The carriage is coming for me. I lie pale and dead, my hands folded over my chest in a gesture of supplication. A pious lady like I never was in life. I am La Gitana. It’s what they call me, a beggar and consort of kings. You may think that the dead know nothing. But I tell you we rage. We rage we can no longer feel the dew on the underside of a leaf, nor the touch of a lover’s hand on our ass, nor the sweetness of full red wine on our lips. We feel rage that we cannot feel the slow thud of our hearts, the red blood being forced through our veins, and we rage for all the love we have lost.

Ay, the beautiful caress of the wind through chartreuse, green leaves, the tilting of white clouds careening across a turquoise sky. We rage for the days gone by. Life is but a droplet of rain sliding down a window pane. I am much honored but I have also been reviled much in my life. One cannot be vivid without breaking some hearts. Que lastima, (What a pity) I say and winner take all. I have been what people thought I was, and I have also been just myself. It is impossible to sort.

My carriage is six black stallions and a pale driver. I asked for a rubio to ferry me across to the other side. Inside my carriage is gold and red velvet. Red is my color: blood is my legacy. They will line the streets and call my name holding long white candles. My story begins as I am sixteen. The year is 1679, and King Carlos having ascended the throne at age fourteen, has married Marie Louise, the niece of Louis XIV of France, at age eighteen. It is not enough for France to defeat Spain in war: She must also rule us on the domestic front as well. King Carlos, or El Hechisado, (The Bewitched), as he is called, is simple and in ill health. What a sin to have to lie with a fool. Don Juan of Austria, Carlos’s illegitimate brother, rules through violence and intimidation. The queen mother, Mariana, is weakened and her valido, Valenzuela, deposed.

King Carlos is not our king, and Spain is not our country. We are ruled by our own king, a Rom Baru, and to hell with Spain. Soy una gitana. (I am a gypsy).

Escuchame, querida. Tengo mucho que contar.
Listen to me, dear. I have much to tell.


I am Tekla. Soy una gitana. The lower part of my body is mahrime, or unclean, two parts pressed together like a dusky rose. My upper body is pure like a virgin’s shoulders. So it is with all the woman of the Romani clan. We are pure and impure, and can pollute by our actions. We must never expose our lower half to anyone but our husbands and even then we must take care not to pollute them. We must stay away from our men and male stallions when we have the time of blood and when we are in child birth. There is a special red tent for these times. One who is mahrime by action or by nature cannot walk amongst us. The worst punishment for a gypsy is to be cast out, or judged mahrime, for he can never live the gypsy life or be with other gypsies. It is a fate worse than death for it is death to the spirit. Family is the most important thing for a gypsy, not possessions, as it is for the gadje.

When I was a girl I used to wander bare breasted through the camps free as a flower, my high little girl’s breasts catching the light like burnt calla lilies in the morning sun. The little, ragged boys would run by and try to touch them but I always avoided their greedy, curious fingers. As I have said my gypsy name is Tekla. My gadje name is Carmen, and my secret name you will never know. My sister, Rupa, at fourteen is much more beautiful than I. Yet, I do not shed a tear: my heart is a stone. I am a mere thistle at her feet.

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