Cover image for The day of the moon
The day of the moon
Limón, Graciela.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Houston, Tex. : Arte Público Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
228 pages ; 22 cm
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Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Fiction. Stark and resonant . . . Ms. Limon's prose is a self-assured and engrossing -- New York Times Book Review. In a dramatic new work, novelist Graciela Limon tells a story of forbidden loves: A tale that spans across the twentieth century, across the Southwest from Mexico to Los Angeles, across skin colors, across the sexes, across religious boundaries, across life and death, and across four generations of a family named Betancourt.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Lim¢n's commanding second novel, after her praised In Search of Bernab‚, follows four generations of the Betancourt family throughout five decades of Mexico's tumultuous political and social history. In 1906, with the luck of a gambler's hand, 26-year-old Don FlavioÄson of a Spanish father and an Indian motherÄwins land, wealth and power on one card game and begins a new life in the world of wealthy gringos. But his sudden nobility will have its price. Don Flavio's brutish treatment of Velia Carmelita, his new bride, sends her into the arms of Br¡gida, his gentle sister. Furious and confused to discover the two women are lovers, Don Flavio leaves the ranch in disgust. When he returns four years later, his wife is dead, his sister near-mad with grief, and he now has another female to control, his blonde little daughter Isadora. After she grows into a young woman, Isadora's love for Jer¢nimo Santiago (a Native Indian, and a member, like all indios, of the servant class) creates a furor in her family, dramatizing the hypocrisies of the Mexican upper class in dealing with the Indians who work their land. Don Flavio's disavowal of his own Indian mother, and his embracing of Spanish "purity," haunts him throughout his life, and he inflicts his self-loathing and violent bigotry on his family's future generations. Alonda, his "brown" outcast grandchild, waits for Don Flavio's death to finally come to terms with her ethnic identity. Lim¢n contextualizes her saga with crucially placed details of Mexican political and social history, providing a sharp critique of the Mexican class system while embedding several passionate and eloquently rendered love stories. Through multiple points-of-view, this novel deftly explores one family's tragic reckoning with issues of cultural identity, sexual autonomy and interracial love. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One     Los Angeles, 1965     Don Flavio Betancourt sat in the armchair, staring through the lace curtains of his bedroom. His gaze was vacant as his eyes scanned the rainy landscape; he was vaguely aware of the swishing sound each time a car drove past his house. His mind, however, was somewhere else. It had escaped, as it did nearly all the time now. The old man's thoughts ran away from him, skipping west, skittering over rooftops, dashing upward, spiraling over the Sixth Street Bridge, then turning south and rushing headlong toward Mexico.     He was eighty-five years old and he had grown frail. He was no longer tall, as he had been during most of his life; he had shrunk. His once muscular arms now sagged. His shoulders were thin and hunched. When he walked his head drooped and his small belly jutted out. Don Flavio looked down at his spotted hands, squinting, trying to focus his blurred vision. He turned them over, palms up, and saw that the skin was wrinkled and yellowish. Then he put them on his thighs, and he saw the dark blue veins; they reminded him of spider webs. He closed his eyes for a moment, aware of the vague discomfort that pressed against the pit of his stomach. When his lids snapped open, his mind returned to his memories.     "It didn't happen all at once," the old man mumbled as he reached out to take hold of the curtain. He moved it to the side so that he could look through the window. Tiny rivulets of rain streaked the glass but he could make out the reflection of his once handsome face. Now withered folds of parched skin hung off his jowls, pulling the corners of his lips downward, and giving his face an intimidating frown. What had been thick, nearly blond hair was almost gone; only a few strands of yellowish gray hair lay plastered to his skull with pomade. The color of his eyes, too, had been transformed by age. What was once blue was now a faded translucent gray.     