The Goddess of Filth
By Kendra Hayden, USA/Mexico (Published in Issue 9)
A story based on Mesoamerican ritual and myth. The Goddesses of Filth ate evil and perverseness. After confession the goddesses made men clean again.
Cuixtli can no longer concentrate on holy things. He has lewd fantasies about a virtuous girl with deep eyes the color of polished mahogany. He yearns for the depraved sights and lavish scents of the market place in Tenochtítlan. He craves the scandals, the blasphemies, the abominations and the perversions. His mind becomes tainted with loathing for his fathers. He tries to seek refuge in study and in prayer, but everything he reads and everything he writes evokes even more vial fantasies.
Sunrise in the mountains. Mist covers the snow-covered volcanoes. Summertime is cold and rainy. He is agitated after another long night of debauchery. He is ashamed beyond any shame he’s ever felt before. Last night will be his final wicked night, he has at long last decided. He can no longer stand the physical and moral hangovers.
And yet, he cannot stop his mind from continuing to wander. Overcome with guilt and regret, he sees only despair. In desperation, he climbs a mountain and crawls into a cave. He wants to escape the iniquity that calls him from the city.
Sunrise leads to sunset. He crawls out of his cave onto a platform of rock. The lakes sparkle below. Again he is tempted to go back to the city and act out his thoughts as he has done on countless nights before, but this time he yearns to feel peace, to feel comfort within his heart and within his head. He spreads his arms wide and calls for his Gods to give him strength. He cries out for Ixcuina, the Goddesses of Filth, the devourers of depravity.
As the sun drops behind the mountains, animal shrieks and shrills pierce through the pine forest. He covers his ears with his palms as he peers into the darkness. A shadow moves, and he thinks he glimpses a golden ocelot running through the trees. Above him, he hears a whistle possibly from the powerful flutter of an eagle’s wings cutting through the air. He ducks.
Again he peers into the darkness. He sees dark animal-shaped forms come closer. Fear grips his heart and makes his hands tingle. His eyes widen and his mouth drops open as the forms materialize into the Goddesses of Filth. The forest grows quiet. A fountain of mercy seems to bathe him. The monsters in his mind melt away.
He hesitates, unsure of what he is supposed to do. He decides to open his palms to the star-filled sky as he says, “I wish to come to you, Tiacapan, Teicu, Tlaco, and Xocotzin, the four sisters. I wish to confess my sins.”
The four sisters bow their heads and say together, “You do yourself a favor.” Their voices echo through the pine forest.
The Goddesses’ appearance hypnotizes Cuixtli making him want to stare in wonder and at the same time to turn away in disgust. They wear the rotting flesh of scarified women. Their slack breasts swing like fleshy pendulums. Their noses and their mouths are black.
Cuixtli says with a shaky voice, “The four sisters cause evil and perverseness. But you also forgive and cleanse. In your hands lie the blue and yellow waters. You make men clean again.”
Tiacapan, First Sister, thunders, “Why do you tell us what we already know?” The other sisters nod their heads in agreement. First Sister’s black eyes pierce through Cuixtli. “You want to find relief from your delirious babbling. Do so,” she commands.
Cuixtli falls on his shaky hands and knees. He presses his face to the ground. “I have been living in filth.” He weeps. “Will I ever be clear in your sight?”
Second Sister’s black mouth is set in a cruel slant. With an irritating screech she says, “Save the tears for later when you will really need them. Take off your clothes and show your nakedness. Uncover your secrets, your way of life. Don’t be timid because of shame, Cuixtli.” He feels mocked as she hisses his name. He regrets calling the goddesses, but then pushes that thought away.
Cuixtli does as he’s told. He undresses and stands before the sisters. He tries to cover himself with his bony arms, but then gives up and lets his arms dangle at his sides. His chin touches his thin chest. His tangled hair falls over his face. He peeks at the sisters through his hair and shudders.
Tlaco, Third Sister, examines the naked man in front of her. Her yellow eyes are haunting. She asks her sisters, “do you think he is sincere, or do you think he does this for the good opinion of others?”
Xocotzin, Youngest Sister, says, “Look, he shakes. He must be sincere.” She smiles gently.
“He’s cold. That’s why he shakes.” First Sister’s laughter booms, startling Cuixtli.
“I see you as powerful women.” He says quickly. He stands up and reaches out to the sisters, palms up. “My fate lies in your hands. I am truly remorseful. Please. I tell the truth.”
The sisters are quiet for a moment and then in unison they say, “Mother of the gods, a man of low estate has come to confess. He weeps because he has lived in filth. We will hear the torment of this lowly one.” All four sisters sit as still as death, waiting to hear Cuixtli’s confession.
He breaks out into a sweat under their examining eyes and then he lifts his face to them and recites the tale of his sins as if he were singing a song.
