Carmen Baca


La Novia 


Carmen Baca retired in 2014 from teaching high school and college English for thirty-six years. Her command of English and use of her regional Spanish dialect contribute to her story-telling style. Her debut novel El Hermano published in April of 2017 and became a finalist in the NM-AZ book awards program in 2018. Her third book, Cuentos del Cañón, received first place for short story fiction anthology in 2020 from the same program. To date, she has published 5 books and over 50 short works in literary journals, ezines, and anthologies.

When it was all over, the matron of honor blamed herself, the parents of the bride blamed the groom, the wedding guests blamed the entire wedding party, and the latter blamed the hotel manager. The wedding had turned the bride’s dream day into a nightmare the town talked about decades later.

The morning preparations played out like a romance novel. The wedding suite overflowed with bridesmaids, mothers, aunts, and every female relative who had to experience the fancy room in the best hotel in town. Helping Daria, the bride, get ready was as much a tradition as the rest of the day’s events in the Hispanic community. The teasing about the wedding night got raunchier by the minute, which prompted the mother of the bride to shush the ladies to protect the youngsters from hearing more than they ought. One of the bridesmaids, Patricia, recognized the look of warning that signaled a collective scolding from behind the little girls’ backs if the ribbing persisted.  

“Oh, right,” she nodded at the older woman. “Girls, did you know this hotel is haunted?” Seated on the plush carpet as if audience to an educational play, the three teal-gowned cousins shook their heads. “Keep your eyes peeled down dark hallways.” Patricia added, “Who knows what we might see.” She winked, whispering over her shoulder to the older bridesmaids as she went to the dressing table, “Or what adventures we might experience.”  She and several others planned to partner up with groomsmen of their choice later, hoping for more than ghostly encounters in the dark.

Declaring the bride ready fifteen minutes prior to the mass, Cora, the matron of honor, ushered the females out of the suite and down to the cars already decorated in white tissue paper flowers with teal spray-painted tips. Teal and white crepe paper streamers adorned the radio antennas fluttering in the breeze as the cars took the wedding party in procession to the church a few blocks away. The ceremony was beautiful, all agreed, despite many guests’ reservations about the groom.

Back in the suite again after the short reception, Daria sat in an overstuffed chair and smiled at the memory of the day so far. She sighed, wriggling her toes in a lukewarm foot bath and snuggling deeper into the cushions. The buzz of excited bridesmaids, mothers, tías y primas crowded into the bedroom shushed when la madrina, Cora, raised her voice. “Let’s keep it down. In fact, let’s go to the living area and let Daria rest in peace.

 Too late she realized her ill choice of words and crossed herself when the eldest aunt, Tía Marta, scolded. “Ehhhh, cuida tus palabras, sonsa. La vas a embrujar.”

The youngest girls giggled, but some of the women gasped at the admonishment. Cora, in her mid-thirties, knew better than to reply when one of the matriarchs called them stupid. What was worse was her condemnation of Cora’s possible cursing the bride with her ill choice of words. “Ay, despéñsenme, mujeres. I apologize, ladies. My intent was innocent, I assure you all. Come, let’s leave Daria alone.”

Her forlorn expression conveyed her embarrassment, and shame caused her smile to waver as she ushered the party out, leaving Daria to rest. Funny how time passes, the bride observed. She’d spent the past year planning, shopping, making appointments here and there—the details of her dream wedding took over all her thoughts and activities. But the slow walk up the aisle to exchange vows with the man she could now call husband and the afternoon reception had flown in what felt like fleeting moments. They shifted from anticipated events to cherished memories so fast. Why did time have to do that?

She closed her eyes and watched scenes from her special day so far play out in her mind. The wedding party had left the church after posing for photographs inside at the altar and then by the saints. Once outside they posed beneath the trees. Afterward, they piled into the five decorated cars and snaked their way through the town’s main streets, honking and waving when others honked back. The custom was many-generations old and preceded several more to come during the reception and dance.

The cavalcade grew as vehicles joined the flower-covered cars in front, and Daria thought how like the wedding march it was with couples jumping onto the dance floor until the circling pairs covered it. Arriving at the reception, the padrinos, the best man and matron of honor, had led the wedding party in a procession to music. They had eaten buffet style before cutting the cake, toasting the union, and then dancing the Marcha.

They had left the hotel ballroom exhausted yet excited because the night was just starting. Daria had dreamed of this day since she was a child though she never admitted it to her friends. Many were career women or in college planning on pursuing careers. The few who were married made it look easy: balancing work with home, kids, making time for hobbies and family outings. They were the superwomen she admired. But those were not her goals. Marriage held a different appeal for her no one suspected.

