Fall 2018, Volume 25

Fiction by Casandra Hernández Ríos

Diente de León

For the first time in her life, Rebecca’s heart ached the size of the entire world. She was fourteen and loved a boy who, for his own reasons, couldn’t love her back.

Her mother had raised her to be practical about her aspirations and to never fall in love because love would consume her mind. Instead, her mother taught Rebecca to trust the security of science, to establish a consistent routine, and to control anything that she could. “You can’t leave anything up to chance or fate. Nada,” she’d say.

Rebecca realized that crying wasn’t purposeless, as her mother had once scolded, and that crying actually had healing qualities. She learned to release tears in private and despite the fact that it winded her, she could feel her heart mending and slowly hardening when she cried.

When she was done, she’d wipe all trace of tears and return to thoughts about her studies and her career; things she could control. She was only fourteen, but she and her mother had mapped her path years ago on the kitchen table. Rebecca wasn’t to follow her mother’s footsteps and become a seamstress, she was told one day. Their plan for her was to graduate from the secundaria, gain a direct entrance to Mexico’s national university by being accepted into Prepa 5 because her mother’s income would not cover the costs of private education. Rebecca would excel in both the preparatoria and universidad and would become the best general doctor in México City after her residency. She’d specialize in geriatrics to care for her mother during old age and she’d excel at both.

Meeting Victor during the last year of secundaria wasn’t part of her life-plan, but she couldn’t help noticing him on the first day. She was elected class monitor by her peers because the ones who knew her, knew she had the best grades and, at one point or another, had helped them prepare for a test. Rebecca never declined an opportunity to help someone because she believed networking and being well-liked would prove useful. It was on that Monday morning in August, as she stood at the front of the class beaming at her peers’ raised hands, except for Victor’s, that she decided that he would like her, too, before the end of the year.

Rebecca thought she’d have to use her position as monitor as pretext to get to know Victor, but she was surprised when he began to tease her for taking the job too seriously. Whenever Rebecca asked her classmates to take their seats before the professor arrived, Victor would call her “general,” or he’d remind her of her status by saluting her in hallways with his hand. At first, she only smiled because she wanted him to like her, but then, without realizing it, she began rolling her eyes or saluting back, playfully.

Victor had a very handsome face, Rebecca thought. She liked his light brown eyes that reminded her of amber stones, her favorite. What she found most endearing was the way his smile gave away his shyness and how every time he sat down, he tugged at the hem of his polo-shirt to hide the fact that he didn’t have a flat stomach. Rebecca wasn’t surprised that he had a girlfriend and, actually, found that to be a relief. She didn’t want him to fall in love with her; she had no time for boys. She just wanted to be his friend.


The month of March had been unusually rainy for the city and so Rebecca and her classmates spent rained out P. E. periods in the music room because their school didn’t have a gym. Their P. E. teacher gave them the period to do whatever they wanted, as long as they stayed inside. Rebecca had noticed that Victor had never made it to the room after their last period, so she went to look for him because that was her duty, as the class monitor, although she told their teacher she was going to the restroom.

When it rained, the school became small and Rebecca was able to find Victor quickly. He was sitting cross-legged in a hallway, looking more somber than the usual. Rebecca had known for months that Victor was having problems at home because his parents were divorcing. Their friends had told Rebecca, but she had to pretend she didn’t know. Whenever she found him sad, she asked if he was okay and he always said yes.

“I found you,” Rebecca said cheerfully, as she sat next to him on the floor.

Victor only said, “Hola,” and tugged at the hem of his shirt.

“What’s wrong?” she said.

“Nada,” he said, while looking at his hands; his arms were now wrapped around his knees.

“I didn’t know you smoked. I smell cigarettes,” she said, as she leaned in and sniffed his shoulder, trying to make him smile.

“I guess you’re the only one who’s noticed,” he said.

“Oh.” Rebecca had not expected him to say that. “Your parents haven’t noticed?” she added. She thought she needed to tread lightly, but maybe Victor wanted to talk about it and no one had asked him about his parents.

