Tell Me about the First Time You Saw Ms. Magdalena

by Andrew Checchia


Well, when I seen her, I thought she looked damn near like that Lady a Guadaloopay, or like some kinda ghost flailin out there in the sun. 

I first caught sighta her in my binoculars. I had gone out to scout a patch a land for Chevron, so I was just gettin a lay a things. She musta been bout half a mile from the road then, but I noticed her soon as I started scannin the brush. You couldn’t miss her. I mean she was wearin all white, and you certainly don’t see a whole lotta well-dressed beautiful women wandrin the desert in hundreddegree heat. Least not in my line a business. 

Needless to say, I was mighty shocked, so I just stood there by my Ranger for a minute and watched. She was tearin up the brush, runnin towards the road like she was possessed or somethin. Looked kinda like a wounded deer. 

I seen a few fence jumpers makin a run for it before, but most a them was boys up near El Paso. I musta only been bout forty minutes from Marfa when I seen her clamrin cross the sand like that. 

Boy, I wish I coulda seen her eyes then. Bet they musta been on fire. 

Irregardless, after I made some semblance a sense outta what the woman was doin, I started wavin at her. I had some bottles a water in my truck I thought to give her, since, as you might suspect me bein from the city, I ain’t exactly no blanket ICE sympathizer. Thought I could least help her out some. But I couldn’t get her attention from that far off. I mean I guess she mighta been tryna ignore me, but I reckoned she would preciate me a whole lot more than anythin else long Highway 90. 

Now I didn’t want to scare her or nuthin, but I was seriously worried bout someone a her disposition. She was shinin like a saint, but she wasn’t exactly lookin all that healthy. I could see that from the highway. I noticed dark spots on that dress a hers and was worried it was blood. So I hopped in my Ranger and drove off the highway towards her. No way she could miss me then. 

When I got close, she realized I was aimin for her, and started slowin up. She still kinda stumbled round, but she gave up that insanity. Musta scared off whatever manic streak had been possessin her when I was maybe 15 feet in front a her. 

She stopped and looked me dead in the eyes. But—now, sir, I should tell you, I had never in my life truly understood what it meant to have another human being ‘stare straight through you’ til that moment. Her eyes were like beady, brown buckshot. They pierced through the back a my skull and clean out the roof a my truck like there weren’t a damn thing between them and the great blue beyond. 

I’d say that was the first time I really saw Ms. Magdalena. 

So after you approached her, she entered your vehicle? 

Not exactly. 

First, like I mentioned I was fixin to do, I got out and offered her some water. Tryna do that, it became obvious she didn’t speak a lick a English. 

Now over the years, Yankees have told me my accent can be a bit of a doozy, but I never had as hard a time tryna communicate with another person as much as her. I learnt bits a Spanish from here and there, so I at least got her to understand I had some agua, but not much else. I tried bein real soft and kind with her. Talked to her like one a my daughters when they was young. I mean aside from those eyes a hers, she seemed pretty docile. She musta been happy to finally quit runnin. Probably thankful y’all’s border folks weren’t the ones to catch her. Course, I bet she wasn’t particularly inclined to put much stock in me neither. 

I got her to take the water, but that crazed spirit came back in her. It was when she started drinkin. She sank the whole bottle faster’n I seen anyone ever do it. Faster’n whatever runnin back or point guard you ever watched suck back one a them jugs a Gatorade. Certainly faster’n any a you office rats ever done. Musta been two seconds flat to polish off a tall Ozarka. And I mean polish. When she was done she even wrang out the plastic just in case it soaked up any a the precious stuff while she drank it! 

After a good deal a cajolin, and a helluva lotta pointin into the desert with ‘no buenos,’ I convinced her to get in my truck. She looked mighty skeptical, but I reckon she figured continuin on foot wasn’t exactly her best option. 

My Ranger’s old and ain’t very big, so we was sittin close in the cab. I kept worryin she would look over at me with those eyes a hers, but she kept em straight ahead. Dead set. Scannin the mountains the whole way. 

Did you know where you were planning to take her? 

Not really, I was just sorta heading back to Marfa. Guess at that time I thought I’d bring her to my house so my wife Shannon could take a look at her. She was a nursin assistant for a few years when we lived in Amarillo, so I thought she’d know whether or not we oughta take her to a hospital. See, I still couldn’t tell if the stains on her dress was blood. They was all kinds a brown and the whole thing had gone patchy from dust. 

