Mom says cats don’t go to heaven, only people do. And not just any kind of person: only good people. That means the man that killed my Pancho won’t get into heaven either. I’m sure they’ll shut the door in his face, like Doña Sara when it’s seven o’clock and she doesn’t want to cut hair anymore.


The other day I snuck a tortilla while we were making them. I thought Mom wouldn’t notice, but she did. She scolded me and said that stealing is a sin, that girls who steal become bad women and, when they die, they go to hell. I think hell is the place where the man who killed my Pancho will go. Because killing is also a sin, the Constitution says so.


The night before last, before bed, I left Pancho a bowl of milk, in case he came home. I hid it under my bed so Mom wouldn’t yell at me. She’s always telling me that I’m a pig and that I’m just like my dad. She spends so much time trying to scrub off my chocomilk mustache. I’ve already told her it’s not chocomilk, that’s how I am: I have a mustache like a boy and I hate it; as soon as I get to middle school I’m going to shave it off.


In the morning, the bowl was upside down. Typical Pancho: take two tiny sips then immediately knock over the rest. Oh, Pancho! It got the whole floor wet and I had to pick it up with the sweater from my uniform, because there was no way I was asking Mom for a rag. She would’ve asked what I needed it for and gotten after me for wasting milk.


Coming home from school I ran into the man that killed my Pancho, lying in the rocking chair on his porch, drinking beer. Mom says he’s sick, that he’s morbidly obese and that neither my brother nor I should dare call him Señor Tank. She says that girls who call people names almost always become gossips and nobody loves them. She also says to treat people how you want to be treated; you wouldn’t want to be made fun of either.


But the whole world makes fun of me. 


I didn’t make up Señor Tank’s nickname; I just repeated it. It was my brother and his friend Lucho, who are always on the lookout for someone to make fun of. They make fun of me as well, calling me Walrus Face, for my mustache, and Chocokrispis because I’m really dark. When I first heard them call Señor Tank Señor Tank, I didn’t want to play their game, but the truth is that it was much better making fun of Señor Tank together than them making fun of me.


Last night I left Pancho his bowl of milk again, but this time I also gave him a little bit of tuna. I woke up in the middle of the night to the weight of his body on my legs: a light and gentle weight that made me happy. I reached out my hand to pet him and I felt him clearly. It was Pancho, my friend, my chubby cat.


When I woke up this morning, Pancho wasn’t there anymore. The milk had spilled again, but the tuna was still untouched. I was going to be late for school and had to leave the mess. Outside, the awful Señor Tank was settling into his rocker to wait for the newspaper.


The first time Señor Tank threatened to kill my Pancho was when poop appeared in his yard. He was so sure it had been Pancho that he came to yell at Mom the way he used to yell at his wife. Mom didn’t say anything, but once Señor Tank left, she punished me like it was me who had messed up his yard, not Pancho.


I don’t know if Pancho had mixed up the houses —he’s really dumb— or if he was just passing through the neighborhood when he needed to poop. It would’ve seemed easy to relieve himself there, between the recently trimmed rose bushes. The point is that he left Mom and me in a sticky situation and we had to keep him from going out to the garden for several days.


The poor cat would make these screams that sounded like we were killing him, but in time Pancho discovered that his round body fit through the kitchen window. After that, there was no way to stop him from getting out. Señor Tank came back to yell at Mom two more times and both times I had to run away because Mom looked like she was going to throw me off the roof.


My brother was the one who told me Señor Tank had poisoned my Pancho. He told me that cats who die from poisoning barely suffer; they just feel a little warm inside, which grows and grows and grows and then they fall asleep. “Pancho wouldn’t have felt anything,” he said. Then he pulled on my ear, gently, without hurting me.


There were days when my brother was good to me, though he never said “I love you” or anything like that. Sometimes he explained things from school to me or let me put on cartoons or ask Mom not to get after me and not to yell at me so bad.


Today I came home from school early. Señor Tank wasn’t in his rocking chair, which made me very happy. I sat by the door to wait for my brother to come home from the prepa: on Wednesdays he played soccer.


When he got home, the first thing I told him was that I had already figured out that Pancho hadn’t really died, and that it had been a joke. He acted like he hadn’t heard me and ran to find Mom, who was making dinner. I followed him, yelling at him to stop ignoring me, that his joke wasn’t funny.


“Tank died,” he said.


Mom looked like she didn’t understand.