Don Flavio's reflection began to recede from his eyes, becoming smaller until it seemed to have been sucked in by the watery glass. Suddenly another image appeared in its place, one that recurred in his brain at unexpected times, making him squirm in the armchair or wherever the memory assaulted him. The apparition mesmerized him, paralyzing his will to shut his eyes, or even to rub away the reflection.     The specter usually began with what appeared to be the hooves of a deer. These blurred and mixed until k became clear that they were not hooves but the feet of a man. They moved so rapidly that the huaraches that bound them seemed hardly to touch the earth on which the man ran. Above the feet came the legs and thighs, the loin cloth, the muscular belly, the heaving chest and shoulders, the taut neck with its bulging vein. Then the head began to take shape with its long, black hair flowing behind the runner.     It wasn't until then that Don Flavio was able to focus on El Rarámuri, the detested Indian. That face haunted the old man: the square jaw, the straight lips partially covered by a thin, drooping mustache, the aquiline nose framed by the eyes of the nomad. And once whole, the specter ran ceaselessly, brush and rocks flashing by with indescribable speed, the coppery earth moving with him, increasing his velocity. The image did not move from the watery glass, but Don Flavio knew that the distance being covered by the native was enormous, impossible for most men. The reflection moved with a grace that disguised the strain on the runner's body. The old man's eyes dilated as he remembered the first time he saw El Rarámuri seemingly surpass the wind that gusted through the crevices of the canyon.     Don Flavio finally covered his face with his hands; a soft moan slipped through his lips as he felt the discomfort in his stomach turn into pain. He tried to think of something else, but the vision burned somewhere behind his eyeballs. He wiped a circle into the blurry glass with his palm. He peered into the encroaching winter evening, deliberately concentrating on the steel gray color of the sky. Then he stretched his neck to look down the street; he wanted to fill his eyes with ordinary things. There, across the street, was the two-story frame house of the Miranda family. To the right, the old man saw the tree that had been threatening to die for the last twenty years. It had finally dried up in September. To the left was Third Street. On the corner was the tire garage, its grime spilling out to the sidewalk.     Don Flavio strained to see if any people were out on the street, but no one was there; it was raining too much. When he leaned back in his chair he grunted in frustration. His hands were sweaty. He realized that looking out onto the street had only interrupted the native's run and that the nagging reflection had returned to taunt him. The old man's head sagged backward onto the high back of the chair, his eyes shut tightly and his mouth clamped shut as he tasted the bitter saliva coating his tongue.     There was a muffled rap on the door.     "Entra."     "Buenas noches, Don Flavio."     "Buenas noches."     Don Flavio's terse reply to the old woman was characteristic; he rarely spoke anymore. When she placed the tray on the table by his side he only nodded. It was time for his early evening chocolate. He grunted as a sign of gratitude, but as she was about to leave, he turned to her.     "Ursula, I won't have dinner tonight."     Ursula Santiago paused as she adjusted her deep-set, small eyes to the growing darkness in the room; the gray that streaked her coarse hair caught the last glimmering of daylight. Her head was small and well-defined, as if chiseled in stone. High, bony cheekbones accentuated her beaked nose, as did the wrinkles that circled her thin lips. In the gloom, her skin was brown and auburn. Ursula was a small woman, but she held herself erect and moved with confidence, even when facing the old man.     She nodded. She knew that he was in pain. She had noticed his skipping the evening meal more frequently during the past months. What Ursula did not know was that for the moment Don Flavio was not concerned with the biting discomfort in his belly, because he was more aware of relief. Her coming into his room had finally stopped El Rarámuri. The image had vanished from the window.     As Ursula began to leave, Don Flavio stopped her again. "Where's the girl? I haven't seen her in days."     "Alondra is in the kitchen." She resented his not uttering the name. "Do you want me to call her?"     "Yes. Tell her to come for a moment."     