The Lady in White by Adriana Martinez
People say she was a school teacher who became pregnant by a married man. It was in a small town, a village actually, surrounded by little ranches and secluded homesteads and for the most part the people kept to themselves. The village had a one-room school and most kids arrived every morning on horseback. To the south Mexico was in the midst of revolution and word had it that a war was brewing in Europe and that maybe the US was going to find a way to get involved. Fort Ringgold in Rio Grande City along the river had been re-garrisoned to defend the citizenry from the ongoing conflict in Old Mexico. But now and then a bandit or two would sneak across to gather up stores for himself and his clan. Bad hombres but then so were the Texas Rangers who had flocked to the area to “safeguard” the people. They killed with the same impunity and plundered with equal savagery. It was a hostile time all around.
Where she came from is open to some dispute but as the story goes she arrived from somewhere down river—perhaps the town of Brownsville though some say it was actually Corpus Christi. She was a lovely young woman, people say. Fair of skin with wavy brown hair and eyes the color of leaves in springtime. And he was young and handsome though not necessarily inclined towards fidelity if, per chance, an opportunity made itself available. How they first met seems to coalesce on a story that has floated through the region as if on a bewildering fog that sweeps overland in the wee morning hours only to vanish at the first hint of dawn. It was a simple meeting about his seven year old son who had missed several days of school due to an accident involving a small shredder. His cuts were mostly minor except for one that had ripped into his right knee and he had developed a limp and persistent pain that on some days made walking difficult. With his son in the buggy he rode the three miles to the school house one afternoon. The children had left and he found her sweeping the room where the students took their daily lessons with the younger children in the front row and the oldest along the back. They say that when he first saw her he was smitten straightaway. Her skin was like rich milk and her eyes large and oval. She had a natural curl to her hair that swooped downward in swirls. At twenty-three years old she was seven years his younger. Perhaps the attraction was as much in her heart as his for as the story goes the liaison was not long in the making. Where they would meet is unknown and today no one speculates on that other than to say that along the line she was with child. People wonder why she didn’t leave to have the baby far away. Was it that her love for him was so strong she could not contemplate leaving his side? Such a long time ago it was. Rest assured that the pain of a broken heart and the bewilderment of unrequited love was no less back then than it is now. For as the story goes he told her he could not see her anymore. And so she was utterly alone. In the night behind a dwelling that still exists though as nothing more than a stone wall buttressed on one side by an ancient mesquite tree and on the other by a pile of sand she took her life. It was in fact the old school house. They found her as if asleep and dressed in a white wedding gown that some say had belonged to her mother. He denied being the father but in a small village people know things and they were aware of what might have been going on. On a Sunday morning in 1916 she was laid to rest at the cemetery near the old church. It seems no one from her family, if indeed she had one, claimed her body. Today the gravesite is hard to read as the stone has weathered and the words are unclear. Someone used to clean the grave but no one in the little village knows exactly who it was. Some say it was the old man who lived at the end of the road that was once the route to San Antonio far to the north. But others claim it couldn’t have been him because he did not walk well having suffered with a leg problem most of his life. Regardless, the grave was kept clean. These days’ people occasionally bring flowers and pull out the weeds—as much perhaps to honor the dead as to quiet a wandering soul. For, and this much is fact, on dark nights along Highway 1017 in and around the little town of San Isidro, Texas people have reported seeing a young woman dressed in white and holding flowers in her hand. Others swear she carries a tin pail but no one is quite sure what that means. She appears for only a minute but her visage is clear and real. Is she looking for him or simply walking through the night? No one knows for sure. She never speaks but sometimes she seems to have a mischievous quality in that she will stand in front of people refusing to move. Some people have tried talking to her asking what it is she wants. But she never replies. She was spotted recently walking alongside the paved road in the early morning hours. A few weeks before that she was seen walking down a narrow trail that circles the old church near the cemetery. Sometimes a year or two will go by without any sightings. But I think it’s just that no one has looked in the right place at the right time. When the pauraques whistle on moonless nights it means she is wandering through the village…or so an old woman told me not long ago. I heard the pauraques the other night and I also heard a noise not unlike that of a baby crying far off. I walked out on the porch and saw a barn owl whisk overhead; and later the coyotes started wailing in the far distance. But I saw and heard nothing more after that.