face,” Marisol put her hands to Maritza’s cheeks and went on smiling. “And such a beautiful one,” she winked and Maritza felt a tug inside her, wanting to look back at Luz. “Too bad we have to cover it up,” and with a flourish, Marisol tossed a length of gauzy fabric over Maritza’s face. “Now just stay still, unless you want to get poked or have it too tight across the chest and loose in the middle.”

Marisol hummed as she worked. Maritza realized then that the veil worked as something of a two-way mirror. Though things had a faint fuzziness around the edges, a softness that didn’t exist in real life, she could see the world around her better than others could see her. She watched Marisol glide around her workshop, commanding fabric as if by magic. Bolts and swatches streaked across the room, wrapping themselves around Maritza’s body and fastenening themselves perfectly under Marisol’s touch. Sometimes it seemed like her feet weren’t even touching the floor anymore. The Señora watched Marisol as she worked, and Luz watched as Maritza took on a new form. 

As Marisol worked, even with their split focus the three murmured to each other. They seemed to speak in a tone only perceptible to one another, as if these Chismosas spoke at their own frequency. It’s a trick Maritza vowed to learn quickly. On her first day, at best she could pick up snippets. Ramona told me… It’s not as bad as last time… I heard they’re coming back early. Marisol had to straighten Maritza’s posture several times during the fitting because the new girl was leaning this and that way to hear them.

In no time at all, Marisol announced that she was finished. Without seeing herself, Maritza moved her arms and swayed in her skirt. Instinctively, she pressed her fingers to her lips over the veil. 

“What about my mouth?” Maritza asked, 

“That’s for you to decide,” The Señora said. “You’re welcome to take the veil home to test it out. See which color shines through best for you.” 

“Is there anything I can try on right now?” Maritza asked, trying to make out the shape of her mouth under the veil. 

“Here, I have mine.” Luz stepped up onto the platform and presented Maritza with a small silver tube. She uncapped it and without another word swept back the veil, pinched Maritza’s chin in her fingers, and started dabbing at her lips. Maritza’s lashes fluttered as Luz’s focus trained on her mouth. Her cat eyes were intense and focused. Maritza found it easier to look directly up to the dome, right into the sun. 

“There, take a look,” Luz gently put the veil back down over Maritza’s face and bodice. 

Maritza turned back to the polished mirror. The dress fit so perfectly it was like a dream, as if everything bad Maritza had ever said about her own body had never existed. The skirt of her dress was sky blue and the bodice a crisp white with sunflowers embroidered onto the peplum at the top. The veil skirted over her bare shoulders and caught any whisper of a breeze. And through it she could see the deep crimson red of Luz’s lipstick. 

“It’s perfect,” Maritza murmured. 

“You wear it well,” Luz beamed. 

The older women in the room echoed the sentiment and shared a knowing glance. 


Maritza grew quickly in her practice, learning all she could from Luz and the sisters alike. She harvested powerful secrets and brought comfort to troubled minds. The right words seem to come to her without a thought, her voice becoming more honeyed as the days went on. She was no longer shy or anxious, but confident behind her veil. Maritza couldn’t help but feel that this was what she was born to do. And she couldn’t help but feel that Luz was someone she was always meant to know. 

Something she discovered quickly was that Chismosas didn’t discriminate. Along with everything they collected in the baths, there was plenty of talk about with others who wore the veil. It wasn’t malicious or mean, just the nature of the hacienda. But Maritza’s ears pricked up anytime Luz was the topic of the gossip.

“It’s that man of hers again…” 

“I can’t believe she thinks we don’t know. We know everything…”  

“She thinks she’s special…” 

“All I know is if she doesn’t leave him she’s gonna get hurt…”  

“She’s already getting hurt…”  

“All the more reason to leave him…” 

Sometimes the whispers were deafening.

It turned Maritza’s stomach that Luz had a man like that. She didn’t like learning things about Luz without her permission. But she did love the sound of Luz’s name. She couldn’t deny that. It always turned her head, with the hope that the woman wouldn’t be far behind the mention.

It started as a friendship until it was so much more. 

Luz showed Maritza everything she knew, every day. She taught her the proper way to get at the agave and how to get the best shine when polishing stones. Luz’s hands guided Maritza’s through techniques for massaging and soothing, sometimes a touch lingering longer than it was meant to. Luz was always waiting for Maritza at the door, the first face she saw every day and her last embrace at the end of the night. They shared meals together, doing what Chismosas do best—talking. They hid together under their veils, one overlapping the other. They were as hidden as children in a fort, whispering and giggling in their own little world. 

