By Stella Pope Duarte
The stories in Fragile Night explore the hearts and minds of women and men facing once-in-a-lifetime decisions and struggling against weakness, fear, and anger.
In “What La Llorona Knew” a mother shares with her daughter a tragic secret that brings them closer together. In “The Remedy” two quarrelsome sisters drive their parents to distraction until the local curandera prescribes a remedy guaranteed to instill compassion in the most argumentative soul.
Fragile Night is the first collection of short stories by Stella Pope Duarte
The Aha Experience: Writing Fragile Night
by Stella Pope Duarte
The dream of my father in 1995, in which he related to me that I was destined to write, started an avalanche of stories inside me. It seemed that all the stories I had somehow locked up within myself for so many years were clamoring to be heard and written down. The experience was what I would define as an “aha,” or in Spanish, an “ijuela,” and later I would define it as a ‘fragile night,” which became the title of my first collection of short stories. During that time I began to see my life as clearly as if I was looking at things through a sparkling window pane. Everything was alive, and standing on end, so to speak, themes, ideas, characters, plots, everything, as my father had pointed out to me in the dream were all, “right there, mija, right in front of you.”
Once I realized that all I had to do was look closely at my life in La Sonorita Barrio in South Phoenix for story lines, memories and characters, the door to my writing life swung open. I wrote endlessly into the wee hours of the morning, and got up as early as ever to work as a counselor in a hectic high school counseling department, do hours at a clinic as a therapist, and teach university classes in the evenings. My four children thought I had ‘gone off the deep end,’ and so did the rest of my family, as there was no way I could describe to them the energy and commitment I sensed for my work.
The first story that attracted my attention was the ancient legend of La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, who permeates Latino culture and literature. The first story I ever wrote, “What La Llorona Knew,” was written to honor this very misunderstood woman, who had a timeless message to relate to me, once I stopped long enough to pay attention to the heart of her story.
La Llorona was a beautiful woman who ended up drowning her own children because of her husband’s betrayal. As children, we were taught to run from La Llorona, as she was depicted as a relentless ghost with one goal in mind: to find her children again. We were told not to play outside late at night, as she was so crazy, she might think we were her children, and she would snatch us up, and we would never be found again. It was a good ploy to get us home, and it worked most of the time, until we figured out that the only ones who had seen her were drunks who stumbled down the alley next to our house, after a night of drinking and carousing. They were the same ones who saw pink chihuahuas, and their sightings of La Llorona were not taken seriously.
La Llorona set the stage for fourteen more stories, some of them quite autobiographical, describing times in my life when I didn’t want to look at the chaos inside myself, and was ambushed by darkness that left my heart in pieces. I was to learn, in a moment of catharsis, this one important truth: “if you come to terms with the dark parts of who you are, you won’t have to marry them.” I wish I had known that as a young woman, as I would have started my internal business at an early age, in square one so to speak, loving, respecting and finding out my own purpose in life, instead of looking to others to make my happiness complete.
Fragile Night, almost wrote itself! The stories poured themselves out on paper, men, women, children, all of them caught up, sometimes humorously, in a time of their lives when they heard the truth about who they were, and responded to their own “aha” experience with an open heart. One of those stories, “The Remedy,” is based on my little sister, Lupe, and myself as children being taken to a curandera. In the story, the two girls are taken to the curandera to relieve them of their constant quarrels, and the “remedy” brings about a hilarious, life-changing ‘fragile night’ experience for both.
I will never forget when I got a hand-written letter from Ursula K. Leguin who described my stories as “honest, luminous, humorous, and very touching. They reached my heart.” Then she went on to say that I was one of the authors who would “enlarge humanity.” I was stunned, to say the least, as I had started writing in a vacuum, searching out fellow writers in the Yellow Pages! Now I see how rich my life has become because of those first fifteen stories that have led me one step at a time to understand that love begins within, or it doesn’t start at all.