Victor shook his head.

“What about your girlfriend, Sandra? Is she someone you can talk to about this?”

He shook his head again, staring intently at his hands.

Rebecca had always liked Victor’s basketball hands. That’s what she called them because they had long fingers that wrapped around a basketball with ease. She had noticed he liked playing with his friends. “Why not?” Rebecca said and immediately regretted asking. It was too personal of a question.

Victor shrugged and unwrapped himself from his knees. He crossed his legs and leaned straight against the wall. He straightened his uniform shirt.

“I don’t know your girlfriend, but I think she’d want you to share the burden of your troubles with her. You shouldn’t keep everything inside,” Rebecca said, although she had never held such heavy secrets herself to know if any of what she had said was true.

They were quiet for a few minutes. The sound of rain drops against classroom windowpanes echoed in the hallway. There were murmur of voices slipping through doors left ajar that reminded Rebecca they should be returning to their class.

“You can talk to me,” Rebecca said, trying to hurry the conversation along.

“Why do you care?” Victor said. He turned to look at her for the first time, his eyes were sad.

“Because I care about you,” she said. “I like you.”

Victor stared back, and Rebecca found it impossible to look away. He leaned in and she knew he was going to kiss her and she didn’t know what to do. He hadn’t been part of her plan, that moment hadn’t been part of the plan, but, for some reason, she didn’t move away and instead moved in to kiss Victor back.

She had imagined her first kiss many times, but she had always imagined it taking place sometime in the distant future, but not at fourteen years old. The kiss was sweet, his lips were soft, and she forgot where she was during that short, eternal moment. The clock ticking time away disappeared, the worry of upsetting their P. E. teacher dissolved, and the fear of falling in love existed no more. They smiled at each other afterward, knowing that everything was different, even the problems that plagued their young lives. Rebecca felt light and wondered if her feelings for Victor had always been there and were only now being revealed as fact.

Rebecca stood and gave Victor her hand, asking him to join her. He took it and the two walked hand in hand with sweaty palms, too embarrassed and too afraid to let go, back to their classroom.


The park across the highway from her house was the best place to cry on Sundays because it was desolate. After church, most neighborhood kids went home with their families to watch el partido or slurp on tamarind diablitos around Cuemanco. Rebecca’s mother worked from home weekends and Rebecca had convinced her mother that the clattering of the sewing machine was distracting her from her studies. Instead of completing schoolwork from home, Rebecca said she went to the library. It angered her that heartache was not only a painful daily companion, but that it also led her to lie to her mother.

Under a tree and its rustling leaves, Rebecca cried quietly, her arms wrapped around her rib cage to keep her heart from bursting. Crying, at first, had been laborious. She had made every effort to shed tears without engaging facial muscles, to scream without sound, to pound her chest without moving. By now, she had perfected the art of crying. From afar, she looked like just a girl in her Sunday dress, daydreaming under a tree; just a young lady surrounded by maturing dandelions, holding her white cardigan close.


For two schooldays and a weekend, Victor was absent from Rebecca’s life. He had promised to call the last time he had walked her to the bus after school. She didn’t like waiting, or leaving things up to someone else, so she called twice over the weekend when she didn’t see him at school. His mother answered the phone both times, called her mija, and asked if she wanted to leave a message.  Rebecca said no and was too prideful to call a third time.

On Monday, while everyone gathered in the campus courtyard for the assembly, donning their pressed white uniforms, Rebecca hoped to find Victor among his group of friends, but they were there, and he wasn’t. The Color Guard dutifully escorted the flag in and out of the courtyard and sometime in between, they had all sang the national anthem, but Rebecca had missed it all. She had been busy searching for Victor’s honey-colored eyes from the mass of faces in the sea of white, wishing to find him.