“Tank died, Mom: they’re calling an ambulance.”


The two of them pushed me aside, without looking at me, like I was one of those mosquitoes that bother you while you’re trying to eat.


“Move, move,” said Mom, and they left together out the side of the kitchen.


I was going to follow them, but when I opened the door I found Pancho, who was licking his whiskers. He’d probably just killed a mouse or some bird. I left him inside and went to see the chisme. When I got to Señor Tank’s house, the ambulance had already left and Mom and my brother were hugging, with upset faces.


“You ignored me,” I said to my brother. He opened his eyes like he was just waking up from a dream.


“What are you talking about, Chocokrispis?” His expression said he wasn’t interested in my answer.


“You told me Señor Tank had killed Pancho,” I screamed, crying from anger. And from happiness, because Pancho was alive. And from sadness because Señor Tank, who wasn’t any kind of murderer after all, had died.


“Pancho died and we buried him by the guava tree,” Mom said.


We all looked at each other and their nervousness began to rub off on me.


My brother pinched my cheek and he dragged me over to the tree. He pointed to a little mound of dirt, similar to where the pitcher stands on a baseball field.


“Pancho can’t be there! I just saw him like ten minutes ago!”


“It must’ve been a cat that looked like him, then,” said my brother as he picked up the shovel with both hands.


“A cat with a mark on his back and a stubby tail? I don’t think so,” I replied, sure I had won the argument.


“Here lies your cat, Chocokrispis, resting peacefully in his grave,” he said, after digging a little. My mom leaned over the hole and nodded with a grimace.


I wanted to look too, but they wouldn’t let me. They said it was too small and that Pancho had already started to decompose. To me it seemed more like they were hiding something from me.


In my room, Pancho’s tuna wasn’t there anymore; only the dirty plate was left. The milk that had spilled on the floor also looked like it had evaporated. It couldn’t have been anyone but my Pancho. Who knows why Mom and my brother didn’t want him anymore and were going around telling me those things about how he was dead, he was buried. My Pancho. So cute. There wasn’t any Señor Tank for him to bother anymore. He could poop in the rose bushes or even in the flowerpots. My Pancho.


I called his name softly, rubbing my fingers together, to coax him out from wherever he was hiding.

Mamá dice que los gatos no van al cielo, que al cielo solamente van las personas. También dice que no cualquier tipo de persona: sólo las personas buenas. Eso quiere decir que el señor que mató a mi Pancho tampoco va a poder entrar al cielo. Seguro le cerrarán la puerta en la cara, como doña Sara cuando dan las siete y ya no quiere cortarte el pelo.


El otro día me quedé con el cambio de las tortillas. Pensé que mamá no se daría cuenta, pero sí se dio. Me regañó y me dijo que robar es pecado, que las niñas que roban se vuelven malas mujeres y que, cuando se mueren, se van al infierno. Creo que el infierno es el lugar adonde se va a ir el señor que mató a mi Pancho. Porque matar también es pecado, lo dice la Constitución.


Antenoche, antes de dormir, le dejé a Pancho su traste con leche, por si venía. Lo escondí debajo de la cama para que mamá no me regañara. Ella siempre me está diciendo que soy una cochina, que en eso me parezco a mi papá. Se la pasa tallándome la cara para quitarme los bigotes de chocomilk. Ya le he dicho que no son bigotes de chocomilk, que yo así soy: tengo bigote como si fuera niño y lo odio; en cuanto entre a la secundaria me lo voy a rasurar.


En la mañana, el traste estaba volteado. Típico de Pancho: bebe dos traguitos y luego luego a tirar el resto. ¡Ay, Pancho! Nada más mojó todo el piso y tuve que secarlo con mi suéter del uniforme, porque ni modo que le pidiera a mamá una jerga. Me habría preguntado que para qué la quería y me habría regañado por regar la leche.


Al volver de la escuela me encontré al señor que mató a mi Pancho, sentado tan campante en la mecedora de su entrada, bebiendo cerveza. Mamá dice que está enfermo, que es obeso mórbido y que ni mi hermano ni yo deberíamos llamarlo Señor Tinaco. Dice que las niñas que ponen apodos, de grandes se vuelven argüenderas y nadie las quiere. También dice que a mí no me gustaría que se burlaran de mí.


Pero todo mundo se burla de mí.