Sittin close to her, that holy thing I first got from her didn’t make much sense. And the more glances I took at her, the more I thought she plain looked like shit. Her whole body looked like it was meltin. Over the twenty odd minutes we was drivin, she sank further and further into the seat. I kept thinkin she’d fall asleep, but, like I said, I’m not sure her eyes could even blink. 

But I didn’t end up havin to decide what I’d do with her because as soon as we came up on one of them gas station-taqueria joints, she sprang back to life. And boy was there life in her. She started yellin and yellin, lotsa ‘keyero’ and ‘akey’ and ‘nesesito.’ She was rappin her nails gainst the window, and I thought she was damn near gonna break the glass how hard she was pointin at the spot. 

Still scratches there if y’all need evidence. 

Soon as she started, I was gonna pull over real easy too, but I couldn’t get her to understand I was on board. So all a sudden, she reached cross me for the steering wheel, and started pullin on it herself. We musta been going somethin like 70 then, so I was freakin the fuck out—pardon my French. Thank the Lord there weren’t nobody else on the road. 

I ended up wrestlin her off while I was yellin back at her. I kept shoutin ‘I’ll go there! Let go! Calm the fuck down lady! Esta bueno! Esta bueno!’ 

If she didn’t realize I was bout the biggest gringo in the county beforehand, she certainly figured it then. 

I managed to get her back into that trance a hers before we pulled into the parkin lot, so she was calm again. I was rackin my brain for any Spanish I mighta lost in there because I wanted to try and get her a meal or somethin. I knew I couldn’t be takin care a this woman for long, but she looked exhausted, and I could at least get her fed, and watered, and headin somewhere safe. I think I remembered ‘comeeda’ at the time, because she turned to face me again, but she shook her head ‘no’ before slumpin back into the seat. 

Now that right confused me. If I’d just made a trek cross one a the most dangerous borders on God’s green earth, I’m pretty damn sure I wouldn’t turn down a free hot meal, even from a stranger I could barely understand. So I decided to take the liberty a goin ahead and gettin it for her. I moved to get outta the truck, but as soon as I reached for the door, she grabbed my arm and looked at me. This time she didn’t look through me, though. She looked deep into me with that pair a shinin brown eyes. The whites round them wasn’t dirtied—they was as pure as I first thought she looked in that dress from far away. 

Espera,” she said. 

Did you suspect any foul play at the time? 

Suspect foul play? Goddamn! Y’all are as ignant as they say. 

Ain’t y’all listenin to me? I just said I was tryna help a woman who looked a fall away from bein vulture pickins. I wasn’t out to catch no ‘criminal.’ And for God’s sakes, I wasn’t fixin to get myself involved in y’all’s stupid fuckin mess! 

I was genuinely tryna help her get somewhere safe. I’ve met a helluva lotta immigrants in my day—legals and illegals—and I worked with half of em, so I got at least a sliver a sympathy for these people. No way she woulda been runnin like she was doin in the desert if the other side a the border was any decent to her. 

Anyway, when she got serious with me, I was right confused. I just stared at her for a minute, then she threw up her arms and said what I think was a prayer. I definitely heard a ‘deeos’ or somethin in there. But then she steadied herself, grabbed my shoulders for a second, and said ‘espera’ again, real slowly. Then she made a kinda steadyin motion, like pushin down with her hands. 

I got it. 

I tried askin her for how long, but she just kept repeatin “espera, espera,” over and over. 

So how long did you two wait in your truck? 

Musta been fifteen minutes before that SUV pulled up. Maybe it was less? Time moves mighty slow when you’re with somebody you don’t got nuthin to say to. 

And that SUV belonged to Mr. Sanchez? 

I don’t know, you tell me! 

All I know is that Ms. Magdalena knew exactly what it was. Granted, I wasn’t sure if it was whatever we’d been esperin for, but she started cursin and squirmin again, getting that fluster back in her. I saw her lookin over at the thing, and I sensed somethin was wrong. 

It was an old Tahoe or the like. Musta been from like 2006 or 7. The windows was tinted—not any a that sunglasses, stuff mind you. It was real black out kinda tintin. The kind you only see when you gone too far onto the wrong side a y’all’s world. 

Obviously, I didn’t have no sense a what was really goin on, but I tensed up with her. Some adrenaline musta kicked in, so I started the Ranger up to pull outta the lot real inconspicuous like. I couldn’t imagine how whoever this was knew she would be there. It was the middle a nowhere, even by West Texas standards. 

But I didn’t have time to really think bout the situation, or no conspiracy or nuthin, and maybe that fatherly instinct was still pumpin from earlier because all I thought about was tryna keep that woman safe. 

