Stories weave in and out of our lives in every possible, imaginable sense. They are a part of us from the time we are born until the time we die. Through oral readings, movies, books, episodic tv shows, and our dreams, we are constantly digesting stories.
In searching for tales regarding women, I came across the tale of the Bone Woman. The Bone Woman, or La Huesera, as she is known, collects bones in the desert and brings them to life. Intrigued by the idea, I wrote this story. I hope to continue in this vein, but possibly bringing old tales into present day. We’ll see how it goes.
Once upon a time, there was a young woman married to an old, old awful man. They lived in a tiny cottage outside of a very old village. The young woman worked from dawn to dusk; cooking and cleaning. And then at dusk, as was often her only pleasure, she would weave splendid cloth at an ancient wooden framed loom.
This old, old awful man wasn’t a good husband to the young woman, thus the obvious reference. He worked her hard, beat her, starved her, and then after several years he cast her off when she gave him no children; leaving her in the desert with no food, or water, or shelter.
Alone in the desert, the young woman was very afraid. Although the old, old awful man beat her and starved her, she still yearned for shelter and substance. In the beginning, she would look for him thinking that any minute he would come, having changed his mind realizing her value.
But the old, old awful man did not come for her. After several days, she learned the ways of the desert. By day, when the sun was at its fiercest, she hid in the shade of the large stones that settled into the sand. By night she walked, crying, still wanting to find her way home. The nights were cold. She could hear the howling of wolves and became aware of carrion birds that followed after her. She would wrap her threadbare dress tightly around her and surrender to the coarse grains of sand.
On her last day as the young woman; burdened with hunger, thirst, and weariness, she walked until she could go no further. Lying down by a wide, dry riverbed, she once again wrapped herself in her threadbare garment.
In a weak and trembling voice she whispered, “La Huesera, take me, for I am spent.”
As she released her last breath wild animals ate her flesh and carried off her garment as it was threadbare and would be very useful for burrows and lairs. All that was left were her bones and in time the bones turned a splendid white, bleached by the heavy sun. It is said the young woman’s spirit watched over the white, white bones and it said that she knew neither sorrow nor fear.
The young woman’s bones lay on the hard and still coarse grains of sand as her spirit watched in vigil fashion, until the moon was full once more. On that first night of the full moon, as the desert ground shook, a vaporous shadow formed over the white bones. Slowly the vapor grew thick and became that of a figure of an old woman; skinny and crooked with a knapsack slung over her back. She dropped her sack and kneeled very carefully and slowly by the bones. Then, by the full moon’s shadow, La Huesera placed the bones, one by one, in her woven sack.
The old woman carried the bones to a cave high in the mountaintops, then laid them out beside a fire. But it wasn’t time yet. So she ate of the dark, rich soup simmering in her nearby cauldron and after she finished with the soup, she crept over to a tattered old basket and drew out a piece of fruit.
But this was not an ordinary fruit, like an apple or a pear. This was an unusual pome of flaxen color, its shape like that of a star, with a sweet succulent taste like no other. The old woman ate the soft, polygon shaped fruit over the white bones as the luscious seeds spilled onto the ground. As they fell over the white bones they released a brilliant pulsing light that reflected on the dirt floor of the small dark cave, resembling a starry reflection of the night sky.
Replenished, the old woman pivoted her old body towards a corner of the cave in which a large wooden loom cast shadows from the flickering light of the fire. She sat her spindly body down on a wobbly and small three legged stool. Biding her time, she slowly began to weave with brilliant colored threads that, where they came from, it is quite uncertain.
As she weaved, she smoked a leaf-filled ancient pipe. She weaved and smoked. She smoked and thought. She thought for a long, long time.
Slowly a garment resembling a gown immerged from her loom, rich with mosaic patterns of blues, oranges, and golden yellows. The gown was something to behold, embellished with golden threaded embroidery and completed by billowy sleeves and tiny pockets sewn into the skirt.
With the moon bright and the night skies their darkest, she began singing, “Flesh to bone! Flesh to bone! Flesh to bone!”
As the Bone Woman sang at her loom; the bones, sparkling from the seeds that fell directly on them, stood up and slowly knit back together. As the skies began to lighten, the bones began to fill with flesh. Where the young woman’s skin had once been red and rough from hard work and beatings; the new flesh was soft, smooth, and shimmering enhanced with a golden light. United together, the bones and flesh formed a physical being of brilliant perfection from beginning to end.