Ursula looked at the man she had served since she was seventee. Once she had been in awe of him, but the years had wasted him, snatched away his arrogance, leaving only the shell that now sat in front of her. When he and his sister, Brígida, had fled Mexico with Samuel and Alondra, Ursula followed as well because she had made a promise. She had spent the rest of her life fulfilling that vow.     "Wait! Tell my sister that I want to speak to her, too."     "Don Flavio, you've forgotten. Doña Brígida is dead."     "Ha! What does it matter? I don't speak to crazy women anyway!"     Ursula snorted through her nose, thinking that Doña Brígida had not been crazy, that she had been understandable most times, even though she had her moments at the end of her life. When that happened, everyone smiled or giggled, knowing that her mind had wandered again. Ursula shrugged her shoulders and left the room, closing the door softly. Don Flavio waited, refusing to look at the window. In a few minutes, he heard the rap on the door.     "Come in."     He did not look up. He knew who stood in front of him, and he kept quiet for a long while.     "Don Flavio. I'm here."     "Yes. I know."     "Do you want me to turn on the lámpara?"     "No. And don't mix languages!"     Again he fell into silence, hunched deep into the armchair thinking of how much her way of speaking annoyed him. He finally sucked in air through his mouth as he looked up at the young woman. He first saw the feet, shod in worn tennis shoes. Then he scanned the legs, thighs, hips; they were clad in faded jeans. His eyes moved up, covering the abdomen, breasts, shoulders, neck. He noted the cotton shirt tucked in, accentuating the slim waistline. She was tall, lean, well shaped.     At last, he focused on Alondra's face: It was oval-shaped, almost long; it was highlighted by hair that hung below her shoulders. Darkness had crept into the room, but he knew that her hair was raven-colored. Don Flavio looked at the young woman's skin, olive-colored with dark brown tones around her temples and beneath the long, straight nose. Her mouth was like that of all of them, he thought: wide, thin-lipped, sensuous. Then he did what he feared he would do. He looked into Alondra's eyes: black, deeply set, almond-shaped, with long straight lashes. Suddenly, they became his own mother's eyes. Unable to sustain Alondra's gaze, the old man turned away. When he looked again, her eyes had become those of the hated Rarámuri who haunted Don Flavio. The stare was riveted on the old man accusingly, and he shut his eyes.     "Leave the room!"     His voice was a mix of rage and anguish. Alondra was not surprised nor offended; this scene had been repeated frequently during the last months. She had come to him only because Ursula, her grandmother, told her to do so. She left the room without speaking.     Don Flavio tried to control the tremor that had overtaken him. He stared at the pitcher on the tray for a long time before attempting to serve himself. When he did, his hand trembled as he poured the hot liquid, forcing him to take the mug in both hands. The steamy chocolate fragrance calmed him, and he glanced at the ceiling, following the coiling vapor. Suddenly he sat up. He bent his head, cocking his ear, straining to hear. In the beginning it was distant, an echo, barely audible, intensifying, growing louder, more powerful. Don Flavio then felt the thundering vibration as it pounded against the hardwood floor beneath him, and he recognized the dull clatter of hooves as a horse raced at full gallop on the packed earth of his hacienda.     The old man held his breath, and then he saw her. Isadora, his daughter, rode bareback at breakneck speed across the llano . Her hands clutched the beast's mane, her legs wrapped around its sides. The white cotton dress she wore clung to her body, swept up above her knees, exposing her legs and the boots he had given her. She was laughing in defiance of the wind that whipped her face. Her golden hair, the sun's rays trapped in the ringlets of its curls, swept around her head like an aura.     Don Flavio smiled, exposing yellowed, worn-out teeth. The trembling had left him and he felt serene. He loved conjuring the image of his daughter, especially as she rode the high-spirited mare he had given her when she had become eighteen. He sighed, reliving that day when she first rode the horse. Isadora could ride better than any of his ranch hands; she could become one with the animal.     Don Flavio closed his eyes, listening to the cascading music of her laughter and her call to him. On that morning, he had leapt on his horse and galloped to her side. Together they raced across the meadow until they reached the slope that marked the beginning of the Sierra Madre. He loved Isadora above all others, more than anything he possessed, more than himself. On that day, when they rode toward the sierra, he loved Isadora so much that his heart filled with joy.     