I drove off round the gas pumps on the other side a the SUV, but the thing veered off towards us, and all a sudden I found myself peerin through the windshield, lockin eyes with a stocky lookin Latino. 

Did you realize the man was Mr. Sanchez at the time? 

Course not, you fuckwit! 

I gather you ain’t been listenin to any a this story then? Who employed—no, I’m serious which one a you dumbasses behind that glass gave this retard shithead a job? 

Mr. Carpenter, please just answer the question. 

For Chrisake, no! I didn’t know who Mr. Sanchez was! I didn’t know what he was doin, I didn’t know bout whatever arrangement he and Ms. Magdalena had made prior! Mind you, I didn’t even know Ms. Magdalena’s name until y’all told me! We’d only passed bout six intelligible words between us at that point. 

Guess that makes six more than the two of us. 

I don’t have to be granting you this testimony, Mr. Carpenter. 

And I don’t have to be givin it to you! So unless you’d like to offer the respect I assumed would be afforded to a man with vital information bout a murder case, I can take my humble account over to The Sentinel. 

Alright. My apologies. Please continue. 

Thank you. 

As I was sayin, I locked eyes with who I now know was Mr. Sanchez. While I reiterate I ain’t had no inklin a who he was, I could certainly tell by the way he was lookin at me that the devil had a grip on his poor soul. Somethin bout him was nasty and radiated a kinda violence, so I realized Ms. Magdalena musta been in some serious shit. I musta reckoned he was with cartels or somethin, but like I said, I wasn’t concernin myself with much speculation. 

He saw Ms. Magdalena sittin next to me. As soon as he did, his eyes lit up, and his face compressed into like a cross between a smile and a scowl. Then he turned to his ‘amigo’ in the car, and started yellin at him. 

I wasn’t gonna waste no time askin Ms. Magdalena no questions. I knew well enough by the terrified look on her face we needed to get outta there. So I slammed on the gas and whipped outta the lot fast as I could and started plowin back down 90. 

Naturally, it wasn’t boutta be that easy to shake them goons. The SUV came speedin right after us. 

Now I’ve been in some—let’s say—sticky situations before, mostly as a youngun, but that was my first and only highspeed chase. And, let me tell y’all, they ain’t nuthin like the movies. There ain’t none a that Hollywood smoothness in it, the way they make them cars look like they can dance round corners. It was the tensest I ever been in my damn life. I was grippin the wheel like salvation depended on it, which I guess it kinda did. My knuckles were turnin whiter than the wispy little clouds floatin above us. 

For the first time in my life, I was damn thankful for how straight and flat West Texas is, since I could just focus on keepin a handle on the truck as we barrelled down the highway. I hadn’t even looked in my mirrors when the SUV caught up to us. 

Ah, that poor Ranger a mine—when I pushed 95 it started shakin and shakin, and wouldn’t go much faster. It took all my concentration to make sure I didn’t accidently snap too far to one side, and send us turnin over the side a the highway. But Ms. Magdalena musta had her eyes trained behind us. Every once and a while she’d turn, slap the back a my seat, and yell somethin I assumed meant “Go faster. 

But, I knew as soon as they pulled up beside me, there weren’t no use in runnin from em. I got myself into a mess. I knew I had to get myself outta it. 

As soon as they just about got even with me, I slammed on the brakes. Not hard enough to send us skiddin, but enough to throw them off, and buy a few seconds. I pulled us off the side a the road then, just a few feet off the highway, so anyone drivin by could still see us. 

I always keep a .38 in my glovebox—have since my daddy showed me his when I was 7, or somethin. I thought now would probably be the right time to use it. I reached cross Ms. Magdalena to get it, but as soon as she saw the gun in my hand, she screamed. 

Maybe screamed isn’t the right word actually. I’d say screeched does a better job a representin the high pitched knife she wedged into my ears. I’ll tell y’all—it was so bad I dropped the gun into the wheel well. Thank God it wasn’t loaded. 

She clearly didn’t want me usin no violence. She scooped the gun right up while I was still recoilin, and shoved it into her dress, the way them trailer park girls do with packs a cigarettes. At the time, my naivete gave me some relief bout that. I just thought it meant I was overreactin, and we were gonna talk things out with those fine gentlemen chasin us down a desert highway at 100 miles an hour. 

Did Mr. Sanchez come back around? 

He sure did. Right as I got outta my truck the SUV was pullin off 90. It stopped right in front a me, and the front doors flung open. Two Mexicans got out. One had a shotgun, the other held one a them ridiculous lookin cartel pistols. You know the type? The ones that’re gold, and got an ivory handle, with crosses and roses carved all long it. I swear, more straight up movie shit. 