Their class filed back to first period and he was there, standing by the classroom door, not wearing his white uniform, but the green one. Rebecca said hi and smiled at Victor when she saw him, but he avoided eye-contact. He didn’t speak to her that day or the following one. It was rumored that he had reconciled with Sandra, but she hadn’t seen them together to know for certain. When her friends asked if they had had a fight, Rebecca shook her head and tried to mask her confusion, but she lacked experience hiding failure.

Maybe she had had enough or maybe not knowing was too much for her to bare that when she found Victor sitting in a hallway between classes, unsuspecting, she confronted him: “Is it true? Are you and Sandra back together?” She crossed her arms and didn’t wait long for his response.

“Si,” he said.

“Thank you. That’s all I needed to know,” and she walked away with her chin up, like her mother had taught her, to their next class.

That evening, after completing schoolwork, Rebecca told her mother she was out of clean uniform tops and was going to the terrace to use el lavadero. She needed a space to be sad and cry if she wanted. She turned the faucet on, placed her hands in the rushing water, allowing it to soothe her. She finally let go and felt the pent-up emotions burst open a dam. Hunched over the lavadero with both hands still under the gushing faucet water, she wondered why Victor had chosen Sandra. Was Sandra better than her? Was she smarter, more accomplished, prettier? She didn’t think so. Through tears, she looked at her palms and wondered how much of being in love was really determined by fate or will power. Was it written in the stars or was it something one worked hard to maintain?

Rebecca couldn’t accept that someone could switch feelings on-and-off like Victor did with her. He held her hand and the next day let go? She was certain that whatever Victor felt for her had not vanished completely. Instead of surrendering to fate, she decided that she’d make him choose her, make him return, one way or another.

It was there in the cobalt blue of México City’s skyline, as a tiny speck on the outline, where Rebecca’s determination reignited hope.


April’s weather was warm and had breathed new colors into the city’s landscape. Rebecca had cried long enough below the tree’s canopy. An easy breeze had dried her tears and the beginning sunset reminded her that it would soon be time to go.

Semana Santa had always been a welcomed reprieve from schooldays, but this year was different. The holiday kept Victor from Rebecca. She couldn’t gauge the spell’s progress if she wasn’t near him. Her soul had never yearned for someone with such intensity that she felt a part of her was missing.

The witch from Coyoacan had told her not to question the spell, that it had to follow its own trajectory, and that it was only a matter of patience before the pieces aligned—Rebecca’s desire, the spell’s power, and Victor’s openness—and return him to her.

It was a strange feeling to finally understand how the world was interconnected—people, animals, flora, water, air, sun—all were one. Although different, the feeling growing in her chest, felt like truth.

A grasshopper’s trill took Rebecca out of her pensive revelry. It drew her attention to a dandelion swaying lightly to the motion of the earth. She plucked it and pulled it close to inspect its silvery head, lush with seedlings. She sensed the universe whirling, conspiring inside the wild flower’s sphere, and she knew what she had to do next.

Rebecca had resolved to seek the aid of a witch named Luna in Coyoacan. She had seen her shop before when she had attended mass at San Juan Bautista with her mother on holy days. She had been skeptical of magic, but she had also been a non-believer of love, and now found herself willing to do anything to make Victor come back.

Luna had relocated to México City from Catemaco, Veracruz, where witchcraft practices were ancient and traced back to before the Spanish, Luna had said when she introduced herself. Rebecca nodded and pretended to be impressed and not notice the potions and amulets on the counter labeled, “Suerte con Amor” and “Para Amor Verdadero.”

Rebecca had ditched school to seek the Coyoacan witch. It was only an hour from campus on bus, but she needed to account for the time it’d take to cast the spell.  She could skip a day without raising suspicion since she’d never missed school before. With the extra time, she had planned to use the terrace before her mother got home from work.

When Rebecca enter the small shop, Luna emerged from behind the counter, wearing a long skirt, an ivory-colored sleeveless blouse, and a thick, black shawl around her shoulders.

“You’ll have to pardon me,” she said, lifting the shawl and fanning herself with it. “It’s just so damn hot in here, but I have to play the part.”