“O grandmother, O mother, O sisters, you will hear the troubled commoner who has placed before you his stench, his rottenness. I have found pleasure in vice, in lust, in harming my neighbor with cruel words. At the same time, I have depreciated the things of our lords. I have failed to provide food, incense, duty. I have taken from the mouth of the hungry. I have pretended to be good to others.”
And when he ends his words, First Sister roars, “Already you are finished? Are you telling all? I settled myself in for a long night of confessions and all I get is this?” She scoffs. “Give specifics.”
Fourth Sister says, “You must examine the filth you have been living in, Cuixtli.” Her eyes soften. “We must understand the remorse that you are feeling.” She bows her head with benevolence.
Cuixtli hesitates out of confusion. He is afraid to say the wrong thing.
Second Sister turns to Third sister and says, “They never face the truth on their own.” She turns to Cuixtli. “You were violent towards your wife and your son. You should have treated them like a precious necklace, but you deserted them.”
Cuixtli’s face becomes burdened with weight as his eyes fill with tears. He tries to defend himself. “I didn’t leave them. I gave them food and shelter.”
Second Sister sneers, “You were there in body, not in spirit. And then your wife died, and your son learned to be worse than you.”
If Cuixtli breaths he will burst into tears so he holds his breath.
Third sister asks, “And what about your mother and father? You didn’t treat them well.”
“I was hurt by their low opinions of me so I left and never went back.” Cuixtli stares off into space as he speaks.
Third sister coaxes. “That’s better. Be honest. And what of your brother?”
“I stopped talking to him.” He bites his lower lip and looks toward the ground.
Third Sister floats closer toward him and whispers in his ear. She asks, “Why?”
Cuixtli catches a whiff of her foul breath and he feels its icy coolness, but he doesn’t dare pull away. He studders. “I...I judged his intentions.”
Third Sister commands, “The truth.”
Cuixtli gathers his strength before he meets Third Sister’s terrifying eyes and says clearly, “I could not bear to watch his happiness.”
He collapses on the ground again. He buries his face in dirt. Third Sister floats back to her sisters and takes her place between second sister and fourth sister.
A look of disgust crosses First Sister’s pale face before she explodes, “Behold, you have spoken to us. You offer your misdeeds. And behold your penance. When it is the feast day of the Ixcuiname, you shall fast four days. You shall starve your entrails, parch your lips.”
Second Sister narrows her eyes as she looks at Cuixtli. “And on the very feast day, when the day has gone, at night, you shall go naked wearing only paper painted with obsidian points about your loins.” Her high-pitched voice makes him cringe.
Third sister slowly licks her black lips with a thick black tongue. “You shall pierce your tongue and your ears and draw sticks through the holes. You shall insert reeds in your penis.” She hesitates. Her image waves in front of him. “I don’t believe you have the strength.”
Cuixtli wonders the same thing. He tries to steady himself.
Youngest sister scolds. “Third Sister, you are harsh.” She turns toward Cuixtli and promises, “You shall overcome your faults, your sins, your evil. And when you return to your house, after you have done your penance, you will be rid of your fever. We will stretch our arms toward you, embrace you, and carry you in our arms.”
Before Cuixtli can say anything in response, the visions of the Goddesses vanish. The regular rhythm of forest sounds comes back. Pine and a rich earth fragrance replace the sisters’ stench of rottenness. The devils in his mind come alive again. He stops to listen. They are strangely comforting and familiar. He inhales deeply and smiles. He is glad to be finished with his confession.
He watches the sun rise over the shimmering city. If he starts back now, he can be in the heart of Tenochtítlan by dinner. He will have to prepare for his penance. As he walks down the mountain, he finds a spring and dips his hot head into its clear trickling iciness. He cups his hands and scoops the water into his mouth with a slurp. He rinses his hair and scrubs his face and neck with gusto as he grunts and groans with satisfaction. He stands and continues his journey, stomping on the crunchiest leaves and enjoying the sound of it.
The sun shines directly above him as he arrives in the city. He watches the people carry their produce and their wares to the market place. The canoes are overflowing with an abundance of products, flowers from Xochimílco, strange and colorful birds, and bags of cacao to make chocolate.
He stops himself from reaching into a basket of roasted chicatans, gigantic flying ants, while the merchant has her back turned to him. He reminds himself that he is living a noble life now. And yet, he rationalizes. Taking a handful isn’t going to hurt the girl’s profits that much, and he was hungry. Before he can stop himself, he snatches a handful. He makes his way to the market as he crunches the ants in his mouth, savoring their sweetness and the feel of their little legs poking into his tongue.
As he thinks about the penance he must endure, he watches the young girls lean into each other and whisper. He smells the raw meat that hangs in the market mingled with the fragrance of spices and flowers and fruit. He looks for one of those restless women who make time for all men. He feels a pang of regret for the loss of these women once he begins his new life.