Yo no inventé el apodo del Señor Tinaco; yo solamente lo repetí. Fueron mi hermano y su amigo Lucho, que siempre andan viendo de quién burlarse. A mí también me molestan, me dicen Cara de foca, por mis bigotes, y Chocokrispis porque soy muy morena. Cuando escuché que le decían Señor Tinaco al Señor Tinaco, al principio no quise seguirles el juego, pero la verdad es que era mucho mejor burlarnos juntos del Señor Tinaco que dejar que ellos se burlaran de mí.


Anoche volví a dejarle a Pancho su traste con agua, pero esta vez también le serví un poquito de atún. En la madrugada me despertó el peso de su cuerpo sobre mis piernas: un peso suave y tibio que me hizo sentir feliz. Estiré la mano para acariciarlo y lo sentí clarito. Era Pancho, mi amigo, mi gato gordinflón.


Cuando desperté, Pancho ya no estaba. La leche se había regado de nuevo, pero el atún seguía intacto. Se me hacía tarde para la escuela y tuve que dejar el tiradero. Afuera, el horrible Señor Tinaco se acomodaba en su mecedora para esperar a que llegara el periódico.


La primera vez que el Señor Tinaco amenazó con matar a mi Pancho fue cuando aparecieron cacas en su jardín. Él estaba tan seguro de que había sido Pancho, que vino a gritarle a mamá igual que le gritaba a su esposa. Mamá no respondió nada, pero en cuanto el Señor Tinaco se fue, me pegó una corretiza como si hubiera sido yo la que ensució el jardín, y no Pancho.


Yo no sé si Pancho se habrá confundido de casa, el muy menso, o si tan sólo paseaba por el vecindario cuando le ganaron las ganas de hacer popó. Le habrá parecido fácil soltarse ahí, entre los rosales recién podados. El punto es que nos metió en un gran problema a mamá y a mí y que durante varios días tuvimos que prohibirle salir al jardín.


Daba unos alaridos el pobre, que parecía que lo estábamos matando. Con el tiempo descubrió que su redondo cuerpo cabía por la ventana de la cocina y no hubo forma de impedirle la salida. El Señor Tinaco volvió a gritarle a mamá otras dos veces y esas otras dos veces tuve que salir corriendo porque mamá tenía cara de que me iba a aventar desde la azotea.


Mi hermano fue el que me avisó que el Señor Tinaco había envenenado a mi Pancho. Me dijo que los gatos que mueren envenenados casi no sufren; tan sólo sienten que les da un calorcito por dentro, que crece y crece y crece y luego se quedan dormidos. “El Pancho no ha de haber sentido nada”, me dijo. Luego me jaló una de las orejas, pero suavecito, sin lastimarme.


Había días en que mi hermano era bueno conmigo, aunque nunca me dijera “te quiero” ni cosas de ese tipo. A veces me explicaba temas de la escuela o me dejaba poner las caricaturas en la tele o le pedía a mamá que no se desquitara conmigo y que no me gritara tan feo.


Hoy volví temprano de la escuela. El Señor Tinaco no estaba en su mecedora, lo que me dio mucho gusto. Me senté junto a la puerta a esperar a que mi hermano volviera de la prepa: los miércoles le toca futbol.


En cuanto llegó, lo primero que le dije fue que ya había descubierto que la supuesta muerte de Pancho había sido una broma. Él actuó como si no me hubiera escuchado y entró corriendo a buscar a mamá, que preparaba la comida. Yo fui detrás de él, gritándole que no me ignorara, que su chiste no me parecía nada gracioso.


–Se murió el Tinaco –dijo.


Mamá puso cara de que no le entendía:


–Que se murió el Tinaco, mamá: se lo está llevando la ambulancia.


Los dos me hicieron a un lado, sin verme, como si yo fuera una de esas mosquitas que te molestan a la hora de comer.


–Quítate, quítate –dijo mamá y salieron juntos por el lado de la cocina.


Intenté seguirlos, pero al abrir la puerta me encontré a Pancho, que se relamía los bigotes. Seguramente acababa de cazar un ratón o algún pájaro. Lo dejé encerrado y salí a ver el chisme. Cuando llegué a la casa del Señor Tinaco la ambulancia ya se iba y mamá y mi hermano se abrazaban, con gesto de mucha preocupación.


–Te pasaste –le dije a mi hermano. Él abrió los ojos como si acabara de despertar de un sueño.