The skin was as gold as daylight and the hair as black as night. La Huesera sang and sang then blew a puff of smoke from her pipe into the being’s face. The eyes flew open as the being sat up and warily eyed the old woman.
The old woman drew a crooked finger up and up until it rested on the tip of the being’s nose. “You are Soma,” the old woman said, “Daughter of the beacon fruit. A long life to you, one filled with light and brilliance.”
Very suddenly, Soma grew weary. She lay by the fire and fell asleep. When she awoke, the cave was empty. The ashes were cold. The old Bone Woman was gone. All that remained were a rainbow colored gown and the remaining illuminated seeds. As she slipped the gown over her head, the splendid creation fell over her body conforming to every newly pieced together portion of flesh. Carefully placing the seeds in her tiny pockets, she deliberately and slowly walked out of the cave and into the sunlight.
Following the rising sun, she walked into the village she had known as the young woman. As the sun traveled high into the sky, she caught sight of the small house she had shared with the old, old awful man. The door to the tiny cottage was open, begging her to enter. The house was dark and barren, the little bits of furniture here and there were covered in spider webs. She shuddered as she glanced around the dreary room. Her eyes scanned the pots and pans and then fell on the broom sitting in the corner. The very broom she swept with and the very broom she was beaten with. But her eyes paused at the sight of the ancient wooden frame loom. She wasn’t quite sure why, she only knew that the object made her smile.
She didn’t linger in the cold, musty smelling house for very long. She desired the warmth of the sun and the brightness of the sky. So with one last look, she shook her shoulders, and walked back out into the sunlight.
She enfolded her arms across her chest; the billowy colorful sleeves engulfing her body in a warm embrace and following the sun, slowly walked back to the village.
She only knew one word; Soma. When the people of the village gathered around her that is the word she uttered. From that moment on, that was her name, just as the old woman ordained it to be. The townspeople welcomed her and over time, they gave her a new dwelling place, a goat, and a hen. They taught her human speech. They taught her how to make dark soup and honey cakes.
There was only one thing the townspeople could not give her out of their generosity. She had to retrieve what she needed by herself. And with the darkness of night to hide her, she stole away one night and reclaimed what was hers.
In a garden she planted turnips, beetroot, and parsley. But in a very special garden she planted La Huesera’s sparkling seeds.
Townspeople are known to chinwag and the people of the village were not any different. They chattered on and on about the young blind poet down across the way, swearing that they saw him counting his drift of pigs. They were sure that the married town crier was seeing the innkeeper’s wife on the sly.
And they were sure that the old, old awful man died from a broken heart after his wanton and coarse wife left. They didn’t know him as the old, old awful man. They didn’t know him at all. That’s why they chattered and made up stories. That’s why most people chatter and make up stories. Why, they would say, she was nothing but a harlot. She must have snuck off to be with the banshee wolves doing things that no decent person can ever fathom. He should have been glad to be rid of her.
Despite their sorrow for the old, old awful man’s sad end result, the village folk didn’t seem unnecessarily grief stricken over his departure. And, of course, they never recognized that their new arrival was the old, old awful man’s wanton wife. Transformed, Soma was only known as the lovely young woman wearing a splendid gown who came to them from out of the desert.
Soma’s seeds from La Huesera grew into luscious flaxen colored fruit, succulent and star-shaped, like no other fruit. Often times, with the dark as her cover and the full moon her guide, she would steal away into the desert, a woven sack slung over her back. For years, she traveled the same route, the moon at the helm.
Years past, her body crooked and feeble, she still ventured into the desert. And after each of her travels she would be found sitting at her reclaimed loom, weaving, weaving and smoking her leaf-filled pipe, smoking and thinking. After she ate of her dark soup, she would eat of the star-shaped succulent fruit as the juices and seeds spilled from her gnarled hands onto her tiny cottage floor. Onto white bones neatly gathered there that would begin to glitter from the tiny sparkling dust and cause the floor to shimmer like that of the starry night sky. Rising to the rhythm of a phantom song, the bones would then knit themselves together. While the bones became whole, Soma would sing “Flesh to bone! Flesh to bone! Flesh to bone!” She would then rise up from her loom and gather her pipe to her lips in anticipation of the future.