And—again, like Hollywood don’t tell you, I was scared shitless. Just the way them boys was standin woulda been enough to make me run the other direction on a normal day. I bet none a them pretty boy movie stars could ever look into the eyes of an armed man without a steam a piss runnin down their skinny jeans. But I stayed, and I stood. I tried to keep my cool, still hopin violence wasn’t gonna be necessary. But, when you see a gold fuckin gun flashin in front a you, you start thinkin God might be makin a plan to bring you home real soon. 

They musta sensed the fear in me too, because they waltzed on over like they owned the whole damn desert. The one with the pistol, that Mr. Sanchez, did the talkin. He could speak English perfect. 

He said, I think you have something we’re looking for. Most badass thing he coulda said to be honest. 

I musta stood there stupid for a second because he followed it up with, If you don’t give up the woman, we won’t hesitate to kill you. You have no idea what you just got yourself into. 

Finally I mustered up enough confidence to talk back. I wasn’t goin down without my dignity. 

I said, Listen here hombre, I ain’t scared a you. Anyone round here with guns tryin a kidnap a woman in the desert ain’t welcome. The law’ll actually come after people like you on this side a the fence. 

That sent both of em into a tizzy, laughin and rappin back’n forth in Spanish. I caught like idiota, punta, some other presumably vile shit. 

You’re a dumb motherfucker, he finally said. Then he shot me. Hit me in the shoulder. I been hurt worse. 

Still, it put me in the dirt writhin, graspin at the hole to stop the blood like everyone always tells you to. 

I was so focused on ballin up my shirt over the bullet I didn’t notice Mr. Sanchez comin over until he stood right over me, blockin out the sun. 

Listen to me, he said. I don’t know who you are, who you think you are, or who you think we are, but this isn’t the kind of gang-violence-drug-dealing-human-trafficking enterprise you probably expect. Whatever white savior, or God complex attitude roped you into this, is going to face a sorry reckoning if you ever get the bigger picture up in heaven. I’m telling you, that woman is dangerous. If you don’t— 

Bang! His brains splattered cross the sky. 

Then he fell facefirst right on top a me, gettin his brain blood all over me. His black clothin was real hot from the sun too, so between the blood n my painful sweatin, I was too busy dealin with the body to find Ms. Magdalena, until I heard that shotgun boy running back to the SUV. Then came another two bangs before the amigo fell face first into the dirt too. Two shots: one in the shoulder blade, one in the back a the neck. Evidently, she found my bullets in the center console. 

Once I finally wrestled Mr. Sanchez off a me, I saw Ms. Magdalena holding my .38 steppin over the second body. She flung open the back door a their Tahoe, and immediately started wailin in Spanish. I managed to pull myself upright when I saw her ease a naked woman out the backseat. She ungagged the lady, and the two a them immediately started cryin out tears a joy. The other woman was tryin to hug and kiss Ms. Magdalena, but she still had on handcuffs. But Ms. Magdalena steadied her, gave her a big ol smooch, slapped her cross the face, then let her sink into her arms as the two a them fell over into the dirt, rollin round, tangled up in each other, smilin and cryin. 

Wait, you’re trying to tell me Ms. Magdalena was rescuing a hostage? 

I ain’t tryin to tell you nuthin. That’s exactly what happened. I never figured out who any a them people were til now, let alone what was goin on, or how they all got wrapped up in that bloody mess. 

All I know is after a few minutes a reunitin, Ms. Magdalena came over to me, and helped me up, gettin me steady on my feet. She untied the gag around the woman’s neck, and sinched it over my wound to help stop the bleedin, and give me a free hand. Then she went over Mr. Sanchez’s body, dug round in his pockets for the keys to the Tahoe, and that woman’s handcuffs. And she picked up his gun. 

She handed that to me. I took it with my good arm. 

She looked deep into my eyes and said “Gracias” with the sweetest, slightest little smile I ever seen on planet earth. Now—I wasn’t quite sure, since I couldn’t remember what color they was before then, but I swear her eyes changed all a sudden to be the most perfect blue you could imagine. Like the sky, and the sea, and every one a them pretty Lady Bird flowers by San Antonio, was all mixed up in there. Then she helped her rescuee into the passenger side a the SUV, got into the driver’s seat, waved at me real kind, and set off down 90 back the way we came. 

And I never seen her again. 


About the Author:

Andrew Checchia is sophomore at UCLA majoring in English and minoring in Film. He is from Houston, Texas and St. Louis, Missouri. He works as a journalist and a photographer, makes music, and loves food.

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