–¿De qué hablas, Chocokrispis? –su cara delataba que no le interesaba mi respuesta.


–Me dijiste que el Señor Tinaco había matado a Pancho –grité llorando de enojo. Y de alegría, porque Pancho estaba vivo. Y de tristeza por la muerte del Señor Tinaco, que no era ningún asesino después de todo.


Pancho se murió y lo enterramos en el guayabo –dijo mamá.


Nos miramos entre todos y ellos me contagiaron su gesto de preocupación.


Mi hermano me pellizcó el cachete y me arrastró hasta el guayabo. Señaló una montañita de tierra, parecida adonde se para el pitcher en el campo de béisbol.


–¡Ahí no va a estar Pancho! ¡Yo lo acabo de ver hace como diez minutos!


–Ha de haber sido un gato parecido –dijo mi hermano mientras tomaba la pala con las dos manos.


–¿Un gato con un lunar en el lomo y la cola chata? No creo –respondí, segura de que ganaba la discusión.


–Aquí sigue tu gato, Chocokrispis, bien refundido en su tumba –dijo, después de cavar un poco. Mi mamá se asomó al hoyo y asintió con una mueca de asco.


Yo quise asomarme también, pero ellos no me dejaron. Dijeron que estaba demasiado chica y que Pancho ya había comenzado a pudrirse. A mí se me hace que más bien me estaban ocultando algo.


En mi cuarto, el atún de Pancho ya no estaba; sólo quedaba el plato sucio. La leche que se había regado en el piso también parecía como si se hubiera evaporado. Ése no podía haber sido otro más que mi Pancho. Quién sabe por qué mamá y mi hermano ya no lo querían y me andaban diciendo esas cosas de que estaba muerto, de que estaba enterrado. Mi Pancho. Tan bonito. Ya no habría ningún Señor Tinaco que lo molestara. Podría hacerse popó en los rosales o en las macetas incluso. Mi Pancho.


Lo llamé por su nombre, en voz baja, frotándome los dedos, para que saliera de donde estaba.

Translator's Note

I first fell in love with Alaíde Ventura Medina’s writing and humor after seeing her in conversation with Brenda Navarro at the Fundación Telefónica in Madrid following the publication of Ventura Medina’s adult debut, Entre los rotos. There, she discussed her positionality as a Mexican in Texas, where she says she insists on beginning any and all conversations in Spanish, because despite the overwhelming Anglophone nature of the US media, the US is also a Spanish-speaking country. In the translation of this text, I hoped to meet her halfway, keeping the bilingual reality of our existence within this little morsel of childhood fantasy, and sharing it with the wider US audience her writing deserves, especially as an author traversing the US-Mexico border, both literally and linguistically.

Ventura Medina’s short story “Pancho” first appeared in Spanish in two anthologies of short stories written by Mexican women, Primera Antología de Escritoras Mexicanas edited by Ana Cristina Liceaga Ruiz and Dulce María Ramón Cerón, and Mexicanas. Trece narrativas contemporáneas, edited by Laura Baeza. Their aims were to bring visibility to female Mexican authors, showing not only the realities and complexities of romantic relationships, but also the friendships and familial relationships under which women have been oppressed. In keeping with these themes, Alaíde Ventura Medina’s short story, a seemingly innocuous story about a young girl and her cat, is able to express exactly those complexities of family and growing up. On the surface, this story is one of adolescent innocence and fantastical conceptions of the world around us. Beyond that, there’s a questioning of what we determine to be (moral) authority, as well as a conversation about societal structures, prejudice, colorism, and misogyny and how they infiltrate even our earliest experiences of childhood and how these unique experiences with social constructs and hierarchies can affect our understandings of our place and of our own value within the world.

The translation of this story into English is necessary because of just this: the expression of the most complex of conversations within the simplest of experiences. It describes an experience that is both specifically Mexican —with various dialectal idiosyncrasies and references to specific regional constructions of race— and universal. Very rarely do we have stories of childhood told in adult fiction that are not describing overtly traumatic experiences, and it is important for us to show, talk about, and remember the mundane everyday fantasy that existed for us as 10-year-olds, while also realizing the further complexities of our experiences that we may only be able to see as adults, and this story does all that. These conversations about the intersectional experience and oppression of women and girls of color are always important, and they are part of a broad conversation at the forefront of our culture especially now.

Dora Ahearn-Wood


In the Classroom