“The part?” Rebecca said, wondering if the potions, candles, dolls, and charms were also just for show.

“Oh, no, no. Don’t misunderstand me, dear. This is all real and potent stuff,” she said looking around the small, cluttered space. “I mean, the outfit.” Luna moved closer and said, “So be prepared for what you wish because you’ll get it. Anyhow, how can I help you?”

Rebecca blushed. She glanced back at the amulets on the counter.

“Ah, matters of the heart. I see,” said Luna, smiling. “There are a lot of young girls your age with the same troubles. You’re not alone,” she said, wrapping herself back in the shawl.

Rebecca looked for judgment in Luna’s face, but she didn’t detect it, so she nodded.

“Okay. Let’s see.” Luna looked around the shop, lit moderately by white candles and the warm sunset light coming from a curtainless window.

“He loves me,” said Rebecca. “I think. He’s just… confused.” She didn’t know why she had blurted those words.

“They all are, mija,” Luna said, who was now bent over a wicker storage chest, placing contents in her shawl. Luna was probably the same age as Rebecca’s mother. Something about the way Luna said “mija” that made her think of her mother that moment.

“Here,” Luna said after a few minutes. She drew her shawl open, displaying its contents in the light for Rebecca to see. “Everything you’ll need.”

Rebecca counted two candles, a tube of several pieces of parchment paper, wooden matches and toothpicks, and a pencil. “What is all that for?” Rebecca said.

“For the spell you need. This will bring him back,” Luna said. “Just follow the instructions and he will be yours.”

“But how?”

Luna placed the items on the counter, closed the shawl around her, and leaned toward Rebecca. “You can’t force someone to love you, but often times true love gets hidden behind false layers, like looks, likes, dislikes, and material things. This spell will help dissolve whatever layers of falsehood there are and allow him to see you, be mesmerized by you. And he will return,” she said.

“When?” Rebecca said.

“When it’s right; when it all aligns,” Luna said, walking behind the counter.

On the bus, Rebecca replayed Luna’s words over and over in her mind. She remembered the seriousness projected from Luna’s eyes, while she explained the spell’s instructions. For seven days, she’d focus on the candles as they burnt, visualizing Victor and how much Rebecca wanted him to love with her the same way that she loved him. For seven days, she’d set the universe into motion and ask it to conspire on her behalf and bring Victor back to her.


It is said that if one wishes upon a dandelion before blowing at its seeds that the wish will come true if no seeds remain on the stem. When Rebecca was a child, she had plucked many dandelions and had blown on them, wishing on them playfully, but with no success.

Today was different. The dandelion had called for her and she had heard and plucked it. The universe whirled inside its spherical top, she could feel it. That moment was more like a surrender to fate, a surrender to what was meant to be, rather than a surrender to defeat as Rebecca realized what she had to do next.

She closed her eyes, muted the chirping of crickets and passing cars, forgot how cold the day had grown and, almost, how much her heart hurt.

She didn’t want it easy. She didn’t want it false, either. She wanted true love and was ready to fight for if the spell worked, but she was also ready to let Victor go if it wasn’t meant to be. She had done all that she possibly could to make him return and, now, it was up to the dandelion to carry her thoughts and help bring Victor back.

She breathed the world in, securing it for the precise moment of release. The world fell back into its rightful place, element by element, seed by seed, as the dandelion dispersed.




BIO:Casandra Hernández Ríos received her MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction, from CSU Long Beach. She holds a BA in Creative Writing and Journalism from the same school. She is former Senior Managing Editor at The Offing magazine, and former Editor-in-Chief of Riprap, CSU Long Beach's literary journal. In 2015, she was recognized as an emerging writer at Long Beach's Literary Women Festival of Authors. Her work has appeared in The Acentos Review, the Santa Ana River Review, Verdad magazine, and American Mustard. She teaches at Golden West College and Long Beach City College.

“Diente de León" made Glimmer Train Press' July/August Fiction Open Honorable Mentions list.