My brothers, sisters, and I were not used to being out on the streets, especially in the dark, but this was a special time. We were visiting our paternal grandmother in Mexico for the first time. It was a very small town, in the state of Chihuahua. Homes didn’t have running water or indoor bathrooms. Most homes did not have electricity. After dark, people sat in their yard around a campfire or stayed indoors with the help of lanterns. There were no street lights so it was very dark. On this particular night, we were allowed to walk around with our aunts, who was just a few years older than we were, and an uncle, even though it was late. I was six years old.
We’re walking in the dark. I’m scared but I don’t want to say anything. They’ll say I’m a baby and they’ll take me back to Abuelita’s house. I don’t want to go there. I want to be with the big kids. I take my brother’s hand but he doesn’t want to hold it so I take my aunt’s hand. She doesn’t mind. Raquel likes me and she has never seen me before so she doesn’t mind holding my hand.
They are all laughing and talking really loud. We’re on our way to the placita across the street from the church. The church is supposed to be lit up, at least a little bit, so that people can go in there and pray and light velitas. I can’t wait to get near there because it won’t be so dark there; won’t be so scary.
Then, as we are walking, we see that there’s a shadow ahead. We don’t see anyone; just a shadow. Then we hear it. It’s the sound of heels walking. I’m glad there’s someone else out here because having other people here makes it less scary. My aunts, Raquel and Teresita freeze. They just stop and I can tell they’re scared. They shush us. They listen closely, to hear the sound of the shadow. Then they start to run away, back to Abuela‘s house and as they run, they start screaming. Raquel is so scared that she lets go of my hand and they run away. I run too but I can’t run as fast. I look back to see why they are running. Maybe the person walking in the dark and sending their shadow will help me. Maybe they will hold my hand and walk me back to the others. I look and I still see the shadow and hear the sound of the heels as they walk. It’s a woman’s shadow. Then I can see her dress; it’s a white dress. It’s a bride’s dress! Why is this bride out here so late at night? But wait, if it is a shadow, why can I see her dress and her veil? Why can I see the white high heeled shoes that she is wearing? I can see a whip. Why would a bride have a whip? I hope she isn’t like my father. When we get in trouble he has a whip and he whips us with it. I hope she’s not a bad bride because then she won’t help me.
When the bride turns to face me, I see only a shadow where her face and her hands should be. I’m getting more scared and everyone else is way far away on the way back to my grandmother’s house. And it’s darker now. I dont know why it is getting darker but it is. Where are the others? Why did they leave me behind? I don’t know the way back! Then I see Raquel. She’s running back to me and calling out to me to run to her! “Ven! Pronto! Vente!” She reaches out for me and we both run away from the church as fast as we can. Out of breath, we reach the others. They’re a few houses away from my grandmother’s house waiting for us. When we go inside the house, the grownups know we’re scared and they ask us what happened?
Raquel tells them that we saw “la vieja del tacón alto.” We had seen Lidia, Raquel says. I don’t know who Lidia is. I saw the shadow bride so I figure it must be Lidia. That’s when they tell us the story:
Lidia was a school teacher at the little school in town. She met a man when she went to the capital on a trip with her mother to attend a cousin’s wedding. It was at the wedding dance that she met the man and the man came to town to visit her often. Soon they were engaged to be married. She was very happy to be getting married and to be leaving town forever. Her husband was taking her to Chihuahua to live in a big fancy house with running water and a toilet inside the house and electric lights. She was very happy and she quit her job as teacher. She wanted to be beautiful for her wedding day. She had a fancy white bride dress and a long veil that almost reached the floor. She had her hair combed up with a white pearl comb holding the veil onto her hair. Her shoes were white boots and had high heels. They had been ordered from the capital. On the day of the wedding, she dressed and her brother took her to the church in his carriage. She was so happy, smiling brightly. When they got to the church, the man she was going to marry was not there. They waited, thinking he was just late coming from Chihuahua which was more than an hour away. They waited a long time; they waited all afternoon. Then finally, all the people began to leave the church. They wouldn’t look at Lidia and she felt that they were all laughing at her. How could she have been so stupid? She had believed that the man was going to marry her and take her away from this little town. As everyone left, some of the people came to her and told her that he would show up. Something must have happened to make him so late, they told her. They smiled at her and said they would all be back when he came and they could have the wedding later, or even the next day. But Lidia thought they were laughing at her. She didn’t want people to feel sorry for her. She didn’t want people to laugh at her. She couldn’t believe that she had been so dumb. She held her head in her hands as her brother walked her to the carriage to take her back to their mother’s house. As they reached the carriage, she began to laugh. She laughed and laughed like a crazy person. She laughed all the way home, her eyes looking wild.
After that day, Lidia was never right in her head. She went crazy and she never took off her bride’s dress or her veil. Instead, she walked the streets after dark, dressed as a bride and snapping her whip at anyone she met. She did this every night, and even after she died, people would see her roaming the streets near the church, looking and waiting for the man that had never come to the church. In fact, before people see her, they hear the sound of her high heels walking on the stones of the placita and her whip cracking and if they are too slow to get away from her, they will feel the whip as it cracks against their skin just as they hear Lidia laughs and laughs.