Diane de Anda

Pedro and the Lieutenant

Mexico 1918. 


Diane de Anda, Ph.D., a retired UCLA professor and third generation Latina, has edited four books on multicultural populations and published numerous articles in scholarly journals, along with short stories, poetry, and essays in Rosebud, Straylight, Storyteller, Pacific Review, Bilingual Review, Frogpond, Modern Haiku, Bottle Rockets, Presence, Ruminate, Third Wednesday and others, thirteen children’s books (plus 2 in press) which have won multiple awards, satires on a regular basis in Humor Times, and a collection of 40 flash fiction stories, L.A. Flash.

He wanted to kill him the minute he opened the door.  Even before he announced who he was, Pedro knew who the man standing in his doorway in a lieutenant's uniform was.  But for his daughter's sake, he stuffed down the hatred that poured bile into his stomach and rose hot into his chest and his burning face. 

The lieutenant was prepared for his reaction.  He had taken off his cap and had bowed when he made his introduction.  'Seňor Hernandez,” he began, “I have come to ask for your permission to marry your daughter.” 

Pedro stood motionless for a few moments, stunned by the unexpected proposal.  He opened the door wider and motioned for the lieutenant to enter.  They sat alone at the kitchen table; his wife had already taken their daughter to another room.

The lieutenant professed his deep love for his daughter, from his first vision of her as a fourteen year old angel of mercy in the makeshift village hospital during La Revolucíon.  Her perfect face, with its golden skin and green eyes from her French grandfather, had captivated him immediately. 

Pedro was unmoved.  It was this obsession that led the lieutenant to have her kidnapped, a blanket thrown over her as she left the hospital one night and hidden in a Chinese laundry until she could be swept away to his mother's hacienda.  Yes, it had been a gilded prison of sorts, her own cottage and maid, kept for him while he was in battle, but it was a prison no less.  Pedro remembered the year of her captivity, the family not knowing what had happened to her, except that she was probably one of the “mujeres robadas[1] of the revolution, though really still a girl.  And he remembered that she had come back to them not of the lieutenant's choosing, but because his mother could no longer bear the pain of the beautiful young girl steeped in sorrow for the family she missed.  It was she, not he, who had sent her on the train back to them.

The lieutenant pleaded his case, his deep love for Nacha, the life he promised for her.  Pedro knew that there was little choice.  Whatever had or had not happened during her captivity, she was forever a sullied woman, her chances for marriage limited, if not ruined.  The lieutenant's offer was her only chance to become a respectable woman.  And so he agreed to give his daughter to the man who he hated above all others.

Nacha was not given a choice; her father had made the decision.  And she understood how others, especially men in search of a bride, would look at her.  Besides, a daughter did what her father had determined was best for her. 

She had no expectation to have loving feelings for the man despite his deep passion for her, his demonstrative affection, his constant testimony of love.  The wedding night he was patient.  When he got into the bed, she slipped down onto the floor.  When he joined her on the floor, she took to the bed again.  And so went this dance until she finally gave in.

A few months later, Pedro had decided to move the family across the border into the United States, because he had been offered a lucrative job for his skills as a master carpenter.  The lieutenant decided that he and Nacha would relocate with them, and he would sign up for the United States military, given his extensive military experience.

Once the family settled in, the lieutenant applied for the service.  However, the military doctors discovered that the symptoms he had been ignoring for some time were a case of tuberculosis that had progressed substantially.  This set in motion a series of events.  His visa was revoked, and he was sent on a train back to Mexico to a sanitorium, where, because he was from a family of means, he could remain to be treated.

It was decided that it was best that Nacha remain with her family during his treatment.  It is doubtful that he knew that his new bride was already pregnant, because the communications from Mexico never made mention of anticipating a child.  Instead, in a short time, a message came to Nacha and the family that the lieutenant had died of his illness and that his last request was for a photograph of Nacha be buried with him.  Nacha was filled with mixed emotions for the man who had so callously stolen her from her family, yet loved her in his own obsessive way.

Nacha's daughter was born in El Paso, the first in the family in the U.S., the first in a hospital.  But Pedro feared that the lieutenant's family, with much more position and money than he, might claim the child if they found out and take her from them as the lieutenant had their own daughter.  And so, to make sure there would be no documents that would give validity to any claim, when they called him into the office to fill in the birth certificate, Pedro came up with a desperate plan.  He filled in the child's name with his family name, Carmen Hernandez.  As was the custom in Mexico, he wrote in his daughter's maiden name, Ignacia Hernandez, as the child's mother.  And in one motion, he wrote the lieutenant out of their lives and, he believed, the shame he had brought the family.  He had no sense of the shame his granddaughter would feel each time she had to explain the circumstances of her birth certificate, as in the space marked father, he wrote his own name, Pedro Hernandez.

[1]   Stolen women

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