Her musings took her to the day she met the man she had decided suited her as husband material. When Randall Gutierrez, a successful entrepreneur, came to town to open a new store in his chain, those who knew Daria watched him whirl into her life like an act of Mother Nature. He spun her out of control and swept her up into his trajectory so completely she told everyone she could barely remember a moment before he became her life. What she didn’t admit was he served her purpose so completely it was easy to capture his attention and make him think it was he who left her dizzy. Nothing of the kind. Daria knew how to out-connive a conniver better than the average person.

“Are you sure you want to marry so fast?” Her mother had been the first to wonder if her daughter was truly in love or perhaps embrujada either by ill intent or by her own concept of love. This Randall was her first serious boyfriend, after all. Several of Daria’s friends echoed her mother’s suspicions about having a spell cast upon her since hardly anyone knew anything about him, not even where he had come from.

But she only laughed and told them they had it wrong. “It’s the other way around. I’m the one enchanting him.”

They knew better than to argue the matter when Daria had her mind made up. Nothing and no one could dissuade her from becoming Randall’s wife. A few rumors about the haste for the nuptials made the rounds as such things do among people who have nothing better to do than to stick their noses in others’ affairs. Daria laughed at the memory. Children might be in the distant future, but she would make sure they wouldn’t come unplanned. She took her feet out from the foot bath. As she got ready for the last time on her día de boda, she smiled with self-satisfaction at the day so far.


In another suite of the hotel, Randall puffed on a cigar while lounging on the wedding bed. What luck he had found a bride almost as soon as he took up residence. He allowed her a bit of freedom in honor of their wedding day, but he looked forward to setting down the rules as man of the house. He came from old money, and Old Money mentors had taught him how they kept their wives and mistresses in line and far apart. He put out his cigar and freshened up for the dance. Thinking of the reception and the ridiculous traditions her family insisted upon, he

muttered as he left the suite, “I wonder what customs the dance holds.” Only a few hours of festive torture remained, and he vowed to hold his temper in, no matter what. It was a small price to pay for a trophy wife. His reputation and his advancing age demanded he marry and produce an heir or two. Thinking ahead to the wedding night would help him bear the few hours left.


The wedding party entered the ball room once more in procession. For the next few hours, the gente danced one number after the other: there were dances specifically for the bride and groom, then the bride and her father, then her father-in-law, the groom and the two women he could now call mother, and then after a few more valzes, cumbias, salsas, la varsioviana, and even “The Twist” and “La Bamba” came the Money Dance.

When Randall asked what it entailed, he almost forgot to keep his emotion in check. “I have more than enough money to keep Daria happy,” he interrupted, but her father shut him down.

“It is tradition. You will hurt the guests’ feelings. They mean only to help you newlyweds start your lives together. You can let Daria keep the money if you are so opposed. But you will not stop our wedding rituals. You will bring bad luck upon your marriage, and we cannot allow that.” The father’s statement should have been asked as a question, he thought later. He feared he had cursed the marriage just as Cora thought the same when they spoke after it was all over.

Randall’s grumbling had no effect on anyone in the family, and so he let the madrina position him on the dance floor a short distance from his new bride. Cora and her husband, the best man, stood as intermediaries to receive dollar bills from the guests for the honor of dancing with the bride and groom. She wore a pincushion corsage wrapped around one wrist. The custom called for her to pin the bills on the bride’s bodice. Randall danced so many dances he couldn’t have counted if he’d wanted. Astonishment turned to pleasure when he saw Daria’s bosom covered in bills like a long bib. The veil took its place. By the end of the dance, both garments were green. She walked with slow, special care as her mother and the other viejas took her from the dance hall to unpin the bills from her clothes.

“I’ll be…,” Randall chuckled. She’ll have enough money to make the house a home. “It lacks a woman’s touch,” he thought, “and I won’t have to spend a cent of my money.” He would persuade her to use it for household expenses until it ran out. Then, he’d give her a modest allowance. Funny they had never discussed finances prior to joining within the wedding lasso rosary to symbolize their union at the end of the mass. He wondered how she would react when she found out his way was the only way.


When she returned to the sala, Daria still wore a few bills scattered across her bodice. Randall raised a brow when she joined him and explained they served to encourage more contributions during the remainder of the dance. He expressed his approval and then led her to the bridal table to take a short break where Daria discovered a side to her husband she hadn’t expected.

“I shall take you to the local shops next week. You can spend your money on what you would like for the house. After all,” he reasoned, “mi casa is your casa now. I know you would want to buy some little luxuries for us.”  

She didn’t, or at least not with her money, but they could discuss finances later. About a half hour passed before the best man announced it was time for the Entriega, the tearful exchange of the bride and groom from their parents into the care of one another. Daria had been the one to protest with all her might against this sad ritual to no avail. Her parents insisted.

