I based the story loosely on an El Salvadorian folk tale I read in a book while I was traveling there. It was a collections of local legends, oral tales, etc. retold by different people from the area. The one I based “A Learned Man” on was about a page and a half and very spare.
Here’s the reference:
“La Leyenda de Bolsa Salgado.” El Salvadorian Folktale from Ozatlán, Usulután, El Salvador. Retold by Maria Irene Rivera. Espíritus Mitológicos de El Salvador. Ed. Gloria Mejía Gutierrez and Refugio Duarte de Romero. San Salvador: Concultura, 1997.
Here’s what I wrote about it in my story notes:
I’d been travelling on a shoestring through Central America for quite a while. One day in a small town in El Salvador, tired of sight-seeing and ready for something “normal,” I found a little library where signs warned in no uncertain terms that you must not touch the books. After I explained what I was looking for, the librarian warily found me a collection of local folk tales, which I quickly devoured. My favorite was “La Leyenda de Bolsa Salgado” from Ozatlán, Usulután, retold in one bare page and a half that sparked my imagination.
When the librarian kicked me out for siesta, I sat in the town square and wrote about three quarters of the rough draft of “A Learned Man”–one of the fastest first drafts I’ve ever written.
I’d like to thank Maria Irene Rivera, who retold the local legend, and Gloria Mejía Gutierrez and Refugio Duarte de Romero, the editors of the collection Espíritus Mitológicos de El Salvador ( San Salvador: Concultura, 1997). I’m also glad the librarian let me touch the books.
A Learned Man
by Melinda Brasher
I hated her father. It wasn’t fair, really, because he’d been nothing but kindness to me. When my hens all sickened one afternoon and died together at midnight, he hitched up his wagon and brought me half of his own brood so I could start again. With them he brought an amulet Lottie’s mother had made to ward off the curses of the old lady who lived down among the reeds behind the mill.
“The Marsh Witch” everyone called her, as they tiptoed around trying not to offend her, letting her steal cabbages and herbs from their gardens. I worked too hard to let a lazy woman who’d never done a lick of good for anyone take what was not hers. The night I caught her stealing carrots, I picked her up by her scruffy collar, threw her out onto the street, and warned her never to come back. All the neighbors crossed themselves when they heard and pressed me to go ask forgiveness before she called on all her dark powers.
“What powers?” I scoffed, to everyone’s horror. She was no witch. Witches didn’t exist.
But a week later, at the full moon, all my hens died, and that confirmed the villagers’ fears of her dark powers. (Continue Reading…)