Maritza loved the sound of Luz’s voice when she was telling a joke. It became just a little higher and a little lighter. Maritza would watch Luz feather her bangs whenever she was concentrating and put her tongue to the inside of her cheek when she was struggling. Luz told Maritza everything, except for how she thought she loved her and why they couldn’t be together. 

Outside the walls of the hacienda, Luz was tangled up with Martín Molina. Martín, the man every mother warned their daughter about, handsome and suave and cruel. He had smoldering, coal-black eyes and a dimpled smile that was perfectly lopsided. Before Luz was old enough to realize this passion Martín called love was just violence and possessiveness, it was already too late. He had his hooks in so deep and her shame was so great that the Chismosa found herself unable to speak. Luz endured his jealousy and degradation in silence, not breathing a word of it to any of her sisters. But it never stopped the truth from being known. Martín would come to the doors of La Hacienda, raving and raging until she came out, and she always did. 

“Can you believe he was so drunk?” 

“Can you believe he said those things to her?” 

“Poor girl.” 

“Something has to be done.” 

For years this had carried on, Luz covering the bruises with her veil and long dress, masking her sorrow with a ready smile and a laugh. She was content in her routine—until the day Maritza walked into these echoing halls. 

“I have to know,” Maritza said one day while they were hiding out in one of the open-air invernaderos after a particularly involved session with the secretary of a local politician. “How did you start so young?” Maritza had scraped together every bit she could about this secret sisterhood and it was almost always reserved for women at least in their 20s. Being a Chismosa wasn’t exactly like being in a secret society, but being surrounded by gossip all the time did create an air of nearly impenetrable mystery. 

“Family tradition,” Luz said casually, tangling some grass between her fingers. “My mother, abuela, bisa, and most of my tías all wore the veil. You can imagine how family dinners went.” Luz laughed but it wasn’t her whole laugh, and Maritza noticed. She had noticed over the last few weeks that the light in Luz had started to dim.

“Hey,” Maritza put her hand over Luz’s, pulling focus from the blades of grass. “You’ve got something on your mind. Tell me.” 

This wasn’t the first time they’d touched, not by far. There had been countless lingering hugs, reassuring and joyful touches to the arm, even a handful of minutes holding hands. But this time Luz swallowed hard at the feeling of Maritza’s bathwater-softened hands on her. 

“The veil is really annoying a lot of the time, but it has its moments.” With the same nonchalance as if she were wiping away an eyelash, Luz brought her hand to her cheek and took away the smear of make-up covering her black eye. 

“Luz…” Maritza’s hand went up to hold her cheek before she could catch herself. 

“Another unfortunate family tradition, falling for terrible men. For some reason, the daughters in my family never learn from their mothers.” Luz laughed joylessly. “Maybe we just like giving people something to talk about.” Even though she felt low, Luz’s cheeks were lighting up under Maritza’s hand. 

Maritza listened as Luz told her everything. How she’d met Martín at La Hacienda and how much he hated it. The arguments they got into over her work, how he accused her of talking about him to the whole town, of brujería, of cheating on him. And more often than not, and especially recently, these accusations had come with flying hands.

“Luz, you can’t live like this anymore.” Maritza had both of her hands on Luz’s face then. 

“What am I supposed to do?” Silent tears were falling down her cheeks. 

“Let us protect you. Let me protect you.” Maritza tipped Luz’s chin up and leaned into her mouth. Catching herself by surprise Maritza pulled back. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, her hands pulling away from Luz’s face. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I was trying to comfort you and I guess that’s what I came up with? I don’t—”

This time Luz put her hands on Maritza’s face and pulled her close. 

Everything was in that first kiss. Every comfort Luz needed and every bit of certainty Maritza had ever felt. And with it a plan was hatched. Luz would leave Martín, as loudly or secretively as she needed to, and would stay behind these strong, earthen walls  where she would be safe. Maritza would find a new place for the two of them, somewhere on the other side of the city. And they would be together. 

That night, Maritza left for home with Luz’s kiss on her lips and hope in her heart. And it would last for a few more days, that hope sitting happily in her chest. 

But people like Martín weren’t so easily gotten rid of. 

They had spent a few quiet days together when things started to turn. The whispers sounded off in the hallway and shot through Luz with a start.

“He’s here,” she grabbed Maritza’s arm both to steady herself and out of fear.

Maritza put her hands on Luz’s arms and caught her eye. “He can’t get to you. We won’t let him in. You’re safe here.” 