The pounding hooves receded into the past but the old man kept his eyes closed. It had grown dark outside, and he could hear the soft rain against the windowpane. He sat in the gloom, mumbling to his daughter, trying to explain what he had done. His memories again took flight, soaring across the rainy Los Angeles sky, heading for Mexico. His life had two parts: before Isadora, and after her.     In the beginning he was an ordinary boy. His father, Edmundo Betancourt, was a grocer who had settled in Arandas, Jalisco, having immigrated from somewhere in Spain. He never spoke of himself. As Flavio grew older, he heard others say that they suspected that his father was a deserter.     Flavio had a sister, Brígida, who was six years younger. Both had inherited their father's fair skin and blue eyes. His mother, on the other hand, was very dark. She was a native, and Flavio did not know why his father had married her. As he remembered it, his father hardly spoke to her. But her image clung to Flavio. Her face was long, her skin the color of mahogany, and her eyes oval-shaped with straight, long eyelashes. She always wore her hair, which was black and thick, in a braid tied at the nape of her neck.     Flavio could not remember her ever speaking, and she hardly came near her own children became their father had instructed her to tend to the chores of the house; he would be in charge of the boy and girl. Flavio had only two memories of his mother. The first was of once when he crept into the kitchen, where he watched her for a long time. She moved silently, first stoking the stove and then washing pots in the stone sink. Even though the place was gloomy with smoke, she was aware that the boy was there. He knew it because as she worked she looked over to the corner where he stood. She smiled at him. He remembered that clearly.     The second memory he had of his mother was of another time, when he was at his place waiting for breakfast. Brígida was sitting across from him, and their father had not yet come to the table. Flavio's mother came in to serve their milk. She was pouring his glass when suddenly she stopped, put down the pitcher, and took the boy's face in her hands. She held it so that he looked into her eyes. They were so black they glowed like silver, but they were not hard, they were soft. Her gesture lasted only a short while. The children's father came into the room, and she let go of Flavio's face.     Flavio always thought it strange that both Brígida and he came from a body that was so dark. Sometimes he wondered if she really was their mother. He did not want an Indian woman for a mother. But the servants would not let him forget who she was; even his father admitted that she was Flavio's mother. But he knew that he never loved the woman who bore him and that he never wanted to speak to her.     She died when Flavio was fifteen years old. By that time he had almost forgotten her. Flavio often thought that the beginning of his story was when he chose to blot his mother out of his memory. He told himself that there was nothing wrong in this, because even though he did not love his mother, he loved his sister. Years later he discovered that he was wrong: The only person he ever loved was his dear daughter.     Flavio left his father's home when he was eighteen because he did not want to be a grocer. He made his way north; if a man was to be successful, it had to be to the north. Finding the place in which he wanted to stay took several years. He worked on farms, on ranches, in towns, all the time getting farther away from the ordinary boy he once was.     When he got work at Hacienda Miraflores he felt lucky because the owner, Anastasio Ortega, was of a powerful family. Flavio liked to watch how the Patrón walked and wore his hat; and without anyone noticing, Flavio began to imitate him. This went on until the day he beat Anastasio Ortega at cards.     Sitting in his armchair, old Don Flavio stared through the window reliving those moments. Even the smell of alcohol and rancid cigarette smoke filled his nostrils. On that night every sound had stopped in the cantina. The tinkling notes of the piano next to the bar dropped off. Loud laughter and horseplay abruptly stopped. Women, brightly painted and corseted, moved cautiously toward the card table. Men, sweaty and unwashed, turned away from half-empty shot glasses. One man stood up so unexpectedly that the woman sitting on his lap fell to the floor. Copyright © 1999 Graciela Limón. All rights reserved.

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