The bride and groom knelt on a serape, and the band took up the dirgeful tune, casting a pall over the festivities. Each verse added more sad detail so that by the end every woman in the hall was in tears, children crying because their mothers cried. Trying their best to stifle their sobs, husbands placed their arms around their wives while blowing their noses or wiping at their eyes. It was as Daria had known it would be, which was precisely why she hadn’t wanted to include it on her special day. Every guest lined up to bless the couple, the women’s tears wetting Daria and her new husband’s cheeks with every hug. She groaned inwardly, squeezing her new husband’s hand and throwing him a look of exasperation. He winked in response, but when his fingers pressed harder into her hand, his squeeze meant to cause pain.

Daria winced and opened her fingers, hoping he would release his grip. He lightened his touch and looked askance at her with a raised brow. The intense way his eyes darkened gave Daria a chill. He looked almost menacing, something evil creeping out through eyes turning blacker with each breath. This was a side to her husband he’d kept well-hidden. She didn’t like it, but she had secrets of her own; and the “I do” bound them for better or worse, for a while anyway.

On the last note of the Entriega, Daria wiped her eyes before taking her husband’s arm to rise to her feet. She looked up at him with nervous anticipation, but his eyes held only mirth in their hazel regard. Daria smiled with the relief of seeing her old Randall, the harmless one who had attracted her in the first place. The bride and groom danced a few more bailes with their guests, everyone making the most of the time left. The dance was almost over though the night was still young enough no one wanted to go home.

Only one ritual remained: robando la novia, kidnapping the bride. Afterward, those who survived the storm that swept the wedding dance into a frenzy berated each other and themselves for their collective assumption Randall knew about the custom. His reaction to Daria’s disappearance from the festivities burst like a lightning bolt over the guests. The tempest had begun.

Daria’s cousins, Diego and Raphael, had taken her to the nightclub off the lobby of the hotel for a drink when they “kidnapped” her. They would stay about a half hour, enough time for the padrinos to pass hats amongst the guests for the bride’s ransom. This was the final opportunity for the guests to give what they could to the new couple to help them start their lives together, and they gave generously. Upon the return of the bride, the dance would have wound down and the guests would have crawled into bed with visions of the happy celebration lulling them to an exhausted sleep.

But Randall didn’t know about this tradition. All he knew was that his new wife was missing. No one would tell him where or with whom Daria had left the dance. The músicos played a cumbia, the happy guests danced, the money filled the hats, and all was as it should be when Randall jumped onto the bandstand, knocked the singer to the side, and roared into the microphone: “Where is Daria?”

Gasps, shattered glass, the lack of music, and curt yells broke the silence. Before Randall could shout again, Daria’s father, brave with tequila, stepped up to the bandstand. “¡Se robaron la novia!” he declared, raising his shot glass and almost losing his balance.

“¿Quien? Who kidnapped Daria?”

The room erupted in something like a hundred guests explaining the custom at once, but since none was in unison, Randall heard only the cacophony of voices without sense. His rage turned his vision dark, his fists clenched, and his heart pounded with such force he looked down at his chest. Everything that followed happened at once. He clutched the front of his shirt and fell to his knees. The musicians’ instruments fizzled out, and they stepped back from the kneeling groom. The crowd froze. Randall shook in uncontrolled tremors, then stiffened, threw his head back, and roared. The sound permeated the hall with its primal emotion, like an animal which has found itself in a position from which there is no escape and gives one last outcry against its fate.

Then he fell flat on his face and lay still.

The panic ensued after a moment of silent shock, people running to and fro, some calling for a doctor, others rushing to the groom’s aid, and still more fleeing through the front double doors in a panic. Daria and her primos had run back to the hall and found themselves dodging the mob rushing out. Several tías grasped her in bear hugs and “lo siento muchos” as they ran, and Daria ran faster to find out what they were all so sorry for.

Her mother smacked right into her and wrapped her arms around her, crying, “Don’t look, don’t look. You don’t want to remember him this way.”

But over her mother’s shoulder, Daria saw Randall lying on the stage, his face turning toward her. The man she vowed to love and obey only a few hours before focused on her for the last time. She winked and grinned with such enthusiasm her cheeks hurt. “Look at me,” she wanted to shout. “I’m the rich widow. And you’re…” When his eyes expressed his understanding a moment before they went blank, Daria whispered, “dead.”

A giggle escaped her lips, and her mother clutched her tighter. Laughter followed the giggle, and if her mother hadn’t been holding her up, Daria would have fallen to the floor in hysterics. But she wasn’t in shock, nor was she in grief. She fought to breathe between her laughs, and had just succeeded in drawing a deep breath when the fleeting memory of her madrina telling her to rest in peace set her off again. Maybe Cora had evoked a curse, after all. The irony of it causing the groom a restful peace made her laugh even harder. She fell to her knees and covered her face with her hands. The hearts of all who stood there taking in the macabre tableau broke for the grief-stricken bride so quickly turned widow. Behind her hands, Daria laughed so hard she cried. She was free and she had all Randall’s money waiting for her to spend. She had always wanted to be a bride; how else could she achieve her true goal of young and wealthy widow?





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