He contemplates the four sisters’ frightening words - parched lips, obsidian points, and, he gulps, piercings. He shivers. The feast of the Ixcuiname is tomorrow. So soon. And yet, Ixuiname comes every year. There’s no hurry to do his penance now. He catches sight of a plump girl, a colorful basket on her head, her hips swaying as she walks, her backside as broad and as inviting as a full moon. He follows her and asks her name.
Kendra has a master of fine arts from the University of Missouri in St. Louis and a bachelor of science in Journalism from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. She teaches creative writing at Lindenwood University in St. Louis where she has also taught communications and Latin America cross cultural classes. She has published stories based on Mexica myth and ritual in various journals including Natural Bridge at UMSL. Kendra has
strong family ties in Tehuacan, Puebla, Mexico.
By Kendra Hayden, USA/Mexico (Published in Issue 10)
From the heavens flooded with color and song, the birds watched the angry black planet of storms. Earth was so different, so drab, and dominated by somber black birds whose song scratched out of them as spooky caws. Yet they found themselves attracted to the Earth’s adolescent disposition, and they wondered about the black birds.
The celestial birds had no words. They communicated their excitement at the thought of visiting Earth through complex dances and coos and pecks. Hesitant, the fair prince of the birds, the Quetzal, gave a signal with a shake of his tail feathers.
Wait, he indicated, think before you go.
But the flocks of thirsty blue hummingbirds grew impatient, and before all the birds were able to agree to the visit, the hummingbirds gestured to each other with a simple cock of their tiny heads and swooped into the Earth’s atmosphere.
We’ll beat you, they signaled to the other birds.
Not wanting to lose the race, the strong condors and proud eagles, grew impatient and wanted to follow. But the Quetzal spread his wings in a signal that ordered all the birds to stay put.
He turned his eyes toward earth, a gesture that communicated, Let’s watch before we hurry away.
With some reluctance, the other birds agreed. They respected their prince and grew quiet as they, too, turned their eyes toward the raging little planet.
In the meantime, on Earth, the violent winds surprised the tiny blue hummingbirds and swept them along, causing them to tumble and toss out of control. They started to regret their attraction to the earth’s bad temper as they dove to what they thought would be their demise, toward the black mountains with veins of inky sulfur water. But then, for what seemed to be no reason at all, the winds subsided. With some effort, the blue hummingbirds regained their balance, and noticed that their path in the sky had turned a brilliant blue.
They looked at each other with curiosity and surprise in their eyes as if to ask, did we do that?
The quetzals along with all the other birds, which included the red warblers, the green macaws and blue mockingbirds, watched the earth with its swirling grey clouds and lightening-filled sky transform to a gentle blue planet with soft breezes and misty skies. The black birds didn’t like the changes they saw so they plunged from the sky and circled the blue hummingbirds who shook with fear as the skies turned black again and the winds picked up strength.
All the birds saw the danger the hummingbirds had gotten themselves into and with a spread of their wings flew down to see how they could help. The black birds, however, were angry about the change. They didn’t want to give their planet away to color. They cawed loudly and pushed forward while the heavenly birds pushed back. The struggle lasted for eons. Color dripped gathering momentum as it rolled down the mountains and across the valleys. Black from the black birds mixed with the other colors and almost dominated, but there were so many celestial birds that the black birds grew weary and finally retired into the dark night.
The birds celebrated their success at giving the gift of color to Earth by bursting into a symphony of song. They were surprised to have voices on earth, and to their amazement, their songs gave birth to more songs, and in this way, the birds gave the gift of music to the world.
For a long while, the birds filled the world with color and song, but they noticed that living on Earth was different from living in the heavens. They realized that they needed a purpose in order to be content on Earth. Since they had no purpose they lived in confusion with no directions and no routes. Once again the birds gathered. Communicating through their complex dance, they decided to fulfill a purpose on Earth by building paths and trails.
Yet, the birds still didn’t feel satisfied with their heaven on earth. Their songs were beautiful but seemed to lack meaning. And their paths had no destinations. So they broke their sounds of silences and gave birth to words in order to better express their thoughts and feelings.
After the world was painted, after music was created, after paths were drawn and silences broken, the celestial birds turned themselves into men and women, who forever afterward remained as the celestial birds, able to think and to create and to fly, even without wings.
The men and women, the deep brown color of earth, straightened their backs and gazed beyond the colored mountains and at the world they had brushed with a million colors. They heard a symphony through the voices of nature and through their own voices. And they remembered their paths and destinations. Silences were heard and broken. Spoken words were not merely noise that filled the air. Words lived and breathed, and were thought and felt. Before they had been birds of many colors, but now they were human beings, the singers of songs, the ones who would fly to great heights no matter what the challenge.