“He’ll stay. He’ll stay until I come out.” Luz’s eyes were brimmed with tears and a tremor was running through her shoulders.

“Then I’ll go.” Maritza took her hands away from Luz’s body but Luz caught her wrist again.

“Don’t,” she pleaded. “Itza, please,” 

“Someone has to send him away,” Maritza kissed the crown of Luz’s head and headed for door. 

Martín was singing softly to himself when Maritza found him at the doorstep, a flask tucked into the waist of his pants. He was tall and broad-chested without looking particularly strong or intimidating. But he was handsome. Dark hair that fell across his forehead in a wave, eyes that pierced and smoldered, and a mouth that seemed to be always joking, always smirking. 

“You’re new,” Martín cocked his head to the side.

“Leave her alone.” Maritza balled her fists. 

Martín laughed, “I guess word does get around in a place like this.” He spit on the ground in front of him.

“You need to leave.” Maritza did her best to keep her voice strong. “You’re not wanted here.”

Martín’s expression changed from bemused to steely. “What if I wanted to take a bath?” He took a few lazy steps forward, “don’t you want to know everything I have hidden up here?” he tapped his forehead with his flask before bringing it to his lips. 

“I know more than enough about you.” Maritza would not let her gaze waver. “And you are not wanted here. She will not come out, she will not meet you or speak to you. This place is her home, and she’s not leaving.”

“And you’re her new man, are you?” The smirk returned to Martín’s lips. 

Maritza kept her lips pressed into a hard line. 

Martín laughed joylessly, “you can tell Luz I’ll see her soon.” He turned on his heel and started away from the building, picking up his song where he’d left off. Maritza stood and watched as he wandered down the street before she went back into the compound, finally letting out the breath she had been holding. Unsurprisingly, several of the sisters were lingering by the front door, trying to catch any little tidbit through the impossibly thick, heavy door. Maritza shot them all a look and they scattered back to their daily chores. Luz was right where she was when Maritza had gone to face Martín. 

“He’s gone.” Maritza put her hands on Luz’s shoulders. Luz fell into her arms and held tight.

“I hate this,” Luz spat. “I hate that I’m afraid of him. I hate that you had to face him. This isn’t who I am. He’s taken who I am.” 

“He can never take who you are because he has never known you.” Maritza assured her. “You are so much more than he could ever imagine. Only a miserable weak man could imagine he could undo someone like you.” 

Luz’s shimmering eyes peered up at Maritza. The voices sounded off in that shallow murmur around them.

“Maybe she’ll be all right after all.”

“That’ll be the last of Martín.” 

“If he knows what’s good for him.”


Maritza woke with a start, an impossible feeling burning through her chest. It was devastatingly easy to figure out what that feeling was as soon as she looked out her bedroom window. Smoke. A monstrous tower of smoke being borne from the place she had dreamed of her whole life. Maritza’s bare feet hit the floor and her nightgown tangled around her ankles as she raced through the city. The streets and alleyways grew hazier and hazier the closer she got, choking her up and breaking her heart. 

La Hacienda, the place she had found love and found herself, was hopelessly ablaze. The thick, carved wooden beams and halls were charred. The earthen shingles were shattering. The high, proud roof had already caved in on one side. The women of the hacienda were rushing around, working together in a way and rhythm that Maritza had never seen: buckets of water changing hands, fistfuls of sand, and Marisol’s thickest fabric being used to smother the flames. But it burned on. Maritza’s eyes scanned the faces in the crowd, some covered with the veil, other streaked in soot. Luz was nowhere to be seen. 

Panic began to rise in Maritza’s chest just as the other half of the roof collapsed. 

“Luz!” the sound tore through Maritza’s body. Her feet picked up again, fully intending to take her into the fire to find Luz or to follow her, it didn’t matter. Her lungs sucked in more and more ash and smoke as she ran closer to the house. She passed her sisters making efforts to save their home. Tears streamed down her cheeks from smoke and fear both. 

“Itza!” Luz’s voiced called from over the crashing roar of the blaze, but not from inside. Maritza turned frantically, her hair plastered to her forehead and cheeks, then the world lit to a garish orange. But everything was bright and clear when she finally spotted Luz. Her nightgown was black at the hem and grey everywhere else, her gentle face smeared with ash like warpaint. 

Maritza fell against her so hard they were both brought to their knees. Maritza held Luz’s face in her hand and kissed her over and over, never letting up her grip. 

“What happened?” Maritza finally asked, 

“We don’t know.” Luz shook her head, tears streaming down her cheeks. “The smoke woke us up. We think it started in the greenhouse.” Luz ran her hands over Maritza’s face helplessly. The two stayed huddled together while their world burned down around them. As long as they could cling to each other, not everything would be lost. 

“Girls!” the Señora’s voice snapped the couple back to the crisis. She was the closest to the fire, waving her hands over her head to get their attention. Grabbing each other by the wrists and waists, Luz and Mariza supported each other as they ran toward the firefighting effort. Without another word they took up filling buckets of water, soaking their thickest fabric bundles, splashing the flames back. For what felt like days they worked to beat the tireless mouth of this blaze back as it licked up and consuming all it could. 

A clear bottle with a flaming rag stuffed in the top arched through the sky and slashed over the inferno, sparking a momentary flash. 

Every eye turned to the source. Martín was standing with a lighter in hand. “Guess you’ll have to come home now, querida.” 

“You son of a bitch!” Luz lunged at Martín but Maritza held her fast. 

Martín laughed from his chest, a proud, evil laugh. In the firelit shadow of that night, he was exactly like his laugh. Hair and eyes blacker than that terrible night, voice as rough and alluring as smoke, his body standing broad and imposing.  

“How could you do this?” Luz’s voice had lost all of its venom, now a sob deep in her own chest. 

“What can I say, Luz?” He approached casually with languid, confident steps. “I’m a jealous man.” 

Luz tried to muster another ounce of strength, one last burst of anger, but she just fell to her knees and wept. The Chismosas had gathered around, some weeping along with Luz, some moved in silent prayer, others simply exhausted. There was no saving their home. The hacienda was gone. But every single sister was still standing. 

With Luz in her arms, Maritza couldn’t take her eyes off Martín. This man who took what he wanted no matter who it hurt. He feared what they could do and that had made him angry, and that made him violent. And that violence now surrounded everything Maritza held dear. In that moment, Maritza decided to show him exactly what they could do. 

“You know what I heard about Martín Molina?” Maritza said as she stepped forward. 

Martín dismissed her with an eyeroll and laugh. “I like the sound of my name in your mouth. Maybe I should take you home instead of Luz.” He tilted his head to look down at Luz. 

Maritza said, “I heard he doesn’t know who his father is, and his mother never wanted him at all.” 

Martín lowered his eyebrows and hardened his gaze. 

“I heard,” she went on, “that he was such a lonely kid that he made imaginary friends out of scraps from dinner.” 

His jaw clenched and he took a step toward Maritza, but not before someone else had something to say. 

“Oh, Martín Molina? Someone told me he used to hide under the pews at mass because he was so afraid of the nuns. Sometimes he would even wet himself.” 

“My prima told me that she saw Martín Molina so drunk once that he fell asleep with the pigs.” 

Luz’s voice joined in: “Martín Molina hates himself so much he beats women and burns down buildings. Can you imagine?” 

“Stop it!” Martín pressed his hands to his ears but the Chismosas stepped closer, their lips moving just as fast. “Stop it. Stop it!” His eyes burst open, unfocused. He started swiping at the air uselessly, not swatting flies or throwing punches. 

The Chismosas had closed in tight around him, leaving no room for his bleary eyes to see the smoke-marred sky he had created. They whispered and murmured the worst things they’d heard about this man over the years, and there was plenty to say. He sputtered in fits and turned quick circles, like an animal looking for any means of escape. At last, Martín Molina fell to the floor, his hands twitching at his sides, his eyes unblinking. All of the poison and evil he had spilled into the world now back on him. His heart still beat, though it was shriveled and weak. Behind his vacant eyes, the horrors of his life had spiraled and swirled and rendered him senseless. Martín was a husk, feeble and powerless. He would never raise a hand or a word against another person again.

“You may have burned down our home,” the Señora stood over his body, “but we are much more than pools and plants.” 

La Hacienda was a beautiful place, but the power of it was born and lived in these women. 

Maritza took Luz into her arms and held her tight. They held onto each other from that night on. Their hacienda would stand again, and it would be in large part due to their effort. 


Rebuilding La Hacienda began with the sunrise, piling up the burnt bits and sifting for the salvageable. The deep stone basins were empty and dirty; some were a little charred around the edges, but they were intact. The plants could be resown and the walls rebuilt, the tubs and rooms refilled with water and soon afterwards would fill the halls. Their home would come back together. 

This night would live on as part of the Chismosas’ legacy. It had been an event the town would talk about for years to come. This night would bring together a whole new generation of veiled women. There would never be a time without one whispering.

Rachel Gonzalez is our 2023 – 2024 writer in residence. To learn more about Rachel, visit her page here.

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